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May 29, 2004

Transaction Analysis

May 25-27, 2004

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

Baltimore Orioles Return to Top
Designated C-R Keith Osik for assignment; optioned RHP Rick Bauer to Ottawa; purchased the contracts of C-R Robert Machado and 1B/3B-R Jose Leon from Ottawa; activated LHP Matt Riley from the 15-day DL and optioned him to Ottawa; designated 3B-R Jose Bautista for assignment; recalled RHP Denny Bautista from Bowie (Double-A). [5/25]

There's some explicable good here, but also some continuing strangeness. Carrying a Rule 5 pick on your bench if you're only going with 13 position players can be pretty crippling under the best circumstances, and these weren't the best circumstances. They're short-handed in the outfield, Melvin Mora's glovework is at best enthusiastic, and at worst actionable, and Raffy Palmeiro isn't hitting lefties. So calling up Jose Leon to provide a journeyman third baseman and right-handed bat on the bench makes all sorts of sense, even if it means giving up on carrying Bautista.

Losing Bautista back to the Pirates isn't a great idea, though, since they really only have Tripper Johnson hanging on to a few shreds of a prospect rep at the hot corner within the organization. I suppose they could move Mike Fontenot over from second someday, but why bet that he can handle the position? But for Bautista's sake, this isn't all bad, since the history of position players snagged out of A-ball who spend a year of a big league bench before really getting to play again doesn't include a lot of happy endings. If the Orioles compensate the Pirates somehow, so that they get to keep Bautista, that would be sensible.

I suppose it's easy to rant overmuch on the subject, but why was Keith Osik ever added to the 40-man in the first place? And why bring up Machado instead of Geronimo Gil, when you could get that spot back and put it to work for you on a waiver claim or in a two-fer-one deal or something? Just as adding Osik to the roster is a bad investment, recycling the spot on another randomly-generated backup catcher makes little sense. (What name could be randomly generated for our randomly-generated backup catcher? I vote for 'Mike Molina,' but only because 'Bill Nahorodny' was actually used by an actual person, improbably enough.)

A related question to this problem is coming up with a why for why Gil is still in Ottawa now that the Birds have gotten over their crush on Osik. If Gil were a prospect, I could understand leaving him in Ottawa to play instead of rotting behind Javy Lopez, but Gil is not a prospect. He'll turn 29 in August, he's hit .239/.287/.347 in two years of regular playing time in the majors, and that's about what you should have expected from him in the first place. We're talking about someone whose comparables, according to PECOTA, are Mike Difelice, Brian Johnson, and Doc Edwards. Not that we think of backup backstoppery as a birthright, but if Geronimo Gil has a special purpose, this is it.

Finally, although I'm disappointed to see Riley get shipped off to the Lynx, he could use the repetition of regular work. As the decisions to retain Danny Cabrera or Darwin Cubillan earn reconsideration, or the gamble of putting Rodrigo Lopez into the rotation turns out any worse, then you can hope that Riley's sound and ready when the time to flip things around comes.

Boston Red Sox Return to Top
Placed 3B-B Bill Mueller on the 15-day DL (tendonitis - knee), retroactive to 5/20; recalled C-R Andy Dominique from Pawtucket. [5/25]

Losing Mueller for six weeks is bad news, but it's bad news softened by two things. First, the Greek godling of walks is walking and hitting, and it might turn into a situation where the Sox have Youkilis earn his keep and make himself a factor for Theo Epstein to be able to peddle at the end of July, or hold onto in case they don't re-up Mueller after the year. Second, the timing isn't so bad. Mueller will be back by the middle of July, or before the waiver-free trading deadline, so the Red Sox will know a bit more about the state of his knee, about whether or not Youkilis is set as his replacement, or if they have to go shopping. Plus, with the increasing likelihood that Nomar will be back by mid-June, the Sox will get Pokey Reese's sickly stick out of the lineup.

As for Dominique, as nice as it is to see a minor league lifer catch a break, the Sox have bigger fish to fry on their bench, like getting Gabe Kapler or Cesar Crespo in working order. But with Trot Nixon and Nomar due back shortly, Dominique and Crespo are on short time, and Kapler's going to be wrestling with Dave McCarty for a very few at-bats.

Chicago White Sox Return to Top
Claimed RHP Eduardo Villacis off of waivers from the Royals, and assigned him to Birmingham (Double-A). [5/26]

You might have been modestly surprised by this move, because the Sox are known for having arms coming out of their ears and all that. Except, of course, that life is filled with its share of disappointments, and the Sox have had enough prospect meltdowns and busy scalpel work that they actually can use the odd arm off of the waiver list. Birmingham has been particularly hard-hit, and since Tetsu Yofu had just earned a promotion to Triple-A, and Arnaldo Munoz may not be far behind, it makes sense as a right-now sort of move. Later, when the Sox need the spot on the 40-man, Villacis will be easily outrightable, and by then, people in A-ball might have earned a promotion.

Cleveland Indians Return to Top
Signed RHP Scott Elarton to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Buffalo. [5/25]

Sent RHP Scott Sturkie to the Braves to complete the Russ Branyan deal; purchased RHP Lou Pote from the Athletics; optioned LHP Scott Stewart to Buffalo. [5/26]

You can't say Stewart didn't earn it. As Michael Wolverton's reliever evaluation tools show, he's been among the worst relievers in baseball overall, and one of the game's worst trustees with other people's baserunners. It's hard to see how he was going to get ironed out, though, considering how little he had pitched. As ugly as it's been in the 23 games he's appeared in, he's only pitched 13.2 IP over two months, and it's hard to get straightened out in that little game action, even if you're Jesse Orosco or Tony Fossas or whatever. But even then, that hasn't been Stewart's lot in life. In prior years, Stewart hadn't been a situational reliever, allowing lefties to hit .234/.274/.353 and right-handers .254/.320/.391 over the previous three. I simply hope he gets the work he needs in Buffalo, so that he can then return to the majors and take on a more appropriate workload, because the Tribe will need him.

On that level, picking up Pote to handle mop-up work and long relief chores is a pretty good indicator of how desperate things have gotten. He has his uses, but when you don't have someone about as good as Pote handy, you have problems. Fortunately, the Indians are one of the junior partners in the Beane trading circle; like Theo Epstein and J.P. Ricciardi, Mark Shapiro isn't afraid to deal with Billy, and everyone's on the same level in terms of 'getting it.' And that, more than anything else, makes it easy to work out exchanges big and small, since it eliminates any concern about overcoming massively different opinions on the subject of player value.

Kansas City Royals Return to Top
Announced that OF-B Adrian Brown cleared waivers and has accepted an assignment to Omaha. [5/27]

Minnesota Twins Return to Top
Optioned OF-R Michael Restovich to Rochester; activated 3B-L Corey Koskie from the 15-day DL. [5/27]

Getting Koskie back gives the Twins one of their core offensive players, while allowing them to flip Michael Cuddyer over to second base. Since they have Morneau up and playing regularly, and Matt LeCroy is catching semi-regularly, as the Twins go into a tasty part of the schedule (Royals, Devil Fishies, Tigers) you should be able to expect a nice little offensive boomlet. Meanwhile, the White Sox have to wrestle with the AL West, so Minnesota might be able to slip ahead in the division.

New York Yankees Return to Top
Announced that LHP Donovan Osborne cleared waivers and is a free agent. [5/25]

Claimed INF-R Kevin Hooper off of waivers from the Marlins, and optioned him to Columbus. [5/26]

Claiming Hooper has less to do with the big league disaster in the middle infield as much as it reflects the organization's limited choices at shortstop above A-ball. Caonobo Cosme and Felix Escalona form the keystone combo at Columbus. They're both young journeymen who aren't really shortstops, while down at Trenton, Ferdin Tejada has flopped pretty badly. So Hooper could come in handy.

Not everything down on the farm is bad news, though. Robinson Cano is hitting well and playing second everyday at Trenton. Better still, Andy Phillips has been hot, hitting a combined .368/.407/.707 in 145 plate appearances at Double- and Triple-A. Unfortunately, he's been playing a lot more first and third than second, which doesn't bode well for any suggestion that he might be the solution to the PBS special at second, where volunteers have hijacked the position to do some living history, re-enacting the past glories of Bobby Richardson, Horace Clarke, and Fritzie Brickell.

Oakland Athletics Return to Top
Sold RHP Lou Pote to the Indians. [5/26]

Texas Rangers Return to Top
Placed OF-R Brian Jordan on the 15-day DL (sore knee). [5/24]

Placed OF-R Kevin Mench on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); purchased the contracts of OF-R Chad Allen and OF-B Gary Matthews Jr. from Oklahoma; transferred C-R Gerald Laird from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/25]

Placed RHP Chan Ho Park on the 15-day DL (strained back), retroactive to 5/20; recalled RHP Rosman Garcia from Oklahoma. [5/26]

Of course, even if you do accumulate the Quadruple-A generation (as the Giants should, see below), that doesn't really always fix your problems. Take the Rangers. They're short Jordan, but signing him, they had to know that that's part of the way he contributes. Mench has proved less than durable, so instead of the happy depth issues they had been counting on, they're down to having both Allen and Matthews around, to mix and match with Eric Young and Dave Dellucci in the All-Somebody Else's Guy outfield, the lone exception being Laynce Nix. Under those circumstances, it makes sense to let Nix play every day, even if he struggles against lefties, because he might get better at it, whereas there's nothing to really be gained from playing Allen or Matthews in his stead. As is, these are the sorts of losses that made a fun early-season story into a much more dull lineup.

However, they're not letting themselves get desperate, despite the potential frustration. It would have been easy to go Dallas Green and push Park into pitching through a twinge, but the Rangers instead chose to be adults about it, no matter how disappointing Park has been over the life of his contract. It's a bit surprising to see them call up Rosman Garcia, since he's been awful in relief in Oklahoma, so beyond R.A. Dickey's problems, they may be down two starters for a stretch. They might have turned to Johnny Wasdin again, or maybe Ryan Snare or Nick Regilio, but they're still all doe-eyed over Juan Dominguez, so he'll be back, whether he's picked up some supporting pitches since September or not.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays Return to Top
Placed UT-R Damian Rolls on the 15-day DL (chest injury); purchased the contract of UT-R Charles Gipson from Durham. [5/25]

All kidding aside, Rolls got seriously hurt in an outfield collision, so while losing him isn't really going to hurt the Rays, here's hoping he makes a full recovery so that he can resume his quest to claim the title of 'Ultimate Devil Ray.'

Toronto Blue Jays Return to Top
Placed OF-L Frank Catalanotto on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 5/20; placed C-R Kevin Cash on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled OF-R Alexis Rios from Syracuse; purchased the contract of C-R Bobby Estalella from Syracuse; recalled RHP Vinny Chulk from Syracuse; transferred C-L Greg Meyers from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/26]

Optioned RHP Michael Nakamura to Syracuse. [5/27]

Things aren't good, because they've rushed Rios up ahead of schedule; he's only hit .259/.292/.373 in the International League, well short of what would normally earn a guy a promotion. I guess this is going to be an exercise in giving him a taste, to let him know how much he has to learn to make it. Meanwhile, there should be plenty of opportunity for Simon Pond to get a few at-bats, spotting for Rios or for Reed Johnson where tough right-handers are concerned.

At least Cash's trip to the DL is a good thing, since he's been banged-up for weeks, and it's less than fair to his future to try to see if he's a keeper while playing him at less than his best. Estalella and Gregg Zaun make for adequate temps, but eventually, they'll be back to seeing what Cash can do, and later on, they'll have to decide if the time is right to turn to Guillermo Quiroz.

On the pitching side of the equation, I guess it's charitable to say they're looking to see if Chulk has a future on their 40-man roster. They've converting him to relieving, and a 26-9 strikeout-walk ratio in 28.2 IP sounds pretty good. He's also given up 13 runs in that time, and 27 hits and 5 home runs allowed doesn't hint at dominance. But they may as well look, and if he flops, they can cut bait and re-utilize the roster spot. To be generous, Mike Nakamura is still a work in progress as a sidearming ROOGY in the making, but 18 strikeouts in 15.2 IP is a nice place to start, and I like to think that he's not too far off from finally sticking.

Atlanta Braves Return to Top
Received RHP Scott Sturkie from the Indians to complete the April 25 deal involving 3B/OF-L Russ Branyan deal. [5/26]

Milwaukee Brewers Return to Top
Optioned OF-R Corey Hart to Indianapolis; activated LHP Chris Capuano from the 15-day DL. [5/26]

Getting Capuano back is definitely good news, since it reduces the near-term questions about the rotation to whether Wes Obermueller can hold his job for much longer. Matt Kinney's doing well in the pen, and Capuano can finally start living up to some reasonable hopes that me might be a nifty sleeper. Unfortunately, he cramped up in his first start back, so the Brewers might still be two starters shy of a five-man rotation they can rely on, and that's giving Victor Santos considerable benefit of the doubt as a semi-useful fifth man.

Hart only got up to stand on the doorstep just long enough to be able to smell the coffee that was being brewed in the kitchen, but no more than that. One pinch-hit at-bat later, and he's out of the way, but I guess he's cut his teeth, and hopefully won't have to worry about any jitters the next time around.

Montreal Expos Return to Top
Activated OF-L Peter Bergeron from the 15-day DL, and outrighted him to Edmonton; outrighted 1B-R Luis Lopez to Edmonton. [5/24]

There is perhaps no more final comment on Bergeron's fall from grace than that he was incapable of fending off a challenge from Endy Chavez for the job in center. If he's lucky, he'll get a new lease on his professional life in another organization, but in baseball's leftover franchise, he's done.

New York Mets Return to Top
Optioned RHP Tyler Yates to Norfolk; purchased the contract of LHP Pedro Feliciano from Norfolk; transferred RHP Grant Roberts from the 15- to the 60-day DL; announced that 2B-R Ricky Gutierrez cleared waivers and is a free agent. [5/25]

Yates didn't do anything to earn his retention, and Al Leiter is due back right after the long weekend, so the Mets should be in a happy situation, with the veteran trio of Leiter, Tom Glavine, and Steve Trachsel, and the younger pair of Jae Weong Seo and Matt Ginter to round things out. It's about as good as the rotation can be--only now it's Mike Cameron they have to worry about. It's sort of sad that they keep coming close to having the whole team in place only to fall short, especially when they've managed to keep so very nearly respectable in the meantime.

San Francisco Giants Return to Top
Placed 2B-B Ray Durham on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 5/22; placed 1B-L J.T. Snow on the 15-day DL (knee), retroactive to 5/21; recalled UT-R Brian Dallimore from Fresno; purchased the contract of 1B-L Damon Minor from Fresno; designated LHP Kevin Walker for assignment. [5/25]

I suspect that under the definition of criminal negligence, you might find the Giants' lineup, because there's something very wrong about fielding an infield of Damon Minor, Pedro Feliz, Edgardo Alfonzo, and either Neifi Perez or Deivi Cruz when you've got Barry Bonds in your employ. It isn't like the Giants are an expansion team; expansion teams usually find better help, it's the superstar they don't have. That they don't have talent in Fresno to help make up for an old team's breakdowns puts an explanation point on how this team is on its way down.

However, desperate teams do desperate things, some of which might seem inspired, if only by accident. It is pretty cool that they're starting Feliz at short now and again, because it's a position where at least he's an offensive asset. If Alfonzo was himself, and Durham ever healthy, it might be the sort of thing that helps the Giants finally score some runs, but Alfonzo's hitting about as well as a Yankees second baseman, and Durham's hamstring problems seem to be the sort of annoyance that get carmine-keistered whiners to complain about latter-day lollygaggers. I'd worry, because like Rickey Henderson, it's not something he deserves to get ripped about, but given this team's status as an offensive train wreck, it's hard not to fret.

Snow's out for six weeks, but that isn't a crippling problem by itself. There was once a time when Minor might have been a decent fill-in, but he's 30 and isn't a great bet to do much more than slug .400. On this team, that's an improvement on Snow, but that's just a reminder of how ugly the situation at first is. In some ways, it's like the year before Will Clark's arrival, when the Giants had to sift through David Green, Dan Driessen, Scot 'T-Lite' Thompson, and Gary Rajsich. I know, I'm warming the cockles of Huckabay's heart, because for schadenfreude connoisseurs in the East Bay those were sunny times, before the Hummmm Baby Giants arrived and made things interesting. At any rate, there's almost nothing in-system between Brad Vericker in the Cal League and Minor, so there's no "colorful" Papist hard-ass Natural on the horizon. If ever an organization needed to go into the minor league free agent market aggressively next winter, it's the Giants.

St. Louis Cardinals Return to Top
Optioned OF-L Colin Porter to Memphis; purchased the contract of OF-L John Mabry from Memphis. [5/25]

Colin Porter didn't earn a demotion, but he's not an old Cardinal hitting a ton at Memphis (like Mabry), nor is he an expensive mistake (like So Taguchi), or an ex-famous person who might channel the spirit of Claudell Washington and have a random renaissance. So even if Porter did all right, it didn't matter.

That's not to say that Mabry didn't earn his latest spin. After hitting .338/.406/.654, he'd done a lot more to inspire some slender faith than Cedeno ever might or Taguchi ever should. He's been instantly plugged into the corner outfield rotation, sharing starts and playing time with Reggie Sanders and Ray Lankford. That might sound like a solution, but it's really just another band-aid. The pity is that the division is still there to be won, but trusting someone like Mabry to solve a significant lineup problem is just another way to make sure that the pack stays nuzzled.

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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