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July 26, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Angel in the Infield

by Ben Lindbergh

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American League
National League

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Signed RHP Charlie Haeger to a minor league contract. [7/24]

With Tim Wakefield clearly nearing the end of the line, it would be pretty to think the Sox had found his successor in Haeger, but while the 27-year-old’s floater got him to the majors with the White Sox (to be followed by appearances for the Dodgers and Padres) at the precocious age of 22, he’s fallen on harder times over the past two seasons.

Since the start of 2010, Haeger has been wild even by knuckleballer standards, recording a 127-to-122 strikeout-to-walk ratio both for LA and in the Dodgers’ and Mariners’ minor-league systems. Fortunately, Wakefield himself offers reason to hold out hope for Haeger; the well-worn Sock spent his age-27 season posting a 5.84 ERA for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, complete with his own abysmal strikeout-to-walk showing (83:98). The very next season, his knuckleball clicked, and he not only made it to Boston but finished third in the AL Cy Young race.

No, Haeger probably won’t enjoy a Wakefield-like epiphany next season (or ever, for that matter). Still, normal rules don’t apply to knuckleballers (much to many a baseball fan’s delight), and even though Haeger has reached what would be an advanced age for a more conventional prospect, he’s still young by the standards of his breed. When Wakefield retires, R.A. Dickey might keep the mantle of the knuckleball order’s survival from weighing too heavily on Haeger, but with Charlie Zink—who’s already passed through the Red Sox system—banished to the independent leagues, Haeger is the only other practitioner of the pitch in the pipeline.

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Optioned SS-L Reid Brignac to Durham Bulls (Triple-A). [7/23]
Recalled OF-R Desmond Jennings from Durham Bulls. [7/23]

The long-awaited shoe finally fell in Florida, as the Rays summoned top position player prospect Desmond Jennings, who left both Super Two concerns and a fractured finger behind him in Durham. Simultaneous scratches of Jennings and B.J. Upton from their respective lineups spawned instant rumors of a swap, but Upton hasn’t gone anywhere yet (though it certainly wouldn't surprise me if I were to find myself writing about him by this time next week). Jennings’s Triple-A line over the past two seasons doesn’t necessarily scream super-prospect, but his power has recovered after being sapped by a wrist issue last season, he plays a fine center field, and he’s contributed a Beltran-caliber stolen-base success rate since the start of 2009 (88.7 percent, 110-for-124).

As R.J. Anderson noted recently, one of the main concerns about Jennings as a prospect—his tendency to get hurt—might be overblown, the product of a first impression that hasn’t been updated to incorporate recent events. He recorded a two-bagger in each of his first three games in the majors this season and also added a triple in his return, so he's already doubled his extra-base-hit total from his 17-game audition last season. In the unlikely event that the Rays hold on to Upton, they’ll enjoy an airtight outfield defense blessed with almost enough range in left and center to give Matt Joyce the occasional night off and leave right field vacant. If they don’t keep him, they’ll have a readymade replacement just an outfield corner away. Until the Upton issue is resolved, the Rays will carry five outfielders so as to avoid exposing any one of them to waivers.

Brignac’s hacktastic approach from last season persisted in 2011, but this time around he had even uglier results to show for it, though his impressive glovework seems to have weathered the passage of time intact. The lefty was a valuable man in the middle infield in 2010, but even the finest fielding can’t compensate for a .174 TAv. Sean Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson will split the team’s shortstop duties and should easily outhit the man who went before them, though Brignac will remain on the Rays’ radar.

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Released LF-R Wily Mo Peña. [7/24]
Signed INF-R Angel Berroa to a minor league contract. [7/24]

The Wily Mo Experience was fun while it lasted, but in the end, the Diamondbacks realized that the walks Pena takes aren’t even close to the plate appearances he makes. In that sense, it’s not surprising that Wily Mo went the way of all flesh, or at least all flesh that can’t play defense and won’t take accept a free pass to first. In parting with Pena, the D’backs also ditched his .196/.196/.522 line—your standard 41.3 percent strikeout rate, 0.0 percent walk rate, and .326 Isolated Power. Fans of the DiSars might be disappointed that the Snakes didn’t give Pena a sporting chance at taking over the top spot, but nothing about his recent track record suggests that he’s anything but a titan of the two true outcomes

It’s not that there’s no value in that—even with a walkless .196 average, Pena managed a league-average TAv. In time, Pena’s batting average and slugging percentage would have begun to converge, but his overall output likely would have stayed at a similar level. Still, Pena would have to be even better with the bat to balance out his lack of leather to the point that an NL team would be comfortable carrying him much past the interleague portion of the schedule.

Pena seems to have a few suitors, though as Craig Calcaterra observed, he’s a much better fit for an offense-starved AL team than an NL contender. Wherever he goes, Pena won’t fail to entertain, but it’s become clear that he’s something of a Quadruple-A player. His career line at Triple-A (after seven separate stints at the level) stands at .324/.390/.581, which would make him a star if it could be ported to the majors even close to intact. However, Pena has struck out in 30.4 percent of his 1771 career major-league plate appearances, a far cry from his 21.6 percent rate one level lower, and according to FanGraphs’ pitch type values, he’s been over 16 runs combined below average against sliders and curveballs, compared to over 10 runs above average against straighter stuff. (Paging Pedro Cerrano.)

With Sean Burroughs on the bench and Pena on his way to another organization, Arizona acted quickly to add to its collection of faded prospects whose best days on the diamond came early last decade. A recent USA Today blog post on the demise of Stephen Drew, whose broken ankle removed him from the team’s starting shortstop slot, read, “Stephen Drew out for season; Jose Reyes said to be unavailable.” As any good GM knows, the only solution when a team is saddled with an absentee shortstop and Reyes won’t report for duty is to call upon Angel Berroa, whose middle name at this stage of his career might as well be “available” (instead of his more emasculating actual middle name, “Maria”).

That murmur you just heard was the collective incredulity of everyone who thought Berroa was out of baseball, which he very nearly was. Berroa, of course, is a proud member of the Bob Hamelin All-Stars, a group of players for whom a Rookie of the Year Award represented the end of achievement, not the beginning, and he hasn’t sniffed the majors since being signed and released by both New York teams in quick succession in mid-2009. In a move with major playoff implications for the Long Island Ducks, Berroa was plucked away from the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League, for whom he was hitting .263/.305/.408: good, perhaps, but no Luis Lopez (or Adam Greenberg, Danny Putnam, Wes Bankston, or Prentice Redman, to name just a few of the former major-league offensive luminaries who were outhitting Berroa in Bridgeport).

There’s so much potential for snark here that one hardly knows whom to disparage first, but the truth is that the Snakes were long shots to make the playoffs even with Drew (or with Reyes, for that matter), so a little infield futility won’t do any lasting damage. If Berroa gets a shot, he won’t hit the target, but Arizona’s other in-house options are Cody Ransom and Willie Bloomquist, who has accrued 0.2 WARP to date this season and is projected to add a whopping 0.0 more Wins over Willie to his total before October arrives. In light of the alternatives, bring on Berroa.

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Optioned INF-R Josh Harrison to Indianapolis Indians (Triple-A). [7/21]
Activated SS-R Ronny Cedeno from the 7-day disabled list. [7/22]
Activated 1B-R Steven Pearce from the 15-day disabled list. [7/22]
Optioned RHP Chris Leroux to Indianapolis Indians. [7/22]
Placed OF-L Alex Presley on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to July 23 (left hand contusion). [7/25]
Recalled 3B-L Pedro Alvarez from Indianapolis Indians. [7/25]

It’s difficult to board the Pirates’ bandwagon with any expectation of arriving at a desirable destination when one of the horses expected to pull the load at a premium offensive position is Lyle Overbay, who only twice in his career—most recently five seasons ago—could be said to be something more than a league-average player and now appears to have left even that modest distinction far behind.

Pearce’s return from a torn left calf might seem to offer a solution, but his .281/.352/.483 career Triple-A line hints at an Overbay-like upside even if he could stay healthy. A platoon might yield something close to an acceptable bat, so the Pirates would be best-served by exploring that arrangement, even at the cost of an extra roster spot.

With the surprising Presley injured, the Pirates recalled Alvarez, who had hit an encouraging .365/.461/.587 at Indianapolis since his demotion. Neil Huntington’s comments made it clear that the GM would’ve liked to give him more time at Triple-A, but that wasn’t a luxury that a first-place team with the league’s second-worst offense could afford, since Ronny Cedeno’s return from a concussion wasn’t about to make any Pirates fans commit the cardinal sin of forgetting Arky Vaughan.  

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

13 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Well, Ben, you can take all your potential snark and stick it up your SF-loving ass. D-Backs will see you in October.

Jul 26, 2011 05:29 AM
rating: -19
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

No they won't. Even in the total suck that is the National League (except for the Phillies).

Jul 26, 2011 05:41 AM
rating: -8

Yes, but the question is, will anyone be able to see the D-Backs in October? As of today BP predicts a near certain no.

P.S. RedTopCowboy - your posting is one of the most stimulating reader's comment I have read on BP's website in quite a while - and I'm not being sarcastic.

Jul 26, 2011 13:01 PM
rating: 1
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Minus 15? That's harsh. I would welcome a Diamondbacks playoff appearance.

Jul 26, 2011 13:56 PM

Excellent read.

Jul 26, 2011 05:41 AM
rating: 2
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff


Jul 26, 2011 14:07 PM

I don't understand what the Rays are doing. Upton is only arb-eligible and Shields will only cost them $5M more than the buy-out in 2012. Maybe the 2011 wildcard is out of reach (6 games back), but they have as good a chance as amyone in 2012 with only $20M in 2012 payroll commitments (all $ from Cot's).

Jul 26, 2011 07:50 AM
rating: 3
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Last I heard, the Rays had pulled Shields off the block (if he was ever really on it). I avoided writing much about Upton, thinking that I might have a lot more Upton writing ahead of me in the near future, but the basic rationale behind trading him is this: he's unlikely to re-sign as a free agent (the Rays have been unsuccessful in their attempts to extend him) but far enough away from free agency that he could bring back significant value in a trade, the draft-pick compensation system doesn't properly value his skills, and the Rays have multiple younger, non-arb-eligible outfielders ready to replace him.

Jul 26, 2011 14:06 PM

Agree with ScottyB... BP writers, your response?

Jul 26, 2011 09:34 AM
rating: 1

uh, Upton isn't very good?

Jul 26, 2011 09:46 AM
rating: 0

I'd call it "selling high". Or, in the case of Upton, "selling as high as we can 'cause we're secretly convinced it's only going lower".

Notice that Shields is shopped only when Niemann returns healthy and effective AND Alex Cobb establishes himself as a real live American League starting pitcher AND Matt Moore announces his readiness AND option 7/8, Alex Torres remains ready to be a back-end starter for half a dozen teams right now.

Meanwhile, Shields is easily the best starter "available" right now. Thus, the Rays alone are learning what the market will bear. Who's willing to overpay, and how much? Is St. Louis willing to come off of Carlos Martinez? The Indians, Pomeranz? What's a Rasmus worth? You'll never find out by shopping Wade Davis.

Big difference between shopping a guy and trading him. The worst that can happen is that they gain lots of insight into how other teams value their assets. And who knows, maybe the team that's always rebuilding gets prized pieces --- at a juncture where losing Shields hurts them least. It's a very Rays tactic; it's smart.

As for Upton --- I think they may think he's a year away from becoming baseball's flashiest fourth outfielder.

2009 241/313/373
2010 237/322/424
2011 229/310/399

I mean really how much better is BJ Upton than, say, Omar Infante?

2009 305/361/389
2010 321/359/416
2011 262/307/324

(Upton has speed, Infante plays the infield. I'm just saying, how much difference is there, really?)

B.J. turns 27 in August. This may be the last summer of his career in which anyone thinks of B.J. Upton as anything more than a very interesting brand of ordinary. I'd be shoppin' the hell out of him too.

This goober's guess: Shields stays, Upton goes.

"Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late." --- Branch Rickey

Jul 26, 2011 14:18 PM
rating: 3
Pat Folz

I'm rooting for the Brewers to get Upton and play him at short.

Jul 26, 2011 19:41 PM
rating: 0


Trust me when I say this: You do not want Upton at SS. I had to wear catchers gear in the stands behind 1B as I watched him in Durham throw balls half way up the bleachers on routine plays and that was if he was able to field the ball cleanly. You could tell he was a disaster mentally out there - thus the switch to the OF. He is 10 times better in the OF defensively.

Jul 27, 2011 05:47 AM
rating: 0
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