Thursday, December 07, 2006

Transaction Recap: Dodgers, Red Sox, Padres, Cubs, Mariners, Braves, Phillies, White Sox, Athletics, Indians

In keeping with the culture of fast food, I've begun adding quick ratings to summarize my position on a transaction. The scale is out of 10, with 10 being signing Albert Pujols to a lifetime contract and 1 being anything involving an eight-year deal to a pitcher, or any trade where Kenny Williams gives up three players to acquire one.

Dodgers:


Signed SP Jason Schmidt to a 3-year, $47 million contract (8/10)

Signed LF Luis Gonzalez to a 1-year, $7 million contract (5)

The Schmidt signing looks quite good in this market. When you consider that Daisuke Matsuzaka will end up getting over $20 million/year for a longer commitment, Schmidt at under $16M annually is a relative bargain. With his strikeout-heavy repertoire, Schmidt is much less risky than a finesse pitcher like Jeff Suppan or Vicente Padilla. The dimensions of Dodger Stadium will play to Schmidt's flyball tendencies, and having an outfield with an average age under 40 should help his ERA.

Speaking of outfield age, Luis Gonzalez is an acceptable one-year replacement for J.D. Drew, and perhaps the first recorded case of a 39-year-old being a healthier option than the man he replaced. Gonzalez has barely missed any time in 11 years except for elbow surgery in 2004, and he's still good for a .350 OBP, though his power is declining. You don't want to have to pay $7 million to an average or below average performer, but in this market, that's the going rate.

As with all Dodger additions, it's good to see them attacking the weak NL West in the short-term, before the anticipated shootout between the youth of Arizona and LA in a few years. With the Giants losing anybody and everybody, it looks like the West will be a two-team race between the Dodgers and Padres, unless the Diamondbacks' youth movement accelerates next year.

Red Sox:

Signed OF J.D. Drew to a 5-year, $70 million contract (5)

Signed SS Julio Lugo to a 4-year, $32 million contract (7)

The acquisition of Drew gets the headlines, especially since everyone is reporting that it magically "allows" the Red Sox to trade Manny Ramirez, but you can make the argument that Lugo has been as good a player over the last four years due to his position and his superior ability to stay in the lineup.

This isn't to say Lugo will continue to outperform Drew in the future; Drew is a legitimate star when healthy. Still, for the sake of his health, you'd like to see him go to a team that can use him at DH frequently, and the Red Sox may be the worst fit in the league. 5 years/$70M would be a questionable contract for many teams, but given the Red Sox's status as a perennial contender, he'll return value on that deal if he can be worth four wins per year.

I like the Lugo deal. With only one quality shortstop on the market, 4 years and $32 million for a 3-4 win shortstop who'll be only 31 next year is not bad at all. Though he's not the same type of player as Edgar Renteria or Orlando Cabrera, and is slightly older than they were as free agents two years ago, Lugo has similar value entering this year's market, and he comes out with a far cheaper contract after adjusting for inflation. A good signing, and as a Cubs fan I feel particularly disappointed that Lugo is off the market.

Padres:

Signed SP Greg Maddux to a 1-year, $10 million contract (9)

A solid fit. Though he hasn't been in vintage Maddux territory for years, he has still been a great pitcher when he's not allowing home runs, and PETCO Park is where home runs are laid to rest in the gloves of outfielders.

Maddux hasn't been injured in forever, he still posts a K:BB ratio that 90% of the league is envious of, and he is still one of the more groundball-oriented pitchers in the league. The contract is only for one year, and he's still getting less money for that year than Vicente Padilla. The best pitching signing of the offseason so far, in my opinion.

Cubs:

Signed SP Ted Lilly to a 4-year, $40 million contract (7)

Lilly doesn't seem like a $40 million pitcher, but the Cubs could do a lot worse than the man Keith Law ranked between Mike Mussina and Barry Zito. Lilly has consistently been a 7.5 K/9 pitcher in the AL, which translates to around 8.5 in the NL given current exchange rates.

If there's a concern, it's Lilly's pronounced flyball tendencies, which may lead to him cracking 30 HR allowed in Wrigley, though he has never reached this mark in his career to date. Still, he's a much wiser investment than Vicente Padilla or Adam Eaton, and this contract should turn out fairly well, barring a major injury.

In the irrelevant department, the signing only exacerbates the Cubs' tendency to lead the league in pitching walks and strikeouts every year. Also, I'm not getting into Lilly's fight with John Gibbons; I'll leave the clubhouse chemistry talk to ESPN.

Mariners:

Traded RP Rafael Soriano to Braves for SP Horacio Ramirez (1)

Signed OF Jose Guillen to a 1-year, $5 million contract (6)

Um, what? I don't understand this trade at all from the Mariners' standpoint. Yes, Soriano has been supplanted as the M's closer of the future by J.J. Putz, but in a market devoid of relief aces, couldn't they have done better than a pitcher with a 1.2 career K:BB ratio? Ramirez's primary skill is inducing groundballs, but he allows contact so frequently that his career HR/9 is still 1.1. Moving to the AL and with a poorly-rated defensive middle infield behind him, he's a good bet to melt down despite the vast outfield dimensions at SAFECO.

Rob Neyer dissed the Guillen signing, but I don't see the problem with it. Yes, he's a risky proposition, but the Mariners are exactly the type of team that should be taking risks as long as the potential payoff is worth the cost. For less money than Luis Gonzalez cost, getting a 31-year-old outfielder with three good seasons in the last four is a solid play.

Braves:

Traded SP Horacio Ramirez to Mariners for RP Rafael Soriano (9)

So much for that (empty) that's been penciled in as the Braves' closer for most of the past two years. Aside from a rare two consistent months of Kyle Farnsworth, Atlanta has lacked a shutdown arm at the end of the bullpen. Now, for nothing more than an expendable and extremely risky starter, they have a cheap and very effective, if injury-prone, solution.

Since moving to the bullpen full-time, Soriano has averaged over 10 K/9 with a K:BB of 3.9/1 and an ERA of 2.25. What the hell is Bill Bavasi doing giving this guy away? If Soriano stays healthy, he is instantly one of the top 10 closers in baseball.

Phillies:

Traded SP Gavin Floyd and SP Gio Gonzalez to the White Sox for SP Freddy Gar
cia (4)

I have concerns about Garcia's effectiveness after 2006, when he reportedly lost 7-8 MPH on his fastball, but given the price of starting pitching and the Phils' status as a contender in 2007, this may be an acceptable level of risk. Still, I'm never a huge fan of giving away potentially six years of cheap productivity for one year of expensive mediocrity, and that's without considering the possibility that Floyd puts it together. If Good Freddy shows up to Phillies training camp, this will be a good deal for them.

White Sox:

Traded SP Freddy Garcia to the Phillies for SP Gavin Floyd and SP Gio Gonzalez (6)

In a vacuum, not a bad move. Still, the price Chicago paid to get Gonzalez back illustrates just how questionable last year's Jim Thome trade was for the Sox, though it worked out marvelously.

I'm somewhat surprised that this is the most the Sox could get in return for Garcia, but it's not a bad haul. Though Floyd hasn't shown a major-league quality arm since 2004, he could benefit from a new pitching coach and could become a useful bullpen arm. Gonzalez showed promise in 2006, averaging nearly 10 K/9 as a 20-year-old in AA, but with 1.4 HR/9, he has some work to do. Still, his future looks bright.

Athletics:

Signed DH Mike Piazza to a 1-year, $8.5 million contract (3)

Signed RP Alan Embree to a 2-year, $5.5 million option (4)

I normally don't subscribe to the theory that a questionable front-office move must make some sense, because baseball executives are smarter than me (even though this is true for most executives). However, I make an exception for the A's. Billy Beane has made a habit of being one step ahead of everyone else, and always finding the undervalued commodity in the market. I initially questioned Mark Kotsay's extension and Esteban Loaiza's contract, but both transactions made sense upon further inspection. (See Baseball Prospectus 2006 for a look at the Loaiza contract.)

This time, though, I'm not so sure. A month ago, I read a couple of news items. One was that Mike Piazza had his $8 million option declined by the Padres. On my scale of surprised reactions to headlines, this ranked somewhere between "Unrest in Middle East" and "Tom Brady has intangibles edge". The other was that Barry Bonds was seeking a contract for nearly the same salary he had earned this year ($18 million). I laughed that one off, figuring that in a market where Frank Thomas was worth $500,000 plus incentives, Bonds could get something in the $6-8 million range.

Piazza is now worth more as a DH in December than as a catcher in November, and I'm guessing Bonds will earn something like $12M when he finally signs, although there's now a severe lack of open DH spots on contending teams for him to fill.

As much as I like finally eliminating Piazza's awful defense from the equation, he goes from being one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball to a 38-year-old DH who was around league-average DH production from ages 35-37. Given the extreme toll catching takes on older players, he's a decent bet for a collapse.

I don't have much to say about the Embree signing, other than it's odd to see Billy Beane dish out money to one of baseball's most overrated commodities, the LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY).

Indians:

Signed RP Joe Borowski to a 1-year, $4.25 million contract (5)

As a Cubs fan, I know just how flaky Borowski can be, but this is a contract without too much downside. If he flounders as the closer, the Tribe can move him and have an overpaid middle reliever for one year, then wave goodbye in October.

Still, I'd like to see the Indians make a move for Eric Gagne or Octavio Dotel, the true shutdown arms on the market, as stability at the back end of the bullpen is their biggest need. I'll assume they didn't know Rafael Soriano was available so cheaply, or they would have made more of an effort to go after him.

No comments: