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December 22, 1997

Transaction Analysis

December 15-18

by Christina Kahrl

ANAHEIM ANGELS

Signed C Matt Walbeck to a one-year contract. [12/16]

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Sold the rights to LF Harvey Pulliam to Orix of the Japanese Leagues. [12/17]

Signed RHPs Scott Brow, Greg Hansell, Barry Manuel, and Dave Pavlas to minor league contracts with NRIs to spring training. [12/18]

The D-backs' pitching situation is fluid (to put it nicely). Brow is an ex-Blue Jays suspect who closed in Richmond in '97, and he still got lit up. Hansell, like Brow, has no good breaking stuff but throws a straight fastball and can start and relieve. Manuel has been an effective major league reliever for Felipe Alou, but so have a lot of people, and he has problems with the long ball. He could wind up being a good middle reliever. Pavlas, like many D-backs, has a past association with Buck Showalter from their days in Yankees' organization, and has been an effective reliever with outstanding control for years in AAA. Although he's 35, this could be his big break.

So let me get this straight: Chuck McElroy is worth the purchase price of Harvey Pulliam by the Japanese? And people are afraid of Jerry Colangelo?


ATLANTA BRAVES

Released 1B/OF Tommy Gregg. [12/15]

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Signed LHP Norm Charlton to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/15]

Another bad move from an Orioles team determined to have the best team for 1987. At best, its $350,000 thrown out the window to satisfy a sense of curiosity about how far Charlton has fallen apart. At worst, its an opportunity to lose a half-dozen ballgames in the late innings before giving up and handing the closer's role to Armando Benitez by the All-Star break.

CHICAGO CUBS

Named Leon Lee scouting coordinator for Japan and Korea. [12/18]

Although its been slow in coming, the organization has at last made a gesture towards keeping up with the Joneses (in this case, the Mets, Red Sox, and Dodgers) when it comes to scouting the Far East.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Signed 3B Travis Fryman to a five-year contract with a club option for 2003. [12/15]

Re-signed INF Jeff Manto and C Pat Borders to minor league contracts with NRIs to spring training. [12/17]

Re-signed INF Jeff Branson, LHP Jason Jacome, and RHP Steve Karsay to one-year contracts; signed LHP Rheal Cormier to a minor league contract. [12/18]

The Fryman signing is one of those perplexing "half empty, half full" dilemmas. Just when you think John Hart really is smarter than most of his peers, he's committed an enormous amount of money and playing time to a mediocrity, similar to the big deals for Omar Vizquel and Marquis Grissom. He was able to peddle Grissom before he had to regret the deal, but Fryman is an even worse bet than Vizquel to be useful over the length of his contract. What this really does is snuff hopes that Thome will eventually return to the hot corner, and it signals the likelihood that prospect Russ Branyan will either finally be moved away from third, where he's a menace, or he'll be trade bait.

The rest are re-signings, with two moves deserving comment: signing Rheal Cormier is a worthwhile gamble on a pitching staff increasingly overloaded with worthwhile gambles, which means Buffalo should be the site of many an extended rehab assignment; Jeff Branson's been undersold, but after suffering through the coldest three months of his life while being diddled around by Ray Knight, he came back to life with the Tribe. He has a very good chance of getting a chunk of the playing time at second for the Indians (or platooning with Enrique Wilson), barring further moves from the always-busy Hart.


DETROIT TIGERS

Signed INF Billy Ripken to a minor league contract. [12/16]

With the signings of Bip Roberts (to DH and shuttle around) and now Ripken as a potential utility man, things are looking progressively dim for our man Frank Catalanotto as far as making los Tigres for Opening Day. There are fewer useful things to say about Billy Ripken than useful things he can do.

FLORIDA MARLINS

Traded RHP Kevin Brown to San Diego for RHP Rafael Medina, LHP Steve Hoff, and 1B Derrek Lee; designated RHP Matt Mantei for assignment. [12/15]

Acquired RHP Mark Johnson from Houston to complete the Moises Alou trade. [12/16]

Acquired OF Fletcher Bates and LHP Scott Comer from the Mets for LHP Dennis Cook. [12/18]

The Marlins' rotation is starting to look pretty bleak, but for one year of Kevin Brown's time, Dave Dombrowski has managed to pick up his firstbaseman for the next six years and two interesting pitching prospects. I'm not as high on Medina as some people, because of his fragility, but he did get people buzzing about his AFL stint this winter. Medina should be in the rotation after Al Leiter (if present) and Livan Hernandez, but after that it could be somebody like lefty Dave Pyc (snagged in the minor league portion of the Rule V draft). Hoff is a hard-throwing lefty, but he also got demolished in a late promotion to the California League.

In the other deals, getting the former #1 pick out of the University of Hawaii, Mark Johnson, from the Astros just makes the Alou deal sweeter still. The Mets probably overpaid for Cook, giving up a fine young pitcher out of Oregon in Comer. Fletcher Bates gets mentioned as a prospect, but he's oversold. Being 24 and just making it to AA isn't a good sign, and although he's hit for good power (33 doubles, 13 triples, and 23 HRs in '97), he wasn't playing in tough offensive parks, and he drew only 53 walks on his own in 567 plate appearances.


HOUSTON ASTROS

Re-signed C Tony Eusebio to a one-year contract. [12/17]

Eusebio is a dandy backup, but it will be interesting to see what his role is now that he's no longer Darryl Kile's personal catcher, and how that affects his playing time.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Signed 3B Dean Palmer to a one-year contract with player option for 1999. [12/15]

It's only a one-year deal, so this isn't the worst think Herk Robinson has done lately. What this really does is keep Larry Sutton from moving Jeff King back to third, which means King stays at first as the least-dangerous firstbaseman in the AL.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Signed RHP Tim Scott and CF Ricky Otero to minor league contracts with NRIs to spring training. [12/17]

Tim Scott is a very interesting story: are his failures since being traded from Montreal the result of his health problems, or do they reflect Felipe Alou's skill in handling his relievers? If he's going to bounce back, Chavez Ravine is the place. Getting Ricky Otero must have been intended to satisfy the cantakerous Albuquerque Dukes season ticket holders already clamoring for the return of Chad Fonville.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Signed C Jesse Levis and RHP Jeff Juden to one-year contracts. [12/17]

Re-signed LHP Scott Karl to a three-year contract. [12/18]

Signing Karl through 28 isn't a bad move, although its probably a case where the team feels that after saving the money it was given to spend on Kenny Lofton, they could throw the cash in another direction.

MINNESOTA TWINS

Signed RHP Mike Morgan to a one-year contract with team option for 1999. [12/15]

Acquired 1B Steve Hacker from Atlanta to complete the Greg Myers deal. [12/18]

Morgan is what's left of him, a 38-year old five-inning fifth starter, which on a bad team making itself worse seems ill-advised. What this move does do is give the Twins an extreme groundball pitcher, which busts up a staff that generally works high and generates large numbers of flyouts. On a team with Pat Meares at short, that doesn't exactly bode well for Morgan's success. Hacker is a big slugger who killed the Sally League at 22: 324/370/620 with 33 homeruns, but with 27 unintentional walks in 508 plate appearances.

MONTREAL EXPOS

Acquired RHP Tony Armas Jr. from Boston to complete the Pedro Martinez deal. [12/18]

This turns out to be a much better deal than some people would have you believe, since they were saying that the PTBNL would be the execrable Trot Nixon. Armas has looked good so far, but he has not made the jump to AA yet. In 21 starts this year, he went 10-4 with a 2.81 ERA, coughing up 97 hits and 41 BBs in 115.1 innings, while striking out 99 batters.

NEW YORK METS

Signed P Jae Weong Seo and INF/OF Jae Hwan Seo to minor league contracts. [12/17]

Acquired LHP Dennis Cook from Florida for OF Fletcher Bates and LHP Scott Comer. [12/18]

Steve Phillips apparently had enough of Takashi Kashiwada and Riccardo Jordan, and decided the Mets needed a real lefty reliever. They overpaid for Cook because of his postseason success, but he will be better than Kashiwada or Jordan, and this does free up Joe Crawford for the rotation. The Korean brothers are further proof of how far ahead of the game the Mets (and the Red Sox) are in scouting the Far East; both are said to be locked in to playing in A-ball for '98.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Released OF Pat Lennon. [12/15]

Signed 3B Mike Blowers to a one-year contract. [12/16]

Danger, danger... the bad news here is that Guillermo Frijoles (thats Billy Beane to the rest of you) talked about how Blowers is a middle-of-the-order hitter, and there's a chance that Blowers or a platoon of Magadan and Blowers could squeeze either Bellhorn or Spiezio out of a job. Pat Lennon got caught in a numbers game, again, being moved so that the A's would have roster space for the Rule V draft. If, say, the Expos were to acknowledge how desperate they are for major league hitters, they should snag Lennon now, and let him finally clinch his lot in life as the new Geronimo Berroa.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Signed LHP Billy Brewer to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/15]

Brewer has the inside track on the job of being Bottalico's lefty setup man. Its an acquired taste, and I don't think quinine will make Terry Francona give it up.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Placed LHP Steve Cooke on waivers for the purposes of granting him his unconditional release. [12/16]

Signed OF Turner Ward to a two-year, $1.6M contract. [12/17]

Signed RHPs Tavo Alvarez, Jeff McCurry, and Mike Williams, LHP Steve Burrows, C Julio Vinas, and UT Steve Bieser to minor league contracts. [12/18]

These would be considered bad signs that the Buccos haven't learned from their gains in '97. Turner Ward is exactly the kind of player you don't give more than the major league minimum to keep around. Steve Cooke's release (so that the team could avoid arbitration) could have a non-financial reason for it, since he gave up over five runs per game. But the Pirates' defense was extraordinarily bad, and as an extreme groundballer, Cooke was extremely dependent on it. Although he'll continue to be a health risk, a team with a good infield defense could help itself by picking him up. "Floppy" Alvarez has been an interesting prospect with the Expos, but his constant weight problems have kept him from enjoying any kind of consistent success.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Signed LHP Kent Mercker to a two-year contract with player option for 2000. [12/16]

While the wrangling over Andy Benes' contract gets played out, the Cardinals added some insurance for their rotation or their pen by adding Mercker. With Fossas gone and Honeycutt retired, the Cardinals need portside relief, and with Donovan Osborne a perpetual health risk, they will also need a lefty starter from time to time.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Acquired RHP Kevin Brown from Florida for 1B Derrek Lee, RHP Rafael Medina, and LHP Steve Hoff. [12/15]

Signed RHP Pete Smith to a one-year contract. [12/16]

Gave P Roberto Ramirez a spring training invite; signed a two-year working agreement with Yucatan of the Mexican League. [12/17]

The Pads take a big risk in getting one year of Kevin Brown, but they do it without giving up Matt Clement. Much as I like Derrek Lee, its always easier to find a useful hitter to play at first than anywhere else (unless you get too infatuated for too long with Wally Joyner, but thats a Towers-specific problem), Medina has been unhealthy and inconsistent over his brief career, and Hoff hasn't mastered high A-ball yet. With a lineup built around an old Steve Finley and Ken Caminiti, and an older Wally Joyner and Tony Gwynn, suffice to say the Pads are looking to win now. At the least, Dave Stewart will have a much easier job as pitching coach than he probably expected when he originally took the job. To take the bottom spot in the rotation behind Brown, Ashby, Hamilton, and Hitchcock, the Pad people brought back Pete Smith. He'll never be the Cy Young candidate some overly enthusiastic prognosticators and scouts had him as back during the end of the Reagan era, but its enough that he can still be a useful contributor.

SEATTLE MARINERS

Signed C Rick Wilkins to a one-year contract; released 2B Brent Gates and OF Lee Tinsley. [12/15]

Signed LHP Tony Fossas and INF/OF/hominid Pat Listach to one-year contracts; designated OF Decomba Conner for assignment. [12/16]

I like taking a risk on Rick Wilkins, but if you're worried about costs (and Woody Woodward is griping about being over budget), why sign Wilkins and John Marzano for close to $800,000 combined, to back up Dan Wilson? Fossas has given signs that he's done, having posted a 6.26 ERA after the All-Star break in '97, but keep in mind that's still an improvement on Norm Charlton. I wonder if Peter Gammons will be as agressive in touting Brent Gates' release as he was in his acquisition. Why would any organization put both Pat Listach and Rule V draftee Jeff Huson on its roster? Certainly, the Mariners have one of the most bone-dry farm systems in baseball today, but is picking up bad utility infielders really worth the money and roster spots spent?

TEXAS RANGERS

Signed RHP Terry Clark, LHP Scott Watkins, OFs Warren Newson and Les Norman, and INF Bret Barberie to minor league contracts with NRIs to spring training. [12/16]

Signed 1B/OF Mike Simms to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/17]

Signed INF Domingo Cedeno to a one-year contract. [12/18]

First off, an apology to Rangers' fans: I mistakenly criticized them for losing Mike Bell, when that's a sin that clearly belongs to the Angels in the nifty Matt Perisho swap the Rangers pulled off two months ago. This is a fine group of NRIs to have signed: Newson and Norman would make a fine platoon in an OF corner or at DH; I've always had a soft spot in my heart or head for Mike Simms since his monster season in Asheville; Domingo Cedeno has his limitations afield, but he's solid insurance for Kevin Elster, and his signing should signal that the Rangers will finally pull the trigger on the rumored deal that sends Benji Gil to the White Sox; and Scott Watkins is trying to bounce back from injuries after having a banner season in '95, when he was named the best reliever in the PCL.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Acquired RHP Trevor Shaffer from the Cubs to complete the Sandy Martinez trade. [12/17]

Shaffer was Rockford's closer, racking up 21 saves while showing adequate control of his fastball. He was a bit on the old side for the league, but we're talking about the guy who got Sandy Martinez out of the Jays' organization, so I'm sure Gord Ash will be happy if he can tie his shoes.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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