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March 9, 1999

Transaction Analysis

March 1-7

by Christina Kahrl


Mentioned that RHP Pep Harris' contract for 1999 includes a club option for 2000. [3/2]

Announced the retirement of INF Craig Shipley. [3/6]

Adios to Craig Shipley, one of Australia's first wave of imports. His departure opens up the utility job to such luminaries as Luis Rivera, Jeff Huson, and Andy Stankiewicz. Tony Kubek refused an offer to come out of retirement, Ed Romero said he preferred coaching, and Frankie Frisch is still dead. Never fear, Angels fans. Faster than you can say "Steamboat Willie Rocks," Johnny Ray's phone will probably start ringing. The club's decision to tack on an option for Harris is a nice gesture, since he probably won't pitch much this year as he recovers from major surgery.


Designated RHP Bobby Chouinard for assignment. [3/1]

Believe me, come springtime, he knows this drill.


Signed Korean 1B Hee Seop Choi. [3/6]

Signed out of college, the Cubs are already touting him as a future power source. If it happens, it's years into the future, long after the applause for Mark Grace's 3,000th hit have died down, somewhere towards the end of... the 2005 season? Alright, maybe that doesn't sound too likely. It would be amazing if the Cubs really kept Grace around that long, and that's about how long it will take for him to get to that particular milestone, even if he stays healthy.


Signed INF Tim Naehring to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [3/1]

Signed OF Alejandro Quezada to a minor-league contract. [3/2]

Talk about your mixed bag. Naehring's a Cincinnati native coming back to a team that needs a third baseman. As willing as he might be to take the job, I don't think anybody thinks he can actually play on consecutive days, if at all. It's already being speculated that he'll slip into coaching with the organization, but this is the organization giving Jose Rijo one last comeback attempt, so who knows how long it will take before they ask Naehring to stop trying. That said, I wish him the best of luck. Quezada is a young semi-prospect coming out of the Japanese leagues, where he had fewer than 61 ABs, but hit well. That tells you literally zero about whether or not he's any good; anybody, even Mike Benjamin, has his hot streaks.


Re-signed 1B Todd Helton to a four-year contract. [3/1]

Re-signed RF Larry Walker to a six-year contract extension through 2005. [3/4]

An even odder couple of moves. Signing Helton early and for what might seem to be a relatively lucrative contract makes perfect sense, but signing Walker for this kind of money up to his 39th birthday is the kind of millstone that even an organization with the Rockies' deep pockets will regret horribly. We're talking about a guy who's been a disappointment in two of his four seasons in Coors, through the ages of 28 through 31. Even with Coors Field to keep his production inflated, the chances that he's going to be even have more years like his weak, injury-riddled 1996 are very strong. This might be the worst long-term signing since the Pirates' decision to pay Andy Van Slyke over Barry Bonds.


Released OF Curtis Pride. [3/4]

Pride re-injured a bum wrist, and it doesn't look like he'll heal up until July. Probably won't add much pension time as a pinch-hitter this year.


Signed C Rick Wilkins to a minor-league contract. [3/3]

Conspiracy theorists take note of this signing, coming as it does in conjunction with Todd Hundley's continuing elbow problems. Draw your own conclusions, but mine is that Wilkins gives the Dodgers a safety net in case Hundley can't catch and just in case they don't feel Angel Pena is ready. Anybody really want to believe Kevin Malone's foolhardy bluster about budding greatness now?


Re-signed RHP LaTroy Hawkins to a two-year contract. [3/7]

Given their newer, even cheaper approach to the roster, that pretty much locks Hawkins into the rotation, whatever the results. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, because I'm still hopeful that Hawkins can finally turn into a league-average starter.


Re-signed 1B Kevin Young to a four-year contract extension through 2003. [3/6]

By contrast, this almost makes the Walker seem sensible. Young is an adequate offensive player for first base, right now, when he's as good as he'll ever get, and he's already turning 30. Remember this signing if Kevin McClatchy dares to poormouth his club again. The tragedy of the Pirates is that the initial investors who bailed out from McClatchy's group were right: this team has no idea what it is doing, or where it is going. If it can afford to throw money at adequate players like Young, and inadequate players like Ed Sprague, then you have to wonder about the nature of the problem. Is baseball in Pittsburgh really safe, new stadium or not? When the organization makes these sorts of misguided commitments, if the team doesn't currently have financial problems so that it can afford these mistakes, then it's going to have them four years or so after the new park opens. As long as they make these kinds of mistakes, the team isn't going to get better, and after the novelty of the new park wears off, attendance will plummet when the team is still lousy and wondering what went wrong. The problem is that the Pirates are operating under a false assumption, one that's guiding what I'm beginning to think of as the Age of New Mediocrity. Teams are using salary as a proxy for talent and quality, assuming that expensive players must be good; that is exactly the lesson that this team, on the strength of what it accomplished in 1997, should not have drawn. But instead the Bucs have joined the rush to perpetuate the careers of perpetually mediocre (or worse) players, players who haven't earned the right to keep their jobs, but who keep them because they were expensive, and possibly even good once or twice in their careers. That's no way to build a ballclub, unless your organizational goal is play patsy to the Astros for the next decade.


Signed RHP Jose Mercedes to a minor-league contract. [3/1]

Yes, it's the same wrong-way Mercedes with the bad wing who used to pitch for the Brewers. Be ready to see some junk pick up velocity as it gets pasted out of the park all summer in Vegas.


Designated UT Felipe Crespo for assignment. [3/6]

Like Jeff Patzke before him, Crespo finally gets the shaft from an organization that couldn't recognize that he's every bit as good a ballplayer as Joey Cora. He's just not expensive enough to impress either Belgian brewmasters or Gord Ash, but given the lousy track records involved, I'll give the Belgians the benefit of the doubt.

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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