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June 28, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Tribal Initiation

by Ben Lindbergh

IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Called up 3B-L Lonnie Chisenhall from Columbus Clippers (Triple-A). [6/27]
Designated 3B-R Adam Everett for assignment. [6/27]

In a sense, it would be hard to blame Adam Everett for feeling indisposed toward the Indians after being cut loose a mere 67 plate appearances into his season. Sure, he hit a DFA-worthy .217 with one extra-base hit, but for him, that constituted an improvement—Everett hit .185 last season (and not the “good,” Rob Deer/Mark Reynolds kind of .185, either). The infielder’s credentials as an offensive non-entity were well-established before last winter, one line of thinking goes, so if the Indians had hoped to acquire something other than an atrocious hitter, perhaps they should’ve looked elsewhere over the offseason instead of leading Everett on.

On the other hand, Everett is probably beyond feeling much frustration about his playing time by now, since he’s entered the stage of his career in which his sole purpose is to keep his position warm for a younger, more promising player. In his prime, his glove was good enough to make him a league-average player despite a below-average bat, but he hasn’t been a regular since 2006. His last shot at extended playing time came in 2009, when the Tigers gave him 113 games and received all of 0.2 WARP in return, in the process finishing a single game behind the Twins after losing a thrilling 163rd game at the Metrodome.

Everett entered that season-deciding game in the ninth as a pinch-runner and led off the 11th with a strikeout, but he’d done most of his damage to the Tigers’ pennant hopes in the preceding six months—in effect, the shortstop was a prototypical “Replacement-Level Killer,” a term Jay Jaffe coined in It Ain’t Over to describe a player whose lackluster work may have deprived his team of a playoff spot. Before his ouster, Everett (and his partner in crime at the hot corner, Jack Hannahan, who’s been as responsible for the Tribe’s losing June as he was their winning April) were well on their way to claiming another victim this season.

When a replacement-level murder takes place, it’s often the unsuccessful athlete who bears the brunt of the blame, but the player is usually just a patsy for a shadowy front-office figure who’s the real mind behind the crime. If an Everett costs his team a chance at a title, you can be sure that some executive(s) put him in a position to fail, then committed the even more egregious sin of allowing the failure to continue long enough to affect the outcome of the season. Call it replacement-level manslaughter if you want to take good intentions into account, but either way, the outcome is a team whose October aspirations are dead in the water. As a utility player, Everett may not have had a large enough role on the Indians to sink the surprising team’s season, but credit Cleveland with doing what Detroit didn’t—until June of last season, at least—and shedding some dead weight when the opportunity to upgrade arose.

That opportunity came courtesy of Lonnie Chisenhall, the team’s second-best prospect, according to Kevin Goldstein’s most recent Top 11. With the Indians coming off a three-game sweep by the Giants in which they lost Shin-Soo Choo and scored a grand total of four runs, and Chisenhall coming off the International League Player of the Week award he won just after recovering from a concussion, the time seemed ripe for the prospect to ride to the rescue. The third baseman is more than just a pretty swing, though he’s long been reputed to have one. Thanks to the wonders of MLBAM’s newly embeddable video, you can see it for yourself:

Chisenhall didn’t debut with the same sort of hype that a true blue-chipper commands, and for good reason, since little about his record suggests outright stardom. Above-average is well within his reach, though (at least eventually), so his arrival is something to celebrate, if not to salivate over. As Kevin suggested, his perfect-world projection looks like a more consistent Casey Blake; Blake peaked close to the five-win level, and Chisenhall might have the same sort of ceiling, though he’s likely to approach it earlier and more often than Blake did.

After falling to the 11th round of the 2006 draft because of makeup concerns (which haven’t resurfaced since he turned pro), Chisenhall has climbed the ladder steadily, never truly excelling but always young for his level. He entered this season with a reputation for being vulnerable against southpaws, and he’s done little to dispel it, hitting .200/.282/.360 against same-handed pitchers in 85 plate appearances. He does possess decent power to all fields, and he works his way on base via a combination of patience and a willingness to take one for the team, which he’s done seven times already this season.

In the short term, he’ll be an offensive upgrade over the likes of Everett and Hannahan without being a significant downgrade on defense, shoring up a position that’s been a black hole for the Indians all season. Whatever the outcome of their would-be Cinderella season—our Playoff Odds Report still only begrudgingly gives them a double-digit-percentage chance of a happy ending—the Indians have made the most of their unexpectedly open window to contention.

Instead of getting carried away and leaping through that window to organizational death by trading their young prospects for established veterans, they’ve instead sought help from within from those high-level prospects who’ve offered potential for improvement at one of the club’s weak points, first easing in Alex White, then calling on Cord Phelps and Chisenhall, and perhaps adding Jason Kipnis to the mix before long. Most of those players entered 2011 on track for 2012 debuts, but the Indians have made a reasonable response to a fluid situation, doing all they can to maximize their success in the short term while leaving their long-term plans intact.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Recalled 1B-L Mat Gamel from Nashville Sounds (Triple-A). [6/27]
Recalled LHP Zach Braddock from Nashville Sounds. [6/27]
Designated RHP Sergio Mitre for assignment. [6/27]
Optioned RHP Mark DiFelice to Nashville Sounds. [6/27]

Newsflash: Mat Gamel can hit minor-league pitching. Okay, so that story first broke in 2005, but it’s worth briefly revisiting now, as Gamel makes his fourth cameo at the major-league level. Gamel is a career .302/.377/.518 hitter at Triple-A and a .241/.335/.414 batter through 167 plate appearances with Milwaukee; whether he’ll ever equal that minor-league mashing in the majors is still a matter of some debate, but it seems a given that the two lines will converge once Gamel is given regular playing time.

In his third extended crack at Nashville, Gamel has given the Brewers greater reason than ever before to believe that he’d make a proper heir to Fielder at first base next season, hitting .321/.380/.577 with 18 homers in 321 plate appearances. Granted, as a 25-year-old first baseman three-peating the level, Gamel had little choice but to show some improvement if he wanted to retain his prospect tag, but he’s done what he had to do to keep himself in the Brewers’ plans.

The Brewers called him up both to give themselves an edge in their upcoming series against the Yankees and Twins, the first of which begins tonight in New York, and to keep the carrot dangling in front of Gamel, who could be excused for feeling a bit fed up with being blocked by Prince Fielder’s bulk after all this time. This will likely be a quick visit that will come to a halt with the end of interleague play, but it could have more of a changing-of-the-guard vibe than Gamel’s previous stints with the big club, reminiscent of Ryan Howard’s 2004 appearance in Philly during Jim Thome’s last full season in front of him.

Someone had to go to make room for Gamel, and this time the victim was Mark DiFelice, who got into three games for the Brewers last week after a successful start to the season in Nashville, where he now returns. Milwaukee also deprived contact-prone and hit-lucky Sergio Mitre of a trip back to the Bronx, choosing instead to call up and carry lefty Zach Braddock—who pitched well for the Brewers before a sleep disorder caused him to be sent down earlier this month—as a weapon against the Yankees’ big southpaw bats.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Recalled OF-L Alex Presley from Indianapolis Indians (Triple-A). [6/27]
Optioned SS-R Pedro Ciriaco to Indianapolis Indians. [6/27]

Once the dust settled on the first couple weeks of Sam Fuld’s season, the hype began to seem a bit silly; by the time “Super Sam” got his cape in a Tropicana Field giveaway on May 29th, he was hitting a decidedly un-super .227/.276/.351, though his defense remained strong. Since then, the compact cult hero has rebounded a bit, but his fourth-outfielder flag is once again flying.

The next player to chart a Fuld-like trajectory might be Alex Presley, another scrappy, vertically-challenged white guy whose minor-league performance has built up some buzz. The 5’9”, soon-to-be 26-year-old Presley has hit .336/.389/.500 for the Bucs’ Triple-A affiliate after a breakout performance across two levels last season that earned him recognition as the organization’s minor-league player of the year, and he’s also tied a season high with 18 steals while getting caught on only four occasions. The Pirates’ plan to call him up this week was cemented when Jose Tabata went down with a quad strain in Sunday’s game. Presley is expected to see most of the action in left until Tabata returns.

As John Perrotto pointed out elsewhere, Pirates fans probably shouldn’t get too excited about Presley, whose prospect pedigree hasn’t matched his performance. In his chat yesterday, Kevin Goldstein deemed Presley’s upside that of a “bench outfielder.” In other words, while Presley might merit a starting spot for the Pirates in Tabata’s absence, he’s hardly a long-term building block or a short-term solution to the team’s offensive struggles. That said, he is the sort of semi-useful player whom good teams can often call on when a starter goes down, and it’s refreshing to see the Pirates boasting that kind of depth for once. In order to make room for Presley, the Pirates sent down infielder Pedro Ciriaco. It’s safe to say that Ciriaco won’t be terribly missed after making only six plate appearances in his last month on the roster.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Activated 2B-S Nick Punto from the 15-day disabled list. [6/27]
Activated 3B-R David Freese from the 15-day disabled list. [6/27]
Optioned IF-R Pete Kozma to Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A). [6/27]
Optioned OF-R Andrew Brown to Memphis Redbirds. [6/27]

Punto and Freese do not a Pujols make, but the Cardinals will welcome any reduction in the size of their DL contingent, and both players could make a real contribution in the Cards’ quest to catch the Brewers. Freese has done nothing but hit and get hurt since making the majors, and this season has been no exception; the third baseman hit .356/.394/.471 over 25 games before breaking a bone in his hand on May 1st. Daniel Descalso has flopped at the plate as his replacement, compiling a .230/.306/.322 line that Freese might have matched even with the fracture. Freese is already 28, so it would be nice to see him stay healthy and make the most of his talents before his bat begins to desert him.

Punto obviously won’t sustain anything like the above-average offense he provided before suffering a forearm strain in mid-May, but his steady defense could aid an infield that has contributed to the team's sixth-worse defensive showing in the NL. Ryan Theriot, whose -5.4 FRAA is the eight-lowest in the league, might be in particular need of Punto’s services as a defensive replacement.


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

White Sox Disable Danks (6/27)

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

1 comment has been left for this article.

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