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July 30, 2009

Transaction Analysis

Major Moves Roundup

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Activated 1B-L Adam LaRoche; designated 1B/OF-L Mark Kotsay for assignment. [7/24]
Traded 1B/OF-L Mark Kotsay to the White Sox for OF-R Brian Anderson. [7/28]

Having moved past shooting Old Yeller, the Red Sox actually wound up moderately the better off for it, having exchanged a reserve they had no use for to acquire a backup center fielder (which they lacked) who also bats right-handed (which is handy, given that two of their starting outfielders bat lefty). Once rosters expand, that'll come in handy, of course, but it will be interesting to see if the Sox find a way to squeeze Anderson onto the roster beforehand so that they can limit Rocco Baldelli to starts in the outfield corners or DH.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Activated OF-R Carlos Quentin from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-R Brian Anderson to Charlotte (Triple-A). [7/20]
Optioned LHP Aaron Poreda to Charlotte; recalled RHP Carlos Torres from Charlotte. [7/22]
Optioned RHP Carlos Torres to Charlotte; activated RHP Bartolo Colon from the 15-day DL. [7/24]
Traded OF-R Brian Anderson to the Red Sox for 1B/OF-L Mark Kotsay. [7/28]

Optioned 3B-R Josh Fields to Charlotte; activated 1B/OF-L Mark Kotsay; returned RHP Bartolo Colon to the 15-day DL (elbow inflammation), retroactive to 7/25; purchased the contract of LHP Randy Williams from Charlotte. [7/29]

For all of the somnolent hue and cry over the fate of Mark Kotsay, it was just a DFA, not a funeral, people. You could have been sure that Kotsay would be found littering somebody else's bench, and sure enough, here he is. It's definitely an odd little pickup, in that he's a left-handed hitter who can't really play first that well, can't hit well enough to spot Paul Konerko, and while you could spot him in either outfield corner for righty-batting Jermaine Dye or Quentin, there again the bat isn't enough to make a point of playing him instead of Scott Podsednik or Podzilla's fleeter feet in DeWayne Wise. Maybe the brass had tired of taking the random question over Anderson's role with the club, in the same way that it had tired of seeing Fields flail.

As for re-losing Colon all over again, this can't really be taken too seriously as a setback for the squad. It just means that Clayton Richard remains in the rotation without having gotten back on the mound as a reliever, and on the heels of his having spun a pair of nifty eight-inning outings against playoff aspirants from Detroit and Tampa Bay. Richard's performance, however unpredictable it has been so far, still rates better than Colon's; he has a .480 SNWP to Colon's .464, and also rates ahead of Jose Contreras, who has cooled off since his eruption back into the majors in June to manage just one quality start (one that was blown in the seventh) in his last three. In short, the Sox are better off if Richard's in the rotation until he clearly demonstrates he should take a back seat to either veteran, let alone both.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Recalled LHP Jeremy Sowers from Columbus (Triple-A). [7/25]
Acquired RHP Jess Todd from the Cardinals to complete the deal for Mark DeRosa, and optioned him to Columbus. [7/26]
Traded 1B-R Ryan Garko to the Giants for LHP Scott Barnes. [7/27]
Purchased the contract of 3B-R Andy Marte from Columbus. [7/28]
Traded LHP Cliff Lee and OF-R Ben Francisco to the Phillies for RHPs Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp, C-R Lou Marson, and SS-R Jason Donald; recalled RHP Fausto Carmona from OF-S Trevor Crowe from Columbus. [7/30]

Well, these weren't the worst deals, but they also weren't necessarily the best. Getting Barnes from the Giants for an entirely fungible first-base bat like Garko's was reasonable enough; he's not a high-velocity southpaw, but good command and an excellent changeup have yielded a 99/29 K/BB ratio in 98 IP while allowing just 3.3 runs per nine in the Cal League in what is his full-season debut as a 21-year-old. Knapp's interesting as a high-velocity arm pumping gas in the Sally League (as noted in the Phillies segment). Marson's a decent OBP type and a good receiver, but limited power potential makes him a better backup or second-division starter behind the plate, and his presence in the organization that employs Carlos Santana seems to suggest his future's as the Kelly Shoppach (Lite) to Santana's V-Mart; it's certainly not the whole potato, but it beats Bako bits as backstops go.

Donald is an athletic shortstop, with a good swing that's far from slappy at the plate, but even allowing for the knee injury that has hampered him this season, he's a player who next year will be headed into his age-25 season with a track record of showing some power, but not a lot, and some speed, but not a lot. In this, he's very much like Asdrubal Cabrera, the man he'll be paired off with up the middle, giving the Indians a nifty pair of defenders around the bag, neither of whom should be offensive zeroes, but neither of whom look like burgeoning offensive stars either. The 2010 Indians will have to get their runs from other departments, and while Grady Sizemore's a start and Victor Martinez a part of a quality lineup, it's looking like 2009 is the year when they really did have to give up on all that and turn the page towards building anew.

Now certainly, Knapp might be a part of that, not to mention Todd in the pen, and Marson and Donald could be supporting players on a future Indians contender as well. But for the Indians to really feel they got mileage out of this exchange, they're going to have to get good stuff from Carrasco. Placing that much pressure on a young arm might seem harsh, but the Indians will manage his workload appropriately as well as anyone in the industry might. He's not exactly been dominant in Triple-A, giving up 5.7 runs per nine but nevertheless striking out 112 in 114 2/3 IP, and walking just 38 (or just under three per nine). His power fastball/curve combo has delivered somewhat bass-ackwards results for the Iron Pigs (righties have touched him for a .457 SLG), and he's had troubles holding baserunners (potential thieves are 17-for-20 off of him), but these are things you work out over time or learn to live with, and the Tribe knew it wasn't getting a perfectly polished, ready-now blue chip prospect, but a quality arm who should be able to step into their rotation and stick sometime next season.

As for the other odds and ends, it looks as if Andy Marte's taking over Garko's role as Victor Martinez's right-handed foil at first base, which is fine, while Crowe re-adopts a bench role; trading both Francisco and Garko should open up left field for, say, Matt LaPorta, but for whatever reason, he's not here yet.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Acquired OF-R Wladimir Balentien from the Mariners for RHP Robert Manuel. [7/29]

I like this deal quite a bit, but that's because Manuel's a decent but replaceable arm, while Balentien's a power hitter moving from a barn to a bandbox and potentially into a situation where he might reap far more regular playing time; if Jonny Gomes can work out OK in the Gap, after all, why not Balentien? That said, if he doesn't become the new Wily Mo Pena or Glenn Braggs or whatever, that's also not the end of the world; they didn't give up a monster prospect to take a chance on the 25-year-old, and between his age, the excuse of sporadic playing time, the park, the weaker league, and the lack of quality competition already in-house, Walt Jocketty might end up feeling good about this particular minor add-on.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Acquired LHP Cliff Lee and OF-R Ben Francisco from the Indians for RHPs Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp, C-R Lou Marson, and SS-R Jason Donald; optioned OF-R John Mayberry Jr. and RHP Steven Register to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [7/30]

There's an ease in expending superlatives on behalf of this deal that really can't be understated. Instead of fussing over a bullpen hit hard by injuries, they went straight towards a top-line improvement, and having dispensed with the suggestion that they pay Toronto's price for Doc Halladay, they did the next-best thing by getting another top 10 starter, one who was also signed through 2010. What's surprising to me is the extent to which this deal has a double benefit for the Phillies, in that it cost them less in both talent and cash; Lee's deal for next season is an $8 million club option, against Halladay's $15.75 million. Add in a PECOTA projection that, from before the season but run as if Lee was a Phillie, still suggests better than six strikeouts per nine, around two walks per to book, and a conservative, median estimate of a 4.22 ERA and a Support-Neutral value of 4.1. That's worth having, not just because he's the best pitcher in the Phillies' rotation right now, but also because he's a pitcher so good they could not have gotten him at these prices—in blood or money—on the open market this winter.

Given the valuation of prospects and the cash situation around the industry, you might have expected that the cheaper contract might yield a better package of prospects, but barring the Indians' scouting achieving some unanticipated coup, that doesn't look to be the case at first blush. Up-the-middle talent might be hard to trade in the abstract, but Marson wasn't a great bet to unseat Carlos Ruiz, and Travis d'Arnaud's probably the better prospect behind the plate in the long run; Donald was never the kind of talent to push the organization to ponder the alternatives to Jimmy Rollins. For the Phillies, they were chattel, developed to be dealt. Knapp's certainly interesting, a power arm good enough to rank in the team's top 10 prospects before the season because of his mid-90s heat, and teenagers in full-season leagues holding their own are hard to come by. Knapp was doing just that at the age of 19 in the Sally League, striking out 111 in 85 1/3 IP (but also beaning an even dozen while walking 39). Carrasco was the signature player in the deal, and was the team's best blue-chipper before the season, but between J.A. Happ's breakthrough and the retention of pitching prospect Kyle Drabek as well as outfielders Dominic Brown and Michael Taylor, the Phillies might just have kept their best stuff for themselves despite making this sort of major move.

Adding Francisco's a nice minor touch, since he's perhaps more of a National League type of reserve outfielder, in that he bats righty and is more of a contact-oriented hitter, he can play center in a pinch, and can run faster than his lefty complement, Matt Stairs. This all may add up to bad news for John Mayberry Jr. as far as manning a spot on the bench,

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Acquired 1B/C-L Jeff Clement, MI-R Ronny Cedeno, and RHPs Nathan Adcock, Adam Pribanic, and Brett Lorin from the Mariners for SS-R Jack Wilson and RHP Ian Snell. [7/29]
Acquired RHP Tim Alderson from the Giants for 2B-R Freddy Sanchez. [7/30]

Credit Neal Huntington for perhaps saving the best for last. The deal with the Mariners, like so many of his other exchanges, is another depth-minded mass acquisition, but it's not bad depth. Clement is still a prospect of interest, although it remains to be seen whether he goes back behind the plate (and challenges Ryan Doumit), or goes to first base and wipes out the future of Steven Pearce (while also channeling Pedro Alvarez into a one-on-one fight with the last LaRoche standing at the hot corner). He's been spending most of his time at DH for Tacoma, so I'm reluctant to get serious about his going back behind the plate; he's also been doing most of his damage against right-handers (.318/.397/.576), so it isn't hard to wince a bit and see a newly minted Adam LaRoche in the making, although with three weeks to go until his 26th birthday, the future for Clement is now, bordering on yesterday. He's the name in the deal, sure, but not so much that he alters this being a depth deal. Cedeno's a straight replacement for Wilson at short, and to that extent, he's a good one. It seems increasingly doubtful that he'll live up to the sporadic power he's shown in the minors and for brief stretches in the majors, but his bail-and-wail approach at the plate was probably engendering a few too many Rey Quinones flash-backs in Seattle.

The arms are interesting, certainly, in the way so many are: tall and in A-ball, with the odor of promise and short track records, but also keep in mind that none of them rated as top prospects before the season. Lorin perhaps represents the best of the bunch as a giant (6'7" and ~240 pounds), albeit one without a dominant power assortment, although he has struck out 87 in 88 2/3 IP as a 22-year-old down in the Midwest League. Pribanic, also 22, has a huge ratio of ground balls to flies (2.7 grounders to every one fly), so you can ponder his potential to improve the way so many ground-ballers do upon promotion to better defensive support at higher levels. Adcock's getting hit in the Cal League, but High Desert's cruel to all moundsmen.

But for whatever the trio from Seattle don't do to out-and-out tantalize, getting Alderson makes up for it and then some. There's no other way to call it: if the Phillies getting Cliff Lee was the big coup on the veteran add-on front, getting Alderson from the Giants for a middling middle infielder is the prospect-nabbing feat par excellence of deadline season so far. While this isn't John Smoltz-for-Doyle Alexander or close, it's an outstanding addition of a pitcher good enough to be a solid third starter in a big-league rotation for a starting second baseman barely a cut above fungible. One of those things is easier to find than the other, and to get it at low cost, with Alderson already shining at Double-A as a precocious strike-throwing 20-year-old who lives up to pre-season observations that his knowledge of his craft far exceeds what you'd expect from his birth certificate. He'll be part of the next contender in Pittsburgh, and the real question is whether or not it happens before he gets too far into his arbitration-eligible seasons by 2013 or 2014 or so.

The really interesting development in terms of the decision to deal Sanchez is that it holds out the hope that the Bucs will get the added benefit of seeing whether or not Delwyn Young can cut it at second base over the season's last two months. It certainly won't be pretty at different points of time, and you can anticipate that the virtue of having added Cedeno in the Wilson trade is that they've kept the lineup stocked with a slick defender at short to help compensate for the experiment at the keystone. For as much was initially made by some over the Pirates' defense-mindedness, it should be even more interesting to keep in mind that they're the team that, under present management, properly identified that Doumit's greatest value was behind the plate (although Doumit's commitment to working at it made a huge difference), didn't get too enamored by the purported greatness of Nyjer Morgan, starting left fielder, and is now embarking on this experiment at second base. Young's bat will certainly play better at second than in left.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Optioned OF/1B-L John Bowker and 2B-R Matt Downs to Fresno (Triple-A); recalled UT-S Eugenio Velez and 1B-R Jesus Guzman from Fresno; acquired 1B-R Ryan Garko from the Indians for LHP Scott Barnes; placed OF-L Nate Schierholtz on the 15-day DL (strained hip). [7/28]
Transferred LHP Randy Johnson from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/29]
Acquired 2B-R Freddy Sanchez from the Pirates for RHP Tim Alderson. [7/30]

If the Phillies and Pirates, and perhaps even the Mariners should all feel relatively good about what they've achieved with the deadline descending upon us, the Giants should wonder what it is they really accomplished. Yes, Garko's an improvement of sorts over Travis Ishikawa, and Barnes wasn't a premium prospect as much as an interesting arm—as Kevin Goldstein likes to say, for every 10 lefties with command and potential but no truly dominant pitch, one winds up in the pen, another becomes Doug Davis if things go right, one becomes an up-and-down tweener or a pen man, eight wash up in Triple-A, and for however many times people glibly make the comparison, there's only one Jamie Moyer. There, the price was right. Garko's not as good as his .299 EqA might make you think—a lot of that is mashing lefties in part-time play (.333/.395/.565, against .265/.349/.424 against northpaws) and a hot streak since the break (.355/.412/.613), and even with the virtue of going to the weaker league, it seems worthwhile to put this down as getting an average offensive first baseman for a normal, interesting, Grade C prospect. Fair enough.

It's dealing Alderson for the former batting titleist that is going to bite them in the butt, because as Joe Sheehan noted on Monday, it was the only deal they might swing for high stakes, given their stars-and-scrubs farm system, and all they got was... a year and two months of an adequate second baseman? The positional average at second base is .264, in no small part because the Giants took it that low due to the MLB-worst .215 put up by their keystoners; Sanchez is producing at a .276 clip, decisively better than some, a major relative improvement for this team, and something less than what they should have settled for having made the decision to deal Alderson in a prospect-hungry environment.

Now, sure, taken together, this might make that much of a difference in the team's run-scoring that they'll be able to take their best shot, and you put that rotation in the postseason and maybe a pennant's in play in the weaker league. Certainly, that's the sensibility that's motivating a move this major. But in surrendering Alderson, this was really all they could get? We may have to credit Neil Huntington for driving a seriously hard bargain, and getting Brian Sabean back into his old, high-stakes ways in favoring veterans for prospects. But the Giants could have used a lot of things to round out their roster down the stretch, and to have settled for this in exchange for Alderson's future, and when even getting Ramon Vazquez or Tom Gorzelanny or something with all of its fingers and toes would have helped, strikes me as an ill-considered and desperate reach. Add in Sanchez's spotty health history (perhaps exacerbated by his career-long problems with his feet and legs), and it isn't like the Giants acquired a sure thing in just this one addition.

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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