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August 14, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Yankees Find a Spot for Lowe

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Derek Lowe to a one-year deal. [8/12]

New York signed Lowe with the intention of pitching him out of the bullpen. With CC Sabathia on the disabled list, Lowe’s stay in the bullpen could come down to how well David Phelps pitches. It’s a tough spot for Phelps, who earns the assignment on the strength of 22 solid outings this season. In part because Phelps is probably a better pitcher than Lowe is, regardless of what goes down in his next two or three starts. As I wrote when the Indians designated Lowe for assignment:

The Indians entered the season with ambitions of employing a groundball-heavy rotation and a strong defensive infield. The Fausto Carmona saga hurt the first aspiration. As a staff, however, the Indians have the fifth-lowest batting average on groundballs in play in the majors. Despite this, Lowe still managed to post a career-high BABIP on grounders, thus giving him new career-highs in back-to-back seasons. Lowe’s inflated hit rate on grounders strayed from personal and staff norms alike.

[…]

There aren’t many reasons to explain the differences. Either Lowe had the worst luck and received the worst fielding of the bunch or he allowed the worst quality of groundball. Cleveland voted for the latter. Lowe’s next team, perhaps Baltimore, will hope they’re wrong. If not, Lowe’s days as a big-league starter are closer to the end than anticipated.

A move to the bullpen could help. It would be a return to his roots if Lowe sticks. Of his first 298 career big-league appearances, 276 came in relief.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Claimed RHP Juan Abreu off waivers from the Astros. [8/10]
Designate RHP Scott Richmond for assignment. [8/10]

If history is any indication, Abreu should hold a real estate agent on retainer for next August. Abreu was part of the Michael Bourn trade last deadline. The allure is easy to see; Abreu’s quick arm generates impressive velocity, but his violent delivery creates control problems. Abreu struggled during his first exposure to the Pacific Coast League (he allowed 12 home runs in 45 2/3 innings) but he’ll head back there with the Jays. The hope being Abreu will fulfill some of his promise, even if it means a career as a fringe middle reliever. Plucking Abreu is not going to become the most garlanded move in Alex Anthopoulos’ history, but the opportunity cost involved makes it worth the effort.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Designate LHP Mike Zagurski for assignment. [8/11]
Placed INF-S Willie Bloomquist on the 15-day disabled list. [8/11]
Recalled RHP Bryan Shaw from Triple-A Reno. [8/11]
Purchased the contract of INF-R Jacob Elmore from Triple-A Reno. [8/11

Arizona now has three left-handed pitchers in their rotation and zero in their bullpen. You can excuse Zagurski for struggling against right-handed batters. He faced a normal person 69 times this season and was torched for a .281/.377/.561 slash line. It’s harder to pardon Zagurski for struggling against left-handed hitters. Zagurski is either a left-handed specialist or not a big-league pitcher. Already 29, the clock is ticking on the former. Shaw, meanwhile, has made more than 40 appearances for Arizona already this season.

As for Elmore, consider him today’s feel-good story. The Marlins drafted him in round 48 back in 2007, he returned to school and improved his stock by 14 rounds. Players taken in the 34th round don’t often make it to the majors, but Elmore did. Don’t let the impressive numbers in Reno fool you too much. Carving out a career as a utility infielder would be a victory. Becoming an up-and-down piece of infield depth is more likely. 

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Re-signed 1B/OF-L Mark Kotsay to a one-year extension worth $1.3 million. [8/13]

When the Padres signed Kotsay during the offseason, I wrote:

Kotsay feels like Floyd 2.0. With eroding physical skills, Kotsay does not offer much at the dish or in the field, but he can provide value behind closed clubhouse doors. When Kotsay does play, Bud Black needs to keep him away from lefties. To wit, Ron Roenicke and Ozzie Guillen limited Kotsay’s exposure to lefties these past two seasons by arranging it so that more than 90 percent of his plate appearances came versus righties.

The same logic prevails here. Josh Byrnes and Bud Black value what Kotsay brings to the clubhouse and the bench. Be it professionalism, attention to detail, preparedness, or a combination thereof. Do those attributes demand a $1.3 million guarantee made eight months prior to the open of next season? The Padres think so. San Diego’s belief does not make it the correct call, necessarily. It does uphold the Padres’ way of valuing intangibles, however; hence the Kotsay deals and the Cliff Floyd signing after the 2008 season.

Sustaining a healthy, united clubhouse during a losing season is a difficult, if ignored task. Perhaps re-signing Kotsay now sends the right message. Not just to the players, but to the fans and the coaching staff. Would the Padres re-up on of Black’s supposed lieutenants if they intended to dump him and his coaches at season’s end? It’s a small gesture, unlikely to affect the team on the field in the long run, and undoable if the Padres need the roster spot.

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

Related Content:  Derek Lowe,  Mark Kotsay,  Juan Abreu,  Mike Zagurski

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