Lost in Transactions 12/15-12/21/08: Yanks dish the dollars

C.C. Sabathia (Icon/SMI)

The New York Yankees made their two major signings official this week, inking C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to deals meant to bolster their pitching staff. Even though they took a big step forward, their offense still isn’t playoff caliber…

12/15/08

Baltimore Orioles signed SS Cesar Izturis to a two-year contract.

There’s no question the Baltimore Orioles needed a shortstop. Heck, they called me and asked me if I could play last year. My agent, Scott Boras, advised me to hold out for a $100 million contract. Since the O’s were willing to pay only the league minimum, I declined the opportunity. I’m not concerned, some team will pay it.

Izturis can really flash the leather, but boy, can he really not hit. The Orioles had to know what they were getting into with the Izturis signing and it may be that they are banking on his defense and couldn’t care less about his offense. After all, the Orioles were one of the American League’s best offensive teams last year and with Aubrey Huff and Melvin Mora‘s declining defensive skills, Baltimore might have pulled off a good move here by getting Izturis. He made an impressive 58 plays out of his defensive zone last year. He made 272 total plays on balls hit into his zone out of 313, so you know what you’re getting with the glove.

The bat? His career high in OPS is .710, accomplished in his rookie year with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He hasn’t been over .655 since. Oy. He can steal more than 20 bases, but the issue is getting on base, something he struggles to do even at a .300 clip. This will be his first foray into American League pitching and it may be that he’ll find AL-style pitching to his liking, but don’t bank on it. He was worth eight win shares for the Cardinals last year and given that he was signed to a short-term deal, the Orioles certainly have to be happy with what they’re getting.

Cincinnati Reds signed OF Laynce Nix to a minor eague contract and invited him to spring raining. Re-signed OF Norris Hopper to a one-year contract.

Detroit Tigers signed SS Adam Everett to a one-year contract.

Adam Everett is the American Cesar Izturis. The Tigers are providing an emphasis on defense a year after trying to bolster their offense. Their pitching and defense were porous last year, so the hope is that Everett can help stabilize the defense which, in turn, will help the pitching.

Houston Astros signed OF Jason Michaels to a one-year contract.

Yeah, I don’t think the NL Central needs to worry about the Astros this year. They have a money crunch and therefore are signing mediocre players to contracts. Don’t be surprised see Miguel Tejada and Roy Oswalt get shipped out in the calendar year of 2009.

Philadelphia Phillies non-tendered RHP Scott Mathieson and re-signed him to a minor league contract. Re-signed LHP Jamie Moyer to a two-year contract.

The 46-year old keeps on ticking. Moyer had 13 win shares last year, the most since before 2004. He posted a 3.71 ERA a year after checking in with a 5.01 ERA and is 54 wins from 300. It sounds like a long way, but he averages 13 wins a year. Assuming he grabs 26 over the course of this contract, that leaves him with 28—in other words, only an additional two years to go. Unless he completely loses it, my guess is four to five years from now we’ll be writing about Moyer’s 300th win as a 50 or 51-year old. That will be amazing.

So what was the major factor in his ERA going from 5.01 to 3.71? It’s not as significant a discrepancy as you may think, as his xFIP was 4.77 in 2007 and 4.72 in 2006. In other words, he pitched pretty much the same in both years and just saw luck swing both ways. His xFIPs in his last three years with Seattle were well over five, while they’re in the fours for Philly. He’s a pretty good bet to stay consistent throughout the next two years of his deal, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him head to the Dodgers or Padres to get his 300th win, aided by the pitching parks of both teams.

Texas Rangers re-signed RHP Doug Mathis to minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

12/16/08


Chicago Cubs signed OF Joey Gathright to a one-year contract.

This deal could signify that the Cubs plan to trade Felix Pie or plan to have Pie literally force his way to the majors. Gathright could see some significant time in a platoon with Kosuke Fukudome and/or Reed Johnson. He hasn’t done anything to suggest that he is a viable option as a starter, but with his defense and speed, should hold his own. Anyone else notice that teams seem to be more amenable to grabbing players who play defense over sluggers? No wonder—defense is just as important in the game and is tremendously undervalued, while one-tool sluggers rake in tens of millions.

Kansas City Royals signed LHP John Bale to a one-year contract.

Bale returned from Japan two years ago to the Royals and has become an average reliever who can start every now and then. He re-signed at a pay cut to stay with the Royals.

Milwaukee Brewers signed LHP Chris Capuano to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league camp.

Philadelphia Phillies signed OF Raul Ibanez to a a three-year contract.

A lot of people are knocking this signing, but he had to sign somewhere and the Phillies had a need. It had been apparent for a long time that the Phillies were going to move on from Pat Burrell when he became a free agent. Ibanez can hit and contributed 23 Win Shares to the Mariners last year. A lot of people (rightly) think he’s horrible defensively, but he’s not in the negative Win Shares on defense, so this is a defensible signing. I personally think the Phillies privately intend to move Ibanez to first base whenever they decide to trade Ryan Howard, perhaps to the Dodgers. A Phillies friend told me a while ago that the Dodgers were on the cusp of acquiring Howard at the deadline before shifting focus to Manny Ramirez. Could these talks be revisited?

12/17/08

Kansas City Royals signed LHPs Heath Phillips and Lenny DiNardo, RHP Oscar Villarreal and OF Tommy Murphy to minor league contracts with invitations to spring training.

Philadelphia Phillies signed RHPs Dave Borkowski, Justin Lehr, Blaine Neal, INFs Mike Cervenak, Ozzie Chavez, J.J. Furmaniak, Terry Tiffee, Andy Tracy and OF Christopher Walker to minor league contracts with invitations to spring training.

St. Louis Cardinals signed INF Joe Thurston and C Justin Knoedler to minor league contracts with invitations to major league spring training.

Tony LaRussa is a huge fan of utility guys and Joe Thurston is just that. Thurston was the Red Sox Triple-A MVP and logged some time in the bigs. With Aaron Miles as a free agent, it’s entirely possible Thurston could end up starting at second on Opening Day, unless the team wants to give Adam Kennedy another shot.

12/18/08

Detroit Tigers signed C Matt Treanor to a one-year contract.

Houston Astros signed INF Aaron Boone to a one-year contract.

Kansas City Royals signed RHP Luke Hudson to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training.

Milwaukee Brewers signed OFs Trot Nixon and Chris Duffy to minor league contracts with an invitations to spring training.

Baltimore Orioles P Jon Leicester signed to play for the Orix Buffaloes.

New York Yankees Yankees signed LHP C.C. Sabathia to a seven-year contract. Signed RHP A.J. Burnett to a five-year contract.

The C.C. Sabathia signing was a great one for the Yankees, although it has the potential to turn into a disaster. If Sabathia pitches up to expectations, he will unquestionably opt out of his contract after the first three years. If he does that, he stands a very good chance of being re-signed because who can outspend the Yankees? If not and he heads west, well, the Yankees just got three great years out of Sabathia and no team would argue against a three-year deal for C.C. If he flames out, which is altogether possible given his workload and his weight, then this contract is a disaster. Given his workhorse ability and talent, however, you can bet on C.C. being the stud pitcher the Yankees desperately needed.

Less impressive is the five-year commitment to Burnett. His stuff is electric but his injury history is way too checkered to expect two healthy years over the course of the contract, never mind one. This deal has a lot more potential to be the next Carl Pavano for the Yankees, although Pavano on his best day wasn’t as good as Burnett on an average day. Still, the Yankees could take the plunge, both monetarily and in terms of giving Burnett a roster spot. The advantage to signing Sabathia and Burnett and taking the risks therein is that they now don’t have to move any of their young pitchers, which gives them the depth needed in case of injury. They’re probably set to bring back Andy Pettitte, too.

Their pitching is more or less settled and now they need to focus on the offense. I’m looking at this team and while I’m seeing loads of potential out of the rotation, I’m less than impressed by the offense and ther bullpen is the same as every other team—a shot in the dark.

12/19/08


Arizona Diamondbacks signed LHP Travis Blackley to a one-year contract.

Atlanta Braves signed INF/OF Greg Norton to a one-year contract.

Florida Marlins signed RHP Josh Johnson to a one-year contract.

Los Angeles Angels signed OF Juan Rivera to a three-year contract.

Apparently this deal signals the end of their pursuit for Manny Ramirez, although I’m not sold on that. I think they could bring in a free agent outfielder because, really, should Gary Matthews be starting full time? Also, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to ask one of their current outfielders (Rivera himself, perhaps?) to give first base a try.

But this is Rivera signing, not Manny. And this deal is fantastic. It doesn’t break the bank and gives the Angels a 30-homer threat who looked on the cusp of announcing himself to the world as a star before breaking his leg and missing most of 2007. In 2008, he was extremely unlucky with his .246 batting average, given that his batting average on balls in play was a scant .233, with the league average hovering around .300. With the extended time to continue healing from his injury and using 2008 to get his timing back, Rivera could be the protection the club needs behind Vladimir Guerrero, assuming that they reinvest the Teixeira dollars into pitching, namely Brian Fuentes and perhaps even Jon Garland.

Los Angeles Dodgers re-signed SS Rafael Furcal to a three-year contract with a vesting option for 2012.

The Furcal saga was an interesting one to follow, to say the least. Now that we know he’s back in Dodger blue, let’s take a second to do something very unusual: congratulate Ned Colletti. Furcal came to Los Angeles three years ago on a deal that many expected to benefit him in the future, as he was going to be able to hit the market again still at a young age and command even more dollars. Instead, he returns to Chavez Ravine with a lesser deal than he got three years ago. He seems to be a fan of the area and turned down an additional guaranteed year from Oakland to stay in Los Angeles.

He was among the league’s most productive players in the early going, amassing a 1.012 OPS before going down with a back injury. Given that his career OPS+ is 96, it’s unlikely he could have sustained that over a full season. Nevertheless, he is a valuable shortstop to have and one important to the Dodgers. Furcal gives Joe Torre a viable leadoff man instead of slotting Juan Pierre in that role. The Dodgers need to add another bat and replace Derek Lowe before they can dream of making the playoffs again and Furcal was important to those dreams.

San Diego Padres signed OF Jody Gerut to a one-year contract.

Gerut looked to be developing into a solid player when he was with the Cleveland Indians but had two lost years due to injury. Getting a shot with the Padres last year, Gerut hit .296/.351/.494 in 328 at-bats, which will be enough to give him the starting job in center field next year, a year in which the Padres could potentially lose over 100 games if they trade Jake Peavy. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Gerut move at the trading deadline to a team desperate for outfield help. He’ll fall back to earth some, given his .317 BABIP, but he can nab a few bases and is a good defender. Gerut may finally be realizing his potential.

12/20/08

12/21/08


Tampa Bay Rays 1B Dan Johnson sold to Yokohama BayStars.

Washington Nationals signed SP Daniel Cabrera to a one-year contract.

Cabrera has teased the Orioles with his potential for ages now, and the team finally cut the cord. He doesn’t move very far, though, as he’s a National now. Cabrera had seemingly made inroads from 2005-’07 but took a massive step back in 2008. Can Randy St. Claire screw Cabrera’s head on straight? Maybe, but he’ll have a lot of work to do.

Cabrera’s walk rate has actually fallen from a crazy 6.1 in 2006 to 4.2 last year, but he also is whiffing a lot fewer— 4.5 per game last year as opposed to 9.1 in 2006. His home run rate has gone up to 1.13, the second straight year it has done so since what looks like his career year of 2006 so far. If he can recover some of the lost velocity and maintain his improving control while retaining his strikeout rate, he could make out like a bandit in free agency next year.

More likely, though, is his continued tantalizing of talent, never quite realizing it.

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