Hot Stove week in review (cont.)
There were lots of less-glamorous moves this week. The one I hated most was the Dodgers shipping Juan Pierre to the Chicago White Sox. It's not that this is indefensible -- Pierre is a moderately useful fourth outfielder who will be paid as such, and it's not his fault that he'll be asked to start. The problem here is that it's the cap on a series of sadly uninspired moves from usually creative White Sox general manager Ken Williams. Granted, he's laboring under money constraints but hauling in the decrepit likes of Pierre, Andruw Jones and Omar Vizquel shows an uncharacteristic lack of imagination. So did trading off Chris Getz and Josh Fields for Mark Teahen, a more expensive model off the same line of possibly passable players. Outfielders like Austin Kearns and Coco Crisp (or others like them, if these two have bad medicals or what have you) are available for even less than Pierre and are quite likely to outplay him.
As a straight baseball move, this wasn't nearly as bad as Kansas City's inexplicable signing of 35-year-old journeyman catcher Jason Kendall. Then again, they're the Royals ... this is what they do. They pay too much for terrible players like relief pitcher Kyle Farnsworth and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and are then mystified when their team is terrible. Second, the signing provoked some highly entertaining spluttering from people like Joe Posnanski and Rany Jazayerli. May the Royals never beat it out of them.
If those two moves were bad from the team's perspective, the oddest one from the player's end had to be Rich Harden's recent move to Texas. There's only one place an oft-injured ace trying to establish his value and make a $50 million score should want to be less: Dr. James Andrews' office in Birmingham, Al.
Along with the bad comes the good. The best move not involving Cliff Lee has been the Yankees' trade for Curtis Granderson. Any criticism of him is nonsense; the decline in his topline statistics over the last few years is wholly the result of his being asked to face a lot more left-handers, whom he seems to be unable to hit. Since 2006 his OPS against right-handers has gone from .805 to 1.014 to .900 to .897, perfectly normal variation around a stable talent level. With his gifts on the bases and in the field, he's basically a healthier version of Carlos Beltran. That's a hell of a player to have locked up for four years for just a few million more in total than Beltran will be making this year alone.
The Yankees' possible signing of Nick Johnson sounds similarly inspired. When healthy he's one of the best hitters in baseball, with the ninth-best on base average among active players, and the Yankees have enough offense not to miss him when he's hurt. He's a great player, and in an ideal world he'd settle in at DH with the team that drafted him and play 140 games a year for a decade.
While of far lower profile, another team in the American League East made a nice move this week when Baltimore signed closer Mike Gonzalez for two years and $12 million. A good closer may seem like the last thing a team as lame as the Orioles should fret over, but they're gearing up for a run in 2011 or 2012. While it's not quantifiable, there's probably some actual value for their young players in having a decent pitcher who won't blow the games they've played well in. Morale isn't nothing.
Having mentioned Coco Crisp above, it's probably worth noting that some team is going to get a real bargain with him, assuming that he's something near his usual self after undergoing double shoulder surgery this year. (His agent, Steve Comte, says he'll be ready for spring training.) Crisp is a spectacular defender, one of the best outfielders in the game, and his running is good for 20 or more bases a year. Together with essentially average hitting, he's worth three to four wins more than a Quadruple-A scrub when healthy. That's in the range of what Jason Bay has done the last two years, at least if you're inclined toward a pessimistic read of his defensive statistics. (I'm not, for what it's worth; Fenway Park makes left fielders look worse than they are.) If your team signs this guy, you can be quietly happy about it.
That may not be true of Bay, who looks likely to provide an illustration of what is meant by the phrase "winner's curse." Not many players who strike out 27 percent of the time, as Bay does, age well. Those who do tend to either be exceptionally athletic or have even more power than he does.
With Hall of Fame ballots coming in, here's something to keep in mind about the great Tim Raines: He's one of 10 players to have reached base 3,500 times, racked up 3,500 total bases and stolen 500 bases since 1901. (Raines' totals are 3,977, 3,771 and 808, so these aren't standards cherry picked to make him look good.) The others are Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins, Joe Morgan, Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor, Lou Brock and Max Carey.
You don't make a list like this by accident. Raines is overqualified for Cooperstown.
Tim Marchman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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