Frank Catalanotto has good company in replicating the Scott Hatteberg storyline in Moneyball: An underappreciated player, making relatively small dollars, is acquired by another club to plug a lineup hole and contribute in ways best appreciated by the statistically savvy. Lack of experience, unfavorable home ballpark characteristics, injury, one-sided platoon split—or all of the above—have conspired to price these players below market value, but their new teams reap bargain production.
ERUBIEL DURAZO, Athletics
G.M. Billy Beane's id�e fixe after Durazo compiled a .390 OBP and homered once every 16 at bats during four injury-plagued seasons with Arizona. Obtained in a four-team trade for minor league righthander Jason Arnold in December 2002, Durazo, 29, made $1,065 million last year and provided Oakland with a .374 on-base percentage, 21 home runs and 50 extra-base hits. A poor defensive first baseman, he'll DH for $2.1 million this season, and the A's expect to see improved power numbers.
NICK JOHNSON, Expos
In his first year of arbitration eligibility (he lost), the former Yankee will make $1.25 million, giving Montreal a respectable return on the Dec. 16 trade that sent righthander Javier Vazquez to New York. Johnson has never exceeded 378 at bats in a season, having battled a bruised wrist in 2002 and a broken hand in '03. Last year he had a .422 OBP and saw 4.28 pitches per plate appearance, both of which would have ranked in the AL's top five if he had had enough at bats to qualify. He's also a developing 25-year-old and a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman.
MATT STAIRS, Royals
Inferior defense (in rightfield and at first base) and poor performance against lefthanders (.278 OBP, two home runs compared with .402, 18 homers against righties) limited the 36-year-old's value to one year, $1 million. But Stairs provides insurance for Kansas City's most injury-prone players, Juan Gonzalez and Mike Sweeney, and platooning him with designated hitter Ken Harvey (.377 OBP, seven home runs in 156 at bats versus lefties) creates a composite middle-of-the-order masher.
JOHN THOMSON, Braves
Atlanta won't soon be mistaken for a Moneyball franchise, but the acquisition of Thomson, who had spent all but nine games of his six-year career in homer-happy Colorado and Texas (where he miraculously won 13 games as the No. I starter last season), sure makes Atlanta look like one. The switch to Turner Field will help Thomson—any place is better than Coors Field and the Ballpark in Arlington—as will the stewardship of pitching guru Leo Mazzone. Thomson has always had good control (2.0 walks per nine innings last year and 2.2 in '02) and should prove well worth his two years, $7 million.
MIKE TIMLIN, Red Sox
One of G.M. Theo Epstein's first signings, for $1.85 million in December 2002, Timlin appealed to Boston because of his superb control: a 3.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 1.3 walks per nine innings with the Cards and the Phillies in '02. Though Boston's closer-by-committee failed last year, Timlin was nails, limiting righthanders to a .198 batting average in 83? innings, and his 7.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio was second in the majors, behind only that of Atlanta's John Smoltz. A strong postseason (9? scoreless innings) sealed Boston's decision to bring him back, for $2.75 million.