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August 14, 2009

Transaction Action

Assorted Senior Circuitry

by Christina Kahrl

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ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RHP Buddy Carlyle from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Gwinnett (Triple-A). 8/7]
Activated UT-R Omar Infante from the 15-day DL; optioned SS-R Diory Hernandez. [8/11]

There are times at which I no doubt come across as if I were Infante's biggest fan, but add him to a mix where you've got Chipper Jones' recurring aches and pains plus Kelly Johnson's flagging bat, and it's nice to add him to the infield alone. Tack on the chance he might help out in center in particular (during Nate McLouth's latest injury, and beyond) and the outfield in general, and you can count him with Matt Diaz and Dave Ross among the club's collection of quality reserves. Then add in the list of unsurprising in-season developments: Garret Anderson getting hot as the weather did (.296/.326/.475 since June 1), Ryan Church starting to hit again once he got away from the Mets, Adam LaRoche hitting like Adam LaRoche now that he's back in a Braves uni. It makes for a fun collection of hitters with which to attack another team, and certainly helps go towards an explanation for why the Braves currently rate a better shot at the playoffs than, say, the Giants, and running even with the Rockies for the fourth-best shot at a spot in the league.


CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated C-R Geovany Soto from the 15-day DL; optioned 1B/OF-L Micah Hoffpauir to Iowa (Triple-A). [8/7]
Placed RHP Carlos Zambrano on the 15-day DL (back), retroactive to 8/2; recalled RHP Jeff Stevens from Iowa. [8/8]
Optioned RHP Jeff Stevens to Iowa; purchased the contract of RHP Esmailin Caridad from Iowa. [8/10]
Optioned RHP Jeff Samadzija to Iowa; recalled RHP Justin Berg from Iowa. [8/13]

Soto's return couldn't come too soon for a Cubs club hampered by the on-again, off-again availability of Aramis Ramirez. It has become obvious that Koyie Hill's still the same guy who couldn't nail down his past opportunities. It's nice that Hill's a switch-hitter, but not being able to hit everybody from both sides of the plate only goes so far, and however inspiring it is that he came back after nearly losing his career to an accident that almost cost him fingers, in the end he's a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Backup Catchers, nothing more. The Cubs have been careful with Soto, though, starting Hill twice in the starter's first week back, but hopefully it's a matter of ramping Soto back up and (ideally) getting his production back to where it had been in the five weeks before his breakdown (.250/.336/.565), lest people start mulling the ephemeral greatness of Rick Wilkins and making a few comparisons.

It's telling that the Cubs nevertheless thought so little of Jake Fox's receiving skills that he did not start a single game during Soto's month-long absence, not even in the doubleheader on July 12th. Even so, he's merited retention, not just as the emergency catcher, but as the guy who starts at third while Ramirez is ailing. (Mike Fontenot has to meanwhile deal with Lou Piniella's hot hand-fancying ways at second; Jeff Baker's in favor again.) Fox's positional flexibility combined with the desire to carry a backup for Kosuke Fukudome in center on the bench during Reed Johnson's DL stint left Hoffpauir boxed out a bit by Sam Fuld. It will be interesting to see whether that lasts beyond Johnson's return, especially where setting a playoff roster's concerned. Johnson's not much of a center fielder, after all, and Fuld has his uses as a pinch-runner beyond (like Hoffpauir) batting lefty. Not that Hoffpauir couldn't use the refreshment of everyday play in the cornfields to get his bat going, but I'll be interested to see how this plays out by the end of the month.

The rotation's woes, on the other hand, have to be cause for more serious concern, because the team keeps finding ways to wind up one regular shy of a set five. Ted Lilly's due back at the beginning of next week, perhaps for Monday's game in Petco against the Padres, and Carlos Zambrano's supposed to be targeted for a return in time to appear in the subsequent series against the Dodgers in LA. After witnessing Tom Gorzelanny's getting torched by the Rockies and the unsurprising wipeout of Samardzija by the Phillies yesterday, the good news might be that Gorzo's turn tomorrow against his former team is the last time they need to rely on a sixth or seventh starter. However, Gorzo's got his own injury issue, suggesting that Caridad's retention on the roster was to have him available to shadow both Samardzija yesterday and Gorzelanny on Saturday. The short Dominican isn't a likely contender for a rotation slot any time soon (his off-speed stuff holds few surprises, and lefties pwn'd him in the PCL, pasting him at a .340/.401/.565 clip), but a lively low-90s heater could keep him in the middle-relief mix.

Contributing to the rotation's problems, now and potentially on into the stretch, has been the increasing unreliability of too many key relievers, encouraging Piniella to leave his starters out there for an extra frame. (Ryan Dempster in particular's been burned by this his last couple of times out.) Kevin Gregg and Aaron Heilman have both managed feats of combustion in the last month, combining to allow eight homers in 25 2/3 IP, Sean Marshall chose this same time to start struggling as well, and there appears to be no cure for Carlos Marmol's wildness. Guys like Samardzija and Stevens and Berg aren't answers, so you can understand if there's a creeping sense of desperation where the pen's concerned, even with Angel Guzman back in action.


MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Luis Ayala to New Orleans (Triple-A); recalled LHP Sean West from Jacksonville (Double-A). [8/8]
Optioned RHP Tim Wood to New Orleans; recalled RHP Christopher Leroux from Jacksonville. [8/13]
Optioned RHP Christopher Leroux to Jacksonville; recalled RHP Cristhian Martinez from Jacksonville. [8/14]

Nothing surprising to see West back in the traces as the team's fifth starter, especially in light of the news that Andrew Miller's still shelved with an ankle injury down in New Orleans. Looking at the performance of the entire unit, Josh Johnson's been aces, Rick VandenHurk's been adequate, and consistent with his work since his demotion, Ricky Nolasco had delivered four straight quality starts before last night. The problem's been that Chris Volstad seems to be running out of steam, West didn't look special his first time back, and VandenHurk's adequacy has been just that, which combines to put that shored-up lineup on the spot at least three nights out of five, not to mention tax that bullpen more than a bit.

Wood's demotion might not seem fair, but he got the most work last night helping the pen paper over the Nolasco Kid's disaster start, and throwing 45 pitches. (Nolasco might feel differently, since Wood let all of the inherited runners score after coming in with the bases juiced in the fourth.) This is just another instance of the fact that pitching staff management in particular has very little to do with whether a team goes with 11 hurlers, or 12, or 13; you can use a guy up for the next couple of days in any given ballgame, and make him go away easily enough. People arguing for 27-man rosters to provide teams with "enough" pitchers seem to have lost sight of the fact that clubs are already operating with enough pitchers, because they're not really running set staffs any more. Rotations are rarely restricted to a half-dozen candidates for almost any swing through any particular five turns, and bullpens seem to involve a dozen possibilities from game to game and series to series. If the concern is whether or not many of these moves are transactions so transient as to barely merit a flight to whatever flyover country affiliate is the deemed recipient, believe me, I feel your pain. But where the teams are concerned, they seem to be doing just fine as is.


HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated 1B-S Lance Berkman and RHP LaTroy Hawkins from the 15-day DL; optioned INF-S Matt Kata to Round Rock (Triple-A); placed LHP Wesley Wright on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder). [8/12]

During the Puma's extended absence from the starting lineup, the Astros went 8-12 while running out Chris Coste, Geoff Blum, and Darin Erstad to sop up the at-bats at first base. Given a generally weak bid for contention propped up by a stars-and-scrubs roster with an even more stark divide between the two than most teams of the type, it was a bit predictable and sad, but that's what you get for mistaking "depth" (having bodies actually laying around that you might employ because you might have to) for quality depth (the guys you're not actually afraid of starting). They're not all dead yet, just well on their way, and while I'm sure a third-place finish is brag-worthy in some circles ("Take that Jocketty! Tha's right, you're crying cuz it hurts!"), it would be another bit of the organization playing out its weak hand as best as it can while still having to deal with the more basic, long-overdue rebuilding from bottom to top. Ed Wade was hired to play out these years to best effect, and the team's been a strange blend of competitive and hopeless. The real question is how much stronger the player development program everyone else honed in on in their bids for the job has become in the meantime, and there, we'll have to wait before making anything more than the most glib assertions.


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RHP Chad Durbin from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Rodrigo Lopez to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [8/10]
Optioned RHP Kyle Kendrick to Lehigh Valley; activated RHP Pedro Martinez from the 15-day DL. [8/12]

I'm with Sheehan on this; putting eight of 21 batters faced aboard doesn't really constitute success, and if three runs in five frames is the feeble standard by which we judge success among the elderly, Jamie Moyer met that 13 out of 22 times. In a way, they're really not advanced that much further from what they might have had in Lopez (which wasn't much), so while this latest spelunk into celebritology and drama makes for entertainment while adding one of the formerly famous to the ensemble cast, it's important to put this issue in its place: we're talking about who gets to be the Phillies' fifth starter, and who will-in all likelihood-get skipped in October, and possibly left off of the playoff roster altogether. (And you think the sparks are flying now...) The additional burden of employing the ex-famous in the fifth slot is that they might be piqued if, say, you skip them, or if-as Will Carroll pointedly brought up as the key issue-recovery time for his Pedrosity takes a longer form. So, while this is a "good problem" to at least some ways of thinking, it's also an operational challenge from series to series and week to week, sort of the antithesis to the disaster of '64.

I wouldn't be surprised, seven weeks hence, to have seen Charlie Manuel keep Lee and Blanton in their five-day traces, while pacing Hamels and Happ (to lower their final workloads) and Pedro (to give him additional rest days), thereby creating spaces in which to spot Moyer here and there. Should they decide to spot the venerable lefty against certain opponents because of vulnerability to southpaws, the hapless Mets and Nats would do nicely, and come up on the schedule a couple of times apiece. But I'll repeat that this is fussing over who gets to be the fifth starter, and it's a tempest in a teapot unless or until the Phillies do something crazy, like bumping J.A. Happ, or putting the old men in their post-season rotation. Barring that, it's the stuff of fading notoriety and slow news days, and perhaps more properly ranks with a comparison to who Tom Kelly picked from among the equally cooked and formerly famous Steve Carlton and Joe Niekro (not to mention Mike Smithson) to round out his stretch rotation on the '87 Twins; just because you have to pick and you're picking from among guys who used to be great doesn't mean you have great picks.


ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Todd Wellemeyer on the 15-day DL (elbow inflammation), retroactive to 8/5; recalled RHP Mitchell Boggs from Memphis. [8/11]

Maybe it's because I think the Cubs are a more interesting and more dangerous pursuer for the Cardinals than, say, the Marlins or Braves are for the Phillies, I find the fifth-starter situation in St. Louis a bit more interesting. Like Moyer, Kyle Lohse is having his on/off issues with his turns since returning from the DL, having thrown bad/good/bad/good/bad/good in those six turns; if he keeps to the pattern and struggles against the Padres this weekend, it'll only add to the exasperation. However, it's a stronger performance than they were getting from Wellemeyer or Brad Thompson, both of whom had been sub-.400 in Support-Neutral Winning Percentage in their turns. To an extent, getting Wellemeyer onto the DL cuts to the chase and deposits Boggs onto the roster full-time instead of leaving him in ping-pong limbo, bouncing between Memphis and St. Louis and back again as the fifth starter's needed, because the veteran hadn't started a game in more than two weeks, while Boggs had received both of the assignments when the fifth starter's turn came up on the schedule.

I'm not wildly enthusiastic about this, insofar as Boggs hasn't been very good this year at either location, but he's been better than Wellemeyer, and by such standards are jobs earned. Boggs has had such extreme splits in his platoon data in both the majors and the minors, this year and last, that it's hard to envision his being able to last in a big-league rotation; he's been working on his changeup for a while now, and it still hasn't changed into a quality pitch with which to freeze lefties. Given that we're talking about the fifth starter's slot, you might entertain thoughts of skippability and playing matchups; unfortunately, the way the schedule falls the fifth man's in line to start twice, the first time out against the Dodgers, and then against the Padres (and pitching around Adrian Gonzalez) and then the Nationals the week after (and pitching around Adam Dunn).

All of which leaves me wondering about the Cardinals' alternatives. In-house, beyond taking another spin with Wellemeyer upon his return from the DL at the end of the month, it might be interesting to make a point of extending Blake Hawksworth in some middle-relief work, because he'd been successful in Triple-A taking regular turns and managing a 57/19 K/UBB ratio in 73 IP. Between a lively fastball and solid command of his offspeed stuff, he might make the more balanced choice for rotation work. The problem is that it's not that attractive a proposition, any more than Boggs or Wellemeyer, and there's a dearth of viable alternatives down on the farm. If this means the Cardinals wind up trying to add an arm through a waivers deal, color me unsurprised.

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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