August 11, 2008
Dunn Deal and Post-Deadline Detritus
Placed 2B-L Orlando Hudson on the 15-day DL; purchased the contract of OF-L Jeff Salazar from Tucson (Triple-A); transferred RHP Edgar Gonzalez from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/10]
Desperate times call for creative measures, so hats off to Josh Byrnes and company for pulling off a huge deal that at first glance doesn't cost them much, and at a time when their need to do something could not be more transparent. Much depends on the quality of the PTBNLs, of course, but if you wanted a short list of places that Dunn might fancy as a free agent, you'd have to think Phoenix would be close to the top of the list. There's the added potential benefit of draft picks for offering him arbitration if he wants to leave, or the virtue of making a good initial impression to help him decide to stick around; again, you might initially think that there would be few better ballparks for him to play in. However, Corporate MegaCorp Park (West) might not be quite so lefty-friendly as you would expect. It's interesting that he's struggled to connect there on his career, hitting only .150/.261/.333 with three homers in 69 PA, but if you break down ballparks by how many non-grounders wind up in the seats, from 2006-08, the Snakes' home park ranks well behind the Gap in terms of Dunn-friendly environments:
Lefty HR/FB Percentages, 2006-08 Park HR Outs % CIN 283 1444 19.6 PHI 285 1505 18.9 MIL 203 1159 17.5 TEX 239 1436 16.6 TOR 188 1155 16.3 CHA 218 1395 15.6 NYA 273 1808 15.1 HOU 196 1323 14.8 CHN 169 1168 14.5 TBA 210 1470 14.3 NYN 216 1537 14.1 SLN 175 1261 13.9 FLO 155 1122 13.8 COL 177 1295 13.7 SEA 164 1243 13.2 ARI 217 1673 13.0 BAL 212 1641 12.9 PIT 143 1107 12.9 CLE 184 1454 12.7 OAK 179 1450 12.3 ATL 202 1685 12.0 DET 140 1203 11.6 BOS 180 1592 11.3 LAN 165 1467 11.2 KCA 158 1441 11.0 WAS 146 1361 10.7 MIN 175 1749 10.0 SDN 158 1661 9.5 ANA 143 1650 8.7 SFN 119 1504 7.9
As much as this is a function of personnel and unevenly-distributed matchups, this simply suggests that adding Dunn isn't quite the slam-dunk it might have appeared to be when we first heard about the deal. If Dunn's a product of his environment, he's been moved to one that's potentially less friendly than a simple review of Bill James Handbook data may lead you to believe.
Acquiring Dunn creates a follow-on problem-where does he play? Conor Jackson appears to be adapting to left well enough, having improved his fielding numbers considerably with greater time at the position after a rough initial start. Dunn's made improvements of his own, having moved up from execrable in left field to perhaps adequate, although in terms of Revised Zone Rating or Clay's Rate2, he's still worse than everyone else the Snakes have put out there with any regularity, and as Dan Fox's research in Baseball Prospectus 2008 reflected, Dunn's been one of the worst arms in the outfield in the recent past, rating down around Barry Bonds or the jelly-armed Shannon Stewart. Playoff spots may or may not be won or lost on such things, but it certainly doesn't help an argument to put Dunn in right field and leave Jackson alone.
So let's start by looking at the Snakes' options at the four corners, third base and first, left field and right, because there's some overlap, using their translated stats to level the playing field between Dunn and his new teammates, five regulars for four positions (I know, I'm not taking Tony Clark seriously-neither should you, or Arizona for that matter). I'm listing their current translated performance side by side with their pre-season PECOTA-projected performance:
Guy AVG/ OBP/ SLG EqA Positions Mark Reynolds .243/.322/.500 .277 3B, OF? Projected .260/.334/.480 .273 Chad Tracy .279/.323/.443 .261 1B, 3B? OF? Projected .273/.341/.480 .276 Justin Upton .239/.351/.447 .270 RF Projected .261/.338/.449 .267 Conor Jackson .304/.385/.507 .302 1B, LF Projected .286/.374/.470 .288 Adam Dunn .241/.382/.588 .313 LF, 1B, RF? Projected .258/.384/.541 .307
Now, this is somewhat easy as long as Upton's on the DL, because there isn't a lot to suggest that Tracy could really handle stumping around an outfield corner. The Snakes haven't run him out there yet, and if his knee is still a concern, they probably won't. His ability to play third might also be in doubt in light of his playing all of 16 innings at the hot corner. If Tracy can't really play third or an outfield corner, much of this talk over what happens once Upton's back is pointless, because then the conversation really boils down to whether Dunn or Jackson should play first. Add in the fact that Tracy's not hitting close to where he was projected to, and how his health might have something to do with that, and the debate becomes less about who moves out of the lineup, but how to create a useful role to keep Tracy's nevertheless useful bat fresh. Spot work at first or third, almost always against right-handers, especially in relief of Reynolds (who's only hitting northpaws at a very Matt Williams-like, occasionally benchable .238/.305/.489 clip) should work on that score, but essentially, we're down to asking if Dunn or Jackson should play left or first, depending on your priorities. I'd probably be inclined to move Jackson back to first, if only because of his more extensive experience, and to make Dunn's transition to his new team as seamless as possible. I know, it's the path of least resistance, and it's the least "creative" solution, but it's basically sensible, and for all of the talk about positions and flexibility, I wouldn't be surprised at all if that's how it works out.
There's still the problem of how this is a question of improvement by degrees, because the difference between Dunn and Tracy isn't nearly as significant as the difference between Orlando Hudson and his potential replacements. The team's got a very real hole at second base now that Hudson's out for the year (again), and will miss the playoffs (again). Augie Ojeda's a decent defender, patient at the plate, and a solid executioner on the bunt, but that's about the limit of his virtues, and it's better experienced in small doses, not spread across seven weeks or more of full-time play. Mark Reynolds could play second base, but so could Chad Tracy or Tony Clark for as practicable as such a move might be; Reynolds wasn't good at it in the minors, and as amusing as such an e-max move might be for theorists willing to punt defense, it's a pretty improbable scenario. It would be easy to write off Chris Burke at this point, given how badly he's hitting (.190/.302/.234), but it's also worth noting that he's never really been given an extended series of starts to get on track, not that he's earned them; if there's still anything there, there would be no time like the present for it to show up. Beyond that, the Snakes don't have much to fall back on (where's Danny Richar or Emilio Bonifacio when you need them?), so don't be surprised if this is a situation that Byrnes is working on by taking a good look at who's putting in an appearance on waivers.
Activated 3B-S Chipper Jones from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Chuck James to Richmond (Triple-A). [8/8]
James' latest opportunity set the stage for his latest setback-three homers between two starts in 9
Placed 1B-L Joey Votto on the bereavement list; purchased the contract of INF-R Adam Rosales from Louisville (Triple-A). [8/9]
This seems to be about just making the man go away as much as anything else. Obviously a lot depends on the quality of the PTBNLs, because on the surface, this move wasn't cheap. The Reds are paying more than the freight, covering half of the cost of employing Dunn for the remainder of the season (or spending around $2 million to have him be a Snake), and Buck is already damaged goods and a pretty doubtful prospect. Ideally, the two are prospects on a list of options, many of whom wouldn't have made it through waivers, and perhaps some of whom are dependent upon Arizona's realizing the windfall of making it into the playoffs. For this to make sense, the prospect package has to be better than whatever the Reds would have gotten in terms of compensation picks for offering Dunn arbitration-despite all of the contentiousness in the dealings between player and team, that seemed to still be available as an off-season option-and right now, we simply don't know if that's the case.
Certainly Buck doesn't help resolve the question. The former Oregon State star only returned to the mound in June as he makes his recovery from Tommy John surgery. So far, the initial returns aren't great. Pitching in the Midwest League, he was getting by, generating ground-ball outs by pounding the low end of the zone, but with his advantage in experience, he ought to be able to handle kids in a Low-A league, recovery or no. His line-nine games, eight starts, 45 2/3 IP, 44 hits and 10 walks allowed, 20 strikeouts-effectively documents that he's been healthy enough to pitch, but also reflects that he's not flashing any overpowering offerings either. In one Cal League start, he went five, gave up three runs, and allowed five baserunners, in short more of the same. If he's the best player in the deal, this isn't one that will have made much difference to the Reds, beyond "saving" two million bucks, less whatever they lose in walkup sales at home because they're that much less interesting to watch in their turns at bat.
While dealing Dunn offers Reds fans the grim prospect of an outfield with an awful lot of awful beyond Jay Bruce-Jolbert Cabrera, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Corey Patterson-you can at least take some hope in some of the other moves. The recent call-ups represent something similar to the decisions to deal Griffey and Dunn, at least in terms of cleaning house or making some determinations on what to do with what they've got. Rosales and Hanigan aren't really prospects, but it's just as well that the organization is using the last two months to see if they're worth keeping around. Given that outfield, you can hope they make space for Chris Dickerson as well, since he's on the 40-man and hitting .287/.384/.479 for Louisville, and .300/.397/.527 vs. RHPs, which is pretty playable for a lefty batter who can play center, even if there weren't already an absence of worthwhile alternatives. He's already 26 years old, his future is now, and it beats reviewing all of the things that Hairston or Patterson can't do, something Dusty Baker's supposed to already be familiar with.
Hanigan was also already on the 40-man, not to mention creeping up on his 28th birthday without ever being really ready to stick in the majors earlier. As a result, you can forgive Jocketty for deciding to find a reason why he's been kept around, especially after coming to the reasonable conclusion that Ross's 2009 option was not going to be picked up. (There's still a passing opportunity to deal Ross, of course, and there are still contenders who need catching help.) Hanigan throws well, ranking second in the International League with 38 percent of opposing base thieves nabbed in the act on 106 attempts (that's 40 guys caught for you literalists). At the plate, he's something like the new Mike Redmond, a guy with good plate coverage and command of the strike zone, but very little power; he'll slug in Cincinnati merely by making contact, of course, but his value will fluctuate with his batting average (as Redmond's does). Between his age and his uses as a defender, Hanigan's a good bet to stick around, especially when the alternative's as punchless as Paul Bako.
Rosales is an interesting-enough utilityman, but the danger is that he might not be that different from Andy Phillips back in the day-a righty hitter with some sock who can sort of stand around at various infield positions, but who really might only be able to play first, at which point his moderate power is as much a position-relative liability as an asset. Happily, tools-wise Rosales does at least have a strong arm, and he's playable at second or third. He's a bit aggressive at the plate (reflected in 22 unintentional walks in 449 PA at Louisville), and unmanned by curveballs, but 45 extra-base hits in that time reflects a guy who has his uses if he can be a bench player who can handle three infield positions and perhaps also the outfield corners while providing some power in a park that rewards well-smote pitches.
Signed C-R Paul Lo Duca to a minor league contract. [8/8]
As insurance against the possibility that John Baker goes pumpkin on them before season's end, and in light of the fact that Matt Treanor's going to be dealing with hip trouble for the remainder of the season, picking up Lo Duca's sensible enough as a matter of acquiring depth for nothing more than a wee bit of cash. If you're wondering about Mike Rabelo, he's still out after fouling a ball off of an already-injured foot, and hasn't played since early August, and between Double- and Triple-A, Paul Hoover really was the best they had, and that's not nearly good enough to turn to. So, while you don't want to say Lo Duca's a life-saver, he was certainly worth adding to avoid a potential for Padre-level horrors behind the plate.
Placed LF-R Carlos Lee on the 15-day DL (fractured pinky); purchased the contract of OF-R Reggie Abercrombie from Round Rock (Triple-A). [8/9]
All the hand-wringing over how this is a sad thing for Lee because of his recent hot hitting and the Astros' near-relevance is all very polite and appropriate and conciliatory, but the man's amply compensated, and if you want four more years, Astros fans, you've already got them, because he's under contract through 2012. So in terms of his place in the Astros' firmament, he's as immovable as the North Star, and the real challenges are what to do in the meantime given a team already charged with a mission impossible-contending at all costs in 2008. In-house, it seems as if Darin Erstad is the Astros' answer to the now-legendary Ugandan space program, an affectation that's harmless enough when there's nothing at stake, but also something with little takeoff potential. Abercrombie's no more of an answer than Erstad ever could have been; between a permanent problem with right-handed pitching and an unhelpful, Cerrano-like issue with breaking pitches, he was only hitting .273/.297/.460 for Round Rock, and at 27, he isn't going to grow up to be somebody else-this is Reggie Abercrombie, a decent fielder with perhaps some uses in a fifth outfielder's role.
Which leaves Ed Wade with a question-how seriously does he take his own pitch that the Astros are in it to win it? A seven-week contract for Barry Bonds wouldn't be a major financial commitment, and when you're barrel-scraping this badly in terms of finding an outfield bat to replace Lee, he would be the perfect fit. Instead, the Astros seem inclined to retreat behind the ready excuse of Lee's injury to fold up their tent-you can pre-print the memos stating "we were in this thing until Carlos got hurt"- revealing their ambitions as either as wildly impractical as we expected, or merely a cynical fiction. I think we'd all welcome the Astros signing Bonds as a bit of wacky desperation, perhaps not enough to be a difference-maker, but enough to at least reflect the sincerity of their commitment. In a bit of bait-and-switch window dressing, there's talk of starting Ty Wigginton in left field, as if more Geoff Blum at third base will somehow confuse people as to where the problem is-"But Bonds can't play third!"-but that's a bit of spin that presumably not even they believe.
A Penny active and employed ends up being a multiply-saving gesture-it erases the Falkenborg menace from the roster, and deposits Jason Johnson into a role as a long reliever who can absorb innings when the Dodgers need to get Brad Penny or Clayton Kershaw out of games early. Johnson also affords the rest of the rotation the possibility of a days' extra rest should Joe Torre decide to try to line up his matchups of starting pitchers in certain series. Not against top offenses, mind you, but take this month's schedule, when the Dodgers first face the Nats in DC before closing out August facing the Snakes in Phoenix, or at the start of September when they face the Giants-who Johnson shut out for six innings in his first Dodgers start-and then the Snakes again. A lot also depends on the individual matchup; you want to run Johnson up against the Colin Balesters or the Barry Zitos of the world, not Tim Lincecum just because the opposing lineup's the Giants'. As for Penny's readiness for a return, his command seemed no better than before, and keep in mind he's really only a formerly famous guy in the rotation, and merely their fifth-best starter by virtue of near-replacement performance across more starts than those of similarly sketchy supporting starters like Johnson or Eric Stults. What puts Penny in place is pennies, but if the team's newfound command of the obvious has led to a sensible commitment to merit instead of money, there's hope yet that the Dodgers may finally be in the business of doing what they can on a management level to win a very winnable division. When Torre isn't investing his energy into playing Delilah to Manny's Samson; the man's old enough to have taken inspiration from Victor Mature movies, so maybe he'd be better off to remember how that particular story ended and leave well enough alone, however ironic it would be to wind up a philistine in LA.
As an emergency starter of sorts, Stokes wasn't a disaster despite blowing a 4-2 lead on Saturday in the sixth by allowing a two-run, two-out bomb to Mike Jacobs. Even so, he's likely a short-term visitor to the roster, what with John Maine on the mend and slotted back in the rotation this week, and with starting second baseman Luis Castillo about to come off of the DL as well. While reserve infielder Argenis Reyes seems in danger of losing his spot with these pending reactivations, Stokes also isn't safe. Between a consideration of a normal post-start rest period (he probably wouldn't be ready to help out in the pen until after Maine is activated on Wednesday) and the need to carry third catcher Robinson Cancel while Ramon Castro's hurting, the Mets can't really afford to have a dead spot on the roster, and even if they like what Stokes did, that's effectively what he is to them for four days after Saturday.
Optioned LHP J.A. Happ to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [8/8]
Meaning that Les Walrond's the notional third lefty in the pen, and nobody with a real future within the franchise got cut any slack on that kind of high-priority role. Suffice to say I still think adding Eyre will only inspire some of the same from Phillies fans.
Production from Pads backstops has been ghastly all season, so this latest setback with Bard just seems like par for the course. Carlin and Nick Hundley really aren't happy fall-backs, but as epically bad as the Padres' production from the catcher slot has been, I guess I wanted to see how epic. I mean, sure, I've got memories of the '83 Mariners having nothing behind the plate (and how that naturally involved the player I saw as the catching equivalent of an emergency parachute back in the day, the immortal Orlando Mercado), and that the collusion scandal of '87 was pretty awful to the Red Sox, insofar as it involved way too much Marc Sullivan before Rich Gedman came back and played like you wished he'd never signed. As fun as it is to wonder and wander through history's pages, though, the search for a substantive answer naturally led to my asking Clay Davenport for help in determining who's had the worst backstop support in history, as measure by EqA and EqR.
Clay responded with entire-unit calculations based on single-season EqA value, not all-time value. That can involve some problems in comparisons across leagues because of the difference between having DHs (the non-Vidros, at least) in the lineup as opposed to pitchers (the non-Zambranos). However, as he states, "I did apply a correction for the DH, which is normally part of the league-quality adjustment; without it all AL teams since 1973 would be about seven points of EQA worse." With that, these are all the catching units that had a single-season EqA mark of less than .200 or less, and you guessed it, the '08 Padres are present (as are this year's Ausmus-afflicted Astros):
Year Team PA UEqR EqR EqA Regular 1994 Twins 447 24 23 .177 Matt Walbeck 1967 Mets 583 23 32 .182 Jerry Grote 1987 Red Sox 585 34 34 .187 None 1993 Red Sox 561 33 33 .189 Tony Pena 1964 Astros 586 26 36 .190 Jerry Grote 1961 Reds 564 33 33 .191 None 1984 Angels 598 30 37 .192 Bob Boone 1989 Braves 599 30 36 .192 None 1994 Mariners 413 27 26 .192 Dan Wilson 1957 Red Sox 538 32 33 .193 Sammy White 1980 Angels 525 28 33 .193 None 1967 Twins 578 29 37 .195 None 1963 Mets 605 30 39 .197 None 2008 Padres 457 25 29 .197 None 1968 Phillies 587 25 39 .198 None 2003 Tigers 600 36 40 .198 Brandon Inge 1979 Astros 590 30 39 .199 Alan Ashby 1983 Mariners 554 33 37 .199 None 2008 Astros 435 28 28 .199 None
So, by these standards, the Padres have a way to go if they want to really burrow their way down to the bottom/top of the pile. As pleased as I am with myself for having remembered two of the teams-they involved equally horrific Strat cards-let's face it, I didn't remember the worst of the worst despite their being around during my lifetime (not the '67 Mets, I'm not quite that old), and I didn't even get the right Mariners team in terms of their worst-ever. The fact that the '94 Twins slipped my mind either represents how much we forget what was at stake in '94 before the work stoppage-when it came to craptastic feats, the AL West title chase wasn't the only unconsummated disaster that year-or that I was predisposed to cut them some sort of unthinking slack because that was Matt Walbeck's rookie season, and he was a prospect getting a clean shot. Walbeck never did really pan out, although as you might expect from him as a switch-hitting catch-and-throw guy, he had a career, which is more than you can say for his caddy, Derek Parks, the tenth overall pick of the 1986 draft, and sort of a pity selection for the backup role; his contributions in '93 were enough to keep Walbeck playing almost every day, and that represents the pinnacle of Parks' career. The 1967 Mets deserve that sort of free pass much more, as they were developing Jerry Grote during the high-mound era (note that he'd also gotten a shot with the '64 Astros), and that came with a few understandable bumps along the way. The '87 Red Sox had no relief from their horrors even after they finally got Gedman back; it took the arrival of John Marzano for the season's last two months for them to find someone even remotely useful. The '93 Red Sox were burdened with Tony Pena's last season as a regular, three years after his last near-adequate season, a horrifying after-effect of the mishandling of the Gedman situation, as the Sox had signed Pena to a long-term deal in 1990 to shut the door on that unhappy chapter, only to embark upon a new one.
All of that might demand a palate-cleanser, so by the same standards, how about the best catching units:
Year Team PA UEqR EqR EqA Regular 1997 Dodgers 705 143 149 .344 Mike Piazza 1996 Dodgers 709 140 145 .342 Mike Piazza 1992 Phillies 678 113 132 .329 Darren Daulton 1972 Red Sox 616 102 122 .328 Carlton Fisk 1972 Reds 661 112 134 .328 Johnny Bench 1961 Yankees 677 118 123 .320 Elston Howard 1966 Braves 625 107 117 .320 Joe Torre 1963 Yankees 664 113 124 .318 Elston Howard 1963 Giants 654 103 121 .318 Ed Bailey/Tom Haller 1965 Braves 600 102 111 .318 Joe Torre 1970 Giants 707 119 122 .318 Dick Dietz 2000 Mets 695 128 122 .318 Mike Piazza
Now that's a pretty interesting group. Beyond engendering an argument that Piazza may be the best-hitting catcher of all time, it puts Elston Howard's greatness in context, and it has me wondering about the career of Dick Dietz (and here I'd thought that if there was an underrated, offensively-useful Giants catcher, it was Bob Brenly). Clay reports that the top 2008 contender for all-time greatness is this year's Twins, who thanks to Joe Mauer's sharp strokes rank 42nd from 1957 to the present with a unit-wide .305 EqA.