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February 23, 2006

Transaction Analysis

February 19-22

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Signed 1B-L Roberto Petagine to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/21]

Bring me the head of Greg Dobbs, because a real classic, old-time, down-on-his-luck hero has come to town, and we ain't talkin' Warren Oates. Warren fans, don't worry, you can count me among your ranks, but in the same way that we all loved seeing Oates show up in one tough-luck role after another, no matter how many times we knew that there'd be no happy ending, we also knew that we had to root for our hero anyways.

That's sort of why I feel the same way about every stathead's superfan experience with Petagine. It doesn't matter that it still hasn't added up for him, and it doesn't matter that the ending never will work out well. He was born unlucky, starting off with the Astros when Jeff Bagwell ruled the roost, then winding up with the Padres in 1995, a year they spent getting by at first base with shaved hominids like Scott Livingstone and Eddie Williams. From there, he went to the Mets at a time when they couldn't distinguish between Butch Huskey, Rico Brogna, and a big league first baseman, and later he wasted a year of his life on Jim Bowden's false hope in '98. At that point, Petagine finally made it big in Japan, getting into clover for six years, and escaping the disappointments of the big country as successfully as Spinal Tap. Nevertheless, he gave the States another go with Boston last year, and if he didn't get his due with the Red Sox, Seattle's probably the closest thing to a compromise between Japanese League stardom and existence in the big leagues.

As much as I'm sympathetic, though, let's face it, Petagine is 35. Even on a Mariners team as bereft of serious bench help as you'd expect in a land with an openly-practiced Bloomquist cult, put this possible last stand halfway between John Wayne and Forrest Whitaker. If we're all lucky, it won't happen in Tacoma; I don't think anyone should have much reason to believe that Carl Everett can outhit Petagine, but the DH job isn't up for grabs until Everett hits badly enough to make it a competition. If that's all that's left to one of the heroes of latter-day performance analysis, then it's best to remember that when the play's the thing...

TEXAS RANGERS
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Signed 1B-L Erubiel Durazo to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/21]

Durazo's reportedly going to play for Mexico in the New World Baseball Classic 2.0 with Nutrasweet (any similarities to real baseball product is entirely intentional), despite previous reports that he wouldn't be much good on a diamond before May. Assuming that Durazo's healing faster than he ever has in the past, and that his exhibition play for the greater glory of a non-employer doesn't lead to a reinjury or brand new malady, this is a good pickup for the Rangers, considering that their first choice at DH is last summer's mistake, Phil Nevin. Prospect hounds could and should prefer Jason Botts, but if the Rangers can't work themselves up to that, Durazo makes for a solid alternative to the likely disappointments they'll get from Nevin's bat.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Signed LHP Jimmy Anderson and RHP Eddie Gaillard to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [2/20]

It isn't often that I'm sick of seeing some guys turn up, but Jimmy Anderson is the lucky penny that everyone picks up, figuring they've got a penny, only to find out that it's actually some damned token to an unnamed kid's gumball machine, and good luck tracking the squirt down just to get a gum ball for your troubles. Sometimes, it's best to step over, and let other people get lucky. To put it more directly, Anderson is 30, and is separated from his brief brush with adequacy as a fifth starter by five years. If the Marlins are auditioning temps before any of the various fry from their broadly-cast net this winter produces a single full-grown fish, you'd hope they'd do better than Anderson.

As for Gaillard, he's 35. After not showing up in the majors in this millennium, and washing out of Japan in recent years, and Rockies camp just last spring, you have to hope that he's not auditioning for a real role, but as a substitute pitching coach.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Signed RHP Josh Hancock to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/20]

Sadly, Memphis plays in the wrong Triple-A watershed, geography be damned, so whatever odds of this adding up to be an in-your-face showdown with a divisional rival will have to happen at the major league level between the Cardinals and the Reds, and not between Memphis and Louisville. Overweight for the time being or not, Hancock had never pitched fewer than 100 innings in his previous six years as a pro before being limited to 58 innings by a sprained elbow and a groin injury. As guys go, there are worse warm bodies to pick up. He'll be 28, he's always had pretty good command of his slider if a less-than-dominant fastball, and it isn't like failure in the Reds or Phillies organizations are iron-clad proofs that you're someone who can't pitch. On the other hand, his up-side really isn't much higher than adequate fifth starter or solidly useful tenth or eleventh man on a staff, so don't get really worked up. La Russa and Duncan are good at resurrections, but that doesn't make everybody in Cardinals' camp a potential Lazarus.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Signed C-R Mike DiFelice to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/19]

Signed RHP Kevin Gryboski and OF-R Cristian Guerrero to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [2/20]

One of the great debates about the nature of freedom was whether freedom should be defined as the freedom to do as you will, or freedom from harm. It's a debate you could stretch back as far as Rousseau if you cared to, but basically, it was something that seemed pretty relevant about the structure of western democracies until the last five or six years. Now, it's mostly an academic debate, and one you might apply towards more fundamental questions, like whether or not the freedom to sign every backup catcher under the sun is freedom from harming yourself, or the freedom to harm all of them. Coming as I do from a union experience, I would think that the choice to employ so many different card-carrying members of the International Brotherhood of Backup Catchers would not be in the best interests of the union. If nothing else, it's a matter of DiFelice, Wiki Gonzalez, Alberto Castillo, and Brandon Harper not all being able to have the same jobs, not in a union shop, and not all at the next level down, either. Even if Frank Robinson carries both Robert Fick and Matt LeCroy, and finds more room still for an actual catch-and-throw catching reserve, that's still a crowd at Triple-A, and one which doesn't involve anyone you'd actually want to employ. You'd think they'd be more efficiently spread around, but there could be other factors in play. First, guys like DiFelice and Castillo have already played for just about every team in the game, and if they have the good sense not to want them, you could call that market efficiency, or a case of familiarity breeding contempt. Either way, it means that the two dozen people following the Zephyrs will be grousing.

As for Gryboski and Guerrero, both are normal Bowden flyers. Guerrero was in the system last summer, but hasn't resembled a prospect in five years, "peaking" in Ogden as a 20-year old. Gryboski's a bit of a longshot, in that even during his good stretch (2002-04), he wasn't that good, but what the heck, everyone sifts for the occasional live retread in the making.

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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