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August 27, 2008

Transaction Analysis

AL East Moves

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Placed LHP George Sherrill on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 8/16. [8/19]
Optioned LHP Garrett Olson to Norfolk; purchased the contract of RHP Kameron Mickolio from Norfolk (Triple-A); transferred RHP Matt Albers from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/20]
Recalled RHP Radhames Liz from Norfolk. [8/22]
Optioned RHP Kameron Mickolio to Norfolk; recalled LHP Brian Burres from Norfolk. [8/26]
Activated RHP Greg Aquino from the 15-day DL, and designated him for assignment. [8/27]

Losing Sherrill's not exactly good news, but he should be back at some point in September. On some level I have suspension-of-disbelief issues with the value of his season, in that he's a good situational lefty doing a near-adequate job of getting right-handed people out often enough to make a passable closer, which says a lot about how a reliever who doesn't lose his cool can pretty much rack up saves just by doing his thing. That's going to be great for Sherrill's bank account come his next arbitration case, and it's a disappointment that the organization didn't cash in that value this summer, but there's always hope they'll be able to deal him for a solid package to contribute even more towards the next good Orioles team. In the interim, I guess Jim Johnson's been the closer by default, not that the Orioles have been generating many save opportunities in the meantime. Mickolio might be part of the picture eventually, as another part (with Sherrill) of the package received from the Mariners for Erik Bedard, but the gigantic flamethrower hadn't really mastered his command in Double-A, let alone settled in with less than a month's experience at Triple-A. It's nice to see that he's getting a taste, and 60 strikeouts in 56 1/3 IP in the minors reflects his talent, but 29 walks suggest that there's a distance yet to be traversed.

As for the rotation, Olson's been part of the problem for what is at root an incomplete unit. The Orioles' rotation has a front in ace Jeremy Guthrie, and it has a tail in Daniel Cabrera and Brian Burres; what's missing is a complete middle, like they were sort of the rotational equivalent of a skiapod. The hope is that a guy like Liz might have enough budding promise to give the team something more complete; guys like Olson or Burres or Chris Waters are really left hoping they can be adequate add-ons to something that's got a fully-firing front four. Liz didn't give that much cause for optimism in his first game back, allowing ten baserunners and two homers in less than five full frames against the Yankees, but it's worth taking the spin to see.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Optioned RHP Clay Buchholz to Portland (Double-A). [8/20]
Recalled RHP Chris Smith from Pawtucket (Triple-A). [8/21]
Signed C-R David Ross to a minor league contract; outrighted RHP Lincoln Holdzkom to Pawtucket. [8/22]
Optioned RHP Chris Smith to Pawtucket; activated RHP Tim Wakefield from the 15-day DL. [8/25]
Placed RF-L J.D. Drew on the 15-day DL (back); purchased the contract of 2B/LF-L Joe Thurston from Pawtucket; transferred RHP Bartolo Colon from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/26]
Acquired OF-L Mark Kotsay from the Braves for OF-R Luis Sumoza. [8/27]

They shouldn't call the AL East the game's drama division for nuthin'. No sooner does it look like they're finally back to fielding a full five-man rotation with Wakefield's return than they're down a slugger who carried them during Papi's extended absence. The timing of losing Drew seems especially inauspicious since Jacoby Ellsbury's back to hitting like he's the new Miguel Dilone after a nice road trip to Kansas City and Chicago ended (.182/.234/.205 in his last 47 PA). On some level, I guess I worry that this is all going to get back to Jason Bay somehow, because of his relative unbearable lightness of not being Manny, but Bay's not the problem as much as the stacked injuries to Drew, Mike Lowell, and now even Sean Casey leave the Red Sox forced to count on Ellsbury and Alex Cora. In light of Casey's recent injury, the Sox now boast one of the weirdest infield platoons around-Cora at short versus right-handers with Jeff Bailey at first against lefties, with Kevin Youkilis moving from third to first and Jed Lowrie flipping between short and third. That still adds up to a pretty good infield and quite a few people who can get on base still playing, but it makes the need for Ellsbury and Jason Varitek to be adequate and for David Ortiz to summon up some of his former greatness that much more pressing. From among that group, Tek's given them a good week; they'll need that and more to be able to keep themselves ahead of the Twins and Yankees.

Perhaps as a result of some creeping pessimism over such propositions, not to mention enduring concern over when or if Drew's going to be able to come back, it's no surprise that they finally consummated the recently rumored deal to get Kotsay from the Braves. Regardless of whether or not the even more-frequently indisposed Kotsay is available to play the balance of the season, the real key is that he simply be available to play during Drew's absence; once Drew returns, Kotsay joins Ellsbury and Coco Crisp in a three-headed jumble that's more ungainly circus freak than kick-ass hellhound, where perhaps Kotsay's overall adequacy (a .262 EqA) and modest productivity against right-handed pitching (.305/.361/.457, or what might be technically referred to as "a decent number of singles sprinkled with a few line-drive doubles") gets plugged in when the club can afford his dissipating range in center. Desperate times call for desperate measures after all, but the Sox needed to do something like this, even without Drew's injury, and there's a possibility that having Kotsay and Crisp playing a lot of center could make Ellsbury available for pinch-running heroics a la Dave Roberts in October, which if still short of true everyday ass-kickery actually wouldn't be so freaky after all.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Placed OF-L Dewayne Wise on the 15-day DL; activated 3B-R Joe Crede from the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Lance Broadway from Charlotte (Triple-A); optioned INF-L Chris Getz to Charlotte. [8/25]

With that, the Sox get back to 12 pitchers, and that's hopefully not where they'll leave matters before the month ends. Getz didn't really get much of an opportunity, and I think it was telling that despite his playing a good amount of third and short for Charlotte, when it came to in-game machinations, Ozzie Guillen preferred to leave Getz at his natural position of second and move the rangier, stronger-armed Alexei Ramirez to third base on Sunday. Even so, this team could use a lefty bat on the bench (not that Wise was going to continue to slug .470), and to be shorn of two at present will hopefully be just a temporary state of affairs. Broadway's supposedly only here to throw long relief, so calling him up when Clayton Richard's now delivered back-to-back quality starts and the four regulars in the rotation don't appear to need any bridging assistance getting games into the sixth or so makes this seem especially strange, and ideally short-term in nature.

As for Crede's return, I guess the real question there is whether he's really ready, since he didn't look entirely tuned up in his rehab work, but the relative aspect of the proposition is whether or not an ache-y, broke-y Crede is better than a fit-as-a-fiddle Juan Uribe. That's a tough call as such things go, since Uribe's been as useless as ever against right-handed pitching (.220/.272/.335) while continuing to be Goldwater's revenge on the left, laying southpaws low (.302/.367/.528). It's odd to have a platoon-worthy middle infielder, and maybe Uribe and Getz would provide this team with all the help they'd need at second base while swapping Ramirez over to third should Crede still not be quite right at the plate or in the field; it would beat playing Uribe every day, certainly.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Activated RHP Matt Ginter from the 15-day DL, and outrighted him to Buffalo (Triple-A). [8/25]

DETROIT TIGERS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Chris Lambert from Toledo (Triple-A); designated RHP Francis Beltran for assignment. [8/26]

Lambert's season looks nice enough in the broad strokes (especially a 3.58 ERA), but on a more granular level, it's not quite all that; 12 quality starts in 26 as a Mudhen certainly isn't very special, and add in unearned runs, and you're talking about a guy giving 4.2 runs per nine and a hit per inning. That should fuel aspirations of big-league worthiness, sure, but in a Kevin Jarvis or Chad Durbin sort of vein. That the Tigers need this sort of guy isn't really the question; between losing three-fifths of the original rotation to ineffectiveness and/or injury, culminating in their recent demotion of Nate Robertson, it's remarkable that a system this shallow has nevertheless supplied at least a pair of acceptable answers already in Armando Galarraga and Zach Miner. Expecting Lambert to make it three given his already extensive track record for disappointing the hopes invested in him seems a bit of overly-aggressive wishcasting.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Designated 1B/3B-L Mike Lamb for assignment; added LHP Eddie Guardado to the active roster. [8/25]

OK, so I was premature, but presumably the Astros should still be interested, what with their being a going concern and all, at least to hear them talk. Consider it a Lamb for a (boardroom) lion.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Optioned CF-S Melky Cabrera to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A); designated 1B-R Richie Sexson for assignment; placed RHP Dan Giese on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation); recalled CF-L Brett Gardner and RHP Chris Britton from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; purchased the contract of INF-R Cody Ransom from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [8/15]
Activated OF-L Hideki Matsui from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-L Justin Christian to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [8/19]
Optioned LHP Billy Traber to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; activated RHP Carl Pavano from the 15-day DL. [8/24]

"Not dead yet" might seem strange to have to say about the Yankees (we got in the habit back in the roaring '80s, certainly), but not so fast. "I can make it" wasn't just Richard Chaves' best career line, it is perhaps also the thing to keep in mind as the Yankees try to fend off elimination. Admittedly, this isn't really up to them; the Red Sox need to get Don Zimmer-level cooperative and bring the race back to the Bombers, but a serious injury to Josh Beckett might be all that it takes, and that doesn't sound quite so unlikely these days. Matsui's return has afforded them the opportunity to punt defense, slap Godzilla into the DH slot, and just plug Johnny Damon's weary legs into the center-field slot for one more go-or no go, since a failure to launch when covering the gaps is an automatic element of this particular proposition. It's a special brand of desperation born of a nearly season-long case of overindulgence in Melky lassitude at the plate, having failed to previously cultivate their Gardner options and prune out their less-happy initial planting in center. Then there's Carl Pavano's return to action, if as improbable as the Bourbon restoration (perhaps a case of "We'll crown no swine before his time," for you Sergei Bondarchuk buffs), is yet another equally valid demonstration that if somebody decides you're indispensable, then perhaps no one is so dissolute that they cannot afford themselves the opportunity to make that needy someone regret their desperation.

There are echoes here of Yankees history, just not the kind that everyone might immediately associate with the House that Ruth Built, but perhaps more like those grim times when bringing in Matt Keough or Dave LaPoint seemed absolutely necessary. Think about what this bid for contention involves, and think about whether or not you'd have laughed your cocktail out one nostril if someone had suggested as much in April: this is a team trying to keep its bid for contention going with Pavano and Sir Sidney Ponson in the rotation, and is putting those oft-thumped miscreants in front of Damon's gamely sessile brand of center-field defense. Really? Why yes-need a napkin? The Yankees have been able to achieve a great many things during their latest, last run of greatness, winning despite lousy defenses, and winning even in front of cobbled-together rotations-how can we forget 2005 and Aaron Small's brief rental of Spud Chandler-level greatness? In the end, it was about winning with big-time offenses (and a healthy dose of October excellence from Mariano Rivera), and now it's to the point that they're almost a caricature of themselves in terms of having those two virtues, and almost all other elements reduced to vestigiality. Can they win when they let the odds get this long? The fact that it has actually ticked up to around a three percent possibility is something I find heartily amusing, certainly.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Optioned RHP Mark Lowe to Tacoma (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Randy Messenger from Tacoma. [8/25]

Laid Lowe, this is just a case of adding insult to injury after he took a drive off of his foot, leaving me to wonder if he didn't want to shoot the... former Fresno moundsman whose performance was so Grizzly it earned him his release by the Giants at the end of June.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Placed RHP Troy Percival on the 15-day DL (knee); recalled RHP Juan Salas from Durham (Triple-A). [8/15]

Percival's problems have become persistent, but perhaps it's just as well that they're part of the landscape as the team considers its options for the postseason roster. Salas has had his own issues to deal with, starting out with visa problems and the elbow trouble that kept him from getting in gear until almost two months into the season. He's been outstanding for the Bulls, however, allowing just 45 baserunners in 44 2/3 IP while striking out 53, and only two homers despite pronounced fly-ball tendencies. He's virtually Balfouresque when it comes to right-handers, having limited them to hitting just .160/.217/.173 in the International League, proof positive that his moving mid-90s heat is still as nasty as ever; he hasn't been too shabby against lefties for that matter (.238/.297/.321), but the still-development nature of his off-speed stuff suggests that Joe Maddon will have to pick his spots for the converted infielder.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Designated OF-R Jason Ellison for assignment; purchased the contract of OF-R Nelson Cruz from Oklahoma (Triple-A). [8/25]

This came in after the Guardado news, and it's worth talking about for a couple of reasons. First, it's a nice reward for Cruz for an excellent campaign; hitting .342/.429/.695 is a pretty remarkable season anywhere (translating to a .307 EqA), so even if the Rangers have had a few bites at this particular apple, some things are so sweet you can't help but want another, even if the first few came up wormy. In more concrete, individual events, he's bopped 37 bombs in 448 PA, drawn a nifty 52 free passes, and even chipped in with 24 steals in 32 attempts. Overall, his production suggests that he might still be able to contributed an Equivalent Average above .300 in the majors, even if he's already 28*, and even in light of his repeated failures.

Cruz is being deposited directly into the team's lineup as its everyday right fielder (for the moment), with Marlon Byrd crossing the pasturage to take over in left, and with Brandon Boggs taking a long-since-earned spot on the bench. Beyond the obvious observation that Cruz's time is running out and he can't afford another flop, his opportunity might not even extend to season's end, although David Murphy's latest setback in rehab will have a lot to do with how long this latest shot lasts. Murphy and Byrd are both under team control in 2009, making for a pair of crowded corners in the outfield with Cruz in the picture. Beyond however well he does, whether or not Cruz has a shot at sticking around also has a lot to do with whether or not the (st)Rangers decide they like having Milton Bradley around, and are willing to afford themselves the expense (and the risk) that would go with a multi-year commitment to Boardgame.

In this picture, what's goofy to me is that, while they're playing Cruz (instead of Boggs or Frank Catalanotto) and playing Joaquin Arias at second (instead of Ramon Vazquez), they're playing Gerald Laird almost every day behind the plate instead of Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Given that the Rangers are dead, that just doesn't seem to make much sense to me, even if Laird's still short of being a thirtysomething, especially since Salty's got just as much claim as Laird on having to make up for time lost to injuries.

* That Cruz is a July 1 baby seems to confuse a few statheads, myself among them, and I do worry for what that means for a lot of projection systems that use July 1 as their arbitrary cutoff point; I nagged Nate (as is my wont) about this where PECOTA's concerned, and he assured me that it's all good, and that the projections don't get hung up on that kind of absolute Gordian division, let alone allow it to tidily define that a guy's precise age-27 or age-28 season is like so many completely separate bins. Elsewhere? Beats me, but it's the sort of thing I worry about now and again, and here's my official statement of envy for those of you who are blissfully unconcerned with such minutiae.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Optioned RHP Scott Richmond to Syracuse (Triple-A); activated LHP Brian Tallet from the 15-day DL. [8/15]
Acquired 3B-R Jose Bautista from the Pirates for a PTBNL. [8/21] Placed OF-L Brad Wilkerson on the 15-day DL; added 3B-R Jose Bautista to the active roster. [8/22]
Optioned RHP Shaun Marcum to Syracuse; recalled LHP John Parrish from Syracuse. [8/23]
Optioned OF-R Kevin Mench to Syracuse; sent C-R Robinzon Diaz to the Pirates to complete the Bautista trade. [8/25]
Activated 3B-R Scott Rolen from the 15-day DL. [8/26]

I'm liking the whole concept of getting Bautista when you're the team that employs the occasionally present and sometimes productive Scott Rolen, especially when it involves dealing from depth. Diaz has been injured much of the year, which superficially hampers his profile as a modest prospect as future big-league backstops go, but between having Brian Jeroloman and J.P. Arencibia in the upper levels, dealing Diaz was affordable. In this organization, the future belongs no more to Rod Barajas than it does to Gregg Zaun, even if Jays fans of a certain vintage or older will remember Cito Gaston's maddening affection for Pat Borders, and the therefore understandably worrisome similarity between Barajas' flavor of productivity and Borders'.

The question is what Bautista's actually for now that he's here. Rolen's under contract through 2010, after all, even if he'll perhaps unavoidably spend some portion of that time on the DL. He got all of one start at third after joining the team, in part because Cito's riding the hot hitting of Marco Scutaro; Scooter's sense of timing has always been his best trait, and nothing like a four-hit game on the day the team trades for a third baseman to keep getting at-bats. Activating Rolen in time to have him sit around and witness a few games-he apparently isn't going to get to play again until Friday-seems odd, especially in light of the club's reticence to play Bautista after having gotten him, but that's also a feature of Gaston-omy, where neglected reserves litter the bench like so many brussel sprouts. Bautista's adventures in the Pirates' outfield don't suggest he's a great fit as Adam Lind's platoon partner in left, and his career mark of .255/.357/.449 against lefties is merely adequate production for a platoon player at any corner (or paired off with Matt Stairs at DH). Still, given that's much, much better than Lyle Overbay (.230/.301/.279 this year, and a similarly pathetic .284/.305/.389 in '06 in his first year as a Jay, against his injury-riddled bass-ackwards '07), there are potential uses for Bautista on this club, especially since he's under control for another couple of seasons.

The state of affairs in the rotation is also getting pretty interesting, considering that Marcum earned his demotion, and the team's now back to starting Parrish-perhaps never reasonably excused in the first place, given the Jays' still-weird random, fleeting experiment with Richmond-and David Purcey to back up the front three of Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, and Jesse Litsch. While there's been a lot of turnover, that isn't to say there haven't been some follow-on results from among the reshuffled; Purcey's given them three quality starts in five in his second sting, while Litsch has responded to his demotion with two shutout starts of seven and six innings apiece. It looks like Marcum's being dealt with a bit harshly, having given the team one poor outing after a solid trio that followed his initial, rough set of three after coming off of the DL, but between how Purcey and Litsch seem to have responded, and the potential in-house message of "don't piss Cito off," might be a nice case of pour encourager les autres, and it isn't like getting sent to Syracuse is the worst thing that might happen when you're being made an example of.

I don't have a tidy segue, but as long as we're swinging through all things Jay-related, I'll just note something interesting: since pasting in John McDonald as the everyday shortstop in their 111th game, they're allowing just 3.4 runs per nine defensive innings. While getting Vernon Wells back in their 119th obviously also makes a big difference (with Alex Rios moving back to right), it's an interesting suggestion in the ongoing argument over whether or not McDonald's the new Mark Belanger, the shortstop whose defensive play is good enough to carry his bat. And no, Rey Ordonez definitely was not that player.


Not to worry, gang, I'll cover the full spread of NL moves next.

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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