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May 30, 2000

Transaction Analysis

May 25-28, 2000

by Christina Kahrl

ANAHEIM ANGELS

Outrighted RHP Brett Hinchliffe to Edmonton; recalled RHP Seth Etherton from Edmonton. [5/25]

Seth Etherton tops off what's beginning to look like the Angels' rotation for their next contender: him, Jarrod Washburn, Scott Schoeneweis and Brian Cooper. Etherton, nabbed out of USC in the first round of the 1998 draft, throws harder than any of them and shares the good control that marks Cooper as well as Jason Dickson. He might end up as one of the few things from the latest Bavasi regime that the Angels can take pride.

If Etherton shows anything in his first few starts, the Angels are in the happy situation where they can blow off reactivating Tim Belcher or Ken Hill for anything other than their releases. He would also give them some breathing room in terms of evaluating what they need to do with Ramon Ortiz, beyond wishing he was 100% physically or wishing that he'd start pitching well. An effective Etherton would also let them take their time bringing Dickson back.

BOSTON RED SOX

Activated SS Nomar Garciaparra from the DL; placed 2B Jose Offerman on the 15-day DL (strained groin). [5/27]

Nomar Garciaparra's return in time for Jose Offerman's injury only continues to highlight this team's big weakness: an extremely bad bench. In Offerman's absence, Jeff Frye gets some more starts at second base in the hope that somehow, somewhere, some GM will be interested in taking an adequate second baseman off the Duke's hands. Rather than waste too much time on Frye, the Sox would probably be better off with John Valentin at second base, getting Wilton Veras on the field.

The bench is littered with similarly bad ideas like Manny Alexander, Darren Lewis and the ultimate project player, Donnie Sadler. Look for a repeat of last autumn's roster purge for the playoff roster, in which the Duke whacks the fat and tries to add somebody who can do some good down the stretch.

What will be really interesting is if the Duke feels any temptation to give Ramon Martinez the Mark Portugal treatment--highly unlikely because it would offend his Pedrosity--or shunt Ramon into the bullpen once Bret Saberhagen returns.

Kvetching aside, it's going to be nice to have Garciaparra back. The Red Sox aren't the kind of team that can keep up offensively with on-base-machine offenses like Oakland, Seattle, Texas or Cleveland. Having their best player back will help.

CHICAGO CUBS

Optioned RHP Kyle Farnsworth to Iowa; recalled RHP Matt Karchner from Iowa. [5/25]

Placed SS Ricky Gutierrez on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 5/25 (separated shoulder, hamstring); recalled 2B/OF Chad Meyers from Iowa. [5/26]

Released RHP Brian Williams unconditionally; purchased the contract of RHP Tim Worrell from Iowa. [5/27]

There should be no sense of tragedy surrounding these moves. Sure, Ricky Gutierrez was enjoying the best two months of his career, which is what a warm spring in Wrigley can do for a player. In his absence, Jose Nieves will play shortstop and do a nice impersonation of Rey Sanchez.

The root of the problem is an organization that sniffles that Brian Williams was good enough to have an ERA around 4.00 last year, without noting that he was pitching in the Astrodome, was lousy with inherited baserunners and still avoided achieving adequacy. Only the Cubs give these kinds of people guaranteed money.

Leave it to Ed Lynch to go for the classic misdirection to avoid responsibility for his evaluation of pitching talent by forming a personal committee to study raising the mound to 15 inches. After all, if you're pretending to be the victim of some bigger conspiracy to create high-scoring baseball games, you can't possibly be responsible for having consistently lousy taste in journeymen, can you?

So now the pen consists of Todd Van Poppel, Rick Aguilera, Matt Karchner, Tim Worrell, Daniel Garibay and Felix Heredia. It isn't really any better than it was a week ago, but change for change's sake allows the team to pretend to be decisive while hiding Kyle Farnsworth after mishandling him. Worrell has been disastrously bad for the past two seasons, while Karchner is only pitching to somehow dodge his place in Cubs' lore as Ernie Broglio Lite.

Chad Meyers is unlikely to get much more playing time than as a pinch-runner.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Optioned LHP Scott Eyre to Charlotte; recalled LHP Jesus Pena from Charlotte. [5/25]

Scott Eyre was not helping the Sox bullpen in any situational role, and with Kevin Beirne already manning the mop-up spot, the Sox decided to help themselves by adding Jesus Pena as a second situational left-hander behind Kelly Wunsch. This would have been handier going into the series against the Yankees, but should be helpful in upcoming series against the Indians and Mariners.

Eyre isn't guaranteed a spot in Charlotte's rotation, which should give you a good sense of how much future he has left with the organization. Sometimes stealing a guy in exchange for Esteban Beltre needs to be judged only in that light, with no expectations beyond that.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Optioned RHP Tim Drew to Buffalo; recalled RHP Justin Speier from Buffalo. [5/25]

Recalled CF Dave Roberts from Buffalo; placed UT Jolbert Cabrera on the inactive list. [5/26]

Activated RHP Jaret Wright from the DL; placed RHP Paul Rigdon on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 5/22 (strained left oblique). [5/27]

In the ongoing roster scramble, Tim Drew's speedy demotion and Paul Rigdon's injury drops soft-tosser Jim Brower into the rotation behind Bartolo Colon, Chuck Finley, Dave Burba and Jaret Wright.

To add to the Tribe's litany of complaints--from Colon to manager Charlie Manuel's colon--Jolbert Cabrera has to leave the team for his father's funeral. Dave Roberts probably should have been up all along as decent insurance in center field for Kenny Lofton's ongoing health problems, but the Tribe is busy carrying 12 pitchers (counting Speier).

The decisions to sign Bobby Witt and Scott Kamieniecki are looking even more misguided than they did over the winter, because in addition to their bad contributions, the time they've spent, and will spend, on the roster has kept the Indians from reinforcing their bench or using solid middle-relief types like Speier or Sean DePaula.

FLORIDA MARLINS

Recalled RHP Reid Cornelius from Calgary; optioned RHP Joe Strong to Calgary. [5/25]

Reid Cornelius is an old favorite of Dave Dombrowski's, going back to their days in the Expos' system in the late '80s and early '90s. There's little else to recommend his callup, other than the Marlins' shortage of decent replacements with Alex Fernandez hurt. The rest of Calgary's rotation is scuffling. As long as the Fish are carrying two mop-up men (Ron Mahay and Ricky Bones), you'd think they'd drop one of them into the rotation for the time being, but Mighty Joe Strong's brief dance with celebrity seems to have come to an end.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Placed OF Roger Cedeno on the 15-day DL (multiple hand injuries); recalled OF Lance Berkman from New Orleans. [5/26]

Traded IF Russ Johnson to the Devil Rays for RHP Marc Valdes; assigned Valdes to New Orleans; recalled SS Julio Lugo from New Orleans; placed RHP Mike Maddux on the 15-day DL (strained right groin); recalled Valdes from New Orleans. [5/27]

Roger Cedeno is gone for at least six weeks and possibly two months, which is a shame since it comes at the tail end of what was shaping up as a good second month as an Astro.

In his absence, it looks like the Astros are willing to start shaking things up. While Russ Johnson has always had the makings of a good offensive second baseman, he was being wasted on a team that already has Craig Biggio. He was only going to do the Astros any good as a platoon mate for Bill Spiers at third base the next time Ken Caminiti broke down.

Marc Valdes is a relatively solid journeyman who could end up being an asset in middle relief, and he makes a better potential spot starter than Kip Gross will ever be.

The really big news is the end of the Age of Bogar. The Astros are going to be taking a long look at one of their two shortstop options, Julio Lugo. Lugo is the more advanced hitter compared to Adam Everett, but his limitations on defense have already led the organization to look at Lugo as an outfielder or second baseman. For the time being, it's better for them to find out if he can stick at shortstop, with Tim Bogar appropriately demoted to defensive replacement, while helping the Astros offensively.

Moises Alou's latest owie keeps the pot boiling as far as the team's outfield problem. Alou's contract is going to start looking cheaper and cheaper relative to the market, so Gerry Hunsicker ought to be shopping him heavily. The Astros can stop fiddling with the AC and start coming to terms with life in a high-offense environment: no more money on veteran outfielders when you can take advantage of hitter-friendly Enron to break in Lance Berkman and Daryle Ward. Alou might be turned into a nice pitcher or two from an appropriately desperate team on the fringes of the wild-card race. The Expos, perhaps?. With an improved staff, the Astros could yet manage a late run with the young talent in the lineup, while chalking up the season to a learning experience on getting too dependent on veteran fill-ins like Alou or Bogar or Mike Maddux.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Optioned RHP Orel Hershiser to San Bernardino (A-ball); activated RHP Mike Fetters from the DL. [5/26]

Orel Hershiser going down? This is the product of Kevin Malone's largesse: he couldn't help himself when it came to signing Alan Mills and he couldn't dodge the binding ties of Dodger Blue when it came time to help the Perky Hurler keep his crawl to pass Don Drysdale's career wins mark going. This is usually the sort of thing you can expect the Devil Rays to fuss over. Until they can trade Mills or they lose a starter to injury, they're going to have a hard time carrying Hershiser.

MINNESOTA TWINS

Activated 2B/SS Jason Maxwell from the DL; optioned CF Torii Hunter to Salt Lake. [5/25]

While Torii Hunter is the best defensive center fielder in the organization, the Twins decided to help themselves offensively--at least in theory--by putting Brian Buchanan in the outfield instead. They can afford the risk. Jacque Jones can easily handle center field given the chance, and Matt Lawton has at times been one of the better defensive corner outfielders in baseball. The Twins get to see what they've got in Buchanan, just as they took the time to play Chad Allen last year.

Buchanan's hot start aside, I don't see it adding up to much. The more important issue is to get playing time for David Ortiz, and Tom Kelly is ducking that while declaring war on bad play by other Twins ex-prospects.

MONTREAL EXPOS

Placed C Chris Widger on the 15-day DL; recalled C Brian Schneider from Ottawa. [5/26]

Returned RHP Mike Thurman to the 15-day DL (elbow tendinitis); recalled 2B/3B Trace Coquillette from Ottawa. [5/27]

Losing Chris Widger on top of all of their other losses will not be the straw that broke the camel's back, as Widger was already scuffling offensively. His absence will, however, highlight what's already becoming a noticeable problem: the Expos' offense is a short-cycle unit, beginning with Peter Bergeron (now that he's hitting) in the leadoff slot through Jose Vidro, Rondell White and Vladimir Guerrero. Lee Stevens gets to vulture RBIs as the guy written into the #5 slot, and the rest of the lineup gets to pat butts and shout encouragement.

Brian Schneider is a decent catching prospect who would make an ideal caddy for a healthy Widger; all he (or the Expos) will get out of having him job-share with Lenny Webster and Charlie O'Brien is some sage advice on mutual funds and off-season fishing holes.

Mike Thurman's return to the disabled list has the Expos temporarily down to ten pitchers. It's similar to the Giants' wisdom (and full credit to Jon Bernstein for pointing that out to me) of going down to ten last week: until an adequate 11th pitcher comes along, why call one up when you don't know what to do with him? The Expos' situation is slightly different; unlike the Giants with Mark Gardner or the Dodgers with Orel Hershiser, the Expos don't have a veteran mopping up in middle relief who they can just bump into the rotation once the fifth slot comes up. Matt Blank would have been a logical replacement in the rotation, but he's hurt; Miguel Batista would be handy, but he's gone. Either Ted Lilly or Jake Westbrook would look good right about now, but la fievre du crapaud gros has probably crept all the way from Montreal to Trois Rivieres by now, driving up season ticket sales, right? At this point, the Expos are left with choosing between Felipe Lira and Mike Johnson, or calling up Brad Rigby.

NEW YORK METS

Optioned 1B Mark Johnson to Norfolk; recalled RHP Jim Mann from Norfolk. [5/28]

Mann was the gargantuan Rule 5er snagged out of the Jays' organization who the Mets were so interested in keeping that they comped the Jays for the right to keep him in the organization if he wasn't on the 40-man roster. Why do the Mets need to go up to 12 pitchers? With every reliever not named Turk Wendell scuffling, they seem to feel they need the help.

NEW YORK YANKEES

Activated LHP Allen Watson from the DL; optioned RHP Darrell Einertson to Columbus. [5/26]

Activated SS Derek Jeter from the DL; optioned SS/3B Alfonso Soriano to Columbus. [5/27]

While Derek Jeter's return obviously means more to the Yankees than Allen Watson's, both men fill basic needs on a team that isn't scoring a lot of runs.

It's to the Yankees' credit that they gave Alfonso Soriano most of the playing time in Jeter's absence as well as Brosius's, but he didn't come close to sticking. His failure highlights the Yanks' immediate depth problems.

While much is being made of the tremendous Sox/Yankees rivalry and how it might shape up over the next few months, I don't think anyone is thinking of it in terms of two of the league's worst benches. Who would you rather have? Darren Lewis or Lance Johnson? Manny Alexander or Clay Bellinger? None of these guys are even organizational soldiers, men who've labored ignominiously for years for the Yankees or Red Sox, only to finally get their chance at a pension. At best, they're bad mercenaries.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Placed LHP Mike Magnante on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); optioned RHP Luis Vizcaino to Sacramento; recalled 3B/DH Adam Piatt and purchased the contract of RHP Scott Service from Sacramento. [5/27]

The scramble in the bullpen continues. The A's pen is sort of like a ticking time bomb, where Billy Beane is painfully, slowly coding in the six correct members of his pen that will finally let this team fight the league fully armed, before the season explodes thanks to Father Time. Mike Magnante has been a flop as the left-handed specialist, Doug Jones has been an even more predictable flop coming off of his heaviest workload in years and T.J. Mathews has been a disaster. The only worthwhile pitcher in the pen has been Mets castoff Jeff Tam, and it isn't too unlikely that we'll be seeing either Chad Harville or Bert Snow before the end of June.

Adam Piatt's recall is oddly timed, but deserved after his good showing the first time around with the A's. They're still going to have to sort out who will lose his roster spot briefly once John Jaha is healthy enough to play for a couple of weeks.

Now that they have enough quality bats on the roster to protect themselves against left-handed relievers who are good enough to stay on the field for more than a batter or two, the A's could do themselves a tactical favor by bumping Terrence Long lower in the order and batting Randy Velarde leadoff. Long's offensive skills--decent power, low OBP--don't mean much in the leadoff slot. They have more value batting behind the numerous on-base machines the A's already carry.

If Velarde leads off, who bats second? I'd argue for Eric Chavez in front of the Wall of Lefties (the Giambis, Ben Grieve and Matt Stairs). Why? If an opposing manager tries to respond to the Wall with a left-handed pitcher, you can pull Chavez for Piatt, and after Jason Giambi and Ben Grieve, pull Matt Stairs for Olmedo Saenz. The lineup is still lefty-laden, but you've got enough right-handedness to punish the situationally limited Lance Painter types.

This will end up being irrelevant very quickly if Beane ends up trading Stairs for relief help, a trade that would make space for Jaha and Saenz and Piatt to all be on the roster at once.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Purchased the contract of 1B/LF Pat Burrell from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; outrighted 1B Chris Pritchett to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [5/24]

There's no good explanation for the delay, but at least Phillies fans finally have something to cheer about. In a season that looks destined to expose this organization's lack of vision, from Terry Francona's handling of the pitching staff to relying on a lineup that wasn't all that good last year, Pat Burrell's arrival will probably end up being the only high point. He was rarely challenged at Scranton, which is why I wouldn't be surprised if he hit for better power in the majors.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Placed RHP Mike James on the 15-day DL; activated LHP Scott Radinsky from the DL. [5/27]

Recalled RHPs Alan Benes and Matt Morris from Memphis; purchased the contract of LHP Mike Matthews from Memphis; designated LHP Mike Mohler and RHP Darren Holmes for assignment; optioned LHP Jose Rodriguez to Memphis. [5/28]

This will be interesting. You know the Cardinals are desperate when even Tony LaRussa agrees to cut an ex-Oaklander like Mike Mohler. While the Cardinals have theoretically brought in better talent, their bullpen problems are hardly at an end. Alan Benes will have to prove he can pitch on consecutive days, which looks unlikely. Matt Morris had his rehab assignment cut short, and will need to pitch himself into shape in the majors. Scott Radinsky was activated without rehab work, and is far from a sure thing as far as pitching well. Jose Rodriguez hadn't pitched that badly, but with three unhealthy pitchers in the pen on top of the always-exasperating Heathcliff Slocumb, the Cardinals will carry two ex-starters in Mike Matthews and Mark Thompson to pitch serious long relief to get from the starters to Dave Veres.

It's hardly an ideal situation, but if Morris can get prepared in the pen in time to be able to start by the end of July, they'll have gotten something out of this otherwise panicky series of moves.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Signed 1B/OF Ryan Klesko to a three-year contract extension through 2004. [5/27]

You're a franchise going nowhere with a roster stocked with veterans in the middle or near the end of their careers, and you commit to a 29-year-old first baseman for the next four years? Mark Grace might be the only one weeping about this, because his negotiating position with the Cubs ("Gimme more money, or I'll go back to my old San Diego State stomping grounds!") just took a big hit. Because the Cubs are the Cubs, that means they'll re-sign Grace and hose Hee Seop Choi, who as a result should be the guy busted up by this.

Then again, if you look at it as the choice for the Padres was between Klesko and Grace, at least they picked the right one.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Released RHP Dwight Gooden and SS Kevin Stocker; recalled LHP Doug Creek and Thug Felix Martinez from Durham. [5/25]

Placed DH Jose Canseco on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 5/25 (strained foot); acquired IF Russ Johnson from the Astros for RHP Marc Valdes. [5/27]

Recalled CF Randy Winn from Durham; optioned CF Quinton McCracken to Durham. [5/28]

Ye gods! Out of nowhere, moves resembling baseball decisions instead of marketing gimmicks? Perhaps it took the news that Wilson Alvarez is done for the year to wake them out of the aging-free-agent reverie.

As you'd expect from a team without a lot of experience in this area, the results are a mixed bag. Even if he could hit his weight, Felix Martinez would have no business on a major-league roster. You have to wonder if Otis Nixon is petitioning Frank Robinson for some retroactive suspension action.

But the rest of the moves seem relatively sound. For the time being, the rotation will feature Dave Eiland and Bryan Rekar behind Steve Trachsel and Esteban Yan, with the fifth spot open for a few days. With rumors swirling that Trachsel will be gone before his incentives start adding up, that should mean a clean shot for Dan Wheeler and a possible return for Ryan Rupe, if he's healthy. Doug Creek has pitched well in the minors for several years, and deserved a shot long before somebody like Jim Morris. While Creek has plenty of experience as a starter, he was used as a reliever at Durham. Whether he takes over the fifth slot is up to a Larry Rothschild whim.

In Jose Canseco's absence, Steve Cox and Bubba Trammell will have to settle for splitting a full-time job between first base and DH duties. They only get that much because Chuck LaMar is taking his spin on the Jose Guillen Wheel of Misfortune, which leaves the Rays with two outfielders who won't pull their weight offensively. But some playing time is better than next to none, and if they hit like they can, they might encourage LaMar to start cutting away the Cansecos and Fred McGriffs in an effort to start building a competitive team.

At least Russ Johnson could be the slugging infielder this team could use. While he probably lacks the range to play shortstop, you're talking about the team that tried to get by with Kevin Stocker; Johnson deserves to be in the lineup every day at either shortstop or second base. There's the obvious danger that Rothschild could hand too much playing time to Martinez, Ozzie Guillen and Miguel Cairo instead.

TEXAS RANGERS

Activated LF Rusty Greer from the DL; optioned RHP Danny Kolb to Oklahoma. [5/27]

One of the more interesting stories in the league has been how well the Rangers have survived losing two-thirds of their outfield. They're among the AL's best offensive teams while relying on two rookie regulars (Mike Lamb and Ruben Mateo) and two backup outfielders (Jason McDonald and Chad Curtis) in the everyday lineup. So why the sudden surge back from a slow start, other than not having to play the Yankees? They've gotten great play out of their core players (Pudge Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro), and good play out of every regular, but they've also gotten great work from their bench.

Love him or hate him, Johnny Oates has usually been a latter-day Ralph Houk when it comes to ignoring his bench, but when forced to use it as he has this year, he's gotten great hitting from the spare outfielders and Frank Catalanotto and even Scott Sheldon. Will it end up leading Oates to change his ways? Almost certainly not, considering he'll still go weeks before letting Sheldon take the field. At worst, it worked out well just this once, but it would be nice to see Oates do a better job of keeping his bench sharp with slightly more regular use.

Meanwhile, Gabe Kapler has reinjured himself, which means that Curtis and McDonald will get to continue to be a nice pair of temps in right field.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Placed LHP Lance Painter on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 5/17 (tender elbow); recalled LHP Clayton Andrews from Syracuse. [5/25]Placed 2B Homer Bush on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 5/22 (hip soreness); recalled SS Chris Woodward from Syracuse. [5/26]

Losing Homer Bush hurts the infield defense more than it impacts the offense, even if Bush were hitting like he did last year. While Craig Grebeck will finally get the playing time that he'd earned over Joey Cora many, many years ago, he's no longer a good glove at second base. He'll give the Jays a better bat at the bottom of the order, and with Chris Woodward back up, Fregosi will have the freedom to pinch-hit for Alex Gonzalez with Todd Greene late in the game.

Lance Painter starts, Lance Painter dies. It doesn't stop well-respected managers from trying. With Clayton Andrews up, the question will be whether or not Jim Fregosi will flip-flop Andrews and right-hander Peter Munro in the fifth slot, or if he'll put Andrews into the pen because that's where he had decided to put Painter after all.

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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