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August 24, 2007

Transaction of the Day

Micro Deals

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Acquired CF-L Sebastien Boucher from the Mariners for LHP John Parrish; purchased the contract of OF-L Tike Redman from Norfolk (Triple-A); recalled RHP Jim Hoey from Norfolk. [8/9]
Optioned LHP Kurt Birkins to Norfolk; recalled LHP Garrett Olson from Norfolk. [8/10]
Placed OF-L Jay Gibbons on the 15-day DL (labrum tear); purchased the contract of C/1B-R J.R. House from Norfolk. [8/13]
Signed RHP Fernando Cabrera to a minor league contract. [8/21]
Optioned LHP Garrett Olson to Rookie-level Bluefield; recalled RHP Jim Johnson from Norfolk. [8/23]

It's a mixed bag, but sometimes fortune drops things into your lap that are better than anything you went out hunting for. Take the additions to the organization. Boucher isn't a great talent, so while the O's are short on every stripe of outfield help, they may have found someone who really doesn't do anything for them. The arm's a bit short for center, his bat won't play in either corner, he's sort of a patient hitter but too easily overpowered, and he's sort of a speed guy, except that he gets caught far too many times to make him useful in even a pinch-running role. He's 25 and a Quebecois, so you might jump to the guess that he deserves some slack because he might take time-except he played college ball at Bethune-Cookman, so that hard-luck hardscrabble song and dance doesn't really fly either. Basically, it's a dump, and the Orioles got the rights to somebody they might not have to worry about losing in even the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft someday.

In contrast, the wire put a talent like Cabrera at their disposal, and if they haven't had good enough fortune already snagging Tribe prospects out of options (hello, Jeremy Guthrie), you can certainly understand why they'd take two. His combination of solid velocity and a nice splitter at least means that he has the physical gifts to still be a premium reliever, and you put that together with Leo Mazzone, maybe you wind up with the sort of guy most teams pay seven large to in January, just for the price of a waiver claim.

As for the Quad-A warm bodies that are up to help finish the season, you could do worse than Redman and House. Season two of House's comeback wasn't as splashy as last year, but he's been hitting well enough at Norfolk, .295/.362/.451, while throwing out almost a quarter of opposing basestealers. He's not a great receiver, but it beats hauling back someone like Alberto Castillo, and at 27, it isn't time to give up on his possibilities, especially in an environment where there are so few catchers who can do anything well. Redman's already 30, so time's almost up for him, but you could do worse for fourth outfield types. His hitting .300/.370/.403 reflects that he's still a worthwhile contact hitter, and his 25 steals in 33 attempts reflects some value on the bases. The fact that big-ticket free agent Jay Payton can't successfully fend off Redman's bid for playing time in left should provide some sort of lesson for the front office.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Optioned OF-L Brandon Moss to Pawtucket (Triple-A). [8/8]
Activated 4C-L Eric Hinske from the Bereavement List. [8/10]
Traded OF-R Wily Mo Pena and cash to the Nationals for a PTBNL; placed C-R Doug Mirabelli on the 15-day DL (strained calf); recalled CF-L Jacoby Ellsbury and purchased the contracts of RHP Clay Buchholz and C-R Kevin Cash from Pawtucket; transferred RHP Brendan Donnelly from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/17]
Optioned CF-L Jacoby Ellsbury and RHP Clay Buchholz to Pawtucket; purchased the contract of OF-S Bobby Kielty from Pawtucket. [8/18]
Acquired 1B-R Chris Carter from the Nationals as the PTBNL to complete their deal from 8/17; optioned LHP Jon Lester to Portland (Double-A); recalled LHP Javy Lopez from Pawtucket. [8/23]

A decision to get Carter is all well and good, perhaps sound on a sabermetric level because he has a fine performance record in the minors (even if he's not exactly a scout's favorite), and perhaps also sound on a talent- and roster-management level because he's a plausible fall-back choice at first base for 2007. That would be if Mike Lowell and Eric Hinske both depart as free agents this winter, and would involve Kevin Youkilis moving across the diamond to resume his career as a third baseman, a scenario with the added benefit of cutting costs and allowing the Sox to chase other big game.

The real worry is whether or not the scouts have a point. They may not like Carter because of his odd, slow set-up and swing, or for his brutal glovework at first. (This year's experiment to make Carter an outfielder can be generously described as a glorious failure.) Those are fair concerns, but from the stathead side of things, I'm more reluctant to sign off on the performance record. Hitting in the organization's collection of equally bandbox-bound affiliates is no great shakes for a Stanford product. While his overall performance at Tucson seems nice enough-he's 24, and hit .323/.383/.521-that really isn't that special, and when you see that he's hit .295/.354/.456 everywhere else in in the PCL outside of Tucson, you begin to wonder whether or not his only advantage over Conor Jackson was his relative lack of service time. Since Jackson isn't really holding onto his job as much as having it handed to him, that's not really an endorsement of Carter. Ideally, this should be a matter of bringing in something better than Pawtucket's new regular DH, but I'm not sure if that isn't all they got out of this. If that's their reward for losing interest in Wily Mo Pena after barely playing him this year, that's definitely a case of trading down, not something you want to do in baseball, dating, or yard sales.

On a happier note, they did get to spot Buchholz in the rotation, and he didn't get rattled in his debut after a first-inning error by J.D. Drew basically put a run on the board, instead inducing a couple of double-plays, and basically looking like the guy who should go into the rotation instead of Julian Tavarez in case something happens to one of their front five. However, having sent Buchholz down already, they did just make that very call, sending Jon Lester down after a bad start; since there's no injury involved, they don't have the fig leaf that lets them bring Buchholz back within ten days of being sent down. I'm not sure this series of moves isn't just another symptom of the club's capacity to overreact. Lester's delivered three quality starts in six this year (his second was blown when he was left out too long), including one in the start previous to Tuesday's slugfest, while Tavarez has three in 17 against the American League. Hey, don't look at me; you can bet that the Yankees will take it.

As for other sources of Beantown hysteria, there's the latest absence of Doug Mirabelli, and whatever this is supposed to mean for the elaborate drama, "Who's going to catch Tim Wakefield?" It really should just be Jason Varitek, but again, if the Red Sox want to elevate this issue to the level of playing a non-factor like Cash, just because Varitek doesn't like catching the knuckler-nobody's saying he can't catch it-there again, it's a decision the Yankees are only too happy to let them make.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Optioned 1B/3B-R Mike Hessman to Toledo (Triple-A); activated OF-R Marcus Thames from the 15-day DL. [8/9]
Optioned RHP Jordan Tata and LHP Macay McBride to Toledo; recalled RHPs Aquilino Lopez and Eulogio De La Cruz from Toledo. [8/11]
Optioned RHP Eulogio De La Cruz to Toledo; recalled RHP Yorman Bazardo from Toledo. [8/12]
Acquired OF-L Jason Perry from the Athletics for 3B-L Jack Hannahan. [8/14]
Optioned RHP Yorman Bazardo to Toledo; purchased the contract of RHP Jair Jurrjens from Erie (Double-A); outrighted 3B-R Kody Kirkland to Erie and RHP Kyle Sleeth outright to Single-A Lakeland (High-A). [8/15]
Designated OF-R Craig Monroe for assignment; optioned UT-R Omar Infante to Toledo; purchased the contract of OF-R Cameron Maybin from Erie; recalled MI-S Ramon Santiago from Toledo. [8/17]
Optioned RHP Aquilino Lopez to Toledo; activated RHP Joel Zumaya from the 15-day DL. [8/20]
Traded OF-R Craig Monroe and Stacks O'Cash to the Cubs for a PTBNL; optioned RHP Zach Miner to Toledo; activated LHP Andrew Miller from the 15-day DL. [8/23]

It's a weird combination of boldness and screwing around, so you might be forgiven if you're wondering if the Tigers really know what they're doing in this year's stretch run, any more than they did last year, when they added Sean Casey, ditched Dmitri Young, and only made things more interesting as a result.

Keeping in mind that this is the second-best lineup in the league, it's impressive that Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland aren't willing to settle. I'm pretty orthodox in my Maybin fandom-he's really, really good, and everyone knows that by now, right?-and I do like that they've made a point of including him in this year's stretch drive in the same way that they let Miller cut his teeth helping out last year. However, in Maybin's case, he's being tasked with a much, much more important role, playing in left field and locked into the Tigers lineup from now until the 2012 election (you know, the one people will start campaigning for in two years). After hitting .316/.409/.523 as a twenty-year-old in High-A and Double-A, I suppose that makes sense, but it's a major risk. I suppose this is why they pay Dombrowski the big bucks, but if he struggles, or-more probably-he winds up like Gregg Jefferies in 1988, and getting asked to do things he's not good at (like bunt, in Jefferies' case), he could start off on a too-early sour note for what ought to be an outstanding career.

That said, did hauling him up really have to involve discarding Monroe? And what's up with demoting Infante? In each case, my initial readiness to complain turned out to be pointless. Yes, Monroe's really too good to be discarded this way, especially on a team that could use his bat against lefties, especially when that lineup's carrying Casey's carcass in one of its nine slots. However, even with Maybin up and Monroe gone, the bench still has Marcus Thames on it, so if Gary Sheffield isn't 100 percent or Maybin suddenly starts looking overmatched, they do have an option. Since the Tigers' 40-man roster just got slightly more crowded by the decision to give top 2007 pick Porcello a major league contract, space is at something of a premium. Although there is something goofy about their losing Monroe but still having space for Quad-A lifers like Timo Perez and Mike Hessman, the real killing blow to Monroe's future as a Tiger was the active roster, where, with a 12-man staff in the DH league, he was outclassed by Thames as an offense-minded outfield reserve, and beaten out by Ryan Raburn's all-around utility and hot hitting. Swapping out Infante for Santiago might seem shocking, but that's all about the relative leather, and since the Tigers appreciate there's value to having a defensive replacement for Carlos Guillen on the roster, and that it isn't Infante, I think we can cut them some slack for a move that's about making their initial choices for their postseason roster right now. There's a logic here, one worth giving its due.

At least matters have generally taken a turn for the better in the rotation. Although Kenny Rogers is still disabled, Miller's back and supposedly fully ready. If Chad Durbin's pumpkin chariot has gone to pieces before the full season's up, Jurrjens makes a nice homegrown alternative with better upside than the likes of Tata. Where does that name come from? Jurrjens is another import from the Dutch Antilles, and while there was concern before the year that his breaking pitches hadn't caught up with his ability to locate and change speeds with his low-90s heat, he seems to have improved in his first full season at Double-A, striking out 7.5 hitters per nine to only 2.2 walks. With Zumaya and Rodney back in the pen, the relief corps projects that much more into earlier game situations, which makes life easier for the starters.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Acquired LHP John Parrish from the Orioles for CF-L Sebastien Boucher; optioned RHP Mark Lowe to Tacoma (Triple-A). [8/9]
Optioned LHP John Parrish to Tacoma; purchased the contract of RHP Rick White from Tacoma. [8/23]

Parrish has been the human torch since coming over to the Mariners, and there's no significant reason for Bill Bavasi to apologize for this move, given that Boucher's disposable talent (which is decidedly not the same thing as free talent). Parrish still throws harder than most southpaws, but the real problem I have here is that "why not?" isn't a good enough answer to "why," not when the Mariners are gifted with a number of homegrown lefties in their pen, like Eric O'Flaherty, George Sherrill, and Ryan Rowland-Smith. Parrish isn't even an especially effective situational guy, so there's really no explanation beyond that they couldn't resist the pricetag, and perhaps that Bavasi's simply proving that he's really very busy managing a contender, because look-a here, he did something! And then sort of had to do something else to correct it, but a gold star for efforts counts for something in the standings, right? The pity is that Rick White isn't really a solution either, and the club still really could use a veteran right-handed reliever, but White's all they've been able to turn up so far. Since the Mariners might be faster than most to rush up a kid with talent, you might hope that they bring somebody up, but in-house at the upper levels they might really only have a gigantic, hard-throwing Dominican sinkerballer named Jose de la Cruz to call upon, and after a solid ~four months at Double-A, he's gotten knocked around after a promotion to Tacoma in the last few weeks.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Optioned RHP Jailen Peguero to Tucson (Triple-A); recalled RHP Yusmeiro Petit from Tucson. [8/19]
Acquired RHP Emiliano Fruto from the Nationals for 1B-L Chris Carter. [8/21]

As far as the deal, that's an interesting bit of decision-making, but the Snakes do have a multi-year commitment to Chad Tracy plus their need to play Mark Reynolds and Conor Jackson, so it might seem that their infield corners are almost as crowded in terms of organizational alternatives as their outfield corners. Maybe, but again, I'm just not that enthusiastic about Jackson-why should anybody be, when we're talking about a first baseman hitting .243/.340/.381 outside of the BankoCorp bandbox in Phoenix? So I'm not really sold on the suggestion that the Snakes are set at first base, and that Carter was disposable, although there's reason to wonder if Carter's really isn't just a cat with the same stripes as Jackson, and someone who can't hold down a major league first base job.

So, the payoff means something, right? Sort of. Trading for nearly-ready pitching talent, and for guys who throw better than 90, that can work out reasonably well now and again; swapping minor league first basemen and generic hard-throwing righties probably make for an exchange of the two most fundamentally fungible groups of talent almost every organization has at its disposal. With Fruto, there's the more basic question of what he's for. The Nats were trying him out as a starter, feeling that a 23-year-old kid with low-90s heat and a plus curve has some potential to grow up to be something. However, between a minor injury and command that comes and goes, the move to a minor league rotation has been anything but a success. He's been walking close to six batters per nine, and that number hasn't been going down in-season, and while he's been wilder and less hittable the first time through the order, he's been still wild while more hittable later in the game, so it isn't like he's this untrained thoroughbred waiting to break out. He's a guy with plus stuff and no real track record for success, and the anticipation that he'd wind up a potentially useful big league reliever seems appropriate. That is worth something, and there's no penalty for adding another low-cost quality reliever added to a pen built around relatively cheap quality relievers.

I guess my concern here is that Arizona really does still need a first baseman, so while this is a good enough risk for them to have taken as far as the trade's concerned, it's something that further commits them to Jackson's ability to overcome his limitations, while also committing that much more to Reynolds as their third baseman of the immediate future. Once healthy, Tracy can step in for whichever corner man-Reynolds or Jackson-doesn't cut it. But there's still the worst-case scenario-Reynolds doesn't adjust to the league's catching up to him, Jackson remains stalled, and if Tracy doesn't heal, then what might have seemed like a source of strength a few months back instead becomes a weakness.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Transferred OF-L Cliff Floyd from the Bereavement List to the Restricted List; optioned MI-R Ronny Cedeno to Iowa (Triple-A); designated C-S Koyie Hill for assignment. [8/20]
Reinstated OF-L Cliff Floyd from the Restricted List; activated C-R Henry Blanco from the 60-day DL. [8/21]
Acquired OF-R Craig Monroe and cash from the Tigers for a PTBNL; designated OF-L Buck Coats for assignment. [8/23]

I'm as ready to bang on Monroe for his limitations as the next stathead, but I actually like this well enough for the Cubs. He's coming over to the weaker league-just ask Jason Kendall if that hasn't made a difference-plus he's a guy who can play some center for a club that needs a center fielder. Most importantly, he makes an easy platoon partner for Jacque Jones or Cliff Floyd, having pasted southpaws to a pulp at a .302/.317/.542 clip. He's simply not suited for everyday play, but as long as the Cubs get that, this is an outstanding little move. It might not be perfect for those of us who'd have liked to have Matt Murton or Felix Pie get clean shots at jobs months ago, but a pair of platoons plus Alfonso Soriano in the outfield simply isn't all that bad a scenario. Heck, if you've got the opportunity to mix and match Murton, Floyd, Jones, and Monroe, double-switching in-game, beyond having some ability to actually contribute to the runs the infield plus Soriano are generating, that's actually a potentially fun lineup to follow for those of us watching the games and digging into the boxes every A.M.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Designated RHP Victor Santos for assignment. [8/18]
Acquired SS-S Jose Castro and OF-R Sean Henry from the Mets for 1B/OF-R Jeff Conine; recalled UT-R Jorge Cantu from Louisville (Triple-A). [8/20]
Optioned LHP Phil Dumatrait to Louisville; re-purchased the contract of RHP Kirk Saarloos from Louisville; outrighted RHP Victor Santos to Louisville. [8/21]
Reinstated SS-R Alex Gonzalez from the Bereavement List; outrighted INF-S Mark Bellhorn to Louisville. [8/23]

They got bodies for Conine, but they got bodies with value, and that's something that reflects pretty well on Wayne Krivsky, especially given Conine's increasingly slender value in any context at any position. Only 22, Henry's relatively promising, and hitting .293/.355/.456 in the High-A Florida State League is actually pretty impressive. The question for him, as it is with so many outfielders, is whether he's a center fielder or a tweener, because that can be the difference between his having a career as a regular or having to drift from one opportunity to the next. If the converted shortstop can really pan out as a center fielder, then this could potentially end up being an ugly-looking steal for the Reds, where people ask whatever it was that Omar Minaya was smoking. That's not that unusual for Minaya; most of you should remember Minaya's dealing away Grady Sizemore, Jason Bay, Cliff Lee, and Brandon Phillips in 2002, effectively netting a couple of months with Bartolo Colon in his rotation, then turning Colon into Rocky Biddle ("Who?" "Exactly."), Jeff Liefer (Who's replacement-level cousin), and perhaps as much as eight months' worth of the engaging banter and dinner conversation of an entirely injured Orlando Hernandez. So, when Omar puts a premium on something you've got, why ask why?

If Henry can't handle center, then you get into asking whether or not a guy built like a dancer-5'10" and an ascetic's 150-odd pounds-can get past a lot of ingrained bias within the industry. He might not be all bad-the world has people like Randy Winn and Jay Payton starting in outfield corners, after all-but if the 5'9" and 170+ pounder Jim Wynn was the Toy Cannon, I guess that might make Henry sort of the Toy Shotgun. If the exchange was simply one-for-one, that would have been fine, but Krivsky got a third-rate shortstop prospect as well, which is worth more than it sounds. Castro's a diminutive slap-hitter with no power, lamentable speed, and useful enough defensive skills, but he's only 20, and if Tony Pena Jr. ends up being an asset because he can actually field short well enough that his bat is survivable, then it isn't inconceivable to suggest at least that much for Castro.

NEW YORK METS
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Acquired 1B/OF-R Jeff Conine from the Reds for SS-S Jose Castro and OF-R Sean Henry. [8/20]
Transferred RHP Pedro Martinez 15- to the 60-day DL; optioned MI-S Anderson Hernandez to New Orleans (Triple-A). [8/21]

It might not really be widely recognized, but Conine hasn't really been an especially useful player to have around for four years or so, and while that still means he aged really very well to play as well as he did into his late thirties, what you have now is a 41-year-old pinch-hitter who can't really hit outside one of the coziest hitting environments in Cincinnati. Presumably, that wasn't really a factor in Minaya's decision; instead, what was probably in play was Conine's pair of Fishy rings, the consideration that "he's been through the wars"-all about as dangerous as the secession of the Conch Republic, but with per diems-and perhaps, if there's one wee thing for Omar to hang his hat on, the statistical tidbit that Conine was 9-for-22 with four walks and a sac fly as a pinch-hitter for the Reds. Now, to be fair, Conine's been a pretty good pinch-hitter over the course of his career (.300/.381/.433 in 139 PA), and he's really just here to pinch-hit. Henry and Castro have next to no great value for the Mets, and hey, Conine's better than Julio Franco, and that's the point, right? I suppose, but there's something decidedly funny if the Mets ended up giving up better talent to get what's left of Jeff Conine than, say, the Yankees did to land Wilson Betemit.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Acquired 1B-R Chris Carter from Diamondbacks for RHP Emiliano Fruto, and passed Carter to the Red Sox as the PTBNL to complete the Wily Mo Pena trade of 8/17. [8/21]
Outrighted OF-L Ryan Langerhans to Columbus (Triple-A). [8/23]

This should still all work out neatly enough. Emiliano Fruto does not equal Bronson Arroyo, and whether or not Pena does remains to be seen. Given that the Red Sox really didn't give Pena a clean shot at the kind of full-time play that might allow him to prove that he's not just the new Glenn Braggs, this was a comprehensible and entirely worthwhile risk for the Nats to take on.


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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