Transaction Analysis, July 29, 2002

by Chris Kahrl

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American League
National League


Placed RHP Jason Johnson on the 15-day DL (elbow tendinitis), retroactive to 7/23; recalled RHP John Stephens from Rochester. [7/29]

Well praise be, and about time: John Stephens is up to replace Jason Johnson. It's expected that if he does well, he'll subsequently replace Travis Driskill once Johnson can return from the DL.

Stephens will have to win over converts from the many doubters who held up his promotion this long. He's been the ace of the Rochester rotation all year, with an 11-5 record and a 3.03 ERA. He's allowed just 126 hits, 23 walks and ten home runs in 142 2/3 innings, none of which tells you that he couldn't break glass with a gale-force wind at his back. He should have been up sooner, given Driskill's struggles (four bad starts in his last six), but the reservations about bringing up a young soft-tossing right-hander are pretty strong throughout the game.

The interesting question is whether the bias against Stephens is because he doesn't throw hard or because he's only 22 and doesn't throw hard. He's going to have to impress within his first few starts, because if he doesn't, he can look forward to setting some modern International League milestones.

The other reason Stephens needs to make a quick, favorable impression is that the rotation really only has one slot open behind Scott Erickson, Jason Johnson, Sidney Ponson and Rodrigo Lopez. Things may change for 2003; Erickson is a turkey that they're stuck with for the last year of his contract, but Ponson is arbitration-eligible, and assuming he doesn't hurt himself between now and then, could be somebody else's problem next February. Johnson has done a fine job during the brief stints that he's been healthy, logging seven quality starts in 13 outings.


Dumped C-R Sandy Alomar Jr. and the money to pay him with on the Rockies in exchange for RHP Enemencio Pacheco. [7/29]

Who knew you had to pay to buy playing time for Josh Paul? This deal only makes sense insofar as it made sense to cut bait with Sandy Alomar. None of the potential benefits you might have gotten from doing so accrued, though. Kenny Williams failed to appreciate that there are contenders who could have used Alomar--the Diamondbacks, the Giants, the Braves, the Angels, perhaps even the Mariners or the Yankees. Not all of them can or would trade for Pudge Rodriguez, and not all of them can get him. Williams traded Alomar to a team who didn't need him for a pitcher who's spent the last four years in A ball, and Williams is paying the Rockies the full amount of what Alomar is due, so the White Sox don't even save salary.

I find it really hard to believe that if Williams had offered the Snakes or the Angels the opportunity to employ Alomar without paying him, in exchange for a minor prospect, they wouldn't have bit. So at the end of the deal, all the White Sox really got was playing time right now for Josh Paul for a pitcher they might lose to minor-league free agency in November. They would have made more by waiving Alomar and cashing the price of the waiver claim.


Placed RHP Chad Paronto on the 15-day DL (elbow tendinitis). [7/29]

This was the final ripple to make room for the arrival of Terry Mulholland, and it isn't really a net gain for the Tribe. Chad Paronto has started to become useful of late, whereas Mulholland is a waste of time on a team that needs to keep an eye on what it wants to do in 2003.

With Paronto and Bob Wickman on the DL, and Paul Shuey on somebody else's team, the Indians may be short of better-known right-handed relievers. That's not all bad, since the Indians should invest the time in finding out who can help out next year: Sean DePaula? Jacob Westbrook? David Elder? Any or all of them might be joined by Paronto, Wickman and David Riske. Relief help is essentially fungible, up to a point. This is a potentially ugly moment for the Indians to be reminded that they blew an oversized chunk of change on Mark Wohlers this past winter, and they're stuck with him for at least 2003.


Signed OF-R Jose Guillen to a minor-league contract. [7/28]

Acquired C-R Sandy Alomar Jr. and the cash to pay him with from the White Sox for RHP Enemencio Pacheco. [7/29]

I would not be surprised in the least if Dan O'Dowd's plans for Sandy Alomar involve flipping him to a contender for something of value between now and the end of August. Kenny Williams might not have taken the time to look around and get a sense of whether Alomar has market value, but Dealing Danny almost certainly will.


Activated 3B-R Chris Truby from the DL; optioned RHP Erik Sabel to Toledo. [7/29]

It's a good thing for the Tigers to have Chris Truby back. Primarily, they need to evaluate him to see if he should be next year's Opening Day third baseman, if for no other reason to squash those persistent Tommy Brookens comeback rumors. After all, what were the '80s in franchise history, if not the titanic and eventually unsuccessful struggle to keep Brookens chained up? The proud inheritor of the mantle of Don Wert and Aurelio Rodriguez, it was only a matter of time before the Tigers gave in and finally accepted the latest iteration of their ignoble tradition of stability. By contrast, the much-heralded Cubs third-base "problem" since the retirement of Ron Santo had some bright spots: Ron Cey gave them a few good years, and even Steve Buechele, Vance Law and Keith Moreland had their moments.

More seriously, there's almost nobody else in the organization besides Craig Paquette and Shane Halter, so Truby has to get a long look. As long as they play a real shortstop--instead of Halter--between second and third base, I would seriously consider resurrecting the experiment of Dmitri Young at the hot corner next spring. If Young doesn't do too badly, he'll have greater value in trade, whereas Truby might put together a nice Buechelesque season or two and still have very little value.


Optioned RHP Guillermo Mota to Las Vegas; recalled LHP Victor Alvarez from Las Vegas. [7/28]

Guillermo Mota had been doing pretty well for the Dodgers before the All-Star break, but he's been terrible over the last couple of weeks. Since trading Terry Mulholland for Paul Shuey, the Dodgers felt they needed to retain the same balance in their pen, requiring an extra lefty instead of a struggling right-handed reliever. So Mota gets to keep working on the same problems that have dogged him all along--trying to find something that wiggles or something that's slower than his fastball--while the Dodgers call up organizational soldier Victor Alvarez.


Announced the resignation of pitching coach Dave Stewart. [7/29]

When the going gets tough, the tough get the hell out of Milwaukee. I'm a little surprised that Dave Stewart stuck around this long, because he really only came to Beertown to work with Davey Lopes, and Lopes punched his own ticket months ago. The gamble that he'd get to add to his laurels as a pitching coach by working with Ben Sheets and Nick Neugebauer and Jamey Wright and Ruben Quevedo didn't work out too well.

I'd like to see Stewart resurrected as a pitching coach with somebody else. However, if he wants to resurrect his front-office career, he's going to have to develop a plan of action for what he'd do with a team that hired him to be GM, instead of just waiting for it to be handed to him.


Recalled LHP Micah Bowie from Sacramento; optioned LHP Mike Venafro to Sacramento. [7/29]

It's been a long, ugly road for the A's los tres Miguelitos. The three lefties named Mike they started off the season with haven't turned out well. Mike Holtz has come and gone. Mike Venafro has struggled against righties and lefties, and Mike Magnante hasn't been any better. Frankly, I would have preferred holding onto Venafro, and designating Magnante for assignment, on the idea that Venafro can get better. However, Venafro has an option, so this way, Billy Beane gets to evaluate Micah Bowie without giving up on anybody else.

Bowie comes up after a decent season pitching in the River Cats' bullpen. He's posted a 3.13 ERA, while allowing 40 hits and 24 walks in 54 2/3 innings, with 64 strikeouts. However, he has not been particularly effective against lefties: PCL left-handed hitters have hit Bowie at a .274 clip, with an OBP in the .340s. It looks like he'll be better off in a traditional middle-relief role instead of a situational role.


Traded 3B-R Scott Rolen and RHP Doug Nickle to the Cardinals for IF-R Placido Polanco, LHP Bud Smith and RHP Mike Timlin. [7/29]

The Phillies deserve a lot of credit for their sad devotion to yesteryear's Phillies. For the sake of old men who in other cities are appropriately limited to gladhanding and speechifying at winter Fanfests, Scott Rolen was hosed. But the truly amazing thing is that, after creating the conditions that would pretty much guarantee that Rolen had no intention of staying, after failing to identify that this was an issue two years ago or even as recently as last fall, the Phillies even managed to screw up trading him.

Did they really need Bud Smith? He's the key player in the deal, but the Phillies already have the front four slots of their rotation sewn up with Vicente Padilla, Randy Wolf, Brett Myers and Brandon Duckworth (Robert Person is almost certainly gone after the year). Bud Smith should be a useful rotation starter for several years to come, but he's all they really get out of this deal, and that's disastrous. Placido Polanco might be an upgrade on Marlon Anderson at second base. Might. He doesn't hit well enough to hold the job at third base, which probably means an accelerated timetable for Chase Utley next year. As for taking on Mike Timlin's contract, why do the Cardinals any favors? They're the ones getting Scott Rolen, and if all you're getting back is Bud Smith and a utility infielder, they ought to have to endure the expense themselves.

Someday, the Phillies might grow up and learn life's basic lessons: relievers grow on trees, Doug Glanville will never be a good leadoff man, and yesterday's talent shouldn't be catered to ahead of today's. But until that day, 1980 is all this team has going for it. No memory is that sweet. Life is about adapting to change, not wallowing in 20-year-old schmaltz. Teams with real winning traditions don't suck up to their legacies this cravenly.

What's worse is the extent to which the local media caters to this uniquely Philadelphian form of ancestor worship. Mass psychosis takes strange forms.


Acquired 3B-R Scott Rolen and RHP Doug Nickle from the Phillies for IF-R Placido Polanco, LHP Bud Smith and RHP Mike Timlin. [7/29]

The best deadline deal yet. First, the Cardinals added a top-shelf hitter to a lineup that needed the help to give it better balance. The problem wasn't easily resolved: the Cards needed an upgrade wherever Albert Pujols isn't between third base and left field, plus first base and catcher. They can fix the catching hole by relying more and more on Eli Marrero behind the plate. Contractually, they're essentially stuck with Tino Martinez at first. So that left getting either an outfielder or a third baseman to help the offense.

To his credit, Walt Jocketty got the best possible solution to that particular problem. Scott Rolen might only be the third-best hitter in the lineup behind Jim Edmonds and Pujols, but that doesn't make him anything less than a tremendous upgrade on Placido Polanco. With Marrero behind the plate, the worst hitters in the Cardinals lineup are El Tino and Fernando Vina, which makes for a pretty good unit. For the duration of the season, the Cardinals can be the best offensive team in the National League.

Second, Scott Rolen was just about the only available star who can justify the decision to make Albert Pujols a left fielder. His defense at third base is arguably the best in the National League. Placido Polanco and Aaron Boone might be the only third baseman in the league better at starting the 5-4-3 double play, but nobody can really match Rolen's combination of range, hands and footwork at third while providing the offensive contributions he does.

Third, they didn't give up much to get him, and I say that as somebody who really likes Bud Smith's future. Sure, they could really use Bud Smith, but they did just get Chuck Finley, and they expect to get Woody Williams back in August. They have Matt Morris and Finley up front, with Jason Simontacchi and Travis Smith in back. Once they have Williams back, they should be fine. The danger is that during the remaining couple of weeks that he's gone, they'll have to keep taking an Andy Benes on the chin every fifth night, which will add to the bullpen's workload.

The one thing they sort of lose by losing Polanco is some positional flexibility, but even so, they're covered. Miguel Cairo and Eduardo Perez cover the backup slots in the infield, which leaves the Cardinals desperate in case one of the regulars goes down, but that was already the case. The problem would be particularly acute if they lost Edgar Renteria, since Cairo can't really play shortstop in more than an emergency. Kerry Robinson and Eli Marrero are the main backups in the outfield, leaving Mike Difelice behind the plate. That clearly leaves a need for another worthwhile hitter on the bench, since it would be insane to go into the postseason carrying 12 pitchers. The Cards can take their time and shop around, preferably adding an outfielder so that down the stretch they can relegate Marrero to catching duties.


Optioned OF-L Tony Torcato to Fresno. [7/29]

Somebody had to go to make room for Kenny Lofton, and Tony Torcato was totally unready for the major leagues after a lackluster performance in Fresno. He's young enough to be useful someday, just not now.


Released RHP Dave Burba; recalled RHP Joaquin Benoit from Oklahoma. [7/29]

It's easy to agree with the decision to dump Dave Burba now, what with a bad relief outing this weekend to make him look especially worthless, but in point of fact, it's a move that's at least a month overdue. The Rangers' season has been over since late May, so the gamble that Burba would be an asset as the fifth starter on a contending team, well, that was shot to hell from the start, in no small part because of Burba's contributions. Why the Rangers didn't at least catch a whiff of the coffee that hard reality has been trying to make them chug-a-lug for two months is a tribute to John Hart's capacity for either spin-doctoring or self-delusion. Burba should have been gone, and either Rob Bell or Aaron Myette in the rotation, this whole time.

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

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