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August 21, 2000

Transaction Analysis

August 17-19, 2000

by Christina Kahrl

ANAHEIM ANGELS

Placed C-B Matt Walbeck on the 15-day DL (knee - tendinitis); purchased the contract of C-R Shawn Wooten from Edmonton; transferred RHP Tim Belcher from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/18]

Recalled RHP Brian Cooper from Edmonton; activated RHP Al Levine from the DL; optioned IF-R Keith Johnson and RHP Eric Weaver to Edmonton. [8/19]

As expected because of the schedule, Brian Cooper came back up to resume his spot as the fifth starter (behind Scott Schoeneweis, Ramon Ortiz, Kent Mercker and Matt Wise); he took a pretty brutal beating at the hands of the Yankees upon his return.

With Jarrod Washburn probably out for the season, the Angels don't really have many alternatives to keeping Cooper, at least until Seth Etherton is ready to come off of the DL. Matt Beaumont's year in the minors has been, at best, a learning experience. Indiana State's Sean Brummett, 1999 draft pick, might have an outside shot at a callup, because the alternative is probably another spin with organizational soldier Shad Williams. This is the downside of the Angels doing the right thing by trading Kent Bottenfield and cutting Ken Hill, but having it turn out badly because of injuries to the younger starters.

Fortunately, Al Levine is back in the fold, bringing a good bullpen almost back to full strength. Shiggy Hasegawa has been outstanding for the last couple of months, Mark Petkovsek has been an asset and Mike Holtz has thrived now that he isn't pitching for his job every time out, as he was under Terry Collins. It's Levine, though, who ranks tenth in the American League according to Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools.

The rotation may be a problem for the next couple of weeks. While Mike Scioscia still has the freedom of action to pull his starters relatively early and use his pen to some advantage, he'll need to avoid getting too caught up in matchups as well as concentrate on not overworking any reliever in particular.

Matt Walbeck's production has been horrid this year (and there's no other word for a guy hitting .208/.250/.392 with a .196 Equivalent Average), even by the standards of backup catchers. In a season in which a lot of good things have happened for the Angels, the relatively seamless transition of Walbeck from regular to backup to let Bengie Molina become a regular is an unheralded positive.

As much as Walbeck's hitting has been downright bad, he's a solid catch-and-throw guy. While he's a switch-hitter, he's one who might be better off dropping it: batting right-handed, he's consistently been pretty useful, while batting left-handed leaves him struggling to get to the Mendoza line for batting average and the Guillen line for OBP. Walbeck's place in the majors is pretty well assured, which can mean he doesn't have to experiment, or it could mean that he wouldn't really be risking much if he gave batting right-handed full-time a shot, because he could always just stop if he didn't like it.

ATLANTA BRAVES

Signed 3B-B Chipper Jones to a six-year contract extension. [8/17]

Chipper Jones is one of the best-hitting third basemen in the business, and he's kind of a fun signature player to have if you're the Braves, because of the extent to which he's hated by so many opposing players for his outspokeness. He's kind of like Gary Carter with a tomahawk.

As long as John Schuerholz never, ever considers this contract a reason to avoid giving Andruw Jones whatever it takes to keep him--and thus getting caught in the Pirates' Andy Van Slyke/Barry Bonds decision and making the mistake of picking the older white guy--this isn't a bad thing. I know it seems like Chipper's not old, but you have to remember the year he missed to blowing out his knee when he would have been in the majors. He turned 28 in April, while Andruw is five years (and a day) younger.

That isn't to take anything away from Chipper, because he should be a productive player over the life of the contract and could still have a season approaching 1999 in the next year or two. Comparing almost anybody in the non-ARod portion of the universe to what Andruw could be over the next five or six years is unfair to everybody else.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Signed RHP Ken Hill to a minor-league contract, and assigned him to Charlotte. [8/18]

Ugh. As much as it would be nice to see Ken Hill get some sort of karmic payback for his lost opportunity at postseason glory in 1994, he didn't earn this. He was given the contract out of courtesy to the Sox veterans--Frank Thomas foremost among them--who openly campaigned for his signing. Hill is coming off of four months with the Angels in which he posted a 6.52 ERA and allowed two baserunners per inning, a performance that doesn't compare favorably to the struggles of the Sox rookies. Why pick up a veteran starter if he isn't good enough to start in the postseason ahead of Jon Garland? If there's any danger of the Indians catching up to the Sox, and it's a longshot at best, it isn't like adding Ken Hill is going to keep it from happening.

In fairness to Hill, pitching coach Nardi Contreras has worked a few miracles in his days with the White Sox. Nobody expected much out of Sean Lowe last year, and Contreras helped make the Cardinals look bad for having traded him. Nobody expected anything from Cal Eldred, and he went from throw-in to veteran savior pretty quickly for a guy looking for his first good year since 1994 or so. If the White Sox get anything out of Ken Hill, I'll be surprised as well as impressed.

DETROIT TIGERS

Activated RHP Hideo Nomo from the DL; placed RHP Doug Brocail on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/14 (elbow inflammation). [8/18]

Hideo Nomo's return gives the Tigers a pretty good rotation again, in that Phil Garner can now choose between Steve Sparks and rookie forkballer Adam Bernero for the fifth slot in the rotation. Nomo isn't the pitcher he was in his heyday with the Dodgers, but he's still pitching like a decent third or fourth starter.

With Jeff Weaver and Scuffy Moehler in front of Nomo, the Tigers basically need to find somebody better than Nomo and Brian Moehler (pushing Air Blair into the competition for the fifth slot) if they want to graduate to having a great rotation. If the Tigers settle for what they have, then scrapping their way up to .500 is going to be a high-water mark for the Randy Smith era, because the Royals and the Twins aren't that far behind and will get stronger.

Doug Brocail's struggles for the Tigers haven't been as bad as a mediocre 4.17 ERA would indicate. As hittable as he's been (especially against right-handed hitters, who are hitting .333 against him, although with no home runs), he hasn't been put into too many inherited-runner situations. Garner instead seems to reserve Brocail for straight eighth-inning setup duties, with Danny Patterson, C.J. Nitkowski and Matt Anderson tackling the tough innings that the starters leave. While the Tigers have a strong pen already, if Brocail can bounce back to form next year they might have the best in the AL.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Placed RHP Jay Powell on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation); recalled RHP Jason Green from New Orleans. [8/17]

Activated OF-B Roger Cedeno from the DL; waived OF-R Matt Mieske, granting him his unconditional release. [8/18]

Roger Cedeno's return exacerbates a dilemma for the Astros that seems to only get worse. When Cedeno went down, Lance Berkman hadn't lodged a permanent claim on one corner spot yet. Now the Astros have Cedeno and Berkman and Richard Hidalgo and Daryle Ward playing out of position and Moises Alou. Even if the Astros traded Alou, they'd still ready for a move to the American League and adding the DH.

With everything that's gone wrong with Cedeno's season, he's still posting a .264 EqA by hitting .273/.376/.401. That will continue to go up, although he'll have to settle for only semi-regular playing time. An outfield of Hidalgo flanked by Cedeno and Berkman would be one of the best young outfields in the major leagues, maybe one of the best regardless of age.

Matt Mieske failed to do his usual mash act against left-handed pitchers this year (.128/.209/.128), but in this outfield logjam, he wasn't exactly getting a real opportunity to iron out his problems at the plate. Would it surprise nobody if he was in a Red Sox uniform before the end of the month? It would be a good match. They could use his glovework as well as his platoon value.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Placed LHP Paul Spoljaric on the 15-day DL (back strain); recalled RHP Jose Santiago from Omaha. [8/18]

Jose Santiago will get the opportunity to prove that his Jekyll/Hyde problem with pitching from the stretch and pitching from a full windup is a thing of the past. Any reliever getting spanked for a .360 average with men on isn't doing his fellow pitchers any favors.

If Santiago can't pitch from the stretch, it won't keep him from being a useful major-league pitcher. He could be a middle man and mop-up reliever and still make a decent living, or maybe the Royals will get creative and have him drop the stretch and the slide-step entirely. Greater effectiveness with his pitches in exchange for an extra stolen base or two would be a worthwhile tradeoff more often than not.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Activated IF-R Mark Loretta from the DL; optioned SS-B Santiago Perez to Indianapolis. [8/18]

Mark Loretta's return to the infield will give the Brewers a good seven weeks to evaluate him as a shortstop. His play there earlier this season was a lot more encouraging than some defensive metrics would have given you reason to expect.

One of the truisms we probably all cling to, either as baseball analysts or just thinking about life in general, is that if you don't use a skill you lose it. Loretta was a shortstop in college at Northwestern, which doesn't necessarily mean much in terms of being able to play shortstop in the majors. Even when he was drafted, Loretta was tabbed as someone who would eventually have to move over to second base. Coming up with Jose Valentin already in place certainly limited his opportunities to play shortstop. Yet now, in his first real shot at playing there everyday, it seems that he's done a reasonably effective job.

If Loretta can continue to play a pretty good shortstop, the Brewers have the same problem that they've had all season as far as deciding who should play and why. I suspect the Brewers aren't going to find someone to take Jose Hernandez's contract any more than they could do so with Marquis Grissom's, although Hernandez would make a nifty starting shortstop for some teams. Once Hernandez returns from the DL, the Brewers will have the choice of returning him to the utility role he excelled at with the Cubs or plugging him into center field to get Grissom's bat out of the lineup. That means Davey Lopes is going to have to swallow his pride and admit he was wrong about insisting on Grissom's retention last winter. If he can learn from that bad decision, then at least that's something good to happen to the Brewers.

MONTREAL EXPOS

Placed C-R Lenny Webster on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/14 (sore elbow); recalled C-L Brian Schneider from Ottawa. [8/18]

Le Webster enters the same limbo that it appears the franchise is condemned to, as the minority partners dicker over whether to sell or to sue Jeff Loria.

While I do not believe that Jerry McMorris's idea of dissolving teams is at all necessary, what if it happens by accident instead of by owners' fiat? Skip the question of where the Expos will play next year, and start to wonder if the Expos will play next year. There have been the comparatively timid precedents set by the George Steinbrenner suspension and running the Reds without Marge Schott. Between Paul Beeston and Sandy Alderson, the league offices have a pair of pretty successful executives on hand. Will baseball have to take over operations of the Expos? Will that save the jobs of Felipe Alou and Jim Beattie? Would baseball move the franchise while the court battles rage through Quebec courts? It's an ugly scenario, and while I do not expect the worst, just about anything might be possible.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Placed RHP Andy Benes on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/15 (inflammation - knee); purchased the contract of RHP Britt Reames from Memphis. [8/19]

Andy Benes came to the Cardinals as part of their general drive to nab useful innings-eaters for their rotation instead of trying to shop for aces that simply weren't there for the taking. The general operating principle was that the Cards would get innings and regular starts and ERAs somewhere around the league average from Benes and Darryl Kile and Pat Hentgen.

The plan has basically worked. Kile and Benes and Hentgen are all within a half-run of the National League average ERA for starting pitchers. As expected, Kile has been the best of the bunch. Benes has been sort of troubling, in that last year's taterrific tendencies seem to have gotten worse this year. After giving up a career-high 34 in 198 1/3 innings, he's allowed 28 in 148 1/3 innings this year, well on pace to set a new high. While I know it can simply be taken as a sign of the times, it's also a sign that Benes is not about to return to 1997.

Britt Reames is a injury-survivor story of the first magnitude and a good reason to worry about a pitcher when a team says he can bounce back from Tommy John surgery inside of a year. An unheralded 17th-round pick out of the Citadel, Reames was labelled a prospect after a great 1996 in the Midwest League, only to lose both 1997 and 1998 to his elbow. He was sore much of last year and scuffled in his early work in Arkansas this season (6.13 ERA), then was enjoying a good run with Memphis (6-2, 2.28 ERA, 75 baserunners in 75 innings and only two home runs allowed). He was a curveball artist before the injury, and we'll have to see how much he can rely on the pitch and for how long. If he can, he could end up carving a career for himself over the next couple of years.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Activated RHP Joe Nathan from the DL; optioned RHP Miguel Del Toro to Fresno. [8/18]

I know this isn't the first time I've brought this up, but the success of the Giants, as well as the Mariners (and even the Rockies) calls into question whether teams can survive with five starters for the five-man rotation. The Giants have had the benefit of being able to have Mark Gardner around for use as needed, and he's been needed to cover for injuries to Shawn Estes and Joe Nathan. He may need to be called upon down the stretch if Russ Ortiz scuffles as badly as he did at the start of the season.

The key is that Gardner has been around, and there's a lot to be said for having a sixth starter available for long innings as a reliever in case of an injury to one of the front five starters, or for spot starts or for two or three starts when one of the front five goes to the DL.

It won't mean anything in terms of the playoffs, but in terms of giving the Giants the flexibility to roll with the inevitable punches, it's been critical to their ability to mount a push past the Snakes. Other teams should consider taking a page from this playbook and retaining a sixth starter/long reliever instead of just another situational reliever.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Activated 2B/3B-R Bobby Smith from the DL; optioned OF-B Quinton McCracken to Durham. [8/19]

Hopefully, the Devil Rays will just plug Bobby Smith back into his everyday role as the starting second baseman. With Aubrey Huff and Russ Johnson looking like a good platoon at third base and Felix Martinez playing shortstop for his glove, the D-Rays need to continue to evaluate Smith as a second baseman. They know what Miguel Cairo can do, and while some people are satisfied with his hitting .275/.329/.346 for a .240 EqA, the D-Rays shouldn't settle for it. Cairo is the kind of fill-in that any team that has considered signing Mickey Morandini should go out and get instead, to be passed along once a worthwhile prospect comes around. Becoming a latter-day Manny Trillo isn't the worst thing that could happen to you, I guess.

TEXAS RANGERS

Signed C-R Bill Haselman to a two-year contract extension through 2002. [8/19]

Bill Haselman is clearly on the short list for Best Backup Catcher in Baseball, but like Todd Pratt or Scott Hatteberg (or eventually Brent Mayne), it's an honor he doesn't deserve to be stuck with. That sort of label should be handed out to players who are at their best as backups, guys like Gregg Zaun or Jeff Reed or Einar Diaz or even Mike Redmond. Guys like Haselman and Pratt are good enough to be regulars in their own right.

It's nice to see Haselmania produce a deserved payday, but I've always wondered what would have happened if he'd been taken a little more seriously earlier in his career.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Transferred RF-R Raul Mondesi from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/18]

Activated RHP Joey Hamilton from the DL. [8/19]

As mentioned before, Joey Hamilton replaces Frank Castillo in the rotation, giving the Jays a stretch-drive crew of Jumbo Wells, Steve Trachsel, Kelvim Escobar, Esteban Loaiza and Hamilton. It's a better unit than what they started the season with, but the Blue Jays' chances of catching the Yankees are receding, and their chance of snagging the wild card is pretty slim.

As much as I really believe the Jays should have made a playoff appearance in one of the last three years, perhaps Ash is trying to model the franchise a bit too literally on the Pat Gillick/Paul Beeston Jays teams of the early 1980s, which were good teams, just not good enough. I don't have to remind you that things ended up turning out pretty well, but that doesn't nip my sense of frustration with this team.

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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