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May 12, 2000

Transaction Analysis

May 8-10, 2000

by Christina Kahrl

ANAHEIM ANGELS

Placed RHP Ken Hill on the 15-day DL (strained intercostal muscle); optioned RHP Ramon Ortiz to Edmonton; recalled RHP Mike Fyhrie and LHP Jarrod Washburn from Edmonton. [5/10]

Its already been a fun spring for the Angels, as they've managed to stick with the pack in the AL West. And they may end up getting just a little more competitive in the short term because of these bits of "bad luck."

Ken Hill has been as awful as you would expect a broken-down old starter far-removed from his last good season (1996) to be, so losing him isn't really a loss. Ramon Ortiz has been abused badly early in his career, and he's still pitching with damage to his shoulder; the organization would really be better off placing him under the knife now.

You can't lay much of the blame for the way Ortiz's career has gone awry on Bill Stoneman or Mike Scioscia: the damage was done on Bill Bavasi's watch when Ortiz was overpitched in 1997 (injuring his shoulder for the greater glory of Cedar Rapids) and 1999 (before really recuperating from 1997). Where we'll have to judge Stoneman and Scioscia is on whether or not they create the circumstances that prevent this sort of organizational mistake from happening again, while doing everything in their power to make sure that Ortiz can have a career after all.

In their absence, the Angels aren't really that badly off. Jason Dickson should be back to reclaim his rotation spot by the weekend, and Jarrod Washburn could be the best starting pitcher the Angels have. A rotation of Kent Bottenfield, Washburn, Dickson, Scott Schoeneweis and Kent Mercker isn't the Braves, but it has a reasonable shot at cranking out enough quality starts to give the Angels a legitimate shot at 75 wins. That's a major improvement over where they could have been coming into spring training, when Tom Candiotti was lurking in camp.

BOSTON RED SOX

Optioned RHP Rob Stanifer to Pawtucket; recalled LHP Tim Young from Pawtucket. [5/8]

Perpetual optimists that the Red Sox are, they're saying Rob Stanifer just didn't get a good opportunity to show what he can do. That isn't entirely true: seven runs in 7 1/3 innings may not be much of a sample size, but we're talking about a guy who was good at giving up runs in his previous incarnation as a Marlin. In his absence, the Sox have brought up Mighty Mite Tim Young to be a second left-hander in the pen. He's 5'9". Maybe. He's considerably more handy in a pen that has two right-handed relievers in Tim Wakefield and John Wasdin who can pitch multiple innings in front of Derek Lowe and Rich Garces.

CHICAGO CUBS

Signed RHPs Eric Plunk and Tim Worrell to minor-league contracts; released RHP Bobby Ayala from Iowa. [5/9]

Why do the Cubs stink? Ed Lynch justifies or excuses almost anything that happens on the basis of professionalism. In the wake of last year's debacle, he claimed "professional people made professional decisions," as if that makes dumb decisions less dumb. This year, his professionals are saddling his roster with Brian Williams, a bad borderline pitcher gifted with a guaranteed contract, while his professionals tell him Bobby Ayala can't pitch for this team.

Williams had arguably the best year of his squalid career last season while pitching as a garbageman in the spacious Astrodome. Ayala outpitched him in terms of ERA, baserunners per nine innings and Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools. Even between two crummy relievers, the Cubs don't even seem to know which one should be on the roster.

But wait, there's more! Both Ayala and Williams were better last year than Tim Worrell was for Oakland. So guess who the Cubs just had to sign? Lost in this shuffle is the fact that Eric Plunk outpitched all of these guys, and other than a grisly stretch in September when an increasingly irresponsible Phil Garner was trashing other people's lives on his way out of town, had a good 1999 season. Plunk could easily turn out to be the best right-handed reliever the Cubs have this year, but he'll have to pitch himself into shape in extended spring training, and then get past both Tim Worrell and the great Brian Williams. Given this organization's track record, there are no guarantees that the better pitchers will end up pitching instead of the worse ones.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Recalled RHP Kevin Beirne from Charlotte; optioned RHP Kip Wells to Charlotte. [5/8]

Activated RHP Aaron Myette from the DL and optioned him to Birmingham (Double-A). [5/9]

Kip Wells has struggled with his control, and Jerry Manuel's fascination with the intentional walk didn't help him much either. There aren't many managers who would use the IBB twice in an inning with a wild young starter on the mound, but Jerry Manuel isn't like many managers.

So it's back to Charlotte for Wells to work on his stuff for a couple of starts, with Kevin Beirne coming up to pitch as the third mop-up man behind Tanyon Sturtze and left-hander Scott Eyre. In Wells' absence from the rotation, there are already rumors that Jon Garland might get called up, but any one of Beirne, Sturtze or Eyre might get the call. It's still a bit early for Garland for my taste, and I'd take a look at Beirne. Sox fans can take heart that at least none of them are Bobby Witt.

Chicago Tribune writer Paul Sullivan wasted not-quite-enough time this past spring talking about how left-handed prospect Beirne was going to have a chance to pitch for the Sox this year, especially considering their need for left-handers. Now, maybe Sullivan didn't believe it was necessary to sort out that Beirne has been pitching right-handed for his entire career; maybe he made the reasonable assumption that it would be easier to pitch in the majors if he was a left-hander. It is a good guess, I suppose.

But since Sullivan does this for a living, it seems strange that he wasted time regaling thousands of readers with information they would know was incorrect, and which he was apparently too lazy to look up. In this day and age, consumers really shouldn't expect much from journalists; we're long past the days when talented writers like Ring Lardner would write about sports. But the one thing consumers should reasonably expect is factual accuracy from the people employed to regurgitate facts.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Activated C Sandy Alomar from the DL; designated C Bobby Hughes for assignment. [5/8]

While Sandy Alomar is an ex-famous person and all, his return isn't nearly as important for the Tribe as getting Kenny Lofton or someone resembling a major-league center fielder back on the roster. Charlie Manuel is already hoping to spare Alomar's knees by continuing to play Einar Diaz on a semi-regular basis. It won't be enough to turn back the clock a few years, but it will be enough to keep Diaz from getting stale on the bench waiting for Alomar's next breakdown.

DETROIT TIGERS

Placed OF Wendell Magee on the 15-day DL (hand); recalled RHP Masao Kida from Toledo. [5/8]

Signed OF Rich Becker; placed 2B Damion Easley on the 15-day DL (hand). [5/10]

If you're Rich Becker, and the Yankees or the Rangers might want you, why in the world would you choose to sign with the worst team in baseball? Sure, he's a better center fielder than Juan Encarnacion, but that doesn't make him a good one. Sure, the Tigers need his on-base skills badly, but that was just as true over the winter, when Nepotista GM Randy Smith elected to sign Luis Polonia instead. Considering that Comerica Park is looking like a pitchers' park that hobbles an already weak lineup, why come to the Tigers by choice when you're a free agent?

Meanwhile, the lamentations that can be heard as far as Windsor or even Ann Arbor aren't just coming from Tigers fans unlucky enough to watch this team play: with Damion Easley gone again, Tigers pitchers can only squirm while the PA announces "... starting at second base, Gregg Jefferies...."

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Placed RHP Mike Fetters on the 15-day DL (sore elbow); recalled LHP Onan Masaoka from Albuquerque. [5/10]

Speaking of flexibility...Mike Fetters, bless his fragile self, conveniently went down just as the Dodgers might need a left-handed reliever to get people like Jim Edmonds, Ray Lankford or J.D. Drew. And he'll undoubtedly be ready to pitch again once Antonio Osuna breaks down, or even after Gregg Olson returns and breaks down again.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Activated RHP Jeff D'Amico from the DL; optioned RHP Everett Stull to Indianapolis. [5/9]

This summer's open tryout for the rotation continues, as the enormous mountain of flesh we all know as Jeff D'Amico (the good one, not the one the Royals got from the A's in the Kevin Appier deal) starts his comeback. He looked good againt the Cubs, which doesn't mean that much; the Cubs brag when they "bust out" of a slump by scoring a few runs off of another team's sixth starter, like Jeremy Powell recently.

With D'Amico's return, the Brewers rotation is Steve Woodard, Jimmy Haynes, Jason Bere, D'Amico and Horacio Estrada. Estrada will be bumped by either John Snyder or Jamey Wright in another week or two, depending on whose rehab goes better. After that, Jason Bere will be the next guy behind the eight ball. Because the Brewers' goals are essentially limited to trying to finish ahead of the Cubs, it's still fine for them to continue to sort through who might be worth keeping for 2001.

MINNESOTA TWINS

Activated LHP J.C. Romero from the DL and optioned him to Salt Lake. [5/10]

Should anything ever happen with Brad Radke getting traded, whoever trades for him could also make a pitch for one of the Twins' left-handed relievers, either Eddie Guardado or Travis (not Trever) Miller. The Twins can afford to listen once J.C. Romero is ready to return to the majors, and if tossing either Guardado or Miller in will bring the Twins another top-notch prospect, it will be worth it for them to make the deal.

MONTREAL EXPOS

Placed RHP Scott Strickland on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 5/3 (shoulder tendinitis). [5/9]

Recalled 1B/3B Andy Tracy from Ottawa. [5/10]

In a very short period of time, the Expos went from having a really effective bullpen of three capable right-handers (closer Ugueth Urbina, long man Anthony Telford and Scott Strickland) and two good left-handers (Graeme Lloyd and Steve Kline) to their current situation: Urbina on the cusp of going Rojas and Strickland and Lloyd both hurt. To make matters worse, Telford hasn't been that effective.

Replacements Mike Johnson and Felipe Lira, while interesting choices to test in the 11th spot on a staff, are being forced into high-leverage situations, which won't help the Expos in their push to embarrass the Mets and coax a stadium out of local authorities.

OAKLAND A'S

Activated 2B Randy Velarde from the DL; recalled RHP Ariel Prieto from Sacramento; optioned 3B Adam Piatt to Sacramento; designated LHP Ron Mahay for assignment. [5/8]

The bad news is that Ariel Prieto came up, but Kevin Appier is due back by the next time Prieto's slot in the rotation comes up.

The rotation isn't the problem, especially now that Mark Mulder is up and looking useful. The problem is a pen where journeyman Jeff Tam is the closest thing the team has to an adequate reliever. Last year's pen started off well before a midseason collapse, only to have Billy Beane rebuild it on the fly. The question is whether or not it has to happen again. If it does, the sooner the better.

The question is whether there are any relievers worth trading for. Nobody is peddling a closer who can toss 90 quality innings, and most middle relievers aren't worth anything resembling a real prospect. Short of someone like Doug Brocail, there really aren't that many good relievers worth shopping for or giving up that much to get. The danger is that after a stretch as frustrating as the A's endured over last weekend, any team, even one as well-run as Beane's, might make a mistake out of that frustration.

As for demoting Adam Piatt after he showed that he can hit, it's the misfortune of producing too many good players. What's really frustrating about it is that sending him down now doesn't really answer the question of who goes down once John Jaha heals, Frankie Menechino or Jorge Velandia? One of them will have to go by that point anyway, so why not make that decision sooner instead of later, while keeping Piatt around until Jaha's healthy? At this stage, Jorge Velandia isn't really worth keeping around. Miguel Tejada doesn't need a defensive replacement and neither does Randy Velarde. Velandia doesn't have any significant value as a pinch-runner, and has even less as a batter.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Claimed C Cesar King on waivers from the Rangers, and optioned him to Scranton-Wilkes Barre. [5/10]

A nice pickup as far as free talent goes. The Phillies have a crazed veteran fetish that keeps people like Tom Prince and Mark Parent gainfully employed, so King can look forward to a year or two in Scranton. He's still extremely young (turning 22 in February), which means he may yet develop into the potential star some of us raced to anoint him as after his big year in A ball at 19.

Unfortunately, the Phillies have a lousy track record of turning talent into skills, and while that's supposed to have changed in the last year or so, there's reason for concern.

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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