Instead of reacting too soon and running for the finish line, teams and players tend to circle one another for as long as they can, sizing the other up and taking their time before the first blow. No one wants to be the first guy to sign and watch as another, comparable player sign for more (I'm looking at you, Jeremy Affeldt). So suffice it to say, there have only been a few moves made in the early morning of this MLB Hot Stove. Here is what I have to say about all the (in)action (note: I will not be including any moves in which a club re-signed its own player).
Kansas City trades RP Leo Nunez to Florida for 1B Mike Jacobs
It is hard to analyze any move that the Marlins make without using the words "salary dump." Baseball's first Floridian franchise is in a perpetual state of dismantling. And at first glance that is all that this move looks to be. Mike Jacobs has been a very useful player for the past few years. He fits the classic mold of power-hitting first baseman to a T. And with the state of power in current Major League Baseball, his kind is now at a premium. But the Marlins are set as far as the infield goes. By dumping Jacobs, the Marlins can still try and replicate their power-numbers at the corners approach by playing Dallas McPherson at 3B and move a career-revived Jorge Cantu to 1B. Or they could (and they should) keep Cantu at 3B, move Dan Uggla to 1B and play the the young and defense-minded Emilio Bonafico at 2B. That would help fix an atrocious Marlin's infield D...especially on the right side in a Division heavy with power-hitting lefties (Delgado, Howard, Utley, McCann). This move makes sense for the Royals as well but it also represents a bit of a disappointment as well. KC has sorely needed a left-hander with some pop for a while now. And Jacobs can be just that, but unfortunately for the Royals's faithful (those that are still around), his signing is almost a white flag for the Royals farm system. Mike Sweeney couldn't stay healthy, Ryan Shealey is a massive disappointment, Alex Gordon hasn't developed the power they thought he could and Billy Butler is simply unplayable anywhere other than DH. So the Royals finally got their man, but it cost them a key bullpen piece for a team that doesn't have many.
Colorado trades OF Matt Holliday to Oakland for RP Huston Street, SP Greg Smith and OF Carlos Gonzalez
Who would have figured that the blockbuster of the Hot Stove so far would come from two small market teams? To me, this deal makes all kind of sense for the Colorado Rockies. Everyone who follows Major League Baseball in almost any capacity was well aware of the fact that Matt Holliday HAD to be traded. The Rockies made it very clear that they could not afford the Boras-induced salary he was certain to get in 2010. So their motives are clear in trading him. All they had to do is get back the best talent that they could. I don't know if they got the best they could get but I am certain they got back the best MLB-ready talent they could get. Gonzalez, Street and Smith are all ready to start from day one. Street effectively off-sets the loss of Brian Fuentes (and he is younger), Smith provides the Rox with a solid rotation piece for years to come and Gonzalez can immediately step in for Holliday, and be productive, if not be the offensive juggernaut that he was. Turning an All-Star that is certain to leave into 3 competent MLB players that can fill needs for your club is a good deal anyway you slice it. But as far as Oakland goes....I have no idea where Billy Beane is coming on this one. I honestly cannot remember an 0ff-season in which Beane decided to add a star player instead of waving one goodbye. The A's are in that constant payroll-squeeze so they simply cannot afford the premium talent like Holliday. So the mere addition of Holliday suggests to me that Oakland is going to try to make a run at a title this year, since he is almost sure to not be an Athletic anymore come 2010. But if the A's really are gearing up for an '09 run, why did Billy Beane trade his two best pitchers last year for virtually no MLB-ready prospects?It just seems like a direction-less move to me.
Florida trades SP Scott Olsen, OF Josh Willingham to Washington for 2B Emilio Bonafico, RHP P.J Dean and OF Jake Smolinski
In this article by Jerry Crasnick, the ESPN scribe writes about the Nationals inconsistent ways and seeming lack of identity. This move seems to fit the bill of inconsistency. After achieving the worst record in the Majors last year, the Nationals should be dumping role-players like Josh Willingham (Austin Kearns, anyone?) and not adding him. If they had to take Willingham at the behest of the Marlins payroll-cutting ways, then fine. But if they added a prospect or two for the specific purposes of getting Willingham, then shame on you, Jim Bowden, shame on you! I think a trade of Scott Olsen for Emilio Bonafico straight-up would have made a lot of sense. The Nationals are in dire need of quality starting pitching, and the Marlins need to get faster and have better defense in the infield. If the Marlins get any kind of production from either P.J Dean or Jake Smolinski, then they win this deal.
Chicago (AL) trades 1B Nick Swisher and RHP Kaneoka Texeira to New York (AL) for IF Wilson Betemit, RHP Jeff Marquez and RHP Johnny Nunez.
When I perused the White Sox's starting line-up at the end of the season and saw all the aging and declining pieces, I couldn't help but think: "they'd better thank God that they have control of Quentin, Ramirez and Swisher." Well, not anymore. Swisher's 2008 season was the absolute definition of an aberration. His OBP was more than a hundred points higher than his AVG and his K-BB ratio was not too far out of line with the rest of his career numbers. So, thanks to the White Sox impatience the New York Yankees now have a 28-year-old player who can play 1B and all three OF spots and who is a mortal lock to hit .260/.340/.450 with 30 HRs and maybe even 100 RBI for years to come. And what did the White sox get in return? A role-playing Utility infielder and two pitching prospects. For what its worth, Jeff Marquez looks to be fairly promising...I am just not sure if the Sox knew what they had in Swisher, however.
San Francisco signs RP Jeremy Affeldt to 2 year, $8 million deal
Now here is a deal that represents a reversing trend in Major League Baseball. Remember that 4 year, $46 million deal for Francisco Cordero last winter? Those are clearly on the way out. This is a bargain for the Giants any way you slice it...and especially when you consider just how bad the Giants needed bullpen help. I think the Giants would have been willing to pay Affeldt 3 years, $20 million based on need alone.
Boston trades OF Coco Crisp to Kansas City for RP Ramon Ramirez
This is the kind of trade, you just have to love. Team 1 has player X playing a position that have an overabundance of. So they trade player X to Team 2 for player Y, who plays a position that Team 2 has an overabundance of. Coco Crisp really had no future in Boston. Ellsbury was clearly the guy and Crisp wasn't overtaking Jason Bay or JD Drew anytime soon. And Crisp looks pretty good in royal blue in an outfield that can feature him as a starting Centerfielder and lead-off hitter. The Red Sox should be more than happy to get some bullpen help, as Terry Francona did not look comfortable going to his 'pen last year.
Houston signs SP Mike Hampton to 1 year, $2 million deal
A nice little low-risk, high-reward deal. Houston needs pitching if they have any delusions of winning the NL Central. Mike Hampton could very well help them achieve that goal. At, 1 year, $2 million, however, would it really hurt that much if he didn't?
San Francisco signs RP Bob Howry to 1 year, $2.75 million deal
See also: Affeldt, Jeremy- reasons to be furious at. Small salary aside, Bobby Howry can still throw strikes and get batters out. The Giants are probably thrilled to have gotten both Howry and Affeldt.
Seattle signs 1B Russell Branyan to 1 year, $1.4 million deal
Look, I know it is only $1.4 million, but why would the Mariners be signing ANYBODY? Their payroll is absurdly bloated as is and they are going to lose an absurd amount of game regardless of whether they have Russell Branyan or not. It is like paying somebody 20 bucks to sprinkle a few sugar granules on a turd when you are going to have to eat the turd, 20 bucks spent or not.
Chicago (AL) trades SP Javier Vazquez and RP Boone Logan to Atlanta for C Tyler Flowers, SS Brent Lillibridge, LHP Santos Rodriguez and 3B Jonathan Gilmore.
Kenny Williams follows his "one player for two" paradigm to a fault. You have got to wonder if it hurt him here. They probably won't miss Javier Vazquez all that much; Ozzie Guillen seemed to wish he was gone at any cost by the end of the season. But Boone Logan? The White Sox bullpen was one of their strong points last year, and I just don't know if you want to tinker with that by removing a left-hander from it. None of the talent that the White Sox get back is Major League-ready (as was the case with their other deal of the off-season). The Sox seem to be excusing themselves from the '09 season but when you look at their entire off-season haul, which includes three potential starting pitchers and a handful of infielders, they may be back in the saddle by the time 2010 rolls around. The Braves needed an arm...simply put. And they got an arm in Javier Vazquez. Vazquez has only been a disappointment to those who expect him to be anything more than a #3 or #4 starter. That just isn't his game; but he is consistent and he can be a valuable piece to a competitive team. Unfortunately, Vazquez will have to be a #2 this year behind Jair Jurrjens. If Hudson comes back healthy in 2010 and some of the Braves young arms develop well in 09 (Reyes, Morton, Campillo), then maybe this move will pay off in 2010. This was clearly not a move for next year by either team.
Milwaukee signs RP Jorge Julio to 1 year, $.950 million deal
See also: Affeldt, Jeremy- reasons to be furious at. Jorge Julio hit the market at the wrong time if he wanted to make any kind of money. Cost considered, it is a decent deal for the Brew Crew, but they are nowhere near being done with adding to their bullpen if they want to win.
Boston signs RHP Junichi Tazawa to 3 year, $3.3 million deal
Here is a move that might runs the risk of falling through the cracks of the '08 Hot Stove major plotlines. Aside from being a no-brainer move for the Red Sox, this move sends waves throughout the global baseball community. Junichi Tazawa is a Japanese baseball phenom who politely asked all of the Nippon Professional Baseball teams to not select him in their league's draft so he could bypass the Japanese league and sign directly with a MLB team as a 22-year-old. Major League Baseball teams have to be thrilled about the precedent of not having to post an outlandish price for the right to negotiate with a Japanese player already in his late 20s or early 30s. Instead they can sign a potential star for cheap and as a youngster, so they can fully acclimate him to their system. This spells bad news, however, for the NPL who already have a rough time keeping their stay players at home.
San Francisco signs SS Edgar Rentaria to 2 year, $18.5 million deal
After two superb Free Agent signings, the Giants were due for a stinker. And here he comes in the visage of SS Edgar Rentaria. I would've thought that after his 2008 defensive performance, Rentaria would have been unsignable as anything aside from a 1 year, $1 million role player. Certainly not for two years, certainly not for $18.5 million and certainly not as a starting shortstop, would I have signed Edgar Rentaria. Rentaria is so atrocious as a defender that I would not be surprised if San Francisco's pitcher's ERAs begin to rise. San Francisco may soon find that Rentaria's lipstick-on-a-pic AVG is hiding some unfavorable statistics. With his OBP and lack of speed, he won't be able to hold down a #1 or #2 spot in the line-up and with his lack of power, he certainly won't be a middle of the order hitter. Most likely, the Giants will be paying Edgar Rentaria $9 million a year to bat 8th in the order and hurt them defensively, when they could have kept Emmanuel Burriss at SS, who actually has some upside and some speed, and moved 26-year-old Eugenio Velez to 2B, who also has some upside. And they could have done that for about $7 million less a year. So be younger, faster and better for two years and $15 million less, or be older, slower, or worse for two years and $15 million more. These are the kinds of questions that seem to confound San Francisco GM, Brian Sabean (see also: Barry Zito).
San Diego trades SS Khalil Greene to St. Louis for RP Mark Worrell and a player to be named later
I don't know if Mark Worrell is any good. But I do know that Khalil Greene isn't. Kudos to the San Diego Padres for attempting to rebuild the right way....unlike the Russell Branyan-signing Mariners up north.
Well, those are all the significant moves that have been made so far. Be sure to tell me how wrong I was about each of them. And come back next week for some more long-winded baseball analysis.