As the Winter Meetings concluded in Nashville this afternoon with reminders of the farmer’s daughters who were found among the haystacks of previous Rule Five drafts, baseball fans shed a collective tear for the end of  the 2012 incarnation of the annual conference. I’m not sure how we’ll ever manage to follow our Twitter feeds again without constant complaints about the layout of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee.

Somehow, we’ll have to manage. But until we figure out how to keep the magic of the last few days in our hearts for just a little bit longer, here is a recap of everything that happened at the 2012 Winter Meetings.

The Signings

The Tampa Bay Rays sign James Loney to a one-year contract worth $2 million.

Relative to other Major League first basemen, James Loney isn’t that good. However, that’s not to say that he can’t be a useful Major League baseball player. His splits indicate that against right-handed pitching Loney is an above average contributor. With the Rays paying him as a platoon player ought to be paid, there’s little risk involved at all in also using him as he ought to be used. Of course, such tactics only work if the Rays find someone who can hit against southpaws to platoon with him. It’s sort of like getting a wheel-less wheelbarrow at a discount. It’s a good deal, but you still have to make another purchase to make it worthwhile.

The San Diego Padres sign Jason Marquis to a one-year contract worth $3 million.

Jason Marquis pitched much better in San Diego last season than he did in Minnesota. Quelle surprise! If he eats up more than 120 innings as a starter while maintaining an ERA around 4.00 in 2013, which wouldn’t be all together shocking, the Padres will be thrilled. It’s sort of like throwing a bunch of shit against the wall, and not only seeing what sticks, but also cultivating the clump that stays on the wall and hoping to occasionally collect truffles, or at least wild mushrooms, from it.

The Boston Red Sox sign Mike Napoli to a three-year contract worth $39 million.

Mike Napoli isn’t a full-time catcher, but when used as a part-time catcher, his capabilities as a batter are more valuable than when he’s used strictly as a designated hitter or first baseman. Given the current makeup of Boston’s roster though, Napoli will be used most often as a first baseman in the coming years. That doesn’t bode well for the amount of value he’s likely to return on this contract, even if a three year deal hardly stands to cripple the Red Sox. It’s sort of like eating at a restaurant and not being blown away by the food, but also not finding any cigarette butts in it either.

The San Francisco Giants sign Angel Pagan to a four-year contract worth $40 million.

According to Fangraphs, Angel Pagan was the fifth most productive center fielder in baseball last season. Given the escalating costs of outfielders this off-season – I’m looking at you B.J. Upton and Shane Victorino –  $40 million over four years represents a very good deal by comparison. With the player being 31-years-old, we can expect most of the value coming from the first half of the contract, but Pagan’s skill set typically ages quite well, mitigating the risk of paying too heartily for that value at the end of the deal. It’s sort of like buying a really nice bottle of wine and having a glass from it four nights in a row. It’s going to get progressively worse as the week wears on, but by the fourth night it’s still better than the shitty malbec you bought for $10.

The Texas Rangers sign Joakim Soria to a two-year contract worth $8 million.

I really like the idea of giving a previously injured player a two-year contract at a discount. Yes, there’s risk involved that the player coming back from a lengthy stay on the Disabled List will never be what he once was, and getting stuck paying for two years of a poor man’s version of what you originally wanted. However, a two-year deal means that there’s no rush for the previously injured player to rehabilitate his injury and try to reclaim value for his next contract. He can take his time, and that should suit the Rangers, a team that figures to need relief help down the stretch, well. It’s sort of like going to a garage sale and blindly buying an entire box of junk, rather than sorting through it and picking out what you might want. There’s a pretty good chance that you’ll find two or three things to make the purchase successful, but there remains a chance that the box will be full of broken bobble heads.

The Boston Red Sox sign Shane Victorino to a three-year contract worth $39 million.

More concerning than Shane Victorino going from a six-win player to a three win-player one year to the next (despite 80 more plate appearances) is the observational evidence that went along with the sudden decline of the 32-year-old. Victorino simply doesn’t swing the bat as quickly as he once did. An anticipated position change from center field to right field will combine with this drop off in batting ability to further diminish the value that he offers to the Red Sox. It’s sort of like overpaying for a mediocre cake, and then serving it as the appetizer at a dinner party.

The Washington Nationals sign Dan Haren to a one-year contract worth $13 million.

Over the last five years, these are your leaders in strike outs to walk ratio: 1) Cliff Lee; 2) Roy Halladay; and 3) Dan Haren. Haren is the youngest of the three, and while both Lee and Halladay signed multi-year deals at a premium for their last contracts, Haren, because of an apparent hip injury, signed a one-year contract to reestablish his value ahead of the next off-season. A healthy Haren means that the Nationals can now make a legitimate claim to having the best starting rotation in baseball, and continue being the dominant force in the National League East. There’s a risk that his hip won’t hold up, and it’s a real one, considering that the Cubs backed out of a trade for the pitcher only a matter of weeks ago, but even when injuries got the best of Haren last season, he still pitched 180 innings with only a slightly above average ERA. While paying a pitcher $13 million to do this isn’t the most frugal of strategies, it’s not bank breaking either. Avoiding the lottery ticket analogy, it’s sort of like going back to a burrito place that you previously loved after its food caused a solitary bout of diarrhea.

The Arizona Diamondbacks sign Eric Hinske to a one-year contract worth $1.075 million.

Eric Hinske may be the very first baseball player to make a career out of the axiom that you could do worse. He is a bench bat that can play multiple positions and do well against right-handed pitching. That’s almost always a valuable thing to have, and at a cost around $1 million, it’s difficult to go wrong. It’s sort of like buying a cheap plunger. You only use it when you absolutely have to, and it’s kind of a strange looking thing that you keep handy even when it’s not in use.

The San Francisco Giants sign Marco Scutaro to a three-year contract worth $20 million.

It’s difficult to get past the idea that Marco Scuatro is 38-years-old. You can say that he’s a young 38 because he didn’t become a Major League regular until his late twenties, and then didn’t become a starter until he was 32-years-old. However, the fact remains that he’s well into his physical decline phase, and that will only become more apparent over the next three years. If you imagine this contract to be front loaded, it becomes a little bit easier to take, but when you look at the other middle infielders on the open market, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to take. Scutaro was incredible for the Giants down the stretch and in the playoffs. There might be some element of a reward for those efforts in this contract, but I think it has a lot more to do with the fact that there wasn’t anyone else who could provide what Scutaro does at his position available. It’s sort of like dating someone too old for you. You just got out of a bad relationship and this person showed up, and they were really nice to you and they seem to be pretty cool, so you’re willing to see where it goes even if you’re not willing to be totally serious about it.

The Chicago White Sox sign Jeff Keppinger to a three-year contract worth $12 million.

Jeff Keppinger had a three win season last year. This, despite being a terrible, terrible, terrible baseball player. I’m suspect of any player whose BABIP goes up by 50 points from one year to the next, while his line drive rate actually decreases. This contract seems to be already regrettable, even with the caveat that there is a shortage of middle infield options. It’s sort of like taking $12 million dollars and agreeing to burn equal portions of that $12 million on the first and fifteenth of every month for three entire years.

The Baltimore Orioles sign Nate McLouth to a one-year contract worth $2 million.

The best thing I can say about Nate McLouth is that he’s only a slightly below average hitter against right-handed pitching. If you don’t have someone in your system capable of offering the type of value that McLouth is likely to contribute, you’re probably either in trouble or you’re the Baltimore Orioles. It’s sort of like going to the mall on Saturday and knowingly overpaying for a blender because it’s there and you need one and it’s just not worth the hassle of going to Wal-Mart – the lineups are just incredible – to save $20 on a similar model.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sign Joe Blanton to a two-year contract worth $15 million.

I like Joe Blanton. I think that as a pitcher in Philadelphia for the last few years, he’s been the victim of a bad match up between personal style and home stadium. Unfortunately, he didn’t really help this pet theory of mine when he made the mid-season move to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nonetheless, it’s not ridiculous to hope for a full season back on the West Coast helping Blanton out. If he provides two wins above replacement in each year of his deal, it works out well for the Angels. There’s little reason to suggest that this won’t happen. It’s sort of like booking an economy class vehicle from a car rental agency only to be given a luxury sedan at the same price when you arrive to pick it up.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sign Sean Burnett to a two-year contract worth $8 million.

Sean Burnett was terrible in 2011. He was the opposite of terrible in 2012. Such is the life of a relief pitcher. It’s not so much that relievers are more volatile than their starting brethren as it is that members of a bullpen typically don’t produce the type of sample sizes from which we might accurately judge. Personally, I wouldn’t want my team committing more than a single season of pay to any relief pitcher unless he was rather outstanding. However, just as the cost of middling middle infielders seems to be on the rise, so to has the cost of relief pitching. It’s sort of like laughing your fucking ass off at the Los Angeles Dodgers committing $22.5 million to Brandon League.

The St. Louis Cardinals sign Randy Choate to a three-year contract worth $7.5 million.

The Arizona Diamondbacks sign Eric Chavez to a one-year contract worth $3 million.

These are the eight players that played third base for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, in order of innings spent at the position: Ryan Roberts, Chris Johnson, Ryan Wheeler, Cody Ransom, Josh Bell, Willie Bloomquist, Goeff Blum, John McDonald. Not a single one of these players would ever be described as an above average hitter. Eric Chavez doesn’t have to do a whole heck of a lot to justify this signing, just show up, get on base more than 34% of the time, slug .400 and not be a disaster defensively. It’s sort of like running out of milk, drinking the soy milk that your weird vegan friend left the one time they visited and then deciding that the cheap shit you usually buy from the grocery store when the organic milk isn’t on sale is going to be your next purchase.

The Seattle Mariners sign Jason Bay to a one-year contract worth less than $1 million.

Spending less than a million dollars on a player looking to reestablish value is what it is. If it works out well, a front office is likely to be credited as genius. If it doesn’t work out, it’s not worth much reflection at all. It’s sort of like buying a dented can of tuna from the supermarket.

The Chicago Cubs sign Nate Schierholtz to a one-year contract worth $2.25 million.

At the end of the 2013 season, come back to this post and check this out: Nate Schierholtz will have somewhere near 300 plate appearances, hit seven home runs, get on base 32% of the time and provide somewhere around a single win above replacement, which is pretty much exactly what the Cubs are paying for.  It’s sort of like … oh wait, this was Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer? It’s like the best move of the Winter Meetings.

The Trades

The Tampa Bay Rays acquire Yunel Escobar from the Miami Marlins for Derrick Dietrich.

No team in professional sports cares less about what you think of their roster than the Tampa Bay Rays. They are the island of misfit players, and they would be proud of that status if they gave a single fuck about labels. Acquiring Yunel Escobar allows them to play Ben Zobrist, the most underrated player in baseball, at a less demanding position, which should mean more plate appearances this season. They give up Derrick Dietrich. Marlene Dietrich made more money for a movie she filmed in 1937 than Derrick will receive this season in the Marlins organization. The Marlins may have been rushed to move Escobar who didn’t respond well to suggestions that he might be asked to play third base for the team. The Rays get better immediately because of it, and the shortstop’s contract is such that it makes it worthwhile. It’s sort of like trading a foreign appliance that doesn’t fit your region’s electrical outlets for something that does.

The Colorado Rockies acquire Wilton Lopez from the Houston Astros for Alex White and Alex Gillingham.

My brain is not capable of understanding why a team barely better than the rebuilding Houston Astros would give up young, controllable talent in order to acquire a relief pitcher, even one as good as Wilton Lopez. It makes no sense to me. It’s sort of like selling a house you can’t afford to someone in a more dire financial situation than you.

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquire Andrew Oliver from the Detroit Tigers for Ramon Cabrera.

Caring about this trade requires a level of commitment that I’m not prepared to give. It’s sort of like wandering into a fourth level theoretical physics course as a business administrations major.

Comments (5)

  1. Okay, I give up – what’s with the Choate question mark?

  2. This “sort of like” analogy formulae is the best.

  3. Yeah seriously, if Randy Choate is getting a 3-year deal I want one too. He only threw 38.2 innings more than me last year.

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