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July 14, 2000

Transaction Analysis

July 10-12, 2000

by Christina Kahrl

ATLANTA BRAVES

Acquired RHP Andy Ashby from the Phillies for LHPs Bruce Chen and Jimmy Osting. [7/12]

Laugh if you're a disinterested bystander or a Mets fan, and cry if you care about the Braves.

I don't know who deserves more venom: John Schuerholz for doing something this stupid, or the talking heads who are chirping about what a great deal this is for the Braves. As long as the Braves are interested in getting pitchers who were pretty good once upon a time, and dumping significant portions of their future to merely rent them, maybe they should have raised their sights a little. They could have asked the Phillies for Steve Carlton. Shane Rawley? Hell, ask for John Denny! Robin Roberts? Either Robin Roberts? Both of them?

In terms of immediate impact, this doesn't do that much to help the Braves. Even counting a nice start or two before the break, Andy Ashby has been about as valuable to his team as pitchers like Scott Karl and Brian Bohanon, both of whom have earned trips to the bullpen. As Joe Sheehan has already pointed out, Ashby's strikeout rate has been dropping for three straight seasons, and that's a bad sign under any circumstance.

The other thing Mets fans can do is breathe a sigh of relief, because there isn't all that much more the Braves have to help themselves. They've played their best trump to get somebody who is pitching as well as Scott Karl. They didn't bring in anybody in case Reggie Sanders doesn't turn it around, and they still haven't brought in an adequate backup to insure them against anything happening to Javy Lopez.

As far as the shape of the rest of the pitching staff, all this trade does is give the Braves a choice between Terry Mulholland and John Burkett for their fifth starter. While either of them makes for a nice fifth starter, Mulholland will probably suck up the middle innings that Bruce Chen was already doing such a fine job of throwing. A bullpen counting on Mulholland and Scott Kamieniecki and John Rocker looks like a bullpen filled with the hittable and the wild. The Braves will need to use Jason Marquis in higher-leverage situations and hope to get a healthy Kevin McGlinchy back. Toss in Mike Remlinger's return and there's some hope, as long as Bobby Cox uses the talented guys and not the ex-famous people.

The Braves still ought to win the division, but they haven't done anything to improve themselves significantly for the playoffs, and did it at the expense of putting a dent in their ability to contend in the future.

CINCINNATI REDS

Traded LHP Denny Neagle and CF Mike Frank to the Yankees for LHP Ed Yarnall, 3B Drew Henson, OF Jackson Melian and RHP Brian Reith; placed 3B Aaron Boone on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/10 (strained knee); purchased the contracts of RHP Larry Luebbers and 3B Mike Bell from Louisville. [7/12]

Okay, so while they're probably not calling this the "White Flag Trade," there's plenty of wailing about the deal. Reds fans should take heart, though. While Jim Bowden couldn't get the real prizes of the Yankees' system, he managed to instead land an outstanding group of "risk" projects.

Ed Yarnall should still develop into one of the best young left-handed starters in the game. That's a lot more important for the organization over the next four or five years than keeping Denny Neagle around for right now. After helping the Reds win as many as 85 games this year, all Neagle would have brought in was a nice compensation draft choice. Instead, the Reds get Yarnall and three more prospects, all likely to be significantly better than any late-first-round pick.

For starters, Drew Henson feeds Jim Bowden's Freon Deion football fetish. If he elects to become a full-time baseball player, he'll be better than Sanders ever was, although he may not pan out as a third baseman. Only a full-time commitment will tell us if he can stay at third base, but he will hit enough to play somewhere. He's definitely worth the risk to see if he chooses baseball.

Brian Reith is off to a tremendous start in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, with an ERA around 2.00. In an organization as bereft of starting pitching talent as the Reds', he immediately becomes one of their top minor-league pitchers. As with any pitcher with only A-ball experience, there are plenty of caveats: if he stays healthy, if he can make the jump to Double-A.

Jackson Melian is 21 and already in Double-A, and while I'm not as enthusiastic as others are about him, he's still a reasonably solid prospect. Because of the presence of better offensive corner outfield prospects like Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn and Ben Broussard, he may end up having to move to center field, where he'll be competing with Alejandro Diaz (nee Quezada) to earn... a long career in Louisville. Of the four players in the package, he's the worst, and he's still a decent prospect.

But there is risk. Melian might never gain command of the strike zone and may falter in the face of stiff organizational competition. Yarnall and Reith could join Curt Lyons and Mo Sanford on the Reds' list of famous maybes; developing pitchers is synonymous with risk. Michigan might win the Big 11 and end up hurting Ohioans' feelings in two sports. But these are all risks worth taking, and the potential payoff is a slugging third baseman and two-fifths of a good rotation.

Of course, what's really fun about all this is that I'm not sold that this deal kills off the Reds' chances at sneaking up on the Cardinals. While it's a longshot, if Mark McGwire stays away for any great length of time, anything over 80 wins might be enough. The Reds still have too many problems to mount a serious challenge, but it isn't impossible.

Finally, congrats to Larry Luebbers for picking the right organization to sign with as a minor-league free agent. Again. His agent is someone for other minor-league veterans to call, because how many other guys with over 200 minor-league starts are getting third chances?

While losing Aaron Boone might open the floodgates on the left side of the infield, Mike Bell has been hitting well in Louisville, and now that Chris Stynes will be playing regularly, he should make for a nice replacement for Stynes on the bench as a utility infielder. It might be enough to get him a career, because he's a better player than Billy Ripken or Eduardo Perez or some of the other nepotistas who are always hanging around.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

No moves to report, but a credit for some confusion on my part, to be followed by a predictable rant. As Dr. Judd Choate has pointed out, Jeff Suppan has been bumped from the rotation. I'm sorry to everybody that I wasn't entirely up to speed on the demotion, but frankly, I'm boggled.

What makes the decision to demote Suppan to the pen inexplicable is the perpetuation of one of the longest-running failed experiments around, Tony Muser's amazing "patience" with Jay Witasick as a starting pitcher. While Muser's patience has paid off in spades in the case of someone like Mac Suzuki--to a much greater extent than anyone besides Muser dreamed possible--he's been even more patient with Witasick, for a longer period of time and with fewer tangible results.

Wait a minute, skip that, bad pitching IS tangible. You can measure it, dissect it, cringe while you watch it if you can't bring yourself to get up and fetch a beer, but after enough time, you should just want to make it stop. Whether it's masochism towards himself or sadism towards the legions of Royals fans scattered across the steppes, it's definitely a waste of the Royals' available pitching resources. Suppan has been a better starter than Witasick all along, and barring a reasonable excuse like wanting to rest Suppan's arm or have him develop a forkball or something, it's high time that the Royals sent Witasick on to a happier future as a good major-league reliever and left Suppan where he belongs.

NEW YORK METS

Recalled LHP Rich Rodriguez from Norfolk; optioned RHP Eric Cammack to Norfolk. [7/10]

Signed RHPs Willie Banks and Oscar Henriquez to minor-league contracts and assigned them to Norfolk. [7/12]

In the open casting call the Mets are conducting, Willie Banks and Oscar Henriquez are two interesting guys to take flyers on. Banks is yet another Japanese Leagues vet fresh off the boat and looking for a full non-fishy meal and a roof over his head, while if Henriquez can still dial up his high-90s heat, he'd be helpful.

As far as I know, Rich Rodriguez has not exposed himself in public or sprayed bleach on the Fourth Estate, so at least he's a solid citizen, even if he hasn't pitched that effectively.

NEW YORK YANKEES

Acquired LHP Denny Neagle and CF Mike Frank from the Reds for 3B Drew Henson, OF Jackson Melian, LHP Ed Yarnall and RHP Brian Reith; placed OF Shane Spencer on the 60-day DL (torn ACL - knee); optioned RHP Darrell Einerston to Columbus. [7/12]

As Jim Bowden takes on a bunch of risks that could make the Yankees look bad three years from now, keep in mind that Brian Cashman and Mark Newman managed to add one of the best starting pitchers around without giving up D'Angelo Jimenez or Alfonso Soriano; Nick Johnson is beyond consideration in any deal. They've still got plenty of minor-league pitching talent, such as Ted Lilly and Ricardo Aramboles (although it looks like they might have pushed Randy Keisler too quickly, a la Ryan Bradley).

The real problem is that they're getting close to trimming just about everybody but the top prospects, and that's going to hurt in another couple of weeks when they realize they haven't clinched anything with the David Justice and Denny Neagle deals. They still need another bat or two in the lineup to be able to fend off the Blue Jays and keep their lead over the Red Sox, something that was already necessary before they lost Shane Spencer for the year. If Nick Johnson heals in time, he can be one of the two bats they need.

Even with Johnson, they need another outfielder, preferably one who bats right-handed. Moises Alou apparently won't come, and the cost for Manny Ramirez would cut the organization to the bone. Brian Sabean isn't going to give up Ellis Burks cheaply and Chad Curtis would only make the team's offensive problems worse. I won't be surprised if the Yankees get someone like Glenallen Hill or Ron Gant for a song, but for an outfit this old, either one of them are about as useful as Metamucil: having them around would only keep Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez regular, and that's exactly what the Yankees don't need.

Of course, they now have a rotation of Neagle, El Duque, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and David Cone, and the major benefit of adding Neagle is that Ramiro Mendoza will go to the pen once he heals. That won't come a moment too soon: Jeff Nelson is always fragile, and Jason Grimsley may not be able to bounce back after being overworked. I suspect Doc Gooden will do the Yankees version of the Raiders' old David Humm shuffle, where the Doc goes on the DL or into voluntary retirement and heads for Atlantic City or Tampa for a couple of weeks until he's needed because Cone has to go on the DL.

So they've bolstered the pen as well as the rotation, without doing enough to address their offensive problems. It isn't enough to put the Yankees clearly ahead of the Blue Jays. If I'm a Yankees fan, I'd be worrying that it's the next trade, the one that comes if they're still neck-and-neck with Toronto at the end of the month, that is really going to hurt.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Acquired LHPs Bruce Chen and Jimmy Osting from the Braves for a little more than three months of RHP Andy Ashby's valuable time. [7/12]

There's a lot of talk about how disappointing Bruce Chen has been in his grand total of 11 major-league starts. In his first two portions of major league seasons, including those eleven starts, Chen pitched a whopping 71 1/3 innings, with a 5.05 ERA, at the ages of 21 and 22. That's a meaningless sample size on which to pass judgment, unlike his considerable (and consistently good) minor-league numbers. If you're really hung up on those 11 starts, I would recommend people to look up the beginnings of the careers of Greg Maddux (5.59 ERA in his first two years, encompassing 32 starts at the ages of 20 and 21). Consider Tom Glavine, with a 5.54 ERA in his first nine starts as a 21 year old. How long did it take Curt Schilling to become good?

Add in that Jimmy Osting is a decent (but not outstanding) prospect, and this has the beginnings of a great deal for Ed Wade.

Now it remains to be seen whether or not he does the other half of his job: firing Terry Francona before he can lay a finger on Chen and make him another one of the waggle-armed walking wounded littering the recent Phillies past. Replacing Francona with a Lachemann to be named later makes all sorts of sense.

If Francona is allowed to ruin or misuse Chen the way he's abused Curt Schilling and Wolf and Person, then John Schuerholz will have pulled off that classic underhanded move of dealing a player into a situation that mangles his immediate future, sort of like sending Frank Castillo to Planet Coors or a reliever to the Mariners. The worst-case scenario for the Phillies is that they end up making Schuerholz look smarter than he is for making this deal. It is within Ed Wade's power to make sure it doesn't come to that.

In terms of what this does for the team itself, it looks like Dave Coggin gets to stick around in the rotation, which only creates more incentive to have Francona fragged in his office.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Claimed RHP Todd Erdos off of waivers from the Yankees. [7/12]

Todd Erdos still throws hard and could still turn into a handy middle reliever. Having drafted him, it was no surprise that the Padres would reclaim him. Now if they'll push aside the Almanzars and the Reyeses and get on with trying to improve, they'll be fine.

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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