Matthew Pouliot

Seth Smith

A’s find common ground with John Jaso, Seth Smith

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The A’s cut their remaining arbitration cases in half Thursday by agreeing to one-year deals with newly acquired catcher John Jaso and left fielder-designated hitter Seth Smith.

Reliever Jerry Blevins and first baseman-outfielder Brandon Moss are the team’s remaining arbitration-eligible players.

Jaso, picked up from the Mariners in a three-team deal Wednesday, was eligible for arbitration for the first time. While the A’s obviously view him as pretty valuable — they gave up one of their top pitching prospects in A.J. Cole to get him — an arbitration process that rewards homers, runs batted in and at-bats probably wouldn’t have seen things the same way. He hit .276/.394/.456 with 10 homers and 50 RBI in 294 at-bats for Seattle last season.

Smith, acquired from the Rockies last winter, hit .240/.333/.420 in 383 at-bats in his first year in Oakland. He’d seem to be looking at a reduced role this year unless one of the outfielders ahead of him is traded. The 30-year-old made $2.415 million last season in his first year of arbitration. He’ll be eligible for free agency after the 2014 season.

The Mariners think they’re getting better, but probably aren’t

Jason Bay
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In Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik’s defense, he did aim high, pulling off a deal for Arizona’s Justin Upton that was negated by the right fielder’s no-trade clause. However, the moves that he’s actually completed this winter to aid the offense don’t bode particularly well for the Mariners’ 2013 hopes.

– Traded OF Trayvon Robinson to the Orioles for INF Robert Andino

– Traded LHP Jason Vargas to the Angels for DH/1B Kendrys Morales

– Signed DH/LF Jason Bay to a one-year, $500,000 contract

– Signed DH/LF/1B Raul Ibanez to a one-year, $2.75 million contract

– Traded C John Jaso to the Athletics for DH/1B/LF Michael Morse in a three-team deal with the Nationals

These transactions completely contradict the defense-first strategy that made Franklin Gutierrez a prized early addition for Zduriencik and has led to Brendan Ryan’s continued employment. Ibanez and Morse are two of the game’s very worst outfielders, and Morales has played 28 games at first base since suffering his devastating leg injury in 2010.

Also an issue: none of these guys are particularly outstanding hitters. Morales is certainly pretty good and Morse did have the big 2011. However, in 2012, all of these guys finished with OPSs under .800 (Morales and Morse just barely). Jaso outhit all of them by batting .276/.394/.456 in his 294 at-bats as a platoon player last season.

It’s also worth noting that none of these guys are necessarily long-termers. Morales and Morse are both free agents next winter. Morales turns 30 in June, while Morse turns 31 in March. Neither is exactly over the hill, but the risk would outweigh the potential reward in giving either a multiyear extension.

Jaso, on the other hand, is three years away from free agency.

But this isn’t really about Jaso, who likely played over his head last year and is a pretty poor defensive catcher. It’s about the Mariners seemingly playing next season at the expense of the long haul without really improving themselves for 2013.

– With Morales, Morse, Ibanez and possibly Bay cluttering up the first base, left field and DH spots, there’s no room for Justin Smoak, Mike Carp or Eric Thames anywhere. Now, Smoak has had his chances, Carp has struggled to stay healthy and can’t help defensively and Thames probably isn’t going to hit enough to overcome his poor glove. But there’s still some upside there. Morse didn’t have his first promising half-season until 28. For Ibanez, it came at 29. Smoak, Carp and Thames are all 26 at the moment.

– The presence of those veterans also figures to put Jesus Montero back behind the plate fairly regularly, even though it’s obvious now that 2012 first-round pick Mike Zunino is the team’s catcher of the future. The Mariners are just delaying the inevitable, which is that Montero is going to end up as a first baseman or a DH. And they’re going to have a crappy defensive catcher while they’re at it. Worse, they’ll probably end up signing a non-entity like Rod Barajas to pair with Montero.

– The pitching has gotten worse with Vargas’ departure. The Mariners did manage to re-sign Hisashi Iwakuma to a club-friendly two-year deal, so they dodged that bullet. Still, he’s not an ideal No. 2 starter behind Felix Hernandez, and behind him are promising sophomore Erasmo Ramirez and the homer-prone Blake Beavan. None of the team’s top pitching prospects figure to be ready to make an impact early on this season. If the season started tomorrow, Hector Noesi would likely be the fifth starter.

Of course, the winter isn’t done. The Mariners could still sign Michael Bourn to replace Gutierrez (not recommended) or maybe Kyle Lohse to serve as the No. 2 starter. They could try another trade to improve the offense (Jacoby Ellsbury? David DeJesus?). As is, it’s hard to imagine them contending in an AL West with a top three that averaged 92 wins last year (the Mariners were 75-87). And if they don’t, it doesn’t seem at all likely that Zduriencik will get another chance in 2013.

Mike Napoli likely to settle for one-year deal from Red Sox

mike napoli getty
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According to Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com, “all signs” point to a resolution between the Red Sox and Mike Napoli in the coming days.

ESPN’s Jim Bowden reported earlier that the two sides are currently working on a one-year deal. Edes believes it will be for less than the $13 million annual salary that Napoli was set to receive as part of a three-year, $39 million deal agreed to before a physical turned up a hip problem.

If the deal is completed, Napoli figures to become Boston’s primary first baseman and cleanup hitter. That would be a very good situation for him to increase his value as he heads back into free agency next winter. But for that to happen, he’ll need to show that his hip is sound.

While Edes doesn’t mention it, I wonder if the new revised deal might not include language that prevents the Red Sox from making Napoli a qualifying offer next winter. The presence of the qualifying offer hurt the market for free agents like Michael Bourn, Kyle Lohse and Adam LaRoche this winter. That Napoli didn’t get a qualifying offer from Texas made him particularly attractive to a Boston team that wanted to hold on to its second-round pick.

Rangers give Matt Harrison five-year, $55 million contract

Matt Harrison
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32 wins over the last two years was enough to convince the Rangers to bet heavily on Matt Harrison. They gave the 27-year-old left-hander a five-year, $55 million extension with a vesting option for 2018, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Jeff Wilson.

Harrison, part of the Mark Teixeira deal with the Braves that also netted the Rangers Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, opened his career 16-10 with a 5.39 ERA in 32 starts and 31 relief appearances before breaking through in 2011. He’s 32-20 with a 3.34 ERA the last two years.

Of some concern going forward are Harrison’s middling strikeout rates. He got up to 6.1 K/9 IP in 2011, but he fell off to 5.6 last season and his 4.03 FIP wasn’t nearly in line with his 3.29 ERA. Still, considering that he’s a Texas pitcher, 200-inning seasons with 4.00 ERAs would still make him quite valuable to the cause.

Harrison made $2.95 million last season in his first year of arbitration. The new deal buys out the  last two of those and his first three years of free agency.

Harrison will likely start the Rangers’ first or second game this season, whichever one Yu Darvish doesn’t. Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando are also set to be part of a rotation that still has one opening while Colby Lewis and Feliz continue their rehab from elbow surgeries.

Orioles give Showalter, Duquette extensions through 2018

Buck Showalter, Dan Duquette
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Still basking in the afterglow from their surprising 2012 run, the Orioles have locked manager Buck Showalter and executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette through 2018.

While Showalter’s extension has been rumored for weeks, the length is surprising. The new deal adds five years to a contract that had been set to expire after 2013. Showalter is 196-185 since taking over as Baltimore’s manager on Aug. 2, 2010.

Duquette was the Orioles’ surprising GM hire last winter after several candidates turned down the chance to interview or pulled out of the process afterwards. Back in the league after 10 years away, he picked up such players as Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel to aid the Orioles’ resurgence.

The new commitments figures to ensure that both Showalter and Duquette keep their jobs through any 2013 turmoil, should it occur. It doesn’t seem at all likely that both members of the pair will still be on the job five years from now, but the Orioles are definitely trying to emphasize continuity. And it has to be an especially nice reward for Duquette, who wasn’t chased after by anyone at the end of his Red Sox tenure. He was almost surely one of the game’s lowest-paid GMs after signing on with the Orioles last year, but the new deal will probably move him closer to the middle of the pack.