Compared to Prince Fielder's $214 million deal with Detroit, every other transaction in the past week qualifies as "other news." Nevertheless, while Fielder was grabbing all the attention, some other impactful moves took place that warrant attention, such as:
Giants extend SP Tim Lincecum ($40.5M / 2 years)
The Giants didn't do much here other than pay Lincecum what he's worth for his final two arbitration seasons while eliminating the headache, uncertainty, distraction and potential bad vibes of facing down their franchise player at an arbitration hearing both this and next February. The annual salaries are roughly the amounts submitted to arbitration by Lincecum and the Giants last week. Lincecum, will make $18 million this year (the Giants submitted $17 million for this season) and $22 million next year (Lincecum submitted $21.5 million), with the other half million coming via a signing bonus.
The other thing this contract does is set Lincecum up for a monster payday as a free agent, be it following the 2013 season or via a further extension from the Giants in the interim. Only three pitchers in baseball history have signed contracts with higher average annual salaries than the $22 million Lincecum will make next year, and unless he suffers a total collapse before he signs his next contract, that $22 million will be the starting point for Lincecum's negotiations.
That salary is also good news for Cole Hamels, who can use it as a comparison in his negotiations with the Phillies or as a free agent after the coming season. Hamels, who just settled with the Phillies for $15 million in this, his final arbitration year, is just six months older than Lincecum, left-handed, and has been the better pitcher over the last two seasons.
Blue Jays extend SP Brandon Morrow ($21M / 3 years + $10M option for 2015)
No starting pitchers has struck out batters more often than Morrow over the last two seasons. His 10.53 K/9 is more than a strikeout per inning better than runner-up Clayton Kershaw's mark among pitchers with 30 or more starts over the past two seasons. The 27-year-old righty has also lowered his previously problematic walk rate in each of those two seasons. Unfortunately, when hitters do make contact with Morrow's pitches, bad things happen, thanks in part to the Jays shaky defense, and in part to Morrow's extreme fly-ball tendencies in a homer-happy ballpark. The result is a talented young pitcher still looking for his first 200-inning season and his first season as a starting pitcher with an ERA below the league average.
The Blue Jays clearly like Morrow's chances of figuring it out, as they just bought him out through his first free agent year and added a $10 million option for his second in 2015. Certainly Morrow's maturation will be key to the Jays having any real chance of denting the top two spots in the hypercompetitive American League East and $21 million over three years isn't a terribly huge commitment to a pitcher with Morrow's potential (the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft, he was a top-100 prospect the following winter and still has stud potential as evidenced by that strikeout rate). Still, his 2011 season wasn't the breakout many had expected, and unless he can keep both his walks and fly balls down going forward, even the $7 million average annual value of this deal could prove to be excessive.
Nationals extend OF/1B Michael Morse ($10.5M / 2 years)
Morse surprised a lot of people last year by hitting .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs and picking up some low-ballot MVP votes in what was his first full major league season at age 29, but his production wasn't all that different from what he did as a part-timer in 2010. If you were paying attention, you could see it coming. FanGraphs' Dollars, which attempts to estimate the dollar value of a player's season on the open market, tells us that Morse was worth $15 million in 2011 alone. The Nationals didn't buy out any of his free agent seasons with this deal, but they should more than get their money's worth and likely saved a bundle on his 2013 salary by locking it down now.
Rockies pick up RP Rafael Betancourt's 2013 option, add option for 2014
There's no word yet on the dollar amounts for the 2014 option, but Betancourt will make $4 million this year and $4.25 million in 2013, so expect it to be between $4 and $5 million. Betancourt will be 39 in the 2014 season, but he'll also be the Rockies closer in 2012. He filled that role ably down the stretch last year, converting eight of nine chances after taking over the ninth inning on August 9 while striking out 17 men against no walks and allowing just one run (plus just one of five inherited runners to score) in 16 innings as the Rockies' closer. In two and a half years with Colorado, Betancourt has struck out 11.5 men per nine innings against just 1.3 walks per nine, good for a staggering 9.1 K/BB over 150 innings. He's a bargain, and the Rockies did well to gain control over him for another year.
Rays sign 1B Carlos Peña ($7.25M / 1 year)
Peña has hit just .216 over the last three seasons, but he has also averaged 32 home runs and 92 walks over the same span while providing an above-average glove at first base. His inability to make the sort of reliable contact necessary to hit for a higher average undermines that production, but not so much that he isn't a solid alternative for teams that can't compete with the nine-figure contracts being handed out to superstar first baseman like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard and Mark Teixeira in recent years (that Peña didn't sign with the Brewers as Fielder's replacement is actually a big blow to Milwaukee's chances in the coming season). The Rays are a team that knows how to focus on what a player can do as opposed to what he can't, and by adding Peña to Luke Scott, who now becomes their full-time designated hitter, they've filled two spots in their lineup with players who have solid on-base skills and 30-home run power for a total commitment of less than $14 million.
Red Sox trade IF Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for RHP Clayton Mortensen, sign OF Cody Ross ($3M / 1 year + incentives)
The Scutaro trade is a salary dump that saves a team spending upwards of $150 million annually on player payroll just $6 million (or $7.67 million if you count luxury tax penalties) while costing them a starting shortstop better than half of his peers. Speculation has it that the idea was to use the savings to add Roy Oswalt to the rotation, but the Red Sox just spent half of it on Cody Ross, who seems likely to be the short side of a platoon with Ryan Sweeney in rightfield. Mortensen, who will be 27 in April and induces a fair number of ground balls, can start, which means he gives the Red Sox some depth in an area in which they need it, but he's the kind of depth you hope you don't have to use.
For the Rockies, that trade is a godsend, as Scutaro can ably fill their hole at second base better than top available free agent second basemen Ryan Theriot and Aaron Miles, both of whom are essentially replacement-level players, could have. The Rockies' second basemen hit .256/.304/.351 in 2011. Scutaro, a fine fielder at shortstop who should be above average at the keystone, has hit .284/.356/.404 over the last three seasons.
Blue Jays sign RP Francisco Cordero ($4.5M / 1 year)
Cordero has 327 career saves, good for 12th all-time, but his days as a closer appear to be over as he joins the Blue Jays' stacked bullpen as just another righty available to set up Sergio Santos, and not necessarily the best of those, either. Cordero, who spent the last four years with the Reds and will be 37 in May, has seen his strikeout rate drop in each of the last four seasons, falling to a below-average 5.4 K/9 last year, a season in which he benefitted from a .215 opponents' average on balls in play (compared to a previous career mark of .307). Unless he can reverse that trend in his strikeout rate, Cordero is likely to be overpaid for the coming season. Worth noting: the Cordero signing seems to have been a reaction to Koji Uehara's refusal of a trade that would have sent him to Toronto from the Rangers. The Jays have now added Santos, Cordero, righty Jason Frasor and lefty Darren Oliver this winter to a bullpen which should also include righty set-up man Casey Janssen and swing men Carlos Villanueva and Jesse Litsch.
Orioles sign IF Wilson Betemit ($3M / 2 years + vesting option)
There aren't a lot of dollars here, but I still see no reason for any team to give a multi-year deal to Betemit, a poor defensive infielder and switch-hitter-in-name-only who can't hit left-handed pitching (.246/.299/.385 vs. LHP in 472 career plate appearances). Word is the Orioles will use Betemit as their primary designated hitter, which suggests they understand his limitations as well as their own.
A's sign OF Jonny Gomes ($1M / 1 year + incentives)
The right-handed Gomes, a career .281/.375/.501 hitter against left-handed pitching, gives the A's a platoon partner for Seth Smith. At least, that is, if one of their young players, ideally 25-year-old slugger Chris Carter, emerges to prevent Smith and Gomes from taking the field simultaneously as leftfielder and designated hitter, which they seem likely to do to start the year.
Astros sign C Chris Snyder ($1.25M / 1 year + $4M mutual option and incentives)
I picked Snyder as the best available free agent catcher in mid-December, and the team and contract he wound up with are evidence of just how weak his competition was. Just $350,000 of Snyder's $750,000 salary for 2012 is guaranteed ($500,000 of the contract's total value listed above is his 2013 buyout), though he could earn as much as $2.5 million this year if he reaches all of his incentives. Coming off back surgery that ended his 2011 season in early June, Snyder has a lot to prove, though the size of that option suggests that someone, be it his agent or the Astros, believes he can do it.
Indians acquire SP Kevin Slowey from the Rockies for RHP Zach Putnam
Acquired from the Twins for a negligible minor league reliever Daniel Turpen as rotation depth in early December, Slowey became expendable in Colorado when the team subsequently added Tyler Chatwood from the Angels and Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso from the A's. So, off he goes to the Indians, who could use some more rotation depth in the wake of Fausto Carmona's arrest. The Rockies get 24-year-old righty reliever Putnam, who has less than seven innings of big league experience, in return. Putnam could be a solid major league set-up man as soon as this year, which is more than Turpen is ever likely to be, so the two transactions work out to a net gain for Colorado. As for Slowey, the soft-tossing fly-ball pitcher now gets to work his way back from two seasons plagued by arm trouble in a far friendlier home ballpark and may have traded up within his old division in the process.
I said my piece on Posada two weeks ago, but it's worth noting here that the long-time Yankee, though 40, left something on the table. Posada hit .269/.348/.466 against lefties in 2011 and looked good in limited exposure at first base. He could have continued his career as a platoon first baseman/designated hitter/pinch-hitter/emergency catcher without embarrassing himself, but it's hard to argue that he should have.