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July 31, 2008

Transaction Analysis

Pudged

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

DETROIT TIGERS
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Acquired RHP Kyle Farnsworth from the Yankees for C-R Ivan Rodriguez. [7/30]

“I dare you.”
“I double-dare you.”
“I triple-dare you, and betcha we'll see each other in October.”
“Deal.”

It's that sort of trade, two teams with desperate needs looking at the grass on the other side and seeing enough green to make something happen. Whether both or either team makes it to October remains to be seen, but the Tigers' increasingly desperate bullpen situation required some sort of action to keep their win-now bid going. While this might not seem like a very even exchange, keep in mind Farnsworth's track record of pitching really well in Comerica: no homers allowed in 31 1/3 career Comerica innings, 34 baserunners allowed and 40 strikeouts. Add in that for Farnsworth, going to Detroit the first time provided the pitcher with partial-season redemption back in 2005. As a flyball pitcher who challenges lefties and regularly gets made to pay for it, Yankee Stadium was never the best fit for him, not when left-handers have been hitting .274/.386/.603 off him in what is seen as a good year for the reliever.

In the abstract, it's easy to pick out things to like about Farnsworth. But in the same way that the New York media is merciless with him, tonight's weepy farewell was a reminder that perhaps on some level Farnsworth is the same guy who as a young thing would be totally crushed after blowing a save on an afternoon in Wrigleyville. This isn't a good or bad thing, and it doesn't predict a man's ability to pitch, any more than an interest in opera or book-learnin' does. It just doesn't make a good impression, whatever John Waters would have you believe. Maybe that means Farnsworth's not a New York guy; maybe the velocity is still there with enough movement for him to be the pitcher who recaptured his former status in the Motor City in 2005.

Was it worth swapping Pudge for him? Even if I like the proposition, in the abstract, that they're getting a head start on their new commitment to Brandon Inge as their full-time backstop, and I accept the suggestion that trading Pudge could bring them something as an equally plausible and worthwhile abstraction, I don't think so, not in this deal. Positional scarcity is not something to shrug off, and Farnsworth's reliability isn't just a dubious proposition--it simply doesn't exist. There's no reason to bet that Farnsworth will give the Tigers 20 perfect innings or very good ones or terrible ones—he's simply not one of the relievers you can invest any real expectations in. This doesn't make him significantly different from any of their other relievers, even if his WXRL mark is twice that of any of his new teammates. There's just no guarantee that Farnsworth can given them those lights-out 20 or 30 innings, any more than they have any guarantees that they might get them from Fernando Rodney or Joel Zumaya or Freddy Dolsi. Betting that Jim Leyland's going to be Mr. Wizard and correctly anticipate which ones from among this group will be is unfair to Leyland--it's an odd jumble, and good luck getting two months of good work out of them as a whole. If dealing Pudge was supposed to provide clarity to a pen that needs some, this deal didn't achieve it, it simply added another body to the mess that's there.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Placed INF-S Alexi Casilla on the 15-day DL (torn tendon—thumb), retroactive to 7/29; activated SS-R Adam Everett from the 15-day DL. [7/30]

Given that they're still running Livan Hernandez out there, it's a bit difficult to take the Twins' bid for contention all that seriously, but they do still matter, and losing one of their most productive players in Casilla hurts their chances. While Nick Punto has hit well enough in limited play, and Brendan Harris has his virtues as a hitter, neither of them are really good shortstops. Everett can't hit well enough to stick in a normal lineup, but this is the Twins, and it's easy to see how he could cadge a fistful of starts at short at somebody's expense. There's enough there that it isn't inconceivable that Ron Gardenhire could mix and match the three of them effectively enough to take advantage of their different virtues. It's also far too easy to see the club revisit the Rays' hard-learned lesson that Harris can't play short, and perhaps rediscover the horrors Punto visited upon their lineup last season.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Acquired C-R Ivan Rodriguez from the Tigers for RHP Kyle Farnsworth; acquired 2B/3B-L Matt Cusick from the Astros for RHP LaTroy Hawkins and cash. [7/30]

There was perhaps no better solution to the team's catching problem than to go get the most famous player at the position. He's still a nimble backstop who can virtually intimidate the running game out of existence, which is exactly the quality to silence the lunatic fringe of Jose Molina fandom by replacing their pony with someone who brings that same virtue to the table while also having utility in all the other things that involve playing baseball. Make no bones about it, while Pudge may not offer much in the way of power or OBP, he's still hitting the ball with enough authority to rate as a better-than-average hitter as a catcher, posting a .258 EqA to a position-wide mark of .250, and while he's a star player, he didn't have a problem hitting in the eighth slot for the Tigers, so I can't see how this might present a problem for him as a Yankee. Add this move to the addition of Xavier Nady, and if it doesn't mean that the Yankees' lineup has gone from a short-sequence attack to wall-to-wall danger for pitchers, Nady and Pudge add right-handed bats to a lineup that leaned left, and put a pair of contact and plate coverage guys in the lineup behind their stack of high-OBP players. It leaves them with just the problem in center field, but if the worst thing that happens to the Yankees lineup between now and season's end is that they leave Melky Cabrera alone in the ninth slot, that's not such a bad thing.

If there's a notion here that I don't know deserves to be voiced, it's asking whether this also simply represents a favor, a chance to put Pudge in the House That Ruth Built in its going-away, and perhaps something that pre-figures a like decision by one of the equally permanent components of the baseball landscape for the last 18 years to leave the scene once the season ends. This isn't a prediction, just a thought that maybe this is a last, best chance for Pudge to leave on his shield after October is done. The man does have nothing left to prove, after all. Like I said, it's just a passing thought.

What's interesting about the decision to deal Farnsworth is how readily it might seem that they're willing to replace their second-best reliever, not to mention a pair of quality right-handers. This I love, because it either prefigures a follow-on deal for a more reliable right-handed relief commodity than Farnsworth to plug into the set-up role, or a confidence that they've got good enough stuff on hand already. On some level, I hope it's the latter, because the Yankees have a fun group of no-name relievers who won't be unknown that much longer. Between Edwar Ramirez's changeup as the weapon of choice to make the man the new Doug Jones, the pure stuff they can get from Jose Veras and David Robertson, and Dan Giese's capacity to handle long-relief assignments, they have pitching with the talent to deliver mid-game leads to Mariano Rivera and Damaso Marte in the eighth and ninth. Wouldn't that be a fun turn, to see the Yankees helping themselves as much from their own system in the pen as they were expected to in the rotation?

As for the minor deal, credit Cashman for getting somebody who actually looks useful for Hawkins. Cusick seems to have what might be called the poor man's Denny Walling skill set: he's a platoon player who can rake but who lacks a true position, because it doesn't look like he'll cut it at second, and probably not third either. Now, sure, a 22-year-old picked out of USC last summer should be able to paste the Sally League, but he's hitting .300/.373/.483 against right-handers there, and we're talking about a warm body for something the Yankees just dumped in the East River. If he winds up merely being a solid organizational soldier for the next few seasons, then getting him is merely a good deed done on behalf of the organization's affiliates, which is still completely worthwhile.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Optioned 1B-R Wes Bankston and 2B/OF-L Eric Patterson to Sacramento (Triple-A). [7/30]

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Claimed RHP Luis Munoz off of waivers from Pirates, and optioned him to West Tennessee (Double-A). [7/30]

TEXAS RANGERS
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Returned 3B-L Hank Blalock to the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 7/28; purchased the contract of INF-R Ryan Roberts from Oklahoma (Triple-A); transferred RHP Jason Jennings from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/29]

The sad story of Hank Blalock seems to have a limitless capacity to get sadder still, but I don't know if that's as interesting or moreso than the elaborate “film at 11” hysteria that seems to follow every non-event in what is increasingly becoming a non-career. At this point, you're talking about a hitter four years removed from last good full season, with stretches of adequacy punctuated by non-playing time and non-moves to other positions and non anon and on. To be fair, at least the guy had a good year or two once upon a time, so he isn't baseball's Paris Hilton...yet. Blalock is increasingly only famous for being famous, and while it's clear that this latest injury killed off any potential for the Rangers to put him on somebody else's roster, there's no reason to get overly worked up about it. In the end, it just means that it will be the Rangers who have to elect to either pick up that $6.2 million option, or to buy him out for $250,000 and kill off his contract, before he kills them softly, with his song. You can forgive Jon Daniels if, at this point, he looks at the Blalock experience and says, “I pray that he would finish/But he just kept right on.”

In the meantime, the Rangers have games to play with active ballplayers and all that, and calling up Roberts gives them a minor-league veteran with some sock who unfortunately really can't play anywhere but second base. That isn't for lack of trying--the Rangers tried to plug him in at third at Oklahoma, and after some Butch Hobsonesque sub-.900 butchery at the hot corner, he's mostly been relegated to the keystone of late. The former Blue Jays farmhand has done reasonably well at the plate, hitting .284/.392/.446, but that boils down to a .249 EqA in his age-27 season. That's filler at second on a bad ballclub, but on this team it means a role as the infrequently-used utility infielder and sometime platoon partner with Ramon Vazquez at third. It won't help propel the Rangers past the Angels, but it'll do, and it's a nice opportunity for another Quad-A second-base type to take his best shot at earning consideration as a major league utilityman.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Optioned RHP Micah Owings to Tucson (Triple-A); recalled RHP Jailen Peguero from Tucson. [7/29]

Well, I sure was feeling pretty smart back at the end of May. After putting Owings on a pedestal in this year's edition of the annual, I could only think that his success in his first ten starts was pretty validating for my sense that I provide occasional insight. Owings had run out to a 6-2 start, allowing four runs per nine pitching in that bandbox in Phoenix while striking out almost eight, and logging eight quality starts. He'd achieved his ninth in his 11th start through six innings against the Nats, only to see the wheels come off in the seventh when he blew the quality start by allowing three runs. He's grounded into a double play to close out the bottom of the sixth, costing himself a shot at untying the game, went back out to the mound and simply didn't have it. A loud out, a hit batsman, a hard liner for a base hit and a three-run Willie Harris fence-buster later, Owings had officially had a bad day at the office. He then got cuffed around in four of his next five starts, spent a wee bit of time trying to fix his mechanics with pitching coach Bryan Price, headed to the pen, still struggled, and now finally elicits a disappointed dispatch back down to Tucson to pitch for the Sidesnakelings.

It's not a happy turn of events for the slugging moundsman (or moundly slugger), let alone my gee-whiz glee on his behalf in the spring. Ideally, he'll be able to employ Price's corrections to his delivery in-game down in Tucson and return to contribute to the Snakes' stretch run in a little bit. In the meantime, the team is turning to Yusmeiro Petit as their fifth man in the rotation, sensible considering that Petit has given them a pair of good starts in spot duty, and while he's a finesse guy, his 67:8 K:BB ratio with Tucson just emphasizes the point that he's as ready as he's going to be for The Show.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Designated RHP Alberto Arias for assignment. [7/29]

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Acquire RHP LaTroy Hawkins and cash from the Yankees for 2B/3B-L Matt Cusick. [7/30]

It would be easy to race to condemn this as another thing we should be mobilizing the pitchfork brigade over down in Texas. Instead, credit Ed Wade with doing something that sort of makes sense, if only in that Hawkins has been something of a situational asset this season, limiting American League right-handers to .227/.266/.261, and between that and some playoff experience, that's a guy you can find ways to use when your home park has the Crawford Boxes stacked up just beyond the infield dirt in left. As much as I think the ambition's hopeless, and that the Randy Wolf trade does nothing to advance that ambition, on a smaller scale, this actually has the potential to help them.

NEW YORK METS
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Reinstated RHP Pedro Martinez from the bereavement list; optioned LHP Willie Collazo to New Orleans (Triple-A). [7/29]

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Placed 3B-R Pedro Feliz on the 15-day DL (lower back inflammation); recalled INF-R Mike Cervenak from Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [7/29]

Feliz's injury really won't make an impact on the team's offensive fortunes, since he was really only doing damage to lefties, hitting .291/.339/.555 against them vs. a putrid .239/.287/.361 against right-handers. Greg Dobbs figures to get most of the at-bats, which is an improvement, but his statuesque incapacity to pick it at third and total disappearance at the plate against his fellow southpaws creates the opportunity for a guy like Cervenak to pick up a lot of the defensive chores at third while drawing the platoon assignments that his contact-oriented line-drive power might exploit well enough. In short, the Phillies shouldn't miss a beat.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Placed 1B-L Adam LaRoche on the 15-day DL (intercostal strain), retroactive to 7/28; recalled MI-R Brian Bixler from Indianapolis (Triple-A). [7/29]

Part of the problem with Adam LaRoche's being able to perpetuate the legend of Adam LaRoche, second-half star, is that he has to be active to keep that sort of thing going, and absenting himself at a time when the team already has every reason to start doling out more and more playing time to Steven Pearce at first would have to be considered a poor career move. Although some reports are indicating that Doug Mientkiewicz and Pearce will split time at first base, you have to hope that David Littlefield wasn't being consulted to make a pinch-decision on lineup regulars; Minky's uses should be limited to scattered starts and defensive-replacement work. If he wants to play more often, ask him if he'll pay for his at-bats, because the evaluation time for Pearce should be worth more to the Pirates than letting the veteran spend time trying to lead by example.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Designated OF-R Chip Ambres for assignment; activated RHP Chris Young from the 15-day DL; activated RHP Kevin Cameron from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Portland (Triple-A). [7/29]

Just brief kudos to Young for his comeback. The Padres don't have a lot to feel good about, but should Greg Maddux stay put, a rotation with the old master, Jake Peavy, and Young has the makings for some entertaining spoilerdom in an already potentially nasty bit of infighting to see who winds up winning the West.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Optioned LHP Randy Flores to Memphis (Triple-A); activated RHP Chris Carpenter from the 60-day DL. [7/30]

Wow, an old-fashioned simple reactivation of a former ace in a desperate bid at keeping an increasingly patchwork bid for postseason play going. No major swaps, no major drama, just a nice, simple return to action. That'll have to wait for Adam Wainwright's reactivation, I suspect, at which point the Cardinals will have a better sense of whether or not Jason Isringhausen's going to be able to close out games for them or not, a factor which, combined with Carpenter's performance and the Cardinals' status in the race at that point, will determine what they do with the staff's best all-around pitcher. At the very least, Carpenter didn't embarrass himself in his first start back, and paired up with Brad Thompson to handle the middle innings after Carpenter tossed his four, the Cards got the equivalent of a quality start, with two runs allowed over 6 2/3 IP in a win.


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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