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May 21, 2003

Transaction Analysis

May 15-18, 2003

by Christina Kahrl

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American League
National League


Optioned LHP Chris Capuano to Tucson; purchased the contract of LHP Eddie Oropesa from Tucson; transferred INF-L Craig Counsell from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/17]

Sometimes poverty is self-inflicted. On a sort of notional level, I guess demoting Chris Capuano after his start and bringing up Eddie Oropesa makes Whitey Herzog happy, because the Snakes have a second lefty in the pen. But what opponent is going to think twice about what Bob Brenly's going to do, because he's got that Oropesa feller warming up out there? Oropesa's generally wild, and for a situational reliever, I guess you could say he has a normal platoon split in that he's terrible against the guys he's supposed to get out (.271/.360/.400 before this year), and even worse against the ones he isn't (.333/.445/.521). He's a waste of a spot on the 40-man roster. On the other hand, what else do they have? They cut loose Ron Villone for unknown reasons, and the other lefty reliever in Tucson is Greg Swindell. If they want to call up a right-handed reliever, that's just a different flavor of resurrection, because you're talking about people like Scott Service or Erik Sabel. They're not entirely dead in the water as far as chasing the Giants, but these sorts of limitations aren't going to help any.


Activated RHP Darren Holmes from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Joey Dawley to Richmond. [5/17]

Joey Dawley didn't exactly sparkle in his return engagement, getting into only two games, making a blowout loss worse, and doing nothing to screw up a big blowout win. The pen hasn't really been a source of strength for the Braves this year (as opposed to years past), as the veterans who were supposed to be John Smoltz's handmaidens of victory--Holmes, Roberto Hernandez, and Ray King--haven't contributed much, particularly with men on base in King's and Hernandez's cases. The good work between the starts and Smoltz has basically come from the potential starters of the future pressed into middle relief roles, Jung Bong and Trey Hodges. Even then, Bobby Cox started off using both of them in low-leverage roles, although Bong seems to have pitched his way into getting used in more important spots. At any rate, it makes for an interesting problem as the season progresses. For all of John Schuerholz's occasional catty comments about having to trim salary and he's just a passive corporate...vessel, he managed to find a way to squeeze Shane Reynolds into the budget. Cox might choose to run with the hand he's been dealt, but if you were the Braves, would you want to have to hand a postseason game to Roberto Hernandez? Or Ray King?


Optioned 1B/3B-R Jose Leon to Ottawa. [5/18]

The nightmare scenario is here: the Devil Rays might actually mount a season-long challenge for fourth place. As a result, you can sort of understand if there's some random deck-chair reshuffling. After all, at this point, the Orioles almost have an economic interest in driving people away from Camden (perhaps explaining why the microbrews left last year), just to keep the Expos as far away as possible for as long as possible.


Fired hitting coach Gary Ward. [5/18]

This has happened here before, of course: Jerry Manuel seems to start spinning his wheels, and rather than get held accountable, a high profile coach bites the dust. See Joshua, Von and Contreras, Nardi, for the most recent bits of same-flavored scapegoatery. I guess there's some justice in thinking that Manuel will eventually get the whacking he's pretty well earned for the disappointments he and Kenny Williams can take credit for the last few seasons, except that when it does come, his final vengeance will be an interminable press conference, heavily laden with professions of religiosity and martyrdom.

Pondering that, I can almost sympathize with the Romans and why they lost their taste for tossing believers to the lions: I suppose the enormous success of the horror movie genre proves that it's a lot more entertaining when people go down screaming and yelling, as opposed to talking about faith. Except then you have to have the moral character to live up to your responsibilities, pick that axe back up, and start whacking, because it's just a defense mechanism, sort of like the poisons the cane toad or the bombardier beetle use to cheat death, and it's better to do the world a service and just be done with it.

CHICAGO CUBS Return to Top

Placed LHP Mark Guthrie on the 15-day DL (elbow tendinitis), retroactive to 5/13; purchased the contract of LHP Phil Norton from Iowa. [5/17]

I'm one of those people who likes Mark Guthrie well enough as spare lefty relievers go, so I don't wish him any ill, but it's definitely nice to see Phil Norton's patchwork arm hold up long enough for him to get another crack at the big leagues. He got a couple of starts back in 2000, but he had to have his elbow Tommy-John'ed in January of 2002. He used to throw pretty hard for a lefty, and his career was pretty smooth, laden with All-Star nominations, until he hit the PCL in 1999; I don't know if he's really all there yet, after only about 16 months after the surgery. On a certain level, the point isn't important, since Dave Veres will be back off of the DL soon enough. However, the absence of anyone else above A-ball who might plausibly fill the second lefty role (Dutch import and organizational soldier Ferenc Jongejan--What a name!--has struggled pretty mightily in Iowa himself) means that Norton may get to stay until the 28th or 29th, when Guthrie's very minor elbow twinge should have healed up.


Announced that OF-R Ruben Mateo cleared waivers, and outrighted him to Louisville. [5/15]

That's right, nobody took a flyer on Mateo. Not even the Marlins, who don't have a corner outfielder who can hit well enough to hold a job, not the Mets, still futzing around with the likes of Tsuyoshi Shinjo, not the DH-less D-Rays, nobody. So either nobody thinks his back is sound, which makes it understandable, or nobody's got the 40-man roster space, which is pretty dubious, or nobody cared.


Signed RHP Dan Miceli to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Buffalo. [5/15]

Purchased the contract of RHP Jason Phillips from Buffalo; designated RHP Jerrod Riggan for assignment. [5/18]

We've been talking about the interesting transition the Indians should make in-season in their rotation for a few months, so it's naturally interesting when another development finally occurs. In this case, Jason Phillips might get a chance to slip into the rotation. Jason Davis has struggled pretty badly overall (5.81 ERA, and -1.3 SNVA), but he has cranked out four quality starts (one was blown in the seventh) in nine total starts, so it isn't like he's been completely, irredeemably hopeless; Brian Anderson, the next-easiest mark in the rotation with a 5.14 ERA and a Support-Neutral Value Added figure of -0.6, has been his usual fifth starter self, neither a significant asset or problem, but always good for a few Ehlo-esque SportsCenter moments on the mound. By contrast, Phillips has been outstanding at Buffalo, going 6-0, and posting a 2.70 ERA. There's a dose of good fortune mixed into all that, since he's only boasting a 28-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 43.1 IP, with 35 hits allowed. Nevertheless, it's a nifty start to a season, and the Tribe can use the long relief help if nothing else.

I wouldn't say employing Dan Miceli is the worst thing you can do (after all, guys like Pete Rose or Ben Christensen still litter the landscape in one way or another), but you have to be really hard up to have to want him, even if only to fill up a Triple-A bullpen. Better people have been bumped out of the game for less than his little Marlin mutiny moment.


Placed DH-R Dean Palmer on the 15-day DL (shoulder, neck), retroactive to 5/10; purchased the contract of 1B/3B/OF-L Kevin Witt from Toledo. [5/16]

Kevin Witt was hitting .305/.383/.588 as a Mudhen, which translates to about a .285 Equivalent Average in the big leagues. If Dean Palmer could get up to 285 in anything, triple crown rates, his weight, Pac-Man, anything, it would be news. Entering his fourth season as a regular in Triple-A, Witt's been a long-suffering minor league veteran for awhile now, so the Tigers pretty much represent his last best hope to get some serious service time in the big leagues. He's never really walked enough to make a lot of people's Ken Phelps All-Star lists, but I like him better than some of the guys PECOTA compares him to, like Jeff Liefer or Andy Tracy, although again, none of them could really field well enough to play third or hit well enough to play first, so as broad strokes go, it's correct. But keep in mind that these are the Tigers, and they need anybody who can poke.

For Witt, it's a good time, since this is his '27' season, and he's willing to play in whatever corner, infield or outfield, you put him in. Having him in the lineup at DH does put Dmitri Young on the field, but the Tigers have had the left end of the defensive spectrum (first base, left, notional third basemen) for a couple of years now, one of those less-heralded leftovers of the Randy Smith regime.


Placed RHP Toby Borland on the 15-day DL (appendicitis), retroactive to 5/15; purchased the contract of OF-R Chad Allen from Albuquerque; transferred OF-B Abraham Nunez from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/18]

Not that I want to be mistaken for a big Chad Allen booster or anything, but it's a hell of a lot smarter to have him around as your fourth outfielder than guys like Brian Banks or Ice Williams. Score one for Jack McKeon and improved roster design.


Placed RHP Roy Oswalt on the 15-day DL (strained groin), retroactive to 5/16. [5/17]

Recalled RHP Kirk Saarloos from New Orleans. [5/18]

Oswalt's strained groin isn't supposed to be something dangerous as much as a situation where the Astros need to exercise some necessary caution, so it's interesting to see what they've elected to do in the meantime. Recalling Saarloos does not mean Saarloos is going into the rotation; instead, he's replacing Peter Munro as far as long relief duties, with Munro moving into a rotation already stocked with Jeriome Robertson. Since the news on Scuffy Moehler isn't good, the Astros basically have at least three fifth starter types in the rotation at the moment: Munro, Robertson, and Scott Linebrink, with Saarloos hanging out as a fourth choice. That's fugly. Fortunately, Oswalt will be back shortly, but the Astros need to think big picture, and keep their toe in the water in case any starters start getting shopped around. And no, not the Rick Reeds of the world; even after they get Oswalt back, they've got Oswalt, Wade Miller (presumably, once he gets back on track), and...Tim Redding? They need somebody else for October, not to mention to help them get there. They could win the NL Central with the cast on hand, considering the Cardinals' multiple hobblings and the Cubs' capacity for self-spite, but going to the dance doesn't mean much if you're locked into letting your parents drive you home.


Optioned RHP Kris Wilson to Omaha; purchased the contract of RHP Jason Gilfillan from Omaha. [5/16]

Placed RHP Albie Lopez on the 15-day DL (pulled groin); recalled RHP Kris Wilson from Omaha. [5/17]

Albie Lopez was supposed to represent some form of veteran insurance for whatever the Royals might need in-season, but instead, he seemed to have fulfilled their unwanted and unnecessary requirement for the new George Frazier, making it that much easier to slip him onto the DL and let a homegrown mediocrity like Kris Wilson handle the mop-up, blow-out, and long relief duties.

It's been a nice season for the Royals in terms of getting familiar and developing confidence in their young pitchers, something that I don't think we were ever going to really see on Tony Muser's watch, and which redounds to the credit of both Tony Pena and Allard Baird. Which makes it all the stranger that we haven't gotten to see Jason Gilfillan debut already. He's not somebody you'd mistake for a prospect; setting aside the notion of a 'pitching prospect' or 'relief prospect' as constructions with value beyond the oxymoronic, what's the value of calling a minor league middle reliever anything besides a prospective major league middle reliever? Nevertheless, given how this season's working out for the Royals, he could claim Sean Lowe's job with a few good moments.


Activated OF-R Chad Hermansen from the 15-day DL and optioned him to Las Vegas. [5/16]

Placed OF-L Dave Roberts on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); activated RHP Paul Shuey from the 15-day DL. [5/17]

Optioned 1B-L Larry Barnes to Las Vegas; recalled OF/2B-R Jason Romano from Las Vegas. [5/18]

It didn't take very long, but credit Jim Tracy for making the move that a whole lot of table-leaguers would have called for once it was clear that Dave Roberts had to go to the DL, and stop screwing around with Jolbert Cabrera so much (he's part of a platoon at second, after all). Instead, he got Brian Jordan to move into center, and seems to have built a left field platoon of Daryle Ward and Mike Kinkade, with Cabrera or Jason Romano coming into center late in the game to get Ward and Kinkade out of the outfield. I don't mean to diminish what Tracy's done by comparing the gambit to a bit of obvious gamesmanship in Strat-O-Matic; it's the sort of move that makes me think Tracy would run the table in any league, real or imagined, and that's without considering the leadership skills required in dealing with the players to convince them that his way is the right way.

So instead of being crippled by the loss of a critical OBP source like Roberts, Tracy gets to add some power to his lineup, and with a weekend series in Coors in the offing, no less. As someone who grew up hating the Dodgers about as much as Billy Martin did, it's almost obnoxious to consider that they're admirable these days.


Placed 1B-L Nick Johnson on the 15-day DL (fractured hand). [5/16]

Recalled RHP Jason Anderson from Columbus. [5/17]

I was probably already inclined to compare Nick Johnson's hands and wrists to Joe Hauser's knees--Hauser was the bopper whose knees Pipped him out of Jimmy Foxx's way--but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Steve Goldman mentioned it in passing to me first. And there's the problem: would we have been forecasting great things and a superb career for Hauser in 1923? Hell yes, we would have. It might have entailed Keith Woolner and some vacuum tubes, but odds are, we'd have been trumpeting the future of this Hauser guy, and then mourning what was not. Nick Johnson's career isn't just inching into that kind of territory, it's purposefully stomping in that general direction, and that has to be an enormous source of concern for the Yankees looking forward over the next three to five years.

Of immediate concern is Joe Torre's far-too-predictable response, which was to hand the resulting playing time to Todd Zeile first, and then start working in Bubba Trammell now and again. It's silly, but then Trammell should have had the good sense or poor taste to have played for the 1994 Cardinals, regardless of whether or not he was 22 and without a choice in the matter. Giambi's troubling eye problems certainly contributed, but I'll be interested to see who winds up with more at-bats during Johnson's absence. Again, few weep for the Yankees, but this is the sort of thing that stirs up hope in Beantown, and not just of the 'easily ground under foot' variety, either.

NEW YORK METS Return to Top

Placed SS-R Rey Sanchez on the 15-day DL (), retroactive to 5/10; recalled INF-R Marcos Scutaro from Norfolk; transferred RHP Grant Roberts from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/15]

Placed C-R Mike Piazza on the 15-day DL (groin); recalled C-R Jason Phillips from Norfolk. [5/16]

Recalled OF-L Jeff Duncan from Binghamton (Double-A); optioned RHP Jason Middlebrook to Norfolk. [5/18]

So, nobody left on the team who can really play shortstop, Piazza's out for at least two months (if not more, if not forever), and you've still got those exciting Roger Cedeno promotions to look forward to, so what's left? All of a sudden, those lame "Coney and John Franco will be back any minute now" stories are about as relevant as making sure to include a wombat scene in Roland Emmerich's next contribution to cinematic history. The Mets are baseball's answer to Brookstone: they cost a lot, they're not very useful, half the damn gewgaws break way too easily, and that impulse purchase of a noiseless ionizing waffle iron with the sharkskin grip just doesn't seem so smart all of a sudden.

Oscar Wilde once advised that "Ambition is the last refuge of the failure," so perhaps the Mets need to start getting high-minded, and giving thought to how now may be the ideal time for the organization to face facts and recognize that this is a tear-down year so that they can retool and focus on building something a little more durable, and decide whether or not Steve Phillips can help orchestrate that or if, as is more likely, he's part of the problem. That does leave you with the uncomfortable position of having to pick a GM who thinks he can work with Art Howe, which perhaps predictably would make it that much easier to slip into an interim-cum-full-time GM job for Jim Duquette, in a transition a la Selig.

As far as what gets to happen right now, Joe McEwing looks like he'll get most of the time at short, which won't make Tom Glavine very happy. However, it makes sense to let Jose Reyes start having a good season at Norfolk before bringing him up right now, which is why the decision to push Jeff Duncan seems odd, since it's the opposite choice. Duncan might turn into a useful big league outfielder, but his big numbers last year came in his third professional season after coming out of a top college program (Arizona State), and it was at A-ball. In his Double-A debut this year, he was only hitting .252/.350/.348. Yes, his future may as well be now, but it's not much of a future. It's sort of besides the point, since they should be reactivating Jeromy Burnitz by the end of the week, so it may just be a case of filling out the active roster with a body already on the 40-man.

Behind the plate, meanwhile, the Mets get an unwanted opportunity to decide which Vance Wilson and Jason Phillips is the catcher of the immediate future. I guess the happiest thing here is that Marco Scutaro gets back on the active roster, since he's a better player than a few starting second basemen around the league.


Recalled RHP Brandon Duckworth from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; optioned RHP Eric Junge to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [5/18]

If you're curious about the effects of this little bit of roster chicanery, it meant that an inning in a loss to the Astros on the 11th that might have gone to Joe Roa instead went to Junge, because that's the entire extent that the two of them pitched during Duckworth's ten-day stint in the minors. True, they were prepared on some level just in case they got caught in a twenty-inning game or something, but there might have been a better way to use the spot during Duckworth's absence.


Purchased the contract of INF-R Jeff Reboulet from Nashville. [5/15]

Purchased the contract of RHP Pat Mahomes from Nashville; optioned LHP Dennys Reyes to Nashville. [5/16]

Reboulet's promotion was already anticipated last time around in this space. No, what I'm amazed by is the sort of team the Pirates are going to end up fielding if this sort of stuff keeps happening. Not just Jeff Reboulet, but Pat Mahomes? Perhaps understandably, since Dennys Reyes wasn't doing so well, and the Bucs could use the spare right-handed reliever, but... Pat Mahomes? On a team already giving time to Julian Tavarez and Brian Meadows? Dave Littlefield took on a massive rebuilding project, but do you really want to devote most of your staff space to no-treads and iffy retreads, on the off chance you get a Brian Boehringer '02 season? And if you don't flip that, but instead pay for it, what good does that do you? You don't build fan loyalty by aspiring to 75 wins, but fielding a team of guys like these, or Randall Simon for that matter, and you've got bigger problems than talk radio complaints about whether or not Lloyd McClendon is a chucklehead, and when's he going to be held accountable for not getting you on track for those 75 wins.


Placed RHP Clay Condrey on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 5/13; placed RHP Brandon Villafuerte on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 5/15; purchased the contract of RHPs Charles Nagy and Carlton Loewer from Portland; optioned LHP Roger Deago to Mobile (Double-A); purchased the contract of LHP Randy Keisler from Portland; transferred RHPs Kevin Jarvis and Jay Witasick and LHP Kevin Walker from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/16]

Outrighted C-R Wiki Gonzalez to Portland; purchased the contract of C-R Miguel Ojeda from Portland; fired pitching coach Greg Booker; named Darren Balsley pitching coach. [5/17]

Interchangeability, fungibility, or proof that beyond a certain point, you can wince and everyone's a clone of everyone else, whatever you call it, the Pads are definitely going with it. You could point out it's just as well, because I've certainly been guilty of singing the praises of a team that's got the second-worst record in baseball. But some of this just boggles, no matter how high your boggle-o-meter is set. If one bad start is enough to cost you your job, why bother with calling up Roger Deago at all? It wasn't like there was a Panamanian Night at the ballpark that needed to be spiced up. Certainly, losing Villafuerte (the presumptive closer who sped fantasy hearts more than anyone or anything that matters) and Condrey cleared space, and presto, you've got the three reconstructed horsemen--Loewer, Nagy, and Keisler--riding in and putting their battered limbs to the test. Nagy joined Jaret Wright in the ex-Tribe section of the pen, while Loewer and Keisler went right into the rotation.

I've been inclined to give the Pads credit in the past, but I can't help but look at all this and think there isn't a whole lot separating these moves and those of the Pirates: sorting through a lot of dreck out of need, and hoping for the best. What the Pads do that's different is what the Pirates used to do that was different, back when they hauled Francisco Cordova out of nowhere, which is haul up a random Latin they've scouted and perhaps nobody else has. It hasn't really worked out all that well for them, either, considering Rodrigo Lopez was great last year, as an Oriole, and Deago's already being yo-yo'd as much as Lopez was once or Oliver Perez has been recently. That's why, as a Padre, I don't know if it's even worth noticing the arrival of Mexican League veteran Miguel Ojeda. Yes, it's interesting that he's coming over directly from the Mexican League, without spelunking in our minors first. It's neat that Ojeda had a nifty year with Mexico City last year (.352, 19 home runs, and a bunch of walks) and was off to a great start this year (.316, 10 home runs already). But will the Padres use him? Or will they give up on Mike Rivera already? Or will they reacquire their fascination with Gary Bennett when he's ready to come off of the DL? They say Ojeda's 28, and there are hints he's useful. That's been said about a lot of people.


Optioned RHP Ryan Jensen and OF-R Jason Ellison to Fresno; recalled LHP Chad Zerbe from Fresno; purchased the contract of RHP Manny Aybar from Fresno. [5/18]

The Giants' pen has been a weak spot all season (they rank close to the bottom in Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools), and while it's easy to blame everything on Robb Nen's non-presence, it goes a bit deeper than that. Not having Robb Nen around doesn't make Felix Rodriguez continue to struggle, or make Jim Brower less of a bad idea, or explain why anyone would anoint Tim Worrell with MLB's official Closer Pixie Dust to make him extra sparkly and savetastic. So even if they didn't have a problem with having only a single lefty in the pen (if that's a problem) and felt they had to have Zerbe back, and even if they didn't have a problem with Ryan Jensen and what he's for and if he's good for it, the Giants have a problem in the bullpen. I've sung Manny Aybar's praises so many times on so many occasions that I'd feel like an extra-dull reggae jam artist if I just cranked out the usual 'he still throws hard' line, but it's still true, and he still has value in a big league bullpen. The pen is that much more of a concern when you remember that nobody in the rotation is a workhorse. It's going to be interesting to see what Brian Sabean will do to address the problem in the weeks or months to come.


Signed SS-R Julio Lugo. [5/15]

Added Lugo to the active roster; optioned SS-R Antonio Perez and LHP John Rocker to Orlando (Double-A); recalled RHP Brandon Backe from Durham. [5/16]

Designated INF-R Felix Escalona for assignment; purchased the contract of RHP Jeremi Gonzalez from Durham. [5/17]

I don't know about you, but I can't wait until Lugo's book and Disney deal come through. I mean, if a guy who can actually stick in the major leagues goes to the Devil Rays, just thinking of the marketing potential! A promotional tour, full media blitz! Oprah? Okay, maybe not. Sally? Hmmm. Jenny Jones? Bingo! That's exactly this franchise's speed. And they can piggy-back the touching story of Jeremi Gonzalez onto the whole thing. You can take the Veeck out of the franchise, but that doesn't make it any less of a wreck. After all, two games of John Rocker didn't work, that's two games of live programming, it was worse than dead air, you gotta stop that stuff!

More seriously, it's pretty cool to see Gonzalez get a shot. His problems with the Cubs weren't all their fault and they weren't all his, but it was nice to see him finally make it back after what seemed like a never-ending round of elbow injuries and reinjuries. He did have the advantage of re-debuting on a day when Randy Marsh seemed to be in a hurry to get the game over (Pat Hentgen tossed his first quality start of the year, and this is a guy who's faced the Tigers twice), but he's been throwing strikes since the winter, and he seems to check out physically. Worse talents get retreaded, and Gonzalez might be the first successful D-Ray rehab project.

And having Lugo in the lineup is... well, it's better than Felix Escalona or Antonio Perez (for the moment), you can say that much.


Activated RHP Ismael Valdes from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Esteban Yan for assignment. [5/17]

With Valdes back, it's almost beginning to resemble a big league rotation again. Sure, they're still letting Colby Lewis get caned every fifth day out, and they've still got Alan Benes, but Valdes, John Thomson, and Joaquin Benoit involves three names you'd like to see in some rotations, if not all of them necessarily in the same one. Valdes isn't really at full-strength just yet, which means the Rangers will have to continue to lean on R.A. Dickey and Todd Van Poppel pretty heavily in long relief roles, but if there's a team that's used to that sort of problem, it's the Rangers.


Optioned OF/C-R Jayson Werth to Syracuse; recalled OF-R Reed Johnson from Syracuse. [5/16]

The wrestling match between Carlos Tosca's ears really seems to be going on way too long, since the topic only seems to be life and third catchers, with, or without? Jayson Werth's selling point was supposed to be that he could be the third catcher as well as Frank Catalanotto's platoon partner in right, but Werth never ended up catching--not while the Greg Myers-Tom Wilson platoon is erasing any memory of Ernie Whitt and Buck Martinez--and Werth wasn't hitting often enough or well enough to get to stick around. So the Jays effectively reversed the decision they made almost four weeks ago, and have now slotted Johnson for the platoon role, and again foregoing having a third catcher around. Life would be a lot simpler if they asked Dave Berg to do some emergency warm-ups and whatever, if only to set Tosca's mind at ease.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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