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October 9, 2005

Transaction Analysis

September 29-October 7

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Outrighted 2B/OF-B Bernie Castro, SS/3B-R Ed Rogers, 1B-R Alejandro Freire, and OF-Rs Ramon Nivar and Keith Reed to Ottawa. [10/7]

You might be a little surprised that Castro slipped through waivers, considering he hit .315/.371/.382 while swiping 41 bases in 47 attempts. He's just 24, and in a world where people overpay for Tony Womack or Miguel Cairo, you'd think he'd be pretty desirable.

Now that he's a minor-league free agent, which teams can land him with a tasty NRI deal. I'd suggest that the general managers most likely to appreciate him are also the ones most likely to try to get him signed up as a non-roster player. That way, if they wind up in a situation where they don't have a better option on the big-league roster by April, well, everybody always seems to have some pitcher on his way to the 60-day DL, so they can add Castro to the big-league roster as an effective near-term solution. At any rate, Castro is a name to note going into the hot stove league, in case your ballclub needs a second baseman or has a big-name free agent at the keystone who may or may not stick around.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Acquired LHP Mike Stanton from the Nationals for RHPs Rhys Taylor and Yader Peralta; transferred RHP Wade Miller from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [9/29]

The timing may have seemed strange, since the Red Sox had discarded a useful situational lefty in Matt Perisho just three weeks ago, and they still had Lenny DiNardo around as a second lefty behind primo specialist Mike Myers. Maybe it was all about psyching out Alan Embree in a season-ending duel of old specialists more closely identified with each other's teams. Regardless, it didn't matter, and Stanton isn't eligible for postseason play, so as moves go, this was totally unnecessary. Happily, they only gave up a couple of standard-issue "maybe" arms, but the only upside was that they had Stanton around for a single series which he'd be hard-pressed to affect any more significantly than DiNardo might have, while they may have given up somebody with a future. It might be four or five years before we find out, but this was a risk the Sox didn't really have to take.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Outrighted RHP Jason Young to Buffalo. [10/3]

Activated RHP Kyle Denney from the 60-day DL. [10/4]

Denney lost this year of his prospectdom to a skull fracture suffered on a line drive back in June, but he did return to the mound before the end of the season, and he should get into a bit of winter-ball action. He should be on the fringes of the rotation equation next spring, with much depending on his demonstrating he's all the way back, and what the Tribe decides to do with fifth starter Scott Elarton this winter.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Fired manager Alan Trammell. [10/3]

Signed manager Jim Leyland to a multi-year contract. [10/4]

There's just about nothing about this to really like, beyond the atmospherics that Tigers fans are supposed to take in, that reuniting Leyland and Dave Dombrowski signals the beginning of a run like their Marlins made in '97. So Tram gets jobbed, and if there was any attention paid to the commissioner's edict on the need to consider minority candidates, either they did their minority candidate search through Friendster, or they skipped that step altogether.

That klaxon you hear going off is the alarms going off around every joint in Jeremy Bonderman's right arm, because if past history is any indicator, the true hallmarks of a Leyland team are fragged young pitchers and a creeping case of disinterest once the team falls out of contention. It'll be the crime of the decade in terms of pitcher abuse if Leyland gets to send Bonderman to the same scrapheap in which he's previously buried pitchers like Alex Fernandez, Tony Saunders and Jesus Sanchez, and even Pedro Astacio to some extent. We'll have to see how much Leyland rebels against the contemporary consensus on careful management on pitcher workloads, or if he decides to do things his way. If you can invest in orthopedic hedge funds, buy, and that's without giving thought to the potentially grim future for Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson or Wil Ledezma.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Announced that RHP Nate Field and OF-L Terrence Long rejected their assignments to Omaha, and have become free agents; claimed RHP Joel Peralta off of waivers from the Angels. [10/7]

If there was ever a time to celebrate in Kansas City, it was the news that T-Dog is an ex-Royal. That's not to say this isn't an organization with the ability to summon up nearly as noxious a T-Dog substitute, but hopefully they can get used to just taking their chances with Chip Ambres. I can't say I'm all that optimistic, though, not when manager Buddy Bell's two cents still seem to go further than other people's. Bell's latest bloviations on how he's done with Donald Murphy and Ruben Gotay, because he likes what he saw of Andres Blanco, should be cause for concern. This is a franchise in ruins, and the calls on who's part of the future should be Allard Baird's to make, not that of a retreaded field manager of no particular note.

On the other hand, it's worth wondering where Baird would steer the good ship Royal. Nabbing Peralta and dumping Cerda doesn't make a lot of sense from a scout's point of view: Peralta's the sort of talent you can get for a dime a dozen among minor-league free agents, while Cerda's a lefty with a good arm, and the Royals aren't so rich as to go around discarding people with talent. As much as Cerda hass not had a tremendous track record of success, I'd rather keep taking chances on lefties who can strike out close to seven guys per nine than give up on them.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Ourighted 2B-R Brent Abernathy, OF-L Mike Ryan, and 2B-R Luis Rivas to Rochester. [10/4]

Outrighted C/1B-R Matt LeCroy, OF-L Jason Tyner, and INF-R Glenn Williams to Rochester; reinstated CF-R Torii Hunter from the 15-day DL; announced they have declined their 2006 option on RHP Joe Mays. [10/7]

I'm frankly stunned to see that LeCroy made it through waivers, but considering he's arbitration-eligible, I guess no one wants to risk the expense. Frankly, I'm not quite sure how this works out, as far as having to tender him a contract, or if LeCroy will be non-tendered and get to walk as a free agent before we even have to speculate about whether or not he'd be exposed to the Rule 5 draft. The move coming on a Friday as it did, I couldn't sort out the various possible wrinkles before turning this in, so I'll be trying to follow up and see what the various permutations of possibility offer. Clearly, LeCroy is a hitter with some value to a team with a lot of lefty power that needs a platoon monster to help hurt the other guys (Oakland, anyone?), and given that he can help out at first base or catch a bit, he ought to be in demand.

The less surprising choice was the decision to cut bait on Mays. If anything, it should presage a similar fate for Kyle Lohse rather than award him another raise, courtesy of arbitration inflation. Although the reasoning behind these moves may be more economic than by design or an appreciation of the talent involved, on a practical level, they do stand a good chance of upgrading their rotation with Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano in the fourth and fifth slots, with Boof Bonser waiting in the wings, and Adam Harben and J.D. Durbin none too far behind.

Meanwhile, although he's already been injured, I think Mays would make a great Mariner: famous without actually putting together the track record to justify it, and easily broken. Yes, that's something short of the legacy of Randy Johnson or Mark Langston, but those days are long gone.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Announced a failure to come to terms with manager Ken Macha, making him somebody else's problem. [10/5]

For all of the controversy beyond a certain point, managers are basically fungible, and I don't think Alan Nero really gets that. Starting off asking for $4 million over three years was evidence enough, and even his "climb-down," low, low, low price of $3.1 million over three was much more than Billy Beane had any interest in paying. Tedious comparisons to whatever money Pittsburgh threw away on Lloyd McClendon or the Astros rewarded Phil Garner with for last year's half-season really don't work, in no small part because this isn't an arbitration situation, where the other organizations have to live with the market price established by a competitor's mistake. Beane had the discretion to make a choice, and wished Macha well. Whether he lands in Pittsburgh or Baltimore, we'll have to see, but in the meantime, it'll be interesting to see if now is the time that the A's turn to Bob Geren, or if they go looking for an external candidate. Third-base coach Ron Washington is another candidate, assuming he doesn't get the job in Florida, but I have to think that Geren's track record managing Sacramento before coming up to the big-league coaching staff will win him the job.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Activated C-R Dan Wilson from the 60-day DL; transferred INF-R Willie Bloomquist from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [9/30]

This was just a little thing, but something to the Mariners' credit. I may not have had much use for Wilson over the majority of his career, but I'm always willing to credit a team that makes a gesture of appreciation, and allowing Wilson to play in one last game before hanging it up was a particularly nice one. Embittered Mariners fans might gripe over the huge amount of money spent to keep a merely adequate catcher on the hometown team these last eight years (more than $3.6 million per, from the point at which he became arbitration eligible). For better or for worse, Wilson is probably the best catcher in franchise history, although I guess it depends on how fondly you remember Dave Valle. I can understand if someone was nostalgic, what with the sentimentalist crowd complaining about how much they miss the imagined days when everybody stayed on the same team forever. But Wilson's as much an example of why that imagined past is nonsense, not that anyone should remember Wilson's coming up with the Reds for anything more than that it was that experience which brought him to Lou Piniella's attention, and it was that which brought Wilson to Seattle in Mt. Piniella's shadow.

As an A's fan, I guess I take some satisfaction from Seattle's contentment with Wilson over the years, particularly in contrast with Oakland's decision to let Terry Steinbach walk after his big 1996 season. As much as I loved watching Steinbach play, it made sense to let him go in free agency, save the money, and take a look at the raft of middling catching prospects the A's had at the time, including A.J. Hinch, George Williams, Izzy Molina...a list of suspects that it took three years and Ramon Hernandez to bring to a halt. Steinbach seemed happy to wrap up his career with the Twins and closer to home, while the A's got the benefits of the negative test, that Hinch and the rest weren't going to pan out. Which, come to think of it, sort of sucked to have to sit through at the time, so serves me right for trying to enjoy a bit of schadenfreude at Mariners fans' expense. What this contrast of approaches really highlights is that with Wilson, the Mariners acquired or felt they had acquired certainty, and if that came at a high price, I guess it did at least spare them from ever finding out what Dusty Wathan might do.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Announced the firing of general manager Chuck LaMar, director of player personnel Cam Bonifay, and assistant general manager Scott Proefrock; named Matt Silverman club president. [10/6]

Some regimes have become so loathsome, so identified with failure, and yet so delightfully bombastic about their own virtues, that when the fall does come, you really should expect orgiastic expressions of joy. On this score, the final fall of LaMar might make you think it was an iron curtain coming down. Few regimes have had a more remarkable track record for failure in the history of the contemporary game than the D-Rays. I know a lot of people are ready to nominate the Rays as a team ready to turn the corner, as if they're at the same point as the Jays might have been in 1982 or 1983. It's not a bad comparison, in that those Jays, like these Rays, were notable for young talent that was finally coming into its own. It isn't hard to look at Delmon Young or B.J. Upton, or think about a pitching staff that will have Scott Kazmir and Chad Orvella, and feel good about the direction things are headed.

But unfortunately, nothing about the LaMar regime should have given anyone any confidence that the management of the organization would be able to weave that talent into the big-league lineup while digging up the right veterans to surround them with. LaMar was the guy who would sign up Travis Lee or cycle through second basemen like Brent Abernathy and Marlon Anderson. He was the guy who failed to deal veteran ballplayers meant for flipping, whether it was Jeremi Gonzalez or Aubrey Huff. He was the guy who traded Joe Kennedy to get Mark Hendrickson. There's obviously something to build off of for the next guy, but if general managers are like managers, and do some things well and some things badly, beyond an agricultural patience that the crops would eventually come in there was little about LaMar's regime to recommend it as far as anticipating that he would ever be the man to guide the franchise around the corner. LaMar was always happy to talk about where the corner was, and how confident he was that he'd reach it, but you can only talk about the better days to come for only so long before you start sounding like Herbert Hoover, and lose you credibility with your constituency every bit as thoroughly.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Announced the resignation of general manager John Hart; named Jon Daniels general manager. [10/4]

Outrighted RHP Kevin Gryboski and LHP Michael Tejera to Oklahoma. [10/7]

It's easy to flog the Mariners in this division, but if you're an A's or Angels fan, I suspect that the naming of another sharp knife to a GM's job in the division is only going to make things that much more difficult. I think we can rest with the record of Daniels' interview here at BP, which helps underscore that the Rangers have hired a guy who reflects the actual trend in front-office hires today: someone who understands the value of applied research, but who also operates within the game with the credibility that has to be earned, and who understands the old school every bit as much as he explores the new. The West may well be the most competitive division in baseball for years to come, but at the very least, I think it just became that much more difficult for the A's and Angels to simultaneously rebuild and contend. Right now, I wouldn't automatically nominate Texas from among those three to be the one that winds up getting to be the Blue Jays, the well-run wallflower that watches the other two divisional monsters race for October.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Signed RHP Ryan Dempster to a three-year, $15.5 million contract extension. [10/1]

Object lessons only live up to their names if somebody learns something, otherwise you just have disconnected events. Sadly, that's what seems to have happened here. Like Joe Borowski before him, the Cubs seem to have learned nothing about where closers come from, instead supposing that the ability to "close" appears as magically as flies in Francesco Redi's open jars. To put it another way, in Adjusted Runs Prevented, Dempster ranked 40th among big-league relievers with 50 or more relief innings pitched; perhaps significantly, only one of the 39 guys ahead of him (and only three of the top 50) was worse with other people's baserunners. A better number for him is his WX RL, where Dempster ranked fourth in the major leagues.

I guess my problem really boils down to shelling out more than $5 million per for a pitcher who's been worked hard and broken down in the past, and who will probably only continue to be a one-inning saves hog as closers go. It could be worse, if they'd wanted him to be a starting pitcher again, I guess. Basically, that's a lot of lucre for a guy whose track record is every bit as much about breaking down and his wildness as it is not about any demonstrable consistency over the last five years.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Announced that INF-R Aaron Holbert refused an outright assignment to Louisville and became a free agent. [10/3]

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Exercised their option on LF-R Matt Holliday for 2006; declined their 2006 option on C-R Todd Greene. [10/4]

Claimed LHP Jaime Cerda off of waivers from the Royals; outrighted INF-B Eddy Garabito to Colorado Springs. [10/5]

Declined their 2006 option of OF-R Dustan Mohr. [10/7]

Keeping with a leitmotif from this past season, the Rockies are dispensing with their veteran dross to see whether the gold in the system is the genuine article or just so much pyrite. (I'm disappointed the link doesn't have a picture of Todd Van Poppel, but mineralogists probably aren't noted for their sense of humor.) You certainly won't find me contesting the suggestions that less Mohr is more, or that less Greene puts you in the pink. As the Rockies discovered for themselves, if all you want is a veteran with some pop who can catch and throw, Danny Ardoin is useful and relatively cheap. However, I hope they'll be more ambitious than that in digging around for a journeyman to challenge J.D. Closser for the starting job; Greene certainly wasn't that guy, as he couldn't catch effectively enough or regularly enough to give you a reliable alternative or even a reliable backup.

As for Mohr, I'd hope that the Rockies realize that if they aren't going to make Jorge Piedra a starter, they at least have the good sense to keep him around as their fourth outfielder. Assuming they don't go out and get a reserve center fielder to take the job from Cory Sullivan, Piedra remains the best challenger from within the organization. Mohr couldn't really play center, so if the Rox had an interest in an alternative to Sullivan or Piedra, it wasn't going to be him, anyway.

What of Cerda? Not that going to Coors is ever the happiest outcome for a pitcher, it isn't like the Royals know what they're doing, and getting out of the organization has to be a blessing, even if it means coming to the most hostile environment for pitching in the major leagues. Cerda has pretty good velocity for a lefty reliever, and velocity doesn't go away at altitude, so as claims go, I like it.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Announced the resignation of manager Jack McKeon. [10/2]

Released INF-B Derek Wathan and RHPs Tim Spooneybarger and John Riedling. [10/3]

Every manager has the capacity to outlast his usefulness. While I think everyone outside of the New York metropolitan area enjoyed the story of McKeon being the man with a plan who helped square away the Marlins' bullpen and guide a young team to a championship, I'd suggest that McKeon is also the man who really should have given retiring at that point some thought. Staying on more than the next year really didn't do him or the organization any favors.

I guess what we're all really wondering is whether or not the McKeon experience was singular, and if the Marlins will thus make another Torborg-flavored mistake. As managers go, we're mired in a generation of gray men of modest abilities trying to operate in a game where, unfortunately, press management ranks with tactical acumen and player usage patterns. Maybe that's a shudder of anticipation that someone as popular, affable and poised as Yankees coach Joe Girardi might seem like an easy choice, but it could be worse, and involve recycling Bob Boone. Happily, the other names mentioned are also not unflushables, fellow prospective rookie managers Ron Washington from the A's staff and Cubano Fredi Gonzalez of the Braves.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Released C-R Keith Osik, Antonio Osuna, and LHP John Halama; purchased the contracts of 3B-L Kory Casto, OF-R Frank Diaz, and RHP Armando Galarraga. [10/3]

To give credit where credit is due, Jim Bowden took advantage of the nervous nellies up in Beantown to add a couple of live arms for a weekend-long rental of a veteran about to be discarded. Peralta is Dominican and Taylor is an Aussie, both will be just 20 next year, neither has any substantive experience above Rookie ball, and neither should need to be added to the 40-man roster for 2006. As a nice little way to restock the shelves made bare on Omar Minaya's watch, this was a nifty little move, even if neither pan out. The Nationals need talent, pure and simple, and anything that involves improving their system is going to be a good move.

Less positively, they get to clear out some of the dreck that Bowden strangely favored in putting together this team. Osuna was another bad free-agent signing from a winter loaded with bad free-agent signings, Osik is the sort of organizational depth you hope you never have to use, made worse by another bad free-agent choice (backup catcher Gary Bennett), and Halama's presence simply serves as a reminder of how much pitching talent Bowden squandered during his frenetic posturing as the general manager of a contender. That the Nationals wound up needing someone like Halama stands, like the similarly unfortunate fascination with Ryan Drese, as a reminder that not all free or freely-available talent is worth an exercise in free will.

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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