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July 2, 2010

Transaction Action

Dealing and Decapitating

by Christina Kahrl

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ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Carlos Rosa to Reno (Triple-A); recalled RHP Barry Enright from Mobile (Double-A). [6/30]

The switch to adding Enright to the rotation and bumping Dontrelle Willis to the bullpen as the latest cause of regret in Phoenix prefigured what might become known as the Knight of Swinging Axes, as the Snakes proved that you can lop off enough heads on the hydra to wind up with a stump, a starting point, and/or a sticky mess.

As far as the minor bits of in-house whackery go, Enright is a reasonable enough alternative to the now permanently wild Willis. He's a finesse righty who has done a great job of freezing lefties with a plus changeup, and he can occasionally get his heat over 90, but as a fly-guy who doesn't induce a whole lot of worm-killers, putting him in the BOB-less Banky Bank Ballpark isn't exactly a match made in heaven. He's great at changing speeds and throwing strikes, and was dominating the Southern League in a return engagement this spring as a 24-year-old. In 14 starts, he was averaging 3.3 RA/9 while managing 10 quality starts in 14, striking out almost eight batters per nine while walking just 1.4. The fact that he'd gotten through at least seven innings in his last eight starts probably also helped to recommend him; whatever the merits of the analysis community's freakout over Edwin Jackson's pitch count in his no-hitter, a major component of that result and the Snakes' league-leading tally in blown quality starts is the worst bullpen in the major leagues. The relief corps has compiled an appalling 7.82 relief-only FRA, which would be the worst season mark by more than a run in the nearly 60 years of Retrosheet-recorded history, far surpassing the 6.80 staff-wide relief marks of the 1999 Mariners and the 2007 Devil Rays.

Now, in the same way that you can't discuss Eric Wedge's merits as a manager without getting into his maladaptations to a number of ill-conceived and poor-performing bullpens, you can't really evaluate Hinch on the basis of pitch counts or rotation management without getting into how a dubious bullpen lived down to a standard for historical ineptitude that you can't blame on the talent alone. It will be interesting to see if his replacement-Kirk Gibson, of all people-can find a way to better iron out the bullpen and its responsibilities to generate better results. Most of the regular relievers-from the solely effective Aaron Heilman to the most woeful underformers, like Chad Qualls or Juan Gutierrez-are averaging an inning or less per appearance, a symptom of ineffectiveness, certainly, but also one of a usage pattern that keeps relievers from getting reliable work that allows them to settle into a groove. Admittedly, the environment is part of the problem-managing a pen and a staff in a bandbox is a tough challenge for any skipper, but for one as inexperienced as Hinch, it may have been too much.

As for Josh Byrnes, the man walked into an odd situation, and left in one. However poorly received the decision to elevate Hinch may be seen on a historical level, you can admire the ambition that inspired it: Byrnes wanted to put a man he knew he could work with in the manager's chair, and it's easy to underestimate the importance of the relationship between a manager and a GM when it comes to forging a team that benefits from talent acquired to do specific things, and usage patterns designed to execute on the talent that's on hand. If Hinch wasn't ready, or proves never to be ready, that doesn't obliterate the basic goal of what Byrnes tried to get for his manager as the club's managing executive: to find an effective working partner.

But it's also important to remember that the man walked into a weird situation. Back in 2005, former Director of Scouting and future Nats GM Mike Rizzo held a good amount of power and responsibility for the state of the organization, having drafted a lot of the current crop of Snakes stars. Rizzo departed shortly thereafter, but the young core that Byrnes would have that helped to fuel that first run to the 2007 postseason-Stephen Drew, Chris Young, Mark Reynolds, Brandon Webb, Miguel Montero, Justin Upton-that was Rizzo's core. Byrnes' drafts involved a lot of talent now elsewhere-Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth, Brett Anderson-or so young and still distant in the cases of guys like Jarrod Parker or Bobby Borchering or A.J. Pollock that what what lasting credit he may have added to the organization's future is a bit murkey on the player development front.

But to his credit, Byrnes acquired quite a bit of good stuff over time. Adding Orlando Hudson for Troy Glaus as the headliners in a deal with the Blue Jays before 2006 worked out well. Trading Carlos Quentin from his reservoir of outfield depth didn't look great, but Chris Carter ended up being a key component of the deal that added Dan Haren. Trading to get Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy for Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth may not turn out all that badly. And while he had to grin and bear the mistake of Eric Byrnes' extension, if anything, that move served as a reminder that he wasn't entirely free to run this team his way, and cannot be held entirely responsible for the disappointments that arose. To be fair, the quality of the core talent assembled in 2007 may well have massively exceeded expectations, and the Snakes' drafts from 2006-10 may leave something to be desired in terms of the overall depth acquire. But Byrnes aggressively added talent with an eye towards winning now, and if Drew and Young and Webb and Upton have been something less than expected, that's not something you can lay entirely at his doorstep. He was handed a well-regarded core, and he added to it. Webb's breakdown, or the galling non-development of Drew and Young, can you really put those on Byrnes?

In the end, my hope is that it was a learning experience for him. There were enough good things mixed in with the mistakes to remind people why Josh Byrnes was hired in the first place, and there will be more to come whenever he gets his next opportunity. In an industry that gave the likes of Jim Bowden or Bill Bavasi their second chances relatively quickly-and someone like Frank Wren his next gig rather late-there's nothing to fear from the proposition that Byrnes will be somebody else's GM someday. Here's hoping we get a better sense of what will come when the shots are all his to call.


ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RF-L Jason Heyward on the 15-day DL (thumb), retroactive to 6/27; activated OF-R Matt Diaz from the 15-day DL. [6/29]
Activated RHP Jair Jurrjens from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Cristhian Martinez from the 15-day DL. [6/30]
Noted the loss of RHP Jeff Lyman to the Athletics on a waiver claim. [7/2]

Losing Heyward may seem like a potentially mortal blow to the first-place Braves, especially if you focus on names alone. After all, they've already lost Nate McLouth, and he was somebody, so the sky must fall, right? Happily, it seems as if Heyward won't miss more than the two weeks, so that he should be back in action after the All-Star break, perhaps sooner than McLouth at this rate. And with Gregor Blanco getting on board at a brisk clip, Chipper Jones reaching base without bopping, and with even Melky Cabrera managing to contribute a .330 OBP in June, to borrow from a point made about the Rays on Wednesday, the Braves have been getting the job done by taking their free passes better than any team in baseball, walking in 10.6 percent of their plate appearances. The problem with losing Heyward for any length of time is that he was one of the few batters contributing any kind of power to the lineup-beyond the rookie you've got Troy Glaus and Brian McCann, but beyond that you've got Eric Hinske's early-season exploits, slowly going stale, and Martin Prado's doubles, and not a whole lot else. Diaz won't help fix that problem, as much as he'll simply spice up the OBP mix by adding a right-handed hitter to spot in either corner for Cabrera or Hinske until Heyward returns.

Where things get interesting is that it's July, and the Braves need to get a read on who they can count on in their outfield mix, and because of their multitude of options, they may not feel the need to go out and add someone. That could work out just fine, of course; if Heyward's not hugely worse for wear and comes back as well as you can hope, that still leaves this current quartet fighting for playing time in the remaining two slots. Eventually, there's also McLouth's utility as something to still be sorted out.

My worry is that the Braves could wind up mistaking a body count for having enough good stuff to make this work. Indeed, they're on the edge of having either too many answers, or none. None? Well, it isn't likely, but that's if Heyward's thumb takes time to heal and he doesn't hit for the same sort of power in the second half as a result-which isn't exactly a hugely unlikely event, so the Braves will have to be careful. But looking at the rest of the crew, Hinske is not especially mobile, Blanco and Cabrera seem like better fourth men than starters, and Diaz can't slug enough to start, and it's hard to know what to expect when McLouth is ready to return to action. It's a great jigsaw puzzle, the sort which Bobby Cox has assembled with aplomb over the years. But will this really work out well if the outfield has only one reliable regular, in Heyward? If the pennant race stays close, can they afford to be patient with McLouth if he struggles after returning to action?

The extent to which salaries mean little when there's a final division title to add to Cox's CV is evident with the decision to put Jurrjens into the rotation at Ken Kawakami's expense. But in point of fact, Kris Medlen has been the rotation's second-best starter (.555 SNWP), and while picking between Kawakami (.467, seven quality starts in 15) and Derek Lowe (.478, eight quality starts in 17) wasn't easy, they did pick the more durable as well as the better-performing starter. (If also the more expensive.) The fact that they were willing to bank not just on Jurrjens' past but also Medlen's future, and make an immediate, tough decision with their rotation was as admirable as it was decisive.


CHICAGO CUBS
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Placed RHP Carlos Zambrano on the Restricted List; placed LHP John Grabow on the 15-day DL (knee); recalled RHP Jeff Stevens and LHP James Russell from Iowa (Triple-A). [6/29]

So, the Big Z has anger management issues, and will be sent away to wherever it is that such things get leached from one's personality. Color me a continuing skeptic, but I suspect this would be a lot less likely if Zambrano were also pitching effectively. It's also somewhat besides the point: the chicken/egg issue, of whether Zambrano's especially unpleasant now because he's pitching poorly, or if he's pitching poorly because there's something not quite under control, is something we can credit the club for knowing more about than folks on the beat. If this helps Zambrano pitch better, that's fine, because at a minimum the Cubs are still stuck with the big guy for almost $36 million in 2011 and 2012.

In the meantime, between Zambrano's latest bit of excision from the roster, and Grabow's re-breakdown, the Cubs were able to undo their self-spiting removal of Stevens while also bringing Russell back into the fold. It's a misfortune that Grabow's knee gave out again, in that he'd done good work in 5 2/3 IP over five games, not allowing any inherited runners to score and just one run overall, and holding two ties his last two times out. Russell takes his place as the second lefty in a pen back down to two southpaws, with Sean Marshall still in the higher profile set-up role, while Gorzo the Magnificent replaces Zambrano in the rotation.

In limited work since his demotion, Russell comes back after some ugly outings in Iowa-lefties had mauled him, reaching base in 10 of 21 PAs, including three homers, so whether that suggests keeping him out of a strictly situational role or not, we'll see how Lou Piniella uses him in the weeks to come. After that kind of result, you may well ask why John Gaub isn't getting a look instead of their hauling Russell back. It's a valid question, but one answered by Gaub's having a poorly timed bad month of his own, as well as allowing nearly every other lefty batter he faces to reach base.


CINCINNATI REDS
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Optioned LHP Daniel Ray Herrera to Louisville (Triple-A); recalled LHP Travis Wood from Louisville. [7/1]

Sticking with their announced plan to wait on bringing back Edinson Volquez for another week, the Reds instead turned to one of their top prospects to round out the rotation in the meantime. Wood didn't disappoint, following up on his tremendous half-season with the Bats by making a brilliant debut, giving up just two hits and two runs in seven innings as just the latest newbie to lower the boom on the Cubs in an initial engagement. For Louisville, Wood struck out 97 in 98 IP, against just 23 walks, while allowing 3.7 runs per nine and nine homers overall. Death on lefties and tough on the running game, he's still looking for a breaking pitch to add to an effective lefty-standard fastball and plus changeup, but that might be the only wrinkle in his bid to become a sturdy fourth starter in a big-league rotation.

If Wood earns his keep while Volquez makes his way to the majors, the Reds will have an especially interesting problem on their hands as far as picking a rotation. Their least effective rotation regular-besides the injured Homer Bailey-has been Aaron Harang, with a .452 SNWP. But Harang has also put up four quality starts in his last five turns, and has been the staff workhorse for years; bumping him outright for Volquez seems unlikely, no matter what Wood does his second time out. On the other hand, concerns that Mike Leake is being asked to do too much in his first season as a pro might create the incentive to do something radical. With Bailey due back at some point in the second half, barring Walt Jocketty dealing from his depth to help patch up his pen or find a leadoff hitter, what would that something radical be?

Let's face it, consider the brain trust. Whatever the virtues of Dusty Baker and Jocketty, they're not going to do something like tandem up Wood and Leake, or Leake and Bailey, or all three kids with Volquez to man two slots while leaving Harang, Johnny Cueto, and Bronson Arroyo to take their regular turns. They might bump somebody to the pen without designating them as a tandem'd reliever, scheduled to come in for a gearing-up Volquez or a tender-armed Bailey or a pitch-counted Leake. This is what they're doing with Aroldis Chapman, after all, which is why we may not see a lot of Herrera in the second half, considering how badly he pitched in the first.

But if everyone is pitching relatively well, and given the guys making the call, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Reds simply try something simple, like a loose six-man rotation, where they might decide to keep one of the veterans in turn starting every fifth day, and move everyone else around. The challenge there might be more a matter of complicating pitching coach Bryan Price's life, as he would have to come up with very different workout schedules in terms of each starter's throw days. But thinking about it, assuming the logistics of placing that kind of work schedule aren't a deterrent in themselves, just in terms of workload distributions, six starters is a better spread of work on a 12-man staff than seven relievers, where one guy perhaps inevitably never sees all that much time, assuming the last slot isn't already manned by the 25th man du jour. And since none of the Reds' starters is a world-beater, it isn't like they'd be costing themselves turns that might be made by a top ace.

Leaving the big nagging question: Would it work? Would it spare Leake or Bailey (or Wood, for that matter)? Would it bring back Cueto's strikeouts? Would it give Volquez the sort of soft landing he might need to work his way back into top form? I don't think we can pretend to know for sure, not in any of these cases.

More basically, maybe we should instead ask: Would Dusty do something like this? Well, the man's reputation for being old-school aside, it's worth remembering he's rolled the dice with his rotations in the past, and not simply in terms of workload. In his first season of skippering, when he won 103 games and saw his Giants left out in the cold, he kept Bill Swift on a four-day schedule down the stretch, while moving everyone else around-sure, it didn't end well, but it wasn't static and non-adaptaive. In 1997 and again in 2004, he sort of used six starters down the stretch for a couple of spins through the rotation, but fragility and injuries played roles in each instance.


COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned INF-R Chris Nelson to Colorado Springs (Triple-A); recalled CF-S Dexter Fowler from Colorado Springs. [6/29]
Optioned LHP Franklin Morales to Colorado Springs; recalled RHP Esmil Rogers from Colorado Springs. [7/1]

You can read into the a re-endorsement of Fowler, but the stranger development is the decision to stick with Jonathan Herrera and Clint Barmes as their keystone combo, because absent Nelson, they're down to Melvin Mora as their lone backup infielder who can play anywhere besides first base. Now, sure, Ian Stewart can play second in a pinch, so they're not entirely inflexible, but on a roster with five outfielders you could start, and nobody you'd really want to start in the middle infield, a decision to basically take your outfield surplus and keep that set aside for use only to swap in for other outfielders or to pinch-hit for the pitcher, what's the point of that? Putting game-critical situations in the care of Herrera or Barmes sounds like a great way of letting those opportunities pass you by.

As for Morales making a trip to the Sky Sox, that's not exactly bad news for him. The pen's crowded with the return of Huston Street and the newly enhanced status of Matt Belisle. Then you add in the veteran set-up tandem of Joe Beimel and Rafael Betancourt, plus Manny Corpas, and situational lefty Randy Flores, and you can see how it's hard to find a space and a place for Morales to shine. He blew an eighth-inning lead early in the month, then doubled a couple of mid-game deficits in middle relief work. It's a waste to employ him as a situational gambit, so rather than try to squirrel away time for him, they elected to temporarily wash their hands of him, and let him build some success in the PCL. There's nothing remarkable in observing that he'll be back.

As is, the Rockies have an even more difficult decision in the offing, as they have to figure out who to bump from the rotation once they're ready to activate Jorge De La Rosa. Their least-effective rotation regular has been Aaron Cook (.432 SNWP), but taking Cook out would be a dramatic step they may not be ready to attempt. They may well find themselves making the same tough choice with another top prospect, Jhoulys Chacin, in short order.


MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted LHP James Houser to New Orleans (Triple-A). [6/30]
Activated RHP Clay Hensley from the 15-day DL; outrighted RHP Scott Strickland to New Orleans. [7/2]

HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Jeff Fulchino on the 15-day DL (tendinitis - elbow). [6/29]
Repurchased the contract of RHP Casey Daigle from Round Rock (Triple-A); outrighted RHP Josh Banks to Round Rock. [6/30]

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted RHP Charlie Haeger to Albuquerque (Triple-A). [6/30]
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Placed 2B-L Chase Utley on the 15-day DL (sprained thumb); placed 3B-R Placido Polanco on the 15-day DL (elbow), retroactive to 6/26; purchased the contract of PH-L Greg Dobbs from Lehigh Valley (Triple-A); recalled MI-R Brian Bocock from Lehigh Valley. [6/29]

The Phillies had Polanco, Utley, and Jimmy Rollins together in the same lineup for all of three games. They won all three, of course, but that's just part of an increasingly bitter leitmotiv for the Phillies season, in the background of the more dominant narrative-who's missing now? After a couple of one-run losses, it's that question which will become gratingly ubiquitous as the Phillies try to survive July and remain in the race.

The pity is that it came after Ruben Amaro Jr. made such a big deal this winter of acting early and locking up his bench players of choice: Brian Schneider, Ross Gload, Juan Castro. Schneider proved an admirable add, of course, and all the better because Carlos Ruiz managed to break down this season. Even before the infield injuries started to become the season's stacchato, Castro was predictably useless, but elevating a roster witness from well-deserved pine time for everyday play he couldn't handle in his best seasons has been an unmitigated disaster. Gload has turned out to be a slight upgrade on Greg Dobbs for lefty pinch-hitting chores, while nevertheless being thoroughly fungible, and without his also being able to play third base, however badly. To some extent, Dobbs and Gload were a redundancy on a roster that didn't have a worthwhile backup third baseman.

But now Utley is out for a month or so, and Polanco might miss "just" two weeks, and the Phillies are reduced to playing Wilson Valdez at second base and Dobbs at third. That's so that they can succeed in trying to avoid playing Castro and the even more useless Brian Bocock, the latter having yet to prove he can hit High-A pitching, but playing several levels over his head after being sucked into the Giants' empty shortstop slot at the start of the 2008 season. This is a collection that tortures the admittedly constructed concept of "replacement level," not because they are big-league replacements, but because they might not be a replacement-level collection of talent for a Triple-A team. It's a collection of infield talent that makes you wonder what Cody Ransom did to give offense, because he's merely a poor choice you'd force on a needy team, as opposed to a completely awful option nobody should be forced to employ.

Using an exercise not unlike the one from earlier this week with the Red Sox, using MLVr alone, you'll end up with a similar proposition: the Phillies are down a half-run per game, assuming you charitably credit Dobbs for being able to deliver something more like his poor 2009 performance than his lifeless 2010. That might make it seem as if the Phillies will only lose about a win, net, in terms of total runs, also assuming that Utley is back by August 1. But this is going to hurt worse than that, because Utley is a brilliant defender, and Valdez is not; Polanco is an effective third baseman, where Dobbs is awful. You can ascribe a certain run value to these loses in the field to get towards a better guesstimate, but if the Phillies were already a team struggling to play .500 without Rollins, how much worse might things be absent Utley?

While they can look forward to helping their rotation with J.A. Happ's return, and their bullpen with those of Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin, you end with a club that's losing so many runs, bleeding from so many margins, that I won't be surprised if the Phillies fall to .500 by the trading deadline at the end of the month. Where the Braves and Mets have their own issues that hobble any effort to run out too far ahead in the division, the Phillies are already towards the back of the NL's 10- or 11-team pack fighting for the four playoff slots.

Is that the end of the world? Hardly, because in many ways it's a scenario not unlike that which led Pat Gillick to fold up his cards in July 2006 and deal Bobby Abreu... only to learn a few weeks later that in the amorphous mass of the Senior Circuit's playoff picture, a couple of weeks really can make the difference between October-bound and also-ran. To put it another way, if the Phillies are a .500 team on August 1, they're a .500 team that will have a player of Utley's caliber rejoining the lineup, and who should have everyone else playing, barring yet another unhappy accident. Of course if Utley does not come back until September 1, also a distinct possibility, then the Phillies' task gets a lot tougher.

Part of any comeback first requires some setback or setbacks; the Phillies have accumulated those. You can hope they cull some of their self-inflicted dross in the meantime, the odd Dobbs or Danys Baez. Maybe they even trade for a veteran third-base type, or scrounge one off waivers. Maybe this year's biggest hero will be the training staff that has already won a Dick Martin Award for its efforts.

That comeback team of the immediate future, the one that has Utley back in the fold for the stretch run, is still a contender, even with my gloomy expectations of how the next month will go. They're not just any contender, either. In some ways they're like the 2008 Dodgers, in that they'd be a contender nobody would relish facing in a post-season series, between their power and their talent, with a few games in their park, and with Roy Halladay presumably opening any series and capable of beating anybody anywhere.

But nobody should kid themselves on the ease of achieving that vision, so here's hoping everyone, from Amaro on down, is expending some effort towards coming up with ways to make this ballclub better now. And that means a whole lot less Dobbs or Castro or Bocock, and a lot more care to loading up on players they can turn to when they lose their front line. Here again, you can hope that Amaro remembers his recent Phillies history, and recalls the wisdom of acquiring Tadahit Iguchi to spot for a then-absent Utley to help win the division title in 2007.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted LHP Dana Eveland to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [7/1]
SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Activated RHP Matt Stauffer and PH-L Matt Stairs from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Sean Gallagher for assignment; optioned OF-R Aaron Cunningham to Portland (Triple-A). [7/1]

The story here is that Stauffer is back seven weeks after his emergency appendectomy, and with the benefit of a full spread of rehab work. The Pads ramped him up slowly, from eight batters faced in his first start for the Beavers to 26 in his fifth and last, then a relief gig for reacquaintence's sake, and now he'll have his shot at picking up where he left off, as one of the Padres' best relievers, no mean feat given that the highest FRA among the other six belongs to Edward Mujica, and is just 3.47.

As for Stairs, he comes back to the team with the outfield in a little better shape than when he left, so his shot at doing anything more than fulfill his previous pinch-hitting role seem slight. Will Venable's recent hot streak elevated his June numbers overall (.259/.317/.500), Li'l Gwynn hit .278/.358/.403 to solidify his hold on the job in center field. Add in the fact that Cunningham made a good impression during his time with the team, and you can almost overlook the major setback that came in the form of Kyle Blanks' reshelving with elbow woes during his rehab stint that might require surgery. Even if you believe that Scott Hairston will resume slugging sometime soon, there's enough slack in that outfield to make a case for shopping for outfield help, and since the Pads have no particular star in any of their three slots, they can afford to be nondiscriminating and go after the best blend of best available and most affordable options.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Traded C-R Bengie Molina and cash to the Rangers for RHPs Chris Ray and Michael Main. [7/1]

Make no bones about it, this is as bold an endorsement of Buster Posey as you can get, because now the futzing around with having him play first base with any regularity can be dispensed with. Aubrey Huff may not thunder around the outfield much any more, and the way the Giants' lineup flexibility works out, Nate Schierholtz winds up being the guy likely to inherit most of Molina's at-bats. Jibber-jabber about "RBI guys like Bengie" aside, that's a trade worth making, since it also provides the Giants with a trifecta of defensive improvements, in right field, at first base, and behind the plate.

The shocker is that it took a trade to make it so. Perhaps we can credit Brian Sabean for doing an honorable thing, in that trading Molina to someplace else where he would start, and someplace where he'd still have a great shot at winding up in the postseason, was a more generous thing to do with the veteran than pulling him from the everyday lineup and planting him on the pine. That would have been the more rational choice, since keeping a playoff bid going with Eli Whiteside playing regular doesn't sound like a risk most aspirants would be willing to take. But maybe Molina wouldn't have enjoyed that, and maybe the Giants wouldn't have enjoyed having him around so much in such a situation. So you deal him, sure.

To the Rangers, though? For a year and a half of Chris Ray? And sending the Rangers a couple of million in cash to make that happen? Hardly, because Sabean acquired a prospect absolutely worth the risk that he's taking on by dispensing with his right-now contending team's depth behind the dish. Main's upside potential as a starting pitcher is high enough that he can be a worthy challenger for the Giants rotation in 2012 or 2013, or within plenty of time to crowd the current quintet-counting Madison Bumgarner-if Sabean manages to keep the lot that long. (OK, so he doesn't have any choice as far as Barry Zito.)

One of this year's happier stories in a Rangers' farm system awash in kids cokking with gas, Main has beaten the bugs that hampered his progress to blossom in the Cal League this season. The former 2007 first-rounder is just 21 years old, he's back to throwing mid-90s heat. He's already managed a single-season career high of 15 starts, striking out 72 in 91 1/3 IP against just 21 walks. The Cal League's a hitter's circuit, so his 4.6 RA/9 isn't really good or bad news; less happy are the home-run tallies (14 allowed), and he's having trouble with left-handed batters (.285/.343/.506), reflecting a need to tighten up his breaking stuff. But he's striking out almost a quarter of opposing right-handed pitchers, he's healthy, and he's back to full strength, no small thing after last year's mono-marred campaign. Before the season, he might have seemed a surprising selection for the top 11 in the Rangers' prospect-laden system, but Kevin Goldstein reiterated his faith in Main's upside in March, pegging him as a 15-1 shot at winding up as the Rangers' top prospect for 2011.

You can interpret this deal as a case of the Giants concurring with that possibility, and being happy to take their chances with a top prospect behind the plate now in a play to win now, and helping themselves down the line by adding a top-shelf pitching prospect. If that also comes with a year and a half of Ray too, why quibble about getting an employable party favor for your pen as well?


ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Placed 3B-R David Freese on the 15-day DL (ankle), retroactive to 6/29; recalled RHP Fernando Salas from Memphis (Triple-A). [6/29]

This was something of a belated acknowledgment of the necessary, because Freese had been struggling through a bad month handicapped by his injuring it at its beginning. Plugging in Felipe Lopez and taking advantage of the fact that Freese won't have to return to action from more than two weeks, courtesy of the break, only hurts the club insofar as it leaves them with just one bad-news alternative in the infield. Relying on Aaron Miles as their primary reserve is an unnecessary hit to take at this point, especially with Brendan Ryan's bat failing to come around, and while they're also carrying Skip Schumaker at second base.

Such a development is all the more galling because they have better options. If they really wanted to give everyday at-bats to F-Lop at third base, that's fine-but why not bring back Tyler Greene to have a useful defender at the middle infield slots as an alternative to Schumaker and Ryan? That's better than carting around Miles, certainly. On the other hand, if they had wanted to continue to use F-Lop in a loose three-way job share in the middle infield, they could have used this as their big opportunity to take a two-week look at what Ruben Gotay might be capable of adding to their offense at third base, because now that he's up to .291/.426/.441 at Memphis-and .298/.451/.477 against right-handers, a little bit of curiosity should certainly be in order.

Instead, the Cardinals used this as an opportunity to retreat back to an eight-man bullpen, even as they have to essentially play without Ryan Ludwick, since he's been only able to manage a long DH start in their last nine games because of a calf injury.


WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Tyler Walker on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive 6/20; recalled RHP Craig Stammen from Syracuse. [6/29]
Activated C-R Carlos Maldonado from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Syracuse. [7/2]

When the time came to pick a fifth starter, the Nats went back to Stammen rather than bring back John Lannan, but it was somewhat inevitable, given that Lannan would have had to work on short rest after making a good first start three days before for Double-A Harrisburg. Happily, Stammen did not disappoint, spinning a quality start for a win against the Braves that should reassert his status ahead of at least J.D. Martin in the pecking order for who doesn't immediately lose his job once one of Jason Marquis, Scott Olsen, Chien-Ming Wang, or maybe even Jordan Zimmermann returns to action. It makes for an interesting situation later in July, if only because Livan Hernandez might end up having some form of trade value, and between his reputation for durability and his performance this season (.579 SNWP, 12 quality starts in 16 turns), you could turn to worse options. Not to overstate matters, of course-his 5.18 SIERA suggests what everyone inside the industry and out knows, that he's a high-wire act liable to tumble. But with contenders turning to the likes of Jeff Suppan because they found his carcass floating down the Mississippi, it's obvious that worse options for in-season fixes exist.


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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