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June 2, 2009

Transaction Analysis

AL Central, Plus

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Claimed LHP David Davidson off of waivers from the Marlins, and optioned him to Norfolk. [5/28]
Recalled C-S Matt Wieters from Norfolk; designated C/UT-R Chad Moeller for assignment. [5/29]

For all of the build-up, you'd think the Orioles had just immanentized the eschaton, when we might more practically speak of a team that has helped itself by getting around to the obvious to plug in someone who was already one of the best 30 catchers on the planet. The Orioles currently sit at a decidedly mediocre eighth in the AL in team-level Equivalent Average at a .257 clip, a mark that also represented the worst offense in the AL East to boot, so bringing Wieters into play can't come a moment too soon, as he fixes one of the three weaker points in the lineup, with Gregg Zaun still looking done-ish (.219 EqA). (From among the other two slots, Cesar Izturis' .233 EqA is simply a matter of the man being himself, which you can't really hold against him when you're getting what you paid for; Melvin Mora's plonking along at third base with a .247 EqA that, weak as it is, still trumps Ty Wigginton's .207.) It might seem slightly unjust to the Adam Eaton or Mark Hendrickson types that they had to ply their trade with the imagined benefits of Zaun or Moeller in the lineup, while Brad Bergesen, Jay Berken, Rich Hill, and David Hernandez get the benefit of working with Wieters, but given the seeming performance-blind ineradicability of the Eatons and Hendricksons no matter how many years they struggle, there's no real need to weep over this particular form of "injustice." It just contributes to what should make for a fascinating second-half phenomenon, as the Orioles mount a shot at entering that list of non-contenders nobody wants to play down the stretch.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Optioned RHP Jose Contreras to Charlotte (Triple-A); recalled LHP Jimmy Gobble from Charlotte. [5/11]
Activated OF-R Brian Anderson from the 15-day DL; optioned UT-R Brent Lillibridge to Charlotte. [5/19]
Placed LF-R Carlos Quentin on the 15-day DL (plantar fasciitis), retroactive to 5/26; activated OF-L DeWayne Wise from the 15-day DL. [5/29]
Traded RHP Lance Broadway to the Mets for C-R Ramon Castro; designated C-R Corky Miller for assignment; purchased the contract of LHP Wes Whisler from Charlotte. [5/30]

These activities break neatly into three groups: what's up with the rotation, what's wrong with the outfield, and taking advantage of Omar's latest crush on someone named Omir. The rotation's the easiest bit to dispense with, because as much as the White Sox think they might have a nice problem on their hands in that Clayton Richard's looking good since his elevation to the rotation, this unit isn't a burgeoning source of strength, it's an ugly mix of struggle, luck, and lowered expectations. Consider this information:

Pitcher       SNLVA_R  DERA   LD%  UBB%   HR%   BABIP
Mark Buehrle   .655    2.17   22%  4.5%  2.6%   .284
John Danks     .496    2.56   16%  9.2%  2.5%   .329
Gavin Floyd    .459    5.27   25%  9.0%  2.3%   .327
Bartolo Colon  .529    3.40   14%  7.0%  3.5%   .290
J. Contreras   .321    6.82   13% 10.1%  2.7%   .314
C. Richard     .632    4.36   16%  8.8%  2.4%   .336

What I'm labeling as SNLVA_R is actually Jay Jaffe's adapted Support-Neutral winning percentage, where you add a pitcher's per-game support-neutral value to .500 (or, "average"). DERA is Clay Davenport's Defense-Independent ERA. What can we conclude from this info? Well, that Contreras' control issues were significant, but Danks and Floyd aren't doing that much better. We might also expect that Floyd's not really all that unlucky on balls in play when batters are teeing off on him to scald liners a quarter of the time; add in that Floyd's percentage of homers that reach the seats is much lower than last season (9.5 percent last year, and 6.3 percent so far this season), and you can reasonably fear for what warmer weather might bring. Even that high BABIP might not be the sort of number we can comfortably predict will go down; between that line-drive percentage and his helplessness in supressing the running game, Floyd's a professional who stretches his defenses more than anyone should try at home.

While a lot of people are on Richard's bandwagon now after three straight quality starts (some of us having been on it all along, admittedly), there's enough here to suggest that his low rate of liners and high rate of walks presages some of the bumps to come. And what of Contreras? Although a quick 15 scoreless innings with the Knights made his fast return from last year's season-ending injury look like wasn't an issue, and engendered overly enthusiastic suggestions that the Sox might have too many worthwhile starters, the big Cuban got knocked around in his last two starts, and International League batters are getting free passes from him 11 percent of the time. All of which would indicate that there's still plenty of work to be done before the Sox have N+1 starters, let alone six worthies. In short, for the time being this is more just Buehrle and a bunch of guys, and while Richard and Danks and even Floyd have their promise, and Colon's been cause for some satisfaction as a bit of retreading, this isn't really a rotation firing on all cylinders yet, let alone one that might have an extra piston to play with.

The offensive setbacks are more troubling, because to replace Quentin, the Sox have... nothing. Having to pick from among Scott Podsednik, Wise, and Anderson to stock two of three outfield slots looks even worse when you've got an infield that features three non-hitting regulars. Whatever the expectations of Gordon Beckham's eventual arrival fixing at least one of those slots, that won't last forever, of course: Alexei Ramirez wasn't going to plink infrequent singles all summer, and Chris Getz's finger won't be broken forever. The problem is that when you have that many empty spots in a lineup, you depend that much more on the veteran gaggle of Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, and Jermaine Dye, and that can make for starvation rations as far as run support for that aforementioned rotation. Which is where trading for Castro could be a minor boon, in that the slugging backstop provides the Sox with the double benefit of a better alternative to A.J. Pierzynski against southpaws and a better-throwing receiver to potentially help Floyd (as much as that's possible) and a right-handed slugger who can help out at DH in the Cell now and again. To get someone with that kind of value for a fungible finesse righty was a nifty little pickup by Kenny Williams.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Activated INF-R Jamey Carroll from the 15-day DL; optioned 2B-R Josh Barfield to Columbus (Triple-A). [5/12]
Signed RHP Luis Vizcaino; optioned LHP Jeremy Sowers to Columbus; outrighted RHP Vinnie Chulk to Columbus. [5/14]
Optioned LHP Tony Sipp to Columbus; outrighted RHP Masa Kobayashi to Columbus; purchased the contracts of LHP David Huff and RHP Greg Aquino from Columbus; transferred LHP Scott Lewis from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/17]
Placed RHP Anthony Reyes (elbow inflammation) and LHP Aaron Laffey (strained oblique) on the 15-day DL; recalled LHPs Rich Rundles and Jeremy Sowers from Columbus. [5/23]
Optioned OF-R Matt LaPorta to Columbus; recalled OF-S Trevor Crowe from Columbus. [5/26]
Optioned LHP Rich Rundles to Columbus; recalled LHP Zach Jackson from Columbus. [5/27]
Optioned LHP Zach Jackson to Columbus; purchased the contract of RHP Tomo Ohka from Columbus; transferred RHP Anthony Reyes from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/28]
Recalled LHP Rafael Perez from Columbus; designated OF-L David Dellucci for assignment. [5/29]
Placed CF-L Grady Sizemore on the 15-day DL (elbow); recalled C-R Chris Gimenez from Columbus. [5/31]
Placed RHP Rafael Betancourt on the 15-day DL (strained groin); recalled LHP Tony Sipp from Columbus. [6/1]

Think on that: Travis Hafner's hurt, so there's not really anyone set at DH. Ryan Garko isn't hitting enough to enjoy the benefits of a commitment at first base. They cut loose Dellucci, notionally opening up an outfield corner (or just making it plain that the DH slot, filled briefly by Sizemore before his dispatch to the DL, wasn't his either). And despite all of these problems, they have Mark DeRosa starting in left field, and they're farting around at second base by alternating Jamey Carroll and Luis Valbuena without a lot of rhyme or reason. So of course they couldn't find a place for LaPorta in the lineup. In short, it's as if the Tribe isn't really sure what kind of team it is, one that should be contending, or one that should get around to reviewing who's going to be an important part of the ballclub going forward. You might believe the latter, if only because they've finally put Asdrubal Cabrera at short and moved Jhonny Peralta to third, but that's another mixed signal on a team that clearly has a lot of sorting out to get around to-in June. As much as they're "just" eight games out and should still be a going concern, a dose of decisiveness could help sort things out, but any proposition that winds up with LaPorta not rating among their nine best bats absent Hafner and Sizemore strikes me as more than a little odd, though with the team tied for sixth in the AL in Equivalent Average, and that despite Sizemore not hitting like Grady Sizemore before landing on the DL, perhaps they feel they can indulge in managing LaPorta's total service time for now.

The pitching situation may seem disastrous because of the body count, but the problems transcend just missing Reyes for the remainder of the season. Cliff Lee is literally the only starter doing solid work, and when your next-best news is that Carl Pavano's been around adequate in terms of SNLVA, you almost certainly don't have the horses for a run, whatever happens with that lineup. Fausto Carmona's missing within the zone when he isn't simply missing it altogether, getting hit for more power while walking batters at a frenetic clip. Having to veer from Laffey or Lewis to Sowers and Huff doesn't seem to be creating much confidence in any of them, the bullpen is overlapping ranks of the injured-Betancourt and Joe Smith, as well as Laffey-and the ineffective-Kerry Wood and Jensen Lewis foremost among them. Happily, Rafael Perez threw nine scoreless frames for the Clippers to earn his way back, also striking out nine, and as propositions go, a pen that starts off with Wood, Jensen Lewis, and Perez still sounds like it might be a good pen. Add in the free-talent pool discovery like journeyman Matt Herges (already second on the team in WXRL, and that Smith should be back shortly to give the team some ROOGY relief that would pair up nicely with Sipp in a lefty support role, and it isn't impossible to have some faith that the pen can get sorted out, so the question may more properly be whether or not Eric Wedge will ever silence the seemingly annual questions about his management of the unit.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Activated LHP Dontrelle Willis from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Juan Rincon for assignment. [5/13]
Placed LHP Nate Robertson on the 15-day DL (back), retroactive to 5/6; purchased the contract of LHP Lucas French from Toledo. [5/14]
Placed RF-R Magglio Ordonez on leave; recalled OF-R Wilkin Ramirez from Toledo. [5/19]
Activated LHP Nate Robertson from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Lucas French to Toledo. [5/21]
Activated RF-R Magglio Ordonez; optioned OF-R Wilkin Ramirez to Toledo. [5/22]

As Hallmark movies go, the Dontrelle Willis comeback is obviously far more legit than, say, the Jim Morris fairy tale, since there are real off-field issues involved, real performances and merit to build upon that have nothing to do with a cheap promotional stunt, and a very real track record of past success that provides that essential first act to start from if you want a little drama in your comebacks. Since Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, and Edwin Jackson currently rank among the game's top 32 in their rate of Support-Neutral Lineup-Adjusted Value added, the Kitties have the advantage of a good front end to work with, one that has allowed them to endure Armando Galarraga's recent bad stretch of five ugly starts in a row before last week's quality start against the Orioles. So, for their fifth slot, the Tigers can afford to take a chance that Willis is back, and while two good starts and two bad ones don't really tell us that he is, at least it doesn't rule out that he could be. Besides which, it makes for much more entertaining comebackery than tuning into The Nate Robertson Story or Zach Miner Digs In.

Meanwhile, the real fun to be found is in the playing-time rotation now that it seems as if Ordonez might be transmogrifying into more of a regular DH. So far, Jim Leyland's responded with lots of time for Clete Thomas, with Josh Anderson and Ryan Raburn in something like a platoon out in left field. It isn't leading to runs, which could win Jeff Larish some consideration, but Ordonez's deteriorating range might force Larish into some quick drills as an outfielder to get him back into the mix, because Rosh Randerson's a platoon only Scooby Doo can love the way it's hitting. Simply giving the job to Raburn would also make some sense, but in the face of the Tigers' elaborate concerns with their defense, daring to stick a bat in an outfield corner appears to be too rich for their blood.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Placed SS-R Mike Aviles (strained forearm) and RHP Robinson Tejeda (rotator cuff tendonitis, retroactive to 5/21) on the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Luke Hochevar to Omaha (Triple-A); activated LHP John Bale from the 15-day DL; purchased the contract of RHP Roman Colon from Omaha; recalled INF-L Tug Hulett from Omaha. [5/24]
Placed C-R John Buck on the 15-day DL (back); re-purchased the contract of C-S Brayan Pena from Omaha. [5/31]
Placed CF-S Coco Crisp on the Bereavement Leave List. [6/1]

The implosion of Mike Aviles is something which was begging for some sort of explanation, apology, or solution, so perhaps shelving him and letting him rehab for an extended period of time is the answer. What's amusing is that, in his absence, the Royals are reverting to type by placing their faith in Luis Hernandez after making the unsettling discovery that, yes, as shortstops go, Willie Bloomquist really looks better behind glass than plugged into the present emergency. With Tony Pena Jr.'s rehab going well-and to think on it, whatever that may mean-we may get to see a comeback of true Voldemortian proportions, as the Royals revert back to where they started just a little more than a year ago.

If there's good news to be found, it's that the Royals have essentially taken advantage of an in-season gambit I suggested in this year's annual, as they took advantage of scheduled offdays to ship out Hochevar and forego keeping the fifth slot in play, instead using their front four starters on regular rest four-day patterns. The fifth starter's going to be needed again at the end of this week, at which point we should see Hochevar back to take his turn. While you can't really call this a classic four-man rotation, I've argued in the past that there really weren't that many classic four-man rotations in the first place, and by utilizing options, relatively reliable schedules, enslaved affiliates, and speedy travel, there's nothing wrong with treating the fifth starter this way, as the guy you skip when you can to make sure that you maximize keeping your front four in the traces taking their turns every fifth day out. It's the sort of minor adaptation that could make an outsized difference in the Royals' hopes of contending in the weak AL Central, because let's face it, whether or not Zack Greinke and Gil Meche get an extra start or two is going to mean a lot more for the Royals' chances than whatever mini-disaster Kyle Farnsworth's responsible for. The latter's a correctable error, where the former is an intelligent adaptation to the talent on hand.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Placed LF-R Delmon Young on the Bereavement List; recalled C-S Jose Morales from Rochester (Triple-A). [5/15]
Placed LHP Glen Perkins on the 15-day DL (elbow); purchased the contract of LHP Sean Henn from Rochester. [5/19]
Lost LHP Craig Breslow on a waiver claim by the Athletics. [5/20]
Optioned C-S Jose Morales to Rochester; activated LF-R Delmon Young from the Bereavement List; recalled RHP Anthony Swarzak from Rochester. [5/21]
Placed SS-S Nick Punto on the 15-day DL (strained groin), retroactive to 5/28; recalled 2B-S Alexi Casilla from Rochester. [5/31]

When you own a conveyer belt that comes equipped with strike-throwing starters, losing someone like Perkins really doesn't represent a setback as much as an opportunity for the team, as plugging in Swarzak affords the Twins a chance to see if they'd just be better off with the rookie. Admittedly, the way that Francisco Liriano's been lighting fires of late, the possibility that Perkins may not be able to come back from rehabbing sometime in mid-June and make a case for being the lone lefty in the rotation should make things interesting. Certainly, last season's hue and cry on getting Liriano up was merited at the time, given the Twins' seeming pokiness while enduring Livan Hernandez and Boof Bonser. It's just ironic that one summer later we're talking about the Twins' best rotation options and it might be Liriano who's worked his way out of the picture. I suppose as long as Scott Baker's posting a Support-Neutral winning percentage (SNLVA_R + .5) of .419, Liriano's .399 doesn't look all that lonely. The division is very much up for grabs, of course, so who the Twins pick for their pitchers in a few short weeks could make a considerable difference. If Swarzak builds on his initial pair of quality starts in The Show against quality lineups (not to mention his tally of six of seven times out down in Rochester, counting one blown in the seventh in his last Redwings start), he will have earned consideration for being kept at somebody's expense.

As for losing Punto, the hit's going to be felt more on defense than anywhere else, as it looks like Brendan Harris will take over at shortstop in his absence. The new opportunity that's been created for Casilla, however, does at least suggest that the Twins might wind up with an additional offensive boon by getting Matt Tolbert out of the lineup on top of excusing Punto, but Casilla's going to have to show more than what he did in delivering a tepid .230 EqA for Rochester during his punitive assignment to the farm team.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Acquired a PTBNL from the Athletics for 2B-L Adam Kennedy. [5/8]
Placed DH-R Pat Burrell on the 15-day DL (stiff neck), retroactive to 5/12, 2009. [5/17]
Activated RHP Jason Isringhausen from the 15-day DL. [5/18] Placed LHP Scott Kazmir (strained quad, retroactive to 5/21) and RHP Troy Percival (shoulder tendonitis) on the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Dale Thayer and SS-L Reid Brignac from Durham. [5/22] Placed LHP Brian Shouse (strained elbow) and 2B-L Akinori Iwamura (torn ACL) on the 15-day DL; transferred CF-S Fernando Perez from the 15- to the 60-DL; purchased the contract of LHP Randy Choate from Durham; recalled LHP David Price from Durham. [5/25]
Placed SS-R Jason Bartlett on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle), retroactive to 5/25; purchased the contract of 4C-R Joe Dillon from Durham; transferred 2B-L Akinori Iwamura from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/26]
Optioned RHP Dale Thayer to Durham; recalled OF-L Matt Joyce from Durham. [5/31]

Scratch Burrell from DH and the entire starting middle infield, and you wonder what's left in a lineup already compensating for B.J. Upton's ghastly start to his season atop the order. It's not as bad as it sounds put that way-Joyce still has his fans in sabermetric circles outside of June 16*, after all, so they could end up with an outfield rotation that can compensate for Burrell's absence and Upton's struggles. Joyce was on the International League's leaderboard for Equivalent Average with a .296 mark, and was once again delivering a massive platoon split by crushing right-handers at a .327/.436/.573 clip while splitting his starts pretty equally between center, right, and left. To be able to turn to a hitter this good in-season may not quite match the decision to decide the time for Price is right, but it's not that far behind.

Similarly, being able to turn to an infield rotation that gets Willy Aybar, Ben Zobrist, and Reid Brignac playing time doesn't sound like a setback, allowing the Rays to be conservative with Bartlett's timetable so that he can heal up entirely. Gabes Gross and Kapler make for handy enough fill-ins as well, and even well-travelled four-corner reserve Joe Dillon has his uses. It's frustrating that Upton has struggled and Burrell's neck issue might be chronic, but given the appropriate regard that the Rays' training staff gets from Will Carroll and the medhead segment, the balance of wisely accumulated depth and caution with damaged players affords the team opportunities where other organizations would be boxed-in and vexed.

The less readily understandable situation is the belated promotion of David Price, long overdue, but now happily enacted. As much as I accept that the Rays were worried about his workload, and operate on a long-term timetable that wasn't going to be upset just because success came a season ahead of schedule, there's something almost Schlieffen-esque about getting overly hung up on timetables and discrete goals when there's this larger question of whether or not the ball of wax can be won. Now, admittedly, I'm more in favor of rational planning and technocratic solutions than most, and as much as a Joe Maddon (or a Moltke the Younger, for that matter) might be a man of many parts, and as sensible as Andrew Friedman and his crew may be, I worry the forest's been lost for the trees when there's a division to be won. Andy Sonnanstine's a neat success story-when he's successful. Jeff Niemann's a maturing talent who needs his growing-up moments, but why did those have to be in the rotation at the outset of the season, instead of in long relief? Whatever the multiple factors in play are for Scott Kazmir's absence, I guess I'm left wondering why Price's workload, or Niemann's, couldn't have been managed with their being on the staff simultaneously so that when Kazmir broke down, or as Sonnanstine struggled, they might have both to turn to. I mean, it's swell that Lance Cormier's comeback in the long-relief role has gone well; that's great. But at the same time, signing Joe Nelson and Jason Isringhausen hasn't worked out so well. Mass accumulation of talent has its benefits, yes, but when the Rays were already operating with the benefit of so much near-ready young pitching (and in the case of Niemann or Jason Hammel, talent out of options), I guess we can chalk this up as the downside of virtue.

*: It's very much a pity to some people's way of thinking about how the date of the Emperor's last victory got buried behind that other, more literary thing, but I suppose there's always the doubly important December 2 to celebrate the Corsican Ogre's contributions to humanity.


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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