Friday December 19th, 2014

Everybody wants to beat the Christmas rush, including major league teams. Past the winter meetings action, and beyond the latest flurry of Padres-related deals, a whole lot of noteworthy moves have otherwise slipped through the cracks. While we can’t cover them all in one sitting, here are a handful that stand out, broken down alphabetically by team.

Kansas City Royals

Signed RHP Kris Meden to a two-year, $8.5 million contract, OF Alex Rios to a one-year, $11 million contract, and RHP Edinson Volquez to a two-year, $20 million contract.

The defending American League champions — yes, it still feels strange to type that — couldn’t afford to stand pat. Most notably, they needed to replace free agent James Shields in their rotation, but instead of signing a 200-inning workhorse, they've taken on a pair of gambles.

Volquez is the bigger gamble of the two, a 31-year-old righty whose 2014 performance with the Pirates represented his lone good year out of the last six, a span that included late 2009 Tommy John surgery and then a 50-game PED suspension in 2010 that he was allowed to serve while rehabbing. From 2009 to 2013, he pitched a total of 574 innings with a 4.94 ERA (75 ERA+) for the Reds, Padres and Dodgers, undone by an astronomical 4.9 walks per nine.

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Paired with Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage in 2014,  Volquez reworked his delivery to stabilize his release point, and focused more on his fastball and less on his changeup. The transformation was impressive, as he cut his walk rate to 3.3 per nine and used a very contact-centric approach (just 6.5 strikeouts per nine, down from 8.4 in the previous five years) en route to a 3.04 ERA — down from 5.71 in 2013  — in a career-high 192 2/3 innings. Now he's cashed in, and the question is whether the Royals can help him to maintain those advances. He'll slot into a rotation that will likely leave the gate with Yordano Ventura, Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy.

The lower-stakes gamble involves the 29-year-old Medlen, who had previously spent his entire professional career with the Braves, and is coming off his second Tommy John surgery, which he underwent last March; his first was in August 2010. After making 40 appearances out of the bullpen in 2011 and the first four months of the 2012 season, he joined Atlanta's rotation on July 31 of that year. From that point to the end of the 2013 season, he posted a 2.47 ERA across 43 starts and one relief appearance, the league's fourth-best mark among pitchers with at least 200 innings in that span behind Clayton Kershaw (1.79), Jose Fernandez (2.25) and Matt Harvey (2.44).

Medlen doesn't miss as many bats as that trio, but he's a groundballer with good command, posting 7.7 strikeouts per nine and a 4.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in that span. If he can stay healthy, he's at least a mid-rotation talent and perhaps a true No. 2 starter, but the Royals don't expect him back until midseason and have structured his contract — and the rest of their rotation — accordingly. He'll make $2 million in base salary with a potential for $4 million in incentives in 2015, then a $5.5 million base with $6 million in incentives for 2016, and then a $10 million mutual option with a $1 million buyout for 2017.

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As for Rios, the 33-year-old rightfielder will replace free agent Nori Aoki. Playing through a nagging right ankle injury in 2014, Rios hit just .280/.311/.398 with four homers in 521 plate appearances for the Rangers; his 99 OPS+ marked his second straight year of decline, down from 126 in 2012 and 104 in 2013, though not all that far off from his career mark of 102 (on a .278/.323/.439 line). Coupled with mediocre defense (-3 Defensive Runs Saved), he was worth just 0.6 Wins Above Replacement, down from 2.0 the year before in a season split between the White Sox and Rangers. His $11 million salary is basically a bet that he can get back to that two-win level. It's possible, but hardly probable.

Miami Marlins

Acquired INF/OF Martin Prado, RHP David Phelps and $6 million in cash from the Yankees for RHP Nathan Eovaldi, 1B Garrett Jones, and RHP Domingo German. Signed 1B/OF Michael Morse to a two-year, $16 million contract.

After adding Dee Gordon, Mat Latos and perhaps Dan Haren during the winter meetings, the Marlins continued to augment their roster this week. On Tuesday, they added Morse, who spent 2014 with the Giants and hit .279/.336/.475 with 16 homers and a 130 OPS+ in 482 plate appearances. That batting line is a dead ringer for his career marks (.281/.335/.473) in 10 seasons, the balance of which were spent with the Mariners, Orioles and Nationals. There's little question that he's got power, but what he doesn't have is a very good glove, whether you stash him in the outfield (-12 DRS per 1,200 innings, which equates to roughly 135 games) or at first base (-4 DRS per 1,200 innings). Because of that, his performance was worth just 1.0 WAR in 2014, and just 4.9 WAR over the last five seasons, with a high of 3.4 with the Nationals in 2011.

Still, Morse appears to be an upgrade on Jones, who with lousy offense (.258/.313/.410 with 15 homers and a 98 OPS+ in 547 PA) and defense (-8 DRS) came in with -1.1 WAR for the Fish in 2014. At the very least, Morse should be a two-win upgrade, and perhaps even three or four; that's not a bad bet for $8 million per year.

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As for Prado, the 31-year-old utilityman split the 2014 season between the Diamondbacks and Yankees, hitting .282/.321/.412 with 12 homers and a 104 OPS+, a bit below his career marks (.291/.340/.429, 108 OPS+). While capable of playing second base or an outfield corner, he's most experienced at third base, where he's played 414 games in his career while fielding at an impressive clip: 11 DRS per 1,200 innings. He'll likely take over hot corner, relegating Casey McGehee — who earned NL Comeback Player of the Year honors but hit a thin .288/.356/.358 in 2014) — to a corner backup or a trade chip. The $6 million that the Yankees have included in the deal is to offset the $22 million Prado is owed through 2016.

As for Phelps, the 28-year-old righty has been in and out of the rotation in his three years with the Yankees, pitching to a 4.21 ERA via a strong strikeout rate but high walk and homer rates (8.0, 3.6 and 1.1 per nine, respectively) in a total of 299 1/3 innings. In 2014, he made 17 starts for the Yankees, averaging 5.7 innings per turn and pitching to a 4.28 ERA and 4.18 FIP. In his 15 relief appearances totaling 16 1/3 innings, he was lit up for a 4.96 ERA and 5.76 FIP, mainly because he walked 13 hitters and gave up three homers in that limited duty.

At the moment, Phelps' role is unclear. With Latos, Henderson Alvarez, Jarred Cosart and Tom Koehler, the Marlins' rotation is currently four deep, with Fernandez, who underwent Tommy John surgery on May 16, likely back sometime in the first half, and the team still waiting on a decision from Haren as to whether he'll report to the Marlins or retire. Given that, it's entirely possible that Phelps again serves as a swingman, or joins the setup corps at some point.

New York Yankees

Acquired RHP Nathan Eovaldi, 1B Garrett Jones and RHP Domingo German from Marlins in exchange for INF/OF Martin Prado, RHP David Phelps and $6 million in cash. Signed LHP Chris Capuano to a one-year, $5 million contract.

After signing third baseman Chase Headley to a four-year deal earlier this week, the Yankees could have used Prado to cover second base instead of leaving it to an open competition between prospects Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela. Instead they've saved $16 million over the next two years and filled other needs.

Jones is ill-suited for everyday play, as his .249/.308/.438 over the last five seasons attests, but he should be a capable reserve behind the oft-injured Mark Teixeira, something the team lacked in 2013 and '14. That's if he's used as directed, which is to say against righties as much as possible (against whom he's hit .267/.333/.479 in his career) and encouraged to go see a double feature if a lefty's on the mound; he owns a .197/.239/.335 career line against southpaws. He'll make $5 million in 2015.

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Of more importance is Eovaldi, a 24-year-old righty who should provide bulk innings at a low price, as he's just entering his first year of arbitration eligibility. Eovaldi threw 199 2/3 innings for the Marlins in 2014; that's 63 1/3 innings more than any returning Yankees starter — Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Chase Whitley or Ivan Nova (who's out until at least May due to Tommy John surgery). Granted, he was roughed up for a 4.37 ERA (87 ERA+), but that had much to do with a .327 batting average on balls in play, via which he was peppered for a league-high 223 hits; his FIP was just 3.37, and is at 3.70 for his career. Eovaldi is known for his velocity; via, his four-seam fastball averaged 96.7 mph in 2014, his slider a crisp 87.1 mph. His four-seamer has natural sink, and both that and the slider help him to generate a good number of groundballs while limiting homers (0.6 per nine career). The Yankees don't expect him to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but obviously feel that his repertoire can survive the crucible of the AL East, and that he’s got some room to grow.

The 36-year-old Capuano is a capable swingman who threw 97 1/3 innings with a 4.35 ERA and 3.91 FIP in 2014, split between the Red Sox and Yankees; he made 12 starts with a 3.85 FIP for the latter. For his career, he owns a 4.28 ERA and 4.22 FIP, as well as a sizeable platoon split: .240/.294/.355 career against lefties, .274/.334/.464 against righties.

Also of interest is German, a 22-year-old Dominican righty who put up a 2.48 ERA and struck out 8.2 per nine in the South Atlantic League in 2014. German throws a 91-94 mph sinking fastball, a late-breaking slider and a changeup. His command needs work, but if it all comes together, he has mid-rotation potential; if not, he could still grow into a late-game reliever. Either way, he’s got a few years before that becomes clear.

San Francisco Giants

Signed RHP Jake Peavy to a two-year, $24 million contract, signed RHP Sergio Romo to a two-year, $15 million contract

Pablo Sandoval may be gone, but the world champions are doing their best to keep the band together, re-signing two of the free-agent pitchers who helped them win their third title in five years. The 33-year-old Peavy, who's been traded twice and won rings with the Red Sox and Giants in the past two seasons, posted a 2.17 ERA in 12 starts for the Giants down the stretch, benefiting from pitching in the bigger ballparks of the NL West and clearly enjoying his reunion with manager Bruce Bochy, who oversaw him in San Diego.

Peavy does not have a great track record for health, throwing fewer than 150 innings three times in the last five years, but he hasn't had a major arm issue since 2010-11, when he experienced a detached latissimus dorsi and a bout of rotator cure tendinitis. Overall in 2014, he pitched to a 3.73 ERA and 4.11 FIP in 202 2/3 innings. He'll slot in behind Madison Bumgarner, Tim Hudson and Matt Cain, with Tim Lincecum presumably rounding out the starting five if he can get his stuff together.

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As for Romo, the 31-year-old righty has notched 75 saves for the Giants over the last three seasons, but at the moment he's penciled in for setup duty, with Santiago Casilla the closer. The two have gone back and forth in those roles over the last few seasons; Romo began the 2014 season as the closer and saved 23 games, but lost that job to Casilla midway through the season due to problems keeping the ball in the park. His 1.4 homers per nine and 3.94 FIP were both career worsts, and his 3.72 ERA represented his highest mark since 2009. Still, his track record — a 2.51 career ERA with 10.2 strikeouts per nine — suggests that he'll bounce back, and at his current price, he's not breaking the bank.

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