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BOSTON RED SOX
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Announced the retirement of C/DH/Owner-L Dave Nilsson. [3/6]

Nilsson couldn’t bring himself back to play after three
years
away. Although I’m sure somebody’s going to stand up for Joe Quinn or
Craig
Shipley, to my mind Nilsson was the game’s first Australian star, a
prospect
from down under who lived up to the advance billing. He came in as the
guy
who’d hit .400 in El Paso, and he was no Bruce Fields. Although there
were
too many hangups over his defensive limitations behind the plate, he
was a
hitter’s hitter and an adequate if weak-armed backstop. In the end, he
wound
up being the Brewers’ Harmon Killebrew, where instead of sticking him
at a
position and leaving him there, they tended to punt him around from
position
to position as needed, never letting him settle in anywhere, and not
really
doing him any favors as a product of the “flexibility” he
offered
them because of his weakness with leather in any shape or size.

For the record, I should point out this argument, as it relates to
Killebrew, isn’t mine, but is instead put forward convincingly by Mark
Armour and Dan Levitt in the soon-to-be-released Paths to Glory,
a
book about team building in the 20th century that I happened to edit,
so I’m
biased as well as compromised by direct interest.


CINCINNATI REDS
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Traded OF-R Alan Moye and INF-B Damaso Espino to the Royals
for
RHP Jeff Austin and LHP Brian Shackelford. [3/6]
Returned Rule 5 pick RHP Jerome Gamble to the Red Sox. [3/7]

Announced that LHP Bruce Chen is wrestling with a proposed
assignment
to Louisville, and sent him to their minor league camp. [3/8]

I went into the Royals trade thinking the Reds took Allard Baird the
same
way everyone feels free to put their hands in Baird’s pockets, but this
move
wasn’t quite so cut-and-dried (see the Royals comment below for more on
that). Basically, the Reds acquired another couple of live arms in a
world
populated with live arms. I don’t see nascent greatness in Jeff
Austin’s
future, so acquiring a middle reliever aspiring to mediocrity isn’t
really
the sort of thing you brag about. As for Brian Shackelford, he’s
interesting, but still very wild. Maybe he’ll be something, and
certainly
the Reds could use lefty relief arms in the organization, especially
now
that Bruce Chen seems to have worn out yet another welcome while
remaining
intriguing to third or eighth or 22nd parties scattered hither
and
yon.


FLORIDA MARLINS
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Assigned RHP Jose Cueto to Carolina (Double-A) and RHP Wes
Anderson
to Jupiter (A-ball); reassigned RHP Bryan Rekar to
their
minor league camp; outrighted LHP Geoff Goetz to Albuquerque;
released OF-R Sherman Obando. [3/7]

With Goetz still recovering from arm injury, the Fish could afford to
outright him this early and not have to worry about losing him to a
waiver
claim. Plus, in terms of distributing the innings around in camp, the
pitching staff has a number of options for the fifth slot in the
rotation
and the last few slots in the pen, and Jeff Torborg needs to look at
Mike
Tejera, Carl Pavano, Justin Wayne, and Kevin Olsen to see which pile
they
belong in. And that’s before we get into needing to make space for
non-roster invitees who will probably crack the Opening Day roster,
especially an outfielder (most likely either Chad Allen or Chris
Wakeland).

If there’s a minor surprise, it’s that Bryan Rekar was excused from the
swing-man group already. His career doldrums have gone on a lot longer
than
expected since leaving the Rockies, but in all fairness, how many
pitchers
would you reasonably expect to go from Colorado to Tampa Bay to the
Royals
and turn out okay? He’s over 30, so it isn’t like we’re talking
about
somebody with promise any more. We’re talking about somebody who just
didn’t
pan out, but who also wasn’t exactly gifted with the best circumstances
in
which to succeed.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Released INF-B Elvis Pena. [3/5]

Acquried OF-R Alan Moye and INF-B Damaso Espino from the
Reds
for RHP Jeff Austin and LHP Brian Shackelford. [3/6]

To be charitable, the Royals might not have given Jeff Austin a really
fair
shake, although he had clearly bombed as a starting pitcher, and his
value
as a reliever was no more than moderate. So he’d worked his way down to
being just another arm, while Shackelford is merely moderately
interesting
as a sort of really destitute man’s Brooks Kieschnick. So what did they
get
back? You could wrap your head in muslin and pretend that Alan Moye
could be
the next Jermaine Dye; he’s athletic, shows power and speed, and with repetition, coaching, and a receptive mind, he could
improve
across the board and be a hell of a prospect. He’s also somebody who
hit
only .261/.324/.446 at Billings, a lot less than you’d like from a
prospect.
So he could just as easily continue to be clumsy afield, impatient at
the
plate, and never amount to anything. He’s a worthwhile body to take a
flyer
on, and he’ll make a fascinating test case for the organization’s
newfound
commitment to baseball fundamentals–getting on base, scoring runs, you
know, the things that work for everybody. As for Damaso Espino, he’s a
little more intriguing: a Panamanian just shy of 20, he played second,
third
and short for Sarasota in the Gulf Coast League last year, and he
pegged 22
doubles while hitting .332. Nobody should be predicting the next Wade
Boggs
or even the next Kevin Youkilis–he’s just another interesting flyer to
have
taken. Now it’s up to the Royals’ organization to make something
out
of them, which can mean either more of the same old disappointments, or something new and improved. As minor signals of what should be a
very
interesting year for the organization, this was an interesting little
trade,
fraught with risk, but worthwhile risk.


MONTREAL EXPOS
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Outrighted RHP Eric Good to Harrisburg (Double-A); reassigned
RHPs
Ron Chiavacci and Clint Everts to their minor league
camp.
[3/7]

Having missed most of the last couple of years, Good is recovering from
shoulder surgery, so he wasn’t really a risk to outright at this point
of
camp. Chiavacci has been a minor disappointment for a while, so again,
excusing him early wasn’t that much of a surprise. Hopefully, he will
continue to get his career back on track in a relief role, because the
odds
of his ascending to the majors and becoming an asset in the pen are
pretty
good, especially after Frank Robinson made a point by assembling and
thriving with last year’s no-name bullpen.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Optioned RHPs Justin Duchscherer and Bert Snow to
Sacramento;
assigned RHPs Heath Bost and Dave Hooten and LHP John
Rheinecker
to minor league camp; returned INF-R Oscar Robles
to
Oaxaca of the Mexican League. [3/8]

Amidst the horde of worthwhile candidates for the last two slots in the
rotation and for a variety of bullpen jobs, it was clear that some guys
just
weren’t going to get long looks. Duchscherer and Rheinecker (not to be
confused with the bit players Hamlet thoughtlessly gets offed) are both
starting pitchers who shouldn’t get opportunities until deep in the
summer,
and then only if several things have gone wrong in the majors. That
doesn’t
make them non-prospects, but they’re the kinds of guys who risk
getting
dealt in the inevitable July shopping frenzy for Beane’s boys. As for
Hooten, Bost and Snow, all are interesting relief options in their own
rights, but with an overflow of starting pitcher candidates for the
last job
or two in the rotation, plus guys like Jeremy Fikac, Chad Harville,
Mike
Neu, Joe Valentine, and Buddy Hernandez in the bullpen picture, it
makes for
a crowded field, crowded all the more by the team’s aggressive approach to acquisitions, and the continuing relative passivity a number of
teams
still display. It isn’t always going to be this easy to put together
this
much good stuff, as teams learn from the example set here, but in the
meantime, Oakland is still one of the teams with a competitive
advantage
when it comes to acquiring big-league talent on the cheap.


SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Re-signed RHP Brian Lawrence to a four-year contract with a club
option for 2007. [3/7]

It isn’t too often that you see a pitcher signed through his
arbitration
eligibility, or given a four-year contract without first having any
leverage. But this isn’t a bad decision, considering that Lawrence is
healthy and likely to enjoy continued success. Given that the upside
is
that they eliminate a bunch of off-season headaches with a pitcher who
could
be one of the league’s best starters over the life of the contract,
it’s
entirely a good thing.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Assigned RHPs Scott Cassidy and Mike Smith and LHP
Scott
Wiggins
to minor league camp. [3/8]

You might have thought all three pitchers were on the ‘maybes’ list
going
into camp if you only considered the team’s roster as of the end of
September, but Cassidy and Smith were sort of pressed into the breach last year
because of injuries, Gord Ash’s inattention to the minor league free
agent
market, and the failure of so many other toolsy project pitchers that
Ash
and company seemed to favor. This year’s camp, with a few extra low-end
veterans (Jeff Tam, Pete Walker, Doug Linton) and worthwhile projects
(Cliff
Politte, Evan Thomas, and Josh Towers) around from the start of camp,
guys
like Cassidy and Wiggins and particularly Smith can instead try to
create
and build on some International League success.

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