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June 9, 2010

Transaction Action

Youthful Orient-ation

by Christina Kahrl

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BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Scott Atchison to Pawtucket (Triple-A); recalled OF-L Josh Reddick from Pawtucket. [6/5]
Placed RHP Jonathan Papelbon on the Family Medical Leave List; activated RHP Boof Bonser from the 15-day DL. [6/7]

Reddick's back up because J.D. Drew, Mike Cameron, and Jeremy Hermida have all been banged up and missing starts, eating up the club's outfield depth that was already limited by Jacoby Ellsbury's reinjury. When Bill Hall's started six of your last seven games in the outfield, you certainly have a problem. Of course, Boston being Boston, breathlessly speculative, for all of the overly elaborate jib-jabber on the subject of where he might play in the Sox outfield, it's mildly amusing to note that Cameron has yet to start (or play) anywhere but center, which is about the way you ought to expect the case to remain for as long as he's active and a Sock.

So, feeling needing, the Red Sox reached for their best and brightest young thing in the outfield. Top prospect status notwithstanding, the chronicle of Reddick's opening two months with the PawSox, hitting just .191/.241/.362, are about as unappealing as the original article (which, like the Red Sox, had the notional benefit of being well cast). How much longer Reddick retains his in-house lead over Ryan Kalish remains to be seen, especially with Kalish in Pawtucket and hitting; it's basically down to Reddick's on the 40-man and Kalish isn't, but if the Red Sox outfield continues to struggle to provide a useful combination, it's hard to believe they'll settle for non-production indefinitely.

As for the promotion of a man named Boof, despite lackluster overall numbers pitching for the PawSox, he had managed to spin quality starts in his last two turns before throwing a shutout inning in relief on Saturday. He's also pumping gas into the mid-90s, suggesting that his shoulder is as sound as it needs to be. Terry Francona's already announced he's going to be careful with Bonser's workload, not letting him appear in consecutive games. There's also the question of whether he won't just be a glorified ROOGY, since his career clip of letting lefties hit .316/.375/.516 certainly suggests situational limitations. Effectively, he's replacing Scott Atchison as the designated seventh reliever, since you can expect that, by the time Papelbon comes back, enough of the outfielders will be healthy to allow them to bump Reddick back down to Pawtucket.


ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Takashi Saito on the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Craig Kimbrel from Gwinnett (Triple-A). [6/4]

The Braves are in first place, and the winter decision to switch from last year's closer combo of Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez to Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito was one of their bigger bits or roster redesign. While realizing this plan didn't go without a hitch—they were guilty of that arbitration misstep with Soriano that accrued them little tangible benefit, what with Jesse Chavez being predictably ghastly with a 7.03 FRA—but so far, you'd be forgiven a faith that this has gone according to plan. Billy Wagner's among the most effective relievers in the game, with a 1.35 FRA. Saito hasn't been too far behind, with a 2.79 FRA while being used in key spots, but he's just one contributor among many. The unit has also gotten excellent work from Eric O'Flaherty (6.7 ARP, 0.697 WXRL), Jonny Venters (a team-leading 8.1 ARP and 0.717 WXRL), with Peter Moylan providing a mixed bag (0.852 WXRL, but a 5.03 FRA because his inherited runs allowed score is a glum -4.3—glum if you're the guys pitching in front of him, that is.

However, it's important to remember that Saito came into the year with a lot of concerns over whether or not he'd hold up while being employed as a key set-up man for the Braves, as opposed to last season's role as a sporadically utilized ex-famous person at the back end of Boston's bullpen. Sure enough, he's already had to pitch in more games without any intervening rest (seven) than he did all of last season (five), and he was on a pace to set his MLB career high in games (75). That was before breaking down, of course, and while causation is a nimble little minx, I don't think it's a major leap of faith to suggest the workload was too much for the fragile 40-year-old.

In his place, the Braves aren't hurting for talent, but it remains to be seen if Kimbrel's none-too-secret identity as Captain Mayhem is ready for the big city, at least without wreaking too much havoc. The hard-throwing wild thing hasn't disappointed if events are your bag: In his first two innings back, Kimbrel struck out five, put four men on base, and allowed a run. Even saw a base stolen against him, so that's been an action-packed pair of innings, and a suggestion that there's more where that came from. Which is both part of the promise and part of the problem. Absent Saito, the Braves' right-handed options aren't great: Moylan's proclivities with inherited runners are one type of problem, Sanchez's uselessness another, Cristhian Martinez just got here and is really sort of filler, and Kris Medlen's in the rotation until Jair Jurrjens comes back from the DL, and that's a couple of weeks away. So the Braves would like to have to accept less of the bad with the good with Kimbrel's brand of chaos, while waiting for Mr. Saito to return to functionality. Happily, Bobby Cox is no Mr. Fuji.

It's worth noting the track record in the other elements of this winter's roster rebuild beyond re-staffing the relief corps, at least in passing, because it wasn't like Frank Wren didn't take a few risks over the winter. Over at first base, the winter plan to employ Troy Glaus and Eric Hinske is looking a whole lot better than the passing fancy for, say, Casey Kotchman. However, at the time, I was dubious about Glaus' ability to be an average performer at first base and much more than a placeholder, but his hot May has propelled him to a .302 TAv in a world where the first-base average is .288, so clearly he isn't merely adequate. Hinske's been a wrecking crew as a pinch-hitter (6-for-20 with two walks and four extra-base hits) when he hasn't been mashing as a spot starter at first base and left field, producing a .331 TAv overall.

How about the Javier Vazquez trade, treated so broadly as a disaster? It has proven to be considerably less than that, even despite Jair Jurrjens' breakdown because Kris Medlen's stepped in effectively enough. Vazquez certainly isn't doing a whole lot to justify the investment by the Yankees, because even with four quality starts in his last five, that's just four out of 10 from a guy who's given up 11 homers in 56 IP while allowing 5.6 R/9. It's fair to say that he's looking very much looking like the sort of disappointment that some of us suggested he'd be in the Bronx. Of course, that's cold comfort for the club that dealt one of its six starting pitchers to wind up with the hope that Arodys Vizcaino makes this deal eventually look good, because Melky Cabrera and Mike Dunn aren't making the trade look helpful in the meantime. Since that was a salary dump and the acquisition of a top prospect, and Vizcaino's leading the Sally League in wins and among the leaders in strikeouts and its best BB/9 ratio, this one's also looking good.


MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Tim Wood and OF-R Brett Carroll to New Orleans (Triple-A); designated 1B-L Mike Lamb for assignment; recalled RHP Rick Vanden Hurk and UT-S Emilio Bonifacio from New Orleans. [6/7]
Purchased the contract of RF-R Michael Stanton from Jacksonville (Double-A). [6/8]

If Strasburg got the easier landing against a weak foe, Stanton had to see the defending pennant winners on their home turf, but he also did not disappoint, plinking a trio of singles against a slate of Phillies flingers that included the still-employed Kyle Kendrick. Since the nicest thing you can say about Kendrick is that he's not entirely ineffective against right-handed batters (he's held them to .247/.279/.452 this year), that's not a bad showing from a free-swinging rookie in his debut against a tough opponent. That said, he went 1-for-2 against Kendrick, was retired by Chad Durbin, then singled off both Jose Contreras and Brad Lidge. Signifying nothing, not really, except for a good day at the office.

There are two things noteworthy about Stanton's arrival. First, there's the question of readiness, but that's something that I've been speculating about since February, so I'm feeling pretty good about seeing him up now. Stanton's clearly got little left to prove at Double-A, not after hitting .311/.441/.726 in 238 PAs, generating a league-best .329 TAv. Even despite 10 intentional walks, his unintentional walk rate was at 15 percent. With 21 homers and 35 total extra-base hits, he had an outside shot at a 100-XBH season if he's "only" been called up in September. He was striking out in 23 percent of his plate appearances, but he was mashing righties and lefties. This was his second pass through the circuit, having debuted in the second half of last year's Southern League season—at 19, and hitting .231/.311/.455.

Hitting that well and that young, it's not hard to see why PECOTA's top comps for him are a teenaged Juan Gonzalez or Jose Canseco—except that we know Stanton's clean, so he's being compared to the perceived unfair advantage guys without their same benefits. For as much difficulty as the PED era generates for interpretation of player performance, consider what that means, if a kid's being compared by the unnaturally bulked-up on the basis of his production, and in terms of what he might be capable of hitting without running afoul of any testing regime. Does that enhance our performance expectations? Or give us cause for pause? It's hard not to be optimistic that, in Stanton, the Fish have their own answer to Jason Heyward, but it's hard to anticipate what this means in terms of finding a guy who is a clean source of power the likes of which the Green Party dreams of.

Second, there's the matter of whose place he's taking. Cameron Maybin hit the bench in Stanton's debut, with Cody Ross moving over to start in center field. That may last for the next two months, or until the Fish cash in on Ross's last season of arbitration-afflicted team control in 2011, after which we might expect to see Maybin move back into the everyday lineup. It's also possible that they do something like trade Dan Uggla (with a year to go before free agency as well) or Jorge Cantu (a free man at season's end), and move Chris Coghlan back into the infield while electing to keep Ross, but a lot will depend on what the various suitors are shopping for, what they have on offer, and how far back into spoilerdom they've fallen by then.


NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed 2B-S Luis Castillo on the 15-day DL (bruised heel), retroactive to 6/2; designated OF-S Gary Matthews Jr. for assignment; recalled MI-R Ruben Tejada and C-R Omir Santos from Buffalo (Triple-A). [6/4]
Placed LHP Oliver Perez on the 15-day DL (tendinitis – knee), retroactive to 6/1; activated LHP Jon Niese from the 15-day DL. [6/5]
Optioned C-R Omir Santos to Buffalo. [6/7]
Purchased the contract of OF-L Jesus Feliciano from Buffalo. [6/8]

Usually, BP deserves a reputation for going gaga for all things new and young and fresh, but consider this an argument on behalf of the benefits of the relatively aged and employable. Of course, this won't be a plaintive cry on behalf of Li'l Sarge, mind you—what's rancid is useless, even when you're just replacing it with a 31-year-old single-riffic batsman like Feliciano in the quest to find the next Timo Perez or Endy Chavez. Face it, when you've been in New York too long, your standards get out of joint, and you define what's good enough for New York as what's supposed to be good enough.

No, instead I'm kvetching about the infield. While the reliably castigated Castillo takes his lumps for this latest breakdown to add to his perceived litany of failure, the Mets lose a guy putting up a for-real .347 OBP because of a for-real 14 percent walk rate, and they're left with... Alex Cora?

No, not quite, because they're bringing Tejada back to share playing time at the keystone with the oft-punchless veteran utilityman. And while Tejada's .341 OBP in Buffalo sounds like a plug-and-play solution to the overstated disappointments attendant to employing Castillo, that's almost purely the product of a nice BABIP, because he's got all of eight unintentional walks in 190 PAs as a Bison, and that plus no power and no speed leaves you with a guy who has to hit .290 to resemble a useful player. It's no wonder that his tepid hitting adds up to a .224 TAv, so while it's great that he's 20, it's also something less than an endorsement that he's much more than a singles hitter for the time being, and for the current brass, "the time being" may as well equal "forever." Add in the mix of reviews of Castillo's defence—BIS likes him, other metrics not so much—and this seems like a net loss unless you want to pretend that Tejada's a latter-day incarnation of Bill Mazeroski around the keystone.

Also, it's worth noting that sharing second base makes for an interesting solution, if only because it's out of character for Jerry Manuel. David Wright's gotten a lone day off at third base. Since Jose Reyes came back from the DL on April 10, he's made every start save one in the 52 games. Since promoting Ike Davis into the lineup, he's started 44 of 46 games. In those same 46 games, Matthews got two starts in center, but Angel Pagan 44. Jason Bay has started 56 and Jeff Francoeur 54 of the Mets' 58 games in the outfield corners, so that's six outfield starts in the corners to spread around across two months' play; Chris Carter got three, Li'l Sarge two, and Pagan one. All of which is another way of saying that life ain't easy for Carter, or Fernando Tatis, or even Li'l Sarge, when you're getting that little playing time. You can hope that this isn't indicative of what they'll don with Carlos Beltran once he comes back from the DL, but it seems quite clear that Manuel's going to ride a set lineup with a consistency Ralph Houk would admire.

Taking the good news last, however, there is the happy news that Niese's back and in the rotation, joining a unit that now has Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey up front, Niese in the middle, and Hisanori Takahashi and R.A. Dickey striving to find which of the two of them will fall out of favor first as the league catches up to them. In that last race, Takahashi has the lead, but Dickey's track record for failure is such that I wouldn't start handicapping that particular race just yet.

As a result, Niese's not back a moment to soon. The last time around the fifth slot unavoidably came up since John Maine's disabling and Ollie's demotion, they tried to get by with a pen start on May 29 headlined by Fernando Nieve, which was a losing cause. Perez got in his contributions to cinch defeat that time out, but as a middle reliever, just as he'd later help cement a Padres blowout win on May 31. That last was a game which, considering it was already done by the time he entered (the score was 16-6), provided the team with a singular benefit: whatever fig leaf was required to claim Perez is hurting as opposed to simply hurting the cause, no small thing when he won't agree to go to Buffalo. As irksome as it might be from an organizational operations perspective, let's face it, you're asking the man to go to Buffalo; he's an adult, sentient—he didn't say no to the money, did he?—and consenting, and no means no.


WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed C-R Carlos Maldonado on the 15-day DL (fractured thumb), retroactive to 6/4; purchased the contract of C-R Jamie Burke from Syracuse (Triple-A); released C/1B-R Chris Coste. [6/5]
Optioned RHP Craig Stammen to Syracuse. [6/7]
Recalled RHP Stephen Strasburg from Syracus; activated C-R Ivan Rodriguez from the 15-day DL; designated C-R Jamie Burke for assignment. [6/8]

As stage-managed soft landings go, it doesn't get much better than drawing the Pirates your first time out. Their .245 team TAv ranks 15th in the National League and tied for 27th in the majors. And you get to face the immortal Jeff Karstens? Add in an opposing bullpen not especially gifted with preventing runs, since the Pirates rate 22nd in bullpen FRA at 5.00, and you've got one hell of an easy first-time date, the sort you thirsted after for prom, if not necessarily to take home to Mom. No wonder Pudge was back and active after a solo rehab game—everybody's reaching for a piece of Strasburg, and well that they should.

Strasburg drew one of baseball's worst teams, so one of baseball's best prospects got to show off what that can mean in terms of matchups. He gave up his second homer as a pro, to the immortal Delwyn Young, joining Scranton's Rene Rivera on that particular short list of the temporarily notorious. After allowing just 45 baserunners against 65 strikeouts in 55 1/3 IP, with a 5/1 ratio of strikeouts to walks, you can't say there was anything left to prove as far as Strasburg was concerned. What about mastering the little things? Only two steals were attempted against him in the minors; one guy made it. His GB/FB ratio combined between Double- and Triple-A was about 2-1, so out-type nellies can bray on other subjects. Strasburg was asked to mow Bucs, so what did he do? He mowed, with 14 strikeouts in seven innings, getting the side three times, as well as eight of his last nine batters, including his last seven straight.

So, now he's here, and the Nats' rotation takes a sudden, not-so-friendly turn as far as the rest of the league's concerned. Matters should improve from here beyond just numbering the world's finest newly minted right-hander in the rotation's ranks: Scott Olsen might be back within two weeks, so while J.D. Martin outlasted Stammen as the fifth starter des semaine, Martin now has the tougher challenge of outlasting John Lannan or outshining rookie Luis Atilano. It's a fight of transient importance, since you can expect that the Nats will handle Strasburg's workload carefully, and need somebody else to absorb starts once the season winds down and whatever attendance bump the kid's good for is already banked.

Does this make the Nats' rotation a good unit? Not yet, not by far. As perishable a commodity as Livan Hernandez might be, with a .633 SNWP and nine quality starts in 11, you have to expect some form of regression. Olsen's as unpredictable as ever, however healthy he might be in spurts. Counting quality starts blown after six innings pitched, Olsen's managed four in eight turns, Atilano's just four in nine, John Lannan four in 11.

As fun and competitive as the club has been in the early going, this is where you have to address the fact that the season's as much a feat of logistics as a testament to talent. Whether Olsen or Martin or Stammen manage to keep the rotation covered in terms of men capable of taking turns, or whether we see Shairon Martis or Matt Chico return to The Show, or Chien-Ming Wang ever don a Nats uni to fire a pitch in anger, there are plenty of names in play. It's the sort of stuff that bridges you to that 79-win possibility that Nats fans can celebrate as a redemptive success, if something still short of actual redemption. For an initial ledger for Rizzo and Riggleman, it's not a shabby start.


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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