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ANAHEIM ANGELS

Activated RHP Jack McDowell and C Charlie O’Brien from the
DL; recalled LHP Mike Holtz from Edmonton; optioned C Bret
Hemphill
and LHPs Scott Schoeneweis and Jarrod Washburn
to Edmonton; released UT Tim Unroe. [7/23]

It’s still fashionable to talk about how the Angels maybe, kinda, sorta
could just almost get back into contention. While it’s not likely, it’s
within the realm of statistical possibility, which must be enough to get
Disneycrats humming. After all, they just got ex-famous person Jack
McDowell back! Angela Lansbury and Kurt Russell aren’t far behind, so buck up!

Yes, Black Jack had a nice comeback start, but he struggled in his rehab
work, and I’m not optimistic that he’s going to get back to where he was in
the early ’90s. Even then, you’ve still got Ken Hill and Tim Belcher to
scuffle around with, and remember, tenure doesn’t correlate with quality.
The Angels have gotten their best pitching out of Omar Olivares and Steve
Sparks, and Sparks will probably lose his rotation spot to Belcher once he
comes off of the DL.

In the meantime, Schoeneweis and Washburn can use the time starting for
Edmonton. They’re hoping to be throw-ins in pointless trades that help Bill
Bavasi look busy, or getting busy gearing up to become part of the next
good Angel rotation.

Charlie O’Brien does nothing to overcome the Walbeck Problem at the bottom
of the order.


ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Placed OF David Dellucci on the 60-day DL (wrist condition);
purchased the contract of 1B Erubiel Durazo from Tucson. [7/25]

Dellucci’s wrist condition is frightening, potentially career-ending, and I
hope he can make it through the surgery and resume his career in 2000.
Losing him weakens the Snakes’ options for getting Andy Fox off of
shortstop or Tony Womack out of the outfield and the leadoff slot.

Durazo has been one of the season’s biggest surprises in all of organized
baseball, having hit .404/.489/.703 with 24 home runs between El Paso and
Tucson. With Travis Lee continuing to struggle, Durazo may nab a good
amount of playing time at first base down the stretch, while giving the
outfield an occasional good try. Even though he’s been playing in good
hitters’ parks and leagues, he looks like the real deal as a hitter, having
already made huge strides in this, his first season out of the Mexican League.


ATLANTA BRAVES

Placed LHP Odalis Perez on the 15-day DL (sprained elbow); recalled
LHP Micah Bowie from Richmond. [7/23]

Activated RHP John Smoltz from the 15-day DL; designated RHP John
Hudek
for assignment. [7/24]

Smoltz is back, and hopefully not too soon. Javy Lopez reinjured himself
rushing back from his knee injury, and it cost him his season.

The margin for error as far as the division title is concerned suddenly no
longer exists. The Braves can probably still afford to ride out the
injuries; the difference between the wild card and the division title is
almost meaningless, and pushing injured players only to lose them for the
playoffs is the worst of all possibilities.

Perez did a lot to work his way out of the rotation: a 6.00 ERA, 153
baserunners in only 92 innings, not to mention twelve home runs allowed.
The torn elbow ligament will keep him out for about a year. Bruce Chen
should get the first crack at the fifth slot, assuming they don’t trade him
for a first baseman or outfielder down the stretch. If not, then Bowie may
get a start or two down the stretch.

Hudek returned to the muck he arose from, but don’t be surprised if
something silly like a trade to the Mariners happens. He’s a veteran, after
all.


BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Announced that C Lenny Webster cleared waivers. [7/23]


BOSTON RED SOX

Placed RHP Pedro Martinez on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/19
(shoulder soreness); activated LHP Mark Guthrie from the DL. [7/24]

Here it is, the killing blow. It’s one thing to hope against hope that the
Blue Jays keep doing stupid things, like wasting four or five roster spots,
or not playing Willie Greene. But that’s out of Boston’s control, and it
looks like the Blue Jays are simply too good to be held back by poor roster
and player usage decisions.

Now, the Red Sox have lost the one player they have no prayer of replacing,
and the alternatives have all struggled. Pat Rapp and Mark Portugal have
been awful all year long, and Jin Ho Cho has several adjustments to make.
Martinez is the difference between a team struggling to reach .500 and a
borderline wild-card team, and if he misses more than two starts, the Sox
are dead.


CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Recalled RHP John Snyder from Charlotte; optioned RHP Joe
Davenport
to Charlotte. [7/23]

Now that Snyder is back, the Sox claim they’re going to stick with the same
rotation with which they opened the season. I don’t take that too
seriously; while Navarro may be untradeable, Baldwin has basically handed
his rotation spot over to the first available claimant. Kevin Beirne and
Carlos Castillo have both had their problems, which means Aaron Myette, Pat
Daneker, Kip Wells or even relative dark horse Carlos Chantres are the next
logical candidates.

Snyder claims his problems were simply mechanical, but there’s more to it
than that: he’s basically a finesse guy, and the league caught up to him.
If he’s made the adjustments he needs to make, the Sox can count on him. If
not, there’s no shortage of guys above A-ball to take the job in camp next
spring.


CLEVELAND INDIANS

Recalled 3B Russell Branyan from Buffalo; optioned SS John
McDonald
to Buffalo. [7/23]

The third base situation needed a more potentially lasting solution than
just playing Enrique Wilson every day, so I’m strangely pleased by the idea
that John Hart decided to give Branyan the call. As reader Patrick Matthews
has pointed out, Branyan is already one of the all-time greats of what us
Rob Deer fans like to call the "Three True Outcomes.": home runs,
walks, and strikeouts. Those things are just about Branyan’s entire game.
In Buffalo this year, he hit .217/.301/.496, with 29 home runs, 168
strikeouts and 38 walks in 389 plate appearances. That means he’s doing one
of those three things in just over 60% of his ups, which is both amazing
and amusing.

Branyan can actually play third base, but his offensive numbers are going
to take a certain kind of manager to accept. Jeff Datz, Branyan’s manager
two of the last three years, isn’t that manager, but Mike Hargrove might
be. There were similar concerns about Dean Palmer when he first came up,
and while Branyan’s probably going to be a better fielder than Palmer, he
has all of Palmer’s offensive strengths and weaknesses, only moreso.
Branyan’s as extreme a player as you’ll ever see, and it will be
interesting to see if working regularly with hitting guru Charlie Manuel
will get his swing under control so that he can harness his eye-popping
power. If he does, the Tribe isn’t going to need Travis Fryman.


DETROIT TIGERS

Placed OF Bobby Higginson on the 15-day DL (sprained toe); recalled
DH Gabe Alvarez from Toledo. [7/24]

Higginson’s disappointing season will have a month missing from it, which
won’t hurt anyone’s feelings, but will kill off any chances of trading him
down the stretch. What his enforced absence will do for the Tigers is give
them an opportunity to take a good long look at Karim Garcia, and see if
there’s something that can be done to get him back on track.

Meanwhile, calling up Gabe Alvarez should be a good thing for a team that
needs all the offensive help it can get. Alvarez was hitting well at Toledo
(.289/.376/.523, with 21 home runs), but he’s a danger to himself and
others in the field. It may seem strange to think of a 25-year-old as a
career DH in the making, but it’s probably best for him, not to mention it
has the added benefit of giving the Tigers one more reason not to have
Gregg Jefferies in the lineup.


FLORIDA MARLINS

Acquired RHPs Jason Grilli and Nathan Bump from the Giants
for RHP Livan Hernandez; assigned Grilli to Calgary and Bump to
Portland (Double-A). [7/24]

Dave Dombrowski pulls off another steal. Hernandez may be damaged goods,
and the nicest thing you can say about how he was pitching for the Fish was
that his performance was indifferent. Grilli and Bump are two well-regarded
prospects who should get every opportunity to crack the Fish at some point
in 2000. Despite good heat and a curve, Grilli has still had the
almost-inevitable problems with the PCL (a 5.54 ERA and 22 home runs
allowed in 100 2/3 innings). It might be worthwhile to bring him up and
toss him into long relief, where he can avoid the head-, heart- and
arm-aches of high-scoring PCL games, while hopefully learning a thing or
two about pitching in the majors.

Bump’s a 1998 first-rounder out of Penn State with decent stuff and better
command; despite a 4-10 record, he’d already put up a 3.31 ERA. In
Hernandez’s absence, the Fish will put fellow Cuban Vlad Nunez into the
rotation. Having already cut his teeth in relief for much of the last two
years, he may be primed to have a good stretch run in the rotation, if he’s
used carefully.


MONTREAL EXPOS

Activated CF Manny Martinez from the DL; optioned OF Terry Jones to Ottawa.
[7/23]

Martinez’s return is your basic addition-by-subtraction, because a little
bit of Terry Jones is a little bit too much.


NEW YORK METS

Acquired LHP Kenny Rogers from the Athletics for OF Terrence
Long
and LHP Leoner Vasquez. [7/23]

Optioned LHP Rigo Beltran to Norfolk. [7/25]

Steve Phillips turns a neat trick, taking one of the worst farm systems in
baseball and swiping the best available left-handed starter on the market.
And he did it without having to give up either of his good prospects, Alex
Escobar and Octavio Dotel.

New York bogeyman mania aside, this is a great pickup for the Mets. With
the Big Cat and Javy Lopez gone for the Braves, Rogers could be very
effective in head-to-head games against them. Bobby Valentine is going to
return to the silliness of the six-man rotation, mostly because he can’t
bear telling either Masato Yoshii or Orel Hershiser that both of them need
to step aside for Dotel from this point on.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Acquired OF Terrence Long and LHP Leoner Vasquez from the
Mets for LHP Kenny Rogers; recalled RHP Luis Vizcaino from
Midland (Double-A). [7/23]

Activated RHP T.J. Mathews from the DL; purchased the contract of
LHP Tim Kubinski from Vancouver; placed RHP Tim Worrell on
the 15-day DL (strained rib cage); optioned RHP Luis Vizcaino to
Midland (Double-A). [7/24]

As one baseball insider put it, whoever thought up the Rogers deal from the
A’s side finished third on "Jeopardy" behind the turnip and the
box of rocks. If this move was intended to help them contend, it doesn’t.
If this move was intended to help them in the future, it may not, because
Long has nothing on Mario Encarnacion as center field prospects go. Worse
yet, trading Rogers for something you probably don’t need is a wasted
opportunity to really help the organization into the future.

Long may not work out as a center fielder, at which point he’s not much use
to this team. He has exactly one season in which he demonstrated any
patience whatsoever, and it isn’t this one (23 walks in 329 PA). While he
has hit reasonably well so far (.326/.374/.487), and while the A’s are
well-known for their emphasis on plate discipline in player development, it
would take an awful lot of organizational arrogance to believe they can
turn Long into a great hitter.

As for Leoner Vasquez, while they say he throws hard, he’s a 26-year old
man in Double-A who hasn’t been dominant. I’m not enthusiastic. Even if
Long and Vazquez work out–no sure thing for either of them–this has to be
considered an opportunity lost. The A’s had been talking to the Mets for so
long about Rogers and Dotel that this looks like the Mets took Dotel off
the table, knowing the A’s would make the deal rather than walk away. The
salt in the wound for A’s fans? The A’s don’t even get the draft pick they
would have gotten when Rogers left as a free agent after the season. As
much as they knew he was going to leave and felt they had to get something
for him, this package just wasn’t worth it.


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Recalled LHP Anthony Shumaker from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; optioned C
Bobby Estalella to Scranton. [7/23]

Received LHP Scott Aldred as the PTBNL in Tuesday’s trade with the
Devil Rays; optioned LHP Anthony Shumaker to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre;
designated RHP Joe Grahe for assignment. [7/24]

Much of this is doubleheader-induced reshuffling. Shumaker has struggled
badly this season as his soft offerings have gotten mauled at Scranton
(6.34 ERA, 12 home runs allowed in 55 1/3 innings). But he gave the
Phillies a good start Friday, enough to earn another cup of coffee in
September.

If I’m a Phillies phan, I’m not enthusiastic about Scott Aldred as the big
stretch drive pickup to replace Yorkis Perez for the rest of the year.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Acquired Cs Joe Oliver and Humberto Cota from the Devil Rays
for RF Jose Guillen and RHP Jeff Sparks; assigned Cota to
Hickory (A-ball). [7/23]

Placed INF Mike Benjamin on the 15-day DL (fractured finger);
purchased the contract of INF Dale Sveum from Nashville; transferred
OF Turner Ward from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/24]

The Pirates pay the price for…well, what exactly? Bad luck? Lack of
foresight? They could have had a minor league veteran catcher with some
major league experience waiting in Triple-A, ready in case disaster struck.
But wait, they have exactly that kind of guy in Tim Laker. So it isn’t lack
of foresight or a failure to sign a good minor-league free agent. Instead,
it’s a reluctance to play that guy, which leads to overpaying for a
journeyman like Oliver. On a team already saddled with aging mediocrities
like Al Martin, Ed Sprague, and now Dale Sveum, it’s hard to believe the
Pirates know what they’re doing. The best thing you can say about their
circumstance is that Cota has some talent, and in an organization almost
totally bereft of anything resembling a catcher prospect, that’s handy.
Losing Mike Benjamin forces them to take a look at Abraham Nunez, which is
certainly overdue.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Acquired RHP Livan Hernandez from the Marlins for RHPs Jason
Grilli
and Nathan Bump. [7/24]

In the great Bay Area Baseball Talent Shakedown, it’s hard to say who did
worse between the Giants and the A’s. As much as losing Rogers for a
middling outfield prospect doesn’t do anything for the A’s now or later,
getting Hernandez doesn’t help a struggling Giants rotation now. And since
he’s one of the most abused starting pitchers in baseball today, he’s
hardly a good bet to be someone the Giants can count on into the future.
Pitching in a great place for a pitcher and with a pretty good defensive
unit behind him, Hernandez had a 4.76 ERA, 161 hits allowed in 136 innings
and coughed up 17 long balls. I don’t like the odds that he’s going to
improve on those numbers in San Francisco.


TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Acquired RF Jose Guillen and RHP Jeff Sparks from the Pirates
for Cs Joe Oliver and Humberto Cota; assigned them to Durham.
[7/23]

Placed LHP Wilson Alvarez on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/18
(inflammation – tricep); recalled LHP Alan Newman from Durham. [7/24]

The Devil Rays sat on Joe Oliver until somebody had to come calling, and
despite what should have been ludicrous expectations as to what they should
have gotten for Oliver, they suckered somebody after all. Hats off to Chuck
LaMar and his gang.

At 23, Guillen is awfully young to be considered washed up by any standard.
Like many of the A-ball-to-the-majors rush jobs (Jon Nunnally, or Mike
Caruso), he’s demonstrated no learning curve whatsoever after some initial
success. Rehabilitating his career is something the Devil Rays can afford
to do, since they have plenty of time before they’re going to be anything
resembling a competitive team.

Wilson Alvarez is apparently only going to miss one more start with this
latest injury, which should mean another start for Bryan Rekar.


TEXAS RANGERS

Optioned RHP Danny Kolb to Oklahoma; recalled RHP Jonathan
Johnson
from Oklahoma. [7/24]

Johnson has struggled badly this season, and Esteban Loaiza really should
be the fifth starter, so this move defies description.