November 20, 2002

News and notes

Sorry about the lack of a column yesterday.

I had a very hectic/busy/exciting day.

I actually managed to get to bed at a somewhat normal hour, which is very rare for me.

After I got up, I went to my classes for the day.

And after the classes...I had an interview at The Minnesota Daily, which is "An Independent Student Newspaper at the University of Minnesota."

I am pretty confident that the interview went well.

I was asked who my favorite writers were and I responded, "Rob Neyer, Bill James..." and was met with a blank look of non-recognition by the Sports Editor.

Not a big deal, but I guess I won't be receiving any sabermetric special treatment!

So, depending on whether or not I was as nice and charming as I think I was today, I might be working for "The Nation's Largest, Entirely Student Run College Newspaper," which would be a pretty big deal in my life.

Of course, I will keep all of my loyal readers updated.

Back to baseball...

I got a lot of emails regarding my last entry about the Royals releasing Neifi Perez.

I really enjoy getting feedback, positive, negative and in-between, about what I write on this website.

So thanks to everyone that emailed me about Neifi, I am glad you (generally) really liked the entry.

Loyal reader "Rick S." notified me last night that we already have a winner in the "Who signs Neifi contest."

For those of you not familar with this important topic, here is what I wrote in the column:

"I guarantee a team will sign Neifi Perez this off-season, which will give us a chance to see which of the GMs belongs in the group with Allard Baird.

Let's call it the "Cam Bonifay Club For Bad GMs" or "CBCFBGMs" for short.

I am pretty confident the GM that decides he needs an appointment with the Worst Doctor In The World is not going to be mine (Terry Ryan) and I only hope, for your sake, that it isn't yours either."

Well, I was right, my GM wasn't interested in Neifi.

Amazingly enough though, a General Manager that I actually think is a pretty good one claimed Neifi Perez off waivers today.

In an effort to surround The Best Player in the History of the World with the worst possible teammates, Giants GM Brian Sabean brought Neifi Perez on board with the NL Champs.

This situation isn't exactly what I was hoping for and I don't think we have a new member of the "CBCFBGMs."

I envisioned a GM signing Neifi to a 2 or 3 year deal for a few million bucks and immediately naming him the starting shortstop.

Sabean put an end to all of that by claiming Neifi and immediately making him, at best, a back up infielder.

And really, having Neifi Perez as a cheap back up infielder isn't such a horrible idea.

He is still a decent defensive shortstop that can also play second base and having him back up a full-time, everyday shortstop like Rich Aurilia isn't going to hurt the Giants too much.

Unless Neifi is in Sabean's plans as Jeff Kent's replacement at second base...

So, our potential fun has been squashed (I think) and we don't have a new member in the CBCFBGMs club - yet.

Fear not, there will be plenty of idiotic moves yet to come this off-season.

Some other minor transactions (apparently a lot of you guys - or at least the ones that email me - really enjoy my breakdowns of the most minor of transactions)...

The Red Sox signed Julio Zuleta to a minor league contract.

And thus, The Bill James Era begins! (just joking)

Juilo Zuleta is a nice signing for a team that didn't have very good production at first base for much of last season.

Zuleta had been stuck playing for the Cubs' AAA team (Iowa Cubs) for 2 straight seasons and was actually all signed to go play in Japan this year before injuries ended that plan.

So instead of Japan, Zuleta was back to Iowa for a 3rd season in AAA.

While at AAA, he did what he normally does, which is hit:

2002 (AAA) = .293/.362/.550 with 31 homers in 444 at bats.

Zuleta doesn't draw very many walks, but he hits for a good average and hits for excellent power.

2001 (AAA) = .308/.348/.541 in 146 ABs.

2000 (AAA) = .311/.372/.579 in 392 ABs.

1999 (AA) = .295/.361/.519 in 482 ABs.

Somewhere in there Zuleta managed to play in 79 games for the Cubs.

Here are his Major League stats:

.247/.310/.466 with 9 homers and 11 doubles in 174 ABs.

174 ABs is a small sample size, but I think that is pretty close to the level Zuleta will hit for if given a semi-everyday chance in the Majors.

His Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for the last 4 years in the minors:

2002 = .262/.326/.469

2001 = .276/.304/.468

2000 = .279/.324/.496

1999 = .272/.318/.467

Those are pretty consistent numbers.

A first baseman/DH that hits .270/.320/.475 isn't going to remind anyone of Jason Giambi, but he could be a useful stopgap for a team that spent much of last season watching Tony Clark hit .207/.265/.291 as their first baseman.

Zuleta is a right handed hitter, so I suspect he has a good chance to be one half of a first base platoon with left handed hitting Brian Daubach, which would be a productive duo.

San Diego gave Damian Jackson his unconditional release.

Jackson wasn't really needed by the Tigers because they have gone and locked up about 3 or 4 mediocre infielders (Easley, Paquette, Halter, etc) to long term contracts and also have a couple of decent, young prospects that need playing time.

So, Damian Jackson is a free agent and, while he won't be getting any big time offers, he could be a nice spare part for several teams.

One of the teams that could use Damian Jackson is my very own Minnesota Twins.

As anyone who has been a reader of this website for any significant length of time knows, I am not really happy with the Twins current second baseman, Luis Rivas.

I have discussed Rivas in great length several times here and other places, so I won't bore everyone with more of that.

I will however say that Damian Jackson would make a very nice backup infielder for both Rivas and shortstop Cristian Guzman.

Here are Jackson's stats for the past few seasons:

2002 = .257/.320/.359 (245 ABs)

2001 = .241/.316/.343 (440 ABs)

2000 = .255/.345/.377 (470 ABs)

1999 = .224/.320/.356 (388 ABs)

Basically, Jackson is good for about .250/.320/.350 or so with some good defense at both middle infield positions.

He also has some good speed on the bases (101 career steals with only 26 caught stealing).

Damian Jackson is nothing special, but he hits pretty much like Luis Rivas does and his defense at second base would be a huge improvement.

I wouldn't mind seeing him as the second back up infielder (behind Denny "I am worth $1 million a year" Hocking).

Tampa Bay released Ryan Rupe.

Before I say anything about Ryan Rupe, it should be noted that I have him on one of my Diamond-Mind keeper league teams.

I think Ryan Rupe has the ability to be a good Major League starting pitcher and his chances of doing so probably just got a lot better, despite being released.

The Devil Rays might be moving in a new direction with the hiring of Lou Piniella, but I would still rather be a young pitcher in just about any other organization.

Rupe has pitched 467 ML innings and has a 5.84 ERA, but there are some signs that he could be a productive pitcher.

He has always had a pretty good strike out rate.

This year he struck out 6.7/9 innings and for his MLB career he has also struck out 6.7/9.

Rupe also has rapidly improving control.

His walks allowed per 9 innings have dropped in each of his Major League seasons, from 3.6 in 1999 to 3.1 in 2000 to 3.0 in 2001 to 2.5 this year.

Ryan Rupe's biggest problem has always been and probably will continue to be his homerific tendencies.

In his 467 Major League innings he has allowed 77 homers, which is almost in Jose Lima territory.

Ryan Rupe has been hurt by some bad Tampa Bay defense and probably some not-so-great Tampa Bay coaching.

If he can latch on to another organization I think he can become a solid back of the rotation starter, and if he ever solves his home run problems, he could be very good.

Speaking of my Diamond-Mind keeper league team...

The Minnesota Gophers advanced to the American League Championship series in the "Three Run Homer League."

After losing the first 2 games of the series, the Gophers responded by winning the next 4 to take the series 4 games to 2.

Next up for the cinderella story Gophers is a matchup with one of the 2 100+ win teams.

As always, I will keep everyone updated (whether you like it or not!).

November 19, 2002

The Worst Doctor in the World

I got a lot of emails saying people enjoyed my column from a few days ago about several less than earthshaking transactions.

Apparently you guys are almost as baseball obsessed as I am...which is great!

There was another highly intriguing transaction yesterday that probably won't get many headlines...

Kansas City waived shortstop Neifi Perez.

This transaction brought to mind a bit I remember hearing George Carlin do.

He basically said:

"Do you realize that somewhere in the world is the worst doctor? There is a guy who is a doctor, but he is the worst doctor. And somewhere, someone has an appointment to see him!

Neifi Perez was baseball's version of the worst doctor in the world this year.

For the past season and a half, the Royals have not only had an appointment to see him, they traded Jermaine Dye and about $5 million bucks for the appointment!

The Royals acquired Neifi from the Colorado Rockies in a 3 team trade that also involved the Oakland A's.

If you didn't know much about Kansas City General Manager Allard Baird's background as a GM, that 3-way trade would be all you needed to know to make your decision on whether or not he was a good GM.

He traded Jermaine Dye, who was slumping at the time but was coming off of back-to-back 115+ RBI seasons, for a shortstop who's hitting performance was barely adequate/

That is bad enough.

What makes it infinitely worse is the fact that those barely acceptable hitting stats were accomplished while playing in Coors Field!

Here are Neifi's stats for his time with the Rockies:

1997 = .291/.333/.444 (313 ABs)

1998 = .274/.313/.382 (647 ABs)

1999 = .280/.307/.403 (690 ABs)

2000 = .287/.314/.427 (651 ABs)

2001 = .298/.326/.445 (382 ABs)

Well, one thing you have to admit is that Neifi's power was "developing" a little bit - his slugging % went up every year since 1998.

Like I said, those numbers aren't really all that bad for a shortstop - unless he is playing half his games in the GREATEST HITTING ENVIRONMENT IN BASEBALL HISTORY!

Slugging %s in the low .400s just don't cut the mustard in Coors Field and Neifi Perez's translated stats, which take home ballpark into account, showed him to be a pretty horrendous hitter.

1997 = .251 Equivalent Average (EqA)

1998 = .228 EqA

1999 = .224 EqA

2000 = .230 EqA

2001 = .248 EqA

Just to put those stats into context...

Royce Clayton hit .251/.295/.365 this season for the White Sox and he had an EqA of .238.

Rey Ordonez hit .254/.292/.324 this season for the Mets and he had an EqA of .226.

So, basically, Allard Baird traded Jermaine Dye for a guy that, for his career up to that point, had hit similarly to how Royce Clayton and Rey Ordonez hit this season.

Like I said, not a real good trade.

Baird was no doubt intrigued by those nice, shiny, Coors inflated stats, which even included some decent "power" numbers because Perez often got 650-700 at bats.

Plus, Neifi won the NL Gold Glove in 2000!

Predictably, to almost everyone on the planet except for those in the Kansas City front office, Neifi Perez has continued to suck since the trade.

His performance with KC...

2001 = .241/.277/.302 (199 ABs)

2002 = .236/.260/.303 (554 ABs)

Now, that is some bad hitting.

But guess what?

It really isn't all the much worse than how Neifi hit in Colorado, he just has not had the benefit of Coors Field.

Remember those EqAs with the Rockies?

.251

.228

.224

.230

.248

Perez's EqAs with Royals:

.203

.194

Like I said, those are really awful, but they aren't all that different from his Colorado numbers.

Aside from his putrid hitting, Neifi Perez's fielding, which was presumably his strong suit, has fallen off a cliff as well.

Baseball Prospectus calculates how many runs better than a "replacement level player" a person is on defense in each season.

In 1998 Perez was +16 runs (meaning he was 16 runs better than a replacement SS).

In 1999 he was +14.

In 2000 he was +23 (extremely good and probably deserving of the Gold Glove he won that year).

In his half season with the Rockies in 2001 before being traded, Perez was +7, which would have been about +13 prorated to a whole season.

And since coming to KC?

Neifi Perez is +1 in about 1.5 seasons worth of fielding.

So, to recap:

His hitting always stunk, but it has gotten even stinkier since coming to Kansas City.

His fielding was actually once very good, but it has completely collapsed since coming to Kansas City.

Oh, I almost forgot one more thing!

Neifi was part of "Age Gate" and he actually aged 2 entire years in the off-season!

His "new" age actually makes a whole lot of sense in regard to his career "progression."

His 3 full seasons with Colorado (1998, 1999 and 2000) were actually his "peak" years - ages 25, 26 and 27 - instead of 23, 24 and 25 like everyone thought at the time, which makes his slight increase in power make sense.

And his awful 2002 was actually his age 29 season, which might explain his sudden drop in defensive ability.

Allard Baird must be given a little bit of slack because of the age situation.

In all fairness, he thought he was trading for a 26 year old that couldn't hit, not a 28 year old that couldn't hit.

Apparently Baird woke up this morning and smelled the suckiness, because he came to his senses and cut bait on Neifi Perez.

This shocking development actually creates a fun opportunity for all of us.

I guarantee a team will sign Neifi Perez this off-season, which will give us a chance to see which of the GMs belongs in the group with Allard Baird.

Let's call it the "Cam Bonifay Club For Bad GMs" or "CBCFBGMs" for short.

I am pretty confident the GM that decides he needs an appointment with the Worst Doctor In The World is not going to be mine (Terry Ryan) and I only hope, for your sake, that it isn't yours either.

November 18, 2002

You don't have to go home, but you've got to get the %#&@ out of Coors

I don't know that I will ever really be able to have a solid grasp of the details and monetary committments involved, but I am fairly certain that Mike Hampton is now an Atlanta Brave.

To me, this is an absolutely fascinating trade on so many levels.

It involves two teams that have given out such horrendous contracts that they are willing to make great sacrifices just to lessen the burden of them.

The Colorado Rockies gave Mike Hampton an 8 year/$121 million dollar contract prior to the 2001 season.

To rid themselves of Hampton and his massive contract, the Rockies were willing to take on several horrible, but less massive contracts.

They took on Charles Johnson, who is still owed $25 million dollars over the next 3 seasons and they took on Preston Wilson, who will be paid $27.5 million over those same 3 seasons.

In addition to those two albatrosses on the payroll, the Rockies also accepted Vic Darensbourg and his $1.1 million dollar contract for 2003 (and a $200,000 buyout for 2004).

The Florida Marlins received Mike Hampton and Juan Pierre.

Pierre is under contract for 3 more seasons at the total cost of $6.6 million dollars, which is bad, but makes him look like the bargain of the century compared to the rest of this group.

The Marlins then turned around and flipped Mike Hampton to the Braves in exchange for Tim Spooneybarger and a "Player To Be Named Later," otherwise known as the famous PTBNL.

So, it would seem fairly obvious that the Marlins got the better end of that deal, right?

They got rid of Johnson, Wilson and Darensbourg's contracts, while taking on Hampton's horrible contract, but they eventually rid themselves of that too.

Ah, but it is not so simple.

In order to get the Braves to accept Hampton and his remaining contract, the Marlins had to agree to pay a very large chunk of it.

Let's recap:

The Rockies gave Mike Hampton (and, to a lesser extent, Juan Pierre) such horrible contracts that they were willing to take on Charles Johnson, Preston Wilson and Vic Darensbourg and pay them for the remainder of their bad contracts.

The Marlins had given out such bad contracts to Charles Johnson, Preston Wilson and Vic Darensbourg that they were willing to take on Juan Pierre's contract and pay a large portion of Mike Hampton's contract - a player that will never even pitch an inning for them.

Is that what today's baseball trading has come to?

Teams so desperate to unload the idiotic decisions that they made just one or two off-seasons ago that they are willing to just swap bad contracts with other teams and even pay huge portions of contracts for players that have never and will never even be on their team?!

Apparently.

The Braves end of this deal is the only one that was a purely baseball move (remember those?).

They acquired Mike Hampton.

Let me rephrase that: They acquired Mike Hampton and a significantly lessened financial obligation, in exchange for Spooneybarger and (presumably) a minor league prospect.

So, who won this deal?

Yeah, right, as if it were that simple!

Even if I completely understood which teams were paying what portions of which players salaries (which I absolutely do not), it would still be impossible to really judge this trade because of 1 thing: Coors Field.

Never before in the history of Major League Baseball has there been a playing environment that changes the actual game being played (and thus the strategies, both in game and front office) to such a extraordinary degree.

Good pitchers have come to pitch in Colorado.

Pitchers coming off of good seasons and even multiple good seasons.

Pitchers in the primes of their careers.

And every single one of them has failed to pitch even close to as well as they did for their previous teams.

What makes Coors Field more amazing is the fact that some of those good pitchers have actually left Colorado - I should say have been allowed to leave Colorado - and have gone on to pitch as well or even better than they did prior to making Coors Field their home park.

Here are the best examples of guys I could find that had significant time pitching in Colorado and significant time pitching somewhere other than Colorado:

Darryl Kile per 9 innings pitched:

Before Colorado = 3.79 ERA - 8.5 Hits - 7.3 Ks- 4.2 BBs -0.7 HRs

With Colorado = 5.84 ERA - 10.3 Hits - 5.9 Ks - 4.4 BBs - 1.3 HRs

After Colorado = 3.54 ERA - 8.7 Hits - 7.0 Ks - 2.5 BBs - 1.1 HRs

Pedro Astacio per 9 innings pitched:

Before Colorado = 3.68 ERA - 8.6 Hits - 6.1 Ks - 2.8 BBs - 0.8 HRs

With Colorado = 5.43 ERA - 10.0 Hits - 8.1 Ks - 2.1 BBs - 1.5 HRs

After Colorado = 4.58 ERA - 9.1 Hits - 7.0 Ks - 2.7 BBs - 1.3 HRs

Jamey Wright per 9 innings pitched:

With Colorado = 5.57 ERA - 10.8 Hits - 4.0 Ks - 4.3 BBs - 1.0 HRs

After Colorado = 4.73 ERA - 9.0 Hits - 5.6 Ks - 4.8 BBs - 1.0 HRs

Curtis Leskanic per 9 innings pitched:

With Colorado = 4.92 ERA - 9.0 Hits - 7.9 Ks - 4.2 BBs - 1.0 HRs

After Colorado = 3.07 ERA - 7.4 Hits - 8.5 Ks - 5.0 BBs - 1.1 HRs

What is the basic effect on these pitchers?

Well, it is a mixed bag.

All of their ERA's were worse in Colorado, that is almost a given.

As for the other stuff...

Hits were up across the board - usually about 1.5-2.0 per 9 innings, which is a lot.

Colorado didn't seem to have a big impact on walks allowed, as most saw their BBs/9 stay about the same.

Strike outs, on the other hand, were significantly effected, except for Pedro Astacio.

Kile's Ks went down upon coming to Colorado and then went back up after leaving.

Jamey Wright saw his K rate rise about 40% after leaving the thin air and Curtis Leskanic saw a slight jump in Ks after leaving Coors.

And then there are the homers - in general homers went up, but not as much as I suspected they would.

The biggest impacts seem to come in Ks and Hits allowed, which would make sense.

The ballpark is bigger AND when you aren't striking out as many guys, more balls get hit into play and more hits start dropping.

What does all that mean for Mike Hampton?

Mike Hampton per 9 innings pitched:

Before Colorado = 3.44 ERA - 8.8 Hits - 6.1 Ks - 3.5 BBs - 0.6 HRs

With Colorado = 5.75 ERA - 10.9 Hits - 4.6 Ks - 4.1 BBs - 1.3 HRs

After Colorado = ????

My little "study" was completely unscientific, so I am doing nothing more than guessing with a little statistical background, but...

I would suspect that Hampton will see his strike outs go back up to about the same level they were before Colorado - somewhere in the 6.0-6.5 range.

That rise in Ks, along with Atlanta's more friendly dimensions, should mean his hits allowed will go back towards a more "normal" level - I would guess somewhere in the 9.0-9.5 range.

The walks will probably stay about the same and the homers will almost surely fall quite a bit.

Mike Hampton is not a good bet to be the same pitcher he was before he joined the Rockies, but the impact that pitching in Coors has, both on your pitching and your mental approach, can not be underestimated and his numbers almost have to get a lot better just because he isn't pitching there in half his games.

My prediction for Hampton in 2003?

200-210 Innings Pitched

3.75-4.25 ERA

Let's assume that he can pitch similarly to that for at least his first few years in Atlanta, is that worth Tim Spooneybarger and about $6 million bucks a year?

Well, I like Spooneybarger and I think he will be a very good reliever, but if the Braves can get 200 innings and a sub 4.00 ERA from Hampton, it is probably worth it.

On the other hand, there are easier ways to acquire a good-but-not-great starting pitcher and I think I would have chosen a different route if I were running the Braves.

Ignoring the financial aspects of this trade (the details are sketchy and the big numbers make my head hurt), what are the baseball-only ramifications?

To Atlanta:

Mike Hampton

To Florida:

Juan Pierre

Tim Spooneybarger

PTBNL

To Colorado:

Charles Johnson

Preston Wilson

Vic Darensbourg

Pablo Ozuna

I actually like what the Marlins did here.

Spooneybarger is going to be a valuable pitcher.

Juan Pierre is going to struggle to keep his slugging % above .350, but he is a good defensive center fielder.

And if the PTBNL turns out to anyone decent, it is just an added bonus.

Atlanta gets a new quality starting pitcher, although one that is not without substantial risk.

Colorado gets an old, injury prone catcher, a reasonably productive outfielder that will struggle horribly covering center field in Colorado, a lefty reliever that stinks and a former shortstop prospect that will be lucky to have a career as a utility infielder.

I hope the Rockies saved a ton of money with this deal, because the players they got are certainly not going to push them toward a championship.

The one bright side is that it will probably be a whole lot easier to try to trade Johnson and/or Wilson than it was trading Hampton.

Atlanta made a good, slightly risky decision that was made a whole lot less risky by the Marlins (and Rockies) picking up a lot of the tab on Hampton.

And the Marlins got rid of 2 bad contracts and got 1 good reliever and possibly a nice prospect - although it did cost them some money.

Like I said, this is an incredibly fascinating trade for many reasons.

Mike Hampton will now provide another data point, along with Kile and Astacio, on the analysis of good starting pitchers that pitched in Coors and left for better environments.

Like I said, there are easier, less risky ways to go about acquiring a good starting pitcher.

Instead of losing Spooneybarger, the PTBNL and paying Hampton $6 mill a season, I might have just given Tom Glavine a 3 year contract for $10 million a year and considered the little extra money worth it to keep Spooneybarger and stay away from the potential risk that Hampton might just be completely done as a good pitcher.

But, this deal likely means the end to Tom Glavine's days in Atlanta, which is a real shame.

For some reason I think it is a good thing when a player plays his entire career in one place, but after 16 seasons with the Braves, Glavine will be pitching every 5th day and adding on to his Hall-of-Fame credentials for someone else in 2003.

Baseball is a wacky game and something inside tells me I would have liked being a fan a whole lot better in the days when teams weren't paying portions of people's contracts and salaries weren't being dumped quite as often.

Although, this type of stuff can be fun too, as long as you have a good calculator.

November 16, 2002

Oh how I love transactions

If you are looking for a good way to judge exactly how obsessed someone is with the sport of baseball, look no further than transactions.

Now, any casual fan can be interested in Alex Rodriguez signing for $252 million.

Your average fan knows about Bartolo Colon being traded to the Expos or Mike Hampton signing a huge contract with the Rockies.

And the most serious baseball fans can tell you all about Ismael Valdes going to the Mariners at mid-season or the Red Sox signing Alan Embree to a 2 year deal.

But, it takes a special kind of baseball obsessed lunatic to actually care about Mike Rivera being traded for Gene Kingsale or Roy Smith being bought for cash by Oakland.

I am that special kind of baseball obsessed lunatic and the minutia of baseball, the transactions that don't always make the sports section, are one of my favorite aspects of the sport.

It is with great pleasure that I present to you my thoughts on the various transactions that occurred in the last several days.

You won't see anything about Paul Konerko's new contract or the Yankees picking up Andy Pettitte's option for 2003, because, well, those transactions are a little too significant for my tastes.

Detroit acquires Gene Kingsale from San Diego in exchange for Mike Rivera.

This is an interesting trade.

Kingsale is a speedy centerfielder that isn't much of a hitter and Rivera is a good hitting catcher that hasn't gotten the greatest reviews on his defense.

Mike Rivera hit .249/.341/.525 at Triple-A this year after hitting .289/.368/.578 at Double-A last season.

He isn't really young anymore (he turned 26 in September) and his defense is not great, but he can be valuable to a team with his bat.

I am surprised that a team like the Tigers would be willing to let someone that can actually hit (let alone a catcher that can actually hit) go for someone like Gene Kingsale.

Rivera didn't hit very much in his brief stint with the Tigers this year, but his Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for 2001 and 2002 say he would be good for about .240/.315/.445 in the big leagues, which is pretty nice for a catcher.

I wouldn't be surprised to see him get 200-300 productive at bats for the Padres in 2002.

Gene Kingsale, on the other hand, is just one of seemingly thousands of speedy, decent OBP/no power outfielders roaming outfields throughout baseball.

He is a nice 5th outfielder to have on a team - he can handle all 3 outfield spots defensively, he can pinch run and he won't kill you if he has to start for a week or two when someone goes down with an injury.

But, guys who fit that basic description can be had for a lot less than a catcher that has slugged .525 and .578 in his past two minor league seasons.

San Francisco waives Tsuyoshi Shinjo.

I am not quite sure why this transaction is being worded as a "waiving," because the Giants simply did not excercise their option on Shinjo for 2003.

It was a good call by them because there is no need to pay someone like Shinjo $1.2 million, which is what he would have made.

That said, Tsuyoshi Shinjo has value.

I think one of the tendencies for people in regard to sports (and I suppose other aspects of life) is to look at someone and see what they cannot do instead of what they can do.

Tsuyoshi Shinjo is never going to be a great hitter and he isn't Ichiro!, but he is a very good defensive center fielder and he can hit a little bit, especially against lefties.

I am not saying someone should sign him to a long term contract or anything, but Shinjo has a place on a Major League Baseball team, either as a defensive replacement/spot starter or as a full on platoon partner for a left handed center fielder.

Hmmm...Kenny Lofton is a left handed CF...nevermind.

Heck, on a team with an otherwise solid offensive core, having Shinjo as the starting center fielder wouldn't even be a completely horrible idea, assuming he came cheap.

In 762 career Major League at bats Shinjo has hit .253/.308/.388, which, considering he played in two bad parks for hitters (Shea Stadium in 2001 and Pac Bell this year) basically makes him about as good and maybe even a little better than Darin Erstad at the plate.

Erstad hit .283/.313/.389 in 2002 and .258/.331/.360 in 2001.

Shinjo just got released and Erstad signed a 4 year/$32 million dollar contract a few months ago.

My point isn't that the Erstad contract was bad (I actually think it wasn't horrible), but that Shinjo, used properly in the right situation and on the right team, can be valuable to a ballclub.

Chicago Cubs outfielder Roosevelt Brown announced that he has signed a contract with the Orix Blue Wave of the Japanese Pacific League.

Seems like a fair trade, right?

They send us Ichiro! and Godzilla Matsui (and Shinjo) and we send them Rosie Brown.

Actually, I like Roosevelt Brown as a player.

Throughout his career he has hit pretty much everywhere he has gone, except for the Major Leagues, of course.

Check out some of these numbers for Brown...

In 2001 at Triple-A he hit .346/.381/.626 in 364 ABs.

In 2000 at Triple-A he hit .309/.381/.496 in 363 ABs.

In 1999 at Triple-A he hit .358/.401/.713 in 268 ABs.

In 1998 at Single-A he hit .344/.402/.557 in 244 ABs.

Obviously, the reason he is heading to Japan is his .251/.312/.407 performance in 442 career Major League at bats.

Admittedly he struggled big time in his chance with the Cubs this year, hitting only .211/.299/.314 in 204 ABs, but he did well in short stints with them in 2001 (.265/.326/.506) and 2000 (.352/.378/.528).

Roosevelt Brown can hit and the only difference between him and the dozens of mediocre corner outfielders on rosters throughout MLB is a lucky break here and there or 50 good at bats during a late season call up.

Brown has hit at every level and has dominated during several seasons, including those 2 pretty nice stints with the Cubs.

But, for whatever reason, he hasn't gotten very many real opportunities to establish himself and when he did actually get a decent shot during this season, he blew it.

I think Roosevelt Brown is quite capable of putting up some .285/.350/.475 seasons in the Big Leagues, at the very least, and that could help a lot of teams.

Don't be surprised if you read an article about him winning the Japanese League batting title next year.

With the Donnie Sadlers and Gerald Williamses of the world somehow hanging around long enough to rack up 1,000s of at bats, it is a real shame that guys like Rooesevelt Brown don't have the same luck.

Oakland acquired Roy Smith from Cleveland for cash.

This is a great low risk/decent upside pickup for Billy Beane, who is the master of such things.

Roy Smith pitched for the St. Paul Saints in 1998 and 1999, which automatically makes him one of my favorite players.

If you live in the Midwest and you have not been to Midway Stadium to see a St. Paul Saints game, you are really missing out.

Great atmosphere, good baseball and a lot of fun.

My uncle has had season tickets since their first season (I actually think I remember him saying he was one of the first handful of people to sign up) and I have had the pleasure of attending numerous Saints games over the years.

I saw J.D. Drew, Darryl Strawberry, Leon Durham, Matt Nokes, Billy Ashley and tons of other "interesting" players come through St. Paul, Minnesota, and any guy that can work his way from the Northern League to a possible shot at a bullpen job with the Oakland A's is a man that is to be respected.

Roy Smith is a submariner in what Billy Beane hopes will be the Chad Bradford mold.

I saw him pitch a few games for the Indians in 2001 and I was impressed.

His minor league numbers are also very good.

Smith has a very good K rate (151 in 144 career Triple-A innings) and he does a great job keeping the ball in the ballpark (only 4 home runs allowed in those same 144 innings!).

I wouldn't be surprised if Roy Smith pitched about 70 innings with an ERA in the 3.00s for Oakland next year.

A great pickup for Beane and an even better opportunity for Roy Smith.

And finally, no column about low-wattage transactions would be complete without me talking about the very first Twins trade of the off-season...

The Twins sent Javier Valentin and Matt Kinney to Milwaukee for Matt Yeatman and Gerry Oakes.

I really don't like this deal for the Twins.

It seems to me that Javier Valentin never really got a fair shot with the Twins.

He was up with the Twins in 1998 and 1999 for significant at bats and was supposed to be their "Catcher of the Future."

Somewhere along the way he got passed up by A.J. Pierzynski, which is fine.

But since 1999 Valentin hasn't gotten any kind of opportunity to play his way into a backup job, which is something I think he would be phenomenal at.

Here are Valentin's minor league stats since the Twins decided he was worthless after the 1999 season:

2000 (AAA) = .357/.397/.560 in 140 ABs.

2001 (AAA) = .281/.352/.476 in 431 ABs.

2002 (AAA) = .286/.346/.501 in 455 ABs.

Switch hitting catchers that slug .500 don't grow on trees and I just don't understand why he has been such a forgotten man in the Twins long term plans.

Instead of letting Valentin backup Pierzynski next year (and in 2004 and maybe 2005), the Twins re-signed good old Tom Prince again so he can hit .200 with a little power and all that "Veteran Leadership."

Matt Kinney is a guy that I think the Twins gave up on too quickly.

A couple of seasons ago he was a hot prospect in the Twins organization.

He has struggled a little bit lately, but he still looks to me like a guy very capable of being a solid end of the rotation starter.

In 108 career innings with the Twins Kinney has a 4.81 ERA, which is about what I think he would be good for over the course of a full season.

175 innings of league average pitching might not sound like a whole lot, but it does have value, particularly when it is coming from a young pitcher that is making the league minimum (and will be for several more seasons).

The Brewers got two capable players.

I think Valentin could more than handle his own as a starting catcher in the Major Leagues.

He switch hits, his defense is passable and given 400 at bats he would probably be good for about .270/.325/.440 with 12-15 homers.

On a team like the Brewers, that would be a welcomed addition.

And Kinney, assuming he is healthy, is a good bet to be a league average starting pitcher, which, once again, would be a pretty nice thing for the Brew Crew.

So, what did the Twins get?

Minnsota got 1 pretty good Single-A pitching prospect and a 1 completely useless Single-A pitcher.

Matt Yeatman is the prospect.

He had a 2.48 ERA in 127 innings at Single-A this year, with a good strike out rate (127 Ks in 127 innings).

His control is a little shaky, but what Single-A pitcher's isn't?

He looks like a pretty decent prospect.

Gerry Oakes, on the other hand, looks to be completely useless.

Pitching on the same Single-A team as Yeatman, Oakes posted a 7.17 ERA in 113 innings.

Even worse than the astronomical ERA was hit K/BB ratio - he struck out only 53 batters and walked 84!

He was a pretty high draft pick only a couple years ago, so maybe the Twins "saw something in him," although I highly doubt it.

Looks like two serviceable, major league ready players for a 1 decent Single-A pitcher, which isn't my idea of a good trade.

Okay, that's it for this edition of Aaron's Wide World of Transaction Minutia!

Check back next week for more analysis of career minor leaguers and struggling former prospects!

November 15, 2002

What? This is a baseball blog?

I generally try to stay away from non-baseball topics on this website.

Usually the only time I stray from my favorite sport is to talk about something funny.

However, in this case, I just can't help myself.

The college basketball season has officially started!

Over the years my interest in the NBA has almost completely vanished and, while I am big football fan, I have never really been fanatic about it, perhaps because I never played football.

But, after baseball (which will always be #1 for me by a landslide), college basketball is the next best thing.

I don't really have a specific topic to talk about regarding college basketball, but I just wanted to give a few of my thoughts and make some quick predictions...

If you haven't heard of Carmelo Anthony yet, you soon will.

Anthony is a freshman swingman at Syracuse and will soon be a superstar.

He can do it all.

He has good ballhandling skills, is extremely athletic and can even rebound the ball pretty well.

But, the thing that impresses me the most about his game is his mid-range jumpshot.

He can stop on a dime, pull up and sink a 17-footer at any time, and that is a pretty rare skill in today's dunk and 3-pointer game.

Carmelo Anthony made his college debut last night against Memphis.

His line for the night:

27 Points

10-23 FGs

5-12 FTs

11 Rebounds (6 Offensive)

1 Steal

1 Assist

That is a pretty great college debut.

The one weakness in his game (at least last night) appears to be his free throw shooting.

Carmelo went 5-12 on the night, including missing 5 in a row late in the 2nd half.

His free throw shooting, along with a horrible shooting performance by the rest of his team, probably cost Syracuse the win.

Keep an eye out for him and remember the name, he is going to be very special.

To steal a quote from ESPN.com's Bill Simmons, I wish I could buy stock in Carmelo Anthony.

Speaking of special players...

My favorite player in all of college basketball is Texas sophomore point guard T.J. Ford.

You know that question on personality tests that asks, "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?"

Well, if I was a point guard, I would be a T.J. Ford, or at least I would like to be a T.J. Ford.

T.J. is the player I tried to be when I was playing basketball.

He is basically an assist waiting to happen.

He doesn't score much (about 10 points a game), but if a Longhorns big man gets open, he will find him for an easy score.

He is fast, extremely athletic, has exceptional ball handling skills and is the best point guard in the country.

Point guards that can score 20 a game are certainly nice, but give me a T.J. Ford, a guy that can run the offense and keep everyone involved, and I will take him everyday of the week and 5 times on John Stockton's birthday.

T.J. Ford is my pick to lead the country in assists this year and he should do it by a pretty large margin.

So, keep an eye on him and remember his name too (along with Anthony's)

I can't do a college basketball column without mentioning a guy that lives on the very same campus that I do.

In fact, Minnesota sophomore Rick Rickert lives in the building right next to mine.

Rickert is the real deal.

At 6-10, he is a phenomenal long range shooter with an improving post game.

He is not a great defender or rebounder yet, but he'll improve with time in the weight room and more games in the Big Ten Conference.

I think Rickert will win the Big Ten Player of the Year and I don't think it will even be particularly close.

I expect him to average about 20-22 points and 8-10 boards this year.

Okay, so those are my 3 "breakout" players to watch this year (and in the future).

Carmelo Anthony is a freshman who is going to be an absolute superstar.

T.J. Ford is a relatively unknown sophomore point guard who is a threat to average 10+ assists a game for a very good Texas team.

And Rick Rickert is a sophomore and Minnesota native that has been spotted by yours truly several times around campus.

Strangely enough, he didn't ask me for my autograph when we ran into each other at Taco John's.

As for my thoughts on teams?

Well, I am glad you asked...

The Minnesota Gophers should have their best season since the Clem Haskins era.

Their front line is the best in the Big Ten and among the top handful in the entire country.

Along with Rick Rickert (14 PPG, .505 FG%) the Gophers also have 6-10 senior Jerry Holman (8.8 PPG, .554 FG%) and 6-8 junior Michael Bauer (9.4 PPG, .431 FG%).

Holman is a great shotblocker with a developing offensive game.

Bauer has been a huge disappointment in my opinion.

He has great talent, but he is basically a guy that likes to hang around the perimeter and shoot jump shots all game, and when he does post someone up, he ends up just shooting a fadeaway jumper.

If he can step up his game a little bit, they will have a dangerous starting front line.

The Gophers also have frontcourt depth off the bench with 6-11 sophomore Jeff Hagen, who redshirted last season and 6-9 freshman Aliou Kane, who is regarded as one of the top first-year big men in the country.

As good and deep as the frontcourt is, the backcourt is almost the exact opposite.

Last year's starting point guard, senior Kevin Burleson, returns, although whether or not that is good news is debatable.

The Gophers should get some help from Ben Johnson, a transfer from Northwestern.

Johnson led Northwestern in scoring while he was there (which is like being the smartest kid in the slow class) and should be able to play significant minutes at both guard spots.

Beyond those two, the guard play is uncertain.

Newcomer Kris Collins, who was supposed to play some point guard, was released from the team yesterday for (apparently) not going to class.

Can you imagine how many classes you would have to miss in order to get kicked off the basketball team before you had even played a single college game?

I am going to go out on a limb and say Collins' issue was not related to alarm clock problems.

Coach Dan Monson is probably going to look to give Collins' minutes to sophomore Aaron Robinson.

Robinson played sparingly and horribly in 2001 and I don't expect much from him.

Incidently, I stood next to Robinson at a bus stop on campus the other day and suffice it to say he is a very little person, no taller than 5-6 or 5-7 I would guess (he is listed at an almost laughable 5-9).

One player that I do expect to step up his game is sophomore shooting guard Maurice Hargrow.

Mo and I went to high school together for 4 years, although I would guess he is completely unaware of that fact.

Hargrow is extremely athletic and fast and has a very good first step.

He isn't a real good shooter yet, but I think he will be a nice surprise for Minnesota this year and should provide some scoring punch off the bench.

The Gophers will go as far as their big men will take them.

I think they have a good chance at winning the Big Ten title, but I predict they will finish in 2nd place (more on that later).

Some other teams I like (or think will surprise) this year...

North Carolina.

Yes, I realize how horrible they were last year.

And no, I don't expect them to be great this year.

I do think they will be much improved with a starting 5 that includes 3 much heralded freshmen and 2 very good sophomores who were the lone bright spots on last year's team.

I think UNC will finish in the top 4 of the ACC Conference, which is saying something after they finished tied for dead last a year ago.

Texas.

The Big Twelve has the most upper level, elite teams in the country, with Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas amazingly all in the pre-season top 5.

I like Kansas a lot, but that isn't really much of a shock.

So, I'll talk a little bit about the Longhorns.

I already mentioned how in love I am with T.J. Ford's game.

I also really like junior forward James Thomas, who is a force inside and is a great finisher (which is key when you have Ford setting you up for easy baskets all over the place).

If Thomas can get some help inside, Texas should be in for a very good season.

Even though they are ranked #5 in the country to start the year, I don't think many people are talking about them as major contenders, but that will change.

Louisville.

Rick Pitino's first season with Louisville was a good one, but not great.

I think the 2002-2003 version will be much improved.

They return almost every important player from last year's 19-13 team, including senior guard Reece Gaines, who is a stud and a good bet to average 25 a game.

Louisville will make the NCAA tourney and it wouldn't surprise me to see them in the Sweet Sixteen.

Now, a team I don't like so much...

Florida.

The Gators are ranked #7 in the country right now and that simply is not going to last.

They play a pretty soft non-conference schedule, but once the SEC season begins, they will start dropping games.

Florida have absolutely zero frontcourt depth beyond Matt Bonner and David Lee.

I have heard that freshman guard Christian Drejer is the real deal and he better be, because the Gators are going to have to score a lot of points to make up for their lack of rebounding and shot blocking.

Plus, Drejer is going to miss the few couple of weeks with a foot injury.

They'll make the NCAA Tourney, but they aren't going to finish anywhere near #7.

Brett Nelson has got to be the least deserving John Wooden Award candidate (2 years in a row!) in the history of the world.

My official picks for regular season champions (because anything can happen in the conference tourney):

Big Ten = Michigan State.

Always tough, can always rebound and this year they have some good perimeter players, even though Marcus Taylor idiotically left for the NBA (where he got cut!).

ACC = Duke,

They are Duke you know. Only the Dukies could lose Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy and still win one of the best conferences in college basketball. I think Chris Duhon will become a star this year, Dahntay Jones is a solid #2 option and they have a ton of good freshmen.

Big East = Boston College (East Division) and Pittsburgh (West Division).

BC has two great guards in Troy Bell (a Minnesota native!) and Ryan Sidney and I am big believer in guard play being the key in college basketball.

They should have enough to hold off a very good UConn team and St. John's.

I really wanted to go out on a limb and pick Notre Dame over Pitt in the West, but I just couldn't.

Pittsburgh finished 29-6 last year and they return almost everyone.

I think ND will be surprisingly very good, but not that good.

Big Twelve = Kansas.

This is a tough choice, as Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas are all possible Final Four teams and even Missouri, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State aren't too shabby.

In the end, I think Kansas will win it, with Texas 2nd and Oklahoma 3rd.

They will all be either 1, 2 or 3 seeds in the NCAA Tourney.

Pac Ten = Arizona.

I just don't see how you can go against them. They are not only deep, but they have some star players too, particularly Luke Walton, who will come real close to averaging a triple-double this year. And Jason Gardner (the actual point guard) isn't too shabby either.

SEC = Georgia (East Division) and Alabama (West Division).

You already know I don't like Florida this year, so I will go with Georgia in the East Division. They return almost everyone and Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams are a very good 1-2 combo.

The Gophers play host to Georgia in the 2nd game of the year, which will be a real test for both teams.

I like Bama in the West. They are a good team and Erwin Dudley is a monster inside. It is a shame Rod Grizzard did like Marcus Taylor and went NBAing (and got cut too).

Final Four:

Arizona

Texas

Kansas

Duke

Yeah, I know, I am not exactly going out on a limb with any of those picks.

I think Arizona will probably be a #1 seed and probably Kansas also.

I see Duke as a #2 and Texas as a #3.

So, two #1s, a #2 and a #3, that seems about right to me.

And my national champ...

The Arizona Wildcats.

They were 24-10 last year, they lost absolutely no one and they gained 4 very talented freshmen, including Hassan Adams, who I like a lot.

Look for Bill Walton's baby boy and The White Fox to cut the nets down in March baby!

Did I mention that I am pumped for the season to start?!?!?

By the way, feel free to completely disagree with everything I said in this column because this is, after all, a BASEBALL BLOG!

We'll be back to our regularly scheduled baseball talk tomorrow, I promise.

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