Signed OF-L Matt Joyce to a two-year, $11 million contract. [11/30]
In hindsight, I certainly should’ve seen the signs. Let’s run them down, shall we?
Fact 1: Matt Joyce used to be bad. His 2015 season in Los Angeles was hot garbage any way you slice it. In fact, I’d argue that the season was so bad it permanently skewed the way people look at him. He went from a serviceable platoon corner outfielder to burnt toast on the weakness of one .171/.242/.291 season. Geez, that’s terrible.
Fact 2: Matt Joyce has a deep, undeniable flaw as a player. He’s a platoon-only bat. With some “platoon” outfielders, you don’t want to let them hit against same-handed pitching, but it’s not the end of the world. Joyce ain’t that guy. He strikes out about a third of the time against lefties, and he’s more likely to make contact with extra-terrestrial life than a southpaw breaking ball.
Fact 3: Matt Joyce seems well positioned to provide positive surplus value on a measly contract. In all of his “full” seasons save for the 2015 debacle, Joyce has posted more than one win according to Baseball Prospectus' WARP. He provides solid production, with a .281 career True Average and a .341 career OBP. And yet, no one was talking about him receiving a big payday at all. A win above replacement on the open market is worth about $10 million, so signing him for two years and roughly that cost is likely to give the A’s two or three wins. That’s a nice little piece of arbitrage, especially when you consider that he doesn’t even rate a starter’s full workload.
If you put together those three things, there’s absolutely no way that he wouldn’t end up in Oakland. The team even needed a left-handed caddy for Jake Smolinski or Mark Canha–who doesn’t really need one, but whatever. At $5.5 million per season, he now becomes the third-highest-paid player on the team behind Ryan Madson and Jed Lowrie (and tied with John Axford). I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence, but here we are. It’s a perfect fit, and we’re all idiots for not seeing this before. —Bryan Grosnick
Acquired C-R Carlos Ruiz from Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for LHP Vidal Nuno. [11/7]
Josha hissui; the prosperous must decline. Was I drawn to baseball because I’d on some level internalized the Buddhist belief of impermanence, or was it baseball that made me more receptive to this religious teaching? It probably doesn’t matter. (Especially not to you, dear reader.) What matters is that after nearly two decades in the Phillies organization, (Cot for) Choice has been dealt twice in the span of three months.
No longer the on-base machine that he was at the start of the 2010s, Ruiz is now a right-handed grinder, useful in small doses when you need a slow runner on first and you’re up against a southpaw. There was some mention that he provided “pop” against lefties when he was dealt to the Dodgers about 90 days back, but now that pop is probably only the noise of a ball hitting the catcher’s mitt while Ruiz dutifully takes his base.
There’s evidence that he's a good game-caller and staff manager, and perhaps he can help Mike Zunino perfect that aspect of his game, provided Jerry Dipoto doesn’t trade him away with the rest of the team. The Mariners are a team looking to contend--and they could always use a solid veteran presence in the locker room--but this version of Carlos Ruiz bears just a slight resemblance to his younger, more productive self. Nothing lasts forever, not Ruiz on the Phillies, not even the Mariners being bad. Embrace this weird future. —Bryan Grosnick
Signed C-R Tuffy Gosewisch to a one-year contract. [11/30]
Recently acquired in a blockbuster deal with the Diamondbacks, the Braves wisely avoided heading to arbitration with their third-string catcher. The team has not released terms, but MLB Trade Rumors estimated a $600,000 price tag at arbitration, and you can’t go much lower than that, so pick a number you’re comfortable with and run with it. Gosewisch is expected to start the season at Triple-A Gwinnett, waiting for his chance to be called to the front.
You might not think of this as worthy of a Transaction Analysis entry, but reconsider. The problem with news is that it’s all so newsworthy: it’s a distortion of a real world where almost every day, almost every person wakes up and goes to sleep and does nothing particularly life-changing in between. The profit motive of the media, of network news programs and major motion pictures and Charles Dickens novels, all tend toward sensationalism, the idea that life is filled with drama and plot.
This is simply not true, and it’d be exhausting if it were. Not every day has to make a good blog post. Sometimes it’s your birthday, and sometimes it’s just a night after work where your kid eats her pears after only being asked three times. And those days are good to have, in the long run. Tuffy Gosewisch, for both you and the Braves, is a three-pear night. —Patrick Dubuque
Acquired LHP Vidal Nuno from Seattle Mariners in exchange for C-R Carlos Ruiz. [11/7]
The Dodgers acquiring a fringy left-handed pitcher isn’t exactly news. They're lousy with lefties, or they at least were, and they’re loaded with names like Kershaw, Kazmir, Urias, and Wood. But Nuno, who could easily qualify as rotation insurance if we were having this conversation two years ago, probably can’t step in as L.A.’s much-needed 12th starter. For one reason, he spent all of last year in the bullpen, save one start in June (that one did not go well). For another, he wasn’t all that great in his first season as a full-time reliever.
While we all tend to expect a velocity boost and increased effectiveness upon a move to the ‘pen, Nuno didn’t even have a particularly nice time. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs posits that a return to the rotation could actually be in the offing, and Jeff’s smart, so maybe that’s the case. But I have a feeling that he’s going to live in the ‘pen. That feeling comes from looking at his slider usage and seeing how, when its usage went up at the end of last year, his whiff rate went down. That feeling came from examining his career 1.64 HR/9 against right-handed hitters that underlies a superficially-fine ERA. And that feeling also comes from being dealt for the empty shell of Carlos Ruiz.
Perhaps he thrives finally in his bullpen role, or perhaps he exists as a moderately-effective emergency starter. But it seems as if the more likely outcome is the one we’ve already seen: a middle reliever who's maybe an inch or two better than replacement level, and thus a very Dodgers acquisition. —Bryan Grosnick
Signed 1B-L Eric Thames to a three-year, $16 million contract. [11/29]
To begin, it’s incredibly important to appoint a caveat to this particular transaction: we don’t know what we don’t know. In Thames’ case, that’s a lot. Sure, our own Bret Sayre has been talking him up for a while, and there are some really spicy videos of Thames doing violence upon baseballs in a foreign land. But he’s a cipher, a mystery wrapped in an enigma nestled in double-knit polyester. Unlike most incoming free agents, we don’t have a reliable projection model like PECOTA or Steamer or ZiPS to attest to his future ability.
We’re all a bit in the dark, wondering if his prodigious home run prowess will make the trip overseas with him. Here’s what we do know about the new Milwaukee first baseman: He was a roughly league-average hitter in parts of two seasons back in 2011 and 2012 (.257 career True Average). He never seemed to walk much (.296 OBP) and relied on his power. But after leaving the States for Korea, he transformed himself into a star overseas, hitting 124 homers over three seasons and never letting his slugging percentage dip below .676 in a season.
His walk rate soared to the point where in 2015 he just missed a .500 OBP. Now he’s back, and the Brewers cut loose incumbent first baseman Chris Carter–likely not getting a damn thing back in return–to hand him a three-year job. Everything else–what to expect going forward, how the team really sees him as a future fit, what adjustments he’ll make upon returning to the highest level of baseball competition–we haven’t got the faintest idea. I’d caution about anyone who might tell you different.
He left the league during a period in which players do sometimes make real adjustments that change their trajectory. But what will his performance here look like? Here’s friend of the column and noted smart baseball man Eno Sarris, sharing data generated by former BP'er and noted smart baseball man Clay Davenport:
That would, in fact, not qualify as shabby. Of course, the line between Korea and
the USA Canada is not a straight one. Projecting league conversions can be tricky. Sometimes you Yasiel Puig, and sometimes you Rusney Castillo. Sometimes you Hyun-Soo Kim, and sometimes you Byung-Ho Park. Jung-Ho Kang is the KBO-to-MLB success story that makes one believe, proving himself a masterful hitter with power for days even as allegations of domestic violence and injury issues cloud his MLB career.
Thames is the MLB-to-KBO success story, one that seems just a bit likelier and tougher to replicate. And he’ll have large shoes to fill–or perhaps a hefty bat to lift–given that the expectations will rest on him to hit dingers like an outgoing NL homer champ in Carter. Maybe the big factor here is Thames’ glove, or gloves. He used to be a corner outfielder, and while the Brewers intend to install him at first base, his flexibility could in fact be a selling point–after all, the only other position Chris Carter could play is designated hitter.
Thames also won the equivalent to the Gold Glove over in Korea, and Carter was, to put it bluntly, kind of a butcher at the cold corner. If Thames can be a rock-solid influence on the team’s infield defense, perhaps he can add additional value that makes his contract look even better than it does already.
… I’m mostly kidding here about the glove being the big factor. It matters, but power is, was, and probably always will be the big factor. If he can leverage the gains he made in Korea and Miller Park into 30+ dingers and a respectable overall offensive line, we’ll look back on this deal and give David Stearns and company a well-deserved pat on the back. But despite the low-cost contract, there’s some real downside risk here. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we know only a little about what kind of player Eric Thames will be. —Bryan Grosnick