Hot Stove Roundup: Smaller moves can still have big impact
The Angels and Marlins weren't the only teams getting things done at the just-completed Winter Meetings in Dallas, and Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson weren't the only players the Angels acquired. For fans of the other 28 teams and LaTroy Hawkins, here's a summary of some of the less-celebrated player transactions from the last week and a half.
By accepting arbitration, all three players are guaranteed a one-year contract at no less than 80 percent of their 2011 salaries (which means a minimum of $10.12 million for Ortiz, $9.2 million for Rodriguez and $4.68 million for Johnson). The Red Sox had offered Ortiz a two-year deal before he accepted arbitration and may yet work out a multi-year deal with him at a lower annual salary than the $12.65 million he earned this past season, particularly given that Ortiz would easily win his arbitration case coming off his best season since 2007. The Blue Jays might take a similar approach with Johnson, whom they also wanted back, though Johnson's case is less of slam dunk. Rodriguez, however, could well be traded, as fellow closer-turned-set-up-man Rafael Soriano was after he accepted salary arbitration from the Braves prior to the 2010 season. If he does stay in Milwaukee, he'd likely return to setting up closer John Axford.
I'll admit to having a double-standard when it comes to closers. When a team in the thick of contention shells out big money for an established closer, I understand it. A blown save here or there can be the difference between advancing or going home for those teams, and making or advancing in the playoffs comes with a significant financial windfall. When weak teams expend resources for an established closer, however, I chafe at the waste. Bullpens can be more affordably upgraded by acquiring undervalued set-up men than overvalued closers, and the few blown saves that separate a mid-range established closer like Capps or Francisco from a converted set-up man under team control aren't going to make much difference to a team 10-plus games out of first place.
Just as significantly, if the young pitcher the team in question allows to close succeeds, he instantly becomes more valuable as a trade chip. That's what the White Sox did with Santos, a converted infielder whom they picked up as a minor league free agent prior to the 2009 season and wound up converting 30 of 36 save opportunities for them this season. That's all it took for them to be able to flip him to the Blue Jays for a compelling young arm like Molina, a scrawny, 22-year-old Dominican righty who dominated High-A this past season with mid-90s heat, impressive off-speed pitches, and an 8.21 K/BB ratio. That move is the start of a rebuild on the South Side, though one that has already stagnated due to general manager Kenny Williams' dissatisfaction at the prospects being offered for his veterans.
The Blue Jays at least got four years of team control of Santos for an unproven player. The Padres gave up nothing in players but are paying $7 million of Street's 2012 salary, while the Mets committed two years to an "established closer" who has saved 19 games in the last two seasons combined.
As for the rest of the Mets moves: An extreme fly-ball pitcher, Rauch would have been perfect for Citi Field before the Mets moved the fences in. Just look at what happened to his home run rate when he moved from Target Field (0.5 HR/9IP) to Rogers Centre (1.9 HR/9). How his new ballpark plays with its new dimensions will have a big impact on his effectiveness this season. The inclusion of Ramirez, who joins his fifth team and seventh organization heading into his seventh major league season, suggests that the Giants think they got the better of the centerfielder challenge. Switch-hitting speedsters who struggled last year after unexpected breakout performances prior, Pagan and Torres are more alike than they are different. Pagan is 3 ½ years younger and has the longer major league track record, but Torres hit .285/.361/.489 in 1,831 plate appearances between the minors and majors in the four seasons prior to his injury-riddled 2011, suggesting 2012 might have been the fluke.
Two solid signings of well-traveled veteran set-up men by contending teams looking to add depth to their bullpens. Dotel, 38, joins his sixth team in three seasons and 13th overall, tying Matt Stairs' record (or breaking it if you consider Stairs' non-consecutive stints with the Expos and Nationals as one team and not two). Hawkins, 39 next week, joins his ninth team after two seasons with the Brewers.
The Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer era in Chicago got off to an inauspicious start with these two moves. DeJesus is a bit overrated as a result of being one of the few players of merit on some awful Royals teams. The Cubs did buy low on DeJesus, coming off a career-worst season for the A's much like former Royal Johnny Damon was when he signed with Epstein's Red Sox after the 2001 season, but it's hard to get excited about this slick-fielding but underpowered corner outfielder who, at least initially, appears to be blocking centerfield prospect Brett Jackson by keeping Marlon Byrd locked in center. A platoon of the lefty DeJesus and righty Byrd in rightfield with Jackson taking over in center would make this signing look much better.
The Cubs also bought low on the two Rockies in a trade that saw three former first-round picks and one second-rounder (LeMahieu) switch teams. Stewart hit .246/.334/.454 from 2008 to 2010, including a respectable (for a Rockie) .239/.319/.457 on the road, but couldn't buy a hit last year amid injuries and demotions and didn't homer once in his 136 big league plate appearances. The best case scenario seems like a return to his underwhelming form, but the average major league third baseman hit .252/.317/.390 this year, so that would at least keep the Cubs' heads above water. Weathers is a project, a college outfielder converted to relief who has a live fastball but will turn 27 in June, has never pitched above Double-A, and has walked 70 men in 76 innings since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2010.
The Rockies take from the Cubs' trade is not much more impressive than what they gave up. Colvin, who is just five months younger than Stewart, hit a bunch of home runs as a rookie in 2010 but profiles as a fourth outfielder at best. LeMahieu, 23, plays second and third, in part because he hasn't really stuck at either and is no longer viable at shortstop, and hits for average but without many walks, much speed, or the power his 6-foot-4 frame might suggest. Slowey, who was effectively dumped by the Twins, has outstanding control and a career 4.7 K/BB ratio, but has had some minor arm trouble in the last two seasons and, as a soft-tossing fly-ball pitcher, seems particularly ill-suited to Coors Field.
More encouraging are the catcher-related moves above. Chatwood walked nearly as many as he struck out as a rookie this season but has shown an ability to get groundballs with a 93 mile per hour two-seamer and big curve. Control has always been an issue for the 22-year-old, but he's young enough that he could develop into a mid-rotation starter. As for the catchers themselves, with his 2013 option included, Iannetta was due $8.55 million over the next two seasons. Hernandez is thus cheaper and arguably better, though one has to be concerned about his age. He will turn 36 in May, which is well into the danger zone for backstops, particularly one with as many miles on him as Hernandez. Still, he hit .290/.353/.437 over the past two seasons and just has to keep that up long enough for top catching prospect Wilin Rosario to get settled in at the major league level. That makes that a nice little sequence for Colorado.
"Alex, it's Jerry. You need a backup catcher, don't you? I don't care, give me anything. I'd even take a lefty finesse pitcher in his late twenties with a career ERA around eight and a half. Mills? I'll take him, just help me get Mathis away from Scioscia. Thanks, Al. Of course, you realize that you've now traded for Jeff Mathis less than a year after trading Mike Napoli, right? No give-backs!" [click]
Capuano and Harang are solid signings for the back-end of the Dodger rotation. Both have been homer-prone in their careers, but that makes them good fits for Dodger Stadium and the light-hitting NL West. Both are likely to be no better than league-average, but, again, we're talking about a fourth and fifth starter here, the part of the rotation where league average puts you ahead of the game. Unfortunately, their arrival likely means the Dodgers are officially out on Hiroki Kuroda, who has indicated a willingness to sign somewhere other than L.A. or Japan, effectively pricing himself out of the Dodgers' plans as a result.
Juan Uribe is penciled in as the Dodgers' starter at third base, but Hairston and Kennedy provide depth and alternatives, however underwhelming. Hairston, who turns 36 in May and is joining his ninth team, landed the first multi-year deal of his career, as well as his highest single-season salary in 2013 ($3.75 million), after hitting .385/.422/.538 in 45 plate appearances as the Brewers' iron-gloved third baseman in October, though a better indication of his ability is the .254/.318/.376 he has hit for five teams over the last three seasons. Kennedy, 36 in January, has posted similar rates over the last six seasons but has been markedly worse the last two.
The trade of journeyman lefty Eveland is utterly inconsequential.
If Bedard can stay healthy, which is unlikely, he'll be effective, though his primary value to the Pirates might be as deadline trade bait. McLouth, meanwhile, is close to a replacement-level player at this point. He just turned 30 and the only thing he still does well is draw walks. Ohlendorf's shoulder might be shot, but the Princeton grad could have a career in politics. Former Red Sox prospect Navarro is still technically a rookie at 24 and can hit more than most utility infielders. Of the two minor leaguers sent to the Royals, the aptly named Pounders (he's a big boy) might have some potential as a middle-reliever.
Gonzalez is a strong defensive shortstop with pop at the plate who undermines both of those attributes by consistently posting on-base percentages south of .300. Which is to say, he's Yuniesky Betancourt with a better glove. The upgrade in the field could be significant, but then Gonzalez is also five years older than Betancourt (he'll be 35 the day after Valentine's Day), so just how long he'll continue to be an asset in the field is open to debate.
Santiago has hit .263/.323/.362 over the last three seasons, which puts him roughly 20 points of slugging shy of the major league average middle infielder, a deficit that he compensates for with excellent play in the field. He's not a star, but he's arguably better than a number of players who have held starting jobs at shortstop or second base over the past few seasons, Betancourt and Gonzalez among them. He's a handy player to have around, which is why the Tigers have given him a second-consecutive two-year deal.
Two years for Laynce Nix? He has some value off the bench, combining left-handed pop and solid outfield defense, but he's not a player to which any team needs to commit, and his utter lack of on-base skills makes him a bad fit in a platoon role.
The Diamondbacks have signed five players thus far this offseason. All five were Diamondbacks at the end of the 2011 season and combined they were worth just 2.5 wins above replacement to the 2011 D-backs, most of that coming from fluky performances from Aaron Hill and Henry Blanco. Overbay, like Hill, was an August addition who raked in his brief time with the Diamondbacks this past season. He won't do that again, though he could take platoon at-bats away from sophomore first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, which would be a mistake given that Goldschmidt hit righties better than lefties in his first major league exposure.
Backup catcher? Check.
Just more than two years after his final start, in Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, Pedro has finally made it official. Look for him in Cooperstown in July 2015.