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April 18, 2006

Transaction Analysis

April 14-17

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
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Placed LHP David Wells on the 15-day DL (sprained knee), retroactive to 4/13; recalled RHP Jermaine Van Buren from Pawtucket (Triple-A). [4/15]

Considering we're only talking about the skippable fifth slot of the rotation, I wouldn't get too worked up over Jumbo's latest breakdown. The man's going to be 43 in another month, he's never going to be light on his feet, and even with the decision to leave Jon Papelbon in the bullpen, the Sox are fine for making do in Wells' absence. If it was one of the front four starters who broke down, I'd fret about whether or not the Sox need to start thinking about moving Papelbon back into the rotation, but Leonardo DiNardo will be a more than adequate fill-in now that he's a year removed from the Rule 5 experience and has most of a season at PawSox rotation regular under his belt. Frankly, there isn't a whole lot of reason to be all that confident that Wells really is part of any answer for this season's set-up, but if DiNardo does well in his trial, that might give GM Theo Epstein the freedom of action to start shopping Wells for something else he might like to have.

But for what? Unless and until Keith Foulke gets his act together, it's going to be hard to consider the bullpen as much of an asset as it might seem on paper, but you should not really consider this a problem. Rudy Seanez is always a good bet to break down, and Van Buren is up despite his not entirely enjoying Terry Francona's confidence because of his delivery, and most everyone else's confidence until he shows that his velocity is back to where it once was. Van Buren could nevertheless be part of the solution, but with Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen, and even Cla Meredith all getting off to good starts down on the farm, the Red Sox have a relative embarrassment of worthwhile alternatives.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Recalled RHP Fausto Carmona from Buffalo (Triple-A); placed RHP Fernando Cabrera on the 15-day DL (bruised heel). [4/15]

Interesting stuff, because Carmona stepped right into the rotation, while Jason Davis remained in the pen. Maybe this was a matter of convenience, what with Cabrera going down, and maybe a matter of design, but either way, it keeps things somewhat simple. Davis might not be able to stick around ahead of Carmona, but he might not have to, not while Danny Graves is practicing self-immolation like he wanted to be judge, jury, and prime suspect in a witch trial. The club has already made it clear that Carmona's only going to be a starter, and with his power-groundball assortment, he's got the stuff to be a good one. If he has a problem, it's that the team didn't find another fifth starter type to replace Scott Elarton, but instead double-dipped in getting replacements for Kevin Millwood by signing up Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson. As a result, once C.C. Sabathia comes off of the DL around the end of the month, Carmona will go back down to Buffalo, while Davis can hope to convince the club to let him fill in Graves' plot.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Placed DH-B Dmitri Young on the 15-day DL (strained quad); purchased the contract of OF-L Alexis Gomez from Toledo (Triple-A). [4/15]

This isn't a good thing, even if you don't think Young's ceiling goes very high these days. Without him, you've got Marcus Thames, Craig Monroe, and Magglio Ordonez, all right-handed, all a bit on the hack-happy side of Tuco's Law of Human Dichotomies which states that there are two kinds of people in this world, in this case, those who hack, and those with guns, I guess.

Having Gomez may not be all bad, anyways, considering the handedness issues. A washout from the so very adrift Royals franchise, Gomez might be the sort of roster flotsam who carves out a Pat Sheridan-like living for himself as a lefty-hitting outfield reserve, who like the original item gets flushed out of KC's many fountains, only to bob back up in Detroit. He is 27, and after two years' worth of Royal floundering, hit a decent .307/.348/.450 for Toledo last year. Even so, the danger of relying too heavily on Sheridan in 1987 is the same problem that Gomez represents now: guys like this aren't fixes, they're just interchangeably crummy. The Tigers can't get by with someone like Monroe getting 500 at-bats, and Gomez doesn't give them something better, just something different. If the Tigers want to mount a real challenge, GM Dave Dombrowski has to start nosing around the league to find a lefty bat that can help him out of left field, and not just wait around for Young to come off of the DL.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Signed RHP Steve Andrade to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Omaha (Triple-A). [4/13]

Placed RHP Denny Bautista on the 15-day DL (sore pectoral muscle); activated LHP Mark Redman from the 15-day DL. [4/16]

Signed LHP Frank Brooks to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Omaha. [4/17]

So Bautista breaks down again, and the Royals are instead left with a fluid reconfiguration into a rotation relying on Redman, Joe Mays, and Scott Elarton as its front three, with Jeremy Affeldt and Mike Wood in guest-starring roles. I doubt that the Homestead Homies of old could field a rotation anywhere near as poor as this one, with two aspiring retreads, one successfully retreaded former blue-chipper, and two marginal maybe-once-was prospects who haven't really graduated to journeyman status yet. Even allowing for Zack Greinke's unusual situation, this seems even worse than the recent attempts to rely on Darrell May or Brian Anderson. Putting together a rotation this unambiguously hopeless is Kansas City baseball as it once was, not on the Royals' watch, but instead right down there with Arnold Johnson's Athletics-brand baseball. Even if you had Bautista and Greinke in place, there's still those three somewhat wise men, who followed their stars and healthy senses of self-interest to Kansas City, to be crowned Royals in exchange for their gifts of gold, blarney, and losses.

Pondering all that makes it hard to get enthusiastic about inking Andrade or Brooks. While each could become valuable components in a bullpen that needs every kind of help, is there any reason to believe that manager Buddy Bell would know what to do with them? I still feel some pity for Allard Baird, because at least he has the sense to get them, but what's the point if they go un-used? And even then, what's the point of bragging when you're the team that develops three different second basemen, only to choose 'none of the above,' and sign a fill-in like Mark Grudzielanek?

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Optioned DH-L Jason Kubel to Rochester (Triple-A); recalled DH-B Ruben Sierra from Fort Myers (A-ball). [4/16]

Just like that, Kubel's down, not because he didn't play the outfield well enough, but because the club doesn't have enough at-bats to go around, and they seem a bit egalitarian on that score. That's as much about a club that plans on just getting by with Lew Ford and Michael Cuddyer in the outfield, and sure enough, right field at-bats will be split between Ford and Cuddyer--to be fair, between Kubel, Ford, and Cuddyer, all three do need playing time. It didn't seem likely that they all would if Rondell White's getting almost all of the at-bats at DH. The club's disappointment is somewhat minimized by Tony Batista's hot start and Shannon Stewart's return to usefulness. On the ex-famous person front, Sierra serves a pinch-hitting role that only exists on a team like the Twins: in the absence of a pitcher's spot to worry about, the Twins have enviously re-created this National League issue with their ongoing commitment to Juan Castro. Happily, it's only Castro they have to routinely pinch-hit for, or Nick Punto if he's in the lineup in Castro's place.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Recalled LHP Matt Smith from Columbus (Triple-A); designated C-B Koyie Hill for assignment. [4/14]

Signed 1B-L Carlos Pena and RHP Jesus Colome to minor league contracts, and assigned them to extended spring training. [4/15]

Outrighted C-B Koyie Hill to Columbus. [4/17]

Sometimes, even the big dog figures out that the roster equivalent of Scooby Snacks doesn't only have to be the discriminating choice of talking dogs and munchie-minded hippies. As odious as it might be to admit when you can afford to make lobster a lifestyle choice, sometimes just plain old comfort food is fine. The Yankees need someone who can play first base and slug a little bit? Pena's perfect for that, the sort of hitter and fielder good enough to get Jason Giambi into a few more DH starts, and Bernie Williams onto the bench a few more nights. Certainly, if he only matches last year's .254/.355/.493 clip against RHPs while playing top-shelf defense, the Yankees will be the richer for it. Sure, this means that Andy Phillips is probably screwed, but that was pretty much his lot in the first place. Jesus Colome, I'm not so excited about, because he seems likely to inspire instant Cecilio Guante flashbacks amongst an already-jittery fan base. Not that Scott Proctor doesn't already do a bit of that, but Proctor's not the only problem in a pen that has Torre Guy [tm] Tanyon Sturtze apparently above reproach, and with three lefties being used situationally. Much as I might like having Smith up, a third situational lefty is a luxury even the Yankees can't really afford. Perhaps he's the easy send-down once Pena's up to speed, but Torre has never really known what to do with his last position player or two, while he's going to have to deal with a crowded staff once Carl Pavano, Octavio Dotel, and Aaron Small all come off of the DL over the next month.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Placed RHP Jay Witasick on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle); recalled OF-B Bobby Kielty from Sacramento (Triple-A). [4/14]

As a number of readers rightly noted in appropriate corrections to my original complaints over Kielty's demotion, the motivations behind the move reflected concerns about the weather and having to have pitching performances made potentially washed away and substituted for. Even with one of the rainiest springs in California history, this strikes me as potentially a bit too much anticipation, but given that it was only the fifth outfielder we're talking about, not exactly the stuff that anybody had to get too worked up over. Witasick's breakdown does give GM Billy Beane a convenient excuse to make room for Kielty while also keeping Brad Halsey as the club's second lefty in the pen. Witasick wasn't doing well in the first place (11 baserunners in five IP), and he's not ahead of Kiko Calero, Justin Duchscherer, and Joe Kennedy when it comes to setting up Huston Street, so it isn't like he's a key contributor.

What's a little more interesting to wonder about is whether having Kielty back might do anything to Jay Payton's playing time, or possibly even Dan Johnson's. If Payton was reduced to being Mark Kotsay's caddy, with Kielty earning the role of platoon partner to Nick Swisher, I wouldn't be shocked, but if Kielty does particularly well while Johnson continues to flail, some spot starts from Swisher at first with Kielty in the lineup against RHPs might be a temporary fix. The problem there is that it might not help Johnson to stop pressing.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Activated 3B-L Sean Burroughs from the 15-day DL. [4/14]

Optioned RHP Jason Hammel to Durham (Triple-A). [4/16]

Recalled RHP Chad Orvella from Durham. [4/17]

Although it seems iffy as to whether or not Mark Hendrickson will be ready to take his turn this weekend, it seems clear that the Rays didn't want Hammel around to make it. Now that they know they have a problem on their hands with Hendrickson, they can start to jigger Durham's rotation to see if they can bring up Edwin Jackson for Saturday's start if need be. No word on whether or not Orvella's attempt to finally adapt to pitching coach Mike Butcher's wish for different mechanics has finally taken hold, but after a spring's worth of struggles trying, it'll be interesting to see if Orvella's going back to what has always worked for him in the past, or if the organization's going to be a bit stubborn with its best reliever.

If there's an odd situation, it's at third base. Burroughs isn't going to get to play much, not while Ty Wigginton is off to the team's best start, and his only real alternative might be to log some at-bats at DH, but Jonny Gomes won't be playing in an outfield corner while the team wants to see what Joey Gathright can do, and while Damon Hollins does some decent work of his own. I'd hope that Burroughs might at least merit two or three starts per week between those two slots, but it seems a dodgy proposition as things stand now.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Activated LHP C.J. Wilson from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Scott Feldman to Oklahoma (Triple-A). [4/14]

Traded RHP Chris Baker to the Astros for future considerations. [4/15]

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Optioned LHP Brian Tallet to Syracuse (Triple-A). [4/14]

Activated RHP A.J. Burnett from the 15-day DL. [4/15]

There isn't really much to say on this score: the Jays acted sensibly, which you'd expect considering how much of an investment is at stake should they have instead gotten worked up and wanted Burnett on the mound sooner. That in turn pushed Scott Downs back into his long lefty relief role, which pushed Tallet out of that exact slot after mixed results in the season's opening weeks. Depth is a lovely thing indeed, as are options, so Tallet's still around for later use. All in all, the Jays are pretty well squared away if they lose anybody else in the rotation for any length of time, or if they get tired of Josh Towers' recent fascination with his performance art piece, "The Pinata Experience." Even there, after this winter's decision to spread the wealth beyond the big-ticket free agents, and to also reward former free talent find Towers with a $5.2 million, two-year deal, it isn't like anybody should really expect a rotation reshuffle.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Recalled RHP Roberto Novoa from Iowa (Triple-A); optioned RHP Michael Wuertz to Iowa. [4/15]

Placed OF-B Angel Pagan on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled RHP David Aardsma from Iowa (Triple-A). [4/17]

A small bummer for Pagan, but the Cubs sensibly decided to leave Felix Pie in the minors instead of distracting him with a temporary call-up ahead of his scheduled arrival. Yes, they're probably overly worried about that sort of thing, considering how Corey Patterson turned out. But acknowledging that Pie is far from a finished product, can you blame them? Besides, between Jerry Hairston Jr., John Mabry, and Freddie Bynum, they have plenty of outfield alternatives already on the roster.

Less sensible is the overreaction to Wuertz's early struggles. Getting Aardsma up is defensible; sure, he's off to a tremendous start, striking out 11 in seven Iowa innings while allowing only two baserunners. If you buy the need for seven relievers, between the performance and the high 90s heat, Aardsma's done what he had to in order to garner attention. But why get Novoa up over Wuertz? This isn't a case of Novoa finally getting healthy and returning to his spot; he was behind Wuertz in the pecking order. Novoa might make a decent sixth reliever for somebody, but Wuertz was the club's second-best bullpen hurler last season, and that gets him this much respect after one bad outing? It doesn't make much sense, but on the other hand, all sorts of people can't take their job security for granted. Once Kerry Wood and Mark Prior both come off of the DL, at least one somebody besides camp warm fuzzy Sean Marshall is going to have to go back down to the bush leagues, two if the Cubs go back down to eleven pitchers once Pagan's hammy heals.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Purchased the contract of OF-B Quinton McCracken; designated 1B/OF-L Andy Abad for assignment. [4/14]

Outrighted INF-B Matt Kata to Louisville (Triple-A). [4/17]

Notionally, swapping out Abad for QMcC is about adding "outfield depth" in Ken Griffey Jr.'s absence, but that involves a suspension of disbelief more than a little bit beyond anyone's capacity for gullibility. McCracken really does nothing well at this point, offering no threat to opposing pitchers or balls seeking a cozy spot in the outfield grass, his capacity to surprise Adam Wainwright not excepted. The convenient development is that it looks like the Reds' solution is to use Griffey's absence as the easy way to get Ryan Freel into the lineup. The interesting thing is that the Reds do not seem like they're predisposed to make that a situation in which Tony Womack gets even a lion's share of playing time at second. Instead, they're putting Brandon Phillips to work, and they do still also have to find at-bats for Rich Aurilia. Who knows, it might actually all add up, although I think there's an argument to be made for having Chris Denorfia up for everyday work in Griffey's absence, with Freel playing second most days, and Phillips getting a pair of starts per week at second and short. Stick Womack in the McCracken slot as the token speedy pinch-hitter, and keep Abad around in Griffey's absence as the pinch-hitter with some sock. Still, all in all, it's a promising distribution of playing time, despite McCracken's existence.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Placed OF-L Jeremy Hermida on the 15-day DL (hip flexor), retroactive to 4/12; placed RHP Carlos Martinez (strained elbow) on the 15-day DL (elbow); purchased the contract of OF-L Matt Cepicky and recalled RHP Randy Messenger from Albuquerque (Triple-A). [4/17]

Where Matt "Not Scott" Cepicky is concerned, he's certainly in the right place to stick, even after Hermida comes back off of the DL. Surprising nobody but the most devoted of Grapefruit League fantasists, Reggie Abercrombie ain't hitting, nor is Eric Reed. Not even Chris Aguila of "Jack McKeon once said he liked me" fame is. That's all as it should be, because nobody really expects any of these three to hit, ever, and no small sample size caveats need apply. That is not to say that the franchise shouldn't stick to the commitment to make Miguel Cabrera its starting third baseman once and for all, however tempting it might be to get Wes Helms into the lineup a little more often at the expense of the Abercrombie-Aguila-Reed trinity of stick-waving turpitude. Hermida will be back, Josh Willingham seems to be making the best out of splitting his time between catching and left, and the two things this team could really use are a second baseman and a center fielder. Which brings us to the call-up: Cepicky can't play center any more than he can hit well enough to be a regular corner outfielder, but he doesn't have to do either of those things to be good enough to play outfield for the Fish.

I'm not quire sure what to make of Martinez' departure for an MRI and an uncertain future. Pitching in six of the team's first dozen games, and three of their last four before last night, seems like a pretty demanding pace for someone only months removed from the Florida State League, and with previous career highs in games of 50 (set last year) and 68 IP. Hopefully, it's nothing too serious, as well as not being an indication that Girardi isn't given to asking too much of some people in his pen. If there was a Chicago manager I don't want to see Joltless Joe wind up resembling, it would be Terry Bevington. Messenger needs to be reviewed anyway, if for little more reason than to see if his good-but-not great fastball is going to merit keeping on the 40-man roster after the year.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Placed RHP Brandon Backe on the 15-day DL (sprained elbow); recalled RHP Ezequiel Astacio from Round Rock (Triple-A). [4/14]

Acquired RHP Chris Baker from the Rangers for future considerations. [4/15]

So, scratch a Rocket and scratch your Backe, what you're left with is a rotation held together by bubble gum and tabacky? Well, not exactly. Backe was an entertaining enough free-talent find rescued from Devil Fishy perdition, but it was a bit dubious that he'd ever really grow up to be a reliable rotation regular. In his absence, the Astros get another slot in which to take a look at the kids, in this case, Fernando Nieve. He joins Wandy Rodriguez and Taylor Buchholz, with Astacio in the wings. Backe should return in a couple of weeks or so, but it isn't like the Astros should be in any particular hurry. It's my less-than-half-baked half-baked theory that you're better off with a couple of kids in supporting roles than just one. Astacio and Rodriguez are up, Buchholz finally seems healthy, and Nieve is the system's best prospect. Put that group in the middle of a relatively veteran staff, and I think there's a better possibility for a few success stories than if one rook has to deal with ten graybeards wondering about whether or not to learn the kid's name. Admittedly, that's a guess, and worth little, but it might make for a worthwhile and more rigorous study. In the meantime, the Astros just aren't that crippled up.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Activated OF-L Kenny Lofton from the 15-day DL; placed RHP Yhency Brazoban on the 15-day DL (elbow); received Rule 5 pick LHP Mike Megrew back from the Marlins. [4/14]

Recalled INF-L Oscar Robles from Las Vegas (Triple-A); optioned OF-R Cody Ross to Las Vegas. [4/17]

So they plug Lofton in at center and into the leadoff slot, bench Jason Repko, and again come away with the realization that not even a pen shorn of both Brazoban for the year plus Eric Gagne is all that short-handed, and you get a sense of the virtues of depth. I argued from the start that Robles should not have been sent down, especially not to make room for the likes of Ramon Martinez, a move that seems potentially expensive now that Ross has to go onto waivers, just because they had to have Martinez on the 40-man instead of simply keeping Robles from the start. What's the point of Martinez if he can't cover for Jeff Kent at a time like this? Then again, I know I'm probably going to be saying this for months about just about everyone who has to pass through waivers, but Ross would make a pretty nifty Marlin.

What's interesting about the pen is the non-decision where Jonathan Broxton is concerned. That makes for a lot of confidence in the call made to keep Franquelis Osoria, as well as an equal amount of confidence that Takashi Saito is going to be perfectly fine. I'm not saying they're right or wrong, but it is admirably self-confident. It isn't like Broxton is struggling, either, since he's struck out nine in five innings at Vegas, allowing no runs and three baserunners, and logging two saves and a win already. I'd expect Broxton to be up at some point, but between the pair of Devil Ray vets and Saito and Osoria, it isn't like the Dodgers are without quality righty arms.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Activated RHP Ben Sheets from the 15-day DL; placed RHP Rick Helling on the 15-day DL (sprained elbow), retroactive to 4/11. [4/16]

Pretty much as scheduled, with the only surprise being that Helling's elbow managed to earn knuckleballing mop-up man Jared Fernandez a reprieve. The schedule conveniently kept the Brewers from having to use a fifth starter at any point, so they pretty much got by without much more than two missed turns from their staff ace.

NEW YORK METS
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Recalled LHP Pedro Feliciano from Norfolk (Triple-A); optioned OF-R Victor Diaz to Norfolk. [4/17]

As frustrated as I am to have seen Diaz not get to play, it isn't like Willie Randolph was making effective use of the roster spot with him in it, and it isn't like Xavier Nady hasn't achieved a few feats of strength. So yes, even I can grudgingly acknowledge that perhaps having a token lefty for the pen makes more sense, at least as long as Nady's playing every day, and Diaz needs the at-bats to keep relatively fresh. But after the ten days down, I'd hope that Randolph would give some thought to how he might best use Diaz on the same squad as Nady, especially when he has both Endy Chavez and Jose Valentin doing so very little to help the Mets score any runs.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Placed 1B-L Sean Casey on the 15-day DL (lower back fractures); purchased the contract of UT-R Mike Edwards from Indianapolis (Triple-A); transferred RHP Kip Wells from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/15]

Placed C-B Ryan Doumit on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 4/12; recalled C-R Ronny Paulino from Indianapolis. [4/16]

Consider me unconcerned twice over, in no small part because the Pirates have the depth to handle this sort of thing. Indeed, this might even be the best thing for them, if you operate on the assumption that, having made the mistake of getting Casey to start off with, better that they instead use the playing time at first base to showcase Craig Wilson for the sort of deadline deal that might really help this ballclub. I can certainly live with that, even if it means leaving Three True Outcomes godling Brad Eldred in Indy to do fascinating things a level away from the majors. Pirates fans should be even more comfortable still, since it improves the lineup right now. As for losing Doumit, don't get me wrong, I'm a fan, but Paulino can catch and has some pop at the plate, so if he does something in Doumit's absence to encourage GM Dave Littlefield to dangle Humberto Cota if that's the sort of thing that interests somebody, consider this just another bargaining chip in play. Not that every catcher deal has the potential to be an Ed Hearn/David Cone special, but you never know until you try.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Recalled RHP Brad Hennessey from Fresno (Triple-A); optioned RHP Jeremy Accardo to Fresno. [4/16]

... meaning, of course, that it's too soon to start pencilling in Kevin Correia as the fifth starter in Noah Lowry's absence. Sixth starter seems to be Hennessey's calling, and now's exactly the sort of time you need that sort of guy, while Correia still seems a bit of a more speculative project. It certainly worked out the first time through, with Hennessey cranking out quality, without even the anticipated burn. It's hard to say that Hennessey will ever have a great future: most aspiring fifth starter types get no further than that, perhaps occasionally mixing in a Triple-A ERA title now and again to keep things interesting. But every once in a while, someond like this turns into Woody Williams, and if Hennessey's got his breaking stuff working and better command of his fastest heat, there's a reason why youneverknow with pitching.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Placed RHP Ryan Drese on the 15-day DL (elbow); purchased the contract of RHP Saul Rivera from New Orleans. [4/15]

Like the Christmas present Dad never does get to work, Drese just keeps going and going and gong... snap, crackle, and pop. If there's a sad note to strike here, it's having to listen to Frank Robinson cluck about the Nats' shortage of starting pitching in response to the latest Drese-y departure. As if the decisions to discard Tomo Ohka or Claudio Vargas or even Sunny Kim were none of his business, just stuff other people did without his input. That's not to say getting worked up about Drese's breakdown is something anyone need do: only GM Jim Bowden thought they had something here, so only one person has egg on his face over this particular denouement. In the meantime, free talent pickup Billy Traber will get the call to replace Drese in the rotation later on this week, while fellow free talent pickup Rivera gets a brief shot at winning friends and influencing people in the big leagues. Rivera's stint might only last until Traber's set for his call-up, but Brendan Harris won't get to do much once Jose Vidro is 100%.

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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