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March 8, 2000

Transaction Analysis

February 25-March 6, 2000

by Christina Kahrl

ANAHEIM ANGELS

Assigned C Bryan Graves to their minor-league camp. [3/6]

ATLANTA BRAVES

MLB announced that it has fined the Braves $100,000 and banned them from signing players from the Dominican Republic for six months as punishment for signing SS Wilson Betemit before his 16th birthday. [2/25]

MLB announced that an arbitrator has reduced the suspension of LHP John Rocker from one month to two weeks during the regular season, rescinded his spring training suspension, and cut the $20,000 fine to $500. [3/1]

Like Adrian Beltre before him, Betemit is now campaigning for instant freedom. The Braves' decision to sign him at 14 is even more reprehensible than what the Dodgers did, so I can understand Czar Bud's willingness to impose a similar player-development-oriented penalty. But at some point, Selig and Sandy Alderson are going to have to drop the hammer on an organization or organizations.

The alternative? If they keep meting out punishments on an ad hoc basis, with player grievances and lawsuits trickling in, the industry risks suffering even more damage at the hands of judges and juries. To avoid this, Selig and Alderson need to start creating an industry-wide solution for the abuses of the past. While Alderson's initial efforts to validate player birthdates are a start at making sure that future abuses are nipped in the bud, at some point the game is going to have create a sweeping solution to address the existing cases. It's going to be better for the owners to evaluate how good Beltre's (and Betemit's, and who knows who else's) chances are of winning in front of arbitrators or in court, then apply the expected result to all existing cases.

Because of the pressure from agents and players to use this opportunity to score now on illegal contracts that many of them were willing parties to in the first place, the most reasonable solution would be to free up every case at once. Rather than let them dribble out one after the other, which would only drive up what they can expect to get as free agents, baseball needs to avoid fighting a drawn-out rear-guard action they're going to lose.

The bigger problem is how to deter these mishaps in the future. While the original Beltre decision was rightly hailed as a creative solution, the cleverness with which the Dodgers have gone out of their way to undermine it, both in spirit and in action, should leave the commissioner's office with no doubt that the penalties handed out to organizations need to be even tougher. Trying to do it while not creating a situation that ends up rewarding agents and players who participated in illegal signings in the first place would be ideal, but will be tough to accomplish.

As for the Rocker situation, Czar Bud gets to wring his hands publicly about the mean old union representing a mean old player. Away from the public grandstanding, he can cynically accept a cutback on a punishment that had zero chance of withstanding review. He scored his political points in the court of public opinion and with the usual crowd of journalists more than happy to sing his praises.

But this also highlights the problems of taking disciplinary action within the game: Selig and the owners can punish Marge Schott a lot more easily than they can John Rocker. That's what unions can do, and while I don't believe it's a bad thing, I don't like the long-term ramifications of whether or not Czar Bud can build a working relationship with the players when he stoops to scoring this sort of "moral victory" just to showcase Gene Orza as a union lackey defending a cracker's right to be an idiot in public. These are the same guys who will have to sit at a table after 2001 and come up with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement: why the need to irritate each other in a campaign to garner some fleeting media support?

BOSTON RED SOX

Signed 1B Juan Carlos Diaz to a minor-league deal. [3/4]

Diaz was freed up because of another Dodgers-related signing abuse. The Red Sox are pretty excited about nabbing him, talking about how he may show up in a major-league uniform at some point this year. The hype is overstated. Diaz has some pop, but not that much, and he didn't hit that well in his half-season at San Antonio last year. And when the Duke says someone might turn up in a major-league uniform, while he no doubt means it, keep in mind that heycled through 49 bodies on the major-league roster last year. Anybody might be on the roster in any 72-hour period.

CHICAGO CUBS

Re-assigned RHP Ben Christensen and OF Raul Gonzalez to their minor-league camp. [3/1]

Christensen's increasingly unrepentant posture over his college thuggery was a topic of discussion in Cubs camp early on. It's becoming increasingly apparent that he doesn't give a dingo's kidney over what he did to Anthony Molina, making it all the more unfortunate that he wasn't prosecuted for assault.

CINCINNATI REDS

Re-assigned LHP Terrell Wade to their minor-league camp; granted RHP Johnny Ruffin his request for his unconditional release. [3/6]

Sometimes Jim Bowden is too busy for his own good. Ruffin could be an asset in the pen to several major-league teams (not just the ones who drag Greg McMichael or Brian Williams into camp), but the Reds already have a strong pen and no space. Signing Ruffin is generally a good idea, but if you're his agent, why pick a team like the Reds? If you're Bowden, why bring him in if you never really had the roster space to keep him?

This sort of situation came up last year, when the Reds had too many interesting/semi-useful retread projects going on at once at Indianapolis, leading to Mark Thompson's request for release and his subsequent resurfacing with the Cardinals. It's one thing to be a smart enough GM to nab these sorts of projects. But if you nab too many of them, you end up breaking promises to somebody as far as whether or not they're going to get a real opportunity, and that's the sort of thing that can end up undermining your ability to keep bringing these sorts of guys in.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Assigned Cs Josh Bard, Blake Barthol and Mark Strittmatter; IFs Matt Holliday, Vick Brown and Belvani Martinez; OFs Choo Freeman and Jody Gerut; LHPs Josh Kalinowski and Tim Christman; and RHPs Jason Jennings, Shawn Chacon, Steve Shoemaker and Travis Thompson to their minor-league camp. [3/2]

With Buddy Bell needing to make some serious decisions about who his outfield reserves are going to be, there wasn't going to be all that much of a chance for Gerut to get a real opportunity in camp, anyway.

DETROIT TIGERS

Released OF Marc Newfield. [3/6]

Nearing the end of a career as a top-shelf washout. Between injuries and ludicrous expectations, it's interesting to remember that Newfield was one of the signature players in a Mariners' player development effort that had been among the game's best in the mid-1980s, only to lapse into its current misery. Newfield is as good a player as anyone else to associate with that organizational failure.

FLORIDA MARLINS

Promoted GM Dave Dombrowski to team President. [3/1]

This promotion gives Dombrowski more control of the team's business operations--the club presidency has been vacant since the resignation of Don Smiley after his failed bid to buy out Wayne Huizenga--while cutting into his baseball responsibilities. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over time. Dombrowski is no longer supported by the talented front-office supporting cast he had when he first came to the Marlins in 1991, so whether or not this is going to help or hurt the team, or just give Dombrowski greater control of the franchise, is something I couldn't hazard a guess at either way.

MINNESOTA TWINS

Signed UT Denny Hocking to a two-year contract, with an option for 2002. [3/6]

Woohoo! While I probably have more sympathy for GM Terry Ryan than most, and while I can sympathize with the argument that a nice utility player is a good thing to have, it's high-stakes "moves" like this that have me wondering how Ryan really fills up his Dayrunner. What kind of team really needs cost certainty from a thirty-year-old utility man? Through 2002?

NEW YORK YANKEES

Announced that MLB has suspended DH Darryl Strawberry for one year for violating the league's drug policy. [2/28]

Does he deserve a suspension? Obviously. Does George Steinbrenner deserve some sort of credit for his willingness to keep helping him? Maybe. Does that safety net create a situation where Strawberry doesn't have to really come to terms with his problems? Hell, I don't know, but that sort of argument strikes me as pretty mean-spirited. Cutting him loose and leaving him unforgiven and unsupported doesn't strike me as a great idea, especially when the union's track record in helping players in desperate straits isn't sparkling.

What galls me about this situation is the number of numbskulls who took this situation, and the Rocker situation, as an opportunity to rebleat their defenses of Pete Rose, as if Rose should somehow get off the hook because no matter how guilty he is, so are other people. Since this tortured comparison has become an issue of public debate, I guess anybody could argue that Strawberry's personal problems may well have ruined his shot at the Hall of Fame. Superficially, that isn't too different from Pete Rose. The difference lies in that with Strawberry, we'll never know if it did or not, while with Rose, we can be very certain.

OAKLAND A'S

Signed OF Ben Grieve to a four-year contract; promoted GM Billy Beane to Vice President, Baseball Operations. [3/3]

Both moves reflect the organization's progress on many fronts, but the current speculation is that locking up Grieve to a contract that doesn't delay when he'll be eligible for free agency has created a lot of jealousy from Miguel Tejada, whose agents flubbed their initial chance to get him a similar four-year contract. From the A's perspective, though, having Grieve inked for what may well be the best four years of his career for less than market value, and eradicating any possibility of going through the arbitration ringer, is a nifty little coup. It's definitely the sort of thing that should earn Beane his promotion and raise.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Released RHP Pep Harris after he failed his physical. [3/2]

Which pretty well shuts the door on his chances to re-start his career. Not every surgery solves every problem.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Agreed with RF Tony Gwynn on an option for 2001. [3/2]

After what seemed like an interminable amount of bitching, the Pads finally got this done. I'm not really sold on the argument that Gwynn deserves whatever he asks for, considering his almost negligible defensive value nowadays. But if the Pads want to have any shot at putting another 2.5 million fannies in the seats, then they needed this to work out.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Voided EFP Carlos Baerga's contract because of an unreported knee injury. [3/4]

EFP: Ex-Famous Person. Still done, overdone, twice-baked, finished, you name it, the Beeg Belly remains a 100% waste of a roster spot.

TEXAS RANGERS

Signed 3B Osmani Garcia and 2B Jorge Diaz to minor-league contracts. [3/2]

Two more Cubans get to join up. This is a little interesting, in that neither of them is going to push past people like Mike Lamb or Jason Romano all that quickly, but the Rangers can use all the minor-league talent they can get.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Signed RHP Roy Halladay to a three-year contract. [2/29]

Reassigned RHPs Kurt Bogott and Matt McLellan, IF Cesar Izturis and 3B Joe Lawrence to their minor-league camp. [3/6]

The structure of Halladay's deal is extremely back-loaded: a $250,000 bonus, a first-year salary of $300,000, a second-year salary of $650,000 and a third-year salary of $2.5 million. That's swell for Halladay, and generally conforms to the union's expectations for salary progression.

I guess my concern is that with noted slagmeister Jim Fregosi looking to run his talented young rotation into the ground, will that back-loading end up being a major millstone on the Jays' budget come 2002? Because Halladay doesn't have a terrible health record, I'd hope Gord Ash could find an insurer to cover the deal, but if I'm the insurance salesman, I ask for Fregosi's resignation first.

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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