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ANAHEIM ANGELS

Signed LHP Kent Mercker and RHP Eric Weaver to minor-league
contracts with spring-training NRIs. [1/26]

Signed IF Carlos Garcia to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [1/31]

Signed SS Benji Gil to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/1]

Signed DH Todd Greene to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration.
[2/4]

Given the desperation of their rotation situation, picking up Mercker isn’t
the worst idea in the world. He’s a better signing that Tom Candiotti, in
that he has a decent chance at finishing with an ERA somewhere near
league-average, and he might give either Ramon Ortiz or Brian Cooper a
couple of months in Triple-A to gear up for their major-league careers.

Even then, a head count–while the execrable Tim Belcher is out–still
shows that the rotation is short-handed: Ken Hill, Jarrod Washburn,
Mercker, possibly Candiotti, possibly a rehabbing Jason Dickson, plus Ortiz
and Cooper. Belcher will eventually stumble back into work, but at best
he’s just an expensive buffer until Ortiz or Cooper are ready. Well,
"best" is relative: for the money he’s making, he could help
Disney a lot more by taking the place of one of the robots in "Pirates
of the Caribbean." There isn’t anyone who’s going to pull off a Todd
Ritchie-style surprise, and this rotation should be the league’s worst.

Similarly, Benji Gil has the right idea. If he’s trying to get back into
the major leagues, there isn’t a weaker shortstop starter around the majors
than Gary DiSarcina. Heck, he’s even entering his age 27 season, although
he’s hardly coming off a good year at Calgary in the Marlins’ chain. This
team is so bad, even Carlos Garcia has an outside shot at making the roster
as the team’s utility man.


ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Signed LHP Brian Anderson to a three-year contract, avoiding
arbitration. [1/28]

Released RHP Bobby Chouinard at his request. [2/2]

Signing Anderson to multiple years is a good move, both because of his
obvious talent and what the Snakes have going on in the rotation. Neither
Todd Stottlemyre or Armando Reynoso should be counted on to start 30 games
this season, given that Stottlemyre’s rotator cuff is a mess and Reynoso
never stays healthy over a full season. With Andy Benes bolting the stable,
the rotation will need all the help it can get over the next several years.
For right now, Anderson is a great bet to finish third on the team in
starts, and you have to like non-roster invitee Mike Morgan’s chances of
finishing fourth or fifth.


ATLANTA BRAVES

Signed DH Bobby Bonilla to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [1/28]

Signed CF Andruw Jones to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration.
[1/29]

Signed LHP Paul Assenmacher to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/4]

Okay, let’s try to sort this out. Bill Clark has left the organization, and
so has Chuck LaMar. Paul Snyder has retired. So the question is, if we
assume that the same guy who suggested picking up Terry Pendleton just
recommended taking a look-see at Bobby Bo and Paul Assenmacher, chances are
these three are all innocent. So who is it whispering evil notions into
John Schuerholz’s ear? Jane Fonda? Jon Lovitz in a Satan suit? Ozzie Guillen?


BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Signed RHP Pat Rapp to a one-year contract. [1/28]

Signed RHP Tim Worrell to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI; signed LHP Rick Krivda to a minor-league
contract. [2/4]

As far as fourth or fifth starters go, you can do a lot worse than Rapp,
but keep in mind that he’s been wildly inconsistent, even for a pitcher.
Spread around a career defined by wildness and bad years, he’s got a great
second half in 1995 to brag about, and he’s got last year with Joe
Kerrigan. With a bad defense behind him, and without Kerrigan, I don’t like
his chances of being much more than a bad temp. His signing cements Matt
Riley’s return engagement with the minor leagues.

Worrell might notionally be in the running for a job as a long reliever and
spot starter, but he was bad news last year. If you’re on a career path
that takes you from the Tigers to the A’s and you wind up with the Orioles,
your career may not be planted in the graveyard, but getting a shovel in
your "Welcome to Baltimore" care package is a pretty good hint.


BOSTON RED SOX

Named Tommy Harper outfield and baserunning coach. [1/26]

Signed RHP Johnny Wasdin to a two-year deal, avoiding arbitration.
[1/28]

Signed RHP Julio Santana to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/2]

Not that you’d notice with all of the Rocker nonsense in the news, but
sometimes progress comes in smaller, less obtrusive forms. Harper left the
Sox coaching staff almost 20 years ago, back when they still hadn’t
exorcised the last ghosts of Joe Cronin or the rest of the crackers who had
been fighting a long, drawn-out battle that started with Pumpsie Green. I
guess this is just another way to emphasize that the Duke’s outfit isn’t
your daddy’s Red Sox.


CINCINNATI REDS

Signed RHP Mark Wohlers to a minor-league contract. [1/28]

Signed RHPs Javier Martinez and Willis Roberts to
minor-league contracts with spring-training NRIs. [2/1]

Jim Bowden’s got the Duke on the run now, yessir. There’s no chance that
the Red Sox can catch the Reds in pre-camp roster moves….

It’s really unlikely that any of these guys will add much of value to the
organization, even to Louisville’s chances of contending. (In case you
missed it, Louisville and Indianapolis switched affiliations.) It will be
interesting to see whether either Martinez or Wohlers can iron out their
problems and recover from their injuries.


CLEVELAND INDIANS

Signed LHP Alan Newman and RHPs Curtis King and Steve
Falteisek
to minor-league contracts; gave Newman a spring-training NRI.
[1/26]

Signed RHP Scott Sanders to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [1/27]

Signed RHPs Jim Brower and Sean DePaula and LHP Tom
Martin
to one-year contracts. [2/2]

Surprisingly, Sanders was placed on the 40-man roster, and there’s already
a lot of speculation that the Tribe is going to waste its last Opening Day
roster spot on a 12th pitcher, and that Sanders may be that guy. That’s
sort of sad, considering they’re almost certainly better off with a center
fielder who can hit to cover for Lofton’s absence, or a third catcher to
cover for Sandy Alomar’s disappearing knees. As is, Travis Fryman is going
to seed, so the Tribe really ought to be using its roster spots to groom
future starting players or people who can help them. Why carry 12 pitchers
after blowing big money for a presumed "ace" like Chuck Finley?


COLORADO ROCKIES

Signed SS Neifi Perez to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration.
[1/31]

The good news is that at least O’Dowd hasn’t joined the lemming-like swarm
to sign every shortstop to a four-year contract. Perez isn’t worth the
commitment. Unfortunately, the rumor is that Perez will eventually get a
multi-year deal.


DETROIT TIGERS

Signed SS Deivi Cruz to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration.
[2/4]

While I’m trashing multi-year deals for shortstops, I’ll give credit to
Randy Smith for not handing one to Deivi Cruz. Why bother, when Alex
Rodriguez might be out there next winter? While Cruz is still relatively
underrated on the national level, and is a considerably better player than
Rey Ordonez in every phase of the game, he needs to improve his ability to
get on base if he’s going to earn a multi-year deal. The flirtation with
power hitting that he flashed last year is probably going to die in
Comerica Park’s spacious power alleys, so his value will probably drop. In
that sense, Smith might even be smart to wait on his multi-year offers
until after he gets a sense of what’s going to happen to players’
raw numbers because of the new ballpark.


HOUSTON ASTROS

Signed Cs Frank Charles and Pedro Lopez to minor-league
contracts with spring-training NRIs. [1/25]

Signed RHPs Mike Maddux and Kip Gross to minor-league
contracts with spring-training NRIs. [2/1]

Signed RHP Chris Holt to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration.
[2/3]

Larry Dierker and Vern Ruhle both like control pitching, and between the
Lesser Maddux and Japanese Leagues veteran Gross, they’ve got a pair of
11th-pitcher types who at least throw strikes. Considering that Brian
Williams is now making good money after being last year’s fill-in rehab
project, agents for everyone like Maddux or Gross or Williams should be
scrambling to get their clients hooked up with the Astros for some career
rebirths.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Signed 1B Paul Sorrento to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [1/26]

Signed RHP Edwin Hurtado to a minor-league contract with a spring
training NRI. [2/3]

Blame Tony Muser, blame Herk Robinson, shake your fist at the skies all you
want, but at the end of the day, you just knew that Paul Sorrento or
someone of his ilk was going to ride into town and don the powder blue for
Team Wal-Mart.

OK, that isn’t fair. They don’t wear the blue outfit anymore, and David
Glass doesn’t own the team yet, but you get the point.

The real misfortune is the rumor that Herk wants to unload Jeremy Giambi,
and that Dan O’Dowd is interested. For Jeremy, it’s the difference between
fabulous wealth and job-sharing with somebody like Chris Hatcher between
Omaha and KC. Nobody said life was fair.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Signed DH Geronimo Berroa to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/1]

If this is supposed to compensate for losing Treni Hubbard, it doesn’t. The
Dodgers are already carrying one player, Dave Hansen, who’s around to
pinch-hit and do nothing else. There’s no way they can afford to carry a
pinch-hitting platoon by keeping Berroa around, just to cover for Jose
Vizcaino and the pitcher’s spot.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Signed RHP Juan Acevedo to a two-year contract. [2/2]

The Brewers are still saying that Acevedo is going to be in the rotation.
Given the number of starting candidates they have (Steve Woodard, Jason
Bere, Jimmy Haynes, Jamey Wright, Jaime Navawful, Rocky Coppinger and even
Allen Levrault, to start), he’s going to get bumped back into long relief
until the obviously bad choices (the ex-White Sox) or the physically
challenged (Coppinger) weed themselves out of the rotation.


MINNESOTA TWINS

Signed DH Butch Huskey to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [1/31]

The Twins managed to swap Marty Cordova for Huskey while saving money and
adding a younger, more talented player. If this is what being a
noncompetitive "small market" team is about, sign me up for a few
more moves like this. Huskey has been better at what the two do
offensively–hammer left-handers–and isn’t expecting or being paid for
everyday play, while Cordova could have expected another 400 or more plate
appearances because of who he’d been.

Since the Twins also have a pair of good lefty-hitting first base/DH types
in Mario Valdez and David Ortiz, Huskey fits the current roster like a
glove. This move helps the lineup this year, while adding potential playing
time for players like Valdez or Ortiz, who are more likely to be supporting
players for the Twins’ great quartet of prospects (Michael Cuddyer, Matt
LeCroy, Michael Restovich and Bobby Kielty) in the future.


MONTREAL EXPOS

Signed 2B Mickey Morandini to a minor-league contract; invited RHP
Shayne Bennett, 2B Jamey Carroll and OF Scott Hunter
to spring training. [1/27]

Signed C Charlie O’Brien to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/4]

The really ugly aspect of the Morandini signing is that the Expos say they
intend to play him, and think he’ll be significantly improving the infield
defense. While Jose Vidro is never going to be a great second baseman,
Morandini isn’t one now, and his bat will only hurt an already weak Expos
lineup.

The diddling around with backup catchers is also sort of silly: if Bob
Henley is healthy, he’s a much better guy to have around than either
O’Brien or Lenny Webster. O’Brien might have value as a coach of sorts for
Michael Barrett, except that the usually quiet Expos’ front office is now
talking tough about how Barrett is going to play third base this year. If
they’re planning on playing Vidro at third base some to get Morandini on
the field–and I won’t even bring up the Wilton Guerrero nightmare–this
makes even less sense. But perhaps we can forgive the organization’s brash
optimism and apparently conflicting roster decisions. Chances are, they’ll
sort out a lot of this in camp.


NEW YORK METS

Signed SS Rey Ordonez to a four-year contract, avoiding arbitration
through organizational seppuku. [1/25]

Signed UT Kurt Abbott to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [1/26]

Re-signed C/IF Mike Kinkade to a one-year contract. [1/31]

Signed PH Matt Franco to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration.
[2/2]

Agreed to a one-year contracts with RHP Pat Mahomes and Turk
Wendell
, avoiding arbitration; signed RHP Dennis Springer to a
minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [2/4]

Maybe, just maybe, if somehow Alan Greenspan falls asleep at the wheel and
a wave of hyperinflation overwhelms the nation’s economy, Saint Rey the
Abundantly Overrated will be worth the money he’s just been given.
Otherwise, he’s just a millstone on the payroll as well as the team’s
withering offense.

In a move that reflects some remarkable consistency considering the choices
to replace John Olerud with Todd Zeile or Roger Cedeno with Derek Bell, the
Mets managed another downgrade by replacing Shawon Dunston with Kurt Abbott.

There is one reason for optimism: Dennis Springer has a really good shot at
beating out either of Bill Pulsipher or Bad Bobby Jones for the fifth spot
in the rotation. That doesn’t make him a good pitcher, but he is an
improvement on a bad situation. Other good news: the Mets are sufficiently
short of real prospects that it probably isn’t quite as offensive to have
Garth Brooks goofing off in camp for a couple of weeks as it would be for
the other 29 teams.


NEW YORK YANKEES

Signed LHP Andy Pettitte to a three-year contract, with a club
option for 2003, and avoiding arbitration. [1/25]

Signed OF Roberto Kelly to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI; signed RHP Jason Grimsley to a one-year
contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/26]

Signed RHP Ramiro Mendoza to a one-year contract, avoiding
arbitration. [1/28]

Signed RHP Mike Grace to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [1/31]

Signed OF Tim Raines to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/1]

Signed 2B/SS Rafael Bournigal to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/2]

Signed SS Derek Jeter to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration.
[2/3]

Hot damn, sometimes the smart guys just keep doing fun, interesting and
strange things. There are some good moves, some strange moves, some
charitable moves and some desperate moves, all within the same two weeks.

Picking up Kelly on the cheap is a great opportunity snag: Paul O’Neill is
losing ground, and if Shane Spencer and/or Ricky Ledee don’t earn the
starting job in left field, Kelly is a fine temporary solution. That’s
without bringing up the obvious good karma the Yankees enjoy for having
robbed the Reds blind by trading Kelly for O’Neill in the first place back
in 1992.

Settling with Mendoza and Jeter early should make it a little easier for
the Yankees to reach multi-year agreements with both of them. Mendoza will
be especially important, since the Yankees’ rotation is old, and chances
are he’ll spend a good chunk of the season filling in for each member of
the elderly trio of David Cone, Roger Clemens and Orlando Hernandez at some
point or another.

In terms of out-and-out desperation, bringing in Raffy Bournigal is your
basic fill-in move now that D’Angelo Jimenez is lost for the year. He’s no
better or worse than Luis Sojo, and bringing him in only impacts his
retirement benefits and his chances of having a ring to show his grandkids.

Bringing in Tim Raines is a reminder that while George Steinbrenner has run
roughshod over more than his fair share of people in the game, he’s also
been charitable to people who could use the help. I don’t want to say Rock
is finished, but hats off to the Boss for making another fine gesture to
another great player winding down his career.

The only move I don’t really like in this crowd is the multi-year deal for
Pettitte. I don’t share some of my co-authors’ optimism about his future;
when we compare him to Steve Avery, that just sets my alarm bells off.
Either that, or it’s those religious commercials Pettitte appears in that’s
setting them off. Either way, giving him three years seems like a bad idea
to me, even if they do manage to find someone to insure the contract.


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Signed Hit Prince Pete Rose Jr. to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [1/28]

Signed RHP Steve Sparks to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/2]

So the Bad Man’s little boy gets another reward for volunteering to scab,
despite never playing well above Double-A. This is not to the Phillies
credit, and only slightly more serious than bringing in Garth Brooks would be.

It’s nice to see Sparks keep going, my inveterate bias for knuckleballers
aside. How many guys were knuckleballers before they blew out their
arm (courtesy of Phil Garner), and came back? Sure, it doesn’t sound that
hard, because it isn’t like he left velocity on the surgeon’s table, but I
can’t imagine that makes it any easier.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES

After experiencing considerable pain, LHP John Smiley looks like
he’s going to retire after all. [2/2]

Happy travels to a pitcher I always liked watching pitch. While I tend to
take John Hart to task for never acquiring a top starting pitcher in
exchange for dumping Jeromy Burnitz, Sean Casey and Brian Giles, there was
no way anyone could have expected Smiley’s career to blow up as quickly as
it did.


ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Signed RHP Matt Morris to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration.
[1/26]

Signed SS Edgar Renteria to a four-year contract. [2/1]

Signed UT Shawon Dunston, OF Brian McRae, 1B Eduardo
Perez
and C Rick Wilkins to minor-league contracts with
spring-training NRIs. [2/3]

While we’ve seen plenty of multi-year deals for barely adequate middle
infielders, from Rey Ordonez to Homer Bush, signing Renteria to a
multi-year deal now is a great move by Walt Jocketty. If your shortstop
isn’t named Alex or Nomar or Derek, being tied to Renteria through 2003 is
about as good as you get even if he doesn’t improve. There’s a great chance
that he’s about to take another step up as a hitter and become the best
all-around shortstop in the NL.

Unfortunately, this is still the Cardinals, so while they’ve done the
sensible thing and tied up a star player for probably less than market
value, the dark side of the LaRussa legacy is another bench saddled with
ex-ballplayers, like the unholy snuggly Cubbies trinity of Dunston, McRae
and Wilkins, or a nepotista like Eduardo Perez. Even more pathetic is that
all three ex-Cubs have great chances to win jobs: Dunston should force Adam
Kennedy back to Triple-A, Wilkins only has the paragon of backstop badness
in Mike Matheny ahead of him for the job of backing up Eli Marrero and
McRae should inherit Darren Bragg’s roster spot.

This is just this year’s ringing indictment of both the Cardinals’ taste in
scrubs and their farm system, but kudos to the old men for hopping on a
hoped-for gravy train to the postseason. Just don’t weep for them when the
Astros send them home early.


SAN DIEGO PADRES

Signed 3B Ed Sprague to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/3]

Sometimes things work out right. Sprague isn’t worth much more than a NRI,
and his big chance is to coax his way into platooning with Ryan Klesko at
first base, or playing third base with all of the nimble grace of a falling
tree whenever Bruce Bochy decides to play Phil Nevin somewhere else. And
keep Dave Magadan on the bench. And not look at better alternatives in the
organization. In short, Sprague is still as valuable as he was last winter,
or for the last several years. He’s done, whether he’s in uniform or not.


SEATTLE MARINERS

Signed RHP Aaron Sele to a two-year contract. [1/10]

Sorry about blanking on this move, since I know it was of interest to
everyone. I may be alone on this one, but I think signing Sele was a great
move for the Mariners. Think of the game Pat Gillick is playing as a high
stakes version of what Jim Bowden did last year: not only is he rolling the
dice to build a "win now" contender, but the potential payoff is
that it might make Alex Rodriguez that much more inclined to re-sign to a
multi-year deal next winter. Sele was strong down the stretch, and while he
gave up plenty of hits, he wasn’t exactly playing for a Rangers team
blessed with great infield or outfield defense. While I would have been
less enthusiastic about his getting a four year deal, for two years and the
money he’s getting, he’s a much better add than the Rangers’ perverse
choice to bring Darren Oliver back. With the Mariners, there’s still only
one fly in the ointment: whether or not Mt. Piniella will blow his stack
and their playoff chances.


TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Signed RHP Rick White to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration;
signed C Pat Borders to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [1/27]

Added RHP Steve Trachsel to the 40-man roster; designated IF
David Lamb for assignment. [1/28]

Signed OF Quinton McCracken to a one-year contract, avoiding
arbitration; signed UT Mariano Duncan to a minor-league contract
with a spring-training NRI. [1/31]

Signed LHP Doug Creek to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/1]

The only move here of any importance is my sense of impending doom: now
that Quinton McCracken is signed, all he has to do is demonstrate that he’s
healthy, and I’d bet dollars to donuts that he’s in Japan with the Cubs for
"Opening Day." After all, he played for Don Baylor on Planet
Coors (and even back in the olden days, on Planet Mile High), the Devil
Fishies are paying top dollar to Gerald Williams to hang out in center
field and be an ex-Brave and the Cubs are saying they want to find someone
who bats left-handed and can play center field to share the job with Damon
Buford. I suppose that is reassuring at some level, since they know they
have to do this.

As for hauling Mariano Duncan’s butt out of the Atlantic League, what other
team would even want to? I’m telling you, Darryl Motley quit on his
Northern League success far too soon. He hit a big home run in the World
Series, which is as much pedigree as Vince Naimoli needs these days.


TEXAS RANGERS

Signed RHP Esteban Loaiza to a one-year contract. [2/1]

Locked and loaded into the fifth spot of the rotation, no matter how much
Mark Clark complains about it.

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