Hot Stove Roundup: Nathan deal a worthwhile gamble for Rangers
Texas gets an experienced closer and still has a strong rotation and middle relief
The Indians are gambling that Grady Sizemore will play like a star again
A slew of middle infielders and backup catchers have been signed this offseason
Hot Stove Roundup is a weekly column during the offseason that will offer quick takes on a selection of mid- and low-level transactions. This being the first edition of this offseason, we have a lot to cover, so let's get to it.
Rangers sign closer Joe Nathan ($14.5M/2yrs + $9M option)
The hidden upside of this deal is that it allows the Rangers to move Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation without being second guessed for not having a "proven closer" to replace him. If Feliz fulfills his potential as a starter, the team will come out ahead in the end even though they overpaid for Nathan, who just turned 37 and has saved just 14 games since 2009 due to March 2010 Tommy John surgery.
Nathan struggled upon his return early this past season and missed a month due to forearm inflammation, but after returning in late June he posted a 3.38 ERA and struck out 28 men in 29 1/3 innings against just five walks. He also had a 0.89 WHIP, 5.60 K/BB and converted all 11 of his save opportunities after taking the job back from Matt Capps in mid-July. He did benefit from a .218 opponent's average on balls in play after his return from the DL, but with his velocity and control having returned and his slider still missing a ton of bats, there's reason to believe that he can again be one of the best closers in baseball. Yes, the Rangers could have simply promoted Mike Adams into the role, but with Feliz and Alexi Ogando both set to be in the rotation in April, they needed another high-leverage bullpen arm anyway. For a contending team that's not pinching pennies, the savings in the rotation make this gamble worthwhile.
Royals re-sign SP Bruce Chen ($9M/2yrs + incentives) and sign RP Jonathon Broxton ($4M/1yr + incentives)
A bone spur in Broxton's pitching elbow ended his 2011 season in early May and eventually led to September surgery. He's supposed to be ready for spring training, and if so, the Royals expect him to open the season as a set-up man for closer Joakim Soria. Broxton's signing follows the news that the Royals are going to give Aaron Crow a chance to make the starting rotation after unexpectedly moving the 2009 first-round pick to the bullpen and putting him on the Opening Day roster last year, after which he became the team's lone All-Star. Despite Crow's potential return to starting (the Royals already have five starters in Chen, newly-acquired Jonathan Sanchez, Luke Hochevar, Felipe Paulino and fellow sophomore Danny Duffy), Kansas City's bullpen was still flush with talented young arms before the addition of Broxton, making his addition a bit of a head-scratcher. It's possible, however, that the Royals are overloading in the hope of cashing in Broxton or one of their incumbent relievers in a mid-season trade.
As for Chen, this is the first multi-year deal of the 34-year-old lefty's 13-going-on-14-year career which has seen him pass through 11 organizations. He threw 100 innings in consecutive major league seasons for the first time in 2010 and 2011, but didn't qualify for the ERA title in either season, missing nearly two months of last season due to a latissimus dorsi strain behind his pitching shoulder. He's no better than league-average and doesn't eat innings, but most of the organization's top rotation prospects failed to progress as expected this past season, motivating his return as a stop-gap.
Indians re-sign CF Grady Sizemore ($5M/1yr + incentives) and acquire Derek Lowe from the Braves for LHP Chris Jones
The Indians declined Sizemore's $9 million option for 2012, then signed him to this new deal, which could be worth $9.5 million if he reaches all of the incentives (which begin at 450 plate appearances and top out at 650 PA and the Comeback Player of the Year award). Over the past two seasons, the former All-Star has appeared in just 104 games and hit .220/.280/.379 due in large part to his having had five surgeries in the last three years: two for sports hernias, one on his throwing elbow and surgery on both knees, including microfracture surgery on the left one last October and arthroscopic surgery on his right one just last month. The Indians are saying that they expect him to be their primary centerfielder, which is a condemnation of their alternatives at the position. The signing in general seems to be motivated as much by a fear of their former franchise player making a comeback elsewhere than by an honest belief that he can do so in Cleveland.
With a rotation of Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, and sophomores Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor backed up by top prospects Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, and Arodys Vizcaino, the Braves had no need for Lowe, which is why Atlanta practically paid Cleveland to take him. The Braves will cover two-thirds of Lowe's $15 million salary for 2012, the final year of his four-year contract, and receive only 23-year-old lefty reliever Jones, who has yet to pitch above A-ball, in return. It's not clear that the Indians have much use for Lowe, either. He'll be 39 in June, has posted an 86 ERA+ in three seasons since leaving the Dodgers, and hasn't pitched in the DH league since 2004, when he had a 5.42 ERA for the Red Sox. He's not going to turn the Indians from pretenders into contenders.
Yankees re-sign SP Freddy Garcia (reportedly $4M+/1yr + incentives)
When the Yankees signed Garcia to a minor league deal prior to this past season I thought this soft-tossing righty fly-ball pitcher would be a disaster in homer-happy Yankee Stadium. Instead, Garcia actually made 10 consecutive starts mid-season without allowing a home run (going 6-2 with a 2.53 ERA over that stretch). However, just four of those starts came at home, and in his other 16 starts on the season, 10 of which came at home, including one in the Division Series, he went 6-7 with a 4.45 ERA and 17 home runs allowed (1.8 HR/9IP), which is more like what the Yankees should expect from him in the coming season. He gives them rotation depth at what for the Yankees is pocket change, but not much more, and he still hasn't qualified for an ERA title since 2006.
Diamondbacks re-sign 2B Aaron Hill ($11M/2yrs), UT Willie Bloomquist ($3.8M/2yrs), SS John McDonald ($3M/2yrs)
Pirates sign SS Clint Barmes ($10.5M/2yrs)
Dodgers sign 2B Mark Ellis ($8.75M/2yrs + $5.75M option and incentives)
Twins sign SS Jamey Carroll ($6.5M/2yrs + $2M option and incentives)
This gaggle of middle-infield signings, all problematic in one way or another, are indicative of how thin those positions have become league-wide. Hill, Barmes, Ellis and Carroll will start. Bloomquist and McDonald will backup Hill and Stephen Drew, who will return from a broken ankle to reclaim the Diamondbacks' shortstop job from Bloomquist.
Hill, who turns 30 in March, broke out after being acquired by Arizona in late August, hitting .310/.393/.486 in 165 plate appearances including the postseason, but his .225/.286/.375 line over the last two seasons combined (which includes his regular-season performance with the Diamondbacks) speaks a lot louder.
Barmes, 33 in March, is an excellent defensive shortstop but a lousy hitter (.240/.309/.370 the last two seasons). He's an upgrade, even if only incrementally, on both sides of the ball over Ronny Cedeņo, whose $3 million option was declined. Barmes could help lift the boats of the groundballers on the Pirates' pitching staff, but that doesn't warrant a multi-year deal.
Ellis is an outstanding defender who can swipe a few bags and has shown good patience at the plate in the past (though not last year), but has stayed healthy enough to play in more than 125 games just twice in the last eight seasons and will be 35 in June.
Carroll will be 38 in February and is a sub-par fielder at shortstop. He will take his walks (.362 on-base percentage the last four years), and stole 22 bases in 26 tries in his two years as a Dodger (85 percent success rate), but has no power, consistently posting slugging percentages lower than his OBP and last homering in August 2009, though that could make him a good fit in Target Field, where modest power goes to die.