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June 7, 2011

Transaction Analysis

The DL Giveth, and the DL Taketh Away

by Ben Lindbergh

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Placed DH Jim Thome on the 15-day disabled list (strained left quadriceps). [6/2]
Recalled OF Ben Revere from Rochester Red Wings (Triple-A). [6/2]

Sometimes the end of the line comes when a player’s bat goes, and sometimes it comes when his body can’t hold up well enough to lug his still-potent lumber to the plate over the course of a 162-game campaign. In his age-40 season, Thome’s bat remains more or less intact—his .237/.372/.447 line might not appear particularly impressive at first glance, but after adjusting for park and the low levels of offense across the league, his performance comes out looking better than it did in 2008 and 2009, if not last season, when he reached offensive heights he hadn’t scaled since his 52-homer 2002 (albeit in a part-time role). He also qualifies as one of the few designated hitters in the league actually excelling at the plate; his fellow disabled teammate and sometimes-DH Jason Kubel has hit .253/.306/.367 in the DH slot and .346/.390/.533 in right field, where he’s spent the bulk of his time.

However, there are signs that Thome’s body isn’t up to the task. A left oblique strain kept him out of action from April 30 to May 23, and he enjoyed just over a week as an active player before a quad strain sent him back to the DL, where he has plenty of Twins to keep him company. It’s unfortunate for Minnesota that he couldn’t have waited a couple more weeks to get hurt; as it is, Thome will be eligible to return by the next round of interleague play, when he generally rides the pine and leaves his teams short-handed anyway, so the club can take its time with his recovery. In the interim, the Twins will continue to run out some sorry-looking lineups: with Thome, Kubel, and Joe Mauer all unavailable and Delmon Young making Minnesota wish he were disabled as well, the typical Twinkie attack has featured only one particularly productive player (Denard Span) and nary a slugging percentage over .400, at least until Michael Cuddyer cleared the mark last night.

Thome avoided the DL in 2010, though his lower back forced him to the bench on several occasions, but he pondered retirement at the end of the season, and if his injury woes continue, 2011 could turn out to be his last rodeo. The southpaw is sitting on 593 home runs; it would be nice to see him get to 600, if only because his Hall of Fame support seems somewhat tepid for a “clean” player with almost 80 career WARP. Aside from Cooperstown concerns, the typical Thome round-tripper is awe-inspiring enough that it wouldn’t hurt to have a few more blasts in the bank before he’s taken out of circulation.

With the Twins well out of contention, Thome could find himself on the trading block once his hamstring heals. In 2009, the lefty waived his no-trade clause and sacrificed playing time to jump from a regular DH gig with a foundering White Sox club to a pinch-hitting role for the playoff-bound Dodgers, though plantar fasciitis limited him to 17 unproductive at-bats after the swap. Still in search of his first world championship, Thome might look good in pinstripes later this season if Jorge Posada can’t be resuscitated and Jesus Montero doesn’t go on a Triple-A tear, and aiming for Yankee Stadium’s shallow right-field fence wouldn’t hurt his chances of making more home-run history.

Revere, meanwhile, hasn’t looked ready to be much more than the second coming of Jason Tyner in his early major-league action, and if he’s not playing center—where Denard Span is signed through 2014—he has little hope of meeting the offensive standards at his position. His contact skill and speed are for real, but with almost no power to speak of, he needs to walk to be an offensive asset, and he hasn’t done that at any level this season, even with major-league pitchers not yet pounding the zone to the extent that they will when they realize he makes Brett Gardner look like a slugger. Remember what Jason Parks wrote about recent call-up Dee Gordon earlier this year?

Q: Will Dee Gordon be an above-average hitter at the major-league level?

A: No. Gordon has a good hit tool, but the strength isn’t there, and it’s hard to see where it will come from. Without adding strength, pitchers will feel more comfortable attacking Gordon over the plate, daring him to beat the pitch. With a swing more conducive for connecting to deliver balls in play, Gordon will have to rely on his contact and speed rather than his pop and power, limiting the dimensions of his offensive game. Earlier, I mentioned his approach being sound, which is true, but how many walks is he going to draw when advanced pitchers aren’t concerned about challenging him at the plate? Without more strength, Gordon isn’t going to be effective against major-league pitching. His contact ability and legs could make him a nuisance when the ball is put in play, but without the ability to punish mistakes, Gordon doesn’t offer much to dream on when it comes to offensive production.

Replace each “Gordon” in that passage with “Revere,” and Parks’ point still stands.

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Optioned CF Julio Borbon to Round Rock Express (Triple-A). [6/3]

Nothing says “We missed you” like an assignment to Triple-A. Borbon returned to action in Texas after recovering from a strained hamstring, but instead of making a triumphant entry into Arlington, Borbon was redirected to Round Rock, as the Rangers elected to stick with the platoon of Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry that had served them well in Borbon’s absence. It would be an insult to Wally Pipp to say that Borbon got Pipped, given that Borbon was replaced by an older player and isn’t half the player Pipp was, but the injury may well have knocked him out of the Rangers’ plans.

Jon Daniels drew some internet criticism for paying lip service to the notion of riding the hot hand with Chavez, but it’s more likely that the GM was placating his manager, the media, his fan base, or all of the above than that he believes Chavez has morphed into a true .400 hitter at the age of 33.  In this instance, there’s no real harm in playing the hot hand, since having less Borbon in their lives won’t hurt the Rangers; even when Chavez turns into a pumpkin, he’ll still be roughly as productive at the plate as the younger player he displaced, and his skills in the field have already earned some deserved recognition.

Borbon has as many walks—four—as he does hits and strikeouts in 20 Triple-A plate appearances, which is way out of character, considering he managed only three bases on balls in 98 big-league opportunities before his injury. This is more likely a small-sample fluke than an early indication that Borbon has gotten the message expressed by the demotion—and almost certainly repeated by Rangers personnel—and awakened to the possibilities of plate discipline, but regardless of whether the message was received, Borbon’s Texas tenure is nearing its end.

Rumors are swirling that the center fielder could be moved for relief help, and even his Triple-A job could soon be in jeopardy, given that Cuban import Leonys Martin is hitting .338/.419/.538 one level below and has the makings of a long-term solution. It may not have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but Borbon and the Rangers will always have August of 2009.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Activated 1B Adam Lind from the 15-day disabled list. [6/4]
Optioned LF Eric Thames to Las Vegas 51s (Triple-A). [6/4]

Over the offseason, it seemed like every other question submitted to BP chats concerned Lind, fellow Blue Jay Travis Snider, and Tyler Colvin, three young players with outfield backgrounds. Lind and Snider were coming off unimpressive performances after showing early promise, leaving their fans and fantasy owners desperate for some encouraging words, while Colvin seemed to have spent 2010 playing over his head, leaving his fans and fantasy owners eager for some sign that his recent success was sustainable.

Lind is the only member of the trio who has made his supporters happy this season, as both Snider and Colvin have split time between the big leagues and Triple-A while failing to hit as hoped at either level. The lefty first baseman has provided Jose Bautista with some offensive support, offering even more clout than he supplied during his 35-homer season in 2009, and he hasn’t looked rusty since his return, going 4-for-4 with two dingers in his second game back on Sunday. While disappointing seasons from Snider and Colvin might ensure frequent mentions in another winter’s worth of chats, Lind has likely done enough to reassure our readers that he didn’t peak at age 25.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Placed OF Brandon Belt on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 1 (hairline left wrist fracture). [6/5]
Recalled 3B Conor Gillaspie from Fresno Grizzlies (Triple-A). [6/5]
Colorado Rockies claim 3B Ryan Rohlinger off waivers from San Francisco Giants. [6/2]
San Francisco Giants designated 3B Ryan Rohlinger for assignment. [5/26]

The curse of the San Francisco infield continues. The Giants drew criticism for benching Belt more often than not after his latest call-up, and while their decision to deprive him of regular playing time did seem curious, at least he couldn’t get plunked by any pitches or fracture any wrists while watching events from the dugout. Belt shouldn’t miss much more than a month, but since he wasn’t playing third or pushing Aubrey Huff to the hot corner, he wasn’t a solution to the team’s Miguel Tejada trouble anyway. It’s probably safe to declare his Rookie of the Year bid a non-starter, though.

Over a month ago—that’s how long the Giants’ sorry state of affairs at third has been allowed to persist—I wrote, “Other than turning back to Fresno for another flawed player in Conor Gillaspie, the Giants have little recourse but to hope that [Pablo] Sandoval recovers quickly.” They’ve now broken the "In case of emergency" glass and gone to Gillaspie, whose .278/.355/.428 performance in the PCL hardly gets the blood pumping, but the 23-year-old's promotion might not last a week. Sandoval was expected to begin a Triple-A rehab assignment last night, but some lingering wrist soreness delayed its start. Five or six games would probably persuade the Giants that their Panda is ready to report for duty, although over 50 games of failure have yet to convince them that Tejada isn’t.

In the interest of concision, I’ve added the Rohlinger claim to this entry rather than make a separate one for the Rockies, his new organization. If you play third base in the San Francisco system and you’ve been designated for assignment this season, you know you’ve done something wrong, and Rohlinger’s .174/.294/.331 line for Fresno was the most eye-catching crime on his rap sheet. The Rockies assigned him to Colorado Springs, where his numbers should rebound. He’s walked more than he’s struck out this season, and he has a history of being considerably less awful than he has been otherwise in 2011, so he’ll make a competent, if unexciting, addition to the group of players contending to displace Ty Wigginton in the wake of Jose Lopez’s dishonorable discharge.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Placed RHP Kyle McClellan on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 31 (left hip flexor strain). [6/2]
Called up RHP Lance Lynn from Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A). [6/2]
Placed LF Matt Holliday on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 1 (left quadriceps strain). [6/2]
Recalled RHP Maikel Cleto from Springfield Cardinals (Double-A). [6/2]

On the day Adam Wainwright’s elbow died, I did a St. Louis radio spot in which I tried to talk Cardinals fans—who had already been placed in a delicate emotional state by an injury to Nick Punto—off the ledge. The host was of the opinion that the loss would cost the Cards 10 wins, while I—perhaps a little meekly, anticipating ridicule after responding to that big, round number with a small one of my own–suggested a figure closer to three, based largely on perusing our depth charts and projections for the upcoming season.

Part of my suspicion that the loss of Wainwright wouldn’t spell the end for St. Louis was founded on our rosy projection for McClellan, although given that the righty was transitioning to the rotation after spending three progressively more successful seasons in the bullpen, it wasn’t clear how reliable that projection was. The fledgling starter fulfilled even the loftiest expectations during the first two months of the season, pitching to a 3.11 ERA until May 30, although his low strikeout rate suppressed his SIERA. His final start in May went poorly, and he was placed on the DL soon after, so the end to his conversion story remains to be written.

Lynn looked like another reason to be bullish about the Redbirds’ ability to rebound from the Wainwright news; the righty gained velocity and enjoyed better results in the second half of last season, and for a time he appeared to have the inside track on the fifth-starter slot in spring training. He hasn’t sustained his strikeout gains this season, but he has kept the ball on the ground. He was knocked around in his first start for the Cardinals, though he struck out five without a walk in 5 1/3 frames.

The Cards are clinging to first place on the strength of a league-leading offense (.289 TAv), not superlative pitching, but their staff has been just good enough to make the run support count. It’s not clear that the pitchers will continue to do their part, which makes it imperative that Holliday come back quickly, though the productive combo of Allen Craig and Jon Jay give the Cardinals plenty of outfield depth.

Chris Carpenter has matched his 2010 SIERA but sports an ERA a run higher than he managed last season, which could augur better things to come, but Jake Westbrook has regressed, McClellan’s best may be behind him, and Kyle Lohse’s correction won’t be pretty. It’s safe to say that the Cards didn’t hemorrhage 10 wins when Wainwright went under the knife, but McLellan, Lynn, and any other fill-ins who might follow still have a lot of work to do if they want to make me look smart.


For further reading, check out R.J. Anderson’s Transaction Analysis Blog entries since the last installment of TA:

Gordon Arrives, Kouzmanoff Departs (6/6)
Houston Release Hall
(6/5)
Cards Call on Lynn, Cleto (6/3)

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

2 comments have been left for this article.

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