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September 29, 2005

Transaction Analysis

September 21-28

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Recalled RHP Joey Devine from Richmond. [9/28]

Isn't it always the case, that "Just Say No" winds up being "Just Say Maybe?" Well, Devine is already sort of pregnant as far as his having already been pressed into action and prematurely added to the 40-man roster, so bringing him back makes sense, if nothing else because it allows the Braves to rest the people who will actually pitch in October. Where he's concerned, I look forward to using the hot stove league to work and wonder on how many John Waters references I can make over the full length of his career.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Placed RHP Zach Day on the 60-day DL with (fractured thumb); purchased the contract of RHP Mike Esposito from Colorado Springs. [9/21]

With their Day done, the Rockies wrap up with Esposito getting two or three starts in the lengthening dusk of the season. It is perhaps a more interesting rotation now, even with the decision to dodge Jamey Wright's shot at 20 losses. They have the twin Kims (not to be confused with an adult-only rental), Jeff Francis, and Aaron Cook making his happy, successful comeback from blood-clotted lungs.

Esposito isn't really a top prospect as much as he's an organizational soldier in the making. Although a top pitcher at Arizona State as an amateur, Esposito's more of a scrapper and a control artist. Having gone from High-A to Double-A to this season at Colorado, he got smacked around in the thin air of Colorado's southern sister, the Sky Sox, allowing 6.4 runs per nine. He was already on the cusp of November's 40-man roster decisions anyway, although perhaps significantly he's also someone who could be taken off and not missed in the Rule 5 draft, which probably explains why he's up instead of Sandy Nin.

As for Day, he's not even really in the spot that Wright was in at the end of last season. Where Wright was a likely recipient of a rotation slot after last season's work, next year's rotation should have the aforementioned foursome that's already in it (not counting Esposito), and they're all doing well. Beyond them, Jason Jennings should be fine for next year, which does sort of put Day's future in the Rockies' rotation in doubt. He should stick on the 40-man through the winter; as Esposito exemplifies, it isn't like the system is burgeoning with big-league-ready pitching, let alone Coors-ready pitching. However, if Day doesn't beat out one of the Kims in camp, it'll be an interesting proposition as to whether he'd pass through waivers or have to be kept around in the pen.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Activated SS-B Carlos Guillen from the 15-day DL. [9/23]

I'm not quite sure what the point of this move is, beyond some sort of never-say-die gesture to let everyone feel good about Guillen's knees this winter. But no matter how badly the Twins choose to finish up, third place in the AL Central is out of reach, and Omar Infante is busily try to slug his way into some sort of salvaging of his season. Happily, the Tigers are being cautious, and they recognize that this is merely a teaser for what might be next season's lineup, featuring Guillen and Placido Polanco, Ivan Rodriguez, and Curtis Granderson up the middle for what might be the best up-the-middle unit the Tigers could boast since 1987. (And before anyone brings up the Fruit Loops and Fryman years at the tail end of Lou Whitaker's career, there's Milt Cuyler to spoil the argument.)

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Activated RHP Julio Santana from the 15-day DL. [9/22]

This should simply offer Santana the chance to cap what has been a nifty little bit of successful retreading this year. There's little disgrace in not being able to put it all together in places like Texas or Tampa Bay. Now, like fellow Brewers-of-convenience Rick Helling and even Kane Davis, if Milwaukee doesn't keep him, he's earned an offseason bidding session that should generate something slightly tastier than just a standard minor-league contract with a spring training NRI.

--

Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to mention that this article marks the completion of my 10th baseball season during which I've been writing Transaction Analysis. It's been something I'm inordinately pleased with, not simply because it's my spot to be self-indulgent on the subject of baseball and my fandom, but because of the thousands of readers who seem to enjoy me being me in this particular playground. I certainly never would have guessed, but I remain grateful to all of you, especially to those who write me e-mail (which I really should be better about answering).

At any rate, this gig may not get me a card with the BBWAA, but then again, I'm not gunning for one. But on behalf of all of my colleagues, and particularly guys like Joe Sheehan or Will Carroll, I do think the question needs asking: after ten years, why not? And why not now? That writers like Joe or Will, Dayn Perry or Nate Silver, Rob Neyer or Bill James, and more beyond them, are excluded only highlights the extent to which the BBWAA is, as Voltaire may have observed, something sadly short of its title.

Here's looking forward to the next 10 years of delivering the content we always wished for when we were just the readers, and here's my welcome to all of you who make that same jump and add to our knowledge of the game. There is always a need for better content, and there always will be.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Signed RHP Dan Haren to a four-year contract through 2009. [9/26]

Haren's deal might seem like a fast reward for his first full season as a rotation starter: $12.65 million spread over four years (spread out as a $200K signing bonus, then $500K, $2.2 million, $4 million and $5 million, plus a $6.75 million club option for 2010. There are additional wrinkles: a compensation decelerant (for want of a better term) if baseball's wacky arbitration system doesn't find him to be part of this winter's super-two arb-eligible class, plus performance bonuses of $750,000 in 2009 and $1 million in 2010, and an innings-pitched threshold that locks in the 2010 option and voids the $250,000 option. Wow, that's about as much fun to wade through as your mortgage agreement. Anyway, it's an interesting example of the sort of serious creative thinking that's going into contracts these days, and while I'm a little skeptical about the A's being willing or able to absorb the back end of the deal, I guess there's always the example of what the club did with Terrence Long, putting him on somebody else's team by that point.

The question is whether or not Haren might become as odious as Long had become before the end of his deal. Okay, that's a terrible standard, since really only Buddy Bell seems to have failed to notice how useless Long is. Is Haren as promising as the money suggests, or is he going to wind up as the new Brett Tomko, talented, homer-prone, and a wee bit exasperating? Reds fans are probably haunted by how Tomko impressed as a rotation regular at age 24, but it didn't take long for him to wear out his welcome, and not just because he was a reputed opera-lover in a town that throws hissy-fits over Mapplethorpe exhibitions. Anyway, this is Haren's age-24 season, and while he had experience before this year, where Tomko's '97 was a rookie season, I guess I can't help some measure of trepidation when I ponder the offhand comparison.

As high-risk as pitchers are as a group, I do think Haren's preseason PECOTA comparables make for an interesting fivesome. Tossing out Bo McLaughlin because he was never a rotation regular, the four next comparables are Big Ben McDonald, Dave Goltz, Jim Lonborg, and Carl Pavano. Goltz was the one of the four not hampered by injuries throughout his career, settling instead for being slowly ground down as the ace of a Twins staff doing its bit in Gene Mauch's lifelong achievement of futility. By the time Goltz escaped Minnesota as a 30-year-old free agent, he'd been used up after averaging 253 innings per year over the previous five, including what might today seem like an outlandish 303 IP in 1977. He also averaged 15 wins over that stretch, and I guess those sorts of results would be considered a success for Haren as much as they were for Goltz. McDonald managed just two full seasons in a career that ended up being more hype than actual pitching, something you could say for Pavano as well so far, including the two full seasons. Lonborg's fame is as the ace of the great Red Sox team of '67, but after that, he endured four injury-wracked years in Boston before returning to some form of regularity in a year with the Brewers and a decent multi-year run with the Phillies. Although all five are or were known as guys who could throw multiple pitches for strikes, Pavano and Haren both rely on a splitter as a change of pace, and McDonald added one to avoid overreliance on his beautiful curve. I wouldn't read into that any particular group identification for a tendency to get hurt with the split-fingered fastball, I just think that's interesting.

At any rate, looking at this group, I guess that it's Goltz that A's fans hope that Haren most closely resembles, since that would give them a staff workhorse over the life of the contract. Since the A's manage their pitchers with greater care than Gene Mauch, I guess I like the odds, balanced against the expectation that Billy Beane would deal Haren if he started to look like a liability on the mound or against the bottom line.

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

Related Content:  A's,  The Artist,  The Who,  Year Of The Injury,  Dave Goltz,  Team

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