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February 17, 2000

Transaction Analysis

February 5-15, 2000

by Christina Kahrl

ANAHEIM ANGELS

Signed RHP Mark Petkovsek to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/10]

It's nice to see a guy like Petkovsek, who didn't make the majors to stay until he was almost 30, finally get a payday of sorts. While he did have the benefit of finally being left alone in a single role with the Angels, after being jerked around by Tony LaRussa for a couple of seasons, his contributions to the team were overstated by his superficially low ERA and his 10 relief wins. He's a durable and handy long reliever who isn't a great bet to have a year better than 1999.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Signed UT Andy Fox to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/13]

With Tony Womack taking over at shortstop and Travis Lee moving out to right field, Fox will move back to the role he's best suited for: spare left-handed bat and primo weapon on the double-switch. On the Snakes, he's also handy for spot starting when right-handed batters like Matt Williams or Jay Bell need a day off, or if Buck Showalter decides that playing Womack at short isn't such a good idea after all.

It would be fun to see Showalter go with an offense/defense platoon of Fox and Luis Ordaz at short. That would provoke an interesting strategic question: should you start your good gloves to help your starting pitcher and bring in the better hitters if you need the runs, or should you go with an offensive-oriented lineup to score runs and bring in the defensive replacements with a lead? Earl Weaver tended to go with the Belanger types on the field to start, and would work his way towards someone like Lenny Sakata if he needed runs. I don't think you even need to stick with one of those choices: a lot would depend on what kind of pitcher you're starting, and whether the other team's starter is someone you're pretty confident you can score against.

To get back to Andy Fox, he represents what I like to see: a lot of flexibility. Here's hoping Showalter puts him to better use this year than he did at the start of last, before he resorted to him as an everyday shortstop after Tony Batista was traded. Up to that point, Fox wasn't used much for pinch-running or pinch-hitting, or for starting anywhere around the field.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Signed DH Billy Ashley to a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [2/9]

While Ashley might make a nice little platoon mate for Harold Baines at DH, it isn't like the Orioles have the roster room to spare to carry two DHs. Instead, he'll get to threaten Cal Pickering's playing time at Rochester. This organization finds so many ways to build hurdles for its few talented prospects.

BOSTON RED SOX

Signed RHP Rich Garces to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/12]

Signed RHP Bryce Florie to a two-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/14]

Signed CF Carl Everett to a three-year contract, with a club option for 2003, avoiding arbitration. [2/15]

Signing Everett to the multi-year deal isn't really a risk: after giving up at least the next six years of Adam Everett's career, the Duke had to have something to show for it, something more than just a one-year rental.

Florie has always been a talented pitcher, so the question is whether he can be more than just this year's Pat Rapp rabbit pulled out of the proverbial hat by pitching coach/resident smart guy Joe Kerrigan.

I don't know about you, but Garces's beer-barrel physique doesn't encourage me to think he's going to ever be good for more than 70 innings. As the Yankees demonstrate with Jeff Nelson, though, sometimes a quality reliever doesn't have to be, as long as he's available for the last month or two.

CHICAGO CUBS

Signed RHP Greg McMichael to a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [2/8]

Waived RHP Andy Larkin outright after he failed his physical. [2/14]

Who was the last palmballing reliever Ed Lynch dragged into town? Doug Jones. While I think Don Baylor is going to do a better job with what he's got in the pen than Jim Riggleman did with he had, does anyone who's clean and sober really think that Matt Karchner, Brian Williams and McMichael make for a good group of right-handed relief options?

Excuse me Cubs fans, because the following has nothing to do with the Cubs per se. It's just sort of an Andy Larkin-related tangent.

Right now, ex-minor-league-infielder Tim Harkrider is busy suing the Angels for his lost shot at a career. It's a bit of tortured argument in Harkrider's case, predicated on the idea that he'd somehow have turned into a good player and made millions of dollars if he'd gotten proper medical care in the Angels' organization.

But Andy Larkin was rushed into the big young pitcher slagfest that Jim Leyland mismanaged in Florida in 1998, was worked hard despite previous concerns about his elbow and finished up by blowing out his shoulder. If there's a good test case of a guy being brought up before he was ready or handled in a physically/medically irresponsible manner, Larkin might be the one.

Considering that projecting a pitcher's development is more an art than the science of projecting a hitter's development (which is why Harkrider's argument is weak, in my opinion), Larkin might have a half-decent case to go after Leyland, Dave Dombrowski and the Marlins organization for acting in a manner that was irresponsible towards Larkin's professional future. I won't claim Larkin was that much of a prospect, but some people liked him before the shoulder injury.

Should Larkin never have a shot at getting healthy, he may end up coming to the same sort of decision that Tim Harkrider has. That could open up a potentially huge can of worms in terms of very legal-oriented reviews of how organizations treat their young pitchers. While it might be nice in terms of encouraging organizations to be more responsible, it could also end up being financially damaging and as divorced from useful evaluations of real talent versus as an arbitrator's recent decision to hand Steve Garvey a bunch of money.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Signed RHP Bill Simas to a two-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/14]

A year ago, there was plenty of speculation that Simas would be gone because of his pending eligibility for arbitration. Now, things have changed for the Sox. Between last year's successful run with one of the major's best pens, the expectation that this year's rotation will need help in the middle innings and the organization's commitment to staying in front of everyone else in the division while hoping the Indians come down a few pegs, Simas is the recipient of a nice two-year deal.

CINCINNATI REDS

Acquired CF Ken Griffey Jr. from the Mariners for RHP Brett Tomko, CF Mike Cameron, 2B/SS Antonio Perez and RHP Jake Meyer. [2/10]

Signed OF Alex Ochoa to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/13]

Signed RHP Osvaldo Fernandez to a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [2/15]

While there's been a lot of speculation of who was outmaneuvering who in the Pacific Northwest (Griffey? Pat Gillick? Sasquatch?), at the end of the day, it was Jim Bowden putting on the moves. Has there ever been a better example of a GM winning by waiting than Bowden's job of watching the Seattle snits play themselves out, all the while taking one good player after another off the table?

In addition to the economic boon that acquiring Griffey represents for the franchise, Bowden will have the added benefit of looking good in hindsight because of who was sent away. While I'm one of those sunny optimists who thinks Brett Tomko can turn into a top-notch starting pitcher, is there a worse place (with Jim Leyland retired) to send a pitcher trying to establish himself than to the slopes of Mt. Piniella? Its smoky crests are already littered with arms stacked like cordwood, sacrificed to subdue the eruptions of baseball's most explosive manager. Tomko is supposed to be a very intelligent sort, so maybe he'll be mature enough to brush off his manager's thundering menace.

Mike Cameron is a decent center fielder, but he's already 27 and didn't respond well when he was subjected to a manager inclined to criticize him publicly (Jerry Manuel in 1998). Jake Meyer is a minor-league reliever, and not a particularly good one. Antonio Perez's future is the key to the deal, but if he doesn't stay at shortstop, then there's literally no chance that he'll make Bowden look bad.

Signing Griffey to a heavily-deferred contract also puts the organization in a great position as far as being able to retain or sign talent in the future, which means that they're in much better shape to run with the Astros for the next four or five years. Deals just don't get much better than this for a team.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Signed RHPs Chris Nichting, Mark Pisciotta and Mike Bovee, Cs Matt Curtis and Cesar Devarez, 2B , IF Kelcey Mucker and OF Andy Tomberlin to minor-league contracts. [2/8]

A mixed crop for the Riches to use at Buffalo, one that won't make it much easier for them to get back to contention in the International League. Patzke and Tomberlin are both good offensive players who should help the Bisons score runs, but overall, bringing in this lot is hardly a ringing endorsement of the organization's highly-touted player development approach.

Devarez made a wise choice coming to Cleveland, because there still isn't anyone available to back up Einar Diaz when Sandy Alomar's knees continue to act up.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Signed OF Roger Cedeno to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/7]

The interesting bit of news here is that apparently Cedeno and the money the Astros gave him might have impacted the perception of Brian Hunter's value in his arbitration case. Just consider that another example of how much work outfits like the Prospectus still have to do.

NEWARK BEARS (Atlantic League)

Signed SS Bobby Hill, the Chicago White Sox's 1999 second-round draft pick. [2/10]

Here it is, Scott Boras's latest client to "go the J.D. Drew route". I know I've been going off on tangents in this column, but is this really evidence that Hill will deserve oodles of cash come June? Hill's negotiating position with the White Sox was such that the club had no hammer: he's their draft pick, so if they don't sign him, they get nothing. Meanwhile, Hill can just bide his time, re-enter the draft the next year and put another organization in the same position. He'll insist on getting what he perceives to be the value of a player of his caliber and signing bonus expectations.

The interesting thing is that Hill's talent isn't considered anywhere as extraordinary as Drew's, and he may well get hosed by a general desire to punish Boras in any way possible. My two cents? Chuck LaMar takes Boras off the hook, and perpetuates their friendly relationship by nabbing Hill. After all, it isn't like Kevin Stocker is Honus Wagner, and there isn't a really good shortstop prospect in that organization beyond, arguably, Ramon Soler, who's still pretty raw at 18 and has only one full season at A-ball under his belt.

NEW YORK METS

Claimed IF David Lamb on waivers from the Devil Rays. [2/7]

Added LHP Rich Rodriguez to the 40-man roster, designated IF David Lamb for assignment. [2/8]

Outrighted IFs Mike Kinkade and David Lamb to Norfolk. [2/10]

Lamb... baaa... Lamb... baaa... Lamb... baaaad.

NEW YORK YANKEES

Signed OF Luke Wilcox to a minor-league contract. [2/8]

An Expansion Draft pick comes back home. Wilcox had an outstanding year between Double-A Orlando and Triple-A Durham, pasting over 70 extra-base hits. He's hardly a prospect, but he should be a very important part of a good Clippers team.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Signed RHP Paul Byrd to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/7]

Byrd is a great example of the kind of free talent you can find floating around, sort of like Kent Bottenfield. The danger for the employer that "discovers" him is that they can mistake a solid, useful season as the start of something more, as opposed to correctly identifying something like Byrd's 1999 as his ceiling. Still, nobody should begrudge him the money he's getting after the amount of time he's spent scuffling between the majors and minors.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Signed RHPs Mark Leiter, Danilo Leon, Josias Manzanillo and Dave Stevens to minor-league contracts with spring-training NRIs. [2/9]

An interesting group of retread/rehab projects for Gene Lamont and Pete Vuckovich. While I wouldn't have brought in Leiter, if there's a good candidate to "go Ritchie" this year, it might be Dave Stevens. Well, if not Ritchie, then maybe Jason Grimsley. Stevens moved on from his "Baby Goose" days coming up with the Twins, and could be a very handy swingman if given the opportunity.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Signed LHP Alan Embree to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/13]

It may just be me, but Embree still looks like one of the most underrated left-handers in the game today. He was thrown away by the Tribe, underutilized by the Braves and discarded by the Snakes. To Dusty Baker's credit, he gave Embree a slightly bigger role, and Embree ended up giving the Giants one of the league's best righty/lefty setup combos in baseball, along with retread John Johnstone.

SEATTLE MARINERS

Acquired RHP Brett Tomko, CF Mike Cameron, RHP Jake Meyer and SS/2B Antonio Perez from the Reds for CF Ken Griffey Jr. [2/10]

The debacle. Pat Gillick did about as good a job of creating positive, or at least non-negative, spin for the franchise in terms of moving Griffey, but at the end of the day, this move is an unmitigated disaster.

Yes, Tomko is 27, and that's a pretty good age for a starting pitcher to settle down and break out. Sure, Cameron is better than someone like Tom Goodwin or Brian Hunter. Yes, Antonio Perez is a decent prospect, considering he was the youngest regular player in full-season A-ball. But this deal does not help the team that much in its goal for this year, which is to be competitive enough to convince Alex Rodriguez to re-sign, and it does not help the team significantly in the long term if A-Rod walks.

So while Gillick did a nice PR job of creating a sense of inevitability around the Griffey trade, he did a lousy job of cashing in on it, and the franchise is the worse for it. They'll have a hard time keeping up with Oakland and Texas this year, and if they lose A-Rod, they'll be keeping company with the Angels in 2001.

SEIBU LIONS (Japanese League)

Signed 3B Tony Fernandez and DH Reggie Jefferson to one-year contracts. [2/8]

The Lions needed the help: last year's imports were stiffs like Alan Zinter, Greg Blosser and Arci Cianfrocco, and despite their pathetic "contributions" the Lions finished only four games back of Fukuoka in the Pacific League. The Lions' offense was among the league's worst, even beyond last year's imports' contributions, so Fernandez and Jefferson should step right into the middle of their order.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Signed OF Kenny Kelly to a four-year contract. [2/9]

Voided their contract with ex-famous person Mariano Duncan. [2/11]

More of the soap opera: sign famous football player, discard utility man over petty salary squabbles, continue to flounder.

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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