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August 14, 2002

Transaction Analysis

August 8-11, 2002

by Christina Kahrl

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

Placed LHP Mike Remlinger on the 15-day DL (strained groin); recalled LHP John Foster from Richmond. [8/8]

Placed 1B/3B-R Wes Helms on the 15-day DL (sprained thumb); recalled 2B/3B-R Marcus Giles from Richmond. [8/11]

The Braves have the division won pretty handily, so they can take their time bringing either of them back. Losing one of these guys hurts, and losing the other is... well, it at least creates an opportunity. Mike Remlinger has been one of the best relievers in baseball in the best bullpen in baseball. The Braves will hardly be shorthanded in his absence, since Chris Hammond, Darren Holmes and John Smoltz (in that order) have also been exceptionally effective this year. But it looks like he'll be back before October, so while missing him is bad news, it may hurt in the short term, but it shouldn't alter the team's chances to make some noise when the games count all over again.

The more serious injury is to the less important player. Wes Helms has been the third wheel of the first base Franco y Franco tandem. His chief contribution was his flexibility; because he can play third, he gave the Braves a decent alternative to Vinny Castilla's minimal offensive contributions. His thumb injury is pretty serious; he may be lost for the season. The happy development for having lost him is that it creates an opportunity for Marcus Giles to come back. Giles has been playing as much third base as second at Richmond since the cocksure decision to demote him, and he might make for the offensive addition that the Braves' lineup could use. If Giles is remotely adequate at third, then with Mark DeRosa at second, the Francos at first and Raffy Furcal at short, the Braves may not have a great offensive infield, but at least they'll have avoided millstones like Castilla and Keith Lockhart.

The interesting question is about Castilla's value defensively. An offense-defense platoon might make some sense, in that you'd want to get Giles three or more plate appearances, and then trust in Castilla's glovework in the late innings. But does that always make sense as the best way to handle the competing responsibilities to field your best possible offense versus your best possible defensive unit? In their own ways, Davey Johnson or Tommy Lasorda would probably punt defense and get the best hitter into the lineup at the position (Howard Johnson at short or Pedro Guerrero at third being their most infamous examples, respectively); Earl Weaver was intriguing in that no matter how much he advocated doing everything you could to make sure you scored as many runs as possible, he'd find ways to get players whose strongest skills were defensive on the field (Belanger, Blair, Brooksie at the end, etc.). There's no clean answer to which way is the right way; clearly, who's pitching matters. A groundball pitcher like Greg Maddux is probably better off with Castilla, but we don't know. A more flyball-oriented pitcher like Jason Marquis might be better off with the extra offensive support. But this is the level of tactical detail which separates baseball from analysis: we can know what might make sense on an incremental level, but the fun is that beyond speculating about it, there's not necessarily any predictive quality.

For me, it's just interesting as much as it is unanswerable, but I'm admittedly one of those people who figures you can always use the runs. A related question is why you bother with defensive replacements; relievers generally have higher strikeout rates, and so allow fewer balls in play, and as a result, tend to be less defense-dependent. So why spare your defensive replacements for late in the game? Maybe Earl was onto something. The problem Castilla presents Bobby Cox is that Castilla is a famous ex-good player, so he isn't going to be pulled late in the game in a high-leverage situation for a better hitter.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES Return to Top

Placed RHP Sidney Ponson on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis); activated RHP Jason Johnson from the DL. [8/9]

This isn't really bad news for the Orioles. Sidney Ponson has been a source of concern as far as his long-term health for a couple of seasons. The question isn't what's been done to him this year as much as what sort of workload he had to carry early in his career, along with a build that conjures up more memories of Juan Berenguer than of Greg Maddux. He finished a month early last year, and he's breaking down again. Ponson's talent was enticing in its day, but the Orioles really should have kept their ears open for offers. Ponson could get a minor surgery and could rattle off a great second half next year; he could also enter a cycle of surgeries and struggles and more surgeries that will prevent him from ever regaining the promise he showed in 2000.

Given Ponson's dubious reliability in the future, the Orioles need to evaluate the other guys, and having lost him, they have the opportunity to do so. John Stephens rallied from an ugly (and ump-influenced) first start to rally in his second and post a good third, although it was against the admittedly feeble Tigers. Jason Johnson has another year to go on his contract, and if he's going to turn into a late bloomer, the Orioles need him on the mound as well. As is, they're stuck with Scott Erickson for another season, so they've got to take their rotation slots where they can get them, to see who's going to be able to join Rodrigo Lopez on the happy side of the ledger.

CINCINNATI REDS Return to Top

Activated 1B-L Sean Casey from the DL; optioned OF-B Brady Clark to Louisville. [8/9]

Sean Casey is back, but should he play everyday? Adam Dunn shouldn't sit behind anybody. Austin Kearns deserves to play. Ken Griffey Jr. is outhitting him already, as if he wasn't unbenchable otherwise. Russell Branyan is putting more runs on the board, and pushing him over to third base doesn't make as much sense when Aaron Boone is hitting well enough to stick in the lineup. Brandon Larson deserves to be somewhere on the diamond. So the outfield is full, and the infield corners have a good pair of options already. How does Casey get to play, beyond his copious quantities of Lindner lire and his compelling homage to Hal Morris?

The easy answer is--and will be--that Branyan will continue to play rover, spotting at third, the outfield corners, and perhaps first once in awhile. The ugly answer to go with the gorilla infield, moving Aaron Boone to second or short and benching one of the two players in the lineup that Casey is outhitting: Barry Larkin or Todd Walker. Given that the Walker-Larkin combo isn't one of the snappiest when it comes to turning the deuce, benching either (or even turning them into a semi-platoon) wouldn't be devastating to their defense. However, Larkin is as politically unbenchable as Griffey or Casey. It's easy to flog Carl Lindner for his unwillingness to spend more money on the stretch drive, but considering how much he's paying out for decaying quantities that are supposed to help keep the team popular locally, can you blame him? For a team that hasn't won anything and that should be doing everything in its power to win with the personnel on hand, the Reds can't even bring themselves to do that. They'll play it out and win or lose on the merits of the talent they're paying the most, no differently than if they didn't know better.

CLEVELAND INDIANS Return to Top

Activated RHP Bob Wickman from the DL; optioned RHP Sean DePaula to Buffalo. [8/10]

Purchased the contract of RHP Dave Burba from Akron (Double-A); optioned RHP Jason Beverlin to Buffalo. [8/11]

Yippee. The closer's back, which will be wonderful for... well, his stats, probably. During Bob Wickman's couple of weeks on the DL, there wasn't a single game where magical closing powers would have made a difference on the outcome. Now sure, there aren't that many save situations on a bad team, but that's the point. Wickman could be Dennis Eckersley from the late '80s, and he'd still be about as relevant to the team's wins and losses as he would be being Ron Davis.

Dave Burba's taking his spin. Why? What's next, a comeback for Phyllis Schlafly? The Indians are done for the year, they really need to spend the time left in the season to evaluate people who might be Indians in 2003, and not hand farewell laps to ex-Tribesmen. If they're going to hand ex-contributors to society at large, why settle for Dave Burba? There are all sorts of down-and-out minor celebrities who need a brush with renewed fame. Charlie Sheen was an Indian once, sort of. Why not him? As long as they aren't going to observe a commitment to their future, why bother with faded contributors? Why not auction off roster slots, so that Pia Zadora or Al Haig or Ron Perlman (in or out of Beast makeup? Let the fans decide!) get to spend a day in big league uniforms? At least then the Tribe would make some change on wasting their time, instead of just wasting it.

HOUSTON ASTROS Return to Top

Signed INF-B Jose Vizcaino to a one-year contract extension. [8/9]

Well, thank the stars above, I mean, without cost certainty for Jose Vizcaino, what would the Astros have to do? Bid for him against the evil goateed Astros from the alternate universe? For a franchise to fail to understand Vizcaino's inherent interchangeability on the one hand, and his extremely weak market value on the other, really beggars description.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS Return to Top

Optioned 2B-R Carlos Febles to Omaha. [8/11]

Perhaps even more than catcher, second base is as much a career graveyard as you'll find on the diamond. When Carlos Febles came up as the other half of Los Dos Carlitos, while he wasn't expected to be the next Joe Morgan, there was a reasonable hope that he'd be the next Tony Phillips. Instead, the Royals got the next Brent Gates. You don't want to call a player who's only 26 done. Teammate Luis Alicea hadn't pushed past the infamous Geronimo Pena at 26, and he went on to have a fine career. In Febles' absence, the Royals can take a look at a retreaded Mike Caruso, or play Alicea to just play out the string. Caruso is a disappointment in his own way even more than Febles, but between being rushed up from A-ball and struggling to learn at the major league level, he's still relatively raw at 25. It seems unlikely that they'd do something as bold as trying to make Chuck Knoblauch go back to the keystone. So temporarily, they're sorting through temps.

Looking forward to next year, if they can't rehabilitate Febles, they're probably looking at retooling up the middle. Wichita second baseman Brian Harris has good on-base skills, but he may not be ready to take over the job in spring training next year. Neifi Perez is a free agent whose departure should be unlamented, hopefully allowing Angel Berroa to take over at short. Given that it's the replacement of an ex-prospect with other prospects, this may not be a perfect vision of hope, but it has to represent some form of progress. If Harris is ready to go by June, and Febles hasn't reclaimed some kind of future for himself, the Royals will be better off cutting bait and moving on.

NEW YORK YANKEES Return to Top

Activated RHP Mariano Rivera from the DL; optioned RHP Mike Thurman to Columbus. [8/8]

Placed 1B-L Nick Johnson on the 15-day DL (bruised wrist); recalled RHP Mike Thurman from Columbus. [8/10]

Effectively, the only thing lost with Nick Johnson's latest trip to the DL is development time for Johnson, and the hope that he might break out down the stretch. But on the basis of how he's hit so far, the Yankees have interchangeable parts galore, and keep muddling along with solid supports to the offensive core of Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Alfonso Soriano and Jason Giambi. With Rondell White, Raul Mondesi, and the platoon of John VanderWal and Shane Spencer, they're adequately covered at DH and the outfield corners. Any one of them is as likely to get hot down the stretch as Johnson is; it's just that none of them are as important to the Yankees' offense of the next four years or so as Johnson should be.

NEW YORK METS Return to Top

Placed 3B-R Edgardo Alfonzo on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); recalled INF-R Marcos Scutaro from Norfolk. [8/10]

The Mets are still muddling around .500 while feigning contention. Losing Edgardo Alfonzo is a slap in the face to those daydreams. He's been their best player this season, their most productive hitter as well as playing an exceptional third base. Somewhat fortunately, the Mets have their best bench players available to replace him, but Marcos Scutaro and Ty Wigginton aren't going to be anywhere as productive, and the Mets' offense was a short-sequence outfit to start off with. It's possible that the Mets could suddenly enjoy revivals from Roberto Alomar or Mo Vaughn or Roger Cedeno, but they were a .500 team with Alfonzo playing his guts out. They need everyone to resemble some sliver of what they were to mount a real charge in the wild card race, and not just some brief two-week fling with goodness, like Vaughn briefly flashed.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES Return to Top

Recalled RHP Mike Lincoln from Nashville; optioned RHP Sean Lowe to Nashville. [8/10]

Sean Lowe had an option. Think about that. Sean Lowe had an option, and it took until August for the Pirates to work up the nerve to put it to use. I know and you know that Mike Lincoln is essentially replaceable. So is Lowe. On what level aren't results supposed to matter? Lowe didn't go three consecutive outings without giving up a run until June. He was awful in the early going. Mike Lincoln, by contrast, was not. He hasn't done that much worse than Lincoln, but when Lincoln was going strong, he got demoted, and now that Lowe has salvaged some shred of respectability, it seems both disappointing and sadly consistent that he has also been demoted. There was little in the way of superficial considerations: you might think Lowe got kept around because he was in the Ritchie deal, but Josh Fogg and Kip Wells made the deal look good early, while Ritchie went into the tank from the opening bell.

Meanwhile, they've got Brian Meadows and Ron Villone on the roster simultaneously. Two roster spots, two flyers, on two journeymen, both of whom are longshots to turn out well. Why can't the Pirates accept when the time comes to cut bait? Speaking as someone who believes that Villone may someday turn out well, the Pirates should cut him loose if it's a choice between him, someone to start, and a pair of relievers who haven't earned trips to Nashville as much as Villone has earned his walking papers.

SAN DIEGO PADRES Return to Top

Placed LHP Oliver Perez on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 8/7; activated LHP Kevin Walker from the DL. [8/8]

There's a reasonable amount of concern that Oliver Perez has been asked to throw too many innings for someone of his age (21) and with his slight build. The good news is that the Padres seem to be on top of it, shutting down quickly at the first sign of trouble. Having tossed 133.1 IP, he hasn't pitched as many innings as he did last year, which is why the Padres are moving quickly. The horror of losing Perez is that he's being notionally replaced by The Other Bobby Jones. At least the Pads have four other presentable starters, but hopefully come September and roster expansion, they'll make space for another spin with Dennis Tankersley.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS Return to Top

Claimed LHP Scott Eyre off of waivers from the Blue Jays; designated LHP Jason Pearson for assignment. [8/8]

Outrighted LHP Troy Brohawn to Fresno. [8/9]

For reasons mentioned already, nabbing Scott Eyre for the $25 grand of a waiver claim is a pretty nice move for the Giants. He had been productive as a reliever on the season for the Blue Jays, limiting lefties to rates of .217/.281/.308 on the year with an Adjusted Runs Prevented figure of 7.2. Getting this kind of talent for that modest price at this time of year is about as good a break for the Giants as they could ask for. Aaron Fultz and Troy Brohawn have both been bad news as the second lefties in the Giants' pen, so they could definitely use Eyre to complement Chad Zerbe.

SEATTLE MARINERS Return to Top

Acquired INF-B Jose Offerman from the Red Sox for cash; designated LHP Brian Fitzgerald for assignment. [8/8]

Placed INF-B Luis Ugueto in the 15-day DL (sprained wrist), retroactive to 8/8; added INF-B Jose Offerman to the active roster. [8/9]

Jose Offerman might not seem like much of a stretch drive acquisition, but that's not the standard to which he should be held. If Pat Gillick decided to stand pat, that's another issue, but within the narrow scope of replacing Luis Ugueto with Offerman, this makes the Mariners' bench better. A Rule 5er limited to pinch-running, Ugueto was a luxury the Mariners can ill afford if their focus over the next two months is going to be on winning the AL West. He can spot at second, first or DH, and he can pinch-run.

The question is whether or not he's an asset beyond that limited scope. The Mariners already have Desi Relaford and Mark McLemore on the bench, covering the second, short, third, and the outfield corners well enough. They've got a utility infielder and pinch-runner on the roster already in Charles Gipson. What this roster still needs is a fourth outfielder worthy of the name. On some level, getting Offerman should relegate McLemore even more to outfield duties, but if anything happened to Ichiro or Mike Cameron, the Mariners would be caught short-handed. Offerman doesn't fix that. Neither Tacoma or San Antonio have anyone who could fill in if either outfield star broke down. If Gillick brings something in before the August deadline, Offerman is probably the guy who gets cut to make room.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS Return to Top

Recalled RHP Justin Miller from Syracuse; optioned OF-L Pedro Swann to Syracuse. [8/9]

Placed 1B-L Carlos Delgado on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/9 (sore back); purchased the contract of 1B/OF-R Brian Lesher from Syracuse. [8/11]

Losing Carlos Delgado is pretty crippling for the Jays' offense. There is some good news in that Chris Woodward is still doing compelling Ripkenesque stylings, and Orlando Hudson is now that much more guaranteed of playing time. The question is who covers first base. Eric Hinske might move over, giving Dave Berg some playing time at third. This could be an opportunity to play Tom Wilson reguarly at first, and going with Ken Huckaby even more regularly behind the plate. However, doing that might create a premature impetus to bring up Kevin Cash, and it's better to take their time with their eventual starting catcher until he's hitting consistently in Syracuse. Or it could make the Jays do something they'd rather avoid, which is having Josh Phelps do anything that might distract him from working on his hitting.

Another alternative is to play a journeyman like Brian Lesher, call up a minor league journeyman like Gary Burnham, or bring up an organizational soldier like Shawn Fagan. But Fagan is only in his first season above A-ball (hitting .270/.401/.423 for the Smokies, which is only a .238 translated Equivalent Average in the majors), and Burnham's production at Syracuse gets him up to a .254 major league EqA, which isn't quite what you want from a first baseman that you'd have to make room for on the 40-man roster.

Fortunately, Delgado is supposed to be back before roster expansion or Labor Day, so this shouldn't be a problem that haunts the roster for long.

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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