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May 10, 2007

Transaction Analysis

May 6-9, 2007

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Placed RHP Justin Speier on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 4/30; recalled 1B-S Kendry Morales from Salt Lake (Triple-A). [5/8]
Optioned 3B/SS-R Brandon Wood to Salt Lake (Triple-A); recalled 3B-R Matt Brown from Salt Lake. [5/9]

Losing Speier is probably the first significant setback the Angels have had in their rash of injuries since Howie Kendrick got hurt. Not that you want to sample these things to make snobby distinctions, but not every player's created equal, and some losses are worse than others. Speier has been the most effective reliever the Angels have had in the early going, and losing him puts them in a bit of a bind as they wait for K-Rod and Scot Shields to deliver more consistently. As is, retreads Hector Carrasco and Darren Oliver aren't off to good starts, and the unspecific "viral" nature of Speier's woes, the Angels may find themselves in the market for relief help, especially if Speier's problems wind up being anywhere as debilitating as Casey Kotchman's were last season. I think we can understand the Angels' reluctance to get into details-if Speier's out for a while, Bill Stoneman might not want to broadly advertise that as he tries to see what the markets might hold, and there's nothing wrong with some old-fashioned reticence in talking about a player being ill.

Morales' call-up might be an ominous development for Shea Hillenbrand, because while the Angels seem to be content with a platoon of Kotchman and Robb Quinlan at first, and seem to have similarly settled into putting Reggie Willits in left, Erick Aybar at second, and Chone Figgins at third, there's some obvious frustration with Hillenbrand's lack of power or production of any sort. Hillenbrand has twice as many GIDPs (four) as extra-base hits or walks (two apiece), which is just grisly in a sickly Jason Kendall sort of way. Put that at catcher, and you make allowances; put it at DH, and you might be motivated to dig up a map of the La Brea tar pits and start talking about sinking some sunk costs. Garret Anderson's out till some point in June, and Juan Rivera sometime in July, but you have to figure that the club might start coveting Hillenbrand's roster spot for other uses once they're back, and if he doesn't start hitting, he'll have given them all the motivation they need.

Where do the kids fit in? Wood's demotion made sense-the club wants to play Figgins and get him back up to speed, and whether you consider playing Aybar and end unto itself or showcasing, there just wasn't playing time in the infield to spare. Wood's too good a prospect to keep up to enjoy better hotels and per diems-if Figgins doesn't get his bat started, Wood's the probable solution, and the best way to have him ready for that is to have him playing every day in the minors. So swapping out Wood for the righty-hitting organizational soldier who might spot for Figgy against a lefty or two makes sense. Brown's no prospect, but he has his uses, with some modest pop and a basic ability to play third, and better he see if he's up for a Quinlan Lite role until the team learns what to expect from Figgins and makes a decision on Wood's timetable.

As for Morales himself, he wasn't doing that much damage in Utah, but even his .282/.302/.372 looks good when you're getting nothing out of Hillenbrand. If the Angels use Hillenbrand's failings and the absences of Rivera and Anderson as an opportunity to evaluate Morales, that seems sensible enough to me. If the Cuban import doesn't get his bat started, there's going to come a point where he might be reduced to a bargaining chip.

All of which suggests to me that if none of Kotchman and Morales and Hillenbrand are hitting by the All-Star break, and if the Angels still haven't pulled away from the rest of the division, then not even the returns of Anderson and Rivera will fix one problem-first base. It'll certainly be interesting to see what route they'd take if it comes to that.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Optioned LHP Kurt Birkins to Norfolk (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Jon Leicester from Norfolk; transferred LHP Adam Loewen from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/7]
Outrighted RHP Sean Tracey to Norfolk. [5/8]

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Placed RHP Jake Westbrook on the 15-day DL (strained abdomen), retroactive to 5/3; designated RHP Jason Davis for assignment; recalled RHPs Fausto Carmona and Edward Mujica from Buffalo (Triple-A). [5/7]
Activated RHP Matt Miller from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Buffalo. [5/9]

So, for those of you scoring at home, it's really almost a matter of swapping Westbrook for Cliff Lee, with Carmona spending more time on the shuttle than Jim Wetherbee. For Carmona, this isn't the end of the world, in that he'll get another month or so in the Indians' rotation, and if he earns his keep, he'll certainly make Mark Shapiro's decision over whether or not to pick up Paul Byrd's 2008 option that much more interesting. It also isn't inconceivable that Carmona could pitch his way past Jeremy Sowers by the time Westbrook's ready to come back, especially if Sowers stops throwing twice as many quality starts as outright beatings.

So far, no news as far as Davis getting dealt-as someone brought up in Monday's chat-but you can certainly understand the Indians deciding to cut bait. Mujica works a little up in the zone for a guy who catches as much of home plate as he does as one of the more remarkable strike-throwers around, but we'll see if the Indians can help him polish up his slider or perfect the splitter he'll need to have something with wiggle to reliably set up his low-90s heat.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Optioned LHP Kei Igawa to Tampa (High-A); purchased contract of RHP Matt DeSalvo from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A); transferred RHP Humberto Sanchez from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/7]

This might seem like an extraordinary exchange, since Igawa was supposed to be a big-dough delivery from across the Big Water, but you can understand if the Steinbrennerians got impatient. Calling up an organizational soldier like DeSalvo smacked of desperation, but to give you a taster for Kevin's next article, he's going to be talking about how DeSalvo has sort of snuck up on scouts and surprised people to come as far as he has. Perhaps his outstanding debut shouldn't have shocked people-the guy knows his limitations, and works past them. An underdog in pinstripes is probably seen as an oxymoron in some quarters, but here's looking forward to seeing if he can hang around in the back end of the rotation.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Announced that RHP Juan Salas has been suspended for 50 games for testing positive for a PED; recalled RHP Tim Corcoran and Chad Orvella from Durham (Triple-A). [5/9]

Corcoran and Orvella are replacing what now appear like a pair of bad ideas-the now-suspended Salas and former nepotista Ruddy Lugo. Both regrettable in their ways, Lugo's perhaps the more noxious, since, as reader Kevin Holmes noted: "His presence on the roster was either wishcasting beyond reason, or as a gift to curry favor with his more talented brother, Julio... the big surprise is that Ruddy remained well after Julio was traded." I'm flattered by the use of 'wishcasting,' naturally, but that's my perhaps now-gauche taste for neologisms-I mean, if everybody's doing it, what's the point? If everyone starts inventing words, the language will be reduced to a massive Clutterbuck. (Hey, we're still a family site.)

So now Orvella and Corcoran are the latest solutions to one of the worst pens in baseball. Lugo wasn't even this pen's worst problem pitcher-paging Brian Stokes-but guys like Jae Kuk Ryu and Shawn Camp have talent (or in Ryu's case, a future), so you can understand the Rays not making more wholesale changes. Orvella seems to be back in the organization's good graces after last year's battles over his mechanics, and you would have to think that if Tampa Bay's going to get serious about fixing their pen, Orvella has to be part of the solution. I figure he can be groomed for closing-I know how long many of you have been waiting for that-but in the meantime, there's Al Reyes' deadline value to inflate, and if Orvella can thrive in a seventh-inning setup role, that should be a solid enough bit of finishing school to prep him for the cape and the big 'C'. Corcoran's just somebody that, like Gary Glover, I like for no really good reason beyond his being a survivor. He's pushing 30, in his third organization, and this is his sixth full season above A-ball. He's really a utility pitcher of sorts, having also filled in as a starter last season, and he's a little too flyball-prone to make a reliable asset, but as Judge Smails might have it, the world needs mop-up men too.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Optioned RHP Wes Littleton to Oklahoma (Triple-A); activated RHP Eric Gagné from the 15-day DL. [5/8]

There's no real news here-Ron Washington is going to have to manage Gagné's workload carefully, but with both Akinori Otsuka and Joaquin Benoit doing good works so far, the Rangers skipper should be able to structure something that keeps him from reinjuring himself or having to work consecutive nights.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Designated LHP Steve Colyer for assignment; recalled RHP Anthony Lerew from Richmond (Triple-A). [5/8]

Lerew was plugged directly into the rotation in the Mark Redman spot, but there's more at stake here than just a bit of temping until the old man's noxious toe problem heals up. Kyle Davies has put up only two quality starts in his first five; his second, last Sunday, was blown when Bobby Cox reasonably left him out to face the 6-8 spots in the Dodgers' order trailing 2-1, and a two-out single by Mike Lieberthal to bring up the pitcher's spot seemed manageable, right up until Wilson Betemit hit a pinch-hit home run. So, Davies has been spotty-five bombs and 16 unintentional free passes in 26.2 innings isn't good-but he's also had his moments. However, he'll need a few more if he's going to stay ahead of Lerew and Redman in the mix for one of the bottom two rotation slots. If he does, you might see Redman put through his paces with a fully utilized rehab assignment.

So what about Lerew? Reaching the back end of a big league rotation is his ceiling, but the real question is whether that means he can become a solid fourth, or if he has to instead live the life of the bumpable fifth who gets an all-expenses paid trip back to Triple-A one bad outing too many. I don't see why he can't make it-he's one of the Braves' classic long-limbed talents with consistent low-90s heat, and it looks like he's beaten the mechanical issues that short-circuited his slider and change last season. He seems to have mastered those, shutting down Norfolk and Charlotte across 13.2 scoreless innings in his last two starts. He's also a superior athlete, even by the Braves' standards, that rare Lilliquist type who can field and hit and run and basically play baseball and remind everyone that pitchers don't all have to wind up like so many latter-day incarnations of Ron Herbel. He's a career .298 hitter in the minors, and has even stolen three bases.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Optioned MI-R Ronny Cedeno to Iowa (Triple-A); recalled RHP Angel Guzman from Iowa. [5/6]

A couple of cool things are going on here. First, it looks like Lou Piniella's going with an offense-defense platoon at shortstop. Admittedly, Ryan Theriot isn't the offensive powerhouse you might relish if you were one of those people who employed Willie Greene or Tim Naehring gambits in those Strat league seasons where they're 4e7s and you think "Shazam! I'll beat those guys bloody." Instead, it's more like Piniella's solution to his shortstop problems in his still-remarkable 1995 season with the Mariners, where he alternated Luis Sojo and Felix Fermin as a punch-and-judy combo (Sojo provided the punch) in the last year before the job was A-Rod's once and for all. Now, admittedly, Mariners fans may not remember that season fondly, since Rodriguez probably could have just been handed the job down the stretch instead of being treated to watching that combo play short. Certainly, I always found Piniella's solution intriguing. I wondered if it was an echo of the ugly days of Piniella's first two seasons of skippering-the 1986 and 1987 Yankes, a team infamously without a shortstop, as the lurched between Bobby Meacham, Wayne Tolleson, Mike Fischlin, and Paul Zuvella, or the cast that would eventually make a Bronx hero out of Alvaro Espinoza.

The Cubs are similarly indeterminate as far as whether they have a shortstop or not, but I don't think Piniella's lurching indecisively as he was back in those bad old days. It's better to create a role for Theriot and put him to work while using Cesar Izturis no more than necessary (and perhaps in all Carlos Zambrano starts). Better to show a willingness to pull Izturis, especially in-game for a pinch-hitter, than just somnambulistically make allowances for his glovework and blow a few high-leverage run-scoring opportunities on the off chance that Theriot might have to field a ball he couldn't handle but that Izturis would turn into an out. I don't know if I buy the proposition that it makes sense to be hyper-conscious about your defense later in a game as opposed to early, especially when late in the game is when you've got relievers on the mound, ie, pitchers generally more likely to generate strikeouts. I might be tedious on the subject, but it was a setup Earl Weaver favored with Mark Belanger, starting the glove guy, but pinch-hitting for him if he had to, and not being afraid to finish a game with Kiko Garcia or Lenn Sakata if he had to. So, it'll certainly bear watching-Piniella was ready to pull Izturis for a pinch-hitter and plug in Cedeno at short, but we'll he still be willing if it means he's putting Theriot at short with a slim lead?

As for Guzman's coming up and taking on the fifth slot, the timing worked out pretty neatly, in that the slot's next turn even came up against the Nationals, and there was perhaps no better way to break Guzman in with some likely success and see if he can settle into the job and ideally spare them from any further fussing over whether or not Wade Miller's ever going to be useful again. His next start will be against the Phillies in Philly, a bit more difficult as propositions go, but at least he now has something to build off of.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Placed LHP Eric Milton on the 15-day DL (sprained elbow); activated RHP Jared Burton from the 15-day DL; announced that LHP Rheal Cormier cleared waivers and was released. [5/9]

Milton's pretty much going to be flogged by Cincinnati fans with something like the same regularity as he has been by opposing lineups, but to be fair, the 0-6 record is what's eye-catching, and his performance is otherwise just some typical mediocrity and crummy run support. He's had one quality start and five that weren't, but he has yet to take one of those explosive beatings-he hasn't been good, but he hasn't been awful. If you take a look at starting pitcher performance across, baseball, using SNLVAR you'd find that Milton's only just barely among the twenty worst starters in baseball, tied with Dontrelle Willis, and well behind the epically awful Jeff Weaver. Milton isn't expected to be gone long, so Reds fans should ease up on celebrating. Frankly, I don't know what there is to celebrate-they'd have taken the money he was offered, and signing him wasn't Wayne Krivsky's mistake, or the new ownership group's.

Mark Sheldon does a lovely job of running down the alternatives, and from a list that includes Homer Bailey, Phil Dumatrait, Bobby Livingston, or Victor Zambrano, I'd really like to see them turn to Livingston (who's due to make his next start on Sunday anyway) or Bailey. If Bailey winds up a late scratch before Saturday's game in Louisville, then Reds fans have cause to get a bit worked up, but in a happy warm fuzzy sort of way, but Livingston's probably a better fit for the rotation than Milton would be to start off with, and if this isn't going to be a call-up to stay, I'd hate to jerk Bailey around; Livingston's been through this sort of stuff already.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Optioned CF-L Eric Reed to Albuquerque (Triple-A); recalled CF-L Reggie Abercrombie from Albuquerque. [5/9]

Don't blame Goldstein for saying Abercrombie was stuck as recently as yesterday-these things happen, and talking heads can't always predict when a club's going to reshuffle things for their own sake. What's really notable here wasn't that Reed was getting to play, but that instead the Fish might be coming to a slow realization that Alfredo Amezaga isn't really a center fielder, and that last year's ersatz solution to their center field problem isn't the same as having the real thing. It's perhaps ironic that Abercrombie might get a shot at the man who replaced him-it's a turn at least one previous Abercrombie never got-but I'm as skeptical as Kevin was when it comes to his .282/.353/.534 start, but there's a solid platoon split in there (.317/.380/.634 vs. RHPs), and if he can run, field, and splatter a second-tier righty now and again, that's a useful bench player, and possibly an adequate alternative to Amezaga until the Fish either Alejandro De Aza is ready to come off of the DL, or they finally find a solid solution for their center field scar.

NEW YORK METS
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Signed RHP Brian Lawrence to a minor league contract. [5/9]

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Optioned LHP Royce Ring to Portland (Triple-A); recalled RHP Justin Germano from Portland. [5/7]

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Outrighted 1B-R Lance Niekro to Fresno (Triple-A). [5/9]

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Placed RHP John Patterson on the 15-day DL (elbow biceps soreness); outrighted OF-R Michael Restovich to Columbus (Triple-A); activated CF-S Nook Logan and SS-S Cristian Guzman from the 15-day DL. [5/6]
Placed RHP Ryan Wagner on the 15-day DL (rotator cuff inflammation), retroactive to 5/7; designated INF-R Josh Wilson for assignment; placed RHP Chad Cordero on the Bereavement List; purchased the contracts of RHPs Jason Simontacchi and Winston Abreu and 3B-R Tony Batista from Columbus (Triple-A). [5/8]

I touched on my dubiousness over the imminent call-up of Simontacchi last time around, but he didn't embarrass himself in his Nationals debut, allowing eight baserunners in six frames, but losing the game on a sixth-inning cookie that Prince Fielder happily crunched up-it's what he does with cookies. But now that they're also down Patterson on top of already losing Jerome Williams, they're going to have to find a fifth starter by next Tuesday, and Williams won't be ready to come off of the DL by then, so not only are they now committed to using Simontacchi, they have to reconsider who else comes up from Columbus. In anticipation of Williams' coming back after only one rehab gig, I suppose they could do something like let Rule 5 pick Levale Speigner lead off a pen start. But failing that, we get into some really ugly choices. They could do something hasty like hauling up Emiliano Fruto, but beyond that, you get into deciding whether or not to purchase Mike Bacsik or Tim Redding, and sifting through whether or not Bacsik's back-to-back solid starts might be enough to merit the call. The problem then is finding space on the 40-man, because the Nats are at capacity, and with five pitchers on the DL, they don't have a lot of choices. To make room, they really ought to transfer someone like Nick Johnson or Alex Escobar to the 60-day DL.

Here's a random idea-why not bring up Mike Hinckley? He's one of the few minor league starters on the 40-man who's healthy, and he's gotten off to a good start in Double-A, resuscitating a career that had gone badly wrong. Now in his seventh season in the organization, they need to sort out if he's going anywhere, and while throwing him up against the Braves next week would be tough love, it's better than making the home folks pay to see some of the well-work journeymen from the Clippers. I'd rather they left Fruto at Columbus working on throwing strikes, and Balester doing likewise down in Harrisburg, but why not test Hinckley? They took a bigger risk last season with Michael O'Connor, and while that wasn't entirely successful, it's better to be an organization looking over your own future than someone gunning for a plaque in the International League Hall of Ubiquity.

Speaking of people popping up, I'm surprised to see Batista back, but he popped off a half-dozen homers for the Clippers in the first month of play, and the Nats are getting so little production from their bench or their first basemen that you have to figure that bringing him in might at least shake things up. With Guzman back from the DL, the middle infield has a crowd again, with Felipe Lopez moving back across the bag and Ron Belliard back to the bench, so I can see swapping in Batista for Wilson as a move made with an eye towards your bench weapons.

I guess the other source of tension is getting Nook Logan back, and as if the offense wasn't already going to struggle with Guzman playing regularly, there's the spectacle of the club starting Logan in center (with Ryan Church moving to left). This is where we'll have to see if the decision to pick up Ryan Langerhans comes into play, and if Manny Acta works Langerhans into a near-regular role at Logan's expense. Naturally, I think it's a little amusing to see Chris Snelling starting in center for Oakland, and while that's perhaps an injury-inspired bit of desperation, it does seem as if the Nats already had their outfield solution available to them, something that didn't involve demonstrating that playing Logan is as bad an idea as making Deion Sanders an everyday center fielder was.

If there's a final note to strike, it's the impressive work that Abreu has done for the Clippers, striking out 29 in only 18 innings while walking seven unintentionally and allowing only six hits. The pen hasn't really been as much of a problem for the team as its other components-move beyond Cordero's early problems and Ryan Wagner's struggles, Acta's gotten good work out of almost everybody, even retreads like Jesus Colome and Ray King. Still, Abreu's been insanely good, better even than Chris Booker, who's already logged ten saves for Columbus while striking out 21 in 13.1 innings. That's part of the reason why I wonder about skipping a call-up for a fifth starter next week-just give Speigner a three- or four-inning gig, and then give Abreu a couple of frames, and see if that gives you a winnable game. Then see if Jerome Williams can do any better, but the way things are going, maybe the Nats should devote a rotation slot to this sort of thing, especially if they decide to go back to carrying twelve pitchers. It might be a way to capture value from Abreu in a traditional middle relief role, and put Speigner in more of a developmental role where there's little or not expectation that he pitch five or more innings until he proves he can.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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