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ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Declined their option on LHP Jason Christiansen, making him a free agent.
[11/1]

BOSTON RED SOX
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Re-signed RHP Mike Timlin to a one-year contract. [11/2]

He’s not a funky platoon beast, he doesn’t have a funky movement, or a
dominating moustache, and he doesn’t have an official closing license from the
Department of Pitches and Games. He’s just durable and effective, and at the
end of the day, those are skills that demand great respect. Not that Timlin
is the new Mike Marshall or anything like that, but these
days, he’s about as far as you get from the Matt
Mantei
/Chad Fox crowd. Kudos to… hmmm, well,
whoever’s in charge these days, whether that’s Larry Lucchino or Al Haig.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Exercised their $1.2 million option on RHP Cliff Politte
for 2006; declined their $5 million option on DH-B Carl
Everett
for 2006, making him a free agent; announced that DH-R
Frank Thomas exercised his $10 million option for 2006.
[10/31]

The question the White Sox will have to sort out (once the Old Style clears
their system), is whether or not Kenny Williams loads up for bear and looks
for a bat that can help out as a reserve outfielder and prospective DH. Much
as I’ve always loved watching the Big Hurt at the plate, can anyone count on
that happening 400 or more times next season? And that’s without getting
into whether or not the Sox can re-sign Paul Konerko. For
that fourth outfielder’s job, I’d certainly understand if they just went
with a plan that the job is Joe Borchard‘s until he loses
it, but if Williams doesn’t land Konerko before the end of their exclusive
negotiating window, that could change.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Re-signed INF-L Ramon Vazquez to a one-year, $700,000
contract. [10/28]

Not a bad idea, as retentions go. Batting lefty, Vazquez makes for a nice
alternative to right-handed hitters like Aaron Boone and
Jhonny Peralta. More importantly, there’s no way to know
how Ron Belliard‘s free agency will play out. As much as a
Vazquez-Jose Hernandez platoon would be cool in Strat, I
don’t think anyone believes that would work all that well defensively over a
full season.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Declined to exercise their option on 1B-L Scott Hatteberg
for 2006; re-signed RHP Jay Witasick to a two-year contract
with a club option for 2008. [11/1]

What do you do if you’re Hatteberg? From being perhaps the most lamentable
celeb conjured up from the pages of Moneyball–if not Jeremy
Brown
, it’s Hatteberg–who does he go to? These days, the stathead
set is smart enough to identify him as a player you don’t want starting for
you (all he did for me was induce Bruce Bochte flashbacks),
but he might be tarred with that singular association that has the game’s
reactionaries frothing at the mouth these days. Given his readiness to foul
off a few pitches and his lack of a serious platoon split, he’d at least
make for a nifty pinch-hitter for a National League team.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Declined their options on the contracts of 2B/SS-R Pokey
Reese
and RHP Shigetoshi Hasegawa. [11/1]

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Announced the hiring of Gerry Hunsicker to be senior vice president of
baseball operations. [11/3]

Maybe this is a good thing, and maybe this means the Devil Rays will have an
Ausmus faction stalking their offices. How well this works out, with
Hunsicker reporting to young thing executive VP Andew Friedman, is anybody’s
guess. Hopefully, the suits will treat this as a management team instead of
an opportunity to sharpen their knives and see who it is who really takes up
the mantle of the lamentable LaMar. Hunsicker has a reputation for having a
more than agreeable opinion of himself, so it would be a happy turn of
events if he shelved that and was instead an effective mentor to Friedman;
if you’re feeling less snarky, it’s worth pointing out that Houston’s Tim
Purpura worked for Hunsicker for years, and before this year, Purpura was one of
the least-heralded up-and-coming front office execs in the game. If the
Husicker-Purpura relationship was a real mentoring situation, then you have
reason to think this could work out very well.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Received cash to complete the 7/21 trade that sent SS-R John
McDonald
to the Tigers. [11/3]

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Named Josh Byrnes general manager. [10/27]

Although I generally like this move, there are questions as to whether or
not this is really going to work all that well. Rumors that Byrnes is making
less than scouting director Mike Rizzo certainly don’t help but make me
wonder if Byrnes was all over the idea of getting out of Boston as quickly
as possible. However that plays out, Byrnes might be a closer match to J.P.
Ricciardi than anyone else among the next gen GMs, which should inoculate
him somewhat against the inevitable bigotry on the beat.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Exercised the 2006 option on RHP John Thomson. [11/1]

Are we all still wild about the aging and mediocre if they stick around in
Atlanta, or are we back to Rick Mahler days now that Leo
Mazzone has gone to the Birds? Since he missed three months with a hand
injury and not one to his shoulder or elbow, I guess we can be guardedly
optimistic, but I guess I go back to wondering if this isn’t just $4.8
million being spent on a fourth starter. I generally think you can do better
than that for that kind of money, but maybe I’m still stuck in last
winter’s mindset that you pay $3 million for your fourth starter types.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Declined their $7 million option on OF-L Jeromy Burnitz for
2006, making him a free agent; exercised the $2 million option on
Scott Williamson and their $2.5 million
option on 2B-L Todd Walker for 2006. [10/28]

Re-signed LHP Glendon Rusch to a two-year, $6 million
contract. [10/31]

Questions abound: who’s going to play in right field? Matt
Murton
? On a Dusty Baker team? Or is this an outfield that will try
to have both Corey Patterson and Jerry Hairston
Jr.
in it? Or will the Cubs dive into the bidding on Brian
Giles
? It’s a potential ugly situation, because the free agent
market in outfielders is pretty weak: after Giles, there’s Rondell
White
, and then… Jacque Jones? Richard
Hidalgo
? Juan Gonzalez, for an incentive-laden
deal? Getting reacquainted with Michael Tucker or
Todd Hollandsworth? After Giles and White, none of these
guys resemble key offensive cogs on a contender, and presumably, that’s what
the Cubs still see themselves as. Jim Hendry may have to be more ambitious
than just exercising the wallet; he’s probably better off talking swap.

Rusch and Williamson are here as insurance policies, for both the young guns in
the rotation and Ryan Dempster if he goes Borowski on us,
respectively, but that’s the fun thing about a Baker production: he may get
it backwards again, and make Rusch a reliever and Williamson a starter, and
fart around for a month or two before he notices it isn’t working. This
being the Cubs, at least they’re spending a lot of money on their insurance,
even if the manager isn’t always quite sure how to use it. At the very best,
Williamson will be a healthy part of a complete bullpen that could gel as
effectively as Ozzie’s gang down south. Don’t laugh: nobody expected
Dustin Hermanson to be that good for that long, did they?

CINCINNATI REDS
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Declined their $2 million option on INF-R Rich Aurilia for
2006, making him a free agent; declined their $4.5 million option on RHP
Ramon Ortiz for 2006, making him a free agent. [10/28]

Activated RHP Ryan Wagner from the 15-day DL, and INF-B
Luis Lopez from the 60-day DL. [10/31]

Well, thank god for small blessings. For a while there, it seemed as if the
Reds thought that Aurilia was the second coming of Kurt
Stillwell
, just scrappy and pasty enough to be his own collage.
Notionally, they’ve got a keystone combo of Felipe Lopez at
short and Ryan Freel at second, which leaves Rainer
Olmedo
, William Bergolla, and Lopez squabbling
over one or two jobs on the bench. Since all three are glovely subs with
little pop at the plate, this might be a situation where you can only have
just one.

As for letting Ortiz go, I’m glad that it seems they’d rather go shopping.
If, for the sake of argument, we say that Paul Wilson will
be ready to go, that gives them a rotation of Wilson, Aaron
Harang
, Brandon Claussen, and the Eric
Milton
horror show. I don’t expect them to leave one slot open all
winter for guys like Ben Kozlowski or Phil
Dumatrait
to fight over in spring. Instead, they’re better off
taking a splash in the market, and finding out what’s available at a modest
price.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Re-signed RHP Mike DeJean to a one-year, $1.3 million
contract. [10/27]

Inside of a year, DeJean apparently went from a guy in which the Mets
thought they saw something to someone they wanted to see a lot less of, but
it seems to have worked out for the best. DeJean is that rare pitcher who
copes reasonably well with Coors Field, and I guess he’ll be the solid
citizen right-handed veteran in a pen that may or may not have the mutinous
Dan Miceli around next season.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Declined their option on RHP Antonio Alfonseca, making him
a free agent. [11/1]

Pulpo
at Santorini?
Sign me up. Sign Pulpo, on the other hand… look, the six-finger surprise
aside, he may well be the most overrated reliever in the game. Like my
favorite mollusc, you might find he’s better broiled than in his native
environment, although Alfonseca does give you a handy self-immolation
feature.

NEW YORK METS
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Declined their option on RHP Danny Graves for 2006, making
him a free agent. [10/27]

Activated OF-R Mike Cameron, RHPs Bartolome
Fortunato
and Tyler Yates, LHP Felix
Heredia
and 2B-R Jeff Keppinger from the 15-day
DL; declined their $3.75 million option on 1B-L Doug
Mientkiewicz
for 2006, making him a free agent; declined their $5.5
million option on RHP Braden Looper for 2006, making him a
free agent; exercised their $2.5 million option on RHP Steve
Trachsel
. [10/31]

Maybe it’s because I’m an unashamed Trachsel fan (the Alibi Ike
for a new millennium), but this was a nifty pickup. At that price, he’s an
asset as a fifth starter, but more importantly, he becomes an even more
valuable commodity in trade to the budget conscious teams that might have an
outfielder or first baseman to peddle. A package of prospects and an
affordable veteran starter should be interesting to teams like the Reds or
Brewers or Fish. So we’ll see what Omar Minaya does, but happily, it won’t
involve Minky, a Sport Illustrated object of fascination for the
people predisposed to be Keith Hernandez fanciers.

I suppose there’s the larger subject of what happened with Looper, but
whether the move was made out of economic considerations or not, there’s the
more basic fact that he simply wasn’t very good. Skip the 85 saves over
three years, that’s a product of where he was put, not what he can do. What
he is now is a 31 year old reliever who doesn’t fool many people much of the
time. Anybody whose strikeout rate drops into the four per nine range is
sort of dodgy, but I suspect that somebody will bid on the save numbers for
the moxie or heart of a lion or odor of defeat or whatever it is you’re
supposed to get from a third-rate closer. Pity Looper, he hits a market
without Ed Wade in it to drive up the bidding on every free agent reliever.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Acquired 3B-R Vinny Castilla from the Nationals in exchange
for RHP Brian Lawrence. [11/3]

As moves go, this goes beyond bad. When a hitter has a fork sticking out of
his bat, you really ought to know better, however desperate you may be to
“solve” your problems at third base. But Castilla’s power is a
mile-high memory, and he’s become fragile with age. Beyond the question of
whether or not he might help you sell tickets, the only thing Castilla
offers the organization is a veteran so feeble that Sean
Burroughs
might win his old job back without making any
improvements. If this was the route the Padres wanted to take, they would
have been better off seeing if Scott McClain might be
available and willing to take a NRI deal, because at least that would spare
the Pads a winter slot on the 40-man roster.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Exercised their $10.5 million option on RHP Jason Schmidt
and their $5 million option on OF-B Randy Winn for 2006;
announced that 2B-B Ray Durham exercised his $7 million
option and OF-R Moises Alou exercised his $6 million option
for 2006; re-signed LHP Jeff Fassero to a one-year
contract. [10/27]

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here. Of course, this time around, it’ll be with
that Bonds character headlining the cast, which makes for a much different
proposition. The question is more one of whether any of these guys will be
worth what they’re being paid, but the Giants have always been built on the
hope that tomorrows never come, and that Father Time only bugs other teams.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Signed 2B-B Bernie Castro and UT-R Damian
Jackson
to one-year contracts. [10/27]

Announced that RHP Esteban Loaiza declined his portion of a
$4.5 million mutual option for 2006, making him a free agent. [10/28]

Acquired RHP Brian Lawrence from the Padres in exchange for
3B-R Vinny Castilla. [11/3]

Kudos to Jim Bowden, not simply for neatly replacing Loaiza with Lawrence, a
risk worth taking all by itself, but also for the other bits of recent
activity. Dumping Castilla to make room for Ryan Zimmerman
was the absolutely necessary move of the winter, and having gotten it out of
the way this early on in the offseason definitely makes life easier, as
Bowden can now turn his attention to other ideas for improving the club.
Wish as we might, that won’t involve making Cristian Guzman
somebody else’s problem.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Lawrence will pitch as well as Loaiza
did, but his
peripherals
in San Diego seem to have held steady, except for the
batting average on balls in play. Now sure, he’s coming from a pitcher’s
park, so I don’t expect RFK to help him any more than Petco did or did not,
but if his defense-dependent stats improve, he should be the solid starter
he was in seasons before 2005. Getting him as the payoff for making Castilla
go away is a steal.

The little moves also have their benefits, as the Nats bench starts to take
on a more useful look. I like the decision to sign Castro, since he makes an
solid little plug-in at second base and a decent OBP source should Bowden
try to move Jose Vidro. Certainly, he’s a better
replacement than Jamey Carroll. Jackson can play pretty
much anywhere on the diamond, and he can run, all of which makes him exactly
the sort of reserve that Carlos Baerga is not.

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