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May 22, 2006

Transaction Analysis

May 19-21

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Released INF-R Edgardo Alfonzo; recalled RHP Jason Bulger from Salt Lake (Triple-A). [5/20]

It's always better to make use of a roster spot than carry dead weight, so consider this one of the rare occasions that I'll endorse going to a twelve-man pitching staff. Alfonzo was thoroughly useless, and while I'm not a huge Bulger fan, it's better to carry someone you might use than somebody you don't want to. In some way, I see this as symptomatic of Mike Scioscia's uncertainty over what to do with his 25th slot now that he doesn't have a third catcher. Bulger was pitching well in the PCL (25 Ks in 17.2 IP), and he does have Scioscia in his corner, but I don't expect him to stick for more than a couple of weeks. Somebody's going to have to go back to Utah once Bartolo Colon, Maicer Izturis, and Darin Erstad come off of the DL, and Bulger's probably at the head of the list for being returned to sender.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Signed 3B-R Melvin Mora to a three-year contract extension through 2009. [5/19]

PECOTA's valuation anticipates that Mora will be worth more than $12 million during that three-year stretch, and Mora's still hitting, so signing him to an extension might make all sorts of sense... unless it's for more than twice as much money, and the deal is reported to have enriched Mora to the tune of $25 million. As much self-pity as the Orioles like to indulge themselves in over whether or not free agents won't come to Baltimore unless they overpay--a la Ramon Hernandez and Javy Lopez--this seems more than a little excessive on the self-flagellation scale.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Placed LHP Mike Holtz on the 15-day DL (strained elbow), retroactive to 5/17; recalled LHP Abe Alvarez from Pawtucket (Triple-A). [5/19]

The big lefty has been having a good year for the PawSox, but Alvarez might not get to stick around for long. The expectation is that somebody's gotta go for David Riske this week, and Lenny DiNardo should be bumped back into the pen once they reactivate David Wells as well. Once Coco Crisp comes off of the DL, the Sox might go back to twelve pitchers, but Alvarez rates thirteenth. However, keep in mind, that's the state of the competition: DiNardo has been awful, and Wells is far from a safe bet to be reliable or healthy. As a rotation regular in Triple-A, Alvarez has been relatively fortunate, allowing only 30 hits in 41.1 IP, while only striking out 21 against a dozen walks. Given his modest stuff, the expectations for Alvarez are that he's never going to be more than a fifth starter or lefty reliever, the same range for DiNardo, so if DiNardo doesn't shine soon, Alvarez might eventually stick.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Activated RHP Jose Contreras from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Boone Logan to Charlotte (Triple-A). [5/21]

Pretty seamless, actually. Contreras slips back into the rotation, Brandon McCarthy goes back into the pen, and Logan's A-ball-to-the-majors Cinderella story predictably goes pumpkin and comes to a relatively quiet end. Matt Thornton seems to be getting better with every outing, and Agustin Montero hasn't embarassed himself yet, so for the time being, there's no need to get worked up over when Dustin Hermanson will be ready to pitch--June or July.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Purchased the contract of C-R Tim Laker from Buffalo (Triple-A); optioned C-R Kelly Shoppach to Buffalo; transferred RHP Matt Miller from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/20]

The Indians recognized that Shoppach wasn't really adapting to life on the bench as a full-time backup catcher, and although some are comparing the scenario to what happened with Josh Bard, Bard's not a prospect, and Shoppach may still be. So the Indians are making a sensible adjustment, flipping Shoppach to a place where he can play while bringing up a veteran who knows how to manage the delicate balance of once-a-week starts and avoiding those dangerous gluteal splinter injuries. It's worth keeping this sort of thing in mind: players are not static assets, and in the same way that some hitters can adapt to a role in which many of their at-bats come in pinch-hitting appearances, and some cannot, I don't think anyone should underrate a player's ability to be an adequate bench player. However, Laker wasn't even that moderately useful in either 2003 or 2004 as the club's primary backup catcher, so this isn't really a solution as much as a move made out of concern for Shoppach.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Activated OF-L Shane Costa from the 15-day DL; recalled SS-B Andres Blanco from Omaha (Triple-A); optioned 1B-R Justin Huber to Omaha; designated OF-L Kerry Robinson for assignment. [5/19]

Pathetic is supposed to be a state that inspires pity, but this borders on 'reinventing welfare' in its callousness and its anti-meritocratic inefficiency. Although getting Costa back is good news, Huber got all of three starts in more than two weeks with the team. Blanco isn't here because he's any good, although his hitting prowess is improving (.282/.324/.405 at Omaha)--he's up because he's not Angel Berroa, roster zombie, and what better way to punish Berroa for being inadequate than bench him? While I'm not unsympathetic with a desire to create legitimate competition and perhaps get better play, I'm also not unsympathetic about how utterly demoralizing it can be if you're young and a Royal.

The situation might be best summed up by Buddy Bell's total lack of self-consciousness with his observation that Robinson "is a legitimate big leaguer for us" despite the team's decision to release him. How many flavors of wrong is that comment? This is the Royals we're talking about, and being legitimately good enough to be a Royals isn't really the same thing as beinig a legitimate big leaguer. Would Esteban German be poking singles for any other team?

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Placed OF-L Bubba Crosby on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); purchased the contract of 1B/OF-R Mitch Jones from Columbus (Triple-A). [5/19]

Optioned 1B/OF-R Mitch Jones to Columbus; recalled RHP Colter Bean from Columbus. [5/20]

Placed RHP Shawn Chacon on the 15-day DL (hematoma - leg), retroactive to 5/17; purchased the contract of OF-L Terrence Long from Columbus. [5/21]

Lord help the Yank... wait a minute, this is the Yankees, so let's ease up on the feeling sorry thing where the Pinstriped Menace is concerned. Would you rather have Long than Jones? Long can play a decent left, while Jones... well, can't. But that gives you what? A defensive replacement for Melky Cabrera, versus somebody who can mash a bit against lefties. For myself, I'd prefer the latter, and that's without getting into whether or not Long's pathetic hitting in Louisville earlier this spring was a case of his pouting his way out of an organization, or a suggestion that he's simply done. Keep in mind, the team already had Kevin Reese around, so simply having a lefty hitter in the outfield isn't necessary. They aren't getting runs from their DHs or their outfield corners, and Long isn't going to change that, but Gary Sheffield might be back before next weekend, and that would.

As for the rotation in Chacon's absence, Aaron Small got to lose his first game as a Yankee starter, something that they should become familiar with conceptually before watching it happen repeatedly becomes too much of a habit. Unfortunately, Carl Pavano's latest setback might keep him out until the end of July, and the alternatives until Chacon comes back off of the DL in early June aren't any happier: Ron Villone in what would be his first rotation work since 2004, or Scott Erickson.

In all this, the silver lining is that Bean might get a real opportunity, and like Scott Proctor, silence the shrieking on WFAN. Neither are prospects, but both can help a big league bullpen, and 296 strikeouts in 251.1 Columbus innings over the last three-plus seasons suggest that the side-armer might at least prove handy in a ROOGY role. Heck, at 29, he might even be old enough to be a Yankee in Joe Torre's estimation.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Placed LHP Joe Kennedy on the 15-day DL (sore shoulder), retroactive to 5/11; recalled RHP Santiago Casilla from Sacramento (Triple-A). [5/21]

Casilla is the pitcher formerly known as Jairo Garcia, although his new incarnation remains every bit as wild and overpowering as his old self, if unfortunately two years and two months older than the previous edition. Mr. Casilla was born on January 7, 1981, while the briefly notable Mr. Garcia was celebrating his birthday on March 7 and claiming to be only 22 last year. Whichever person you want to identify with, at Sacramento, the guy had struck out 17 in 18 IP, with six walks. He still has the high-90s fastball and plus slider that keep scouts happy, and there's always the possibility that now that the mask is off, the new guy will be able to stick.

In Kennedy's absence, the pen does still have lefties who throw left-handed and everything: Randy Keisler and Ron Flores. The best thing you can say under the circumstances is that at least all of the injuries have created an opportunity to show that Chad Gaudiin can pitch, and neither Brad Halsey nor Kirk Saarloos have been bad news in the rotation. Nevertheless, I think everyone would rather have Kennedy, Rich Harden, and Justin Duchscherer healthy and back in the fold.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Designated OF-L Matt Lawton for assignment; recalled INF/OF-R Mike Morse from Tacoma (Triple-A); optioned RHP Emiliano Fruto to Tacoma; activated RHP Julio Mateo from the 15-day DL. [5/20]

Not that this is going to cripple up Seattle's shot at the pennant, but it does seem a bit haphazard that they've had to discard first Joe Borchard and now Lawton because they don't really know what to do with their own roster. Lawton was grousing from the start over his lack of playing time, but he really only has himself to blame--the Mariners had already signed Carl Everett a couple of weeks before they'd inked Lawton, and Lawton (or his agent) should have been able to count heads.

The real problem is that they're effectively carrying three DHs: Everett, Roberto Petagine, and Raul Ibanez, plus one super-utility scrub in Willie Bloomquist, and no real reserve outfielder. I'd rather they'd kept Borchard and perhaps never signed Lawton (or Everett), but now they're down to stocking their bench with Morse, which doesn't seem the most effective solution considering he's not really seen as an effective outfielder. Worse yet, Morse is up despite his performance at Tacoma (.230/.277/.422), so this isn't even a matter of bringing up a hot bat. But like I said, none of this is going to make the Mariners significantly better or worse, it's just a little perplexing and spendthrift.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Recalled RHP Robinson Tejeda from Oklahoma (Triple-A); placed RHP Antonio Alfonseca on the 15-day DL (sore elbow), retroactive to 5/10. [5/19]

Tejeda gets another shot at the fifth slot in the rotation, which is all well and good, and he did do something with it on Friday, contributing five decent innings against the Astros. The Rangers would probably rather that he keep them from having to consider checking in on John Wasdin's performance, but all in all, it's small beer considering that we're only talking about their fifth starter slot, and the team seems to actually have four functioning starters ahead of whoever's in it. That's a pretty rare turn of events for the Rangers, so you can bet that they're enjoying it.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Optioned RHP Shaun Marcum to Syracuse (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Ty Taubenheim. [5/19]

Taubenheim was the Brewer throw-in on the Overbay trade, and has done nothing since his arrival to make people see him as anything more than a solid strike-thrower. At Syracuse, he'd allowed 41 baserunners in 39.2 IP, with 24 strikeouts. He's already come further than anyone expected, so he's a bit of an underdog, but with Gustavo Chacin expected back in time for his next start, it's unlikely that the Jays will need to take a longer look at Taubenheim.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Kevin Jarvis from Tucson (Triple-A); optioned RHP Greg Aquino to Tucson; designated RHP Brian Bruney for assignment. [5/20]

My Jarvis flashback takes me all the way back to... last December, when to the incredulity of at least one colleague, I said we had to do a Kevin Jarvis player comment in the book. But now here we are, in late May, and the Snakes have reasons to wonder how much Juan Cruz or Claudio Vargas or Orlando Hernandez can be relied upon in the rotation, and the old guy's up in a middle relief role. Cruz has given the Snakes three winnable starts in five turns, while Hernandez seems to be dealing with his perpetual aches and pains, so if there's a guy on the spot, I have to think it might be Vargas. I just wonder why you'd want Jarvis as well as Jason Grimsley to do this sort of thing, but maybe this is also an opportunity to let Aquino pitch in some more high-leverage situations in Tucson to prep him for replacing one of the more important pitchers in the pen.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Purchased the contract of RHP Travis Smith from Richmond (Triple-A); optioned RHP Peter Moylan to Richmond; transfered RHP Kyle Davies from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/20]

Recalled C-B Brayan Pena from Richmond; designated RHP Travis Smith for assignment. [5/21]

Credit John Schuerholz for providing a nifty solution to the problem of who takes the fifth starter slot for a day while Horacio Ramirez nears his return from the DL. Smith's a just-short-of-adequate journeyman, and somebody who might have given you a five-inning outing you might be able to win. He didn't rise to that on Saturday, but that's okay, because the other thing someone of Smith's ilk gives you is an eminently outrightable commodity, so that the Braves could subsequently bring up Pena to serve as a temporary backup while Brian McCann is out with an ankle injury. So, even short a catcher and a fifth starter, the Braves have made some necessary compensations, and they're good to go on a night-to-night basis. Eventually, Ramirez will be back and either McCann will be on the DL or Pena back in Richmond, and that's okay too. There's now an extra spot on the 40-man freed up for other use, and Moylan wasn't really getting much work.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Claimed OF-L Miguel Negron off of waivers from the Blue Jays. [5/19]

Optioned LHP Rich Hill to Iowa (Triple-A); recalled RHP Michael Wuertz from Iowa. [5/21]

Hill didn't do anything to win friends and influence people, so even with Kerry Wood's health back to questionable after only one start, you can understand why the Cubs decided to go in a different direction. Apparently, the quick fix under consideration is plugging Glendon Rusch back in, which might do for the time being, allowing the Cubs to potentially push Wood's next start back to sometime next week if need be, courtesy of Thursday's off-day.

At least you can consider this a case of things looking up in the pen. Wuertz did everything he needed to in Iowa to provide a reminder that he's still capable of giving this team a quality reliever, striking out 19 in 15 IP while allowing only 12 hits and six walks. If he can do anything like that or his performance last season, he should move past Roberto Novoa and above Dusty Baker's caprices quickly enough.

As waiver claims go, I like Negron well enough. He's toolsy and young, and if he flopped in last year's introduction to Double-A and has done worse still in his repeat engagement this year (.208/.259/.292), he's young enough to get his act together. I know, Jays outfielders have been the source of heartbreak for prospect mongers for decades, always favored by scouts, and rarely performing to expectations, but the Cubs' system is not blessed with lots of outfield talent. Consider that the downside of their focus on finding amateur pitching--they're good at it, and not quite so good at finding quality outfielders. All the more reason to keep an eye on the waiver wire and see if somebody else's former outfield prospect might do something in a new organization, especially if you can afford the 40-man roster space. I'd liken this move to the winter pickup of Angel Pagan, in that it's worthwhile, and might get you something more than a spare part.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Optioned INF-B Ray Olmedo to Louisville (Triple-A). [5/18]

Activated INF-R Rich Aurilia from 15-day DL; signed RHP Joe Mays to a minor league contract. [5/19]

Activated LHP Eric Milton from 15-day DL; designated LHP Dave Williams for assignment. [5/20]

I'm a little surprised that the Reds decided to cut bait on Williams already, but let's face it, the major achievement in making Sean Casey go away was finding somebody else to pay for him, and suckering Dave Littlefield on that score permits the unfurling of an organization-wide "Mission Accomplished" banner. (My suggestion is that they string it up in the GABP's gap, to blot out Mr. Lindner's view.) If Williams couldn't outpitch Elizardo Ramirez, he isn't going to be missed. His up-side was a moderately useful fifth starter, and for better or for worse, the team's stuck with its multi-year commitment to Milton for the time being, so they may as well pitch the guy and hope that he doesn't simply repeat his VORP performance in his next four starts--although even then, he'd only be equally worthless as Williams was.

As for Aurilia's arrival, he goes straight back into the role he had before, basically platooning with Scott Hatteberg at first while spot-starting around the rest of the infield for the Reds' trio of "kids" at the other three positions. Given that Felipe Lopez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Brandon Phillips make for a nifty group of guys right now entering their primes, it's not a bad situation, and it's one which affords the Reds the opportunity skip carrying another infield reserve, instead employing David Ross as a third catcher. The only thing I'd like to see is a better outfield reserve than Quinton McCracken, but if we get to the end of August, they can always just put Chris Denorfia on their playoff roster instead of QMcC. That's not as unlikely as you might think: keep in mind that GM Wayne Krivsky was part of the brain trust that took a nice risk in Minnesota in 2004, and placed Jason Kubel on its postseason roster.

The downside of that Minnesota heritage shows up in other ways, however, what with the attempt to retread Mays. Still, it's little ventured, and if there is perhaps even less to be gained, it's a no-risk move, and if the Reds fix him up into a decent fifth starter, that's something.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Activated 2B/OF-R Chris Burke from the 15-day DL; optioned UT-R Joe McEwing to Round Rock (Triple-A). [5/21]

The challenge here is to see if the Astros will actually create a role for Burke to actually get some playing time. Although Jason Lane is under fire for his slow start, it's Preston Wilson who has been the huge disappointment in the early going, so you might hope to see Burke get in a few starts as a left fielder.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Recalled RHP Lance Carter from Las Vegas (Triple-A); optioned RHP Franquelis Osoria to Las Vegas. [5/19]

Flip-flopping Carter and Osoria might seem like a roster irrelevancy, but to some extent both are the victims of the decision to push Odalis Perez into the pen, start Aaron Sele, and keep two other lefties in the pen (Tim Hamulack and Joe Beimel). So, if you're either Carter or Osoria, a bad week at the office can mean ten days or more in Las Vegas. Happily, Sele's pitching well in the rotation, but unless the Dodgers do something about their multitude of lefties in the pen, or until they coax Perez into a Russ Ortiz-like trip to the DL for a hyperextended sulk muscle, the team's in an awkward position.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Recalled RHP Chris Mabeus from Nashville (Triple-A); optioned RHP Ben Hendrickson to Nashville. [5/21]

Mabeus was only with Nashville long enough to strike out a pair of hitters in a single inning, but with an off-day this week, there's no need to keep Hendrickson around as a reminder that they really hope Ben Sheets comes back soon. Hendrickson is now obviously behind Dana Eveland in the Brewer scheme of things, but there's hope that Rick Helling will join the rotation in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, rather than bring Hendrickson back, I'd be curious to see what might happen if they gave Jose Capellan a start or two.

NEW YORK METS
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Designated RHP Jose Lima for assignment; recalled RHP Anderson Garcia from Norfolk (Triple-A). [5/19]

Released RHP Bartolome Fortunato. [5/20]

You might hope that Garcia might get more of an opportunity than Heath Bell did, but let's face it, scratching Lima still leaves a team that's relying on Jeremi Gonzalez and Darren Oliver. Garcia's proven relatively rubber-armed this spring, already tossing 31.1 IP between Double- and Triple-A, and he has the merit of decent velocity and a 3-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Regardless, he's only another name to add to the "maybe this guy will get Aaron Heilman into the rotation" sweepstakes, and like so many other individual lotto picks, unlikely to be a winner as long as Willie Randolph's mind is made up on the subject.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Announced the retirement of INF-R Alex Gonzalez; recalled 1B/3B/C-R Chris Coste from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [5/21]

It's been a long, long, long road for Coste to the big leagues, but he's always hit, he's not embarrassingly bad at either infield corner or behind the plate, and how can you not root for a guy whose big break was four years as a star on the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, contending against the evil empire St. Paul Saints in the Northern League? The guy played with Darryl Motley of the '85 Royals, human fire hydrant Brian Traxler, the ageless Jeff Bittiger, famous sibling Ozzie Canseco, and the always-wandering Blaise Ilsley. Anybody else remember the too-large Mike Busch playing third for the Dodgers? He washed up in Fargo too.

Anyway, Coste has been through a lot, but he was being scouted, getting a first shot courtesy of the Pirates, and then finally sticking with the Indians' organization. He's basically someone to root for, proof positive that the Indy leagues have done more than give us the occasional pitching find, they've also given us guys good enough to stick in the upper levels of affiliated farm systems, and even crack The Show.

As for Gonzalez, while he's certainly the not-so-secret beneficiary of the Bartman incident, and although he was always seen as somewhat disappointing, he did turn out to be a pretty useful ballplayer. If he wasn't one of the American League's trinity at shortstop, he was a good glove, a hitter with modest pop and modest patience. He could bunt, and that's the sort of thing that might get Buster Olney lathered up and tingly. Because A-Gonz arrived young yet ready, a lot of us were quick to expect that he'd blossom into something more, but that's our fault, not his.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Placed 3B/OF-R Jose Bautista on the Bereavement List. [5/20]

Recalled INF-R Yurendell De Caster from Indianapolis (Triple-A). [5/21]

De Caster might not be as much of a story as the Phillies' Coste is, but he's had his own long road to the majors, having had to spend a good stretch in the bottom rungs of the D-Rays organization, followed by two season spent in the Carolina League. Finally boosted up to the upper levels the last two years, he's hit for power, and he can play first, second, third, or the outfield corners. If Mike Edwards wasn't already a favorite son of sorts for manager Jim Tracy, he might make for an even better bench weapon. However, they're both behind Jose Hernandez for this sort of work, which ought to make you wonder if they really wouldn't be better off finding a lefty-hitting reserve for either the infield or outfield.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Activated RHP Brian Wilson from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Fresno (Triple-A); placed 1B-R Lance Niekro on the 15-day DL (bursitis - shoulder), retroactive to 5/15; recalled 2B-R Kevin Frandsen from Fresno. [5/21]

Ray Durham's fine, and the team already isn't playing Dan Ortmeier, so I wouldn't hold out much hope that Frandsen's going to get to do much more than pinch-hit. Losing Niekro for an extended stretch might cement the team's platoon at first base, as Mark Sweeney does enough slugging to earn his share of the job; since Niekro isn't really a prospect, that should be fine.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Recalled RHP Anthony Reyes from Memphis (Triple-A); optioned RHP Brian Falkenborg to Memphis. [5/20]

Recalled 1B/OF-L Chris Duncan from Memphis; optioned RHP Anthony Reyes to Memphis. [5/21]

Tasty interleague amusements gave Reyes his shot at a spot start and Duncan some DH time against the Royals. Of course, both made great cases for why they're worth having around against "major league" competition, with Duncan bopping a bomb on Sunday after Reyes shut out a big league lineup into the sixth inning. Reyes' opportunity wasn't going to last considering that Sidney Ponson's injury isn't very serious, but Duncan might get more of a shot, especially if Juan Encarnacion and Larry Bigbie continue to struggle. Plus, he is Dave Duncan's kid, and this is the team that gave first base coach Dave McKay's son Cody his best big league opportunity. He's not a top prospect, but the Cardinals can't afford to punt offense from a corner outfield slot, and Bigbie shows little sign of ever living up to scouty expectations of greatness.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Transferred RHP Pedro Astacio from the 15- to the 60-day DL; optioned OF-L Ryan Church to Harrisburg (Double-A); purchased the contract of OF-R Alex Escobar from Harrisburg. [5/19]

Inexcusable, and made more egregious still since Church is being shipped out for another one of Jim Bowden's strokes of genius, having wasted 40-man roster space on Escobar when he traded Jerry Owens to the White Sox to get him before last season. Happily, Escobar was hitting in Double-A (.306/.456/.510), but considering that he's 27, and years removed from his fame as a prospect, this really seems more of an exercise in front office self-justification than anything else. The accusation is that Church is "confused" at the plate, but the only confusion should be over why he keeps getting jerked around by the organization, or why Bowden and manager Frank Robinson seem blind to his value as a hitter. Overreacting to every minor slump is the sort of micromanagement that will keep a club from ever developing anybody beyond the no-brainer prospects, like Ryan Zimmerman. The Nationals really shouldn't afford themselves the privilege of being this invasively dim.


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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INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2006-07-11 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: July 6-9
2006-05-23 - Prospectus Hit List: Week of May 21