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July 29, 2008

Transaction Analysis

Inaction in Action

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Optioned RHP Jason Bulger to Salt Lake (Triple-A); activated CF-R Torii Hunter from the bereavement list. [7/25]

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Activated LHP Jamie Walker from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Radhames Liz to Norfolk (Triple-A). [7/27]

After ten starts, it's pretty clear that Liz isn't really ready, having taken more than his share of beatings and generating only one quality start, and that was against the Royals. This isn't the only change being made to the Orioles' rotation, as they're also swapping in Dennis Sarfate while pushing Brian Burres to the pen. Since they also won't need a fifth starter until next week, they could always turn back to Burres when they do, and given Burres' performance, that's about the level of his utility. Happily, nobody—not even Liz—has been sub-Trachsel bad, so while this rotation isn't an exceptional unit, if Sarfate does good work and Garrett Olson counter-adjusts to the league's catching up to him, it will at least continue to be workmanlike.

I wouldn't read into Walker's return that he will make fellow lefty George Sherrill that much more available at the deadline; while the Orioles have two desirable commodities in Sherrill and second baseman Brian Roberts, it appears that Andy MacPhail's being sensible about not making a deal for its own sake. Besides, Walker's been a situational disaster, getting clubbed by the lefties he's supposed to get out at a .375/.383/.786 clip, with six homers allowed in 60 PA.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Activated DH-L David Ortiz from the 15-day DL. [7/25]

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Activated RHP Esteban Loaiza from the 15-day DL, and waived him unconditionally; placed 3B-R Joe Crede on the 15-day DL (back), retroactive to 7/22; recalled 3B-R Josh Fields from Charlotte (Triple-A). [7/25]
Placed RHP Scott Linebrink on the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Ehren Wassermann from Charlotte. [7/26]

While most pennant pursuits might involve a bit of drama any time any major “name” player breaks down, the happy plight of the Sox is that the hot corner is one of the few places where they really don't miss a beat when they lose their regular. Not that Crede hasn't done a nifty job of making a comeback, having done the things you expect of him—playing an aggressive third, and depositing balls into the left-field seats in the Cell with his usual aplomb by hitting .263/.339/.550 at home against significantly less useful .247/.305/.393 everywhere else. Fields hasn't had a great year at Charlotte, having hit only 248/.325/.450 overall, but between some knee problems that shelved him in May and the perhaps understandable distraction of having his name bandied about in almost any White Sox trade rumor, it's important to focus on the fact that the core skills of the 25-year-old are still in place—he's still got power, he's still pretty athletic, and he should still be a seamless one-for-one plug-in in Crede's space in terms of what he generally gives the Sox. After the year, if they've held onto Fields, they should be able to let Crede slip away without any regret.

As for the pen exchange, Linebrink's shoulder was hampering his performance as well as his availability, and this isn't a pen that can afford that sort of absence, since it basically becomes the Bobby Jenks Show at that point. Not that the Human Barrel hasn't done his thing since returning from the DL, but perhaps Wassermann can recapture last year's situational magic and join Boone Logan in giving Ozzie Guillen some ROOGY/LOOGY mix-and-match options in the seventh inning before hoping that Octavio Dotel and Matt Thornton can hand leads to Jenks. It looks OK on paper, but they do still have to play the games and inspire a few more Ozzieruptions, of course.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Optioned OF-R Matt Murton to Sacramento (Triple-A); recalled 2B/OF-L Eric Patterson from Sacramento. [7/27]

That didn't take long, but Murton has that sort of effect on you; direct exposure to his limitations has a way of breaking the spell of some of his happier projections and knee-jerk boosterism among my fellow statheads. In contrast, Patterson does things this team needs, like lead off or hit a wee bit, and since they also happen to still take Patterson's utility as a second baseman seriously, there are multiple reasons to have him, where Murton only gave them an unslugly corner outfielder who couldn't give them the power they might wish for.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Signed RHP Jorge Sosa to a minor league contract. [7/25]

Whether or not the Jarrod Washburn deal with the Yankees finally transpires, the Mariners have depth problems in their rotation, as reflected in their reliance on the always-popular sob story of R.A. Dickey to round out their current quintet. (I know, maybe this time will be different for Dickey, but that's been said for six straight years, and last I checked, nobody went broke betting against him.) It now looks like Erik Bedard won't return to the mound until September, positively queering almost any chance of getting him dealt, and there's a lot of season between now and then. Tacoma's rotation isn't that well stocked; Sean Green keeps having the occasional good outing, but alternates them with disaster starts with alarming regularity, and Ryan Feierabend only just recently returned to action. So, Sosa's a worthwhile add-on for a couple of reasons, as a potential innings sponge somewhere in the state of Washington, and if his problems with throwing something with wiggle in it to get lefties out seem chronic, remember that he's a freely-available free talent for that very reason. As dumpster nuggets go, he's still a worthwhile pickup for your average needy organization.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Placed RHP Kevin Millwood on the 15-day DL; activated C-R Gerald Laird from the 15-day DL. [7/26]
Optioned C-R Max Ramirez to Frisco (Double-A); activated RHP Eric Hurley from the 15-day DL. [7/27]

As exchanges work out, these are pretty straightforward drop-outs and drop-ins. Behind the plate, Jarrod Saltalamacchia healed up first and has been hitting more like he was expected to, while Laird should resume his semi-regular duties as veteran sensei and pursued commodity (and still two years removed from free agency). If it seems terribly unfair that the Rangers have that pair as well as Ramirez and Taylor Teagarden, just credit Jon Daniels and his crew for accumulating talent at a position where everyone ends up wishing they had more than what they've got. Laird was added on John Hart's watch (the prize, as it turned out, in the trade that sent Carlos Pena to Oakland), Teagarden drafted in Hart's last year (2005) which was also Daniels' first as assistant GM, while Daniels gets sole credit for trading for both Ramirez and Salty at last year's deadline. There's no compunction for the Rangers to make a deal involving any of them now, but there's plenty of value there for them to be able to shop at their discretion while dangling any of them, so whether the Rangers care to employ it now or at the Winter Meetings or in January once the teams that tried didn't find their answer at catcher on the free-agent market, they can make their move at a time and place of their own choosing.

As for Millwood's latest meltdown, while it probably kills off any suggestion that the Rangers can make a real play at giving the Angels heartburn down the stretch, it's not really a major setback in the grand scheme of things. Millwood's a lock for next year's rotation, after all, and getting the opportunity to review whether or not Hurley or Luis Mendoza or Matt Harrison might also be in the meantime has some sort of evaluative value. That's not to say that there aren't attendant dangers, especially if they also want to moderate the workloads of Scott Feldman or Harrison or Hurley to keep their total innings pitched under control. As a result, don't get overly surprised or worked up when they potentially do things like give Dustin Nippert or Josh Rupe (or Doug Mathis, once he's healed up) shots at starting a few games. Those kinds of moves would serve the twin purposes of giving those pitchers opportunities to stake claims on greater consideration in sthe pring while spreading around the responsibility for getting the actual games pitched without having to do something genuinely desperate.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Placed LHP Brian Tallet on the 15-day DL (non-displaced spiral fracture—pinky toe); purchased the contract of RHP Scott Richmond from Syracuse (Triple-A); transferred 2B-R Aaron Hill from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/28]

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Activated RHP Anthony Lerew from the 60-day DL, and optioned him to Richmond (Triple-A). [7/25]
Activated LHP Mike Hampton from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Charlie Morton to Richmond. [7/26]
Placed RHP Tim Hudson and 3B-S Chipper Jones on the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Jo-Jo Reyes to Richmond (Triple-A); recalled RHP Charlie Morton and C-R Clint Sammons from Richmond; activated RHP Jeff Bennett from the 15-day DL. [7/28]

If ever there was an argument that bad things happen to old men, this year's Braves rotation should serve as a necessary reminder that raging against the dying of the light is a luxury perhaps necessarily afforded only temporarily, not as a matter of design. Hudson's injury may get to be the last straw, as losing the most reliable contributor from the veteran quartet of Hudson, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Hampton shreds the last vestiges of their pre-season plan, and highlights how much this is as much Jorge Campillo's team as Mike Hampton's. This isn't merely a matter of what have you done for me lately—while it's a pity that all four of the old warhorses have been knackered at some point this season, the Braves had to know this was one of the risks that automatically went with this club. The Braves have been a ballclub the subject of which I fundamentally disagreed with some of my colleagues; there's just been way too much of an Oriole-like mid-'80s götterdämmerung vibe for me to have ever signed on to this bandwagon, complete with the blurry ownership, the aging aces, and perhaps even the disenchanted star players.

As a result, I'm a bit philosophical about the Braves' lot. Eventually, all things run their course, and as much attention has been devoted to this team, they haven't won anything in three years. There's no reason to scapegoat Frank Wren for this; he was given a pretty rough hand to start off with, and he's played it out. It's easy to kick at targets like the problems staffing the pen, or the statistical oddity of their record in one-run games. The more basic issue is that when you resume existence as a merely mortal franchise, bad things happen, and bad things hurt. The agony that they seem to be so close to mattering is as much a reflection of the age in which they find themselves in such disrepair—the division's winnable, and surely the Braves of all teams can win it, can't they? In point of fact, they can't, not with a team that is both Jorge Campillo's and Mike Hampton's, a team that kept making bets like “Mark Kotsay will do.” These were never solutions, they were careful bits of patching to mend an already-rent garment, so there's no reason for sackcloth and ashes, let alone bitter cries. It's done.

Instead, I think it's better to see what can be learned from this season. Certainly, the year's showing them that their faith in Yunel Escobar was worthwhile. Jo-Jo Reyes and Jair Jurrjens can pitch in this or any league. Gregor Blanco's useful, and Omar Infante's proven to be a worthwhile pickup. There's still plenty more to be sorted out; maybe Jorge Campillo's meant for better things, and maybe Brandon Jones is this team's left fielder. Maybe there's something to be saved from Chuck James's season. These aren't the sort of discoveries that will be attended by the usual glory Braves fans might be used to, but they are the sorts of things that a team in the business of creating new legends instead of embroidering old ones has to concern itself with. If the Braves are dead, so what? Long live the Braves.

Of course, what makes this sort of funny is the jarring note of Mike Hampton's reactivation, racing in to save the day when the day's long since done. Maybe his place in Braves history will be as an unpleasant footnote of Reno-wal for the franchise, the man who was late to the party when it was already in doubt that his attendance would have made a difference. Having started a game at every full-season affiliate associated with the organization this year, there have been plenty of opportunities for Braves fans to acquire some sort of familiarity with him, if unfortunately in a bit overly similar to other, equally dubious tours to various out-of-the-way places.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Optioned RHP Ryan Speier to Colorado Springs (Triple-A); purchased the contract of LHP Valerio De Los Santos from Colorado Springs. [7/28]
Placed OF-L Scott Podsednik on the 15-day DL (broken hand); purchased the contract of OF-L Cory Sullivan. [7/29]

While the Rockies have lately been good enough to matter within the context of the NL West's midget-racing variant on a pennant race, the fact that we're talking about this collection of names in the context of who their fifth starter (De Los Santos) and alternative to Willy Taveras in center field is now (Sullivan), you'd be right in guessing that this means the Rockies aren't getting a leg up on their equally stumpy chibiform rivals as July curdles into August and this race runs... well, not in any direction that connotes progress per se, but perhaps only until the schedule runs out and a suspect is apprehended to round out the NL playoff slate.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Optioned RHP Rick VandenHurk to Albuquerque (Triple-A). [7/27]
Recalled LHP Taylor Tankersley from Albuquerque. [7/28]

Predictably enough, VandenHurk took his lumps, but with Anibal Sanchez's activation from the DL a day away, his stay in the rotation was never going to be anything but brief. The more interesting component of this exchange is the decision to bring Tankersley back, because he's been outstanding since his banishment to the Isotopes in terms of runs allowed—only one unearned has been scored on him in the last five weeks and 11 1/3 IP. However, he's still giving up baserunners by the boatload, having walked 12 unintentionally in 22 Albuquerque innings. The real need he'll answer is the club's lack of a true situational lefty, because that's one thing the Fish pen lacks; Renyel Pinto's a bit bass-ackwards, while the debate over what use Mark Hendrickson has, if any, has been raging pretty much over the course of his entire career, with the losers consistently found on those who take the pro versus the con.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Outrighted RHP Dave Borkowski to Round Rock (Triple-A). [7/25]
Activated RHP Roy Oswalt from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Runelvys Hernandez to Round Rock. [7/28]

NEW YORK METS
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Placed RHP Pedro Martinez on the bereavement list; purchased the contract of RHP Brandon Knight from New Orleans (Triple-A). [7/26]
Designated RHP Brandon Knight for assignment; recalled LHP Willie Collazo from New Orleans. [7/27]

That's right—one player on bereavement leave, and two players cycled through the roster slot inside of 24 hours. The Angels did this when Torii Hunter had to leave the team last week, and it's the sort of thing that just emphasizes that teams really aren't playing with 25-man rosters, and not necessarily 40-man rosters (witness non-40-man Knight's brief appearance on it, which was as transitory as it gets), but are instead micro-managing to make sure that for all 162 games, they have as many weapons at their disposal—usually extra pitching—as possible in any one game. While the ten-day rule involves how long players who get sent down have to stay down, that's barring injury, and that doesn't necessarily make for much of a deterrent, and when you have this sort of cycling through a single spot because of one player's very temporary absence... well, suffice to say the notion that a roster is something stable is so much nonsense. Knight wasn't notably worse than Pedro in his start, while Collazo gave the team that always-critical third lefty in the pen without ever actually having to pitch, at least not yet, and Pedro's going to be back in plenty of time to make his next scheduled start on Friday. The Mets were sensible to manage their roster this aggressively, and it's all on the up and up, but I guess I really wonder if it's a good thing, or if—sort of in the same way that Jim Riggleman complained several years back about differing levels of September roster expansions between different teams—it's a competitive advantage that teams who can afford this kind of reshuffling have over teams that can't. And if it is, is that a good thing, or just one of those things?

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Optioned RHP Adam Eaton to the minor leagues or thereabouts. [7/28]
Recalled LHP J.A. Happ from Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [7/29]

Awfully nice of Mr. Eaton to agree to add IronPiggery to his profile, but why not? He's with an organization where the major league team has a shot at the playoffs, after all, so there's no better spot to be if you want to be part of something going somewhere, and more basically this might give him the opportunity to work on a few things that might make him useful if they're forced to bring him back and plug him into the rotation during the stretch run. Happ is a good choice for an audition as the pen's second southpaw behind J.C. Romero, because while the rubber-armed situational demigod has been death on lefties, he lacks Happ's ability to retire a few righties in longer outings. Since this also helps keep Happ's workload on the season tolerable, it's the sort of combination of events that should allow the club to forgo shopping for veteran lefty relief help at the deadline or during August while giving a qualified farmhand a chance to contribute in a meaningful way during the stretch run.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Optioned RHP John Van Benschoten to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [7/27]

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Optioned RHP Mitchell Boggs to Memphis (Triple-A); recalled OF-R Nick Stavinoha from Memphis. [7/27]

While Stavinoha's promotion is largely about papering over Rick Ankiel's absence for the time being, it isn't like the former LSU slugger hasn't earned it. He's hit .343/.369/.529 for the Redbirds, with plenty of pop against both righties and lefties, and with an arm that plays well enough in right, he can help in more ways than one. The fact that he's already 26 while only in his third full season as a pro hints on how he's something of a fun story, starting off playing a bit of football at the University of Houston before retreating to catching at San Jacinto Community College before winding up with LSU and bopping a bit. Translating that performance to a .263 EqA suggests he can be useful enough as a fill-in while Joe Mather and Skip Schumaker play regularly in Ankiel's absence. Of course, this call-up sucks if you're a Redbirds fan, since just like the parent club's pursuit of the Cubs, Memphis is chasing Iowa, and this basically removes Memphis' last outfield regular—Mather's already up, while Colby Rasmus is out. However, Brian Barton's there on a rehab assignment to come back from his broken hand, which helps Memphis now while putting him in the picture for the Cardinals sometime in mid-August.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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The terms of SS-S Cristian Guzman's contract were two years and $16 million, for $8 million due in both 2009 and 2010.

Or, this contract's even worse than you might have thought, beyond the simple fact of consummating it. Between the $5 million committed to Dmitri Young, the $5.5 million owed to the invariably ill-fated Nick Johnson, and the minimum of $9 million they'll have to pay Austin Kearns (should they not pick up his 2010 option), the Nats start to resemble a surprising contender for a bid to get the least value for the most expense. After being the subject of so much early-season acclamation, Guzman's season is already shriveling up into an entirely average-dependent modicum of utility as a hitter, since he's also not running. Statistical evaluations of his fielding range from adequate to good, which makes for a reasonable suggestion that he's an asset afield. In total, that's a useful player, but it's not necessarily a really good player, even given the shortstoplessness of several teams. However, that unbalanced equation in terms of supply and demand might make Guzman an asset in trade to a team that decides a short-term commitment to someone like David Eckstein isn't really the solution. Long-term, Nats fans will just have to take solace in the fact that Esmailyn Gonzalez is already off to a good start down in the Gulf Coast League (.327/.395/.430), even if ticketing him for a 2011 arrival to coincide with the next window for Guzman's departure via free agency seems highly unlikely.


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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