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August 27, 2009

Transaction Action

Junior Circuit Jumble

by Christina Kahrl

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KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Designated LHP Ron Mahay for assignment; purchased the contract of RHP Yasuhiko Yabuta from Omaha (Triple-A). [8/24]

While I know that this was portrayed by the Royals as an opportunity for Mahay to latch on with a contender before he departed via free agency anyway, I have my doubts that'll happen. First, there's the question of his performance this season; a -0.74 WXRL is only good if you're Kyle Farnsworth. Mahay's also been terrible against lefties, so any guess about what's left in the tank is going to depend on how much blame to heap on Trey Hillman, which is plausible, but only up to a point. Then there's the additional burden of Mahay's being remembered as a scab for having crossed the line in the ugly labor war of '94. That hasn't been forgotten, and while the union never did address the issue of representing minor league players to prevent the problem of non-union members (or former members recovering from injuries) playing the same game for the same employers from getting coaxed or strong-armed in that situation, Mahay's a lingering reminder of the issue. The performance was bad enough to make it easy to skip confronting that problem, so unless it's with a team that's already familiar with Mahay and thinks they can get something out of him (and that's really only the Rangers at this point), I think there's a good chance we won't see him turn up anywhere this season.

As for hauling Yabuta back up, after throwing away $6 million over two years on the thirtysomething import from the Japanese leagues before 2008, you can consider this a case of re-reviewing a bad investment.


LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Sean O'Sullivan to Salt Lake (Triple-A); recalled RHP Rafael Rodriguez from Salt Lake. [8/22]
Activated LHP Joe Saunders from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Shane Loux for assignment. [8/26]

Saunders' return to the rotation was handled nicely, as he got a short day at the office, going five innings, 19 batters, and 89 pitches en route to a win. Coming in concert with Ervin Santana's following up his complete-game shutout with a pair of quality starts, and it looks like the Angels have the quartet they were counting on down the stretch. Not that everyone's doing well every time out, but at least the Angels appear to be easing out of any doubts beyond worrying who gets to be the fifth starter. The schedule won't afford them many opportunities to skip Trevor Bell or O'Sullivan or Matt Palmer if they choose to revisit that experience. I still think the Angels ought to be considering a waiver-oriented addition, because losing any one of their front four would put them in a bad spot come October, and since I anticipate they'll outperform our current playoff odds expectations that have them winning only 19 or 20 of their last 37 games, I see them as something of a lock. It'd be a shame to waste that because of one mishap in the rotation; as much as they're winning with offense, between an inconsistent (but improving) pen and a rotation bereft of any true aces, they're already something of a prescription for yet another pennantless October.


MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Anthony Swarzak to Rochester (Triple-A). [8/22]
Recalled RHP Armando Gabino from Rochester. [8/24]

So now, with three-fifths of the rotation on the DL and with Swarzak pitching his way out of it even so, we get a taste of the full measure of one team's desperation. It would be easy to say that there's no place to go but up, but that's not true, strictly speaking, not when the Twins rank 12th in the league in SNWP. It isn't really all that bad. To fill one of the open rotation slots, they're turning to Brian Duensing, which isn't the end of the world; he's a strike-thrower with standard lefty velocity, a little bit of sink, and a full assortment of off-speed stuff he can throw for strikes. For every ten of these kinds of guys, you can hope one of them winds up being the next Doug Davis, and maybe another becomes Scott Downs Lite, but generally most wind up being knockaround guys bouncing between Triple-A and the back end of a staff. In a moment of extreme need-and that's exactly where the Twins are-he'll do.

Armando Gabino's a bit of an odd choice to round out the rotation for the time being. A career reliever, he set a single-season career high in starts earlier this month (with his fifth, against the PawSox, not his ugly sixth, against the Orioles). A fly ball-prone Dominican journeyman about to turn 26, he's never really overpowered people in the minors, so it's hard to harbor any elaborate expectations beyond "has arm, will pitch."

They're down to fewer alternatives already on the 40-man, but they didn't really have to turn to Gabino. It certainly will not help them in their increasingly desperate bid for the playoffs. Today's offday might help them buy time to choose an alternative to him for the fifth slot, but only until the start of next week (Tuesday, perhaps), and then again it would land on the subsequent Tuesday (September 8th). Whether or not Glen Perkins will be able to re-enter the picture by then remains to be seen, but in the meantime they could certainly turn to Jeff Manship, or they could recall Kevin Mulvey. That's before they would even have to ponder giving Swarzak another chance, or risk another emergency spin with R.A. Dickey. If they stick with Gabino, it really will be a matter of their picking their poison, not a case of sheer desperation.


NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated LHP Damaso Marte from the 15-day DL; optioned MI-S Ramiro Pena to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [8/21]

The challenge here is really just to have Marte in gear in time for October, so that the pen can boast a pair of quality situational southpaws. Marte's looked good his first two times out, and Phil Coke's been outstanding (1.68 WXRL, .196/.224/.355 vs. lefties), so this should be an element of the club's post-season roster they can count among their many strengths.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed INF-R Bobby Crosby on the 15-day DL (strained calf), retroactive to 8/18; activated 1B-L Daric Barton from the 15-day DL. [8/21]

Barton got all of four consecutive starts at first base before the team turned back to Tommy Everidge's occasional single-plinking. It's days like these that make me wonder what Troy Neel's up to (awaiting sentencing, as it turns out, after lamming it to Vanuatu and dodging his child-support responsibilities), or if Erubiel Durazo would like to come out of retirement, or maybe even letting Rickey Henderson return for a last spin at his original position. Mario Valdez isn't 40 yet, so what's he up to?

The frustrating thing about all of this is that Barton's only just turned 24, causing me to fret that this will be a repeat of the Carlos Peņa experience if they quit on him already. At any rate, barring an active interest in seeing what Barton can do, we're talking about placeholders, and the alternatives aren't happy. Everidge is just an organizational soldier, and Sean Doolittle's knee issue has had him shut down since May. The last time Jack Cust played first base in a game was 11 years ago, and that was in the Midwest League; he wasn't old enough to drink. It remains to be seen if the A's would haul up Chris Carter in September, having just added him to Sacramento for the River Cats' stretch run, but I sort of doubt they'd start his service-time clock any sooner than they have to.


SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Chris Jakubauskas to Tacoma (Triple-A); released RHP Luis Pena; purchased the contract of RHP Randy Messenger from Tacoma. [8/22]

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Willie Eyre to Oklahoma City (Triple-A); activated RHP Jason Grilli from the 15-day DL. [8/22]
Placed OF-R Andruw Jones on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 8/24; recalled 1B/3B-L Chris Davis from Oklahoma City. [8/25]

While I don't mean to diminish the significance of Jones' injury, Davis' return was perhaps as much a matter of a move that needed making as well. He'd managed to cut his strikeout rate to "just" 20 percent of his plate appearances at Triple-A while hitting .327/.418/.521 (and mostly playing third) in his six weeks or so there. That's decent but hardly exceptional production (.289 EqA), but with Jones seriously hurt and Hank Blalock hitting an inconceivably bad .199/.213/.342 since the All-Star break, the Rangers have holes in the lineup to fill. Blalock's benching is really just a case of getting sat down because he's been the most bad; David Murphy's .222/.275/.444 August certainly shouldn't be put up with for very long if there are alternatives in left field, which there are. It seems crazy if, having chosen to ride the hot hand with Julio Borbon, you forgo his defensive value and stick him at DH.

Davis' rediscovered patience is getting talked up as a key element in his promotion, and that's a good thing. Even so, it's important to describe it as a return to adequacy by the high standards for first baseman, not a reincarnation as the new Ken Phelps. At Triple-A, Davis was walking 11.8 percent of the time; take that down a peg or two in the majors, and that's playable, especially given the relative improvement over Blalock's horrific slump.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed 3B-R Edwin Encarnacion on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 8/21; activated LHP Scott Downs from the 15-day DL. [8/24]

And so the Jays get introduced already to that special brand of frustration that seems endemic to employing Edwin Encarnacion. Injuries have certainly played their part in sustaining the mystery as to what he might be capable of, but in the meantime, while coping with some uninspired anticipation the good folks of Toronto can look forward to a heaping helping of Jose Bautista at the hot corner. It shouldn't radically affect their hammerlock on fourth place, but then the only thing that might is less in their power, and more in Baltimore's.


NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed LHP Oliver Perez on the 15-day DL (patellar tendonitis - knee); recalled RHP Lance Broadway from Buffalo (Triple-A). [8/26]

Perez is also done for the year, which gets us down to... well, who? From the Opening Day roster, from among the position players we've still got Luis Castillo, Danny Murphy, Gary Sheffield, Brian Schneider, Jeremy Reed, and Fernando Tatis. To look at it another way, that's three guys left from their Opening Day lineup and one rotation starter. Among the pitchers, we've still got Sean Green, Pedro Feliciano, Francisco Rodriguez, Brian Stokes, and Mike Pelfrey. Eleven men. Eleven survivors. Eleven suspects?

Let's face it, there seems to be some element of improbability in terms of the sheer volume and variety where the Mets' injury problems are concerned. The training staff is under fire, but when the count of bodies gets this high, you have to figure that if trainers had pitch counts, those guys are being worked to death, so spare them some sympathy. No, I really begin to wonder about what we should take away from the fact that just eleven men are left from the original 25. Could it be that one of the Mets had it in mind all along to sabotage the team? If this was a slasher movie, we need to run through the standard rules to sort out which one's going to be the last one standing, and also perhaps sort out who we have to consider potentially responsible.

Inconveniently, none of these 11 men are named 'Tina,' so we don't have any easy picks as far as who's going to be next to fall. We know that for the final survivor, it won't be any of the ones who have been drinking a lot, or those having fun, loveless pre-marital sex, or those having fun, lusty extra-marital sex, or those having sex of any stripe with their wives, because let's face it, sex is death in such matters. But here again, we can also probably take it for granted, given the immutable laws of slasher movies, that the real good-time charlies are already toast. I know, that probably means the guys left aren't exactly the original fun bunch, but I don't think anyone's figuring the remaining Mets to be a bundle of joy. Let's face, it, we're almost seven months in since the start of spring training, and anyone left on this fun ride must be feeling like the guys left in the final third of Dan Simmons' interminable Terror, wondering whether they get to eat one another before the polar monster TBNL chomps them to bits.

We also know that Gary Sheffield can't survive. By whatever combination of rules that long ago informed us that Jim Brown has to die in every movie ever while doing something heroic, we also know he never stops standing up for himself, taking no shit from nobody. So you have to figure that Sheff's type-cast as a casualty waiting to happen, right up until the point that he crumbles with a macerated jiggyglobulus after almost winning a ballgame with a bases-loaded double, that after blowing up the Phillies' bullpen with a satchel full of grenades.

No, as we well know, innumerable dramas and movies tell us that the killer has to be a white guy; I have it on very good authority from actor-portrayed FBI guys speaking at me from my television that this absolutely has to be the case in this and every other instance. So we can rule out Gary Sheffield (since we know he won't survive anyway), and we can also rule out Luis Castillo, Francisco Rodriguez, Pedro Feliciano, and Fernando Tatis. Besides, face it, those aren't really very intimidating names for a relentless killing machine to sport. "Bride of Fernando" might well be a name for a sequel of some sort, but I'm pretty sure that one's on Cinemax in the wee hours, not Chiller. One of them could of course be the last man standing, but I think we can safely eliminate Castillo (too unpopular with the audience) and K-Rod (too famous) from the likelihood of being the man left explaining the pile of bodies at the bitter end.

That gets us down to Pedro Feliciano and Fernando Tatis from that pile. Their rivals for survivory? One alternative is that the survivor could be the catching-toughened Brian Schneider, but the obviously tough never last to the end in these sorts of epics; they do something tough and heroic, and then they also die. So Schneider-he's a goner. Danny Murphy? While flexibility and adaptiveness are usually qualities we associate with survival, I just have a hard time envisioning a central-casting name like "Danny Murphy" being the last man standing. Besides, he was getting way too many compliments early on, so as something of the teacher's pet, he's probably toast too.

This leaves us with Feliciano and Tatis plus Pelfrey, Reed, Green, and Stokes as possible survivors-but also as our possible killers. Figuring out who the killer might be narrows down the field of possible survivors; we started off with six white guys, but obviously Murphy, Schneider, and Pelfrey, having all been starters from the get-go on Opening Day, have the benefit of the kind of status associated with a basic satisfaction with their world. That's not what we associate with a roster-slaying sociopath. So obviously the likely killer of the 2009 Mets has to be Sean Green, Brian Stokes, or Jeremy Reed. While Eric Seidman's suggested that Green's anger and resentment over being mistaken for Shawn Green makes his motive obvious, I'm going with Reed as my chief suspect, since he was a former touted prospect who's seen others get the same opportunities and surpass him, and that's certain to breed envy and resentment, and leads to inevitable violence and gore. Either way, the one of those two who's the killer can't survive either, so that's another body for the pile either way. The other one, while innocent, also inevitably ends up biting the dust by being a chief suspect, having been finally recognized for his true value at his bitter yet oddly redemptive end. My thought is that maybe Green gets a hold and a blown save in the same game on his way to the abattoir.

Which gets us down to the last few men for one of those two equally plausible villains to try and off: Tatis, Feliciano, Pelfrey, and Stokes. From that field, I'm going to pick Pelfrey as the most likely survivor, if only because he's got just enough B-list star power that he's part of what will make this a successful commercial venture when they're selling off the international DVD rights, and since he's already signed up for the sequel, you don't have to bother with flashbacks or any clunky plot devices to keep him around. He's young, talented, and entirely believable as the guy who, in the epic conclusion, will show that he knows how to protect himself with a pair of shower shoes before electrocuting the villain with his iPod.

Upon reflection, truth really is stranger than fiction, but for the Mets, it has been that kind of year.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Jeff Karstens on the 15-day DL (strained lower back), retroactive to 8/25. [8/26]

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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