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August 20, 2003

Transaction Analysis

August 15-18

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS Return to Top

Released INF-R Benji Gil. [8/18]

I'm shocked, shocked, to discover Benji Gil went entirely unclaimed on waivers. Don't people know he played in a World Series last year? More seriously, I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see him turn up on a contender's roster now that he's cleared waivers. The Astros, Cardinals, Cubs, Giants, Royals, Twins, Red Sox, and Mariners could all probably use a veteran middle infielder who can hurt somebody, probably a left-handed somebody, sometimes.

ATLANTA BRAVES Return to Top

Placed 1B-R Julio Franco on the 15-day DL (fractured finger); recalled 1B/3B/OF-R Mike Hessman from Richmond. [8/18]

Hessman isn't really a great replacement for Franco, since he's sort of a poor man's Phil Hiatt, a two-and-a-half-A hitter who can stand at several positions, bat from the right side of the plate, and air condition an infield with a few mighty rips. That batting from the right side thing might come in handy, if only because the Braves have their usual bare larder when it comes to spare bats in the system. Certainly, if Julio Franco doesn't heal quickly from breaking his middle finger in a weight room accident, they might have to ask Rob Fick to do something he hasn't done well in the past, which is try to hit lefties. Hopefully, Franco should be back in a couple of weeks. If that's not the case, I guess the sunny interpretation would be that they can look at Fick now, perhaps even peek at Hessman a bit since they're not under any threat from their generally cooperative NL East mates, and snoop around the waiver wire and the back end of team's benches between now and September 1, on the off chance that they can scare up a spare right-handed bat to play some first and pinch-hit off of the bench. Heck, Todd Zeile just became available, and he resembles a player who can do possibly do that. It's the sort of thing that matters come October, and they've already got Matt Franco and Darren Bragg from the left side on the bench.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES Return to Top

Purchased the contract of LHP John Parrish from Bowie (Double-A); designated RHP Rick Helling for assignment. [8/15]

It seems strange to think of the Orioles and good things in the same time and place, but this is a happy thing. First, it means they're going to take a serious look at Eric DuBose as a rotation regular over the next few weeks. Second, it means no more Rick Helling. Even if he was one of the most-betrayed starting pitchers, courtesy of the Orioles' pen, he was still a worthwhile winter risk turned into a summer bad idea. The money's spent, so they're better off seeing if DuBose's retreading is going to give them something to think about over the winter. As for Helling, unlike Kevin Appier, there really isn't a silver lining, and only the very desperate of the very St. Louis should consider giving him a look-see.

Finally, they also get to take some time checking out an old contributor. John Parrish has been around the block a few times, having gone from 'unheralded' starting pitcher prospect to internally overvalued asset to a suddenly untradeable pariah within his own organization to someone doomed to miss 2002 with a blown knee to a reborn lefty relief tool. And he isn't even 26 yet. He had to spend his comeback season in Bowie's bullpen, but he did good work, allowing 2.6 runs per nine innings, posting a 85-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 76.1 IP while giving up only 58 hits. Perhaps happier still, the Orioles let him pitch, instead of shoehorning him into a meaningless Double-A situational relief role. Now they very well might have somebody who makes B.J. Ryan expendable (Buddy Groom's $3.0 million for 2004 making him a body that can't be non-tendered this winter, and effectively worthless as a waiver-deal target over the next 10 days or so).

CHICAGO CUBS Return to Top

Recalled LF/1B/3B?-R David Kelton from Iowa. [8/15]

Acquired 1B-L Randall Simon from the Pirates for OF-R Ray Sadler. [8/16]

Optioned LF/1B/3B?-R David Kelton and 1B-L Hee Seop Choi to Iowa. [8/17]

Spectacularly bad moves seem to be the order of the day for the Cubs, as they deliberately whittle their way down to inoffensiveness as an organizational penalty for choosing to cater to Dusty Baker's fear of the unknown.

Randall Simon might be a threat to various and sundry meats in all sorts of forms, but as first basemen go, he's about as mild-mannered and mostly harmless as any first baseman in the game. The only two regulars at first base hitting worse than Simon in the major leagues are Ken Harvey and Paul Konerko, and Simon has neither Harvey's (admittedly theoretical) promise or Konerko's recent past. As stretch acquisitions go, this ranks up there with the Cardinals slapping Dan Driessen's bleached bones into a uniform in 1987, and neither Jim Lindeman or Mike Laga were ever going to be confused with Choi. What's worse is that Simon isn't a remarkably good platoon hitter, he's just more dangerous against right-handed pitchers than Eric Karros. Most right-handed pitchers. Maybe.

But in the same way Dusty chickened out of first letting Choi hit against lefties, and then chickened out of using Choi much at all, he apparently would rather have as much as one more single per week that he might get out of Simon than any real run production he'd get if he played Choi. Because, after all, Simon's been through the wars, he's got that veteran moxie that comes from playing his way out of Atlanta or being a crumb with the Clippers or contributing to those intense games dozens of fans in Detroit or Pittsburgh might regale you with. And that extra single per week will almost certainly put Simon higher up on a spreadsheet sorted by batting average, just the way it used to be. Who's the real stat geek here? A scout might point out that Choi works counts, stretches at-bats (a pitch more per PA), putting pressure on the pitcher and the defense, plays a good first base--another thing Simon is never going to be able to do--and has jaw-dropping power at the plate on the field instead of at the postgame spread. A weenie obsessed with a stat that counts in something as phony and disconnected with real games and real results, like rotisserie, might actually think that Randall Simon has value. Him, and Dusty Baker.

I suppose a Simon defender might point out that the Cubs didn't give up anything to get him. I would reply that I don't care how cheap a leopard-print fez is going for these days, it's a bad purchase at any price.

CINCINNATI REDS Return to Top

Signed OF-R Michael Coleman and assigned him to Louisville. [8/15]

Placed OF-L Adam Dunn on the 15-day DL (sprained thumb); recalled RHP Seth Etherton from Louisville. [8/16]

Placed 3B-R Brandon Larson on 15-day DL (strained shoulder); acquired LHP Tyler Pelland from the Red Sox to complete the Williamson trade; transferred OF-R Austin Kearns from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/18]

Ugh, when things go bad, they seem to go really, really bad. Not only are the Reds dead in the water, they don't even get to spend the last six weeks of the season evaluating players for next year. Instead of getting Brandon Larson a good 100 at-bats or so, he hits the DL, and the organization doesn't know quite what to do with the available playing time. Instead of getting to see what Adam Dunn might do next, he'll miss three weeks or so, and might come back to play in the last couple, although at that point, is there much to be gained? If you're a Reds fan, and you're tuning in to watch an outfield of Wily Mo Pena, Dernell Stenson, Ruben Mateo, and Reggie Taylor, chances are, you're feeling hosed. At least it represents a great opportunity for Stenson and Mateo to recapture their prospect status. For Pena, it's just going to be an ugly "learning" experience, where he'll get reminded several times per night that he has no business being in the majors.

As far as the throw-in on the Williamson deal, Tyler Pelland was a 2002 pick who wasn't eligible to be dealt until the 18th (having signed on Aug. 17, 2002). This year was his professional debut, and he's done all right in the Gulf Coast League, giving up 26 hits and 18 walks in 39 IP, while striking out 34. He's a high school pitcher, and he throws hard for a lefty. He could be literally anything, including nothing, but he's another live arm in an organization that needs them.

CLEVELAND INDIANS Return to Top

Placed CF-B Milton Bradley on the 15-day DL (contused back), retroactive to 8/10; recalled OF-R Alex Escobar from Buffalo. [8/15]

Placed RHP Jason Boyd on the 15-day DL (biceps tendinitis); recalled LHP Cliff Lee from Buffalo. [8/16]

Activated OF-L Matt Lawton from the 15-day DL; optioned INF-B Zach Sorensen to Buffalo. [8/18]

I guess deleting Bradley and adding Lawton keeps the team's outfield symmetry in shape, since Lawton won't end up playing at the expense of Bradley, Jody Gerut, or Coco Crisp. That said, there's another option on the team now, and one who needs to be evaluated every bit as much as Crisp, if you consider Bradley and Gerut proven at this point. Alex Escobar stayed healthy this year, but he was Karim Garcia Lite in Buffalo, slugging 24 homeruns and doing very little else, having hit .251/.296/.472. They seem set on placing Escobar in right field for the time being, which is fine since Crisp and Gerut can handle center well enough, the other getting playing time in left at Lawton's expense now and again. Since Bradley won't be back for anything more than the last two weeks of the season, he may well be shut down, leaving the playing time to Escobar and Crisp to show where they rank in the team's future.

I know many of my compadres have a lot of liking and respect for what's happened here over the last year, and I count myself among them. Mark Shapiro's done a nifty job re-building in relatively short order, and next year's team will be nothing if not interesting. That said, I was initially boggled as to what Jason Boyd was here for, for as long as he was here. Placeholding? As it turned out, he's done nicely against right-handed hitters, and he's handled inherited runners situations adequately. He didn't earn a place in the future as solidly as David Riske has, but he's shown something, and that's virtually a career first.

At any rate, I believe Derek Zumsteg is ecstatic, because Cliff Lee's back. Down the stretch, the Indians are saying they want to run with a six-man rotation, which is one way to keep people's workloads down, while giving everyone full games, but life would be simpler if they could make Brian Anderson a Cardinal already. Jake Westbrook's got all of one quality start since re-entering the rotation, which you would think might be considered a problem, but apparently not. At any rate, Lee was a little more hittable as he came back from an abdominal strain that cost him two months, but he's been effective and striking people out (74 Ks in 75.1 IP). As the Tribe sorts out who's going to be in the rotation for 2004, it's just as well that they look at everybody they can, and treat the next six weeks as a live fire trial for a future that, as the Royals have shown this year, could involve contention.

COLORADO ROCKIES Return to Top

Placed C-R Bobby Estalella on the 15-day DL (elbow inflammation), retroactive to 8/11; purchased the contract of C-B Mandy Romero from Colorado Springs. [8/15]

Although Estalella was getting a chunk of playing time as a backup, Romero can expect less. Charles Johnson's carrying an everyday catcher rep, and lately, he's almost hitting well enough to deserve the moniker. Since he's under contract for two more years, the Rockies are stuck with him, barring another Hamptonesque creative solution that finds someone else willing to help foot the bill to make him somebody else's problem.

DETROIT TIGERS Return to Top

Optioned RHP Chris Mears to Toledo; recalled LHP Nate Robertson from Toledo. [8/17]

Robertson was part of the swag from the Redman deal that seems to have been good news for both the Tigers and the Marlins. In Toledo, Robertson was a solid starter, posting a 3.14 ERA, allowing only 145 hits in 155 IP, along with 45 walks. He's not overpowering, but he could wind up being a solid replacement for Redman all on his own. Bringing him up is effectively an admission that Wil Ledezma was not ready for the rotation, although that's also because the Tigers are making a clean sweep of it, and evaluating all of their upper-level pitchers by plugging Shane Loux into the rotation as well. That means Loux and Robertson trail Nate Cornejo and Mike Maroth, with Jeremy Bonderman still in the wet-behind-the-ears, bright-future role.

HOUSTON ASTROS Return to Top

Recalled OF-R Jason Lane from New Orleans; optioned OF-L Colin Porter to New Orleans. [8/18]

Well, the Astros are still fiddling, which seems appropriate, given that Jimy Williams likes to fidget with the little things and skip larger issues, like 'why is Geoff Blum playing so much.' But as roster corrections go, this seems appropriate. Although Lane's Zephyr performance (.298/.374/.452) only translates to a .259 Equivalent Average in the majors, he's a right-handed bat to back up in the outfield, and with Orlando Merced already here as the lefty backup and pinch-hitter, as alignments go, it makes more sense to carry Lane, especially as far as the postseason is concerned. Indeed, the timing's even right, in that Lane got to play regularly in New Orleans first, overcome a nagging abdominal strain, and then got brought up for the stretch drive with a few hundred at-bats under his belt. Better that than letting him fester on the bench, waiting for Williams to remember he's there. Porter didn't show much in his spatterings of playing time, but he also wasn't given an awful lot of it, not when letting Craig Biggio grind down seems to be part of the Astros' mission statement.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS Return to Top

Optioned RHP Runelvys Hernandez to Wichita (Double-A). [8/17]

Activated RHP Jose Lima from the 15-day DL. [8/18]

Your current stretch drive Royals rotation is Lima Time, Kevin Appier, Darrell May from the rogue's gallery and eyepatch-and-pegleg set, and Jimmy Gobble from the 'should still be a Royal in 2005' group, and then it's catch of the day. Paul Abbott's the temporary default, with Hernandez out of favor and Kris Wilson being sold short for his non-Abbott credentials. It's an interesting scrapheap-heavy adaptation to the Royals' desperate striving to win this thing, and while it's easy to get cranky about Abbott in the fifth starter's slot, it's worth remembering that that's the fifth starter, and the White Sox and Twins have similar problems of their own. In-season, the Royals have done a remarkable job (or been incredibly lucky) in assembling a better rotation than the one they opened the season with. Yes, it would be happier still if Hernandez was going good or if Kyle Snyder was healthy. It would be nifty if Chris George had actually pitched well too. What's been interesting is that the Royals have yet to settle. They might be omnivorously acquisitive--if you lump Abbott and Lima and May and Appier together as low-cost retreading projects--and expecting universally positive results from all of them, but at least they didn't die with guys like George or Sean Lowe because they started off with them. They might not have gone out and traded for a big-name starting pitcher, but they could have sunk with their original hand, and they've refused to.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS Return to Top

Recalled LHP Scott Mullen from Las Vegas; optioned RHP Masao Kida to Las Vegas. [8/16]

In case there was any concern about whether the Dodgers are still in this thing, they might be reshuffling, but anybody who really sweats that critical decision to flip between Kida and Mullen for the fifth starter's slot isn't going to have to worry about this sort of thing for much longer, beyond whatever jollies the exercise generates of its own accord.

MINNESOTA TWINS Return to Top

Outrighted RHP James Baldwin to Rochester; recalled RHP Grant Balfour from Rochester. [8/15]

That wasn't so hard, now was it? Almost makes you wonder why Terry Ryan made the original exchange in the first place. Balfour has obvious talent and blistering stuff, and James Baldwin's got a plug of t'backy and a reputation for a neato breaking pitch that makes an equally neato souvenir far too predictably. Why was this supposed to work out any differently than it did? Why did the Twins waste close to a month to figure out what they should have already known? It isn't as if Baldwin was going to pitch his way into the rotation either, not when he would just add a name to an already overcrowded situation? I guess the good news is that Baldwin really only made the difference in one game, losing them the game on August 12th, but he never should have been here in the first place, not when Balfour has made it clear he has nothing left to learn in the minors, and not after Balfour pitched has already pitched well in the majors this season.

NEW YORK YANKEES Return to Top

Reinstated RHP Antonio Osuna from the bereavement list; optioned RHP Bret Prinz to Columbus. [8/15]

Designated DH-R Todd Zeile for assignment; recalled RHP Jorge De Paula from Columbus. [8/17]

When even plain old nepotism can't triumph over the inexorable logic that, in a Ventura-less lineup, there's no room for a gloveless benchie with modest lefty-mashing credentials and a long-ago history with the manager. Nevertheless, it might have made sense to carry Zeile through the end of the month, just to keep him around as a postseason roster option. They probably ought to carry Erick Almonte ahead of Enrique Wilson, for example, which would make a spare body to stand up at third just in case Aaron Boone gets hurt virtually handy. They won't have to carry 12 pitchers, not unless they're in the business of making Sterling Hitchcock feel like he's anything more than a roster shackle as obtuse as the current CBA as a 'get New York' gimmick. That said, at least he's a self-inflicted shackle. Maybe a Hitchcock or two every couple of years helps keep a third team out of the New York metropolitan area...

It's strange to see them hauling up Jorge De Paula (or Julio De Paula, as he's been called in the past), but he did have a moderately good year in the Clippers' rotation. He struck out 121 in 156.1 IP, walking 49, and surrendering just under a hit per inning pitched, 155. However, he gave up 4.6 runs per nine and 20 home runs, which only reinforces concern that his secondary pitches aren't yet polished enough to work with his good gas. If the Yankees were the sort of organization that let young pitchers learn their jobs in the pen, De Paula might have a chance to stick. They aren't that sort of team, though, so he'll be back in Columbus shortly, probably coincidental with the return of that other roster boondoggle, Jose Contreras.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES Return to Top

Acquired 2B-B Bobby Hill from the Cubs as the PTBNL to complete the Lofton/Ramirez deal of 7/22. [8/15]

Traded 1B-L Randall Simon to the Cubs for OF-R Ray Sadler. [8/16]

Happily, the rumors turned out to be true, and for all of the Cubs' claiming that this or that wasn't true, at the end of the day, Bobby Hill's a Pirate after all. Shocking, a white lie or two from a baseball executive? What's this world coming to? What would Maxine Waters say?

Anyway, although plenty of scouts and evaluators love Bobby Hill's playing style, he just didn't seem to be Dusty Baker's sort, even with the inane fiddling to make Hill a third baseman. Hill's generally gotten good marks in the field, and he gets on base decently, having hit .288/.365/.424 at Iowa. His comps are an odd lot, including successes like Tony Phillips or Tommy Herr with utility men like Bobby Meacham and Jason Bates. Spike Owen's a top-10 comp, which can mean almost anything, as is Carlos Febles, which means considerably less in a much uglier vein. As is the case with so many middle infield prospects, a key to whether or not Hill turns out to be something will be his ability to stay healthy, and he's had a few nagging injuries, so it has to be a concern. Nevertheless, as part of broader campaign to improve the talent on the 40-man roster, a potential Hill-Freddy Sanchez double-play combo is something the Pokey Reese-Jack Wilson duo could never be, which is semi-threatening at the plate.

Almost as happy is getting Randall Simon out of Dodge. Ray Sadler's a line-drive hitter and a center fielder, a speed guy on some level, but one who's hitting .291/.352/.434 in his first full season at Double-A. He's not even 23 yet, so he could have a career. Getting that for Randall Simon is pretty sweet. There's the added benefit of being Simon-free and Wilson-simple at first base. Craig Wilson shouldn't have had to waste much of the year waiting for Simon to be sent away, but he did, one of the hidden costs of doing whatever the hell it was the Pirates thought they were doing. Now, hopefully, he'll get six weeks to claim the job at first base, so that the Pirates can dispense with the rigamarole of trying to make him a backup catcher.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS Return to Top

Placed OF-L J.D. Drew on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); optioned LHP Pedro Borbon to Memphis; recalled OF-R "Me" So Taguchi and purchased the contract of RHP Jason Pearson from Memphis. [8/16]

Losing J.D. Drew might be a heavy blow if you're wondering about the Cardinals in the sense that they're short a rotation and a bullpen already, but in Central playoff drives, having too much stuff is sort of frowned upon. Even without Drew, the Cardinals' offense is still going to function on the strengths of the big four--Pujols, Rolen, Renteria, and Edmonds. An Orlando Palmeiro/Eduardo Perez platoon might not quicken the pulse, but it gives the Cardinals something that works, and Tino Martinez has been competent. The Cardinals still enjoy a significant offensive advantage over their fellow NL Central contenders, and they'll rise or fall on the basis of those strengths, and if Matt Morris can actually pitch again. Garrett Stephenson has rallied just as Woody Williams has faltered, so they're still basically limping along with one effective starter and a two-man pen. Experiments like Pedro Borbon's comeback merely set the lab afire, and the problems are so numerous that Walt Jocketty could lose sight of the virtue of tweaking because this staff could use a half-dozen new bodies. That's not going to happen at this late stage, so hopefully the Cardinals will just focus on one or two reasonably available waiver-free pickups in the next 10 days or so.

In other news, So Taguchi didn't start hitting this year. At Memphis, he was at .256/.318/.326. Yes, Jon Nunnally is doing better than that. Yes, Todd Dunwoody isn't. Dee Haynes was slugging, but doing very little else. Running through those options, it shouldn't surprise anyone to learn that the Redbirds are one of the PCL's worst teams. The rest of the lineup? First baseman John Gall might be the lineup's token prospect, I guess, since he's homegrown, and 25. The infield is rounded out by Marty Malloy at second, Scott Seabol at third, and Jason Bowers at short. Steve Torrealba was supposed to catch, but he's been hurt much of the year. In other words, this wasn't a team designed to put fannies in Memphis seats. If there's some affiliation crankiness in the years to come (the Cards' Double-A franchise features familiar minor league vets like Bucky Jacobsen and Scott Krause, proving that Brewer farmhands don't die, they go to the Cardinals), again, you shouldn't be surprised.

SEATTLE MARINERS Return to Top

Purchased the contract of RHP Brian Sweeney from Tacoma; optioned C-R Pat Borders to Tacoma; recalled LHP Matt Thornton from Tacoma and placed him on the 60-day DL. [8/15]

Is it just me, or does the idea of separating the two Pats, Gillick and Borders, summon up visions of Dorothy's teary-eyed farewell to the Scarecrow? The weeping, the senseless horror of it all, the straw for brains, it's just hard to shake. You just can't write drama like that, it just is. Still, I doubt there's going to be anyone too mortified about this. As the song goes, you always hurt the one you love, which erases neither the sentiment nor the action. It's sort of fun to think on the insanely great year Borders is having in Tacoma this year (.324/.371/.556, which translates to a .263 big league Equivalent Average), and it's sort of fun to wonder if Gillick asks Borders if he's ready to manage a minor league team yet, or if he's just hanging around to play in the next Olympics. It's also sort of fun to wonder if Borders wouldn't make a better backup to Ben Davis than Dan Wilson, but that would involve acknowledging that the better player is on the bench, and that a Rainier makes a better backup than the current starter. Isn't it time to make Wilson a D-Ray? Lou Piniella could probably use a weepy reunion of his own.

TEXAS RANGERS Return to Top

Activated RHP Ismael Valdes from the 15-day DL; outrighted RHP Rob Ellis to Oklahoma. [8/18]

Getting Valdes back sort of simplifies things, in that at least the Rangers now have two people they know they have here to start major league baseball games (Valdes and John Thomson), plus two people gunning for ERAs in the same distant range as dark matter, Oort Clouds, or the 1930 Phillies (Juan Dominguez and Colby Lewis), and one day a week where...well, who knows? That's leftovers night. Sometimes it's meatloaf, sometimes it's a dialed-in pizza, maybe you dig Joaquin Benoit out of the Tupperware...who left the Rob Ellis out of the baggie, it looks like it got hard overnight. What's this in the foil on the bottom...R.A. Dickey? You don't say? That was sort of tasty the first time around, I wonder what it's like now?

I suppose, since the Rangers are one of the hottest teams in baseball at the moment, that I shouldn't be quite so catty, but rampaging through the bowels of the AL Central isn't quite what it's cracked up to be. I mean, the Rangers did lose a game to the Tigers last week, and not even a lengthy meeting with the official scorer afterwards could undo the result.

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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