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May 23, 2008

Transaction Analysis

AL Action

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Placed MI-S Erick Aybar on the 15-day DL (dislocated pinkie); activated UT-S Chone Figgins from the 15-day DL; optioned 3B-R Matthew Brown to Salt Lake (Triple-A); recalled SS/3B-R Brandon Wood from Salt Lake. [5/21]

Not the worst development in the world, in that Aybar wasn't doing them much good of late, and coming in conjunction with Figgins' return it sets off a modest reshuffle of their infield hand, where swapping out Brown for Wood makes all sorts of sense because Wood's been playing shortstop exclusively for Salt Lake, and he gives Mike Scioscia a multiplicity of infield options. Consider what the Halos have to plug in at second, short, and third:


Second            Third       Short        
S. Rodriguez      Figgins     M. Izturis
Figgins           Quinlan     Wood
M. Izturis        Wood        S. Rodriguez
                  M. Izturis

Even if it's frustrating for everybody that Howie Kendrick's still not ready, and perhaps only on more of an organizational level that Aybar's not around to provide further cause for optimism (or alarm), they're covered because of the flexibility provided by having a couple of home-grown shortstops (Wood and Rodriguez) on top of having nabbed Izturis as a throw-in to the underrated pilfering of Juan Rivera from the Nats. As much of a fan of Rodriguez's offensive skill set as I am (who doesn't like power, patience, and a bit of speed, all in one package?), I'm tantalized by the vision that having Wood play short regularly offers-there's nothing wrong with a guy who might be sort of the new Rico Petrocelli playing short for you. That's no slight against Izturis, who can provide a decent amount of OBP, but with the Angels beginning to look like a team gearing up to put the division away before the All-Star break, I'd like to see them take a chance on Wood's being a part of that, if only because of the talent involved. In contrast, the A's fan in me wants to see Aybar back as soon as possible and playing at everyone else's expense, and Little Sarge too.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Optioned RHP Justin Masterson to Pawtucket (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Bartolo Colon from Pawtucket. [5/21]

As a practical matter, this really boils down to an exchange of Colon for Clay Buchholz, and no slight intended against Masterson-after all, Bat's handed the Red Sox a pair of quality starts in his two spot starts to help them paper over a couple of emergencies, and he's no slouch as prospects go in this organization. But Swollen Colon was overdue for a call-up, although he and the Sox proved amenable to adjusting the terms of his contract as the situation warranted. His velocity in his Red Sox debut was in the pretty normal range around 90, and he did touch 95, which lends a bit of additional credence to reports about how hard he was throwing as a PawSock.

Until Colon proves he can handle the workload and improve on his last couple of seasons, he's still really only an alternate for filling out the rotation, and a bit of insurance in case Curt Schilling can't start or Buchholz can't achieve some measure of consistency. There's a possibility that, if everyone's healthy and or productive sometime around the deadline, Colon takes a trip to the pen badly enough to charm his way into a deal, almost certainly to an NL contender, but we are talking about pitching, and the Red Sox are proving sage in achieving as much potential redundancy as they have-the necessity of Masterson's pair of spot starts are proof of that. To take a cold-eyed look at the rotation picture, remember that Josh Beckett had his issues staying healthy before coming to Boston, that in December or January it was better to pencil Jon Lester into the rotation than put his name down in ink, that Tim Wakefield missed major time in 2006, and that they've invested a lot of care into making sure they don't overwork Daisuke Matsuzaka. Similarly, while the snow was flying, there were no guarantees that Buchholz or Masterson would be as ready as they do seem to be. Placing too much confidence in their own intelligence and in the unquestioned competence of the training staff, however merited, might have proven dangerous, so there was no harm in being acquisitive.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Placed LHP Clay Rapada on the 15-day DL (biceps tendonitis); activated LHP Dontrelle Willis from the 15-day DL. [5/21]

The interesting element here isn't that Willis is back, but that he's back and replacing Rapada in the pen, not the man who replaced D-Train in the rotation, Armando Galarraga. Consider the plight of anyone charged with managing the Tigers' rotation based on their performance so far:


Pitcher     GS   IP/S   QS+BQS    SNLVAR
Verlander   10    6.1    3+3      -0.1
Bonderman   10    5.7    3+1       0.5
Rogers      10    5.3    3+1      -0.4
Robertson    9    5.3    1+1      -0.4
Galarraga    6    5.9    3         0.9
Team Total  47    5.6   13+6       0.5

This information tells us a couple of interesting things, perhaps chief among them that Jim Leyland's tried to avoid going to his short-handed pen. A check of how the various pitching staffs are doing reflects that the Tigers are last in the majors in SNLVAR, and their starter performance (as measured by FLAKE) has been the least flaky of any team's-meaning they've been consistently awful. Blown quality starts are games in which the starting pitcher had a quality start of six innings pitched and fewer than three runs allowed, only to allow a total of more than three runs after the sixth, and the Tigers' half-dozen such games leads the majors this year. (Behind them, the Blue Jays have five, the Orioles, Mariners, Cardinals, and Astros four apiece.) That pen has made bad things worse, as you'll see reflected in its ugly Fair RA mark and its MLB-worst Pen Support figures. We can go round and round on whether that means Leyland's wise to let his starters blow a quality start now and again, or whether he just needs to get that bad bullpen into the game earlier; I'll settle for saying he's got a really tough row to hoe, and I could understand if this is getting his LAP (Lung Abuse Points) mark up a bit over his more usual respiratory workload.

So, with that mess to consider, whatever role Willis is in, once he's returned to the rotation it's an open question as to at whose expense it might be. To some extent, Galarraga's work, so superior to the staff's veterans, has made the question somewhat embarrassing, but perhaps if the kid struggles a couple of times in his next few starts, he'll make the decision relatively easy. Rogers' platoon splits from 2007 suggests that he might have use in a situational role, but the Gambling Man may not go for that, and this past January's big-money multi-year commitment to Robertson militates against what might be an earned banishment to the bullpen.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Signed LHP Horacio Ramirez to a minor league contract. [5/21]

Whether this is a case of Dayton Moore merely kicking the tires on a fellow former Brave, or trying-as he did with Odalis Perez-to retread a vet, or if he wants to see if Ramirez has some utility as a situational lefty, something a lot of people have argued for in recent years, there's no harm in trying one, some, or all of those things. In either the rotation or the pen, there are contingencies that make the experiment worth trying out. Where starting's concerned, I can't imagine anyone's convinced that Brett Tomko's a lock in the rotation for the entire season if he keeps giving up six runs per nine, and in the bullpen, there's nothing wrong with having somebody around as a bit of veteran insurance against an injury to either Ron Mahay or Jimmy Gobble. And while bringing up Odalis Perez might have most Royals fans muttering into their beards (or polo shirts) after his failures in 2007, he's been doing the Nats a good turn this season, so it wasn't like there wasn't enough reason to try. When you're a bottom feeder, you wind up sifting through some garbage; just ask a catfish. It still means you might find something in the muck, and it's worth the Royals' time to find out, where it might not be in every other team's interests.


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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