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Signed UT-R Andy Gonzalez to a minor-league contract. [1/11]

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Signed 2B-R Mark Grudzielanek to a minor-league contract. [1/12]

Grudz didn’t miss the entire 2009 season, he squeezed in two weeks’ worth of action with a pair of Twins‘ farm affiliates at the end of July and beginning of August. That’s the extent of his on-field action in almost 18 months, since his 2008 season was cut short in August. Even so, given that the Tribe’s looking at Luis Valbuena and Jason Donald as its leading in-house options for second base, this seems like a great little economical solution, even for a 40-year-old who may not have much left in the tank. Sure, there are a number of alternatives on the market, but consider the ‘who’ and the ages involved in that proposition:

  • Orlando Hudson (32): He would do wonders for this pitching staff, but he also wouldn’t come cheaply, since he should run at least $4 million no matter how flat the market may be. Add in a checkered health history, and he’s an expensive proposition they couldn’t even guarantee to have around to flip at the end of July if/when it comes to that.

  • Ronnie Belliard (35): They’ve been here before, and while Belliard’s flexibility might come in handy if Valbuena or Donald earn any additional consideration, in mid-January he may still harbor hopes of a salary in the $1-2 million range.

  • Adam Kennedy (34): A hot streak in September garbage time helped make 2009 his second-best season at the plate ever, with a .272 EqA. This came on the heels of three disappointing seasons. Not a bad pickup since he might be useful as a lefty bat for second or third base, but here again, there’s considerable downside, and do you really want to spend seven figures to find out?

  • Felipe Lopez (30): Yeah, because his phoning in significant chunks of his career has turned out so well, you’d definitely want F-Lop around on the off chance that he shows up.

  • Miguel Cairo (36): The very act of mentioning him is considered cruel and unusual punishment in several jurisdictions, and may well be barred by nuisance laws like Kentucky’s insistence that its residents bathe at least once a year.

So, if that’s the field, why not take a spin with Grudz? He was one of the game’s best on turning the deuce, and might have some wisdom to impart to Valbuena. Valbuena bats lefty, so there are platoon or job-sharing possibilities there. Grudz has been a remarkably reliable source of well-hit balls in play (his BABIPs in his last six seasons were all around .330), but that’s about the extent of his value, since he’s not a power hitter or a walker or a runner; play him every day, and he might have enough left in him to lace 30 doubles, but he’d probably break down before reaching that point. It isn’t a brilliant signing, just an understandable and reasonable one.

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Signed RHP Brett Myers to a one-year, $5 million contract with a mutual option for 2011; designated OF-R Jason Bourgeois for assignment. [1/12]

Ed Wade signs former Phillie, film at 11.

That’s the easy and sarcastic punchline, of course (not least because Eric Seidman was playing Kreskin on this particular pickup five months ago), but I think it’s not that bad as mid-rotation pickups go. Wade didn’t give Myers three years and $24 million or something, after all, and while Wade has his favorites, who doesn’t? I’d argue that, while Myer’s past run-ins with John Law and assorted sawbones and physical therapists might make him less attractive than most, Wade kept his enthusiasm for his former farm system’s product in check, and made a reasonable mid-market addition to a rotation that may well need innings as much as anything else from a starter slotted between Wandy Rodriguez and Roy Oswalt up top, and Bud Norris and whoever survives that epic Felipe Paulino vs. Scuffy Moehler cage match for the fifth slot.*

From a performance standpoint, I can buy the proposition that he’ll provide quality starts half of the time out there or more after going 6-for-10 and 17-for-30 through six IP the last two years. His Support-Neutral Winning Percentage last year was .459, and was .495 in 2008. Once upon a time, of course, he was better than this, but you have to go back to 2006, when his SNWP was .544. That was before injuries and questions over his role mounted up, of course. He reportedly recovered fully from last year’s hip injury, and his subsequent upper back injury wasn’t seen as a normal cascade injury or the sort of thing you could really anticipate, but at this point, Myer’s issues have piled up enough to make his health a less than certain thing in any season to come.

Will he far any better in Houston? His ISO allowed was .190 on the portion of his Phillies career pitching on CBP’s mound, and is .189 away from Philly, so it isn’t like there’s a ton of reason to say getting out of Philadelphia’s going to radically alter his fortunes, although if he continues to get pulled by right-handed hitters as often as he was last year (insert pro forma injury-related caveat here), he’ll be turning to his right to see another Crawford Box souvenir land safely in its recipient’s lap more than is cause for joy for the hometown nine.

Is that really any good, though? Is it value for the money? Does it matter? Remember, nobody really relished taking this job, but Wade’s past association with Tal Smith made him an obvious apparatchik to select, even beyond his pitch that they wouldn’t have to tear down. I’ve been referring to Wade’s entire, brief, two-year tenure as a kamikaze run from the moment of takeoff; we’re now heading into Year Three, with no targets acquired. Wade didn’t sign Oswalt or Lance Berkman or Carlos Lee to their contracts, he inherited them, and that was locked-in budgetary escalation going from $39.5 million to that trio in 2008 to $47 million in 2009 to $48 million in 2010 and $49.5 million in 2011 (if they pick up Berkman’s option). We can argue over whether or not he signed Pedro Feliz and Brandon Lyon and Kazuo Matsui for far too much; believe me, I buy that argument, because it would have been better to bundle that money to buy a single meaningfully above-average ballplayer. The Miguel Tejada trade added expense that didn’t advance the team any closer to delivering a title with that trinity, and might represent the signal mistake made, but getting Michael Bourn and junk for Brad Lidge and junk doesn’t look so bad two years out. Was there something significant he could have done to add meaning to the tail end of the Astros careers of Oswalt or Berkman? Maybe, maybe not, but it would have had to have been with the money budgeted for Tejada and the money spent on second- or third-rank free agents, and instead making a push to add a fourth man monster contract. That was possible, but even then we’re talking about a very few players at a very few open positions. As the Tejada deal reflects, the Astros were willing to take on salary, but had nothing in the way of meaningful prospects to offer.

Certainly, all of this ends up resembling noisy, pointless activity, with the difference being that Wade’s indulged himself with that while (presumably) he and his team of sidekicks is busily trying to help fix up a pathetic player development program. If that latter mission winds up being accomplished, and if the pointless noise helps keep them mid-pack in attendance, I’d suggest that maybe the noise wasn’t so very pointless from a business perspective. The alternative of a whole-scale tear-down might have seen attendance flatline, and if Drayton McLane’s looking to sell, would that have really helped his position? It’s easy to assert inaction as the best course in the abstract, but here again, I’ll buy the argument that getting a million more people in the seats than Pittsburgh does is a great incentive to avoid the appearance of right-now utter hopelessness. The real question is whether or not players like Myers, Feliz, Lyon, and Lindstrom plus a feverish, burning case of Manzella (Tommy Manzella) is enough to inspire season-ticket renewals.

*: It gets even more exciting if you make it a three-way scenario and throw Yorman Bazardo into the mix. Throw non-roster invites Josh Banks and Gustavo Chacin into the mix, and we’re well into Jackie Chan’s Big Brawl territory; since Lenny Montana was in that, I can suggest as straight-faced as I get that we’ll enjoy figuring out who’s going to wind up swimming with the fishes in Lake Tahopekaliga come March.

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Signed RHP Scott Dohmann and INF-R Argenis Reyes to minor-league contracts. [1/11]

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Signed RHP Brian Bass, C-S Luke Carlin, and OF-L Brian Myrow to minor-league contracts. [1/12]

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Signed 1BL Aubrey Huff to a one-year, $3 million contract. [1/11]

I guess what I find especially fascinating about this deal is the decision to sign Huff, as opposed to waiting out the major alternatives still on the market: Russell Branyan, Carlos Delgado, and Adam LaRoche. There are also alternatives out there who might be cheaper than Huff, and who might be no less certain or uncertain propositions: Hank Blalock, Mike Jacobs, or Chad Tracy, or maybe even a return engagement for Ryan Garko at a compensation rate less than arbitration was going to get him (there’s that particular pesky market dynamic again, foiling past assertions that arbitration only limits compensation). Because of the multitude of options, Brian Sabean made a point of picking Huff as their first-base answer, a decision all the more extraordinary because it also means that they’ll also be putting Mark DeRosa in left and leaving Pablo Sandoval at third, and while the latter isn’t a bad idea, the former’s an odd choice if you’re subsequently left with the proposition that you wanted DeRosa in left field instead of Jermaine Dye or Johnny Damon, or even Rick Ankiel, Ryan Church, Jonny Gomes, or Gabe Gross on the lower end. Even so, getting DeRosa doesn’t seem so bad if you could make Freddy Sanchez go away, but the decision to give Sanchez a big deal early on this winter might be considered the Giants‘ original sin of the 2009-10 Hot Stove League.

Taking that group alone, let’s take a look at what we’ve got in terms of recent performance, throwing together the outfielders and first basemen, but then segregating them into the groups we might expect will make more than $3 million, and the ones we might expect to make less:

                 Three-Year  Age in    Giant
Expensive Guys      EqA       2010    Expense?
Branyan, 1B        .291        34
Delgado, 1B        .292        38
LaRoche, 1B        .289        30
Dye, RF            .277        36
Damon, LF          .287        36
Cheaper Guys
Blalock, 1B        .270        29
Jacobs, 1B         .260        29
Tracy, 1B/3B       .251        30
Garko, 1B          .276        29
Ankiel, OF         .272        30
Gomes, OF          .277        29
Gross, OF          .261        30
Church, OF         .278        31
DeRosa, 2B/3B/OF   .279        35      $12M, 2010-11
Sanchez, 2B        .262        32      $12M, 2010-11
Huff, 1B           .272        33       $3M, 2010

So, that $15 million buys you… well, Mark DeRosa, a guy in Sanchez who’s not as good as Mark DeRosa at anything, and an unglovely platoon first baseman. Accepting the wisdom of signing DeRosa to fix any one of a variety of problems, and as long as you’re willing to accept Sandoval at third base (and make his winter miserable keeping him in shape to manage it, apparently), why go for Sanchez and Huff if you’re going to wind up with somebody besides Sandoval at first and somebody new in left field? DeRosa at second can be part of a winning lineup; Sanchez, not so much, because you’ve got miles to go at offense-oriented positions, and that’s something Huff doesn’t do for you.

By elimination, why not save the $9 million for Sanchez and Huff in 2010, and instead go for LaRoche or Branyan or Delgado? I don’t think two years and $18-20 million gets you Damon, but it’s worth offering. It certainly gets you Dye with money to spare, if you decide he isn’t done or wouldn’t be able to squeeze something out of the end of his career coming over to the weaker league. And you can probably afford the big bat and an outfielder or first baseman who’s going to help you more on offense than Freddy Sanchez. Why not Delgado and Church instead of Sanchez and Huff? Or Branyan and Ankiel? It’s easy to play with other people’s money, of course, and anything I come up with will probably cost slightly more, but you can protect yourself with make-good deals that demand that Delgado and Ankiel or Blalock get big-league playing time.

As for Huff, sure, he’s coming to easier league, a one-year deal’s as far as you want to go with him, and he might slug .500 against right-handed pitching. That’s a big maybe, because he’s topped that figure exactly once in the last five years, and tied it a second time. That’s essentially what he’s for in the best case, because he’s managed a 10 percent walk rate just once in his career, and his career SLG vs. lefties is .420, and his best defensive position is DH. Asking why you pick him from the field is sort of like asking why you pick Aaron Rowand or Dave Roberts or Randy Winn or Freddy Sanchez. There’s a basic qualitative difference, and a failure to discriminate leaves your world just a little bit the poorer for it.

Thanks to Will Carroll and Eric Seidman for their input.

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Chris, how is it that I can make more intelligent decisions in a $5000 Roto league (to prepare for which I read 90% of what BP, BA & Shandler print each yr) than MLB execs? & how is it that the simple matrix you just drew, above, easily shows how to blow $27 MILLION on over-the-hill players with NO upside (DeRosa, Sanchez, Huff). Is that REALLY all $27M gets you in the 'real' world? It takes Vonnegut's thesis in The Sirens of Titan to explain all this--but pray, explain it to us!

Josh, it doesn't take a genius to answer this.

1) People tend to hire/promote people they like, and high-charisma guys with entertaining stories and the occasional moralizing anecdotes tend to be easier to like than people with more analytical temperments.

2) Physical proximity to baseball events is usually assumed to be criterial for genuine knowledge about the game, and physical participation in them is usually assumed to be criterial for deep knowledge about the game. Statisticians typically have spent far less time on or around baseball diamonds than former players, scouts, ect.

3) Statisticians tend to emphasize data rather than psychology or the prevailing social norms. This creates several problems for them in terms of their ability to satisfy potential bosses.

3A) It creates the perception, often warranted, that they are not concerned with the conventional baseball pieties that associate success with personal virtue. A large majority of owners, journalists, and fans --in short, everyone relevant to revenue-- believe (of would like to believe) that natural talent is in many cases not the most important factor in a player's success. One often hears the argument that an organization expects a certain player to succeed because he's a good guy. When analysts suggest that other criteria should be weighted more heavily, it's easy for owners to conclude that they are heartless/cold/amoral and hence that they'll bring in "the wrong sort" of player, alienate the fanbase, and perhaps corrupt the youth.

3B) It also creates the perception that, in addition to being boring and possibly unconcerned with personal virtue, analytically oriented job candidates would, if hired, behave in a way that would simply ignore the views of executives in other organizations, as well as the owners of other organizations and most baseball fans and pundits. But the role model most people have for a successful executive is a guy who _gives the people what they want_ and focuses on tailoring behavior to people's actual preferences. From such a point of view, conformity is highly desirable.

3C) Finally, the lower priority typically (or at least stereotypically) assigned to psychological factors by statistically-oriented people runs badly afoul of the conventional sports wisdom that player performance is largely a function of intensity of desire and confidence based on recent success. People who take these contextual factors to be larger determinants of success than stable abilities are likely to be extremely disturbed by even the slightest suggestion that pop psychology is not an effective predictor of on-field performance.

A parting comment: it's not my purpose here to make claims about what baseball's analytic community is actually like. All of my comments are about how it is _perceived_!
their vs. there? you?
Christina, great column. Anyone who takes that much time trying to get inside the head of Sabean must need a break, but a quick question: Given that the Giants have already signed those three players, do they have enough cash free to sign a Gomes/Garko type guy as a bench bat/RH platoon partner for Huff? If you can get one of them for less than 3 Mil, does it make sense?
thanks again for the great work.
Gomes and Garko definitely shouldn't cost $3 million the way the market's shaking out, but they may not need that guy. The more difficult question is whether or not the Giants have space. You have to figure their keepers are Posey and Whiteside behind the plate, Sandoval, DeRosa, Huff, Sanchez, Renteria, Uribe, Rowand, and then things get tight, and we're at nine already. Velez, Schierholtz, Lewis, Bowker, and Ishikawa gets us to 14--so at least one somebody's getting cut from that group. Not that I expect Torres to keep mashing the way he did against lefties, but they could bump him into the lineup against lefties, DeRosa to third, and Sandoval to first. Or spot Uribe at third and leave Torres platooning in right with Bowker or Schierholtz.

One thing's certain: given the positional flexibility on hand, Giants scorecards figure to be messy fun.
Christina, it's nice to be at that time of year again where you've sent the book to the printer and can focus once again on web content. In both the quality of your writing and the volume of your recent updates, your enjoyment of what you do shines through and is much appreciated. Thanks for making the winter a little shorter for those of us who hang on every small scrap of baseball news to get us through the dark time that is basketball and hockey season.
Seconded on all counts, but oh my, that 85-word sentence about Wandy, Oswalt and so on! I just about had to pull out my GPS unit to navigate through that thing ... :-)

As regards content, though, you're hitting the nail squarely on the head. A difference between the Houston and San Francisco situations, however, is that Sabean has a bit of objective evidence that his "plan," whatever it is, is working. After all, the Giants were in the playoff hunt until the last minute last year; the Astros ... weren't. The Giants also have a strong young core to add "veteran presence" to, while the Astros are not similarly equipped. I'd be much more inclined, under the circumstances, to give Sabean a mulligan on this one than Wade. If you are too, it doesn't emerge from your writing.
I remember when I crafted a 170+ sentence that defied breaking up by the editor, which was exactly what I intended in my cussedness.
Would that we were there (as far as the book), but we're coming down the home stretch. Hopefully the major stuff outstanding gets wrapped up today, but in the meantime I won't have my next TA until tomorrow, for which you have my apologies. So I'm not getting to Church on time (it was ever thus), Hinske's peachy consummation, and no review of the end of Castro's libertad until tomorrow, but man, I'm already wondering who might take a gander at Cole Armstrong as a waiver claim, because there are worse players guaranteed jobs.
In reply to Bill J. Would be curious what you see as the Giants strong young core.

As generously as I can be (as a Giants fan), I guess I see Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Pablo Sandoval as clearly fitting that description, with unproven Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner on the horizon, and the erratic Jonathan Sanchez maybe in the mix on his good days. Throw in Brian Wilson too, and possibly Sergio Romo (and maybe even Osiris Matos) in the pen. That may be enough to win the N.L. West this year, but I don't know that it's a strong young core. Still may be better than the Astros, as you point out, so it could be semantics :-).

Were you including Fred Lewis, Travis Ishikawa, Nate Schierholz, or Eugenio Velez? Anyone else I missed? I don't think anyone else in the minors is near ready (though I read that Angel Villalona is out on bail at least).

I'm not trying to bust on you, or be snarky, as I would *love* for the Giants to have a strong core, but I am thinking it will be another disappointing year for El Gigantes.
You left out Dan Runzler and Waldis Joaquin who both performed well in late season call ups, and both have serious heat. The Giants won't be giving up a lot of runs next year, and they should be scoring a few more. I don't think you can be too critical of the Huff deal as it is only for one year. By 2011, Thomas Neal, Posey, and maybe Kieschnick will be bona fide major leaguers, and perhaps one or more of Brock Bond, Brett Pill, Brandon Crawford, and Burriss will hit enough to be useful. I would say that is when you go shopping for impact free agents.
Dan Runzler and Waldis Joaquin are both seriously speculative middle-RPs with terrible control. Yes, they both throw gas, but they also have control that makes Nuke LaLooche look like Greg Maddux. It would be a mistake to assume they're part of the Giants' young core (comparing them to players like Lincecum and Posey). Those two guys each probably have a 20% chance of panning out (if that), a huge chance of totally washing out.
To me, Panda and the pitchers constitute a "core" worthy of the name; some very good teams are built around "cores" only one guy larger than those three. The others in your first paragraph could join that "core" this year. The problem, as you imply, is that there's also a lot of junk on the roster beyond the "core." To try to dispel that junk through adding guys like Dunn strikes me as wiser and more defensible than adding guys like Myers to a team like Houston that doesn't have such a core.
I hate Miguel Cairo so much. I blame him for the Phillies losing the world series.
Wonderful column as always CK.

Re: Indians .... will Jhonny Peralta hit/field well enough at 3B (a traditional power position) to make it worth the shift from SS (where he was at best, above average on offense, below it defensively)?
I figure he'll bounce back; these things are always subjective, but it seemed as if he let last season's meltdown slag him as well.
Oh, forgot to ask one more thing. Which do you think is Sandoval's best position. He certainly has the arm for 3B, and if he DOES in fact come into camp leaner and swifter, he should have more range. However, if you put him at 1B, that would lessen the chance of those nagging little injuries he seemed to come up with in '09, yes?
I seem to recall Will Carroll posting something last year that showed that, no, playing 1B doesn't reduce your chance of injury, and that moving to a new position significantly increases it, at least in the short term.

When I think of players getting injured in the field, I think of middle infielders (collision with other players), outfielders (collision with wall, separated shoulder or wrist injury on diving catch), catchers (duh), and first basemen (collisions with batter-runner, getting stepped on, tangled feet, turned ankles on the bag, etc.). Third base seems relatively safe, other than diving into the stands/dugout for foul balls (which 1B do also).
ah yes .... I do believe Will did say something to that effect ...

Whenever I think of bad 1B injuries, I think of Brian Roberts covering the bag and getting his arm mangled by the passing runner on an attempted tag (shudder)
Kung Fu Panda played in 153 games last year, which seems pretty good for a second year player. I know he took a bad hop off his face in spring training (playing third), and vaguely recall a leg problem (but I think from running the bases...albeit perhaps exacerbated by playing 3b instead of 1b, as you allude to), but he never landed on the D.L., and performed pretty well on the season.

Strat-O-Matic has him as a 1b-3e21, 3b-3e15, c-4(+1)e8, so in the regard *I* care about most, he's best at 3b (though I may capitalize on the fact that he can play catcher :-).

That said, he told me that catcher is his favorite position when I met him briefly in January 2009.

And if you haven't seen his off-season workout regimen, it's pretty impressive. Down 12 pounds so far.


I went back and looked, and you're right, Sandoval did have a number of nagging injuries, though he never landed on the D.L. Besides the ball in the face in Spring Training, he sprained his left ankle trying to avoid a pitch, but was okay for Opening Day.

In May, his right elbow stiffened, and two weeks later, he reported slight tenderness opposite that, with Bochy saying he'd only use him at 1b, so this is one that clearly had/has positional implications.

He missed four games in August with a tweaked calf (from fouling a ball off the area) and flu-like symptoms.

So two of his injuries were batting related, but could be "nursed" more easily at 1b to keep him in the lineup. Guess that won't work so well this year unless Huff needs a day off...

The only even mildly serious injury was the elbow problem as it kept Sandoval from playing either third or catcher for a couple of weeks. I hope the conditioning program works because the guy has amazing contact skills, and the only thing that should keep him from having a long career is hauling around 25 to 30 lbs of extra weight.
Hindsight is of course 20-20, the Giants are making decisions throughout the winter. When they committed to Sanchez they could not be certain that DeRosa would be available later at the price they were ultimately able to negotiate. They filled a gaping hole at the time with Sanchez (didn't they avoid a buyout option for 2010 on his old contract, too?).

When DeRosa came along at an affordable price, they acted. If contracts were terminable at will like in the NFL, maybe the Giants would have done that with Sanchez once DeRosa signed, but that's of course not how it works. Considering Sanchez' injury history and DeRosa's positional flexibility, they may be well served by having DeRosa platoon with Huff at first, play some 2b when Sanchez is out, and some LF. Uribe similarly can fill several spots.

Isn't it a bit misleading to lump Sanchez and his EQA in as a comparison with a bunch of 1b/OFs? He should be compared to the 5 2Bmen you surveyed under the Astros note, and DeRosa. That's what they could have anticipated as the available player pool at the beginning of the off season to fill the 2B hole.

We also don't know for a fact that they could land Delgado and Church or Ankiel and Branyan for the $9 million combined that you are budgeting, although we'll find out in the next month or so when they each sign with someone. Even if they could, I'm not so sure that it would be better than having DeRosa and Huff, their January choices from among the January available market. None of those other four guys can fill in at 2B or 3B as DeRosa can.

Misleading, as far as Sanchez? Not really, not when his presence is what puts DeRosa into the corners. We can argue over the timeline, but because Sabean elected to make an initial guess about Sanchez's market value before taking the time to see how the market shook out, he purchased the penalty by acting so early. By selecting both DeRosa and Sanchez, he's acquired flexibility at the expense of offense in a corner and at second base, hence the comparison. We now know Church was thoroughly cheap; we'll see the rest as it plays out, but it certainly looks to me as an active example of the penalty of getting hasty.