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August 19, 2007

Transaction Analysis

National League Roundup

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Placed 4C-L Chad Tracy on the 15-day DL (knee); designated LHP Joe Kennedy and RHP Byung-Hyun Kim for assignment.; recalled RHPs Dustin Nippert and Jailen Peguero and OF-L Jeff Salazar from Tucson (Triple-A). [8/15]

Talk about an interesting contretemps-Kim and Kennedy, both discarded just like that? Admittedly, Kim might be the franchise's bete noir after his postseason struggles and general infamy; it might be like the Yankees bringing back George Frazier just to gratify fans of a certain age by subsequently cutting him. (Cubs fans might want a piece of that action for his part in 1984, but the man did get a ring as a Twin in '87.) So, making a quick call to dump Kim and bring back Yusmeiro Petit once that particular rotation slot comes up again this weekend, I get that. The speedy dumping of Kennedy, though, not so much. As I said earlier this week, Kennedy represented some situational depth and a potential fix in the rotation, so getting cranky over one decisively lost ballgame seems like a bit of an overreaction. Nevertheless, I do respect a willingness to go with Dustin Nippert as the extra guy in the pen, considering he's a monster-sized power pitcher who adds one more variation on the theme of the club's general bullpen dominance. If it helps the Snakes project their late-game advantage earlier into ballgames, and give them a power arm capable of handling long relief chores-Nippert was a starter last season, after all-it's worked for other unlikely contenders in recent years.

As for losing Tracy, the timing couldn't be much more unfortunate. First, it's coming in concert with Mark Reynolds' struggles (until recently, at least) as the league caught up to him. Although Conor Jackson's hitting better in the past month, the D'backs could use the virtue of having options, and Tracy's ability to start and hit well enough to stick at any of the four corners is something this lineup can't really go without. However, the tendonitis in his knee hasn't been alleviated by any number of cortisone shots, so perhaps rest will get him back in action down the final stretch; as ever, the danger in this situation is that he might run out of minor league-season action to do some rehab work in, especially since Tucson doesn't seem likely to catch Sacramento in the PCL's final three weeks. Watch Will Carroll's space carefully for updates on this problem.

In the meantime, the silver lining of this situation is that by bringing back Salazar, the Snakes do finally have a backup outfielder, and since Salazar can play center, hit right-handers with some modest amount of power (.307/.390/.541 versus PCL righties), and even run well enough to spot in pinch-running stints, he makes a solid multi-purpose bench weapon. I know I was critical of Arizona's use of Salazar earlier in the year, but that's because he was temporarily miscast as a right fielder in the absence of viable options. With Tony Clark around for power, Salazar for lefty-hitting reserve duties, and Jeff Cirillo to bring in against southpaws, I do think Bob Melvin's got a better collection of tactical tools on offense than most of his peers.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Designated PH-R Julio Franco for assignment; optioned RHP Jose Ascanio to Mississippi (Double-A). [8/1]
Optioned LHP Jo-Jo Reyes to Richmond (Triple-A); recalled RHP Lance Cormier from Richmond. [8/2]
Placed SS-R Edgar Renteria on the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Joey Devine from Richmond. [8/3]
Optioned RHP Joey Devine to Richmond; recalled 2B-R Martin Prado from Richmond; outrighted PH-R Julio Franco to Rome (Low-A). [8/7]
Optioned 2B-R Martin Prado to Richmond; placed RHP Octavio Dotel on 15-day DL (shoulder strain); recalled RHP Manny Acosta from Richmond. [8/10]

The problem here isn't that they lack a replacement for Renteria-Yunel Escobar can tear off line drives playing short as easily as he can from third or second, and he's more than up to the defensive responsibilities. At most, you might fret over Kelly Johnson not having an adequate reserve, but since he's hitting lefties well (.272/.369/.419), platooning him isn't necessary. I suppose you can worry about whether or not anybody's going to get tired, but if they don't have the regulars in there putting up runs, the Braves' bid is dead anyway. That's because the club's real problem has been run prevention-in the last two weeks since their July 29 shutout of the Snakes, they've held opponents to as few as three runs only thrice in 14 games. They're 9-8 in that stretch, and it's going to be hard to contend when you basically have to put up more crooked numbers than the other guys will, day after day. They haven't gotten a quality start from either Chuck James or Buddy Carlyle in that stretch in eight starts between them, and Cormier took a beating in his initial turn back in the fifth slot before doing well on Friday night against his former team, Arizona. Add in a very middle-of-the-pack pen handicapped by the struggles of both Rafael Soriano and Tyler Yates and now Dotel's latest breakdown, and it's going to be a lot to ask Tim Hudson and John Smoltz to carry their mates on the mound.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Optioned RHP Rocky Cherry to Iowa (Triple-A); activated RHP Kerry Wood from the 60-day DL; transferred RHP Angel Guzman from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/3]
Placed LF-R Alfonso Soriano on the 15-day DL (strained quad); purchased the contract of 2B-L Eric Patterson from Iowa; designated 1B-R Brian Dopirak for assignment; released RHP Wade Miller. [8/6]
Optioned LHP Will Ohman to Iowa; recalled RHP Sean Gallagher from Iowa. [8/7]
Placed OF-S Angel Pagan on the 15-day DL (colitis); recalled CF-L Felix Pie from Iowa; outrighted 1B-R Brian Dopirak to Daytona (High-A). [8/8]
Placed OF-L Cliff Floyd on the Bereavement List; activated 1B/OF-L Daryle Ward from the 15-day DL. [8/12]
Optioned RHP Sean Gallagher and 2B-L Eric Patterson to Iowa; recalled LHP Carmen Pignatiello and recalled 1B/OF-R Jake Fox from Iowa; transferred C-R Henry Blanco from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/14]
Signed RHP Carlos Zambrano to a five-year, $91.5 million contract extension, with a vesting option for 2013. [8/17]

It's impressive to see Wood back, even if it seems unlikely that he'll be able to contribute in anything other than an old-school relief role, where he pitches an inning or two at a time, but not on consecutive days. That still fits in very nicely in a contemporary bullpen otherwise stocked with situational weapons and defined role players, and while it isn't the kind of thing anybody can measure, I wouldn't bridle at the suggestion that he provides some sort of inspiration by the very fact of his being here and being able to contribute at all. Elsewhere on the staff there is the concern that Gallagher isn't really filling the bill as the fifth starter, having flopped in his last three appearances. We'll see how he does on Saturday night, but Carlos Zambrano got cuffed around his last couple of times out, and that didn't stop the club from enriching him beyond his wildest dreams of avarice.

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around what Zambrano's deal represents. Setting aside that it probably means no lessons have been learned as far as the Barry Zito deal-except that it must be that weird Zito guy's fault-it will almost inevitably look badly in retrospect, especially should some joint or another on the man's right arm goes kablooey. That's not necessarily guaranteed, of course; there were more than a few deterministic claims for Livan Hernandez's future that were based on what a counting stat like PAP was telling us, and Livan's ability to sustain that workload serves as a nifty reminder that PAP is a counting stat, not a predictive tool. Nevertheless, I'm more than a little reluctant to sign off on this, as fun or goofy or entertaining as Zambrano is, because I'm sort of predictably dull on the subject of contracts for pitchers that got beyond three years. Jim Hendry's needs for the present-to seem pro-active, to win, to remain in his job-probably mean he couldn't afford my easy sideline orthodoxy.

The amazing thing about the Cubs' roster management right now is that Ronny Cedeno and Felix Pie are here... as witnesses. Pie drew four starts upon his recall, didn't suck, but Jacque Jones gets a passel of starts in Coors Field and against the hapless Reds, gets hot in the face of those happy challenges, and Pie's riding pine, and the Cubs still don't have a good center fielder, but they do have a Daryle Ward/Jake Fox platoon thumping around in right. Cedeno hasn't started a game at short since August 1. Is that really what he's supposed to be doing? Is that really the best utilization of his gifts or that roster spot? Perhaps the perfect summation of Piniella's readiness to trust the kids was Patterson's playing time. He started once, went 1-for-3, and never started again. The only happy thing to be found within this particular constellation of possibilities is that Matt Murton's getting the playing time in Soriano's absence, although Murton's initial hot streak only seems likely to have bought him Lou's loyalty through the streak, and now that that's over, I don't have any great fait that we'll see Murton playing much more than Pie once Soriano's back.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Optioned RHP Elizardo Ramirez to Louisville (Triple-A); recalled LHP Phil Dumatrait from Louisville. [8/1]
Optioned LHP Jon Coutlangus to Louisville; placed UT-R Ryan Freel on the 15-day DL (knee), retroactive to 8/3; recalled RHP Gary Majewski from Louisville; activated LHP Eddie Guardado from the 60-day DL. [8/7]
Claimed OF-R Jason Ellison off of waivers from the Mariners; optioned RHP Todd Coffey to Louisville. [8/8]
Designated INF-S Mark Bellhorn for assignment; activated CF-L Josh Hamilton from the 15-day DL. [8/12]
Placed C-R David Ross on the 15-day DL (concussion); purchased the contract of C-R Ryan Jorgensen from Louisville; outrighted INF-S Mark Bellhorn to Louisville. [8/14]
Placed SS-R Alex Gonzalez on the Bereavement List; repurchased the contract of INF-S Mark Bellhorn from Louisville; transferred MI-S Juan Castro from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/15]
Recalled RHP Elizardo Ramirez from Louisville. [8/18]

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Activated LHP Brian Fuentes from the 15-day DL. [8/14]
Placed CF-R Willy Taveras on 15-day DL; recalled RHP Ramon Ramirez from Colorado Springs (Triple-A); acquired RHP Ramon Ortiz from the Twins for INF-R Matt Macri. [8/15]
Placed RHP Aaron Cook on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 8/11; purchased the contract of RHP Elmer Dessens from Colorado Springs. [8/16]
Optioned UT-R Clint Barmes to Colorado Springs; purchased the contract of LHP Franklin Morales from Colorado Springs; designated RHP Alberto Arias for assignment. [8/18]

Fixing up the pitching staff is all well and good, especially if it's about getting out from under using someone like Tim Harikkala, but are Ramon Ortiz and Elmer Dessens really improvements? I'm especially not an optimist where Ortiz is concerned, since his basic problem is that he's a short right-hander without a reliable breaking pitch delivering thigh-high heat on a relatively flat plane. That works almost adequately in the best pitcher's parks in baseball, and it's generally good enough for slop work in Minnesota after predictably pitching his way out of the Twins' rotation, but is this really the sort of help a contender should be digging up? Qualitatively, what Ortiz has to offer isn't appreciably better than most Quad-A hurlers. And that's probably more than what Dessens has to offer.

Happily, the club has Franklin Morales to turn to, and while that's a reflection of their lot, down three starters in August, Morales joins Ubaldo Jimenez in giving the club two homegrown talents behind Jeff Francis and Josh Fogg, and that does keep their desperation down to picking between Dessens and Ortiz for the next week or so. Once Aaron Cook comes back off of the DL, they'll then have an interesting choice to make. Jimenez is sort of in put up or shut up territory, a prospect who has provided his share of disappointments while also still having great promise. He's delivered three quality starts in six, so he should stick. Morales is the fresher face, but he's also an even better prospect, a lefty with a power sinker and sharp curve, both of which should generate good results in the majors. He had hamstring problems in May that encouraged the organization to manage his workload even more carefully, and he responded well enough to pitch his way up to Triple-A in August, and arrive in The Show in time to help make a difference. He's going to have command issues-a 93-58 K-BB ratio in 112 2/3 IP shows there's still work to be done-and he's probably the easy choice to move aside once Cook returns, and he didn't seem especially intimidated by the Dodgers in his big league debut on Saturday. If he does well his next time out, the Rockies might have the interesting opportunity to keep Morales in the rotation once Cook returns, and bump Dessens back with Ortiz for long relief work that perhaps affords Clint Hurdle that much more opportunity to use a quick hook with his two rookies in the rotation.

In center field, losing Taveras isn't great news, but center field-and Taveras' relative offensive role-is one space in which the organization retained some measure of depth. While Cory Sullivan isn't a great player, he's a solid slap-and-skitter replacement-level waterbug, and if he's not really a long-term answer for center field, he's definitely a solid patch for the interim, and with Ryan Spilborghs doing nifty work in a platoon role as well, this isn't so much a handicap for the Rockies' bid on contention as much as it represents an opportunity to get Taveras well, give their depth the advantage of some playing time, and ideally have everyone firing on all cylinders coming down the stretch.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Noted the loss of RHP Byung-Hyun Kim on waivers to the Diamondbacks; placed LHP Renyel Pinto on 15-day DL (strained shoulder); recalled RHP Carlos Martinez from Carolina (Double-A). [8/3]
Purchased the contract of RHP Mauro Zarate from Albuquerque (Triple-A). [8/4]
Designated OF-S Joe Borchard for assignment; activated RHP Logan Kensing from the 60-day DL, and optioned him to Albuquerque; optioned RHP Carlos Martinez to Albuquerque; activated OF-L Alejandro De Aza from the 60-day DL. [8/8]
Purchased the contracts of RHPs Daniel Barone and Ross Wolf from Albuquerque. [8/9]
Optioned RHP Mauro Zarate to Albuquerque; transferred RHP Josh Johnson from the 15- to the 60-day DL; outrighted OF-S Joe Borchard to Albuquerque. [8/10]

The good news here is that the long-stalled fix of the club's seemingly chronic center field problem is back in action. I don't think there's any reason to pretend that De Aza is a great player, but he's a definite improvement on the team's default option, utilityman Alfredo Amezaga. The team already boasts one of the game's most dangerous offensive lineups, but the added value that De Aza should provide beyond being a likely offensive upgrade on Amezaga is that he can actually play center. And given how deeply they're dipping into their own organizational soldiery in summoning up guys like Barone, Zarate, and Wolf, it's pretty clear they'll take all the help they can get in whatever dimension they can find it, lest they suffer the ignominy of finishing behind a Nationals club initially expected to rank among baseball history's laughingstocks.

Center was probably the club's only real hole; I'm not really concerned about the Miguel Olivo problem behind the plate, given the limited supply of quality catching that's readily available. Sure, Matt Treanor's having one of what Rany Jazayerli likes to call a "Junior Ortiz" season, where one year of hitting well in ~100 plate appearances is enough to get a guy like this another five years of service time, but Treanor's not much of a deterrent of the running game, and playing him any more often than his current workload would expose a guy who's never really hit much anywhere over the course of his 14-year career.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Placed RHP Chris Sampson on the 15-day DL (sprained UCL - elbow); purchased the contract of LHP Stephen Randolph from Round Rock (Triple-A). [8/3]
Placed LHP Stephen Randolph on the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Juan Gutierrez from Round Rock. [8/17]

Even with one of their three best starters down, the Astros aren't dead. That isn't a product of their getting liftoff as much as it is the craters you'll find up in Wrigleyville and Beertown and the Cubs and Brewers come crashing down, but theirs not to reason why for Phil Garner's charges. However, even without Sampson, they're not that badly hurt by Sampson's absence for a few weeks, not if top prospect Matt Albers can live up to his billing through a few turns in Sampson's place.

The real problem as far as building a sustained bid for the NL Central title that doesn't depend so heavily on the Cubs and Brewers burrowing their past the Astros in the standings is that this club has far too many other holes. If the back of the pen is stuck with veteran filler like Randolph and Scuffy Moehler on top of Dave Borkowski, generally speaking, you've got three guys who might normally be seen as eleventh men filling out the back end of your pen, and then you've got a staffing problem. Even though Jason Lane's doing a Rob Deer-flavored bit of good works as the club's replacement for Hunter Pence in center, there's still the problem of sorting out the club's middle infield, where they've got the still-done Craig Biggio, Chris Burke's seeming inability to get anything started, and an increasingly immobile Mark Loretta not really well-suited for short, especially on those days Biggio's planted in the lineup and on the field. It's a scenario that makes plausible a solution that involves plugging Adam Everett back into the lineup once he can come back, because Loretta might be the only guy who offers the team any sort of reliable value from their keystone crowd. I know, that might sound like sabermetric heresy, but it's a similar situation to the team's lot in general-Everett doesn't have to play over his head to be an improvement, not if Biggio and Burke keep playing as poorly as they have.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Placed 3B/1B-R Nomar Garciaparra on the 15-day DL (calf strain); recalled RHP Eric Hull from Las Vegas (Triple-A). [8/14]
Optioned RHP Eric Hull to Las Vegas; recalled LHP Eric Stults from Las Vegas. [8/17]

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Optioned 2B-S Rickie Weeks to Nashville (Triple-A); activated RHP Elmer Dessens from the 15-day DL; purchased the contract of 4C-R Joe Dillon from Nashville. [8/1]
Released RHP Elmer Dessens. [8/9]
Placed INF-R Tony Graffanino on the 15-day DL (knee), retroactive to 8/9; recalled 2B-S Rickie Weeks from Nashville. [8/10]
Designated RHP Chris Spurling for assignment; recalled OF-L Gabe Gross from Nashville. [8/15]

Swapping in Weeks after losing Graffy might seem to make perfect sense. Weeks didn't go off like a Roman candle over his demotion, after all, and in his one week down on the farm, he did hit .455/.571/.682. I worry that the problem here is something more fundamental than whether or not his hand is okay-it's whether or not he's ever going to master handling glovework around the keystone, because it certainly doesn't look like he's made that much progress since his days at Southern and the caliber of leatherwork that generated these concerns in the first place. He doesn't have especially soft hands, he's not gifted with an especially good arm, and he doesn't have the anticipation or agility on the deuce that you want. He can hit better than many second basemen, and he is only 24, but I really wonder if his limitations won't be part of the problem down the wire. Barring some sort of late-season miracle, where he suddenly channels the mitt of Glenn Hubbard or Frank White or somebody, you're still stuck in a situation where a struggling rotation can't count on quality play behind it on the right side of the infield.

On the more positive side of things, Gross took his three-week tuneup well, slapping around PCL pitching at a .355/.456/.605 clip, and basically reminding everyone that he's 27 and still very ready to be somebody's everyday outfielder.

NEW YORK METS
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Designated C-R Mike DiFelice for assignment; purchased the contract of RHP Brian Lawrence from New Orleans (Triple-A). [8/2]
Outrighted C-R Mike DiFelice to New Orleans. [8/9]
Placed UT-L Marlon Anderson on the Bereavement List; activated CF-S Carlos Beltran from the 15-day DL. [8/10]
Placed C-R Paul Lo Duca on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled C-R Mike DiFelice from New Orleans. [8/12]
Optioned OF-L David Newhan to New Orleans (Triple-A); activated UT-L Marlon Anderson from the Bereavement List. [8/14]

Swapping out Lo Duca for DiFelice shouldn't have represented much of a big deal for the Mets, since they're normally able to happily plug in Ramon Castro in his place. Although Castro hasn't done his bit as far as reaching base since the All-Star break, a .286 OBP in that time is pretty heavily mitigated by Castro's providing his primary virtue, power, slugging .528 in that same time. He won't slug .500 as a regular, and his OBP won't stay much higher than .300 if tasked thus, but that's still a better player than most teams start behind the plate, and it's an improvement on Lo Duca, healthy or no. The problem is that Castro's got his share of problems, riding pine to nurse an ailing back, and that puts DiFelice out there. However, since we're talking about a stretch in time where the Mets have Beltran back-if seemingly trying too hard to go yard as often as he did for the Astros down the stretch in 2004-the lineup's generally in a better place than it was. That's because with Beltran in center, Shawn Green's playing time won't go without challenge, since Lastings Milledge might end up reducing the former Dodgers great to a spot-starter's role.

The interesting development is the decision to slot in Lawrence into Jorge Sosa's rotation spot. Either way, we're talking about the squatter camped out on Pedro Martinez's roster space. You could reasonably accuse the Mets of overreacting to Sosa's having back-to-back bad starts, since he's delivered a 1.9 SNLVAR, a solid performance for a fifth starter. However, sometimes seeming madness generates a method, and Sosa's shone so well doing setup work in the pen that he already ranks among the club's best relievers. Lawrence makes for a nice sympathy story in the meantime, since he's trying to come back from the shredded shoulder that cost him all of 2006 (remember the Vinny Castilla deal, Nats fans?), but there's little or no chance that he'll stick in the rotation once Pedro's back-he's short of anything he can use to keep lefties honest, and he wasn't going to overpower people before blowing out his arm. As is, the Mets have an interesting problem looking ahead to their October rotation, in that between Pedro, Tom Glavine, John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Orlando Hernandez, they have five plausible starters for four postseason rotation slots. Given that el Duque has done some good things in postseason relief work on a couple of pennant winners in 2002 and 2005, a solution suggests itself, but will Willie Randolph take the hint?

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Outrighted MI-R Michael Garciaparra to Reading (Double-A). [8/2]
Placed C-R Rod Barajas on the 15-day DL (groin strain); purchased the contract of RHP Clay Condrey from Ottawa (Triple-A); transferred RHP Francisco Rosario from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/3]
Purchased 4C-L Russ Branyan from the Indians; optioned RHP Geoff Geary to Ottawa; designated RHP Zack Segovia for assignment. [8/9]
Placed RHP Adam Eaton on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 8/12; recalled LHP Mike Zagurski from Ottawa. [8/15]

As good a job as Barajas was doing deterring opponents' running games, Carlos Ruiz has been doing a pretty decent job as the regular, and this doesn't even nip into the club's backstop depth all that badly, not when they have Chris Coste to call upon to do a pretty convincing impersonation of the great John Wockenfuss, mashing lefties and filling in at first and third. The only real danger here is that the Phillies might lost one of Ruiz or Coste, at which point you wind up with what Will Carroll refers to as injury-stacking, as well as more fundamentally something that really doesn't make it any easier for the club to keep up with the Mets or keep up their simultaneous bid for the wild card going.

Similarly, losing Eaton just isn't a setback, even if the Phillies are already banged-up in the rotation. Filling in for him will be J.D. Durbin, and there's nothing wrong with taking a chance on a great big maybe when the alternative is a pretty certain crooked number on the scoreboard four or five frames into a ballgame. While a regular quintet that counts Cole Hamels as its ace, Jamie Moyer and Kyle Lohse as its veteran yeomen, and Durbin and rookie Kyle Kendrick as it's oft-seen specials might not sound like the rotation of a contender, in point of fact it is, and if Kendrick's been hit-lucky and Durbin's the season's definitive roster hot potato, it beats being out of it, and it beats trying to rely on Eaton just because an awful lot of money got spent on the man.

Finally, there's the happy little pickup of Three Tree Outcomes star Russell Branyan. If you've read this column for only a few weeks, let alone twelve years, you'll be entirely unsurprised to learn that I love this move, but that's as much about the ballpark (a bandbox) and the team's alternatives at third (Gregg Dobbs? Wes Helms? Tomas Perez?) as it has anything to do with Branyan's particular virtues. Even if the Weg Dobbelms platoon at the hot corner holds up, Branyan offers some sort of insurance in case Ryan Howard gets hurt, and perhaps more interestingly provides the club with a lefty power bat who might spare Pat Burrell some of the indignities of getting diced up by an experienced right-handed hurler. However, it's worth noting that Burrell's actually doing a good job in erasing his career-long platoon differential this year, hitting .263/.407/.474 against RHPs as opposed to a nearly-identical .255/.421/.471 against southpaws. On the other hand, maybe Shane Victorino could use the day off instead in that circumstance; he's hitting only .279/.343/.396 against right-handers, and switch-hitter or no, that's not great, not in this ballpark. Overall, as a matter of insurance and providing Charlie Manuel an alternative, getting Branyan makes very good sense. The pity is that Pat Gillick didn't just nab Branyan when he first became available, but it only took money to liberate him from his bid to set the all-time Bisons franchise record for home runs, and instead have him around to contribute to something that's actually important.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Activated 3B/OF-R Jose Bautista from the 15-day DL. [8/1]
Designated INF-S Matt Kata for assignment. [8/2]
Optioned RHP Jonah Bayliss to Indianapolis (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Franquelis Osoria from Indianapolis. [8/4]
Outrighted INF-S Matt Kata to Indianapolis. [8/7]
Designated RHP Masumi Kuwata for assignment; placed C/OF-S Ryan Doumit on the 15-day DL (sprained wrist); repurchased the contract of INF-S Matt Kata from Indianapolis (Triple-A), and purchased the contract of C-R Carlos Maldonado from Indianapolis; transferred LHP Zach Duke from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/14]

As if the Pirates didn't have enough things going wrong for them, losing their best hitter for any length of time is bad news, but there's some slender solace to be taken from the fact that Doumit won't require surgery, so he'll be back in September. The problem is that he'll come back a little rough around the edges, and almost certainly without the benefit of any kind of meaningful rehab assignment. Then there's the more fundamental question of what the Pirates should actually do with him. He should be an offensive upgrade behind the plate on Ronny Paulino, but Paulino's not the worst guy to have either, and that's what's paralyzing about the situation-Paulino's potential adequacy is just tantalizing enough to keep the league's worst team from risking a significant upgrade at the cost of taking a minor hit on defense. Make no bones about it-in a world where Victor Martinez can catch for a contender, there should be absolutely no doubt that Doumit can catch in the major leagues. It would be nice if the Bucs took a chance, but when was the last time that happened? I mean, something that didn't involve getting rolled by Brian Sabean and being left with Matt Morris and a load of expensive regrets come morning.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Optioned RHP Mike Thompson to Portland (Triple-A); activated RHP Doug Brocail from the Bereavement List. [8/14]
Optioned LHP Joe Thatcher to Portland; signed OF-R Brady Clark to a minor league contract; released LHP David Wells; recalled RHP Clay Hensley from Portland. [8/16]

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Placed RHP Randy Messenger on the 15-day DL (broken hand). [8/15]
Recalled LHP Patrick Misch from Fresno (Triple-A). [8/16]

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Optioned OF-L Skip Schumaker to Memphis (Triple-A). [8/1]
Placed LHP Mike Maroth on the 15-day DL (elbow tendonitis), retroactive to 8/5; activated LHP Tyler Johnson from the 15-day DL. [8/6]
Purchased the contract of OF-L Rick Ankiel from Memphis; placed UT-S Scott Spiezio on the Restricted List. [8/9]
Placed 2B-L Adam Kennedy on the 15-day DL (knee); recalled SS-R Brendan Ryan from Memphis. [8/12]
Claimed 3B-R Brian Barden off of waivers from the Diamondbacks, and optioned him to Memphis. [8/13]

The Ankiel story is pretty much already one of the major symbols of the Cardinals' in-season rebirth, but it's also sort of interesting that he isn't up because of some recently turned developmental corner at the plate. In mashing 32 homers for Memphis, he really didn't see his performance streak, slugging .565, .571, .606, and .552 in his four full months, from April through July. He didn't get more patient, and he didn't start making better contact. Instead, he really demonstrated that he's a legitimate slugger, if an impatient one, and while it's fascinating to speculate whether or not he'll learn and adapt and improve even more in what has already been an improbable renaissance, 20 unintentional walks in 423 plate appearances is pretty hard to overlook. Still, if he can play the outfield well enough, the Cardinals could end up with a plater who, if not as much of an impact player as a healthy Jim Edmonds, certainly gives the club a pretty interesting outfield crew that now runs six deep. For lefty power, they have Ankiel and Chris Duncan, supported by Ryan Ludwick from the right side; for defensive spotting and some OBP against lefties, they still have So Taguchi. Veterans Jim Edmonds and Juan Encarnacion might be the big-ticket players in this group, but they're not the hitters they once were, and neither need to be started every day, not when Tony La Russa such a rich blend of homegrown, retreaded, or free-talent supporting players.

That sort of depth comes in handy considering that the club's just lost Spiezio to a decision to check into a substance abuse clinic while also losing Kennedy for the balance of the season. However, even then, there's a silver lining, because Ryan can play second or short, shows some sock against lefties, and offers a solid enough alternative to Aaron Miles in the lineup. Depositing the second base position behind the pitcher's slot actually makes some extra bit of sense tactically, but not because of some "second leadoff man" guesswork or the assumption that Alberto Pujols' MVP campaign could use some additional RBI. Instead, there's a more practical consideration-if you've got only two second basemen on the roster, and they're a bit obviously worth pinch-hitting for, then why not put them in the slot least likely to get four or more plate appearances in a game? Instead, you have the position traditionally associated with pinch-hitter-driven substitutions-the pitcher's slot-getting some fractionally better likelihood of coming up, and now that you have a bench stocked with outfield alternatives, that's a nice thing.

That said, they're in a tight spot in terms of infield depth, as Spiezio's absence also leaves them short of a plausible alternative to Scott Rolen's next extended absence. Here's hoping that Spiezio recovers fully, but in the meantime, Walt Jocketty managed to do something even here by nabbing Barden on waivers. Not that Barden's a prospect, but as a guy who can play a solid third and who has shown some line-drive power in seasons past, he's a decent "in case of emergency, break glass" alternative.

The truly remarkable development has been the turnaround in the rotation. Their season totals are still laughably bad, as they rank next to last in the league in both their starter's Fair Runs Allowed and the rotation's SNLVAR as a unit, but they're getting better. What that means is that their team numbers aren't predictive, they're simply a reflection on what has happened-and went very, very wrong. Going forward getting back in the race, they're the beneficiaries of Kip Wells delivering quality starts in five of his last six, while Anthony Reyes is pitching more closely to his potential, posting three in his last five since being brought back up. Perhaps most remarkable is Joel Pineiro's bounceback, but keep in mind that he's left the better league, and he'd only be the latest wandering veteran put back together again by pitching coach Dave Duncan.

That's not to diminish the feat, or the value that Pineiro's already provided, but it does afford the Cards the opportunity to give Mark Mulder a full spread of rehab starts before they run out of minor league season; if Pineiro falters, or Wells goes back to running off disaster starts game after game, they can then turn to the former ace. In this situation, losing Maroth for any stretch isn't really a major hit, since he wasn't going to start ahead of any of the alternatives, and probably already ranks behind Mulder and Brad Thompson down the stretch, and as long as they keep getting ace-level work Adam Wainwright and simply solid work from Braden Looper, they're going to keep the Cubs and Brewers running scared.

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Optioned LHP Billy Traber to Columbus (Triple-A). [8/12]
Activated RHP Shawn Hill from the 15-day DL. [8/14]
Acquired OF-R Wily Mo Pena and cash from the Red Sox for a PTBNL. [8/17]
Optioned LHP Matt Chico to Columbus; designated OF-L Ryan Langerhans for assignment; activated RHP Jesus Colome from the 15-day DL. [8/18]

Two items of note, both sort of funny, but both positive. First, with Hill's return from the DL, we now have a Nats rotation that may well not just wind up finishing ahead of units of a few contenders, they'll even rate ahead of the presumably gifted, oft-touted Pirates, and they did it without anything like the Pirates' organizational supply of pitching talent, and without anything like David Littlefield's investment in someone like Tony Armas Jr. On top of that sort of irony, they'll do it with a rotation that has sources of preseason humor like Tim Redding and Joel Hanrahan in it and pitching well. If you'd have been told that they would improve the team's rotation in July and August, you'd have expected the Nats to be fielding a historically awful rotation, but it's been nowhere near that bad, even with the turnover.

Not having a single starter from Opening Day make it through the season might involve some sort of ignominy, but it means nothing significant in the broader goal of fielding a competitive team. Chico's demotion might be an unhappy development for him, but he's nevertheless done remarkable work on the year, and the organization remains optimistic about his future. Sending him to Columbus for what should only be a two-start demotion to see if he can iron out the control problems that have generated twenty walks in his last 24 IP serves as a nice reminder that the Nats still have their eye on the day when they're not just overachieving upstarts, but a genuinely good team with a genuinely good rotation that should have Chico and a presumably healthy Hill in it. If that means another Mike Bacsik start or two in the meantime, the Nats have already learned that isn't the end of the world.

As for adding Wily Mo Pena, some GMs have their white whale, and every once in a while they reel it ins-anyone remember Billy Beane's avid at-all-costs multi-year pursuit of Erubiel Durazo? How about Jim Bowden's multiply-consummated acquisitions of Jose Guillen? That's sort of the case here, with Bowden acquiring Pena again, perhaps as cheaply as he did the first time around in dealing the doomed Drew Henson and Quad-A outfielder Michael Coleman on the Yankees to make Pena a Red in 2001. The club's not so transparently hoping that Pena lives up to his still-extant prospect billing and takes the job in left field from Ryan Church, who has managed to demonstrate mere usefulness at the plate while falling short of expectations this year. The pity is that this doesn't have to be that straightforward a win-lose zero-sum battle for playing time. Between Church, Pena, and Austin Kearns, they ought to be able to generate near-full-time work for all three, with Nook Logan still getting three or four starts per week in center to play defense and provide another reminder that Bowden's fascination with speed guys doesn't have to kill you if you're only talking about your fourth outfielder. Just as Pena does, Church and Kearns both still have plenty of potential to deliver power at the plate, and until Church or Kearns hits so well as to guarantee himself everyday status, I like the idea of a little creative competition among the talented trio.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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