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!

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