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June 9, 2006

Transaction Analysis

June 6-7

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
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Recalled RHP Craig Hansen from Pawtucket (Triple-A); optioned RHP Jermaine Van Buren to Pawtucket. [6/6]

We'll see how well this works out, but Hansen was not particularly effective as a PawSock, walking 17 in 23.2 IP. (He also struck out 18, and allowed 19 hits, none of which left the park.) Maybe I'm struck by the contrast, but while the Astros are patching with guys like Dave Borkowski and Chris Sampson, pitchers anyone might have dug up, the Sox seem to be risking the same situation with Hansen that the Braves have with Joey Devine. Not everyone can be Gregg Olson. It doesn't look like Hansen will be pressed into the rotation to help cover for the weekend double-header, and with the combination of Wednesday's rainout and next Monday's off-day, they might not need to use a sixth starter to cover that extra game.

However, a double-header is a good reason to exchange an arm that can go longer than two innings for one that, in Van Buren's case, probably can't. We'll see what Hansen does with his opportunity, or if this ends up being as brief a call-up as Abe Alvarez's, or if he manages to box out Manny Delcarmen on the depth chart. A significant factor in that decision will be how serious the Sox are about letting Hansen start games, because if he can contribute in the pen now, they could use the help.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Placed RHP Cliff Politte on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 6/5; recalled RHP Sean Tracey from Charlotte (Triple-A). [6/7]

With the news that Jeff Nelson's probably done with another surgery on his calendar, losing Politte as well really puts the Sox on the spot to stop casting about for other people's discards and see what else their farm system has to offer. Although the Sox appropriately deserve credit for the amount of good stuff they've done with their pitching staff, the only homegrown pitchers on the staff are Mark Buehrle and Brandon McCarthy. Agustin Montero? A minor league free agent, and Bobby Jenks was a waiver claim. Everyone else who's active was picked up in trade, and you have free agent pickups Dustin Hermanson and Politte on the DL.

Tracey's seen as belonging to the system's first rank of homegrown pitching prospects, but he's probably best-suited for a relief role as a fastballer with spotty command and no reliable second pitch. Mostly used in a starting role at Charlotte, he was still wild, with a 49-35 K-BB ratio, plus at least eight hit batsmen. At 25, whatever future he has really should start now, but if he winds up no better than Arnie Munoz or Felix Diaz, it would represent another reminder that the system really hasn't been cranking out all that much quality of late. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Sox went shopping for a low-end journeyman. Heck, if they asked after getting Jeff Bajenaru back, it would make all sorts of sense.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Transferred LHP Mike Maroth from the 15- to the 60-day DL; re-purchased the contract of OF-L Alexis Gomez from Toledo (Triple-A). [6/6]

This exchange reflects the extent to which the Tigers are getting increasingly desperate for anybody who can stand to the left side of the plate while hitting. Rather than resorting to the crash-test dummy equivalent, you have to figure the team will make a deal for somebody off of someone's bench. Matt Stairs gets brought up as the current favorite in this casting call for a re-enactor to play Darren Daulton in the Motor City's re-staging of the '97 Marlins season, but I guess my skepticism is born of the knowledge that might make entirely too much sense to actually happen.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Purchased the contract of 2B-R Nick Green from Columbus (Triple-A); designated OF-L Terrence Long for assignment. [6/6]

At least one form of pinstriped humiliation comes to an end--I guess if the Bronx is the home of an evil empire, Long was what, the stormtrooper who couldn't protect himself against an all-out teddy bear attack? I don't know what that makes Green, since he's equally ill-equipped to do the Yankees much good should Derek Jeter be broken past his expected return to the lineup on Saturday. Neither Green nor Miguel Cairo can handle shortstop for any length of time, so consider this the time to dust off thoughts of returning Alex Rodriguez to short, perhaps letting Andy Phillips play pillar at the hot corner, and thereby bringing the Yankees back to being short a quality bat for DH duties, a place where no contender should wind up at. Where's Oscar Gamble these days?

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Activated OF-B Milton Bradley and RHP Jay Witasick from the 15-day DL. [6/6]

Activated RHP Esteban Loaiza from the 15-day DL; returned RHP Rich Harden to the 15-day DL (sprained elbow), retroactive to 6/5. [6/8]

With Harden's return to the DL, I have to think that the A's are going to win whatever booby prize might come from realizing an aspiration to be like last season's Dodgers. I don't think any starting pitcher has disappointed me more since Moose Haas's repeated meltdowns, but clearly there's a lot more at stake now than there was in the Age of Chris Codiroli. Loaiza makes for a notionally solid replacement, but his early performance creates uncertainty over how well he might do, uncertainty that's pricier still since this is now a rotation that still has to use Kirk Saarloos every fifth day. That on top of wondering when the real Joe Blanton will stand up, and I guess I don't see a team with the promise the Angels have, or the general solidity the Rangers seem to be achieving.

That thought pretty much takes the wind out my sails as far as getting hopeful about having Bradley back in the lineup for the time being. Sure, it gets Jay Payton to the bench, but this is a team that has seen what was supposed to be its chief asset--its rotation--undone, and I don't really see the offense on hand to make up for that. Sure, Dan Johnson may now be able to see, but now you've got a daily dose of Marco Scutaro to make up for. Then there's the question of how long Bradley's going to be here this time around, which, until he's actually gone out and done it for a full season, needs asking.

Getting Witasick makes up for all that, right? Sure, him and Steve Karsay both. Razzafrass.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Optioned RHP Chad Orvella to Durham (Triple-A); activated 2B/3B-R Jorge Cantu from the 15-day DL. [6/6]

Optioned RHP Doug Waechter and OF-L Joey Gathright to Durham (Triple-A); activated LHP Casey Fossum and OF-R Rocco Baldelli from the DL. [6/7]

Can't blame the Rays for having the good sense to make changes, and not simply due to the return of the wounded. Waechter and Gathright got legitimate shots at earning future playing time, and both made the point that it's not a good idea, leaving Tampa Bay comfortable instead with relying on journeymen like Mark Hendrickson and Damon Hollins in their places. The returns of Fossum and Baldelli might have cost those two vets their jobs, not the kids, but you can understand the Rays' desire to have a franchise-best season in its first year under new management, and neither Waechter nor Gathright are among the organization's best prospects in the rotation or the outfield, respectively. The franchise's near-term future will be more likely determined by what Baldelli and Fossum can do as players notionally in their primes, contributing to a lineup that will now boast last season's best player, Cantu, back in the fold as well. If Baldelli and Cantu both hit like they might, the Rays might have a lineup where its worst contributor becomes an increasingly, obviously inadequate Travis Lee. Wes Bankston or B.J. Upton could resolve that by pushing Aubrey Huff across the diamond should either be called up.

As for the sad lot of Chad Orvella, let's face it, it's a reliever, and not necessarily a critical component to the team's success. Yes, he's been the victim of some particularly stubborn coaching, and yes, he might need resurrection in another organization. But I suspect most of the wailing over Orvella's lot are the fantheads who wanted to slake their thirst for saves, and that just ain't baseball. Relievers can be found and made; getting too hung up on one is a recipe for regrettable commitments.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Activated RHP Antonio Alfonseca from the 15-day DL; designated 2B-B D'Angelo Jimenez for assignment. [6/6]

Picking up Jerry Hairston Jr. pretty much numbered Jimenez's days--when you've got a fourth second baseman on the bench who only plays second, he'd better hit like Rogers Hornsby while being as inoffensive as Lou Whitaker, and fairly or not, Jimenez is seen as coming up short on both counts. What's odd about it is that this leaves the Rangers with only three position-playing reserves: Hairston, Mark DeRosa, and backup catcher Gerald Laird. Between the three of them, all eight positions are covered, and I suppose there isn't anyone in the lineup you really need to go out of your way to pinch-run or pinch-hit for, but still, it feels strange to be teetering on the edge of accepting a thirteen-man pitching staff. Whatever the scenario, I'd continue to caution Rangers fans about getting overly worked up over what to expect from Pulpo in a setup role. Last year's good work with the Braves was the exception, not the rule, and Alfonseca may well rank as one of the all-time overrated relievers of the modern era.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Activated RHP Russ Ortiz from the 15-day DL; placed LHP Terry Mulholland on the 15-day DL (ear infection). [6/6]

Released RHP Jason Grimsley; placed RHP Juan Cruz on the 15-day DL (shoulder); recalled RHPs Dustin Nippert and Enrique Gonzalez from Tucson (Triple-A). [6/7]

Controversies and gestures of self-sacrifice aside, this is now a better pitching staff, even if the Snakes have to return to seeing if there's anything they can do with Ortiz every fifth day. Cruz's injury isn't considered serious, so if he really is back in two weeks, the D-backs might instead have the question over whether or not to stick with Ortiz or trust in someone else, whether that's Nippert or Gonzalez. It's a nice predicament made nicer by the knowledge that Ortiz is no more a necessary part of this team's bid for contention than Kevin Jarvis.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Activated LHP Chuck James from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Richmond (Triple-A). [6/7]

There's no better place for James to gear up and get up to speed for staking a claim to a big-league rotation slot in July. Although Jorge Sosa has produced quality starts three of his last four times out, he's a dodgy proposition, one that might be better afforded if he wasn't already in a rotation that has John Thomson taking beatings every fifth day. Something's gotta give, and James may well be the best in-system answer to the team's need for an upgrade within the rotation. Even though they took too long to smell the coffee in Mike Hampton's case last year, they aren't afraid to move quickly when it becomes obvious a veteran is done.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Joe Mays from Louisville (Triple-A). [6/6]

Mays might be considered a bit of Wayne Krivsky's playing favorites, what with their shared past in the Twins organization, but we're talking about a guy in the mop-up role, not going straight into the rotation. As I noted in this year's edition of the annual, Mays did have his one good run in May, and having to work in Kansas City probably shouldn't be held against anyone before writing them off entirely. If Mays doesn't produce, it'll be interesting to see whether or not Krivsky will keep him around, past ties or no, and I wouldn't get too worked up about rumors that he'll step in for Brandon Claussen, however much Claussen may have failed to subsequently match his outstanding May 14 joint against the Phillies. You might see Claussen's subsequent struggles as equally Spike-like in terms of performance, but just as we keep hoping for Mr. Lee to equal his rare brilliance, I suspect the Reds can afford to do likewise with Claussen before seeing if Mays is Allen Smithee.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Activated INF-R Josh Wilson from the 60-day DL, and outrighted him to Colorado Springs (Triple-A); announced that both RHP Sun-Woo Kim and INF-L Jason Smith cleared waivers. [6/7]

Kim and Smith might both opt for free agency by Friday, or might instead choose to move to Colorado Springs' unique blend of hyperactive fundamentalism and Air Force Academy scandals. Do we have a new candidate for national armpit, or is it still Erie?

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Placed RHP Roy Oswalt on the 15-day DL (sprained back), retroactive to 5/30; purchased the contract of LHP Philip Barzilla from Round Rock (Triple-A); transferred RHP Brandon Backe from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/6]

Oswalt's only supposed to miss another start and return after his two weeks away, but obviously, that could be wishful thinking for a club determined to get back into the race. Roger Clemens only just made his first minor league start--although I doubt you missed the news--so the Astros are left with a rotation built around a struggling Andy Pettitte. Wandy Rodriguez and Taylor Buchholz have been all over the place in terms of performance, and Fernando Nieve has logged only one quality start--against the pathetic Nationals, and in RFK at that. Replacing Oswalt for the moment is Chris Sampson, which makes for a neat out-of-nowhere story, but it also highlights the absence of really good alternatives. Rodriguez, Nieve, and Buchholz are the cream of the organization's upper-level talent, and if they struggle, it seems a stretch to hope that the journeymen and organizational soldiers they have to turn to instead can really all play Brandon Backe circa 2004.

Barzilla wasn't doing especially well in Round Rock, tossing nine starts for 48 frames, allowing 46 hits (only one of which left the yard), 25 walks, and 39 strikeouts, but surrendering 5.4 runs per nine. However, as that lone home run suggest, he was doing a particularly good job of keeping the ball on the ground, posting close to a 2-1 groundball/flyball ratio, and he was especially tough on lefties. His move into the rotation is somewhat remarkable, since he was mostly a reliever at Rice before being picked by the Astros in the 4th round of the 2001 draft. Bullpen work was his lot for his first three full seasons in the Astros' chain, until he spent a chunk of last season at Double-A starting.

It's initially expected that he's going to be in the pen as the second lefty behind Trever Miller, but good performance in the role might move him past Miller, and really good performance might get him onto the list of potential rotation replacements regardless of the timetable for Oswalt's return mid-month, or Clemens's arrival roughly a week later. If nothing else, like Dave Borkowski he gives Phil Garner somebody who can go long innings in middle relief work. Given the state of the Astros' rotation, that's starting to look like a necessity. Until the stars start coming back, there's the opportunity for Garner to basically run this team college-style, with little regard to starting or relieving, but both Rodriguez and Nieve have shown just enough promise to probably nip the suggestion in the bud.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Activated LHP Cole Hamels from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Brian Sanches to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [6/6]

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Activated OF-R Moises Alou from the 15-day DL. [6/6]

Activated RHP Tim Worrell from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Brian Wilson to Fresno (Triple-A). [6/7]

Good news, I suppose, not that Wilson hadn't done some good stuff in his brief Giantdom. Worrell might actually pitch well at some point, and Alou gives the Giants the ability to better endure Barry Bonds's rest days, while also not having to over-expose Steve Finley any more than he already has been. That's the nature of having an old outfield: best to have four sets of hands, because aging threesomes might leave somebody unsatisfied.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Activated RHP Chris Carpenter from the 15-day DL; placed OF-L Larry Bigbie on the 15-day DL (umbilical hernia). [6/6]

Carpenter's return might afford the Cardinals the additional question of how much longer they want to go with Sidney Ponson. I can see why they might keep the veteran around in the absence of the staff ace, but now that Carpenter's back and apparently fine, why futz around with the Aruban Brawler when you could get better work from Anthony Reyes in the last rotation slot? Perhaps I anticipate too much, because it might be fine to give Ponson another month to prove he won't be an asset before turning the slot over to Reyes.

As for the outfield's going down one, some people can be especially squeamish on the subject of belly-button injuries, but as Alexander proved at Gordium, even the best knots come undone. Losing him might not necessarily get Chris Duncan into the lineup, but Juan Encarnacion is on a modest tear, and So Taguchi is getting on base reasonably well. Much depends on getting Jim Edmonds back into the outfield, because the Cardinals might then give Duncan some starts.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Hired Davey Johnson as special consultant to the general manager.

Perhaps I have the old observation that you can be immature forever in mind whenever I discuss Jim Bowden, but I think everyone should take some element of satisfaction in the realization that Bowden was wrong when he said that he'd learned nothing from his time running the Reds. He clearly learned one thing, which is that he looks a lot smarter in the company of adults with track records of success all their own. That's in contradistinction to Bowden's frequent attempts to get by with the creatures of his own design, men like Ray Knight or Bob Boone.

So what's the new guy going to do? Is he a stalking horse for Frank Robinson? For Boone? For Bowden? Or just a special consultant, like the nametag says? In the face of the Nationals' brand of Kremlinology, we can spin our wheels on the subject ad infinitum, but that's the nature of having someone with Johnson's track record for success in the house--it far exceeds anything anybody else in the organization has achieved, and the speed with which Bowden threw then-manager Tony Perez under the bus to make room for Johnson in 1993. When Johnson was teaching at Rollins a couple of years ago, I asked him if he was ever interested in managing in the majors ever again, and he was adamant that he was not. However, since then, he's managed in the Olympics and coached in the World Baseball Classic, so naturally, the controversy is already roiling. Robinson is one of the game's grand old men, so clearly, any change would have to be made delicately, probably after the season, or after another one of Robinson's emotional late-night resignations.


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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