Breaking down February trades

Red Sox add minor league insurance with Machado
Feb. 15: Another year, another trade for Alejandro Machado. Machado was dealt for the fourth time in five seasons Tuesday, with the Nationals sending him to the Red Sox for a player to be named later or cash considerations.

Machado, 22, signed with the Braves out of Venezuela in 1998. Atlanta sent him and Brad Voyles to the Royals for Rey Sanchez in July 2001, and Kansas City shipped Machado and Wes Obermueller to the Brewers for Curtis Leskanic in July 2003. The then-Expos acquired him for future considerations last April.

Machado is unlikely to play a big league role for Boston, but he'll serve as insurance at the Triple-A level. In 139 games between high Class A Brevard County and Double-A Harrisburg last year, he batted .306/.377/.385 with five homers, 45 RBIs and 30 steals (in 45 attempts). He doesn't have much power at the plate, but he's a switch-hitter who has produced for average in the minors, draws walks, bunts well and uses the whole field. He's an average runner with good instincts on the bases. He plays a very smooth second base, making just four errors in 85 games there last year, and has the range and just enough arm to play shortstop. Machado is a career .291/.377/.353 hitter with nine homers, 183 RBIs and 154 steals in 590 minor league games.

March 28 update: The Red Sox finalized the deal by sending first baseman Carlos Torres to the Nationals. Torres, 20, signed out of Venezuela in 2002. He made his U.S. debut last season, tying for the home run crown and earning all-star honors in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He hit .257/.368/.466 with 31 RBIs in 42 games. Power is his best tool, and Torres also has a decent idea of the strike zone. He needs to shorten his swing and repeat it more consistently. He also will have to improve defensively after committing nine errors in 38 games at first base.

-- Jim Callis

Escobar moves on again, this time to Nationals
Feb. 14: Alex Escobar once ranked as one of the game's top prospects, but injuries and inability to make consistent contact at the higher levels have prevented him from accomplishing much at the majors. His diminished status shows up in his transaction history as well. A key component for the Indians when they traded Roberto Alomar to the Mets in December 2001, Escobar was lost on waivers to the White Sox last August and traded to the Nationals for low Class A outfielder Jerry Owens.

Escobar, 26, will compete for a reserve role in Washington this year. Once brimming with 30-30 potential, he still has good power but his speed has declined as a result of reconstructive surgery on his left knee, which he injured early in spring training 2002 after joining Cleveland. He no longer covers the gaps in center field as effectively, and fits better in right field, where he has a strong arm. Escobar began 2004 in the majors with the Indians, hitting .211/.318/.309 with one homer and 12 RBI in 46 games. He was demoted in mid-June to Triple-A Buffalo, where he played just 16 games before getting knocked out for the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his right foot. He's out of options, so he'll have to clear waivers if he doesn't stick in the majors. He's a career .229/.309/.369 hitter with nine homers and 34 RBI in 92 big league games.

Injuries also short-circuited Owens' career -- as a wide receiver. He caught one pass in two years at UCLA, then transferred to The Master's (Calif.) College and quickly caught the attention of scouts, becoming a second-round pick in 2003. He played in just two games in his first pro summer because he hurt his left shoulder and had a pre-existing hernia. He's an exciting athlete but still raw as a baseball player. Owens has very good speed and understands his job is to be a tablesetter, so he focuses on making contact and keeping the ball on the ground. He has decent command of the strike zone but needs to refine his basestealing instincts. He's a potential above-average center fielder, albeit with a below-average arm. Owens hit .292/.365/.349 with one homer, 37 RBI and 30 steals (in 43 attempts) in 108 games at low Class A Savannah last year. Because of his age -- he'll turn 24 on Wednesday -- the White Sox may start him in Double-A this season.

-- Jim Callis

Cubs' housecleaning continues
Feb. 9: Just one week after dumping Sammy Sosa to the Orioles, the Cubs continued in their attempts to remake their clubhouse by trading enigmatic reliever Kyle Farnsworth and a player to be named to the Tigers for a trio of minor leaguers. In return for the fireballilng righty, the Cubs received Dominican righthander Roberto Novoa, outfielder Bo Flowers, and third baseman Scott Moore.

Farnsworth, 28, had worn out his welcome in Chicago with inconsistent performance on the mound, and an inability to control his emotions. His most embarrassing moment came last August, when after another disappointing effort (he had a 19.29 ERA in 11 August games), he kicked an electric fan in the clubhouse, injuring his knee and landing him on the disabled list. Farnsworth's numbers have never matched his stuff, including a 4-5, 4.73 record in 72 games in 2004. He struck out 78 in 67 innings but also walked 33 while allowing 67 hits, including 10 home runs. His has a career record of 22-37, 4.78 with four saves in 343 career games. A 47th round pick in 1994 out of tiny Abraham Baldwin (Georgia) JC who signed as a draft-and-follow in 1995, Farnsworth's fastball is electric, sitting in the high 90s and touching triple-digits often. Unfortunately, it is his only plus pitch, and it lacks movement or command. He throws a hard (88-91 mph) slider, but it's not a strikeout pitch. With Troy Percival signed as a free agent, Farnsworth will assume similar duties in Detroit as a setup man.

Novoa, 25, was seen as the lesser of three prospects the Tigers received in a 2003 trade for Randall Simon, but two years later, he looks like the best after a breakout 2004 campaign that included a successful transition to the bullpen and his major league debut. Novoa went 7-0, 2.96 with four saves at Double-A Erie in 2004. He went 1-1, 5.57 in 16 games during a pair of callups with the Tigers, but allowed only one run over his final seven appearances. His career minor league record is 29-24, 3.76 in 109 games with a 314/115 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 449 innings. Tall (6-foot-5) and gangly, Novoa can concentrate on his two best offerings as a reliever--a low-90s sinker and a solid breaking ball, with both pitches being accentuated by excellent command. He has a tendency to work too high in the zone, which makes him more hittable. He'll compete for a job in the Cubs much-maligned bullpen, which collapsed down the stretch last year and has Ryan Dempster (and his two career saves) currently penciled in as the club's closer. If Novoa fails to shine during spring training, he'll begin the year at Triple-A Iowa.

Flowers, 21, was considered the best athlete in the Tigers system before the trade. One of the top high school quarterbacks in the nation as a senior in high school, Flowers received a $215,000 bonus as a fifth-round pick in 2002 to sway him away from playing football and baseball at Arizona State. In 2 ½ years in the Tigers system, Flowers has played all but six games of his career in short-season ball, struggling to translate his unquestioned tools into on-the-field performance. He took a major step forward in 2004, batting .280/.341/.407 at short-season Oneonta, including the first four home runs of his career. His professional totals are .267/.307/.343 in 150 games, with five home runs and 31 stolen bases. Flowers offers potential in both the power and speed departments, yet he remains extremely raw. He has good bat speed, but woeful plate discipline has been his downfall, and he's still learning how to take advantage of his speed on the basepaths. A Chicago area product from Walter Lutheran High School in Melrose Park, Flowers will get his first shot at a full season of play with Peoria, the Cubs new affiliate in the Midwest League.

Moore, 21, has been one of the Tigers' biggest disappointments since getting a $2.3 million bonus as the eighth overall pick in the 2002 draft. He hit a career low .223 for Lakeland in the Florida State League, though he smacked a career-high 14 home runs. In 265 career games, Moore has struck out 266 times while hitting just .240/.327/.386 with 24 home runs. Moore has two big skills that team's covet--power and plate discipline. Unfortunately, his inability to make contact has far overridden any other offensive value so far. Drafted as a shortstop, Moore's lack of speed necessitated a move to third base, but the results have also been less than remarkable, including 28 errors in 2004, which led all FSL third baseman. His arm is plus, but his footwork and range are lacking. He's probably not ready for Double-A, and would be best-served by a return to the Florida State League, this time with Daytona.

-- Kevin Goldstein

D-Rays make room for youth with Cruz trade
Feb. 7: Faced with an overflow of talented young outfielders and constantly in search of pitching,
the Devil Rays traded veteran outfielder Jose Cruz Jr., as well as cash considerations, to
their expansion brethren, the Diamondbacks, for lefthander Casey Fossum.

The Devil Rays need pitching more than they need mediocre outfielders, making Cruz, 30,
expendable. Cruz has seen his power production slip since his best season in 2001, when he
was a 30-30 player for the Blue Jays, and the Diamondbacks will be his fourth team in four
seasons. Over his eight-year career, the third overall pick in the 1995 draft out of Rice
has hit .250/.336/.455. A switch-hitter who's shown increasing patience as his career
evolves, he's also a good defender (he was a Gold Glove winner in 2003), though a key
defensive miscue in the 2003 playoffs helped sink the Giants against the Marlins in their
Division Series. The Diamondbacks plan to play him in center field, where he has played
just 25 games the last three seasons.

With Tampa last season, he batted .242/.333/.433 with 21 home runs, 78 RBIs and 11 stolen
bases. His 76 walks were the second-most of his career. Cruz also is durable, having played
in 145 or more games four of the last five seasons. Cruz earned $2.5 million each of the
last two seasons and is in the last year of a contract that will pay him $4 million in
2005. The trade should open more playing time for young outfielders Joey Gathright and
Jonny Gomes in Tampa.

Fossum, 27, was a 1999 first-round pick out of Texas A&M by the Red Sox, who used him last
offseason in the four-player package that brought Curt Schilling from the Diamondbacks. The
slender lefthander will compete for innings in a revamped Devil Rays rotation with veterans
Hideo Nomo and Denny Neagle as well as holdover lefties Scott Kazmir and Mark Hendrickson,
and righthanders Dewon Brazelton, Rob Bell and Doug Waechter.

Fossum had a disastrous season in 2004, going 4-15, 6.65 for the 111-loss Diamondbacks. He
gave up 31 home runs in just 142 innings and is now 18-26, 5.27 overall in his career,
which includes parts of three seasons spent in Boston. He had shoulder surgery midway
through 2003 and his performance suffered in the first half of 2004 as he regained arm
strength. At his best, Fossum works with an 88-92 mph fastball that he must keep down in
the strike zone--that failure led to all those home runs allowed in 2004--and two
curveballs that can be above average. He also throws a cutter and a changeup.

Fossum avoided arbitration by agreeing to a new contract with the Devil Rays that will pay
him $950,000 in 2005, then has a $1.25 mutual option in 2006, with a $100,000 buyout. The
option increases to $1.4 million if he makes 15 starts for the Rays.

-- John Manuel

Cubs say so long to Sosa
Feb. 2: In less than 12 months, Sammy Sosa went from one of the most popular athletes in the Chicago history to one fans wanted to run out on a rail. This week, the Cubs paid for the train ticket and much more. After insisting for months that Chicago wouldn't trade Sosa just to get rid of him, GM Jim Hendry did just that. He sent Sosa to the Orioles for Jerry Hairston, Triple-A second baseman Mike Fontenot and Double-A righty Dave Crouthers while picking up $16.15 million of the $25 million remaining on Sosa's four-year, $72 million contract.

Sosa will make $17 million in salary this year, of which Chicago will pay $8.15 million. The Cubs also agreed to pay for a $3.5 million severance fee and a $4.5 million assignment bonus. Sosa agreed to give up an $18 million option for 2006 that was to automatically vest if he were traded, and the assignment bonus replaces the $4.5 million that would have been required to buy out that option. To take Sosa's place, Chicago immediately signed free agent outfielder Jeromy Burnitz to a one-year contract worth $5 million.

Rather than repeat the 36-year-old Sosa's well-publicized achievements on the field or the behavior that led to his banishment, we'll take a look at his future. While an erosion of skills has devolved Sosa from a perennial MVP candidate to a one-dimensional slugger, he's still a power threat who should benefit from the cozy confines of Camden Yards, as well as being able to stay fresh by filling in as a DH. Currently seventh on the career home run list with 574, Sosa needs just 13 home runs to pass Mark McGwire and Frank Robinson for fifth place, and just 26 to become the fifth player to reach 600. On a more ignominious note, Sosa is second on the all-time strikeout list with 2,110, 487 behind Reggie Jackson.

Hairston, 28, usually is a second baseman but played more in the outfield last year to accommodate Brian Roberts. He'll probably do the same with the Cubs, deferring to Todd Walker at second base while seeing more playing time in left field. He played well in the outfield and hit a career-high .303/.378/.397 with two homers, 24 RBI and 13 steals in 2004, but his season was limited to just 86 games due to a broken finger to start the year and a broken ankle to end it. This came on the heels of an equally injury-plagued 2003, in which he played just 58 games because of a broken foot. Hairston comes from impressive bloodlines. His brother Scott is the starting second baseman for the Diamondbacks; his father Jerry Sr. spent 14 seasons as a bench player for the White Sox; his uncle Johnny played briefly in the majors; and his grandfather Sam was a Negro League star and the first African-American to play for the White Sox. Hairston has plus speed and good patience, but the leadoff role on a contender may be a reach for a player with career averages of .261/.334/.371 and 26 homers, 160 RBI and 94 steals in 530 career games.

Fontenot, 24, was a first-round pick out of Louisiana State in 2001. He hit .279/.346/.420 with eight homers, 49 RBI and 14 steals in 136 games at Triple-A last year. He has surprising power for his small size (5-foot-9, 180 pounds), but achieves more when he focuses on making contact. Fontenot has proven he can hit with career averages of .288/.358/.420 in 384 games, but he was blocked in Baltimore by Roberts and is now blocked in Chicago by Walker. The Cubs also have a pair of good second-base prospects in Double-A Southern League MVP Richard Lewis and Eric Patterson, Corey's little brother. Fontenot doesn't have the range or arm strength to play enough positions to truly profile as a utilityman. He'll start the year at Triple-A Iowa.

Crouthers, 25, was a two-way star at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville before signing as a third-round pick in 2001. He went 9-9, 5.05 last year at Double-A Bowie, raising his career record to 30-25, 4.07 with a 402-205 strikeout-walk ratio in 451 innings. His pure stuff ranked with the best in Baltimore's farm system, as he has a low- to mid-90s fastball and a sharp slider. But he's inconsistent with the quality of his pitches and his command, and he has a tendency to get too down on himself. He has worked with a sports psychologist to keep his emotions in check. He'll most likely join Fontenot at Iowa, and though all 89 of his pro appearances have come as a starter, he may have a brighter future as a reliever.

-- Kevin Goldstein