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ANAHEIM ANGELS

Assigned C Bryan Graves to their minor-league camp. [3/6]


ATLANTA BRAVES

MLB announced that it has fined the Braves $100,000 and banned them from
signing players from the Dominican Republic for six months as punishment
for signing SS Wilson Betemit before his 16th birthday. [2/25]

MLB announced that an arbitrator has reduced the suspension of LHP John
Rocker
from one month to two weeks during the regular season, rescinded
his spring training suspension, and cut the $20,000 fine to $500. [3/1]

Like Adrian Beltre before him, Betemit is now campaigning for instant
freedom. The Braves’ decision to sign him at 14 is even more reprehensible
than what the Dodgers did, so I can understand Czar Bud’s willingness to
impose a similar player-development-oriented penalty. But at some point,
Selig and Sandy Alderson are going to have to drop the hammer on an
organization or organizations.

The alternative? If they keep meting out punishments on an ad hoc basis,
with player grievances and lawsuits trickling in, the industry risks
suffering even more damage at the hands of judges and juries. To avoid
this, Selig and Alderson need to start creating an industry-wide solution
for the abuses of the past. While Alderson’s initial efforts to validate
player birthdates are a start at making sure that future abuses are nipped
in the bud, at some point the game is going to have create a sweeping
solution to address the existing cases. It’s going to be better for the
owners to evaluate how good Beltre’s (and Betemit’s, and who knows who
else’s) chances are of winning in front of arbitrators or in court, then
apply the expected result to all existing cases.

Because of the pressure from agents and players to use this opportunity to
score now on illegal contracts that many of them were willing parties to in
the first place, the most reasonable solution would be to free up every
case at once. Rather than let them dribble out one after the other, which
would only drive up what they can expect to get as free agents, baseball
needs to avoid fighting a drawn-out rear-guard action they’re going to lose.

The bigger problem is how to deter these mishaps in the future. While the
original Beltre decision was rightly hailed as a creative solution, the
cleverness with which the Dodgers have gone out of their way to undermine
it, both in spirit and in action, should leave the commissioner’s office
with no doubt that the penalties handed out to organizations need to be
even tougher. Trying to do it while not creating a situation that ends up
rewarding agents and players who participated in illegal signings in the
first place would be ideal, but will be tough to accomplish.

As for the Rocker situation, Czar Bud gets to wring his hands publicly
about the mean old union representing a mean old player. Away from the
public grandstanding, he can cynically accept a cutback on a punishment
that had zero chance of withstanding review. He scored his political points
in the court of public opinion and with the usual crowd of journalists more
than happy to sing his praises.

But this also highlights the problems of taking disciplinary action within
the game: Selig and the owners can punish Marge Schott a lot more easily
than they can John Rocker. That’s what unions can do, and while I don’t
believe it’s a bad thing, I don’t like the long-term ramifications of
whether or not Czar Bud can build a working relationship with the players
when he stoops to scoring this sort of "moral victory" just to
showcase Gene Orza as a union lackey defending a cracker’s right to be an
idiot in public. These are the same guys who will have to sit at a table
after 2001 and come up with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement: why the
need to irritate each other in a campaign to garner some fleeting media
support?


BOSTON RED SOX

Signed 1B Juan Carlos Diaz to a minor-league deal. [3/4]

Diaz was freed up because of another Dodgers-related signing abuse. The Red
Sox are pretty excited about nabbing him, talking about how he may show up
in a major-league uniform at some point this year. The hype is overstated.
Diaz has some pop, but not that much, and he didn’t hit that well in his
half-season at San Antonio last year. And when the Duke says someone might
turn up in a major-league uniform, while he no doubt means it, keep in mind
that heycled through 49 bodies on the major-league roster last year.
Anybody might be on the roster in any 72-hour period.


CHICAGO CUBS

Re-assigned RHP Ben Christensen and OF Raul Gonzalez to their
minor-league camp. [3/1]

Christensen’s increasingly unrepentant posture over his college thuggery
was a topic of discussion in Cubs camp early on. It’s becoming increasingly
apparent that he doesn’t give a dingo’s kidney over what he did to Anthony
Molina, making it all the more unfortunate that he wasn’t prosecuted for
assault.


CINCINNATI REDS

Re-assigned LHP Terrell Wade to their minor-league camp; granted RHP
Johnny Ruffin his request for his unconditional release. [3/6]

Sometimes Jim Bowden is too busy for his own good. Ruffin could be an asset
in the pen to several major-league teams (not just the ones who drag Greg
McMichael or Brian Williams into camp), but the Reds already have a strong
pen and no space. Signing Ruffin is generally a good idea, but if you’re
his agent, why pick a team like the Reds? If you’re Bowden, why bring him
in if you never really had the roster space to keep him?

This sort of situation came up last year, when the Reds had too many
interesting/semi-useful retread projects going on at once at Indianapolis,
leading to Mark Thompson’s request for release and his subsequent
resurfacing with the Cardinals. It’s one thing to be a smart enough GM to
nab these sorts of projects. But if you nab too many of them, you end up
breaking promises to somebody as far as whether or not they’re going to get
a real opportunity, and that’s the sort of thing that can end up
undermining your ability to keep bringing these sorts of guys in.


COLORADO ROCKIES

Assigned Cs Josh Bard, Blake Barthol and Mark
Strittmatter
; IFs Matt Holliday, Vick Brown and
Belvani Martinez; OFs Choo Freeman and Jody Gerut;
LHPs Josh Kalinowski and Tim Christman; and RHPs Jason
Jennings
, Shawn Chacon, Steve Shoemaker and Travis
Thompson
to their minor-league camp. [3/2]

With Buddy Bell needing to make some serious decisions about who his
outfield reserves are going to be, there wasn’t going to be all that much
of a chance for Gerut to get a real opportunity in camp, anyway.


DETROIT TIGERS

Released OF Marc Newfield. [3/6]

Nearing the end of a career as a top-shelf washout. Between injuries and
ludicrous expectations, it’s interesting to remember that Newfield was one
of the signature players in a Mariners’ player development effort that had
been among the game’s best in the mid-1980s, only to lapse into its current
misery. Newfield is as good a player as anyone else to associate with that
organizational failure.


FLORIDA MARLINS

Promoted GM Dave Dombrowski to team President. [3/1]

This promotion gives Dombrowski more control of the team’s business
operations–the club presidency has been vacant since the resignation of
Don Smiley after his failed bid to buy out Wayne Huizenga–while cutting
into his baseball responsibilities. It will be interesting to see how this
plays out over time. Dombrowski is no longer supported by the talented
front-office supporting cast he had when he first came to the Marlins in
1991, so whether or not this is going to help or hurt the team, or just
give Dombrowski greater control of the franchise, is something I couldn’t
hazard a guess at either way.


MINNESOTA TWINS

Signed UT Denny Hocking to a two-year contract, with an option for
2002. [3/6]

Woohoo! While I probably have more sympathy for GM Terry Ryan than most,
and while I can sympathize with the argument that a nice utility player is
a good thing to have, it’s high-stakes "moves" like this that
have me wondering how Ryan really fills up his Dayrunner. What kind of team
really needs cost certainty from a thirty-year-old utility man? Through 2002?


NEW YORK YANKEES

Announced that MLB has suspended DH Darryl Strawberry for one year
for violating the league’s drug policy. [2/28]

Does he deserve a suspension? Obviously. Does George Steinbrenner deserve
some sort of credit for his willingness to keep helping him? Maybe. Does
that safety net create a situation where Strawberry doesn’t have to really
come to terms with his problems? Hell, I don’t know, but that sort of
argument strikes me as pretty mean-spirited. Cutting him loose and leaving
him unforgiven and unsupported doesn’t strike me as a great idea,
especially when the union’s track record in helping players in desperate
straits isn’t sparkling.

What galls me about this situation is the number of numbskulls who took
this situation, and the Rocker situation, as an opportunity to rebleat
their defenses of Pete Rose, as if Rose should somehow get off the hook
because no matter how guilty he is, so are other people. Since this
tortured comparison has become an issue of public debate, I guess anybody
could argue that Strawberry’s personal problems may well have ruined his
shot at the Hall of Fame. Superficially, that isn’t too different from Pete
Rose. The difference lies in that with Strawberry, we’ll never know if it
did or not, while with Rose, we can be very certain.


OAKLAND A’S

Signed OF Ben Grieve to a four-year contract; promoted GM Billy
Beane
to Vice President, Baseball Operations. [3/3]

Both moves reflect the organization’s progress on many fronts, but the
current speculation is that locking up Grieve to a contract that doesn’t
delay when he’ll be eligible for free agency has created a lot of jealousy
from Miguel Tejada, whose agents flubbed their initial chance to get him a
similar four-year contract. From the A’s perspective, though, having Grieve
inked for what may well be the best four years of his career for less than
market value, and eradicating any possibility of going through the
arbitration ringer, is a nifty little coup. It’s definitely the sort of
thing that should earn Beane his promotion and raise.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Released RHP Pep Harris after he failed his physical. [3/2]

Which pretty well shuts the door on his chances to re-start his career. Not
every surgery solves every problem.


SAN DIEGO PADRES

Agreed with RF Tony Gwynn on an option for 2001. [3/2]

After what seemed like an interminable amount of bitching, the Pads finally
got this done. I’m not really sold on the argument that Gwynn deserves
whatever he asks for, considering his almost negligible defensive value
nowadays. But if the Pads want to have any shot at putting another 2.5
million fannies in the seats, then they needed this to work out.


TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Voided EFP Carlos Baerga‘s contract because of an unreported knee
injury. [3/4]

EFP: Ex-Famous Person. Still done, overdone, twice-baked, finished, you
name it, the Beeg Belly remains a 100% waste of a roster spot.


TEXAS RANGERS

Signed 3B Osmani Garcia and 2B Jorge Diaz to minor-league
contracts. [3/2]

Two more Cubans get to join up. This is a little interesting, in that
neither of them is going to push past people like Mike Lamb or Jason
Romano all that quickly, but the Rangers can use all the minor-league
talent they can get.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Signed RHP Roy Halladay to a three-year contract. [2/29]

Reassigned RHPs Kurt Bogott and Matt McLellan, IF Cesar
Izturis
and 3B Joe Lawrence to their minor-league camp. [3/6]

The structure of Halladay’s deal is extremely back-loaded: a $250,000
bonus, a first-year salary of $300,000, a second-year salary of $650,000
and a third-year salary of $2.5 million. That’s swell for Halladay, and
generally conforms to the union’s expectations for salary progression.

I guess my concern is that with noted slagmeister Jim Fregosi looking to
run his talented young rotation into the ground, will that back-loading end
up being a major millstone on the Jays’ budget come 2002? Because Halladay
doesn’t have a terrible health record, I’d hope Gord Ash could find an
insurer to cover the deal, but if I’m the insurance salesman, I ask for
Fregosi’s resignation first.