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September 2, 2004

Prospectus Today

Welcome, and Welcome Back

by Joe Sheehan

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Working with Chris Kahrl means not spending too much time on transactions, because I know Chris is going to cover them in a way I just can't.

However, I always like to look at the wire from Sept. 1, the day on which active rosters can be expanded from 25 to 40. It's fun to see who emerges from under a rock--or the disabled list--to pull on a uniform again. With teams doing a better job of maintaining relationships with minor league affiliates, you don't see the same flood of players come up right on the 1st as you used to. It's not cool to wipe out your Double-A team's playoff roster. Also, there's been some backlash from front offices over increasing expenses in September, and from managers who don't always like to deal with all the extra bodies.

Still, it's one of the biggest transaction days of the year. Some of yesterday's highlights include:

  • The Twins called up Terry Tiffee and Jesse Crain, on the heels of calling up Jason Kubel Tuesday. If it seems like they have a bottomless pit of talented players in their system, well, it's because they nearly do.

    Crain has been one of the most in-demand prospects in the trade market for two years; he has 97 strikeouts and just 62 hits allowed in 76.2 Triple-A innings, and the Twins would be well-served to find a spot for him on the playoff roster. Tiffee, who's hit better as he's climbed through the system, resembles a switch-hitting Joe Randa, with more power potential and less glove.

    Both Tiffee and Crain played huge roles in the Twins' 4-2 win over the Rangers last night. Crain retired all six men he faced, keeping the game at 2-1, and Tiffee came off the bench to go two-for-two with the game-winning double.

    The Twins are about to win the AL Central for the third year in a row, and they will go into '05 as no worse than co-favorites. When do we start talking about competitive imbalance again?

  • The Twins also traded for Pat Borders just before the deadline, a heck of a drop from Joe Mauer. Unless he plays a lot in September, Borders will continue his streak of seasons in which he played, but got less than 100 plate appearances, to four. I have no idea what the record is, but that's one weird accomplishment.

    Since his last year as a regular in 1994 for the Blue Jays, Borders has appeared in nine of 10 seasons, for nine teams, and accumulated just 828 at-bats in that time. In the one season he missed, he helped the United States win an Olympic gold medal. There's a book deal in this man's future.

  • Hands down, the best story has to be Andres Galarraga's return to the major leagues. Guys like me talk about Rickey Henderson playing in the Atlantic League in the hopes of coming back, but Galarraga beat cancer for a second time and went to Double-A himself. Galarraga was a pretty good player last year for the Giants in a platoon role, hitting .301/.352/.489. He can take some of Tim Salmon's at-bats and leave the Halos none the worse for wear. Here's hoping he gets his two home runs to reach 400.

  • Steve Karsay was activated by the Yankees, nearly two years removed from his last major league pitch. Unless he's been given Steve Austin's elbow, enabling him to start three games a week, he won't cure what ails the Yankees, although he might keep Paul Quantrill from reaching 100 appearances.

    The Yankees have about $30 million tied up in right-handed relievers, and C.J. Nitkowski is their left-hander. How does that happen?

  • The Phillies called up Ryan Howard, who could do worse than to spend the next five weeks following Jim Thome around like a puppy. Howard, who finished the minor league season with 46 home runs, doesn't have Thome's command of the strike zone. If he can learn that skill, it moves him from the Paul Sorrento track to the Ryan Klesko track. That's worth, oh, $20 million, so it's probably worth Howard's time.

    With Thome signed through the next election cycle, Howard has no value to the Phillies beyond what he can bring in trade. With this team getting older by the minute and needing to leverage the new park and Thome's remaining good years, look for Howard to open next season somewhere else.

  • The Expos recalled Val Pascucci, who has had some trouble getting noticed in an organization that is more tools-oriented than skills-oriented. He has his backers, though, and he'll get a chance to work his way into the outfield picture for '05. For a big man, he runs pretty well: nine steals in 11 attempts at Triple-A this year.

    The Expos have quietly played some good baseball for three months, even as they've lost their most high-profile talent to injuries. Once again, it's worth wondering how their year might have gone if they'd hadn't been stuck with the worst planned-travel schedule in baseball history. Just as last season was ruined by a mid-summer road trip from hell, this one may have been skewered by an April that looked like "Around the World in 30 Days".

  • The Cardinals promoted Rick Ankiel, who has not pitched in the majors since early 2001. Now 25 years old, he's probably being rushed to St. Louis, given that he's thrown just 15 innings this year coming off of Tommy John surgery that ended his '03 season. He's been mentioned as a candidate for the postseason roster, which is insane, except for the fact that you know Tony La Russa wants a third lefty in that pen. Getting overly excited about three rehab starts is a mistake. Everyone involved would be better off just letting Ankiel make some low-leverage appearances in September, then returning in the spring to a job in middle relief.

  • The Giants recalled Brian Dallimore, Tony Torcato and Jason Ellison. I mention this only to point out the contrast to who the Twins added to their roster. Player development, not a taxpayer-funded ballpark, is the silver bullet.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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