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July 22, 2006

Transaction Analysis

July 17-21, 2006

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Optioned SS-R Erick Aybar to Salt Lake (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Dustin Moseley from Salt Lake. [7/17]

Recalled LHP Joe Saunders from Salt Lake; optioned RHP Dustin Moseley to Salt Lake. [7/18]

Optioned LHP Joe Saunders to Salt Lake; recalled OF-B Reggie Willits from Salt Lake. [7/19]

Recalled RHP Chris Bootcheck from Salt Lake; optioned OF-B Tommy Murphy to Salt Lake. [7/20]

This is a pretty straightforward management of the twin absences of Kelvim Escobar and Jered Weaver. Escobar returns today against the Royals, and Weaver should be ready to go this weekend as well. Saunders pitched a fine game agains the Indians (seven innings, two runs), Moseley did not but at least managed to throw five innings, so the temporary patchwork left the bullpen completely undisturbed. Credit GM Bill Stoneman for doing a canny job of rotating all of this turnover through three roster spots, moving out an unused infield reserve and an equally underutilized outfielder to keep the pen well-stocked, keep the rotation in play, and not have to sweat the 10-day rule for most minor-league assignments because they'd placed Escobar on the DL. They got the added benefit of seeing that Saunders is as ready as his Bee performance suggests, so if one of the current starters flames out, they know that they're covered.

The only "penalty" is having to carry Willits instead of Murphy for a few days, but because we're talking about the difference between what one or the other does in the three or four at-bats either might get in the next week, there's really no damage done. They might not even have to DFA Moseley if they make a deal, because the Angels are only at 39 on their 40-man roster. This is a team well-prepped to run its roster down the stretch, with the space to even indulge in some blocking of waiver claims in August. It's not a huge thing, but it is the sort of tactical detail that shows how much Stoneman and manager Mike Scioscia are on the ball when it comes to the little things.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Purchased the contract of 3B-R Fernando Tatis from Ottawa (Triple-A); outrighted UT-L Howie Clark to Ottawa; activated RHP Hayden Penn from the DL, and optioned him to Ottawa. [7/21]

I'm not quite sure what point there is to exchanging Clark for Tatis, unless it's to free up Melvin Mora to go back to his roving ways, and have someone there to play third more reliably than Clark would. Tatis' comeback trail isn't really leading to bigger and better things; as a Lynx, he was hitting all of .298/.372/.420, and while there's generally nothing wrong with people who paste two or three singles and draw a walk every ten PAs, keep in mind that Tatis is 3, and still closer to done than to being a plausible retread. Besides, the Orioles have made their massive mistake with Melvin Mora's three-year contract extension, so there isn't even a variant like building a Brandon Fahey/Tatis platoon at third, not that such a thing would be desirable. Branando Fatis?

BOSTON RED SOX
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Optioned LHP Javier Lopez to Pawtucket (Triple-A). [7/17]

Activated OF-R Wily Mo Pena from the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Jermaine Van Buren from Pawtucket; designated UT-L Willie Harris for assignment. [7/18]

Signed RHP Josh Beckett to a three-year contract extension, with a club/vesting option for 2010. [7/19]

Placed RHP Tim Wakefield on the 15-day DL (strained rib cage), retroactive to 7/18. [7/20]

Announced that UT-L Willie Harris has accepted an assignment to Pawtucket. [7/21]

The bad news very definitely outweighs the good, as the Red Sox are now short the starter they most certainly can't replace. Wakefield had been that paragon of knuckly reliability, taking his turn every fifth day and serving as a pen-saving workhorse. In his absence, what will Sox fans get? Premature activation for David Wells? (I know, those are probably fighting words for the big guy.) Matt Clement is still in that state of long-toss limbo, and Dave Pauley isn't earning his keep with the PawSox. I suppose it could have come down to Abe Alvarez or Matt Ginter, neither of whom might seem all that tantalizing, but this team's already using Kyle Snyder out of a particularly fanciful bit of wishcasting that big bodies can produce big numbers. As it turns out, the team is turning to someone called Kason Gabbard to start Saturday, about which it can be said that he's left-handed, and that he's got a great supporting-character science-fiction sort of name, as in "Kason Gabbard has been sent to hunt Han Solo to his death!" (After which Han shoots first, and exeunt Senor Gabbard.) I suppose that there's solace to be found in Beckett's humiliating the generally unflappably bad Royals on Wednesday, apparently as his way of celebrating his extension, but generally speaking, the rotation situation is bad and getting worse.

As far as clearing away the roster's undergrowth, allowing nine runs in 8 1/3 innings is always a great way to lose your job, regardless of whether or not you're left-handed and throw over 90, so Lopez won't be missed. Dumping Harris to keep Gabe Kapler, even with the better Wily Mo Pena back, should serve as a reminder that this isn't the Olympics, and nobody gets form points for making sure you've got an equal mix of lefty and righty bats on the bench. Anyway, it isn't even necessarily a case of redundancy; Kapler is more of a lucky charm as opposed to Pena's more pointed value as the club's fourth outfielder and designated right-handed masher.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Released RHP Cliff Politte. [7/20]

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Acquired RHP Brian Sikorski from the Padres for RHP Mike Adams; optioned LHP Rafael Perez to Buffalo (Triple-A). [7/18]

Traded RHP Bob Wickman to the Braves for C-R Max Ramirez. [7/20]

Recalled RHP Jason Davis from Buffalo. [7/21]

Ramirez is a particularly tasty return on Wickman. Yes, he's still very raw as a catcher, working on basic receiving skills like framing pitches, as well as his throwing. He's also only 21 and hitting .285/.408/.449 in his full-season debut, so the Venezuelan import instantly become the Indians' best (and only) catching prospect. It's probably too soon to expect that he'll be in the team's catcher in Year X, at which point Victor Martinez does a Ted Simmons and moves to first base or DH or whatever, but at least now the organization has somebody about which it makes sense to wishcast that. Nothing against Kelly Shoppach, but I wouldn't move Martinez out from behind the plate to make way for 500 Shoppach plate appearances when you could instead get a first baseman's bat into the lineup as well as Martinez's.

Adding Sikorski is a nice little pickup. It's not out of the question that the Japanese Leagues re-import can help a major-league bullpen, and now that the Indians are out of it and pondering next year, there's little harm in taking a spin with the journeyman to see if he can stick. Adams was just one more of a kind that the Indians already have a few too many of (see Jeremy Guthrie, or the recently re-arrived Jason Davis). Although Sikorski joins Rafael Betancourt and Guillermo Mota as pen vets, none of them will be getting the save opportunities that were once Wickman's. Instead, the Indians are taking a look at what Fausto Carmona will do with the role. Since Carmona is years away from arbitration eligibility, it's not only a sensible decision in terms of the talent on hand, it should also prove to be an economical one.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Activated DH-B Dmitri Young from the 15-day DL; optioned 2B/SS-B Ramon Santiago to Toledo (Triple-A). [7/21]

Jim Leyland's doing that "one heartbeat, I'm a believer in the guys I've got" rah-rah act, which is admirable, but while it's nice to have Young back and active, I remain concerned that the Tigers could really use a bat from the left side of the plate that can actually play a position. Maybe I'm going a little too Eeyore on the subject, but let's face it, nobody really expects Marcus Thames to slug .600 forever, do they? It doesn't have to be a major acquisition, because I think Young will be useful enough from the DH slot, but they just ought to go out and get some left-handed fourth outfielder type who can put a charge in the ball against those RHPs who have trouble with lefties. Ideally, someone better than Todd Hollandsworth, maybe something along the lines of a Daryle Ward or Matt Stairs. Because for all of Leyland's noisemaking, remember that he was also more than happy to get Darren Daulton for the stretch drive back in the day, and he wasn't afraid to ask Daulton to play an execrable right field because it was the only place he fit in the lineup. By that standard, having Ward or Stairs around for some spot duty in either outfield corner would do quite nicely.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Placed RHP Scott Elarton on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 7/17; recalled RHP Joe Nelson from Omaha (Triple-A). [7/18]

Acquired 2B-R Jeff Keppinger from the Mets for 2B-B Ruben Gotay. [7/19]

Recalled RHP Runelvys Hernandez from Omaha; placed OF-R Reggie Sanders on the 15-day DL (groin), retroactive to 7/16. [7/21]

Losing Elarton and Sanders are no laughing matters, especially in Elarton's case, because he might be out for the season, mostly meaning that Hernandez is back to take some more lumps, although last night's start against the Angels was certainly promising, not to mention a fillip to A's fans everywhere. It's particularly disappointing to lose Sanders at this time of year, when his relatively modest contract and his general ability to provide power might be attractive to all sorts of contenders. The Royals being the Royals, instead of using this as an excuse to bring up Justin Huber, they're instead plugging Emil Brown back into right field and celebrating their opportunity to play both Doug Mientkiewicz and Matt Stairs to cover first base and DH. I'm not sure what master plan there is, but this may well drive away more of the hardy few who aren't busy distracting themselves by telling Junior that they're there to watch the fountains.

What's a little more happenstance than a source of happiness is the bizarre exchange of Gotay for Keppinger. Keppinger is 26, and he's hitting a whopping .300/.353/.359 at Triple-A. In the majors that's, what, .270/.285/.280? Surely Keppinger brings something else to the table, right? Well, he never strikes out, yes (21 times in 366 PA), and he can bunt (12 sacs at last count), but he doesn't run well, has no power, doesn't walk and isn't supposed to be the second coming of Mazeroski. That isn't even a Bobby Richardson comeback, let alone a prospect. If Dayton Moore thinks this is the solution to the organization's ongoing problem with finding a lasting solution at second base, Royals fans might just find that Moore is less.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Jason Windsor from Sacramento (Triple-A); optioned LHP Ron Flores to Sacramento; designated OF-L Doug Clark for assignment. [7/17]

Windsor is a modest prospect as these things go, a polished college pitcher out of Cal State Fullerton, but I wonder how much his call-up is a matter of looking at the schedule and seeing how often they can skip their fifth slot, and a subsequent decision to put Kirk Saarloos in the pen, where he can help clean up after Windsor as well as the still-struggling Esteban Loaiza. As is, Windsor will have to face some of the league's best teams, so it isn't like they're breaking him in all that gently. Instead, this appears to be a balance struck in trying to manage limited resources, and it looks like they're happier with Saarloos as a utility pitcher.

As for Windsor, he's not your run-of-the-mill Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to be named later. Not overpowering, he instead relies on command of his breaking stuff and a nice change-up. Between the Texas League and the PCL, he rattled off a 12-1 record, giving up 102 hits in 99 2/3 innings, striking out 110 and walking 30, while allowing 4.1 runs per nine. He was doing a good job of keeping the ball on the ground, allowing only five home runs while notching nearly two groundouts for every flyball out. He can dent bread, and he might have better upside than Saarloos, but he's not going to turn into the next Tim Hudson.

The subtext? Don't count on Rich Harden starting another game this season. Saarloos was meant to be a temporary fix, and once it became clear the situation wasn't temporary, the A's decided to make a move with better promise than making a deal for someone like Cory Lidle. I wouldn't blame them, even if there's an obvious financial component to the decision: there's no way that Lidle or his like would be worth the difference in cost, considering he's not particularly likely to do any better than Windsor.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Acquired OF-R Justin Ruggiano from the Dodgers to complete the 6/27 trade involving Mark Hendrickson and Toby Hall. [7/20]

As Hendrickson continues to struggle--shocking that, eh?--there's really no way for Tampa to lose in this deal. Ruggiano's pretty nifty as throw-ins go. Although he's 24 and hitting just .260/.367/.438 in Jacksonville after making it up to Double-A last year, this is only his second full season as a pro. I'm not expecting greatness, but there's a chance that he'll wind up as a useful big-league reserve. Besides, by moving over to Montgomery, he might help the Biscuits overcome the indignity of baseball's worst hats--really, would Hardee's make its softball team endure those?--and help them beat Ruggiano's former team in the Southern Division of the Southern League in the season's second half.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Recalled LHP C.J. Wilson from Oklahoma (Triple-A); optioned RHP Scott Feldman to Oklahoma. [7/18]

Although a minor tweak--yippee, the Rangers have a second lefty in the pen! Now they can make sure to push the cutoff in beer sales later into the night with another situational pitching change!--the aspect of this that I find interesting is that Feldman lost out to journeymen Rick Bauer and Bryan Corey. Feldman probably lost whatever confidence that manager Buck Showalter had in him in a stretch of interleague play at the end of June, giving up seven runs in 4 2/3 innings while losing a pair of games. He was relatively hittable from that point forward, so it wasn't all just a weekend of regrets in Denver. Corey hasn't been that great, but when the margins are this slim, why not take up hair-splitting? We'll see if Wilson can be an asset as a second lefty, but this season's move to make him a full-time reliever has generated good results in the minors (23 Ks in 14 1/3 IP), and if he can earn Showalter's trust quickly, he might stick as a tactical weapon with particular value against the lefty-heavy lineups of the Rangers' divisional rivals.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Designated 1B/3B-R Shea Hillenbrand for assignment. [7/19]

Purchased the contract of C/1B-R Jason Phillips from Triple-A Syracuse. [7/20]

Traded 1B/3B-R Shea Hillenbrand and RHP Vinny Chulk to the Giants for RHP Jeremy Accardo. [7/21]

I'm already referring to this as J.P. Ricciardi's Jeremy Giambi moment, in that this appears to be a deal that makes very little sense on paper, but something went very, very wrong in the relationship between player and team, something noxious enough that we may have to wait for the poopadoodle to turn to rock for dissection by archaeologists before it all gets sorted out. I was ambivalent about the motivations behind the Giambi deal, but I think it's clear there's nothing like the self-destructive elements of that particular situation, at least anywhere beyond a question of personality. I don't think anybody's in the right here, but if the most basic objective was protecting the authority of your manager in a pennant race, then I can understand a decision to let the devil take the brittle sensibilities of a barely-adequate DH.

Although Chulk isn't chopped liver, the Jays have at least managed to salvage something from this scenario by picking up Accardo. He's been moderately effective for the Giants this season, better than a 4.91 ERA might make you think, and anybody with a 5-1 strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio is tasty. Accardo's combination of low-90s heat and a tricksy cutter could make him a particularly effective reliever for years to come, and I suppose it doesn't hurt that he's 24 and a ways from arbitration eligibility.

As for life the morning after, I suppose there's some hope that Phillips frees up Gregg Zaun for some DH work, because lord ha'mercy should they count on Phillips for anything more than backup catcher duties. More regularly, you'll see Eric Hinske filling the DH role against right-handed pitchers, but after Alex Rios comes back from the DL, the job may well get split up between Hinske, Frank Catalanotto and Reed Johnson, because they can't all play left field.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Placed INF-L Craig Counsell on the 15-day DL (fractured rib); recalled SS-L Stephen Drew from Tucson (Triple-A). [7/15]

Placed 1B-R Tony Clark on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder); recalled RHP Tony Pena from Tucson (Triple-A). [7/18]

Optioned RHP Edgar Gonzalez to Tucson; purchased the contract of OF-R Carlos Quentin from Tucson. [7/20]

Setting aside that teal and copper aren't my colors, is it okay to ask for an early seat on the bandwagon? This is exactly what the D'backs should be doing, and although I like Counsell a lot as a regular, and although I'm not quite as excited about Quentin's prospects as some are, I simply love that the Snakes are promoting from within and trying to win now. A recognition that they can move Shawn Green and perhaps even Counsell and still win this division represents a bold, sign-post sort of moment that fans can understand. This might be the sort of exchange that brings Diamondbacks fans to the place that so many A's fans or Red Sox fans are, recognizing that it isn't whether or not you add famous people or salary, it's whether or not you're improving the team with real talent. GMs like Theo Epstein and Billy Beane enjoy that sort of confidence for good reason, but the next couple of months could buy Josh Byrnes that same freedom of action. Byrnes shouldn't get all of the credit, of course; a healthy share of it belongs to Scouting Director Mike Rizzo for picking both Drew and Quentin in the draft, as well as first baseman Conor Jackson.

Drew has done more than enough at the plate to erase any memory of his holdout. As a Sidesnakeling, he's hit .284/.340/.462. This might seem like something of a trial by fire considering he's only in his second season as a pro, but Counsell will be a free agent after this season, so beyond this representing a challenge to see if Drew's ready to help the team right now, it's also an early audition for making the job his going into 2007. There's reason for doubt--Drew was hitting just .253/.324/.437 against PCL right-handers, and although he's considered a competent shortstop, he's not going to be Ozzie Smith. If he proves reasonably ready, it would give the Snakes a little more freedom of action in sorting through what they might want to trade for, if anything. If Drew seems just semi-ready and gets optioned back once Counsell returns, there's no harm in that, because then if anything happened to either Counsell or Orlando Hudson, the D'backs would still be able to plug in somebody better than your average utility infielder.

Quentin is a trendy stathead choice for being a massively huge prospect, in no small part because of his on-base skills. He was hitting .289/.424/.489 for Tucson, and he is only a month shy of his 24th birthday, still young for a college player (Stanford). His minor-league career is such that you see "hitter," so what am I kibbitzing about? I guess it's just the expectations, which will be ridiculously high for two different groups. For the people who don't get minor-league park factors, they'll see Quentin as a ready-now bopper instead of someone who's had the benefit of playing in bandboxes all the way up to the majors. Lancaster, El Paso and Tucson are three lovely places to be something other than a pitcher, and although the Financial Conglomerate Hot Tub (ballpark included) is another great place to hit, it would be reasonable to expect that facing better pitchers isn't going to help Quentin at the start. His top comps are Dwight Evans and Jesse Barfield, which seems about right, in that Quentin covers ground well in right, although he lacks either player's capacity to deal death with his right hand in the form of baserunner kills. I guess if I'm picking a particular nit, it's my concern that he'll be more like Barfield and flame out shortly after 30, than Evans, a remarkable athlete despite also having so many of the "old player's skills" that might have tipped off some about Barfield's relatively quick decline. Still, if Quentin has a Barfield-like career, that's pretty sweet, and certainly represents an improvement over what's left of Green from here on out.

I suppose all of this speaks to the relative unimportance that I attach to "losing" Clark. That's because they already lost the guy they had last season as soon as it ended, and Clark went back to being Tony Clark. Jackson isn't slugging much for a first baseman, but the Snakes do need to see if he's really going to be the answer at the position with Chris Carter waiting in the wings, so no time like the present.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Acquired RHP Bob Wickman from the Indians for C-R Max Ramirez; purchased the contract of RHP Jason Shiell from Richmond (Triple-A). [7/20]

Optioned RHP Kevin Barry to Richmond. [7/21]

In far worse straits than the Reds when it comes to relief pitching, the Braves needed to do something, so you can understand their going out and getting an established closer. But if you're a Reds fan going "huh?" because it's just this one player, keep in mind that the Braves gave up something of value, but also something they could afford to give up. Ramirez would be a top catching prospect in a lot of organizations, but in a Braves organization that already has Brian McCann catching the big-league staff at the tender age of 22, as well as Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 21 and already in Double-A, what were the Braves really going to be able to do with a third interesting young catcher?

That said, I'm not sure Wickman is the answer to all of their problems. That's not just because, where relief pitching is concerned, the Braves' problems are legion, but also because Wickman hasn't really been all that effective this year. Ideally, Wickman provides a stabilizing element that allows everyone else to thrive in other roles. What Bobby Cox really needs is for Wickman's arrival to propel Ken Ray and Macay McBride earlier into ballgames, and hopefully help both Jorge Sosa and Oscar Villarreal get their acts together. There's the talent here to at least have a functional pen, but it's far from guaranteed, even with Wickman.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Activated RHP Mark Prior from the 15-day DL; optioned INF-R Ryan Theriot to Iowa (Triple-A). [7/21]

Oh, look, he's back. This only matters in two ways: first, if Prior shows that he's healthy. First, it might actually encourage GM Jim Hendry to finally get a deal to put Greg Maddux on some overly-expectant contender for whatever goodies he can get. Second, who knows, maybe a healthy Prior will do feats of strength, like pitch consistently and well, and even win games on those rare days the Cubs actually score a few runs. I can't say I have this dream, but you know somebody's dreaming it, right?

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Placed SS/2B-L Omar Quintanilla on the 15-day DL (swollen ankle); recalled 1B/OF-R Ryan Shealy and RHP Manuel Corpas from Colorado Springs (Triple-A); purchased the contract of INF-L Jason Smith from Colorado Springs; optioned RHPs David Cortes and Scott Dohmann to Colorado Springs. [7/17]

Losing patience with Cortes and Dohmann is probably doubly overdue, and Corpas is pretty interesting if you like pitchers whose change of pace from a blazing mid-90s fastball is either an improved sinker or another blazing mid-90s fastball. A Panamanian stringbean, Corpas was cauterizing bats in both Double- and Triple-A, striking out 42 in 45 1/3 innings, showing outstanding command with only six walks, and allowing 27 hits and only one homer while logging 19 saves. Command has previously been considered his major issue, not in terms of walks, but missing in the strike zone. It's the improved sinker that seems to have made the difference, because Corpas is getting three times as many groundball outs as flyballs. I don't know if Rockies fans remember Jose Jimenez with any fondness, but Corpas could be equally as stingy at keeping the ball on the ground, and better at overpowering people at the plate. That's a combo that might do quite nicely in Denver, or anyplace else for that matter.

The news move in the group is bringing up Shealy, but it might only be as a taster for teams interested in acquiring the young slugger. He wasn't having a monster season for the Sky Sox, hitting .284/.351/.568. As promising as that power looks, 20 walks in 249 PA is adequate at best, and if he's hitting .284 in one of the PCL's best hitters' parks, what should you expect from him at some other altitude? Add in that most of the damage was done against lefties--six of his 15 home runs, in less than a quarter of his PA--and that he's coming up on 27 (I'm using "young" a bit loosely today), and you've got somebody who isn't good enough to force Todd Helton out of town on his own, and who probably won't be much more than a quality platoon player for somebody else.

Swapping out Quintanilla for Smith doesn't matter much in the great scheme of things, save if you're one of those people who thinks Quintanilla's prospect status has legs. Me, I think it's time to start referring to his future as "stumpy," and throw him in with Angel Berroa, Mark Teahen and Jesus Colome on the list of "dealt A's prospects who subsequently didn't turn out to be prospects." Buyers should take a hint from Santayana, and beware the danger of repeating history when it comes to talking to Billy Beane during the next week.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Recalled RHP Matt Albers from Corpus Christi (Double-A); optioned LHP Wandy Rodriguez to Round Rock (Triple-A). [7/20]

This is really just preliminary to the reactivation of Brandon Backe off of the 60-day DL and onto the active roster today, and the man named Wandy was the the pitcher doomed to come out of the rotation to make space for him. Will Albers stick in the pen? Maybe, but figuring that out isn't the real problem. Instead, the Astros have to sort out what to do with their 40-man roster, which is already at capacity. There's plenty of slack in their 40-man--Humberto Quintero? Charlton Jimerson? Mike Gallo?--so outrighting one of that ilk seems like a pretty good idea, but there is the danger that somebody optionable, like Fernando Nieve, will get sent down. It would be something of a pity, in that nobody in the Astros pen has genuinely done bad work.

That said, Albers is one of the organization's top pitching prospects, and sort of in the same way that they tried to break in Roy Oswalt, it looks like they want to give Albers a shot in the pen initially. He's got a fastball consistently clocked in the low 90s, and he can throw both the slider and curve for strikes. Down in Double-A, he'd been pretty dominant, even allowing for a unusually high number of unearned runs allowed: 3.1 runs allowed per nine, 96 hits (only four out of the park) in 116 innings, and a 95-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Considering that opposing hitters were slugging only .322 against him, it should not surprise that he was posting better than a 2-1 groundball out/flyball out ratio. Like some of the organization's other farmhands, he's a bit on the short side, something in the vicinity of six feet. Although he's only 23, the Astros have been patient with him: in 2004 he was "suspended" for a drinking problem, and spent the month in question in rehab. Questions about his commitment to his craft certainly seem to have been answered with his breakthrough in this, his Double-A debut season, so here's hoping he enjoys his time in The Show, and being around people like the Rocket. You'll be hearing more about him, to be sure.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Activated RHP Tomo Ohka from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Zach Jackson to Nashville (Triple-A). [7/18]

The Brewers' rotation nightmare seems to be nearly over. Ohka seemed fine against the Giants on Tuesday, and is saying all the right things about how his arm is feeling. We should see Ben Sheets reactivated over the weekend as well. Jackson didn't embarrass himself the way that so many of the other alternatives had, maintaining his top prospect status while getting a quality taste of life in the big leagues. Also all the way out of the rotation is Rick Helling, who's back in the pen and doing good stuff for Milwaukee. That's important, considering how poorly the Brewers' pen has pitched. Now that Derrick Turnbow has gotten combustible, there's something remarkably sad about their pondering letting Dan Kolb show how very little he has to offer. What's the point of tricking the Braves into believing that Kolb was valuable if you actually wind up believing that yourself?

NEW YORK METS
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Acquired 2B-B Ruben Gotay from the Royals for 2B-R Jeff Keppinger. [7/19]

Either, either, neither, neither, let's call the whole thing off. Gotay has the advantage of being younger and faster than Keppinger, and even more dangerous at the plate, but not exactly enough for it to matter. Let's face it, the guy's not going to replace Anderson Machado as the club's second baseman of the future, and while Omar Minaya "won" this exchange, it's one of those deals where it's more important to ask not whether you win or lose, but why you ever played the game.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Activated LHP Alan Embree from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Brian Sikorski for assignment. [7/17]

Acquired RHP Mike Adams from the Indians for RHP Brian Sikorski. [7/18]

Recalled RHP Mike Thompson from Portland (Triple-A); released 3B-R Vinny Castilla. [7/19]

Purchased the contract of 1B/3B-R Justin Leone from Portland; recalled OF-L Terrmel Sledge from Portland; optioned RHPs Mike Thompson and Brian Sweeney to Portland. [7/21]

This might seem a bit strange, in that Sikorski was actually pitching pretty well, a particularly bad day against the Braves notwithstanding. However, at the point that Sikorski was being dumped, the Pads were already worrying about how they'd manage if Chris Young's MRI on his foot Monday night was particularly grim, and they were going to have to make a move to bring up yet another pitcher to start in Young's place. Sikorski was basically screwed by the decision to stick with Doug Brocail's comeback from heart trouble (coming back from death's door is a better story arc than coming back from Japan, I guess), and also by Jon Adkins' surprisingly solid work. It also helps that Cla Meredith looks ready, and once token lefty Embree was ready to come off of the DL, Sikorski was little more than an interesting experiment on a team that really doesn't have the space on the roster or in the standings to indulge scientific curiosity. Dumping him and getting the optionable and semi-interesting Adams makes for a solid exchange.

In Young's absence, you could do a lot worse than Thompson. He's now given the team five quality starts in ten filling in for first Woody Williams and now Young, and that's good stuff from your sixth starter. He's not pitching so well that you'd automatically plug him in ahead of Chan Ho Park, but it isn't Thompson's performance that the Pads are worried about, not when they're more concerned about Young's foot and whether or not the real Jake Peavy is ever going to stand up.

Discarding Castilla might be considered the news item, but I took it as something of a fait accompli, with the only question being whether or not the Pads would bring in Temple Grandin to help him feel better about it. In his place, the Pads will get by with Mark Bellhorn and Geoff Blum, and possibly even Leone. A salvage project who's escaped from Seattle, Leone is no spring chicken now that he's 29, but he was hitting .282/.385/.470 in Portland. The patience--49 unintentional walks in 377 PA--is nice, and he doesn't have platoon issues, but he does have an annoying tendency to end innings (15 GIDPs), and third base isn't a position he's really very good at. However, Blum can obviously be reserved for defensive replacement work to help compensate for either Leone or Bellhorn.

Bringing up Sledge creates an interesting dilemma, because it won't be long before Ben Johnson is ready to come off of the DL, with Ryan Klesko in the offing by some point in August. Klesko would probably box out Sledge, but if they instead deal the old man once he proves that he's healthy, having Sledge on the bench would be pretty tasty. Sledge was hitting .283/.378/.474 as a Beaver, and he hits lefty; Johnson can play center, run and offer some right-handed pop. That sounds like an excellent pair of outfield reserves for the stretch drive, and both have had the advantage of getting regular playing time in Portland. They can't keep everybody, of course, but when they're all better than Eric Young, you have to wonder how long Young will last. Of course, all of this depends on the Pads sticking with "only" 11 pitchers.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Acquired 1B/3B-R Shea Hillenbrand and RHP Vinny Chulk from the Blue Jays for RHP Jeremy Accardo. [7/21]

I don't know if Brian Sabean is Irish, but he's certainly favored by fortune--as desperate as the Giants were for a first baseman, they effectively needed somebody to fall out of the sky, and one Blue Jay clubhouse drama later, voila!

That said, Hillenbrand is a patch, not a savior, so while this team was desperate, getting Hillenbrand will not spare the Giants from disaster if anything, off-field or on, involving Barry Bonds winds up keeping Bonds off the field. The average first baseman posts an Equivalent Average of .276, and Hillenbrand is at .275. That's not a cause for disappointment, either: we projected him at .259, and he posted a .279 EqA last year, so he's well within his performance parameters. I do think that someone with his combination of making contact and making contact with power is perhaps particularly important tactically to a Giants lineup that revolves around having Bonds on base two or three times a night, but the subject of whether or not lineup synergies exist is one of those areas where I wander off the reservation, and many of my more sensible colleagues politely disagree. It's also worth noting that although Hillenbrand is probably little more than an average first baseman offensively, that's still better than Mark Sweeney (.260 actual, .278 projected), Lance Niekro (.227 actual, .255 projected), or Jose Vizcaino (.218 actual, .229 projected). Relative improvement is still improvement, after all, and in a clubhouse like the Giants', does anybody think whatever drama Hillenbrand brings to the table will matter?

Getting Chulk was a nice little evener, since I wouldn't bet against his helping the Giants more down the stretch than Accardo would have, and if Accardo has greater future value, this team has few tomorrows left to enjoy, and a single reliever isn't worth much when it comes to beautifying the ugliness of a post-Barry future. Coming to the National League and pitching in Telecommunications JumboCorp Park won't hurt, either, and if Chulk gets back to pitching well from the stretch, he could end up being a key contributor down the stretch.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Released 1B/OF-R John Gall. [7/19]

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Activated RHP Tony Armas Jr. from the 15-day DL; designated 1B/C-R Matt LeCroy for assignment. [7/18]

Recalled LHP Mike O'Connor from New Orleans (Triple-A); placed UT-R Damian Jackson on the 15-day DL (esophageal spasms), retroactive to 7/8. [7/18]

Placed RF-R Jose Guillen on the 15-day DL (elbow soreness), retroactive to 7/19; granted C/1B-R Matthew LeCroy his unconditional release; purchased the contract of UT-R Melvin Dorta from Harrisburg (Double-A). [7/20]

The injuries to Guillen and Jackson weren't scripted, but the post-break reassembly of the rotation was, so it's a bit of a mixed bag for the Nats. In Guillen's absence, it looks like Alex Escobar will get the bulk of the playing time, but don't be surprised if you see a bit of Daryle Ward, not just because of the kind of season he's having, but because Escobar has all of the durability you would expect of a majo- league outfielder with porcelain instead of cartilage in his joints. If you're fretting about whatever lost opportunity there might be to deal Guillen before the deadline, don't. Players on the DL can be dealt, but that's an academic question compared to trying to determine which factor makes Guillen more of an entirely unpalatable alternative to a contender--his feeble hitting, or his reputation for bad citizenship.

As for LeCroy, whatever Frank Robinson's feelings on the subject, this shouldn't be an Old Yeller scenario. LeCroy pretty much remains what he's always been, a modest right-handed power source who can play a little first base, DH, or catcher in an emergency. The Braves could use him as a platoon partner for Adam LaRoche, for example, and he'd even given Bobby Cox that third-catcher reassurance that the veteran manager feels the need for every now and again. Heck, why not the Blue Jays, now that they're Hillenbrand-free?


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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