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February 21, 2003

Transaction Analysis

February 10-18, 2003

by Christina Kahrl

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

Agreed with RHP Greg Maddux on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/17]

In case you haven't noticed, there isn't a lot of actual transaction news this time of year, and certainly very little to parse in terms of comparative value as far as talking about having this guy over that guy or designing your roster a certain way. The news here, such as it is, is that Greg Maddux had three potential payday options (win in arbitration, lose in arbitration, or settle), and with a sunrise-like inevitability, he collected on one of them. I suppose we can add a mention that he's really good, too, as he's clearly the best starting pitcher the Braves have left. There's still the question about whether or not his "surprising" decision to accept arbitration fueled so many of the Braves' transaction histrionics this winter, so we can already start arguing about whether or not Maddux is the Phillies' MVP or the Mets'. But that's why they have the hot stove league, right?

The tangent we can wander off to is to wonder where the Braves would be if they still had Odalis Perez or had kept Tom Glavine or hadn't given away Kevin Millwood. As good as Maddux is or has been, the Braves are now a team that much more reliant on oldish talent making top dollar. Even though they've finally ended the Age of Lockhart, this is the sort of development on a roster where you start slipping into what the Tigers were in the late '80s. Those teams had some good stuff left, but mostly a core talent base that was shrinking and getting older, except that Kevin Millwood ain't Dave Rozema, and Greg Maddux is a lot older now than Jack Morris was in 1987.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES Return to Top

Signed RHP Rick Helling to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/11]

Signed OF-L B.J. Surhoff to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; agreed to a one-year contract with 2B-R Jerry Hairston Jr.. [2/12]

Agreed with UT-R Melvin Mora on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/15]

That's right, defending fourth place matters enough that the Orioles needed to bring in Omar Daal and Rick Helling, and retain Pat Hentgen. The alternative would have been entrusting a rotation slot to John Stephens or Sean Douglass or, horror of horrors, both, and lordy, those two might actually turn into pitchers who might pitch for a third-place Orioles club someday. Wouldn't that be sort of neat? My derision aside, it isn't that Helling or Daal are bad ideas, in isolation. But when you clog up your roster and your job opportunities and your spring innings with "entitled" veterans of a certain mediocrity, you're only working toward building hope and faith in Tampa.

The other bizarro move is hauling in B.J. Surhoff, because on talent alone, Surhoff shouldn't have any business making the roster without a significant number of injuries happening first. The less-publicized aspect of this situation is Surhoff's desire to keep his family close to Johns Hopkins Hospital for personal reasons, and on that level, it's a nice gesture from Clan Angelos to give him one last spin in (arguably) the only place he might have the desire to play. That he shouldn't be allowed to push past Chris Richard for that last outfield slot on the bench is now Mike Hargrove's problem. That he's been offered as much as $1 million is just further proof that Angelos and his minions can't run an entertainment business. There's literally zero chance that Surhoff will justify the expense, no extra fannies will take their seats in the stands to see B.J. Surhoff, and that money would have been better spent trying to broker a deal to bring the local microbreweries back into the ballpark, instead of coming up with just one more little way to scrag the ballpark experience at Camden. If you want incredible, leave it to the Angeloses to find a way to diminish the Camden Yards experience, both on the field and in the park.

BOSTON RED SOX Return to Top

Acquired 1B/OF-R Kevin Millar from the Marlins for cash. [2/15]

The strange case of Kevin Millar was amusing on a couple of levels, since the Red Sox ended up getting him for what the Marlins wanted all along, but not before the Marlins managed to offend our Japanese friends and trip over the game's waiver rules. Whether that fall was staged or accidental isn't quite clear, but it appears that the Marlins got the amount of money they wanted for Millar, and not Theo Epstein's initial offer of cash and a player.

Those sorts of shenanigans aside, acquiring Millar is clearly pretty tasty for Boston. If Manny Ramirez's hammy restricts him to DH for any length of time, or Jeremy Giambi's new conditioning program doesn't get his leather in shape, or if David Ortiz gets nicked up again, or Trot Nixon needs a platoon partner, then the Red Sox are covered. If Johnny Damon breaks a leg, they can put Nixon in center, Millar in an outfield corner, and their offense should still be firing through all nine lineup slots. It might have been tedious to dicker with Larry Beinfest to get to this point, but Epstein got here, and it was worth it.

CINCINNATI REDS Return to Top

Voided the contracts of LHP Jose Rosado and Story-B Toe Nash. [2/15]

Apparently, Rosado's shoulder isn't sound, and if the Reds don't feel they can make it work, you have to think that a multi-year hiatus is just about the only thing that's going to let him reclaim some portion of a career. As for Toe Nash, too much attention has already been wasted on him, in terms of commentary and roster space. He may or may not be as much of a fraud as Jim Morris, but is it worth taking the time to find out? Clearly, no.

COLORADO ROCKIES Return to Top

Agreed with RHP Jose Jimenez on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration; claimed RHP Elio Serrano off of waivers from the Phillies. [2/13]

Placed RHP Rich Garces on the involuntary retired list. [2/17]

Dan O'Dowd has always been one of those active sorts who's willing to grab something to see if it works, but he's also perpetually challenged to take the time to then actually see if it works. It's the distinction between theory and application, and O'Dowd never lets application get in the way of his next theory. Can claiming Serrano on waivers help? Absolutely, it's about as clean a free talent snag as we've seen in recent weeks. Will it generate results? Probably, if given time. Will Serrano get that time? As always with all things in purple and black, that's the great unknown.

Finally, for all of us Hector Villanueva or Spanky LaValliere or Fabulous Floyd Rayford fans, another little part of us died with the announcement that El Guapo has peeled off his uniform for the last time. He was done last year, but it was a big, fun ride while it lasted.

HOUSTON ASTROS Return to Top

Agreed with SS-R Julio Lugo on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/12]

This spring, Lugo's apparently back to being the regular shortstop, but with the wacky infatuation with Jose Vizcaino, I'd bet on nothing on this front. What is it with Jimylicious New Math anyway? Did we really need a branch of science where the ability to accumulate minor negatives is considered a boon? If Lugo plays, he's supposedly going to lead off, which is sort of an acknowledgment of how far Craig Biggio has fallen, because Biggio no longer has an open-and-shut case for being the team's obvious leadoff choice. Considering Biggio posted a .310 OBP away from Juice Beverage Ballpark last year, Lugo's .322 overall OBP almost doesn't look anemic. Almost.

MONTREAL EXPOS Return to Top

Agreed with RHP Orlando Hernandez on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/10]

I guess it's sort of cool to have El Duque in Montreal. You can sort of think of it as an echo coming to us from those days when Pascual Perez or Dennis Martinez resuscitated their careers in the Big O, or really blur your eyes and think of it as a chance to have a brief fling with glory, Floyd Youmans-style. Although El Duque didn't really need to go to Montreal for redemption, I don't think anybody should be surprised if he flourishes in the National League.

NEW YORK METS Return to Top

Signed INF-R Jay Bell to a minor league contract, with a spring training NRI. [2/11]

Signed RHP David Cone to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/13]

No, Keith Hernandez did not get a call, and Gary Carter isn't going to be appearing as a protest of his having to be an Expo in the Hall. But that's sure what it feels like. Now, admittedly, the Mets are going into spring training fortified by brave talk that Ty Wigginton is going to be their third baseman, so you can sort of understand how Jay Bell might make sense as a depth-oriented proposition. But even then, it would take Wigginton, Joe McEwing, and Marco Scutaro all independently choosing to take driving lessons with Toonces to get Bell close to the big league roster, and even then, Jorge Velandia would still be standing. And I understand he carpools.

Similarly, given their wealth of better alternatives, David Cone shouldn't start, and he can't relieve often enough to be an asset in the pen. His value as a gratuitous bit of Schuerholz-tweaking should have been accompanied with an equally roster-relevant NRI for Ed Hearn.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES Return to Top

Agreed with RHP Terry Adams on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/11]

Added C-R Todd Pratt to the 40-man roster. [2/13]

Ed Wade is generally getting plugged as somebody who had a good winter, but settling on paying nearly $3 million for a utility pitcher doesn't feel like a masterstroke to me. Three million smackers for Mesa insurance? For an eighth starter? What, are the Phillies now big market, Yankee-sized, free-spending tyros? That isn't to say Adams isn't useful, but there are people you non-tender, and then there are people you non-tender with a smile and an invitation to negotiate.

As for adding Todd Pratt to the 40-man now, at the cost of losing Elio Serrano on waivers…huh? That was simply a bad and unnecessary choice, and it turned out to be one that cost a useful player as well. If Wade had bothered to hold off on the inevitable and added Pratt at the end of March when everybody's trying to cram their NRIs onto their 40-man rosters, he might have been able to slip Serrano through waivers then. Or he'd have somebody eligible for the 60-day DL, and slip Pratt in through that slot. Instead, he lost a pitcher through a bad case of premature roster addition.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES Return to Top

Agreed with 1B-L Randall Simon on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/11]

I've said in the past that there are reasons to respect and like the job that Dave Littlefield has done. However, giving up a decent arm or two for an arb-eligible replacement talent might make you wonder. I guess I'm willing to be a little philosophical about it. First, beyond the jaw-dropping exceptions that make everybody wonder what somebody was smoking at the moment it happens (John Smoltz and John Wetteland, for example), arms are arms, and as much as one might fall off, you can generally count on being able to scrounge up another, just attached to a different person. Second, as long as Craig Wilson gets somewhere around 500 plate appearances, in right or left or at first or wherever, paying Simon less than $1.5 million for a year of keeping Kevin Young buried that much more deeply on the bench or in Operation Shutdown territory isn't all bad. As long as Littlefield doesn't ever put concepts like 'Randall Simon' and 'multi-year contract' in the same sentence, memo, or month, it's not that shabby.

SAN DIEGO PADRES Return to Top

Signed LHP Randy Keisler to a minor league contract. [2/15]

Keisler slipped onto waivers (and sailed through them) after being cut loose by the Yankees. He's damaged goods, and the chances that he'll contribute much this year are pretty slight, but you can always take a flyer on the off chance that he grows up to be Matt Ruebel or something. OK, let's dare to dream: How about Jamie "the Rat" Easterly?

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS Return to Top

Named Syd Thrift major league consultant; signed RHP Wayne Gomes to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/14]

It has been brought to my attention that I have failed to take the Devil Rays seriously in this space of late. I have to agree, I only take the D-Rays as seriously as they apparently take themselves, as evidenced by their decision to bring in Syd Thrift, a baseball pioneer 30 years out of date with a much more recent and appalling track record in both player development and organizational management with the Orioles. My snobbery in this regard may make me no better than they, but considering the circumstances, I think it's much happier to laugh at and not with them. If that presents a problem, I'd be happy to hear how seriously you took opening Vegas lines on the Rays' shot at winning 66 or 67 games. Paesan Lou in the dugout or no, the money's piling up enough that the figure's at 65 and dropping. Although I'm not a gambling man, whoever set that initial line cost his bosses a few pretty pennies. An infield where Jared Sandberg is the rock, and the imports feature Marlon Anderson and Rey Ordonez? I suppose the serious, mature thing to do in this situation is to say, with all due thoughtfulness "they'll really suck," while squelching laughter at the current advertised master plan ("We'll be like the '91 Braves!"). After all, it's a huge improvement on their 1999 master plan: "We'll be the '50 Red Sox!" What kind of history do they teach at Notre Dame, anyway, given the number of Domers this organization likes to boast of? At this point, you'd think ND would have sent Mr. Naimoli a cease-and-desist order to force the D-Rays to stop bragging about their Notre Dame connections, with an appropriate court-ordered penalty, like having to wear a Purdue sweatshirt for all public appearances.

Okay, enough piling on, apparently some people have had their fill. How about Wayne Gomes? He'll clearly make the difference--that over bet is looking better already. That, and Travis Lee, and...yee-ha! An all-time franchise high 70 wins, here we come. Really, at the end of the day, let's face it, the D-Rays exist to be flogged, folks. To be flogged, and to ensure dues-paying union members keep getting service time, and to make the people of Tampa-St. Pete regret ever threatening to sue for a team, because now, by the gods above and below, they've got one that scares even the ghost of Arnold Johnson.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS Return to Top

Agreed with OF-R Shannon Stewart on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/18]

It's worth noting that Stewart is the last man left standing from that semi-famous Blue Jays outfield of Stewart, Jose Cruz Jr., and Raul Mondesi that so much was expected from not too long ago. Now Cruz Jr. is a Giant because of the salary arbitration engine, and the Buffalo is a baked Yankee because of last summer's pinstriped panic attack. Stewart has frequently been mentioned for being on the block, and there's an unfortunately overstated sense that he's been less than advertised. He's been a very fine Lonnie Smith sort of quality offensive contributor, with fewer thumbs afield than Skeets had. He'd only be worth a multi-year deal if he'd sign off on a parenting organization discount, but few people are about to do that in Canada when they have track records as generally solid as Stewart's has been.

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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