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July 23, 2008

Transaction Analysis

Golddiggers and Going For It

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Purchased the contract of LHP Clayton Richard from Charlotte (Triple-A); transferred LHP Andrew Sisco from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/21]

Well, if wasn't going to be Donny Lucy, it's still the same concept with Sisquatch, and now they have roster room for Richard for his debut.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Activated RHP Leo Nunez from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Joel Peralta to Omaha (Triple-A). [7/21]

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Placed C-S Jorge Posada on the 15-day DL (partially-torn labrum), retroactive to 7/20; activated OF-L Johnny Damon from the 15-day DL. [7/21]

They've got nothing. Jose Molina isn't a real person, he's a flesh golem made up of the bits and pieces taken from Joel Skinner and Mark Salas and Chris Turner and Alberto Castillo and every other bad-idea backstop in Bronx Bombers history, come back to revisit the present and give Yankee fans a reminder of how very spoiled they've been by getting to watch Posada play with a combination of machine-tooled consistency and artisanal gift. That's gone now, for the year, perhaps only showing up again as a faint echo in the DH or first-base mix, but even that seems an iffy proposition, and with years yet to go on Posada's contract, it might be too risky to attempt.

Add all of that to a ballclub that isn't getting offensive production out of two outfield slots and DH-even after Damon's reactivation-and what are you left with? A stars and scrubs lineup already mired mid-pack at eighth in the AL in EqA. Richie Sexson isn't going to fix that; he wasn't going to give them the platoon partner and defensive replacement they need for Jason Giambi at first. The minors have surrendered just about all they have to give-Shelley Duncan's out for a while yet with a separated shoulder, Brett Gardner's already up and not playing the savior all that well. A lot of at-bats for Wilson Betemit would make sense, and Joe Girardi's been resorting to that, but this is basically a broken lineup.

The question now becomes one of whether or not Girardi plays a split game, going nuts with the scrubs and little-ball tactics while hoping the stars do enough heavy lifting for that sort of shell game to make a difference. It won't, which is why the Yankees are at a desperate moment, where they either have to see about dealing talent for some win-now rentals, or see if anyone's looking to shed salary. Maybe it's just me, but I do not believe that the Steinbrennerlings will "betray" what they see as the legacy of Yankee Stadium and of their scion-they'll want to go to the new digs as winners, and they'll try and do something that makes a difference instead of standing pat.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Purchased the contract of INF-S Brooks Conrad from Sacramento (Triple-A); designated INF-R Donnie Murphy for assignment. [7/21]

Conrad's done some of the things we associate with him, and which Marc Normandin detailed last fall: by hitting .242/.321/.484, he's struggled to get on base, struggled to make contact (his strikeout rate's still around 23 percent), and he's still taking pitches for a ride when he does connect. His big platoon split-a decent .267/.339/.504 against right-handers, and .176/.276/.431 against lefties-is basically all batting average-related. That performance only boils down to a .224 Equivalent Average, not really something you want to go out of your way to employ. However, with Daric Barton down, Jack Hannahan can't be at both infield corners at once, and the fact that he's a switch-hitter will allow Bob Geren some wee amount of mixing and matching. Conrad has also been moving around the diamond a lot more for Sacramento, having played at second more than any other spot, but seeing time at short, third, and the outfield corners. It's hard to say that makes him a backup shortstop, but having just sent down Gregorio Petit and electing to cut Murphy loose for not being the next Mark Ellis-style minor bit of pilferage from the Royals, they're definitely in Weaver territory as far as having their backup shortstop at a Triple-A affiliate TBNL.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Optioned C-R Taylor Teagarden to Oklahoma (Triple-A); recalled RHP Scott Feldman from Frisco (Double-A). [7/21]

Eric Hurley complained of a sore arm, so Feldman was plugged into the rotation in his place, and while this contretemps might endanger the Rangers' plan to limit Feldman's overall workload, the guy merely responded to this latest opportunity with a quality start last night. Neverthelss, Feldman's bound for the pen, and the slot reverts to Hurley come Sunday. With Luis Mendoza's quality start his last time out (his first in six), and Matt Harrison's his first time around (never mind the subsequent pair of rockings), it sort of resembles something hopeful, doesn't it? Oh, bollocks-where have you gone, Roger Pavlik?

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Optioned RHP Brian Wolfe to Syracuse (Triple-A). [7/21]
Activated RHP Shaun Marcum from the 15-day DL. [7/22]

While it's hard to conjure up good news for the Jays, getting Marcum back after having lost Dustin McGowan for the season is obviously something to take comfort in. Marcum will be limited to 65-70 pitches tonight, but if he can get in gear within a few starts, it'll help the Jays fulfill the somewhat pyrrhic role of spoiler to good effect from here on out. The way the two starters dropped also provided the Jays with an opportunity to plug Marcum's initial replacement into McGowan's rotation slot, as John Parrish has managed a pair of quality starts in his first three, building on the good work he'd been doing for the Chiefs in Syracuse.

For tonight, the fact that former starter Brian Tallet's going to be available in the pen for a long middle relief outing should help ameliorate the circumstance of Marcum's pitch-count limit, and should help them remain in the game. Among the Jays' relief crew and its quartet of southpaws, Tallet's been the one being employed in the less crucial situations, while Scott Downs gets employed as B.J. Ryan's set-up man, and Jesse Carlson seemingly gets paired off with right-hander Jason Frasor for mid-game platoon machinations. It works, and the retreaded Shawn Camp's contributions give them six relievers they can use, plus Brandon League walking far too many hitters to have all that much utility.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Acquired RHP Jon Rauch from the Nationals for 2B-S Emilio Bonifacio. [7/22]

Apparently brigandage is alive and well in the Southwest, because Bonifacio's basically a bit of roster pyrite who wouldn't dupe even a whacked-out gold bug like Francisco Coronado. Getting a top 25-caliber reliever for nothing you'll miss is something to brag about, but getting one that is under contract at under-market pricing for two more years to come ($2 million next year, and a $2.9 million club option for 2010) makes this exchange simply ridiculous, or a monumental favor by the Nats to the Snakes, courtesy of former Snake exec and current Nationals assistant GM Mike Rizzo. Finally, there's the especially fun angle that the 6'11" Rauch will inevitably get to relieve Randy Johnson, providing the sort of assist you might have more readily expected between Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson.

In general, Rauch looks like the perfect reliever to add-experienced as a closer and as a set-up man, so he's someone you can entrust with any role, with a track record for success but still young enough to offer more of the same, rubber-armed and durable, and able to work multi-inning outings if asked. In a pen that lacks an established closer, Rauch gives them the freedom to continue to employ Lyon as the saves guy while having a reliever perfectly suited to preserve them, or he allows them to bump Lyon back to that role.

The problem is that I don't think it's quite that simple. While adding Rauch is a good thing, the danger is that he's a pretty extreme fly-ball pitcher, and while that's worked for him in RFK and Nationals Stadium, he's headed for an air-conditioned bandbox that won't do him many favors. Add in that the team has a couple of road series in Denver and a trip to Houston to look forward to, and I'd think that if anything the absence of a famous person with lots of saves to their credit would encourage the D'backs to think in terms of establishing a bullpen by committee, and picking their spots with their four very different "name" relievers: Chad Qualls, Brandon Lyon, Tony Pena, and now Rauch.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Activated RHP Rafael Soriano from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Vladimir Nunez for assignment. [7/21]

Getting Soriano back to use in a mix-and-match pattern with Mike Gonzalez might sound like things are all on the up and up, and perhaps they are. I guess I'm concerned about the fact that it's still a unit that has journeymen like Julian Tavarez and Buddy Carlyle hanging around, and one that hasn't gotten all of the expected benefits from having Royce Ring, although they're starting to expand his role from extreme situational fetish into more normal multi-batter usage patterns. Jeff Bennett's also on the way back from his partially-dislocated shoulder, so beyond the already-achieved glories of Will Ohman's situational stardom, this might be a case where a rising tide lifts all boats, and leads to a unit-wide improvement as turnover settles down a bit. Soriano's a part of that, but not the linchpin; it's really more a matter of getting more than just one "saves guy" going, but there's enough talent to potentially put something together.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Activated SS-R Troy Tulowitzki from the 15-day DL and RHP Kip Wells from the 60-day DL; optioned 1B-L Joe Koshansky and RHP Juan Morillo to Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [7/21]

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Optioned RHP Jesus Delgado to Carolina (Double-A); recalled RHP Rick VandenHurk from Carolina. [7/21]

Dutch Tattoo (n., odious connotations): A rotation patch of dubious virtue, ideally something you apply temporarily and can wash off without too much vigorous scrubbing. Before being whole again, the patched party must endure a hurky (sic)-jerky outing with sporadic showers of base hits (roughly every half-inning), far too many fly balls landing in distant non-grassy locations, followed by existential crises for Marlins fans. This is not quite the tragedy it sounds; if someone's a self-described Marlins fan these days, you have to figure that they're either about eight years old or so buoyant that nothing about the roller-coaster ride of the franchise's history-not even Huizenganation or a plague of Lorians-can sink their fandom. That, or they rely upon the readily-available dutch courage in the concession stands.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Recalled RHP Runelvys Hernandez from Round Rock (Triple-A). [7/21]
Acquired LHP Randy Wolf from the Padres for RHP Chad Reineke. [7/22]

Houston, we have a problem, because there's a scheduled crash landing, and no time for anybody to get out of the way.

I brought up Coronado earlier, but what is it about the Astros that brings Cervantes' mad knight to mind? Tilting and windmills can be admirable in the abstract, and like Don Quixote, this Houston team doesn't have a whole lot of tomorrows, however bold their ambitions in the present. The real problem is that unlike Quixote, Ed Wade operates in a world where the windmills don't sit still, they beat you about the head until you run and hide in a basement, and instead of the lonely dusty fields of La Mancha, you've got thousands of witnesses and hundreds of tut-tutting pundits talking about how a well-constructed windmill's going to take a man who's outlasted his usefulness 10 out of 10 times, and make him sorry for it as well.

There's really little reasonable explanation for what Ed Wade's done here, beyond drink way too much of his own Kool-Aid in his... inspired bid for win-now relevance in Houston. It isn't the price paid to get a starting pitcher that's so terrible-the Astros have so very little to offer, yet they nevertheless gave up one of their best mediocre prospects. They did so to acquire a starting pitcher, something they desperately need, and you can admire that in its ambition. It's in the details where this desperate proposition fails so badly, because the Astros didn't go out and get just any pitcher, they had to get a Petco Park illusion. A left-handed park illusion. To pitch for them. In front of the Crawford Boxes. And did I neglect to mention that his arm's made out of stale macaroons?

In terms of performance, Wolf's got just about everything wrong with him in terms of what makes him wrong for this team in this park in this already-dubious proposition-that he's a stretch-drive pickup for a team that is just one Randy Wolf short of making it. You can pick at Wolf's performance easily enough: a 6.63 ERA on the road, not to mention 1.7 baserunners per road inning, or the .296 opponent's average away from San Diego. You can try to pick little bits of happiness out of that: six quality starts in 10 road starts sounds pretty good, and you can't blame him for the two blown in the seventh-Bud Black threw him back out there. But look again, and you'll notice that two of them were against the Giants, and another against the Mariners, and he isn't going to get to face among the worst offenses on the road all that much more often, not any more than he's going to get to call Petco home to give him a comfy environment to protect his overall numbers half of the time.

Even if Cecil Cooper manages Wolf with great care-and there's no reason to believe that assertion on its face-there's just not much to recommend this as the deal that will provide the Astros with that missing afterburner that's keeping them out of the playoff hunt. It isn't that dealing a prospect like Reineke breaks the organization's back, it's that it's another cavalier gesture like the Tejada trade that really doesn't get them any closer to leveraging Lance Berkman's ballclub into one last playoff appearance. Add in Wade's focus on how this gives the Astros a shot at re-signing Wolf after the season, and it becomes clear that there's no institutional memory over what happened when they hauled in the similarly Petco-aided Woody Williams. As my favorite Scottish aphorism reminds us, "he won't won't be ruled by the rudder must be ruled by the rocks."

For more on Runelvys Hernandez, see "Dutch Tattoo," op. cit., known more formally as an (ex-)Royal pain in this instance.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Activated RHP Jeff Suppan from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Mitch Stetter to Nashville (Triple-A). [7/22]

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Optioned INF-R Mike Cervenak to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A); recalled RHP Brett Myers from Lehigh Valley. [7/21]

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Optioned RHP Marino Salas to Indianapolis (Triple-A); recalled RHP John Van Benschoten from Indianapolis. [7/21]

If they're going to expend effort determining that Yoslan Herrera's not a keeper, then just as well that they plug Van Benschoten into the rotation and see what future he has, if any. As horrifyingly bad as the results have been in his earlier attempts, down at Indy he's really only struggled with getting breaking stuff over for strikes against lefties. Beyond that, he wasn't getting touched for extra bases by anybody and was striking out seven batters per nine. With as many things that aren't right on the Pirates, you'd think that an extended fish-or-cut-bait review would make sense.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Acquired RHP Chad Reineke from the Astros for LHP Randy Wolf. [7/22]

Credit Kevin Towers for getting good value out of Wolf's San Diego sojourn before the oft-injured lefty broke down. Wolf only really appeared to be an asset courtesy of Petco Park, he's a certain free agent after the season, and not one you'd want to bring back if he's expecting multi-year money. In return, to get one of Houston's better prospects has to be considered pretty tasty, even if Reineke hasn't been especially dominant in the PCL this season. However, with solid low-90s heat and a sharp slider, delivered out of a 6'6" frame, he's got enough to entice scouts. The performance record is also starting to catch up, because he's on a good run of late, having delivered six quality starts in his last seven, which has lowered his overall numbers to just under five runs and more than eight strikeouts per nine, and only 2.8 BB/9 to boot. Add in that he's a fly-ball pitcher going to Petco, and you have to like his chances of being able to improve on his PCL numbers in the majors once he's ready. He's a good one-for-one swap-out for Wolf as fourth starters go, with the added benefits of relative durability and some cost savings.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Activated LHP Randy Flores from the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Kelvin Jimenez from Memphis (Triple-A); optioned RHP Chris Perez and OF-R Joe Mather to Memphis. [7/18]
Optioned LHP Jaime Garcia to Memphis; recalled RHP Mitchell Boggs from Memphis. [7/21]
Placed OF-L Chris Duncan on the 15-day DL (bulging disk-neck); recalled OF-R Joe Mather from Memphis. [7/22]

There might seem to be something of a disconnect when, on the one hand, you have complaints about how the Cardinals are short of pitching help, but on the other you've got them at 13 pitchers. How does a team with eight relievers run out of bodies? Well, consider their pen usage pattern from their first five games back from the break:


       7/17             7/18              7/19              7/20              7/21
Pitcher    BF PC  Pitcher    BF PC  Pitcher    BF PC  Pitcher    BF PC  Pitcher    BF PC
McClellan   2 10  Thompson   10 41  Flores*     1  6  Jimenez     9 23  Springer    4 24
Villone*    1  4  Villone*    2 10  Springer    2 14  Flores*     4 12  Jimenez     7 20
Franklin    5 24  Springer    3 13  Villone*    2 10  McClellan   2 11  Villone     1  5
                  McClellan   3 12  Franklin    7 26  Izzy        4 10  Franklin    8 23
                  Izzy        4 20                    Thompson    4 18

Summary           G/A   BF   PC
Ryan Franklin     3/5   20   73
Kelvin Jimenez    2/4   16   43
Brad Thompson     2/5   14   59
Russ Springer     3/5    9   51
J. Isringhausen   2/5    8   30
Kyle McClellan    3/5    7   33
Ron Villone*      4/5    6   29
Randy Flores*     2/4    5   18
TOTAL            21/39  85  336
G/A: Games/Available

Keep in mind, we're also counting the opportunity they had to use Perez on the 17th, the day they had a mere seven fully-rested relievers in their pen. Now, most of that data doesn't mean much-it's just a dull compilation of churn by the butter master himself. There's plenty missing: how many outs Cards relievers had to get (56 out of 138 in the five games, one an extra-inning affair), or more than 40 percent. It suggests a few things, like that Jason Isringhausen's a bit of a nuisance pitching at less than his best, and that they eased up on the oft-used McClellan while flogging Villone like a least-favored galley slave. Franklin was used more like an '80s-style rustic, and Springer more like a modern reliever. The first and third games were "normal" in that they were matters of protecting one-run leads that the pen successfully executed; the second was covering for a disaster start (nevertheless a win), the fourth a lead Izzy blew on a day Franklin was resting (and retrieved by the offense in the bottom of the ninth), and the fifth last night's extra-innings loss.

I think it's safe to say Tony La Russa's no big believer in deterrence theory; if he's got it, he uses it. All of it, and never put off till tomorrow what you might be able to micro-manage right now. And having done so, having "just" two long-relief types in Thompson and Jimenez around isn't enough-he has to have Boggs around as well now, because somebody has to start Friday (not Garcia, for whatever reason), and it's going to be either Boggs or Thompson, probably depending upon who has to soak up innings if there's another disaster start in the interim.

As for their late loss of Duncan, it's more a loss in terms of perception than it is in practice. He hasn't been the same hitter this season, and between Skip Schumaker, Mather, and perhaps Brian Barton should he come off of the DL soon, they've got left field covered well enough. Admittedly, this makes them that much more dependent on Ryan Ludwick's not reverting to pumpkindom, but they were already in that boat. In terms of their chances, losing Duncan's a lot less important than is keeping the rotation going until Adam Wainwright and later Chris Carpenter come back, and is less a problem to solve than trying to get a middle infielder with some sock on the cheap is.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Placed 1B-S Dmitri Young on the 15-day DL (complications from diabetes). [7/18]
Activated 3B-R Ryan Zimmerman from the 15-day DL; acquired 2B-S Emilio Bonifacio from the Diamondbacks for RHP Jon Rauch, and optioned Bonifacio to Columbus (Triple-A); recalled RHP Garrett Mock from Columbus; re-signed SS-S Cristian Guzman to a two-year contract extension through 2010. [7/22]

Why? Because crushing the spirit of any aspiring fan base just isn't enough for some teams. There's little rational explanation for why you would dump a cheaply-signed Rauch for a dubious middle infield prospect. Bonifacio's aspiration in life will be to fight guys like the thumb-gifted Felipe Lopez or Ronnie Belliard's aging toad act; it is perhaps a goal beyond his grasp. Last I checked, steals were a counting-stat category that counted in make-believe, and not so much in real-world baseball, but hey, at least Bonifacio will steal bases. Sort of-he's been caught eight times in 25 attempts with Tucson. Swell. But speed equals leadoff skills, right? Not so much, not when you've got a guy who's hitting a weak .302/.348/.387 for the Sidewinders. That sounds pretty good... except it's in Tucson, and translating that kind of production from him into what you might get from him at his peak gets you to a guy who might chip in at .269/.318/.347, or a .237 Equivalent Average. Maybe a slower, better-fielding edition of Tony Womack is what this team needs. If it is, you might wind up asking about what the actual goals are, because this is the kind of "prospect" who grows up to kill you because he's the real-world definition of what a replacement-level regular at second looks like.

So fans need something else to get excited about where the future's concerned, so why not repeat last winter's mistakes with Young and Belliard-not to mention the big mistake four years ago in spending top dollar in the first place-and shower the cooling Guzman with cash? How many low-OBP singles hitters will this team need? Is the new Deadball Era around the corner, and only Stan Kasten got the memo?

In the face of such overwhelming horrors, it's easy to lose sight of the happy bits of news. Getting back Zimmerman-the face of this franchise, however much money gets thrown at the likes of Guzman-is obviously good news, and pushes Belliard back to... first base? It's that or re-initiating the midget-wrestling contest over whether Belliard or Lopez is the team's second baseman. Mock's role will have to be sorted out, since he's done good work in the Columbus rotation, but other than Collin Balester (who Mock bettered in Triple-A), there isn't really a weak link in the big-league rotation, and Balester's made only three starts as of yet. However, given the time of year, there's plenty of speculation over whether or not somebody might trade for Odalis Perez or Tim Redding; if Ed Wade had enough prospects to pass around, you might have gotten something tasty.


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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