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September 22, 2004

Transaction Analysis

September 16-19

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX Return to Top

Activated LHP Lenny DiNardo from the 60-day DL. [9/16]

It's nice to have DiNardo around, if only as a third lefty to use in lost causes, desperate situations, or because either Alan Embree or Mike Myers need a day off. Not that he's terrible, he just shouldn't have a shot at the postseason roster with either of them around.

CLEVELAND INDIANS Return to Top

Placed RHP Kazuhito Tadano on the 60-day DL (lower back injury). [9/16]

Recalled OF-L Grady Sizemore from Buffalo. [9/19]

Recalled SS/3B-R Jhonny Peralta, RHP Fernando Cabrera, and 2B/SS-R Brandon Phillips from Buffalo; purchased the contracts of RHP Jake Robbins and OF-R Ernie Young from Buffalo. [9/19]

All hail the conquering heroes, your 2004 Buffalo Bisons, International League champeens. It's mildly interesting that some of the guys who came up big in the series victory over Richmond aren't here--Brent Abernathy, Jason Tyner, Dusty Wathan, Evan Thomas--but the names involved sort of explain why.

But as for the other happy few, it's cool to see Ernie Young up, but that's partially because I always think it's cool to see Ernie Young up, and partially because the injury to Jody Gerut left the Tribe slightly short-handed. Young had another excellent year in Triple-A (.299/.368/.551), and at 35, he has no real future. While I would never have been wild about having to play him all year in a corner in the big leagues, if you were short-handed and needed a temp, a lot of teams can and have done a lot worse.

Gerut's injury also makes it easier to plug Grady Sizemore back into the lineup, but that was going to happen anyway. The real winner, temporarily, is playing time bottom-feeder Coco Crisp, who's had a nifty season, the sort that makes fourth outfielders wealthy men working well into their 30s. It worked for Thomas Howard, certainly. Crisp's versatility might be considered an agglomeration of non-great skills, but it's exactly the sort of thing that's going to keep him in a big league uniform, and not have to worry about enduring Young's fate. So Crisp will be handy into next year, and if Sizemore struggles into May and Gerut comes back, the Tribe will have the flexibility to consider a few alternatives.

Finally, those sorts of minor considerations aside, the Tribe has both Peralta and Phillips to look at. Although Phillips' return to usefulness has been widely hailed for hitting .303/.363/.430 (which boils down to a Pokeyriffic .234 translated Equivalent Average), it's Peralta who really thumped at the plate--.326/.384/.493, good for a .257 translated EqA--en route to winning the IL MVP award. The two of them shared the job at short, while alternating between second base (in Phillips' case) or third (in Peralta's). You'd think, with two guys who can play short on the cusp of readiness, Omar Vizquel would be expendable. He's about to become a free agent, so local icon or not, Mark Shapiro should be making some cold-blooded evaluations about his available talent and budget for 2005.

Is Vizquel worth re-signing? At 37, his defense has clearly dropped a peg, and although he had his best offensive season in the last four, he didn't hit for power, and it came at the age where you thank him for it, not give him a raise. It would be a bit strange to try to squeeze Vizquel, Phillips, Peralta, and Ronnie Belliard into the middle infield next season. Third base won't be in play, not with Casey Blake and Aaron Boone around, and with Belliard also eligible for free agency, the Tribe really should choose one. In the whole mess, the only guy with any job security might be John McDonald, if only because his gig as the utility infielder who's really just a defensive replacement will come in handy for Peralta or Phillips at short.

Shapiro's choice isn't easy: Neither Peralta nor Phillips look great at short, and below them in-system, Ivan Ochoa didn't do much to reward the confidence that he's the shortstop of the future. So re-signing Vizquel would be defensible, with Phillips playing a lot of second, and Peralta almost certainly having to learn the position. Although politics might enter into it, Shapiro might be able to let money sort out who gets kept. If Vizquel or Belliard want considerably more than an older player is worth, they might have to become acquainted with the fates of Mickey Morandini or Jody Reed the hard way, and learn that the bird in hand is worth more than a glib assurance from your agent that there are lot of other birds.

Finally, on the pitching side of the ledger, Cabrera and Robbins might get an inning here or there, but I wouldn't bet on their getting more than that sort of token consideration. Cabrera's the genuine prospect, at least as much as a future big league reliever can be called such. Striking out 92 hitters in 75 IP is promising enough as is, but toss in allowing only 57 hits (but 40 unintentional walks), and you've got the statistical profile of a guy who cooks with gas. Robbins is 28 and more of a swing-man. Having moved from the Braves to the Rockies to the Tribe after washing out of the Yankees organization, while it's cool to see him up after helping the Bisons win, it shouldn't be interpreted as a portent of a better future.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS Return to Top

Recalled RHPs Joe Blanton and Justin Lehr, and 1B-L Dan Johnson from Sacramento; designated C-R Mike Rivera for assignment. [9/18]

Johnson and Blanton are both here to witness this team's race for a tri-pennant, and have that under their belt going into camp next year. Johnson's season at Sacramento looks great (.299/.403/.534, with 29 home runs and 87 unintentional walks), but you have to keep in mind that it came in the PCL; it only translates to a big league .254 Equivalent Average, and during a year when Scott Hatteberg justified the organization's investment in him, that's not good enough to have been pushed up in-season. This winter might be a bit more interesting, since Billy Beane could let Erubiel Durazo slip away as a free agent if they decide to non-tender him. (Could even Ahab tire of his white whale? I suppose so, if, after a while, he found out that it was useful, but not that much more special than other cetaceans.)

Blanton had a nice enough season as a rotation regular for the RiverCats, with the sort of performance that reflects the organization's faith in command of stuff as opposed to pure stuff. He allowed 5.2 runs per nine, striking out 7.3, walking only 1.6, and allowing only 13 homers in 176.1 IP. It might not be Mulder he makes expendable, as we speculated in this year's book, but he'll be in consideration for the rotation as Beane sorts out what to do about the long-term allegiances of the Big Three.

SEATTLE MARINERS Return to Top

Activated RHP Julio Mateo from the 15-day DL. [9/16]

There's something a bit sad about the Mariners having to feel extra-good about getting Mateo back from his sore elbow, but when your other marquee relievers are J.J. Putz and Shiggy Hasegawa, you're not exactly in a happy place. As is, I'm sort of expecting somebody in the AL West to complain about the other guys drawing Cha Seung Baek as the opposing starter more often. Considering how poorly Baek is pitching, perhaps the most sportsmanlike decision might be to paste Ron Villone back into the rotation until it doesn't matter anymore, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS Return to Top

Designated RHP Aquilino Lopez for assignment. [9/19]

There's speculation that Lopez wore himself out pitching winter ball, and doesn't seem inclined to give that up, which cut into whatever patience the Jays might have had with a guy who's basically a one-pitch pitcher. Relievers can be treated a bit interchangeably, but I'm not sold that Lopez can't be useful for somebody somewhere next season.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS Return to Top

Activated 1B-R Greg Colbrunn from the 60-day DL. [9/17]

I suppose the question here is what the point might be of having Colbrunn around. Spot-starting him at first might get Chad Tracy--a sort of Scott Cooper for the aughts--onto the bench against tough or merely semi-tough lefties (.232/.280/.323 in the BOB is pretty useless), while letting Shea Hillenbrand retain some of his chops as a third baseman in that situation. But they're already doing that with Andy Green, sensibly enough, although that's a straight platoon with Tracy, with no cross-diamond flip-flops; Hillenbrand's rooted at first. Whether they keep playing Green, or let Tracy show if he can improve against lefties, they're making the right call. If they're letting Colbrunn appear in a game before calling it quits, that's nice and all, but like Carlos Baerga and Quinton McCracken, these last two weeks should really be an opportunity to say good-bye.

HOUSTON ASTROS Return to Top

Recalled C-R Chris Tremie from New Orleans; designated RHP Kirk Bullinger for assignment. [9/19]

The Astros seem to be turning their backstop follies into the same sort of fetishized weakness that Dick Williams would cultivate with his second basemen. Pick a scab long enough, and it'll scar up for sure. I know everyone's in a rush to congratulate Phil Garner at the moment; I guess this is one of those lighter notes that remind us how quickly he got into the spirit of the thing when it comes to managing the Astros.

Anyway, Tremie shares with Raul Chavez that apparently critical qualification for being a spare catcher on the Astros, which is that he'll never hit well enough to make anyone wonder why Brad Ausmus is still a regular. Do you think it's easy to find those guys?

MONTREAL EXPOS Return to Top

Acquired a PTBNL and cash from the Padres for SS-R Alex Gonzalez. [9/16]

Recalled SS-R Josh Labandeira from Harrisburg (Double-A). [9/17]

The Expos might just be a glorified storage rack and holding tank, but dumping A-Gonz the Other on one of their needy patrons gives the organization a nice opportunity to take a longer look at Maicer Izturis at shortstop--though granted, he should have been playing there all along. The frustration is that Brendan Harris has to ride pine so that Tony Batista can keep his hollow legionnaire act going, and this is a team that ought to be looking at both Harris and Izturis for next year's infield. Vidro and Nick Johnson should give the right side veteran-ness or whatnot, and letting the kids handle the left side would be cheap and promising, the note this team has to strike if Omar Minaya's going to have some small bit of freedom to spend on something he could really use.

That problem is writ small with the decision to bring up Labandeira. I suppose the Expos can be grateful that they were granted this additional token of consideration from their liege lords, and notionally, Labandeira could slide into a utility infield role. Unfortunately, that's where Jamey Carroll seems rooted in place, complete with his own scrappy rep. Will Minaya have the nerve to non-tender Carroll? He didn't have the nerve with Joey Eischen, so I don't see why we can't expect the Expos to wind up paying too much for their utility infielder. Not that this is a knock against Carroll; he's useful enough, especially with his excellent .390 OBP this season. But Labandeira's hitting credentials are of the similarly modest/useful variety (.270/.357/.381, and everybody loves somebody who's had to dust himself off after 16 HBPs), he plays an adequate (if error-prone) short and should probably be athletic enough to handle the other infield positions, he'll make the minimum next year, and one has to wonder if Carroll's '04 performance is an aberration of sorts. The bigger question: As long as the Expos have to live hand-to-mouth, why overpay on the little stuff?

NEW YORK METS Return to Top

Acquired 2B-L Josh Hoffpauir (A-ball) to complete the Scott Erickson deal. [9/18]

Nothing for nothing seems appropriate enough. A 27-year-old who was in A-ball...well, as much as it was only Scott Erickson that they gave up, I guess a fruit basket would have been a slightly more diplomatic touch. I suppose Mayor Bloomberg has some regulation in place, blocking shipments from out-of-state florists or somesuch, so Hoffpauir it is.

SAN DIEGO PADRES Return to Top

Acquired SS-R Alex Gonzalez from the Expos for a PTBNL and cash. [9/16]

Activated RHP Jay Witasick from the 15-day DL. [9/18]

It's always nice, when you're one of 29 co-owners of another team, to be able to exploit that situation in a moment of need. Consider this another exercise demonstrating the Expos' reduction to the game's Kwik-E-Mart, catering to the short-handed, and stocked with other people's extra inventory.

Still, with both Sean Burroughs and Khalil Greene breaking down, something understandably had to be done. It's a particularly bitter denouement when you note how Greene seemed to be blossoming down the stretch, pasting nine home runs in the last six weeks. In their absences, the Pads have to try to win the wild card with a platoon of Ramon Vazquez and A-Gonz at short, while winging it at third with a bit too much Rich Aurilia. As ad hoc arrangements, it's pretty good. An Alexmon Gonzquez platoon provides a nice balance of offense and defense. Ideally, you could argue that they should let Dave Hansen get another couple of starts at the hot corner, because they're better off hoping to score a few extra runs than worrying about one tough defensive play potentially ending their season, but Hansen hasn't so much as bruised a vole on the mouse organ since joining the Pads.

For those who really sweat the small stuff, you might wonder why they didn't call up J.J. Furmaniak, since he had a decent enough year at Portland: .294/.348/.489, good for a .237 Equivalent Average--not great, but not the sort of thing you lightly cast aside considering A-Gonz's .211 awful EqA this year. Although Furmaniak isn't on the 40-man roster, neither was A-Gonz the Lesser. I suspect that Gonzalez's defensive rep, plus Vazquez's spotty, injury-marred season and lightly regarded glove, plus those always-open Expos, made this solution simply too conveniently convenient.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS Return to Top

Activated RHP Jerome Williams from the 15-day DL. [9/16]

It's a reflection of how dicey the Giants' situation is that Williams might get pressed into action while still recuperating from last month's knee surgery. They're more sure about his working out in Arizona after the season, but with Dave Burba down with a separated shoulder, the Giants might need every hurling hominid they can press into action if they're to reach the postseason.

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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