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May 5, 2006

Transaction Analysis

May 2-4

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Recalled C-R Mike Napoli from Salt Lake (Triple-A); optioned C-R Jeff Mathis to Salt Lake. [5/3]

Placed RHP Chris Bootcheck on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled OF-R Tommy Murphy from Salt Lake. [5/4]

Bootcheck's spotting for Kevin Gregg in the long relief role while Gregg slipped into the rotation for a blistered Kelvim Escobar came to a quick end when he hurt himself trying to join the pile-up during Tuesday's A's-Angels brawl.

Their plans to carry a supernumerary twelfth pitcher scotched, the Angels addressed their need for a spare center fielder in light of Darin Erstad's ankle problems. Might the Angels be on the cusp of an Erstad-free lineup? Perish the thought, because if there's one thing Anaheim's rivals might have banked, it's the 400 outs or so that Erstad's always good for, while beaming that corn-fed flyover state smile for the kiddies. Already 26, Murphy's not a premium prospect, but the organization feels he can play a good center, and he did have a nice second go-round in the Texas League last season.

The interesting aspect of their roster calculus was that, at least notionally, Dallas McPherson could have been called up to play third, with Chone Figgins taking over in center during Erstad's absence. But as Jay Jaffe has already noted, McPherson isn't winning friends and influencing people with his play in Utah. They might also have called Reggie Willits back, but they might have felt his bat had gone soft after ten days spent watching rather than doing. So Murphy gets his shot at being the team's Jeff DaVanon substitute.

Finally, with the catching situation, this should be more than just a change, but an upgrade. Admittedly, I'm biased, yet conflicted: as a fellow ethnic napoletan' (that's the area surrounding Naples to all youse), I'm hoping the paesano puts some hurting on everyone... but the A's. Napoli is an uncomplicated prospect, perhaps one with a limited up-side, but somebody who has made big strides as a catcher in the last year. More importantly, unlike the sort of fuzzy hope that Jeff Mathis finally hits outside of bandboxes, Napoli has a decent spread of secondary offensive skills. Napoli might make for the top half of a good offense-defense platoon with Jose Molina, although anything that involves fewer at-bats for Molina would help.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Purchased the contracts of LHP Kurt Birkins and RHP Julio Manon from Ottawa (Triple-A); optioned RHP Eddy Rodriguez to Ottawa; designated RHP Jim Brower and C-R Eli Whiteside for assignment. [5/2]

Julio Manon... Julio Manon... Why, that's a name I haven't heard in a long time, and for good reason; he's one of those especially well-travelled retreads, having pitched in baseball's answer to the Jundland Wastes, appearing in both the Korean and Taiwanese leagues. He was sold into that by Omar Minaya after shining as a minor league closer in the Expos' chain, but even before we noted that he had Brendan Donnelly-like potential as a helping hand in the pen (in the 2003 edition of the annual), he'd made his way through both the Cardinals' and D-Rays' organizations, not to mention a stint with the indy league St. Paul Saints. If he still has the fastball-splitty mix that made him successful as a reliever in 2002 and 2003, he might be quite able to step in and be less ulcerous as Jim Brower.

By contrast, Birkins is something of an organizational soldier, picked as a draft-and-follow in the 33rd round of the 2000 draft after he'd dropped out of UCLA after one season. He has decent velocity for a lefty, and gets credited for having some breaking stuff worth watching. Considering that he basically only pitched the one season at UCLA and some juco ball, he's not somebody you should peg up higher than most high school draftees. He's survived the last four years in the minors, which is a skill, and he did strike out almost eight men per nine in his (admittedly aged) debut in Double-A last season. The hope is that he'll fit in as a situational lefty, which in turn would let John Halama stick to long relief work, and it wouldn't be shocking if Birkins handled the role easily enough.

So, to sum up, a nice pair of call-ups, interesting at the very least, and not just because they'd be hard-pressed to be worse than Brower.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Activated 1B-L Hee-Seop Choi from his rehabilitation assignment, and optioned him to Pawtucket (Triple-A). [5/4]

This is probably for the best, considering that both Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell are playing well, and better to let J.T. Snow than Choi rot on the bench and provide that wafting aroma referred to as clubhouse moxie. Later, down the stretch, after Choi has a few hundred PAs under his belt while Snow's been reduced to Stapleton-like roster carrion, the Sox can make that particular switch, to give themselves a quality power bat in a reserve role in August and on into the postseason.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Optioned RHP Brian Slocum to Buffalo (Triple-A); activated LHP C.C. Sabathia from the 15-day DL. [5/2]

A superlative from me about this being a good thing wouldn't add much to its obviousness, and as I've touched on previously, the choice between Slocum and Jeremy Guthrie had been made. If Guthrie doesn't make progress as a big league reliever, he might end up in the same boat that Jason Davis is in, holding on as a bargaining chip, and potentially outrightable if he fails.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Placed 1B-R Mike Sweeney on the 15-day DL (bulging disk - upper back); recalled 1B-R Justin Huber from Omaha (Triple-A). [5/3]

Better that we focus on the positive here, and not bemoan what this might mean as far as the Royals ever being able to move some portion of Sweeney's contract to some other franchise. At Omaha, Huber was pasting the ball at a .301/.427/.603 clip, and as he nears his 24th birthday, there's no time like the present to see if the answer to the club's first base needs is right here, a product of one of Allard Baird's genuinely commendable trades. And so you might be content, except that the Royals are going to find a way to screw even this one thing up, as they fail to give Huber the consideration they once gave to Ken Harvey, for chri'sakes. That's because Huber's going to be platooned with Matt Stairs, and much as the Wonder Hamster might rank among my favorite players, the idea that Huber's up on one of baseball's worst teams and will not get a shot at playing every day sort of explains why the Royals are doomed to a world of suck in the past, present, and future. Only the Royals would defer to the greatness of Stairs, not to mention Doug fricking, buy-a-vowel-already, why-why-WHY!?! Mientkiewicz, and only the Royals would be left wondering why that didn't work out so well.

No wonder I don't like the Royals. It isn't just that they're bad; it's that they're bad and dumb, and that makes a team about as uninteresting and unworthy of sympathy as you might think possible.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Optioned 3B-L Sean Burroughs to Durham (Triple-A); designated INF-R Nick Green for assignment. [5/4]

These moves are in anticipation of today's activation of Aubrey Huff and Julio Lugo, but the always-bubbly Joe Maddon put Burroughs' demotion in proper context, noting that this was moe about making sure that Burroughs gets regular at-bats than an indictment of his potential. Again, the D-Rays know that they're in the business of turning Burroughs around, not expecting him to solve all of his problems all at once. In the meantime, they can get Huff back up to speed, and hopefully showcase him for that deal that the unlamentedly departed Chuck LaMar consistently forgot to make.

As for Nick Green and whether that's the case... not so much. Green was never really a prospect in the first place, just another ex-Brave, representative of the one trick in LaMar's bag: when in doubt, turn back to where you came from. Like any second base type aspiring for a utility career, you need to be able to play short or hit a little, and Green couldn't really do either. As a result, he loses out to guys like Tomas Perez and Russ Branyan, since Perez can (notionally) play short, and Branyan can (supposedly) hit. So credit the Rays with making the right choices. It'll get a little more interesting once Jorge Cantu and Rocco Baldelli come off of the DL, because while Greg Norton is an easy demotion, for the second move you might have to decide whether or not Joey Gathright is going to hit enough to keep on the big league team, or if the time has come to bench or trade Damon Hollins. That said, it'll probably be Branyan, unless Gathright really just shows absolutely no sign of making progress.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Placed LHP Fabio Castro on the 15-day DL (strained Rule 5, er... groin); recalled RHP Robinson Tejeda from Oklahoma (Triple-A). [5/2]

How conveniently timed to make space for the Rangers' latest choice for fifth starter. With Castro, it was probably just a matter of time until the Rangers came up with something plausible, although given some of the funky injuries players have had over the years (like hurting your back putting on a cowboy boot or hurting your hand wrestling a hotel television) or implausibly suggested (like Chris Brown's aching eyelid or Jeff Kent's claim that his truck jumped him), you have to think they could have claimed Castro was the lucky survivor of a Bulgarian assassination plot and get away with it, for all the active oversight the commissioner's office exercises over these things.

Meanwhile, add Tejeda to the Rangers' list of discards gone right, because on top of getting good stuff from Ron Mahay and Rick Bauer out of the pen, they're getting workmanlike performances from John Koronka and Vicente Padilla in the early going. Tejeda and Padilla aren't retreads as much as guys Pat Gillick didn't think he could use in Philly, so it isn't like either was a scrapheap find the way the other three were, but it's a credit to the Rangers that they've managed to fill in their staff despite the disastrous exchange of Chris Young and Adam Eaton in the rotation. That said, I'm not confident about either Tejeda or Padilla keeping it up; Tejeda needs much better command because The Ballpark tends not to forgive allowing too many baserunners, while Padilla's upside is his continuing to be workmanlike. But it's working well enough so far, and Buck Showalter, Jon Daniels, and the rest of the front office crew certainly deserve credit for it.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Optioned LHP Brian Tallet to Syracuse (Triple-A); removed LHP Scott Downs from the bereavement list. [5/2]

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Placed RHP Russ Ortiz on the 15-day DL (strained calf, suckitis); recalled RHP Casey Daigle from Tucson (Triple-A). [5/2]

So the Melvin legacy gets to funk about on the Disabled List, a spot where he at least provides his team with some addition by self-subtraction, and possibly cash if there's insurance involved. But even simple deletion understates how positive this development might be, because in Ortiz's absence, Juan Cruz had a nifty start, encouraging those of us who think last summer's stint in Sacramento's rotation is indicative of his still-extant potential for goodness. Optimist that I am, I think his shot at putting up rates similar to those in 60th or 75th-percentile forecasts are pretty reasonable. Additionally, Daigle's progress as a reliever makes him a nice enough replacement for Cruz in the pen, so this is a win-win situation twice over.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Placed RHP Lance Cormier on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); recalled RHP Peter Moylan from Richmond (Triple-A). [5/3]

I remain pretty sympathetic to Cormier, in that he gave the Snakes a great first half last season, before collapsing under the workload that manager Bob Melvin gave him. Hence, I think he was a pretty canny pickup by the Braves, and hope he continues to build on that success. The Braves seem to think he'll only miss the requisite two weeks, but in the meantime, they can take another spin with Aussie re-import Moylan. We'll see if his side-arming can work anything like the same sort of mayhem it did in the WBC, but for Atlanta, this isn't a bad spot to be in, considering the team's generally getting solid enough work from everyone in the bullpen.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Placed OF-R Cody Ross on the 15-day DL (bruised finger), retroactive to 4/29; recalled OF-R Chris Denorfia from Louisville (Triple-A); gave UT-L Tony Womack his unconditional release. [5/2]

Placed INF-R Rich Aurilia on the 15-day DL (strained groin); recalled 2B/SS-B Ray Olmedo from Louisville. [5/4]

I'm not busted up about the decision to call up Denorfia, even if it means that he might not get to play every day. After a team sustains enough injuries, you can only go so far with your 40-man roster, and it wasn't like purchasing the contracts of guys like Alex Sanchez or Terrence Long would make any sense whatsoever.

Losing Aurilia is actually a little strange in its effect, since he was in something of a platoon with Scott Hatteberg at first base. I suppose it's possible that the Reds could avoid a third more Hatteberg at the exact same price by moving Adam Dunn to first against lefties and starting Denorfia in left in those games, but I wouldn't bet on it--there's probably a sentiment that there's no need to get too demanding with the big guy as far as defensive assignments go. They might instead let reserve catcher Javier Valentin make a few appearances there, since he's not getting as many at-bats as you might like with both Jason LaRue and David Ross around to catch. Olmedo won't enter the picture; he's up hoping to make a tepid bid on a middle-infield utility role, but he's more basically one of the big losers after Wayne Krivsky's inspired decision to not just get Brandon Phillips, but to play him. Olmedo might be a handy enough reserve if the Reds had the space for him, but they won't have that while they're happy with three catchers on the active roster.

In lesser, related news on the subject of "Where do second basemen come from?", Womack's release apparently comes with the realization that nobody, not even one of the indy leagues, employs Dan O'Brian as a GM. Otherwise, the guy would be in like flint, because he's fast donchaknow.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Activated OF-L Jorge Piedra from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [5/2]

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Claimed OF-B Joe Borchard off of waivers from the Mariners; designated OF-L Matt Cepicky for assignment. [5/3]

Huzzah! This is what being a crummy team is all about--getting aggressive with waiver claims. Borchard is a nifty pickup for the team that needs everything, not that he's an All-Star in the making or the next late bloomer, a la Jeromy Burnitz, but even a small opportunity at having a slugger to spare is something this club should be taking chances on. For myself, I think it's pretty interesting that Borchard doesn't really have a strong set of comparables. That might mean he's uniquely talented, but it might also mean he's baseball's answer to the furry lobster. Right field should belong to Borchard during Jeremy Hermida's extended absence, but once Hermida returns, the question becomes one of whether Borchard will be restricted to spotting Hermida and Josh Willingham in the corners, or if he'll get a shot at any of the playing time being wasted on Reggie Abercrombie or Eric Reed. Again, when you're a team that's happily without expectations, you can afford to take a few chances.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Placed OF-L Ricky Ledee on the 15-day DL (strained groin); recalled OF-L Andre Ethier from Las Vegas (Triple-A). [5/2]

This is a good idea, not because Ethier's replacing Ledee, but because he's replacing Jose Cruz Jr.. For all of the talk that Cruz is in a "deep slump," I think it's more likely he's just being the Jose Cruz Jr. that the Snakes and Red Sox had reason to discard. Notionally, it's a platoon between the two, but clearly, this is Ned Colletti's bid to look extra-smart by showing off the kid he got for Milton Bradley, and conveniently papering over the organization's decision to keep Cruz. In Vegas, Ethier was hitting .349/.447/.500, which admittedly is the nature of life in Vegas, but he hasn't been overmatched by pitching in Triple-A, and he hasn't embarassed himself in his first few big league games. Considering that this is a lineup with six famous guys and Dioner Navarro in it, I could definitely see this working out as an exercise in breaking the kid in within a veteran lineup. As a former major-college star at Arizona State, Ethier was already a good bet to have an accelerated timetable as far as his arrival in the bigs, and letting the future start now is a worthwhile risk by Colletti and company.

The minor question should Ethier thrive is whether you'd rather have Ledee or Cruz, and if we're talking about a reserve role, better to keep Ledee. If you're worrying about someone to hit lefties, it isn't like Jayson Werth will remain among the missing, after all.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Placed RHP Tomo Ohka on the 15-day DL (partially torn rotator cuff), retroactive to 5/2. [5/3]

To replace Ohka in the rotation for tomorrow's start, it's expected that the choice will be between Ben Hendrickson or Jared Fernandez (who will be recalled from Nashville today). Ned Yost was noncommital, but that's because the choice isn't merely limited to those two. Panzer Lehr did start eleven games in Triple-A last season, and his most recent in-game action was an inning on Tuesday night. That ought to give him enough time to be ready to pitch a few innings on Saturday, either as the front of a "pen start," or with the intention to give him a full five-plus-inning gig.

Admittedly, Lehr would be a temporary option, but until the Brewers learn whether Ohka's shoulder trouble keeps him out a month or derails his entire season, they're in the market for temporary solutions. With David Bush more than rising to the challenge of rotation work and Ben Sheets back, it isn't like the Brewers are in desperate straits to replace Ohka. Whether they choose Hendrickson or Dana Eveland (0.87 ERA, with 17 hits, six walks, and 31 Ks in 31 IP down at Nashville) to take Ohka's place, their ability to contend won't be seriously endangered. At the same time, they might learn whether Hendrickson might finally stick, or if plans to move Eveland to the pen can be junked. So despite potentially losing a solidly average big-league starter, potentially for the season, the Brewers seem well-positioned to adapt to and overcome this particular setback.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Optioned UT-R Mike Edwards to Indianapolis (Triple-A); reactivated C-B Ryan Doumit from the 15-day DL. [5/2]

Doumit may be back, but he'll be taking a seat on the bench because manager Jim Tracy has correctly identified the most balanced player from among the Bucs' trio of catching alternatives. If Humberto Cota has the makings of a fine backup catcher, it's nice to see that's what Tracy sees him as, instead preferring Ronny Paulino's blend of catching skills and offensive up-side. That's not an indictment of Doumit, but nobody's going to start writing home over his glovework. The possibility of an offense-defense platoon between Doumit and Cota had and has merit, but it wasn't certain that Tracy would strike upon that particular formula with a balance that gave Doumit 350 PAs to exploit his considerable potential as a hitter. The only indefensible choice would have been playing Cota regularly all season, but we're only a month into the season, and Tracy has correctly identified his better alternatives, and he's made an understandable choice.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Brian Falkenborg from Memphis (Triple-A); optioned OF-L Skip Schumaker to Memphis. [5/2]

Basically, this adds up to Falkenborg replacing Ricardo Rincon while acknowledging that John Gall makes a better spare part than Schumaker on this particular bench. The Falkenborg-Rincon thing won't stick for that long--Tony LaRussa will be happier with a second lefty, and the rest of the pen's doing well--but the Gall-Schumaker exchange makes all sorts of sense as a minor upgrade.


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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