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September 20, 2008

Transaction Analysis

National League Roundup

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Sent RHP Micah Owings to the Reds to complete their 8/11 trade for 1B/OF-L Adam Dunn.[9/12]

CHICAGO CUBS
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Recalled CF-L Felix Pie and purchased the contract of RHP Randy Wells from Iowa (Triple-A); placed RHP Jon Lieber on the 60-day DL (foot strain). [9/9]

Pie and Wells have both become relatively forgotten players on the prospect landscape, but both remain as interesting as ever, even after another summer spent knocking around the cornfields. There is a question of degree, of course—Pie is the full slice, while Wells is just sort of intriguing as a converted position player who can throw strikes and perhaps contribute in a swing role.

After a banishment back down to the farm to make space for Jim Edmonds in May, Pie struggled (or sulked) through a cold first month as a born-again I-Cub (.156/.229/.328 in 73 May PA), but wound up having a productive season just the same, finishing at .287/.336/.466 overall, projecting to a .267 Peak EqA. Admittedly that doesn't sound so hot, but keep in mind that he showed a big platoon split, hitting right-handers at a .303/.355/.506 clip. As infrequently as he walks, his playability as a regular in center is going to depend more on his ability to keep that sort of thing up in the majors. On the other hand, as well as Jim Edmonds has played this season, it wouldn't be entirely shocking if the Cubs considered re-signing Edmonds. Failing that, they might also consider making Kosuke Fukudome the center fielder, especially in light of how poorly Fukudome has hit in the second half; at least in center the Japanese import's bat would be playable, and he could slot into Edmonds' role as the heavy side of a platoon with Reed Johnson easily enough. (Although, that said, what is it about that suggestion which gives me that Marvell Wynne '90 vibe? Ugh.) That sort of thing might queer Pie's immediate future in the organization, but in the absence of any center-field prospects worthy of the name in the upper levels of the system, and in light of the risks attendant to employing Edmonds or counting on Fukudome, keeping the former blue chipper as an insurance policy instead of dealing him would make sense.

As for Wells, he initially had to deal with the possibility and distraction of getting nabbed away from the organization over the winter by the Blue Jays, but having only briefly gotten to stick around as a Rule 5 pick before being offered back and reclaimed by the Cubs, he only eventually slotted back into the Iowa rotation by mid-May. He posted a 3.75 ERA in his 19 I-Cub starts while striking out 102 batters in 118 2/3 total IP. However, the strikeout total doesn't reflect his limitations as well as his 127 hits allowed do; he's no more overpowering now than he was when the Jays picked him. Now, sure, some of that is part of not getting the star treatment in the minors—blue chip guys don't get plugged into a game in spot relief on short rest between starts (only to get hammered), and he took some pretty sound thrashings in hard-to-pitch places like Albuquerque and Salt Lake. Nevertheless, as a big guy who throws strikes with three pitches, he wouldn't be the worst mix-and-match type to keep around as a mop-up man, long reliever, and spot starter, assuming more teams would identify the wisdom of devoting the fifth rotation slot and the last spot in the pen to carrying those kinds of pitchers.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Activated UT-R Jerry Hairston Jr. from the 15-day DL. [9/8]
Placed RHPs Matt Belisle and Josh Fogg on the 60-day DL; recalled SS-R Paul Janish, 2B-L Danny Richar, INF-R Adam Rosales, and LHP Daniel Ray Herrera from Louisville (Triple-A); purchased the contracts of RHPs Jon Adkins and Josh Roenicke and LHP Adam Pettyjohn from Louisville; designated RHP Todd Coffey for assignment (and subsequently lost him on a waiver claim). [9/9]
Acquired RHP Micah Ownings from the Diamondbacks to complete the 8/11 Adam Dunn deal; placed 2B-R Brandon Phillips on the 60-day DL (broken index finger). [9/12]

The major news here is finally getting Owings as the PTBNL from the Dunn deal. On the plus side, I guess, we'll continue to be treated to seeing one of the game's best-hitting pitchers getting to call a bandbox home—there should be no doubt that having a hitting pitcher is an advantage in a park where easy outs rob you of run-scoring opportunities. The real question is whether or not Owings is going to be able to return to the streaks of effectiveness he enjoyed at the end of last season and the beginning of this one, when combined he rattled off 17 quality starts between his last ten turns in '07 and his first 12 in '08. However, as the season progressed he was undermined by a probable interrelationship between the drop in velocity on his fastball, struggles with finding the strike zone, and finally shoulder problems; a fastball/slider/change mix doesn't mix quite so nicely when you're not hitting your spots, overpowering anybody, or healthy. Just as MonsterBank Ballpark (West Campus) wasn't kind to him in Phoenix, the Gap isn't going to do him any favors in Cinci, but for better or worse—and I made my feelings pretty clear at the outset—he's the prize in this deal, and while I'm as big an Owings fan as you'll find, between the venue, the issues with velocity and command, and the real probability that he might wind up yet another pitcher Dusty Baker can't figure out (or might break trying to), I guess this deal looks that much more like an unhappy exchange for the Reds.

In light of their predicament, it's just as well that they're at least being afforded the opportunity to look at guys like Richar in Phillips' absence, to see what they have. Perhaps in light of their "shortstop curse," they did try Richar out a bit at shortstop down at Louisville, and with Jeff Keppinger still limping through the tail end of a lost season, shutting down the veteran to take a look at Richar and Janish up the middle would at least afford the Reds some evaluation time, something they really ought to be devoting themselves to. Unfortunately, there's the problem of having a skipper who isn't really in his element when he's presiding over a club looking at kids, which leads to having Dusty Baker prattle about how, in not using Wilkin Castillo behind the plate, "I don't want to do anything that might hurt us or embarrass him," when having to play Paul Bako with any kind of regularity is nothing but embarrassing, and when there's no point in getting worked up in the first place, because Castillo isn't really much of a prospect to start out with. Instead, with Chris Dickerson missing time with a bum ankle, Dusty's response has been to do things like alternate Castillo with Jolbert Cabrera in left, as if forcing paying customers to deal with Corey Patterson wasn't already embarra ssing enough—that's a bad outfield in Louisville, never mind the majors. But such is the nature of the Reds' menace, one of many things they can't dump on Wayne Krivsky's head. It's going to be very interesting to see what sort of winter Walt Jocketty puts together, and whether or not he's going to be afforded the opportunity to assemble the kind of veteran squad he can, and of the only kind that Dusty really has any idea what he's doing.

Perhaps the more promising elements here from among the call-ups are a few of the pitchers, because two among them are an entertaining study in contrasts. Roenicke is the son of Gary Roenicke, who all of us Earl Weaver fanboys and -girls know and love as a platoon monster par excellence—big, sharp, nasty teeth... against lefties—and he has taken something of a long and winding road to get here. Initially, Roenicke went to UCLA on a football scholarship, but then he switched to baseball to play the outfield, but he didn't hit a lick, but he got a look in the Bruins' bullpen in 2006, and there's something about throwing mid-90s heat that turns heads and makes people say, "but maybe he's a pitcher." Krivsky's crew drafted the double-conversion legacy in the 10th round in 2006, and he's continued lighting up speed guns on his way up through the system. Because of his peregrinations from one career possibility to the next, he's already 26, and while that should mean he doesn't have many miles on his arm, his violent delivery isn't really good news, and control remains an issue. The lack of a reliable off-speed pitch doesn't help either, but he nevertheless struck out 71 in 61 minor league innings between Double- and Triple-A, and 3.2 unintentional walks per nine (combined) isn't so terrible. He's certainly interesting, let's put it that way, but not necessarily more interesting than Herrera. Next week, Kevin Goldstein's going to be writing about pitcher size, and you can expect Herrera to figure in that piece, because the southpaw stands 5'7", and he's the kind of mighty mite whose every delivery comes in to the plate wiggling one way or another. Again, he split his 2008 season between Double- and Triple-A, but worked his way up a rung earlier in the year than Roenicke, and threw a combined 72 2/3 IP with 60 Ks, and with only 59 hits and 15 unintentional walks allowed. As a matter of angles, I have to think watching him pitch—to anybody—has to be one of the most interesting things to see on this team in the last bits of action. We'll see if he winds up merely becoming a situational specialist. How could I not root for the only pitcher in the major leagues shorter than I am? Or shorter than most of you? Here's hoping he proves that there's more than one way to skin the proverbial cat that the battle at home plate represents.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Activated 1B-L Todd Helton from the 60-day DL; designated RHP Pedro Strop for assignment. [9/12]

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Activated LHP Renyel Pinto from the 15-day DL. [9/8]
Recalled RHPs Ryan Tucker and Jesus Delgado and CF-R Cameron Maybin from Carolina (Double-A); purchased the contract of 1B/3B-R Gaby Sanchez from Carolina. [9/14]
Designated C-R Paul Hoover for assignment. [9/16]

Maybin's had trouble keeping healthy this season—a late-season spider bite is less cause for concern than the back problems that caused him to miss most of July—and while it was a solid season (.277/.375/.456), it wasn't without blemishes. He still has problems with the strike zone, striking out in 27 percent of his PAs, but walking in almost 13 percent of them represented a big step in the right direction. His power wasn't overwhelming, but he obviously has it, sort of like his value on the bases (stealing at a 75 percent clip in 28 attempts). It's interesting that he struggled when he batted in the leadoff slot while thriving lower in the order; maybe that means he has an adjustment to make, and maybe he's just better off left alone batting somewhere else in the lineup. Since the Marlins seem happy batting Hanley Ramirez leadoff, this isn't really a big deal unless you're wrapped up in the debate over whether or not HanRam would be better employed lower in the order; from my perspective, in a lineup where power isn't an issue but getting men on base is, getting as many PAs as possible from their best hitter—and best on-base threat—makes as much sense in reality as it would in a tabletop league.

The other call-ups have their virtues. Sanchez had a big year at Double-A (.314/.404/.513), but drilling now and drilling here into those numbers produces a few disappointments. The power was all against lefties, as he tattooed southpaws around at a .374/.456/.680 beat, while only hitting Double-A right-handers for .287/.381/.438. Add in that he's just turned 25, and you can see why Clay's translations anticipate a peak EqA of .274, or barely above the average for third basemen, and well below that for first basemen. That's especially crucial in his case because, while notionally capable of starting at either corner, you can play him at third at your own peril. In short, it's shaping up for a Wes Helms kind of career—he can hurt lefties and might be playable against right-handers in the best of times, he can't really play third, and he's getting a relatively late start at the big-league level. That might sound like I'm tearing the guy down, but I expect he'll actually make a nifty platoon partner for Mike Jacobs (or a lefty-hitting first baseman to be named later should the Jacobs trade rumors come to fruition). As for Tucker and and Delgado, both throw hard, harder, and hardest, and while that's a more consistent formula for success in the San Fernando Valley than the majors, as home-grown answers to the big-league team's problems in the pen, both might be able to make something of this audition, or at least position themselves for their bids next March.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Purchased the contract of INF-R Mark Saccomanno from Round Rock (Triple-A). [9/8]
Purchased the contract of RHP Dave Borkowski from Round Rock. [9/9]

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Activated RHP Brad Penny from the 15-day DL. [9/10]
Activated RHP Takashi Saito from the 60-day DL; placed OF-R Andruw Jones on the 60-day DL (knee soreness). [9/13]

The real news here is getting Saito back, because even if they're limited in terms of how they can utilize him, perhaps not having him around to appear on consecutive days, that's not the worst problem to have. It's somewhat akin to what I remember from Dan Okrent's incomparable Nine Innings when talking about Rollie Fingers' pre-appearance routine: warm him up once and only once, just six or seven hard warm-up pitches in the bullpen, and then put him in, no ifs, ands, or buts, or you've blown it. While Joe Torre's managed to overwork middlemen like Scott Proctor and Paul Quantrill and Jason Grimsley—and who wept for them, really?—he does deserve some credit for being the guy who handled Mariano Rivera with enough care to craft a Hall of Fame-worthy career for the Yankee closer, although even there it needs to be noted it took two to tango. Even so, within certain limits, I think it's safe to say that Saito's going to add something to the Dodgers' chances, and if you look at the prospective post-season schedule, that still makes for three potential appearances in either LDS, four in the LCS, and—to really put the cart a few counties ahead of the horse—four of seven World Series games. Situations are still going to dictate usage, but I have to think there's going to be an element of "use or lose" when it comes to Saito's employment.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Claimed RHP Todd Coffey off of waivers from the Reds; designated CF-L Laynce Nix for assignment; outrighted C-R Lou Palmisano to Nashville (Triple-A). [9/10]

It is a reflection of the Brewers' desperation that they could wind up not simply needing Coffey, but potentially missing him from the playoff roster since he wasn't within the organization by August 31, but there it is. As a ground-baller, he'll be well-served by getting away from the essentially shortstopless Reds, and as a guy with more than a few problems with the long ball, he especially won't miss trying to stick in that boomtastic playpen of a ballpark, the Gap. While he's not going to suddenly become a key element in a relief crew that's promiscuous in its capacities for blowing (leads, ballgames, up), I'm sort of reminded of the predicament of the '93 similarly combustive Phillies, who acquired Donn Pall too late and Bobby Thigpen and Roger Mason too soon—or at all, for that matter, since Jose DeLeon and Tim Mauser, the men they were respectively acquired with, were in each case the better pitcher. While there was wisdom in identifying that they did not have a good bullpen, that was a case of regretting the natural instinct to do something. Sometimes, it might be better to just say 'chuck it,' especially when things are going to hell in a bullpen cart, but in this case, I think a freshly-Brew'd cup of Coffey might perk things up."

NEW YORK METS
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Released RHP Al Reyes. [9/18]

Usually, being daring and bold and sending a message to an underperforming group should involve cutting somebody from among the herd. Seeing that Reyes really only just got here, barely pitched in the minors, and got released, the Mets may as well have propped up a crash-test dummy in front of a firing squad after some suitably macho Jerry Manuel peroration. Instead, you get this: "Wow, we whacked somebody." "Who?" "I don't know, but it means something, man."

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Designated LHP R.J. Swindle for assignment, and subsequently outrighted him to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [9/8]
Activated OF-L Geoff Jenkins from the the 15-day DL. [9/10]

Jenkins may be back in action, but it won't be as a starting outfielder, because he's been Pipp'd by Jayson Werth, the better hitter, defender, and ballplayer. He isn't even the club's best lefty pinch-hitter—Matt Stairs is—so while I expect he'll be on the post-season roster and all that, I wonder if he'll have much more of a role than early-game pinch-hitting and first-string butt-pat on the bench. Don't worry, Phillies phans, it's only going to be, what, another 400 days or so until they buy out that option on 2010, and cut their losses at $13 million.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Claimed RHP Charlie Haeger off of waivers from the White Sox. [9/10]
Claimed RHP Scott Patterson off outright waivers from the Yankees; transferred C-R Michael Barrett from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [9/11]
Outrighted RHP Brian Falkenborg to Portland (Triple-A). [9/12]

A nice pair of claims by the Pads, in that while neither Haeger nor Patterson are premium prospects, both of them have possibilities. Patterson could be an effective ROOGY, in that he's a big guy with low-90s velocity and some pretty extreme fly-ball tendencies coming to Petco, the park that forgives such things more readily than any other. As far as his situational applications, his platoon split pitching out of Scranton's pen was another extreme: right-handers hit .232/.255/.384 against him, lefties .289/.366/.542. That's like being Mike Myers' equally bloody-minded right-handed reflection in terms of how readily he can make any lefty batter a star, but I figure anybody who can strike out almost 40 percent of opposing right-handed batters has his uses. Between the park and the sharp staff management combo of Bud Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley, I like the upside.

Haeger's a bit more of a challenge, since he's a knuckleballer with persistent command issues. As quick as some of my colleagues have been to nominate him to be the latter-day incarnation of Charlie Hough or Tom Candiotti or one of the other good knuckleballers of relatively recent vintage, I keep thinking about guys like Steve Sparks or Dennis Springer, flutter-spinners of a different caliber, but ones who did wind up having useful careers. The atmospherics work—Petco's the place to be for every kind of moundsman, and the aforementioned skipper/coach combo should be able to help. But Haeger's control issues were also pretty severe—3.9 BB/9 and 15 hit batsmen on top of that isn't really happy, and there wasn't something positive like a nice second half to engender any warm fuzzies over partial-season performance. He did manage 15 quality starts in 25 for Charlotte, although perhaps reflecting the temptation to let an easy-effort knuckleballer go deeper into ballgames, three were blown after six innings. Seeing him get used out of the pen is a bit unfortunate, especially in light of the Pads giving starts to almost everyone else imaginable to play out the string, and because Haeger's been especially wild trying to pitch out of the pen, with the White Sox, the Knights, and now the Padres in his initial pair of games. I wouldn't want anybody to get too worked up, but this is the club that's using Cha Seung Baek every fifth day and counting itself fortunate, after all; if Haeger's to succeed before reaching the notional “knuckleball peak” in his thirties, there will be no better opportunity than this.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Purchased the contract of 3B-L Conor Gillaspie from Salem-Keizer (Short-season A-ball); outrighted OF-L Clay Timpner to Fresno (Triple-A). [9/6]
Outrighted OF-R Brian Horwitz and RHP Matt Palmer to Fresno. [9/18]

Gillaspie was the 37th overall pick in this year's draft, perhaps lower than his overall quality—Kevin had him ranked as the 32nd-best available talent before the draft—and his exploits at Wichita State and the Cape Cod League reflected his gifts: tremendous power, an advanced approach, and playability at third (for the time being). He's not really ready, so this isn't like a latter-day Bob Horner instant arrival of sorts, but this promotion does reflect an expectation that he'll move quickly, because firing up his service-time clock this soon effectively demands it. Since the Giants are still short a third baseman—the perhaps Bob Brenly-like career path for Pablo Sandoval should still wind up with his being a catcher more than anything else—that's just as well, and it was why he was picked. Between guys like Sandoval and Travis Ishikawa now, and Gillaspie and Buster Posey eventually, if nothing else this team's a lot more interesting than it was a few months ago, and not simply because of how they're getting their Freak on.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Activated OF-R Brian Barton from the 15-day DL. [9/9]

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Activated 1B-S Dmitri Young from the 15-day DL. [9/7]


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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