- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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Take a deep breath. If Tuesday's slew of transactions is any sign of what will happen at next week's winter meetings, then be prepared for a great week of rumors, deals and signings. As for Tuesday, so much happened that I'm starting to believe the Robinson Cano-to-the-Mariners rumors.
Let's start with the Astros acquiring Dexter Fowler from the Rockies. The Rockies have seemingly been shopping Fowler for years, but apparently the market for him was more lukewarm than a three-day-old cup of Starbucks. Jordan Lyles is still young and throws strikes but has been hit hard at the major league level (5.35 career ERA with 65 starts) and doesn't possess a quality strikeout pitch; he's the kind of pitcher who will get absolutely destroyed at Coors Field.
Even if the Rockies will put a better defense behind Lyles than the Astros did -- Troy Tulowitzki and Nolan Arenado will help in that department -- Lyles appears to be a long shot to succeed. Brandon Barnes was a 27-year-old rookie center fielder who posted a .289 on-base percentage, struck out 127 times while walking just 21 times, and was 11-for-22 in stealing bases, a package that made him one of the worst percentage players in the majors. His defense is OK but he looks like a fourth outfielder at best.
What did the Astros get? A player with two years remaining until free agency who has averaged a consistent 2.4 WAR over the past three seasons. He's a good player whom the Rockies always expected more from, perhaps creating a poor read of his actual value. There is the possibility that his numbers will crater outside of Coors Field -- he's hit .298 there in his career, .241 on the road -- but as a guy who takes his walks I like his chances to produce once he gets away from the Coors effect. Kudos to the Astros for acquiring some talent without giving up much in return. With prospect George Springer presumably ready to take over center, I wouldn't be surprised to see Fowler move to left field; his bat won't play as well there but he'll improve the Astros' defense dramatically over the statue-like Chris Carter.
What were the Rockies thinking? Who knows. The Rockies and Mariners seem like the two franchises without any semblance of a game plan right now. Are the Rockies trying to win now? Are they trying to rebuild? Were they merely dumping a salary (Fowler will make $7.35 million in 2014, a relative bargain for a 2-WAR player)? Are they trying to improve the rotation or the offense? If I had to guess, the Rockies see this as a salary dump to clear space to sign a free-agent pitcher. Last year, Roy Oswalt, Jeff Manship, Drew Pomeranz, Collin McHugh and Chad Bettis combined to go 0-19 in 26 starts with a 7.42 ERA. Can't wait to see the Rockies sign Ervin Santana and be shocked when he gives up 40 home runs.
But there was more that happened on Tuesday ... much more!
The A's traded for Orioles closer Jim Johnson. The Rays traded for Diamondbacks closer-by-default Heath Bell. What's going on here? Are the A's and Rays, the beloved darlings of the sabermetric guild, admitting they believe in Proven Closers? Well ... yes and no. The A's aren't going to pay big bucks for a closer with a long-term deal, so with Grant Balfour leaving as a free agent they picked up Johnson, who has one year remaining before free agency. It's a rental without giving up anything of value (no, Jemile Weeks doesn't count as "value"). The A's may have gone with Ryan Cook as their closer, but he struggled down the stretch with his command last year so Billy Beane undoubtedly wanted more of a sure thing. Now they just need Johnson not to blow nine saves like he did for the Orioles. As for Bell, I don't quite see what the Rays see in him (he gave up 12 home runs in 2013), but they turned Fernando Rodney into a top closer, so Bell will probably go out and record 45 saves with a 2.50 ERA. Bell is due to make $9 million, but the Marlins are paying $4 million of that, so the Rays get a potential closer for the tidy sum of $5 million.
The A's added further depth to their bullpen by acquiring Luke Gregerson from the Padres for Seth Smith. The A's get another one-year rental, but Gregerson has been one of the majors' most consistent relievers the past few seasons. He held batters to a .203 average in 2013, .226 over the past three years. Yes, Gregerson pitched in pitcher-friendly Petco Park, but he moves to another pitchers' park and his sinker means he's pretty good at preventing home runs anyway. The A's gave up outfielder/DH Smith, who didn't really hit like a corner outfielder/designated hitter needs to hit. Score this as a win for the A's.
Have I mentioned that I love Billy Beane? To replace Smith and the departed Chris Young, he picked up Craig Gentry from the division rival Rangers for Michael Choice. Gentry is the perfect fourth outfielder, a plus defender in center who can hit left-handed pitching. He doesn't have power but has a .391 OBP the past three years against lefties. He's a terrific platoon-slash-role player. The Rangers get Michael Choice, a former top prospect who hit .302 with 14 home runs at Triple-A. The Rangers get some potential upside here in the former 10th overall pick, but outside of a big year in the California League, his power potential hasn't completely materialized. A worthwhile gamble by the Rangers, however.
The Tigers are apparently close to signing Joe Nathan -- the move everyone has been predicting all offseason. Clearly the Doug Fister trade was made to clear some salary space. Is there another move in the works? Do the Tigers still bring back Joaquin Benoit to set up Nathan? Is there another big signing -- Shin-Soo Choo? -- coming? Stay tuned!
The Red Sox signed A.J. Pierzynski. Makes sense. One-year deal, leaving the possibility of Blake Swihart or Christian Vazquez to take over at catcher in 2015. Love what the Red Sox are doing here. They could have an extremely young core of Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Swihart in a couple years ... leaving plenty of payroll to spend on David Price when he becomes a free agent after 2015. It's good to be a Red Sox fan right now.
What else? The Rays acquired Ryan Hanigan. Interesting because they just signed Jose Molina. That gives them two of the best defensive catchers in the game. Brian Wilson looks like he's returning to the Dodgers. Makes sense for the Dodgers; surprising only because everyone thought Wilson wanted to close. Oh, yeah ... the Mariners have emerged as major players in the Robinson Cano sweepstakes, according to an ESPN New York report. The Mariners have money; they want to spend money; Cano wants money. Who knows, maybe it actually will happen. And then don't be shocked when the Mariners also sign Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Ubaldo Jimenez. Of course, that could just be my head spinning after this crazy day.
3dJim Caple, ESPN Senior Writer