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April 23, 2003

Transaction Analysis

April 17-20, 2003

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ATLANTA BRAVES Return to Top

Activated LHP Mike Hampton from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Jason Marquis to Richmond; placed 1B/OF-L Robert Fick on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 4/13; recalled C-B Johnny Estrada from Richmond. [4/19]

This isn't a happy group of events. Jason Marquis' control problems were aggravating enough, and putting the game on the 12th against the Marlins out of reach certainly didn't help any. In his favor, he really didn't pitch that badly in his two starts, but Horacio Ramirez has given the Braves a couple of good starts, Shane Reynolds has earned his keep, and having taken an enormous, elaborate, super-combustible dare on Mike Hampton, somebody had to come out of the rotation once Hampton was ready to be reactivated--and it wasn't going to be Greg Maddux or Russ Ortiz, even if both have pitched worse than Marquis. The question was whether or not they should bump Marquis into the big league pen, and then push either Trey Hodges or Jung Bong down. However, both Hodges and Bong are doing well, so instead they chose a more sensible route in putting him in Richmond's rotation, where he can either iron out his troubles or not.

I should admit to a bit of chagrin on the topic of Jason Marquis, since before the 2002 season, I argued that, between Odalis Perez and Jason Marquis, the Braves had kept the right young pitcher. Perez was coming off of elbow surgery, and looked fragile, but now it's Marquis who has subsequently had shoulder problems and Perez who had the breakout year. John Schuerholz has neither, but he does have two-fifths of the famed 1999 Astros rotation, and Jose Lima remains very available should he want to add another fifth to his tumbler. While it's easy to fire on Schuerholz for so many decisions, I think the core lesson (or the lilly-livered mea culpa) is that pitching is unpredictable, and nobody, not even the Braves, can escape or outsmart that true truism forever. And now, as it was from the moment they traded for Hampton and for Russ Ortiz, the Braves are depending on their reputation with some or any pitchers. The Braves' lineup might be strong enough to carry the team to the 85 wins that should win this division, but if Hampton and Ortiz can either do little harm or even justify the organization's confidence in its own judgment on all things pitching, it'll certainly be that much easier.

As for replacing Rob Fick in the lineup, the Braves continue to get good work out of the Los Dos Francos platoon off the bench, so they'll get by. And they even get to cater to Bobby Cox's oft-wished third catcher fetish, hauling in their Millwood swag. Johnny Estrada will not ever amount to much, but Javy Lopez has a strained hamstring and wasn't hitting, and Henry Blanco won't hit, so perhaps it's just as well to have him around. As he closes in on 27, he isn't a catcher of the future as much as he's just hoping to luck into getting his union card in the Player's International Brotherhood of Backup Backstops ("You may call me Mr. PIBBB," quoth the grey vet to the fresh-faced catcher), and boldly go where Matt Walbeck has gone before, or something.

CINCINNATI REDS Return to Top

Placed RHP Jimmy Haynes on the 15-day DL (strained back); designated RHP Josias Manzanillo and LHP Jimmy Anderson for assignment; optioned 3B-R Brandon Larson to Louisville; recalled RHPs Chris Reitsma and Jeff Austin from Louisville; purchased the contracts of RHP Brian Reith and UT-R Ryan Freel from Louisville. [4/19]

The Saturday Massacre is the sort of thing you can expect from the Reds, given the zany commitment to ruffling through options that is the shared lifestyle choice of both Jim Bowden and Bob Boone. Much of this makes sense. Jimmy Haynes was hurt, and Josias Manzanillo is downright fungible, so if he struggles--and seven homeruns allowed in 10.2 IP is at least that--you can bump him off and not feel too guilty about it. Larson went down crankily, but no extra-base hits and four singles in 16 games is tough to accept for a club desperate for runs. Aaron Boone, Jason LaRue or the center fielder of the day aren't really doing that much better, but Larson isn't one of Boone's fetishes or relatives, and he's got an option, so he gets the black spot and the "Life in Louisville Could Make You Louis Your Perspective!" brochure.

Less explicable is why there were any expectations of good stuff from Jimmy Anderson. After three years of getting slapped around in Pittsburgh, watching him get tattooed again should have come as no surprise. Wishcasting for a lefty starter for balance's sake is all well and good, but when you make a roster choice on the basis of what you wish as opposed to what you have every reason to expect, you're either the Braves or as lucky as you deserve to be. Now, with Chris Reitsma back and Jeff Austin getting another chance, the Reds are sort of stumping along with the philosophy that it's as easy to throw together a rotation as it is a bullpen. Eventually, once either or both flop, they'll turn to Pete Harnisch or Lance Davis, all while waiting for the nice rotation they've got in Chattanooga to come of age.

It's not a great way to break in a new mallpark, but the organization's operating philopsophy on Bowden's watch has always been one of spazzy contingency planning. Eventually, hopefully, the survivors from among the Lookouts gaggle of Dustin Moseley, Bobby Basham, Josh Hall, David Gil, and perhaps even John Koronka can change some of that.

CLEVELAND INDIANS Return to Top

Activated RHP Aaron Myette from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Chad Paronto to Buffalo. [4/19]

Myette's coming into a middle relief role, where his good heat should serve him well if he gets into any sort of regular work pattern. Unfortunately, that's the rub. He's sort of stuck in the same way Billy Traber is, not in the rotation, but ready and waiting should C.C. Sabathia break down or Jason Davis start offering his job around any more overtly than he already is.

DETROIT TIGERS Return to Top

Purchased the contract of OF-R Craig Monroe from Toledo; designated UT-R Hiram Bocachica for assignment. [4/18]

Desperation is an appropriate response in several situations. Dealing with in-laws, Tax Day, or anyone who claims to be God's instrument on Earth usually requires extreme solutions. And then there's the Tigers, a Kevorkian contraption if ever there was one, designed to overwhelm through the use of deadly boredom. Hiram Bocachica gets the Pittaro treatment, but what's the point of singling him out after a half-dozen starts? Dean Palmer's the guy who should be released, but they're keeping him while Dmitri Young moves over to DH, creating at-bats for Craig Monroe, who might make a nifty part-timer and platoon player, but who has enough trouble with right-handed pitching that he's not really going to grow up to be a solution any more than Bocachica was.

FLORIDA MARLINS Return to Top

Outrighted LHP Oswaldo Mairena off of the 40-man roster. [4/17]

To the surprise of nobody, Mairena wasn't claimed by anybody on waivers, and the Fish have a spot to spare on their 40-man roster, which, in theory, they could apply to something useful, like an outfielder who can put some runs on the board. Since this is instead a Torborg and other Loria toadies type of operation, I suspect Larry Lintz's phone is ringing. He might still be pretty spry, after all, and Jimmy Snuka was, by most accounts, unavailable save through a medium.

HOUSTON ASTROS Return to Top

Purchased the contract of RHP Scott Linebrink from New Orleans; optioned C-R Raul Chavez to New Orleans. [4/17]

There are some things almost everyone should know about everyone else, or should learn to accept as a matter of course. Other people don't care about descriptions of your morning ablutions, stories about your mystery bruises, fascinating details about your fantasy team, and they sure as hell don't value your third catcher as much as you do. The requisite narcissism to really, deeply fret over whether or not other people might covet your obligatory no-hit catch-and-throw warm body is admirable in its honesty to self, but in a real world where not all the children are above-average, it's also a weakness that needs to be transcended. Life is not a Proustian exercise in navel-gazing. That the Astros took almost three weeks to notice is, of course, another sneaky "benefit" of having Jimy Williams muddling through the exercise of what to do with all of these players. The laughable terror of being caught catcherless in the 15th inning of a tie game is, of course, the stuff of feverish managerial nightmares, and the lamentable concern about the never-present danger of losing a talent like Raul Chavez has wasted many a minute in far too many front offices. Or this column, for that matter.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS Return to Top

Activated CF-B Carlos Beltran from the 15-day DL; returned OF-R Rontrez Johnson to the Rangers. [4/18]

Placed LHP Jeremy Affeldt on the 15-day DL (blistered finger); recalled RHP Jeremy Hill from Omaha. [4/20]

What's more amusing, the Royals' place in the standings, their winning percentage, or that they only now get Carlos Beltran back and did all of this without him? While I might suggest it would have made more sense to have kept Rontrez Johnson and outrighted Mendy Lopez or something, they got by with Michael Tucker in center. Nevertheless, if they've rushed Beltran off the DL, and it appears they might have, and he subsequently has to return to the DL, they could still use an outfield reserve who can handle center with a little more vigor than Tucker.

Losing Jeremy Affeldt for the time being isn't really good news, and blister problems have a way of persisting (or in the case of somebody like Ismael Valdes, poisoning your reputation), but it's not a major arm injury, and to their credit, the Royals have Albie Lopez or Kris Wilson available to step into the rotation for a couple of turns. This will not quite be another spin with Blake Stein or Brett Laxton or Mac Suzuki.

To fill out that final spot in the pen, although Jeremy Hill had done nothing to earn a promotion, the Royals felt they had to stick somebody on the roster for a couple of weeks. Nothing about their hot start with a lot of homegrown talent should have discouraged them from using another one of the kids, and as is, they're having trouble getting innings to Ryan Bukvich. I doubt Hill will get that much time on the mound.

MINNESOTA TWINS Return to Top

Activated RHP Mike Fetters from the 15-day DL; optiond RHP Juan Rincon to Rochester. [4/20]

Two weeks later, the Twins merely reverse the correction fate offered them. Sure, they've got Mike Fetters and his veneer of paunchy know-how, but it costs them Rincon, who was doing well in relief and who could also take a spot in the rotation in case Brad Radke or Joe Mays break down again, or if they finally tire of the Rick Reed boondoggle.

NEW YORK YANKEES Return to Top

Optioned RHP Jose Contreras to Columbus; recalled LHP Randy Choate from Columbus. [4/19]

While being one of the very, very, very few naysayers on the subject of the purported greatness of Jose Contreras, I feel no particular reason to exult in his demotion or the subsequent pinstriped bitchery about his eventual destination. With the singular exception of El Duque, we've seen a lot more of Andy Morales or Ozzie Fernandez or Ariel Prieto arrive here from the sun-dappled shores of the People's Republic of Castrovania. The purported tang of forbidden fruit inflates price and creates an added sense of anticipation, but the end product and the expense ends up being one of those embarrassing investments you'd rather not admit to, like any eBook reader or a Members Only jacket. Now that the offending Cubano has been dispatched to parts elsewhere, it's worth noting that he didn't really get that much time to show anything one way or another, and there's no reason to think we know any more than we did when he signed, which is that he's imported and expensive, and in the case of far too many people's tastes, those elements get mistaken for quality.

So oft-flogged whipping boy Randy Choate gets tumbled onto the Columbus shuttle, again, in another wee bit of career punctuation that seems to be his fate with the Yankees organization. Back in New York, he'll continue to be what he's always capable of being, which is a useful second lefty, assuming he gets remembered, which happens infrequently enough on Joe Torre's watch, since he's busy ignoring Sterling Hitchcock for much more appropriate reasons.

NEW YORK METS Return to Top

Recalled RHP Jason Middlebrook from Norfolk; optioned UT-R Joe McEwing to Norfolk. [4/17]

Recalled C-R Jason Phillips from Norfolk; optioned RHP Jason Middlebrook to Norfolk. [4/18]

The constant roster footsie being played with Jason Phillips in the early going might seem inexplicable, but between Mike Piazza's suspension and minor owies on the one hand, and the absence of a reliable pinch-hitter on the bench on the other, Phillips should continue to get at-bats. On the other hand, he's in a role where it will be close to impossible for him to thrive, since pinch-hitting is rough work for anyone, and it's a bit of an open question as to whether or not it becomes a good thing if you get typecast in the role and wind up like Dave Hansen, marooned in a nice enough job that won't ever translate to getting anything resembling full-time PT. Stranger still, shipping out Joe McEwing really handicaps Art Howe's bench, since the only infield reserve on the roster is Jay Bell.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES Return to Top

Activated RHP Brandon Duckworth from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Eric Junge to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [4/20]

The roster shuffle and the couple of nights with an eight-man pen worked out just fine. Eric Junge gave them another couple of good innings in a lost cause, Brandon Duckworth slipped into the rotation, and Joe Roa moved back into the mop-up and long relief role in the corner of the bullpen, even giving the Phillies his best game of the year in another lost cause. If Duckworth had made a nice debut, or if Roa hadn't allowed that bases-loaded double in the second inning on Sunday, it would have been perfect, but in terms of giving Larry Bowa flexibility and in-game and in-series options, it worked out reasonably well. After all, for all of the roster machinations, the players still do have to play, so tip your cap to Ed Wade and company for handling their roster space well, whatever the result.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS Return to Top

Activated OF-L J.D. Drew from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Kevin Ohme to Memphis. [4/20]

It's all well and good to get goofy about Orlando Palmeiro and Kerry Robinson and Miguel Cairo as second-hand huzzahs to the genius of Tony La Russa, but it's a lot nicer to have J.D. Drew back and take away a bit of creative freedom. Now, if only they could get away from La Russa's bizarre fascination with batting Edgar Renteria seventh, or the equally inexplicable desire to pretend that Miguel Cairo might somehow be Tony Phillips or even Lenny Randle, just by the power of prayer and vegetable sacrifice.

SAN DIEGO PADRES Return to Top

Placed C-R Gary Bennett on the 15-day DL (sprained knee); recalled C-R Mike Rivera from Portland. [4/17]

Sometimes, Allah is merciful, and spares the burning stomachs in hell that usually seem to be the fate of the Padres. The scales may not have fallen from anyone's eyes, but at least the Pads are temporarily spared the penalties of their fixation on Gary Bennett. Unfortunately, they're going to plod through an exercise in backstop primogenture, bumping up Wiki Gonzalez because it's his turn with Bennett out, instead of leaving Gonzalez in the backup role and taking a long look at Mike Rivera. That way, there's little danger of somebody putting pressure on somebody else for a job, and the Pads can keep themselves at the bottom of the heap. Wiki Gonzalez has about 800 career plate appearances, and he's about to turn 29. There's no reason to anticipate that he's something more than a nice backup. Having traded for Rivera, they'd be better off playing him to see if he's going to be their catcher next year or three years from now.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS Return to Top

Placed 1B-L Travis Lee on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 4/14; recalled OF-L George Lombard from Durham; designated RHP Delvin James for assignment. [4/19]

So the lineup juggling that results is that Aubrey Huff follows his move from third to right with a shuffle over to first, Al Martin gets most of the at-bats at DH, and George Lombard and Damian Rolls are in a semi-platoon in right while Ben Grieve recovers from his infected thumb. It's far too soon to ascribe a Piniella effect to Travis Lee's nice couple of weeks, since basically he pasted a few more singles than usual, and asserting that one thing or another was the cause of that would be a fool's errand. It's also a bit strange that they're not placing Grieve on the DL, since he'll end up being out of commission for about two weeks. What the heck, Chris Truby and Jason Tyner are off to hot starts, and they're old school D-Rays, why not go for some of last year's humor?

TEXAS RANGERS Return to Top

Placed CF-R Doug Glanville on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroctive to 4/15; activated OF-R Kevin Mench from the 15-day DL. [4/17]

Purchased the contracts of RHP Rosman Garcia and LHP Brian Shouse from Oklahoma; placed RHP Jay Powell on the 15-day DL (vertigo?); designated LHP C.J. Nitkowski for assignment. [4/18]

Apparently the Rangers have enough guys named Garcia, first initial 'R', that they can use them pretty interchangeably in moments of roster flux. It's work wondering if the 'R' stands for 'Red-Shirt Guy', the cannon-fodder that could inspire ever-flightier overreactions from Bill Shatner, Famous Canadian. "Captain, Joan Collins is on the surface of the planet, surrounded by horny albino space gorillas." "Starfleet command is hailing us, asking about the safety of Ms. Collins." "Spock, put together an away team. We'll need at least three Garcias to distract those gorillas, and have Bones waiting in the transporter room with my easy-off boots."

Otherwise, the Rangers are doing a nice enough job of accepting the concept that relievers are pretty interchangeable. Jay Powell might cost more, and C.J. Nitkowski might have more big league service time, but neither of them have earned their keep in recent years. To his credit, Buck Showalter doesn't seem to be tolerating much failure, and there's not a whole lot of reason to forgive and forget with Nitkowski or Aaron Fultz or Brian Shouse. If they succeed in lefty pen roles, they survive. If not, they're gone. As long as you're dealing with interchangeable journeymen of this ilk, it works for me.

Elsewhere, Kevin Mench's return from the DL bodes ill for Ruben Sierra's playing time. Mench has pretty much moved straight into the left field job, with Juan Gonzalez and Carl Everett handling DH or right, and Ryan Christenson in center in Doug Glanville's absence. If they don't resurrect the scheme to play Hank Blalock at second, Mark Teixeira is either going to have little opportunity to shake off a rough start to his career, or he's going to have to go down. Or Teixeira will flip between DH and the infield corners, making sure that many fewer at-bats are available for Todd Greene, which takes us back to why they're carrying three catchers.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS Return to Top

Purchased the contract of LHP Jason Kershner from Syracuse; optioned RHP Doug Linton to Syracuse; designated RHP Kevin Frederick for assignment. [4/19]

It seeems strange to punish Doug Linton for the failures of Trever Miller and Doug Creek, but the Jays didn't have a functioning lefty reliever in the pen. Having overpaid for Creek, they're now caught in a situation where they're carrying three lefties. Linton had not been faultless himself, but he hadn't been bad news in the way Creek has been. But Jeff Tam can't be optioned, and Kelvim Escobar apparently bruises at the suggestion that he's anything other than an Eck-style ninth-inning artiste. Linton had the option, and if he'd crabbed about it, at the end of the day, he is just Doug Linton. While Kershner's just another short lefty out of central casting aspiring for a slice of history as big as Joe Klink's or Vince Horsman's, the Jays were pretty safe in outrighting Kevin Frederick. He went unclaimed by every other team when the Twins designated him for assignment, and he's been spotty in New Haven, so he should slip through.

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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