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August 7, 2006

Transaction Analysis

August 4-7, 2006

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Optioned RHP Greg Jones to Salt Lake (Triple-A); recalled OF-B Tommy Murphy from Salt Lake. [8/5]

Jones almost got a complete week in The Show, but perhaps predictably, the 12th pitcher only got in for a lone appearance, tossing a pair of innings in Friday's loss before getting shipped out for a backup center fielder. Murphy's a nice enough reserve as these things go, and while this has been a nice season for Juan Rivera to make it plain how much the Angels had come out ahead on the Jose Guillen deal, the one wrinkle is that he's not really someone you want to play in center. With Darin Erstad on the DL, it's really a choice between Murphy and Reggie Willits for who they keep in the job. Neither is a top prospect, but Willits is fast, and Murphy's a switch-hitter with modest pop, so it's a sixes or halvesies sort of choice for Mike Scioscia as far as which he wants up. I wouldn't infer from this latest flip-flop that Murphy's ahead--Willits has to spend ten days down after being exchanged for Saunders, unless there's a move involving an injury. This move was about the pitching staff. Now that the rotation is more than stabilized by the continuing good work from Joe Saunders, and Kevin Gregg seems to have shown that he's fine, there wasn't a need for a seventh reliever, and Salt Lake's got the Pacific North Division to win. There, Jones has been the pen's most reliably effective reliever, so for the Buzz, it's no laughing matter over whether or not they got him back.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Traded C-R Javy Lopez to the Red Sox with cash for a PTBNL or cash; signed C-R Chris Widger to a major league contract; placed RHP Kris Benson on the 15-day DL (elbow tendonitis), retroactive to 7/26; activated RHP LaTroy Hawkins from the Bereavement List. [8/4]

This is nothing less than embarrassing for the Orioles. Although some might point out that trading Lopez now is essentially irrelevant to the team's near-term future, the problem is that they had an opportunity this past winter and spring to deal him for value. If they were holding onto Lopez, thinking that their 2006 season mattered much in the grand scheme of things, then there's a serious problem recognizing reality hereabouts. Now, they'll have to take what they can get now that they've run down his value because they couldn't quite sort out who to play between Lopez, Jeff Conine, and Kevin Millar, even on a nowhere team with a weak lineup. If snagging Corey Patterson was a good example of grabbing a prospect when his value was down, dealing Lopez under these circumstances is a textbook example of what little you get for holding onto a veteran for too long.

Meanwhile, with Benson's meltdown, the O's get to accept that another one of their big ideas hasn't been a complete success, as Benson has started to look like one of those pitchers that Leo Mazzone can't fix, and in his absence, the Orioles have had to rely on Russ Ortiz and Bruce Chen, two more of Mazzone's charges that he hasn't fixed. There's talk of bringing Daniel Cabrera back, and Cabrera has shown improved control in his last four starts in Ottawa, walking only nine in his last 24.2 innings, while striking out 27. Benson should also be ready to come off of the DL after a two-week hiatus, so as squalid as the situation might be in the meantime, the O's should be able to straighten out their nest soon enough.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Designated RHP Bryan Corey for assignment; purchased the contract of C-R Corky Miller from Pawtucket (Triple-A). [8/5]

Acquired C-R Javy Lopez and cash from the Orioles for a PTBNL or cash; designated C-R Ken Huckaby for assignment. [8/4]

Well, thank you Birds for the assist in the universal fight against the Evil Empire. I really doubt the player to be named later will amount to much, although given the slim pickings in the Orioles' organization, they'd be grateful for what few leavings they can get from anybody. I'm sure voting Mike Flanagan a playoff share would be a lovely gesture. Anyway, having gotten Lopez for nothing and sorted out that you'd rather have Corky Miller as a third reserve than the entirely punchless Huckaby, the Red Sox have a pretty good catching situation for all of their troubles. Lopez isn't a great catcher, and his .253 EqA this season is exactly the same as that of all catchers collectively, and who knows what he'll do with the Monster and meaningful at-bats. To compensate for his defensive limitations, Miller's a good catch-and-throw type, and at any rate, Doug Mirabelli's ankle injury seems to be likely to fade by Thursday or so. Credit Theo Epstein for getting a nice plug. Unlike the situation in the rotation, where waiting on various injuries to heal (or not) has the Sox suffering down the stretch with David Wells, Kyle Snyder, and Jason Johnson, the catching situation was something that was able to be fixed up quickly and relatively cleanly.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Recalled RHP Jose Veras from Columbus (Triple-A); designated OF-L Bubba Crosby for assignment. [8/4]

This latest roster zag, to a twelfth pitcher, shouldn't really shock unless you were one of the Army of Bubba. Let's face it, Johnny Damon is going to play almost every inning in center that he can, especially until Hideki Matsui is ready to come off of the DL, and given the relative usefulness of having Crosby around as a fresh pair of legs, or Veras as the extra reliever whose spot will eventually go to Octavio Dotel, I can understant the switch, even if it still leaves Andy Phillips in place, and he has even less tactical or bench value than Crosby. A nice minor league free agent signing this past winter--there's nothing in the rules says the Yankees can't shop in those aisles--Veras was having a good year closing for the Clippers (58 Ks and 16 walks in 52.2 IP, 2.9 runs allowed per nine), although his lack of a breaking pitch was letting righties in particular sit on his mid-90s heat (.256/.316/.372, and all three homers he's allowed). Like Sidney Ponson, he's basically pitching for a shot at the postseason roster, but unlike Ponson, there might be reason to keep him.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Placed SS-R Bobby Crosby on the 15-day DL (strained back), retroactive to 7/31; purchased the contract of 2B-B D'Angelo Jimenez from Sacramento (Triple-A); designated LHP Randy Keisler for assignment. [8/4]

Although it's only supposed to be a two-week vacation, if Crosby comes back and continues to hit badly enough to make starting Marco Scutaro seem like a good thing, the A's still have a major problem in their last two slots in the order, also known as where they have to put Scutaro and Mark Ellis more often than not. As is, what little offense you get out of those two is for naught, beacue with Jason Kendall leading off behind them in the order, that's pretty much a formula for a quick rally-squelching GIDP. You might have been surprised that they turned to Jimenez instead of Mike Rouse, who was already on the 40-man, because unlike Jimenez, Rouse usually plays a good amount of short. However, Jimenez has the advantage of a good month with Sacramento (.303/.417/.485) where Rouse has slumped since coming back down from Oakland, and perhaps even more surprisingly, Jimenez started nearly half as many games at short (seven) as at second (17). Maybe Jimenez will make a better impression on Ken Macha than Antonio Perez. Like Perez, he's always had his moments at the plate, but Jimenez's switch-hitting might also give the A's an alternative to the weak-hitting right-handed tandem of Scutaro and Ellis at second. It'll be interesting to see if Jimenez gets a shot to stick, perhaps at Perez's expense once Crosby comes back.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Activated RHP Rafael Soriano from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Emiliano Fruto to Tacoma (Triple-A). [8/4]

It's a simple matter of getting the team's second-best reliever back, so Mariners fans can reasonably invest some measure of hope. The real problem isn't the pen so much as the flagging offense and a rotation where four guys have been reliably mediocre, and the fifth, Joel Pineiro, ranks among baseball's ten-worst starters (by Support-Neutral Lineup-adjusted Value Added):

Baseball's Ten Worst Starters
Pitcher, Team           GS   IP     SNLVA
-----------------------------------------
Jeff Weaver, LAA/SLN    21   110.2  -2.6
Joe Mays, KC/CIN        10    50.2  -2.4
Josh Towers, TOR        12    54.1  -1.9
Runelvys Hernandez, KC  12    57.1  -1.8
Carlos Silva, MIN       21   125.0  -1.7
Esteban Loaiza, OAK     16    85.2  -1.7
Joel Pineiro, SEA       23   130.1  -1.7
Scott Baker, MIN        12    63.2  -1.6
Russ Ortiz, ARI/BAL     10    39.0  -1.6
Jason Johnson, BAL/BOS  18    96.2  -1.5

Now, some of those names represent some pretty major disappointments, to be sure. Weaver, Towers, and Loaiza all got big money this winter, all were expected to contribute to playoff teams, and only Loaiza is still being asked to by the team that signed him. Seems like a lot of Twins in there too, even without Kyle Lohse, and not enough Royals, but you can't be too discriminating when it comes to ability--these guys earned it, after all. On that scale, I'm not sure if we're supposed to be more impressed with Mays or Towers and their ability to be a concentrated dose of awful, or with guys like Weaver, Silva, and Pineiro, who've been reliably bad. Regardless, it isn't doing the Mariners any favors, and the longer they keep mistaking park effects for pitcher adequacy, the worse the years to come are going to hurt.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Activated RHP Dan Miceli from the 60-day DL; optioned RHP Edwin Jackson to Durham (Triple-A). [8/6]

Miceli probably ranks among my least favorite players--his shivving John Boles still strikes me as one of the most punk stunts involving a crummy middle reliever that I can remember since George Frazier's futile whine against Harry Caray, booing fans, and how really unfair it was that people had been noticing that he wasn't all that good. Nevertheless, I have to accept this as a good thing, because Jackson has been as consistently inconsistent and generally awful as a reliever as he had been as a starter. Although you might wonder why the Rays couldn't find a way to squeeze Jackson in, at this point, he's just a talented guy on a staff with a number of talented guys, and trying to pitch his way past people like Seth McClung. Jackson's still a pitcher with enormous potential, but he's also one of those guys the Rays haven't gotten ironed out yet, and sort of like their inability to put Chad Orvella to good use, it's a blemish on what has been a generally positive first season in the post-Chuck LaMar era.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Designated C/1B-R Jason Phillips for assignment; recalled RHP Francisco Rosario from Syracuse (Triple-A). [8/4]

Just like that, the Jays are eight games behind the White Sox in the wild card, and 9.5 back of the Yankees, and all that talk about money spent and chemistry and boldly showing who's boss doesn't add up to all that much. Suddenly, instead of a team that has a plan, you've got one futzing around with three different kids--Rosario, Dustin McGowan, and Shaun Marcum--all getting juggled through the last two slots in the rotation. If there was a plan, it's in shreds. It's particularly crazy to haul up Rosario and plug him into the rotation because he hadn't even managed five innings in a start since his demotion back to Syracuse in June, spending most of the time on the DL instead. What was the point of sending down Casey Janssen again, and how did that make sense? Marcum has yet to log a quality start, surprising nobody, and where before the Jays were only waiting and wondering about Gustavo Chacin, they now have a nicely self-inflicted mess, and that's without pointing how vincible A.J. Burnett has been of late. It wasn't injuries that killed the Jays before the stretch drive even started. Instead, it's been active management that has helped bring Toronto back to its usual third-place amiability.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Recalled RHP Dustin Nippert recalled from Tucson (Triple-A); designated RHP Mike Koplove for assignment. [8/5]

Designated LHP Randy Choate for assignment; optioned RHP Dustin Nippert to Tucson; recalled RHP Jeff Bajenaru and 2B-B Alberto Callaspo from Tucson. [8/6]

Nippert was only up for a quick emergency start, but his getting handily drubbed by the Astros should be considered a reminder of how slender the Snakes' margins are at the moment, both in their bid for the NL West, and their pursuit of the Reds for the wild card. If not Nippert, who would the Snakes turn to if any of their front five starters break down? There's Edgar Gonzalez, but he's been up already and delivered mixed results, getting belted around, but at least he struck out 15 and walked one in his 18.2 innings. Otherwise, the Sidesnakelings down in Tucson don't have a lot to offer: Kevin Jarvis? Mike Bacsik? Yikes. Matt Chico is torching the Southern League since his promotion from A-ball, but it would be a pretty desperate move to turn to the little lefty flamethrower down the stretch. Steven Jackson, the former Clemson star, perhaps? The team's winning with its decision to trust its youth, but this isn't a matter of replacing Russ Ortiz--losing Brandon Webb would seriously hobble the team's shot.

In the meantime, though, they're trusting their depth, and bringing up the pair of youngsters that they acquired in a couple of minor pre-season deals. Bajenaru looked like he would be ready this year, but he's struggled at Tucson, particularly with his command, walking 33 in 64.1 IP. He has managed to strike out 62 hitters, but it hasn't been missing with one pitch, or struggling in a particular park, or having any particular issues with lefties or righties--he just hasn't had a good year in the PCL. He still has solid velocity, and he still has the stuff to stick, but at 28, no time like the present for him to earn his keep, because it will be hard to keep him on the 40-man roster this winter if he doesn't. Callaspo was the middle infielder snagged from the Angels because they just had a few too many of those with promise, and sort of as expected, it's been a rip-off (Jason Bulger has been hurt as well as wild). Callaspo's played second most of the season, but he's also started at least 18 games apiece at short and third. How many utility infielders are 23 and can hit .336/.403/.470 in Triple-A? Most of his power has come on the road, and Callaspo's slugged .515 against RHPs, so however much of that is hitting in some nice places to hit, that's a guy who can play. While he might simply back up Stephen Drew and Orlando Hudson for the moment, Hudson will be an expensive arbitration case this winter, making for an interesting decision for GM Josh Byrnes.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Optioned RHP Jason Shiell to Richmond (Triple-A). [8/5]

Purchased the contract of LHP Wayne Franklin from Richmond. [8/6]

If you read from the Book of Depredations, you'll find the arrival of Wayne Franklin listed among the signs that things are about to get unpleasant. He's had a nice enough year as a reliever in Richmond--holding righties to a .211/.290/.311 clip, and lefties to .185/.221/.292, and striking out 52 of 213 opposing hitters. But it's still Wayne Franklin, and sure, it's impressive that they've gotten good work out of other previously unredeemable types like Chad Paronto or Tyler Yates. But the pen isn't the problem: the more basic issue is that the Braves are having problems filling out a rotation, and their slender playoff hopes won't survive things like letting Shiell take beatings as a token fifth starter. Getting Kyle Davies back is probably another ten days or so away, so even with Thursday's off-day, the Braves will need to figure something out by next Tuesday. At either upper-level affiliate, Kevin Barry might be the only guy worth trying, so don't be surprised if the Braves take a look at making a waiver deal to at least acquire some sort of token veteran.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Activated 2B/SS-L Omar Quintanilla from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [8/4]

Quintanilla's rehab assignment had really only just begun, but the Rox are still in this thing, and Luis Gonzalez has always been the franchise's favorite flavor of utility infielder, so now's not the time to see if Quintanilla can stick.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Recalled RHP Fernando Nieve from Round Rock (Triple-A); optioned RHP Matt Albers to Round Rock. [8/5]

Not that Albers embarrassed himself, but this is returning things to where they should be. Nieve had outpitched both Wandy Rodriguez and Taylor Buchholz during his time in the rotation earlier this season, is the more highly-regarded prospect, both in and outside the organization. Although the Astros won't get to using a fifth starter until this weekend, nothing wrong with having Nieve around for a couple of relief innings in the meantime, while Albers can go back to Round Rock and see if he'll be ready to make a bid for a 2007 rotation spot once rosters expand and the Astros are truly out of the running.

NEW YORK METS
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Placed C-R Ramon Castro on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); recalled C-R Mike DiFelice from Norfolk (Triple-A). [8/4]

This didn't have to be a setback, except of course when it happened. Not that DiFelice is anything more than your garden-variety International Brotherhood of Backup Catchers member in good standing, but losing Castro wasn't automatically a setback for the Mets, not as long as Paul Lo Duca was firing on all cylinders. Now, as we come into the stretch and Lo Duca's prepped for his now-standard high-summer swoon, this might crimp the Mets' style as they march for the 100 wins we'd sort of written them in for months ago. However, Lo Duca's cranked out five multi-hit games in his last seven, so who knows, this sort of nattering might be even more meaningless. As long as Castro's healthy in time to give Lo Duca some down time in September, and let the Mets go into October with everyone healthy, it's all good.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Optioned RHP Roy Corcoran to New Orleans (Triple-A); recalled LHP Billy Traber from New Orleans. [8/6]

Traber's back for a second shot at the fifth slot in the rotation, after putting up a rough couple of starts in April (and thereby creating Michael O'Connor's shot). Although I still like Traber's arm well enough, I don't see it working in the rotation, not when right-handed PCL hitters were pasting him at a .340/.378/.479 clip. He does have a better than 2-to-1 groundball/flyball ratio, and a 102-24 strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio is tasty as well, but if you're a lefty who really can't get your basic right-handed hitter out consistently, you're not going to stick as a starter. I do like the odds of Traber making it as a long reliever, because he's becoming durable enough to soak up a few innings, and using him as a spot-starter against lefty-heavy lineups would be an obvious gambit for managers from a time when such things were done. In the meantime, I expect it'll be rough going, but you can always hope that he picks something up that works against righthanders in live-fire exercises. That's more important than the standings for the Nats, anyway, and would spare them having to go out and find the next Pedro Astacio.


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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