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April 18, 2003

Transaction Analysis

April 14-16, 2003

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX Return to Top

Optioned RHP Bobby Howry to Pawtucket. [4/15]

Purchased the contract of RHP Jason Shiell from Pawtucket. [4/16]

Hand it to Theo Epstein, he's taking a page from history. In the time-honored fashion of Admiral Byng's execution, where somebody has to pay for a much larger failure, the Red Sox have shipped off Bobby Howry pour encourager les autres in the bullpen, in the words of Voltaire. Although bloody-mindedly meant to encourage the survivors, it was so inspiring that Ramiro Mendoza did nothing to suppress the notion that he's a pinstriped double-agent, hastily coughing up four runs and contributing to the continuing overwrought despair in Beantown. Much as I believe in my heart of hearts that it's easy to scare up on a workable bullpen on the fly, and much as I believe that finding usable relievers is just not rocket science, I'm inclined to prefer Howry. This isn't simply sympathy with the victim, since Howry did pitch badly. But does anyone really believe that Howry deserves to be singled out from among the many veterans who have blown goats in the early going--certainly Mendoza, Embree, and Chad Fox? Mike Timlin's mediocrity only looks neato by comparison to the relative debacles surrounding him, leaving only Brandon Lyon and a barely-used Steve Woodard left among the relative assets left in the pen in the early going.

In short, while I admire the Red Sox if they're choosing to adopt a philosophy of the general interchangeability of relief pitchers, whacking Howry only makes sense if the Sox have better options (and they don't), think having him work regularly in Pawtucket will help (which it should), and whether or not there's any likely difference between having him pitch regularly in Boston or Pawtucket (which there isn't). One of the downfalls to having a bullpen by committee and refusing to give everyone relatively even workloads--because everybody's sharing, honest--is that you're left with relievers getting judged on insanely small samples and unstructured workloads where it's hard to draw any conclusions. Howry got demoted after all of four games, after all. What are four games supposed to tell us about Bobby Howry, compared to his entire career? More than anything else, that the Red Sox are scared, and that they're hoping to frighten Howry's peers into better performance. So far, all it does is smack of a stunt, to show people that management is serious about this winning stuff.

CHICAGO CUBS Return to Top

Placed RHP Dave Veres on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis), retroactive to 4/15; recalled RHP Alan Benes from Iowa. [4/16]

Savage as it may sound, the only loss involving Dave Veres is that of face, considering what they're paying him, why they brought him in, their failure to anticipate how he's no more special than a lot of the talent they already had on hand, and Kyle Farnsworth's unsurprising effectiveness in the wake of Don Baylor's unemployment. While Joe Borowski has stumbled into the role of getting the saves, Farnsworth has been in an asset (again), as he was when Oscar Acosta was shielding his charges from Baylor's wacky over-involvement. Now that Dusty's calling the shots, Farnsworth seems back on track, Juan Cruz appears to be okay in a well-defined middle relief role, and the Cubs seem to have the potential to escape management's fascination with the gray and costly.

In Veres's absence, they've hauled back Jim Hendry fave Alan Benes. I'm not a huge believer that Benes is ever going to come back and be something. In the last three years, he's been relatively healthy, and he's been a flop as a rotation regular in the PCL in the last two years. Going back to their Creighton days, Hendry might be fond of him, but he's an eleventh pitcher aspiring to job security as an eleventh pitcher. Appropriately enough, this is the only place he has even a remote chance of getting it.

CINCINNATI REDS Return to Top

Placed SS-R Barry Larkin on the 15-day DL (strained calf), retroactive to 4/11; activated INF-R Juan Castro from the 15-day DL. [4/14]

Harsh as it might sound, losing Larkin is nowhere near the calamity that losing Ken Griffey Jr. was. It might get added to a staccato-like litany of injuries as an explanation for why the Reds are in the basement, but it's a weak note. Larkin is not enjoying a Gwynn-like sunset, where, at the end of his playing days, if nothing else, at least he could still hit. Larkin looks done at the plate, and he stopped being a defensive asset at short years ago. So subtracting Larkin is one of those things that, beyond whatever intangible intangibles he brings to the dugout, is just not a major loss these days. It also helps that, instead of the likes of Reggie Taylor to replace Griffey, to replace Larkin the Reds get to run Felipe Lopez out there. Even if Lopez doesn't make any progress as a prospect this year, he'll hit at least as well as your average Alex Gonzalez-to-be-named-later, and unlike the A-Gonzes, Lopez has the ability to develop into a considerably better hitter than that. Given everyday play at the position he should own in Cincinnati for the next few years, you have to like the odds that he'll blossom. This may or may not be Jim Bowden's swan song (after all, that's been rumored for years), but nabbing Lopez for a brief investment in Elmer Dessens should wind up being one of the very good things to come out of this year.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS Return to Top

Placed OF-R Jeffrey Hammonds on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle); activated OF-R Brady Clark from the 15-day DL. [4/15]

As one of the most predictably awful free agent signings of recent years, there is perhaps no better epitaph for Dean Taylor's uninspired, expensive stint as General Manager, or the brief, squalid reign of Wendy, than Hammonds assuming his natural position: disabled. In his absence, the Brewers will make do with a platoon of John Vander Wal and Brady Clark, which isn't really a bad thing; they're basically unaffected everywhere but in their sense of dignity and the image they project to their fans. After getting the home opener out of the way, they had poor attendance in their first home weekend, and I don't see any reason to expect much better in the weekend to come. Since the Brewers successfully stranded their ballpark in a parking lot with even less ambience than EuroDisney, deliberately trying to spoil the old atmosphere of County Stadium while avoiding anything resembling the neighborhoody post-modern elements the other new mallparks strive for, the only reason to go see the Brewers is to go see the Brewers. What parent would do that to his or her children?

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES Return to Top

Activated RHP Turk Wendell and OF-R Jason Michaels from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Eric Junge to Scranton/Wilkes Barre. [4/14]

Placed LHP Hector Mercado on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled Junge from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [4/16]

In Marlon Byrd's absence, Jason Michaels gets to come up and be the token outfield reserve, because it's far more likely that Ricky Ledee is going to get 95% of the playing time in center than any other potential outcome. Similarly, the decision to haul Eric Junge back is basically a question of temporary expediency. Brandon Duckworth is going to be activated and start on Sunday, but in the meantime, Junge's available as a long reliever for use in any early blowouts, extra-inning marathons, or meaningless mop-up situations for a few extra days, effectively giving the Phillies an eight-man pen until Sunday. In other words, he'll be holding down the job Joe Roa's destined for once Duckworth resumes his spot in the rotation.

Since they still have Dan Plesac and Rheal Cormier, they've got a pair of lefties, and exchanging Wendell for Mercado doesn't affect the pen's balance too badly. By Monday, they'll have a seven-man pen again, two of them lefties. Among the the non-Mesa right-handers, Roa will be in the last-man role, Carlos Silva in the middle relief role, Terry Adams will be handling set-up work (he's been virtually reduced to situational work), and Wendell will get free innings where they're available. Overall, it's a nice pen to work with, even if Cormier continues to struggle. If there's a question, it's whether it would be better to keep Junge and ship out Roa. Much as I've always liked Roa, Junge's more talented and has a better future with the organization. However, Junge has options, and Roa's got last year's good work to his credit.

TEXAS RANGERS Return to Top

Purchased OF-R Ryan Christenson from Oklahoma; optioned 2B/OF-L Jermaine Clark to Oklahoma. [4/15]

Bringing up Christenson is a preliminary to placing Doug Glanville on the DL. It's probably a net gain for the Rangers. While Christenson is 29 and his career never quite worked out the way anyone might have hoped, he's still pretty fluid in center. Compared to Glanville, he's still got better command of the strike zone, and similar power. Barring any organizational flashbacks to Bobby Valentine's attempt to make Pete Incaviglia a center fielder, none of the other outfielders on the team can really play center in anything more than an emergency, which in turn means that this is about as clean a shot at re-establishing himself that Christenson is going to get. I suspect Glanville's paycheck will preserve some element of job security once he's ready to come back off of the DL, so for Christenson this isn't really a chance to stick with the Rangers--they've got a spare DH and a third catcher and a twelfth pitcher, so they hardly have room for a fourth outfielder on the active roster. But if he has a good gig, there are enough teams hard-up for a spare outfielder who can play center and put some runs on the board that he can hope to pick an even better one next winter.

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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