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July 6, 2006

Transaction Analysis

July 3-5

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Traded RHP Jeff Weaver and cash to the Cardinals for OF-R Terry Evans. [7/5]

Not a bad little exchange for the Angels, although they're admittedly taking a chance that Evans' improvement is real. The unheralded draft-and-follow from the 2001 draft has continued his breakout, hitting .307/.369/.640 in 21 Double-A games after started out hitting .311/.373/.550 in the thick air of the Florida State League. In terms of raw numbers, that's 22 home runs and 26 steals in 28 attempts in 81 games. Even if the guy's 24 and took spending parts of three seasons to climb through High-A baseball, that's a pretty remarkable step forward. Those are already career highs in both steals and home runs, and while he's been a bit of a free-swinger (71 strikeouts, 23 walks), that's another improvement on his career rates. Considering how slim the pickings are in the Cards' system, this looks like a worthwhile gamble in exchange for getting a 40-man roster spot back and getting St. Louis to pick up some portion of Weaver's salary.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Activated OF-R Jason Michaels from the 15-day DL; optioned 1B-R Ryan Garko to Buffalo (Triple-A). [7/4]

This was probably inconveniently timed, in that Franklin Gutierrez was starting to hit, and now the Tribe's going to instead favor Todd Hollandsworth's recent run at usefulness while renewing their unfortunate experiment with Jason Michaels, everyday player. With the playoffs no longer looking like an attainable objective, some combination of Hollandsworth, Michaels, and eventually Casey Blake shouldn't be this team's primary choices for its two outfield corners. Instead, the Indians should be finding out whether or not Gutierrez is ready, because if he can be a part of next year's run at the division, it would be handy to know that now, before the winter shopping season.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Placed RHP Mike Wood on the 15-day DL (back); recalled RHP Joe Nelson from Omaha (Triple-A). [7/3]

I don't really consider this a setback, but that's because I don't see Wood as anything more than filler. With Wood out, the new master plan is to have Nelson replace Luke Hudson in the pen, because Hudson's now a starting pitcher. He gave up only four baserunners in two innings in a game against the Cardinals, and that's pretty good for a Royal, after all. Nelson might be better-prepared to earn his keep in the big league bullpen than Nelson, but at this point, the question of who from among the journeymen survives is almost irrelevant. It'll be nice if just one of them panned out, and whether it's Nelson, Hudson, or Brandon Duckworth, any success would be worth taking some equally small bit of credit for.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Optioned RHP Boof Bonser to Rochester (Triple-A). [7/5]

Two quality starts in seven doesn't fly, even in the fifth slot of the rotation, and even if you're named Boof. So, who might replace him in the rotation? We'll see, but rushing Kyle Lohse back into the role might not work out so well, considering he's managed to allow more than a hit per inning and 4.7 runs per nine since his recall and employment in middle relief. It isn't like pressing Carlos Silva back into the fourth slot has been a straightforward success, as he's tossed good games in half of his six starts since returning to the rotation, and bad ones in the other three. If I were doing the choosing, Scott Baker looks pretty good, tossing 49.1 innings across seven Rochester starts, posting a 41-18 strikeout-walk ratio, with a 2.92 ERA and only three bombs allowed, and it wasn't like Baker did all that badly in his first spin in the rotation, posting a 41-8 strikeout-walk ration in 49 big-league innings, but getting unusually poor results on balls in play. Some of that was about getting smacked around, sure, but one of baseball's worst defenses didn't help, and Baker's more likely to fool people at the plate and keep outcomes out of his defenders' limited reach than Silva or Lohse or Bonser.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Claimed OF-L Aaron Guiel off of waivers from the Royals; purchased the contract of RHP Kris Wilson from Columbus (Triple-A); optioned OF-L Kevin Reese to Columbus. [7/5]

Just when you might have wanted to believe that the Yankees had learned something from the Robinson Cano experience, or were showing an increased willingness to trust their own because of what little Melky Cabrera and Andy Phillips have done for them, they go out and pick up a plague of Royals. This is what the Yankees have been reduced to, not just rummaging through their own chaff, but dumpster-diving for Royal rejects. Guiel's not the worst guy to have (that would be Terrence Long; been there, done that), but given his limited shot at success, he's not really an improvement on Reese or Bubba Crosby. Wilson might be entertaining Aaron Small-style delusions of grandeur after a nice three-month run in the Clippers rotation, allowing only 74 hits and 15 walks in 92 IP, while striking out 73, but again, we're talking about a former Royal with limited upside. I suppose it's a way of trying to match the Red Sox: if Boston's only getting guys like Jason Johnson and Gabe Kapler, why not answer in kind?

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Recalled RHP Emiliano Fruto and OF-L Shin-Soo Choo from Tacoma (Triple-A); placed RHP Sean Green (back spasms) and CF-L Jeremy Reed (broken thumb) on the 15-day DL. [7/3]

Choo's about to turn 24, but was also already in his second full-season stint at Tacoma, where he was hitting .327/.401/.506, while also swiping 22 bases (against only four times caught). Now, that seems pretty promising to me, and although I would have said (heck, I did) the same thing about Reed coming out of the minors, this shouldn't be a setback for the M's. Besides, what are the alternatives? Michael Morse tore up his knee after his demotion. Chris Snelling? What, he's healthy this week? So, it seems to be a platoon of Choo and Willie Bloomquist, which makes sense since Choo was struggling against lefties in Tacoma.

That's where I really have to wonder if the Mariners wouldn't be much better off with a slight modification: Choo's got a good arm, but his range might not fly in center. Why not have Choo and Ichiro Suzuki trade places? If Ichiro can do it, then you don't have to limit yourself to playing Bloomquist--you could instead find a right-handed hitter with some real sock to platoon with Choo. Morse would have been nice, but he's WIA. Both T.J. Bohn and Hunter Brown are hitting lefties pretty hard, but it would be difficult to squeeze an alternate to Bloomquist onto a roster already clogged up with three DHs--Carl Everett, Eduardo Perez, and Roberto Petagine. Dumping Everett would be a nice solution, one that might even suggest itself if Dino keeps mouthing off about his lot in life.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Recalled RHP Wes Littleton from Oklahoma (Triple-A); optioned CF-B Freddy Guzman to Oklahoma. [7/3]

Guzman didn't have any opportunity to show what he might do, and as long as Gary Matthews Jr. looks like an answer to the club's center field needs, why worry? Combined between Double- and Triple-A, Littleton was doing good stuff, striking out 40 in 44 IP, while allowing 27 hits, 12 walks, four home runs, and 1.4 runs per nine. With Kevin Millwood sitting out the weekend series against the Twins, John Wasdin will stay in the rotation for another turn, which in turn probably created that extra bit of need for a spare right-hander in the pen. This might be a better shot for Littleton to stick that his late-May invitation: Francisco Cordero and Joaquin Benoit are still struggling, and Scott Feldman hasn't exactly earned his keep. Littleton's velocity has improved to more consistently low-90s heat since he's moved into the bullpen, but his lack of a consistent off-speed offering and a 3/4 arm angle that might be closer to sidearm in terms of its inability to fool lefties potentially limits his future to that of a ROOGY at the tender age of 23. Hopefully, he'll pick up something, either a change or tighten up his slurve into something more precisely a curve or slider.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Activated RHP Juan Cruz from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Jose Valverde to Tucson (Triple-A). [7/3]

Thereby bumping Edgar Gonzalez to the pen for the time being, although Cruz will have to pitch well to keep his place in the Snake rotation. I suppose there's some gnashing of teeth among the fantasy set over Valverde's demotion, but having already lost his closer's role to Jorge Julio while pitching horribly in any situation, those people should have already adapted. When you're a major league team, you're in the ultimate keeper league, and having Valverde try to get back on track as a Tucson Snakeling is a worthwhile investment. If he does well there, he'll be back, because the tradeoff between wishcasting his electric stuff and infrequent command is probably tantalizing enough to keep him in circulation for as long as he avoids a major arm injury.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Activated RHP John Thomson from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Lance Cormier to Richmond (Triple-A). [7/4]

Thomson might be present, but not ready, since he chose to be Mr. Helper and provide some extra fireworks on the Fourth of July. That's sort of predictable, in that Thomson's been significantly worse than Cormier in his time in the rotation, and four quality starts in 14 should be a major disincentive against using him for much longer. However, keep in mind that with Chuck James looking like a solution in one slot, the club's not as badly off as teams like the Phillies, Pirates, or Royals. If Thomson can achieve adequacy in the next couple of weeks, he might avoid getting cut, because by August, the team should be using his starts to see if Cormier has a future, or to re-employ Kyle Davies once he's ready to come off of the DL.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Activated LHP Glendon Rusch from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Angel Guzman to Iowa (Triple-A). [7/3]

"Why yes, seaman, the deck chairs do give you a better view of the iceberg on that side. Thank you so much for being thoughtful enough to rearrange them." Considering that this pen already has both Scott Eyre and Will Ohman around for lefty relief work, and that we're in a season already broken beyond repair, they'd be better off taking long looks at Jae-Kuk Ryu, Jerome Williams, Rich Hill, or even Guzman if something happens to your rotation of the moment, rather than giving Rusch another spin. Jim Hendry would be well-advised to deal the lefty utility pitcher to the first bidder.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Recalled UT-R Luis Gonzalez from Colorado Springs (Triple-A); optioned OF-R Ryan Spilborghs to Colorado Springs. [7/3]

This is something of a goofy exchange, because the club could probably use Spilborghs as an outfield alternative to playing Choo Freeman more than it could use Gonzalez as a notional utility man. The Rockies remain fascinated with Gonzalez, though, and since Omar Quintanilla was the only other infield reserve, I suppose carrying Gonzalez makes sense on a team with a seven-man pen. It makes sense as long as his status as the club's every-position-capable utilityman remains in the realm of the mostly-unused. The question you might be asking is why you'd want Freeman instead of Spilborghs--neither is a prospect, both are 26, both can play center, and Spilborghs is probably the better hitter, since Freeman doesn't. However, Freeman has wormed his way into something of a platoon with Cory Sullivan in center, and he does have a good rep afield, so he received the benefit of the doubt that Spilborghs--not having had to try and stick in that particular part-time role--did not.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Optioned RHP Chris Resop to Albuquerque (Triple-A); recalled RHP Yusmeiro Petit from Albuquerque. [7/3]

Petit's recall has everything to do with the club's coming double-header this weekend, although it also gives him a shot at outpitching Anibal Sanchez and perhaps getting some consideration for the last spot in the rotation once the team gets used to the idea that, hurt or unhurt, Scuffy Moehler looks done.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Optioned LHP Hong-Chih Kuo to Las Vegas (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Giovanni Carrara from Las Vegas; transferred OF-L Ricky Ledee from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/4]

With all of the wounded gone missing from the club's preseason master plan, and with the Devil Rays who were supposed to fix this team's pen pitching like people who should still be Devil Rays, it's a little remarkable that the Dodgers are nevertheless ahead of the league's bottom third in team relief pitching effectiveness. Since they also rank among the top ten teams in total relief innings thrown, you can understand how they might be wearing out their options. Kuo hadn't really done well in his second stint with the big league club, allowing 26 baserunners and ten runs in his 14.1 IP, drawing more attention than his otherwise notable 19 Ks. However, Carrara wasn't actually pitching well for Vegas, allowing 35 baserunners in 25.1 IP, so at best he provides Grady Little a matching pair of near adequate long relievers, a matched lefty-right set with Odalis Perez to pitch before the game gets handed over to the slightly more effective tandem of Jonathan Broxton and Joe Beimel. The pen's rounded out by the once and future closer, Danys Baez, and the present office-holder, Takashi Saito. Getting Baez back on track would be a major help, because the rotation isn't a source of great strength, and with the division as tight as it is, any little bit will help.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Designated C-R Chad Moeller for assignment; optioned RHP Carlos Villanueva to Nashville (Triple-A); purchased the contract of C-R Mike Rivera from Nashville; recalled LHP Dana Eveland from Nashville. [7/5]

Well, that was overdue. Moeller never really deserved the hosannahs he got larded up with early on in his career, but then he came up at a time when people were praising just about every catcher in the Twins' system. That was appropriate where guys like A.J. Pierzynski, Javier Valentin, or Ryan Bowen were concerned, but not so much in the case of Moeller or Brandon Marsters. Other than a well-timed bit of hitting as a 27-year-old D'back with all the benefits of batting in his team's bandbox, Moeller hasn't really been a reliably useful reserve, and after failing to do much against the running game in the last two seasons, he didn't even have the fig leaf of being a good catch-and-throw guy.

So the Brewers shook things up, to their credit. It might seem like Rivera's been around forever, but he's still a couple of months shy of his 30th birthday, and he was hammering Triple-A pitching at a .297/.340/.491 clip. Yes, he wasn't walking, but he won't, and that's acceptable considering he will offer more sock than Moeller as a backup. With reserves like Rivera, Corey Hart, Jeff Cirillo, and Gabe Gross (or Brady Clark if he loses his job to Gross), the Brewers might have one of the best collections of hitters on the bench of any team in baseball. Admittedly, Hart and Gross are good enough to start for many teams, perhaps most, but that's Ned Yost's nice problem.

As for the exchange of pitchers, despite Eveland's failure in his last shot in the rotation, I'd consider this an opportunity for him. Notionally, this is about getting the fifth starter out of the way prior to the All-Star break, but after a pair of quality starts, Villanueva didn't do so well in his next three, and it's hard to earn your pay as a righthanded soft-tosser at the highest level. By contrast, Eveland's been consistently overpowering at Triple-A this season, and he's got electric stuff. If he does well in some mop-up or long relief time before the break, he'll have refreshed his credentials in a bid for a rotation slot before the Brewers get either Tomo Ohka or Ben Sheets back from the DL.

NEW YORK METS
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Optioned RHP Alay Soler to Norfolk (Triple-A); recalled RHP John Maine from Norfolk. [7/3]

Purchased the contract of RHP Jose Lima from Norfolk; optioned RHP Heath Bell to Norfolk; designated RHP Mike Adams for assignment. [7/4]

The Mets are still essentially trying to find somebody they can call a third starter while also trying to find a fifth. Soler's shot at the fifth slot faltered, and with Pedro Martinez hurting, it's Lima Time and "Remember the Maine!" all over again. Ideally, Maine will pan out, and Lima will go away again, but the already-difficult question about who starts Game Three (the formerly famous El Duque, or Steve Trachsel?) of a playoff series only gets nastier still if Pedro's not in full working order. Hernandez's consecutive good starts might be cause for unbridled optimism, except that they were against the Pirates and an outfield-less Yankees team, while Trachsel's status as an innings muncher might be in doubt after his groin injury.

For all that, nothing can really defend the latest decision to bring back Jose Lima. Despite the talk that he hasn't been quite so awful lately, he's a Tide who's turned, allowing eleven home runs in 76.1 IP. Remember kids, expiration dates are meant to be minded. Despite posting four quality starts in eight, Soler had been cuffed around in his last three, allowing 20 runs and 34 baserunners in the twelve innings he lasted in his last three. If it's more a matter of Soler getting his mechanics screwed up (as he's suggested) because of a calf injury, that's more encouraging than the notion that the majors caught up to the Cubano with a vengeance. Bell, on the other hand, just might not pan out at all, no matter how much some of us might want him to. Sure enough, his splitter helped him be better against lefties, but when they're hitting .302 and you're walking one of every eight faced, and that's your good side, well, that's what gets you back in Norfolk, isn't it?

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Placed C-R Sal Fasano on the 15-day DL (knee); recalled CF-R Chris Roberson and C-R Carlos Ruiz from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A); designated RHP Adam Bernero for assignment. [7/4]

Losing Fasano might seem to be for the best as the Phillies' season unravels. If it forces the Phillies to take a look at Ruiz to see if he's part of their post-Lieberthal future behind the plate, so much the better, right? Although Ruiz's age is enough to deter high hopes--he's already 27--the guy was hitting .307/.381/.470 in Scranton, walking about once every ten PA with modest pop, and everyone thinks he can catch well enough. However, it looks like Lieberthal will be back shortly, and since Chris Coste has done pretty well behind the plate in his debut, sending Ruiz back down seems to be in the cards. It's a shame, because Coste will only grow up to be a reserve, while Ruiz could be an adequate placeholder for a couple of seasons, but as long as the Phillies pretend that Lieberthal is more of a regular than just a fragile link to their almost-irrelevant '90s, they won't be doing themselves any favors.

As for Roberson's latest recall, I think you know the drill: once one of the starting pitchers on the DL is ready to return, the sixth outfielder gets the call to the manager's office. The only way that's going to change is if Pat Gillick does something involving Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, or David Dellucci. He might get some serious swag for any one of them, and only Burrell's under 30 (until October, but he'll be golfing by then). In the same way that Gillick has to start pondering a post-Lieberthal world, he'd be well-advised to do what he can to convert some of his veteran outfielders for stuff that will help this team contend in the future, because trying again with this year's rotation should be permanently off of the menu.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Activated OF-L Dave Roberts from the 15-day DL; placed OF-R Ben Johnson on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder). [7/5]

A pretty critical exchange. Sure, in a perfect world they'd have Johnson around to platoon with Roberts, or spot for him against the toughest lefties, but absent going out and getting a real third baseman, the Pads can settle for getting their best regular back and taking the boost that will provide to them offensively. Johnson may have dibs over Eric Young for the fourth outfielder's job once he returns, but the problem is that he might also be one of their best bargaining chips to get that third baseman they still need. We'll see how Kevin Towers addresses the situation in the weeks to come, but if he settles for another three months of Vinny Castilla, Pad people should be more than annoyed.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Optioned 2B-R Kevin Frandsen to Fresno (Triple-A); recalled LHP Jack Taschner from Fresno. [7/4]

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Recalled 1B/LF-L Chris Duncan from Memphis (Triple-A); optioned RHP Brad Thompson to Memphis. [7/3]

Acquired RHP Jeff Weaver and some cash from the Angels for OF-R Terry Evans. [7/5]

So, Walt Jocketty didn't wait for the month's end to do something about the meltdown in the rotation, instead probably agreeing to take on more of Weaver's salary than the part-season share of the minimum that claiming him on waivers would have cost the Cards--assuming he'd slipped to them. Jocketty sensibly avoided that risk, tossed in a flyer-worthy outfielder to sweeten the pot, and now may not have to live with the inadequacies of both Sidney Ponson and Jeff Suppan. Suppan hasn't had a legitimately good start since May 5th; Ponson's quality start against the Tigers on June 25th is more recent than that, but let's face it, he's Sidney Ponson. I could toss Jason Marquis into that mix, but he does seem more frequently able to crank out a quality start or pitch into the seventh inning, and those aren't bad things, however flaky he's seen to be.

There should only be one from among those three who will still be in the rotation after Mark Mulder comes back, but that's admittedly a house of cards based on wishcasting Mulder into effectiveness and Weaver into reliability. But let's consider what PECOTA forecast (by weighted mean, full-season) for all seven of the Cardinals' rotation options before the season:

Pitcher    WARP
Carpenter  6.8
Weaver     4.6
Mulder     4.1
Suppan     4.1
Reyes      3.5
Marquis    3.2
Ponson     2.6

If you can afford to set aside the struggles that made certain that Weaver wouldn't be an Angel for long, you can interpret this pickup as a masterstroke by Jocketty, one where he's renting a good risk for three months on the chance that instead of being someone who's irreparably broken, Weaver might be his second-best starter. Considering that Weaver's 29 and in relatively good repair, and that he's coming back to the DH-free league where he enjoyed solid success in the previous two seasons, it's easy to see that this could be the move that secures the Cardinals' bid for the playoffs. Sure, that doesn't mean that any of the positioning, negotiating, haggling, or blocking that goes on in the weeks and months to come won't be interesting, but this was a pretty uncomplicated good idea if you turn a blind eye to Weaver's first three months. Considering the alternatives involved Ponson, Marquis' congenital case of the flakes, and Suppan's limitations, and it becomes easier still. Considering the organization's shortage of viable prospects, Jocketty does what he can with his financial flexibility, and it looks like he had just enough to offer to make it happen yet again.

Giving up twelve runs and 24 hits in his 15 innings pitched since the end of May reduced Thompson to the guy who could be let go from among the thirteen hurlers that Tony LaRussa has kept on the club. Thompson might be back if he thrives while Josh Kinney struggles, and since John Rodriguez hasn't provided much power, the Cards wanted to see what they'd get by bringing Duncan back. The outfield rotation should be interesting to watch: a combination of Duncan, Rodriguez, So Taguchi, and Juan Encarnacion might make up for the shortcomings of each, while providing a solid-enough combination of platoon strengths, defensive abilities, and even speed afoot to keep the Cards covered during Jim Edmonds' next injury. Hopefully, the Cards will afford themselves the luxury of keeping the lot, and using them interchangeably to best advantage. Heck, if a club has two corner outfield slots and the pitcher's spot to juggle (and with so few Cardinals starters able to make it past the sixth inning), it isn't inconceivable that LaRussa might be able to spread around the playing time well enough to keep everyone busy while also keeping his seven relievers busy. It should definitely make for interesting box scores, at the very least.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Optioned RHP Jason Bergmann to New Orleans (Triple-A). [7/5]


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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