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April 27, 2010

Transaction Action

Senioritis

by Christina Kahrl

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CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated LHP Ted Lilly from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Jeff Samardzija to Iowa (Triple-A). [4/24]

Ah, poor Wrigleyville, where else can a piece of good news like getting Theodore Roosevelt Lilly back have to involve a double dose of anguish? To deal with the least matter first, there's punting the Domer back to corn country. That is perhaps more agonizing to Jim Hendry than to you or me, since it was Hendry's draft effort that made the Irish wideout an eight-large wishcast. With a straight-as-string four-seamer and no reliable swing-and-miss breaking pitch, it's easy for me to muse on the '80s, when anybody like that (Mike Scott and Dave Stewart being salient examples) would be introduced to the splitter and become instantly incredible. That said, both Scott and Stewart could at least stick around in the majors with their stuff before they added the split-fingered fastball to their repertoires, while Samardzija hasn't managed even that. If he's back before the Cubs take a look at, say, Blake Parker, an Iowa asset with mid-90s heat and a slider people miss, it had better be a case of Samardzija's finally adding something. He'll remain in the pen for the I-Cubs, and given the Cubs' shortage of established right-handed relief help, that's probably just as well

Which brings us to the truly shocking aspect of what has happened with Lilly's return: that shortage of right-handed relief help seems to have encouraged some mighty strange changes in the rotation. So, it's Lilly in, and Carlos Zambrano out, and both of spring training's fifth starter candidates get to keep their jobs. Folks attached to the amounts of money expended on the respective parties can get worked up over misallocations, but despite what Prada might tell you, price does not reliably equal quality, so whether or not they're paying Zambrano and Carlos Silva plenty, and Tom Gorzelanny and Randy Wells very little, means less relative to performance. And while sending Zambrano to the pen generates headlines, it's worth remembering it also isn't likely to be a permanent part of the pitching landscape.

Consider the practical problems involved with the staff on hand. Bumping Gorzelanny would add a fourth lefty to a bullpen already crowded with southpaws thanks to Hendry's surprising reinvestment in reliably lackluster John Grabow and the addition of camp surprise James Russell. Russell's earned his keep to join Sean Marshall as a home-grown lefty worth having around, but Grabow's struggled, calling into question the wisdom of throwing a two-year, $7.5 million deal at a filler lefty early in November. Perhaps acquiring too many Pirates is Hendry's contribution to the fight against global warming. That said, having Gorzo around as a spot lefty to start as needed and see if he can recapture his past promise isn't a bad thing. But betting on him over Big Z? That doesn't make a ton of sense.

Then there's the flight of fancy over the man received in their deliverance from Milton Bradley, Silva. Rather than bank his four quality starts, Lou Piniella's investing in Silva like he was an honorary Hunt brother. He should also remember that ended with convictions, so shackling yourself to some notions come with risks. However, in Piniella's defense, the Cubs have been better than just decent with the leather in recent seasons (ranking fourth in PADE in '09, and first in '08), so if Silva's going to survive anywhere, then the weaker league in front of a good defense makes sense as a best possible environment for him. Four straight quality starts isn't something to sneeze at, and if he winds up becoming a fine fourth or fifth starter, that's not the end of the world. Not that three weeks means much, but if Milton Bradley miltons his way out of Seattle as well, while the Cubs wind up with a fourth starter, you can be sure of heaping helpings of schadenfreude being dished out, anonymously or less so.

Then there are Zambrano's own comments (via the incomparable Bruce Miles at the Daily Herald, about his expectation that this assignment is transient. His Opening Day disaster was followed by two quality starts in three turns, so it isn't like he's become a percussion instrument on the mound. That said, Zambrano's long, slow, steady, multi-year slide from ace to adequate is something that needs correction. Could this help with that?

While the Cubs do need right-handed relief help now, strange as it might sound that Zambrano's saying that he now has to prepare more as a reliever. Maybe a change to his routine can help reverse that slide. There's not a lot to said about the psychological side of things, because there's nothing predictable involved; maybe Zambrano will charge into his eventual opportunity to resume starting and deliver consistent excellence, and maybe he'll implode in despair and disgust. But given that we're talking about Gorzo and Silva in the meantime, you can understand anticipating that one of those two will eventually do something that costs him his job. And if Russell struggles or Marshall or Grabow gets injured, a handy reason to bump Gorzo will have presented itself, however well or poorly he performs.

What doesn't seem likely is a deal. Zambrano's got a full no-trade clause and almost $36 million in guaranteed money due him in 2011-12. Nobody's going to want to take Grabow off the Cubs' hands for more than pennies on the dollar on his contract through 2011. Few others would take a chance on Silva, and even with the Mariners paying $9 million of his $23 million due through 2011, there's also a $2 million buyout of his 2012 club option. Even if the Cubs operated as a flow-through partner to make Silva someone else's starter, there's just not much reason to expect they'd recoup any more dealing him than they would in a Grabow swap. Gorzelanny's cheap and under team control through 2012, which might make him swappable, but there again, you're talking about a limited market involving an appeal to connoisseurs of acquired tastes.


COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RF-L Brad Hawpe on the 15-day DL (strained quadriceps); recalled 2B/OF-S Eric Young Jr. from Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [4/25]

The Rockies' outfield depth is such that, as good as Hawpe is and as much as you never like seeing a guy slugging north of .700 go away, they can afford to spread the at-bats around. Hawpe's two weeks away shouldn't cost them too terribly when they can move Carlos Gonzalez over to right field and hand more starts to Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs. Adding Young to their bench should also prove useful, since the speedster can be a useful early-inning pinch-hitter, and spotting him at second base for Clint Barmes could encourage Jim Tracy to think about expanding his lineup-card options as long as Barmes continues to flail. Tracy's already been careful to keep his bench players involved, with Melvin Mora getting five keystone starts, and with Jason Giambi starting five games at first base, so it isn't like there's an easy position player for Young to replace in anything other than an injury situation, and you know how unlikely it is that the Rox dial down from a dozen hurlers.


MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed LHP Dan Meyer on the 15-day DL (strained calf), retroactive to 4/25; activated RHP Brian Sanches from the 15-day DL. [4/26]

Meyer's been nothing short of a disaster in the early going, but he's hardly alone in the Fish pen. If you look at what the Marlins have gotten from their lefty relievers, you find Meyer and Renyel Pinto among the 10 worst relievers in the early going as far as their failures to prevented inherited baserunners from scoring:

Pitcher Club Runs Allowed
Randy Williams White Sox -5.4
Juan Cruz Royals -4.3
Roman Colon Royals -2.9
Jason Bulger Angels -2.9
Jack Taschner Pirates -2.7
George Sherrill Dodgers -2.5
Raul Valdes Mets -2.3
Micah Owings Reds -2.3
Dan Meyer Marlins -2.2
Renyel Pinto Marlins -2.1

Now, the injustice of ERA for relievers, especially when we're talking about three weeks' worth of action should be somewhat obvious when you note that Pinto's ERA is 1.80, while Meyer's is 16.20. Skip over to Fair Runs Average, and Meyer boasts a firing squad's FRA (30.07), but Pinto no longer resembles an asset, clocking in at 8.25.

Now, this doesn't really add up to that much when you think about; it's infographic-level factoid-y. The fact that six of those 10 relievers are lefties is merely an echo of the risks implicit with today's fashions in situational usage patterns. Sometimes putting LOOGYs on the line with duck-loaded ponds leaves the defense all wet, but sometimes it can leave opponents high and dry; four of the top 10 relievers in inherited runs prevented are lefties, some you expect (Dennys Reyes, Pedro Feliciano), and one you might not (rock on, Scott Schoeneweis).

Meyer's seeming breakthrough last season after years of reliable frustration is something that, once healthy, he has to repeat to engender much faith, and it's worth noting that last year his season tally for inherited runs allowed was negative (-2.6). Sanches, another long-service journeyman with loads of time spent in the bushes, was even worse (-3.9), so either you have to invest a lot of faith in Fredi Gonzalez's ability to work some in-game magic, or you're running up against one of the reasons why last year's pen, seemingly conjured out of thin air, needs either further conjuring tricks (hello Clay Hensley), or for youngsters like Burke Badenhop, Chris Leroux, and Tim Wood to come into their own.


HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted RHP Yorman Bazardo to Round Rock (Triple-A). [4/23]
Optioned RHP Wilton Lopez to Round Rock; activated RHP Sam Gervacio from the 15-day DL. [4/25]

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Vicente Padilla on the 15-day DL (forearm soreness), retroactive to 4/23; recalled RHP Jon Link from Albuquerque (Triple-A). [4/25]

Today's double-header makes things interesting as far as how the Dodgers will manage their staff in the meantime. In a perfect, abstract world, you'd have the freedom to bump the first-game starter to add whoever has to start Wednesday's ballgame, but as is, they're pushing knuckleballer Charlie Haeger forward to start the night game on three days' rest, and Hiroki Kuroda's starting the opener, so no dice. Ramon Ortiz hasn't pitched since Friday, so he's notionally available to take Padilla's place, but then thanks to a day off next Monday they won't need a fifth starter again until Saturday, May 8th, at which point Padilla would be eligible to come back if the irritated nerve in his forearm eases up any. If not Ortiz, then both James McDonald and Scott Elbert have had sufficient rest since their last spins in the Isotopes' rotation. Much will depend on who gets used up in the action in today's pair of games; if Ortiz goes unused, that might put him on the spot tomorrow, but it's also possible they'd just bump Link back to Albuquerque and bring up either prospect.


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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