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August 16, 2008

Transaction Analysis

Getting Scorchy

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Optioned RHP Billy Buckner and INF-R Jamie D'Antona to Tucson (Triple-A); activated LHP Doug Slaten from the 15-day DL. [8/13]

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Activated LHP Tom Glavine from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Francisley Bueno to Richmond (Triple-A). [8/14]
Returned LHP Tom Glavine to the 15-day DL (strained elbow); purchased the contract of RHP Matt DeSalvo from Richmond. [8/15]

We don't know for sure that this is it, and therefore shouldn't launch right into an examination of Glavine's Hall of Fame case just yet, but what does one bring to a self-immolation cum viking funeral? It's probably in poor taste to expect it to be a barbecue and show up with franks, but is it cash bar, or catered, or what? Are you supposed to bring gifts? Joking about the end of a great career might seem unfair, but Tom Glavine has nothing left to prove, to you, to me, or to himself. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer, a powerful reminder that great pitchers can hit and field and be great athletes, and the bittersweet agony of seeing the man brass it out to finish the season on his shield instead of under it should be cause for a bit of gallows humor. What happens now is so much less important than what he has achieved already, and if this is how he wishes to make his exit, as a pitcher, as a Brave, and as a baseball player, then here's hoping the man goes out to applause.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Recalled OF-L Chris Dickerson from Louisville (Triple-A). [8/12]
Acquired C/UT-S Wilkin Castillo from the Diamondbacks as one of the two PTBNLs in the Dunn deal. [8/14]

If you're a Reds fan and feeling sort of ominous about the Dunn deal not delivering all that much, I can't say that I blame you. Castillo's a non-prospect, an infielder who catches a bit or a conversion to catcher who still ends up playing a lot of infield, but it doesn't really matter whether he's fish or fowl or foul fish or what, because he was hitting .254/.305/.358 for Tucson. He's improved a bit of late, but he's a non-prospect, even if he is a gunslinger behind the plate, having shot down 18 of 37 attempted thieves on the bases. That's swell, but not really enough to get a guy up for any length of time if he doesn't hit, even at catcher. The deal really seems to be boiling down to Dunn for Micah Owings and throw-ins, and I guess it depends whether or not you really think Owings' readiness for the majors is worth more than whoever the Reds would have gotten with the draft pick if Dunn had departed, or how badly off they would have been had Dunn accepted arbitration.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Optioned OF-L Cory Sullivan to Colorado Springs (Triple-A); purchased the contract of C-S Adam Melhuse from Colorado Springs. [8/14]

Yorvit Torrealba's got a bum knee, but the club seems reticent to DL him despite his being disabled. This isn't really that big a deal, since Chris Iannetta has decisively claimed the job for himself by hitting everybody everywhere, righties, lefties, in orbit on Planet Coors or at more normal altitudes, while Torrealba's continued to just be Yorvit Torrealba. Bringing up Melhuse was a bit of a scramble, but given that in the course of this season he's already bobbed from the Rangers to the Northwest League to Triple-A and back to The Show, it isn't anything he isn't used to.

There's an interesting breakdown in terms of the difference between the two in deterring the running game:


Catcher    Innings   SB   CS    %  SB/9   SBA/9
Iannetta    559      27    5   16   0.4    0.5
Torrealba   536      43   15   26   0.7    0.9

In other words, neither guy's throwing all that well, but people aren't running against them all that often, and they're running more often on the better-throwing catcher of the two. In terms of which catcher is getting which starter, there was a general tendency for Torrealba to draw assignments when the starting pitcher's Spanish-speaking, and that meant drawing Ubaldo Jimenez more often initially. Jimenez is probably the easiest Rockies starter to run against (only two CS in 20 attempts), but even there, Iannetta's getting to catch him these days. Will a few weeks of everyday play lead to more stolen base attempts against Iannetta? I don't really think so; starters like Jeff Francis (eight SBA, only one CS), Aaron Cook (eight SBA, four CS), Livan Hernandez (four CS in seven attempts against him with the Twins), and even Glendon Rusch all do very good jobs of holding runners close, even if Jimenez does not. I expect that's what is going to determine how much people are running on Iannetta, not his low baserunner kill percentage.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Placed RHP Doug Waechter on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 8/7; recalled RHP Logan Kensing from Albuquerque (Triple-A). [8/11]

If there are Fish fans, you may well have heard a few shrieks of despair wafting up from the tip o' the panhandle, because Waechter's been one of their best relievers in a pen that has been the pitching staff's saving grace until recently, rating close to the top of the NL in WXRL and ARP. Happily, the move's more precautionary than anything else, so Waechter should be back to help during the stretch run. The real issue is that his general utility is hard to replace, especially when the man on the roster in his space is the combustible Kensing. Since last month's demotion to Albuquerque, the power righty has been an equally explosive Isotope, walking 12, hitting two, and giving up a trio of homers in 12 2/3 IP, and allowing ten runs to score. That's the sort of performance that makes his 17 strikeouts in that same time untouchable without considerable radiation shielding.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Activated INF-R Nomar Garciaparra from the 15-day DL; placed OF-R Andruw Jones on the 15-day DL (patellar tendonitis—knee), retroactive to 8/10. [8/12]
Placed RHP Brad Penny on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation); placed RHP Cory Wade on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 8/9; recalled LHP Eric Stults from Las Vegas (Triple-A ); purchased the contract of RHP Tanyon Sturtze from Las Vegas. [8/14]

Pitching Pennys had already become hazardous to the team's fortunes before his now-repeated injuries, so it's just as well that los Dodgers are thrown back upon their reserves. Whether they wind up using Stults or Jason Johnson to round out their rotation, I like that at least they can mix and match, instead of just running Penny out there for a prompt pasting and hurried hook. As is, they won't actually need a fifth starter until next Saturday in Philly, and the Phillies are a .500 team against right-handers and slug 33 points better as a team against lefties, so Johnson seems a more likely choice. Naturally, a lot can change between now and then—extra-inning games, emergency long-relief outings, not to mention injuries—and it remains to be seen how flexible Torre can be; the past suggests “not very.” If anything, I'm more concerned about their losing Wade, because he's become a key component within the revolving cast in the Dodgers' pen, and as nice as it might be to see Tanyon Sturtze work his way back from shoulder surgery and get reacquainted with his former skipper, there's no reason to invest a lot of hope that he can do anything like Wade's work shutting teams down with runners aboard (.205/.275/.342).

As for the shortstop position, what the heck, let's see how long Nomar lasts this time around. As a bit of no-expectations theater, it's quite possible that he'll bop 'til he drops—which might just be next week. With Nomar at short, Jeff Kent at second, Manny Ramirez in left, Matt Kemp in center... it's a Dodgers defense worthy of comparison to some of their horrific assemblages of non-fielders from the '80s, but slick fielding isn't what won ballgames for the Dodgers then, or in the '70s, and it won't be for this year's squad either. Where Nomar's concerned, just keep an eye towards the future; despite struggling of late, Chin-Lung Hu did at least have a three-hit game on Wednesday.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Placed 4C-L Russell Branyan on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 8/12; purchased the contract of OF-L Laynce Nix from Nashville (Triple-A). [8/13]

Lose a .580 slugger here, another one there, and soon enough we're talking about something serious. However, unlike Ryan Braun, I don't think anyone really expected Branyan to keep slugging in that particular stratosphere. The problem is that not even adding the Three True Outcomes hero helped inspire better work from Bill Hall—since Branyan's first start at third at the end of May, Hall's hit a flaccid .238/.309/.415, or quite nicely for a multi-position reserve, and badly for someone kvetching about getting everyday play. Craig Counsell's modest OBP-oriented contributions don't make matters that much better, so the real hope here has to be that Branyan heals up quickly. In his place, Nix makes a nice enough addition, however, in that the former Ranger can play center and offers some lefty pop to alternate with Mike Cameron and Gabe Kapler in center and left during Braun's absence. With Nashville, Nix was hitting .284/.348/.539 overall, and .295/.357/.545 against right-handers, and he was swinging a hotter bat of late no less (.341/.438/.732 in August). Equivalent Average views him favorably enough (.262 EqA at present, a Peak EqA of .266), still well short of the .280-plus marks of Cameron and Kapler, but Kapler's not really an everyday player, as his hitting against righties (.281/.326/.421) really doesn't cut it for a starting left fielder.

NEW YORK METS
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Optioned RHP Carlos Muniz to New Orleans (Triple-A). [8/12]
Activated RHP John Maine from the 15-day DL. [8/13]

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Optioned 3B-R Jose Bautista to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [8/13]
Activated 1B-L Adam LaRoche from the 15-day DL. [8/14]

The Pirates finally get to field les Deux LaRochesnot a new French dance craze, thankfully—at the infield corners, as it was only a matter of time. That Bautista's a loser in this scenario twice over—first his job, then his roster spot—might engender a feud, no laughing matter in hill country, but more basically, if there's any chance for the Pirates to work out a waiver deal involving Bautista, better that they give other team's scouts something to look at a little more ambulatory than seeing the guy riding pine. There's also the possibility of moving him to another position, but he was pretty terrible in center last season, and second base seems a stretch as well. In short, he's better off becoming somebody else's third baseman.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Placed RHP Bryan Corey on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 8/10; purchased the contract of INF-R Sean Kazmar from San Antonio (Double-A). [8/12]
Claimed RHP Brian Falkenborg off of waivers from the Dodgers. [8/13]
Placed RHP Chris Young on the 15-day DL (strained forearm), retroactive to 8/11. [8/14]

The Pads are beginning to look less like a ballclub and more like a community theater troupe. Beyond lonely exceptions like Jake Peavy or Adrian Gonzalez, stars left over from the team's recent run of relevance, and Hall of Famers like Trevor Hoffman or Greg Maddux playing out the string, you've got very few players with futures, and then beyond about the 10th- or 15th-best Padre, you're down to a Craigslist casting call, where what's left on the field is whoever doesn't have a problem finding a sitter that night. Consider the rotation in Young's absence—who goes in, Brett Tomko when he comes off of the DL? Along those lines, Shawn Estes only just began his rehab, so he's not a candidate. Wil Ledezma? A call to Portland to bring back Justin Germano? Another spin with Clay Hensley? This is already a unit reliant on Cha Seung Baek and Josh Banks, two Quad-A discards from other organizations proving they were discarded for cause. If the Pads shut down Peavy early and if they're also Young-less in September, it's in danger of devolving into a team that won't just handily lose 100 games (a first since the shameful days of Tom Werner in 1993), they may not get out of the 50s in wins, something they haven't inflicted on their fans in a full season since 1972.

The shortage at short just adds another symptom to what's illin' a franchise that didn't have organizational depth to start off with. Kazmar might end up playing a lot of short in Khalil Greene's absence, but beyond the coolness factor for having a last name that starts with a K, there isn't a lot to suggest that this is a good thing. He's not much of a hitter (.264/.333/.359 in the Texas League, which translates to an EqA of .221), and although he's been playing shortly regularly for the Missions, his glove's stretched at short, making him a pretty dubious sort of aspiring utility infielder. However, given that Luis Rodriguez can't really handle short, and this team's need, it'll have to do.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Optioned 1B/OF-L John Bowker and C-R Steve Holm to Fresno (Triple-A); designated 2B/3B-R Jose Castillo for assignment; recalled 1B-L Travis Ishikawa from Fresno; purchased the contracts of C/1B-S Pablo Sandoval and 3B-R Ryan Rohlinger from Connecticut (Double-A). [8/13]
Optioned LHP Geno Espineli to Fresno; recalled RHP Matt Palmer from Fresno; transferred RHP Merkin Valdez from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/14]

The Giants might be an understandable object of derision in some circles, but I actually like this turn of events. Let's give Brian Sabean some slack; this whole "rebuilding/young guys" thing isn't really his scene, so on-the-job training isn't just happening on the field in this organization.

It may seem as if Ishikawa's been around forever, but that's partially a product of the absence of warm bodies in the system; if you've had to talk about Giants prospects in the last six or seven years, there are only so many people you can talk about before you start asking if Randy Kutcher's still active. But even though he joined the organization in 2002, Ishikawa's "only" 24 years old, and while it took three tries, he finally mastered Double-A this season, hitting .330/.406/.545 against right-handed pitching through Waterloo Day. That earned him a promotion to Fresno, where he hit better still, belting 16 homers in 48 Grizzlies games and hitting .333/.377/.841 against right-handers. We're accentuating the positive, so let's skip the hitting against lefties, and perhaps also try to finesse our way around his hitting .372/.439/.919 in Fresno's living room-sized stadium against .247/.298/.553 everywhere else in the PCL—see, even that's positive, because that's still a lot of socking it to somebody somewhere. Basically, that kind of performance is worth looking at if you're a team that doesn't have a starting first baseman, and even if Ishikawa (very obviously) has to be platooned, that's also not really that big of a deal; they may as well keep paying Rich Aurilia to do something, after all.

Less famous are the other two promoted position players. Rohlinger's made a nice impression by hitting .296/.358/.497 after a late-June promotion to Double-A; he'd already initially hit .285/.368/.419 in the Cal League, his first exposure to that level as well. Because he's already 24 despite so little experience above A-ball, Rohlinger requires an accelerated schedule if he's going to amount to much; a sixth-round pick in 2006 out of Oklahoma, it seems strange that they'd put a big-college hitter at the Sally League for a full season in 2007, but as I said before, this prospect management thing is sort of new to the Giants. While I wouldn't get too worked up, it beats spinning their wheels with Castillo at the hot corner, and if Rohlinger shows them anything, that's one more thing they won't have to go into the winter worrying about (finding a third baseman, not another Jose Castillo).

Like Rohlinger, Sandoval's moved up fast this season, having split the year between High-A heroics (.359/.412/.597), and a double-quick Double-A adaptation (.337/.364/.549). A 22-year-old switch-hitter, Sandoval's been especially hot against right-handed pitching, having crushed the Cal League's right-handers at a .402/.452/.683 clip, and doing almost as well the next rung up in the Eastern League (.365/.398/.635). Having bounced around several positions in his years in the organization, he's played a little bit of first base this year, but that's more a matter of keeping his bat in the lineup. He's really much more a regular catcher now, something it seems he can handle; among his tools of igorance, it's clear he has a gun, having caught 44 percent of opposing attempted steals.

Taken together, these three promotions radically overhaul a lineup that needed a few barnacles scraped off, and while Sandoval's the only one who might represent a blue-chip prospect, all three bring something to the table. An all-rookie infield of Ishikawa, Eugenio Velez at second, Rohlinger, and Ivan Ochoa may not survive as far into the future as 2009, and it certainly doesn't compare to the '86 introductions of rookies Will Clark and Robbie Thompson to sophomores Chris Brown and Jose Uribe, but it's still progress of a sort, because there is at least some chance that Ishikawa or Rohlinger might stick.

Apologies, Giants fans; I ran out of steam last night, and didn't pull together my notes on these moves until this morning. Suffice to say this isn't a case of some lingering Huckabay-style hating on the Bay Area's other team.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Placed RHP Chris Carpenter on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 8/11; activated OF-R Brian Barton from the 15-day DL. [8/15]

Well, we knew this was coming, but the real question is whether Friday night's turn for Brad Thompson will be the last time (for now) that the Cardinals have to dip into their bullpen to paper over the aching ace's latest setback. Adam Wainwright's next rehab appearance—as a starter—is on Saturday, and with Monday's offday, they can elect to keep the other four starters in rotation on four days' rest, or bring Wainwright back at any point during the sequence should they feel that he's ready. Certainly, whether or not to bring Carpenter back may be academic by month's end, especially if the Cubs and Brewers continue to make tracks in the division; the only team that should care about finishing third in the Central is the Astros, because in Astro-physics, that's inside of a light-year of contention, making all their ephemeral effort at mattering a more substantial bit of anti-matter.

As for the happy news, there is the chance that getting Barton back will shore up their outfield rotation, and between giving Skip Schumaker a better-fielding platoon partner in center and pushing Joe Mather more solidly into the corners, the upshot should be no more F-Lop in the outfield. There's still the little matter of his being potentially pressed into action in the infield, of course, but that's somewhat less noisome.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Placed MI-R Alberto Gonzalez on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 8/5; activated INF-R Aaron Boone from the 15-day DL. [8/14]

Boone's return probably places him in position to play first base with some regularity, as Kory Casto couldn't even get much playing time over Ronnie Belliard. As much as the Nats have tried to redefine and reshape their infield with big-ticket expenditures and the odd deal, consider what they're actually employing. First base is baseball's answer to Ironbottom Sound, as they have two big-ticket commitments to two fragile starting first basemen, a risk you have to accept when you employ Nick Johnson or Dmitri Young. Sure, Ryan Zimmerman's at the hot corner, but The Franchise has yet to hit a homer since May in what's been an injury-marred disappointment as seasons go. Jim Bowden's decision to double down on Cristian Guzman for half as long and throw another $16 million at the former fair-haired boy is looking worse by the day, as Guzman's a veritable Mr. Freeze at the plate, to the point that the ubiquitous Belliard even started yesterday's game at short. At the keystone, Emilio Bonifacio's providing plenty of reminders that, outside of a nice series in Coors Field, this hitting thing is hard. And the worst of it? Other than Boone, they've got control of every single one of these munchkins next year, and beyond the understandable commitment to Zimmerman, there's almost no chance that they'll be able to deal any of them without taking a loss.


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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