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February 10, 2010

Transaction Action

Parts is Parts

by Christina Kahrl

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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Formalized the signing of LHP Mark Hendrickson; designated RHP Armando Gabino for assignment; signed LHP Will Ohman to a minor-league contract. [2/9]

Straight from the "nothing to see here" file is the decision to DFA Gabino, since that's pretty much what I'd been anticipating for a few weeks, and since Hendrickson's return engagement as the team's designated futility swingman was a sure thing. The more interesting development was landing Ohman. Even though he's coming back from September shoulder surgery after a year generally lost to inflammation of that joint, he's expected to be ready to pitch at full strength in camp, and the Orioles lack an established situational southpaw in their pen. Alberto Castillo might have dibs on the job, and might be the better option, but there's nothing wrong with bringing in a lefty who owns a career .204/.293/.355 mark against lefties. To Castillo's credit, he did very well in last season's brief trial, accumulating a quick 0.511 WXRL in 20 games, that after posting a 54/15 K/UBB ratio in 52 IP for Norfolk while mowing down International League lefties at a .164/.238/.164 clip.

The fight for the lefty set-up job may be limited to those two entrants. Hendrickson's uses are limited to mid-game inning-munching in a Jerry Don Gleaton/Bob Shirley sort of way, as his career platoon breakdowns don't suggest much in the way of exploitable splits. The other lefties on the 40-man, Troy Patton and Wilfrido Perez, should be non-factors; the first is a starter and more than organizational depth type, while the potentially dominating Perez is coming back from elbow issues. The non-roster invites include Mike Hinckley and Chris George, both of whom have shots at brief call-ups if Ohman and Castillo both fail; both rate as disappointing former prospects, for the Nationals and Royals, respectively, and it seems more like they'll be with the Tides than the tides will be with them.

So as job fights go, it might be a straight shot: Ohman versus Castillo. The former will have to prove he's healthy and remind Andy MacPhail enough of the guy who the former Cubs exec drafted back in 1998, the latter will have to actively defend his initial claim with good works in camp. I'll be writing about noteworthy camp fights in the two leagues in the days to come, and this may not really rise to that level, but for a 64-win team, this might be among its top three open questions.


BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Claimed RHP Gaby Hernandez off waivers from the Mariners; designated RHP Robert Manuel for assignment. [2/10]

I've previously explained my theory of Epsteinian panspermia to explain the Red Sox GM's relentless catch-and-release program when it comes to turnover at the very bottom of the pitching staff on the 40-man, but perhaps the proper concept is to liken it to entomophily, which refers to bees pollinating plants. Not that I'm calling Theo Epstein an insect, of course, but just that his willy-nilly grabbery doesn't necessarily benefit him directly, any more than it does the worker bee, but he happily grabs and redistributes low-end pitching talent, sometimes actually bringing it all the way back to the hive, but more usually dropping enough along the way to pollinate bullpens throughout the game. After all, he never actually used Robert Manuel, he just grabbed him, until some prettier option caught his (compound) eye, and the overpowering need to get him some Gaby left Manuel back where he found him, free to land somewhere besides just automatically back down in his original team's flower bed, so to speak. Manuel could always wind up back with the Mariners, of course, or he could get grabbed by any team with open roster spots (there are still a few).

In the meantime, Hernandez is a Red Sock of the moment, probably long enough to get to wear the jersey, even. More likely, he's going to wind up just an innings-eating machine for the PawSox, but with a decent breaking ball and relative youth (he'll only be 24 in May), he has time to see if he'll figure out something that fools enough people enough of the time to either make a transition to relief work or, per Epstein's purposeful pollinating, blossom into a second-division starter at the back end of somebody's rotation.


CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Jamey Wright to a minor-league contract. [2/9]

Middle-relief innings munchers don't get as many props as back-end rotation types; they don't even have their own acronym yet, whereas at least fourth and fifth starters can aspire to be LAIM. Yet there's some form of sports heroism due credit for an ability to sustain oneself as a mid-game sponge, mopping up after early exits or finishing games with well-nigh unbeatable leads. Mop-Up Men, so that you can call for MUMies when the going gets rough? The Bullpen Utility Guys, or would that make BUG-crushing a bit too obvious as a lineup pastime?

Ah, skip it, for anyone who had to see too much Keith Atherton, you know what I'm talking about. But how much does this sort of generalization really apply? Consider Wright, a former starter who's managed to hold onto his career by becoming exactly this sort of placeholder. Consider his last two seasons:


Year Team      G  IP   WXRL   LEV   ARP   FRA
2008 Rangers  75 84.1  0.06  1.22 -12.5  6.17
2009 Royals   65 79.0  0.81  1.01  -9.0  5.83

That's horrific in terms of performance, but to his credit, he did manage to appear in 140 games, and as badly as he did, he was still being brought into more than just "mop-up" situations. With the Rangers in '08, 11 of his appearances were in tied ballgames, 25 in games with save-sized leads (three runs or less), and 23 in games with run differentials larger than four one way or another. With the Royals, that spread went to 13 tied games, 14 save-sized leads, and 19 games we might classify as mop-up situations.

In other words, Wright was being given an awful lot of opportunities in games that, in the abstract, you might hope he has no part of whatsoever if he's on your staff. While, you might suggest that Wright's an asset by virtue of his experience after having had to clean up after two shaky rotations in the past two seasons, and that somehow makes him a natural fit for the Indians, I guess I'd chose the unknown over a guaranteed demonstration of pyromania seven days a week, and twice on Sunday. The Royals and Rangers didn't simply hide him away for lost causes, and he was terrible; even reserving him for lost causes seems like a way of making sure they stay lost. As much as the logistical feat of having enough people capable of handling enough innings to cover you over a season seems like a good way to go when your rotation has as many question marks as the Indians, Wright seems to be the exactly wrong stuff. The danger he poses is restricted to a non-roster bid, sure, but the threat's still there just the same.


MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed OF-L Jacque Jones to a minor-league contract; noted the loss of CF-L Jason Pridie to the Mets via a waivers claim. [2/9]

Pity pickups are enough of a part of the everyday world that we know them when we see them, but did the Twins really need to goof off with this sort of nostalgia? Jones couldn't stick with the Tigers or Marlins in 2008, and the Reds didn't even see fit to let him get at-bats in Triple-A last year, leaving him at home because nobody called. Jones bumped up against corner-outfielder adequacy all of twice on his career in terms of posting an EqA above .270 in a season: once in 2002 for the Twins, and then for the Cubs in 2006, a 96-loss club for which Jones was part of the problem, not one of the highlights. In five of Jones' six seasons as a Twins regular, he was exactly that: a player in his peak seasons who wasn't putting up all that many runs for a corner outfielder, and a player whose WARP values were generally around zero. That isn't someone to remember fondly, at best, and certainly not someone you owe any favors to. Maybe it's just me, but expecting a comeback that isn't just a gift roster spot he'll at best re-gift within weeks ranks up there with faith that the Easter Bunny's responsible for all that candy in people's yards. Sure, maybe he'll stick and belong; and sure, I suppose it's reasonable to suggest that there really is a large hyperactive rabbit with thumbs, magic powers, a sweet tooth, a secret factory, and who just happens to like all of the children of generally Christian strangers. These things are possible. Ish.


NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed OF-Rs Marcus Thames and David Winfree to minor-league contracts. [2/8]

While the Yankees have already made an oblique endorsement of Brett Gardner as far as settling for Randy Winn for a veteran add-on, I like the idea of their bringing in Thames for a look as well. Not that Thames has been great; his EqAs since his .284 age-29 season in 2006 have been reliably unspecial, and around his career-average .264 clip. However, he is a fly-ball hitter, and if NuYankee shows any more of its vaunted first-season jet stream effect, he could end up looking like an outstanding addition as a right-handed bench bat. That's not to say he'll be great, but his core skills as a hitter-generating fly balls, and producing ISO marks around .240-.260-have more of an impact in some environments than others. If he comes to camp and looks good, and if they decide they have space or if someone gets hurt, he could be one of those players on the right roster at the right time. If not, no worries, because there's nothing really at stake in terms of cash or roster space.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Released CF-R Willy Taveras. [2/9]

Turning lead into gold usually requires a philosopher's stone or the like, so when it seemed as if the A's might actually believe they could succeed with the mission impossible exercise of making Willy Taveras somebody else's problem, it was no surprise that they found, at the end, that all they really had was rock. Even so, even the most leaden bit of uselessness has its place, deposited at the bottom of their 2010 payroll. If that's about fending off union complaints about their budget, I suppose that's a political benefit of sorts, since somebody was going to have to observe the obligation made to Taveras, while nobody apparently thinks he's worth guaranteeing a roster spot, let alone a starting job. Still, $4 million-and perhaps also the big guaranteed commitment to Ben Sheets or the money handed to Coco Crisp-to make Michael Weiner happy seems like a steep price to pay. Perhaps it's a way of earning brownie points with the Commissioner's office, all with an eye towards making the silliness of saying San Jose belongs to San Francisco go away. Either that, or they just really, really, really liked Adam Rosales a whole lot more than Aaron Miles, a pretty expensive bit of liking when we're talking about a utility player.


SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted RHP Yusmeiro Petit to Tacoma (Triple-A); signed RHPs Jesus Colome, Levale Speigner, David Pauley, Mike Koplove, and Steven Shell, LHP Chris Seddon, and C-R Guillermo Quiroz to minor-league contracts. [2/9]
Lost RHP Gaby Hernandez on a waiver claim by the Red Sox. [2/10]

For a group of NRI types, this makes for an interesting group of guys who've been batted around the major leagues, some of whom have been overrated as prospects in some quarters (the hittable strike-throwing Pauley in particular, but also Seddon). Others have been notable for their seeming platoon utility in the bullpen: Koplove, as a side-arming righty specialist for the Snakes in 2002 and 2003, while Colome had some success as a situational right-hander in 2007 with the Nats, as did Shell in DC in 2008. Of this group, Shell might be the best of the lot, but as back-end bullpen filler any one of them could stick and have a good year, what with the park and the defense to help him out. Since the Mariners might have as few as three bullpen slots you might consider set (David Aardsma at closer, with Mark Lowe and Shawn Kelley in set-up roles), maybe four if you're crazy about Brandon League, which translates into plenty of opportunities for guys like those in this group to go to camp, see if they impress Don Wakamatsu, and do something silly and old-fashioned like win jobs on the basis of spring-training performance. Given that "reliable reliever" borders on the oxymoronic beyond a few dozen reliable assets, it's not the worst way to go, as silly and anti-analytical as overrating camp heroics can seem at times.


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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