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August 30, 1999

Transaction Analysis

August 24-27

by Christina Kahrl

ANAHEIM ANGELS

Placed LHP Mike Holtz on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring). [8/25]

It's been a bad year for Holtz all season long, so this is merely the latest piece of bad news for him. Check in next year.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Acquired RHP Juan Aracena and a PTBNL from the Indians for DH Harold Baines; recalled LHP B.J. Ryan from Rochester. [8/27]

Aracena is one of the gems of the Indians' Dominican development program, but he's also been restricted to the dubious role of closing in the Sally League most of the year. Beyond the "give Harold a shot at a ring" aspect of the deal, trading Baines makes sense if the Orioles want to play Calvin Pickering at first base and/or DH, but the way this outfit is run, they'll waste the playing time on Derrick May or Richie Amaral.

BOSTON RED SOX

Acquired LHP Kent Mercker from the Cardinals for C David Benham and LHP Mike Matthews. [8/24]

Optioned RHP Tomokazu Ohka to Pawtucket. [8/25]

There's something sort of pathetic about this move, just as there was something sort of pathetic about acquiring Pete Schourek last year. A useful fifth starter down the stretch is a good thing, after all. The problem is that as mediocre as Mercker has aspired to be for the last couple of years, he could just as easily be Boston's third-best starter instead of their fifth. And Number Two with a bullet is Pat Rapp. All in all, this seems like a wasted gesture, but at least neither Benham or Mattews are top prospects, so this doesn't hurt nearly as much as the Mike Boddicker trade.

CHICAGO CUBS

Acquired LHP Joey Nation from the Braves to complete the Mulholland/Hernandez trade. [8/24]

Activated RHP Rick Aguilera from the DL; outrighted LHP Dan Serafini to Iowa. [8/25]

Optioned RHP Steve Rain to Iowa; recalled RHP Rodney Myers from Iowa. [8/26]

Nation has been highly regarded since being drafted in the second round in 1997, but I'm extremely skeptical of the value of getting a third pitcher in this deal. The organization is desperate for position players who can play baseball, and the focus of their drafts for the past five years has been pitching.

Switching between Rain and Myers seems pointless: Myers will never be more than an adequate mop-up guy, while Rain might eventually grow into a useful setup man. Serafini's demotion is long overdue, but leave it to the Cubs to only lose their patience with him after he goofed up the unintentional intentional walk to Matt Williams in extra innings, losing when Williams laced a double off the ivy. They're focusing on single events to make excuses for moves, rather than coming to terms with their failure to correctly assess, acquire or develop talent.

CINCINNATI REDS

Placed 1B Hal Morris on the 15-day DL (broken wrist); recalled C Jason LaRue from Indianapolis. [8/27]

Morris has been a handy pinch-hitter and spare part this year. In his absence, the team is left with only Michael Tucker for some lefty pinch-hitting. When the right-handed alternatives are guys like Mark Lewis, Jeffrey Hammonds and Chris Stynes, the Reds' bench suddenly looks pretty weak.

LaRue's callup might have been earned after some recent hot hitting at Indy, but the Eddie Taubensee/Brian Johnson platoon has been fine, and LaRue may only get to rot at the end of the bench.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Returned CF Kenny Lofton to the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/16 (strained hamstring); recalled UT Jolbert Cabrera from Buffalo. [8/24]

Signed LHP Jim Poole to a minor-league contract. [8/26]

Acquired DH Harold Baines from the Orioles for RHP Juan Aracena and a PTBNL; placed RHP Steve Karsay on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/25 (strained tendon/forearm); recalled LHP Tom Martin from the Buffalo; designated OF Mark Whiten for assignment; optioned UT Jolbert Cabrera to Buffalo. [8/27]

Picking up Baines is a very interesting move, in that it's an acknowledgment that at this early stage of his career, Richie Sexson isn't such a bad guy to sit down when some especially tough right-handed pitcher is on the mound. It's probably also an acknowledgment that David Justice can use a couple of days off every week. For Baines, it's a nice shot at some postseason exposure, which might end up helping his case with the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee, since I doubt he'll pass muster with the writers.

Perversely enough, losing Karsay may not be such a bad thing for the Tribe in the short run. Chris Haney is probably a better choice to be in the rotation right now than Karsay or Doc Gooden or Mark Langston or a damaged Jaret Wright, while calling up Tom Martin or signing Jim Poole could spell the end of Paul Assenmacher's career.

DETROIT TIGERS

Returned poikilotherm Gregg Jefferies to the 15-day DL (dizzying riches); activated OF Bobby Higginson from the DL. [8/24]

Acquired OF Jerry Amador from the Mariners as the second PTBNL in the Brian Hunter trade. [8/26]

Higgy's return gives the Tigers a fifth guy capable of posting an OBP somewhere near the league average. That's still far from adequate, but "far from adequate" describes the Tigers from top to bottom.

FLORIDA MARLINS

Released C Jorge Fabregas. [8/26]

Recalled C Ramon Castro from Calgary. [8/27]

The long-anticipated callup of Castro was not overdue, since he hasn't been killing the PCL this year, especially when you consider he's been hitting in Calgary (.258/.307/.450, with 15 home runs). Coming down to the thick air of Miami, he won't hit a ton anytime soon. His glovework still wins rave reviews, so on that level the Marlins won't be missing Charles Johnson.

Fabregas has been useless this year (.206/.289/.309 only looks good if Mike Matheny's been haunting your franchise lately), so an outright release is appropriate. He has to be cursing his misfortune that the Cubs already have Jeff Reed, while he isn't old enough to be an Oriole just yet.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Placed OF Glen Barker on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/25 (strained oblique); purchased the contract of OF Ryan Thompson from New Orleans. [8/27]

This isn't exactly a major setback, other than robbing Larry Dierker of a pinch-runner. Yes, Barker had a .360 OBP in garbage time, but that would have wilted with regular playing time.

Calling up Thompson is pretty handy. Carl Everett is good for center field, and while they're experimenting with Craig Biggio in left field once in awhile, they're basically looking at Matt Mieske, Lance Berkman and Darryl Ward. Since Berkman and Ward are workmanlike at best in the outfield corners, Thompson gives Dierker a right-handed bat to mix with them (Berkman switch-hits, and Ward's a lefty). He can still go get the ball well, and he also has the advantage (over Barker, at least) of being relatively fresh from playing full-time (.309/.369/.495 with 16 home runs for New Orleans). Sure, he isn't the ideal replacement, but he has his uses.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Placed 2B Carlos Febles on the 15-day DL (dislocated pinky); recalled INF Steve Scarsone from Omaha. [8/24]

Placed RHP Dan Reichert on the 15-day DL (non-displaced crack/elbow); recalled LHP Tim Byrdak from Omaha. [8/25]

Febles' constant injury problems should be a source of concern. He's a very good glove at second base right now. If you're the Royals, you can't help but get caught up in dreams of how his combination of speed, power and patience could be a central component of your team's offense for the next decade.

But the variety of nagging injuries have to send up a bit of a warning signal: second base is a physically demanding position where a young player can see his future disappear pretty quickly. Not every talented young second baseman can withstand an early injury bug to come back, like Tony Phillips. Here's hoping Febles' problems don't become chronic.

Losing Reichert for the season is one of those "just as well" sort of things. He's going to be on the short list for next year's rotation anyway, he was coming around, and this season doesn't mean much unless you're interested in bragging about finishing ahead of the Tigers. In his absence, the Royals can take the time to find out why Mac Suzuki is even on the big league roster, and one or two bad starts later, decide there are probably better ways to use that roster space.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Purchased the contract of RHP Hector Ramirez from Louisville; placed C Bobby Hughes on the 15-day DL (strained elbow). [8/24]

MONTREAL EXPOS

Released RHP Bobby Ayala; recalled RHP Guillermo Mota from Ottawa.[8/27]

An interesting decision, in that superficially Ayala has been a relatively effective setup man for much of the season. A 3.68 ERA looks good nowadays, after all. But you count up those unearned runs, and he's giving up almost five runs per nine, so he hasn't exactly been a neo-Nasty Boy. On top of that, he's done a poor job of preventing inherited runners from scoring. He'll still probably get picked up by a team that can use the help in the pen (Red Sox? A's? Cubs?).

Mota was reserved for mop-up situations during his earlier stint with the Expos, but it's interesting that the Expos aren't strictly evaluating their pen in terms of ERA, but instead are working on carrying the guys they think they can use both now and into the future.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Activated C Ramon Hernandez from the DL; optioned C A.J. Hinch to Vancouver. [8/27]

Hernandez's return gives the A's their best catcher back, as well as some desperately needed help against lefty pitching. Unfortunately, Mike Macfarlane wasn't prepared to have or be diagnosed with an injury: he's been worthless this year, while Hinch has been coming around over the last couple of weeks.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Returned LHP Jason Christiansen to the 15-day DL (cervical strain); recalled LHP Jeff Wallace from Nashville. [8/24]

Acquired RHP Jason Boyd from the Diamondbacks to complete the Tony Womack trade. [8/25]

Christiansen's down, as expected, which gives Jeff Wallace an early return.

Boyd throws hard, and was having a decent if unspectacular year for Tucson (4.52 ERA, pitching in almost every role, but mostly in middle relief), but with all of the blather about how Tony Womack is such a "great leadoff hitter," Pirates fans might have expected more. I wouldn't sweat it; Womack might be the worst leadoff hitter on a division winner since Omar Moreno.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Traded LHP Kent Mercker to the Red Sox for C David Benham and LHP Mike Matthews; recalled RHP Larry Luebbers from Memphis. [8/24]

This is the point at which the Cardinals could realize that the difference between Kent Mercker and Larry Luebbers in terms of quality of pitching is negligible, especially in light of their relative price tags. Sadly, this is just a salary dump for the Cards, as neither Benham or Matthews look like much right now.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Claimed LHP Matt Whisenant off of waivers from the Royals. [8/20]

Purchased the contract of RHP Matt Whiteside from Las Vegas; optioned RHP Will Cunnane to Las Vegas. [8/24]

Purchased the contract of RHP Buddy Carlyle from Las Vegas; recalled LHP Heath Murray from Las Vegas; optioned INF Ed Giovanola and RHP Stan Spencer to Las Vegas. [8/26]

Busy, busy, busy, but is there a plan in action? I like picking up Whisenant well enough, but swapping Cunnane for Whiteside seems silly. Cunnane's had his rough spots in recent weeks, but Matt Whiteside isn't going to be part of the next good Pad pen, while Cunnane has been overwhelming in Vegas this year and really shouldn't have to keep proving himself there.

At least the recalls of Buddy Carlyle and Heath Murray are good news. Murray deserves a final crack at the rotation, while Carlyle's almost ready for his. While Carlyle's 25 home runs allowed in 160 innings might be ugly, it isn't a disaster for a control pitcher in the PCL at 21. Add in a 4.89 ERA to go with 180 hits, 42 walks, and 138 strikeouts, and that isn't all bad. Murray was better, posting a 4.26 ERA. Now that Spencer has flubbed what was probably his last shot at a spot in the rotation, Murray can get the next crack (also potentially his last) while Carlyle gets his feet wet in the pen.

SEATTLE MARINERS

Traded LHP Jeff Fassero to the Rangers for a PTBNL; recalled LHP Robert Ramsay from Tacoma. [8/27]

Mercy is a fine quality, and Fassero may have his uses for the Rangers, but if this is mercy, maybe the Mariners would show some to Freddie Garcia or Rob Ramsay. Or Ken Cloude, who's doing pretty well now that he's out from under Mt. Piniella's baleful shadow and pitching in Tacoma.

Ramsay had a dynamite five starts after returning to his native Washington from the Red Sox in the Huskey deal (4-1, 1.08 ERA, to give him an overall record of 10-7, with a 4.39 ERA and 134 hits, 50 walks and 116 strikeouts in 147 2/3 innings), and he has some talent.

Lots of people have talent, though, and the question still remains as to whether Lou Piniella is capable of managing anyone who isn't in his prime or a veteran, and whether he can use any pitcher to his best advantage. The evidence is heavily against Piniella at this point, not just from his time with the Mariners, but also in his previous stints with the Reds and Yankees. If the Mariners are going to go out of their way to acquire and/or make space for young pitchers, they'd better go out of their way to get a manager and pitching coach who know how to turn them into successful major leaguers.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Placed RHP Dave Eiland on the 15-day DL (bursitis/hip); recalled LHP Alan Newman from Durham. [8/27]

It's a shame to see Eiland finally collapse in what may be his last shot at a major league rotation. Well, one that pitches against major league players, anyway. In a decade that saw less-than-mediocre right-handers like Scott Sanders or Don Wengert get a zillion opportunities, Eiland's had to labor through year after year at Triple-A. He's never going to grow up to be Rick Reed, but he's also more deserving of a job as a fifth starter than a bunch of guys. It's sort of a shame when you have to wonder why you don't have Mike Oquist's good luck.

TEXAS RANGERS

Recalled LHP Corey Lee from Oklahoma; optioned RHP Danny Patterson to Oklahoma. [8/24]

Acquired LHP Jeff Fassero from the Mariners for a PTBNL; transferred LHP Eric Gunderson from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/27]

Is Fassero as bad as his numbers look? Possibly, but it's never a bad gamble to take a pitcher off of the Mariners' hands to see if you can straighten him out. If the Rangers decide to leave Fassero in the pen, that's fine: he's managed to do reasonably well against left-handed batters this season (.252/.336/.362). If they decide to use him to bump John Burkett out of the rotation, that's worth doing.

A prime consideration on that score might be the relatively poor records of the Yankees, Indians and A's against left-handed pitching. And on an ethical or "preserving your relationship with your Triple-A affiliate" level, one of the fringe benefits of picking up Fassero is that it should bring the Okie shuttle to an end.

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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