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June 12, 2007

Transaction Analysis

National League Moves

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Signed 2006 first-round draft pick RHP Max Scherzer to a major league contract, adding him to the 40-man roster; designated LHP Evan MacLane for assignment. [5/31]
Optioned RHP Brandon Medders to Tucson (Triple-A); recalled RHP Jailen Peguero from Tucson. [6/8]
Optioned C/UT-R Robby Hammock to Tucson (Triple-A); activated 3B-L Chad Tracy from the 15-day DL. [6/10]

The interesting dilemma for the Snakes is fitting Tracy and Mark Reynolds onto the same roster while finding ways to get Reynolds into the lineup. The quick and easy answer is that Tracy has a pretty significant platoon issue on his career--hitting .228/.279/.349 against his fellow southpaws borders on fraternization. A platoon hardly leaves Reynolds with enough at-bats to put his bat to work, but with some creativity and spotting him in for Conor Jackson at first base, in the outfield corners, and perhaps even in the middle infield on days when flyballers like Livan Hernandez or Randy Johnson are on the mound and Stephen Drew or Orlando Hudson needs a day off, and you've got an eighth lineup regular, not counting the catching platoon.

Which brings us to Hammock's lot, which although unhappy, reflected the difficult choice forced on the Snakes by Reynolds' busting out. Frankly, I would think keeping up a third catcher and super-utility guy when you have a catching platoon makes a lot more sense than a seventh reliever, especially when you have multi-inning relievers (and former starters) like Juan Cruz and Edgar Gonzalez available. Sure, if you overtax the pen on a certain night and need that extra body, maybe then you bring somebody in, but this wasn't that sort of situation, instead proving to be more a matter of demoting Medders for his persistent failures, and adding a reliever because...well, because they're a seven-reliever sort of team. To his credit, Peguero throws a plus slider and gets into the low 90s, so he seems to be yet another talent on the organizational assembly line, but I guess I'd rather preserve my tactical options on offense than have yet another arm to worry about getting enough work.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Placed 3B-S Chipper Jones on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 5/24; purchased the contract of MI-R Yunel Escobar from Richmond (Triple-A). [6/1]
Optioned 2B-R Martin Prado to Richmond; activated RHP Lance Cormier from the 15-day DL. [6/3]
Optioned RHP Buddy Carlyle to Richmond; recalled RHP Blaine Boyer from Richmond. [6/5]
Returned RHP Lance Cormier to the 15-day DL (sore arm); recalled RHP Buddy Carlyle from Richmond. [6/9]

Chipper breaks down, and it's a big setback, because while the club is better off than most at positions like second base or shortstop, and should be better off than most in center and behind the plate, they're in danger of losing runs in the corners. I know that might seem like a minor complaint for a club that's fourth in the league in Equivalent Average, but with Scott Thorman proving not to be Mr. Right at first base, without Chipper they're not quite so sound as they might like. Jeff Francouer's power has been dipping since his hot start, and while Willie Harris has contributed all sorts of wonders in his Brave incarnation, the one thing you can't really expect from him is power.

So, while it's admirable that the Braves have shown their characteristic confidence in homegrown talent in elevating Escobar directly into the job at third base, his promotion potentially exacerbates what might start to become a problem. The Cuban defector has his virtues--he makes solid contact, has flexibility afield, and he's got an arm that's more than good enough for third--but power isn't among them. Down at Richmond, he was hitting .333/.379/.456, or a lot of singles, and while that's absolutely okay from a guy you might play at second or short, it's a little more difficult to live with out of your third baseman. What Braves fans can hope for in this particular situation is that this is a way of showcasing Escobar; with Brent Lillibridge sucked up to Richmond to play short in Escobar's absence, and with Elvis Andrus down in High-A, the system has plenty of alternatives to stick with should they deal one middle infield prospect.

As for the fifth slot in the rotation, Cormier had two cracks, did badly in both, and got hurt; Carlyle had some tough breaks in his first, threw a seven-inning one-hit effort against the Fish, and put up a quality start against the Cubs Sunday night before giving up a leadoff solo shot in the seventh that spoiled it while giving the Snugglies a two-run lead. Since the Braves still don't know what to expect from Kyle Davies on a night-to-night basis, it'll be interesting to see if Carlyle might not actually earn some measure of job security if he can simply continue to deliver winnable efforts and soak up six innings each time out; less than that still makes for an acceptable fifth starter in a lot of rotations.

Even so, Carlyle's timetable is less his own; like Cormier, he's pitching against the eventual arrival of the organization's minor-league talent, and once some of the kids down in Mississippi look ready, things get interesting. Would the Braves promote a Matt Harrison or Dan Smith or Jo-Jo Reyes into a playoff race? The Braves should have a shot at the NL East and/or the wild card; either way, will they plug one of their kids in? The Escobar move makes it seem like the answer is that they're confident enough in their kids that they'd take that risk if one of them gives them reason to believe. Will they instead look to make a deal for a rented vet, a pickup that allows them to pick between Davies and Caryle for the skippable fifth slot? I wouldn't be surprised by that in the least, but there's a good month to go before the also-rans start admitting that status and start dumping short-time vets bound for free agency.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Placed C-R Henry Blanco on the 15-day DL (herniated disc), retroactive to 5/31; purchased the contract of C-S Koyie Hill from Iowa (Triple-A). [6/1]
Placed 1B/OF-L Daryle Ward on the 15-day DL (strained hip); recalled CF-L Felix Pie from Iowa. [6/3]
Placed RHP Angel Guzman on the 15-day DL (strained elbow), retroactive to 6/2; purchased the contract of RHP Sean Gallagher from Tennessee (Double-A); transferred RHP Roberto Novoa from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/6]
Placed OF-L Cliff Floyd on the Bereavement List. [6/8]
Recalled INF-L Mike Fontenot from Iowa. [6/10]
Placed 3B-R Aramis Ramirez on the 15-day DL (patellar tendonitis), retroactive to 6/7; reinstated OF-L Cliff Floyd from the Bereavement List. [6/11]

While this might seem like an odd collection of moves, where Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella aren't switching out like for like, it actually works out sort of neatly. Lose your top pinch-hitter? Stop farting around with Jacque Jones in center, bring up your center fielder of the present and future, and turn Cliff Floyd into your top pinch-hitter. Lose Floyd for a few days? Take the opportunity to bring up a second baseman who helps you cover for Aramis Ramirez's knee injury, with Mark DeRosa moving to third, and giving you a platoon of sorts between Fontenot and a slumping Ryan Theriot. These moves aren't just temporary mucking around--if Fontenot hits and Theriot doesn't, there's not much to prevent the Cubs from exchanging them once Floyd or Ward returns, especially since Fontenot has played a lot of third and short at Iowam and done so credibly enough to get to keep playing third and short.

The move with major implications is Pie's call-up, however, and while his initial trial might have seemed like a hasty reward for a small-sample breakout at Iowa, Pie followed up his return to the PCL with a demonstration that he really has little left to learn about hitting at that level, putting up a .376/.404/.576 May for the I-Cubs. Now, I'm sure some nellies are quailing, because there still isn't a lot of zone mastery and patience in evidence; it doesn't take much to conjure up unhappy memories of the wasted greatness of Corey Patterson. But I think that would be inappropriate; Patterson's real problem wasn't Patterson, it was Dusty Baker, and Pie's perhaps an even better prospect. If this gives the Cubs a legitimate center fielder and the impetus to deal Jacque Jones for a useful reliever and/or a better catcher and/or a shortstop worth starting, that all sounds like a great way to do something useful with Jones' remaining months as a Cub that puts them back up with the Brewers at the head of NL Central.

The bullpen remains something of a mess, as Guzman's latest breakdown--he makes Rudy Seanez look like the Iron Horse by comparison--takes another option off of the table. Calling up Gallagher doesn't really seem to be a viable solution. Gallagher is an interesting prospect--that plus curve is a nice hammer to drop on hitters--but the velocity remains a tick below what you want from a reliever. On the other hand, perhaps the pen's an eventual destination for him. He wasn't exactly thriving in his second spin through the pitcher-friendly Southern League, posting a 3.39 ERA that's more than a half-run higher than last year's 2.71, and he was averaging well under six innings per start. He's easy to like in an underdog sort of way, since he was a low-round success story with the sort of frame scouts generally don't take a shine to, but hauling him up for middle-relief work says more about the club's increasingly slender options than it represents a full-fledged endorsement of his readiness.

Try not to get worked up about Koyie Hill. While his first couple of months of part-time play in Iowa were nice enough (.304/.346/.448), that really just adds up to a lot of singles and no real reason to believe that he isn't the same busted prospect who's struggled everywhere that wasn't a hitter's paradise. That doesn't make him useless as a backup catcher, of course, but is a caution for those of you getting worked up about his representing a solution to Michael Barrett's multi-dimensional struggles: Barrett's been bad news behind the plate, at it, and at parties (at least if Carlos Zambrano's also on the guest list).

CINCINNATI REDS
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Optioned LHP Bobby Livingston to Louisville (Triple-A); recalled RHP Marcus McBeth from Louisville. [6/2]
Optioned RHP Brad Salmon to Triple-A Louisville; outrighted OF-L Dewayne Wise to Louisville. [6/4]
Activated CF-L Josh Hamilton from the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Todd Coffey from Louisville. [6/5]
Outrighted LHP Brian Shackelford to Louisville. [6/7]
Optioned RHP Todd Coffey to Louisville; purchased the contract of RHP Homer Bailey from Louisville. [6/8]

Hamilton's return comes at a good time, as the Reds simply slotted him right back into everyday play in center field. Ryan Freel's absence won't be felt that acutely if Hamilton can avoid simply falling over into an abyss of inexperience. It certainly helps that Edwin Encarnacion is continuing to play up to expectations at third since his punitive demotion. The real problem remains the GABp-generated misconceptions of value in the lineup, as guys like Scott Hatteberg or Jeff Conine go back to being empty unis on the road, and Adam Dunn just simply fails to thrive. Hamilton's splits are interesting--more power at home, but still useful on the road--and I'm impressed that Alex Gonzalez has been useful everywhere, so while the team has a problem (reflected in a near hundred-point differential in slugging between home and road), it hasn't been a problem for everybody. Obviously, this is something you want to see ironed out.

As for hauling Bailey up, I'm happy to see it. It's probably just the reflexive contrarian in me, but I'm one of the few who's favored Bailey over Philip Hughes in any debate over the top pitching prospect in the game. That's not a criticism of Hughes as much as it is a comment on how much I like the assortment of stuff and his genuine Jacob Peavy or healthy Rich Harden potential. While I guess my prediction from this year's book that Bailey would be up before the All-Star break has proven true, it wasn't especially bold, nor am I certain Bailey is truly ready. However, he was striking out more and more batters in his most recent starts for Louisville, and 51 strikeouts in 58.1 innings against 24 walks begins to capture how much he's overpowered opposing hitters in the first two months. Bringing him up to face the Indians was particularly bold, and while he didn't mow them down, he held his own.

You can also understand why the Reds might prefer just getting on with it, since they seem damned and doomed by ill fortune, rating among the three most unlucky clubs in the league in the standings in terms of their shortfall in expected wins (they rate with the Giants and Cubs). Let's face it, when you have this sort of alternative, sorting out your Saarlooses from your presumed Livingstons can get a bit tedious after a while. Better to try to create a new, happier future than race to resurrect one of the most symbolic unhappy mistakes of the previous regime. Eric Milton's third seasonal go-round with the Reds calls to mind that fans' responses tend towards the observation that "Thrice he assay'd, and thrice in spite of scorn/Tears, such as angels weep, burst forth," because ever since signing that contract, it's seemed as if "(f)rom morn/To noon he fell, from noon to dewy eve,/A summer's day; and with the setting sun/Dropp'd from the Zenith like a falling star." You forgive Wayne Krivsky if he elects not to wait and see what happens when Milton touches bottom.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Designated OF-L Steve Finley for assignment; purchased the contract of OF-R Sean Barker from Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [6/5]
Optioned RHP Ramon Ramirez to Colorado Springs; activated RHP Josh Fogg from the 15-day DL. [6/6]

The Rockies finally recognized that Finley's done, and while this means something not exactly disastrous for a franchise to be named later--what the heck, why not the White Sox?--this definitely represents improvement, if only on a minor scale. Of course, you might have expected to see Cory Sullivan up in Finley's place, but he hardly helped his case getting off to a .249/.314/.333 start at Colorado Springs. I'm not all that enthusiastic about Barker, but he is in his sixth season with the organization, and I guess taking a peek to determine whether or not he's worth a spot on the 40-man next winter isn't the end of the world. He was hitting .333/.364/.556 for the Sky Sox, and while that's no predictor of future greatness considering he's already 27, I'd see his promotion as more about bringing in someone who might challenge Jeff Baker for right-handed outfield reserve at-bats than about bringing in a center fielder. In center, it does seem as if the job is Willy Taveras', but with Brad Hawpe struggling against lefties, there's playing time in right field that could be claimed.

With the rotation, Fogg is in and Taylor Buchholz is out, and we'll have to see if that really works. As I mentioned last time around, Fogg seems to match up well against some of the Rockies' divisional rivals, but he was blitzed by the Astros in his return, and with Buchholz logging all of an inning in the five games he's been available in the pen, that doesn't exactly represent the best possible use of a roster spot either. However, the club's hanging around .500, so that's obviously progress, and if they decide to hang on to Fogg until sometime around the deadline, that's entirely understandable under the circumstances. It'll be a pretty desperate contender that has Fogg on the brain come time to make stretch-minded additions.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Acquired RHP Armando Benitez and cash from the Giants for RHP Randy Messenger; optioned RHP Lee Gardner to Albuquerque (Triple-A); activated RHP Henry Owens from the 15-day DL. [5/31]
Designated OF-S Todd Linden for assignment; recalled RHP Rick Vanden Hurk from Carolina (Double-A). [6/5]
Outrighted OF-S Todd Linden to Albuquerque. [6/8]

It says something about the state of the Marlins' rotation if they're down to decisions like skipping Wes Obermueller to keep Vanden Hurk on his regular turn. However, that was sort of earned, in that the Dutch Boy managed a quality start against the Braves in his third tilt at them, only to get belted around by the Rays yesterday. Since Sergio Mitre should be back in action later this week, the Fish will initially demote Vanden Hurk or discard Obermueller, with the other shoe dropping once they reactivate Josh Johnson, perhaps around June 18th, or when he's due to make his next start after what is anticipated to be a final rehab outing on Wednesday.

As for the pen exchange, I'm reminded of Marx's line about history and repetition, not that Benitez's first spin with the Fish was tragic. I guess I'm just not sold on the proposition that I'd rather have Benitez than Messenger from here on out, and with Owens coming back on the same day as the deal, I really don't think the pen needed this particular assist. The current configuration was already working pretty well, with Kevin Gregg, Matt Lindstrom, and a resurrected Justin Miller all doing good stuff. At least the Marlins aren't just automatically awarding Benitez the titular cape with a "C" on it, instead throwing him into the Fishpen to see who swims and who... well, floats, I guess. The floaters can be deadly, so best to keep your distance.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Placed RHP Rick White placed on the 15-day DL (pinched nerve - neck); purchased the contract of C/1B-L Eric Munson from Round Rock (Triple-A); transferred C-S Hector Gimenez from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/2]
Optioned OF-R Jason Lane to Round Rock; recalled 2B/OF-S Chris Burke from Round Rock. [6/3]
Outrighted C-R Humberto Quintero to Round Rock; recalled LHP Mark McLemore from Round Rock. [6/10]

The 'Stros have tumbled to this particular solution to the backup backstop needs before, so effectively swapping out Quintero for Munson is really just going back to last season's early good idea instead of idiosyncratically carrying a catch-and-throw backup to a all-glove, no-hit starter, or last season's late bad idea. The Astros are still outfoxing themselves in a time and place where curling up might make more sense. Not for everyone Jason Lane's "Hulk smash*" approach in the face of mounting difficulties, after all. Which is not to say that bringing back Burke isn't good news--it is, even if he didn't set the PCL on fire, hitting only .250/.311/.359. But it isn't like Luke Scott especially needs to be platooned, having hit .289/.407/.447 against lefties in a little more than 90 plate appearances, so what the Astros needed on their bench was an outfield reserve who could handle all three slots who might also handily provide the virture of giving Phil Garner an option at second base that gets Craig Biggio out of the lineup while leaving Mark Loretta available to start for Adam Everett now and again. If Lane can't re-gild his slugger's rep in Round Rock playing regularly, it ain't ever going to happen, at which point even his utility as a throw-in on a deadline deal is gone.

*Infrequently, but not for lack of trying.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Optioned 3B-R Andy LaRoche to Las Vegas (Triple-A); placed RHP Yhency Brazoban on the 15-day DL; recalled LHP Hong-Chih Kuo and RHP Eric Hull from Las Vegas. [6/1]
Sold C-R Kelly Stinnett to the Cardinals. [6/3]
Optioned RHP Eric Hull to Las Vegas; activated RHP Jason Schmidt from 15-day DL. [6/5]
Placed INF-R Ramon Martinez on the 15-day DL; recalled OF-R Matt Kemp from Las Vegas. [6/9]
Designated OF-R Brady Clark for assignment; recalled 1B/OF-L James Loney from Las Vegas. [6/10]

Some of this is very interesting, and some of it's more basic bizarre Dodger behavior. The question is whether or not Kemp and Loney aren't up to fix two mistakes Ned Colletti made this winter. The complaints about Juan Pierre from the very moment of his signing could fill a few phone books, but that move also generated a human shield for Nomar Garciaparra's spectacular suckitude. Ponder the Dodgers' VORP values from among their hitters. Nomar rates behind Pierre by 3.9 runs in barely two months of play; hell, Nomar rates behind the now-released Clark, and behind LaRoche by four runs. That's not just a little bad, that's awful, and I don't care what the press conference said about his character or more gamey qualities--those were meant to describe his leadership, not his value on the hoof. Perhaps the most damning indictment of Nomar's contributions? That Loney got called up to challenge him despite hitting .279/.345/.382. In Vegas. In the PCL. If there are ever going to be performance evaluations of this general manager, how do you think Ned's going to do?

Similarly, two different Ned December masterstrokes are looking like so many garage-bound Christmas boo-boos these days. Whether Kemp is up to take playing time from Pierre or Andre Ethier, either way, one of Colletti's over-touted acquisitions loses time. Where's the anti-Moneyball jibber-jabber about the genius involved in stealing away Ethier from the A's now? And what does it say when Ethier is the less-expensive, sensible pickup while $44 million drains away into Juan Pierre's bank account? This isn't Pierre's fault, but the Dodgers can--as ever--thank Logan White and the player development program to provide some sort of saving grace. Kemp was having a nice month-plus with Vegas, hitting .329/.374/.540, so it looks like he's over the shoulder problem that shelved him in April. The Dodgers say he'll get playing time all over the outfield, and that's as it should be, coming as it will at the expense of Pierre, Ethier and Luis Gonzalez.

Finally, there's the dramatic latest fixes to the rotation, as Schmidt and Kuo step into it, while Brett Tomko and Mark Hendrickson get asked out. Since it doesn't seem as if Schmidt is right as rain just yet, it's interesting to again wonder if the only part of it that's going right is Kuo...another part of the puzzle that Colletti didn't add. For all of the talk of Hendrickson's newfound power of positive thinking, it generated all of one quality start in eight; the guy is 33 and has been given every break possible, so I think we might safely conclude that he's not about to turn some corner, and that he remains staff filler. At least Tomko posted three QS in eight starts, or close enough to acceptable for a fifth starter, but in general, Kuo should represent an improvement. After all, that was the story in 2006, and I don't see much reason for that to change. Still, there's the issue of whether or not Schmidt's going to provide value, and while I won't harbor a guess about the value of converting him into a Sunday starter; if Stan Conte's training staff was supposed to help him remain a quality pitcher, and they can't, then the real problem isn't with Conte's crew, it's in the decision-making process that picked Schmidt as the big-ticket hurler they had to add. Would it be besides the point to bring up the fact that Paul DePodesta pick-ups Brad Penny and Derek Lowe remain the worthwhile investments in the rotation?

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Placed 2B-R Rickie Weeks on the 15-day DL (wrist), retroactive to 5/30; recalled RHP Jose Capellan from Nashville (Triple-A). [5/31]

Having already plugged in Ryan Braun at third, losing Weeks for weeks isn't much to worry about--the same third-base platoon that Braun replaced has the handy virtue of being pluggable over at the keystone. Admittedly, "Graffanounsell" lacks Menchkins' cachet for cute monikerdom, and like Menchkins, has the additional burden of not really having a very good right-handed half, but if Craig Counsell provides a man on base with the same frequency he has so far, this really isn't a setback for the lineup (or the defense) as much as it is for those of us who'd like to see whether Weeks will develop, and if he does, what he'll develop into. He was somewhere in the vicinity of his 45th Percentile Forecast in PECOTA before breaking down, which is neither a good nor a bad thing, but it certainly doesn't resemble progress. However, for what it's worth, Clay's fielding data suggests that he was improving afield, and that's something.

You might hope this represents some sort of opportunity for Capellan to win his way back into the club's favor after this spring's shehanigans involving demands to be traded, threatening to walk off, walking off, getting placed on the Restricted List, coming back suitably chastened, and basically acting like a guy who doesn't want to be in Nashville. That's all relatively reasonable and understandable, the more so considering that he was the club's best reliever last season. With all of the drama, it's hard to know how serious to get about his data. Was pitching cranky good for him, since he struck out 22 in 28 innings, or bad for him, since he walked somebody every other inning and gave up almost five runs per nine? To their credit, the Brewers have acted as they must as opposed to really getting upset with him, but nevertheless, he's back up only to get placed on the lowest rung of the bullpen totem pole, hurling mop-up work and middle innings. He isn't helping himself any by getting knocked around in two of the three games. That isn't going to help him stake a claim for Elmer Dessens' job, or anyone else's, given that the pen's generally done good work. The only warm body Capellan might be able to push out of his way is Chris Spurling, who's working in low-leverage situations so unimportant it borders on an extended open tryout with only one competitor. You know, sort of like Gerry Cooney, only plausible.

NEW YORK METS
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Released RHP Chan Ho Park. [6/4]
Placed OF-L Endy Chavez on the 15-day DL; activated UT-S Jose Valentin from the 15-day DL. [6/7]
Optioned UT-L David Newhan to New Orleans (Triple-A); purchased the contract of OF-L Ricky Ledee from New Orleans. [6/8]
Optioned OF-R Ben Johnson to New Orleans; activated RF-L Shawn Green from the 15-day DL. [6/11]

The outfield reshuffle seems elaborate, but not all of it was really necessary. With Shawn Green due back shortly, there was no particular reason to exchange Ledee for Newhan. Ledee did hit .289/.377/.477 versus RHPs in New Orleans, and that's something, and now that Green's back, Ledee can assume Chavez's role as the primary lefty outfield reserve, while Valentin's return obviates the need to keep Newhan for his increasingly vestigial infield skills. Damion Easley did a nifty job stepping up in Valentin's absence, but his not hitting a homer in the last two weeks reflected the dangers in leaning too heavily on him. They're still in first place, and the only really irreplaceable missing player is Moises Alou, and you don't take on that particular proposition without knowing that problem trails in its wake, whatever your intentions. If Chavez is gone for another five weeks or so, and if Alou's gone for an extended stretch, these aren't good things, but if Green continues to contribute, the outfield is a lot less an unfixable source of concern than wishing and waiting for Carlos Delgado to finally get going. If Carlos Gomez starts proving why he's a project, then the Mets don't even need to lean on Ledee for anything more than reserve work, at which point the outfield is less a story than an excuse.

Ignominy is something you pass around, like kids passing around a bottle of pink champagne swiped from a boozy adult affair. It isn't Park's fault that he was in attendance, or that he's not any good any more. These things just are, and it's as much Omar Minaya's responsibility that we've come to this unhappy fizzle as it is Park's. Not all of the Mets' flyers were going to take, and where Oliver Perez had the excuse of being employed by the Pirates to explain why his career went awry, Park has major control problems, a lot of physical breakdowns and a near-death experience. It's sad to see a career go so very bad, especially if you remember when he was at his best, back when he broke in with the Dodgers. I don't think we'll see that pitcher again, and that's a pity, but I hope he's still up for trying to catch on somewhere.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Placed RHP Freddy Garcia on the 15-day DL (shoulder); signed RHP Jose Mesa. [6/9]

Remember when the Phillies had six starting pitchers? Remember when they had five, and Brett Myers was closing? Now they don't have six, or five, or Myers in any capacity, and Garcia's rotator cuff and labrum both appear to be problems of potentially devastating severity. If in those circumstances you might think that Mesa represents something of a booby prize, you wouldn't be far off. Who's going to round out the rotation? Probably this spring's roster hot potato par excellence, J.D. Durbin, but since a pair of upcoming off-days give the Phillies a chance to kick the fifth slot all the way back to their double-header against the Mets on June 29th, it remains to be seen who they'll pick, as well as who will still be available. Durbin hasn't been especially solid for Ottawa, striking out 38 in 46.2 IP while walking 16, and coughing up an ugly 53 hits and seven homers. There aren't that many good alternatives, unfortunately, and I suppose there's some merit in sorting out why they made their waiver claim and became Durbin's fourth employer this spring.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Designated C-R Humberto Cota for assignment; recalled OF-R Rajai Davis from Indianapolis (Triple-A). [6/4]
Placed RHP Salomon Torres on the 15-day DL (elbow inflammation); purchased the contract of RHP Masumi Kuwata from Indianapolis. [6/9]

As third wheel exchanges go, I like the decision to move from a third catcher they really didn't need now that receiving responsibilities seem to belong entirely to Ronny Paulino and Ryan Doumit, and instead crowding the center-field picture. It's time to start acknowledging that for all of last season's drama, there's just not that much there where Chris Duffy is concerned, while Nate McLouth can't play center field well enough to make a particularly plausible tweener. I've always had a soft spot in my head for Davis, who isn't a great prospect any more than Jermaine Allensworth was, but he's a speedy flychaser, and if he can approach anything like his base projection of .283/.336/.386, the Pirates would take it.

As for bringing in the latest formerly great Japanese pitcher, whatever happened to Masao Kida? Or Keiichi Yabu? Shiggy Hasegawa? While Kuwata's healed up from an ankle injury, I'm more than a little reluctant to get all worked about what will be, in the end, an exchange of one staff placeholder for another.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Claimed OF-R Hiram Bocachica off of waivers from the Athletics. [5/31]
Activated RHP Clay Hensley from the 15-day DL and optioned him to Portland (Triple-A); optioned INF-L Oscar Robles to Portland. [6/1]

Hensley got Pipped by Justin Germano, pure and simple, but he also didn't look all that hot in his rehab work, so why fix what ain't broke with something that ain't necessarily working? I'm as big a fan of Hensley as there is, but if he's not at his best, there's nothing wrong with keeping him in reserve until either David Wells breaks down (again) or Germano goes pumpkin. In the meantime, the Pads can content themselves with a front five where everyone is contributing. If nobody breaks down, it isn't like they couldn't give Hensley some consideration for resuming relief work, especially down the stretch.

Nabbing Bocachica is a nice enough minor free talent pickup. He gives the bench a straight right-handed outfield bat to alternate with lefties Russell Branyan and Terrmel Sledge, with Branyan doubling up as the primary reserve at the infield corners. As the only plain old right-handed bat on the bench, Bocachica will have his uses, and as a former infielder, he might even provide them with an emergency infielder in case Geoff Blum and/or Branyan have already been plugged in, so they really shouldn't miss having Robles around.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Acquired RHP Randy Messenger from the Marlins for RHP Armando Benitez and cash. [5/31]
Placed RHP Russ Ortiz on the 15-day DL (strained forearm), retroactive to 6/5; recalled LHP Jonathan Sanchez from Fresno (Triple-A). [6/7]
Placed C-R Eliezer Alfonzo (sprained knee) and OF-L Fred Lewis (strained oblique) on the 15-day DL; activated CF-L Dave Roberts from the 15-day DL; called up C-R Guillermo Rodriguez from Fresno. [6/9]
Optioned OF-S Daniel Ortmeier to Fresno; recalled LF-L Nate Schierholtz from Fresno. [6/11]

The Giants might be in last place, but these latest exchanges certainly have promise. Getting Roberts back certainly makes like a little easier in the outfield as well as the lineup on paper, as they'll undoubtedly slot him back in at the leadoff role, but he was reactivated early in the wake of Lewis' injury. Whenever Roberts is ready for everyday play, I doubt they'll kick his leadoff replacement Randy Winn back down to the eighth slot, considering that he's produced while Omar Vizquel and Pedro Feliz... have not. The more speculative situation is what Schierholtz is up to do. Is he merely manning the fourth slot until Lewis is healthy? Is his hot start (.347/.374/.518) a meaningful development, or another Fresno fiction? Will he adapt to the routine of spot starts for Barry Bonds and a lot of wool-gathering on the bench, or will that undermine his prospects as much as it seemed to for Todd Linden?

More interesting are the changes in the pen. As I mentioned in the Marlins' segment, I'd probably rather have Messenger than Benitez for the rest of their active careers, while swapping out Ortiz for Sanchez adds yet another quality arm to the Giants' relief options. I'm not a big believer that Brad Hennessey is going to hold down the closer's job, which makes it possible that anybody could step up and claim it--including Sanchez and Messenger. I'm particularly intrigued by the idea that Sanchez might have the stuff for it, perhaps in a way akin to how Adam Wainwright and Jonathan Papelbon did, with just as much possibility that he either sticks in the role or eventually moves back to rotation work. What should be clear is that he's too good to sequester in situational duties; lefties who throw consistently in the low 90s, and who supplement it with a plus change, simply don't grow on trees. It'll be interesting to see how Bruce Bochy sorts through his options.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Optioned LHP Troy Cate to Memphis (Triple-A); recalled SS-R Brendan Ryan from Memphis. [6/2]
Purchased C-R Kelly Stinnett from the Dodgers. [6/3]
Optioned C-R Brian Esposito to Memphis; purchased the contract of C-R Kelly Stinnett from Memphis; transferred RHP Josh Kinney from 15- to 60-day DL. [6/5]
Optioned SS-R Brendan Ryan to Memphis; recalled RHP Andy Cavazos from Memphis. [6/7]
Signed RHP Troy Percival to a minor league contract. [6/8]

Even with the club's weak opening, there's nothing wrong with Percival's choice. The Brewers haven't run out to an insuperable lead, and it isn't as if the Cardinals could have much else go wrong in the early going. Here's a fun question I don't have an answer to: what was the last team to win a division and boast a 20-game loser in its rotation? That could happen with the Cards, because I guess Kip Wells remains good enough to keep starting, and if the division's still one where 85 wins will decide the victor, he might not even keep them from reaching that. If he shows he still has something left at Memphis, Percival would help a pen that could use every possible arm to project its ability to contribute as early as possible in-game. If he doesn't have anything left, it didn't really cost the Cards all that much, and given Walt Jocketty's relatively shallow pickings from down on the farm to peddle in trade talks, any pickup that only costs money spares his few valuable bargaining chips for something else come the deadline.


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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