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January 20, 2000

Transaction Analysis

January 10-17, 2000

by Christina Kahrl


Signed RHP Matt Mantei to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration; signed RHP Mike Morgan to a minor-league contract, with a spring-training NRI. [1/14]

Is anyone amused that the D'backs seriously underestimated Mantei's salary expectations, crippling the effort to get him signed to a multi-year deal? Given his spotty health record, this may actually be to their benefit, especially with all the money they've committed to veterans with declining value and multi-year deals. It isn't like they're going to get back the guys they gave the Marlins, no matter how much they try to welch on the Abraham Nunez (the center fielder, not the Pirates' shortstop) part of the deal. Given their immediate objective of trying to remain in the National League, Jerry Colangelo's best bet is to just drop his complaints and kiss up to Czar Bud any way he can.

Signing Morgan is a reasonable insurance policy for the fifth starter's slot, a hedge if Brian Anderson scuffles or when Armando Reynoso hurts himself again. Plus, he isn't old enough or close enough to the major-league loss record to interest the Devil Rays.


Signed RHP Rudy Seanez to a one-year contract, avoiding salary arbitration; sold the contract of 3B Howard Battle to the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese Leagues. [1/12]

Nice to see ol' Traction Action Seanez finally get a big payoff, but put him on the list of guys who should be donating a chunk of change to Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone for their efforts. Plenty of other managers had their chance to find a way to use him.

Battle will be a significant improvement on Mike Blowers in the Tigers' import category, but probably not enough to get them out of last place.


Invited IF Jeff Huson and CF Corey Patterson to spring training. [1/14]

Signed LHP Felix Heredia to a one-year contract. [1/17]

The Cubs claimed they wanted a left-handed-hitting infielder this winter. After last year's miserable experiment with the infield equivalent of cheese food in Tyler Houston ("Mistaken for a third baseman by four out of five dairy inspectors!"), there's something uniquely Cub-like in their settling for a worse alternative in Huson.


Acquired SS Jose Valentin and RHP Cal Eldred from the Brewers for RHPs Jaime Navarro and John Snyder. [1/12]

Not a bad little pickup by Ron Schueler, now that the Mariners have made it plain Alex Rodriguez isn't available. Considering that the free-agent shortstop alternatives were pretty lousy (witness new Cub Ricky Gutierrez) and the Sox lineup's need for a left-handed bat with some power, Valentin fills a couple of holes at a low cost. He also gives the team an experienced veteran shortstop; while he's always going to be error-prone, he's also flashed good range, and he's got the gun to make the play in the hole. He's never hit left-handers, which might create a platoon opportunity for Craig Wilson.

Regardless of whether or not Mike Caruso has a future with the organization, this was probably the best thing that could have happened to him. Caruso desperately needs regular playing time in an environment where his manager isn't bitching about his every mistake. He also has a lot to learn that he didn't get to sort out by playing in Double- or Triple-A.

As for the pitching aspect of the deal, the bad news is that it isn't a salary dump. As done as Navarro has looked for three years, Eldred looks worse and costs more. But moving both Navarro and Snyder makes room in the rotation for Kip Wells, and creates a fight for the fifth spot among Pat Daneker, Kevin Beirne, Aaron Myette and, at least technically, Eldred. That's definite improvement as well. Whether it will be enough to seriously push the Indians remains to be seen, but the Sox aren't that far from getting into the mid-80s in wins, and the Indians aren't going to score another thousand runs.


Acquired OF Alex Ochoa from the Brewers for OF Mark Sweeney and a PTBNL. [1/14]

Signed LHPs Ron Villone and Gabe White to one-year contracts. [1/17]

Jim Bowden is painting Ochoa's pickup as getting a right-handed-hitting outfielder to balance a bench that features Michael Tucker and Hal Morris. What's strange about this is that Sweeney is better than either of those two. Look on the bright side, Reds fans: if productivity means anything, Ochoa has a solid shot at swiping Fonzie Bichette's job by August.


Signed C Matt Nokes to a minor-league contract. [1/10]

Signed OF Lance Johnson and C Jesse Levis to minor-league contracts with spring-training NRIs. [1/13]

Matt Nokes and Jesse Levis? Nokes is coming off of a season spent in the Northern League, and Levis effectively lost the last two years after hurting himself in early 1998. Now, maybe John Hart has been busy, what with a few big-ticket free-agent signings and the impending sale of the club to Mr. Dolan. But what are front-office minions for if they forget that the club is almost bereft of viable catchers at every level, and miss out on minor-league free agent shopping season? There were useful catchers out there, and the Tribe missed out on the pick of the litter.

What's really troubling is that not only does this leave the Indians' affiliates screwed for catchers, but with Sandy Alomar Jr.'s chronic knee problems, the big club is desperately going to need a better regular than Einar Diaz.


Acquired RHP Masato Yoshii from the Mets for LHP Bobby M. Jones and RHP Lariel Gonzalez. [1/14]

Sometimes it pays to keep a hot streak going, because Dan O'Dowd looks like he's capped a busy winter with a steal of a deal. Yoshii logged 20 quality starts in 29 outings, and to get him, the Rox didn't have to give up anything of significant value. Their rotation is shaping up pretty nicely: Pedro Astacio, Brian Bohanon, Rolando Arrojo, Yoshii and either Jose Jimenez or John Thomson. That's a solid unit at any altitude, with a good mix of veterans and young talent. A worst-to-first finish in the NL West is looking less and less inconceivable.


Signed OF Billy McMillon to a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [1/10]

A nifty pickup. McMillon is a latter-day Warren Newson, a corner outfielder with decent but not outstanding power and a good eye. If McMillon had the guaranteed contract and Luis Polonia was the NRI, it would make more sense, but it's more likely that McMillon will waste major-league talent as a Mud Hen.


Signed C Jorge Fabregas to a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [1/12]

Signed OF Johnny Damon to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/13]

Signed RHP Ricky Bottalico to a one-year contract. [1/14]

Signed DH Mike Sweeney to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/15]

The good news? Johnny Damon is going to get to stick around for a bit. The bad news? The Royals seem convinced that Jeremy Giambi and Mike Sweeney shouldn't get playing time or a long-term contract, respectively, because Herk Robinson thinks the Players Association is going to play dead while Czar Bud wishes the DH away. The worse news? Jorge Fabregas may get to caddy for Sal Fasano.

After managing to blow saves all summer on the other side of Missouri, Bottalico looks like a swell fit for an epically awful Royals bullpen. Still, with both Bottalico and Jerry Spradlin in place, the Royals ought to see some improvement over last year's Jeff Montgomery/Scott Service debacle.


Signed OF Todd Hollandsworth to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/12]

Signed IF Kevin Elster on a minor-league contract. [1/14]

In Davey we trust? The best thing you can say about hauling in one of the last remaining ex-Johnson Mets is that Elster could, at best, be a better-hitting caddy for either Juan Castro or Alex Cora at shortstop if Mark Grudzielanek ends up moving over to second base, as rumored.


Acquired RHPs John Snyder and Jaime Navawful from the White Sox for SS Jose Valentin and RHP Cal Eldred; signed IF Mark Loretta to a three-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/12]

Acquired OF Mark Sweeney and a PTBNL from the Reds for OF Alex Ochoa; invited RHPs Bob Scanlan and Hector Ramirez, 2B Mickey Lopez and 3B Jose Fernandez to spring training. [1/14]

Signed OF Mark Sweeney to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]

Signed C Tyler Houston to a one-year contract. [1/17]

There comes a point where you have to say you've done too much of a good thing. The Brewers have been smart to go out of their way to acquire any and every right-handed starter in his mid-to-late 20s, instead of, say, signing Jim Abbott. Sure, dumping Eldred makes them feel some sort of relief. But Snyder is never again going to be the pitcher he was during his five weeks of glory last year: even before he hurt his perpetually bad elbow, he wasn't fooling anyone with a pedestrian assortment.

While Eldred was a distraction, Navarro is the ultimate pitcher for the Age of Clinton: an irresponsible gasbag who ends up costing you a lot more than his paycheck. If Davey Lopes can't get him to can his crybaby stunts, nobody will.

What really seems strange is the decision to long-term Mark Loretta and anoint him the regular shortstop. Loretta has his strengths, but playing shortstop isn't one of them, since he's got Larry Bowa fall-down range going either way. Curiously enough, the man signed to play third base, Jose Hernandez, is a significantly better shortstop. Flip-flopping them would help the defense, but it isn't going to happen.

As for the rest, Sweeney is an outstanding pickup for the bench. Ideally, he'll chase Marquis Grissom to the bench a couple of times a week. The ugly addition is Tyler Houston. The expectation is that he's going to platoon with Henry Blanco at catcher, but since neither of them hit much, and since Houston is almost as bad behind the plate as he is everywhere else on the field, the Brewers still haven't escaped the shadows of the Dark Age of Matheny. Bobby Hughes looks like he's screwed, although he's probably the best of a bad bunch.


Signed RHP Bob Wells to a two-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/11] Signed RHP Bobby Ayala to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/14]

Carl Pohlad must enjoy making Terry Ryan's life a little more interesting that it needs to be. Having lost out on their chance to sign Mike Trombley to a long-term deal last summer--because of Pohlad's peevishness--the Twins should go into 2000 with a five- or six-headed closer committee. That's just as well for the Twins and/or Pohlad's checkbook, since the last thing the Twins need to start blowing spare cash on is a stat-logging non-entity like Todd Jones. In the meantime, expect Wells, Ayala, Hector Carrasco and Eddie Guardado (if he isn't traded; J.C. Romero if he is) to log at least a half-dozen saves apiece.


Signed C Lenny Webster to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/14]

Signed RHP Anthony Telford to a two-year contract. [1/15]

The Return of Lenny Webster has "Devil Ray-sized gimmick" written all over it. Webster was as close to a cult hero as the Expos had. It's expected that they're going to trade Chris Widger so that Michael Barrett can move behind the plate full-time, so you can understand an argument for a veteran caddy as Barrett starts his sophomore season. But if Bob Henley is healthy, he's the better player, and Brian Schneider should be in Ottawa this year. At best, Webster should only be an insurance policy if everything else goes wrong. The danger is that the Expos want more than that.


Acquired LHP Bobby M. Jones and RHP Lariel Gonzalez from the Rox for RHP Masato Yoshii. [1/14]

Signed RHP Rick Reed to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/15]

Signed RHP Paul Wagner and C Alan Probst to minor-league contracts. [1/17]

The never-ending winter of disaster continues. The last thing the Mets could afford to do was give up rotation depth; trading Yoshii for a bad left-handed swingman and a minor-league reliever of dubious value almost deserves to be called a salary dump. Now they're relying on Mike Hampton--coming off his best year in a great pitchers' park with great run support--the wildly inconsistent Al Leiter, steadily declining Rick Reed and the better, more mediocre Bobby Jones coming off an injury? They're supposed to take on the Braves with that?


Signed IF Kevin Jordan and LHP Scott Aldred to one-year contracts. [1/11]

I wonder if Aldred still holds a grudge against Derek Bell for his showboating in 1992? Might make for some extra drama in those Mets-Phillies bloodbaths....


Signed CF Ruben Rivera to a one-year contract; signed RHP Donne Wall to a two-year contract with a club option for 2002; signed 2B Jed Hansen to a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [1/17]

Now that Wall has been inked for good money and the Padres have made it plain they won't be spending as much as last year, trading Trevor Hoffman once he flashes a return to form in camp makes plenty of sense. Then drop Wall into the closer's role, let him crank out some saves and trade him to Jerry Colangelo for valuable prizes in July of 2001.


Signed RHP John Johnstone to a two-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/10]


Signed RHP Steve Trachsel to a one-year contract. [1/13]

Signed RHP Jim Mecir to a one-year contract; signed DH Dave Hollins, C John Marzano, RHP Marc Valdes and 1B/OF Ryan Jackson to minor-league contracts with spring-training NRIs. [1/14]

Signed RHP John Burkett to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/17]

It's the middle of January, and to his credit, Chuck LaMar just made his rotation situation a whole lot simpler. Trachsel has been inked to an incentive-laden deal with a bunch of incentives he should reach, and the Devil Rays can use someone who will take his turn regularly, since both Juan Guzman and Wilson Alvarez make a point of missing a half-dozen starts a year.

Burkett should get a shot to beat out Rule 5 pick Chad Ogea for the fifth starter job. What Dave Hollins is around for is anybody's guess. To keep Aubrey Huff in Double-A? To impart valuable veteran wisdom to fresh-faced whippersnapper Vinny Castilla?


Signed LHP Darren Oliver to a three-year contract. [1/12]

In attempting to deflate this winter's story of the free-agent pitching market going bust, the Rangers blew big money on two of the riskiest starters available in Oliver and Kenny Rogers. With Justin Thompson's availability still an open question, it might have made more sense to shop for someone a little more reliable, or not cough up three-year deals for both of the guys they did sign. On paper, a rotation of Rogers, Oliver, Rick Helling, Thompson and Esteban Loaiza, with Matt Perisho and Doug Davis waiting in the wings, looks strong.

Another interesting aspect of this winter's pitching market is how badly some agents overplayed their hands. Oliver, Omar Olivares, Aaron Sele and Steve Trachsel all lost guaranteed years and money due to outlandish expectations. Another thing to consider is that the Rangers saved money by signing Oliver instead of Sele, which might also indicate what they think of his mysterious physical woes, notably his elbow.

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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