August 4, 2009
NL East Tweakery
Released RHP Jeff Bennett. [7/28]
Acquired 1B-L Adam LaRoche from the Red Sox for 1B-L Casey Kotchman; recalled 1B-R Barbaro Canizares from Gwinnett (Triple-A). [7/31]
Activated 1B-L Adam LaRoche; optioned 1B-R Barbaro Canizares to Gwinnett. [8/1]
As much as the data suggests that LaRoche-for-Kotchman is a mild push as exchanges go because they're both bopping around the .270 mark in terms of EqA, I think this deal ends up working for the Braves as an improvement in a couple of ways. First, there's the nice wrinkle of having the Red Sox pay LaRoche's remaining salary, which means that the only thing the Braves had to take on as far as the cost of this transaction was Kotchman's upside and future service time. Another couple of years of Casey Kotchman isn't exactly the sort of thing you really want to sign on for if you play in the league where pitchers hit; he's a nice glove and a nice placeholder if you have stars spattering your lineup, but that's the sort of luxury a team as win-now as the Braves must be at present can pass by, having already sampled the limited benefits. The apologies made for Kotchman at this point of his career have become legion; he's in his age-26 season now, and still hasn't broken out any more than the brief bits of goodness he showed off in 2005 and 2007, years in which (by EqA) he was an adequate hitter for a hitter's position. Most of the time, he's been below that, to the point where it would be a false comparison to call him the new Mickey Vernon for his inconsistency; Vernon at least had stretches where he'd post EqAs in the .330s, above anything that Kotchman's achieved as of yet.
LaRoche, in contrast, has been that good or better in 2006 and 2008, and my thought is that if you're stuck employing a near-adequate first baseman, why not go for the guy with the slightly better track record, someone who, in his age-29 season, is also within his notional peak phase, someone you've already have some modest success with, and someone you can let leave as a free agent after the season so that, come your winter shopping trip, you might replace with someone better? LaRoche's career, strange as it has been, has its own share of excuses as well, and returned to a Braves lineup where he doesn't have to be a star, he just has to be better than Casey Kotchman, I like the chances that he'll give the Braves two good months before getting out of Dodge. Long-term, if you don't have one of the premium first basemen, I'd argue you're better off without any long-term commitments; the danger of employing Casey Kotchman is that, a year from now, you'd still be employing Casey Kotchman, because his service-time clock has buzzed to let you know you can just stop making it so by looking for something better.
Acquired 1B-L Nick Johnson from the Nationals for LHP Aaron Thompson; designated UT-R Andy Gonzalez for assignment. [7/31]
Activated RHP Matt Lindstrom from the 15-day DL; activated 1B-L Nick Johnson; optioned OF-R Brett Carroll and 1B/3B-R Gaby Sanchez to New Orleans (Triple-A). [8/1]
Placed RHP Burke Badenhop on the 15-day DL (strained trapezius); recalled RHP Tim Wood from New Orleans. [8/2]
In talking with Clay Davenport at SABR this past weekend, he alerted me to his findings about how much good adding Nick the Stick to the Fish meant to the team. I hardly wanted to jump the gun and remark upon what he'd determined, but now that the Marlins have upped their PECOTA-informed odds to about 10 percent, I wonder if we didn't understate the case a bit as far as how much of a difference getting Johnson into the lineup for Emilio Bonifacio changes matters; express it in terms of MLVr, and it doesn't get us any closer, because Bonifacio's -.195 to Johnson's .149 is a full run's worth of improvement every three games, or a win every 30, or a little more than two wins between now and season's end. This is where I know I something wonder about statistical currency; putting a .400 OBP in a lineup in front of Hanley Ramirez seems likely to do a lot more damage than that in terms of generating big innings. There's also the question of whether there's a defensive hit at third of some sort; Jorge Cantu's not a good third baseman, but Bonifacio wasn't all that special either, and the net gain that comes with adding a pretty good first baseman like Johnson ought to actually improve the defense.
There is of course yet another area of obvious improvement in this lineup, in that Chris Coghlan isn't really doing that much to help the Marlins score runs as a left fielder. While adding a veteran rental for the stretch drive now that we're in the waivers portion of the process of making deals might be doable, the Marlins' reluctance to take on salary probably handicaps them more than most others. So why not revisit their thinking from Opening Day, and turning to Cameron Maybin? He's currently crushing Triple-A pitching at a .328/.415/.471 clip, walking in almost 12 percent of his plate appearances, and he's still a plus defender in center. That performance translates to a .280 EqA, which even overlooking the defensive gain suggests that the Fish ought to go back to what they saw as a good idea in March.
Released CF-L Corey Patterson. [7/29]
Traded 1B-L Nick Johnson to the Marlins for LHP Aaron Thompson; traded LHP Joe Beimel to the Rockies for RHPs Ryan Mattheus and Robinson Fabian; purchased the contract of RHP Jorge Sosa from Syracuse; recalled OF-S Elijah Dukes from Syracuse (Triple-A). [7/31]
They didn't get top talent in this small-scale teardown of the terrors down in the basement, but they got arms, two per guy, no less, though none of them are present-day Vendittes or latter-day Greg Harris wannabes. The pair received from the Rockies aren't really prospects. Mattheus has been out with shoulder woes, but the chunky right-hander's impressed people with a decent, low-90s sinker. He's been out for the last six weeks or so, but once back, he might be able to contribute in 2010 as a grounder-on-demand righty situational type. He's the prize in this deal, but then what else would you expect, acquiring a guy you hope enters to the sounds of Falco. Come on, you all know the words: "Rock me, R-Mattheus! R-Mattheus, R-Mattheus/R-Mattheus..."
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about Fabian is that he is not to be mistaken for Buff Bagwell (who as we all know wrestled as 'Fabulous Fabian,' however briefly), but he is perhaps equally combative, having hit 19 batters in 155
As for the Johnson trade, Thompson's notionally less disappointing as a bit of swag goes, but he's nevertheless something of a disappointment as a former Houston high-school arm picked with the 22nd overall selection in the 2005 draft. (One pick ahead? Cliff Pennington. One pick behind? Jacoby Ellsbury. Matt Garza went 25th overall. Yes, there's an element of crapshootery involved in the draft once you get past the obvious prospects.) He never really developed, but he's a lefty who can get over 90 now and again, and pitching as a 22-year-old in Double-A this year, he's allowed five runs per nine while striking out six and walking a touch more than three. He's managed to avoid getting hit hard, allowing an opponent's ISO of .095. The expectation is that he might just pan out as a big-league pen man, because he supplements the low-velocity fastball with a good curve, and he has a good move to first base, but maybe there's something more there; certainly, there's nothing that says he might not be the next Joe Beimel, and that was worth something once, not just R-Mattheus and Fabian.
Finally, the addition of Dukes back to the big-league ballclub is to take over in right field, with Austin Kearns remaining safely rooted to the bench, and with Adam Dunn's charity towards flying things getting shelved for a new role as the regular first baseman. They're still shy a second baseman, and Josh Bard's season has slowly fizzled, but an outfield with Josh Willingham and Dukes flanking Nyjer Morgan's not too shabby, and we'll see if Dunn conjures up defensive comparisons to Dave Kingman at yet another position.