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August 28, 2000

Transaction Analysis

August 24-26, 2000

by Christina Kahrl

ANAHEIM ANGELS

Activated RHP Troy Percival from the DL; optioned RHP Brian Cooper to Edmonton. [8/26]

Short-term, they look worse off because of the good job Shiggy Hasegawa had done as the closer, and because of Troy Percival's grisly rate of blowing almost a quarter of his save opportunities. Percival's loss of command has already drawn wide commentary, but it will be worth the team's while to let him iron out his problems. For this season, it has been another one of those multiple chinks in the Angels' armor that has kept them from being a serious contender for the wild-card. Whether it's Ken Hill or Benji Gil or Scott Spiezio as a regular DH or the nine times that Percival has failed to convert a save opportunity, they sort of all add up. Angels fans shouldn't bother grieving, because this has been a great season to exorcise the sour grapes that seem to follow Terry Collins around as well as The Last Bavasi's sandcastles in the sky. This has been a year of overall progress, and if the Angels are smart enough to acknowledge that this is something to build off of instead of settle for, then they can iron out the other problems in time to have figured out whether or not Percival will be the closer on a contending Halos squad.

Cooper loses his starting spot to the anticipated activation of newly-acquired Scott Karl. This gives them a rotation of Scott Schoeneweis, Matt Wise, Karl, Ramon Ortiz and Kent Mercker. Seth Etherton and Jarrod Washburn can be counted on for two slots next spring, which should leave Karl and Mercker pitching for their professional futures in anybody's uniform over the next five weeks.

ATLANTA BRAVES

Signed UT-R Rich Amaral to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Richmond. [8/25]

Cringe. That's right, he really could swipe a postseason roster spot away from George Lombard or Marcus Giles. After all, if this was a 35-and-over league, he makes a swell platoon partner for Keith Lockhart. Maybe the scout who sold them on Terry Pendleton in 1996 isn't gone yet...

CHICAGO CUBS

Activated 3B-R Shane Andrews from the DL; optioned 2B/OF-R Chad Meyers to Iowa. [8/25]

Shane Andrews comes back with every opportunity to reclaim the everday job at third. Willie Greene has only managed to hit .202/.306/.385 against right-handed pitching, with a .242 Equivalent Average overall, so it isn't like he ought to have a claim on a platoon role. I'm probably the most bullish guy around as far as Shane Andrews and what he's capable of doing in a full season in Wrigley: his problems fielding the ball in the season's early months were atypical for him on his career, and despite a .312 OBP, he nevertheless managed a .266 Equivalent Average, good for tenth among National League third basemen. Sure, that spells "mediocre," but the Cubs are the Cubs, and they'll take better than some any day of the week.

What happened to Willie Greene, anyways? He's creeping up on his 29th birthday, and he's had two consecutive awful seasons at the plate. On the other hand, he's having another good year in the field this season, which means he still has value as a backup corner infielder, pinch-hitter and spare part. Greene's career has consistently been one where there seem to be some unanswered questions, considering he was dumped by both the Pirates and Expos before he was 20 after starting off as the Bucs' top pick in 1989. I don't know what went wrong or when, but as much as you'd like to believe it has been coincidence, Greene has managed to disappoint just about everyone from player development people to statheads. I still think he has his uses, but his chances of stardom are clearly gone.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Purchased the contract of RHP Ken Hill from Charlotte; optioned RHP Kevin Beirne to Charlotte. [8/24]

Veteran tokenism at its worst, and hopefully for as brief a period as possible. The Sox were really better off letting Kevin Beirne get a start or two instead of hauling an over-the-hill Hill onto the hill to remind everyone that those games with the Angels were against major league opponents and counted in the standings and everything.

As long as the Sox are burning an extra roster spot on a twelfth pitcher, why stick with convention if they're so frightened of their kid pitchers? Even with Cal Eldred out and Jon Garland missing time, the Sox could still juggle Sean Lowe, Beirne, Rocky Biddle, Mark Buehrle and Lorenzo Barcelo to rotate through the last two slots of the rotation. Why bother with conventional roles here? Why not use the next few weeks as multi-game auditions, with each of them getting three-, four- or five-inning gigs? The fifth starter isn't in play during the playoffs, so why not use the last five weeks as a chance to answer the important and simple question of who you want to fill out your playoff roster? Of course, if the Sox used this period of time to audition relievers, I would hope they'd give consideration to calling up submariner Chad Bradford or Aaron Myette. They need to stop thinking in terms of whether or not they have a rotation to finish the season with: they don't, but more than three-quarters of the season is already over. The Sox need to take their time and evaluate the pitchers they have. There's already far too much evidence that Ken Hill can't help. If they wanted veteran moxie, they ought to settle for paying Orel Hershiser a consulting fee to come over and give a pep talk, and then get back to the business of winning games and evaluating talent instead of caving into conventional wisdom.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Recalled SS-R John McDonald from Buffalo; optioned 1B/OF-R Chan Perry to Buffalo. [8/24]

With Omar Vizquel starting to show some wear and tear in the field at the plate after having to play effectively every day since Enrique Wilson went on the DL in mid-July, the Tribe needed to bring up an infielder who could play short. Jolbert Cabrera was at least notionally the backup shortstop, but he ends up in the outfield most of the time because of Kenny Lofton's fragility. John McDonald is a better defensive player than Vizquel right now, and potentially one of the best shortstops in baseball today. Because Vizquel is far from being a problem on defense and still manages to put up an OBP in the .360s, that makes McDonald a utility man with little opportunity to take advantage of his core skill. After hitting .269/.315/.353 at Buffalo, it's almost certainly worth his while to adopt a potentially lucrative new identity, like Rey Guillen or Ozzie Sanchez or Baby Belanger.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Placed INF-R Tripp Cromer on the 15-day DL (personal reasons); purchased the contract of RHP Rusty Meacham from New Orleans. [8/25]

Meacham is another one of the Astros' time-marking veteran temps. Like the others, he can point back to his glory days, in this case a swell 1992 as a Royals' middle reliever. He's another ex-major leaguer enjoying a fine year as a long reliever in Triple-A, posting a 2.20 ERA while allowing only 43 hits and 14 walks in 57.1 IP, along with 56 strikeouts. No, he did not fall out of bed and suddenly throw harder.

Cromer's absence leaves the Astros with only one utility infielder, Tim Bogar. That makes it all the more difficult for Larry Dierker to get even pinch-hitting playing time for the five outfielders (or four and Daryle Ward) who need as many at-bats as they can get.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Placed UT-B F.P. Santangelo on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/23 (torn ligament - thumb); purchased the contract of INF-L Jeff Branson from Albuquerque; designated RHP Apostol Garcia for assignment. [8/24]

Recalled OF-R Bruce Aven from Albuquerque; optioned RHP Mike Judd to Albuquerque. [8/26]

While Bruce Aven had been a flop as a pinch-hitter with the Pirates this season, in his opportunities to start he had hit .284/.320/.500. With that kind of power, Tom Goodwin's decent on-base skills, and Devon White's paycheck, that almost adds up to a star centerfielder.

With both Kevin Elster and F.P. Santangelo on the DL, the Dodgers needed a utility infielder of some stripe. What the Dodgers need is somebody who can play short after Davey Johnson has to confront the almost inevitable in-game decision of whether or not to pinch-hit for Alex Cora. Branson is no longer the offensive threat he once was for Johnson on the Reds, not when he was hitting .289/.339/.419 in Albuquerque's bandbox at the age of 33. But he can still play second, third or short in a pinch.

MINNESOTA TWINS

Signed SS-B Cristian Guzman to a four-year contract, with a club option for 2005. [8/24]

On the surface, it would appear that this contract extension completely eliminates Cristian Guzman's shot at ever having an arbitration case. Unless they elect to not pick up their option and face the arbitrator after 2004, it wouldn't happen. But it is a relatively good question as to whether or not that option will ever get picked up. Guzman is supposed to make $9 million over the four years, and the option is apparently for $6 million.

I want to be happy for both the Twins and Guzman. This isn't as bad of an example of "cost certainty" as giving Pat Meares oodles of cash would have been. Guzman has clearly made a little bit of progress at the plate (.259/.313/.419 versus his .226/.304/.352 rookie season) and in the field, and he may end up being the new- and improved Garry Templeton. With Luis Rivas' move to second base and the absence of a good-looking shorstop prospect playing at any of the Twins' full-season affiliates, the organization is clearly betting on Guzman as the team's shortstop for a long time to come. I'm always a bit reluctant to say "if Biff Bopper is worth a gazillion dollars, I'm a Xerox machine" statements, because time and again, a lot of those statements end up looking pretty silly. Take Omar Vizquel or Kirby Puckett for example. Both of them got contracts that were decried at the time, and both ended up looking like relative bargains long before the contracts expired. There are counter-examples, of course: Steve Kemp and the Yankees comes to mind, and I'm pretty certain the White Sox sent Julio Cruz his last check within the last few years. So I'll simply state that Guzman's 2005 option is a very interesting circumstance, and if he gets it, it could mean all sorts of things about baseball on the other side of a new combined bargaining agreement, the wisdom of whoever is running the Twins at that point, or how much better Guzman turned out that a lot of us expected, Terry Ryan excepted.

Chris Kahrl can be reached at ckahrl@baseballprospectus.com.

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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