So Long, Tony LaRussa

Riding out in style with his third World Series win, the manager who watched the second most games from the dugout is calling it a career.  LaRussa will head to Cooperstown in a few years, likely joining Joe Torre and Bobby Cox.

I actually remember LaRussa as the young gun who turned the White Sox around in the early 1980s and got Chicago to the top of the AL West in 1983.  When the Sox grew tired of waiting for him to repeat his success (despite horrible support from upper management), the A’s were only too happy to snap him up, where he next guided Oakland to three World Series.  He managed in five different decades, winning divisions in four of them, and had a winning record in the postseason, too.  [Multiple Sources]

Sabathia to Stay a Yankee

CC Sabathia signed a one year extension which, when coupled with a buy-out clause, added $30 million to his existing contract with the New York Yankees.  This keeps the rotation anchor in pinstripes through at least the 2016 season with an option for 2017.  Sabathia added that he will refocus on maintaining a healthier body size, which he had done during the previous off-season by eliminating (among other things) Capt. Crunch cereals.  [MLB]

Indians, Braves Swipe Pitchers – Derek Lowe Heads to Cleveland

In the first trade of the Hot Stove season, the Cleveland Indians acquired starting pitcher Derek Lowe from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for minor league reliever Chris Jones.  The Braves will pay $10 million of Lowe’s 2012 salary, the last year of his four-year contract.

In his favor, Lowe has been a workhorse for the better part of a decade.  Working against him is the fact that he’s been in decline for the last couple of seasons and collapsed as the Braves fell apart in September.

In addition to unloading salary, Atlanta looks to get younger in the rotation.  With Lowe gone, the Braves make room to promote any of four potential rookie starters – including top prospect Julio Teheran, who got a cup of coffee after a 15 – 3 2.55 season at AAA Gwinnett.

For the Indians, they will pay $5 million of Lowe’s salary and add him to the rotation behind Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jiminez, and Fausto Carmona – hoping that Lowe has one more bounce back season and can add leadership to a generally young pitching staff.

Chris Jones was drafted by the Indians in 2007 but fell off the map for a couple of years.  He returned to pitch well for Kinston (A+) last year – winning seven of eight decisions with a decent strikeout rate.  His control is a bit out there, but he just turned 23 and is a converted lefty starter.

Twins Claim Maloney, Gray off Waivers

The Minnesota Twins bolstered the bullpen by claiming two pitchers off the waiver wire.  In Jeff Gray, the former Seattle middle reliever provides depth, and in Matt Maloney, the former Reds starter provides a little potential.  Gray has been up and down between AAA and the majors for about five years and hasn’t displayed much of a strikeout pitch, while Maloney has great control and fares pretty well against AAA bats.  Of the two, Maloney probably has the greatest chance to stick as he is a lefty who can either start or relieve.

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cards, cake, or remembrances include:

Bid McPhee (1859)
Vic Power (1927)
Miguel Dilone (1954)
Gary Redus (1956)
Fernando Valenzuela (1960)
Coco Crisp (1979)

Philadelphia – Where You Can Always Go Home…

It’s not enough that the Philadelphia 76ers resigned Allen Iverson, the Philadelphia Phillies came to terms with a former infielder, Placido Polanco, a gold-glove winning second baseman for the Tigers.  Polanco will become Philadelphia’s new third baseman, as the Philles allowed Pedro Feliz to enjoy free agency…  [ESPN]

Polanco still makes a lot of contact – but his batting average (career .303) has dropped each year since 2007 when he hit .341 for Detroit.  Last year, Polanco hit .285 with 31 doubles and 10 homers – but only 36 walks, so he has a rather pedestrian OBP (.331).  Still, he’s not appreciably less productive than Feliz (12 homers, 30 doubles, 35 walks, and only a .266 average in a park that would appear to be better for hitting).  Polanco hasn’t played third much in a few years but when he did, Polanco was dependable (68 double plays, only 15 errors) and mobile.

And, he gives the Phillies a little extra versatility.  He can move to second to spell Chase Utley, or let Utley play first to spell Ryan Howard.

Look – Polanco can still play second.  I just spent a night putting together the defensive stats for the AL using my ranking system and it shows that Polanco had as much range as anyone at that position last year, almost a dead heat between Polanco, Ian Kinsler, Aaron Hill and Robinson Cano.  (I’ve only done this at a team level so far, so I’ll know a bit more once I break this down for individuals.)  And, he remains dependable and relatively error free.  So, to have spent $18 million for three years (and an option for a fourth year) is probably not so bad.

The other real concern is Polanco’s age.  He’s 34 and while he’s aging gracefully, he’s still aging.  He might look good for a year, but by the third year it might not be so pretty.  On the whole though, two good years make this a good deal for the Phillies – and if they get three good years, $18 million might look like a bargain.

So, with Iverson and Polanco back, who’s next?  Mark Recchi?

Pedroia Can Stay at Second…

The Red Sox signed former Toronto shortstop Marco Scutaro to a two-year deal.  Wow – now THAT’S taking advantage of one really good year…  Scutaro had never played the way he did in 2009 – .282, with a little power, a .379 OBA before, and seeing as he (like Polanco) turned 34 in October, one wonders if he can do that again.  [SI]

Okay – from a defensive standpoint, Toronto shortstops (mostly Marco) were below average in range.  Oddly, they were better than what Boston put out there last year (Jed Lowrie, Nick Green, Alex Gonzalez).

If you were curious, Boston with a range score of -7.89, had the 13th worst range at the shortstop position, while Scutaro and Toronto were 12th at -4.29, which means that for every 800 balls in play, Boston shortstops were involved in nearly 8 fewer plays than the average shortstop.  Since the average team puts about 4300 balls in play or so, Boston’s shortstops basically allowed about 40 more hits than the average shortstop over the course of the season.  The only team worse than Boston was New York, with their gold glove winning shortstop, Derek Jeter, who were at -8.49.  The best defensive shortstop was, by far, Elvis Andrus.  Texas shortstops scored at 13.28, which means they saved their pitchers about 55 hits over the course of the season – or at least 100 more than the guy who was supposedly the best fielding shortstop in the AL.

Anyway – this means that Boston is inheriting an aging infielder coming off a heel injury that shelved Scutaro for the last two weeks of the season, and coming off his best season as a regular ever, as he moves another year away from his supposed prime, and already has below average range.  Long and short, I’m not a fan of this deal.

Oh, and because Scutaro was a top tier free agent and had been offered arbitration, Toronto receives a first round draft pick from Boston and another sandwich pick in between the first and second rounds.

Other News…

The Braves continue to bolster the bullpen, signing one-time Dodger and Red Sox reliever Takashi  Saito.  Saito gets a one-year, $3.2 million deal with incentives.  Saito, now 40, was a closer in LA and a solid set up man in Boston – now he gives the Braves some flexibility when finishing games (Wagner is a lefty; Saito a righty).  [FoxSports]

Having lost Brian Schneider, the Mets signed two potential backup catchers, Chris Coste and Henry Blanco.  They still have Omir Santos, prospect Joshua Thole, and might still be shopping for a front line starter.  [SI]

The Oakland As acquired Jake Fox and Aaron Miles (and cash) from the Cubs for a few prospects.  I’m not totally sold on Aaron Miles, but Jake Fox is a Hitter (!) and should vastly improve the Oakland offense (though you might not notice it playing in the Colisseum).  Miles is probably looking at his last major league season unless he suddenly gets healthy and produces.  At least he can play a lot of positions and act like a coach to other infielders.

The Cubs get prospects.  Pitcher Jeff Gray is a 28-year-old reliever with okay control, but a little hittable.  He’s at best a long reliever…  Matt Spencer was once a pitcher but now is a bit of a free swinging outfielder.  24 in January, I don’t see how he’s going to be a long term prospect.  He has a little power (19 homers in two levels last year, finishing at AA Midland), but I’d rather have Spencer’s teammate Chris Carter.  He can’t hit the way Fox can hit, that’s for sure.  The third prospect is Ronny Morla, a string bean Domincan fireballer, just twenty, who seems to be finding his way in the low minors.  Morla is the one who gives the Cubs a chance to break even on this deal.  Otherwise, I like what Fox could do for Oakland.

Here’s SI’s take on the best and worst farm systems

Happy Birthday!

My brother, Michael, a pretty good ballplayer as a kid anyway, turns 42 today…  Happy Birthday, Bro!

Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett was born on this day back in 1868.  Burkett was the Ty Cobb of his day…  Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:  Joe Corbett (1875) – brother of boxer Gentleman Jim Corbett and a pretty good pitcher, Shano Collins (1895), Bob Shawkey (1890) – a member of the 1920s Yankees, Harvey Kuenn (1930), Barbaro Garbey (1956), Pat Sheridan (1957), Lee Smith (1957), Tai Iguchi (1974), Kyle Lohse (1978).

As a young kid and adult, I remember Lee Smith pitching for the Cubs.  The first time I got to see a game in Fenway Park, he was then with the Red Sox and I amazed those sitting around me with my understanding of the Smith routine.  By then, he might make eight warm up tosses in the bullpen because he didn’t want to get tired before he dragged his huge carcass to the mound.  He smoked the first two hitters before blowing it – allowing a few hits and the lead runs to score in the top of the eighth or ninth inning.  All I could think about was that I finally got to see Fenway, and when I do, I get to see Lee Smith blow another game.  All that way for something I had seen dozens of times before!!!

That being said, Lee Smith was a great reliever for a long, long time, and probably deserves more consideration for the Hall of Fame.