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Ask BA

If you have a question, send it to askba@baseballamerica.com. Please include your full name and hometown if you'd like your letter to be considered for use in an upcoming column. We regret that we can't respond to every question.

By Jim Callis

November 27, 2001

I've gotten a number of questions asking about the Elias Sports Bureau ratings that are used to determine free-agent compensation, and the simple answer is that I have been unable to find them. I've looked and looked on the web and in print, and I've come up empty. If anyone can point me to them, please let me know.

A couple of people asked about Todd Van Poppel this morning. The Cubs hadn't offered him arbitration before he signed with the Rangers, but now that he's gone it's an easy decision. Chicago will go through the formality of offering it and then they'll be compensated for the loss of a Type A free agent. Texas can't lose its first-round pick because it will be in the upper half of the 2002 draft, but its second-rounder will go to the Cubs. Unless, of course, the Rangers sign a higher-rated Type A free agent later this offseason, in which case the team that lost that player gets a second-rounder and the Cubs get pushed down in the pecking order.

Thanks to Jamey Newberg, who produces a fine website on the Rangers (www.newbergreport.com), for letting me know that the Dallas Morning News reported Van Poppel's Type A status. For more information on how free agents are classified, please see the November 7 Ask BA below.

    I was more than a little surprised when I didn't see David Kelton on BA's Arizona Fall League Top 30 Prospects list. Despite the fact that he was one of the youngest players in the entire league, he more than held his own, ranking just behind Bobby Hill for the Mesa team lead in batting average and hits. Furthermore, he certainly had a better fall league than Joe Borchard, and one very similar to Gabe Gross', though Kelton did bat 52 points higher. Why didn't he make the list?

    Vick Sahajpal
    Ann Arbor, Mich.

Josh Boyd put together that Top 30 list, which subscribers can access at www.baseballamerica.com/online/leagues/winter/afltop30.html. So we'll turn this question over to him:

While there were some, including myself, who really like Kelton's bat, he was coming back from a pretty serious wrist injury and learning a new position in the AFL. He didn't have much trouble catching up with the bat, but he was rough in the outfield. He's an athletic guy who shouldn't have too much trouble making the move. Hill is on the verge of taking over for Eric Young at second base and people liked him as a sparkplug at the top of a lineup. Borchard's tools were evident enough to keep him in the top group despite his struggles at the end of a long season. Gross had a lot of support, showing improvement in all facets of his play and doing nothing to diminish his reputation as a polished hitter.

    The Padres recently signed Tag Bozied, leaving them with four third baseman among their top position prospects. Sean Burroughs is their third baseman of the future. It looks like Xavier Nady eventually will take over in left field for Ray Lankford and Jake Gautreau will be developed as a second baseman. With the signing of Phil Nevin, where do you see Bozied being developed? What are his strengths and weaknesses? What type of player do you see him developing for the Padres? Is he in the same league as Tyrell Godwin, the player who went one pick behind him to the Blue Jays?

    Rob Curtis
    Memphis

San Diego does have a backlog of third basemen, and I think they'll rate pretty highly when I do our Padres Top 30 Prospects list (which gives me a quick opportunity to plug the 2002 Prospect Handbook). The Padres' philosophy has been to draft bats first and sort out the positions, and I think that makes sense.

San Diego will try to play these guys at the most attractive positions possible, and not force them into other positions until they have to. In 2002, Burroughs should be ready to play third base for the Padres, which likely will push Nevin to first base and Ryan Klesko to left field. Nady just had Tommy John surgery on his balky right elbow and will DH for at least the first half of next season. I envision Nady starting in Double-A, with Gautreau and Bozied possibly on the same high Class A club if they keep experimenting with Gautreau as a second baseman. If they scrap that, he might go to Double-A. I've had plenty of scouts tell me they don't like either Gautreau or Bozied much at the hot corner, so I wouldn't get too optimistic about Gautreau sticking at second base. Some scouts do think that Bozied might be worth a shot at catcher, though, because he has arm strength.

Bozied and Godwin are two entirely different prospects. Bozied is a power hitter while Godwin is more of a well-rounded athlete. Godwin surprised me by hitting .368 in the short-season New York-Penn League after taking his senior season off at the University of North Carolina. If I had to pick between the two, I'd take Godwin.

    How could you leave Tim Spooneybarger off of your Top 10 Prospects list for the Braves? You rated him sixth in the Triple-A International League, but he couldn't crack Atlanta's list? I thought his stuff was almost unhittable from what I've read. Maybe he needs to cut his Triple-A ERA in half, which would make it 0.36!

    Andy Wiesner
    Madison, Wis.

Geez, there's just no satisfying some people. We rated Spooneybarger 11th among Braves prospects, so he just missed the Top 10. He's a solid reliever who has a good chance to make the Atlanta bullpen in 2002. His best pitch is a curveball and he also throws two- and four-seam fastballs, both of which are effective. After strugging in Double-A this season, Spooneybarger dominated in Triple-A, going 3-0, 0.71 with 58 strikeouts in 51 innings.

In general, starting pitchers in the minors generally are considered better prospects than relievers. Spooneybarger might have cracked the Top 10 for some organizations, but the Braves have one of the deeper systems in the game. There's no shame in being Atlanta's 11th-best prospect.

    The question of Cal Ripken's streak came up in a baseball mail list I'm on and it caused me to wonder this: Yomiuri Giants outfielder Hideki Matsui has the longest current consecutive games streak among active baseball players anywhere in the world. It's somewhere over 1,000 right now. Matsui will be eligible for free agency after next season and supposing that he comes to the U.S. majors and plays 10 more years and doesn't miss a game, how is that going to be counted? Also, Lions shortstop Kazuo Matsui has a consecutive streak over 800 going right now as well. If he comes to the Mariners—and he has said he wants to—does his streak continue? What do you think?

    Gary Garland
    Lacey, Wash.

Regular Ask BA readers may recall that Gary provided us with information on Japanese players earlier in the summer, and has an interesting website at www.japanesebaseball.com/forum. In response to his question, I don't think a combined streak will be recognized as much more than an oddity. It certainly wouldn't be recognized as an official record. Ichiro Suzuki won seven batting titles in Japan's Pacific League before taking the American League crown in 2001. If he wins next year, he won't be considered the equal of Ty Cobb, who won nine straight AL batting championships from 1907-15 (and yes, I know some sources credit Nap Lajoie with the 1910 title).

November 20, 2001

The baseball writers have announced all of their major awards for 2001, and though it's trendy to bash their choices on the Internet, I don't think they did a bad job at all. The National League MVP (Barry Bonds) and Cy Young (Randy Johnson) and both Rookies of the Year (Ichiro Suzuki, Albert Pujols) were slam dunks. I would have picked Jason Giambi as the AL MVP, because he led the league in both slugging and on-base percentage while willing the Athletics back into contention, but there's no arguing with the impact Ichiro made on the Mariners. I've heard all the arguments against Roger Clemens winning the AL Cy Young, but the fact of the matter is there was no clear-cut candidate. I've looked at all the numbers and come to the conclusion that I would have chosen Freddy Garcia, but Clemens wasn't a blasphemous choice. And it makes up for him losing out in 1990, when he clearly had a better season than Bob Welch.

As a quick aside, I hope no one is going to suggest that Clemens and Johnson can't pitch in the clutch (read: postseason) any longer.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. The Callis family, which now numbers six, is celebrating at home this year. Because of the holiday, there will be no Ask BA on Friday. With work on the 2002 Prospect Handbook mounting, we're going to cut Ask BA back to once a week until mid-January. But keep your questions coming, because I'll try to answer as many as possible each week.

    I graduated from Rice University this past May and played baseball for 2½ years while there. A number of my old teammates are now playing in the minors and I was wondering if you could analyze a few of them. I'm wondering specifically about Kenny Baugh (Tigers), Stephen Bess (Tigers), Bubba Crosby (Dodgers), Marcus Gwyn (Athletics), Mario Ramos (Athletics) and Jayme Sperring (Orioles). I ask specifically about these players because I feel they have shown the most potential so far in professional baseball. Feel free to comment on any I didn't ask about.

    Jason Bigelow
    Juneau, Alaska

The two best prospects out of that group are Baugh and Ramos. Baugh went 11th overall in the 2001 draft, already has reached Double-A and has a very good chance to be the first player from the 2001 draft to reach the majors. His velocity can be inconsistent, but he touches 95 mph at times and has a solid changeup. Ramos, a lefthander, doesn't throw nearly as hard as Baugh, though he does have a fine changeup and even better command. He's another example of how the A's focus on college players has paid off. They could have had Baugh, too, but didn't sign him as a 2000 fifth-rounder.

Though Bess and Sperring have had some success as relievers in the minors, neither is considered a top prospect and they'll both have to keep proving themselves. Gwyn had a disappointing first full season in pro ball after being a seventh-rounder in 2001, but at least he's in an organization that does a good job of teaching players. Crosby is coming off his best season as a pro, though he's just a shell of what the Dodgers expected when they took him in 1998's first round.

Don't forget about Jon Skaggs, a 2001 supplemental first-rounder of the Yankees who hurt his elbow in his first start at short-season Staten Island. He has a 92-94 mph fastball and is expected to be fine by spring training.

    Word has it that Chad Hutchinson will be holding a football workout for about 10 NFL teams. Now I know he never has been one of BA's favorite prospects, but is this just frustration over his developmental stall/regression, or is he seriously considering a change of occupation?

    Jacob Gill
    Chicago

That workout is scheduled for today, and comes amid reports that he already has thrown secretly for the Kansas City Chiefs. I don't think this is the type of thing you'd do unless you're seriously considering a change of occupation, because it certainly won't curry favor with your current employers. In the issue of BA that just went to press, I wrote Hutchinson off in my column. He was going to have a hard time doing much for the Cardinals anyway, and a lack of dedication won't help him.

    Could you give some detail about how the minor league phases of the Rule 5 draft work? I know that a player chosen in the minor league phase doesn't have to be offered back to his old team like he does in the major league phase. Why is that? For example, a couple of years ago the Angels kept Derrick Turnbow on the parent club roster all year so he didn't have to be offered back to the Phillies. Why was Turnbow chosen in the major league phase and not the minor league phase?

    Stephen Smith
    Irvine, Calif.

The rule gets confusing, but as far as I understand it, players with more than three years of minor league service (or four years, if they were younger than 19 on the June 5 prior to their signing) must be protected or reserved during the offseason. Up to 40 players can be kept on the major league roster, and they're exempt from the draft. An additional 38 players can be put on a Triple-A reserve list, and another 34 can be put on a Double-A reserve list. The rest of the players in the system go on Class A reserve lists. These lists don't mean that's where a player will be assigned in the following season. They're more a rough grouping of prospects.

The Rule 5 draft has three phases: major league, Triple-A and Double-A. In each phase, any player protected on a lower reserve list is eligible, providing the selecting club has an open space on its roster or reserve list. In other words, any player not on a 40-man roster is eligible for the major league phase, but only players on Class A or Double-A reserve lists are eligible for the Triple-A phase.

Players taken in the major league phase cost $50,000 and must remain on an active big league roster all season. Otherwise, they have to clear waivers and then be offered back to their original club for half of the purchase price. Triple-A picks cost $12,000 and Double-A choices cost $4,000, and they can be assigned to the minors. There really isn't much difference between the Triple-A and Double-A phases besides the $8,000. Few quality players come out of either phase.

Philadelphia reserved Turnbow on its 38-man Triple-A roster after the 1999, so he only could be picked in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft.

By the way, Stephen runs a terrific website, futureangels.com. If anyone knows of any similar prospect-related sites, please let me know.

    Do you think it's possible that the 2003 Yankees can look like this: Jorge Posada at catcher, Nick Johnson at first base, Alfonso Soriano at second, Drew Henson at third, Derek Jeter at shortstop, Marcus Thames in left field, Bernie Williams in center and Juan Rivera in right? This would free up money for starting pitching, considering that Roger Clemens and El Duque are on the other side of the hill.

    Noel Hirsch
    West Nyack, N.Y.

Regardless of what the Yankees do, they'll never be strapped for cash. Owner George Steinbrenner could have a $200 million payroll and still make a profit. So I don't think they'd have to go young to save money for pitching.

I do think Posada will be behind the plate and the infield will look as you project it. The Yankees have a lot of faith in Johnson and Henson, and I'll be stunned if they're not regulars by 2003. If New York signs Jason Giambi as a free agent this winter, I'd expect he'd be the DH in 2003 and Johnson would be at first base.

The outfield is more uncertain. I think the Yankees may sign one or two free-agent outfielders this offseason, with Moises Alou, Barry Bonds, Johnny Damon and Juan Gonzalez the most attractive options. Also, Soriano is probably a better long-term fit in the outfield rather than at second base, especially with New York having a slew of middle-infield prospects who would be better defensively than Soriano. I still want to see Thames hit above Double-A before I totally believe in him, and he could have a hard time cracking the starting lineup.

November 16, 2001

This column was delayed for a week because my 2-year-old daughter was in the hospital with pneumonia. She's fine now. I doubt the return of Ask BA is being met with as much anticipation as the new Harry Potter movie, but judging from the amount of contraction-related emails I've received, a lot of you had opinions you needed to get off your chest. This column belongs to you readers, so I'm letting you rant today.

    MLB owners wonder why they are so roundly despised. That Milwaukee used-car dealer/imposter of a commissioner and the rest of the MLB owners are about to commit the most heinous act in the history of sport by eliminating a contending team with good, young talent, a reasonable payroll, and a supportive fan base (when the owner puts a competitive product on the field).

    They'll do so by paying the multibillionaire owner 2-3 times the value of the team and disperse the talent developed in the club's farm system and acquired via a couple of good trades to teams who don't have the patience, scouting ability or trading acumen to develop a competitive team. You see, baseball doesn't want to be embarrassed by having a fairly well-run team with a reasonable payroll contending with the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox—and doing so while making a profit and attracting fans to a publicly financed ballpark that is, gasp, 20 years old.

    The argument that contraction won't address baseball's real economic problems (the lack of a salary cap and inadequate revenue sharing) is dismissed as sour grapes. And the fact that the Brewers, the team owned by the so-called commissioner, now will be able to broadcast games to a larger viewing audience and, therefore, command a better TV contract—this, of course, had nothing to do with the decision.

    What about taking the $200 million to $250 million that baseball will pay the senile Carl Pohlad and putting it toward a new ballpark? No, the public is supposed to subsidize the owners so that they can pay a righthanded middle reliever that no one cares to see $3 million a season. And then, if all this isn't enough, Selig has the audacity to say that this isn't a sad day for baseball. Can they really get away with this crime?

    Joe Koch
    St. Paul

As angry as this whole cynical ploy makes me, at least my favorite team isn't on the chopping block. I can't imagine how it would feel to root for a club through lean years, then see it start to bounce back, then get killed.

I'm no fan of Bud Selig, but I don't think the Brewers' television revenues would increase significantly if the Twins disappeared and I don't think that possibility entered into the decision. I've said this before and I'll say it again: The conflict of interest of having an owner-turned-commissioner didn't start with the talk of contraction. It started the day Selig took the job.

I still don't believe contraction is going to happen. I believe this is an attempt by the owners to squeeze ballpark money out of taxpayers and concessions out of the union. It would make much more sense to put contraction money into new ballparks and to allow teams to move—Northern Virginia would love to have the Expos—but that would set a bad precedent in MLB's eyes. The Giants built Pac Bell Park themselves because that was the only way the could get it done. Other teams, especially those owned by billionaires, could do the same.

I do have to take exception to one thing Joe said. I'm a player advocate—try reading "Lords Of The Realm" before you tell me I shouldn't be—and I bristle whenever someone says baseball needs a salary cap. What baseball needs is more equitable revenue sharing. Maybe not 100 percent sharing, but perhaps something along the lines of letting teams keep half their local revenue and pooling the rest, with a mandate that teams that come out ahead with this scenario have to meet a payroll floor rather than pocketing the cash. If the owners need a salary cap, they need to negotiate it with players. I don't buy this nonsense that teams are going bankrupt and are in dire straits. I can be polite and say the owners are cooking the books, or I can be blunt and say they're lying.

    My question is, what has Marlins owner John Henry done that merits swapping his underfinanced franchise for the Angels, plus Josh Beckett, Ryan Dempster and Cliff Floyd, plus five top Marlins prospects, plus two early allocation draft choices (say, Eric Milton and Jose Vidro)? It looks to me like he gets a much better team and a much better fan base for nothing. Does he have embarrassing pictures of Bud Selig, who I thought was beyond further embarrassment anyway?

    Tom Abegglen
    O'Fallon, Ill.

    How could MLB even think of letting the owners from the Expos and Marlins buy new clubs and take three players from their old 40-man rosters and five from their old farm systems? Doesn't this make their new teams a serious contender?
    This doesn't support parity. I think MLB is the worst sports league already in regards to parity. The amateur draft doesn't help like other sports drafts. What are your thoughts on this matter?

    Scot Albert
    Middletown, Pa.

    Why would the Angels and Marlins get the first picks in the dispersal draft if they're bought by current Florida owner John Henry and current Expos owner Jeffrey Loria, respectively? I would think they're getting a steal of a deal by getting to bring three 40-man players and five major leaguers with them, plus keeping the teams in Anaheim and Florida intact. That's ridiculous and very unfair.

    Alex Walsh
    South Bend, Ind.

This would be a complete joke. How fair would it be for other American League West teams if their division suddenly adds the World Series champions and the Angels essentially get 10 key players for free? Not at all. I've talked to one major league general manager who barely could contain himself while discussing the scenario of allowing Henry and Loria to take players with them.

As for parity, the Braves' 10 straight division titles and the Yankees' four World Series titles in five years tend to overshadow the fact that baseball isn't much different from other sports. In the last 10 seasons (not counting 1994), six different teams have won the World Series, 10 have made it to the Fall Classic and 19 advanced to their league championship series. Here's how the big four sports leagues stack up:

LeagueChampsFinalsSemis
MLB61019
NBA41215
NFL71424
NHL81418
 
Avg.61319

One other thing to keep in mind is that the Marlins won't be as dramatically improved as the Angels because while Florida would gain players when Loria arrived from Montreal, it also would lose some as Henry bolted for Anaheim. The Marlins would figure to add Vladimir Guerrero, Javier Vazquez and one of Tony Armas, Orlando Cabrera and Javier Vazquez, while subtracting Josh Beckett, Brad Penny and either Ryan Dempster or Cliff Floyd off the 40-man roster. In the minors, Florida likely would pick up Josh Karp, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, Justin Wayne and a lefty (Eric Good, Cliff Lee, Luke Lockwood or Rich Rundles). From their system, the Marlins probably would lose Denny Bautista, Allen Baxter, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez and Abraham Nunez. That's pretty much a wash for Florida, though the club would come out ahead by getting two early picks in the reallocation draft.

    With the contraction talk and renewed labor battle, politicians are threatening the removal of baseball's antitrust exemption. I realize this seems like good populist propaganda. But if it actually happened, what difference would it make in terms of the game of baseball and how it operates? Other sports don't have the exemption yet operate much more smoothly than baseball. Drafts and revenue sharing still go on, teams aren't forming or folding or relocating at whim, and there's no more rampant free agency or contractual chaos than in baseball. If the antitrust exemption vanished, would you or I as fans notice anything different about the game or the way organizations are built and operated?

    Craig Jasperse
    Fargo, N.D.

    One of the things you guys cited in your contraction baseball roundtable chat was that Congress is making rumbles about repealing baseball's antitrust exemption. I'm a reasonably smart guy, and I know a little bit about what actually constitutes an antitrust violation in the general business environment, but I don't know what exactly this exemption gets MLB. I see two things off the top of my head, but I'm not sure if they're accurate:

    1. MLB can prevent other people from forming a team and then participating in competition with MLB teams (preventing competition from entering the market). It also lets them prevent undesirable owners from buying an existing team.

    2. MLB can force any person who wants to play professional baseball to be subject to the annual draft, and if they don't at least register, preventing them from playing in their league.

    I can see how both of these would have some pretty serious implications for MLB, but are there more things that the antitrust exemption covers?

    Michael Cross
    Decatur, Ill.

Congress already has passed recent legislation dealing with baseball's antitrust exemption. The 1998 Curt Flood Act permits the Major League Baseball Players Association, like other union, to file an antitrust suit against MLB if it decertifies. But it didn't deal with the other aspects of the exemption, which makes little sense from a legal standpoint.

I don't think a repeal of the exemption would result in either of the two scenarios Michael brought up. Even if someone else entered the market, MLB wouldn't have to welcome those teams into the fold. The NFL didn't have to play XFL teams. They just let the XFL go about its business of embarrassing itself. Also, the other major sports leagues have drafts and baseball likely would continue to do so. As it is now, no one has to "register" for the draft. Players are either eligible or they aren't.

The draft probably would have to be collectively bargained with the union. Anything that's collectively bargained can't be found in violation of antitrust law. The biggest change would probably come in terms of expansion, relocation and contraction, as it would be easier to file suit against MLB for its actions in these areas. However, the other sports leagues rarely go to court over these things. I suspect that all in all, it would be pretty much business as usual for baseball.

The minors do worry that if MLB can't hold onto minor leaguers for up to six years at a time, it would have no reason to subsidize the teams in their farm systems. There might be some changes in the minor league setup but the best guess is that they wouldn't be as radical as some fear.

I'm by no means a lawyer. If someone else has some insight, feel free to let us know.

November 7, 2001

Sorry about the one-day delay with Ask BA, as I have been sick. I was ill before the owners voted 28-2 to approve contraction yesterday, so I won't blame them. But they do make me want to vomit.

I'm nothing if not stubborn, so I still refuse to believe the owners are ever going to pull this off, especially in time for 2002. There's no way they can work through all the logistics and legalities to have this happen before next season. Why else would commissioner Bud Selig refuse to identify the teams that supposedly will disappear and the exact process for dispersing players? Good thing all 30 clubs are continuing to sell season tickets. I'm sure there's a huge demand in Minnesota and Montreal.

I'll give the owners credit for coming up with a strategy with some teeth in it. Threatening to put cement shoes on two teams is a more effective way to blackmail cities into building ballparks with tax dollars and the union into making major concessions, compared to the usual process of Selig and Co. wailing about how baseball can't survive or the great replacement-player scheme. Terrific marketing, guys. If all these teams are losing money hand over first, why do salaries and franchise values keep escalating rapidly?

Rather than pay $500 million to make teams go away, why won't MLB use the money to help teams build their own ballparks rather than making taxpayers do it for them? The NFL does this, and seems to be thriving. If Peter Magowan and the Giants can build Pac Bell Park with their own money, then Carl Pohlad certainly can do the same for his Twins.

Selig is such a two-faced liar. He says on one hand that it crushed him when the Braves moved from Milwaukee, yet he didn't see how anyone could characterize Tuesday as a sad day. I've also heard it reported that he doesn't think this should affect Basic Agreement negotiations. If that's true, I guess Selig also believes that sticking a hot poker in Don Fehr's gut wouldn't affect the talks either.

I'll get off my soapbox in a second, but first I have to mention two things about this that make me laugh. First is the conflict of interest that some people are finding, as Selig's "former" Brewers franchise may benefit from the dissolution of the Twins. Get this straight: The conflict of interest started the day an owner became commissioner. Second is the belief that contracting two teams will improve the quality of play. The pool of available talent has multiplied far rapidly than baseball, which has expanded from 16 to 30 teams in the last 40 years.

    Who is Mark Bellhorn? I saw the Cubs trade a promising young 20-year-old player in Adam Morrissey and pick up a 27-year-old fringe player hitting below the Mendoza line. What kind of role can he play on the Cubbies as they try to end a 93-year-old jinx? Why would the Cubs make this trade?

    SSgt. Ryan Kalasz
    United States Air Force
    Macdill Air Force Base, Fla.

    Any idea what Andy MacPhail was thinking, trading 20-year-old Adam Morrisey for some 27-year-old nobody leftover from the Oakland bench? Could there be any other reason than pure stupidity?

    Jon Stevens
    New York

A 1995 second-round pick, Bellhorn was once a highly touted prospect but never was able to nail down a regular job with the Athletics. He hit .135-1-4 in 74 at-bats with Oakland this year, .269-12-36 in 156 Triple-A at-bats. My guess is that Chicago will use him as a utility player after Augie Ojeda batted .201 in that role this season.

While I'd rather have Bellhorn than Ojeda, I'd also prefer to keep Morrissey and look for utility candidates via six-year free agency. In his first taste of full-season ball, Morrissey batted .309-14-62 with 51 extra-base hits, a promising 82-80 strikeout-walk ratio and 10 steals at low Class A Lansing. He didn't get any support for the Midwest League Top 20 Prospects list, but he obviously has some skills that bear watching.

    What is the status of Matt Harrington? Is he ever going to sign with a major league club? Has his career been permanently damaged by not signing already?

    Devin Brim
    Roeland Park, Kan.

To recap briefly, Harrington was a high school pitcher from California who was considered the consensus top prospect in the 2000 draft. He went seventh overall to the Rockies because he wouldn't agree to a predraft deal, and never signed with Colorado in what became the most contentious draft negotiations ever. (Subscribers can access the definitive story of Harrington's dealings with the Rockies.)

Harrington joined the independent Northern League's St. Paul Saints before the 2001 draft, hoping to boost his stock, but his control and velocity weren't what they had been a year earlier. The Padres drafted him in the second round and have yet to sign him. Since then, Harrington has switched agents from Tommy Tanzer to Scott Boras, and has been working to overcome shoulder tendinitis, which isn't a long-term concern. My guess is that after Harrington is completely healthy, he'll eventually sign with San Diego before the 2002 draft. The Padres have until a week before that draft to sign Harrington as well as third-rounder Taggert Bozied, a University of San Francisco slugger who also went the Northern League route.

I don't think Harrington's career has been irreparably harmed. But he could have furthered it a lot more than he has if he had signed with the Rockies for $4 million. He has delayed his future arrival in the major leagues and has cost himself some eventual service time.

    Could you please explain the process for allocating compensation picks for lost free agents. I know the system rates the free agents to determine whether the team receives first-, second- or third-round compensation choices. In what instances does a team receive another team's pick as well as a between-rounds compensation pick? What role does offering arbitration to a free agent play in the whole process? What I'm really interested in is whether the Indians will receive extra picks for Dave Burba, Marty Cordova, Juan Gonzalez and Kenny Lofton if any of them don't re-sign.

    Jay Catalano
    Hunting Valley, Ohio

It's free-agent season, so these questions are starting to arrive. We have answers to these and several other queries that we get on a regular basis at our Frequently Asked Questions page, which is linked here and at the upper left of this page. Here's what we have on free-agent compensation:

Every offseason, the Elias Sports Bureau compiles rankings of all major league players, based on the previous two year's stats. The players are ranked by position, so first basemen are not compared to second basemen, etc. The players are then broken down into Type A, Type B and Type C (and the rest).

Type A players are players rated in the top 30 percent of all players at their position. Type B players are players rated in the 31-50 percent bracket at their position. Type C players are players rated in the 51-60 percent bracket at their position. Because the players are only compared to others at their position, some players might be a Type B but seem to be not as good as some Type C players, etc., but that’s how the system works.

When a team loses a free agent who is ranked in one of the three categories, they receive compensation as follows (if and only if they offered that player arbitration before he signed with his new team):

  • Type A. Team losing player gets signing team’s first-round pick as well as a supplemental first-round pick. If the signing team is picking in the first half of the first round, they lose their second-rounder instead of their first-rounder.
  • Type B. Team losing player gets signing team’s first-round pick. If the signing team is picking in the first half of the first round, they lose their second-rounder instead of their first-rounder.
  • Type C. Team losing player gets a supplemental pick after the second round.

If a team doesn't offer arbitration to their free agent, they get nothing when he signs with another team. This brings up the next question of why don't the teams always offer arbitration? The answer is, they might simply be afraid he'll accept it. It's a gamble some teams aren't willing to take, even if it seems likely the player is heading out of town.

Elias hasn't released its rankings yet, and teams have until Dec. 7 to offer arbitration to players. So we won't know until then which Indians free agents (and don't forget about Rich Rodriguez) could bring Cleveland compensation if they sign elsewhere.

November 2, 2001

I could write about the World Series, but you've seen it all rehashed elsewhere. Let's just say that Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly is going to have a lot of disturbing thoughts rattling around his head this winter, and I feel pretty good about picking the Yankees to win the Fall Classic. As a bonus, I get to see Games Six and (if necessary) Seven this weekend.

That's because I'm in Phoenix for the seventh annual Fantasy Baseball Symposium at the Arizona Fall League. It's about 100 or so baseball diehards, and today's presentations were all about prospects, something even a non-fantasy leaguer could enjoy easily. I spoke for 30 minutes, identifying a player to watch who didn't make a full-season league Top 20 and another who was a 2001 draftee (but not a first-rounder) for each organization. As you might imagine, some organizations presented a challenge. Baseball HQ's Deric McKamey and ESPN.com's John Sickels also spoke, and we also fielded several questions from the audience. Kudos to Deric for singling out Astros catcher Josh Buck. I thought I was the only guy who loved him as a prospect.

After I crank out today's Ask BA, my workload lessens, and I get to take in some AFL and World Series games Friday through Sunday. Not bad work if you can get it.

And finally, repeat after me: Contraction isn't going to happen. It's impossible.

    I realize it's very early, but Gabe Gross' performance has been outstanding since being drafted 15th by the Blue Jays. I can certainly understand why some of the high-profile players (Joe Mauer, Mark Prior, Mark Teixeira) went ahead of him, but he wasn't very hyped going into June. What were some of the weaknesses scouts saw in his game?

    Kevin Goldstein
    Chicago

Scouts respected Gross' abilities all along. He just didn't have the profile of a Prior or Teixeira because he didn't make the cut for Team USA in 2000 and then opted not to play in the Cape Cod League. It was a down year for position players in the draft, but the consensus was that Gross and Jake Gautreau were the next-best college bats after Teixeira and John VanBenschoten. Gross' athleticism was another reason to like him.

The Blue Jays aren't complaining after taking him 15th overall in June. Gross batted .302-4-15 in high Class A, then had three homers in 11 Double-A contests. He'll start 2002 in Double-A but it wouldn't shock me if he began 2003 as a starter in Toronto.

    What is the status of Dodgers lefty Hong-Chi Kuo? He only had about 20 innings this year after being hurt last year. Is he damaged goods? Still a prospect?

    Charles B. Tiger
    Lake Jackson, Texas

    I noticed that Hong-Chi Kuo didnąt throw many innings this year. Whatąs his current status? How does this affect his future in regards to a possible timeframe for arriving in the majors?

    William Ashley
    Memphis

Kuo blew out his elbow in his first pro start in 2000, requiring Tommy John surgery, and returned to pitch sporadically in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League this summer. He experienced some elbow inflammation in instructional league, but an MRI on Tuesday revealed no damage. The Dodgers are going to be very careful while bringing Kuo along, but they remain optimistic.

Kuo showed flashes of his old 95-97 mph fastball and Los Angeles believes his stuff will come all the way back. He was fairly impressive during his brief outings in the GCL, allowing 13 hits and four walks while striking out 21 in 19 innings. And he's still just 20.

    I'm wondering why Tony Torcato hasnąt been playing for the last week in the AFL. He started out pretty hot, but then it seemed like he stopped hitting. Since he hasn't been playing, I figured he was injured. Is he indeed injured and to what extent? And was he playing while injured, hence the slide in performance? Will he find a position on the Giants in the next year and will he be able to perform in the bigs?

    Jeff Lynott
    San Francisco

Torcato did go into a slump in Arizona, dropping his production to .217-2-8 in 15 games. He has left the Grand Canyon Rafters, not because of injury but because the Giants planned on getting outfielder Carlos Valderrama some AFL time.

I like Torcato as a prospect and even think he's a little underrated. But he's not ready for the majors. While he did finish the 2001 season in Triple-A at age 21, a positive sign, he hit a combined .323-5-78 with 38 doubles and a 75-28 strikeout-walk ratio in 138 games at three levels. He can hit for average and makes good contact, but Torcato is going to need to hit more homers and draw more walks to offer enough production to help as a big league corner outfielder. I think he can but don't see him doing so next season. He also projects as a left fielder, and the Giants have a pretty good one (unless he leaves as a free agent).

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