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April 19, 2002

Transaction Analysis

April 16-17, 2002

by Christina Kahrl

IN THIS ISSUE
American League
National League
BALTIMORE ORIOLES Return to Top

Placed RHP Chris Brock on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation); designated C-R Fernando Lunar for assignment; recalled RHP Rick Bauer from Rochester; purchased the contract of LHP Erik Bedard from Bowie (Double-A). [4/16]

Another year, another waste of time carrying three catchers gets brought to an end. Yet again, it's another decision to whack one of the backstops not named Brook Fordyce. That's not really a bad idea; I can buy into the notion that it's worth partnering a young catcher with a veteran (briefly) to teach the kid about catching in the big leagues. The problem isn't really Fordyce in terms of talent; he's limited. The problem is what they're paying him, how long they plan to pay it, and the "young talent" he's supposed to be mentoring.

Fernando Lunar and Geronimo Gil are both Syd Thrift time-warp acquisitions that might have made sense in a world where people didn't care if catchers could hit or not, but major-league baseball isn't played on that planet any more. Carrying and liberally compensating a backup catcher to teach future backup catchers how to be backup catchers is the Orioles' organization in a nutshell. They've got ambitions, but to call those ambitions modest would be an insult to modesty. If Lunar gets claimed on waivers, it will be both an upset and no loss.

Calling up a couple of starters is a pretty clear sign that the Orioles are afraid of what they see. Jason Johnson is being slapped around, Sidney Ponson may be hurt again, and surrendering eight home runs in 19 1/3 innings is no way to keep your job if you're Josh Towers. Rodrigo Lopez can step in from his middle-relief role to fill only one slot, so between the wealth of multi-mid-inning opportunities being created by a bad rotation and the shot at replacing any of the members of said bad rotation, Rick Bauer might get plugged into a job and wind up with something like a Mark Leiter kind of career.

The really strange decision is calling up Erik Bedard right now, arguably the fastest promotion from childhood since Danny Bonaduce. He has two starts above A ball to his credit, and those both came earlier this month. I have a pretty high tolerance for organizations doing scouty things with pitching talent, like deciding that a guy can make it in the majors right now strictly on the basis of an appreciation of his stuff. A guy's stuff might well be good enough, and in the right kind of structured role where he can learn from pitching to major-league hitters, it might work out. That's why they pay scouts the moderate bucks, right? But is Mike Hargrove going to put Bedard into that kind of role, or is Bedard going to sit in the back of the pen to get stale, or worse yet get brought in to face Jason Giambi, then get shipped back to Bowie after getting jerked around like that? What kind of learning experience does that provide one of the Orioles' few worthwhile prospects? Bedard would be better off doubling his Double-A experience.

CINCINNATI REDS Return to Top

Optioned RHP Jose Acevedo to Louisville. [4/16]

Recalled OF-R Austin Kearns from Chattanooga (Double-A). [4/17]

Sheesh, Jose Acevedo opened the year with a quality start, gets spanked by Lance Berkman on Tuesday, and it's already "what have you done for me lately?" That may be overstating the case, or at least I hope so, in that the need of the moment was arguably to get another outfielder up and on the roster after Sean Casey got hurt. The Reds won't need a fifth starter until Sunday, after all, and won't need one again until the following weekend. But you still end up having to ask... why? One of the reasons they need an extra bat in the first place is because of poor roster design. Carrying a body like Reggie Taylor just highlights the need to carry somebody better than Reggie Taylor; playing Reggie Taylor betrays a general disinterest in results.

However, as silly it might be to yammer about how Brady Clark is too valuable to start when he's sitting behind Taylor, it makes a bit more sense if the team is investing those starts in somebody like Austin Kearns. Kearns is one of the game's best prospects, and he's already logged a good chunk of time above A ball, so a brief trial now isn't a bad risk to take. He becomes the Reds' seventh player to start an outfield game this year, but the sad thing is that when Casey's ready to return to the starting lineup, the Reds can't really run with an outfield of Kearns, Adam Dunn, and Ruben Mateo; somebody has to play center field, and the wealth of corner outfield options means one of those three loses out. Having too many good choices can be a burden as well as an asset; if the Reds continue to indecisively sift through all of them without committing to any of them, all while goofing off with Reggie Taylor, they'll have wasted their time as well as that of their fans and players.

COLORADO ROCKIES Return to Top

Signed C-R Scott Servais to a minor-league contract. [4/16]

The Rockies seem to be in the business of the mass accumulation of catching talent. They hauled in both Tony Eusebio and Carlos Hernandez this winter, even though they already had Ben Petrick and Gary Bennett. Subsequently, they snarfed Bobby Estalella, this after releasing Hernandez and Eusebio. Now they've signed Scott Servais.

In light of all of that shuffling through so many catchers who, with the arguable exception of Servais, seem pretty useful, you might ask why the Joe Girardis or the Benito Santiagos or the Mike Mathenys or the Alberto Castillos have jobs. The answer, of course, is that those guys are all scintillating and engaging conversationalists, men known for the learning and wisdom and their ability to thoughtfully discuss the issues of the day. Sadly, while those skills might be enough to make them better options for the mid-morning slot on ESPN Radio that Tony Kornheiser really ought to vacate for the good of western civilization--does the world need to hear more about where he ate dinner or how bad his golf game is or how badly he wants to get it on with somebody from The View, and where is the sports content in my sports content, anyhoo?--these guys are all logging big-league playing time for no obviously explicable reason other than that they struck a manager's fancy.

Arguments about replacement talent are all well and good, but opportunities are clearly not distributed on a bottom-line appreciation of talent. If it was, Bobby Estalella would have a job in the majors, Benito Santiago would be riding pine, Alberto Castillo would be in the Northern League, and Joe Girardi would be doing color commentary and raising money for several worthy charities. Human nature, human decision-making skills, are by their nature unpredictable, which is half of the fun of being a person in the first place, but when people's careers are being derailed on the basis of goofy appreciations of veterandom on behalf of guys with vested pensions and used-up skills, it gets a lot less funny.

DETROIT TIGERS Return to Top

Purchased the contract LHP Jamie Walker from Toledo, optioned RHP Terry Pearson to Toledo. [4/16]

Placed 2B-R Damion Easley on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); recalled OF-R Craig Monroe from Toledo. [4/17]

On some levels, these moves help Luis Pujols construct a roster that starts making a wee bit of sense. Terry Pearson might be a Devil Ray-style human-interest story, but better to have a situational lefty you can use now than a nondescript minor-league vet who is not going to be the next Billy Taylor or Mike Williams. Craig Monroe is a legitimately good lefty masher, so he should give los Tigres an outstanding platoon in right field with the repeatedly snakebit Jacob Cruz. That in turn helps relegate Jose Macias to temping at second base until either Damion Easley or Damian Jackson heal up, but there's already a better alternative on the roster.

The larger question of why they're continuing to pretend Shane Halter can be a major-league shortstop begs answering. As spare parts go, I like Shane Halter a lot, especially if he can hit as well as he did last year. He can do a team a lot of good as a second baseman or spotting at third base, and even making a start once in a blue moon at shortstop on days when a relatively flyball-oriented pitcher like Jose Lima or Mark Redman is on the mound. Making him an everyday shortstop is a great way to make your pitchers wonder about whether they can get people out on routine grounders. They'd be better off with Craig Wilson, if only until Omar Infante might be ready later this summer.

FLORIDA MARLINS Return to Top

Placed RHP Julian Tavarez on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder); recalled RHP Hansel Izquierdo from Portland (Double-A). [4/17]

Jeff Torborg's competence has been called into question before, in plenty of spaces. He has Ozzie Guillen and his son the pro wrestler coaching for him, after all. I can already see the MTV special series Real Fish World, but with John Leguizamo spotting for Ozzie to avoid annoying test audiences into an early cancellation.

So you might say I'm over-inclined to empty both barrels into Torborg given the opportunity. But while putting Julian Tavarez in to fill in for Brad Penny made Torborg look bad and the Marlins look unprofessional, I can accept his rationalization that he wanted to save the bullpen. At the end of the day, the guy he was putting at risk was a pitcher who will be a free agent at the end of the season, as well as one who didn't mention that he didn't feel good after his last start. Who needs that, especially coming from Julian Tavarez?

In Tavarez's absence, rookie Kevin Olsen enters the rotation, and that's not a bad thing. It might have come a couple of months earlier than expected, but it was probably going to happen in-season anyway. Olsen has outstanding command of an otherwise pedestrian repertoire (sinker, curve, change-up), and that's a decent guy to have at the bottom of the rotation. Retread Hansel Izquierdo should be useful enough in Olsen's mop-up role, although the Fish pen being what it is, anybody might get a look-see in a save situation.

NEW YORK METS Return to Top

Placed RHP Satoru Komiyama on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 4/14 (lacerated finger); recalled RHP Tyler Yates from Norfolk. [4/16]

Optioned RHP Tyler Yates to Norfolk; purchased the contract of RHP Pete Walker from Norfolk. [4/17]

Sometimes an event betrays a basic weakness. For example, while I suppose that it's nice on some superficial level that the New York Times recently won a fistful of Pulitzers, all it takes is a quick glance at www.smartertimes.com (or The Economist) to make you wonder about the quality of the daily competition. It's enough to make a reader weep for the health of the written news in this country.

The Mets aren't really any better off. Losing the "Greg Maddux of Japan" gets them the Pete Walker of the International League. This might inspire a return to shopping for a lefty situational reliever, since Walker gets to fill that critical role of sixth right-hander (and fifth right-handed middle man) in the pen. Otherwise, it's all Mark Guthrie all the time. John Franco isn't expected to even pick up a baseball until May, and whatever his merits, he's not a guy known for his effectiveness against left-handed hitters. If the alternatives to getting a lefty are Walker or a novelty import act like Satoru Komiyama, the Mets would really be that much better off carrying another position player instead.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS Return to Top

Placed LHP Mark Mulder on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to 4/12 (strained forearm). [4/16]

Recalled RHP Mike Fyhrie from Sacramento. [4/17]

If there's a way to really take the wind out of Oakland's sails this year, not just something that leaves them gasping, but a real Marlboro Red lungbuster, it would be losing one of their big three in the rotation for a considerable length of time. This does not appear to be that deadly day. In theory, if Mark Mulder's forearm is fine after Thursday's throwing session, he'll be back in time to start on April 27, when he's eligible to come off of the DL.

That means that coming in, Mike Fyhrie has one shot at a start, but that's not all he has to worry about. If he does well, he has a shot at sticking around in the bullpen. Jeff Tam is struggling, all three lefties are struggling, and Art Howe seems unwilling to stick with Chad Bradford in one game for any length of time. Fyhrie doesn't throw hard and doesn't throw funky, but he does throw strikes, and he's been an effective mop-up man when relied upon in the role in the past.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES Return to Top

Activated IF-B Tomas Perez from the DL; optioned SS-R Nick Punto to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [4/16]

Overall, this is an easy upgrade for the bench, but that just highlights the differences between bench players and regular players, and how even the value of the relative skill sets involved needs to be weighted differently.

Tomas Perez is the better bench player for a few reasons: he has experience at multiple positions, and as a hitter, he's more likely to get the ball into play. Those are good things. Nick Punto is more valuable as a regular; not that he's going to be a great regular, but his skills are the kind that do you the most good in the lineup every day. Punto gets on base regularly but doesn't hit particularly well, he runs well, and he can pick it at shortstop. Those are the kinds of things that you exploit in hundreds of plate appearances, especially if the alternative is Kim Batiste or something. The Phillies already have Jimmy Rollins, so Punto's value should be in trade, to a team like the Devil Rays that could really use a shortstop who can play the position and chip in at the bottom of the order.

SAN DIEGO PADRES Return to Top

Purchased the contract of RHP Matt DeWitt from Portland; designated LHP Juan Moreno for assignment. [4/17]

Juan Moreno wasn't merely struggling with his command, he was leading the team in walks allowed despite making only four relief appearances. Now sure, that's in part because the Padres have a bunch of guys who throw strikes, but it's one of those stats you can barf up to amuse your friends.

Matt DeWitt is perfectly adequate roster filler as one of your last relievers, and although the Padres are down to just one left-hander in the pen, Alan Embree has done a fine job so far. It also isn't a assignment likely to last for DeWitt, because both Tom Davey and Jose Nunez are due to come off of the DL before the end of the month. DeWitt is one target, and the question is whether or not Jason Boyd is another now that Jeremy Fikac and Steve Reed are opening with good months.

SEATTLE MARINERS Return to Top

Purchased the contract of LHP Brian Fitzgerald from Tacoma; designated 1B-R Ron Wright for assignment. [4/16]

Although the Mariners have started the year hotter than John Ashcroft at a Shakira concert, the rotation hasn't been a source of strength in the early going. Jamie Moyer hasn't been working late into games, Paul Abbott's problems seem to be mounting, not lessening, and there's reasonable worry about how well John Halama might turn out. In this era of hyper-specialization in the pen, the Mariners have Jeff Nelson setting up, Arthur Lee Rhodes as the lone lefty, and three different righty long men (Joel Pineiro, Ryan Franklin, and Shiggy Hasegawa). So add another lefty arm, in this case organizational soldier Brian Fitzgerald, a short lefty picked out of Virginia Tech in the 20th round back in '96. He isn't a prospect or anything close, but he could be the next Mike Holtz easily enough.

TEXAS RANGERS Return to Top

Recalled CF-R Jason Romano from Oklahoma. [4/16]

Optioned LHP John Rocker to Oklahoma. [4/17]

The Rangers' injury plight is reaching desperate circumstances. On the one hand, they're missing several regulars, guys like Gonzo and Pudge, and that means changing what you might hope to do with other players in the lineup. But it also creates opportunities for others; Jason Romano came up for Colby Lewis as part of Lewis's putative reassignment to get a refresher on starting (why was he ever on the roster to start off with then?). Romano gives the Rangers another option in center field, something they need with Gabe Kapler getting injured (again), especially when the alternative is a Carl Everett as overinflated physically as philosophically. Romano might have a better chance of sticking around than Kevin Mench when Gonzo comes back, since Mench is the better prospect and needs the regular playing time, while Romano is a few years removed from the point when he earned his prospect status, cooling off in the intervening time.

As for John Rocker, well, among John Hart's missteps, I wouldn't hold Rocker too much against him. He didn't take much to get, and you're talking about a lefty who pumps gas in the mid-90s. Why not take a flyer? It didn't work out in the early going, but little ventured for nothing gained isn't the end of the world.

If Rocker stays with the organization, he could get ironed out and come back. It isn't like we're talking Steve Howe here; Rocker is a bit wild but talented. The talent deserves some measure of patience. The expectation is that Francisco Cordero will be recalled to replace Rocker when he becomes eligible for a callback on Thursday.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS Return to Top

Activated RHP Bob File from the DL; optioned RHP Pasqual Coco to Syracuse. [4/16]

The Blue Jays bullpen makes for an interesting study in contrasts at the moment. In front of closer Kelvim Escobar, there's a trio of lefties and a trio or right-handers. On the one hand, the trio of lefties has a ton of big-league experience: Dan Plesac, Felix Heredia, and Pedro Borbon have made more than 1,500 big-league relief appearances among them. Among the right-handed relievers, Rule 5 draftee Corey Thurman has six big-league appearances, and Justin Miller has three. Bob File is the reigning graybeard among them, with 62 games.

Now, that doesn't really mean a whole lot, beyond the fact that the three lefties have some trade value to contending and near-contending teams scratching around for a veteran lefty. Thurman and Miller might turn into useful starters, so they're essentially hanging out in middle relief roles. File is going to be leaned on pretty heavily, but he's coming in with only a single inning of live action at Dunedin under his belt, and he got lit up his first two nights back. If he picks up another pitch to complement his big sinker, he could be a dominant reliever, but he may just end up being pretty useful. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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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