Saturday, March 27, 2010

A.L. Central Off-Season: Team by Team

Chicago White Sox

Nov. 6:  White Sox sign Mark Kotsay to a one-year contract worth $1.5 MM.
There’s not a great deal of demand for an outfielder/first baseman who hasn’t had a decent year at the plate since 2005 (2009 line:  278/327/390).  To be fair, there is some value here as a guy who can spot Paul Konerko, sub at all three outfield spots, and still hit righties fairly well.  I just wonder if the Sox should be focusing on bigger, perhaps better solutions to their problems on offense. 

Nov. 6:  White Sox trade Chris Getz, Josh Fields and cash to the Royals for Mark Teahen.
Teahen is a placeholder at third, and that’s being generous.  His bat is adequate, but his glove isn’t.  You’d probably be better off waiting for Godot than waiting for Josh Fields to break out.  The concern here is that you’re also giving up a useful, if flawed, player in Getz.  And on a practical level, you’re paying more for Teahen and getting less service time before free agency.  My guess is that this move doesn’t have a big impact on the team, either positive or negative.

Nov. 6:  White Sox decline their 2010 option on Jermaine Dye.
This wasn’t a surprise at all.  Dye was due $12 million if the team picked up that option, and he’s just not worth that much anymore.
The problem for Dye is that he’s just one more professional hitter looking for a job in a tough market.  His defense has degenerated to near-DH levels, and his offense has fallen to just about average for a corner outfielder (250/340/453).  The decline in speed and defense doesn’t leave observers optimistic for a comeback season.  The rate of attrition for this type of player is robust; your defense degenerates until you’re no longer viable in the field, and yet your offense can no longer meet the standards of the DH. 
Before you weep for Dye, remember that he’s got a World Series ring and a nice trophy commemorating his being named the 2005 World Series MVP. 

Nov. 23:  White Sox sign Omar Vizquel to a one-year contract worth $1.375 MM.
This is another signing (like the Pudge Rodriguez deal in Washington) that’s basically intended to add a veteran to serve as a player-coach.  It’s hard to carry Vizquel’s bat even if he does have some defense left to offer, so here’s hoping he can wrangle Alexei Ramirez into a viable shortstop.

Nov. 26:  White Sox sign Andruw Jones to a one-year contract worth $500,000.
Forget the player that Andruw used to be; he’s not coming back.  What he is now, or rather what he was last year, is a DH who can handle the outfield corners while providing some pop.  A batting line of 214/323/459 isn’t much for a DH, though.  And Andruw’s splits are a little confounding.  He sports the typical home-road split of a Texas slugger (hitting just 199/294/411 away from Arlington), but his lefty-righty split is odd.  He sported a .367 OBP against lefties, but with little power.  His power was potent (.506 SLG) against righties, but his OBP was a sorry .287.  This isn’t really in keeping with his career numbers, though.  But then, nothing he’s done over the past three years has been in keeping with his early dominance.  Still, he should be worth $500K to a team with a lot of question marks in the outfield.

Dec. 11:  White Sox sign J.J. Putz to a one-year contract worth $3 MM.
J.J. was a disaster with the Mets last year, but his track record is such that a healthy Putz is well worth a flyer.  This contract can also be seen as another shot fired in the off-season bickering between the Sox and incumbent closer Bobby Jenks.  I’m sure it wasn’t lost on any of the interested parties that Putz could step in as closer – just in case.

Dec. 15:  White Sox acquire Juan Pierre and cash from the Dodgers for two PTBNL.
The Sox will get about $10.5 MM from L.A. to cover $18.5 MM he’s owed through 2011.  If you look at this as a deal for Juan Pierre for two years and $8 million total, I think that’s very reasonable.  The Sox’ outfield situation is pretty barren, and Pierre is still a speed demon, although his weak arm is a problem.  As a slappy lead-off hitter who lives and dies by his batting average, Pierre isn’t for everyone (he certainly wasn’t for the Dodgers, not at those prices), but he should find a niche playing OzzieBall on the South Side.

Jan. 12:  White Sox sign Ramon Castro to a one-year deal worth $1 MM with a club option for 2011.
Castro will probably start the year as A.J. Pierzynski’s backup catcher.  But he will soon be threatened by catching prospect Tyler Flowers.  Flowers’ ETA in the majors isn’t set in stone, and the Sox will likely see if he continues the progress he made on defense last year before promoting him.  Still, one million is easy to live with for a backup catcher, even if his days are numbered.

Cleveland Indians

Dec. 1:  Indians trade Kelly Shoppach to the Rays for a PTBNL.
It may be spelled with a little “r,” but you still have to call the Indians’ 2010 a rebuilding year.  They yo-yo-ed their way through the AL Central standings for five or six seasons, but now the time has come to start anew.  They won’t blow up the building, and neither should they; but they face a steep climb ahead of them, even in a division as winnable as the AL Central.  They’ve got some offense to build around, but unless they luck into some impact pitching, they’re not going back to October in the short-term.
The biggest piece of offense they have to build around (besides Grady Sizemore) is catcher Carlos Santana.  Santana was obtained from the Dodgers in the Casey Blake deal because the Dodgers are flat broke, and had to send along extra prospects in lieu of cash.
Santana is the catcher of the future, and so Shoppach quickly became expendable.  Lou Marson, picked up from the Phillies in the Cliff Lee deal, is an able backstop but will just be keeping the position warm for Carlos.

Jan. 12:  Indians sign Mark Grudzielanek to a minor-league contract.
You read that right; “Grudz” is on the comeback trail.  He’ll be 40 years old in June, and hasn’t played in the big leagues since 2008 with Kansas City.  Still, you have to root for a guy like this.
Grudzielanek was a rookie in 1995.  If you had taken odds on which members of the 1995 rookie class were most likely to make it to 2000 career hits, Grudzielanek probably wouldn’t have fared well.  But he’s sitting at 2010 right now.  Guys like Chipper Jones, Charles Johnson, Marty Cordova, Garret Anderson, Shawn Green, Ray Durham, and maybe even Quilvio Veras would likely have gotten better odds than Grudzielanek.  But of those players, Anderson is in the lead with 2501 hits, Chipper Jones (2406) will soon pass him, Ray Durham just edges Grudz out with 2054, and Shawn Green finished just short of him with 2003.  (Johnson topped out at 940, Veras finished with 750 and Cordova, who won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, had to settle for just 938.)
It’s always nice to see a player who absolutely got the most out of his athletic gifts.  Best of luck to ya, Grudz.

Feb. 24:  Indians sign Russell Branyan to a one-year contract worth $2 MM, with a mutual option for 2011.
Branyan is coming off a fabulous season with Seattle, so this $2 million investment shouldn’t hurt Cleveland much, if at all.  Still, I recall what someone said not too long ago about Frank Thomas.  Thomas got a low-end, make-good contract with the Oakland A’s and was fabulous, helping propel the team to the postseason.  The next year, he got a much more lucrative 2-year deal with Toronto and promptly disappointed.
A wise observer (I wish I could remember who it was), said that the good teams are the ones like Oakland that sign Frank Thomas the year before he breaks out.  That takes skill, identifying which underrated player is ready for a breakout.  It takes much less skill to recognize the player after they’ve broken through.  Plus, the team that signs the underpaid player will, ironically, probably end up overpaying.
This is a long way of saying that the Indians may have signed Russell Branyan one year too late.

Detroit Tigers

Dec. 9:  Tigers take part in a three-team trade: they receive Austin Jackson and Phil Coke from the Yankees.  They receive Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth from the Diamondbacks.  They send Curtis Granderson to the Yankees and Edwin Jackson to the D-Backs.
I already discussed my general reaction to this trade in my article on the N.L. West.  My only surprise is that the Tigers got rid of Granderson, who’s pretty affordable at about $5.5 MM.  I understand that the team needs to cut costs, but this becomes even more puzzling when we see how the Tigers replaced him …

Jan. 19:  Tigers sign Jose Valverde to a two-year contract worth $14 MM, with a club option for 2012.
Closers have been generally overrated in the free agent markets of the recent past.  But this deal is pretty reasonable considering Valverde’s talents.  The 32-year-old righty isn’t an elite closer, but he’s managed to rack up the strikeouts during his career with the D-Backs and Astros.

Feb. 4:  Tigers sign Justin Verlander to a five-year contract worth $80 MM. 
This works out to about $16 MM per year.  Verlander’s worth all that and more. If there’s a concern here, it’s that the 27-year-old has already logged a good many innings, culminating in a league-leading 240 last year.  It’s the price you pay when you’re that good that young.

Feb. 23:  Tigers sign Johnny Damon to a one-year contract worth $8 MM.
Really?  You’re going to replace CF Granderson ($5.5 MM) with LF Damon ($8 MM)?  Granted, I’m sure they had to include Granderson to get back anything in the trade.  But the deal originally come about to save money?  Hmmm …

Kansas City Royals

Nov. 9:  Royals trade Mark Teahen and cash to the White Sox for Chris Getz and Josh Fields.
This was a deal about money and service time.  Teahen wasn’t going to earn his salary, especially on a team that has Alex Gordon at third.  Getting Getz and Fields gives them some cheap players with a lot of control, but Fields is also a third baseman (and therefore blocked), while Getz is just a stopgap at second base.  It’s not too bad, but I guess my worry is that the Royals think they’ve got more than they have.

Dec. 10:  Royals put Mike Jacobs on waivers for the purpose of granting him an unconditional release.
Are we learning from our mistakes in Kansas City?

Dec. 11:  Royals sign Jason Kendall to a two-year contract worth $6 MM.
Apparently not.
Kendall hasn’t hit worth a damn since 2004, his last season in Pittsburgh.  Whatever his defensive reputation may be, I highly doubt it’s going to be worth paying him this money for his age 36 and 37 seasons.  Especially when you’re already a terrible baseball team.

Jan. 8:  Royals sign Scott Podsednik to a one-year contract worth $1.75 MM, with a club option for 2011.
Podsednik still has the skills to earn a spot on the roster.  I’m not concerned with the money so much as the idea that the Royals probably think he’s a lot better than he is.

Jan. 25:  Royals sign Rick Ankiel to a one-year contract worth $3.25 MM, with a mutual option for 2011.
I guess this means that they’re going with Ankiel as their everyday center fielder, but his track record in St. Louis suggests he’s just going to be another below-average guy in their lineup.  Ankiel never had much going for him outside of plus power, and even that disappeared during a terrible 2009 (231/285/387).  Even if he bounces back somewhat, his upside is as a placeholder.  And God knows the Royals don’t have enough of those.

Minnesota Twins

Nov. 6:  Twins trade Carlos Gomez to the Brewers for J.J. Hardy.
I like this trade for the Twins.  They need offense badly, and while Gomez is a great glove, he may never be anything but adequate with the bat.  Hardy, coming off a down year in 2009, is a much better bat for his position, and he’s also a solid defender.  Minnesota will look bad if Gomez starts to hit at all, but I like to see them take a good risk like this.

Dec. 8:  Twins announce that Carl Pavano has accepted salary arbitration (worth $7 MM).
The Twins need power arms in the rotation.  But power arms are expensive, and so the team is going with a large quantity of strike-throwers.  It’s not the ideal formula, but it got them into the postseason last year.

Jan. 26:  Twins sign Jim Thome to a one-year contract worth $1.5 MM.
The Twins may see something of a logjam at DH, but when your options are guys like Thome and Jason Kubel, that’s a good problem to have.  Plus, trading away Carlos Gomez frees up some room in the outfield.  Ron Gardenhire will be able to mix and match four guys (Thome, Kubel, Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer) for three spots, (the corner outfield and DH).
I’m just thrilled to see the Twins pursue a hitter like Thome, who’s still got a lot of pop and came pretty damn cheap.  If they’d been willing to pursue reasonably priced non-athletic sluggers over the past 10 years, they might have won themselves a pennant.

Feb. 5:  Twins sign Orlando Hudson to a one-year contract worth $5 MM.
Yet another good signing for the Twins.  Hudson brings some much-needed offense to the infield without sacrificing much in the way of defense.  His glove may not be as gold as it used to be, but his bat will more than make up for it.

March 3:  Twins sign Denard Span to a five-year contract worth $16.5 MM, with a club option for 2015.
Span arrived late to the OBP party, but he’s compiled a .390 mark over his first two seasons in the bigs, which is plenty good.  His power is just fair, but he’s got the speed to steal bases and leg out triples, so as long as his batting average is around .300, he’s a great asset for the Twinkies.

March 22:  Twins sign Joe Mauer to an eight-year contract extension worth $184 MM.
I’ve been trying to find out what the richest contract in team history was before this.  I think it’s the deal Justin Morneau signed after the 2007 season:  6 years, $80 MM.  So Mauer has more then doubled that.
As well he should.  If he stays healthy, this deal may actually prove a bargain for the Twins.  Even if he has to move out from behind the plate (say, to first base) the deal isn’t out of line with the top contracts given out to first basemen.  The Twins might lose a little money on this, but barring an injury, they won’t lose a lot of money.  And if Mauer has just one or two more years like 2009, he’ll earn every penny.
I’m thrilled to see the formerly miserly Twins willing to pay up now that they’re moving into a new ballpark.  There’s no excuse for any team not to re-sign a guy this good; it’s why you have a farm system.

FINALLY:  The AL East, just in time for Opening Night.

No comments: