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June 28, 2006

Transaction Analysis

June 22-26

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Placed CF/1B-L Darin Erstad on 15-day DL; recalled OF-B Tommy Murphy from Salt Lake (Triple-A). [6/23]

Placed 1B/3B-L Dallas McPherson on the 15-day DL (back spasms), retroactive to 6/22; recalled SS-R Erick Aybar from Salt Lake. [6/25]

Not all losses are created equal, and "losing" Erstad yet again is far from a loss in anything beyond the most prosaic interpretation: that a replacement is required. Whether you want to put him in the first base or center, you're talking about a below-mediocre player. His weighted projection for his Equivalent Average was .251, well below the .278 clip from first basemen, and also below the .262 clip being cranked out by center fielders. Maybe he brings gum to class and shares, maybe he's a very funny guy, maybe he could charm the pants off a skink, but at the plate, he's fractions above useless. Year-round, he's a financial mistake handicapping the Angels' range of options to fix the problem with employing him, and a few other issues besides. Players this bad that you feel obligated to play because they're somehow popular are probably the worst guys to have active--teams rarely seem to have the courage to accept the player's shortcomings and do something about it. Can you blame them? It might involve some element of self-criticism, and recognition that they're responsible for blowing millions on a bad ballplayer. The best place for Erstad is the DL; there's no rule against his providing his charm, leadership, and minty-fresh breath from a more happily inactive role on the roster.

The more damaging hit is losing McPherson, not because he was doing that well (.266/.304/.468, with a .257 EqA), but because he's a closer approximation to a man who can play third base effectively than Chone Figgins, and Figgy's at his best in the field replacing Erstad in center. Instead, Mike Scioscia has a choice between Murphy or perhaps Juan Rivera into the outfield, or playing Maicer Izturis at third, with Figgins playing wherever the others ain't. In that circumstance, Figgins is best employed at third to get an outfielder's stick into the lineup, but McPherson's absence is an opportunity lost in a season where he and Kendry Morales should get every opportunity to stick.

So, from among the two call-ups, I'd expect Murphy to get more actual playing time, alternating with Rivera in the outfield while Aybar spends another stretch of time watching the veterans play the infield.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Signed RHP Russ Ortiz to a one-year contract; optioned LHP Adam Loewen to Ottawa (Triple-A). [6/25]

I suppose if there's a time and a place for me to endorse signing Ortiz, here and now seem like the right fits. It isn't that I think there's that great a likelihood that Ortiz can be salvaged into something of value, but if you're the team employing Leo Mazzone, you ought to be willing to try. Not just because Loewen is so clearly not ready for the deep end of the pool without a kickboard, but because Mazzone and Ortiz do have some shared history. Ortiz's 2002-03 campaigns with Atlanta not only got the veteran 36 wins, they made him an absurdly wealthy Diamondback, so here's hoping that Ortiz can rise to the occasion and do some good work for his old coach. Ortiz joins Kris Benson and Rodrigo Lopez to provide the retread contingent in the rotation. Wags will note that both Bruce Chen and Lopez have pitched in a way that should make it clear that if Mazzone works miracles, they're of the slow-growth variety at best, but it wasn't like the O's were World Series-bound. If they can do with Ortiz what the White Sox did with Esteban Loaiza, they might have a tasty bargaining chip, and perhaps just a rotation regular glad to be in Baltimore with Mazzone. If it doesn't work out, what was at stake? Fourth place in the AL East?

BOSTON RED SOX
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Signed LHP Rusty Tucker to a minor league contract. [6/24]

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Recalled C-R Kelly Shoppach from Buffalo (Triple-A); designated C-R Tim Laker for assignment. [6/23]

Placed OF-R Jason Michaels on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle); purchased the contract of LHP Jeremy Sowers from Buffalo. [6/24]

I noted last week that I like the idea of punting Jason Johnson to just haul up Sowers and plug him in--you might even consider it a bit of monkey-see, monkey-do, as the Tribe takes a page from what's worked for the Tigers with Justin Verlander. Sowers was doing fine at Buffalo, winning nine games in 15 starts against a lone loss, allowing 1.9 runs per nine, with 78 hits, one home run, 29 walks, and 54 Ks in 97.1 IP. As you might expect, that's not the line of an overpowering pitcher, but a polished college product picked out of Vanderbilt in the first round of the 2004 draft. That said, Sowers isn't your standard-issue soft-tosser; he can throw 90, spots his slider and change well, and he knows what to throw where and when. That's probably not the makings of a staff ace, but if Sowers tops out as a solid #3, the Tribe will be amply rewarded for their investment in him. He'll be hard-pressed to be worse than Johnson, and with the benefit of the Indians' run support, might enjoy a soft landing in the majors. As moves go, it's one of my favorite types, one where you can reap benefits now and into the future.

As for the exchange behind the plate, Laker had something of a LeCroy moment during his latest incarnation as an Indians backstop, allowing nine of ten thieves to steal successfully, so you can probably consider this his head start on that coaching career. There's also speculation that Shoppach might not have to live with the never-played backup role behind Victor Martinez, and that he might instead be Sowers' personal catcher. That means work every fifth day or so, and that's often enough to probably coincide with getting Martinez a spot start at DH if not just and out-and-out day off. It's a playing time pattern that should help keep Shoppach fresh to step in for Martinez if he strains something and has to sit for a couple of days, while also giving Sowers the benefit of working with someone who's caught him when he's going good, as they did together in Buffalo.

If there's a sour versus Sowers note to strike, it's the loss of Michaels. Not that Michaels has been any great shakes-I was appropriately skeptical in February, and sure enough, the Indians got a low-wattage left fielder for their troubles. This should give Franklin Gutierrez a relatively clean shot at winning an outfield job, because with the absences and modest upsides of both Michaels and Casey Blake, there's playing time to spare. Gutierrez will have to shine, of course, but the Indians aren't afraid to make changes. It isn't like Todd Hollandsworth is anything more than a fourth outfielder and answer to yet another trivia question over how misguided the BBWAA can be. In-house, the Tribe's out of solutions beyond Gutierrez. Jason Dubois isn't doing much damage in Buffalo, and both Brad Snyder and Jason Cooper have had their share of problems. If you're wondering about Ryan Ludwick, he's a Mudhen, and firmly stuck behind that wall of right-handed hitting outfielders in Detroit.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Activated RHP Justin Duchscherer from the 15-day DL; placed RHP Jay Witasick on the 15-day DL (ankle), retroactive to 6/20. [6/23]

Getting Duchscherer back is obviously a good thing, but the interesting fact to note here is that despite losing Duchscherer and Joe Kennedy and Huston Street for varying lengths of time, the A's pen still ranks sixth in the majors in WXRL. It might help that a workhorse rotation (with or without Rich Harden in it) ranks 28th in relief innings pitched, with only the Giants and White Sox throwing fewer innings. That's what a sturdy rotation can do for you, in that it can keep the bullpen from being overused or overexposed. The A's aren't living and dying on whether or not Chad Gaudin proves he's ready or determining whether or not veteran flakes like Witasick or Steve Karsay have been able to help or not. Instead of worrying about the marginal guys on the margins, the A's handed innings to guys with real workloads in their pasts, guys like Kirk Saarloos and Brad Halsey, and they've survived what should be the worst of it in terms of losses to injury.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Recalled RHP Sean Green from Tacoma (Triple-A); optioned RHP Emiliano Fruto to Tacoma. [6/25]

I had no idea that square dancing was such the fashion in the Pacific Northwest, but I look forward to hearing from my comrades in SABR about the do-si-do's at this week's convention. Normally, I settle for watching pitchers pitch, but there seems to be no end of fun in the Mariners' front office with watching Green and Fruto swing one another back and forth between Tacoma and Rain City.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Recalled RHP Robinson Tejeda from Oklahoma (Triple-A); designated Rule 5 pick LHP Fabio Castro for assignment; optioned RHP Robinson Tejeda back to Oklahoma. [6/24]

Purchased the contract of RHP Nick Masset from Oklahoma (Triple-A). [6/25]

And like that, another Rule 5 pick bites the dust, although to be sure, this is more about the Rangers finding themselves in a playoff race and needing the roster spot for something more than just a maybe/might-be major league lefty for the 2008 season. It just seems strange that the Rangers made this move now, when they didn't have to. John Wasdin should be back by the weekend, filling the fifth slot, and Castro could have waited around for a few more days in the last slot in the pen. There's no real reason to want Masset on the 40-man. Although he's only 24 despite being picked in the 2000 draft, he's something of an organizational soldier. He got beaten to a pulp in his introduction to Double-A last season (6.18 ERA, and more bloodshed besides), and although he's credited with command of four pitches and low 90s heat, it hasn't exactly shown up for any length of time since his injury-shortened 2004 season in the Cal League. This year, he's had a good eight-start run at Frisco at the opening of the season, posting a 2.06 ERA and allowing no homers in 48 IP, but the Rangers characteristically bustled him up to Triple-A at the first sign of success, where he's been mauled: a 6.47 ERA, 56 baserunners in 32 IP, and four losses in five starts. Why he needs a cuppajoe now, when the PCL still owns him, is a bit of an open question, but apparently Castro was that frustrating to have around. There's some hope of trading him before handing him back to the White Sox, of course, but Masset's a filled suit, little more, and this is all preliminary to getting Wasdin off of the DL and back into the fifth starter/long reliever/floater role.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Optioned RHP Francisco Rosario to Syracuse (Triple-A); activated RHP A.J. Burnett from the 60-day DL. [6/22]

Burnett came back to post a quality start against a mediocre Braves team, so it isn't like he was facing the Royals. The Jays need him, because Josh Towers doesn't look new and improved now that he's back from Syracuse, leaving one slot in the rotation in doubt until Gustavo Chacin can come back off of the DL. (It's probably Ty Taubenheim to have and to hold for the next few swings through the slot.) If Burnett is just reliably good as opposed to the demigod his monster contract might encourage you to think him to be, it'll do wonders for the Jays' bid to win the AL East. The offense is strong enough to deliver wins consistently as long as it gets a quality start from the starting pitcher, and with Casey Janssen already doing a fine job, all the Jays need to have a winnable game all five days in a swing through their rotation is to get Chacin back while getting effective work from Burnett.

That would really only leave two wrinkles, getting their bullpen fully sorted out, and coming to a decision about whether or not Aaron Hill can play short. If he can't, that makes for two areas that J.P. Ricciardi will have to address by the end of July, and it's no certain proposition that Ricciardi will be able to manage well in his first-ever, best-ever shot at some meaningful deadline dealing. Flags fly forever, so Ricciardi would be well advised to look into getting Julio Lugo, or even Tony Graffanino or Royce Clayton if need be.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Recalled RHP Edgar Gonzalez from Tucson (Triple-A); optioned RHP Casey Daigle to Tucson. [6/22]

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Designated LHP Mike Remlinger for assignment; placed RHP Phil Stockman on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); purchased the contract of RHP Kevin Barry from Richmond (Triple-A); recalled RHP Blaine Boyer from Richmond, and placed him on the 60-day DL. [6/24]

Recalled LHP Chuck James from Richmond. [6/25]

The term "last throes" is pretty much without value these days, so let's skip that one in discussing what's the state of pitching on the Braves. Losing Stockman might seem symptomatic of how things that would have been inspired successes in years past seem to find a way to not quite work out these days. He was overpowering in his three Braves outings, looking every bit the credit to their scouting acumen, and bang, he's gone. However, Barry might be helpful enough. An organizational spear carrier in his sixth season with the Braves, he's got a decent low-90s fastball/slider combo that's helped him generate 403 Ks in 361.2 minor league innings. He has been older than his competition much of the way, and just shy of his 28th birthday, the future is now. Kudos to our own Jay Jaffe for pegging him as someone to watch for in this year's edition of the annual. He might not be Stockman, but he might fit in with a club that's relying on Tyler Yates and Chad Paronto.

As for getting James up and into the rotation, that has potential, but it's been much more widely anticipated. Adding James potentially gives the Braves four useful starting pitchers. Between Kyle Davies (probably due back sometime in August) and John Thomson (mid-July?), the Braves might not need to take their lumps out in the fifth slot for too much longer. The risk taken in converting Jorge Sosa from crummy starter (four quality starts in 13, two of them against the hapless Marlins) to closer highlights the extent to which some talents are moving parts, while others, like James, are critical components for future success. It's getting late to salvage this season, but if the organization's more highly-touted pitching prospects like James and Davies and its low-end finds like Stockman and even Yates or Paronto work out, and they procure a closer out of a failed fifth starter, that's not an entirely lost year. Better that than wasting time to prove to themselves that Remlinger is still done.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Activated 1B-R Derrek Lee from the 15-day DL; placed UT-L Freddie Bynum on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation). [6/25]

I suppose you might see Lee's arrival as being in the nick of time, since it does give the Cubs a major league bat in the lineup to help cover for the loss of Michael Barrett to his ten-game suspension, but I'm not sure if a fully-healthy Lee can make up for having to play Henry Blanco's bat in the lineup on a daily basis. With Lee, you should get some offensive help, but that's if he's 100%, and that's far from certain when you're dealing with a club with the Cubs' track record of rushing people back. The ripple effects? Phil Nevin stumbling around in left and Todd Walker muffing the deuce at second. Defense has been one of the Cubs' few bright spots, but it'll take a hit with those two playing those positions with any regularity. I don't see a lot of reason to expect the Cubs to get much better than what they already are, one of the worst-hitting teams in baseball, because the potential upside of guys like Nevin is adequacy, and in a lineup where you can only really expect more than that from Lee and perhaps Barrett, the final result won't be the sort of offense the Cubs will need to make up ground in the NL Central.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Optioned RHP Mike Burns to Louisville (Triple-A). [6/26]

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Activated OF-L Josh Willingham from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-R Chris Aguila to Albuquerque (Triple-A). [6/22]

Placed RHP Carlos Martinez on the 15-day DL (elbow discomfort); recalled RHP Chris Resop from Albuquerque. [6/23]

Purchased the contract of RHP Anibal Sanchez from Carolina (Double-A); optioned RHP Jeff Fulchino to Albuquerque. [6/25]

In another branch of the Nice Problems Department, the Marlins got a good spot start out of Sanchez, so they may well finally work up the nerve and do something ridiculously obvious, like discard Scuffy Moehler and give his starts to people who might be part of a 75-win team someday. Sanchez might well be the prize from the Josh Beckett deal, which is saying something since Hanley Ramirez has panned out so well at short. Since recovering from elbow surgery, Sanchez throws gas in the mid-90s, and that plus his command of a tight changeup and a promising curve might all add up to a frontline starting pitcher. As part of the team's ongoing genesis from preseason laughingstock to particularly nasty spoiler and eventually into a future contender, Sanchez should be part of the package.

Bringing Willingham back gives the Fish their opportunity to mount a pretty sweet offense. They're already in the top half of the majors in offense, and with Willingham back, there's really only Reggie Abercrombie who fails to pull his weight among the regulars. With Willingham, Jeremy Hermida, and Mike Jacobs supporting Miguel Cabrera, I suspect the Fish might rate among some pitcher's least-favorite teams to face in short order. The rotation already ranks among the league's best, and the bullpen is slowly getting ironed out as Joe Girardi shifts through his options. Even with the trade rumors swirling among media types who haven't noticed how good this team is about to be, the Marlins might not just be a tough underdog--they could really start putting dents in other people's futures down the stretch as part of their positioning themselves for a real run by 2008.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Optioned RHP Chris Sampson to Round Rock (Triple-A); outrighted LHP Philip Barzilla to Round Rock; purchased the contract of RHP Roger Clemens from Round Rock. [6/22]

So everyone makes way for the Rocket, and that's all dandy, but let's hold up on the expectations that the club just got a pitcher who will post a sub-two ERA. Although he's well into rare territory in terms of his career performance, and that makes forecasting his performance particularly difficult if you're hunting for comparable players, let's face it, the guy is 43 and on his own trail. If PECOTA's suggestion that he'll post an ERA around 3.00 is correct, that's a very good pitcher, obviously, but it isn't the guy who helped pitch the Astros into the World Series, any more than Andy Pettitte or Roy Oswalt are performing that similarly to what they did last year.

Then there's the additional question of whether or not Clemens isn't just boxing out the best of the Astros youngsters in the rotation. Fernando Nieve has outpitched both Taylor Buchholz and Wandy Rodriguez, but young man is low man on some team's totem poles, including this one's. Nieve can probably be a bullpen asset, certainly, but if Pettitte continues to pitch as badly as he has, and if Rodriguez and Buchholz continue to pitch as inconsistently as they have, then the Astros may not really pick up that much ground with Clemens back. Brandon Backe seems to be the beneficiary of all sorts of benefits of the doubt--he pitched for the team in the tougher times of the 2004 NLCS, after all--but there's no more guarantee that he'll be an improvement on Rodriguez and Buchholz once he's ready to pitch. A team with so many interchangeably mediocre alternatives is either going to reveal its management as brilliant for picking the right guys, or unfortunate for not sorting out the more adequate from the less.

So yes, he's back, and it's a great and glorious thing, but this doesn't single-handedly fix the problem this team has three days out of five in the rotation, this doesn't fix the team's bullpen, and this doesn't give the Astros a corner outfielder who puts runs on the board better than either Jason Lane or Preston Wilson. It makes this team more closely resemble last season's collection of tremendous strengths and weaknesses, but the strengths aren't quite as strong. That might be enough to push past the Reds or challenge an injury-wracked Cardinals team, but I'm not holding my breath.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Noted that RHP Allan Simpson cleared waivers and was outrighted to Nashville (Triple-A). [6/22]

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Claimed RHP Rick White off of waivers from the Reds; optioned CF-R Chris Roberson to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [6/23]

Transferred RHP Julio Santana from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/25]

Nabbing White isn't really all that helpful a move. The Phillies rank tenth in the majors in bullpen performance as measured by WXRL; they rank second by Adjusted Pitching Runs if that's your relief metric of choice, although some of that might be a function of the second-most relief innings thrown (behind only the Royals). The Mets rate third in relief innings, so don't interpret relief innings as a symptom of doom. I guess I'm just skeptical that White really has that much left to offer. Although he gets credited for his stretch run with the Cardinals in 2002, you're talking about a guy who, however experienced he is at it, has really only been an extremely touchable middle man for his almost his entire career. There's no real reason to anticipate that he'll be an improvement on guys like Ryan Franklin or Clay Condrey, so if I were the Phillies, I'd have found some other way to employ the 40-man roster spot freed up by Santana's transfer to the 60-day DL.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Activated 1B-R Albert Pujols from the 15-day DL; placed LHP Mark Mulder on the 15-day DL (sore shoulder); optioned 1B/OF-R Chris Duncan to Memphis (Triple-A); recalled RHP Anthony Reyes from Memphis. [6/22]

Pujols and Reyes are pretty significant reinforcements, all the more so since Reyes will be stepping in for the struggling Mulder, while Pujols' return will help mitigate the effects of Jim Edmonds' latest collection of injuries, self-inflicted or otherwise. With John Rodriguez looking just as injury-prone as Edmonds, the lineup has taken a slightly less powerful look, and a lot will depend on Pujols' ability to deliver consistently where Edmonds has not. The single home run he's hit since his return made for a nice signature statement, but I think we'll all be watching carefully to see if he's unable to use his whole body in his stroke, and we can count on Will Carroll to provide us with updates if there's something newly amiss.

The Mulder-for-Reyes exchange is somewhat more positive to my way of thinking. Mulder was not pitching effectively, and as much as the anticipated replacement of Sidney Ponson with Reyes was in the offing, Ponson makes for a nice enough temp for Mulder while Mulder gets healthy for the stretch run. Ponson shouldn't hurt too badly for too long, as long as it's plain that Reyes is in Mulder's slot, and that Ponson is still only the fifth starter. Reyes seems primed to become a stretch-drive starter that Tony La Russa can line up behind Chris Carpenter, not simply because Ponson or Jason Marquis or Jeff Suppan aren't doing all that well, but because Reyes has the talent to be somebody you'd start in a short series. The question that Cardinals fans need to worry about is whether or not Mulder can be the other starter they can definitely count on in those series. If he is, then picking between Suppan, Marquis, or Ponson becomes a relatively minor problem. If he isn't, then the Cardinals will have the especially difficult proposition of absolutely needing to make sure they get Carpenter cued up correctly for the postseason and correctly identifying which two starters suck least to handle at least three starts in a seven-game series.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Placed RHP Tony Armas Jr. on the 15-day DL (strained forearm), retroactive to 6/20; activated RHP John Patterson from the 15-day DL. [6/23]

This is sort of like losing Zach Day or Ryan Drese--Miss Manners expects the usual professions over how sad this is, with appropriately restrained expressions of lamentation, and a more carefully considered sigh of relief that an awkward social situation has been avoided, like telling Ramon Ortiz that, in addition to his off-field misfortunes, he's out of the rotation. Armas had produced only one quality start in his last seven, so if he's seen as trade bait, it was probably for the best that he log some time on the DL to help him reacquire that reputation for mysterious possibility. Patterson obviously has to go back in as he is the team's best starter. And this preserves the opportunities for both Shawn Hill and Michael O'Connor to pitch and stick in the big leagues. Hill's cranked out three quality starts in five, while O'Connor's managed six in twelve. It would be nice if Armas was well and shoppable, because Ortiz is almost entirely without value in barter, so in the meantime, this'll do.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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