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June 22, 2006

Transaction Analysis

June 20-21

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
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Acquired RHP Jason Johnson and cash from the Indians for a PTBNL or cash; optioned RHP Kyle Snyder to Pawtucket (Triple-A). [6/21]

This isn't a bad pickup, in that Johnson might give the Red Sox a reliable source of innings in the fifth slot of the rotation. It says quite a bit about Boston's predicament that an addition whose up-side might be something about as (in)effective as Jeff Suppan was for them in 2003 is seen as a big improvement. Johnson's no longer some up-and-comer--the guy's 32, and he hasn't had a genuinely adequate season since his "peak" in 2002-03. The guy has five quality starts in fourteen, and two of those were against the D-Rays--if beating Tampa's a major source of concern, I guess that's been addressed. Picking up Johnson might not hurt, but even that's far from certain. Instead, Boston's season still depends on questions about getting Matt Clement right or hoping that Jon Lester builds on his great start.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Recalled RHP Edward Mujica and purchased the contract of UT-L Joe Inglett from Buffalo (Triple-A); designated RHP Jason Johnson for assignment; optioned RHP Jeremy Guthrie to Buffalo. [6/20]

Sold or traded RHP Jason Johnson (with cash) to the Red Sox. [6/21]

Discarding Johnson might be interpreted as a white-flag move by the Indians; the Sox and Tigers are far out front, so it's time to re-trench. But as badly as Johnson was pitching, I wouldn't consider a likely decision to call up Jeremy Sowers to the rotation as a sign of surrender, but instead represents an almost certain improvement.

Similarly, the pen's better off now that the club's dispensing with sorting out what virtues that either Jason Davis or Guthrie might boast. Mujica comes up halfway through an incredible season spent in the bullpens of Akron and Buffalo: zero earned runs and two unearned in 38.2 IP, with 25 hits, twelve walks, and 35 Ks. He does have a huge platoon split, allowing lefties to hit over .300, righties under .100, but that's not quite ROOGY territory, not when you consider you're talking about a 22 year-old with a power slider and mid-90s heat.

Joe Inglett's callup is a nice thing to see, but not really all that surprising, in that he was pretty well-favored for an organizational soldier. That he's a week shy of his 28th birthday should tell you he isn't anything more than that, but he's a solid contact hitter (.362 this year after .330 and .320 marks the previous two), and he's been drawing a walk every ten PAs. He's not a bad warm body to have around, and with some outfield and shortstop experience, he's not just your standard second baseman-turned utilityman.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Obtained CF-L Joey Gathright and 2B-L Fernando Cortez from the Devil Rays for LHP J.P. Howell. [6/20]

Designated OF-L Kerry Robinson for assignment; added CF-L Joey Gathright to the active roster; activated RHP Zack Greinke from the 60-day DL, and optioned him to Wichita (Double-A); assigned 2B-L Fernando Cortez to Omaha. [6/21]

If you're a wild-eyed optimist already driven stark-raving by watching a few too many Royals games, you might hope that Gathright in center helps you save lots of runs, because Gathright's a fly-catcher, while Emil Brown's glovework only draws them. You might even speculate that this is like the great Braves' defensive revolution of 1991, because it's former Brave exec Dayton Moore doing the orchestrating. My thought? Don't hold your breath. This exchange basically relies on two premises, neither of which I really like: that Gathright can be useful beyond mere adequacy, and that David DeJesus can hit well enough to help you in a corner instead of playing center. I wouldn't suggest that DeJesus will be a liability, but he also won't be a real source of strength, forcing the club to instead find better offensive talent in other slots in the lineup. Gathright doesn't help with that, and counting on Brown as the everyday DH doesn't either.

There is the argument that the Royals don't need a miracle, they just need to provide enough defense to give their young pitching something to work with. But even there, I have my doubts. What prospects are we talking about that have struggled so mightily? They rushed Howell in, and rushed him out. Greinke? Something of a special case, since nobody's exactly put the finger on what's wrong with him--except that it has more to do with him than with his defense. Jeremy Affeldt or Jimmy Gobble? Maybe, in a particularly lurid bit of wishcasting--their problems are akin to Denny Bautista's, in that command of the strikezone is something they have to demonstrate before you can assert that they'll actually do well with a better defense behind them. Saying that they will throw strikes if they trust their defense is at best an assertion without proof. Who else does that leave? Guys like Runelvys Hernandez or Bobby Keppel or Mike Wood, damaged goods or other people's castoffs, not prospects.

At best, you might consider this a message move, where Moore is making it plain that he won't tolerate bad glovework, and that he wants to mimic all those things that didn't actually make the White Sox world champs. But if that makes for tolerance for the likes of Doug Mientkiewicz at first, or a readiness to live with Brown's bat at DH, then this team isn't really improving, it's merely changing.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Recalled OF-L Kevin Reese from Columbus (Triple-A); optioned RHP Jose Veras to Columbus. [6/20]

That's more like it. Carrying thirteen pitchers wasn't doing the Yankees much good, and friends don't let friends carry Bubba Crosby as their only outfield reserve. Predictably enough, the bloom's coming back off of Melky Cabrera, and Crosby's probably billed up as Bernie Williams' very necessary defensive replacement. Reese isn't really a great alternative--he doesn't throw well for a right fielder, or have the power for either outfield corner, but he's got a line-drive stroke and moderate patience and speed.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Placed OF-B Milton Bradley on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 6/15; purchased the contract of OF-L Doug Clark from Sacramento (Triple-A); designated RHP Kazuhito Tadano for assignment. [6/20]

Gack. As much as having Bradley break down again was unsurprising, it's humiliating that the player called up in his place would be someone like Clark, a thirty-year-old PCL mediocrity (to be generous). One of the A's purported areas of strength has always been their reputation for digging up solid minor league free agents, but like a lot of things, that hasn't been true for a while, and Clark's a good example why. An outfield corner with negligible power and barely-adequate patience and contact ability isn't a find, he's someone you prefer to leave in Sacramento in summer, and hope the affiliate's season ticket holders don't hold it against you. Happily, this is the last outfielder slot we're talking about, so this really just means that the A's will be leaning on Bobby Kielty and Jay Payton as heavily as they've already had to.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Optioned RHP Seth McClung to Durham (Triple-A); obtained LHP J.P. Howell from the Royals for CF-L Joey Gathright and 2B-L Fernando Cortez. [6/20]

Recalled RHP Edwin Jackson from Durham. [6/21]

Placed RHP Ruddy Lugo on the 15-day DL (strained back); purchased the contract of LHP Jon Switzer from Durham (Triple-A); designated 3B-L Sean Burroughs for assignment. [6/21]

Jackson's arrival is a bit of a surprise, because he wasn't doing especially well in Durham: 110 walks and hits in 64 IP, 7.5 runs allowed per nine, but 55 strikeouts keep everyone interested in one of the game's most frustrating pitchers. He is still pumping gas, but Kevin Goldstein's sources say that he's leaving his fastball up, and that hints at big league disasters every bit as squiggly-numbered as his Durham work. I don't what to call a pitcher who might strike out a batter per inning-plus, yet give up a run per as well, and fail to get out of the fifth inning: dominant/sucky? Jeff Juden?

As for Burroughs, let's face it, his bid to become more famous than fellow Little League World Series legend Lloyd McClendon isn't just in jeopardy, it's not merely pining for the fjords even, it's just mostly dead. Why he became a hitter who couldn't bruise fruit with his swing is something we can't answer--sort of like Josh Phelps, Burroughs gets credited for being a thoughtful hitter, but this sort of highlights the dangers of becoming a little too thoughtful.

You might think McClung equally ill-starred, but if there's a signature player to the especially necrotic end stages of the LaMar Era, it might be someone like McClung. Beyond a good seven-start gig in the Cal League in 2002, McClung has been in over his head, rushed to the majors far too soon in 2003 after showing no real promise in Double-A the year before. Talented, maybe, and built the way tools junkies love to see a pitcher built, but he had no business being in the majors as long as he's been here. If anything, it's a bit disappointing that it took the new regime almost a half-season of play to recognize that--unlike LaMar, they had nothing invested in the Legend of Seth McClung, and they could have comfortably pointed out that the prospect had no clothes months ago.

Finally, Switzer's comeback seems to have come along nicely enough. Although not really a prospect any more, he was having a productive season in the Bulls pen, striking out 29 in 31 innings, with only 22 hits, 13 walks, a lone homer, and four runs allowed. He was embarrassing lefties in the International League, and there's always value in being a situational guy, either on this team, or as trade bait for another.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Recalled CF-B Freddy Guzman from Oklahoma (Triple-A); placed RHP Kameron Loe on the 15-day DL (elbow bone bruise), retroactive to 6/19. [6/20]

This isn't an acknowledgment that maybe center isn't Gary Matthews Jr.'s best position--the way the guy's hitting, it seems that no questions are being asked on that particular score. Guzman was doing well enough in the minors, hitting .276, getting on base at about a .360 clip, running well (23-for-32 stealing bases), but it looks like this is just a temporary call-up.

The real question is who will step into the rotation in Loe's place. We might normally expect this to be exactly the moment that John Wasdin gets another chance, but it might instead be Robinson Tejeda, which probably won't help the Rangers' bid on the AL West any, skippable fifth slot or no. Loe might be back in three weeks, but on a staff whose entire premise is built around group adequacy, that might be too much to bear. Loe had only given the Rangers six quality starts in 15, but they might not get even that from Tejeda. Late July should be happier--Adam Eaton is due back, Wasdin and Loe will both be here, but what if Oakland runs away with things in the meantime? I know, all points in the season are supposed to be created equal, but now's a stretch in which the margin between the A's and the Rangers could be significantly altered in a way that it affects the Rangers' subsequent range of choices.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Placed RHP Russ Ortiz and LHP Terry Mulholland on waivers; placed LF-R Scott Hairston on the 15-day DL (shoulder); recalled RHP Casey Daigle from Tucson (Triple-A). [6/21]

Pretty interesting. Throwing the veterans over the side might seem like a surprise to pundits who think you need the wisdom of experience to help guide a contending clubhouse, but guidance can be leadership, or it can be more like a guidance counselor, where we force young people to talk to people who couldn't navigate their own lives to something better about finding something better. Now, that's not fair, in that I'm sure there are guidance counselors somewhere who do something more than recommend community college or DeVry, and Ortiz and Mulholland both had worthwhile careers once upon a time, but I'm just impressed that the Snakes dispensed with the sort of BS that gets perpetuated in the game and faithfully reported as sensible by most sources, and instead decided to just dump the dead weight and focus on those who can help. It's more impressive still when you think about how tight the race should be in the NL West, but a rotation of Brandon Webb and the four amigos is better than anything involving Ortiz, and a pen with Choate doing situational work instead of Mulholland has someone better cut out for the specific role.

As for Hairston, don't weep overmuch for his sake. He was going to be demoted to essentially make room for Edgar Gonzalez anyway (and Gonzalez in turn eventually giving way for Juan Cruz), so his getting hurt just meant that Daigle got to log an extra day or two's worth of service time before Gonzalez was brought up to slip into Ortiz's rotation slot. It would be nice to have Hairston ready to contribute later on, should the Snakes decide to carry a fifth outfielder at some point--and especially as a right-handed hitting alternative to Luis Gonzalez or Shawn Green--but his shortcomings afield are as much a menace to his team as they are to his health, leaving him much better suited to the DH league in the long term.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Jeff Fulchino from Albuquerque (Triple-A). [6/20]

A 6'5" hulk out of UConn, Fulchino's arrival is something of a surprise. His closest brush with prospectdom was in the second half of 2004, when he finally started fooling people, paradoxically after his promotion to Double-A. That was followed by an ugly campaign as an Isotope last season (six runs allowed per nine in 29 starts), but considering he only had that partial season at Double-A above A-ball, it shouldn't have been a big surprise. This season, he's been much better, allowing 4.3 runs per nine in thirteen starts, with a hit allowed per inning, only three home runs in 73.2 frames, and a 56/27 K/BB ratio. He doesn't really have any plus stuff, just an occasionally good fastball, so he might seem a bit out of place on a staff otherwise peopled with prospects (not counting Scuffy Moehler, Joe Borowski, or Matt Herges). It's more surprising still when you consider that he's replacing Yusmeiro Petit, one of the organization's best pitching prospects, but Florida apparently wants Petit to get back to regular rotation work in Albuquerque, instead of cooling his heels at the bottom of the Fish pen. So Albuquerque's gain is also Fulchino's good fortune, and if that doesn't seem like much, keep in mind that guys like Jason Grimsley actually saved their careers through this sort of break--perhaps Fulchino can actually get his going.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Activated SS-B Cesar Izturis from the 60-day DL; optioned 2B/3B-B Willy Aybar to Las Vegas (Triple-A); transferred 3B-B Bill Mueller from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/20]

So here it is, the scenario that had people going "huh?" all winter in the wake of the decision to sign up Rafael Furcal, and now that they're both on the same team, what do the Dodgers do with Izturis? Make him their third baseman, cuz he's a veteran, and the starter's on the DL. The rest of the NL West will be thanking L.A. for this act of largesse, since there's almost no way that Izturis can help this team as its third baseman. Sure, the former Gold Glover might be able to pick it at the hot corner, but that's not a lock, and whatever extra oomph he might deliver on a play or two per month will be frittered away on those four or five at-bats per night that he'll be struggling with. Now, admittedly, the Dodgers have to showcase Izturis somehow, but why handicap their shot at winning the division? Why not use Izturis for something he can handle, like spotting for Furcal and Kent now and again? They would have been much better off with Aybar in the lineup at third, and if you ask how they might make them all fit, I'd remind you that there's no real reason they have to have Ramon Martinez on the roster, except that he somehow manages to enjoy Grady Little's confidence. Dealing Izturis has to happen fast, or he'll end up doing all sorts of damage before Mueller comes back off of the DL.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Activated RHP Rick Helling from the 60-day DL; designated RHP Allan Simpson for assignment. [6/20]

Purchased the contract of INF-R Chris Barnwell from Nashville (Triple-A); outrighted RHP Joe Winkelsas to Nashville. [6/21]

There's something fundamentally sad about the notion of "Rick Helling to the rescue!" that betrays the way the season's going in Beertown. I've always been a Helling fan, but it's the sort of acquired taste more easily afforded when you don't have to actually count on him. It's a nice surprise when he does well, of course, but when he goes from nifty extra guy to a must if your bid for contention is going to have a pulse, you're in trouble. Still, better Helling than Jason Johnson, or another spin with Jorge de la Rosa, so this is improvement, even if it does bump Carlos Villanueva back to the pen after a good start. Villanueva may well be needed there, considering the club is still stuck with Jeremi Gonzalez and Danny Kolb, but at least Jose Capellan seems to be settling in, and the pickup of Brian Shouse definitely fills the club's need for a situational lefty.

There isn't much to say about Barnwell's call-up. With J.J. Hardy on the DL, the team doesn't really have a backup shortstop now that Bill Hall is handling the job every day, and Jeff Cirillo's knocked up, so voila! an organizational soldier catches a break. Now 27, Barnwell's not a prospect, nor was he ever, but he can play short about as well as most guys who are more regularly second basemen, and rewarding him for his uncharacteristic bit of hitting this season (.326/.392/.443) seems like a nice enough gesture. The sooner Hardy's back, the better.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Placed OF-L Dave Roberts on the 15-day DL (knee contusion), retroactive to 6/18, recalled CF-R Ben Johnson from Portland (Triple-A). [6/20]

Definitely not a good thing, because even with Adrian Gonzalez finally adding some offense, the Pads are not a good offensive club, and losing their most productive hitter on the season doesn't help matters. In his place, the Pads are finding that Eric Young plays left about as gamely as an easily startled tabby, and he certainly doesn't provide an awful lot of offense at the best of times. When he's struggling to get his OBP above .300, he's into Alex Sanchez-level uselessness. So rather than settle for that, Kevin Towers went back to the system to bring back Johnson. In Portland, he'd been hitting for some power, .244/.340/.471, much less than you'd like to see from a prospect, and a definite step below last season's .312/.394/.558 performance as a beaver, but tantalizing in a way that daily helpings of more Eric Young cannot be. Since the club otherwise lacks a real fourth outfielder, this should be a real opportunity for Johnson to claim a roster spot for keeps beyond just a couple of weeks' worth of playing time. He can handle center as well as play a good corner, and having just turned 25, should be about as ready as he's going to get.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Optioned INF-R Brendan Harris to New Orleans (Triple-A). [6/19]

Recalled RHP Jason Bergmann from New Orleans. [6/20]

A straightforward enough exchange, since it looks like Jose Vidro's knee stopped hurting quite so much, and because Royce Clayton is fully operable. Harris can't really catch a break, although his willingness to try short this winter might continue to get him opportunities to stick as a utilityman. Bergmann's back after doing more good work in New Orleans, and with Felix Rodriguez living up to his nickname ("F-Rod") and Gary Majewski struggling, the club's right-handed setup man situation might be more in play than it was earlier this spring.


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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