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May 3, 2010

Transaction Action

Central Preoccupations

by Christina Kahrl

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CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated C-R Ramon Castro from the 15-day DL; optioned C-R Donny Lucy to Charlotte (Triple-A). [5/3]

It might seem strange to demote Lucy, since the man has done quite well by anyone's lights, ripping three extra-base hits against lefties in his five starts spotting for A.J. Pierzynski. It isn't his fault the team was 1-4 in those five games; you could note that he's only caught one quality start in five if you had it out for him, but one of the four was Gavin Floyd's blown QS against the Mariners on April 23, and that was the product of a decision by higher authorities than Donny Lucy. Instead, it's a matter of the Sox knowing their guys and sticking with their plan, and not getting hung up on five games one way or another. Lucy's a long-service soldier in his seventh year in the organization, a decent catch-and-throw type, and a fine third catcher in an era where few make space for such luxuries.

Now, he might be Tyler Flowers' caddy next season (if they buy out Castro's option), or he might scram as a minor-league free agent and wind up in a very similar situation as his current lot, waiting for some card-carrying member of the IBBB* to get hurt or fall out of favor and out of sight. Either way, the Sox know he's not going to slug .900 against southpaws all season; they value him for what he is, not what he isn't. Castro's the better bopper, the more reliable alternative to AJP, and the man they signed to provide some right-handed pop from the bench; that doesn't change because of a few nice games from Lucy. Instead, the Sox banked the results from their third catcher, thanked him for the effort, and can count it toward their future evaluations of who their catchers might be after Pierzynski's contract ends.

*: The International Brotherhood of Backup Backstops - "Whatever the job, you don't need help after we say you don't."


CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RHP Hector Ambriz from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Joe Smith to Columbus (Triple-A). [4/30]

Sending Smith down for Ambriz isn't exactly the happiest outcome for the Tribe's pen, but the shape of Smith's struggles in a pen marred by the absence of its closer and misfiring in several slots wasn't easily excused. Even so, if you review the data, Smith was far from the least successful Indians reliever:

Guy

G

IP

WXRL

LEV

ARP

FRAr

InhR Prevented

C. Perez

10

7.2

-.648

1.83

-2.3

7.29

-1.3

J. Smith

9

7

-.121

1.23

0.9

5.46

-0.4

J. Wright

9

11

.217

1.18

-2.6

6.76

3.6

A. Laffey

11

14

.366

1.05

3.2

2.13

2.7

T. Sipp

11

8.2

.477

0.89

5.0

-0.01

2.7

R. Perez

9

7.1

-.018

0.84

-4.7

8.77

-0.4

J. Lewis

9

9.1

.428

0.62

2.4

2.12

0.7

So obviously, Smith wasn't the lone gunman in an uneven pen performance. You could even point to just two individual ballgames in which he made a significant negative impact on the outcome, back in the first week against the White Sox, and then in his last game against the Angels, when he gave up a leadoff double to Torii Hunter in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game, effectively sealing his doom. The Hunter double was an indication of a more basic performance problem: Smith's a side-arming righty, and he wasn't getting right-handed people out, allowing five extra-base hits to the 22 he'd faced on the young season.

As noted, that doesn't make him the only poor performer in the early going. Yet again, Rafael Perez seems to be unsafe for use in any situation. Chris Perez really only has an early blown save against the Tigers to apologize for, but it's marred his season tally; once Kerry Wood comes back later this week, there really is no Cleveland closer controversy to set a-burgeoning. In the meantime, it might seem maddening to have Wright appearing in so many tight ballgames, but as Manny Acta gets used to his pieces, you can anticipate that once they're done with Wright, he'll be gone, whereas Smith's a fixable asset.

As for Ambriz, they'll have to keep him around, and not just in the meantime. As their Rule 5 pick, he's already done one standard-issue full-length rehab stint for his elbow injury, striking out 15 against a lone walk in eight Columbus innings. He is what he's been for years now in the Snakes' system, a strike-throwing college veteran from UCLA with velocity issues who might wind up in a swingman's sort of role, having been used almost exclusively as a starter in Arizona's system. It will be interesting to see how things shake down once Wood's reactivated; ideally, you'd anticipate that Chris Perez would slip back into the high-leverage set-up role that Smith dropped and Wright's struggling in, returning the journeyman to mop-up chores that Ambriz can fulfill just as easily, if not better. Unfortunately, Rafael Perez isn't optionable, and the Tribe's pen already has two more effective lefties in it.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted RHP Luis Mendoza to Omaha (Triple-A). [4/28]
Placed LHP John Parrish on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 4/25; recalled RHP Victor Marte from Omaha. [4/29]
Activated 2B-L Chris Getz from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Victor Marte to Omaha. [4/30]
Traded RHP Carlos Rosa to the D'backs for SS-S Rey Navarro; sold RHP Roman Colon to Kia of the Korean League. [5/2]
Optioned 3B-L Alex Gordon to Omaha; recalled INF-R Mike Aviles from Omaha. [5/3]

Getz came back from the DL to move straight back into the lineup, with Alberto Callaspo moving over to third base, and Alex Gordon, former face of the future, initially heading back to the bench to witness the present from that roost, then heading across the horizon to Omaha to see if the vantage point was any better there. Since they've already won a pair of tight, low-scoring games to win their series against the Rays to show off as the purported fruit of this particular decision, they're no doubt congratulating themselves. Nevertheless, it's a strange situation: Callaspo can play, and Getz grows on you the way scrappers at the keystone inevitably seem to do, but Gordon's injuries since 2008 should hardly lead the Royals to lose sight of who ought to be a major part of their future. Judging him on the basis of two weeks of play after missing much of spring training with a broken thumb would be silly, even for the Royals. But silly rules the day.

Consider this: however worthwhile it is to haul Aviles back, if he's only here to take Gordon's place on the bench, you've got another instance of the roster turned upside down. To be sure, Callaspo has his uses, but he and Yuniesky Betancourt had fallen out of favor for good reasons, Betancourt for his failures on the field, Callaspo perhaps primarily for his away from it. Add that to Getz, an organizational soldier type who can contribute, but whom you shouldn't get carried away with as if he were Willie Bloomquist... well, there you go, these are the people who get carried away with Wee Willie's exploits. So Aviles and Gordon, two of the best position players the organization has cranked out in recent years, are riding pine or riding buses*, and you wind up with essentially filler ballplayers playing in their place.

Now, maybe this is about presenting Gordon with some sort of object lesson, some sort of motivational challenge, where he needs to shine in everyday play in Omaha to be allowed to contribute to the ongoing ignominy in Kansas City. And admittedly, concerns about Callaspo's defense as an everyday second baseman have their place in these kinds of considerations. But really now, would you rather have Getz starting at second and Betancourt at short, or Aviles-proud generator of one of the best shortstop seasons in franchise history? Would you rather have Gordon starting at third base, or Callaspo? That's not to say Callaspo can't contribute as a near-daily regular, spotting at second and third and wherever else like a latter-Graffanino (or Bloomquist, although tarring St. Willie of Inspirational Ubiquity seems a federal offense in some courts).

Ideally, we'll see the Royals get to this point, where they have Aviles and Gordon playing regularly and come to realize that the choice should be between Getz and Betancourt (with Callaspo roving). Unfortunately, watching and waiting for this to happen is sort of like lowering the bar on the infinite monkey theorem and hoping to get more meagre results by generating an infinite number of monkey particles in Planck space to get the odd fragment of a sonnet. Waiting on the Royals to land on the right roster solutions is sort of like that-you can wait, and hope, and observe, and figure that somewhere around several billionth iteration they'll get it right. Indeed, it's mathematically impossible that they will never get it right given infinite opportunities, and since the Royals remain reliably irrelevant in the meantime, they're practically made of spare time. Royals fans have already had to wait a seemingly infinite amount of time, so you can understand how infinite patience might be required. That, or you're just watching the crater for what figures to be an inevitable Krakatoa-like eruption of despair.

As for the minor trade, it would be easy to scoff and note that you could leave it to the Royals to trade for the minor-league shortstop you might most easily mistake for the next Yuniesky Betancourt, and give up a guy who throws 97 to do it. That's assuming that not every gun in the Royals' arsenal runs hot, of course, but in fairness to the Royals, with Jeff Bianchi out for the year, middle-infield depth in the organization was an issue, with both their Double- and High-A affiliates having to make do with filler. However limited his prospects as a hitter, Navarro is a 20-year-old Dominican who already got a full-season spin last year in the Midwest League, and he's rangy enough to play a good short if he acquires any consistency. Given his age, taking a chance on turning the tools into something useful isn't the worst flyer to take.

*: Metaphorical buses, of course, although I'm sure that Nashville-to-Tacoma drive would be fun to do, just perhaps not so much on a bus with some thirty-odd colleagues, coaches, and traveling secretaries.


MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Nick Blackburn on the Family Leave List; recalled RHP Jeff Manship from Rochester (Triple-A). [4/30]
Activated INF-S Nick Punto from the 15-day DL; optioned 3B-R Luke Hughes to Rochester. [5/1]
Placed RHP Pat Neshek on the 15-day DL (inflamed middle finger), retroactive to 4/29; recalled C-R Wilson Ramos from Rochester. [5/2]

First, the good news: With Ramos up and stuck straight into the lineup, Drew Butera will not become the Twins' regular behind the plate. Admittedly, that's a non-shocking development, but some folks like to start with the positive before getting into the negative. To stick with the happy, it's important to keep in mind that Ramos is almost as good a fall-back option as any organization could ask for-besides the obvious, self-inflicted eventual in-house upgrades, like Buster Posey or Carlos Santana finally getting the call by their clubs, of course. He's a plus defender and a quality hitter for a catcher, and if the error bars between his top comps-Javy Lopez and Joe Oliver-seem a bit broad, that's still not a bad thing.

However, because of Mauer being Mauer and one of the best players in the game at any position, the shape of the Twins' season depends to a large extent on their not losing him for any extended period of time. Consider what a review of last season's MLVr marks for big-league catchers last season tells us: the difference is almost a half-run per ballgame between Mauer and anybody else. Even if Ramos is very good, that makes the difference more like four-tenths of a run per ballgame; if he struggles and you get an extra dose of Butera in your diet, maybe that's six-tenths or worse. My point is that the extraordinary difference between Mauer and mere mortals is such that it doesn't take that long of an absence for those sorts of differences to mound up right quick, tumbling the Twins from their present winning clip. And that's even if the good Francisco Liriano keeps taking his turns every fifth day, and even if Justin Morneau and Jim Thome slug .600 forever. Of course, those things won't happen, but then again, J.J. Hardy won't remain an honorary toothless piranha all season, will he now?*

Admittedly, this is the AL Central, so there's no reason to get overly dire as much as just deal. This is the division where scheduling a 163rd game isn't a lifestyle choice, it seems to be a hard-wired fact from the moment of conception. Certainly, it's hard to envision the Tigers being a .600 ballclub all season, so the Twins aren't in the same situation as the Red Sox seem to be digging down towards, where climbing back into the picture will take an awful lot of excellence and bad things to happen to smart, well-constructed rivals. Losing Mauer for weeks (or, to take it all the way back to long-ago last year, a whole month) is the sort of thing that will help push the Twins back to the pack as well. They remain the club that, Mauer-enabled, could end the divisional habit of one-game play-ins, but it's mishaps like this that highlight how fragile that bid is. So now we wait and see.

*: That, or he'll blend in better than you might have liked. Talk about adapting to your environment.


ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Kevin Mulvey to Reno (Triple-A); recalled RHP Cesar Valdez from Reno. [5/2]

I already anticipated this a bit yesterday, so this isn't really news as much as a foregone conclusion going fore.


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RHP Joe Blanton from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Antonio Bastardo to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [5/2]

Here again, we knew that this was coming, so now all that remains to be seen until J.A. Happ comes back is how the peashooters-at-20-paces duel to derisive defeat between Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick for the fifth starter's slot turns out. As matters currently stand, they're tied with one quality start apiece in five tries apiece, with both of them coming against the Braves, meaning that none contributed to the cause against anybody else. Kendrick still can't left-handed people out, so yammering about his improved cutter, changeup, confidence, or effervescent bonhomie is so much wasted breath. Moyer's dialed up his homers-allowed clip from merely Blylevenly to beyond the Mason-Dixon line of two bombs per nine. Lest we forget, Ken Dixon was a linear acclearator employed by the Orioles in 1987; once they fired him up, he delivered offerings reliably smashed into so many subatomic particles at the near-inconceivable clip of 2.66 HR allowed per nine innings, a record for any kind of pitcher used for 100 or more IP in a single season. Tragically, Dixon's rate of success in souvenir generation proved career-ending, at least on major-league diamonds, and beyond that, the concrete value of this fact-finding research in Baltimore back in the day remains a bit on the abstract. Nevertheless, you can admire the intellectual curiosity of their latter-day colleagues in Philly, should they give Moyer his chance to really pick up steam once the weather heats up.



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Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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