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August 28, 2006

Transaction Analysis

August 25-27

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Traded 1B/LF-R Jeff Conine and cash to the Phillies for a PTBNL. [8/27]

Dealing Conine really doesn't affect the Orioles, except insofar as it might encourage them to get Jay Gibbons back up to speed as a first baseman. Kevin Millar is only under contract for this season and isn't much of a good idea to start off with, the organization has no hitting prospect for first anywhere close to the major leagues, and with Gibbons signed through 2009, he probably represents the best solution to their first base problems. Since they won't be contending next year, it makes sense for them to avoid spending money for a big-name first base free agent, and instead focusing on adding a bat who might hold down left or DH until or unless Val Majewski and Jeff Fiorentino prove ready for The Show.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Recalled CF-L Jerry Owens from Charlotte (Triple-A), and placed him on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle). [8/26]

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Optioned CF-R Franklin Gutierrez to Buffalo (Triple-A); activated 4C-R Casey Blake from the 15-day DL. [8/25]

Optioned RHP Fausto Carmona to Buffalo; recalled RHP Edward Mujica from Buffalo. [8/26]

Carmona's poor performance as the club's closer isn't really the reason for his demotion-instead, the Tribe wants to give him a couple of starts with the Bisons before their season ends, and then bring him back to join the rotation once rosters expand. Part of that appears to be concern about having Jeremy Sowers pitch too many more innings this season, but it's also a reflection of the ongoing debate over Carmona's best future role. In the meantime, Mujica has a shot at sticking in a pen already stocked with an interesting blend of homegrown prospects and free talent types. If Thomas Mastny-never seen as one of the organization's top prospects-keeps thriving in the closer's role, you can consider that another data point in the argument that closers are just as much the products of accident as design. If more highly-touted guys like Andrew Brown, Fernando Cabrera, and Jason Davis can thrive in set-up roles, that's still a credit to the organization's pitching depth. It does put them in an interesting situation with Rafael Betancourt, the pen's token established veteran, in that he'll be arbitration-eligible this winter. They might offer Betancourt a cheap two-year deal to escape the process, but failing that, non-tendering him wouldn't be all that surprising, or damaging.

Although Blake's back sooner than expected, I wouldn't hold out much hope that he'll get any more playing time than necessary to show him off for anyone interested in making a waiver deal for him this week. It seems a foregone conclusion that his option for 2007 won't be picked up, but as a right-handed bat with some sock that you can put into any of the four corners in a lineup, he could be a valuable bench player for several contenders right now. If he doesn't get dealt, once rosters expand he'll be struggling to get starts in front of someone like Gutierrez in the outfield, not to mention Ryan Garko at first.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Optioned RHP Colby Lewis to Toledo (Triple-A); optioned OF-R Brent Clevlen to Erie (Double-A); purchased the contract of LHP Andrew Miller from Lakeland (A-ball). [8/27]

I have to confess that one of my most glaring blind spots is the world of amateur talent. Maybe there are only so many hours in the day, maybe I'm hopelessly more interested in third catchers than in first rounds, and maybe my priorities are well out of whack. It's a situation where it pays to take a cue from my colleague, Kevin Goldstein, because my relative ignorance of Miller is a product of his only just arriving on the pro scene. Maybe the five innings are enough, and I'll defer to scouting wisdom as far as an assessment over whether or not Miller's high-90s heat is ready to embarrass big league hitters. Certainly, as the hard-throwing LOOGY alternative to Jamie Walker's softer approach to cat-skinning, I can see why Jim Leyland's excited about having the kid around. What I'm wondering is whether or not the Tigers have a good handle on who they're actually going to use in the postseason. After Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman, do they really know who they can start in a third game of a playoff series? Justin Verlander should be rested up enough by then, but then you're left with leftover lefties from the rotation-Nate Robertson, Wil Ledezma, and Mike Maroth. Will Leyland and GM Dave Dombowski bump two of those guys to carry someone like Miller, let alone guys like Jason Grilli and Zach Miner? Chances are, somebody's going to end up cranky, especially if it's a recently-minted rookie, however talented.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Signed 2B-R Mark Grudzielanek to a one-year, $4 million contract extension for 2007, with a $4 million player option for 2008. [8/16]

Placed OF-R Reggie Sanders on the 15-day DL (knee); recalled INF-R Jeff Keppinger from Omaha (Triple-A). [8/25]

As a Royals fan was quick to note, I'd neglected to comment on Dayton Moore's decision to invest in Grudz, and the timing seems right for me to touch on that now, in no small part because that decision makes you wonder why the team bothered to go out and get Keppinger.

First, there's the question over why this team needs to make a commitment to somebody like Grudzielanek. In a league where the average second baseman posts an Equivalent Average of .255, his mark of .256 suggests that he's not an offensive asset. Although he's not a liability in the field, nobody sees him as the second coming of Frank White. He's 36, and PECOTA suggests that he's not worth half what the Royals will be paying him now, next year, or when he decides to pocket that extra $4 million for 2008. So what gives? Does he have a birthmark in the shape of the Madonna that Moore rubs for good luck? An unmeasurable capacity for inspiring witty banter? The Royals need to be getting rid of this kind of guy, because he needs the job and the money more than the Royals need him-they're going to be stuck in rebuilding mode through 2008 whatever Grudz does. Even if you accept he's worth having around, an argument for which there's little evidence, paying him this well is just waste.

So, having made that commitment, what's Keppinger for? Moore's repurposed the powerless popper, turning the singles-hitting second baseman into a singles-hitting utility player, and having Omaha start Keppinger at all four infield spots as well as left field. That wouldn't be all bad, if you think that Keppinger can hit anywhere near as well in the majors as he has in the minors (.321/.375/.396 combined between Norfolk and Omaha). He doesn't run well, and doesn't walk, so the closest thing he has to a secondary skill is dropping the occasional sac bunt. That isn't a useless player to have around, and if he can play all four infield spots well enough, he could even be a quality bench player. The problem as I see it is that he isn't significantly worse than Grudzielanek as a regular, and while that's not the same thing as a good player, recognizing that would have saved them ~$3.5 million, cash better spent elsewhere.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Returned SS-R Bobby Crosby to the 15-day DL (strained lower back), retroactive to 8/22; re-purchased the contract of INF-B D'Angelo Jimenez from Sacramento (Triple-A). [8/25]

We've been through this particular chain of events once already, and in Crosby's absence, the club seems comfortable sticking with the Marco-Mark keystone combo, with Marco Scutaro at short and Mark Ellis at second, and Jimenez joining Antonio Perez in the role of witness. There's a lot invested in the hope that Crosby will be ready to come back with a couple of weeks left to play, but if he isn't, what are the A's left with? My concern is that they'll end up losing a postseason game because Ken Macha will just stick with Scutaro and Ellis rather than pinch-hit for either, all because he doesn't want to use Perez or Jimenez. If ever there was a time for somebody to talk to Macha about Dick Williams' various coping mechanisms with trying to get by without middle infielders who could hit, now's the time.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Optioned OF-R T.J. Bohn to Tacoma; recalled UT-R Mike Morse from Tacoma. [8/27]

It's been a pretty crummy year for Morse-when he wasn't missing time with a knee injury, he was hitting a slim .244/.296/.400 for Tacoma. He's been starting games at first, third, short, and left, and has hit well enough against lefties to suggest he might have a role as a utilityman who can also double up as the short side of a platoon. I've suggested before that the guy probably needs a 'q' in his name to inspire any loyalty, a la the beloved Bloomquist, but between his alphabetical orthodoxy, his bad year at the plate, and his status as a caught and convicted 'roid ranger, he's got a few strikes against him. Happily, he is still only 24, so he can still carve out a role for himself-I know I'm glad to see him up. Especially in the age of the twelve-man pitching staff, a guy who can play a few positions and hit with some small measure of sock has value as a reserve.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Placed LHP Scott Kazmir on the 15-day DL (shoulder tightness); recalled LHP J.P. Howell from Durham (Triple-A). [8/26]

The decision tree here is straightforward enough-they're basically shutting Kazmir down rather than risk a fatigue-related injury, and possibly for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, they're plugging in one of the candidates for next year's rotation. Howell's combined performance at Omaha and Durham suggests he's mastered the level and is ready for an extended shot at the major leagues, particularly his striking out more than eight batters per nine, his allowing very few hard-hit balls, and a nifty 2-to-1 groundball/flyball ratio. If it turns out that the key reason that the Royals dealt him was an accusation of arrogance, it looks like a little bit of pride in performance is warranted. Howell will be trying to outshine Jason Hammel and Tim Corcoran in the weeks to come, because otherwise, next season's rotation may well be set through the first four slots. Kazmir, Jae Seo, and Casey Fossum are the trio of young vets to front the rotation, while the fourth goes to James Shields the best of this season's rookie Rays. If Hammel and Howell both look good down the stretch, GM Andrew Friedman and his crew will have all sorts of interesting alternatives this winter, potentially shopping Seo or Fossum, or just accepting that their depth and the competitions it creates next spring represent promise enough for the immediate future.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Purchased the contract of 2B/OF-R Eric Young from Oklahoma (Triple-A); optioned RHP Nick Masset to Oklahoma. [8/25]

Blech. I'm not sure what the point of bringing Young in now is supposed to be. He was a poor second baseman in the best of times, and is a positive menace in the outfield. His bat's pretty well done, so what is it that he does that Jerry Hairston Jr. isn't already here to do? Not that Young (or Adam Hyzdu, for that matter) are at all likely to be on the team's 40-man in December; the Rangers' shot at the playoffs is only slightly better than already-eliminated Oklahoma's. Now's the time to be looking at people who might be ready to be Rangers in 2007. Freddy Guzman should be here, and Jason Botts as well, once his wrist is healed. There's no real reason to have a guy like Young around, beyond what appears to be Buck Showalter's inexplicable fascination with the guy.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Optioned 2B-R Ryan Roberts to Syracuse (Triple-A). [8/27]

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Optioned 2B/SS-B Alberto Callaspo to Salt Lake (Triple-A); activated 1B-B Tony Clark from the 15-day DL. [8/25]

Although Conor Jackson hasn't hit for any power as the team's near-regular first baseman, you shouldn't expect Clark's return to herald a significant reduction of playing time for Jackson. The mistake in having Clark under contract through 2007 wasn't made by GM Josh Byrnes, but was instead a final legacy of Joe Garagiola Jr. before his departure for a MLB sinecure, so there shouldn't be any real commitment to keeping or playing Clark. Although his contract came with a no-trade clause through this season, Clark's deal isn't that expensive-only around $1 million next year-so Byrnes has the option to retain him as insurance against Jackson's continued lack of progress, or deal Clark over the winter or during spring training if he's offered something useful. Keep in mind that Chris Carter isn't too far from being ready, although his hitting .297/.390/.483 doesn't suggest that he's a significantly better prospect than Jackson.

Callaspo hadn't done anything to embarrass himself during his almost three week-long gig as the team's utility infielder, but now that Craig Counsell is off of the DL, he wasn't needed to stick around in the role. He'll be back after roster expansion and presumably after Tucson plays out its postseason, because the Sidewinders are a lock to win the Pacific South Division in the PCL.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Recalled RHP Lance Cormier from Richmond (Triple-A). [8/25]

Somebody needed to come up and fill in the roster spot hastily vacated by Danys Baez, and Cormier is on the 40-man. Cormier may get another start this coming weekend, but it's expected that Kyle Davies will come off of the DL sometime this week, and there's always the possibility that they'll take a look at Kevin Barry in the rotation, rather than leave him in the pen. Between Davies, Barry, and Cormier, you'd have to think that the experiment with Oscar Villarreal in the rotation will be coming to an end. Considering the state of their rotation, even if this team is "only" five games out in the wild card "race," does anyone think they can go 20-13 in their last 33 games to get to .500, let alone play well enough to end up at the front of the pack?

CHICAGO CUBS
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Optioned RHP Jae Kuk Ryu to Iowa (Triple-A); purchased the contract of LHP Les Walrond from Iowa; transferred RHP Kerry Wood from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/27]

This was pretty sloppy-why in any deity's name you'd start Walrond against anybody, and especially the division-leading Cardinals, when you should instead be looking at Ryu, defies rational explanation. Instead, they used Ryu in relief on Thursday for a couple of innings against the Phillies, punting the opportunity. There was a lot of talk that the start could go to either Sean Marshall or Wade Miller, both of whom are close to coming off of the DL, and both of whom were rested enough from the latest starts for the I-Cubs to have been ready to pitch on Sunday. Neither got the call, though, and presumably, neither was ready to be reactivated, so in that, we can give Jim Hendry and Dusty Baker some benefit of the doubt. Even then, though, why bring up and start Walrond? Isn't this why Glendon Rusch is on the roster? If not, why waste the roster spot on him? Rusch has pitched exactly once since being reactivated, so he was available. If Ryu wasn't able to start, he would still have been presumably ready to pitch a couple of innings in relief of Rusch. It would have been a decision which gave the Cubs the appearance of playing a major league veteran against a playoff contender while they kept around a rookie they should be looking at. Instead, they brought somebody up who shouldn't be here and took a beating.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Designated C-R Danny Ardoin for assignment; recalled C-R Chris Iannetta from Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [8/26]

Okay, as much as I've always had a soft spot for the Cajun catcher, I'm glad to see the future arrive in Denver. Iannetta hit a combined .336/.433/.567 between Double- and Triple-A, hitting for power against lefties and righties, drawing an impressive 48 walks in 375 PAs, and equally important, showing that he's a polished college-trained catcher with the arm to deter the running game and the receiving skills to keep anybody's stuff in front of him. Only 23, he's as good a catching prospect as you'll find anywhere these days, and a worthy rival to Brian McCann and Russell Martin for the title of best young catcher in the National League. Although the Rockies are still short three long-term solutions at the other four up-the-middle positions, Troy Tulowitzki, Chris Nelson, and perhaps Jeff Salazar all offer hope for a not-too-distant future. With or without the mushball, the Rox have hitting prospects you should be following, as a fan or as a fanthead.

NEW YORK METS
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Activated RHP Brian Bannister from the 60-day DL; optioned OF-R Lastings Milledge to Norfolk (Triple-A); signed C-R Kelly Stinnett to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Norfolk. [8/24]

Optioned RHP Brian Bannister to Norfolk; recalled LHP Oliver Perez from Norfolk. [8/25]

Neither Bannister nor Perez pitched well in their gigs as "Tonight's Very Special Starter," but with Tom Glavine scheduled to return to the rotation this week, the crisis over who's in the rotation is back down to a simmer from its previous threat to boil over. Between Perez, David Williams, and John Maine, Willie Randolph has people worth pitching to finish out the schedule. Assuming that Pedro Martinez comes back healthy, it's not like any of the three is likely to wind up pitching in anything more than a mop-up or long relief role in October, if even that.

To my way of thinking, the more troubling move is the decision to demote Milledge. Acquiring Shawn Green didn't solve the Mets' outfield problems all by itself-they still have Endy Chavez and Michael Tucker playing left field, and even once Cliff Floyd comes off of the DL, you've still got an outfield without a single right-handed bat among its reserves. It's a minor tactical concern with only 34 games left to play, but my worry is that it's something the Mets won't fix on their playoff roster. Carrying Milledge instead of Tucker would be the easy fix, though, and ideally Omar Minaya will give Milledge that consideration. Unfortunately, neither Minaya nor Randolph have any experience putting together a playoff roster, so I'd worry about whether they flub this decision in addition to making a mistake like carrying twelve pitchers.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Optioned RHP Brian Sanches to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A); recalled LHP Matt Smith from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [8/25]

Acquired 1B/LF-R Jeff Conine and cash from the Orioles for a PTBNL. [8/27]

Two tweaks, but signifiant ones, each in their own way. Conine isn't all that valuable these days, but he can spot for David Dellucci in right if Jose Hernandez isn't needed somewhere else in the lineup. He could also start for Ryan Howard at first against certain lefties, and he's arguably adequate as a hitter who can give Pat Burrell a day off in left. Conine also has the last couple of years with the Marlins to suggest that he's still familiar with the senior circuit, and in that time he had some measure of success as a pinch-hitter. It's a solid depth pickup, although it does come with the nuisance of having to commit a roster spot to Conine for 2007 because of a nearly-vested option (hence the O's throwing in a half million to spice up the pot).

Swapping out Sanches for Smith might seem strange in that it gives the Phillies' pen a heavy tilt to the left, with only three righthanders among their seven relievers. But that's only if you dump all lefties into the situational box, and that's not what Charlie Manuel is doing. Arthur Rhodes is a sort of co-closer with Ryan Madson, while Fabio Castro is the Rule 5-generated last man who gets plugged into blowouts. Aaron Fultz is the one guy who's being used specifically in a situational role to help protect Geoff Geary and Rick White from their biggest weaknesses. Sanches was simply awful, while Smith was holding Triple-A left-handed hitters to .200/.217/.244. A fourth situational guy in a seven-man configuration isn't the end of the world, and I'd expect that Smith will make the Phillies' postseason roster, while Tom Gordon bumps Castro.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Optioned OF-R Ben Johnson to Portland (Triple-A); placed RHP Scott Williamson on the 15-day DL (strained elbow); recalled RHP Jon Adkins from Portland. [8/26]

Exchanging Adkins for Williamson isn't really a setback, considering that Adkins has been more valuable in the Pad pen than Williamson. It does seem a bit redundant to have both Adkins and Brian Sweeney around as long relievers, but Sweeney's also the club's designated emergency starter in case something new goes amiss with Chris Young. So that all makes sense, and instead, I'm a little more concerned about the decision to demote Johnson to make room for Russell Branyan. Does this team really need three infielders who can't play short knocking around on the roster, but no genuine backup center fielder? I suspect the Pads will have Johnson on their playoff roster if they make it, because it seems extremely unlikely that they'd keep Manny Alexander once Khalil Greene is healthy, so I'm less worried about the Padres than I am the Mets when it comes to getting their playoff roster right. I suppose there's value to letting Johnson play every day in Portland for the remainder of the PCL season to keep his bat fresh. The Beavers won't be in the playoffs, so once they're done with their regular season, they're done, and Johnson will be back.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Activated C/1B-L Robert Fick from the 15-day DL; released UT-R Damian Jackson. [8/25]

Placed OF-R Alex Escobar on the 15-day DL (separated shoulder); purchased the contract of RHP Kevin Gryboski from New Orleans (Triple-A). [8/26]

Escobar breaking down is pretty much a non-news news event, since that's been the story of his career. If anything, the surprise should be that he was able to play in 33 games. What may be more surprising is the decision to cut loose Jackson, because even with a crowd of second base/outfield types on the roster, nobody among that group-Marlon Anderson, Bernie Castro, Henry Mateo-makes a plausible backup shortstop. However, Jackson was awful in his brief work at short, forfeiting his slender claim on useful utilitydom. It's also sort of weird to see the Nats have a bench that, in addition to that trio of inoffensive non-shortstops, has two catchers now that Fick's back, or a third useful lefty pinch-hitter, since Fick, Anderson, and Daryle Ward give Frank Robinson all sorts of guys to use off of the bench. But how do you use them? You can't really pull Felipe Lopez when you don't have a backup shortstop, and they only have three true outfielders on the roster now that Escobar's gone. How many days off do Nick Johnson, Jose Vidro, or Brian Schneider need from here on out?


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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