March 10, 2003
March 5-8, 2003
Announced the retirement of C/DH/Owner-L Dave Nilsson. [3/6]
Nilsson couldn't bring himself back to play after three years away. Although I'm sure somebody's going to stand up for Joe Quinn or Craig Shipley, to my mind Nilsson was the game's first Australian star, a prospect from down under who lived up to the advance billing. He came in as the guy who'd hit .400 in El Paso, and he was no Bruce Fields. Although there were too many hangups over his defensive limitations behind the plate, he was a hitter's hitter and an adequate if weak-armed backstop. In the end, he wound up being the Brewers' Harmon Killebrew, where instead of sticking him at a position and leaving him there, they tended to punt him around from position to position as needed, never letting him settle in anywhere, and not really doing him any favors as a product of the "flexibility" he offered them because of his weakness with leather in any shape or size.
For the record, I should point out this argument, as it relates to Killebrew, isn't mine, but is instead put forward convincingly by Mark Armour and Dan Levitt in the soon-to-be-released Paths to Glory, a book about team building in the 20th century that I happened to edit, so I'm biased as well as compromised by direct interest.
Traded OF-R Alan Moye and INF-B Damaso Espino to the Royals for RHP Jeff Austin and LHP Brian Shackelford. [3/6] Returned Rule 5 pick RHP Jerome Gamble to the Red Sox. [3/7]
Announced that LHP Bruce Chen is wrestling with a proposed assignment to Louisville, and sent him to their minor league camp. [3/8]
I went into the Royals trade thinking the Reds took Allard Baird the same way everyone feels free to put their hands in Baird's pockets, but this move wasn't quite so cut-and-dried (see the Royals comment below for more on that). Basically, the Reds acquired another couple of live arms in a world populated with live arms. I don't see nascent greatness in Jeff Austin's future, so acquiring a middle reliever aspiring to mediocrity isn't really the sort of thing you brag about. As for Brian Shackelford, he's interesting, but still very wild. Maybe he'll be something, and certainly the Reds could use lefty relief arms in the organization, especially now that Bruce Chen seems to have worn out yet another welcome while remaining intriguing to third or eighth or 22nd parties scattered hither and yon.
Assigned RHP Jose Cueto to Carolina (Double-A) and RHP Wes Anderson to Jupiter (A-ball); reassigned RHP Bryan Rekar to their minor league camp; outrighted LHP Geoff Goetz to Albuquerque; released OF-R Sherman Obando. [3/7]
With Goetz still recovering from arm injury, the Fish could afford to outright him this early and not have to worry about losing him to a waiver claim. Plus, in terms of distributing the innings around in camp, the pitching staff has a number of options for the fifth slot in the rotation and the last few slots in the pen, and Jeff Torborg needs to look at Mike Tejera, Carl Pavano, Justin Wayne, and Kevin Olsen to see which pile they belong in. And that's before we get into needing to make space for non-roster invitees who will probably crack the Opening Day roster, especially an outfielder (most likely either Chad Allen or Chris Wakeland).
If there's a minor surprise, it's that Bryan Rekar was excused from the swing-man group already. His career doldrums have gone on a lot longer than expected since leaving the Rockies, but in all fairness, how many pitchers would you reasonably expect to go from Colorado to Tampa Bay to the Royals and turn out okay? He's over 30, so it isn't like we're talking about somebody with promise any more. We're talking about somebody who just didn't pan out, but who also wasn't exactly gifted with the best circumstances in which to succeed.
Released INF-B Elvis Pena. [3/5]
Acquried OF-R Alan Moye and INF-B Damaso Espino from the Reds for RHP Jeff Austin and LHP Brian Shackelford. [3/6]
To be charitable, the Royals might not have given Jeff Austin a really fair shake, although he had clearly bombed as a starting pitcher, and his value as a reliever was no more than moderate. So he'd worked his way down to being just another arm, while Shackelford is merely moderately interesting as a sort of really destitute man's Brooks Kieschnick. So what did they get back? You could wrap your head in muslin and pretend that Alan Moye could be the next Jermaine Dye; he's athletic, shows power and speed, and with repetition, coaching, and a receptive mind, he could improve across the board and be a hell of a prospect. He's also somebody who hit only .261/.324/.446 at Billings, a lot less than you'd like from a prospect. So he could just as easily continue to be clumsy afield, impatient at the plate, and never amount to anything. He's a worthwhile body to take a flyer on, and he'll make a fascinating test case for the organization's newfound commitment to baseball fundamentals--getting on base, scoring runs, you know, the things that work for everybody. As for Damaso Espino, he's a little more intriguing: a Panamanian just shy of 20, he played second, third and short for Sarasota in the Gulf Coast League last year, and he pegged 22 doubles while hitting .332. Nobody should be predicting the next Wade Boggs or even the next Kevin Youkilis--he's just another interesting flyer to have taken. Now it's up to the Royals' organization to make something out of them, which can mean either more of the same old disappointments, or something new and improved. As minor signals of what should be a very interesting year for the organization, this was an interesting little trade, fraught with risk, but worthwhile risk.
Outrighted RHP Eric Good to Harrisburg (Double-A); reassigned RHPs Ron Chiavacci and Clint Everts to their minor league camp. [3/7]
Having missed most of the last couple of years, Good is recovering from shoulder surgery, so he wasn't really a risk to outright at this point of camp. Chiavacci has been a minor disappointment for a while, so again, excusing him early wasn't that much of a surprise. Hopefully, he will continue to get his career back on track in a relief role, because the odds of his ascending to the majors and becoming an asset in the pen are pretty good, especially after Frank Robinson made a point by assembling and thriving with last year's no-name bullpen.
Optioned RHPs Justin Duchscherer and Bert Snow to Sacramento; assigned RHPs Heath Bost and Dave Hooten and LHP John Rheinecker to minor league camp; returned INF-R Oscar Robles to Oaxaca of the Mexican League. [3/8]
Amidst the horde of worthwhile candidates for the last two slots in the rotation and for a variety of bullpen jobs, it was clear that some guys just weren't going to get long looks. Duchscherer and Rheinecker (not to be confused with the bit players Hamlet thoughtlessly gets offed) are both starting pitchers who shouldn't get opportunities until deep in the summer, and then only if several things have gone wrong in the majors. That doesn't make them non-prospects, but they're the kinds of guys who risk getting dealt in the inevitable July shopping frenzy for Beane's boys. As for Hooten, Bost and Snow, all are interesting relief options in their own rights, but with an overflow of starting pitcher candidates for the last job or two in the rotation, plus guys like Jeremy Fikac, Chad Harville, Mike Neu, Joe Valentine, and Buddy Hernandez in the bullpen picture, it makes for a crowded field, crowded all the more by the team's aggressive approach to acquisitions, and the continuing relative passivity a number of teams still display. It isn't always going to be this easy to put together this much good stuff, as teams learn from the example set here, but in the meantime, Oakland is still one of the teams with a competitive advantage when it comes to acquiring big-league talent on the cheap.
Re-signed RHP Brian Lawrence to a four-year contract with a club option for 2007. [3/7]
It isn't too often that you see a pitcher signed through his arbitration eligibility, or given a four-year contract without first having any leverage. But this isn't a bad decision, considering that Lawrence is healthy and likely to enjoy continued success. Given that the upside is that they eliminate a bunch of off-season headaches with a pitcher who could be one of the league's best starters over the life of the contract, it's entirely a good thing.
You might have thought all three pitchers were on the 'maybes' list going into camp if you only considered the team's roster as of the end of September, but Cassidy and Smith were sort of pressed into the breach last year because of injuries, Gord Ash's inattention to the minor league free agent market, and the failure of so many other toolsy project pitchers that Ash and company seemed to favor. This year's camp, with a few extra low-end veterans (Jeff Tam, Pete Walker, Doug Linton) and worthwhile projects (Cliff Politte, Evan Thomas, and Josh Towers) around from the start of camp, guys like Cassidy and Wiggins and particularly Smith can instead try to create and build on some International League success.