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June 26, 2004

Transaction Analysis

June 21-24

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES Return to Top

Acquired RHP Jason Grimsley from the Royals for RHP Denny Bautista. [6/21]

Signed RHP Jerry Spradlin to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Bowie (Double-A); optioned 1B-R Jose Leon to Ottawa. [6/22]

Acquired LHP Tim Byrdak from the Padres for future considerations, and assigned him to Ottawa. [6/23]

You know people like this, don't you? Really very earnest and well-meaning, dreadfully self-important, dependent on vanity to armor their insecurity, ambitions that exceed their grasp, but invariably settling for the tawdry? OK, enough about me, this column is narcissistic enough as is. I'm really talking about the Orioles, and wondering what it is that they think they're going to accomplish this season. Jason Grimsley? What does Jason Grimsley do? Sure, he's a rubber arm, and the Orioles are desperately short of veteran help that's healthy or helpful, and losing Eric DuBose and Kurt Ainsworth has forced them to put Rodrigo Lopez into the rotation until somebody has a bright idea.

But dealing for Grimsley? I guess he still has all the spangles and jewelry and perhaps even the halo left from having been one of Torre's handmaidens in the early portion of the dynasty gig. But giving up a young talent for him, to pursue third place? Hell, you're doing the Royals a favor by taking his salary off of their payroll spreadsheet. And why trade for him when you could have gone after Leskanic with lucre alone? Why trade for him when you have to bribe him with an extension for 2005? Is there anybody among their season-ticket holders who's supposed to say to themselves, 'wow, that shows a commitment. They won't give up on that chase of third place without a fight. And sure, five bucks for a Bud Light isn't so bad, either.'

It isn't a disaster, but is instead one of those minor, domestic tragedies, like Blanche DuBois having a near-miss with daylight. Someday, things will crack up if this is the sort of rationalizing that's in play, but the Orioles can pretend that day will never come, as long as they're addressing the needs of the moment.

BOSTON RED SOX Return to Top

Signed RHP Curtis Leskanic to a one-year contract; optioned LHP Mark Malaska to Pawtucket. [6/22]

A nifty pickup, and a better fate for Leskanic than getting paid to stand around in his skivvies, to be sure. It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox can help him iron out his control problems, and whether or not he'll get used against the left-handed portions of people's lineups. If the Sox do set Leskanic straight, at that point, they've got a fifth wheel on what has been a four-man pen (the usual suspects: Keith Foulke, Alan Embree, Scott Williamson, and Mike Timlin). That in turn gives them that much more freedom of action to decide what they want to do about or with Byung-Hyun Kim. The pen's stocked, so clearly, life would be happier if Kim could replace Bronson Arroyo in the rotation.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX Return to Top

Purchased the contract of LHP Vic Darensbourg from Charlotte; optioned INF-R Kelly Dransfeldt to Charlotte. [6/21]

Years ago, when Chad Bradford was still here and not on the New York Times Bestsellers list, I fantasized about a Sox pen that would rely on Bradford and Kelly Wunsch, specialists who would give the Sox the best submariner tag team since Admiral Rickover and...well, somebody. But now Bradford's wearing green and gold, and Wunsch seems to be a victim of shoulder problems to pile upon his elbow problems of old. To Kenny Williams' credit, he had an extra situational lefty handy in Darensbourg, and while Darensbourg's struggled in recent years, you could do worse, or pay more for less. Swapping out the infrequently-used Dransfeldt for him does give Ozzie Guillen a lefty for late innings (Damaso Marte), middle innings (Neal Cotts), and situational situations (Darensbourg), so the Ozzter has plenty of in-game flexibility.

Similarly, I guess I harbor an academic curiosity about who goes once Magglio Ordonez is ready to be reactivated. Darensbourg? Or third catcher Jamie Burke? As long as you're stuck with Sandy Alomar as your backup catcher, you're probably stuck having to carry a third, just to insure yourself against his knees. And should Timo Perez have any sort of job security that keeps him out of these sorts of evaluations, especially now that Aaron Rowand has the hot hand? Perhaps I worry about this sort of thing too much, but I'm sure Burke and Darensbourg are wondering.

DETROIT TIGERS Return to Top

Released RHP Jimmy Haynes from Toledo. [6/21]

Placed UT-B Greg Norton on the 15-day DL (knee), retroactive to 6/18; purchased the contract of OF-R Marcus Thames from Toledo. [6/22]

Signed SS-B Carlos Guillen to a three-year, $14 million contract extension through 2007.

Far more than any yammering about productive outs (no snickering, an adult thought that up and everything), or any further platitudes on the better world we live in because Alex Sanchez is so entertaining (and so frequently unintentionally so), progress in the Motor City takes a far more concrete form. Like the long-term deal with Pudge Rodriguez, there's something reassuring about signing Guillen, something no number of Fernando Vina press conferences can touch. Signing him through his Age-31 season is a reasonable risk, and financially, the Tigers won't have to keep sending checks to Damion Easley after this year, or Bobby Higginson after the next.

As for calling up Thames, I'm easily entertained, I guess, but I really like it. Carlos Pena's capacity to disappoint seems to be beyond measure, so the Tigers are putting him in a spot where he'll have to perform for his playing time. The extra at-bats have been going to Thames, with Dmitri Young moving over to first base. Thames isn't really the prospect the Yankees pretended him to be a few years back, but as a Mudhen, he had hit .329/.410/.735--which more basically involves 24 home runs already, or one every 11.4 plate appearances. At some point, you have to want to give in to curiosity don't you? Despite being gabbed about forever and a day, Thames is only 27, so he might be ready to be a useful major leaguer, or at the very least, a guy who can take Craig Monroe's job.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS Return to Top

Placed C-R Benito Santiago on the 15-day DL (broken hand); recalled C-R Mike Tonis up from Wichita (Double-A). [6/19]

Acquired RHP Denny Bautista from the Orioles for RHP Jason Grimsley. [6/21]

Placed C-R Kelly Stinnett on the 15-day DL (elbow), retroactive to 6/20; purchased the contract of C-R Alberto Castillo from Omaha; recalled RHP Shawn Camp from Omaha. [6/22]

Sold RHP Brad Voyles to the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks of the Japanese leagues. [6/24]

Acquired RHP Mike Wood and 3B-L Mark Teahen from the A's and C-R John Buck from the Astros in a three-team trade for CF-B Carlos Beltran (to Astros). [6/24]

Optioned LHP Chris George to Omaha, optioned C-R Mike Tonis to Wichita (Double-A). [6/25]

The lesson of Ralphie Parker's desperate quest to get exactly what he wanted for Christmas seems appropriate here. First, be careful what you wish for ("You'll put your eye out!"), and second, watch what you sacrifice along the way. If life presses Santa's jackboot to your noggin, for god's sakes, remember your dignity.

Not the Royals. Allard Baird has his moments, good and bad, and this was one of the worst. Driven by compulsion to deal Beltran at some point, and shackled to a pledge to get a catcher and third baseman or go bust, Baird handicapped his shopping options, forcing himself into an unfortunately limited series of menus. And then, he just hadto hadto hadto have Mark Teahen, because he was a heck of a hitter (in Midland). And he hadto hadto hadto have a catcher, and the Astros have John Buck. (It would be cruel to bring up Mike Tonis' failure as a prospect, or the fixer-upper solution of getting A.J. Hinch...oops, I just did.) Short one eye, Allard Baird got what he wanted. So what's left?

The best pickup of the lot is Teahen. He gets good marks for his defense and for his batting eye, and he is very young (23 in September). He also hasn't shown that much power. In 2003, in the hitter-friendly Cal League, he hit only .283/.377/.380. Bumped up to Midland, he hit; everybody hits at Midland. But he bumped up to .335/.419/.543, which is nice. But that isn't a lot of power, and he also conjured up memories of Jim Rice by bouncing into a dozen DPs in 53 games. Pushed up to Sacramento, he started to get talked up as a replacement for Chavez, at which point his stock went up, and he's got that Moneyball draft cachet, and suddenly, he's been elevated to blue-chipperdom. Still, I'm not that down on him. He did play for St. Mary's, and not some major college program, so you could argue he has much more potential for growth than some college players, and this is only his second full season out of college. Between that and his age, you can hope he'll be worth it, because if he doesn't make the deal work, the rest of it won't.

Next is Buck, a decent catcher with an iffy arm but some sock. Buck has bounced back relatively well from a godawful 2003, hitting .300/.368/.507 in New Orleans in a repeat engagement. That translates to a .249 Equivalent Average, still far below the current standard (all catchers in the majors come in at .259), a worthwhile reflection of the advantages accrued from playing in the PCL. He's going to turn 24 in a couple of weeks, so his future, if not now, isn't really very far off. PECOTA pegs his comparables as people like Fred Kendall and Ben Davis. I like him better than that, but he clearly isn't going to be a franchise ballplayer.

Finally, there's Wood, a right-hander who lives and dies on his change-up, excellent control, and keeping the ball low. He's a proven winner, for what it's worth, posting a record of 29-12 with a career ERA of 3.04 in the minors. He's the sort of guy you root for, because he's everything Scott Erickson was not, but his upside is fourth starter, and his more likely pattern will be fifth starter and PCL All-Star. He had no chance of making it in Oakland. He might go Tewksbury on us, but for every one of those, you've got nine Dave Telgheders on the rack.

At least they got a guy with a fastball for Jason Grimsley. Denny Bautista cooks with gas, but his control problems are ongoing. The odds that his mid-90s heat shows up in a big league bullpen are pretty good, with a chance that he might turn out better than that.

As harsh as all of this sounds, it's the product of two things. First, Baird was nuts to keep his shopping list short. He's the GM of the Royals, let's face it, he needs a bit of everything. Limiting himself to having to get a third baseman and a catcher was silly, but it also put the few remaining trading partners in the catbird seat. Second, in today's environment, there are more GMs who realize that Beltran wasn't a permanent pickup. In particular, the people that Baird was dealing with both knew that Beltran is a three- (hopefully four-) month pickup, and that kept their offers suitably low. The shame is that Baird pulled the trigger now, when he would have done better to wait, while letting his laundry list be as diverse as his imagination could come up with. Instead, the Royals have three bits, none of whom might be as good as the guy the Royals could have picked with the draft choices they would have gotten upon losing Beltran to arbitration.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS Return to Top

Recalled INF-R Ramon Castro from Sacramento; placed LHP Chris Hammond on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 6/12. [6/23

Acquired RHP Octavio Dotel from the Astros in a three-team deal for 3B-L Mark Teahen and RHP Mike Wood (to the Royals). [6/24]

What are the A's supposed to do? Like some nightmare doxy conjured up by Joe Eszterhas, the Royals just keep coming back for more. Did the A's overpay? I don't really see it that way, but I'm biased by the consideration that neither Teahen nor Wood had futures with the big league ballclub. Wood is a better pitcher than Brett Laxton, probably Blake Stein too, but he was not going to supplant anyone in Oakland now, or Joe Blanton, or probably even Shane Komine. And even without Chavez's extension inked, Teahen's future with the organization was exactly this, as a bargaining chip, his value (like that of Kevin Youkilis) having been ridiculously oversold on the basis of a Midland 'breakthrough.' So both players were goodies to reconfigure into solutions for existing needs.

The question is whether or not Dotel was what they needed. The rotation is solid, and the collection of outfielders pretty handy. An upgrade at second base would be nice, but something might become available at little cost closer to the deadline. An upgrade at first base is one of those things you or I could wish for, but it isn't in the cards. So beyond the ugliness that highlighted the pen problem, a reliever really was the target of choice. Tactically, Dotel is the prototype for a Beane closer, one of the very few guys in the game today who can handle coming into a game in the eighth. In turn, that pushes the wall of lefties and Chad Bradford into earlier innings within games, where, better yet, they may have less to worry about in terms of bench-emptying runs of pinch-hitters from the guy in the other dugout. It still doesn't fix Jim Mecir, but it will significantly change the usage patterns of the pitchers already here, and presumably fix the bullpen problem that has helped keep Oakland tight with Anaheim and Texas in the first half. It's also considerably better than the rumor that the A's were going to give up the same package of talent to get Guillermo Mota, and sweeter still that the Royals kicked cash into the deal to make it worth Oakland's while.

There are financial issues beyond this season, however. Although the A's get the rights to Dotel for this year and next, if Dotel gets 20 saves or more going into his final arb-eligible season, his agent will be able to draw in free agents as comparable players in his case, at which point Dotel will probably garner an award of $6 million or so. Of course, we're talking Billy Beane, so this could just be a rental, where Dotel gets flipped in November before Oakland has to pay that check.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS Return to Top

Purchased the contract of RHP Adam Peterson from New Hampshire (Double-A); designated LHP Jason Kershner for assignment. [6/22]

Acquired OF-R Anthony Sanders from the Rockies for a PTBNL, and assigned him to Syracuse. [6/23]

Peterson has been one of the organization's fair-haired boys for at least a year or so, and in a repeat engagement at Double-A this year, he was dominant as a closer. In 29.3 IP, he'd struck out 39 and given up only 31 baserunners. Unlike most closer-designates, he's got solid off-speed stuff to support mid-90s heat, weapons left over from his days as a starter at Wichita State. With the Jays, he'll simply get a look-see to see what he can do, and he'll be able to earn more than that if he thrives now. It isn't really high-pressure; as much as these things can be, his future in the organization is solid.

Promoting Peterson does raise a pair of interesting points. First, he's the first draft choice of the Ricciardi regime to make it to the majors, so that's an organizational moment of sorts. But by releasing Kershner, it also leaves the Jays with a leftyless pen, which always elicits some titters of excitement from a generation of observers conditioned by La Russian reflexes. With the Yankees and Sox off in the distance, the Jays are moving into evaluation mode. As a result, giving Carlos Tosca tactical gambits to amuse himself with just isn't very high on the list of priorities for the remainder of the season.

ATLANTA BRAVES Return to Top

Purchased the contract of OF-L Charles Thomas from Richmond; placed OF-L Dewayne Wise on the 15-day DL (strained elbow). [6/23]

Improvements, perhaps especially the unintentional kind, come in all shapes and sizes. Not only do the Braves get Wise out of the way, they get a guy who's done some serious hitting in Richmond. As an outfield regular, Thomas has hit .358/.416/.535. He's had an odd sort of minor league career, because he wasn't much of a hitter as a pro until he reached Double-A last year. As a result, he's never been touted as a prospect, not by Baseball America, not by John Sickels, and not by us. Like being flat-out wrong or surprised by a player, it's sort of refreshing to have somebody up I really know nothing about. If familiarity breeds contempt, you'd think that the Braves would have had enough of Wise already, but the fatuous self-confidence that a bad, ill-assembled bench isn't a handicap has hobbled them before. If Thomas hits, he might stick, but with this organization, youneverknow.

CINCINNATI REDS Return to Top

Activated INF-R Juan Castro from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Jung Bong to Louisville. [6/21]

Maybe it's a former minor league manager thing, where you get used to having a roster overstocked with spare middle infielders, but why is Castro here and Felipe Lopez and Tim Hummel and Jermaine Clark? How many reserve infielders do you need? Well, plenty, I guess, when the left side of the infield involves the porcelain statuary in the likenesses of Barry Larkin and Brandon Larson. Still, once Aaron Harang comes off of the DL to take over the fifth slot in the rotation, something's gotta give.

COLORADO ROCKIES Return to Top

Acquired a PTBNL from the Blue Jays for OF-R Anthony Sanders. [6/23]

HOUSTON ASTROS Return to Top

Acquired CF-B Carlos Beltran in a three team deal for C-R John Buck (to the Royals) and RHP Octavio Dotel (to the A's). [6/24]

Getting Beltran is a very, very good thing, of course, because it addresses a series of interrelated problems. To start with a syllogism: The Astros need a center fielder, Craig Biggio is not a center fielder, therefore Craig Biggio should not be the Astros' center fielder. Richard Hidalgo was not going to move from right to solve the problem, so something needed to give. So they moved Hidalgo for very little, but it did clear space on the balance sheet. In Beltran, they get a dynamite top-shelf ballplayer to add to Lance Berkman, supported by the franchise's invariably mutinous duo of Biggio and Jeff Bagwell and the similarly grouchy Jeff Kent. As bold moves go, it's the boldest, a dual upgrade offensively and defensively that should make an enormous difference in this year's pennant race.

Unfortunately, whatever gains the Astros get for having Beltran, they didn't exactly maximize them. Practically speaking, they swapped out Hidalgo for Beltran and Dotel for Stormy Weathers. So their bullpen is even more of a problem, and to some extent, their offensive gains are dependent on Craig Biggio holding up. Beyond all of that, they've thrown in a Buck for their troubles. That isn't an insignificant consideration, because Hector Gimenez is struggling in Double-A, leaving the entire organization effectively short of anybody with a future who can catch now that Buck's a Royal. So the Ausmus problem takes on even more permanence. So this attempt to win now is costing the Astros, both in blood and in treasure.

I wouldn't automatically rule out that Beltran can't be re-signed. They were previously committed to $15 million--or a hefty buyout--for Hidalgo in 2005, after all, and Lance Berkman is up for arbitration after this year. So the Astros might be in a position where they'll need to take every advantage of their window of opportunity before either player can negotiate with anybody else this winter, to see which one they can afford. As much as they might hope to be negotiating in the financially rewarding afterglow of some October greatness, I'd still expect Beltran to dip into the open market to see what he commands, so the Astros are assuming some risk if they try to play Berkman and Beltran off of one another. If they offend both, they're in danger of making a move out of desperation, or resembling the 1998 Marlins in the hometown popularity department.

MONTREAL EXPOS Return to Top

Optioned LHP Chad Bentz to Edmonton. [6/24]

NEW YORK METS Return to Top

Purchased the contract of C-R Tom Wilson from Norfolk; activated RHP Orber Moreno from the 15-day DL; designated OF-R Gerald Williams for assignment; placed OF-L Karim Garcia on the 15-day DL (wrist), retroactive to 6/21. [6/24]

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES Return to Top

Placed OF-L Ricky Ledee on the 15-day DL (hemorrhoid surgery); recalled 2B-L Chase Utley from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [6/24]

While Ledee...well, takes a seat, metaphorically speaking, I guess that leaves the Phillies in the equally unpleasant position of having to take Doug Glanville that much more seriously as an option in center field. I don't mind the idea that Jason Michaels will get plenty of playing time in center too much, but Glanville is the sum of all fears for a season that's falling well short of projections or expectations. I guess you have to respect the commitment to letting Marlon Byrd spend time in Scranton, instead of jerking him around, but Utley isn't going to get to play much now that he's back, so there's still a commitment to jerk somebody around somewhere.

As for Mr. Ledee, painful medical procedures are nothing to sneeze at. None of us should wish to feel his pain, so here's hoping he has a quick recovery and a shot at building on the recently-won rep as one of the game's better fourth outfielders.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES Return to Top

Placed LHP Mike Johnston on the 15-day DL (elbow inflammation); recalled RHP Mark Corey from Nashville. [6/24]

SAN DIEGO PADRES Return to Top

Placed C-R Ramon Hernandez on the 15-day DL (strained knee); recalled C-R Humberto Quintero from Portland. [6/21]

Sent LHP Tim Bydak to the Orioles for future considerations; activated OF-R Brian Buchanan from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Ricky Stone to Portland. [6/23]

Not that losing Hernandez is a good thing, but it could have been worse. First, they've got their left-field platoon back now that both Ryan Klesko and Buchanan are off of the DL, so the only position the Pads really need to worry about whether or not they'll get any offense is catcher. Humberto Quintero isn't really a prospect, but he's a decent contact hitter (.302/.323/.423) and a good catch-and-throw guy. Miguel Ojeda will stay in a reserve role, but he's managed to squelch the running game effectively, and Quintero has a gun. So we're not really talking Ken Huckaby. It's not a happy situation, but neither alternative is awful, and Hernandez might only miss a month. And, if things take a turn for the worse in his recovery, they still have time to make a deal without worrying about waivers. It's exasperating, of course, since Hernandez's hitting was picking up, but it's not the end of the world.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS Return to Top

Placed LHP Jason Christiansen on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis); recalled LHP Noah Lowry from Fresno. [6/21]

Optioned RHP David Aardsma to Fresno; activated RHP Brett Tomko from the 15-day DL. [6/24]

Activated 1B-L J.T. Snow from the DL; outrighted 1B-L Damon Minor to Fresno. [6/25]

There's been more than enough disappointment to go around in St. Louis, but losing Christiansen isn't really the end of the world. He's been a situational disaster, and with Scott Eyre handling situational work well, and Wayne Franklin doing OK in the middle innings, a bad old lefty was the last thing the Giants needed to suffer through. And although Tomko returned on schedule, it wasn't like Lowry had pitched his way out of town. In any rotation stocked with Tomko and a souring Dustin Hermanson, plus dealing with Kirk Rueter's flitting between usefulness and disaster, Lowry could come in handy, either as a spot starter or a long reliever.

Getting Snow back now should help answer a significant question, which is whether or not he's closer to being done than he is to remaining a useful platoon source of OBP. If he's OK, then the Giants can afford to keep Pedro Feliz in play at third or short against right-handed pitching (while starting at first against the lefties). If he isn't, they'd better sort that out over the next five weeks, at which point they can ask after usual suspects among rentals (Tino Martinez, anyone?).

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS Return to Top

Recalled OF-R So Taguchi from Memphis; optioned C-L Cody McKayto Memphis. [6/23]

Well, within wide, coloring-book-broad lines, this resembles a good idea. Unfortunately, it's in the details where everything comes up ugly. Yes, the Cardinals shouldn't carry three catchers, and yes, they need a right-handed outfielder. Yes, Taguchi is a right-handed hitting outfielder...OK, that's a bit much. How about this: Taguchi is an outfielder who hits right-handed? I wouldn't want anyone to mistake him for a hitter, or associate 'hit' with Taguchi beyond that Dexy's Midnight Runners sense of the word, where everybody gets their 15 minutes sometime. (Good against Glendon Rusch is one thing, good against the real thing...)

But Taguchi is a patch, and ideally, he won't be settled for any longer than necessary. What's equally perplexing is the decision to send down McKay instead of Yadier Molina. I'm not endorsing McKay's performance, because at the plate, he's been execrable (.230/.266/.246). But backup catchers are usually backup catchers for a reason (their bat), and McKay did give the team a backup at third and a lefty-hitting alternative to Mike Matheny. But at its most basic, the operative word is 'backup.' Molina is perceived as a prospect, and he's struggling to get the ball out of the infield. Is there value in letting him hang out and watch Matheny catch five days a week? Perhaps, but Molina's shown more promise than results in only a season-plus above A-ball, and he's coming up on his 22nd birthday.

Of course, if they let Molina play two or three times per week, that wouldn't be so terrible. With Matheny as the starter, they can afford to share the job between them. And since Matheny is a free agent after this year, playing Molina semi-regularly would tell them a lot about what they should be shopping for this winter. Plus, if Matheny accommodates himself to sharing time with Molina, maybe they get him re-signed for less than if they were short of alternatives. It's not as great as having an genuine good catcher, but I suppose these are the benefits, such as they are.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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