Transaction Analysis: 12/28

In Andrew Bare's latest <I>Transaction Analysis</I> he takes a look at how the Braves Bullpen is shaping up after the additions of <B>Antonio Alfonseca</B> and <B>Armando Almanza</B>, in addition to the news of the signings of C <B>Eddie Perez</B> and the resigning of <B>Julio Franco</B>.

• Signed C Eddie Perez to a two year contract
• Signed RHP Antonio Alfonseca to a one year contract (12/19)
• Signed LHP Armando Almanza to a one year contract (12/22)
• Signed 1B/Future Made for TV Movie subject Julio Franco to a one year contract. (12/23)

If you're a fan of "The Terminator" series of movies, you probably believe that there is "no fate but what we make." The movie isn't really worthy of the quote, but I still think it applies.

The Braves are not destined to win the division every year until The Judgement just because they've won it every year for the past 3,458 seasons. John Schuerholtz cannot continue to Gigli his way through off-seasons and keep expecting to come out on top just because he did it last year and in 2001.

On the other hand, the Braves aren't destined to lose the division at some point just because they've won it for so long. It doesn't work like that. If a team has 100 win talent, it won't suddenly lose 85 games out of a fear of being slapped around by karma or fate or whatever force it is that supposedly haunts certain baseball teams.

Ultimately, a team's success is going to come down to how it is constructed, not what happened in the National League West on the last day of the 1993 season. And the moves listed above don't do a lot to make the fate Braves' fans want.

The Braves are paying Antonio Alfonseca over $1 million, because evidently the Roberto Hernandez Experience was so nice we should go through it twice. Teams love to things like this, of course. Signing a "proven closer" on the downside of his career to set up your own "Super-Dooper Proven Closer" is a favorite tactic of general managers, as they get to go on talk radio shows and brag about how their bullpen now how has two men blessed with fairy, the closer makeup.

But the only thing Antonio Alfonseca has proven is that 12 fingers and one season with 45 saves and an ERA barely better than league average will get you an awful lot of money. But then, you already knew that, which makes Alfonseca's continued existence well-nigh unjustifiable. Alfonseca has a career ERA+ of 102. His ERA last year was 5.83. His career K/BB ratio is below two. He's walked 3 ½ per nine innings in his career. For all the talk of Alfonseca's brutal sinker and all-around "electric stuff", he has a career strikeout rate of just barely over six per nine innings. He's had problems with his back, his elbow and his shoulder, which are all great places for major league pitchers to be fragile. He has been overweight his entire career, and has clashed with managers and their professional wrestler sons.

But Brutus is an honorable man.

Schuerholtz overpaid because he overreacted to a bad bullpen situation. He signed Alfonseca just a few days before the non-tender deadline, after which pitchers like Braden Looper and Danys Baez became available, not to mention cheap minor league options like Jeremy Fikac.

In these days one of the most important assets for those who play Major League Baseball's version of the Game of Thrones is patience; it's a trait that saves ball clubs millions of dollars.

Shakespeare once asked, "How poor are they who have not patience; what wound did ever heal but by degrees?" The Braves did not have patience and are indeed poorer for it; and Antonio Alfonseca will not heal the wound that was their bullpen, by degrees or in one motion. And my incoherent ramblings bring us surprisingly smoothly to the topic of another sucking chest wound from last year, the backup catcher. The Braves overpaid for certainty, which might be understandable if they weren't paying for the certainty of Eddie Perez being a below-average hitter.

It's really quite amazing what having one half-decent season in the last four will fetch you on the open market. Perez contributed a grand total of 8.2 runs above the replacement catcher last year to go along with an EQA of .246, numbers that are only good when they're compared to his totals from the 2002 season when he hit a cool .214/.252/.291.

Bringing in Greg Maddux's first personal catcher after you've let Greg Maddux walk is a little like bringing smelling salts to the spot where Rip Van Winkle fell asleep.

And so we have Armando Almanza and Julio Franco, who by the sheer volume of Tom Clancy quality moves manage to look like Dante in comparison. Not that giving Almanza a guaranteed contract is a particularly enlightened idea. If the sticking point in negotiations was Almanza's demand for a guaranteed deal, then you walk away, because, well, he's Armando Almanza and the only advantage to making sure he's on the team is to hear how Skip Carey pronounces his name.

Still, it's a cheap deal, only $500,000, and that's not a steep price to pay for a lefty with a career strikeout rate of 9.8 per nine innings. I've spoken at length about Julio Franco in the past, and I don't want to belabor a point. Suffice it to say that bringing back Franco is a solid move, as he's likely to continue to amaze for another season or so.

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