Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Eulogio De La Cruz

It's no secret that we've continued to look for arms this spring, and today we added another in 25-year old right-hander Eulogio DeLaCruz in a trade with the Florida Marlins.

Eulogio has been both a starter and reliever in the minor leagues, though he worked primarily as a starter last season in AAA Albuquerque. Originally signed by Detroit out of Santo Domingo, the Tigers traded Eulogio to Florida in December '07 as part of the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis deal.

Described by our scouts as a "little bull with a big arm" DeLaCruz has supposedly thrown 100 mph. Most of the time, however, he sits between 93-97 mph with his fastball, which he complements with both a CB and a CH. He has just 16 innings at the big league level (and they weren't very pretty), but we believe he's big league ready. And now for my standard ending... we're excited to have him.

In all seriousness, Eulogio adds some power to our pitching staff that should be helpful regardless of the role. He'll be joining our camp sometime before the end of the weekend.

Minor League Camp Videos

For me, one of the best aspects of spring training is having all of our minor leaguers in one place at the same time. Yesterday I finally had the chance to get away from big league camp and watch our two A-ball games against the Texas Rangers. These are the players that you (and I) don't get to see very often, so I thought I'd try to take some video.

This is my first attempt, so please excuse the different camera angles, the various zooms, and the shoddy editing. Just think Blair Witch.

The first video is Michael Watt, the young left-hander we received from the Dodgers in the Maddux trade last year.

This next video is left-hander Allen Harrington, our 13th round pick in 2007 out of Lamar. Allen pitched well immediately after the draft and was off to a very strong start in 2008 in Ft. Wayne - 58ip, 55 hits, 10 walks, and 53 k's with a 3.59 ERA - before elbow discomfort caused him to miss the rest of the season.

This last pitching video is Anthony Bass, our 5th round pick in the 2008 draft. Anthony put up a 2.10 ERA for Eugene last summer after signing and struck out 41 batters in 34 innings. It's too bad I didn't get him against any right-handed hitters, because that is when he can really use his slider, but I wanted to limit each video to two batters.

I didn't capture much with our hitters for two reasons: 1) I kept trying out different angles to see what might work the best, and 2) Matt Antonelli, Cliff Floyd, and Emil Brown were all hitting every inning to get in some extra work (minor league camp affords such flexibility). However, I did get this quick clip of Logan Forsythe, one of our compensation picks in 2008 and the 46th pick overall. You can't see it (nice angle, Paul), but he's facing Blake Beavan, Texas' #1 pick in 2007 and the 17th pick overall.

As you might be able to tell from the left-fielder's reaction, there wasn't much doubt about this one.

I hope you like the footage.

Monday, March 23, 2009

More Transactions

Today we announced another seven spring training roster moves along with the signing of RHP Shawn Hill.

Of the roster moves we made today, five of the seven players - Josh Geer, Scott Patterson, Matt Antonelli, Will Venable, and Joe Thatcher - spent part of the 2008 season in the big leagues, and I suspect that many of them will be in a position to appear again at some point in 2009. The other two players were first year 40-man roster catcher Jose Lobaton, and non-roster invite Chad Huffman, who had a terrific spring in his first Major League camp.

One thing to remember here is that even though the Opening Day roster carries some prestige, it is really just one out of 183 days in the season. We can change the roster the very next day, so it's not as though we're not setting a playoff roster that is locked for a period of time. We often forget how much our rosters change between March and September, but the reality is that any team's 25-man roster is usually composed of around 32-35 players who cycle in and out based on injuries and performance. Many of today's cuts will be among that group of 32-35.

Additionally, today we signed former Washington Nationals starter Shawn Hill to a minor league contract and invited him to big league camp. Shawn made his Major League debut in 2004, but he really established himself in 2007 going 97 innings over 16 starts with a 3.42 ERA. Having battled through some arm problems, Shawn has made 37 ML starts and compiled a 4.93 ERA.

Luke Gregerson

Today we acquired RHP Luke Gregerson as the player to be named later from the Cardinals in exchange for Khalil Greene.

A 6'3", 200 lb reliever out of St. Xavier University, Luke was named a Texas League All-Star in 2008. Using a nasty slider and a good sinker that generates a lot of groundballs, Luke's career totals to date are: 2.72 ERA, 172 ip, 128 hits, 61 walks, and 196 strikeouts (and 48 saves). With the sinker/slider combination, Luke has been particularly tough on right-handed hitters, who have managed just a .504 OPS against him in his pro career.

We came into this spring knowing that a number of bullpen roles would be up for grabs, and with the recent loss of Mark Worrell for the year to elbow surgery (the other player acquired for Khalil) there are fewer guys in the mix. Our scouts believe that Luke could factor in our pen sometime in 2009, so we're excited to add him.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Roster Moves

Yesterday we made our second series of significant roster moves by removing 12 players from big league camp.

Cesar Carrillo, Jackson Quezada, Mike Ekstrom, Travis Denker, Luis Durango, and Wade LeBlanc were all optioned to the minor leagues - in other words, they are still on the 40-man Major League roster, but they've now been optioned to one of our minor league clubs.

Matt Buschmann, Pete Ciofrone, Chris Britton, Cedric Hunter, Sean Kazmar, and Mitch Canham were all reassigned to minor league camp. That simply means that they were all on minor league contracts to begin with, so they don't need to be optioned down to the minors.

As you may have noticed around MLB, the pace of similar transactions accelerated at the beginning of this week. Part of that is because cuts are often done on Sundays and Mondays, part is because of players returning from the WBC (we have three more players back in camp today), and part is because the rules prohibit teams from optioning first-year roster players - players added to the 40-man for the first time this winter - until a certain date in spring training. You've probably guessed that the date just passed.

Often times these are younger players who aren't expected to compete for Major League jobs, so as the spring continues they lose playing time to the veterans. The fact is they're often better off getting back into minor league camp where they can get more work in and prepare for their seasons. Therefore, for the young guys being optioned or reassigned at this point is not necessarily a reflection of their performance in Major League camp.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bullpen Addition

Today we added right-handed reliever Duaner Sanchez to our bullpen mix.

Duaner Sanchez was released at the beginning of the week by the Mets making him a free agent once he cleared release waivers. Upon clearing we signed him to a minor league contract, and he should be reporting to Major League camp shortly. From 2004-2006 Duaner pitched 217 1/3 innings with a combined 3.31 ERA and had established himself as one of the better setup relievers in baseball.

Then, on July 31, 2006 Duaner was in a car accident as a passenger in a taxicab that separated his shoulder. After missing all of the 2007 season and part of 2008 with the injury, Duaner came back to pitch 58 1/3 innings at the big league level, posting a 4.32 ERA. His pre-injury fastball velocity has not returned, but he still features an excellent changeup and is a fearless competitor on the mound. Duaner's experience as a setup man could help our pen tremendously.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Pre-Arbitration Players

Every year around this time you'll see stories stating that a team reached agreement with about 20 players on one-year contracts. Must have been a busy day.

Compensation Tiers
The fact is that Major League players are separated by three compensation tiers: 1) Free Agents - players with six or more years of Major League service, 2) Arbitration-Eligible Players - players with between three and six years of Major League service, and 3) Pre-Arbitration players. I would guess that most of you know how the first two work (if not, you can check out my arbitration primer here), so I'm going to focus on #3 which normally doesn't get much attention.

Pre-Arbitration players are those players who have accumulated fewer than three full years of Major League service time (172 days counts as a full year even though the season is actually 183)... except those players in the top 17% of the two year class, which is usually around two years and 130 days. How did that exception get in there? That's collective bargaining for you. Nevertheless, as a quick rule of thumb just think: any player with less than two years and four months of big league time is pre-arbitration.

How Service Time is Calculated
Major League service time does NOT include all time spent on the Major League 40-man roster. It only includes time spent on the Major League 25-man roster, both active and disabled. So, a player who is on the 40-man roster in spring training, gets optioned to AAA in March, and then gets recalled to the big leagues for the month of September will accumulate 30 Major League service days (September only). On the other hand, a player who is placed on the Major League disabled list in spring training and misses the entire season will actually be given a full year of service time.

Salary Guidelines for Pre-Arbitration Players
Why am I writing about this? Well, the free agents sign for whatever they can get on the free market, arbitration eligible players must come to a mutually acceptable agreement with their teams or have their salaries determined by an arbitation panel, but pre-arbitration players get paid whatever the Club wants to pay them... with a couple of caveats:
  • The salary must be at least the Major League minimum salary ($400,000 in 2009)
  • The salary must be at least 80% of the prior year's compensation

Therefore, by rule, every Club has the right to pay each of these players the Major League minimum as long as the amount satisfies caveat #2 above. However, no Club actually does this.

Rather, Clubs actually "negotiate" each and every one of these deals with the players' agents in order to come to an agreement. I write "negotiate" because at the end of the day it's a pretty one-sided negotiation - the Club maintains all the leverage. It's the absolute reverse of me negotiating with my son over how much time he gets to play on the computer, "Two more minutes, Trevor. How about five, dad? Ok, three. May I pleeeaasse have five minutes? Four. Five, and then I'll let you read me a book." The kid is good, I tell you.

In any event, the player's only recourse is to refuse to agree to the contract in which case his contract will be "renewed" by the Club at a salary of the Club's choosing. Taking a renewal is basically the player's way of saying he doesn't agree with the amount that has been offered, though such a stance doesn't serve any practical purpose (it was once thought that taking renewals would help a player in arbitration but the data doesn't support such a claim).

This structure has given birth to 30 unique payroll scales. Some teams pay their players purely on service time accrued, other teams pay strictly on performance, some pay well above the minimum and some don't venture far from $400k. In the end what is most important is the consistency within any system. Players want to know that they're being treated fairly compared with their peers (don't we all?), and in this case their "peers" refer to their teammates. As they gain more service time, the "peer" group will expand to include players around the league.

The reason I'm writing about this today is that we're coming up on MLB's renewal deadline. In our case, we set our own deadline of the first pitch of the first spring training game, which was a week ago. After all, once the games start, that is where everyone's focus should be.