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August 25, 2006

Transaction Analysis

August 23-24

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Optioned RHP Chris Britton to Bowie (Double-A); purchased the contract of RHP Jim Hoey from Bowie; designated RHP Eddy Rodriguez for assignment. [8/23]

It seems a little strange that the Orioles demoted Britton, because it wasn't like he was pitching all that badly. But these days, the Orioles Way involves a unique blend of iffy free talent pickups and accelerated promotions from within, and they decided that they really, really wanted to have Hoey up, despite this being his first season to appear at any level higher than short-season A-ball. The Orioles' track record with this sort of thing isn't all bad-they did badly with both Jeff Fiorentino and Hayden Penn in 2005, while Adam Loewen and Nick Markakis both seem to be slowly settling in well enough this year.

Hoey throws in the mid 90s and has a particularly wicked slider, so I can understand how the Orioles are excited about him, but even this year, he's pitched only nine innings above A-ball, and they weren't all good, considering that he gave up five runs. Combined, Hoey's struck out 73 in 51.1 innings, allowing 39 hits, 18 walks, and three homers. That's good, but again, we're talking about somebody who had a combined total of 63.2 professional innings since being drafted in 2003 coming into this season. This seems ridiculously premature, but it isn't hard to stand out in the Orioles' organization, and they seem determined to get kids up to prove that they're building, and not just employing the Conines and Millars to no obvious end.

I guess the part of it that I don't like is demoting Britton. I don't think there's any penalty if they had instead released Todd Williams, Russ Ortiz, or Bruce Chen. Even if they think they can get Ortiz or Chen turned around, there isn't a lot of danger if they'd DFA'd Ortiz, while losing Williams wouldn't be cause for any regret.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Received LHP Shawn Nottingham from the Mariners as the PTBNL in the Broussard trade of 7/26. [8/24]

Although Nottingham's done a nifty job of bouncing back from an injury-plagued 2005, he's not really a prospect. Although he's 21, he's a soft-tossing lefty getting by with guile. Pitching in the hitter-friendly Cal League, he's given as much as he's got, plunking 16 hitters and striking out 136 in 155.1 innings, while walking 52 and allowing 5.2 runs per nine. Given a pedestrian heater and adequate curve, his most likely career destination is situational leftydom, and there, his numbers offer some encouragement, as he's limited southpaw swingers to .190/.283/.305. Keep in mind, Nottingham's the throw-in-the major pickup in the swap was getting Shin-Soo Choo.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Optioned OF-R Josh Rabe to Rochester (Triple-A). [8/23]

Activated OF-R Rondell White from the 15-day DL; signed LHP Dennys Reyes to a two-year, $2 million contract extension. [8/24]

Exchanging White for Rabe is moderately disappointing, but let's face it, it's the sort of thing most teams would do, especially while chasing a playoff spot. If White simply alternates with Jason Kubel and Jason Tyner, and gets most of his at-bats against lefties, I think it's not unreasonable to expect he'll do more damage to the other guys, as opposed to his own team. Rabe's successful short gig in the majors was a nice reminder that organizational soldiers can do good stuff given the chance, and he should be back once rosters expand.

A similarly happy little note is Reyes' collecting a big payday. Maybe it's because he's half Fernando! and half El Guapo in terms of mound magic, the roly-poly lefty who's always been able to fool a lot of people some of the time. There's no bet that he'll pitch this well in the future-very few relievers pitch consistently well, year in and year out-but the Twins have been able to rely on setup men like Juan Rincon while also getting more value out of Matt Guerrier than I ever expected. It would be worth seeing if there's an intersection between managers and relief pitcher performance, but generally speaking, I'm willing to give the Twins the benefit of the doubt. If Reyes can handle situational lefty work as well as or better than how well J.C. Romero did for years, and you pair that up with the side-slinging scything of right-handed hitters by Pat Neshek, you've got a pen very much like those of past years in Boston and Oakland as far as having situational monsters in front of strong closers. As critical as I've been of Terry Ryan in the past, if that sort of small achievement is taken as a symptom of genius in other GMs, it seems obvious that Ryan deserves similar credit for assembling the same sort of elements for a successful bullpen, beyond Ron Gardenhire's ability to get those results.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Placed RHP Mike Mussina on the 15-day DL (strained groin), retroactive to 8/21; recalled RHP Brian Bruney from Columbus (Triple-A); released RHP Sidney Ponson outright. [8/23]

Well, okay, this essentially means that Mussina will miss three starts in all, assuming he spends only the minimum on the DL. That also means that Jeff Karstens will get at least two more starts in Mussina's slot. Unhappily, he'll be going up against the Angels and Twins. There's something amusing that the next start in that slot after those two tough matchups is against the Orioles in Camden Yards. It would be interesting to see if the Yankees actually let Karstens make that start as well, reserving Mussina to come back in time for their mid-September homestand against the Red Sox. Even then, I wouldn't suggest we're not going to see any more from Karstens, because that Sox-Bombers matchup does involve another double-header.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Placed RHP Jae Seo on the 15-day DL (strained groin); recalled RHP Jason Hammel from Durham (Triple-A); activated INF-R Luis Ordaz from the 60-day DL, and designated him for assignment. [8/23]

Acquired RHP Evan Meek and either a PTBNL or cash from the Padres for 4C-L Russell Branyan. [8/24]

Putting Seo on the DL might seem premature, but let's face it, the D-Rays know he'll be in next year's rotation, and having stolen him from the Dodgers in the same deal that brought them Dioner Navarro, it isn't like they have to push him to show those happy few who follow the team that they got value for nondescript placeholders like Mark Hendrickson and Toby Hall. After a rough beginning to his D-Rays career, Seo has logged five quality starts in ten with Tampa Bay after posting five of ten in his Dodger starts-nothing brilliant, but something you can definitely use in a third or fourth starter.

In the meantime, the Rays have a chance to look at one of the kids, and while you might have expected them to bring back J.P. Howell, his turn in Durham came on Tuesday, making him unavailable to start tonight's game. So they've instead elected to bring up somebody homegrown. Hammel was named one of the organization's top prospects before the season, and he's had a decent consolidation sort of season in Triple-A, striking out 117 in 127.2 IP, walking 36 and allowing 133 hits (11 home runs), and giving up runs at a pace of five per nine. Storky and occassionally overpowering, he's shown flashes of a plus curve and command of his change. Generally speaking, he's got a solid groundball/flyball ratio, and hasn't given up much in the way of power to opposing hitters. I wouldn't think of this as anything more than an opportunity for Hammel to show how close he is to being ready, although I think we all know that he and Howell will both get their chances next season. With that sort of talent almost ready to stick, a journeyman like Tim Corcoran really can't afford a bad camp next spring.

Another addition to that pool of pitching talent comes over in the D-Rays' deal with San Diego. Meek's not too shabby a return on Branyan: he throws into the mid 90s and has a pretty nifty curve that he's gotten better command of since washing out of the Twins organization and being bird-dogged by Pads scout Charley Kerfeld. Although he's allowing six runs and 4.7 walks per nine, keep in mind he's pitching in Lake Elsinore's unfriendly confines in the Cal League, and between his 2-1 groundball/flyball ratio and the 113 hitters he's struck out in 119.1 innings, there's obvious potential for him to overpower people. Because of the control issues, my guess is that if Meek's going to inherit the earth, it'll be coming out of the bullpen.

I don't know about you, but Opening Day doesn't seem like it was all that long ago. That doesn't mean I'm still savoring the surprise on learning that Ordaz had made the Opening Day roster after not even really hitting well in spring training. His knee injury nipped that surprise in the bud, and considering it was a surprise that he made it onto the D-Rays' 40-man roster, I'd be even more surprised if we ever see him make it again.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Activated LHP Gustavo Chacin from the 15-day DL. [8/23]

It took forever and a day to get him back, and he was promptly drubbed on activation. I don't know how many more ways the fates have at their disposal to make sure that J.P. Ricciardi gets the memo that this season's done, but the hope here is that Chacin just demonstrates that he's back in working order. If he can't do that, better the Jays take the time to give Dustin McGowan a real look as a starter. His performance in Syracuse as a starter was getting stronger as the summer progressed, but the club's inexplicable preference for Shaun Marcum shunted McGowan aside. Even with Casey Janssen on the shelf and Ty Taubenheim coping with a staph infection, they don't have to use Marcum as the fifth starter. But McGowan flopped in relief work, putting him in the same category as Francisco Rosario, another talented pitcher that the Jays aren't quite sure what he's going to grow up to be. These are the sorts of situations where some weird results can get spit out: maybe Marcum pans out, maybe McGowan or Rosario get it together, or maybe something like a Davis Romero spot start gives them a winning dark horse. What's apparent in all of this is that there's no real plan, and that's the one thing the Jays really can't afford to be without if they ever want to be taken as seriously on the field as they were by beatwriters last winter. You can only posture so long before you start looking less like Billy Beane and more like Kevin Malone.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Placed RHP Danys Baez on the 15-day DL (emergency appendectomy). [8/24]

Hopefully, Baez will heal quickly and fully-no Adrian Beltre-style lengthy recovery time, please. An injury like this serves as some sort of particularly bitter punctuation to what has been an extremely disappointing season for Baez. He was supposed to be the insurance the Dodgers needed for Eric Gagne, an "established closer" to spare on an All-Star team. It didn't work out that way, and he didn't even provide the Braves with all that much value since his being picked up as a veteran patch to add to their patchwork pen. He's arbitration eligible, but courtesy of that wacky deal he got from the Indians at the start of his career, he's already been non-tendered once, and seems likely to be again this winter.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Placed LHP Ryan O'Malley on the 15-day DL (strained elbow); recalled RHP Jae Kuk Ryu from Iowa. [8/23]

On the Western Front, sniffy chateau-bound generals would refer to their insane losses of manpower as wastage, a reflection of the de-humanizing nature of the Great War. The Cubs can't be similarly sanguine about running through their talent-not only has TribCorp owned the team more than long enough to no longer write off players as depreciating assets, but even an organization as pitching-rich as the Cubs really can't afford to lose guys every week. O'Malley may not be one of the organization's top prospects, and admittedly, there's virtue in giving Ryu a longer look as the Cubs play out the string. It's not a one-for-one patch, in that the Cubs are still interested in looking at Ryu as a reliever for the time being. That could go all sorts of ways-Ryu might end up getting an Earl Weaver-style extended engagement in the pen before moving into the rotation once the Cubs' now-standard injuries repeat themselves next year, or he might just end up a successful major league reliever. Given that Ryu's a pitcher with four pitches he can throw for strikes while having only average velocity, I'd rather see him in the rotation, especially after the pretty solid season he's had in Iowa: 105 strikeouts against 46 walks in 123.1 innings, 3.7 runs allowed per nine, more than twice as many groundball outs as flyballs. However, the kid is only 23, so if this ends up saving him some wear and tear, and he gets a clean shot to impress management, it's not a major sacrifice.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Optioned 2B/OF-R Norris Hopper to Louisville (Triple-A); reinstated LHP Chris Michalak from the Bereavement List. [8/23]

NEW YORK METS
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Optioned LHP Royce Ring to Norfolk (Triple-A); added RHP Guillermo Mota to the active roster. [8/23]

Designated OF-L Ricky Ledee for assignment; transferred C-R Ramon Castro from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/24]

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Activated C-B Ryan Doumit from the 15-day DL; claimed RHP Juan Perez off of waivers from the Mets, and assigned him to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [8/23]

Despite his injury issues, Doumit remains an interesting prospect, both as a bat and as a prospective starting catcher for somebody. As a Pirate, he seems likely doomed to be stuck in the same tweener role that Craig Wilson had, with his playing time ebbing and flowing as he falls into and out of favor. His bat is promising enough that I'd like to see him get a shot at the first base job in camp next spring. Failing that, he'd make for a nifty high-offense alternative to Ronny Paulino, with Humberto Cota getting shopped around, but I suppose how this plays out depends on what sort of pot you could take from shopping any one of the three. Shop Paulino or Doumit, and you might get something you can really use; shop Cota, and you'll get something considerably less. If Doumit can catch 100 games, keeping Cota as his catch-and-throw backup would work. As good as Paulino has been this season, his numbers are basically all batting average-dependent, and he grounds into double plays at a murderous clip, hitting into twin-killings 25% of the time this season. Despite all that, a good-throwing catcher who does more at the plate than the Brad Ausmus types would be worth something, but the only way the notion really works is if the Pirates think that Doumit can catch regularly, or if they anticipate Neil Walker making it to The Show as a catcher. It'll be interesting to see what course, if any, Littlefield chooses.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Optioned RHP Tim Stauffer to Portland (Triple-A); recalled RHP Brian Sweeney from Portland. [8/23]

Acquired 4C-L Russell Branyan from the Devil Rays for RHP Evan Meek and either a PTBNL or cash. [8/24]

I've been a Branyan fan for years, considering he's a minor deity among the pantheon of Three True Outcomes stars. (Those are strikeouts, walks, and home runs to those of you uninitiated or happily ignorant of the Rob Deer Fan Club's belligerent belief that putting the ball in play short of the fences is a Deadball Era anachronism.) I'm particularly pleased that he's a Pad person, though, in that Branyan gives them insurance at all four corners, infield and outfield, while also providing prodigious power off of the bench. If Todd Walker's defensive problems at third become too much of a distraction, they can play Branyan in his place. If Adrian Gonzalez or Brian Giles or Dave Roberts need a day off, Branyan's a good fallback position. With Ryan Klesko's rehab not going all that well-he isn't hitting the ball with much authority-and Klesko's basic uselessness in the field, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Branyan winds up on the playoff roster at Klesko's expense, especially since they gave up something of value to get Branyan.

On the pitching staff, the Pads have wanted to get Sweeney up to fill a utility pitcher role for several days now, but his start for Portland on August 20th took him off of their menu of options when things were really ugly with the rotation. Now, with Stauffer having given them a good start on the 21st, they've got Sweeney active and ready to resume his utility pitcher role after resting up, while Stauffer will be kept available for a quick yo-yo back to the big league roster in case they need him to fill in for Chris Young next week. With Chan Ho Park out for the rest of the year, the Pads no longer have the luxury they had with Mike Thompson as their instant fill-in starter, because Thompson's now the regular fifth man. Nevertheless, with Stauffer's good work plus Sweeney's ability to fill in, and keeping in mind that Park wasn't all that valuable, I don't think that Bruce Bochy lacks options. They can't discount the possibility that Young's shoulder/back/whatever might give him trouble for the rest of the year, which promises this level of involvement as far as rotation micromanagement for as long as the Pads are still in this thing.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Placed SS-R David Eckstein on 15-day DL (strained oblique); designated OF-L Timo Perez for assignment; signed INF-B Jose Vizcaino to a major league contract; activated LHP Mark Mulder from 15-day DL. [8/23]

Gack. I touched on the Mulder thing at Anthony Reyes' expense last time around, so my visceral response is really more about losing Eckstein and "replacing" him on the roster with the Vizzer. There's a real danger that Vizcaino will get significant playing time, because Aaron Miles isn't really a good second baseman-asking him to fill in at short isn't likely to generate happy results, especially for the starting pitchers. There's the hope that Miles will hit well enough that they won't miss Eckstein too much in the lineup, but that's based on expecting Miles to stay hot instead of hitting the way he has most of his career. You know who would have been handy right around now? Hector Luna, but Walt Jocketty unfortunately outthunk himself into getting Ron Belliard a year or two too late, leaving the team even worse off than if he had done nothing. The Cards would have been much better off with Miles at second and Luna at short in Eckstein's absence, and call up John Nelson or even Rico Washington instead of wasting time employing Vizcaino. This is the sort of year where blowing the details will make a difference between playing baseball or playing golf in October, and these are the sorts of problems that rise above mere detail.


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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