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May 4, 2007

Transaction of the Day

Studies in Damage Control

by Christina Kahrl


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Optioned INF-R Brandon Wood to Salt Lake (Triple-A); activated UT-S Chone Figgins from the 15-day DL. [4/29]
Placed INF-S Maicer Izturis on the 15-day DL (hamstring); recalled INF-R Brandon Wood from Salt Lake. [5/2]

Deleting Izturis from the infield mix just gives the Angels an opportunity to give Wood a bit of a trial by fire, with his being able to play short or third, Figgins starting at second or third, and Erick Aybar flitting between all three positions in the lineup. These overlapping options keeps Mike Scioscia's range of in-game gambits and tactical choices as diverse as ever.

The interesting problem for the Angels is that while they've got a great collection of talent, fitting it together in the best combination to convert baserunners into runs might be a little more difficult than it might appear at first glance. Orlando Cabrera is nobody's idea of an everyday option in the third slot in a lineup, and while sabermetric sensibilities suggest lineup order doesn't matter, I've never bought into that particular principle of the doctrine, and the Angels' lineup is one of the reasons why. It basically boils down to not just needing hits-everybody needs those-but needing a particular kind of hit to cash in on your scoring opportunities. Cabrera's not a power hitter-his career Isolated Slugging, or ISO, is around .130, and our projection for him runs just under that.

So he's not going to deliver a lot of power, fine. The problem is that if you put him in a slot where he's going to be asked to deliver with men on base more often than at the front or at the bottom of the order, you're basically demanding that he give you a single, and not just any single, but clean liners to the outfield. That's not a formula for success, even when you have relatively light-footed baserunners like Gary Matthews Jr. or Figgins or Aybar on base in front of him. Expand that dilemma to encompass the entire lineup-and the Angels rank next to last in the league in ISO-and you've got a problem that makes you wish Vlad Guerrero could bat in every inning. Looking at that same table, the Angels are also next-to-last in the number of line drives they've hit, which reflects that they're not even getting the kinds of singles they need to plate people. Exacerbating the problem has been the weak production out of left fielder Garret Anderson and DH Shea Hillenbrand. Neither of them are top power hitters, of course, but the Angels expect better from them than the combined .324 slugging average they've put up.

Which is something that the Angels can reasonably hope Wood can help them with. The problem is that it's a matter of "eventually," as in he's probably not going to slug .500 and make tremendous contact, not immediately. PECOTA originally forecasted him to hit .241/.303/.444-which would be a tremendous season for a 22-year-old breaking into the majors, but would still be short of being the sort of hitter you'd stick in the middle of the order. What would really help is getting Juan Rivera back from his broken leg, because Rivera's a more consistent contact hitter with power on contact, but while he's already running, he's not expected back on any diamond at any level until next month, which probably rules out a return to the major leagues until sometime around the All-Star break. Then they wouldn't have to rely as much on Anderson and Hillenbrand, which in turn would make it easier to enjoy the flavor of the offensive contributions they get out of their infielders.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Acquired OF-L Chris Snelling from the Nationals for OF-L Ryan Langerhans. [5/2]
Acquired LF-L Jack Cust from the Padres for a PTBNL or cash. [5/3]

Give it to Billy Beane-when he's in a moment of dire need, he doesn't offer the kingdom for a horse, he dials up a few footloose deal mavens and picks up a pony or two for a price he can live with. With Mike Piazza headed to the DL after colliding with Mike Lowell at third, and with an outfield already handicapped by the loss of all three starters, things were looking a bit dire. (Thinking back to the 2003 postseason, do the A's ever catch a break against the Red Sox on the bases?) Rather than panic, Beane did a superb job of keeping ahead of things and trying to add talent that will help this team survive its multiple absences.

First there's flipping Langerhans for someone who might actually help this offense score some runs, now and even after the headliners come back. Given his propensity to get injured himself, Snelling's always going to be something of a question mark, and perhaps not exactly the ideal solution for a club already handicapped by injuries, but even with his checkered past, he's someone who PECOTA projects to slug better than .450. That only hints at his upside, which is much higher, although the extent to which his career path has already been unusual is clear from his top comparables, which include Mel Hall (in 1986), Darrell Evans (in 1972), and Langerhans (as of 2005). The A's are desperate enough for offensive help that they'll take the Hall career path; asking for a near-Hall of Fame-worthy career like Evans' would be a bit greedy. On the other hand, if the injuries have reduced his once-incredible ability to flick his wrists and power pitches to all fields, well, that's where you wind up in the unhappy circumstance of a Langerhans career path without the defensive value. Given that the A's need all the offensive help they can get, it's a risk worth taking, one that could continue to pay off long after the current emergency has subsided. If the A's are going to hang with the Angels this season, they needed to take this sort of risk.

Getting Cust is less exciting for most, but I'm happy to see it come to pass that the slugger who's terrorized Triple-A pitching with 125 homers and 588 walks in a little more than 3000 plate appearances is finally getting a shot to play more than sporadically for a major league team. Again, there are reasons why it's taken this long-Cust has been virtually Kingmanesque in his defensive indifference at first base and left field, and there's the usual scouty concern that he's not really going to be able to sit back and wait for cookies from pitchers in the big leagues the way he can in Portland or Sacramento. He's 28, so there's no time like the present, but again, the A's have a very real need, and Matt Stairs didn't get his big break-in Oakland, no less-until he was 28. Stairs was a better all-around hitter, and a former infielder, so it's not the best comparison, but there's a chance that Cust might actually surprise some people and give the A's the combination of lefty power and extraordinary patience this lineup desperately needs. If he doesn't, then you can start lumping him in with the Phil Stephenson types, but if he does, count me among his happy fans.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Placed OF-L Frank Catalanotto on the 15-day DL (strained biceps); optioned RHP Scott Feldman to Oklahoma (Triple-A); recalled OF-R Victor Diaz and RHP Mike Wood from Oklahoma. [5/1]

Losing Cat is a bad break, not because any great expectations harbored for him had any more possibility of realization-signing a DH or left fielder who's 33 and only slugged better than .450 once in the last three seasons shouldn't be seen as a building block-but because the Rangers have gotten such terrible production out of so many of their other outfield options. What was initially seen as a nice collection of mix-and-match choices between Catalanotto, Brad Wilkerson, Kenny Lofton, young slugger Nelson Cruz, and Sammy Sosa on the comeback trail hasn't been nearly as productive in reality. The only good news has been Sosa's bat, which has been enough to merit getting him into the lineup everyday-slugging seven homers in the early going has a way of changing you from "coming back" to simply "back." Beyond Sosa, manager Ron Washington's left to pick whoever's healthy and least cold on any particular night, with only Lofton's platoon partner in center, utilityman Jerry Hairston Jr., doing particularly well.

As a result, Diaz comes up into this mess with an opportunity, not simply to make good on his former promise as a Mets prospect and erase memories of his washout in 2006. He was very hot in the early going in Oklahoma, pasting the PCL at a .356/.386/.567 clip. He won't hit anything like that in The Show, but it wouldn't take much for him to move ahead of Cruz on the organizational depth chart. That sound improbable? Perhaps, but keep in mind that Diaz is a year and a half younger than Cruz, and they're very similar players, righty sluggers with occasional contact issues and not a lot of patience. In Cruz's favor, he's got a strong arm and moves around in an outfielder corner well, but slugging .250 isn't going to save him. Washington's been willing to look at Diaz, starting him twice and even batting him cleanup against Philip Hughes, but a couple of oh-fers didn't exactly help him re-establish himself. Suffice to say the Rangers' outfield is a mess, and seems likely to remain that way.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Placed LHP Mark Redman (toe ailment) and C-S Brayan Pena (concussion-related symptoms) on the 15-day DL; purchased the contracts of C-S Jarrod Saltalamacchia from Mississippi (Double-A) and RHP Kevin Barry from Richmond (Triple-A); transfered RHP Tanyon Sturtze from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/2]

While losing people is never good, the real missing piece here wasn't involved in these exchanges-catcher Brian McCann. He's trying to recover from a finger injury, and while the Braves would be wise not to rush him back, Salty's call-up might make it easier for them not to. We've been plugging his prospectdom for a while, and he remains a solid defender and a promising hitter, so if this ends up being a way of taking an early peek at the player who might someday push McCann to first base, that's okay, and if it's a way of giving Salty a cameo that ratchets up his trade value before the July deadlines, hey, that's okay too. In the meantime, there's no reason to believe he can't help the big league club for a few games, pending a full recovery from Pena.

As for losing Redman to an infected ingrown toe, it's just as well that the Braves get him out of the way. If this was the reason why he couldn't deliver even replacement-level starts, it's okay that the Braves shelve him for someone who might, and then take their next look at Redman once he's healthy. There's some suggestion that rather than rush up any of the organization's pitching prospects, the Braves will instead treat the fifth starter's slot as the skippable role it is, and plug in reliever Oscar Villarreal as sort of a variation on a so-called 'pen start,' trying to get four or five innings from him before turning to the other relievers. That's where carrying a seven-man pen comes in handy, as an organizational soldier like Barry or a retreaded journeyman and former starter like Chad Paronto can help extend those games back into the normal range where Bobby Cox can turn to his better late-game options. Again, it's a survivable setback, not the sort of thing that should cause Braves fans any panic.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Placed RHP Jerome Williams on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle); activated LHP Ray King from the 15-day DL. [4/29]
Designated INF-S D'Angelo Jimenez for assignment; recalled 4C-L Kory Casto from Columbus (Triple-A). [4/30]
Acquired OF-L Ryan Langerhans from the Athletics for OF-L Chris Snelling. [5/2]

The Snelling deal's not really good news, but it makes sense if you're worried about Ryan Church as a centerfielder and you've got a read on Nook Logan's shortcomings-those are defensible propositions. But the franchise has its mania for Logan to live down, and he's coming off of the DL after the weekend's action. Snelling's the better hitter on a team desperate for runs, and if he was almost certainly headed for the bench once Logan comes off of the DL (with Church presumably moving over to left), so too is Langerhans. Now, the best case is that if you consider Langerhans able to play center somewhat regularly, it gives them an alternative to Logan; that at least makes sense, and I can buy a suggestion that Langerhans has the ability to cover the gaps on a regular basis much better than Church does. So while this is every bit as unfortunate as it looks at first blush as a talent-for-talent exchange, if it turns out that Langerhans becomes this team's near-term center fielder, it's not the end of the world. It's disappointing and expensive, certainly, but Snelling's health was always going to be an uncertain proposition, and with Kearns locked up to a multi-year extension and Church seeming to settle in, Snelling's opportunities as anything more than a bargaining chip looked unlikely at best. It just doesn't look like Jim Bowden got good value for one of the shiny bits picked up in his inspired salary dump of Jose Vidro.

As for losing Williams, it's a setback, but not a major one. Although the Nats are everyone's favorite sad-sack team, they don't have the worst rotation in baseball or even the National League, posting a merely bad Fair Runs Allowed figure of 5.40 from their starters, rating 24th, better than the defending world champs (5.49), the NL-worst Marlins (6.51), and better than the truly execrable Rangers (6.99). The real problem is finding a replacement for Williams who won't lower the Nats down into that company, because the organization's short of prospects worth looking at-to his credit, manager Manny Acta's already trying to break in the best kids, Matt Chico and Shawn Hill. The early suggestion has been that they'll bring up Cardinal castoff Jason Simontacchi, who's perhaps still trying to live down his decision to skip pitching in the WBC for Italy last year, instead preferring to try hooking up with the Cubs. The Cubs. Since when did the Cubs have a better record than Italy? Anyway, Simontacchi didn't wind up getting back to The Show in that circumstance, but he's burrowed his way down to a club that might be able to use him, although with 17 hits allowed in two starts (lasting 10.2 innings), I wouldn't call him the cavalry.

Who else could they turn to from Columbus? What about Tim Redding? He's getting smacked around, lighting up scoreboards with a 7.31 ERA, although one decisively awful outing against Buffalo (12 earned runs allowed in 1.1 innings) brutalizes his overall numbers. He's actually put up a couple of quality starts and four winnable ballgames-I know, that's a weak tally in six starts, but this is the Nats, and I'm just exploring the non-Simontacchi options. The guy I'd like to see is Joel Hanrahan-he's actually doing well, no excuses necessary, posting a 1.69 ERA, while even showing the improved command he'll need to ever break through by striking out 22 and walking seven in 21.1 innings.


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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