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ANAHEIM ANGELS

Signed LHP Bryan Ward and assigned him to Edmonton; claimed 2B-R David
Eckstein
off of waivers from the Red Sox. [8/16]

Talk about bargain shopping, because the Angels just nabbed two guys who can
play. Neither one will ever star, not unless you’re a Lance Blankenship
groupie or a geriatric member of the Maxie Bishop Fan Club, but not a bad
pair of guys to nab for free.

Bryan Ward was available because he made the classic mistake of mentioning
out loud that Phillies management was being silly for not keeping him around
after pitching well. While I’ve generally been impressed with Ed Wade’s
moves as of late, he and Terry Francona are continuing to observe the same
double-standard that was in force before they traded Curt Schilling: if
somebody as important as Curt Schilling says something really stupid or
obnoxious out loud, you can shrug it off because he’s got that competitive
fire. If somebody like Ward or Garrett Stephenson says boo, they’re whiners
who need to get their fannies out of Dodge, and who cares if they’re right
anyways? It doesn’t look like it’s a problem that’s going to go away, but in
the meantime, the Angels have gotten themselves a decent lefty. Of course,
they may not restrict him to relief work. They need a starter, and Ward was
a starter in the Marlins’ chain up until 1997, and he’s only 28 now.
Stranger things have happened. Here’s hoping a return to the majors and a
return to wearing his insanely intricate sideburns and goatee is in the
cards.

David Eckstein isn’t quite the prospect some people might have billed him
as, including us in BP2K. While he had a very good year in Trenton in 1999,
he was already 24, and that isn’t young at Double-A. But he’s a walk-drawing
5’8″ mighty mite with a good glove, and while he hasn’t hit well in his
first season in Pawtucket (.244/.362/.299), he still has those core skills.
If you give me the choice between flipping Adam Kennedy back to short and
playing Eckstein at second instead of Benji Gil or Kevin Stocker, I’d do
that in a second, for the defensive payoffs as well as a few walks from the
ninth slot.


ATLANTA BRAVES

Activated OF-R Reggie Sanders from the DL; optioned OF-L George Lombard to
Richmond. [8/15]

It won’t be easy for Reggie Sanders to recover from his awful .192/.260/.310
start (not to mention an appalling .193
Equivalent Average)
as a fourth outfielder now that B.J. Surhoff is in the fold, but Brian Jordan is going
to need at least a day or two off every week. If you look at it in terms of
what the Braves’ bench now has, having Sanders and Bobby Bonilla as your
fourth and fifth outfielders sounds better than having to start them
regularly. The interesting thing about the Braves’ outfield is that Bobby
Cox should now feel absolutely no compunction about making any of his four
corner outfielders strict regulars. Taking a page from the Mets’ playbook,
Cox would be better off spotting Bonilla, Sanders, Surhoff and Jordan on a
game-by-game basis to take advantage of their separate strengths. Unlike the
Mets, he can afford to leave center field out of the multi-headed platoon
mix.

The only strange aspect of this was the decision to keep Steve Sisco instead
of George Lombard, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lombard come back up
on the last day of August after some regular playing time at Richmond. For
postseason purposes, Lombard will come in handy as a pinch-runner, while the
Braves won’t need Sisco if they have that foursome of corner outfielders
healthy for the postseason.


BOSTON RED SOX

Activated 2B-B Jose Offerman from the DL; designated 3B/1B-R
Ed Sprague for assignment. [8/16]

Having been one of the most unrepentant floggers of Ed Sprague, I may shock
everyone by coming to his defense in this instance. Like the majority of
players who aren’t A-Rod, Sprague is a collection of strengths and
weaknesses. Actually, he has one core strength, pounding lefties, as he’s
managed to hit .298/.377/.632 against them this year, while hitting only
.193/.250/.298 against right-handers. The Red Sox are slugging less than
.400 against left-handed pitching as a team, another in a litany of
offensive weaknesses. Getting cranky with Sprague and cutting him loose because
of what he isn’t (a regular or a third baseman) seems all the more unfortunate
because the Duke is keeping two crummy utility infielders (the
indictable Manny Alexander and Nomar’s paisan’, Lou Merloni). We all know
the refrain, that a platoon is a great way to turn a weakness into a
strength. Instead of building a nifty platoon of Brian Daubach and Sprague
at DH, and instead of having a good right-handed stick on the bench to
menace situational lefties with, they’ll have Jose Offerman at second, a
new hot corner junta of Merloni and Mike Lansing, and a lot more than the
FDA’s minimum recommended daily dose of Rico Brogna.


COLORADO ROCKIES

Activated RHP Mike DeJean from the DL; designated LHP Scott Karl for
assignment. [8/15]

The Rockies still have the advantage of having the best bullpen in the
National League at their disposal, and getting Mike DeJean back will only
reinforce that. Its an extremely talented pen, reminiscent of the great ’95
outfit. Their front four of DeJean, Jose Jimenez, Gabe White and Mike Myers
match up with anybody’s, retread Bobby Chouinard has been pitching well, and
hard-throwing rookie Craig House is nothing if not intriguing. Considering
that GM Dan O’Dowd is responsible for bringing in four of them, he deserves
a lion’s share of the credit for helping turn last year’s adequate pen into
a great one.

Having lost his spot in the rotation and pouted his way out of the bullpen,
the Rockies aren’t exactly going to miss Scott Karl. While I think Karl’s
only continuing the same downward spiral his career has been on since his
rookie season, a veteran lefty starter who managed to post 5.68 ERA this
year outside of Coors is going to wind up pitching for somebody. Don’t be
surprised if its a team on the fringes of the playoff hunt, like the Dodgers
or the Reds.


HOUSTON ASTROS

Activated C-B Mitch Meluskey from the DL; optioned C-R Raul Chavez to New
Orleans. [8/16]

It would take a tremendous finish for Mitch Meluskey to get any kind of
consideration for the NL Rookie of the Year, but fortunately for him, he’s
back early enough to try. How he’s done already is reason for hope, having
hit .295/.389/.500 and a .288 Equivalent Average. Even then, its a longshot
at best, because he’d still have two basic problems. The first one is
probably insurmountable, and goes by the name of Rick Ankiel. Even if Ankiel
struggles down the stretch, he’s still going to have a reasonable argument
that he was the best starter on a division winner. Even if Ankiel were to go
into the tank, for as well as Meluskey has hit, he would have to outhit some
reasonable criticisms of his defensive limitations, highlighted by his
having only thrown out a little better than 20% of opposing base thieves. I
think it would be more likely that if Ankiel struggled mightily, the floor
would be open to all sorts of lukewarm candidacies, from Jay Payton to Raffy
Furcal to Pat Burrell to Matt Herges. Basically, Ankiel would have to be
Jaime Navarro bad to blow it, but you never know.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Placed UT-R Jose Hernandez on the 15-day DL (strained back), retroactive to
8/10; activated OF-L Mark Sweeney from the DL. [8/15]

The retroactive part of the assignment is important, because the Brewers are
still desperately trying to move Jose Hernandez so that they don’t have to
fulfill the last two years of his contract. Jose is still the victim of
perception: he’s actually a pretty solid shortstop, but because he isn’t
particularly acrobatic and instead depends on a strong arm, he’s not exactly
on any WebGem short lists. While hitting .247/.319/.393 with a .237
Equivalent Average is as ugly as it sounds, for a shortstop, that’s still a
pretty useful player. You would think watching Jose Valentin all those years
would make the Brewers happy with a shortstop who struck out a lot and hit
for some moderate power, but Dean Taylor and Dave Wilder deserve to be
rebuked for getting caught in the perception trap. They see that Hernandez
hit 42 home runs as a regular the last two seasons, and get caught up in
stereotypes about how they need a power-hitting third baseman, just like
every ideal team. So Hernandez gets typecast and gets to disappoint, and
that’s not exactly fair. Unfairness is getting to be a running theme with
Jose’s career, as he had to take a back seat to a broken-down Walt Weiss in
the playoffs last year, all because he was perceived to be a worse shortstop
because he was big and rangy while Weiss was doing his Alan Trammell
belly-flopping best, when he had in fact outplayed Weiss defensively.
Anyways, there are teams that could use Jose Hernandez, just probably not
the Brewers.

Sweeney should be given every opportunity to prove, above and beyond a
reasonable doubt, that he absolutely positively cannot play center field.
No, I don’t really think he can, but as long as Marquis Grissom is the only
alternative, you may as well donate the playing time to science.


MONTREAL EXPOS

Activated SS-R Orlando Cabrera from the DL; optioned SS-R Tomas De La Rosa
to Ottawa. [8/15]

Signed 1B-L Lee Stevens to a two-year contract extension through 2002.
[8/16]

While we all know and love Vladi Guerrero, maybe there’s an argument that
Orlando Cabrera is the Most Representative Expo. He’s been heavily touted
for years, he flashes a pretty good glove, and he hit .280 two years ago and
he stole 51 bases in the minors one year, so he must be a pretty good
all-around player, right? Unfortunately, a closer inspection leaves you
wondering what the fuss has been about. He hasn’t run much or well in the
majors, and while he is a good glove at short, this has been another season
where he’s had real problems getting his OBP over .300 (.241/.280/.383
overall, with a .217 Equivalent Average). To be gratuitously simplistic,
there are some eery similarities to another disappointing shortstop playing
for a Canadian team, long-touted Alex Gonzalez. While you never want to give
up on a player at the tender age of 25, when you have every reason to expect
him to start entering his peak seasons, you also can’t help but get a little
frustrated. If the Expos were in the position to win anything, it might be
very tempting to play an offense-defense platoon of Geoff Blum and either
Cabrera or Tomas De La Rosa, but the Expos aren’t contending for anything
other than third place. It will be worth giving Cabrera one more year to see
if he’s going to turn the corner.

"I brought them Lee Stevens, and still they didn’t come!"
While Stevens ain’t no Rico Brogna, the Expos have made a mistake by inking
him to this extension. Sure, he’s been pretty handy by hitting
.266/.343/.504, but you put that up against the other first basemen in the
National League, and Stevens begins resembling replacement-level talent for
the position. At 32, hitting that well is as good as Lee Stevens is ever
going to do for you, and that’s only good for the 11th-best hitting first
baseman in the league according to Equivalent Average. Even that’s pretty
generous, in that this relatively lofty ranking hasn’t only been because of
what Stevens has done. Sean Casey’s been hurt most of the season, and Pat
Burrell is just at the start of his big league career. More likely than not,
both of them will outhit Stevens next year. Stevens is at the level he
belongs at, with other first basemen like Eric Karros and Kevin Young, all
in their early thirties, and all not so good that you couldn’t replace them
in short order. While its great to see Stevens get his payday, the problem
is that as an organization, the Expos need to be in the business of sorting
out the difference between a journeyman doing his best and a player you can
build around. The age of Loria thriftiness is continuing, but unless its aim
is just to continue making himself look like the owner trying to compete
while being betrayed by unattentive Quebecois, it’s a bad investment.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Signed RHP Tim Hudson to a four-year contract extension through 2004, with
an option for 2005. [8/16]

After already infuriating a few Giants’ fans with my comments last week
about the Giants’ decision to ink Kirk Rueter to an extension, I may as well
keep it up by saying Billy Beane did another smart thing. This is a
reasonable gamble that also eliminates the need to ever drag Tim Hudson into
an arbitration hearing. If Hudson continues to alternate dominance with a
Jaime Navarro start or two, it would still be worth it, because the gamble
is that Hudson could be more than inconsistent. And to do this, the A’s
aren’t paying Hudson more than the Cubs are paying Jon Lieber. That’s
exactly what the Giants have done with Rueter, for less reason, and with a
park that’s going to make any pitcher look good coming in.


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Activated RHP Jason Boyd from the DL; designated LHP Mark Holzemer for
assignment. [8/15]

Another one of the Phillies’ epic decisions to juggle relievers with ERAs
over seven. But at least they won’t have to put up with any more of Bryan
Ward’s tactless reminders that he was pitching well… Boyd still carries
his tool-time fastball reputation, and he does need to be evaluated to see
if he should be around as a middle reliever on next year’s squad. Assuming
Mike Jackson can pitch next year, there should be a tough fight for the last
right-handed relief spot or two in the pen.


TEXAS RANGERS

Placed RHP Ryan Glynn on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/12 (illness);
recalled RHP Francisco Cordero from Oklahoma. [8/15]

Recalled RHP Brian Sikorski from Oklahoma City; optioned RHP Jonathan
Johnson
to Oklahoma City. [8/16]

The Rangers are having their problems, but I’m happy to see Brian Sikorski
finally get a shot. He’s got a sweet slider that can make him especially
tough on left-handed hitters, although he doesn’t always have control of it.
He was having a relatively solid season for Okie City, posting a 4.04 ERA
while going 10-9, allowing 131 hits and nine homeruns in 140.1 IP, while
walking 60 and striking out 99. Awesome first start or not, he’s could have
a hard time sticking on the Rangers’ forty-man roster, let alone forcing his
way into the rotation picture for next season. The reasons Sikorski will
have his problems sticking around is not just because of young pitchers like
Doug Davis, Ryan Glynn and Matt Perisho; once the season ends, the Rangers
are also going to have to bring Justin Thompson and Ruben Mateo and possibly
Danny Kolb off of the 60-day DL and put them back on the roster. Thanks to
national television exposure, he may just have lucked into being one of the
most sought-after minor league free agents for this coming offseason. In
Glynn’s absence, he should get another start next Monday against the
Yankees, which should make for an interesting game, and a start the
following weekend against the Blue Jays. Sometimes, it’s just a very short
step from the PCL to pitching in games with playoff implications.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Placed RHP Frank Castillo on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/14 (strained
elbow). [8/15]

Speaking of a move with major playoff implications, Castillo had worked his
way up to being the sixth-best pitcher in the American League according to
Michael Wolverton’s SNWL stats,
and has wound being as valuable as Jumbo
Wells. Its sort of ironic that now that he’s finally having the kind of season
everyone expected was in him after 1995, he’s been felled by the same
elbow that slowed his progress through the Cubs’ chain at the beginning of
the ’90s. While you have to hope he’ll be back in short order, there’s
another irony here amidst my usual despair about the Blue Jays: Joey
Hamilton and Dave Stewart, together again, master and pupil, like it was
always meant to be. As a fate for this team, I suppose that’s appropriate.
Hamilton is expected to be called up to take Castillo’s place in the
rotation. If Stew really can do anything to get Hamilton anywhere close to
where he was in the second half of 1998 when they helped get the Padres to
the World Series, then I’ll join the throngs already prepared to call Stew a
miracle worker (and not just a guy smart enough to pick organizations with
pitching talent as his employers). It makes for good drama, if long odds.

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