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March 2, 2004

Transaction Analysis

February 27-March 1, 2004

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX Return to Top

Signed OF-L George Lombard to a minor league contract. [2/29]

Ugh, are the PawSox hitting a new low or what? With an outfield that will probably feature Adam Hyzdu and Lombard in everyday roles, you can basically take it for granted that the Sox really can't afford an in-season injury to one of the starters in the outfield, especially Johnny Damon. With guys like Kevin Millar, Brian Daubach, and Gabe Kapler filling or hoping to fill big league bench roles, they don't really have a center fielder to spare. As is, Pawtucket looks like it will have to hope Jeremy Owens can fit their need for a center fielder, and there's next to no chance that Owens would be an improvement on playing Kapler and Trot Nixon out there if very bad things happened to Damon.

CHICAGO CUBS Return to Top

Signed RHP Kerry Wood to a three-year, $32.5 million contract with a mutual option for 2007, voiding the one-year contract Wood signed in January. [2/27]

Signed 1B-R Derrek Lee to a three-year, $22.5 million contract, voiding the one-year contract he signed in January. [2/28]

Wood's deal is either $32.5 million over three years (counting a buyout of 2007), or a $40 million deal over four years. The option for 2007 flips from a team option to a player option if Wood pitches 400 innings across 2005 and 2006; that element makes this a bit of a dare deal. Financially, it's Wood's risk to take, and it isn't like he'll be ruined if he doesn't earn the option under his own power. Barring a major, career-altering injury, the Cubs would probably seek to keep him happy under any circumstance.

The money might seem steep, but keep in mind, he's about as representative of marquee name value and homegrown goodness today as Greg Maddux was back in those happy times when 1989 was supposed to augur a happier future. A little more troubling are some of the names, not to mention the eventual fates, of the names heading up Wood's list of comparables, as generated by PECOTA: Jim Maloney, who defined wasted Reds greatness before Mario Soto? Bobby Witt? Sudden Sam McDowell? Ouch, ouch, and ouch. I'm prettily happily subjective on some things, and keeping Woody happy is one of them. After all, the Cubs have their deal with the neighborhood peepers, an official license to scalp (or steal, depending on your point of view), and they'll have the money coming in from those new seats behind home plate. Since Wood also gets a no-trade clause through 2006 out of the deal, it's pretty clear this is simultaneously a PR move, a pat on the back, and an investment.

Derrek Lee's an equally well-considered signing for the life of that contract. Sure, it's generally easy to find a semi-useful bat for first base, but Lee is still within the range of peak years of a hitter's career, he's a good athlete and so that much slightly more likely to age well, and as much as Dusty Baker earns criticism on other fronts, veteran hitters do seem to thrive on his watch. Depending on what you consider Albert Pujols' position, Lee is arguably the best hitter in the division at first base right now and over the life of his contract. Also conveniently, his deal imposes nothing like the crippling cost Jeff Bagwell brings to the Astros.

All in all, a tip of the cap to Jim Hendry and his staff, for hammering out some creative contracts. Now, if only he could dig up a second baseman, a catcher, and find a way to swap Moises Alou for Richard Hidalgo, he could afford one of those gondola rides da Mayor is so intent on adding to the local tourism landscape.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS Return to Top

Removed OF-L Josh Hamilton from the 40-man roster after he was placed on the restricted list. [2/29]

It's easy to get hung up on the broad strokes, because who doesn't prefer a bit of drama over the straight story? Well, me, for one. As much as it would be easy to flog the D-Rays for another expensive mistake in the player development realm, let's look at the facts, as well as they're understood:

  • Since he's not even 23 yet, Josh Hamilton is really very young;
  • As far as I know, there are no indictments or convictions involved;
  • Whatever his problems are, they've been acknowledged by the people who matter (himself, his family, his agent, his industry), and he's being treated.

Now, I know it's sexier and more exciting to rail about contemporary ills, because we all know the world is a better place if every J-school grad yammers self-righteously about imminent dooms and terrible evils and stern moral fiber and resolution and the collective pulling-up of bootstraps and solutions and making sports safe for children and puppies and Rick Reilly, because warm fuzzies like that are supposed to make it easier for all of us to sleep at night, unafraid that Justin Timberlake or Anna Nicole Smith or Rush Limbaugh will tempt us into lives of unabashed turpitude. Either that, or we should get those warm fuzzies by investing in a worthwhile comforter; the details usually get drowned out by the white noise of journalistic pontification.

What's despicably irrelevant is how certain details get brought up in the context of this story. It appears to be important to convey that Hamilton may or may not be a father, that he has a lot of tattoos, that he lives in a very large, very nice house, and that he got a very nice, very large signing bonus. Money spent for talent as yet undeveloped invariably gets brought up, as if that's a part of the story as well: the kid's a failure in the making, donchaknow.

I guess this is where it's important to remember certain truths: across generations, responses to de peche mode or to KMFDM or to wearing an onion on your belt are different. Hamilton is still a kid, and I don't much care if he's eating the neighbor's pets or pouring grape soda on his corn flakes. At times such as this, it's worth remembering that Paul Molitor wasn't always a model citizen. Like a lot of us, Molitor screwed up young, and happily he came to terms with it young. As much as the subtle value judgments get brought into play in the context of Hamilton's as-yet unknown quality as a baseball player, he's got a long way to go, and the time in which to do it. With luck and hard work, he might, at which point he can hopefully enjoy the benefits of the same blind eyes that get turned towards the pasts of people as different as Molitor, Al Martin, or Pete Rose.

What's more problematic is the question of baseball sense involved in the decision to take him off of the 40-man roster. If a team with an exceptionally weak group on the 40-man roster wanted to claim Hamilton on waivers, should it? Would that help or hurt him? Would claiming him violate an unspoken understanding between teams? Those are the unanswered questions that matter, behind the more important one of letting a young guy get his life in order. Here's hoping it works out, and that Hamilton succeeds or fails as a ballplayer on the basis of his talents.

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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