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The Roster Report – February 8, 2012

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The Roster Report – February 8, 2012

Posted on 08 February 2012 by Bryan Grosnick

Hello there, hardball fans! Just when you thought the past four days would give you absolutely nothing on the transaction wire, Dan Duquette and Dan O’Dowd made a deal. While not the most exciting move in the baseball world, it at least gives us something else to talk about while teams gather minor league depth and wait for pitchers and catchers to report. We’ve got coverage and analysis of all the big and little moves right here, in this edition of the Roster Report.

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The Baltimore Orioles trade SP Jeremy Guthrie to the Colorado Rockies for SP / RP Jason Hammel and RP Matt Lindstrom.

I was surprised (not shocked, but surprised), when the word came through that the Orioles had traded Jeremy Guthrie away, and received just two average-to-below-average major league veterans in return. The Orioles were in the midst of some expensive arbitration proceedings with their one long-term rotation stalwart when they decided to deal him to Colorado for two other, ostensibly inferior pitchers. But this deal wasn’t a salary dump, as the pitchers that Baltimore added cost roughly the same amount as the Orioles would have had to pay Guthrie, who signed a one-year deal for $8.2MM after the trade to Colorado.

Jeremy Guthrie, over the past five years with the Orioles, has been the very definition of average. Guthrie’s ERA has always outpaced his FIP, which means that luck has played a bit of a role in his success, but he is doggedly consistent from year to year. Once again, in 2011 Guthrie struck out about five and a half batters per nine, walked about two and three quarters per nine, and gave up a little more than one home run per nine. All of this added up to a 4.48 FIP, and an ERA nearby at 4.33. He only won nine games, but that’s because he played for the Orioles. Those numbers on a team like the Red Sox or Yankees would have been good for 13 or so wins. Though these numbers make him only a two-win starter,¬†we’re talking about a guy who has taken the ball for nearly a thousand innings over the past five years. There’s a great deal of value in that fact, which probably drove his high arbitration number.

Going to Colorado, however, is probably going to hurt Guthrie’s performance. Guthrie gives up far too many homers at Camden Yards, so you’d have to believe that he’ll give up even more in Colorado. The good news, though, is that Guthrie is out of the AL East, and we’ll get to face the Giant and Padre offenses instead of the Red Sox and Yankees. Moving to the easier league with his career xFIP of 4.61 and career SIERA of 4.60 should be good enough to still be a solid #3 or #4 starter, due to his reliability. But if the HR spike, then he could go downhill in a real hurry. And in fantasy, I’d avoid him…he gives up too many hits, and doesn’t rack up enough strikeouts.

The return that the Orioles received is anything but exciting. Matt Lindstrom is a reliever with a blistering fastball, one that averages 96.1 mph according to PITCHf/x data available at FanGraphs. The only thing is, Lindstrom doesn’t use that heater to strike very many people out. In 2011, Lindstrom only managed a 6.0 K/9 ratio, far inferior to pitchers with worse speed and stuff. Though his K/9 rate has decreased consistently over his five seasons in the majors, Lindstrom stays effective by limiting HR and walks. With 45 saves in his major league career, as well as a respectable (but not excellent) 3.48 career FIP, Lindstrom is a perfectly adequate and slightly above-average reliever. But Lindstrom also has little-to-no upside, and will be a free agent after making $3.6MM in 2012. He’ll have fantasy value if the Orioles dub him the team’s closer, but beyond that, he’s probably a pass unless you’re in a holds league.

Jason Hammel is the other piece that the Orioles received in the deal. After two sneaky-good seasons in 2009 and 2010 with Colorado, Hammel pitched poorly in 2011, eventually getting dropped from the Rockies’ rotation late in the season. In his first two seasons with Colorado, Hammel was worth 7.8 Wins Above Replacement according to FanGraphs. To put that in perspective, he was better than Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Yovani Gallardo over that span. But 2011 was a down year, as his strikeout rate (4.97 per nine) and walk rate (3.59 per nine) regressed badly, and he was only able to put up a single Win Above Replacement. Eventually, Hammel was banished to the bullpen in favor of younger, higher-upside pitchers.

What little analysis I’ve seen of this deal has been straightforward: since the Orioles didn’t save any money and didn’t add any players with long-term team control, it was a bad deal on their end. And as for the Rockies, well, they added a guy who will give them 200 solid innings, and at no premium cost. Allow me to take a dissenting opinion. Jason Hammel saw his strikeout rate go down, and his walk and homer rates go up in 2011. If this was an abberation and could even regress to his career averages, not just his pretty-good 2009-2010 form, then I’d argue that Hammel is a better pitcher in 2012 than Jeremy Guthrie is. But the AL East is a harsh place to pitch, and Hammel could wind up replicating his 2007 season with the Devil Rays. There’s a much wider range of outcomes than there was with Guthrie. The other issue in play is Matt Lindstrom’s value as a mid-season trade piece. If the O’s do use Lindstrom as a closer, they may be able to flip him mid-season for a middling prospect or a lottery ticket, which would increase the value of this deal. Again, this is a lot of moving pieces, but after taking a deeper look, there’s potential in this trade for the Orioles. Given that Guthrie probably wasn’t long for Baltimore anyways, giving up a little surety may not be the worst thing in the world for the O’s.

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The Washington Nationals sign OF Rick Ankiel to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training.

By know, you know the story about Rick Ankiel. A stud pitcher loses his control and moves to the outfield, proceeds to hit for power and not much else. Well, in 2011, Rick Ankiel stopped hitting for power too, managing just an .124 isolated slugging and nine homers. Ankiel hits left-handed, and has become a platoon-only bat, doing nearly all of his damage against right-handed pitchers, but he no longer does enough damage against them. Let’s put it this way, even when he faced righties, Ankiel only managed an 86 wRC+. In layman’s terms, this means that Ankiel was 14% below league-average against righties…and those are the guys he’s supposed to be able to hit!

Ankiel does have redeeming factors, though. Namely, he can play all three outfield positions, and he acquits himself fairly well in the field. Aside from his well-documented cannon of a left arm, he showed good range in center for the Nats last season, posting an 11.6 UZR/150. Though that’s too small of a sample size to make a blanket statement of excellence, Ankiel has a history of solid outfield defense that scouting reports can back up. He’s also about average as a baserunner, nabbing 10 steals in 2011 against three times being caught.

The thing is, Washington already has several capable outfielders ready to play. Jayson Werth and Mike Morse are locked in to two of the outfield spots, and there are plenty of players competing for the third starting slot. Roger Bernadina is ready to go, and though he’s a bad hitter as well, he still out-hit Ankiel in his limited duty in 2011. That’s not saying much, however…Bernadina was merely 11% worse than league average, according to wRC+. Bernadina offers more speed on the basepaths than Ankiel, hit better against righties, and could be close to Ankiel’s capabilities defensively. Mike Cameron was also added, albeit on a minor-league deal. Cameron could be the right-handed hitting part of a platoon, as he’s always mashed lefties. Well, except for last year, when he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Oh, and then there’s also uber-prospect Bryce Harper waiting in the wings, and either he or Werth could slide into center field at any point if management deems him ready for the big leagues.

In truth, there’s hardly any way that Rick Ankiel opens the season as the regular center fielder for the Nationals, and may miss out even if the Nats go with a CF platoon. Perhaps he could be the fifth outfielder on the Nationals due to his flexibility, but Rick would have better been served signing with a team like the New York Mets who could use a player who can play all three outfield positions, hit righties, and doesn’t already have Roger Bernadina. Even if he does break camp with the Nats, don’t expect him to get much run, and certainly don’t pick him up in fantasy unless a major injury hits.

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The Seattle Mariners sign RP Hong-Chih Kuo to a one-year, $500K contract.

In space-time continuum terms, Hong-Chih Kuo is not too far removed from an excellent 2010. But in performance terms, Kuo is way totally far away from that year. 2011 was, to put it bluntly, a disaster. Last season, Kuo suffered from a social anxiety issue, and when he pitched, he pitched very, very poorly. Being an older reliever with no developmental upside, you might think that Kuo is a low-upside player…but you’d be wrong. In 2008 and 2010, Kuo was one of the best relievers in the majors, and has always been able to strike out more than a batter per inning. In 2011, control became a major issue, as he came close to walking a batter an inning as well. That just won’t play anywhere. Kuo also used to be able to limit his HR, and that went out the window in 2011 as well.

The fact of the matter is, Kuo might be broken beyond fixing. But for a million dollars (the amount Kuo will make if he makes the Mariner team), the Mariners are taking a risk on huge upside. If Kuo’s command, injury, and anxiety issues that damaged his performance are less than 2011, then he’ll be a very talented, very valuable reliever in 2011. But unless he unseats Brandon League as closer early in the season, he’s probably not a good bet in fantasy.

Quick Hits

  • Brad Penny, formerly of the Tigers (and Cardinals…and Giants…and Red Sox…and Dodgers…and Marlins) has agreed to a one-year deal with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. Penny pitched a full season with Detroit last year, but was incredibly ineffective in his 181.2 innings. Both his ERA (5.30) and FIP (5.02) were nearly 25% worse than league average, so finding work on a major league roster was going to be tough. Penny has become completely unable to strike anyone out, despite a fastball that still lives at 92.9 mph, but he could be effective in Japan.
  • The New York Yankees made their second-most important free agent signing of this offseason, inking utility player Bill Hall to a $600K deal. Hall hit for no power and played bad defense last season…but he can hit poorly and play poor defense at a number of positions, so I guess that means he has value. Even though the Yanks don’t have a lot of depth at the ML value, Hall still won’t last long as a major-leaguer in the Bronx. No fantasy value, virtually no real-world value.
  • The Nationals also signed Mark Teahen to a minor league contract, and invited him to Spring Training. Why? I’m not sure. Teahen, famous for his role in Moneyball (the book) and most recently part of the Colby Rasmus trade to Toronto, was devastatingly bad in 2011. If you like wRC+ as a metric, get this…he was about 50% worse than league average with the stick. Since Teahen’s never been a defensive whiz, and there was no indication that his performance drop was due to injury, he’s extremely unlikely to be a major-leaguer in 2012. Triple-A roster filler.
  • Conor Jackson isn’t just a picture on milk cartons anymore…he’s a Texas Ranger. Added to the franchise on a minor league deal, Jackson is a corner outfielder and first baseman who hits for no power. As you might imagine, that’s not something that draws lots of demand. But the Rangers are very left-handed, so there’s a non-zero chance he could pair as a platoon partner for Mitch Moreland or spell David Murphy…but he’s just not a very good hitter, even against lefties. Pass on him in fantasy, and don’t expect him to get more than 150 PA, if any at all, in Arlington.
  • The Mariners weren’t done adding relievers this week, signing Shawn Camp, formerly of the Blue Jays. Camp is a groundball specialist who is particularly effective against right-handed batters. Camp’s FIP has lived around 4.00 for the last three years, and though his strikeout numbers are continuing to diminish, he probably can still be effective for another year or two. But he won’t get the benefit from Safeco Field that many pitchers do, and he’ll be completely irrelevant in fantasy.
  • The Cardinals signed Alex Cora to a minor league deal, which probably says more about the state of available middle-infield players than it does about Cora. Cora’s not a particularly slick fielder and an atrocious hitter, managing just a .224/.287/.276 slash line in 2011. If he makes the major league roster, it will be as a defensive replacement, and should get very little burn.
  • Newly-minted free agent Justin Ruggiano was picked up by the Houston Astros on a minor-league deal. Though the Astros are awful, they’re actually probably set in the outfield with players like J.D. Martinez, Jason Bourgeois, Fernando Martinez, Brian Bogusevic, and Jack Cust. Ruggiano, who has been a solid hitter in Triple-A, plays good defense and could catch on as a utility outfielder…but his upside is pretty low.

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