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April 5, 2002

Transaction Analysis

March 31-April 3, 2002

by Christina Kahrl

IN THIS ISSUE
American League
National League
ATLANTA BRAVES Return to Top

Announced that IF-R Jesse Garcia cleared waivers and was assigned to Richmond. [4/3]

If there is a surprise, it's that Jesse Garcia has managed to stay on a 40-man roster for as long as he has. There are some things he does well: he can bunt, he's faster than most pitchers so he's a viable pinch-runner, and he plays a good second base and an adequate shortstop. That's pretty much it, and that's the profile of a utility infielder for an American League team with regular middle infielders who play 150-155 games apiece. That is not somebody you go out of your way to keep if you're the Braves, but more of a utility infielder/25th man of last resort. If he isn't on the major-league roster, he shouldn't be on the 40-man.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES Return to Top

Placed OF-R Marty Cordova on the 15-day DL (strained quad); recalled OF-L Larry Bigbie from Rochester. [3/31]

Acquired IF-B Hanley Frias from the Mets in exchange for future considerations. [4/2]

Outrighted LHP John Bale to Rochester; acquired OF-B Gary Matthews Jr. from the Mets for Bale; optioned OF-L Larry Bigbie to Rochester; transferred OF-L Chris Richard from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/3]

The Orioles did something good? I'm about as big a fan as the Little Sarge, Gary Matthews Jr., may have, but he's on his fourth team in less than nine months for a reason: he's a fourth or fifth outfielder. Pressed into duty as a starter, he's a temp until something better comes along. That's worth a guy who might turn into a decent second or third left-hander in a major-league bullpen someday, and getting Matthews allows Larry Bigbie to play every day in Rochester. Bigbie should be given the chance to earn the big-league job in left field after a good couple of months at Triple-A.

The Orioles acquiring Matthews forces me to bring up a couple of ugly reminders of how they got in the position of trading for him in the first place. Perhaps somebody can now explain why getting John Bale was a good idea. How does swapping Jayson Werth for Bale for Gary Matthews Jr. work when you're a team that needs both a catcher and an outfielder (which is where Werth may get moved someday)? And if getting Matthews came as cheaply as for a scrap lefty like John Bale, why then did the Orioles trade something of value (Willie Harris) to get Chris Singleton? Singleton, like Matthews or Melvin Mora, is nothing more than a nice guy to stuff in center when you don't have a good center fielder, and he's not even clearly the best of those three.

So if you're Syd Thrift, you've given up Jayson Werth and Willie Harris to get replacement/replaceable talent. The Orioles aren't loaded enough to bleed talent, but Syd Thrift can find a way to do it anyway. If the Orioles are really rebuilding, they need to be in the business of trading Buddy Groom for stuff they can use, players who will be part of the next worthwhile Orioles team, and turning John Bale into the next Buddy Groom. Instead, they're in the business of acquiring the driftwood and avoiding "risks," building a team that's less than the sum of its mediocrity.

BOSTON RED SOX Return to Top

Finally dotted the i's and crossed the t's on getting Rickey Henderson signed to a major-league contract. [3/31]

Claimed RHP Shane Heams off of waivers from the Tigers, and optioned him to Pawtucket. [4/1]

Nabbing Shane Heams on waivers is a nice little move. He might turn into a good situational right-hander, but he's been awful at Triple-A for a couple of years, he's 26, and he doesn't throw especially hard or do well with left-handed hitters. He's worth a flyer, which is what the Red Sox have taken on him; if he doesn't make a good first impression, there are better ways to put that last spot on the 40-man roster to use.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX Return to Top

Optioned C-R Josh Paul to Charlotte. [3/31]

I'm not a big fan of Josh Paul, but that may be just an overreaction to the fact that he's been overhyped and he's a local Chicago guy. In the history of White Sox backup catchers, I have to admit he'd be an improvement on Joel Skinner or the Booter (Marc Hill), although still well short of Ron Karkovice. Right now, that's a significantly better option for a caddy for Mark Johnson than Sandy Alomar Jr. is going to be from here on out. There's a division to win, and hauling around Kenny Williams's mistakes won't make it any easier.

CINCINNATI REDS Return to Top

Outrighted OF-L Robin Jennings to Louisville. [4/1]

Signed IF-R Kevin Jordan and assigned him to Louisville; released OF-R Jermaine Allensworth. [4/3]

Now that Kevin Jordan is an ex-Phillie, an episode in Philadelphia's organizational history comes to a close. It's sort of amazing to think that the deal that sent Terry Mulholland to the Yankees turned out as badly as it did. Well, not that amazing, since Lee Thomas got a lousy package.

Jordan was an adequate second-base prospect, and the Phillies didn't have anything else beyond Mickey Morandini. At the point of the trade, Morandini's highest OBP in his three years on the job was .313, while Jordan was coming off of a year in which he'd plugged 53 extra-base hits in his first season at Double-A at the age of 24. The two young pitchers who came over in the deal were talented, but before they became prospects worthy of the name, they got hurt, and then they got elsewhere. Bobby Munoz was the good beef in the deal, and he had a brief fling with success in 1994 before ending up like a lot of Phillies pitchers back then--hurt. Ryan Karp might have worked out as a situational lefty; he never really got taken seriously.

So even today, after all sorts of adventures and misadventures, Terry Mulholland is still the best player of the lot, and at this rate, his career might yet outlast those of Munoz and Jordan, who are both now beating around in the bushes.

Jermaine Allensworth is becoming one of those guys, like Bobby Estalella, where you have to begin asking yourself if there's something else going on that we don't know. He'd be a useful starter in center field for some teams, and he's a better spare outfielder than people like Reggie Taylor or Darren Lewis or the fast Brian Hunter. I hope that this is instead something like Tom Wilson has had to put up with, in that an inappropriate "minor-league journeyman" label has been tattooed on his keister, and he's been waiting for it to fade or trying to get a price quote from the local Body Art Hut for what it's going to take to get "in" changed to "aj." I'm not claiming anything special for him; Wilton projects him to hit .252/.332/.395 with a .250 Equivalent Average, and that's a useful backup.

CLEVELAND INDIANS Return to Top

Traded the other Jeff D'Amico to the Phillies for a PTBNL. [4/3]

COLORADO ROCKIES Return to Top

Purchased the contracts of LHP Kent Mercker and RHP Mike James. [3/31]

As mentioned in the last TA, the Rockies rotation is a remarkably unremarkable collection of people who most fans have heard of. Take Kent Mercker. You remember him, he used to be a Brave, like Pete Smith or Rick Mahler. And what about Mike James? Is there anybody else with even a remote possibility of being caught scuffing the ball with jewelry? Think back on all of the stories about Burleigh Grimes, last of the spitballers, psyching out batters by making it obvious he was doctoring the ball, reveling on the mound in his license to cheat. Mike James could do that with his innumerable piercings. If he puts a three-inch spike in his chin, how do we know what he's doing when he brings his glove up at the start of his motion? Is there a rule against somebody getting his hands pierced? What if he has an emery board surgically implanted? Is that cheating, or an expression of individuality?

Oh, and these guys pitch too, and they're happy to have the work. They won't mean much to the Rockies one way or another. They won't turn into valuable pitchers, and they're not being groomed to be part of the next good Rockies team. Depending on how well they do this year, next year you might find them pitching in places like Philadelphia, Fukuoka, or Chillicothe.

HOUSTON ASTROS Return to Top

Optioned C-R Raul Chavez to New Orleans. [4/1]

Raul Chavez was hanging around on the off chance that Brad Ausmus would have to head for the DL. It didn't happen, so instead he'll return for his sixth straight year of being a regular catcher in Triple-A, and his eighth year at the level. That makes him sound ancient, but he debuted at the highest level of the minors at 21. Assuming he isn't an late surprise in AgeGate (and have any Venezuelans been implicated?), he's only 28, and he's a good catch-and-throw guy. He may yet log some serious service time.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS Return to Top

Purchased the contracts of LHP Jesse Orosco; designated OF-L McKay Christensen, CF-L Tom Goodwin, and RHP Mike Trombley for assignment; placed RHP Darren Dreifort on the 60-day DL (his elbow, what else?). [4/1]

Signed SS-R Felix Martinez, OF-L Scott Pose, and C-R Todd Greene to minor-league contracts. [4/2]

Is there anyone with better job security than Jesse Orosco? When I was still living in Chicago, my least-favorite postal employee, forever remembered fondly as "The Smasher", once cornered me in my apartment building's lobby. Before he would deliver the mail and give me my outlet to escape, he launched into an extended tirade on how he hated his boss and wanted to kill him because he never listened to him, and maybe I could be his boss, because I seemed like a good listener. The Smasher was philosophical, however: he mused that if he did in fact kill his boss, he'd probably lose his job.

Jesse Orosco could probably kill his boss and not have to worry about his job security. Last year, he managed to let left-handed hitters, the guys he's supposed to freeze out, get 12 RBI on 14 hits, and they hit .275/.345/.412 off of him. Now, the RBI are a function of coming into high-leverage situations, but it's pretty clear that Orosco wasn't getting them well, even pitching in Chavez Ravine. If he was right-handed and pitched that badly against lefties, everyone would be talking about how the Dodgers would need to find a left-handed relief pitcher. Given Orosco's performance, they still should be.

At least the Dodgers aren't committed to security for all of the mostly bad. Tom Goodwin has finally been released, although dumping McKay Christensen for being less expensive than Marquis Grissom doesn't seem quite right. Mike Trombley ended up being an expensive stretch-drive boondoggle, one that you can't blame on Kevin Malone. Who does it speak worse of: Kevin Malone for reducing the organization's talent to the point that Dan Evans has to pick up Todd Greene, Felix Martinez, and Scott Pose to fill out his Triple-A roster, or Dan Evans for not doing a better job of shopping for minor-league free agents over the previous winter? Either way, it's grim news for the Boys in Blue, because their major-league lineup is going to be awful, and their top affiliates hold little in the way of promise.

Worse than who's been cut or who's been signed, however, is who's been kept. If Cesar Izturis has really won the starting job at shortstop, then Alex Cora serves no useful purpose on the active roster. Is it better to keep an offensive zero like Cora than a pinch-hitter and multi-positional supersub like Mike Kinkade? Cora is out of options, but if he has to play, so are the Dodgers.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS Return to Top

Claimed RHP Nelson Figueroa off of waivers from the Phillies; designated 2B-R Marcos Scutaro for assignment. [4/3]

Nelson Figueroa is a good pickup for the Brewers at this point. The rotation looks like a mess, considering there are questions of differing degrees of seriousness about the health of three-fifths of the rotation (Ruben Quevedo, Jamey Wright, and Nick Neugebauer). Paul Rigdon isn't a particularly healthy or viable alternative, and the farm system is among the weakest in the game, both in prospects and in worthwhile journeymen. So if there's a team that needed Nelson Figueroa, it's probably the Brewers. As fifth starters go, you can do considerably worse.

The only downside is that making room for Figueroa on the 40-man roster came at a price. Marcos Scutaro isn't going to ever be an All-Star, and he never had Ronnie Belliard's upside as a hitter. But Scutaro would be a valuable hitter at the top of a big-league lineup right now, not any worse than Eric Young and considerably cheaper, and without anything like Young's now-burgeoning reputation as a defensive liability.

If the Indians were smart, they'd get Scutaro back, since he'd make a better backup infielder than John McDonald does. If the Tribe had Scutaro, they could move Ricky Gutierrez to shortstop if anything happened to Omar Vizquel, or play Scutaro if Gutierrez continues to struggle afield at second base, or if he got hurt. McDonald is just a nifty glove, and that's not especially helpful on the bench. Of course, Scutaro could start for the Red Sox or Pirates right now, but that's not going to happen.

MONTREAL EXPOS Return to Top

Announced that OF-B Felix Jose has departed to sign with the Japanese Leagues. [4/1]

You know things are bad when a player makes it clear that he would rather go to another country with a sluggish economy, even though he doesn't speak that language, either. Felix Jose could be a hero for a new generation of Expos non-fans, just for having the willpower to just say no to the Expos.

NEW YORK METS Return to Top

Claimed OF-L McKay Christensen off of waivers from the Dodgers; acquired LHP John Bale from the Orioles for OF-B Gary Matthews Jr.; designated 1B/3B-L Andy Tracy for assignment; announced that OF-B Chris Latham has cleared waivers and was outrighted to Norfolk. [4/3]

Kudos to Steve Phillips for looking at the wires and realizing that he was better off with McKay Christensen and John Bale than with just Gary Matthews, Jr. That's free talent in a nutshell: he swapped some for something he didn't have (a spare lefty reliever in Triple-A), while replacing Matthews with a very similar and equally suitable fifth outfielder. If there's a minor disappointment, it's that he claimed Christensen at all, because Chris Latham is the best hitter in the trio of himself, Matthews, and Christensen, and Latham isn't a bad center fielder either.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES Return to Top

Acquired RHP "the other" Jeff D'Amico from the Indians for a PTBNL; assigned D'Amico to Scranton. [4/3]

The Barons needed another right-handed reliever, and the Tribe did Ed Wade a "favor."

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS Return to Top

Assigned 3B-R Mike Coolbaugh to minor-league camp. [3/31]

Mike Coolbaugh had an outstanding camp, pasting extra-base hits galore, but Tony LaRussa was committed to several self-imposed iron laws for his roster: he was going to carry 12 pitchers no matter what, three catchers no matter what, and Miguel Cairo was a lock because he's already covered in the magic pixie dust that also protects guys like Jose Vizcaino or Mike Mordecai. That essentially eliminated any chance of Coolbaugh making the roster, no matter what he did.

So, having made the decision to carry only five players on the bench, what else could LaRussa have done? Eduardo Perez made the team as the right-handed alternative to Tino Martinez at first base and as a backup to Placido Polanco and Albert Pujols at third base, and he gives them a pinch-hitter with actual power on the bench. These aren't bad things, but the decision to limit competition for the 24th and 25th roster spots to one position was arbitrary and silly. Whatever LaRussa thinks or says or claims, the three catchers aren't interchangeable; Eli Marrero can hit, and the other two are catch-and-throw backups, and carrying two backup catchers among your five bench players is crazy. Pile on top of that the consideration that Miguel Cairo can really only play second base, and you've got a bench without much punch (Marrero and Perez and Kerry Robinson are the thundersticks?) and not as much flexibility as you'd like. There is flexibility in the starting lineup, since Polanco can move to any infield position, and Pujols can move to third base from left field, but that should create space for somebody who can play the outfield and hit, not an extra catcher or a utility infielder who can't play third base or shortstop.

That said, Coolbaugh is essentially just a third baseman, although he has working experience at short similar to Cairo's experience standing around at third last summer, and little experience at second. So if Polanco is your de facto utility infielder, and if you won't carry another outfielder on the bench, why not carry somebody who can play third and let you leave Albert Pujols in left? Cairo does give LaRussa a switch-hitting bat on the bench, but like Kerry Robinson, he doesn't exactly have the kind of lefty sock that puts the fear of God in anybody besides Steve Reed.

SAN DIEGO PADRES Return to Top

Acquired LHP Juan Moreno from the Rangers for IF-B Jason Moore; placed LHP Jose Nunez on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 4/2 (strained shoulder); transferred LHP Rob Ramsay from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/3]

Stop me if you've heard this before: a nice pickup by Kevin Towers. Juan Moreno throws hard for a lefty and has a nice slider, and after he came loose because of John Hart's frenzied overcollection of NRIs, Towers swooped in and got him for next to nothing. That it came on the heels of losing Jose Nunez to what might be serious shoulder trouble makes it timely as well, and means that Towers managed to avoid getting jerked around by people who knew he had a need to fill and who might subsequently try to extort maximum value. Now, he's just got somebody who can pitch for somebody who might be a Double-A lifer. Not bad.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS Return to Top

Placed RHP Jason Schmidt on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 3/21 (groin); placed 2B-R Jeff Kent on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 3/21 (wrist). [3/31]

Neither move is much of a surprise, although there is fallout in each case. Jason Schmidt's trip to the DL means that both Kurt Ainsworth and Ryan Jensen get to stick around in the rotation for the moment, continuing the fight for the last slot in the rotation. They'd battled to a tie in camp.

They're very different pitchers; Jensen has better command of several varieties of junk, and he's more hittable. Ainsworth has better stuff, and didn't show good command in spring training while flashing it. Which one Dusty Baker ends up favoring will depend more on performance than on type.

As for the Jeff Kent saga, I don't believe his current cover story any more than his first one. First, he gets jumped by his truck for coming after it with a hose, and now we're supposed to believe that there's a Kent Racing Team prowling the highways of Arizona, watching after their master's bid to be Robbie Knievel's Racer X? And Kent was the first motorcyclist to wipe out without some serious abrasions? Please.

Both stories stink, and to make matters worse, Kent has the gall to hold himself blameless for the mess he's placed himself in. Tip of the cap to Brian Sabean; if he knows what really happened, he's had the strength of character to not say, not even as an "Unnamed Giants Insider." Kent should quit whining and accept that he screwed up, and leave it at that.

TEXAS RANGERS Return to Top

Signed OF-R Ruben Rivera to a minor-league contract. [3/31]

Signed C-R Carlos Hernandez to a minor-league contract. [4/1]

Released C-R Pat Borders from his minor-league contract, at his request. [4/2]

Removed RHP Ryan Dittfurth from the 60-day DL and optioned him to Tulsa (Double-A); designated LHP Andy Pratt for assignment; traded LHP Juan Moreno to the Padres for IF-B Jason Moore. [4/3]

There's a lot of unhappiness here, but let's get the classy gesture out of the way: I think it's nice that the Rangers gave Pat Borders his release after the signing of Carlos Hernandez made it clear he wasn't going to get to play much, and would not be the first call-up if anything happened to Pudge or Bill Haselman. I don't have any use for Pat Borders, but he has a lot of friends in the game, and the chances are good he'll hook up with somebody as their Triple-A injury-contingency backstop. Also, whatever sticky-finger issues Ruben Rivera might have, they also apply to his glovework in center field, which the Rangers might be able to use considering Carl Everett's bulk and Gabe Kapler's greater suitability for one of the corners.

Otherwise, there isn't a lot of good news, and most of the roster massacre is John Hart's fault. One of the problems with committing to too many NRIs is that you will end up losing talent, and in situations like this, you won't necessarily get value as you scramble to get something before losing people on waiver claims. Juan Moreno didn't do anything to lose his roster spot to the likes of Dan Miceli or Rich Rodriguez, except for being somebody that John Hart had never heard of. In exchange, all Hart landed was Jason Moore. Moore is a University of Texas shortstop drafted by the Padres in 1999; at 24, he's not really a prospect, and he's coming off of a superficially mediocre season in the hitter-happy California League. However, it appears that he did make big strides defensively last year, so he might end up being a utility infielder on the fringes of the major leagues if everything breaks his way.

The worse break is the almost punitive decision of the commissioner's office to observe the rules for once. Normally, teams get away with a little bit of sleight of hand in roster management; the complexity of the waiver rules provides useful cover, but usually you have to be somebody like Larry Doughty or Lou Gorman to screw up and get caught ignoring them.

This isn't even that complex. Dittfurth wasn't really hurt, which isn't unique in itself; other teams have exploited the 60-day DL for nothing more than to add space on the 40-man roster, and they haven't been called on it. The Rangers were, and while I'd like to believe that the enforcement heralds a move towards a robust observation of the rules by the commissioner's office, I'm afraid that Czar Bud's almost visceral dislike of Tom Hicks has more to do with it. So now the Rangers will probably have to trade Andy Pratt, a decent young pitcher with the potential to become a useful back-of-the-rotation starter.

I'm not pinning this on Bud Selig, I'm pinning it on the Rangers. It's John Hart's responsibility, his mistake, and his commitment to a 13-man pitching staff featuring near-useless NRIs like Dave Burba and Dan Miceli.

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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