Transaction Analysis Lightning Round: Pierzynski, Nathan, Ellsbury, and more

What a Tuesday we had. The MLB offseason hadn’t been too exciting up until this week, but things certainly are changing quickly. It seemed as though every time I logged on to Twitter, a new deal had been confirmed. Non-stop action. Since there were so many moves, I’m going to do a little lightning round analyzing just about everything that went down. Here we go:

Red Sox sign A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal worth $8.25 million
This just made a lot of sense. After losing out on Carlos Ruiz and Brian McCann, Boston needed a catcher and they got one. Pierzynski had a very down year in Texas posting a slash line of .272/.297/.425 with, by all accounts, below-average defense. Still, he did hit 17 homers, which is very valuable from behind the plate. With the options that were out there, or lack thereof, this made a lot of sense, especially on a one-year deal. The walks are problematic, but he still doesn’t strike out all that much, and he should fit in nicely with the hard-nosed culture in Boston.

Tigers sign Joe Nathan to a two-year deal for around $20 million
People were taking guesses as to where the Tigers would spend the money they Doug Fister“>saved on Doug Fister, and here it is. They’ve been struggling to find a reliable piece to anchor the back of the bullpen, and now they have it. The money wasn’t too explicit, reported to be in the $20 million range for two years. Nathan, 39, is coming off a great year in which he pitched to a 1.39 ERA (2.26 FIP) while striking out over ten batters per nine innings.

Nathan is a nice get for a team that badly needed relief help (4.01 bullpen ERA in 2013), but I don’t get trading Fister for the package that they did and only signing Nathan. I think there might be more coming (perhaps signing Shin-Soo Choo?), but I’m willing to give general manager Dave Dombrowski the benefit of the doubt because he has such a good track record when dealing with the trade market.

Athletics trade Jemile Weeks to the Orioles for Jim Johnson
This was probably the most un-Athletics move ever. In the early 2000’s, the A’s were known for producing their own closers from within and then trading them when their value was high enough. With Grant Balfour becoming a free agent, Billy Beane needed to add something to his bullpen, and that he did by trading for Orioles closer Johnson.

Over the last two years, Johnson has been one of the better closers in baseball, pitching to a 2.72 ERA (3.35 FIP) with a groundball rate hovering around 60 percent while saving over 100 games for Baltimore. Johnson should be due more than $10 million in 2014 via arbitration, which makes it a weird trade for Beane.

In return, the A’s sent second baseman Weeks to Baltimore. Weeks was successful when he was first brought up in 2011 (111 wRC+ in 437 plate appearances), but he had a rough 2012 (73 wRC+) and spent most of 2013 in Triple-A, where he hit .271/.376/.369. Obviously, the O’s are betting on Weeks bouncing back his 2011 level.

Rays acquire Heath Bell and Ryan Hanigan via three-way trade (Diamondbacks and Reds)
I can’t be the only one who sees the Rays turning Bell into the next Fernando Rodney. Rodney, of course, had been an inconsistent performer until his time with the Rays and then was converted into one of the better closers in baseball.

Bell’s strikeout rate has been ticking up in the last few years while he’s cut down his walks, and he’s due for some home run regression (18.5 HR/FB% as compared to a 8.9 percent career average). I’m sure Tampa could adjust something mechanically, as well, in order to help him like they did with Rodney.

As for Hanigan, he’s known for being a very good defensive catcher, something they clearly are stressing after giving Jose Molina a two-year deal. However, Hanigan has struggled with the bat in recent years, though he can take a walk and has a higher career walk rate than strikeout rate. These are two small, low-cost moves that could wind up being solid pick-ups.

Rangers trade Craig Gentry to the Athletics for minor leaguers Michael Choice and Chris Bostick
Gentry, 31, is an outfielder who relies heavily on his legs, his defense, and his ability to hit southpaws. The fact that he’s under team control through 2016 makes him very valuable, and the way that Oakland utilizes platoons makes me believe he will be a nice asset.

For Texas, Choice is one of Oakland’s top prospects and could fill an outfield corner as early as 2014. He brings some pop and some ability to get on base, and with the Rangers losing Nelson Cruz, Choice is a cheap, young option.

Bostick is actually one of the first players I ever scouted when he was in short-season ball, and I liked him a decent amount. He makes solid contact, is athletic, and could wind up being a solid second baseman at some point. Last year at Low-A, he hit .282/.354/.452, so he should move up to High-A Myrtle Beach with the Texas organization and will join an already great group of prospects.

Athletics trade Seth Smith to the Padres for Luke Gregerson
The Padres acquired Smith, 31, a corner outfielder who is strictly a platoon bat. He hit .253/329/.391 with sporadic playing time in a crowded outfield in 2013. With Carlos Quentin and Will Venable already in place, I’m not sure what role Smith will play in San Diego.

In Gregerson, Oakland acquires yet another solid reliever who pitched to a 2.71 ERA (2.70 FIP) in 66.1 frames. He’s been a very solid set-up guy for the Padres and should continue that role in Oakland. The A’s now have a very nice set of arms back there in Gregerson, Johnson, Ryan Cook, and Sean Doolittle.

Marlins sign Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a three-year deal worth $21 million
The Marlins got a 42 wRC+ out of their catchers last year, which was the worst in all of baseball. So this was position at which they definitely could have used an upgrade, and they got it. Salty is coming off of a career year (117 wRC+) and brings some pop to the table, hitting 55 homers over the least three seasons. He might not be a very good defender, but I think this is pretty good value considering the contracts Ruiz, Pierzynski, and McCann have gotten.

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Rockies trade Dexter Fowler to the Astros for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes
I’m a pretty big Fowler fan, so I liked this one for the Astros. Fowler, 28 in March, hit .263/.369/.407 (106 wRC+) in 2013 after having a career 2012 (122 wRC+). He’s a good defender based on the multiple-year sample that UZR gives us, and he draws his fair share of walks.

Moving away from Coors Field should be taken into account, but his career wRC+ on the road is 92, which isn’t that bad. I also think it’s worth noting that Fowler has played many road games against the Dodgers, Padres, and Giants, who all have big pitchers’ parks.

As for the return, Lyles has to be seen as a starter, though he hasn’t found success at the big-league level due to not missing enough bats. Barnes is a good defensive outfielder, but that’s kind of it. He posted some very good numbers in the minors, but in the year-plus that he’s been called up, he’s struggled mightily on offense, and he’s only two months younger than Fowler.

Yankees sign Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year deal worth $153 million
This came completely out of left field. Carlos Beltran seemed like the guy to go to the Bronx, but Ellsbury is the outfielder they have landed to a pretty hefty contract. My first instinct was that it was an overpay, but I do think it’s reasonable. Ellsbury plays an elite center field, he’s a big plus on the basepaths, and he hits for a good average. We saw he hit for a lot of power in 2011 and not much since, but we know that there is some ability for that skill, and it could play up with the short porch at Yankee Stadium.

One of the biggest concerns here is about Ellsbury staying on the field. He has been known to spend chunks of time on the disabled list, most recently because of a stress fracture in his foot in September. A couple of other things to note here are that he makes a lot of contact and players similar to him (who rely on speed and defense) don’t age as poorly as perceived.

A lot people won’t like this deal and will talk about how bad it will look in the last couple of years, but what long-term deal doesn’t? This move makes the team a lot better now, and when your team in in the mid-80s win range, every win added is a big one because of how much closer it puts you to the playoffs.

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Ellsbury deal….if you want to understand why Cashman over spent by 40 million and two years for Ellsbury…check-out YES networks falling subscriptions and Yankee ticket sales in 2013.  Much like the “sexy” signing of Crawford in Boston, a signing also driven by network/cable concerns (NESN), and the Dodgers free spending after their Fox West deal, these teams are being “forced” into bad long term deals that are not truly baseball decisions.  Ironically, the Red Sox received a second chance when the Dodgers took on three bad contracts (Crawford, Gonzalez and Becket)….and learned their lesson as they now pay 10%-15% more… Read more »