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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Released OF-R Richard Hidalgo. [3/7]

Career-wise, Hidalgo now seems to be on the Raul Mondesi
wayward path, having sulked his way out of his Orioles commitment to
entertain notions of going to Japan. What comes after that is anybody’s
guess. The Braves don’t need veteran temps in the outfield any more, and
Arizona’s not that kind of team these days, which leaves… who, the Giants?
In the meantime, let’s not blame the Orioles for this. Their feelings about
Hidalgo weren’t very different from my own–two hours of
Viggo Mortensen on horseback, how could anybody screw that up?
–and they
were similarly disappointed.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Announced the retirement of C-R John Flaherty. [3/7]

I don’t know what’s most tragic about this contretemps: that Boston has its
choices narrowed, that Flaherty lasted ten years beyond the useful portion
of his career, that Flaherty’s real bragging right might only be that he was
an original Devil Fishy, or that I’m now plum out of people named Flaherty
with whom I can try to work in an SCTV reference.

Weep not, only one of these things really matters. The battle for the backup
backstop in Beantown is a contest between immortals Josh Bard
and Ken Huckaby. This should be pretty straightforward, in
that Bard’s the better player, what with him being able to actually hit his
weight without first asking what he had for lunch. Huckaby’s merely hung
around about as well as you would expect the vanilla bean variant on
Alberto Castillo might, but he’s equally indefensible as a
choice if there’s an actual ballplayer around, especially since Bard’s going
to be 28 by Opening Day, making him something less than an up-and-coming
kid. The rub is that you have to ask how much playing time either of
them will get behind Jason Varitek anyway.

That question has special significance because one of the major
considerations, courtesy of the expectations generated by years of having
Doug Mirabelli around, is whether or not Bard or Huckaby
can be the backup that can handle Tim Wakefield‘s knuckler.
If neither can, will Boston start taking the risk of breaking one of
Varitek’s fingers on a particularly wicked flutterball? Varitek caught all of
four Wakefield games last year, and only one (total) in 2003-2004. However,
Varitek once caught Wakefield more regularly: in 1998, he caught
Wakefield 17 times, in 1999 another 17, and a dozen times in 2000. So it
isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that Varitek might start 130 games
that include a few more Wakefield games than of late. Nevertheless, if
either Bard or Huckaby show any particular zeal for this dirty
job, it won’t hurt their individual bids.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Optioned LHP Rusty Tucker to Charlotte; reassigned LHPs
Corwin Malone, Stephen Randolph, and
Chad Bentz, OF-L Ben Grieve, INF-Rs
Tim Hummel and Jorge Velandia, and C-Rs
Carlos Lee and Donny Lucy to their minor
league camp. [3/7]

Acquired INF-B Alex Cintron from the Diamondbacks for RHP
Jeff Bajenaru; outrighted LHP Arnie Munoz
to Charlotte (Triple-A). [3/8]

I like the decision to go out and get Cintron, in that to me, it looks like
a case of dumping from an area of obvious surplus to get someone you may
well end up needing if the team endures a significant injury to either
starting middle infielder. The Sox are already going to have to put
Brandon McCarthy in a long relief role if they’re going to
keep him around at all; where was Bajenaru ever going to fit in? McCarthy
isn’t necessarily guaranteed anything, not if both Tim
Redding
and Javier Lopez (or Almando
Almanza
have good enough camps to stick.

There are other wrinkles, like at least one the Sox have mentioned, in that
this makes it that much easier to put supersub Rob
Mackowiak
in the outfield. That in turn means that Pablo
Ozuna
isn’t the only guy in danger of losing playing time;
whichever one of Joe Borchard, Ross Gload,
and Jerry Owens sticks as the extra outfielder, he’s that
much less likely to get many at-bats. Happily, Ozzie Guillen does
seem to put his bench to work, so the last man or two won’t be ignored,
Torre-style; it just means that whoever it is will get fewer than 200
PAs, where before, he might have gotten there. Ozuna’s also the big loser in
that if he has a bad camp, he may well lose out to Gload for that last spot
on the bench.

Now, all of this said, while Cintron is apparently a Guillen fave, he isn’t
without warts. He won’t be hitting in the BOB any more, and last season, the
difference between his hitting in the Snake Box and elsewhere in the majors
was the difference between utility and worthlessness: .288/.313/.435 versus
.256/.281/.394. Perhaps he’ll adapt well, and perhaps not; there’s very much
a danger that Cintron could become for the White Sox what Neifi
Perez
has been on the North Side, a bane and a menace. Happily, the
Sox seem merely fond of Cintron, not convinced he’s a regular.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Signed CF-L David DeJesus to a five-year, $13.5 million
contract, with a club option for 2011. [3/9]

There it was, Royals fans, your highlight of the 2006 season, a contract
that gives you reasons to watch the subsequent four or five years. Heck, by
2012, he’ll even be old enough and expensive enough to be a Yankee. Okay, I
know, this is like picking the wings off of flies, and to give credit where
credit’s due, kudos to Allard Baird and to DeJesus for getting this done.
But we can’t all be like Rany, and retain some sense of hope.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Reassigned RHPs Rich Dorman and Chris
Jaile
to their minor league camp; added RHP Sean
Green
to Major League camp as a NRI. [3/8]

Well, how nice for one of the one-line guys in this year’s book, but with
the Mariners still awaiting the return of J.J. Putz to full
operating condition, the pen is a bit short of right-handed relief help, and
Green isn’t too far off from being an adequate major league reliever. The
alternatives include has-beens like Kevin Appier and
Dave Burba, and never-wuzzes like Jeff
Harris
and Jeff Heaverlo. Among the more promising
help, the organization appears to want Jesse Foppert to
start off in Tacoma’s rotation, while in the early going, former Rockies
Rule 5 pick Marcos Carvajal looks like he’s going to need
to go back to the minor leagues after all. Green’s a huge guy (6’6″), tough
on right-handed hitters, generates a good number of groundouts, so while
Green’s chances remain pretty slim, they’re better now than they were a week
ago.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Acquired RHP Jeff Bajenaru from the White Sox in exchange
for INF-B Alex Cintron. [3/8]

Give Josh Byrnes his due. Would you rather have Alex
Cintron
and Jason Bulger, or Alberto
Callaspo
and Jeff Bajenaru? Keeping in mind that
the World Series is not on this year’s roadmap, natch.

Why? To start off, while the Snake pen isn’t quite so nasty as the term
sounds, it just isn’t full of famous names as much as a distinct segregation
between people on their way out and people on their way in. Which is why I
can understand the motivation behind this deal. Let’s say that you can count
on Jose Valverde as your closer, and (Doug
Slaten
‘s early work in camp aside) let’s also assume that one slot
goes to one of the veteran lefties, either Terry
Mulholland
, Felix Heredia, or Randy
Choate
. Now, maybe one of the other four slots goes to the
loser in the Claudio Vargas versus Brad
Halsey
duel for the fifth slot in the rotation. Depending on that
particular issue, there are either three or four slots left in a six man pen
to fill from this pool: Jason Grimsley, Luis
Vizcaino
, Brandon Lyon, Brian
Bruney
, Brandon Medders, Greg
Aquino
, Bajenaru, Casey Daigle.

So who gets winnowed out first? Bruney and Daigle have options, and seem
likely to have to open the year at Tucson. Grimsley’s looking terrible in
camp, and at 38, he’s very probably done, something Arizona will sort out
either now or by May 1, but something that they will see. You might
still think of Aquino as an up-and-coming kid, but he’ll be 28 this season,
and he has yet to show anything resembling reliability. So perhaps this
makes Vizcaino the veteran middle man, and after him… who? Medders
certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt after his torrid performance
after his late-season call-up. Lyons is relatively iffy in terms of
reliability, but he is only 26. If he doesn’t stick, do you really
want to have to rely on Grimsley? Or Aquino? Why not instead peddle somebody
you don’t really need for somebody you probably will?

Which creates an opportunity for Bajenaru. He’s no spring chicken,
considering that he’ll be 28 in a few weeks, but beyond being an active
member of SABR, he’s been as ready for the major
leagues as he’s ever going to be the last two seasons. He’s not
overpowering, but does get into the low 90s; the question is whether his
breaking stuff will work well enough for him to survive in a bandbox like
the BOB. He isn’t the worst guy to take a chance on, certainly not when
you’re having to look seriously at guys like Grimsley or Lyons.

The interesting wrinkle here is the status of Craig
Counsell
‘s shoulder. Without Cintron around, and if Counsell’s on the
shelf, the suggestion that Damion Easley would play
short on Opening Day should be belied by the acquisition of Alberto
Callaspo
. Happily, there seems to be unanimity that Counsell will
be fine, so Cintron really shouldn’t be missed. Instead, the question is
whether or not Callaspo can beat out Andy Green as the
other primary infield reserve, beyond Easley. If Counsell opens the season
on the shelf, I guess I could understand a scenario where, assuming it’s a
brief stay, Jerry Gil might stick around as Easley’s
defensive replacement. In the end, whatever lets Stephen
Drew
set his own timetable for promotion is a good thing.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Released RHPs Luke Hudson and Bubba
Nelson
; reassigned RHP Josh Hall, INF-B
Anderson Machado, 2B-R Aaron Herr, and
UT-B Derek Wathan to their minor league camp. [3/9]

Hall’s demotion should not be considered a disappointment, not while he’s
not too far removed from his early days on the comeback trail from shoulder
surgeries. What’s a little more surprising were the summary judgments made
on both Hudson and Nelson, and if Hudson’s perpetually cranky shoulder and
failure to thrive makes him thoroughly replaceable, Nelson’s only 24 and
might still have a career ahead of him. I don’t mind new GM Wayne Krivsky’s
decisiveness in trying to clear away some of the old regime’s projects, but
if there’s a guy who might still surprise you if he finds the right
organization and pitching coach, it might be Nelson.

Over on the non-pitching side of the chop shop, Machado and Herr are both
interesting, but far from being prospects, so both will have to open the
year at Chattanooga or Louisville. They might both be better offensive
options than the very interchangeable William Bergolla and
Rainer Olmedo, but as is, that duo might only get shots at
being the second infield reserve behind Rich Aurilia–assuming either of them can fend of challenges from the likes of
Frank Menechino. Since a good chunk of the extra playing
time at second will be going to Ryan Freel, and perhaps
even moreso once Tony Womack‘s case of the sucks starts
getting his name crossed out of lineup cards, there really won’t be all that
much playing time in the infield to go around, so the major questions as far
as who wins from among Menechino, Olmedo, and Bergolla might boil down to a
question of options, 40-man roster space, and who wouldn’t be better off
playing regularly in Triple-A.

NEW YORK METS
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Reassigned RHPs Philip Humber, Matt
Lindstrom
, Rafael Cova, Jeremy
Hill
, and Jason Scobie, C-Rs Jesus
Flores
, Drew Butera, Andy Wilson,
and Aaron Hathaway, and 1B-L Brett Harper
to their minor league camp. [3/7]

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Optioned LHP Chris Narveson to Memphis (Triple-A);
reassigned RHPs Andy Cavazos and Dennis
Tankersley
, LHPs Randy Leek and Rich
Rundles
, C-L Bryan Anderson, C-R Jason
Motte
, 1B-R Kit Pellow, and INF-R Dave
Berg
to their minor league camp. [3/7]

Narveson, Tankersley, and Berg might all make it back up at some point,
although for different reasons. Tankersley or Narveson still have untapped
talent, and if they get off to good starts, it might not merely take an
injury to create an opportunity for either of them. As for Berg, the
question there is how worthwhile guys like Scott Spiezio or
Aaron Miles are going to be, and we already know the answer
to those questions. Still, the team has both Hector Luna and Deivi Cruz around for utility roles, so there’s a
chance that Spiezio, Miles, and Berg will all be scrabbling after playing
time in Memphis.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Optioned 1B-L Larry Broadway to New Orleans (Triple-A);
optioned LHP Michael Hinckley to Potomac (A-ball);
reassigned RHPs Andrew Good and Francis
Beltran
, LHPs Mike Bacsik, Micah
Bowie
, and Jim Crowell, C-R Erick San
Pedro
, 3B-L Kory Casto, SS-R Josh
Labandeira
, and OF-Rs Frank Diaz, Cristian
Guerrero
, and Ruben Mateo to their minor league
camp; extended the contracts of VP/GM Jim Bowden and AGM Tony Siegle through
the 2006 season. [3/9]

No real surprises among the cuts. Broadway, Hinckley, and Beltran all have
to prove that they’re healthy, and Casto and Diaz both need to show they’re
ready for Double-A. No, of the day’s moves, the news belongs to the
retention of the always-flirty Jim Bowden. The graying Boy Wonder has dealt
with his being passed over for all of those other GM jobs this winter with
his usual
good grace
. Having spent so much time trying to parlay his season’s
worth of hyperactivity in D.C. into a job someplace else, it looks like the
great spinner will be running down the tread on the tires of his life here
in the capital after all. This won’t necessarily lead to forward progress,
of course; however much the game’s great transactions junkie might change
things, change is not necessarily progress.

With Brian Lawrence shelved, the rotation looking a grim
sight, and the fascination with Brandon Watson going beyond
prurient curiosity and diving straight into the territory of a lineup
transgression, the team could be especially ugly in the early going. Let’s
face it, when you’re rooting for Royce Clayton to be your
shortstop, there are things amiss. There will be things to enjoy,
though, like Ryan Zimmerman, and Bill
Bray
‘s replacing either Joey Eischen or
Mike Stanton in the pen at some point within the season.
Maybe Ryan Church will finally catch a break. It’ll be a
team worth following, but only after it inspires a few more Bowden tantrums,
and a few equally truculent recognitions of reality; this is not a team
to pretend to contend with, but a team with which to try and entertain the
town while moving another building block or two into place.

Thanks are due to Keith Woolner for his research assistance in the Red
Sox segment.

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