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September 16, 2013
Painting the Black
The Transactions We Didn't Analyze
Since January 1, 2013, we've published 102 Transaction Analysis columns, about three per week. While we don't cover every move, we do cover most moves with big-league implications. Yet sometimes moves that sneak through become noteworthy in their own right. Here are six players, listed in chronological order of their transactions, who passed us unnoticed but found success this season.
The move: Selected off waivers by the Braves on November 1, 2012
What we would have said: "Schafer entered the 2009 season ranked as the 50th-best prospect in baseball, spots behind fellow promising center fielders Austin Jackson and Desmond Jennings. He homered in his first big-league plate appearance, but it's been all downhill from there. Traded to the Astros in the Michael Bourn deal, Schafer showed few marketable skills in 500-plus plate appearances with Houston; those struggles caused Jeff Luhnow—a shrewd talent evaluator—to bid him adieu for no more than the waiver-claim fee. Schafer returns to Atlanta, where he'll generate some easy copy and old-time nostalgia, but he's likely to hit the waiver wire again once the Braves assemble their new outfield."
What we should have said: "Schafer returns to his original organization in need of a niche. Although he's a skilled defender and baserunner, the offensive potential that led to star-quality projections and Steve Finley comparisons has not showed in some time. Atlanta figures to sign or trade for at least one more outfielder this winter, leaving Schafer fourth or fifth on the depth chart. He should benefit from the reduced responsibilities and expectations, and might even work his way into a platoon, depending on who else the Braves get. This is a make-or-break season for Schafer's big-league career. Given his prospect pedigree and the Braves' history of finding useful parts, bet on make."
The move: Signed with the Rangers as a minor-league free agent on November 12, 2012.
What we would have said: "Cotts hasn't pitched in the majors since 2009, and hasn't thrown more than 50 big-league innings in a season since 2006. He's minor-league filler at this point, though it seems the Rangers like his presence around their young arms. If that's the case, they might reward him with a late-season promotion. Just don't expect to see him often or in high-leverage spots."
What we should have said: "This is the next chapter in a comeback story. Cotts has altered his mechanics and the early results encouraged the Rangers enough to give him another year—after all, it's not like they re-sign players for their handshakes. Pencil Cotts in as a serious threat to crack the majors should he continue to demonstrate improved command and control. If he pulls it off then get ready for a few 'How He Did It' pieces."
The move: Signed with the Angels as a minor-league free agent on November 15, 2012
What we would have said: "You might remember Shuck from his time in the majors with the 2011 Astros. For whatever reason, Houston didn't seem too high on his prospects; they kept him in the minors until the season ended in 2012, then freed him into the wild, like a wounded bird. Now Shuck heads from a team with little big-league talent to a team with a lot. This is a sensible move for the Angels, who could use the cheap depth in light of their forthcoming Zack Greinke pursuit. Still, Shuck doesn't do much beyond making contact, and he's unlikely to reach the majors given all the names ahead of him on the depth chart."
What we should have said: "There are no secrets to Shuck's game: he's a one-dimensional player who lives and dies by putting the bat on the ball, yet he does it so often that he might hit .290-plus some day as an extra outfielder on a bad team. The lack of secondary skills makes it tough to envision him sticking on a good team like the Angels, but at the same time he serves as solid depth. Injuries happen to everyone, so why not have a guy like Shuck around—just in case he's needed for a Reggie Willits impression? These are the kind of prescient moves that will have everyone talking about Jerry Dipoto next September."
The move: Selected off waivers by the Braves via the Red Sox on November 30, 2012
What we would have said: "Not to be confused with the Angels reliever by the same name, this Carpenter was so unskilled with wood that the Cardinals converted him from catcher to pitcher. He's since bounced around a bit—making trips through Houston, Toronto, and Boston—but now lands in Atlanta, where pop-up relievers generate randomly like video-game enemies. Carpenter has the necessary tools to become a solid middle reliever—namely a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and a slider—yet his stuff has found too many barrels during his various big-league stays. He'll need to tighten his location a bit before he can reach his upside. As good as Atlanta is with these types, the most likely outcome is Carpenter turning into an up-and-down arm with better stuff than results."
What we should have said: "Put a star next to this one. Carpenter's past stats are ugly but his stuff is too good to ignore. The Braves seem to turn one waiver-wire find into a good bullpen piece annually, and Carpenter could be their guy in 2013. His fastball-slider combination is enviable no matter the experience level, and that he's relatively new to pitching could mean his best is yet to come. Don't be surprised if the Braves tweak his mechanics a bit—perhaps lowering his arm slot—in order to help him harness his pitches. If it clicks, watch out."
The move: Selected off waivers from the Yankees by the Athletics on March 27, 2013
What we would have said: "Otero changes teams for the second time this week, having gone from the Giants to the Yankees a few days ago. That he slipped beyond the teams with better waiver priority tells you those front offices view the command-and-control righty as an up-and-down type, and not a difference maker. Yes, Otero has stellar minor-league statistics, and this is Billy Beane, but that doesn't always mean a whole lot. Undervalued asset? Phooey."
What we should have said: "The A's pieced together a good bullpen last season with parts from varied origins, and they're still collecting potential contributors for this season just days before it's go time. Otero doesn't throw the ball hard and doesn't have tremendous stuff; he makes up for those flaws by putting the ball wherever he wants to and not beating himself with walks. Is Otero going to post a shiny ERA and entrench himself as a fixture? Probably not. But the A's could do worse than using him as the fifth or sixth pen arm."
The move: Signed as a minor-league free agent with the Cubs on April 3, 2013
What we would have said: "A low-risk, low-reward signing. Murphy, 30 years old, is a known commodity: he can play multiple infield positions and has good power for a utility-infield type. Keeping Murphy from a Ryan Raburn-like career is his inability to make consistent contact; he strikes out too much and does not walk enough to maintain a respectable on-base percentage. The lack of a gaping platoon split throughout his career works against him in a way, since it would be easier to place him on a roster if he dominated left-handed pitchers. As it is, he's just a subpar bench player. The Cubs aren't competing this season and can turn to Murphy if their other options fall through. Their fans will not thank them later, however."
What we should have said: "The kids call him 'Dangerous Donnie' for a reason. Murphy can turn on a fastball and is strong enough to hit for power to all fields. Add in adequate defensive flexibility— shortstop and second and third base—and he could sneak onto the Cubs' bench as a utility type if he can fulfill his potential. That's been a problem for Murphy, however, and the Cubs mark his sixth pro organization. He's too old to be considered a true upside play, and there's no guarantee he produces if he gets a shot. Still, sometimes these guys go nuts for a summer and improve their outlook. If that happens for Murphy then perhaps he'll enliven the bored Wrigley Field faithful."