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March 7, 2006

Transaction Analysis

March 3-6

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Released RHP Ryan Jensen. [3/5]

The man's already 30, and a couple of years into beginning his flirtation with the knuckler. Now, sure, 30 is young for a guy who may (or may not) want to be a knuckleballer. Maybe it's a matter finding yourself late in life, and I know I'm more sympathetic than most on that. But until Mr. Jensen actually relies on the pitch, I don't think we should ask what he's up to, and until he starts getting people out, I don't think he should tell. Keep in mind, as much as we like to talk about knuckleballers entering their "prime" in their thirties, Tom Candiotti was already set in the majors as a good starting pitcher at 28. Steve Sparks had done better as a knuckleballer before 30. If Jensen wants a role model, it's Dennis Springer, and let me tell you, if that's who you want to be when you grow up, I'd suggest you've been living in some lovely filth for a wee bit too long. We'll see where Jensen catches on, but time spent at the Niekro's camp probably wouldn't be the worst choice at this point.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Signed OF-R Ruben Rivera to a minor league contract. [3/2]

This is one of those pickups for which Kenny Williams seems to have a sweet tooth for, like his past pickup of equally failed former uber-prospect Alex Escobar back in 2004. Nothing wrong with that, since it gives the good people of Charlotte the chance to watch a major league-grade glove in the outfield and the occasional display of right-handed sock. Keep in mind, Williams then flipped Escobar to the hapless Jim Bowden for Jerry Owens, a move that, like the steal where Williams nabbed Juan Uribe from the Rockies for Aaron Miles, is another case of getting possibly something for certainly nothing.

In Rivera's case, some people might still think of him as the Locker Room Bandit--no, not the guy who went through the ceiling to steal Albert Belle's suspected-but-never-convicted bat after a ChiSox-Tribe game in 1994, but the creep who tried to make an extra buck by stealing Derek Jeter's glove out of his locker in 2002. But after doing penance in the Mexican League last season, where he hit .342 for Campeche while homering once every 14 at-bats, I guess I don't see his comeback as less plausible than Felix Jose's was in 2004, when Jose almost stuck with Snakes despite being nearly 40. (For the curious, Jose bashed 30 for Oaxaca last season.) If Rivera can still run, still throw, and still put the hurt on lefties, he's still potentially useful as a fifth outfielder.

Meanwhile, if you're a fan of either Owens or former Stanford great Joe Borchard, you might interpret the addition of a veteran outfielder to the likely Opening Day roster of the Knights as a positive sign that your guy could stick. Either of them still have to beat out Ross Gload, although the complicating factors are that Borchard's out of options, Owens isn't, and who else would want Gload on their 40-man? After also signing Bucky Jacobsen, and with the likely promotion of 3B Josh Fields, the Knights should do some entertaining bopping now and again.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Assigned RHP Jorge DePaula and RHP Steven White to their minor league camp. [3/4]

Consider me one of the doofs still thinking DePaula might yet be something. Considering how quickly that the Yankees shipped him off, keep in mind that last season was his first year back from his elbow being Tommy John'd, and that the Yankees aren't the most broad-minded of teams when it comes to taking people under 30 seriously. DePaula will be 27 at the end of July, and if it was any other team, I would think a prescription for a half-season in the rotation to show something, followed by a conversion to the pen (and a possible promotion in August) if he didn't, would make for a fine course of action. This being the Yankees, he might at best be a throw-in on some July deal for somebody willing to swap the Pinstriped Menace a Paul Blair or Bert Campaneris star turn that might at least make Joe Torre feel comfortable talking to the people sitting with him on the bench. I suspect that when you get to Torre's age, your focus is on fiber and escrow, and not on figuring out who 50 Cent is, or asking whether or not Farrah's back in yet.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Assigned RHP Nick Regilio to their minor league camp. [3/6]

Pretty much a non-story, considering that Regilio is damaged goods (elbow), and the Rangers have several more interesting contenders for back of the roster slots on the pitching staff. Between Rick Bauer, Ron Mahay, Jon Leicester, John Wasdin, or Antonio Alfonseca, it isn't like there aren't prospective claimants for the back end of the staff ready right now, whether as the fifth starter or at the bottom of the pen. Regilio's minor league deal entitles him to free agency come July 1 if he isn't on the big league roster, but between Brian Anderson's eventual return to health and Regilio's somewhat dodgy prospects in the first place, he shouldn't be in a hurry to act on that.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Voided the contract of RHP Jason Simontacchi. [3/3]

Italian that I am (on Mom's side), I can't help but feel for Simontacchi, as it looks like his career is winding down. Shoulder surgery after the 2004 season cost him all of last year, and it appears that his shoulder isn't doing any better at present. At 32, he'll still probably turn up with some club that needs help at their Triple-A affiliate, and still get an opportunity to show whether or not he might make for an adequate fifth man or long reliever for somebody. Admittedly, his career prospects aren't really very different from other mayflies of the wins column, guys like Tom Filer in 1985, or Aaron Small going forward from last year. Nevertheless, that 20-10 run in his two-plus seasons with the Cardinals is something worth bragging about to the grandkids, at least insofar as it represented that he was somebody who could pitch in the majors well enough to keep a good offensive team in ballgames. You might think that comment overly dismissive, but let's face it, guys like Rick Behenna or Pete Smith never really did that, and they were considered prospects once upon a time. If it's the end or not, here's hoping the paesan' catches on with somebody somewhere, and gets a last shot at not having to leave the game from the surgeon's table.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Purchased the contract of 1B/OF-R Eli Marrero from Colorado Springs; placed RHP Chin-hui Tsao on the 60-day DL. [3/2]

Shoulder surgery was already going to keep Tsao out for much of this season anyway, so take this as a confirmation that Marrero looks healthy in camp. If you think Marrero makes a good enough outfielder, he could actually make for a pretty sweet platoon partner in right with Brad Hawpe. No, this doesn't do Ryan Shealy much good, but that's where things stand until Shealy proves he can handle the outfield, and until the Rockies conjure up some more lefty-hitting help in the lineup. Nevertheless, Hawpe will still have to improve on his hitting .264/.351/.404 against RHPs last season, and there's still all of the other problems in the lineup, like who's behind the plate, who's in center, who's at second, and how much disappointment they can deal with relative to their wishcasting greatness for Matt Holliday, Clint Barmes, and Garrett Atkins. In short, the Rockies, like their Fishy '93 expansion brethren, are actually worse off than both of the '97 expansion teams, and perhaps not really in better shape than Florida despite the relative differences in market and ownership.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Terminated the contract of 2B/SS-R Pokey Reese. [3/5]

To which I say... so what? It's bad enough that the Reds overrated him on Jim Bowden's watch, or that the Red Sox overrated him on Theo Epstein's, or that anybody would go out of their way to have him, but let's face it, if he wasn't Pokey Reese, Former Famous Person, would anybody care that he walked out of camp because of personal issues? Fiddle, nobody but you and me, gentle reader, the Reese family of course, and whatever fantheads who have their drafts in February (it's like living together before marriage, a source of regret more than a matter of settling in). The Marlins, you ask? Don't be silly. What they've got on tap at the keystone might define replacement level, but Pokey wasn't going to be any better than any of the people in this particular madding crowd. Between Rule 5 pick Dan Uggla, minor league free agent Mickey Lopez, and journeyman infield reserve Alfredo Amezaga, they've got three potato-level replacement spuds already. Consider the Davenport Translations of their performances last season:

Player    Team/Level       PA    Translated BA/OBP/SLG   EQA
Uggla    Tennessee/AA      538     .246/.311/.415       .250
Amezaga  Indianapolis/AAA  209     .288/.342/.380       .257
Lopez    Fresno/AAA        443     .230/.275/.339       .218
Now, maybe it's just me, but Reese was more likely to hit about as well as Lopez, while offering all of the injury-prone unreliability his employers have come to expect. So frankly, if the Pokey path is the one the Fish wish to take, better to pick a Mickey than a Reese. But they have two better choices still in Uggla and Amezaga, and if Uggla's going to be a bit ugly on the defensive side given our fielding translations for him or mainstream anticipation that anyone who commits 18 errors in 97 games at second might not be good at it, that's the nature of fishing out fry from the replacement talent pool.

Should none of these guys strike manager Joe Girardi's fancy, no worries, because second base might well be the easiest position in baseball at which to find an adequate fill-in. If they get really lucky, they work something out with a team like the Angels for Adam Kennedy (because Howie Kendrick proves ready) or something low-key to get a Willie Harris from Boston or a Bernie Castro or Brendan Harris from the Nats. Maybe someone close to the end, for nothing or little in return, like Nick Punto from the Twins, or Ramon Vazquez from the Tribe, or Keith Ginter from Oakland. Whoever they shop for, the Fish aren't really in a position to negotiate, so a lot depends on how much good will Larry Beinfest has or wishes to curry with a particular team, and/or whether that team wants to do a guy a favor once it becomes clear he isn't going to make their roster, and might instead be given a shot at playing every day for the mighty Marlins. I know the Phillies are offering Tomas Perez, and I suppose that might make sense if Girardi wants an on-field nursemaid, but he wouldn't be an asset in the field or at the plate.

That said, I think that given the team's young pitching staff and general hopelessness in the standings, the best service that Beinfest can perform right now is to give the young hurlers a quality glove man. The Fish will probably lose 100 games regardless of their second baseman, but why not reap a double benefit of playing somebody who can field? First, they'd give their pitchers honest reps, in the sense that they'd learn from the positive results of what they can throw against major leaguers and get them out with the added benefit of not having someone like Gregg Jefferies stumbling around at the keystone. Second, and just as important, as a result of getting that sort of clean read on what their pitchers can do, the organization would then get a better sense of who's worth keeping from among the kids.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Assigned RHP Jerome Gamble to their minor league camp; optioned RHP Mike Jones to Brevard County (A-ball). [3/6]

NEW YORK METS
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Sold the contract of LHP Dae-Sung Koo to the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Leagues. [3/2]

Some ideas just don't work out that well, not that attempting to import Koo was a bad idea, but let's face it, if you're going to import a situational lefty, you're depending on some scouting reports that probably don't have a whole lot of meaningful statistical information to back them up. Points for trying, and points for giving up. Now, just tell all that to the scorekeeper in the sky, and see if that helps the Metsies get their second base or right field jobs into the hands of the right guys.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Witnessed the announcement of the retirement of LHP Kirk Rueter. [3/6]

I thought I'd mention this somewhere, and where better than the gentleman's last employer? So no, before anyone wonders, this isn't some mean-spirited attempt to talk about somebody whose career crashed and burned in the Giants section because I'm like our own Gary Huckabay in my contempt for all things Giant. (Truth be told, I was pretty close to being a closet Giant-symp during the Roger Craig days, because I liked a lot of the players on that team, guys like Bob Brenly gamely playing third when not catching, Kevin Mitchell doing the occasionally incredible, Mike Krukow's curve, Scott Garrelts' blazing fastball. Even Atlee Hammaker. But I digress.)

At any rate, Rueter's done, not that this is a surprise after last season. However, let's give the man his due: he was never a scout's sort of pitcher, not with his weak velocity, and frankly he wasn't even much of a performance analysis fave, not with his spotty walk rates. That's probably why he never captured that Bob Tewksbury sort of cachet, despite being similarly speed-challenged, and similarly unloved by scouts. But as sympathetic as we can all be towards Rueter, we're talking about a starter who had the benefit of pitching for the Bonds Giants, and none too coincidentally, he got away with posting one good year in the last eight while still being 19 games over .500 during that stretch (1998-2005). In comparison, Tewksbury was moderately useful right up through the end, pitching in for two editions of yet another nowheresville Twins team in '97 and '98. I'm sure if Rueter wants to retire to coaching, he'll have a place waiting for him, but given that he probably never would have topped 100 wins if he hadn't been getting run support from Barry Bonds, I'd hope he'd be clamoring to be a candidate for giving Bonds a Hall of Fame speech come that day in the indefinite future. There's no chance it'll happen, of course, given Barry's pedigree and connections to the game's history, but after the money made and the career enjoyed, I'd suggest that Rueter owes it to the man.

By contrast, I don't know where I should discuss Bloody Paul Quantrill's decision to retire after he pitches for Canada in World Baseball c-Lassic (and why weren't they considered for a primary sponsorship? The hyped non-event has put the game in a bit of a pickle, after all.) But now that Quantrill's done, I guess I have to make all of my jokes about the Pierce administration and "Bleeding Kansas" in the Royals section. Rubber-armed until the end, Quantrill wound up demonstrating the sort of career that a washed-out starter could still end up having. I don't know if we should credit pitching coach Mel Queen or manager Cito Gaston, but Quantrill's career was finally turned around with the Jays in 1997, and that's what launched him into a pretty good seven- or eight-year run, right up until Joe Torre wore him down to the nub in 2004. If he didn't get a ring, he had a pretty good run for a guy who didn't work out with the Red Sox in the early '90s, got swapped for the immortal Wes Chamberlain (the man who some felt needed to wear a chest protector in the outfield). That turn of events, whether Queen's idea or Gaston's, would earn him almost $11 million as a relief commodity, so if you wonder why some guys hang around hoping for something to work out, keep Quantrill's career in mind as far as the potential rewards for sticking with it.

Thanks to Clay Davenport for his assistance with data for this article.

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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