I don’t have an overarching deep-dive in me tonight. A bunch of small moves with very low potential impact happened on Tuesday, driven by the deadline at which teams had to decide whether they would tender contracts to their pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players or release them into free agency. Nothing big happened. It would be a disservice for me to write two or three thousand words for you about anything that happened. I’ll just run through the three moves that stood out, offering up the analysis I think each move deserves.
Torii Hunter signs one-year deal with Minnesota Twins.
Minnesota paid $10.5 million for a year-long reunion with their prodigal center fielder. An old trope tells us, “There is no such thing as a bad one-year deal.” That’s a true statement, but this move tests its limits. The Twins had an atrocious defensive outfield in 2014, arguably the worst in baseball, and Hunter’s arrival nearly guarantees that that will persist. As he closes in on 40, Hunter has declined beyond the point of defensive adequacy, even in right field. With Kennys Vargas, Joe Mauer, Josmil Pinto and Oswaldo Arcia on hand, though, Hunter won’t have any opportunity to take starts at designated hitter.
He is a competent hitter, though no longer anything like an impactful one. He is not, however, good enough to rationalize an eight-figure outlay, given his defensive shortcomings. He won’t make the Twins better, and he gums up the works. This move eliminates any hope of moving Trevor Plouffe to the outfield and improving at third base. In concert with the team’s preposterous decision to hang onto Chris Colabello, Chris Parmelee and Eduardo Nunez, it also creates the worst kind of logjam: one in which there are too many players for the open positions, and none of them are any good. It’s a horrendous decision, and still, the Twins made a worse one Tuesday, electing to tender a deal to Brian Duensing and pay him roughly $2.5 million next season. Duensing is one of the dozen worst heavily-used relievers in baseball. Not a good night to be a Twins fan.
Dodgers trade Matt Magill to Cincinnati for Chris Heisey.
The Reds might just be waving a white flag on 2015. Heisey is too small a move to say that with any certainty, but he’s a good little player, a guy who could be part of a winner next season. With four starting pitchers on the cusp of free agency, though, the Reds might feel that their time is running out, and be ready to entertain rebuilding. It’s not what I would do; Joey Votto isn’t getting any younger. I think the Reds should be pushing all their chips to the middle of the table, aiming high in 2015, but this move points in the opposite direction. Their new arm, Magill, is a player GM Walt Jocketty specializes in acquiring—a fringe back-end starter with no upside, Triple-A filler for the most part, but a hurler who could step in to take a spot start if the first string of starters were broken by injury.
No team needs an outfielder less than the Dodgers, but they saw that Heisey was about to hit the open market, and decided they would rather have him, cheaply, at no real cost to them. He’s a right-handed batter who actually hits righties better than lefties, so he doesn’t take any of Scott Van Slyke’s market share as a bench bat. What new Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi might see in Heisey is the same thing his former boss, Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane, saw in Brett Lawrie when he acquired him last week. See, left-handed batters are fighting an uphill battle in the game today. The strike zone is against them. New defensive philosophies and alignments are against them. It’s never been harder to be a left-handed hitter than it is right now. Therefore, righties who can hit right-handed pitchers become hugely valuable. We’ll see whether time bears out this hypothesis, but it’s one possible explanation.
Also, the Dodgers are definitely going to trade an outfielder now. If there was ever any doubt of that fact, wipe it away.
Padres Non-Tender Everth Cabrera
A year ago, this would have been inconceivable. Cabrera was having a career year in 2013, hitting better than a league-average batter, fielding well at shortstop, stealing bases by the bushel, everything one could ask. Then, he was among those who took a lengthy suspension for affiliation with Tony Bosch and Biogenesis. Ever since, he’s been a mess. In 2014, his approach at the plate fell apart, his walk rate folding nearly in half and his strikeout rate increasing by half. He somehow lost power (he was never a power hitter), and while he still showed good range and tools at shortstop, he got sloppy on balls hit right at him. He could not have done more to ensure he would fall out of favor.
That said, there will be a market for Cabrera, and they who sign him should be pleased. In the right place, with the right attitude and willingness to reconstruct himself, Cabrera could blossom back into a solid hitter with a solid glove and great legs, at one of the most valuable spots on the diamond. He’ll play all of 2015 at age 28. That’s not too late to get back on the horse after a rough fall from the saddle.
The Padres, man. I don’t get it. They insist they intend to compete in 2015, but they’re trying to rid themselves of their starting catcher, and they’ve just jettisoned their starting shortstop. Unless there’s something up A.J. Preller’s sleeve, they’re not taking the right steps on the path they’ve chosen.
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