Sunday, April 04, 2010

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

Baltimore Orioles

Dec. 9:  Orioles trade Chris Ray and a PTBNL (Ben Snyder) to the Rangers for Kevin Millwood and cash.
Are 75 wins really that much better than 70?  I’m not being sarcastic; I really wonder.  How much difference does it make having Millwood on the roster?  Does it help season ticket sales that much?  Is he really going to tutor the young pitchers enough to make it worthwhile?  Or is he there to take the pressure off of them?  If so, is that really practical, or is it just another one of those things people say?  Is that enough rhetorical questions for ya?

Dec. 18:  Orioles sign Mike Gonzalez to a two-year contract worth $12 MM.
I’m much more skeptical of this than I am of the Millwood deal.  Does a fourth-place team really need a B-level closer?  The team’s record with free agents relievers is discouraging.

 Dec. 22:  Orioles sign Garrett Atkins to a one-year contract worth $4.5 MM, with a club option for 2011.
Atkins’ bat is legit, but how will it play away from Coors?  He’s a career 252/324/411 hitter on the road.  And how much of his terrible 2009 (226/308/342) will carry over?  The dollars here aren’t significant enough to worry about too much, but it looks like Atkins will just be another placeholder.

Jan. 26:  Orioles sign Miguel Tejada to a one-year contract worth $6 MM.
It looks like Tejada will shift to third, since his glove isn’t really shortstop-caliber anymore.  And hey, he can still hit:  he managed 313/340/455 in Houston last year.  He’ll have to keep hitting .300, though, because his walk rate has plummeted since he last played for the O’s.

Boston Red Sox

Nov. 10:  1) Red Sox exercise their 2010 option on Victor Martinez.  2)  Red Sox sign Tim Wakefield to a two-year contract worth $5 MM.
1)  Boston’s catcher situation becomes even more confusing by the minute.  Not that I disagree with this move:  if Victor Martinez is available for one year @ $7 MM, you take him.  He’s not the long-term solution at catcher, but you can’t move him to first base because Kevin Youkilis is there.  And you can’t move Kevin Youkilis to third base, because Mike Lowell and Adrian Beltre (see below) are there.  So I guess he’s their catcher/first baseman for now.  But if the Sox succeed in trading for 1B Adrian Gonzalez, then it gets really confusing.
2)  Wakefield’s time may be nearing an end.  But the Sox still want him around as a long relief man/emergency starter/possible reliever.  There’s not a lot of glory when you’re sitting around waiting for a starting pitcher to get injured, but that spot is Wake’s to lose.

Nov. 12:  Red Sox announce that Jason Varitek has exercise his contract option for 2010.
This was a mutual option; since the Sox declined their end of it, Tek’s salary comes out to about $3 MM (as opposed to $5 MM).  That’s not bad for a backup catcher, but Tek’s skills on offense and defense have almost completely disappeared in recent years.  With Victor Martinez as your starter, you’d like to have a strong arm backing him up.  Tek is not that guy, and his bat no longer makes up for it.

Dec. 4:  Red Sox sign Marco Scutaro to a two-year contract worth $12.5 MM, with a mutual option for 2012.
I doubt the Sox expect Scutaro to reproduce his career year from 2009 (282/379/409).  But they’re not paying him to.  They’re paying him to hold down the fort at shortstop, an organizational weakness since they parted ways with Nomar.  Scutaro’s a career 265/337/384 hitter.  That’s not bad for a shortstop with a good glove.  He may be overpaid, but it’s nothing like the deals given out to Edgar Renteria or Julio Lugo.

Dec. 16:  Red Sox sign John Lackey to a five-year contract worth $82.5 MM, plus a conditional club option for 2015.
This is what a guy like Lackey is worth.  He’s not really an ace, but he’s a strong #2 or #1-A, and this is the going rate for that level of talent.  He’s been pretty reliable, but the Sox do have some concerns about health.  Those concerns are evident in the “conditional” option:  if Lackey misses significant time due to an elbow injury in the first five years of the contract, the 2015 option is a club option for the major league minimum.  Fascinating.

Dec. 16:  Red Sox sign Mike Cameron to a two-year contract worth $15.5 MM.
There was some talk this off-season that, if you take into account Cameron’s defense, he’s actually a more valuable player than Matt Holliday or Jason Bay, high-priced free agents both.  I don’t know that agree with that, even before taking into account that Cameron’s got at least six years on both of them.
Even so, when you consider the difference in the deals each of those guys got this off-season, Cameron emerges as the best value by far.  He’ll likely be taking over in center field (with the speedy but raw Jacoby Ellsbury moving to left), giving the team a much-needed defensive boost.  My only concern here is that the strikeouts start to eat him up as he ages.

Jan. 7:  Red Sox trade Casey Kotchman to the Mariners for Bill Hall.
As I mentioned before, the Sox have more corner infielders than they know what to do with, even without considering Kotchman.  Ol’ Casey carries a fine glove, but he just doesn’t hit well enough to survive as a backup first baseman.  Hall’s glove isn’t the equal of Kotchman’s, but it’s versatile enough to fit in all over the infield, which is more important for the defensively-challenged Sox.  Plus, Hall’s no slouch as a hitter (2009 aside).

Jan. 7:  Red Sox sign Adrian Beltre to a one-year contract worth $10 MM, with a player option for 2011.
Here again the Sox beef up the defense, snatching up the best third base glove on the market.  This probably means a step down in offense from Mike Lowell (who could still hit even when injured), but it’s not a big step.  Beltre should enjoy Fenway a lot more than spacious Safeco Field.  Lowell, meanwhile, becomes a very expensive man without a position.

Jan. 26:  Red Sox Jeremy Hermida to a one-year contract worth $3.35 MM.
Theo Epstein snatched up the disappointing Hermida, who had worn out his welcome in south Florida.  The Sox aren’t counting on him to be a star, but they are looking for an offensive boost moving from a pitcher-friendly park to good ol’ Fenway.  Hermida is a career 276/359/456 hitter on the road (253/328/393 in Miami).  Plus, he’s hit righties to the tune of 274/351/441.  Put those two things together, and you’ve got a guy who could really blossom as your top lefty pinch-hitter.  Plus, he’s a guy who could fill in for eternal injury risk J.D. Drew without losing too much offense.

New York Yankees

Dec. 9:  Yankees complete a three-team trade with Arizona and Detroit.  The Yankees send Austin Jackson and Phil Coke to the Tigers, receiving Curtis Granderson.  The Yankees also send Ian Kennedy to the Diamondbacks.
Refer back to my article on the NL West for more on this trade.  But suffice to say, Granderson is a good (and cheap) fit for the Yankees, helping them become younger and more athletic.

Dec. 9:  Yankees sign Andy Pettitte to a one-year contract worth $11.75 MM.
Pettitte provides the Yankees with a reliable, mid-level starting pitcher at an utterly reasonable salary.  The acquisition of Javier Vazquez means the Yankees won’t have to rely on the 37-year-old Pettitte as much as they did in 2009, which should work out better for all concerned.

Dec. 22:  Yankees trade Melky Cabrera, Michael Dunn, Arodys Vizcaino and cash to the Braves for Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan.
The Yanks are acquiring Vazquez after a career year, so don’t count on him to be an elite-level starter again.  But Vazquez has been reliably above-average since … well, the last time he was a Yankee.
Vizcaino is the prize for Atlanta here (along with the salary reduction), as a potentially high-end arm.  The Yanks, of course, don’t like to deal in potential.

Dec. 23:  Yankees sign Nick Johnson to a one-year contract for 5.75 MM, with a mutual option for 2011.
I was surprised to see the Yankees sign Johnson.  Not because he isn’t good, but because they’ve already got several injury-prone guys and don’t need someone blocking up the DH slot.  However, Nick “Brigadoon” Johnson is highly productive whenever he emerges from the mists of injury; at this price he’s a bargain, and it’s not like the offense rests on his shoulders.

Feb. 8:  Yankees sign Randy Winn to a one-year contract worth $1.1 MM.  Yankees sign Marcus Thames to a one-year contract worth $900,000.
And so with about $2 million, the Yankees replace Johnny Damon at a fraction of his asking price.  But will the Thames/Winn platoon replaced his productivity?
Thames’ tendency to strike out can be maddening at times, but he’s got significant starboard power, hitting southpaws for a 256/329/516 mark in his career.  Getting that as the short side of a platoon for less than a million is pretty nifty.
The signing of Winn puzzles me, since he doesn’t show a really exploitable platoon split.  A switch-hitter, Winn isn’t really better in his career versus righties (280/332/426) than lefties (289/348/417).  Those numbers aren’t bad for a center fielder, but they’re pretty mediocre for a corner outfielder.  And while Winn isn’t bad defensively, he’s not the top-notch sort of guy who can make up for some pitiable offense (262/318/353 in ‘09).
My only guess is that the Yankees will fill the left field role with some combination of Winn, Thames and young Brett Gardner.  All three are worthwhile guys who have their strengths, but I really don’t think there’s a starting left fielder there.

Feb. 28:  Yankees sign Chan Ho Park to a one-year contract worth $1.2 MM.
Park rejuvenated his career in the bullpen.  In 2008 with the Dodgers, he threw 95.1 innings with a 3.40 ERA and a respectable strikeout rate.  His ERA mushroomed to 4.43 with the Phillies last year, despite a sharp reduction in homers allowed.  The real Park is probably somewhere in the middle which, at that price, makes him an uncharacteristic bargain for the Yankee ‘pen.

Tampa Bay Rays

Nov. 4:  Rays trade Akinori Iwamura to the Pirates for Jesse Chavez.
The emergence (and then some) of Ben Zobrist in 2009, along with the acquisition of Sean Rodriguez, made Iwamura and his relatively high salary expendable.  He goes to a team that desperately needs an infielder above replacement level.

Nov. 10:  Rays exercise 2010 option on Carl Crawford.
Crawford’s contract and his status as a potential 2011 free agent made him trade bait in Tampa.  It’s still possible that the Rays will trade him during the 2010 season rather than let him walk, but that’s only if they’re not contending.  As it is, Crawford looks to be the prize of the 2011 market (Bronx-bound?).

Dec. 11:  Rays trade Jesse Chavez to the Braves for Rafael Soriano.
The Braves took a chance by offering Soriano arbitration, thinking that he certainly wouldn’t take it.  He certainly did, giving the Braves two (expensive) closers along with newcomer Billy Wagner.  The Rays, who haven’t had an “established” closer since Roberto Hernandez, came a-calling and got a quality guy without having to give up much.

Toronto Blue Jays

Nov. 26:  Blue Jays sign John McDonald to a two-year contract worth $3 MM.
The Jays have been uncharacteristically thrifty this off-season, with this contract a glaring exception.  Not that $3 million is a reason to get up in arms, but it’s puzzling that a team that’s obviously rebuilding would give a two-year contract to a good-field/no-hit guy who’s fielding is becoming less awesome by the year.

Nov. 26:  Blue Jays sign Alex Gonzalez to a one-year contract worth $2.75 MM, with an option for 2011.
Did these two deals get approved by the same person?  Or was it a case of “You just bought a shortstop?  I just bought a shortstop!”  I guess the Jays are damn serious about improving their defense.

Dec. 16:  Blue Jays trade Roy Halladay and cash to the Phillies for Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis D’Arnaud.

Dec. 16:  Blue Jays trade Michael Taylor to Athletics for Brett Wallace.
It’s never a good thing to lose a guy like Halladay, but this would have been his last year in Toronto, and it’s not like the Jays are contenders anyhow.  They got back a pretty good return for one year of Halladay, with Drabek profiling as a front-line starter.
Flipping Taylor for Wallace is a little puzzling.  Yes, the Jays have more room in the infield than they have in the outfield, but my understanding from the prospect mavens is that Taylor has a higher ceiling than Wallace.  But of course, that view isn’t universal.  And Wallace seems to be closer to the big leagues anyhow.

Feb. 5:  Blue Jays sign Kevin Gregg to a one-year deal worth $2.75 MM, with club options for 2011 and 2012.
Do the Jays really need a closer this badly?  Gregg was so disappointing last year that he lost the closer’s job to Carlos Marmol, which is impressive when you consider the relative confidence Marmol inspires in his managers.  It’s not a lot of money, yes, but every little bit helps if you’re Toronto.

NEXT UP:  Final 2010 Predictions

As always, credit for all contract info comes from the invaluable Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

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