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May 14, 2008

Transaction Analysis

Drama-Free Turnover?

by Christina Kahrl


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Placed UT-S Chone Figgins on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled 1B-S Kendry Morales from Salt Lake (Triple-A). [5/10]
Optioned 3B/SS-R Brandon Wood and RHP Nick Adenhart to Salt Lake; recalled 3B-R Matthew Brown and RHP Jose Arredondo from Salt Lake. [5/12]
Activated RHP John Lackey and INF-S Maicer Izturis from the 15-day DL; optioned 1B-S Kendry Morales and RHP Darren O'Day to Salt Lake. [5/13]

I've been crediting the Angels for their roster management for a couple of years now; when something's obvious, it's easy to talk about. While it would be easy to get worked up over their "jerking" Wood around, the kid didn't hit well enough in a decent run of starts in the last two weeks, while Sean Rodriguez hasn't embarrassed himself holding down second base in the combined absences of Izturis and Howie Kendrick, and it's relatively easy to leave Erick Aybar at short to do his unbridled talent thing afield when he isn't playing basepaths commando in offensive innings. As a result, the easy plug-in is to let Izturis take over at third while Figgins is missing, possibly sitting against the odd lefty so that Robb Quinlan can keep getting at-bats before they might have to make a call over whether he's a keeper, and wait for Figgins and Kendrick to come back before having to confront any genuinely difficult choices over who plays in the infield. That might seem unfair to Brown, but he's a rung below Wood in the pecking order, and his opportunities will end even more abruptly.

If there's anything here to regret, it's that Adenhart had to take some lumps early on, because there wasn't much to be said over his trio of spins through the rotation before Lackey was ready to come back. Still, better to have him see the elephant already and go back to Utah to work on his command in the meantime, should they need him to secure their bid for the AL West later on this season. Again, to find some extra silver lining, it should be clear that Dustin Moseley isn't that guy in such a scenario. As is, it's a happy thing that the rotation has collectively performed well enough to rank in the middle of the league in SNLVAR. It might be hard to expect that Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana will be among the league's ten best starters at season's end, but the Angels don't need them to be, they just need all of the non-Lackeys to soak up innings and deliver winnable ballgames. If Santana has truly turned the corner and is about to become the mid-rotation starter it's long been hoped he could become, that bodes especially well for the Angels' October possibilities, but in the meantime, the race will go to the steady, and that's the Angels in a nutshell.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Placed SS-S Rafael Furcal on the 15-day DL (back); purchased the contract of UT-R Luis Maza from Las Vegas (Triple-A). [5/13]

I'm sure some Dodgers fans might be more inclined to panic than I am, but I'm fascinated by the proposition that so much has gone wrong, and yet there doesn't seem to be a rush for the stairwells to get to the roof of Dodger Stadium and start jumping. Call that the Torre effect, perhaps-the same semi-feral scribes and Pastaman toadies found in Frank McCourt's retinue who did their part to overreact to the 2005 Dodgers seem charmed like so many snakes. Even so, both Joe Torre and Ned Colletti would do well to remember the story of Sejanus, whose ambition served him well in rising to a point just short of outright rule, only to be fatally reminded at whose discretion he held his posts. Such is the peril attendant to being the factotum to an uncertain master; the McCourts might be considered Tiberian in their indecisiveness, instead of being true inheritors of the legacies of the more proactive, indeed august O'Malleys, and Colletti and company don't have strangling the old man or assassination by poison mushroom on their menu of boardroom options should it come down to a matter of self-preservation.

Still, on the face of it, if you'd told me that, six-plus weeks into the season, Juan Pierre playing in an outfield corner represented an in-house improvement, that Blake DeWitt and Chin-Lung Hu made up the left side of the infield in Chavez Ravine instead of Vegas, that James Loney was hitting what you'd expect, not what he did in 2007, that Jeff Kent was playing his age instead of acting less than half of it... you'd think that might add up to some pretty grim tidings. The rotation, notionally vaunted and shored up with the addition of Hiroki Kuroda, has 12 quality starts in 38 games, and unsurprisingly rates a mere 12th in the NL in staff SNLVAR.

Despite all of that, and despite their current five-game losing streak, the club's .500, and a lot of the things that inspire confidence about the Dodgers remain in place. Even with all of the things amiss on offense-an injured Furcal, a cold Kent, a colder Andruw Jones, Pierre leading off-they still rank sixth in the NL in team-level Equivalent Average. Even with Furcal absent, it's already apparent that Hu's his eventual replacement, and a three-week trial isn't the worst way to get a sense of when; if the Dodgers' season goes down the tubes, dealing Furcal to a contender as a two-month rental is a gambit that Ned Colletti needs to keep in mind. Admittedly, it may not be entirely in Colletti's interest to accept that the nature of the Dodgers' destiny is grindingly actuarial, as more of Logan White's talent pushes aside more of Ned's expensive mistakes; there's a larger than zero chance that Colletti won't be around to take some share of the credit, after all, and what credit he has gotten is as much a product of the labors of his ill-fated predecessors as it is his own moves.

Still, that's a few months off, and by then we'll know if Furcal's going to be healthy and building on what might be a repeat of his down-ballot MVP-caliber stylings from 2006, or if he's going to be struggling through this in one form or another for the rest of the season. There's no reason to rule out that the Snakes come back to the pack, or that the Dodgers stay in the running in the wild-card picture in the meantime. And this isn't to say that there aren't ways in which Colletti's add-ons can't still do some good in helping propel this team to that potential destiny. Jones should bounce back from his early-season miseries. There's nothing beyond Nomar Garciaparra's own physical limitations that doesn't rule out that Nomar might yet have utility as a power-on-contact irregular spotting his betters-ideally, Andy LaRoche among them-at all four corners.

What really remains in doubt isn't whether or not the Dodgers have the talent to win and contend, but if they have the decision-making apparatus in place to enable it. It's that which will be the determining factor in the interim while the organization gears up to crank out additional exceptional homegrown talent.

NEW YORK METS
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Designated RHPs Nelson Figueroa and Jorge Sosa for assignment; placed OF-S Angel Pagan on the 15-day DL (bruised shoulder); activated RHP Matt Wise from the 15-day DL; recalled INF-R Fernando Tatis from New Orleans (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Claudio Vargas from New Orleans; noted that C-S Raul Casanova cleared waivers and was assigned to New Orleans. [5/13]

To which I say, so what? A lot of activity all at once doesn't really add up to improvement or radically altered fortunes as much as it tells us that there have been performance problems on the team, and singling out some of the scrubbier elements doesn't really help Oliver Perez find his command or Mike Pelfrey a reliable off-speed pitch. Yes, Figueroa was a great story, but let's face it, when you have to scrape Cinderella out of a long smear of pumpkin on the Autobahn, that's a matter of not being able to keep up, and a reminder that some racers belong in the bus leagues. Similarly, when you ditch somebody like Sosa, it's a reminder that he's a reflection of what I mean when I talk about "free talent," in that he's freely available-just like Claudio Vargas, and just like Matt Wise. Getting overly wound up over which one of these guys thrives in a secondary role obscures the point that this team needs to get top performances out of its top performers. So, Cinderella gets squashed, and you go with the guy who knows how to pack in 15 minutes. That's real life, and it would be a lot more entertaining if people talked like they were in a Mamet movie.

There's a chance, a small one, that Vargas pitches his way into the rotation as its last man should Pedro Martinez or Orlando Hernandez have setbacks in their rehabilitations, or Vargas outpitch Pelfrey, or Perez's control problems cause pitching coach Rick Peterson to open up one bottle of Pepto too many. It wouldn't be a happy outcome-Vargas' SNLVAR marks for the last three years have been 1.8 (combined), 2.7, and 1.5. That isn't terrible, but it's what you're lucky to get out of staff filler in your fifth slot if you choose wisely, and it's what you hope to do better than with the ponies you really want to bet on.

If there's an interesting element it might be having Tatis up to add to the mix at first base. They're better off hoping to get Carlos Delgado turned around, but maybe Tatis helps them by giving them someone to spot for Delgado now and again. But in himself, Tatis is no more of a solution than Marlon Anderson would be. If nothing else, Tatis gives the club some positional flexibility, as he can handle all four corners, and as an addition to this particular bench, he gives Willie Randolph a second right-handed batter with some sock to use in place of primary infield reserve Damion Easley, and gives the Mets a matched pair from the right side to turn to in order to balance out their having Anderson and Endy Chavez from the left side.


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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