The Friday Night Rumor Mill–Two Big Trades and the Non-Tenders

Wow. The Diamondbacks must have thought the winter meetings started this weekend. On Friday, they made two huge trades within the span of a few hours, acquiring Dan Haren (and a minor league pitcher) from the A’s for six prospects and also sending closer Jose Valverde to the Astros for three players. With Haren and Brandon Webb at the top of their rotation, the Diamondbacks now have the best 1-2 pitching punch of any team in the National League (my apologies to Jake Peavy and Chris Young). Arizona’s bullpen, however, becomes an iffier proposition. Chad Qualls, who came over from Houston along with Chris Burke and minor league pitcher Juan Gutierrez, will likely compete with strong-armed Tony Pena to become Arizona’s new closer. Either reliever will likely be a downgrade from Valverde, who was sensational in 2007.
Although Haren represents an immediate upgrade for the D-Backs, I think that Billy Beane did very well in securing six minor leagues from prospect-rich Arizona. The best of the bunch is top-flight prospect Carlos Gonzalez, a left-handed hitting outfielder who is close to being major league ready. First baseman Chris Carter could eventually become Oakland’s everyday first baseman, allowing Nick Swisher to move back to the outfield fulltime. Young pitchers Brett Anderson, Dana Eveland, and Greg Smith all have chances to make it as decent major league starters; if even one comes through, the A’s will probably be happy. Beane acted very smartly here. Realizing that his team was not in position to compete in 2008, Beane wisely capitalized on Haren having reached the peak of his trade value. This deal could allow the A’s to be competitive by 2009…

The list of players who were not tendered contracts earlier this week has created a new wave of free agents. Some have already signed contracts with new teams, including Adam Everett, who is taking his slick glove to Minnesota in the hope that he’ll become the new Greg Gagne. Willie Harris, who profiles as a useful utility infielder-outfielder, has signed on with the Nationals. Other non-tenders, like middle reliever Kiko Calero have re-signed with their old teams (the A’s) at a far reduced price. The group of non-tenders includes a smattering of potentially useful players. If you’re looking for starting pitching, you could take a chance on oft-injured Mark Prior. There’s plenty of potential bullpen help, principally in the form of Akinori Otsuka, who was surprisingly let go by the Rangers. If you need a third baseman, you could always place some hope on Morgan Ensberg making a comeback. There are some potential right-handed platoon bats in the form of outfielders Kevin “The Head” Mench and Jason Lane…

Given his pedigree, Prior will probably command the most interest. Nearly ten clubs have already made preliminary contact, including pitching-thirsty teams like the Rangers, Reds, and Phillies. Prior would make sense on a one-year deal heavily laden with incentives. Any teams that offer Prior a two-year contract will need to consult Dr. Sidney Freedman immediately for major assistance…

For me, the most interesting name among the non-tenders is Otsuka, who has forged a lifetime ERA of 2.44 over four seasons, two in each league. He’s equally adept at closing or pitching in set-up relief, which would make him desirable to just about any team. So why did the Rangers let him loose? He’s had elbow problems, will turn 36 years in January, and would have stood to make more than $3 million in 2008. I’d be shocked if the Yankees didn’t check in, along with the Red Sox, Mets, and Phillies. In an era when few pitchers show year-to-year consistency, Otsuka stands out as a cut above…

Finally, Miguel Olivo has already received inquiries from the Tigers, who view him as an able backup to Pudge Rodriguez. Olivo struggles to reach base, but he has a bit of power and remains a good defensive catcher who can control an opponent’s running game. If the Tigers sign him, he’d immediately become one of the game’s best backup catchers.

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