Monday, December 18, 2006

Transaction Recap: Mariners, Nationals, Tigers, Devil Rays

Mariners/Nationals:

Mariners traded RP Emiliano Fruto and OF Chris Snelling to Nationals for 2B Jose Vidro and cash (rating: 2/10 for Mariners, 9 for Nationals)

I don't know what Seattle is doing. Depending on who you believe, the M's either want to let Vidro DH--turning him into one of the league's worst at his position rather than above-average--or move Jose Lopez to third and trade Adrian Beltre, replacing one bad glove at second base with another while giving the team even less offense.

Reportedly, the Mariners are picking up $12 million for two years on Vidro, so they're not getting a bargain. Adam Kennedy got $10 million for three years, while Marcus Giles was non-tendered with the expectation he'd receive around $5 million in arbitration. Both are better players than Vidro, a guy I'm not sure could get 2 years/$12M on the open market. Having to give up two young players with upside is the icing on the death sentence.

The Nationals made out like bandits on this one. You've probably heard of Snelling, the former top prospect who can't stay healthy. His bat disappeared in AAA last year, but he'll be just 25 and has a career .872 OPS in the minors, so he should compete for a spot in the Washington outfield next year, possibly serving as one more roadblock between Ryan Church and the majors.

Fruto has some significant control issues, but at age 22 in 2006 he struck out 55 in 45.1 innings at AAA and 34 in 36 IP in Seattle, while allowing just 5 HR combined. With the cost of power relievers soaring, he could provide significant value down the road if he can consistently find the strike zone.

Tigers:

Signed Jeremy Bonderman to a 4-year, $38 million extension (8)

The deal covers his last two arbitration years for a total of $13 million, along with the first two years of free agency at $12.5 million each.

A very good signing by the Tigers. Bonderman is a guy with all the peripherals statheads look for--high strikeout rate, low walk rate, high groundball/flyball ratio--but who hasn't broken out yet, making him an excellent low-price, high-potential commodity. Though the Blue Jays have yet to figure it out, the goal of front-office work is to sign these guys before they establish themselves as studs, not immediately after.

The Tigers are taking advantage of timing in another important fashion. At this time last year, Bonderman might have been counting down the days until he could escape Detroit's annual two months of contention. Now, they've established themselves as a "legitimate" contender, or at least done enough to convince him to stick around awhile longer.

The contract isn't too long, especially since Bonderman will be only 27 when it expires, and it is heavily backloaded, which helps because a baseball dollar in 2010 is worth much less than one in 2007. When Gil Meche commands $55 million over five years, giving Bonderman effectively a two-year extension for $25 mil is an easy take.

Devil Rays:

Signed 3B Akinori Iwamura to a 3-year, $8 million contract with a team option for 2010 (8)

The deal also includes a clause whereby the D-Rays must extend Iwamura's contract by the end of the deal or non-tender him, so he will never go to arbitration.

The consensus of the projections for Iwamura have him at a .350 OBP and .450 SLG, numbers comparable to those put up by Eric Chavez, Aubrey Huff and Chad Tracy last year. To get a player who can hit like that for $12.5 million over three years (counting the posting fee) is a coup.

The big question now is what happens to B.J. Upton. He seems destined for center field if the Devil Rays can deal Rocco Baldelli for young pitching, or perhaps Upton himself will be dealt for some promising arms. Second base, where Jorge Cantu stunk it up last year, is another possibility. Regardless, if the Devil Rays can develop or sign some pitching, they could be a very dangerous team in a couple of years.

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