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January 13, 2004

Transaction Analysis

The Centrals

by Baseball Prospectus

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CHICAGO CUBS Return to Top

Re-signed 2B-R Mark Grudzielanek to a one-year deal. [12/7]

Signed LHP Kent Mercker to a one-year deal. [12/18]

Signed OF-L Todd Hollandsworth to a one-year deal. [12/18]

Acquired UT-Can't Jose Macias from the Expos for RHP Wilton Chavez. [12/20]

Traded C-B Damian Miller to the A's for C-R Michael Barrett. [12/21]

Signed 2B-L Todd Walker to a one-year deal. [12/23]

Non-Tendered 1B-L Randall Simon. [12/23]

In a distant combination of signings, Jim Hendry was able to construct something a second-base platoon that improved his team above the rumored signings of Luis Castillo or Fernando Vina. Both are the type of dirty-kneed, crag-faced five o'clock shadow type of throwbacks that Dusty prefers, and they work as an excellent platoon. With the G-Man a lefty-bashing .360/.444/.470, and the much-easier-to-spell Walker hitting right-handers to the tune of .301/.352/.448, they combine to make for one effective player manning the keystone, no matter who's on the mound opposing the Snugglies. While there is reason to question many things that emanate from the Magic Toothpick in the dugout, the use of platoon advantages is not amongst them. The only task now is deciding whether to call them Walkilanek or Grudzker.

Randall Simon's departure means the end of the reign of the best-known Sausage King in Chicago since Abe Frohman. Long live the King!

In Barrett, Hendry believes he has a younger and cheaper Miller. Barrett may try to keep up Miller's 2003 mantra of "this rotation is as good as the one I caught with my old team." The phrase is much less powerful with the likes of Zach Day or Claudio Vargas than it was when Miller could reminisce about the good old days and sore hands from catching Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Beyond that, they are very similar players, so Hendry did fine here.

Omar Minaya is entitled to pick the pockets of each GM once during his tenure in Montreal, and retrieving anything for Jose Macias qualifies. Hopefully, the Cubs are inoculated from further loss going forward. What other reason can there be for a deal for a soon to be non-tendered utility man that does not discernibly do anything but force David Kelton to consider housing options in Des Moines? Our suggestion for David? This 3/2, on lovely Timber Hill Court, for a mere $200,000. Note the upgraded, dual-pane, gas-filled windows. This one's a bargain, Dave. Don't pass it up.

In one of the more interesting moves to raise more revenue, the Tribune Company seized upon a plan to sneak more commercial breaks in during an average Cubs game on WGN. By adding several lefties to the roster, Dusty Baker could not resist his urges to use each of them for one batter, statistics be damned. If WGN can sneak in one extra Empire Today or Eastwood Insurance advertisement per game, TribCo could quit scalping its own tickets at Wrigley. Or not.

Todd Hollandsworth's presence provides a tremendous litmus test for the Cubs. Can they keep him below the magical 250 PA mark, where he's most effective and healthy, or will he spend the majority of the summer finding and thanking Steve Bartman among the beer-swilling friendlies in the expensive seats?

CHICAGO WHITE SOX Return to Top

Named Ozzie Guillen as manager, replacing Jerry Manuel. [11/3]

Exercised 2004 club option on SS-B Jose Valentin. [11/6]

Signed C-AARP Sandy Alomar Jr. to a one-year contract, including a club option for 2005. [11/26]

Acquired INF-R Juan Uribe from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for 2B-B Aaron Miles. [12/2]

Offered salary arbitration to RHPs Bartolo Colon and Tom Gordon. Declined to offer salary arbitration to INF-R Tony Graffanino, 2B-B Roberto Alomar, outfielder Carl Everett, and RHP Scott Sullivan. [12/7]

Signed LHP Mark Buehrle to a three-year contract that includes a club option for 2007. [12/11]

Signed OF-R Carlos Lee to a two-year contract for 2004-05 that includes a club option for 2006. [12/19]

Offered salary arbitration to LHP Scott Schoeneweis. [12/22]

Agreed to terms with RHP Cliff Politte on a one-year contract that includes a club option for 2005. [1/7]

While Politte is a better pitcher than his ERA suggests--his K/BB rates remained solid, but he was the victim of some poorly timed home runs--his signing represents a questionable use of resources. The White Sox's farm system isn't tremendously deep, but minor league relief is one area in which it excels. Politte's presence could cost someone like Ryan Meaux, Tetsu Yofu, or Gary Majewski a job--flawed pitchers all of them, but Politte is flawed too, and he'll be considerably more expensive.

The Sox were prepared to let Schoeneweis go, but reversed course at the last minute, figuring that he'd be worth his arbitration payday as a member of the starting rotation. It's a move of questionable merit: Schoeneweis was removed from the Angels' rotation not so much out of concerns about his stamina, but because his lack of a good off-speed pitch was yielding consistently high velocities off of opposition bats, as well as matching ERAs. It would have been worth the Reds' while to tender a contract to Russell Branyan if he could play shortstop, but he can't.

Lee's contract will guarantee him $15.5 million, inclusive of his buyout payment should his club elect not to re-up him in 2006. That's a lot to pay for a guy who had a VORP of just 22.1 last season, but not so much as to render him untradable, since Lee puts up the big HR and RBI numbers that teams trolling for offense at the trade deadline are liable to overrate. That's an essential consideration for the White Sox, who will lose the services of Magglio Ordonez and Esteban Loaiza at the end of next season; if the team elects to crawl into a rebuilding shell, Lee will need to go too.

Buehrle, who had fought to secure a long-term contract in each of the past two winters, only to receive what he considered to be lowball offers, was signed to a three-year contract that will pay him $6 million per. While that price seems eminently reasonable given the solid service that he's provided to the Sox, contracts aren't rewards for past performance; they're investments in future contributions, and on that front, the deal is a bit more questionable. Here are some numbers taken fresh from our new PECOTA cards:

Mark Buehrle, Wins above Replacement


Actual
2001	+5.3
2002	+4.5
2003	+2.9

Projected
2004	+2.8
2005	+2.1
2006	+2.1

Buehrle, in consideration of his middling strikeout rates, is not a pitcher without risk; PECOTA expects him to be worth roughly half as much between 2004-2006 as he was from 2001-2003. There's value in roster stability, and it makes for bad PR to continue to nickel and dime a popular player like Buehrle, but signing him to a shorter-term deal, and taking the year to evaluate whether he follows the Tom Glavine career path or the Jim Abbott one might have been the more prudent course of action.

Among the refuseniks, Alomar and Everett were both classified as Type-A players by the Elias Sports Bureau, so the Sox are potentially sacrificing a whole slew of draft picks here. Of the two, Everett has kept a larger percentage of his skills intact, received the richer free agent deal, and would have been more likely to help the Sox in 2004 in the event that they were stuck with him. Fortunately, both Colon and Gordon were also classified as Type As, so the team's revamped scouting and development staff will be plenty busy come June.

Juan Uribe or Willie Harris? We'd prefer None of the Above--or better yet, D'Angelo Jimenez--but Uribe is one of those buy-low acquisitions of the sort that Kenny Williams has come to specialize in. The three years that he has on Miles is the key thing here. While Uribe's plate discipline is ghastly-something not likely to rectify itself given the aggressive approach that hitting coach Greg Walker advocates-he's still young enough that his power could become an asset down the road.

With both Jamie Burke and Mike Rivera in the system, the annual December ritual of signing Sandy Alomar to a one-year deal bears costs in terms of both cash and opportunity. Sure, Buehrle likes to work with him, but Miguel Olivo is the future behind the plate, and the Sox would be wise to avoid coddling the pitcher to the point that a counter-productive Greg Maddux/Javy Lopez scenario emerges down the road.

We've been critical of many of the Sox's moves this winter, but this was one of the better ones: Valentin is a multi-talented player who has yet to exhibit any serious signs of decline, and the next-best shortstop in the White Sox system is Rob Valido, a 19-year-old who played in the Appalachian League last summer. Valentin will cost the Sox $5 million this season; replacing his contribution on the free agent market could have cost considerably more.

As the Cubs did with Dusty Baker after the 2002 season, the Sox made up for a winter of inactivity by replacing their manager, supplanting the melancholy Manuel with the gregarious Guillen. Unlike the Cubs' situation, it's not clear that the Sox can count on the sort of breakout performances from their in-house personnel to make the new skip look like a genius. It's presumptuous to extrapolate Guillen's spotty record as a player to speculate that he'll make for a poor manager, and in terms of personalities, Guillen is certainly better equipped to put a happy face on what shapes up to be the latest in a long line of ho-hum seasons. But hustle, desire, drive-these are nice things all, but none of them are a substitute for winning, or a good #3 starter.

CINCINNATI REDS Return to Top

Non-tendered 3B/OF Russell Branyan, OF Ruben Mateo, and OF Reggie Taylor. [12/20]

Signed RHP Cory Lidle to a one-year deal. [12/29]

Agreed to terms with OF John Vander Wal to a one-year deal. [1/12]

Chin up, Reds fans. It's not like there's been any big news around Cincinnati lately anyway, is it? Lidle comes to the Great American Ballpark off a season where, at best, he was an innings eater for a team on an upswing. Given the right situation, this type of pitcher is a reasonably useful part in the same way that tofurkey is a reasonably acceptable Thanksgiving meal. If that's all your Vegan girlfriend serves up on the big day, no reason to cry over spilled tryptophan. Lidle comes to Cincinnati as one of few available pitchers who were both cheap and intact, but rather than actually improving the rotation, Lidle only keeps Dave Miley from having to trot out something younger every fifth day. Lidle may be the titular ace as of early January, but expect the Reds to keep an especially close eye on the waiver wire as they pack up for Plant City, and for Jose Acevedo to emerge as the team's actual #1 in 2004.

Look, ma, replacement-level talent getting non-tendered! While tools will likely get each of these players another job somewhere in the baseball industry, the Reds lose very little in letting someone else sign their paychecks. Branyan can take his oft-injured Kingman Lite routineto a team that could use a little bench pop, Taylor fits the speedy fifth-outfielder role well, and Mateo could try and pretend that the fairy dust that made Jose Guillen break out in 2003 rubbed off on him. The problem with "replacement level" is that you need to actually have replacements available. Dan O'Brien's replacements need replacing.

CLEVELAND INDIANS Return to Top

Declined the option on DH-R Ellis Burks, making him a free agent. [12/8]

Non-tendered RHP Danys Baez and LHP Carl Sadler, making them free agents. [12/21]

Signed free agent 2B-R Ronnie Belliard to a one-year contract. [12/26]

Acquired LHP Scott Stewart from the Expos for OF-L Ryan Church and INF-B Maicer Izturis. [1/5]

Signed RHP Jose Jimenez to a one-year deal. [1/8]

Jimenez is the rarest of birds: a relief pitcher who succeeds without a high strikeout rate, instead relying on good command to keep runners off the basepaths, and his sinker to keep balls in the yard. If there's a concern, it's not so much that Jimenez's approach is unsuccessful, but that it was particularly well-adapted to pitching at Coors Field (indeed, Jimenez' home ERA over the past three seasons (5.28) has been barely worse than his away mark (5.13)). He'll still get a boost from coming down to sea level, but not on the order that someone like Darryl Kile did.

The acquisition of Stewart, like that of Jose Jimenez, is a testament to the Indians' understanding of park effects. "Olympic Stadium/Hiram Bithorn hybrid," as Diamond Mind Baseball awkwardly calls it, played like Coors Lite last season, boosting offense by more than 20%. Even with some lingering concerns about Stewart's elbow, and his declining strikeout rate, he'll probably do more to help the Tribe than Church and Izturis ever would.

After Todd Walker spurned them to sign for a cheaper price with the Cubs, the Indians did well for themselves to acquire Belliard, a player who contributes considerably more than the John McDonalds of the world, without contributing so much that he'll be any sort of roadblock in the event that Brandon Phillips starts hitting again. PECOTA remains skeptical, remembering Belliard's wretched 2002 campaign and projecting a .313 OBP for him. But Belliard's revival last season had as much to do with escaping the smelly bowels of Milwaukee (no city has smellier bowels, what with all the sausage, cheese, and Leinenkugel's) as taking advantage of the rarefied air of Coors Field. He should be fully competent as a short-term fix.

The bizarre series of events surrounding Baez's contract-the Indians non-tendered him after trying to skirt the minimum pay cut rule by dropping and re-adding him from the 40-man roster, triggering an MLBPA grievance-would have been avoided had only he had a more successful campaign as Cleveland's closer, thus warranting his paycheck. While Baez's numbers improved upon his conversion to relief as he was able to throw his splitter more frequently, they didn't improve to the point where he'd be a real asset for a team still in the midst of rebuilding, especially since the arbitration process tends to overweight the importance of saves. The Devil Rays, apparently, overvalue the save label too, though they might get their money's worth if they give Baez another crack in the rotation.

As for Burks, everybody knows he gets hurt a lot-add the elbow problem that cut short his season last year to his chronically bad knees-but it's a real skill to play well in spite of one's injuries, and Burks does that in spades. Saddled with a $5 million club option year, the Indians had little choice but to let him go, but Burks is not ready to hang 'em up just yet, is willing to sign for cheap, and could make for a nifty acquisition for an AL team looking to add some power on a budget. Like say, Oakland, where he'd make a nice DH partner for Erubiel Durazo.

DETROIT TIGERS Return to Top

Re-signed DH-R Dean Palmer to a minor-league contract. [12/9]

Selected C-R Chris Shelton, LHP Mike Bumatay, and RHP Lino Urdaneta in the Rule 5 Draft. [12/15]

Signed 2B-L Fernando Vina to a two-year contract. [12/18]

Signed LF-R Rondell White to a two-year contract. [12/18]

Signed RHP Al Levine to a one-year contract. [12/18]

Signed C-R Mike DiFelice to a one-year contract. [12/19]

Signed RHP Jason Johnson to a two-year contract. [12/30]

Acquired SS-B Carlos Guillen and SS-B Juan Gonzalez. [1/9]

One of the additional downsides to losing 119 games is that you might as well be offering Confederate money when it comes to signing elite free agents. So the Tigers, with millions of dollars burning a hole in owner Mike Illitch's pocket, were unable to lure their top free agent target, Miguel Tejada, and were forced to spread the money around to five lesser players.

The results were predictable: While each of these free agents will help the Tigers in some way in 2004-OK, maybe not Mike DiFelice-none of them is going to leave a lasting mark on the team. White is an underrated hitter whose massive home/road disparity in homers (58 career HRs at home, 98 on the road) will only continue in Detroit. Vina has already been sliding down the cliff for two years, and it's far from a sure bet that he'll even outplay Ramon Santiago the next two years. Johnson and Levine are bulk innings, albeit with mild upside given the CoPa's spacious dimensions.

The best move of the off-season for Dombrowski so far has been the acquisition of Carlos Guillen, a perfectly competent everyday shortstop, for a long-shot prospect in Gonzalez and a never-was in Santiago (whose already mealy star dimmed greatly after he gained two years in AgeGate.) Shelton, the first pick in the Rule 5 Draft, has the bat to be one of the best backup catchers in the game right now, and with nothing to lose the Tigers will give his glove every opportunity to stay behind the plate.

It's easy to write all these transactions off as good money thrown after bad, but the Tigers' short-term priorities are different from just about every team in recent memory. The Tigers aren't trying to be competitive in 2004; they're simply aiming for respectability to buy time for the Dombrowski Talent Engine to get revved up. If these acquisitions can keep the Tigers from 105 losses, they'll have to be considered a success on some level.

HOUSTON ASTROS Return to Top

Signed LHP Andy Pettitte to a three-year contract. [12/11]

Like most Yankees, Pettitte's perceived value is greater than his actual value, so it should go without saying that he's being overpaid--overall, that is--even after you take into account the hometown discount he gave Drayton McLane & Co.

But that doesn't mean he's without value. Aside from 2002 when he made just 22 starts, Pettitte has been a slightly above-average pitcher who can be counted on for 200 regular-season innings, plus another 20 in October, every year since Dennis Miller was either funny or credible. On top of which, his translated walk and strikeout rates have been markedly better over the past three years than they were the three prior to that--something that many people attribute to an improved training regimen introduced by Roger Clemens.

That said, the effects of the change in scenery are essentially a wash. Yankee Stadium has played as a pretty decent pitcher's park over the last few years, and Pettitte has taken advantage (in his eight years with the Yanks, Pettitte's road ERA is almost a full run higher than at home, and his peripherals follow suit). Meanwhile, Houston's Minute Maid Park plays as one of the better hitter's parks in the National League, so that edge is likely a thing of the past. Of course, Pettitte has pitched in front of one of the worst defenses in all of baseball over the last few seasons--"And that's going to roll past a diving Jeter..."--so it's reasonable to expect to see his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) numbers take a dive in Houston. Overall, though, the positives gained from a superior defense are probably lost in the move to a less friendly home park.

What's most interesting about the contract Pettitte signed, however, is the structure. The Astros will pay him $5.5 million in 2004, $8.5 million in 2005, and $17.5 million--or 55% of the overall value of the contract--in 2006. No other contract in baseball is this heavily weighted on one season, and it's not particularly close. If Drayton McClane is planning on selling the team after 2004 or 2005, that's an obscene amount of depreciation on the club that could be taken prior to trading Pettitte--who we forecast to be 34 years old in 2006--assuming such a move is even possible.

On the field, signing Pettitte gives the Astros a durable No. 3 starter who doesn't appear to be a strong candidate for a steep, sudden decline. In the pocketbook, signing Pettitte gives GM Gerry Hunsicker yet another player who he won't be able to trade for a sack of magic beans come the fall of 2005.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS Return to Top

Re-signed RHP Kevin Appier to a one-year contract. [11/21]

Re-signed LHP Brian Anderson to a two-year contract. [11/26]

Re-signed 3B-R Joe Randa to a one-year contract with a club option for a second year. [11/26]

Re-signed RHP Curtis Leskanic to a one-year contract with a club option for a second year. [11/26]

Re-signed RHP Jason Grimsley to a one-year contract. [12/8]

Signed OF-L Matt Stairs to a one-year contract. [12/10]

Signed RHP Scott Sullivan to a two-year contract. [12/10]

Signed C-R Benito Santiago to a two-year contract. [12/12]

Signed IF-R Tony Graffanino to a two-year contract. [12/15]

Selected RHP Jason Szuminski in the Rule 5 Draft, then immediately traded him to San Diego with cash in exchange for OF-L Rich Thompson. [12/15]

Signed C-R Kelly Stinnett to a one-year contract. [12/18]

Signed RF-R Juan Gonzalez to a one-year contract with a club option for a second year. [1/6]

The Royals may not be the most-improved team in the game, but they almost certainly improved themselves by more increments than any other team. Anderson's re-signing makes a lot more sense when you factor in that the Royals are moving the fences back to their original dimensions, and along with Darrell May gives the Royals two innings-eaters to complement all the youngsters in the rotation.

By re-signing Leskanic and surprising the market by grabbing the underrated Scott Sullivan, Allard Baird has put this team in good shape to field their first above-average bullpen since the mid-1990s. Santiago and Stinnett aren't All-Stars, but they're a significant improvement over the Brent Mayne/DiFelice combination from last season. Stairs is the perfect platoon partner for Ken Harvey, and along with Graffanino, significantly improves the team's depth on the bench-a weakness which was exposed last season when the team was hit with a rash of injuries.

All of these moves were just prologue for the signing of Gonzalez, who immediately becomes the best power-hitter in Royals history. (His career slugging average of .563 has only been exceeded twice-in a single season-in the history of the franchise.) Gonzalez comes with his usual questions regarding his defense and health, but with Rule 5 acquisition Rich Thompson there to help with the former, and top prospect David DeJesus ready to step in if there are problems with the latter, the Royals are in good position to minimize Gonzalez's downside. And his upside is to have a monster year that could propel the Royals to the top of what shapes up to be another very weak AL Central.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS Return to Top

Purchased various contracts in preparation for the Rule 5 draft, notably RHP Ben Hendrickson, OF-L Dave Kryznel, and PosTBNL-R Corey Hart. [11/20]

Traded 1B-R Richie Sexson, LHP Shane Nance and a player to be named later to the Arizona Diamondbacks for INF-L Craig Counsell, 2B-R Junior Spivey, 1B-L Lyle Overbay, C-R Chad Moeller, LHP Chris Capuano, and LHP Jorge de la Rosa. [12/1]

Signed RHP Victor Santos, C-L Mark Johnson and OF-L Jon Nunnally to minor league contracts and invited them to spring training. [12/3]

Re-signed RHP Dave Burba to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. [12/7]

Outrighted INF-R Enrique Cruz and INF-B Alejandro Machado to Triple-A Indianapolis. [12/9]

Signed free agent C-R Henry Blanco to a one-year contract with a club option for 2005. [12/18]

Signed 3B-R Wes Helms to a two-year contract, avoiding arbitration. Invited 1B-L Prince Fielder, SS-R J.J. Hardy, IF/OF-L Jeff Liefer and INF-L Matt Erickson to spring training. Outrighted RHP Matt Childers to Indianapolis and invited him to spring training. [12/19]

Non-tendered RHP Jayson Durocher. [12/21]

Signed free agent C-R Gary Bennett to a one year contract. [12/22]

Signed free agent OF-L Ben Grieve to a one-year contract. [12/23]

What if a club gave its lineup a complete makeover, and nobody came? That's the question the Brewers' front office may facing with this year after trading away their biggest bargaining chip for a new infield. They traded away one of the best first basemen in the league and didn't get back anything of note, effectively getting back a raft of Billy Ray Cyrii for their only Guy Clark. It's entirely possible the fans will consider this just another reason to stay at home, coming from a franchise that's not exactly lacking for such motivation.

What Doug Melvin did get is a flock of placeholders who are both serviceable and flippable. Spivey is a big upgrade over the likes of Eric Young, and should fetch some decent swag once Rickie Weeks takes over for good. Hardy probably isn't ready to step in either, so Counsell will also be handy, splitting the SS job with Bill Hall until some contender decides it needs a utility infielder with playoff experience. Even Overbay may just be keeping a base warm, in this case for Hart, who had an MVP 2003 season at the plate but is destined to move off third. All told, the impact of this trade will probably have to be reevaluated at the trading deadline.

The Ben Grieve signing is an interesting flier. While his recent career has been as a poster child for the correlation between high ground/fly ratios and low HR rates, he came cheap enough that any turnaround at all could make him a nice value for the price (which in turn would make him eminently tradable). The only problem is that his defense, which has actually improved to fair, is not what you want to see in that park with that pitching staff.

Speaking of the pitchers, Burba and Santos could crack the rotation, with Ben Sheets, Doug Davis, and Matt Kinney looking like the only other decent bets for success. Whether or not it's possible for a rotation in which Dave Burba is a significant component to be serviceable is best left as an exercise for the reader.

MINNESOTA TWINS Return to Top

Acquired RHP Joe Nathan, RHP Boof Bonser, and LHP Francisco Liriano from the Giants for C A.J. Pierzynski. [11/14]

Acquired RHP Carlos Silva, SS Nick Punto, RHP Bobby Korecky from the Phillies for LHP Eric Milton. [12/3]

Signed OF Shannon Stewart to a three-year deal. [12/7]

Acquired LHP J.T. Thomas from the Giants for OF Dustan Mohr. [12/15]

Signed 2B Luis Rivas to a one-year deal. [12/20]

Minnesota owns the largest stock of young, major league-ready OF talent in the league, they've lost their two best relievers to free agency, and their rotation is still held together by little more than duct tape, bad contracts, and strong nuclear force. Investing $18 million in a 29-year old outfielder with little power leaves the Twins shopping for bargain-basement pitching when they could have easily played Michael Cuddyer, Michael Restovich, or even Lew Ford and picked up a decent starter or two with the savings.

Instead, they moved their starting catcher, part-time DH, and part of the rotation for a collection of arms that can best be described as "serviceable." In short, the Twins' acquisition of Stewart is a little bit like Human Health Services starting up a program to make sure Americans are getting enough fried foods. It may be activity, but it's not progress, and it's certainly not an answer to any of the pressing needs of the day.

The Twins didn't really have any other options when it came to Rivas, but finding a replacement for a player with an OBP threatening to break into the 200s who plays defense like Todd Walker has to be a high priority for Minnesota next winter. Moving Mohr for Thomas shows some recognition of the dearth of pitching heading towards the Twin Cities. Despite a 5-12 record at Class-A San Jose last season, Thomas is only 22 and put up decent secondary numbers.

Pierzynski's move west signals that the Twins are preparing to bring up 2001 #1 overall pick Joe Mauer. Mauer will turn 21 during the season's first month, and while he's been on the path to stardom since high school, his adjustment to the major leagues at such a young age is likely to leave him overwhelmed for a time. Would the Twins have been better moving Pierzynski after this season to give Mauer another year in the minors to near his peak, and slow his arbitration and free agency clocks? Perhaps, but with a player as talented as Mauer, at least it'll be fun to watch.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES Return to Top

Added LHPs Sean Burnett and Mike Johnston and RHPs Ian Oquendo and John VanBenschoten to their 40-man roster. Outrighted pitcher RHP Nelson Figueroa to Triple-A Nashville. Lost RHPs Matt Guerrier and Duaner Sanchez and IF-L Walter Young on waivers. [11/20]

Signed RHPs Juan Acevedo, Chris Fussel, and Bobby Rodgers to minor league contracts. Re-signed SS-R Tomas De La Rosa to a minor league contract. [12/5]

Declined to offer salary arbitration to RHP Julian Tavarez, OF-R Reggie Sanders, OF-L Matt Stairs and IF-Rs Pat Meares, Pokey Reese and Jeff Reboulet. [12/8]

Non-tendered RHP Mike Lincoln. [12/19]

The off-season of nothingness continues, as the bulk of the team's trading needs were taken care of at last year's deadline. The most we're likely to see at this point is a Jason Kendall trade finally coming to pass, though if Anaheim does decides to get serious about shopping a pitcher/outfielder combo, you'll be hard pressed to find a club that's a better match. Of all the candidates for the Pirate mound and pastures, only Jason Bay, Kip Wells, and perhaps Oliver Perez are clearly deserving of jobs, as opposed to just sort of being available. If they could arrange to dump the likelihood that Kris Benson will never fully recover into Anaheim's lap, that would be pretty sweet. But this is Pittsburgh, so turning that neat of a trick seems rather unlikely.

Then again, the lack of one-year free-agent fliers is rather striking after last year's binge (Sanders, Stairs, etc.) failed to produce much in the way of either prospects or picks. Factor in the bust that was the Aramis Ramirez trade, which pretty clearly set the franchise back a tad, and it's nice to have someone in an MLB front office working to learn from his mistakes.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS Return to Top

Signed RHP Chris Carpenter, RHP Steve Kline, RHP Cal Eldred, and OF Kerry Robinson. [12/1]

Signed 1B Steve Cox. [12/9]

Acquired RHP Jason Marquis, RHP Adam Wainwright and LHP Ray King from the Braves for OF J.D. Drew and C/OF Eli Marrero. [12/13]

Signed RHP Jeff Suppan. [12/15]

Signed OF Reggie Sanders. [12/15]

While every other team was non-tendering its spare parts and threatening to non-tender several useful parts as well, the Cardinals kept most of theirs around. In Carpenter and Eldred, Dave Duncan gets to continue to work on scrap heap projects, competing with Don Gullett of the Reds in the baseball equivalent to Junkyard Wars. Robinson stays on the roster to provide quotes and to cover in case Jim Edmonds isn't quite as healthy as the Cardinals want everyone to believe. As a fourth guy, Robinson's tolerable, but if Edmonds isn't ready when the cherry blossoms start blooming, the Cards may start pointing across the street to the work on their new stadium, hoping no one notices that they're closer in the standings to the Brewers and Reds than the Cubs and Astros.

Back from a year in Japan that could be described as achromatic, Steve Cox was signed to, ostensibly, fill the spot of Tino Martinez, Clutch God, but the Cardinals feel that Albert Pujols will be a solid first baseman soon. Instead of a starting role, Cox gets a backup job where he'll be the lefty half of a pseudo-platoon with the best young hitter in baseball. Even La Russa's odd lineups won't include Cox over Pujols on too many days, and will include both with puzzling irregularity.

Among the many rumored names to be included in this winter's non-tender-scrap heap-market correction was J.D. Drew. Never quite healthy and certainly never quite living up to the gimcrack comparisons to Mickey Mantle, Drew moves out of St. Louis and, paired with a recovered Eli Marrero, brings more than one might expect in return. Jason Marquis has never meshed with the genius of Leo Mazzone despite doing a remarkable impression of Greg Maddux while on the mound up until the ball leaves his hand. Marquis has significantly more velocity on his pitches but significantly less control over where they end up, which is all too often in the hands of a bleacher fan. His failure to have any significant scars, screws, or plates in his pitching arm makes him something of an oddity and maybe even the number-four starter.

Wainwright is the type of pitcher than cannot be described without the word "lanky" involved. Having gotten that out of the way, he's been compared to Kevin Brown with a fastball that can reach 95, but his lack of physical stamina has held him back. Young, at 22, he's precisely the type of pitcher that the Cardinals have had no success with in the recent past. A good spring could put him at the back of the Cards rotation, but even so, he'd do well with a short walk down Beale Street in April. There's not much that needs to be said about Ray King. He's big, left-handed, and one would be well advised to slide when he blocks the plate.

In signing Suppan at a Crazy Eddie price, the Cardinals avoid overpaying for mediocrity. With a rotation that projects as Matt Morris, Woody Williams, and three from among Jason Marquis, Suppan, Danny Haren, Chris Carpenter, and Jason Simontacchi, the Cardinals keep the mediocre talent at the end of the rotation, where it can be easily replaced. Unfortunately, the very need for a pitcher like Suppan is an indictment of a minor league system more barren than the Little Rann of Kutch.

While his business card may read "Baseball Bedouin"--hardly as catchy as Matt Stairs' "Professional Hitter"--Reggie Sanders comes to play. At age 36, Sanders will give whatever team he happens to be playing for roughly 130 games of above-average hitting and slightly below-average fielding, and do it for $6 million over two years ($2 million in 2004). A remade outfield of Sanders, Edmonds, and...well, explain to us again why Pujols is moving to first, Mr. Jocketty?

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