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November 25, 2003
October 13-November 19
Released DH-L Brad Fullmer. [10/15]
Agreed to a one-year contract extension with pitching coach Bud Black for 2004. [10/24]
Naturally, there's speculation that Black might wind up managing somewhere. The history of pitchers turned managers isn't as august as that of ex-catchers or ex-scrubs, although Roger Craig was pretty successful. There's a lot of tactical orthodoxy if not downright timidity in today's game, and what seems to be an increasing reliance on bench coaches for advice on in-game situations, so there's no reason to believe that an ex-pitcher is really handicapped in terms of his experiences to then operate a team. In-game and in-season management of a pitching staff is probably the biggest responsibility a manager has in today's game, and Black's work in Anaheim has gotten him high marks. Should the day ever come, it wouldn't be hard to see Black teaming up with a former teammate with managing experience (Duke Wathan? Hal McRae? Terry Francona?) for ready reference. In the meantime, he's still an Angel, and by all accounts, they're fine for it.
Exercised their option on RHP Russ Ortiz for 2004. [11/4]
Announced that 1B-L Robert Fick cleared waivers. [11/7]
It'll be interesting to see if Fick is treated as even more of a pariah than the last controversial Braves discard. Fick certainly didn't help himself by posting a relatively mediocre season, but if a Jose Canseco can be blackballed, I can see Fick's phone going unrung for several months, after which he'll wind up as somebody's February bargain. Whatever opprobrium surrounds Fick, he'll be a cost-effective alternative to the Sean Caseys, Scott Hattebergs, or Fred McGriffs of the world.
As for retaining Ortiz for almost $6 million, I don't think the Braves made the right call. Yes, they get cost certainty, and a name to write in ink for a rotation about to go Maddux-free for the first time in ages. But Ortiz wasn't really as effective as 21 wins might superficially lead you to believe. They got value in 2003, but he doesn't seem like a great bet to age gracefully, especially when his most recent comps are people like Ernie Broglio or Walt Terrell or Joey Hamilton in their last best years. But as is, the Braves are shopping for an outfielder and a first baseman and a starting pitcher, let alone two, so even in a depressed market, you can understand their willingness to keep Ortiz. Besides, if he tanks or breaks down as dramatically as Hamilton or Broglio or Terrell did, it's not going to be blamed on John Schuerholz as much as it will be used as another example about how youneverknow about pitching.
Outrighted RHPs Willis Roberts and Mike Paradis, 1B/3B-R Jose Leon, and INF-R Felix Escalona to Ottawa; announced that C-R Robert Machado refused his outright assignment to Ottawa, becoming a free agent. [10/14]
Named Lee Mazzilli manager, signing him to a two-year contract with two option years. [11/7]
It's a nice reflection of how far the Orioles have come in 2003, that they can cut loose this much veteran dross. The year's undersold story was the success of some of their homegrown talent in the wake of what by now seems like the usual free agent collapses. If anything, naming Lee Mazzili can be interpreted as a further commitment to sticking with the talent on hand or in the organization, barring a need-based filler signing or two. As a manager with little profile and nowhere near the prestige to dictate roster composition at this stage, Mazzili should end up taking his marching orders from Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan.
What's more interesting is to think on how Mazzili's playing career might inform his decision on what to do with Melvin Mora. Will Mora take over at short, now that Cruz has been excused? Will he stay in an outfield corner? Or will he continue to fill in as needed where needed? In his own career, Mazzili was jerked around a lot, moving between center field, first base, and the outfield corners. He was, in turn, being shifted around by a manager, Joe Torre, who had been shuttled around a lot himself during his playing days. If Mazzili thinks back on that, and remembers that he hated it, he might hash out a solution of sorts. Or he might enjoy the flexibility, and use Mora wherever required.
Announced they would not exercise their option on manager Grady Little's contract, making him a free agent. [10/27]
Exercised their option on RHP Derek Lowe for 2004. [11/7]
Re-signed RHP Mike Timlin to a one-year contract with a club option for 2005. [11/14]
Not that I'm a Red Sox fan or would ever be mistaken for one, but I don't have any sympathy for Grady Little. To use player-evaluation parlance, there are scads of replacement-level managers with Little's level of tactical or operational acumen. Between his mulish commitment to following his orders as he saw fit to interpret them when it came to running the bullpen, to his Game Seven contribution to another glorious moment in Yankees history, Little had earned his date with the axe. There's some speculation that the players will mope, but this isn't like Alvin Dark replacing Dick Williams, and the organization deserves a manager it has confidence in as a co-conspirator.
In happier news, one of the pen's forgotten stalwarts got a nice chunk of change. Timlin wasn't put to work nearly enough in the postseason, and getting him for less than Turk Wendell got a few years ago, or Antonio Alfonseca got last year, or Tom Martin is rumored to be getting from now on, it all borders on defensible as middle relief free agent expenditures go. Ed Wade would have to give this sort of signing a big thumbs-up.
Purchased the contract of RHP Angel Guzman from West Tenn (Double-A). [10/29]
Announced that RF-R Sammy Sosa will not exercise his opt-out clause for the final two years of his contract. [10/31]
Exercised their option on RHP Matt Clement for 2004. [11/7]
Added 2B/SS-R Ronny Cedeno, 1B/OF-R Jason Dubois, and 2B/3B-R Brendan Harris and LHP Renyel Pinto and Carlos Vasquez to the 40-man roster. [11/19]
It isn't hard to believe that last year's modest little playoff run and the value of gestures like bringing in the much-famed Dusty Baker helped shape Sammy's decision, but was there really any danger? Chicago is the most worshipful and forgiving of sports towns when it comes to certain heroes, and Sammy's in that pantheon. A cynic would point out that there probably aren't all that many teams looking to spend eight large per annum on some famous outfielder, and that those that do exist would be calling Vlad first anyway, but the marriage of Sammy and his sun-addled worshippers seems like a perfect fit. Plus, having him around hurts White Sox fan's feelings, as if there wasn't enough malice flowing from that general direction anyways.
Purchased the contracts of 1B-L Ross Gload from Charlotte and RHP Enemencio Pacheco from Birmingham (Double-A). [10/15]
Exercised their option on RHP Esteban Loaiza for 2004. [10/31]
Named Ozzie Guillen manager. [11/3]
Named Dave Wilder special assistant to the general manager. [11/5]
Exercised their option on SS-B Jose Valentin for 2004. [11/6]
OK, it's easy to get worked up over the worst thing to happen since Hawk Harrelson was handed the reins, but let's remind ourselves of the good things that happened here. First, they've got Jose Valentin and Esteban Loaiza locked up, and while they're not cheap, barring getting into some really expensive bidding in the Tejada or Colon auctions, they're not in a bad place. Second, Dave Wilder's a bright guy who seemed to have been oversloughed in the usual nonsense of Milwaukee; with the Cubs he'd been a good executive, with the good sense to disagree on bad ideas like the Karchner trade. If anything, Wilder might be more qualified for Kenny Williams' job than Kenny Williams, but you could have said the same thing about Dan Evans before he left in the wake of the Williams hiring.
But as for the bad news...it's hard to see Guillen turning out well as a manager, or the Sox profiting from hauling in another Marlins coach on the basis of how perky he was during the interview. Some statheads have made the point that Guillen won't manage well because he didn't walk well or was almost the definition of a dumb baserunner, but it's a little more fundamental than that. Guillen didn't bunt well either, but he always tried, so people considered him an effective little ball player. But he wasn't, neither being a Brett Butler or a Doug Flynn, and worse yet, he didn't seem to notice, instead devoting himself to self-pitying whines about how fans were dopey for preferring Cal Ripken over lights the likes of himself, or Felix Fermin.
But wait, Ozzie was always considered a smart player, being credited for doing the sneaky sort of stuff that a Leo Durocher might do, right? Well, again, not really. If you try the hidden ball trick day after day, or think it's cute to go for face-level swipe tags, or always trying to fake runners by pretending to go for pop-ups, it ceases to surprise anybody. And years before he was finally injured in his knee-wrecking collision with Tim Raines, he'd been a menace to outfielders on pop-ups he wasn't particularly good at flagging down.
Ozzie's problems are really a bit more simple: he didn't know he had limitations, and he didn't adapt for them. Is this really what you want in a manager? Add in his incessant bitching about Joey Cora's martyrdom--Ozzie was the last person in the Chicago area to notice Ray Durham's a hell of a player--and generally alternating between being petty and bullying younger players, or his aspirations to get into a catfight with Frank Thomas, and you have to wonder whether this is really a leader of men. Ozzie was actually good at one thing, which was being like Andy Van Slyke when it came to entertaining writers and understanding that they can help you craft an image that, along with the happy coincidence of being a shortstop named Ozzie, managed to fool some of the people some of the time that he was a player with considerably more value than he actually had.
The real question isn't whether Ozzie will turn out badly as a manager, it's trying to sort out why he was tabbed. Kenny Wiliams inherited a talent-laden winner, and he's failed to deliver. So rather than generate any enthusiasm, why not buy it off the rack? Ozzie's notionally popular and has been generously treated by the local media, so why not name him and acquire some small measure of grace for a team that may well be the most disappointing franchise in the majors over the last several years? As cockamamie stunts go, there might be some logic to it, but it's a pathetic reflection on how little has been achieved from such a promising position.
Announced that RHP Luke Prokopec rejected an outright assignment to Louiville, becoming a free agent. [10/15]
Named Dan O'Brien general manager and signed him to a three-year contract. [10/27]
Waived RHP Ryan Dempster. [11/4]
Announced that RHP Seth Etherton cleared waivers, refused an assignment and became a free agent. [11/7]
The nicest thing you can say about Dan O'Brien is that he's a cipher in an organization that seems bent on lowering themselves to the Brewers standards of corruption, incompetence, and lies. He might not be a party to it, and he might be able to reverse it or at least minimize the damage Carl Lindner seems determined to wreak with banana republic sensibilities. But I wouldn't hold my breath, any more than I'd expect him to find a rotation overnight.
Declined to exercise their 2004 option on RHP Danys Baez. [11/14]
Re-signed CF-B Milton Bradley to a one-year contract. [11/19]
We've already touched on the Baez situation in depth, but I can't say I blame the Indians for trying, since it'll wind up being determined by an arbitrator. What I worry about is how this sort of roster management gimmick contributes to the permanent divide between players and management. How are the two ever to take the other seriously in terms of building a partnership that promotes the game, when both parties are in the very active, very public business of screwing each other?
I'm not filled with hope that Mark Wohlers or Jason Bere ae going to add up to much, but giving them NRIs for next year is an appropriate way to deal with them. If they have great camps and Plans A, B, C, D, Plan 9 from Outer Space, the Schlieffen Plan, and a few others all fall through, maybe you can elect to trust the habitually untrustworthy. Maybe.
Declined to pick up the club's option on RHP Steve Reed. [10/15]
Announced that UT-R Chris Stynes and the club have declined their mutual options on his contract, making him a free agent. [10/28]
Agreed with general manager Dan O'Dowd on a two-year contract extension through 2006; exercised their two-year option on manager Clint Hurdle through 2006. [11/12]
Dan O'Dowd talks a good game, and he has his share of good ideas, so I guess it isn't entirely surprising that he's managed to preserve himself. With the Giants and Diamondbacks already peaked, the opportunities to contend in the NL West look more likely going forward, so the expectations should be ratcheted up, assuming he's been forgiven the Hampton/Neagle twin peaks of disaster.
What I find more interesting was the readiness with which both the Rockies and Chris Stynes parted ways. Although the Rockies sang his praises in-season, Stynes is more than just your average red-ass, usually managing to alienate and offend in ways that deserve greater commentary from the people in the working press who make it their business to whine about players they don't like or who don't like them. But in Stynes' case, it never really seems to get brought up. I guess you have to look at how long it took for anyone to say a bad word about Tyler Houston. There's a lesson in there, perhaps about celebrity, perhaps about race, and more basically about the sorry state of sports journalism.
OK, that self-indulgent bromide aside, Stynes also isn't especially valuable. He's not a defensive asset anywhere and definitely can't handle second base on a daily basis, and he doesn't hit well enough to handle third or left. Hopefully, this boils down to Mark Bellhorn getting the job, pending Garrett Atkins ever developing, what with Jeff Baker still being a long way off.
Signed LHP Jamie Walker to a one-year contract. [10/29]
Claimed LHP Cliff Bartosh off of waivers from the Padres. [10/31]
Why re-sign Walker? Apparently, familiarity breeds indolence. He wasn't all that hot with men on base, and he's always going to give up a cookie or two to lefty hitters. Maybe he's proud to be a Tiger or something. In complete contrast, nabbing Bartosh off of waivers demonstrates why the Tigers didn't need to pay Walker considerably more than the minimum. Bartosh has a nifty curve, he's been effective as a lefty reliever from the day he was drafted, and he's never had serious health issues. He's worth the roster space and he costs less. What's not to like?
Announced that manager Jack McKeon will return in 2004. [10/28]
The suitable happy ending for what was a long-deserved bit of karma. As William Munny might put it, "deserves got nothing to do with it," but McKeon's success illustrates the underrated importance of actual managers (versus the currently more common amiable spokesmen and media flacks who seem to manage these days).
Signed general manager Gerry Hunsicker to a contract extension through 2005. [10/16]
Extended the contract of manager Jimy Williams through 2005. [10/22]
Outrighted RHP Miguel Saladin to New Orleans. [10/23]
Re-signed RHP Dan Miceli to a one-year contract. [11/11]
Signed INF-B Jose Vizcaino to a one-year contract. [11/17]
Re-signed C-R Brad Ausmus to a two-year contract; added RHPs Ezequiel Astacio, Taylor Buchholz, Fernando Nieve, and Chad Qualls, 2B/SS-R Chris Burke, OF-R Charlton Jimerson, and C-B Hector Gimenez to the 40-man roster; outrighted RHP Jared Fernandez to New Orleans; released RHPs Brandon Puffer and Rodrigo Rosario. [11/19]
Is George Santayana supposed to come back from the grave and go medieval on the Astros or what? Brad Ausmus and Jose Vizcaino, both back, and both for seven-figure salaries? Apparently this not winning thing suits them, and shame on that mean old Larry Dierker for changing everyone's expectations. Not that I mind dealing Wagner. The package received from the Phillies suits the Astros pretty well, but the explanation offered--"payroll flexibility"--doesn't wash when the Astros dumped Wagner's $8 million but will end up spending close to $4 million in 2004 on a slap-hitting catcher, a replacement-level utility infielder, and Brandon Duckworth.
That hardly explains the full extent of the problem, however. Ausmus and Vizcaino will still be making over $4 million less than they made last year, so the Astros are rolling in dough and flexibility, right? Unfortunately, no. Even with Craig Biggio's salary dropping from $8 million to $3 million, the Astros are being killed by a pay scale slope the assumed in happier financial times. So for 2004, they're going to have to pay an extra $4 million for Richard Hidalgo, $3 million more for Jeff Bagwell, an extra $2.5 million for Lance Berkman. Even by dumping Wagner and re-signing Ausmus and Vizcaino for less, they were effectively standing in place in terms of payroll, and that's before they deal with the arbitration-influenced pay hikes that Wade Miller, Octavio Dotel, and Roy Oswalt can expect. So if they want wiggle room to help themselves with Andy Pettitte or those arbitration situations, they either need to cut more payroll from the roster and not make expensive mistakes like re-signing Vizcaino and Ausmus for considerably more than they're worth or that identically low-wattage contributors would cost, or raise overall payroll. Whitey Herzog had a good laugh at Drayton McLane's expense about a failure to understand baseball economics in You're Missin' a Great Game, which makes it all the more humiliating still when they make the same sorts of mistakes to achieve the same not-quite-good-enough results years later.
Signed manager Tony Pena and general manager Allard Baird to two-year contract extensions; signed RHP Joe Dawley. [10/31]
Surprising nobody, the brain trust got extensions. After this past year, it's the least the organization can do, since it isn't like we're talking Herk Robinson and Hal McRae here. The more basic question is whether the Royals were lucky, and whether they'll burrow back down a notch in the standings. The White Sox and Twins both have considerably more talent, while the Indians seem to be coming around in terms of what they have in the player pipeline. The Royals have...well, ticking clocks. Beltran is the only thing set in the outfield, and that's for only one more year. They need new bats in both outfield corners and at DH. They need to be careful about what they're going to do with Joe Randa. They need to scale back the irrational exuberance surrounding Ken Harvey. This was a nice little year for the Royals, but the morning after has far too much coyote ugly potential for anyone to feel comfortable.
Announced that RHP Paul Quantrill declined to pick up his player option, instead becoming a free agent. [10/30]
Re-signed LHP Tom Martin to a two-year contract. [11/13]
Both of these seem odd. Quantrill had a guaranteed $3.1 million coming to him if he picked up his option. Does he really expect to get more than that as a free agent? He might get more total money for a two- or three-year deal with a lower annual salary, but this represents a pretty big risk on his part.
On the other side of the 'who's staying/who's going' question, Tom Martin's going to cost the Dodgers more than $3 million over the next two years. While he was an asset as a situational lefty, doing an especially fine job with inherited runners, is this really where you want to spend discretionary money? This is a team that probably needs to overhaul its entire infield if it wants to contend, and it's throwing heavy coin at a situational lefty?
Signed RHP Travis Phelps and added him to the 40-man roster. [10/27]
Signed UT-R Trent Durrington to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. [11/7]
Looking at the spring training invites, it's gearing up to be another long summer in Indianapolis, although Durrington might have value as a pinch-runner, spare part, and veteran infield reserve on the big league roster.
If there's a bit of happiness, it's bidding adieu to both Rusch and Clayton. Clayton had long since withered into near uselessness as a regular, and with Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, and Bill Hall all fighting for jobs in the middle infield, it's better to excuse Clayton. Hall and Hardy will both get shots at the shortstop job, with Hall also getting consideration at second if Weeks looks unready, although Keith Ginter makes for an adequate fill-in there if both Hardy and Weeks have awful camps. A veteran reserve who can handle short would be useful.
As for Rusch, he's entering a little corner in the stathead Hall of Shame for failing to live up to expectations. People kept focusing on solid strikeout rates while ignoring his propensity to get belted around as something out of his control. At the end of the day, Rusch is a cautionary tale about the dangers of wishcasting. What he was, at his height, was a guy who couldn't get his ERA under 4.00 pitching in Shea with a pretty good defense behind him, a guy who's always giving up more hits than innings pitched. Let's face it, he wasn't destined for greatness, no matter how many people wanted to push a nice strikeout-to-walk ratio into a breakout season. He might work out as somebody's fifth starter, if the price is right and it isn't in a bandbox.
Claimed RHP Sean Douglass off of waivers from the Orioles. [10/14]
I'm genuinely surprised the Twins made this move as soon as they have. What if Joe Mauer has a bad camp? What if he breaks a leg? It isn't like the package acquired was so tantalizing that they just had to make this move. Matt LeCroy isn't a real fallback position if anything happens to Mauer, which means you'd be left considering people like Rob Bowen a lot more than you'd like as a contender. Dealing Pierzynski makes sense, but it should have been used as an opportunity to get something the Twins need (like a second baseman) or as part of a package to get rid of something they don't (like Doug Mientkiewicz).
Similarly odd is the decision to nab Sean Douglass. He's not good enough to keep on the team's 40-man through March, so unless they can slip him through waivers, this just doesn't add up to much.
Added LHP Chad Bentz, RHP Shawn Hill, and OF-L Brandon Watson to the 40-man roster. [10/30]
For want of saying this anywhere else, it's interesting to consider that for all the speculation that Omar Minaya would wind up hither or yon--speculation that Minaya himself was prone to before actually landing any of the jobs he was rumored to be the top choice for--he wound up sitting still. After failing to get his work done at last year's winter meetings, and then spending a good chunk of the off-season looking to escape Montreal, it's worth asking if Minaya's really any more committed to his assignment than his commissioner is in finding a new owner for the team. At least Minaya's desire to escape this particular quandary is understandable and thus defensible.
Named Jim Duquette general manager. [10/28]
Named Rick Peterson pitching coach. [11/5]
Fired Special Assistant to the general manager Bill Singer. [11/18]
Not that there was ever much doubt about Duquette's getting the job. As further proof that these aren't the despicably forgiving Mets of yesteryear, not only was Phillips given his long overdue date with the headsman, they had no tolerance for Bill Singer being a deliberate jackass, or his subsequent attempt to weasel out of it by blaming a delicate constitution. Compared to their solution to Phillips' personal screwups, where the team "fined" him, this is progress.
In other good news, Peterson has earned a pretty good reputation as a pitching coach. He's also known to be outspoken about his convictions on what has to be done in running a staff, and apparently that sometimes aggravated upper management in Oakland. Art Howe is nothing if not self-effacing, and was comfortable leaving management of the staff in Peterson's hands in Oakland, so this is a happy reunion, with the added benefit to the Petersons not having to move from their New Jersey home. It should definitely mean good news for young starters like Aaron Heilman and Jeremy Griffiths.
Added RHP Sam Marsonek to the 40-man roster; released INF-R Luis Sojo. [10/27]
Declined their option on CF-L Chris Singleton. [10/21]
Claimed LHP Mario Ramos off of waivers from the Rangers. [11/19]
Another Oakland-Toronto deal? These things shouldn't shock, since both teams place similar valuations on talent, and clearly, Billy Beane and J.P. Ricciardi enjoy each other's company. Beane has cashed in Lilly at the right time for something he really needed, a good-hitting outfielder who will help the team with his on-base skills, and giving Ken Macha alternatives to Jermaine Dye or Eric Byrnes. And with Rich Harden looking pretty good, it wasn't like Lilly was irreplaceable. The only question for camp-beyond Mike Mulder's health-involves the fifth slot in the rotation. It might go to Justin Duchscherer or Mike Wood, or even Ramos if he has a good camp now that he's back with his original organization.
That leaves the question of whether or not picking up Kielty addresses their specific need for OBP in general. While he struggled to get the playing time he'd earned in the crowded Minnesota outfield, and didn't do as much damage against right-handed pitching as he had the year before, the A's could use the help against lefties. Plus, Kielty can handle all three outfield positions, so it isn't like they're hurting themselves afield to get his bat in the lineup. Add in the standard need to be cost-effective, and this was the sort of re-sorting of assets for which Beane and his crew are deservedly well-known and well-regarded.
Ed Wade is nothing if not an avid collector on the relief market, "fixing" and re-fixing a problem that's seemed to persist since the traumas of 1993. Wagner's one of the game's best, certainly, and acquiring him represents another upping of the team's ante to try to field a winner in the new ballpark. But Wagner only adds 80 innings to a pen that needs to cast several more bodies for much more than that. There's going to be considerable turnover in the pen, with Terry Adams and Turk Wendell becoming free agents, and with Jose Mesa and Mike Williams excused; additionally, Dan Plesac may really retire this winter. Larry Bowa doesn't seem the type to really turn to a collection of unknowns or some of the solid talent coming up through the system, and given Wade's constant willingness to invest in yet another journeyman reliever, acquiring Wagner represents just the beginning of an off-season hunt for known names among veteran relievers. By himself, Wagner is just a too-late patch to a pen that blew nearly 40% of their save opportunities. He won't fix 2003, and getting him doesn't automatically provide the Phillies with a good pen. Having given up two of their best arms to get even that much, Wade has a lot more to do.
Signed RHP Trevor Hoffman to a one-year contract with an option for 2005. [11/5]
Claimed OF-L Henri Stanley off of waivers from the Astros, adding him to the 40-man roster. [11/14]
Henri Stanley's a nifty waiver grab, but let's not overstate the case. This isn't the same thing as getting George Bell in the Rule 5 draft. Stanley can hit, but people who slug under .450 in the PCL aren't prospects, especially considering that he's about to turn 26. But as an alternative to Xavier Nady (and presumably Terrence Long) in right field, he was definitely worth snagging.
Declined to exercise the club's option on OF-B Jose Cruz Jr. [10/22]
Re-signed C-R Alberto Castillo to a one-year contract. [11/4]
Brian Sabean pulled off an outstanding deal to replace Benito Santiago with Pierzynski at the cost of the standard package of promising/troubling arms, but it's just the first fix in what looks to be an incredibly busy winter. Sabean has to find a right fielder and a first baseman at the least, and a shortstop if he has any sense. He can solve the shortstop problem by convincing Rich Aurilia to something arbitration-driven, but it looks like the Giants are giving serious thought to playing Neifi Perez, with all of the disastrous offensive implications associated with that.
With a leadoff man already in place in Ray Durham, he can stick with the standard expectations, trying to add power at positions that normally provide it. Does Vlad Guerrero want to reunite with Felipe Alou? It's interesting to speculate what would happen if Barry Bonds had Vlad hitting behind him. Or would they take a chance on Juan Gonzalez's back? It's a buyer's market for outfielders, so Sabean can afford to be picky, or include contention in his sales pitch to the better alternatives. First base won't be nearly as easy to sort out; Raffy Palmeiro's old, and the options on the market aren't great. Sabean doesn't seem to have many limitations in terms of who he'll deal with, so he can treat the next couple of months as an opportunity to indulge himself and shop off of everyone's roster if need be.
Named Paul Molitor hitting coach. [10/30]
Signed DH-R Edgar Martinez to a one-year contract. [11/4]
Named Bill Bavasi executive vice president and general manager. [11/7]
Signed OF-L Raul Ibanez to a three-year contract. [11/19]
Bill Bavasi? I was genuinely surprised to see him resurrected so soon after his aimless direction of the Angels, but unlike the Dan Duquettes or Jim Bowdens of the world, Bavasi's apparently likeable, and that means he gets second chances. As uninspired replacements for Pat Gillick go, he fits the profile initially crafted for Gord Ash's benefit: a loyal management tool, an uninspired roster manager, and convinced he can fix everything and win. Meanwhile, Gillick pulls off another escape before the going gets really tough, and timed so that his replacement will get to place enough of a stamp on the club during the Hot Stove season to plausibly distract some people from Gillick's essential responsibility for this team's dead-endery.
On that level, the Raul Ibanez signing is perfect. It gives Bavasi something to hang his hat on, and while it won't be the disaster the Cirillo pickup has been, it's not all that promising. It's the prodigal son scenario so many teams relish, except that Ibanez has done his best work with the Royals, and now that he's well past 30 and his numbers dropped in 2003, parking him in Safeco for three years and good money won't wind up looking so good. But it will be Bavasi's deal, and it can turn into a symbol for things Bavasi shouldn't be singularly held responsible for, like Mike Cameron's departure, or things that aren't his fault at all, like Dan Wilson's extension.
To look at it another way, the Mariners' lineup is saddled with an outfield with pretty modest power. Add that to John Olerud descending into low-wattage, and with neither catcher hitting or ever likely to, plus normal age-related declines, and the Mariners look poised to be an enormous disappointment in 2004.
Exercised their 2004 option on SS-R Julio Lugo. [10/29]
Declined to exercise their option on 1B-L Travis Lee. [10/30]
Signed RHP Ken Cloude to a minor league contract. [10/31]
Announced the resignation of pitching coach Chris Bosio; promoted minor league pitching coordinator Chuck Hernandez to pitching coach. [11/5]
It's interesting to see that the D-Rays are committing themselves to low-yield, moderate-risk mediocrities like Abbott and Halama. What does that achieve? At best, it gives them placeholders until people with talent might be ready. But it's more troubling to think of this as a pair of ex-Mariner sops to a pointless ambition to get the team to 70 wins instead of really gunning for a well-planned foundation for a sensibly-run franchise. The idea that this team is still at placeholder stage at so many positions--first, second, and short, plus a good chunk of the rotation--has to bother anyone who might consider themselves a D-Rays fan. Ideally, they'd be able to flip veteran mediocrities like this for young talent after a good couple of months, but who goes out of their way to deal good stuff for the likes of Abbott or Halama? And who has any faith that Chuck LaMar could swing such a deal?
The interesting story here is that of the other former Mariner who elected to come to Tampa: Ken Cloude. Cloude wasn't treated particularly well by Lou Piniella when Cloude was considered one of the game's most promising young pitchers, and now he's re-uniting with the old man? You might hope that this makes a far more interesting risk than signing Abbott or Halama; I'd like to compare this to last year's spin with Jeremi Gonzalez, in that it might just provide the Rays with a useful big league pitcher. Unhappily, Cloude was awful in Tacoma last year (5.95 ERA). You can hope that he might turn into an effective reliever, a la Steve Karsay, but his shoulder problems don't seem to ever really let up, which suggests he's more like Jaret Wright: used-up before he ever really got started.
Re-signed LHP Ron Mahay to a one-year contract. [10/15]
Signed RHP John Wasdin to a minor league contract. [10/21]
Signed C-R Ken Huckaby to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [11/13]
Signed UT-L Andy Fox to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [11/17]
Outrighted 1B-R Jason Hart to Oklahoma. [11/19]
You have to pity the Rangers, since their challenge is to fill in the rest of the roster behind A-Rod. I can't see hauling in guys like Wasdin or Huckaby as developments that bode well; Wasdin looks like he's growing up to be the new Doug Linton, while Huckaby is a weak option among third catchers, let alone somebody you'd actually use. I've always liked Andy Fox as a utility player, and he's a niftier spare part than the likes of Donnie Sadler, so it's a nice grab to have him on a non-guaranteed deal to keep that extra spot on the 40-man open through camp.
Re-signed C-L Greg Myers to a one-year contract; added UT-L Simon Pond to the 40-man roster; released LHP Doug Creek; outrighted RHPs Brian Bowles, Diegomar Markwell, Dan Reichert, Dominic Rich, Mike Smith, Tanyon Sturtze, and Corey Thurman to Syracuse. [10/27]
Re-signed UT-L Frank Catalanotto to a one-year contract. [10/28]
Beyond the Jays' willingness to strike early, and thereby exploit a window of opportunity to negotiate before free agency or arbitrators enter the picture, this really boils down to shoring up the rotation. Ted Lilly and Pat Hentgen make for a solid pair of supporting starters to line up behind Roy Halladay. So now, instead of absolutely having to count on Mark Hendrickson and Josh Towers or even Pete Walker, they may instead get to choose between them. If they've done that much more to fend off an emergency acquisition like John Wasdin, more power to them. And balancing that against Kelvim Escobar's departure, they need the reliable help at prices they can afford. The danger, of course, is that the help might not be reliable, as Cory Lidle demonstrated last season. But Hentgen and Lilly both finished the year well, and both seem to be as healthy as men who've lost time to injury can be.
Also important is that the Jays haven't spent so much that they can't sign somebody desperate for a deal at the end of January, and since they have young outfielders close to the majors (Gabe Gross, Jayson Werth, Alex Rios, and John-Ford Griffin), Kielty was what we might call a reconfigurable asset. Working those players into an already strong lineup is a nice way of keeping the pressure off, while that same offense was something that helped open Hentgen to the possibility of a Blue Jay return.