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August 6, 2008

Transaction Analysis

AL Roundup

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Optioned RHP Darren O'Day to Salt Lake (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Shane Loux from Salt Lake. [8/4]

If Loux wasn't on your radar, you needn't worry about recalibrating your scope-before this season, the man had pitched one year in the last three in organized baseball (in the Omaha Royals' pen in 2006), and had struggled to catch on in indie leagues, settling for some beer league action before drawing the attention of a friend of an Angels scout who got him a workout, which got him into camp this spring. Never the sort to overpower people when he was coming up in the Tigers organization at the dawn of the Aughties, he's been doing good stuff with the Buzz, making 22 starts, giving up 4.5 runs per nine, making 13 quality starts, generating 1.8 ground-ball outs to every caught fly ball, and striking out about five batters per nine. It's cool to see his comeback go the full distance, and he's actually a good fit for this staff, in that none of the other five relievers are really cut out for really long relief outings to sponge up innings after some starter's random disasterpiece, and if (for example) Jon Garland's neck stiffened up again before gametime, Loux's the guy who could handle getting pressed into action in the interim. There's no real glory to being the last man in a pen in these sorts of scenarios, but I suspect actually getting back to The Show is glory enough.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Activated INF-S Alex Cintron from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Brian Burres to Norfolk (Triple-A). [8/1]
Optioned UT-L Brandon Fahey to Norfolk. [8/4]
Placed CF-R Adam Jones on the 15-day DL (fractured foot), retroactive to 8/3; transferred LHP Adam Loewen and RHP Jim Hoey from the 15- to the 60-day DL; purchased the contracts of OF-R Luis Montanez from Bowie (Double-A) and LHP Chris Waters from Norfolk. [8/5]

Losing Jones with almost two months left to go is a bit of a bummer if you're an Orioles fan with tickets, but with Will reporting that he'll be lost for at least 45 days, I suppose there's at least still some slender chance that he might be able to contribute to the Orioles attempt to play spoiler in the season's final weeks. Even foreshortened, I'm not quite sure how anyone would see his rookie season as all that disappointing; we're talking about a guy who only just turned 23 and who managed to hit .270/.320/.405 in his first clean shot at full-time play. As much as his .250 EqA was significantly below the MLB average for center fielders (.263), it's a better season than Jacoby Ellsbury (two years older) or Melky Cabrera (one) are having, and that's just keeping it in the division. Chet Lemon ranked as one of his top comps in BP2008, and nothing about this intro to the majors seems to contradict that. Keep in mind, that's only what he could settle into; there's still plenty of upside for something more than a Lemon-like top-shelf defender and useful fourth banana in a lineup.

In the meantime, the O's will have to get by with Jay Payton in center, which is what they notionally signed him to do back in December '06, with predictable results. This won't help on offense, of course, but I'm more concerned with the epically bad news this represents for a pitching staff spoiled by Jones' ability to fly from gap to gap, and suddenly forced back to two months with Pokey out there. You can expect a fly-baller like Garrett Olson to lodge a formal complain at some point.

It's Payton's fundamental uselessness because of his inability to cover ground in center that makes the decision to bring up Montanez that much more strange; the former shortstop can play center or right in a pinch, but he spent much of the year playing left for Bowie. Why fish Montanez out of Bowie when better fielders like Tike Redman or Luis Terrero are hanging around in Norfolk? Well, perhaps because hitting .335/.385/.601 has a way of turning heads, whatever the context, so while adjusting for Montanez's age while playing at Double-A gives you a guy whose upside as an EqA in the .250s, that's still more useful than, say, Jay Payton. If you thought Shane Loux's comeback was improbable, Montanez's is even more unlikely; at least Loux had actually reached the majors, while Lola's had to settle for nine years of knocking around the minors after being the third overall pick in the 2000 draft by the Cubs out of the Miami high school scene. Montanez can't even be said to have ever truly established himself at Triple-A, having had only two shots, flopping at Iowa in 2006, and getting by with Norfolk last season. Despite his considerable experience as a pro, he's actually only 26, so while pummeling the Eastern League as well as he has was well within his power, it's not quite a case of Grandpa schooling the kids with the Singapore switch.

Getting Cintron back at least offers them some new variety at shortstop; it beats letting Juan Castro demonstrate why he'll always be the last-place finisher in the piñata olympics. Don't laugh-piñata olympics is a tough sport for someone who's punchless as opposed to having contact issues; just as in baseball, you get negative points for making contact but never delivering on any candy. (Brad Eldred makes for a special competitor, since he puts the candy a county over when he does connect, and that sort of spoils the point of the thing for the stadium audience. It's a little-known fact that indoor piñata olympics was banned as a sport after Harmon Killebrew caused a few hundred non-fatal shrapnel wounds wailing on a paper-mâché burro stuffed with rock candy in 1967.) I guess I still don't see what Castro does for them that they didn't already have on tap in Fahey.

Finally, there's the matter of patching up the rotation with Waters, a bit of a strange selection as well, in that the organizational lefty wasn't proving all that ready for Triple-A after earning a promotion for his enchanted April down in Double-A, because the International League was pummeling him, scoring 6.2 runs per nine. He'd had a better run in the last month, striking out 39 in 35 innings across six starts, while allowing 16 runs and 43 baserunners. That's about all there is to go on as far as how that prepped him for last night's eight-inning shutout/ambush of the Angels, because the former Braves farmhand has no one especially outstanding offering. It's easy to observe that he'll get subsequent opportunities, but I suspect once video's in circulation, we won't see a lot of the same from him going forward.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Recalled RHP Chris Smith from Pawtucket (Triple-A). [8/1]

"Wow, what's this... a lottery ticket for a post-season roster spot. October fun, high-fiving famous people, great seats in Fenway, the works! And it's a winning lottery ticket! Oh my freaky Jeebus, I can't believe this! I'm the luckiest man alive!"
"Hey, look, mister, it has Craig Hansen's name on it. Are you Craig Hansen?"
"Er.... yes. Yes. I. Am."
"I'm a Sox fan, and I'd swear you're somebody else."
"Family resemblance. Now go away, or they'll find more than tea in the harbor, bub."

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Optioned LHP Clayton Richard to Charlotte (Triple-A). [8/4]
Recalled RHP Adam Russell from Charlotte. [8/5]

Just a standard bit of staff management, as Jose Contreras will return to the Sox rotation this weekend, and rather than leave a slot on the staff "dead" by populating it with his temp during Richard's rest days, they add that extra arm they may never use. Richard didn't get the benefit of any kind of adjustment period-beyond striking out a few Rangers his first time out, he took more pastings than Ralph Wiggum's tongue. That may prove to be significant in the weeks to come, because Richard was the best-performing pitcher in the minors that the Sox had to fall back on should any of their starters go lame. His performance should make them motivated shoppers for a low-end waivers deal for some veteran back-end rotation type, to provide insurance against injury while giving the pen a long reliever in the meantime.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Optioned LHP Clay Rapada to Toledo (Triple-A). [8/1]

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Placed 2B-R Mark Grudzielanek on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle); purchased the contract of INF-L Jason Smith from Omaha (Triple-A); designated RHP Yasuhiko Yabuta for assignment. [8/2]

If they were looking to move Grudz, the timing couldn't be worse, because while you can deal a player on the DL, most teams like to be able to see what they're getting as they're deciding to get it, and "performance not included" is usually a damper as far as any shopper's buy-or-fly reflex. During his absence, the Royals have plugged in Esteban German to handle the everyday duties at the keystone, which should let him shore up numbers gone soft with limited playing time. Slipping into the ignored infielder role will be the ubiquitous Smith, who was having an interesting season in Omaha, in that he was hitting .253/.289/.475 overall (and .267/.298/.526 vs. RHPs), a strange bit of boppery relative to what most teams wind up with from their reserve infielders. I don't want to say it's the Jeff Branson skill set-Smith's not that good-but it makes for an interesting bit part that might come in handy on a roster configured in a certain way, say a heavily right-handed lineup.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Designated RHP Livan Hernandez and OF-R Craig Monroe for assignment; recalled LHP Francisco Liriano from Rochester (Triple-A); purchased the contract of 1B-R Randy Ruiz from Rochester. [8/1]

Well, we saw the Twins wise up in 2006 and finally reshuffle long after it became obvious as far as the need to do so, but that was earlier in the year than this. However, it was also after years on the job for Terry Ryan, and it represented a pretty radical break with past practice for him; maybe Bill Smith's doing this now represents progress after a fashion, since he's only in his first season in the command chair. Regardless, it had long since become obvious that the Twins' bid for the AL Central title is the sort of fragile thing that needed an assist, and being able to make this sort of in-house improvement was a luxury they should have afforded themselves weeks ago. Liriano's time in Rochester had already outgrown a mere disciplinary matter or an attempt to get him back in full operating order coming back from his surgery-induced time away, and he should immediately give the Twins the ace-quality starter that they'll need to keep games in reach for an offense of merely modest ability. I mean, nothing against Kevin Slowey or Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn or Glen Perkins, but do you envision any one of them being the guy you want to lead off with in a post-season series?

Although I'm not going to argue against the decision to cut him, on some level you can underrate Hernandez, because while he's delivered only 11 quality starts in 23, he's also been really streaky, hitting high notes at the start of the season and in June, and getting knocked around otherwise, but nevertheless absorbing innings in games he'd already surrendered multiple runs early on. That last may not sound like much, but it would be interesting to really drill down and see how many innings Livan's being virtually indestructible saves a bullpen from having to absorb in games that may well already be lost. Of course, when you have an alternative to Livan large as good as Liriano, you can get out of the theoretical-value racket and settle for winning ballgames the old-fashioned way. However, it's because of that, and that indestructibility, and maybe even the fact that the man can hit pretty well, that adds up to reason enough to add a starter only slightly above replacement level.

Cutting Monroe, on the other hand, has no permutations where you might wonder about it. The man didn't do the one thing he's supposed to be good at (hitting lefties), and with Denard Span earning his keep and with Michael Cuddyer on the way back, there wasn't a whole lot of reason to go out of their way to keep Monroe. I don't expect Ruiz to stick around once Cuddyer's reactivated-the roster already has one DH on the roster, and Jason Kubel's just fine right there-but this does represent a worthwhile use of some platoon playing time that, instead of being wasted on Monroe, instead gets employed to let Ruiz cut his teeth, and put himself into the picture should anyone get hurt later in the season. The 30-year-old Ruiz is on his eighth organization (not counting two separate stints in the Phillies' chain), and while some might race to make a comparison to Jack Cust, he doesn't get on base all that well, walking in less than five percent of his PA this year (his career rate's 8.3 percent) despite striking out a lot. Although an improvement on Monroe, he should be seen strictly as a temp to be called upon only in case of an injury.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Activated RHP Brian Bruney from the 60-day DL; optioned RHP Chris Britton to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [8/1]

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Placed RHP Andrew Brown on the 15-day DL (shoulder), retroactive to 7/26; activated DH-R Frank Thomas and 1B-L Daric Barton from the 15-day DL; recalled SS-R Gregorio Petit from Sacramento (Triple-A). [8/1]
Activated RHP Joey Devine from the 15-day DL; optioned INF-S Brooks Conrad to Sacramento. [8/2]
Optioned LHP Dana Eveland to Sacramento; recalled LHP Dan Meyer from Sacramento. [8/3]

The rotation's been the team's strong point all season, but now that it's down to the non-famous people, things are getting a little more wild and wooly. Eveland hadn't given the team a quality start in more than a month, adding to the confusion, and certainly earning the ignominy of an August vacation in Sacramento, something that any state assemblyman or native would warn you off from. Sean Gallagher's no better off, having only given the team a quality start in his A's debut before struggling in his four subsequent outings (and now seems DL-bound with a sore shoulder), while Dallas Braden hasn't cruised through any of his three starts since his promotion to the rotation. That sort of unit-wide performance problem can have unintended spill-over effects; witness Greg Smith's giving the team quality starts in each of his last three outings, but seeing two of them get blown in the seventh because Bob Geren's been understandably desperate to get innings from his starters. If there's an opposite of rotation synergy, that would be it, and it would seem clear that what was once the team's greatest strength is now very plainly something else altogether. At least in the bullpen things are a wee bit more straightforward, in that giving Devine another shot in Brown's absence is a pretty straightforward one-for-one where the organization will get to keep both in mind for next year's pen.

To patch the rotation, it looks like the A's will turn to something new(-ly acquired) and something old from their swap bin, as they promote the now-touted Gio Gonzalez later tonight to fill in one slot, and probably turn to the once-touted Meyer in the other. Caleb and Kevin really sort of covered the ground on Gio already, and I'm as hopeful as one can be that Gio's mix of good velocity and a power curve will play well in The Show now that he's here, but I'm also sort of allergic to talking abot a move before it happens, however telegraphed it might be. As much as the Coliseum helps the men fortunate enough to pitch there, I'm not sanguine about Meyer's chances; he's a pretty extreme fly-ball pitcher, and major league right-handers aren't going to hit only .237/.316/.412 against him the way that minor league right-handers have in the PCL. He is striking out almost 22 percent of them, but he's not an overpowering pitcher, and if decent command and velocity, a mix lefties have trouble hitting hard, and a good move to first base sound like something else to you, I know that it sounds like a lefty reliever to me. Still, considering he'd been written off by many observers after failing to live up to the expectations that accompanied him as the 34th overall pick by the Braves in the 2002 draft and then his getting dealt to the Athletics as the prize in the December 2004 deal that made Tim Hudson Atlanta's property, the fact that he's still going and may yet deliver some sort of value has to count for something. It doesn't redeem a deal that still ranks among Billy Beane's worst, but it's still something.

I guess it's also nice to see the A's belatedly get back to having Petit around as their utility infielder, but I can't help but wonder about the basic pointlessness of the Conrad call-up. It's the Lord Jim experience writ small, because just as one night's bad call on a creaky, leaky tramp steamer should not a career make, no more than six starts is far from an adequate basis upon which to make any sort of determination on his use (or lack of it). I guess I just wonder what the point of keeping Emil Brown is at this point, since it should already be obvious that there's nothing to see there, and with the Big Hurt back, a right-handed bat to help out in the middle of the order is a lot less of a problem than trying to sort out how to employ an infield that might do something to help them score a few runs.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Purchased the contract of LHP Jake Woods from Tacoma (Triple-A). [8/2]
Designated "DH"-S Jose Vidro for assignment; optioned RHP Brandon Morrow to Tacoma; recalled RHP Jared Wells and OF-R Wladimir Balentien from Tacoma. [8/5]

In the annals of time-travel movies, you might wonder why we don't see more entries from the sports field. Fandom probably has something to do with it... I mean, if you were a Mariners fan, and you committed yourself to building your time machine, read up on the perils to know to avoid touching yourself or the wisdom of declining dinner invitations from some blue-men groups, and then you get around to dialing up a trip to the recent past to stop Bill Bavasi from causing you untold agonies in the present... are you a good enough samaritan to not simply disconnect Bavasi's phone before Jim Bowden calls to offer Jose Vidro that you also go back in time and save Bavasi from getting Mo Vaughn when he's running the Angels? Of course not-you're a Mariners fan, so you want Bavasi in that place in that time making that decision. Heck, you probably do whatever you can to keep him in charge of the Angels; maybe you send Bill Stoneman on that dinner date, super-glue Arte Moreno's shoelaces together, or go back and date Tony Reagins' mom before she meets his dad. It's a slippery slope, and you end up doing evil things, just because you want your team to win. So where there's something sort of cute about trying to cut whatever deal it takes to make yourself happy, Damned Yankees-style, the time-travel racket's one where you can rapidly get into the business of willfully making other people unhappy. Maybe you can live with that.

If you're already a Mariners fan and can't get over that, my advice is that you accept that you've got to lie in the bed that's been made for you, the same as the rest of us. Take pleasure in the fact that the Mariners are dealing with the much more natural, Robespierre-relentless process of removing the traces of their lamented past. Purging Vidro from the lineup card came first, so packing him onto a tumbrel to make his deposit in the basket where the roster was concerned was completely logical. You could root for it, because it was a long time coming, but the happiness is transient, and there's so much else to sort out. Like worrying about when the executioners will themselves be fed to the need for lasting change. Going back to Balentien, however poor his performance the first time around, transcends that, and his hitting .333/.409/.693 for the Rainiers since the All-Star break should prove the efficacy of his PCL refresher course in Tacoma. It might seem a pity that he'll play a good amount of the time at DH, but they're also playing Jeremy Reed in center and accommodating Ichiro's request to play right. Whatever else, it's the course of progress for the time being, sort of like Bryan LaHair's doing a nice impression of Ben Broussard's greatest hits. Jeff Clement isn't playing often enough, but sorting out what to do with a white elephant like Kenji Johjima has been needlessly complicated by a concern for the expense. In the end, the question will be over who survived the terror of the Bavasi build-up and breakdown, but ride it out, and there's enough here to enjoy the future once it gets here.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Optioned OF-R Jonny Gomes to Durham (Triple-A); recalled INF-S Ben Zobrist from Durham. [8/5]

This might seem a bit sudden, but Jason Bartlett has an owie, so Zobrist's back up and straight into the lineup. As far as filling roster spots, you have to figure that Gomes' days were already numbered, though, because with Rocco Baldelli close to coming back off of the DL, the Rays had a potentially better option to fill the right-handed half of their DH platoon, and Baldelli should be a better part-time outfielder as well. It's interesting that Baldelli has to wait out Barlett's latest little injury, but it's also transitory. The more interesting dilemma is how the Rays draw up their post-season roster: Will Zobrist be on it? Willy Aybar? Both, with a cutdown to 11 pitchers? The latter makes the most sense, but as the Rockies could warn you, the first time you make the playoffs, it's easy to screw these things up and wind up short-handed in the wrong places.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Optioned INF-R Ryan Roberts to Oklahoma (Triple-A); placed RHP Eric Hurley on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 7/28; recalled 3B-R Travis Metcalf from Oklahoma; purchased the contract of RHP Tommy Hunter from Oklahoma; transferred LHP Kason Gabbard from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/1]

The word of the day is suboptimal, because there's really no other way to describe scenarios where you wind up with Metcalf at third and Hunter in the rotation. Meltcalf's more a patch until Ramon Vazquez is 100 percent, although this speaks to how unable Roberts is to handle the hot corner. In the rotation, maybe Hunter was going to move up fast because of his status as a supplemental first-rounder out of college in last summer's draft, but the Alabama product's scaling from the Cal League to the majors while hitting Double- and Triple-A along the way seems a bit dizzying. Then there's the question of his build; it's not often that a 22-year-old makes you think he has a striking resemblance to Rick Reuschel when the old Giants ace was pushing 40, but no doubt about it, the 6'2", ˜260-pound Hunter definitely shakes the ground stomping around on the mound. I guess technically since it seems more packed on and around his lower body than his torso, it isn't really a valid comparison, but I'm just telling you what my visceral impression was from seeing him.

He profiles as a useful arm regardless, with consistent low-90s heat, mixing sinkers, splitters, and curves effectively when he's on. Still, he's here more as a matter of need, since he's not exactly dominated at any level, as his K/9 has dropped from 7.7 with High-A Bakersfield to 4.8 with Double-A Frisco to 4.6 in Triple-A. However, he also hasn't struggled at any level, and given that he's pitched in the pressurized world of SEC baseball, I guess I can understand an argument that he won't wilt with the prematue exposure.


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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