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March 26, 2004

Transaction Analysis

March 22-25, 2004

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS Return to Top

Optioned C-R Tom Gregorio to Salt Lake; reassigned 1B-L Casey Kotchman, SS-B Brian Specht, and LHPs Dusty Bergman and Pete Zamora to their minor league camp. [3/22]

Purchased RHP Cam Esslinger from the Rockies. [3/23]

Not a surprising group of demotions, but of interest was two players who got a solid number of at-bats in camp: Kotchman, which you would expect (the Angels don't have a first baseman, donchaknow), and Specht. Kotchman could be up in a hurry, since he should wind up at Double-A; a successful jump to that level could put him on a faster track than you'd normally expect from a someone who just turned 21 and spent the last two years in A-ball, handicapped by nagging hurts. Specht is more the product of a few split-squad games, plus at 23, he's young to have a couple of years at Double-A. It helps that he has a good defensive rep, while Alfredo Amezaga's push on David Eckstein's job seems to have fizzled out.

Another nifty little move was the decision to pry Esslinger away from the Rox. There are teams that have a way with digging up useful relief arms, and the Angels are one of the best. Although Esslinger has been banged up in recent years, it's worth noting his name, to see if the Angels didn't pull another surprise out of their… pocket, like Ben Weber or Brendan Donnelly.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS Return to Top

Optioned CF-R Luis Terrero to Tucson. [3/22]

Released OF-B Felix Jose; acquired LHP Randy Choate from the Expos for RHP John Patterson. [3/25]

Apparently, the Snakes don't merely shed their skins, they also smoke them. Randy Choate, for a promising starter? Keeping in mind that I think Choate can be a useful situational lefty, let's face it, he was bundled into the Vazquez package to give it mass. That the Snakes would now trade for him, days short of a period when there will be a few potentially useful lefty arms going through waivers before Opening Day, was senseless. I guess it "solves" the problem of figuring out what they were going to do with Patterson now that he's out of options. But even that review of the decision-making process involved overlooks the root cause, which is that this team, of its own free will, is really going to open the year with Steve Sparks as their fifth starter. A team that dealt Curt Schilling to… well, not start Patterson, but instead run with the aging and infrequently effective knuckleballer, while panicking because it's short a lefty in the pen now that both Casey Fossum and Shane Nance are among the walking wounded… how does that make sense? If anything, it smacks of an organization that has no idea what it's doing, while really hoping that they win some games somehow. If they think Sparks as their fifth starter is going to make them more competitive, they're on drugs. Choate might be a full-season solution to their lefty relief needs, but they overpaid for him.

ATLANTA BRAVES Return to Top

Acquired RHP Juan Cruz and LHP Steve Smyth from the Cubs for LHP Andy Pratt and 2B-R Richard Lewis; optioned RHP Bubba Nelson and OF-L Ryan Langerhans to Richmond; optioned RHP Jose Capellan to Myrtle Beach (A-Ball); reassigned 1B/3B-L Russ Branyan, LHP Sam McConnell and RHP Chuck Smith to their minor league camp. [3/25]

It's easy to laugh evilly and think of the fate of so many other Braves discards; from Richmond to history's dustbin seems the fastest bus rides the industry has to offer. Nevertheless, while I like Juan Cruz a lot, and think Smyth might even work out as a spare lefty arm, I'm not as sold on this being a stupendous swindle for the Braves as some analysts, in part because I like Andy Pratt, and in part, because I have my doubts about Cruz becoming anything more than a useful relief arm, in which case his value takes a bit of a dent. Pratt's hardly guaranteed to become the new Jamie Moyer, of course, and Lewis is nothing but a warm body, but if the Braves only get a good reliever out of the deal, it's simply a good deal. The Braves still come out very well, of course, but it's not exactly a rout, and keep in mind that Leo Mazzone hasn't instantly turned everything he touches into gold (the ill-starred Bruce Chen comes to mind, for example).

Nevertheless, it would be sort of funny if the Braves got good work out of both Cruz and Will Cunnane, while the Cubs paid through the nose for former Braves like Kent Mercker or Mike Remlinger.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX Return to Top

Reassigned IF-R Bobby Smith to minor league camp. [3/24]

CHICAGO CUBS Return to Top

Optioned RHP Francis Beltran, OF-L Nic Jackson, and OF-Rs Jason Dubois and David Kelton to Iowa; reassigned SS-B Felix Martinez and LHP Juan Pena to their minor league camp. [3/22]

Acquired LHP Andy Pratt and 2B-R Richard Lewis from the Braves for RHP Juan Cruz and LHP Steve Smyth. [3/25]

I've sort of come around on Andy Pratt as a young pitcher of promise (no, we are not going to coin the acronym Y-POP to substitute for any pitcher people might simply call a prospect), but this is not a good deal for the Cubs. Pratt might turn into a useful rotation starter, but it isn't a sure thing, so much as Dusty might covet a lefty arm to have around for the rotation at some point, even with Mark Prior's injury, there simply isn't much room for him at any point in-season, barring an even bigger injury, at which point the Cubs will have to do a lot more than turn to Andy Pratt, contending as they are with expectations of contention. Worse still, they dealt Cruz when his value was lowest, and at a point where the guy on the other end of the phone had to know Cruz had fallen out of favor.

It's a little more strange that they felt they had to move Cruz, since the pen isn't exactly overloaded at this instant. Mike Remlinger and Kent Mercker are both hurt, and I have no idea why everyone is so high on Sergio "Papal" Mitre. Dusty does seem taken with Mike Wuertz and Todd Wellemeyer, which is good, but I don't see the need to discard Cruz to get a modestly interesting left-handed arm because of the organization's depth in young right-handed arms who might start or relieve.

CINCINNATI REDS Return to Top

Optioned SS-B Felipe Lopez to Louisville; reassigned CF-L Reggie Taylor, RHP Aaron Myette, and C-R Dane Sardinha to their minor league camp. [3/22]

Signed RHP Todd Jones to a minor league contract. [3/25]

Lopez's demotion was pretty much a given, but with Barry Larkin's broken body too broken to even be push-broomed out to short these days (does King Tut get to announce the intention to hang around a while longer a few years too late too?), the Reds have actually trotted D'Angelo Jimenez out to short a little bit, which frankly rocks. I may not be in a Strat league any more, but I'd love to see a team simply run Jimenez out at short for a good stretch, just to make sure he can or can't do it. Even without having reached the starting gate, this year's Reds are dog food, so why not? What's to be gained from seeing that Rainer Olmedo can't hit (yet, or ever?), or giving Juan Castro another 300 plate appearances? Why not go with Jimenez at short and Tim Hummel at second? It's hardly going to cost the Reds their shot at printing playoff tickets. Hell, Ryan Freel's having a good camp, and he knows a bit about getting on base if nothing else, play him at second. Anything, anything at all, as long as it isn't last year's illin' brew of the two 'tudes: decrepi- and inepti-.

As for picking up Todd Jones, I wouldn't get that excited. Sure, he had his moments in Boston last year. He even flirted with respectability in Colorado and Minnesota in previous seasons. He's also flat-out sucked at times. He might come in handy, but the Reds have better options, and the most Jones can turn into is a placeholder until someone useful is ready, because the odds that he'll be useful enough to be flippable at the end of July seem pretty remote.

COLORADO ROCKIES Return to Top

Sold RHP Cam Esslinger to the Angels. [3/23]

Reassigned RHPs Brian Tollberg and Travis Driskill to their minor league camp; optioned 3B-R Garrett Atkins, SS-R Clint Barmes, LHP Cory Vance and RHPs Aaron Cook and Jason Young to Colorado Springs. [3/24]

If you're keeping score at home, this means the Rockies are locked in to a lineup that will feature the leatherly stylings of Royce Clayton at short. Toss in an outfield that's already a ruin of limbs and sproinged joints, and two men down in the two-man battle for the job at second base, and you can understand why the Rox aren't taken seriously in an otherwise winnable division. They'll have get the ugliness of playing competitive make-believe with guys like Shawn Estes and Jeff Fassero and Denny Stark before getting back to the more practical business of seeing if Jason Young has a future or if Aaron Cook is worth a spot on the 40-man roster.

DETROIT TIGERS Return to Top

Reassigned RHPs Chris Mears, Craig Dingman and Brian Schmack to their minor league camp. [3/22]

Reassigned RHP Ariel Prieto to their minor league camp. [3/24]

Signed RHP Ugueth Urbina to a one-year contract; outrighted RHP Matt Anderson to Toledo. [3/25]

I know the Tigers are hopeless, but I can't help but like the idea of signing Urbina. If he helps sell tickets because the Tigers have a matched set of World Series ring-bearers, that's okay. If it changes the look and feel of how people in Eastern Michigan feel about the Kitties, or better yet, inspires any sort of emotion at all, that's a good thing. And, more realistically, if he's peddlesome come the trading deadline, and the Tigers can make Uggy a contender at that time, that's good for both parties. Look at that angle from Uggy's perspective: rather than try to decide for yourself which team might need and closer and might contend right now, why not go to the fat chance hotel, cool your heels for a few months, and wait to get traded for by a contender looking for a quick fix? You wind up closing, which you want to do, and you end up on a contender, which is where you want to be. Let's just say I don't see him buying a home in Auburn Hills, and leave it at that.

HOUSTON ASTROS Return to Top

Acquired 3B-L Mike Lamb from the Yankees for RHP Juan De Leon; designated RHP Santiago Ramirez for assignment; released IF-R John Valentin. [3/25]

Lamb gives the Astros what it seems they're determined to have, a lefty bat to avoid finding out if Morgan Ensberg is an everyday player. Since I'm not sold on Lamb having any defensive value in a semi-platoon arrangement with Ensberg, I guess the Astros also achieve their idiosyncratic objective of giving Jose Vizcaino value as a defensive replacement. The 200 at-bats Lamb will give them aren't bad news, though, considering they could use a lefty bat on the bench, and Lamb isn't just a third baseman, since he can play first or watch balls rattle around from either outfield corner. As long as that's all it is, it's not a bad move. If he replaces Geoff Blum in Jimy Williams fiendish plan to keep Ensberg in chains, that's a problem, although to Lamb's credit, he's a better stick than Blum was. But he ain't Denny Walling, any more than Ensberg is just an end-of-his-rope Phil Garner. The sooner the Astros settle down and accept that Ensberg should get 120 starts at third, the better for them.

It's interesting to see that they've already excused John Valentin from the utility infield battle royale. Sure, Jose Vizcaino's name is still inked onto the roster, but they're left considering Eric Bruntlett and Jason Alfaro for the last spot on the bench, assuming Jimy doesn't just go with twelve pitchers. Alfaro would be a utility infielder who could help them score a few runs, while Bruntlett's presence basically reminds you that finding people of a Vizcainian caliber isn't too hard. Nevertheless, Alfaro's probably SOL for the time being, since Lamb just got dropped onto the 40-man roster, and Alfaro would have to be added to it, but if they've got Lamb and Vizcaino on the bench to go with Jason Lane and Orlando Palmeiro, they could probably use one more right-handed bat on the bench more than a spare glove. Overall, Alfaro makes more sense, and it isn't like they'll miss Bruntlett if he gets lost on waivers if they attempt to outright him to New Orleans. But knowing Jimy, he'll just dodge the choice and pick a twelfth pitcher, since finding people to yo-yo and castigate in that slot is almost as exciting in the annals of unproductive time-wasting malicious fun as popping bubble wrap.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS Return to Top

Signed C-R Alberto Castillo to a minor league contract; optioned C-R Mike Tonis to Omaha. [3/22]

Pity the Royals. With Benito Santiago banged up, and with A.J. Hinch and Sal Fasano both long gone, this is an organization that actually might need to have Alberto Castillo around. Tonis is still a long way from being a prospect, so let's face it, they're desperate for depth.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS Return to Top

Reassigned LHP Derek Thompson to their minor league camp. [3/24]

MILWAUKEE BREWERS Return to Top

Reassigned RHP Brian Bowles and C/1B-R Chris Coste to their minor league camp. [3/22]

MONTREAL EXPOS Return to Top

Acquired RHP John Patterson from the Diamondbacks for LHP Randy Choate. [3/25]

Omar Minaya doesn't get a lot of compliments from me, but essentially adding John Patterson to the swag hauled in for Javier Vazquez makes that deal look that much better. Sure, it depended on Snakey stupidity, but you take your breaks where you can find them. Or where they're custom-made for you.

I'm even more impressed since the Expos pulled off the deal knowing that they'd just lost Joey Eischen for a at least a couple of months, leaving them that much more reliant on rookie Chad Bentz as the pen's token lefty. (Although, as mentioned elsewhere, a few veteran lefties should slip onto waivers between now and Opening Day.) With Tony Armas, Jr. out, Patterson should be plugged directly into the fifth slot of the rotation, which is where he should have been in Arizona. It's a bold pair of moves. A cynic might say Minaya was simply continuing to fulfill his role of stocking other teams with veteran talent in exchange to taking on other people's slightly tarnished prospects, but if you keep making teams like the Brewers look bad by simply accumulating other people's somewhat warty youngsters, you're okay in my book.

NEW YORK YANKEES Return to Top

Signed RHP Mariano Rivera to a two-year, $21 million contract extension, with an option for 2007; sent SS-R Joaquin Arias to the Rangers to complete the Alex Rodriguez trade. [3/23]

Released SS-R Erick Almonte; reassigned C-R Sal Fasano to their minor league camp. [3/24]

Acquired RHP Juan De Leon from the Astros for 3B-L Mike Lamb. [3/25]

As always, being the bad guys comes with its perks, but it also comes at a price. I mean, let's face it, when was the last time the heavies were a rag-tag bunch of misfits, desperately scrabbling for whatever they could get their hands on? No, the Imperials who couldn't afford haircuts in Star Wars don't count, however unintimidating and downright scruffy as they looked. (You'd think that as long as George Lucas was going to go to the trouble of inserting all sorts of CGI doodling to re-release the original trilogy, he could have taken the time to give the bad guys a bit of evil-appropriate fashion sense.) When you're talking badness, you're talking big budgets and premium expenditures and sparing no expense, like acres of shiny deckplates (think of the maintenance!) or overpaid closers. Mariano Rivera isn't worth $21 million to anyone but the Yankees, but keeping your own comes at a price. Rivera is their destiny, their curse, that matching bit of luggage that lets everyone know that the Pinstriped Menace has come to town. Like Marisa Berenson at the end of Barry Lyndon, you might pause when presented with the bill, but you just have to write it off as the cost of doing business. Consider it the price of King George's madness.

Similarly, ditching Mike Lamb in the wake of the A-Rod pickup was appropriate, if not inescapable. It was an expensive bit of contingency planning in the wake of Aaron Boone's date with pick-up dopiness; they lost a 40-man roster spot out of the whole thing, which in a way cost them Michel Hernandez, leaving all of their backstop eggs in Dioner Navarro's basket for the time being, but in De Leon, they got a live arm, which is what they'd given up (in Jose Garcia) to get him in the first place.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES Return to Top

Traded 1B-R Nate Espy to the Cardinals for a PTBNL; designated LHP Bud Smith for assignment; claimed C-R Michel Hernandez off of waivers from the Red Sox. [3/24]

Props to Ed Wade. Nabbing Hernandez now is an outstanding example of why it makes sense to keep your options open instead of making a deal for something like a second lefty or fifth starter or backup catcher or spare outfielder at this time of year. With Todd Pratt's knee not looking so hot, the Phillies could use all the organizational depth they can get behind the plate; in terms of prospects, they're short of anything resembling a mentionable catcher above A-ball, and beyond Pratt, Shawn Wooten, and Mike Lieberthal, all they've got is journeyman A.J. Hinch. Swapping out Smith's spot on the 40-man, when his future is in doubt and the system is loaded with pitching, for Hernandez, who gives them something they need, was a sensible recognition of the state of the organization.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES Return to Top

Optioned RHP John VanBenschoten and LHP Mike Gonzalez to Nashville; reassigned C-L Sandy Martinez, IF-R Tomas De La Rosa, OF-R Ruben Mateo, 1B/OF-Ls Daryle Ward and Henry Rodriguez, and RHPs Nelson Figueroa, Blake Stein and Elio Serrano to their minor league camp. [3/23]

With Ward and Mateo out of the way, I guess the people feeling good right now are Orlando Merced (hey, he's married, right? There must be a season ticket sale or two there somewhere) and Rob Mackowiak. Chris Truby has had a surprisingly good camp, so I guess he might also still be in the picture. J.J. Davis should be fine; happily, it looks like the Bucs will take their chances with him as a regular while Jason Bay finishes healing up. From there, it gets complicated, because once Bay is back, the Pirates need to sort out what the rationale was to signing Raul Mondesi. If Davis is hitting when Bay's ready to come back, it's going to be a strange situation. None of them can really play center, which should keep Tike Redman safe. If there's a weird demotion, it's getting Mateo out of camp now, since he can play a little bit of center, and he poked a few taters in limited playing time.

Ward, meanwhile, is supposed to be weighing his options, ditching his assignment to the minors to confer with advisers, thereby mounting his personal AWOL homage to the unloved memory of Derek Bell.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS Return to Top

Acquired 1B-R Nate Espy from the Phillies for a PTBNL; optioned RHPs Jason Ryan, Dan Haren, Evan Rust, and Josh Pearce to Memphis. [3/24]

There's good news here. First, although he had a good camp, Haren probably could use the time in the minors after being rushed up last year, and with Jason Marquis having a pretty good camp, the rotation may be fully stocked, if not exactly loaded. As is, Jason Simontacchi's also having a solid camp, and he might not make the club, because Mike Lincoln and Kiko Calero are having great camps. If the rotation looks as dodgy as expected, at least the long relief crowd is looking promising. They need to, because the Cards will need all the help they can get.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS Return to Top

Optioned RHP Merkin Valdez, C-R Justin Knoedler, IF-L Jamie Athas, and OF-R Carlos Valderrama to Fresno; reassigned IF-R Brian Dallimore, OF-L Nathan Haynes and RHPs Tyler Walker and Lee Gardner to their minor league camp. [3/24]

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS Return to Top

Released SS-R Deivi Cruz, 3B-R Fernando Tatis, and RHPs Mike Williams and Todd Jones; optioned C-L Pete LaForest and RHPs Jesus Colome and Dewon Brazelton to Durham; reassigned 1B-L Fred McGriff, C-L Edwards Guzman, and RHP Todd Ritchie to their minor league camp; placed RHP Jason Standridge on the 15-day DL (shoulder). [3/24]

Optioned RHP Travis Harper to Durham. [3/25]

Among the indignities you might expect to endure in the depths of Hell, there may be few more humiliating than being released by the Devil Rays. I mean, c'mon, these people toted Al Martin around last year, apparently out of the faith that he'd come in handy for helping end those pesky road games a half-inning early. That they'd demote Travis Harper is embarrassing, but hardly the end of the world. He has an option, and while coping with the latest harebrained Seligian stunt to globalize the game, the Rays may not have had the full measure of time to peddle one of their interchangeably marginal veterans to an appropriately desperate suitor. Or maybe Lou Piniella and Chuck LaMar really think they do need to lefty swingmen (John Halama and Damian Moss) in the pen. On this team, stranger choices have been made - just ask Dmitri Young.

That said, there's some small measure of progress here, because at least the Devil Fishies are forgoing one of the dog-and-pony shows that had been their bread and butter for so long. In cutting Fred McGriff, they're reminding us that they're out of their embarrassing Recordball phase, employing the aged to achieve nearly meaningless statistical landmarks. If the Crime Dog is going to log his 500th home run, it will be with some other suitably desperate franchise, not here. St. Louis? Anaheim?

TEXAS RANGERS Return to Top

Signed LHP Nick Bierbrodt to a minor league contract. [3/22]

Acquired SS-R Joaquin Arias from the Yankees to complete the Alex Rodriguez trade. [3/23].

Only 19, but already coming over with a year of full-season A-ball under his belt, I suppose you can get excited about Arias. He hit .266/.306/.343, he's light on his feet, and he handles his leather well. But he's so young, and so far off, that he could just as easily never pick up the judgment at the plate he's going to need to make it, and he might not add the power you might hope for as he matures. He's live bait, a promise of having something better, and limber enough to contribute to the malarkey about payroll flexibility that Tom Hicks and company elect to wear like so many Saran Wrap® togas.

As for Nick Bierbrodt, I can't say I blame him for ditching the Red Sox after their attempt to slip him into a situational role. He's still young, and moving over to an entirely desperate situation like Texas's is the exactly the right sort of thing for him to do if he wants a shot a being something, anything, in a big league uniform again. Similarly, for the Rangers, it's a worthwhile flyer to take. These people had Brad Clontz and Erik Sabel in camp, for gods's sakes.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS Return to Top

Reassigned LHP Bruce Chen to their minor league camp. [3/22]

He's 26, and he's pitched for seven major league teams, which is a high enough number to tell you we're a little bit beyond the 'commodity' label, and well into 'Al Davis is wondering if he can kick' territory. I've said it before, but Chen is one of those players who needed to learn from the Scottish proverb that he who won't be ruled by the rudder must be ruled by the rocks. He's managed to avoid debilitating injury, but he's managed to pick up a rep.

It's obviously sort of an unhappy thing, perhaps a little more embittering for me personally since he's somebody I root for. Beyond the talent ("I don't know, Mr. Davis, I suppose I'm a lefty kicker"), he's Panamanian Chinese, which conjures up a happy memory. Once upon a time, I met the mother-in-law of a family friend when I went down to put in a hello and help out around his farm, an ancient Chinese woman from Panama, whose English was spotty, but strangely enough, she and I could talk about one thing: baseball. She was a huge fan of the Yankees, and perhaps the least likely person in a little town in western Virginia who, superficially, you might have pegged to know who Bruce Chen was, not to mention harbored a desire to see him do well.

After so many disappointments, I think we all have to wonder if Chen will ever live up to his billing, but one of the nice things about the game is that, for the strangest and most illogical of reasons, we can find ourselves willing to sacrifice a few fatted calves of the mind for the most surprising prodigal sons.

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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