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May 10, 2008

Transaction Analysis

Canadian Desperation

by Christina Kahrl


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Optioned LF-L Adam Lind to Syracuse (Triple-A); purchased the contract of INF-R Jorge Velandia. [5/7]
Placed SS-Rs David Eckstein and John McDonald on the 15-day DL retroactive to 5/7; recalled UT-L Joe Inglett from Syracuse. [5/8]
Purchased OF-R Kevin Mench from the Rangers; signed OF-L Brad Wilkerson; designated LHP Gustavo Chacin and INF-R Sergio Santos for assignment; optioned UT-L Joe Inglett to Syracuse. [5/9]

I kidded around in my chat yesterday about making a throwaway comment about Elric of Melniboné, but come to think of it, it actually sort of works here. Like Butters and Dom Deluise, Elric was condemned to serve Chaos, and reaped mayhem and destroyed friends and family with his soul-destroying oversized blade, Stormbringer. Now, consider what we have in Toronto: a brooding GM, a general sense of despair, a rising body count, and another giant, pointy compensation gesture that conveys doom to all who fall under its shadow. Would it be a stretch to call J.P. Ricciardi the anti-hero of sabermetrics, a man surrounded by chaos and whose actions only seem to reap entropy?

Anyway, never mind all that, the real point here is that the man is charged with a bit of damage control, and while a good amount of it is self-inflicted, it's important to stress what hasn't happened. First, it's true, he didn't create a real opportunity for Adam Lind. As frustrating as that may be, that failure perhaps reflects there's some genuine win-now ambition hereabouts. I know, these moves don't really add up to what it'll take, but bear with me for a second.

It would be a fair accusation to say that many of us here at BP--myself included--can get a bit prospect-happy. Youth, progress, change, it's all very dynamic and exciting, and who doesn't like a bit of that to zotz up your sports page now and again? Well, give some real thought to what Lind's future may well hold-a multi-year stretch of adequacy as a left fielder, somebody who figures to get on base at about a .330 clip and slug around .450 if things break just about right. A left fielder whose upside is that he'll be a few points above average for all left fielders. That isn't useless, but let's not kid ourselves, it's closer to a repeat of the Lyle Overbay problem than it is the addition of the sort of premium bat that a wishful contender employs in left field. Letting Lind accomplish that destiny, to become an adequate placeholder for some length of time until Travis Snider is ready to push him aside, is all very well and good. Youth is served, score one for the farm system, and drinks on J.P. after quitting time. Except it doesn't really put the Jays that much closer to winning right now, and as the excuses mount up and the winning doesn't actually happen, modest solutions only represent another cause for frustration.

Now, cutting Frank Thomas didn't help, any more than signing Shannon Stewart didn't help. Matt Stairs in left field might have made for a solution, but the Wonder Hamster is not especially spry in his routes out there. Stewart isn't a solution, but then he wasn't in the first place, any more than he was for Oakland last year, or Minnesota in the two or three years before that. So, in your frustration, you go to the free talent pool, and you get grabby and/or make inquiries. I'm not going to claim that Brad Wilkerson is a solution to the team's glaring need in left, but maybe he likes playing in Canada, maybe last year's .467 SLG is cause enough for hope, and maybe that 75th-percentile forecast doesn't seem so implausible. When you've got a team built on a series of gambles--that Scott Rolen will be healthy and a superstar again, that nobody else in a lineup staffed with the generally adequate falls on his face, that the pitching staff stays healthy and involves some top-shelf seasons out of A.J. Burnett and Roy Halladay, and that nobody in the AL runs away with the wild card--and you've got a choice between a shot at a certain level of adequacy, then maybe just taking a chance makes a certain amount of sense. I don't harbor any great hope that it'll pan out, but if, in the grand scheme of things, the Jays reach mid-July and both their fortunes and Wilkerson's appear played out, they can then reach for the sure thing and the perhaps equally certain adequacy that Lind represents. Even that may not matter, because Travis Snider may well have hit enough by then to alter the timetable that really limits the width of Lind's window of opportunity in the first place.

In contrast, Mench may have nothing resembling upside as a hitter, nor does he have any real defensive value in either outfield corner, but if he can deliver anything like last year's .314/.343/.558 performance against southpaws, he'll have some tactical value as a platoon partner for either Wilkerson or Stairs, as that's another something that Stewart also cannot do for you. Again, this is your moment of need, and the price was right.

I've left the inconveniently-timed pair of injuries at shortstop for last, but that's in part because I don't think there's a lot of reason to get overly worked up over them. Eckstein wasn't hitting and McDonald won't, so the only asset of note lost here is McDonald's glove work. In a sense, they've replaced that notional offense/defense tandem with another--Marco Scutaro is the hitter, capable of kicking in a modest amount of OBP, while the seemingly ageless Jorge Velandia remains a slick-fielding shortstop, even at the age of 33. The solution has a certain elegance in its square peg for the square hole seamlessness, and the Jays really haven't lost much, if anything. That doesn't eliminate the propaganda value, of course, in that the Jays can naturally say "boy, if only we hadn't had those injuries in May," but let's first see if they need to bother with that bit of rigmarole.

Finally, a note about the two players designated for assignment, since they're both names you may remember from past exploits or tarnished prospect status. Chacin is struggling to get people out in the Florida State League, and seems an unhappy victim of an already-repaired shoulder that perhaps no surgery might fix. We'll see if he winds up staying in the organization, or making it back, but right now, he really wasn't an effective use of a 40-man spot, although I do wonder why he wasn't dispatched to the 60-day DL. As for Santos, the former shortstop prospect picked up with Troy Glaus in the December deal with the Diamondbacks back in 2005 has continued to struggle to connect in the strike zone while also finally moving to third because of his defensive limitations; again, his was a spot on the 40-man for which there were other, better uses.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Acquired OF-R Jason Michaels and cash from the Indians for a PTBNL; optioned OF-L Nyjer Morgan to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [5/8]

Superficially speaking, this isn't a perfect plug-in for the Pirates. Between Xavier Nady and Jason Bay, they already have a pair of right-handed bats in the outfield corners, and Nate McLouth's career splits don't indicate any need for the lefty to be platooned. If anything, this is very much like the fact that Doug Mientkiewicz isn't the perfect caddy for Adam LaRoche--LaRoche doesn't need a defensive replacement, and Minky bats from the same side. However, what Michaels offers the Pirates isn't a platoon partner as much as a veteran who's used to the challenge of coming off of the bench and the difficulties of pinch-hitting. He also offers them a modest amount of defensive value, which isn't a bad thing in the league where a double-switch ought to come into play on a near-nightly basis.

Instead of looking at Michaels as a waste of roster space, a veteran scrub on a roster already well-laden with the type, it's important to instead see him for what he is: like Minky, as a placeholder on a roster where the regular lineup is relatively set, and as a complementary pinch-hitting option to Mientkiewicz for skipper John Russell to utilize when he needs a right-handed hitter. On a certain level, you could also draw a comparison between what Minky and Michaels offer as veteran bit players and what the Brewers did back in 2003, when Doug Melvin made over the Milwaukee roster by hauling in a number of "character" veterans who might help shake up a misdirected and moribund franchise. It's not a move that might translate into a single win, but if it helps the team take shape as a better-operating outfit, I don't think we can dismiss outright the potential value to the move.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Placed C-R Paul Lo Duca on the 15-day DL (fractured bone - right hand); placed C-S Johnny Estrada on the 15-day DL (ulnar neuritis - elbow); recalled C-R Jesus Flores from Columbus (Triple-A); activated OF-R Elijah Dukes from the 15-day DL. [5/9]

Having stuck a finger in my own eye jabbering about young players too soon, you might fairly charge with a bit of hypocrisy in giving the Nats a little cheer for this latest turn of events. In part, that's because I believe in Flores' future as a potential all-star, perhaps not as somebody who beats out Geovany Soto on the ballot in the years to come, but as a worthwhile manager's selection, a guy whose defensive prowess combined with a solid amount of power should make him a commodity on the field as well as a permanent feather in the caps of everyone responsible for selecting him out of the Mets' organization in the Rule 5 draft in December 2006. The initial plan was to let the kid cut his teeth playing regularly in the minors, and that's been bollixed up by current events and fragile graybeards; so be it. Lo Duca and Estrada are both on one-year contracts, and there's little point in moping over the decision to overpay Lo Duca; ideally, the Nats learn something from the exercise. Regardless, neither seems like a great bet to command all that much as bargaining chips come the trade deadline, but they might, and whatever order they come back in, the key here is that Flores plays everyday this year, at whatever level they require. If that means a return to central Ohio, that doesn't alter matters much--the future belongs to Flores.

Meanwhile, Dukes come back off of the DL, if only because the struggles of Wily Mo Pena and Austin Kearns have gotten so desperate that it's more than time for the team to have someone to choose as an alternative instead of the equally stone-cold Willie Harris and Rob Mackowiak. At this rate, the question of whether or not Pena or Kearns have important places in the club's future will have to be asked sometime soon, but in the meantime, having Dukes active to alternate with them and create a more direct challenge to them for playing time might light a fire under somebody. And if Dukes wins a regular job? Again, that would mean a result had been achieved, one the Nats were willing to try for at the outset.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  A's,  The Who,  Triple-A,  Adam Lind,  The Call-up

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