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April 26, 2010

Transaction Action

Rounding Out the AL

by Christina Kahrl

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DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed LF-S Carlos Guillen on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled OF-L Brennan Boesch from Toledo (Triple-A). [4/23]

Losing Guillen for a couple of weeks is far from good news, but it's a setback that the Tigers have taken the right recourse to manage in the meantime. That's because it's consistent with the flexibility that Jim Leyland was already showing with the talent he had on hand. It was already nice to see Leyland keep Guillen in play as a sometime outfielder and not just as an everyday DH—an unused skill can wither away, after all, and Guillen wasn't a disaster in left. Absent Guillen, the Tigers called up their best lefty power prospect in Boesch instead of just revisiting the tedium of the Jeff Larish experience. They're also not merely employing Boesch as a witness, instead spreading the playing time around, letting Johnny Damon spend much of the time in the DH slot while getting at-bats to Boesch and utilitymen Ryan Raburn and Don Kelly.

Not all of this was entirely by design, of course—if Clete Thomas hadn't been on the DL with a hamstring injury when they had to shelve Guillen, they could have gone there. But in the same way that they didn't wait around to see if Guillen would be back soon, the Tigers didn't want for Thomas to be available, instead using the opportunity to take a look at Boesch. He's a strange sort of prospect, having spent his first three years of his pro career struggling to generate much power from his uppercut hackery, but last year's breakout to deliver 28 homers in his Double-A debut suggested some upside possibilities. e followed that up with a hot start with the Mudhens, ripping seven extra-base hits in two weeks. He's still a wildly undisciplined hitter, and last year's .283/.330/.555 performance against right-handers suggests he'll be better of in a platoon role (Eastern League lefties limited him to .258/.289/.411), but it's worth taking a spin to see if last season's improvements suggest more in kind.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted RHP Roman Colon to Omaha (Triple-A). [4/21]
Released RHP Juan Cruz; designated RHP Luis Mendoza for assignment; purchased the contracts of RHP Brad Thompson and LHP Bruce Chen from Omaha. [4/23]
Claimed OF-R Jai Miller off waivers from the Athletics, and optioned him to Omaha; transferred 3B-R Josh Fields from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/26]

With that, the Royals' rumored bullpen purge becomes an accomplished fact, and it comes with all of the excitement you'd expect: three heads rol, some salary gets eaten, and the good folks of Kansas City get treated to... well, for all that, just a case of plus ça change. I'm always pleased to see Bruce Chen get another spin, but that has little to do with his performance and more to do with a few Panamanian-Chinese family friends with a rooting interest. Thompson's a dis-Card'd swing journeyman without the high points of Chen's career. Maybe later in the year, you can hope for Blake Wood or Carlos Rosa or Japanese leagues oddity Victor Marte, and maybe even—perish the thought—Aaron Crow—but in the meantime, what's next? Matt Herges?

Perhaps the ignominy of a Royal release is humiliating enough, but to get ditched in favor of Thompson or Chen or Josh Rupe takes the concept of reliever replaceability to an unhappy place. It's a weird sort of high plains justice, one where it really is a matter of finding which cannon fodder can best dodge lead, as opposed to doing something that, y'know, resembles fielding a meaningfully better ballclub. You die, so that last year's worst pitcher can live, this after he cost the club more in the standings single-handedly than the excised trio did this year? What's the standard here, being bad and being someone not named Kyle Farnsworth? That's swell, if you're good, or Kyle Farnsworth, and if you find remaining a Royal—or remaining Kyle Farnsworth—to be a worthwhile career ambition.

Of course, the disincentives to this sort of selection process suggest themselves. If you die in Kansas City, doesn't that almost automatically mean that you go to go to a better place, whether that's heaven or your living room or another major-league team? If you're Juan Cruz, being released by the Royals might be the best possible outcome to his season at this early juncture—not only does he get his guaranteed payday, but he's almost equally guaranteed to wind up on a better team. Before a strained shoulder derailed his season last year, at the All-Star break Cruz had produced a 4.08 ERA; you know that someone's going to kick his tires. From the future employer's perspective, they now only have to pay him the minimum, having successfully waited out Dayton Moore's sending a message right now this instant to... who, Matt Herges, that hope springs eternal? To Robinson Tejada? To season ticket-holders who somehow weren't already deadened by the rolling-in-broken-glass thrill ride that rooting for the Royals involves?

If Cruz lands in a pennant race—and signing with almost any non-Pirates team in the National League could notionally put him in one—what sort of message does that send? Suckitude from all non-Farnsworths will be punished with... freedom? Somehow, I don't think the people of Kansas City will rally to a cry of, "Give me liberty, or give me Kyle Farnsworth!"

There's another message to take from this, of course, one that the Royals may not want to send. Nevertheless, it comes through loud and clear: that randomly assembled waiver jetsam can replace significant portions of a ballclub carefully selected by professionals, men so confident of their judgements that, three weeks into a season, they're busily, expensively firing non-Farnsworths. The core problem remains, however: a decision-making team that identifies Farnworth not just as a commodity to commit to, but to keep. As long as we're borrowing from American history, who's got the tar and feathers?


MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed INF-S Nick Punto on the 15-day DL (strained hip), retroactive to 4/16; recalled INF-R Luke Hughes from Rochester (Triple-A). [4/23]

By the very nature of the alternatives on hand, determining the identity of the Twins' starting third baseman and ninth-slot hitter ranks fairly small in the grand scheme of things. Brendan Harris has been reaching base like the original Punto (and slugging, sadly, badly enough), Punto's absence puts Alexi Casilla on the spot as the club's leading spotter in the starting middle infielders, and hauling up Hughes mid-way through his attempted conversion to second base says more about how badly Danny Valencia's season started than as an endorsement of the Aussie organizational soldier. Barring any setbacks, Punto should be back in play by early May, with little in terms of playing time going to Hughes or Casilla in the meantime. Whether Harris can build up any kind of lead on Punto in terms of subsequent starts earned is in doubt, and even as lineup controversies go, this ranks a distant second behind how many more of Delmon Young's at-bats wind up with Jim Thome.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RHP Trevor Cahill from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Sacramento (Triple-A). [4/20]
Placed 2B-R Mark Ellis on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled C-R Landon Powell from Sacramento. [4/21]
Placed OF-L Travis Buck on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 4/21; purchased the contract of OF-L Matt Carson from Sacramento; designated OF-R Jai Miller for assignment. [4/22]
Optioned C-R Landon Powell to Sacramento; recalled LHP Brad Kilby from Sacramento. [4/23]
Noted the loss of OF-R Jai Miller to the Royals on a waiver claim. [4/26]

Ellis, broken down? This non-shocking development might only last into early May, but in the meantime it creates a challenge, between the organization's enthusiasm for Adam Rosales on the one hand, and the use-him-or-lose-him predicament of what to do with Eric Patterson. So far, they've been willing to use both, a nice enough non-decision in that Rosales' batting is probably never going to propel him out of a utility role, while Patterson's play around the bag has inspired shifts to center, third, left, or more reliably, Sacramento. That last is off the table now that Patterson's out of options, so it'll be interesting to see whether they give him a shot. Rajai Davis' stone-cold start has also created playing time in the outfield; tack on Buck's latest breakdown, and you've got a situation where Gabe Gross becomes an everyday player, and Patterson may get to be one as well.

To some extent, plugging in Patterson for everyday play might also be an outcome created by the multiple absences on the pitching staff. Resultantly, the A's have just three position-playing reserves, and even then, Jake Fox has been pressed into regular duty behind the plate with Kurt Suzuki nicked up. This might seem a strange contretemps, but the staff's equally banged up, and Jerry Blevins' lingering day-to-day unavailability created a felt need for Kilby to provide the pen with a second southpaw. Once Lucky Number Blevins is back in action, Kilby will presumably get bumped back to Sacto and replaced by an eligible position player (not Powell, since it'll take a DL move to bring him back inside of 10 days). But then who's out once Michael Wuertz gets reactivated, presumably sometime this week? Either Chad Gaudin or Edwar Ramirez would have to pass through waivers, which they might, but at this point, with so many inactive or semi-active players knocking around, it's hard to see how this shakes out, beyond the roster itself becoming a day-to-day confection tweaked to suit until they run out of options.


SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed INF-L Ramon Vazquez to a minor-league contract. [4/19]

Well, he did have to land somewhere, and as a lefty-batting multi-positional alternative to Matt Tuiasosopo, he's not a bad add in the least.


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned 1B-L Chris Davis to Oklahoma City (Triple-A); recalled RHP Omar Poveda from Frisco (Double-A), and placed him on the 60-day DL; purchased the contract of 1B-S Justin Smoak from Oklahoma City. [4/23]

The Rangers and their offense got off to slow starts, so perhaps making an example of somebody was called for. That said, this was something of a singular situation, as well as a reminder of how little flexibility some clubs have in shaking things up. Davis started slowly, but so did Julio Borbon and Ryan Garko and David Murphy, after all. But a backup first-base bat or a part-time outfielder aren't exactly major difference-making changes. Maybe later in the year, Craig Gentry will have done enough stuff at Oklahoma City to threaten Borbon's job security, but the early-season alternative to Borbon would be moving Josh Hamilton back into center field on an everyday basis, and that's not a favor the pitching staff might take to. So, as far as such things go, there wasn't a lot of wiggling around the Rangers could do. They can wait for Ian Kinsler. They can threaten Taylor Teagarden with a trip to Oklahoma once Jarrod Saltalamacchia comes back from the DL, in no small part because Matt Treanor's a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Backup Backstops. And they can stoop booting about such things and make their one big move, at first base.

Because the Rangers have their top tandem of young sluggers at a slugger's position, this really was the one spot where they can make an elective decision that figures to have an impact. Davis has last year's failures in the big leagues to live down, but so does Smoak for his late-season fade in Triple-A. Once again, Davis opened up his season with strong breeze, whiffing almost a third of the time at the plate, so once again, the Rangers issued a punitive assignment to the PCL to ponder the error of his ways. Naturally, Davis promptly homered in his first game back in Oklahoma. Smoak started his season with his lumber on fire, hitting .300/.460/.540, taking 16 walks in 66 PAs as further evidence of his tremendous command of the strike zone. The power may lag, but the park's going to be a boon to him, as it is to everybody who can get the ball out of the infield.

The question is whether or not the Rangers will make this a commitment and stick to it. It isn't hard to anticipate a future where Smoak and Davis are alternating at first base and DH. But what if Smoak struggles? Somewhat like the indeterminate present for the as yet still unmade choice between Salty and Teagarden behind the plate, the Rangers could end up lurching from Smoak to Smoak-less without necessarily settling on either. As with their picks for catcher, both of their first-base options are good enough to employ, but even more than that, both are premium power prospects. It's no wonder if the Rangers brass makes a bit like the rarest animal of all with their catchers, but can they afford to risk the futures of both of their young sluggers by not choosing between them?

If Smoak establishes himself, it's certainly better to play Davis daily in the PCL to recapture some of his prospect vibe, but a guy who doesn't bop in Texas is going to be damaged goods on the trade market. If Davis' long swing is the sort of thing that doesn't contribute from a bench role, he could wind up in a Jeff Clement-like limbo, waiting to be sent to one of the game's worst holes on the off chance that he finally thrives and survives. That said, one thing an eventual change of scenery for Davis might do is give him some consideration at third base; we don't know if he'll always lose to Smoak, but he's already lost the hot corner in Texas to Michael Young through 2013, or effectively forever as far as his own career might be concerned. Davis' D at third might inspire comparisons to Dean Palmer, but demonstrated playability at the position would at least help his value if the future at first belongs to Smoak.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed 3B-R Edwin Encarnacion on the 15-day DL (sore shoulder), retroactive to 4/15; placed LHP Brian Tallet on the 15-day DL (forearm), retroactive to 4/18. [4/21]
Activated 2B-R Aaron Hill from the 15-day DL; recalled LHP Brett Cecil from Las Vegas (Triple-A). [4/23]

With Hill back but Encarnacion out, the lineup's certainly better off in total, and in the meantime that eventual decision about who plays (and where) gets put off until later. Eventually, they'll have to sort out a playing-time pattern between Fred Lewis, Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista between third base and an outfield corner, but for now they get to instead plug Bautista's bat into Encarnacion's position at third, while leaving Lewis leading off from left field most days. How they resolve matters once Encarnacion's healthy will be interesting—you could do worse than alternating Lewis and Bautista in the leadoff slot, certainly. But that's not to say that things might not get more interesting still, if not in a good way. What happens if Travis Snider's bat doesn't heat up in the meantime? A few weeks with Encarnacion at third, Bautista in right, and Lewis in left might be as ugly as it sounds, but if Snider doesn't start fulfilling his billing, you can't expect the Jays to just wait him out indefinitely.

Since Tallet's being replaced by Cecil in the rotation and may well be Pipp'd for his trouble, this makes for another incremental improvement to a Jays club. Even so, I wouldn't weep for Tallet—he's a fine utility pitcher who did a nice job as a rotation regular last season, but he's the sort of placeholder you're better off replacing with a top talent like Cecil. If expense seems a problem, remember that Tallet's already 32 and only under team control through 2011—he'll never become really expensive, and his value as a multi-purpose pitcher as well as his affordability could make him a better bargaining chip than a lot of situational southpaws at the end of July.


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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