|IN THIS ISSUE|
|ANAHEIM ANGELS||Return to Top|
Signed UT-R Shane Halter to a one-year $575,000 contract. [1/15]
I’m undoubtedly reading too much into this, but giving Shane Halter a guaranteed contract really seems to encourage the suspicion that David Eckstein is on the trading block. If Eckstein doesn’t beat out Alfredo Amezaga for the job at short, then he could be reduced to fighting with Robb Quinlan, Chone Figgins, and a gaggle of pitchers for the last couple of spots on the roster. Despite Eckstein’s disappointing 2003, there’s still a market for him, so the Angels should be able to convert him if they’re in a peddling frame of mind. The real question is whether he’ll be part of a bigger deal involving one of the spare outfielders, with the Angels picking up a big stick to put at first base in a win-now move, because one of the considered alternatives to that would be the harebrained “Erstad to first” scheme. If the Angels do that, you can pretty much count on their remaining on Billy Beane’s Christmas card list.
|ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS||Return to Top|
Traded C-R Brad Cresse to the Expos for a PTBNL. [[1/21]
Signed RHP Brandon Villafuerte to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/22]
Signed LHP Jim Parque to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/23]
Cresse’s failure to develop earned him the move to baseball’s red-haired stepchild franchise. Despite the absence of a star player in the majors or a top-shelf prospect in the system, catcher isn’t a problem position in the Diamondbacks organization. While there’s still a lot of concern that Craig Ansman can’t catch, or whether or not Chris Snyder will hit, with a veteran job-share of Robby Hammock and Brent Mayne in place at the big league level, the Snakes have the talent and time to wait and see what happens.
Jim Parque looks pretty done, but there isn’t much at stake, so the only other thing to note is the usual roto muttering that follows a failed hot stove rumor like Villafuerte, a saves source who wasn’t.
|ATLANTA BRAVES||Return to Top|
Signed LHP C.J. Nitkowski to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/16]
Re-signed RF-L J.D. Drew to a one-year, $4.2 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/21]
Signed 3B/OF-L Russell Branyan to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/22]
Here’s one of the best little moves of the winter, and John Schuerholz pulls it off. Statheads like us have been nattering about Schuerholz for years, but moves like nabbing Branyan as a NRI serve as a nice reminder that the guy still does things few others dare. At worst, who else has what should be their first base platoon signed up to NRI deals? Schuerholz has Branyan on the cheap, and Julio Franco is back, and that should give him plenty of production while barely affecting the bottom line. However, if Adam LaRoche is ready to claim the job in camp, that just means that Branyan is available to move into a near-regular role at third, perhaps splitting the job with Mark DeRosa and/or maybe Wilson Betemit. Essentially, Branyan keeps them covered, but if they successfully integrate LaRoche and Betemit as they have previously with Raffy Furcal or Andruw Jones or Marcus Giles, then he’ll get plenty of playing time in the infield and outfield corners. Having that range of choice for a player with demonstrated big league power, and as a NRI, is as nifty as a little move can get. If there’s a source of concern, it’s that Bobby Cox might not take to Branyan’s surfer persona, but it’s worth wondering how humbling a NRI or having a shot at playing into October as a Brave might be.
The Braves have been adding to their reputation for being able to retread any hurler (Will Cunnane and Jaret Wright are good recent examples), so it will be fascinating to see if they can really turn J.D. Drew’s little brother Tim into something of value. There’s not a lot of reason to bet on it, considering he doesn’t have an out pitch, but stranger things have happened.
|BALTIMORE ORIOLES||Return to Top|
Signed UT-B Mark McLemore to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/5]
Tip your cap to the Orioles, because on some level, it looks like they wisely anticipated a chilly free agent market this winter. Rather than risk arbitration or giving him the years and dollars he wanted last summer, the O’s flipped Ponson for goodies they need now (particularly Kurt Ainsworth), and then re-signed him on terms they might not have been able to achieve without having dealt him first. The Giants hadn’t even offered Ponson arbitration. Now the Birds have a rotation with both Ponson and Ainsworth in it, with Rodrigo Lopez and Omar Daal pushed down a few pegs, and with a healthy competition for the last slot in the rotation, and possibly even for Daal’s job. It shouldn’t add up to more than another fourth-place finish, but it makes for a stronger team.
Less happy is the concern that Ponson isn’t anybody’s idea of a great multi-year investment, especially considering his age, build, workload, and career-long mediocrity. They’re paying for his first season with more than 30 starts in the last three, his first-ever season ERA under 4.00, and the career-high 17 wins. If you’re a DIPS believer, what really went his way was a drop in his walks and home runs allowed. If he keeps the gains, maybe you’ve got an adequate second starter on a good team on your hands. Fortunately, they only took on three years, he seems to have let bygones be bygones, and re-signing him brings you both the right to count coup at Brian Sabean’s expense and the benefit of the locals knowing it’s so, while further demonstrating the team’s newfound willingness to repurchase local loyalty through mercenary charm.
Picking up Mark McLemore is a nifty little move. Although it would be easy to deride it as representative of an organization taking its 2004 season a bit too seriously, instead think on what the Orioles have on hand. Because they already have Melvin Mora, between the two of them, the Orioles don’t need to carry a fifth outfielder or an extra utility infielder. Tejada plays short almost every inning of every day, so Mora and McLemore will really be asked to handle third, backing up Tejada only in a pinch, while also spotting for the outfielders as needed. Combined with the likelihood that David Segui will spend the year on the 60-day DL, and the chances that they may wind up dealing one of Brian Roberts or Jerry Hairston Jr., and you’ve got plenty of roster space for Rule 5 pick Jose Bautista if they decide that they like what they see. Of course, it probably also means a B.J. Surhoff farewell tour, but overall, it makes for a nice balance in terms of respecting the demands of the present and future.
|BOSTON RED SOX||Return to Top|
Signed LHP Nick Bierbrodt to a minor league contract. [1/17]
Re-signed RHP Scott Williamson to a one-year, $3.175 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/18]
Claimed RHP Reynaldo Garcia off of waivers from the Rangers. [1/27]
Re-signed DH-L David Ortiz to a one-year, $4.5875 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/31]
Signed UT-L Tony Womack to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/1]
Signed DH-R Ellis Burks to a one-year contract. [2/5]
There’s the obvious cool nostalgia angle to bringing back Ellis Burks, but Tony Womack must be one of those menu substitutions along the lines of last year’s Damian Jackson pickup, sort of akin to my elementary school’s frequent substitution of the dreaded “Carter Burrito” for edible food. (For the uninitiated, a Carter Burrito was a PBJ in a tortilla, an innovation given to us by some nameless bachelor chef if ever there was one. It made a great projectile: it had heft, explosiveness, and the sort of stickiness that didn’t come out of hair or clothes easily.)
Burks’ return might make some think back on the organization’s notional preference for Mike Greenwell when the two came up. After 1992, Burks was coming off of two weak seasons at the plate and had acquired a reputation for fragility that garnered him a cheap deal with the White Sox. Greenwell had already had his last good season (in ’91), but the Red Sox would go on to pay him another ~$14 million. Burks was younger and more talented, and I’m sure the Sons of Pumpsie Green wonder about the race angle. But it boils down to bad judgment, and having Burks come back makes for a nice bit of closure. Of course, I doubt Burks can top Greenwell’s angry farewell, one of those dramatic moments that ranks with Dick Nixon’s losing the governor’s race in California or Gerry Faust’s departure from the University of Akron.
The real dilemma is where Burks will fit, because a DH platoon on a team that likes to carry a dozen pitchers is a tough proposition, especially when Manny Ramirez could probably use a few days away from leather. It’s stranger still when you consider that they have Gabe Kapler on hand, and Brian Daubach fighting for a roster spot as a NRI. How many notional (to be charitable) outfield reserves do you need? Because they already have Pokey Reese and Mark Bellhorn signed up, the Red Sox may not need to carry a utility infielder, ; but then you’ve got Womack, Terry Shumpert, and Cesar Crespo around as utility options.
A potentially happy solution would involve getting away from carrying a twelfth 12th pitcher, and with a rotation fronted by Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe, and Tim Wakefield, they may not have that many mop-up innings to go around. They’ve also got five quality relievers (and Ramiro Mendoza) locked up, so they may forego the luxury, even if they have to carry Mendoza.
|CHICAGO WHITE SOX||Return to Top|
Re-signed LHP Scott Schoeneweis to a one-year, $1.725 million dollar contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/13]
Signed RHP Robert Person to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/16]
Signed LHP Vic Darensbourg to a minor league contract, with a spring training NRI. [1/17]
Signed RHP Shingo Takatsu to a one-year, $1 million contract, with an option for 2005; signed IF-Rs Mike Bell, Kelly Dransfeldt, and Bobby Smith, OF-L Marvin Benard, and RHPs Mike Jackson and RHP Jose Santiago to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/22]
The Sox have taken a lot of fire this winter, and you have to wonder if an aging sidearming import like Takatsu is an attempt to erase the Moneyball-driven indignity of Chad Bradford’s minor celebrity, but this is still a decent swag of NRIs. If healthy, Mike Jackson could be handy, and although it’s been awhile, Person, Santiago, and Darensbourg have had their moments of usefulness. There are only three likely locks in the pen (Billy Koch, Damaso Marte, and Kelly Wunsch), leaving plenty of room for people to earn a job. A new manager is always a plastic situation, since anybody could strike his fancy, and given the Ozzeroo’s stated faith in the value of clubhouse psychodrama, anybody could wind up on the Opening Day roster. Takatsu seems like a lock, and if he really can keep his sinker in the infield as well as his defenders believe, he’ll be an asset, but that’s no more of a sure thing than Koch’s return to usefulness.
Similarly, this might be the last best chance that Bobby Smith or Kelly Dransfeldt ever get, especially considering how few infielders the Sox have on the 40-man roster. Benard might be the token lefty outfield reserve, or he might have a great camp and play his way into a dual-purpose platoon (lefty-righty and offense-defense) with Aaron Rowand in center.
|CHICAGO CUBS||Return to Top|
Signed C-R Fernando Lunar to a minor league contract. [1/12]
Re-signed RHP Joe Borowski to a two-year, $4.3 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]
Re-signed RHP Kerry Wood to a one-year, $9.75 million contract, avoiding arbitration [1/17]
Signed LHP Jimmy Anderson to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/19]
Re-signed 1B-R Derrek Lee to a one-year, $6.9 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/20]
Signed RHP Ryan Dempster to a one year contract with a club option for 2005. [1/22]
The list of potential candidates for the fifth slot in the rotation might almost create Estes nostalgia. Jamey Wright versus Jimmy Anderson versus Juan Cruz has no obvious answer, not when Dusty Baker’s doing the picking. For that reason alone, I doubt Todd Wellemeyer will get any consideration. The real horror is that Anderson might get taken more seriously than he deserves for his handedness, out of some sort of consideration for having the front four slots manned by righthanded flamethrowers. But other than Jim Edmonds and Lance Berkman, there isn’t a whole lot of power from the left side of the plate the Cubs need to fret about in the division. It would be nice if Cruz got a real look, but again, expecting Dusty to pick the kid is a bet even Pete Rose might not take, at any odds.
Elsewhere, Ryan Dempster is really more of a Lieber-like situation, since he’ll spend most of the year recuperating from Tommy John surgery. Then, if he’s really healthy by September, they can keep him to answer the fifth starter question next year.
|CINCINNATI REDS||Return to Top|
Signed C-B Javier Valentin, OF-Ls Jacob Cruz, UT-L Jermaine Clark, LHP Rigo Beltran, and RHPs Brian Mallette, Corey Thurman, and Seth Etherton to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/12]
Signed OF-L John Vander Wal to a one-year, $700,000 contract. [1/13]
Re-signed RHP John Riedling to a one-year, $650,000 contract, avoiding arbitration; invited C-R Miguel Perez to spring training. [1/20]
Signed C-R Steve Lomasney to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/28]
Signed RHP Scott MacRae to a minor league contract. [2/5]
For all of the movement, the best pickup of the bunch wais adding John Vander Wal. In a happier, more competitive place, it might mean an open competition between Vander Wal and Adam Dunn and Sean Casey for two jobs in the lineup, but instead, Vander Wal is simply insurance for the next time Ken Griffey breaks down, or if Dunn fails to bounce back. Now it hardly matters, since he unretired, only to scrag his knee shoveling snow; it’s unknown if he’ll be able to play at all this season. In the meantime, outfielder reserve-wise it’ll be interesting to see if they will keep the folly of Wily Mo on the back end of the bench, where he’ll wither into a figure as legendary as Toe Nash, but Pena didn’t earn his way, and perhaps new management will ship him off as part of a general clearcutting of whatever Bowden vanities remain on the roster.
There are other moves that are sensible in a minor key: Javier Valentin makes a nice minor league fallback in case anything happens to Jason LaRue or Corky Miller. Arms like Prokopec and Etherton and Van Poppel and MacRae and Sobkowiak all had prospect status at one time or another, and will be the next collection of dross Don Gullett is charged to spin into gold. More promising might be the pickup of Mike Matthews, since he’s had a few useful moments more recently than the others, but all in all, you can count on another miserable pitching staff.
|CLEVELAND INDIANS||Return to Top|
Re-signed LHP Scott Stewart to a one-year, $850,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/17]
About the only thing to note here is that Merloni ought to be able to win a job. Setting aside Ricky Gutierrez’s ongoing comeback attempt, the infield reserve situation with the Tribe is pretty murky. Should both Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Phillips get sent back to Buffalo before Opening Day, that still leaves John McDonald and Zach Sorensen hanging around. Of course, with Ron Belliard penciled in at second, Merloni could reasonably harbor bolder ambitions than just a utility job, but so could everybody else mentioned.
|COLORADO ROCKIES||Return to Top|
Signed RHP Turk Wendell to a minor league contract, with a spring training NRI. [1/15]
Signed LHP Shawn Estes to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/23]
Re-signed RHP Shawn Chacon to a one-year, $1.85 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/27]
Jeff Fassero and Vlad Nunez had to both be pretty hard up to have to try to jump start their careers in Colorado. I suspect the only reason the Turk signed here was the opportunity to see if he can get in some hunting, and perhaps adding new teeth to his famed necklace. You know, rare things, like mountain lions, or increasingly common ones, like gerrymanders.
|DETROIT TIGERS||Return to Top|
Signed IF-B Greg Norton, IF-Rs Pablo Ozuna, OF-R Kurt Airoso, C/OF-R Ben Petrick, C-Rs Bobby Estalella and Brandon Harper, RHPs Craig Dingman and Jason Karnuth, and LHP Alex Lontayo to minor league contracts. [1/15]
Signed RHP Esteban Yan to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/21]
Announced that DH-R Dean Palmer had retired. [1/29]
Signed C-R Ivan Rodriguez to a four-year $40 million contract. [2/3]
While we like to deride the propaganda value of free agent signings, because of the inevitable disappointment fans can and should expect from the likes of Dean Palmer or Fernando Vina, once in awhile, there’s a move that transcends the financial value of the deal, and just maybe reminds people that there’s a baseball team in town. When a baseball town as storied as Detroit gets sick to death of the game because of a generation’s worth of Bo Schembechler and pizza lordlings and Randy Smith and all sorts of bad ideas, some big, symbolic gesture needs making. Smith was smart enough to understand that much, and honestly thought Juan Gonzalez was the answer. But Dave Dombrowski did him one better, signing a player we all found a new way to love last October for big money. This wasn’t a diffident JuanGone pondering his next employer, or Ray Knight skipping to Baltimore or ’86, this was signing a bit of both, and better. Pudge Rodriguez isn’t going to win them 80 games, let alone 70, and the Tigers still don’t amount to much, but if there’s a reason to remember that the Tigers mattered once upon a time, and can matter still, then it’s probably because of something as superficial as spending a whole lot of simoleans on a real ballplayer.
And if it kills off that “Brandon Inge is a prospect” nonsense once and for all, well, so much the better.
|FLORIDA MARLINS||Return to Top|
Signed LHP Darren Oliver to one-year, $750,000 contract. [1/29]
Signed 1B-R Wil Cordero to a one-year, $600,000 contract. [2/3]
Signing Oliver is pretty interesting, because there’s a lot of hope invested in the idea that A.J. Burnett will be able to contribute at some point this year. As a result, Oliver is sort of the floater in the rotation, currently covering the fifth slot, and perhaps replacing somebody else if they break down once Burnett is ready, but definitely behind the front four of Beckett, Penny, Willis, and Pavano. That’s as it should be, because although Oliver is coming off of a significantly better year than anyone had any reason to expect from, and in Coors no less, just as obviously nobody believes he’ll do it again. As temps go, this is a decent move, but if you’re a Mike Tejera fan or something (Justin Wayne, perhaps?), you shouldn’t exactly give up hope.
Similarly, signing Cordero is hedging a bet. While the Fish like Hee Seop Choi plenty, there’s nothing wrong with having a potential platoon partner around. If Choi goes into a funk or rubs Jack McKeon funny or re-injures his wrist, better to have an option than simply have to plug Brian Banks in at the position. As is, they’re counting on the dried, salted and unpacked leftovers of the original Mr. Marlin–no, not Orestes Destrade, Jeff Conine, people–to play everyday, and he’s coming up on his 38th birthday.
|HOUSTON ASTROS||Return to Top|
Signed RHP Roger Clemens to a one-year, $5 million contract. [1/13]
Signed OF-L Orlando Palmeiro to a one year, $750,000 contract. [1/15]
Designated OF-L Colin Porter for assignment. [1/17]
Signed RHP Dave Veres to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/28]
There’s a lot of collective gnashing of teeth on how that damned Texan betrayed a whole lot of city-livin’ folks up in the Northeast, and it’s enough to make me wonder: has there ever been a player hated by Red Sox and Yankees fans alike? How about Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox fans? Maybe Rickey Henderson, but singling Rickey out for ’89 in a century of Boston disappointments, or remembering the “jaking” controversy, on top of the notorious card-playing, that just doesn’t quite rise to the level of this newfound, shared sense of betrayal, mixed in with a healthy dose of hate. Anyone want to bet that Clemens doesn’t make that August trip to Shea this year? What if the Astros need a win? Would they start Jeriome Robertson instead?
Of course, on a more practical level, Clemens is a necessary merc on a team that really should be winning this division, and if he gets to be the fourth starter on a Astros division-winner, that’ll be something else he’ll have in common with Nolan Ryan (in ’86). Although the Cardinals look short-handed, the Cubs took themselves pretty seriously this winter, so it was about time the Astros did the same. With the Cubs’ overwhelmingly right-handed lineup, the Astros might have a rotation that matches up as well with the Cubs as the Cubs’ rotation does with the Astros’ hitters. Not that there’s any sense of love or hate between Chicago and Texas, but a tight rivalry and a pair of equally disappointed franchises can make for some bad blood pretty quickly.
Given this organization’s astonishing ability to overpay its scrubs, you probably aren’t surprised to see them look at Colin Porter and Orlando Palmeiro, and decide that there had to be something like half a million dollars of difference. Orlando’s a Disney town, home to happiness and fun, while nobody likes their proctologist. I’m afraid that’s about as defensible as the logic may get.
|KANSAS CITY ROYALS||Return to Top|
Re-signed CF-R Carlos Beltran to a one-year, $9 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/21]
Traded RHP Shawn Sedlacek to the Mets for LHP Jamie Cerda. [1/27]
Re-signed LHP Darrell May to a two-year, $4.95 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/1]
Cerda had a godawful year after coming into 2003 reasonably hoping he’d establish himself as a situational lefty, so it isn’t surprising that he was available. What’s surprising was that it only took a randomly generated organizational soldier in a vented box to get him, especially when the Royals haven’t had a lot of success finding a replacement for…… well, at this rate, Jerry Don Gleaton or Tom Burgmeier or something, given their longstanding problems finding useful lefty relief help.
|LOS ANGELES DODGERS||Return to Top|
Signed RHP Rick White to a minor league contract, with a spring training NRI. [1/16]
Signed 1B/OF-L Jeremy Giambi to a minor league contract, with a spring training NRI. [1/17]
Re-signed 3B-R Adrian Beltre to a one-year, $5 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/20]
Signed IF-R Jose Hernandez and RHP Jose Lima to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/28]
Re-signed UT-R Jolbert Cabrera to a one-year, $1 million contract with an option for 2005, avoiding arbitration. [1/31]
Dan Evans may be hanging on for dear life, but he’s doing a few good things as he waits to see if he’s going to get the Duke treatment from new ownership. Jeremy Giambi’s capacity to disappoint statheads might rate with Brad Komminsk of yore, but he’s still worth a flyer, especially when you’re a team as run-hungry as the Dodgers. Although Robin Ventura will probably get the bulk of the playing time at first, I suppose Todd Hundley and Chin-Feng Chen are in the picture as well, with the question of moving Paul LoDuca there depending on Koyie Hill’s development. The outfield is even more wide-open, with a corner going to almost anyone who can claim it. So if Little G is going to get a last good shot at a job, it’s here.
Similarly, bringing in Joses Hernandez and Lima is pretty interesting. Although Hernandez isn’t the offensive plus he used to be, he doesn’t have to be to give the Dodgers a better alternative to Alex Cora and Cesar Izturis. The rotation is an open pit of choices waiting to be dug up; in that environment, adding Lima to the list isn’t a bad move, and you’d have to think that his jacktastic tendencies might fly better in Chavez Ravine than almost anywhere else.
|MILWAUKEE BREWERS||Return to Top|
Re-signed RHP Danny Kolb to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. [1/20]
|MINNESOTA TWINS||Return to Top|
Signed RHP Rick Helling to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/14]
Re-signed LHP J.C. Romero to a one year, $820,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/3]
Assuming that the Twins don’t give in to the temptation to paste Helling into the back end of the rotation, and instead stick to using him in relief, that’s a move that could turn out extremely favorably for them. Having lost LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado, they need the help, of course.
|MONTREAL EXPOS||Return to Top|
Signed C-B Gregg Zaun to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/14]
Re-signed RHP Rocky Biddle to a one year deal, avoiding arbitration. [1/18]
Re-signed RHPs Tomo Ohka and Tony Armas to one year contracts worth $2.3375 and $2.1 million respectively, avoiding arbitration with both players. [1/20]
Acquired C-R Brad Cresse from the Diamondbacks for a PTBNL. [1/22]
Signed IF-R Julius Matos, 1B-R Luis Lopez, C-Rs Randy Knorr and Paul Hoover, and RHPs Jeff Farnsworth, Christian Parker, and Mike Judd to minor league contracts, with invitations to spring training. [1/23]
Signed RHP Pat Mahomes to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/3]
When you’re desperate and abandoned, you get to spend quality time with the salt of the earth, so if anything, it’s sort of intriguing to see who drifts through Montreal. Like the supporting cast of High Plains Drifter, they’re not the sorts you’d choose to put together, but it makes for an interesting, ugly, human bunch. Mike Judd is nearly seven years removed from his days as a prospect, and Pat Mahomes more than a decade. In contrast, the floppery of Brad Cresse or Christian Parker was virtually yesterday. Randy Knorr is Pat Borders without the guardian angel, while Luis Lopez is one of those unkillable low-wattage right-handed hitters who can only play first but will happily stand at third for another opportunity. These are your aspiring Puerto Rico Expos, waiting solemnly for the opportunity to hear Youppi! intone “Give us your tired, your huddled masses, yearning to be non-roster invitees with a real shot at some service time.”
Among stathead circles, the only guy who really attracts notice is Zaun, because it’s usually fashionable to describe him as the ultimate backup backstop. After all, he catches, he switch-hits, and he was able to help put a run or two on the board once upon a time. But it’s also worth remembering that he isn’t a great catcher, his last good season with the stick was 2001, and he’ll be 33 shortly after Opening Day. Those all add up to reasons why he’s now and Expo, and why he won’t easily beat out people like Knorr or even Paul Hoover for the right to back up Brian Schneider.
|NEW YORK YANKEES||Return to Top|
Signed 1B-B Tony Clark to a one-year, $750,000 contract. [1/13]
Re-signed 2B-R Alfonso Soriano to a one-year, $5.4 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/21]
Signed 3B-L Tyler Houston to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/28]
Signed OF-L Darren Bragg to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/29]
Signed 2B-R Homer Bush to a minor league contract. [2/1]
Acquired 3B-L Mike Lamb from the Rangers for RHP Jose Garcia. [2/4]
Sold 1B-B Fernando Seguignol to the Nippon Ham Fighters. [2/6]
Meanwhile, in the “Midget Wrestling, Without the Dignity” corner, we have the Yankees’ desperate search for a third baseman. Neither Mike Lamb or Tyler Houston make for great choices as regulars, but presumably Enrique Wilson will do some defensive replacement work to earn his keep. As a hitter, Lamb will be more than adequate, and eminently pluggable into the bottom of the order. I can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t have made more sense to send Soriano across the diamond and acquire a second base temp with some defensive value, but that might get uncomfortably close to acknowledging that there are a couple of defensive problems in the middle infield, and why mess with success?
The problem is how much space they’re already wasting on the 40-man on position players who can’t and won’t ever be starter-quality regulars. Wilson and Miguel Cairo are both on the roster, and apparently they have no confidence in Erick Almonte surpassing either of them them, having removed him. With Homer Bush back, it seems that much less likely that Almonte will ever surface, but getting Bush as a NRI only reminds you to ask why Cairo was given a guaranteed contract. Meanwhile, the Yanks have a pair of backup DHs (Ruben Sierra and Tony Clark?) on a team that will need to let Bernie Williams and Gary Sheffield alternate between the DH job and whatever corner Godzilla isn’t in. I know, nobody weeps for the Yankees, least of all me, but this is stupid.
I like the idea of picking up both Sal Fasano and Steve Torrealba, but that’s because John Flaherty doesn’t serve a whole lot of purpose. If anything happens to Jorge Posada, it’s just as well that the Bombers have choices. The misfortune is that they’ve also got Joe Girardi back, and given how many times before that Joe Torre has punted spots on the bench out of familiarity and favoritism, you can understand my belief there’s an element of danger here.
|NEW YORK METS||Return to Top|
Signed RF-L Karim Garcia to a one-year, $800,000 contract. [1/21]
Acquired RHP Shawn Sedlacek from the Royals for LHP Jamie Cerda. [1/27]
Signed OF-R Shane Spencer to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/30]
Signed 3B/1B-R Todd Zeile to a one-year, $1 million contract. [2/1]
Signed RHP Scott Erickson to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/5]
I’m a little mystified by the need to deal a potentially useful lefty reliever to clear a spot on the 40-man roster that subsequently gets used on Todd Zeile, at least at this point in time. He can’t play third, which leaves you with a light-hitting first baseman who might only have value in a platoon role. Why go out of your way to make that happen? As much as having an alternative to Ty Wigginton at third base makes sense, Zeile isn’t it. Dealing Cerda for a filler pitcher like Sedlacek only adds insult to injury, although at least the Mets have both Pedro Feliciano and Royce Ring as lefty arms to fall back on.
Elsewhere, adding Spencer and Garcia makes some sense. Beyond Mike Cameron in center and Cliff Floyd in left, somebody has to play right, and limiting your choices to Timo Perez and Roger Cedeno is unnecessarily ugly. The organizational alternatives–Prentice Redman, Raul Gonzalez, and Jeff Duncan–all lack power in an interchangeable sort of way, so Spencer and Garcia will at least give Art Howe some variety on the menu, so that he can pick what he wants from his bench while hoping that Jim Duquette achieves the near-impossible and makes Cedeno somebody else’s problem.
|OAKLAND ATHLETICS||Return to Top|
Signed 1B-R Eric Karros to a one-year contract. [1/31]
Designated LHP Mario Ramos for assignment. [2/3]
Eric Karros, panacea or solution? After a few years of fine platoon hitting (and more regular mediocrity), Karros might be the righty stick that the A’s could use off of the bench to break up their concerns with lefty pitching. Love, death, and money may well be the things people give the most thought to, but in the Hot Stove League, you can apparently let cabin fever take your eye off those particular balls, and lead you into more fanciful directions. There’s been a goodly amount of speculation that platoon splits have no predictive value for future platoon performance, and as neat as the math might be, as Christopher Hitchens cautions us, the existential paralysis of Eastern philosophy–or in this case, too much analysis–might be intoxicating for some, but the paralytic effect of getting overly hung up on macro-level research really boils down to so much lotus-eating. In the present, the more consuming question is whether or not Billy Beane did something that helps, and did he do it within his means?
For a single year, Karros may well be helpful, but carrying him and Scott Hatteberg and Erubiel Durazo gives you three first basemen who can only play first (and DH, of course), and that’s a handicap in terms of in-game tactical flexibility, since you can only really plug them in for each other, limiting your total number of choices. That may not be that big a deal; because the A’s should have a better collection of hitting outfielders, which really might limit Karros to coming in for the middle infielders or whoever catches, beyond Hatteberg and Durazo. But those innings where you see a manager burn through almost all of his bench–particularly in the postseason–is a danger when you carry too many single-position players, and at the end of the day, more than these sorts of tactical considerations, it would be a lot more helpful to have a useful everyday second baseman, or a better hitter than Hatteberg getting 400 or more plate appearances, or a nice alternative to Damian Miller behind the plate.
That said, it isn’t Karros’s fault that he isn’t any of those things. The problem is the expense balanced against the likely return. Against lefties over the last three years, Karros has hit .316/.389/.515, which is nice, particularly considering a lot of it was in Chavez Ravine. But that’s also a lot of singles, and not really all that much power (last year, roughly 75 right-handed hitters had better isolated power numbers), and hitting for average is a much less reliable skill than power or patience. Far more than any esoteric consideration about whether or not some right-handed hitters have a predictable skill to mash lefties–something unknown as of yet–the fact of the matter is that Karros is merely good at it, even if you give him the benefit of the doubt. Spending a million bucks on that might set a front office mind at ease right now, but it’s neither a sure bet, or worth that much more expense than whatever Adam Piatt might have been able to do for a fraction of the cost, while offering a lot more position flexibility. In Oakland’s payroll situation, Karros is a luxury, even if he winds up being no more of a white elephant than objects of John McGraw’s disdain. If they’re half a million bucks short of swinging a deadline deal, you already know where it went.
|PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES||Return to Top|
Signed CF-R Doug Glanville to a one-year, $550,000 contract. [1/12]
Re-signed SS-B Jimmy Rollins to a one-year, $2.4 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]
Re-signed RHP Vicente Padilla to a one-year, $2.6 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/31]
When a player like Doug Glanville has yet to be reduced to fighting for an NRI, there’s something wrong in the world. This is not the first, nor will it be the last, mistake that Ed Wade has made, but after being hit in the face with this particular brick a few thousand times, you’d think that the last thing he’d want would be the right to foot the bill for one more Glanville plate appearance. Paying him significantly more than the big league minimum for the privilege to be this team’s sixth outfielder and pinch-runner is the sort of largesse that we should all be so lucky to enjoy.
|PITTSBURGH PIRATES||Return to Top|
Re-signed RHP Kip Wells to a one-year, $2.575 million contract, and OF/1B/C-R Craig Wilson to a one year, $1.15 million contract, avoiding arbitration with both players. [1/20]
Signed RHP Rick Reed to a minor league contract, with a spring training NRI. [1/25]
Signed RHP Jose Mesa to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/30]
Signed CF-L Chris Singleton to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/31]
Signed LHP Mark Guthrie to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/5]
You’re not mistaken if you think that the Pirates are starting to resemble the Hometown Homies, a franchise that lets everyone in to keep in shape for actual major league teams to evaluate and consider for the back end of their own rosters. Can you blame the other 28? (The Expos hardly count, since they’re almost in the same boat, only with less choice.) No, I wouldn’t bet on Rick Reed or Jose Mesa having all that much left in the tank, but at these prices, and given the lack of alternatives within the organization, can you blame them for trying? Sandy Martinez might actually stick, if only to pick up splinters watching Jason Kendall play baseball.
Elsewhere, Tike Redman might be the answer in center, but if he isn’t or if he breaks down, Singleton makes a nice spare. Guthrie is virtually a lock to make the team, since Joe Beimel is the only other lefty reliever on hand; whether or not Dave Littlefield thinks of him as flippable at the first blush of success coincident with a needy contender remains to be seen. That should be the approach with all of these guys: disposable if they struggle, and short-term value to convert as quickly as possible if possible.
|ST. LOUIS CARDINALS||Return to Top|
Claimed OF-L Colin Porter off of waivers from the Astros. [1/23]
Not a bad claim by Walt Jocketty, considering that Tony LaRussa has had to lean on Kerry Robinson without much success, Orlando Palmeiro skedaddled, and “Me” So Taguchi should probably only be permitted to be as nasty as he wanna be in Memphis. Considering that they’re counting on Reggie Sanders to be healthy, the Cards have encouraged Ray Lankford to unretire, resurrected Greg Vaughn, and hauled in equally disappointing Mark Quinn and Todd Dunwoody. Against that assemblage of retreads, Porter resembles a prospect, even at 28. If you’re getting the sense that the chasm within the lineup between the value of the big four (Pujols, Edmonds, Renteria, and Rolen) and everyone else isn’t getting any smaller, you’re not alone.
|SAN DIEGO PADRES||Return to Top|
Signed CF-R Jay Payton to a two-year, $5.5 million contract. [1/14]
Re-signed RHP Adam Eaton to a two-year, $5.25 milion contract, avoiding arbitration; purchased the rights to LHP Edgar Huerta from the Mexico Tigers and invited him to spring training; designated LHP Mike Bynum for assignment. [1/16]
Outrighted LHP Mike Bynum. [1/23]
Signed RHP Bart Miadich to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. [1/30]
Signed RHP Antonio Osuna to a one-year, $750,000 contract; designated RHP Matt Bruback for assignment. [2/6]
After the trades that brought them Ramon Hernandez and Brian Giles, the Padres put a brave face on their situation in center, claiming that they were covered between Giles and Terrence Long. Happily, they didn’t believe it themselves, instead finally getting an actual center fielder in Jay Payton. With Giles in one corner, Payton covering the gaps, and some combination of a Klesko-Buchanan platoon and Phil Nevin to handle first base and the other outfield corner, that adds up to a far better balance of offensive and defensive responsibilities.
The real question is how well Payton will hit removed from Coors Field. He’s already 31, so it wasn’t a breakout season foreshadowing years of usefulness, although he did hit .281/.330/.483 on the road last year. If he can hit anywhere close to that over a full season with the Pads, he’ll have thwacked more than twenty taters, and he’d be heralded as one of the biggest offseason bargains of 2004. I’d expect him to slug a little less than that, but a .330 OBP and an average in the .280s don’t seem like unreasonable expectations.
The more interesting problem is over at shortstop, where it seems to be taken for granted that Khalil Greene will win the job. But there are enough questions about his bat and his defense that no matter how boldly the Pads say that the job is his, they quietly added Rey Ordonez as a potential defensive caddy for Ramon Vazquez. As a result, if Greene has a terrible camp and needs a few months in Triple-A, they’re covered. If Greene has a great camp, Vazquez would be one of the best utility infielders around, spotting for Greene and Mark Loretta, giving them some OBP off of the bench. That might put Ordonez in the minor leagues, but he was in Tampa last year, so he already knows the feeling.
|SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS||Return to Top|
Signed IF-R David Doster and RHP Lee Gardner to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/14]
I don’t know why I root for David Doster to make it back, but I have and I do. Maybe it was because Kevin Jordan got to have a career, while Doster might get a Scranton drinking fountain named for him, but it was hard not to feel some sympathy for Doster. Since the Giants look to be assembling a really lousy bench in their on-again project to see how far Barry can take them, here is as good an opportunity as Doster is going to get.
|SEATTLE MARINERS||Return to Top|
Re-signed C-B Ben Davis to a one-year, $1.4million contact, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]
Re-signed RHP Joel Pineiro to a three-year, $14.5 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/20]
Re-signed RHP Gil Meche to a one-year, $1.95 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/21]
Officially terminated the contract of RHP Kazuhiro Sasaki so that he could return to Japan. [1/28]
I’ve probably cracked a few too many Borders/Gillick jokes over the years, so let’s focus on the positive, such as it is, which is that Mike Myers is a pretty good NRI for a team that doesn’t have a situational lefty on the 40-man roster. Yes, he was bad last year, and no, he really can’t do anything else but work in a situational role, but in a disastrous winter that should have quickly reminded everyone why Bill Bavasi was an ex-GM, you have to start mistaking the silverfish for silver lining every now and again. Otherwise, you start thinking about how the Mariners are spending close to $5 million to let Dan Wilson and Ben Davis split the catching chores, and you can start to see why Kaz Sasaki decided to go home.
|TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS||Return to Top|
Signed RHP Todd Jones to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/12]
Signed RHP Mike Williams to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/14]
Designated RHP Matt White for assignment. [1/16]
Re-signed RHPJeremi Gonzalez to a one-year, $1.7 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/20]
Re-signed 3B/OF-R Damian Rolls and LHP Damian Moss to one-year contracts for $800,000 and $850,000 respectively, avoiding arbitration with both players; signed RHP Todd Ritchie to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; designated RHP Rob Bell for assignment. [1/23]
Outrighted RHP Rob Bell to the minor leagues. [1/28]
If you don’t wash up in Pittsburgh, it seems like you get to take your changes with Devil Raydom. Not everything here is a bad idea; if Mitch Meluskey is going to have a career, showing up in the wrong end of the majors on a team that has to give DH at-bats to somebody isn’t the worst choice. It’s a pity about having Aubrey Huff and Tino Martinez and Robert Fick all milling around in front of him to claim DH playing time, but that’s part of what makes the D-Rays so relentlessly pointless: they don’t exist for themselves or their fans, but for the benefit of the people they employ. Consider that another form of predatory socialism within baseball, similar to but different than Seligian caterwauling for new stadia, where at least somebody’s getting rich off of somebody else with money they apparently don’t miss.
A particularly atrocious example is Damian Rolls, a Rule 5 experiment that should have been left in the petri dish instead of being funded into a full-fledged roster-clogging infection. We can’t say “only in Tampa,” when you wonder why Rolls wasn’t non-tendered after four years, but perhaps this is their way of being stubborn. Look at it from Rolls’ perspective: he’s had to be a Devil Ray for four years of his life. He might be one of the most deserving players around when it comes to looking forward to the generic lemon-lime beverage shower that will come if this team ever wins a 70th game in a season.
Todd Jones and Mike Williams are hanging on for their professional lives, but consider what’s at stake. Both have vested pensions, their contracts don’t involve Disney-angle gimmicks, and other than Jones’s Rocker moment last season, the angle here really must be all about the fact that they love playing baseball. As much as it’s easy to always laugh about baseball in the Trop, sometimes this sort of thing can happen, and perhaps even get overlooked.
|TEXAS RANGERS||Return to Top|
Designated RHP Travis Hughes for assignment. [1/13]
Signed C-R Rod Barajas to a minor league contract, with a spring training NRI. [1/16]
Re-signed RHP Francisco Cordero to a one year, $2 million contract, avoiding arbitration; released RHP Reynaldo Garcia; outrighted 1B-B Jason Jones and RHP Travis Hughes to the minors. [1/17]
Added RHP Carlos Almanzar to the 40 man roster. [1/30]
Acquired RHP Jose Garcia from the Yankees for 3B-L Mike Lamb. [2/4]
Perhaps this wasn’t all that bad a month, despite superficially only looking like the latest ways to spend Tom Hicks’s money. The return of Kenny Rogers might be good for a few derisive snickers, but when the only lock in the rotation is Chan Ho Park’s contract, you can understand doing something that might at least make fans nostalgic for better times, like the tail end of the Tom Grieve regime. It’s within the realm of possibility that a pen now padded by Jeff Nelson might be able to be regularly brought into the sixth inning almost every night out. They’re hoping to have Jeff Zimmerman back as well, which added to Cordero looks like it might add up to something good, assuming the Rangers have any leads to protect.
In terms of moving Mike Lamb and undoing at least some of the organization’s logjam at the infield corners and DH, Jose Garcia’s a live arm they didn’t have to put on the 40-man roster this year, while Lamb was on the fringes of uselessness as roster spot usage goes. Moving him now, when the Yankees had the need, instead of holding out until the end of camp wishing something even better might come along, made perfect sense. At the end of camp, the Rangers may have had to outright Lamb, risking losing him on waivers, just to make room for whatever clutch of retreads rounds out the pitching staff. At that time, teams might have noticed the problem a little more readily, and held out on the Rangers.
Finally, this isn’t a great situation for Barajas to continue his career as one of the game’s lowest low-end backup catchers. He might get to stick around in the majors because the Rangers don’t want Gerald Laird around, potentially showing up Einar Diaz and making people ask more questions about whether this team has too much Hart.
|TORONTO BLUE JAYS||Return to Top|
Re-signed LHP Ted Lilly to a two-year, $5 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/15]
Re-signed RHP Justin Speier to a one-year, $1.6 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/21]
Re-signed RHP Roy Halladay to a four-year, $42 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/23]
A star player signing up to stay in place, and in a location that isn’t considered one of the best places to play the game? It bears mentioning that Halladay’s comfort with playing for the Blue Jays seems to have a lot to do with playing for J.P. Ricciardi, which makes for an interesting competitive distinction. After all, once you earn your way into this sort of financial stratosphere, as Curt Schilling pointed out, you’re not worrying about how much money you can wring out of the Vince Naimolis of the world before your career clock runs out. You have the freedom to consider where you want to be, where you think you have the best shot at winning some games, and perhaps even pitching into a few Octobers. Halladay seems pretty confident in the program, and that’s the sort of thing that you might eventually be able to compare to the Cardinals’ famed ability to sell people on playing in St. Louis.
There was perhaps no better illustration of completely different mindsets within the industry than Noah Hall’s leaving the Expos organization–where he was probably given even less thought than the change in the couch–to sign up with the Blue Jays. As a walk-drawing outfielder with some pop, he was exactly the sort of minor league free agent some teams covet, and other teams barely notice. That said, this isn’t a great place for him to get a shot at big league playing time; the Jays should have all three members of their talented Double-A outfield moving up to Triple-A this year, which leaves Hall sort of squeezed into a situation where, if he’s going to be anything more than a contributor to an affiliate’s success, he’ll get called up early because of an injury.