Stocking Stuffers | Rob Leibowitz
As typical of the last few weeks of December, the transaction market has slowed down. Looking over the last several years, the last time there was any excitement was 2006 when Barry Zito, Jeff Suppan and Kei Igawa signed multi-year deals and John Danks was dealt for Brandon McCarthy. In retrospect, perhaps 2006 gave teams reason to approach the holiday season with more caution. Anyway, the point is, things are quiet, but not that quiet and indeed some moves that will have an impact on the 2011 season were accomplished.
The Brewers have been busy, making some key depth improvements by signing Takashi Saito, Sean Green and Craig Counsell all to one-year deals.
Just another setup man in Colorado
The Padres, as expected, made a stop-gap move by signing Brad Hawpe to man first base while Anthony Rizzo gets some needed experience in the upper-levels of the minors. Looking at Hawpe's raw numbers and playing time, one can see why Hawpe has to settle for a one-year deal. He suffered through both a quad and a rib cage injury which robbed him of playing time, and quite possibly his power too and ultimately led to his release and time spent in limbo-land, the minors, and as a bench player for the Rays late in the season. One does not have to dig to deep to note that Hawpe's underlying numbers are quite similar to his career marks - walking over 12% of the time while striking out more than a quarter, with fly-ball rates in line with his career norms. His line drive rate was slightly lower than normal and his lowest since 2005, though still just under a very solid 20%. The real change in his game was a decrease in raw power with a 7% slide in his HR/FB to a mediocre just over 10% and his first sub-.200 isolated power mark since 2005. Therefore the question with Hawpe is he at just 31 years of age washed up or did the injuries he suffered in May and June (the latter of which lasted through July) really to blame? That question, which really cannot be answered until the season starts, renders him an end-game pick in NL only leagues. And then, even if he is 100% and his power has indeed returned it may end up not being that apparent considering he is moving to a park that is far from favorable to left-handed power hitters not named Adrian Gonzalez. At this point, I would probably be comfortable with a $4 to $6 bid as a last outfielder given limited options.
In one of two recent trades, the Astros traded right-handed reliever Matt Lindstrom to the Rockies for minor leaguers Wes Musick and Jonnathan Aristil. For once Lindstrom may not be at the top of the pecking order for save opportunities should the team's closer, in this case Huston Street, go down with injury. Though he saved 23 games last season, Rafael Betancourt and Matt Belisle are both actually coming off stronger seasons and may have an inside edge over him unless his time as a "closer" gives him a leg up. Lindstrom posted a solid 7.3 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 along with a 49% ground-ball rate - his most attractive quality to the Rockies. He no longer relies on his fastball as he once often did and throws his slider more often now. He is best suited to a right-handed specialist role - his career K/9 against lefties sits at just over 6 and his BB/9 close to 4. That's enough to handle them on occasion, but not the skill set that can truly hold down the closer's role for over the long term.
As for the minor leaguers involved, Musick will turn 24 on Thursday and has no experience above A-ball. He's your crafty college left-hander who knows how to pitch, throw strikes (1.9 BB/9), and changes speeds well. He posted an 8.0 K/9 in A-ball, but it is likely not to translate all that well to the upper levels. At best, he profiles as a back end of the rotation starter or as a left-handed specialist reliever. Aristil, 24, is a right-handed reliever who made it as far as Triple-A this season. He has history of control and command issues who may get a cup of coffee in the Majors, but does not appear to have the stuff or the skill to stick.
In our second deal, the Mets dealt Mike Antonini to the Dodgers for Chin-Lung Hu. Hu will be given a shot to claim a roster spot in spring training and will be in the mix for the starting job at second base. If based solely on defensive skills, he would win it easily. At the plate, Hu makes very consistent contact, but is not the most selective of hitters either. He has single-digits power and is known for keeping the ball on the ground at a high percentage (54% of the time over his career), but does have above average speed and was 9 for 10 in his stolen base attempts between the minors and majors last season. All that said, Hu is a bit overmatched at the MLB level and can be overpowered, particularly by right-handers who he has a career sub .200 batting average against. Should he get substantial playing time it is likely the result of an injury replacement. Antonini is a middling prospect in a similar mold to Musick, though he does have a better and more extensive track record and has marinated his K/9 above 6.0 as high as Triple-A. I see his ceiling as a spot-starter, triple-roster filler, or as a left-hand specialist reliever type.
Octavio Dotel's deal with Toronto is now official immediately making him the front runner for the closer's gig. Though he is now 37 years of age and his velocity is not quite what it once was, he is still pretty much the same pitcher he has always been - a hard throwing righty with a plus slider who allows a lot of fly balls. He has not posted a sub 10.0 K/9 since 2006 and has actually been fairly healthy in recent seasons, pitching in at least 62 games since 2008. His age and previous injury history should make him a relative bargain, though there still are closer's skills here. Just do not be surprised if his ERA is over 4.00 given a long history of issues with allowing the long-ball.
There are a few unofficial signings out there, notably Brandon Webb with Texas, and as has always been the custom in the Diamond Exchange, I'll break those moves down when they are indeed official, in case those talks hit a last second snag.
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