Thursday, February 25, 2010

N.L. West Off-Season: Team by Team

Arizona Diamondbacks

Dec. 9:  The D-Backs completed the following three-team trade:
Yankees Ian Kennedy,Phil Coke, Austin Jackson Curtis Granderson
D-Backs Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth Edwin Jackson, Kennedy
Tigers Granderson, Jackson Scherzer, Schlereth, Coke, Jackson

This deal makes good sense for the Yankees; they needed an everyday center fielder, and they’re not giving up any impact players.
The deal also makes good sense for Detroit; Granderson was overrated and besides, the team really needed to save money.  They get back well-needed pitching depth.
 For the Diamondbacks . . . well, the deal makes no sense.

It’s not just me.  For days after the trade, the baseball blogosphere was trying to figure out just what GM Josh Byrnes was thinking.  The ‘Backs gave up two talented (and cheap!) young pitchers with potential in order to land two less-talented pitchers with less potential.  That does not compute.
Byrnes’s response called into question the future of Max Scherzer, and he also pointed out the great degree of control they have over Kennedy.  That’s a bizarre point to make, since they actually lost years of control by acquiring Jackson.
The center of dispute is, it seems, just how good you expect Edwin Jackson to be.  Byrnes is optimistic, as evidenced by the trade and the subsequent signing of Jackson to a contract extension.  The rest of the baseball world has been nearly unanimous in their opinion of Jackson as a pitcher who’s more lucky than good.
After years of promise fueled by good stuff (but not good results), Jackson broke through with the Rays in 2008, posting a 4.42 ERA.  That may not sound like much of a “breakthrough,” and it really isn’t.  In fact, that ERA was actually better than Jackson’s underlying performance.  In 183.1 IP, he walked 77 batters and struck out just 108.  Both numbers are well below the level necessary to sustain success at the big-league level.
The Rays were wise to this and traded Jackson to the Tigers for fringe outfielder Matt Joyce.  In Detroit, Jackson got off to a great start to the season before crashing in the second half.  Viz:

1st HALF 7 4 2.52 121.2 10 35 97
2nd HALF 6 5 5.07 92.1 17 35 64

So while Jackson put up strong numbers in the first half (still not as good as his ERA), he went back to his old self in the second half, albeit with a slightly better strikeout rate.  If you put the two halves together, Jackson becomes a good pitcher to have.  But if you consider his track record, which is 7 major league seasons and only one good half-season, he’s not likely to be worth losing Scherzer and Schlereth.

Dec. 28:  D-backs sign Bobby Howry to a one-year contract worth $2.25 MM, with a club option for 2011.
I could quibble with a low-end team like Arizona signing a free agent middle reliever, but Howry has actually been consistently good, coming off a good 2009 in San Francisco that saw him post a 3.39 ERA in 63.2 IP with a decent enough 23:46 BB:K rate.  Home runs may be an issue, though; the black mark on Howry’s record is an ugly 2008 with the Cubs where his ERA shot up to 5.35 thanks to a career-high 13 home runs allowed.  And Arizona is a good hitter’s park …

Dec. 30:  D-Backs sign Kelly Johnson to a one-year contract worth $2.35 MM.
I really like this move for Arizona.  I was surprised to see the Braves cut Johnson loose this winter.  He was coming off a dreadful 2009 (224/303/389), and the Braves do have better options available.  He should be a good fit in Arizona, where there are no better options available, unless you expect Ryan Roberts to repeat an improbable season at the plate.

Feb. 14:  D-Backs sign Edwin Jackson to a two-year contract worth $13.35 MM.
Refer to the Granderson deal above.

Colorado Rockies

Nov. 19: Rockies sign manager Jim Tracy to a three-year contract extension.
I wonder how long it will take the Rockies to realize first-hand why Tracy was fired in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh?  Maybe we shouldn’t give the manager all the credit for a team’s “turn-around.”

Jan. 4:  Rockies sign Miguel Olivo to a one-year contract worth $2.5 MM, with a club option for 2011.
Again, I congratulate a team for signing a backup catcher to a one-year contract.  And to be fair to Olivo, he’s just as good – if not better – than a lot of the catchers signed to multi-year deals this off-season.
Olivo is living proof that you can be a relatively valuable player with a terrible OBP.  His career OBP is .278, and that’s including the “good year” (.292) he had with the Royals in 2009.  But Olivo does hit homers – he hit a career-high 23 last year and should at least match that pace in cozy Coors Field.
The more salient fact is that Olivo is a catcher.  And he’s quite good at nabbing baserunners, posting a caught-stealing rate of 34% for his career.  He doesn’t look particularly graceful back there, but he’s surprisingly qualified.  His talents are stretched as an everyday player – except in Kansas City – but he’s a great fit as a backup, with a strong arm and good power.  Colorado’s catching duo of Olivo and Chris Iannetta should be one of the most quietly productive in the league.

Jan. 22:  Rockies sign Rafael Betancourt to a two-year contract worth $7.55 MM.
Betancourt’s track record is about as solid as it gets for a middle reliever (despite a woeful 2008 with Cleveland).  Plus, he threw very well in 25.1 innings after coming over from the Indians.  He has a high strikeout rate and a relatively low walk rate.  It’s true that I’m never a fan of multi-year deals for middle relievers.  But the dollar value here is pretty low, and I’ll admit that pitching in Coors Field comes at a premium.

Jan. 27:  Rockies sign Huston Street to a three-year contract worth $22.5 MM with a mutual option for 2013.
I’m less enthused about this deal.  My dislike for multi-year deals extends to closers, unless they’re elite.  While Street has been very good, I don’t think he’s been good enough to gamble this much on.  Yes, Coors Field does change things, and yes, Street had an awesome year in 2009, but he wouldn’t be the first reliever with a B-level performance record to disappoint.

Jan. 28:  Rockies sign Jason Giambi to a one-year contract worth $1.75 MM.
Seeing Giambi in the N.L. again will be ugly.  But he proved last year that he’s still got some life left in his bat, and Colorado’s the perfect place for an aging slugger to go.  He’ll get more work in the N.L. as a pinch-hitter and can DH for interleague games.  He won’t play a lot, but that’s good on many levels and totally in keeping with his salary.

Feb. 5:  Rockies sign Melvin Mora to a one-year contract worth $1.3 MM.
It’s a sign of how far Mora’s fallen that he went straight from a near-ten figure salary to a utility player.  Mora’s power finally went to live with Jesus last year (8 HR in 125 G), and now he’s just a .270 hitter who draws some walks.  His one saving grace is defensive versatility, which is the only reason he got a major league contract at all.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Oct. 21: Dodgers sign general manager Ned Colletti to a contract extension.
“Caretaker” might be a more accurate job title.

Nov. 6:  Dodgers decline their mutual option ($10 MM) on Jon Garland.
This isn’t such a bad way to save money, but wait and see what the team decides to do with that money instead of signing Garland.

Jan. 11:  Dodgers sign Jason Repko to a one-year contract worth $500,000.
Twenty-five spots on the roster, and you want to save one for Jason Repko?  The minor leagues exist so that you don’t have to do that.

Jan. 21:  Dodgers sign Vicente Padilla to a one-year contract worth $5.025 MM.
One of Joe Torre’s biggest faults is his tendency to get attached to a certain player far beyond their merits as a player, and then to hold on to them far longer than is useful.  I don’t know for sure that that’s the case here, but I don’t know why else you’d target Padilla.
(By the way, do you know how much money Jon Garland ended up signing for?  $5.3 million.  So for less than the price of Padilla/Repko, you could have had Jon Garland, and that’s not counting the money you’d save on Maalox.)

Jan. 26:  Dodgers sign Ronnie Belliard to a one-year contract worth $850,000.
This isn’t a bad sum to pay for a fellow of Belliard’s talents.  He’s a sight for sore eyes at second base, but he can still hit … somewhat.

Jan. 26:  Dodgers sign Brad Ausmus to a one-year contract worth $1 MM.
Did you ever have so much money sitting around that you decided to take a million dollars and flush it down the toilet?  Me neither.

Just a note:  Not only have the Dodgers wasted some money here (and let’s not even consider what’s happened in previous off-seasons), they’ve also signed a lot of people to minor league contracts.  These are not, naturally, as expensive as big-league deals … unless you sign a lot of them.
 Here is a list (as best I can determine) of the players signed to minor-league contracts by the Dodgers this off-season:
Doug Mientkiewicz, Angel Berroa, Luis Ayala, Francisco Felix, Eric Gagne, Justin Miller, Juan Perez, John Lindsey, Prentice Redman, Jeff Weaver, Ramon Ortiz, Alfredo Amezaga and Brian Giles.
Think of the money that could have been saved on some of these … marginal … players.  They could have brought back Garland.  They could have actually offered arbitration to their top free agents (Wolf, Hudson, etc.).  And maybe they wouldn’t have given away the best catcher in the minor leagues in exchange for a mid-level third baseman.
The Dodgers have, for a number of years, combined great ignorance with exorbitant spending.  Now I guess we get to see great ignorance and incredible penury.

San Diego Padres

Dec. 12: Padres sign Kevin Correia to a one-year contract worth $3.6 MM.
Correia is no sure thing, but he earned this based on his performance last year.

Jan. 26:  Padres sign Jon Garland to a one-year contract worth $5.3 MM, with a mutual option for 2011.
I constantly wonder why “rich” teams like the Mets and Dodgers don’t make rational, reasonable deals such as this.  The Mets could, for as much as they’re paying Luis Castillo, fill out the back of their rotation with competent, if not brilliant, pitching.  Their failure to do so has cost them at least two division titles thus far.  Although to be fair, their utter failure to find a decent corner outfielder played a part.

Feb. 9:  Padres sign Yorvit Torrealba to a one-year contract worth $1.25 MM, with a mutual option for 2011.
The Padres know what the Rockies finally realized (and the Mets still haven’t); Torrealba is a back-up catcher.

San Francisco Giants

Oct. 30: Giants sign Freddy Sanchez to a two-year contract extension worth $12 MM.
Once again the Giants settle for the mediocre.  Although at 2/12, this is perhaps their best free agent deal of the off-season.  Read on if you dare …

Dec. 12:  Giants decline to offer a contract to (i.e., non-tender) Ryan Garko.
The Giants traded away a useful minor league starter (Scott Barnes) to get two months of Garko, who hit 235/307/330 as the team’s first baseman.  Garko might have some uses as a bench player, but since he’s (nominally) a first baseman, his options are limited.  Besides, the Giants needed to free up roster space to add these guys … :

Dec. 29:  Giants sign Mark DeRosa to a two-year contract worth $12 MM.
DeRosa’s primary value is as a super-utility infielder whose bat is good enough to get by as an emergency corner outfielder.  Note the careful use of the adjective emergency.  The offensive standards for the outfield corners are much higher than those for a second or third baseman, naturally.  The Giants, though, don’t seem to grasp this.
The Giants have Freddy Sanchez (see above) installed at second base, and Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval installed at third.  They could move Sandoval to first (the best position for panda-like defensive skills), but that’s blocked by free agent pickup Aubrey Huff (see below).  So while DeRosa can offer some use as a backup to these two, that’s hardly worth $12 million.  His offense is sub-par for the outfield corners (he’s not as good as he looked in Chicago), which makes you wonder just what the Giants were expecting when they signed him.
DeRosa is the kind of player who could help an offense that’s right on the edge of contending and needs a solid role player.  The Giants’ offense is neither of these:  it’s bloody awful, and they need solid everyday contributors.  The only upside here is that on the list of boneheaded contracts doled out by GM Brian Sabean, DeRosa’s isn’t the worst.

Jan. 13:  Giants signed Aubrey Huff to a one-year contract worth $3 million.
This contract would be near the top of the aforementioned list, if not for the fact that it’s merely a waste of $3 million.  The cost is, however, much bigger than that.  The true cost will be all the at bats given to Aubrey Huff that could have gone to a much better player. 
It’s not incredibly difficult to find a first baseman who can hit better than Aubrey Huff.  So why do you sign him?  Huff is old, and his defensive abilities are stretched even at first base.  He’s had a couple seasons of quality production with the bat, but that comes at the price of consistency (career 282/340/472).  Besides, Huff’s is 33 years old and coming off a season of hitting 241/310/384.  Who sees that and exclaims, “By golly, that’s my everyday first baseman!”?
Yet again, Sabean’s goal seems to be maintaining utter mediocrity rather than taking advantage of cheap, readily available options for improvement.  And with his pitching staff, even a relatively minor boost in offense could catapult the team into contention.

Jan. 5:  Giants re-sign Juan Uribe to a one-year contract worth $3.25 MM. 
Uribe’s skills are a close match to those of Mark DeRosa, and if you’ve ever seen Uribe play, your first thought is not likely to be, “Get me another one of those!”  DeRosa has the advantage of playing the outfield corners, but Uribe trumps him with the ability to handle shortstop, which is more important on a team that currently employs Edgar Renteria.  Uribe can slot into second and third base just like DeRosa, and while his offense may not be quite as good, his solid glove (and cheap contract) recommend him over DeRosa. 
And that’s if you had to choose just one of them.  Choosing both of them is mind-boggling.

Jan. 22:  Giants re-sign Bengie Molina to a one-year contract worth $4.5 MM.
Really, what can I say about Molina that I haven’t already said about DeRosa and Huff?  What makes this even worse is that the Giants have one of baseball’s best catching prospects (Buster Posey) ready to make it to the majors.  The team has stated publicly that they don’t think Posey is ready to catch 100-120 games per year.  What, and Bengie Molina is?  Whatever shortcomings Posey has, they pale in comparison to Molina, who has to be one of the worst hitters EVER to serve as a team’s clean-up hitter for two years running.  Not since the days of Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling have I seen an organization so bedeviled by self-inflicted wounds.

Feb. 17:  Giants sign Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $23 million contract, thus avoiding arbitration.
This is the only real bright spot of the off-season for San Francisco.  Granted, it’s not due to any real brilliance on the part of the organization, but rather Lincecum’s willingness to leave a substantial amount of money on the table to avoid arbitration.

COMING UP NEXT:  The American League West

As always, I owe all of the contract information (and a great deal of gratitude) to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.


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