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ANAHEIM ANGELS

Activated RHP Troy Percival from the DL; optioned RHP Brian Cooper
to Edmonton. [8/26]

Short-term, they look worse off because of the good job Shiggy Hasegawa had
done as the closer, and because of Troy Percival’s grisly rate of blowing
almost a quarter of his save opportunities. Percival’s loss of command has
already drawn wide commentary, but it will be worth the team’s while to let
him iron out his problems. For this season, it has been another one of those
multiple chinks in the Angels’ armor that has kept them from being a serious
contender for the wild-card. Whether it’s Ken Hill or Benji Gil or Scott
Spiezio as a regular DH or the nine times that Percival has failed to
convert a save opportunity, they sort of all add up. Angels fans shouldn’t
bother grieving, because this has been a great season to exorcise the sour
grapes that seem to follow Terry Collins around as well as The Last Bavasi’s
sandcastles in the sky. This has been a year of overall progress, and if the
Angels are smart enough to acknowledge that this is something to build off
of instead of settle for, then they can iron out the other problems in time
to have figured out whether or not Percival will be the closer on a
contending Halos squad.

Cooper loses his starting spot to the anticipated activation of
newly-acquired Scott Karl. This gives them a rotation of Scott Schoeneweis,
Matt Wise, Karl, Ramon Ortiz and Kent Mercker. Seth Etherton and Jarrod
Washburn can be counted on for two slots next spring, which should leave
Karl and Mercker pitching for their professional futures in anybody’s
uniform over the next five weeks.


ATLANTA BRAVES

Signed UT-R Rich Amaral to a minor league contract, and assigned him to
Richmond. [8/25]

Cringe. That’s right, he really could swipe a postseason roster spot
away from George Lombard or Marcus Giles. After all, if this was a
35-and-over league, he makes a swell platoon partner for Keith Lockhart.
Maybe the scout who sold them on Terry Pendleton in 1996 isn’t gone yet…


CHICAGO CUBS

Activated 3B-R Shane Andrews from the DL; optioned 2B/OF-R Chad Meyers to
Iowa. [8/25]

Shane Andrews comes back with every opportunity to reclaim the everday job
at third. Willie Greene has only managed to hit .202/.306/.385 against
right-handed pitching, with a .242
Equivalent Average
overall, so it isn’t
like he ought to have a claim on a platoon role. I’m probably the most
bullish guy around as far as Shane Andrews and what he’s capable of doing in
a full season in Wrigley: his problems fielding the ball in the season’s
early months were atypical for him on his career, and despite a .312 OBP, he
nevertheless managed a .266 Equivalent Average,
good for tenth among National League third basemen. Sure, that spells
"mediocre," but the Cubs are the Cubs, and they’ll take better
than some any day of the week.

What happened to Willie Greene, anyways? He’s creeping up on his 29th
birthday, and he’s had two consecutive awful seasons at the plate. On the
other hand, he’s having another good year in the field this season, which
means he still has value as a backup corner infielder, pinch-hitter and
spare part. Greene’s career has consistently been one where there seem to be
some unanswered questions, considering he was dumped by both the Pirates and
Expos before he was 20 after starting off as the Bucs’ top pick in 1989. I
don’t know what went wrong or when, but as much as you’d like to believe it
has been coincidence, Greene has managed to disappoint just about everyone
from player development people to statheads. I still think he has his uses,
but his chances of stardom are clearly gone.


CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Purchased the contract of RHP Ken Hill from Charlotte; optioned RHP
Kevin Beirne to Charlotte. [8/24]

Veteran tokenism at its worst, and hopefully for as brief a period as
possible. The Sox were really better off letting Kevin Beirne get a start or
two instead of hauling an over-the-hill Hill onto the hill to remind
everyone that those games with the Angels were against major league
opponents and counted in the standings and everything.

As long as the Sox are burning an extra roster spot on a twelfth pitcher,
why stick with convention if they’re so frightened of their kid pitchers?
Even with Cal Eldred out and Jon Garland missing time, the Sox could still
juggle Sean Lowe, Beirne, Rocky Biddle, Mark Buehrle and Lorenzo Barcelo to
rotate through the last two slots of the rotation. Why bother with
conventional roles here? Why not use the next few weeks as multi-game
auditions, with each of them getting three-, four- or five-inning gigs? The
fifth starter isn’t in play during the playoffs, so why not use the last
five weeks as a chance to answer the important and simple question of who
you want to fill out your playoff roster? Of course, if the Sox used this
period of time to audition relievers, I would hope they’d give consideration
to calling up submariner Chad Bradford or Aaron Myette. They need to stop
thinking in terms of whether or not they have a rotation to finish the
season with: they don’t, but more than three-quarters of the season is
already over. The Sox need to take their time and evaluate the pitchers they
have. There’s already far too much evidence that Ken Hill can’t help. If
they wanted veteran moxie, they ought to settle for paying Orel Hershiser a
consulting fee to come over and give a pep talk, and then get back to the
business of winning games and evaluating talent instead of caving into
conventional wisdom.


CLEVELAND INDIANS

Recalled SS-R John McDonald from Buffalo; optioned 1B/OF-R Chan Perry to
Buffalo. [8/24]

With Omar Vizquel starting to show some wear and tear in the field at the
plate after having to play effectively every day since Enrique Wilson went
on the DL in mid-July, the Tribe needed to bring up an infielder who could
play short. Jolbert Cabrera was at least notionally the backup shortstop,
but he ends up in the outfield most of the time because of Kenny Lofton’s
fragility. John McDonald is a better defensive player than Vizquel right
now, and potentially one of the best shortstops in baseball today. Because
Vizquel is far from being a problem on defense and still manages to put up
an OBP in the .360s, that makes McDonald a utility man with little
opportunity to take advantage of his core skill. After hitting
.269/.315/.353 at Buffalo, it’s almost certainly worth his while to adopt a
potentially lucrative new identity, like Rey Guillen or Ozzie Sanchez or Baby
Belanger.


HOUSTON ASTROS

Placed INF-R Tripp Cromer on the 15-day DL (personal reasons); purchased the
contract of RHP Rusty Meacham from New Orleans. [8/25]

Meacham is another one of the Astros’ time-marking veteran temps. Like the
others, he can point back to his glory days, in this case a swell 1992 as a
Royals’ middle reliever. He’s another ex-major leaguer enjoying a fine year
as a long reliever in Triple-A, posting a 2.20 ERA while allowing only 43
hits and 14 walks in 57.1 IP, along with 56 strikeouts. No, he did not fall
out of bed and suddenly throw harder.

Cromer’s absence leaves the Astros with only one utility infielder, Tim
Bogar. That makes it all the more difficult for Larry Dierker to get even
pinch-hitting playing time for the five outfielders (or four and Daryle
Ward) who need as many at-bats as they can get.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Placed UT-B F.P. Santangelo on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/23 (torn
ligament – thumb); purchased the contract of INF-L Jeff Branson from
Albuquerque; designated RHP Apostol Garcia for assignment. [8/24]

Recalled OF-R Bruce Aven from Albuquerque; optioned RHP Mike Judd to
Albuquerque. [8/26]

While Bruce Aven had been a flop as a pinch-hitter with the Pirates this
season, in his opportunities to start he had hit .284/.320/.500. With that
kind of power, Tom Goodwin’s decent on-base skills, and Devon White’s
paycheck, that almost adds up to a star centerfielder.

With both Kevin Elster and F.P. Santangelo on the DL, the Dodgers needed a
utility infielder of some stripe. What the Dodgers need is somebody who can
play short after Davey Johnson has to confront the almost inevitable in-game
decision of whether or not to pinch-hit for Alex Cora. Branson is no longer
the offensive threat he once was for Johnson on the Reds, not when he was
hitting .289/.339/.419 in Albuquerque’s bandbox at the age of 33. But he can
still play second, third or short in a pinch.


MINNESOTA TWINS

Signed SS-B Cristian Guzman to a four-year contract, with a club option for
2005. [8/24]

On the surface, it would appear that this contract extension completely
eliminates Cristian Guzman’s shot at ever having an arbitration case. Unless
they elect to not pick up their option and face the arbitrator after 2004,
it wouldn’t happen. But it is a relatively good question as to whether or
not that option will ever get picked up. Guzman is supposed to make $9
million over the four years, and the option is apparently for $6 million.

I want to be happy for both the Twins and Guzman. This isn’t as bad of an
example of "cost certainty" as giving Pat Meares oodles of cash
would have been. Guzman has clearly made a little bit of progress at the
plate (.259/.313/.419 versus his .226/.304/.352 rookie season) and in the
field, and he may end up being the new- and improved Garry Templeton. With
Luis Rivas’ move to second base and the absence of a good-looking shorstop
prospect playing at any of the Twins’ full-season affiliates, the
organization is clearly betting on Guzman as the team’s shortstop for a long
time to come. I’m always a bit reluctant to say "if Biff Bopper is
worth a gazillion dollars, I’m a Xerox machine" statements, because
time and again, a lot of those statements end up looking pretty silly. Take
Omar Vizquel or Kirby Puckett for example. Both of them got contracts that
were decried at the time, and both ended up looking like relative bargains
long before the contracts expired. There are counter-examples, of course:
Steve Kemp and the Yankees comes to mind, and I’m pretty certain the White
Sox sent Julio Cruz his last check within the last few years. So I’ll simply
state that Guzman’s 2005 option is a very interesting circumstance, and if
he gets it, it could mean all sorts of things about baseball on the other
side of a new combined bargaining agreement, the wisdom of whoever is
running the Twins at that point, or how much better Guzman turned out that a
lot of us expected, Terry Ryan excepted.

Chris Kahrl can be reached at ckahrl@baseballprospectus.com.

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