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April 15, 2007

Transaction Analysis

Opening Day to April 14, 2007

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Placed RHP Kelvim Escobar on the 15-day DL (shoulder), retroactive to 4/9; recalled RHP Greg Jones from Salt Lake (Triple-A). [4/13]

While this is no doubt frustrating to people who have Escobar in their fantasy leagues, as a real-life proposition, it isn't the end of the world for the Angels. Jered Weaver will be coming off of the DL and stepping back into the rotation on Monday, Escobar's only expected to miss the necessary two weeks, and if this entails a third start for Dustin Moseley, after two initial quality starts that's pretty far from the end of the world. Even that might not come to pass, because Bartolo Colon could be back from the DL before Escobar, which means that not only is Moseley going to be out of a job shortly, so too will Joe Saunders be. The real question is whether Moseley and Saunders both wind up having to go back down to Salt Lake, or if they wind up in the pen, forcing demotions for organizational soldiers Greg Jones and Chris Bootcheck. Considering Darren Oliver's struggles, Saunders could prove handy as another southpaw in pen, and unlike how I would with most managers, I wouldn't worry about Mike Scioscia wasting Saunders in a strictly situational role.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Placed RHP Jaret Wright on the 15-day DL (shoulder soreness), retroactive to 4/11; recalled LHP Brian Burres from Norfolk (Triple-A). [4/12]

If you read Will's column on Friday, you already know that placing Wright on the DL was a bit of active management of a player's aches and pains, but it's also perhaps a bit of addition by subtraction. Let's face it, if you're an Orioles fan, you should be more invested in what Leo Mazzone achieves with Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera, and Adam Loewen, not whether or not he successfully retreads Wright a second time. In Wright's absence, Indians castoff Jeremy Guthrie will get a spot start or two, and again, I'm more interested in seeing if Guthrie is the sort of young "washout" who gets his career back on track on Mazzone's watch. He had an exceptional camp (11 baserunners and 14 K's in 15 IP), and the former Stanford star is still only 28, and if he lacks a truly exceptional pitch, he throws relatively hard, and throws strikes with four pitches. He serves as a pretty good answer to the always-uncomfortable question, 'Where do fifth starters come from?' (True answer: a Panzer, which I suppose explains a lot of things.)

As for still carrying 13 pitchers, there's not much to be said for it. It's beyond goofy, but now that the Orioles have that always-critical fourth lefty in the pen, they're prepared for anybody who tries to bushwhack them with three or four iterations of Oscar Gamble in a single game. Because as we all know, if you're going to clone a player, you start with Oscar Gamble, or maybe John Lowenstein. You just can't find those guys these days, which sort of gets us back to the question of why anyone would need a fourth lefty, but what can you say, save that Sam Perlozzo is a paragon of preparedness.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Signed C-R Yamid Haad to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Buffalo (Triple-A). [4/9]
Signed RHP Jake Westbrook to a three-year, $33 million contract extension; activated OF-R Franklin Gutierrez from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Buffalo. [4/13]

Westbrook's deal gets him under contract through 2010, and while the money is probably a bit rich (at least as far as PECOTA's Valuation for him over that span is concerned), from a perhaps more psychological standpoint, you can accept it-Westbrook has been a relative bargain in making less than $4.5 million per from 2005 through this year. I'd also be more optimistic about how well he does with an improved infield defense in the next few seasons-as a pretty extreme groundball pitcher, he's particularly defense-dependent, and his durability over the last three seasons is especially valuable for a club that can plate runs as well as the Tribe does. In talking about Mark Shapiro's decisions over who to keep and for how long, I've talked about a "victory dividend" from making a playoff appearance in 2007 as an important factor in the Tribe's ability to retain Westbrook and potentially extend C.C. Sabathia and Travis Hafner beyond their 2008 seasons, but he properly decided to eliminate the one big-ticket retention that might have presented a distraction in this season. Now, whether or not the team wins can help fund their bids to keep Sabathia and Hafner beyond 2008. Speaking as someone who's picked the Indians to win the AL Central, I'd be confident that those decisions will get done when they have to be, and will be made with a similar blend of rational choice and understandable enthusiasm.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Placed 1B/3B-R Jeff Cirillo on the 15-day disabled list (knee); placed LF-R Rondell White on the 15-day DL (strained calf), retroactive to 4/5. [4/9]
Recalled 2B/SS-S Alexi Casilla from Rochester; purchased the contract of OF-R Josh Rabe from Rochester (Triple-A). [4/10]
Recalled LHP Glen Perkins from Rochester; optioned C-R Chris Heintz to Rochester. [4/12]

While this might normally represent some sort of setback for a normal ballclub, this is the Twins, so there losing a pair of players expected to handle a lot of the playing time in left and DH isn't really a setback. Instead, it's sort of a relief, especially in White's case. In his absence, Jason Kubel and Rabe will handle left field, but the more interesting problem is what they do about DH. Using Mike Redmond and Luis Rodriguez can't be full-time fixes, but it might be sort of cool if they used this as an opportunity to go for a bigger, better piranha by plugging in Casilla. If he can come anywhere close to PECOTA's projected .356 OBP, he'll give them an on-base threat he also provides exceptional speed on the bases, and if they further use this as an opportunity to plug his better glovework in at second, and DH Luis Castillo a bit, that's still the best possible utilization of the talent on hand, however unorthodox it might be in the face of expectations that a DH is supposed to slug. Casilla's one of the nine best bats on this club, so getting him in action makes more sense than getting hung up on that particular preconception.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Signed SS-R Yuniesky Betancourt to a new four-year, $13.75 million contract extension, with a club option on 2012. [4/4]
Placed LHP Arthur Rhodes on 15-day DL, retroactive to 4/1; recalled LHP Jake Woods from Tacoma (Triple-A). [4/10]
Announced that the Phillies claimed 2B-R Michael Garciaparra off of waivers. [4/11]

Two relatively minor things, in that the Mariners are really just erasing any concern that they'll have to go to arbitration with Betancourt, and have bought what ought to be the best stretch of his career. If you accept the arguments of scouts and (to a lesser extent) David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range, Betancourt's a find defender, and he's not Adam Everett at the plate, seeming a good bet to post an OBP above .300 while slugging better than .400. That makes him something less than a player you build around, but still an asset, and if he develops afield to the point that there's a broader consensus that he's the premium defender at the position, he's worth the investment. On the other hand, seeing Rafael Ramirez as one of his top comparables is worrying, and as Dan Fox recently explored, there are more recent examples of relatively impatient players just flat-out failing to adapt. If this doesn't work, Bill Bavasi may end up with as many regrets over Betancourt as Allard Baird has about Angel Berroa. It's more of a gamble than it might appear at first glance, but it's not too unusual by industry standards.

As for the bullpen exchange, Rhodes may be done, but I guess I don't see replacing him with Woods as a setback for the Mariners. Woods was pretty useful last season, and if he's not really cut out for situational work, the primary LOOGY responsibilities were already George Sherrill's lot. With youngsters Sean White and Brandon Morrow in the pen, having a sometime starter like Woods around to pitch multiple innings is actually pretty handy, giving Mike Hargrove a potential innings sponge that allows to him to pick his spots with White and Morrow while also leaving the late-game responsibilities for setting up J.J. Putz spread among Sherrill, Chris Reitsma, and Julio Mateo.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Jamey Wright; optioned RHP Mike Wood to Oklahoma (Triple-A); designated LHP Daniel Haigwood for assignment. [4/10]
Activated RHP Eric Gagné from the 15-day DL; placed RHP Jamey Wright on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 4/11. [4/13]

Wright hasn't been a valuable commodity in several seasons, so his appearance and subsequent obliteration injury might actually be a nice turn of events for the Rangers. In his absence, they're going to plug Kameron Loe back in. While Loe's going to have to start fooling a few more people a lot more often than he did in last year's stint in the rotation, he's a groundball pitcher with some interesting comparable pitchers. Even if he winds up being the new Sean Bergman, that's still somebody good enough to use as your fifth starter, and that's something you can's say readily about Wright these days.

As for the latest comeback of Eric Gagné, I wish him well as much as anyone, but I'm going to remain a bit of a skeptic until we seem handle pitching on consecutive days. It's not impossible to afford carrying a closer who can only handle three games a week, it just needs those save opportunities to be nicely spaced out, but having Akinori Otsuka to handle the Gagné rest-day chores makes it a manageable proposition. We'll see how it goes, but Gagné's finding out the hard way that you have to tell people when you're not 100 percent needs to be shown to have been something he's learned from, in case he starts having problems. Again, I'll believe it when I see it. On paper, that's a decent balance of utility, talent, and developmental roles, so we'll see if it actually works out.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Placed OF-R Reed Johnson on the 15-day DL (herniated disc - lower back), retroactive to 4/12; recalled OF-L Adam Lind from Syracuse (Triple-A); announced the voiding of the option of RHP Brandon League, and instead placed on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 3/31. [4/13]

This is definitely a good news/bad news situation, in that the good news is that Lind is more than ready to hit as a big league regular, but there's no idea how long they've lost Johnson for just yet. Happily, Alex Rios has started hitting, so the Jays really are in a one-for-one exchange as far as their lineup's concerned. As long as they can play one or the other of them, they don't have a problem; Johnson hit right-handers well enough last season to cast doubt on the expectation that he's more of a platoon player, so having both Lind and Johnson doesn't have an easy answer-someone who can play would still wind up on the bench, whether it was either of them, or Rios, or Vernon Wells. It's not a bad thing, of course, and it certainly makes for a solid postseason roster (as if), but getting playing time for everyone once Johnson's back won't be easy. Still, this is far less a matter of concern than having to use Jason Smith in Troy Glaus' absence-that's fine for spot duty, but if Glaus misses an extended period of time, that becomes a bit of a problem.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Micah Owings from Tucson (Triple-A); designated RHP J.D. Durbin for assignment. [4/5]

This isn't exactly news, since it was very much expected, but the nice contretemps for the Snakes is that Owings has already rewarded the organization's enthusiasm for him, which creates a very nice problem for GM Josh Byrnes and manager Bob Melvin once Randy Johnson is ready to come off of the DL. Barring some temporary bout of six-man rotation madness-and that sort of bad idea has cropped up before, sort of like Marburg-something's gotta give, and while Owings is optionable, he also seems to be as ready as he needs to be. In contrast, Edgar Gonzalez is out of options, so hauling him out of the rotation means he has to go to the pen; sending him to Tucson means risking a waiver claim, something Byrnes is smart enough not to try. So it really boils down to a question of Owings getting sent down after a nice debut, or perhaps Dustin Nippert returning to the Sidewinders' rotation with Gonzalez going to the pen. There's not really a bad-looking branch to be found in this particular decision tree, but obviously it's a matter of some importance to the players themselves. I'd probably favor keeping Owings up, and pushing Gonzalez into the long relief role, in part because I think it's better to put Nippert back in regular rotation work, and because Owings looks like he's the best choice for the rotation.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Placed RHP Chad Paronto on the 15-day DL (strained groin); optioned LHP Macay McBride to Richmond (Triple-A); recalled RHP Peter Moylan and LHP Steve Colyer from Richmond. [4/14]

Losing Paronto isn't exactly good news, but he also wasn't one of the more critical parts of the pen, and as I've already suggested, taking a good look at Moylan might give Bobby Cox a side-arming tactical weapon to blitz right-leaning lineups with. McBride's struggles with his command were a more basic unhappy problem-not a one of his eleven walks in his three innings pitched was issued under orders. So a punitive demotion seemed in order, although I'm not optimistic that a career-long wild man like Colyer (5.8 walks per nine in nine minor league seasons and four different organizations) is going to be much of a solution, however temporary. Mike Gonzalez hasn't exactly been sharp either, which basically puts the Braves in the market for some lefty relief help, should any come up for the right price. It's going to be up to McBride regaining some measure of his command in Richmond to spare them from that.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Activated LHP Eric Milton from the 15-day DL; placed RHP Jared Burton on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring). [4/8]
Placed SS-R Alex Gonzalez on the Bereavement List. [4/12]
Purchased the contract of INF-R Enrique Cruz from Chattanooga (Double-A); transferred OF-R Chris Denorfia from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/13]

Knowing full well that I'm running up against PECOTA's expectations for this team, I still see the basic outline of a contention-worthy ballclub, at least in the pygmy race of the NL Central. While he seems to be flogged as regularly in print as on the mound, where Milton's concerned I still see something resembling an effective starter in the bottom of the rotation, and if he got a bit pasted by the Pirates' lineup the second and third first times through the order, it was his first game back, and he threw strikes. I'm not expecting a return to his Twins days, but if Milton and Kyle Lohse are your last pair of starters, that isn't the worst rotation around, and certainly not in this division. Bronson Arroyo has produced quality starts in his first three turns (the two against the Cubs were both blown after the sixth inning), while Aaron Harang has looked pretty rough in two out of three starts. The happy surprise has been Matt Belisle, who with a lot less fanfare than Adam Wainwright has had two very good starts, a good initial return on a Good Krivsky decision. Basically, if the rotation does well enough that it allows the Reds to pick their moment for when Homer Bailey comes up, that's a good thing. If they end up turning to Bailey once someone breaks down, and not because someone's been lousy and earned a release (or a punt back to the pen), it's a better circumstance.

Meanwhile Gonzalez is back in Venezuela to attend to a family matter, but presumably he'll be back at the end of the week when his stay on the BL is supposed to end. In his place, the Reds have to turn to one of the Bad Krivsky's pickups, the permanently appalling Juan Castro. What's next for Castro, Washington or Toronto? Like the Mississippi, the Crummy Shortstops Trail seems to emanate from Minnesota, but it goes all over the place after that, with cul-de-sacs up the Yazoo.

In Gonzo the Greater's place, the Reds have called up Cruz, an almost-a-prospect, not-quite-a-washout sort who had to deal with a Rule 5-driven case of officium via interruptus when the Brewers snagged him out of the Mets' system for the 2003 season, putting a 21-year-old with no experience above A-ball in the majors. He recovered well enough to have a pretty solid season in Double-A in 2005 before getting dealt to the Rangers for Brian Shouse last summer. He's still only 25, and while he has a little bit more sock than you'd expect from an infield reserve, he's not a good shortstop, which sort of diminishes his utility.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Assigned OF-L Alexis Gomez to Colorado Springs (Triple-A ); outrighted RHP Simon Ferrer to Asheville (A-ball). [4/6]

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Activated LHP Taylor Tankersley from the 15-day DL. [4/12]

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Placed OF-R Matt Kemp on the 15-day DL (shoulder); recalled RHP Chin-hui Tsao from Las Vegas (Triple-A). [4/10]
Optioned RHP Chin-hui Tsao to Las Vegas; activated SS-S Rafael Furcal from the 15-day DL. [4/13]

Unhappy days for Dodger fans, because Kemp goes down at the same time that Andre Ethier seems mired in an opening slump, unfortunately leading to a sort of negative reinforcement for commitments to play Juan Pierre and Luis Gonzalez as often as they expected to. It's still not the end of the world, of course, in that Kemp should be back in LA in early May, and maybe Ethier gets hot by then, and maybe Pierre's continued slappy suckitude creates a rotation of the four of them for the majority of at-bats. The danger is that Ethier stays cold and perhaps gets supplanted by Brady Clark and winds up back in Vegas when Kemp returns, but even that quartet of outfielders-Gonzo, Pierre, Kemp, and Clark-is still better than one-third of the outfield being all-Pierre all the time.

As for getting Furcal back, Will's already noted that he'll be at something less than full speed, but I have no problem signing off on the proposition that some fraction of Furcal is a better thing to have in the lineup than an entire Wilson Valdez, although admittedly Valdez's hot start did help create the "debate." What I think is more interesting is to ask whether or not Valdez's nice early work means anything in terms of endangering Grady Little favorite Ramon Martinez's spot on the bench-a backup infielder who can't play short can be something of a luxury, especially he doesn't have a lot of other virtues (like speed, or a bat, or something). This is related to the problem of what to do when Kemp can be reactivated-if not Ethier, where do you make space? By picking between the infield reserves who aren't both needed if a fully-healthy Furcal is playing short daily.

NEW YORK METS
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Optioned OF-R Lastings Milledge to New Orleans (Triple-A); recalled RHP Mike Pelfrey from St. Lucie (High-A). [4/13]

Well, both Kevin and I ranted about Milledge's pointless presence on the big league bench, but it ended up being a two-week atmosphere gig, where he got the look and feel of being in the big leagues, and marking time until Pelfrey was promoted to take up his duties as the fifth starter. While I'm still inclined to want to have Ben Johnson up as a defensive replacement and right-handed sometime platoon option for Shawn Green in right, the way things are set up now has a sense to it. Carrying Newhan and Julio Franco might be a bit excessive, but that's more about Franco's uselessness as anything other than a pinch-hitter and sometime first baseman; Newhan can at least plausibly play the four corners, and center or even second in an emergency. I suspect Omar Minaya's not the GM to make a call like cutting Franco before he's ready to retire, however, so while I'd rather have Johnson on this team's bench, it also isn't especially likely in the immediate future.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Claimed 2B-R Michael Garciaparra off of waivers from the Mariners. [4/11]
Claimed RHP J.D. Durbin off of waivers from the Red Sox. [4/13]
Activated RHP Freddy Garcia from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Clay Condrey for assignment. [4/14]

Pretty much as expected, Chief's back off of the DL, and all's right in the world, everything except for the club's initial record. It's still far too early to get worked up about the club's cold early-April run-Adam Eaton's had a good start and a bad start, which means nothing, and I really doubt the Phillies will lose every time Brett Myers starts for the remainder of the season. The club's offense hasn't been the problem, as they rank fourth in the league in the early going. The real problem has been the pen, which has been MLB's worst in the early going, but again, I'm just not convinced that the talent here is going to deliver that kind of unhappiness all season. It's been a rough two weeks, but I still expect the Phillies to be in the running for the division title.

Meanwhile, it's been an exciting three weeks for Durbin, who's in his fourth organization since March 1, flipping from his Twin parent to the Snakes, the Red Sox, and the Phillies. Everyone's willing to make the space for him on their 40-man, but everyone also wants to see if they can be the ones who can successfully pass him through waivers and get him back down to Triple-A. It means he's probably doomed to experience this sort of thing again, barring a real commitment by the Phillies to stick him in a long relief role and see if his former prospect status can be resurrected. I'm doubtful, because the team's pen problems probably don't allow for experimentation, but maybe Pat Gillick's acquisitiveness pays off here. The organization needs all the young talent it can get, and Gillick's sticky-fingered interest in the waiver wire makes sense in both the near- and long-term.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Activated 2B/3B-R Freddy Sanchez from the 15-day DL; optioned C-S Ryan Doumit to Triple-A Indianapolis. [4/7]

So, Sanchez is back, and he's back at second, and we're just going to have to see if he can handle it. I'm skeptical about his being able to turn the deuce and have enough range to be a good second baseman, but I admire the Pirates' willingness to give it a shot. If it works, he becomes a pretty important bargaining chip and/or a key contributor for the next several seasons, and if it doesn't, then it's sort of like a better-case Jorge Cantu scenario, where you have a useful hitter who can help you at second or third, but who you might want to utilize across the two positions, instead of permanently at one or the other. What I'm more frustrated by is the lack of opportunity for Doumit, but Ronny Paulino's the better backstop, and Doumit has too much offensive upside to be a spare part. Hopefully, he'll be liberated in a deal of some sort.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Signed RHP Chris Young to a four-year, $14.5 million contract with a club option for 2011. [4/10]
Placed C-S Josh Bard on the 15-day DL; purchased the contract of C-L Pete Laforest from Portland (Triple-A). [4/12]

I'm one of those people who's almost as excited about this Chris Young as the other one, for reasons I talked about in this year's book-a big flyball rate doesn't mean all things for all pitchers, and Young's someone who might just be hard to hit grounders off in any environment, let alone in the generous confines of Petco. The money's pretty good considering he's already got more than two years as a rotation regular under his belt, and with Jake Peavy under contract through 2009, and Clay Hensley under control for four more seasons beyond this one, the Pads have the core of their rotation squared away. Put Cesar Carillo into that picture at some point, and that's a pretty solid foundation.

Losing Bard isn't good news, but he'll be back after two weeks. Being able to turn to Laforest as their injury replacement is pretty sweet-he missed almost all of the 2006 season with a slow-healing abdominal strain, but he's hit .257/.345/.457 on his minor league career, a far sight better than Rob Bowen's .238/.324/.391 clip on his. Bowen's the better defender, but if the worst thing that happens in Bard's absence is that the Pads have a solid offense-defense platoon behind the plate, with Laforest drawing a solid number of starts in the meantime, then losing Bard isn't really going to show up in the standings.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Optioned INF-R Kevin Frandsen to Fresno (Triple-A). [4/12]
Activated 1B/OF-L Mark Sweeney from the 15-day DL. [4/13]

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Placed RHP Chris Carpenter on the 15-day DL (elbow), retroactive to 4/2; recalled LHP Randy Keisler from Memphis (Triple-A). [4/9]

Anything I say at this point about Carpenter's contract extension would be a bit of gang-tackling. Starting with Joe, we've been beating this drum since December, and now here we are, with Carpenter on the DL, and the Cardinals wondering about their alternatives. Unlike some of my peers, I don't see this as an automatic death sentence for the Cardinals-play .500 for the first month or two, and you'll still be in striking distance of first place in the NL Central. Keisler might seem a dubious proposition for fifth starter, especially when the rotation's already dependent upon the success of Braden Looper and Adam Wainwright, but if the journeyman did some good work in what's expected to be a three- or four-start stint, he wouldn't be the first graybeard to learn how to do some new things with the baseball on pitching coach Dave Duncan's watch. While Looper, Wainwright, and Keisler might also all seems like tough bets to count on as far as consistently getting into the sixth or seventh inning, that's one of the virtues of having Ryan Franklin around as a true middle reliever, serving as a bridge to the rest of the pen.

Now, getting Carpenter back in May is going to be important for their being able to build off of their merely staying in the pack in the meantime, we shouldn't forget that they'll get Mark Mulder back around the All-Star break. Presuming he's got anything to offer, the Cards might be able to afford more trouble in their rotation than they're being credited. What matters is the next couple of weeks-if they get winnable starts out of a star-free rotation in the meantime, they're not dead, and I wouldn't bet against them.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Placed LHP Ray King on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendonitis); recalled RHP Saul Rivera from Columbus (Triple-A). [4/12]

The club still has Micah Bowie to fulfill the inevitable LOOGY needs, so it isn't like Manny Acta should get all hocked up now that he's down one southpaw. I don't have much to add to what I said about Saul Rivera in Baseball Prospectus 2007, in that while he's easy to root for because he's a relatively rubber-armed battler (and this staff can use that sort of guy), he's also not the kind of guy you'll find in a truly good bullpen. I'm glad he's back up, but that's a reflection on my sympathies for just everything that's going on and going to happen to this ballclub this year.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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