Thursday, November 16, 2006

Transaction Recap: Cubs, White Sox, Tigers, Mets, Padres

Cubs:

Traded RP David Aardsma and RP Carlos Vasquez (minors) to White Sox for RP Neal Cotts

Signed C Henry Blanco to 2-year, $5.25 million extension

A pair of bad moves for the Cubs. Cotts has shown in 2004 and 2006 that his 2005 was a fluke, the kind of once-in-a-career luck that much of the Sox pitching staff experienced to propel them to the World Series. Though Aardsma was no great shakes for the Cubs, Baseball HQ and the Bill James Handbook both see a lot of potential for improvement next year. Additionally, Aardsma has less service time, and the Cubs threw in a live AA arm to boot. Though he could have sold higher on Cotts last year, Kenny Williams made a solid deal for Aardsma, whose value had bottomed out.

The Blanco signing is typical of the Cubs' approach, spending so much money on bench players and bullpen arms that they don't have any left to bid on the real star power in the market. I don't know offhand how many backup catchers are earning over $2.6 million per season, but there are surely not many. Compare this contract to the one the Cubs gave Neifi Perez to be their backup shortstop last year. Similar to that deal, it's unlikely the Cubs are bidding against any other teams this time either.

There's not much to say about Blanco that hasn't been said. He can't hit. He has a cannon arm, but he is not a championship-caliber player. Of course, the same could be said of Yadier Molina, who actually won a championship. Still, Blanco will be 35 in 2007 and old catchers tend to age especially poorly.

Tigers:

Re-signed 1B Sean Casey to a 1-year, $4 million contract

Speaking of overpaid backups...of course, Casey won't be the backup in 2007. Anyone who's numerically literate knows Chris Shelton is a better player, and that the Tigers desperately needed to upgrade their production from the power spots of LF, DH, and 1B. With the Sheffield acquisition, they overpaid to help one of those positions; now they have overpaid to hurt one of them. Just a stupid, stupid move.

Mets:

Signed 2B Jose Valentin to a 1-year, $3.8 million extension

Signed SP Orlando Hernandez to a 2-year, $12 million extension

Traded RP Royce Ring and RP Heath Bell to Padres for RP Jon Adkins and OF Ben Johnson

The Valentin signing represents a good low-risk gamble. Though Valentin was playing well over his head in 2006, he should be passable in 2007 and the Mets apparently don't want to make long-term commitments in this year's free agent market, where everyone will be overpaid by half.

The same philosophy drives the Hernandez extension. $6 million/year is very cheap for a starting pitcher these days, especially one who averaged more than a strikeout per inning last year, with a K:BB ratio of 2.7/1. Though Hernandez is "probably" going to be 42 at the end of the deal, the success of 40-year old pitchers is common in this era. A two-year commitment is about right, and the Mets should get a good return on their investment.

On a pure talent evaluation, the Mets come out behind on their trade with the Padres. Johnson is not really much of a prospect, with one good AAA season in 2005 sticking out of his career numbers like a sore thumb. He's a fourth outfielder on a team that already has a logjam of those. Adkins is no more than a back-of-the-bullpen guy, especially in a good pen like the Mets', and his career highlight is allowing the first two of the Dodgers' four consecutive home runs in their incredible comeback win.

The Padres' haul is more promising. Bell has long been a favorite of the stathead community for his good DIPS numbers despite poor results. He's spent the last three years bouncing between AAA, where he consistently dominates, and MLB, where his career numbers include 2.5 BB/9 and 8.8 K/9 with a good G/F ratio, not far off from the level of a relief ace. He has big sleeper potential for the Padres.

Ring, who the White Sox infamously drafted in the first round of the "Moneyball" draft, has shown pronounced lefty-righty splits in the minors and could be a solid LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY) in the majors. He certainly has more potential than Adkins, who has proven he is not a quality bullpen pitcher.

I've heard that the motivation behind this deal is that Bell and Ring are both out of options, so it provides the Mets with additional roster flexibility. While I understand that Ring may not be ready for the majors, Bell is clearly able to contribute and should not have been sent back down anyway.

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