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November 16, 2004

Transaction Analysis

October 27-November 2

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS Return to Top

Re-signed OF-L Curtis Pride to a minor league contract. [11/8]

BALTIMORE ORIOLES Return to Top

Re-signed 1B-L Rafael Palmeiro to a one-year contract. [10/27]

Declined their $3 million option on LHP Buddy Groom for 2005. [11/5]

Groom needed excising, considering he was overcompensated in the first place, but I wouldn't get all wild about the prospects of the Orioles suddenly having acquired any payroll flexibility. B.J. Ryan is due for salary arbitration, which will eat up a chunk of the money saved. Happily, John Parrish looks like he's a nifty fit for second lefty, so unless they feel they absolutely have to go sign up some appropriately over-30 lefty because of a previously unknown Fossas codicil to EOE standards, they're set.

The decision to pay Raffy Palmeiro a hefty chunka change is a bit boggling. He's 40, and coming off of a season where he was merely adequate. Certainly, the calculation involved probably took Jay Gibbons' arbitration eligibility and likely non-tendering into account, but even if they'd offered arbitration and tried to cut his salary from the $2.4 million he made last year, that's still not more than Palmeiro's deal (somewhere around $3 million).

Add on the expectation that the Orioles will hunt big game to stick into the lineup at first base or DH, the general mystery of whether any of their not-so-young "young" outfielders will develop into useful regulars, and that this team won't contend in 2005, and you have to wonder what they think they've acquired in re-signing Palmeiro. Signing Palmeiro could have been a placeholding move, allowing them to save most of the money they're supposed to be waving at Carlos Delgado until a date when spending that money will impact questions more significant than who's in third in the AL East. But if they sign Delgado, that makes Palmeiro just that little bit extra amount of money burning in a dumpster out back, without adding anything to their place in the standings and taking money away from what might be applied to acquiring a semi-useful starting pitcher.

If anything, I'm a double-edged cynic about the move. It's a symptom of ambition without planning. It doesn't support the contention that the Orioles can't spend money in a two-team single market, although it might be part of a self-fulfilling prophecy that they won't contend in a future that includes D.C. baseball.

BOSTON RED SOX Return to Top

Exercised their $2.5 million option on 3B-B Bill Mueller for 2005. [10/29]

Consider the market for third basemen: Adrian Beltre, Troy Glaus if you're feeling lucky, Corey Koskie if your ambitions are relatively modest. Then we're down to Joe Randa, Tony Batista, and Vinny Castilla, all of whom think they're worth more than $2.5 million. So the Sox have the opportunity to shave salary if they decide to turn to Youkilis at third, which lets them add a few ducats to the piles they can offer for any of their innumerable free agents, while having Mueller available for barter at a price anybody can afford for a year. Or they simply have two useful third basemen. At this time of year, it's that sort of flexibility that is the mother of hot stove leak masterstrokes.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX Return to Top

Announced that OF-B Carl Everett has exercised his $4 million player option for 2005; exercised their $2.5 million option on RHP Shingo Takatsu for 2005; declined their $1 million option on C-R Sandy Alomar Jr 2005. [10/28]

All the Carl Everett you can stand, for an extra third of the price. I guess the positive is that now Kenny Williams won't have to kick around trading for him next summer. Everett will be 34, but barring some winter shopping, he's also this outfield's notional veteran bopper in an outfield corner. Lest we forget, after a couple of years of having his name bandied about in deals, Carlos Lee is tied up through 2005. Aaron Rowand should have center to himself, although Willie Harris might see some time out there. So Everett will get to be in right, although he might initially get a bunch of the playing time at DH, depending on the status of Frank Thomas's heel. That in turn means that the apparently permanently forgivable Alex Escobar and Joe Borchard will get looks in camp, after which their fortunes next summer will depend on how well they're doing once Everett breaks down again. If that breakdown can be timed with Thomas's return, that'd make for a neat trick, but these things have a habit of not working out quite so tidily.

CLEVELAND INDIANS Return to Top

Re-signed RHP Scott Elarton to a one-year, $850,000 contract. [10/28]

I know, I know, I can't help myself, you'd think after too much Kool-Aid, I'd put down this particular pixie cup, but I can see how this is a flyer worth taking. After being picked up from the Rockies, Elarton did give up less than a hit per inning pitched as an Indian, struck out more than six per nine innings pitched, and posted a respectable 4.53 ERA. Of course, there's also those 25 home runs allowed in 117.1 Cleveland innings. But after seeing Elarton lose so much of his potential to surgery, I can't help but hope he can at least still have a career. The money isn't steep, and there are some indications he can still contribute. Let's forget about the guy we overhyped back in the day, and enjoy what he can offer in the years to come. It might not be the same talent, but it's the same guy.

DETROIT TIGERS Return to Top

Declined their $1.1 million option on RHP Al Levine for 2005; signed LHP Jamie Walker to a one-year deal with a club option for 2006; re-signed RHPs John Ennis and Craig Dingman to minor league contracts. [10/29]

Exercised their $4 million option on RHP Ugueth Urbina for 2005. [11/5]

Urbina's mother is still kidnapped, although it appears that the kidnappers want $6 million, and not the earlier reported figure of $15 million. Not that this makes life any easier for the family. If you pray or simply hope, either way, invest a little that this gets worked out bloodlessly and happily ever after.

Meanwhile, the Tigers are in an odd situation. They might decide they can afford Urbina, but they can't really be sure when he'll be back until the kidnapping is resolved. That pretty much takes any thought of dealing him off of the table, and if the situation goes on into March, the organization will have to cope with an unprecedented problem while he's unavailable. Does he get paid? Will the commissioner make some sort of dispensation for the roster space? Will the game handle the situation with traditional ham-fisted idiocy, and earn itself another black eye? I hope not.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS Return to Top

Invited RHPs Justin Huisman and Billy Buckner, and LHPs Matt Campbell and J.P. Howell to spring training; signed C-R Alberto Castillo, and RHPs Santiago Ramirez, Roberto Giron and Byron Embry to minor league contracts with spring NRIs. [11/3]

Signed UT-B Chris Clapinski to a minor league contract with a spring NRI; acquired OF-L Terrence Long, RHP Dennis Tankersley and cash from the Padres for LHP Darrell May and RHP Ryan Bukvich. [11/8]

If you're like me, you have an Amazon wishlist. It might be primarily for your own use, or it might be a resource you make available to your friends and family so that they have a good idea of what you'd like to get on a birthday, or during the holidays, or just out of random kindness. Now, I might be alone in this, but the one feature on that wishlist that I do not take advantage of is listing things I decisively do not want. It seems like such a wasted effort. I mean, if you list a couple of hundred things you'd like to have, why go out of your way to warn people off from what you would never, ever, ever want? Who would invest that sort of time in that sort of task? And why?

Which of course brings me to Terrence Long. I don't know how I'd feel about finding T-Dog under my tree. Almost certainly, I'd ask if he came with a gift receipt. No doubt I'd ponder the ethics of re-gifting, and try to think who'd done me an ill turn of late. I suppose Kansas City is an appropriate spot for him to wash up. Where better for Long to practice his craft than in front of an audience whose sense of talent have already been dulled by years of Michael Tucker or Dee Brown or Kevin McReynolds. On a team that already treasures Ken Harvey's punchless "power," Terrence Long is just more of the same, a slugless slugger.

But I'm putting the ass before the mule, an obviously sterile exercise. The more important part of the deal is the hope that Tankersley finally gets his kinks worked out and becomes a useful big league pitcher. We've been waiting and wondering for a couple of years, and it remains my hope that he will finally stick. His big league-only case of Blassitis might go away; notionally, an ex-catcher like Tony Pena is exactly the sort of manager to help turn a young pitcher around. And there's cash. Everybody likes cash.

It just doesn't seem like a great return on what was an inspired bit of retreading, which was bringing May back from Japan and giving him a chance, but after a 19-loss season marred by big flies at a Blyleven-ly pace, and going into a year where he was guaranteed more than $3 million, I suppose the Royals figured they needed an outfielder and a pitcher with more potential than that. I'm understating my like of Tankersley, but that's because his big league performance has bred doubt.

Clearly, the Royals still need to sort out who to deal among their collection of DH/1B types. Mike Sweeney's injury-prone and expensive, but has the most upside. They just re-inked Matt Stairs, and Calvin Pickering deserves his shot to make people forget Bob Hamelin. And who'd want Harvey? Stairs can be re-purposed for an outfield corner, whichever one Long isn't moping in, so it really boils down to finding somebody who might take on Sweeney's contract.

NEW YORK YANKEES Return to Top

Declined their $3 million option on 1B-L Travis Lee and their $3.6 million option on RHP Paul Quantrill for 2006. [10/29]

Declined their $8 million option on RHP Jon Lieber for 2005. [11/5]

Interesting, because all of the moves aren't merely thrifty, they're also sensible. It might seem ungrateful in Bloody Paul's case, since Quantrill had been obviously flogged to within an inch of his professional life through Torre's overuse in the early going, but as business decisions go, this makes sense. And would anybody sign Travis Lee at this point? An Atlantic League GM, perhaps, which if I was Lee I'd probably take pretty seriously. Better to guarantee yourself some playing time and show people that you can still play. Barring monumental incompetence somewhere, I can't see any other way for him to get a big deal or enjoy much confidence with his next big league employer.

As for Lieber, as sensible as it is to ditch the option and try to re-ink him for less per annum over two years, it can also be interpreted as another symptom that the Age of Pinstriped Largesse is starting to fade. The Yankees are short on starters they can confidently rely upon, and they're risking losing Lieber to free agency. If they don't acquire one of the market's bigger fish and lose Lieber, they'll still be well short of deserving pity, but it won't be a happy situation. They've got Mike Mussina, the rights to Kevin Brown, and Javier Vazquez's hunt for a pitching coach, and massive commitments to talent already on the roster. That's potentially the core of a solid rotation, but it will take more than money to make it so, and the Yankees seem to be skimping on ironing out issues out of fear of offending leftovers from their formerly dynastic incarnation. If trying to win involves only trying to win with players that your manager and your pitching coach don't have to worry about managing or coaching, you have a much larger problem than talent acquisition.

SEATTLE MARINERS Return to Top

Announced that LHP Eddie Guardado exercised his $4.5 million player option for 2005. [11/2]

This, a day after the Mariners declined to pick up their option on him. Everyday Eddie's trying to rehab his way back from a torn rotator cuff, so the Mariners' unwillingness is understandable. Consider this a contractual tactical nuke instead of just a contractual poison pill, since it's hurt everyone in range: the Mariners are stuck with him but made it clear they wish he was gone, and Guardado knows that if it was up to them, he would be. They have a contract they regret, and Guardado has a commitment where he gets his check and the opportunity to pitch against any one of three potential division winners in the AL West. In the wake of such unpleasantness, everyone gets to wear smiley faces for public consumption. The only real winner here is the Twins, for having the sense to let Guardado walk away for the big money last winter. Bad things happen to pitchers, even the good ones.

TEXAS RANGERS Return to Top

Declined their $8 million option on OF-L Rusty Greer and their $4 million option OF-R Brian Jordan for 2005. [10/29]

It's not often that you see Brian Jordan paired with somebody even less durable than he is, but it's with a bit of sadness that I note that Greer's last useful full year in the bigs was 1999. I still remember that 1996 Strat card fondly, because who doesn't like having a #2 hitter who gets on base, hits for power, and doesn't kill you with a whole lot of GBAs? I guess it should surprise nobody if I note that a lot has changed since then. I do miss my old face-to-face table league I was in back in Chicago, although after a few too many titles, I suspect that it had grown tired of me. Regardless, I'm hoping Greer gets a look-see somewhere.

And Jordan? Isn't he ready to be a Giant already? He's old enough, and his usefulness is doubtful enough… it's either there, or with one of the teams fascinated with former football players. A Devil Ray, perhaps?

CHICAGO CUBS Return to Top

Declined their $11 million option on Moises Alou for 2005. [10/28]

Exercised their $2 million option on RHP Ryan Dempster for 2005. [10/29]

Signed SS-B Neifi Perez to a one-year contract. [11/5]

The hope here is that Dempster's deal is intended for his potential development into the staff's closer or co-closer with LaTroy Hawkins, in what might make for a nifty bullpen. Of course, getting Todd Wellemeyer into action a little more often and finding some way to get Kyle Farnsworth back on track would make things even better. The downside? Dempster could join Joe Borowski on the Expensive Mistake Scrapheap at the back end of the roster. A couple of million here and there, and even the big spenders can bleed themselves dry with their misjudgments. After all, beyond Borowski, they've got Neifi to endure. That's going to be hard to live with if the Cubs screw up their off-season and don't find a fix at shortstop.

However, I think it's worth giving Jim Hendry the benefit of the doubt; this shouldn't be a winter like 1999, when Andy MacPhail punted his opportunity to ink Robin Ventura. (Reheating Gary Gaetti after waiting out his passing through waivers the year before was apparently so much more appetizing. Ahem.) Far more troubling is the potential teardown of the outfield, without necessarily getting anything. Letting Alou go at that price is sensible enough, but if the Cubs really are stuck on finding a speed guy for center and trading Sosa, this team could go from merely mediocre to downright bad offensively in very short order.

CINCINNATI REDS Return to Top

Exercised their $8.5 million option on 1B-L Sean Casey for 2006. [10/29]

Activated OF-L Ken Griffey Jr. and RHPs Josh Hall and D.J. Mattox from the 60-day DL. [11/2]

Declined their $1.925 million option on LHP Gabe White for 2005; released RHP Josh Hall. [11/3]

Casey was fourth in the league in VORP among NL first basemen, so the Reds need to secure this sort of guy, right? Well, keep in mind what was being exercised here: Casey was already locked up for 2005. So now he's locked up through 2006, courtesy of his first really good year in the last four. He'll be 31 in 2005. He can only play first base, and he's not one known for his skilled leatherwork or his tremendous power. Is this really the best way for this team to be spending its money? Or is it another example of putting the team on the field that Carl Lindner wants to see? Sure, the guy owns the whole shebang, but if the Reds want to ever mount a serious challenge instead of feverishly embracing this new philosophy of being the Little Engine That Couldn't (But Flirted Very Enthusiastically With 'Could'), Casey's a temporary luxury they might have thought twice about affording. If picking up his option is supposed to silence the public howling over Barry Larkin's departure, I suppose this is the warm fuzzy move, but it won't be enough, nor does it give GM Dan O'Brien all that much wiggle room in trying to assemble a pitching staff this year or next.

COLORADO ROCKIES Return to Top

Activated RHP Jason Young and OF-L Cory Sullivan from the 60-day DL. [10/27]

Announced that the club and OF-L Jeromy Burnitz have mutually declined their mutual options for 2005. [10/28]

Activated OF-R Preston Wilson, RHP Aaron Cook, and LHP Denny Neagle from the 60-day DL. [11/4]

Can we blame Burnitz? Any time exposed to this organization has to leave anybody shaking their heads, wondering how things will ever get straightened out. It's a pity, because there's an easily mobilized, willfully enthusiastic fanbase slowly growing disenchanted with the franchise's preference for drifting over direction.

FLORIDA MARLINS Return to Top

Agreed to terms with 3B-R Mike Lowell on a revised deal through 2007. [10/29]

So dies what was a pretty crafty 'wedge' contract, killing off the whole brinksmanship angle as far as daring the people of Miami to build a stadium for Jeff Loria and his cronies. As inducements towards an expensive, peacefully park'd future go, it might not have been particularly plausible, what with Lowell saying he preferred the security and staying close to home. After all, these sorts of dares can be expensive, while not actually guaranteeing their desired result. I suppose some qualities are so French they transcend state, and are instead a state of mind. In this case, fortune might favor the bold, but it also appears to favor the poseur. If the Marlins are to get a ballpark, it'll be because it gets done the old-fashioned way, with backroom bartering and plenty of pork, and not out of a PR-minded quest to assign guilt over losing ballplayers.

HOUSTON ASTROS Return to Top

Exercised their $3 million option on OF-R Craig Biggio for 2005; declined their $9 million option on 2B-R Jeff Kent for 2005. [10/28]

Is Biggio worth $3 million at this late date? He's a left fielder who makes Lonnie Smith look smooth, and offensively, he makes a heck of a formerly famous second baseman. He's a below-average hitter for left according to Equivalent Average, so the Astros are paying for history, nostalgia, some measure of durability, or a mutual sense of loyalty, none of which helps them build on this year's whirlwind finish. I guess this is the Hamburger Helper theory of player acquisition: you know what you're getting, it's OK as these things go, and it beats racking your brain and trying to conjure up an alternative when other elements of the menu are in doubt.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS Return to Top

Re-signed 2B/3B-L Matt Erickson to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [10/27]

Re-signed C-L Mark Johnson to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [11/9]

MONTREAL EXPOS Return to Top

Released RHP Rocky Biddle. [11/8]

Consider this the carpetbagger's initial good deed, as new GM Jim Bowden settles for a small stroke for his first bit of roster management running the Franchise Formerly Known As Expo (and certain to have a logo in time for Christmas shopping season). Biddle was arbitration-eligible, but Bowden sniffed out a fungible roster fungus as certain as he'll go snout-first into the free agent market looking for bargain-basement truffles. Sometimes, something turns up, but these days, there's a lot more competition for the muck to sift through. Minor league free agents, waiver claims, retreads, Rule 5 draftees...everybody's doing it.

So why Bowden? For him, the job is about freshening up his resume after long ago dropping off of the 'bright young thing' list for front office execs. It'll take more than his usual self-confident slickery to transcend an earned rep as a contemporary blend of Frank Lane and day trader. Hopefully, he'll spare his new employer such dramatic flourishes as handing out big league contracts to top picks (how did Dane Sardinha work out, anyway? Oh, right), but let's face it, when it comes to roster moves, Bowden has and will try anything once. Thrill-seeking acquisition behavior will do plenty for creating buzz in D.C. initially, but a true transactions addict can play out a franchise by staying in place long enough.

If the Ex-Expos are to have hope, it'll come in one of two flavors: either Bowden's stay will be short, or he'll demonstrate that he learned something from his experiences in Cincinnati. There's not a lot of hope where the latter's concerned, perhaps surprising if you give him credit for working with Davey Johnson and Jack McKeon.

Consider his managerial hires, especially as we look forward to the upcoming meetings Bowden will have with Frank Robinson. On Bowden's watch, there was the quick flub with Tony Perez, repaired by grabbing Johnson, followed by another misstep with Ray Knight, repaired by turning to McKeon, followed by another ill-considered choice in Bob Boone. Although it's hard to get a sense of whether or not Johnson could have been preserved from one of the various flavors of Marge Schott's bigotry, it never appeared that Bowden spent much capital protecting one of the game's best managers from his master's foibles. Even if you chalk up the Perez imbroglio as a youthful indiscretion, you're left with the guy who then created unnecessary drama with the screw-up that left Ron Oester hired and then not so hired to manage the Reds for 2001. You're left with a guy who freely picked Knight and Boone, two of our generation's finest examples of clubhouse generalship as Superfund site. If there's a learning curve in operation there, I don't see it.

Then there's the question of his genius with problem-solving and shopping. I touched on this in this past season's edition of the Prospectus. Faced with the very basic need to assemble a rotation, Bowden failed time and again to find adequate solutions, instead settling for wishful thinking, starting with Pete Harnisch, but also involving Jimmy Haynes, Ryan Dempster, and a cast of dozens. Rather than turn over modest successes, Bowden instead got more and more unrealistic as the years passed. Most of his turnover started to look like turnover for its own sake, smacking of indecisiveness at best, but more likely representing something less than his once-vaunted reputation for having a clever knack for finding talent.

Finally, there's his announced shopping list this winter. The good news? So far, it looks like he has the sense to let Tony Batista walk, but his interest in Vinny Castilla has been telegraphed early and often. The other not-so-good news? He thinks he needs a right fielder on a roster crammed with too many outfielders. He knows he needs help on the left side of the infield, but the danger is that he won't leave space for Brendan Harris or Maicer Izturis or Josh Labandeira. Credulous reporting has him mulling offers for Endy Chavez, instead of recognizing Chavez as scrap.

Since he's working on short time with an uncertain future, given his ambition and his track record, aspiring fans of the UnExpos should worry about Bowden's need to make a splash and how that will not be the same thing as the organization's need to get back in the business of being an actual franchise. Looking at his past, I can't say I'm optimistic that Bowden will achieve anything beyond refreshing his own celebrity.

NEW YORK METS Return to Top

Outrighted RHPs Grant Roberts and Jose Parra to Norfolk. [11/9]

SAN DIEGO PADRES Return to Top

Acquired LHP Darrell May and RHP Ryan Bukvich from the Royals for OF-L Terrence Long, RHP Dennis Tankersley and cash. [11/8]

Interesting. It's a win-now move with decent upside for May and some hope for Bukvich, balanced against the possibility that Tankersley could turn into a rotation regular. I'm not sure it's the best they could have gotten for Tankersley if they're really convinced they couldn't iron out his case of the yips, but he's acquired a certain stigma, and until he pulls a Bielecki and quashes these doubts, I suppose the doubts eroded a lot of the market for him.

So the upside? May's a decent bet to fit in as a lefty at the tail end of the rotation, he's not wildly expensive, and take him out of the DH league and put him in Petco, and he might turn in a heck of a year. In terms of what it costs you, you dump an expensive, mediocre fourth outfielder, and a talented young pitcher who annoys the bejeezuz out of you. Yes, there's a chance Tankersley could come back to haunt you, so you get yourself your own inconsistent flamethrower thrown into the back end to grease the deal. Bukvich could end up looking pretty valuable, and if he comes with warts of his own (control, durability), he is just the throw-in.

The deal also makes room for Xavier Nady to stick as an outfield reserve at the very least, which should be an upgrade on Long. As is, they're contractually committed to the trio of Brian Giles, Ryan Klesko, and Jay Payton for 2005, but they'll look to make some snappy deals, clearing the way for a better gloveman in center as well as some additional time for Nady. Certainly, Long was no prize, more the unfortunate rider that it took to get Ramon Hernandez.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS Return to Top

Exercised their 2005 options on OF-R Marquis Grissom ($2.5 million), 1B-L J.T. Snow for 2005 ($2 million), and RHP Brett Tomko ($2.5 million); declined their $3.25 million option on LHP Jason Christiansen for 2005; re-signed SS-R Deivi Cruz to a one-year contract. [11/3]

Whew, thank some god or another. I mean, the Giants nearly lost out on an opportunity to keep together a good chunk of last year's supporting cast on a team that didn't win. Only a decisive commitment to keeping Barry Bonds out of the postseason for the rest of his life on this mortal coil prevented any serious exploration of the existence of other major league hitters who play first base or the outfield, that and the modest price tags of several semi-useful players. I do like the Tomko deal, if only because it's not easy to get a pretty average starting pitcher for $2.5 million. But Grissom's going to be 38, and Snow 37. Cruz has value if you limit your alternatives to people like Neifi Perez.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS Return to Top

Exercised their $2 million option on RHP Chris Carpenter for 2005. [11/5]

Carpenter's contract comes with significant performance bonuses, but to hear some in St. Louis squawk, committing to the initial two million was a major inconvenience. 'If' being a significant word in this context, if Carpenter's healthy enough to give them similar value to what they got out of him this year, he's more than worth the investment.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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