April 13, 2016
The Ghosts of Bros Past
Acquired LHP Jayson Aquino from the Cardinals in exchange for cash considerations. [4/7]
This will be Aquino's sixth organization joined since 2014, which is a lot. At one point he was considered a potential mid-rotation starter, but that was about five of those organizations ago. Despite traveling more often than a hobo on a train, Aquino does have some ability. He's a left-hander who can throw strikes with all three pitches, and his change will flash above-average with some late tumble. He's generally 88-91 mph with his fastball, however, and the control is considerably ahead of his command. You're most likely looking at a pitcher that pitches low-leverage innings at the big league level, but because the control is close to plus, there is an ever so slim chance he ends pitching at the very back of a rotation. —Christopher Crawford
Signed RHP Miguel Gonzalez to a minor league contract [4/7]
The White Sox presumptive fifth starter entering Spring Training, Erik Johnson, was reassigned to minor league camp with two weeks left after repeated shellings. Former top prospect Jacob Turner was brought on as insurance early in the offseason, and created such an impression in Spring that he was outrighted off the 40-man roster before the end of March. John Danks, the elder statesman of the back end of the White Sox rotation, has produced 1.6 WARP over the last three seasons combined. Their current No. 4 starter is a reclamation project in the form of Mat Latos, who took a no-hitter into the fifth during his first start last week in Oakland, but also was sitting around 90 mph with his fastball and got five swinging strikes all day.
It takes a team in a certain situation to look at 31-year-old Miguel Gonzalez, see his DRA of 4.97 and 4.80 in the last two seasons, respectively, see his nightmarish Spring that prompted the Baltimore Orioles to shed the man they plucked out of the Mexican League and fashioned into a usable starter, and see an opportunity. The White Sox are in that situation.
Gonzalez does not fit the Don Cooper project mold of a wild, live arm that needs to be pointed toward the plate, and he's not a groundball artist whose skillset is particularly well-suited for U.S. Cellular Field's cramped confines. But he's under no rush (his deal reportedly has no opt-out date), has had major league success, and the White Sox believe his velocity and health are fine. If the house of cards that is the back of the Sox rotation falls apart before 2015 first-round pick Carson Fulmer's accelerated ascent to the major leagues is complete, they will better off having Gonzalez ready in Triple-A Charlotte than not. —James Fegan
Signed 1B/OF Nick Swisher to a minor league deal [4/9]
It’s been a rocky few years for the most notable denizen of Brohio. After producing 3.3 WARP in the first year of his contract with the Indians, Swisher has been worth -1.5 WARP between there and Atlanta. The tanking Braves cut him, and now he’s back with the Yankees. Swisher will essentially be the older and louder version of Greg Bird they never wanted, serving as additional insurance for Mark Teixeira once he (presumably) joins Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees already have Chris Parmelee filling this role, but the more the merrier. Swisher likely won’t have any grander purpose than this, but could prove quite useful if he’s moved past all his injuries. If that is the case, though, he’ll defy any current expectations, as Swisher has moved into the “holding on for dear life” stage of his career. One starts to wonder just how many minor league deals he’ll take before he hangs up his spikes for good and retires to a nice kegger. —Nicolas Stellini
Signed RHP Burke Badenhop to a minor league deal [4/6]
A general formula for disappointing on the mound involves allowing more baserunners and getting fewer strikeouts. Badenhop did precisely that as a member of the Reds in 2015. He now finds himself a member of the Rangers, or rather the Round Rock Express, after not making the Nationals as a non-roster invitee. He’s always been a rather curious form of reliever in that he doesn’t miss an overwhelming number of bats (career 6.1 K/9), yet that hasn’t stopped him from throwing over 500 career innings.
The Rangers are positively overflowing with good relievers like Keone Kela, Sam Dyson, Shawn Tolleson and Jake Diekman, but Badenhop should theoretically make his grand return to the big leagues at some point this summer. There are never too many spare arms lying around. —Nicolas Stellini
Signed 2B/OF-B Emilio Bonifacio to a minor league contract. [4/11]
Teams who bring Bonifacio into the fold often end up going back for seconds even after letting him go. After the Cubs scooped him up on a minor-league deal in 2014 (and ended up playing him a lot during the first half of their rebuilding campaign), they traded him to the Braves. After Bonifacio signed with the White Sox the following winter, he totally flamed out. In 2015, for the first time in six years, Bonifacio failed to collect 200 or more plate appearances. The wild thing about that: He managed not to earn that much time even on the White Sox, who were almost historically inept at the plate. If Bonifacio was trying to test whether there was any threshold below which a team would no longer tolerate him even when they had no hope of winning, he got the hard answer, when 27 strikeouts and two walks in 82 plate appearances earned him his walking papers.
The Cubs picked him back up, though, and he played the final two weeks of the Triple-A season with them. He never got the call to the parent club, but maybe it says something about his makeup that the North Siders wanted him in their organization. He is, after all, the most prolific spreader of “Lo Viste,” and a well-known positive influence, even if he’s nothing else.
And maybe it says something about him that the Braves elected, just a few days after letting him go at the end of camp to seek a better look at a big-league job, to re-sign him. Or maybe the team who just cut ties with Michael Bourn and who have no desire to be cornered into rushing any of their strong prospect group simply decided that Bonifacio is as good a versatile, speedy, veteran option to have on hand in Gwinnett as any. Sadly, though he’s on another team with no reason not to give him a long look, it feels like Bonifacio has spent his last season racking up stolen bases and being overrated by a rebuilding team’s somewhat disengaged fan base. That shtick works when you quietly post a .270 OBP. When it’s .200, there’s nowhere left to hide. —Matthew Trueblood
Acquired LHP Giovanni Soto from the Indians in exchange for cash considerations. [4/11]
Signed LHP Sean Burnett to a minor league contract. [4/11]
I’m reading The Arm, by Jeff Passan, as I’m sure many of you are, and the first fascinating fact that jumped off the page for me was that when a surgeon replaces a blown ligament with a tendon (be it from another part of the body or from a cadaver), over the following two years a process called ligamentization takes place. There are specialized cells within a tendon called tenocytes, and as they communicate with the body in their new environment, they change their functioning and the way they produce collagen, until what was once a tendon becomes a legitimate ligament. Isn’t that remarkable?
Anyway, Sean Burnett had his second Tommy John surgery in June 2014, so he’s still ligamentizing as we speak. The Dodgers are thin on lefty arms for their bullpen, so they scooped up Burnett with the promise of the chance to go back onto the market if he isn’t in Dodger blue by May 1st. Burnett was a top prospect back when John Kerry was running for President, but that was before his first go-round with Tommy John. He finally established himself (albeit as a fairly limited reliever) in the majors right when John McCain and Sarah Palin were running for President, and was really pretty good for several years. Unfortunately, thanks to injury trouble (more than just that second Big One), he last pitched even 10 big-league innings when Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were running for President. Which, hey, (even if they swear they aren’t) maybe one of those two is doing so again! There’s about the same chance of that as of Burnett staying healthy and effective, but if he does so, he’s the better story. —Matthew Trueblood
Signed 1B-L Brandon Belt to a six-year contract extension worth $79 million. [4/9]
Baseball’s most criminally overlooked and underrated first baseman will officially be a Giant until at least 2021. Belt is everything everyone wants Eric Hosmer to be. In his three full seasons (2012, 2013, and 2015), Belt has posted TAvs of .302, .310, and .317. That .317 was good, last season, for 15th in all of baseball, among qualifying hitters. It’s the same mark as Kris Bryant posted, a hair better than Chris Davis. Belt is very unlikely to graduate into the company of Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Cabrera, and Anthony Rizzo, but there’s no other first baseman in the league to whom he’s demonstrably inferior. He’s a good fielder and a won’t-kill-you baserunner.
Durability is an issue. Belt has never played more than 150 games or taken more than 571 plate appearances in a season, and there have been seasons when he was significantly below those playing-time thresholds. That’s comfortably priced into this deal, which reflects the modest salary bump Belt was likely to get via arbitration next season, and pays him like three-quarters of the player he is for the first four years of his would-be free agency. So, too, is the Giants’ leverage over him, because the combination of those durability issues and his home park left Belt without a clear path to the kind of payday he probably deserves. People have a hard time getting excited about a first baseman who homers fewer than 20 times per season and is sometimes bumped to the bench by a better option (even if that better option is a future Hall of Famer whose good health the organization is simply trying to preserve). Teams have a hard time paying full freight for the skill sets of players about whom people have a hard time getting excited. It was wise of Belt to take a good deal instead of risking a major injury or a performance downturn that might have really encroached upon his value. It was even wiser of the Giants to add him to their collection of really good players on deals that pay them like merely good players—most notably Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, and Brandon Crawford. Just when it feels like the core of this team could get old and collapse, you realize you’ve been looking at them upside-down. The Cardinals do this to you, too, if you’re not careful. It’s how both franchises remain (and figure to remain) such perennial contenders in the NL. . —Matthew Trueblood
James Fegan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @JRFegan