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April 9, 2010

Transaction Action

NL East and West

by Christina Kahrl

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ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Brandon Webb on the 15-day DL (shoulder surgery recovery), retroactive to 3/26. [4/5]

At this point, there's not a lot to add to what already been said on the subject. If the Snakes were overly optimistic about when they'd get Webb back, it's symptomatic that they're going to end up paying the additional penalty of being too confident in that optimism once the schedule drives them to add a fifth starter. Will it really be Kris Benson on top of Ian Kennedy and Rodrigo Lopez? Does that sound remotely contender-y, or a second-division rotation slate in the PCL? OK, that isn't fair, this is the National League, and everyone except the Pirates and Nationals (and the Astros, at least in my opinion) are in the running in April. Even so, given that collection of chuck'n duck starting pitching, it'll be interesting to see how quickly A.J. Hinch hooks his hurlers, even once they get to a point when the starting pitchers will be ready to handle full loads in-game. Will Hinch hook the Lopez or Benson types after five, and just count on using some of his relievers as middle-inning shadows on the days those starts fall? Or will he get overly tactical and burn through relievers, both in terms of their arms and sheer numbers in-game?


ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Claimed RHP Cristhian Martinez off waivers from the Marlins, and optioned him to Gwinnett (Triple-A). [4/8]

Middling middle-relief types rarely get a better break than winding up with the Braves, because few other organizations have been willing to accept a certain amount of fungibility among relievers as a proposition. Whether they need one, however, remains to be seen, but with the 40-man at 38 bodies counting Martinez, the Braves can afford to get grabby.


COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHPs Huston Street (shoulder), Greg Reynolds (elbow), and Taylor Buchholz (TJS recovery) on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 3/26; placed LHP Jeff Francis on the 15-day DL (shoulder), retroactive to 4/2. [4/3]
Recalled RHP Esmil Rogers from Colorado Springs (Triple-A); released RHP Justin Speier. [4/4]

For as many people wound up on the DL, the sum of the damage is less severe than you might think. Francis should be back before the end of April, so we're really only talking about two or three starts from Greg Smith. Smith's first turn against lefty-munching Milwaukee led to a somewhat predictable loss, but that shouldn't obscure the fact that he's an aspiring fifth starter who has been a successful fifth starter, and nobody should be investing any stronger feelings on the matter than that; Francis' return should be a much more significant upgrade than just taking his spot back.

Losing Street is of course the biggest mishap in the pen, not because he had to be shut down (as anticipated), but because he's had a subsequent setback in his recovery, and will probably miss that initial target of a May 1 return. The other bullpen losses were opposing echoes of recurring Street themes: Buchholz's absence was already anticipated, as he won't be back until halfway into the season as he recovers from his surgery last summer, while Reynolds manages to be the "lightning strikes twice" type of unfortunate, as he's trying to recover from a pair of mishaps, last year's early-season shoulder injury that shut him down and required surgery, and then this spring's mishap, taking a liner off his elbow. Speier's release isn't really relevant; formerly famous dude or not, he was just a Rockies NRI guy, and the Angels just have to know where to send the $5.25 million they owe him in the last year of a lamentable deal.

Which leaves the question of what sort of shape the Rockies' pen is in. Far from being empty, the Rox Box boasts an intriguing first rank in terms of talent, with veteran Rafael Betancourt and wild former closer Manny Corpas setting up Franklin Morales. Morales may be still new to relieving (or health, for that matter), and Corpas has had his issues, but that's not a bad group to start out with.

It's beyond that trio where things get a bit ugly, at least temporarily, beceause Joe Beimel's going to be ready for activation soon. Matt Daley had his moments last year, but he's really just an organizational arm who makes nice bullpen backfill. Randy Flores is a token veteran lefty living on borrowed time and handedness; the performance record isn't his best asset. Matt Belisle's bounced from adequate rotation rounder with the Reds in 2007 to a slightly gamier version of Daley; he's exactly the sort of guy who gets squeezed when a club's first-rank options are ready for action. The Dominican Rogers is a converted shortstop and still a bit rough around the edges, and armed with reliable low-90s heat and a good curve; if he masters a changeup and can retire lefties effectively, he could grow up to be a starter, but if not, he could make an effective reliever. Once Beimel and (eventually) Street come back, you expect people to be shunted aside, but who will it be, if everyone active remains healthy? Rogers could get back to starting with the Sky Sox, but Belisle and Flores are pitchers with the upside of a bottomless pancake, and are the sorts of guys you might employ up until the point where you need to start thinking in terms of post-season rosters.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Purchased the contracts of RHPs Ramon Ortiz and Jeff Weaver and LF-L Garret Anderson from Albuquerque (Triple-A); placed LHP Hong-Chih Kuo on the 15-day DL (elbow), retroactive to 3/26; optioned C-R A.J. Ellis, MI-R Chin-Lung Hu, and OF-L Xavier Paul to Albuquerque. [4/4]
Placed RHP Cory Wade on the 15-day DL (shoulder surgery), retroactive to 3/26; purchased the contract of RHP Russ Ortiz from Albuquerque. [4/5]

When you think about the work 'middle,' it usually doesn't have positive connotations, at least not in English. So when you see a staff wind up with a fallen Angel and go at least an Ortiz too far, you have to wonder about middling solutions for middle relief. That's not to say that this is all bad news, especially since the Dodgers have their share of good news in terms of camp outcomes: Charlie Haeger in the rotation, Blake DeWitt winning the job at second, Russell Martin healthy enough to avoid the DL, retaining Ronnie Belliard to spot at third and first as well as second. As Jeff Euston noted yesterday, they found a way to squeeze in their Rule 5 pick, Carlos Monasterios. So, it's a fun roster, in several ways.

Some of the elective bench picks have their merits as well. I can understand winding up with the least-cool of the Weavers; that's not a bad thing, since you're still talking about a big-time performer; it's probably sort of like being Erik Darling's dilemma of not being Pete Seeger. Jeff Weaver has managed to invent a useful enough last act in a career many had given up for dead, and if he endures as a mid-game innings sponge after his early-career success, that's sort of cool. Garret Anderson is also understandable, and defensible; like Reed Johnson, he's an old-timer best stuck in a corner, and if both lack the power to play every day, both do make enough contact to resemble the sort of hitters managers usually favor on the bench. If the Dodgers suffer a major injury to any of their starting outfielders, they can't really rely on either or both to fix the problem. That's not what they're for, though; while the team has a relatively set lineup, this is a club that figures to rely on a lot of pitching changes, so having a number of veteran bats like Anderson and Johnson, Belliard and Jamey Carroll, is a good thing. Joe Torre will have plenty of options to plug in and play, in double-switches and just generally keeping the pitchers from batting.

But to take our cue from Gerhart Hauptmann's The Weavers*, it's the double dose of Ortiz that might understandably have Dodgers fans railing, "I'll stand it no more, come what may!" The situation has been cause for worry for weeks, as neither has had a good season since 2004. There's nothing remarkable different about Ramon: he's still a short right-hander without a lot of tilt or velocity, and despite a broad assortment, there's just not a lot of deception in any of his offerings to make a nice changeup that much nicer. Beyond his status as one of too many examples of why you don't want a Braves pitcher if they've decided they're done with him, Russ has achieved a similar known-ness, proving to wild yet too hittable, like a latter day Mike Torrez. The notion behind a twelve-man staff is that you have seven relievers you can identify various uses for, or have a dozen men worth keeping. Individually, together, whatever, what's the point of carrying two crummier versions of Jeff Weaver? Master plans are all well and good, but how many blow-out wins and losses can you really plan for? Obviously, once Ronald Belisario's ready to return from his visa-related delay, we might be able to scratch one Ortiz. I'd be genuinely shocked if the Dodgers have either pitching for them down the stretch if they're still in the race; carrying both handicaps their ability to put the proposition to the test.

*: Not a Jeff or a Jered to be found in that particular tragedy; some names never did get fashionable in Silesia.


NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Claimed RHP Manny Acosta off waivers from the Braves, and optioned him to Buffalo (Triple-A); placed LHP Patrick Misch on waivers. [3/30]
Optioned OF-L Fernando Martinez to Buffalo; placed RHP Kelvim Escobar (shoulder) and CF-S Carlos Beltran (knee) on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 3/26. [3/31]
Purchased the contracts of LHP Hisanori Takahashi, 1B-L Mike Jacobs, and PH-L Frank Catalanotto from Buffalo (Triple-A); purchased the contracts of RHP Jenrry Mejia and MI-R Ruben Tejada from Binghamton (Double-A); placed SS-S Jose Reyes on the 15-day DL (thyroid condition), retroactive to 3/26; placed 1B-L Daniel Murphy on the 15-day DL (sprained knee), retroactive to 3/31; designated RHP Nelson Figueroa for assignment; optioned RHP Bobby Parnell, C-R Omir Santos, and OF-L Chris Carter to Buffalo. [4/4]
Designated 3B-R Shawn Bowman for assignment. [4/5]

It's a funny sort of roster the Mets have fashioned, as they haven't gone too heavily with veterans, nor have they decided to kick-start the kids' campaign that might be worth waiting for later this season. So, no Ike Davis at first base, no Josh Thole behind the plate, and no Martinez in center; if (or when) things go horribly awry, you can see them in August without driving to Buffalo. There's no big-picture plan here, but under the circumstances, you can't blame them for that: they've lurched into what they think might be their latest round of patchwork solutions to field the best roster possible.

In the meantime, phenom fans will have to settle for Tejada spotting at shortstop on the roster and splitting time with Alex Cora for the week before Jose Reyes returns to action. After that, that phenomenon will come to a quick end; however frenzied folks in the chattering classes may still be over Luis Castillo in making him out to be the second-slot hitter of the apocalypse, if he's healthy, he'll still be the Mets' starting second baseman. For better and for worse; so says $12.5 million that Madoff didn't make off with. I don't see that as the end of the world; they're stuck with him, and as cool as it is that Tejada's up already after a fine age-19 season in Double-A last year, Tejada's year with Binghamton wasn't that fine, with a poor walk rate and negligible power. At shortstop, that makes for an interesting alternative as long as Reyes is out. Once Reyes is back, Tejada's not really a demonstrable improvement on what they can get from Castillo in the near term, and for this team's management, the near term may be all there is to work with.

Take Mike Jacobs (please!), their first baseman of the present. This isn't an unthinking endorsement of Jacobs; the Mets know how badly he failed with the Fish and the Royals, and they know he can't hit lefties or get on base or play first base. If Davis isn't ready and they need a first baseman while Murphy's out, picking Jacobs is a bit of a fait accompli. He's the guy with experience, and they need somebody. The problem is that the Mets' decision to put any number of gold stars next to Murphy's name doesn't make him one; it would have been better if they'd given some thought to looking at Carter at first base to expand their options (and his), but they did not. So they're stuck with Jacobs, a self-inflicted lineup wound.

On the other hand, there's the bullpen. Advancing Mejia's future into the present is defensible in the abstract on a number of levels: he has the talent, and they very definitely have the need. In some respects, it's the National League's version of the "Neftali Feliz problem," where sorting out what he's for is the real challenge for the team that has him. In a bullpen crafted around very little certainty, he's just one of a number of compromises between carrying talent versus carrying experience. Beyond Francisco Rodriguez, Pedro Feliciano, and Sean Green, they're relying on a couple of Japanese rentals (Ryota Igarashi and Hisanori Takahashi), with Fernando Nieve joining Mejia as a talented pitcher shunted into a relief role. There's no obvious right-handed set-up option to pair up with Feliciano in front of K-Rod; it could be Mejia if he isn't back in the minors by May. It could be Nieve. It could be Escobar if he's ready to go any time soon. It could be Parnell in the second half, and if they leave him alone and let him relieve. Hell, it could be Igarashi. Or it could be a problem all year.


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed LHP J.C. Romero (elbow) and RHP Brad Lidge (elbow) on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 3/26. [4/1]
Placed RHP Joe Blanton on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 3/26. [4/3]
Recalled RHP Drew Carpenter from Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [4/4]
Claimed RHP Nelson Figueroa off waivers from the Mets. [4/7]
Optioned RHP Drew Carpenter to Lehigh Valley. [4/8]

To some extent, losing Blanton for a couple of turns in the rotation might be the best way to wean the Phillies of their fascination with Kyle Kendrick. Spotted against the Nats yesterday, he got clobbered, especially by left-handed humans, same as ever. It'll be interesting to see if they take advantage of next Tuesday's day off to skip him; if so, he may only get one more turn before Blanton's back from the DL in the rosiest scenario. However, Kendrick would still have to be seen as the favorite to retain his middle-innings mop-up role now manned by Figueroa. By then, Figueroa may be bumped however well he does, since Romero may be back before the weekend's out, while Lidge figures to return later in the month. It's conceivable that Figueroa does enough to earn consideration for keeping ahead of Rule 5 pick David Herndon or lefty Antonio Bastardo, but with three men likely to be back inside of three weeks, between Herndon, Bastardo, Figueroa, and Kendrick, there figures to be only survivor.


SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed LHP Joe Thatcher on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 3/26; optioned RHP Adam Russell to Portland (Triple-A); recalled LHP Cesar Ramos from Portland; purchased the contract of PH-L Matt Stairs from Portland; placed LF-R Chad Huffman on waivers (and subsequently lost him to the Yankees). [4/4]

The one modest surprise was that Russell didn't get the last spot in the pen, but that was less a matter of whatever he'd done than the fact that he couldn't contend with the fact that Ed Mujica, Sean Gallagher, and Tim Stauffer are all out of options, and the Padres can't exactly afford to shed talent in the middle of a rebuild. Once Mat Latos beat out Tim Stauffer for the last slot in the rotation, the die was cast, and Russell was Beavers-bound. Ramos made the club not at Russell's expense, but because the Pads decided to be conventional, and have a left-handed person in the pen, even with Thatcher on the DL. Well, boo, how conventional. On the other hand, since Ramos' upside was as a back-end rotation bit, it isn't like they're converting the next Tom Glavine to relief work. Ramos is a pitch-to-contact pitcher with a modest assortment and some success in keeping the running game in check, which sounds reasonable for situational utility, but his track record for success isn't stellar: at Triple-A over the last two seasons as a starter, lefties hit him at a .277/.340/.375 clip, and he's not a guy who generates a ton of grounders. Moving to the pen may give him a better shot at having a career, but with the current roster crunch he'll be as hard-pressed as Russell was to stick beyond Thatcher's recovery.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed OF-L Fred Lewis on the 15-day DL (intercostal strain), retroactive to 3/27; placed MI-S Emmanuel Burriss (fractured foot) and 2B-R Fraddy Sanchez (shoulder surgery) on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 3/26; purchased the contracts of RHPs Todd Wellemeyer and Guillermo Mota from Fresno (Triple-A). [4/4]

Ah, happenstance, we know your perils only too well. Or Wellemeyer, because guess who's in the fifth slot of the rotation? Losing Lewis to injury can be considered a good break rather than a bad one, since they could have risked losing him on waivers if he hadn't made the club. Lewis' absence is a footnote to the decision to retain John Bowker, Andres Torres, "Don't call me Otto" Eugenio Velez, and Nate Shierholtz (who sounds a lot more like an Otto). Which is to say, with that crowd in play, someone's going to have to go away once Freddy Sanchez is back to stay, because it isn't going to be the seventh reliever. We'll see how this plays out for Lewis in the meantime; he's probably doomed to a full-length rehab stay as the Giants see if there are any takers, or if someone will dare them to try to pass him through waivers. From that outfield crowd, only Bowker's optionable, and he's the starting right fielder of the moment; if they decided to keep Lewis, this very much becomes a zero-sum game, so the Giants will either have to sort out which among the group is least claim-worthy, or whether anyone wants any one of these moderately useful part-time types.


WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed LHP Ross Detwiler (hip surgery), RHP Chien-Ming Wang (shoulder surgery), and C-R Jesus Flores (labrum surgery) on the 60-day DL; placed C-R Chris Coste on the 15-day DL (strained elbow); retroactive to 4/2; purchased the contracts of RHP Miguel Batista and OF-R Willy Taveras from Syracuse (Triple-A). [4/4]

This played out exactly as expected, so it'll be interesting to see what it looks like in game action. I'm planning on seeing Citi Field in person on Sunday to file a game story, but at that point we'll have a couple of series' worth of action to see how Jim Riggleman's running his first personally picked roster since 1999.



Folks, sorry to go dark for a couple of days, but I had to come out to New York to help out with a family emergency, and I drove, and in addition to our not having jetpacks or flying cars, the things don't yet drive themselves, and typing and driving, only crazy people do that, right? At any rate, I'll be catching up today, after which maybe we can diverge into bigger-picture distractions, now that all of the roster battles are (at least temporarily) resolved.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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