December 15, 1997
Signed RHP Rich DeLucia to a one-year contract, and signed RHP Mark Gubicza to a minor-league contract with a spring training invite. [12/8]
Signed RHP Omar Olivares to a one-year contract. [12/11]
The Angels haven't managed to pull off any of the rumored deals for pitching that would in turn move either Garrett Anderson or Jim Edmonds, so this is a bit of damage control. DeLucia was the Angels' most effective middle reliever before the All-Star break, but like so many other relievers who work for Terry Collins, he broke down. He works high with great control, but that can be too exciting at times; credit the Angels for having some kind of faith that he can be a useful reliever. Olivares is a basically useful #5 starter, capable of putting up an ERA a notch below league average, while getting the last laugh on Joe Coleman. Gubicza is probably too far gone to mount a third comeback, but after last year's bad decision to trade for him, the Angels almost certainly want to see something out of him as a Halo.
Traded RHP Chad Fox to Milwaukee for OF Gerald "Ice" Williams. [12/11]
Williams is everything Danny Bautista aspires to be. The Braves have a gaggle of pitchers like Fox, so they decided to turn one of them into a platoon mate for Michael Tucker and/or Ryan Klesko. Williams will also be a handy defensive replacement and pinch-runner for either. The only question is why the Braves chose Williams as their man: Matt Mieske will come pretty cheap as a FA right around now, and is the better lefty-masher.
Signed RHP Doug Drabek to a one-year contract. [12/11]
Signed DH Joe Carter to a one-year contract. [12/12]
The post-Davey floodgates have opened, because these are decisions right out of the mold that had Mike Devereaux around forever or that signed Mike Bordick. To put the best possible light on these signings: Carter is an extreme flyball hitter coming to a good homerun park, and Drabek was better in the second half than his final 5.74 ERA would indicate. In each case, the argument doesn't work: Carter is the worst DH in baseball, and Drabek has been an awful pitcher in the best two pitcher's parks of the respective leagues in the last three years. But by all accounts, they're solid citizens, so they're being showered with cash.
BOSTON RED SOX
Signed RHP Dennis Eckersley to a one-year contract. [12/9]
Signed RHP Pedro Martinez to a six-year contract. [12/12]
Like Jeff Reardon and Lee Smith before him, the Eck is skipping from team to team in a multiyear farewell tour. Fenway should finish off his career as a "closer," although the slippery definition of the term intended for 100-inning monsters from Dick Radatz to Goose Gossage to Bruce Sutter hardly seems appropriate for a man who survives in the ever-shrinking role of "less-than-an-inning, with the lead, while avoiding LH batters or people who make good contact." Again, this is a citizenship contract, where the Eck is being given money to be a role model for Flash Gordon. As for Martinez, the money isn't the issue so much as the organization's politics: the contract is meant to induce Mo Vaughn and John Valentin to come down off of their demands while encouraging fans to stop bellyaching and start getting excited about this team.
Signed SS Jeff Blauser to a two-year contract with an option for 2000. [12/9]
Traded RHP Miguel Batista to Montreal for LF Hank Rodriguez, and signed Rodriguez to a one-year contract. [12/12]
Acquired C Sandy Martinez from Toronto for a PTBNL. [12/11]
Since Batista is a dubious prospect at best, Rodriguez came relatively cheaply, although he did suffer an ugly second half fade (197/272/422). The Cubs are clearly thinking along the lines of what got them "success" in the past: a power-hitting middle infielder in the #2 hole, and a bopping LF like Jorge Bell. Its clear that the issue isn't talent-based: Rodriguez isn't an improvement over Robin Jennings or much-maligned Brooks Kieschnick, but within the constricted range of vision that has Hank and Doug Glanville as the alternatives, at least they chose Hank. The question is why the team won't take the plunge and look at Jennings or Kieschnick or Pedro Valdes. The Blauser signing, however, is a good move, although I can't shake the suspicion that people will get exasperated very quickly with his inability to make the play out of the hole. But its part and parcel of the same sort of bad idea: that the organization has to get power from a secondbaseman or shortstop to compensate for Mark Grace and (now) Lance Johnson, and that anyone under 26 shouldn't be trusted with any playing time. Sandy Martinez' job is to make sure that Tyler Houston has someone he's clearly better than.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Claimed 2B Sergio Nunez off waivers from Kansas City. [12/8]
Signed Cs Charlie O'Brien and Chad Kreuter to one-year contracts; designated RHP Al Levine and LHP Larry Thomas for assignment. [12/10]
The O'Brien and Kreuter signings are signature moves in what has been an outstanding offseason for the Sox. They'll share the job, although Kreuter has been brought back pretty specifically to catch James Baldwin (who fell apart last year when his personal catcher was traded in the Phillips/Fabregas deal that was so highly touted for how it improved the Sox' "chemistry"). Improvement is relative, or just easy when you have worst catching situation this side of Mike Matheny. Levine is probably AAA cannon fodder from this point on, but Thomas may be claimed on waivers, since lefties with a smidgen of heat usually get a thousand professional lives.
Traded CF Curtis Goodwin to Colorado for RHP Mark Hutton. [12/10]
Although there's the obvious political agenda here of getting Goodwin away from ever having to be in the same lockerroom as Jack McKeon again, the Reds managed to turn him into a good RH pitcher. Hutton will be 28, and he's managed to avoid serious injury or a heavy workload. He could easily fit in as a starter or reliever. Give Jim Bowden credit for making a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
Signed CF Kenny Lofton to a three-year contract with an option for 2001; signed RHP Dwight Gooden to a two-year contract with an option for 2000; traded CF Marquis Grissom and RHP Jeff Juden to Milwaukee for RHPs Ben McDonald and Mike Fetters and LHP Ron Villone; traded RHP Mike Fetters to Oakland for RHP Steve Karsay; designated RHP David Weathers for assignment. [12/8]
Depending on how you want to look at things, he almost certainly made a big mistake in giving Grissom the big contract, but moves like this (and the signings of Vizquel and Justice) are somewhat defensible as political moves to show players that Cleveland can play big-market with their checkbook as well as anybody. Whatever political capital that could have generated was either already reaped or didn't turn out as well as they may have wanted, but Hart craftily turned around and dealt Grissom to a team moving to the NL (where Grissom claims he's more comfortable) and desperate for a CF. As a salary dump, its very clever: McDonald is only under contract for one year, and a good chunk of it is insured if his arm isn't right. Villone could do for the Indians what Arthur Rhodes does for Baltimore, since he was miscast as a situational lefty. Karsay is probably better off in the pen, but he's essentially insurance in case Bart Colon's elbow keeps being cranky in addition to McDonald's and John Smiley's troubles. Signing Gooden was excessive, but he gets the Orel Hershiser/Dennis Martinez celebrity star of the 80s rotation slot.
Traded RHP Mark Hutton to Cincinnati for CF Curtis Goodwin; traded CF Terry Jones and a PTBNL to Montreal for RHP Dave Veres and a PTBNL. [12/10]
A re-shuffling of the pieces already in the organization, and in both cases, an upgrade for the Rox. Veres is more established than Hutton, which means that Don Baylor is more likely to trust him. It may not generate good results (Veres is still living off of his big year in the Astrodome), but on paper it makes sense for the Rockies. The Goodwin move is a case of replacing Quinton McCracken, and not a bad one at that (in the sense that QMcC's production won't be hard to match). On any team that has Ellis Burks pretending to be a CF, this is a necessity, because playing center wears Burks down as well as taxing his defensive abilities.
Signed LF Luis Gonzalez to a two-year contract. [12/9]
Signed RHP Frank Castillo to a one-year contract. [12/11]
Signed OF/2B Bip Roberts to a one-year contract with an option for 1999; designated DH Bob Hamelin for assignment; released RHP Kevin Jarvis. [12/12]
The good news is that after surviving Wrigley and Coors, Frank Castillo should probably be able to enjoy the deepest centerfield in the majors while trying to keep people from pulling balls towards the nearby foulpoles. The bad news is everything else here: Gonzalez and Roberts aren't significantly different players offensively, and Gonzo was NOT hurt by the Astrodome last year. This is what the Tigers were thinking when they dumped Mel Nieves and lost Bubba Trammell in the expansion draft? Those weren't bad decisions in themselves, but to give Luis Gonzalez a two-year contract? Pray for Juan Encarnacion and Gabe Kapler. Its bad enough that there's a danger that Roberts may take up infield time from Frank Catalanotto. Bob Hamelin's unemployment while Paul Sorrento gets money thrown at him to be a platoon DH has to be one of the stranger aspects of this winter, sort of like the pending Orioles' decision to non-tender Geronimo Berroa while throwing money at half the ballplayer (Joe Carter).
Waived INF Alex Arias. [12/12]
Signed PH Jack Howell to a two-year contract. [12/9]
Howell is another representative of the wave of ballplayers who come back from Japan as slightly more polished hitters: since Cecil Fielder, we've seen Howell and Lee Stevens come back notably better as well. So now Howell will be a dandy little PH for an Astros' team that has an all-righty OF and Jeff Bagwell. He may also get some time at third if the Astros non-tender Sean Berry.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Signed SS Jose Vizcaino to a three-year contract. [12/8]
Giants fans should be cheering this move, unless it brings them Shawon Dunston or Ozzie Guillen instead of Rich Aurilia as a regular. That Vizcaino got multiple years despite only adequate glovework and meagre offensive skills is basically incredible.
Traded RHPs Ben McDonald and Mike Fetters and LHP Ron Villone to Cleveland for CF Marquis Grissom and RHP Jeff Juden. [12/8]
Traded OF Gerald "Ice" Williams to Atlanta for RHP Chad Fox. [12/11]
Signed C Mike Matheny to a one-year contract. [12/12]
The Brewers were desperately worried about coming to the NL with their feeble situations in center and behind the plate, and their failure to protect Kelly Stinnett this offseason has already damned them to Mike Matheny or possibly Bobby Hughes behind the plate. They were already committed to spending some money, so they took the plunge on Grissom's contract, while ridding themselves of McDonald, Villone, and an expensive setup man in Fetters, in exchange for three years of Juden and Grissom's long-term deal. Juden is a fine pitcher to take a risk on, and he should step into the Brewers' rotation behind D'Amico, Eldred, and Karl. Chad Fox is a good arm to toss into the bullpen, although he could replace Jose Mercedes in the rotation once Mercedes goes back to being a pumpkin.
Signed CF Otis Nixon to a one-year contract with an option for 1999. [12/11]
Traded CF Rich Becker to the Mets for RF Alex Ochoa; designated LHP Rich Robertson for assignment. [12/12]
Ugh. How many synonyms for "despair" are there? From the promising group of Becker, Cordova, and Lawton, the Twins will now have Nixon gamely watching triples sail to the gaps in center, and tools boy Ochoa stumbling around in right. For a team that at best is treading water until it finds out where its going, the Nixon signing in particular is a needless expense, since he doesn't do anything that Chris Latham wouldn't do better. And a local buyer is supposed to suck up Pohlad's "losses" when he's signing off on flushing money this way? Criminy. What was clear was that Becker had talked his way out of town after last year's recriminations surrounding the inability to get him to agree to a long-term deal.
Traded RHP Dave Veres and a PTBNL to Colorado for CF Terry Jones and a PTBNL. [12/10]
Traded LF Hank Rodriguez to the Cubs for RHP Miguel Batista. [12/12]
A lot of baseball folks are talking about what a dandy job Jim Beattie has done in getting talent in his slash-and-burn campaign, but these aren't good examples of it. Jones will never be an asset, and Batista (not to be confused with the Miguel Batista who came up with the A's) is a plain-old bad pitcher with no single outstanding pitch.
NEW YORK METS
Traded RF Alex Ochoa to Minnesota for CF Rich Becker. [12/12]
The steal of the offseason. Ochoa doesn't look like he'll ever turn out to be anything special, while Becker should be the best CF in a Mets uniform since Lenny Dykstra, Lance Johnson's '96 notwithstanding. Now all the Mets have to do is find a taker for Brian McRae...
NEW YORK YANKEES
Signed DH Chili Davis to a two-year contract. [12/10]
A definite upgrade from Cecil Fielder, to say the least. At this rate, Davis could wind up being the other guy (besides Dave Kingman) to hit 400 HRs and not come even close to going to the Hall of Fame. He's at 328 now, and coming to the home of a tasty short porch.
Traded RHP Steve Karsay to Cleveland for RHP Mike Fetters. [12/8]
Signed RHP Tom Candiotti to a two-year contract. [12/9]
The A's steadily build up a veteran core to their team. Candiotti and Kenny Rogers will top the rotation ahead of young Jimmy Haynes and Brad Rigby, and the A's could have a potentially outstanding bullpen by committee of Fetters, T.J. Mathews, Billy Taylor, Doug Bochtler, Eric Ludwick, Mike Mohler, and Buddy Groom.
Fired GM Lee Thomas, and named Ed Wade acting GM for 1998. [12/9]
Placed OF Charles Peterson and LHP Jeff Kelly on waivers. [12/8]
Signed LHP Jeff Tabaka to a one-year contract. [12/10]
Tabaka is living proof that spending half your time on the waiver wire is a good thing, since it reminds most people that you're left-handed and exist.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Signed RHP Orel Hershiser to a one-year contract. [12/9] Signed LHP Kirk Rueter to a three-year contract. [12/12]
Any takers on how long it will take Dusty to slag Hershiser? It shouldn't take long: Baker has been more than willing to leave lesser lights like Mark Gardner out on the mound forever to wilt under heavy use; now that he has "the great Orel Hershiser" on the team, he'll probably apply the coup de grace to Orel's career by August. The Rueter signing, which forestalls the unpleasantries of arbitration, should remind us all that Montreal has basically bled talent, not merely veteran talent entering free agency, but young players whose rights they would have controlled for years.
Signed C John Marzano to a minor-league contract. [12/8]
Signed 1B David Segui to a two-year contract. [12/12]
Marzano will fight with Rick Wilkins for the backup spot behind Dan Wilson; its amazing how far you can get when your only real credential was catching Team USA in '84. The Segui signing keeps Edgar Martinez at DH, while Segui replaces Paul Sorrento. As bad as Sorrento is with the leather, Segui isn't much better, since his reputation far outstrips his skills. But within the self-imposed limitations of signing either Segui or Lou Piniella's paisano Hal Morris, Woody Woodward chose the right player.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
Signed 1B Paul Sorrento to a two-year contract with an option for 2000. [12/8]
Signed 3B Wade Boggs to a two-year contract. [12/9]
Anyone now care to explain why the D-Rays drafted Brooks Kieschnick or Steve Cox or Bubba Trammell or Rich Butler? Why sign Sorrento when you can claim Bob Hamelin on waivers? The Boggs signing makes sense, if only because the team never really considered ever bringing in anyone else to play third.
Signed SS Kevin Elster to a one-year contract. [12/8]
Signed 2B Luis Alicea and OF Roberto Kelly to two-year contracts. [12/9]
Having gotten egg on their collective faces over the Mike Bell screwups, the Rangers went out and got insurance for Fernando Tatis at third (Alicea), and Elster will again push aside the "developing" Benji Gil at short. Signing Kelly doesn't make much sense for this team as anything other than a spot starter against LHPs, and trade bait for the Mariners come July 31 when they've gotten tired of Rob Ducey in left. Again.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Signed UT Juan Samuel to a minor league contract with a spring training invitation; signed INF Tony Fernandez to a one-year contract with an option for 1999; signed C Mike Stanley to a two-year contract with an option for 2000. [12/8]
Signed RHP Paul Quantrill to a two-year contract and RHP Bill Risley to a one-year contract. [12/9]
Traded C Sandy Martinez to the Cubs for a PTBNL; designated 2B Carlos Garcia and Jeff Patzke for assignment. [12/11]
Signing Fernandez and Pat Kelly doomed Patzke, and signing Stanley screws another Jays' farmhand, 3B Tom Evans. The Jays had been considering moving Sprague to DH, where if nothing else he would have been an improvement on Joe Carter, if his offensive shortcomings didn't lead to his under- or unemployment while Evans took over at the hot corner. But with Stanley in town, Sprague is locked in at third, which means the Jays are committed to bad old men at second and third, for the benefit of having a very good DH in Stanley. The Jays are being touted as orchestrating a big push to take the AL East crown, and while they are building a better team, a good organization builds with canny free agent signings and trades and young players from their minors. They could have worked Evans and Patzke in just as easily as they have been willing to hand a job to Shannon Stewart, and would have made for a better team, both this year and over the long haul.