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February 14, 2005

Transaction Analysis

Offseason - The Easts

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES Return to Top

Re-signed OF-L B.J. Surhoff to a one-year contract. [12/7]

Acquired INF-R Chris Gomez from the Phillies for cash; signed LHP Steve Kline to a two-year contract. [12/20]

Signed 3B-R Napoleon Calzado, INF-R Eddie Rogers, C-R Sal Fasano, and RHPs Tony Fiore and Marino Salas to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs; re-signed LHP Bruce Chen to a one-year, $550,000 contract. [12/21]

Signed RHP James Baldwin to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/11]

Signed 3B-R Chris Stynes to a minor league contract [1/14]

Re-signed OF-R Luis Matos to a one-year, $1.025 million contract [1/17]

Re-signed RHP Rodrigo Lopez to a one-year, $2.375 million contract; re-signed LHP B.J. Ryan to a one-year, $2.6 million contract; re-signed 2B/OF-R Jerry Hairston Jr. to a one-year, $1.8 million contract; signed C-R Keith McDonald, INF-R Enrique Wilson, and OF-L Midre Cummings to minor league contracts and invited them to spring training. [1/18]

Signed LHP Tony Saunders to a minor league contract with a spring NRI. [1/19]

Designated RHP David Borkowski and LHP Brian Forystek for assignment; signed RHP Steve Reed to a one-year contract with a club option for 2006; purchased the contract of SS-R Chris Gomez from Ottawa. [1/21]

Signed LHP Horacio Estrada to a minor league contract. [2/1]

Acquired RF-R Sammy Sosa from the Cubs for 2B/OF-R Jerry Hairston Jr., 2B-L Mike Fontenot, and RHP Dave Crouthers. [2/2]

There are a few things that getting Sammy Sosa and trading both Hairston and Fontenot represent for the Orioles:

First, that they really want fannies in the seats. The Nationals' success in getting tickets sold may have surprised a lot of people in the industry, particularly those who don't understand how remote Baltimore is from Northern Virginia on a weeknight through Beltway traffic, so this isn't really a cannibalization of a baseball fan base as much as it's the creation of a new, enthusiastic and apparently well-heeled revenue stream. But the Orioles are concerned, and after hitting and missing on free-agent big game, they had to come back with something tied to the hood of the car to show off to the home folks.

Second, the job at second base belongs to Brian Roberts. Period. Exit stage left the other claimants to that particular fiefdom.

Third, they recognized that their outfield problem wasn't the sort of thing they could ignore after last season. Admittedly, with Val Majewski not all that far off, and the experiment of putting Larry Bigbie in center field could place him at a position that can carry his bat while letting B.J. Surhoff, Jay Gibbons and perhaps roster mayfly David Newhan duke it out for at-bats between left and DH until Majewski is ready.

Now, the problem with the third point, as Joe Sheehan has already pointed out so well, is that they didn't acquire Sammy!, they got this Sosa character. They're expecting the former. Sosa is coming in after a perplexing couple of years for him, having seen his fortunes dim from being the only show in town to becoming the regular in-print sparring partner of an equally media-coddled figure, Cubs manager Dusty Baker. Those days that Sammy probably remembers are days that most of us who were there remember equally fondly. One of my all-time favorite in-game memories is the buck I won from Mike Murphy the night that Sammy hit his 40th home run, off of Robb Nen, August 19, 1996 (memories enhanced by the guilty pleasures of Retrosheet). Those were especially grim times in Wrigleyville; Greg Maddux was a Brave, Mark Grace was generally appreciated by a different audience for non-baseball reasons, but Sammy was the regular achiever of feats of strength.

Then came the last two years, the airing of grievances, and the hangover that follows everbody's Festivus experience. Coming to a new town with expectations that they just got themselves the hero of '98, he won't be that lone ray of sunshine, he'll be a healthy Albert Belle, only less so, and not necessarily any more charming. Youth and glory earn their own indulgences from employers and scribbler alike; an embittered middle age is more properly colored by the daily sport of mutual recriminations.

Otherwise, there's not much here to write home about. Kudos to James Baldwin's agent for placing his client someplace that might put him back in the majors as a rotation regular. It's always nice to see ROOGY Steve Reed get work, and I guess we can add the Orioles to the list of teams that have signed Chris Stynes, only to wonder, in a few months, why.

BOSTON RED SOX Return to Top

Claimed RHP Tim Bausher off of waivers from the Rockies. [12/6]

Signed LHP David Wells to a two-year contract. [12/14]

Signed LHP John Halama to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2006. [12/15]

Signed SS-R Edgar Renteria to a four-year, $40 million contract with a club option for 2009. [12/17]

Acquired OF-R Jay Payton, INF-L Ramon Vazquez, RHP David Pauley and $2.65 million from the Padres for OF-L Dave Roberts. [12/20]

Signed OF-Ls Billy McMillon and Simon Pond, OF-R Chip Ambres, RHPs Talley Haines and Kris Wilson, and LHP Jason Kershner to minor league contracts. [12/21]

Signed RHP Matt Clement to a three-year, $25 million contract; signed RHP Wade Miller to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. [12/22]

Re-signed C-B Jason Varitek to a four-year, $40 million contract. [12/24]

Signed RHP Josias Manzanillo to a minor league contract with a spring NRI. [1/5]

Re-signed 1B-R David McCarty to a minor league contract with a spring NRI. [1/8]

Re-signed INF-L Ramon Vazquez to a one-year, $700,000 contract. [1/12]

Re-signed 2B-B Mark Bellhorn to a one-year, $2.7 million contract; re-signed RHP Bronson Arroyo to a one-year, $1.85 million contract. [1/18]

Acquired 1B-L Ian Bladergroen from the Mets for 1B-L Doug Mientkiewicz and cash. [1/26]

Signed INF-Rs Tim Hummel and Dave Berg, RHPs Scott Cassidy, Jeremi Gonzalez, and Jack Cressend, OF-L George Lombard, and 1B/3B/C-R Shawn Wooten to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [2/1]

I'll focus on three things for now, skipping the Varitek deal because it's a PR thing more than a simple dollars move. So let's talk about the rotation, the shortstops, and what looks like a fun bench after a few nifty tweaks.

In a post-Pedro, post-Lowe, post-punk rotation, you can accept that the Sox had to do something, and they did several somethings, all interchangeably likeable because of the plug-and-play alternatives that Theo Epstein and his merry band have created while watching the Yankees throw money at their problems. Clement makes for a less frustrating power/groundball starter than Lowe and a less temperamental top-tier hurler than Martinez. Behind an eventually healthy Schilling and Clement, Jumbo Wells and Wade Miller make excellent mid-rotation starters, giving the Sox a good group to pick from between the two of them, Tim Wakefield and Bronson Arroyo. If worse becomes worst, they even have Halama now for use in spots. Add in taking a worthwhile flyer on Jeremi Gonzalez, and even if both Schilling and Miller have to miss extended periods, the Sox have a rotation good enough to win while the offense clubs the opposition into submission.

In the great shortstop derby, the Sox were players, but for the expense, they may have merely placed and not won. Renteria's defensive rep is overstated, he's at the end of his peak, not the middle of it, and he's not likely to match that .480 slugging percentage he put up in '03 again. There's also the platoon issue, with him having being otherworldly against southpaws but just ordinary against righties the past two years. Given that Renteria is a spray hitter, maybe that'll be less of an issue against right-handed pitchers in Fenway, when he can spatter the Monster with a few hard-hit liners that would simply be lineouts elsewhere. Those gripes aside, it isn't really so terrible to wind up with Renteria, just a way of pointing out that he's not Nomar of old come back, nor is he the defensive whiz of the caliber of Orlando Cabrera.

Finally, the bench. The really sweet move was the Roberts deal, since Epstein got maximum value plus interest. It's easy to flog Jay Payton for what he isn't, which is a good everyday player, but as a replacement for Gabe Kapler and Dave Roberts as the primary outfield reserve, he gives them some of the best features of either: he can run, he can handle all three outfield positions, and he has some power. Add in Vazquez, the practically perfect utility infielder (he bats lefty, hits well, and can play shortstop), and you've got two bench parts others should envy. And getting Dave Pauley too? Pauley might not be a blue chipper, but anybody who can give up a hit per inning pitched and notch 7.5 strikeouts per nine starting in the Lake Elsinore's bandbox is worth notice.

Beyond the Roberts swag, you've got some other nifty pickups: Shawn Wooten makes a sweet 25th man, and Dave Berg a functional infield reserve. Chip Ambres' blue might have faded off of his blue-chip prospect status from his days in the Marlins organization, but he just turned 25, and after hitting .241/.352/.449 in the Southern League (with 26 steals in 35 attempts), he's worth a flyer to see if there's more to come. Add in a pretty sweet group of NRIs likely to staff your usual veteran-laden PawSox squad, and it's been a good winter in Boston. Beyond the obvious reasons, of course.

NEW YORK YANKEES Return to Top

Acquired LHP Mike Stanton and $975,000 from the Mets for LHP Felix Heredia; re-signed C-R John Flaherty to a one-year contract; acquired RHP Felix Rodriguez from the Phillies for OF-L Kenny Lofton and $1.525 million. [12/3]

Signed 2B-L Tony Womack to a two-year, $4 million contract; re-signed RHP Tanyon Sturtze to a one-year contract. [12/21]

Agreed to terms with DH-B Ruben Sierra on a one-year, $1.5 million contract. [1/8]

Signed 2B/SS-R Rey Sanchez to a one-year, $600,000 contract. [1/23]

Signed OF-Rs Doug Glanville and Damian Rolls to a minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/27]

Signed catchers C-Rs Joe Depastino, Ryan Hankins, and David Parrish, C-Ls Jon-Mark Sprowl and Irwil Rojas, 2B-R Homer Bush, INF-R Russ Johnson, OF-L Colin Porter, OF-Rs Mike Vento and Noah Hall, RHPs Aaron Small and Marc Valdes, and LHP Danny Borrell to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/28]

There's something very reminiscent of those late-'70s and early-'80s Yankees here, because they really do seem to want to get by on fumes and a rotation upon which much money has been spent. Those Yankees lurched from Ken Holtzman to Andy Messersmith, Luis Tiant to Jim Kaat, Rudy May or Gaylord Perry, Rick Reuschel or Doyle Alexander. If you had ever had a good season on this planet, the Yankees were going to get you and spit you out. Of course, they did get Dave Righetti from the Rangers during that same stretch, so it wasn't all bleak, but let's face it, Tanyon Sturtze is no Dave Righetti. Hell, he may not even be Doug Bird.

Of course, the other goofy thing about those Yankees, or the Mantle dynasty, was that they weren't known for their great hitters at first base. Guys like Moose Skowron or Chris Chambliss were good, not great, but they were Yankees on Yankee winners, and that's fame. So there's something appropriate about winding up with Tino Martinez again, since he's a similar player in terms of his consistent adequacy (happy memories of '97 aside). Okay, I admit, that isn't really fair to Skowron, since he was a better player in his Pinstriped period than El Tiño or Chambliss.

But on a related note, it's easy to recall that this is also the franchise of Bobby Richardson and Horace Clarke, and on that level, the new answer at second fits in pretty nicely. The pity of Tony Womack is that he's exactly the sort of thing that getting by with Miguel Cairo for a year might think you can get away with. Settling for less shouldn't have to be an organizational rule.

The funny problem is not whether or not the Yankees have an awful bench, again, it's whether it's made up of players notable enough that Joe Torre might actually use them. Doug Glanville and Rey Sanchez aren't the worst guys to have on your bench, any more than John Flaherty, but they're basically three gray gloves. For the franchise that gave us Sammy Byrd ("Babe Ruth's Legs"), you'd think they'd remember the value that a pair of fresh, happy feet can provide.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS Return to Top

Acquired C-R Kevin Cash from the Blue Jays for RHP Chad Gaudin. [12/12]

Signed LHP Joe Beimel, 1B/3B-R Earl Snyder, RHPs Tim Corcoran and Jimmy Haynes, 2B-R Luis Ordaz, OF-R Damon Hollins, and 1B-L Steve Cox to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/14]

Re-signed RHP Rob Bell to a one-year, $800,000 contract; signed 3B-R Brandon Larson, OF-R Brian Buchanan, and C-R Tim Laker to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/17]

Signed LHP Mark Guthrie to a minor league contract. [1/12]

Signed OF-R Danny Bautista to a one-year contract. [1/13]

Signed 2B-B Roberto Alomar to a one-year contract. [1/17]

Designated C-L Pete LaForest for assignment. [1/18]

Signed OF-R Marty Cordova, OF-L Dee Brown, UT-R Shane Halter, and RHP Brian Sweeney to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/19]

Placed OF-L Josh Hamilton on the restricted list. [1/21]

Signed OF-L Chris Singleton to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; outrighted C-L Pete LaForest to Durham. [1/24]

Designated RHP John Webb for assignment. [1/25]

Signed RHP Hideo Nomo to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/27]

Signed SS-R Julio Lugo to a one-year, $3.35 million contract; signed C-R Toby Hall to a one-year, $1.95 million contract. [1/28]

Signed RHP Jesus Colome to a one-year, $600,000 contract. [2/1]

As much as I'm inclined to agree with my friend and colleague Stuart Shea, that Tampa Bay is baseball's answer to the French Foreign Legion, let's face it, la légion wasn't a tax shelter for the essentially used-up. Jimmy Haynes? Roberto Alomar? This isn't the Foreign Legion, it's that wacky pack of gun-toting good-time charlies who knocked over the Comoros back in the day. I'm surprised there isn't a movie about it, and no, Revenge of the Nerds 2: Bay of Pigs Beach Blanket Bingo does not count. I suppose Chris Singleton makes for a notional alternative in center field while Rocco Baldelli recuperates, but the difference between who has a good camp and who doesn't won't translate into something that'll make up the margin between Singleton and the Joey Gathrights of this world. Let's face it, anybody who feels 70 wins is something to brag about is somebody who hasn't really earned a brag yet, especially when there's no guarantee you can do it again.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS Return to Top

Acquired 2B/SS-R John McDonald from the Indians for a PTBNL; signed 2B-R Frank Menechino to a one-year, $650,000 contract with an option for 2006. [12/2]

Claimed RHP Steve Andrade off waivers from the Angels. [12/6]

Acquired RHP Chad Gaudin from the Devil Rays for C-R Kevin Cash. [12/12]

Signed 3B-L Corey Koskie to a three-year, $17 million contract with an option for 2008. [12/14]

Signed LHP Scott Downs to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. [12/16]

Re-signed SS-R John McDonald to a one-year, $400,000 contract; outrighted RHP Steve Andrade to Syracuse; re-signed RHP Justin Speier to a two-year, $4.15 million contract. [12/20]

Re-signed C-B Gregg Zaun to a one-year contract. [1/5]

Signed RHP Billy Koch to a one-year, $900,000 contract; signed C-R Ken Huckaby and RHP Pete Walker to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/10]

Signed LHP Scott Schoeneweis to a two-year, $5.2 million contract. [1/11]

Acquired 1B/3B-R Shea Hillenbrand from the Diamondbacks for RHP Adam Peterson. [1/12]

These are the moves of a team crafting what I'd call a contingent season, where you go into it knowing you won't win, so you spend the winter talking about "sending a message," when what you're really doing is assembling a team you can either build up from if you get lucky, or tear down quickly and chalk up as another hash mark in a lengthy rebuild.

Shea Hillenbrand? So much for performance analysis. At best, he's flipworthy, but the odds of his putting up BOB numbers in the junior circuit makes for a dicey proposition, and Hobsonian defense isn't an argument about Leviathan, it's stone hands and kickstops. So your infield corners and DH slot are manned by some combination of Hillenbrand and Corey Koskie and Eric Hinske, all of which might have been pretty sweet-sounding three or four years ago. It makes for an opening "solution" to the question about what to do when your Carlos Delgado goes away, but it should also mean that opportunities will come in-season for John Hattig or Eric Crozier or Gabe Gross.

More mysterious is whatever it is that the Jays are supposed to get out of Scott Schoeneweis. If he's supposed to be a reliever, that's a good chunk of change to have spent on a lefty who won't leverage all that many more eighth inning opportunities into games won than a lot of other lefties you find drifting around in January and February. I do like the low-risk risks taken on checking out Billy Koch and Pete Walker and particularly Scott Downs, because there isn't that much at stake, and any or all of them could turn into assets. I also like getting Gaudin for Cash (Kevin, not cold), since whatever the worries about short right-handers, Gaudin's track record of success in the minors just needs leavening at Triple-A before he's ready to rise to the majors. And I have a sneaky suspicion that Ken Huckaby's back for nothing more than his popularity, not that that's evil, but out of such considerations are pensions earned when you belong to the International Brotherhood of Backup Catchers.

And what message is it that 73 or 75 wins is supposed to send, anyway?

ATLANTA BRAVES Return to Top

Re-signed 1B-R Julio Franco to a one-year, $1 million contract. [12/9]

Acquired RHP Danny Kolb from the Brewers for RHP Jose Capellan and a PTBNL. [12/11]

Re-signed RHP John Smoltz to a two-year contract with a club option for 2007; acquired RHP Tim Hudson from the Athletics for RHP Juan Cruz, LHP Dan Meyer, and OF-L Charles Thomas; acquired RHP Jorge Vasquez from the Royals for OF/C-R Eli Marrero and cash. [12/16]

Signed LHP Gabe White on a one-year, $600,000 contract. [1/6]

Signed OF-B Esix Snead to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/9]

Signed OF-R Raul Mondesi to a one-year, $1 million contract. [1/14]

Signed RHP Chris Reitsma to a one-year, $1.85 million contract; signed SS-B Rafael Furcal to a one-year, $5.6 million contract. [1/17]

Signed OF-L Roosevelt Brown, RHP Adam Bernero, C-R Carlos Mendez to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs; signed OF-R Brian Jordan to a one-year contract. [1/19]

Signed 2B-R Marcus Giles to a one-year, $2.35 million contract. [1/20]

Signed RHP Kevin Gryboski to a one-year, $877,500 contract; signed RHP Jay Powell to a minor league contract. [1/27]

Put these moves in the context of what talent has come off of the roster, and you have another bold Schuerholz winter, but this is one where the gambles may not be enough to fend off an increasingly competitive division.

Keep in mind, I'm a big Huddy fan, and it's easy to see where I think that the Braves have helped themselves by letting Russ Ortiz walk, and it's wise to anticipate that Jaret Wright's lightning can't stay in the bottle. After letting Wright and Ortiz skedaddle, the Braves were down to Mike Hampton and John Thomson; interchangeably useful, but also not among the league's best starters. So an ace was an obvious need, and Oakland's shopping the Big Three made them an obvious prospective partner. Hudson is even someone who played his college ball in the rebel red Southeast. There are the whispers that Hudson might go all Kelly Downs on us if he goes back to the splitter, a pitch that will apparently give him grief if he relies on it heavily, but theoretically, that's the sort of problem Leo Mazzone is supposed to be able to work with, so we'll see.

To fill the other rotation slot, the Braves did an even bolder thing, deciding to give John Smoltz his fondest wish and let him take his chances returning to the rotation. Unlike other moves like this, with Goose Gossage or Craig Lefferts, Smoltz has been a brilliant starter and reliever, but I'm not so sure if, like Eck, this isn't one of those ideas that needed to be shelved forever once you'd made him a reliever, because there's still the concern that his arm can't withstand the strain. Is it worth it? It's hard to take Kolb seriously, especially after his second-half pratfall; giving up Capellan for him was giving up too much. But for all that's been said about Leo Mazzone, the Braves haven't really been in the business of breaking in young starters the last decade or so, so you can understand if, like Bruce Chen before them, talents as well-regarded as Meyer or Capellan might make for better bargaining chips now, before the blush comes off.

The real question is what Plan B will be when Kolb falters. Given that closers can be conjured up easily enough, just as Kolb was, but picking one or trading for another could be an in-season distraction, what with the howling I think we can all expect from closer-fixated members of the chattering class, or accounting-minded fant-heads.

Which leaves the real gamble here: that they have the offense able to carry both risks in the rotation. By Equivalent Average, the Braves had the fifth-best attack in the National League last year, but there were a few outlandishly and unexpectedly good seasons involved. Does anyone expect Johnny Estrada to find last season's magic fairy dust in this season's makeup? That's before having to deal with replacing J.D. Drew (and even Charles Thomas and Eli Marrero), and Raul Mondesi and Brian Jordan don't seem likely to fill that bill. Jordan is an inspiration and all that, but inspiring and fragile doesn't paper over a slowing bat. Mondesi is sort of like the bizarro world edition of Reggie Sanders: noisy, unreliable and not much of an asset in a lineup or in the field. Having dealt Thomas and Marrero, this could mean an expanded role for Ryan Langerhans, which isn't a bad thing, but the Braves might have to live with a lot of bad stuff from Jordan and Mondesi before they turn to him. They could also bring up Bill McCarthy this year, and it's always possible that Jeff Francouer will be ready later on, so this will be an outfield in transition.

Will the Braves score enough runs to cover up for a pitching staff every bit as much in flux? That's the gamble, and if they could afford it in years gone by, it's going to be harder this year, now that the Marlins and Phillies and Mets all take themselves seriously.

FLORIDA MARLINS Return to Top

Signed RHP Ryan Cameron to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/7]

Signed LHP Al Leiter to a one-year contract. [12/8]

Signed RHP Todd Jones, to a one-year, $1.1 million contract; almost signed RHPAntonio Alfonseca, to a two-year, $4.75 million contract. [12/10]

Signed C-R Mike DiFelice, LHP Chad Bentz, and INF-B Wilson Delgado to minor league contracts with spring NRIs; signed RHPAntonio Alfonseca to a one-year, $300,000 contract with an option for 2006. [12/17]

Outrighted RHP Mike Neu to Albuquerque. [12/20]

Signed RHP John Riedling to a one-year, $750,000 contract; re-signed RHP Ismael Valdez to a one-year contract. [1/5]

Re-signed LHP Matt Perisho to a one-year, $475,000 contract. [1/10]

Re-signed C-R Paul Lo Duca to a three-year, $18 million contract. [1/12]

Re-signed RHP Tim Spooneybarger to a one-year, $350,000 contract; resigned RHP Guillermo Mota to a one-year, $2.6 million contract; re-signed RHP A.J. Burnett to a one-year, $3.65 million contract. [1/17]

Signed RHP Josh Beckett to a one-year, $2.4 million contract. [1/18]

Signed 1B-L Carlos Delgado to a four-year, $52 million contract with an option for 2009. [1/25]

Designated RHP Kevin Cave for assignment; signed RHP Jim Mecir to a one-year contract. [2/2]

For all of the noise, at the end of the day we've got two real moves to talk about: signing Leiter and signing Delgado. The bullpen moves haven't really yielded a better unit, Ismael Valdez seems likely to remain a cipher, and while Wilson Delgado can be a useful utility infielder, he won't be a great one.

So Leiter first…in a sense, he's sort of the poor man's lefty version of Pedro Martinez, which is admittedly a pretty tortured comparison, but hear me out. Like Martinez, he used to be better than he is now, and he's managed to take all of his turns in the rotation only once in the last four years. In a rotation that's built around the young trio of Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Dontrelle Willis, if you want to contend, it makes sense to add a marquee veteran, especially with Carl Pavano having priced himself out of Marlindom. Considering that Leiter, Burnett and Beckett all come into the season with durability issues, the question is whether the Marlins can cover 162 games without having to hand something like 20 starts to sixth or seventh options. Probable fifth starter Valdez isn't a workhorse either, and when the sixth or seventh options are guys like Frank Castillo, Travis Smith or Scuffy Moehler, it's easy to see how the Marlins pitching might undermine their shot at contention.

As for Delgado, it's a pretty good move, and as has been discussed, a creative one. At first glance, a lineup core of Delgado, Mike Lowell, Paul Lo Duca and Miguel Cabrera looks pretty good. It gets a little less sunny when you consider that Lo Duca is 33 and Lowell 31, and that with the financial packages that Delgado, Lowell, LoDuca and even someone like Luis Castillo have, the Fish aren't exactly flexible if anybody doesn't have a really good season. It isn't like Juan Encarnacion or Jeff Conine can ride to the rescue.

The Fish have the talent to contend, but their bid on contention is as fragile as that talent is. Things could work out, but it's dependent on an awful lot of ifs.

NEW YORK METS Return to Top

Acquired LHP Felix Heredia from the Yankees for LHP Mike Stanton and $975,000; signed RHP Juan Padilla to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/3]

Signed RHP Pedro Martinez to a four-year, $53 million contract. [12/16]

Claimed OF-L Ron Calloway off of waivers from the Nationals. [12/17]

Re-signed C-R Vance Wilson to a one-year, $760,000 contract. [12/21]

Signed OF-L Kerry Robinson, OF-R Gerald Williams, C-R Ramon Castro, C/UT-R Andy Dominique, 1B-Rs Luis Garcia and Andres Galarraga, 2B-L Marlon Anderson, and RHPs Grant Roberts and Scott Strickland to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/22]

Signed RHPs Manny Aybar and Joe Nelson; signed INF-R Chris Woodward to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/28]

Acquired SS-B Anderson Hernandez from the Tigers for C-R Vance Wilson. [1/5]

Signed LHP Dae-Sung Koo to a one-year contract with a team option for 2006. [1/8]

Re-signed RHP Victor Zambrano to a one-year, $2.1 million contract; signed 2B-R Miguel Cairo to a one-year, $900,000 contract. [1/10]

Signed CF-B Carlos Beltran to a seven-year, $119-million contract. [1/11]

Signed RHP Roberto Hernandez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/18]

Sold the contract of LHP Pedro Feliciano to the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League. [1/21]

Acquired 1B-L Doug Mientkiewicz and cash from the Red Sox for 1B-L Ian Bladergroen. [1/26]

Signed LHP Mike Matthews to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/28]

Signed UT-R Jed Hansen and RHP Eric Junge to minor league contracts; signed LHP Scott Stewart to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/31]

A collective tip of the cap to Omar Minaya, because not only did he make the two big-ticket signature pick-ups this winter by signing Beltran and Martinez, he found the time to assemble a complete major-league bench from among the horde of drifters on the edges of this winter's market. Adding a power-hitting backup catcher who can play the position (Castro) and a trio of useful enough utility infielders (Anderson, Woodward and Cairo) is all to the good. Woodward might have it made, if only because the other infield reserves (including Danny Garcia, Jeff Keppinger and Joe McEwing) can't really play shortstop. The Mets might feel that's less than important, as they could always return Kaz Matsui to short in a pinch. Regardless, if Willie Randolph is willing to use his bench as opposed to ignore it (the Yankee Way), he's got parts to pick from.

The other cool development is the possible first-base platoon. I'm on record as being less than a fully enthusiastic fan of Doug Mientkiewicz, and giving up Ian Bladergroen was an expensive exchange. There is the fun in that having him share time at first with the Big Cat might make for the most unpronounceable platoon since the famous Mulliniorg platoon manned the hot corner in Toronto 20 years ago. Doudres Galarrentkiewicz? Anoug Minkarraga? Vitas Gerulaitis?

With Mike Piazza presumably rooted behind the plate, what options do the Twins have at first? Sticking with rate stats, let's look at projected PECOTAs of the players in play for first base playing time:


Player               AVG  OBP  SLG   MLVr
Doug Mientkiewicz*  .272 .364 .410   .011 (in Boston)
Andres Galarraga    .231 .300 .355  -.209
Eric Valent*        .241 .312 .408  -.110
Craig Brazell*      .252 .284 .421  -.133
Jason Phillips      .260 .336 .399  -.066
Minky is clearly the best of the lot, with the question really being if Galarraga's starring performance in Tony Perez: The Final Years is worth a roster spot. Considering that the Mets could just continue to use Phillips in a swing role, spotting for Mientkiewicz against lefties while backing up Piazza behind the plate, it's going to have to take a lot of sympathy from Minaya to make this spring anything more than a send-off for Galarraga. Keep in mind, the old cat has to fight with a gaggle of backup outfielders (involving luminaries like Ice Williams, Ron Calloway and Kerry Robinson), Valent, and perhaps Ramon Castro for a roster spot. It's hard to know, considering we don't know how Randolph might want to structure his roster. Twelve pitchers? A third catcher? A pinch-runner? A famous former slugger and human interest story?

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES Return to Top

Acquired OF-L Kenny Lofton and $1.525 million from the Yankees for RHP Felix Rodriguez. [12/3]

Claimed RHP Pedro Liriano off of waivers from the Brewers; re-signed C-R Todd Pratt to a one-year, $750,000 contract. [12/6]

Signed RHP Aaron Myette and LHP Mike Bacsik to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs; re-signed LHP Rheal Cormier to a two-year, $5.75 million contract with a $3 million option for 2007. [12/7]

Signed RHP Jon Lieber to a three-year, $21 million contract. [12/8]

Sold INF-R Chris Gomez to the Orioles; signed LHP Aaron Fultz to a one-year, $550,000 contract; sold RHP Aaron Myette to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan; designated C-R Michel Hernandez for assignment. [12/20]

Re-signed RHP Geoff Geary to a one-year, $320,000 contract. [12/21]

Signed RHP Terry Adams to a one-year, $500,000 contract. [1/11]

Signed SS-B Jimmy Rollins to a one-year, $3.85 million contract; signed RHP Vicente Padilla to a one-year, $3.2 million contract; signed INF-R Placido Polanco to a one-year, $4.6 million contract. [1/18]

Claimed RHP Edwin Moreno off of waivers from the Rangers. [1/22]

For the Phillies, is this the rotation that is the shipwreck of all their hopes? Beyond the seemingly permanently tender elbow of Randy Wolf, they're counting on Vicente Padilla and Brett Myers to improve. To add an extra veteran touch, the Phillies are taking an awful chance by relying upon Jon Lieber and Cory Lidle as their big-ticket pickups this winter. Sure, maybe it's a Bert Blyleven sort of thing, where nobody cares how many home runs either of them give up in Philly's homer-prone new home. Maybe the Phillies are counting on seeing lots of right-handed hitting lineups, which would play to Lieber's career-long dominance of right-handed hitters. But that's sort of like Jefferson Davis' unnatural fondness for Braxton Bragg in the face of a different set of circumstances: people don't do the job because you wish they would, but because they have the ability.

Happily, those aren't their only five. In a pinch, Amaury Telemaco can do, and for something more complicated, like a pesky Cory Lidle systems failure, it's easier to patch in that brand new, September-tested Gavin Floyd 1.0. But that's a pretty slim range of options; we get into asking about Pedro Liriano or Mike Bacsik a little too soon. There's always the gambit of pushing Ryan Madson back into a starting role, but that means turning to Geoff Geary, Telemaco and Terry Adams in some high-leverage spots before the eighth inning, and that might be a bit rich for either Ed Wade's or Charlie Manuel's blood. Still, there's a very good chance that one of those initial five guys in that rotation will collapse; whether or not they move Madson could be the number-one issue on Philly sports radio. Well, besides whether they'll lose a couple more Super Bowls to prepare for finally winning one, somebody has to give the Buffalo four-peat a run for its money, don't they?

Part of what makes the Madson decision that much more difficult was the way in which the Phillies elected to "fix" their center-field situation. Dealing Felix Rodriguez isn't the end of the world; relievers can be dug up, after all, as long as you're willing to invest some time in lesser-known quantities. Certainly, acquiring Lofton does look like it gives the Phillies the center fielder and leadoff hitter that they think they need. It could also seem like an overreaction to Marlon Byrd's ugly 2004. Our PECOTA projections do expect him to bounce back .274/.334/.422, with a -.029 MLVr), but his high "Collapse" percentage (31.9%) means that there's a pretty significant risk that he might not snap out of it. So swapping for Lofton might seem defensible, if those were the sole considerations. Unfortunately, Lofton's not projected to do any better: .271/.343/.398, and a -.047 MLVr, with a just as troubling 32.2% Collapse rate. Admittedly, Lofton's relative collapse from his '04 stats would make him the new Milt Thompson, while Byrd's collapse from his 2004 numbers would put him in baseball purgatories like Mexico or Taiwan or Newark.

The missing man in this particular equation is Jason Michaels, a notably better offensive player (he's projected to.265/.355/.443, with a .027 MLVr). There are questions about Michaels' defensive ability, but neither Lofton nor Byrd are Gold Glovers themselves. Platoon considerations shouldn't really enter into it; now that the starting lineup features three lefty regulars (Jim Thome, Bobby Abreu, and Chase Utley), the lineup doesn't lean all that heavily to the right side of the plate. It would be nice to see Michaels get a real shot, but he'll make an outstanding fourth outfielder in the meantime. Just keep that decision in mind if Madson gets moved into the rotation and Wade starts complaining about his need for another reliever.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS Return to Top

Sold the contract OF-R Valentino Pascucci to the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Japanese Pacific League for $300,000. [12/8]

Waived LHP Chad Bentz unconditionally. [12/11]

Designated OF-L Ron Calloway for assignment; signed 1B-R Wil Cordero to a one-year, $600,000 contract; signed OF-R Jeffrey Hammonds to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/13]

Agreed to terms with LHP Joey Eischen on a one-year, $1.04 million contract. [12/19]

Re-signed RHP T.J. Tucker to a one-year, $657,000 contract. [12/20]

Re-signed OF-L Brad Wilkerson to a one-year, $3.05 million contract. [1/5]

Resigned 1B-L Nick Johnson to a one-year, $1.45 million contract. [1/14]

Resigned RHP Tony Armas Jr. to a one-year, $2.26 million contract. [1/16]

Resigned RHP Tomo Ohka a one-year, $2.75 million contract. [1/18]

Signed RHP Esteban Loaiza to a one-year contract; signed RHP Antonio Osuna to a one-year, $800,000 contract; designated RHP Sun Woo Kim and OF-L Brandon Watson for assignment. [1/19]

Signed INF-R George Arias to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/27]

When your happiest move over several months is picking up Esteban Loaiza, you probably can't really call that a good stretch. Admittedly, in the middle of this stretch of time you had MLB's tantrum, where they held their breath until City Councilwoman Linda Cropp blinked, and that really sort of crimped Jim Bowden's style. Loaiza does give them a potential innings muncher with upside, at least as long as memories of 2003 persist. More importantly, it's a worthwhile deal in that it's short and it buys the Nats the opportunity to pick and choose between who's healthy and who's ready from among Tony Armas, Zach Day, Jon Rauch and John Patterson for the last two slots in the rotation. Later in the year, all four might be firing on all cylinders, and Bowden can then flip Loaiza to a needy contender, and hopefully restock a farm system Omar Minaya left stripped bare.

Otherwise, there's some of the dreck and the wacky projects you can usually expect from Bowden. Jeffrey Hammonds and Wil Cordero aren't improvements on Val Pascucci or Ron Calloway, but they are players that Bowden has heard of, and we all know doing your homework is hard. It is sort of cool that they've brought back George Arias after he'd starred years as a Hanshin slugger in the Japanese leagues. Superficially, you can goggle at the 95 home runs he's hit in the last three years, but courtesy of the always ingenious Clay Davenport, here are his translated numbers for 2002-2004:


Year  AVG  OBP  SLG   MLVr
2002 .252 .326 .423  -.064
2003 .248 .325 .411  -.085
2004 .255 .320 .399  -.106
Arias will turn 33 next month to boot, so we aren't even talking about the new Orestes Destrade, we're talking about someone who might have done the job Wil Cordero was brought in to do, just without the personal odium angle.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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