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July 28, 2008

Transaction Analysis

The Weekend Trio

by Christina Kahrl


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Acquired C-S Carlos Santana and RHP Jonathan Meloan from the Dodgers for 4C-R Casey Blake and cash; acquired RHP Anthony Reyes from the Cardinals for RHP Luis Perdomo; optioned LHP Aaron Laffey to Buffalo (Triple-A); activated RHP Fausto Carmona from the 15-day DL; purchased the contract of UT-R Andy Gonzalez from Buffalo; transferred DH-L Travis Hafner from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/26]

As the Indians belatedly fold up their bid for contention, the question's really one of what Mark Shapiro and company can do to clear space and add talent for the club's next bid for contention. That isn't to say that shot is all that distant-considering the absence of any one robustly contender-y team in the division for years into the future, the roadmap for long-term Indians dominance in the Central is still within reach, as long as they re-gear efficiently in the present and convert present setbacks into future opportunities. There's no doubt that these moves reflect a sensible yet bold acceptance of this challenge.

Converting Blake into something more likely to sustain the Indians into the future was obvious; the real question was who would bid high to add a player like Blake, who has so many potential applications to a variety of lineup problems. Happily for Shapiro's outfit, that proved to be the talent-laden Dodgers, because while the Indians didn't get any of the Dodgers' best young talent, they picked up a pair of players who should rate pretty highly within their own organization. Meloan's the better-known prospect of the two, rating well enough before the season to receive an eighth-place mention on Kevin's pre-season top 11 list for the Dodgers. That rating aside, that's nevertheless for a guy with a future in a big-league bullpen, and as something less than a top dog; his low-90s sinker and slider play best in shorter stints, so while he's been a rotation regular in Vegas, he's been taking his lumps while averaging little more than five frames per start in 20, surrendering 6.2 runs per nine, and striking out 8.5 while walking more than five. Fastball command would seem to be an issue, because he's had an especially rough time with his fellow right-handers, and he's struggling to get ground-ball outs past the first inning, or to get any kind of outs past the second. All of which doesn't mean that much-he was projected to be a late-game reliever six months ago, and that's what he still looks to be now. As a talent worth having in a Tribe pen that needs re-stocking, he's a nice addition for two months of Casey Blake's time.

Happily for the Clevelanders, that's not all that they got. Santana's a pretty nifty catching prospect, so regardless of the organization's long-term intentions as far as Victor Martinez, they've acquired someone who would show up on almost anybody's long-term radar, whoever they had already up in The Show. While it can be foolhardy to get worked up over anyone pasting pitching in the Cal League, Santana's among the best hitters in the circuit, as his production translates to .278/.378/.488 with a .296 EqA, and with a potential peak that tops .300 in EqA. Add in that he's 22, and if less than perfect as a receiver-he's a big kid, and his 23 percent mark is merely adequate for a High-A caught-stealing percentage-he's not about to get moved off of the position, especially in an organization that had the patience to work with Martinez's problems as a receiver. (In the worst-case scenario, he moves to third, not such a terrible outcome if Marte's flopped or moved on by that point in the future.) At the plate, he lacks any platoon issues while switch-hitting. All in all, it's pretty easy to see how he's the deal's real prize, and a prospect whose impact on the organization could dwarf Meloan's-let along Blake's-in five years.

The things that come of this during the balance of the season for the Indians are straightforward enough. Reyes may join Laffey in the Bisons' rotation for the next couple of turns, but neither should be down for long. In terms of rotation spots open for evaluative purposes, the Tribe has two, currently staffed with Jeremy Sowers and Matt Ginter, both of whom will be hard-pressed to hold onto those jobs by the time rosters expand on September 1. (Buffalo's not in the playoff race in the International League, so between that and the Indians' irrelevance, the opportunity to have players make the short hop down the shore to Cleveland will come earlier than usual.) There could be a third slot if the Indians find a taker for Paul Byrd, but that may have to wait until August, as the combination of the expense of employing him, his marginal usefulness, and his pending free agency should combine to make him the kind of player who gets exchanged on a waivers deal-or perhaps even cut loose without much remorse, especially if the Indians decide to get a head start on next spring's camp.

The other major upshot of this deal is that it represents Andy Marte's last best chance to have a career as somebody's third baseman, starting now. He'd already drawn 11 of the last 15 starting assignments at the hot corner, so this was already something the Tribe was actively reviewing. Since he's hitting .267/.327/.511 in his July playing time-just under half of his total at-bats for the season, and a reflection on how much time he'd been cooling his heels on the bench on a team replete with hitting problems-it's fair to say that this is not only something that won't make any negative impact on the Tribe's current fortunes, it's almost certain to be an improvement, on this season and into the future.

In summation, these were two very good deals for the Indians. Meloan's more advanced than Perdomo, so in terms of exchanging one future reliever for another, they helped themselves in the near-term while adding a starting pitcher prospect most would take their chances on and a premium catching prospect. Add in the opportunity they're going to get to give to Marte, something that will tell them whether or not they have an answer or need to start looking for one, and it's a great bit of turning the page and adding talent to an organization that's already working on ways to contend next year in the wake of this year's disappointments.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Acquired OF-R Xavier Nady and LHP Damaso Marte from the Pirates for RHPs Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, and Ross Ohlendorf, and OF-R Jose Tabata; optioned OF-L Brett Gardner to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A); designated RHP LaTroy Hawkins for assignment; outrighted LHP Kei Igawa to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [7/26]

There's isn't much room for second-guessing here, because this is simple good work and front-office execution. The Yankees needed to do something, but they also needed to address multiple problems. The fact that they've managed to do so with a one-stop shopping trip to Steel City was inspired, to be sure, and the fact that they got two important components without giving anything they'll really regret giving up makes it that much more of an exceptional acquisition. This is not to say that Nady's a critical component in his own right; he isn't. But he is the kind of hitter who will be a nice fit into that lineup in the seventh slot, taking advantage of reasonably good contact-hitting and power-on-contact to plate runs, and helping reduce the stars-and-scrubs problem separating the front six from the bottom three in their order. Handing the opposition a bottom third of Melky Cabrera, Jose Molina, and Brett Gardner was a problem that needed fixing, and this does that while giving the lineup right-handed sock to balance out its reliance on the quartet of lefty bats surrounding Alex Rodriguez. In a division where another shutout loss to Jon Lester or a night when Scott Kazmir's on could make all the difference, having a guy who's hit .320/.397/.483 off of lefty pitching comes in handy.

So, Nady doesn't have to keep slugging .530, and that's just as well, because he won't. As long as he keeps the lineup from becoming too much of a short-sequence attack, helps them extend innings and finish off the bigger ones, he's an asset. There's also the more speculative benefit over how this might help Johnny Damon settle in as one of the most athletic DHs since the heyday of Paul Molitor or a young Don Baylor or Hal McRae, but if it helps him stay healthy and deliver offensively, that's an added bit of value. Yankees fans should avoid mistaking Nady for a significant defensive asset; he'll be adequate, and that's fine for left field.

As for adding Marte, for platoon-oriented reasons similar to those that Nady fulfills-and which Joe touched on yesterday-he gives this team something it very much needs, especially with David Ortiz back in action, especially with J.D. Drew back to productivity and stardom, and especially when the Yankees have no real margin for error. There's no particular genius to it, it's just very much something and somebody this team needs, especially when it lacks a rotation with starters reliably getting into the seventh inning or so. When you've got a rotation that's adding innings to your pen's responsibilities, it expands the number of opportunities in-game that you could see a game turn on a situational advantage. If having Marte allows Joe Girardi the freedom to use Kyle Farnsworth in the seventh, looking ahead to using his newly-acquired lefty in the eighth-or the other way around-it makes for that many fewer chances to make someone like Brian Bruney famous for the exactly wrong reasons.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Activated OF-L Juan Pierre from the 15-day DL; placed OF-S Delwyn Young on the 15-day DL (shoulder), retroactive to 7/24. [7/25]
Traded C-S Carlos Santana and RHP Jonathan Meloan to the Indians for 4C-R Casey Blake and cash; optioned 3B-L Blake DeWitt to Las Vegas (Triple-A). [7/26]
Activated PH-L Mark Sweeney from the 15-day DL; optioned 3B-R Andy LaRoche to Las Vegas. [7/27]

I've been told that one of the secrets of the very rich is that they tend to be exceptionally cheap. I'll have to take anyone who says such a thing at their word, having never had the benefit of either super-rich friends or of being super-rich (or cheap). There's nothing wrong with being rich, of course, especially if you happen to be, but there is something ugly about being cheap, so I guess if we can credit the Dodgers with anything here, it's the courage to live out loud and play big spender at the trading deadline. Because of their bevy of prospects, they can afford it in a way few teams can, but this is one of those exchanges that will inspire regrets well into the future.

Blake's hot hitting of late has gotten his seasonal numbers up into pretty tasty territory: .289/.365/.465 overall, good for a .297 EqA (all-time). He's also among the biggest "money shot" guys this season, at least in terms of converting RBI opportunities into runs; it may not be a skill, but it is a fact. He's older than you may think he is; although he only became a regular six years ago, he'll be 35 in a few weeks, having lost the early part of his career knocking around a Blue Jays organization that didn't think he could play third, then cooling his jets in the Twins system around the same time that they didn't seem to think that David Ortiz was all that valuable. The Indians fished him out of the free talent pool for spring training in 2003, and the rest is history. Liberated to play regularly, he'll be a free agent for the first time after this season.

All of which is great-for Casey Blake. What about what he offers the Dodgers? He can hurt lefties well enough, but he's also hitting right-handers well enough that he doesn't need to be limited to platoon duties, especially not in a lineup where serious playing time has been expended on punchless lineup palookas of major or minor notoriety, like Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre, and Blake DeWitt. Since Blake can play both the infield and outfield corners, he's considerably more useful than "just" as an everyday third baseman, especially in an organization that has Andy LaRoche waiting around for the opportunity that fortune initially granted to Blake DeWitt. A prospect of LaRoche's caliber would seem to be somebody who ought to be playing, in the same way that the team is observing its commitments to Matt Kemp in the outfield and James Loney at first. However, if all LaRoche was going to be around for was something like sporadic platoon duties, perhaps starting against lefties (with Loney hitting the pine) now and again, and Blake moving across the diamond, that seems a bit of a waste of a blue-chip prospect, and perhaps it's just as well that LaRoche will instead get the chance to get back up to full speed playing every day in Las Vegas.

If the Dodgers really want to be serious about this contention thing, don't they owe it to themselves to field their best team, instead of their most (in)famous one? The tension between the different factions in the front office has been such that they have seldom been able to agree on much. However, there might have been general agreement that they needed to bring in a bat, and agreement that they could afford to bring in a bat, and because of this lineup's odd collection of overlapping problems and disappointments, at third base as well as the outfield, it even seems like a remarkably sensible collective choice that their roving eyes alighted upon Blake. The question of whether or not they really needed to give up two good prospects for two months of Casey Blake isn't quite right; they could. Meloan's a potentially gifted reliever, but the organization has better pitching prospects in the system and already on the team; Santana's a pretty exciting catching prospect, but this is the organization that has Russell Martin, and if Santana really does end up having to move to third, isn't that what LaRoche will be for far into the future? Blake's useful, and this club has needs; getting him makes a goodly amount of sense.

With Blake in hand, what then is the best case for their lineup? That they come to their senses, realize that playing what they've already paid for doesn't help them win, bring back LaRoche and play him at third, and move Blake to an outfield corner? Certainly, that beats putting LaRoche at second, an "inspired" move that was even riskier than putting Nomar Garciaparra back at shortstop. Admittedly, that means reducing Juan Pierre to the world's most expensive rag-armed pinch-runner and defensive replacement, and it also makes Andruw Jones the most unpleasantly ubiquitous oversized formerly famous person this side of Vince Vaughn.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Acquired RHPs Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, and Ross Ohlendorf, and OF-R Jose Tabata from the Yankees for OF-R Xavier Nady and LHP Damaso Marte. [7/26]
Purchased the contract of RHP Jason Davis from Indianapolis (Triple-A); designated RHP Luis Munoz for assignment. [7/27]

Well, it wasn't much, but it's something, and perhaps that's all we might have reasonably expected as Neal Huntington shops around for some of everything to shore a system that needs everything. Premium talent of any stripe is a crying need, but given his inherited collection of mediocre young veterans and bit players, there isn't a lot to work with. That might lead the more caustic to suggest that what's been done here is to trade ready-now filler for ready-eventually filler, but it's not quite like that. The Pirates were not going to get a blue-chip prospect for a guy like Nady, and they didn't. However, they did get a hitter who might be a blue-chip prospect, one who's weeks shy of his 20th birthday yet already at Double-A. That's not to say he's doing very well in Double-A; he wasn't hitting, wasn't hitting for power, wasn't walking, and was doing more to engender questions about his commitment to his profession. Maybe those are organization-specific or a reflection of immaturity, but maybe he's just young and has bat speed and that's all he'll ever have. As young as he is, you might invest some hope that he fills out enough to become something resembling a power prospect, at which point he'll be more than just a very young guy, but somebody who deserves consideration as a real prospect in an outfield corner. However, he's not taken the best care of himself physically, so there's a ton of work to do. Is it worth getting him to see if you can iron him out? Sure it is, because it reflects an organizational ambition for the kid and a willingness to take on a challenge. If it doesn't work, take solace in the fact that there wasn't a flag lost to the absence of Xavier Nady; when you start as far back as the Pirates are, a bit of risk is necessary.

That's why, in contrast, the rest of the deal is somewhat unsatisfying. Admittedly, the Pirates do need to stock the upper levels of their farm system, and getting a trio of Triple-A right-handers-two of whom already have big-league experience-goes a long way towards addressing that. Ohlendorf's a sinker/slider starter with no real movement on a mid-90s fastball, which doesn't help his prospect status. In the '80s, somebody would be suggesting that he add a splitter, because this was what guys like Mike Scott and Dave Stewart needed (or even guys like Mike LaCoss or Scott Garrelts); in the present, he gets consideration as a potential reliever where the lack of movement becomes less of an issue. If that's the reliable quantity in this exchange, you can feel free to get frustrated, but there's at least a reasonable guarantee that he'll be in a Pirates uniform long before the season's over, and whether that's in the rotation or as a reliever is something that will depend as much on who's healthy and producing as it has to do with Ohlendorf's basic utility. Less exciting is Karstens, the sort of guy you wind up with as a fifth starter or as a waiver claim or as a spring training non-roster invitee; he's Phil Dumatrait shedding pinstripes, neither an asset nor a liability, just a time-server in a system short of them. Perhaps he's their latest fifth starter, and perhaps he's out of the organization within the year. Which really leaves us with McCutchen, the former 2006 pick who has lost time already to a PED suspension, a guy with merely decent velocity but a nice curve, fine command, and a decent performance record marred only by a few more homers than you'd like to see (14 allowed in 120 1/3 IP), but with a 110:29 K:BB ratio. As with any finesse right-hander, you can't really bet on him, but there's enough there to make you take a chance and hope he shows you something.

Add it up, and it's a weird match-the obvious wild card of Tabata's potential, balanced against a trio of 25-year-old guys who are all close to ready, all of whom can pitch a bit, but who won't radically reverse the team's fortunes, individually or collectively. It's a mismatched swag, not a great collection of goodies, and something less valuable than, say, what the Indians just got for Casey Blake. If it gets the Pirates a thousand league-average innings pitched (or better) in the majors over any period of time, I'd be surprised, so it really depends on their ability to turn Tabata around. Still, Huntington got something down, and that represents progress of a sort. If there's a slight sense of disappointment that this was all they got, there's at least the hope that this organization has other in-demand mediocrities it can afford to peddle in the next four or five days.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Acquired RHP Luis Perdomo from the Indians for RHP Anthony Reyes. [7/26]

The Cardinals had a very straightforward math problem to resolve: the 40-man roster was full up, and Chris Carpenter's about to be activated off of the 60-day DL, so something or somebody had to give. Now, it's admittedly simple enough for the them to have flipped Mark Mulder from the 15- to the 60-day DL, but the point is that they're hard up against their limit, and whether it's a matter of making room for Carpenter or picking something else up between now and the end of August, they need roster space. While it's something of a pity that the organization was so bereft of confidence that Reyes could contribute to a rotation that's dependent on Carpenter's comeback, let alone the reliability of retreads like Joel Pineiro and Todd Wellemeyer, that's the lay of the land. Repurposing that spot on the 40-man is understandable enough, because it means that much more to the organization looking for ways to help itself every way possible in the pressure of a pennant race; Reyes wasn't worth the spot to them, but he obviously has value.

In that light, John Mozeliak and company did a nice of job of sending Reyes somewhere for something that has value, because while Perdomo's a bit on the oldish side of prospectdom for a reliever only recently introduced to Double-A-the Dominican's already 24, and only made it up to Akron in the Eastern League a month ago-he cooks with mid-90s gas, has used it to strike out 60 batters in 54 1/3 IP this season split between High- and Double-A, and he apparently won't have to be added to the 40-man until 2010. While a reliever, however tasty, is generally not worth a starting pitcher, remember how much disenchantment's been built up over the past season and a half, and recognize that as fresh farm produce goes, Reyes comes with a few bruises and blemishes. While there's an obvious potential for this deal to look bad a year or two down the line-should Perdomo fail in the upper levels and/or get hurt, and if Reyes blossoms with a needed change of scenery-as a bit of roster and talent management, this was an understandable gambit given the Cardinals' increasingly desperate situation.


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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