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ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Acquired RHP Jason Bulger from the Diamondbacks for 2B-B
Alberto Callaspo. [2/28]

Bulger’s nice enough as young relief maybes go, with mid-90s heat and a
decent slider. The shame is that this is all the Angels get for Callaspo: a
pitcher about as good as you might find on a waiver claim. Bulger might grow
up to be an adequate big league reliever, but he’s already 27, he’s a former
1st round draft choice, and he hasn’t really been all that impressive above
A-ball, however good his stuff is on scout’s charts. The Angels’ infield
picture was understandably crowded, with Howie Kendrick,
Brandon Wood, and Erick Aybar all fighting
for who gets assigned to Triple-A, and who has to settle for the Texas
League looking up at the other two.

Now, admittedly, that’s not such a terrible problem to have, but it’s also
nice of the Angels to thoughtfully dip into that depth and try to help the
big league club right now, while freeing up their lesser infield prospects
to their individual pursuits of happiness and profitable employment in other
organizations. That’s certainly what they did by swapping Alexi
Casilla
to the Twins for lefty relief workhorse J.C.
Romero
, after all. The problem is that, like Romero, I’m not so
sure they added something of significant value. Romero’s failures last
season, particularly with men on base, hardly bode well for his bid to be
the Angels’ first quality bullpen lefty since… Scott
Schoeneweis
? I guess that’s slightly less humiliating than
Mike Holtz.” But in Bulger, all they’ve
gotten is a righty reliever with a fastball and options, and in a pen that
might already not have room for both Esteban Yan and
Kevin Gregg, and which will also have organizational
soldier (with extra surgery stripes) Greg Jones knocking
around in camp. There’s little about Bulger to make you think that he’s more
worthwhile than any of that lot, let alone someone you trade somebody off of
your 40-man roster for.

If there’s solace to be taken, it’s that none of the Angels’ top middle
infield prospects has been dealt, and if there are sources of frustration,
it’s that they might have to risk losing a non-Bulger reliever on waivers at
the end of camp. If instead Bill Stoneman uses that as an opportunity to
deal a Yan or a Gregg for a catcher with some immediate utility, that would
be okay, but in the meantime, he’s peddled from depth without addressing the
team’s most serious weakness, its catching. And if they were so concerned
about their relief depth, keep in mind this is something created by the same
decision-makers who kept someone like Josh Paul on the
40-man last winter, and signed Yan to a two-year deal that same winter, while
putting Bobby Jenks on waivers.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Signed RHP Hideo Nomo to a minor league contract. [3/1]

The point here is that Nomo is not going to get invited to big league
camp. So if pitching coach Don Cooper’s going to be doing any good deeds and
fixing the wind-up delivery that has gone from explosive to generating
explosions, it’ll be from a distance. Nevertheless, the top possible call-up
in case of a rotation injury isn’t automatically the setting son of the Far
East, not when there’s an even more interesting retread NRI in camp in
Tim Redding, and not while Brandon
McCarthy
‘s prospect status is alive and well. It all makes for good
depth, and that’s a sensible investment for Kenny Williams to be making now
that there’s a division to be won.

For my money, that sort of fight for status within a team’s major and minor
league camps is worth far more than reading DL (Designated Lia… Lawyer
Who Speaks to Congress to Keep the Commissioner out of the Hoosegow) Bob
DuPuy demonstrate that he’s the one guy in the industry made of spare time
in spring training, and pumped
about talking about the latest febrile product
of MLB’s marketing
mayhem, the noisome WBC. I think I
know someone
more interesting on the subject
anyways, but as weak marketing goes,
this latest funky old dude activity has to rank well behind watching Flavor
Flav get his groove back
. But then that’s not really fair, not when one
of these men was part of the greatest
rap act of all time
, while the other man is only slightly less cool than
a skateboarding Montgomery Burns.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Acquired 2B-B Alberto Callaspo from the Angels for RHP
Jason Bulger. [2/28]

A nifty little pickup for the Snakes, in that Bulger is an eminently
replaceable commodity, while Callaspo’s a young prospect with several things
going for him. First, he’s a slick second baseman in an organization that
isn’t really all that deep in middle infield prospects. Add in that he has a
bit of power and patience, and that he can run, and you’ve got a guy who
might get into an All-Star game someday while also giving the Snakes a
middle infield that can put runs on the board once Stephen
Drew
is up as well. That’s all for the future, of course, since the
Snakes are well-set on that score for this season with Orlando
Hudson
and Craig Counsell. But Counsell’s only
under contract through this season, while Hudson’s got two more lucrative
spins at the arbitration wheel to look forward to, something that might
encourage GM Josh Byrnes to shop him around later on this season if the
D-backs fall out of the running by the deadline, or during next winter to
another pennant-minded ballclub looking for a quality defender with a bit of
sock for immediate help. And yes, while the organization does have
Justin Upton in the wings, a lot can happen to an 18
year-old on the way up, so let’s not ink him in at shortstop for 2009 just
yet. Basically, the chances that Arizona could have Drew at short and
Callaspo at second aren’t insignificant.

NEW YORK METS
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Announced the retirement of 2B-R Bret Boone. [3/1]

This not entirely lamented event should not erase anyone’s memory of Boone
the ballplayer. However, this does create a more straightforward competition
for the job at second base, with “incumbent” (to use the most
generous of definitions) Kaz Matsui contending with
Jeff Keppinger and Anderson Hernandez.
While Keppinger isn’t a great prospect, there’s really only one bad choice
among those three, and Matsui did badly enough last season that not even
time served then is going to count towards his getting more now. It should
make for one of the most interesting position fights this spring, in
anybody’s camp.

As for Boone, it was a good career. Although he had what seems like an
improbably good late career spike, starting with his walk year with the Reds in
1998, back at the start of his career, he was an odd sort of prospect, a
second baseman who was a Three True Outcomes hitter short on one of the
outcomes (walks), and who alienated then-Mariner manager Lou Piniella with
one of the others (the strikeouts). Then came four indifferent years with
Cincinnati, then his big-money year, then further indifference with the
Braves and Pads, and then his extraordinary three-year stretch with the
Mariners before 2004’s decline and 2005’s implosion. It makes for a pretty
funky career, certainly one that defies any easy claim of having a pattern.
His defensive performance and reputation was similarly all over the map,
going from a reputation for playing too deep to three Gold Gloves in the AL
(all from that 2001-03 stretch, when he hit well enough to win the respect
of the electorate, I suppose), and one another in the NL, although that came
in 1998, the year after he might have had his best season afield over
his entire career, at least in terms of his fielding Rate and Rate 2. But again, that’s those funky voters for you, eventually
catching up with a player’s reputation, and to be fair, Boone’s performances
afield in 2001-03 were good, so it wasn’t like Ryne
Sandberg
getting the award in 1990. So now he’s gone, and as our
own Jay Jaffe puts it, now the contest is between brother Aaron (in
his capacity as the Indians’ third baseman), and dad Bob (the
Nationals’ Assistant GM) to see who can do the most damage to his employer
among the Boone clan. My money’s on the old man, not that you should take
that as an endorsement of the playah.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Agreed to terms with SS-R Jack Wilson on a three-year,
$20.2 million contract extension through 2009, with a club option for 2010.
[2/28]

Well, I suppose whoever ends up buying the team from Kid McClatchy will have
to toss off the line, “Well there’s
another nice mess you’ve gotten me into,”
although I doubt the Kid
will be weeping by that time. After this winter’s pantomiming the activities
of honestly competitive, well-run ballclubs, I can’t imagine that McClatchy
will hold on for too much longer, not with attendance plummeting and the
team on the field liable to be exasperatingly dull where it isn’t simply
staffed with roster-clogging placeholders like Sean Casey,
Joe Randa, or Jeromy Burnitz. Like the
circle of Hell where Netflix only delivers National Lampoon Vacation movies,
regrettable rentals rarely distract for the full length of the feature,
usually driving the audience out of the room to take up fascinating hobbies
like darning socks. After this year’s flotsam stops bobbing and starts
sinking, the Pirates will be that much closer to a team that’s looking for
new capital and a willingness to pay off the longer-term mistakes.

That may all seem harsh, since we’re talking about Wilson here, and he is a
legitimately glorious player to watch in the field. But at this sort of pay rate,
the expectation seems to be that 2004 is going to happen again and again,
when it very much looks like the rare outlier, like Gary
DiSarcina
‘s 1995, in a career that’s very much looking like that of
a healthy DiSarcina. That isn’t a bad ballplayer, but it also isn’t
Jay Bell. His counting stats might seem okay; perhaps
you’re thinking that a team that doesn’t have
Derek Jeter and Miguel Tejada is fortunate
to have a guy who bopped eight home runs and seven triples. But Wilson took
more than 600 plate appearances to get even that much on the board, and
that’s basically the only way he looks good, by playing great defense, and
racking up just enough things that look productive that are more the
function of Wilson’s other skill beyond defense, which is health. Those are
good things, but good enough for nearly $7 million per? There, I’m more than
a little skeptical.

In the end, I think this is a contract that will be more important in the
boardroom than what it achieves for the Pirates on the field. It’s the
expensive sort of move more likely to eventually contribute to the
departures of Dave Littlefield and McClatchy. If, in the grand scheme of
things, that might be progress, that just makes me ponder Karl
Kraus
‘ observation that “Progress celebrates Pyrrhic victories over
nature.” Before Pirates fans get worked up hoping for a better day with
a better set-up at the top, I suppose we can recall similar enthusiasm felt
by Royals fans when Herk Robinson got the axe, or Expos fans when Claude
Brochu finally went away.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Signed OF-B Randy Winn to a three-year, $23.5 million
contract extension. [2/28]

Sent RHPs Joe Bateman and Justin Hedrick,
C-Rs Brian Munhall and Guillermo
Rodriguez
, 3B-L Brian Buscher, 3B-B Pablo
Sandoval
, 3B-R Jake Wald, OF-R Brian
Horwitz
, and OF-Ls Clay Timpner and John
Bowker
to their minor league camp. [3/1]

Most of the Winn-now jokes have already been coined, so let’s stick to the
brass tacks on this one. Winn’s going to get more than $7 million per, which
is the sort of random happiness that one-season wonders like Rick
Cerone
might only ever dream of. It’s the sort of crushing
obligation that kills a team when it’s been made on the basis of one really
freaky-deaky, uncharacteristic two-month stretch. Not that Winn has to give
those two months back, of course. It’s sort of like when Chris
Speier
hit two grand slams in a five-day stretch for the Giants in
1987. Sure, it’s unlikely, but the deeds still count, and that’s part of the
fun of the game. It’s when you’re paying for that unlikelihood and making it
an expectation that you wind up with a poisonous sense of regret. If your
expectations of Winn are that he’s a decent player to have in center
(despite his arm), you’re liable to get cranky or prematurely curmudgeonly
about what decent center fielders cost these days, bordering on Frank
DeFord-whiny even. I’m not really worried about that angle as much as I’m
the sort of chronic scold who wonders how much this will limit the Giants’
financial ability to help themselves in 2007 and 2008. He’s athletic enough
to age well, despite closing in on 32 already, but the Giants are paying
Winn to be a star, and when the guy who had those incredible two months
doesn’t show up this season, it’s going to be an unhappy thing indeed.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Signed RHP Pedro Astacio to a one-year contract, pending a
physical. [2/27]

You might think this was a matter of it being a buyer’s market for the likes
of an acquired taste like Astacio. But with Brian Lawrence
out for three months (as if) to a year (yup yup yup) with a torn labrum and
rotator cuff, the Nats went from fickle suitor to closing-time neediness in
24 hours. That’s what got Astacio a guaranteed deal instead of a late NRI,
and that’s what’s probably going to get that penciling in on the big league
roster switched over to ink in pretty short order. Beyond Astacio, the
pitchers on the list of possibles to replace Lawrence are Billy
Traber
, Ryan Drese, and perhaps Jon
Rauch
, and this certainly locks both Tony Armas
Jr.
and Ramon Ortiz into the rotation.

But for that last slot in the rotation, four bodies hardly translates into
four contenders, not when Rauch seems unlikely to ever remain healthy for
months at a time, and not when Drese simply can’t pitch well enough to hold
a job. And much as I might like Traber as a former hard-throwing lefty with
exceptional control, Astacio did crank out 14 quality starts in 22 total
starts for the Rangers and Padres last season, including eight in his last
nine for the Pads. Certainly, you have to think that pitching in RFK is the
right sort of place for Astacio to give up homers closer to his clip with
the Petco-gifted Pads (4 in 59.2 IP) than his pastings with the Rangers (13
in 67 IP). Don’t be surprised when Astacio turns out to be the better pickup
than Ortiz, and winds up the club’s third-best starter. Mind you, I’m not
saying that’s a good thing, I’m just suggesting that you shouldn’t be
surprised. For myself, I’m with Frank Robinson, and more curious about how
well Traber shapes up, but that could be in any role, and since the Nats
aren’t that likely to repeat last season’s flirtation with contention, it’s
important to scale your expectations on the basis of seeing whether or not
the club assembles building blocks from among the retreads and rentals, not
instant success stories.