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June 24, 2010

Transaction Action

Junior Circuit Jam

by Christina Kahrl

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CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned LHP David Huff to Columbus (Triple-A). [6/21]
Recalled RHP Joe Smith from Columbus. [6/22]

Huff had long since earned his ticket out of Cleveland, pitching badly before his getting his bean creased against the Yankees on May 29, and worse after:

Split GS QS IP BR RA/9 AVG OBP SLG
Before 8 2 48 78 5.8 .295 .357 .513
After 4 1 19.2 40 8.7 .325 .415 .563

You can respect their desire to give him the chance to keep his job through his own efforts, but if anything, the unhappy pelting gave him too long a lease on additional rotation time. He had a staff-low .398 SNWP, so polite, necessary comments about faith in his stuff aside, it's just as well that the Tribe turns the slot over to one of their other pitching prospects.

Except that they didn't, and they don't really have a full set of selections on that score. Hector Rondon's on the DL after getting strafed. Jeanmar Gomez isn't pitching all that much better, although he has delivered a nice pair of turns his last two times out. Down in Akron, Alex White has looked good but not totally overpowering in his six starts since coming up from Kinston, while Nick Hagadone's getting pushed around since his own promotion; calling up either would be premature. So you might think that they were down to Carlos Carrasco or nothing, but Carrasco has only recently started getting better results in terms of cutting his walk rate while also getting more ground-ball outs, and he hasn't had a consistently good run over multiple starts. You can understand a desire to call him up once he's as close to sticking for good as possible, and if you posit any possibility of the Tribe trading away somebody like Jake Westbrook at the deadline, you can understand an interest in tying Carrasco's arrival to that sort of final departure.

So instead, they're operating on the knowledge that Aaron Laffey's had two previous cracks at the rotation, and has yet to really fail. In 16 turns in 2008, he produced a .515 SNWP, and in 19 spins in 2009, he was at .494. There's some grim humor to be taken in Laffey's coming up after his four-start spin in the Clippers' rotation produced results that might make even Tommy Byrne blush, as he allowed 15 walks and 21 hits in 20 1/3 IP. And spotting him against the Reds, one of the best lineups in either league in the early going, seems like a great way to help keep Ohio baseball competitive. But his previous modest success suggests a basic employability, if something less than the upside they've invested Huff with, or that they believe Carrasco has, or gets attached to names like Hagadone or White or Rondon. But given the team's situation, basic employablity's not the worst standard, and there's no point in panicking—this year's defeat is no orphan, not with shares of injuries, lamentable long-term commitments, and outright non-performance to be credited in equal measures.


DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Rick Porcello to Toledo (Triple-A). [6/20]
Recalled RHP Jay Sborz from Toledo. [6/22]

It would be easy to parse the good parts, and credit Porcello with getting into what seemed like a good run in May, in his four starts from May 12 through 29, when he had four quality spins and a 2.73 ERA in 26 1/3 IP. He also had to throw 100 pitches in each of the last three starts, the first time he'd had to do that in the majors, probably as a pro. So it's a case of mean old Jim Leyland working a 21-year-old kid too hard, right? I wouldn't jump to that conclusion automatically, because it's important to keep in mind that Porcello wasn't all that sharp in even that patch, walking 10 while striking out just seven. His ground-ball rate plummeted in his last four starts, for which you can perhaps blame some measure of execution, but the arrival of Carlos Guillen in the middle infield in time for Porcello's last start in May and in the subsequent three pastings doesn't strike me as complete coincidence.

Now, starting Guillen's also an operational decision, so you can go back to blaming Leyland or Dave Dombrowski as you see fit, and bemoaning Porcello's victimhood. But the problem is that the Tigers don't exist solely for Porcello's benefit, and while some folks got carried away over his 14 wins as a rookie last season, those were as much the product of careful management of his workload—monitored by these same people in charge—and run support as much as it was a matter of defensive effort for a hurler as defense dependent as Porcello has been. If he's going to grow up to be more than just Bob Tewksbury Lite with better gun readings, he's going to have to learn to do better than he has, because he clearly isn't dominant all by his lonesome. There are concerns his mechanics are out of whack, which the Tigers tried to correct by skipping him. There's also the matter of a certain predictability; Porcello's dependence on his sinker isn't exactly a state secret, and if his slider, four-seam fastball, and changeup aren't keeping people off balance often enough, that's a problem that's going to have to be fixed as well.

So just as they shipped out Max Scherzer earlier this season, they've hauled out Porcello. Can they count on what they've got in the meantime? It shouldn't surprise anyone that Armando Galarraga's managed just one quality start (against the Pirates) in three since his date with perfection; take that as a testament of how good a mediocre starting pitcher can be on his best night, and stick with the basic problem that he's someone you have to be careful with against left-leaning lineups. Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman have been relatively constant quantities, while Scherzer's managed 41 strikeouts against 10 unintentional walks in 31 IP and five starts since his recall.

So, who will they replace Porcello with? Not Sborz; the farm product might still have a live arm despite past problems with both his shoulder and elbow, but he's a reliever who just made a terrible impression with his debut, so whether or not the Tigers forgive him that and keep him around for his mid-90s heat and power curve remains to be seen. And it won't be Enrique Gonzalez, despite a pro resumé with almost 200 starts on it.

Instead, as they trusted in Porcello in 2009, they'll be turning to another top prospect in their moment of need by calling up Andy Oliver. Oliver entered the conversation a few weeks ago after a hot start accelerated the No. 5 prospect's timetable. He's not exactly Porcello's opposite, in that while he's left-handed and a fly-ball/strikeout guy, he also throws consistently in the mid-90s, and the Tigers have similarly focused on Oliver's fastball location, keeping his breaking stuff to the side initially. He was overpowering the Eastern League, striking out 70 in 77 1/3 IP against 25 walks, and allowing seven homers on a 0.80 ratio of caught flies out to ground-ball outs. If his curve's come along to provide him with something beyond gas and a nice changeup, he could stick around for a bit.

The problem is how far he can go into the season. As a second-round pick out of Oklahoma State last season, this campaign represents his first pro experience. He's just 22, older than Porcello, but still somebody you can't simply strap in for six innings every fifth day until the race is done or won. As flexible as the Tigers have been—and had to be—they're going to have to mix-and-match in the rotation down to the wire, barring a trade. And even then, as last year's bitter experience with Jarrod Washburn demonstrated, sometimes not even a deal can fix your problem.


MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated 2B-L Orlando Hudson from the 15-day DL; placed LHP Jose Mijares on the Family Emergency Leave List. [6/18]
Optioned INF-R Trevor Plouffe to Rochester (Triple-A); recalled RHP Jeff Manship from Rochester. [6/19]

By coincidence, no sooner did Hudson come back from the DL than they also had their DH-less portion of the schedule to play. Rather than settle for sitting Jason Kubel and having a bench-bound brace of lefty thumpers, Ron Gardenhire did something clever, spotting Michael Cuddyer at third base, with Cuddyer going so far as to mention his willingness to play third even after they escape interleague play. Think on that: a lineup with just one slot for the assorted toothless little fish to man, and perhaps none once J.J. Hardy comes back from the DL. Sure, they'll probably still rotate Cuddyer back out to right field, especially against left-handed pitchers, but if that puts Danny Valencia at third base in spot duty, with Nick Punto still on the bench as the team's utility infielder, that's not exactly a disaster. Of course, all of this is a bit of an abstraction—we haven't gotten to games with the DH yet, Hardy isn't back yet, and predictably enough Hudson still doesn't have his stroke back. But however slowly it might seem to be taking place, the Twins are slowly sifting through their positional options in a way that might provide them with the opportunities to field a lineup that might not merely win the Central, but cause real problems with a playoff opponent. It has been a long time coming, of course, but it's a welcome bit of curiosity about their own roster dexterity.


SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated SS-R Jack Wilson from the 15-day DL; optioned INF-R Matt Tuiasosopo to Tacoma (Triple-A); outrighted RHP Ian Snell to Tacoma. [6/20]

This latest exchange from Wilson to Wilson is the sort of thing that can leave you wondering if you're talking to yourself—or Wilson—as the Mariners' fortunes drift wherever the tides may take them. The Mariners' extended anticlimax is beginning to reach towards Norse-saga epic like the tales of the Snorri Sturluson, a legendarian by some turns appropriately and unfortunately named, given that the Mariners were this winter's most interesting actor, and have followed this up with a decidedly uninspiring regular season. Maybe this makes Milton Bradley this club's incarnation of Sigrid the Haughty, someone with a bad side you simply didn't want to be on, what with her torching a few suitors, and later arranging for a multi-national naval ambush to exterminate another.

Obviously, you want to be careful about who you put on your dance card, but who knew when Jack Zduriencik rolled the dice he'd get some of the bad and none of the good? The Mariners are getting the benefit of a seemingly more civil yet utterly useless Bradley—it's like you went into the winter thinking you'd be getting the benefit of the unrestrained savagery of one MB classic to entertain the kids with, and wound up with The Ungame.

Meanwhile, the Mariners get the benefit of a good glove man who can't hit. They're a bit too familiar with the concept, but at least shipping Tuiasosopo back to Tacoma was the best thing to do for the prospect's bid to get his bat back in order. Learning by watching wasn't going to do him much good, especially with a crew for whom hitting's still mostly a theoretical proposition.


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RF-R Nelson Cruz from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-R Craig Gentry to Oklahoma City (Triple-A). [6/22]
Outrighted RHP Warner Madrigal to Oklahoma City. [6/24]

Cruz's absence gave the Rangers the opportunity to evaluate a couple of things. First, it gave them a chance to see whether playing time would get David Murphy's season back into working order, and it both did and did not: Murphy got two relatively uninterrupted weeks in the lineup, and hit .321/.356/.393. That helped encourage them to explore another question: Could Vladimir Guerrero still handle semi-regular playing time in the outfield? They gave that a shot, and disaster did not ensue; indeed, they've gone 9-1 in the games Vladi's had to do more than just smell the glove. Meanwhile, Julio Borbon's June was been a single-riffic spank inferno, ratcheting up his season numbers to outright respectability thanks to a .426/.467/.632 June. Josh Hamilton's producing as well, so the outfield that had been a source of concern suddenly better resembles the Rangers' preferred self-image.

Now that Cruz is back in action, the Rangers could be in a good position to keep their current hot streak going. Not that they'll keep their 10-game win streak going on forever, but they're clearly well positioned to take this season's duel with the Angels all the way. The easily realizable goals left to wish for on offense are Justin Smoak to show he get his wood burning, and if Ian Kinsler would break out his power stroke already. (We'll leave the too-frequently talked about catching situation for another day.) The rotation has gotten somewhat stable absent Rich Harden's brand of mayhem—with Dustin Nippert manning the slot in a pen-start arrangment in the meantime. And the bullpen boasts at least a quality quintet, perhaps more if Alexi Ogando keeps spitting flame.



For updates on any and all kinds of transaction action, follow Christina on Twitter.

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:  The Streak,  A's,  Rick Porcello,  Back,  The Who,  Triple-A,  The Call-up

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