The White Sox send mixed messages, the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Reds fortify their bullpens, and the best available centerfielder (not counting Yoenis Cespedes) and two of the best platoon outfielders in the game all re-sign with their 2011 teams in this week's edition of Hot Stove Roundup.
White Sox extend SP John Danks ($65M/5 years), trade OF Carlos Quentin to Padres for RHP Simon Castro and LHP Pedro Hernandez
White Sox general manager Ken Williams sent everyone's heads spinning earlier this offseason when he followed up trading his newly-minted closer Sergio Santos for a Double-A pitching prospect by giving Danks a five-year extension. Williams said the Santos trade was "the start of a rebuilding," and has since traded Quentin and newly-acquired set-up man Jason Frasor (see below) without receiving a major leaguer in return, so what gives on the Danks extension?
The specifics of Danks' extension could contain the answer. In 2012, Danks will make $8 million and have a full no-trade clause, but in each of the following four years, he'll only be able to block a trade to six teams and will make exactly $14.25 million every season. That makes me wonder if Williams is gambling on the lefty having a strong enough age-27 season at a discount this year to make that $14.25 million look like a bargain compared to the free agent alternatives (which could include Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke and Matt Cain among others) then using that cost certainty to cash Danks in on the trade market a year from now. The alternative was to not sign him and try and deal him now, but Danks is coming off a down year (8-12, 4.33 ERA, just 170 1/3 innings due to an oblique strain) and if the White Sox lost him in free agency after the coming season they would be subject to the tougher draft pick compensation standards in the new collective bargaining agreement.
Similarly confusing is what the Padres are up to. They traded for Quentin, an injury-prone 29-year-old slugger entering his walk year, just a couple weeks after trading their young ace, Mat Latos, to the Reds for a prospect-heavy package.
The reasoning may lay in the quality of the two pitchers they sent to Chicago. The righty Castro is the higher profile prospect in the deal, but he will be 24 in April, has made just eight Triple-A starts, and has seen his prospect status wane due to the inconsistency of his mechanics, velocity, and secondary pitches. Once considered a potential star as a starter, he may prove to be just another hard-throwing righty reliever in the end. The lefty Hernandez will be 23 in April, has made just four Triple-A starts. He has outstanding control (1.5 BB/9IP in the minors), but his changeup is his only above-average pitch. He's a back-end starter at best.
This trade echoes the Padres' acquisition of closer Huston Street, whom they got as a salary dump from the Rockies, in that the price was low enough for the Padres to make the deal even without having great hopes for the coming season.
Blue Jays sign RP Darren Oliver (1 year + club option), acquire RP Jason Frasor from White Sox for RHPs Daniel Webb and Myles Jaye
Frasor, like Santos, had his option picked up at the end of October only to be traded to Toronto soon after. The 34-year-old righty was actually dealt to the White sox from the Blue Jays as part of the Edwin Jackson trade at last year's July 31 deadline. He is the Jays' career leader in games pitched, having posted career 121 ERA+ in 455 games, all of them in relief, and twice (briefly) served as the team's closer. He and Oliver, 41, whom I had identified as thetop lefty reliever remaining on the free agent market two weeks ago, will combine with Santos and primary righty set-up man Casey Janssen to give the Blue Jays an impressive end-game for the coming season. Neither of the two low-minors righties the White Sox received for Frasor is particularly compelling or promising.
Red Sox acquire CL Andrew Bailey and OF Ryan Sweeney for OF Josh Reddick, 1B Miles Head, and RHP Raul Alcantara
The Red Sox are serious about Daniel Bard starting, aren't they? I still think that's a mistake on its own merits, and now they've downgraded rightfield to support the experiment, swapping out Reddick for Sweeney. Reddick is only two years younger than Sweeney and has flaws to be sure, most significantly his inability to get on base due to low averages and poor plate discipline, but he's a toolsy player who showed some promise in his rookie campaign last year (after cups of coffee in 2009 and 2010), and could eke out a career as a corner outfielder based largely on his power at the plate and play in the field. Sweeney, meanwhile, has proven himself to be overextended as a starter, particularly in a corner, due to an utter lack of power (.378 career slugging percentage after 1,681 plate appearances) and speed, only middling patience, and a career .233/.306/.289 line against lefties in 362 PA.
As for the prospects, Head, who will be 21 in May, is a stocky, unathletic first baseman with power and patience who scuffled after a promotion to High-A in the middle of last season. He'll go only as far as his bat will take him and outside of a monstrous 66 games in the Sally League early last year, his bat hasn't done much in his brief professional career. Righty starter Alcantara just turned 19 in December and is really just a tall, scrawny kid who is so far away from whatever his potential might be that it seems silly to speculate, though some think he could be a mid-rotation starter in the majors.
Reds acquire RP Sean Marshall for SP Travis Wood, OF Dave Sappelt, and 2B Ronald Torreyes
In another win-now deal for the Reds, Cincinnati swaps three solid players for a dominant lefty set-up man in the 6-foot-7 Marshall, a curveball pitcher who piles up strikeouts and groundballs and handles righties well. The Reds' bullpen is now top-heavy with lefties in Marshall, Aroldis Chapman, and Bill Bray, one of whom would have to close as things stand now.
The Cubs, meanwhile, get a 25-year-old lefty starter with a deep, though unspectacular repertoire; a pint-sized fourth outfielder with the speed and range for center and the ability to hit for average, though not the instincts to steal bases with a high rate of success; and a teenage second-base prospect who hit .356/.398/.457 in 306 plate appearances as an 18-year-old in full-season A-ball in 2011. That's a nice take for a relief pitcher entering his walk year.
A's re-sign CF Coco Crisp ($14M/2 years + $7.5/1M option)
Take this as a signal that the A's expect a quick turnaround from their rebuilding. Indeed, of the prospects they have acquired this winter, pitchers Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, and Jarrod Parker are all on or over the major league cusp, catching prospect Derek Norris should start this season in Triple-A. Reddick slots immediately into rightfield, and the A's still have the likes of first basemen Chris Carter and Brandon Allen and outfielder Michael Taylor positioned to claim major league jobs. Thus the reunion with Crisp, who was actually the best centerfielder on the market with Cuban import Cespedes, who is sure to demand a much larger contract, still awaiting legal permission to shop himself to major league teams.
Cubs re-sign OF Reed Johnson ($1.5M/1yr)
Yankees re-sign OF Andruw Jones ($2M + bonuses/1 year)
Johnson and Jones, both of whom will be 35 this season, are two of the best right-handed fourth outfielders in baseball. Johnson is a career .311/.369/.464 hitter against lefties who can spot in center. Jones is what I want to call a "former Hall of Famer" who has hit 30 home runs in 537 plate appearances for the Rangers, White Sox, and Yankees over the last three years and .254/.374/.492 in 398 PAs against lefties over the same span.
Twins sign SP Jason Marquis ($3M + bonuses/1 year)
Marquis, 33, fits the profile of a Twins starter in that he doesn't strike out many batters (4.9 K/9 the last four years) and has struggled with injuries (a fluke broken leg last year, elbow surgery in 2010, blisters in 2009), but not in his occasionally problematic walk rates (just 1.44 K/BB over those same four seasons). Marquis' main selling point is his groundball rate (his lone All-Star appearance came in his one season pitching at Coors Field), but that will go to waste in the cavernous Target Field.
Nationals sign UT Mark DeRosa (1yr)
DeRosa will be 37 in February and over the past two seasons played in just 73 games, slugging a mere .279, both due to a left wrist problem that dates back to July 2009. The Nationals haven't announced what they're paying DeRosa for the coming season yet, but whatever amount it is seems likely to have been wasted.
Royals sign RP Jose Mijares ($925,000/1 year)
A solid LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY) for the Twins in 2009 and 2010, Mijares was a mess last year. Arbitration eligible this winter, he was non-tendered in December, but was on the market for just nine days before the Royals snapped him up. Mijares had elbow trouble in 2010 and 2011 and last year he struggled to throw his fastball for strikes as consistently as he had in 2010, lost velocity off the pitch, and wasn't fooling anyone with his slider. The Royals have a deep 'pen, but it's righty-heavy. Pint-sized lefty Tim Collins walked lefties at an alarming rate last year (4.7 PA/BB vs. LHB) and fellow rookie lefty Everett Teaford had a low strikeout rate and gopheritis against righties. The 27-year-old Mijares deepens that pool, though I have more faith in the incumbents.