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March 10, 2006

Transaction Analysis

March 7-9

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Released OF-R Richard Hidalgo. [3/7]

Career-wise, Hidalgo now seems to be on the Raul Mondesi wayward path, having sulked his way out of his Orioles commitment to entertain notions of going to Japan. What comes after that is anybody's guess. The Braves don't need veteran temps in the outfield any more, and Arizona's not that kind of team these days, which leaves... who, the Giants? In the meantime, let's not blame the Orioles for this. Their feelings about Hidalgo weren't very different from my own--two hours of Viggo Mortensen on horseback, how could anybody screw that up?--and they were similarly disappointed.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Announced the retirement of C-R John Flaherty. [3/7]

I don't know what's most tragic about this contretemps: that Boston has its choices narrowed, that Flaherty lasted ten years beyond the useful portion of his career, that Flaherty's real bragging right might only be that he was an original Devil Fishy, or that I'm now plum out of people named Flaherty with whom I can try to work in an SCTV reference.

Weep not, only one of these things really matters. The battle for the backup backstop in Beantown is a contest between immortals Josh Bard and Ken Huckaby. This should be pretty straightforward, in that Bard's the better player, what with him being able to actually hit his weight without first asking what he had for lunch. Huckaby's merely hung around about as well as you would expect the vanilla bean variant on Alberto Castillo might, but he's equally indefensible as a choice if there's an actual ballplayer around, especially since Bard's going to be 28 by Opening Day, making him something less than an up-and-coming kid. The rub is that you have to ask how much playing time either of them will get behind Jason Varitek anyway.

That question has special significance because one of the major considerations, courtesy of the expectations generated by years of having Doug Mirabelli around, is whether or not Bard or Huckaby can be the backup that can handle Tim Wakefield's knuckler. If neither can, will Boston start taking the risk of breaking one of Varitek's fingers on a particularly wicked flutterball? Varitek caught all of four Wakefield games last year, and only one (total) in 2003-2004. However, Varitek once caught Wakefield more regularly: in 1998, he caught Wakefield 17 times, in 1999 another 17, and a dozen times in 2000. So it isn't beyond the realm of possibility that Varitek might start 130 games that include a few more Wakefield games than of late. Nevertheless, if either Bard or Huckaby show any particular zeal for this dirty job, it won't hurt their individual bids.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Optioned LHP Rusty Tucker to Charlotte; reassigned LHPs Corwin Malone, Stephen Randolph, and Chad Bentz, OF-L Ben Grieve, INF-Rs Tim Hummel and Jorge Velandia, and C-Rs Carlos Lee and Donny Lucy to their minor league camp. [3/7]

Acquired INF-B Alex Cintron from the Diamondbacks for RHP Jeff Bajenaru; outrighted LHP Arnie Munoz to Charlotte (Triple-A). [3/8]

I like the decision to go out and get Cintron, in that to me, it looks like a case of dumping from an area of obvious surplus to get someone you may well end up needing if the team endures a significant injury to either starting middle infielder. The Sox are already going to have to put Brandon McCarthy in a long relief role if they're going to keep him around at all; where was Bajenaru ever going to fit in? McCarthy isn't necessarily guaranteed anything, not if both Tim Redding and Javier Lopez (or Almando Almanza have good enough camps to stick.

There are other wrinkles, like at least one the Sox have mentioned, in that this makes it that much easier to put supersub Rob Mackowiak in the outfield. That in turn means that Pablo Ozuna isn't the only guy in danger of losing playing time; whichever one of Joe Borchard, Ross Gload, and Jerry Owens sticks as the extra outfielder, he's that much less likely to get many at-bats. Happily, Ozzie Guillen does seem to put his bench to work, so the last man or two won't be ignored, Torre-style; it just means that whoever it is will get fewer than 200 PAs, where before, he might have gotten there. Ozuna's also the big loser in that if he has a bad camp, he may well lose out to Gload for that last spot on the bench.

Now, all of this said, while Cintron is apparently a Guillen fave, he isn't without warts. He won't be hitting in the BOB any more, and last season, the difference between his hitting in the Snake Box and elsewhere in the majors was the difference between utility and worthlessness: .288/.313/.435 versus .256/.281/.394. Perhaps he'll adapt well, and perhaps not; there's very much a danger that Cintron could become for the White Sox what Neifi Perez has been on the North Side, a bane and a menace. Happily, the Sox seem merely fond of Cintron, not convinced he's a regular.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Signed CF-L David DeJesus to a five-year, $13.5 million contract, with a club option for 2011. [3/9]

There it was, Royals fans, your highlight of the 2006 season, a contract that gives you reasons to watch the subsequent four or five years. Heck, by 2012, he'll even be old enough and expensive enough to be a Yankee. Okay, I know, this is like picking the wings off of flies, and to give credit where credit's due, kudos to Allard Baird and to DeJesus for getting this done. But we can't all be like Rany, and retain some sense of hope.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Reassigned RHPs Rich Dorman and Chris Jaile to their minor league camp; added RHP Sean Green to Major League camp as a NRI. [3/8]

Well, how nice for one of the one-line guys in this year's book, but with the Mariners still awaiting the return of J.J. Putz to full operating condition, the pen is a bit short of right-handed relief help, and Green isn't too far off from being an adequate major league reliever. The alternatives include has-beens like Kevin Appier and Dave Burba, and never-wuzzes like Jeff Harris and Jeff Heaverlo. Among the more promising help, the organization appears to want Jesse Foppert to start off in Tacoma's rotation, while in the early going, former Rockies Rule 5 pick Marcos Carvajal looks like he's going to need to go back to the minor leagues after all. Green's a huge guy (6'6"), tough on right-handed hitters, generates a good number of groundouts, so while Green's chances remain pretty slim, they're better now than they were a week ago.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Acquired RHP Jeff Bajenaru from the White Sox in exchange for INF-B Alex Cintron. [3/8]

Give Josh Byrnes his due. Would you rather have Alex Cintron and Jason Bulger, or Alberto Callaspo and Jeff Bajenaru? Keeping in mind that the World Series is not on this year's roadmap, natch.

Why? To start off, while the Snake pen isn't quite so nasty as the term sounds, it just isn't full of famous names as much as a distinct segregation between people on their way out and people on their way in. Which is why I can understand the motivation behind this deal. Let's say that you can count on Jose Valverde as your closer, and (Doug Slaten's early work in camp aside) let's also assume that one slot goes to one of the veteran lefties, either Terry Mulholland, Felix Heredia, or Randy Choate. Now, maybe one of the other four slots goes to the loser in the Claudio Vargas versus Brad Halsey duel for the fifth slot in the rotation. Depending on that particular issue, there are either three or four slots left in a six man pen to fill from this pool: Jason Grimsley, Luis Vizcaino, Brandon Lyon, Brian Bruney, Brandon Medders, Greg Aquino, Bajenaru, Casey Daigle.

So who gets winnowed out first? Bruney and Daigle have options, and seem likely to have to open the year at Tucson. Grimsley's looking terrible in camp, and at 38, he's very probably done, something Arizona will sort out either now or by May 1, but something that they will see. You might still think of Aquino as an up-and-coming kid, but he'll be 28 this season, and he has yet to show anything resembling reliability. So perhaps this makes Vizcaino the veteran middle man, and after him... who? Medders certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt after his torrid performance after his late-season call-up. Lyons is relatively iffy in terms of reliability, but he is only 26. If he doesn't stick, do you really want to have to rely on Grimsley? Or Aquino? Why not instead peddle somebody you don't really need for somebody you probably will?

Which creates an opportunity for Bajenaru. He's no spring chicken, considering that he'll be 28 in a few weeks, but beyond being an active member of SABR, he's been as ready for the major leagues as he's ever going to be the last two seasons. He's not overpowering, but does get into the low 90s; the question is whether his breaking stuff will work well enough for him to survive in a bandbox like the BOB. He isn't the worst guy to take a chance on, certainly not when you're having to look seriously at guys like Grimsley or Lyons.

The interesting wrinkle here is the status of Craig Counsell's shoulder. Without Cintron around, and if Counsell's on the shelf, the suggestion that Damion Easley would play short on Opening Day should be belied by the acquisition of Alberto Callaspo. Happily, there seems to be unanimity that Counsell will be fine, so Cintron really shouldn't be missed. Instead, the question is whether or not Callaspo can beat out Andy Green as the other primary infield reserve, beyond Easley. If Counsell opens the season on the shelf, I guess I could understand a scenario where, assuming it's a brief stay, Jerry Gil might stick around as Easley's defensive replacement. In the end, whatever lets Stephen Drew set his own timetable for promotion is a good thing.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Released RHPs Luke Hudson and Bubba Nelson; reassigned RHP Josh Hall, INF-B Anderson Machado, 2B-R Aaron Herr, and UT-B Derek Wathan to their minor league camp. [3/9]

Hall's demotion should not be considered a disappointment, not while he's not too far removed from his early days on the comeback trail from shoulder surgeries. What's a little more surprising were the summary judgments made on both Hudson and Nelson, and if Hudson's perpetually cranky shoulder and failure to thrive makes him thoroughly replaceable, Nelson's only 24 and might still have a career ahead of him. I don't mind new GM Wayne Krivsky's decisiveness in trying to clear away some of the old regime's projects, but if there's a guy who might still surprise you if he finds the right organization and pitching coach, it might be Nelson.

Over on the non-pitching side of the chop shop, Machado and Herr are both interesting, but far from being prospects, so both will have to open the year at Chattanooga or Louisville. They might both be better offensive options than the very interchangeable William Bergolla and Rainer Olmedo, but as is, that duo might only get shots at being the second infield reserve behind Rich Aurilia--assuming either of them can fend of challenges from the likes of Frank Menechino. Since a good chunk of the extra playing time at second will be going to Ryan Freel, and perhaps even moreso once Tony Womack's case of the sucks starts getting his name crossed out of lineup cards, there really won't be all that much playing time in the infield to go around, so the major questions as far as who wins from among Menechino, Olmedo, and Bergolla might boil down to a question of options, 40-man roster space, and who wouldn't be better off playing regularly in Triple-A.

NEW YORK METS
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Reassigned RHPs Philip Humber, Matt Lindstrom, Rafael Cova, Jeremy Hill, and Jason Scobie, C-Rs Jesus Flores, Drew Butera, Andy Wilson, and Aaron Hathaway, and 1B-L Brett Harper to their minor league camp. [3/7]

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Optioned LHP Chris Narveson to Memphis (Triple-A); reassigned RHPs Andy Cavazos and Dennis Tankersley, LHPs Randy Leek and Rich Rundles, C-L Bryan Anderson, C-R Jason Motte, 1B-R Kit Pellow, and INF-R Dave Berg to their minor league camp. [3/7]

Narveson, Tankersley, and Berg might all make it back up at some point, although for different reasons. Tankersley or Narveson still have untapped talent, and if they get off to good starts, it might not merely take an injury to create an opportunity for either of them. As for Berg, the question there is how worthwhile guys like Scott Spiezio or Aaron Miles are going to be, and we already know the answer to those questions. Still, the team has both Hector Luna and Deivi Cruz around for utility roles, so there's a chance that Spiezio, Miles, and Berg will all be scrabbling after playing time in Memphis.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Optioned 1B-L Larry Broadway to New Orleans (Triple-A); optioned LHP Michael Hinckley to Potomac (A-ball); reassigned RHPs Andrew Good and Francis Beltran, LHPs Mike Bacsik, Micah Bowie, and Jim Crowell, C-R Erick San Pedro, 3B-L Kory Casto, SS-R Josh Labandeira, and OF-Rs Frank Diaz, Cristian Guerrero, and Ruben Mateo to their minor league camp; extended the contracts of VP/GM Jim Bowden and AGM Tony Siegle through the 2006 season. [3/9]

No real surprises among the cuts. Broadway, Hinckley, and Beltran all have to prove that they're healthy, and Casto and Diaz both need to show they're ready for Double-A. No, of the day's moves, the news belongs to the retention of the always-flirty Jim Bowden. The graying Boy Wonder has dealt with his being passed over for all of those other GM jobs this winter with his usual good grace. Having spent so much time trying to parlay his season's worth of hyperactivity in D.C. into a job someplace else, it looks like the great spinner will be running down the tread on the tires of his life here in the capital after all. This won't necessarily lead to forward progress, of course; however much the game's great transactions junkie might change things, change is not necessarily progress.

With Brian Lawrence shelved, the rotation looking a grim sight, and the fascination with Brandon Watson going beyond prurient curiosity and diving straight into the territory of a lineup transgression, the team could be especially ugly in the early going. Let's face it, when you're rooting for Royce Clayton to be your shortstop, there are things amiss. There will be things to enjoy, though, like Ryan Zimmerman, and Bill Bray's replacing either Joey Eischen or Mike Stanton in the pen at some point within the season. Maybe Ryan Church will finally catch a break. It'll be a team worth following, but only after it inspires a few more Bowden tantrums, and a few equally truculent recognitions of reality; this is not a team to pretend to contend with, but a team with which to try and entertain the town while moving another building block or two into place.

Thanks are due to Keith Woolner for his research assistance in the Red Sox segment.

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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