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August 4, 2000

Transaction Analysis

August 1-3, 2000

by Christina Kahrl

First off, I'd like to thank Rabbi Pesach Wolicki for a great idea, which is to include info on batter handedness like so: 2B-R is a right-handed-hitting second baseman. As always, I'm grateful for yet another sensible suggestion from our readers.

ANAHEIM ANGELS

Placed RHP Al Levine on 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/31 (elbow inflammation); recalled RHP Matt Wise from Edmonton. [8/1]

A tough loss combined with an interesting callup. Losing Al Levine is especially rough because he's been in baseball's top ten in run prevention according to Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools. Especially critical has been his allowing only four of 26 inherited runners to score. However, he has tossed 67 2/3 innings in relief with two months to go, so you can understand why his arm wore down.

Fortunately for the Angels, Shiggy Hasegawa has finally started pitching well, and journeymen Mark Petkovsek and Mike Fyhrie have continued to do a great job in middle relief.

Matt Wise's callup is interesting on a couple of levels. First, it's good to see that he's bounced back from time lost last season to an elbow injury. Second, he's been very effective starting in the PCL, going 9-6 with a 3.69 ERA. He wasn't a hard thrower before, and hasn't appeared to lose much to surgery, still averaging close to six strikeouts per game. He's managed to allow only 122 hits and 26 walks in 124 1/3 innings, including ten home runs. So he has got good control and a college background from Cal State Fullerton. For the time being, he'll be in the rotation slot vacated by Kent Bottenfield.

Once Jarrod Washburn is due back...well, I've been volunteering all sorts of uses for Ken Hill. How about a spot on the Bush campaign trail as a fellow wealthy person with a dubious performance record? That would keep him out of the Angels' hair for at least a month more than the Angels need, and might even get him named Secretary of Commerce or Sclerotic Bureaucracy or something.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Optioned 1B-L Erubiel Durazo to Tucson; recalled OF-L Jason Conti from Tucson. [8/1]

Are the Snakes panicking? You betcha. Erubiel Durazo has a little slump, and just as the team flings Byung-Hyun Kim to Tucson, Durazo is sent away because of what Matt Williams or Jay Bell aren't doing, and because he has the misfortune of having options left. As the team scrambles to find anyone resembling a major-league hitter, they're even getting intoxicated with Danny Bautista, a gateway outfielder to full Polonia addiction.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Recalled RHP Jason Johnson from Rochester. [8/1]

Without looking too far into it, I believe Jason Johnson is the current leader in this year's Terry Felton Sweepstakes, named in honor of the original great one who managed to go 0-13 in 1982. If Johnson can avoid a win for the rest of the season, that will be a distinction of some sort.

The demotion is unfair in that Johnson has pitched as well as Pat Rapp and much better than Scott Erickson, and that's without even considering his time at Rochester, in which he's given up less than a baserunner per inning, struck out more than a man per inning and posted a 1.47 ERA in eight starts. But he's an Oriole, so he should already be used to the idea that life isn't fair. Statistical curiosity aside, here's hoping he avoids Feltondom.

BOSTON RED SOX

Placed 2B/1B-B Jose Offerman on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/30 (knee contusion); recalled DH-B Morgan Burkhart from Pawtucket. [7/31]

Placed RHP Ramon Martinez on the 15-day DL (knee contusion); recalled RHP Rick Croushore from Pawtucket. [8/2]

It's not just that the wheels keep coming off. It's more that the Duke keeps putting on slightly smaller tires each time it happens. By September, they'll be down to driving on the rims while talking gamely about hanging tough.

While Jose Offerman has been struggling through his worst Lasorda-free season (.241/.331/.329 with a .213 Equivalent Average), he was at least doing an almost adequate job of getting on base, and had the hope of getting better down the stretch. Morgan Burkhart's return rights a past wrong, but the Red Sox are still stuck in the predicament of having Mike Lansing, Ed Sprague and Troy O'Leary playing regularly. If ever there was a team that should be asking the Astros to try to slip Bill Spiers through waivers, it's the Red Sox. Instead, they ended up with Rico Brogna, which means the scars at second base and third base won't heal.

As for a pitching staff that won't be getting much in the way of run support, losing Ramon Martinez is something the Duke's dozen-man rotation was built to anticipate. While Pedro's big brother was never going to meet the outlandish preseason expectations of too many analysts, at least he wasn't a complete disaster. That had more to do with a short leash and a good bullpen than it did with anything he was doing in his slap-happy five inning jaunts.

Now the Sox might be bringing Bret Saberhagen back from rehab, which is another way of saying that if they can find a way to avoid giving Tomo Ohka a few starts, they will. That makes their rotation Pedro Martinez, Jeff Fassero, Tim Wakefield, Rolando Arrojo and meatloaf. That's a formula for continued heavy reliance on the pen, which is why they're sticking with seven relievers now that Rick Croushore is up.

CHICAGO CUBS

Recalled LHP Daniel Garibay from Iowa. [8/1]

Daniel Garibay came up to fill in for the traded Scott Downs and did great work in a start on Tuesday. Typically, Don Baylor almost sounded disappointed, as if this forced him to leave Garibay in the rotation.

It shouldn't do anything of the kind, but that's Baylor for you. If something works that he didn't want to work, he'll do it again until it doesn't and then blame the player. He could instead return Garibay to the pen while trumpeting what a nice job he did on short notice, and perhaps even bask in the "genius" kudos gratuitously tossed his way by an adulating TribCorp media machine, but that would be too sensible.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Placed RHP Sean Lowe on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/29 (shoulder); added C-R Charles Johnson and DH-L Harold Baines to the active roster. [8/1]

Skip the whole issue of whether or not the Sox need veterans, rookies or people with playoff experience. What they could really use is Sean Lowe to bounce back to the form he flashed last season, when he was mowing batters down in middle relief with a great sinker. Against the backdrop of so many things going right for the Sox, Lowe's struggles haven't gotten much play on the national stage, but this year's Sox bullpen isn't pitching anywhere as effectively as last year's. If it can bounce back down the stretch, it will be a central component of any postseason success.

CINCINNATI REDS

Optioned 3B-R Mike Bell to Louisville; recalled C-R Jason LaRue from Louisville. [8/1]

Calling up Jason LaRue is just the first half of placing Eddie Taubensee on the DL. The problem for the Reds is that they're undoubtedly going to be reluctant to give LaRue too much playing time while they still think they have a chance, even though he's coming off of a pretty good season at Louisville (.254/.320/.469).

In the meantime, expect Benito Santiago to catch at least five games a week. That's a mistake, because Santiago is at the point where he wears out pretty quickly with regular playing time, and he's been lousy as a well-rested caddy for Taubensee.

Meanwhile, demoting Mike Bell means third base is all Chris Stynes, all the time, which should mean an end to his flirtation with .400. The Reds are still in the tough position of having to choose between Stynes's offense as a regular or Gookie Dawkins's glove at shortstop, with Barry Larkin moving over to third base. It's a project they'll undoubtedly wuss out on confronting until next spring at the earliest.

DETROIT TIGERS

Purchased the contract of RHP Adam Bernero from Toledo; optioned RHP Erik Hiljus to Toledo; transferred $$-B Gregg Jefferies from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/1]

Adam Bernero is no hard-throwing prospect, but he has yet to post an ERA above 3.00 in a little more than a year with the organization. This year, between Jacksonville and Toledo, he'd given up only 88 hits in 108 2/3 innings, with only 34 walks and 83 strikeouts. Despite the average fastball, he has a command of a good splitter and uses his changeup to good effect. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of a small Georgia college in May 1999, by making it so easily and so early to the majors, he's your basic indictment of a big segment of the scouting community and a feather in the cap of Randy Smith's development people. When you consider how many top college draft picks from 1999 have been touted, by us among others, who are still nowhere near being ready for the majors, it makes Bernero's rise look all the more impressive.

FLORIDA MARLINS

Designated IF-R Mendy Lopez for assignment; added LF-L Henry Rodriguez to the active roster. [8/2]

HOUSTON ASTROS

Placed 2B-R Craig Biggio on the 15-day DL (torn ligaments - knee); placed RHP Shane Reynolds on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/30 (back); recalled RHP Brian Powell and purchased the contract of IF-R Tripp Cromer from New Orleans. [8/2]

Craig Biggio's injury caps a disastrously bad season. While his numbers are superficially strong (.268/.388/.393), he's back in the middle of the pack among National League second basemen offensively, and his main asset has always been his bat. Now he's 34, considerably slower and not hitting for power in a good hitters' park. If the Astros lose Jeff Bagwell because they feel short of cash thanks to Biggio's contract, you can slap a big ol' asterisk on Biggio's status as one of the greatest Astros of all time.

While you have to hope he bounces back physically, losing him to this kind of long-term injury makes Gerry Hunsicker's job all that much tougher: he can't trade Biggio and he can't really start hunting for a veteran replacement.

In his absence, they're really stuck as far as filling the infield with useful regulars. Julio Lugo should be at shortstop every day, and Billy Spiers should be starting at third base or second base, and then...they really end up missing Russ Johnson an awful lot. Chris Truby is probably their best option at third base, because Tripp Cromer (.215/.269/.327 at New Orleans) can't really outhit Tim Bogar. Don't be surprised if second baseman Keith Ginter or third baseman Morgan Ensberg get called up from Round Rock, with shortstop Adam Everett coming up in September.

While Shane Reynolds's back problems hopefully won't keep him out for long, soft-tosser Brian Powell is up to fill the rotation spot in the meantime. You might remember Powell from his grisly stint with the Tigers in 1998 (6.35 ERA in a half-season in the rotation). It isn't that Reynolds was pitching that effectively as much as it is that his absence leaves the Astros with only Chris Holt and Scott Elarton as semi-effective starters. Certainly, Wade Miller should have a big-league future, and Jose Lima can only continue to get better, but it's a sign of how far the mighty have fallen.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Activated UT-B F.P. Santangelo; placed PH-L Chris Donnels on the 15-day DL (sore shoulder). [8/2]

While F.P. Santangelo has been activated before he can play, once he heals the Dodgers will move from last week's problem of having only one guy who could sort of play center field (Todd Hollandsworth) to three: Tom Goodwin, Devon White and Santangelo. They'll still have an excellent combo of pinch-hitters in Dave Hansen and Kevin Elster, except they're still pretending Elster can field his position.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Placed RHP David Weathers on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); recalled LHP Rafael Roque from Indianapolis; purchased the contract of RHP Everett Stull from Indianapolis; designated RHP Bob Scanlan for assignment. [8/2]

Losing David Weathers to injury is by far a harder blow to take than trading Bob Wickman. With Curtis Leskanic already relegated to the Brewers' infrequent save opportunities, they really are going to have to rely on a bullpen of right-handers Everett Stull, Juan Acevedo and Kane Davis, and left-handers Valerio De Los Santos, Ray King and Rafael Roque. That's as bad as it sounds as long as Davey Lopes focuses on situational usage patterns. If he uses Acevedo, Roque and De Los Santos for multi-inning outings and King as a situational lefty, he could probably squeak by for the next two months.

If they decided to go with that kind of pen, focusing on workloads instead of situations, now would be a good time to bring Allen Levrault back for long-relief work.

MINNESOTA TWINS

Designated C-B Marcus Jensen for assignment; added C-R Dan Ardoin to the active roster. [8/1]

I'm half-convinced this move is to give Marcus Jensen an opportunity to resume his job as catcher for Team USA after last year's starring role at the Pan Am Games. On that level it's just as well, because while he was demonstrating his usual good glovework, he wasn't doing the Twins all that much good.

Danny Ardoin may not be much of a hitter compared to Mario Valdez, but he is the best-hitting catching alternative that the Twins have until they give Matt LeCroy another shot. He's an outstanding defensive catcher in his own right, and he was hitting .278/.385/.432 at Sacramento. I'd argue that his great at-bat in the sixth inning Wednesday was the turning point of the game, as he fouled off pitch after pitch before working his way on with a walk, helping to open the floodgates on what would be a back-breaking five-run inning against the admittedly pathetic Orioles.

Anyway, it's something the Twins could use more of, and as an organizational soldier from the A's chain, it's something with which Ardoin is pretty familiar. While they could still obviously use Valdez, Ardoin should be LeCroy's caddy for the next several years. Of course, I could have said the same thing about Javy Valentin six months ago, because sometimes you never know who's going to strike Tom Kelly's fancy.

MONTREAL EXPOS

Optioned RHP Guillermo Mota to Ottawa; recalled LHP Trey Moore from Ottawa. [7/31]

Optioned OF-B Milton Bradley to Ottawa; added LHP Scott Downs to the active roster. [8/1]

Optioned 3B/C-R Michael Barrett to Ottawa. [8/2]

At first glance, this looks like random silliness. It gets worse when you consider that demoting Milton Bradley means Wilton Guerrero is going to play every day in one outfield slot. The only thing that makes sense is sending Michael Barrett down so he can take a ten-day refresher on catching regularly.

After that, it will be interesting to see if the Expos can slip Chris Widger through waivers to somebody who could use him, like the Reds. If not, Widger will be one of Jim Beattie's few bargaining chips over the winter, against the backdrop of larger issues, like whether Beattie will still have a job and whether the franchise will reinvent itself as the Virginia Black Squirrels (with an appropriately cute bat-eared logo).

NEW YORK METS

Acquired RHP Juan Aracena from the Orioles for LHP Anthony Shumaker and assigned him to Binghamton (Double-A); announced that LHP Rich Rodriguez has accepted an assignment to Norfolk. [7/31]

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Placed 3B-R Olmedo Saenz on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled 2B/SS-R Jose Ortiz from Sacramento. [8/1]

It isn't that Olmedo Saenz was hitting left-handers better than right-handers; it's that he's one of the few consistently productive bats the A's have against left-handed pitching that makes losing him pretty tough. Going into a series against the White Sox (who can potentially use three left-handed starters) and the Yankees (with Pettitte and Neagle) means this next week won't be an easy one in which to make up ground on the Mariners.

Jose Ortiz is another hitter coming off of the assembly line. He's 23 has been killing the ball at Sacramento to the tune of .348/.406/.555, and has even swiped 16 bases in 20 attempts. While some in the organization feel he lacks the range to play shortstop, and one person even questions his ability to play second base, he could very easily turn out to be the next Tony Batista. The questions for the A's are whether he earns a spot on the playoff roster over Frankie Menechino this year and whether he takes Randy Velarde's job in 2001.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Activated SS-B Enrique Wilson from the DL; optioned 2B/SS-B Abraham Nunez to Nashville; signed IF-R Mike Benjamin to a two-year contract extension. [8/1]

If I remember correctly, this means that the Pirates have Pat Meares with a multi-year contract, Luis Sojo under contract through next year and now Mike Benjamin signed through 2002. Where do they play, when the Pirates have a starting infield of Warren Morris at second base, Enrique Wilson at shortstop and Aramis Ramirez at third base? They're the only team in baseball with three non-starting infielders all making more than the minimum and all with guaranteed multi-year contracts

"There are no small markets, only small ambitions."--C.B.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Designated C-L Rick Wilkins and OF-B Thomas Howard for assignment. [7/31]

There's nothing tougher to accept for a veteran than a pink slip from Tony LaRussa. If he can't use you when you're over 30, and with no Bavasi running a franchise, this is where you have to start considering exciting alternatives like real estate sales or celebrity judge for one of the newer X Games, like competitive bungee piercing.

SEATTLE MARINERS

Recalled RHP Gil Meche from Tacoma, and placed him on the 15-day DL retroactive to 7/31 (strained shoulder). [8/2]

A bad break for the Mariners. While they were electing to not use Gil Meche, he had been their third-best starter this year behind Aaron Sele and Paul Abbott. Now that he's missing, the Mariners are down to Brett Tomko in case anything happens to one of the front five.

It isn't a weakness. Not yet. In order to become something that would really affect the staff, they would have to suffer another injury and start seeing one or two starters struggle. Then they just have to start counting on Jose Mesa more regularly, and the A's will win this thing in a cinch.

Unfortunately, this ain't your Bob Stinson Mariners, let alone last year's edition. There's no point in talking about what has to go wrong to recreate an eruption of Mt. Piniella. This year's Mariners don't look like they're going to destroy themselves as easily as they did during the 1990s. That means a better brand of baseball for fans in the Pacific Northwest, and a much tougher road for for the A's.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Recalled 3B-L Aubrey Huff, LHP Mike Duvall and RHP Billy Taylor from Durham; placed 3B-R Vinny Castilla on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/30 (lower back). [8/2]

Hallelujah? Aubrey Huff doesn't have anything left to prove in Durham, not after hitting .314/.393/.563. If the D-Rays are smart he's up to stay, and maybe they'll let Vinny Castilla platoon with him.

Huff does look like he'll need a platoon partner (probably Russ Johnson), as he's hit 19 of his 20 home runs against right-handes. Keeping him around will kill a pretty solid bid for Rookie of the Year in 2001, but the D-Rays need to focus on putting the right team on the field right now, and trying to forget the McCracken years or last winter's "Spend and Die" madness.

While the Devil Fishies' staff was awful in the early going, they're even more loaded now with pitchers of ill repute. The rotation is Bryan Rekar, Albie Lopez, Ryan Rupe, Travis Harper and Tanyon Sturtze. The bullpen has Roberto Hernandez, Doug Creek, Esteban Yan (banished from the rotation now that it's clear the experiment did not work), a retreaded Paul Wilson and now Mike Duvall and Billy Taylor. The highlight is that it looks like they've gotten the careers of Rekar and Lopez back on track.

Taylor is coming up from Durham having almost accomplished the incredible feat of having a 300-point platoon differential in batting average. While he's always been tough on right-handed batters, it's getting silly when lefties paste him for a .443 average in Triple-A, while right-handers are hitting a mere .147.

Situational lefties have an established presence in the game, so are we getting to the point that teams will start carrying situational right-handers? In a short series, Taylor's skill has value, when you want to have a pitcher specifically to go get somebody like Mike Piazza or Jeff Bagwell, a right-handed hitter who won't be pulled. I harbor a pretty strong suspicion that this kind of specialist is hard to carry over an extended period of time, especially on a team as bad as the D-Rays.

TEXAS RANGERS

Placed LHP Darren Oliver on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/31 (shoulder fatigue); recalled RHP Jonathan Johnson from Oklahoma. [8/1]

As long as the cause is lost, the Rangers are better off taking the time to evaluate players on the 40-man roster to see if they deserve to be there. Next summer's team is going to have to have Darren Oliver, and Justin Thompson will be back as well. So in a sense, the Rangers are better off evaluating some of their project players, like Jonathan Johnson and Doug Davis, and to a lesser extent Matt Perisho.

For Perisho and Davis, that makes the next two months an audition for next year's fifth starter job. For Johnson, he gets a chance to flash his wild curve and earn some consideration for the 11th pitcher's slot. If he doesn't look good now, he's a pretty good candidate to get ditched after failing to fulfill the potential many saw in him when he was a first-round pick in 1995. Considering he's been giving up 6.5 runs per nine innings at Oklahoma, it doesn't take a psychic to see minor-league free agency in his future.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Placed 2B-R Homer Bush on the 15-day DL (fractured finger); placed LHP Mark Guthrie on the active roster. [8/1]

Because the Jays are reduced to having to spread the work at second base and shortstop among Craig Grebeck, Alex Gonzalez and Chris Woodward, they should be desperately hunting for a middle infielder, or even a third baseman who would allow them to move Tony Batista to second base. Even if they don't pick one up, one of Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay has to go once Steve Trachsel is activated, and they're better off demoting both if they can somehow conjure up that infielder.

Ryan Freel is probably the best guy they have left for a utility role. This is where Jays fans can get cranky that the organization discarded guys like Tom Evans, Casey Blake and Jeff Patzke to no obvious end.

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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