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August 25, 2008

Transaction Analysis

West by Central

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Placed INF-S Maicer Izturis on the 15-day DL (thumb), retroactive to 8/14; recalled 1B-S Kendry Morales from Salt Lake (Triple-A). [8/15]
Optioned 1B-S Kendry Morales to Triple-a Salt Lake; recalled RHP Jason Bulger from Salt Lake. [8/23]

The timing or lack of symmetry might make this particular move seem a bit odd; losing a reserve infielder for the year-and Izturis' thumb will cost him the remainder of the season-might make you think that that they'd bring up a reserve infielder, except that with both Sean Rodriguez and Robb Quinlan already hanging around on the active roster and the four starters healthy and playing well enough, there wasn't a lot of call to bring up one more to replace Izturis. As is, on the 40-man roster the Angels have only two infielders in the minors-third baseman Matt Brown, and Brandon Wood. Brown's been in China for the Olympics, and as a third base-only infielder, he would be a bit redundant behind Chone Figgins and Quinlan and Rodriguez.

The more interesting alternative might be Wood, however much his fortunes seem to wax and wane with almost lunar regularity. Wood's been a shortstop in Utah, and he's also hitting a torrid .358/.438/.759 since the All-Star break, with 16 homers in 160 PA. The problem with calling him up, however, is that Erick Aybar's delivering on all of the things the Angels really expect from him (except for stealing bases, interestingly enough), and with the questions over whether or not Wood can play a major league-caliber short, it would be a bit daring to take a look at him there now, especially when they're cruising to another division title. It will be interesting to see if the Halos make a point of putting Wood on their postseason roster, and also worthwhile to see if they'd explore using Wood at short once rosters expand, but if he was just going to ride pine again upon a promotion, it's just as well to let him continue to swing the lumber for the Buzz until their season winds down.

Even though he'd been swinging a hot bat of late (.449/.472/.755 in 53 August PA), Morales was going to have no more luck finding ways to squeeze into the lineup than Wood did, which makes calling him up a bit unfortunate, because there's no playing time to be had at first or DH. Since Teixeira's insertion into the Angels lineup, the Angels have settled on rotating Juan Rivera and Garret Anderson between left field and DH. Rivera's still struggling, hitting only 247/.256/.452 since the deal, while Anderson's hitting .345/.364/.524. To really get a crack, Morales would need one or both to be struggling, but Rivera's value on defense helps keep him in the lineup; in the abstract, I'd liked to have seen Morales get some at-bats, but getting Rivera's bat going is only going to come with playing time, and I can understand how Mike Scioscia preferred to leave things alone. If there's a spot in the lineup to get riled up over, it's the slight preference for the still-punchless Jeff Mathis over Mike Napoli in the jobshare behind the plate since the latter's reactivation, but even there, that can be a matter of keeping Napoli's shoulder from getting overtaxed, especially as the Angels play out the season and gear up for October.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Optioned RHP Lance Broadway to Charlotte (Triple-A). [8/14]
Recalled LHP Clayton Richard from Charlotte. [8/15]

I've railed in the past about how teams who find themselves with a less-than-ideal rotation should mix and match starters, especially when they have no established fourth and/or fifth starter, and here's a great case in point-with Jose Contreras out for the balance of the season, the Sox have only four relatively established starters. But what if they acknowledge that the limitations of Broadway-a soft-tossing righty with a sketchy performance record-and Richard-an unestablished lefty-make for a nice bit of pairing off and playing matchup games against low-end matchups? That seems to be what they got in plugging in Broadway against the Royals, an especially feeble foe in light of their .254/.306/.371 team line against right-handed pitching, while against the Mariners they ran Richard out there against a made-over lineup that features five lefty batters in relatively regular roles. Both guys delivered good games, so not settling on one or the other seems to have already yielded an immediate reward. The next time the slot rolls around will be against the Orioles today, but after that, the Sox haven't committed to anybody in the fifth slot, or even employing one in turn with the front four when they might instead skip them. Basically, it's looking like a great way to use a pair of young starters to best effect without asking too much of them, while putting the Sox in the best position to win ballgames and take their best shot at the division title. Then, if the team makes it to October action, whoever is or was the fifth starter becomes irrelevant, because you no longer need one (and barely need a fourth). It would be another little bit of cleverness from a management team that seems to find ways to distract you from the clever little things that they're up to on the margins.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Activated RHP Todd Jones from the 15-day DL. [8/15]
Placed RHP Todd Jones on the 15-day DL (shoulder soreness), retroactive to 8/16; purchased the contract of RHP Gary Glover from Toledo (Triple A). [8/17]

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Optioned RHP Kyle Davies to Omaha (Triple-A); recalled RHP Jeff Fulchino from Omaha. [8/15]
Signed RHP Kip Wells to a minor league contract. [8/18]
Optioned and then recalled LHP Josh Newman to/from Omaha; placed RHP Luke Hochevar on the 15-day DL (ribcage). [8/20]
Placed CF-L Mitch Maier on the 15-day DL (facial fractures); recalled OF-L Joey Gathright from Omaha. [8/21]
Placed LHP Ron Mahay on the 15-day DL (plantar fasciitis); recalled RHP Kyle Davies from Omaha. [8/22]
Placed 3B-L Alex Gordon on the 15-day DL (torn quadriceps); activated INF-S Alberto Callaspo from the 15-day DL. [8/23]
Optioned LHP Josh Newman to Omaha; purchased the contract of RHP Brandon Duckworth from Omaha; transferred RHP Luke Hochevar from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/24]

Some of this is unhappy, and some of this mere paper-shuffling. Demoting Davies after one of his better recent starts and in light of his status as the team's third-best starter might have seemed cruel or capricious, but keep in mind that he hadn't had a quality start since mid-July, and they were really just skipping the fifth slot once through the rotation (and he logged a lone inning for Omaha during his "start" there). Replacing Hochevar with Duckworth might not sound so exciting, but somebody's got to finish out the schedule now that they've shut Hochevar down for the year. Duckworth was a utility pitcher for Omaha, generally starting or acting as a tandem starter (handling the real IP workload while somebody else, usually somebody rehabbing or marking time, like Davies, starts the game). There's no reason to believe he's anything more than that, having given up souvenirs with his usual alacrity (23 homers in 134 2/3 IP). He's not the only rogue in the gallery as the Royals wrap up the season; Fulchino's just former Fish filler turned Royals replacement, while signing Wells is a matter of adding another experienced semi-warm body to help them staff the roster until Omaha's season winds down and while several pitchers fend off nagging hurts.

A bit more disappointing is their losing Gordon, perhaps for the balance of the season (he might only return in time for the final week's worth of play), while also seeing Maier on the DL after a failed bunt attempt. Losing Maier costs them an opportunity to evaluate him as their prospective center fielder of the immediate future, and there isn't anything that playing Gathright will do but tell them what they already know-that Gathright's a fifth outfield waterbug type, not a bad thing to have, but not always somebody and something that you make space for. Losing Gordon at least gives them an opportunity to see if Mark Teahen can play third base well enough to improve his value as a multi-positional utility player. There are enough teams that could use a multi-corner player, and Teahen's arbitration-dictated pay raise might start to price his brand of mediocrity out of the Royals' budget. That said, a .244 EqA plays almost as badly as an everyday third baseman (where the position's average is .272) as it does in right (.275) or left (.279), but since it has become quite clear that Teahen's not an offensive asset as an outfield regular, finding a way to make him more palatable to themselves and others makes sense.

The other tiny bit of sunshine is getting Callaspo back in action to see if he can take over at second base; Mark Grudzielanek's time on the DL helps as a matter of convenient timing without potentially alienating the veteran before he becomes a free agent. Whatever Grudz's value as a defender whose skills afield remain undiminished by age, the OBP skills that Callaspo has shown in the minors would be a welcome addition to the Royals' generally inoffensive offense.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Outrighted RHP Brian Bass to Rochester (Triple-A); recalled 2B-S Alexi Casilla from the 15-day DL. [8/20]
Acquired LHP Eddie Guardado from the Rangers for RHP Mark Hamburger. [8/25]

Casilla's return is interesting not simply because it's a nice thing for the Twins lineup, but for what it's entailed as a follow-on distribution of playing time at third and short. The four men involved are Nick Punto, Brian Buscher, Brendan Harris, and Adam Everett. While it would be easy to prescribe playing Everett with a ground-baller on the mound, it would also be lazy; the Twins don't have a grounder-oriented starter in their rotation, as not a single rotation regular's even average in generating ground-ball outs. So this might actually be simpler than carving up an equitable distribution of playing time-just start Punto at short, where he's no slouch, and split up the playing time between the lefty-batting Buscher and the right-handed Harris as something more than just a platoon, since Harris does pretty well against fly-ball pitchers. Buscher and Harris might not be Branyanesque badumpathumpers at third, but Buscher's ability to make reasonably good contact and Harris' more general utility make Brendrian Harruscher a nice facsimile of Dance Mulliniorg in terms of talent and prospective upside.

As for August option machinations and reinforcing the bullpen, getting Guardado for Hamburger is affordable enough, even if it means shipping out a local kid for a former franchise hero. Although relief pitching wasn't really a problem for the Twins in the broad scheme-they rate as the game's sixth-best pen by WXRL, and twelfth best in ARP-this is more a matter of making sure that they can put their best foot forward in any pre-Nathan high-leverage situation. Looking at the Twins pen, you'll find guys like lefties Craig Breslow and Dennys Reyes and failed starter Boof Bonser, who you really can't use in anything but situationally-dependent usage patterns, plus a pair of additional mediocre right-handers in Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier. That isn't to say you can't use these guys to good effect-Reyes and/or Breslow plus the right-handed Bonser might add up to a nice bit of mid-game matchups manipulation, while Crain and Guerrier aren't useless-but the Twins really weren't gifted with that "eighth-inning guy" to hand leads off to Joe Nathan. Guardado is still the real tabasco in terms of situational stardom, nuking opposing lefties by limiting them to .167/.233/.288, and it's worth hoping that getting him out of Texas will help him against right-handers well enough to set up Nathan's save opps. For the price, it's worth seeing. The current question is whether, in making space for Guardado, the Twins move aside a guy like Breslow, who's been very effective, or perhaps part-time DH Randy Ruiz, or maybe thin that herd on the left side of the infield, because they're at 14 position players and 11 pitchers. That 14/11 split is where they should want to be come setting their postseason roster, so it'll be interesting to see how they handle this.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Optioned LHP Dan Meyer to Sacramento (Triple-A). [8/17]
Purchased the contract of RHP Kirk Saarloos from Sacramento; designated 1B-R Wes Bankston for assignment. [8/18]
Placed RHP Justin Duchscherer on the 15-day DL (strained hip), retroactive to 8/19; placed RHP Sean Gallagher on the 15-day DL (shoulder fatigue), retroactive to 8/20; recalled LHPs Dana Eveland and Dan Meyer from Sacramento. [8/21]

This latest mayhem in the starter corps gives the A's the transient phenomenon of a five-lefty rotation, with Eveland and Meyer joining Greg Smith, Gio Gonzalez, and Dallas Braden to give them a Southpaw-Fu U crew of kids slotted to take their turns at least a couple of swings through the schedule. It's not something I take as especially good news, especially since it sets up palpably pulpable Saarloos as the long-relief right-hander who will come in to help keep the workloads of youngsters like Gonzalez or Eveland or Smith under control, and perhaps thereby make the odd winnable ballgame that much less so. As much as I want to be optimistic about some element of something going on with the Green 'n Gold, it would be premature to suggest that Eveland earned his recall, despite a 3-0 record and 2.57 ERA in his first three starts as a River Cat. He gave up ten baserunners and four runs in six innings in his Sacramento debut, followed that with 15 more baserunners and four more runs in seven frames in the second, and then shut down Tacoma with an eight-inning, one-run, two-baserunner outing spruced up with eight Ks. Last I checked, the Rainiers weren't on Oakland's slate these next five weeks.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Placed RHP Carlos Silva on the 15-day DL (elbow tendonitis). [8/16]
Recalled LHP Ryan Feierabend from Tacoma (Triple-A). [8/17]

Silva's apparently going to be back after a minimum-length stay on the DL, coming back to the rotation on the last day of the month. Feierabend had a solid sojourn in the Rainiers rotation this last time around, delivering four quality starts before getting a quick third-inning hook in the fifth (perhaps because it was recognized he'd be called up days later). He took his lumps his first time out against a big-league lineup, but turned in a decent five-inning start against an Athletics lineup that featured several big-league players. If he can deliver another start of similar quality, it'll be hard to bump him from a rotation in need of help. If Ryan Rowland-Smith also turns in a second consecutive good outing this week as well, that really ought to put Miguel Batista behind the eight-ball; given his work of late, you can forgive him for being all shook up, but sources say a continued future in the rotation isn't a good idea. Believe me, I've asked, and what can you do when even a hunk of virtual plastic understands the obvious well enough to give you the same answer, again and again?

TEXAS RANGERS
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Activated RHP Kevin Millwood from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Luis Mendoza to Oklahoma (Triple-A). [8/15]
Optioned RHP Tommy Hunter to Oklahoma; recalled RHP Kameron Loe from Oklahoma. [8/16]
Placed 2B-R Ian Kinsler on the 15-day DL (sports hernia); recalled MI-R Joaquin Arias from Oklahoma. [8/18]
Activated 1B/3B-L Hank Blalock from the 15-day DL; optioned 3B-R Travis Metcalf to Oklahoma. [8/22]
Optioned RHP Kameron Loe to Oklahoma; recalled RHP Brandon McCarthy from Oklahoma. [8/23]
Traded LHP Eddie Guardado to the Twins for RHP Mark Hamburger; recalled LHP Bill White from Oklahoma. [8/25]

Blalock's return is to the lineup, but not to third base, as his latest naggy hurt has him relegated to playing first or DH-ing. I have some mild concerns about whether or not Chris Davis might hurt himself playing a position nobody seriously expects him to stay at for any length of time-I guess it's sort of a Dean Palmer/Larry Parrish thing with this club, this stocking of the hot corner with sessile slugly sackers-but should the Rangers decide to exercise their option and stick themselves with Blalock's blend of disappointment and frequent absences in '09, they may well have to insist upon this kind of flexibility from their phenom.

Perhaps the interesting ripple effect of that decision is that they'll be playing Arias at second base instead of porting Ramon Vazquez into a semi-regular role at the keystone during Kinsler's potentially season-ending absence, but I take that as a reflection of the realism with which the Rangers view their almost-gone playoff possibilities. Arias still isn't much of a prospect (.296/.329/.421 in Triple-A makes for a whole lot of singles, and not a whole lot else, hence the .239 EqA that performance translates to), but it makes sense to see if he has any future as a middle-infield spare.

Finally, on a more aesthetic/general good news level, it's nice to see them fielding something that more closely approximates a major league rotation. Mendoza and Hunter were clearly in over their heads, and Millwood and McCarthy are locks for next year's rotation (along with Vicente Padilla). Matt Harrison's been sporadically effective, and deserves the chance to show if he can claim one of the other two slots, and the fifth looks to be Scott Feldman until his total workload reaches a point they want to shut him down, with perhaps Dustin Nippert and Eric Hurley entering the picture at some point. Hey, I didn't say it was a good rotation, did I?

As for the late-breaking Guardado deal, Hamburger's an interesting enough arm to have added. A local Twin Cities kid signed out of a tryout camp, he's in only his second season as a pro. He's a 21-year-old stringbean who throws hard but has little in the way of secondary stuff; pitching for Elizabethtown in the short-season Appy League, he'd struck out 40 in 36 2/3 IP (with six wild pitches). It would be fair to say he's a bit raw, but from there we get into jokes so obvious that I expect they're sufficiently inoffensive to be worthy of the forever-after joyless White House Correspondents Dinner. As for filling out the pen in Guardado's space, White's the former Snakeling cast off by Arizona's organization, only to surface as a Ranger last season. He's had a fine summer with Oklahoma, having limited lefties to .215/.319/.291, striking out 32 of the 92 he faced; he wasn't shabby against right-handers either, holding them to a .246/.358/.368 clip.

Thanks to Kevin Goldstein for his input on the difference between Hamburger and chopped steak.


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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