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July 29, 2010

Transaction Action

Tejada and the Cantu Spirit

by Christina Kahrl and Kevin Goldstein

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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted INF-L Scott Moore to Norfolk (Triple-A). [7/28]
Traded INF-R Miguel Tejada to the Padres for RHP Wynn Pelzer; recalled 3B-S Josh Bell from Norfolk; named Buck Showalter the team's manager, effective 8/3. [7/29]

KG: Ranked as the fifth-best prospect in the Padres system entering the year, Pelzer's stock has dropped significantly due to his struggles at Double-A, as he's gotten out of whack mechanically, thus losing considerable command. A move to the bullpen in mid-July has been no help, as he's walked 10 in 6 2/3 relief innings. He still has plus velocity, sitting at 91-93 mph with his fastball which touching 95, and his slider can be effective when he throws strikes. He's never had much of a changeup, and won't need one as a reliever, but if he can find the form he showed in 2009, he'll fit into a Baltimore bullpen of the future. That said, he's in the tall weeds for now.

CK: So, pretty much as expected, they let Miguel go forth and enter a playoff race, a generous gesture where the generosity didn't end there, since the O's also included a chunk of change to help pay Tejada to be a Padre. In a sense, that's an expense they're picking up to get Josh Bell's future at third base started now, with the money representing a worthwhile expense, where they're reacquiring the playing time they'd otherwise have committed to Tejada, and reinvesting it in a way that's much more in their interest. And where they simply gave Garrett Atkins the kiss-off to pay for that mistake in full, they did Tejada a good turn and may not be paying the full dime. If Pelzer amounts to anything, it's gravy, because this season's an overcooked scorchy mess as is.

Which naturally makes it the right kind of situation for Buck Showalter to wade into. However long it took, however much negotiation was required to put Showalter and Andy MacPhail on the same team, this seems like as good a match between a successful, demanding skipper and an organization too long adrift, but awash in talent. Showalter's track record for building up first the Yankees and then the Diamondbacks, only to get axed on the cusp of success each time, ought to command some respect; so too should be his well-established reputation for an attention to detail and as a controlling, demanding skipper. With the kind of talent stocking the roster, a manager with a precise vision for how to employ it and build a winning ballclub is an overdue antidote for an Orioles team that had been hiring one caretaker after another, ever since Davey Johnson resigned on the same day he received the Manager of the Year award back in 1997.

Showalter's no dummy, having stepped directly into a situation he's dealt with before, and with an eye toward the kind of talent he'll have at his disposal. It won't lead to instant greatness, but if you wanted a skipper who can be both an effective tactician and a capable partner in managing a lot of prospects who've come up short of expectations, it would have been tough for MacPhail to have done better than he has with this hire.


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired 1B/3B-R Jorge Cantu from the Marlins for RHPs Omar Poveda and Evan Reed; placed 2B-R Ian Kinsler on the 15-day DL (strained groin), retroactive to 7/28; purchased the contract of OF-L Mitch Moreland from Oklahoma City (Triple-A); transferred RHP Mark Lowe from the 15- to the 60-day DL; optioned 1B/3B-L Chris Davis to Oklahoma City. [7/29]

CK: As a matter of lineup balance, it was anticipated that the Rangers would want a righty, and that he'd almost necessarily have to be a first baseman, what with Chris Davis going up in a puff of smoke faster than you can say... Dave Hostetler, to avoid the obvious. That said, it isn't like there were a ton of available options, so the Rangers did what any self-respecting contender would do-take some low-hanging fruit off the hands of the garbage Fish, and presumably profit from the exchange.

The Rangers are apparently on the hook for about $1.4 million of the ~$2 million left owed to Jorge Cantu, which contributes to why Texas was able to acquire Cantu for two low-end prospects; these Fish are cheap as well as omnivorous. The real question is whether Cantu will make that big a difference, especially as a first baseman, since he's only producing a .257 True Average-adequate for a third baseman, but across the diamond at first base, that's Derrek Lee-level disappointment, and one of the worst marks for a regular at the position.

Except in Texas, because Rangers first basemen have combined for a .219 TAv. If first base is supposed to be one of the easiest places to find a bat and stick it at, the overlapping disappointments from Davis then Smoak and then Davis again left folks waiting on the proposition that where there was Smoak, there was fire. So even if Cantu just produces at the same clip, he'd be an upgrade for the Rangers. Not a great one relative to the league, but a major improvement relative to what they've had to put up with. Not that he'd have been able to rack up any significant playing time, but his hitting in Texas has been as happy as you'd expect of anybody who's right-handed and boasts some sock, ripping six doubles in nine games.

That said, whether or not he enjoys his new home park as much over a full stretch will have to be seen, because there's plenty of evidence to suggest he's headed the wrong way as a hitter, because since his big career relaunch in 2008, his production for the Fish has been declining in the last two seasons. While his ISO comes in around .150, his unintentional walk and strikeout rates are headed in the unhappy, opposing directions, and this year his swinging strike rate has crept back to the clip that helped get him cut loose and headed Fishwards in the first place.

The other contributing factor to why the Rays lost interest and the Red outright ditched him was his lack of a defensive position he's really good at-not even first-but with the Rangers, he won't be asked to man third very often. He's here to take on most of the playing time at first base, and then only for the remainder of this season, before departing via free agency. He's a modest improvement at a position that has been a thorough disaster for the Rangers, and as much of a setback slot as their similar expectations and disappointments from their prospects behind the plate, which had to be addressed by the acquisition of another placeholder, Bengie Molina. What these moves lack in star power, they're being banked on for the likelihood of adequacy, while the Rangers get bigger production from the other slots in the lineup. They'll be getting a little less of that via Kinsler's injury, but given their lead over the Angels and a minor enhancement like adding Cantu, they should be in decent shape to keep setting the pace.


MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired RHPs Omar Poveda and Evan Reed from the Rangers for 1B/3B-R Jorge Cantu; purchased the contract of INF-R Hector Luna from New Orleans (Triple-A). [7/29]

KG: A third-round pick out of Cal Poly, Reed was primarily a reliever in college, and while the Rangers dabbled briefly with trying him out as a starter early in his career, he has thrived of late now that he's back in a bullpen role. His best attributes are a 92-95 mph fastball that occasionally hits 96-97 on a good night, as well as his ability to throw strikes with it, but along with a big frame and good delivery, those are the only positives in his game. His slider is rarely seen, and will have to improve for him to be successful in the big leagues. For now, his is a middle relief projection, and that's based on the fastball alone.

Once considered one of the better arms in the Rangers system, Poveda has been hampered by arm injuries and ineffectiveness, and is now missing all of 2010 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. While he's still relatively young-turning 23 in September-the tall Venezuelan was never a pure power pitcher, and is a major risk if his stuff doesn't come all the way back as he recovers from surgery. Prior to the injury issues, Poveda was a pitcher without a huge upside, but also few weaknesses, as he effortlessly commanded an average-to-plus fastball, a solid curveball, and a nifty changeup than generated swings and misses at the lower levels. If he comes back, he could still be a back-end starter or middle reliever.

CK: Here again, the Fish acquire people with zero service time, while clearing third base after getting three solid seasons from Cantu, who was a scrapheap find back before the 2008 season. Once he started getting expensive after fulfilling the hope that he could slug .450 as a Fish (which he did, on the nose), you knew he'd be in motion, so his being flipped to a contender was merely a matter of time. What the Fish do with third base going forward will be interesting, because while I'm sure it'll involve a lot of Wes Helms and maybe a little bit of Emilio Bonifacio... until Chris Coghlan comes back from the DL. At that point, they could start looking at Coghlan at second with Dan Uggla moving to third, or perhaps Coghlan staying in left, Logan Morrison moving to first, and Gaby Sanchez to third. You can laugh such ideas off, but let's face it, Cantu's reputation as a third baseman was lousy before he became a Fish, and they made a go of it, and Helms is years past his expiration date as a regular at the hot corner.


SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired INF-R Miguel Tejada from the Orioles for RHP Wynn Pelzer; transferred LF-R Kyle Blanks from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/29]

CK: The Pads aren't looking at who Miguel Tejada used to be, they're sensibly looking at him for what he is right now. That's a right-handed batter on the right side of the infield, not as an everyday player at one position or another. They'll spot him at shortstop for Everth Cabrera, which is all the more easily done given that they boast the game's most strikeout-oriented pitching staff, as well as the benefit of the most pitcher-friendly home park. However, Tejada will also to take on a healthy number of starts at third base against lefties. That's become a bit of a necessity when you consider that Chase Headley's quest for a SHINO-myte reputation is in great shape after hitting just .195/.265/.244 against lefties, against his very valuable .303/.349/.442 clip against right-handers. That's not to mistake Tejada for a major asset, but the Padres haven't-he's a right-handed hitter who can get the ball in play with a modicum of power, and even coming to Petco, he's getting away from having to face the particularly tough pitching of the AL East more often than not. Add in that he gives the Padres the virtue of leaving Jerry Hairston Jr. alone at second base while they wait for David Eckstein to come back from the DL, and you've got a nice depth-minded move that cost them next to nothing in terms of blood or treasure.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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