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April 7, 2006

Transaction Analysis

National League, March 30-April 4

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Placed RHP Brandon Medders on the 15-day DL (shoulder). [4/1]

Designated C-B Koyie Hill for assignment, purchased the contract of LHP Terry Mulholland; reassigned RHP Casey Daigle, SS-R Jerry Gil, and OF-R Carlos Quentin to their minor league camp. [4/2]

Hill's fall was predictable, but then he never really was the prospect that some wanted to believe. Consider it the curse of being a Dodger farmhand of modest ability: you're going to be talked up, because the same mindset that made Todd Hollandsworth a Rookie of the Year is alive and well to this day. It isn't Hill's fault that he might not even be the new Chad Kreuter. The pity of it is that he had a great camp, but it never mattered. Chris Snyder is the catcher of the future, and Johnny Estrada the catcher of the present. What I'd be surprised by is if nobody claims him or makes a deal, because as much as Hill is a player with limitations, guys like Rob Bowen and Wiki Gonzalez have jobs.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Purchased the contracts of OF-R Brian Jordan and LHP Mike Remlinger; optioned RHP Joey Devine and 1B/OF-R James Jurries to Richmond (Triple-); outrighted RHP Brad Baker to Richmond; placed LHPs John Foster (strained elbow), Macay McBride (strained forearm), and Mike Hampton (Tommy John surgery), and OF-L Kelly Johnson (sprained elbow) on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 3/24. [3/31]

Jordan over Jurries? Wasn't last season supposed to represent some sort of lesson about the virtues of turning to the young and "untested?" Maybe Jordan's getting the benefit of the doubt, what with his past good grades as a solid citizen, or that the time he lost to injury last season might somehow mean that somebody resembling the Brian Jordan of 2003 might still be able to take the field. Certainly, it isn't because they Braves aren't afraid to cut bait on an old-timer, considering how quickly they tired of Raul Mondesi last summer. But that could also be a case of a little bit of Buffalo going a long way, while Jordan catches another break. Jordan does notionally give the Braves a fifth outfielder, and that matters while Johnson is on the DL, but here's hoping that this is something that the Braves fix as the season progresses. Once Johnson is back, better that they keep Matt Diaz as the right-handed reserve outfielder, dump Jordan once he shows he has nothing left, and bring Jurries up to be Adam LaRoche's platoon partner at first instead of spending the last spot on the roster on a twelfth pitcher.

It's with the pitching staff that the Braves made some other surprising moves. That both of the former Snakes made it doesn't surprise me: Lance Cormier may well be the guy who was an outstanding middle reliever for Arizona last year in the first half, and not the guy who was worn down by overuse in the second, while Oscar Villarreal might be anything between Alejandro Pena and John Smoltz himself in the Braves' history of taking bum-wing talents and making them top-shelf relievers.

Where things get strange is what Bobby Cox decided to do with his front pair of situational lefties--Foster and McBride--on the DL. No middle ground, but instead picking something old (Remlinger) and something new (Chuck James), although I suspect that he isn't married to either. For Remlinger, this borders on last-chance sweepstakes territory, where he can either do something that reminds people of his 1999-2002 heyday as a Brave reliever, or earn another release and some further wandering about. For James, it's more a case of keeping an obviously talented pitcher, giving him a further taste of big league action, in the anticipation that eventually, he's going to be making a bid to join the rotation. Even if Cox picked both Kyle Davies and Jorge Sosa over John Thomson for the last two starting slots, I don't think he swore a blood oath over keeping any of them in any of these roles. Eventually, I think we--you, me, John Schuerholz, the Phillie Phanatic, General Sherman--all expect Atlanta to have both James and Davies in the rotation, but performance will define everyone's usage patterns for the immediate future.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Traded LHP John Koronka and a PTBNL to the Rangers for UT-L Freddie Bynum; optioned INF-R Ryan Theriot to Iowa (Triple-A). [3/31]

Purchased the contract of RHP Wade Miller, and placed him on the 15-day DL. [4/1]

I sort of like Bynum as a last man on the bench, considering that he can run, hit lefty, and play short or center equally well. So he's certainly an upgrade on Jose Macias for the honorary Jose Macias 25th Man Roster Spot. I guess I'm just a little more non-plussed by the suggestion that this team, short of starting pitching for the time being as is, would go out and dump Koronka for the kind of utilityman you can buy by the bucket at a bait shop. Not that Sean Marshall, Jae-Kuk Ryu, and Rich Hill don't already give you all sorts of depth, but did the Cubs really need a backup shortstop? No, they didn't, not when they already have Neifi Perez behind Ronny Cedeno. They're similarly cool in center and second base. So you give up a guy who can be a useful fifth starter for a pinch-runner? That's like buying your Diet Coke at the Kwik-E-Mart instead of buying in bulk. Sure, you get the same thing, and you didn't really pay all that much, but you didn't have to pay even that.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Claimed RHP Jon Coutlangus off of waivers from the Giants and optioned him to Chattanooga (Double-A); placed RHP Grant Balfour on the 60-day DL; released LHP Tommy Phelps. [3/31]

Reassigned OF-Ls Jacob Cruz and Dewayne Wise, INF-R Frank Menechino, OF-R Brian Buchanan, and OF-B Quinton McCracken to their minor league camp; optioned RHP Ryan Wagner to Louisville (Triple-A); designated C-R Dane Sardinha for assignment; recalled OF-R Chris Denorfia from Louisville; purchased the contract of 1B/OF-L Andy Abad; signed LHP Darrell May to a minor league contract. [4/1]

Placed RHP Paul Wilson (shoulder) and C-R Jason LaRue (knee) on the 15-day DL. [4/2]

Krivsky-watching is about as unpredictable as Kremlinology was in the '80s, in that all sorts of former favored sons might suddenly fall from favor. That's not a bad thing, so take heart, Reds fans. Sure, Adam Dunn's outfield play has been brutal, but if that encourages the team to put Denorfia in left as long as they have him up, put Dunn back at first base, and keep Scott Hatteberg restricted to the realm of pinch-hitting assignments and Michael Lewis anecdotes, it's all good. We're not there yet, of course, but Denorfia can't just be left to rot, and the club did have the alternative of Cruz if they had wanted to.

Similarly, the Reds took a chance with Abad in a reserve role, and while I don't think he's going to be Mark Sweeney, he's got a good blend of power and patience at the plate, and unlike Cruz, has a little more flexibility in being able to play first as well as the outfield. He'll be 34 in August, and with eight years in Triple-A and another in Japan under his belt, it isn't like he's ever done anything other than hit. Admittedly, Clay Davenport's point about how certain Triple-A hitters just spend their professional lives beating up on people they'd never see in the major leagues matters in a case like Abad's, but credit the Reds for giving Abad a real crack at a job that was assumed to be Cruz's to lose.

And ditching Sardinha? Years overdue. Who knows, maybe Jim Bowden gets wacky and claims his former bad idea guaranteed contract/top draft choice from you off of waivers. Don't laugh, the man does say he doesn't need to learn anything, and he did think Sardinha was worth having and then some back in the day. Snagging Coutlangus? Again, not a bad choice for your 40-man roster while you're clearing away a lot of the washed-out former prospects. Just pray--I don't care who to--that they never have to use Darrell May, since that would be among the worst of bad things that might happen to the Reds pitching staff this season, up there with Eric Milton in a three-man rotation bad.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Designated LHP Jaime Cerda for assignment; announced that RHP Keiichi Yabu was granted his release at his option. [3/31]

Placed C-R Yorvit Torrealba on the 15-day DL (shoulder). [4/2]

Designated RHP Mike Esposito for assignment. [4/3]

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Placed LHP Michael Megrew on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis), retroactive to 3/24; reassigned C-R Tom Wilson to their minor league camp. [3/31]

Claimed RHP Franklyn German off of waivers from the Tigers; designated RHP Nate Bump for assignment. [4/3]

Optioned RHP Randy Messenger to Albuquerque (Triple-A). [4/4]

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Purchased the contract of C/1B/3B-L Eric Munson; assigned 1B/3B-R Kevin Orie to Round Rock (Triple-A). [4/1]

Sweet! Maybe this was a matter of first seeing that the Padres franchise did not go careening into the ocean when Bruce Bochy decided to let Robert Fick return to catching, but I'm impressed by the Astros' decision to move Munson back to the position of his former stardom at USC. It isn't like Brad Ausmus isn't going to start three-quarters of the games no matter who backs him up, and the decision to take Munson seriously as a reserve catcher gives manager Phil Garner a lefty bat on the bench who can also fill in at either infield corner. Who knows, maybe Garner was reminded of the immortal Harry Spilman, a former Astros teammate, crummy catcher, and useful pinch-hitter. At any rate, a creative gamble worth taking, and something that will be fun to watch, to see if it works out well.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Acquired SS-R Wilson Valdez from the Royals for RHP Jarod Plummer; assigned Valdez to Las Vegas (Triple-A). [3/31]

Optioned INF-L Oscar Robles and C-R Russell Martin to Las Vegas; placed CF-L Kenny Lofton (leg) and OF-R Jayson Werth (wrist) on the 15-day DL. [4/1]

Purchased the contract of INF-R Ramon Martinez. [4/3]

Placed 1B-R Nomar Garciaparra on the 15-day DL; recalled 1B-L James Loney from Las Vegas (Triple-A). [4/4]

Well, that didn't take long, did it? The most positive spin that you can put on this is that losing Garciaparra and promoting Loney simultaneously demonstrates of the benefits of having Ned Colletti and Logan White: veteran risk mitigated by homegrown goodness. See, that's a warm fuzzy, better than a blanket and some hot cocoa on a cold day. Of course, it does skip over all those nagging details, like that Loney's coming off of a pretty uninspiring season at Double-A, and even if he's still short of 22, he needs to show something above A-ball. Or that this is what you get when you invest in Nomar. Although I suspect we'll just see an awful lot of Olmedo Saenz at first in Nomar's absence, with Loney getting a spot start or two prior to being returned to Vegas, Saenz isn't really all that much more durable than Nomar, creating an opportunity for Loney to stick well ahead of schedule if he's hot over the next couple of weeks.

Maybe it's the nature of the beat, and writing doodads because that's what I write, but I guess I'm more chuffed by the decision to discard Robles and give the utility infield job to Martinez. Sure, Robles had the option, and yes, this is more about carrying both a twelfth pitcher and Cody Ross during Lofton's absence, but it isn't the best group of talent the Dodgers had at their disposal. Robles can play short, Martinez... not so much. Robles gives the club an extra lefty bat, so that they aren't in the situation of their only such bench weapon is Ricky Ledee, whereas Martinez... not so much.

At least Grady Little was relatively creative in his decision to keep both Tim Hamulack and Hong-Chih Kuo as his lefty relief help. Neither might have all that much big league experience, but both have the talent, and Kuo has been a subject of some anticipation within the organization for years. What I'm a little more curious about is the extent to which somebody in the pen will be in danger of going stale. Both Yhency Brazoban and Franquelis Osoria got into games early on, but between them and Lance Carter, somebody's going to get the short straw more often than the others. Equally frustrating is that, even with a seven-man pen, none of them can really handle a long relief gig the way that, say, Giovanni Carrara or Elmer Dessens could. Seven single-inning relievers might become a bit of a problem if Little gets overly wound up on roles and situational usage patterns.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Jared Fernandez; returned C-L Mark Johnson and UT-R Vinny Rottino to their minor league camp; signed RHP Derrick Turnbow to a three-year, $6.5 million contract. [4/2]

Fernandez's sticking has been bandied about more than enough in this space, so let's just say I'm happy to see it actually happen, as well as not too worked up about it, since somebody's got to go when Ben Sheets comes off of the DL. Which leaves Turnbow's deal, which is "only" for $6.5 million simoleons, but I think PECOTA's appropriately unenthusiastic about his potential growth, and it takes a lot more than a head of hair that somehow makes me think simultaneously of Jim Kern and Ted Logan. It will be interesting to see if Turnbow can match last season or come even close, but rather than wonder if Dan Kolb will push his way into the picture, I think it'll be considerably more interesting to see what Jose Capellan does in the early going.

NEW YORK METS
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Released LHP Matt Perisho. [3/31]

Optioned RHPs Yusaku Iriki and Heath Bell to Norfolk (Triple-A); reassigned RHP Jose Lima and LHP Pedro Feliciano to Norfolk. [4/3]

Darren Oliver made this team? There's little or no reason to believe he can do the job of being a bullpen's token lefty, and there should be little question that he's a poor choice to be a club's eleventh pitcher, or that there weren't better options available. Meanwhile, here's hoping that Virginia's Tidewater is ready for Lima Time. That's because the Mets have taken the particularly intriguing step of handing their fifth slot in the rotation not to Lima, who seems to enjoy far too much confidence from General Manager Omar Minaya, and not Aaron Heilman--he's still too important to the bullpen--but to Floyd Bannister's son, Brian. Where his old man was perhaps more the scouty type and a lefty, his son's a control pitcher and right-handed, perhaps a fifth starter with a ceiling as a fourth starter, i.e., the sort of guy who might not lose his job to Jose Lima. That's not a bad thing, but the risk is that although Bannister pitched at USC, he doesn't really have that much upper-level experience, just 34 starts above A-ball over the last year and a half. Still, it's an interesting move, certainly not something I would have expected from Willie Randolph, but Bannister had a good camp, while Lima pitched like Jose Lima, and that gets to be the sort of ridiculously obvious move that even the most vet-favoring manager is just going to say enough's enough.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Acquired OF-L David Dellucci and cash from the Rangers for RHP Robinson Tejeda and OF-R Jake Blalock. [4/1]

Released INF-B Tomas Perez outright; reassigned 1B/3B/C-R Chris Coste, RHPs Clay Condrey, Jeremy Cummings, Travis Minix and Brian Sanches, and C-R Dusty Wathan to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A); reassigned OF-L Peter Bergeron to Reading (Double-A). [4/2]

Okay, I don't really mind the proposition that the Phillies could afford to trade Tejeda, because if Gavin Floyd is ready to stick, and with Gio Gonzalez and a rehabbed Randy Wolf eventually entering the picture, the Phillies could afford to part with somebody to get something they could use. So why then go get Dellucci? A young pitcher of quality for a fourth outfielder? It isn't like Shane Victorino was the cause of serious concern. The obvious subtext is that maybe there's fire where there's smoke in all of the normal native belly-aching about Bobby Abreu, and while swapping him out would presumably bring all sorts of goodies, it would also probably mean the writing off of a season in which the Phillies can win the NL East.

As for dispatching long-time pinch-hitter Perez to other parts, I wouldn't get all busted up about that. I'm not the most avid fan of either Abraham Nunez or Alex Gonzalez, but each can play all four spots in the infield, and both offer something more than a well-spanked single every once in a while. Even without Dellucci, I liked the bench the club has built up this winter: a nice blend of speed and power and contact-hitting, plenty of positional flexibility, and guys good enough to plug into a lineup for a couple of weeks here or there. Now, if only they had a real third baseman...

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Optioned OF-L Jody Gerut to Indianapolis (Triple-A); reassigned LHP C.J. Nitkowski and RHPs Terry Adams and Brandon Duckworth to their minor league camp; purchased the contract of UT-R Jose Hernandez; placed RHP Bryan Bullington on the 60-day DL; signed RHP Salomon Torres to a two-year, $6.5 million contract extension. [3/31]

Signed general manager Dave Littlefield to a one-year contract extension through 2008. [4/3]

Placed RHPs Kip Wells (artery repair - shoulder) and John Van Benschoten (shoulder) on the 15-day DL. [4/3]

Some of this stuff is pretty straightforward. Put in a position of having to choose between ex-Dodger reserves, Jim Tracy picked Jose Hernandez's ability to handle seven positions over his more recent experience with Mike Edwards. He also decided not to get too carried away with spring stats, sending Duckworth back down instead of believing that baseball's itinerant alien had decided to settle down behind Duckworth's skin this season. Even so, he couldn't get away from believing that he just had to have a twelve-man pitching staff, because everybody's doing it, and who cares about all those April off-days? There, I suppose Ryan Vogelsong is part of the problem, because nobody wants to cut him, but also nobody wants to figure out what he can do.

There is some cool stuff, of course. I'm probably more ambivalent about Nate McLouth than most of my colleagues, but I'm glad to see the team keep him as well as Chris Duffy, effectively extending their spring training duel over playing time into the regular season. It's a decision that was made all the easier by Gerut convieniently still having an option. That decision might seem strange to some, but Gerut's a good example of what happens when free talent spoils, and better to not be too deeply invested in a guy like this before he goes Al Martin on you and gets useless, immovable, and expensive all at once.

Which brings me to the unfortunate decision to make a serious investment. No, not David Littlefield, although my despair about whether or not he's going to turn out well seems to deepen daily. No, I really don't get why the Pirates would sink more than $6 million in a scrapheap talent like Torres. Happy though I am for him to see him get the payday, why would anybody give a merely decent reliever in his mid-30s major change? Torres was pretty lucky on balls in play results--do the Pirates think he's always going to be that fortunate? Especially now that his strikeout rate is dropping? This is the kind of mistake Cam Bonifay would make, and I don't think anyone should be happy to see it happening again.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Signed RHP Brian Sikorski to a minor league contract. [3/30]

Purchased contract of RHP Brian Sweeney; reassigned RHP Eric Junge, 3B-R Justin Leone, and OF/1B-L Eric Valent to Portland (Triple-A); placed CF-R Mike Cameron (strained oblique) and 1B-L Ryan Klesko (strained shoulder) on the 15-day DL. [4/1]

Claimed C-B Rob Bowen off of waivers from the Tigers; optioned RHP Scott Cassidy to Portland (Triple-A). [4/3]

With Klesko on the DL, right now represents a moment of truth for Adrian Gonzalez. What's at stake is whether or not he'll wind up in the same historical dustbin of first base superprospects that fell well short of greatness. You know, the one that already has Travis Lee, Carlos Pena, and Daryle Ward peeping out of it when they aren't laminating their press clippings (some of which I wrote, come to think of it). We all know that he is still only about to turn 24, but first base is no place to be seen as merely adequate, and as much as Gonzalez's glovework is rightly considered to be among the best, it's what he's going to do with the bat that's going to make or break him. He's got a clean shot right now at making Klesko into trade bait, so stay tuned.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Placed RHP Armando Benitez on the 15-day DL (knee bursitis); purchased the contract of C-R Todd Greene from Fresno (Triple-A); optioned RHP Kevin Correia, C-R Eliezer Alfonzo, and OF-B Todd Linden to Fresno; designated SS-R Angel Chavez for assignment; reassigned 2B-R Kevin Frandsen and OF-B Abraham Nunez to their minor league camp. [4/1]

Signed LHP Noah Lowry to a four-year, $9.25 million contract, with a club option for 2010. [4/2]

I'm not quite sure what the thinking is here. No, not picking Todd Greene to be your backup backstop; that's just an entertaining bit of finding Mike Matheny's opposite, a fragile offense-first catcher who doesn't hit all that well to perfectly not-mesh with Matheny's transition to merely solid defender and now-adequate offense. No, my question is about about the decision to rush to reward Lowry, especially when it might appear as if the club is paying for the guy who had a sweet second half, not the guy who hasn't really been a big star pitcher just yet. But don't overreact: the deal's significantly back-loaded, with Lowry due $4.5 million in '09, and $6.25 million more if they pick up his option in 2010. For the next three years, he's pretty cheap, and if last season's stretch run does herald a future as good as they want to believe, he'll be considered a bargain before all is said and done.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Reassigned RHPs Brian Falkenborg and Alan Benes to their minor league camp. [4/1]

Purchased the contracts of RHP Josh Hancock and INF-B Scott Spiezio; designated 2B-R Junior Spivey for assignment. [4/3]

Having harshed on Spivey in the past for being nothing close to the player his proponents have liked pretending he was, all because of the park-generated, Age 27 season, bright, shiny lie of his 2002. But to be fair, he still has his uses, bopping on lefty junk, and platooning at second with somebody who you actually want in the lineup pretty regularly. He's not a good enough second baseman to really be much more than that, but I could see how he might have made a nice enough alternative to Aaron Miles to give Tony La Russa a Junioron Milveys combo.

Instead, perhaps predictably, La Russa picked the paesan' and the guy he had in A's camp more than ten years ago on his bench. Maybe Spiezio can explain just how great a handshake that was back then, because there's nothing Spiezio really offers at this point other than the occasional milk-out-your-nose/laugh-out-loud A's spring training stories that are starting to fade into history. There's no other way Spiezio makes it, because he has no defensive value, and he didn't earn the job at the plate in camp.

So think about this: the Cardinals are supposed to win the Central. Easily. But if I told you about a team that has a catcher that doesn't hit, somebody like Miles at second base, nobody who strikes fear in an opponent in either outfield corner, and Sidney Ponson in the rotation, does that sound like the stuff of contention? Don't get me wrong, the frontline talent is still arguably the best in the league, but this isn't a great initial supporting cast. Walt Jocketty has his in-season work cut out for him.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Placed RHP Pedro Astacio on the 15-day DL (strained forearm); recalled RHP Jason Bergmann from New Orleans (Triple-A). [4/1]

Although the Nats initially tried to spin this as just a situation where they were being conservative and not overly concerned because of the number of off-days in April and the relative lack of need for a fifth starter until later on, now it looks like Astacio will miss the month at the very least. The Nats can't claim to be snakebit in this case: when you employ guys like Astacio or Tony Armas Jr., these things go with the territory. (In contrast, I'm sympathetic about their misfortune with Brian Lawrence.) Since the equally dodgy idea Ryan Drese is already rotting on the DL, the Nats might end up having to push Jon Rauch back into the rotation. However, keep in mind that the Nats do have only 39 players on their 40-man roster, and perhaps this might give the always-rapacious Jim Bowden the opportunity to procure an alternative from off of the waiver wire.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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