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July 17, 2006

Transaction Analysis

July 13-16

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Placed RHP Kelvim Escobar on the 15-day DL (elbow irritation), retroactive to 7/7; recalled 2B-R Howie Kendrick from Salt Lake (Triple-A). [7/14]

Although you might see this as a tough break for the Angels, it might be anything but that. Escobar hasn't been that effective as a starter this season, ranking fourth on the club in Support-Neutral Value Added. The value Escobar provided wasn't significantly better than what Hector Carrasco or Kevin Gregg had done in a pinch, and although there's now concern over how healthy Jered Weaver is, I wouldn't get too worried about single turns through the rotation for Joe Saunders and Dustin Moseley. Indeed, it looks like GM Bill Stoneman and manager Mike Scioscia have decided to give cameos to Saunders and Moseley rather than shake up their pen by having either or both of Gregg and Carrasco slip into the rotation for a spot start or two.

In contrast, at the very least the Angels might see if Kendrick can help compensate for Adam Kennedy's struggles against lefties this season (Kennedy's only hitting .169/.229/.246 against his fellow southpaws). If he does something more than that in his time up, this might even be a real opportunity for Kendrick to show that he's ready before the trade deadline. If he does that to the satisfaction of both Scioscia and Stoneman, it might give the Angels the gumption to deal Kennedy for an extra bat for either infield corner-a Dallas McPherson/Robb Quinlan platoon can man the other, but with the Angels in contention, they might not wish to keep waiting for Kendry Morales to break out. Or they could move Kennedy in a package that might give the Angels a center fielder, which would then push Chone Figgins to third.

Naturally, most of this is pie-in-the-sky, and the Angels will instead await the return of Darin Erstad. Given Erstad's ample demonstrations of his inability to contribute much at the plate, if the Angels come up just a few runs short, they'll have nobody to blame but themselves.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Activated INF-R Chris Gomez from the 60-day DL. [7/12]

Optioned RHPs Daniel Cabrera and Sendy Rleal to Ottawa (Triple-A); recalled LHP Adam Loewen and RHP Eddy Rodriguez from Ottawa. [7/14]

Cabrera's demotion is probably a bitter pill for those who felt that a little bit of Mazzone magic was supposed to slowly convert him into a reliable rotation starter, and perhaps eventually achieve some sort of latter-day Smoltzean superiority. Instead, the flames of the fireballer's fortunes seem to be guttering. A brief run of success (three quality starts in four) at the end of April and into May didn't survive a trip to the DL with shoulder soreness, and Cabrera's last worthwhile start was more than a month ago. Maybe he'll get his act together in Ottawa, but PECOTA wasn't all that optimistic about him in the first place. Maybe Oliver Perez is the biggest starting pitcher flop to some, and maybe it's Odalis Perez, but Cabrera's been a pretty significant disappointment.

Now, that said, I don't mean to lambaste Mazzone-whatever the famed pitching coach's abilities, neither Mazzone nor any other pitching coach in major league history has had a perfect work with his charges. Mazzone didn't make Pete Smith or Tommy Greene invincible, after all, and the outcome of any didactic exercise relies just as much on the student as it does on the teacher. Cabrera's season has been a mess, while Erik Bedard is making incremental progress. Bruce Chen seems to have gone back down into the same spiral of uselessness that he entered the last time he was one of Mazzone's charges, but perhaps last year's success was a flash in the pan. Rodrigo Lopez has flopped, but he was a bit of a dicey retread in the first place. And Kris Benson, from whom some of us expected a major turnaround? Just more post-surgical mediocrity. It's too soon to say much about the other contributors, but suffice to say that if there was reasonable doubt over whether or not they had enough clay to build a solid rotation with, nobody expected them to wind up with so much mud.

So, how about fixing things up? Since his demotion down to Triple-A, Loewen seems to have responded, going three-for-three in quality starts for the Lynx. That was enough for the Orioles to look past his relatively ugly five-start debut and wishcast him back into readiness, especially after Cabrera's fall from grace. There's no doubt that Loewen is the organization's top pitching prospect, and it's nice to hope that he'll be the apt pupil, but we'll have to see, and he's perhaps as much a mechanical mess as Tommy Greene was.

As for sendy'ing down Rleal, I'll repeat the by-now-dull repetition that most minor league relievers aren't the sorts of guys you should get worked up about. Rleal's older than Rodriguez despite his relative lack of major league experience, and his mid-90s stuff didn't play in the majors, especially not in the strike zone, walking a batter every other inning while striking out fewer than four men per nine. Rodriguez was showing improved command in Ottawa, walking only ten hitters in 36.2 IP while striking out 40, and doing a better job of keeping the ball on the ground. He still throws hard and mixes in a good slider now and again, so you can reasonably hope that he might finally be ready to stick. If he is, so much the better for an Orioles pen that, despite ranking sixth in total innings pitched, has only one pitcher, Chris Ray doing much of note.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Purchased the contract of LHP Craig Breslow from Pawtucket (Triple-A); transferred LHP Lenny DiNardo from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/13]

Recalled RHP Kyle Snyder from Pawtucket; optioned LHP Craig Breslow to Pawtucket. [7/15]

Snyder got crunched again, further deflating whatever scouty expectations that the big galoot was going to somehow answer Boston's need for a fifth healthy arm in its rotation. Maybe David Wells will be back shortly, and maybe he'll be able to contribute, but it would be hard to do worse. If he flops, there's always the hope that Matt Clement bounces back in time to do some good.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Designated RHP Cliff Politte for assignment; recalled RHP Sean Tracey from Charlotte (Triple-A). [7/15]

As much as health is seen as the big deal in the Sox pen, simple failure has been an issue as well. Politte hadn't earned his keep, and with the Sox not quite sure whether or not they can rely on Brandon McCarthy late in a game and still getting familiar with Dave Riske, there's no one established right-handed reliever for late-inning setup duties. The job should be Riske's to lose, but in the meantime, there's an opportunity for Tracey to make a better second impression. The first time around, he earned manager Ozzie Guillen's ire for failing to hit Hank Blalock in a beanball exchange with the Rangers, but to be fair, the guy tried, and if that's the only thing he fails to do in the majors, the Sox shouldn't lose sleep. I'm sure he'll be appropriately bloody-minded his second time 'round, perhaps until somebody explains to Guillen about how Walter Johnson's more pacific inclinations didn't make him less valuable. Regardless of whether or not Guillen's sensitivity training involves any history lessons, Tracey's a fastball-reliant hurler who's best-suited for relief work. Unlike McCarthy, I could see the pen as his final destination, but obviously a lot depends on his ability to fit into the club's team bullpen concept.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Activated OF-R Casey Blake from the 15-day DL; optioned CF-R Franklin Gutierrez to Buffalo (Triple-A). [7/13]

Nothing wrong with this to my way of thinking. Sure, Blake's time in Cleveland should be seen as winding down: he'll be 33 next month, and his option for 2007 can be bought out for the low, low price of $100,000. But in the meantime, it would be best to showcase him a bit before the deadline in case anybody's looking for some right-handed sock for any of their four corners, infield or outfield. Indeed, that cheap option probably makes Blake that much more valuable, since whoever might pick him up for the stretch drive can give him a pretty inexpensive brushoff shortly after the season. That's not to say Blake doesn't have value, but he's not a pennant-winning pickup, just a potentially valuable bit of depth for somebody, or a useful enough filler in the absence of better alternatives.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Recalled RHP Scott Baker from Rochester (Triple-A). [7/13]

Placed OF-R Lew Ford on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); purchased the contract of OF-L Jason Tyner from Rochester. [7/14]

Returned OF-R Shannon Stewart to the 15-day DL (plantar fascia-foot); activated OF-R Rondell White from the 15-day DL. [7/15]

Placed CF-R Torii Hunter on the 15-day DL (stress fracture-foot); purchased the contract of OF-R Josh Rabe from Rochester. [7/16]

Next on Hard Copy: outfield betrayals, and the people who love them. There's something obviously desperate when you have to turn to a 27-year-old organizational soldier like Rabe, let alone the infamous Tyner, but let's face it, Stewart had sucked, Ford had sucked even worse, and if Hunter's going to be missed for the month or two that he was going to be on the DL, their shot at catching up in the wild card chase was already getting pretty long. Yes, the team needs a DH as well as a center fielder, but they already needed a DH. What I think will be interesting isn't what this does to their final record, it's what they should notice is the lack of difference between what someone like Rabe does compared to White or Stewart or Ford. Hunter's the only real loss, because with Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, two of the key players in this club's outfield of the future are just fine, thank you. This isn't a major turning point for the season as much as it represents a convenient end point to which the team can point for its failure to contend, and a point that equally conveniently lets them avoid responsibility for keeping Kyle Lohse through the winter, over-investing in Stewart in the first place, fiddling around with Juan Castro, not finding that aforementioned DH, and basically playing the willing bystander to this season's AL Central title chase. I'm more optimistic about next season, but that's because of Cuddyer and Kubel, and the blossoming of Francisco Liriano, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Signed RHP Sidney Ponson to a major league contract; optioned OF-R Kevin Thompson to Columbus (Triple-A); transferred RHP Darrell Rasner from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/14]

So, Sir Sidney's brand of boldness, another spin with Shawn Chacon, or a hole in the head? Red Sox Nation wants to know. Certainly one of the most amusing aspects of the AL East's pennant race has been the duelling over who gets which particularly crummy player on waivers, with the first team to grab Mike Torrez earning some sort of booby prize. (Don't worry, he's still available.) If you're the optimistic sort, maybe Ponson is simply shy, and needs to be put on a really big stage to shine.

Snidery aside, the man did give a division-leading team six quality starts in thirteen, good enough to be the Cardinals' third-best performer in their rotation. He may not be the pitcher with promise that he used to be, but for waiver scrap, he's a more interesting option than Kyle Snyder, certainly, and as the fifth starter for one of the best lineups in baseball, he may well do, and for much less than Matt Clement or Jumbo Wells.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Activated OF-B Milton Bradley from the 15-day DL; optioned 1B-L Dan Johnson to Sacramento (Triple-A). [7/14]

Johnson endured a godawful start to the season, but as miserable as his March, his April, and his May all were, he did rally to have a nice June (.321/.406/.543) before slumping again right before the break, However, Johnson's real problem is that he's optionable, while Jay Payton isn't, and Bobby Kielty has outplayed all of them. So now that Bradley was ready to come back off of the DL, something had to give, and Johnson was the one easily movable part with performance issues. In his absence, Nick Swisher takes over at first base as the everyday player there, while Bradley moves into right field, and left gets split between Kielty and Payton. There's also talk of playing Mark Ellis at first base, which is unacceptably dumb, but that's the penalty of that "must-have" third lefty/seventh reliever in the pen to keep Ken Macha feeling comfortable about his rotation. Not that Johnson has or ever had tremendous up-side, but he played through vision problems and knee and ankle injuries, and that was the club's call, not his. For his sake, I hope he rebounds in Triple-A and is ready to help down the stretch, but a lot depends on whether or not the club winds up with roster space for him, and that seems unlikely as long as all concerned are skittish about what they'll get out of Esteban Loaiza and Kirk Saarloos.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Optioned OF-L Shin-Soo Choo to Tacoma (Triple-A); outrighted C-R Luis Oliveros to Inland Empire (High-A); purchased the contracts of CF-R Adam Jones and PH-L Greg Dobbs from Tacoma. [7/13]

Let's get this straight: Choo gets 12 plate appearances to wow Mike Hargrove? A dozen? And that's it? And playing center instead of his better position, right? Why even bother? If you're going to change your mind about a guy on the basis of three games' worth of at-bats, why call him up? To please his mom? I'd rather they'd played him in right and asked Mr. Suzuki to kindly move to center field if the club's preference was to field its best possible lineup for the time being, but that isn't what was in the cards.

That's not to say that I'm about to indict the decision to call up Jones. Although it's clear that he's been pushed aggressively, that's part and parcel of the organization's plan for handling many of their top prospects. Jones has only a little more than a season's worth of playing time above A-ball, and a few weeks shy of his 21st birthday, this might seem an especially bold stroke with a converted shortstop only a few months into his career as an outfielder. I expect that he'll pan out, but the danger is that this move may come to be seen as running up a white flag. That isn't the way the Mariners see it, of course, not after their mighty pickup of Eduardo Perez, but that only increases the danger that the prospect might end up being scapegoated. For the time being, Jones won't hit all that well, and it seems like a bad way to introduce the rookie, when the club's teetering on the brink of falling behind the modest ambitions of their AL West brethren. It would be a pity if Jones is too visibly associated with a fall from .500, when he should be a part of an eventually improved ballclub in the years to come. The fault isn't his, it's GM Bill Bavasi's, and to some extent Hargrove's as well where the unwillingness to rely on Choo is concerned.

As for Dobbs, I'm not a big fan of most positionless, powerless lefty hitters, but to be fair, he's a lefty hitter with experience playing both infield corners and some outfield, and that offers Hargrove considerably more flexibility in a bench player than Roberto Petagine. Belatedly, it looks like the Mariners are giving their roster's shape some consideration, but in the same way that they futzed around on the question of finding and sticking with an outfield reserve, I suspect that the willingness to count on Willie Bloomquist to fill every hole has created all sorts of sloppiness when it comes to figuring out who to keep and how to use them.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Recalled CF-B Freddy Guzman from Oklahoma (Triple-A); received cold, hard cash from the Brewers to complete the 5/13 Shouse trade. [7/13]

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Placed RHP Ty Taubenheim on the 15-day DL (staph infection); recalled RHP Vinnie Chulk from Syracuse (Triple-A). [7/15]

Although there's no such thing as a fortuitous bit of flesh-eating buggies, and while it does seem a bit oddly coincidental that Taubenheim's out with the same sort of infection that has kept Alex Rios on the DL, as I noted when he was sent down, Chulk was earning his keep. The fifth spot in the rotation is going to Shaun Marcum, so this actually doesn't hurt the Jays as much as it hurts Taubenheim. Here's hoping he has a full recovery, and doesn't have to deal with some of the other, more socially challenging potential side effects.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Placed RHP John Thomson on the 15-day DL (shoulder soreness); recalled RHP Peter Moylan from Richmond. (Triple-A). [7/15]

Anyone who's still on the Thomson bandwagon in the hope that working with Leo Mazzone or pitching on a contender were going to turn him around are now a good year behind the times. Maybe he'll eventually get his career turned around, and at the very least get back to the mediocrity that was his lot before he ever became a Brave, but at this point, it looks like his career has been derailed by last season's finger injury to a much greater extent than Kevin Tapani's was before his 1997 comeback with the Cubs.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Returned RHP Mark Prior to the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 7/5; recalled INF-R Ryan Theriot from Iowa (Triple-A). [7/14]

You've seen all this before. Predictably enough, the Cubs are putting a brave face on all this, but what's the point? The jig is up, and nothing's so complicated as to require a waddling Belgian or a flower-sniffing shut-in with pretensions of gourmanderie to divine what happened. The Cubs are broken. Not broken down for spare parts, because this club's still hanging on to memories of 1998 or 2003 or the Charge of the Light Brigade, and somehow hoping they'll be able to assemble something meaningful out of what is a team with no real sense of direction. It's part of an inability to address the present.

Will Prior get healthy? When will he pitch next? Why not ask why the club should rely on him, because this is a team that needs to focus on what value they can get out of tearing down a bit in the next two weeks. It won't be able to get value for Prior, or for Kerry Wood, so they're largely irrelevant to what ought to happen between now and the deadline. In the rotation, the Cubs need to be looking at Carlos Marmol and Jae-Kuk Ryu, and Rich Hill. If Prior ever shows up again, that's nice, but the club should stop holding its breath about what one of the former famous guys might do, and stop pretending they were fielding near-contenders. They may even test the patience of the suds-addled happy masses in attendance by daring to rebuild.

It won't be easy, but if Jim Hendry wanted to be serious about it, he'd stop worrying about the ghost of Larry Himes and see what it takes to move Greg Maddux, and recognize that after banking Sammy Sosa at the right time, he should get some benefit of the doubt when it comes to shopping Aramis Ramirez or Michael Barrett, and Juan Pierre or Todd Walker if anyone wants either of them. It means recognizing that this lineup's only problem wasn't just losing Derrek Lee. It means trying to build a team that doesn't need to have everyone have their best possible seasons in order to contend. It means not repeating last winter's major overbidding on relief help. A brilliant campaign to re-stock the shelves and build a better ballclub can be waged: the Cubs have the right combination of notable veterans with something left on the one hand, and intriguing minor league arms throughout the system to offer as throw-ins on the other. With that sort of stuff, Hendry could get into some high-stakes gambling on other people's blue-chip prospects, but it remains to be seen if he can swing the right deal. To some extent, his job may depend on it.

As for Theriot, don't get worked up. He's a utility infielder who can hit (.305/.369/.378), so you can pretty much take it for granted that Dusty Baker doesn't know what he's for. It might make sense to use him to spot for Todd Walker against lefties, but Dusty's not one to get too caught up on merely century-old ideas about platooning and such.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Designated RHP Esteban Yan for assignment; optioned 2B/SS-R William Bergolla to Louisville (Triple-A); placed RHP Matt Belisle on the 15-day DL (strained lower back), retroactive to 7/10; claimed CF-L Brandon Watson off of waivers from the Nationals, and assigned him to Louisville; released OF-B Quinton McCracken. [7/14]

Placed C-R David Ross on the 15-day DL (strained abdomen), retroactive to 7/8; recalled RHP Elizardo Ramirez from Dayton (Low-A). [7/16]

Pretty much just the morning-after purge of the previous excesses, without even the obligatory exchange of phone numbers and phony promises in the case of meat on the hoof like Yan or McCracken. Ramirez slips right back into the rotation, ahead of Joe Mays, and with the Reds skipping Mays for another few days, they might only have two more starts in which to decide whether or not to keep him around. It is interesting that they snagged Watson off of waivers, not because he's a great prospect, but because he makes a nice enough fifth outfielder candidate, and certainly a better warm-body alternative off of the bench than the execrable McCracken or Dewayne Wise. Perhaps some people are stuck on the idea that losing his personal catcher was supposed to rattle Bronson Arroyo, but he shut out the Rockies for seven frames after getting knocked around by the Braves before the break, so let's treat this as a reminder that listening to Keith Woolner on the subject of Catcher ERA is a good idea.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Optioned RHP Yusmeiro Petit to Albuquerque (Triple-A); recalled RHP Chris Resop from Albuquerque. [7/16]

The Tigers get all of the pub over whether they'll go to six starters or not, but the Fish have briefly had their own crisis on this front, as they had kept up Petit while also retaining their other five non-Scuffy starters. However, Joe Girardi doesn't seem to have seriously considered the six-man rotation, and now that Ricky Nolasco has been well rested, he'll be reinserted into the rotation. Although my two cents buys fewer europennies than in days past, register me very firmly in the "put the crack pipe down" camp on the six-man rotation, because the purported excuse-"but we've got a starter to spare"-was what was good enough for the Dodgers back in the late Sixties and early Seventies, back when they initially led us down into our contemporary reign of error with their reliance on an inflexible, maybe-Bill Singer-will-get-it-back five-man rotation.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Placed 3B-R Morgan Ensberg on the 15-day DL (shoulder contusion); recalled OF-L Luke Scott from Round Rock (Triple-A). [7/13]

Announced that UT-R Joe McEwing cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Round Rock. [7/15]

The fun thing about the Astros lineup that's really become exaggerated with the pickup of Aubrey Huff is their potential to bend lineup platoons around all sorts of defensive alignments. Huff can play all four corners, Lance Berkman can move from right (or left) to first, Chris Burke can play second or center, Mike Lamb can start at either first or third, backup catcher Eric Munson can do likewise, and with a seven-position player like Eric Bruntlett on the bench, manager Phil Garner has all sorts of in-game flexibility. Unfortunately, what he's missing from that is enough right-handed hitting to help compensate for some of the platoon issues that arise, so he makes do with what's on tap now during Ensberg's absence, which is something of a Lamb-Bruntlett platoon, with Berkman playing where they don't. That'll change when Ensberg cames back off of the DL, of course, with Berkman probably playing a lot of first, Huff a lot of outfield, but even then, there's the possibility that Lamb might start for Preston Wilson or Ensberg when a particularly tough right-handed pitcher is on the mound. I guess the more I look at it, the more I like what having Huff will do for them, but it involves enduring confidence that Lamb can hit this well for the time being. Garner doesn't seem opposed to change, and given the general willingness of so many Astros players to be flexible about their positions, it certainly affords them the opportunity to field their best lineup on a daily basis.

If there's one player who doesn't really profit from all of this, it's Scott, sort of the Astros' answer to Tuffy Rhodes as far as temporarily famous minor league sluggers go. Great Scott wasn't showing a platoon split down at Round Rock, or not one that most managers would find a ready way to put to work for them, but it seems highly unlikely that he'll get much of a shot in-house at 28. Whatever opportunity that he has to be the next Troy O'Leary is probably going to depend on where he goes as a waiver claim or as a minor league free agent, but if he does something appropriately heroic in the meantime-presumably something more heroic than shooting the ponies-he might get to stick around as an Astro.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Outrighted RHP Lance Carter to Las Vegas (Triple-A). [7/13]

Activated OF-L Ricky Ledee from the 60-day DL; optioned OF-R Matt Kemp to Las Vegas. [7/14]

With relievers being flipped around for good stuff, it seems telling that Carter was allowed to slip through waivers. I'm frankly a bit surprised-you're telling me that people want to pass Jim Brower around out of a scientific need to verify in-person that he's done, while they won't take a look at a veteran major league reliever with a stint as an adequate big league closer? He's not even expensive, with a contract under $600K, and if he's arbitration-eligible, so what? If he flops for you, he's the sort you don't bother with beyond this season.

As for Kemp, his hack-happy ways made for entertaining viewing, but I don't think it's coincidence that a man who swings virtually jumping out of his shoes hadn't hit a home run in a month. He remains an interesting prospect, but with Jose Cruz Jr. already filling the spot-starter role for the Dodgers' pair of injury-prone veterans in center and right fields, and for rookie Andre Ethier in left, and with Ledee moving back into the difficult role as Designated-Pinch-Hitter, there wasn't space. If the Dodgers decide to discard Cruz down the stretch, Kemp might get a chance, but I expect instead that they'll give Jason Repko every opportunity to take Cruz's job from him first. Since Cruz and Kenny Lofton are both potentially free agents after this season, I expect that Kemp's next really good shot at an everyday job will have to wait until next spring.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Placed OF/1B/3B-L Corey Koskie on the 15-day DL (concussion), retroactive to 7/6; recalled OF-L Tony Gwynn Jr. from Nashville (Triple-A). [7/15]

The Brewers may well bleed themselves out of contention, not simply from their injuries, but because of their solutions. Losing Koskie is a setback, to be sure, but how much more damaging is the certainty that they'll be fine with Jeff Cirillo playing third every day in the meantime? In a sense, this is akin to their willingness to ride Geoff Jenkins to oblivion. It isn't that Cirillo is a bad player or Jenkins is a bad player-both have their uses. Cirillo can spank singles, play a decent third, and hurt the occasional lefty, but after almost three seasons' worth of failure as a regular, he's not a great choice to step into a full-time role. Jenkins isn't a bad player in a lineup if you have two significantly better-hitting outfielders in the other two slots, but the Brewers only have one.

The frustrating thing is that the one hitter on the roster who might represent an improvement on either of these guys won't get to play, because there must be some sort of misconception that Corey Hart has to spend a full season on the bench devoted to fasting and prayer before he's allowed to play. He's a terrible third baseman, to be sure, but why he isn't getting at least regular playing time versus lefties at Jenkins' expense (the veteran is hitting only .123/.235/.192 against them)? Why not platoon Jenkins and Cirillo, while also letting Cirillo function as Hart's defensive replacement? That would mean Hart plays third against RHPs, right against lefties, and gets the at-bats he's earned as one of the organization's top hitting prospects.

None of this is meant to ignore that the latest Gwynn seems to have turned into the slaphitter who could. While it's something of a stathead's canard that patient, powerless singles hitters in the minors don't pan out, Gwynn has only ever been that kind of hitter all the way up the chain, and he's continued to show progress as a hitter, hitting .303/.363/.396 this year, his first at Triple-A, including much better work against lefties. Since he's only 23 and can play center well enough, and since he's stealing bases at a 75% clip (24 for 32), he might pan out as somebody's reserve or sometime starter.

NEW YORK METS
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Signed INF-R Edgardo Alfonzo to a minor league contract. [7/15]

Recalled RHP Heath Bell from Norfolk (Triple-A); optioned RHP Henry Owens to Norfolk. [7/16]

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Activated C-R Mike Lieberthal from the 15-day DL; optioned CF-R Chris Roberson to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [7/14]

Activated RHP Brett Myers from the Inactive List, and recalled him from Clearwater (High-A); optioned C-R Carlos Ruiz to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [7/15]

The man's innocent til proven guilty, and while I'm as appalled as anyone over the crimes he's charged with, it's our obligation as citizens to give him the benefit of the doubt and due process. I suppose there's some reassurance to that notion still finding some life in the cradle of liberty. Other people aren't quite so fortunate, of course, but we live in those apocryphal interesting times. For the purposes of this column, what needs noting is that the Phillies' rotation is stronger-Fultz me once, shame on him, Fultz me twice, shame on you. Also, their catching situation remains pretty much what it was, whatever state of repair Lieberthal happens to be in this particular month.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Activated RHP Victor Santos from the 15-day DL. [7/14]

Santos is back, but is headed straight into the bullpen. That might not seem fair, but the Pirates do need to dangle Kip Wells for the time being, and now that Tom Gorzelanny is up, there's no space in the rotation for him. It seems unlikely that he'll be dangled as anything more than a veteran throw-in, but it remains to be seen if Dave Littlefield has even sorted out that he isn't helping himself by keeping Sean Casey, Jeromy Burnitz, or even Craig Wilson. The fact that the Pirates are even considering signing Casey to a multi-year contract indicates the extent to which things are not getting better, and may never.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Activated RHP Doug Brocail from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Scott Cassidy to Portland (Triple-A). [7/14]

I know it's probably not polite to pick on Brocail, since he's one of the few big leaguers left older than I am, and especially considering that he's coming back from a pair of angioplasties, but he was a bad signing this winter, and now that the Padres are in the thick of things and trying to win the division, it seems perfect madness to give him a shot now. Cassidy wasn't pitching as well as his 2.79 ERA would suggest-eight home runs in 38.2 IP is ugly-but this seems like a risk not worth taking.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Recalled OF-B Todd Linden from Fresno (Triple-A); optioned OF-R Jason Ellison to Fresno.

Optioned 1B-R Lance Niekro to Fresno; purchased the contract of 1B-L Chad Santos from Fresno; transferred C-R Mike Matheny from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/16]

First base has been a black hole for the Giants all year, and it says something that they've noticed to the point of calling up Santos. Not that he'll play-no, instead the Giants plan on playing Mark Sweeney and Jose Vizcaino, at least for public attribution. More hopefully, they're doing everything in their power to add a first baseman who might actually help their bid for the NL West title, but we're more than three months into the season, and it seems that they're only just coming to terms with the fact that they've had this problem all along. Niekro was never really an answer, but the club's reluctance to recognize that Fresno fancies lead to morning-after wakeups worshipping at the China Basin has been an ongoing problem in player evaluation.

Witness the latest reinforcement: Santos was hitting .299/.349/.506 in Fresno, .230/.270/.366 in the rest of the PCL. This is a first baseman who's slugged .422 on his minor league career, and who managed to slug .430 for Omaha last year in his seventh (and final) season in the Royals organization. An answer? No more than Niekro was, so consider this another reminder that the time is long since overdue for GM Brian Sabean to fix this problem instead of just hoping that it'll get better.

Perhaps they get it, though. Linden has struggled at Fresno this season, only hitting .278/.385/.449, considerably less than he's done in the past. Unlike others, they've managed to avoid getting too worked up about him, but he's worth having up. With both Steve Finley and Randy Winn ready and able to play center, the Giants really didn't need a spare center fielder like Ellison, and however much Linden's career as a minor league slugger has been a product of his environment, he's still a better bat to carry on the bench to use for the club's first basemen as well as their pitchers (how many teams can you say that about?), as well as for spot-starts on Barry Bonds' rest days.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Signed CF-R Luis Matos; designated OF-R Marlon Byrd for assignment; placed CF-L Brandon Watson on waivers (and lost him, to the Reds); reclaimed Rule 5 pick RHP Chris Booker from the Royals, and assigned him to New Orleans (Triple-A); returned RHP John Patterson to the 15-day DL (strained forearm), retroactive to 7/10. [7/14]

Purchased the contract of RHP Kevin Gryboski from New Orleans. [7/15]

Pretty much a bit of trash in, trash out, as the Nats go over what over junk they haven't cycled through yet in their pen and their outfield. I'm not a big believer that Matos is ever going to pan out, but I can understand why you'd rather take a look at him than keep a thoroughly replaceable speedster like Watson around. I can also see why you'd give up on Byrd, although it'll be interesting to see if anybody ends up claiming him. Certainly, after last week's Reds deal, it makes all sorts of sense to take Booker back and see if he's got anything to offer.

Beyond all of that sort of stuff, the only real issue is how to fill out the rotation now that Patterson is back on the DL. It's expected that Tony Armas Jr. will come off of the DL today, and that Michael O'Connor will be recalled later this week, so the Nats will at least have the bodies. Barring a second miracle from Jim Bowden, I wouldn't expect Washington to be able to peddle Armas unless he looks remarkably good in the next two weeks, and there's not much to be gained in any move involving Pedro Astacio or Ramon Ortiz. So don't act spoiled, D.C., the team's changed to one with a now-strong lineup and a pitching staff populated by castoffs for the most part. It'll pretty much stay that way until Patterson's back, and one man does not a promising pitching staff make. Ideally, the Nats recognize that their park will help them conjure up future Loaizas, but the challenge will be learning not to settle for Astacio or Ortiz.


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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