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July 19, 1999

Ask Rotoman

Midseason Hotlist

by Peter Kreutzer

COMPLAINING

Dear Rotoman,

Here's my situation:

I'm in a 12-team, AL-only league with a $260 salary cap. I bit the bullet and have dumped this season for next year, picking up Carlos Lee, Eric Chavez, and Carlos Febles, among others.

I currently have two open pitching slots, and was considering picking up Gabe Molina, hoping he might be the closer of the future for the Orioles. Does this sound reasonable? Free agents' salaries are $10 (no FAAB in our league), and hoping a starter gets called up and will be worth $10 next year is slightly unreasonable, I believe. Most of the good young relievers are already snapped up. I could wait and hope someone comes over from the NL, like Curt Schilling, but if Molina gets a couple of saves, I'm sure someone else will grab him before I can.

My main concern is the way Ray Miller runs his bullpen. Molina might get one save opportunity, blow it, and end up back in Rochester.

By the way, here's why I gave up this season:

Trot Nixon: $9
Shane Spencer: $3
Ryan Christenson: $5
Bobby Higginson: $31
Jose Mesa: $12
Doc Gooden: $5
Delino DeShields: $21
Mike Caruso: $6
Russ Davis: $10 (That batting average...ugh.)
Dan Plesac: $2
John Wetteland: $41 (Why? I ran out of money.)
Willis Otanez (free agent pickup for Christenson)
I left myself only $1 at the end of the draft, so when I said $1 for Mike Sweeney, someone else said $2 and got him (argh!). I had to settle for Mark Johnson at $1. And I could have kept Sweeney at $5.

Good things about my draft: Sidney Ponson at $4.

"Pickin' Up the Pieces"

Dear Pickin':

I kept all your bellyaching in because, well, it's the All-Star break and a good time for reflection. I happened to have paid $5 for our Aruban friend, Ponson, so I know that fine feeling.

And frankly, unless your league was playing with rampant draft inflation, there can be no excuse for the Higginson gaffe. But you didn't write to hear about that, I'm sure.

The issue is Gabe Molina, a 24-year-old right-hander who is perhaps being given a chance to be the Orioles closer. I say "perhaps" because while I did read a quote from Ray Miller saying he was going to give young Gabe a shot, only one of his three appearances since being recalled was a save situation, and that was a semi-save situation in the 8th inning.

A semi-save situation young Gabe Molina did not semi-save.

Could Molina be the Orioles closer for the rest of the year? Sure.

Will he? I think not. Here's why:

He's listed at 5'11", which is short for a pitcher. Matt Mantei is 6'1". Troy Percival is 6'3". Mariano Rivera is 6'2". Mike Timlin is 6'4". Want to know who is 5'11"? Jeff Montgomery.

Baseball Prospectus 1999 says about Molina: "Not big enough to be considered a real prospect, doesn't throw hard enough to be a real prospect (he relies on a changeup), and he got his head handed to him in the AFL in '98."

Molina wasn't even getting all the saves at Triple-A, where he was splitting time with Rafael Pina, who doesn't even appear in the Baseball America Super Register.

Does this mean you shouldn't pick him up? Not necessarily.

First of all, you're right. It's unlikely that a starter you pick up at this point this year will end up being worth a $10 freeze next year. Even if the starter puts up Tim Hudson-like numbers the rest of the way, there's a good chance the new year will chime in with a comeuppance. It's nature's way.

And right now Molina has some chance of emerging as the Orioles' closer. Some chance, the way Bill Bradley has some chance of becoming president. This is more can be said for a lot of guys, like Paul Spoljaric or Alan Levine or even Lamar Alexander. Before the season I would've thought you'd have a better shot with Brent Stentz, a Twinkie farmhand. But even though Rick Aguilera was dealt, Stentz' troubles in Triple-A have kept him from coming to the majors.

So, Molina has a shot. Is it better than Scott Service's shot? Is it better than Alvin Morman's? How about Eddie Guardado's chances? More importantly, is it better than Mike Timlin's chances, or Arthur Rhodes?

It's a tough call, and a lot depends who is available in your league. In American Dreams the first place Fine Tooners bid $16 (of $50) Waiver$ on Molina. Which sounds like a lot, but in fact didn't change their position for obtaining Free Agents.

And the fact is that in the ADL all the possible future closers are taken. So Molina represents a not-too-costly risky play. If he works out the rest of us may as well call it quits. But for the rest of us Molina would have cost more (because we didn't have a spare $16 waiver$ lying around), and may not have helped as much if he worked out anyway.

All of this brings us to this week's feature: Rotoman's Midseason Hot List. Now, this isn't a list of guys who are simply likely to be mo' better in the second half, though there will be some of those. This is a list of long shots who you might be able to get who could make a substantial difference in your team's fortunes.

This is a list of guys for teams that need to make a move, and are willing to risk falling in the standings to get an impact player who might bump them into the money. Which means a lot of these guys are likely going to fail, but the one's who don't could really help.

Maybe, if you (and I) get lucky.

AMERICAN LEAGUE
MIDSEASON HOTLIST
C Todd Greene
C Einar Diaz
C Ramon Hernandez
1B Tony Clark
2B Craig Wilson
3B Eric Chavez
3B Willie Greene
OF Darin Erstad
OF Ricky Ledee
OF Bubba Trammell
P Scott Erickson
P Scott Service
P Eric Milton
P David Wells
American League Midseason Hotlist

CATCHER

Todd Greene: In my league he qualifies behind the plate (10 in-season games). In my league he'd gone just as clueless as can be (.280 OBP). The Angels have so few apparent alternatives (Reggie Williams? Steve Decker? Jeff Huson? Orlando Palmeiro?) he's got to make it back, unless of course he continues to be clueless. Or Tim Salmon and Jim Edmonds make it back first.

Einar Diaz: He's really been sort of worthless. If he wasn't a catcher you wouldn't know his name. I was in Panama last year during the playoffs and all I can tell you is they're darned proud of him down there. Of course, they're somewhat prouder of Mariano Rivera. Anyway, this is an indirect way of saying that Sandy Alomar's return is anything but assured, and it's better to have a guy who plays than one who doesn't. So there.

Ramon Hernandez: He's no surprise, and is certainly not as good as he started out. But Mike Macfarlane is there simply to be eased aside, so Ramon will get every opportunity.

FIRST BASE

Tony Clark: Rumors of trades abound. He really hasn't been as good as I think he should be in more than a year. Mark my word, someday he will be, and if he isn't a Dodger while you're playing in an AL-only league, then he might just carry you to a shower of Yoo Hoo.

SECOND BASE

Craig Wilson: He has five lifetime home runs, and two lifetime multi-homer games. Which means he's played in a decent number of games without hitting a homer. He's too old to have the potential to be a star. On the other hand, he's versatile and the White Sox have a variety of problems, so he might get a chance. He qualifies in the middle infield and those guys don't grow on trees, if you catch my drift.

THIRD BASE

Eric Chavez: This year's rookie disaster. Have you seen his average against left-handers? But I say look at the strikeout-to-walk ratio, and remember that there aren't that many lefties in the AL anyway. He could get very powerful in a hurry.

Willie Greene: Has never resembled a good hitter, but sometimes looks like a powerful one. And a much better choice at DH than Craig Grebeck, who Jim Fregosi called, "the best singles hitter on this team". Fregosi seemed to mean it as a compliment. Behind Grebeck, there's nobody else.

OUTFIELD

Darin Erstad: When he came up I was very skeptical that he could hit holding his hands that way. But he did. He probably hasn't stunk it up enough to be available, but if he is there's every reason to think he'll be quite a bit better in the second half.

Ricky Ledee: Finished the first half with a bang. He needed it. He is another in a long list of Yankee can't-miss prospects whose game, up close, doesn't look all that complete. On the other hand, he gets the sweet half in a platoon with Chad Curtis or Shane Spencer, unless you believe that Darryl Strawberry really has a future on the field.

Bubba Trammell: Right now he can hit and Jose Canseco can't. That about says it all. Except that he can't field. Then again, neither can Jose.

PITCHERS

Scott Erickson: Has been more effective of late. His name still swirls around in the trade talks, though the resonant phoneme seems to be TRIBE. He has upside, but is risky. Then again, who here isn't?

Scott Service: He's stunk this year, which is too bad. His control is killing him. He should be in line to pick up the Royals' saves, such as they are. Can the control come back? Will he be passed over by men named Whisenant, Moreno and Ray? The only thing for sure is that he'd like his motto to echo that of the LAPD. One Adam-12.

Eric Milton: He was so sorry early that some people may have missed his resurgence, which might give you a chance to steal him. And he may keep it up.

David Wells: Subject of much talk, about his weight, his drinking, his politics, his trade value. I don't know for sure he's been more effective lately, or if it just seems that way, but chances are good if he stays with the Jays he'll be part of their strong finish. Says I.

NATIONAL LEAGUE
MIDSEASON HOTLIST
C Ben Davis
1B Brad Fullmer
OF Bernard Gilkey
OF Angel Echevarria
OF J.D. Drew
OF Ellis Burks
P Steve Trachsel
P Darryl Kile
P Darren Dreifort
P Carl Pavano
P Al Leiter
P Jason Schmidt
National League Midseason Hotlist

CATCHER

Ben Davis: Has better credentials and a bigger upside than Ramon Hernandez. And might even have a clearer shot at a full-time job. Proviso: He's just a baby.

FIRST BASE

Brad Fullmer: Sent out, then recalled. He could get sent out again because his OBP is just .274. On the other hand, maybe he's learned a lesson. He certainly has more upside than Ryan McGuire or Fernando Seguignol, but then that isn't that big an endorsement when I think about it.

OUTFIELD

Bernard Gilkey: Let's say Tony Womack moves to shortstop full-time. David Dellucci is an option in right field, but if Gilkey is really seeing the ball better he's a much more productive player. It's a big if, but his OPS is .977 (albeit in just a bit more than 100 at-bats) which could mean he's worth a shot.

Angel Echevarria: All indications are that the Rockies will reconfigure, saying goodbye to the guys who may have some value elsewhere. Which means they might find a taker for Dante Bichette, or even Larry Walker. Derrick Gibson is the big prospect, Jeff Barry has the hot hand right now, but something tells me that Mr. Echevarria could be in the right place at the right time. Could it be a little devil? Only time will tell.

J.D. Drew: I could never understand why everybody hated him so much. Well, actually I could, he seemed strident and less than gracious. But all he was doing was standing up for himself. Now all he has to do is improve. As much as he has been dissed it isn't at all certain you'll find someone who is giving up on him. The upside is too apparent. Anyway, people generally show respect to people who value themselves.

Ellis Burks: Somehow disappeared in the first half. Injuries can do that, especially when you've been as injured as Ellis has throughout his career. He came back with a bang, in part because Barry Bonds' return was such a fizzle, but the threat of injury is always there. As is the reward of health.

PITCHER

Steve Trachsel: I've noticed something of a bandwagon developing around Traxie the last week. I'm sure the thinking is: "It can't get any worse." At least that's my thinking.

Darryl Kile: Before last season, the fun game was to guess who would better thrive in Colorado's thin atmosphere, Kile or Pedro Astacio. I think I voted for Astacio; something about the extra effort Kile would have to make eventually wrecking his arm. That didn't happen, and as of last week Astacio's ERA was 5.56. Kile's was 5.77. Astacio's OPS against? .868. Kile's? .864. Anyway, there is talk that Kile could be traded. That would be an immeasurable help for him, because his road numbers these days aren't unlike his career road numbers. It's the altitude, stupid.

Darren Dreifort: The threat of breakdown is always there. So is the promise of a live arm.

Carl Pavano: His resurgence is hard to see in his dismal numbers, which have been improving with almost every start. On the other hand, the comeback can be seen if you look. So can the low walks total. If only they weren't getting so many hits off him. Don't be scared off by the injury.

Al Leiter: Has also been turning around a bad start.

Jason Schmidt: He's all over the place. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes dreck. Or blech. You choose. I'm of the opinion that one of these days he's going to run off twelve or fourteen first-rate starts in row. With the Pirates he may win only seven of them, but still, I want to be there when it happens.

Well, that's it. Used wisely this list will almost certainly have no effect on your team or its finish. Unless you find that one breakout player for the second half, the Tony Fernandez of the dog days. In which case, bon appetit.

MED CENTER

Greetings RM!

I picked up Kerry Wood in the reserve draft of my NL keeper league this year. If I keep him, he will cost $10 next year. What is the likelihood that he will earn that salary next year? What is the track record for strikeout pitchers coming off this kind of surgery? Should I be looking to trade him for anything of value?

"Woodman"

Dear Woody:

The expected rehab time is one year. That means he'll probably be throwing next year. The chances of him throwing serious heaters in major league games? Methinks they're pretty slim.

The rule of thumb with pitching injuries that are said to take a year from which to recover? Figure two years at best. Anything else is a bonus.

So, if you find a believer, deal.

Out of the woods, Rotoman

Have a question for Rotoman? Contact him directly at rotoman@baseballprospectus.com.

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