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August 17, 2009

Transaction Analysis

California Scheming

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Activated CF-R Torii Hunter from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-S Reggie Willits to Salt Lake (Triple-A). [8/16]

The Angels of L'Anaheimornia aren't about to set a franchise record for slugging or anything, but their present sixth-place rank in ISO with a .161 clip is their highest ranking and best team-level performance since 2000 (.193, which ranked second that season), and ranks third in all-time Angels history:


Year    ISO   AL Rank
2000   .193    2nd
1995   .171    4th
2009   .161    6th
1982   .159    2nd
1996   .155   11th

Obviously, not all of these are the same things; ranking second behind Harvey's Wallbangers in 1982 is something to brag about, while this year's sixth-place ranking probably isn't. Even so, consider that the present iteration of los Angeles de Los Angeles has gotten this far with a lot going wrong: losing Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero for extended stretches meant an awful lot of Little Sarge in the lineup, plus Howie Kendrick required a punitive demotion to get reacquainted with his swing. Now, with Hunter back in the fold on top of Vladi's resumption of slugliness as a full-time DH, added to a healthy Juan Rivera, Mike Napoli doing his thing, Kendry Morales riding high, and Kendrick hitting .357/.400/.520 since his return from Utah, it's not hard to envision this team taking its best shot at so-called 'steroid era' slugging feats.

Of course, there's also that other nice thing about getting Hunter back (besides benching Gary Matthews Jr.), which is the defensive help he'll provide to a staff already trying to get by without Joe Saunders. Seeing what Ervin Santana can do today in his next time out since last week's shutout of the Rays might help alleviate some of that concern, but with Trevor Bell taking lumps in his debut and Sean O'Sullivan looking worse each time out, I still think the Angels can't really afford to passively wait on Saunders' return at the end of the month. They're already at risk as far as fronting a plausible playoff rotation, and while that slugging's a nice equalizer, somebody who can go five innings and give up a lot fewer than two baserunners per frame would come in handy. A pity that Paul Byrd's not available.*

* Update at 5:30 p.m. ET: Of course, now that we know that Russ Ortiz became free agents as of today, and with the Red Sox releasing John Smoltz and the Rangers Vicente Padilla (both stand to clear outright release waivers on Wednesday), the Angels have experienced options who they might turn to were they so inclined. The thing about the Angels, though, is that they probably aren't.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Brett Tomko from Sacramento (Triple-A); optioned OF-R Aaron Cunningham to Sacramento. [8/17]

Tomko's reportedly an opera buff, which if different from an opera buffa in that in the latter, you're laughing at the performance. Oh. Hrm... that's not quite right, is it? Let's try this again, and play nicely. Tomko's purchase rescues him from the fact that Sacramento's opera doesn't open until November (with the ubiquitous Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, which, appropriately enough while we talk about Tomko, is about resorting to drink to combat indifference), so his return to the Bay Area puts him back in proximity to the San Francisco Opera, which opens in September and appears to be a better thing these days than it was when Tomko was last pitching for the Giants, and when the horrors of Pamela Rosenberg's era of misrule were in full swing. Let me tell you, I know that I feel relieved, don't you?

I suspect the real lesson here is that when you're casting about for cast-offs, some bodies keep turning up. Tomko's latest resurrection is proof that when it comes to zombies, you have to move past asking why or the mysteries of those who might stealthily live among us without fessin' up, and instead just accept that there's room in the game for the relentlessly undead as well as the upsided, and always had been. (What, you think Connie Mack didn't literally dig up the 1915 A'?) The A's need a spacer in the rotation while they mark time waiting on Dallas Braden or Justin Duchscherer to return from the DL. The Duke's eventual reactivation from the 60-day DL doesn't even have to necessarily serve as a method of zombie removal, since the A's are presently only at 39 on the 40-man roster.

What makes this especially fun is, of course, that Tomko's going to get to start against the team that cut him just a few short weeks ago: the Yankees. Sadly, he won't get to face Sergio Mitre, the man he was cut for, but that's the difference between real life and life according to George Romero. In the meantime, there's the waiting on seeing who gets cut to make room for Tomko. Several reports are suggesting it'll be Nomar Garciaparra who gets done in by this, altough the A's are denying it at the moment.

8/17 Postscript: Well, it turned out to be Cunningham. Apparently Rajai Davis' hot hitting has helped buy Ryan Sweeney job security. No, it doesn't make sense, but then again, employing Nomar and Bobby Crosby as professional witnesses to on-field action doesn't make a whole lot of sense either.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Redeposited RHP Jason Schmidt onto the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 8/6; recalled INF-S Tony Abreu from Albuquerque (Triple-A). [8/7]
Optioned LHP Scott Elbert to Albuquerque; activated RHP Ronald Belisario from the 15-day DL. [8/8]
Optioned INF-S Tony Abreu to Albuquerque; recalled LHP Eric Stults from Albuquerque. [8/9]
Optioned LHP Eric Stults to Albuquerque; purchased the contract of RHP Charlie Haeger from Albuquerque. [8/11]

Oh joy, oh hallelujah, we do at long last get another spin with Charlie Haeger, knuckleballer, real knuckleballer, and not just some dopey media-generated R.A. Dickey-related nonsense.* It's about time, is all I can say. Consider the Dodgers' plight. They're desperate to wind up with anybody to help round out their successful season, and also as a matter of not resorting to the commissioner to request that starting pitchers be made optional. With people like Jeff Weaver, Eric Milton, and Jason Schmidt having logged rotation time, the Dodgers have sorted through more has-beens and formerly famous types than a half-dozen Golan-Globus movies to be named later.**

It is into that maw of sub-mediocrity that a first-place team can afford to feed their need with something a little off-beat. Enter Haeger, stage right, having regained the art of making the flutterball dance, power-puffing his way to 3.9 runs allowed per nine in his 22 turns with the Isotopes, striking out 6.4 and walking 3.6, and providing the added entertainment of nine wild pitches, involvement in 12 of Albuquerque's 18 passed balls, and 12 hit batsmen, all to make it plain that, when it comes to justifying the undivided attention to the batter/pitcher confrontation, no one can be more exciting in delivering a full panoply of potential results than a knuckleballer.

On a more serious level, however, who better than Haeger to help the Dodgers in their moment of need? With concern over the workloads of Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw, plus the added disaster of Hiroki Kuroda's taking a ball off the bean over the weekend, the boys in blue need innings as well as just arms to successfully complete a coast to a division title. Haeger's performance translates to a PERA of 4.85, not great, but the sort of thing that suggests employability on a team that needs people to employ.

* NPR: He throws a knuckleball, and still isn't any good!
Dubious listener: That's newsworthy?
NPR: Yes, yes, we say it is! It must be! Now stay tuned, and in our next sports feature we'll have Frank Deford whine about the plight of incipient senescence!
DL: (Pause.) Golly, sign me up for some of that.

**: Really, after Barfly, can you pick a second-best film in their body of work?

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Acquired RHP Sean Gallagher from the Athletics to complete the Scott Hairston trade, and optioned him to Portland (Triple-A); optioned OF-L Drew Macias to Portland; designated C-S Jose Lobaton for assignment, and then noted losing him on a waiver claim by the Rays on 7/30; activated 2B-R David Eckstein and C-R Henry Blanco from the 15-day DL. [7/28]
Acquired LHPs Aaron Poreda and Clayton Richard and RHPs Dexter Carter and Adam Russell from the White Sox for RHP Jake Peavy; transferred RHP Chris Young and RF-L Brian Giles from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/31]
Optioned RHP Josh Geer to Portland, and activated LHP Clayton Richard. [8/1]
Traded RHP Chad Gaudin to the Yankees for a PTBNL; recalled RHP Ryan Webb from Portland. [8/7]
Activated C-R Nick Hundley from the 15-day DL; optioned C-R Eliezer Alfonzo to Portland. [8/12]
Optioned RHP Mike Ekstrom to Portland; recalled RHP Cesar Carrillo from Portland. [8/13]

In terms of sheer quantity, the Padres did very well indeed. You can tack Gallagher onto the quartet received from the White Sox and make it a full fist's worth of pitching that could be on this staff by 2011. As is, Richard, Poreda, and Gallagher could be three-fifths of the rotation by Opening Day next spring, while Russell could land in the pen easily enough. As much as I liked this deal for the White Sox, I like it for the Padres as well. Who says a trade can't be win/win?

Admittedly, some of that is set up against how little the Padres have to contend with a Sean Gallagher or a Clayton Richard, let alone a prospect as exciting as Poreda. Dexter Carter's breakout this season certainly makes him the player who, beyond Poreda, could make this trade look so very, very good for the Padres in four years. The chances that Carter will rocket up through this system faster than that is the same reason why Gallagher and Richard figure to have such outstanding opportunities ahead of them; beyond Mat Latos' arrival in The Show, there's an awful lot of Josh Banks or Wade LeBlanc or Cesar Carrillo on tap behind him, and that's the sort of farm system that helps keep guys like Cha Seung Baek or Shawn Hill invited to camps. But with Carter throwing in Low-A, however big and however hard he throws, it'll be a few seasons before we see him doing more than making noise in the minors, the AFL, or spring training.

Russell's useful in that he throws hard, and he should be in their bullpen mix in relatively short order, but he's not a premium reliever in the making; he could knock be knocking around the PCL for the next five years, or he could be at the back end of the pen if Bud Black takes a shine to him. In either case, he will not reverse the franchise's fortunes.

I'm a stronger advocate for Richard's virtues than most; as I said at the time of the deal, he's an athletic southpaw with a solid fastball, and he's had his moments even while having to call the Cell his home. Put him in Petco, and I like the possibilities that becomes something like the new Tim Lollar, an underrated rotation piece. With Richard as with Lollar, I'd worry about subsequent miscasting as a situational lefty; it was a switch that effectively ended Lollar's career, since he lacked the command for it. To the day when the Padres have such wealth that they might even consider such options.

Effectively, the guy who has to make this deal for the Pads soon enough for it to really reflect well on any of the assorted aspirants seeking to run the organization is Poreda. Happily, he is that good, ranking 74th in Kevin Goldstein's pre-season top 100; Latos ranked 69th. I won't suggest that twinning your top prospect is the best way to go, not when there isn't a lot of similarity between the two, and not when there are a few dozen in front of them many would rather have two of, but given that the Pads also made Peavy's contract go away, and that's no small thing given their transitional ownership situation. Poreda handled his big-league debut with the Sox earlier this season handily, he managed nine quality starts in 13 turns in the minors, he's huge, and he cooks with premium jet fuel. I could kid about how, barring a reversal of fortune for the franchise, in six years we'll be talking about who they'll be trading him to, but six years is forever in baseball time, and by then Poreda might be Mark Langston 2.0 or already acquainted with one of our nation's many fine orthopedic surgeons, and the franchise's fortunes may have headed off in all sorts of directions. Evaluating the deal (however glibly) in the relative present, he's a great addition to an organization that needed an infusion of talent.

As for adding Gallagher, I'd put him in a somewhat similar category with Richard; he might make a very nice fourth starter, and since the Padres effectively have Latos, the hope that Chris Young comes back next spring from today's surgery in good shape, and even less certainty from there, it's a worthwhile add-on. The question, ultimately, is whether or not Gallagher and Richard are really an improvement upon scaring up the next half-Baek'd notion or Kevin Correia or whatever. That's an admittedly more speculative proposition than focusing on the high-upside guys, which is why I'd focus more on what they get out of Poreda and Carter to eventually grade their slate of two trades. Getting guys like Ryan Webb or Gallagher or Richard or Russell is not, in itself, all that sexy, but I guess the proposition for the add-on arms is that they should at least live up to an expectation of adequacy, which is what the Padres have been hunting for on the waiver wire. On the positive side, aided by a manager in Bud Black who knows more than a bit about pitching, plus putting these guys in a park that forgives mistakes more readily than any other, it's an organization environment where, if you assemble enough viable guys, maybe someone from among that crew turns into the next Woody Williams.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Placed OF-S Andres Torres on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled 1B/OF-L John Bowker from Fresno (Triple-A). [7/31]
Optioned RHP Ryan Sadowski and 1B-R Jesus Guzman to Fresno; recalled RHP Waldis Joaquin from Connecticut (Double-A). [8/1]
Activated RHP Joe Martinez from the 60-day DL; optioned RHP Waldis Joaquin to Fresno; placed RHP Henry Sosa on the 60-day DL (shoulder). [8/5]
Activated INF-R Rich Aurilia from the 15-day DL; optioned 1B/OF-L John Bowker to Fresno. [8/7]
Returned INF-R Rich Aurilia to the 15-day DL; activated OF-L Nate Schierholtz from the 15-day DL. [8/12]

While the major move here is part of the ongoing quest to find a replacement for Randy Johnson in the rotation, there's a human-interest angle that doesn't involve feeling sorry for Sadowski (although there are reasons, as reflected in last week's issue of ESPN: The Magazine). Martinez was an early-season victim of getting pegged in the brainpan by a batted ball (by Mike Cameron back in April), so it's nice to see him get a second chance within the same season after suffering hairline fractures and internal bleeding from the blow. Seven turns in the minors later, and the organizational-type prospect was ready for recalling to fill their rotational need. As an oldish sinker/slider type without dominating stuff, he'll survive as best as he can by generating a ton of ground-ball outs. The Giants' infield isn't one of the better ones, so he'll have his work cut out for him most nights; Edgar Renteria and Pablo Sandoval on the left side, Ryan Garko and Freddy Sanchez on the right? Talk about riding into the jaws of death, onward through shot and shell... Since the Big Unit won't be back until early September (if then), anybody who can resemble an adequate fifth starter for a few turns is going to be an asset.

The shame is that Martinez can't count on a ton of offensive support, either, however busy the Giants were as far as trying to fix their lineup at the deadline. They pursued and acquired the generally adequate in Sanchez and Garko, but is there any other team where the anomalous phenomenon called Eugenio Velez could inspire such transient enthusiasm? They're still fielding baseball's worst offense, so I think not. Garko's proving to be one of the few "established" first basemen around who might not be able to beat out Travis Ishikawa, Sanchez has lived up (or down) to his reputation. In the outfield, between Velez, Aaron Rowand, Schierholtz, Fred Lewis, and Randy Winn, riding the hot hand, even when it's attached to Velez, has some justification, but there's just not a lot to work with.

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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