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June 1, 2006

Transaction Analysis

May 30-31

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Traded RHP Esteban Yan and cash to the Reds for RHP Kyle Edens. [5/30]

Signed Kelvim Escobar to a three-year, $28.5 million contract extension through 2009. [5/31]

It's interesting to remember that if Escobar had once earned a reputation for whiny inflexibility as an "I'm a one-inning closer or else," he's now a much more flexible asset, particularly solid as a rotation regular, but also handy if you need an experienced reliever in the pen during the postseason. Committing to him through his 33rd birthday doesn't seem overtly risky, but the decision to pay out an annual average of $9 million is a little more daunting. Keep in mind that it's better spent here than spending close to $7 million per for Paul Byrd or that same $9 million for Jarrod Washburn. Both Escobar and the Angels might have pulled the trigger earlier, but both parties wanted to see how Escobar would hold up returning to regular rotation work. It was a calculated risk by Escobar (he was turning down a two-year extension), and a sensible precaution for the Angels, and everybody's happy.

As far as financial flexibility, remember that the Angels probably won't be paying Darin Erstad $8.5 million, and they'll probably let Jeff Weaver walk after his one-year, ~$9 million deal is done. Should they keep Adam Kennedy, he'll cost them more than $3.5 million, but a lot of the team's core talent is already inked for 2007 and beyond, so Escobar's expense seems to fit into the team's cost structure pretty tidily. Should they end up having Jered Weaver, Howie Kendrick, and Kendry Morales playing significant roles next year, they might get better and cheaper, at which point they can probably do some aggressive shopping for a third baseman or center fielder (whichever position that Chone Figgins doesn't play) next winter.

Finally, the payoff for ditching Yan seems intriguing. Edens is a former third-round pick in the '03 draft, and as a reliever out of Baylor, he'd thrown in the mid-90s. His velocity hasn't been that good as a pro, but he gets additional good marks for his slider, and the Angels are the kind of team that turns a blind eye towards whether or not a guy is short and chunky the way Edens is. Instead, they focus on stuff and command, two things that Edens has had going for him. With the Reds, he was being asked to repeat the Florida State League, and wasn't doing well (50 baserunners in 29.2 IP) after a solid season there last year. Maybe he winds up an organizational Angel, and maybe he turns into something more, but as the price for discarding a mistake like Yan, it seems worthwhile.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Returned LHP David Wells to the 15-day DL (knee), retroactive to 5/27; recalled RHP David Pauley from Portland (Double-A). [5/31]

Pauley was pitching well in Portland's rotation: in ten starts, he'd tossed 60.1 IP, with 47 strikeouts, 17 walks, three runs allowed per nine, and 54 hits. He'd also allowed six home runs. Part of the payoff for making Dave Roberts a Padre, Pauley isn't seen as a top prospect, but despite his repeating Double-A, keep in mind that he's still short of 23. There's no rule that requires a contender to have an ex-famous person fill the last slot in a big league rotation, and Wells' combination of ill health and poor fortune seems to militate against getting too devoted to him. Pauley throws three pitches for strikes, and if he's short of being a dominant pitcher, that's not what the Sox need from him, just something better than Lenny DiNardo, and more frequently available than Jumbo.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Zach Miner from Toledo (Triple-A); optioned 3B-L Jack Hannahan to Toledo. [5/31]

Miner was enjoying a nifty season in Toledo: only 43 hits and a pair of bombs in 51 IP, a less-impressive 40-21 strikeout-walk ratio, but a gaudy 6-0 record. That said, this was a short-term bit of reinforcing the pen, not a rush to get Roman Colon out of the rotation. I've sung Miner's praises in the past, and he's done nothing to prove me wrong, but this is a cameo, not a real opportunity, and I expect he'll be a Mudhen again before long.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Activated LHP Mark Redman from the Bereavement List; optioned RHP Joe Nelson to Omaha (Triple-A); named Dayton Moore to replace Allard Baird as senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager. [5/31]

Moore seems to be the flavor of the moment from the scouting-minded community, and while I'm sure there's a chance he might do well, I'm reminded of one former Braves' professional of unquestioned ability who went to a disastrously badly-run franchise with the expectation that he'd set things aright: the lamentable Dean Taylor, and his equally lamentable tenure in Milwaukee. Maybe it's because I'm currently wrapping up reading a history of Poland between the two World Wars, but in the same way that some outfits are so fundamentally rotten that they can't build a functioning state or craft a sensible constitution or cultivate competence in its services, those same issues can be found in a badly-run baseball team. Arguments about how self-interest demands improvement don't really matter: wrong-headed dopes, whether they're Marshal Rydz-Smigly or anybody among the Royals' board of directors (the Glass family and Herk Robinson) are going to help perpetuate something that fundamentally doesn't work, because they barely know any better.

Moore may well be a sensible guy, may well possess a canny eye for talent, and may well resurrect the Royals in five years. He might also get worn down by internecine arguments against an organizational culture of incompetence, and leave discredited and disgusted. Or he might end up crafting a farm system much like the Braves, long on drafted tools types who don't pan out, and if he isn't given top dollar to sign premium prospects at the top end of the draft or overseas, he may never achieve Atlanta's success with a few signature blue-chippers. Don't get me wrong, I'm not weeping for Allard Baird, and I'm happy to see the long-suffering people of Kansas City spared the potential indigntiy of a Randy Smith comeback (which was rumored if Moore had turned them down). But unless Moore's granted absolute authority over whatever family-bred slack-jawed Wal-Mart washouts might stand in his way, things aren't guaranteed to get any better. Change does not automatically connote progress.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Purchased the contract of RHP Darrell Rasner from Columbus (Triple-A); designated C-B Koyie Hill for assignment. [5/31]

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Waived OF-L Matt Lawton unconditionally. [5/30]

So now it's a waiver claim that will let you take this outfielder off the lot today. Don't hesitate, buy now, these players are priced to move. There are enough teams with real needs in the outfield that Lawton might be able to overcome his grousing to get out of Raintown or his past steroid suspension, or his brief and ugly spotlight appearance with the Yankees last season. Apparently, all those things haven't been forgotten, because he slipped through waivers, but he could prove a nifty reserve for somebody looking for outfield depth. The Rangers, the Red Sox, or the Indians, for example.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Acquired 2B/OF-R Jerry Hairston, Jr. from the Cubs for 1B/3B-R Phil Nevin and cash. [5/31]

As moves go, I particularly like this one. Nevin was little better than dead weight, and getting him off of the roster makes it that much easier to get Jason Botts into an everyday role in the lineup. Hairston's not a regular, but as a combination reserve at second and the outfield, he's handier to have around than D'Angelo Jimenez. Maybe it's an element of nostalgia for Mark McLemore, who took this kind of role and expanded it into a career re-launch, or the recognition that Eric Young is proving handy for the Padres. For Texas, this repurposes one roster slot that subsequently affords them the ability to use Mark DeRosa as aggressively as they like, and potentially frees them up to ditch Jimenez and use that slot for something else, whether that's another outfielder or whatever.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Optioned LHP Brian Tallet to Syracuse (Triple-A); activated LHP Gustavo Chacin from the 15-day DL. [5/30]

Pretty much as expected, Chacin returns to the rotation. The major news, getting Josh Towers out of the way, has already transpired, so the Jays are better off at the start of June than they were at the start of May, even without A.J. Burnett active.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Purchased the contract of RHP Tyler Yates from Richmond (Triple-A); optioned RHP Lance Cormier to Richmond. [5/30]

Yates might be the sort of reliever the Braves resurrect, and in his brief work with Richmond, he'd struck out ten in 8.1 IP. He's coming back from a year missed to rotator cuff surgery, and if he's another one of the Mets' prematurely touted non-discoveries, he did once throw into the low 90s, and he might yet be another retread relief find for the Braves. Cormier could have been that kind of pitcher, but he hasn't been. The happy thing about interchangeably cheap relievers is the readiness with which you can discard one for the other, and potentially find hidden value. Cormier's struggles against lefties were crippling (13 walks in fewer than 50 PAs?), but if he irons that out, he could be back sooner rather than later.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Acquired 1B/3B-R Phil Nevin and cash from the Rangers in exchange for 2B/OF-R Jerry Hairston Jr.. [5/31]

The price was right, I guess, as the Cubs discard one of their surplus second base types to land a notional solution to their first base problem. But you get what you pay for, and Nevin isn't a solution. In the lineup, he's more soy extender than real beef, and you need to ask if having Nevin is worth it when the concomitant development is that it locks you into that much more everyday play for the execrable Tony Womack. Nevin's 35 and resembling a guy who's done, so this doesn't really fix the Cubs' first base problem as much as it provides Todd Walker with a platoon mate. That's nice, but it doesn't replace Derrek Lee's bat at first or Walker's at second, so the lineup isn't really appreciably improved--you're still left with the difference between Womack and his ilk on the one hand, and Lee on the other. Moreover, after Lee gets back, it won't be easy to keep Nevin on the roster, so unless the Cubs were already entertaining a scenario in which they would release Hairston or demote Freddie Bynum, or smell the very stale coffee on Womack's usefulness, they may end up stocking a roster spot with a very temporary non-fix that does little for their delusions of grandeur in the NL Central.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Placed RHP Matt Belisle on the 15-day DL (strained back); recalled RHP Justin Germano from Louisville (Triple-A); acquired RHP Esteban Yan from the Angels and cash in exchange for RHP Kyle Edens. [5/30]

Optioned LHP Brian Shackelford to Louisville; added RHP Esteban Yan to the active roster. [5/31]

Germano wasn't pitching well in Louisville as a rotation regular, and with Yan in town as a prospective replacement for Belisle in the big league bullpen, it seems surprising that the team made the exchange of Shackelford for Germano. The Reds would be right to be dubious of Yan's utility, but why then trade for the guy? Admittedly, they didn't give up much, but there's no certainty as to whether or not this reshuffle in the pen has actually helped them any. However, in the near term, Shackelford was a third lefty in the pen and already seems to be out of favor, while Germano's call-up to work some middle relief may well be more about evaluating his future on the 40-man than anything else. It'll be interesting to see what the Reds do once Belisle returns from the DL should Yan fall on his face, and if Germano doesn't earn his keep.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Signed RHP Roger Clemens to a one-year contract. [5/31]

And just like that, the NL Central got interesting again. Clemens should move into the rotation in Fernando Nieve's place, and there's the indignity of letting the old man play in a big league ballgame with his son Koby, despite the absence of any promotion that could be plausibly based on merit.

NEW YORK METS
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Placed OF-R Xavier Nady on the 15-day DL (emergency appendectomy); transferred RHP Brian Bannister from the 15- to the 60-day DL; purchased the contract of OF-R Lastings Milledge from Norfolk (Triple-A). [5/30]

Milledge was hitting reasonably well at Norfolk--.291/.425/.467, with 32 walks scattered among his 182 at-bats, and sixteen doubles in fifty games. That's modest power and outstanding patience, not a shabby combination for someone who's 21 and already in Triple-A. That said, he's not perfect. On the bases, he's been caught six times in 14 attempts, and his play in center has generally been seen as rough. However, his improved patience this year speaks to a kid with an aptitude for working on his problems, so if he can improve on the bases and with the glove, he might make for an outstanding center fielder if better power doesn't come with age--and everyone expects the power to come.

This should be a real trial by fire, in that Nady's probably going to miss a month, and even if I'm one of those Victor Diaz believers who thinks the opportunity should have gone his way, Diaz isn't hitting for spit with the Tides, and he can't afford that sort of play when he's already not really somebody who's won over Willie Randolph in the first place. It's easy to see what the Mets want out of Milledge's month in the majors. If he sticks, they can bring him along for the ride in a pennant chase, or take advantage of his current experience should they send him back to Norfolk after Nady's return when they set their playoff roster in August by recalling him then. The present will tell them if that's going to be a good idea then, and if it doesn't work, they can always turn back to Diaz, assuming he starts hitting.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Recalled LHP Eude Brito from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [5/31]

Recalled to replace Jon Lieber for the time being, Brito was pitching effectively in the Barons' rotation, allowing only 38 hits (three home runs) and 23 walks in 56.2 IP, with 32 Ks and 3.7 runs allowed per nine. No word yet on who's going down to make room for him (the Phillies are always bad about reporting roster moves), but here's hoping that Chris Coste isn't the automatic send-down. They're already at a dozen pitchers, so it's more likely to be Clay Condrey or Brian Sanches.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Purchased the contract of RHP Brian Sikorski from Portland (Triple-A); designated RHP Jim Brower for assignment. [5/31]

The Helicopter might have had to chopper his way all the way across the Pacific to get his comeback underway, and it might have involved a side trip to Portland, but he's back in a big league uni. Sikorski was fooling a good number of people as a Beaver, striking out 44 in 28.2 IP. It's worth wondering if he'll be as successful in the majors, but pitching in PETCO, it'll be hard for him to do any worse than Brower.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Activated 1B-R Lance Niekro from the 15-day DL; optioned 1B-L Travis Ishikawa to Connecticut (Double-A). [5/30]

Thereby providing the Giants with their more-normal job-sharing arrangement, with Niekro making outs at the plate and plays in the field, while Mark Sweeney does the opposite, and the Giants pine for Will Clark's daily dose of extra-base hits and expletives.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Placed LHP Joey Eischen on the 60-day DL (shoulder); purchased the contract of LHP Bill Bray from New Orleans (Triple-A). [5/31]

Getting Bray up at some point this season was an expected part of the program, but it might be too soon. In New Orleans, he was still a little rough around the edges, allowing five home runs in 31.2 IP. However, 45 strikeouts against nine walks and 26 hits allowed looks pretty tasty, and as a matter of replacing Eischen--the ultimate nondescript over-compensated underperformer--this is the sort of development that Nats fans should be happy about. Getting Bray should serve as another reminder of the minor scouting and player development miracles that scouting director Dana Brown and his staff have been able to achieve on his watch, as if the performance of Michael O'Connor wasn't enough of a happy homegrown surprise already. Whoever ends up replacing Jim Bowden--keeping your fingers crossed, Nats fans?--would do well to keep Brown and his crew, and see what they're going to do with some of that tasty Lerner money.


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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