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ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Signed RHP Matt Mantei to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration;
signed RHP Mike Morgan to a minor-league contract, with a
spring-training NRI. [1/14]

Is anyone amused that the D’backs seriously underestimated Mantei’s salary
expectations, crippling the effort to get him signed to a multi-year deal?
Given his spotty health record, this may actually be to their benefit,
especially with all the money they’ve committed to veterans with declining
value and multi-year deals. It isn’t like they’re going to get back the
guys they gave the Marlins, no matter how much they try to welch on the
Abraham Nunez (the center fielder, not the Pirates’ shortstop) part of the
deal. Given their immediate objective of trying to remain in the National
League, Jerry Colangelo’s best bet is to just drop his complaints and kiss
up to Czar Bud any way he can.

Signing Morgan is a reasonable insurance policy for the fifth starter’s
slot, a hedge if Brian Anderson scuffles or when Armando Reynoso hurts
himself again. Plus, he isn’t old enough or close enough to the
major-league loss record to interest the Devil Rays.


ATLANTA BRAVES

Signed RHP Rudy Seanez to a one-year contract, avoiding salary
arbitration; sold the contract of 3B Howard Battle to the Hanshin
Tigers of the Japanese Leagues. [1/12]

Nice to see ol’ Traction Action Seanez finally get a big payoff, but put
him on the list of guys who should be donating a chunk of change to Bobby
Cox and Leo Mazzone for their efforts. Plenty of other managers had their
chance to find a way to use him.

Battle will be a significant improvement on Mike Blowers in the Tigers’
import category, but probably not enough to get them out of last place.


CHICAGO CUBS

Invited IF Jeff Huson and CF Corey Patterson to spring
training. [1/14]

Signed LHP Felix Heredia to a one-year contract. [1/17]

The Cubs claimed they wanted a left-handed-hitting infielder this winter.
After last year’s miserable experiment with the infield equivalent of
cheese food in Tyler Houston ("Mistaken for a third baseman by four
out of five dairy inspectors!"), there’s something uniquely Cub-like
in their settling for a worse alternative in Huson.


CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Acquired SS Jose Valentin and RHP Cal Eldred from the Brewers
for RHPs Jaime Navarro and John Snyder. [1/12]

Not a bad little pickup by Ron Schueler, now that the Mariners have made it
plain Alex Rodriguez isn’t available. Considering that the free-agent
shortstop alternatives were pretty lousy (witness new Cub Ricky Gutierrez)
and the Sox lineup’s need for a left-handed bat with some power, Valentin
fills a couple of holes at a low cost. He also gives the team an
experienced veteran shortstop; while he’s always going to be error-prone,
he’s also flashed good range, and he’s got the gun to make the play in the
hole. He’s never hit left-handers, which might create a platoon opportunity
for Craig Wilson.

Regardless of whether or not Mike Caruso has a future with the
organization, this was probably the best thing that could have happened to
him. Caruso desperately needs regular playing time in an environment where
his manager isn’t bitching about his every mistake. He also has a lot to
learn that he didn’t get to sort out by playing in Double- or Triple-A.

As for the pitching aspect of the deal, the bad news is that it isn’t a
salary dump. As done as Navarro has looked for three years, Eldred looks
worse and costs more. But moving both Navarro and Snyder makes room in the
rotation for Kip Wells, and creates a fight for the fifth spot among Pat
Daneker, Kevin Beirne, Aaron Myette and, at least technically, Eldred.
That’s definite improvement as well. Whether it will be enough to seriously
push the Indians remains to be seen, but the Sox aren’t that far from
getting into the mid-80s in wins, and the Indians aren’t going to score
another thousand runs.


CINCINNATI REDS

Acquired OF Alex Ochoa from the Brewers for OF Mark Sweeney
and a PTBNL. [1/14]

Signed LHPs Ron Villone and Gabe White to one-year contracts.
[1/17]

Jim Bowden is painting Ochoa’s pickup as getting a right-handed-hitting
outfielder to balance a bench that features Michael Tucker and Hal Morris.
What’s strange about this is that Sweeney is better than either of those
two. Look on the bright side, Reds fans: if productivity means anything,
Ochoa has a solid shot at swiping Fonzie Bichette’s job by August.


CLEVELAND INDIANS

Signed C Matt Nokes to a minor-league contract. [1/10]

Signed OF Lance Johnson and C Jesse Levis to minor-league
contracts with spring-training NRIs. [1/13]

Matt Nokes and Jesse Levis? Nokes is coming off of a season spent in the
Northern League, and Levis effectively lost the last two years after
hurting himself in early 1998. Now, maybe John Hart has been busy, what
with a few big-ticket free-agent signings and the impending sale of the
club to Mr. Dolan. But what are front-office minions for if they forget
that the club is almost bereft of viable catchers at every level, and miss
out on minor-league free agent shopping season? There were useful catchers
out there, and the Tribe missed out on the pick of the litter.

What’s really troubling is that not only does this leave the Indians’
affiliates screwed for catchers, but with Sandy Alomar Jr.’s chronic knee
problems, the big club is desperately going to need a better regular than
Einar Diaz.


COLORADO ROCKIES

Acquired RHP Masato Yoshii from the Mets for LHP Bobby M.
Jones
and RHP Lariel Gonzalez. [1/14]

Sometimes it pays to keep a hot streak going, because Dan O’Dowd looks like
he’s capped a busy winter with a steal of a deal. Yoshii logged 20 quality
starts in 29 outings, and to get him, the Rox didn’t have to give up
anything of significant value. Their rotation is shaping up pretty nicely:
Pedro Astacio, Brian Bohanon, Rolando Arrojo, Yoshii and either Jose
Jimenez or John Thomson. That’s a solid unit at any altitude, with a good
mix of veterans and young talent. A worst-to-first finish in the NL West is
looking less and less inconceivable.


DETROIT TIGERS

Signed OF Billy McMillon to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [1/10]

A nifty pickup. McMillon is a latter-day Warren Newson, a corner outfielder
with decent but not outstanding power and a good eye. If McMillon had the
guaranteed contract and Luis Polonia was the NRI, it would make more sense,
but it’s more likely that McMillon will waste major-league talent as a Mud
Hen.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Signed C Jorge Fabregas to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [1/12]

Signed OF Johnny Damon to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration.
[1/13]

Signed RHP Ricky Bottalico to a one-year contract. [1/14]

Signed DH Mike Sweeney to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration.
[1/15]

The good news? Johnny Damon is going to get to stick around for a bit. The
bad news? The Royals seem convinced that Jeremy Giambi and Mike Sweeney
shouldn’t get playing time or a long-term contract, respectively, because
Herk Robinson thinks the Players Association is going to play dead while
Czar Bud wishes the DH away. The worse news? Jorge Fabregas may get to
caddy for Sal Fasano.

After managing to blow saves all summer on the other side of Missouri,
Bottalico looks like a swell fit for an epically awful Royals bullpen.
Still, with both Bottalico and Jerry Spradlin in place, the Royals ought to
see some improvement over last year’s Jeff Montgomery/Scott Service debacle.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Signed OF Todd Hollandsworth to a one-year contract, avoiding
arbitration. [1/12]

Signed IF Kevin Elster on a minor-league contract. [1/14]

In Davey we trust? The best thing you can say about hauling in one of the
last remaining ex-Johnson Mets is that Elster could, at best, be a
better-hitting caddy for either Juan Castro or Alex Cora at shortstop if
Mark Grudzielanek ends up moving over to second base, as rumored.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Acquired RHPs John Snyder and Jaime Navawful from the White
Sox for SS Jose Valentin and RHP Cal Eldred; signed IF
Mark Loretta to a three-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/12]

Acquired OF Mark Sweeney and a PTBNL from the Reds for OF Alex
Ochoa
; invited RHPs Bob Scanlan and Hector Ramirez, 2B
Mickey Lopez and 3B Jose Fernandez to spring training. [1/14]

Signed OF Mark Sweeney to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration.
[1/16]

Signed C Tyler Houston to a one-year contract. [1/17]

There comes a point where you have to say you’ve done too much of a good
thing. The Brewers have been smart to go out of their way to acquire any
and every right-handed starter in his mid-to-late 20s, instead of, say,
signing Jim Abbott. Sure, dumping Eldred makes them feel some sort of
relief. But Snyder is never again going to be the pitcher he was during his
five weeks of glory last year: even before he hurt his perpetually bad
elbow, he wasn’t fooling anyone with a pedestrian assortment.

While Eldred was a distraction, Navarro is the ultimate pitcher for the Age
of Clinton: an irresponsible gasbag who ends up costing you a lot more than
his paycheck. If Davey Lopes can’t get him to can his crybaby stunts,
nobody will.

What really seems strange is the decision to long-term Mark Loretta and
anoint him the regular shortstop. Loretta has his strengths, but playing
shortstop isn’t one of them, since he’s got Larry Bowa fall-down range
going either way. Curiously enough, the man signed to play third base, Jose
Hernandez, is a significantly better shortstop. Flip-flopping them would
help the defense, but it isn’t going to happen.

As for the rest, Sweeney is an outstanding pickup for the bench. Ideally,
he’ll chase Marquis Grissom to the bench a couple of times a week. The ugly
addition is Tyler Houston. The expectation is that he’s going to platoon
with Henry Blanco at catcher, but since neither of them hit much, and since
Houston is almost as bad behind the plate as he is everywhere else on the
field, the Brewers still haven’t escaped the shadows of the Dark Age of
Matheny. Bobby Hughes looks like he’s screwed, although he’s probably the
best of a bad bunch.


MINNESOTA TWINS

Signed RHP Bob Wells to a two-year contract, avoiding arbitration.
[1/11]
Signed RHP Bobby Ayala to a minor-league contract with a spring
training NRI. [1/14]

Carl Pohlad must enjoy making Terry Ryan’s life a little more interesting
that it needs to be. Having lost out on their chance to sign Mike Trombley
to a long-term deal last summer–because of Pohlad’s peevishness–the Twins
should go into 2000 with a five- or six-headed closer committee. That’s
just as well for the Twins and/or Pohlad’s checkbook, since the last thing
the Twins need to start blowing spare cash on is a stat-logging non-entity
like Todd Jones. In the meantime, expect Wells, Ayala, Hector Carrasco and
Eddie Guardado (if he isn’t traded; J.C. Romero if he is) to log at least a
half-dozen saves apiece.


MONTREAL EXPOS

Signed C Lenny Webster to a minor-league contract with a spring
training NRI. [1/14]

Signed RHP Anthony Telford to a two-year contract. [1/15]

The Return of Lenny Webster has "Devil Ray-sized gimmick" written
all over it. Webster was as close to a cult hero as the Expos had. It’s
expected that they’re going to trade Chris Widger so that Michael Barrett
can move behind the plate full-time, so you can understand an argument for
a veteran caddy as Barrett starts his sophomore season. But if Bob Henley
is healthy, he’s the better player, and Brian Schneider should be in Ottawa
this year. At best, Webster should only be an insurance policy if
everything else goes wrong. The danger is that the Expos want more than that.


NEW YORK METS

Acquired LHP Bobby M. Jones and RHP Lariel Gonzalez from the
Rox for RHP Masato Yoshii. [1/14]

Signed RHP Rick Reed to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration.
[1/15]

Signed RHP Paul Wagner and C Alan Probst to minor-league
contracts. [1/17]

The never-ending winter of disaster continues. The last thing the Mets
could afford to do was give up rotation depth; trading Yoshii for a bad
left-handed swingman and a minor-league reliever of dubious value almost
deserves to be called a salary dump. Now they’re relying on Mike
Hampton–coming off his best year in a great pitchers’ park with great run
support–the wildly inconsistent Al Leiter, steadily declining Rick Reed
and the better, more mediocre Bobby Jones coming off an injury? They’re
supposed to take on the Braves with that?


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Signed IF Kevin Jordan and LHP Scott Aldred to one-year
contracts. [1/11]

I wonder if Aldred still holds a grudge against Derek Bell for his
showboating in 1992? Might make for some extra drama in those Mets-Phillies
bloodbaths….


SAN DIEGO PADRES

Signed CF Ruben Rivera to a one-year contract; signed RHP Donne
Wall
to a two-year contract with a club option for 2002; signed 2B
Jed Hansen to a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI.
[1/17]

Now that Wall has been inked for good money and the Padres have made it
plain they won’t be spending as much as last year, trading Trevor Hoffman
once he flashes a return to form in camp makes plenty of sense. Then drop
Wall into the closer’s role, let him crank out some saves and trade him to
Jerry Colangelo for valuable prizes in July of 2001.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Signed RHP John Johnstone to a two-year contract, avoiding
arbitration. [1/10]


TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Signed RHP Steve Trachsel to a one-year contract. [1/13]

Signed RHP Jim Mecir to a one-year contract; signed DH Dave
Hollins
, C John Marzano, RHP Marc Valdes and 1B/OF
Ryan Jackson to minor-league contracts with spring-training NRIs.
[1/14]

Signed RHP John Burkett to a minor-league contract with a spring
training NRI. [1/17]

It’s the middle of January, and to his credit, Chuck LaMar just made his
rotation situation a whole lot simpler. Trachsel has been inked to an
incentive-laden deal with a bunch of incentives he should reach, and the
Devil Rays can use someone who will take his turn regularly, since both
Juan Guzman and Wilson Alvarez make a point of missing a half-dozen starts
a year.

Burkett should get a shot to beat out Rule 5 pick Chad Ogea for the fifth
starter job. What Dave Hollins is around for is anybody’s guess. To keep
Aubrey Huff in Double-A? To impart valuable veteran wisdom to fresh-faced
whippersnapper Vinny Castilla?


TEXAS RANGERS

Signed LHP Darren Oliver to a three-year contract. [1/12]

In attempting to deflate this winter’s story of the free-agent pitching
market going bust, the Rangers blew big money on two of the riskiest
starters available in Oliver and Kenny Rogers. With Justin Thompson’s
availability still an open question, it might have made more sense to shop
for someone a little more reliable, or not cough up three-year deals for
both of the guys they did sign. On paper, a rotation of Rogers, Oliver,
Rick Helling, Thompson and Esteban Loaiza, with Matt Perisho and Doug Davis
waiting in the wings, looks strong.

Another interesting aspect of this winter’s pitching market is how badly
some agents overplayed their hands. Oliver, Omar Olivares, Aaron Sele and
Steve Trachsel all lost guaranteed years and money due to outlandish
expectations. Another thing to consider is that the Rangers saved money by
signing Oliver instead of Sele, which might also indicate what they think
of his mysterious physical woes, notably his elbow.

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