Yankees, Rays, Tigers help themselves in Indy

As has been the trend in recent years, baseball’s winter meetings

provided more noise than signal.

With worthies like Roy Halladay, Matt Holliday, Jason Bay and

John Lackey still on the market or trade block, the Hot Stove

hasn’t begun to sizzle. With all that said, though, the hootenanny

in Indy provides us with plenty to unpack and analyze. So let’s do

just that. “A job well done” or “Much more to do”? Each major

player at the meetings falls under one of those categories.

A job well done

1. Yankees

The trip to Indy was a fruitful one for baseball’s reigning

colossus. Most notably, they hauled in Curtis Granderson without

compromising the major-league roster. Granderson is one of the

smartest, most appealing players today (exposed socks and lots of

triples make for an appealing player). He’ll give the Yankees

quality defense in center, and even in his “down” campaign of 2009

he hit .275 AVG/.358 OBP/.539 SLG against right-handers despite

playing his home games in a run-suppressing environment. And

speaking of environments, Yankee Stadium figures to be

href="http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/curtis-granderson-hitting-in-the-bronx">ideally

suited to Granderson’s power tendencies. Don’t be surprised if

Granderson next season is good for 35-plus bombs. Yes, he needs to

be religiously platooned, but otherwise he’s an ideal fit.

GM Brian Cashman also is to be praised for bringing back Andy

Pettitte on a one-year deal. It’s early yet in the offseason, but

the maneuverings to date make the Yankees the favorites to repeat.

2. Rays

In 2009, Tampa spread the save opps around by necessity. But

now that the Rays have traded for Rafael Soriano, they’ll enjoy

certainty in the closer’s role. Soriano sports a career ERA of

2.92, and he has the peripherals to justify it (more whiffs than

innings and a 3.51 strikeout-to-walk ratio). And throughout that

career, he has given up just five unearned runs (despite what the

traditionalists tell you, pitchers

do bear some responsibility for unearned runs). Don’t be

surprised if Soriano emerges as one of the best closers in the

American League. All this for Jesse Chavez?

3. Tigers

At first blush, it’s tempting to say the Tigers hurt

themselves during their Indiana sojourn. After all, they traded

away Granderson — one of the most beloved Tigers since the days of

Al Kaline and Willie Horton. But you must grade them on a curve.

Last season, Detroit had the fifth-highest payroll in baseball, and

that’s despite surrounding blight and a local economy that calls to

mind Mogadishu during a sanitation strike. Shedding salaries was

bound to happen. On that point, Granderson is headed toward his

high-salary years (he’ll make $8.25 million in 2011 and $10 million

in 2012), and that’s why he’s now a Yankee. The Tigers also parted

with Edwin Jackson, who, despite recent success, is a candidate for

regression in 2010. So they dealt away the arbitration-eligible

right-hander and Granderson in exchange for Max Scherzer, Daniel

Schlereth, Austin Jackson and Phil Coke. That’s a nice haul.

Scherzer has blazing stuff, 240 whiffs in 226 1/3 career

innings, and less than two years of service time. Schlereth,

meanwhile, could be the shutdown reliever the Tigers have long

sought. Jackson is certainly no Granderson, but he profiles as a

plus fielder in center and a plus runner on the bases. He also

figures to develop into a league-average hitter in his prime. As

for Coke, he can be useful, but the Tigers — in contrast with Joe

Girardi and the Yanks — will need to limit his exposure to

right-handed batters. Considering the hamstrung state of the

Tigers, they fared well.

Much more to do

1. Astros

As if just to prove he didn’t learn anything from his days of

lurching for bullpen help in Philly, Astros GM Ed Wade doled out

the most inexplicable contract of the meetings. Three years and $15

million for Brandon Lyon? Sure, Lyon turned in a fine 2009, but his

numbers from this past season are out of step with the balance of

his career. More to the point,

href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/l/lyonbr01-pitch.shtml#pitching_batting">Lyon’s

batting average on balls in play was .231 — an abnormally low

figure for him and one that’s almost certainly not sustainable. The

likely consequence is that, in 2010, Brandon Lyon will resume

pitching like, well, Brandon Lyon. And the real Brandon Lyon isn’t

worth $15 million. A team like Houston can’t afford bad contracts.

More generally, it’s long past time for the Astros to

rebuild. They soldier on with half-measure after half-measure, and

there’s little to show for it in recent seasons. The core is

getting old, and the farm system is not a strong one. This

organization should be focused on trading away veterans and

restocking the system with high-ceiling young players. Yet

delusions of relevance still guide them.

2. Diamondbacks

As you might guess based on the above Yankees and Tigers

praise, the D-backs — the third party in the biggest trade of the

offseason — haven’t helped themselves. They parted with a

potential future ace and a potential future closer to get Edwin

Jackson, who’s more expensive and has less upside that Scherzer,

the guy he’ll replace in the Arizona rotation. Also, Jackson is

ill-suited to his new digs. He’s a fly-ball pitcher, and last

season he coughed up 27 home runs despite logging almost half his

innings in Comerica Park — a park that cuts down on homer rates.

He’ll be moving into Chase Field — a park that increases homer

rates. There’s also Ian Kennedy, but he profiles as nothing better

than a fifth starter. As far as the pitching staff goes, the Snakes

got more expensive, but they didn’t get any better.

What the D-backs

really need to worry about is improving an offense that

ranked near the bottom of the league in park-adjusted OPS.

Otherwise, they won’t have a shot in the NL West.

3. Dodgers

The Dodgers are here mostly because of their questionable

arbitration decisions. Despite claims to the contrary, the Dodgers

are in cost-cutting mode, and that’s because of

owner Frank

McCourt’s looming divorce. Obviously, this is a team poised to

win now. They barged to the NL’s best regular-season record in

2009, but, if anything, they’ve gotten worse over the winter. The

Dodgers offered arbitration to neither Orlando Hudson nor Randy

Wolf. While you can justify the decision with Hudson (although it’s

still not wise), there’s no explanation for passing on Wolf. Wolf,

after his success in 2009, was certain to land a multiyear

contract, and indeed he did. So the Dodgers, in essence, threw away

a high draft pick by not offering arbitration to Wolf. That’s

either a thorough misreading of the market or stinginess to the

point of absurdity. Smart organizations don’t give talent away in

such a manner.

The Dodgers

should> be readying themselves for another playoff run

— another

highly profitable playoff run. Instead, they’re ceding the

division to Colorado.

4. Mets

The Mets have done little so far. That’s not necessarily a

problem considering how many name free agents are still available,

but the Mets have a cornucopia of needs. Rotation help, a first

baseman, a catcher, an outfielder, bullpen arms, infield depth, a

realization that Jeff Francoeur is not a major-league regular …

GM Omar Minaya faces challenge upon challenge. If

href="http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2009/12/jason-bay-rumors-thursday.html">the

Jason Bay rumors provide any insight into his thinking, then

Mets fans can commence worrying.

Bay should not be the Mets’ signature addition this

offseason. Bay can hit, but, as pointed out many times in this

space,

href="http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=1717&position=OF#fielding">he’s

a serious liability in the field. Since Bay’s 2007 knee injury,

his range in the field has been woefully inadequate. Put him in the

spacious CitiField outfield, and he’ll negate much of the value he

supplies at the plate. Bay is a great fit for an AL team in need of

help at DH, but he’s a bad fit for the Mets, especially given his

likely price tag. The Mets probably won’t catch the Phillies no

matter what they do, and adding Bay certainly won’t help.

5. Rangers

It hasn’t been a fruitful few days for Texas. First, they

traded away the generally reliable Kevin Millwood for Chris Ray, a

pitcher who missed 2008 with injury and notched a 7.27 ERA in 2009.

href="http://bases.nbcsports.com/2009/12/harden-picks-odd-spot-to-rebuild-his-value.html.php">As

Matthew Pouliot observes, three times in the last 12 years has

a Rangers pitcher worked a qualifying number of innings with an ERA

better than 4.00. Kenny Rogers did it twice, and the third guy was

Millwood in 2009. Indeed, Millwood’s peripherals suggest he was

quite lucky last season, but even facing regression he’s worth more

than Ray.

Then the Rangers signed Rich Harden, a pitcher who, while

excellent in some regards, is a terrible match for the Rangers’

home yard. As is the case with Jackson in Arizona, fly-ball

tendencies plus gopheritis plus hitter’s park do not generally

yield favorable results. If it’s not his terminally injured arm or

the Texas heat that does him in this season, then it might be

whiplash. The Rangers have ground to make up on the Angels and the

improving Mariners. Thus far, they’re not doing that.

On the bright side,

href="http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2009/04/wsj_says_tom_hicks_could_event.php">Tom

Hicks may soon go away.