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Matt Smith is the editor and lead writer at BaseballGB. An Oakland A's fan, Matt has been obsessed with baseball since 1998 and started writing about the sport in 2006.

Swisher, Jackson and other player-signing action

Christmas is almost here and plenty of MLB teams have been out buying presents.

Swisher and Jackson

It was revealed on Sunday that the Cleveland Indians have signed former Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher on a four-year, $56m contract (£166k per week).

Swisher’s postseason struggles may have drawn the ire of Yankee fans, but he’s consistently been one of the more productive right-fielders in the Majors over the past few seasons and in that sense he is a notable catch for a team that hasn’t competed for the better free agents in many years.

Another apparent non-contender, the Chicago Cubs, also acquired a sought-after free agent this week by signing pitcher Edwin Jackson to a four-year, $52m contract (£154k per week). The Cubs made a strong push to sign Anibal Sanchez before being pipped to his signature by the Detroit Tigers, so they were clearly keen to add some ready-now talent even though they don’t look like being a probable contender for a playoff spot in 2013.

In previous years, teams have taken an aggressive approach to rebuilding. Without the threat of relegation to force a team to field as competitive a team as possible, Front Offices slashed spending on the Major League roster and instead channelled the money into the amateur player draft and the international free agent market.

The Players’ Union were very unhappy with this situation, as they saw it as taking money away from the current Major Leaguers that were generating the income, and part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which came into effect this year, sought to limit this trend by placing strict caps on the money that could be spent on amateur and international talent.

A team like the Cubs is still raking in substantial revenue through national TV contracts, local TV contracts and gate receipts despite losing 101 games during the 2012 season. As they can no longer invest heavily in young talent, now the next best thing may be to invest in a free agent with the potential for them to be exchanged for prospects in a trade a year or two down the line.

Jackson, subject to the injury risk inherent in future projections for any pitcher, should hold his value during his contract and his signing may also lead to the Cubs trading Matt Garza this offseason, adding a few more prospects into their farm system. Swisher’s contract looks a decent deal on its own, although whether it will help to make an AL Central title a realistic target in 2014 and 2015 for Cleveland remains to be seen.

Dickey deal done

The Blue Jays completed their trade with the New York Mets to add R.A. Dickey to their revamped pitching rotation. Dickey was already under contract for 2013 at a bargain $5m and Toronto added a two-year, $25m contract extension to that, with a further $12m club option for 2016.

It must be an exciting time to be a Blue Jays fan. Their Front Office has not just made a couple of additions out of hope. They’ve weighed up their competition and judged that the Yankees and Red Sox aren’t at their peak – although make no mistake; both will field competitive teams in 2013 – before adding a host of experienced players.

Like any plan, it’s not guaranteed to succeed and they’ve traded away two highly-thought-of prospects in catcher Travis d’Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard; however this is precisely the situation where dealing such talent makes sense. They’ve got a chance to go for it, so they’re going for it now.

Former Great Britain catcher Mike Nickeas moved to Toronto as part of the trade, although the most likely scenario would be for him to start the season with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. Josh Thole is heading to the Rogers Centre as well and J.P. Arencibia is in possession of the catching position, so Nickeas would be the odd man out if the other two are healthy.

Rangers are O.K. for A.J.

The Texas Rangers finally were on the right side of some transaction news this week. They’ve agreed a one-year contract with free agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski and he will share time behind the dish with Geovany Soto in an all-ex-Chicago tandem.

It’s worth noting that the man Pierzynski is replacing, Mike Napoli, still hasn’t actually completed his move to the Red Sox. Boston reportedly have concerns about one of Napoli’s hips and whilst his move to Fenway is still expected to go ahead, the contract wording is taking some time to agree.

Deals by the rest in the West

The Rangers’ main competitors in the AL West have also been busy this week.

As expected, the L.A. Angels followed up their acquisition of Josh Hamilton by trading one of their surplus batting options, Kendrys Morales, for a starting pitcher. Jason Vargas switches from a Mariners uniform to an Angels outfit, with Morales adding some much-needed punch to a Seattle offence crying out for help.  The Mariners also agreed a one-year contract with former Yankee Raul Ibanez, bringing him back to Seattle for his third separate spell with the club.

The Oakland A’s signed Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima to a two-year contract and he immediately endeared himself to A’s fans with an entertaining press conference performance. News of Nakajima’s signing came shortly after Oakland’s previous shortstop, Stephen Drew, signed a one-year contract with the Boston Red Sox.

Ross to the D-Backs

I’ve been touting the Arizona Diamondbacks as a potential sleeper pick in the National League and reportedly they agreed terms on a three-year contract with outfielder Cody Ross. It’s expected that the acquisition will be followed by General Manager Kevin Towers trading away another outfielder, Jason Kubel being the most obvious choice.

We’ll have to wait and see what the knock-on effect of the Ross signing will be before judging it, but at first glance it seems a slightly strange pick-up for Arizona. The outfield wasn’t a great area of need and Ross isn’t a particularly notable upgrade on their existing options, particularly when signing him required a three-year commitment.

Other minor moves

The Astros (Carlos Pena) and Marlins (Placido Polanco) both added a veteran player to rosters currently defined by their lack of Major League experience. Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Pirates have agreed a deal to add pitcher Francisco Liriano to their rotation.

Liriano has put up a 5.23 ERA over 60 appearances (52 starts) for the Twins and White Sox during the past two seasons and whilst he has been close to striking out a batter per inning over that span (279 K’s in 291 innings pitched), he has dished out free passes at a rate (5 per nine innings) that makes it hard to be successful.

Mired in the longest-ever sequence of consecutive losing seasons, the Pirates would have to pay top dollar to beat other teams to sign a leading free agent and they cannot afford to do so (nor even come close, one suspects). That leaves them giving money to players that might not help them all that much.  Moving to the non-DH league may be a slight positive for Liriano’s performances; however a two-year, $12.75m investment in him doesn’t seem likely to bring the Pirates a fortune-changing return.

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  1. Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Playoffs in Pittsburgh | BaseballGB - September 30, 2013

    [...] that Pittsburgh had come to an agreement with Francisco Lirano didn’t seem all that inspiring, as I wrote just before Christmas last year: “Liriano has put up a 5.23 ERA over 60 appearances (52 starts) [...]

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