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July 31, 2013

Transaction Analysis

The Indians Play Scrabble, and the Dodgers Buy the Beard

by Sam Miller


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Acquired LHP Marc Rzepczynski from St. Louis for minor-league SS-R Juan Herrera. [7/30]

Few deals will affect more teams, to a smaller degree, than a move like this. At this stage in the season, every defeated team has a left-handed reliever it would be willing to move. And, if not every contending team, then a large share of them would happily add an effective left-handed reliever, particularly with an eye toward the expanded rosters of September and the matchups-heavy postseason. The Cardinals, a putative buyer this week, jumped to the front of the line to move Rzepczynski before the outlets for his services dried up.

Rzepczynski's one season of dominant situational work came in 2011, when the Cardinals added him in the Colby Rasmus/Edwin Jackson deal. He struck out 31 percent of the southpaws he faced that season while holding them to a Nishiokaesque isolated power. He's got the requisite funk, slinging out of a closed motion and leaning heavily on a 92 mph sinker. Righties have little trouble elevating that sinker, but lefties reliably pound it into the ground.

The Cardinals in April demoted him to Triple-A, where righties blasted him and lefties managed to scratch out all of one extra-base hit (a double) in three months. (He was optioned by St. Louis earlier today, after two games in the majors.) He's not an elite LOOGY, but no pitcher on Cleveland's staff—lefty or righty—has held lefties to a lower OPS this year than Rzepczynski's career .608 mark. They'll certainly find a few places for him to have a signature moment, which might determine whether he's offered arbitration after the season.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Signed RHP Brian Wilson to a guaranteed deal through the end of this season. [7/30]

Brian Wilson certainly isn’t the first Giants player to spend at least a year in the Bay Area and then head straight to the hated rival; he’s not the first who is a hometown hero, for that matter. What he might be is the first who doesn’t completely implode in a way that might make a paranoid man suspicious:

  • Justin Miller: 4.44 ERA as Dodger reliever; 3.18 as Giant reliever
  • F.P. Santangelo: .197/.322/.246 as a Dodger; .260/.406/.386 as a Giant
  • Jason Schmidt: 43 innings, 73 ERA+ in three full seasons as Dodger
  • Mark Sweeney: .461 OPS in two seasons as a Dodger; .730 as a Giant
  • Brett Tomko: 5.24 ERA in two years as a Dodger; 4.26 in two as a Giant
  • Juan Uribe: .220/.287/.324 in three years as a Dodger, after World Series heroics in San Francisco
  • Eugenio Velez: .000/.075/.000
  • Ned Colletti: Signed or traded for all the guys

This is not a cherry-picked list; this is all the players, since 2000, that have made the move. I mean, Velez didn’t even try to fake it. You gotta be more convincing than that, unless, I suppose, you’re Eugenio Velez and people just nod along.

There’s probably nothing to this, but if there was then you won’t find a jury in Northern California who’d convict a single one of these guys.

Wilson joins the Dodgers after missing a year and a half following Tommy John surgery. There were cracks showing before the surgery—a sort of Marmolesque decline that saw his Ks come down to mortal levels while the walks turned into farce. Of course, maybe that’s the result of pitching with a weak elbow, and therefore pitching without two mph of his fastball. Wilson talked about pitching through pain the previous season, but he said that was a different injury; he later blamed his statistical downturn on “pitching with a hurt elbow the whole year and a bad hip.”

That hurt elbow went pop in the middle of a 32-pitch outing last April in which it was woefully obvious he was hurt, and his 15-month recovery was slower than we’ve come to expect. Which is all to say, it’s hard to know. It’ll be a few outings—or, at least, a few pitches—before we really know whether he’s back, and all the way back. If he is, at the very least you know the guy’s got moxie.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Acquired minor-league SS-R Juan Herrera from Cleveland for LHP Marc Rzepczynski. [7/30]

Herrera is a 20-year-old shortstop who has yet to appear in a short-season league. Scouts say he has a thick body, which makes it hard to see him staying at shortstop, but he makes good contact and has big-league offensive upside. That makes him a sleeper utility type with an outside chance to be an everyday second baseman.


Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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