Under the Radar: A Few More Interesting Baseball Moves

Over the last couple of days, the baseball world has seen some notable transactions. Miguel Tejada signed with the Orioles. Joel Pineiro signed with the Angels. In keeping with my previous installment of this article “series,” if that’s what you want to call it, those are not the types of transactions—the big, headline grabbing ones—I’m going to be talking about.

But I will talk about how the Rockies signed Jason Giambi to a minor league contract. Last year, despite hitting only .201, he still managed to hit 13 dingers and drive 51 runs in. And though his average since 2004 is .241, he has still hit 140 home runs and driven in 426 runs in that time—an average of 23 dingers and 71 RBI a year. Since 2007, he has hit only .231, and yet he still averaged 20 home runs a year.

Giambi has turned into the sort of player that, though he doesn’t connect often, when he does make contact the ball has a great chance of leaving the park. His ability to hit for average is gone, but his power is still there. For a while (and by that I mean, for basically his entire career, save for 2009), Russell Branyan was like that. Mike Hessman too—in 2008, five of Mike Hessman’s eight hits were home runs. That’s amazing.

Though a .225 hitter with 15 or 20 or 30 home run power isn’t as good as a .300 hitter with 15 or 20 or 30 home run power, it’s still a nice addition to the bench. That’s where I see Giambi being, so the Rockies made a wise choice in bringing him back. His power can be a real game changer. And who knows, he may bring his average up a couple points this year.

Along that same vein, the Padres signed Matt Stairs to a minor league contract. Basically insert “Stairs” where I put “Giambi” and “Padres” where I put “Rockies” in the paragraphs above, and change the stats around a bit, and you have my analysis of the Stairs signing. Stairs of course is not, nor has he ever been, the power hitter Jason Giambi is, but he can still hit a few home runs out of the park, even in his old age.

The Astros’ signing of Kevin Cash is money (ha, see what I did there?). Given the chance, Kevin Cash can be a solid catcher. Though his offensive skills are unimpressive, his defense is excellent. He fields well and he has a great arm, and he serves as a good leader. His offense is a big hindrance, however—this is a guy who hit only .142 in 106 big league at-bats in 2003 and who hasn’t hit over .250 in the minors since 2005. Because of his poor offensive skills, he has been relegated to backup/fill in status for most of his career.

Jesus Guzman was designated for assignment by the Giants, a move they may end up regretting. Guzman has potential—in the minors, he has a .299 average, with 82 home runs and 450 RBI. He has hit as many as 25 home runs and 38 doubles in a minor league season. Just last year, in 2009, he hit .321 with 16 home runs and 71 RBI for the Fresno Grizzlies.

While minor league success doesn’t always translate well into the big leagues, it might just for Mr. Guzman.  In part, I say this because he doesn’t strike out too much—his career high is 105—though one of the knocks against many power hitters in the minors is their propensity for the K (see Mike Hessman). Guzman has power but doesn’t strike out at an incredible rate—and, he hits for average. He’s a solid player.

And just a quick note: the Mets were so impressed by Gary Matthews‘ fantastic two-game, one at-bat audition way back in 2002 that they decided to bring him back for 2010, trading pitcher Brian Stokes to the Angels to get him. Here’s hoping he lasts longer than two games this time.

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