Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Around the Central (12.16.09)

News and notes from the Twins interdivision rivals:

Chicago White Sox
Looking to secure a lead off hitter and center fielder, the White Sox traded two pitching prospects, John Ely (AA) and Jon Link (AAA), to the Los Angeles Dodgers for the 32-year-old Juan Pierre. The White Sox had troubles finding adequate defensive help in center in 2009, using equal parts Brian Anderson and journeyman Scott Podsednik until Alex Rios was acquired at the waiver deadline. Pierre gives Ozzie Guillen an everyday-type that is probably better utilized as a defensive replacement/fourth outfielder.
  • ANALYSIS: This trade signals the end of the Scotty era on the South Side. Podsednik gave Chicago decent production on top of the lineup, hitting a career best .304/.353/.412 in 132 games. After the season the 34-year-old veteran free agent was seeking a multi-year contract, one that the White Sox balked at giving him. Considering his offensive contributions exceeded his career numbers, Podsednik was easily a candidate for regression and a risky multi-year proposition. The Tigers, Giants, Cubs and Royals have all expressed interest in his services.
  • ANALYSIS: Pierre, meanwhile, has a very similar skill set to Podsednik but at a much higher cost. Using speed and contact as his main weapons, Pierre put together a strong first-half of the season in Manny Ramirez's absence, hitting .328/.387/.417 with 19 extra base hits in 289 plate appearances. This was followed by a very significant drop-off in the year's second-half as he hit a paltry .264/.318/.339 with 5 extra base hits in 136 plate appearances. Pierre has been a plus-defender (5.6 career UZR/150 in OF) but has a wet noodle of an arm, allowing runners to advance on balls hit in the gaps. He is serviceable as a starter but with $8 million total committed to Pierre in 2010 and 2011, he will have to bring value in the form of his glove but expect a decline in his offensive numbers upon his relocation from the NL.

During the Winter Meetings, Chicago added free agent reliever JJ Putz to the roster. The White Sox signed Putz to a one-year, $3 million deal that can reach $6.25 million if he winds up being a closer. Because the Sox's interest in Putz was leaked from the front office, Chicago GM Kenny Williams said the club was forced to add another $500,000 to the base salary. "Let's just say it didn't make it any easier," Wiliams said in a conference call with local media. "You have your jobs to do, and we have ours. Certainly understand what we're up against when things become public. That's why we try to operate, at least since I've been here, at a more discreet level. And it has served us well. The times things have gotten out, publicly there have been some residual effects as a result of it, and in this case there was."

  • ANALYSIS: Putz's 2009 ended after 29 innings, shutdown because of forearm pains that an MRI revealed was fraying and tearing. He did not require surgery although his season was ended as a precautionary measure. Prior to that, his fastball's velocity was down (from 95.0 to 93.5 mph) and hitters were not chasing any of his pitches out of the zone (17.9% down from 24.7% OoZ swing). The Sox are hoping that he rebounds to the point where he is still a detriment to righties, who have slugged a career .298 off of him (though some of that minuscule power number can be attributed to playing in Safeco for six years), but since he will not even begin to throw off the mound until Christmas break its hard to say how the 33-year-old's arm will respond with the time off.

The White Sox decided not to tender a contract to right-handed reliever, DJ Carrasco, who made just $440,000 with Chicago last year. In 49 games, Carrasco went 5-1 with a 3.76 ERA and a 62/29 K/BB in 93.1 innings pitched.

  • ANALYSIS: Carrasco gave the Sox a versatile arm out of the bullpen, averaging almost two innings per appearance, but was used mainly in low leverage situations. He might give a team that is interested in keeping the ball in the park a decent option at less than a million (Colorado, perhaps?). This past year, the righty increased his usage of his 89-mph cutter (from 29.4% to 46.7%) and threw a straight fastball far less (from 41.0% to 30.4%). The results of which witnessed far fewer long flyballs and more infield flys as opponents made less heavy contact:

    Infield/Fly Ball%

    Home Run/Fly Ball%










Cleveland Indians
The Indians re-signed pitchers Anthony Reyes and Adam Miller after not offering them contracts by the Saturday deadline. On Sunday, Cleveland extended minor league contracts to the pair and invited Reyes to spring training.
  • ANALYSIS: Reyes was a promising pitcher in the Cardinals organization but the talent never manifested itself in St Louis so he was flipped to the Indians for Luis Pedermo. In the early stages of his career, Reyes had several minor injuries to his shoulder. In 2007, Chris O'Leary wrote a piece on the dangers of scap loading (the act of bringing the arm behind the driveline and attempt to pinch your shoulder blades together). There is extensive debate on what the proper method is (if at all) but there a somewhat accepted conclusion that a pitcher should not raise their elbow above their shoulder when in the cocked position - this puts undue stress on the joints. O'Leary notes that Reyes was a big perpetrator of this, suggesting that Reyes will experience some elbow issues. By 2008, Reyes began to miss time due to elbow soreness and in October 2009, doctors determined that Tommy John surgery was necessary. Reyes will miss almost all of 2010 and will stand reminder of why scouting departments need biomechanics analyzing motion of pitchers.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes, GM Mark Shapiro is interested in bringing back first baseman/outfielder Ryan Garko who was non-tendered by the San Francisco Giants. In five seasons, Garko has compiled a .279/.351/.441 career line but has hit .313/.392/.495 against lefties in 485 plate appearances.
  • ANALYSIS: After being traded to the Giants from Cleveland in July, Garko struggled in the National League. In 127 plate appearances, he hit .235/.307/.330 with just 2 home runs but some of the production drop can be attributed to a level of bad luck has he had a low BABIP (.243) despite hitting a wealthy portion of line drives (18%). While advertised as a corner outfielder, Garko's fielding prowess should tether him to first base. Currently, the Mets, Nationals, Orioles and Rangers are all potential suitors for Garko.
Detroit Tigers
One of the few clubs active during the Winter Meetings, Detroit participated in a three-way deal that sent center fielder Curtis Granderson to New York and starter Edwin Jackson to Arizona to receive a bounty of left-handed reliever Phil Coke (from NYY), starting pitcher Max Scherzer (AZD), minor league prospect Austin Jackson (NYY) and left-handed reliever Danial Schlereth (AZD).
  • ANALYSIS: Granderson's offensive woes against left-handed pitching reached a point where the Tigers did not feel comfortable playing their starting center fielder when a southpaw was on the mound. In 199 plate appearances, Granderson hit just .183/.245/.239 while striking out 21.1 percent of the time. As a player that was reaching the later stages of his peak playing years with a reasonable contract signed through his age-32 season, Detroit opted to remove what would be at least a $20.25 million obligation to a player they started to view as a platoon candidate. In New York, Granderson's lefty problems and escalating costs is not a cause for concern as it is for Detroit needs to replenish a farm system and cut payroll, but his left-handed power will play well with Yankee Stadium's achievable right field seats and his defensive numbers should look better as the amount of real estate to cover is smaller in the Bronx.
  • The 23-year-old Austin Jackson is a somewhat overrated talent. While a good defender, his offense in the past two seasons clouds his projections. Since hitting .345/.398/.566 in High-A, Jackson's seen his power numbers and walk rate drop and his strikeout rate swell from 16% to 22%. The Tigers have said that they plan on using Jackson as an outfielder in 2010 so given his history, Detroit can expect some struggles as he adapts to the higher level.
  • Max Scherzer's power arm fits in well with the Tigers model however as pitching coach Rick Knapp worked hard to reduce the number of walks allowed, Scherzer's control will give Knapp a new project not unlike the challenge the departed Edwin Jackson presented. If that can be corrected, Scherzer could be a very dangerous compliment to Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello. With a 94-mph fastball and a 85-mph slider, his 2009 3.88 xFIP suggested that Scherzer could have a sub-4.00 ERA in 2010.
  • After increasing their payroll steadily since 2004, raising the total from $64 million to a high of $137.6 million in 2008, the Tigers have started to attempt to recoup on some of the trades made from 2007 to 2009. Especially after emptying out the system for Edgar Renteria, Maggilo Ordonez and Dontrelle Willis.
With Fernando Rodney scheduled to make an exodus from Detroit, possibly to Philadelphia, the Tigers are searching for options to replace him as the closer. According to's Jason Beck candidates include free agent Kevin Gregg and internal options in Ryan Perry, Daniel Schlereth, Joel Zumaya.
  • ANALYSIS: Gregg has been one of those closers whose value and perceived value was overinflated by the save statistic. After being traded from the Angels to the Marlins, Gregg saved 61 games while allowing a lot of baserunners (1.25 WHIP, 4.5 BB/9). When arbitration costs pushed his salary north, the Marlins traded him to Chicago for a hard-throwing closer prospect Jose Ceda. In Chicago, Gregg increased his strikeout rate but saw a high number of flyballs slip over the fence (15% HR/FB) and eventually lost his closer job to Carlos Marmol. As a fly ball pitcher (44.3% in 2009) an environment like Comerica would be beneficial, similar to how it played for Brandon Lyon. The Orioles seemingly are the only competition for Gregg.
  • Joel Zumaya, although once considered the Tigers closer of the future back in 2006, has spent 353 days on the disabled list since then. Most recently, Zumaya had surgery on August 21st to repair a non-union stress fracture in his shoulder. While his stuff is still electric - averaging 99-mph in 31 innings of work and getting a swing-and-miss 26.4% of the time - shoulder surgeries are usually a long healing process that can zap a lot of the velocity. Said GM Dave Dombrowski "He's never going to have a 100-percent shoulder. It's just not going to happen. He had major surgery in his shoulder, and so it's not going to be 100 percent. So they have said that everything will be fine, but you still have to see it."
  • Ryan Perry, 23 years and 89 professional innings old, is another potential candidate. He throws was is classified as a heavy 95-mph fastball and a 85-mph change up that mixes up opponents. On Perry, Dombrowski commented that the righty “has the mentality to do it. He’s going to have to develop a little more consistency, which doesn’t surprise you, because he’s only been pitching professionally for a little more than a year."

Kansas City Royals
The Royals signed 35-year-old Jason Kendall to a two-year, $6 million dollar deal to be the team's primary catcher. Said Kansas City GM Dayton Moore of Kendall's acquisition "As we build our pitching staff — not only the young pitchers we have at the major-league level but also the young corps of pitchers and catchers who will be in major-league camp either this year or next year — his presence and leadership will develop a culture that we’re going to need.”
  • ANALYSIS: Instead of re-signing either John Buck or Miguel Olivo - a combo that helped the team's catchers hit a combined .814 OPS - the Royals committed two seasons to an aged product who has not had a wOBA above .300 since 2006. I've long given up attempting to figure out if there is strategy or if these maneuvers come to Moore in some hallucinations that he must fulfill. Moore seems to be basing this on Kendall's ability to squat for 130-games but at 35, odds are that he won't quite reach that milestone in 2010 and probably even less in 2011.
In addition to John Buck, who was immediately signed by the Blue Jays, the Royals non-tendered Mike Jacobs, the first baseman they acquired prior to the start of the 2009 season for reliever Leo Nunez.
  • ANALYSIS: From miles away, this was a disastrous move. Jacobs, a low on-base (.318 OBP)/high strikeout (21.5% K%) hitter, spent 2008 hitting a career-high 32 home runs and in the process raising his arbitration value. Not willing to write those checks for just power alone, the Marlins flipped him for reliever Leo Nunez. The Royals quickly discovered why due diligence is necessary in baseball. Of Jacobs 32 home runs, 14 (or 43.7%) were classified as "Just Enough". Almost half of his home runs barely cleared the fence in 2008. Couple that with relocating him to a stadium that mutes home run power and it is only expected that his totals would decline.
Kansas City agreed to a minor league contract with former Twins pitcher Philip Humber and have invited him to spring training.
  • ANALYSIS: These are the kinds of low risk, medium reward deals you take on when you have finished at the bottom of the division perennially. Optimistically, he might find a role in the bullpen but has not shown that he is capable of being a main component. There might also be the outside possibility that he is injured. For the past three seasons in the minors, Humber opponents have made better contact while he has struck out less and has walked more:

    Humber - AAA