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February 13, 2003

Transaction Analysis

January 24-February 9, 2003

by Christina Kahrl

IN THIS ISSUE
American League
National League
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS Return to Top

Signed PH-B Carlos Baerga to a minor league contract. [1/31]

This is Arizona, so you can pretty much count on AARP set-asides. What with Jay Bell's departure to...Valhalla? The Joe Garagiola Jr. Big Buck Blowout Hall of Fame? You have to think that Carlos Baerga could play the underpowered, undertall, overaged card in a market sensitive to paunchy delusions of adequacy. Baerga has no value anywhere but at the plate, and his value as a pinch-hitter is basically restricted to long singles. Consider swapping down from Greg Colbrunn to Baerga another downgrade, like retaining Matt Williams and Mark Grace. This is beginning to look like an offense being built to get Curt Schilling some pinch-hit at-bats.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES Return to Top

Signed INF-Rs Jeff Reboulet and John Valentin to minor league contracts; agreed with LHP B.J. Ryan on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/29]

What this effectively means is that Brian Roberts must beat out Jerry Hairston for the second base job if he's going to stick, because the Orioles were short on utility infielders before they elected to sign Reboulet and Valentin. Otherwise, you've got Melvin Mora to back up at short, and that's about it. As a result, both Reboulet and Valentin have decent shots to win jobs, although that doesn't mean much in terms of giving Mike Hargrove a bench with variegated skills: almost everyone on the bench hits righty. Reboulet doesn't hit well enough to easily beat out Hairston or Roberts at second or Deivi Cruz at short, while Valentin can't really handle the middle infield regularly, making him just Tony Batista's caddy if he makes it. But hey, they're well-aged meat, and sometimes that turns into prosciutto. Sometimes it can also mean combustive gastroenteritis, but them's the risks you take when you're dumpster diving.

BOSTON RED SOX Return to Top

Agreed with C-R Doug Mirabelli on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/24]

Agreed with INF-R Lou Merloni on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/3]

Claimed RHP Bronson Arroyo off of waivers from the Pirates; designated RHP Juan Pena for assignment. [2/4]

I like the snagging of Bronson Arroyo off of waivers, if only because I still like his assortment. He showed a lot of improvement against lefties in 2002 in Nashville, while posting a nifty Triple-A season overall. There are worse people to take flyers on, even if the Devil Rays seem to have grabbed all of those first.

As for moving Juan Pena aside, just keep in mind that his 2000 Tommy John surgery didn't involve a very successful recovery. Even with the best medical care in the world, people will still die because of anaesthesia overdoses, flesh-eating buggies, nosocomial infections, you name it. Going under the knife is always going to be a roll of the dice on some level or another, and getting caught up in the legends of infallible medical supermen like Doctors Kildare or Welby is just so much wishcasting.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX Return to Top

Signed RHPs Esteban Loaiza, Gil Heredia, and Brian Cooper, 1B/OF-L Brian Daubach, C-R Jamie Burke, and OF-R Cliff Brumbaugh to minor league contracts. [1/27]

Agreed with RHP Billy Koch on a two-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/29]

Kudos to Kenny Williams for assembling one of the winter's niftiest swags on the NRI market. Because of Jon Rauch's shoulder and the uncertainty over whether he'll be the pitcher who was strong down the stretch in Triple-A or the guy who missed big chunks of the last two seasons, it was definitely worth hauling in Esteban Loaiza for a peek just in case. Gil Heredia's a bit more of a stretch, since at best you're hoping that the league forgot him and will have to catch up all over again; even if he's back in the early going, I have to think he'll tank by August.

Even more interesting was the decision to build a nifty DH/1B/LF platoon to spare. Bringing in Brian Daubach and Cliff Brumbaugh is what the Expos should have done, instead of trading for Jeff Liefer or considering moving Brad Wilkerson out of center when the alternative is Jose Macias or Damon Buford. But the White Sox? Well, they've got Konerko at first, and the Big Hurt at DH, and Magglio Ordonez in right and Carlos Lee in left. What are they going to do with Daubach and Brumbaugh? They already acquired their notional supercloser and the top shelf starter they needed. I can't help but think this might be a move that, while it gives them nice depth, really give Williams the freedom of action that would allow them to move Carlos Lee to the willing owner of a nice #3 starter.

CLEVELAND INDIANS Return to Top

Signed RHPs Paul Rigdon and Rafael Betancourt, 1B-R Ron Wright, and OF-L Brant Brown to minor league contracts. [2/6]

This is like picking up spare change in a foreign country, on the off chance that some of it might convert in the States. All of these guys are damaged goods on one level or another. Betancourt is recovering from elbow surgery, Rigdon has scragged his elbow and shoulder, Wright's career has been derailed by back problems, and Brant Brown has been Brant Brown his entire life. Of the gaggle of retreads, I guess I like Wright the best, if only because he might give either Travis Hafner or Ben Broussard a right-handed platoon partner with some sock. Betancourt merely serves as yet another reminder that getting all excited about minor league relievers is sort of like getting excited about ants: yes, they're nifty testaments to life in its glory, profusion, and wonder, but mostly, there are just a lot of them.

DETROIT TIGERS Return to Top

Signed RHP Julio Santana to a one-year contract; outrighted OF-R Craig Monroe to Toledo. [1/24]

Signed 1B-L Kevin Witt to a minor league contract. [1/29]

Well, I'm probably the last person who should talk, considering I've liked Kevin Witt for almost certainly far too long, but signing him isn't such a bad thing. Unfortunately, their surplus of light-hitting corner outfielders and mediocre DHs will pretty much keep Witt in Toledo. It would take a couple of Maalox and some vision to just cut bait on people like Craig Paquette, and they're never going to make Bobby Higginson somebody else's problem now.

FLORIDA MARLINS Return to Top

Signed DH-R Sherman Obando to a minor league contract. [2/8]

The former Nippon Ham Fighter makes his return to the majors for the first time since 1997. Why not? They signed Todd Hollandsworth. They probably tried to get Lance Johnson. At this rate, finding people willing to take a check from Jeffrey Loria has to be getting tough.

HOUSTON ASTROS Return to Top

Signed RHP Anthony Telford to a minor league contract. [2/7]

KANSAS CITY ROYALS Return to Top

Signed RHP Buddy Carlyle to a minor league contract. [1/30]

Signed OF-R Mike Kelly to a minor league contract. [1/31]

Carlyle was in Japan the last two years, after a promising career coming up through the Padres' chain. He wasn't all bad abroad, posting translated and equivalent ERAs below five in 2001 before struggling in 2002. He's still only 25, and given the Royals' desperate shortage of big league-ready pitching, it's worth seeing if Carlyle might turn out better than last year's re-import, Darrell May.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS Return to Top

Signed 1B-R Ron Coomer to a minor league contract. [1/30]

Agreed to a one-year contract with RHP Giovanni Carrara, avoiding arbitration. [2/4]

I've rooted for Coomer for a long time now, considering he didn't get his big league career started until he was almost 30, but he's 36 now, can't play anywhere but first for more than a couple of innings, and his main virtue is his experience as a pinch-hitter. He is not an upgrade on Dave Hansen or Tyler Houston, but he is still breathing, and signing him beats actually trying out somebody new or with any upside.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS Return to Top

Signed C-R Eddie Perez to a minor league contract. [1/24]

Signed OF-L John Vander Wal to a minor league contract. [1/28]

What does Vander Wal give the Brewers? "Bench leadership." Isn't that what the manager is for? In the world of lame comments, this ranks with Gene Wojciechowski's infamous stint as a beat writer covering the Cubs for the Tribune. One of journalism's claims is that trained journalists are polished generalists, so you get people who can write travel columns and baseball insights with equal merit; Wojo demonstrated that basketball guys may not only not know anything about baseball, they don't even have to try very hard to do very badly writing about it.

Instead, perhaps the Brewers should try to be a bit more honest. All three starting outfielders - Geoff Jenkins, Jeffrey Hammonds, and Alex Sanchez - are damaged goods, and the odds that all three will play a full season rank with my odds of winning the lottery, keeping in mind that I don't buy tickets. Vander Wal isn't here for leadership, he's here because he might end up playing almost every day. Elsewise, what advice is he supposed to offer? "Play all out guys, give it your all! Hustle wins games!" (Snap) "OWWWW!!! Damn, that was the last knee I had left, argh..." "Vander Wal, get out there." "Whatever you say, skip."

MINNESOTA TWINS Return to Top

Agreed to a two-year contract with OF-L Jacque Jones, avoiding arbitration. [2/2]

In the end, they settled at $7.1 million over two years, and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of concern that they're going to move any extra salary. Ideally, they shouldn't, since people like Rick Reed and Doug Mientkiewicz will come off the payroll after the season.

MONTREAL EXPOS Return to Top

Signed OF-R Damon Buford to a minor league contract. [1/30]

Agreed to a one-year contract with LHP Joey Eischen, with an option for 2004, avoiding arbitration. [1/31]

I know that Omar Minaya's dealing with what seems to be an impossible balance of demands in terms of roster management, fiscal responsibility, and fielding a team that might justify Czar Bud's inflated franchise pricing for tepidly interested shoppers, but this is pathetic. On the one hand, he's going to field a team that will probably have Jeff Liefer at first, might have to give Damon Buford an undeserved shot at substantial playing time because the center field alternatives might be limited to Endy Chavez and Jose Macias, and then he overpays Joey Eischen? Given financial constraints, there is no way that paying somewhere around $800 grand to a journeyman lefty makes sense on a roster that cries out for some moderate expenditures to acquire something legit for first base or whatever outfield slot Vladi Guerrero and Brad Wilkerson aren't in. Eischen should have been non-tendered or traded Herges-style, regardless of whether or not last year's nice little season gave Youppi warm fuzzies.

NEW YORK YANKEES Return to Top

Signed RHP Jon Lieber to a two-year contract with a club option for 2005. [1/24]

Signed RHP Juan Acevedo to a minor league contract. [1/27]

Released LHP Randy Keisler. [2/6]

There are two big themes here, both interesting. On the one hand, the Yankees management team of Cashman and company deserves credit for a creative solution to the rotation picture beyond the 2003 starting pitcher balloon year. Wells and Hitchcock will definitely be gone, and perhaps Clemens and/or Pettitte as well. So why not bring in Lieber on a low-end deal for this year (he may not pitch until August or so anyway), with a bump up for 2004, when he should be healthy? The risk is that Lieber will probably still have rough spots in early 2004, even if he recovers fully, as he regains his command, but even then, this was a worthwhile risk.

The other theme is that with the decisions to pick up Juan Acevedo and Antonio Osuna, you have to start wondering how optimistic the Yankees really are about Steve Karsay's back and Mariano Rivera's shoulder. For all of the palavering about this year's rotation, I think the real story is that there's a real danger of the bullpen making a return to those grim times when Lance McCullers and Dale Mohorcic were supposed to make up for Dave Righetti's slide into mediocrity.

NEW YORK METS Return to Top

Signed LHP Graeme Lloyd to a minor league contract. [1/24]

Signed 1B-L Mike Glavine to a minor league contract. [2/3]

Signed RHP Bobby Munoz to a minor league contract. [2/6]

At least Tom Glavine doesn't have to say something nice about New York's public schools, he can point to the more old-fashioned reason for why he loves the Big Apple: nepotism intended to preserve, protect, and reward the weak. This is supposed to be the hometown of 'market efficiency?' Bleargh. Mike Glavine can barely hold down a job in Double-A. What's he going to do, be the oldest A-ball first baseman around? Block Craig Brazell at Binghamton? Send postcards to his brother, about how he gets clean clothes and three squares, every day? Criminy.

More happily, the Mets added to their criminally large stockpile of quality left-handed relievers. They don't really need Graeme Lloyd for themselves, since they already have Mike Stanton and Jaime Cerda, with John Franco rehabbing and likely to be back by the All-Star Game. Still, better safe than sorry, and if somebody gets desperate at the end of March and makes an offer, Steve Phillips is sitting relatively pretty. As long as he does a better job than he did last year of converting his pitching surplus into something that could help win some games, he'll come out ahead.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS Return to Top

Agreed with 1B-L Erubiel Durazo on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/28]

Announced the retirement of OF-L David Justice. [2/6]

Signed 1B-R Olmedo Saenz to a minor league contract. [2/9]

I generally try to write an impassioned farewell to a player whose career I particularly enjoyed, but I don't know what there is to say about David Justice that hasn't already been said, or hasn't been seen zillions of times during his heavily TBS-oriented career or his near-annual appearances in the postseason. The guy played in six World Series and 112 postseason games, got to take his chances with Halle Berry, and he should be pretty well set for life financially. I don't feel sad to see him go as much as I think we can all take some solace in the idea that this was a guy who got to do things millions will only dream of, because he was great at what he did. He was one of the great offensive second bananas of the '90s, which might only get him a spot in the Braves' Hall of Fame, but like I said, nobody should weep for David Justice. He did good.

I may well be in the minority, but I like bringing back Saenz. He may not be 100% healthy during his career ever again, but with Durazo and Hatteberg manning first and DH, Saenz should be able to get some platoon at-bats against lefty pitching.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES Return to Top

Signed RHP Mike Fyhrie to a minor league contract. [1/29]

Agreed to a one-year contract with INF-R Placido Polanco, avoiding arbitration. [1/30]

Signed LF-R Pat Burrell to a six-year contract through 2008. [2/3]

Sold INF-R Mike Coolbaugh to Doosan of the Korean League. [2/5]

Ed Wade may never be considered one of the game's genius GMs, but he did the entirely sensible thing in going long-term with Pat Burrell now. Sure, he still has the problem of what to do when Burrell and Thome are at the tail ends of their deals, and Burrell's bulk needs to move to first, and Thome's back to DH, but those shouldn't be issues for the first few years or their twinned six-year contracts. And if it means that the Phillies feature one of the deadlier hearts of the order in the game in the meantime, in the lowering expectations of the NL East these days, that's a recipe for contention.

Polanco only cost the low, low price of $2.875 million, which is a lot to pay for an adequate hitter at second base. This is, of course, the club that's paying a lot to David Bell for the same sort of sweetness at third, so you can definitely credit Wade with consistency.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES Return to Top

Signed RHP Pat Mahomes to a minor league contract. [1/27]

Signed RHP Julian Tavarez to a minor league contract. [1/28]

Signed RHP Jeff Suppan to a one-year contract with a club option for 2004. [1/29]

Again, call me a one-note tune, but I've been willing to sing Jeff Suppan's praises in the past, and while the notes are obviously a bit more flat these days, I'll still keep playing. While Kris Benson tries to recover his command and come the rest of the way back from his elbow surgery, signing Suppan gives the Bucs a third starter to slot behind Kip Wells and Josh Fogg, while pushing Brian Meadows back into the fight for the fifth job, which is no better than he deserves. They're probably up into the mid-70s in terms of the number of wins they can reasonably expect, although a real center fielder would help.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS Return to Top

Signed OF-L Orlando Palmeiro to a one-year contract, and OF-R Alex Ochoa to a minor league contract. [2/1]

The Cardinals were crying out for some outfield depth last year, and not just because Bill Ortega got himself suspended or So Taguchi turned out to be so worth less than a million bucks. Kerry Robinson is, at best, a decent fifth outfielder, but on last year's Cardinals he was almost outfielder 3.5. So it might be a season late, but the Cardinals are a lot better off for bringing in both Orlando Palmeiro and Alex Ochoa. Ochoa is a decent spare part and semi-regular, finally giving the Cards a backup outfielder with some sock, which Palmeiro is a better version of the skillset that Robinson brings to the table, providing speed and some hit-slappery from the left side of the plate.

SAN DIEGO PADRES Return to Top

Signed 2B-L Keith Lockhart to a one-year contract. [2/3]

Try as they might, they could not convince Tim Flannery to come out of retirement, or Katarina Witt to try baseball, and it appears some sort of prohibition on sentients made up of multiple food groups kept Floppy the Taco from serious consideration. So with those sorts of stumbling blocks, why not sign Keith Lockhart? He's only been horrendous for most of the last five years. Why not sign him? What could go wrong? It isn't like he'd hit well, earn a job, have a great year, file for arbitration, and take you to the cleaners. No, when you're trolling these depths, you can live with low, easily achieved expectations.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS Return to Top

Signed CF-R Ruben Rivera to a minor league contract. [1/25]

Signed C-R Alberto Castillo to a minor league contract. [2/5]

Alberto Castillo has two skills: he can bunt pretty well for a guy people expect to bunt, and he can throw. This doesn't make him a hitter you want to let hit or a catcher you want to let catch, but the Giants are only sensibly adding depth, just in case something happened to either Benito Santiago or Yorvit Torrealba. Otherwise, they're down to Edwards Guzman or Trey Lunsford. What that really means is that if the Giants suffer an injury, or if Santiago gets old while Torrealba doesn't progress, Brian Sabean will still have to make a deal to fix the problem, Castillo or no Castillo.

Hey, as long as Pete Rose is being forgiven for crimes committed, why not forgive Ruben Rivera too? And Bud Selig can apologize to the Lakota for distributing pox-addled blankets. And ask for forgiveness from marsupials on behalf of all placental mammals, because we didn't mean to be superior, it was just a big misunderstanding. See, once you get on this forgive and let live kick to win friends and influence people, everybody gets fuzzy. Don't you feel better?

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS Return to Top

Signed RHP Dan Reichert to a one-year contract. [1/28]

Signed RHP Carlos Reyes to a minor league contract. [2/3]

Signed 1B-L Travis Lee to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2004. [2/6]

There's a moment in the 1977 William Friedkin funfest Sorceror (also remembered as The Wages of Fear, based on the original French film of the same name), where Roy Scheider, before embracing his fate as one of the damned, dances with the lone scabrous doxy in the local dirt-floored rotgut shot joint as a final celebration of the joy of being alive, before going to his execution at the hands of the Mafiosos he was hiding from. It's a moment that reminds us all that, no matter how glum things get at times, it's worth taking the time to enjoy the simple things in life. So if, as we speak, Vince Naimoli is telling us all "Look Ma, I'm dancing!" I think it's important for us to acknowledge his commendable joie de vivre. Who else can haul in Travis Lee, Rey Ordonez, and Marlon Anderson, and consider it progress? When you sign a pitcher like Dan Reichert, full of the knowledge that there's a very good probability that he'll be anywhere from 99-101% of the pitcher he's been for the last several years, how do you keep that spring in your step?

I suppose it's possible that Piniella might be able to get something out of Lee that nobody else has, or that Piniella's fuse won't spark when it makes contact with Lee's notoriously hippy-dippy surfer mentality. Heck, on that level, anything's possible. There's no law of physics that prevents the D-Rays from winning 70 games, just their own indomitable willpower and underweening ambition. This really could be the next 120-loss team. Assuming the phony funhouse contraction bogeyman ever gets reinflated to scare Congressmen and taxpayers, maybe a few consecutive 110-plus loss seasons would be enough to convince the cursed citizens of Tampa-St. Pete to finally let the D-Rays cease to exist.

TEXAS RANGERS Return to Top

Agreed with RHP Francisco Cordero on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/29]

Agreed with 3B-L Mike Lamb on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/8]

Who risks arbitration with Mike Lamb? You've got two great young third basemen as well as Herb Perry on hand, and you've got Rafael Palmeiro on the other corner. That's a lot of 40-man roster space committed to the infield corners without getting around to a guy whose balance of skills won't carry him at either position. What do you get if or when grows up? Roy Howell Lite? Without the glove? A Wayne Krenchicki impression painted with particularly bold strokes? At best, Lamb is a fallback position in case everyone - yes, perhaps even Ruben Sierra - flops at third, first, or DH. There's still talk about taking him seriously behind the plate, but that just begs the question of who pays significantly more than the minimum to brew up the new Jamie Quirk?

TORONTO BLUE JAYS Return to Top

Agreed to terms with RHP Kelvim Escobar on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/31]

The Blue Jays managed to get Escobar to agree to a $3.9 million contract, and I don't know who to congratulate. On the one hand, Escobar's people wanted Antonio Alfonseca money ($4 million), reasonably pointing out that if someone somewhere was dumb enough to give Alfonseca that kind of money, then their guy deserved a similar shake on the basis of a generally better career. After all, he's had to try being a starter, thrown more major league innings, pitched in the DH league, and he's who you'd rather have, right? In an arbitration system designed to see who can out-pizzazz the other side in making semi-numerate presentations to some of the most baseball-ignorant hominids available on this or any continent, it isn't hard to accept how they might have a case. On the other hand, the Blue Jays dodged paying Alfonseca money, if only just barely.

I can't really say either side "won." I've got next to no use to a player who whines that closers should only pitch the ninth inning and claims victimhood status for having to come in for the eighth once in a while. And if you take a look at Escobar's career, you might come away with the same sense that I just did, which is that there's been much ado about something better than but still within spitting distance of nothing. I also can't really celebrate that he didn't reach a $4 million payday. He's an asset with market value at the moment, and if the Jays can flip him to somebody for something useful, they should.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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