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July 29, 2010

Transaction Action

Podzilla Washes Up in Malibu?

by Christina Kahrl

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KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired C-R Lucas May and RHP Elisaul Pimentel from the Dodgers for OF-L Scott Podsednik; optioned RHP Victor Marte to Omaha (Triple-A); recalled RHP Bryan Bullington from Omaha; outrighted RHP Anthony Lerew to Omaha. [7/28]
Purchased the contract of RHP Greg Holland from Omaha. [7/29]

The good news is that the Royals got something for their decision to employ Podzilla, beyond the squashed skyline and the antics that invariably attend setting him loose. But they also didn't get an awful lot for their trouble. Beyond the two warm bodies, I suppose there's always the benefit of their gaining a few brownie points with the Dodgers, in whose good graces any prospecting trading partner would wish to be.

Neither farmhand was anywhere close to the top of the Dodgers' pile of prospects. Pimentel is a 21-year-old Dominican stringbean with modest upside in his fourth year as a pro and his first season at a full-season affiliate. Having long since set career highs for innings pitched and batters faced, he has been getting lit up in his last month or so at Great Lakes in the Midwest League, which might be fatigue, or it might be the league catching up to a guy with a slow fastball and a good changeup. Consider his pre-break and post-break performance this year:

G
IP
R
H
BB
K
HR
RA/9
BR/9
13 70.2 17 44 27 75 1 2.2 9.6
4 19.2 20 27 8 22 5 9.1 16.0

OK, so not pretty. He's an arm, and he's fooling some of the people a good amount of the time, even now, while he's getting his head handed to him. That's not a bad guy to have around in an organization, but if you never hear from him again beyond the odd anguished cry from Rany on the Royals and the obligatory mention in next year's annual, you shouldn't be overly surprised.

May is a catcher and athletic for someone at the position, which might automatically make him an asset to some people's ways of thinking, except that for much of the four years the former shortstop has been donning the tools of ignorance, he's had to be as rangy behind the plate as he'd been as an infielder, running down his droppings while generating passed ball totals that are still not yet rated: 31 in 2007, 24 in 2008, 20 in 2009, and "just" 10 so far this year. He's been credited with a good arm in the past, but he's only nabbing 19 percent of willing thieves this year, so he's not exactly intimidating the stolen base out of the other guys' playbook. This is what's charitably being referred to as "rough," but for the sake of comparison, four years into his conversion to catching Jorge Posada was basically ready for the majors. Four years into his conversion to catching, Terry Steinbach was an AL All-Star. Not that everyone's being graded on a curve, of course, but as a point of relative progress, May is coming to catching later, and doing less to inspire confidence about the ultimate outcome.

You can hope he's a hitting prospect, though, right? Here again, not so much-he's mashing in Albuquerque, where everybody's pretty spudly if they've got a stick to wave. While his overall numbers look nice-.296/.352/.496-that's an awful lot of Albuquerque (.347/.392/.603) and not so much the rest of the slightly less hitter-friendly (but still chummy) PCL, just .252/.318/.403. So, taking the bandbox into account, it should come as little surprise that his Triple-A performance translates to just a .229 TAv. He's not much of a catcher, and he's not a big-time hitter, but I suppose a poor man's Mike Kinkade could have a utility career with the Royals as easily as anywhere else.

The real benefit of moving Podsednik isn't what came over from the Dodgers, however, but the space it opens up, so wide, so obvious, that even the Royals in their truculent way are finally acknowledging its inevitability: Alex Gordon is going to be an everyday player again, taking over at an outfield corner. Of course, the Royals being the Royals, they also announced this would create opportunities for Mitch Maier, which was held up as equally significant, but it's best not to judge press-conference bravado for guaranteed playing time. As long as Gordon is back in the everyday mix, they will have achieved another small step forward.

The question, then, is whether, with Podsednik out and David DeJesus done for the season, they might take the other step that we're all waiting for, and bring up Kila Ka'aihue to take over some portion of the DH duties. Dayton Moore's still talking in terms of having to get Jose Guillen in someone else's uniform first-can't leave Mitch Maier waiting around, after all-but it seems like the gap between now and the Volcano's eruption on the Great Plains is finally down to short time.


SEATTLE MARINERS
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Placed LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith on the 15-day DL (strained back); recalled LHP Lucas French from Tacoma (Triple-A). [7/28]

To be sure, some things have worked out in the Mariners' rotation much, much better than expected. As easily as people have gotten understandably worked up over Jose Bautista's breakout or Andres Torres' year, props for Jason Vargas seem overdue, because who really anticipated an ace-quality partial season (.614 SNWP) from him?

Unfortunately, so many other things involving the Mariners' starting pitching have not worked out well, with Rowland-Smith perhaps ranking as the biggest miscalculation of the lot. At least signing Erik Bedard was an understandable bet on the upside of a risky proposition. At least Ian Snell was a designated discard before things would be allowed to get to bad. At least Doug Fister can point to injury for the something that broke his particular spell of success, especially after his rough month since coming back from the DL. But Rowland-Smith was quite simply bet upon to be a quality rotation regular, and he has instead rated as the game's absolute worst starting pitcher, bar none.

Repeated observations that he has been making a lot of mistakes in the strike zone on any given evening seem born out by steep drops in his strikeout and pop-up rates; add in an unhealthy spike in his clip of homers per fly ball, and you've got your less-cool meat puppet, a guy just getting lit up. Some might figure that'll just go away over time, but he was walking just as many guys as ever, and there's not a lot of consolation in SIERA's suggestion he ought to be a run better when that just gets him down to 5.80 instead of 6.96. That homer-per-fly rate isn't some singular oddity-in addition to leading the majors in home-run rate allowed, he ranks fifth in the rate of doubles allowed this season. At some point, you have to see that the guy's just getting beat, at which point a trip to the DL is a form of mercy.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned UT-S Mike McCoy to Las Vegas (Triple-A); recalled LHP Brad Mills from Las Vegas. [7/28]

Nothing to see here, move along... well, no, because that's terribly unfair to Mills, one of the Jays' currently noteworthy prospects, even if only as a matter of his propinquity to the major leagues. Althouth it was expected that this time around he'd be up for just a spot start before getting another roll of the dice back in Nevada, land of the water bandits, seven shutout innings against the worst team in the league might earn him an extended invitation. Armed with a fairly standard-issue southpaw suite as far as stuff, he has his uses, of course, having delivered nearly identical statistical seasons for the 51s in 2009 versus 2010, but he's basically about the ninth-best alternative on a team that seems to find ways, year after year, to reach down that deep on the depth chart.

No, the really remarkable thing about Mills' victory over the Orioles is that it's just the latest evidence in the class-based AL East, baseball's answer to Hindu caste systems. Of course, down at the bottom, you have the Orioles, the American League's answer to the untouchable Dalits; the Jays beat the O's as regularly as the sun comes up, raising their record to 12-0 thanks to Mills' effort last night. Think on that, for a Jays team many have been quick to congratulate for being around .500 all year, but it's simply because they're 12-0 against the worst team in baseball, and 41-49 against everyone else, including 8-16 against the three contenders ahead of them in their own division.

After as many electrons were expended jabbering about realignment last year, it's interesting to see that the Jays aren't really a good team and a victim of geographical circumstance. Instead, they're a club that has been lording it over the worst of the worst while knowing, going in, they were dead as far as the postseason was concerned. Avenging themselves on the Orioles isn't a creditable comeback campaign to send Cito into his retirement unbroken and unbowed, it's just unrepentant back-of-the-pack bullying, beating on the very weakest without fear because Chico's Bail Bonds are not yet on Bud Selig's list of pre-approved franchise operators.


COLORADO ROCKIES
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Activated RHP Taylor Buchholz from the 60-day DL; optioned RHP Jhoulys Chacin to Colorado Springs (Triple-A); transferred 2B/OF-S Eric Young Jr. from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/24]
Activated SS-R Troy Tulowitzki from the 15-day DL; designated 1B-R Brad Eldred for assignment. [7/27]

When Tulo broke down, the estimate I worked with was that he might miss 35 games, but it turned out he only had to miss 33. With a big winning streak in the middle of that absence to balance out their current losing streak, they managed a 17-16 record during that time, essentially treading water while the Padres added another four games to their lead. Jonathan Herrera, Tulo's replacement in the lineup, certainly exceeded expectations, managing to hit a tightly spanky .321/.377/.382-or, a lot of singles, and as many sac bunts (five) as extra-base hits in 151 PAs. Clint Barmes also chipped in while playing an effective shortstop, hitting .284/.358/.385, popping a trio of homers in 123 PAs.

To some extent, however, the problem isn't what they did do, as fortunate as that was, but what they really could not do, which is hit for anything like the same kind of power. Both players obviously provided a drag on the club, which saw its ISO before losing Tulo (.157) basically remain flat during his absence (.161). Here again, that they even managed to keep bopping at the same tempo is something of a credit to the players who stepped up-the kids, mostly, Carlos Gonzalez and Seth Smith, Ian Stewart and Chris Iannetta. However, it highlights what was nevertheless lost in terms of offense, because a healthy Tulo would probably have been boosting that tally of extra-base goodness, not pulling it back to the status quo ante.

Now that's all spilt milk, and given that Tulo was lost to a wrist injury, there's a pretty significant possibility the Rockies won't get even Tulo-level pop from Tulo, so you can keep crying-that moo juice isn't getting back in the bottle any time soon. Still, even if his socking's less sluggy, set against the probability that the Rockies weren't going to keep getting a .377 OBP from Herrera all summer long, the Rox' odds aren't taking a hit with their shortstop back in action, whether he's 100 percent or not.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Jon Link to Albuquerque (Triple-A); recalled RHP James McDonald from Albuquerque. [7/19]
Returned LF-R Manny Ramirez to the 15-day DL (strained calf), retroactive to 7/17; activated C-R Brad Ausmus from the 60-day DL. [7/20]
Optioned C-R A.J. Ellis to Albuquerque; purchased the contract of LHP Jack Taschner from Albuquerque. [7/21]
Purchased the contract of RHP Kenley Jansen from Chattanooga (Double-A); designated RHP Justin Miller for assignment. [7/23]
Signed INF-R Juan Castro to a minor-league contract. [7/27]
Acquired OF-L Scott Podsednik from the Royals for C-R Lucas May and RHP Elisaul Pimentel; designated LHP Jack Taschner for assignment. [7/28]

So, the Dodgers are 12-12 in their time of troubles since his Mannyness broke down at the end of June, and even that's not something you can give the offense much credit for, since they've had to win four games by shutout in their last seven while scoring seven runs in those victories, while scoring 12 in their last seven overall. In the 24-game stretch since Ramirez landed back on the DL his second time, they've handed out 11 left-field starts to Xavier Paul, five apiece to Garret Anderson and utilityman Jamey Carroll, two to Manny during his seemingly premature return*, and one to Reed Johnson before he had to make his own trip to the DL. Not a one of them is hitting a lick, and Ramirez isn't due back for several weeks.

A desperate situation, to be sure, in desperate times. It seems as if the Dodgers remain as adrift now as they were during the offseason, when action and expense were outside of anyone's power while the McCourts busily ignore Galatians 5:15 in July as they did in December: But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not consumed one of another. Perhaps once they're done, all we'll find is the teeth.

But in a break from the strife, the front office was empowered to address the obvious and find a solution, yea verily. Leading to... "Dodgers acquire Podsednik, beef up outfield."

Now, you see something like that, and I don't know whether to reach for a reference to Clara Peller or Temple Grandin, to sort out where's the beef, or whether or not this is just a humane form of a team tossing itself into an abattoir of its own making. I guess we can't be overly surprised by this-any general manager who thinks Juan Pierre is worth $44 million is almost automatically somebody you'd find on the short list for "trades for Scott Podsednik at the deadline."

With a walk rate below seven percent and an ISO below .100, you're betting on base hits, same as it ever was, and to Podzilla's credit, sometimes they fall in. As with many speed guys, his BABIP is going to be higher than "normal," so the fact that he's repeating a mark above .340 this year shouldn't be taken as some sort of warning sign-the only full season he's played where he did significantly worse was back in 2004, when he was hitting a lot more fly balls (and home runs) than he has since. His lowest BABIP in a full season since is .312. Coming to Chavez Ravine won't help him a lot, but if anybody's going to generate a lot of singles on a lot of balls in play, it's a guy who bunts well.

In his scrabbling after runs, Joe Torre has been batting his left-field collection in the second slot in the order some of the time, which might foretell where Podzilla will immediately land in the lineup. However, Joe Torre's streak of daring conventionality might favor his practicing left/right orthodoxy, and Furcal/Pods/Ethier in the front three slots seems like a bit of a dare to the more obsessive La Russians in the opposing dugout. If he bats Kemp third, Ethier cleanup, and kicks James Loney down to the sixth slot, while normally that might sound like a good idea, think again-it means giving Loney fewer at-bats than Podsednik, and the Dodgers are about as run-hungry as you can get. It's the sort of compensation gesture you get from teams desperate for runs, though: desperation leads to the pursuit of one-run strategies and one-run lineups, because it shows you're addressing the problem, while really only making it worse.

That's a problem Podsednik may exacerbate, because while he's stolen 30 bases and that was third in the league, his net contributions to the running game cost the Royals runs. Not a ton of them, but he had an EqBRR mark of -1.2, mostly because of his league-leading tally for times caught stealing, and getting wiped out on the bases 15 times total (counting CS) on the year without adding a lot of value moving around on outs or hits-roughly seven-tenths of a run in the black on the year in an area that's supposed to be one of his chief virtues. We shouldn't overstate the damage, just note that for all of the excitement for such things, it hasn't added up to a lot over weeks and months of playing time. That said, there's a team component involved as far as what managers ask their players to do, and Torre's Dodgers have a regular lineup where just about everybody (but Blake DeWitt) contributes something of value on the bases, producing one of the five best baserunning games in baseball. So I wouldn't slam Podsednik as an automatic negative in this area; the Dodgers don't run stupid, and if Podsednik sticks with the program, I wouldn't bet against good things.

So is adding Podsednik a good thing? To my surprise, I find myself thinking so, if you think only in terms of Pods versus indecision and even one more start for Garret Anderson. That's a low standard, but one it took an appropriately low price to acquire. As easy as it can be to mock Colletti his predilections, it's no secret that he's working from a bad budgetary position. If you want to talk about the opportunity cost, of what or who he didn't get because he didn't go out and get someone more significant than Podsednik, keep in mind that would have cost real talent in terms of prospects, and created an uncomfortable scenario once Manny comes back from the DL. As a guy who's bounced around outfield slots and full-time to near-full-time roles on contenders, Podzilla's a decent patch acquired at the right price. Add in that he's already inked to a modest $2 million option for 2011 with a pittance for a buyout ($100,000), in terms of pricing he's already a market-appropriate pickup for a fourth outfielder, and better than most in that category to boot.

So no, Colletti did not pull a rabbit out of his hat, and it may not be 100 percent USDA beefy goodness, but he did pull out something with value, and he didn't have to give up anything of lasting value to do it. In a season already defined in many respects by the team's forced passivity, this is one small elective decision that should do a small amount of good.

*: Where Napoleon got 100 days in his comeback, in today's sped-up society Manny had to settle for two.
: Strange but true, Clara Peller and I shared a hair dresser in 1986-87, and no, my hair was not blue.


NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted RHP Fernando Nieve to Buffalo (Triple-A). [7/28]

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Placed CF-S Shane Victorino on the 15-day DL (strained abdomen); purchased the contract of OF-L Domonic Brown from Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [7/28]

Victorino might miss three weeks, and not just the minimum, but Ruben Amaro Jr. simply used this to make way for the other half of the proposition for why they might trade Jayson Werth sometime in the next 60 hours-not just because Werth's a free agent-to-be, but because Brown has little left to learn. Between Double- and Triple-A, Brown clobbered other people's minor-league minions at a combined .327/.391/.589 clip, walking in nine percent of his at-bats, and stealing 17 bases in 24 attempts. His translated Triple-A True Average of .294 is just one datoid in a horn of plenty that says he's ready to arrive and star.

Brown's readiness wasn't the issue, but a simple matter of limited depth in center field may be as far as clearing right field for Brown from now 'til season's end. With Victorino absent while the defending pennant-winners very much remain in the running, it would be hard to deal Werth if that leaves them trying to get by with Ben Francisco for a couple of weeks in center. Sadly, Tyson Gillies is still healing up from a slow-healing strained hamstring, so that's not an option. It's hard to imagine Richard III limping off Bosworth Field offering his kingdom for DeWayne Wise, but Amaro really doesn't have an alternative he can turn to within the organization, which makes any attempt at shopping Werth while also contending and waiting for Victorino's return complicated, if not just flat-out unlikely.

Which creates an interesting subsequent possibility. Fast forward to mid-August, and Victorino's ready for action. Who hits the bench? Not Brown, hopefully, and not Werth in his career year. Victorino and Raul Ibanez are posting identical .268 True Averages... but can Amaro and Charlie Manuel take that step, and start sitting the big-ticket veteran left fielder? It's easy to suggest that they use all four outfielders-no Ben Franciscos need apply-in a rotation that gets everybody four or five starts per week, but is that a pitch Manuel wants to make? How well Brown does in his first week or two on the job may have an outsized impact on the decision, because if he makes it obvious he should be in the lineup, who's going to insist the kid gets out of the picture?


SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Signed OF-R Wily Mo Pena to a minor-league contract, and assigned him to Portland (Triple-A). [7/19]
Placed 2B-R David Eckstein on the 15-day DL (strained calf); activated OF-L Will Venable from the 15-day DL. [7/21]
Signed INF-R Nick Green to a minor-league contract, and assigned him to Portland. [7/23]
Activated RHP Mat Latos from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-S Luis Durango to Portland. [7/24]

So, Latos got his little "unplanned" rest period, and seems none the worse for wear, and we can credit the Padres for handling their best rotation regular (.650 SNWP) with proper care and consideration. They dispensed with the rigmarole of a rehab stint, instead bringing him back to nuke the Pirates cold. He handed in his 13th quality start and 11th win, and he's back in the traces.

Losing Eckstein is similarly almost a matter of preventive care and maintenance. It opened up yet another multi-week assignment for Jerry Hairston Jr. in the lineup while also opening up a roster slot for Venable to take up his half of what seems to be a slow-developing platoon in right field with Aaron Cunningham. Once Eckstein is back (towards the end of next week, although the Pads will reportedly be very cautious), they can ponder their next application for Hairston-perhaps shortstop again, because Everth Cabrera isn't getting turned around? A Wil-ron Venanningham platoon in right provides a playable solution at another slot, leaving them with their pick of Scott Hairston, Chris Denorfia, and Li'l Gwynn in some combination-one that still suggests they really oughta trade for some outfield help in the next 60 hours or so, or so you'd think.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Joe Martinez to Fresno (Triple-A); recalled UT-S Eugenio Velez from Fresno. [7/19]
Placed LHP Jeremy Affeldt on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 7/21; recalled RHP Joe Martinez from Fresno. [7/24] Placed UT-S Eugenio Velez on the 15-day DL (concussion); recalled INF-R Ryan Rohlinger from Fresno. [7/25]

Affeldt's bad break is just the latest unhappy development in what many saw would be an unavoidable bit of regression. Even so, his 20-run swing via ARP wasn't exactly what people expected as far as the magnitude of his coming back to earth. To his credit, last year still rates as the 20th-best relief season in Giants history. But this year, used just as aggressively in a high-leverage role early on, he left the scoreboard worse than how he found it in nine of his first 21 games, after which Bruce Bochy adopted a less enthusiastic endorsement of his erstwhile lefty fireman. Affeldt has remained effective at generating ground balls, but he's not a situational type, so employing him to good effect depends as much on the guy in the dugout as it will on Affeldt himself once he comes back from the DL. In the meantime, Bochy is running a pen without a lefty of any sort, and since despite its assorted problems the unit still ranks among the game's best-ranking seventh in relief FRA, eighth in ARP, and ninth in WXRL-credit the man for not following any particular bullpen convention beyond anointing a closer. And even there, Bochy has let Brian Wilson log seven multi-inning saves... as in, he came into the previous inning before finishing the game, he didn't start it. After all, when do you think we are, the '70s?


ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Optioned RHP Fernando Salas to Memphis (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Mike MacDougal from Memphis. [7/28]

MacDougal's sort of like the more omni-present evil twin to Chad Fox, where instead of just breaking down every other appearance, he's just flat-out flaky. People keep looking, and remind themselves he's been a successful big-league closer for weeks at a time, and in an age where seven- or eight-man bullpens exist, of course he gets N+1 chances. In his three-week jaunt with Memphis after bouncing from the Nats' organization, he did what he always does-beat up on righties, run for cover or walk lefties, and basically challenge you to think of ways to exploit that righty-on-righty violence. If ever there was a pen that might make him briefly heroic again, it's one as obsessively handled with an eye to platoon advantages as the Cardinals'.


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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