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August 1, 2005

Transaction Analysis

July 31

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Acquired LHP Buddy Groom from the Yankees for a PTBNL. [7/31]

A useful enough snag, I guess, although Groom is far from a dominant situational lefty when he's allowed them to hit .265/.294/.449 this summer, and .261/.304/.406 in the three years previous. But then that's why Groom was available; a situational lefty who's hittable and who can give up the ocassional bomb is supposed to be free talent. And when you're the team that needs Tim Worrell to help your 'Snake That Roared' run at the division title, help is help, and you can't afford to ask who's giving you a hand -- you're Snakes, after all.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Acquired RHP Kyle Farnsworth from the Tigers for RHPs Roman Colon and Zach Miner. [7/31]

John Schuerholz does it again, nabbing a top-shelf reliever to fix his pen coming down the stretch. Now sure, he has the coin of the realm, having always drafted toolsy arms that everyone will take in trade, so he always has something that people want, and pitching being pitching, most of them never do come back to haunt him. But if you look at our Reliever Expected Runs report, Farnsworth is the one pitcher in the top twenty in Adjusted Runs Prevented who was traded; re-jigger the chart to go by Fai r Runs Allowed and using a cutoff like 40 IP, and again, there's nobody ahead of him that you saw dealt, and other than Billy Wagner, perhaps even rumored to be dealt. If you're curious, Chris Reitsma ranks behind him both times. Anyways, my point is that Schuerholz added not just the best reliever dealt at the deadline, but an actual really good reliever to boot, and anything that involves less opportunity for Dan Kolb to be asked to preserve a lead, that much greater the likelihood that the Braves will win the game. Anyone already wondering what will happen if Farnsworth takes the mound against the Cubs in October? Here's hoping he makes them pay.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Purchased the contract of RHP Jon Papelbon; optioned LHP Lenny DiNardo to Pawtucket; designated RHP Luis Mendoza for assignment. [7/31]

With Matt Clement and Wade Miller dealing with the very different ways in which they're nicked up, the Red Sox needed to haul in someone to fill in. They may not keep Papelbon up since his spot won't be come up again until next Saturday, and if Clement is ready to go by Thursday the 4th or even Saturday the 6th, this was really just an emergency start that gave Papelbon a quick taste of the bigs, and not a showcasing for a deal that never did pan out, the way some seemed to believe before the deadline came and went.

Under the circumstances, Papelbon did very well, although it's worth noting that he's a top product of a top college program (Mississippi State), so he's not supposed to suck. He did show off mid-90s heat, although not with the command he's supposed to have, leaving it up in the zone more than is ever going to be a good idea. But this was a nifty capper to a season that has seen him already effortlessly make the leap into Double-A before rising to Pawtucket. Between those two levels, he's thrown 109.2 IP, allowing only 80 hits and logging a 104:25 strikeout to walk ratio. If push came to shove, the Sox could do a lot worse than pasting him into the rotation should one of the starters break down, and the opportunity should be there for him to replace Miller in next year's rotation.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Acquired INF-B Geoff Blum from the Padres for LHP Ryan Meaux; recalled RHP Jon Adkins from Charlotte; optioned UT-L Willie Harris and 1B/OF-L Ross Gload to Charlotte. [7/31]

It would be easy to dismiss the trade as a disappointment, since it isn't even a Chicago-appropriate trade: they got a Blum, like Leon, instead of a Bloom, like Allan. Now, there's no accounting for taste: some people may prefer the President of the ill-fated Third Republic, and others might prefer a cranky old man blaming those kids and their rock'n roll for the decline of Western Civilization.

Perhaps it won't surprise people that I'm preferential to Blums over Blooms, but that isn't the reason I actually like this move. More basically, Geoff's hit .248/.347/.376 against right-handed pitching. That's a higher OBP than normal for him, but as switch-hitters go, hitting lefty is Blum's strong side (cue applause from Leon from beyond the grave), and that makes for a good match for Joe Crede (.245/.290/.441 vs. RHPs, .290/.373/.484 vs. LHPs) against certain righthanded ace types. Add in that Blum can play a good third (if a much less special second or short), and he's a good utility infielder for a team that leaves its shortstop and second baseman on the field close to everyday. That helps explain why Harris is out of a job, since he's really a second baseman in utilityman's clothing, and a little too obviously uncomfortable in mufti as well as stale in a bench role.

As for swapping Gload for a reliever, again, this one also makes good sense. With Dustin Hermanson's back woes and the worries that Neal Cotts and Cliff Politte have been overworked, a spare arm for mop-up work makes sense. The Sox tried to make Adkins into a starter again this summer, and it didn't work out (again), but plugged back into the long relief role he was in last year, he should be useful enough. The problem, such as it is, is that demoting Gload highlights the team's lack of alternatives when it comes to replacing Frank Thomas' bat now that he's apparently out for the season. All Carl Everett all the time is no way to invest all of your DH time, even assuming that you think he can stay healthy, so the Sox should definitely make a waivers deal to get an extra bat if they can. Daryle Ward would be settling, but it wouldn't be the worst thing they could do, given the obviousness of their need. There's always the danger that they could turn to Joe Borchard now that he's up to .255/.325/.461 at Charlotte.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Acquired OF-L Matt Lawton from the Pirates for OF-L Jody Gerut. [7/31]

Kudos to Jim Hendry for pulling off either the best or tied for the best deal of the deadline (tied with the Braves getting Farnsworth). It was a particularly neat trick to start with Dubois, a good player to have, but one Dusty Baker didn't know how to use, trade him for Gerut, and then flip Gerut for a player you can win games with right now. Because that is the name of the game: right now. Catching the Cardinals isn't the goal, making up the four game lead the Astros hold in the wild card race is. It's more than worthwhile, it's imperative, not simply for the well-being and job security of Hendry or Dusty, but because the stakes are especially high when there is no dominant team in the National League, and any team in the postseason with a good rotation and offense might get to the World Series, as the Astros almost did last year, or the Marlins did in '03.

As Joe Sheehan has already noted, this move as well as the elevation of Jerry Hairston Jr. to a full-time role in center entirely changes the character of the Cubs' offense to one that has runners on base ahead of the Lee-Burnitz-Ramirez heart of the order. Lawton might bat leadoff, and Hairston second, or vice versa, but flipping Todd Walker down to the sixth slot makes for good use of his power and contact hitting, and really only leaves the Cubs carrying one spot o' suck in the lineup, whoever's playing shortstop that day between Neifi Perez and Ronny Cedeno. What, you expected perfection?

Having mauled right-handed pitching this year at a .292/.403/.470 clip, Lawton's a lineup weapon that should create all sorts of benefits: getting on base forces pitchers into the stretch, that can wear out an opposing starter, and that can get you at-bats against middle relievers. But more basically, OBP is life, as the saying goes, and Lee, Burnitz, and Ramirez will have that many more at-bats with runners on. Lawton should end up being platooned with Matt Murton, which gives Murton a continuing role should Dusty Baker figure that much out, although the skipper's incomprehensible explanation of how he'd handled Jason Dubois might be considered cause for alarm, since he never did recognize that the key word in any such statement should have been "poorly."

Finally, getting Lawton reduces Todd Hollandsworth to a fourth outfielder's role he's well-suited for, coming into games in double-switches that might be started by a pinch-hitting appearance coming in for the eighth (shortstop's) slot or the pitcher's slot, and triggered by the inning's subsequently finishing up with Hairston or Lawton making the final out. It's a little thing, but there's no penalty for tactical elegance.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Acquired RHPs Roman Colon and Zach Miner from the Braves for RHP Kyle Farnsworth. [7/31]

Take it for what it is, the slightest of gestures that the Tigers have decided that this isn't the year, but don't get all bent out of shape about it or start yammering about white flags being run up or anything like that. It's a reliever, and the nice thing about those is that if you know where to look, you can shake more out of the bushes and wind up with a pretty good pen. What Dave Dombrowski has done is go out and get arms, which sometimes works out. In light of Farnsworth's refusal to sign before testing free agency--who's going to choose Detroit if you're a flamethrowing reliever and the world wants you?--Dombrowski flipped Farnsworth for a package while he could, because it was almost impossible to expect that Farnsworth would slip through in a waivers deal.

So what about the goodies? Colon is the name pitcher, what with his being in his second year of big league experience, and having a heater he can dial up into the mid-90s while mixing in a splitter and slider. There is the question about what you use him for, since he's been worse than awful in a relief role, while adding some value in his four starts. Happily, the Tigers need a bit of everything, so the challenge will be to sort out where to use him. For the time being, he'll be in the pen. Dombrowski sang his praises, but I'm not so sure that Colon is the name pitcher in the deal. Miner could very well end up having the better career, although that's in part because Colon's chip isn't quite as blue as Dombrowski paints it. Although Miner started off the season repeating Double-A, he was promoted to Richmond a few weeks into the season. Combined over the two levels, he's pitched 106 innings, allowed 117 hits, but only six homeruns while posting a 81:50 strikeout-walk ratio. That all doesn't sound that special, I know, but keep in mind that he's a 23 year old who's already up at Triple-A. He's been pretty healthy since being picked out of high school, and and he's got good stuff: with a good hard sinker, a slider he throws for strikes, and he's consistently good at keeping the ball in the park. I'd suggest that Miner's future may not be as a starter, but that, somewhat like Billy Koch, his real future is in a big league bullpen. Dombrowski downplayed Miner, calling him a 'fringe guy' with 'an above-average arm,' but I guess I'm willing to invest a little wishcasting; call it a hunch.

As for the big league bullpen, la vie sans Farnsworth isn't all glum. Fernando Rodney might get the saves, but Rodney, Franklyn German, and Chris Spurling all deserve to be given opportunities to assume more significant roles by moving up a peg on the pen's totem pole. For next year, the pen might be the right place for Humberto Sanchez or Miner, although Dombrowski will no doubt go shopping for more veteran leavening. Regardless, the situation holds promise.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Acquired LHP Ron Villone from the Mariners for RHPs Yorman Bazardo and Mike Flannery. [7/31]

I've always been a bit of a fan of Villone's, going back to the days when the Mariners, Padres, and Brewers all didn't seem to know what they had in the mid-'90s. It took the charnel house in Cincinnati to give him an opportunity he could work with back in '99, as he finally escaped situational constraints and showed that what he's really for is a true swingman's role, starting as needed, or handling multi-inning relief assignments. Typically for the man and for this season's Mariners, one of Mike Hargrove's "successes" has been to reduce Villone back to the situational role that nearly ended his career. Now that he's in Florida and reunited with the manager who helped him save his career, the opportunity is there for Jack McKeon to let Villone to go back to doing what he can do best, which is true middle relief work. The Fish don't have good relievers a-plenty, and guys like Todd Jones, Jim Mecir and Antonio Alfonseca aren't known for their durability. Along with Guillermo Mota, Villone can be the bridge to the late innings. There is the danger that Villone might get shoehorned into the situational role, because Valerio De Los Santos hasn't exactly filled the bill for a situational lefty, but there's a chance for the Marllins to do more than that, and help themselves that much more. It would be a bit of a disappointment if the Marlins traded one of their top young pitching prospects, and all they got for it was a situational specialist, although it's worth noting that this isn't a simple rental, as Villone is under contract for '06.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Placed OF-R Jayson Werth on the 15-day DL (bursitis - knee); activated UT-B Jose Valentin from the 60-day DL. [7/31]

I'll leave it to people more devoted to counting these sorts of things than I am, but I think it's fair to say that there hasn't been a whole lot of time on the schedule when the Dodgers have had all four of their expected front four outfielders on the active roster. Werth, Milton Bradley, J. D. Drew, and Ricky Ledee, all of them have had to spend time on the DL, helping to short-circuit what might have been one of the league's better offenses and reduce it to mediocrity. So how can they cover for the damage now? Beyond relying on the currently healthy pair from the four (Bradley and Ledee), there's the relentlessly healthy Jason Repko, but in their extremity, the Dodgers have been willing to consider one additional wrinkle: between time spent at the position in winter ball and an experiment the White Sox conducted in 2001, Jose Valentin has a solid amount of experience in center field. The Dodgers need people willing to play the outfield more than they need another infielder, especially now that Oscar Robles and Antonio Perez have both panned out pretty well. If necessity is the mother of invention, that's in part because necessity needs certain things to happen tonight, and can't afford to wait for her parents to introduce her to someone more appropriate. When an itch needs scratching, I guess this makes Paul DePodesta the man of the moment, and the Dodgers are needy enough that they can't afford to be picky: Valentin's power and patience is going to come in handy wherever it gets plugged in.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Traded LHP Buddy Groom to the Diamondbacks for a PTBNL. [7/31]

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Acquired OF-L Jody Gerut from the Cubs for OF-L Matt Lawton. [7/31]

Is it a sexy move? Hardly, but there are a few subtle benefits to having made this deal as opposed to simply hanging onto Lawton. Although arb-eligible, he's going to be cheaper to keep around than Lawton was, which matters when you're a franchise that has to hope and wonder about Kid McClatchy's solvency on a year-to-year basis, and buying second- or third-tier free agents is difficult enough as a result. Because of the lower cost, the other thing is that Gerut makes for a nice enough veteran insurance policy, where he can sit on the bench in case guys like Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit are ready to play, and there to be used as the starter in right field in case they aren't. Since Lawton was certain to walk away as a free agent, the Bucs get a solid player they can control for as long as they feel they can afford him, and the point at which Gerut will be eligible for free agency himself is around the point when you'd want nothing more to do with him since his peak seasons would already be behind him.

The larger question is why this was all the Bucs did. Or are they going to risk arbitration with Jose Mesa, when arb might be the best money Mesa can make this winter? Are they comfortable with the certainty of an arbitration pay hike they're certain to have to give to Kip Wells if he's short of service time for free agency? Do they really want to pay Mark Redman when he exercises his option? This could be another winter where Rule 5 and arbitration present special problems to the Pirates, problems that David Littlefield has failed to navigate successfully before. I would have thought there would have been plenty of incentive to avoid these scenarios, but apparently not enough.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Acquired LHP Ryan Meaux from the White Sox for INF-B Geoff Blum; activated RHP Adam Eaton from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Tim Stauffer to Portland. [7/31]

Oh, please. Stauffer gives this team quality starts in six of his first dozen starts, has a couple of rough outings against a couple of tough lineups (the Phillies and the Cardinals), and for that he gets shipped off? To what end, to make a punitive start in Portland while Pedro Astacio blows another assignment or two? Do the Pads want to win the division or not? They're already hoping they get a Chan Ho Park who resembles the guy who once pitched for the Dodgers. Doing that twice over with Astacio as well is simply nuts at this point of the season. Since Eaton's back but going to the pen because his finger injury prevents him from throwing curves, he's no help on this score. As is, it remains to be seen if Eaton's going to be all that handy in the pen, but if he can get by with a fastball and change, it isn't like the pen couldn't use the help.

As for the deal, I like it for what it was, an exchange of a present role player for a future role pitcher. Meaux has what I think of as the standard lefty assortment (a fastball in the 80s and a curve), but that will have less to do with his success than whether he ever gains the organization's confidence that he can pitch well enough to make it before perhaps inevitably being squished into a situational lefty role. Spending his third season in the Southern League, he's been in more of a long relief role, averaging almost two innings per appearance while allowing 81 hits in 68.1 IP, and striking out 64 while walking 18. He's also been consistent about keeping the ball in the park, although Birmingham's a nice place that way, and we'll have to see if Meaux can keep it up now that he's switching organizations. All in all, a nice move, since the Pads no longer needed Blum, while there's a present and no doubt future need for lefty relief help on the big league club. As a result, we might even get to see Meaux pitching for the Pads down the stretch.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Acquired RHPs Yorman Bazardo and Mike Flannery from the Marlins for LHP Ron Villone; recalled LHP George Sherrill from Tacoma. [7/31]

Flogging Bill Bavasi in this space makes for good sport, but to be fair, he did a very good job of flipping a veteran pitcher, getting very good value, and then having a suitable farmhand to replace the veteran in the role he was in, so that the Mariners shouldn't even miss a beat at the big league level. By offering a pitcher under contract at a relatively modest salary for '06 beyond the next two months to a team where cost is always a question, Bavasi managed to acquire Bazardo, who'd been touted as the top right-handed pitching farmhand in the Marlins' system coming into this season.

Pitching in his first season above A-ball, Bazardo's made the jump to Double-A, and can be taken that much more seriously as a result. It hasn't been entirely smooth: he's allowing a hit per inning in his 108.1 IP, and his defense-independent spread of 73 strikeouts, 36 walks, and a dozen homeruns isn't awe-inspiring. But his power sinker-slider combination excites scouts, and he did make a clean jump to Double-A by his 21st birthday. Although he is coming to the Mariners' System of Doom as a talented youngster with a good arm and some concerns about his mechanics, and as much as that might lead to cynical expectations that his shoulder has a date with the knacker, same as every other Mariners pitching prospect, it's a good deal.

Bavasi even got an organizational soldier thrown in for his troubles. Flannery has bounced around the Fish chain since his being picked as an apparent draft-and-follow in the 33rd round of the '99 draft, but he's now 25, in his sixth year as a pro, and the nicest thing you can say is that he might be worth re-signing as a minor league free agent after the season. He's flopped in both of his introductions to Triple-A, struggling at Albuquerque in each of the last two years.

As for the big league staff, there are questions about Sherrill's durability, as he had to be shut down with fatigue last year, and he's only managed to toss 22.2 innings for Tacoma this year, but in that time, he's posted a 36:6 strikeout-walk ratio, and allowed only 18 hits. If he physically can't stand anything more involved than a situational role, there's nothing wrong with using him that way, because he wasn't bad at it last year, limiting lefties to .239/.250/.435. Okay, so that last part wasn't so good, but at 28, he's ready now, and he should be an asset filling the situational role that Villone had been stuffed into.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Optioned OF-R Marlon Byrd to New Orleans; recalled OF-L Matt Cepicky from New Orleans. [7/31]

A platoon on the bench isn't all that handy to have around, and even less so when you've got other right-handed bats on your bench, but no effective lefty pinch-hitter while Ryan Church is complaining about shoulder problems. Byrd hasn't earned himself any job security either, not when he was hitting .248/.303/.306 against everybody, however well he was doing against lefties (.313/.352/.406). So enter Cepicky of the pretty swing and meagre production, because more than half the reason his swing's so lovely is that it's left-handed. It won't really help the Nats, but if Cepicky has a few key pinch-hit at-bats, it might get him back on the 40-man roster to stay, or get him a big league contract with somebody else this winter if he doesn't.

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

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