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June 1, 2010

Transaction Action

A Knack for Getting Knackered

by Christina Kahrl

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LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed 1B-S Kendry Morales on the 15-day DL (broken leg); recalled 1B/OF-R Robb Quinlan from Salt Lake (Triple-A). [5/30]
I guess I'm less inclined to carp about the safety issues and chalk this up as one of those things. It's easy to note that high fives and handshakes usually tend to be a lot less dangerous, but let's face it, even handshakes come with risks, and Terry Harper reportedly hurt himself on a high-five once upon a time. I guess I'd put this in the same league as Ryan Dempster's injury coming out of the dugout after a win last season, and file it under the "people get hurt doing stuff" header. Barring making every player his own bubble boy, every team's at risk for some sort of mishap of this nature, and in hundreds of other ways. It's regrettable, but it isn't tragedy as much as mishap. You can't really blame anyone or rail against anything; sometimes, seemingly easily avoidable accidents happen.

Now that Morales is out until September (or 2011), the Angels are short their best power source, which isn't going to make it any easier for them to get back into the race in the AL West. Happily, the division remains weak enough that the current playoff odds report suggests that nobody's likely to win more than 84 games, so even a setback as significant as losing your starting first baseman for at least half the season isn't automatically the end of the world. Not that I'm ever going to be mistaken for a big Jeff Mathis booster, but losing Morales opens an easy outlet for Mike Napoli to play every day. That's an offense/defense tradeoff behind the plate that Mike Scioscia already seemed inclined to make, so repurposing Napoli is probably the best thing they can do under the circumstance.

But what of notional first-base prospect Mark Trumbo, you ask? Consider me as yet unsold on the idea of bringing the Music Man home. He's hitting just .277/.329/.529 in the land of Brigham Young, which translates to a tepid .244/.281/.461 and a .246 TAv. Considering the Angels already rank among the worst teams in baseball in getting people on base, Trumbo looks like he'd only exacerbate the problem. Until Mathis is ready to come back, which like it should be sometime next week after a rehab assignment, this should be more a matter of seeing if Bobby Wilson can earn his keep.

If Wilson can't do that, I think it might be better to start speculating over whether or not Hank Conger's ready instead of Trumbo. Concerns about Conger's skills behind the dish seem quieted for now, as he's thrown out 30 percent of opposing baserunners for the Buzz, and he's yet to commit a passed ball. Add in a .261 TAv for Salt Lake, that he switch-hits, and that he's doing his damage against right-handers (.317/.390/.519 so far), and that looks like a bat that could help keep the Angels from leaning to the right again--certainly a danger with Mathis and Napoli in the lineup simultaneously. If Wilson struggles and Conger keeps conking, a second half with Napoli owning first base and Conger caddying for Mathis could be a better fix than overpaying for a rented veteran for the stretch drive.


BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Recalled RHP Jim Johnson from Norfolk, and placed him on the 15-day DL. [5/28]
Optioned RHP Cla Meredith to Norfolk (Triple-A); recalled RHP Chris Tillman from Norfolk. [5/29]

As overdue exchanges go, I'm delighted to see Tillman up and plugged into the rotation. There's the additional benefit that the Orioles have identified David Hernandez as the starting pitcher to swap out in his place, but bumping Hernandez to the pen isn't automatically a demotion when you're talking about a team that's looking for help there as well. Admittedly, Hernandez wasn't the worst-performing of the Orioles' rotation regulars via SNWP:

Dude 2009 2010
Guthrie .458 .521
Bergesen .563 .378
Matusz .486 .437
Tillman .440 ---
Hernandez .447 .453
Millwood .547 .456

Basically, they bumped the most consistently mediocre of their options, which sounds unkind, but let's face it, somebody's going to get squeezed, and with Tillman ready now and Jake Arrieta not too far behind, people are pitching for their jobs. We know that Brian Matusz and Tillman are both considered a big part of the future, so you can understand the Orioles' decision to leave the former in place, and finally bring up the latter. Brad Bergesen's earned some credit last season, and that scary bullpen is why he has just two quality starts out of six turns in May, as opposed to the four he'd logged six innings into those starts; anyone who can crank out quality starts through six two-thirds of the time is someone worth leaving in a rotation. And with Jeremy Guthrie and Kevin Millwood still on the staff, you can understand keeping them in their traces until the club determines the market for their services in the next two months, what with Millwood bound for free agency and Guthrie getting expensive via arbitration.*

Where does this leave Hernandez? With a potentially glorious future in the pen, at least for the time being. He does still throw hard, after all, and the Orioles need everything. If he winds up being a quality reliever in a pen looking for anyone right-handed, that could be the best thing to happen to him, especially since he's in the pen at a moment when the club's already short of anyone or anything resembling an established closer.

* By that, I mean expensive compared to his in-house rivals and in light of his declining production since 2008, when he posted a .557 SNWP.


BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded OF-L Jonathan Van Every back to the Pirates for C-R Josue Peley. [5/31]
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed 3B-L Mark Teahen on the 15-day DL (broken finger), retroactive to 5/31; recalled UT-R Brent Lillibridge from Charlotte (Triple-A). [6/1]

For a Sox lineup already shooting blanks from so many lineup slots, to lose even someone as decidedly mediocre as Teahen is a problem, because he was at least producing against right-handed pitching, hitting righties at a .287/.376/.444 clip. Now sure, they have both Omar Vizquel and Jayson Nix to play third base in Teahen's place, and the two of them are Ozzie Guillen's least-utilized position players beyond his backup catcher. So this will at least give Nix an opportunity to refresh his lefty-mashing credentials, although the Sox aren't drawing many southpaws so far. The fact that the Sox hauled up Lillibridge reflects how limited their options are in Teahen's absence. The time clearly isn't quite yet for Brent Morel, however well he's doing with Birmingham. (Quite well, at least on the singles-smacking front.) Former Pad person Luis Rodriguez might represent their best alternative at Charlotte, at least in the abstract, given that Dayan Viciedo's effectively moved across the diamond to play first base, but that's not really a solution to losing Teahen for any length of time.

In that light, perhaps what's really worth noting is that Lillibridge was knocking around on the 40-man and playing short or second for the Knights, with some spot duty in center--he's not really here to fix the new hole at third base. Having him up, however, does lead to an observation that Gordon Beckham is now more than a month removed from his last extra-base hit, while Lillibridge stole 19 bases in 22 attempts, the sort of scrapping that sings to desperate men and run-less clubs. Who else is broken like Beckham? He's certainly not alone: Alexei Ramirez is struggling as well, as is A.J. Pierzynski, as is Carlos Quentin, as is Juan Pierre. In short, it's a team liable to start doing desperate things, because it just lost one of four semi-productive regulars, and one of the three left standing is part-timer Andruw Jones. At the very least it would safe to say that the infield picture's a bit cloudy as far as sorting out who's going to do what. It certainly ought to be if the Sox want to be serious about catching the Tigers and Twins.


CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned LHP Aaron Laffey to Columbus (Triple-A); recalled RHP Jensen Lewis from Columbus. [5/30]
Claimed RHP Shane Lindsay off waivers from the Yankees, and optioned him to Columbus; transferred CF-L Grady Sizemore from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/1]

With Tony Sipp pitching better than just about anybody in the Tribe's pen and the ongoing hope that Rafael Perez will someday rebound and fulfill the expectation that he can be a quality late-game option again, the Indians were fine as far as left-handed help in the pen, at least in terms of a body count. The team had already made the strange decision to demote Lewis despite his ranking among their better options, so hauling him back was a matter of correcting a previous wrong. Chris Perez is still having problems with inherited baserunners, while Hector Ambriz is providing a reminder that K/9 doesn't always mean the same thing for everyone: when you're getting hit at a .350 clip, striking out 15 percent of your opponents just means you're eventually running into the people you can fool, because you're giving up so many hits and walks to the ones you can't. Add in Jamey Wright for mop-up chores, and you can understand why they want Lewis back, but he's still going to have to demonstrate some sort of working pitch with wiggle in it to show to lefties if he's going to graduate from ROOGY-level utility.


MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed 2B-S Alexi Casilla on the 15-day DL (bone spur – elbow); recalled INF-S Matt Tolbert from Rochester (Triple-A). [6/1]

Given that Casilla wasn't getting more than a plate appearance per game, and can't necessarily contribute much from anywhere but second base, it's hard to suggest he represents a significant loss to the club; he was here because he's out of options and they don't know what else to do with a spare piranha in the Twins' current, more toothless collection of little fish.

If anything, it was interesting to see what subsequently came of his absence with Orlando Hudson absented briefly with a wrist injury: Michael Cuddyer started at second base yesterday. Not that I want to inspire elaborate expectations, but the idea of having Cuddyer playing second, almost six years after they shelved the last attempt to keep the former shortstop prospect in the middle infield, is certainly ambitious if nothing else. It certainly gets you to wondering what else they might do, even you really want to get carried away and start drawing up elaborate Mickey Stanley '68 scenarios where Ron Gardenhire takes a page from Mayo Smith's playbook and guns for runs.

However, Hudson won't be gone for long, they're going to start Nick Punto at the keystone tonight, and you can expect additional doses of Tolbert and Brendan Harris in the meantime. Or, pretty much your usual Twinkiedom, one Cuddyer-as-keystone-cop exercise aside.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated LHP Brett Anderson from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Cedrick Bowers to Sacramento (Triple-A). [5/29]

SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed C-S Josh Bard on the 15-day DL (strained calf), retroactive to 5/27; purchased the contract of C-R Eliezer Alfonzo from Tacoma (Triple-A); designated INF-L Jack Hannahan for assignment. [5/28]
Designated RHPs Kanekoa Texeira and Jesus Colome for assignment; recalled LHP Garrett Olson and RHP Sean White from Tacoma; outrighted INF-L Jack Hannahan to Tacoma. [6/1]

Shaking up the bullpen is a nice and noisy dramatic gesture that affords you plenty of opportunity for turnover and sending a message on the frailties of professional existence. Neat. Of course, culling the oft-cut Colome and the Rule 5 kid don't exactly hit guys where they live, and the extent to which the die's cast is reflected in this sort of feeble window-dressing.

They did already add a lefty to the pen with the decision to bump Ryan Rowland-Smith, another disappointing note for a team's that has gotten used to them given their elaborate wishcasts on what the Aussie might be able to do, so adding Olson just gives them a second lefty. It would be easy to get worked up over Olson's Tacoma triumphs (50 strikeouts in 46 2/3 IP, for example), but he was still giving up 4.2 runs per nine. Moving back and forth between the pen and the rotation, he was notably more effective coming out of the pen, striking out 17 in 11 1/3 IP, walking just three, but unless there's some new pitch in the mix, he's still just Garrett Olson.

White didn't allow any runs (his own or anyone else's) during his brief banishment down the Sound, so there is that. However, he was already one of the only effective relievers the Mariners had in the first place, so bringing him back was probably overdue. If there's real fault to be found, it is perhaps with the team's fascination with Brandon League, who's performing at a level of Farnsworthlessness worthy of his namesake.


TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated OF-L Matt Joyce from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Durham (Triple-A). [5/31]

He hasn't really gotten any closer to hitting effectively, unfortunately, so he's not in a position to stake a claim for a roster spot even as Sean Rodriguez struggles to earn his keep and while Jason Bartlett's nursing a sore hamstring. Indeed, to some extent Joyce has lost out to Reid Brignac, in that it's Brignac who's hitting well enough to keep Ben Zobrist in the outfield, leaving Joyce boxed out, if you forgive the turn of phrase to reference a decidedly unmetaphorical work of genius about the sweet science.


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated LHP Matt Harrison from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Guillermo Moscoso to Oklahoma City (Triple-A). [5/29]
Returned RF-R Nelson Cruz to the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 5/29; recalled OF-R Craig Gentry from Oklahoma City. [5/30]
Placed LHP Derek Holland on the 15-day DL (rotator cuff inflammation), retroactive to 5/31; recalled RHP Pedro Strop from Oklahoma City. [6/1]

I guess we can add a fifth name to the litany of the reinjured, with Cruz returning to the DL after breaking down again with much the same issue as what already put him on the DL the last time. If, on the one hand, this gets them back an alternative to Borbon in center with Gentry, it still involves substituting for Cruz with David Murphy, who's still struggling to earn his keep as the fourth outfielder. It might seem as if it's going to be hard for the Rangers to escape the league's sparsely populated offensive middle class at this rate, what with their once-sunny first-base prospects seemingly gone up in Smoak, but the good news is that they're getting offense out of all of the non-first infield positions now that Ian Kinsler's back, even at catcher now that Max Ramirez is splitting duties with Matt Treanor. And as frustrating as Borbon has been, as little as Gentry's shown, it's hard not to be optimistic that they'll do better. It's that, or getting back on the Brandon Boggs bandwagon, and that thing has the alarming tendency of ditching as often as the Christmas Bullet.*

Meanwhile, there's the latest exercise in rotation depth to explore, as the Rangers have to deal with losing Holland for at least a couple of weeks. Strop's up in his place to give the Rangers an eight-man pen until the weekend, but come Saturday, Tommy Hunter will be up to take Holland's place starting at home against the Rays. That might elicit some surprise if you thought they might just plug Harrison back in, but in the same way that they were very serious all along about moving C.J. Wilson into the rotation, they're not going off half-cocked with Harrison until they know for sure what their needs are. That's not a bad idea, with Wilson faltering of late after three consecutive beatings, Rich Harden reliably unpredictable, Hunter coming back from injury, and questions about how much further they can hope that Scott Feldman's going to get turned around when he's 140th out of 154 starting pitchers in SNWP, when the 14 guys after him have all had to deal with injuries, demotions, and outright release or two, or the unbearable burden of being an Astro. (Poor Wandy Rodriguez.) It's that combination of stuff that helps keep the AL West fun, because while the Rangers clearly have the talent in the eyes of many evaluators to win now and into the future, it isn't showing up quite as reliably in the standings.

* Or what was called "the Strutless Biplane," only to prove to be the flightless biplane, mankind's decisively flightless answer to the Dodo in the annals of flawed designs, intentional or less so.


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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