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March 17, 2009

Transaction Analysis

Wild Wests

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

LOS ANGELES ANGELS
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Optioned RHP Rafael Rodriguez to Salt Lake (Triple-A); optioned 1B-L Mark Trumbo to Arkansas (Double-A). [3/16]

Trumbo got more than a courtesy collection of at-bats in the Cactus League, but Kendry Morales seems to be making consistent enough contact that we're not in anything resembling a first-base controversy just yet. Similarly, Brandon Wood's swinging a hot bat. If anything, the pressure's on the third-rank types to sort out who comes first should one of the more likely rostered players get hurt-guys like Terry Evans, Sean Rodriguez, and Matt Brown-and their situation has been made worse by Mike Napoli's unavailability to catch because of shoulder problems in the early going. If the Angels have to carry either Bobby Wilson or Ryan Budde to back up Jeff Mathis, that not only kills the third rank's chances, it impacts Wood or Robb Quinlan or any tendency towards carrying a 12th pitcher as well. That decision tree might end up pushing Napoli to the DL instead of heading for DH duties. The news is a little less grim for pitchers trying to stick-perhaps notably Jason Bulger and Shane Loux-because while Kelvim Escobar's speedy recovery has advanced his timetable for contributing to the big-league staff to sometime in May, there's still the question of when Ervin Santana's going to be back in action as he works through an elbow issue.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Outrighted INF-R Yung Chi Chen to Sacramento (Triple-A). [3/5]
Signed SS-R Orlando Cabrera to a one-year, $4 million contract, and INF-R Nomar Garciaparra to a one-year, $1 million (base) contract. [3/6]
Optioned OF-R Javier Herrera to Sacramento. [3/13]
Optioned 3B-R Jeff Baisley, 2B/OF-L Eric Patterson, and RHP Ryan Webb to Sacramento. [3/16]

And there you have it, the bet that the A's could win the division this year, certainly enough so that they were willing to surrender their second-round pick in 2009 to the White Sox to sign Cabrera, and stake that bet with a wee bit of cash besides. By the terms of their deal with Cabrera, they've also forgone being able to offer him arbitration if he's classified as a Type-A free agent after the year, so they won't be getting a 2010 draft pick out of this exercise-this really is just a pair of free-agent signings made with an eye to win now, nothing more or less. Both signings definitely contribute to that goal, so much so that the A's immeidately moved into a tie with the Angels in our pre-season forecasts. Even with five years on the man he replaces, Cabrera's a better defender than Crosby, and while he's hardly a secondary average all-star, he gives the team a better source of power, speed, and OBP than the previous starter at short. Nomar's occasional availability should prove handy in a couple of ways-as a right-handed bat to spot for lefties Daric Barton and Jason Giambi at first, Eric Chavez or Jack Hannahan at third, and for Jack Cust and Giambi at DH.

This creates a small roster crunch, and Barton might be doomed to a trip back down to Sacramento if all the old men are healthy enough to be on the Opening Day roster. Allowing for one non-Nomar infield reserve (probably Crosby) still allows room for a twelfth pitcher, though that leaves the team with Cust and Rajai Davis (whose job platooning with Ryan Sweeney in center seems set) as their outfield alternatives. I can't help but be curious to see if they'll take a cue from the Dodgers and consider Nomar as their second option at shortstop; Cabrera will play the vast majority of the defensive innings at short regardless, and if cutting Crosby encourages them to keep Barton in the first-base mix and has Giambi DHing and Cust in right now and again, that wouldn't be such a bad thing. That could be cutting it a bit close in terms of the infield reserve picture, but if, during the course of the season, Bob Geren gains enough confidence in his pitching staff to dial back down to 11, that's when a Gregorio Petit or a Cliff Pennington might provide the infield utility they're bucking for. In the meantime, Crosby's got to show something beyond a paycheck to merit retention. While Hannahan's bid for sticking with the team took a huge hit with this pair of signings, his immediate future depends on whether or not Chavez is healthy, and at least he's hitting some, whereas Crosby hasn't even delivered that much in Cactus League action.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Signed RHP Chad Cordero to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [3/12]
Claimed RHP Jesus Delgado off of waivers from the Marlins; placed LHP Ryan Feierabend on the 60-day DL. [3/15]

It's early yet to make any major statements about what's being done in Seattle on Jack Zduriencik's watch, but both signing up Cordero and grabbing Delgado represent nifty little moves. Cordero is apparently making good time in his comeback from last summer's shoulder surgery, which might put him in the big-league bullpen picture sometime by late May or June; if he's healthy enough to ring up a few saves, who's to say he couldn't be flipped for something of value at the deadline? There's always a contender looking for relief help with two months to go, after all, so if Cordero gives Seattle a good seven or eight weeks, maybe they can trade him in for a prospect of some sort. Failing that, if the Mariners simply get good work out of him, it's a nice bit of retreading regardless. As for Delgado, sort of like their previous decision to claim live-armed Luis Pena off of waivers from the Brewers, this is just a sensible snag for a team in need of talent. Delgado and Pena might both never sort out where the strike zone is, but they throw hard enough that a team can invest the time to find out. However promising the long-term picture might be, upper-level depth is an issue, and grabbing people who throw hard makes sense as long as they can find the space for them. Given that they had to scoot Feierabend onto the 60-day DL to grab Delgado, space is an issue, so the non-roster players hoping to make the team are already up against the numbers game. For example, Chris Shelton and Randy Messenger are both having good camps, but it might not matter. Mike Morse could end up vacating one space because he's out of options, so if he doesn't make the team, he's got to go through waivers, and you might anticipate how a Bryan LaHair or a Tyler Walker could lose their spots. It wouldn't be uncharacteristic of a new regime to make some noisy break with the past by cutting somebody bad and well-compensated, but it's a full-up roster as things stand right now.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Signed RHP Kris Benson to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/21]
Optioned RHP Thomas Diamond and LHP Kason Gabbard to Oklahoma City (Triple-A); optioned RHPs Guillermo Moscoso and Omar Poveda and 2B-S Jose Vallejo to Frisco (Double-A); invited C-L Emerson Frostad to the big-league camp. [3/15]

Both Diamond and Gabbard are working their way back from injuries on top of some pretty severe control problems, with Gabbard's recovery impeding his bid for one of the rotation slots in camp. This isn't a huge setback as these things go-beyond Kevin Millwood, Brandon McCarthy, and Vicente Padilla, it's not hard to suggest that anybody could wind up in the last two slots, and probably will. Benson certainly chose the right team to sign with, as he joins prospect Matt Harrison, a rehabbing Jason Jennings, Dustin Nippert, and Scott Feldman among the more or less plausible alternatives. Jennings probably rates a step behind the others initially, because he's still in the process of coming back from last year's forearm injury, but there's also the possibility that he opts out to hook up with somebody else.

For some of these guys, however, the problems really begin when you get into the simple arithmetic of who's on the 40-man roster. The Rangers are currently at 39, though that includes two guys-Joaquin Benoit and Eric Hurley-who you might expect to land on the 60-day DL. Nippert's out of options-as is bubble reliever Josh Rupe-so he either makes the team or has to go through waivers and come off of the 40-man. So, do they have space to fit a lot of these guys, or not? Not exactly, because beyond non-roster veteran pitchers Benson and Jennings making their cases for being kept, the Rangers also have to pick from among Andruw Jones, Elvis Andrus, or Omar Vizquel for non-roster position players, and in the bullpen Eddie Guardado, Brendan Donnelly, and Derrick Turnbow are all making their cases for keeperdom as well. Jones, Guardado, and Donnelly aren't showing much so far, so this might not be quite so difficult as it might have seemed a few weeks ago; Marlon Byrd's return from an injury certainly didn't do Andruw any favors. But even if the Rangers do something expensive to "buy back" an additional roster spot or two-eating $6 million to cut loose Frank Catalanotto, for example-it's going to be interesting to see how the Rangers' roster shakes out.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Optioned RHP Cesar Valdez to Reno (Triple-A); optioned RHPs Jose Marte and Kyler Newby and SS-R Pedro Ciriaco to Mobile (Double-A); optioned LHP Leyson Septimo to Visalia (High-A). [3/16]

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Optioned RHP Esmil Rogers to Tulsa (Double-A). [3/9]
Optioned RHPs Samuel Deduno and Shane Lindsay to Tulsa; optioned SS-R Hector Gomez to Modesto (High-A); optioned RHPs Jason Hirsh, Ryan Mattheus, and Steven Register and 2B-S Eric Young Jr. to Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [3/16]

Little EY didn't do anything in camp to significantly help his bid for the Rockies' keystone duties, but just keep in mind that this team's still got Clint Barmes listed as the expected starter. While Omar Quintanilla and Jonathan Herrera are both having good camps, Jeff Baker's been hurt; take a step back and look at that collection of names, and you realize that, while it constitutes a crowd, it doesn't necessarily equal a major series of obstacles. If (or when) Barmes falters, the Rockies can easily afford to just go with the hot hand and move somewhat randomly through their assorted options, but the dilemma that requires resolution is more a matter of long-term planning. Will the same willpower that has them ruling out any resumption of the experiment using Ian Stewart at second base help guide them past filler-oriented fixes, which is all that Barmes and Baker and Quintanilla represent? After demonstrating a past willingness to platoon in the middle infield when they had Kaz Matsui and Jamey Carroll, might they adopt another for the time being, plugging in Quintanilla or Herrera for Barmes (or Baker) against tough right-handers? Or will this remain enough of a mess that Young could drive the agenda and set his own timetable by starring in Colorado Springs? Because he's the one from the lot with the best shot at everyday play-albeit in Triple-A-he could very well end up claiming the job for himself at some point during the season if he does well in the PCL. Certainly, the chances of Young's eventual victory is the sort of thing that might make steal-hungry fantheads' hearts go pitter-pat.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Re-signed LF-R Manny Ramirez to a two-year, $45 million contract. [3/4]
Optioned LHP Greg Miller to Albuquerque (Triple-A); designated RHP Justin Orenduff for assignment. [3/6]
Outrighted RHP Justin Orenduff to Albuquerque. [3/15]

On the list of obvious and smart moves, bringing back Manny Ramirez ranks rather highly, especially when the alternatives come wearing Juan Pierre's duds-uniforms, at-bats, you name it, if it isn't pinch-running, where Pierre's concerned, they're all relative duds. There was of course the instant fun that came with putting Manny in a Dodgers uni and how that played out on our own depth charts and projected rankings-of a sudden, the McCourt men had leapfrogged the Snakes in our projected standings, instantly becoming our favorites to win the division. I was just as immediately struck by a certain symmetry to how the Ramirez deal can be easily hailed as wisdom-it's short in length and big on cash, and who amongst us thinks the man should be playing anywhere besides DH by 2011-in almost the same ways that we in the performance analysis community tended to fall into lockstep and tout the short-term, big-money commitment to Andruw Jones as a division-winning move for the Dodgers late last winter. Now, sure, there's a lot here that doesn't go into the relevant spread sheets-age-old warnings about Jones' increasingly spotty commitment to the game, for example-but it would be fair to say that Manny Ramirez enjoys perhaps an even more elaborate spottiness when it comes to commitments and their observation. I don't raise this superficial similarity to undermine the point that bringing Manny back should prove the difference for the Dodgers this year, but there is an obvious readiness among my fellow statheads to accept the suggestion that anybody not named Juan Pierre represents an improvement on Juan Pierre. While our collective batting average on this observation should move up to .500 after being dead wrong where Andruw was concerned in our first at-bat, it's also worth keeping in mind that the Manny the Dodgers get in 2009 or 2010 isn't automatically going to be the latter-day Bambino they got for the stretch run last season, but will instead perhaps be the more typically entertaining Manny that we all know and love, lurching from sulks to streaks to his own special brand of defensive indifference.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Optioned RHP Ernesto Frieri to San Antonio (Double-A). [3/7]
Outrighted RHP Chad Reineke to Portland (Triple-A). [3/12]
Signed OF-L Chris Snelling to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [3/14]
Signed RHP Duaner Sanchez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [3/15]

Reineke's bid for a rotation spot was never going to be a sure thing, but to get outrighted-and pass through waivers-seems like both a damning reflection of his perceived utility and a nicely timed move to make sure that nobody else would grab him. Talk of back trouble after two outings no doubt helped on both counts, but don't let this lead you to any sort of satisfaction with the state of the Pads' rotation. Jake Peavy, Chris Young, and Cha Seung Baek should all be locks, with Josh Geer and Kevin Correia perhaps representing the most likely picks for the last two slots. Since Correia and Baek couldn't hold fifth slots on other teams, Young's velocity is down, and Geer is still trying to prove his elbow won't need to go under the knife, that's an ugly scenario. Wade LeBlanc hasn't done anything to nail down a slot, so it doesn't take much to start getting into wondering whether or not Jae Kuk Ryu is this year's Korean waiver-wire savior (making the Pads twice-Baek'd, if you will).

That state of affairs isn't just a rotation issue, of course, which is why Snelling and Sanchez have landed in San Diego. Kevin Towers has already frankly admitted that Sanchez has a solid shot at landing a spot in the Opening Day bullpen, regardless of the velocity issues that got him cut from the Mets already. Snelling's got less of a shot at the moment-the club still has to sort through a crowded field of outfield options-but three homers for Australia in the WBC was enough to put him back on somebody's radar, and if he shines as a Beaver in Portland without hurting himself, who's to say he can't finally make it in his age-27 season? And where better than here, with a team that has little that is genuinely locked in at any of its three outfield slots? In my saying that, keep in mind that Chase Headley could wind up moving back to third base at some point, Brian Giles is 38 years old, Jody Gerut has to prove he can do it again, and Cliff Floyd and Scott Hairston have to show they can stay healthy for any length of time. It's an interesting and potentially good group, but it's also afflicted with a larger than standard-sized share of uncertainty.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Released OF-L Dave Roberts; optioned RHPs Kelvin Pichardo and Keiichi Yabu to Fresno (Triple-A). [3/5]
Optioned LHP Pat Misch to Fresno. [3/9]
Optioned LHP Jesse English, RHP Henry Sosa, and 3B-L Conor Gillaspie to Fresno. [3/16]

Whatever else, credit Brian Sabean for a willingness to just take the financial hit and instead keep roster space clear for Nate Schierholtz as the team's primary outfield reserve, while creating some for what might be a crowd of winners from among the other competitors for bench spots. Rich Aurilia and Juan Uribe make for easy enough likely picks-Uribe as Pablo Sandoval's defensive replacement at third, and Aurilia as a familiar infield reserve who might get some playing time at first base in a minor-key platoon role with Travis Ishikawa. But the second-base battle might have leftovers, because Kevin Frandsen and Emmanuel Burriss both seem to be making their best cases for the starting job. Even then, there are a few fun dark horses in camp. Andres Torres just barely missed my list of Quad-A guys after delivering a .256 Equivalent Average for Iowa last year, and would give Bruce Bochy a right-handed reserve to pair with Schierholtz in the outfield. Even more interesting is Jesus Guzman, who set a Venezuelan Winter League record for RBI after being discarded by first the Mariners and later the A's organizations. His best position is "hitter," although he's played third (badly) and second (sporadically). He's swinging a hot bat in Cactus League action, slugging .879 through Monday's action (not that that's all that remarkable, Eugenio Velez is hot too). However, if Bochy decides to keep a camp star over old-timers like Aurilia and Uribe, Torres and/or Guzman might sneak into the picture.


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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