Lost in Transactions 1/26-2/2/09: Young pitchers sign long-term deals

Zack Greinke (Icon/SMI)

This past week, Zack Greinke and Paul Maholm both took leaps of faith in staying with their mediocre teams. Also, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox brought back their aging former stars while Garrett Olson went on the move again.


New York Yankees re-signed LHP Andy Pettitte to a one-year contract.

Pettitte became the latest victim of the downturn in spending, rejecting a one-year, $10 million guaranteed contract earlier this offseason. He ended up settling for $5.5 million and will serve as the No. 4 starter for the Yankees. His best days are behind him, but as a lefty capable of eating 200 innings, there’s value in that. This was a needed signing for the Yankees, who now don’t have to rely on Ian Kennedy and the assortment of other secondary options for the club.

At some point, though, Pettitte is going to lose it, and lose it fast. For the last three years, he’s been playing with fire, living with a WHIP in the 1.4s. It’s not the control that’s the problem—he’s decreased his BB/9 from 2.9 in 2006-7 to 2.4 in 2008. The hits are the problem. In 2005, he gave up 188 hits in 222.1 innings for the Houston Astros. In the following three years when he pitched 214.1, 215.1 and 204 innings for the Yankees, he’s given up 238, 238 and 233 hits. It’s a concerning trend as he also doesn’t strike out as many batters as he used to in his prime.

For a No. 4 starter, you can’t do much better than Pettitte, but the jury’s out on how long he can survive giving up this many hits.


Boston Red Sox signed infielders Angel Chavez, Nick Green and Ivan Ochoa, outfielder Chip Ambres, pitcher Fernando Cabrera and catcher Carlos Maldonado to minor league contracts and named Alex Ochoa assistant coach.

Keep an eye on Cabrera. He has a great fastball and slider combination and is aggressive in attacking the zone. He whiffs plenty and had elbow surgery in 2008. If he can harness his control he could be a great reliever.

Kansas City Royals signed pitcher Zack Greinke to a four-year extension.

…And now every Royals fan can exhale. It would have been devastating for this team to lose Greinke, but now they have him for the next four years. In the words of the recently disposed Kansas City Chiefs coach Herm Edwards, “WE CAN BUILD ON THIS!”

In an interview I conducted with Bill James last month, he identified Greinke as the active pitcher that is as close to perfection as can be. His August and September numbers, where he posted an ERA under 3.00, are impressive. He’s come around a lot with his command, capturing his previous success with it (at least in those two months) and both his FIP and xFIP agree with his season ERA: 3.47.

He opened his career whiffing roughly six batters per game, but that has risen to eight. I would expect his BB/G to drop significantly next year. In 2004 he had a 1.7 BB/G, but it hasn’t been lower than 2.5 since, although he’s been far more effective in decreasing line drive percentage and increasing groundball percentage than in his formative years. This is a kid on the cusp of stardom. Sit back and appreciate his talent while you can.


Chicago Cubs acquired RHP Aaron Heilman from the Seattle Mariners for LHP Garrett Olson and INF Ronny Cedeno.

USS Mariner really likes this deal. I’m not as pleased with the deal from their perspective. As I mentioned in Lost In Transactions two weeks ago about Olson, when he was dealt to the Chicago Cubs:

Garrett Olson is a back of the rotation starter. He could develop into a No. 3 but odds are he won’t. Much of his value is tied up in being left-handed. As a flyball pitcher, he better watch out for the days the wind blows out at Wrigley Field. One encouraging sign that Olson demonstrated was reducing his 2007’s BB/G of 6.7 in 32.3 innings to 3.2 in 132.2 innings in 2008 although he was far from successful in 2008 as well. Olson needs to figure out how to get more balls on the ground to convert them into outs, or work on his 5.1 K/G ratio of 2008.

Obviously, going to Safeco Field is really going to help Olson in keeping the ball in the park. But will it be enough to turn him into a solid starter?

Cedeno is the better get in this deal, at least in my opinion. He’s always raked in the minor leagues (2007 minors: .359/.422/.537) but has received spotty time in the majors, not enough to form a conclusion about him. As a backup player last year for the Cubs, he earned 216 at-bats, hitting .269/.328/.352. He needs to work on squaring up with the ball more as he’s prone to hitting ground balls and infield fly balls. He is a good fielder with speed, which is where his value is tied up in while he matures with the bat.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

Heilman is finally getting his shot to start after four years of agitating for one. He was among the better relief pitchers from 2005-’07, but took a major step back in 2008 as his walk rate spiked to five per nine innings. This likely motivated the Mets to move him, and with the Mariners in a rebuilding phase and perhaps better suited to having Heilman close for them, the fit was never there. For the Cubs, the fit is there for him to step in as a No. 5 starter and, worst case, the bullpen.

All he needs to do to return to his effective ways is to lower his walks. His other peripherals are in line with his career, so if he can overcome that interesting bout of wildness, he can log quite a few good innings for Chicago.


Arizona Diamondbacks signed RHP Jon Garland, who had been with the Angels, to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2010.

There’s understandable concern about Garland in Arizona. A flyball pitcher with decreasing strikeout totals? In Chase Field? Might not work out so well. The easy way out would be to criticize this signing because they could have had Randy Johnson for similar terms earlier in the year and chose to let him go. But the Diamondbacks’ financial situation drastically changed, and they were able to bring Garland into the fold. I would certainly consider Johnson a better pitcher, perhaps even Braden Looper and Oliver Perez, but Garland was the most affordable and willing to sign quickly.

I’m skeptical he’ll succeed.

Oakland Athletics agreed to terms with pitcher Russ Springer on a one-year contract. Released P Andrew Brown.

As Springer gets older, he gets better. He whiffs 8.5 batters per nine and walks 3.4. He is very successful in getting batters to pop up, inducing them 16.2 percent (18.1 percent in 2007). It’s a really interesting talent he has. With the Oakland Coliseum’s expansive foul ground and Springer’s tendency to give up fly balls (30.4 percent ground balls last year), he should find success in Oaktown.

Seattle Mariners signed first baseman Mike Sweeney to a minor league contract.

Houston Astros signed INF David Newhan to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Milwaukee Brewers came to terms on one-year deals with RHP Tim Dillard, LHP Mitch Stetter, INF Alcides Escobar, Mat Gamel and Casey McGehee, IF/OF Brad Nelson and C Angel Salome. Signed RHP Tim Dillard, INF Alcides Escobar, INF Mat Gamel, INF Casey McGehee, INF/OF Brad Nelson, C Angel Salome and LHP Mitch Stetter to one-year contracts.

San Francisco Giants signed INF Juan Uribe to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

I was a bit surprised that Uribe signed with the Giants, and to a minor league deal no less. He must have been guaranteed a major league spot. He’ll push Pablo Sandoval (if he plays third) and Manny Burriss for time at second base and could end up the starter at second. He has terrible plate discipline but has some pop in his bat. I view him as someone that will help integrate Burriss into the major leagues.


Pittsburgh Pirates re-signed LHP Paul Maholm to a three-year contract with a club option for 2012. Signed OF Eric Hinske to a one-year contract.

Hinske first. Hinske was the Rookie of the Year for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002, but he tailed off after that and became a liability at third base. Traded to the Red Sox in 2006, he was renowned for his gritty, all-out play but struggled to make contact. He had an excellent eye and power, though, so it came as no surprise (at least to me) that he hammered 20 home runs for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, hitting .247/.333/.465. He can play the corner infield and outfield and frankly, I am surprised a contending team didn’t pick him up to come off the bench. He’ll receive plenty of playing time in Pittsburgh and could even become a full-time starter if either Adam LaRoche or Nate McLouth (or both) are traded.

As for Maholm, this is a nice signing. It buys out Maholm’s arbitration year and his first year of free agency (assuming the option is picked up). He really came on in 2008 after two years of feeling his way through the league and was rather unlucky last year, posting a 5.02 ERA with an xFIP of 4.35. In his 4.76 ERA of 2006, he walked four batters per nine but trimmed that to 2.5 in 2007. In 2008, that number rose slightly to 2.9, but his whiff ratio rose from 5.3 in 2007 to 6.3. All in all, he threw 206.1 innings of 3.71 ERA ball. If he can repeat last year’s numbers and trim the home runs allowed from the low 20s to high teens, he could break out in 2009 as one of the game’s better young lefties.

Chicago Cubs agreed to terms with catcher Paul Bako on a one-year contract.

Boston Red Sox signed catcher Jason Varitek to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2010.

This was inevitable. Varitek has a lot of issues offensively as he has really tailed off in recent years, but he remains invaluable to the pitching staff. As a matter of fact, at Fire Brand Monday, I explore how Varitek has a psychological hold on the Red Sox and why the Sox really needed to bring him back.

With a Red Sox offense that is increasingly losing runs and becoming a more pitching-oriented club, Varitek will not help the lineup at all unless he bounces back somewhat. Given that his xBABIP is .293 with his BABIP at .270, one may surmise an increase in batting average—however incrementally—from .220.



Print This Post

Comments are closed.