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May 1, 2002

Transaction Analysis

April 25-29, 2002

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

 

ANAHEIM ANGELS Return to Top

Placed RHP Donne Wall on the 15-day DL (tight arm). [4/28]

Donne Wall hasn't had a healthy season since 1999, so seeing him break down again should be chalked up as one of those terrifically unsurprising developments. Matt Wise came up to replace him, although he hadn't pitched in almost two weeks after suffering food poisoning. Recalling Brendan Donnelly ought to make a wee bit more sense, insofar as carrying seven relievers ever makes sense.

 

ATLANTA BRAVES Return to Top

Placed 1B/LF-L B.J. Surhoff on the 15-day DL (knee); recalled RF-L Ryan Langerhans from Greenville (Double-A); activated RHP Albie Lopez from the DL; optioned LHP John Foster to Richmond. [4/28]

Now that B.J. Surhoff is out for the season, first base goes from being a three-headed monster to a job-sharing arrangement between Wes Helms and the man who might be baseball's oldest player, Julio Franco. I know Jesse Orosco gets most of the attention, but seeing as Orosco is supposed to be the age he says he is, while Franco...well, maybe he's now 43. Maybe that's pretty close to his real age. He's been playing professionally since at least the Carter Administration.

Regardless, losing Surhoff isn't really a loss any more than Helms and Franco playing every day is a gain. The Braves might collect insurance on Surhoff's contract, but otherwise, they're where they've been for a couple of years, which is looking/waiting for a first baseman. The nice/morbid thing about this is that if they do collect insurance on Surhoff, they can drop that money into the collection plate to help buy someone who can do this offense some good.

Because Darren Bragg couldn't get to town soon enough, Ryan Langerhans got to come up for one game before Bragg replaced him on Tuesday. Langerhans is probably the best young outfielder in the organization above A ball, which doesn't mean as much in the Braves organization as it does for one like the Reds. Nevertheless, Langerhans should turn into at least a valuable fourth outfielder, assuming he strikes a manager's fancy. Like the man replacing him, Bragg, Langerhans doesn't appear to have the kind of power you want from a corner outfielder, and like Bragg, he doesn't look like he's going to be somebody who can play center field. They're classic tweeners, valuable in a part-time role.

Langerhans is only 22, so he could still spike into something better, but the Braves of the moment only need a left-handed bat on the bench to pinch-hit, so Langerhans is better off playing every day, while Bragg pinch-hits in the bottom of the sixth at home or top of the seventh on the road, at least when he isn't getting those Gary Sheffield Owie starts.

 

BALTIMORE ORIOLES Return to Top

Placed RHP Jason Johnson on the 15-day DL (chip fracture - finger); purchased the contract of RHP Travis Driskill from Rochester; recalled RHP Sean Douglass from Rochester; optioned 2B/SS-B Brian Roberts to Rochester. [4/25]

Signed IF-R Alex Arias to a minor-league contract. [4/26]

Losing Jason Johnson to a freak injury isn't good news, but the Orioles have depth when it comes to fourth starter types. Two-fifths of the rotation is Rodrigo Lopez and Calvin Maduro, after all, and that highlights the danger of lowered expectations: one nifty fifth starter retread in your rotation can be good news, but two or three such rights add up to a wrong pretty quickly.

So behind Scott Erickson, the Os have Lopez and Maduro, and Sidney Ponson limping along trying to be marketable, and then there's an embarrassment of interchangeable, useful parts. Sean Douglass is the man of the moment, but Rick Bauer and Josh Towers are both banging around in long relief. Travis Driskill might be in the Chris Brock mop-up role at the moment, and he's making his big-league debut just months before his 31st birthday. Nevertheless, he has good command and the sort of stuff that, if he got a look-see, could make him the next Kevin Jarvis multi-year contract lotto winner surprise. All of these guy are about that good. Their collective ceilings are growing up to be Kevin Jarvis; nobody in this group looks that likely to be the next Paul Abbott or Cory Lidle. That makes all of them valuable individually, but when you have all of them, that highlights the need to have something better.

Scenarios like this create a management minefield. How do you find your way through...well, let's not call it a forest, but a collection of tasteful shrubs? The situation is similar to that of the Japanese construction industry, where you have so many marginally useful projects going on at once to keep the industry afloat and the government busy that when you take a step back and ask what you're going to do with so many redundant roads and bridges and dams, you might wonder what you're in the business of doing. If you're the Japanese, you have to keep building things, and that encourages serious investigation into channeling Godzilla's mayhem to help create a permanent public works construction cycle. If you're the Orioles and you're basking in an embarrassment of riches fourth starter-wise, it probably involves asking the Japanese if a package of two or three them might bring them Godzilla.

 

BOSTON RED SOX Return to Top

Announced that OF-R Michael Coleman cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Pawtucket. [4/25]

It's amusing--or maybe just daring--to see Rickey Henderson get a shot at scampering around in center field once in a while. It isn't quite Tony Armas pretending to be a center fielder in his golden years, but it's a bold bit of roster management. Where boldness becomes a little more questionable is when starting Henderson is the sorry bastard of the previous decisions to keep 12th pitcher Willie Banks and Manny Posse hombre Carlos Baerga over a legitimate backup center fielder like Michael Coleman. Much as I love Rickey, getting him into the lineup this way is a big defensive risk if it's the plan for the year. A bench featuring Coleman and Lou Merloni, with Banks affecting air-traffic patterns in Rhode Island with a few self-generated ground-launched UFOs and Baerga doing something valuable like parking the Ramirez chariot at the ballpark, makes sense to me.

 

CINCINNATI REDS Return to Top

Activated LHP Lance Davis from the DL and optioned him to Chattanooga (Double-A). [4/26]

That takes care of last year's rookie duo of starting pitchers. Jose Acevedo was demoted a couple of weeks ago to make way for the return of Jose Rijo, and now Davis won't merit reconsideration because after two starts, Rijo looks pretty good. The Reds are in a stretch of nine games in nine straight days, followed by an off-day on May 9, followed by 17 straight games. If Rijo's arm is still working after those two stretches, Lance Davis might have to look forward to a long summer in the minor leagues. If the Reds are contending, he won't be up, and if the Reds break things up at the trade deadline because they're falling out of contention, he'll be just one arm among many options.

 

CLEVELAND INDIANS Return to Top

Placed UT-R Wil Cordero on waivers to give him his unconditional release; granted RHP Jose Mercedes his outright release from Buffalo. [4/29]

Jose Mercedes chose a good time to ask for (and get) his outright release. He wasn't pitching badly for the Bisons, and the Cardinals ought to be desperate beyond words, pleading for someone as good as Jose Mercedes to graciously accept a rotation slot with their team.

 

COLORADO ROCKIES Return to Top

Fired manager Buddy Bell; named hitting coach Clint Hurdle manager for the remainder of 2002. [4/26]

Well, rats. I guess I was off by a couple, seeing as how both Phil Garner and Davey Lopes got knifed first, but Jeanne Kirkpatrick's domino theory of managerial whackings caught up with Buddy Bell.

As much as Bell gets general credit for being a good guy, he's been a cipher as managers go. He never seemed to have an idea about how to adapt to the unique environment of Coors Field; in particular, he was far too infatuated with little-ball tactics for his own good. If anything, he's sort of the ultimate '90s manager: he did the managerly things that sink below any level of media criticism, looking like he's keeping busy and doing the sorts of things a beat writer might identify as working at his job, while really just serving time and ducking anything like a decision that might draw fire or help the Rockies actually become a better team.

As much as I don't think the "good old days" were all that special, Buddy Bell's career and fate as a manager seems to me to be as much a product of the daily national news cycle that tries to tell us everything about every team every day as it was a reflection of any real philosophy of how to run a ballclub.

Clint Hurdle has been on a lot of people's short lists for a few years. He deserves a shot after putting in two years at A ball, two years in Double-A, and two years in Triple-A. He's already come across as self-effacing, with a healthy dose of respect for young talent. I'm not saying that makes him an instant favorite of mine, but it's refreshing, and here's hoping it works out.

 

DETROIT TIGERS Return to Top

Announced that LHP Matt Perisho cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Toledo. [4/25]

Placed DH-B Dmitri Young on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 4/23 (hernia); recalled OF-R Craig Monroe from Toledo; recalled RHP Seth Greisinger from Erie (Double-A); optioned CF-B Andres Torres to Toledo. [4/26]

Some of this is good news. With Dmitri Young out, the Tiggers are better off with Craig Monroe around to add some balance to a lineup that gets its power from left-handed hitters like Rob Fick, Bobby Higginson, the shockingly hot Randall Simon, and Jacob Cruz. When your right-handed power sources are supposed to be Craig Paquette and a healthy Dean Palmer, you can use whatever you can get. As I've mentioned before, however, Monroe can do some real damage against lefties.

The return of Seth Greisinger pretty much spells the end for Jose Lima. If the only thing you're able to do to help is shut down the Devil Rays, you're not particularly helpful. The Tigers' rotation isn't really the problem. A front three of Jeff Weaver, Steve Sparks, and Marc Redman isn't what you'd expect from one of the worst teams in baseball. Nate Cornejo is probably up too soon, but the Tigers don't exactly have a wealth of alternatives. Greisinger's career was derailed by injuries, but if they're going to get anything out of him, better to sort it out now.

Bad teams hem and haw, and that's the case with the Tigers and Andres Torres. I'm not a big fan, but if he was going to be up, he should have gotten a serious trial, and not just 42 plate appearances. If he needs experience in the minors, then making do with Wendell Magee and Jose Macias in center field for a couple of months until there's enough reason to believe Torres is ready is totally defensible and understandable. Flitting between the two ideas is something you have to put at Dave Dombrowski's doorstep. We don't have Randy Smith to kick around anymore, after all.

 

KANSAS CITY ROYALS Return to Top

Optioned RHP Nate Field to Omaha; recalled RHP Brad Voyles from Omaha. [4/28]

Fired manager Tony Muser. [4/29]

There are plenty of celebrations already happening, so let me be the wet towel. First, it's worth remembering that once upon a time, Tony Muser was considered one of the better young managers in the minor leagues. That was before getting caught in a clubhouse boiler explosion in spring training, but Muser bounced back from that, and was one of the prime candidates for any job for a long stretch of time. He got his opportunity, and he was a failure as a big-league manager. He'll almost certainly get recycled as a bench coach or a third-base coach or minor-league manager or whatever he elects to accept. Like Terry Francona or Terry Collins, there's nothing in his record as a manager that would make you think he should ever be given another opportunity. He earned his opportunity, and he earned his firing. Shed no tears for Tony Muser.

 

MONTREAL EXPOS Return to Top

Optioned 2B-B Henry Mateo to Ottawa. [4/28]

Demoting Henry Mateo is a precursor to bringing back Fernando Tatis. Depending on which Fernando Tatis shows up, that could help turn April amusement involving les Expos into May madness. Stranger things have happened, although Chris Truby hasn't been a bad temp at third base. If anything, the organization would probably be better off hoping Tatis had an insanely hot couple of weeks, because it might either help force Omar Minaya's hand in deciding whether or not to trade Lee Stevens, or it might convince somebody else to trade for Tatis.

 

NEW YORK METS Return to Top

Announced OF-L Tony Tarasco cleared waivers and will report to Norfolk. [4/25]

If Tony Tarasco had waited a day, he might have had a shot at signing with the Braves instead, but either way, he's probably liking his chances of showing up as the last man on a playoff roster.

 

OAKLAND ATHLETICS Return to Top

Exercised the option on manager Art Howe for 2003. [4/25]

Activated RF-R Jermaine Dye from the DL; optioned 2B/SS-R Mark Ellis to Sacramento. [4/26]

Getting Jermaine Dye back is good news on several fronts. It gives the A's the right-handed bopper they need to give the lineup some balance. The outfield goes from having Terrence Long and two DHs to two outfielders and only one of either Jeremy Giambi or David Justice on any given night. While I think it's reasonable to expect a slow start, it's good to have Dye back. I don't harbor any expectations that he'll be driving in a run a night, but his two months with Oakland last year weren't out of line with his previous couple of seasons, so he'll be an asset.

As far as Mark Ellis being back in Sacramento...look, I'm usually in agreement with a Weaverian sensibility that your backup shortstop is in Triple-A and not on your active roster. However, now that Dye is back and JeGi is DHing, the A's have Scott Hatteberg and Olmedo Saenz on the bench, and neither of them can really play a position, on top of carrying 12 pitchers. The roster should make a little more sense when Randy Velarde comes back from a rehab assignment, but that will create a tough decision between Saenz, Hatteberg, Mike Colangelo, or one of the three lefties in the bullpen.

Finally, I'm a little surprised to see that Art Howe is locked down for another year. It's undoubtedly a reflection of my own mental habits, or the ruts into which my memory settles, but I still have trouble separating him from John McNamara on a team waiting for its Dick Williams.

In defense of Howe, he's done some creative things with the lineup this year. I like seeing him bat Hatteberg in front of Eric Chavez; if you're going to bat a pair of lefties in a row, from a tactical standpoint, it makes sense to put the one you're more likely to pull for a right-handed pinch-hitter first. That way, if your opponent spots an opportunity to bring in a lefty situational reliever, you can spring him with a first batter he didn't want to face, and that he may choose to just to have the lefty around to face Chavez next. It may not be particle physics, but it's still a nice tactical gambit.

 

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS Return to Top

Placed LHP Bud Smith on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 4/22 (strained shoulder); recalled RHP Gene Stechschulte from Memphis. [4/25]

You never like seeing a team get desperate, but the Cardinals are beyond beer goggles and impaired judgment, they're flat-out hard up and willing to do whatever it takes to get themselves some. They're rushing Garrett Stephenson back, they're pushing up Woody Williams's timetable, and they're trying to get Bud Smith back as soon as humanly possible. Nobody is going to be allowed to recover on his own time, because the rotation is down to Matt Morris and Darryl Kile and take your beatings like a man or a mountain lion or whatever animal Tony LaRussa fancies after some quality viewing on Animal Planet, and it's a few days until you get to Morris and Kile again. In the meantime, LaRussa is shuffling through all sorts of extra-temporary measures, flipping relievers through spot starts, feeling up Josh Pearce and minor-league veteran Travis Smith without wanting to get serious, and keeping his palms shaved while waiting for Stephenson, Williams, or Smith to submit to an indecent proposal.

 

SAN DIEGO PADRES Return to Top

Placed RHP Kevin Jarvis on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 4/18 (strained flexor tendon - elbow); placed LF-R Ron Gant on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 4/24 (fractured pinky); recalled UT-B Cesar Crespo from Portland; recalled RHP Ben Howard from Mobile (Double-A). [4/26]

Losing Kevin Jarvis isn't a good thing, but let's not exaggerate its impact. We're talking about a minor-league veteran who finally got a deserved break, someone whose big year was good for a 4.80 ERA and a home run allowed every five innings or so. Jarvis can be a useful fourth or fifth starter, but losing him isn't like losing Curt Schilling.

Indeed, although the Padres are down a starter, one of their strengths is the relative interchangeability of their non-Brian Lawrence starters. The useful Bobby Jones and Brett Tomko are veterans with more to brag about than Jarvis. Jarvis's injury was also a reprieve for Brian Tollberg, since Tollberg was on the cusp of being optioned back to Portland. He responded with his first quality start of the season. Tollberg hasn't really been the same pitcher since breaking a finger in May 2001, but the only way he's going to get back is by pitching. It won't be any easier in the majors, but a year ago, if you had the choice between Jarvis and Tollberg, the choice pretty clearly wasn't Jarvis.

It isn't always going to be this way, making do with a rotation built around Lawrence and a useful group of journeymen. Ben Howard is one of the organization's best young pitchers: he throws hard, has a good slider, and he's somebody you can't help but root for after he survived the auto accident that killed Mike Darr this spring. He also might not have been the best starter in the Mobile Baybears rotation. Beyond Howard, there's Dennis Tankersley, Eric Cyr, and Jake Peavy, any one of whom would be the best young pitcher in a dozen other organizations. In the Padres chain, they're the four horsemen bidding to join Lawrence and maybe Tomko in what could shape up as the best rotation in the division for the decade. It isn't Kevin Towers's style to say something like "this is the worst rotation the Padres will field in the next five years," but it's probably true.

Replacing Ron Gant as Ray Lankford's platoon partner is pretty straightforward, since they have Treni Hubbard on staff. Filling the spot on the roster was a little more problematic, but the Pads opted for a secondary average All-Star, Cesar Crespo. Crespo can play almost anywhere you ask him to, he can run, he's got a little bit of pop, and he draws walks. He makes a good spot starter in the leadoff slot, a good guy to bring in on a double-switch if the pitcher is supposed to lead off the inning, and generally gives Bruce Bochy an interesting weapon on the bench to alternate with Bubba Trammell and Mark Sweeney. Much as I like Crespo, I wouldn't pretend to claim he can handle shortstop regularly, so he is not a "solution" to Ramon Vazquez's slow start.

 

TEXAS RANGERS Return to Top

Purchased the contract of C-R Hector Ortiz from the Royals, and assigned him to Oklahoma; recalled RHP Rob Bell from Oklahoma; optioned OF-R Kevin Mench to Oklahoma. [4/26]

Purchased the contract of C-R Hector Ortiz from Oklahoma; designated RHP Dan Miceli for assignment. [4/29]

Rob Bell wasn't supposed to be up already, but he can thank Dave Burba. Steve Woodard was pressed into action as a long reliever to stretch last Thursday's game, which kept him from being available for his scheduled appearance as the fifth starter on Saturday. So what happens? Not only does Woodard help the Rangers win on Thursday, but Bell comes up and does well against the Indians. With Chan Ho Park hopefully ready to be activated at some point in the next week or two, that should eventually create an uncomfortable situation. Will John Hart finally acknowledge a mistake, and bump Dave Burba out of the rotation? A fifth starter won't be needed again until the weekend, but given the overdue acceptance of the idea that Dan Miceli wasn't a useful investment as roster spots go, anything is possible. Hart is, as always, working scared/frenetic, so in his mad scramble for instant relevance, you don't know what he might do. Out of force of habit, he might even start talking up how Jaret Wright is due back any year now, somewhere, somehow.

What's strange about the roster management of the moment is that while the Rangers have decided to nip in the bud the experiment of using Mike Lamb as their primary backup catcher, they elected to keep him on the roster. Lamb has put in an inning in the outfield and a pair of starts (!) at first base beyond his grisly seven innings behind the plate, and he hasn't played his natural position (third base) at all. If the Rangers are serious about turning him into a utility player, what's the point of hauling him around on the bench, when he needs game experience to become a useful multi-positional utility man?

A more generous interpretation is that they have divined (correctly) that Kevin Mench is a better prospect than Lamb, and of the two, it's better to let Lamb rot on the big league bench while letting Mench play every day in an Oklahoma outfield now that Calvin Murray has been brought in to play center and Hec Ortiz has been brought in to back up Bill Haselman.

 

TORONTO BLUE JAYS Return to Top

Placed RHP Chris Carpenter on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 4/22 (tendinitis - shoulder). [4/25]

Recalled RHPs Mike Smith and Justin Miller from Syracuse; placed RHP Bob File on the 15-day DL (strained oblique). [4/26]

A six-game losing streak may make it even easier to say this, but the rotation right now is about as bad as it can get. With Chris Carpenter slinking back to the DL and the Scott Eyre experiment taking a turn towards the ugly, the Blue Jays are nevertheless in that uncomfortable position of having to seriously scramble their rotation before May 1. Esteban Loaiza and Steve Parris aren't fully rehabbed yet, so the Jays had to dip into the farm system.

Some of that isn't bad news. For Justin Miller, success as a starting pitcher may as well be now or never. If he struggles, he can join the long list of gloriously successful relievers who had potential careers as fourth starters killed off early in their major-league life. For Mike Smith, this is a brief opportunity to make a good impression. Smith hadn't given up a home run in his first four starts in Syracuse, and while he's about as short a right-handed starting pitcher as there may be at any level in the game today, he throws hard and has excellent command of his off-speed and breaking stuff. He may be sent back down by the weekend, but barring injury he's a good bet to be a rotation regular by August.

Although things generally seem grim at the moment, keep in mind that Roy Halladay is off to a decent start, and Brandon Lyon is coming off of a pair of good starts. Luke Prokopec's introduction to the American League has been pretty ugly, but he wasn't supposed to be the second-most experienced starter in the rotation this early on either. The Jays' current struggles probably makes all sorts of critics feel vindicated, but the only real setback is that Carpenter isn't marketable when he's on the DL, and he won't be back for a month at least. Current talk of strike dates are skipping around in July, which means that the chances of getting Carpenter back, healthy enough to make a few starts, and demonstrably healthy enough and effective enough to get dealt, are slipping into the area of being a longshot at best. That's a setback of the long-term/expensive/York anti-aircraft tank kind.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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