- The Cubs re-signed Kerry Wood to a one-year contract for $4.2 million. Rumor has it that Wood turned down multi-year offers from other teams to take the Cubs' offer. I see this as a good move for Chicago. Upon this announcement, the word was that the Cubs would move erstwhile closer Ryan Dempster back into the rotation and make Wood their closer. I'd lean more toward Carlos Marmol as closer, but then the Cubs could do what they did last year and have Marmol pitch a lot of high-leverage innings in the 7th and 8th and leave Wood the plum job of closer. That way, even if Wood does get injured, it won't affect Marmol's ability to handle the tough stuff.
The Cubs also won the bidding for Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukudome. Fukudome's contract is for 4 years and $48 mil. -- about Hideki Matsui money. That seems pretty reasonable to me in today's market -- according to Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system, Fukudome should manage to hit about 300/400/500 with the Cubs. Essentially, he's Bobby Abreu. The most important thing is that high OBP; Fukudome takes a lot of pitches and works the count for walks, which makes him especially valuable to the Cubs, who don't have anybody else (except maybe Derrek Lee) who does that. I agree that with the Fukudome signing, the Cubs now look like the favorites in the NL Central.
- Blockbuster trade #1: the Twins sent Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan to the Rays for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie. It's not often that two big prospects get swapped for each other; especially when one (Garza) is a pitcher and another (Young) is a hitter.
Who won this trade? Neither team really gets a big advantage. The Twins will miss Garza, but they have several good young pitchers. Ditto for Young, as the Rays have more outfielders than they know what to do with. The Rays probably get the edge among the other players, as Bartlett is a fine defensive shortstop who can't hit (and who will keep the position warm for Reid Brignac) and Harris is a good hitter for a middle infielder but a butcher on defense. The Twins compensated somewhat by signing a better version of Bartlett -- Adam Everett -- as a free agent after the Astros non-tendered the defensive whiz.
- The Reds signed closer Francisco Cordero to a 4-year, $46 million contract. While I do like Cordero and admit that the Reds could use an ace closer, I just don't think he's worth it. Even if you've got an ace closer, it's a questionable move to give them a long-term contract -- just look at what happened to Keith Foulke and B.J. Ryan.
The other problem is that Cordero isn't an ace. Oh, he's quite good; before last season, he was one of the most underrated closers in the game. But then he went to the Brewers, piled on the saves, and made himself infinitely richer. I think Cordero will help the Reds in the first year or two, but that injuries and/or ineffectiveness will hamper Cincinnati's payroll in the end.
But kudos for being bold, especially in a winnable division.
- The Mets traded Lastings Milledge to the Nationals for catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church.
How much must the Mets HATE Milledge to trade him away for an expensive catcher who can't hit and a decent corner outfielder about to hit arbitration? Talent-wise, this is a dreadful trade, as it means the Mets will have to use Schneider (and pay him), while non-tendering Johnny Estrada, the guy they just traded for, for goodness' sake.
Some people have refused to condemn the trade as a blunder, with comments along the lines of "some moves aren't about talent-for-talent." Okay -- so what the hell are they about? Even if the Mets do hate Milledge, want him gone, and think he eats babies, they could at least get some value in return. It doesn't matter how the Mets value Milledge -- it matters how much other teams value him. And if other teams do value him (which they do), then there's no excuse for trading him for crap, unless you really just want to cut off your nose to spite your face.
Jim Bowden is really starting to cut down on his own blunders and start taking advantage of other people's. Look out, fourth place!
- The Tigers re-signed Kenny Rogers, on condition that he send hate mail to Scott Boras for a period of one year.
- The Astros signed Kaz Matsui to a 3-year deal for $16.5 million. I front office in Houston is getting tired of losing in obscurity. And they won't be next year -- they won't be obscure, that is ...
The Astros also made a mega-trade with the Orioles that netted them Miguel Tejada in exchange for pitchers Troy Patton, Dennis Sarfate and (Hey, Hey, Hey It's) Matt Albers, outfielder Luke Scott and also third baseman Michael Costanzo. There's not any front-line talent in the trade, but it's still a big win for Baltimore. Even if nobody here makes an All-Star game, the Orioles are better off. Scott is a better player than expensive free agents Jay Payton and Aubrey Huff, and Albers and Patton will at least fill out the back end of the rotation and keep the team from acquiring Steve Trachsel again. If you save money on role-players and mid-level guys, it lets you spend it where it counts -- on superstars.
And unfortunately, Miguel Tejada isn't a superstar anymore. His defense at shortstop has really slipped, and now he's just a decent hitter -- 296/357/442 last year. That's fine for a good-fielding shortstop, but if you're as expensive as Tejada and can't handle the position anymore, it's not worth eliminating depth at the major-league level, as the Astros have done.
Still, the move should make the Astros better in 2008, or so I thought. I (and most other observers) thought the Astros would shift Tejada to third, where his defense would be less problematic. Third base was manned by Ty Wigginton, who shouldn't be starting anywhere. Instead, the Astros got rid of good-field, no-hit shortstop Adam Everett and will apparently be keeping Tejada at shortstop, defense be damned.
Ed Wade has made a lot of moves in Houston, and that's usually enough to keep most of the sportswriters and knuckle-draggers satisfied. But I'm more interested in the quality of moves, and in this, Wade's short tenure has already been very disappointing.
- The Brewers signed David Riske to a three-year contract. I'll save some web space by referring you back to every other blog I've written about the horror of giving multi-year contracts to non-star relievers.
The Brewers also spent $10 million for one year of Eric Gagne, who will, I guess, be their closer. This one didn't bother me too much, until the Mitchell Report was released, and I found out that most of organized baseball was aware of Gagne's steroid issues for years. That concerns me not so much in regards to his performance, but rather his injuries; for $10 million, I would expect to get ligaments and tendons intact.
- And, of course, the big one:
The Marlins trade Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers for Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Eulogio de la Cruz, Dallas Trahern, Mike Rabelo and Burke Bradenhop.
In short, the Marlins gave up the ghost again, but this time they did it before winning the World Series. They've also proven to their fans that their rebuilding process has no goal; they're just an independently-operated farm system for the other MLB teams, selling off anything that's useful and showing no interest in winning or planning to win. I could care less about Dontrelle Willis; he's horribly overhyped and will likely be a disappointment in Detroit. But Miguel Cabrera is a guy you keep to build around. For the Tigers, it's a huge boost of offense. For the Marlins, it's proof that they don't intend to keep anybody, no matter how good.
But did Florida at least get a good return on their trade? Yes and no. Both Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller were top-rated prospects in the Detroit system. They're also both very raw and need more time in the minors before they can really contribute at the big-league level. And everything I've heard about the Marlins shows that they could care less about this; they have a hole in center field and in the rotation, and they're using these guys to plug it, ready or not. Some people have even said that, since Maybin and Miller are so raw and unpredictable, that the trade was a debacle for the Marlins.
As for the Tigers, they did literally give up the farm, but it's not the end of the world. Maybin was a center fielder, and the Tigers already have one of those. And the Tigers are one of the few teams that can afford to trade away a prospect like Andrew Miller without immediately suffering. So that means that these two guys were surplus prospects, and you trade surplus prospects -- especially if your target is Miguel Cabrera.
- The Royals signed Jose Guillen to a 3-year, $36 million contract. My initial horror at such a deal has been tempered somewhat by the fact that, excepting an injury-plagued 2006, Guillen has been pretty darn good in recent years, and $12 million/year is indeed the going rate for pretty darn good. I just wish the Royals had spent it on someone better, or in some manner that would be more meaningful; if Guillen is ever around for a contending Royals team, I'll be very surprised.
- The Padres offered arbitration to Michael Barrett, who accepted. Barrett's awful 2007 should lower his price tag. That's good news for the Padres, as Barrett is still one of the best-hitting catchers in the NL, defensive issues aside.
- The Brewers traded two minor-league pitchers to the Pirates for Salomon Torres. Has no one learned the lesson of teams that stockpile name relievers in the off-season?
- Andy Pettitte officially accepted arbitration from the Yankees to return. At least there was some good news in the Pettitte household this week.
- The Padres signed Randy Wolf to a one-year, incentive-laden deal. The Dodgers missed out on the Wolf Lotto last year (he got injured), but maybe the Padres can spin the wheel and make the deal work (spin the wheel ... spin the wheel ...).
- The Nats signed Paul Lo Duca to a one-year contract. It's a good thing he's such an irreplaceable clubhouse presence. If most sportswriters had insight and/or long-term memory, they'd remember how they excoriated Paul de Podesta and the Dodgers for trading Lo Duca away in 2004 . . . and then they'd see how far he's fallen since.
- The Rockies signed a new, 4-year deal with pitcher Aaron Cook. Much though I like Cook and appreciate his ability to succeed at high altitudes, this is just post-pennant excess. Let's hope it doesn't get really out of control.
- The Rangers signed Milton Bradley to a one-year deal and traded for first baseman Ben Broussard. I'm not sure what use they'll get out of Broussard except as a platoon-er, but Bradley is a nice pick-up. He's been cited by many as one of the best values in the free agent pool, and I would agree. God knows the Rangers need somebody in that outfield.
The Rangers also non-tendered Akinori Otsuka, an odd move in my book, even considering Otsuka's injury problems. If Franky Cordero can get $46 million, surely somebody would want to kick the tires on Otsuka.
- The Giants signed Aaron Rowand to a 5-year, $60 million deal. This isn't a catastrophe of Zito proportions, but it's yet another attempt to put a band-aid on the sucking chest wound that is the Giants. Rowand is an improvement, yes, but that's a pretty low bar to set. Is he a 5-year, $60 million improvement, or a guy who's just had two career years amidst mediocrity? Unfortunately for the Giants, it's the latter. Let's just hope the Lincecum-for-Rios trade is dead, or else I'll toss my cookies.
- The Dodgers signed Andruw Jones to a 2-year, $36.2 million contract. This, despite the high AAV (Average Annual Value), is one of the best deals of the offseason. Somehow the Dodgers got Jones at the going rate for star outfielders, but only got him for 2 years due to his poor 2007 numbers.
For the Dodgers, this is great; they get two years of Jones without having to pay for his declining years as well. They also do a good job of replacing the execrable Juan Pierre in center field. This move only really works if the Dodgers bench Pierre and play Andre Ethier (or a tree frog) in left field instead. If the Dodgers think sticking Pierre in left field is a good idea, they're sinfully mistaken.
Some teams try to stick guys out there and hope for the best, since they're paying them that money. But more and more teams have embraced the concept of a sunk cost. Pierre is making that money -- 4 more years and $36.5 million -- whether he plays or not. The best thing, in my mind, is to do what the Diamondbacks did with Russ Ortiz -- release him outright. The money is spent, you just have to give up on the idea of making a bad deal a good one. If Pierre stays on the roster, he'll do far more harm than good, either through blocking better players or tempting weak-minded managers and executives into actually giving him 600-700 at bats a year. Releasing him outright is the brave thing to do.
Which means they won't do it, of course.
- The Cubs non-tender Mark Prior. There was some question as to whether the Cubs would bother going through arbitration with the eternally-injured Prior, or if it was just best to cut their losses. I can understand the Cubs' point of view, as they've already got six starting pitchers (including Ryan Dempster and Sean Marshall) without having to worry about another. For another team though, perhaps willing to give Prior a Randy Wolf-ish deal, he could be a pleasant surprise.
- The Rays (no longer satanic) signed Cliff Floyd to a one-year, $3 million deal. That's a pretty good deal for a player like Floyd; good when they're not injured, which is often. But for the Rays, why did they sign him? They're already overloaded with outfielders (although less so since trading away Elijah Dukes and Delmon Young). I guess they'll play him in right field or at DH with Jonny Gomes. I just hope that if he does get a lot of playing time, it's taken away from Rocco Baldelli rather than B.J. Upton.
- The A's traded Dan Haren and Connor Robertson to the Diamondbacks for outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Aaron Cunningham, infielder Chris Carter, and pitchers Dana Eveland, Brett Anderson and Greg Smith. The D-Backs get a solid (and cheap) #2 pitcher, whereas the A's take a good step forward in revitalizing their farm system. I wonder if the A's couldn't perhaps have done better for Haren -- who's considered the best guy out there not named Johan -- but then if they'd waited, they may have lost out on their best shot. As for the D-Backs, I hate to see them give up another key outfield prospect in Gonzalez, after already trading Carlos Quentin to the White Sox. But I guess there's nothing they can do about Eric Byrnes now, anyways, and Chris Young and Justin Upton aren't going to move aside for anyone. The Diamondbacks also needed another reliable pitcher after Brandon Webb and realized that talking to Carlos Silva was folly. I just hope that Arizona's offense improves as is, because they're losing a lot of their minor league back-ups. I also hope that Dan Haren doesn't get all fly-ball happy in Chase Field.
- The D-Backs turned around and dealt closer Jose Valverde to Houston for Chad Qualls, Chris Burke, and Juan Gutierrez. Qualls isn't quite as good as Valverde, but also isn't as expensive. Valverde piled up saves last year, and arbitrators love those. Burke is a good backup as a middle infielder with some pop who can also cover most other defensive positions. The D-Backs may take a short-term hit in the bullpen, as it's unclear which of their talented middle relievers will step forward as closer, but in the long term this is a good deal. And it's a bad one for Houston, who should have gotten more for Burke and Qualls than an expensive and slightly overrated "closer." (quotation marks necessary)
- The Cardinals traded Jim Edmonds to the Padres for minor league 3B David Freese. I'm still confused as to whether or not the Cardinals are rebuilding, but in this case at least, they have an heir apparent for Edmonds in Colby Rasmus. Rasmus may not be entirely polished and major-league ready, but there's no harm in putting him out there on Opening Day and letting him develop. Rasmus is the star of a very thin St. Louis farm system.
For the Padres, this is a relatively inexpensive solution to their center field problem, but it does come with risk. Edmonds does play center, but not as well as he used to. The same goes for his offense, which has gone from All-Star caliber to touch-and-go. The Padres have taken a gamble on just how close Edmonds is to the end of the line, but at least it's just a one-year gamble.
- The Blue Jays signed David Eckstein to a 1-year, $4.5 million contract. This is odd, because a lot of observers saw the defensively-challenged Eckstein moving to second base for his new team. Apparently, he won't, although it's unclear just where he will play, since the Jays have already signed good-field/no-hit shortstop John McDonald to a free agent deal and already have a fine, cheap second baseman in Aaron Hill. Did they sign him as a backup? That's doubtful. But he won't help the team as a starter either at shortstop (slightly better offense than McDonald but much worse defense) or second base (where Hill is just better). Is the clock ticking yet on J.P. Ricciardi?
- The Dodgers signed Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to a 3-year, $35.3 million deal. Kuroda put up good-but-not-great numbers in Japan as a starter, so who knows how that will translate to the U.S. And why are the Dodgers spending money that doesn't really need to be spent? They've already got a perfectly good closer and one or two good closer prospects. And while Kuroda is certainly an upgrade over Esteban Loaiza, the Dodgers had perfectly acceptable (and far less expensive) upgrades in their own farm system.
This is turning into an unpleasant pattern for Ned Colletti's Dodgers. Maybe he needs to be allocated availabe payroll funds in installments to break him of the tendency to spend it all at once on the shiniest player out there. Or we should just get him a subscription to Baseball America so he can educate himself on his own minor league teams.
- The Padres signed second baseman Tadahito Iguchi to a one-year deal. Perfectly acceptable move; second basemen are hard to come by, and the Iguchi deal is a reasonable estimate of his expected performance.
Take care of yourselves. I'm going to have to start.