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The Week in Transactions: David Price, Jordan Zimmermann sign big contracts

This week the Indians acquired Collin Cowgill and Joba Chamberlain, while non-tendering Nick Hagadone.

When David Price makes his Boston debut, he will have pitched for three of the five AL East teams
When David Price makes his Boston debut, he will have pitched for three of the five AL East teams
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Tribe Transactions for the week of Nov 30-Dec 6

November 30

OF Michael Choice sent outright to Columbus (AAA); invited to Spring Training

Choice, who was Designated for Assignment when the Indians acquired Kirby Yates, will remain with the organization after clearing waivers.

December 1

RHP Joba Chamberlain signed to a minor-league contract and invited to Spring Training

First, a note about Chamberlain's status, which differs than the other minor-league free agents the Indians have signed this year. He is a XX(B) free agent, which basically means he has enough service time to become a major-league free agent at the end of each year if he isn't under contract. Those players who end up signing minor-league deals have different clauses that automatically gets added to their contracts. The Indians will need to inform Chamberlain the week before Spring Training ends whether he has made the 25-man roster, and if he hasn't Chamberlain can once again become a free agent. If he accepts an assignment to AAA, he gets a $100,000 "retention bonus." And also, if he hasn't been added to the major-league roster by June 1, he can again opt out of the contract and become a free agent. A couple years ago, the Indians got around this with Daisuke Matsuzaka by releasing, then re-signing him to another minor-league deal.  Later in the season they released Matsuzaka again to give him an opportunity to pitch for the New York Mets.

So about the player. I don't think he has anything left as a back-end reliever. He still throws a decent fastball (94ish) but that's slow in today's age of flamethrowing relievers. He allowed 6 home runs in 27.2 innings between Detroit and Kansas City last year and allowed a career-high 12.4 hits per 9 in those innings. It's no wonder why the Indians were able to sign him as a minor-league free agent. One of Chamberlain's main competitors (at least at this point) for a bullpen job this spring would be Austin Adams, who pitched some meaningful innings for the Indians last season. Adams' fastball averaged 96.6 mph, he allowed 2 home runs in 33.1 innings and is on the 40-man roster. That's the type of pitcher we should be comparing Chamberlain to, even though the name brand makes you associate him with other elite relievers from around the game. He's not that pitcher anymore. He hasn't been that pitcher for several years.

But as with any reliever, one tweak can turn him into a great pitcher again, assuming of course that the physical tools are still there. I'm never against a minor-league signing, and if the Indians can turn Chamberlain into the next Jeff Manship, I'll swallow my old hatreds and root for him like any other Cleveland player.

December 2

Acquired OF Collin Cowgill from the Los Angeles Angels for Cold Hard Cash

Non-tendered LHP Nick Hagadone

And so the long strange tenure of Nick Hagadone with the Indians might end. The Indians express interested in bringing Hagadone back into the fold, but as of now he's a free agent and able to sign with other teams. He ended the year on the Disabled List after elbow surgery, but even so there should be other teams at least interested in a left-handed pitcher with Hagadone's stuff. The Indians did prepare somewhat for this by acquiring Kirby Yates last week, but even so they still don't have a left-handed reliever who would classified in this generation's Circle of Trust. Kyle Crockett was that pitcher in 2014, but was more miss than hit in 2015. I seriously doubt the Indians are signing a left-handed reliever to a multi-year contract, so expect to see Crockett, Giovanni Soto, and Kirby Yates battling for roster spots this spring.

Cowgill somehow has an option left, which makes this acquisition more understandable. He was a 2-win player in 2014, mostly because of his defense, and should he make the Indians' roster, that should continue to be what he brings to the table. He can play all three outfield positions, which the Indians need in a backup outfielder, so that might give him the advantage over Jerry Sands if that's the Spring Training battle. If he's the everyday left fielder on Opening Day, the Indians messed up.

Selected MLB Transactions

November 30

Detroit Tigers signed RHP Jordan Zimmermann to a five-year, $110M contract

The contract is back-loaded, but not excessively (2016: $18M, 2017: $18M, 2018: $24M, 2019: $24M, 2020: $24M). The other notable thing about this deal is that it includes a full no-trade clause for the first three seasons, with a partial no-trade clause (can be traded to ten teams without permission) in the last two years of the deal.

I think the Tigers got decent value for their money here. Zimmerman has been a 4.2-win pitcher since his breakout season in 2012, so that's about $5.2M per WAR. The issue the Tigers have is not that Zimmermann is a bad signing, but that they had to sign him because they weren't getting production from the expensive pitchers (Verlander, Sanchez) already under contract. They will be paying almost $63M those three pitchers next year, which might be more than three-fourths of the Indians' 2016 Opening Day payroll.

December 1

Boston Red Sox signed OF Chris Young to a two-year, $13.0M contract

Young is a player I'm sure the Indians were interested in: he can play center field, and has some power. With Brantley out until the early stages of the season (or maybe longer), the Indians are going to need another starter, or at least somebody that can hold down the fort until one of the prospects (Naquin, Zimmer) is able to break into the majors.

December 2

Houston Astros traded C Hank Conger to the Tampa Rays for Cold Hard Cash

Conger was a productive player at the plate in 2015, but was helpless in stopping runners from stealing bases (he threw out 2%, or 1/43 stolen attempts). Maybe good-hitting catchers with no arm is the new market inefficiency.

Kansas City Royals traded C Francisco Peña to the Baltimore Orioles for Cold Hard Cash

Matt Wieters is returning after accepting the Orioles' Qualifying Offer, so Peña should spend most of the 2016 season in AAA. He's insurance for 2017 and beyond. Francisco is the son of LGFT Tony Peña.

Baltimore Orioles traded C Steve Clevenger to the Seattle Mariners for OF Mark Trumbo and LHP CJ Riefenhauser

Trumbo is starting to get expensive (he made $6.9M in 2015 and is eligible for arbitration), but he's still a decent (good power, not-so-good OBP) hitter, so the Mariners did actually get an actual player for him in backup catcher Steve Clevenger. The Orioles are still trying to re-sign Chris Davis, but if that doesn't work out Trumbo would replace some of the power production.

December 3

Seattle Mariners signed Nori Aoki to a one-year, $5.5M contract (2017 $6M mutual option)

Another player I would have liked the Indians to sign. Aoki is more of a top-of-the-order guy than the power threat the Indians are looking for, but at that price he would have been a nice addition.

December 4

Chicago White Sox signed C Dioner Navarro to a one-year, $4.0M contract

Earlier in the week the White Sox non-tendered Tyler Flowers*, which was surprising even though he struggled in 2015. For about what Flowers would have made in arbitration, they signed Navarro, who served as Russell Martin's backup in Toronto last year. The White Sox will now be going with a combination of Navarro and Alex Avila behind the plate, perhaps thinking that both players would be better in part-time roles.

Boston Red Sox signed LHP David Price to a seven-year, $217.0M contract

The important part of this contract is that Price will be able to opt-out of the contract after the 2018 season (three years into the contract). The opt-out clause has been part of several big contracts in recent history (Zack Greinke is the most recent example) that benefits the player if he has played well. From the team's perspective, there's no real upside to having that clause in the deal unless they think the clause would make the player perform better leading up to the opt-out date. If Price underperforms or gets hurt, the Red Sox still would pay him through the 2022 season.

But even so, Price has been among the best pitchers in baseball since 2010, and has proven both durable and effective. The Red Sox needed pitching badly (Clay Buccholz was their best starter last year, with a 2.7 WAR), and had the financial resources to make a deal like this happen.

*If the Indians trade Roberto Perez, I'd definitely be on board if the Indians signed Flowers as a backup; he's a good defensive catcher.

Latest 40-man roster

(embiggened version here)

Dec 6 2015