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August 2, 2009

Transaction Action

AL East Deadline Roundup

by Christina Kahrl

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BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired 1B-L Casey Kotchman from the Braves for 1B-L Adam LaRoche; acquired C/1B-S Victor Martinez from the Indians for RHPs Justin Masterson and Bryan Price and LHP Nick Hagadone; purchased the contract of OF-L Josh Reddick from Portland (Double-A); purchased the contract of RHP Marcus McBeth from Pawtucket; designated 2B-R Travis Denker for assignment; transferred RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/31]
Placed C-L George Kottaras on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/30; optioned RHP Marcus McBeth to Pawtucket. [8/1]

I'm more positive on the addition of Victor Martinez than at least one colleague. Consider mine a stance where I agree to disagree, in no small part because I don't think they could have counted on LaRoche at first base or Varitek behind the plate to anything like the same extent, and with David Ortiz now back to struggling to contribute, the Red Sox needed a high-end bat. Varitek's first two good months aside, he's struggled to deliver much power since, hitting .219/.368/.358 since a two-homer day on May 28. Rather on bank on the power popping back up at a later date, it makes sense to see that early-season performance as already banked, and then get somebody who might be able to deliver likewise while letting you rest Tek and perhaps get something better by way of contributions than if you'd have to play him every day.

In terms of a playing-time mix in the big-league lineup, you can consider the realignment of the roster to be one that has Kotchman replacing Kottaras now that the backstop options have been altered. That's a multiple gain, in that Kotchman's under control longer than LaRoche was, contributes plus defense as a substitute or spot-starter for V-Mart, and if his bat doesn't blossom the way so many people have hoped for, then that's at least a role he can still have value in on a roster that seems guaranteed to have Martinez, Varitek (between the club and player options for 2010 on his present deal), and one more year of Ortiz in steep decline knocking around at catcher, first, and DH. It's certainly a better use of a roster spot than a third catcher, and as an adaptation to the era of 11- or 12-man pitching staffs, a better distribution of usage patterns in which the respective talents can shine in regular playing time.

Look at the Red Sox's roster of position players, and, once you've gotten rid of a true backup catcher like Kottaras, you have a nice blend of utility and likely playing time that can be spread among their top 13 hitters: no spot is wasted on a reserve who won't play and might go stale, because you can expect Kotchman to get at-bats at first base, and Nick Green to stay in the mix at short, even with Jed Lowrie off of the DL. The only roster spot that might go "dead" would be the spot that might float from Reddick-up temporarily to spot for the injured Drew in right-to someone like Brian Anderson to a 12th reliever or third catcher. The only decision that might be made there worth getting actually worked up over is who the Sox intend to use the spot on come the playoffs, but even there, you can expect they'll keep their range of relative options open by exploiting the various cheats in roster rules that let you wind up with almost anyone you want come October action.

I suppose one could get cranky about the price paid to get a year and two months of Martinez, but I'm not, given his unique ability to help the Red Sox out at multiple positions, which also lets them similarly exploit Kevin Youkilis' positional flexibility at third base to nurse Mike Lowell along, or perhaps spot in either outfield corner if Jason Bay and J.D. Drew continue to struggle to deliver any power. Masterson will be missed somewhat in the pen's middle-relief mix, but only somewhat; Daniel Bard's arrival serves as a reminder that when it comes to dealable depth from the bottom half of the staff, the Sox have it.

Given that they have the opportunity to leave Clay Buchholz in the rotation, until the team comes to decisions about the roles they prefer to see John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Dice-K, and perhaps even Tim Wakefield in, this was an area from which the Sox could afford to make an exchange. Smoltz and Wakefield both have track records for success in relief roles, and while I'd expect Wakefield to return to the rotation, at some point the club will be forced to crowd some people aside and pick a probable playoff rotation. Hagadone and Price were among the team's top 10 prospects, but Price's promise isn't quite effortless (he's getting rocked in High-A since his promotion from the Sally League). Hagadone's recovery from Tommy John surgery has been going very well in terms of his performance in Low-A, but that surgery points towards a delivery that might lead to future problems.

They're both very good prospects, yes, but if Price winds up a good hard-throwing reliever in a big-league bullpen and Hagadone pans out as a quality starting pitcher, it might still be worth it in terms of trying to realize win-now results with a win-now roster, and as the retention of Buchholz and Bard on the big-league club and Michael Bowden, Casey Kelly, and Junichi Tazawa in the organization reflect, the Red Sox have high-upside pitching talent to work with. As always makes sense in developing pitchers by fistfuls, some of that's going to wind up on your roster, and some of it's going to be repurposed to address other, active needs. Decrying the expense of such an addition ignores the intent of developing pitchers en masse.


NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed OF-L Brett Gardner on the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Jonathan Albaladejo from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [7/26]
Released RHP Brett Tomko. [7/29]
Optioned RHP Jonathan Albaladejo to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; purchased the contract of OF/1B-R Shelley Duncan from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; acquired UT-S Jerry Hairston Jr. from the Reds for C-L Chase Weems. [7/31]
Activated UT-S Jerry Hairston Jr.; optioned OF/1B-R Shelley Duncan to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [8/1]

There's something about a Yankees' deadline in which there's lots of bold talk about how they're players on the market, with limitless resources and the power to build a super-team of pinstriped ubermenschen liable to break the industry's back, and then, faster than you can say "Alexander Nevsky", the whole clanking, over-hyped proposition sinks to the bottom of some bog or another. Not that getting Hairston is the literal ice-breaker, but it's just so much less than got bandied about as far as adding the odd mercenary to the Yankee legions.

What I would suggest as far as rational responses is two thoughts. First, that Hairston has his uses as a latter-day Clay Bellinger type, someone you can put at seven different positions and not get the Bronxians howling over the indignity, and you can pinch-run with him, something this elderly roster can use. And as he's proven in Cincinnati, put him in a bandbox, and he'll punish a mistake as readily as anyone else good enough to be in The Show. (That said, as his road work (.234/.285/.351) reflects, the expectation should be dialed down to 'Bellinger.') Second, it wouldn't be all that shocking if the Yankee's vaunted financial muscle-y-ness plays its part now that we're in the waivers portion of trading season, as players whose salaries other clubs might shrink from picking up become players the Bombers are uniquely positioned to grab. It's best to harbor such hopes, because Hairston's not really a valid alternative in the outfield if the Yankees are worrying about their depth there with Gardner out for a few weeks yet.


TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Dale Thayer to Durham (Triple-A); activated LHP Brian Shouse from the 15-day DL. [7/27]
Activated C-R Shawn Riggans from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Durham. [7/29]
Claimed C-S Jose Lobaton off of waivers from the Padres, and optioned him to Montgomery (Double-A); transferred RHP Troy Percival from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/30]
Optioned RHP Joe Nelson to Durham; signed RHP Jeff Bennett; released LHP James Houser outright. [8/1]

While I wasn't really all that enthusiastic about their decision to sign Nelson back in January, a few of my colleagues called it a very good move and/or proof that the Marlins weren't a big-league team any more for having let him go; I don't think there was any particular genius to anticipating problems, nor is there any cause to feel good about this. As I noted at the time:

As a 34-year-old low-velocity right-hander with a spotty performance record and a shoulder surgery in his recent past, did people really expect he was going to get a bigger deal than this? I'd see him as a reasonable enough pickup at this price, but it's a reward for his unusually good 2008 performance, he's hardly a reliable commodity, and hit-lucky changeup fiends generally don't get counted on any more heavily than this for good reason. Put in the tougher league's toughest division, he might provide utility, if put in a relatively low-leverage role like he was with the Fish. He could also be eaten alive. For the money, that won't be a crippling setback for the Rays, but I wouldn't get too worked up just yet.

As measured by Leverage scores, the Rays didn't use Nelson in any more significant a role, and he wasn't any less successful in being a bit hit-lucky. The real problems are two-fold. First, perhaps symptomatically of moving to the best division in the better league, there's the extent to which he's become a low-velocity TTO pitcher, generating walks, strikeouts, or homers in 38 percent of his batter matchups, and it isn't because he's striking everyone out. Second, he's been awful with runners on base, fueling a 5.83 FRA. If there's a real takeaway from all of this, it's that hyperbole with fungible middle relief types is usually a fool's errand; you may as well be hammering at fog, trying to nail down reliable relief performers beyond the very few elite performers. The Rays didn't put themselves out too far, and they don't have anything to feel too badly about; they got a guy with a decent track record for modest cost, and it didn't work. Changing gears isn't a disaster, it's just a reflection of the need to be flexible.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted DH-L David Dellucci to Las Vegas (Triple-A). [7/27]
Optioned RHP Dirk Hayhurst to Las Vegas; activated RHP Scott Richmond from the 15-day DL. [7/29]
Traded 3B-R Scott Rolen to the Reds for 3B-R Edwin Encarnacion and RHPs Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart. [7/31]
Activated RHP Josh Roenicke and 3B-R Edwin Encarnacion; optioned RHP Jeremy Accardo to Las Vegas. [8/1]

Getting out from some portion of the $11 million owed to Rolen for 2010 makes all sorts of sense; Rolen was a win-now player on a team that did not and still does not have the talent to rise above fourth place in baseball's toughest division. The question is whether the as-yet undisclosed amount of money saved will make all of the difference, because they've basically traded one year of Rolen for just two with Encarnacion; the Reds' former third-base prospect is just two more seasons removed from achieving free agency. There's the danger that Encarnacion is another Gap-inflated player who will struggle removed from the weaker league and a weak division; in 2008, he hit just .244/.322/.437 on the road, which isn't the best way to kick off you entry into your putative peak period in your age-25 season. Add in this year's injury, and it's clear that progress has to be made, or he might only be a modest improvement on the Jose Bautistas of the world.

That said, it's a decent move in terms of talent and relative certainty; Rolen's a roll of the dice who might have been available to play next season, and might have broken down all over again, where Encarnacion's injury this season was a bit unusual and it seems more likely that Toronto will get two years of play from a player they'll have to themselves for at least those two years. Add in that Roenicke has plus-plus velocity and might turn into a quality relief pitcher, and Stewart is far from chopped liver, and it's a nice climb-down from the high-stakes gamble that getting first Troy Glaus and then Rolen represented.

I wouldn't judge it too harshly in isolation as a result, but the fact that they only control Encarnacion for two seasons mutes my enthusiasm for the deal, and unless they use their present-day leverage to sign him to a multi-year extension beyond next year's $4.75 million and an arbitration case after that, it's hard to say how this really advances the franchise's fortunes. As ever, the crux of the matter is that it depends on J.P. Ricciardi's finding a way to push his club into the front three in the East, a problem he has yet to really resolve. Rolen wasn't going to get them there; maybe adding money to the till, Roenicke to the pen, and Encarnacion to the lineup is a case of getting to go two steps forward after an initial step back, but even seeing things that sunnily depends on what other decisions get made along the way before we can credit Ricciardi with having a new map to a place he has yet to really reach.



I'll be moving through the rest of the divisions as the day progresses, but travel and illness have managed to hamper my schedule; just stay tuned, and (ideally) enjoy.

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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