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August 14, 2007

Transaction of the Day

NL West Moves

by Christina Kahrl


IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Placed RF-R Carlos Quentin on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); purchased the contract of OF-R Justin Upton from Mobile (Double-A). [8/2]
Claimed 1B/3B-R Jeff Cirillo off of waivers from the Twins; claimed RHP Byung-Hyun Kim off of waivers from the Marlins; transferred LHP Randy Johnson from the 15- to the 60-day DL; designated 3B-R Brian Barden for assignment. [8/3]
Claimed LHP Joe Kennedy off of waivers from the A's; optioned RHP Dustin Nippert to Tucson (Triple-A). [8/4]
Signed OF-R Eric Byrnes to a three-year contract extension through 2010. [8/7]

We have three flavors here, one sweet, one savory, and one that's a bit on the bitter side. The sweet side of the menu's probably the one that appeals most to those dessert-first cultists out there among you, so let's get to that-Justin Upton's here and inspires fear, so just deal with it. As he creeps up on his 20th birthday, he'd shown that he has nothing left to learn in the minors, tearing through the Cal League earlier this season by hitting .341/.433/.540 at Visalia, and then proving that the big step up to Double-A was no particular hurdle for him by thumping at a .309/.399/.556 clip. His performance in Double-A is particularly compelling-it translates to a .293 Equivalent Average in The Show, so if you think his youth is an issue that calls his readiness into question, this is how these things work out for potential superstar talents on their way up.

As a result, just like last season, the Snakes are turning to their best available farmhands to support their stretch drive, a notable distinction between themselves and some of the competition, because otherwise, they're also doing what the Dodgers and Padres have in terms of acquiring journeymen for support roles. But even here, the Snakes are setting themselves apart from the competition in taking on better help. I think we're beyond expecting greatness from Joe Kennedy or Byung-Hyun Kim, but they've both turned into solid utility pitchers, and it didn't cost Arizona Wilson Betemit to add either of them. That can savored, certainly compared to the dreck that teams like the Rockies and Dodgers are relying upon to help sustain their respective bids. Between the Rockies and Fish, Kim had posted a SNLVAR of 1.2, not too much better than Yusmeiro Petit but not too much worse than Randy Johnson from among Snakey starters. If Kim falters on the site of his former highs and lows, they can always turn back to Petit, and even if they've lost the Big Unit for the season, matters are certainly improved by Micah Owings turning in three quality starts in his last three (one blown in the seventh).

The real question from among these picks is why it's Kim they're slotting into the rotation. While nabbing Kennedy gives the club a second lefty for their pen, an alternative to homegrown product Doug Slaten, and that's all well and good and October-minded, his performance in Oakland's rotation was better than Owings or Livan Hernandez, let alone fifth starter options like Petit and Kim. Perhaps utilizing Kennedy in the postseason pen makes sense, but why not try to win a few ballgames earlier in a game by keeping overall scoring down, instead of relying on another dose of deterministic situational success? I could be impractical and suggest something Stengelistic, like using Kennedy against lefty-heavy lineups, and Kim against the ones that lean to the right, but people don't do that these days, and everyone's operating on the assumption that they're all in Rome, so when in... you know the punchline.

To turn back to Upton (briefly), he's stepping directly into the right field job that Carlos Quentin failed to secure for himself in a little more than a year, and while that's something of a bitter pill for him personally, it didn't mean the end of his future with the organization. Instead, that likely outcome would be the product of the ballclub's one misstep in this group of moves-the decision to pay Eric Byrnes $30 million. Byrnes has done a lot of the right things this season; he's ironed out his platoon differential, and he's hitting well enough on the road this season to make him less of a park-generated slugger. (Those given to carping might nevertheless note that bopping four homers in Philly and on Planet Coors sort of saps that argument, but in point of fairness, those are road games.) Even so, I have a hard time buying the suggestion that he's a difference-making power source in left field for anybody. Byrnes might age decently, considering that he's more athletic than your average 31-year-old, but you're still talking about a guy who can't slug .500 in one of the best hitting environments in baseball, and one that you're pasting into a premium offensive position.

Spending so much of the dividend that this club should reap from employing Chris B. Young and Upton as pre-arbitration outfield regulars for the next several seasons in this way looks like a misstep to me. Perhaps the cost certainty makes it possible to peddle Quentin to help the club shore up some other area, but getting value for him depends on a trading partner's willingness to discount this season's struggles; the alternative is that the team might only receive pennies on the dollar. If that's all they can get, in the absence of some other pressing need, they might instead keep Quentin to challenge Young for a job next spring, with the outcome also determining whether Upton plays right field or center.

Finally, there's nabbing Cirillo on waivers, and if he's not much of a threat against right-handed pitching any more, he has some measure of familiarity with the responsibilities of a pinch-hitter, he can still sting something slung by a southpaw, and even against right-handers, he makes contact well enough to at least have some value in the role. To really get ahead of ourselves, I think we'd see Tony Clark DHing if the Snakes make the World Series, but so you can add in the possibilities of having him around as a potential platoon partner for Conor Jackson or Chad Tracy during postseason play. All in all, a nice enough little move for the back end of the bench.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Placed RHP Rodrigo Lopez on the 15-day DL (torn tendon - forearm), retroactive to 7/27; activated RHP Jason Hirsh from the 15-day DL. [8/2]
Optioned C-R Chris Iannetta to Colorado Springs; purchased contract of C-R Edwin Bellorin from Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [8/6]
Optioned RHP Ramon Ramirez to Colorado Springs; recalled RHP Ryan Speier from Colorado Springs. [8/7]
Placed C-R Edwin Bellorin on the 15-day DL; recalled C-R Alvin Colina from Colorado Springs. [8/8]
Placed RHP Jason Hirsh on 15-day DL (broken leg), retroactive to 8/8; optioned C-R Alvin Colina to Colorado Springs; transferred RHP Rodrigo Lopez from the 15- to the 60-day DL; recalled MI-R Clint Barmes from Colorado Springs; purchased the contract of C-R Geronimo Gil from Colorado Springs. [8/9]
Placed UT-R Jeff Baker on the 15-day DL (mild concussion); purchased contract of 3B-L Ian Stewart from Colorado Springs; designated LHP Sean Thompson for assignment. [8/11]
Optioned RHP Ryan Speier to Colorado Springs; recalled OF-R Sean Barker from Colorado Springs and placed him on the 60-day DL (hamstring strain); purchased the contract of RHP Tim Harikkala from Colorado Springs. [8/12]
Designated RHP Tim Harikkala for assignment. [8/13]

So, we're talking about the roster moves of the playoff hopefuls, and here they are, the Rockies, playing a tick above .500, and still in the thick of both the division and wild card races, and where teams like the Snakes are trusting their postseason hopes to kids grown from within, the Rockies are turning to... Tim Harikkala? Geronimo Gil? Barmes, for spot work in center? What, you mean it's too late for a Bryn Smith comeback? Jerald Clark wasn't available? Rats.

These are pretty solid indications of a team that doesn't have a lot of depth in-house, and probably didn't land the sort of minor league free agents better equipped to help them at a time like now. While nobody should like losing a couple of starting pitchers in pretty short order, the Rox aren't this badly off-they'll be able to plug Taylor Buchholz into the Lopez/Hirsh/Spinal Tap drummer TBNL slot. The real question is why they aren't making like their division rivals from Phoenix and addressing this very problem with some aggressive claim games on waivers. Finding a catcher would perhaps be a bit much, but if the Snakes can add pitchers like Kennedy at Kim, either represents a much better option than spot work from Harikkala. If the real ambition is to give the slot to Franklin Morales, that would be a reasonable risk, especially since they're already leaning on Ubaldo Jimenez, but a rotation that has both Jimenez and Morales in it isn't going to wind up contending for very long if they're both around Jimenez's level of readiness.

But if you want to live and die with the kids, why send down Iannetta? I know his season line is terrible, but take a deeper look-his 1-for-32 slump is galling, certainly, but Clint Hurdle's comments that Iannetta needs at-bats seems to assume that this team has a catcher worth playing regularly, and it doesn't-it has Yorvit Torrealba. What's really galling about Iannetta's performance is his .136/.237/.167 line in Denver, or bad enough that he should have been batting behind Aaron Cook in home games. Would trusting Iannetta really be such an unreasonable option? He's still the same promising prospect he was at season's start. It seems to me that first letting him know that a bad first week or two to open the year was enough to get Torrealba regular playing time and then sticking with a job-sharing arrangement between a player you know isn't an acceptable regular and one of the best prospects in the organization strikes me as the sort of weak-willed commitment to the future that by way of contrast the Royals didn't have with Alex Gordon and his slow start. I'd love to see the Rockies settle for the obligatory ten-day change of scenery, and then bring Iannetta back and acknowledge that he's their catcher. If they die with him, it wasn't like they had an alternative, and they live with him, they'll have made a significant statement of support for a player whose talent doesn't seem to be in any serious doubt.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Optioned RHP Eric Hull to Las Vegas (Triple-A). [8/1]
Acquired 1B/OF-L Mark Sweeney from the Giants for a PTBNL. [8/9]
Optioned RHP D.J. Houlton to Las Vegas; added 1B/OF-L Mark Sweeney to the active roster. [8/10]
Optioned OF-S Delwyn Young to Las Vegas; purchased the contract of 1B-R Shea Hillenbrand from Las Vegas; transferred RHP Jason Schmidt from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/14]

In the stupid, useless gestures department, I guess bringing in Hillenbrand has to rank with trading for Scott Proctor, so these are moves of a piece. The only thing that rises to the level of "genius" is asking for a little love from an old friend a mentor from up the Left Coast, and getting Mark Sweeney as a forget-me-not for his troubles. I do think this is interesting in that this is sort of a throwback situation, not just because guys like Hillenbrand should really only be caught as a matter of catch-and-release, but because how many other teams have three pinch-hitters these days? Between Sweeney, Hillenbrand, and Olmedo Saenz, the team's carrying three guys with little or no defensive value, this on a team that has nobody who can play third base on the big league roster, plus Ramon Martinez, the odd Grady Little favorite at utility infielder who isn't hitting. It's rough enough that the club has to live down the Nomar Garciaparra and Juan Pierre contracts, and make do with generally adequate performance from its left fielder, Luis Gonzalez. But at some point, what with there being a division to be won, could somebody tell Ned to stop helping? That's not to let Little off of the hook-his failure to start Saenz for almost a month (from the end of June to the end of July) seems to have left the bit player's bat so stale as to leave him wrecked from the season.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Optioned RHP Tim Stauffer and LHP Joe Thatcher to Portland (Triple-A). [8/1]
Optioned RHP Clay Hensley to Portland; recalled RHP Mike Thompson from Portland. [8/5]
Optioned RHP Mike Thompson to Portland; recalled OF-L Terrmel Sledge from Portland. [8/7]
Designated LHP David Wells for assignment; activated RHP Chris Young from the 15-day DL. [8/9]
Placed LF-R Scott Hairston on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); placed RHP Doug Brocail on the Bereavement List; recalled LHP Joe Thatcher from Portland; purchased the contract of RHP Jack Cassel from Portland. [8/10]
Placed C-R Michael Barrett on the 15-day DL (concussion-like symptoms); purchased the contract of C-L Pete Laforest from Portland; optioned RHP Jack Cassel to Portland; recalled RHP Mike Thompson from Portland. [8/11]

The reshuffle in the rotation has been difficult enough if cutting Wells hadn't become to seem a necessity, but neither Hensley nor Wil Ledezma successfully filled the bill, so even with Young back from the DL-sort of, since he felt achy after his first start back-the Pads are still a starter shy of a full fivesome. This really makes the decision to snag Justin Germano off of waivers look like a godsend, but in the meantime, Kevin Towers and Bud Black will still have to decide if Hensley, Ledezma, or Thompson is survivable in the fifth slot. I'd be okay with a commitment to any one of them, but the problem seems to be that the club's lurching between exasperation with each of them individually at the same time as they deal with Young's issues, and that makes for a not-so-easy problem to fix.

As for getting Laforest up in Barrett's place, consider this the virtue of having a valuable alternative after losing one of your two catchers, and therefore something that's a product of the decision to get Barrett in the first place. Barrett's struggled since coming over from Wrigleyville, but that doesn't make him less of a potential one-for-one replacement for Josh Bard in case something unfortunate happened to the starter. Replacing Barrett in a backup role, however, is pretty easy when it involves calling up Laforest. I don't know if you really want to be called the best Beaver in a family column, but Laforest has been insanely great for Portland this season, mashing 29 home runs in 354 plate appearances. Admittedly, he's fulfilled his Three True Outcomes candidacy for big league backuppery by walking 52 times on his own plus striking out 92 more, a solid 48.9 percent TTO rate. Give me a choice between that and Alberto Castillo and his ilk, and you know who I'm picking.

In the outfield, I think it's safe to say the Pads are already getting acquainted with the heartache that comes with employing Milton Bradley, because while it might seem as if they have too many outfielders, they've actually only got Mike Cameron and a bunch of maybes. Maybe Brian Giles is back; five homers in a week has a way of making people believers, but facing the Reds in Cincinnati's bandbox didn't hurt. Maybe Giles will be healthy enough to play regularly, and maybe Bradley will be back, but maybe they won't, and you get to see lots more of Rob Mackowiak and Geoff Blum-Blum!!!-in the outfield corners. If Hairston was supposed to be a platoon partner with anybody, getting hurt bollixed that up quickly enough, while Sledge is just pinch-hitting. Volume hasn't really equaled production, but I suppose things might get more interesting still if the Pads decide to play Morgan Ensberg regularly at third and add Kevin Kouzmanoff to the mix in left. It would probably represent a defensive improvement while also giving the lineup another better bat against lefties than relying too heavily on guys like Hairston or Blum.

So now there's the question of whether this is the bitter end for Jumbo, or if he's still got something left. Much as I've derided a lot of the fascination on where Wells goes from year to year, he'd actually been delivering pretty solid work for the Pads from mid-May to the four-start stretch that brought his Pads career to a close. As a result, I'd expect to see him in somebody's uni come the 19th or so, whenever he clears waivers. Whether it's the Dodgers or Rockies in the division, the Phillies or Braves in the East, or the Indians, Tigers, or Mariners in the AL, there are plenty of contenders a starter short that ought to give some thought to not letting things end this way for baseball's most famous gouty moundsman.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Placed INF-R Rich Aurilia on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 8/2; recalled LHP Patrick Misch from Fresno (Triple-A). [8/4]
Optioned OF-L Fred Lewis to Fresno; recalled RHP Scott Atchison from Fresno. [8/6]
Traded 1B/OF-L Mark Sweeney to the Dodgers for a PTBNL. [8/9]
Optioned LHP Patrick Misch to Fresno; activated RHP Russ Ortiz from the 15-day DL; recalled OF-S Daniel Ortmeier from Fresno. [8/10]
Optioned LHP Jonathan Sanchez to Fresno; recalled RHP Brian Wilson from Fresno. [8/11]

Some of this is good, and some of it's more a source of annoyance. I don't think you need to worry about a straight replacement of Misch with Russ Ortiz in the rotation, although it does beg the question of when the Giants plan to get around to the getting younger portion of a youth movement. Misch has had a solid season pitching mostly in relief for the Grizzlies (notably his 74 K's in 66 2/3 IP), but was a starter last season, and if he's your relatively typical organizational lefty with stuff that's well short of overpowering, that's still somebody who can pan out as a fourth or fifth starter in the major leagues. But why Ortiz? Well, admittedly, the organization did invest in seeing if there was anything left, and a successfully retreaded veteran is a source of added value. Before his Mayday on May Day that preceded his first trip to the DL, Ortiz had delivered four winnable ballgames, and he did likewise in his return to the rotation this weekend. While I'd like to see the Giants already investing some more time in him, Patrick Misch, your time is gonna come, perhaps soon if Noah Lowry's ailing for any greater length of time.

Instead, the exasperating note to strike here is the demotion of Lewis. I know I've spoken up for Rajai Davis in the past, but if you give me a choice between at-bats for Davis and at-bats for Fred Lewis, I'd take Lewis without a second thought. It's bad enough that the Giants are stuck with long-term commitments to both Dave Roberts and Randy Winn, two guys whose best position afield is in left, but whose bats really only play well in center in most big league lineups. Davis' punches pitches about as effectively as Petula Wilcox, and in a lineup that's carrying as much deadweight as the Giants, I'd rather see them use someone like Lewis in the fourth outfielder role. Of course, what might really make sense is trying to peddle Winn or Roberts while absorbing some amount of salary, particularly to a team that could use some outfield help (the Tigers or the Cubs, for example).


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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