Thursday, December 13, 2012

Winter Meetings Wrap

Taking a look at some of the more significant moves since the big Jays-Marlins swap and during the Winter Meetings, while throwing in a few insignificant moves just for fun.

Angels trade Jordan Walden to Braves for Tommy Hanson, sign Joe Blanton
In two moves that seem to indicate the Angels are resigned to letting Greinke go, they added two rotation pieces for the upcoming season. Hanson is 26 years old and is under team control for 3 more seasons. His first three seasons with the Braves were excellent, pitching to a 3.28 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, with 8.4 K/9. His 2012 season was a bit downhill as he suffered from shoulder issues and couldn't get his fastball speed up to what it was when he first came to the majors. The Angels are obviously hoping that last season's decline was just a result of injuries and he can get back to his pre-2012 form. I really like this move for the Angels. They get a good, young, cheap, and controllable rotation piece for a reliever. Walden has been good with a 3.06 career ERA and 11.1 K/9. He has had walk issues though and was unable to hold onto the Angel's closer job this season. Ultimately though, any time you can turn a reliever into a young proven starter, you jump at the opportunity. This move is a little more puzzling from the Braves' point of view. They had an excess of starters, but the back of their bullpen has been excellent (second best bullpen ERA in the league) and I have to believe that they could have gotten more for Hanson than just Walden or could have looked to fill a greater need.

I don't like the Joe Blanton addition for the Angels nearly as much. I'm not entirely sure who the Angels were bidding against when the offered Blanton two years at $15M since aside from staying healthy, Blanton does not offer much else to a team. He's never had higher than 8 K/9 in a season and his carrer low in ERA was 3.95 back in 2007. For a team with World Series aspirations, they'll need more than just an innings eater to get it done.

Astros claim Phil Humber
What do you do after a 107 loss season? Look for diamonds in the rough. One might remember my lack of enthusiasm for when Humber threw a perfect game earlier this season. To this point in his career Humber seemed like a quad-A player who was unable limit his hits enough to be a viable starter in the majors. Little has happened since to change my mind, but I like this move purely from a philosophical point of view. It never hurts, especially when you're a bad team, to stockpile players. Throw enough guys out there and maybe you'll find one that works. When the player comes cheap and you're in a season with low expectations it can't hurt to see if a guy can recapture some of the magic that let him get 27 straight outs in a single game.

Rangers sign Joakim Soria, re-sign Geovany Soto
The Rangers bullpen was good last year, but for a team looking for a World Series win, another arm always helps. They have also lost a few players to free agency or the rotation so adding the Royals ex-closer will ease the transition. Soria had Tommy John surgery last April and missed the entire 2012 season but looks to be ready for May 2013. Before the injury Soria was one of the most consistent pitchers in the league, compiling a career 2.40 ERA. His 2011 season was his worst but the Rangers are hoping that he rediscovers his old form after the surgery. He's still fairly young, only 28, and the contract is very affordable at two years, $8M. He'll be a reliable setup arm behind Joe Nathan this season as the Rangers look to recapture the division.

With Napoli on his way out the catching market looked extremely thin. Soto was bad last season having posted a .198/.270/.343 line with the Cubs and Rangers. However when looking at alternatives such as A.J. Pierzynski or Rod Barajas, the Cubs are decided to roll with Soto again and hope that he can put up numbers like he did with the Cubs in 2008 or 2010. This is really a lateral move for the Rangers and I have to think that they're looking at trade options (J.P. Arencibia?) but with the thin catching market there weren't a lot of alternatives.

Nationals sign Dan Haren
A quick disclaimer. I have this irrational weakness for Dan Haren. No matter his inconsistency, I think he's always one season away from a Cy Young award. His time in LA started great, which I think made his later performances seem worse than they actually were. In 2011 Haren pitched 238.1 innings with a 3.17 ERA. He looked to be an anchor of the Angels' rotation for many years to come but a 12-13 record in 2012 with a 4.33 ERA led to the team passing on his option. Haren replaces Edwin Jackson now in the Nationals rotation on a very affordable 1 year, $13M deal. The deal works for both sides, Haren looks to rebuild his value this season in search of another multi-year deal, and the Nationals get a player who put up 12.1 WAR in two seasons the last time he pitched in the National League. Washington will have a solid rotation again this year, and with full seasons from Harper and Strasburg, they have to be considered the favourites to repeat in the NL East.

Red Sox sign Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli
The Red Sox added a new outfielder and first baseman to fill the holes left by Carl Crawford, Cody Ross, and Adrian Gonzalez. Victorino and Napoli both signed 3 year, $39M deals. These new players come with some pretty significant warts though. At this point in his career Victorino has basically become a platoon player.His numbers against righties this year were terrible as he hit only .229/.296/.333. He is still a great hitter against lefties, .323/.388/.518 in 2012, but since he'll face about 2.5 times more righties than lefties this is going to be a major issue. Now that he's 32 he's not likely to improve either. He's still a good defensive outfielder, but the Red Sox might be marginalizing his talent by playing Ellsbury in center and Victorino in right. It's a fairly big contract to give to someone who likely won't be an everyday player by the end of the deal.

Napoli's days at catcher seem to be coming to an end as he'll most likely be the Red Sox everyday first baseman. Napoli has gotten most of his value in the past from being a catcher. Over his two years in Texas, including his crazy 2011 season, Napoli has put up a .398 wOBA, putting him first place among catchers, and by far in first place among American League catchers. That number drops to 4th though when we consider him among first baseman. If we stretch the time period out to the last four seasons to try and temper down a bit what seems like an anomalous 2011, Napoli slips to third among catchers in wOBA but down to 9th as a first baseman. At the age of 31 Napoli is likely to be on the decline for the next few seasons. He's a better option than James Loney, but there's a reason he was traded for only Frank Francisco just two years ago. With his days off from catching he's going to need to keep his power numbers high to make this contract worth it, especially given how much he strikes out and that he's a negative defender at both first and catcher.

I'm not sure how excited I'd be as a Red Sox fan if this is where the money is going from the Dodgers blockbuster trade.

Rays trade Derek Dietrich to Marlins for Yunel Escobar, sign James Loney
"It's a player making more than league minimum! Quick trade him!" I assume that was the sentiment in the Marlins front office after a Jays trade in which I can only assume the Marlins were forced to take back Escobar. Escobar's hitting took a step back last season but he was excellent defensively and by pushing Zobrist over to second base, he'll give the Rays one of the best defensive infields in the league. Escobar has the infamous eye black issue at the end of last season and was traded out of Atlanta when the Braves had similarly soured on him, but if there's one manager in the league I have confidence in to work out these issues it's Joe Maddon.

Loney adds to the solid defensive infield but his signing came as a disappointment to me. The Rays are in serious need of offense and power and we've seen enough of Loney to know that it's just not going to happen. his career high in homeruns was 15, back in 2007, and it's tough to play in the AL East with a first baseman like that. It's a cheap contract, but at some point the Rays are going to have to make a play for a real bat if they want to play into October.

Giants re-sign Marco Scutaro, Angel Pagan
Two prime examples of how a good performance in a contract year can payoff. Last season Angel Pagan was traded for Andres Torres, a player who has since been non-tendered by the Mets (Edit: Torres has since been signed by the Giants for 1 year, $2M). Pagan has arguably his best season in 2012 though and earned himself a 4 year, $40M extension. I'm mixed on this signing. Pagan will be 31 next season and I don't think has shown enough in his career yet to warrant a 4 year commitment. On the other hand, unless the Giants wanted to start wading into the B.J. Upton/Michael Bourn bidding war, Pagan may have been their best option. If he can produce 4 more years of the type he did this past year, this contract will end up being one of the best signings from this offseason.

I love Scutaro from his two seasons in Toronto, but prior to his trade to the Giants this season I don't think anyone could have imagined that he would get a three year $20M deal. Between his Toronto and San Francisco stints Scutaro put up a .281/.334/.390 line which included a .320/.379/.434 line in 54 games at Coors. Not bad, but nothing particularly special, comparable to players like Jeff Keppinger or Omar Infante. But then Scutaro came to the Giants, hit .362/.385/.473, won the NLCS MVP, and was a big reason the Giants won the World Series. That was great for him and the Giants, but it was obviously a performance that was unsustainable in the long term. Meanwhile the contract that Scutaro got is almost twice as big as the one Keppinger just got, except that Keppinger is 32 years old while Scutaro is 37. I don't really see how this contract can possibly be worth it and I'll be impressed if Scutaro is still a regular starter at the end of it. I think the Giants too highly valued his recent performance with the team instead of looking forwards to what would be best for the team.

Orioles re-sign Nate McLouth
Since McLouth's 2008 All-Star it's been pretty much all downhill. In the four seasons since he's hit .235/.332/.381 with only 37 HR. Fortunately he ended last season on a bright note, going .268/.342/.435 with 7 HR in a third of a season after being traded to the Orioles. McLouth reportedly wanted only a one year deal to try and reestablish value which works out well for the Orioles. He played well for them at the end of last season and he's a cheap option to carry this year as they try and make it back to the playoffs. His BABIP spiked in his time in Baltimore, but even if his average regresses, if he can keep his power and become a 20 HR player again this contract will be more than worth it. This is more of a treading water move than one that pushes the Orioles back into the playoffs, but a full season of McLouth at the level he played at at the end of the season won't hurt.

Mariners sign Jason Bay
The best part of Bay's buyout from the Mets is that he was available super cheap to the rest of the league. The Mariners capitalized by signing him to a more than reasonable, low-risk, 1 year deal for $1M with an additional $2M in incentives.

It's difficult to tell exactly what kind of player Bay is anymore. From 2004-2009 Bay posted a .280/.375/.519 line while averaging 30 HR per season. Then Bay moved from the hitter's confines of Fenway to the spacious outfield of Citi and hit .257/.349/.402 in his first season with the Mets. It was easy to blame the change in home park, but after two more seasons at .221/.302/.351 including a .215/.297/.321 road line in 2011, it's difficult to attribute his lack of hitting to coincidence anymore. There's still hope though, we've seen the player he was and at 34 he's a few years removed from that, but hopefully not over-the-hill. One of the biggest things that works for Bay in Seattle (aside from the Canadians coming down from Vancouver) is that Seattle's outfield isn't very good. Casper Wells and Michael Saunders aren't scaring anyone with the bat. There could also be DH opportunities for rest on the rare days that Miguel Montero catches. It's not a big move, but it's extremely low-risk. It gives Bay a chance to keep playing baseball while earning his big Mets money, and the Mariners can easily cut-and-run if Bay really is done.

Diamondbacks sign Eric Chavez, White Sox sign Jeff Keppinger, Pirates sign Russell Martin
I'm grouping these players together not because of the teams they signed with, but because of the team they didn't sign with. The Yankees expressed interest in all these players and for various reasons were not able to land them. When was the last time we saw that happen?

Chavez and Keppinger were both being looked at to fill the void at third base that ARod's hip created. I can't fault Keppinger for chasing the money the White Sox offered. The Yankees don't usually get outspent, but going 3 years at $12M for Keppinger seems a bit crazy. Keppinger had his first good season last year, posting a .325/.367/.439 line, albeit with a .332 BABIP. Before last season though he's been fairly awful, posting a career -0.6 WAR. He won't add a lot to the White Sox infield and 3 years seems to be a long commitment to a corner infielder with no power.

The Chavez signing is more intriguing. The one-year $3M contract the Diamondbacks gave him should prove to be a great deal and something the Yankees could have definitely afforded. He played well in a reserve role for the Yankees last year so it seemed to be a good fit going forwards. Maybe there was some drama between him and the team which hastened his exit.

Martin got a good deal, 2 years $15M, from the Pirates, which I'm surprised the Yankees weren't willing to match given their now awful catching situation and the fact that Martin has done reasonably well in his time in New York. His .211 AVG last season leaves a lot to be desired, but he had a last-for-catchers .222 BABIP, and was league average in most other offensive categories. Although the money he got is fairly reasonable, getting it from the Pirates took me by surprise. Pittsburgh is a team that still needs to upgrade a lot of positions and dedicating $15M to a catcher who isn't a major upgrade over recently departed Rod Barajas seems like an inefficient use of limited funds.

Rockies re-sign Jeff Francis
It isn't easy to get pitchers to sign in Colorado so it's nice to see that Francis and the Rockies have found and re-found each other over the years. Francis is not a particularly good pitcher, which works out since the Rockies are not a particularly good team. I'd say Coors Field has been messing with his numbers, but he actually has a better ERA at Coors, 4.82, than his career ERA of 4.86. The contract is cheap though, $1.5M-$3M depending on incentives so if Francis can stay healthy he'll have some value. Really this is just a way for the Rockies to eat innings as they look forward to 2014 and beyond.

Phillies trade Vance Worley and Trevor May to the Twins for Ben Revere
I have to think that the Phillies know something about Worley that the rest of the baseball world doesn't. Maybe they believe his elbow injury will have much longer lingering effects than what's currently showing up on medical reports. If this isn't the case though, then I really have a hard time explaining this one. The Phillies definitely needed outfield help, thus all the Bourn rumours, but Ben Revere is hardly the answer. He's a speed demon who will track down balls in the outfield and cause some havoc on the bases, but beyond that he's won't be of any help. If he can't track down a ball on the fly, the Phillies are going to need about two cutoff men to handle his weak arm. The stolen bases are impressive, he's 4th in the league over the last two seasons, but he doesn't hit or get on base nearly enough to fully take advantage of it. He also has absolutely no power. He currently leads the league in plate appearances without a home run and even with all his speed he was only able to muster 19 extra base hits last season. For a team that's in "win now" mode like the Phillies with their aging core, a player like Revere is not going to give them that final push to put them over the threshold. 

Vance Worley seems like the superior player in the deal, which makes it even more surprising that the Phillies threw in Trevor May, who projects to be a mid-rotation starter. Worley needs to show he can pitch a full season, but he's young, controllable with some good experience under his belt. He doesn't have a great out pitch which may make his current K rate seem a bit unsustainable. He can give up a fair amount of contact, but getting a better defensive infield behind him should help. I don't see how the Twins don't win this trade. They clearly didn't see Revere as their answer in CF, and Bourn may not have been the solution in Philly, but I really can't say that it will be Revere. Also with the Blanton signing (I realize that he was traded from Philly last year) and now Worley gone, the Phillies rotation is starting to look very thin after their top three.

Red Sox sign Koji Uehara
What do you do after you've stripped your team for parts? Sign a 38 year old reliever to a $4.25M contract!  Now Boston's bullpen was a mess last season, finishing 4th worst in the AL with an ERA of 3.88 and Uehara has been great since coming to the MLB, pitching to a 2.36 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, with a 11.4 K/9 over the last 3 seasons, but this move will have only a minor effect on the overall team. Uehara has never been worth more than 2 WAR in a season, and at his age there isn't much room for improvement. His health will be a concern after spending 77 days on the DL last season with a shoulder strain. I like the move and it will help the Red Sox, but if the their rotation isn't able to put together some good outings, it's going to be a long season for Uehara.

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