|IN THIS ISSUE|
Howdy gang, nothing like spending five hours typing up the index for this year's edition of Baseball Prospectus to make me desperately hungry to dive right into playing catch-up on real-time baseball news. Yes, Transaction Analysis is long overdue, and for that I apologize, having spent the intervening time working with our writing team and the incomparably enthusiastic Jonah Keri to get this year's book out the door. If you can forgive me that, you'll also have to forgive me this temporary break from format, as I run down the most-notable moves made over the last couple of months, going by divisional pairs (Easts, Centrals, and Wests) to get caught up and resume your regularly scheduled TA mayhem by next week.
|ATLANTA BRAVES||Return to Top|
Signed OF-L Darren Bragg and 1B-R Julio Franco to minor league contracts.
Signed RHP Paul Byrd, RHP Roberto Hernandez, LHP Mike Venafro, and 1B/OF-L Robert Fick as free agents.
Traded for LHP Mike Hampton (from the Marlins for RHPs Tim Spooneybarger and Ryan Baker), LHP Ray King (for 1B/3B-R Wes Helms and LHP John Foster), RHP Russ Ortiz (from the Giants for LHP Damian Moss and RHP Manuel Mateo), C-B Johnny Estrada (from the Phillies for RHP Kevin Millwood).
Avoided salary arbitration with RHPs Greg Maddux and Darren Holmes and SS-B Rafael Furcal.
In the words of aspiring philosopher Jim Morrison (the one with The Doors, not the Pirates), "This is the end."
Pride can lead to all sorts of unpleasantness along the way to hitting bottom, and I'm afraid this is a situation where the Braves are taking their magic touch with pitchers for granted. Replacing Tom Glavine and Kevin Millwood with Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz and Paul Byrd just doesn't add up. Hampton is a huge risk, even if the Marlins are defraying the expense. Think Hampton's problems were all Coors-induced? Hampton's road ERA was worse, as was his HR/9. Sure, maybe it was because he didn't know what worked any more, but do you really want to bank on that? Ortiz and Byrd are safer bets, but that's relative. Ortiz's home run rate outside of PacBell isn't a source for inspiration, and like Hampton, he's not exactly a control pitcher. On the basis of a single season's success, Byrd may be the safest bet of the bunch, Blylevenesque HR/BB ratios aside.
All in all, they're pretty much set up to either confirm Leo Mazzone's reputation, or kill it. To be fair, failure given what he's being given to work with would be far from an indictment of his abilities as a pitching coach as it would be a tombstone to plant over John Schuerholz. Hampton and Ortiz and Byrd could all work out, but that might mean you've got a gaggle of nice third starters behind Maddux–and to win, that's going to require more runs from a lineup that still has a few non-working parts.
There is one bit of silver lining, in that Schuerholz did take advantage of some elements of the New Economics. First, he got Rob Fick on the relative cheap. Ideally, you'd let him Fick erase the Vinny Castilla problem by playing an outfield corner, which would let Chipper move back to third; Castilla won't outhit the platoon of Los Dos Francos at first, so you keep them in the lineup. More probably, Vinny will continue to generate copious amounts of outs, Fick will play first, and the Braves will be a few fractions of a run per game closer to winning only 85 games than 95. The other nice development is that Schuerholz did manage to avoid overpaying for somebody like Chris Hammond or Mike Remlinger. I don't think that either Mike Venafro or Ray King will pitch as well as Remlinger or Hammond did last season, but they're acceptable lefty situational relievers.
|BALTIMORE ORIOLES||Return to Top|
Re-signed RHP Pat Hentgen to a one-year contract, with a club option for 2004.
Signed LHP Omar Daal to a two-year contract, RHP Kerry Ligtenberg to a one-year contract with a club option for 2004, and SS-R Deivi Cruz to a one-year contract.
These may seem like uninspired moves that border on D-Ray-dom, but give the Orioles credit, they're active participants in trickle-down economics. Peter Angelos gets hundreds of millions of dollars for his contributions to the legal abuse of narcotic traffickers dumb enough to do things that endanger their near-monopoly on legal narcotic sales, and then he turns out to be dumb enough to spread that wealth copiously to free agents that will populate Camden Yards if the price is right, all to dare to dream the possible dream of another fourth place finish.
Oof, two sentences back into this, and I'm already spinning interdependent clauses so dense that it wouldn't even make sense in German. Hrm. Okay, let's just say these were bad moves, and here's why:
Omar Daal and Pat Hentgen will do nothing to propel this or any Orioles team to greatness. That much goes without saying. Both are the types of free agents that need the job more than the job needs them. That both of them might block people who could be part of the next worthwhile Oriole rotation is unfortunate. Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Hentgen might end up being adequate, but Daal in the American League and in a Camden Yards being reconfigured to smaller dimensions has 'disappointment' written all over it.
The problem is also that, as is, the Orioles are locked into Sidney Ponson and Scott Erickson, who they'll be hard-pressed to convert into somebody else's problems. Then there's Jason Johnson and Rodrigo Lopez, who you can work with, and then you've got…well, no room for John Stephens or Rick Bauer or Sean Douglass or even Steve Bechler later on, because you've got six veteran starters. And that means you don't need a guy like Travis Driskill, because while he's a nice fall-back position in case the kids didn't work out, he's not who you turn to after Daal proves to be a financial waste and Pat Hentgen scuffles. Since none of their young starters is so promising that they could acquire a bat to help them win now – assuming that winning now is a goal if you invest in old guys – then what do you do?
Deivi Cruz? He won't be doing the pitching staff any favors at short, and offensively, he won't do anything that makes you wish he was in the lineup, not unless the alternative is Luis Lopez, and that's not the problem. The Orioles would have been better off giving Brian Roberts a year's worth of work, with a glove-meister like Mike Moriarty behind him. Or go out and get Adam Everett or John McDonald or Augie Ojeda, whoever is cheapest, because nobody should be more than a one-year temp. Again, Cruz needs the job more than the Orioles will ever need Cruz, and he creates the additional handicap of keeping Melvin Mora in the outfield on a team that has plenty of corner outfield and DH types clamoring for at-bats.
Finally, I know we say that almost anybody can be successful in relief, but let's face it, Kerry Ligtenberg was only the Braves' mop-up pitcher in 2002. It might be sabermetrically orthodox to say all situations are game situations and all innings are created equal, but I don't really believe that in situations like this. Spending over a million smackers for an 11th pitcher or mop-up man, even if he's good at it, is a lot more than you needed to spend.
|BOSTON RED SOX||Return to Top|
Re-signed RHP Tim Wakefield to a three-year contract, LHP Alan Embree to a two-year contract with a club option for 2005, and RHPs Frank Castillo and Willie Banks to one-year contracts.
Signed RHPs Ramiro Mendoza, Chad Fox, and Mike Timlin, 1B-L David Ortiz, INF-R Damian Jackson, DH-L Dave Nilsson, and 3B-B Bill Mueller to one-year contracts.
Traded for 2B-L Todd Walker (from the Reds for 3B-R Tony Blanco and RHP Josh Thigpen), DH-L Jeremy Giambi (from the Phillies for RHP Josh Hancock), and UT-B Cesar Crespo (from the Padres for SS-R Luis Cruz).
Claimed RHP Ryan Rupe on waivers.
It's been an active winter for the perennial runners-up, but with Theo Epstein in charge, the Red Sox have done a lot to help themselves going into 2003. It's nice to see another GM enter the ranks with a good handle on performance analysis and an understanding of the game's New Economics.
The biggest moves have been filling in the thumper slots in the lineup, nabbing David Ortiz and Jeremy Giambi for nothing more than a live arm and an extremely modest amount of cash. Just in case either gets hurt or morphs into Tony Clarkian levels of uselessness, taking a flyer on Dave Nilsson makes for an intriguing spring insurance policy. Nilsson's best case is that he might give you a backup catcher who can help you offensively when he isn't spot-starting at first or DH, but more likely, he's a better retread bat to take a chance on than Carlos Baerga.
The other nice event is upgrading at second base. Todd Walker cost a little bit more than either Ortiz or Giambi in terms of blood and treasure, but position scarcity can be annoying that way. Walker may not hit lefties or play second especially well, but there are few better lefty-hitting halves of a second base platoon available. And by picking up Damian Jackson, Epstein has given himself a potentially ideal platoon partner for Walker. Jackson's a good fielder at second, he's an underrated masher against lefties, and tactically, you can use him to pinch-run for Walker (or anybody) in the later innings and then keep him in the lineup for his glove.
They've also given themselves some flexibility by signing Bill Mueller, because it allows them to keep shopping Shea Hillenbrand, whose value will never get any higher. The order was entirely correct in this case, because they would have run the risk of being bid up if they had dealt Hillenbrand first, just as the Mets and Rockies bid up Jose Hernandez (and, worse yet, with neither team intending to play Hernandez at short, his best position).
Generally speaking, the pitching moves are a mixed bag, alternating sweetness and light with wondering if that's what the market would bear or if Ed Wade was shopping the next aisle over. Three years and $13 million for Wakefield? The Red Sox got a bargain there, especially as it looks like he's going to be a full-time starting pitcher. Indeed, he might have commanded more on the open market, but the Red Sox avoided letting him test the waters for any length of time. That, and re-upping Alan Embree instead of spending even more to land Mike Stanton, or less (but too much) to sign Chris Hammond. But the value of those essentially nifty moves is slightly diluted by spending more than chump change to keep people like Frank Castillo or Willie Banks, or to haul in Mike Timlin, especially when those are the kinds of guys you're counting on because you're also taking a flyer on Chad Fox's one-trick elbow ("Sproing!" "Okay, what else does it do?" "It goes sproing."). Fortunately, there is the more worthwhile flyer on Ryan Rupe, who the Sox are talking about using in the pen.
Finally, there is of course the propaganda value of hauling in Ramiro Mendoza. But sort of like David Cone a couple of years ago, you're paying cash money for the Yankee he was, not what he's going to be. Still, after Wakefield and Embree, he's the best of their pitching investments this winter. At least he shouldn't have to start, unless something unfortunate happens to the front five of Pedro, Derek Lowe, Wakefield, John Burkett, and Casey Fossum or Frank Castillo. That in turn leaves you with a pen of Bobby Howry, Mendoza, Embree, Banks, Timlin, and a body or two from the pile of Fox, Rupe, and the loser for the fight for that fifth slot in the rotation. Overall, that's a pen without much star power, but a lot of multi-inning guys instead of specialists, which should make it easier for the Red Sox to stick with only six men in the pen.
|FLORIDA MARLINS||Return to Top|
Signed C-R Ivan Rodriguez, OF-L Todd Hollandsworth and OF-R Ice Williams to one-year contracts.
Traded for LHP Mike Hampton and CF-L Juan Pierre (from the Rockies for C-R Charles Johnson, OF-R Preston Wilson, INF-R Pablo Ozuna, and LHP Vic Darensbourg), RHPs Tim Spooneybarger and Ryan Baker (from the Braves for LHP Mike Hampton), and LHP Mark Redman and RHP Jason Fuell (from the Tigers for RHP Gary Knotts and LHPs Rob Henkel and Nate Robertson).
Avoided salary arbitration with 1B-R Derrek Lee, 2B-B Luis Castillo, SS-R "the Other" Alex Gonzalez, LHP Armando Armanza, and RHPs Carl Pavano and Brad Penny.
Sold OF/1B-R Kevin Millar to the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese Leagues.
How appropriate is it that the main theme of the Loria-run Marlins will be stealing? Whether it's keeping other teams from stealing, or stealing things themselves, it should come as no surprise that as much as Jeff Torborg is an enthusiastic thrall, he is taking this one small opportunity to imprint his stamp as an ex-catcher on this ballclub. It isn't a formula for success, but it is a formula, and if you think it's better to plan something than to wait on events, then let's take the next few moments to get wildly enthusiastic.
Clearly, getting Pudge Rodriguez is a good thing. In terms of lineup roles, he more than handily replaces Kevin Millar. The downside is that he doesn't make up for a lineup that will have to carry A-Gonz Lite and the first "Death to Flying Things" outfield that's talking about its inability to put the ball out of the infield instead of its defensive prowess. Juan Pierre will have little value at any altitude, but leave it Torborg to lust for the next Lance Johnson. Not the Lance Johnson who smacked 22 triples, mind you, but the one he might remember fondly from their days on the South Side – a player who'd struggle to post a .320 OBP or draw 30 walks, but was the spittin' image of Torborg's idea of a leadoff hitter.
As for bringing in Mark Redman, it does give them a token vet atop the rotation, although with the questions and rumors surrounding Brad Penny and other youngsters, it doesn't look like they've really got a full rotation. Given that acquiring Redman cost them a couple of decent lefty arms who had already survived time at Double-A, as well as Gary Knotts, it was expensive. Unfortunately, it's also not the sort of move that helps them contend. It sort of resembles a contention-minded move, where you get to say neat things like "we've acquired a veteran left-handed starter." It smacks of Loria's initial wacky Expo acquisitions, where the sainted trio of Lee Stevens, Hideki Irabu, and Graeme Lloyd was supposed to lead to bigger and better things. It was never quite clear if the exercise was merely a cynical bit of headline grabbery, or legitimately stupid.
|MONTREAL EXPOS||Return to Top|
Re-signed OF-R Wil Cordero.
Traded for RHPs Chris Young and Jon Searles (from the Pirates for RHP Matt Herges) and RHPs Orlando Hernandez, Rocky Biddle, and DH-L Jeff Liefer (from the White Sox for RHP Bartolo Colon and INF-R Jorge Nunez). Avoided arbitration with SS-R Orlando Cabrera, RHP Tony Armas Jr., and C-R Michael Barrett.
The question here is one of whether pity is appropriate. Yes, Omar Minaya's ability to make payroll and add talent by peddling either Bartolo Colon or Javier Vazquez was undermined by the commissioner's wishy-washy handling of the Contreras situation. However, Minaya would have done well to have kept in mind that this was going to be a cold winter to start off with, with few high stakes maneuvers, and even fewer shoppers. He would have done really well to have moved quickly, before everyone had sorted out that non-tender bargains were to be found, and without letting the Braves narrow his range of possibilities by resolving what would happen with Glavine, Maddux, and Millwood. Instead, he showed up at the winter meetings without a plan, just hoping he'd get flowers from all the boys, and hope that true happiness landed in his lap. It didn't happen.
Still, as harsh as that sounds, there's some modicum of good news. The White Sox players acquired in the Colon deal are basic free talents: Liefer can an inexpensive, if equally mediocre replacement for Lee Stevens, while Biddle is a nice enough arm in a world filled with nice arms. But you can sort of wishcast that getting El Duque still adds real talent to the organization, instead of having Minaya simply redistribute it to the team's 29 co-owners. There's a decent chance that dealing El Duque in July will yield more than dealing Colon in January did, after a portion of his salary has already been paid, and a contender decides to roll the dice. But then you're left pondering whether Minaya can improve his shopping skills, or if he'd even be allowed to acquire real prospects, instead of organizational leavening and unwanted contracts.
The other happy bit of news is that he managed to flip Matt Herges for something of value. Chris Young had a decent season in Hickory last year, and Herges is your basic spare part reliever that you can tease out of the upper minors with a minimum of scouting and patience. Paying anything significantly above the minimum for that is about as worthwhile as inventing the virtual slug.
|NEW YORK YANKEES||Return to Top|
Re-signed 3B-L Robin Ventura, C-R Chris Widger and INF-B Enrique Wilson to one-year contracts, and RHP Roger Clemens to a "one-year" contract.
Signed OF-L Hideki Matsui to a three-year contract, RHP Jose Contreras to a four-year contract, LHP Chris Hammond to a two-year contract with a club option for 2005, 1B/3B-R Todd Zeile to a one-year contract, and C-R John Flaherty to a minor league contract.
Traded for RHPs Delvis Lantigua and Antonio Osuna (from the White Sox for RHP Orlando Hernandez).
Picked up their option on LHP Andy Pettitte for 2003.
The Yankees are on the spot and certain to be shaken down this year no matter what, but at least they're getting creative. It would be easy to grant them victim status, but they're reaping the benefit of having a co-conspirator as a commissioner, so where an impartial czar might have made Contreras draftable and fought Joe Cubas and his ilk in the courts, our czar gives us another circumstance where Yankee financial largesse can achieve another easy triumph. And the Clemens contract? Bowie Kuhn and Fay Vincent were hardly paragons of virtue, but at least both of them would have been more than a little indignant about this deliberate cheat against the luxury tax, where the pain of paying the tax is mitigated by sending the Rocket money to some distant point in the future well beyond his induction into the Hall of Fame.
There's one other bit of good news, in that Hideki Matsui should be the real deal, and he'll give the Yankees one of their two new starters in the outfield corners (the other being Juan Rivera). Of course that still doesn't make Rondell White or Raul Mondesi go away, but the Yankees can afford to lose over $10 million on bad corner outfielders, right?
Then you go from the range of good and expensive to the strange and expensive. Now would be a good time to tip your cap to the Braves, folks. They turned Chris Hammond from a NRI into a multi-millionaire, getting the great season in the pen without having to pay him the millions it earned him. The Yankees' strong-arm tactic of trying to force Mike Stanton to take their offer wasn't a bad idea, it's just that if you leave it up to Stanton and Hammond to see who will take the money first, there shouldn't be any surprise that Hammond would say 'yes' on the spot, while Stanton would have to think about it. If anything, the Yankees should have made separate offers, giving them the same 15 minutes, and offering Hammond considerably less.
Finally, while there are a lot of good things to say about Joe Torre's ability to select and run a roster in a short series, signing Todd Zeile and John Flaherty are the kinds of moves that give the Yankees weak points they didn't have to suffer. As Torre did last year with Alberto Castillo, there's a danger that he'll pick the worst available backup catcher and go with Flaherty.
It's possible that Zeile might be an even worse signing, though. He has no defensive value, and is basically a patronage add from his days in St. Louis under Torre. He could be the team's DH against lefties, but he's not a significantly better choice than either White or Mondesi, let alone a couple of dozen bodies you can find on the waiver wire or through minor league free agency. But hey, if the Yankees want to waste seven figures on one of the manager's old leftovers, why should the rest of us care if they're blowing by the luxury tax by that much more?
Much has been written about the Yankees' eight-man rotation, but having ditched El Duque for an adequate reliever, their rotation's strength has been overstated. Sterling Hitchcock's value is dubious or notional at best, assuming he doesn't spend most of the year rehabbing in Tampa or launching the Yankees' new summer Catskills caravan. What you've really got is a front five of Clemens, Mike Mussina, Pettitte, David Wells, and Jose Contreras. Contreras' value is taken as a given, but one nifty exhibition against the Orioles and an awful lot of Cubano disappointments do not add up to an automatic ace. The other four hardly had outstanding 2002 seasons, although all were strong enough to consistently give the team quality starts and collect wins with the league's best offense. The really nice twist is that they still have Jeff Weaver, who looms large in the team's future beyond 2003, but is anybody that comfortable with claiming that Pettitte and Wells and Clemens will all be as good as they were in 2002?
|NEW YORK METS||Return to Top|
Re-signed RHP Steve Trachsel and UT-R Joe McEwing.
Signed LHP Tom Glavine to a three-year deal with an option for 2006, LHP Mike Stanton to a three-year deal, OF-L Cliff Floyd to a four-year deal, and OF-R Tsuyoshi Shinjo and SS-R Rey Sanchez to one-year deals. Traded for INF-R Russ Johnson and 1B-L Josh Pressley (from the Devil Rays for SS-R Rey Ordonez).
Picked up their option on 2B-B Roberto Alomar.
Avoided arbitration with RHP Scott Strickland, signing him to a one-year contract.
Named Art Howe their new manager, signing him for a long time to an awful lot.
Another active winter for Steve Phillips, but unlike the last couple of years, that might actually mean something, both because the Braves are coming back to the pack, and because the guys he's adding provide more potential benefits than risks. And if it means their first flirtation with relevance since 2000, well, that's the game he's been playing for years, on the off chance that you get a little lucky in the postseason, as the Mets were that year.
Tom Glavine and Cliff Floyd both come with risks, Glavine because of his age, and Floyd because of his fragility, but those are issues that loom larger over the back end of their contracts, and not immediately in 2003. Floyd effectively winds up occupying Edgardo Alfonzo's spot in the lineup as well as in firmament of payroll demands. As a ripple effect, the Mets will also end up replacing either Jeromy Burnitz or Roger Cedeno in an outfield corner with either Ty Wigginton (or perhaps even Russ Johnson) at third base in the lineup. Yes, there's talk that Roger Cedeno could play center, but that's sort of like saying he could be as good as he was three years ago too. It would be swell, but counting on it would be foolhardy. The Mets clearly aren't being that silly, having brought in Tsuyoshi Shinjo to be Timo Perez's platoon mate in center. It's not a great setup, but it's adequate.
As for Glavine, he's generally been a better pitcher than Al Leiter, and if there was one thing 2000 represented to the Mets, it's that a good pair of power lefties can do you some good in a short series. The rotation is arguably the best in the division: Glavine, Leiter, Steve Trachsel, a hopefully healthy Pedro Astacio, and somebody like Mike Bacsik or Jason Middlebrook until Aaron Heilman is ready. Beyond spending money, you have to congratulate Phillips for not reaching a point where he felt he had to deal Heilman, because he could be their best right-handed starter by September.
The other nice little move was making Rey Ordonez somebody else's problem, and replacing him with a better glove as well as a better hitter. Rey Sanchez couldn't walk into many jobs and be an offensive upgrade, but the Mets were ideal, and having him around allows them to give Jose Reyes as much time as he needs before breaking him in.
If there's something you have to wonder about, it's spending $9 million out of pinstripe-envy. Mike Stanton has been a great reliever, but the money spent on acquiring him would have been better invested in buying Jose Hernandez to play short, and the time spent working it out could have been spent trying to strong-arm somebody into helping them acquire a better third baseman. But hey, they get to five a raspberry to the Bronx, and even if it just adds another decent arm to a pen stocked with decent arms, I suppose that's a warm Flushing fuzzy of some sort.
Finally, while they're liberally overcompensating him, the Mets made a solid choice in tabbing Art Howe to manage the club. There are plenty of things he is not: he is not one of your more tactically nimble managers, for example, but it's worth remembering he walked into Oakland as a voice of reason and patience after the overwrought histrionics of LaRussa's final few seasons. He'll fulfill a similar role with the Mets, who might miss Bobby Valentine's Durocher Lite act in a short series, but not over seven and a half months.
|PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES||Return to Top|
Re-signed LHPs Randy Wolf and Dan Plesac, INF-R Tomas Perez and OF-L Ricky Ledee to one-year contracts, and C-R Todd Pratt to a minor league contract.
Signed 1B-L Jim Thome to a six-year contract, 3B-R David Bell to a four-year contract, 1B/3B-L Tyler Houston to a one-year contract, and OF-L McKay Christensen to a minor league contract.
Traded for RHP Kevin Millwood (from the Braves for C-B Johnny Estrada) and RHP Josh Hancock (from the Red Sox for DH-L Jeremy Giambi).
So here they are, the team that could go totally wild on the rest of the division, or who could merely poke along at a .500 clip and make things as interesting as they could be when all five teams could harbor delusions of grandeur without much thought or chemical assistance. Ed Wade had a generous and fortunate winter, although not all of his generosity was fortunate. In the end, you can boil down his winter into three moves: He made one big-ticket purchase, lucked into one stupendous incident of self-spiting silliness, and he led off with a really silly expense.
Starting with Jim Thome's signing, since that's what we can interpret as the winter's signature move, he not only gives the Phillies the monster power hitter for their lineup to complement Pat Burrell, he replaces Travis Lee, something that really should add up to a multiple-win gain in the standings. It isn't often that you can so handily replace one of the worst regulars at a position where high offensive standards are the norm. The Phillies haven't really had a good hitter at first since John Kruk, and they're long overdue to add a legitimate thunderstick to the lineup from outside the organization. Wade did a good job of identifying his obvious hole, and plugging it with the winter's biggest and best prize. The question still exists about whether or not Thome will be an immobile DH-bound slug a few years into the deal, but first base is where you make due to get some runs on the board.
The happy accident was John Schuerholtz's tantrum, lopping off his own nose and Fed-Exing it to the Phillies along with Kevin Millwood after professing shock that Greg Maddux would have the gall to accept arbitration. What the Braves got in return is almost beside the point. If Wade could luck into Jeremy Giambi for John Mabry, and then Kevin Millwood for a fringe catcher, what's next? Acquiring Alex Rodriguez for some used coffee grounds? It all almost makes up for getting next to nothing for Scott Rolen, and nothing more than a generic live arm for Giambi. At any rate, the Phillies got someone who may well be their ace to front a rotation that now includes Millwood, Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla, Brett Myers, and Brandon Duckworth. That's a staff notable for its youth and talent, and one with considerably more breakout potential than any other in the division. Naturally, there's early talk that Millwood must be damaged or something, but you can probably safely chalk that up as the usual CYA excusifying to make a bad move seem somehow defensible (anyone else remember Tommy Lasorda's out-and-out lying about Paul Konerko's health after dumping him?).
Which brings us to the oddities. I guess there's some good fortune in seeing Giambi liberated by a franchise that will appreciate his bat, and I guess it makes sense to replace him on the Phillies roster with a player who fulfills Larry Bowa's wishes for a lefty pinch-hitter who will be just that. Tyler Houston will also spot-start at third, and take first whenever Thome's back is an issue, and that's nice enough. He's been useful in the bench role before, so it isn't like the Phillies stocked their top pinch-hitting job with somebody like Lenny Harris.
The really bizarre move was springing early to land David Bell. Bell is a decent enough player, but he's not an outstanding hitter, and acquiring a second mediocrity to paper over the self-inflicted wound at third base and let Placido Polanco move over to second still doesn't add up to Rolen. But at least the Phillies still have Dallas Green's bluff bonhomie to keep them warm, right?
|TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS||Return to Top|
Signed 2B-L Marlon Anderson to a one-year contract, and 1B-L Lee Stevens, 2B-R Jay Canizaro, 3B-R Chris Truby, C-L Jorge Fabregas, OF-R Ryan Thompson, LHP Jim Parque, and RHPs Bob Wells, Steve Parris and Blake Stein to minor league contracts.
Traded for Manager Lou Piniella and SS-R Antonio Perez (from the Mariners for OF-B Randy Winn) and SS-R Rey Ordonez (from the Mets for INF-R Russ Johnson and 1B-L Josh Pressley).
You could be pretty revved up about this ballclub – if it was in the Northern League. I mean, Winnipeg or Joliet, they'd be a-quakin' in their cleats if one of their competitors went on this kind of shopping spree for this kind of primo indy league-caliber talent. But as much as the Expos or the other Florida team might be considered the game's Potemkin franchises, the Devil Rays are operating as if they were a team deliberately designed to drive people away from a big league ballpark. Lee Stevens? Jorge Fabregas? Blake Stein? Even if, for the sake of argument, you wanted to pretend that any of these guys would recover their careers in Tampa Bay, what good does it do the franchise? Given Chuck LaMar's execrable record of moving veterans for anything of value, the only advantage of bringing in so many retreads, no-treads, and truly treadless is it gives Lou Piniella a bunch of people whose names he won't have to learn.
On a brass tacks level, some of these moves will mean new faces in blue, aquamarine or bug-eye green or whatever their new color scheme happens to be in a drive to sell unsellable merchandise. Marlon Anderson could well end up taking Brent Abernathy's job, but whoever wins, the Rays will have the weakest-hitting middle infield this side of Pittsburgh. Stevens may replace the exported Steve Cox, but it would be a shock if he hit as well as Cox did. Truby might be good enough to beat out Jared Sandberg. That is not a skill. As for the pitching, when the best pickup is Steve Parris, you know you have problems. Be ready for a summer featuring a scratch rotation of various organizational soldiers after the retreads re-bald themselves, and several volcanic eruptions from a newly active Mount Piniella. When Joe Kennedy pitches, the D-Rays will give whatever fans they have a big league ballgame. That's one out of five, one and a half if you decide that Parris has the look of a lotto winner.
The shame of it is that they really, honestly seem to believe that Lou Piniella and Rey Ordonez will help them sell tickets. This team is so utterly charmless it makes Spoony Love look smooth by comparison.
|TORONTO BLUE JAYS||Return to Top|
Signed RHPs Tanyon Sturtze and Jeff Tam, LHP Doug Creek, SS-R Mike Bordick, C-L Greg Myers, and UT-L Frank Catalanotto to one-year contracts
In several deals, traded for RHPs Cory Lidle and Jason Arnold and OF-L John-Ford Griffin (from the Athletics for SS-L Mike Rouse, RHP Curt Mowday and a PTBNL, with SS-B Felipe Lopez becoming a Red).
Avoided arbitration with RHPs Roy Halladay and Cliff Politte and SS-R Chris Woodward, signing them to one-year contracts.
OK, I know, we love the Blue Jays these days, and I'm certainly open – and probably deserving – of a charge of bias, especially after my years of flogging Gord Ash for his failures. Nevertheless, I can't say I'm ecstatic about everything I see here, and that goes beyond noticing an awful lot of blue-and-red that you could scrape away to turn up a bit of green-and-gold. But why else pay Mike Bordick seven figures? It doesn't matter if he's going to be your utility infielder or your primary insurance for Chris Woodward, he's not a great bet to be worth the money on either level. Either way, he's an expensive mediocrity. Tanyon Sturtze? Again, they're buying late, and at a million-plus, too much for what he has to offer. It's not really that much money, but it's buying a modest amount of cost certainty and an even more modest amount of remaining ability. Doug Creek for significantly more than minimum? A punch-drunk, smacked, and spanked Jeff Tam? There's a good chance several of these guys could end up being cut in-season, and not just because of the talent down on the farm pushing its way up.
OK, what good stuff did they get? Lidle gives them a much-needed 30-starts kind of guy, which helps to fill out the rotation. As things stand now, they've got Roy Halladay, Lidle, Pete Walker, Sturtze, and either Justin Miller or Mark Hendrickson. That's a workmanlike professional rotation, but it's really an ace, two decent fourth starters, and a couple of temps. Internally, they have Mike Smith, Vinny Chulk, and Pasqual Coco lurking in the wings. But best of all they nabbed Jason Arnold from Oakland. While Arnold has been flipped quickly from the Yankees to Oakland to Toronto, he's one of the best pitchers above A-ball. The Jays will be able to phase in the people with promise as the season progresses, which is another way of stating that the virtues of a Sturtze or a Walker or a Miller are their expendability and/or adaptability to long relief jobs.
There is stuff to really like, too, of course. You could probably have predicted that Frank Catalanotto was going to wind up a Blue Jay at some point, going back to when Ricciardi was part of the A's management team that picked him in the Rule 5 draft (and also made the mistake of not keeping him). John-Ford Griffin is a nifty pickup, and if he continues to progress, he'll replace Shannon Stewart in left. Greg Myers will give them a better alternative to Tom Wilson than Ken Huckaby, because although Myers isn't really a primo defensive backstop, he can hit and throw well enough to claim half of the playing time, which will allow them to avoid taking an offensive hit when they hide Wilson's glove on the bench.
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