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September 1, 2009

Transaction Action

Final Answers

by Christina Kahrl

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BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioined RHP Junichi Tazawa to the GCL Red Sox (Rookie); recalled RHP Marcus McBeth from Pawtucket (Triple-A). [8/29]
Purchased the contract of RHP Paul Byrd from Pawtucket; optioned RHP Marcus McBeth to Pawtucket. [8/30]
Recalled RHP Junichi Tazawa from the GCL Red Sox; recalled OF-R Brian Anderson, OF-L Joey Gathright, and INF-R Chris Woodward from Pawtucket; activated C-L George Kottaras from the 15-day DL; designated 1B-R Jeff Bailey for assignment. [9/1]

Depending on where the Sox see Tazawa's relative value versus that of Clay Buchholz or the other back-end options on the staff, even after a disaster start his last time out, this may not cost Tazawa his job in the rotation down the stretch. Wakefield's still aching, after all, Paul Byrd's face can be found staring back at you under the dictionary's definition for 'filler,' and Buchholz has contributed his share of bad news in the rotation. The demotion certainly isn't an indication of any disdain for Tazawa. In the immediate future, the more interesting question is to see if Byrd can put together a good enough stretch to guarantee his pole position in the race for the fourth starter's slot come the postseason, but heaven help the Red Sox if they truly have to rely on his winning that ballgame.


CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded DH-L Jim Thome and cash to the Dodgers for INF-L Justin Fuller; traded RHP Jose Contreras and cash to the Rockies for RHP Brandon Hynick. [8/31] Recalled RHP Carlos Torres, C-R Josh Flowers, and 3B-R Josh Fields from Charlotte (Triple-A); activated OF-L DeWayne Wise and 2B-L Chris Getz from the 15-day DL. [9/1]

It's not that implausible to suggest that the Sox could still contend after making this pair of moves, but it's a stretch. It makes sense to give Flowers a head start on his employment with the club next season after making his bones in the organization in his first year since coming over in the Javier Vazquez deal; he muscled his way out of Double-A earlier this summer by hitting .302/.445/.548 for Birmingham, after all, and while his month or so at Charlote was less impressive (.286/.364/.438), he could be an asset at DH while alternating with A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate. If Flowers mashes well enough now, they could peg him as their most-regular DH next season, but if he looks good enough behind the plate this month, he might also inspire Kenny Williams to shop AJP's last under-contract season this winter, which would be well-timed given Pierzynski's fine season and the always-limited market for backstops. All of which sounds sunny enough, but it doesn't eliminate the fact that they ditched Thome's last month as a matter of guaranteeing he'd be in the postseason somewhere; they certainly didn't get a prospect back. (Fuller's already 26 years old, and wasn't hitting well even in the hitter-friendly Cal League.) Certainly, proposing that they might compete with regular playing time going to Scott Podsednik or Wise or Fields in the newly opened-up playing time strikes me as more than a little laughable.

Ditching Contreras, on the other hand, can be dismissed as truly irrelevant. He was pitching badly enough (.425 SNWP) to lose his rotation spot already, and if the Sox, the team that fixed him in the first place, think he couldn't keep a job with them when they're still not even entirely certain when Jake Peavy or Bartolo Colon will be ready to step into the rotation, then that suggests the extent to which he had any lingering value. Here again, they've given a veteran a break by placing him with a potential playoff team, but in Contreras' case, he'd already surrendered the playing time, and re-employing it by taking a spin with Carlos Torres makes perfect sense in the meantime. As is, they've gotten quality starts from Freddy Garcia in his second and third spins through the rotation, so they knew they could find better than Contreras on the scrapheap, having already done exactly that. Hynick's not much of a return, being a low-velocity right-hander, but he throws strikes reliably enough that I'm sure he'll make the folks down in Charlotte forget Lance Broadway in no time, next year.

The bigger-picture question is whether or not the Sox have been bitten by their gambles in picking up Alex Rios and Peavy, and here again, I'll credit Williams for being willing to roll the dice. He did not have a good enough team to win with in July, and he didn't settle for it. What he attempted didn't work out so well in retrospect, but we already knew that adding Peavy in particular was a move made with 2010 and beyond in mind. However excited you want to get about the package of pitching passed to the Padres, he really didn't give up that much besides Reinsdollars to take this chance. With Flowers splitting time behind the plate with Pierzynski and getting the rest of his everyday play by splitting first base with Paul Konerko, that's not a bad idea. Given how well things have worked out with Gordon Beckham establishing himself this season, the Sox can leave their infield inquiries relatively open, looking around at bargains at second and third base if any are to be found, but certainly being able to settle with a repeat of Chris Getz and Jayson Nix at the keystone if they so desire. If the market for corner outfielders is as depressed as last winter's, letting Jermaine Dye slip away now looks like a good idea; they can always pick his like up for less and still mount a bid for contention. And there's no rule that says they can't now go and re-sign Thome to DH for them next season, having done him this favor.

In short, while they didn't win and won't, at least the Sox proved to be adaptive, they rose above the risk-aversion that circumscribes so many team's range of action, and they still have in place many of the elements of a contending team next season. In the AL Central, but then of course you knew that, and if that defines the team's field of vision in the short term, so be it; the way the AL East's loaded up these days, everyone in the other two divisions is vying for top squashee come post-season action anyway, for now, but not forever. They're transitioning away from the last fragments of their championship ballclub, but they're still employing a fine group of rising youngsters they developed or drafted themselves as well as other people's blue-chip talents, and it's not hard to envision a club built around Beckham and Flowers and perhaps also Alexei Ramirez and Carlos Quentin, plus a pair of Dankses, contending three years from now, or next year. If this is a white flag, it's for the purposes of beating a temporary retreat, nothing more.


LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Recalled RHPs Sean O'Sullivan and Rich Thompson, C-R Bobby Wilson, INF-R Brandon Wood, and OF-S Reggie Willits from Salt Lake (Triple-A); traded INF-R Sean Rodriguez to the Rays as the PTBNL in the Kazmir trade. [9/1]

I think it's safe to say that the Angels never really knew what to make of Rodriguez. Sure, he seemed to be some sort of hitter, but he wasn't exactly their kind of hitter. Sure, he was a second baseman, but he wasn't an established, positionally flexible asset like Maicer Izturis, nor was he a prospect with Howie Kendrick's seeming upside. So best to bundle him off, right? As dismissive as that may seem, just remember that they did not deal away Brandon Wood, and don't hold your breath waiting for them to do so this winter. The package paid to land Kazmir still makes sense, still looks good now, and still figures to in two years, even if Alex Torres is nearing readiness or Rodriguez is bopping in the dome.


TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Recalled RHPs Andy Sonnanstine and Jeff Bennett and C-R Shawn Riggans from Durham (Triple-A); activated CF-S Fernando Perez from the 60-day DL; received INF-R Sean Rodriguez from the Angels to complete the Kazmir trade; designated RHP Joe Nelson for assignment. [9/1]

It's going to be interesting to see what the Rays do with Rodriguez, because beyond the virtues of more being more, it's hard to see where he fits in on a team that has to figure out how to squeeze enough playing time out of four infield positions for six start-worthy players. In that, I'm crediting Akinori Iwamura with a complete comeback and Willy Aybar for his usefulness at second and third. Sure, Ben Zobrist could get more at-bats in the outfield corners, and maybe there's some new bit of bad news about Pat Burrell to worry and wonder about, but face it, as currently constituted, the infield's already packed.

It's also already entirely under team control for next season, although the emphasis should be found right there: the team has control. Rodriguez's nifty season in Utah, impressive as it is (.299/.400/.616, good for a .296 EqA now and a projected peak of .302), might just have to be an underutilized asset for the time being, but looking forward to 2010, they could buy out Iwamura's option for $250,000 instead of picking up his $4.25 million contract for 2010, and save themselves several million into the deal. That would be entirely sensible given Rodriguez's performance, and it would let Zobrist remain in his rover's role which helps hide the absence of an everyday right fielder.

Does this make the Kazmir deal look that much better? It certainly helps maximize their savings if they decide to also let Iwamura go, and they should have a start-worthy second baseman on top of a good lefty arm to their credit in the deal. But I'd also suggest that Rodriguez isn't quite as likely to thrive as the aforementioned numbers suggest. He's a Triple-A repeater in better hitter's league at the level, and it has seemed like a pretty crummy year for PCL pitching. Before the year, PECOTA's top comparables to Rodriguez were guys like Scott Hairston and Ryan Raburn, who struggled to acquit themselves as infielders but who have playable bats in the outfield. Rodriguez's upside still seems to me to be something like that: a decent sluggy type who, unlike those two, can play second base well enough. I think the upside's more in Ronnie Belliard territory, which is obviously a good thing, but it also involves Equivalent Averages in the .270s. That's definitely playable, but it's also not the sort of add-on that makes this some sort of massive steal. For me, the trade's outcome still depends on Torres really turning into something.


ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded RHP Jon Garland to the Dodgers for a PTBNL; placed RHP Chad Qualls on the 60-day DL (dislocated kneecap); recalled RHP Billy Buckner from Reno (Triple-A); received RHP Kevin Mulvey from the Twins as the PTBNL in the Jon Rauch trade. [9/1]

Trading away Garland has zero impact on the Snakes' season, it's just a matter of buying back the playing time by paying him off to put on someone else's uniform (the buyout of the 2010 option being a bit of a fait accompli), and giving it to... well, Buckner. That didn't go so well earlier this season (Buckner's SNWP was .381 after his seven turns), but he was the only rotation regular at Reno managing to endure that particular high-altitude challenge, and the only real alternative on the 40-man might be Mulvey, whom the starter-hungry Twins couldn't bring themselves to turn to. The only "good" news here to report is what hasn't yet been consummated, which is the suggestion that the PTBNL from the Dodgers will be Tony Abreu, which since he'd become the instant in-house favorite to win the second-base job next spring, merits mention.


COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired RHP Jose Contreras from the White Sox for RHP Brandon Hynick. [8/31]
Recalled LHP Randy Flores and Greg Smith, RHPs Joel Peralta and Greg Reynolds, C-R Paul Phillips, and 1B-L Jason Giambi from Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [9/1]

Contreras for an organizational arm is less of a deal than it sounds, since it still leaves you employing Jose Contreras. This is the Rockies' big solution to the dilemma of what to do instead of starting Josh Fogg during Aaron Cook's absence, and while I might reluctantly admit to this being some sort of improvement on that, it's sort of like making qualitative artistic distinctions between one fly's arrival on your windscreen over another. The real key is getting Cook back, the news there seems to be good, and once he does, Contreras can head to the pen to become the presumptive replacement for any rotation injury over the balance of the month, and perhaps get reinserted at the tail end of the regular season so that they can line up their LDS assignments just so, should they have enough of a lead at that point to be able to address such matters. Taking a look at the rotation's performance this season, Contreras' .425 SNWP ranks seventh best, sixth if you automatically discount Franklin Morales because he's now in the pen, and he really only compares favorably with the Giants' big stretch rotation addition, and then just barely. There should be no question of Contreras getting a post-season start or otherwise endangering the team's fortunes beyond pinch-starting in the fifth slot.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired RHP Jon Garland from the D'backs for a PTBNL; acquired DH-L Jim Thome from the White Sox for INF-L Justin Fuller; placed RHP Guillermo Mota on the 15-day DL (ingrown toenail), retroactive to 8/30. [8/31]
Recalled OF-R Jason Repko, LHP Scott Elbert, and C-R A.J. Ellis from Albuquerque (Triple-A); designated OF-R Jamie Hoffman for assignment. [9/1]

In a massive bit of insurance and reinsurance, the Dodgers definitely loaded up to make sure that they would have as little creative thought to entertain as possible as they make their stretch run. Tired of sorting out who might be this week's fourth and fifth starters? Go get Vicente Padilla for change and Jon Garland for squid scraps. Neither was all that impressive with his previous team (Padilla's Rangers SNWP was .490, Garland's as a Snake was .482), but it beats wondering what Hiroki Kuroda will be capable of when/if he recovers from his concussion, and it obviates any further creative experimentation with spot starts for Jeff Weaver or seeing how fluttery a Charlie Haeger knuckler can be. One bad night for Haeger was easy inspiration to make a low-cost addition of Garland, and if this new yet different multiplicity of rotation options (with league-average inning munchers taking over for the high-wire acts) lets them rest Clayton Kershaw down the stretch, that's not a bad thing either.

What's more impressive is their getting Thome, because he serves an explicit purpose beyond the luxury of having him around as the best hitter employed as a pinch-hitter in baseball. Maybe he'll change his mind and agree to play some first base once in the odd while, and thus spare them their frustrations with the uninspiring non-development of James Loney, but I wouldn't bet on it. If he's truly down to pinch-hitting until the World Series, what this really represents is a bold commitment to making sure that the Dodgers have a nine-deep lineup that could best even the Yankees' MLB-best offense, with a World Championship riding on the outcome. Do you think the prospect of batting Thome against the Yankees in NuYankee didn't tickle anybody's fancy in LA? Of course it did. Given that they didn't give up anything to purchase said luxury item, it's sort of like the post-season roster equivalent of being given a free lobster by a friendly cousin when you've already got an outstanding spread. Sure, you may not know what to do with the lobster right now this instant, but you know it's going to be good when you get around to it. In the meantime, the Dodgers can afford to keep a lid on things, and break him out in all of his glory on the perfect occasion.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Joe Martinez to Fresno (Triple-A); recalled LHP Alex Hinshaw from Fresno. [8/28]
Signed RHP Brad Penny to a contract for the balance of the season; recalled RHP Waldis Joaquin, 1B/OF-L John Bowker, 1B-R Jesus Guzman, and MI-S Emmanuel Burriss from Fresno; activated OF-S Andres Torres and INF-R Rich Aurilia from the 15-day DL. [9/1]

Brad Penny's been a lot worse than Jonathan Sanchez this season, so suggesting that they've added anything more than a more reliably reliable but still bad fifth starter than Joe Martinez is sort of silly. Penny's an ex-famous person, so he gets an overly elaborate amount of attention, but when you give your team barely a 42 percent shot at a win on the basis of how "well" you've pitched, there's only so much celebrity can do for you before people notice you're the rotational equivalent of Charo, with some asking why you're still here. Anything can happen in a half-dozen starts, but this is more an open confession that they don't know what to expect from Randy Johnson and can't afford to wait on Martinez than it is an indictment of Sanchez. Or maybe the Giants really don't care that Sanchez gave them three quality starts in five in August (and a fourth that was pretty good) while striking out 38 in 31 innings, and posting a 2.61 ERA. I sort of doubt that, and if they think Penny's going to be anywhere near as good as that, I'd suspect that sort of wishcasting was the product of too much quality time in Haight-Ashbury.


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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