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August 16, 2000

Transaction Analysis

August 13-14, 2000

by Christina Kahrl

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Placed RHP Johnny Ruffin on the 15-day DL (groin); recalled OF-L David Dellucci from Tucson. [8/13]

David Dellucci still doesn't appear to have recovered from his wrist problems, so while it's a good move for the Snakes to get back down to 11 pitchers, I'm not happy with either rationale that's been offered. Yes, Thursday's off-day is a good chance for the team to rest the bullpen before starting a homestand, but it's more important that the Snakes carry an extra bat that helps them, and it really should be Alex Cabrera.

Instead, they've brought back Dellucci, and while it's nice to see him get a break after losing most of this year and last to his wrist problems, he hasn't exactly earned his recall just yet. In Tucson, he was hitting just .230/.301/.402. Nevertheless, some in Arizona are talking as if he's going to be the same guy who hit .390 last year.

Unfortunately, it isn't as if the Snakes have a wealth of alternatives: it's either Cabrera or organizational soldier Rob Ryan if it isn't Dellucci. Jack Cust looks like he still has a few things to iron out in El Paso before he'll be ready. So Arizona is definitely a team that ought to be shopping for one spare outfielder, preferably a guy who can draw a pinch-walk once in awhile. Mark Sweeney would be ideal, but he's taken.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Optioned RHP Leslie Brea to Rochester; purchased the contract of RHP Jay Spurgeon from Rochester. [8/14]

We turn again to the Bal'mer funhouse, where the latest news is that Leslie Brea isn't 21, but 26, which means that now he really isn't a prospect, but an Oriole.

The really amazing aspect of it is that the Orioles knew this and still wanted him. There's something strange about an organization that exults over surprising everyone that Brea is old and spells Leslie with an "e", while failing to notice that means they just made themselves look even worse than they did two weeks ago.

For trading Mike Bordick to the team most desperate to get Bordick, all that Syd Thrift managed to acquire was two utilitymen, a 26-year-old just out of A ball and Pat Gorman, a closer now triple-repeating in the Sally League. Whereas before, Brea was theoretically the best player in the deal, Melvin Mora may be the best player in the deal after all, but it could just as easily be Gorman, That still leaves the Orioles none the better off for having punted Bordick and the draft pick he'll generate.

If anything, this Brea revelation should have White Sox fans shaking their fists in anger, because they gave up a better package to rent Charles Johnson and do Harold Baines a nice turn. It should also be another reason to tip our collective caps to a great job by Steve Phillips: the Mets system is close to running on empty, and he still managed to cobble together deals to significantly improve his club down the stretch.

So skip Leslie Brea. The Orioles are better off with Jay Spurgeon in the majors. Drafted out of the University of Hawaii in 1997, he's similar to rookie John Parrish in that he's basically a guile pitcher. Whereas Parrish changes speeds and arm angles, Spurgeon affects wildness and size (at 6'6") without the gas you'd expect from a guy with 129 strikeouts and 112 hits allowed in 144 innings. He's jumped four levels, from Frederick to the majors, in relatively short order. Initially, Spurgeon will be in the pen, but he's essentially up for pitching well in front of Boss Angelos in Rochester, and this team needs whatever warm fuzzies it can get from its own minor leaguers.

BOSTON RED SOX

Placed DH-R Israel Alcantara on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/13 (back strain); purchased the contract of IF-R Lou Merloni from Pawtucket. [8/14]

Izzy Alcantara's injury is already suspected of being a fake, the product of an argument within the organization. Alcantara is a DH with a reasonable shot at pulling off a successful Glenallen Hill impersonation both afield and at the plate. Playing for one of the league's weakest offensive ballclubs, a Glenallen Hill impersonator is pretty valuable.

Relying on a crippled collection of second- or third-rate veterans has been a stroke of inspiration when it comes to the rotation and, to a lesser extent, the bullpen, but it has been an ongoing flop for the lineup. Jimy Williams deserves a fair share of both the credit and the blame in all of these cases, and especially considering his brazen unwillingness to use Alcantara.

It doesn't help that the Sox have to carry at least two platoons in the lineup, and arguably should be using three or four. Doing that with only 14 position players burns up roster spots pretty quickly, and that's without having to carry some random hominid to alternate with Ed Sprague at third base because Sprague needs to be pinch-hit, pinch-run and pinch-gloved for at every opportunity.

Speaking of Lou Merloni, he returns from an unsuccessful tour of duty in Japan with his credentials of being Nomar Garciaparra's buddy intact. Manny Alexander ought to be afraid for his spot as the utility infielder once Jose Offerman heals, but cutting him loose (or settling for bumping him off of the playoff roster if the Red Sox do pull off a minor miracle) would be a possible annoyance to fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez. The Duke has usually ignored player reactions to roster decisions, but would he in a case like this?

CHICAGO CUBS

Optioned LHP Phil Norton to Iowa. [8/13]

Recalled RHP Jamie Arnold from Iowa. [8/14]

Two bad starts and the Cubs no longer want to use Phil Norton in Kerry Wood's rotation spot. The odd thing about this was that Jamie Arnold was called up to face a lefty-heavy Cardinals lineup.

While I don't think it really matters, if the Cubs really wanted to take their best shot at the Cardinals and genuinely sneak into the playoff picture, they'd be wangling for every tactical advantage in every game from here on out. I'm not saying Norton would automatically beat the Cardinals, but when Will Clark is slugging over .700 and they've got Fernando Vina and Jim Edmonds and Ray Lankford all flashing platoon splits over the last few years, it might have made a little more sense to give Norton another start. Jamie Arnold isn't a prospect or a good bet to still be on the 40-man roster next year. Why call him up at all?

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Placed 2B-R Carlos Febles on the 15-day DL (ankle); recalled OF-L Scott Pose from Omaha. [8/14]

In his two major-league seasons, Carlos Febles has shown a really unfortunate propensity to hurt himself. It's probably the major reason that he's still in the second division among AL second basemen. Keep in mind that it's a weak position in the league, when you consider that despite posting a .238 Equivalent Average and hitting .270/.358/.338, there are arguments that Febles has nevertheless outplayed six other AL regulars: Jay Canizaro, Homer Bush, Mark McLemore, Miguel Cairo, Adam Kennedy and Jose Offerman (Mike Lansing, too).

As with Kennedy, you want to expect Febles to get better, and eventually flashing some of the power he displayed as a 22-year-old in Wichita, when he slugged over .500 and smacked more than 50 extra-base hits. But constantly losing time to injuries isn't going to make it any easier.

MINNESOTA TWINS

Placed C-R Chad Moeller on the 15-day DL (knee); recalled C-L A.J. Pierzynski and RHP Matt Kinney from Salt Lake; optioned RHP Jason Ryan to Salt Lake. [8/13]

Chad Moeller looks like he's done for the season, which means this is the big opportunity for Danny Ardoin and A.J. Pierzynski to log their claims for the job of Matt LeCroy's caddy. Considering that Javy Valentin apparently won't catch again until the winter, that's about as good as it can get for this pair of organizational soldiers.

Pierzynski has been about as ready as he's going to be for the last year or so. He has a little bit of pop (.298/.341/.443 in New Britain and .338/.356/.519 at Salt Lake this year), a strong arm and a good reputation as a receiver. Left-handed-hitting catchers can usually find a way of worming their way into the majors with fewer credentials than that. Among Pierzynski and Ardoin and Valentin, they have three good backup catchers in the making, with Valentin potentially more valuable than that if he's healthy next spring. It would be a shame for the Twins to ignore them and simply hand Moeller the job in 2001.

More interesting is the team's decision to bring up Matt Kinney. Like too many Twins starters over the last 20 years, he's very young (23); but unlike most of the others, he throws hard with a sinker he can get up into the mid-90s. Along with J.C. Romero, he should be auditioning for a rotation slot, with Joe Mays getting bumped into the pen, where he might join Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins as ex-starters who became critical members of an unheralded pen.

Kinney has a very good chance of staking a claim that will stick: in 25 starts between New Britain and Salt Lake, he struck out 153 batters in 146 innings while allowing 125 hits (14 home runs) and 64 walks. That he had an ERA of 3.07 in New Britain is almost not as impressive as the 4.26 ERA he put up in nine starts in the PCL. He's recovered fully from the elbow surgery he had last year, and was dominant in the Arizona Fall League over the winter. I'd be pretty worried about the number of innings he's thrown since last November, but if he shines here, he could be part of a Twins rotation that could best in the division in 2001.

MONTREAL EXPOS

Traded RHP Matt Skrmetta to the Pirates for 3B-L Jarrod Patterson. [8/13]

Ottawa is even more dead in the water than the Expos, but consider how many starting players they've lost to the parent club in the last few weeks: 1B Fernando Seguignol, 3B Andy Tracy, SS Tomas De La Rosa, CF Milton Bradley and, briefly, C Brian Schneider.

Jarrod Patterson was briefly touted by some outfits as a potential claimant to the Pirates' third-base job, but it was never really in the cards. He'll be 27 in a couple of weeks, so he's three months older than old rookie Andy Tracy, and he was only hitting .278/.326/.404 for Nashville. He does have better range and hands at third base than Tracy.

Next year's third-base situation in Montreal will probably continue to be haphazard, with Tracy, Geoff Blum and Mike Mordecai splitting most of the time. Since we're not talking Mike Schmidt or Graig Nettles here, and now that Michael Barrett has gone back to catching, Patterson is better off with this organization if he's going to carve out a major-league career for himself.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Released LHP Bryan Ward from the roster of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [8/12]

Bryan Ward pitched well for the Phillies, and pitched well for Scranton, so his getting cut is either silly or Ed Wade's way of doing him a favor. There are a few left-handers in the majors with a lot less success than him with major-league jobs right now, so Ward ought to be employed in pretty short order.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Traded 3B-L Jarrod Patterson to the Expos for RHP Matt Skrmetta. [8/13]

Besides hopefully giving Aramis Ramirez a better sense of job security, there isn't an obvious point to this deal for the Bucs. However, with the high number of injuries to the major-league staff, Nashville needed some body on the staff.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Placed C-B Ben Davis on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); purchased the contract of C-B George Williams from Las Vegas. [8/13]

Ben Davis's journey to greatness seems to have taken another little side trip. I really hope this is just one of those situations where Davis was frustrated with having to go back to Las Vegas so that the Pads could pay Carlos Hernandez and keep Wiki Gonzalez, because he wasn't hitting in the PCL and he hasn't hit well with the Padres, either (.149/.210/.243). Here's hoping he regroups over the winter and has a good camp in 2001.

Meanwhile, his absence gives George Williams a deserved return to the majors. While he's 31 and clearly past his prime, he's still a good-hitting catcher (.239/.372/.443 at Las Vegas this year). While the time-honored myth that there aren't enough catchers to go around gets subtly blended with claims of talent dilution, players like Williams, Adam Melhuse, Creighton Gubanich, Tom Wilson and B.J. Waszgis keep poking the ball in Triple-A year after year while goofs like Alberto Castillo or Sandy Martinez or Pat Borders or Mike Matheny keep getting chances. Along with crummy middle relievers, this is a pretty good example that it isn't dilution that's hurting the level of talent in the game, it's the fear of dilution and a resulting preference for the known and less-than-mediocre that has been bad news.

At any rate, Williams will put a run or two on the board, and I'm happy to see him get a little bit more service time. If Tom Prince is allowed to hang around, then there ought to be a place for George Williams.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Placed 1B-R Eduardo Perez on the 15-day DL (sprained knee); recalled RHP Gene Stechschulte from Memphis. [8/13]

Sticking Eduardo Perez on the DL is being viewed as a way of keeping him and as many other players as possible eligible for postseason roster spots.

Keeping a seventh reliever (and 12 pitchers) is probably something the Cardinals will have to do between now and the end of the month so that they can have another pitcher eligible to take Alan Benes's spot in the postseason bullpen. The younger Benes has been ineffective while also having a hard time recuperating physically from his outings, and the Cardinals' pen hasn't been strong enough to carry a relic of the talent Tony LaRussa wasted in 1997.

Barring a waivers pickup in the next two weeks, Gene Stechschulte should be the last man in the pen in October. He has been effective as Memphis's closer, nabbing 26 saves while posting a 2.46 ERA, but he can get beaten by a half-decent left-handed pinch-hitter.

SEATTLE MARINERS

Placed LHP Robert Ramsay on the 15-day DL (strained biceps); recalled RHP Joel Pineiro from Tacoma. [8/14]

Robert Ramsay had been doing a decent job as a mop-up man, but with Jamie Moyer struggling and Gil Meche's shoulder injury, the cushion the Mariners have had with their pitching staff has dwindled. They need to take the time to evaluate whether or not they can count on Joel Pineiro as a long reliever or potentially the fifth starter down the stretch. If he builds on a solid first start against the White Sox last week, that would give the Mariners eight useful starting pitchers.

While much has been made of Pat Gillick and the job he's done, also keep in mind that six of those eight starting pitchers (Moyer, Paul Abbott, Meche, Freddy Garcia, John Halama and Pineiro) are people he inherited from Woody Woodward. The success the Mariners have enjoyed this season can be spread from Gillick to pitching coach Bryan Price to even an eerily silent Mt. Piniella.

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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