Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hot Stove Roundup

I've already broken down the Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler blockbuster trade as well as the Brian McCann signing, so now it's time to look at the flurry of smaller moves that have been made over the past week or so.

Phillies sign Carlos Ruiz for 3 years, $26 million
Philadelphia has caught a lot of flak for "overpaying" Ruiz, who's about to turn 35, but frankly I don't think this deal is as bad as everyone's saying it is. I mean yeah, Ruiz is getting older and has trouble staying healthy, but his on-base ability (.358 career OBP) makes him an asset with the bat. I'm willing to chalk up last year's struggles to injury, especially since he batted .274/.327/.384 after returning from the Disabled List for good. His monster 2012 was clearly an aberration, but all he has to do is produce four-to-five wins over the life of this contract to make it work out for the Phillies. If he can stay above average with the stick then that shouldn't be too hard.

Dan Haren signs with Dodgers for 1 year, $10 million
While it seems strange that LA would use its seemingly infinite financial resources on a 33 year-old pitcher who has gone 22-27 with a 4.50 ERA over the past two seasons, this move actually makes a lot of sense. Despite those ugly Triple Crown numbers, Haren's maintained an outstanding 4.25 K/BB ratio as well as a respectable 1.27 WHIP during that time. What's more, in 2013 his xFIP was exactly a full run lower than his 4.67 ERA. This a low-risk deal that could pay big dividends if Haren bounces back but won't hurt them too much if he doesn't. And moving to Dodger Stadium, a notoriously good park for pitchers, greatly improves Haren's rebound chances.

Kansas City Royals sign Jason Vargas for 4 years, $32 million
Another puzzling move by the Royals, who just can't seem to figure out how to invest what little money they have. Vargas is by no means a bad pitcher and has value as a back of the rotation innings eater, but there's absolutely no reason Kansas City should be shelling out more than $30 million for a fourth or fifth starter, especially since their rotation looks pretty thin beyond James Shields.

Jhonny Peralta signs with St. Louis for 4 years, $52 million
While the Cardinals filled an offensive black hole at shortstop, I hate this deal for a lot of reasons, the biggest of which is Peralta's inconsistency. He's either great or he sucks. At his best he's an All-Star caliber player, as he was in 2011 and 2013. But sandwiched in between those two years was a dreadful season in which he batted .239/.305/.384, numbers that look eerily similar to his 2009-'10 production (combined .252/.313/.383). Throw in his PED use, and it's fair to wonder whether his 2013 production was a bit "enhanced." After hitting a career-high .303 last year, the 31 year-old has nowhere to go but down. On top of that, he's a poor baserunner and roughly average defender with the kind of body that doesn't age well, which is only going to make him more of a liability in those two areas going forward My thinking is that almost any alternative would have been superior to Pete Kozma, so why go out and spend $52 million for a PED user who's best days are probably behind him?

Cardinals trade David Freese and Fernando Salas to Angels for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk
This is a pretty solid deal for both sides. The defending National League champs get an upgrade in center with Bourjos, who plays Gold Glove caliber defense and brings speed to a lineup that ranked dead last in stolen bases last year. 2014 will be his age-27 season too, so big things could be in store for him. Grichuk is a fun name to say and has shown power down on the farm, but is going to need to improve his patience if he wants to stick at the big league level.

LA had a terrible bullpen last year and Salas, a mediocre reliever, won't do much to fix that. The real question is which Freese are the Angels getting? Is it the postseason legend who batted .296/.363/.446 in his first four seasons and made the All-Star team in 2012? Or is it the Freese who slumped to .262/.340/.381 last year, looking utterly lost at the plate? He'll be 31 next year, so he still has some bounce back potential, and even if he doesn't rebound to his previous levels he'll still be a significant improvement over the Angels third basemen (mainly Alberto Callaspo, Andrew Romine and Chris Nelson) who batted a measly .246/.304/.333 in 2013.

Tim Hudson signs with Giants for 2 years, $23 million
Huddy's 38 and has seen his ERA rise in three consecutive seasons, but expect that trend to stop now that he'll be making half his starts at AT&T. He still has good command, which makes success in San Fran even more likely. At his age health is hardly a given, but he figures to complement a formidable rotation that already features Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum.

Angels sign Joe Smith for 3 years, $15.75 million
Not a fan of this deal, but that speaks more about how I feel about multi-year commitments to relievers than it does Joe Smith. Smith's been pretty good the past three years, making at least 70 appearances per season and keeping his ERA under three each year. He's been able to keep runs from scoring despite his middling 2.2 K/BB ratio over that span, which leads me to believe that he's been a bit lucky and is thus not quite as good as his shiny earned run averages suggest. Relievers are particularly volatile, and deals with non-closers typically don't work out. Given that the Angels have more pressing issues (i.e. starting pitching), they would have been wise to focus on rebuilding the rotation first.

Josh Johnson signs with Padres for 1 year, $8 million
The Padres are rolling the dice on Johnson, who posted numbers so unsightly in his lone season with Toronto that they can't be reprinted here. On the bright side, his 9.2 K/9 was the highest of his career and there's just no way he can be that bad again. His 3.58 xFIP suggests he was plagued by extraordinary bad luck, which seems to be the case based on his .356 BABiP, 63.3 LOB% and elevated HR/FB rate. Health is always a concern with Johnson, who's thrown more than 200 innings in a season just once in his nine-year career. Still, I like this low-risk gamble, probably because making half his starts in Petco is going to do wonders for the two-time All-Star.

Rays sign Jose Molina for 2 years, $4.5 million
While he's the least-accomplished of the Molina catching trio, he's still an excellent pitch-framer and game-caller, two skills that are worth their weight in gold. Sure, he's a big 38 year-old who can't hit or run, but the value he provides behind the plate more than makes up for his deficiencies everywhere else. Leave it to the Rays to find a great bargain in an unlikely place.

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