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June 29, 2009

Transaction of the Day

The DeRosa Deal

by Christina Kahrl

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American League
National League

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Purchased RHP Jose Veras from the Yankees. [6/24]
Activated RHP Jose Veras; optioned RHP Jensen Lewis to Columbus (Triple-A). [6/27]
Traded UT-R Mark DeRosa to the Cardinals for RHP Chris Perez and a PTBNL; activated MI-S Asdrubal Cabrera from the 15-day DL. [6/28]

If this deal goes down for the Cardinals on something of a bittersweet note, imagine how simply bitter it might appear to be for the Indians and their fans. Acquiring DeRosa at such little cost in terms of talent was a sweet move at the time, though it seemed a waste to make him into a latter-day Casey Blake by plugging him at third and the outfield. Perhaps understandably that's where things had to be as long as they were still tip-toeing around the long-anticipated need to move Jhonny Peralta off of shortstop and plug in Cabrera at the position, though adding a second baseman from a division-winning Cubs team would have seemed to me to be a great way of getting around to it already, since it was something people had been considering in-house for more than a year. Whatever the personnel/personality/people management element involved, the Indians eventually did get there, with Cabrera finally set at short and with Peralta playing third, but with Luis Valbuena manning second (no doubt with some assistance from Jamey Carroll). Before getting into current discontents, remember to think kindly on Mark Shapiro and his team for getting Valbuena from the Mariners, not too dissimilarly from stealing Cabrera away from them in 2006, or subsequently filching Shin-Soo Choo from them that same summer. With all of the offensive problems currently being experienced in Seattle, it's amusing to consider their having developed a third of the Indians' lineup.

Amusing, but not entirely so, since the Tribe is in last place, hence the decision to ditch DeRosa. To flip him for a reliever and a maybe-to-be named Somebody Something? Even a relief prospect as talented as Perez is a statement in the flesh of how badly this season's latest round of off-season patching up the bullpen has worked out. Not all of that could be anticipated-Rafael Perez's implosion wasn't something you could set your watch to, and Jensen Lewis' repeated failures are only slightly less galling. But those weren't the big-ticket blowouts in the bullpen, and not necessarily reflective of a systemic failure of trying to build a pen you can win with; on that score, Kerry Wood's struggles in the American League have to be especially embittering, considering there doesn't seem to be an underlying physical issue, and it may be a bit of an understatement to suggest that Masa Kobayashi was a particularly unfortunate selection for importing over from Japan.

Now, perhaps acquiring Perez, as blue as blue-chip relief prospects get without getting overly oxymoronic, reflects something of an adaptation, as the Indians forgo the indignities of employing roster nomads of various price points, and just go get somebody who's young and can deal mid-90s heat. It may seem a little strange to have acquired Wood's eventual replacement so soon after acquiring Wood, but perhaps the oddity of Wood's contract not having its third year vest if he doesn't finish 55 games either this year or next makes him a tradeable commodity for a team that already has a closer, assuming it doesn't want to afford too much of another. Perhaps adding Perez gives the Indians a way of getting out of the third year themselves, should they turn to the kid in light of Wood's struggles; I doubt it, but I suppose it's possible. However, lest there be too much suggestion that this will be a new bullpen stocked with the acquisitions of other people's prospects-whether Perez or Joe Smith or even a bombed-out Bomber prospect like Veras-it's worth noting that there's no reason to guarantee it'll work out if the Indians don't master the art of having people ready to plug in at the right times. With so much active speculation over Eric Wedge's management of this or any bullpen, it's obvious that whoever the Tribe's skipper is charged with will be under the same microscope.

As for the Indians' lineup absent DeRosa, I guess this can be cause for reassurance for those people who just can't get enough of Ben Francisco. One can hope this makes it that much easier for them to eventually call up and employ Matt LaPorta in left field, but he's playing a lot of first base for Columbus of late. Perhaps Nick Weglarz will get some consideration later in the season; he's hitting .261/.395/.505 for Akron with a Three True Outcomes percentage of over 40 percent in his plate appearances.

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Acquired UT-R Mark DeRosa from the Indians for RHP Chris Perez and a PTBNL. [6/28]
Returned INF-R Khalil Greene to the 15-day DL (anxiety disorder); purchased the contract of RHP Clayton Mortensen from Memphis (Triple-A). [6/29]

Ideally, the Cardinals wouldn't still have issues involving Greene's readiness to play every day, and adding DeRosa would mean that the Cards would go from a club that has offensive question marks at shortstop and third, and a defensive question mark at second, to a team that could use DeRosa to answer whichever one or two of those that Greene doesn't also help them resolve. As long as Brendan Ryan and Tyler Greene appear to be in favor, you'd think that this means DeRosa's bound for third and Sloppy Joe Thurston's reverting to a pure utility role, at least until Troy Glaus' return from shoulder surgery becomes more certain than the recent news that he'll begin batting against live pitching soon. Seen through the most optimistic of lenses, if there's a reasonable hope that Khalil Greene can come back and be able to play at something like his former skill level-whether at his sluggier 2007 rates, or his better-rounded productivity in 2004-you could see an infield alignment that wishcasts depth as well as solid regulars at second, short, and third.

Bollixing up any such propositions, however, are the almost equally frustrating struggles to be found among the Cardinals' outfielders, and the fact that most of them bat lefty. So DeRosa made his Cardinals debut in left field with a left-hander on the mound. It didn't go quite so well, as the Boids got shut down by Francisco Liriano, but it points toward the multi-purpose utility that DeRosa adds to the mix, either spotting for Chris Duncan against a tough southpaw, or giving them a significantly better-fielding second baseman than Schumaker, or a regular at third if they never do get good news about Troy Glaus, or the additional right-handed power in the lineup they'd hoped to have had in Khalil Greene.

All good stuff, of course, but there's the issue of the bill. Setting aside whoever it might be who gets named later in this deal, dealing away multiple years of Chris Perez's future for three months or so of Mark DeRosa is a reflection on the price that prospects command these days. DeRosa's a major asset for a win-now ballclub, to be sure, but with a quality bullpen that, while headlined by Ryan Franklin's latest spin with usefulness, also has the benefit of employing both Kyle McClellan and Jason Motte doing good stuff in secondary roles, the Cards felt they could deal from depth; you can add Mortensen to the mix of possibilities, and there's also Jess Todd to keep in mind as an upper-level talent who could make a major difference down the stretch. Also keep in mind that Kyle Lohse will be back and push somebody from the rotation-and with Todd Wellemeyer and Brad Thompson both struggling, there's more than one somebody in play-and it's easy to see how the Cardinals expect to replace Perez in the pen in the near term. Per Clay Davenport's Third-Order Wins, the Cardinals are handily the best team in the division, and they already stood the best chance of winning the NL Central. By acting decisively to acquire the best multiple-answer regular anywhere around the diamond, they'll stand that much better chance to make good on that while also being ready to respond to any further issues among their non-Pujols position players. All in all, a good deal at the right level of expenditure of talent.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  Chris Perez,  The Who,  Mark Derosa

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