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August 2, 2002
July 30-31, 2002
This was an elegant, if low-key, solution to the Angels' need for some hitting help, depending of course on the likelihood that neither of the PTBNLs are significant prospects. Those odds are pretty low, since the Angels don't have that many significant prospects in the first place, and they did only get a couple of journeymen. To purge Jorge Fabregas from the roster is a happy development in itself, and beyond that, they get the fourth outfielder they need and a third catcher who makes for a viable option to either of the Molina brothers.
Alex Ochoa is almost the ideal fourth outfielder for this particular team. He bats right-handed, while two of the outfield starters and fifth outfielder Orlando Palmeiro bat lefty. Ochoa has some pop, gets on base, and makes for an good defensive alternative to Tim Salmon in right field. Indeed, Ochoa might force a lineup platoon with Brad Fullmer, with Fullmer hitting the bench against lefties so that Salmon can DH and Ochoa play right. Having Ochoa also frees up Palmeiro for pinch-hitting for the catchers if they're leading off an inning late in the game and/or for pinch-running at any point.
Sal Fasano makes for a nice throw-in. He's still what he was, a good-throwing catcher with moderate power and some limited on-base skills. If either Molina breaks down, the Angels don't really want to have Shawn Wooten do too much catching. Wooten isn't an asset behind the plate, and he already has the responsibility of being Scott Spiezio's platoon mate at first base.
It's worth asking why Brian Roberts was brought back at all. In Luis Matos, the Orioles had an outfielder to replace Melvin Mora while Mora plays shortstop in Mike Bordick's absence, and Matos could come in handy as a defensive replacement for Jay Gibbons or Marty Cordova. It's a minor point, since the Orioles seem to have at least made the decision to play it out with Jerry Hairston Jr. Hairston has rewarded the confidence by going on a small hot streak.
What becomes a bit more problematic is who plays in the outfield, at first base and at DH now that Chris Richard is back. As long as Jeff Conine, David Segui and Mike Bordick are on the DL, it's a little easier. Mora is out of the equation because he's playing shortstop. Jay Gibbons can keep playing first base, leaving Richard, Cordova, Gary Matthews Jr., Chris Singleton and Howie Clark to play the four lineup slots covering the outfield and DH. Clark will lose out in that mix unless the Orioles go hog wild on Matthews and start playing him in center field on a regular basis.
The decision to bench Singleton will depend on the returns of either Segui or Conine, because once Gibbons is pushed back into the outfield/DH mix, somebody other than the minor-league journeyman is going to lose playing time. It shouldn't be Matthews or Gibbons, and the financial commitment that keeps Cordova in the lineup isn't about to go away. So it really boils down to Richard or Singleton if Conine comes back before Labor Day, and both if Segui somehow manages to get onto the field in September.
Acquired RHP Bobby Howry from the White Sox for RHP Frankie Francisco and LHP Byeong Hak An. [7/31]
Cliff Floyd and Bobby Howry for a dubious collection of minor-league arms? Sure, I'll take that if I'm a bean-eatin' Bostoner. You can skip ahead to the Expos commentary if you're into indignation and potential conflicts of interest; over in this corner of the column, it's worth noting that this is an outstanding pair of pickups.
Floyd gets to share the left field and DH jobs with Manny Ramirez. The Red Sox already field one of the best lineups in the league, but getting Floyd for scraps gives them a chance to run with the best offense in the game, the Yankees. If Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez are going good in September, and the Red Sox win the wild card, I wouldn't encourage anyone to automatically put their money on the guys in pinstripes in October. As Bob Brenly demonstrated last fall, while the Yankees may know what they're doing in a postseason series, whether you don't doesn't matter as long as you have a great pair of starting pitchers. If the Red Sox have the sort of offense that can score willy-nilly, while the Yankees have to rely on the legend of Orlando Hernandez and the other old men in the rotation...let's just say things get interesting.
On other fronts, Rickey Henderson's role gets even more reduced to pinch-hitting, spot starts, or perhaps even going back to his original position from more than 20 years ago, first base. Come to think of it, that would make for a pretty nifty platoon with Brian Daubach. Adding Howry gives the Red Sox the right-handed setup man they need, and one with experience as a closer in case Uggy Urbina's case of the funks gets any worse. An added benefit is that Howry is already under contract for 2003, with an option for 2004.
The only sad note to sound is that two somebodies are off of the roster. One somebody is Jose Offerman. Offerman suffers the indignity of being the locally-anointed poster child of the disappointments associated with when the Red Sox Nation was a Duke-dom, but the odds are pretty good that there will be a fair amount of jubilation in the Fens over the decision.
On the pitching side of the ledger, the roster zombie is probably Willie Banks. Of course, the other thing acquiring Howry might make possible is a move to put Tim Wakefield into the rotation to stay. The Red Sox still don't have a good answer yet as to who their #4 will be when the playoffs roll around, and at some point they'll have to make a choice between Wakefield and Rolando Arrojo and Casey Fossum and even Frank Castillo.
Traded RHP Bobby Howry to the Red Sox for RHP Frank Francisco and LHP Byeong Hak An. [7/31]
The good news for the White Sox is that they get to move on from a couple of Kenny Williams' mistakes. Joe Crede and Josh Paul were certainly ready to be on the roster this year, but in his drive to win in 2001, Williams simply had to give a multi-year deal to Sandy Alomar Jr. and trade for Royce Clayton's multi-year contract. So not only did Williams screw up in 2001, insofar as he added expensive talent to win now that didn't, he handicapped the futures of Crede and Paul, making them wait in 2002. With Paul, that isn't an egregious error; he'll be a functional backup catcher, and once he earns his International Brotherhood of Backup Catchers card, he'll be employed in the majors for most of the next 12 years, or at least until he gets tired of the travel.
The real bad news was that Joe Crede had to spend an extra year in Triple-A. He arrives having hit .312/.359/.571, pasting 24 home runs in fewer than 400 plate appearances. His performance translates to an MLB EqA of .272. More practically, now that he's hammering pitches with authority, he can take advantage of the left-field corner in Comiskey. He's also a pretty smooth glove at third base, which will make for a nice distinction from trying to force Jose Valentin into being a third baseman.
There's another benefit. With Crede at third base and Willie Harris at second, Jose Valentin is going to get to go back to short. It's the position he should have been at for all of 2001, except that Williams caved in to a column on a stat sheet, trembling before Valentin's error total without acknowledging more scouty facts like Valentin has good range and is lightning-quick on the double play. It isn't every day you see a GM act on the basis of statistical information; it defines the Kenny Williams Era that he even managed to get this wrong. With Valentin under contract for next year, he should get 2003 to play short between Crede and Harris, although it's worth noting that since acquiring him from the Padres, the Sox have played D'Angelo Jimenez exclusively at shortstop in Charlotte.
If there's something to Williams' credit, it's that he didn't just discard Bobby Howry. Howry was under contract for 2003 plus an option, which is valuable above and beyond his talent, so he brought back some interesting stuff as far as the always combustible live-arm market goes. Frank Francisco throws in the low- to mid-90s and has a nice curve; he may never develop into a starter, but he has the makings of an outstanding reliever. He had to go back down to the Florida State League after being rushed up to Double-A at the start of the year. Assuming he stays healthy and doesn't develop as a starter, he can be an effective replacement for Howry by 2004, giving the Sox some savings in the meantime.
The White Sox haven't had to enter the Far Eastern talent pool yet, so adding Byeong An is something of a lark. He's a lefty with a broad assortment who occasionally flashes something more than typical lefty velocity. He's basically standing still in a repeat engagement with Sarasota (comping his ERA doesn't take into account the huge number of unearned runs he allowed last year), but the drop in his strikeout rate should create concern.
Talk about something for nothing. Chad Hermansen may not turn into Dale Murphy. Hell, he may not be Ken Gerhart the way things have gone in his career. But he certainly isn't going to be just the broken-down used-up version of Darren Lewis that was in a Cubs uniform this season. He has power and a modicum of patience, he can play center field, and he'll be 25 in September.
Hermansen has had to work with some of the most decisively bad hitting instruction in the game today. His obvious talent has carried him this far, and the question now is what can happen given a chance to work with hitting coach Jeff Pentland. Pentland isn't an automatic Mr. Fix-It--I don't think any hitting coach is the equivalent of someone like Don Gullett--but Pentland is well-regarded, takes his job seriously and not as a sinecure to hang out and collect a paycheck, and he's done good things with some players. My line about hitting instructors is the same one doctors use for themselves: do no harm. Pentland has been generally successful on that level, and I like the odds that he'll be able to do something with Hermansen.
The more basic problem is what to do with him. The Cubs already have a promising hitter struggling in the fourth outfielder's role in Rosie Brown. Corey Patterson and Sammy Sosa should be considered fixtures. That leaves Moises Alou, not hitting and rooted in place with the $18.5 million he's due in 2003 and 2004, not to mention a $2 million buyout for 2005. So the Cubs outfield is pretty well set for the next couple of years, unless they do something bold and bench Alou if he doesn't hit in 2003. With Brown and Hermansen, the Cubs have a good pair to turn to if anything happens to the front three, or if they ever find a way to unmake the commitment to Alou.
[Ed. note. Lewis announced his retirement. Hermansen will remain a Cub, however.]
Chris Reitsma is being hosed, but as Bob Boone made light, they can't carry 26 people on a 25-man roster. You can look at the rotation, and it isn't hard to understand some of their choices. Elmer Dessens is the staff ace. They just acquired Scuffy Moehler and Ryan Dempster, and as bad as Dempster has done this season, they need to see if they can turn him around. Jared Fernandez has given them three quality starts in four. That leaves Jimmy Haynes. Haynes has been a model of mediocrity, logging 11 quality starts in 22, posting a decent-yet-unexceptional 4.16 ERA, and bobbing around the break-even point in Michael Wolverton's Support-Neutral stats. Beyond someone like Dempster, nobody screams out to be replaced.
Despite a 3.41 ERA, Reitsma hasn't been as good as that number would have you believe--more than a quarter of his runs allowed have been unearned, and his runs allowed per nine as a starter is over 4.8, which is bad. So the Reds made the best call they could under the circumstances, while taking advantage of the fact that Reitsma has an option remaining.
Meanwhile, because that rotation isn't a collection of world-beaters, the Reds are better for getting Gabe White back. They've already gotten in-season reinforcements like Scott Williamson, John Riedling and Bruce Chen doing well, but adding White is critical going into a stretch run with Scott Sullivan struggling and a rotation built around six-inning starters.
Purchased the contract of LHP Carl Sadler from Buffalo. [7/31]
In what makes for a tidy break with their Hart-y past, Mark Shapiro exorcised the spectre of one of the most notable disappointing deals of recent Indians history. Marshall McDougall will not grow up to be Brian Giles, but he's sort of cool in his own way. He's the guy who hit six home runs in a single game for Florida State (against Maryland). He can play all four infield positions reasonably well, and the Indians don't have long-term answers at second base or third base unless they push Brandon Phillips out of position. McDougall has had an outstanding season at Double-A Midland, hitting .303/.374/.486, good for a .239 Equivalent Average if he was playing in the major leagues. With the Tribe, he'll probably be evaluated as a third baseman. At 23, he should be able to develop into a useful regular, and that's about everything the Indians could hope to get at this stage of Rincon's career.
Optioned LHP Brian Fuentes to Colorado Springs. [7/29]
Activated LHP Kent Mercker from the DL. [7/30]
Acquired OF-Rs Jay Payton and Rob Stratton and RHP Mark Corey from the Mets for RHP John Thomson and OF-R Mark Little; acquired OF/2B-R Jason Romano and OF-R Gabe Kapler from the Rangers for OF-L Todd Hollandsworth and LHP Dennys Reyes; recalled RHP Victor Santos from Colorado Springs. [7/31]
So let's get this straight. The Rockies have given up on Ben Petrick as a catcher, and want to make him an outfielder. So what do they do? Pack left field with just about as many possible candidates as you can possibly imagine, without actually getting anyone good enough to make the decision easy. And all this took was giving up their best starter, the only good starting pitcher they ever developed on their own?
What did they really get? Jay Payton is a decent fourth outfielder. Gabe Kapler is a victim of the appropriately suspicious collection of muscle pulls you might expect from a guy with his build; he might thrive in Coors, but that would hardly make him unique. At least the Rangers are paying half his salary. Rob Stratton was sort of a prospect...for the Mets, an organization that has few, if any, prospects. Mark Corey is the kind of pitcher you can dig up on waivers.
The only guy in this group who isn't waiver bait is Jason Romano. Romano has experience at second base and center field, and the Rockies could use him at either. The blush is coming off of Brent Butler, while Juan Pierre has been reduced to trade bait. Romano isn't an outstanding prospect, though, merely a good one, and to get that in a swag of interchangeable low-wattage right-handed sluggers aspiring to be the next Vinny Castilla, while giving up John Thomson and Dennys Reyes, isn't going to do a whole lot to help get the Rockies out of their rut.
Traded OF-R Alex Ochoa and C-R Sal Fasano to the Angels for C-L Jorge Fabregas and two PTBNLs. [7/31]
What do the Brewers get out of this? A couple of players to be named, who in this organization will almost immediately become prospects, regardless of their qualifications. Jorge Fabregas would be a bad catcher for a Triple-A team, and he has no business starting ahead of either Paul Bako or Robert Machado. With Papo Casanova due off of the DL before the end of the month, they're going to end up cutting Fabregas, so the real gain is the unnamed players and the savings of around $700,000 or so for having traded Ochoa. All in all, a pretty defensible course of action.
Dumped OF-L Cliff Floyd unceremoniously on the Red Sox for RHPs Sun Kim and Seung Song and a PTBNL; recalled OF-L Matt Cepicky from Harrisburg (Double-A). [7/31]
I was a little unenthusiastic about Omar Minaya's master strokes from the first, but this really takes the cake. Rather than living with his inspired gesture towards relevance in Montreal, he gives up after less than a month? And he just happens to make the trade with the franchise that exemplifies baseball's once and future experiment with syndicate ownership?
Maybe this is all on the level, but it certainly doesn't look good. If the Expos don't exist in 2003, there's a chance that Omar Minaya could be the new GM of your Boston Red Sox. How would that look? And if the Expos don't exist in 2003, what's the point of acquiring iffy prospects? To make them available to the 28 surviving teams? It gets worse, since there were other players in the Floyd bidding. The Mariners, the A's and the Giants all could offer better packages, and were shopping around better prospects than either Sunny Kim or Seung Song. Moreover, the Mariners and the A's (and the Angels) are the teams most directly affected by this decision, since they're the ones fighting with the Red Sox for the wild card. In that circumstance, even the appearance of potential impropriety is unacceptable.
Beyond the temporarily unanswerable, there's the sad sack of stuff that Minaya has to show off for his efforts. Seung Song has been named the top prospect in the Red Sox organization by no less authoritative a source than Baseball America. That's fine, and Song is indeed talented. He has a funky delivery, he throws strikes with all of his pitches, and he throws in the low 90s. He's also had arm problems this summer, and he's giving up five runs per nine in Double-A. Sunny Kim throws hard, and not especially well. He's been a disaster in the minor leagues, and even worse in the majors. He does cook with gas, so he may yet be a useful reliever. They're both interesting as young arms go, but this isn't all that you get when you're leveraging one of the ten best hitters in the National League.
The one element that's sort of extra bizarre about all of this is that Minaya has acquired a pair of Korean pitchers after enjoying some success with a pair of Japanese pitchers. Did he do it in ignorance of the disaffection of the ignorance between the two groups? Did he completely space last summer's celebrity death match between Kim and Tomo Ohka in Pawtucket? Now, sure, they might both be professionals and move on and act like adults, but do you really want to bet on it?
Acquired RHPs Steve Reed and Jason Middlebrook from the Padres for LHP Bobby M. "Other" Jones, RHP Josh Reynolds and OF-R Jason Bay; acquired RHP John Thomson and OF-R Mark Little from the Rockies for OF-Rs Jay Payton and Rob Stratton and RHP Mark Corey; recalled LHP Mike Bacsik from Norfolk; claimed UT-R Oscar Salazar off of waivers from the Padres and assigned him to Binghamton (Double-A). [7/31]
Getting Steve Reed is a good thing, and acquiring Jason Middlebrook has been on Steve Phillips' mind for a couple of years, so all in all, the Mets did a good job of shoring up their bullpen. They probably have a push in exchanging Jay Payton and Mark Little; Payton isn't a good regular, and Little is a good backup, and they can both play center field. This forces them to stick with Timo Perez in center from here on out, though, and they did nothing to land a potential everyday alternative to Perez or Jeromy Burnitz or Roger Cedeno. In short, they'll have to live and die with the outfield they assembled over last winter. I'd bet on it working out exactly that way, living, then dying.
What they really accomplished was getting John Thomson, thereby forcing Jeff D'Amico out of the rotation. That's going to add up to a lot more for the Mets' stretch run than the differences between their various outfielders, or Jay Payton. For once, this is also a future-oriented move, in that Thomson is only arbitration-eligible this winter. Beyond giving the Mets an upgrade in the rotation, he's going to be relatively easy to beat in arbitration (explaining the Mile High effect to arbitrators? Good luck to Thomson's agent), and/or coax into a low-end multi-year deal like Steve Trachsel. On a team that has all four starters beyond Al Leiter probably entering free agency this winter, nabbing Thomson is good for now and for the future. Since the specific deal didn't cost them much in the way of talent, this really should come off well for Phillips.
There is a downside, in that it's sort of a shame that they had to give up Jason Bay in the deal with the Padres. Steve Reed does give them a quality right-handed reliever, which, in addition to picking up Thomson, really give the Mets a pitching-and-defense focus that will at least make for an interesting contrast to the Giants' push for the wild card. Since they really only have three useful hitters in the lineup, I wouldn't bet on it being enough, but at least they didn't give up that much to make this one last push.
Acquired LHP Ricardo Rincon from the Indians for IF-R Marshall McDougall; designated LHP Mike Magnante for assignment. [7/30]
Left-handed relief help has been an issue all season, as the A's tried variety as the spice of life, which only left a bitter taste. The three Mikes--Holtz, Magnante and Venafro--didn't work out, so the A's dug up one man to do the job of three. As these things go, Ricky Rincon should fulfill the role of situational lefty. He's been fragile in recent years, so he shouldn't be judged in terms of whether or not he's the star reliever he was when he was a Pirate; he isn't that pitcher any more. Then again, Marshall McDougall is not Brian Giles.
The A's have only had one reliable reliever beyond closer Billy Koch: Chad Bradford. Jim Mecir hasn't been the ace reliever he used to be, Jeff Tam has struggled when he's been up, and Micah Bowie just got here. So adding Rincon gives the A's a situational lefty, and hopefully Bowie will give them a lefty middle reliever. If not, and if Aaron Harang holds onto the fifth starter's job down the stretch, they can put Ted Lilly in the pen once he returns. Needless to say, the pen isn't a major asset. By adding Rincon, the hope is that it won't be a major millstone.
Optioned LHP Hector Mercado to Scranton. [7/30]
See, the Phillies got two major leaguers for Scott Rolen, so they had to bump somebody. Two major leaguers, folks, that's pretty keen! Mike Timlin's a major-league reliever, and he's got that Ed Wade big paycheck stamp of approval to prove it.
Traded OF-R Chad Hermansen to the Cubs for OF-R Darren Lewis. [7/31]
Ugh. I really thought Dave Littlefield knew better. Mike Lincoln has pitched well for this club, and hardly deserves being jerked around again for the sake of a never-was like Brian Meadows. Inserting Brian Meadows into rotation is almost the baseball equivalent of a resignation in chess. The difference is that it's worse, because you've surrendered and don't get to leave; you get to sit there and keep losing. Giving up on the experiment with Joe Beimel in the rotation is fine, but why bother with Meadows? You'd be better off taking another spin with Ron Villone, because while the odds of it working are minuscule, at least you're not dumping a reliever who's pitched effectively to promote a guaranteed flop.
As for the deal with the Cubs, Darren Lewis is the Brian Meadows of outfielders. If bringing back Adrian Brown or reactivating Armando Rios was going to force Chad Hermansen off of the roster and through waivers, the Pirates would have been better off letting him get claimed than accepting Darren Lewis instead.
Acquired LHP Bobby M. Jones, RHP Josh Reynolds and OF-R Jason Bay from the Mets for RHPs Steve Reed and Jason Middlebrook. [7/31]
Not a bad little exchange for the Padres. Sure, it isn't Andersen-for-Bagwell, but now that their 2002 relevance is long gone, the Pads needed to flip Steve Reed somewhere for something. The key was adding Jason Bay and Josh Reynolds; the other Bobby Jones is just a bit of trivia. He'll absorb innings when asked, and go away once somebody better is ready.
Jason Bay's has been all over the place the last couple of seasons. Last year, while in the Expos organization, he was overpromoted to the Florida State League, then promptly worked his way down to the Midwest League, where he did quite well. This year, after a good swing through the FSL (.272/.363/.437), Bay has done reasonably well at Double-A, hitting .290/.383/.477. He runs well (35 stolen bases versus just five times caught) and is considered a good glove in right field. He'll be 24 in September, so the clock is ticking, but his upside is that he could be a decent corner fielder or a good fourth outfielder.
Josh Reynolds has been decent in the Florida State League, posting a 3.13 ERA and an 11-5 record. With a hit per inning and 51 runs in 126 1/3 innings, you can probably already guess he's a control pitcher, and his 70-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio reinforces the idea. He's also pegged nine guys at the plate, which conjures up the image of a guy claiming the inside corner as often as possible. I really don't know much about him beyond he's 22 and doesn't throw hard; I've never seen him pitch.
Acquired OF-L Todd Hollandsworth and LHP Dennys Reyes from the Rockies for OF-R Gabe Kapler and OF/2B-R Jason Romano. [7/31]
The Rangers get three things out of this deal, essentially all good. The best part first: they get Dennys Reyes, a quality lefty for the bullpen who can be much more than just a situational reliever. Reyes has been a flop in the situational role for the Rockies, having allowed around half of his inherited runners to score, and watching lefties hit him to the tune of .326/.459/.522. Reyes has always been too big for the Orosco role; he has command of four pitches, and the durability to thrive in a long-relief role.
The second good thing is that they got rid of Gabe Kapler, and create playing time for...well, anybody else for now and for 2003. Which brings us to the third benefit, which is that they get back half of the money ticketed to paying Kapler in 2003. Sure, that's still money out the door, but as long as the Rangers get more back than they'd spend on Kevin Mench and Ryan Ludwick combined, they're ahead, both financially and in terms of talent. Which the Rangers need to be, because of the combined $28 million or so owed to Juan Gonzalez, Rusty Greer and Carl Everett for their services in 2003. Making Greer or Everett disappear borders on the impossible, so the Rangers had to save money where they could.
They also get Todd Hollandsworth, in the exchange-of-problems portion of the deal, Jason Romano for Dennys Reyes being the talent exchange portion. Fortunately for the Rangers, Hollandsworth is only under contract through the end of this season, and they won't have to worry too much about his limitations as a classic "tweener" in the outfield: not really good enough afield to play center, and not enough of a hitter to want as a regular in either outfield corner.