Lost in Transactions 1/5-1/11/09: Busy week

Mark Teixeira (Icon/SMI)

It was an extremely busy week for Major League Baseball. The New York Yankees announced the signing of the premier hitter on the free agent market after bringing in the premier pitcher on the market. The Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics got the sluggers they wanted while a couple other teams made some noise as well. Oh, and two players were suspended for violating the MLB drug program.

1/5/09


Boston Red Sox signed 2B Nick Green to a minor league contract.

Kansas City Royals signed P Roman Colon to a minor league contract.

New York Yankees SP Sergio Mitre was suspended 50 games for violating the MLB drug program.

Texas Rangers signed P Elizardo Ramirez to a minor league contract.

Los Angeles Dodgers signed RHP Claudio Vargas to a one-year contract.

I really like this deal for the Dodgers. Vargas showed flashes of potential for the Montreal/Washington Expos/Nationals before being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks where he started putting it together. As a starter for the Diamondbacks in 2005 and 2006, he posted a mid-4.00s ERA before being dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers for the 2007 season. In an abbreviated season cut short by injury, Vargas posted a 5.03 ERA in 134.1 innings, this despite an xFIP of 4.89. Vargas signed a minor league pact with the New York Mets in March and spent most of the year in Triple-A. At the big-league level in 37 innings, he threw for a 4.62 ERA (4.78 xFIP). All told, the best way to explain this signing is that Vargas, for all intents and purposes, replaces Chan Ho Park in the role he will fill and in the effectiveness he can bring.

Tampa Bay Rays signed OF Pat Burrell to a two-year deal.

This is a fantastic deal for the Rays, who sign the slugger they coveted and with only a two-year commitment. The Rays had a sub-.800 OPS against lefties, so Burrell will help there. He also gives the Rays the consistent, middle-of-the-order bat that they had hoped Cliff Floyd would be last year. Putting Burrell at DH will also get his glove off the field, which is always a good thing. The Rays seemingly have plugged most of their holes and have a well-balanced club, one that could return to the World Series.

Chicago Cubs signed RF Milton Bradley to a three-year contract.

No one doubts his offensive ability, and he was the American League’s best hitter last year. The Cubs could sure use that weapon in the middle of the order, but will Bradley stay healthy? A three-year commitment seems one year too long for Bradley in this market, especially with the Cubs being in the National League, and Craig Brown explored this very question last week:

Trying to estimate time a player will miss due to injury is an impossibility, but when you look back at that chart to see the actual amount of time Bradley has been able to use his glove over his career, coupled with the fact he can’t hide at DH, it’s fairly obvious that he’ll miss considerable time at some point during his tenure in Chicago. And depending on how much time he misses, his contract might not represent such a good deal for the Cubs.

Houston Astros signed CF Reggie Abercrombie, RF John Gall, 3B Mark Saccomanno and 3B Jason Smith to a minor league contract.

Philadelphia Phillies P J.C. Romero was suspended 50 games for violating the MLB drug program.

Whether you believe J.C. Romero or not, and there seems to be no reason not to, the fact of the matter is that Romero tested positive for a banned substance. End of story. No matter how many reassurances one can get, you are playing with fire when you take a supplement to keep yourself in baseball condition. I feel for Romero’s plight, but really, no type of story can justify being tested positive for a banned substance (unless with a doctor’s note for health risks, of course).

St. Louis Cardinals signed P Royce Ring to a one-year contract.

This is an interesting signing, I was surprised Ring was able to grab a major league deal. For Atlanta in 2008, he posted a 8.46 ERA in 22.1 innings but his xFIP was 4.35, so he was tremendously unlucky. He induces more than half of the balls in play for grounders and is just 28, so the potential remains for Ring to evolve into a solid reliever. Ring has historically been better against left-handed batters than right-handed ones so he will be used as a LOOGY. This guy should avoid facing right-handers whenever possible. It’s not a bad signing … he could be the next Mike Myers.

1/6/09

Seattle Mariners signed RP Tyler Walker to a one-year deal.

This is a curious signing, because Walker doesn’t strike me as the American League type—he doesn’t have very good control and is prone to the longball. He’ll probably be nothing more than a fringe-average reliever in Seattle.

New York Yankees designated 1B Shelley Duncan for assignment. Signed SS Angel Berroa, SP Jason Johnson, LF John Rodriguez to a minor league contract.

I remember when Shelley Duncan was the greatest thing since sliced bread in New York in 2007, much like how Yankee fans talked themselves into Miguel Cairo being a good first baseman before being released later in the year. Duncan could probably serve as a capable bench player and could fashion a career out of doing so, but will have to rebound from a poor year in which he hit .239 in 205 at-bats for the Triple-A ballclub and just .175/.262/.281 for the Yankees in 57 at-bats.

Berroa is a nice signing; he’s certainly not a good option as a starter by any stretch of the imagination, but he could bounce around a few more years as a backup. He’ll compete with Cody Ransom for the backup infielder slot in New York. Johnson is minor league filler, nothing more, while Rodriguez provides good depth in the outfield. Rodriguez had a nice run for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005-6, and should be a fine option should the Yankees need to call on the services of a backup outfielder.

Chicago Cubs traded RHP Jason Marquis to the Rockies for RHP Luis Vizcaino.

Anytime you can acquire a solid starter in exchange for a scrap heap reliever who makes too much money, you do it. Marquis certainly isn’t going to be an ace for the club, but his ability to soak up innings and not completely embarrass himself makes this a good pickup. The Rockies were likely enticed by his low HR/G ratio, which checked in at 0.79 last year, down from 1.01 in 2007 and 1.56 the year before. As long as he brings his 2008 version of himself to the Rockies, they will have gotten what they wanted. As for Vizcaino, he’ll serve as a back of the bullpen reliever although he could recapture his effectiveness that got him the contract that he’s currently pitching under.

New York Yankees signed 1B Mark Teixeira to an eight-year contract.

There’s no denying that Mark Teixeira is an excellent first baseman, but is he really deserving of a contract that places him in the class of the elite? Remember, this is someone who has never finished higher than 17th in MVP voting. (And before you write this off as sour grapes by a Red Sox fan: I was opposed to the Sox signing Teixeira.)

Take for example the new metric called Win Values, as devised by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.com (and efficiently summarized by Ryne Crabb here, if you don’t want to read an eight-part series). To boil it down to one simple sentence, Win Values takes a lot of different statistics and combines them into one digestible number, then assigns a dollar value to easily quantify how much a player is worth in the current market.

The one flaw in Win Values that I can see is that it bases this value off of the free agent market—so in other words, wins are overvalued. Indeed, Cameron posits that a win is worth $4.5 million, using free agent numbers available, but free agency is (mostly) a bidder’s market where player prices are invariably driven up past their true worth. To base the financial data on free agent salaries is to inflate the true worth of the player. All too often, when a player hits free agency, the price he signs for is not commensurate with his talent. Teams get a bargain the first three to six years of a player’s career, but then the power shifts to the player. Let’s take a look at Teixeira and what his “true” salaries should have been all these years.

2003: Made $800,000, gave the team a value of a $3.8 million player.
2004: Made $2.6 million, “earned” $13 million.
2005: Made $3.6 million, “earned” $16.8 million.
2006: Made $6.4 million, “earned” $11.9 million.
2007: Made $9 million, “earned” $16.5 million.
2008: Made $12.5 million, “earned” $30.5 million.

You can see the point I was trying to make above that as a player continues to produce, his real life value rises, but his actual value may not. Take a look at 2005 and 2007, for example. Teixeira’s true value was similar, yet he made over twice the amount of money in 2007 that he did in 2005.

Now, considering that Teixeira is going to earn $22.5 million annually over the course of his new contract with the Yankees, one may think the Yankees are getting a bargain here. Ah, but there are two salient points: first, as previously mentioned, Cameron uses free agency salary data to determine the “true” value of a player. Using a bidding market with rich and (relatively) poor owners, with smart and (relatively) dumb general managers makes this flawed. Cameron has already debunked using the figure of $2.31 million due to the fact that while that is the actual value of the win, the market value of the win needs to be considered. In my opinion, the true “happy place” of how much money a win is valued at is somewhere in between the two numbers, so I’m simply going to take the average of the two numbers for our purposes here—which is $3.4 million—and apply it to Teixeira. Now he “earned” the club $23.12 million in 2008. Much more in line with what he is going to be paid.

Fair deal, right?

Not so fast.

Teixeira has a reputation as a fine fielding first baseman, and he was just that in 2008. Previous years tell a different story, though. Here are Teixeira’s Ultimate Zone Rating numbers (considered the best metric as of present day to value fielding) by year, starting in 2003 and ending in 2008: 7.7, 8.8, -2.5, -1.8, -3.5, 11.7.

Now we see why Teixeira’s “actual” value exploded so much in 2008: the fielding carried the day. Historically, he’s not this good a fielder. If we throw out 2008 as an aberration (“contract year,” perhaps) and use the average of his last five years, that gives him a UZR of 1.74. If he had a UZR of 1.74—which would have been an improvement on his 2005-7 seasons, by the way—what would his actual value have been using Cameron’s $4.5 million number? He was worth $26.1 million. Using the average of $3.4 million, he was worth $19.72 million—or put another way, less than the annual value of Manny Ramirez’s contract signed eight years ago (so toss in inflation, baseball’s exploding salaries, and the elite player Manny was).

Can the Yankees afford it? Of course. But Teixeira is being paid as an elite player—a Manny Ramirez, an Alex Rodriguez—and he’s not. He’s a fine player, but he is not an elite player. For any other team besides the Yankees, it would have been a poor allocation of resources to pay him more than $20 million a year, especially when he will be playing his ages 29-37 years with this contract.

Philadelphia Phillies signed RHP Chan Ho Park to a one-year contract, signed 2B Marcus Giles to a minor league contract.

The Phillies have given Park assurances that he will be able to compete to start, but the team would be better off putting him in the bullpen. Park rebuilt his value significantly after returning to the Los Angeles Dodgers this past year, pitching 95.1 innings of a 3.40 ERA (starting five games, relieving in 49). Park was able to reduce the number of hits and home runs allowed against him when he finally got out of Texas and went to San Diego and later Los Angeles (a brief cup of coffee with the New York Mets in between). Citizen’s Bank Park isn’t the kind of park to suppress home runs, so there is definitely a risk factor here for new GM Ruben Amaro. Time will tell if it will pay off.

1/7/09

Florida Marlins signed RHP Logan Kensing to a one-year contract.

Kansas City Royals signed C Vance Wilson to a minor league contract.

Oakland Athletics designated 2B Joe Dillon for assignment. Signed 1B Jason Giambi to a one-year contract with an option for 2010.

Giambi isn’t the same person who left the Athletics seven years earlier. He’s seen his batting average drop from being in the .330s to around .250 and also had a controversial apology (which he never fully admitted what to) and almost career-killing 2004, but he can still take a walk with the best of them and knock the ball out of the park, something the Athletics are looking for as they make a run for competition. He’ll give the A’s a fine middle-of-the-order bat to complement Matt Holliday.

Texas Rangers SP John Patterson retired.

Patterson had a rather brief career, only playing six years in the majors with one—count it, one—full year. That was 2005 when he seemed to be making a name for himself, posting a 3.13 ERA in 32 starts (193.1 innings) for the Washington Nationals. One major arm injury later and he’s finished. Just goes to show you that just one arm injury can derail even the most promising career.

Cincinnati Reds signed SS Jerry Hairston Jr. to a one-year contract.

This was a logical signing for both sides. Hairston revitalized his career in Cincinnati and can play all over the diamond, something the Reds need, especially after dealing Ryan Freel to the Baltimore Orioles earlier this offseason. He’ll be a fine backup in case shortstop Alex Gonzalez can’t return to man the position by Opening Day. Can he repeat his excellent 2008 season, when he hit .326/.384/.487? His career numbers say no, but stranger things have happened. Either way, he was one of the most coveted utility players on the market, and he put himself in the best position to log the most at-bats as no team was looking at him as starter.

Philadelphia Phillies signed P Yorman Bazardo, LF Jason Ellison and C Paul Hoover to a minor league contract.

1/8/09

Signed pitchers Yhency Brazoban, Carmen Cali, Nick DeBarr, Travis Chick, Edgar Martinez, Brian Mazone, Jacobo Meque, Steven Randolph, Scott Strickland and Erick Threets, outfielders/first basemen Mitch Jones and Val Pascucci and infielders Juan Castro, Hector Luna and Luis Maza to Minor League Contracts.

Texas Rangers signed outfielder Nathan Haynes to a minor league contract.

Milwaukee Brewers signed CL Trevor Hoffman to a one-year contract.

Hoffman certainly isn’t the shutdown closer he once was, but I can’t find any fault with this signing. It’s a low-cost move by the Brewers that brings a “name” player to town. It’s as much a PR move as it is a baseball one. The Brewers have a finite amount of resources to toss around and finding a low-cost solution at closer allows the club to focus more on other pressing needs as well as the inevitable droves of money Prince Fielder will rake in in arbitration.

San Diego Padres agreed to terms with outfielder Scott Hairston on a one-year contract.

Hairston possesses a power bat, one that survived the move to Petco Park when he was acquired midway through 2007. He hit 17 home runs in 362 at-bats for the club in 2008, something the club will look for him to replicate. He’s never hit for average much, as the three years with extensive batting experience in the majors have him hovering around a .250 average. As a result, his OBP is also rather low: .312 this past year after hitting for a .248 batting average. His hot streak for the Padres in 2007 was the exception, not the norm, across his career. He’s a fine complement to have and in the right position, team and park could be a threat for 30 home runs, but when I think Scott Hairston, I can’t help but think about Tony Armas and his 43 home runs for the Red Sox despite a .300 on-base percentage. The power output is tempered by his inability to get on base.

He’s a good fielder, however, as his 24 out-of-zone plays as the center fielder for the Padres would suggest. All in all, he’s an above average major league player.

Boston Red Sox signed OF Rocco Baldelli to a one-year contract, SP John Smoltz to a one-year contract. Designated RHP Charlie Zink for assignment.

I covered this over at Fire Brand, calling it a master stroke to sign Baldelli and Smoltz. They each have injury concerns, to be sure, but that’s why they signed cheap one-year deals. The reward can be fantastic, and the Red Sox have more than enough pitching depth to write off Smoltz for the entire season if need be, and have options should Baldelli go down. In fact, the Red Sox protected themselves against Smoltz by agreeing to terms with reliever Takashi Saito and against Baldelli by bringing back Mark Kotsay.

Smoltz isn’t expected to be ready until the beginning of June, but with all the reports coming out of Atlanta and Bobby Cox saying that he was impressed with how far Smoltz has come in his recovery from surgery, Red Sox fans can afford to dream a little (in my case, I’m dreaming a lot). It’s not every day you land “The Next Joe DiMaggio” and a surefire Hall of Famer. The moves represent the low-risk, high-reward signings at which Sox GM Theo Epstein is particularly adept, and the team is protected against losing them to injury. It’s hard to come out and pan these signings or to hail them because no one knows where these two currently are in their rehabilitation; no one knows how they will be affected in 2009 or what injuries might befall them. For the contract length and cash amount, these are fantastic deals for the Sox, who had money burning a hole in their pockets after losing out on Teixeira.

1/9/09

San Diego Padres claimed pitcher Virgil Vasquez off waivers from the Boston Red Sox.

Vazquez had spent his entire career in the Detroit Tigers organization before the Sox nabbed him off waivers in October. Before ever throwing a pitch for the Sox, he is on the move again. Vazquez is a cheap starting pitcher that can come in handy for the Padres, especially in Petco Park. Vazquez is a flyball pitcher and has the capacity to be a league-average pitcher (as misleading as it may be) for the Padres in their rebuilding year.

Tampa Bay Rays claimed pitcher Dewon Day off waivers from the Boston Red Sox.

Baltimore Orioles signed SS Chris Gomez to a minor league contract.

Los Angeles Dodgers signed SP Shawn Estes to a minor league contract.

New York Mets signed SP Tim Redding to a one-year contract.

You know, I’m not that big a fan of this deal for the Mets. In 33 starts, Redding posted a 4.95 ERA in 182 innings. Not my idea of an innings-eater, or a particularly effective one at that. He walked 65 and struck out 120 to give him a 1.43 WHIP. I think there were far better options out there than Redding for the Mets to sign as a back of the rotation starter. As presently constructed, the rotation consists of Johan Santana, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, Tim Redding and Jon Niese. The club expects to bring in either Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez or Randy Wolf as an additional starter, pushing Niese out of a spot.

Not that I’ve seen the Mets’ books or anything, and yes, the Wilpons were affected by the Bernie Madoff scandal, but … really? I think they could have gotten Wolf at a reasonable price with enough salary left over to bring in Lowe or Perez. Assuming they don’t, I still see better options out there. I would take Paul Byrd over Redding any day of the week.

I’m less than impressed, and I’m not confident Redding will last the whole season in the rotation. He’s more than welcome to prove me wrong, but he’s never been an innings-eater and always is pitching out of trouble.

Kansas City Royals signed infielder-outfielder Willie Bloomquist to a two-year contract; re-signed pitcher Kyle Davies to a one-year contract.

Willie Bloomquist is a fine addition, if he’s to be utilized as a utility man and is working off a one-year deal for less than a million. But with a two-year pact for $3 million and a shot at the second base job? General manager Dayton Moore is looking less and less the whiz that we all envisioned him to be. Rob Neyer put it best:

“The Royals have now committed $11.4 million in 2009 to Kyle Farnsworth, Mike Jacobs, Horacio Ramirez and Willie Bloomquist. For $11.4 million you can actually get a good player. But of course this is one of the things foolish organizations do: They complain that they can’t afford good players after spending millions of dollars on not-good players.”

San Francisco Giants signed pitchers Francis Beltran, Brandon Medders, Justin Miller, Kevin Pucetas and Ronnie Ray; catchers Todd Jennings, Buster Posey, Eli Whiteside and Jackson Williams; infielders Matt Downs, Jesus Guzman, Scott McClain, Ivan Ochoa, Josh Phelps and Jake Wald and outfielder Andres Torres.

1/10/09

Red Sox signed pitcher Takashi Saito to a one-year contract with a club option for 2010.

Low-risk, high-reward. The Sox can afford to take the gamble and it could pay off tremendously. Saito has a career 1.95 ERA in 189.2 innings with a 0.91 WHIP. He’s been one of, if not the, most underrated relievers/closers the last three years and it will be fascinating to see if his experimental elbow injection paid off for him. If it does, Tommy John surgery could be rendered obsolete.

1/11/09

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