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December 2, 2008

Transaction Analysis

Picking Over the Bones

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
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Acquired RHP Wes Littleton from the Rangers for a PTBNL or cash. [11/28]

Churned out of the pitching charnel house in Texas, the real question with Littleton is whether or not there's all that much there that makes it worth using a 40-man slot on him. I'd liken grabbing him to past exercises with Kyle Snyder, or even the early bit of grabbiness that brought Dewon Day and Virgil Vasquez into the organization earlier this winter, or Marcus McBeth late in the summer. Where Day and McBeth and Snyder make for much more direct comps-big guys who throw hard-Littleton generates plenty of grounders with lower-velocity stuff from a side-arm delivery. That can be useful if the right combination of differing talents winds up in the first five or six slots in the pen ahead of him. There's not really any hidden gold with any of these guys, but they're playable in low-leverage roles: emergency starter, last guy in the pen, extra arm to bring up from Pawtucket after Terry Francona had to lean on the pen heavily in a particular stretch. Whether or not the Sox can keep Littleton and Day and Vasquez on the 40-man all winter strikes as relatively improbable; the Sox are at 38 now, and they just offered arbitration to Paul Byrd and Jason Varitek. Regardless of the outcome of those offers, and given the almost absolute certainty that they're going to end up signing somebody at some point this winter, this is the group from which Theo Epstein will find roster space. As semi-interesting fill in the meantime, it works. And as the decision to outright McBeth earlier this offseason proved, sometimes other people aren't interested in taking a guy who nevertheless might prove useful at some point.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Designated LHP Tyler Lumsden for assignment. [11/20]
Traded LHP Tyler Lumsden to the Astros for a PTBNL or cash. [11/24]
Re-signed LHP Tim Hamulack and signed 1B/3B-R Corey Smith and SS-R Luis Hernandez to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs; returned RHP Jairo Cuevas to the Braves via a subsequent waivers (re)claim. [11/26]
Re-signed C-L Matt Tupman and signed RHP Franquelis Osoria and 1B/C-R J.R. House to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [11/29]

Plenty of wee bits of fun to be found here. Corey Smith's name might be familiar to some of you, particularly if you're an Indians fan retroactively grumpy over the Tribe's selecting him late in the first round of the 2000 draft when Adam Wainwright and Xavier Nady were still on the board. (Of course, just from today's players in motion, so were Tagg Bozied and Scott Thorman, and the Cubs took Bobby Hill in the supplemental phase. Insert your draft-as-crapshoot metaphor here.) Smith still can't really play third, and he's probably never going to be anything more than a minor league slugger of some merit, and he's coming off of a big year at Double-A Arkansas (.271/.321/.495). There are worse guys to put in front of the good folks in Omaha, certainly, and he'll be coming into his age-27 season, so expect souvenirs if you get bleacher seats.

House is another interesting addition, in that while he's also probably more a first baseman than a catcher, he at least might have major league applications as a platoon partner for Mike Jacobs and second or third catcher on the roster. As space-savers go, having a guy who can hit lefties and catch and stand around at first has its uses, and while I see House as more John Wockenfuss (or Chris Coste) than Jim Leyritz, that's still a handy use of a roster spot. Of course, it would shut the door on Ryan Shealy's chances, but Jacobs' acquisition really reduces Shealy to either a part-timer's future as a Royal or a hero's welcome in a PCL venue to be named later.

As for Hernandez, there's no accounting for taste, and I fail to see what repeating the Tony Pena Jr. experience with an even worse player of Pena's type is supposed to achieve. If Pena's the shortstop you break glass and play in case of emergency when you're in dire need, what's Hernandez? The spare in case of additional emergency for the day after the apocalypse? There's no accounting for taste, I suppose.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Signed RHP Chris Schroder to a one-year contract. [11/19]
Signed RHP Kevin Cameron, 1B/OF-R Tagg Bozied, and OF-R Matt Carson to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/1]

While I've already discussed the potentially interesting group of relatively unknown relievers the A's have to look forward to picking from next season, Schroder's a nifty addition. He has a nice power pitcher's combo of decent velocity and an occasionally fearsome slider, which he used to pretty good effect at Columbus, generating 55 strikeouts against 18 unintentional walks in 45 1/3 IP, while allowing only three homers. Given that most of the already in-house alternatives don't have a ton of big-league experience, it isn't hard to envision Schroder sticking as a token vet, a guy who's already 30 and has his uses as a middle reliever. He and his agent certainly chose wisely, putting him with a team that won't just value him over the regular season, but that also had the space for him on the 40-man right now.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Acquired CF-R Greg Golson from the Phillies for OF-R John Mayberry; designated RHPs Wes Littleton and Kameron Loe for assignment. [11/20]
Released RHP Kameron Loe. [11/26]
Dealt RHP Wes Littleton to the Red Sox for a PTBNL or cash. [11/28]

While this is an interesting little challenge trade of sorts, the Rangers got the upside. Golson's a gifted center fielder coming off of a decent age-22 season in the Eastern League: .282/.333/.434, which translates to a .246 Equivalent Average, not great, but not too shabby for a guy regrouping in a first full season at the level. He also chipped in 23 steals in 28 attempts, and 13 homers in 470 PA isn't too bad for someone whose primary assets are his defense and speed. However, striking out in almost 28 percent of his plate appearances reflects a career-long problem with pitch identification. His peak EqA so far only projects out to .265, or a decent placeholder in center, someone who can play the position, run a little, provide a little pop and a little speed, but not a lot of OBP. If he improves his approach though, it isn't inconceivable that he could significantly improve on his upside. If he doesn't he could still be useful on a team that gets a lot of offense from traditional power positions, of course. Taking a chance on an up-the-middle player with Golson's gifts makes sense, especially when Mayberry's a bit of an older work in progress, and the kind of player who if he doesn't put it together at the plate fast won't ever pan out as a starting outfield cornerman. Add in that Marlon Byrd's Rangers property for only one more season, and it isn't hard to anticipate that if they aren't in contention in July, they might flip the free agent-to-be and take a look at the youngster, whereas if they are in contention, they can wait to make that change in 2010, and that if Golson's earned the shot, as he well might. All in all, a worthwhile deal for the Rangers.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Outrighted SS-R Angel Sanchez to Las Vegas (Triple-A) [11/19].
Released LHP Les Walrond. [11/20]

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Released 4C-R Jamie D'Antona. [11/24]

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Claimed LHP Eric O'Flaherty off of waivers from the Mariners. [11/20]
Claimed RHP Jairo Cuevas back off of waivers from the Royals. [11/26]

Nabbing O'Flaherty on waivers is an excellent little claim for the Braves, and exactly the kind of thing Frank Wren should be doing when it comes to restructuring his roster and finding low-cost alternatives to departing free agents. Although the team has expressed an interest in re-signing Will Ohman, there's no harm in having a lefty around who can dial it up into the low 90s who will be coming into his age-24 season. We'll have to see if the back problems that hampered O'Flaherty in June are chronic, of course, but looking at the Braves' current roster, the only other likely bullpen southpaw they might turn to would be former Rays farmhand Jeff Ridgway. He doesn't have O'Flaherty's promise, however, and both of them are essentially fungible, which is what makes this move especially worthwhile-a healthy O'Flaherty is possibly the best lefty reliever the team has beyond erstwhile closer Mike Gonzalez, but Wren has options this early on. He can of course keep shopping for a veteran lefty (Ohman, for example), but he doesn't have to climb down off of a particular number if he wants to stick with his budget. If O'Flaherty ends up looking like he's still hurting, there's enough slack on the 40-man that they could afford to carry him.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Outrighted PH-L David Newhan to Round Rock (Triple-A), but he refused the assignment to become a free agent instead. [11/23]
Acquired LHP Tyler Lumsden from the Royals for a PTBNL or cash. [11/24]
Signed LHP Mike Hampton to a one-year contract, pending the outcome of a physical. [12/1]

In Hampton's case, that's the same as saying they haven't really signed him at all. Banking on anything from Hampton at this point might make little sense, but that's not to say giving him a look-see doesn't make some measure of sense. While nobody should expect him to be the ace he was a decade ago, it's worth noting he did give the Braves eight quality starts in 13 once he was plugged into the rotation at the end of July. He averaged six innings per start, although his SNLVA rate of .482 ranked between Zach Duke and Jeff Francis. Ain't relative perception grand? For Hampton, this represented a triumph, for Duke and Francis, massively disappointing seasons. If, as reported, the deal's for $2 million plus incentives, that's not an unreasonable risk when the upside might be 30 starts and a good fourth starter. Add in that Hampton's the kind of player who's always helped himself with little things-hitting, fielding, holding runners-and it isn't hard to get carried away with how this might make for a nice closing chapter to a career that deserves a better third act than innumerable hours spent on the trainer's table.

As for Lumsden, if you've ever had an interest in British military history, it's a name you might recognize-the Empire had a pair of 20th-century artillery generals named Lumsden, both killed in action (one in each world war), both noted for their gallantry. There was also a Neil Lumsden in the backfield of those great Edmonton Eskimos teams from the late '70s and early '80s, a squad that won five straight Grey Cups. That's probably not what you remember about that team, any more than Lumsden registers, but you know about that team on some level because those were the teams that put Warren Moon on people's football radars. That team also launched the brief stateside coaching career of head coach Hugh Campbell, initially in the USFL before being reunited with Moon in Houston with the Oilers for a couple of seasons. One of Campbell's quirks as a coach was that he was given to platooning his quarterbacks; with the Eskimos, he alternated Moon and veteran quarterback Tom Wilkinson. I'm not sure if this was orthodox in the CFL during the '70s, or whether it was an adaptation to the faster-paced game and the perhaps more physically demanding, mobile brand of play quarterbacks seemed to employ in the league, but when Campbell came to coach the LA Express in the USFL in '83, he brought the concept with him, alternating NFL veteran Mike Rae with youngster Tom Ramsey (a UCLA star who eventually wound up with the Patriots). The tandem concept didn't really take, and the Express finished a game behind the Oakland Invaders (quarterbacked by NorCal semi-pro legend Fred Besana) and out of the playoffs. (I cared.)

None of which really tells you much about Tyler Lumsden, I suppose, but what's there to say? A southpaw out of the Sox system flipped to the Royals in the Mike MacDougal trade in July 2006, he was briefly seen as a prospect because of a sharp curve and consistent low-90s velocity (touching 95), but between bad mechanics, an elbow surgery that cost him his 2005 season, and shoulder problems in 2007, it isn't really clear what's left. However, with the upper levels of the Astros' system bare of m/any prospects of note, there was space to spare on the 40-man, even for a guy who allows 204 baserunners, 93 runs, and 15 bombs in 107 1/3 innings. Yeah, you read that right. Once pulled from Omaha's rotation in the second half, he was better in relief-how could he not be?-allowing "only" 31 baserunners and 14 runs in 24 2/3 IP, with 15 strikeouts. I suppose it's worth kicking the tires-left-handed hominids who ever threw 95 arouse some sort of interest by default, and despite his extended tale of woe, he'll only be turning 26 next season-but barring a tremendous bit of retreading, I wouldn't pin my hopes on Lumsden any more than I would Hampton when it comes to shoring up the back end of the Astros rotation. It makes sense as a flyer, nothing more.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Signed LHP R.J. Swindle to a one-year contract; signed OF/2B-R Jason Bourgeois to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [11/25]
Signed 1B-L Scott Thorman to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/1]

The Brewers do some things that can seem odd at times where roster management's concerned. You might count the decision to give Swindle a guaranteed deal among them, and in that light I'd remind people that they did the same thing with Randy Choate last winter in mid-November, that after Choate had spent almost all of 2007 pitching for Tucson. While this obviously wouldn't match a lot of people's ideas of how to fill a 40-man roster spot in November, December, or January-in the abstract, these seem the sorts you sign to NRI deals and make room for at the end of March-you could credit Doug Melvin for not being overly cute and just deciding up front that these are the kinds of guys he knows he'll employ as his pen's second lefty to back up Brian Shouse. (In defense of Melvin regarding Choate, remember, he broke a finger in March that effectively cost him his job. Them's the breaks, literally.)

Swindle had a nifty little season in the Phillies' organization, striking out 67 in 53 IP between Double- and Triple-A, including 39 of 79 left-handed hitters, not too shabby for a Canadian who was drafted and quickly cut by the Red Sox, later washed out of the Yankees system after an initial spin through the indie leagues (with the Schaumburg Flyers), and who followed that up with another successful stint (this time with Newark) to get his latest crack with the Phillies. Should Shouse accept the Brewers' offer of arbitration, in this instance, Swindle's shot at a job in the Brewpen won't go uncontested-Mitch Stetter profited from Choate's absence, and he has a viable bid for the role-but if Shouse scrams, Stetter and Swindle provide the Brewers with enough value in the situational-lefty role to spare Melvin from spending seven large on a veteran.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Traded CF-R Greg Golson to the Rangers for OF-R John Mayberry Jr. [11/20]
Signed RHP Mike Koplove to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [11/29]

Challenge trades of middling prospects don't happen with any great regularity, but this is especially interesting given the time of year. Both players had to be on their respective team's 40-man rosters, so space wasn't a consideration. This is purely a matter of deciding you'd rather have the other guy's kid than your own, and his feeling the same way about it. This is sure to be read into as Ruben Amaro Jr.'s first deal as a general manager, but in the same way that I like the potential upside for the Rangers, I like the risk involved in giving a shot to Mayberry on the off chance that the hulking Stanford product gets his swing ironed out with an opportunity at mashing in his new team's home park.

Mayberry's age-24 season saw him play his way into Triple-A after a decent April in Double-A (.268/.322/.512). His first exposure to Triple-A wasn't all good or all bad, as he hit .263/.316/.474 in 114 games, delivered 53 extra-base hits (and 16 homers), but drew just 28 free passes in 475 PA. In short, it was the kind of season that offered a further reflection of his virtues and vices as a prospect: dubious pitch identification skills balanced against intriguing power generated by a hulking, 6'6" frame. (With big men Werth and Mayberry on hand, if nothing else the Phillies have the tackles for their offensive line, I guess.) The nagging concern with Mayberry is that he's mostly just a left fielder, and that he's going to have to hit for a ton of power to really pan out as a prospect. That said, put him in the weaker league, in a bandbox, and potentially in a lineup where he won't have to be a star, and it isn't hard to envision how he might sneak up on people and get a shot at a job with the Phillies. Given that his PCL performance came heavily at the expense of the circuit's southpaw's, hitting .350/.393/.700 against them (and just .237/.294/.407 against righties), the worst-case scenario might involve his becoming nothing more than a latter-day Wes Chamberlain type, and an excellent producer in the short side of a platoon, but just as the Rangers have reason to see upside in Golson, so too do the Phillies have cause with Mayberry. It's entirely plausible that he winds up backing up Geoff Jenkins or some other lefty bat in the Phillies' post-Pat Burrell landscape in left, although given his imperfections, it might be better to stick him in Triple-A and see if he finally blossoms as a hitting prospect.


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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