Friday, March 26, 2004

The Transaction Wire is the best part of Spring Training in MLB. It is on the transaction page that you discover all the maneuvers made by teams to tinker with their recipe for this year's success. It is also a place of surprise and pathos for players sent to the minors--or worse yet--released with the dreaded word: "Unconditionally."

According to, a player is released "unconditionally" after being given, "a form of irrevocable waivers required before a team can release a player as a free agent." Can you kill a player off your team with worse terms than "Unconditionally" and "irrevocable?" Couldn't there be a gentler way to say that you're fired, you're out of a job, you're not going to make the team?

At least the player is given the euphemism that he is, "a free agent." Surely, people who have just recently been fired don't think of themselves as free agents. At least the players don't get "axed" like managers or general managers. Some of these "free agents" will find jobs with other teams. Others will have to find a way to hook up with a minor league contract and fight their way back to the majors. And there will be some that call it a career. Let's look at some of the most recent victims:

John Valentin' - Released by the Houston Astros:
It wasn't that long ago that John Valentin' was a major cog in a potent Red Sox batting order. Valentin' came up as a shortstop for the Red Sox and moved to third when Nomar Garciaparra broke into the Red Sox lineup. I was watching a Red Sox game once where a routine grounder was hit to third and Valentin' was gliding toward the ball to make the play when he buckled and went down. That's really bad luck to blow out a knew just moving laterally to field a grounder.

Valentin's best year was 1995 when he batted .298 with 37 doubles, 27 homers and 102 RBI. Valentin's OBP that year was a point under .400. Valentin' is a .279 lifetime hitter with a lifetime OBP of .360. Those are good numbers. But Valentin' could be finished. His legs gone, there are only so many pinch hitting positions open in baseball.

Bill Haselman - Released by the Baltimore Orioles:
The 36 year old catcher has played parts of thirteen seasons in the majors. He's also played a lot of seasons in the minors. He's just one of those average players who hangs around a long time. How much longer remains to be seen.

Dee Brown - Sent to the minors by the Kansas City Royals after he cleared waivers:
Dee Brown was a first round draft choice in 1996. He's only 26 years old but after parts of five years with the Royals, he's collected a .229 lifetime batting average. It doesn't look good for Brown to live up to that high draft choice.

Felix Jose - Released by the Arizona Diamondbacks:
This Dominican Republic native has had a long strange trip. Once a decent full time player for the Oakland A's (a .280 lifetime hitter), Jose hit bumps in the road and was out of the majors from 1995 to 2000. He made a minor comeback with the Diamondbacks but is now 39 years old. There appears to be no more way for Jose.

Erick Almonte - Released by the New York Yankees:
Another Dominican Republic player, Almonte got his big chance last year when Derek Jeter tore up his shoulder in the first game of the year. Almonte played 31 games and got exactly 100 at bats. His .260 batting average is one of the easiest in history to figure out. What happens if you finally get the shot you have waited for and you don't impress anybody? Will you ever get another chance?

Deivi Cruz - Released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays:
The thirty-two year old Dominican shortstop (is there a theme here?) has played seven full seasons as a starter in his career and he has been a throwback to the old arch type of shortstop: slap hitter, slick fielder. He has a little more pop in his bat than the Mark Belangers of the past but this is the era of the power shortstop and Lou Piniella cut Cruz. He is a useful player and should catch on somewhere.

Fernando Tatis - Released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays:
Now here is a story of a man who had one big year, got a big contract and fizzled. Did the money take him down? Who knows. But Tatis went from riding Mark McGwire around the bases when Mcgwire didn't ride himself around to getting fired by the Devil Rays. That one season? 1999 with a .298 average, 34 homers and a hundred and seven RBI. Before and after that? Nothing. Bye bye, Fernando. Oh yeah, he was another Dominican.

Todd Jones - Released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (the Devil Rays had a bloody day):
Todd Jones has 184 career saves. But he is 35 years old and probably doesn't have the velocity that he once had. He had some marginal success with the Red Sox last year. He'll catch on somewhere.

Mike Williams - Released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays:
Another 35 year old former closer, Williams has 144 career saves. He signed a big contract with the Pirates two years ago after saving 46 games in 2002. In the two years since, Williams has had an ERA over six. That won't land you too many jobs. Williams has always walked a lot of batters. He probably doesn't have the hard heat he once did to get out of those constant james.

One other transaction note, the Braves acquired Reds' pitcher, Chris Reitsma. They seemed pretty pleased with themselves. I see a journeyman pitcher with a lifetime ERA of 4.52 and a lifetime BAA of .280. The Braves could be headed to uncharted waters.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The Fan is in the process of buying a new home and it's a funny thing. I love my current home. The place is warm and homey and appealing. I have worked for years on the landscaping and it's really pretty. I enjoy my time here and there are good memories here. But I love my new home. There is a little bit of terror that though it's bigger and nicer and has more features, that it won't feel like home. Two teams will experience that feeling this year as the San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies open new ballparks in just a couple of week's time.

San Diego has built what looks to be one of the most beautiful parks in baseball. Petco Park (see seems to have everything. The park seats 42,000 and the seats down the line will be angled toward the infield. Well...nevermind my descriptions. Just go to the site and see it. I believe it will rival the San Francisco ballpark and surpass Camdon Yards in Baltimore.

The Vet was imploded last week and I don't think many will miss it. Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia was the last remaining of the cookie cutter parks of the 70's where Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh all had the same bowl stadium with terrible astro-turf and uniform dimensions. All three cities now have new parks with Citizen Bank Field in Philadelphia opening this season (see

What seems great about Philadelphia's new ballpark is how the field is 23 feet below street level so when you walk in, the first thing you see is the field. Most of the seats are below your entrance except for ten rows above ground. When you go to the site to see the park, take the tour to get a feel for the new home of the Phillies.

Some things I noticed about the new home of the Phillies is that there is a lot of foul ground on the infield. That will help the pitchers whereas the dimensions are not that deep with dead centerfield being only 401 feet away from home plate. I think you'll see a lot of home runs there and a lot of pop foul outs.

The Padres' new home seems to have even smaller dimensions that Citizens Bank Park but word is that the ball doesn't carry there very well. The Padres aren't a team built for pop though and they have a lot of line drive hitters. So that should play into their game.

Unlike my dilemma concerning leaving a nice home for a newer and better one, the Phillies and Padres both leave terrible facilities and have to be excited about playing in their new clubs. The only question will be if the parks give the teams a home field advantage until their new homes become...well home. I know the feeling.