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August 18, 2000

Transaction Analysis

August 15-16, 2000

by Christina Kahrl

ANAHEIM ANGELS

Signed LHP Bryan Ward and assigned him to Edmonton; claimed 2B-R David Eckstein off of waivers from the Red Sox. [8/16]

Talk about bargain shopping, because the Angels just nabbed two guys who can play. Neither one will ever star, not unless you're a Lance Blankenship groupie or a geriatric member of the Maxie Bishop Fan Club, but not a bad pair of guys to nab for free.

Bryan Ward was available because he made the classic mistake of mentioning out loud that Phillies management was being silly for not keeping him around after pitching well. While I've generally been impressed with Ed Wade's moves as of late, he and Terry Francona are continuing to observe the same double-standard that was in force before they traded Curt Schilling: if somebody as important as Curt Schilling says something really stupid or obnoxious out loud, you can shrug it off because he's got that competitive fire. If somebody like Ward or Garrett Stephenson says boo, they're whiners who need to get their fannies out of Dodge, and who cares if they're right anyways? It doesn't look like it's a problem that's going to go away, but in the meantime, the Angels have gotten themselves a decent lefty. Of course, they may not restrict him to relief work. They need a starter, and Ward was a starter in the Marlins' chain up until 1997, and he's only 28 now. Stranger things have happened. Here's hoping a return to the majors and a return to wearing his insanely intricate sideburns and goatee is in the cards.

David Eckstein isn't quite the prospect some people might have billed him as, including us in BP2K. While he had a very good year in Trenton in 1999, he was already 24, and that isn't young at Double-A. But he's a walk-drawing 5'8" mighty mite with a good glove, and while he hasn't hit well in his first season in Pawtucket (.244/.362/.299), he still has those core skills. If you give me the choice between flipping Adam Kennedy back to short and playing Eckstein at second instead of Benji Gil or Kevin Stocker, I'd do that in a second, for the defensive payoffs as well as a few walks from the ninth slot.

ATLANTA BRAVES

Activated OF-R Reggie Sanders from the DL; optioned OF-L George Lombard to Richmond. [8/15]

It won't be easy for Reggie Sanders to recover from his awful .192/.260/.310 start (not to mention an appalling .193 Equivalent Average) as a fourth outfielder now that B.J. Surhoff is in the fold, but Brian Jordan is going to need at least a day or two off every week. If you look at it in terms of what the Braves' bench now has, having Sanders and Bobby Bonilla as your fourth and fifth outfielders sounds better than having to start them regularly. The interesting thing about the Braves' outfield is that Bobby Cox should now feel absolutely no compunction about making any of his four corner outfielders strict regulars. Taking a page from the Mets' playbook, Cox would be better off spotting Bonilla, Sanders, Surhoff and Jordan on a game-by-game basis to take advantage of their separate strengths. Unlike the Mets, he can afford to leave center field out of the multi-headed platoon mix.

The only strange aspect of this was the decision to keep Steve Sisco instead of George Lombard, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Lombard come back up on the last day of August after some regular playing time at Richmond. For postseason purposes, Lombard will come in handy as a pinch-runner, while the Braves won't need Sisco if they have that foursome of corner outfielders healthy for the postseason.

BOSTON RED SOX

Activated 2B-B Jose Offerman from the DL; designated 3B/1B-R Ed Sprague for assignment. [8/16]

Having been one of the most unrepentant floggers of Ed Sprague, I may shock everyone by coming to his defense in this instance. Like the majority of players who aren't A-Rod, Sprague is a collection of strengths and weaknesses. Actually, he has one core strength, pounding lefties, as he's managed to hit .298/.377/.632 against them this year, while hitting only .193/.250/.298 against right-handers. The Red Sox are slugging less than .400 against left-handed pitching as a team, another in a litany of offensive weaknesses. Getting cranky with Sprague and cutting him loose because of what he isn't (a regular or a third baseman) seems all the more unfortunate because the Duke is keeping two crummy utility infielders (the indictable Manny Alexander and Nomar's paisan', Lou Merloni). We all know the refrain, that a platoon is a great way to turn a weakness into a strength. Instead of building a nifty platoon of Brian Daubach and Sprague at DH, and instead of having a good right-handed stick on the bench to menace situational lefties with, they'll have Jose Offerman at second, a new hot corner junta of Merloni and Mike Lansing, and a lot more than the FDA's minimum recommended daily dose of Rico Brogna.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Activated RHP Mike DeJean from the DL; designated LHP Scott Karl for assignment. [8/15]

The Rockies still have the advantage of having the best bullpen in the National League at their disposal, and getting Mike DeJean back will only reinforce that. Its an extremely talented pen, reminiscent of the great '95 outfit. Their front four of DeJean, Jose Jimenez, Gabe White and Mike Myers match up with anybody's, retread Bobby Chouinard has been pitching well, and hard-throwing rookie Craig House is nothing if not intriguing. Considering that GM Dan O'Dowd is responsible for bringing in four of them, he deserves a lion's share of the credit for helping turn last year's adequate pen into a great one.

Having lost his spot in the rotation and pouted his way out of the bullpen, the Rockies aren't exactly going to miss Scott Karl. While I think Karl's only continuing the same downward spiral his career has been on since his rookie season, a veteran lefty starter who managed to post 5.68 ERA this year outside of Coors is going to wind up pitching for somebody. Don't be surprised if its a team on the fringes of the playoff hunt, like the Dodgers or the Reds.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Activated C-B Mitch Meluskey from the DL; optioned C-R Raul Chavez to New Orleans. [8/16]

It would take a tremendous finish for Mitch Meluskey to get any kind of consideration for the NL Rookie of the Year, but fortunately for him, he's back early enough to try. How he's done already is reason for hope, having hit .295/.389/.500 and a .288 Equivalent Average. Even then, its a longshot at best, because he'd still have two basic problems. The first one is probably insurmountable, and goes by the name of Rick Ankiel. Even if Ankiel struggles down the stretch, he's still going to have a reasonable argument that he was the best starter on a division winner. Even if Ankiel were to go into the tank, for as well as Meluskey has hit, he would have to outhit some reasonable criticisms of his defensive limitations, highlighted by his having only thrown out a little better than 20% of opposing base thieves. I think it would be more likely that if Ankiel struggled mightily, the floor would be open to all sorts of lukewarm candidacies, from Jay Payton to Raffy Furcal to Pat Burrell to Matt Herges. Basically, Ankiel would have to be Jaime Navarro bad to blow it, but you never know.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Placed UT-R Jose Hernandez on the 15-day DL (strained back), retroactive to 8/10; activated OF-L Mark Sweeney from the DL. [8/15]

The retroactive part of the assignment is important, because the Brewers are still desperately trying to move Jose Hernandez so that they don't have to fulfill the last two years of his contract. Jose is still the victim of perception: he's actually a pretty solid shortstop, but because he isn't particularly acrobatic and instead depends on a strong arm, he's not exactly on any WebGem short lists. While hitting .247/.319/.393 with a .237 Equivalent Average is as ugly as it sounds, for a shortstop, that's still a pretty useful player. You would think watching Jose Valentin all those years would make the Brewers happy with a shortstop who struck out a lot and hit for some moderate power, but Dean Taylor and Dave Wilder deserve to be rebuked for getting caught in the perception trap. They see that Hernandez hit 42 home runs as a regular the last two seasons, and get caught up in stereotypes about how they need a power-hitting third baseman, just like every ideal team. So Hernandez gets typecast and gets to disappoint, and that's not exactly fair. Unfairness is getting to be a running theme with Jose's career, as he had to take a back seat to a broken-down Walt Weiss in the playoffs last year, all because he was perceived to be a worse shortstop because he was big and rangy while Weiss was doing his Alan Trammell belly-flopping best, when he had in fact outplayed Weiss defensively. Anyways, there are teams that could use Jose Hernandez, just probably not the Brewers.

Sweeney should be given every opportunity to prove, above and beyond a reasonable doubt, that he absolutely positively cannot play center field. No, I don't really think he can, but as long as Marquis Grissom is the only alternative, you may as well donate the playing time to science.

MONTREAL EXPOS

Activated SS-R Orlando Cabrera from the DL; optioned SS-R Tomas De La Rosa to Ottawa. [8/15]

Signed 1B-L Lee Stevens to a two-year contract extension through 2002. [8/16]

While we all know and love Vladi Guerrero, maybe there's an argument that Orlando Cabrera is the Most Representative Expo. He's been heavily touted for years, he flashes a pretty good glove, and he hit .280 two years ago and he stole 51 bases in the minors one year, so he must be a pretty good all-around player, right? Unfortunately, a closer inspection leaves you wondering what the fuss has been about. He hasn't run much or well in the majors, and while he is a good glove at short, this has been another season where he's had real problems getting his OBP over .300 (.241/.280/.383 overall, with a .217 Equivalent Average). To be gratuitously simplistic, there are some eery similarities to another disappointing shortstop playing for a Canadian team, long-touted Alex Gonzalez. While you never want to give up on a player at the tender age of 25, when you have every reason to expect him to start entering his peak seasons, you also can't help but get a little frustrated. If the Expos were in the position to win anything, it might be very tempting to play an offense-defense platoon of Geoff Blum and either Cabrera or Tomas De La Rosa, but the Expos aren't contending for anything other than third place. It will be worth giving Cabrera one more year to see if he's going to turn the corner.

"I brought them Lee Stevens, and still they didn't come!" While Stevens ain't no Rico Brogna, the Expos have made a mistake by inking him to this extension. Sure, he's been pretty handy by hitting .266/.343/.504, but you put that up against the other first basemen in the National League, and Stevens begins resembling replacement-level talent for the position. At 32, hitting that well is as good as Lee Stevens is ever going to do for you, and that's only good for the 11th-best hitting first baseman in the league according to Equivalent Average. Even that's pretty generous, in that this relatively lofty ranking hasn't only been because of what Stevens has done. Sean Casey's been hurt most of the season, and Pat Burrell is just at the start of his big league career. More likely than not, both of them will outhit Stevens next year. Stevens is at the level he belongs at, with other first basemen like Eric Karros and Kevin Young, all in their early thirties, and all not so good that you couldn't replace them in short order. While its great to see Stevens get his payday, the problem is that as an organization, the Expos need to be in the business of sorting out the difference between a journeyman doing his best and a player you can build around. The age of Loria thriftiness is continuing, but unless its aim is just to continue making himself look like the owner trying to compete while being betrayed by unattentive Quebecois, it's a bad investment.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Signed RHP Tim Hudson to a four-year contract extension through 2004, with an option for 2005. [8/16]

After already infuriating a few Giants' fans with my comments last week about the Giants' decision to ink Kirk Rueter to an extension, I may as well keep it up by saying Billy Beane did another smart thing. This is a reasonable gamble that also eliminates the need to ever drag Tim Hudson into an arbitration hearing. If Hudson continues to alternate dominance with a Jaime Navarro start or two, it would still be worth it, because the gamble is that Hudson could be more than inconsistent. And to do this, the A's aren't paying Hudson more than the Cubs are paying Jon Lieber. That's exactly what the Giants have done with Rueter, for less reason, and with a park that's going to make any pitcher look good coming in.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Activated RHP Jason Boyd from the DL; designated LHP Mark Holzemer for assignment. [8/15]

Another one of the Phillies' epic decisions to juggle relievers with ERAs over seven. But at least they won't have to put up with any more of Bryan Ward's tactless reminders that he was pitching well... Boyd still carries his tool-time fastball reputation, and he does need to be evaluated to see if he should be around as a middle reliever on next year's squad. Assuming Mike Jackson can pitch next year, there should be a tough fight for the last right-handed relief spot or two in the pen.

TEXAS RANGERS

Placed RHP Ryan Glynn on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/12 (illness); recalled RHP Francisco Cordero from Oklahoma. [8/15]

Recalled RHP Brian Sikorski from Oklahoma City; optioned RHP Jonathan Johnson to Oklahoma City. [8/16]

The Rangers are having their problems, but I'm happy to see Brian Sikorski finally get a shot. He's got a sweet slider that can make him especially tough on left-handed hitters, although he doesn't always have control of it. He was having a relatively solid season for Okie City, posting a 4.04 ERA while going 10-9, allowing 131 hits and nine homeruns in 140.1 IP, while walking 60 and striking out 99. Awesome first start or not, he's could have a hard time sticking on the Rangers' forty-man roster, let alone forcing his way into the rotation picture for next season. The reasons Sikorski will have his problems sticking around is not just because of young pitchers like Doug Davis, Ryan Glynn and Matt Perisho; once the season ends, the Rangers are also going to have to bring Justin Thompson and Ruben Mateo and possibly Danny Kolb off of the 60-day DL and put them back on the roster. Thanks to national television exposure, he may just have lucked into being one of the most sought-after minor league free agents for this coming offseason. In Glynn's absence, he should get another start next Monday against the Yankees, which should make for an interesting game, and a start the following weekend against the Blue Jays. Sometimes, it's just a very short step from the PCL to pitching in games with playoff implications.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Placed RHP Frank Castillo on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/14 (strained elbow). [8/15]

Speaking of a move with major playoff implications, Castillo had worked his way up to being the sixth-best pitcher in the American League according to Michael Wolverton's SNWL stats, and has wound being as valuable as Jumbo Wells. Its sort of ironic that now that he's finally having the kind of season everyone expected was in him after 1995, he's been felled by the same elbow that slowed his progress through the Cubs' chain at the beginning of the '90s. While you have to hope he'll be back in short order, there's another irony here amidst my usual despair about the Blue Jays: Joey Hamilton and Dave Stewart, together again, master and pupil, like it was always meant to be. As a fate for this team, I suppose that's appropriate. Hamilton is expected to be called up to take Castillo's place in the rotation. If Stew really can do anything to get Hamilton anywhere close to where he was in the second half of 1998 when they helped get the Padres to the World Series, then I'll join the throngs already prepared to call Stew a miracle worker (and not just a guy smart enough to pick organizations with pitching talent as his employers). It makes for good drama, if long odds.

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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