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March 29, 2006

Transaction Analysis

March 27-28

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Reassigned RHPs Jason Bulger and Scott Dunn to their minor league camp. [3/28]

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Purchased the contract of RHP Jim Brower from Ottawa (Triple-A); reassigned LHP Vic Darensbourg, RHP Andy Mitchell, UT-R Napoleon Calzado, OF-B Esix Snead, 3B-R Fernando Tatis, INF-B Eddy Garabito, and UT-L Howie Clark to their minor league camp; placed RHP Aaron Rakers on the 60-day DL. [3/28]

Don't mistake purchase for progress: Brower has a job because he's right-handed and has a functioning right arm for the time being, and the Orioles seem to have found themselves in a predicament where they're a wee bit short of those kinds of people. Maybe Leo Mazzone thinks there's a reason to give Brower an 'Incomplete' for last season's work with the Braves, and that he's going to bounce back to his groundball-y goodness from his Giants days. At 33, Brower isn't that old, so it's worth hoping. Better than taking a ride with Ricky Bottalico, at any rate.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Optioned RHPs Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen to Pawtucket (Triple-A); lost INF-R Tony Graffanino on waivers to the Royals. [3/28]

Both demotions are a little disappointing, since both pitchers had good camps. But with Jonathan Papelbon rounding into good form, the only thing that was going to get either of them onto the Opening Day roster was an injury to one of the veteran relievers--which didn't happen--or a fit of pique over how bad David Riske has been in camp. But even if that would have been temporarily gratifying, dumping Riske was never in the cards, not when the team has to count on reliable good health from guys like Curt Schilling, David Wells, and Rudy Seanez. So this is dull and sensible. It's what might happen later, when Delcarmen and Hansen are mowing people down in Pawtucket while one of the relievers does a convincing Ramiro Mendoza impression, that things will get interesting.

As for losing Graffy on waivers, I'm more than a little surprised, because there are teams out there who could use him. That Theo Epstein and company couldn't swing even a minor deal is another minor disappointment, not really the sort of thing to get worked up over, but sort of a head-scratcher, because the Royals should be able to turn around and flip Graffanino for something they could use.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Reassigned LHP Javier Lopez and RHP Tim Redding to their minor league camp. [3/27]

And just like that, we have a not-in-book guy to talk about. Unlike our mistake in not having the Rockies' Luis Gonzalez in the book--blame me, it's an oversight I should have caught--I don't think anyone expected Boone Logan to essentially make a leap from the Pioneer League to The Show. A 20th round pick in the 2002 draft, despite wearing a name most male soap opera leads would kill for, Logan was closer to washing out than making Double-A before last season. He'd struggled at short season Great Falls in both 2003 and 2004, but he's left-handed and he's big, and the Sox didn't give up on him. Instead, they got him to change his arm angle and come at hitters from something between side-arming and a three-quarters delivery, and that plus a steady role in the bullpen suddenly made a pitcher out of him last season.

That said, consider me a skeptic on the subject of this particular Cinderella story. This isn't just a big jump, this is a kamikaze call-up. In his first appearance at any level above the Pioneer League at the end of last season, Logan struggled in the Carolina League, which you'd expect, considering he'd only just turned 21 and had less than a half-season's worth of working with a new set of mechanics.

So now the pen is set, and it's interesting that the Sox are going with a 50-50 split, three lefties and three righties, at least while Dustin Hermanson is on the DL. That mix might make a Strat manager slobber, but in the early going of a real life season, I think it just means that Neal Cotts gets to be the lefty you use with a lead, Matt Thornton gets a few straightforward middle relief gigs, and Logan gets used sparingly until Hermanson gets reactivated, at which point the Pumpkin Train goes back to the Carolina League, or perhaps Birmingham, and the Sox get to see what real progress Logan can make beyond earning a major league junket after a big spring adventure.

As for Lopez and Redding, it isn't like they don't have command and control issues of their own to iron out, so we'll see how they do in Charlotte. It's perhaps better that the Sox didn't turn to one of them too quickly, lest they resemble the Yankees trying to sort out the virtues of Wayne Franklin last season, or the Red Sox waiting on Jeremi Gonzalez to get helpful.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Signed LHP Felix Heredia to a minor league contract. [3/28]

Heredia had been released by the Snakes at the end of last week, so now he's a token lefty alternative for the Indians, in case something bad happens to Scott Sauerbeck I suppose, and in case they don't want to have to add someone like Tony Sipp before they have to. I don't know about you, but if Heredia's what's under the glass you have to break "In Case of Emergency," that sounds like a reason to evacuate the building.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Reassigned 3B-L Alex Gordon to Wichita (Double-A); reassigned UT-B Chris Clapinski, SS-R Wilson Valdez, INF-R Benji Gil, and 3B-R Mike Coolbaugh, and C-R Paul Phillips to Omaha (Triple-A); placed RHP Runelvys Hernandez on the 15-day DL (stamina). [3/27]

Claimed INF-R Tony Graffanino off of waivers from the Red Sox; claimed RHP Steve Andrade off of waivers from the Padres; designated OF-R Chip Ambres for assignment; placed LHP Bobby Madritsch on the 60-day DL; reassigned UT-R Joe McEwing to their minor league camp. [3/28]

As much as I'm enthusiastic about the decisions to grab Graffy and Andrade off of waivers, this is still the cup half-empty. Yes, Andrade should be a worthwhile asset in the Royals pen, and Graffanino can be either trade bait or the man who kills Esteban German's latest bid for relevance. These are both good things, small improvements to a team with few ambitions. But why dump Ambres? Maybe it's because I'm not a big believer in Shane Costa's being ready, maybe that I don't think even a team with a pitching staff as moribund as the Royals needs a seventh reliever, but this is not a team that should be ditching useful talent. Why not offer to return German to the Rangers? Even if they wanted him, you wouldn't miss him. And if they didn't take him back, and you wanted to outright him to Omaha, who would claim him? It's Esteban frickin' German. Heck, as much as I love Matt Stairs, it would have made more sense to dump or deal him, and keep Ambres. Maddening. I don't know how Rany keeps the faith.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Optioned RHP Colter Bean to Columbus (Triple-A); reassigned RHP Mark Corey and LHP Dusty Bergman to their minor league camp. [3/27]

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Optioned RHP Jesse Foppert to Tacoma. [3/27]

Foppert had an option, and the Mariners want him starting every fifth day. He is still coming back from the elbow surgery that cost him the 2004 season, so this is one of those situations where I actually think it really makes sense to skip putting him in the bullpen. Foppert's already seen plenty of major league action, having spent a good chunk of 2003 in the Giants' rotation, so it isn't like he needs to get used to being in the big leagues. What he needs to do is work regularly, build up his arm strength, and be ready for that point later on this season when either Gil Meche or Joel Pineiro break down or drive Mike Hargrove beyond simple disgust. Besides, his dozen walks and two hit batsmen in eight spring innings suggest he's far from being someone you'd rely on in any role right now.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Optioned RHP Tim Corcoran to Durham (Triple-A); reassigned LHP Wayne Franklin to their minor league camp. [3/28]

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Reassigned RHP James Baldwin to their minor league camp. [3/28]

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Optioned RHP Dustin Nippert, LF-R Scott Hairston, and 2B/SS-B Alberto Callaspo to their minor league camp; reassigned RHP Mike Koplove, 3B/2B-R Brian Barden, SS-L Steven Drew, and C-R Juan Brito to their minor league camp. [3/27]

Reassigned LHP Randy Choate to their minor league camp. [3/28]

If you were getting all worked up over what was going to happen once Craig Counsell went to the DL to open the season, I hate to be the last one to tell you, but that particular parade has been canceled. Instead, Drew will get another couple of months in the minors, Callaspo will try to make headway in the PCL, and Nippert will bide his time until he gets to challenge for a rotation slot. In Nippert's case, that's going to depend on either Claudio Vargas struggling or Orlando Hernandez breaking down, neither of which is all that improbable.

Meanwhile, Barden will continue to tickle some people's fancy, but now that Chad Tracy is back at third, the most he can hope for is the opportunity to play Mickey Klutts to Tracy's Graig Nettles. The guy to feel for, perhaps, is Hairston, because he has so very little opportunity here. He's not going to beat out the Jeff DaVanons of the world, and he's already behind Carlos Quentin and Chris Young. If he has a future, it's somewhere else, and probably in the DH league.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Optioned C-B Brayan Pena and SS-R Tony Pena to Richmond (Triple-A). [3/28]

CHICAGO CUBS
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Acquired RHP Lincoln Holdzkom and LHP Zach McCormack from the Marlins for RHP Todd Wellemeyer; announced the retirement of OF-R Marquis Grissom; placed RHPs Kerry Wood and Mark Prior on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 3/27; optioned RHPs David Aardsma, Angel Guzman, and Jae Kuk Ryu to Iowa (Triple-A); assigned C-R Casey Kopitzke to minor league camp. [3/28]

Nightmares averted and realized seem to the mini-theme of yesterdays movin' and shakin'. Yes, Wood and Prior are both on the DL, and not even Sunny Jim could add either a happy spin or some feel-good crunchiness to that. It's the Cubs' lot to contend at the leisure of both men's joints. Maybe the Cardinals don't sprint out to a big lead, but if Wood misses a month and Prior isn't back until late May or early June, it's going to take some big breaks to keep the Cubs in the hunt for anything involving concepts like "October" and being too busy to golf. In their place, Sean Marshall has pitched his way into the rotation, an early break and one which, hopefully, won't turn out as badly as you might worry about a guy with shoulder problems in his past and only ten starts above A-ball under his belt.

There is some happy news, however. When even Dusty can't excuse your way onto the roster, Grissom accepted the inevitable. His remains a remarkable career in a couple of ways, but I think it's his 2002-04 stretch that should make people remember the wisdom of not giving up too soon on multi-tool veterans. Grissom could still field and still hurt lefties, and still had enough power to keep around in a semi-regular role at the very least, regardless of what his birth certificate suggested. Also somewhat in the "basically good news" category was decision to dump Wellemeyer. This was a product of the organization's impressive pitching depth, as well as Dusty's growing (and understandable) disenchantment with Wellemeyer's control issues.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Signed OF-L Terrence Long to a minor league contract; released OF-R Steve Smitherman; reassigned RHP Jake Robbins to their minor league camp. [3/27]

Acquired C-R Ryan Jorgensen for INF Carlos Piste. [3/28]

T-Dog, on top of Alex Sanchez and Quinton McCracken? Apparently the "Bad Fifth Outfielders" traveling exhibit from the Hall of Fame is settling in as part of the permanent landscape in Cincinnati. Some fans might wish this was about adding veteran depth to a moribund farm system, but this doesn't really achieve that, certainly not any better than having Jason Romano and Pedro Swann at Louisville last year. Not to take anything away from Chris Denorfia's defensive prowess in center, but he's going to be hard-pressed covering all of the outfield at Louisville. It would be difficult to find two less instinctual or effective outfielders than Long and Sanchez, and neither seem likely to help the Bats do well in that all-important pennant chase in the International League.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Optioned C-B J.D. Closser and 3B-R Jeff Baker to Colorado Springs (Triple-A); reassigned RHPs Jose Acevedo and Miguel Asencio, 1B-L Carlos Rivera, and 3B-L Ian Stewart to their minor league camp. [3/28]

A couple of minor surprises, but I wouldn't count Closser among them. He clearly needs to prove something to the organization after last season, and a little bit of improved footwork behind the plate in camp is only the start of what he needs to do if he's to reclaim his job from journeymen like Danny Ardoin or Yorvit Torrealba. Still, I've always been something of a fan of Ardoin, and since it wasn't like the Rockies were going to win the pennant, I'm happy to see him continue to ride this particular wave to whatever destination it takes him to. If anything, I'm more disappointed to see Asencio go down now, but it's understandable. If he wasn't going to be guaranteed regular work on the big league staff, better to let him get in regular work and be ready to replace the Kims or Jose Mesa or Scott Dohmann when they all spontaneously combust.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Optioned RHP Nate Bump to Albuquerque (Triple-A). [3/27]

Acquired RHP Todd Wellemeyer from the Cubs for RHP Lincoln Holdzkom and LHP Zach McCormack. [3/28]

If you're a Marlins fan and wondering what Wellemeyer does that Travis Bowyer wasn't supposed to do, you're not alone. Still, using fish-farming sensibilities, every live arm might spawn a major league pitcher, and even if most won't, getting Wellemeyer for the infrequently healthy Holdzkom and a minor league lefty isn't a bad pickup. Because Wellemeyer was out of options, the Cubs had to move him, but that means he's a lock to be on the Opening Day roster for the Marlins. This probably screws Randy Messenger, Chris Resop, and Kerry Ligtenberg simultaneously--betcha the Playboy mansion can't top that on a Saturday night--but Wellemeyer's a better 'maybe' than any of them.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Optioned C-R Humberto Quintero to Round Rock (Triple-A); reassigned LHP Carlos Hernandez to their minor league camp. [3/27]

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Optioned LHP Tim Hamulack and RHPs D.J. Houlton and Jonathan Broxton to Las Vegas (Triple-A); reassigned LHP Kelly Wunsch to their minor league camp. [3/27]

Optioned 2B/3B-B Willy Aybar and SS/?-R Joel Guzman to Las Vegas (Triple-A). [3/28]

That's four people who can pitch in the big leagues all going down at once, a reflection of the relative riches that the Dodgers have when it comes to pitching. When Yhency Brazoban goes from savior to the eleventh man on the staff, it speaks volumes for how much things have changed--not simply in terms of people being brought in, but more basically, how many people either have some experience or better health. It might be surprising that Hamulack and Wunsch both lost out to Hong-Chih Kuo for the situational lefty job, but that's Grady Little showing us just enough initiative to keep people on their toes. Besides, Kuo is the best talent of the lot, so it's defensible in a couple of ways. Guzman? Much as I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid that's got people thinking that Jose Cruz Jr. is back, I can understand the reluctance to give the kid a job on Opening Day. May 15, on the other hand... and Aybar? He was screwed by the decision to go with Ramon Martinez, which was predictable given the high expectations the Dodgers have for this season.

No, if there's a real surprise here, it's that Broxton got sent down. He didn't help matters by having a spotty camp, but there also wasn't much margin for error. Four jobs were locked up: Eric Gagne, Brazoban, Danys Baez, and Lance Carter.

One job goes to a lefty (Kuo, as we now know), and the sixth slot was won by Franquelis Osoria, who isn't too shabby a prospect himself. So, rather than keep Broxton at the bottom of the totem pole, he's ruling the roost in Vegas. We'll see how long that lasts: Brazoban could get the yips again, and Carter really isn't that special.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Requested waivers on RHP Kane Davis for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release; outrighted UT-B Zach Sorensen to Nashville (Triple-A) (which, agreeably enough, he accepted). [3/27]

Davis didn't look sharp this spring, but let's face it, it's only Kane Davis, and the Brewpen has gotten crowded of late. Jose Capellan and Justin Lehr have both had good camps, and Rick Helling will head for the bullpen once his elbow heals up, an assignment made easier because David Bush won the fifth slot in the rotation for himself. At any rate, dumping Davis and Sorensen clears away two spots on the 40-man, which in turn makes space for the knuckleballing non-roster invite, Jared Fernandez, should they elect to keep him.

NEW YORK METS
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Outrighted RHP Mitch Wylie to Norfolk (Triple-A); Wylie refused the assignment and became a free agent. [3/27]

Optioned 2B-R Jeff Keppinger, OF-R Lastings Milledge, OF-L Tike Redman, 1B/OF-L Todd Self, and C-L Sandy Martinez to Norfolk (Triple-A); reassigned LHPs Royce Ring and Juan Perez to their minor league camp; placed 2B/SS-R Kazuo Matsui on the 15-day DL (sprained knee), retroactive to 3/18. [3/28]

Yes, Keppinger's performances, in real games or spring training, matter little, and Willie Randolph does a convincing impression of his former chief, Joe Torre. But happily, Kaz Matsui is out of action, so there is the hope that Anderson Hernandez might yet open his boss's eyes and win at least a significant chunk of the second base job. I know, Mets fans, I've worried this particular bone long past the marrow's expiration date, but I still find it exasperating that Randolph doesn't see "improving the ballclub" anywhere in his job description. This is a division the Mets can and should win, Braves legendry aside, but they can't cavalierly discards runs gained on offense, and runs saved in the field, by pretending their investment in Matsui makes sense from here on out. The last year of their deal with Matsui should be sunk deeper than the Marianas Trench, and best forgotten.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Reassigned LHP Cole Hamels to their minor league camp; optioned RHPs Yoel Hernandez and Aquilino Lopez to Scranton/Wilkes Barre (Triple-A). [3/27]

Traded RHP Aquilino Lopez to the Padres for OF-R Matt Thayer and 3B-R Trey Johnston. [3/28]

Lopez was probably tainted by being one of Ed Wade's last pickups, but he's a pretty replaceable talent, and the Phillies got bodies for him, so give Pat Gillick some credit. Johnston's green, but Thayer's that athletic outfielder of the sort that Gillick has always seemed to favor, and after playing college ball at UCLA, you might see him move up in the organization pretty quickly. The pen seems set now that Geoff Geary and Julio Santana have clearly won two slots behind the front foursome of Flash Gordon, Rheal Cormier, Aaron Fultz, and Arthur Rhodes, with Chris Booker headed for the DL. This might mean that both Eude Brito and Robinson Tejeda start the year in Scranton, but I don't see that as a particular setback, since both are still more than a little rough around the edges.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Released RHP Brian Sikorski; outrighted RHP Jason Anderson and 1B-L Walter Young to Portland (Triple-A); optioned C-L Pete Laforest to Portland; reassigned RHPs Seth Etherton and Jon Adkins, LHP Ryan Meaux, INF-R Ricky Gutierrez, and DH-L Jack Cust to their minor league camp. [3/27]

Acquired RHP Aquilino Lopez from the Phillies for OF-R Matt Thayer and 3B-R Trey Johnston. [3/28]

As much as Lopez' slider is an impressive pitch, I'm not sure I'd rather have him than Steve Andrade, who the Pads let go on waivers (losing him to the Royals). But it's interesting to see the extent to which Kevin Towers' plans for his bullpen were flexible, because Sikorski was imported from Japan in the expectation that he'd stick, and guys like Andrade, Meaux, and Adkins had real opportunities. Who's left to fight for the last spot or two in the pen? Scott Cassidy, Brian Sweeney, and Eric Junge, but Andy Ashby's still standing, out of sympathy more than anything else. He's been pasted regularly, so hopefully the Pads are only treating this as an opportunity to let him retire in the final week of exhibition play. Cassidy, Sweeney, and Junge are all retreads of different stripes: Junge's in his fourth organization, Cassidy his third, and both have some big league experience. Sweeney's the tough luck story, or another entry in the "I was a Mariners pitching prospect" chapter from Weird Tales. None of them are young (Sweeney and Cassidy are both past 30), and all of them have had enough bad breaks that you hope something goes well for each of them, but it's hard to see more than two sticking.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Optioned RHPs Brad Hennessey and Merkin Valdez and OF-B Daniel Ortmeier to Fresno (Triple-A).

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Released RHP Jeff Nelson; reassigned 1B-L Brian Daubach to their minor league camp. [3/26]

I'm impressed, because Nelson was having a good camp, but the Cardinals might have decided that, after last season's experience of waiting around for Cal Eldred to heal up, and losing Al Reyes right before the playoffs, perhaps the last thing they might have wanted to count on was the sporadically healthy and infrequently dominating Nelson. The decision apparently leaves four pitchers competing for two jobs in the pen: Brian Falkenborg, Alan Benes, Josh Hancock (he of the "too heavy to be a Red" fame), and Adam Wainwright. As we were all taught as kids, one of these things is not like the others. Nothing against the three retreads (all of whom are having good camps), while Wainwright didn't really get much of a shot at the fifth slot in the rotation, I'd suggest that he'd be well-suited for an old-fashioned middle relief job. Although he posted a merely mediocre season for Memphis in 2005, he could follow the trail blazed by Brad Thompson last summer, and give the Cards yet another young and talented reliever. He's 24, could use the exposure to Dave Duncan and some of the veterans on the club, and would thus probably get more out of 75-85 innings in the bigs than he would out of another 180 in the PCL. It makes for an interesting process, in that they seem to be slowly weaning themselves off of the Eldreds and the Nelsons, Julian Tavarez and Ray King.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Placed RHPs Luis Ayala, Ryan Drese, and Brian Lawrence, 1B/C-L Robert Fick, and SS-B Cristian Guzman on the 15-day DL, all retroactive to 3/24. [3/27]

Optioned OF-L Ryan Church, RHP Jason Bergmann, and 2B/3B-R Brendan Harris to New Orleans (Triple-A); reassigned LHP Bill Bray to their minor league camp; purchased the contracts of SS-R Royce Clayton and 1B-L Daryle Ward from New Orleans; transferred RHPs Luis Ayala and Brian Lawrence from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [3/28]

Watson over Church? Watson over Church? Sweet Jeebus, not even Sherlock Holmes would make that choice. Talk about taking the edge off of the bittersweet joy that comes with having Clayton represent an upgrade, not to mention coming to terms with a ballclub that has the interchangeably unthreatening lefty bats of Ward, Michael Tucker, and Marlon Anderson. Now, maybe this is all about motivating people, because Church did have a lousy camp, while Watson did what he had to do to resemble the leadoff hitter that Frank Robinson wishes he had.

Strictly speaking, from a stathead perspective this is as silly a choice as a club can make. Church has a future as a big league slugger and as a solid everyday outfielder, although he might not be someone you really want playing center field with any regularity. Watson, by contrast, might grow up to be an honorary Goodwin. It would be easy to write this decision off as some flavor of dopiness derived from thinking that Scott Podsednik and Juan Pierre were the reasons why Chicago won in '05 and Florida in '03. If such is the case, we live in times that might inspire an Omar Moreno comeback.

But there's another issue here, which perhaps should only be treated in passing in part because it's a particularly delicate subject, which is the question of Church's religiosity. He made it an issue with some of his teammates last season, and as much as Church has the freedom to practice his faith, he doesn't have the freedom to badger teammates and make himself a distraction. That's for Jim Bowden to do, after all. So beyond possibly trying to light a fire under Church as a professional, this could be about inculcating a measure of professionalism. It isn't like the Nats are going to contend, and while they'll probably make that big move up to fourth place this summer, it shouldn't surprise anyone when they fall short of matching last season's .500 record.

If there's one repercussion of this that will really bear watching, it's how often the third base coach of the opposing team takes advantage of every ball hit to the left field gap against the Nationals. Between Watson's well-beyond-al dente noodle of an arm, and Soriano's gifted waddling, there could a lot of extra bases taken against the Nats on balls in play to the outfield.

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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