Rounding the Bases: Deals being made

One week ago I stated that we may be waiting a few weeks before the MLB Hot Stove started to heat up and teams began making significant roster additions.

It turned out that this past week was in fact quite a busy one, with several free agent signings being completed and one major trade.

Fielder and Kinsler swap teams

At breakfast time on Thursday morning I was tucking into a bowl of porridge and enjoying watching the highlights of Day One of the first Ashes Test on Sky Sports News (enjoy the good times while they last, comes to mind) when I noticed that an MLB news item was about to scroll across the bottom of the screen. I expected it to be news of a minor free agent signing, but instead was taken aback to read that the Texas Rangers had swung a trade to acquire first baseman Prince Fielder from the Detroit Tigers for second baseman Ian Kinsler.

Just two years ago, the Tigers caused a major shock by coming out of nowhere and signing Fielder to a nine-year, $214m contract. Despite having a disappointing 2013 season, Fielder appeared to be set to stay in Detroit for years to come and yet all of a sudden the long-term commitment between player and team had been broken.

At first glance it looks to be a trade that should benefit both teams handsomely, not just in the player each team has required but the knock-on effects for their respective rosters.

The Tigers can now move Miguel Cabrera over to first base, where his limited fielding skills are better suited, and create an opening for their best prospect, third baseman Nick Castellanos. Kinsler will add a combination of some power and speed to the lineup and moving the majority of Fielder’s hefty contract (the Tigers have given the Rangers $30m as part of the deal to cover some of the remaining $168m) gives them some financial flexibility potentially to add another player or two or to add to the pot for a contract extension for Max Scherzer and, down the line, Miguel Cabrera.

As for the Rangers, they were desperate to make a big move after suffering late season heartbreak in the last two seasons. Acquiring a premium slugger is a statement of intent and moving to the homer-friendly confines of Rangers Ballpark should suit Fielder down to the ground. Moving Kinsler also frees up some space for the Rangers to let top prospect Jurickson Profar settle in at second base.

Angels and Cardinals

The Rangers’ AL West rivals the Los Angeles Angels also completed a trade this week, acquiring third baseman David Freese from the St. Louis Cardinals for centre fielder Peter Bourjos, with a couple of young prospects thrown into the deal too.

Freese will forever be a hometown hero in St. Louis for his 2011 World Series heroics, yet it looks like a good time for him to move on to a new challenge with the Angels. The Cardinals will probably move their infield players around so that Matt Carpenter shifts over to third base and Kolten Wong moves into second base full-time, potentially with former Detroit Tiger Jhonny Peralta joining the team as their new shortstop if the rumours from Saturday night are accurate. Bourjos, if he can stay fit and on the field, will be a better option in centrefield than the disappointing John Jay for the Cards, whilst Mike Trout will no longer be moved aside to the Angels’ left field and will instead be the number one centre fielder.

Pitchers getting paid

David Freese should be a good addition for the Angels, but their most pressing need over the offseason is to bolster their pitching corps. Another opening in the rotation has been created by Jason Vargas departing as a free agent as he agreed a four-year, $32m contract with the Kansas City Royals.

The signing was met by a fairly lukewarm response. In part this was because of the Royals rumours swirling in the hour before it was announced:

A “major-baseball announcement” immediately created visions for some of Carlos Beltran donning the ‘KC’ cap once again, so when the reality was a player you can neatly file under the words ‘solid’ and ‘dependable’ there was bound to be some disappointment.

Giving a four-year contract to a less-than-spectacular player also raised a few eyebrows, yet $8m per year for a good starting pitcher looks like being a good deal for the Royals on the current pitching market.

The San Francisco Giants spent $23m this week to sign 38-year old Tim Hudson on a two-year contract (£137k per week). Hudson’s 2013 season was ended by a horrible freak accident when the Mets’ Eric Young accidentally landed on the pitcher’s right ankle as he was covering first base. The Giants are confident that Hudson will come back from his fractured ankle as good as new and if he does then he should help the team in their attempt to get back to the postseason and to win a third World Series in five years.

Elsewhere in the NL West, the San Diego Padres have also signed a pitcher whose 2013 was impacted by injury. Josh Johnson has spent most of his career so far battling the tag of being an ace when not injured. Recently he’s spent more time injured than being an ace but the Padres have little to lose in signing him to a one-year contract worth $8m and, with Petco Park being a great place for a pitcher to ply his trade, it’s also a good setting for Johnson to have a good year and then earn a more lucrative contract in a year’s time.

Another veteran for the Phillies

The Philadelphia Phillies played at the Veterans Stadium for 33 seasons before moving to Citizens Bank Park in 2004. The team’s General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr has done a good job in recent years of honouring their old home by building rosters dominated by veterans and, just a week after signing 36-year-old Marlon Byrd to a two-year contract, he added another this week with the re-signing of catcher Carlos Ruiz.

Ruiz has spent his whole Major League career with the Phillies and even when his contract ran out at the end of the 2013 season, there always seemed a very good chance that he would carry on with the club.

Amaro’s decision to hand the 35-year-old a three-year contract worth a guaranteed $26m (annual salaries of $8.5m – approximately £101k per week – with a $500k 2017 buyout fee) made sure of that and immediately led to the GM’s thought processes (or more precisely lack of) being questioned.

Giving a three-year contract to a 35-year-old catcher isn’t ideal, but Ruiz is a good all-round player, not spectacular at anything but solid enough at the plate and behind it, at a position where merely being good carries plenty of value. Additionally the risk involved is mitigated slightly by the Phillies’ familiarity with him, from how he fits into the group as a personality to a detailed knowledge of his fitness.

And finally …

The Phillies kept hold of their catcher, but it looks like the Atlanta Braves have lost theirs. Brian McCann has been with the Braves for his entire professional career and his nine-season Major League run with the team always looked likely to come to an end this offseason when he became a free agent. Sure enough, late on Saturday night it was being reported that he has agreed a five-year, $85m contract (just over £200k per week) with the New York Yankees.

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