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August 19, 2005

Transaction Analysis

August 15-18

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Recalled LHP Joe Saunders from Salt Lake. [8/15]

Purchased the contract of RHP Greg Jones from Salt Lake; optioned LHP Joe Saunders from Salt Lake. [8/16]

Although he only came up for a spot start, it's worth noting that we had low expectations for Saunders coming into this season. In part, that's because we were being cautious about the ambitious rehab program that seems to have made memories of the twin tears in his shoulder (labrum and rotator cuff) that cost him 2003. This wasn't a case of simply calling up a former top draft pick, either. In 24 starts between the Texas League and PCL, Saunders allowed 150 hits in 144 2/3 innings, with 104 strikeouts, 43 walks and 11 home runs allowed. Although he's basically a lefty command type, he's got a hard sinker that helps keep him out of trouble, with another one of the funky deliveries that the organization seems to favor. He's probably still just a fourth or fifth starter in the making, but better to see for yourself, and if need be, keep him in mind for the postseason roster. The Angels don't have a lefty in the pen, after all, and while that shouldn't be a serious source of concern over 162 games, it might be one in a short series. Saunders looked good in his debut against the Blue Jays, so at the very least, I think we can expect him back once rosters expand.

Jones' comeback from various arm woes that derailed his '04 seems to be complete. In extended rehab work at both Double- and Triple-A, he allowed 19 baserunners in 23 innings while striking out 21. He's a bit of an organizational favorite, beyond the tough-luck story of the guy who made it to the majors in '03 before last season's multiple setbacks. Picked by the Angels out of high school in '95, then as a juco draft-and-follow in '96, he's been that rarest of items, the career-long reliever who may actually stick as a big-league reliever. Not that's he's overpowering, but Kevin Gregg didn't look like much until the last two weeks or so, while Joel Peralta seems to have inherited Gregg's struggles. The last couple of spots in the Angels' pen should be up for grabs, particularly where the postseason roster is concerned.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Outrighted RHP Mike Koplove to Tucson. [8/17]

BOSTON RED SOX
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Optioned 3B-R Kevin Youkilis and RHP Manny Delcarmen to Pawtucket; recalled RHP Jon Papelbon from Pawtucket; activated 1B-L John Olerud from the 15-day DL. [8/16]

Moxie junkies have a habit of evaporating as soon as their quality of choice doesn't seem to be associated with the people they're so quick to award it to, so while Schilling's failure as a reliever might make the palaver about his having a closer's heart or a warrior spirit or that he's a combat engineer squad that never fails its morale roll or whatever amalgam he's supposed to possess that makes pitching a simple triumph of the will for him appear to be so much bunkum, there is the wondering about whether or not Schilling will be a success in the rotation either. The Red Sox should still be able to win the division, but I'm not so sure that the next six weeks will provide the answers to their questions about who should be starting games in October.

I certainly wouldn't rule out that Papelbon could be among those choices. Promoted into the rotation for the time being, that he was being prepped for relief work in Pawtucket hints at his more likely role once Miller and Keith Foulke are healthy, but between the uncertainties of Schilling's performance and Wade Miller's shoulder, the opportunity is there for Papelbon to make himself part of the postseason picture.

Somewhat less major is the question of who should start at first base now that Olerud is back, particularly against most right-handed pitching. Some would like to believe that Olerud's good weekend before he pulled his hammy was a sign of things to come, although that means ignoring his struggles to do much in either of the previous two seasons. Roberto Petagine has done exactly what his boosters would expect of him, having hit, helped put runs on the board, and helped the Sox win five of six games he's started while averaging nine runs per (even scoring six in the one loss) in those. I wouldn't think there's a choice, but as ever, the former famous person seems to get the benefit of the doubt. And then, I suppose we have to mention that Kevin Millar still has all his fingers and toes, and still remains ready to play first whenever asked. Although you'd expect him to be part of a platoon-minded playing rotation, Millar isn't hitting lefties. He can't really play first or right, but he is a memento of last season, and as long as Trot Nixon is out, I suppose sitting him more often isn't an issue.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Placed UT-R Ryan Freel on the 15-day DL (knee); purchased the contract of INF-R Aaron Holbert from Louisville. [8/16]

Freel is only expected to miss the next two or three weeks after having his knee scoped, but his absence creates another opportunity for Rich Aurilia. I mean, that's why the Reds are playing the games, isn't it? The fascination with Aurilia is one of the more unfortunate, consistent symptoms of a season that has gone from setbacked to salvaged, and something that should really make sure no one gets overly high or low about their fortunes. I suppose he's going to end up being one of the players blamed for saving Dan O'Brien's front office regime, but finding people who can hit well enough in a bandbox like the Great American Ballpark to resemble a useful player isn't difficult. Once Freel returns, the Reds can go back to wondering whether Aurilia should start in front of any of the other three infielders, but you can always hope he'll simply revert to a reserve role, so that a left side of Lopez and Encarnacion can be left alone, while Freel gets plugged into the leadoff slot while spending most of his time at second base.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Claimed RHP Jason Young off of waivers from the Rockies and optioned him to Buffalo; designated RHP Francisco Cruceta for assignment. [8/17]

Coming into the season, right-handed pitching depth didn't really seem to be a problem for the Indians organization. However, with Jeremy Guthrie's struggles, Kyle Denney's slow recovery from having his skull fractured by a linedrive, Adam Miller still working through elbow problems, and J.D. Martin looking at another year off after having his elbow TJ'd. On top of all that, some of their top righty arms have struggled, like Cruceta. Happily, there are still guys like Fausto Carmona, not to mention Jason Davis, but the injuries and struggles highlight the nature of the beast. Sometimes, you really just can't have enough pitching.

Although Young has been awful at Colorado Springs (6.13 ERA), he's still fooling some people some of the time with his low 90s fastball and slider combo. On the rest of the ledger, he logged 92 strikeouts in 105.2 IP, accompanied by 44 walks and 16 homeruns, so not a great defense-independent spread, but interesting enough to take a look. Besides, Buffalo is in a tight race with Rochester in the International League's Northern Division, and the Indians like to keep their top affiliate happy. Let's face it, beyond Young's talent, there's also the question of retaining the logistical advantage of having your Triple-A team just upshore on Lake Erie.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Optioned RHP Ryan Speier to Colorado Springs; activated C-R Todd Greene from the 15-day DL. [8/16]

One of the great things about The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was that we accepted the way in which all three men entirely filled their roles, and how they stood in contrast from one another despite basic similarities: pistol-packing, all with loose interpretations of law and morality, but two with lines they wouldn't cross, leaving Lee Van Cleef as the one of the three who truly represented an absolute Bad. Bad wasn't merely uncomplicated, he relished in his basic nature, and if he simply had the skill and the sense to shoot Clint Eastwood first, he'd have been better than Good.

Unfortunately for the Rockies, none of their three catchers is Bad, or bad. None of them are all that good, either, and sadly, that leaves the obvious. If all that Danny Ardoin, J.D. Closser, and Greene had wrong with them were things like personal hygiene, faking a need for an eyepatch, or not writing home, there wouldn't be a problem. Each has more relevant shortcomings that make no one of them the easy favorite in a three-sided duel for the prize of being the catcher of the Colorado Rockies. Although tabbed as the franchise's catcher of the present as well as the future this spring, however obvious Closser is as the choice, for whatever reason, he's struggled to hit well in Coors Field this season (slugging over .500 on the road, and .316 at home). That's created just enough uncertainty in the perpetually uncertain Rockies, so that everyone gets taken seriously. However, Greene can't really catch, and at 34, he isn't an everyday player. Ardoin has always been a great catch-and-throw reserve in the making, but there's nothing in his track record to make anyone think he can really hit well enough consistently enough to start. The job really should be Closser's, but I guess the one thing Dan O'Dowd has in common with Sergio Leone is an ability to create suspense about the outcome.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Placed SS-B Carlos Guillen on the 15-day DL (sore knee), retroactive to 8/11; recalled 1B-L Carlos Pena from Toledo. [8/17]

The Tigers seem convinced that Guillen's knee just needs resting up, and that he'll be back by Labor Day, but I would suggest they're better off taking their time, because few players are more critical than he for the '06 season they've been talking up as their actual goal for getting into contention. (This year and last were all happy circumstance. Really. No, really.) It's not all for naught, though, since I think the playing time is well-spent if it's used to see whether or not Omar Infante can get his season back on track. If he does, Dave Dombrowski can shop him that much more effectively this winter, since Guillen owns the present and (presumably) Tony Giarratano has the future, making Infante either a bargaining chip or a frustrated and frustrating utility infielder.

So Guillen's departure makes space for one of this season's other major disappointments (beyond Infante). Although Pena has hit .311/.424/.525 in his Toledo exile, I wouldn't go out of my way to bench either Dmitri Young or Chris Shelton to get him into the lineup. With Young's contract running through next year (not counting a club option for '07), the question is whether or not the Tigers have the space on the 40-man to keep both Pena and Infante, since both are in danger of becoming so much organizational garbage. Admittedly, both represent useful enough insurance for the immediate future, against Guillen's knees and Young's earned reputation for fragility, but with players from the '03 draft nearing their needing to be added to the 40-man this winter, it isn't going to be easy to keep everyone. Besides, don't we all expect Pena to wind up as a Devil Ray at some point?

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Recalled 1B-L Prince Fielder from Nashville; placed OF-R Brady Clark on the 15-day DL (sore knee), retroactive to 8/11. [8/17]

Although Clark's injury has created the opportunity, I'd like to think that the Brewers are not seeing themselves as having to face the same dilemma that the Giants had in the late '50s and early '60s, when they had both Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda. By Opening Day next year, first base should belong to Fielder, and I wouldn't go out of my way to put Lyle Overbay in the outfield. Overbay's numbers are already flagging, and he'll be 29 next year. The sooner he's moved, the sooner the Brewers will have done something to actually help make themselves that much better in the future. Overbay and Fielder are the team's problem in a nutshell: transitioning from the players who helped make the club respectable again to the ones who will actually be a part of an active challenge to the Cardinals.

The other thing that losing Clark does, beyond help a friend's already doomed Hacking Mass team, is create that much more of an opportunity for Corey Hart to show if he can handle center field. No, he did not perform feats of strength in Coors Field the way I'd hoped he would, but I'm happier that this might end up being an actual trial, as opposed to a brief cameo. If Hart looks good enough to mount a challenge for next season's job in center, he'll join Fielder as one of those who might propel the team to a better destiny than 78 wins and self-respect.

NEW YORK METS
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Recalled C-L Mike Jacobs from Binghamton (Double-A); designated RHP Jose Santiago for assignment. [8/17]

Jacobs won't be here for long, since Mike Piazza should be back in working order shortly. However, Jacobs is wrapping up a season that would be a build-up season after a year in which he won the organization's player of the year award. Unfortunately, he won the award in '03 in Double-A for having hit .329/.376/.548, then lost most of '04 to a knee injury, and has hit .323/.378/.590 this year. So it's less progress than demonstrating that he's still here. He'll be 25 next season, so between his hitting, his hitting like that, and his hitting lefty, he should still have a big league future. There are concerns about his ability to catch, usually focusing on his problems with controlling the running game, but if the world had space for Matt Nokes, it should have space for Jacobs.

The real question is whether Jacobs can be part of next season's catching situation. Piazza is a free agent, and one worth letting walk away, but only if the Mets spend the money they'd save there on a first baseman. More's the pity that they didn't spend the money to have Carlos Delgado already, eh? It might have made all the difference in the division and wild-card races, but so be it. For next year, a catching combo of Jacobs from the left side and Ramon Castro from the right might not be Piazza of yore, but it could be very well be one of the most productive catchers in the league. Additionally, Castro would fulfill all of the extra requirements: a catcher who speaks Spanish, a veteran, and a good receiver to compensate for Jacobs' perceived shortcomings. Who's to say he can't play Mike Heath to Jacobs' Nokes impression, for those of you who still remember the tasty platoon that the '87 Tigers had behind the plate? Or Nokes-Mike Stanley Strat-O-Matic.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Activated LHP Mike Gonzalez from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Ian Snell to Indianapolis. [8/16]

Oh, it is so easy to get enthusiastic about the Pirates and their options, especially when they say things you want to hear, like their willingness to consider Gonzalez as an alternative to Jose Mesa in the closer's role. The Pirates could certainly use the help, since all of the right-handed relievers in the pen in front of Mesa have flopped this year. The question for Mesa as he enters free agency again will be one of whether or not he wants to stick around to be a part of that program, or if there's someone else willing to pay him a goodly chunk of change and assume a lot of risk that he can keep up his high wire act as a closer. As for Snell, while he hasn't enjoyed the same sort of success as Zach Duke, he'll be back in the rotation, presumably after the Pirates non-tender Josh Fogg and decline to pick up Mark Redman's option this winter.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Activated C-R Yadier Molina from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-L Skip Schumacher to Memphis. [8/18]

Although Molina's future remains promising, his necessity in the here and now has less to do with how the Cardinals approached this season. They handed him the job anticipating that he'd struggle as a hitter, but they expected that their lineup could carry him as they'd carried Mike Matheny in years past. That's not so much the case now that Larry Walker and Scott Rolen aren't around, and added to that, there's the problem that Einar Diaz was about as bad a choice for a backup catcher as could have been made. So now Molina isn't just a kid cutting his teeth, he's a major upgrade on the dreck the Cardinals have had to rely on in his absence, and coming in at a time when the offense seems to be losing steam. No, I wouldn't get all excited about this if I was the Cubs or Brewers, but at the moment, the Cardinals need as many healthy bats as they can get, especially with speculation that Rolen's done for the year.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Purchased the contracts of LHP Justin Thompson from Oklahoma and RHP Scott Feldman from Frisco (Double-A); released RHP Aaron Sele from Oklahoma; designated RHP James Baldwin for assignment; optioned RHP Kevin Gryboski to Oklahoma. [8/16]

Optioned RHP Scott Feldman to Frisco (Double-A); recalled 1B-L Adrian Gonzalez from Oklahoma. [8/18]

It isn't often that a team recycles its own retreads, but Thompson is a special case, a guy who had so much talent back when he first came up with the Tigers, a pitcher who could show off one of the best overhand curveballs you're ever going to see. If you want to ignore the innumerable failures in getting more mileage out of a retread in Texas over the last couple of decades, just let your eyes glaze over into that horizonless plateau vision the Lone Star state is known for, and hope that this is the next Frank Tanana coming out of the haze. Although Thompson hasn't pitched in the majors since 1999, and I doubt he'll ever make it back as a starter, left-handed pitchers are permitted even more colorful pasts and long absences than their right-handed cousins, and there's always room for help in a big league bullpen. After pitching effectively as a reliever for Frisco in '04 (a 2.61 ERA, 26 Ks and 11 walks in 38 IP), he showed some measure of durability in the role between Frisco and Oklahoma this summer, tossing 54.2 IP while striking out 40 and walking nine. As much as I can and do deride a lot of retreads, let's face it, this is the Rangers, and they're counting on Doug Brocail. Why not see if Thompson can do anything? If he's just another husk tossed into the pitcher pulper this organization seems to be, it wasn't like anyone else was willing to give him the chance, and the fan in me would love to see that curve one more time.

On the less wistful side of things, it looks like the Rangers have finally, grudgingly, decided to give A-Gonz a shot at some at-bats at first base and DH. That a 34-year old Phil Nevin was not the answer seems to have only recently occurred to them, which is unfortunate, but let's face it, the pitching staff's meltdown was what was certain to kill off the team's bid in the AL West this season, not wasting their time with Nevin. What's important is to simply make playing Gonzalez a priority, because his hitting .338/.399/.561 in the PCL this year should pretty much rule out a return engagement there from here on out. He is one of the players the Rangers should be building around, and it's long past due for John Hart to have noticed.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Optioned OF-L Brandon Watson to New Orleans; purchased the contract of LHP John Halama from New Orleans. [8/18]

This exchange has less to do with Ryan Drese's inadequacy as it does with Tuesday's rainout and last night's double-header, because that keeps Drese from starting/losing Sunday's game against the Mets. Enter Halama, not that he's pitched with any great distinction in New Orleans to make people forget how he'd pitched for Boston, or Tampa Bay, or Oakland. Good thing the Whiz Kid got rid of Tomo Ohka. That's only cost the Nats a game or two in the standings, and who really wanted to win something this year anyway? Not when we can acquire a reputation for hyperactive, glorious failure right at the start. It's more in keeping with the storyline of both the general manager and the city, I suppose. As for Watson, surprising nobody, he looked punchless in his brief trial, and as is, Frank Robinson's having a hard time finding playing time for Ryan Church in an outfield stocked with Jose Guillen, Brad Wilkerson, and Preston Wilson.

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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