Transaction Analysis, June 6-8, 2002

by Chris Kahrl

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BALTIMORE ORIOLES Return to Top

Activated OF-R Luis Matos from the DL and optioned him to Bowie (Double-A). [6/6]

Placed RHP Calvin Maduro on the 15-day DL (bone chips - elbow); activated RHP Jason Johnson from the DL. [6/7]

The Orioles are in an unfortunate situation, in that they now have a veritable throng of choices for the rotation, but few of them are stepping forward to secure a job. With Jason Johnson's return, Sean Douglass is being bumped, as Calvin Maduro has already been bumped. The current journeyman-to-rotation-regular experiment (Maduro was the first, Rodrigo Lopez the next) is Travis Driskill. In the same way that I don't expect Lopez to be anything more than the new Gil Heredia—useful for a couple of months, maybe even two years—you can see Driskill being an adequate rotation temp for a couple of months.

The issue really has to be what the Orioles' goals for the season are. The current rotation is made up of one big-ticket free agent, one homegrown prodigy, one journeyman, and a pair of minor-league retreads. In itself, that isn't a bad balance. But what about the individual components? Scott Erickson has given them six quality starts (plus two eight-inning, four-run outings) in 13 tries. Sidney Ponson has given them seven quality starts in 12, but he's getting expensive without advancing beyond mediocrity. Both Ponson and Erickson are Orioles' property through 2003, and Ponson can look forward to another arbitration-derived wage hike. Jason Johnson is generally slathered with prospecty condiments, but he's 28 and his sole good season in the major leagues was in last year's spacious Camden alignment—the same configuration that was abandoned in the latest organizational One Year Plan. I wouldn't give up on him, but he's older than Ponson, and you have to accept that he may never be more than a fourth or fifth starter. If Lopez and Driskill continue to pitch well, is this a rotation you build on, or one you scatter to the winds if a contender comes a-callin'? I favor the latter.

As much as it has been moderately reassuring for the fans to see a more competitive team this year, it's a team and a rotation that won't contend, and which isn't a threat to ever contend. It's good enough to beat the Devil Rays, and good enough to make a fight for third place. There's value in gunning for improvement on any level when your track record is as crummy as the Orioles' has been, but these particular players need to be treated as commodities in a program of continuing improvement. If the opportunity to convert them into better inventory comes, they have to take it, even if it risks that shot at third place. Unfortunately, the Angelos clan's record of flipping mediocrity for future value is godawful, both in terms of bailing out of deals, and in getting a lot of dreck in the stretch deals that have been made.

Besides, I have an agenda here. If you're going to turn to nondescript minor-league journeymen like Travis Driskill and Rodrigo Lopez, it makes you wonder if the reluctance towards calling up John Stephens hasn't become a positive mania. If anyone else in the entire organization pitched as well as Stephens has for Rochester (2.32 ERA, 75 hits and 15 walks in 89 1/3, with 77 strikeouts), he'd be up, Driskill be damned. But because Stephens doesn't throw hard, he gets ignored in an organization that can't afford to be cavalier about what little talent it actually does boast.

Maduro is currently wrestling with a choice between resting and having surgery on his elbow. Rest only costs him three weeks; surgery will cost him six to eight weeks, and effectively end his season.

BOSTON RED SOX Return to Top

Signed LHP Chris Michalak to a minor-league contract. [6/7]

As mentioned last week, the Red Sox are apparently weighing their alternatives to Casey Fossum in the situational-lefty role. Should Darren Oliver and Chris Haney not work out, they have Tim Young and a recuperating Jeff Wallace in Pawtucket. Now they also have Chris Michalak to consider, except that he has yet to be a good situational lefty. However, he is left-handed, and having some depth beats paying a premium in prospects to deal for somebody like Dan Plesac. They've got nearly two months to decide if Wallace or Haney or Young or even Michalak can fill the bill.

CHICAGO CUBS Return to Top

Outrighted RHP Pat Mahomes to Iowa. [6/6]

Activated RHP Carlos Zambrano from the DL. [6/7]

As anticipated, Pat Mahomes got bumped off of the roster. It was his destiny. The question remains why he was bumped after Courtney Duncan, or why he was brought up before Duncan. It may all be an ex-Twin/MacPhail thing, but that's no substitute for appreciating that Duncan has outpitched Mahomes in the past, and should be expected to for the rest of their lives from here on out. But now that the Cubs are back to having Carlos Zambrano and Kyle Farnsworth, they're back to having a truly talented pair of young hurlers in their pen, and that's not a bad thing.

CINCINNATI REDS Return to Top

Activated RHP Jose Silva from the DL. [6/6]

Acquired 3B/OF-L Russell Branyan from the Indians for 1B-L Ben Broussard; placed RHP Jose Rijo on the 15-day DL (sore shoulder), retroactive to June 2. [6/7]

There are three results from this deal for the Reds. First, it means that the commitment to Sean Casey is inescapable, and something they're just going to have to live with, like the Lindner commitment to Barry Larkin. So they're out three years and 20 million simoleons, and they're tied into a guy who looks like he's settling into being Hal Morris, which is less than you'd like for that kind of expense. That's a competitive handicap, but not a crippling one as long as they're not required to pay Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns top dollar, which they won't be for a while.

Second, it means that the Reds have Russell Branyan, and that's not all bad. Aaron Boone's track record of staying healthy isn't outstanding, and he isn't hitting. If Casey breaks down, Branyan can cover that as well. And Branyan can play the outfield corners, which brings us to point three.

As Jim Bowden has pointed out, it isn't outlandish to believe that Branyan would command more in barter than Ben Broussard, in no small part because of Branyan's positional flexibility. The Reds do need a starting pitcher for the front of the rotation. They may have to wait and see if the Mets fall far enough to want to part with anybody at the end of July, because otherwise you're left shopping for people like Chris Carpenter or Ismael Valdes or Esteban Loaiza or Todd Ritchie or Chuck Finley. Nice consolation prizes, but hardly the big game acquisitions that Bowden is known for.

The gamble is that Branyan's strikeouts are less of a concern for a potential swap-partner than Broussard's age and questionable ability to play anywhere but first base. I think it's a reasonable risk to have taken; there might be four or five teams that value Broussard, but they're probably also all smart enough to realize they can scare up somebody else like Broussard if they really wanted to, and for less than what Bowden would need to help his team win this year. Unfortunately, there are all sorts of teams that still froth over batter strikeouts, and they're probably automatically out of the running.

CLEVELAND INDIANS Return to Top

Placed RHP Charles Nagy on the 15-day DL (elbow, end of his career, something like that); purchased the contract of RHP Nerio Rodriguez from Buffalo; acquired 1B-L Ben Broussard from the Reds for 3B/OF-L Russell Branyan; assigned Broussard to Buffalo; purchased the contract of OF-R Chad Allen from Buffalo. [6/7]

I'm more than a little surprised that the Indians gave up as quickly as they did on Russell Branyan, considering that for the time being, what they're left with at third base is the dregs of Travis Fryman's career. Fortunately, they have an option on Fryman for 2003, which they should respectfully decline to pick up. Because the much-touted Corey Smith is years away from breaking through, that will mean the Indians will probably go shopping. Should they?

First, they do have some workable options internally. No, I'm not talking about shifting Jim Thome back to third base; that prospect was shot down by Thome in years past, and I doubt he'll consider as he gets older, slower, and heavier. However, if the Tribe built a platoon or a job-sharing arrangement between Bill Selby and Earl Snyder or even Greg LaRocca or some other minor-league free agent who can hit, they'd cover the position well enough offensively, and save a good chunk of change. Would a Selby/Snyder platoon out-hit Russell Branyan in 2003? I don't think we can rule out the possibility, no matter how positive I am about Branyan's future.

So at this point, the question is not what the Tribe can do in Branyan's absence, but what they got in return for him. Ben Broussard is not really anything besides a first baseman. They're apparently going to look at him as a left fielder in Buffalo—getting his bat into the lineup would do the Indians some good, and left field is empty at the moment--but odds are he'll make Jack Cust look nimble.

But do they have an alternative? Much as it might be heresy in the jewel on the Cuyahoga, it's worth keeping in mind that Jim Thome is a free agent after this season. Even if the Tribe was interested in re-signing him, if they drop out of contention between now and the end of July, it would be worth entertaining offers from teams looking to rent Thome for the last two months of the season. The Cubs always had this opportunity with Mark Grace, and always wussed out because of the propaganda value they attached to having baseball's prettiest smoker. Thome occupies a similar franchise poster boy role for Cleveland, but as long as a trade gave the Indians something that would make them better in 2003, wouldn't that increase the odds that Thome would find Cleveland a great place to re-sign in 2003?

If they did then re-sign Thome, that would create a problem in that Ellis Burks is under contract through 2003, but that would just require working something else out as far as a deal. At least they'd have a good two month-plus read on whether or not Broussard can help in 2003.

Charles Nagy's last remotely useful season was 1999, and his last actually good season was 1997. If the man won't take the hint and retire, pay him off and send him home. He's hurt the franchise with his "desire," particularly in 2000 when he selfishly took the mound in the midst of a pennant race that he was physically incapable of helping the Tribe win.

COLORADO ROCKIES Return to Top

Placed LHP Kent Mercker on the 15-day DL (fractured hand); recalled LHP Brian Fuentes from Colorado Springs; activated RHP Shawn Chacon from the DL; optioned IF-R Brent Butler to Colorado Springs. [6/6]

There are two major issues here, and losing Kent Mercker isn't one of them. First, the return of Shawn Chacon from the DL brings the Rockies into a mini-crisis as far as who's in the rotation. Denny Stark has earned the right to stick around, and Chacon and Jason Jennings have done nothing to lose their jobs. Denny Neagle has been one of the most effective starters in baseball, currently ranked 18th by Michael Wolverton's Support-Neutral metrics. John Thomson's comeback is going perfectly well.

That leaves Mike Hampton, and the continuing question about what to do about him. Beyond simply not pitching well, he's lost control of the strike zone in a way that falls just short of Steve Blass territory. He's walking more than six batters per nine innings, and he's getting worse, not better, as the season progresses. My previous speculation about moving him is, to be blunt, premature. As long as he's struggling this badly, he's untradeable, even setting aside his contract for the moment. The question is whether the Rockies can compete without him, and as things stand now, the answer has to be that they can and should. Whether that means sending him off for positive visualization therapy, or to pitch out of the bullpen, or whatever, the organization's primary responsibility is to itself and to putting a winning team on the field. Mike Hampton isn't a part of that.

The other major issue is the second-base situation. Sending down Brent Butler isn't being interpreted as an indictment of Butler as much as it is a challenge to Jose Ortiz to sink or swim in the next two weeks. If Ortiz doesn't rise to the occasion, it will only be a matter of time before Butler comes back, and in more than a utility role.

Mercker is out four weeks, at least, but the Rockies have enough left-handed help to have a fully functioning neotraditional matchup-driven bullpen. Denny Reyes is doing decent work, and Brian Fuentes has more than enough talent to be a good second lefty.

DETROIT TIGERS Return to Top

Optioned RHP Seth Greisinger to Toledo. [6/6]

Recalled LHP Mike Maroth from Toledo. [6/7]

Like Nate Cornejo before him, Seth Greisinger got just under ten starts as an audition. The Tigers' rotation, which so recently inspired confidence—at least in me—has taken a tumble. Steve Sparks hasn't had a quality start in a month, and Jeff Weaver seems to have chosen an inopportune moment to go sour. Fortunately, Mark Redman has improved lately. Since giving up on Jose Lima, the last two rotation slots have been devoted to the organization's future. Greisinger and Cornejo got brief auditions, and their slots now belong to Adam Bernero and Mike Maroth.

Maroth comes up after giving Toledo an outstanding couple of months. As the Mudhens' ace, he posted an 8-1 record and a 2.82 ERA, allowing just 53 hits and 22 walks in 73 1/3 innings, while striking out 51 batters. No, he does not pump gas, but the Tigers need anybody who can give them reason to believe he can be successful. In a sense, how Maroth, Bernero, Greisinger, and Cornejo have done and will do plays a part in whether or not Dave Dombrowski decides to peddle Weaver. It shouldn't. With or without Weaver, the Tigers are irrelevant now and for the foreseeable future. The question isn't whether they can replace Weaver right now; it's whether somebody will put together the kind of package for Weaver that will help change that.

FLORIDA MARLINS Return to Top

Placed RHP Josh Beckett on the 15-day DL (Valdesia fingerium blisteritis); recalled RHP Blaine Neal from Calgary. [6/6]

Activated C-R Ramon Castro from the DL; outrighted IF-L Marty Malloy to Calgary. [6/7]

Persistent finger problems are going to give Josh Beckett a full month off. This underscores what has been a surprising weak spot for the Marlins all season: their rotation.

Expectations for the Fish starters were appropriately high coming into the season, but they haven't worked out at all. Ryan Dempster has continued to disappoint; Brad Penny's troubles in spring training persisted into the regular season, creating even deeper concern that there's something seriously wrong; Beckett had been the second-most reliable starter on the Marlins, behind the pitcher widely considered least likely to be in the same sentence with the word "reliable," A.J. Burnett. Julian Tavarez is the worst starting pitcher in baseball now that Brian Tollberg is out for the year. So now the Marlins have the fourth-worst rotation in baseball, ahead of only the Padres, Tigers, and Blue Jays. If the Fish want to take themselves seriously—and they should—they need to do something about this.

Jeff Torborg now has three catchers again, but even with consecutive series using the DH, this will not translate into playing time for Ramon Castro unless Charles Johnson has to deal with a minor owie. Instead, Torborg is creating playing time for Kevin Millar and Eric Owens, which means he's carrying a bench with two catchers on it, but no backup shortstop. So if he needs an extra-base hit, and he has Andy Fox or Homer Bush or Luis Castillo at the plate, the chances that he's going to pinch-hit Castro to get it are effectively zilch.

Considering the Marlins' problems with their pitching staff, they'd be better off peddling or packaging Castro to get a starter they could use right now. Johnson would be the better choice to peddle as far as the Marlins' long-term interests are concerned, but they have the opportunity to win now, and I suspect that Johnson wouldn't waive his no-trade clause (or anyone would take on the $26 million he'd make).

HOUSTON ASTROS Return to Top

Recalled SS-R Adam Everett from New Orleans; optioned RHP Brandon Puffer to New Orleans. [6/7]

The decision to bring back Adam Everett has less to do with how Everett was doing in New Orleans (an Ordonezesque .255/.307/.315) than it has to do with two other factors. First, Julio Lugo is hurting, and second, the Astros are playing interleague games and need an extra body to handle DH at-bats. Not that Everett got to play much, since to Jimy Williams's continuing discredit, he insisted on batting Jose Vizcaino leadoff and playing him every day. I guess it's a good thing the Astros don't have Chris Truby around, all so that they can get Vizcaino and Geoff Blum and Brad Ausmus all into the lineup at the same time.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS Return to Top

Placed ExAllStar-R Chuck Knoblauch on the 15-day DL (strained forearm); recalled OF-R Brandon Berger from Omaha. [6/6]

Placed OF-R Mark Quinn on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); purchased the contract of OF-B Donzell McDonald from Omaha; designated RHP Nate Field for assignment. [6/7]

Sometimes you don't look a gift horse in the mouth, but in circumstances such as these, how could you not notice its winning smile and minty fresh breath? The only way to save the Royals from Allard Baird's open checkbook is by physical deletions and accidents of fate. The longer the Royals take to get Chuck Knoblauch back (bring in a specialist, send him on the longest possible rehab assignment, anything, everything), the better off they'll be.

In the meantime, they'll get the opportunity to check out Brandon Berger. Berger is 27, so his future is now, which sounds harsh up until the point that you start wondering whether the "No future" movement in Europe in the '90s was talking about Knoblauch and Michael Tucker. Berger gives the Royals the desperately needed power that they aren't getting from Knoblauch, Tucker, Raul Ibanez, and Mark Quinn.

At this point, the question shouldn't be whether Berger should play in front of Tucker and Ibanez, it should be whether Donzell McDonald should play in front of both of them as well. McDonald comes up after hitting .263/.350/.413 (translated to the majors, a .238 Equivalent Average), with 16 steals in 19 attempts. He can play the outfield well and he can run, and he's always been able to get on base adequately, but that shouldn't make him regular...except possibly here. Tucker's .252 Equivalent Average is pathetic for a starting corner outfielder; Ibanez's .214 is the kind of performance that should make you wonder what you should expect from a 30-year-old coming off of his only useful partial season. The Royals highlight the most serious problem in the game: it isn't franchises that need contracting, but management teams.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS Return to Top

Signed C-R Sal Fasano to a minor-league contract. [6/6]

Waived IF-B Luis Lopez to give him his unconditional release. [6/7]

I've always had a weak spot for Marcus Jensen. He's a great defensive catcher, a smooth receiver, someone with a gun behind the plate. He switch-hits, and he's a moderately dangerous hitter by backup-catcher standards. But with Papo Casanova out of action and Paul Bako the primary catcher, I can see preferring Sal Fasano. He's right-handed (Bako's a lefty), he's another good glove behind the plate, and he provides some raw right-handed power.

I keep wondering about why Fasano hasn't managed to stick around. In the '70s, Dave Duncan had job security. Mark Parent had a similar skill set, and he had relative job security. By contrast, Fasano seems to keep getting shoved aside, and not always by the strongest competition. The Royals and the Devil Rays have given up on him in the past year, and neither ballclub is employing anybody whose number they'll end up retiring, let alone two such somebodies.

MONTREAL EXPOS Return to Top

Transferred RHP Troy Mattes from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/6]

Why take two months to clear the spot on the 40-man roster? The unlikelihood of Troy Mattes pitching this year was already pretty well known from the time he went under the knife. I guess what's done is done, but that spot would have undoubtedly come in handy earlier in the year.

NEW YORK METS Return to Top

Outrighted 1B/OF-L Mark Johnson to Norfolk. [6/6]

OAKLAND ATHLETICS Return to Top

Recalled 2B/SS-R Mark Ellis from Sacramento; optioned 2B-L Esteban German to Sacramento. [6/6]

I'm not ecstatic about this development on one level, since it revolves around the decision to let Randy Velarde's death ride take place. There should be no particular commitment to Velarde at this time, considering there isn't a whole lot to gain from it beyond some very small bit of good feelings for a good guy. I'd rather take a long look at Esteban German, and instead it seems that the Athletics got cranky after giving him a whopping eight starts (and fewer than 40 plate appearances) at second base. Coming to any conclusions on anybody in so short a time is wildly premature.

There is, however, an upside, in that it makes some sense to have somebody on the roster who can play shortstop in addition to Miguel Tejada. As much as I would have preferred to have given German an extended trial, as long as Velarde's in the everyday lineup (or as everyday as Velarde can manage these days), then I can buy having somebody who plays more than one position on the bench instead of German. Despite having to recuperate for a couple of weeks from a broken finger, Mark Ellis was doing his usual thing in Sacramento, hitting .298/.372/.440. That translates to a .256 major league EqA, solid for a utility man, and the source for a reasonable comparison to Mark Loretta in his prime. Since Ellis plays a solid shortstop, he should turn into one of the better-hitting real utility infielders (one able to play second base, third base, or shortstop) around.

TEXAS RANGERS Return to Top

Activated C-R Ivan Rodriguez from the DL; placed OF/1B-L Rusty Greer on the 15-day DL (back), retroactive to 6/4; recalled RHP Aaron Myette from Oklahoma; optioned RHP Joaquin Benoit to Oklahoma. [6/7]

We're in Year Three of what has been a very sad turn in Ivan Rodriguez's career, where once upon a time some of my compadres were making very reasonable arguments that Pudge was the best all-around catcher in baseball (yes, over Mike Piazza), to somebody who clearly doesn't deserve to rank ahead of Jorge Posada in All-Star voting. I know, nobody weeps for Yankees, but still, Posada isn't just the best catcher in the AL by default, he himself is in Year Three of a tremendously productive run.

Thinking about it, I guess I can't help but wonder exactly when Fred Lynn stopped being Fred Lynn, Superstar and become Fred Lynn of the Glass Menagerie? That is not to diminish or ignore Pudge's historic greatness. Hell, in a bass-ackwards sort of way, this might even help the Rangers afford him if they decide to try and re-sign him. With a weakened negotiating position in a labor market that might be a bit jittery in a probable winter of economic discontent, the Rangers and Pudge might just skip the dance and move to get something consummated quickly.

Elsewhere, the loss of Rusty Greer highlights the frustrations that the Rangers are enduring in their outfield. Carl Everett has been a disaster, but now with him and Greer and Frankie Catalanotto out of action, the Rangers have had little alternative to Gabe Kapler's persistent struggles. If two months ago anybody had suggested that Kapler would be homerless 60 games into the season without spending them entirely on the DL, I think we all would have laughed. With Juan Gonzalez back in action, Kapler has been reduced to sharing time in the other two outfield slots, as the Rangers take peeps at Jason Romano and now Ryan Ludwick. Calvin Murray fell out of favor, perhaps too quickly, considering he has value within certain limits. He can play center field, he can run, and he can be a useful fifth outfielder. Asking for more than that is to ask too much.

In the meantime, with Greer down and Kapler in a serious funk, it's just as well that the Rangers are looking at Romano and Ludwick. On a certain level, it ought to be a competition with an eye towards 2003, since in a perfect world, these two would be the contenders for the center field job next spring. Unfortunately for Tom Hicks and for the Rangers, both Kapler and Everett are already signed for 2003.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS Return to Top

Named Bruce Walton bullpen coach. [6/7]

Bruce Walton has already been in the Jays' organization for several years, but it probably didn't hurt him any that he was drafted by the A's in 1985, and spent nearly seven years beating the bushes at the same time that one J.P. Ricciardi was an A's scout. Not a bad bit of fortune for a guy born on Christmas Day...

Finally, think good things on behalf of London May Giles, daughter of Tracy and the Braves' Marcus, who was born almost four months prematurely this weekend, and also for the Devil Rays' Nick Bierbrodt. Life is a strange and funny thing, which doesn't make it any less precious.

Chris Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.


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