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July 24, 2000

Transaction Analysis

July 17-20, 2000

by Christina Kahrl

ANAHEIM ANGELS

Optioned RHP Lou Pote to Edmonton; recalled RHP Brian Cooper from Edmonton. [7/17]

For the time being, this gives the Angels a rotation of Cooper, Kent Bottenfield, Ken Hill, Jarrod Washburn and Seth Etherton. Scott Schoeneweis should be back before the trading deadline, which gives the Angels the opportunity to either deal Bottenfield or ditch Ken Hill. Complicating the situation is the Angels' flirtation with contention. The schedule over the next couple of weeks gives them the advantage of a couple of series against Texas while the Mariners and A's smack each other around, but there will be a couple of tough matchups with the White Sox and A's. Having Schoeneweis and Washburn available for the A's series will be important; having Ken Hill around still isn't. The Angels really do have a shot, but they need to add a useful bat at DH--not hard to do, but they need to use either Bottenfield or Hill to do it, and that's far from easy.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Optioned RHP Nelson Figueroa and OF Jason Conti to Tuscon; recalled RHP Geraldo Guzman from El Paso (Double-A); activated 1B Alex Cabrera from the DL. [7/17]

Buck Showalter's creative solution to his lineup problems is to do with Cabrera what he'd already done with Travis Lee: move him to right, and give Danny Bautista a continued role on the team as a defensive replacement. Any team with a Tony Womack-Jay Bell combo up the middle is already resigning itself to taking its lumps on defense. It doesn't exactly matter when the Big Unit is on the mound, and there are few balls in play, let alone baserunners. Similarly, Brian Anderson can keep himself out of trouble because of his control.

The rest of the rotation is another problem altogether. With Omar Daal relegated to the pen, the Snakes have a tough juggling act, where they keep the entire pen around (and with both Daal and Mike Morgan in it), while shuttling Figueroa and Guzman up as needed. Since Figueroa has to stay down ten days, he won't be back until towards the end of next week, which should mean a spot start for Morgan.

But for the stretch, the Snakes' offense is about as good as it can be with the talent on hand. Cramming both Cabrera and Durazo into the lineup is critical as long as they're dragging Womack around, and as long as Jay Bell continues to scuffle. No lineup can afford two or three easy outs--just look at the Cubs for proof of that.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Released RHP Darren Holmes; purchased the contract of LHP John Parrish from Rochester. [7/19]

With Sidney Ponson ailing and Jose Mercedes being Jose Mercedes, Parrish should end up getting a shot at a rotation slot in the next week. While his numbers might make you think he's a power pitcher (53 walks and 82 strikeouts in 97.1 IP, to go with 79 hits, and a 4.25 ERA), he's 22 and something of a soft-tosser. He should be the first of several starting pitchers who should come up for a cup of coffee over the next two months or two. Josh Towers seems like a lock for a callup, and as long as the Orioles are goofing off with Mercedes, could it really hurt to interrupt Rick Krivda's International League Hall of Fame career?

Holmes has now been released thrice in the season. I have no idea who gets him next, the Tribe or the Cubs, but I'm willing to bet its the Cubs. After all, they're still very excited about the last ex-Oriole they nabbed (Tim Worrell), and as bad as the Orioles pen has been, the Cubs have still managed to underwhelm them for a coveted hold on last place among major league pens according to Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools.

CHICAGO CUBS

Announced the resignation of GM Ed Lynch. [7/19]

Optioned LHP Daniel Garibay to Iowa; recalled RHP Kyle Farnsworth from Iowa. [7/20]

Farnsworth had a wee bit of success in Iowa as a closer, but he still hasn't given any indication that he can throw a breaking pitch for a strike, and only pitching coach Oscar Acosta seems to be laboring under the delusion that he doesn't need to. But with Rick Aguilera continuing to be a working example for why save stats mean nothing in terms of pitcher quality, you can't blame the Cubs for getting desperate. At this stage, they're better off releasing Aggie and keeping Garibay around for his situational uses. This makes even more sense when you consider that in Garibay's absence, Don Baylor's down to one lefty in the pen, which means Felix Heredia will continue to be wasted in a situation role. The Cubs have the makings of a decent bullpen by committee, where they could mix and match Farnsworth, Todd Van Poppel and Heredia, keeping Garibay in the situational lefty role, and using Tim Worrell and Steve Rain in the middle. Instead, they're victimizing themselves with an anointed closer, and they're not a good enough team offensively to afford one as inept as Aguilera.

Ed Lynch's decision to bail out on the havoc he has wrought gets full treatment in the current NL Central Notebook.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Placed RHP Cal Eldred on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/15 (ulnar neuritis - elbow). [7/17]

Recalled RHP Lorenzo Barcelo from Charlotte. [7/18]

With the Tribe not exactly heating up and making up lost ground, the Sox are taking advantage of their organizational pitching depth to set Eldred aside now before things get any worse with his chronic elbow problems. In his absence, they'll have both Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland in the rotation, while continuing to keep Kevin Beirne in the pen for mop-up duties and long relief. Barcelo will be joining him. As one of the potential jewels of the great Sabean Shakedown of 1997, Barcelo's elbow reconstruction in 1998 has so far kept him from adding any embarassment to what's already been a bad deal for the Giants. While he has been throwing with good velocity for Charlotte, the results have been mixed: a 4.44 ERA, 111 hits and 20 homeruns allowed in 95.1 IP, but only 17 walks to go with 57 strikeouts. If the Sox leave him alone in relief, this should be a good opportunity for him to get some experience in a role with low pressure and low stress on the elbow, and he could easily turn into a valuable middle man.

One of the reasons the Sox need to evaluate Barcelo now is because of the problems they are experiencing in the pen. Keith Foulke seems to be getting back on track, but Sean Lowe's been a disaster this season. The Sox need to evaluate what they have in hand right now before deciding whether or not they're in the market for a veteran reliever down the stretch. If they stick with Barcelo, they won't be disappointed, and they can restrict their shopping to a lefty-hitting spare outfielder.

CINCINNATI REDS

Turned 1B Hal Morris into a pot of gold, or at least a couple of fading twenties. [7/18]

Purchased the contracts of RHP Mark Wohlers and DH Brooks Kieschnick from Louisville; announced that RHP Andy Larkin was lost on waivers to the Royals. [7/19]

You tell me: if they hadn't wasted the money they spent on Hal Morris, wouldn't they have a couple of extra hundred thousands of dollars lying around to throw at Barry Larkin? Morris hasn't been a good offensive player in years, and he has no defensive value. Why anyone would sign him for more than the minimum is inexplicable, especially a team like the Reds when they're in the business of feigning salary restrictions.

Another reason there was no economic benefit to having a stiff like Morris around: the easy availability of players like Kieschnick make it pretty clear that there's no reason to carry someone with Morris' withered talent. Although he's now 28, Kieschnick still has great power (hitting .295/.356/.568 for Louisville), and he can stand around at first or in left just as easily as Morris. The real shame is that the Reds waited until after their interleague schedule was over, wasting even more playing time on Morris that would have been better spent with Kieschnick in the lineup. Now they'll simply have to settle for an upgrade among their pinch-hitters.

Let's set aside the present for a moment. Anybody else remember how good Kieschnick was as a pitcher in college? Anyone else interested in seeing teams invest that 25th roster spot to players who can pinch-hit as well as pitch mop-up? Kieschnick actually used to throw pretty hard, so it isn't like he'd be Frankie Menechino out there. I'm just curious to see a team try to do it, especially when you have a team like the Angels burning a roster spot on a Rule 5 pick while they need a DH, or you have the Mets cycling through a new mop-up man every week. If teams really are feeling a crunch as far as roster space, why not get creative? Sadly, Doug Dascenzo is no longer available, but would it really be a worse idea than recycling Darren Holmes?

While its nice to see Wohlers finally come back, its hard to say he earned it. He'd managed to cough up 21 runs in 20.2 IP in Louisville. It makes for a great story and another player in Jim Bowden's retread trophy case if he shows anything over the next two months, but it doesn't seem likely.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Placed INF Enrique Wilson on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/14 (sprained wrist); recalled RHP Tim Drew from Buffalo. [7/17]

Purchased the contract of LHP Cam Cairncross from Akron (Double-A); designated LHP Andrew Lorraine for assignment. [7/18]

Because the Indians already have Jolbert Cabrera around to back up in the middle infield and Russ Branyan to back up Travis Fryman at third, they didn't really need to fill Wilson's roster spot with another utility infielder. It helps that Charlie Manuel avoids pulling Fryman or Roberto Alomar or Omar Vizquel. Wilson still desperately needs to get off of this team so that he can get his career underway as somebody's starting shortstop. If healthy, he would make great trade bait to the Blue Jays, Angels, Mets or Diamondbacks.

Its the pitching side of things that seems to nothing more than gratuitous mayhem. While Tim Drew's shaking off a slow start at Buffalo to get down to a 5.54 ERA, he really doesn't look ready. Between his work at Buffalo and Akron, he was giving up five runs per nine innings, while posting a meagre 48:31 K:BB ratio in 103 IP. I don't care how hard up the Tribe is for pitching, it isn't as if Drew is the difference between their making the World Series or not. To make matters worse, it looks like they're trying to rush Jaret Wright back for the third time in less than a year.

Discarding Andrew Lorraine is great for teams like the A's or the Yankees, contenders looking for a good lefty situational man. This year, Lorraine's held lefties down to rates of .171/.231/.200. Blank out his last name and his lengthy minor league experience, and teams tend to play plenty for someone who can do that. Why the Indians cast him aside for nothing, just to take a spin with a 28 year old Australian research project, has no good explanation when you consider that they don't have any other left-handed reliever available.

What strikes me as particularly sad is the argument that the Indians can't afford to trade away prospects in the farm system for a veteran or two to help them right now. Set aside whether or not it isn't already too late. The problem is that the Indians' farm system isn't strong enough to have much to offer beyond C.C. Sabathia. The players who should have value are guys like Wilson, and have been allowed to get moldy and lose value in trade in meaningless part-time roles. As a result, for this franchise the future is now, and its a big step down from the recent past. With Manny Ramirez likely to walk away after this season, you're looking at an offense which might amuse you with the antics of Richie Sexson and Russ Branyan, but it'll have a hard time keeping up with the Royals for second place.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Designated OF Darren Bragg for assignment, and outrighted OF Angel Echevarria to Colorado Springs (losing Echevarria to the Brewers on waivers) to make room for 2B Todd Walker on the active roster; recalled LHP Rigo Beltran from Colorado Springs; designated Beltran for assignment; recalled DH Butch Huskey from Colorado Springs. [7/17]

Now that he's a free man if he elects to go free agent, Beltran should still have some value, perhaps back with the Mets if they're tired of using someone as bad as the bad Bobby Jones. Pitching in a launching pad like Colorado Springs, he was managing a 5.47 ERA, allowing only 99 hits in 100.1 IP, striking out 68 and walking 56 while giving up a dozen homeruns. That doesn't sound like much, but Beltran is still a good choice to man a spot starter and long relief role somewhere in the majors.

DETROIT TIGERS

Traded DH Gabe Alvarez to the Padres for 1B Dusty Allen. [7/17]

Placed DH Juan Gonzalez on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/8 (ankle); acquired 1B Hal Morris from the Reds for cash. [7/18]

From the laughable rhetoric desk, we have the Tigers' current claims that they're a contender, while submitting the acquisition of a toothless Hal Morris as evidence of their seriousness. Bobby Higginson's recent statements that the White Sox don't look like a winning team were amusing, based as they are on Higginson's extensive experience with watching other teams win games. They're still closer to last place than they are to second, but they're already trash-talking?

FLORIDA MARLINS

Activated RHP Dan Miceli from the DL; optioned RHP Joe Strong to Calgary; transferred RHP Alex Fernandez from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/19]

Placed RHP Brad Penny on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder); recalled RHP Joe Strong from Calgary; activated RHP A.J. Burnett from the DL; optioned Strong to Calgary. [7/20]

Penny wasn't too consistent, having contributed all of 0.01 Support-Neutral Wins Above Replacement level, so its probably for the best that they don't push him any more than they already have when he's only 22. With a good park to pitch in and a rotation of Ryan Dempster, Chuck Smith, Reid Cornelius, Burnett and Jesus Sanchez, the Marlins are in decent shape for the short term. The long term is a bit more troubling, as it should be when any team is relying as heavily on young starters like Penny, Dempster and Burnett as the Marlins are. While he hasn't achieved the same level of infamy as Jim Leyland or Tommy Lasorda, or peers like Dusty Baker or Jim Fregosi, John Boles may match the start of Bobby Valentine's managerial career. From 1986-7, Valentine burned out a talented young rotation before we really had the chance to get familiar with Jose Guzman and Kid Correa.

The other good news for the short haul is Miceli's return. Add him to a pen featuring Braden Looper from the right side and lefties Armando Almanza and Vic Darensbourg, and that's as good a bullpen as you can have when its headed by a "closer" like Pulpo Alfonseca. Add a basically strong pen to a talented young rotation and a decent offense, and it looks like the Marlins should finish in third this year. While that's a tremendous accomplishment for Dave Dombrowski and the organization in the short term, they need to come to terms with Boles' future quickly if they don't want to settle for this as an unhappy high water mark in a rebuilding project that is only just now starting at the major league level.

Lastly, it looks like Alex Fernandez is done for the year. I'm sad to see him go, but I won't take the Fish to task for not trading Fernandez when they had their opportunities last summer and this spring. Beyond his association with the 1997 world champs, Fernandez is also a local with some symbolic value. Keeping him around gave John Henry some claim on the past as well as somebody to portray as a role model to the future, and while I don't that kind of posturing is worth much, Henry's also in the business of trying to get himself a new stadium. For that reason, I don't see this as quite the same thing as failing to cash in Bryan Harvey when they had the chance.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Activated 2B Carlos Febles from the DL; optioned RHP Brett Laxton to Omaha. [7/18]

Claimed RHP Andy Larkin off of waivers from the Reds. [7/19]

Added RHP Andy Larkin to the active roster; optioned RHP Jose Santiago to Omaha; placed C Jorge Fabregas on the 15-day DL (inflammation - elbow); purchased the contract of C Hector Ortiz from Omaha. [7/20]

Febles' return is the good news. While Jeff Reboulet did a creditable job and played to his strengths (getting on base at a .356 clip), Febles is the better defender as well as the better offensive player. His return will definitely help the Royals in their push for second or third place in the division.

Losing Fabregas is bad news in one sense, but not so bad in another. He's a good catcher, which Gregg Zaun is not. But the up side of losing Fabregas is that Zaun should get the vast majority of the playing time, and that's another small boost to an already strong lineup. Anything that minimizes the impact of Rey Sanchez' punchless performance is a good thing. I'm being an optimist here, because I could easily see Tony Muser getting silly and letting Ortiz split time with Zaun. Let's hope for the best, if only out of sympathy for Rany.

Andy Larkin was available as a minor league free agent this winter. What, did Herk Robinson keep Allard Baird from signing him then? Is he worth having around instead of Santiago? I'm extremely skeptical. Santiago had the option, but why send him down, even considering his problems allowing inherited runners to score, when you're already carrying around what's left of Doug Bochtler? Or when Larkin's damaged goods and wasn't pitching that effectively?

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Placed C Todd Hundley on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/9 (fracture - thumb); recalled RHP Mike Judd from Albuquerque. [7/17]

Purchased the contract of 1B Chris Donnels from Albuquerque; placed UT F.P. Santangelo on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/17 (contusion - hand); recalled RHP Al Reyes from Albuquerque; optioned RHP Mike Judd to Albuquerque. [7/19]

In Hundley's absence, the Dodgers will have to split time between Chad Kreuter, Jim Leyritz and Paul LoDuca. Its to Davey Johnson's credit that he's willing to keep Leyritz in the mix behind the plate. Nothing disappears faster in an old player than an unused skill. Nevertheless, Hundley's absence will continue to hurt an offense already hobbled by a variety of injuries. To help compensate for the offensive problems, they've brought up minor league veteran Donnels. Unlike many of the other Dukes, Donnels' huge offensive season isn't only the product of the bandbox he calls home: of his 26 homeruns pasted while hitting .334/.443/.676 overall, 17 have come on the road. Sure, those are being hit in other PCL parks, but its still a fun season all the way around. Add him to a bench already featuring Dave Hansen, and Johnson has handy a couple of good offensive weapons to help create a big inning now and again.

A new problem arises now that Santangelo is gone, because with Devon White's continued absence it leaves Todd Hollandsworth in the everyday lineup. Johnson's been willing to scrag his defenses in the past to squeeze in an extra bat, so I wouldn't be totally surprised to see Donnels man an outfield corner and Shawn Green start a game or two in center. If anything, that should make Kevin Malone that much more inclined to deal for Rondell White before the deadline, once White comes off of the DL next week.

Judd was only up to fill in for a single start while Carlos Perez served his suspension. He's rebounding pretty well from a miserable 1999, posting a 4.74 ERA in Albuquerque, allowing 105 hits and 37 walks in 93 IP, with 56 strikeouts and only five homeruns. Because the Dodgers expect to lose Darren Dreifort to free agency, Judd should have a reasonable shot at a rotation spot next spring.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Claimed OF Angel Echevarria off of waivers from the Rockies. [7/19]

Placed OF Mark Sweeney on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/18 (tendinitis - shoulder); added Echevarria to the active roster. [7/20]

Echevarria belongs in the major leagues, but I'm not sure if he's exactly what the Brewers need. While I always believe a team should nab talent when its available for free, Echevarria's too much like some of the other nifty backup outfielders the Brewers have experimented with, whether its a Mouton or Sweeney. Like them, he can't play center, which means the perpetuation of the Marquis Grissom disaster. Like them, he doesn't hit enough to play regularly in an outfield corner, and at 29, he isn't about to start. Like so much of what the Brewers have done this season, this is a random move to keep themselves busy.

MONTREAL EXPOS

Placed PR Terry Jones (strained quadriceps) and RHP Tony Armas on the 15-day DL (strained rotator cuff); recalled RHP Guillermo Mota and OF Milton Bradley from Ottawa. [7/19]

Fired pitching coach Bobby Cuellar and bench coach Luis Pujols; named Brad Arnsberg pitching coach and Jeff Cox bench coach. [7/20]

While there's been some people saying plenty of nice things about how things have changed in the Expos' organization, how minor league players aren't still being punished for refusing to scab, things are far from perfect. This isn't the first bit of in-fighting involving the coaching staff. Just as the whole Tommy Harper situation was played out to its ugly conclusion last winter, Jim Beattie seems determined to wage some sort of petty war with Felipe Alou, in this case firing Cuellar and Pujols without much in the way of warning or consultation, and just after Alou's crew had left for Florida. If this is some sort of high stakes game where the winner gets to be the dominant personality to a reinvented Expos franchise resurrected as the D.C. Black Socks or the Ole Virginny Country Boys, Jeff Loria would be better off leaving Beattie behind.

Meanwhile, the team on the field takes another step into the future. It probably helps that the present doesn't include any sunny wild-card dreams, not any more. Loria's high stakes gamble was that if he tried to jump start interest in the team in the Montreal, he'd have a reason to stay, and if it didn't work, he'd have plenty of support within the game to leave. Now that it looks like he's leaving, the franchise is better off spending its time giving Milton Bradley his first shot. He's coming off of a good stretch in Ottawa, hitting .298/.383/.427 on the season. An outfield with Bradley in center and Bergeron in left can cover the gaps better than almost any other in the majors, and a lineup featuring both of them at the top of the order will be a godsend for Jose Vidro and Vlad Guerrero.

Add the loss of Antonio Armas to the list of examples for how badly things have gone awry with the Expos' pitching staff this year. While it hasn't been diagnosed as a major career-altering injury yet, Felipe Alou's reputation as a handler of pitchers has taken more than a few hits now that Mike Thurman, Hideki Irabu, Carl Pavano, and Ugeuth Urbina have all gone down. Losing Armas for any considerable length of time would only make things that much worse. Losing Armas reduces the rotation to Dustin Hermanson, Javier Vazquez and Mike Johnson. Thurman should be ready for the weekend, and Irabu by sometime next week. It won't be enough to get the Expos back in the running with the Marlins, let alone the Mets.

Mota still needs to work on an off-speed pitch or something to set up his relatively straight fastball; even while pitching effectively at Ottawa, he wasn't fooling many of the people most of the time, not with only only 22 strikeouts in 39.1 IP. In a season with so many things going awry, if they can at least make progress on that front, that would something.

NEW YORK METS

Activated RHP Rick Reed from the DL; placed 3B Robin Ventura on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/14 (bruised rotator cuff). [7/17]

Recalled RHP Jim Mann from Norfolk; optioned LHP Bobby M. Jones to Norfolk. [7/19]

With Reed's return, the Mets' rotation is back at full strength. It seems sort of uncanny that no sooner does Reed return than Mike Hampton and Al Leiter start slumping, but the Mets have managed to stick it out through their innumerable problems so far without making any significant upgrades, and they're still in pretty good shape as far as the wild card is concerned.

The worse problem by far is the loss of Ventura. With an already leaky left side of the infield, losing Ventura and replacing him with the spectacularly ineffective Lenny Harris isn't going to make life any easier for the Mets' lefthanded starters. There's some talk of acquiring a first baseman and shuttling Todd Zeile back over to third; this may not be a bad time to either let Matt Franco get in some time at the hot corner, or install Todd Pratt behind the plate and move Mike Piazza to first. They could settle for a Franco-Pratt platoon on the offensive side, with everyone shifting around on defense to accomodate them. Anything's better than giving Harris more than a throwaway plate appearance as a pinch-hitter in losing causes.

NEW YORK YANKEES

Placed RHP Orlando Hernandez on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/14 (elbow); recalled RHP Darrell Einertson from Columbus.

Since it doesn't look like El Duque's injury is going to prematurely end his season, Doc Gooden gets a continued lease on life. When Ramiro Mendoza comes off of the DL, he'll be headed back into the bullpen. The dilemma at that point will be whether or not Gooden gets kept, or if David Cone hits the DL for everyone's benefit. More likely, the Yankees will wait until the end of August before making any decisions that will impact their playoff roster.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Optioned RHP Chad Harville to Sacramento; recalled and then demoted RHP Marcus Jones from Sacramento; recalled RHP Ariel Prieto from Sacramento. [7/17]

"Mom, Dad! Guess what? I get to make my major league debut in Coors Field!" I hope the organization gives Jones high marks for taking a beating on short notice in Monday's double-header, and letting them hold off Barry Zito's debut for a more acceptable gig in Anaheim this weekend. Jones is a little more than just an organizational soldier after being nabbed in the third round of the 1997 draft. He was the ace of a good Long Beach State team that year, although teammate Rocky Biddle looks like the better pro prospect. Jones doesn't throw hard, but he has good command, posting a 4.28 ERA while allowing only six homeruns in 94.2 IP, to go with 102 hits, 33 walks and 49 strikeouts. He skipped Double-A after pitching for both of the A's Cal League affiliates last year. There's no reason to expect a great future for him, but we all need to remind ourselves of the mantra "with pitchers, you never know..."

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Recalled C Gary Bennett from Scranton-Wilkes Barre; activated LHP Mark Holzemer from the DL; optioned RHPs David Coggin and Steve Schrenk to Scranton-Wilkes Barre. [7/18]

Bennett came up to help the Phillies cover for an injury to Mike Lieberthal, giving Terry Francona the ugly choice between Bennett and Tom Prince for playing time. That's okay, because the Phillies gave up Bobby Estalella to get... oh, that's right, Chris Brock. Nevermind.

Coggin's demotion might look like the Phillies were going shorthanded with their rotation, but Robert Person was due to be reactivated over the weekend. That gives them Curt Schilling, Paul Byrd, Randy Wolf, Bruce Chen and Person. That's a better outfit that they started the season with. If Ed Wade recognizes that his two main orders of business are replacing Francona and buying some offensive talent instead of keeping unproductive old men like Rico Brogna and Ron Gant and Mickey Morandini, the Phillies would have a chance to surprise some people next year.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Activated OF Bruce Aven from the DL; optioned OF Chad Hermansen to Nashville. [7/18]

Purchased the contract of RHP Steve Sparks from Altoona (Double-A); optioned OF Tike Redman to Nashville. [7/19]

There's not much to say here. The Pirates still don't know what they're doing. They should be playing Hermansen every day. They should be peddling Wil Cordero and Kevin Young for whatever they can get. They should realize that the fun story of the 1997 Bucs is as dead as collective memories of Jeff King. Cam Bonifay's rule as Pirates GM has been a testament to settling too easily for a limited gain, without realizing that if you really want to embrace improvement as an organizational goal, it usually involves roster-revamping Duquette style. Any kind of loyalty to the charmers who made up your all-underdog team of yesteryear is great for those guys, but meaningless for the franchise's future.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Placed OF J.D. Drew on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/8 (sprained ankle); recalled 1B Chris Richard from Memphis. [7/17]

First McGwire, now Drew. Not every team can lose two of its three best hitters, but the Cardinals do have a good lead, and by all indications, neither player will gone for long. If you're a diehard Reds fan, this is as close as you're getting to the Cardinals' worst-case scenario.

While it won't matter for long, Chris Richard joins Keith McDonald in giving hope to organizational soldiers everywhere. At 26, he's too old to have a shot at a real career, but after losing most of 1998 to injury, its nice to see he still has one. Between Richard, Larry Sutton, and Eduardo Perez, two will be gone once McGwire and Drew return. One of the guys going down ought to be given consideration for the jobs of people like Thomas Howard. Unfortunately, LaRussa's always loathe to cut a veteran, even when it could mean the difference between carrying a useful player and a stiff into the playoffs.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Optioned RHP Scott Linebrink to Fresno; recalled RHP Miguel Del Toro from Fresno. [7/17]

Placed RHP John Johnstone on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/18 (lower back pain); recalled RHP Scott Linebrink from Fresno. [7/20]

Losing Johnstone highlights the Giants' problems with their bullpen. Among teams with winning records, only the records of the Blue Jays and Cardinals pens are worse according to Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools. While Johnstone has been nothing like the valuable setup man of recent years, who else do the Giants have? Dusty is still wasting Alan Embree in a situational role, and while the organization has placed a halo over Del Toro, he has yet to pitch that effectively at Triple-A.

The organization does have a potential answer to their shortage of useful major league relievers. I have no explanation for why Robbie Crabtree continues to rack up innings at Fresno, but he's having another good season. In 85.2 IP, he's put up a 3.47 ERA while allowing only 75 hits (four homeruns), 23 walks, while striking out 86 batters. Because he throws in the mid-80s instead of the low 90s (like Linebrink), he doesn't get much consideration. Its sad when scouting substitutes speed gun readings for evaluating a pitcher like Crabtree on his strengths: he has excellent command, hides the ball well, and can throw his stuff from a variety of angles. Would it work a second time through a lineup? Maybe, maybe not, but this is relief pitching we're talking about. Even when relievers were routinely asked to toss 90 or more innings, they didn't go through a lineup twice. If the Giants want to get serious about their problems, they'll start evaluating their pitchers on results instead of wishes.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Activated DH Jose Canseco from the DL; optioned OF Randy Winn to Durham. [7/18]

The good news is that the D-Rays have gotten wedged into a situation where injuries forced them to play Bubba Trammell and Steve Cox, and both ended up making Chuck LaMar look dumb by playing so well, and now they can't pull them or hide them away as easily as they did over the winter. Despite their winter shopping spree, the D-Rays may just get a bit better from here on out. If they manage to trade Canseco or, better yet, Fred McGriff, they'll have playing time, prospects to play and the prospects they receive, and money to spend. With a Naimoli operation, you can't be too sure that last one is a good thing.

TEXAS RANGERS

Activated RHP Ryan Glynn from the DL; optioned SS Kelly Dransfeldt to Oklahoma; signed RHP Clint Sodowsky and assigned him to Tulsa (Double-A); announced that RHP Jared Camp has refused his assignment to the minors and opted for free agency. [7/17]

Acquired 2B/SS Mike Young and RHP Darwin Cubillan from the Blue Jays for RHP Esteban Loaiza. [7/19]

Activated LHP Darren Oliver from the DL. [7/20]

While some people are writing off the Rangers because they've traded Loaiza, keep in mind that this trade is more of an acknowledgment of a reality instead of giving up on anything. Loaiza wasn't pitching that well, and Doug Melvin and Johnny Oates can be confident that they're better off with Glynn, Matt Perisho, and potentially Doug Davis filling in the back half of the rotation. If they somehow find a taker for Darren Oliver's contract, they're golden. They'll be going into 2001 as underdogs, but underdogs with a reasonably talented rotation, a strong pen, and a enough good offensive talent to re-enter the race in the AL West. In a division where A-Rod should be leaving, that's a strong point to start off with, and Melvin rarely sits still over a winter.

The question is what are they going to do with Mike Young? In theory, it makes all sorts of sense to phase him in at short while trying to deal Royce Clayton. However, there are legitimate questions about his ability to play short regularly. If he ends up a second baseman, he could be a dandy platoon mate for Frank Catalanotto for 2001, or up until the point that they decide that Jason Romano is ready. That doesn't seem like a lot to get for a starting pitcher with an ERA within spitting distance of the league ERA, at least not by current standards, but Loaiza's due for arbitration (see below for a bit more evaluation of his performance).

As for Cubillan, although the Blue Jays have compared him to Tom Henke in one of their more psychedelic moments with an enthusiasm usually reserved for their infamous outfield "prospects," don't ask for a hit from this pipe. Cubillan's a changeup artist who generously gets accused of hitting 90 with a fast speed gun. If everything breaks his way, he might grow up to be Carlos Reyes, because with pitchers, you never know.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Placed SS Alex Gonzalez on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/7 (pulled groin); recalled RHP Pasqual Coco from Tennessee (Double-A). [7/17]

Optioned RHP Pasqual Coco to Syracuse; recalled RHP Leo Estrella from Syracuse. [7/18]

Acquired RHP Esteban Loaiza from the Rangers for RHP Darwin Cubillan and 2B Mike Young. [7/19]

Forgive me, because my enthusiasm for the Blue Jays' talent always needs the constant reminder that with Gord Ash running the show, they've let us all down for two years running, so why should this year be any different? While they're busy flogging Jose Cruz for not being everything they hoped for, they're limping along with both Homer Bush and Craig Grebeck playing regularly. They're shortstopless now that Gonzalez is MIA. They've still managed to avoid using Andy Thompson, no matter how desperate their need for a right-handed bat to platoon with Brad Fullmer, and let's not even bring up the failure to get an adequate caddy for Darrin Fletcher.

But the signature move of the Ash regime is the art of the appropriately meaningless gesture, the "proof" that he's still trying. In this case, its picking up Esteban Loaiza. While Loaiza's ERA is superficially good-looking in this era of high ERAs (5.37 when the league ERA hovers around five), he's hittable (133 hits and 21 homeruns in 107.1 IP). In terms of his real impact on his team, for the Rangers his Support Neutral Wins Above Replacement level was a weak 0.54. Consider that as bad as Chris Carpenter has been of late, his is 0.03. No, neither figure is anything to get excited about, but keep in mind Roy Halladay's is -1.55.

The nicest thing to come out of this might be that working in the pen might save some wear and tear on Carpenter's arm, and the Jays' pen does need a good right-handed middle man. The bad news is that by trading Young, they basically threw away their best internal candidate to replace Homer Bush. They still have Brent Abernathy, and need to consider calling him up, but he could just as easily wind up being another lost Skychief while Ash tries to find out what Mike Gallego or Garth Iorg is up to.

In the meantime, Frank Castillo's wonky elbow gave both Coco and Estrella their big league debuts. Estrella's looking like a steal coming over from the Mets in the Tony Phillips dump of 1998; he's shot through the Jays' system with a combined 3.74 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. He's allowed only 90 hits in his 113 minor league innings this year, along with 45 walks and 82 strikeouts. In case you missed it, he's also tossed a couple of no-hitters this season. Keep in mind, he's also two months older than Carpenter. If you're an optimist, you figure Estrella's just coming into his own, and I happen to think that's a pretty reasonable argument. He could end up being very valuable down the stretch in middle relief, and could easily turn into a rotation regular by next season. He may even be old enough to avoid Jim Fregosi doing his worst.

Chris Kahrl can be reached at ckahrl@baseballprospectus.com.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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