Signed RHP Mat Latos to a one-year deal worth $3 million. [2/9]
Need evidence that the Jeff Samardzija debacle didn't shake Rick Hahn's faith in Don Cooper? Consider Hahn's willingness to task Cooper with Latos: a supposed handful who, in addition to his personality quirks, is coming off a career-worst season in which his ERA neared 5.00. Lovely.
Viewed in a soft light, there's plenty to like about Latos. He still has a tall frame that he leverages with an over-the-top release point to achieve a steep downward plane. His fastball doesn't come in as hot as it used to, but he can cut and run it, and he has a few other pitches to keep bats in neutral: a slider, a curve, and a splitter. The split is arguably the most interesting of the bunch, and last season he compiled excellent results with it. As such, you can almost close your eyes and imagine Latos as an ink-stained Jake Odorizzi, stair-stepping with his fastball and splitter to good success.
The problem with Latos is there's no telling whether he can make the most of what he has. While he'll pitch the season at age 28, he's coming off consecutive short seasons due to injury and performance. That unreliability is part of the reason why he was available on a cheap one-year deal in the first place, but it also complicates team-building matters for the White Sox; Hahn can probably afford to carry one of John Danks and Erik Johnson in the rotation, just not both at the same time.
Hahn won't have to worry if Cooper can get Latos back on track. Otherwise? Hahn better hope Cooper can get a new wand before the season goes south. —R.J. Anderson
Signed RHP Craig Stammen to a minor-league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. [2/8]
Stammen’s an interesting type of relief pitcher, which is saying a lot because relief pitchers these days are pretty boring, what with all the strikeouts. Never an extreme whiff machine, this righty is just a bit too mediocre to be boring. A master of the middle innings, he’s made a career out of being the multi-inning guy for the Nationals with more skill than your average replacement-level swingman. His wheelhouse: to take the ball for stretches both long and short, and do a perfectly suitable job before handing it off to the next guy.
He’s also a newer kind of statistical anomaly: BP’s recent switch to DRA exposes him as someone who has created less value than his FIP and ERA might have you believe. During his three full relief seasons from 2012 to 2014, Stammen posted FIPs between 2.79 and 3.49¬—perfectly respectable numbers. Two of his three ERAs were very good (2.34 in 2012, 2.76 in 2013) and one was fine (3.84 in 2014). But his DRAs were not nearly as good: 3.41, 4.37, and 4.37. To boil it down, our DRA system (which gives Stammen his overall WARP value) gives his performance less credit than his ERA indicates…and doesn’t look as highly at his future performance as his FIP does.
The former workhorse is also is coming off a serious flexor tendon surgery that sidelined him for almost all of 2015. He was off to a solid start before his joint failed him, and he’ll look to come back strong with the Indians—a team that’s a fine fit for his particular skillset. Since Terry Francona leans on his best relievers (Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen) especially hard,it’s not tough to imagine that one day they may break. Adding a veteran with a tendency to throw multiple innings at a time may convince Terry to dial down the throttle every couple of days. On the other hand, Stammen could wilt, spurned for Francona’s taste for the superior arms at the end of the bullpen and wasting his greatest remaining skill: vitality.
Maybe neither of these things happen because we don’t even really know yet if he’ll bounce back from his injury well, or at all. At his best, he’s a guy who can do a little bit of everything: above-average whiffs and grounders, and a predilection for two-inning stints. I like that, because as a baseball fan and writer, I’d rather see players be interesting than be good. For both Stammen and the Indians, I’m sure they’d far prefer the latter. —Bryan Grosnick
Signed RHP Joel Peralta to a minor-league deal. [2/9]
If you had to guess which general manager would sign Peralta after his brutal 2015, you probably would've said Andrew Friedman. Fair enough. Your second guess, though, better have been Jerry Dipoto, who brought his fascination with oddball relievers with him to Seattle.
Peralta pitches like he doesn't belong in the majors. His guts and wits outweigh his stuff a few times over, and he embraces that reality by bringing a definitive winter-ball style to the Show. Peralta will quick-pitch to unsuspecting batters; he'll drop his arm slot; he'll pitch backward, even if it means doubling up on his splitter; and he'll do any and everything to get a strike short of using the Staten Island sinker . . . and past circumstances mean you can't quite rule out that possibility, either. If it feels like none of those strategies should work against big-league hitters, it's because they don't for most pitchers. Yet somehow Peralta has fashioned his bag o' tricks into a fine late-career run as a setup man.
But while Peralta's past success is inexplicable, his continued employment is not. He's earned a reputation as a good bullpen guy—someone who willingly helps younger pitchers and who could well transition to a coaching or scouting role in the near future. Peralta is unlikely to enjoy an on-field resurgence at age 40, but he could help the Mariners in other ways, should he accept a career change. —R.J. Anderson
Signed RHP Tyler Clippard to a two-year contract worth $12.5 million. [2/8]
There’s an episode of “The Office,” the cold open for which is relevant here. Michael rudely hands off his coat to Pam at the reception desk; he tosses his head dismissively; he slams his door. Pam explains, in a talking head that runs over a few cuts of Michael engaged in other bad-boss behavior, that he’s watching The Devil Wears Prada in bits and pieces. It’s clear that this has been going on for a few days.
One morning, Michael comes in looking very contrite, and apologizes to Pam for the way he’s behaved. He’s finished the movie, and now sees that he took the wrong side by identifying with Meryl Streep’s character. So it is with Dave Stewart and the Diamondbacks. You just want to sit them down, lock the door, and not let them out until they finish the movie. Yes, guys, A.J. Preller drew lots of warm and fuzzy buzz for his first flurry of moves after taking over the Padres last winter. He even got the benefit of the doubt once that activity stretched into February, and right up to the start of the season, without actually addressing his team’s weaknesses on the infield. But what followed—what happened after Preller dealt away roughly half of his team’s top 30 prospects, shelled out big money for a pitcher heading into his mid-30s, and gave up multiple draft picks—was an unmitigated disaster. Will Middlebrooks started at shortstop. Dave! Will Middlebrooks! The whole smiling family dies at the end of this movie!
For whatever reason, Stewart insists on continuing to work right along with Preller’s multi-step plan for surefire franchise derailment. He’s dealt feverishly until his once-rich farm system was barren, paid handsomely for an imagined upgrade, saddled the organization with huge financial commitments, and now, he’s investing in past-prime relief help as an empty gesture toward a team everyone can see has not improved enough to justify the commotion.
It’s remarkable. Stewart might as well be a sitcom character, too; we’re all awash in dramatic irony here anyway. In a world as open as baseball’s hot stove has become, it shouldn’t be possible for a GM to so blindly steer his team over a cliff everyone else can see. There should be a thousand points of contact, a buzz on his phone and a series of alarm bells and more than a few gentle hands on his forearm, saying, “whoa, there, Stew, whoa,” but either they aren’t there, or Stewart is steadfastly ignoring them.
Tyler Clippard is fine; whatever. This isn’t about Tyler Clippard. He had a 103 cFIP last season and a ridiculous fly-ball rate, like the highest fly-ball rate in a career wherein he’s become famous for being an extreme fly-ball guy, the highest fly-ball rate in baseball, but he’s got a long track record and he’s only 31 and I’m sure he’ll help the Diamondbacks. This is about the choices that led up to Clippard, and the ones that seem sure to follow. It’s about the fact that Arizona clearly needed to move the portion of Aaron Hill’s money that they sent to the Brewers in the Jean Segura-Isan Diaz deal in order to finance this addition, which implies that the team might not have had to give up so much to get Segura. Indeed, they might have realized (more than we thought they did) just how insubstantial an addition Segura was, but elected to give up Diaz and Chase Anderson for him anyway, so as to make room for Clippard. If that’s true, then we’re looking at another case (although a more mitigated one) of the Touki Toussaint phenomenon, whereby Stewart has essentially sold a player with surplus asset value for the money saved by also shipping off a bad contract. It would also mean that Stewart and his staff believe they have impacted this team more positively by trading Diaz, Anderson, and Hill for Segura (and Tyler Wagner) and signing Clippard than they would have by signing Howie Kendrick (saving some of the same money in the process, since they would have lost a draft pick and the associated pool allotment), spinning off Hill for scraps and savings, and adding a much cheaper reliever to what was already an uneven but tenable bullpen. If they believe that, they’re just plain wrong.
Maybe their confusion is a symptom of the syndrome that has infected the player market all winter. They overpaid for Greinke, they overpaid in trade for Miller, and now they’ve erred by prioritizing Clippard, but after all, that’s been a theme this winter. Pitchers hit the jackpot this winter; so did teams selling pitchers for prospects. For whatever reason, though, a number of more valuable position players either never developed the trade market they deserved, or got stranded and underpaid on the free-agent market. It’s only fair to note that if the Diamondbacks simply thought Clippard’s uncertain future as a set-up arm was more valuable to them than Kendrick’s higher-probability future as a solid everyday player, they weren’t alone in being so off base. Given the other ways in which they’ve led the market in wrongheadedness, though, they don’t get points for fitting in.
The Diamondbacks came into this winter as a cute sleeper pick for the 2016 NL West. They had a strong (if thin) young core and some very obvious paths to improvement. Three months later, they have thickened the core, but forgot to flesh out the whole corpus of a contender. They’re still the third-best team in the division, but now they’re more expensive, have far less sustainable a model in place for long-term success, and have raised expectations much further than they’ll be able to reach. They signed a good pitcher to a sound fiscal deal this week, but his goodness and his contract’s fiscal soundness will be small consolation this summer, when he trots in to keep 30 one-run deficits from blowing up into something worse. —Matthew Trueblood