Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Hot Stove Update: Ooddles and Ooddles of O's

Note: This article has been through a few revisions, and I even managed to lose half of it. I'll update the rest of the transactions including all the trades tonight.

Baseball's Winter Meetings are all wrapped up and the Action has been almost non-stop. This has to have been the most entertaining Winter Meetings in years. The teams seems to have plenty of money to spend and the players are not waiting very long to grab it.

The Baltimore Orioles seem determined to move from also-ran to contender this season. They don't have the experienced high-end talent that the Red Sox and Yankees do, but they've found it incredibly difficult to convince the best free agents to take their money. They've turned to the trade market to fill their needs instead. The Mark Reynolds acquisition is covered below. They are also pretty close to completing a deal for shortstop J.J. Hardy for two middle relievers. They've also agreed on a new contract for Koji Uehara, who will probably act as their closer.

It looks like the Zack Greinke trade will have to wait until Cliff Lee makes a decision. He seems to be holding out for a seven-year contract but so far it doesn't look like anyone is biting. There was a rumor of a mystery team offering a seventh year but that looks like a story started to get the other teams thinking. The Yankees have been willing to go six years, the Rangers, five years. There are probably other bidders but they have not been revealed publicly.

The Justin Upton idea seems to have faded out of the news. But this too may be a second choice for teams that were hoping to sign Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth. With Crawford now off the market the Upton talks could heat up again, especially if the Yankees fail to acquire Lee.

Hisashi Iwakuma will not be joining the Oakland Athletics and they will get their posting fee back. This seemed like an odd move for the Athletics from the beginning. I think they severely underestimated what it would take to sign top Japanese talent.

Major Free Agent Signings

The San Diego Padres signed free agent RHP Aaron Harang.

The Padres filled the spot left vacant by Jon Garland by signing veteran starter and once upon a time Reds ace, Aaron Harang. Harang has decent control and though his strikeout rate has fallen in recent seasons he still maintains a respectable rate. His biggest problem seems to be elevated BABIP and homerun rates. These are problems that Petco Park will definitely lessen if not solve. Harang has also seen his groundball rate fall slightly over the years which hasn't helped his results. The change of scenery could (and should) do wonders.

Harang should come very cheaply in most leagues in 2011. I recommend him as a late round pick or single-digit bid, especially in NL-only leagues.

The Washington Nationals signed free agent RF Jayson Werth.

Many Stat Nerds are all worked up about this deal. They claim that Jayson Werth is too old, with not enough track record to deserve such a contract. They criticize the Washington Nationals for spending too much of their budget on one player. I have a few problems with this view.

First, no one outside of MLB has any idea what the Washington Nationals can spend and stay within the black. Washington D.C. is not a small market. The Nationals may have chosen to keep the payroll small while they built up the farm system, that does not mean that they could not have spent more. There is also a significant value to bringing in top tier talent that goes far beyond their field production matching their salary.

Also, Werth may not be in his twenties any longer but I find it ridiculous that so many analysts seem to believe that players will essentially drop dead when they reach 35-years old. Or that a player will decline at a nice regular, predictable rate.

Werth is a very good hitter and defensive outfielder. He has spent most of his time in right field but is capable of manning center field. He walks a ton, and makes pretty good contact for a power hitter. He has excellent plate discipline and should hit for good batting averages most years. He is an excellent fantasy player who hits homers and steals bases. The move to Washington should do very little to change that.

The Arizona Diamondbacks signed free agent 3B Melvin Mora.

Mora is fading fast. However, he still gets on base at a fairly decent rate. His power is nearly gone but is a fairly disciplined hitter who makes very good contact, which means he will usually hit for a decent batting average. For fantasy purposes he is not much of a Mark Reynolds replacement but he is likely a temporary fill-in (along with Geoff Blum) until a prospect like Matt Davidson or Bobby Borchering is ready to take over. I'd avoid Mora until the Dollar Dayz. but then happily throw him into a CI spot.

The Chicago Cubs signed free agent 1B Carlos Pena.

Carlos Pena has seen enough success in his career that he probably deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to bouncing back (at least a little) from his horid 2010 season. The Cubs showed some faith in Pena by signing him to a one-year, $10 million deal. Pena is actually on a three-year decline in BABIP which is pretty scary. He has never been much of a BABIP guy (career .279) but last season's .222 rate was a disaster and 2009's .250 was not much better. But even if bad luck played some part in the last two seasons, at 32 a major improvement is not a great bet. I suggest fantasy owners avoid Pena unless he comes with very little risk, I mean dirt cheap, and replaceable on a whim.

The Kansas City Royals signed free agent RF Jeff Francoeur.

What the hell s Dayton Moore thinking? The man makes it impossible to root for him. In the Royals write-up I've been composing in my head (for the Fantasy Guide I'll be offering to readers in February) I wanted to suggest that despite the horors of the major league roster, Moore was due some praise for re-building the farm system. But for every honor point he gains, there is a move like this.

Moore has drooling over Jeff Francoeur since the Braves first started to show signs of frustration with him. Moore of course came from the Braves system that raised Francoeur. There have been rumors of Frenchy joining the Royals forever. Now they've got him and given him the outfield spot they traded David DeJesus to open. Can you sense my head shaking?

Francoeur is a decent contact hitter but lacks patience and plate discipline. If he ever gained any real plate discipline we might see evidence of his once significant power potential . But since he will swing at anything and is now residing in a ballpark that robs homers, the chances have shrunk even further. Fantasy owners should avoid him completely unless he gets on an insanely good lucky streak. That means don't draft him.

The Colorado Rockies re-signed free agent LHP Jorge De La Rosa.

Jorge De La Rosa is durability, slightly better control and a nice pitcher's park away from having every thing you want in a starting pitcher. He collects strikeouts in bunches, induces groundballs about half the time, and consistently gives you that "this is the year he breaks out" feeling. Unfortunately, this will be the fourth season since he first gave us that feeling. Still, he should be an average starting pitcher in front of an above average offense which means he has a shot at wins. I would definitely take another shot at him, just don't break the bank thinking this is the year, again.

The Boston Red Sox signed free agent 2B Drew Sutton.

Buried under the avalanche the hype of the Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford moves was this smaller gem. The Red Sox picked up Sutton as a minor league free agent. Sutton is a player I've liked for a while. Obviously, he won't be stealing a starting spot from Dustin Pedroia, but he should be a very useful utility player. He can play all over the infield and outfield and is useful with the bat. He is very patient at the plate, and shows good discipline. He is also a better contact hitter than the evidence of his brief Major League appearances might suggest. He has 20 homer and 20 steal potential. I like him a lot, late, in AL-only leagues.

The St. Louis Cardinals signed free agent RF Lance Berkman.

There was a story going around that the Cardinals were going to move Matt Holiday to right field so that Lance Berkman could play left field. That isn't going to happen, according to Tony LaRussa, who told MLB Network that Berkman would be in right field. Many analysts seem to hate this move by the Cardinals because it puts Berkman back in the outfield. Berkman has not played the outfield since 2007, and has never been a good defensive outfielder. But they can hardly play him at first base, can they?

The Cardinals are obviously willing to sacrifice some outfield defense for offensive production. For that they need Berkman to rebound from his lousy 2010 season. Berkman is still a patient hitter, with solid plate discipline. Very little has changed in his game other than his BABIP and his ISO. If this was not the second consecutive year that Berkman's BABIP has dropped below .300, I'd call it bad luck. But that's probably not the whole story.

Berkman has battled through injuries the last few seasons and that may be the difference, but that just means that we also need to know that Berkman is actually going to significantly healthier than he was the last two seasons. This is extremely difficult considering he has averaged 522 at-bats the last two seasons despite the injuries. He plays through them and that is probably hurting his numbers.

I like the chances of Berkman bouncing back if he is healthy. I suggest potential fantasy owners pay special attention to Berkman in the spring. Watch for signs of pain, look for wincing, limping and sitting out consecutive home games. He is a decent sleeper but also a risky one.

The New York Yankees re-signed free agent SS Derek Jeter.

This has been covered so much, and Derek Jeter is so well known that it seems silly to spend much time with this transaction. Jeter is the same patient, disciplined hitter he has always been. A poor BABIP was the only real sign that he slipped last season. He will bounce back closer to his career levels. Also note how disturbed Jeter was by the negative rumors surrounding the negotiations. His feelings were hurt and that could be extra motivation for a guy that hasn't needed much in the past.

Other Significant Transactions

San Francisco Giants re-signed free agent LF Pat Burrell.

Los Angeles Dodgers signed free agent C Rod Barajas.

Boston Red Sox signed free agent RHP Brandon Duckworth.

Chicago White Sox re-signed free agent C A.J. Pierzynski.

Boston Red Sox signed free agent RHP Jason Bergmann.

RHP Joel Peralta elected free agency.

LHP Hideki Okajima elected free agency.

LHP Andrew Miller elected free agency.

RHP Chien-Ming Wang elected free agency.

San Diego Padres signed RHP Luis Perdomo.

Cleveland Indians signed free agent 3B Jack Hannahan.

Philadelphia Phillies released RHP Jesus Sanchez.

Cincinnati Reds signed free agent 3B Miguel Cairo.

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