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June 15, 2010
The Snakes Start Shedding
Placed RHP Jason Bulger on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 6/11; recalled RHP Rafael Rodriguez from Salt Lake (Triple-A). [6/12]
You can count Bulger among the many things that have gone gone wrong for the Halos this season, as last season's flame-throwing set-up asset has become this season's oft-toasted problem pitcher. Last season, Bulger was Mike Scioscia's best performer as far as stranding inherited baserunners, contributing 4.2 Inherited Runs Prevented and a 3.00 FRA; this year, he's got a 5.95 FRA in no small part because he's been a disaster with other people's baserunners, allowing the second-worst team tally for inherited runs to score with -4.1*, and missing on location against lefties, who have slugged .500 (.263 ISO) while walking more than 20 percent of the time.
Now, much of that damage was done early in the season, which helped propel Bulger into a lower-leverage role, coming into a few tie games but usually when the Angels were behind; he hasn't been asked to protect a lead smaller than six runs since April. Since Scioscia has been more reliant on Brian Fuentes, Fernando Rodney, and Kevin Jepsen to secure his team's late-game leads, this is a lot less significant a setback for the pen than it might seem at first glance. Rodriguez will get another opportunity to show off his sinker/slider mix to see if he can stick, and if he simply joins Trevor Bell in the role of "dudes who pitch when we're down/up by lots," that's not radically different from how things were with Bulger fully operational.
* The only pitcher doing worse was Brian Stokes in his lone month of action. The "bounty" received for having dealt Gary Matthews Jr. to the Mets instead of just getting it over with and cutting the awful outfielder outright, Stokes was proof that sometimes it's best just to cut to the chase and get to cutting, rather than a new source of unhappiness from Li'l Sarge, the gift that kept on giving.
Placed C-R Kurt Suzuki on the Bereavement Leave List; recalled C-S Landon Powell from Sacramento (Triple-A). [6/11]
Designated 5C-R Jake Fox for assignment. [6/13]
Activated C-R Kurt Suzuki from the Bereavement Leave List. [6/14]
Acquired LF-R Conor Jackson from the Diamondbacks for RHP Sam Demel; optioned OF-L Matt Carson to Sacramento (Triple-A). [6/15]
The A's great outfielder recycling program has done so much good in so many other venues that you have to like the chances of Jackson getting turned around... just probably for whoever he plays for next. Not that Jackson's as young and talented as Carlos Gonzalez, or as positionally flexible as Scott Hairston, or as famous as Jermaine Dye or Johnny Damon, but the team's track record has been more one of never-ending churn than lasting solutions. It's the sort of history that might give Jake Fox cause for hope... unless he winds up like Matt Murton and has to settle for yen.
At least Jackson came somewhat cheaply, but there are good reasons for that. However many public comments about how he's over his case of Valley fever, the simple fact is that there still isn't a track record for any pro athletes successfully coming all the way back back from it, not that there are many cases of those contracting it in the first place: there was Johnny Moore in the NBA back in the '80s, and now Jackson, and despite acclamations that he made a full recovery, Moore was never a productive everyday starter again. So now we have Jackson, who wasn't hitting anything like his former self in his return campaign, just .238/.326/.331 overall, and a .241 TAv. His improved hitting in June ("up" to .289/.357/.421, still well below what you want from your left fielder) coincided with an extended homestand and the benefit of hitting in Phoenix's Banky-Bank Bandbox. Even before he caught Valley fever, he wasn't a dominant producer for a corner man: his top TAv in '08 was a nice .284, and he managed a .283 TAv the season before that.
If things go really well, that's his level, since he's already in his age-28 campaign. That said, the A's need outfield help in any form, and maybe the fact that he's getting to come back to the site of his college stardom in the East Bay means something. (Jackson played for Cal.) Demel should be a useful major-league reliever, but he was just another arm in a system crowded with potentially useful pitching. This was really about taking a risk on the off chance they finally catch somebody on the way up, instead of seeing their value diminish on their watch. They'll control Jackson through 2011, so there's that if he does bounce back. But he's going to have to do a number of things that he hasn't done yet, proving that he's healthy enough to hit the way he used to, and doing that in the better league in a pitcher's park instead of his former venue. It adds up to cause for skepticism, however much you might hope he's truly made a full recovery.
If he can help, he'd be helping the club move decisively out of the back stack in league offense. The A's are tied for ninth in the league in True Average. That's a state of affairs that might continue to improve with more work from Jack Cust (playing left field as the team swings through NL venues), Jackson added to the outfield/DH mix, and with Suzuki back and Mark Ellis uninjured.
As for the Fox experience, this may well close the book on the Fox/Miles deal, at least from the A's perspective if he doesn't make it through waivers. He probably shouldn't, because there are teams who ought to be able to use a right-handed hitter with power who can stand or squat at five different positions and catch the things that hit him in the glove. Sporadic playing time didn't do him many favors in Oakland, but sticking him at the very end of the four-man bench in the AL just wasn't the best way to get him reliable playing time; being the notional backup backstop can frequently keep you nailed to the bench in case of an injury to the starter. That's the life of a backup backstop: you're guaranteed service time, not at-bats. Powell's a better fit for that role, but the problem is that whatever value Fox might have as a hitter isn't aided by the fact that he's not quite enough of one to merit taking at-bats from Cust at DH, and his bat doesn't deserve regularly exposing his pitchers to the perils of having him man an outfield corner.
Placed RHP Rich Harden on the 15-day DL (gluteal strain); recalled RHP Alexi Ogando from Oklahoma City (Triple-A). [6/12]
Harden's latest breakdown doesn't look like it will keep him out longer than the minimum, and coming in conjunction with yesterday's day off, it basically means that they won't have to identify a fifth starter until the weekend, at which point it's expected they'll go with Matt Harrison, as Derek Holland's recovery plan won't put him back in the picture until closer to the end of the month. Although Harrison's early-season spin in the rotation wasn't notably better than either Harden's work product or Scott Feldman's, as he generated just a .391 SNWP to Harden's .389 and Feldman's .409, he is healthy, dealing into the low 90s in long-relief spins since his return from the DL, and he did manage a trio of quality starts in his half-dozen turns before breaking down. Between Holland's recovery timetable and Harden's, this might be a two-start opportunity. Take it as another indication of the kind of pitching depth the Rangers can lean on to help them land on their best-possible rotation. The real challenge will be sorting out what that best-possible rotation comprises once everyone is healthy, as Harden and Feldman can't be carried all season long.
Speaking of superb depth, Ogando's arrival augurs the addition of yet another power-pitching prospect from the farm. Like one of Nancy Kress' dystopian tales of the future, sometimes it seems as if the Rangers are cranking out lab-generated genemod talent like they owned the blueprint in human beings who throw high-90s heat. Ogando's the latest iteration, putting himself on the radar early on while having pitched his way past the visa problems that kept him from camp this spring. He's been blowing away more than 35 percent of his batters faced between Frisco and Okie City, allowing just 14 hits in 30
Traded LF-R Conor Jackson to the Athletics for RHP Sam Demel; activated INF-S Tony Abreu from the 15-day DL. [6/15]
Ah Demel, the very name conjures up visions of confectionary magic, pomp and circumstance, empire. Of course you want a splash of that... but that's not what the Snakes are getting, as their own bid for regional dominance crumbles into dust. Instead, they're getting life's version of the bitter dregs, receiving a right-handed reliever of some merit for a player once touted as one of their key building blocks.
That isn't a knock on Demel, who could wind up becoming a thoroughly necessary reliever in a bullpen short about a half-dozen of those guys. But it is a comment on how a year and a half of team control of their former star was only going to yield a nice little pitcher, not a key for a significantly better future. As I noted last night, this is the sort of thing that's going to put D'backs fans in the same space as Pirates have been of late: tearing down a non-winner isn't going to yield up a mother lode of talent. Jackson's past is of course still complicated by his not really coming back since last year's campaign lost to Valley fever. However, he's been dealt before recapturing much of his past value, for just a decent reliever, while creating playing time for a filler player like Gerardo Parra. This might "shake things up," but it doesn't do much for the lineup, and Demel's value in the pen is perhaps eventual than instant.
That said, Demel's worth having, setting aside the issue of how he was procured. He cooks with gas that sits around 94 and tops out at 97 while hammering hitters with a sharp slider, an assortment that has made him murder on lefties in Sacramento this season (.167/.231/.208), and striking out 24 percent of all opposing hitters. His season line's a nifty 28 Ks in 28
Optioned RHP Rick VandenHurk to New Orleans (Triple-A). [6/14]
Activated LHP Renyel Pinto from the 15-day DL. [6/15]