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July 21, 2008
Weekend Moves Omnibus
Acquired MI-R Juan Castro from the Rockies for UT-R Mike McCoy, and purchased Castro's contract from Norfolk (Triple-A); outrighted UT-L Freddie Bynum to Norfolk; placed RHP Greg Aquino on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 7/13. [7/19]
The latest exciting non-solution for the Orioles at shortstop, Castro remains the player he's always been—slick-fielding gloveliness combined with completely offensive offense. As moves go, I guess it might “work,” insofar as it might compensate for the club's unwillingness to just stick with Brandon Fahey despite decent fielding skills (as reflected in past SFR and present RZR and FRAR), at least until something better comes along. In short, it's a repeat of the Luis Hernandez experience, punchless and pointless, so suffice to say that the Birds remain in search mode at short. It'll be very interesting to see if Andy MacPhail finds one available at the deadline in exchange for any (or several) of his club's veterans.
In the pen, swapping in Randor the Barbarian for the always-disappointing Aquino's an even move. Bierd has gotten the usual kid-gloves treatment you expect with a Rule 5 pick with scant experience above A-ball, with the predictable full-length rehab assignment. Now's as good a time as any to see if his power sinker/slider assortment works well enough in the majors to keep him around, or if he's going to have to resume the minor league portion of his career in 2009.
Placed RHP David Aardsma on the 15-day DL strained groin), retroactive to 7/19; recalled RHP Justin Masterson from Pawtucket (Triple-A). [7/20]
As a bit of workload management considering that he's only 23 years old, Masterson's up to work out of the bullpen this time around, just as he was doing of late in the Pawsox pen. That's affordable for the Sox up to a point, but with Bartolo Colon not coming back as soon as expected, and with Clay Buchholz still struggling to master his command at the big-league level, there's going to be some temptation if both situations don't soon reach some happy denouement. However, as if the Sox didn't have enough tremendously talented young pitchers, Michael Bowden's already back from a sore calf that tripped him up earlier this month, and he was promoted to Triple-A over the weekend after torching the Eastern League like the second coming of the invasion of 1814, striking out 101 in 104 1/3 IP, and allowing only 96 baserunners and five homers. Here again, however, as with Masterson there's a concern over workload, since Bowden's only 21. So, while the Red Sox have options and depth, and they don't have to ask themselves whatever happened to Julian Tavarez just yet, it isn't like those options are lining up all that neatly for them.
The Sox are heartily annoyed with their Cuban workhorse, since he was holding out on them and playing the hero, and as admirable as that might be in the abstract, there's a wee bit more at stake than whether or not a guy's got huevos in Ozzie's eyes. Sensibly enough, Guillen was peeved by Contreras' failure to be forthcoming about his ailing elbow. In his absence, it looks like they'll be bringing up Clayton Richard to make tomorrow night's start. I discussed Richard a bit last week, and he's certainly the best option they have on hand. However, their turning to him really doesn't speak well of Esteban Loaiza's utility (he's currently cooling his jets on the DL with a failure to throw anything hard, and didn't inspire confidence during his rehab assignment), nor does it reflect much confidence in Larry Broadway or Charlie Haeger. Since the team's full up on the 40-man, and Richard will have to be added to it, somebody's going to have to come off, and all three of those alternatives have reason to fear they're on the bubble. However, the more likely gambit would be to put minor league catcher Donny Lucy on the 60-day DL, since he's been out with a fractured kneecap since May Day.
Recalled MI-S Asdrubal Cabrera from Buffalo (Triple-A). [7/18]
Cabrera got his bat back in working order with the Bisons (.326/.375/.475, good for a.271 EqA), but he also spent most of his time playing at shortstop, the position he's much better at than the big-league regular, Jhonny Peralta. Since the season's already shot, it would be interesting to see if the Tribe decides to flip them across the keystone, to employ Cabrera's talents to full effect while perhaps making a silk purse out of the sow's ear that Peralta at short represents.
Statuesque, bordering on teetering? Check. The sort of thing that's wildly impractical, to the point where even slipping it into a lineup or wardrobe creates an unhealthy fear of introducing it to the real world of daily use? Definitely. Expensive? Check. (Paid for by some other delightful gentlemen? Perfect.) Designed in a way that makes you fondly remember the fashions of a few years back? Too much so. (Remember when Ensberg was all that? Where is he, in the back of the closet or what? Oh, he's there, and likely to stay. Never mind.) Uselessly unproductive in a way that conjures up memories of Trey MacDougal? A-yup. Oblique yet obligatory pop culture reference? How jejune.
If I'm being too oblique, let's just say this isn't a bad thing in terms of expense, but it also isn't a good thing in terms of likely benefit. This isn't going to make people forget Morgan Ensberg, or Josh Phelps, or Andy Phillips, and it gives Jason Giambi a platoon partner who might not hit lefties and doesn't play first well enough to represent a worthwhile defensive replacement for the G-man's crab-like glove work.
Activated SS-R Bobby Crosby from the 15-day DL; optioned SS-R Gregorio Petit to Sacramento (Triple-A); purchased the contract of LHP Lenny DiNardo from Sacramento. [7/18]
While the A's ended up promoting Leonardo DiNardo to fill the roster spot vacated by Joe Blanton, the rotation slot's actually going to Dallas Braden tomorrow night, which is a nice turn of events. Better to see if Braden's going to be able to escape a potential future as a pen lefty; if he can't, he's still useful there, and if he can and has value as a back-end starter, that's going to only enhance his value to the organization, either on their roster or in the perhaps-inevitable shopping around once some of the organization's more highly-regarded prospects are ready to enter the rotation picture.
In the meantime, Barton's brush with mortality after a pool accident gives him reason to take some time off and perhaps punctuate his season in such a way that a nice couple of months at the end might allow his fans to overlook the first few, and creates further opportunity for the A's to take a look at Bankston at first base, either as an alternative or as a platoon partner. At this point, the “wastage” the A's have seen on this season's roster merits an admittedly glib comparison to trench warfare in terms of the sheer scale of the turnover. Consider Crosby's comeback—he's not what he was when he first arrived on the scene, but he's what they have left, when they have him, and one of the only players making seven figures guaranteed to be an Athletic next season, a product of the long-term deal he got in 2005 that seemed like such a good idea at the time.
I mentioned LaHair a little more than a week ago as a solution to the team's first-base problem, not that it isn't more than a bit obvious when you're looking for alternatives to Jose Vidro or Miguel Cairo, hitters so weak as to make people pine for the Sexson Era. Still, it's easy to root for LaHair, a 39th-round pick made good seven years later, but he's already 25, so it isn't like we're talking prospect as much as a sound platoon fill-in (he hit .287/.392/.529 vs. RHPs for Tacoma) for a team that belatedly recognized its need. As for Putz's return, it isn't straight back into the closer's role, but at least he's saying the right things about how he's cleaned up his mechanics; we'll have to see what happens in the next week or two if you're worried about whether or not he'll lose all that many opportunities to save a rare Mariners victory to Brandon Morrow.
Activated RHP Al Reyes from the 15-day DL. [7/18]
Percival's going to be back in the closer role for those of you worried about statistical footnotes, but given the care in which he's going to have to be used, it also seems likely that Reyes and Grant Balfour will still be in the mix. That's actually all to the good, in that if it's a fact of life that Percival's not going to be the most robust or durable closer around, it's fine to have other people nab the odd opportunity and be ready to save the day when asked should the old man break down for a more extended period of time.
Optioned RHP Kameron Loe to Oklahoma (Triple-A); designated RHP Joselo Diaz for assignment; activated 1B/3B-L Hank Blalock from the 15-day DL; purchased the contract of C-R Taylor Teagarden from Oklahoma. [7/18]
So, after much anticipation, Blalock's back and playing... third, as he should, because it's the position he's most useful at in a lineup, meaning that all of the wailing, gnashing of teeth, and hand-wringing on the subject of his future as a first baseman were just that many expended electrons and spilled ink. To their credit, the Rangers are concomitantly also sticking with Chris Davis at first base. Add in the anticipated arrival of Eric Hurley back from the DL and straight into a rotation already shored up with Padilla's return to action. It's becoming that kind of season for the Rangers, where the kids can play because have to, and they're contributing to a team that's doing a nice job of hanging around .500 and should wind up in second place the way the A's are folding up. If there's something goofy, it's having to call up Teagarden already because of Jarrod Saltalamacchia's unhappy combination of a bum groin and an infection that laid him out over the break. Max Ramirez is up as well, so the Rangers have all three of their premium catching prospects up at once, with veteran Gerald Laird unavailable to provide the veteran insurance he's supposed to represent because he's still out with a sore hamstring. It makes for an interesting situation in which all of them will have had some exposure this season, and perhaps generate that much more freedom of action for Jon Daniels to entertain offers for any one of them, and that on top of the potential to swap out Laird's last two years of arbitration eligibility while those aren't especially expensive, potentially raising his value to a needy contender.
Placed OF-R Justin Upton (strained oblique) and LHP Doug Slaten (strained knee) on the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Billy Buckner from Tucson (Triple-A). [7/19]
Upton's injury happened ten days before his getting DL'd, but they played him through it, erasing any opportunity to give him a real rest in what's proving to be a disappointing campaign. Whatever you want to say about what good a spot of rest will do him, however, there's one basic split that calls into question Upton's readiness: .324/.415/.586 at home in Bank TBNL Ballpark, and .152/.285/.265 everywhere else. While there's obviously a significant benefit to hitting in Phoenix, the former's nevertheless a reflection of the talent everyone recognizes in him, the latter a challenge for him to overcome. Either he adapts to other park's batting eyes, flying, strange beds, hotel food, whatever, or he remains part of the problem for an offense that is weaker than the perceived sum of its parts. (Getting Snyder back helps some, especially with Miguel Montero's power MIA.) In Upton's absence, aspiring fourth outfielder wannabe Alex Romero is getting a crack at regular playing time, and while this helps insofar as it gets a lefty bat into the lineup, Romero's the kind of reserve without any discrete virtue.
As far as minor neat things, Slaten's deposit on the DL leaves them lefty-less in the pen. Happily, Chad Qualls is the sort of set-up man who doesn't need to hide away from lefties, since his slider/fastball mix has always been a good arsenal to go after them with, making him something of a bass-ackwards right-hander. Tony Pena's also evened out his splits some, so this really isn't that big of a deal. Slaten's knee isn't seriously damaged, and he's expected back shortly after the deadline, so the Snakes won't have to go southpaw shopping. Buckner's been a rotation regular for Tucson, employing his blend of low-90s heat and a knuckle curve to good effect, especially on the road, where he's delivered six quality starts in nine. Still, he's basically a back-end aspirant for a big-league rotation.
Placed RHP Jon Lieber on the 15-day DL (foot strain), retroactive to 7/11; recalled 1B-L Micah Hoffpauir from Iowa (Triple-A). [7/18]
You know the drill—Hoffpauir is just an organizational soldier, a 28-year-old first baseman who stands in the outfield when ordered (no different than Daryle Ward), and is really only here as an extra body and pinch-hitter until Alfonso Soriano comes back from the DL. The players getting Soriano's at-bats will still be second baseman Mike Fontenot and outfielder Reed Johnson in a lineup platoon of sorts, with Mark DeRosa flipping between the two positions. It's a reflection of their particularly tasty depth in the infield, because Ronny Cedeno's basically left waiting around as insurance against a catastrophic injury to Ryan Theriot, and getting the odd start up the middle now and again. While there's no reason to expect that DeRosa won't resume his status as the everyday second baseman once Soriano returns, it gets interesting because Fontenot's hitting .288/.377/.554 against right-handers, and that sort of production's hard to overlook, especially in a righty-heavy lineup like the Cubs', and especially with Fontenot's ability to kill right-handers who work low in the zone. It's a nice problem to have, no different than it's nice to have a guy like Hoffpauir hitting the equivalent of .295/.310/.577 at Iowa as a fall-back against another Ward injury.
That's the fun argument; less pleasant is losing Lieber in a pen already showing more than its share of cracks. With Michael Wuertz shipped out after a nasty multi-month stretch of hittability, mounting concerns over Carlos Marmol's workload, Bobby Howry's Harvey Dent-like blend of scary-bad and scary-good moments, and Kerry Wood's persistent pus problem, the pen's remarkably unstable for a first-place ballclub. However, the news isn't all bad, as Chad Gaudin gives them a good bridge reliever capable of multi-inning assignments, and Neal Cotts has given them the lefty reliever they initially lacked. Assuming Wood heals and Marmol deals, they still have the materiel to make up an effective unit.
Designated LHP Mark Redman for assignment; recalled RHP Juan Morillo from Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [7/18]
Stewart's promotion means less in terms of bad news for Todd Helton than it does for the club's interest in evaluating the third-base prospect's readiness to play in the majors. Garrett Atkins is more of a natural first baseman anyway, so plugging him into the Helton-sized hole at first is fine for the time being, and the club is using the open slot in the lineup as an opportunity to see if Stewart's able to hit well enough that they can afford to peddle Matt Holliday in the next ten days. As put-up-or-shut-up bets go, it's just as well, because Stewart's hitting at Colorado Springs really doesn't leave anything to the imagination as far as his mastery of the level (.280/.372/.607). That performance still “only” works out to a .278 Equivalent Average, but it also helps project Stewart to a peak in the .310s, and that's worth checking out. As far as who winds up in left should Holliday get dealt, it's probably more likely to be the somewhat more athletic Stewart than the leaden-gloved Atkins, but first things first, Stewart simply has to earn his keep.
As for the rest, Nix is suiting up for the Olympics, so I doubt anyone's going to play spoilsport and snag him on waivers (as if his early-season flop as the Rox' Opening Day second baseman weren't deterrent enough). With Troy Tulowitzki on the cusp of coming back, the Rockies will have a bit of a jumble at second base, as Jeff Baker, Omar Quintanilla, and Clint Barmes will all see reductions in their playing time.
The Redman release is one of those entirely predictable bits of unhappiness that goes hand in hand with the decision to sign him for seven figures in the first place. That misfortune aside, the rotation's sort of rounding back into shape, since they're keeping Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook on their regular turns every fifth day, patching with Jorge de la Rosa, Glendon Rusch, and Kip Wells as needed, and not too far from getting Jeff Francis back from the DL to put that three-headed monster into the mix for just two rotation slots. As a bit of in-season tacking goes, it's about what you could wish for under the circumstances.
Placed LHP Andrew Miller on the 15-day DL (patella tendonitis); recalled RHP Jesus Delgado from Carolina (Double-A). [7/18]
Miller's knee spoiled what had been a nice run of effectiveness in May and June, but at least it happened at a point in time when Josh Johnson's already back in action and Anibal Sanchez's return from the DL is right around the corner. If the timing isn't exactly right in terms of Sanchez's availability, the Fish might have to plug in either lefty Mark Hendrickson or righty Ryan Tucker or some combination thereof for a pen start, take their lumps that one day, and still wind up with Sanchez. Once Miller returns, they'll have the more difficult problem of sorting out who gets taken out of the rotation, because if Chris Volstad builds on his exceptional debut, they'll have six starters worth employing at that point. So, while losing the blue-chip lefty might seem like a big blow for the Marlins' bid for the postseason, they may not have reason to worry about their rotation.
Placed RHP Roy Oswalt on the 15-day DL (strained hip abductor), retroactive to 7/12. [7/19]
Beyond noting that the situation is pretty dire when Oswalt's finally forced into inactivity, there's the additional horror that the probable promotions of Runelvys Hernandez and Jack Cassel to round out the rotation represents. Add in that they're already employing Scuffy Moehler, making for a rotation that opposing hitters might call “Wandy and candy.” However, to give credit where credit's due, Moehler's been even better than Wandy Rodriguez during his time in the rotation, posting a SNLVAR of 2.2 to Rodriguez's 1.9, and add in that Brandon Backe's been useful enough (1.5) and that Cassel's had a good run in Round Rock (6-1, 2.1 RA/9) and continued his worm-killing ways with twice as many ground-ball outs than fly balls, and it's not a ghastly unit, it's just one that lacks a front man. Even if Oswalt argues his way back from the DL at the soonest instance, his inconsistency this season means they still might have that problem, enhancing the agonizing conclusion to what was a pretty fanciful bid for right-now relevance.
Placed RHP Yhency Brazoban on the 60-day DL (shoulder); purchased the contract of RHP Jason Johnson from Las Vegas (Triple-A). [7/19]
That's right, the Jason Johnson, the oft-beaten gentle giant last seen flitting from team to team in 2006, and back into a major league rotation no less. He had a Japanese leagues interlude in 2007, but had been doing solid work in the Las Vegas rotation before getting paired off with Jason Schmidt in a tandem arrangement intended to allow the former star to work his way back into shape in a structured workload. Despite that care, Schmidt only wound up having to be shut down again, so the answer in the rotation in the Dodgers' moment of need wound up being the well-traveled Johnson. I'm sure some are calling for Clayton Kershaw, especially after he rattled off 12 straight scoreless frames in his last two starts at Double-A, but to some extent turning to Johnson is an option open to the Dodgers because of Eric Stults' performance in the rotation. Johnson in the skippable fifth slot is a decent holding position, which also goes towards explaining why they're bumping Chan Ho Park from the rotation into the pen to cover for the loss of Takashi Saito. If Stults struggles and Johnson is still ineffably Jason Johnson, they still have Brad Penny on the way back, so even then they may not have to turn to Kershaw.
The relatively minor exchange of Maza for Ozuna's a decent enough little move, in that Ozuna's got some utility—an ability to make contact, play almost anywhere around the diamond, and run a bit—and Maza... doesn't. This isn't a case of Joe Torre preferring a veteran to a kid—Maza's already 28, after all.
Truth be told, Durham's a favorite player of sorts for me, so seeing him wind up on a contender in his twilight years is a bit of a treat. That fandom was probably born out of some sympathy from his having it pretty rough when he first came up; hitting coach Walt Hriniak, relatively unimaginative in his one-size-fits-all Lau-style prescriptions, was given to sarcastic carping when he wasn't merely cranky about all things “Raymond,” as the coach delighted in referring to the player. It was obvious from early on that Durham had incredible talent, enough so that it briefly made him a star player, and he still retains a few vestiges of his former greatness.
Even leaving aside the potential subjective bias, this deal works well for the Brewers on a couple of levels. It's pretty clear Rickie Weeks is providing yet another variant on what has been seasonal disappointment in one form or another; when an offense-oriented second baseman's delivering a merely adequate .262 EqA, even the suggestion that he's improved to adequate afield doesn't engender undying loyalty, especially when there's also the matter of Weeks' tendency to get nicked up. It especially makes sense when you're picking up somebody who can compensate for Weeks' especially miserable production against right-handers (.201/.309/.339); Durham delivered against them at a .318/.396/.446 clip for the Giants. Sure, it's a pity that Durham's no more of a slick-fielding second baseman than Weeks is, but so be it. Since Durham's only under contract through the end of the season, this won't be anything more than a fleeting “betrayal” of the organization's long-term commitment to Weeks—the Little Bull may have turned their eye and might lead to some stepping out at second, but I'm sure they still love Rickie. Lastly, it's a nicely-timed bit of clearing up the roster, since both Ford and Hammond were going to become Rule 5 draft-eligible after the season, and there was no guarantee that either was a prospect who really should be added to their 40-man roster, so there was the risk that they might lose one or the other in December anyway. Effectively, the Brewers are only out the money it will cost to pay Durham, since the prospects given up are really of the sort that any organization should be able to generate (and replace).
The only bittersweet note to strike is my disappointment in seeing Dillon go down. It's just not a good match of team and player, in that while he'd make a fine utility player with offensive value for most teams, the Brewers' heavy lean to the right in the lineup, the platoon at third base, this pair of second basemen, utility infielder Craig Counsell, and Gabe Kapler as the primary outfield reserve really sort of eliminates roster space when a team's carrying a dozen pitchers. A couple of weeks shy of his 33rd birthday, it's sort of a shame to see Dillon lose what time he has left given his credentials as big-level hitter.
Acquired OF-R Darren Ford and LHP Steve Hammond from the Brewers for 2B-S Ray Durham; placed RHP Keiichi Yabu on the 15-day DL (sprained right middle finger); purchased the contract of LHP Geno Espineli from Fresno (Triple-A); transferred OF-L Dave Roberts from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/20]
While I endorsed this deal from the Brewers end, I also like it from the Giants' point of view. Not that Ford or Hammond are premium prospects by any stretch of the imagination, but in an organization as weak as the Giants' is in terms of depth, any kind of reinforcement can be seen as a good thing, and since this also came with some cost savings for the balance of what was owed to Durham, it's a win on the payroll as well as an addition to the system's overall talent. Of the two players, Hammond's the better prospect, a lefty who can deliver heat around 90 that tops out around 93, and whose off-speed stuff might be up to the challenge of his becoming a starter at the back end of a big-league rotation. Failing that, there's the more probable upside of his contributing in a pen as something more than a situational lefty. He was doing reasonably good work in High-A, striking out 78 (against 32 walks) in 88 2/3 IP but showing a pretty major platoon split. His performance earned him a promotion to Double-A, where he's been torched in four starts; already 26, he has to be able to make that jump. Ford can fly in center and on the bases (swiping 48 bags in 59 attempts), and he gets good marks for a patient approach at the plate (evinced by his drawing 45 unintentionals in 401 PA). That's all very nice, but hitting .230 in the Florida State League is bad news. He is only 22, though, and you can hope that's partially a product of his distaste for home cooking as a Manatee, as he's hit .267/.382/.382 on the road against his ghastly .197/.262/.230 clip in Brevard County.
In Durham's absence, it looks like the Giants will be giving most of the playing time at second to Emmanuel Burriss. A bit of a rush job to say the least, he doesn't have much of a track record above the Sally League. Even as a former supplemental first-rounder out of a solid Kent State program, there's just not a lot there—Burriss is pretty slappy and promises to be only that at the plate, and without the necessary patience to fill the bill, his “leadoff prospect” rep is going to boil down to a speed guy who isn't on base. At least the glove's there, I guess, although his arm helped move him off of shortstop. Since they're already playing a guy at third, Jose Castillo, whose bat really only slots in near-adequately at second, their best bet might be to hunt around for a third baseman and to move Castillo to a position where he might have some use if Burriss isn't ready. Basically, it's a pretty ghastly infield, and the organization doesn't have a whole lot else on tap; if you want a third baseman in-house, you've got the aging Scott McClain at Fresno, years past when he deserved a shot, and at Double-A you've got the only-recently-promoted Ryan Rohlinger mashing a bit. I can only imagine how Giants fans feel, but at least I get to enjoy watching one of my youngest brother's high school teammates—John Bowker—do some damage Aldrete-style as a part-timer at first.
Thanks as ever to Kevin Goldstein for his contributions.
Thanks as ever to Kevin Goldstein for his contributions.