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August 11, 2009

Transaction Action

Drama Moves

by Christina Kahrl

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BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned OF-L Josh Reddick to Pawtucket (Triple-A); purchased the contract of LHP Billy Traber from Pawtucket; designated INF-R Gil Velazquez for assignment. [8/5]
Placed OF-R Rocco Baldelli on the 15-day DL (ankle); recalled OF-L Josh Reddick from Pawtucket. [8/6]
Recalled RHP Junichi Tazawa from Pawtucket; claimed INF-R Chris Woodward off of waivers from the Mariners; designated RHP John Smoltz and LHP Billy Traber for assignment. [8/7]
Placed SS-S Jed Lowrie on the 15-day DL (wrist), retroactive to 8/7; purchased the contract of RHP Enrique Gonzalez. [8/8]
Designated RHP Enrique Gonzalez for assignment; purchased the contract of RHP Fernando Cabrera from Pawtucket. [8/9]
Outrighted LHP Billy Traber to Pawtucket. [8/11]

You can pare all of the activity down into two major problems, one of which is transient, the other a now-chronic element of the Sox's transactional landscape. The Sox certainly aren't dead, and their recent humiliation and obvious need for some offensive help aside, there's no cause for panic.

The first element they're dealing with is their starting pitching, and while it's exciting to see a team making splashy moves like cutting somebody famous while having to rely on youngsters like Clay Buchholz and Tazawa in a stretch run, the problem's not really all that bad. Smoltz was an expensive cameo, both in terms of results and the payroll. Anticipating that Will Carroll's comments on Monday hold true, Tim Wakefield will be back in action sooner rather than later, giving the Sox a resolidified front three of Wakefield, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester. Buchholz hasn't been great, but he can be better, and he's already outclassed Penny, contributing a .467 SNWP to Penny's .443. That perhaps understates Penny's utility; he's delivered 12 quality starts through six innings in his 22 turns, and if you define him by the job he was signed for, to be a fifth starter, he's been adequate to the task.

In the meantime, Tazawa's up, perhaps too soon, but since they gave him a big-league contract and feel the need this very instant (and they seem reluctant to run with Michael Bowden), somebody has to be the fifth starter, because nobody's going with a real four-man rotation, least of all the team that has to operate within the frenzied New England media scene. One of his two starts in Triple-A was against the Bisons, the worst team in the International and the Pacific Coast Leagues. That was after he'd spent most of the year in the Eastern League and pitching well while he was at it, allowing just 109 baserunners and 31 runs in 98 IP while striking out 88. He has that full spread of pitches he can throw for strikes, with low-90s heat and a dancing curve predominating; unlike many Japanese pitchers, he doesn't have the slow delivery that can set up the running game, as only two of 10 stolen-base attempts between the two levels were successful.

Can he handle it, putting the Sox in the strange position of retooling and contending simultaneously? I don't see why not, but if it goes badly tonight, they can hook him fast and place their hopes in that quality pen that really does go seven deep-and probably needs all seven. Admittedly, that might seem like jumping the gun on the latest add-on to the Sox pen, but I like the chances that Cabrera might be the latest in Theo Epstein's collection of nice little retreading experiments. I don't expect Cabrera to single-handedly make people forget the Sox having and then losing David Aardsma, but he's been exceptional with the PawSox this season, striking out 45 against 16 unintentional walks in 48 IP, and restoring some of the former prospect cred he had coming up in the Indians' organization.

Which brings me to the second, uglier problem, which is finding a major league shortstop. People wanted Julio Lugo gone, having misplaced their faith in Nick Green, false prophet of all that's scrappy and temporarily fashionable. As Green's play continues to reflect that the joke's on those who got worked up over him in the first place*, and with a lineup that's already dropped to fifth in the AL in team Equivalent Average, far behind the Yankees and Rays, and in danger of falling behind the Blue Jays, the last thing they can afford is the faltering stylings of Green. He's hitting .196/.267/.350 since the calendar turned to June, we've warned you repeatedly this was coming, and yet here he is. Lowrie's return seems a bit speculative at present, leaving the Sox truly shortstopless, because having already dealt Argenis Diaz, they've got nothing left on the farm with which to challenge Green, hence the rapid claim on Woodward-someone who might not be able to beat in a fight for a job, fair or less so.

*: For those who got themselves lathered up about him in May, I hope you tell your children as reverently that you saw Nick Green play as you might say you saw Sinatra before he died. And then get to live with the humiliation for being seen as a rather silly person, since Junior's going to have B-Ref available on a eye implant-view drop-down a few decades hence, and might appropriately ask what you've been smoking, now or then.


CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Claimed OF-S Alex Rios from the Blue Jays off of waivers. [8/10]
Optioned RHP Carlos Torres to Charlotte (Triple-A). [8/11]

Largesse in the Bridgeport neighborhood is usually associated with the Daleys offering dispensations to the little people over the years, but tip your cap to Jerry Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams for indulging in a speculative big-money pickup pretty much the only way they had left at their disposal: an outright waiver claim. The ranks of the farm system's top prospects have been thinned severely as a result of the Peavy deal as well as the promotions of Gordon Beckham and Chris Getz, so dealing prospects for any additional reinforcements for this season's bid to win the division seems unlikely at best and impossible at worst.

As I noted yesterday, whatever this means in terms of heavy expense, now and into the future, it's a saving move in terms of the Sox adding somebody who can play center field well and provide position-appropriate production to boot. While some segments quail over how to resolve the "quandary" of sharing out the at-bats between Rios, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Quentin, and Scott Podsednik, Sesame Street-level logic tells you right off the bat that one of those things is not like the others. Podzilla's had a nice bit of glory in recovering from a couple of years being lost in the woods, and that's swell. It'll be more swell if he's Quentin's late-game legs and spot starter, and there's a hallowed place in this team's history for beloved bench players; just ask Jerry Dybzinski.

The long-term question instead is whether or not, having added Peavy and Rios without any discounts, the Sox will be able to afford to keep both Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome this winter. Thome's a free agent who will have a hard time matching his 2009 compensation ($13 million) in the open market heading into his age-39 season, and getting him to stick around at a lower level of pay on a short-term contract seems pretty plausible to me. Dye's mutual option for 2010 isn't that much cheaper ($12 million), but given that the contracts of A.J. Pierzynski ($6.5 million) and Paul Konerko ($10 million) run out after 2010, and that the deals for Jose Contreras ($10 million) and Octavio Dotel ($6 million) come off the books after this year, if there's a salary pressure on the club, it's basically concentrated in 2010, and then might ease considerably from there. We'll see if Rios forces them to lose one or both, but until it happens, I'm a bit intrigued by the possibility that the Sox have their 2010 team almost entirely in place already.

Consider that, as currently constituted, beyond the Dye/Thome questions Kenny Williams' winter shopping might only be restricted to mulling fifth starter candidates and back-end bullpen types. As a win-now team reliant on its veterans, if anything the Sox seem set up pretty well for making their run at this year's division title and being in potentially good shape to make another bid in 2010. While statheads were getting worked up about Cleveland and scouting mavens were singing the praises of the Twins, it's interesting to think on the possibility that the Sox stand a good puncher's chance at winning their division three years running. It falls short of "dynasty," but it's a credit to their taking what opportunities you can afford and making the most of them.

Add in that, for as much talent as the Sox have traded away, they're not really quite that empty. Among their position players they do still have Tyler Flowers looking like he'll hit enough to star behind the plate or perhaps over at first base in 2010, and Jordan Danks looks like he'll enter into the picture in center field by 2011... and even then we don't quite get into crossing fingers and wondering how well Dayan Viciedo will adapt, because Brent Morel's having an excellent second half in High-A at the hot corner. On the pitching side of things above A-ball, John Ely and Torres are both having outstanding seasons as well. For an "empty" system, the fruits of their thin crops seem bountiful nonetheless.


DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Casey Fien to Toledo (Triple-A); recalled OF-R Wilkin Ramirez from Toledo. [8/4]
Optioned OF-R Wilkin Ramirez and C-R Dusty Ryan to Toledo; purchased the contract of C-L Alex Avila from Erie (Double-A); recalled RHP Chris Lambert from Toledo. [8/5]

Well, here we are, and sure enough, Gerald Laird was not the best thing since sliced bread, let alone since bread or bread slicers, and I expect we could take it all the way back to sharpened stone tools for that matter. Bring it forward instead of back, and he can't even trump artisanal breads, or even some of the better gluten-free breads. And teff? That's good stuff too. So really, I think that now we've dispensed with the fanciful notions that he'd somehow magically give the Tigs his 2003 OBP, his 2006 slugging percentage, plus Yadier Molina's defense and effervescent charm, we can agree that Detroit's instead left with exactly what we should have expected all along: adequacy. It's not a crime, at least not in most states.

The interesting development is the decision to bring up Avila. No mere nepotista is he (he calls AGM Al Avila "Dad"), having pasted pitching since being picked in the fifth round of the 2008 draft out of Alabama. Success at a top program little more than a year ago might make his promotion seem a bit on the speedy side, but to make his accelerated arrival all the more remarkable, he apparently was only moved behind the plate before the start of the Crimson Tide's '08 campaign, so he's got less than two years of experience donning the tools of ignorance. Which is what makes his arrival so much more cool, because he can catch; he throws well, having nabbed 33 percent of stolen-base attempts last year in the Midwest League, and 44 percent in the Eastern League this season. While he's given good marks for his work with a pitching staff, he's still not perfect behind the plate (he was second in the EL in passed balls), but he's improving and is more than adequate. It's interesting to see him come along this quickly, but he's only 22, and the recent history of position players converted to catching and thriving-Jorge Posada, Terry Steinbach, and Brian Harper all turned out well, certainly-suggests there's no reason he can't become a genuinely good catcher, and not simply a new Matt Nokes type.

Beyond that, he also hits, and with his smacking around right-handed pitchers in Double-A at a .284/.389/.476 clip, we're not talking Bako bits in terms of contributions as the rare lefty-swinging backstop. Even if he were just a good-hitting platoon type, he'd fit rather neatly with Laird, who is doing his usual, flailing against the same-handed, and putting up some modest productivity against lefties. While I doubt Jim Leyland will make this into a job-sharing arrangement, let alone a platoon (which would favor Avila) in the middle of a tri-pennant push, it's an in-season improvement in terms of staffing alone, and one that prefigures Avila's shot at winning the regular job in 2010.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed LHP Scott Downs on the 15-day DL (big toe); recalled RHP Jeremy Accardo from Las Vegas (Triple-A). [8/4]
Waived good-bye to OF-S Alex Rios after he was claimed by the White Sox. [8/10]
Purchased the contract of 1B-R Randy Ruiz. [8/11]

Joe Sheehan tackled this topic exceptionally well today, in that while this was an obvious good to be rid of the financial commitment to Rios, it's up to J.P. Ricciardi to demonstrate a capacity to learn from the experience and employ whatever payroll freedom acquired by the ditching of him to actually try to improve matters. The Rays have already destroyed the proposition that the AL East is a two-team division with a three-team audience, and the way the Orioles are building up now that they're being managed by sentient adults, crying poor to excuse irrelevance will be a defense that not even Ricciardi will be able to stoop to with a straight face. Overpaying for Rios was of a piece with overpaying for Lyle Overbay or Vernon Wells, Frank Thomas or B.J. Ryan, and the act of overpaying these men achieved close to nothing in terms of making the Jays a viable, competitive club in the division. Even if Aaron Hill winds up justifying his deal, that's the exception, not the obvious rule. As much as some Canadian bacon's been saved at this instant by somebody else's neediness, it's up to the Jays to stop pantomiming the activities of a real franchise, and either gear up for a real overhaul, or learn to discriminate between those you overpay in a modest win-now bid, and those you don't.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  Alex Rios,  The Who,  Triple-A

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