Lost in Transactions 2/9-2/15/09: Spring training’s here

Braden Looper (Icon/SMI)

Spring training is finally here! Now we get six weeks of watching pitchers throw gently off a mound and the scrubs get face time on the television networks. While there are still plenty of quality free agents unsigned, they’re starting to concede the economic climate as we’ve seen with Adam Dunn and Braden Looper signing deals.


Texas Rangers signed OF Andruw Jones to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Jones has essentially no value right now after hitting .158/.256/.249 for the Dodgers and demonstrating no desire to listen to the Dodgers’ hitting coach on how to get back to what he once was. Working out in front of Rangers’ hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, Jaramillo recommended the Rangers sign him because he saw promise that could be harnessed with a few tweaks to Jones’ swing. Good luck getting Jones to listen.

Jones joins a crowded outfield with seemingly no chance of cracking the starting lineup with Josh Hamilton, Marlon Byrd, Nelson Cruz and Brandon Boggs ahead of him. With a strong spring training, he can play his way onto the roster and get more playing time. If he can’t improve under Jaramillo in the Texas heat, his career is deader than a doornail.


Los Angeles Dodgers signed RHP Jeff Weaver to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Oakland Athletics signed RHP Edgar G. Gonzalez to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

San Francisco Giants signed INF Rich Aurilia to a minor league deal and invited him to spring training.

St. Louis Cardinals released 2B Adam Kennedy.

This move was a long time in coming, and it wasn’t fair for the club to release him this late in the season. He would have stood a better chance of latching on with another team with a chance of winning the starting job had this occurred earlier in the year. After showing no power (in the form of home runs, doubles or line drives) in 2007, he rebounded somewhat in 2008 (.280/.321/.372). Known for his defense, with luck he can hook a starting job as a second baseman from a team desperate for defense and willing to sacrifice thump. This late into the offseason, though, he has a better chance of getting a job as the top infield substitute for the year.

Tampa Bay Rays signed 3B Morgan Ensberg to a minor league contract.

Ensberg from 2003 to 2006 was one of the better third basemen in the game, but he quickly lost his skills. After moving to the San Diego Padres, New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians from the Astros, he’s trying his luck with Tampa Bay to be a backup first- and third-baseman. He has an outside, though unlikely, shot at making the team. In 159 at-bats for the Indians’ Triple-A club, he hit .189/.323/.340.


Arizona Diamondbacks signed OF Brandon Watson to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Baltimore Orioles signed INF/OF Ty Wigginton to a two-year contract. Designated INF Scott Moore for assignment.

Wigginton made a lot of sense for the Orioles. He can maul lefties and plays the infield and outfield corners. He’ll be able to spell Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, Luke Scott, Felix Pie and Nick Markakis on occasion, so he should get plenty of at-bats. Wigginton had a career year in 2008 for the Astros, hitting .285/.350/.526, but that came at the expense of being a liability at third base. If the Orioles play him against all left-handers and limit his exposure to righties, he will have tremendous value for the club and could be a great trade option at the deadline to bring in a prospect.

Colorado Rockies signed C Sal Fasano to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Kansas City Royals signed RHP Jamey Wright to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

Wright has quietly pieced together two solid years as a reliever for the Texas Rangers. The Royals will bring him in to compete for a bullpen job. He suddenly found an ability to strike batters out in 2008 after not doing so in 2007. In 2007, he posted a 3.62 ERA (5.26 xFIP) in 77 innings, whiffing 39 and walking 41. In 2008, he pitched even more—84 innings—and whiffed 60 while walking 35. It’s no wonder, then, that while his ERA was higher at 5.12, his xFIP suggested it should be 4.06. I wonder if his high ERA had anything to do with the atrocious defense that he had behind him in Texas.

Los Angeles Dodgers signed RHP Ronald Belisario, RHP Charlie Haeger, RHP Tanyon Sturtze and LHP Eric Milton to minor league contracts and invited them to spring training.

I’m glad that teams are still taking fliers on Haeger. Knuckleballers take longer to develop than normal and he’s in a good situation as long as he sticks in pitcher’s parks. He hasn’t had a lot of chances to prove himself in the big leagues, but has proved he can be league average in the minors—he posted a 4.45 ERA for the White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate in 178 innings, whiffing 117 but giving up 77 walks—clearly he needs a bit more work on controlling the fastball. The bad news is that he’s pretty far down the depth chart to win a job as the No. 5 starter. The good news is that all the other candidates all have their flaws as well. He might get a chance.

San Francisco Giants signed RHP Ramon Ortiz to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Tampa Bay Rays signed LHP Brian Shouse to a one-year contract with a club option for 2010.

Shouse is your typical LOOGY who can’t handle himself against righties. In his career, he’s held lefties to a 0.96 WHIP and .242 BAA. Against righties, it isn’t pretty: 1.45 WHIP, .274 BA. Shouse bounced between three organizations before landing in Texas and later moving to Milwaukee. In Tampa, he’ll serve as the LOOGY of the staff with J.P. Howell as the other lefty in the bullpen that can face righties.

Toronto Blue Jays acquired RHP Matt Bush, who had been designated for assignment on February 5, from the San Diego Padres for a PTBN or cash considerations. Released RHP Dirk Hayhurst.


Colorado Rockies signed LHP Randy Flores to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Flores is another LOOGY. Except he isn’t a good one. Pitching just 25.2 innings despite coming into 43 games, he’s allowed a career WHIP of 1.45 against lefties and 1.75 against righties. In 2008, those numbers were 2.08 and 2.13 respectively. Colorado’s going to hope Flores can suddenly figure out how to retire lefties, because that’s the only reason he’s still bouncing around the leagues.

New York Mets re-signed 2B Jose Valentin to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Washington Nationals signed 1B/OF Adam Dunn to a two-year contract.

Dunn got a great contract after sitting on it for months, clearly indicating he was not interested in becoming a National. That didn’t bother Jim Bowden, though, who gladly took him aboard even though Bobby Abreu had to settle for a one-year, $5 million pact. Nevertheless, I feel it’s a good deal for the Nationals. It’ll pique more interest in the club and slowly improve the team. Detractors feel that it wasn’t a good deal because it won’t improve the team significantly. It doesn’t work that way. I feel a team should consistently look to improve and as the club improves, more and more players will look to that club as an option instead of those that have none. Look at the Tigers—they had to overpay Magglio Ordonez and Ivan Rodriguez to come to town. The Nationals don’t lose a draft pick with Dunn, so someone explain to me why they shouldn’t bring him in?

The one negative here is that it creates a glut of 1B/LFers. You have Adam Dunn, Nick Johnson, Dmitri Young and Josh Willingham all vying for two spots. Willingham in left and Dunn at first seems to be the way to go as the Nats are getting sick of Nick Johnson‘s constant injuries. Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes could also be pushed out of a job, but that would be a mistake. The idea is to augment your young players, not replace them with older players.

Toronto Blue Jays signed infielder Kevin Millar to a minor league contract.


Chicago White Sox signed 1B Ben Broussard to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Los Angeles Angels signed OF Bobby Abreu to a one-year contract.

Milwaukee Brewers signed RHP Braden Looper to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2010. Designated C Vinny Rottino for assignment. Claimed RHP Nick Green off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Designated RHP Luis Pena for assignment.

It’s about time the Brewers brought in pitching. They’ve taken a step back this year but if they can get rebound years from Rickie Weeks and Yovani Gallardo (the latter rebound meaning injury-free). Looper isn’t particularly an innings eater, but he’s still an effective pitcher. Looper’s first year as a starter brought a 1.70 K/BB, but improved on that for 2.40 in 2008. He’s going to need to hope for solid fielding in Milwaukee (with Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks and Mike Lamb in the infield, that’s not boding well) to keep his string of luck at posting a low 4.00s ERA.

Tampa Bay Rays designated RHP Juan Salas for assignment.


New York Mets re-signed INF Ramon Martinez to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

New York Yankees signed RHP Brett Tomko to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Why is a mediocre pitcher signing with a team that just outlaid hundreds of millions of dollars to deepen their pitching staff? If he throws even one major league pitch for the Yankees, the season will not have gone as hoped for them.

Toronto Blue Jays re-signed RHP Dirk Hayhurst to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.


Seattle Mariners claimed RHP Luis Pena off waivers from the Brewers. Designated INF Tug Hulett for assignment.

Cleveland Indians signed INF Tony Graffanino to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league spring training.

New York Mets signed RHP Livan Hernandez to a minor league contract.

Granted, away from the American League and Coors Field, Hernandez is still a decent pitcher. He’s far below what he used to be, though, and should only be looked at as an option to soak up innings out of the No. 5 slot. He was truly horrendous in 2008—a first for him—so the possibility exists for a bounceback season. Indeed, xFIP seems to think he was unlucky last year. For Minnesota, he earned a 5.48 ERA, but an xFIP of 4.87. He lit them up in Colorado to a tune of a 8.03 ERA with a 5.49 xFIP. Why? What was it about Livan that caused him so much pain?

The hits are certainly the stat that jumps out. After allowing 247 in 204.1 innings for Arizona in 2007 (not great, but not brutal) he gave up 257 in 180 total innings in 2008. Now that is brutal. Minnesota was 19th in defensive efficiency in 2008, Colorado was 27th. In 2007, Arizona was 10th. This is a guy, that as he progresses through his career losing his ability to strike batters out (which he never quite had, though) and giving up home runs at a greater rate, that depends on his fielders to do the job. The Mets were fifth in defensive efficiency in 2007 and sixth in 2008.

As an innings-eater out of the No. 5 spot for the Mets, he could be valuable.

Los Angeles Angels signed RHP Ervin Santana to a four-year contract with an option.

After finally figuring out what was plaguing him with his home/road splits, Santana morphed into one of the best pitchers in the American League last season. He went 16-7 in 219 innings, a 3.49 ERA and 214 whiffs, limiting batters to 47 walks and 198 hits. Now that’s how you pitch. Funnily enough, Santana had a 3.02 ERA on the road and 4.03 at home, reversing his drastic home/road splits that now rest at a career of 3.38 at home, 5.66 on the road.

Entering his age-26 season, this buys out his first (perhaps second) year of free agency and gives the Angels protection in case they are unable to sign John Lackey. He may not be this good, but the contract is in line with what his earning power would have been through arbitration anyways. This upcoming year will show where the true Santana lies—as one of the best pitchers in the league or simply one of the league’s better pitchers.

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