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July 21, 1998

Transaction Analysis

July 17-20

by Christina Kahrl

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Placed 3B Matt Williams on the 15-day DL ("micro" stress fracture - foot); activated INF Andy Stankiewicz from the DL. [7/19]

Whereas losing Matt Williams might be touted as a bad thing, the only place where it may really hurt them over several games will be defensively. With Danny Klassen having been handed the second base job, the D-backs can shift a platoon of Andy Fox and Tony Batista to third, and their platoon rates are better than Williams'. The question is whether or not Williams' foot will finally heal up, or whether they'll press him back into action as soon as he decides he's antsy to get back on the field.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Placed C Charlie O'Brien on the 15-day DL (dislocation - thumb); recalled C Robert Machado from Calgary. [7/19]

O'Brien's injury brings to the fore how much we ought to read into "Catcher ERA" as a statistic that describes an actual relationship between specific catchers and their ability to keep opponents' runs lower through an ability to get a pitcher's best work from him. O'Brien is universally credited for being a good catcher, and beat writers will regale you with lists of "Cy Young winners Charlie O'Brien has caught," which might give you the impression he caught almost every Cy Young winner in their Cy Young seasons, except that that isn't true. Instead, what it reflects is that Charlie O has moved around alot, and happened to be on the Braves for two years.

To no small extent, the signings of O'Brien (and to a lesser extent Chad Kreuter) were based primarily on the notion that they'd help a young pitching staff adjust. Good in principle, it also hasn't worked, as the Sox continue to rank last in ERA in the American League. There are various reasons to have some doubts about CERA: it fails to answer questions such as how to filter for pitches called from the bench, or which catchers catch which pitchers, or Planet Coors. Those aren't impossible obstacles to overcome, but they do mitigate the statistics' value. Like most pitching-and-defense statistics, CERA is at best a starting point for investigating who does what well, but not an answer.

Meanwhile, the Sox are continuing to tout Machado as a potential starting catcher, which is fine if you want someone about as good as Mike Matheny or Scott Servais. Machado is a fine catch-and-throw guy, but this organization's future behind the plate lies with Mark Johnson.

CINCINNATI REDS

Placed C Brook Fordyce on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/13 (shoulder strain). [7/17]

Purchased the contract of C Guillermo Garcia from Indianapolis. [7/18]

A potential upgrade? Garcia followed Fordyce up the Mets' chain until both were flushed after '94, but whereas Fordyce has never really developed, Garcia has shown flashes of power in the past two years. He might actually turn out to be a better platoon mate for Eddie Taubensee than Fordyce, until Jason LaRue is brought up in another year or so, or whenever Justin Towle heals up enough to catch.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Claimed OF Derrick White off waivers from the Cubs; designated OF Jeff Barry for assignment. [7/17]

Recalled RHP Mark Brownson from Colorado Springs; assigned RHP David Wainhouse to Colorado Springs. [7/20]

If fate decides to give us a good laugh, in three years we'll all get to argue about Derrick White and whether he's the new Dante Bichette. White will be 29 next year, the same age that Bichette was in the year he struck gold and wound up with the Rox. If the Rockies are smart enough to trade Fonzie or let him walk after the season, assuming they don't just hand Derrick Gibson the left field job, they could live with letting Derrick White take his shot at batting titles and "lost" MVP awards. It'd be great fun for us and for Derrick. Its time to let someone else take their turn in the thin-air funhouse.

Brownson will step right into the rotation to replace John Thomson now that it appears Thomson's blistered finger will keep him out until the end of August. He was pitching well (for mile-high standards) in Colorado Springs: a 5.13 ERA, but 21 homeruns after allowing 24 in '96 with New Haven. Unfortunately, he's very young, and his strikeout rate has already dropped dramatically this year, so I don't see him as a great bet to survive at Coors.

DETROIT TIGERS

Purchased the contract of RHP A.J. Sager from Toledo; gave INF Billy Ripken his unconditional release. [7/19]

Activated RHP Bryce Florie from the 15-day DL; optioned CF Kimera Bartee to Toledo. [7/20]

Florie and Sager are both up because of last night's doubleheader, and although it proved fortuitous to have another arm around for the 17-inning opener, I still have to wonder how helpful it is to go without a utility infielder. Sure, they've shifted Easley to short to let Randa play second when Deivi Cruz had the flu, but I expect that at some point they'll have to bring somebody back up to back up at two of the infield positions, and that will hopefully be Frank Catalanotto. They'll probably have the space at the expense of somebody in the rotation, since they'll have to choose between Florie, Frank Castillo, Seth Greisinger, and Brian Powell for the last three spots behind Thompson and Moehler. Since Randy Smith has already waxed two of his four free agent mistakes (Ripken and Bip Roberts), it will be interesting to see how or if he unloads the other two (Castillo and Luis Gonzalez).

FLORIDA MARLINS

Activated RHP Rafael Medina from the DL, and optioned him to Charlotte. [7/18]

HOUSTON ASTROS

Placed LHP Billy Wagner on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/16; activated CF Richard Hildago from the DL. [7/20]

Wagner's expected to recover fully from his ugly pelting, and I certainly wish him godspeed in getting better. Since the Astros were already carrying 12 pitchers, cutting back to 11 shouldn't create any workload problems, and may lead to Larry Dierker using Scott Elarton and Trever Miller in close games. Hidalgo's back, but he'll ride pine or play as a defensive sub for Derek Bell now that Carl Everett has cemented his hold on the starting job.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Placed 3B Bobby Bonilla on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/15 (swollen wrist); activated 2B/SS Tripp Cromer from the DL. [7/18]

I don't see a real downside to giving Bobby Bo' a two-week vacation. First, it will hopefully keep the Dodgers from considering benching Adrian Beltre as he adjusts to major league life. Second, Cromer will give the Dodgers a mildly offensive (in all senses of the word) option to Alex Cora and Wil Guerrero in the middle infield. Third, Bonilla's absence creates playing time for the outfield logjam, which may not help Roger Cedeno per se, but Bonilla hasn't been an asset compared to Matt Luke or Treni Hubbard (or a Luke-Hubbard platoon).

MINNESOTA TWINS

Placed RHP Bob Tewksbury on the 15-day DL (tendinitis); recalled LHP Travis Miller from Salt Lake City. [7/18]

Tewksbury's absence squelches any chance the Twins will trade him before the July 31 deadline, but it may help the Twins successfully pass him through waivers so that he'll be available for the August 31 trade deadline. In the meantime, it means that Dan Serafini will remain in the rotation. Travis Miller may end up getting a spot start if Mike Morgan ends up returning to the DL, but don't be surprised if they call up Travis Baptist or Frankie Rodriguez get one last dance before the Twins wind up turn to Mike Lincoln, Dan Perkins, or Jason Bell with an eye towards '99.

MONTREAL EXPOS

Purchased the contract of 2B/SS Ray Holbert from Ottawa; transferred RHP Marc Valdes from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/17]

Optioned RHP Shawn Boskie to Ottawa; recalled C Bob Henley from Ottawa. [7/18]

Placed CF Rondell White on the 15-day DL (fractured finger); recalled CF Terry Jones from Ottawa. [7/20]

Losing Rondell may be the difference between finishing ahead of or behind the Marlins in the division, because not only do they lose their best offensive player, to take his place in center the Expos are left with the grisly choice of either DaRond Stovall or Terry Jones (.229/.305/.265, with 33 stolen bases). Don't be surprised if now is the time that the Expos finally peddle Mark Grudzielanek, and try to get an outfielder in the deal.

NEW YORK METS

Activated LHP Al Leiter from the DL; designated OF Wayne Kirby for assignment. [7/18]

This isn't entirely a desperate gamble to keep the Mets' wild card hopes alive: Leiter says he's healthy enough to pitch with the bum knee, and with a pair of doubleheaders this week, they're already going to have to grin and bear starts by Armando Reynoso and Bill Pulsipher. They've got 13 pitchers up right now, which may cost them when it comes to pinch-hitting, but by the end of this weeks' ordeal, they'll have shuffled that around somewhat to make room for Reynoso. Even if the "Piazza to the Cubs" rumor circulating in Chicago right now turns into pixie dust, Phillips may be in a trading frame of mind by next Monday.

NEW YORK YANKEES

Activated CF Bernie Williams from the DL; optioned OF Ricky Ledee to Columbus. [7/18]

His Bernieness is back, which in turn means that the Yanks will be going back to the job-sharing of left and DH between Chad Curtis, Darryl Strawberry, and Tim Raines, with Chili Davis eventually taking the DH slot from Strawberry. It seems a shame Ledee couldn't stay up, but he's better off playing everyday rather than joining the Pinstriped High-Fivin'est Glee Club (Homer Bush, Dale Sveum, and Luis Sojo) as the token outfielder.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Sent INF Jason Wood to Detroit to complete the Bip Roberts trade. [7/18]

Yippee, the Bipster cost squat, slightly higher than his actual value.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Acquired RHP Todd Van Poppel and 2B Warren Morris from Texas for RHP Esteban Loaiza. [7/17]

A steal of a deal, no matter how you slice it from the Pirates' perspective. Morris isn't the knock-down, drag-out best second base prospect around, but you don't sneeze at someone hitting .331/.401/.521, even if he is already 24. Clearly, he's a step up from Tony Womack, and this move clearly sends the message that Womack isn't expected to be part of any Pirates team built around Jason Kendall, Aramis Ramirez, and Jose Guillen. This does leave Jeff Patzke without a future on the Pirates, but he'll be a minor league free agent after the season, and he'll have some say about his future employer. As for snagging Van Poppel on the side, the best thing for all parties may be the return of Jose Silva. The Bucs want to leave Chris Peters in the rotation as the token lefty, at least until Jimmy Anderson comes around, which means that Silva's return will hopefully push Van Poppel to where he's probably best suited to succeed at the major league level, in the bullpen. If Rich Loiselle can be a major league closer, it isn't impossible (yet) for Van Poppel to be a good one. I've been admittedly optimistic about TVP in the past, and I still haven't given up, as long as you give up the "Texas flamethrower", Nolan Ryan-heritage nonsense, and use him where he's actually had success: as a relief pitcher.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Placed LHP Shawn Estes on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/11 (shoulder strain); recalled RHP Chris Brock from Fresno. [7/17]

Actiavted SS Rich Aurilia from the DL; optioned SS Wilson Delgado to Fresno. [7/20]

In Estes' absence, the Giants are going to give Russ Ortiz a start or two, which may end up helping their flagging fortunes considerably. In nine starts with Fresno wedged between his stints in the Giants' pen, Ortiz compiled a 1.60 ERA, and he's clearly the prize of the organization. Brock can hope he enjoys the same sort of success Brad Woodall is having with the Brewers as representatives of "not-the-next-Kent Mercker ex-Brave pitching prospects," but he'll be doing it as a middle reliever. One hopes Aurilia has healed up, since Jeff Kent clearly hasn't, but the Giants' pressures to win now are fairly obvious while Brian Sabean publicly begs to overpay in any deal.

TEXAS RANGERS

Traded RHP Todd Van Poppel and 2B Warren Morris to Pittsburgh for RHP Esteban Loaiza. [7/17]

I'm with the Rangers 100% on the idea that they needed to get another starting pitcher. Where they lose me is when they target Esteban Loaiza as the one they want. This isn't because I expect Warren Morris to be a big star, or even because I'd count on TVP ever coming back to haunt the Rangers, let alone the A's. The Rangers farm system is still recovering from years of bad drafts, mismanagement, and neglect, so they really don't have much in the way of potential talent to ship off. Arguably, they only had two commodities worth offering around, since OF Ruben Mateo has been deemed untouchable: Morris, and C Cesar King. With such limited choices, the Rangers needed to shop wisely, because they don't have room for error. Loaiza isn't a bad pitcher, he's merely adequate, but the Rangers seem to got impatient rather than wait for the Reds or even the Phillies to get tired of their wildcard fantasies and turn to peddling veteran starters like Pete Harnisch or Mark Portugal (Portugal in particular might have come cheaply). But now the Rangers are basically down to one prospect they can afford to trade (King), and they may not have really fixed their rotation as much as they hope.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Purchased the contract of UT Tony Phillips from Syracuse; optioned C Mark Dalesandro to Syracuse. [7/17]

Well, the Jays have made the right noise initially, that Phillips will split time between left, third, and second, as opposed to playing left everyday, something that was initially bandied about. That probably shakes down into semi-platoon roles for Shannon Stewart and Shawn Green, but with Ed Sprague and Tony Fernandez also losing PAs. Of course, a better solution would somehow subtract Sprague altogether for Tom Evans, but I guess Christmas won't come in July for Jays fans. Not that ten games is much to go on, but Phillips' warmup at Syracuse showed he still hasn't lost his command of the strike zone, running up a .489 OBP.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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