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August 1, 2007

Transaction Analysis

Deadline Day

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
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Traded RHP Joel Pineiro and cash to the Cardinals for a PTBNL; acquired of Eric Gagne from the Rangers for LHP Kason Gabbard, OF-Ls David Murphy and Engel Beltre. [7/31]

For the Red Sox, this might seem a deliciously low price to pay to get Gagne, with the added benefit that it ended up leaving the Bronx Bombers a bit flat-footed, so you can forgive them some amount of self-delighted glee. Gabbard and Murphy were both essentially filler players for the Sox (of admittedly differing degrees), and the only trailing leg, far-distant shoe that has to drop to properly assess the full price paid will be how well Beltre pans out. That's why the Rangers made this deal, certainly, and why they could settle for a back-end rotation regular and a fourth outfielder as the rest of the package for Gagne. For the Sox, adding Gagne to baseball's best bullpen just makes things that much tougher for their competition. Since the Red Sox do rate behind the Tigers and Yankees in offensive firepower, and rank with the Tribe, it's not a bad idea to play to a particular strength given that these are not only their rivals for playoff spots, but their competition once they get there. As a staff, the Sox are a half-run better in Fair Runs Allowed as a staff than the next-best likely playoff team, the Angels, and eight-tenths of a run better than the second-best, the Indians. So, there's really not much question that the Sox hold a significant advantage in pitching, and given that they have some premium offensive weapons, Curt Schilling coming back, and even Coco Crisp slugging .500 this past month, how much does anyone want to invest in hoping that Julio Lugo somehow spoils it all?

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Acquired RHP Jon Link from the Padres for UT-L Rob Mackowiak; activated OF-L Darin Erstad from 15-day DL. [7/31]

What's that line about the dog who didn't bark? The interesting thing here isn't the trade, it's the trades not made. After all of the talk about White Sox starters for most of the last month, not a one of them went anywhere, and for all of the prattle about Jermaine Dye, he didn't go anywhere. There's a chance that Dye and Jose Contreras might be the sorts of guys available in August, but it looks as if all Kenny Williams accomplished here was chewing up his cell phone minutes. Swapping out Mackowiak for Erstad won't do much for the Sox' shot at staying ahead of the Royals, certainly, but then they can hug Ersty close and remind themselves how really, really keen it was to get such a solid citizen last winter, instead of somebody who might help them score a few runs.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Acquired RHP Kyle Davies from the Braves for RHP Octavio Dotel. [7/31]

This is exactly the racket that Dayton Moore needs to be in, and while familiarity with Davies from his days in the Braves' organization certainly didn't hurt-not to mention an amicable relationship with his former employers-Moore realized a nifty little return on a veteran rental, a nice bit of execution in a deadline where we didn't really see much like it achieved by anybody. Davies has his control issues, but perhaps repetition will breed confidence; he still has a good fastball, he still has an impressive curve, and if the Braves understandably didn't have the time to invest in the handholding that might be necessary to bring him to the point of becoming a quality big league starter, the Royals have no such stresses where the exigencies of the present are concerned. If there's a blue ribbon to be handed out for bringing in a prospect for an investment in a veteran rental, it has to go to Moore.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Traded RHP Scott Proctor to the Dodgers in exchange for INF-S Wilson Betemit. [7/31]

Maybe this works out well for the Yankees-life after A-Rod will require a third baseman, after all, and Proctor's the definition of a replaceable part, having been conjured up last season to general derision among rival AL GMs, only to make them eat those spring snorts of disdain. Certainly, Brian Cashman should feel pretty good for taking a pitcher some of his peers considered useless, and flipping him for an undervalued infield asset who will deliver power from any position they put him at, second, third, or even short in a pinch. There is the vaguely dissatisfying suggestion that this certainly resembles the front half of an uncompleted series of moves, that somehow what was supposed to follow was a deal that put Gagne in pinstripes, and perhaps Kyle Farnsworth someplace far from Yankee Stadium, but that's after-the-fact wheel-spinning. Right now this instant, the Yankees have two questions-how do they replace Proctor in the pen, and whether or not Joe Torre's going to be any smarter about using Betemit than he was with Mark Bellhorn or Kenny Lofton or a few other genuinely useful stretch drive pickups that just don't seem to give him that fuzzy Miguel Cairo feeling.

To the first question, the answer is yes, and they're fine. While I don't want to hog-wild for who's in this pen and how they're doing, Luis Vizcaino, Kyle Farnsworth, and Brian Bruney are all better people to turn to than Proctor has been this season, and that group plus one or two from among their southpaw choices deliver with any regularity, as spacers between what should be the best rotation down the stretch and Mariano Rivera at crunch time, it'll do.

As for the second question, that belongs to the future; the past has been generally disappointing, so while I'd like to think that the virtues of using Betemit-at DH at least once a week, and as the guy who starts when Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, or Robinson Cano need a day off-are pretty obvious, Torre may not have heard of him, and even if you show him a PowerPoint presentation or tell stories about Gil McDougald, it may not do any good.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Released OF-S Bobby Kielty. [7/31]

Well, there he is-the free talent ballplayer available at the deadline. Sort of ironic, to my way of thinking.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Acquired SS-R Jesus Merchan for RHP Julio Mateo. [7/31]

At 26 and having only just belted his way out of Double-A, Merchan's not a prospect. In posting a .330/.404/.478 season at Reading, the Venezuelan has hit for some modest amount of power, and he's a contact hitter par excellence, having struck out only 19 times in more than 300 PA. And hey, there are no outstanding accusations of his being a reprehensible human being, so this is all good, right?

TEXAS RANGERS
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Acquired C-S Jarrod Saltalamacchia, SS-R Elvis Andrus, LHPs Matt Harrison and Beau Jones, and RHP Neftali Feliz from the Braves for 1B-S Mark Teixeira and LHP Ron Mahay; acquired LHP Kason Gabbard and OF-Ls David Murphy and Engle Beltre from the Red Sox for RHP Eric Gagne and cash; designated INF-S Desi Relaford for assignment; activated 2B-R Ian Kinsler from the 15-day DL; recalled LHP A.J. Murray from Oklahoma (Triple-A). [7/31]

As far as Daniels' performance, it's sort of good and good-looking, but also sort of an incomplete proposition, because while I'm impressed with the package he's brought in for Teixeira, any suggestion on whether or not he got value for Gagne really depends on Beltre realizing his potential. In that, the Gagne trade has one element in common with the deal that took the Tex out of Texas--Elvis Andrus won't be 19 until the end of August, and Beltre won't turn 18 until November, long after he's wrapped up his first season as a pro--and at that age, never that it's a partial year in one of the complex leagues, he's 17 years old. He hasn't been doing all that well (.208/.310/.400, while striking out in a third of his at-bats), but considering his age, and his physical gifts, you have to give the Rangers some benefit of the doubt. Beltre has the range for center, but he might outgrow it; happily, in addition to a good set of wheels, he has the arm and the power potential at the plate to make it in right field. He's a blue-chip maybe, and that has value, but nailing down how much is a matter of conjecture.

Similarly, you have to give Andrus some benefit of the doubt because of his age despite his generally weak performance in the High-A Carolina League (.244/.330/.335, with 25 steals in 32 attempts). He's walking in ~10 percent of his plate appearances, not something you see from every young Venezuelan. His range afield and an arm that can make the plays from deep in the hole make him one of the more interesting shortstop-as-a-shortstop prospects in the game. But the danger is that he may not get all that much better at the plate, at which point, you've got... what, Royce Clayton? That's a useful player, but not a star.

The rest of the Gagne deal did at least bring the organization two players who can play in the majors, but neither Gabbard or Murphy have much in the way of star power. Gabbard's main claim to fame is generating groundball outs; he had more than 2.5 times as many groundball outs as caught flyballs in his 14 starts for the PawSox this year. He also had only seven quality starts in those 14, and three in his seven for the parent club, solid enough work for a fifth starter type. Therein is the problem--a fourth or fifth starter is what Gabbard is right now, and it is perhaps his ceiling. In this, he's not really that different from guys like John Rheinecker or John Koronka--just about good enough, and perhaps in a less difficult run environment than Texas', possibly quite capable of sticking, but perhaps no better a proposition to be even that than his quality start rate. There's some concern that Murphy's glove won't play for years and years in center, which suggests that he might have to make it as a fourth outfield type, maybe even make a nice platoon starter considering he hit .300/.368/.468 against right-handed pitching. If he's the lefty-hitting part of a job-sharing arrangement in center, splitting time with someone like Marlon Byrd, that's useful, and can be the difference between a pathetic situation (think Cubs) or having a true star. There's some potentially hidden hope in that Murphy's seen to have more power than he's shown in games, and that's something that might be more easily exploited moving to Texas, but that's a maybe. These are just two good parts, not the players who have to pay off to make these deals work for Daniels.

Which brings us to the other components of the Braves' deal--Salty and the pitching. It looks as if the Rangers are content for the time being to eventually make the young catcher their regular backstop (assuming he doesn't somehow flunk out in instructional league this fall), but for the time being, they'll do as the Braves did, moving him between catcher and first. That's important, because to my mind, Saltalamacchia really must be a catcher for the Teixeira deal to really pay off, not as an exchange of kind, but as a matter of acquiring a star talent at a position where they're in short supply. If you look at Salty's five-year forecast, you wind up with a guy who's going to slug into the mid-.400s with OBPs in the .350 range. That's a huge offensive advantage in lineup construction at catcher, and a guy who isn't killing you if he's at first base. Since he's under control for the next five years or so, what do you think you're going to be able to find and afford with the money you save having relatively cost certainty with Saltalamacchia in your lineup--a first baseman who hits better than that, or a catcher who hits anywhere close to that well? In short, Salt catches, or the Rangers aren't even holding themselves in place.

The pitching is the usual collection of interesting and talented hurlers you always find plying their trade in the Braves system. Harrison, Jones, and Feliz all rated in the top 20 prospects in the Braves' system for Baseball America before the season, and two of them--Harrison and Feliz--rated in Kevin Goldstein's preseason top ten for the system. So, picking from wee Braves, you couldn't have done much better on the pitching side of things. That Feliz rated so high might surprise some, but Kevin's an admitted velocity whore, and Feliz throws freely and easily into the upper 90s, and supports it with a nasty slider that needs work, and his change is even more notional; if he were only going to be a reliever, it wouldn't be hard to envision Feliz becoming some sort of latter-day blend of Jeff Nelson and Joel Zumaya, but seeing as he won't be 20 until next spring and is still starting in the short-season complex leagues, we shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves. In short, Feliz is to pitching what Beltre or Andrus are as position-playing prospects--really, really interesting, and so young as to defy easy analysis.
Harrison hasn't embarrassed himself in his first full season at Double-A, but he also hasn't exactly excelled, allowing nearly four runs per nine innings and a hit for every frame, but striking out six per nine, keeping the ball in the yard (only six souvenirs in 116 2/3 IP) and walking fewer than three batters per nine. He's a lefty with reliable low-90s heat, a plus curve, and a plus change, so it's easy to want him.

Finally, there's Jones. Problems with his off-speed stuff led to a move to the pen, and while we're talking about a 22 year-old (the horror!), he's throwing long relief work, so starting doesn't have to be ruled out of his future if he can throw a promising curve and change more reliably. If not, he's "only" a lefty with consistent low-90s heat, and if he tends to generate a lot of flyball outs and that might make you worry about his future in Texas, staying in the pen wouldn't prevent him from having a productive career.

The question is whether the package adds up. The best young catcher in the game, two hard-throwing lefties, an even harder-throwing righty, a toolsy shortstop, an equally toolsy pair of center fielders, and a guy who can step into the back end of a big league rotation right now... for a quality first baseman and perhaps two months from a fragile sometime star-quality reliever? It may not knock your socks off, but in this market, with prospects at a premium, it seems to me that Daniels did exceptionally well. That might seem strange considering how much we have to defer to more scouty instincts than performance analysis, but there should be no doubt that the two deals brought in a ton of talent, and that it's good enough to do something to redeem Daniels' otherwise shaky reputation as a trader. It'll take years to see if Andrus, Beltre, Feliz, and Jones pan out, so there's still the very real possibility that this deal will add considerable to the good fortune of Daniels' eventual successor, but if the young GM is still running the show when we get a full read on how well these two deals worked out, that will mean that some things will have gone very well indeed. We'll have to wait and see.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Acquired 1B-S Mark Teixeira and LHP Ron Mahay from the Rangers for C-S Jarrod Saltalamacchia, SS-R Elvis Andrus, RHP Neftali Feliz, and LHPs Matt Harrison and Beau Jones; acquired RHP Octavio Dotel from the Royals for RHP Kyle Davies; purchased the contract of C-R Corky Miller from Richmond (Triple-A); acquired LHP Royce Ring from the Padres for LHPs Wil Ledezma and Will Startup. [7/31]

If this was another disappointing deadline with more stalking than pulls on the trigger, the Braves proved to be the hunters who landed the genuinely big game. It was a king's ransom in talent, but as Jay Jaffe has noted, John Schuerholz has a pretty good record in these matters, and adding Tex is nothing short of a kill shot move to put the Phillies in their dust and run the Mets to ground. This is also the better fit-while there was talk of the Braves getting a veteran outfielder, the Braves were better off showing some faith in Andruw Jones' ability to bounce back down the stretch, and he's already rewarding that by slugging better than .550 the past month. The left field platoon of Willie Harris and Matt Diaz is chugging along, so the position that really needed fixing, and that really demanded something more plausible than a Hallmark special wishcasting miracle involving Julio Franco, was first base. Getting Teixeira for this year's stretch and next season gives the Braves an immediate high-end solution that is this decade's variation on a Fred McGriff theme, and if that allows them to coax him into a multi-year deal, an arbitration year or two, or a decision to go fish after 2008, it's a worthwhile win-now gamble.

There's also the matter of how history's likely to see this exchange. Schuerholz is enough of an old gambler to know that two of the three pitchers will probably blow out a working part or two because that's what pitchers do, and that Andrus is years away from haunting him, if ever. If Salty winds up being the "yeah, but" example that-like Jermaine Dye in the last decade-makes other GMs willing to take their chances making bigger deals for Braves prospects, that's a price worth paying if it feeds into another multi-year run of exploiting mistakes by the other guys. Every GM who thinks or hopes he's getting the next toolsy guy like Dye who just needs a new opportunity someplace else is another target for the next Braves stretch drive.

Bringing in Dotel and Mahay provides the pen with a nice pair of veteran reinforcements to a pen that could probably use the shoring up. Tyler Yates has been effective erasing right-handed hitters, but Chad Paronto's had some problems keeping people off base, and Bob Wickman's been pretty touchable. Between Wickman, Dotel, and Rafael Soriano, they've got three different relievers they might choose to close with on any given night. For mix and match choices, Bobby Cox can pick and choose between the discrete virtues of guys like Yates, Mahay, and even Paronto. Add in the unheralded great work that Aussie sidewinder Pete Moylan has delivered this season, and some decent contributions by Oscar Villarreal in middle relief, and you've got a pretty interesting mix of talent where even your worst guy-Paronto? Villarreal? Wickman?-has his uses.

Okay, here's an interesting question-what happens if the Braves make the playoffs, and they're celebrating something, and... what does Ron Mahay get to do? Celebrate with his teammates, or be the one guy asked not to jump up and down with everybody else? He's still slathered with the stigma of being one of the guys who crossed the (non-tangible) line in 1995; at the time he was an outfield near-washout, and somebody that the Red Sox effectively challenged with a "play or die" edict. He received no protection or assurances from the union-and could not reasonably expect any, given the MLBPA's position at the time, or its subsequent inaction or easy surrenders of the rights of people they don't represent save when it suits their interests to claim that they do. So Mahay made a choice he's had to live with has had a big league career, making a brief appearance in The Show as an outfielder in '95 as a reward for giving in to management intimidation, and 11 more years as a pitcher in his subsequent conversion. Twelve different seasons in the majors, and the man remains a pariah. He's never been on a playoff team, and this may well be his last chance to, and given that the Braves' clubhouse is apparently fractured along other lines already, throwing Mahay into this stew seems especially... spicy.

The other move to like here was the win-win exchange of Ledezma and Ring (with service time no doubt leading to the throw-in of an extra lefty for the Pads' benefit). Ring's set down on strikes more than half of the lefties he's faced in Triple-A, perhaps not overly surprising given his better-than-average velocity for a lefty. Either as insurance against Mahay's failing, or as a future-minded investment in finding next year's situational lefty at below-market pricing, it's a nice pickup that might reap outsized rewards. It's worth remembering they made something out of Mike Remlinger, after all, far more than anyone expected at the time, and Remlinger wasn't an unknown at the time, any more than Ring is now.

So, what's been left undone? The Braves didn't manage to add that top starter, but this may well have been a market where he couldn't be found. The additions of Mahay and Dotel help them there, though, in that if they couldn't add that extra starter, then perhaps they've helped themselves by staffing the pen well enough to really only have to get five innings or so from guys like Buddy Carlyle and Jo-Jo Reyes.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Placed SS-R Juan Castro on the 15-day DL (elbow), retroactive to 7/29; outrighted C-R Chad Moeller to Louisville; recalled RHP Elizardo Ramirez from Louisville (Triple-A); reinstated SS-R Alex Gonzalez from the Restricted List; purchased the contract of INF-S Mark Bellhorn from Louisville. [7/31]

Well, question answered as far as who steps into the rotation, and it makes some sort of sense, in that Ramirez has some seniority in this, having started 19 games for the club last year. Since Gonzalez steps back into the lineup as the everyday shortstop, and Jeff Keppinger goes back to his perch on the bench after doing a great job of showing that a man with a solid line-drive stroke has his virtues, all's well at shortstop. And we even get another spin for Mark Bellhorn, who however done he might be as a regular might provide the right combination of power and patience as a pinch-hitter that pays off particularly well in a bandbox. Certainly, hitting .243/.371/.416 for Louisville doesn't suggest there's a lot left. It'll be sort of like the waning days of Howard Johnson with the Cubs, where you can see him deliver a Three True Outcomes result, and remember that however many times he got jobbed, he did get enough of a fair shake to have a career.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Traded 3B-R Morgan Ensberg and cash to the Padres for a PTBNL or cash. [7/31]

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Acquired RHP Scott Proctor from the Yankees for INF-S Wilson Betemit. [7/31]

Some trades are win-win, but could this one be lose-lose? Proctor's not my idea of a good reliever to have traded for, and however much of a surprise he might spring running through the different league, as Tony Gwynn's induction into the Hall of Fame reminds us, they have video on guys these days. This was just a stupendously dumb dump, a case of getting nothing for something because they have to use Nomar Garciaparra-another one of Ned Colletti's major mistakes-and they have the fruits of Logan White's labors waiting in the wings, notably Andy LaRoche.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Acquired RHP Julio Mateo from the Mariners for SS-R Jesus Merchan. [7/31]

Since being sent to Tacoma as a bit of fallout from his being charged with assault for beating his wife (allegedly, until proven guilty), Mateo's been outstanding with the Rainiers, striking out 29 in 34.1 IP while allowing only 27 baserunners. Obviously, Pat Gillick is familiar with him from his days in Seattle, so while there's no way to know if Mateo's going to be able to forestall his day in court until beyond the baseball season, and be able to contribute all the way down the stretch, as a matter of talent, it's a smart pickup. As a matter of adding Mateo to a team that already employs Brett Myers, it just makes the Phillies seem a little more scaly.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Acquired RHP Matt Morris from the Giants for CF-R Rajai Davis and a PTBNL. [7/31]

As if there weren't reason enough to fire David Littlefield already, could it get any worse than this? The Pirates took a fading veteran hurler-and agreed to pay his full salary, including his $2 million signing bonus he'll be owed at the end of his contract. Bold strokes that convey a commitment to turning things around would be more valuable on the symbolic level if they weren't so monumentally stupid in point of fact, let alone the expense. What are we left with? The suggestion that maybe this will work out just fine, because Morris will go through waivers and can be re-dealt? And you expect somebody else to take all of the tab? Didn't this plan work out something less than well with Tony Armas Jr. and Shawn Chacon? Hey, they're both still here... how did that happen? Golly.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Acquired UT-L Rob Mackowiak from the White Sox for RHP Jon Link; acquired 3B-R Morgan Ensberg and cash from the Astros for a PTBNL or cash; acquired LHPs Wilfredo Ledezma and Will Startup from the Braves for LHP Royce Ring. [7/31]

Kevin Towers didn't make a major move, but he did achieve some nifty little bits of roster embroidery. Certainly, adding Mackowiak and Ensberg give him a power of better bats that might also give Bud Black some options in the infield and outfield. Could getting the lefty-hitting utilityman and the former Astros slugger help re-initiate the talk of moving Kevin Kouzmanoff to left field? It's an option. Could Mackowiak create a wealth of double-switch options that enrich Black's in-game tactical menu? Obviously. Could Mackowiak immediately start taking playing time away from Marcus Giles at second base? One can hope.

Even if this is just a matter of providing them with plausible insurance at the four corners and second base, it still adds up to shoring up a bench and injury-proofing the lineup at negligible cost. Ring was a nice shiny bit to surrender, but Ledezma represents a nice right-now add-on to the Pad pen, a pickup that should reap immediate benefits. In the more contemporary context of picking up stretch rentals because you've got space and just enough money, Kevin Towers executed admirably on deadline day. The only real question now is how Black is going to sort out how to play Kouzmanoff, Brian Giles, Mackowiak, Milton Bradley, and Ensberg often enough to keep them all fresh.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Acquired CF-R Rajai Davis and a PTBNL from the Pirates for RHP Matt Morris. [7/31]

If he couldn't win the job away from the likes of Chris Duffy in Pittsburgh, Davis may not really pan out as anybody's center fielder, but he's still a decent enough fourth outfielder and "Barry Bonds' Legs" type of player. That plus getting out from under more than $20 million owed to a guy who was nothing more than a tail-end charlie in their rotation? However much I've bashed on Brian Sabean in this space, if you mug the relative babes in the woods, you may not get style points for being a bandit, but this ain't the Olympics, and you will have the benefit of lining your pockets. Sabean just reaped an outstanding financial divided that should help greatly in making over the team in the winter to come. It may not be a repeatable achievement-you'd have to think that Littlefield and his like do need to be held accountable someday, like Cam Bonifay and Chuck LaMar, no?-but this ranks among the better deadline moves made by anybody.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Acquired RHP Joel Pineiro and cash from the Red Sox in exchange for a PTBNL. [7/31]

Down-on-his-luck veteran hurler goes from his latest disaster to St. Louis, where he might pick up a thing or two about the dark arts from Dave Duncan? Seems like a reasonable low-end risk to me, and if Pineiro became the latest fading talent to pull a Storm Davis and suddenly become useful pitching for Tony La Russa and Duncan, that's a matter of some people potentially being more valuable to you than they are to other people. It's been a competitive advantage for the staffs that La Russa and Duncan have run for three decades, and although it didn't exactly work out as well as you might have liked with Kip Wells this year, it's still presumably a source of prospective strength.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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