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July 31, 2009

Transaction Analysis

Deadline Day Action

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Placed LHP Rich Hill on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 7/28; purchased the contract of RHP Chris Tillman from Norfolk (Triple-A); transferred RHP Alfredo Simon from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/29]
Traded LHP George Sherrill to the Dodgers for 3B-S Josh Bell and RHP Steve Johnson. [7/30]
Placed RHP Bradley Bergesen on the 15-day DL; activated RHP Chris Ray from the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Kam Mickolio from Norfolk. [7/31]

Sure, enough, the future's arriving sure, and however much it has been a product of imports, the situation does involve the interesting sense of balance in seeing Tillman join the roster at the same point that Sherrill gets dealt away and-however sadly, given his sturdy work-Bergesen's disabling. We've been anticipating Tillman's arrival for quite some time, but it's a credit to the organization that the latest setback is simply an opportunity. While I don't expect Tillman to match Bergesen from the start (the home-grown product delivered a nifty .559 SNWP, after all), he does come up having slagged the International League by striking out 99 in 96 2/3 IP walking just 25 unintentionally and and allowing just five homers. Careful monitoring of his workload meant he delivered just 10 quality starts through six innings in his 18, and allowing 3.4 runs per nine reminds us that, while he isn't immortal just yet, it's clear that he was as ready as he needed to be.

Flipping Sherrill to the Dodgers to add Bell merely drives home the extent to which the Bedard deal-of which Sherrill was the semi-famous part-is the gift that keeps on giving. Having already gotten the benefit of Sherrill's work as a reliever whatever the nonsense over his being an 'established closer' or not, he'd given the team more than four wins above a replacement-level reliever across his 2008 and 2009 contributions (as measured by WXRL), meaning that he'd given the club considerable value in a very brief period of time. Turning that into a pair of prominently mentioned Dodgers prospects is nothing short of outstanding. So far in 2009, Bell delivered a .296/.386/.497 at Double-A as a 22-year-old, just the additional cream on a pudding the Orioles should be more than happy to have ordered. The danger is that Bell might outgrow third base and have to move to first or the outfield, but even there his production against right-handers so far this season (.335/.425/.600) is good enough to make him at least a quality platoon option if he failed to develop further, which at his age seems unlikely. Johnson's a nice add-on to boot, a power righty who gave up just 4.7 runs per nine in the offense-oriented Cal League while striking out 102 in 96 2/3 IP, but also walking 46. He's perhaps still more of a pitchability guy than a prospect, but as a native son of Maryland (his dad was Dave Johnson the former Orioles pitcher, not the second baseman/skipper), he makes a decent little legacy-oriented add-on to a deal that brought them Bell for a 32-year-old arbitration-eligible lefty.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Activated UT-S Carlos Guillen from the 15-day DL; designated OF-L Josh Anderson for assignment; recalled RHP Eddie Bonine from Toledo (Triple-A); optioned RHP Freddy Dolsi to Toledo. [7/24]
Optioned RHP Eddie Bonine to Toledo; purchased the contract of RHP Casey Fien from Toledo. [7/25]
Sold OF-L Josh Anderson to the Royals. [7/30]
Acquired LHP Jarrod Washburn from the Mariners for LHPs Lucas French and Mauricio Robles. [7/31]

Adding Washburn for this sort of package was exactly the sort of pickup the Tigers could afford given their limited pool of talent to deal from, so it's really very remarkable that they won out where other organizations might have been theoretically capable of similar or better. But that's a fruitless game of 'what if'; Dave Dombrowski got Jack Zduriencik's attention at a busy time, and in exchange for his time Jack landed a pair of live arms from a team that was willing to take on the balance of Washburn's contract. That's particularly extraordinary, in that the Tigers' attendance is down by 8,000 (an improvement from the five-figure drop earlier in the season) while their payroll's up-they owe $34.5 million to Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, and Nate Robertson alone, and expecting much from any one of them may be a bit rich-but perhaps Dombrowski and Mike Ilitch in particular figure it's just as well to roll the dice with their opportunity.

As far as brass tacks, make no mistake about it, Washburn's a quality addition. His .641 SNWP ranks sixth in the majors among rotation regulars, making him the best starter moved around the deadline, Cliff Lee-inclusive. Put that atop a Tigers rotation that has Edwin Jackson (.638) and Justin Verlander (.593) close behind, and you've got an improbable-seeming front three who might run with any other trio in the majors, making the Tigers a tough-to-beat proposition in a short series. Affording themselves Washburn also lets them deal with concerns about Rick Porcello's workload, and also see if they can really rely on Armando Galarraga (.473) as their fourth man if Porcello (.484) needs to be shut down.

The outfield/DH situation has, in the meantime, gotten slightly interesting in terms of the distribution of playing time, if only because there seems to be a measure of elective faith that Guillen and Magglio Ordonez will be able to step it up and deliver. On that, I'm relatively agnostic; getting overly worked up on their ages and seasonal performance so far risks neglecting the very recent past, and people ranting about Clete Thomas' going to waste need to look a bit more careful at his tepid career exploits instead of his going yard in Yankee 2 or off of the likes of Jason Bulger (providing much of the velocity) or a Tomo Ohka cookie. Marcus Thames is 32, and while it's nice to ride the hot hand, he's never been a great OBP source, and it seems sensible to spot him against some right-handers (creating PT for Guillen, among others). To some extent, this is your Tigers lineup, and as much as the options aren't very special at this point of their respective careers, freaking out over the fact that they're stuck with Ordonez and Guillen and Thomas and Thames and Ryan Raburn obscures the fact that there's enough stuff there to work with as far as playing mix-and-match and platooning. Better to fuss over whether or not Leyland's overworked Gerald Laird, but even there, he's beginning to spot Dusty Ryan a bit more often.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Placed OF-R Jose Guillen on the 15-day DL (knee); recalled CF-L Mitch Maier from Omaha (Triple-A). [7/23]
Outrighted SS-R Tony Pena Jr. to Omaha. [7/24]
Purchased OF-L Josh Anderson from the Tigers. [7/30]

Anderson would appear to be exactly the Royals' kind of player, an outfielder who won't get on base and doesn't really have power to make you forget the other things. If he takes much playing time away from Maier, they need to evaluate why they have Maier on the 40-man roster, but happily, they seem to be interested in starting Maier, tossing Willie Bloomquist into the pile of putative right fielders in Guillen's absence (along with Mark Teahen and Ryan Freel), but leave it to the Royals to explore ways in which they might finish below fifth place in the AL Central and see about making something as ludicrously improbable as getting the St. Paul Saints a shot at relegating these mirthless minions of the majors to some sort of long-since earned High Plains hell.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Designated RHP Roy Corcoran for assignment; recalled LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith from Tacoma (Triple-A); outrighted INF-R Josh Wilson to Tacoma. [7/24]
Designated OF-R Wladimir Balentien for assignment; purchased the contract of OF-L Michael Saunders from Tacoma. [7/25]
Placed LHP Erik Bedard on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation); recalled LHP Jason Vargas from Tacoma. [7/26]
Acquired RHP Robert Manuel from the Reds for OF-R Wladimir Balentien; dealt 1B/C-L Jeff Clement, MI-R Ronny Cedeno, and RHPs Nathan Adcock, Adam Pribanic, and Brett Lorin to the Pirates for SS-R Jack Wilson and RHP Ian Snell. [7/29]
Traded LHP Jarrod Washburn to the Tigers for LHPs Lucas French and Mauricio Robles; recalled RHP Ian Snell from Tacoma. [7/31]

Bedard's latest breakdown represents a sign-off of sorts; the Mariners might have had a chance to keep up with the Rangers and Angels, but losing Bedard (again) after losing Adrian Beltre just sort of ended the question of Year One ambitions in the "Jack Z" Era, leading instead to more direct concerns on what to do with the talent in-house, and how to monetize veteran talent of value left on the roster. With that consideration apparently coming to the fore, ditching the need to pay the last couple of months of Washburn's salary became especially attractive. That said, they didn't get just nothing for their troubles. French has really come on this season, and is a likeable enough talent as a big, athletic lefty who fields well. Kevin Goldstein reports he has an 88-92 mph fastball that he'll deliver from a high three-quarters slot and a true plus changeup; getting his slider up to decency as a third pitch has made a difference. Robles is a small lefty with a big arm, someone who can deal heat at 90-94 mph with plus command, but also throws a breaking ball that flashes at times as a plus pitch. He might help round out a rotation, but given the 20-year-old Venezuelan's small stature (he's listed at 5'10" and 160 pounds), he'll probably wind up in the bullpen in the end, but he's been starting for the Tigers in Low- and High-A, striking out 111 in 91 1/3 IP while walking 41 and allowing nine homers.

What makes this seem strange was the previous decision to trade for Wilson and Snell, and in both cases, what's interesting is that with the Pirates footing most of the bill for Wilson and Snell this season, but with Seattle bearing the cost of Snell's 2010 salary ($4.25 million) and 2011 and 2012 club options ($6.75 million and then $9.25 million), plus Wilson's 2010 option ($8.4 million), it's intriguing to wonder what Zduriencik's up to. Certainly, Wilson's expense is somewhat defrayed by the previous decision to get out from under Bill Bavasi's commitment to Yuniesky Betancourt, already saving the team $7 million spread over 2010 and 2011. (Of course, perhaps only a Bavasi would accept the additional $4 million expense of employing Yuni Betancourt at such prices in the first place, but happily Dayton Moore was still in the league.) The questions that arise there then are over whether or not Zduriencik's made a call on the Mariners' viability in 2010, or perhaps just one of their need for someone around average in terms of utility to play short, while scoutily investing in the upside of a pitcher with Snell's talent (and capacity to exasperate).

But what about the alternative suggestion? Perhaps Zduriencik and company think they're better set to make a run right now, with Wilson at short, Vargas and Rowland-Smith and Snell in the rotation, and Saunders-who has hit .344/.411/.620 against right-handers in Tacoma in what's only his age-23 season-starting in left. However, I sort of dispense with that notion; Jack Hannahan at third base for the time being plus nothing from catcher plus Ken Griffey Jr. resembling little more than the agitprop stunt he was from the moment he'd been signed sort of do that to you when it comes to evaluating this team's subsequent chances.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Activated RHP Ryan Dempster from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Justin Berg to Iowa (Triple-A). [7/28]
Optioned RHP Jeff Stevens to Iowa; recalled RHP Mitch Atkins from Iowa. [7/29]
Acquired LHPs John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny from the Pirates for RHP Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio and INF-R Josh Harrison; placed OF-R Reed Johnson on the 15-day DL (broken foot); recalled RHP Jeff Stevens from Iowa. [7/30]
Optioned RHP Mitch Atkins to Iowa; recalled OF-L Sam Fuld from Iowa. [7/31]

So, just as expected, Dempster slips into the rotation. Less expected is the decision to deal for both Gorzo and Grabow, but while this may not look so hot a few years down the line, it's an entirely reasonable risk to have run in the meantime for a club that needs pitching help of any flavor. Adding Grabow as their presumably primary lefty set-up man doesn't really improve their pen all that much given his performance with the Pirates; a 4.34 FRA isn't all that special, and would rank ahead of only Aaron Heilman among the Cubs' regular relievers, and he's not someone with a great track record for complete dominance of his fellows among the gaucherie-lefties have hit him at a .275/.362/.353 this season, although he has struck out almost 30 percent of them. This does free them up to employ Sean Marshall as the fifth starter during the duration of Lilly's absence now that they've dealt Hart, and the additon of Gorzelanny as a lefty with a seemingly excellent future just a couple of years ago certainly gives the exchange a measure of upside value that redeems the deal somewhat, but all in all, it's an exchange from depth for other people's adequates, and the risks of having made the deal don't figure too much to make somebody the obvious winner of the deal at the instant of its consummation. The Cubs needed lefties, and they got them. That doesn't figure to improve their odds all that much as much as it gives Lou Piniella some measure of comfort with his reconfigured staff; a pen that features both Marshall and Grabow once Lilly's back from the DL has a full complement of southpaws, which matters in some small way, but not as much as having a sound rotation or their getting Geovany Soto back from the DL.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Activated LHP Hong-Chih Kuo from the 60-day DL; optioned INF-L Blake DeWitt to Albuquerque (Triple-A); transferred OF-L Xavier Paul from the 15- to the 60-day DL [7/27]
Acquired LHP George Sherrill from the Orioles for 3B-S Josh Bell and RHP Steve Johnson; optioned LHP Brent Leach to Albuquerque; recalled LHP Scott Elbert from Albuquerque; transferred LHP Will Ohman from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/30]
Traded RHP Claudio Vargas to the Brewers for UT-R Vinny Rottino, and assigned Rottino to Double-A. [7/31]

Ouch, ouch, and ouch. Not that Sherrill isn't a useful pitcher as one of the 30 best pitchers in the majors with a FRA below 3.00 in 30 or more IP, but he's an arb-eligible thirtysomething, and dealing Bell seems to be a follow-on mistake born of the decision to deal Carlos Santana to get Casey Blake, deal away Andy LaRoche, and thereby stick with Blake at third. So why invest all that much in Bell's future, since they're "set" at the hot corner through 2011 after re-signing Blake last December? That doesn't seem likely to look well historically, any more than peddling Santana for him in the first place, and never mind what Bell or Johnson, both playable prospects, turn out to be. From among the club's collection of quality southpaws, Kuo, Leach, and Elbert all have talent and track records that suggest their employability, but this move seems more about Joe Torre's desperate need to turn to people he's heard of in his pen. Sherrill's been around long enough that Torre can use him with fully-formed preconceived notions without any chance that anyone will blame anyone other than Sherrill if it doesn't work out in any particular high-leverage ballgame, and that's the kind of cover the veteran skipper's grown accustomed to over his long years of service. Bleeding talent for players Torre doesn't have to sweat developing was one of those intinsically accepted costs of employing the man in the first place, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Dodgers fans have to like it.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Acquired RHPs Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio and INF-R Josh Harrison from the Cubs for LHPs John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny. [7/30]
Recalled OF-R Lastings Milledge from Indianapolis (Triple-A). [7/31]

The usual rule of thumb on trades is that the team that got the best player wins. In this trade, though, that sort of reductionism isn't quite so easily achieved, because there's a case to be made that any one of the four pitchers could be 'best,' either transiently in the present or at some point in the future. Hart and Ascanio both have their uses and might both shine in a Pirates pen of the future, while Gorzo still has his upside, and Grabow's a utility lefty who isn't really a wow-you southpaw. Hart might yet pan out as a starter, but he's seen as a better and more likely relief prospect, so we'll see how this goes. As an exchange of the opposite-handed sources of utility and frustation, to some extent this is more a challenge trade than anything else. The exception to that is Harrison, a position-less bat who could land at second base or the outfield, but someone without game-breaking power; he's 22 years old, makes good contact, and runs aggressively, but that can be said for a lot of people, and if Harrison's the next Chris Stynes, he'll have met the best possible expectations. As for Milledge's call-up, this is just the beginning as far as the Bucs reaping the benefit of the Nats' hasty disposal of the quality outfield prospect, so we'll just have to see how well he adapts to live wearing bee-skin colors.

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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