Sunday, November 12, 2006

Transaction Recap: Cubs, Tigers, Indians, Padres

Cubs:

Signed 3B Aramis Ramirez to 5-year, $73 million contract
Signed SP Wade Miller to 1-year, $1.5 million contract, plus incentives
Signed RP Kerry Wood to 1-year, $1.75 million contract, plus incentives

I like the Wood and Miller contracts a lot. In an era where pitching is at a premium--just check out the money the Cubs are giving their bullpen in 2007-08--the Cubs are taking some chances on a couple of talented, injury-prone arms at low risk.

Both pitchers can earn over $3 million in incentives, so they will be well-compensated if they perform, but if they aren't able to contribute, the Cubs won't be stuck wasting $10 million, as the Yankees (Carl Pavano), Mets (Pedro Martinez), and Red Sox (Matt Clement) will. It's clear from the language in Wood's contract that the Cubs intend to make him their closer in 2007. He brings the complete ensemble for relief success, though he needs to stay healthy and keep the walks down.

The Ramirez contract is harder to endorse. Keith Law ranked him as the number 1 free agent this offseason; though he's no Barry Bonds at the plate and no Jim Edmonds in the field, there's no free agent I'd rather give a five-year contract to, so this ranking makes sense. It's hard to evaluate this contract without seeing how the market shakes out. Certainly, $14.6 million per annum is a lot for a guy with a bat below superstar level and little defensive value, but the Cubs are in a position where they need to succeed in the near future or risk long-term damage at the box office. In order for the five-year commitments to Ramirez and Derrek Lee to work out well, Chicago will need to do more work this offseason. Their pitching staff could be the best in the league if it can stay healthy (stop me if you've heard this before), but the lineup still has many holes to fill.

Tigers:

Traded SP Humberto Sanchez, RP Kevin Whelan, and RP Anthony Claggett to the Yankees for RF/DH Gary Sheffield

Signed Sheffield to two-year, $28 million extension through 2009

This trade, like the ones made by the White Sox after their World Series win, makes sense in spirit but not in execution. Teams in the Tigers' current position--85-win talent, a couple of holes in the lineup--benefit the most from adding a big impact player. GM Dave Dombrowski knows the Tigers will need an impact bat to return to the playoffs in 2007, and he delivered one of the only available sluggers. Sheffield brings power and plate discipline to a lineup that desperately needs a big hitter in the middle of its order.

There's just one fly in the ointment: Detroit now owes Sheffield $41 million for his age 38-40 seasons. Even in the craziness that is the current free-agent market, does anyone believe that Sheffield, had his option been declined, would have gotten three years and $41 million, including a $14 million commitment for his age 40 season?

Perhaps because he strung together three consecutive seasons of 154 or more games played from 2003-05 at ages 34-36, Sheffield has apparently lost his label as injury-prone. It was once expected that he would miss 20-25 games each year, much like Larry Walker. As he ages, it's hard to imagine he will stay especially healthy.

The Bill James Handbook projects 123 games and an .892 OPS for Sheffield in 2007, which looks about right. That may be worth $13 million to a team near the level of contention, but combined with the normal steep decline suffered by hitters in their late thirties, will it be worth $14 million in 2008 and 2009? Almost certainly not, and that's without considering the pitchers the Tigers parted with to get him.

Sanchez is one of the better pitching prospects in baseball, with a decent strikeout rate and good command. He does have a tendency to give up the long ball, but so does Jered Weaver. Whelan has posted excellent strikeout numbers every step of the way in his short pro career, and if he can get his walks down, he could be a solid MLB reliever in a few years. Claggett looks like more of a long-term project, but has some upside.

All in all, a great deal for the Yankees, who acquired three live arms for a player they didn't even want in the first place.

Indians:

Traded 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff and P Andrew Brown to the Padres for 2B Josh Barfield

An interesting deal for both teams. Kouzmanoff looked to be the third baseman for the Indians until Andy Marte was ready, but the team had a hole at second base, which they have now filled with a young, productive player.

Kouzmanoff absolutely tore through the minor leagues in 2006, and didn't embarass himself in his major-league debut. He could be a quadruple-A player, having not reached the majors until late in his age-24 season, or he could be a cheap source of above-average production for the next several years. The Padres are apparently going to try him in left field, where he has never played, though they have a hole at third base in next year's depth chart.

Brown's stock fell far in 2006 along with his peripheral stats, which took a steep fall from the promise of 2004-05. He can still be a productive pitcher out of the bullpen, but he isn't ready for a big-time role yet.

Barfield exceeded expectations in 2006, hit much better outside of PETCO Park's spacious dimensions, and is still very young and short of arbitration. He's a valuable commodity, especially if he continues to hit as well as he did on the road in '06 (.355 OBP, .484 SLG).

I like Kouzmanoff's bat, but this is a deal that made sense for both teams.

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