Nashville Cats

Mr. Haren goes to Washington . . .

Perhaps it’s wise to accept at last that the winter meetings, freshly concluded in Nashville, are not always going to produce blockbusters. Since this year’s meetings didn’t, unless you want to count Dan Haren landing with the Washington Nationals, there’s a consensus brewing among the hot stove toppers that they were “boring” or “eventless.” Well, as the man used to say on old-time radio, oh, now, I wouldn’t say that . . .

LEGS UP . . .

Haren and the Nats—Haren goes from a team (the Angels) who are usually in contention but always provoking doubts about how serious they really are about winning, to a team who got to contention and damn near to the National League Championship Series for the first time since moving to Washington. And he goes there for just a handful of dollars more than he earned in a 2012 buffeted by back trouble and a hike in his home runs per nine innings rate.

Still, Haren since 2005 has been tenth in wins above a replacement-level player among pitchers, and second (to CC Sabathia) in innings pitched over the same span. He won’t be expected to carry the Nats’ staff; as Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated notes, he’s just going to step into the number three slot Edwin Jackson has left behind. The Nats have made no secret of their intention to go further than they did in 2012, and Haren’s been a part of several postseason competitors.

The verdict: So far, big win for both sides.

Oh, the Shane of It!—The Red Sox have money to burn, for the most part, since unloading Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto in August. Victorino—essentially a platoon player wearing a regular’s costume by now—landed $13 million a year for three years in Boston. He’s probably being paid as much for his clubhouse presence as his production, and his production numbers over all 2012 (between the Phillies and the Dodgers) indicated that, at long last, he’s not that capable of handling pitching from both sides of the plate. (He’s got a whopping platoon split between the two over the past three seasons.)

But he can still play a decent outfield. He can be slid into center field if the Red Sox end up trading Jacoby Ellsbury. (The jury’s still out on whether that would really be an intelligent trade if it does happen.) And he’s known to be a good man in a clubhouse. In fact, the Red Sox’s recent signings seem all to have involved men who may not be top of the line ballplayers but appear to have top-of-the-line makeup and team spirit.

The verdict: Victorino, of course, wins big. If he helps the Red Sox win, period, it’s a bonus, just about.

Bay City Rolling—OK, let’s admit it. The Giants probably did overspend keeping Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro. You and I both know Pagan landed his big payday thanks to his hot stretch drive. (In the postseason, he wasn’t much at the plate though a gazelle in the outfield.) You and I both know Scutaro willed himself to be the Giants’ spiritual postseason leader and the NLCS MVP and, though he’s not untalented, played well enough over his own head in October.

But did they, really? Much of the commentary seeping forth from inside the winter meetings spoke of the Giants’ current comfort zone, as in they like to spend on what they’re familiar with and comfortable with, and these two fit that description perfectly. Aging though Scutaro is, he’s still been good for 2.3 WAR a season over the past three. Pagan may have his limits but he’s actually been good for 13.9 WAR over the past four seasons total—you won’t believe it, but that’s actually better than Justin Upton.

The verdict: Nobody loses here, really. For now, anyway.


Bronx burning—The skinny seems to have it that Yankee general manager Brian Cashman was sent to the winter meetings in handcuffs: no significant Yankee offers to free agents came forth, which the Wall Street Journal among others took to mean Cashman went to Nashville bound up tight by managing partner Hal Steinbrenner and president Randy Levine.

The Yankees couldn’t even make a play for Jeff Keppinger, who ended up signing with the White Sox for three years, when they needed to make a big enough move on plugging in the hole Alex Rodriguez’s age and second hip surgery will create for half if not more of 2013. But then they did make an offer to Kevin Youkilis, their longtime nemesis out of Boston, though Youkilis’s health has begun catching up to him in earnest and the Yankee offer would look like overpaying for him considering where Keppinger and their own Eric Chavez (a year with the Diamondbacks) are going.

The verdict: Getting the payroll under luxury tax thresholds is one thing, but the Yankees needed to make a better play at third, behind the dish (they lost Russell Martin to the Pirates before the winter meetings), and in right field (they don’t want Nick Swisher back, but a band-aid-and-duct-tape platoon would be even worse), and if the bosses handcuffed Cashman for Nashville, they’ve only made their work that much harder.

No Josh—Reality check: Hamilton isn’t going to get exactly what he’s said to seek. Oh, he’ll make some extremely handsome dollars, but he isn’t all that likely to get the seven years guaranteed he was said to want going in. The incumbent Rangers want to keep him for four years; the Mariners were thought to be in play for three years; the Red Sox have kicked his tires with a short-term deal at best in mind, but nothing much more on the subject has come from that direction.

The verdict: Hamilton will not enter 2013 in a bread line. He may have to learn to live with a shorter-term deal, but he’s not going to be anything resembling a poor man. He might even enjoy the challenge of proving his longer-term prospects over a shorter-term deal, and God only knows he won’t lack for suitors before the new year, anyway.

Angels dusted?—Did the Angels come out of the winter meetings looking like losers? Well, the good news was signing Sean Burnett for the pen to help set up new closer Ryan Madson, assuming Madson’s health after a season recuperating from Tommy John surgery. But the bad news may be signing Joe Blanton this week after dealing for Tommy Hanson. The smart guys say the Braves don’t give up on Hanson unless they know something’s out of whack, and that Blanton may be useful but not on a two-year deal. “When you’re talking about Hanson and Blanton,” Jayson Stark of ESPN cites an unnamed National League executive as saying, “I think you’re talking about a collection of parts that’s going the wrong way,” said one NL exec.

The verdict: Maybe the Angels were being smart not to bite when Zack Greinke’s market value shot into Tiffany square, and maybe letting Haren walk was a good idea, considering. But about half the moves they are making seem to suggest they’ll offer more of the same in 2013—a hearty run for it but coming up short enough to matter. It’s no good having the should-have-been MVP and a still-dangerous Albert Pujols when the rotation still has question marks more than exclamation points.

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