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September 23, 2014

Transaction Analysis

Wren's End

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Recalled RHP Drew Rucinski from Double-A Arkansas. [9/19]

Rucinski makes it 39 players on the Angels roster, leaving poor Jose Alvarez as the only 40-man roster member not in the majors. He's not just roster ballast, as he served a purpose over the weekend. Friday night's starter, Hector Santiago, exited in the second, gifting the bullpen extra attention. Rucinski saved the bullpen—or, at least much as one can save a bullpen in September—by taking four of the eight innings as his own. Now if the Angels can find a reason to recall Alvarez over the next few days, we can all head into the postseason happy.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Purchased the contract of 1B-R Christian Walker from Triple-A Norfolk. [9/17]

With Chris Davis suspended into the postseason, the Orioles have recently turned to Walker as their everyday first baseman. Formerly a fourth-round pick by way of the University of South Carolina, Walker began the season in Double-A. He hectored Eastern League pitching and earned a late-season promotion to Norfolk, where his strikeout rate increased to a career-worst 26 percent. Because Walker doesn't project for outstanding power or defense, he doesn't fit the typical starting first baseman mold. He is believed to have the bat-to-ball and on-base skills to succeed in the majors. The question is whether he'll hit enough to start, or if he'll have to settle for a career coming off the bench.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Activated RHP Masahiro Tanaka from the 60-day disabled list; designated RHP Chaz Roe for assignment. [9/21]
Selected the contract of 2B-R Jose Pirela from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; placed UTL-S Martin Prado on the 60-day disabled list (appendectomy). [9/16]

Tanaka returned to the mound on Sunday after missing more than two months with a partially torn UCL. That he came back at all this season is surprising, yet he deserves credit for pitching decently against the Blue Jays, allowing five baserunners in 5 1/3 innings of work. Obviously the Yankees, though mathematically alive, are looking toward next season, so expect to see Tanaka exit early on Saturday, in what will be the final start of his first year stateside.

Pirela, almost 25 years old, is a versatile infielder who did well during his first full season in Triple-A. He'll try to impress the bosses enough to enter spring in competition for a bench spot.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Fired general manager Frank Wren; named John Hart interim GM. [9/22]

Despite how things ended, Wren's time in Atlanta has to be considered a success. During his first six seasons in charge, the Braves finished under .500 just once, his first year. Otherwise, the Braves were one of the league's most reliable winners, making the postseason three times and taking the division crown twice. Even including 2014, they've won 90 or more games in three of the past five seasons—they won 89 games in their other "off year." If there was a persistent negative during Wren's tenure, it had to be the lack of playoff success, as the Braves failed to win a series under his watch.

But Wren's dismissal doesn't appear to be about the results alone, no matter the playoff drought or rough finish to this season. Indeed, there have been hints throughout that politics are involved—perhaps dealing with the departure of several instructors and scouts, as well as the status of manager Fredi Gonzalez. Still, whenever a GM is fired, his failed moves are inevitably blamed. In Wren's case, that means the Dan Uggla extension, and Derek Lowe and B.J. Upton signings—the Chris Johnson extension and an unremarkable farm system also deserve attention.

Wren made numerous good moves, too. He showed an aptitude for finding cheap bullpen—see: Eric O'Flaherty, David Carpenter, and Anthony Varvaro—and bench help throughout, and the Braves graduated a lot of young talent during his time—talent that he, for the most part, locked into long-term deals. Wren's guidance also saw the Braves unearth a number of late-round or undrafted free-agent gems, like Evan Gattis and Brandon Beachy, but his level of involvement in those deals is unknown. Ultimately, it would be fair to say Wren excelled on the margins and faltered when he stepped into the world of big-monied contracts. He's not alone in that regard, of course, and it would seem he did enough to keep his job. Yet upper management, fueled by whatever the issues behind the curtain were, decided it was time for a change.

And so the Braves, led by Hart, John Schuerholz, and Bobby Cox, will seek a new point man. The odds-on favorite would seem to be assistant GM John Coppolella. Coppolella, who we named one of the top future GM candidates in the game not long ago, fits the new stats-and-scouts mold and is familiar with the main actors involved in the decision-making process. The Braves tend to value continuity as much as any organization this side of Minnesota, so the promotion would make sense on multiple levels. The top alternative tied to the triumvirate at this point is current Royals GM (and former Braves exec) Dayton Moore, though it's unclear how serious the interest is from either side.

Whoever gets the job will have a difficult first year on his hands since, among other items, both Justin Upton and Jason Heyward will qualify for free agency following next season. It's too early to speculate about potential offseason plans, but it's possible the Braves will wed a new look on the field with their new look in the front office.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Recalled RHP Eddie Butler from Double-A Tulsa. [9/16]

Butler, who entered the season ranked no. 2 on the Rockies prospect list based on the strength of his sinker and changeup, made his second big-league start on Saturday. The results—a run over six innings—were better than his first go-around back in June, though some of that improvement stems from facing the Diamondbacks. Butler hasn't shown the same bat-missing ability this year that he had in previous seasons, so keeping the ball on the ground and avoiding walks have become more important to his future if he's to find success in Coors Field. Barring an injury or other unforeseen development, he should finish his year with a start on Friday night in Los Angeles.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Activated OF/3B-R Ryan Zimmerman from the 15-day disabled list (hamstring). [9/20]
Claimed SS-S Pedro Florimon off waivers from the Twins; designated OF-R Eury Perez for assignment. [9/18]

The reality of Washington's situation is that a good player will be available off the bench no matter the starting arrangement. Whether it's Zimmerman himself, or someone displaced by Zimmerman—Denard Span, Adam LaRoche, Asdrubal Cabrera, whoever. That might be wasteful over the long haul, and rest assured the logjam will be solved this winter, but it gives Matt Williams an advantage during the postseason, when he can turn to a starter-quality player for a plate appearance. (Not to mention the better depth allows the Nationals to adjust to an injury better than other teams can.) Until then, Williams just has to figure out which eight players give him the best chance at winning any given day. What a nice problem to have.

The switch-hitting Florimon opened the year as the Twins starting shortstop. He lost the job in May and, save for a brief stretch in June, hasn't been seen from since. The story on Florimon is that he can't hit. What he can do is field and run, making him a good fit on a bench. Provided Williams doesn't ask Florimon to start or give him too many plate appearances—and there's no reason to think it'll come to that—then this is a sensible arrangement.

Perez, a speedy outfielder with limited offensive skills, has since been claimed by the Yankees.

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:  Atlanta Braves

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