Signed OF-L Will Venable to a one-year, $1.5 million minor-league contract with an invitation to Spring Training [2/27]
For four years, Venable was a sneaky-good regular in San Diego and a popular breakout candidate. He posted four consecutive campaigns of more than two WARP, thanks to slightly above-average offense predicated on—you guessed it—handy platoon splits. Since turning the age-30 corner, however, the offense that made him a valuable low-cost contributor melted away. For the past two seasons, there’s been no thrill to this will–he’s a space-filler. A below-average hitter and fielder, Will is Venable, but not valuable.
Oh. Excuse me. We interrupt your regularly-scheduled Will Venable Transaction Analysis to discuss another former San Diego-come-Cleveland outfielder: Abraham Almonte. Almonte was a surprise asset for the Indians last season, cementing the team’s outfield defense and posting surprising offense. Here’s another surprise: he’s now out for 80 games as a result of a failed drug test. While Almonte’s presence in the team’s projected starting outfield was as much of an indictment of the team’s pre-season AL Central hopes as anything, his stability and ability to play center was sorely needed.
Venable signed his deal with the Indians almost immediately as the Almonte news broke, so the move smacks a little of desperation. The deal also calls for a $1.5 million salary if he makes the big-league roster, and reportedly up to $2 million in incentives, so this is not your average no-risk NRI flyer here. It is almost as if Venable is going to be tasked with picking up time in center field at the start of the season, while Michael Brantley and Almonte are missing in action. If this is true, it’s a wonder the team didn’t attack a different option more aggressively, such as the recently-signed Dexter Fowler or the rumored-everywhere Austin Jackson. At 33, Venable lacks both upside and consistent recent performance. Almonte at least had one of those going for him (performance).
At any rate, Almonte is gone and Venable is in. Unfortunately for the Indians, Venable is as miscast as an everyday center fielder as every other option on their roster. Rifle-armed Tyler Naquin might be an option, but who knows what to expect from his maybe-Quad-A skillset and one-win PECOTA projection? Venable, Rajai Davis, and the injured Brantley are only barely qualified to patrol the middle ground of the outfield. Perhaps Terry Francona will get wild and shove Lonnie Chisenhall into center and see if his defense can keep up with the metrics, or fast-track Bradley Zimmer to the bigs and give him a real trial by fire? Nothing is ever certain in baseball, particularly in Spring Training and even more particularly in Cleveland. But hey, having Venable on call is certainly better than having nothing, if only by a smidge. —Bryan Grosnick
Signed LHP Neal Cotts to a minor-league deal. [2/26]
If there’s one thing you can say about Cotts, who pitched horribly with the Twins to close out last season, it’s that his numbers against left-handed hitters are impressive. In 2015, he held same-handed batters to a .214 True Average, thereby dropping his multi-year mark to .233; Tony Sipp’s multi-year figure, for reference, is .231. Cotts wouldn’t appear to have an easy path to Houston’s roster—Sipp is projected to be the lone southpaw in the ‘pen, and he’s no left-handed specialist—but there’s always the potential for injury. Otherwise, Cotts will use his time with the Astros to audition for a one-out role in someone else’s bullpen. —R.J. Anderson
Signed UT-R Rickie Weeks to a minor-league contract with an invitation to Spring Training [2/27]
After a dismal, dismal 2015, Weeks didn’t even rank a mention in the 2016 Baseball Prospectus Annual. Even Shaun Marcum at least rated a lineout, so that’s a pretty damning indictment. We thought he was good and gone after being cut from the Mariners in June, possessed of a .188 True Average and flailing in his first turn as a left fielder. This effort made his 2014 season—where he bopped to the tune of a .357 on-base percentage and .452 slugging percentage–appear to be a dead-cat bounce rather than a return to form. By the middle of his age-32 season, Weeks was effectively out of baseball.
Now Weeks is back, brought in to provide the newly-relevant Diamondbacks with some veteran leadership in the…outfield? Infield? Who knows, really? With Jean Segura likely the only sure thing in the team’s middle infield, maybe his former double-play partner could see some time at second base against left-handed pitching? Or perhaps Dave Stewart liked what he saw of Weeks in left field last season and he’s an option if Yasmany Tomas falters? No, that seems unlikely too. The desired role for this veteran is probably 25th-man on the roster, emergency fill-in, and tactical anti-southpaw pinch-hitter.
You should probably temper your expectations, even if you imagine this as a solid low-risk pickup. Weeks had a solid partial season in 2014, but even his 90th percentile projection posits him as a one-win player these days. But this isn’t about the Diamondbacks trying to find a solid regular, it’s about adding a final complementary piece who can two a couple of critical things: provide veteran leadership in the clubhouse and maybe hit a few lefties. It’s tough to imagine that a player who struggled as badly as Weeks did in Seattle could come back and compete for a contending Diamondbacks team in 2016. Then again, it was equally tough to imagine that the once-solid Weeks could fall so far so fast. Say anything you like about Dave Stewart, but I don’t think he lacks for imagination. —Bryan Grosnick