Transaction Analysis, The Wests
by Chris Kahrl
Claimed C-R Wil Nieves off of waivers (from the Padres).
One of the dynamics of the "new economics" of the game is that you'll get random roster re-shuffling to avoid salary arbitration in any form. So if you're an Angels fan who liked Orlando Palmeiro, and identified him as the kind of bit player and organizational soldier you could root for because you love underdogs and the status quo, well, tough--it doesn't make financial sense to keep him around in any situation where he has leverage. So in today's game, with an engine like salary arbitration offering players better compensation than they'll command on the open market--and increasing recognition of that fact within the industry--roster turnover will be even more omnipresent. Which means exit Orlando, and enter Eric Owens. It doesn't really add or subtract a whole lot in terms of talent, although it does give the Angels a wee bit more flexibility because Owens bats righty, and he might spot for Darin Erstad against certain lefties.
The alternatives for players and organizations confronted with arbitration-related decisions were further demonstrated here, as the Angels played out two of the other potential scenarios for how this works out without actually getting to arbitration. First, they decided to overpay Benji Gil before having to worry about arbitration. Then they non-tendered Brad Fullmer, and subsequently re-signed him for an amount they were more comfortable with, circumventing arbitration yet again. This is just the way life is going to be for guys in the 13th through 22nd roster spots on a lot of teams, to the point that arbitration will become ever more the exception instead of the rule. I'm still ambivalent about its retention, because it will be more of an economic bogeyman than an actual working part in the system, but as long as the bogeyman works both ways, I guess I don't see the harm. It just means that the MLBPA won't have a salary inflation engine to exploit, while allowing the teams and more players to make decisions that are more essentially free market in nature.
Elsewhere, Adam Riggs, Oscar Salazar, Rich Rodriguez, and Wil Nieves are all nice alternatives for the last four or five slots on the roster. If Gil gets hurt, Riggs could probably make a nifty part-time backup for Adam Kennedy. Rodriguez might be the pen's token lefty if they trade Scott Schoeneweis in Spring Training to a team that would place him in the rotation. Nieves might not be a great catching prospect, but in an organization with a Molina or two too many, he's a completely interchangeable replacement for either of them. Salazar wouldn't be the worst 25th man in baseball, although with the DH platoon of Fullmer and Shawn Wooten chewing up two roster spots, plus Gil, Owens, and a Molina locked into bench jobs, there isn't a lot of space for an inoffensive utility man for the 14th and final position player spot on the roster.
Re-signed CF-L Steve Finley to a two-year contract, RHP Byung-Hyun Kim, and 1B-L Mark Grace (with a club option for 2004) to one-year contracts, OF-B Quinton McCracken to a two-year contract, and RHP Armando Reynoso, LHP Eddie Oropesa, and PH-L Chris Donnels to minor league contracts.
Avoided arbitration with Dessens, signing him to a two-year contract, and OF-L David Dellucci.
Picked up their option on LHP Mike Myers.
While the Snakes retained their olden goldies like Steve Finley and Mark Grace, the news here is more about the potentially creative things they're going to end up doing with their roster. For example, with the trade of Erubiel Durazo, Lyle Overbay should get first crack at serious playing time at first, with Grace playing the garrulous elder statesman role his defenders think he's suited for. And with the decision to avoid arbitration with Damian Miller, they'll notionally enter camp with catching duties being split between Rod Barajas and Chad Moeller. What that really means is that they've kept their options open, and there is a reasonable expectation that somebody will part with somebody before the end of March. The only unreasonable expectation would be that Moeller and Barajas can handle the job, but if the Snakes want another relatively easy out in the lineup to complement Matt Williams and Tony Womack, you can't blame the rest of the division for sending thank you cards. Nevertheless, discarding Miller, who was a good example of how far you can go with a bit of free talent, makes perfect sense. The danger is that the Snakes could really believe Moeller and Barajas are worth spending some time on, and/or that they failed to pick up a journeyman. Finding catchers who hit .249/.340/.434 (as Miller did last year) just isn't as hard as it will be for Moeller or Barajas to do it themselves.
They did get two useful bit parts back in the Miller deal: Noyce could turn into a useful second lefty in a big league pen in the next year or two, while Gary Johnson gets on base and plays a solid outfield; there are worse fifth outfielders out there. They'll both open up in Tucson, so they give the Snakes a good dose of organizational depth.
There are other bits of good news, with the talk that Byung-Hyun Kim will get a real trial as a starting pitcher, and becoming the first side-arming or submariner starter since... well, who? Elden Auker? Ted Abernathy? The notion that this is being done because Matt Mantei is healthy is, of course, ridiculous, since Matt Mantei will never be healthy. Fortunately, the Snakes know this, and they picked up some nice veteran relief help on the low end of the market to help round out the pen in case Kim is a success in the rotation while Mantei's incredible non-functioning elbow non-functions. Picking up Mike Jackson and Manny Aybar are nice low-end options, while Ricky Bottalico and Ron Villone might yet justify some of the faith placed in them over the last five years. If Kim is a success on top of John Patterson earning the fifth slot in camp, it will make it that much easier to return Miguel Bautista to the pen to help shore up that pen.
If there's a problem with their off-season calculations, it's who they're counting on. Quinton McCracken and Danny Bautista in right? Thankfully, they still have David Dellucci to turn to, in the same way that they have Counsell to splice in once Matt Williams's death rattle drowns out the Jumbotron. But even more dangerous is relying too heavily on Elmer Dessens to step in and be a quality third starter. On the basis of the 2002 season alone, it makes sense, but considering Dessens' more modest past and the open question of whether or not he'll be an asset without Don Gullett to fix him, acquiring him represents a major risk. Worse yet, they traded for him when his value was at its highest, and getting him cost them their only hitter at first likely to hit better than league average. If Dessens reverts to merely adequate, that'll leave them merely adequate in two more places, and without much to trade to get better than that.
Signed SS/3B-R Jose Hernandez, UT-R Chris Stynes, and RHP Steve Reed to one-year contracts, and 2B-R Ron Belliard, RHPs Rich Garces, Dan Miceli, and Brad Clontz, and LHPs Chris Michalak and Darren Oliver to minor league contracts.
Traded for C-R Charles Johnson, CF-R Preston Wilson, INF-R Pablo Ozuna, and LHP Vic Darensbourg (from the Marlins, for LHP Mike Hampton and CF-L Juan Pierre), RHP Nelson Cruz (from the Astros, for Rule 5 pick CF-L Victor Hall), and OF-L Luke Allen (from the Dodgers, for OF/2B-R Jason Romano).
Picked up their 2003 option on RHP Todd Jones.
Claimed 1B/3B/OF-R Kevin Eberwein off of waivers (from the Padres).
As you'll almost always find in a Dan O'Dowd winter, there are moves here that make you think he's a sharp guy, and give you hope for the future. The danger with O'Dowd unfortunately remains the same: just as Thomas Kuhn points out in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that even "data" or scientific fact has transitory value, an O'Dowd move that seems like a good idea in theory can blow up and become another disaster in relatively short order. On paper, the sum of the moves should add up to a significantly improved lineup, while creating opportunities in the rotation.
For example, signing Jose Hernandez cheaply is a great move. It would be an even better move if he was going to play short, or if it was meant as a spur with which to pressure Juan Uribe to improve. Should Uribe have an unimpressive camp, the Rox could plug Hernandez in at short, put a platoon of Greg Norton and Chris Stynes at third, and try to score runs everywhere they play. The danger is that they could just plug in Uribe at short come what may, and play Hernandez at third, keep Stynes on the bench with Norton, and make do with Brent Butler or Pablo Ozuna at second for perceived defensive issues. But yet, it isn't hard to let yourself think about the decision to take a chance on Ron Belliard and what Belliard might have been. Think of an infield with Belliard at second, Hernandez at short, Norton and Stynes at third, and the kinds of runs they'd put up if things worked out, and you're in the O'Dowd zone, where good ideas do happen, they just don't necessarily come back to the real world.
At least there's the Marlin mugging, where the Rockies finally got to send Mike Hampton far away, and got something for their trouble. Charles Johnson will not be the All-Star of 2000, but he is a significant upgrade on screwing around with the likes of Sandy Alomar or Gary Bennett. Better yet, Preston Wilson is an outstanding upgrade on futzing around with the theoretically stimulating but realistically unimportant issue of whether or not Juan Pierre has value. Then you've got the benefit of an outfield where Wilson and Larry Walker are the stars, with Jay Payton reduced to having to fight for a job with Gabe Kapler, and with Luke Allen looking like a nice fifth outfielder, and you can keep that same buzz going. Of course, all of that on top of acquiring Charles Johnson does mean that erstwhile catcher or left fielder Ben Petrick seems to serve no purpose beyond trade bait.
I guess if there's a downside, it's deleting Mike Hampton from the rotation. No, wait, that would be a bad thing if they could find someone who was guaranteed to pitch worse than Hampton. However, almost anybody that the Rockies will be looking at in camp-probably a rotation of Jason Jennings, Dennys Neagle and Stark, Aaron Cook, and Shawn Chacon or Cory Vance or Jason Young-can't make the claim with 100% confidence that they can sink to that level. So it's all copacetic.
The bullpen also seems to have shaped up nicely, with platoon situational stars like Steve Reed and Vic Darensbourg joining Jose Jimenez and Justin Speier in what might make a pretty nice pen. Todd Jones carries a bigger rep than his performance justifies, and Nelson Cruz has the makings of a disaster, but they're the less important working parts. Man, this is some good stuff: I see, I believe.
Signed 1B-L Fred McGriff to a one-year contract, and RHPs Calvin Maduro and Rodney Myers, LHPs Wilson Alvarez, Pedro Borbon, Troy Brohawn, and Yorkis Perez, CF-R Calvin Murray, 2B-B Quilvio Veras, UT-R Terry Shumpert, INF-B Chris Clapinski, and 1B-R Ron Coomer to minor league contracts.
Traded for C-B Todd Hundley and OF-R Chad Hermansen (from the Cubs, for 1B-R Eric Karros and 2B-R Mark Grudzielanek), OF-L Daryle Ward (from the Astros, for RHP Ruddy Lugo), and OF/2B-R Jason Romano (from the Rockies, for OF-L Luke Allen).
There's a general readiness on the part of all of us active or former Strat players to see ways in which a fellow Strat-O-Matic veteran might turn players into useful bit parts. After all, the board game does teach how to use a player for his strengths, and in the real world, Jim Tracy has already established a reputation as one of the game's best managers when it comes to taking advantage of a player's strengths. Which is why trading Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek to acquire Chad Hermansen, while accepting Todd Hundley's contract as the penalty…well, it almost adds up. I mean, Karros and Grudz are pretty much done as far as being useful regulars, they don't play other positions, and their combined cost for 2003 was downright punitive. So of course it makes sense to eradicate the chaff, acquire a potentially nifty replacement for Marquis Grissom for your center field platoon, and accept as a penalty the world's most expensive backup catcher for the next two years. I mean, you do want to win, don't you? And cutting Karros and Grudz would have made it financially difficult to afford Fred McGriff, and instead, the Dodgers got to spread the total expense of what it would have taken to cut or use the deadly duo over two years by accepting Hundley's turkey deal. It pretty much works, in a NBA-salary cap gymnastics sort of way. And heck, if Hermansen doesn't work out, they hauled in Calvin Murray to potentially platoon with Dave Roberts, at which point they still derived the benefit of spreading the expense of cutting Karros and Grudz over two years instead of one, with that ever-so-slight chance that Hundley might actually be useful. If they cut Hundley because he can't beat out Dave Ross, the Dodgers still wind up with roster spots and playing time to commit to more useful players, and perhaps even get the expense of paying Ross covered should somebody else make the mistake of picking up Hundley.
There are other similarly neat maneuvers. Daryle Ward is a great player to take a flyer on, on the off chance that 2002 was merely a disappointing blip, and that he can get back to being a power-hitting outfielder instead of a guy who struggled to slug over .420 in [Your Non-carbonated Beverage Here!] Park. He also provides worthwhile insurance for Fred McGriff and Brian Jordan in case either breaks down, something you have to worry about with the over-35 set. I suppose signing McGriff is noteworthy as well, in that he's supposed to be reliable, but he's also 39 and coming to Chavez Ravine. It's definitely worth replacing Karros with McGriff, but signing him also made getting a bit of insurance like Ward especially necessary.
Then there are the usual roster tchotchkes, which could be assets in Tracy's hands. Everyone's buzzing about Joe Thurston as the second baseman of the future, but the Dodgers have quietly hedged their bets there as well. Signing Quilvio Veras is a nice bit of insurance in case Thurston doesn't earn the job, and signing Terry Shumpert gives Thurston a potential veteran platoon partner in case he does. Nabbing Jason Romano as another fallback position was another multiple redundancy that could come in handy, and if everyone else works out, they can work on turning Romano into an outfielder for keeps. Chris Clapinski can play all four positions in the infield and switch-hit, so he's a handy last man on the bench in case the rest of the roster shakes down where they'd need that, and Ron Coomer might end up sticking around as a spot starter for McGriff and/or Ward against tough lefties. The Dodgers don't need to use everybody as much as Dan Evans simply needed to provide Tracy with enough choices that he can tailor his roster to his needs. On that level, mission accomplished.
Traded for 1B-L Erubiel Durazo (from the Snakes, in the four-team deal where they sent cash to the Diamondbacks and RHP Jason Arnold to the Blue Jays), RHPs Keith Foulke and Joe Valentine and C-L Mark Johnson (from the White Sox, with cash, for RHP Billy Koch, LHP Neal Cotts, and OF-R Daylan Holt), RHP Jeremy Fikac (from the Padres, for a PTBNL or cash), INF-L Mike Rouse and RHP Chris Mowday (from the Blue Jays, for RHP Cory Lidle), and a PTBNL (from the Blue Jays, for OF-L John-Ford Griffin).
Purchased RHP Roy Smith (from the Indians).
Picked up their option on 1B-L Scott Hatteberg.
Avoided arbitration with Durazo, signing him to a one-year contract.
Named Ken Macha manager.
We're usually quick to credit Billy Beane and then some, but let's play devil's advocate for a bit, even if I was flat-out wrong about Scott Hatteberg's upside last year and should know better by now. Beane may have finally speared his white whale and hauled in Erubiel Durazo, but given Durazo's injury history, isn't there a healthy bit of risk? As much as the A's have a wealth of promising arms in the system, did it really have to involve giving up Jason Arnold? Is Terrence Long going to hit well enough to justify his new employment as a left fielder? Will Chris Singleton do anything to justify his presence on the roster?
In short, it's easy to see ways in which things could get dicey. I'm always reluctant to get too excited about a player who has trouble staying healthy enough to maintain his nifty small sample-size numbers over a full season, with this winter's signing of Mitch Meluskey providing a solid case in point that forecasting and expectations don't always need to go hand in hand. So while it's easy to look at Durazo's career numbers (.278/.390/.528), it's also important to remember that he could just be Unser Choe Hauser for a new city and generation of A's fans. Yes, given the track record, you can easily expect Durazo to have the kind of year that Beane expects over a full season, but I can't help but wonder if this is a case where some necessary care for what you wish for should be exercised.
By contrast, I'm pretty bullish on the White Sox deal. Keith Foulke's the better reliever between him and Billy Koch, and after the season, he'll either be cashed in for draft picks or happy to sign for less to stick around on an organization where winning is the organizing principle. And if Foulke walks, well, as this organization knows, quality relief pitching can be beaten out of the bushes (see Gary Huckabay's ESPN Hot Stove Heater for more on this subject), and closing is just a job description, not a talent in itself. Then there's Mark Johnson, a player whose skills set was never really appreciated by the Sox. Freed to a team that will love his glovework and encourage his better instincts at the plate, there's a good chance that Johnson could not merely seize half or more of the playing time away from Ramon Hernandez, he could become a minor offensive asset, posting a .350 OBP from the ninth slot. Then you toss in a solid relief arm in Joe Valentine, and it makes for a nifty package to have acquired for a famous bit of facial hair and attitude, an intriguing live-armed lefty, and a college-experienced outfielder who's already 24 and not yet a success above A-ball.
There is still the whole outfield situation, and no matter how fondly I think back on the '82 Brewers or the '84 Tigers and the virtues of having an infield that outpowers your outfield, at the end of the day, the A's have a problem. Long is in danger of becoming an untradeable scar in left - if he doesn't hit, he's worthless, and last year, he didn't hit. Hell, he didn't really hit too well in 2001 either. It's interesting to see Billy McMillon come back, because if there's one thing McMillon always could do, it was hit. But at 31, I'm a little hesitant to tout him as an easy plug-and-play option once Long flops. At least Adam Piatt is still around, and he might be the in-season solution if the right deal doesn't come along. Similarly, Singleton doesn't look too good as a temporary option in center, but the A's also drafted Rontrez Johnson in Rule 5, and he might stick given their needs. That's about as sunny as you can get, because at the end of the day, Beane is really in danger of having to do some last-minute shopping to get an outfielder or two between now and the end of camp (which is after the cockamamie season opener on the other side of the Pacific, but that's a rant for another day).
The other notes are relatively minor. The obvious ease with which Beane and J.P. Ricciardi can deal with one another is clear, as they do each other small favors, like putting Cory Lidle where's he's needed as opposed to where he wasn't wanted. Art Howe gets the long-term contract he always wanted, and Oakland gets the new manager they've been quietly wanting for a while. Hauling in both Eddie Yarnall and John Halama gives the A's four interesting options for the last two slots in the rotation. Yarnall had a good year in Japan, Halama's been a consistently useful swingman, Ted Lilly's useful but also seems to get nicked up at the wrong times, and Aaron Harang is talented but his future no longer has to be right now. Then you can bring up the people who might be in the picture by the end of the season: Rich Harden, John Rheinecker, or Mike Wood, solid options all.
Re-signed RHP Brian Tollberg to a minor league contract.
Signed RHP Jay Witasick to a two-year contract, and RHPs Jaret Wright and Francisco Cordova, LHP Jesse Orosco, PH-L Dave Hansen, INF-R Mark Loretta, and C-R Gary Bennett to one-year contracts, and OF-L Brady Anderson, 2B-L Keith Lockhart, 2B-R Homer Bush, and RHP Charles Nagy to minor league contracts.
Avoided arbitration with LHP Kevin Walker, signing him to a one-year contract.
The happiest interpretation of this winter's events is that they're going to let Mark Loretta play second, leave Ramon Vazquez at short, and let an awful lot of bad, overdone veterans ride into the sunset before they spring an April Fool's roster on unsuspecting Pad people. Brady Anderson? Keith Lockhart? Homer Bush? Gary Bennett? Both Charles Nagy and Jaret Wright? All of them? What sort of cruel joke is this? Fans at Spring Training games should demand a refund if all of those guys play in a single game. If the Pads suffered enough injuries that they'd have to play them in a regulation game, that would border on a sign of the Apocalypse. At least the Pads are saying they're thinking of Wright as a reliever, but even then, there's no point on counting on him.
The positive, well, let's just say interesting, move was bringing back Francisco Cordova, and to a lesser extent Dave Hansen and Jesse Orosco. To be fair, Bush might even have value as a platoon partner for Vazquez, with Loretta flipping between second and short to keep Bush from reprising his Raffy Ramirez impression at short. Cordova has missed the past two and a half years, but in the late '90s, he was as close as the Pirates got to having their own Mario Soto, a great starter laboring in ignominious surroundings. It would be silly to count on him but you have to wish him well, and he did pass a physical. And not too insignificantly, Cordova (as well as the newly-acquired shortstop, Luis Cruz) is Mexican, and doing something to cater to the local scene makes sense if it also works in a baseball sense.
On another positive note, Hansen and Orosco are two of the finest tradesmen in the game, arguably the game's best pinch-hitter today and best situational lefty ever, and you sort of like seeing them around. Hansen of course, could have been more than just a great pinch-hitter, but that's sort of like remembering that there was once a time when guys like Greg Gross or Steve Braun were flat-out good players, and not merely the famous pinch-hitters they became.
The trade with the Cardinals was an unfortunate arbitration-driven decision. That the Pads flipped Tomko, a starter with at least some value, for only Luther Hackman does Kevin Towers' reputation as a GM no favors. There are some scouts who swear Hackman's on the verge of being something more than a mop-up man. I'm no scout, but I don't see it. He wasn't effective as a starter or a reliever with the Cardinals last season, he put people on base and didn't do well from the stretch, and there's no 'out' pitch that he has that leaves people shaking their heads.
Re-signed LHP Scott Eyre.
Signed 3B-R Edgardo Alfonzo to a four-year contract, 2B-B Ray Durham to a three-year contract, OF-R Marquis Grissom to a two-year contract, OF-B Jose Cruz Jr. to a one-year contract, and 1B-R Andres Galarraga to a minor league contract.
Avoided arbitration with Moss, signing him to a one-year contract.
Claimed SS/2B-B Neifi Perez off of waivers (from the Royals), and signed him to a two-year contract.
Hauled Felipe Alou out of semi-retirement to manage.
Well, there's mostly good news here, with some potentially troubling commitments to players who will rival J.T. Snow for relative worthlessness within the Giants' lineup. Certainly, Brian Sabean has done a great job of hauling in A-list talent to support Barry Bonds and replace Jeff Kent. Edgardo Alfonzo and Ray Durham are two of the more underrated offensive stars in the game today, and Jose Cruz Jr. is an even better one-year risk than Reggie Sanders was. Add in a reasonable tradeoff in terms of cost-cutting and risk in swapping Russ Ortiz to the Braves, and it looks like a pretty good winter… except…
Sometimes, organizational flexibility is a good thing, and sometimes too much of it can be a paralyzing nuisance. Is Durham a second baseman or not? Is Edgardo Alfonzo a third baseman or not? Will Neifi Perez or Marquis Grissom be regulars? Or Pedro Feliz? For all of the blather about Ray Durham's glove, he simply hasn't been that bad at second. I mean, it isn't like he's been Craig Biggio of late, and if the Giants could live with Jeff Kent's balance of skills, they should be more than ready to live with Durham at his best position instead of trying to shunt him off to center. Similarly, Edgardo Alfonzo's days at second should be considered over, but that doesn't mean he can't be what the Giants need at third. The danger is that they could do something wacky, like play Alfonzo at second, Durham in the outfield, Feliz at third, and Neifi Perez far too often. With Cruz on hand, Grissom will hopefully see himself limited to center, with Alfonzo staying at third and Durham at second, and Perez happily stranded on the bench. That still doesn't explain why the Giants claimed Perez in the first place, unless they're hoping to somehow con the Brewers or D-Rays or some other similarly shortstop-less team into taking him for something of value. A utility infielder making seven figures for being a one-tool player-in Perez's case, his glove-borders on criminal excess.
However, all in all, it was a solid winter. The Big Cat is close to done, but he isn't the worst warm body to haul in as a potential platoon partner for Snow and/or Damon Minor (should they come to their senses). If they re-institute the offense-defensive dual purpose platoon in center, sitting Grissom against right-handers so that Marvin Benard gets starts in right field (with Cruz Jr. in center), they could once again have the strongest lineup in the game. If they play Grissom every day, and let Neifi Perez somehow get 300 at-bats, Sabean or Felipe Alou might wind up ranked pretty high in MVP voting on the Diamondbacks or Dodgers.
Losing Dusty Baker is no doubt earth-shattering, but there was enough wonder in the Bay Area about whether or not Baker's virtues were as overrated as his shortcomings were overlooked. The concern here is whether or not Alou is ready to go as the new, old skipper, or if he's still as spent as he looked at the tail end of his days in Montreal. Admittedly, working in a real ballpark for a real team owned by a real owner should all be rejuvenating. Certainly, hiring Alou should nip in the bud any rumblings in the clubhouse about whether or not the new guy is up to snuff, since it isn't like Sabean promoted somebody like Mike Ferraro or Jim Davenport, some minor league manager or organizational lifer who might have worked his way to getting his shot, but who the players would have a hard time identifying, and who could easily be scapegoated. Sabean deserves a lot of credit here for political subtlety.
Finally, in terms of sabermetric orthodoxy, I know it's appropriate to hem and haw over Damian Moss and wonder about this deal. Nevertheless, let's keep the positives in mind: he is coming over to Pac Bell, he should have a great lineup scoring runs for him, and Alou was usually a pretty solid handler of pitchers back in the day.
Signed 1B-R Greg Colbrunn to a two-year contract, 1B/RF-L John Mabry to a one year contract with a club option for 2004, and RHP Jamey Wright, LHP Norm Charlton, and C-R Pat Borders to minor league contracts.
Traded for CF-B Randy Winn (from the Devil Rays, for Manager Lou Piniella and INF-R Antonio Perez).
Claimed LHP Steve Kent on waivers.
This was a spectacularly unambitious winter, even by Pat Gillick's modest standards. True, the big move was to send Lou Piniella some place where he'll have to remember that his reputation as a franchise rebuilder has more to do with the opportunities that had been built up for him to inherit in Cincinnati and Seattle than with his special volcanic magic. As acquisitions go, Greg Colbrunn, Jamey Wright, Randy Winn, and John Mabry aren't the stuff dreams are made of. Admittedly, I'm interested to see what will come of Bryan Price getting a chance to work with Wright.
Unfortunately, that's about as good as it gets. Colbrunn is an overpaid bit of insurance for Edgar and Olerud, and in the equivalent of about four big league seasons, Winn has one useful year to his name. Even more troubling was the decision to give Dan Wilson a two-year extension, but he was coming off of what you might interpret as his career year (if you translate the whole thing, as you can see on his player card), and he's remained a useful defender. While he's not a lot of people's idea of an ideal catcher, he isn't Joe Girardi or Mike Matheny or Henry Blanco or a Molina either. But all in all, these are moves that seem to be devoted to a tentative ambition to maintain as much of the status quo as possible, without acknowledging that that's only good for third place in a division where the Rangers can't be quite so disappointing forever.
Signed CF-R Doug Glanville, LHP Aaron Fultz, and RHPs Ismael Valdes, John Thomson, Uggy Urbina and Esteban Yan to one-year contracts, and RHP Rudy Seanez, C-B Chad Kreuter, DH-B Ruben Sierra, and CF-R Ryan Christenson to minor league contracts.
Avoided arbitration with RHP Francisco Cordero, signing him to a one-year contract.
Hired Buck Showalter to manage.
To their credit, rather than weep over expenses past, it was another jolly John Hart Christmas, with all sorts of presents under the tree. So of course there's all sorts of movement, and some of it looks smart, and some of it looks inspired, and some of it seems just half-crazed rapaciousness for its own sake. However, this was definitely more of a Wal-Mart winter for the Rangers, with some volume shopping to make up for the absence of any big-ticket items.
The major move of the winter, beyond all others, was to bring in Buck Showalter. Showalter has unmatched credentials among today's managers for making his organization better. While you might be concerned that a situation where Showalter, Hart, Grady Fuson, and Tom Hicks could create a front office with too many chiefs and not enough Indians, fortunately both Showalter and Fuson have been able to play well with others on other playgrounds. If anyone is the supernumerary here, increasingly, it's Hart. His three-year mandate is already beginning to seep away, leaving the Rangers still wondering if they'll have what it takes to catch the Mariners, let alone Oakland or Anaheim, in the next year or two.
The biggest news is the loss of Pudge Rodriguez, and the decision to acquire Einar Diaz as his replacement behind the plate. The trade was expensive in terms of talent, with the Rangers arguably giving up the two best players out of four in the deal to get the one who can catch. Worse yet, despite being one of the worse major league regulars behind the plate, Diaz is locked in to make nearly $5 million over the next two years, with more due if his 2005 option gets picked up. Fortunately, that decision has already been hedged by retaining Todd Greene and bringing in Chad Kreuter. Diaz is one of Hart's creatures from Cleveland, so undoubtedly he'll get handed the lion's share of playing time, but at least the Rangers have options. If Showalter decides he has an active preference for Greene or Kreuter, the resulting power struggle would be an interesting test of strength.
The other major move was to re-stock the rotation, waving goodbye to Kenny Rogers in particular. I've been a long-time booster of John Thomson, but somehow, I'm less excited about seeing him in a Rangers uniform than if he wound up almost anywhere else. He did not pitch particularly well last year, not even in Shea, but boarding the train wreck that the Mets were in the process of becoming probably wasn't a huge help. Bringing Ismael Valdes back makes plenty of sense, since he's still one of the better bargains around because of a curiously if not unjustly bad rep around the game. Behind Park, Valdes, and Thomson, that leaves another pair of slots to fill, and Showalter will have a half-dozen bodies to choose from: Joaquin Benoit, Rob Bell, Doug Davis, Ryan Drese, Colby Lewis, and perhaps Ben Kozlowski (the pilfered prize of a deal from last spring with the Braves). Bell and Davis aren't too likely, and Kozlowski would have to have a great camp while almost everyone else flopped to win a job for Opening Day, so you have to think it really boils down to Benoit, Lewis, and Drese for those two slots. Considering that situation, don't be too surprised if the Rangers bring in one more veteran on an NRI deal in the next week or two.
The horrific item of this winter has been the disappearance of so many of the team's outfield options, leaving Juan Gonzalez almost certainly having to play regularly in right, and Doug Glanville a lock to make the team and get at least a couple of hundred at-bats as the team's fourth outfielder. The other ghastly option is to let Ruben Sierra play some in the outfield, but that's just another way of helping you overlook the risks of playing Juango in right every day. The off-season buzz is that Carl Everett will be in shape, making him a legitimate center fielder again, which goes a long way toward keeping the Glanville menace on the bench. As is, with the team's two top prospects, Hank Blalock and Mark Texeira, being third basemen, the Rangers will probably end up letting one of them DH a bunch. The Rangers might want to skip ahead, have one of them start working out as a right fielder in Spring Training, and simply avoid Sierra before they do something rash, like putting him on the 40-man roster.
The final item of note would probably be signing Uggy Urbina to front a new bullpen that should only be counting on Francisco Cordero, Todd Van Poppel, and Jay Powell as holdovers. Esteban Yan has generally been a bad risk, and Urbina remains a health risk. Aaron Fultz defies explanation, unless failure in preseason, postseason, and season season is some sort of continued employment requirement for bad lefties. I don't really see any of this as a solution to their bullpen problems, which if no longer catastrophic, still border on epic.
Chris Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.