Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Winter Meetings: Day 3

Days 1 and 2 of Baseball's Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee saw a number of players find new homes. Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino joined the Red Sox, James Loney became a Ray, Dan Haren switched coasts going from LA to D.C., and Joakim Soria moved south from Kansas City to the Texas Rangers. In addition, Angel Pagan resigned with the San Francisco Giants, solidifying the Giant's outfield. As you have already realized the biggest names aren't on this list. No Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke, or Michael Bourn. Well, eventually those names will sign, but for now, let's go over who made a deal since yesterday evening.

Marco Scutaro
Giants sign Marco Scutaro to a 3-year $20 million contract: This marks the third player the Giants have resigned with Jeremy Affeldt and Angel Pagan being the first two. The Giants recently won the World Series, and given the state of their starting pitching, the team knows that the next 2-3 seasons mark their best chance to win again. Given that theory, it seems logical for the team to resign the players that helped them win in 2012 to contracts that cover no more than the next 4 years. Scutaro and Pagan represent the top of the Giants lineup, the players who get on base for MVP Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence to knock in. Scutaro has averaged 2.7 wins according to Baseball Prospectus over the last 6 seasons, and according to BP's forecasting system PECOTA, he should be worth ~ 2 wins over the next 2 years, with a drop off in the third year. This contract seems to be as much about getting value from Scutaro as it is paying him for helping the franchise win it's second World Series since moving to the bay. Scutaro was a tale of two players last season, posting a 75 wRC+ with Colorado, but 137 wRC+ with the Giants. Scutaro posted the highest OPS and wOBA of his career while with the Giants, but that also the highest BABIP of his career. There's a fairly good chance Scutaro's performance in San Fran last season was a mix of his numbers returning to their usual ways, combined with some extra luck. Overall, this contract is deserved, even though some sabermetricians might tell you it is a bit of an overpay (by $4-5 million). Scutaro became a fan favorite quickly in San Fran, and with the coming influx of about $25 million due to a TV deal, this deal makes plenty of sense.
My Grade: B+ (above average signing, but neither side pulled off a steal)

Rockies trade Alex White and Alex Gillingham to the Houston Astros in exchange for pitcher Wilton Lopez: This deal came a bit out of the blue. The Rockies had been rumored to be looking for bullpen pitchers (possibly to trade at the deadline seeing as the Rockies aren't winning anything in 2013), and this is exactly the type of pitcher who could garner something useful at the trade deadline. White and Gillingham are both young pitchers, and given the Astros need to stockpile young arms, this deal definitely makes sense for Houston. Lopez has been very good recently, putting up great GB%. When he isn't throwing his hard sinker for ground balls, Lopez's pitches almost always hit the strike zone. If not for arm injury problems, Lopez would be considered a top bullpen arm, and more high-profile teams would covet him.
My Grade: C (This one doesn't make much sense unless the Rockies can flip Lopez at the trade deadline for better prospects than White and Gillingham)

Rays acquire Yunel Escobar from the Marlins in exchange for minor leaguer Derek Deitrich: The Rays use trades far more often than free agency to acquire players, so a trade involving the Rays at the Winter Meetings is not unwarranted. Shortstop Yunel Escobar began the offseason as part of the Toronto Blue Jays before being traded as part of the mega-deal to the Miami Marlins, and now he's moved across Florida to Tampa Bay. The Rays had numerous needs to fill this offseason, and Escobar is one piece in that yet unfinished puzzle. While Ben Zobrist plays a very good shortstop, the Rays would rather move him between 2nd base and the outfield, so trading for a shortstop was a more logical move than going after an outfielder. On the field, Escobar shouldn't disappoint. Yunel has averaged 3.1 wins according to Fangraphs throughout his 6-year career. He played above average defense, runs the bases fairly well, and gets on base (.353 career OBP). What makes Escobar valuable is the combination of his high OBP, high contact percentage (career-85.5% avg-81.0%), and low 2012 BABIP. His BABIP should regress toward .300, and if we combine that with his ability to make contact, Escobar's wOBA should return to its previous levels (2012-.284 career-.331). Escobar's immaturity as a person might cause some issues, but the Rays have never shied away from talented players with character issues. Deitrich is a 2nd base prospect with solid upside. According to scouting reports and MiLB numbers, Deitrich hits for average, but lacks the pop that many thought he possessed in the past. A poor man's Chase Utley isn't out of his future, and given the Marlins lack of MLB ready players, he may get to play in the majors very soon.
My Grade: A- (Rays get exactly what they need, albeit with character flaws, while the Marlins continue to stock pile young players)

Jeff Keppinger
White Sox sign Jeff Keppinger to a 3-year $12 million contract: Ah, Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger has been as volatile of a player as there is in Major League Baseball. He plays well one year, and abysmal the next. Some of that is probably due to his high ridiculously high contact rate (career- 92.8%), ability to hit left-handed pitching far better than right-handed pitching (.396 wOBA off of lefties in 2012, .333 off of righties), and complete lack of power. Keppinger provides a lot of value in very specific areas, making him a a hot commodity. Numerous teams needed third basemen this offseason, and while Keppinger was seen as a lesser option in comparison to Kevin Youkilis, he's better than a lot of the other options. If Keppinger puts up 1 win per season he'll make the White Sox look good, a distinct possibility even given a probable regression in his statistics going into 2013. According to PECOTA the $12 million Kep will receive over the next three seasons is just about right. Moreover, this move allows the White Sox to get more creative, especially in the trade market. General Managers have checklists just like everyone else, and filling the hole at 3rd base was atop Chisox GM Rick Hahn's list this offseason. Keppinger obviously wanted the security of a 3-year deal more than a higher average annual salary because I think he could have found a 2-year contract for $12 million if he wanted.
My Grade: B+ (A- for the White Sox and B for Keppinger)

Orioles resign Nate McLouth to a 1-year $2 million contract: While McLouth was receiving attention from a number of teams; he decided to resign with the team that took a chance on him last season. Loyalty can be beneficial or stupid, but in this case it should prove productive. The Orioles spent the equivalent of pennies on McLouth and they won't ask him to do more than hit off of right-handed pitching, something he does fairly well, and play solid defense either corner outfield position. Here are McLouth's splits:
vs. LHP vs. RHP
wRC+ 63 99
wOBA 0.267 0.318
ISO 0.091 0.155
Unfortunately, according to UZR and FRAA, McLouth isn't a good defender, but DRS has him as a league average defender, something the Orioles can deal with in a platoon player. One thing to note, McLouth did hit well in high leverage situations last season, posting a 0.34 clutch. Finally, as an Orioles fan friend of mine said in reaction to this deal, "Good fit, club presence, inexpensive contract, played GREAT for us down the stretch. What's not to like?"
My Grade: C+ (O's spend little, but aren't getting much. McLouth doesn't have to fight for a job and can prove himself)

Eric Chavez
Diamondbacks sign catcher Wil Nieves to 1-year $500K contract and sign 3B Eric Chavez to 1-year $3 million contract: One of these moves was expected while the other wasn't. Don't worry, I won't keep you guessing. Nieves was Miguel Montero's backup last year, and for the equivalent of 0.1 wins, a catcher familier with the Dbacks staff returns for 2013. Eric Chavez signing with the Diamondbacks caught me by surprise. The Diamondbacks traded for Chris Johnson in 2012, but after seeing him play for 2 months discovered that Johnson cannot hit right-handed pitching. Herein lies the problem because Johnson actually hit far better against righties than lefties. 
vs. LHP vs. RHP
wRC+ 77 120
wOBA 0.29 0.352
ISO 0.129 0.186
These numbers are very odd for a right-handed hitter, making this move a complete head scratcher. Chavez barely took swings against anyone but a right-handed pitcher last season causing his splits to be completely ridiculous. The only thing Chavez does that Johnson doesn't is play good defense. This leads me to believe that when ground ball pitchers like Wade Miley start for the Dbacks you will see Chavez at the hot corner, but when other pitchers take the hill, we can expect to see Johnson playing third base. I can't tell which is more odd, Chris Johnson's splits or the fact that the Dbacks signed Eric Chavez just for his defense. You decide.
My Grade: D (If someone has a better explanation than mine as to why the Dbacks made this move, I'd love to hear it)

Mariners sign Jason Bay to a 1-year contract worth under $1 million: What do Jason Bay, Michael Vick, and Troy Aikman all have in common. All three have had concussion issues. The difference between Bay and the other two athletes mentioned is that he plays Baseball, not Football. Bay is still the only Pirate to ever win the rookie of the year award, and he played really well for the Red Sox replacing Manny Ramirez, but as a Met Jason Bay failed miserably. The Mets still owe Bay $21 million after releasing him, so money wasn't an issue in signing a contract from the Bay's point of view. The Mariners don't need Bay, but if he somehow makes a comeback, there might be a lot of teams looking to acquire him at the trade deadline. If he has concussion issues, and or doesn't play well, the Mariners can take solace in the fact that they aren't the team paying him millions of dollars. 
My Grade: C (Bay has a chance to prove he can still play, and both he and the Mariners hope he does)

The St. Louis Cardinals sign Randy Choate to a 3-year $7.5 million contract: Prior to this signing, reliever Brandon League received a 3-year $21 million contract and Joakim Soria signed a 2-year $8 million contract. So, why did Randy Choate get League-like years and Soria-like money? Well, first of all, Choate is a lefty specialist, so $7.5 million is actually a nice haul. The Cardinals rarely make bad signings, even if not all the players the sign turn out to be stars, so let's give them the benefit of the doubt. Also, Choate is actually great at his job. Against left-handed batters, Choate put up a 25.9 K%, 7.8 BB%, 2.72 FIP, and a .154 batting average against. Those are great numbers, but due to his inability to get righties out, his WAR numbers aren't great. Choate throws from a sidearm-like angle, making it very difficult for lefties to pick up his pitches, which can be extremely valuable, especially in high leverage situations (0.4 clutch in 2012). 
My Grade: B+ ($2.5 million a year means that the Cardinals aren't paying much here, so kudos to them. As for Choate, he gets the unusual multi-year contract for a lefty specialist.)

Sean Burnett
Angels sign Sean Burnett to a 2-year for < $9.5 million: While we aren't clear on exactly how much money is involved in this deal, it looks to be just under $9.5 million. Burnett is what the Angels were looking for to solidify their bullpen. Burnett throws from an awkward angle from the left side, making him difficult on left-handed hitters, but unlike lefty specialists like Randy Choate, Burnett can pitch to righties without imploding. In the last 3 seasons, Burnett has compiled 2.1 wins according to Fangraphs, which isn't bad for a relief pitcher. When you look at it more carefully, you see two great seasons and one subpar one. That volatility probably took Burnett out as a candidate for a 3-year deal like the ones given to Brandon League, Jeremy Affeldt, and Randy Choate, but his overall production out of the pen allowed Burnett to seek ~ $4.5 million per season. For the Angels, this deal looks great. After trading Jorden Walden, Jerry Dipoto went out and signed Ryan Madson and now Sean Burnett. For a GM who doesn't want to designate anyone as a closer, both of these signings make sense. While you're going to hear that Madson is the Angels closer, you will probably see 4 different pitchers close games for the Halos in 2013, and one of them will be Burnett. The Nationals have to hate to so Burnett go, but the Angels were willing to give him more than $4 million per season, and Burnett wasn't stupid enough to turn that down. 
My Grade: A (Everything about this looks great, except for the possibility that Burnett regresses in 2013, but I'm sure that was something the Angels considered.)

This was a day of minor signings. Lots of 1-year deals, minor trades, and even more rumors. Rumors gaining significant steam include a possible multi-team trade involving Justin Upton, Zack Greinke getting the most lucrative contract ever signed by a pitcher to date, and that Jason Grilli is very close to a new deal. The Sean Burnett signing and Yunel Escobar trades are objectively the best moves made so far on day 3 of the Winter Meetings, but with 5+ hours remaining on this Wednesday, so much more could still happen. 

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