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August 25, 2009

Transaction Action

Senior Circuit Shuffling

by Christina Kahrl

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ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned 1B-L Josh Whitesell to Reno (Triple-A); recalled 1B-L Brandon Allen from Reno. [8/22]

I'm not going to disagree with the proposition that Allen's a better prospect than Whitesell; that's not really much of a bold venture as expressed opinions go, since Allen's 23 and still full of promise, while Whitesell's 27 and seems to have stalled out as a Quad-A somebody already trying to overcome a slow clamber up the rungs of the ExpoNats organization. It's a decent illustration of the narrow line for first-base prospects: in addition to not usually having much in the way of positional alternatives, a first-base prospect has to rake, and rake like he's a native son of Acworth. Failing that, he winds up knocking around Triple-A, or the indy leagues, or Mexico, or overseas, or telling you about the lovely things they're doing with life insurance these days. It's easy to kid, but a dent in a first-base prospect's future is hard to overcome; guys like Russell Branyan, Kendry Morales, and Carlos Peņa "came out of nowhere" after first being on top as highly touted prospects, and then digging down to nowhere. You can't really say that about Whitesell.

Allen, however, is something of a different matter, and he's helped himself considerably with a hot stretch in Reno since getting traded by the White Sox that helped propel his anticipated peak at the plate towards an eminently employable .298. However, it's worth remembering that before he arrived in Sierra country, his initial introduction to Triple-A wasn't nearly as promising (.230 in 61 PA), and was perhaps more tellingly down around .270 in his more extended stretch down in Double-A. It's also the fact that he made most of his noise in his immediate intro to the PCL, going .380/.463/.789 in his first three weeks with the Aces, and then .270/.365/.500 in his last three.

Still, production at first base for the Snakes has been a vortex of suck, nature abhors a vacuum, and as a former football player, Allen's a large plug for the hole. Allen's improved commitment to conditioning in 2008 helped give his trajectory its subsequent accelerations. He may not be ready right now, but he's worth taking a spin with while the organization waits and wonders about what to do at first base, beyond rejecting their 2010 option on Chad Tracy, and perhaps repurposing Conor Jackson for the spot once they learn anything more about what to expect with Eric Byrnes for the third year of the turkey deal they inked him to, and with Justin Upton, Chris B. Young, and Gerardo Parra, the outfield has a surfeit of employables already.


CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed CF-R Willy Taveras on the 15-day DL (strained quadriceps); purchased the contract of CF-L Drew Stubbs from Louisville (Triple-A). [8/19]
Placed RHP Johnny Cueto on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 8/16; activated RHP Micah Owings from the 15-day DL. [8/20]
Placed RHP Aaron Harang on the 15-day DL (appendectomy), retroactive to 8/21; activated 3B Scott Rolen from the 15-day DL. [8/23]
Placed C-R Ryan Hanigan (concussion) and OF-L Chris Dickerson (ankle) on the 15-day DL. [8/24]
Purchased the contracts of C-R Corky Miller and OF-R Darnell McDonald from Louisville; transferred RHPs Edinson Volquez and Mike Lincoln from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/25]

So now Cuteo and Harang join Edinson Volquez on the shelf, and that's that. For the Reds, shutting down multiple pistons in the engine that rotation was supposed to power any tepid run at contention spells an early start to the roster expansion-and-evaluation portion of the program. Unfortunately, there isn't that much good stuff to haul up, so the Reds are reduced to rounding out their rotation of the Pill Fiend, Homer Bailey, and Micah Owings with Panzer Lehr and apparently Kip Wells, giving them at least a notionally experienced crew to present to their opponents while playing spoiler, however weakly.

From among the alternatives on the 40-man, the pickings are slim but present. Control lefty Matt Maloney's having a fine season in Triple-A, running his strikeout to walk ratio up to 5-to-1 with 125 Ks and 24 walks in 143 IP, and with 3.5 runs allowed per nine. Still, as a fly-ball pitcher without dominant stuff whose best-case upside is probably fourth starter, he's not exactly in the right organization. Sam LeCure's also taking his turns in that same rotation, but he's struggling to find much consistency, still giving up tons of fly balls, similarly lacks quality stuff, and has had particular problems against lefties (.297/.370/.488). And that's where we really hit bottom on the 40-man; aging changeup artist Ramon Ramirez has been shifted to the pen in Louisville, which is where whatever promise he's supposed to have is perhaps best employed. Daryl Thompson's latest comeback from shoulder problems has already gone back off the rails with a brief, bad turn while rehabbing in the Gulf Coast League. It's because of this mess that Travis Wood may be punching his own ticket.

Are things heading in the opposite direction with the position players? Not really, although having gotten the opportunity to get Ryan Hanigan a nice run of starts behind the plate in Ramon Hernandez's absence suggests they'll have at least one good catcher on hand in 2010. Absenting him after last night's injury is a transient problem, and while adding a choice between Corky Miller and Craig Tatum makes this team look more like Louisville may not please paying customers, it won't amount to much unless you're fretting over the indignity of a sixth-place finish.

You might think that things are better in that they've found a convenient reason to move Taveras aside and take an extended look at their center fielder of the future (with the 'when' being less obvious, what with contracts and bad taste in free agents not gunking up the issue). The question is whether Stubbs is going to be that good, since he offers a number of the same virtues Taveras does notionally: he too is a plus defender in center, and he too runs well (swiping 46 bags in 54 attempts for Louisville). However, he's also not much in the power department (his Triple-A ISO was .092). While he walks, let's not mistake him for Rickey Henderson; drawing free passes in 10.8 percent of his PA for the Bats is merely the starting point for where you might say good things for a guy with no power, and is not the acme of all possible compliments. A guy hitting a translated .245/.333/.354 in his age-24 season winds up with an unsurprisingly uninspiring .258 peak translated EqA. That looks good compared to Willy Taveras, yes, but it's still well shy of good.

For grins, let's consider who's started in the outfield in the Reds' 21 games in August (in other words, 63 starts):


Dude             Starts    EqA w/Reds
Jonny Gomes        14      .309
Willy Taveras      12      .212
Laynce Nix         12      .261
Wladimir Balentien 11      .267
Chris Dickerson     8      .276
Drew Stubbs         4      .196
Drew Sutton         2      .154

During this time, Dickerson was dealing with a shoulder injury at the start of the month, so let's not race to the usual, mechanical Dusty Baker bashing. Similarly, Balentien had to get back in gear after joining the team, having been designated for assignment by the Mariners on July 25 (and not playing any since), so there's not a lot of point jumping up and down over his not starting any of the first three games. Sutton started because they were short-handed (for the aforementioned reasons).

As a result, four people have started games in center field: Taveras (12), Stubbs (4), Dickerson (3), and Nix (2). Dickerson's started in all three slots, while Gomes and Balentien have started in both corners. Nix and Dickerson bat lefty. So clearly, there's an element of flexibility here. Gomes and Balentien hit for the kind of power you want in this park, but may prove redundant once Jay Bruce comes back. Nix is slugging .480 against right-handers, and it isn't all park-generated; whatever his failings as a regular, there's room for that kind of slugging on a big-league bench. Dickerson gets on base at a happy clip (.373) that this team shouldn't be able to get enough of.

Certainly, absent Bruce, you could sell me on the suggestion that the best quintet is what they already had once Taveras hit the DL, but given Stubbs' generally tepid production, I could also buy into the idea that Stubbs would be better off playing every day in Louisville to see if that improves his prospects any. In the meantime, they could have let Dickerson absorb most of the playing time in center, using a healthy Taveras as his caddy and as an overpriced defensive replacement and pinch-runner. The key point is that no matter how you slice this up, you're basically left with a crummy outfield in every combination. Now that Dickerson's joining Bruce and Taveras on the DL, that's even more true, but it was true with all three healthy.


COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Aaron Cook on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder); purchased the contract of RHP Matt Herges from Colorado Springs (Triple-A); transferred RHP Manuel Corpas from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/22]
Signed RHP Russ Ortiz to a minor league contract and assigned him to Colorado Springs. [8/23]
Signed 1B-L Jason Giambi to a minor league contract and assigned him to Colorado Springs. [8/24]

While the news on Cook is good, even if he misses the minimum in a best-case scenario and is back in time to, say, take the ball on Sunday, September 5th against the Snakes, even skipping the fifth slot because of next week's offday still puts them down for two Josh Fogg starts in Cook's absence, both in Denver, first against the Dodgers this week, and then against those aforementioned Snakes (if skipped) or Mets (if not) next. Obviously, those are very different propositions as risks go, but if Herges can help keep them covered in the middle relief (because Adam Eaton sure hasn't), maybe this only winds up being a proposition of how much of a beating they're at risk for in those two games. If you take Fogg's .466 Support-Neutral Winning Percentage from 2007 (his last time as a rotation regular for the Rockies) as a proxy, that's not so terrible; if you take his .352 with the Reds last year as your placeholder, you should feel badly. Either way, early hooks wouldn't be all that bad as ideas go, and what with everyone fretting over the wild-care race for cause. Signing up Ortiz as insurance is ugly, but it's cause enough to offer an endorsement of Fogg until or unless he bombs against the Dodgers. If Fogg does implode the first time out, the options get a bit ugly; Ortiz hasn't been useful this year, and Jhoulys Chacin followed up his no-hit-initiating first start with the Sky Sox with a two-inning turn with five walks and five runs allowed.

As for signing Giambi, it's not a hugely necessary move as a matter of insurance for Todd Helton. In that instance, I'd rather just move Brad Hawpe to first and pick two starters for the corners between Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Spilborghs, and Seth Smith. However, it makes more sense as a straight-up proposition for the Rockies' post-season roster, if the goal is to have Giambi in the organization to be the 14th position player for pinch-hitting duties before the World Series, and then perhaps the DH in it. They have plenty of pitchers on the 60-day DL to "name" to the post-season roster beforehand, knowing full well that, for example, Jeff Francis' actual position is placeholder, or witness.


MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Brendan Donnelly on the 15-day DL (strained calf); recalled RHP Cristhian Martinez from Jacksonville (Double-A). [8/23]

HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Armando Benitez. [8/22]

NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Designated INF-R Andy Green for assignment; recalled LHP Pat Misch from Buffalo (Triple-A). [8/22]
Optioned LHP Pat Misch and INF-R Andy Green to Buffalo; recalled LHP Ken Takahashi from Buffalo. [8/24]


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed 4C-L Greg Dobbs on the 15-day DL (strained calf), retroactive to 8/22; purchased the contract of INF-S Miguel Cairo from Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [8/23]

This actually hurts a bit, in that Dobbs represents a useful-enough spot starter at third base, and with Pedro Feliz hitting a more typical .263/.300/.374 since his nice April/May run, the lineup could use the alternative. However, it doesn't appear to be a season-ending injury, and reports were mixed as to whether or not he would have been at least able to pinch-hit, so this looks more like an exercise in reasonable caution while preserving some flexibility with their bench in the meantime.


SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Cesar Carrillo to Portland (Triple-A); recalled RHP Adam Russell from Portland. [8/24]

Carrillo provided a third start almost as ugly as his debut to sandwich a quality start against the Cubs, costing him his rotation slot until at least September, but certainly placing in doubt whether he has much claim even then. Aaron Poreda's getting clobbered at Portland, so it might be a bit much to expect him to make it three former White Sox by the weekend (the next time the Pads will need a fifth man). So, assuming you're worrying about this and want to guess who's starting on Saturday, watch and wait to see if one or another Beaver on the 40-man gets skipped this week, say, Wade LeBlanc or Josh Geer.


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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