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August 11, 2000

Transaction Analysis

August 7-9, 2000

by Christina Kahrl

ANAHEIM ANGELS

Released RHP Ken Hill; activated LHP Jarrod Washburn from the DL; optioned RHP Brian Cooper to Edmonton; recalled RHP Ramon Ortiz from Edmonton; outrighted OF-R Edgard Clemente to Edmonton; purchased the contract of IF-R Keith Johnson from Edmonton. [8/7]

Purchased the contract of 1B/OF-R Chris Hatcher from Edmonton; returned LHP Jarrod Washburn to the 15-day DL. [8/8]

Ramon Ortiz's return has been well-earned after pitching well in Edmonton. While a 4.55 ERA doesn't sound great, it is the Pacific Coast League, and giving up only 74 hits in 89 innings is a better indicator of how he's been throwing. There are still concerns about his long-term health, but with Brian Cooper reassigned, Ken Hill released and Seth Etherton, Jason Dickson and Jarrod Washburn on the DL, the Angels were basically left with Ortiz and a scuffling Scot Shields to choose from.

Washburn's reinjury accelerates the timetable for Kent Mercker's recovery, and that justs gets the Angels to the four-man rotation they can live with until they need a fifth starter on August 19. Chances are they'll recall Cooper for a tough assignment against the Yankees; he'll have put in his ten days in the minors and he'll have logged a start to keep him fresh.

Ken Hill is talking about retirement. I've bashed him often enough in his incarnation as a worn-out old Angel, to do him justice we should also think back to 1994. That was the year in which he would have had his big shot at postseason glory with the rest of a great Expos team that would have been a great fly in the mythical "big market/small market" ointment. Instead, he had to settle for being one of several "Less Than Maddux" candidates for the Cy Young in a season we won't soon forget.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Recalled 1B-L Erubiel Durazo and RHP Byung-Hyun Kim from Tucson; optioned 1B-R Alex Cabrera and OF-L Rob Ryan to Tucson. [8/9]

Erubiel Durazo is back after enjoying his refresher at Tucson. Alex Cabrera is down because, like Durazo before him, he had a bad week and the Giants and Dodgers have the Snakes slithering scared and issuing punitive demotions willy-nilly. Eventually, they'll have to stop getting cranky about consecutive 0-fers by people not named Matt Williams or Jay Bell and start taking their postseason roster a bit more seriously.

While I'm as impressed as everyone else with Jason Conti's good arm, he's a Mike Kingery type. While that makes for a very good fourth outfielder and defensive replacement for someone like Cabrera, it's not a good regular for a lineup already carrying a weak-hitting group of everyday infielders.

The dilemma for the Snakes is relatively simple: they don't have the roster room to carry the seven relievers they feel they need as long as the non-famous starters have problems going five innings; plus two utility infielders and two relatively light-hitting outfielders and pinch-hitter and platoon caddy Greg Colbrunn. My biases are pretty well-known: if you give me the choice between a seventh reliever and a lineup regular, I'd prefer the lineup regular. In the meantime, Buck Showalter has three weeks to make his choices for 11th pitcher on the postseason roster (either Russ Springer or Johnny Ruffin) to make certain he has the room to carry Cabrera.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Recalled RHP Aaron Myette from Charlotte; optioned 3B/1B-B Greg Norton to Charlotte. [8/8]

A really unfortunate development for Greg Norton, because his demotion wasn't based on anything he'd done or failed to do, but rather the result of the doubleheader against the Mariners. Norton had been hitting .270/.356/.387 with a .243 Equivalent Average, nothing spectacular, but he is definitely a handy player to have around because he does his best hitting from the left side, and this team needs a good left-handed bat to spot at the infield corners (and even up the middle in a pinch).

Because of the doubleheader, the Sox felt they had to move back to 12 pitchers. While that reflects contemporary wisdom, in the case of the roster the Sox are carrying, was it really necessary? They've been carrying both Kevin Beirne and Lorenzo Barcelo for long-relief work, both had been starting in Charlotte before being called up and both have options. Why not start or simply use one of them in the first game (my choice would have been Beirne, to avoid pushing Barcelo's elbow any more than necessary), and then option him to Charlotte to make room for Aaron Myette to take either one of their places as a spare long reliever? Why instead make Norton unavailable for ten days?

Demoting Norton may end up making room for a rehabbing Craig Wilson, because the Sox are going to have to spend the next three weeks making some tough choices about their playoff roster. If Wilson is healthy, which utility infielder do they keep, Wilson or Norton? If Cal Eldred's elbow heals up after all, there will probably only be room for two rookie pitchers, and one of them will be Kelly Wunsch.

CINCINNATI REDS

Outrighted 1B/LF-L Brooks Kieschnick to Louisville; added CF-R Brian Hunter to the active roster. [8/9]

Brian Hunter is now available to play his roster role as Fonzie Bichette's Legs, or maybe Dmitri Young's, so he can be sort of a latter-day version of Sammy Byrd and the Babe.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Recalled CF-L Juan Pierre from Colorado Springs. [8/7]

The Rockies definitely have the right idea: as long as you're going to bring the kid up in September, why not give yourself two months to get an idea about whether you need to shop for a center fielder in the offseason? Why wait for fleeting impressions from next year's spring training to try to make up your mind? It isn't like Todd Hollandsworth is something more than a good fourth outfielder.

Pierre is the homegrown improvement on Tom Goodwin and Brian Hunter. He can fly to the gaps like either of them, runs well (46 steals against only 12 times caught at Double-A Carolina), and he's an extreme contact hitter. Before being called up to the PCL for a four-game stay, he'd hit .326/.376/.380 with the Mudcats. To spell out what that means, he had only 20 extra-base hits and 26 strikeouts in 456 plate appearances. Coors is nothing if not generous to balls in play, and one of the less-advertised aspects of it as a ballpark is the extent to which it lowers strikeouts. So the Rockies have got a guy with Luis Castillo's power and the skill to get the ball in play almost as often as Joe Sewell. Having seen that a team with a Goodwin type in center ended up doing better than expected, Dan O'Dowd is now willing to keep pushing the experiment to see if Pierre is going to help them even more.

DETROIT TIGERS

Placed RHP Hideo Nomo on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/30 (strained hand); activated RHP Danny Patterson from the DL. [8/7]

Placed 1B-L Hal Morris on the 15-day DL (fractured finger); recalled 1B/OF-R Dusty Allen from Toledo. [8/9]

Losing Hideo Nomo is a bigger deal for the Tigers than losing Dave Mlicki was. The difference is between losing your fifth starter--since Mlicki hasn't pitched better than Air Blair or Adam Bernero--and your third. Nomo had been the Tigers' third-most effective starter on the season behind Jeff Weaver and Scuffy Moehler in terms of Support-Neutral Wins, and even if you scoffed at the Tigers preseason hoopla, it was pretty reasonable to expect that the three of them were going to be the Tigers' best starters.

While losing Nomo clearly makes the Tigers' desperate mission to finish in third place that much more difficult, fortunately Danny Patterson is back off of the DL. Patterson has been their most effective reliever on the season, and with their weakened rotation, they're going to need all the relief help they can get as they enter a stretch against the Mariners and Athletics over the next week and a half.

Hal Morris's injury exposes the Tigers' desperate straits as far as have somebody--anybody--around to play the infield corners. Gregg Jefferies is out for the year, and neither Rob Fick nor Tony Clark are especially close to coming back. With Dean Palmer's injury moving him over to play first base for a stretch, the Tigers would be better off keeping Palmer there and taking a spin with a young minor-league veteran, Rob Sasser, at third base. While Sasser is just as error-prone as Palmer, he has better range and instincts, starts the double play well and is a useful if not outstanding hitter. At Toledo, he's hitting .268/.336/.484 in his first year in Triple-A, and while I'm not predicting stardom or even Matt Stairsdom, a guy like this is worth a look when the alternative is Shane Halter.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Recalled RHP Tony McKnight from New Orleans; optioned RHP Jason Green to New Orleans. [8/9]

Tony McKnight is being called up for a spot start, and can probably count on being sent back to the minors soon. He is considered a failed first-round pick by some, but that's not exactly fair. Drafted out of high school, he was barely 18 when he signed in 1995, which means that he's only 23 now. He enjoyed a very good year in his first season in Double-A last year (2.75 ERA) and he's had an adequate season this year in his first spin through the PCL: a 4.61 ERA, with 105 hits and 27 walks allowed in 93 2/3 innings.

The reason why he's still not considered anything special is that he does not have a tremendous fastball (only 44 strikeouts), instead relying heavily on a good curve. He's got the big pitcher's build (6'5") that usually attracts a scout's attention in the first place, and I wouldn't give up on him just yet. His control has dramatically improved in the past couple of seasons, and he's clearly young enough to have a career.

Slow-developing high school pitchers can obviously present their parent organizations with a problem. For the Astros, it's whether or not they can keep him on the 40-man roster, because he's slowly nearing the point that he'll run out of options. I'd compare the situation to that of Todd Ritchie with the Twins, where it was relatively clear that Ritchie was a talented pitcher. Most of the world's pitchers aren't on the Dwight Gooden career path. When you get picked as an 18-year-old, you could be seven or eight years away from being anywhere close to ready for the majors, and sometimes as many as ten years away from being effective.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Optioned RHP Chad Durbin to Omaha. [8/7]

Activated RHP Chris Fussell from the DL. [8/8]

Chad Durbin is not exactly a victim of Brian Meadows' nifty relief stint in his Royals debut; an ERA of 8.21 is more the root of his problems. It would be hard to identify a point at which he's earned his keep, but while he's been the tenth-worst starter in the major leagues by Michael Wolverton's calculations, Meadows has been even worse.

Among the bottom ten starters, Meadows and Jose Lima are the only two who still have jobs. Omar Daal and Ryan Rupe lost theirs, while Durbin, Roy Halladay and Vlad Nunez have all been banished. Scott Erickson is out for the year. So this is Meadows's big chance to catch Lima among the guys still pitching where it counts.

Beyond the statistically inane, Chris Fussell is back to reclaim the job he was doing pretty well before getting hurt, tossing long relief. Beyond Meadows, the Royals' rotation is probably stronger now than it has been all year, with Mac Suzuki, Jeff Suppan, Dan Reichert and Blake Stein all pitching relatively well. Not that it really matters, but the Royals still look like the best bet to finish third in the division.

MONTREAL EXPOS

Traded C-R Chris Widger through waivers to the Mariners for two PTBNLs; recalled C-L Brian Schneider from Ottawa. [8/8]

Placed LHP Scott Downs on the 15-day DL (sprained ulnar ligament). [8/9]

The other shoe drops: the catcher's job is Michael Barrett's to keep once he finishes his ten-day assignment at Ottawa, with Brian Schneider being groomed as his caddy. It's a role Schneider is suited for: he's that rare left-handed-hitting catcher with a little bit of extra-base sock in him (.232/.270/.399). His awful OBP is something that isn't likely to go away, but he's got an outstanding reputation as a receiver, so it isn't like he's Tyler Houston.

What happens once Barrett is up can be interpreted as a litmus test for the franchise's future in Montreal: if they cut le Webster, then the organization is obviously indifferent to local fan sentiment. It might say something about the state of baseball in Quebec that Lenny Webster is one of the team's most popular players, but I remember a similarly desperate point in White Sox history when Marc "the Booter" Hill was among that team's most popular players. That was coincidentally close to the time that Jerry Reinsdorf was beginning to get serious about blackmailing state and local government for a new stadium.

One of the rumored players to be named from the Mariners is wild left-handed reliever Sean Spencer, while the other could be determined by how far the Mariners go in the postseason.

NEW YORK METS

Activated OF-L Darryl Hamilton from the DL; designated PH-L Matt Franco for assignment. [8/8]

Darryl Hamilton's return gives the Mets a pretty diverse collection of outfielders. They probably make up in depth what they lack in outright talent by giving Bobby Valentine plenty of options in-game.

Hamilton is an important addition for two reasons: he gives them a viable alternative to Jay Payton in center field and he gives them a left-handed hitting outfielder they otherwise lacked. With Bubba Trammell and Benny Agbayani to alternate in left field and utilityman Joe McEwing handy for everything, the only real question is why the Mets chose to move Matt Franco, who has had some value in the past as a pinch-hitter, instead of Lenny Harris, who has none. Maybe it's because of Harris's ten stolen bases, because it isn't like this is a team that needs veteran guidance on the bench.

NEW YORK YANKEES

Acquired DH-R Jose Canseco from the Devil Rays on waivers; acquired IF-R Luis Sojo from the Pirates on waivers for RHP Chris Spurling; placed 2B-R Chuck Knoblauch on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/3 (elbow tendinitis). [8/7]

You knew it had to happen, of course. Jose in New Yawk. Canseco's arrival finally gives the Yankees a good bat to stick into the DH slot, and gives Joe Torre the tactical in-game flexibility to reserve Glenallen Hill for use as a pinch-hitter for either David Justice or Paul O'Neill against tougher left-handed relievers. If everyone is healthy or nearly healthy, that makes for a pretty good playoff roster, except for the defensive misfortune of having only Luis Polonia and Glenallen Hill to bring in at either outfield corner. While Jose is clearly a shadow of his former self, he's also been a good hitter during his occasional periods of being healthy enough to play. His .281 EqA would be fourth-best in the lineup, behind the big three of Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams and David Justice.

Of course, there's still the weighty matter of Canseco's apparent pledge to put a Devil Rays' cap on should he go to the Hall of Fame. I'm sticking that in here mostly to see how many complaints it creates, because Canseco continues to be one of those players who seems to inspire an almost ludicrous amount of loathing in otherwise thoughtful and rational people. I bring this up in part because I like tweaking people's noses on this subject, and in part because there was a time when I cared more about Canseco's career than anybody else's in baseball. I was in the stands for his 100th home run--off of Melido Perez to dead center field in old Comiskey Park--and it meant a lot to me at the time.

The other reason I bring up Canseco's place in history is because its fun to kick his career around in the context of Bill James's Keltner List, which was a list of questions to help you subjectively ponder a player's historical greatness. The initial questions were straightforward: Was he the best player of his time? Was he the best player at his position in his own time? If so, for how long? For Canseco, the answer was yes to the first two, but his problem is that it wasn't for very long. At any rate, I'll continue to wish him well. Even in pinstripes.

Bringing in Canseco to shore up the offense couldn't come soon enough, because they had already lost Chuck Knoblauch, which could have stuck the team with Jose Vizcaino (.194 Equivalent Average) or Clay Bellinger (.218) to choose from at second base. Fortunately for the Yankees, they managed to finally bully Cam Bonifay into coughing up Luis Sojo after months of pestering. While Sojo is no star (.284/.328/.432 with the Pirates, for a .250 EqA) and can't match Knoblauch's ability to get on base, he's a better temporary replacement than either Mickey Morandini or Mike Lansing.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Re-acquired OF-L Rob Ducey from the Blue Jays to complete the Mickey Morandini trade; acquired OF/2B-L David Newhan from the Padres to complete the Desi Relaford trade; optioned C-R Gary Bennett to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [8/7]

Activated RHP Wayne Gomes from the DL; optioned RHP Cliff Politte to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [8/8]

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Activated CF-B Adrian Brown from the DL; acquired RHP Chris Spurling from the Yankees for IF-R Luis Sojo. [8/7]

For all of the Pirates' activity, they've wound up with a pretty interesting group of options in the outfield. They've got the Browns, Adrian and Emil, to man center field, and both of them can cover the gaps and do a few things on offense. They've got a potentially nifty platoon of John VanderWal and Alex Ramirez in one outfield corner. And of course they have Brian Giles for the other outfield corner, with a shot that he could remain in center field should Alex Ramirez turn into as good a late bloomer as Candy Maldonado did once he got away from his original franchise.

The only part where it falls short is when you hear Cam Bonifay talk about the "championship caliber players" he's got in VanderWal and Mike Benjamin. No slight of either intended, because I've always wanted to see VanderWal get at shot at 400 plate appearances and I suppose Benjamin's one of the better utility infielders around, but that's some pretty brave talk from a man who needs to explain why Kevin Young or Pat Meares are so well compensated.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Signed UT-R Eric Owens to a two-year contract extension. [8/7]

Eric Owens is a fun player, if only because he's ended up being such a surprise after being neglected by the Reds and Brewers. He's kind of a latter-day Rex Hudler, and like Hudler, he's stretched as a regular but an outstanding utilityman. There the similarity ends: while Hudler was a good major-league infielder at one time, Owens never really could cut it at second base or third base, but he's a very good outfielder. Having hoped he'd find his niche for years, I'm happy to see him settle in.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Signed LHP Kirk Rueter to a three-year contract extension through 2003. [8/9]

Kudos to Kirk Rueter and his agent for getting the money right now, when it was probably the most propitious moment to do so. Consider that Rueter leads his team in home starts with 13, and has a home ERA of 2.46 versus 4.86 on the road in nine starts.

                        Home              Road
                    ERA      GS       ERA      GS

Livan Hernandez 2.97 10 4.93 13 Shawn Estes 1.80 9 5.82 11 Russ Ortiz 4.48 11 7.26 11 Joe Nathan 2.06 7 8.25 7

So this is a raft of guys happy about their new park, and while Rueter has been among the most consistent starters in the league, we're still talking about a guy doing something everybody who can pitch in Pac Bell Park is doing. When you consider that Rueter's giving up more than a hit per inning overall, and striking out fewer men than he walks, well....

I guess we can remember how many people have counted out Rueter in the past, and he's managed to fool a good number of people some of the time, but let's just say I think that he and his agent did a very smart thing in terms of Rueter's financial future.

SEATTLE MARINERS

Placed UT-L Raul Ibanez on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/7 (strained groin); recalled RHP Joel Pineiro from Tacoma; acquired C-R Chris Widger through waivers from the Expos for two PTBNL. [8/8]

Added Widger to the active roster; optioned Pineiro to Tacoma. [8/9]

Chris Widger is a very good pickup for the Mariners at this stage of the game. While he's been a victim in the past of Felipe Alou's philosophy of letting young pitchers ignore opposing baserunners, he's doing a much better job of controlling the running game this year. He's quite capable of mashing left-handed junk, and was having a decent offensive season for the Expos, hitting .238/.311/.441 with a .248 EqA. Considering that he was slugging around .500 away from le Stade Olympique, he may end up looking like a steal once the Mariners take note that Joe Oliver is only going to cool off from here and Dan Wilson may never get back to where he was five years ago.

Joel Pineiro has rocketed through the organization in extremely short order, and sort of like Gil Meche last season, looks like he's ready to pitch in the majors at an early age. Fortunately for the organization's future, they don't need him to be. They've still got six solid starters, and Pineiro's early arrival merely returns them to the happy situation of having seven worthwhile starters.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Placed (and lost) DH-R Jose Canseco on waivers; recalled OF-B Quinton McCracken from Durham. [8/7]

Activated RHP Dave Eiland from the DL; optioned LHP Mike Duvall to Durham. [8/9]

While Jose Canseco was something of a wasted asset on a team like the D-Rays, the decision to discard Bubba Trammell for Mets scraps looks even worse now than it did a week ago. Q-McC might have been the team MVP in 1998, but he'll be battling Jason Tyner for the fourth outfielder's job at best.

Call me a glutton for punishment, but I'm interested in how the Rays' rotation works out. I've always had a soft spot in my head for Dave Eiland and his struggle to stick around as a fifth starter. Ryan Rupe is still a good prospect, while Albie Lopez and Bryan Rekar both look like good examples of my current half-baked theory that starting pitchers seem to blossom around 28 or 29.

While I don't expect great stuff out of Tanyon Sturtze, I have to concede that according to at least one of our metrics (Clay Davenport's KWH, which compares strikeouts to walks and hits allowed, and which Clay says "serves as an indicator of continued success"), Sturtze was the leader among minor leaguers in 1999. Taking the time to see if that means anything seems like a better way to spend the D-Rays' time than hauling in some more of last year's wacky human-interest promotions, and if it means that someone like Sturtze ends up being the next Rick Reed or Gil Heredia, more power to them.

TEXAS RANGERS

Optioned RHP Francisco Cordero to Oklahoma; recalled RHP Darwin Cubillan from Oklahoma. [8/7]

Received RHP Peter Munro through waivers from the Blue Jays to complete the Dave Martinez deal. [8/8]

Francisco Cordero's struggles have taken a turn for the very ugly, which gives the Rangers a chance to take a look at Darwin Cubillan's darting changeup.

From an organizational standpoint, Cordero's problems could end up being very expensive. If he had been throwing as well as expected, the Rangers might have felt more comfortable about trading John Wetteland. Instead, Cordero went into the tank after a decent start, pushing his ERA up to 5.62. It will be interesting to see if there are any worse ripple effects from this situation, but in the meantime, Cordero will hopefully iron out his problems and be back in September.

Snagging Peter Munro for Dave Martinez was a steal, although having Munro only adds to the Rangers' potential logjam of young starting pitchers next spring. He was having an outstanding couple of months in Syracuse after spending some time in the Jays' bullpen, posting a 2.48 ERA in ten starts, allowing only one home run among 52 hits in 61 2/3 innings, along with 25 walks and 45 strikeouts. As the Mariners are demonstrating, you can do a lot with a deep rotation, and the Rangers will have the opportunity to sort out how to balance stalwarts like Rick Helling and Kenny Rogers with question marks like Darren Oliver and Justin Thompson in front of a talented and young foursome of Munro, Ryan Glynn, Doug Davis and Matt Perisho.

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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