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ANAHEIM ANGELS

Signed RHP Rich DeLucia to a one-year contract, and signed RHP Mark Gubicza to
a minor-league contract with a spring training invite. [12/8]

Signed RHP Omar Olivares to a one-year contract. [12/11]


The Angels haven’t managed to pull off any of the rumored deals for pitching
that would in turn move either Garrett Anderson or Jim Edmonds, so this is a
bit of damage control. DeLucia was the Angels’ most effective middle reliever
before the All-Star break, but like so many other relievers who work for Terry
Collins, he broke down. He works high with great control, but that can be too
exciting at times; credit the Angels for having some kind of faith that he can
be a useful reliever. Olivares is a basically useful #5 starter, capable of
putting up an ERA a notch below league average, while getting the last laugh on
Joe Coleman. Gubicza is probably too far gone to mount a third comeback, but
after last year’s bad decision to trade for him, the Angels almost certainly
want to see something out of him as a Halo.


ATLANTA BRAVES

Traded RHP Chad Fox to Milwaukee for OF Gerald “Ice” Williams. [12/11]


Williams is everything Danny Bautista aspires to be. The Braves have a gaggle
of pitchers like Fox, so they decided to turn one of them into a platoon mate
for Michael Tucker and/or Ryan Klesko. Williams will also be a handy defensive
replacement and pinch-runner for either. The only question is why the Braves
chose Williams as their man: Matt Mieske will come pretty cheap as a FA right
around now, and is the better lefty-masher.


BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Signed RHP Doug Drabek to a one-year contract. [12/11]

Signed DH Joe Carter to a one-year contract. [12/12]


The post-Davey floodgates have opened, because these are decisions right out of
the mold that had Mike Devereaux around forever or that signed Mike Bordick. To
put the best possible light on these signings: Carter is an extreme flyball
hitter coming to a good homerun park, and Drabek was better in the second half
than his final 5.74 ERA would indicate. In each case, the argument doesn’t
work: Carter is the worst DH in baseball, and Drabek has been an awful pitcher
in the best two pitcher’s parks of the respective leagues in the last three
years. But by all accounts, they’re solid citizens, so they’re being showered
with cash.


BOSTON RED SOX

Signed RHP Dennis Eckersley to a one-year contract. [12/9]

Signed RHP Pedro Martinez to a six-year contract. [12/12]


Like Jeff Reardon and Lee Smith before him, the Eck is skipping from team to
team in a multiyear farewell tour. Fenway should finish off his career as a
“closer,” although the slippery definition of the term intended for 100-inning
monsters from Dick Radatz to Goose Gossage to Bruce Sutter hardly seems
appropriate for a man who survives in the ever-shrinking role of
“less-than-an-inning, with the lead, while avoiding LH batters or people who
make good contact.” Again, this is a citizenship contract, where the Eck is
being given money to be a role model for Flash Gordon. As for Martinez, the
money isn’t the issue so much as the organization’s politics: the contract is
meant to induce Mo Vaughn and John Valentin to come down off of their demands
while encouraging fans to stop bellyaching and start getting excited about this
team.


CHICAGO CUBS

Signed SS Jeff Blauser to a two-year contract with an option for 2000. [12/9]

Traded RHP Miguel Batista to Montreal for LF Hank Rodriguez, and signed
Rodriguez to a one-year contract. [12/12]

Acquired C Sandy Martinez from Toronto for a PTBNL. [12/11]


Since Batista is a dubious prospect at best, Rodriguez came relatively cheaply,
although he did suffer an ugly second half fade (197/272/422). The Cubs are
clearly thinking along the lines of what got them “success” in the past: a
power-hitting middle infielder in the #2 hole, and a bopping LF like Jorge
Bell. Its clear that the issue isn’t talent-based: Rodriguez isn’t an
improvement over Robin Jennings or much-maligned Brooks Kieschnick, but within
the constricted range of vision that has Hank and Doug Glanville as the
alternatives, at least they chose Hank. The question is why the team won’t take
the plunge and look at Jennings or Kieschnick or Pedro Valdes. The Blauser
signing, however, is a good move, although I can’t shake the suspicion that
people will get exasperated very quickly with his inability to make the play
out of the hole. But its part and parcel of the same sort of bad idea: that the
organization has to get power from a secondbaseman or shortstop to compensate
for Mark Grace and (now) Lance Johnson, and that anyone under 26 shouldn’t be
trusted with any playing time. Sandy Martinez’ job is to make sure that Tyler
Houston has someone he’s clearly better than.


CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Claimed 2B Sergio Nunez off waivers from Kansas City. [12/8]

Signed Cs Charlie O’Brien and Chad Kreuter to one-year contracts; designated
RHP Al Levine and LHP Larry Thomas for assignment. [12/10]


The O’Brien and Kreuter signings are signature moves in what has been an
outstanding offseason for the Sox. They’ll share the job, although Kreuter has
been brought back pretty specifically to catch James Baldwin (who fell apart
last year when his personal catcher was traded in the Phillips/Fabregas deal
that was so highly touted for how it improved the Sox’ “chemistry”).
Improvement is relative, or just easy when you have worst catching situation
this side of Mike Matheny. Levine is probably AAA cannon fodder from this point
on, but Thomas may be claimed on waivers, since lefties with a smidgen of heat
usually get a thousand professional lives.


CINCINNATI REDS

Traded CF Curtis Goodwin to Colorado for RHP Mark Hutton. [12/10]


Although there’s the obvious political agenda here of getting Goodwin away from
ever having to be in the same lockerroom as Jack McKeon again, the Reds managed
to turn him into a good RH pitcher. Hutton will be 28, and he’s managed to
avoid serious injury or a heavy workload. He could easily fit in as a starter
or reliever. Give Jim Bowden credit for making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.


CLEVELAND INDIANS

Signed CF Kenny Lofton to a three-year contract with an option for 2001; signed
RHP Dwight Gooden to a two-year contract with an option for 2000; traded CF
Marquis Grissom and RHP Jeff Juden to Milwaukee for RHPs Ben McDonald and Mike
Fetters
and LHP Ron Villone; traded RHP Mike Fetters to Oakland for RHP Steve
Karsay
; designated RHP David Weathers for assignment. [12/8]


Depending on how you want to look at things, he almost certainly made a big
mistake in giving Grissom the big contract, but moves like this (and the
signings of Vizquel and Justice) are somewhat defensible as political moves to
show players that Cleveland can play big-market with their checkbook as well as
anybody. Whatever political capital that could have generated was either
already reaped or didn’t turn out as well as they may have wanted, but Hart
craftily turned around and dealt Grissom to a team moving to the NL (where
Grissom claims he’s more comfortable) and desperate for a CF. As a salary dump,
its very clever: McDonald is only under contract for one year, and a good chunk
of it is insured if his arm isn’t right. Villone could do for the Indians what
Arthur Rhodes does for Baltimore, since he was miscast as a situational lefty.
Karsay is probably better off in the pen, but he’s essentially insurance in
case Bart Colon’s elbow keeps being cranky in addition to McDonald’s and John
Smiley’s troubles. Signing Gooden was excessive, but he gets the Orel
Hershiser/Dennis Martinez celebrity star of the 80s rotation slot.


COLORADO ROCKIES

Traded RHP Mark Hutton to Cincinnati for CF Curtis Goodwin; traded CF Terry
Jones
and a PTBNL to Montreal for RHP Dave Veres and a PTBNL. [12/10]


A re-shuffling of the pieces already in the organization, and in both cases, an
upgrade for the Rox. Veres is more established than Hutton, which means that
Don Baylor is more likely to trust him. It may not generate good results (Veres
is still living off of his big year in the Astrodome), but on paper it makes
sense for the Rockies. The Goodwin move is a case of replacing Quinton
McCracken, and not a bad one at that (in the sense that QMcC’s production won’t
be hard to match). On any team that has Ellis Burks pretending to be a CF, this
is a necessity, because playing center wears Burks down as well as taxing his
defensive abilities.


DETROIT TIGERS

Signed LF Luis Gonzalez to a two-year contract. [12/9]

Signed RHP Frank Castillo to a one-year contract. [12/11]

Signed OF/2B Bip Roberts to a one-year contract with an option for 1999;
designated DH Bob Hamelin for assignment; released RHP Kevin Jarvis. [12/12]


The good news is that after surviving Wrigley and Coors, Frank Castillo should
probably be able to enjoy the deepest centerfield in the majors while trying to
keep people from pulling balls towards the nearby foulpoles. The bad news is
everything else here: Gonzalez and Roberts aren’t significantly different
players offensively, and Gonzo was NOT hurt by the Astrodome last year. This is
what the Tigers were thinking when they dumped Mel Nieves and lost Bubba
Trammell in the expansion draft? Those weren’t bad decisions in themselves, but
to give Luis Gonzalez a two-year contract? Pray for Juan Encarnacion and Gabe
Kapler. Its bad enough that there’s a danger that Roberts may take up infield
time from Frank Catalanotto. Bob Hamelin’s unemployment while Paul Sorrento
gets money thrown at him to be a platoon DH has to be one of the stranger
aspects of this winter, sort of like the pending Orioles’ decision to
non-tender Geronimo Berroa while throwing money at half the ballplayer (Joe
Carter).


FLORIDA MARLINS

Waived INF Alex Arias. [12/12]

HOUSTON ASTROS

Signed PH Jack Howell to a two-year contract. [12/9]


Howell is another representative of the wave of ballplayers who come back from
Japan as slightly more polished hitters: since Cecil Fielder, we’ve seen Howell
and Lee Stevens come back notably better as well. So now Howell will be a dandy
little PH for an Astros’ team that has an all-righty OF and Jeff Bagwell. He
may also get some time at third if the Astros non-tender Sean Berry.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Signed SS Jose Vizcaino to a three-year contract. [12/8]


Giants fans should be cheering this move, unless it brings them Shawon Dunston
or Ozzie Guillen instead of Rich Aurilia as a regular. That Vizcaino got
multiple years despite only adequate glovework and meagre offensive skills is
basically incredible.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Traded RHPs Ben McDonald and Mike Fetters and LHP Ron Villone to Cleveland for
CF Marquis Grissom and RHP Jeff Juden. [12/8]

Traded OF Gerald “Ice” Williams to Atlanta for RHP Chad Fox. [12/11]

Signed C Mike Matheny to a one-year contract. [12/12]


The Brewers were desperately worried about coming to the NL with their feeble
situations in center and behind the plate, and their failure to protect Kelly
Stinnett this offseason has already damned them to Mike Matheny or possibly
Bobby Hughes behind the plate. They were already committed to spending some
money, so they took the plunge on Grissom’s contract, while ridding themselves
of McDonald, Villone, and an expensive setup man in Fetters, in exchange for
three years of Juden and Grissom’s long-term deal. Juden is a fine pitcher to
take a risk on, and he should step into the Brewers’ rotation behind D’Amico,
Eldred, and Karl. Chad Fox is a good arm to toss into the bullpen, although he
could replace Jose Mercedes in the rotation once Mercedes goes back to being a
pumpkin.


MINNESOTA TWINS

Signed CF Otis Nixon to a one-year contract with an option for 1999. [12/11]

Traded CF Rich Becker to the Mets for RF Alex Ochoa; designated LHP Rich
Robertson
for assignment. [12/12]


Ugh. How many synonyms for “despair” are there? From the promising group of
Becker, Cordova, and Lawton, the Twins will now have Nixon gamely watching
triples sail to the gaps in center, and tools boy Ochoa stumbling around in
right. For a team that at best is treading water until it finds out where its
going, the Nixon signing in particular is a needless expense, since he doesn’t
do anything that Chris Latham wouldn’t do better. And a local buyer is supposed
to suck up Pohlad’s “losses” when he’s signing off on flushing money this way?
Criminy. What was clear was that Becker had talked his way out of town after
last year’s recriminations surrounding the inability to get him to agree to a
long-term deal.


MONTREAL EXPOS

Traded RHP Dave Veres and a PTBNL to Colorado for CF Terry Jones and a PTBNL.
[12/10]

Traded LF Hank Rodriguez to the Cubs for RHP Miguel Batista. [12/12]


A lot of baseball folks are talking about what a dandy job Jim Beattie has done
in getting talent in his slash-and-burn campaign, but these aren’t good
examples of it. Jones will never be an asset, and Batista (not to be confused
with the Miguel Batista who came up with the A’s) is a plain-old bad pitcher
with no single outstanding pitch.


NEW YORK METS

Traded RF Alex Ochoa to Minnesota for CF Rich Becker. [12/12]

The steal of the offseason. Ochoa doesn’t look like he’ll ever turn out to be
anything special, while Becker should be the best CF in a Mets uniform since
Lenny Dykstra, Lance Johnson’s ’96 notwithstanding. Now all the Mets have to do
is find a taker for Brian McRae…


NEW YORK YANKEES

Signed DH Chili Davis to a two-year contract. [12/10]


A definite upgrade from Cecil Fielder, to say the least. At this rate, Davis
could wind up being the other guy (besides Dave Kingman) to hit 400 HRs and not
come even close to going to the Hall of Fame. He’s at 328 now, and coming to
the home of a tasty short porch.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Traded RHP Steve Karsay to Cleveland for RHP Mike Fetters. [12/8]

Signed RHP Tom Candiotti to a two-year contract. [12/9]


The A’s steadily build up a veteran core to their team. Candiotti and Kenny
Rogers will top the rotation ahead of young Jimmy Haynes and Brad Rigby, and
the A’s could have a potentially outstanding bullpen by committee of Fetters,
T.J. Mathews, Billy Taylor, Doug Bochtler, Eric Ludwick, Mike Mohler, and Buddy
Groom.


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Fired GM Lee Thomas, and named Ed Wade acting GM for 1998. [12/9]

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Placed OF Charles Peterson and LHP Jeff Kelly on waivers. [12/8]

Signed LHP Jeff Tabaka to a one-year contract. [12/10]


Tabaka is living proof that spending half your time on the waiver wire is a
good thing, since it reminds most people that you’re left-handed and exist.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Signed RHP Orel Hershiser to a one-year contract. [12/9]
Signed LHP Kirk Rueter to a three-year contract. [12/12]


Any takers on how long it will take Dusty to slag Hershiser? It shouldn’t take
long: Baker has been more than willing to leave lesser lights like Mark Gardner
out on the mound forever to wilt under heavy use; now that he has “the great
Orel Hershiser” on the team, he’ll probably apply the coup de grace to Orel’s
career by August. The Rueter signing, which forestalls the unpleasantries of
arbitration, should remind us all that Montreal has basically bled talent, not
merely veteran talent entering free agency, but young players whose rights they
would have controlled for years.


SEATTLE MARINERS

Signed C John Marzano to a minor-league contract. [12/8]

Signed 1B David Segui to a two-year contract. [12/12]


Marzano will fight with Rick Wilkins for the backup spot behind Dan Wilson; its
amazing how far you can get when your only real credential was catching Team
USA in ’84. The Segui signing keeps Edgar Martinez at DH, while Segui replaces
Paul Sorrento. As bad as Sorrento is with the leather, Segui isn’t much better,
since his reputation far outstrips his skills. But within the self-imposed
limitations of signing either Segui or Lou Piniella’s paisano Hal Morris, Woody
Woodward chose the right player.


TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Signed 1B Paul Sorrento to a two-year contract with an option for 2000. [12/8]

Signed 3B Wade Boggs to a two-year contract. [12/9]


Anyone now care to explain why the D-Rays drafted Brooks Kieschnick or Steve
Cox or Bubba Trammell or Rich Butler? Why sign Sorrento when you can claim Bob
Hamelin on waivers? The Boggs signing makes sense, if only because the team
never really considered ever bringing in anyone else to play third.


TEXAS RANGERS

Signed SS Kevin Elster to a one-year contract. [12/8]

Signed 2B Luis Alicea and OF Roberto Kelly to two-year contracts. [12/9]


Having gotten egg on their collective faces over the Mike Bell screwups, the
Rangers went out and got insurance for Fernando Tatis at third (Alicea), and
Elster will again push aside the “developing” Benji Gil at short. Signing Kelly
doesn’t make much sense for this team as anything other than a spot starter
against LHPs, and trade bait for the Mariners come July 31 when they’ve gotten
tired of Rob Ducey in left. Again.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Signed UT Juan Samuel to a minor league contract with a spring training
invitation; signed INF Tony Fernandez to a one-year contract with an option for
1999; signed C Mike Stanley to a two-year contract with an option for 2000.
[12/8]

Signed RHP Paul Quantrill to a two-year contract and RHP Bill Risley to a
one-year contract. [12/9]

Traded C Sandy Martinez to the Cubs for a PTBNL; designated 2B Carlos Garcia
and Jeff Patzke for assignment. [12/11]


Signing Fernandez and Pat Kelly doomed Patzke, and signing Stanley screws
another Jays’ farmhand, 3B Tom Evans. The Jays had been considering moving
Sprague to DH, where if nothing else he would have been an improvement on Joe
Carter, if his offensive shortcomings didn’t lead to his under- or unemployment
while Evans took over at the hot corner. But with Stanley in town, Sprague is
locked in at third, which means the Jays are committed to bad old men at second
and third, for the benefit of having a very good DH in Stanley. The Jays are
being touted as orchestrating a big push to take the AL East crown, and while
they are building a better team, a good organization builds with canny free
agent signings and trades and young players from their minors. They could
have worked Evans and Patzke in just as easily as they have been willing to
hand a job to Shannon Stewart, and would have made for a better team, both this
year and over the long haul.

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