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ANAHEIM ANGELS

Placed C-B Matt Walbeck on the 15-day DL (knee – tendinitis);
purchased the contract of C-R Shawn Wooten from Edmonton;
transferred RHP Tim Belcher from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/18]

Recalled RHP Brian Cooper from Edmonton; activated RHP Al
Levine
from the DL; optioned IF-R Keith Johnson and RHP Eric
Weaver
to Edmonton. [8/19]

As expected because of the schedule, Brian Cooper came back up to resume
his spot as the fifth starter (behind Scott Schoeneweis, Ramon Ortiz, Kent
Mercker and Matt Wise); he took a pretty brutal beating at the hands of the
Yankees upon his return.

With Jarrod Washburn probably out for the season, the Angels don’t really
have many alternatives to keeping Cooper, at least until Seth Etherton is
ready to come off of the DL. Matt Beaumont’s year in the minors has been,
at best, a learning experience. Indiana State’s Sean Brummett, 1999 draft
pick, might have an outside shot at a callup, because the alternative is
probably another spin with organizational soldier Shad Williams. This is
the downside of the Angels doing the right thing by trading Kent
Bottenfield and cutting Ken Hill, but having it turn out badly because of
injuries to the younger starters.

Fortunately, Al Levine is back in the fold, bringing a good bullpen almost
back to full strength. Shiggy Hasegawa has been outstanding for the last
couple of months, Mark Petkovsek has been an asset and Mike Holtz has
thrived now that he isn’t pitching for his job every time out, as he was
under Terry Collins. It’s Levine, though, who ranks tenth in the American
League according to Michael Wolverton’s
Reliever Evaluation Tools.

The rotation may be a problem for the next couple of weeks. While Mike
Scioscia still has the freedom of action to pull his starters relatively
early and use his pen to some advantage, he’ll need to avoid getting too
caught up in matchups as well as concentrate on not overworking any
reliever in particular.

Matt Walbeck’s production has been horrid this year (and there’s no other
word for a guy hitting .208/.250/.392 with a .196
Equivalent Average),
even by the standards of backup catchers. In a season in which a lot of good
things have happened for the Angels, the relatively seamless transition of
Walbeck from regular to backup to let Bengie Molina become a regular is an
unheralded positive.

As much as Walbeck’s hitting has been downright bad, he’s a solid
catch-and-throw guy. While he’s a switch-hitter, he’s one who might be
better off dropping it: batting right-handed, he’s consistently been pretty
useful, while batting left-handed leaves him struggling to get to the
Mendoza line for batting average and the Guillen line for OBP. Walbeck’s
place in the majors is pretty well assured, which can mean he doesn’t have
to experiment, or it could mean that he wouldn’t really be risking much if
he gave batting right-handed full-time a shot, because he could always just
stop if he didn’t like it.


ATLANTA BRAVES

Signed 3B-B Chipper Jones to a six-year contract extension. [8/17]

Chipper Jones is one of the best-hitting third basemen in the business, and
he’s kind of a fun signature player to have if you’re the Braves, because
of the extent to which he’s hated by so many opposing players for his
outspokeness. He’s kind of like Gary Carter with a tomahawk.

As long as John Schuerholz never, ever considers this contract a reason to
avoid giving Andruw Jones whatever it takes to keep him–and thus getting
caught in the Pirates’ Andy Van Slyke/Barry Bonds decision and making the
mistake of picking the older white guy–this isn’t a bad thing. I know it
seems like Chipper’s not old, but you have to remember the year he missed
to blowing out his knee when he would have been in the majors. He turned 28
in April, while Andruw is five years (and a day) younger.

That isn’t to take anything away from Chipper, because he should be a
productive player over the life of the contract and could still have a
season approaching 1999 in the next year or two. Comparing almost anybody
in the non-ARod portion of the universe to what Andruw could be over the
next five or six years is unfair to everybody else.


CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Signed RHP Ken Hill to a minor-league contract, and assigned him to
Charlotte. [8/18]

Ugh. As much as it would be nice to see Ken Hill get some sort of karmic
payback for his lost opportunity at postseason glory in 1994, he didn’t
earn this. He was given the contract out of courtesy to the Sox
veterans–Frank Thomas foremost among them–who openly campaigned for his
signing. Hill is coming off of four months with the Angels in which he
posted a 6.52 ERA and allowed two baserunners per inning, a performance
that doesn’t compare favorably to the struggles of the Sox rookies. Why
pick up a veteran starter if he isn’t good enough to start in the
postseason ahead of Jon Garland? If there’s any danger of the Indians
catching up to the Sox, and it’s a longshot at best, it isn’t like adding
Ken Hill is going to keep it from happening.

In fairness to Hill, pitching coach Nardi Contreras has worked a few
miracles in his days with the White Sox. Nobody expected much out of Sean
Lowe last year, and Contreras helped make the Cardinals look bad for having
traded him. Nobody expected anything from Cal Eldred, and he went from
throw-in to veteran savior pretty quickly for a guy looking for his first
good year since 1994 or so. If the White Sox get anything out of Ken Hill,
I’ll be surprised as well as impressed.


DETROIT TIGERS

Activated RHP Hideo Nomo from the DL; placed RHP Doug Brocail
on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/14 (elbow inflammation). [8/18]

Hideo Nomo’s return gives the Tigers a pretty good rotation again, in that
Phil Garner can now choose between Steve Sparks and rookie forkballer Adam
Bernero for the fifth slot in the rotation. Nomo isn’t the pitcher he was
in his heyday with the Dodgers, but he’s still pitching like a decent third
or fourth starter.

With Jeff Weaver and Scuffy Moehler in front of Nomo, the Tigers basically
need to find somebody better than Nomo and Brian Moehler (pushing Air Blair
into the competition for the fifth slot) if they want to graduate to having
a great rotation. If the Tigers settle for what they have, then scrapping
their way up to .500 is going to be a high-water mark for the Randy Smith
era, because the Royals and the Twins aren’t that far behind and will get
stronger.

Doug Brocail’s struggles for the Tigers haven’t been as bad as a mediocre
4.17 ERA would indicate. As hittable as he’s been (especially against
right-handed hitters, who are hitting .333 against him, although with no
home runs), he hasn’t been put into too many inherited-runner situations.
Garner instead seems to reserve Brocail for straight eighth-inning setup
duties, with Danny Patterson, C.J. Nitkowski and Matt Anderson tackling the
tough innings that the starters leave. While the Tigers have a strong pen
already, if Brocail can bounce back to form next year they might have the
best in the AL.


HOUSTON ASTROS

Placed RHP Jay Powell on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation);
recalled RHP Jason Green from New Orleans. [8/17]

Activated OF-B Roger Cedeno from the DL; waived OF-R Matt
Mieske
, granting him his unconditional release. [8/18]

Roger Cedeno’s return exacerbates a dilemma for the Astros that seems to
only get worse. When Cedeno went down, Lance Berkman hadn’t lodged a
permanent claim on one corner spot yet. Now the Astros have Cedeno and
Berkman and Richard Hidalgo and Daryle Ward playing out of position
and Moises Alou. Even if the Astros traded Alou, they’d still ready
for a move to the American League and adding the DH.

With everything that’s gone wrong with Cedeno’s season, he’s still posting
a .264 EqA by hitting .273/.376/.401. That will continue to go up, although
he’ll have to settle for only semi-regular playing time. An outfield of
Hidalgo flanked by Cedeno and Berkman would be one of the best young
outfields in the major leagues, maybe one of the best regardless of age.

Matt Mieske failed to do his usual mash act against left-handed pitchers
this year (.128/.209/.128), but in this outfield logjam, he wasn’t exactly
getting a real opportunity to iron out his problems at the plate. Would it
surprise nobody if he was in a Red Sox uniform before the end of the month?
It would be a good match. They could use his glovework as well as his
platoon value.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Placed LHP Paul Spoljaric on the 15-day DL (back strain); recalled
RHP Jose Santiago from Omaha. [8/18]

Jose Santiago will get the opportunity to prove that his Jekyll/Hyde
problem with pitching from the stretch and pitching from a full windup is a
thing of the past. Any reliever getting spanked for a .360 average with men
on isn’t doing his fellow pitchers any favors.

If Santiago can’t pitch from the stretch, it won’t keep him from being a
useful major-league pitcher. He could be a middle man and mop-up reliever
and still make a decent living, or maybe the Royals will get creative and
have him drop the stretch and the slide-step entirely. Greater
effectiveness with his pitches in exchange for an extra stolen base or two
would be a worthwhile tradeoff more often than not.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Activated IF-R Mark Loretta from the DL; optioned SS-B Santiago
Perez
to Indianapolis. [8/18]

Mark Loretta’s return to the infield will give the Brewers a good seven
weeks to evaluate him as a shortstop. His play there earlier this season
was a lot more encouraging than some defensive metrics would have given you
reason to expect.

One of the truisms we probably all cling to, either as baseball analysts or
just thinking about life in general, is that if you don’t use a skill you
lose it. Loretta was a shortstop in college at Northwestern, which doesn’t
necessarily mean much in terms of being able to play shortstop in the
majors. Even when he was drafted, Loretta was tabbed as someone who would
eventually have to move over to second base. Coming up with Jose Valentin
already in place certainly limited his opportunities to play shortstop. Yet
now, in his first real shot at playing there everyday, it seems that he’s
done a reasonably effective job.

If Loretta can continue to play a pretty good shortstop, the Brewers have
the same problem that they’ve had all season as far as deciding who should
play and why. I suspect the Brewers aren’t going to find someone to take
Jose Hernandez’s contract any more than they could do so with Marquis
Grissom’s, although Hernandez would make a nifty starting shortstop for
some teams. Once Hernandez returns from the DL, the Brewers will have the
choice of returning him to the utility role he excelled at with the Cubs or
plugging him into center field to get Grissom’s bat out of the lineup. That
means Davey Lopes is going to have to swallow his pride and admit he was
wrong about insisting on Grissom’s retention last winter. If he can learn
from that bad decision, then at least that’s something good to happen to
the Brewers.


MONTREAL EXPOS

Placed C-R Lenny Webster on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/14 (sore
elbow); recalled C-L Brian Schneider from Ottawa. [8/18]

Le Webster enters the same limbo that it appears the franchise is
condemned to, as the minority partners dicker over whether to sell or to
sue Jeff Loria.

While I do not believe that Jerry McMorris’s idea of dissolving teams is at
all necessary, what if it happens by accident instead of by owners’ fiat?
Skip the question of where the Expos will play next year, and start to
wonder if the Expos will play next year. There have been the
comparatively timid precedents set by the George Steinbrenner suspension
and running the Reds without Marge Schott. Between Paul Beeston and Sandy
Alderson, the league offices have a pair of pretty successful executives on
hand. Will baseball have to take over operations of the Expos? Will that
save the jobs of Felipe Alou and Jim Beattie? Would baseball move the
franchise while the court battles rage through Quebec courts? It’s an ugly
scenario, and while I do not expect the worst, just about anything might be
possible.


ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Placed RHP Andy Benes on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/15
(inflammation – knee); purchased the contract of RHP Britt Reames
from Memphis. [8/19]

Andy Benes came to the Cardinals as part of their general drive to nab
useful innings-eaters for their rotation instead of trying to shop for aces
that simply weren’t there for the taking. The general operating principle
was that the Cards would get innings and regular starts and ERAs somewhere
around the league average from Benes and Darryl Kile and Pat Hentgen.

The plan has basically worked. Kile and Benes and Hentgen are all within a
half-run of the National League average ERA for starting pitchers. As
expected, Kile has been the best of the bunch. Benes has been sort of
troubling, in that last year’s taterrific tendencies seem to have gotten
worse this year. After giving up a career-high 34 in 198 1/3 innings, he’s
allowed 28 in 148 1/3 innings this year, well on pace to set a new high.
While I know it can simply be taken as a sign of the times, it’s also a
sign that Benes is not about to return to 1997.

Britt Reames is a injury-survivor story of the first magnitude and a good
reason to worry about a pitcher when a team says he can bounce back from
Tommy John surgery inside of a year. An unheralded 17th-round pick out of
the Citadel, Reames was labelled a prospect after a great 1996 in the
Midwest League, only to lose both 1997 and 1998 to his elbow. He was sore
much of last year and scuffled in his early work in Arkansas this season
(6.13 ERA), then was enjoying a good run with Memphis (6-2, 2.28 ERA, 75
baserunners in 75 innings and only two home runs allowed). He was a
curveball artist before the injury, and we’ll have to see how much he can
rely on the pitch and for how long. If he can, he could end up carving a
career for himself over the next couple of years.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Activated RHP Joe Nathan from the DL; optioned RHP Miguel Del
Toro
to Fresno. [8/18]

I know this isn’t the first time I’ve brought this up, but the success of
the Giants, as well as the Mariners (and even the Rockies) calls into
question whether teams can survive with five starters for the five-man
rotation. The Giants have had the benefit of being able to have Mark
Gardner around for use as needed, and he’s been needed to cover for
injuries to Shawn Estes and Joe Nathan. He may need to be called upon down
the stretch if Russ Ortiz scuffles as badly as he did at the start of the
season.

The key is that Gardner has been around, and there’s a lot to be said for
having a sixth starter available for long innings as a reliever in case of
an injury to one of the front five starters, or for spot starts or for two
or three starts when one of the front five goes to the DL.

It won’t mean anything in terms of the playoffs, but in terms of giving the
Giants the flexibility to roll with the inevitable punches, it’s been
critical to their ability to mount a push past the Snakes. Other teams
should consider taking a page from this playbook and retaining a sixth
starter/long reliever instead of just another situational reliever.


TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Activated 2B/3B-R Bobby Smith from the DL; optioned OF-B Quinton
McCracken
to Durham. [8/19]

Hopefully, the Devil Rays will just plug Bobby Smith back into his everyday
role as the starting second baseman. With Aubrey Huff and Russ Johnson
looking like a good platoon at third base and Felix Martinez playing
shortstop for his glove, the D-Rays need to continue to evaluate Smith as a
second baseman. They know what Miguel Cairo can do, and while some people
are satisfied with his hitting .275/.329/.346 for a .240 EqA, the D-Rays
shouldn’t settle for it. Cairo is the kind of fill-in that any team that
has considered signing Mickey Morandini should go out and get instead, to
be passed along once a worthwhile prospect comes around. Becoming a
latter-day Manny Trillo isn’t the worst thing that could happen to you, I
guess.


TEXAS RANGERS

Signed C-R Bill Haselman to a two-year contract extension through
2002. [8/19]

Bill Haselman is clearly on the short list for Best Backup Catcher in
Baseball, but like Todd Pratt or Scott Hatteberg (or eventually Brent
Mayne), it’s an honor he doesn’t deserve to be stuck with. That sort of
label should be handed out to players who are at their best as backups,
guys like Gregg Zaun or Jeff Reed or Einar Diaz or even Mike Redmond. Guys
like Haselman and Pratt are good enough to be regulars in their own right.

It’s nice to see Haselmania produce a deserved payday, but I’ve always
wondered what would have happened if he’d been taken a little more
seriously earlier in his career.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Transferred RF-R Raul Mondesi from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/18]

Activated RHP Joey Hamilton from the DL. [8/19]

As mentioned before, Joey Hamilton replaces Frank Castillo in the rotation,
giving the Jays a stretch-drive crew of Jumbo Wells, Steve Trachsel, Kelvim
Escobar, Esteban Loaiza and Hamilton. It’s a better unit than what they
started the season with, but the Blue Jays’ chances of catching the Yankees
are receding, and their chance of snagging the wild card is pretty slim.

As much as I really believe the Jays should have made a playoff appearance
in one of the last three years, perhaps Ash is trying to model the
franchise a bit too literally on the Pat Gillick/Paul Beeston Jays teams of
the early 1980s, which were good teams, just not good enough. I don’t have
to remind you that things ended up turning out pretty well, but that
doesn’t nip my sense of frustration with this team.

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

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