When it comes to the Hot Stove, do we tend to talk about the sensible value additions, or do we prefer to delight in the Ed Whitsons, the Mark Davises, the Wayne Garlands, and the Mike Hamptons? You know, they’re the ones who grandly flame out before our eyes and cost their employers millions in blood and treasure. (Okay, maybe just treasure …)
Usually, it’s the latter. Call it the human weakness for Schadenfreude. Anyhow, let’s do like the politicians and "go negative" without apology and run down the very worst mistakes of the present offseason to date. Free agents and trade targets still abound, so revisions to this list are possible. But here are the most inexplicable decisions to date … 1. The Astros sign Brandon Lyon to a three-year, $15-million contract.
To justify giving Lyon three years and $15 million requires a grave misunderstanding of, well, the game of baseball. Lyon, like most unspectacular relievers, has been wildly inconsistent throughout his career. But the Astros, who work daily to distinguish themselves as the worst organization in baseball, seemingly believed in the 2009 version of Lyon. Indeed, last season Lyon posted a 2.86 ERA, but he did so despite some of the weakest peripheral numbers of his career. In other words, he was lucky. The Astros, despite all evidence to the contrary, are gambling that Lyon will continue to be lucky for the next three years. If they’re going to throw that much at Lyon, then why wouldn’t Ed Wade have just given Jose Valverde, a much better reliever than Lyon, the multi-year deal he sought?
2. The Diamondbacks trade Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth for Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy.
Scherzer has blazing stuff and 240 strikeouts in 226.1 major-league innings. As well, he’s still just 25 years of age, and he has less than two years of service time. Jackson, meanwhile, is a year older and already deep into his arbitration years. In essence, the Snakes sacrificed upside and cost control for … what? (This from the organization that will likely send Mark Grace and Todd Stottlemyre deferred-salary checks until the mountains crumble into the sea.) Schlereth, meanwhile, has a dominating minor-league dossier and the makings of a shutdown reliever at the highest level. As for Kennedy, he’s at best an adequate fifth starter, but he’ll likely wind up as something less useful than that. It’s difficult to get worse and more expensive in one move, but Arizona did just that.
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3. The Cubs trade Milton Bradley for Carlos Silva.
GM Jim Hendry fouled up this one from the moment of conception. It’s unwise to sign a player like Bradley — mercurial, complicated, in need of care and feeding — if you’re going to subject him to suffocating media coverage and a fan base that’s increasingly hostile. It’s just a poor fit, and any sensible operator should be able to foresee the troubles ahead. Suffice it to say, Hendry was unable to do that.
The best (i.e., least damaging) thing would’ve been to release Bradley, absorb his remaining contract and thereby treat him as a sunk cost. Instead, Hendry flipped him for a pitcher — Carlos Silva — who’s demonstrably and significantly worse than Bradley and, like Bradley (but less famously and less often), something of a problem child. On a pure numbers level, Hendry swapped a right fielder with a .378 OBP in his down year of 2009 for a starting pitcher who has one season in the last four that can’t be described as awful.
Of course, Hendry could’ve released Bradley and given him $50 million in gold bullion, and Bradley still would have been less damaging to the Cubs’ hopes than Alfonso Soriano, who’ll be around for another five years and another $90 million.
4. The Angels sign Fernando Rodney to a two-year, $11-million contract.
Will this stand as the Angels’ signature addition of the winter? They’ve let John Lackey sign with an AL rival, and they’ve let Chone Figgins sign with an AL West rival. And their rejoinder to those losses has been to ink a declining Hideki Matsui and … Rodney? Last season, Rodney piled up the saves, but he did so in spite of a 4.40 ERA and grisly walk rate of 4.9 per nine innings. Throw in Rodney’s declining strikeout rate and spotty health history, and it’s hard to fathom why the Angels think he’s worth two years and $11 million. Simply put, you don’t pay money for saves, which, as a statistic, is a lousy way to measure value. But the Angels appear to have done just that. 5. The White Sox trade Jon Link and John Ely for Juan Pierre.
The same affliction that led the White Sox to believe Scott Podsednik was a talent to be leaned upon as often as possible has now led them to trade for Pierre. Pierre would make a perfectly useful fourth outfielder. He is not, however, an adequate major-league regular. Still, the White Sox have penciled him in as their starting left fielder in 2010. Left field, as you know, is a power position, and Pierre, as you know, has no power. That vaguely adequate .757 OPS he posted last season — his highest such mark since 2001 — will also likely come down. He’s moving into the tougher AL; his season was built around one hot month (May); and his batting average on balls in play, a bit on the high side last season, will probably come back to earth. With it, so will the rest of his numbers.
As for Pierre’s speed, it’s an asset, but he’s not an efficient base-stealer these days. Yes, he pilfers a lot of bases, but he also gets caught too much. In fact, in his nine full seasons he’s led the league in times caught stealing on five occasions. In reality, he’s something close to a break-even base stealer (you have to be successful at least 75 percent of the time to make stealing bases even slightly worthwhile). Of course, Ozzie Guillen will probably let him run wild. He’ll swipe a lot of bases, but he’ll be a solidly below-average hitter. Defensively, he doesn’t take proper routes in the outfield, which means you can’t put him in center on an extended basis.
Sure, the Dodgers will pay $10.5 million of the remaining $18.5 million that Pierre is owed, but if Link and Ely, the two pitching prospects given up by Chicago (both with success in the upper rungs of the system) turn out to be of consequence, then this deal will look even worse.