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February 22, 2007

Transaction Analysis

February 14-20, 2007

by Christina Kahrl


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Signed RHP Steve Trachsel to a one-year, $3.1 million contract with a $4.75 million club option for 2008. [2/14]

Designated RHP Ryan Keefer for assignment. [2/15]

Agreed to terms with LHP Erick Bedard on a one-year, $3.4 million contract, avoiding arbitration; announced that RHP Ryan Keefer cleared waivers and was outrighted to Norfolk (Triple-A). [2/17]

I'll end up striking a few more maudlin notes later on, but I'm really pleased to see Trachsel arrive with a relatively local team. He's the drop-in replacement for the ill-starred Kris Benson, and that's a dodgy enough proposition. Ideally, the Oriole faithful will warm to a guy who does everything in his power to make sure that the three-hour ballgame is in no danger of extinction-the results on the scoreboard may vary, but extended time in Camden Yards is never slow time. There's the other part of having Trachsel that I've always enjoyed, which is his unrepentant Alibi Ike stance in his dealings with the media. It's made him unpopular over the years, particularly with the press, but I guess I've always admired the man his conceit that he's the best Steve Trachsel there ever was. This seems self-evident, so why can't we grant him that? No, I think Trachsel's unpopularity just reflects a generation on the beat that doesn't have Ring Lardner's genius for story-telling, and just as the world's a poorer place without Lardner, the game would be less entertaining without Trachsel.

On somebody else's team, naturally, with apologies to Orioles fans. That's because the end does seem nigh. Trachsel logged only 13 quality starts out of 29, and that was with the triple benefits of Shea Stadium, pitchers hitting, and having defenders like Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes behind him. A strikeout rate under four per nine is pretty tough to survive, and coming over to face tougher competition in the division that will see him have to face the Yankee, Red Sox, and Blue Jay lineups pretty often makes that even more difficult. Mazzone the Magician's wand might not be any more up to this challenge than it was with Russ Ortiz.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Agreed to terms with OF-R Wily Mo Pena on a one-year, $1.875 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/16]

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Signed RHP Cliff Politte to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/14]

Announced the immediate retirement of RHP Keith Foulke. [2/16]

There are probably a few cranky Red Sox fans ready to say goodbye and good riddance to Foulke, but I'm sad to see him go. I remember interviewing him for CLTV back in his earlier days with the White Sox, and found him pretty engaging, as well as unwilling to give up on being a starter. I liked the attitude then, and if that reflects the inevitable danger of what happens when you meet and like a player, so be it. I was a fan, even as I cheered Matt Stairs' booming game-winner on one changeup too many back in the heady pre-Moneyball days of 1999, and it was easier still to root for the guy when he was burgled by Billy Beane (along with Mark Johnson and Joe Valentine) for Billy Koch (and later Neal Cotts and Daylan Holt). As an A's fan, I could accept when he cashed in on his success as a reliever with his three-year deal with Boston, and when the Sox won the whole enchilada, he was one of the guys I was happy for. White Sox fans might remember him from the infamous "white flag" deal with the Giants at the July deadline back in 1997, and while he never did develop into the top starter he was initially envisioned as, if you follow the old 'best-player-in-the-deal' yardstick, the Sox won out by getting him. (Other guys in the trade worked out well too-Bobby Howry, certainly. Mike Caruso? Not so much, and adding Roberto Hernandez and Wilson Alvarez didn't spare the Giants from getting crushed by the Marlins in the playoffs, and both Hernandez and Alvarez immediately departed as free agents.) I know some other stuff happened in Boston, not all of it admirable, and he did only wind up with four seasons as a premium closer, but I'm sad to see him go out like this.

Meanwhile, this means that Joe Borowski's the closer of the moment for Cleveland. It didn't really sit all that firmly on Foulke's bean, and the crown will rest lightly above Borowski's brow as well-while I doubt the ubiquitous Hernandez will take the job from him, I wouldn't bet against Rafael Betancourt logging a few saves in the early going, and the job might end up belonging to Fernando Cabrera before the season's over.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Outrighted RHP Preston Larrison to Toledo (Triple-A), but extended him a spring training NRI. [2/15]

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Claimed LHP Lenny DiNardo off of waivers from the Red Sox; designated OF-R Hiram Bocachica for assignment; outrighted OF-L Charles Thomas to Sacramento (Triple-A), but gave him a spring training NRI. [2/14]

Chagrin doesn't actually involve any grinning, so I guess there's something appropriate about the A's snagging DiNardo at the same time that Thomas passed cleanly through waivers, because the other disappointing moving part left over from the Tim Hudson deal-Dan Meyer-is probably DiNardo's chief rival in camp, and is also more likely his future teammate up in sunny Sacramento. Exchanging DiNardo for Bocachica's all well and good-it's probably but not necessarily a better use of a roster spot, and it might not last should Erubiel Durazo's non-roster bid for a job go well. DiNardo's a pretty standard-issue lefty junk-er, as opposed to a junker, for he's no dim, unbending, landed Prussian aristo. Although, like them, Leonardo DiNardo pursues the goal of dominance in his field, he is nothing if not flexible as to his methods in the pursuit of that goal, if not necessarily all that well-equipped to do it reliably at the big league level. Just because a guy's good enough to be the No. 2 starter for the Nationals doesn't mean he belongs on this particular 40-man.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Signed INF-B Desi Relaford to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/14]

CHICAGO CUBS
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Agreed to terms with RHP Carlos Zambrano on a one-year, $12.4 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/20]

What that particularly full head of lettuce means is that signing Zambrano to a multi-year deal could easily get into Kevin Brown or Barry Zito territory, and probably wind up in a Neil deMause "baddest of the badder" column five or six years from now. That's in part because I'm wary of Zambrano's durability, so I see settling on a one-year deal as a relatively smart move by Jim Hendry. Zambrano's going to cost a huge sum of money for somebody soon, but why not see if he can handle a fifth 200-inning campaign first?

CINCINNATI REDS
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Signed RHP Kerry Ligtenberg to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/14]

He's still a name, but that's basically all he is at this point. His last full season in the majors was in Toronto in 2004, and he was terrible. He bounced between Tucson and Phoenix and in and out of the show in 2005, and spent all of 2006 in Iowa (the state that inspired Cindy Sandberg's dress). His Iowa stats are superficially adequate-looking-a 3.57 ERA, 44 strikeouts and six walks in 58 IP. Dicing up fellow geezers really isn't that awe-inspiring, and interpreting his performance, you get a PERA of 5.08 and a pretty weak 4.8 Ks per nine. He might stick in a ROOGY role, since he held Triple-A right-handed batters to .240/.258/.356, but he's not a groundballer, he doesn't fool people at the plate, and he'll be pitching in the Gap if he sticks. Set your expectations accordingly.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Released RHP Jimmy Serrano. [2/17]

Announced their defeat in arbitration with 3B-R Miguel Cabrera, setting his 2007 salary at $7.4 million. [2/18]

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Signed OF-R Choo Freeman to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/14]

Signed C-R Kelly Stinnett to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/19]

While a Juan Pierre-Choo Freeman platoon in center would probably be one of the most inoffensive tandems since Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, Dodger haters will have to get their wish fulfillment in other forms-Freeman's more likely to spend time in Vegas with the 51's, and will probably watch someone else (Matt Kemp?) play center even there. Jason Repko's the likely primary outfield reserve, Marlon Anderson's somewhere in the mix, and there's the Andre Ethier vs. Matt Kemp vs. James Loney triple-headed alternative for playing time in right field (as well as being the three most likely sources of worthwhile production from among all of the team's outfielders). Similarly to Freeman, Stinnett's a 51-to-be, and a reflection that upper-level catching depth is effectively non-existent in the organization-other backstops in camp include Sandy Martinez and Ken Huckaby.

NEW YORK METS
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Designated 2B-R Ruben Gotay for assignment. [2/15]

Claimed RHP Marcos Carvajal off of waivers from the Devil Rays; designated RHP Steve Schmoll for assignment. [2/16]

Signed C-R Sandy Alomar Jr. to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/19]

You might think that Schmoll's getting DFA'd for a wild thing like Carvajal might mean that the whole "next Chad Bradford" fad might finally be deader than Elvis, but there's still Cla Meredith to carry that particular banner. It's not a bad little claim, either-he's only 22, and he's already shown some promise in the majors. Admittedly, it took the Rule 5 draft to get Carvajal onto the Rockies's staff in 2005, but he didn't embarrass himself. His mid-90s heat is what has made him enough of a commodity for first the Rockies, then the Mariners, then the Devil Rays, and now the Mets to see about squeezing them onto their 40-mans, but for all that moving around, he spent all of last year back down in Double-A with Montgomery, enjoying the pitcher-friendly Southern League, and striking out 69 in 72.1 IP, but walking 39. He also had to deal with the indignity of wearing the baseball uni most easily mistaken for fast-food franchise garb ("Want grits with that?"), but that's the difference between the majors and the minors (at least since the Krocs sold the Padres). The Mets should be able to keep him on their 40-man, since none of their NRIs look like the kinds of guys who will force their way onto the active roster. We'll see if he improves his control or develops a reliable second pitch, but he was definitely worth a flyer.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Purchased the contract of INF-L Oscar Robles from the Mexico City Red Devils of the Mexican League, signed him to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/19]

I wonder if there's any bad blood over this volte-face? He'd just been liberated by the Dodgers after failing to strike Grady Little's fancy the way Ramon Martinez does, and instead of returning to his career in the Mexican League, he uses them as a flow-through to skip over to the Padres? A nice bit of hopskotch, and not a bad choice of gigs either. Although the Padres are pretty overstocked with infield benchies, none of them can play short all that well, which makes Robles particularly useful on a team counting on Khalil Greene to stay healthy.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Signed DH-B Dmitri Young and 3B-R Tony Batista to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [2/14]

Signed 2B-R Ronnie Belliard to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/18]

If you want an interesting collection of tough-luck stories, I guess you've got a perfect trio right here. Belliard has a ring, but no clear job, Young could have been on the same diamond as Belliard last October, but Jim Leyland decided he didn't need a lefty bat with some sock (perhaps the Amazing Kreskin told him Sean Casey would have that rare good day or two), and both men have had their problems off of the field. In contrast, Batista's losing fight with Father Time seems decidedly un-operatic. Put all three on the diamond at once, and you might see more seeing-eye singles than you do in your average beer league, but that's really not what's going on here. Instead, Jim Bowden's making a silk purse out of a sow's ear-maybe any one of these guys has something left, and maybe not. Even under the most rosy of best-case scenarios, I don't expect Young or Batista to bring anything of value back should Bowden try to flip them; even after a good couple of months, they probably couldn't fetch value the way Daryle Ward or Marlon Anderson did.

As crazy as it might sound, Young's got a decent shot at the first base job. Let's face it, in Nick Johnson's absence, the competition boils down to Travis Lee and Larry Broadway, and one of them is an ex-prospect, and the other almost an ex-prospect. (Feel free to make a case for which is which.) Barring something creative, like moving Kory Casto to first for the time being so that left field can go to Ryan Church or Chris Snelling-not a bad idea, at that-there's a reasonable chance that Young could have a great camp, and impress his once and present GM Jim Bowden, as well as his former manager (and current Nats Assistant GM) Bob Boone. Lee might even be able to take some solace in losing to Young, because there would be an automatic need for a defensive replacement. I don't really care for the scenario-I'd rather play Broadway and see if he has any future at all, because if he doesn't, he won't belong on the 40-man for too much longer. Nevertheless, Young has a past history with the guys in charge, and this could end up being some sort of story of thirtysomething redemption, and a lot of us thirtysomethings tend to like those.

Then there's Belliard, now the non-roster leader of a pack of non-roster second basemen. Tony Womack and D'Angelo Jimenez probably both came to the Nats envisioning the same scenario Belliard does-that Cristian Guzman will be so terrible that Felipe Lopez's move from shortstop gets reversed, so that the Nats can have two baseball players manning the keystone, instead of one ballplayer and one Cristian Guzman. Now those Womack dreams and Jimenez ambitions have been squashed, and both guys will have to jazz up their credentials as former shortstops if they're going to stick in as much as a utility role. At least they have recent experience-whatever range Batista has left, his declining footwork at third conjures up some unfortunate associations, and if you can't move around, even worse things can happen.

That's not the end of the world, though, because Belliard as a semi-regular placeholder at second provides the Nats with two angles, equally valuable. Belliard might hit well enough to be worth something in a deadline deal, or sooner-when you're the Nats, that's the nice thing about having excess and no particular destiny. If somebody loses their second baseman to a spring injury, Jim Bowden's just a phonecall away.

That's the obvious side of things. For additional value, it's the ripple effect I'm more interested in, in that while Lopez isn't much of a shortstop, he would keep Guzman on the bench. That said, it's pretty obvious that Lopez at short isn't a solid long-term plan, and it should also seem pretty obvious that Nook Logan isn't a long-term solution in center. Since Lopez is eventually going to have to move to some position that isn't shortstop, why not take a look at Lopez in center? I know, some folks are still stuck on Church as a possible centerfielder, but if there's one ember of Church's promise that's entirely guttered out, it's that one. So, why shackle yourself to Logan? If Lopez pans out in center, he might give them a multi-year answer at a position where the organization's short of anything resembling a near-ready prospect. If that also frees you up to use guys like Jimenez as a better-hitting alternative to Guzman at short, while Belliard plays a lot of second, who knows, maybe the Nats end up with a lineup where Brian Schneider's the only hole.

Okay, I know, as far as Lopez is concerned, this is angels on pinheads territory, but it's better than entering the lottery for "which three-digit number will be the 2007 Nats' loss total?"


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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