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June 30, 2006

Transaction Analysis

June 27-29

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Activated RHP Cliff Politte from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Agustin Montero to Charlotte (Triple-A). [6/29]

Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for, because getting Politte didn't really help last night. David Riske is more likely to be the reliever the Sox need to replace last year's edition of Politte, because this year's edition seems a bit too much like the Politte we know and can be thoroughly ambivalent about: homer-prone and dispensable. If there's an item on the White Sox shopping list for July, it should probably be another right-handed veteran reliever. How Politte and Brandon McCarthy do in the weeks to come will end up meaning a great deal as far as how Kenny Williams approaches the deadline.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Placed 2B-L Robinson Cano on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled 2B-R Nick Green from Columbus (Triple-A). [6/27]

This obviously isn't good news, but Yankees fans shouldn't get too worked up about this. Cano's performance at the plate this season (.262 Equivalent Average) wasn't that much above what all second basemen are doing (.254), and that average for all second basemen happens to clock in at the same mark we projected Green to achieve this season. The problem is that this won't be handled that neatly--there's a Miguel Cairo--sized stumbling block in the way, and his odds of being a decent replacement are a bit longer than Green's. Still, this is a Torre team, so you know the drill: the veteran with one productive year in the last five gets first look, and the no-name waiver bait gets to hang around and watch. At least the Yankees won't take a defensive hit with Cairo out there.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Acquired C-B Dioner Navarro, RHP Jae Seo, and a PTBNL from the Dodgers for C-R Toby Hall, LHP Mark Hendrickson, and cash. [6/27]

There doesn't seem to be a way that this deal doesn't look good for the D-Rays. Not only did they get the more promising starting pitcher--and to their credit, the Rays see Seo as a starter--they picked up one of the game's most interesting catching prospects. Barring their inclusion of one million dollars, this was exactly the sort of deal the D-Rays should be making, and should have been making for years if Chuck LaMar had ever had an ounce of horse sense. Navarro will get every opportunity to pan out as a prospect, donning the mask five days a week, while Seo will be moving directly into the rotation.

Yes, there are concerns. Seo probably doesn't have a tremendous amount of upside, but let's face it, was Hendrickson ever going to do better than he had in recent weeks? Years of familiarity bred the appropriate amount of contempt for Lou Piniella's non-delivering stork. And now that he's been treated like a roster hot potato, playing for his third organization in less than two years, some might wonder whether or not there's something wrong with Navarro. On the face of it, it's easy, though: the D-Rays have a 22 year-old catcher with plus defensive skills, a knowledge of the strike zone at the plate, and a bat that plays better than many starting catchers around the majors.

Maybe it's a matter of seeing the success the Fish have had with simply playing the kids and seeing how it works out, but this trade, on top of their decision to take a long, up-close look at Edwin Jackson really has me ready to acknowledge that they get it in Tampa/St.Pete/Fruit Beverage Ballpark Numero Uno. I already count the Marlins among my favorite boxscores to check out first thing in the morning, but the D-Rays could end up joining them at this rate.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Acquired LHP Daniel Haigwood and cash from the Phillies for LHP Fabio Castro; reinstated RHP Joshua Rupe from the 60-day DL, and optioned him to Oklahoma (Triple-A); released INF-R Marshall McDougall from Oklahoma, removing him from the 40-man roster. [6/29]

Not a bad little move for the Rangers, who managed to flip their Rule 5 pick from the White Sox for another former Sox lefty with promise. Part of the package sent to Philly for Jim Thome, Haigwood was putting up a solid partial season in Double-A Reading, striking out 85 in 84 frames while allowing 72 hits, 42 walks, seven home runs, and 3.9 runs per nine. Although the bombs might make you think he's not yet dominating, he does have some solid groundball tendencies, and right-handed hitters weren't doing anything against him, hitting only .211 and slugging .310 through 6/26. Considering that he's 22 and pitching well in Double-A, and that he's a lefty who can throw over 90 and complement it with a good slider, and you can credit the Rangers with dealing the guy they couldn't option for one they can, and one who might be able to step into the rotation and stick by the end of 2007. However electric Castro's stuff may be, that combination of talent, potential, and roster flexibility seems to make this a pretty one-sided gain for Jon Daniels and company.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Activated RHP Pete Walker from the 15-day DL; outrighted RHP Josh Towers to Syracuse (Triple-A). [6/27]

Ding-dong, the Towers are down. Helping generate ten losses in twelve starts is a pretty good way to fall out of favor, especially when the team's 42-24 with anybody else on the mound at the start of a game. Although we're still far removed from a return from the DL by Gustavo Chacin (August... -ish, hopefully maybe), the club's decided it's better off letting Ty Taubenheim take a shot at the fifth slot this weekend, with Dustin McGowan probably getting in a shot next week. I'm still a believer that McGowan can do the job--despite allowing five runs per nine and a hit per inning in Syracuse, he does have 53-20 strikeout-walk ratio in 47.2 innings, and the man still throws a fastball well into the 90s, and you can probably forgive him some lack of command as he works his way back from having his elbow Tommy John'd. At any rate, it has to be better than Towers, but then a Jim Acker comeback would probably be better than Towers at this point.

As for Towers' contract, I was willing to admit that it made sense at the time, but it's well past the time to accept this particular cost as sunk, and to accelerate somebody, anybody's timetable to get beyond Towers' complete collapse. It isn't hard to daydream your way into a scenario where the Jays are tied or alone in first place if Towers pitches as adequately as he had in the past, but no point in whining about it now. J.P. Ricciardi's done the right thing in making the dump, and if anybody's willing to claim Towers on waivers, it's just as well. Even if Towers winds up back in Syracuse, it would be highly improbable for him to get a third bite of the apple in the major league rotation later on in the season.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Recalled C-R Geovany Soto from Iowa (Triple-A); activated RHP Scott Williamson from the 15-day DL; optioned UT-L Tony Womack and RHP David Aardsma to Iowa. [6/27]

Optioned C-R Geovany Soto to Iowa. [6/29]

Although Dusty Baker might agonize over the decision to move Tony Womack, let's face it, Womack went back to being Womack after making a nifty initial impression. With Womack gone, Freddy Bynum on the DL, and Jerry Hairston in Texas, it's clear that the Force is strong in Neifi Perez, and all potential rivals for Dusty's affections have been struck down so that Neifi can continue to pursue his rightful destiny as baseball's most unkillable scrub. Random wannabes like Ryan Theriot shouldn't even bother trying--no amount of time on Dagobah will help anybody pry Neifi off of the roster, not as long as Baker's allowed to observe his foibles in time-honored fashion.

The move became necessary despite Michael Barrett's suspension coming to an end, because the Cubs needed Soto around in case Henry Blanco's back owie got serious. Despite the short stay, Soto's kept his prospect status alive with a solid half-season in Iowa, hitting .267/.342/.330. Okay, so that's downright plucky on the banjo hitter side of things, but Soto's only 23, has outstanding catching skills, and if he adds a little bit of OBP, it might make him an outstanding backup catcher in the major leagues. Plus, he's now the Womack Eraser, and that's something Cubs fans should be grateful for.

As for reactivating Williamson, I wouldn't get too worked up. At best, the Cubs will be able to trade him in the next month, but that's only if his pitching reassures the potential bidders that his always-troublesome elbow is sound. At some point, the team will have to have a reckoning over who gets the jobs behind Jim Hendry's expensive triple folly in the pen. Aardsma? Roberto Novoa? Any of the homegrown talent? There's still no indication that Dusty Baker knows how to sift through these options and correctly choose, and less still that Hendry's willing to make these decisions for him. Expect more of the same fitful reshuffling, catty finger-pointing, and failure.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Activated RHP Matt Belisle from the 15-day DL. [6/27]

Extended the contract of manager Jerry Narron through 2008 with an option for 2009; exercised their 2008 option on the contract of general manager Wayne Krivsky. [6/28]

Sometimes success makes for strange bedfellows, but Krivsky apparently won't have to worry about making his own choices about the manager of the ballclub. He may have inherited Narron, and Narron might only have been an interim manager less than a year ago, but the happy confluence of on-field success and Narron's apparent willingness to stand by higher decisions to ditch former famous people speaks well of the men's ability to work well together. In their public appearances and comments after the fact, both men seemed relieved and flattered. It's still a bit early to really pass much judgment on the Krivsky era, but it was silly to have him only under contract for two years, and it'll take more than three to really get a good read on whether or not he's not only doing a nifty job at the major league level, but also with the much-needed renovations of the organization's farm system. Similarly, sticking with Narron for a good stretch seems to make sense: if the new guy goes from being a renter to part of the landscape, it buys him some extra respectability in the clubhouse and the interview room.

Getting Belisle back is good news. Not that the Reds' pen has been as bad as some might claim--it ranks ahead of more-famous outfits in Chicago, San Francisco, and LA, to name a few--but it really does need a reliable multi-inning middle man. Esteban Yan isn't that guy, and the veteran lefties and Jason Standridge aren't either. Dave Weathers could be, but that's assuming they haven't entirely soured on him since his failure to hold the closer's role.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Acquired C-R Toby Hall, LHP Mark Hendrickson, and cash from the Devil Rays for C-B Dioner Navarro, RHP Jae Seo, and a PTBNL; placed RHP Brett Tomko on the 15-day DL (strained oblique). [6/27]

Ah, it's always fun when a new GM "does something" to prove that he's on top of things. There's something delightfully overstated about the Dodgers' need to go out and get Hendrickson to "solve" their problems in the rotation. It's pretty amusing, considering that just about the only way he seems like an asset is if you get really worked up over his great day in PETCO on June 14. Counting that complete game, one-run win, the guy has four quality starts in thirteen this season. Four, as in one fewer than Seo, but in three more starts. Hendrickson's not young and improving, not at 32, and his brief run at respectability in the last two months has lowered his career ERA to 5.01. Maybe it's a good thing that he's wilder this year than in seasons past, but absent a trick pitch, it looks like he's just been fortunate with his defensive support. That might last in LA, in that the Dodgers boast a better defense than the D-Rays, but he's always been hittable, and if he's wild, homer-prone, and hittable, how is this supposed to be an improvement over the likes of Tomko?

I'm not sure what's to be done with Hall, but that seems a matter of providing the Dodgers with a catcher in case Russell Martin falters--Sandy Alomar Jr. is a backup with one foot already planted in the coaching-track career path, and there's no reason to think his knees could hold up if he had to catch more than twice in any given week. If you accept the proposition that Martin's the catcher of the future--heck, I do--then you can understand the desire to do something with Navarro. After all, he was a prize pickup in the now-lamented DePodesta Period, and anything associated with those days must be bad. Except for J.D. Drew or Jeff Kent or Brad Penny or Derek Lowe, but why give DePo credit for bringing them in? Doesn't Frank McCourt sign the checks? Start giving DePo credit, and next thing you know, people might notice he was a pretty good GM, at least at the non-"stroke Bill Plaschke"; portions of the program.

But I digress, and to give credit where credit is due, Ned Colletti has scraped up Tomko and Aaron Sele, and now traded good stuff for Hendrickson. Shopping for mediocrity takes an eye for a particular kind of talent, and on that score, Colletti certainly seems gifted. To be fair, Odalis Perez seems so broken he can't get up, and Perez is DePo's mistake, not Colletti's. But why not just plug Seo into the rotation? Handing away a catching prospect of Navarro's measure to acquire a journeyman starter on a really modest streak of adequacy does not seem like the best way to secure a title in LA, and it doesn't seem like a necessary move. With Navarro and Seo, the club already had insurance behind the plate and a perfectly handy in-house solution to their rotation problems. I suspect that isn't the consideration in play, though, and if the man they call Ned can't equal DePo's first-year feat, how long before new cries for blood paint the pages of Smogtown's dailies? All the more reason to be seen as doing something, and if Ned cares, how can you hold it against the guy that Hendrickson isn't really any good? Won't that be Hendrickson's fault?

This doesn't help on the field, and whatever warm fuzzies the front office just gave itself over looking involved will curdle as soon as this team gets an extended dose of Hendrickson, and learns what even Lou Piniella had to recognize in the end, that there's no there there.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Purchased the contract of RHP Adam Bernero from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A); optioned RHP Brett Myers to Clearwater (A-ball); transferred RHP Randy Wolf from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/28]

Acquired LHP Fabio Castro from the Rangers for LHP Daniel Haigwood and cash. [6/29]

There really isn't much to say about the meltdown after the event of l'affaire Myers. In an industry where there's greater readiness to complain about performance-enhancing drugs, or bandy about whatever name Ozzie Guillen called somebody this week, than there is to cope with a guy who stands accused of doing something far worse, the decision to pull Myers out of the season and have him take a leave of absence, no matter how well he was pitching, seems almost enlightened. Maybe it's because the topic is uncomfortable, but it isn't like the media has been known to wait out a trial to pass judgment. But if Myers is the sort who beats on his wife, that's more important than whether or not he's the club's only effective starting pitcher. If the time away is spent getting his life and his marriage sorted out, that's a small, good step. If he's convicted and has to do time, pay fines, or community service, as long as he's not treated differently from anyone else guilty of battering his wife--either for the better or for the worse because of his celebrity--then that's justice.

So, onto the less important stuff, like asking who starts in his place? Jon Lieber isn't ready to come off of the DL just yet, and Wolf's rehab has hit a significant snag. Bernero's had a nice enough season at Triple-A, pitching in Omaha before the Royals cut him loose, then turning up in Scranton for four starts. Between the two gigs, he's given up just under three runs per nine in 76.1 IP, with only 59 hits (four home runs) and 15 walks allowed while striking out 49. That doesn't mean much, whether you call it Bernero or Seth Etherton or Kevin Jarvis, whatever meat you put in the grinder comes out sausage beyond a certain point. These guys are cruising in Triple-A, and since that's become less and less of a level at which prospects spend any amount of time, they can get by pitching to the aging aspirants for big league jobs as third catchers, fifth outfielders, and utility infielders. That leaves the Phillies with the unhappy choice between Bernero and Ryan Franklin, a man whose grasp on any fifth starter's job in baseball would be tenuous at best.

When you're left pondering options as unattractive as dinner with the in-laws, you can understand the instinct to run up the white flag. To some extent, you can infer that from the Castro deal. Haigwood's promising, but Castro's perhaps even more promising (if also less certain, considering how few Rule 5 pitchers wind up working out all that well, let alone turning into Johan Santana), and Pat Gillick has his scouty inclinations. Contenders generally don't save space for a Rule 5 pick, and you can safely infer from the decision to take a chance on Castro's upside that this is a team that no longer sees itself as having much shot at getting into the playoff picture. If Castro's mix of low-90s heat and a good curve pan out, it will make for a gutty call, especially since Haigwood might have been able to join the big league rotation at some point this season.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Designated RHP Ryan Vogelsong for assignment; recalled RHP Jonah Bayliss from Indianapolis (Triple-A). [6/27]

Optioned LHP Oliver Perez to Indianapolis; placed 3B-R Joe Randa on the Bereavement List; recalled LHP Tom Gorzelanny and UT-R Mike Edwards from Indianapolis. [6/29]

Although this might seem like more bad news, there's some silver lining to be teased out of this particular murk. Gorzelanny was encouraging those of us who see him as potentially the best of the Pirates' young pitchers with his work as an Indy Indian. His ability to stake that claim doesn't just rely on the fact that none of the Pirates' starters are doing good work, however. He's a lefty who gets his heat into the mid-90s, he's got a sharp slider, and his changeup is every bit as nasty as the first two pitches. Nothing against Zach Duke or Ian Snell, but from a scouting perspective, they're not cut from that same cloth. On the performance side of things, though, Gorzelanny's been every bit as impressive: in 16 starts, he tossed 99.2 innings, giving up only 2.5 runs per nine and 67 hits (four home runs), and posting a 94-27 K-BB ratio. If there's any promise to be found in the second half in Pittsburgh, it'll be because Gorzelanny, Duke, Snell, and Paul Maholm are taking their turns every fifth day.

Bayliss was having a good season in Indy's bullpen, striking out 42 in 35.2 IP, with only 21 hits and 20 walks allowed, and giving up two runs per nine. His upside might only be quality seventh-inning pitcher, but there's no shame in that, and should Dave Littlefield wise up and try to peddle some of his veteran relievers at the deadline, the opportunity would exist.

Admittedly, getting them both up comes in the wake of other people's setbacks. Perez doesn't help his shoppability by thoroughly earning his demotion, and the chances that anybody will take him off of their hands for anything more than a willingness to pay off his contract on the off chance he shows something seem remote. Dealing Randa isn't helped by his own absence, but ideally, that's still a live item on Littlefield's "to-do" list, although with the team still finding ways to avoid playing Craig Wilson, you might be a bit skeptical on that score. But at least the club has belatedly cut bait on Vogelsong. That might only be a year later than any sensible person might have done, but at least it's finally been done, and the disastrous book on the Jason Schmidt deal finally closed. Vogelsong was well into the "really could use a change of scenery" neck of the woods, and now we'll get to see if it's a Pittsburgh problem, or that Vogelsong's damaged beyond any capacity to be retreaded.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Placed OF-R Moises Alou on the 15-day DL (strained back), retroactive to 6/18; activated 1B-R Lance Niekro from the 15-day DL. [6/28]

What this boils down to is more playing time for Steve Finley while Niekro moves back into some sort of job-sharing arrangement with Mark Sweeney. Sweeney's also the primary reserve for Barry Bonds during his oft-required off days, so this leaves the Giants somewhat stretched in the lineup, which does real harm to their shot at winning the NL West. Still, if it means less playing time for Jose Vizcaino at first base, it's an improvement of sorts. I'm not sure some of the Giants' more flyball out-dependent starting pitchers could hack having Bonds in left and Alou in right in too many games, and Giants' starting pitching beyond Jason Schmidt has been gamey enough as is.


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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