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August 5, 2005

Transaction Analysis

August 1-4

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Placed LHP Jarrod Washburn on the 15-day DL (strained forearm), retroactive to 7/25; recalled 1B-L Casey Kotchman from Salt Lake. [8/4]

Where is Kotchman's star in the firmament? Recent "hot hitting" has him up to .289/.372/.441. In a bandbox. In the PCL. Now, perhaps he's back, and months of previous flailing mask it. Certainly, at 22, giving up on him won't enter the conversation for several seasons to come. But I think it is appropriate to wonder whether a good couple of weeks in the PCL isn't as likely a product of hitting in the right parks or facing the right opponents. It's just as much too soon to have him back up as it is to write him off, so I wouldn't get worked up, hoping that Kotchman might give them a bat they haven't gotten from Steve Finley or any of the various people pasted into the DH slot. It's easy to wishcast Darin Erstad back into center field, if only to get Finley on the bench and Kotchman in the lineup, but I think it's too soon to expect that to work, even if it were something the Angels were willing to consider, which so far, they haven't been.

Over in the rotation, Chris Bootcheck will remain in it for the time being, and as well as he did in his first go-round, this is not a happy development for the Angels. However, to give credit where credit is due, putting Washburn on the DL is an active attempt to have him available later on in the season. If Bootcheck gets to fill in against the Devil Rays in the meantime while Washburn gets to rest up for divisional games that remain on the schedule, that seems like a canny bit of roster management as well as a sensible attempt to pre-empt anything more serious happening to the staff ace. Add in Monday's off-day, and it might only add up to two missed turns in the rotation. Better to give them both to Bootcheck than wonder what Aaron Sele might do if he got back into an Angels uni; been there, done that.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Optioned RHP Brandon Medders to Tucson. [8/2]

Medders lost out to Buddy Groom, which sort of highlights the qualitative issues that have blighted the Snake pen all season. It remains as unfortunate as before, but Medders has options, however well he's pitched. Greg Aquino has had consecutive effective outings, after all, and if Brian Bruney seems a bit short of being able to don the magic mantle of closerdom, he's still tied with Aquino as the Boy Blunder most likely to set Snake hearts a-racing. Now if only they'd recognize that isn't always a good thing...

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Announced that MLB suspended Orioles 1B-L Rafael Palmeiro 10 days for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. [8/1]

Purchased the contract of OF-L Midre Cummings from Ottawa. [8/2]

Fired manager Lee Mazzilli; named Sam Perlozzo interim manager. [8/4]

Firing Mazzilli might seem surprising, or an overreaction to the team's bellyflop after their hot first half, but it actually isn't. He was rumored to be on thin ice after last season, and I frankly never found his bullpen usage patterns to reflect any particular sensibility for handling a pitching staff. That might seem like small beer, but that's an area where managerial discretion does make a difference, and Mazzilli just never seemed to have the knack. Brian Roberts has been a success story, but the Orioles have had more than their share of young hitters stalling out, and you don't have Mike Hargrove to blame for that sort of thing any more. If he seemed mostly inert, he learned from a master in Joe Torre, but Baltimore isn't New York. The Orioles might seem moribund, but within the history of this franchise, you've got larger than life figures like Cal Ripken, Earl Weaver, or even Jim Palmer, not an audience ready to settle for a skipper as bland as Ragu. It's been said that Perlozzo is supposed to change all of that, but if he's been here for ten years and wasn't doing it for a team critics are now calling uninspired, how is he supposed to do so now? His track record as a minor league manager, before he hitched his wagon to Davey Johnson's train as a coach, is a bit dated, but he did win three league championships in five years down on the farm. Worse people have been handed big league opportunities, but for now, he seems to be the choice of convenience, with his future depending as much on what first happens to the front office duumvirate of Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie as it does on earning some ejections or doing whatever it is that people felt Mazzilli needed to do more of.

As for the Palmeiro thing, the most I'll say is that it's obviously not a good thing for the game. Here's my hope that Major League Baseball, the Orioles, Raffy Palmeiro, and (lords above and below help us) the United States Congress can all act like adults, clean this up, and move on. Okay, so sometimes hope is meant to wither on the vine; so be it.

I do find the decision to laud Palmeiro publicly for his 3,000th hit knowing that you were going to suspend him a few weeks later a particularly loathsome exercise in Realpolitik, and where some might say that Palmeiro's achievement had to be played up regardless. But even then, it wasn't like Rickey Henderson got that sort of tout when he set the runs record, so if anything, I think the eager overcongratulations heaped on Palmeiro by Czar Bud come across as that much more cynical and out of character. Would you trust Monty Burns if he gave you a cake?

BOSTON RED SOX
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Optioned RHP Jon Papelbon to Pawtucket. [8/2]

Placed 1B-L John Olerud on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 8/1; purchased the contract of 1B-L Roberto Petagine from Pawtucket; designated LHP Chris Narveson for assignment. [8/4]

Papelbon was bumped off of the roster by Jose Cruz Jr., but he didn't earn the chance to stick, the Sox have a flag to win, and Matt Clement is supposed to be ready to go. So voila, time to make space for your latest temporary Red Sock.

If there's a criticism to be made here, it's that the Red Sox waited for something like Olerud having to go onto the DL to bring up Petagine. Certainly, last weekend's flourish perhaps added a bit of Bump Bailey-style drama, but isn't this where scouting is supposed to step in? Whether you look at Olerud and see the slow bat, or look at the numbers and see all sorts of suck outside of that neat weekend he had against the Twins, there wasn't really much to justify carrying him, and his last really effective season at the plate was '02. The Sox wanted to get something like what they thought they'd gotten from Doug Mientkiewicz last year, and if that was a psychological prop of some sort (last year's team won, in case you hadn't heard), it's about time the Sox moved on, because they need more than a security blanket, they need a bat worth playing at first. Olerud wasn't going to be the answer, and Kevin Millar hasn't been.

Enter the man, the myth, the legend, the great Roberto Petagine, perhaps to slugging what Teofilo Stevenson was to heavyweight boxing. Down with the PawSox this season, having recrossed the Pacific after starring in Japan for years, Petagine was bopping at a .327/.452/.635 clip. If you're Elias-minded, that's a walk every four at-bats, and a homerun every 16 plate appearances or so. That isn't a walk down memory lane, a la Olerinkiewicz, that's a stick you can plug into your lineup and get some runs with. Even at 34, the man can hit, and while it would be silly to say that if it works for Julio Franco, and wonder if his career is only starting, he's a better choice to take a chance on than Olerud. But rather than simply fulminate, let's give a moment's thought to the problem of being Theo if you're Mr. Epstein: are you really free to take a chance on the Japanese import, on a World Champion, over an ex-famous person like Olerud? I would think you'd have that capital, to do as you please and put the best ballclub on the diamond. It isn't like you haven't done something to earn enduring faith, after all. Reality is always a bit more sticky, but I'd rather see Epstein get to exercise the courage of convictions like knowing that Petagine can hit, than have them, but stowed away in an abstract place like Pawtucket.

All of which boils down to one point: I like adding Petagine to the lineup a lot more than I do the decision to give up goodies for the privilege of having Cruz Jr. YMMV.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Released RHP Shingo Takatsu. [8/1]

Now that he's free, I really think he's best-suited for a jump to the National League. I've floated the Doug Jones theory of sneaky-delivery doom here in this space before, but to repeat, Takatsu's a guy with superb control, a single trick (in his case, his delivery, where Jones' was his being the world's only changeup-only pitcher), and a capacity to surprise you with it. Hanging around the league for a while creates a situation where familiarity doesn't exactly breed contempt as much as it generates souvenirs. Like almost everybody, he could be very happy in places like Chavez Ravine or Petco or the Park Formerly Known As Pac Bell, and most of the involved employers could use a reliever. We'll see where he lands.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Transferred OF-R Juan Gonzalez from the 15- to the 60-day DL; optioned INF-R Brandon Phillips to Buffalo; activated LHP Jason Stanford from the 60-day DL and optioned him to Akron (Double-A). [8/1]

Recalled INF-L Ramon Vazquez from Buffalo. [8/2]

Exercised their 2006 option on 3B-R Aaron Boone for $4.5 million. [8/3]

Activated DH-L Travis Hafner from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-R Jason Dubois to Buffalo. [8/4]

That answers that, where Boone's concerned. The Indians effectively gave him a free pass for the first two months of the season, instead focusing on his slugging .462 in June and July. That's four-six-two, not five, not six-six, not something really impressive, just something that's pretty adequate in the grand scheme of things. And that's the hot streak that's gotten him up to being merely one of the worst-hitting regulars in the game, as opposed to wrestling Cristian Guzman mano y mano for the honor. Now, in Boone's defense, and by extension the Indians, we know a lot less today about how well players bounce back from a year away from the game as we did back when it was unusual. But alongside the advances in medical technologies, we have examples of great comebacks from hitters who have lost an entire year to injury, ranging from youngsters like Larry Walker or Chipper Jones to an old-timer like Dave Winfield. If you want to believe that Boone's someone who can still play a good third base and slug .450 or better over the 2006 season, there's enough reason for some people to suspend disbelief and take a look. A wee bit more pedantically, I'll remain focused on the fact that he's been awful overall, and he'll be 33. I'm not convinced that a season's worth of Boone next year represents an improvement over the alternative of moving Casey Blake back into the infield.

Finally, while getting Hafner back is great, I'm a little disappointed to see Dubois as the fall guy. Perhaps a couple of weeks of hitting on a daily basis in Buffalo will prep him for stepping into the big league lineup in an everyday role. Don't laugh. This team's offensive weak spots are all in the traditional power positions: first base and the outfield corners. There's nothing that Casey Blake or Ben Broussard can do for a team when they're hitting this badly, and if there's one thing that Dubois is supposed to be able to do, it's put runs on the board. Whether the Indians work him out in right, left, or first, he'd make for an improvement at any one of those positions. Yes, trading Coco Crisp will have to happen, but trying to get by without a left fielder who can slug on top of carrying a low-wattage first baseman is a great way to cost yourself runs.

As for the exchange of utility infielders, Phillips really shouldn't rot on a big league bench, not when doing so might simply harm his prospect status. At least if he stays in Buffalo, he retains some sort of prospect-y mystique that might help Mark Shapiro peddle him this winter, or trust in him if its time to move Ron Belliard. In contrast, Vazquez is perfectly suited for a reserve role, spotting for Belliard against tough righties, and giving Jhonny Peralta or Boone days off now and again.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Recalled RHP Scott Dohmann from Colorado Springs. [8/3]

Released INF-B Desi Relaford. [8/4]

As if the Rockies didn't have things bad, the idea that they'd lose Aquilino Lopez on waivers because they got jobbed by the Red Sox on the Bigbie deal is a case of adding injury to insult. Technically, this is one of those things that's all on the up and up as far as the rules, but substantially, it's a matter of losing a player because of the Red Sox decision to act in bad faith, and unmake the deal on a technicality. An active commissioner would be helpful in these matters, but again, under Czar Bud, fairness is hardly the watchword of the day. As is, were there justice in the world, the Commissioner might be worrying about Congress getting into the habit of pursuing perjury charges against people who have demonstrably lied to it, but as Dan O'Dowd might confirm, justice is a sometimes sort of a thing these days.

Which is a long way of explaining why Dohmann is back up. Despite his previously ugly work with the Rox, you might hope that his 53 strikeouts in 39 IP pitching in Colorado Springs is a lot more suggestive of his potential value in middle relief. Unfortunately, he gave up five homeruns in that time, on top of the five he's allowed pitching in the bigs. Over 113.2 IP across this season and last, between pitching with mile-high Colorado Springs and Coors as his home fields, he's allowed 18 bombs. As much as his 139-46 strikeout to walk ratio over that time looks tasty, that's just because of the strikeout numbers. That's still a lot of walks and homeruns per nine. He bears watching by the other 29 teams, but as a Rockie, as much as he might be Special K, whether you call that breakfast or you're focused on your fiber, in Coors, it's all just fodder.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Signed INF-R Placido Polanco to a four-year, $18.4 million extension through 2009. [8/2]

All's well that ends well, I guess, in that Polanco has finally avenged last season's mistaken decision to accept the arbitration offer the Phillies extended last winter. But for the Tigers, I guess I'm not quite so sanguine about the wisdom of signing Polanco through his Age 34 season. It seems instead they've overpaid for a player who they see as having kept up the standards he set in 2003 and 2004 now that he's a Tiger, where I see a guy who's about to turn 30, and who saw the power spike in his Age 27 and 28 seasons, about where you'd expect them. Carlos Guillen is signed through 2007, and he's also turning 30 this winter. That isn't a young and improving middle infield, it's a pair of good players entering that dangerous period where good players started moving into being merely adequate and expensive, before becoming simply expensive. I'm also a bit perplexed by the length of the contract in light of what it might mean for Tony Giarratano, let alone Omar Infante.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Announced that RHP Scott Erickson has accepted an assignment to Las Vegas. [8/3]

Whew, that's a relief. Of course, when you get to the point that Erickson's at in his career, a month in Vegas with a per diem is probably a nice enough way to spend your time.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Exercised the club option on manager Ned Yost's contract for 2006. [8/1]

Seems to find use in free talent pickups, both among his hitters and in his bullpen? Willing to work with young talent? Check. Builds platoon? Cool, check. Doesn't overwork his rotation? Check. Maybe it's just because he's the man who's been willing to give Russ Branyan a break, and I'm always happy to see that happen, but it seems to me that Yost has done a reasonable job of building his bench, creating a nice little rotation, and making space for kids when he should. He's been a good manager if your standard is to win as much as you can in the moment, but he's also been a good builder as well. It isn't that easy to be either; just ask Davey Lopes.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Recalled SS-R Jason Bartlett from Rochester; released 2B-R Bret Boone. [8/1]

Whew. That only seemed like it took forever, but at least one small improvement has been made. For the time being, the infield is set, with Bartlett at short, Nick Punto scuttling over to second, and the consistently execrable Juan Castro back to blighting the roster in the bench role he was originally oversigned for. And hey, Michael Cuddyer is starting to heat up. Terry Tiffee is getting alternated in. It all almost resembles something that might not cost the Twins runs and games, and which, stretched out over a full season, might have put them in a much better spot vis-a-vis the wildcard, if not perhaps close enough to put a scare into the White Sox. Too bad Terry Ryan spent about a third of the season not bothering with all of this, all so that they could force the people of the Twin Cities to watch, Clockwork Orange-style with their eyes pried open against their will, all the Castro antics that they could stand. Besides, even with Castro on the bench, there's still the equally strange infatuation with Punto. Whatever it is that Punto is supposed to do well, Luis Rodriguez does it just as well or better. Maybe someday. Tell you what, if we extend the season to 320 games, I betcha by then the Twins might even have figured out this lineup thingie to the point that they might actually get within ten of the Sox. Youneverknow.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Declined their 2006 option on OF-B Bernie Williams. [8/2]

I wouldn't blame the Yankees for deciding that, if they are going to retain Bernie for next season, they wouldn't want to do it at $15 million. I guess my hope for Bernie is that he gets to finish his career the way I sort of thought of it in the beginning, as a Roy White for modern times, except that he could play center where White really couldn't. Now that Bernie can't play it either, I guess I'm left hoping that he gets to finish his career in pinstripes. I'm not a Yankees fan by any stretch, but my best friend is, and for him, Bernie was an actual ray of hope at a time when most Yankees fans were coming to the sad realization that Kevin Maas was Fool's Gold poured into a first baseman's shoes. In a group of "prospects" that included Maas, Hensley Meulens, Pat Kelly, Jeff Johnson, and Wade Taylor, it was Williams who mattered, and Williams who put an end to the merry-go-round in center field. I have no idea how he'll do in Hall of Fame voting, since he has been perhaps the most understated and underrated great player on a great team. His lack of jaw-dropping power and his mere adequacy as a center fielder probably won't help. He's not dead yet, of course, but I guess I'm already worrying about how he might be jobbed. Given the widespread perception that there's a New York bias in the voting, I suspect that few will weep with me.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Placed RHP Terry Adams on the restricted list; claimed RHP Aquilino Lopez off of waivers, and optioned him to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [8/2]

Lopez was put on waivers in anticipation of the paperwork on the Shoppach-Bigbie trade being a done deal, creating the incongruous situation of the Phillies being the winner of a trade between two other teams. Lucky them. For the reasons stated when Lopez initially came up, I still see how you could want to have him around in a big league bullpen, but for the time being, this fills the spot in Scranton's pen created when Terry Adams walked off of the team in an unplanned retirement/spur-of-the-moment sort of thing.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Optioned C-R Miguel Ojeda to Tacoma; released RHP Aaron Sele; recalled RHP Jorge Campillo from Tacoma. [8/1]

Purchased the contracts of RHPs Jeff Harris and Masao Kida from Tacoma; announced that RHP Ryan Franklin was suspended 10 days Tuesday for violating MLB's steroid policy; placed RHP Jeff Nelson on the bereavement list. [8/2]

Recalled RHP Clint Nageotte from Tacoma; placed RHP Jorge Campillo on the 15-day DL (strained elbow). [8/3]

Recalled RHP Felix Hernandez from Tacoma; optioned RHP Clint Nageotte to Tacoma. [8/4]

It took some doing to work up the nerve to finally do it, and call up Hernandez. It took releasing Sele, as obviously earned as that may have been. It took a fortuitous if unfortunate twinge in Campillo's elbow that heralded his departure for Tommy John surgery and a relaunching to his career in 2007. It took a steroid suspension for Franklin, an otherwise nondescript doughboy noted for his 'mostly harmless'-ness as a fifth starter. As far as feeling sorry for the victims of inexorable progress, you may as well feel sorry for marsupials. King Felix is here, and in a season otherwise devoid of hope, his arrival is the biggest thing since... well, okay, in terms of pitching, the only other monument to Mariner genius in scouting moundsmen is Mark Langston, and Felix is a wee bit bigger in terms of build-up. Fairly or not, Hernandez's arrival to the majors might only be rivalled by the debuts of Ichiro! or Ken Griffey Jr..

So do we really have to call the kid "King Felix?" (His great stuff aside, as references go, it's not that simple.) Take the time to see him yourself, and you may also surrender to the temptation. Handled as tenderly as possible by an organization unfortunately famous for its casualties (Ryan Anderson, anyone?), Hernandez arrived having tossed only 88 IP in Tacoma this season. (He had a touch of bursitis that kept everyone on tenterhooks for almost a month.) There, he did nothing to disappoint expectations, striking out an even hundred batters, and blowing the PCL away with one of the fastest sinkers you're going to see, a straight fastball that gets into the high 90s, a power curve and an even better power slider. He's also been wild, walking 48, but for now, you've got a kid who won't turn 20 until slightly after Opening Day next year, armed with one of the best pure assortments in the game.

As for Kida, I suppose one more crash test dummy with a Japanese name on his uniform won't hurt the feelings of the shareholders. Along with Harris, it fills out the pitching staff with just enough squid scraps to say you've fielded a full team, and when you're the Mariners, that's the sort of victory you'll take. For better or worse, for a lot of people, this is now King Felix's team, and everything else revolves around him. Forgive the fanboys, they have to get excited about something. If you've been a fan for any length of time, you've been there before (speaking as someone who kept wishing Tim Birtsas would do great things, you recognize how misplaced some wishcasting can be). It's to the good fortune of whatever Mariner fans are left that this is one of the ones who's worth it.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Purchased the contract of C-R Yamid Haad from Fresno. [8/1]

Designated OF-R Marquis Grissom for assignment; recalled C-R Justin Knoedler from Fresno; placed C-R Mike Matheny on the bereavement list. [8/2]

Activated C-R Mike Matheny from the bereavement list; optioned C-R Justin Knoedler to Fresno. [8/4]

Braves fans, be afraid. If there's a bit of waiver bait that John Schuerholz might bite on, it's Grissom. He's got the nostalgia thing, just like Terry Pendleton did, he's got the used-up skills set, just like Pendleton, and gollygeewhillikers if the Braves just don't have a veteran outfielder handy. If you're the rest of the NL East, you're cold-calling the Braves scout who recommended Pendleton, and anonymously whispering how good Grissom looked... well, in his back yard or something. "He's been too good to be able to show it on the diamond. Did I mention that he knows how to win?"

Meanwhile, where his release concerns the Giants, it looks like Jason Ellison is one healthy Moises Alou away from a benching. The only person happy with that arrangement is Michael Tucker, who at this point must be part cat somewhere in his bloodlines, because he just doesn't seem to ever be a veteran who gets benched, no matter how badly the team is doing. The last manager to have the sense to keep him, but in a reserve role, was Jack McKeon in Cincinnati. That was five years ago, and if it was his best season, it was also a reminder that being an even better Eddie Milner than the original article is still the sort of player you don't turn into a regular on a good team, you move him to make way for the guys who can help you. Ellison may not be that player, but Tucker certainly is not.

Finally, Haad arrives after having hit .287/.314/.495 at Fresno, moving up into Yorvit Torrealba's job now that Torrealba's in Coffeeville. As much as everyone slugs when he's a Grizzly, he should make a thoroughly adequate reserve.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Signed RHP Alan Benes and LHP Armando Almanza to minor league contracts. [8/3]

Consider this a matter of collecting spare parts who, in an absolute emergency, could be put onto a postseason roster. They're both veterans, after all, and that matters. If I'm Jimmy Journell, I guess I'd be pissed, but he hasn't had a great season, and Memphis boasts other refried options like Kevin Jarvis and Bill Pulsipher. I'd be more impressed if they decided to put Anthony Reyes or even Chris Gissell a shot in such an emergency, but that wouldn't be very Cardinal-like.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Activated 1B/3B-L Eric Munson from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Durham. [8/4]

Because when you've got Travis Lee, all your first base needs are taken care of. When we're talking Devil Rays, there are just three things you need to know: they're scum-sucking bottom feeders, they lack real spine (it's a cartilagenous fish thing, you can't blame them), and they're poison. Perhaps Chuck LaMar is some sort of twisted Nietzschean, operating out of a principle of that which he cannot kill, must make him stronger. Regardless, the fascination with Lee defies rational defense. I'd rather take a look at something like a Munson-Josh Phelps or Earl Snyder platoon or job-sharing arrangement. Munson has pop and patience, and at Durham, Snyder's bopping to the tune of .266/.324/.528. Phelps is slugging .571. The only thing playing Travis Lee tells you is that you wish you didn't have to play Travis Lee; signing him for four times the minimum to demonstrate it is just pissing away cash that the Devil Fishies aren't supposed to have.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Steve Karsay from Frisco (Double-A); designated LHP Ron Mahay for assignment. [8/4]

I don't know if we can really say that Karsay is back. After hopping up and down the Rangers' chain, struggling at Triple-A, and then "holding" the Texas League to a hit per inning pitched. If you're optimistic--and really, do the Rangers have any choice but to play Mary Sunshine where their retreads are concerned?--you can mention that Karsay may have pitched himself into temporary working order, that he's struck out a batter per inning pitched in Frisco (Frisco?), and who knows, maybe this is another successful bullpen retreading. Like... well, okay, so other teams successfully retread people, while the Rangers just read about it in the papers, or end up borrowing other people's retreads, like James Baldwin.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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