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May 3, 2010

Transaction Action

What's Best in the West?

by Christina Kahrl

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LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Claimed INF-R Kevin Frandsen off waivers from the Red Sox, and optioned him to Salt Lake (Triple-A). [4/29]

As godawful bad as Brandon Wood's opening-month performance has been (.139 TAv, and an AL-worst -6.0 RARP), the Angels have stood by him, which is great from a player-development perspective if you believe in him (as I still do, for what that's worth). But it is also in part the product of a lack of viable alternatives. Where bodies like Matt Brown or Sean Rodriguez might have provided the Halos with a bit of variety should they have tired of Wood-en performance in seasons past, both are gone, and a look at the roster in Salt Lake doesn't generate much buzz when it comes to infield alternatives. Organizational soldier Freddy Sandoval mans third in Utah, and represents the tepid best of that club's weak infield crew. The middle-infield combo of Ryan Mount and Andrew Romine down at Double-A Arkansas has the benefit of both halves hitting well, but that's for later on. In the meantime, if the Angels wanted to change anything with their big-league infield alignment or had to replace any big leaguer lost via injury, they'd find themselves handicapped, so you can understand their interest in grabbing Frandsen. Whatever his limits, he can play second, short, and third, he'll provide some pop, and he has experience with life on a big-league bench. For the depth as well as the dissatisfactions of the present, he's a useful and canny pickup.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed LHP Brett Anderson on the 15-day DL (elbow inflammation; strained forearm), retroactive to 4/25; optioned RHP Edwar Ramirez to Sacramento (Triple-A); recalled C-R Landon Powell and INF-R Steve Tolleson from Sacramento. [4/27]
Placed C-R Kurt Suzuki on the 15-day DL (intercostal strain), retroactive to 4/24; optioned OF-L Matt Carson to Sacramento; transferred RHP Joey Devine from the 15- to the 60-day DL; recalled RHP Trevor Cahill from Sacramento; purchased the contract of C-R Josh Donaldson from Sacramento. [4/30]

When you wind up with so many injuries that it seems like an artillery barrage hit the clubhouse, you first need to sort out who's still standing, and you try not to think too hard about assessing lineups or tactics, because fielding a team's become such a significant day-to-day logistical issue. In-season they're now down their starting catcher as well as their starting second baseman, Mark Ellis, that on top of their disabled starting center fielder (Coco Crisp) and their first-choice replacement in the lineup for him, Travis Buck. So Eric Patterson gets his big opportunity, Adam Rosales gets a long look as something more than a utility infielder, and Rajai Davis gets to play every day almost no matter what he does, because he can play center field, and it's not sure whether or not anyone else left can.

Absent Anderson until June by the look of things, they'll need to find a fix in the rotation beyond the scramble of the last week or so. Calling up Cahill was a matter of convenient slotting, but he got bombed his first time out. What these moves already made don't deal with is that there's also the question of sorting out what's to be done with Justin Duchscherer in the next few days, since it's expected that he'll miss his next turn tomorrow night. Cahill's already slotted in to replace Anderson, of course, but on Sacramento's roster Vin Mazzaro's next scheduled turn would put him on the spot to take the bump-we'll just have to see if that's for the Rivercats or the A's on Tuesday. The later question is whether Mazzaro will replace Cahill if the Duke can bounce back in time to stick around for his subsequent turn, but the A's will be examining Duchscherer today, after which we'll find out how bleak that particular picture is.

Behind the plate, temporary patches like Jake Fox or Powell are being treated as such-instead, the A's look like they'll place their faith in Donaldson, while hoping that Suzuki's set to come back around the minimum-length absence by the beginning of next week. Lest we forget, less than two years ago Donaldson was part of the package received for Rich Harden. The dump deal to the Cubs has given the A's very little beyond savings in cash and avoided grief over keeping the unpredictable Harden in working order, not that the rotation's acquired much certainty since. (Heck, Chad Gaudin's back as an easily reacquired discard, wearing a third party's World Series ring, no less.) At the time, I casually ruled out Donaldson as the possible "best player" received in the deal. You might find that the subsequent tragedy is that he may well prove to be after all, in part because Matt Murton and Sean Gallagher are already gone, having contributed nothing beyond their own disposability. A week in, Eric Patterson's big opportunity hasn't exactly provided a significant reversal of fortune, but at least he is finally getting it.

But credit Billy Beane and the A's for getting Donaldson. When they acquired him, there was obviously some hope that the former supplemental first-round pick out of Auburn might get turned around and live up to that kind of selection. He'd starred in short-season ball in Boise in 2007, but he was struggling through a rough introduction to full-season league action in 2008. He's become a better-than-average hitter for a catcher thanks to a remade, more compact swing that engendered last year's successful jump to Double-A, and fueled this season's hot start in Sacramento, slugging .522. Behind the plate, he's strong-armed enough to cut down on opponents' baserunning, having thrown out 30-40 percent of attempts everywhere he's played as a pro; unfortunately, he's still a bit raw as a receiver, having led the Texas League in passed balls allowed last season, and also committed 16 errors-all on throws to the bases.*

If there's good news on the injury front, it's that they should be able to look forward to Michael Wuertz's return to action shortly. The possibilities for who he might replace are numerous enough that it's pointless to speculate who might get bumped-Brad Kilby just got used up by Ben Sheets' short day at the office yesterday, but given the nature of their overlapping emergencies, you could see how Powell could be bounced back to the Big Valley as long as they're comfortable with Donaldson behind the dish. Since bringing Wuertz back dovetails with the determination over whether or not today's examination of the Duke and any talk about season-ending surgery (and a slot-opening trip to the 60-day DL), their options go beyond the 40-man.

Which brings us to the big-picture repercussions, since the A's aren't out of anything yet, after all. It's hard to say that they're in it either, given that they have a hard time knowing who's in it from day to day, but the division's playing down towards that nightmare scenario of '94, when nobody was looking likely to finish above .500. At least this time around all four clubs in the short stack are near enough to one another to keep all of them in the race, even with the flaws of each, but a large consideration will be which teams happen upon winning fixes. For the A's, however, moving from one patch to the next like a desperate smoker, has not yet led to any truly desperate solutions, it's premature to consider any of the needed tacking into a stiff stream of setbacks as lasting. Necessity might be the mother of invention, but so far, betting on Cahill or Mazzaro, or Donaldson or Patterson, should remind folks that after a one-win week, defeat is an orphan.

*: So Strat managers looking to drill down for some exciting Texas League recreations can anticipate assigning him a T-rating up towards 20, I suppose. Sort of takes the fun out of a rolling that 20-sider, but then I expect that folks ain't even actually rolling the bones that much these days.


SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated LHP Cliff Lee from the 15-day DL; activated INF-L Jack Hannahan from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Tacoma (Triple-A); optioned RHP Shawn Kelley to Tacoma. [4/30]
Released RHP Ricky Orta and OF-R Eric Byrnes outright; optioned INF-R Mat Tuiasosopo to Tacoma; purchased the contracts of INF-R Josh Wilson and OF-L Ryan Langerhans from Tacoma. [5/3]

The nice thing about the Mariners' situation is how much they're combining sensible planning with the Petraean platitude that results matter. Lee's back and straight into the rotation-and there was no problem sorting out at whose expense that has to be, because Ian Snell wasn't earning his keep. So he's out of it because Jason Vargas has rattled off three straight quality starts while Doug Fister lodged himself in deeply after a staff-leading first month of action. Snell's making more money? So what, he sits, results matter.

Similarly, among the position players, Byrnes didn't get a bunt down, so he's gone, and if it helps that he doesn't really cost them anything, it's not just a worthwhile message, but an easily affordable one. Langerhans makes a better defensive rep anyway, not least because he doesn't have the pin problems Byrnes has had with his wheels in recent seasons. Besides, as a lefty bat, he's someone they can spot for Franklin Gutierrez in center, assuming Gutierrez ever gets a day off.

Which is not to say all of this is cause for pat assertions about genius and execution. Some of this was also a numbers game beyond anything that the demoted players could do or were allowed to do. It's a pity about Kelley, for example, since he didn't earn his demotion, but if Jesus Colome fulfills his responsibilities as a situational right-hander with middle-relief applications, you can stick this into the "nice problems to have" file under the subject of temporarily over-full bullpens. In the infield, with the thrill of fighting his way onto the Opening Day roster having faded, the simple fact was that Tuiasosopo wasn't hitting as a part-time player. Life as a part-time reserve isn't something everyone can manage, perhaps least of all a rookie used to everyday play in the bushes; a multi-week refresher with daily at-bats down the sound in Tacoma isn't terrible, however frustrating it might be for him. Wilson's used to catching splinters, and I wouldn't be surprised to see this move get reversed sooner than the stretch run once Tuiasosopo's got his bat back in action.

Where things will get interesting is when the Mariners take this standard to its logical conclusion. It's easy to bench the least-effective starting pitcher now, but what happens when Erik Bedard's ready to come off the DL-do they abandon their faith in Ryan Rowland-Smith if Vargas and Fister are both still doing the job? If Ken Griffey Jr. or Mike Sweeney still aren't doing anything a month from now beyond being old and amiable, what happens then? Will results matter less when it's a matter of re-evaluating their more mission-critical decisions, instead of just ticking off the odd bench player or two?


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RF-R Nelson Cruz on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled CF-R Craig Gentry from Oklahoma City (Triple-A). [4/23]
Activated C-S Jarrod Saltalamacchia from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Oklahoma City; optioned C-R Taylor Teagarden to Oklahoma City; recalled C-S Max Ramirez from Oklahoma City. [4/27]
Activated 2B-R Ian Kinsler from the 15-day DL; placed 2B-R Joaquin Arias on the 15-day DL (strained back). [4/30]

Talk about a turn of events inside of a single month: whodathunk that the right answer in the choice between Teagarden and Saltamacchia was Matt Treanor? I can't say that I blame them for ditching their merry do-si-do behind the plate to poxing both houses and letting Teagarden and Salty play out their battle for the future on the same distant diamond. This isn't about getting one or the other more reps, since they'll be splitting time behind the plate and getting everyday at-bats between the catcher's slot and DH. More fundamentally, it's about both having to show substantive progress instead of sporadic promise. The fact that Ramirez isn't getting the job behind the plate might be read as prospect fatigue on some level, but he's also not the receiver that Treanor is (or Teagarden, or Salty), suggesting that this is more about seeing which of the demoted duo responds with better play at the plate.

Meanwhille, there's the lineup's problem with having one man enter after another man leaves. Kinsler's comeback a week after losing Cruz didn't bode well and still doesn't, but the club rallied to take two of three from the White Sox and then sweep Seattle in Seattle. To some extent, you can credit the assembly of better depth-upgrading from Arias to Kinsler is a major move, where having to replace Cruz with an offensive platoon of David Murphy and Ryan Garko (with Vladimir Guerrero getting the outfield starts and Garko DHing) still means a decent dose of offense despite an injury to a major lineup key. Another two weeks without Cruz isn't good news, of course, but creating playing time patterns for Murphy and Garko could help them get their bats started, and keeping Vladi's applications as an outfielder in play engenders an additional little bit of roster flexibility.

Meanwhile, platooning also seems like a way for Ron Washington to get additional runs from the center-field slot in the lineup. At first blush, Craig Gentry versus Julio Borbon may not rank with Oddibe McDowell versus Bob Brower in franchise history for center-field job fights, but like that duo from the '80s Gentry and Borbon may not make it as everyday players in the long run. However, Gentry has some right-handed pop in a park that rewards it, he's playable center fielder with a plus arm, and his uses as an outfield reserve would seem straightforward enough on a team that didn't already have David Murphy cooling his heels as its fourth man when Cruz is active.

But look at the way things are going now: Murphy's getting a chance to play, and he did some modest damage last year. Gentry's a defensive alternative to Josh Hamilton, and one who could double as Murphy's platoon partner. If both do something during Cruz's absence, Borbon's uses as a speed guy and purported "second leadoff man" in the ninth slot only go so far if he doesn't boost his OBP a good hundred points in the weeks to come. Failing that, the Rangers might be back to wondering how bad was Hamilton out in center, a possibility after Cruz's return from the DL that would create an opportunity for Murphy to return to some form of regularity, and one that might prune Borbon from the big-league roster and leave Gentry in his place as the club's new fourth outfielder.

Speculative as that might sound, if you'd said that both Teagarden and Saltalamacchia, would be in Oklahoma City at this point of the season a month ago, you'd have been gifted with unusual prescience. Add in the decision to demote Chris Davis early and hand his job to Justin Smoak, and it's clear that the competitive dynamic in the weak AL West is such that it seems as if nobody's going to sit still and ride out extended slumps from optionable players.



Follow Christina's publication updates via http://twitter.com/ChristinaKahrl

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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