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April 26, 2006

Transaction Analysis

April 21-25

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Placed OF-R Juan Rivera on the 15-day DL (tight rib cage); recalled OF-B Reggie Willits from Salt Lake (Triple-A). [4/22]

Placed INF-B Maicer Izturis on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled 2B-R Howie Kendrick from Salt Lake. [4/24]

It's impressive that Kendrick is up already, but it isn't that surprising. Predictably enough, the Angels aren't getting anything from their catchers or Darin Erstad or Casey Kotchman, and when a team has a moving part like Chone Figgins, you can get ideas. The Angels won't make the move right now to put Kendrick at third (where he's taking grounders), move Figgins to center, and make a choice between franchise fave Erstad or the Godot-like prospecthood of Kotchman. But it's there. For now, I expect this is more about putting Izturis' absence to use as a way of letting Kendrick play tourist with big league life so that when he really is plugged into the lineup, the bright lights/big suburbs nature of life in Anaheim doesn't give him the heebie-jeebies.

If Kendrick does convince the Angels to break him in at third, nobody should think that closes the door on his eventually taking over at second. As a career move, I would think that it's more in the vein of what the Cubs did with Ryne Sandberg in 1982. Now sure, that was about the Cubs taking Bump Wills seriously as their second baseman of the present, and Adam Kennedy is much more a going concern than Wills ever was. The real question isn't about Kendrick's future, but about what Edgardo Alfonzo is for. It seems clear that the Angels are comfortable leaving Robb Quinlan in a first base-DH-emergency outfielder sort of role, making him some sort of latter-day Mickey Hatcher. (Don't laugh, that's a name we A's fans still loathe, so we might consider this a menacing development. A Quinlan game-winning home run in a one-game playoff against Barry Zito? I'd almost see that as some sort of foregone conclusion.) But if that's what Quinlan is for, what use is Edgardo Alfonzo, especially once Izturis comes off of the DL? Watch and see if Bill Stoneman cuts bait and sinks a sunk cost; Steve Finley was a relatively famous veteran with a World Series ring, but Alfonzo is perhaps too obviously a has-been.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Optioned RHP Jermaine Van Buren to Pawtucket (Triple-A); recalled RHP Manny Delcarmen from Pawtucket. [4/22]

No slight on Van Buren, who did fine work in his lone appearance, but Delcarmen looks set to step into the pen and provide the kind of quality work the team probably wished it was getting from Julian Tavarez and Rudy Seanez. It's still early days, of course, so both veterans should be able to turn things around, but neither have Delcarmen's upside. At Pawtucket, in ten innings, he allowed seven baserunners while striking out ten, reflecting the power assortment (mid-90s heat and a big-bending curve) that should serve him well if he's left alone to pitch real innings in the big leagues. I still like Van Buren as a tenth or eleventh man in a contender's pen, but the Sox have the luxury of depth, even with Tavarez, Seanez, and Keith Foulke all dealing with their assorted issues without actually breaking down.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Placed RHP Rafael Betancourt on the 15-day DL (strained lat); recalled RHP Brian Slocum from Buffalo (Triple-A). [4/21]

Recalled RHP Jeremy Guthrie from Buffalo; optioned LHP Rafael Perez to Akron (Double-A). [4/22]

Betancourt's out a month, and Matt Miller for the season, so the Indians aren't pondering temporary solutions, they simply want solutions. Given the broken beakers surrounding the Danny Graves experiment, it's just as well that the team has decided to take a look at Slocum and Guthrie. Although he'll be in the pen, Guthrie was off to a good start in Buffalo, striking out 12 and walking five in 18 innings. If he can adapt to a "Weaver" role as a middle man, it might even ease his eventual transition to starting in the big leagues, while also erasing the concern that he's got a pitcher's equivalent of the yips, thereby rehabilitating him as a bargaining chip should GM Mark Shapiro decide to go shopping. Similarly, Slocum is extremely handy to have. He might not be a plus prospect, but he throws relatively hard. He is a nice working example of what happens when you take an adequate minor league starter and make him into a potentially adequate major league reliever. The two might essentially be pitching in direct competition over the next week or two, to see who sticks and who goes down once C.C. Sabathia comes off of the DL, but that's a good thing. If they both thrive, maybe that will lead to a decision to excise Graves.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Activated RHP Todd Jones from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Chris Spurling to Toledo (Triple-A); transferred RHP Craig Dingman from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/21]

The interesting aspect of this move was that it means that Spurling effectively lost his job to Jordan Tata. This is obviously a happy thing for Tata, because, to give Jim Leyland due props, this is the sort of role that the manager has used to introduce pitchers like Denny Neagle, Rick White, Francisco Cordova, Jon Lieber, and even Dan Miceli. There are a few less happy examples as well (Roberto Ramirez, anyone? Kirt Ojala?), but basically, Leyland's shown a willingness to groom a potential future starter in a middle relief role, and Tata might be in a position to generate a similar opportunity for himself if he settles in now, even without any real experience above A-ball. I'm skeptical, in that I expect that Tata will need some regular rotation time in Double- or Triple-A, but Leyland has a track record worth mentioning where this sort of thing is concerned.

Meanwhile, having Jones back does give the Tigers the nice option of easing him back into closing by alternating him with Fernando Rodney, as they did this past weekend. Considering the problems that the White Sox and the Indians are having with their pens, this might be the sort of advantage the Tigers might exploit, assuming they can score regularly enough early on to hand leads over to the pen.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Placed CF-L David DeJesus on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); purchased the contract of RHP Joe Nelson from Omaha (Triple-A); transferred RHP Mike MacDougal from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/21]

You might expect me to make some sort of catty comment about the absence of Chip Ambres right around now, but to be fair to the Royals, Shane Costa is earning his keep, and Emil Brown and Reggie Sanders both should be in the corners on an everyday basis. I can even understand why this particular team would want to have twelve pitchers, considering their difficulties in sorting out who can pitch, and who can't. There's no real point on picking on them over who their fourth outfielder is at this point--if the 2007 Royals wind up with a better outfield because it has Costa and a healthy DeJesus in it, Allard Baird and Buddy Bell will deserve some measure of credit, whether they're both still here or not.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Recalled RHP Chad Gaudin from Sacramento (Triple-A); optioned OF-B Bobby Kielty to Sacramento. [4/21]

So the A's dial back up to twelve pitchers, in no small part because they don't know what to expect from Esteban Loaiza, or when, or whether he'll continue doing his Russ Ortiz, "Look at me, I'm a the scorchy guy from the Fantastic Four" routine when he does. That means that Kirk Saarloos will probably get a spot start, which leaves Saarloos' long relief role open to Gaudin. How long depends on whether the Loaiza situation culminates in some sort of decision. Whatever way it plays out, I would probably prefer to have Gaudin in Saarloos' place, since he might develop into something, whereas I think we all expect Saarloos to be what he is, a decent fill-in starter and mop-up man. Down in Sacramento, Gaudin was pitching exceptionally well, allowing nineteen baserunners in 17.1 IP, with 16 Ks and one earned run surrendered.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Recalled RHP Clint Nageotte from Tacoma (Triple-A); designated OF-B Joe Borchard for assignment. [4/23]

Recalled LHP Bobby Livingston from Tacoma; optioned RHP Clint Nageotte to Tacoma. [4/24]

I just don't buy the necessity of this latest roster lurch. Nageotte for a night? Jeff Harris for three games? How long will this "commitment" to Livingston last, a day? Two days? A week? The Mariners need to stop pouting over King Felix's vincibility, and sort out why they have players on their roster, and to what end. Borchard was worth having, and while he's dumpable, he didn't exactly have a chance to do anything that made a decision to dump him necessary. He still has the same virtues he had on Opening Day, or this winter, or last year. So does Nageotte. So does Harris, for that matter. Racing between them willy-nilly, without much of an idea of who you want on your team if you're not merely responding to events, is part of the problem. Pick, play, and then decide whether or not you picked wisely on the basis of what happens over a few weeks. What's the point of having expertise in your field if you're just going to race over to a new temporary solution? Everybody can have a bad night, and all sorts of people can do little with nine at-bats if you spread them over three weeks. If you don't have the acumen to identify who's good for your roster and why, you're in the wrong line of work.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Recalled RHP Edwin Jackson from Durham (Triple-A); optioned RHP Jason Childers to Durham. [4/21]

Activated Mark Hendrickson from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Edwin Jackson to Durham. [4/25]

Jackson was only up for the one start left open in Hendrickson's absence, with the big fella coming off of the DL in time to take his next turn. Jackson's performance in Durham has been decidedly mixed: 15 strikeouts in 14 IP, but also 17 hits and a half-dozen walks allowed. He was predictably wild in his lone start, but unlike Jason Hammel, he resembled someone who can pitch in the majors now, and he might not be too far off from sticking. It isn't like either Seth McClung or Doug Waechter are making any progress, after all.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Optioned CF-L Laynce Nix to Oklahoma (Triple-A); purchased the contract of OF-R Adam Hyzdu from Oklahoma; transferred RHP Josh Rupe from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/21]

Recalled LHP John Rheinecker from Oklahoma; placed LHP Brian Shouse on the 15-day DL. [4/22]

Optioned LHP John Rheinecker to Oklahoma; purchased the contract of LHP Ron Mahay; designated RHP R.A. Dickey for assignment. [4/23]

Kudos to the Rangers for showing some boldness and some flexibility. First, I'm impressed that they're finally done with waiting around for Nix to matter. Not that Gary Matthews Jr. is any great shakes--he's adequate as an everyday center fielder, and a poor excuse for a leadoff man. But he also isn't totally incapable, which is what Nix has degenerated into. There's something sort of cool about having both Hyzdu and Adrian Brown as your outfield reserves, since each is something of a central casting tough-luck story, the sort of players backup outfielders are made of. If Nix is going to put his career back together again, it's going to have be while playing every day, and the only place he can do that is in the minors.

I'm equally impressed with the flexibility they demonstrated in managing their pitching staff. Rheinecker made a spot start, but Mahay is the man who's replacing Shouse in the bullpen. So what about the rotation? Rick Bauer will eventually step into Dickey's former slot, but not until May. So the schedule gods smile on Texas, the Rangers wind up with a decent lefty veteran reliever to replace the lefty they lost, and they might eventually get Bauer to do for them what John Koronka already is doing for them, and keeping them in ballgames. That's something they should have known from the start that Dickey couldn't do, but happily for them, they didn't wed themselves to the concept that Dickey was going to be some sort of Hallmark afternoon special story. They junked him, and moved on. There's a season to play, after all.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Placed RHP A.J. Burnett on the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Shaun Marcum from Syracuse (Triple-A). [4/22]

I can't really speak to any of the standard Dallas Green-style kibbitzing that Burnett needs to be tougher or whatever. Can you blame the Jays for being careful, considering how much they have invested in the guy? In his place, they're being reticent about moving Scott Downs back into Burnett's slot, preferring to ponder their minor league options. That would seem to indicate a short stay in the majors for Marcum. However, considering that Marcum was a starter last season, there's always the possibility that he or Pete Walker could front a so-called 'pen start' if the Jays are worried about which opponent and on what day they want to debut either Casey Janssen or Josh Banks.

The Jays have the same "problem" that they Cubs do, not just in terms of having an ace on the DL, but as far as having one of the best collections of almost-ready minor league pitching talent to call upon. With Burnett apparently out for several weeks, the Jays can afford to take the time and pick carefully, because they still harbor ambitions of contention, and it isn't implausible to suggest that either Banks or Janssen could help them do that in the rotation.

As for Marcum, if there's an injury in the pen, he's a good choice to turn to as a replacement, but so is Dustin McGowan, and the pen isn't really a problem in the first place. (No, I don't expect Vinny Chulk or Jason Frasor to keep struggling.) As long as the Jays don't make the same mistake they made last season with Brandon League, and leave someone like McGowan or Marcum to rot in the last spot on the roster, it's not such a terrible situation to be in.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Recalled 2B-R Martin Prado from Mississippi (Double-A); optioned RHP Peter Moylan to Richmond (Triple-A); signed RHP Ricardo Rodriguez and LHP Wayne Franklin to minor league contracts, and assigned them to Richmond. [4/21]

Activated 3B-B Chipper Jones from the 15-day DL; optioned 2B-R Martin Prado to Mississippi (Double-A). [4/25]

Assuming Jones is somewhere close to 100% (and last night's home run is as good an indication as any), for the time being the Braves are through the worst of it as far as their infield injuries. Sure, Edgar Renteria is into his second week on the shelf, but with Jones at third, Wilson Betemit moves over to short, where he's been fine in the field, and that pushes Tony Pena Jr. to the bench, save when one of Betemit, Jones, or Marcus Giles needs an off day. Now, if only the rotation would start resembling what the Braves are more used to getting from their starting pitchers...

CHICAGO CUBS
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Placed 1B-R Derrek Lee on the 15-day DL (fractured arm/wrist); purchased the contract of OF-R Michael Restovich from Iowa (Triple-A); transferred RHP Wade Miller from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/21]

Optioned RHP Jerome Williams to Iowa; recalled RHP Angel Guzman from Iowa. [4/23]

If there's a death knell being tolled, this is it. Not that Jerry Hairston Jr. can't fill in nicely at second, or that Todd Walker isn't a useful enough stick in the lineup, but a lineup that has them both loses sight of the club's real problem, which is the absence of top-shelf hitting talent in the lineup. Adequate replacements don't mean much when you're already wallowing in adequacy. Without Lee, the Cubs really only have Aramis Ramirez as a significantly above-average hitter. That's not meant as a slight against Michael Barrett, nor is it a putdown of what Matt Murton should be in the future. But this is the penalty of mid-market shopping, because rather than add real quality in their outfield this winter, the Cubs merely added Juan Pierre and Jacque Jones, decent enough players to have if they're your fifth- or sixth-best hitters, but not the guys who can carry you if Derrek Lee has to take a couple of months off.

Perhaps the bigger shock is the speedy demotion of Williams, but let's face it, the guy had an option, and this is an organization loaded with pitching talent. If you pitch poorly, there are consequences. Williams still should have a big league future, of course, but this seems more an overreaction to his awful start against the Cardinals on the 21st. He'd done good work in two out of three relief appearances, and given the team a quality start his first time out. If you look at his total line, it looks awful, but that's the nature of cumulative stats and small samples. If every guy who had a bad day against the Cardinals got sent down afterwards, teams would run out of options pretty quickly.

Guzman takes Williams' place in the fifth, skippable slot. He's something of a favored son in the organization despite failing to take the mound for a full season since 2002. With so little actual pitching on his resume, we're left with comments that he looked promising in the AFL last winter, that he still throws hard, and that his curve's pretty good, if he can still throw it. All of this said, he's possibly the club's best Venezuelan prospect, and they've been very careful with him: taking their time in helping him recover from a partially torn labrum, shutting him down quickly when he had a sore shoulder and forearm tightness, and generally avoiding pushing him. They might be rewarded for that, but that requires either a lights-out debut or more patience from Dusty Baker than he's usually known for showing. He wasn't perfect in Iowa, but he had struck out 23 in 16.1 IP, with only three walks. My concern is that he just doesn't have the benefit of live pitching to really make a go of it this time around; he's still missing in the strike zone, and gave up four bombs in that time on the farm. He could finally live up to the organization's hopes for him later on this summer, but having him up now seems like a good way to create trouble. At least they're showing the good sense to debut him against the Marlins.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Placed Eric Milton on the 15-day DL (knee), retroactive to 4/19; recalled RHP Elizardo Ramirez from Louisville (Triple-A); acquired OF-R Cody Ross from the Dodgers for a PTBNL; designated 2B-L Tony Womack for assignment. [4/24]

Scratch one old administration mistake, and kudos to GM Wayne Krivsky for making the right call. The decision to pick up Womack was indefensible from day one, especially since it cost the team Kevin Howard, when at most it should have been doing the Yankees a favor. To Krivsky's credit, he nabbed Brandon Phillips when the Tribe gave up on him, giving the Reds an equally interesting prospect at the keystone. Add in that the Reds are replacing Womack on the active roster with a decent fourth outfield candidate in Ross, and it's a roster move with all sorts of nice little gains to brag about. Ross isn't like Phillips, a potential regular picked up before he hit the discard pile, but he does have more upside than any of the veteran stiffs the organization has had to use to stock the upper levels of their farm system. Since they're comfortable with Ryan Freel in center, I wouldn't second-guess their decision to leave Chris Denorfia in an everyday role in Louisville.

Meanwhile, in the rotation during Milton's absence, do you really pick Ramirez over Matt Belisle? From among Louisville's starters, Ramirez had the advantage of scheduling, because Justin Germano pitched on Saturday, and Mike Gosling was set to take the mound there on Sunday. But Belisle tossed four relief innings on Thursday, so I don't see why he couldn't have gone on Monday. Heck, why not advance Dave Williams, considering he didn't get in a full night's work in the game Belisle pitched those four innings? I suppose these are minor considerations, because Ramirez has his virtues. A devoted strike-thrower with an adequate assortment, he's not the worst guy to have around as your fifth starter. If he can keep the ball on the ground as effectively as he did with the Bats last season, he might even be that useful fifth starter in the Gap, no easy feat for anybody. If Ramirez earns his keep during Milton's month on the DL, that might give the Reds a nice choice between Ramirez and Williams for the final slot in the rotation. Again, Williams also isn't one of Krivsky's pickups, so there's no need for any emotional investment in retaining him if he doesn't pitch well. Frankly, Williams has already served the purpose of helping the franchise get out from under its financial commitment to Sean Casey, and that's worth a fountain pen or a plaque or something.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Designated RHP Zach Day for assignment; purchased the contract of RHP Miguel Asencio from Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [4/21]

Placed 1B-L Todd Helton on the 15-day DL (stomach discomfort); purchased the contract of OF-R Ryan Spilborghs from Colorado Springs; designated RHP Eduardo Sierra for assignment. [4/22]

The Rockies continue to be a bit frustrating. As pleased as I am to see Asencio take the next step on his comeback, and as willing as I am to concede that they've made the right call on Day, what's up with discarding a pitcher you shouldn't have to give up on just yet to add a bad fifth outfielder to your 40-man? Sierra may never amount to anything, but they don't know that yet.

Admittedly, with Helton hitting the DL, the club was in something of a quandary. The guy you'd expect to be playing now, Ryan Shealy, is on the 15-day DL, and won't need to be moved onto the 60-day DL. But why not call up Jeff Baker? He's on the 40-man. As long as the organization wants to pretend that their Luis Gonzalez is useful and someone who can play the outfield, they've got plenty of outfield depth, and I'd rather look at Baker in the infield, give the pitching staff a break on plays at third by moving Garrett Atkins to first base for the time being, and avoid having to put Sierra through waivers. For the same reason (named Ian Stewart), Baker's going to have to handle some sort of utility role if he's going to stick in the organization, and Atkins has no long-term future at third. If outfield depth is that much of a concern, Jorge Piedra isn't that far from being able to be activated, so why bother putting Spilborghs on your 40-man for any length of time whatsoever?

Besides, if you have Atkins at first, then you still have Eli Marrero to help out in the outfield; I might be one of Marrero's biggest fans, but making him your everyday first baseman just doesn't strike me as the sort of thing this team needs to be doing, not when it has to sort out who's going to be a part of the team in 2007, 2008, and beyond. Playing Marrero regularly just gives him a decent audition for his next job, or cements his status as a Rockies reserve. Neither thing is terrible, but it shouldn't be one of Dan O'Dowd's first choices in this situation. This organization cannot afford to discard talent while demonstrating loyalty to journeymen. Doing so just keeps this team exactly where it is: nowhere.

To go back to Asencio, after an impressive spring, he was adequate in Colorado Springs, allowing eight runs in 15.1 IP while striking out 14 and walking five. I would expect rough results in the early going, but at least there's some reason to believe that he has something to offer, and that's something Day could not do for them.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Activated INF-R Nomar Garciaparra from the 15-day DL; optioned 1B-L James Loney to Albuquerque (Triple-A). [4/22]

Traded OF-R Cody Ross to the Reds for a PTBNL. [4/24]

A simple plug-out, plug-in move, with Loney going down, Nomar entering the lineup, and the Dodgers heaving a sigh of relief that, with Jeff Kent back and Kenny Lofton settling in, they finally have the lineup they expected to field all active and on the roster at the same time. Heck, with Jason Repko and Olmedo Saenz sharpened up with some semi-regular play, they might even have their bench firing on all cylinders. Well, okay, it would be nice if Ricky Ledee was off to a good start as well, but it's April, and nothing's broken yet that doesn't involve Eric Gagne and Yhency Brazoban. This is as good as it gets.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Activated CF-R Mike Cameron from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Jon Adkins to Portland (Triple-A). [4/23]

Just like that, the Pads have their outfield they way the initially wanted it, with Cameron in center, a semi, sorta, kinda top o' the order platoon of Dave Roberts and Eric Young in left. It isn't like anybody's run away with the division in the meantime, and the only loose end left in the lineup is whether or not Adrian Gonzalez hits for power before Ryan Klesko comes back. If there's a surprise, it's that they still have Ben Johnson up in this situation, because it doesn't seem likely that he'll get all that much playing time as a fifth outfielder. Since this club still lacks a solid lefty bat off of the bench (curse you for leaving, Mark Sweeney), I wouldn't be surprised at all if they end up eventually exchanging Johnson for Terrmel Sledge.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Brian Wilson from Fresno (Triple-A); designated RHP Tyler Walker for assignment. [4/23]

Placed RHP Brian Wilson on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); recalled RHP Jeremy Accardo from Fresno. [4/24]


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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