Thursday, December 6, 2012

Winter Meetings: Day 4

Ahhhh, the end of the week. Time to kick back, relax, maybe knock back a few. Well, maybe for most people. Those who remain in Nashville, Tennessee for Baseball's Winter Meetings see Thursday and Friday of this week as crunch time. Remember though, last year we were a bit spoiled. Huge names moved at last year's winter meetings, but this year the opposite happened. Josh Hamilton, still a free agent. Zack Greinke, still a free agent. Michael Bourn, still a free agent. Nonetheless, every day multiple moves were made, teams satisfied, players happy, and fans left shaking their heads. Let's check in on day 4 and see what went down.

"Big" Joe Blanton
Los Angeles Angels sign Joe Blanton to 2-year $15 million contract: This deal came in late last night. The immediate reaction on Twitter was that this deal was stupid, ineffective, and most likely an overpay. Blanton is what we in the business call an innings eater. He is effectively league average, but isn't injury prone, and doesn't implode to the point at which he has to be rushed off the field lest an arrant piece of flying fruit from an angry fan hits him in the face. Blanton throws strikes, plays to contact, and gets sneaky strikeouts with pitches like tailing fastballs and circle change ups. Given Blanton's makeup, there is one particular statistic to watch. That is BB/9. When Blanton isn't walking hitters, but instead pounding the strike zone, he provides his team much more value. Sure, he'll probably give up some more home runs, but a solo home run here or there isn't a bad thing when compared to 3-run home runs due to back-to-back walks. Blanton's title is back of the rotation starter, and with Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson at the top of the Halos staff, that's all Jerry Dipoto is looking for from Big Joe. $7.5 million per season is a little steep, so I can't say the Angels did a sneaky-good job here, but if Blanton can put up better numbers than either Dan Haren or Ervin Santana, this deal will look a lot better 10 months from now.
My Grade: B (No, not B for Blanton, but B for average, which is the exact title this signing entails)

Cubs sign Nate Schierholtz to 1-year 2.25 million contract: I won't spend much time on this other than to say that my gut is telling me that Nate Schieholtz won't be a Cub come August, 2013. Nate was non-tendered by the Phillies after they received him in the Hunter Pence Deal. The Phillies need outfielders and didn't resign him, but did so to the chagrin of the Cubs. According to both PECOTA and Bill James' projections, Schierholtz is in line for a bounce-back season in which he'll probably provide league average offense form the outfield. From a fielding point of view, Schierholtz's range seems to be declining a bit in addition to his ability to make plays that average outfielders can't make. So, Wrigley Field could make Schierholtz look better than he is. If so, he will be moved at the trade deadline for some prospect that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer most likely already have in mind.
My Grade: B+ (Can only be good for the Cubs, and for Schierholtz it didn't matter where he signed, he needs to put up good numbers to be coveted at all next offseason)

Ben Revere
Twins trade outfielder Ben Revere to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for RHP Vance Worley and RHP Trevor May: This was the big move of the day. As a Phillies fan, expect me to spend some time analyzing this deal. Okay, so first from the Phillies side. Ruben Amaro has finally made a deal that makes logical sense. Ben Revere is a 24-year-old center fielder who is under team control through 2017. Given the fact that the Phillies current infield has an average age of 32.5 years old, adding a 24-year old isn't a bad idea. Next, take a look at these numbers:
2011 2012
wRC+ 71 88
wOBA 0.278 0.300
fWAR 2.0 3.4
Okay, something's wrong here. Revere has been worth an average of 2.7 wins over the last two years, but his run creation is below average in addition to subpar overall offensive productions. The reason for these odd numbers is that Revere does his work with his legs. Here's his "legs" numbers: 
2011 2012
UZR 10.0 16.4
FRAA -2.0 1.9
DRS -3 8
SB 34 40
UBR 3.5 3.6
fWAR 2.0 3.4
Essentially, Revere is a defensive beast in center field, covering incredible amounts of ground, with average arm. In addition, when Revere reaches base he is a distinct threat to steal second, and even third. Revere's UBR shows that he runs the bases with solid aptitude and efficiency, something that fellow Phillies Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have been doing for years. Revere gets on base at just above the league average (.333 in 2012), bunts for hits (34.6% BUH%), and makes contact at the plate (92.2% contact %). Essentially, Revere does everything you would want from a young leadoff hitter aside from his BB%. All Revere needs to do to become Michael Bourn at age 24 is to see some more pitches (3.61 pitches seen per plate appearance in 2012, which was 16 worst in the American League), and walk a bit more (5.2 BB% in 2012 compared to a league average 8.0% BB%). Often times though, plate discipline comes with maturity, and at 24 years old, we can expect Revere to mature a bit. From the Twins point of view, they have now traded 2 outfielders without power for 3 pitchers. Worley is a typical #4 starter, and will play well at Target Field, since he pitches to contact and the park in Minnesota is quite vast. Trevor May was considered the Phillies top-pitching prospect going into 2012, but the Phillies have a number of prospects similar to May, thus making Trevor expendable. The Phillies retain Brody Colvin, Jonathan Pettibone, and especially Jessie Biddle, and get an MLB ready, defensive stud in center field in return. Anyone in Philadelphia who is sad to see May go needs to look at themselves in the mirror because while May might end up as a #3 starter, the Phillies have more of those guys.
My Grade: A (The Phillies get exactly what they want, the Twins get a substantial return, it is a win-win)

Koji Uehara
Red Sox sign Koji Uehara to a 1-year $4.25 million contract: Koji Uehara spent the last two seasons in Baltimore and Texas, doing a good job out of the pen. Koji has sported an average of 1.7 wins per season over the last 4 seasons, which is fairly substantial for a relief pitcher given the minute number of innings relievers throw in comparison to starters. Uehara dominates right-handed batters, and fairs incredibly well against lefties due to his split-fingered change up. Here are Uehara's splits from last season: 
vs. LH 3.09 0.47 9.95 0.73
vs. RH 1.62 1.06 11.65 0.55
These numbers show that the Japanese reliever dominates righties by striking them out, and gets lefties out by playing to contact, a combination destined to produce good results out of the pen. I saw Uehara as one of the best relievers on the market, and based on this contract, if Koji puts up the same numbers in 2013 as he put up in 2012, the Red Sox will have gotten a solid deal.
My Grade: A- (Good deal for both teams, only issue is that teams who are more likely to be in playoff contention missed out on Uehara. If the Red Sox don't project to make the playoffs by the trade deadline, look for Ben Cherington to trade Uehara to a team in need.)

Braves resign OF Reed Johnson to a 1-year contract, financials unknown: Without the dollar amount given, the analysis cannot be as accurate, but I'll give it a whirl. Reed Johnson is the perfect 4th outfielder. He plays hard, is great in the clubhouse, and has been worth an average of ~ 1.1 wins per season throughout his 11 year career. The Braves have 2/3 of their outfield settled, and Johnson makes a great signing to platoon at that third third of the outfield. Johnson was originally acquired by the Braves via the Chicago Cubs along with Paul Maholm at the 2012 trade deadline, and the Braves saw enough to want to keep Johnson around. Johnson is the older form of Nate Schierholtz, and if the Braves have given him a similar contract, they are probably getting a good deal. The most interesting thing about Johnson is that, according to pitch f/x data, he doesn't have a problem hitting any pitch in the strike zone at an average rate. Oftentimes, batters are susceptible to pitches in certain parts of the plate, but Johnson seems to hit pitches all over the strike zone at the same rate (about 57%). This makes for a good pinch-hitter.
My Grade: B (Good for both sides, but not great.)
So, day 4 of the Winter Meetings didn't prove to be exciting, or even as exciting as the first three days. The Phillies/Twins trade proved to be the most interesting move of the day, and in all honesty, it wasn't mind blowing. The surprising part of that deal was Ruben Amaro's willingness to make a sensible move instead of a flashy move, something that should make Phillies fans happy, hopeful, but still a bit skeptical. Hamilton, Greinke, and Michael Bourn remain free agents, but there is a lot of offseason to go before pitchers and catchers report. Once Zack Greinke signs, the other pitchers on the market like Ryan Dempster, Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, and Shaun Marcum should sign quickly, but until Zack decides, those pitcher will most likely remain unemployed. 

The winter meetings this year were not filled with the huge moves of the past, which were replaced with ridiculous and constant rumors. Will Justin Upton be traded? My guess is yes, but never attempt to predict what Kevin Towers will do, he's proven to be unpredictable in the past. The winners of the winter meetings have to be the Boston Red Sox who have signed multiple players that could all be valuable in the next 2-3 years, which isn't an unreasonable timetable for the Sox to become relevant once again. Overall, it's been a fun 4 days, the hope is that the next 2 months will prove just as fascinating.

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