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September 22, 2006

Transaction Analysis

September 18-21, 2006

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
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Purchased the contract of RHP Devern Hansack from Portland (Double-A); transferred LHP Abe Alvarez from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [9/19]

Hansack's that most rare of items, a Nicaraguan import. It's been a long time since Dennis Martinez came up, and since then I could only recall David Green, while Kevin Goldstein named Vicente Padilla. Hansack is also an AgeGate guy, as well as a washout from the Astros' organization who resurfaced this season as a 28-year-old strike-thrower in Portland. He had a nifty enough season there, striking out 124 in 132 1/3 frames while walking only 32, and he obviously has something that works against lefties, because he held them to 237/.289/.377. He's doing it with a curve more than anything else, so he's not somebody who cooks with gas, however many Eastern Leaguers he burned. His coming up is a reflection of how very short-handed the Red Sox are, as they scramble to find bodies healthy enough to avoid asking Jose Canseco to pitch before season's end.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Recalled INF-R Lou Merloni, INF-L Mike Rouse, OF-R Jason DuBois from Buffalo (Triple-A); recalled 1B-L Michael Aubrey and OF-L Brad Snyder from Akron (Double-A); outrighted RHP Jake Dittler and LHP Jason Stanford to Buffalo (Triple-A). [9/21]

Skipping past the pair of utility infielders, that's an interest group of prospects who have lost some of their luster, but the Indians are definitely stubborn tire-kickers when it comes to talent, and there's always hope that DuBois or Aubrey finally do pan out. Struggling through first back and then knee problems, Aubrey was healthy enough to manage all of 65 plate appearances this season, but it's worth noting that Tax Man will only turn 25 next season, and he did manage to hit .278/.385/.537 in those few PAs. If he's up for some winter ball, he might be a particularly interesting dark horse for spring training highlights. Not that he's going to challenge for a job, but if he can generate a few splashy fireworks in the Arizona Fall League or one of the foreign winter leagues, followed by doing stuff in Arizona where everybody can see him and when everybody's there to see it, it isn't implausible to suggest that he might recapture his prospect status. It's hard to be anywhere that optimistic about DuBois--he'll be 28 next year, and hitting .275/.342/.492 is nice... for Buffalo, and not his career prospects. If he winds up with the right AL team, he could still make some noise, but you could say that about a few dozen minor-league veterans around DuBois' age.

Snyder is the guy who came into the season with a top prospect rep, and who looked like he'd blown it early on with a slow start at Akron, because he was repeating the level, and now that he's seen as a right fielder, it's his bat that will punch his ticket to the majors. However, he recovered with a strong August (.314/.407/.667) to finish with solid overall rates: .270/.351/.446. Still, that's not really what the organization was hoping for, and certainly serves as reason to have encouraged them to first trade for Shin-Soo Choo and then ponder moving Kevin Kouzmanoff to the outfield. That doesn't negate Snyder's promise, but it does move him down from one of the organization's brighter lights to a guy who might have more value in trade, or who might have to have a few unpleasant things happen to the people ahead of him if he's going to make it up next season. And that's assuming he doesn't have another flat opening to his year while moving up to Buffalo, which might be a bit much to expect.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Recalled 2B/SS-R Angel Sanchez from Wichita (Double-A); purchased the contract of OF-L Mitch Maier from Wichita; transferred RHP Brandon Duckworth from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [9/20]

Happy 23rd birthday to young Mr. Sanchez, getting called up on exactly that day of days. Like Andres Blanco, his primary recommendation is that he isn't Angel Berroa, although Mark Grudzielanek's season-ending groin injury certainly helped get him up. Sanchez isn't much of a runner, and he's seen as basically no more than solid in the field, but he did hit .282/.339/.352 as a 22-year-old in his Double-A debut, and that's not all bad, especially in the organization stuck with Berroa. He predictably left his power in the Cal League, but hitting reasonably well in Double-A at that age is a positive sign, and if Blanco's not ready to take the shortstop job, it might not be too much longer until Sanchez is ready.

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. As much as it might cause dancing in the streets should Dayton Moore finally announce "Berroa's Been Released Day" at the ballpark, he's right to not get too hasty--Berroa did have an awful lot of talent, once upon a time, and if he comes into camp on a mission to recapture that former promise, it wouldn't hurt the Royals to see him do something for them for their money. If he comes into camp looking like Elvis on a blend of fried peanut-butter banana sandwiches and keeps playing half-asleep, there's nothing that says that Moore can't throw that particular promotion in the second home game.

It's also interesting to see Maier up. The Royals probably dodged a bullet when he went unclaimed in the Rule 5 draft last December, but the former first rounder looked bad in his initial intro to Double-A after predictably slugging well in High-A high-offense High Desert, hitting only .255/.289/.416 in his 80 games at Wichita in 2005. Returning to the Texas League for a full season, Maier did better, finishing up with a .306/.357/.473 campaign that reminded people of his strengths (quick hands and a strong stroke) and his weaknesses (little inclination to take a free pass, stupid basepaths tricks). Already 24, he doesn't have anything like the upside that those scouts who compared him to Paul O'Neill suggested (by the same age, O'Neill already had big-league experience and demonstrated patience). (PECOTA's pre-season suggestion of Daryl Boston seems a lot more likely, although I doubt Maier can match Boston's swanky modishness.) Although Maier lacks an exploitable platoon split, if he's as good in center as some grade him out to be, he'll make a pretty nifty fourth outfielder. He might be ready for that role next spring; he certainly won't have to worry about being dangled past Rule 5 this winter.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Activated OF-R Gary Sheffield from the 15-day DL. [9/19]

Yes, this is obviously a good thing, but the note of caution I'd strike is that with so much available talent for the postseason roster, there's no guarantee that Joe Torre will use it, let alone use it wisely or well--he did manage to forget that he had Kenny Lofton in 2004, after all. Still, as things stand, Torre can now pick from among Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Craig Wilson, Bernie Williams and Melky Cabrera to fill out two spots in the lineup, left and DH basically, with three left over. How do you like them apples? Add in Miguel Cairo and Sal Fasano, and that's a pretty tasty bench--again, assuming Torre puts it to work. It might involve enough famous or formerly famous people that Torre won't forget any of them, but Lofton's not exactly known for being nondescript, let alone easily overlooked considering his considerable playoff experience. We'll have to see if the Yankees put all that muscle to use, but if you're a fan, you have to feel good about this.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Activated RHP Rich Harden from the 15-day DL. [9/21]

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, but it looks like the A's are counting on having Harden available to start the third game of their first playoff series, and he did little to discourage that thinking yesterday afternoon, and as Will Carroll notes, it looks like he'll be up for October action. That significantly alters the A's playoff perspective--consider the SNLVAs of the four AL playoff teams' rotations:

Athletics     Yankees          Twins           Tigers
Zito    2.6   Wang       2.1   Santana  4.7    Verlander  3.1
Haren   2.0   Mussina    1.9   Bonser   0.3    Robertston 2.7
Harden  0.6   Wright     0.9   Garza   -0.3    Rogers     2.1
Loaiza  0.1   Johnson   -0.6   Silva   -1.8    Bonderman  1.9

I know, where the Yankees are concerned, I'm cheating by listing Big Unit instead of Cory Lidle (-0.2 SNLVA), but I think the choice for the Yankees is between Wright and Lidle, with Johnson a lock because, well, he's Randy Johnson, and they're not. Similarly, I guess there's some sort of possibility that the Twins start Brad Radke, which no doubt will encourage Ron Gardenhire to choose between Bonser and Garza for potential Game Four duties, because Silva hasn't been all suck now that he's logged three quality starts in his last four.

What this table really reflects is that if you aren't the Tigers, you're probably doing a wee bit of wishcasting by the time you get to tabbing your Game Three starter in any series. The Yankees will no doubt have Johnson up front, and the Twins Silva, both on past history. Similarly, the A's are hoping that Harden lives up to the prospective acedom they've been anticipating the last two seasons. Can you blame any of them?

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Purchased the contract of C/UT-R Robby Hammock and recalled LF-R Scott Hairston from Tucson (Triple-A). [9/19]

Both are somewhat middling as far as talents, but both Hammock and Hairston managed to recover some of their former glory with solid seasons in Tucson. Having bounced back from a 2005 lost to a shredded throwing shoulder, Hammock is a multi-positional handyman, having played all four corners as well as catcher while hitting .290/.342/.515. He's not a patient hitter (22 unintentional walks in 406 PAs), but the power is not something to turn your nose up at, even if it was done in Tucson and the PCL. That's because even at 29 (and 30 early on next season), he still has as much of an upside as he ever did--as a handy roster solution for a team that wants to be able to use its backup catcher in roles beyond just the starter's off days. In an age when people want to carry 11 or sometimes 12 pitchers, players like Hammock are that much more valuable. Consider him a Brooks Kieschnick space-saving solution without the AC/DC does-he-pitch-or-catch angle that made Kieschnick a particular hero. Whether or not the Snakes keep him remains to be seen--they control Johnny Estrada through a couple of more spins through arbitration at the very least, and Chris Snyder isn't chopped liver. Hammock might end up being used as a sweetener in another deal, he might be Plan B to back up Snyder if they peddle Estrada, or he might just win the last spot on the bench if nothing else happens.

Hairston is the one with the top prospect rep to live down, because he managed to come up short--first as a second baseman, and then as a hitter worth noticing as he went down the Ron Gant career path in his move to left field. He'll be 27 next season, but hitting .323/.407/.591 as a Sidewinder has helped put him into consideration for next season's roster in a post-Gonzo outfield Snakiverse. Hairston will have to fight what should be a losing battle against Chris Young, as it's expected that Young will simply win the job in center while Eric Byrnes moves over to left. However, despite Hairston's limitations even as a left fielder, Byrnes' ability to start in center (or right) will give the Snakes the freedom to forego a more traditional multi-purpose outfield reserve, and instead put Hairston's bat on the roster, playing him in left on the off-days for any of the starting three--Young, Byrnes or Carlos Quentin. Between that and some double-switching and pinch-hitting, plus DHing in interleague play, even without anybody getting hurt, Hairston could still wind up 300+ PA in the majors next season. If he fulfills his end of the bargain and hits, he'll help give Arizona a pretty dangerous roster top to bottom.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Activated 3B-B Chipper Jones from the 15-day DL. [9/19]

Insurance money pocketed, His Chipperness will apparently only play sporadically, allowing the Braves to continue to give some measure of playing time to Willy Aybar at third. I'd be happier if they actually also used Aybar at his best position--second base--on Marcus Giles' off days, but regardless of how they use him now, the Braves are still stuck with the problem that having Aybar instead of Wilson Betemit represents: they have to carry a second infield reserve who can play shortstop. That's great if you're Pete Orr, I guess, but on a team that has Jones playing third regularly, Edgar Renteria at short, and control of Marcus Giles for another couple of years, an infield reserve who can't really play anywhere well besides second was a suboptimal solution when they started off with Betemit. The only way they really recoup on their investment is by dealing either Giles or Aybar for something they need, and by getting something out of Danys Baez, assuming they don't simply non-tender the reliever who was supposed to make the Betemit/Aybar exchange worthwhile in the first place.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Recalled RHP Ubaldo Jimenez from Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [9/21]

A lot of the young pitching talent is already up and established, so talented new hurlers have gotten little pub while the Rockies are busy test-marketing their homegrown crop of top position-playing talent. However, Jimenez has long been seen as one of the organization's most promising arms, and his arrival heralds a pretty good season spent between Tulsa and Colorado Springs. Making 26 starts between the two levels certainly buries any lingering concern about his shoulder for the time being, although striking out 150 in 151 2/3 innings certainly helps. In that time, he also allowed just 123 hits, 79 unintentional walks and nine homers, with opponents scoring 4.2 runs per nine. He throws in the high 90s, also mixing in a nice classic 12-to-6 curve. Before we moved into the mushy present in Denver baseball, I would have been more concerned about Jimenez' flyball tendencies, but I suspect he'll be back in Colorado Springs at the start of next season. It's his being near to readiness that, along with the pickup of Denny Bautista, should certainly afford them a hardline stance with Josh Fogg, assuming they even want him back.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Activated 1B/OF-L Ryan Klesko from the 60-day DL; placed RHP Doug Brocail on the 60-day DL. [9/20]

This might not be the end for Klesko, but this is really only a chance for him to end his Padre days with his cleats on, because it seems highly unlikely that they'll want a guy whose best position is DH and whose only asset--his bat--doesn't seem to be all that well-suited to Petco play. If he shows up on their postseason roster ahead of somebody like Terrmel Sledge, it'll be a mistake.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Purchased the contract of LHP Pat Misch from Fresno (Triple-A); recalled RHP Kelyn Acosta from San Jose (High-A), and placed him on the 60-day DL (strained elbow). [9/19]

The Giants are finding themselves short of pitching help--first they lost Armando Benitez, then they have to worry about Vinny Chulk's groin, then Steve Kline had to bail for a few days for the birth of his second child, and it all adds up to a bit of a headache, even with expanded rosters. Felipe Alou hasn't exactly seen much from Brian Wilson, Jack Taschner, or Scott Munter to inspire lots of confidence, and Jamey Wright's uniform is still being filled by Jamey Wright. On the strength of his improvement in his fourth season as a pro, Misch was going to be added to the 40-man roster after the season anyway, so Brian Sabean skipped waiting until November, instead giving Misch a taste of big-league action. After an ugly stint in Fresno at the start of last season, Misch had to repeat Double-A to finish 2005, and opened up the season back at that level this year. He earned a return to Triple-A by posting a 2.26 ERA for Double-A Connecticut, and didn't embarrass himself in Fresno his second time around. All told, he managed a 136-35 K-BB ratio in 168.2 innings, allowing 3.4 runs per nine. I wouldn't get as worked up about him as those numbers might encourage--he's a lefty with four pitches he can throw for strikes, but no real plus pitch, and while this season suggests that he's learned how to win with his assortment and earn the perhaps-inevitable sobriquet of "crafty lefty," he'll have a harder time of it pitching in The Show.


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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