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May 31, 2007

Transaction of the Day

Senior Circuit Switches

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Placed INF-L Jason Smith on the 15-day DL (burst appendix), retroactive to 5/19. [5/27]
Sold minor league OF-L Dee Brown to the Athletics. [5/30]

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Optioned RHP Joey Devine to Mississippi (Double-A); purchased the contract of RHP Buddy Carlyle from Richmond (Triple-A). [5/25]

Well, it looked worse because he didn't get a lot of help on defense, but Carlyle's first start wasn't exactly a success. His third inning could reasonably have generated a Langston pout or two, as a big inning got big boosts from a couple of scratch hits in the infield, and then Brian McCann gave up a passed ball that plated a fourth run. With Bobby Cox calling for a couple of intentional passes, it would be fair to say that Carlyle wasn't entirely responsible for the eight baserunners he allowed in his four-plus innings in his debut as the staff's fifth starter. Looking ahead, the Braves might be able to run through the rotation one through four Friday through Monday, but that would probably mean using Carlyle in the first game of Tuesday's double-header, then demoting him and having his replacement start the second. That could potentially represent an extra burden on the pen, so it make sense to start Carlyle on Monday, then sending him to Richmond to call up a spot starter to start one half of the twin bill while reserving Tim Hudson for the other half. All of that's operating on the assumption that John Smoltz makes his start on Sunday. Let's compare the alternatives:


Day         Buddy Later     Buddy Sooner
Thursday      OFF             OFF
Friday       Davies          Davies
Saturday     James           James
Sunday       Smoltz          Smoltz
Monday       Hudson          Carlyle^
Tuesday(D)   Carlyle^        Mystery Man (^?)
Tuesday(N)   Mystery Man     Hudson
^: demotion

Of the two scenarios, I'd like seeing Buddy sooner over later, because it gives the Braves the additional advantage of shipping out the spot starter called up in Carlyle's place immediately after his game, and replacing him with either the latest alternative for the fifth slot or a reliever, either of whom would ideally be ready to pitch out of the pen in the second game if needed. Of course, if Carlyle throws a gem against the Marlins on Monday, that might keep him at the front of the line to be the fifth starter, but the schedule pretty much forces the Braves to use someone else besides Carlyle in the slot on Saturday the 9th against the Cubs, unless some conveniently-timed injury gets them around the ten-day rule. I know this probably isn't interesting to most people, but it's the sort of thing I like to kick around. We'll get to see how Cox and John Schuerholz handle it.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Optioned RHP Todd Coffey to Louisville (Triple-A); recalled RHP Gary Majewski from Louisville; outrighted INF-R Enrique Cruz to Chattanooga (Double-A). [5/24]
Optioned RHP Kirk Saarloos to Louisville; recalled LHP Bobby Livingston from Louisville. [5/28]
Placed UT-R Ryan Freel on the 15-day DL; purchased the contract of OF-L Dewayne Wise from Louisville (Triple-A). [5/29]

Freel's collision was ugly, and the sort of thing that brought back frightening memories of an A's game from twenty years ago, when it seemed to me at the time that Dwayne Murphy's career was ruined after his collision with Mike Davis. Freel's a fan favorite in Cincy, as was Murph (at least among those I knew), so I hope he comes back in good time and gives the Rhinelanders future doses of his brand of play, just with less damage to himself and others. The good news is that it seems as if Edwin Encarnacion's back to delivering extra-base hits while playing third base every day, so Freel's absence will really only be felt in the outfield, as Norris Hopper takes over in center, and scouty favorite Wise fulfills the reserve role until Josh Hamilton's ready to come off of the DL, which should be right on time next Tuesday (he's already playing on a rehab stint down in Louisville).

In the rotation, Saarloos gave the Reds a peek at what he can do at his best, and what he can do at his worst, and putting a nine-inning mop-up job on the pen's collective shoulders earned him his demotion. Bringing Livingston back still represents the better choice to my way of thinking-not just because he represents a happy product of Wayne Krivksy's being a bit active in his interpretation of some rules, but also because if the Reds find a functional fifth, they'll at least have a well-balanced rotation going for them. There's something to be said about having a token lefty in your quintet, although that was what Eric Milton's supposed to provide. Since Milton's apparently out for another two weeks or more, it's just as well that the Reds get to take a look at what Livingston offers. Putting him in Coors tomorrow night probably isn't the nicest way to let a lefty soft-tosser break through, but non-prospects in the fifth slot can't afford to get overly picky about their opportunities. During his demotion, Livingston got belted around by Toledo and then put up a quality start against Buffalo, and anybody with a 42-10 strikeout-walk ratio in 55.2 IP has to be doing something right. The problem is that he's showing a major platoon split, mowing down lefties while getting cuffed around by right-handers, and that's a prescription for a life in the pen.

So, Majewski comes back off of the DL in time to face the organization that dealt him in the last game of a four-game set, and it's going to avenge something, right? Wayne Krivksy's honor, or Majewski's, or showing up that mean old Jim Bowden, and, and... and it's totally anticlimactic. All Majewski does is log the last two outs in the Reds' third loss of the series. No doubt Wayne Krivsky hopes for better luck in whatever conference (a call or a room) in which he gets to plead his case involving whether or not he's got a legitimate grievance, or merely feels aggrieved. Since he's the man who put himself in this situation, I favor the latter interpretation, but the caprices of the commissioner's sense of justice will no doubt keep the matter in suspense. Hopefully, not as long as our wait for a winner of the 2002 All-Star game.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Placed RHP Josh Fogg on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled RHP Ryan Speier from Colorado Springs (Triple-A); activated RHP Rodrigo Lopez from the 15-day DL; optioned Speier to Colorado Springs. [5/28]

If Lopez was supposed to come back off of the DL and promptly go pumpkin on us, he didn't get the memo, instead throwing a quality start against the Cardinals on Tuesday. He doesn't have to do that every time out to represent an improvement over Fogg. Instead, the real question is whether or not Taylor Buchholz can even things out a bit, and stop alternating quality starts and disaster starts (hat tips to Mr. Baker and Mr. Jaffe), and let them know which he's more likely to give them. What's especially interesting about Buchholz's game log is that he took his two pastings at the hands of the Giants, then responded by beating them in his third quality start of the year.

That's interesting if it means he's learning something, but even if Buchholz can deliver winnable games more than half the time, he probably represents over an obvious placeholder like Fogg. Even there, Fogg's given his team three winnable games against the Snakes this year, and if there's any team he owns... well, leases perhaps, it might be Arizona. Fogg also has a pretty good track record against the Giants, and with unbalanced scheduling, matching up well with divisional rivals has its obvious virtues. Maybe this will represent an opportunity for Dan O'Dowd and Clint Hurdle to mix and match. I know, probably not, and I'm not advocating a six-man rotation, but once the Rockies have all of their starters healthy, it does mean they may have a more difficult decision than anybody might have thought possible a month or so ago.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Optioned RHP Matt Albers to Round Rock (Triple-A); recalled LHP Mark McLemore from Round Rock. [5/24]
Optioned LHP Mark McLemore back to Round Rock; activated RHP Jason Jennings from the 15-day DL. [5/29]

Nothing really surprising here, in that swapping in Jennings for Albers gives the rotation a better group, and as long as they keep getting serviceable starts from Wandy Rodriguez and plain old good work out of Chris Sampson, the only problem spot in the rotation remains Woody Williams. Signing Williams was an easily-identified mistake from the start, though, and represents another one of those Houston curiosities, as they let a veteran wind down his career on their watch, in his case because he happens to be local. Makes you wonder what they'd do if they ever got out of the Viking funeral racket, don't it?

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Outrighted MI-R Wilson Valdez to Las Vegas (Triple-A). [5/25]

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Placed RHP Elmer Dessens on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 5/19; purchased the contract of 3B-R Ryan Braun from Nashville (Triple-A). [5/24]
Activated RHP Greg Aquino from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Nashville. [5/25]

... which I guess goes to show it pays not to cast against type. Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino have been a nifty pair of instant solutions for any team's middle infield needs for years, but throwing them into a platoon at third not only represented an odd way to employ a club's resources, it really sort of left them set up to go wanting at a position normally associated with offense. Braun represents no such quandary-he'll no doubt have some unfortunate moments afield, but he was a top pick because of his power, his eye, and his quick wrists, and none of those three seem to have need for much more minor league seasoning after he hit .342/.418/.701 for the Sounds. Even when he struggles-and he will; not even Mike Schmidt leapt from Zeus' brow fully formed-the Brewers have a strong enough lineup overall that they can afford to carry him in a developmental role where he doesn't have to star, because he isn't expected to. And if he's learned what he must in time for the stretch run (and beyond), then there's a decent shot that he'll not simply be in the running for the Rookie of the Year, but that he'll have a shot at helping his team win some extra hardware.

As for Graffy and Counsell, the Brewers shouldn't feel overly chagrined about their carrying the both of them. It isn't like J.J. Hardy or Rickie Weeks have ever been associated with the word "durable," and until they are, Ned Yost needs all the insurance he can get.

NEW YORK METS
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Optioned LHP Jason Vargas to New Orleans (Triple-A); activated RHP Orlando Hernandez from the 15-day DL. [5/28]
Placed OF-L Shawn Green on the 15-day DL (foot), retroactive to 5/26; recalled OF-R Ben Johnson from New Orleans. [5/29]
Optioned RHP Ambiorix Burgos to New Orleans; activated RHP Guillermo Mota from the Suspended List. [5/30]

I touched on Vargas' not-altogether bad-news start last week, but it's certain that the Mets have to feel happier about their lot with El Duque back in the fold. Hernandez has seemingly been playing the role of the cavalry for every team he's been on, and he mowed down Marlins handily enough in his first start back. The timing couldn't have been better, especially as John Maine's starting to see his linescores get a little uglier; with 16 walks in his last 22 innings, let's face it, nobody can get by with that king of nibbling. Paradoxically, it's been wild man Oliver Perez who has shown remarkable control-look past his ugly seven-walk start in 2.2 innings on April 11, and you've got a pitcher who's given up only 11 walks in 61 innings. Does that sound like the Oliver Perez we'd come to know and love? Hardly, but if he keeps it up, Rick Peterson will finally have a Met-sourced success story in a rotation he's worked with.

Meanwhile, the team's current crisis involves how to stock its outfield. Will's already delivered the news on what to expect as far as Green's recovery, and in the meanwhile between his departure and Moises Alou's latest return from the DL, I don't think it's so terrible that the Mets get to mix and match with Endy Chavez, Carlos Gomez, and Johnson in the outfield corners. Frankly, once Alou comes back, I'd rather they kept Johnson up and shipped Gomez back to everyday play in the Big Easy, because I still fancy a Chavez-Johnson combo as bench weapons and outfield reserves. Then, if Green doesn't really heal well, or if Lastings Milledge is never allowed to erase the latest impression he's made on Mets fans, at least the Mets have an alternative to fill that non-Alou corner. Chavez is continuing to hit well enough that it looks likes an irregular supersub role suits him, while Johnson's back in action after hitting a quick .282/.367/.436 after recovering from a shoulder injury.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Placed RHP Brett Myers on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder); purchased the contract of LHP Mike Zagurski from Reading (Double-A); optioned C/1B-R Chris Coste to Reading; activated 1B-L Ryan Howard from the 15-day DL. [5/25]

I guess if the proposition was that the Phillies were replacing a key starter rather than yet another reliever, I guess this would hit harder as far as losing Myers representing an insuperable loss, but having shunted him into the closer's role, they only have to find another reliever. We could argue that not having a "magic-C" closer might have hurt the Phillies last night, when Jamie Moyer might have been left out longer than was wise, but generally speaking, this seems a lot less important to me than getting Howard back in the lineup. The problem is that there's reason to wonder if Howard's really healthy, and the larger strategic question of just how they got themselves into a situation where minimizing Myers' role on the club would make sense, or asking if they couldn't somehow exchange out Adam Eaton for last year's version of Myers. Even without Myers, there's some talent here, so I wouldn't rush to scapegoat the pen's current group of relievers for the team's continued muddling around .500.

So, who's Zagurski, and when do we start uniformly referring to him as Bronko? A lefty reliever picked up by the Phillies in the 12th round of the 2005 draft, he had been a rotation stalwart at the University of Kansas. Converted to relief work, the chunky Nebraskan's pitched his way up the chain in a hurry, striking out a remarkable 38 hitters in 23.1 innings between two levels, while allowing only three runs, no homers, and just 14 baserunners. Since he started the year in the Florida State League, he's made a remarkable A-ball to majors jump inside of two months. He hasn't generated any notice for throwing anything that makes people sit up and notice; Assistant GM Ruben Amaro simply credits Zagurski as a pitcher who "goes after people, pitches inside." Since Matt Smith, in contrast, very much had problems throwing inside, this might represent a double-purpose call-up-a spur to the guys who probably should be here, but haven't earned it, as well as a reward for Zagurski.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Optioned RHP Brian Rogers to Indianapolis (Triple-A); recalled RHP Josh Sharpless from Indianapolis. [5/27]

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Placed OF-L Brian Giles on the 15-day DL (knee), retroactive to 5/20; recalled 1B/OF-L Paul McAnulty from Portland (Triple-A). [5/26]
Activated RHP Scott Cassidy from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Portland. [5/30]

This is one of those moves that sounds terrible for the team, up until you remember who poorly the guy who's out has been doing in the last year or two. Giles wasn't "Brian Giles, big-time slugger" last season or this, and getting him out of the third slot in the order probably does Bud Black a favor he didn't ask for. In Giles' absence, Terrmel Sledge is getting another shot at regular play after already losing most of his at-bats to Jose Cruz Jr. If Sledge drops this latest opportunity, I think it's worthwhile for the Pads to skip any regrets over selling Jack Cust and instead take a good look at McAnulty. While it's not wild about him, PECOTA still projects McAnulty to be able to slug around .480 in the major leagues, or exactly as well as Sledge. At some point, performance matters, and Sledge hasn't. Since I expect Cruz will cool off and because I have my doubts that we'll ever see a return of the older, better edition of Giles, playing time in the outfield corners is going to be there for someone to claim. It'll be interesting to see if McAnulty or Sledge can place a stake.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Optioned RHP Anthony Reyes to Memphis (Triple-A); recalled LHP Troy Cate from Memphis. [5/27]
Placed C-R Yadier Molina on the 15-day DL (fractured wrist); purchased the contract of C-R Brian Esposito from Memphis. [5/30]

This season already has a tragic note to it, but there's something that's fundamentally embarrassing about the Cardinals' lot. They've fallen all the way to using Todd Wellemeyer in the rotation; they have to start Gary Bennett regularly behind the plate. This team's coming apart faster than the '86 Royals, and perhaps there's a basic lesson there. Reyes' demotion is a reflection of how exasperating things have gotten. He's 0-8 with only one quality start in his nine, and while he hasn't been good, but he also hasn't been disastrously awful either. He's thrown only one "disaster start" in those nine, but he's been consistently good enough to lose for a team that hasn't been able to get much traction at the plate. Excusing him from a burgeoning disaster is perhaps a kindness, because I think it would be fair to say he's the sort of pitcher-like Roger Craig, or Mike Maroth-who's good enough to lose 20 games. He's not even the Cardinals' starter to be found among the bottom 10 in the majors-that particular dignity belongs to Kip Wells. It's easy to kid that Wells is the only starter in the starting rotation, but that would be overlooking that Adam Wainwright was always expect to wind up a starter. Braden Looper hasn't been a problem, certainly, and with Wellemeyer and Brad Thompson, I guess we can always hope that Dave Duncan teaches them that extra something that has helped so many retreads or previously nondescript hurlers achieve a certain utility.


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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