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May 24, 2010

Transaction Action

Going West

by Christina Kahrl

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OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated CF-S Coco Crisp from the 15-day DL; optioned C-S Landon Powell to Sacramento (Triple-A). [5/21]
Placed DH-L Eric Chavez on the 15-day DL (neck); activated 2B-R Mark Ellis from the 15-day DL. [5/22]

With this on top of last week's call-up of Vin Mazzaro to replace Justin Duchscherer on the roster (if not the rotation, yet), much is now as it should be, per the pre-season plan: Ellis at second, Crisp in center, and with the previous activation of Kurt Suzuki, a return to their regular catcher to make for a full third of the lineup back in action within a single week.

All of which might sound great, except that as ever with the A's, there's bad news as well as good. Crisp hurt himself two games into his return, which you might take as a risk inherent to the decision to reactivate him after a two-game rehab assignment in the Cal League. He's expected to be back in action tomorrow, when the A's play next, but this latest mini-breakdown also serves as a reminder that with so many regulars with such extensive track records for injury, it's hard to anticipate that things will be "normal" from here on out. Crisp's absence on Sunday isn't as much a setback as a reminder that they should afford him the time to get in gear while using Rajai Davis' employability in center. In the meantime, it's hard to place much faith in any abstract projection of what the team might end up with in terms of offense, because we're already into WAG* territory in terms of who will be available to play regularly to produce however many runs the A's might score.

Of course, there's also something that is now as you could have expected it to be: now that Eric Chavez has returned to the DL, Jack Cust will be starting more often than not at DH. That's not to make light of the latest sad turn on the back half of Chavez's career path, which is nothing short of depressing, especially with accounts of his trying to sleep while immobilizing his neck, or his immediate future with further traction inaction. However, as I noted back when they chose Chavez over Cust before Opening Day, the A's were going with something of a wishcast, and having already seen the market's disinterest in Cust, they took a risk with their veteran DH in sending him across the wire to Sacramento. It's a risk that worked out, in that they didn't lose Cust while treating him as their own exclusively available free talent. It's easy to gnash teeth over the time invested in Chavez, but given that the A's knew nobody else wants Cust no matter how many walks he might draw, you can't blame them for taking the time to see what a former great had left in the tank. Now that Chavez is broken again and the attending fantasies about his comeback have been dispelled, it's time to settle, which is what employing Cust represented, than and now.

There are the other ripples, of course, with attention primarily diverted to deciding who's going to be the left fielder du jour. Rajai Davis is still the notional regular in left, but there are sluggier options with Jake Fox or Eric Patterson (slugging .596 against right-handed pitching, which he won't keep up of course), as well as the reliably barren participation of Gabe Gross. With Crisp out of action yesterday, Bob Geren expanded his options by one more, plugging utility infielder Adam Rosales into action. With the dispatch of Powell, they're also choosing to resume the Earl Weaver-like choice of leaving their real back-up catchers at Triple-A, and making do with Fox.

The question for the time being is what sort of production they can reasonably expect from Patterson or Fox if they're only playing sporadically. There isn't much help to be found from the minor-league ranks, with the prospects generally struggling. Travis Buck hasn't started a rehab assignment yet, but as Crisp's brief stint reflects, they might not necessarily give him all that much time, especially if they've tired of carrying Gross. Given their faith in Davis, you might wonder if one interesting alternative, one with a Lance Blankenship-like vibe, would be Corey Wimberly. The switch-hitting former Rockies farmhand is doing his usual Deadball Era stylings, bunting and running and stealing bases and drawing walks and taking one for the team often enough to generate a .375 OBP, but boil all of that action down, and all you've got to show for it is a .247 TAv. He's also in his age-26 season, so it isn't like he's a savior as much as an alternative given life by a lineup failing to generate much offense.

All things considered, it might be better to just use this as an opportunity to see if Patterson can keep doing some damage. During his 15-game stint in the lineup as an everyday player from the end of April through to May 11, he hit .245/.286/.509, hardly earth-shattering, but nobody on this team's hitting for power. If Patterson's worth keeping on the roster, he has to be worth playing. If he plays his way out of the lineup once and for all with another multi-week trial, it would at least represent a lesson learned, but if he does anything to redeem the Rich Harden trade, that would be at least one modest takeaway.

* WAG: Wild-Ass Guess. It's a technical term.


ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted RHP Blaine Boyer to Reno (Triple-A). [5/21]
SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed OF-R Scott Hairston on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 5/16; purchased the contract of OF-R Chris Denorfia from Portland (Triple-A); transferred RHP Chris Young from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/17]
Placed LF-R Kyle Blanks on the 15-day DL (elbow), retroactive to 5/18; recalled RHP Adam Russell from Portland. [5/20]
Optioned LHP Cesar Ramos to Portland; recalled RHP Luis Perdomo from Portland. [5/22]
Optioned RHP Luis Perdomo to Portland; recalled OF-S Luis Durango from Portland. [5/24]

Losing two of the team's four outfield regulars was far from a laughing matter, no matter how cold Blanks' start had been. Sure, to lose him might have made for a nice way of giving him a full-length rehab assignment once healthy, without the ignominy of a demotion, and then, presumably armed with some measure of success at levels he's already mashed at, bring him back. Unfortunately, losing Hairston as well makes this no minor thing. Even if Hairston was "just" the team's fourth outfielder, on this club that's already a key role. Will Venable's looking like he's a good platoon player who can't do enough damage against lefties to beat that label, and Kid Gwynn is going through another one of those long slumps that keep him from attaining a Tom Goodwin-like job security.

In the interim, they could turn to a pair of experienced hitters to keep them covered in left, although neither the aging Matt Stairs or the almost equally well-traveled Oscar Salazar cover much ground. Salazar's going to have to live up to his well-earned "professional hitter" rep after hitting .287/.343/.469 in over 4400 minor-league PAs. Interleague play over the weekend also got them an opportunity to get Matt Stairs some much-needed at-bats at DH, which he used about the way you'd expect the Wonder Hamster to: he homered, drew a couple of walks, and struck out a couple of times. In contrast to the Dodgers' oh-so-conventional and not very dangerous reserve tandem of Garret Anderson and Reed Johnson, the Stairs/Salazar duo might provide a nice blend of power and patience against bat control and line-drive sock.

For their other options, they have Denorfia, now in his age-29 season, and several years removed from the point of his career when he seemed to be a viable tweener. His power in the upper minors has consistently reached around a .200 ISO, his walk rate has generally hovered around 10 percent, making him something of a poor man's Reed Johnson in that he has less of a rep because, between injuries and employers, he's had less luck. He could certainly a place for himself if he makes noise and Salazar does not in the two weeks or so of Scott Hairston's absence. They also have Jerry Hairston Jr.; his late-career dexterity in adapting to any position might have preserved him this long, but it doesn't mask the fact that not hitting at eight different positions is useful only in the extremes of necessity, not something you take advantage of while looking for a little offense, emphasis on offense, not little.

The interesting decision was their choice to carry a 13th pitcher during their series in Seattle. Partially, that was created by the hangover effect of their 12-inning game last Tuesday, followed by their blowout loss on Friday, but they never did end up needing to use Perdomo, hence the decision to add another outfielder to their list of options. Durango might mount a challenge to Li'l Gwynn, but it's sort of picking between variations on a pop-less theme: he's hit a lone extra-base hit in 176 PAs for Portland (a triple, of course), while running with an aplomb Miguel Dilone might admire, stealing 18 bases on 28 attempts. His 19 walks reflect an understanding that he's got to work his way on board, but the problem is that he might only prove to be an adequate center fielder, and a weak-armed one at that. It's possible that he might win the job away from Gwynn, but not that likely, given that he's not much more than a placeholding aspirant himself.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed UT-R Mark DeRosa on the 15-day DL (wrist); recalled UT-S Eugenio Velez from Fresno (Triple-A). [5/17]
Activated 2B-R Freddy Sanchez from the 15-day DL; optioned UT-S Eugenio Velez to Fresno. [5/19]
Placed RHP Brandon Medders on the 15-day DL (knee), retroactive to 5/20; purchased the contract of RHP Santiago Casillo from Fresno; transferred MI-S Emmanuel Burriss from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/21]
Optioned INF-R Ryan Rohlinger to Fresno; activated SS-R Edgar Renteria from the 15-day DL. [5/22]

Like that, the lineup's made over, with Renteria and Sanchez taking over in the middle infield, and with Juan Uribe's hamstring issue happily only arising afterwards, thus sparing the club much more Matt Downs than was already necessary. I know, a number of people have speculated that maybe Sanchez was at risk for losing playing time, but between the initial investment and the people calling the shots, that just wasn't going to happen. The coincidence of these returns with the loss of DeRosa and Nate Schierholtz's back issue slightly alters their roster construction, in that they've lost considerable positional flexibility in DeRosa's absence, but they have retained a decent amount of depth. Absent DeRosa and Schierholtz, Andres Torres has gotten plenty of playing time, while John Bowker's received another shot at making a case for outfield starts. Out of all of this, Torres is the only reserve player really making something of his opportunity, expanding on what he did last year, to the point that it's possible he might be the eventual answer in right field once DeRosa comes back from the DL at some point in the near future.

It was mildly disconcerting to see Santiago Casilla pitching against the A's instead of for them over the weekend, but here again, I see this particular exchange as being changing the names if not the nature of the proposition. Medders has been a wild live arm, but between pitching poorly in a low-leverage role and getting hurt, this makes for a decent opportunity to look at Casilla—another wild, live arm who can hopefully do more than pitch poorly or get hurt. Shuffling the back end of the bullpen may not seem like a big deal, because Bruce Bochy's primarily been using Sergio Romo and power lefties Dan Runzler and Jeremy Affeldt in the set-up slots. But between Romo's occasional combustion and Affeldt's weekend hamstring twinge, things might change in terms of who gets used for what. Neither Casilla or Denny Bautista has been asked to protect a lead yet, while Guillermo Mota's been used as a sort of multi-purpose widget. We'll see how that changes if Romo continues to smolder or Affeldt's injury requires a roster move.


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

Related Content:  Eric Chavez,  A's,  The Who,  Triple-A

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