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July 4, 2009

Transaction Analysis

AL Roundup

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Placed RHP Koji Uehara on the 15-day DL (elbow tendonitis), retroactive to 6/24; recalled RHP David Hernandez from Norfolk (Triple-A). [6/28]

It turns out that it wasn't simply tendonitis that was afflicting Mr. Uehara, as he has a partially torn flexor tendon, which will shelve him for more than a month before he can rehab, effectively putting him out until roster expansion. That's interesting in itself, since that was a point in time when his job may well have already been at risk anyway, given the bevy of baby Birdlings coming up through the system and liable to push the imported cuckoo out of the rotation, if not the nest; such is the advantage of that two-year, $10 million deal he inked, making him a cuckoo with a contract. In his absence, Hernandez gets first crack at stakin a claim on a slot for himself, but like Brad Bergesen and (less successfully) Jason Berken, it's all a question of how well they do in comparison to one another, because Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta are both treating the International League as little more than finishing school, while Brian Matusz has averaged less than a baserunner and more than a strikeout per inning in his first three turns in the Double-A rotation down at Bowie since his promotion from a dominating turn in the High-A Carolina League. So the lot of the early arrivals-and Rich Hill, and Uehara-remains much as it did when the season began: take your best shot while the getting's good, because all the non-Guthries have no job security, and deserve none.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Activated RHP John Smoltz from the 15-day DL; optioned C-R Dusty Brown to Pawtucket (Triple-A). [6/25]
Placed 3B-R Mike Lowell on the 15-day DL (sore hip), retroactive to 6/28; recalled 1B Jeff Bailey from Pawtucket. [6/30]

Bringing Smoltz in with Daisuke Matsuzaka shelved worked out neatly enough, but it'll take a few spins through the rotation before he's able to go deeper into ballgames-assuming of course that, at 42, he can, when a Mike Morgan-like tail end of a career wouldn't shock m/anybody. Happily with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and the metronomically reliable Tim Wakefield plugging away in their turns, the Sox can afford to take their time and see how well the grand old man stretches out; ideally, they'll keep somebody between Brad Penny and Smoltz, to avoid a situation where they wind up a Justin Masterson short of keeping a ballgame in hand (his latest blowout in his third inning in relief of Smoltz on June 30 serving as a reminder of the risks). The more theoretical quandary is whether or not they elect to do something bold should Smoltz settle in as well as the front three, and then swap Penny to take a multi-week spin with Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden pending Dice-K's return.

Making that choice in the rotation might be that much more immediate as decision-worthy while the team tries to make do with Lowell's latest absence. Kevin Youkilis can handle third well enough in the interim, and it's not like the offense is in a world of hurt-Jeff Bailey's decent enough filler, and David Ortiz is coming off of a much more Papi-like .320/.409/.653 sort of month-but there are some obvious questions that Lowell's departure put into sharper focus. Jason Varitek's cooling off from his redemptive hot start, Ortiz has to show the team consecutive good months, and Dustin Pedroia's third act has been a bit of an underpowered letdown. That last bit is what has me wondering how well the Sox will hold up, robbed of a better power source-while the club is still sixth in baseball in Isolated Power, I guess I have a nagging concern that it could drop in a hurry if Varitek and Ortiz slump and stay slumped, and if Pedroia never gets in gear. Youkilis, Jason Bay, and J.D. Drew still provide a nice power platform to work from, but in a division where any shortcoming could be the difference between making or being history, it's something for Red Sox Nation to put in its pipes and inhale a good dose of mid-season heebie-jeebies.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Optioned UT-R Josh Barfield to Columbus (Triple-A. [6/29]
Traded RHP John Meloan to the Rays for RHP Winston Abreu. [7/2]
Designated RHP Matt Herges for assignment. [7/4]

I know some Indians fans are working themselves into a frenzy over this deal, but I guess I see it as something of a logical outgrowth of the DeRosa deal. Having added one better relief prospect than Meloan ever was going to be in the form of Chris Perez, and standing good odds of adding a second once the PTBNL arrives, what use is a spot on a crowded 40-man for a reliever who can't get people out in Triple-A? Not that I'm wild about discarding Meloan, because everyone likes kids who throw in the 90s, but he'd put himself on the bubble with an ineffective campaign with the Clippers on top of a struggle through 2008, and coming up on 25 years old, he's not exactly a kid, he's increasingly an up-and-down type, not unlike the man he was traded for. Abreu's had his moments-although they've generally been in the International League or international venues, having also put in time in Mexico and Japan in recent years-but however well-traveled, he still pumps gas. He might have value in the present as a ROOGY on the big-league roster, especially since the Tribe's pen is a toxic Superfund site, and with the increasing likelihood that Meloan's the kind of player who could be had on waivers in November or March, why not fidget a bit about the ever-desperate present? As much as it might seem dubious to swap Abreu in for Herges, at this point, the Indians are desperate for answers, and Herges' ability to outlast his welcome was already coming into play in his latest incarnation in the bigs.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Placed LHP Nate Robertson on the 15-day DL (elbow), retroactive to 6/27; recalled LHP Fu-Te Ni from Toledo (Triple-A). [6/28]
Optioned RHP Alfredo Figaro to Toledo; recalled LHP Lucas French from Toledo. [6/29]

Robertson's going under the knife and might be gone until roster expand (if then), so you can add him to the list of the idled rich Kitties, joining Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman. Absenting the trio has made for an interesting situation in the rotation as well as the pen, in that it's been both a symptom of Rick Porcello's breaking through and the cause for Zach Miner's relative importance as an inning-munching middle reliever in their pen. It's also saved Armando Galarraga from too much worry about his job security despite a miserable first half, while creating opportunities for first Figaro and now French in the fifth slot. I like the creativity involved. Trying Figaro out against the right-leaning Brewers led to a win, while throwing him in Houston-a tough gig for a kid making his second big-league start-did not.

Going up against the left-leaning Twins last night, they swapped in the southpaw'd French. Like Figaro, Mr. French has never been seen as a top prospect, but he's a big lefty from the Plains the Tigers drafted out of a Colorado high school in the eighth round in '04. As a nice reminder that not everything in the prospect game isn't Darwinically deterministic, French has made something of himself by throwing a better slider this season, which has helped him add a swing-and-miss offering to a repertoire that previously lacked one; he's struck out 72 in 81 2/3 Toledo innings, producing his best strikeout rates since his Gulf Coast League debut five years ago, while walking just 20. Now, maybe he's just an extra arm, but I guess I like the suggestion that he's a 23-year-old lefty doing something right with something off-speed, and that sometimes upside isn't merely a genetic trait, it can be a future you make for yourself. There are dozens, hundreds of these guys every year, sure, but sometimes somebody turns a corner.

The other interesting development here is the arrival of the Taiwanese sidearmer, Ni, whom the Tigers signed this past winter after he'd starred as a pro on the island. He's been thoroughly dominating against the same-handed for the Mudhens, slinging strikes at southpaws to hold them to .184/.184/.265-meaning no walks, just two extra-base hits, and a lone run driven in on the one home hit in his 49 PA against lefties. That said, he's not the sort of side-armer who generates a ton of grounders, getting more fly-ball outs when he's not striking people out (which he'd done in 23 percent of all PA). Bobby Seay's been a key component as the team's primary southpaw, and while nobody's going to take my suggestion that second lefties should automatically have to have some sort of interesting back story to avoid disappearing in the interminable flurry of back-end roster moves, Ni's manna from heaven as far as such things go.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Placed RHP Kyle Farnsworth on the 15-day DL (strained groin), retroactive to 6/25. [6/26]
Purchased the contract of LHP Bruce Chen from Omaha (Triple-A). [6/27]
Transferred CF-S Coco Crisp from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/2]

As I've jabbered in this space before, Bruce Chen's one of my not-so-secret favorites, not necessarily because of his performance, but because he's Panamanian Chinese, and that's the basis of a convoluted connection-one of my dad's best friends married a Panamanian-Chinese woman, and one summer I visited them out on their farm way out in rural southwestern Virginia, which gave me the opportunity to meet the mother-in-law. The old woman doesn't speak much English, but she loves baseball, with an active interest in the fortunes of her countrymen in the majors. Naturally, she's a big fan of Mariano Rivera, rooted for Jesse Orosco and Juan Berenguer and Roberto Kelly, but she was also interested in the fortunes of Chen given their shared ancestry. Even with the language barrier, once she learned my line of work, we got to chatting about various Panamanian players, and then as now, I'm left with a wee bit of patriotic pride-beyond the geographic obviousness of it all, where else but America does one wind up in the Appalacian foothills speaking with a 90-something year-old Chinese woman from Panama talking about baseball?

From such random interstices do rooting interests spring, and while Chen didn't look great against the Pirates, he shut the White Sox down tidily enough. He wasn't having any problem whatsoever with the PCL, holding the circuit to 57 hits in 82 IP, striking out 69 against 23 walks, but coughing up eight homers. He'd also managed five quality starts in his last five, and one of the two that wasn't was his last time out, as he was hooked after two in anticipation of his callup. I don't think anyone should assume a reprise of 2005 is in the works, but as long as the team doesn't bring in his personal bete noir, Leo Mazzone, maybe the hefty lefty sticks around for a bit as a fifth man. Maybe that spares the Royals the indignity of bringing back Sir Sidney Ponson; more likely, this latest comeback gets ended once Kyle Davies works his way back into the organization's favor, and after throwing 14 scoreless frames in his first two starts for Omaha, that might not take very long. Even so, some of us can't help but wish Chen well, come what may.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS
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Optioned RHP Rafael Rodriguez to Salt Lake (Triple-A); activated RHP Ervin Santana from the 15-day DL. [7/3]
Optioned 2B-R Sean Rodriguez to Salt Lake; recalled 2B-R Howie Kendrick from Salt Lake. [7/4]

We'll have to see if Kendrick's PCL refresher course was enough to get him reacquainted with making solid contact. For the Buzz, he hit .346/.414/.526 in 87 PA, wherein he ripped nine extra-base hits and drew seven walks, and even attempting six steals (he was safe four times). Even he doesn't have that sizzle back in his bat, the stuff that made him a prospect in the first place, the danger for the Angels is that they'll be benching Maicer Izturis, their best-hitting middle infielder, to play a punchless Kendrick as well as the swatty, slappy antics of Erick Aybar. Doing that on top of not getting much from Vladimir Guerrero, that's the sort of thing that can keep the Rangers and Mariners in the race, even if Ervin Santana recovers his form (which on the basis of last night's start, would still only be a definite 'maybe').

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Activated OF-L Denard Span from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-L Jason Pridie to Rochester (Triple-A). [6/25]
Outrighted LHP Sean Henn to Rochester. [7/2]
Recalled LHP Brian Duensing from Rochester. [7/3]
Placed RHP Kevin Slowey on the 15-day DL (wrist); recalled RHP Anthony Swarzak from Rochester. [7/4]

Losing Slowey after consecutive bad outings isn't the grim news you might take it to be on the basis of his win-loss record; we'll have to see what gets said today as far as the physical diagnosis, but between offdays last Thursday and this Monday, plus the impending All-Star break, the schedule buys them plenty of time to wait and see. Even then, Swarzak's eminently employable, having given them three quality starts in five his first time in the rotation, so this shouldn't even be the sort of setback to the rotation that takes the Twins out of the division title race. The only danger is that, if Slowey's out for an extended stretch, calling up Swarzak's a trick they can resort to just the once; beyond him, the next body off the system's assembly line of strike-throwers would be either Kevin Mulvey or Jeff Manship. Mulvey's had extreme problems with getting left-handers out, while Manship's definitely a step down from the organizational standard for command/control guys.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Optioned MI-S Ramiro Pena to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A); added 4C-L Eric Hinske to the active roster. [7/1]

Thereby observing one of Weaver's suggestions that the best place for your back up shortstop is Triple-A. Not that Cody Ransom is Lenny Sakata, but you catch my meaning.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Activated 2B-R Mark Ellis from the 60-day DL; optioned 1B-L Daric Barton to Sacramento (Triple-A); transferred LHP Josh Outman from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/28]
Recalled OF-L Travis Buck from Sacramento; optioned 3B-L Jack Hannahan to Sacramento. [6/29]

Feh. So Ellis plays second, Adam Kennedy plays third, and Buck gets the odd start in right field when Nomar Garciaparra's in working order. This is progress? Repositioning the body after rigor mortis sets in doesn't really mean you've brought an offense to life. Jack Cust isn't hitting and is murderously bad in right field, and Nomar's a short-term merc owed no favors and with no claim on the future. If Buck's going to be here, why not just give him a month or two and see if things take a turn for the better? What's at risk, finishing fifth in a four-team division?

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Activated C-R Kenji Johjima from the 15-day DL; designated C-R Jamie Burke for assignment. [6/26]
Acquire OF-L Ryan Langerhans from the Nationals in exchange for UT-R Mike Morse. [6/28]
Placed 3B-R Adrian Beltre on the 15-day DL (shoulder surgery), retroactive to 6/29; outrighted C-R Jamie Burke to Tacoma; purchased the contract of OF-L Ryan Langerhans from Tacoma. [6/30]
Activated RHP Sean Kelly from the 15-day DL; optioned 1B/OF-L Mike Carp to Tacoma. [7/3]

While it's interesting to speculate if the team didn't trade Morse a moment too soon, since in Beltre's absence and with Matt Tuiasosopo still out recuperating from an elbow surgery in May, they're left playing Chris Woodward at third, giving them three starting infielders who would be the worst regular in almost* anybody else's infield. The decision to snag Brad Nelson off of waivers might seem prescient in some fashion, if only because he's been plugged in at third base in the minors by the Brewers in Triple-A, something I'd expect Jack Zduriencik to be only too aware of-and his unwillingness to repeat the exercise in the majors during his team's hour of need at the hot corner also suggests how terrible Nelson is.

Not that the Rainiers have a third baseman in the first place-they've been party to an exercise in playing Chris Shelton there, and while he's done his best, he's already logged 16 errors at the hot corner, putting him below the dreaded Butch Hobson line with a sub-.900 fielding percentage. Now, I know, that's not all that meaningful as defensive metrics go, but it is suggestive that Shelton's not really a third baseman. Dig down to Double-A, and you find they're employing non-prospect Matt Mangini there, so no dice on any in-house rescue party-it's either take a chance on an ex-first baseman like Nelson or Shelton, or smile weakly at Woodward's equally thin contributions. It'll be interesting to see if this puts the Mariners in the market for a second-half rental on some low-end third-base type; even if, say, Tuiasosopo was back by early August and Beltre by the month's end, they've got to do something more than settle for Woodward.

In the meantime, their sweet tooth for Endy Chavez led them to go out and get another National outfielder of some utility, swapping away Morse to add Langerhans, who promptly got set up in left field in what might be another platoon with Wladimir Balentien. As with the platoon at DH of Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Sweeney, this may not be all that special offensively, but Langerhans has his uses. Although stretched as a center fielder, he can be an effective fourth outfielder, and he was hitting .282/.377/.497 against Triple-A right-handers this season. That he's starting for them in left suggests a few things. First, that the Endy Chavez thing wasn't just a matter of what they'd fallen into, it's really where they want to be in terms of favoring defense in their outfielders. Second, it also reflects the level of commitment the Mariners are willing to make in terms of in-season deals to prop up their bid for contention; while it would be nifty to see them add, say, Aubrey Huff as their in-season fix for so many holes in this lineup, that just isn't going to happen, not unless the Orioles are handing out freebies at the deadline. So if Zduriencik's shopping for third basemen, it's probably for guys about this level that he's looking at. Which is sort of a pity, but who's to say they can't raise their standards some, and wind up adding a legit bat?

*: There's always Oakland..

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Activated LHP Scott Kazmir and RHP Chad Bradford from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Winston Abreu for assignment; optioned RHP Andy Sonnanstine to Durham (Triple-A). [6/27]
Traded RHP Winston Abreu to the Indians for RHP John Meloan. [7/2]

In terms of in-season transacting, I know this looks like a switch from Sonnanstine to Kazmir, but more essentially I think it boils down to Sonnanstine's losing his stake to Jeff Niemann. How so? Well, David Price's arrival was an unavoidable eventuality, while Kazmir's first-half failure was an unhappy accident. Eventually, at some point this season someone was going to be crowded out of the rotation once Price came up, and it wasn't going to be Kazmir or Matt Garza or James Shields; it was going to be Niemann or Sonnanstine. Niemann's earned his keep, and Sonnanstine has not. As reductionist as that is, it's the sort of bloody-minded commitment to self-improvement that prefigures the rotation situation in Baltimore-sure, kid, you're useful, but we can't wait around, not when we have even better kids to turn to. It's the sort of setback for Sonnanstine which might permanently banish him to the sixth starter's role in-house, or put him on the pile of attractive bargaining chips should the Rays want to talk swap at the deadline. It's this same crush of talent that has me wondering about their acquiring Meloan, though-because of their crowded 40-man and their full spread of pitching talent, they already had to give up Jason Hammel to the Rockies this spring. It's a worthwhile flyer to pick up at the price of discarding Abreu, just in case the Rays can get Meloan turned around, but failing that they may just be in this same situation with him in November or March, when they'll have to pay it forward as well, making Meloan somebody else's science project out of need for the roster spot.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Activated RHP Willie Eyre from the 60-day DL; optioned OF-S Brandon Boggs to Oklahoma City (Triple-A). [6/26]
Optioned RHP Willie Eyre to Oklahoma City; recalled CF-L Julio Borbon from Oklahoma City. [6/29]
Noted the loss of INF-R German Duran on a waiver claim by the Astros. [7/1]

Borbon's notionally a prospect, since he's fast and he can play a fine center, but a quick review of his numbers reflects his limitations as anything more than an outfield spare. Hitting .298/.365/.387 at Triple-A in his age-23 season sounds pretty good, after all, but beyond the absent power, the OBP's held up by his batting average-drawing 23 walks on his own in 340 PA is not what gets a youngster his "Leadoff Prospect" merit badge. His ISO creeps up over .100 against right-handed pitching, so I don't want to suggest he's without value, just that he's not a premium prospect. He might fit in nicely as a fifth outfielder and defensive replacement on a Rangers team employing Josh Hamilton in center, but that's not really the fashion in roster design these days.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Optioned LHP Brad Mills to Las Vegas (Triple-A). [6/28]
Activated RHP Roy Halladay from the 15-day DL. [6/29]
Designated UT-L Russ Adams for assignment; purchased the contract of DH-L David Dellucci from Las Vegas. [7/3]

To belabor the obvious, having Doc back is a good thing, but perhaps the less-obvious development is that, with Brett Cecil also still in the fold, they might now be running with their best quintet of the year, with Brian Tallet, Scott Richmond, and Ricky Romero rounding things out. They already boast the best rotation in the division in terms of performance, with Jays starters giving their club a Support-Neutral Winning Percentage of .527 where Boston's at .509, the Rays are at .504, the Yankees at an even .500, and the Orioles trailing with their league-worst .463. Which is, of course, part of the reason why the Jays are the best fourth-place team in baseball, but also suggests how they could hang tough and make their best possible bid for a playoff spot in years, to close with another obviousism.


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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