Lost in Transactions 2/2/09-2/8/09: Howard gets money

Ryan Howard (Icon/SMI)

Lots of moves occurred this past week: the Chicago Cubs dumped off two pitchers while the Philadelphia Phillies locked up Ryan Howard for three years. Oliver Perez finally returned to the Mets after months of haggling and tons of arbitration decisions were avoided. Inexplicably, Shawn Hill defeated the Washington Nationals in arbitration despite an injury-marred, 5.83 ERA 2008. Ah, baseball.

This is an A-Rod free zone, in case you’re wondering. I think we’ve heard enough these last couple days.


Atlanta Braves agreed to terms with 1B Casey Kotchman on a one-year deal, avoiding salary arbitration.

Baltimore Orioles acquired LHP Rich Hill from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for a player to be named. Designated LHP Brian Burres for assignment.

Back in 2007, the then-27 year old had what seemed to be a breakout year, throwing 195 innings of a 3.92 ERA. A year later, he was moved for a player to be named later, having lost all semblance of control (8.24 BB/9 in 19.2 innings) and attempted to work his way back after being demoted in the minors. He has a tall task ahead of him, as he also walked 28 in 26 Triple-A innings. Hill also suffered a back injury which probably had a lot to do with losing control. It’s a great flyer for the Orioles who are looking to add pitching.

If Hill can get it together, he can be a solid No. 3-4 for the Orioles and could end up having the Cubs regret the deal. Of course, Hill could also continue to flame out—once you lose all command of your pitches like that, it’s hard to get it back; just ask Rick Ankiel—and slowly fade into obscurity. Outside of his control, his peripherals were generally in line with his career statistics, so there is hope. Both the CHONE and Marcel projections believe Hill will get back on track.

Cincinnati Reds signed C Humberto Cota to a minor league contract, with an invitation to major league spring training. Announced the retirement of minor league C Ryan Jorgensen.

Colorado Rockies signed RHP Josh Fogg to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Oakland Athletics acquired RHP Michael Wuertz from the Chicago Cubs for OF Richie Robnett and INF Justin Sellers.

Wuertz is another dump by the Cubs, this one more curious than the Hill trade. Sure, Lou Pinella could never really get his head around the slider specialist, but he has a career 3.57 ERA in 262.1 innings—there’s value in that. Wuertz threw a staggering 60.8 percent of his pitches for sliders, so he’ll likely spend his career as a righty specialist, as lefties can pick up sliders from righty pitchers rather well.

For all the hubbub over having lefty specialists in the bullpen, I’ve never quite understood why no one really thought to have a righty specialist. You either have to get all batters out or just lefties? Doesn’t make all that much sense to me; if someone demonstrates effectiveness against right-handed hitters (of which there are more in the game than there are lefties), wouldn’t you want him on your staff, provided you had an option ready to go if a lefty pinch-hit?


Cleveland Indians signed RHP Vinnie Chulk to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Colorado Rockies avoided arbitration with 3B Garrett Atkins, agreeing to a one-year contract.

Detroit Tigers avoided arbitration with RHP Justin Verlander, agreeing to a one-year deal.

Milwaukee Brewers avoided arbitration with 2B Rickie Weeks, agreeing to a one-year contract.

New York Mets re-signed LHP Oliver Perez to a three-year contract.

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Perez may not have gotten the five-year, $70 million deal he was reportedly seeking, but he did get a cool $36 million, not a bad payday in this economy. Perez and Boras chose to offer the short-term, high-annual value over the “safer” four-year deal that was also on the table. Perez looked like a star in the making for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2004, but then-Pirates pitching coach Jim Colborn wrecked his delivery (ditto Zach Duke) [note: anecdotal evidence only]and he finally resurfaced three years later with the Mets as a solid No. 3 starter.

He’s not exactly durable, as he pitched just 194 innings in 34 starts and walked 105 batters. He was able to whiff 180 batters; it’s his only saving grace, really. Giving up 24 home runs, he is clearly a line drive/fly ball pitcher as evidenced by his 32 percent groundball rate in 2008. It’s a wonder he finished at a 4.22 ERA, and xFIP agrees, contending he was in actuality a 5.02 ERA pitcher. He’s going to need to knock his BB/9 from 4.87 back down to 4.02 (2007) to live up to this contract.

Texas Rangers re-signed LHP Eddie Guardado to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Washington Nationals signed C Javier Valentin and IF Alex Cintron to minor league deals.


Baltimore Orioles signed LHP John Parrish, who had been with the Blue Jays, to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Colorado Rockies acquired OF Matt Murton from the Oakland Athletics for INF Corey Wimberly.

Finally. Maybe Murton will get back into the starting lineup for the Rockies after having been exiled despite hitting .297/.365/.444 in 455 at-bats in 2006. In 2007, he hit .281/.352/.438 in 235 at-bats, but that wasn’t good enough. He would receive just 70 at-bats in 2008 for the Chicago Cubs and Athletics.

Okay, so it’s unlikely that Murton will start because the outfield seems pretty set with Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Brad Hawpe. However, with the first two serving as question marks as to how much they can contribute, Murton provides great depth Perhaps in the thin air in Colorado, he’ll be able to drive more balls as he has a career 16.8 line drive percentage and puts the ball on the ground more than half the time. Unless you’re Ichiro, putting the ball on the ground more than half the time isn’t exactly a recipe for success.

Detroit Tigers outrighted the contract of RHP Eddie Bonine to Triple-A Toledo.

Kansas City Royals avoided arbitration with RHP Brian Bannister, agreeing to a one-year deal.

Milwaukee Brewers acquired LHP Chase Wright from the New York Yankees for OF/C Eric Fryer. Signed RHP Ramiro Mendoza to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Wright is well known for being the pitcher to give up four straight home runs to Red Sox batters in 2007. He has only 10 major league innings to his name and didn’t crack the majors last year, when he pitched mostly for the Double-A club. In Double-A, Wright had a 2.96 ERA in 16 starts and then was promoted to Triple-A where he lowered his ERA to 2.41 in six starts. He’s pretty stingy with allowing walks but also gives up balls in play a lot as evidenced by his 5-ish K/9 ratio in 2008. He’s been able to hold batters to a low BABIP all the time in the minors, so it seems as if he has a talent in minimizing his risk despite not striking out a lot.

The Brewers needed the arm after losing CC Sabathia (and now Ben Sheets, irrespective of injury or not) and the lefty may serve as a swingman during the season for the Brew Crew.

Toronto Blue Jays claimed LHP Brian Burres off waivers from the Orioles.

Burres looked like he might have been taking a step forward in 2007, when he pitched 121 innings for the Orioles with an unsightly 5.95 ERA (xFIP 5.25). With a promising 7.14 K/9 ratio, if Burres would be able to harness his control in 2008, the potential existed he could be a league-average starter. Well, he did harness his control, reducing his BB/9 from 4.91 to 3.47, but his K/9 ratio sank to 4.37 in the process. He finished with a 6.04 ERA, a much worse xFIP, and as we now know, a change in organizations.


Cincinnati Reds signed OF Jacque Jones and 1B/OF Daryle Ward to minor league contracts with invitations to major league spring training.

Minnesota Twins agreed to one-year contract with RHP Matt Guerrier, avoiding arbitration.

New York Mets signed RHP Elmer Dessens to minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

San Diego Padres signed OF Cliff Floyd to a one-year contract. Designated RHP Matt Bush for assignment.

Seattle Mariners signed LHP Tyler Johnson to minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Toronto Blue Jays signed LHP Brian Tallet to a one-year contract. Claimed RHP T.J. Beam off waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Designated INF/OF Russ Adams for assignment.

Beam, a former Yankee farmhand, started 2008 with the Pirates’ Triple-A club before coming up to pitch 45.2 innings of a 4.14 ERA despite striking out just 24. With his 3.33 K/9, he’s another player for the Jays that limits walks, although his .261 BABIP suggests he was rather lucky. xFIP agrees, saying he was a 5.88 xFIP pitcher. A duo (Burres, Beam) of rather unimpressive pickups for the Jays.

Washington Nationals signed LHP Odalis Perez to a one-year contract and invited him to spring training.


Arizona Diamondbacks signed RHP Tom Gordon, who had been with the Phillies, to a one-year contract.

Boston Red Sox sent OF/1B Jeff Bailey outright to Triple-A Pawtucket and invited him to spring training.

New York Mets avoided arbitration with LHP Pedro Feliciano, agreeing to a one-year deal.

Los Angeles Dodgers signed LHP Randy Wolf to a one-year contract.

Wolf is one of the latest victims of the economy, as he could have signed a lucrative three-year pact with the Houston Astros before the club pulled the deal off the table. The Dodgers are certainly thankful, as Wolf combined for 190.1 innings of 4.30 ERA ball for the San Diego Padres and Astros. Wolf seems to be fully over his left shoulder injury that saw him head to Los Angeles in 2006 to recover. Wolf has been a tad unlucky in his BABIP the last couple years (.338, .312 respectively) but has that mitigated by having pitched in pitcher’s parks the last two years. He gives up less than one home run per game, a mark he did not have while with the Philadelphia Phillies.

He’ll join Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and Hiroki Kuroda in a rotation that also has Jason Schmidt (if he can bounce back) and a motley crew of No. 5 starters.

Minnesota Twins signed RHP Luis Ayala to a one-year contract.

I was surprised there wasn’t more demand for Ayala. Ayala had a bunch of great years for the Montreal/Washington Expos/Nationals from 2003-7 but really struggled in 2008 thanks to worsening control. He was moved to the Mets midseason and didn’t do so much better… on the face of it. For the Nationals in 57.2 innings he had a 5.77 ERA, and a 4.77 xFIP. For the Mets, he posted a 5.50 ERA in 18 innings … and his xFIP was 3.51.

The major change from Washington to New York was that his BB/9 for the Nats went from 3.43 to 1.00. Now, I’m not claiming Ayala is a great reliever or that we should place more stock in his small sample size for the Mets, but over Ayala’s history, he has a good track record of being a reliever. One bad year does not make him a lost cause. I like the deal.

Tampa Bay Rays signed RHP Winston Abreu to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Texas Rangers re-signed RHP Jason Jennings to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Toronto Blue Jays signed Japanese LHP Ken Takahashi to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. Sent C Curtis Thigpen outright to Triple-A Las Vegas.


Texas Rangers signed RHP Brendan Donnelly to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Washington Nationals lose arbitration with SP Shawn Hill, agreeing to a one-year contract.

Baltimore Orioles avoided arbitration with LHP George Sherrill, agreeing to a one-year deal.

Toronto Blue Jays avoided arbitration with RHP Shawn Camp, agreeing to a one-year deal.


Washington Nationals avoided arbitration with SP Shawn Hill, agreeing to a one-year contract.

Kansas City Royals avoided arbitration with 1B/3B/LF/RF/2B(?) Mark Teahen, agreeing to a one-year contract.

Teahen had a nice run in 2006 after a poor rookie season at age 23 for the Royals in 2005. It’s still paying off for him to this day even though he hasn’t come close to replicating that season since. In 2007, he bopped seven home runs to go along with a .285/.353/.410 line. Considering his line the year before was .290/.357/.517, this wasn’t super-concerning: he had a significant dip in power but everything else was holding steady.

Not in 2008. He finished the year at .255/.313/.402, but there’s nothing in his peripherals to suggest this is a permanent decline. People have off years; it happens. His ground ball, line drive, fly ball percentages were all consistent with 2007. He had a dip in walk rate, but I assume he was pressing more due to his low average. He was able to get an uptick in power, so if he can recover his average, he can be a good role player.

And that’s why he’s going to have a look at second for the Royals. If he can hold his own defensively, he suddenly becomes an average to above-average option at second with the bat, as compared to a poor option in the corners. I think it’s a great idea; the Royals have nothing to lose by trying him at second. When playing third, he was able to get to balls out of his zone fairly regularly and has 34 stolen bases in 44 attempts, so one can envision (at least I can) Teahen succeeding in making the switch.

Philadelphia Phillies avoided arbitration with 1B Ryan Howard, agreeing to a three-year deal.

I was pretty surprised to hear about this deal because the Phillies don’t have much wiggle room and as good as Howard is offensively, I’m not sure he’s worth the near $20 million he feels he is. He whiffs a prolific amount and has had three straight years of declining averages. If he was hitting .313, I would support it. But .251/.339? Not feeling it. (Supporters will point to his .285 BABIP, saying he was unlucky in 2008. I’m not a BABIP guy, I’m an xBABIP guy, and xBABIP has him at .308, which shows that his .251 average was the real deal. In 2007, his xBABIP was .320, so a downturn was, and is, realistic.)

That said, it does lock Howard up through age-31 (his arbitration years) and given his late start to full-time duty, his Three True Outcomes style and bad body, he’s more prone to breaking down in the latter years than most people (see Vaughn, Mo, and possibly Ortiz, David [but let’s hope not]). The Phillies did well in giving themselves cost certainty for the remaining years they control Howard and it would surprise me none to see Howard walk (Mets?) after that to another team who will foolishly commit a huge chunk of their payroll to a hitter who will be on the decline.

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