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July 28, 2000

Transaction Analysis

July 24-26, 2000

by Christina Kahrl

ANAHEIM ANGELS

Activated LHP Scott Schoeneweis from the DL; optioned IF Justin Baughman to Edmonton. [7/26]

As expected, Scott Schoeneweis rejoins the rotation in time to keep the dilemma of which veteran starter to ditch at the airport on a low simmer instead of a high boil. Both Kent Bottenfield and Ken Hill continue to ride this team's coattails; once the Angels start to scuffle, they can be ditched to make room for Jarrod Washburn's return and a recall of Ramon Ortiz.

For an in-season pattern, that should lead to some interesting highs and lows: they're probably going to fall back because of the two veterans, and they'll probably finish within a half-dozen games of first place at season's end thanks to their absence.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Acquired RHP Curt Schilling from the Phillies for 1B/RF Travis Lee, LHP Omar Daal and RHPs Vicente Padilla and Nelson Figueroa; recalled OF Rob Ryan from Tucson. [7/26]

It's an interesting gamble, to say the least. The Snakes already have the best starter in the league, and according to Support-Neutral Wins, the best rotation in the league. They also have the second-best pen in the league, behind that of the fading Rockies. By Equivalent Average, they have just the ninth-best offense in the league. So naturally, what is it that they decide to fix?

Like I said, it's an interesting gamble. On paper, Curt Schilling is still one of the best starters in baseball. If the Snakes are think that the Big Unit and Schilling match up with anyone else's top two, well, that isn't really the case if we're talking about the Braves (or, amusingly enough, the Phillies, since Schilling was not pitching as well as either Robert Person or Randy Wolf). Maybe it's just me, but I worry and wonder as my mind goes back to images of Buck Showalter blowing the AL Division Series in 1995 by leaving David Cone out there for too long. Schilling, of course, is notorious for his unwillingness to come off the mound.

Maybe it's an ugly memory from the 1993 World Series, maybe it's hearing the name "Mitch Williams." I don't know. But when you put together a manager who, when cornered, went too long with his famous starter with a starter who prefers to go too long, and I feel there's a chance for trouble.

Losing Vicente Padilla might hurt a great pen, but keep in mind that should the Snakes make the playoffs, they'll be able to flip either Geraldo Guzman or Armando Reynoso into long relief, and they still have Johnny Ruffin ready, waiting and blowing batters out of the water at Tucson in the meantime. Even if (or when) Matt Mantei falls apart again, Arizona still has plenty of useful alternatives.

So Arizona has made a good staff better while ignoring the offense. I can empathize with the reasons they think that the offense is going to improve on its own. First, they now have Erubiel Durazo and Alex Cabrera playing at the same time, and that's going to be better than Bernard Gilkey and Travis Lee. They have Matt Williams back, and while he isn't going to hit like he did last year, he can't help but be an improvement on Lenny Harris or Andy Fox. While it may be too much to expect both Steve Finley and Luis Gonzalez to keep rolling along, it isn't too hard to envision some second-half improvement in the D'backs run scoring. They still need a middle infielder to spot for either Jay Bell--should he go into another lengthy funk--or Tony Womack for his inherent Womackishness. It wouldn't hurt if this middle infielder to be named later could pick it at one of the positions.

But the downside of this deal, beyond whatever the escaped Snakes do, is that the organization doesn't have much else they can do to help the lineup, other than hope that everyone gets better or at least stays healthy.

In the final analysis, the question is whether this kind of move is enough to keep the Snakes ahead of the Dodgers and the Giants. That pair is the two best offensive clubs in baseball, the Dodgers have a pretty good pen of their own and and they've just helped out their rotation, too. I'm sticking with the Dodgers.

BOSTON RED SOX

Activated RF Trot Nixon from the 15-day DL; designated DH Sean Berry for assignment. [7/25]

Not a moment too soon for the Red Sox. While Troy O'Leary's little tear has been a godsend, Trot Nixon has been the Red Sox' third-most effective regular behind Nomar and Carl Everett. On the year, Nixon has put up a .284 Equivalent Average while hitting .288/.371/.504. Take out the term "regular," and you can put him behind Morgan Burkhart, but you get the point.

Of course, Burkhart's absence followed by Sean Berry's release still defies explanation. As reader Colin Anton Samuel pointed out, the Duke had given Berry a guaranteed call-up with his minor-league contract, otherwise Berry would be a free agent. While that's a great accomplishment for Berry's agent, the Duke doesn't even have Lou Gorman's traditional after-lunch brain cramp as an excuse for making this a Berry Merry Christmas here at the end of July. The Red Sox need to pick between Bernard Gilkey and Izzy Alcantara, and cut bait with the other.

CHICAGO CUBS

Traded RHP Ismael Valdes to the Dodgers for RHP Jamie Arnold and OF Jorge Piedra; recalled RHP Ruben Quevedo from Iowa. [7/26]

Even though Ismael Valdes didn't end up helping the Cubs accomplish much in the short term, it's sort of a shame to see one of Ed Lynch's better deals get marred. Valdes was likely to end up as a Type A free agent, and I would have rather let Jim Hendry make a pick than settle for Jamie Arnold and Jorge Piedra.

For those of us trying to keep score, this means that the Cubs got Eric Young, a couple months of Ismael Valdes's blisters and the bulk of this year's contract, minor-league free agent Jamie Arnold and Jorge Piedra. The Dodgers got Valdes now that he's healthy, Terry Adams, Chad Ricketts (who has outpitched Arnold at Albuquerque) and the back story of reuniting Brian Stephenson with his dad, a Dodgers employee. Considering the Cubs are overinfatuated with Young and still aren't going anywhere, the deal doesn't look so good now, does it?

If the point of the original Valdes deal was to make the Cubs a contender, that was misguided. If the point was to be able to convert Valdes into prospects down the stretch, it merely failed. Arnold isn't a prospect. Piedra will have to be kept on the 40-man roster, and while he's hitting decently for his age in the Florida State League (21), it's an open question whether he's good enough to protect. The Cubs are claiming he'll blossom as a power prospect under Richie Zisk's tutelage, but they said that about Ron Walker too.

In Valdes's absence, Ruben Quevedo will take the fifth spot in the rotation. He'll have the chance to validate last year's trade with the Braves where Micah Bowie could not. Unfortunately, as the Valdes trade makes plain, it won't be very hard or take very long for Ed Lynch's major-league legacy to fade into the rest of one team's noisome past.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Signed LHP Mike Sirotka to a two-year contract extension. [7/25]

One of the theories that's being kicked around is that pitchers, particularly starting pitchers, peak later in their careers than position players. One of Gary Huckabay's educated guesstimates has been that pitchers seem to be at their best from 28 through 32.

If that's really the case, the Mike Sirotka is a nifty example of a guy getting to start his career when he was ready for his best, coming up to stay at 27, and being rewarded relatively quickly for it without having to endure the nastiness of arbitration. While I'd like to say that maybe there's a lesson there as far as when you should groom a guy to take a spot in the rotation, Sirotka had been on the cusp on making the team in each of the previous three seasons.

That only makes it that much nicer when company policy about granting pitchers multi-year contracts gets discarded. Sirotka is ninth in the American League in Support-Neutral Wins Above Replacement, and getting less attention than James Baldwin despite pitching better and more consistently. He's made at least 32 starts in each of the first two years of his career, and he's on pace to match or surpass that this year. In the playoffs, he really should be the #1 starter, especially if the Sox are matched up against teams with problems against left-handers, like the A's, Yankees or Red Sox.

I don't normally go on about this sort of thing, but Sirotka deserves all the kudos you can toss at him, especially after getting a late start to his career. Congratulations to Mike on getting his first big payday.

CINCINNATI REDS

Traded RHP Manny Aybar to the Marlins for RHP Jorge Cordova; recalled RHP Rob Bell from Louisville. [7/26]

Scratch the whole Manny Aybar alternative. It's just as well that Jim Bowden start shedding his projects. Until he decides to trade Pete Harnisch, the Reds can fidget over whether or not they should let Ron Villone, Larry Luebbers or a healthy Osvaldo Fernandez take over the fifth spot behind Harnisch, Rob Bell, Scott Williamson and Steve Parris. Once they're really out of it, they can probably give out September cuppajoes to a pair of Alabamians pitching at Chattanooga, Rob Averette and "Still Here" Eddie Priest. The timing probably isn't quite right to move Dennys Reyes back to starting, but you can hope that's something they'll start to consider next spring.

Frankly speaking, there isn't much I know about Jorge Cordova. He's Venezuelan, he's 22 and he's posting close to a 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the Midwest League. As with any A-ball pitcher, youneverknow, but at the least he's a great pickup for Clinton's playoff drive and a better-looking prospect than Aybar was at that age.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Acquired RHPs Jake Westbrook and Zach Day to complete the David Justice trade with the Yankees; announced that LHP Andrew Lorraine has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Buffalo. [7/25]

This is neither as good as some rumors had it nor all that bad. While Jake Westbrook's numbers hardly jump out at you (5-7, 4.87 ERA at Columbus, allowing 90 hits and 38 walks in 85 innings while striking out 58), his sinker is still the sort of thing that makes you wonder. He's allowed only three home runs in those 85 innings, and he's gotten more than half again as many groundball outs as flyball outs. Instead of throwing Tim Drew to the wolves, calling up Westbrook and giving him the advantage of the Tribe's vaunted infield defense could make for an interesting trial.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Placed RHP Mike DeJean on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); released RHP Stan Belinda outright; recalled RHPs David Lee and Giovanni Carrara from Colorado Springs. [7/25]

Assigned the contract of LHP Rigo Beltran to Colorado Springs; announced that OF Darren Bragg cleared waivers and is now a free agent. [7/26]

I have a lot of sympathy for Stan Belinda, because trying to continue his career after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis is nothing to make light of. But when Belinda responded to his being cut with a thoroughly good-natured statement about how he wasn't the first pitcher to be spat out by Planet Coors, I couldn't help but look up the numbers. While Belinda's overall ERA is an ugly 7.07, it's in no small part because he allowed 18 runs in the 15 innings he tossed on the road. In cozy Coors, his ERA was a still bad but far more acceptable 5.66.

Phooey on all that stuff, here's hoping he lands on his feet and gets a shot somewhere. It would be sort of appropriate if he ended up pitching for the Braves, even if you don't remember Sid Bream's greatest moment from the 1992 NLCS.

Losing Mike DeJean is a loss for the best pen in the National League, and for him, the numbers jibe with what you'd expect: a 3.89 ERA overall is helped by a 2.20 ERA on the road.

The replacements leave something to be desired. Giovanni Carrara has been extremely effective in Colorado Springs, posting a 3.08 ERA while allowing only 83 hits and 28 walks in 93 2/3 innings while striking out 88. He makes for a nice alternative to Kevin Jarvis, although I keep harboring hopes that the Rox junk the modern rotation for everyone not named Pedro Astacio and mix and match six or seven other "starters" in three- or four-inning chunks, or have them make spot starts depending on the opponent. The environment isn't going to change, so why not start experimenting to see if there's a Coors-specific pitching usage pattern that would give the Rockies an additional advantage?

David Lee has been terrible in the PCL, racking up a 7.32 ERA. At least the Rox can take faith in that they still have their core four guys going good in the pen: Gabe White, Mike Myers, Jose Jimenez and Julian Tavarez.

DETROIT TIGERS

Activated OF Juan Gonzalez from the DL; optioned RHP Erik Hiljus to Toledo. [7/26]

No doubt this is supposed to be the turning point of the season, when the Tigers sweep all before them and win everything, just because Bobby Higginson doesn't think the White Sox are hot stuff. Thats assuming Gonzo starts putting more runs on the board than Rich Becker, of course.

FLORIDA MARLINS

Acquired RHP Manny Aybar from the Reds for RHP Jorge Cordova; designated LHP Ron Mahay for assignment. [7/26]

I agree with the general idea that the Fish could use another good right-handed reliever, but did they really need to trade for Aybar? I think he could turn into an effective major-league reliever, but so could Vladimir Nunez or even Eric Moody.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Acquired RHP Ismael Valdes from the Cubs for RHP Jamie Arnold and OF Jorge Piedra. [7/26]

While I like ragging on the Sheriff more than most, this was a nicely turned trick. If all it cost him to get rid of Eric Young was less than four months of Ismael Valdes's time (a good chunk of which was spent on the DL), and he gets Terry Adams and Chad Ricketts as door prizes, then this is about as nice an exchange of apparent one-sided ripoff deals as you could imagine.

While Valdes is trying to use the old Bruce Lee stunt of sticking his hands in woks full of unfried rice to defeat his perpetual blister woes, he was nevertheless the second-best pitcher the Cubs had after Jon Lieber. If he's healthy from here on out, then the Dodgers just got themselves a nifty fourth starter and an interesting choice between Carlos Perez and Eric Gagne in the fifth slot. The rotation was one of this team's bigger problems, and they manage to solve it in-season without giving up a prospect.

Now we'll have to see whether they can tackle their hole in center field. A bad weekend in Seattle for the Blue Jays might just be enough to get them perpetually underappreciated Jose Cruz Jr.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Acquired C Kevin Brown from the Blue Jays for OF Alvin Morrow. [7/25]

Not a bad pickup for the Brewers. Kevin Brown is a good enough catcher to play in the majors and he's a solid hitter. He won't hit as well as his numbers at Syracuse (.335/.362/.547), but he's good enough to hold a job. Along with Creighton Gubanich, he gives Indianapolis two better-hitting catchers than anyone on the Brewers' roster.

MONTREAL EXPOS

Optioned RHP Guillermo Mota to Ottawa; recalled LHP Trey Moore from Ottawa. [7/26]

With a doubleheader, the nagging issue of whether or not Hideki Irabu would be ready to go and the possibility that even if he was, he wouldn't be good for long, you can understand the Expos' decision to bring up Trey Moore for some potential long-relief work. After injuries to both his rotator cuff and elbow in 1998 forced him to miss 1999, he's been pitching relatively well in Ottawa, with understandably poor stamina: a 4.47 ERA, with 54 hits, four home runs and 17 walks allowed in 54 1/3 innings, while striking out 42 and averaging around five innings per start. The ERA looks OK until you find out he's given up six runs per game when you count unearned runs. He's had a long way to come back, so making his reappearance now instead of during a September call-up has to be gratifying.

NEW YORK METS

Optioned 2B/SS David Lamb to Norfolk; recalled RHP Grant Roberts from Norfolk. [7/26]

Grant Roberts was basically only up to start half of Thursday's doubleheader. He's a solid prospect laboring under the misfortune of being one of the few prospects left in the organization, which leads to his being overly touted. He's done a good job of keeping the ball in the park (only five home runs allowed in 103 1/3 innings), but he's a bit overreliant on his sinker and needs to start backing right-handed batters off of the plate. He also needs to improve his control, having walked 46 men. Still, he's not even 23 yet and has considerable upper level experience. He has a pretty good chance of turning into a major-league starting pitcher.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Traded RHP Curt Schilling to the Diamondbacks for 1B/RF Travis Lee, LHP Omar Daal and RHPs Vicente Padilla and Nelson Figueroa; traded OF Rob Ducey to the Blue Jays for a PTBNL; designated LHP Bryan Ward for assignment. [7/26]

Beyond Curt Schilling's obvious risk for reinjury, this wasn't a great deal for the Phillies, but they also didn't have all that many options as to where they could ship him. I'm a big fan of Omar Daal's big-breaking curve, and if he really can get it back on track, then the Phillies can end up ahead on the deal regardless of whatever any of the others do. It's a risk, and with Thursday's renegotiation of Daal's contract, not a cheap one. Nevertheless, its one worth taking.

Vicente Padilla looks like an outstanding reliever. A 2.31 ERA looks good, as does his eighth-place ranking in the NL in Adjusted Runs Prevented, one of Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools. At 26, Nelson Figueroa isn't a tremendous prospect, but he routinely embarrasses right-handed hitters, and anybody who can post an ERA of 2.81 in the PCL has to be doing something right. There are a good dozen worse prospects who've littered Phillies' rotations in the not-so-distant past.

The player I'm worried about is Travis Lee. He's gone backwards in the two years since his rookie season, and I've already fretted about his lack of experience above A ball. However, he is still only 25, and for what it;s worth, he poked seven of his eight home runs on the road. Maybe expectations got the better of him, and maybe he needs to work on his stroke in lovely Scranton. It's a worthwhile project for the Phillies, instead of playing Ron Gant and Rico Brogna.

The part that disappoints me is the demotion of Bryan Ward. While his amazing facial hair is a thing of the past, he's been the third-best reliever the Phillies have had this season, behind only Wayne Gomes and Chris Brock. Why he got the boot instead of a journeyman like Mark Brownson defies reasonable explanation. Maybe the Phillies were overly worried about carrying three left-handed relievers in addition to three left-handed starters, but even then, it isn't like carrying six lefties is going to be the difference between third place and the cellar.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Acquired LHP Eric Gunderson from the Blue Jays for a PTBNL or cash. [7/26]

Man, that's pretty hard up for adequate relief pitching when you have to bribe or bully somebody into giving you Eric Gunderson. The journeyman had a 2.67 ERA at Syracuse, and hadn't allowed a left-handed batter to homer off of him. You know what they're going to ask him to do, and if he gets Shawn Green out, they can feel good about it.

SEATTLE MARINERS

Activated SS Alex Rodriguez from the DL; optioned UT Charles Gipson to Tacoma. [7/24]

Crisis averted, as the game's best player comes back just in time for the Mariners to go into one of their toughest stretches of the season, playing four potential playoff teams in a row: Oakland, Toronto, Boston and the Yankees. Obviously not all of them are playoff-bound, but every series is important, even if they weren't wrapped around the trading deadline.

TEXAS RANGERS

Placed C Ivan Rodriguez on the 15-day DL (fractured finger); purchased the contract of C B.J. Waszgis from Oklahoma. [7/24]

It isn't everyday that you tip your cap to a team whose season just went down the tubes, but all things considered, the Rangers did about as good a job as they could to stay as close to .500 as they did. The only outright mistake Doug Melvin made over the winter was signing Darren Oliver, in the process allowing Aaron Sele slip through his fingers. (We'll set aside Mark Clark as the previous year's free-agent starting pitcher mistake.)

What should have been a team that was both rebuilding and competitive for the division title fizzled under a welter of injuries that basically afflicted everyone not named Rafael Palmeiro or Rick Helling. Ruben Mateo and Gabe Kapler and Frank Catalanotto weren't supposed to miss large segments of the season. Sometimes an organization does a lot of good things in a year, and it ends up looking like a bad year because of things no organization can control.

I haven't made up my mind as far as what's next for the Rangers. They really need to move this year's veteran window dressing like Luis Alicea and David Segui and Dave Martinez for whatever they can get. They need to see if they can convert John Wetteland into a package involving a young shortstop, or perhaps a center fielder. It isn't going to be any easier for the Rangers to contend next year, but if they want to have their pick of potential free-agent hitters or make room for some of their young hitters, they need to clear away as much as possible right now.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Named assistant GM Dave Stewart pitching coach; re-assigned pitching coach Rick Langford to Syracuse. [7/24]

Acquired OF Alvin Morrow from the Brewers for C Kevin Brown. [7/25]

Acquired OF Rob Ducey from the Phillies in exchange for a PTBNL; dispatched LHP Eric Gunderson to the Giants in exchange for a PTBNL or cash. [7/26]

I don't think it's coincidence that Joey Hamilton will soon be back in a major-league uniform and Dave Stewart will be his pitching coach. Since Rick Langford hadn't done anything to get anyone singing his praises in the meantime, and Jim Fregosi is a far from forgiving taskmaster, chalk this up as inevitable.

Talk about mixed signals--why pick up an old pinch-hitter like Rob Ducey if you aren't trying to win right now? But if you're trying to win right now, why not do something about your catching situation, where you need somebody to platoon with Darrin Fletcher and it's pretty obvious that Alberto Castillo is not the answer? Having been burned by trading Tim Crabtree for Kevin Brown, it's almost as if the Jays preferred to spite themselves and leave Brown in Syracuse rather than play him. It's their loss.

To be polite, Alvin Morrow is nothing if not a project. He's already being touted as another failed draft pick by the Brewers because he's in his fourth pro season, but hey, he's only 22. He consistently strikes out about 40% of the time, and he hasn't hit well enough to elicit comparisons to Glenallen Hill, except with the glove.

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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