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July 30, 2007

Transaction Analysis

Weekend Wheeling and Dealing

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Placed C-R Mike Napoli on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); purchased the contract of C-R Ryan Budde of Salt Lake (Triple-A). [7/28]

The nicest thing you can say about Budde is that he's probably better right now than Jeff Mathis, but since Budde's closing in on his 28th birthday, and while he's hitting .295/.367/.449, that's Salt Lake in his fourth taste of the PCL, and far better than his overall career minor league numbers (.239/.305/.383). Suffice to say that for however long that Napoli's down, the Angels have a serious problem, one that's exacerbated by their judgment call to ditch Jose Molina in a meaningless deal with the Yankees, just to show unearned favor to Mathis.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Recalled 2B-L Danny Richar from Charlotte (Triple-A). [7/28]

Well, no points against Kenny Williams for simply cutting to the chase. Having already gone against the grain and defended the move to pick up Richar, there's no special vindication when I suggest that this latest development reflects the extent to which the Sox have faith in Richar's ability to step into the job, and considering that he's hitting .305/.365/.505 combined between Tucson and Charlotte, I can't say I blame them. If Richar's simply just the Sox's knockoff on Robinson Cano, he'll help the club with some of its handedness issues by providing it with some sock from the left side of the plate. Add in that he'll probably be an upgrade on Iguchi, both around the bag and with his range, and this might be a right-now improvement Sox fans should feel good about.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Designated RHP Jason Shiell for assignment; recalled RHP Leo Nunez from Omaha (Triple-A). [7/29]

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Traded RHP Seth McClung to the Brewers for RHP Grant Balfour. [7/27]
Acquired RHP Calvin Medlock, LHP Brian Shackelford, and future considerations from the Reds for INF-R Jorge Cantu, OF-L Shaun Cumberland, and cash; optioned RHP Shawn Camp to Durham; added RHP Grant Balfour to the active 25-man roster; traded INF-R Ty Wigginton to the Astros for RHP Dan Wheeler. [7/28]
Optioned RHP Jae Kuk Ryu to Durham; recalled SS-R Ben Zobrist from Durham; added RHP Dan Wheeler to the active 25-man roster. [7/29]

Net, we're talking about an exchange where the Rays added Wheeler to a pen that needed help, created space for a utility infielder who can competently play positions other than third base (and who might yet reclaim his job from Brendan Harris), and added one definitely interesting arm to the organization in Medlock as well as bringing in a pair of veteran retreads who might merely wind up being the latest heroes taking their Jim Morris-style star turns. The cost? A pair of monumentally disappointing former prospects in Cumberland and McClung, and two infielders who can't really play either of the middle infield positions. There's also the perceived opportunity cost that one of those-Wigginton, surprisingly, and not Cantu-might have been worth a lot more than just Dan Wheeler, given the talk we were hearing in the last week or so, but I guess the fatal attraction to an original farm product of the Devil Rays organization when they weren't even out of the wrapper yet just proved too tempting.

You might think the Rays got all that much for their troubles, and I say that even as a confirmed Medlock fan. The basic problem is that there's no easy solution to the Rays' increasing roster crunch; prospects might thrive or fail, but making a call on someone like Cantu was almost guaranteed to deliver a disappointing payoff. However many prospects they tire of, it's unlikely that they can stack enough of them to bring in something or somebody with premium value, even if the Rays knew at what position or positions they really wanted to add that value. It's an impossible proposition, one almost guaranteed to leave them in situations like this, where they make a deal of a former highly-regarded prospect and get... well, an interesting minor league reliever like Calvin Medlock.

Maybe they'll also get value out of guys like Balfour and Shackelford, but I wouldn't hold my breath, and they're the sorts of pitchers you might normally take flyers on over the winter. So we're really left with two mentionable additions-Wheeler, and Medlock. Wheeler's pushing 30, and although he's had a couple of successful seasons in the Astros' pen, this hasn't been one of them, not compared to 2006 or 2005. There's something troubling to me in his failure to do as well as he has in the past against right-handed batters, so if the Rays are just hoping that a life free of the menace of Crawford Box-generated mayhem will bring Wheeler back, I can't say I'm quite so optimistic.

So we're left with Medlock, and he's pretty tasty, a right-hander with low 90s heat and a good change, and perhaps somebody who can use that assortment to successfully fool enough of the people enough of the time to compensate for the relative lack of any angle on pitches getting fired from a decisively sub-six-foot frame. He blew through the Southern League this spring, but he was also repeating the level, which sort of takes the sap out of an otherwise nifty 59/5 K/BB ratio in 47 2/3 IP. Promoted up to Triple-A, things have been a bit more rough, as he's struggled with command, walking 14 in 16 frames while striking out 17. No pun intended, but he's a reach, albeit one worth taking a chance on. Is that really all the Rays have to brag about at this point? If it is, this might be the toughest of all deadline markets.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Designated LHP Wil Ledezma for assignment; recalled RHP Jose Ascanio from Mississippi (Double-A). [7/29]

This seems like a quick call on Ledezma's utility to me, but the Braves were frustrated, and probably stand a good enough opportunity to make him move before he actually has to go through waivers. The suggestion's been made that should Ledezma actually make it through waivers, he'll take up new duties as a rotation regular in Richmond, which I'd actually like to see, since he's had sporadic effectiveness as a starting pitcher, he's a lefty who throws hard for a lefty, and he's still only 26 years old. As for the big league bullpen, Ledezma's banishment does put the Braves back in the boat of not having a lefty reliever, something they might address easily enough before the deadline, and which certainly underscores their interesting in getting C.J. Wilson included in any deal with the Rangers.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Acquired INF-R Jorge Cantu, OF-L Shaun Cumberland, and cash from the Devil Rays for RHP Calvin Medlock, LHP Brian Shackelford, and future considerations. [7/28]

While I'm not 100 percent convinced that Cantu can be fixed, this was a pretty worthwhile risk to take by Krivsky. Medlock and Shackelford were decisively disposable, and while both Cantu and Cumberland are trying to live down former expectations of greatness, they're both talented and still relatively young, and as much as the Reds farm system is much improved of late, it's still the sort of system that could use a depth move or three.

Cantu doesn't real fix the Reds' being short-handed in the infield; he's not considered much of a second baseman, and shortstop's out of the question. So he really needs to be seen as an alternative to Edwin Encarnacion at third, and since it seems as if the Reds can't muster up more than a perfunctory enthusiasm for Encarnacion, there's clearly an opportunity here-for Cantu if he can get his bat started back up again, and for another team that might like to get Encarnacion. Cantu's only 25, and while he did most of his hitting in the Trop, he is moving to the easier league, and into another organization where the parent club plays in a bandbox. If he can't get turned around here-and learning to wait on his pitch is pretty much the only way he will-he may not ever. He's certainly worth the flyer to find out.

Cumberland's got a pretty slender performance record-in terms of results, not playing time. Since getting nabbed in the 10th round of the 2003 draft, Cumberland hasn't really hit much, and however toolsy he is, he's a right fielder, so the bat has to come around for him to be considered a prospect. Not hitting in the Cal League last year (.258/.319/.396) and getting similarly flattened in Double-A this year (.246/.303/.347 isn't good for anyone in the Southern League... well, except for Michael Jordan), he probably really should be back down in High-A until he earns a promotion. In the Reds organization, he's just a body, but he's left-handed, runs and throws well, and he'll turn 23 this week. He'll be 40-man eligible after the season, but I don't think there's much danger of his being added or getting taken via the Rule 5 draft.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Acquired INF-R Ty Wigginton and cash from the Devil Rays in exchange for RHP Dan Wheeler. [7/28]
Designated 3B-R Morgan Ensberg for assignment; recalled LHP Mark McLemore from Round Rock (Triple-A). [7/29]

Balancing a mediocre lineup made worse by Hunter Pence's absence against their increasingly desperate ambitions, the Astros dealt from depth to address one source of annoyance, if something less than a full-fledged problem. Losing faith in Ensberg has seemed like only a few consecutive oh-fers away, but the timing of the decision to cut bait and be done with him and bring in Ty Wigginton seems particularly strange. Ensberg's actually been hitting well of late (.319/.373/.447 in July), but it's as if the belated recognition that Craig Biggio wasn't helping them alerted them to the virtues of vigilance against crummy performance in other places. Since Ensberg's had a grim year, since he's already 31, and since he'd only be back in arbitration next winter anyway, Tim Purpura pulled the plug and brought in a better defensive player with pronounced pull-power tendencies tailor-made for Crawford Box glory. They'll have the same choice to make with Wigginton this winter, and if he helps get them somewhere in the next two months, it would be a more defensible choice than going to the mat with Ensberg would have been.

As far as lineup impact, you might worry that this blocks one of the club's better bats; it isn't as if Mike Lamb's all that bad to have in the lineup. However, an added benefit comes from the Rays' sketchy commitment to the concept of infield defense-however questionable Wigginton's glovework at second might be, the Astros are the same ballclub that has had to endure Biggio at the keystone during his death-and-glory stumble to 3000 hits, so Wigginton and Lamb don't have to be mutually exclusive. Add in that they're getting good work from Eric Bruntlett afield in Adam Everett's absence, they're also reaping the unusual-for the Astros-benefit of a shortstop pitching in on offense regardless of whether Bruntlett or Mark Loretta starts.

As a result, the lineup really only has to deal with some big-picture questions. Significant enough in Pence's absence is whether or not Jason Lane's got something left to prove besides eligibility for an Ensbergian end, not to mention whether or not he can play center well enough to help cover for Carlos Lee's potted palm act in left. I wouldn't be surprised if Chris Burke ends up playing some center, especially on days when Wigginton's at second and Lamb's at third. Even more important will be when or if Lance Berkman's ever going to have one of those team-carrying hot streaks this year. If that happens, it would have an outsized impact in the NL Central as we get into head-to-head intra-divisional play down the stretch. So, as dubious as I think the Astros' bid for the NL Central title may be, and as dependent as it will be on their playing better than .600 ball to get to somewhere in the vicinity of last year's good-enough-for-a-title target of 83 wins, I think we have to credit Purpura with doing something that certainly helps make it possible.

As for Ensberg's eventual fate, if the Twins don't throw some scrap at the Astros, it's a miscarriage of management no less profound than "Miguel Cairo, first baseman."

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Traded RHP Grant Balfour to the Devil Rays for RHP Seth McClung. [7/27]

When flea markets sidle up to one another, what did you expect, a circus? Frankly, I think the Brewers came out ahead, but that's just because I'd taken the 10 percent bet that McClung ever pans out over the lesser odds that Balfour can recover from his multiple joint injuries to ever again throw with any effectiveness in the major leagues.

NEW YORK METS
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Optioned MI-S Anderson Hernandez to New Orleans (Triple-A); recalled RHP Mike Pelfrey from New Orleans; announced that OF-R Chip Ambres cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to New Orleans. [7/28]
Optioned RHP Mike Pelfrey to New Orleans (Triple-A); designated RHP Jon Adkins for assignment; purchased the contract of C-R Mike DiFelice from New Orleans; recalled UT-L David Newhan from New Orleans. [7/29]

Pelfrey came up for the Saturday double-header and delivered his first big league quality start since May Day, which is pretty impressive, even if it also involved Joel Hanrahan's major league debut and a quality start of his own. Since home plate ump Jim Hoye doesn't rank anywhere close to the most pitcher-friendly umps, we might have to chalk this up as a case of two guys just having great days at the office, and for the Mets, even if it was an effort at the expense of the Nats' weak lineup, it's still something to take some small measure of satisfaction from, just in case they have to turn back to Pelfrey at some point in the future.

Meanwhile, DiFelice's callup doesn't represent some positive new realization that maybe the Mets need alternatives to Paul Lo Duca. This is instead a matter of Lo Duca's hammy barking, but Mets fans can nevertheless hope that this is a window of opportunity for Ramon Castro to stake a claim for some larger share of playing time. DiFelice's loyalties in such a proposition are essentially immaterial, much like his probable contributions.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Placed RHP Ryan Madson on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder); recalled RHP Geoff Geary called up from Ottowa (Triple-A). [7/29]

Until we know more about the severity of Madson's injury-and it certainly didn't look good initially-it's hard to say whether this is crippling, or merely cause for alarm. Certainly, you might look at Madson's value this season and Geary's from last year and figure that this could even out nicely enough, but the Phillies don't exactly have the leisure of absolute confidence in the tools at hand. Certainly, Geary did nothing up in Ottawa but reinforce his reputation as a strike-thrower, as he struck out 18 in his 17 2/3 IP without allowing a single free pass; he also reinforced his rep for hittability by surrendering 18 hits. As a result, losing Madson for any stretch certainly reinforces the possibility that the Phillies might not simply wait for all of their best men to be healthy and in the pen at once, and may instead go out and get that extra arm that seems typical of stretch-drive exchanges.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Optioned RHP John Van Benschoten to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [7/28]
Recalled RHP Jonah Bayliss from Indianapolis. [7/29]

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Placed RHP Chris Young on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/25; recalled RHP Tim Stauffer from Portland (Triple-A); released 4C-L Russell Branyan. [7/28]

Young's downtime should be kept to a minimum, so while this hurts, it should only hurt them one more time, as today's off-day and the post-dating should have Young ready to come back for a start on August 9, meaning just one more risked Stauffer disasterpiece, and/or one spot start for someone like Mike Thompson or perhaps even Clay Hensley on Saturday against the Giants. They've already won the two games in which Young's injury affected them (the one he exited early in Coors against the Rockies, and then Sunday's slugfest), so it's important not to exaggerate the effects of this on the Pads' chances. Young's expected back in plenty of time to help deliver another division championship.

If I want to talk about disappointments, better to move over to the decision to discard the Three True Outcomes king, Russell Branyan. I know I'm inordinately fond of players of the type, but I have no illusions that Branyan could help a team at third base. At first or an outfield corner, on the other hand, or even just as a DH, he could still provide significant value. The Yankees should definitely ring his agent, but I would imagine that the Tigers, Phillies, Cardinals, and Twins should all be interested. They won't be, of course-teams like the Twins obsess over strikeouts overmuch, while the Tigers would be offered choices like benching immortals like Sean Casey or Craig Monroe. Still, in a league where so many teams have crying need for power, I would think that Branyan's ability to hit something like .230/.320/.480 in regular playing time would look pretty tasty, relative to counting another thousand at-bats or so waiting for Jason Tyner's next jack.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Optioned LHP Randy Keisler and RHP Kelvin Jimenez to Memphis (Triple-A); recalled RHPs Anthony Reyes and Brian Falkenborg from Memphis. [7/28]
Designated RHP Brian Falkenborg for assignment; activated UT-S Scott Spiezio from the 15-day DL. [7/29]

Reyes came back up to the rotation after giving Memphis a pair of quality starts, and then delivered one more to the parent club. We can hope this is a matter of his having confidence in his stuff and the Cards having sufficient confidence in him from here on out that at least the club winds up improving upon a rotation where we're otherwise almost down to Wainwright and Wells and say what the hell. Kip Wells took another beating yesterday, Braden Looper's been giving them precisely alternated good and bad days at the office with frustrating regularity, and Mike Maroth hasn't given them a quality start since his Cardinals debut. Brad Thompson's one of the rotation's near-heroes, but his recent hand injury might cost him a turn, and the Cardinals can't really afford that given that they're not dead yet, especially not after taking the Brewers down a few pegs over the weekend.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Signed 1B-S Dmitri Young to a two-year, $10 million contract extension. [7/28]

The most charitable interpretation this move deserves is that Nick Johnson's hurt a lot worse than we know, or the Nats are so sick of Johnson's fragility that they're going to be willing to deal him for pennies on his already weak dollar this winter. Depending how low, that could be a steal for somebody, but if this reflects in the meantime a serious, considered commitment to Dmitri Young, that has to represent a serious reason to consider committing Jim Bowden. I'm more willing to entertain the suggestion that a first baseman who slugs .480 and gets on base at a .320 clip than Joe is-if Young can deliver that, he'll wind up with an EqA around .280, which is average, and in a world where Sean Casey plays and the Yankees forget that first base is a position that requires stocking, that's not entirely without value. Hell, to be even more generous, I'm sure there's some additional value to having a player like Young at his recent best in a pitcher's environment, whether it's RFK or the next DC ballpark, because he's putting hard-hit balls in play with a remarkable frequency, and in a swampy environment (like RFK is, or the Navy Yard Park should be), you can't count on cookies turning into souvenirs with anything like the same frequency that you can in most ballparks. Nevertheless, I'm going to concur with Joe that the price isn't right, and that the commitment to a flabby thirtysomething with off-field question marks seems remarkably silly for a team that's supposed to be rebuilding, not trying to run with the Pirates.

If this were somehow connected to dealing Young to someone who wanted him for this length of time, that would have been ducky, but instead, it leaves the Nats with a multi-year commitment to a steeply depreciating asset at first base, no goodies for swapping him when he might have had value, little or no future option on future goodies, and the likelihood that every GM in baseball jonesing for a first baseman this winter is going to go all Tom Vu on the Nats and expect Nick Johnson to be coughed up for a retroactive subscription to Omni and a case of Pop Rocks. Any concern that they might hand over the Pop Rocks without any cautions to avoid Pepsi need not be issued; if friends don't let friends sign these kinds of contracts, it would seem to me Jim Bowden's got no friends who might tell him to also avoid certain death.


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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