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March 22, 2010

Transaction Action

Weekend Mayhem Edition

by Christina Kahrl

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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned LHP Wilfrido Perez to Bowie (Double-A). [3/19]
BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned LHP Felix Doubront and C-R Mark Wagner to Pawtucket (Triple-A); signed LHP Alan Embree to a minor-league contract. [3/20]
Received Rule 5 pick 3B-R Jorge Jimenez back from the Marlins. [3/21]

Reuniting Embree with the Red Sox is a nice bit of makeup over the decision to cut loose their late-game lefty of the 2004 title run little more than halfway through 2005. It's also a sensible bit of hedging by the reliably sensible Theo Epstein. Beyond supreme southpaw Hideki Okajima, the candidate to play second lefty in the pen is non-roster invite Brian Shouse, although Fabio Castro's at least a notional alternative. While Embree's coming into camp from a standing stop after seeing his Rockies season end early last year because of a line drive off his shin, his need for time isn't too much of a problem, with the staff crowded with at least two bodies too many to carry all at once. Embree will eventually join Shouse and finesse righty Joe Nelson as potential back-end help in the pen trying to overcome non-roster status, and both Shouse and Nelson are having fine camps. But beyond Jonathan Papelbon and Okajima, you've got Dan Bard, Manny Delcarmen, and Ramon Ramirez (Ram-Ram, Ramon S., you know, the good one, not the other one seemingly added for confusion's sake). And Scott Atchison, back from Japan and having a great camp, and a man already on the 40-man—keep him, and that's six relievers. Dial that up to seven relievers, and who is it going to be? Shouse, as the guy first in line to be second lefty? Tim Wakefield, if Daisuke Matsuzaka's fully ready to go come Opening Day? In short, Embree's in a great spot—he doesn't have to be among that initial set of selections, he can wait and see who's left, whether anyone gets dealt or cut. From among their moving pieces, Delcarmen, like Bonser, is out of options, but they could shunt Atchison to the PawSox or punish Ram-Ram for a bad camp if they wanted a second lefty that badly in the early going.


CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned 3B-R Wes Hodges and MI-R Jason Donald to Columbus (Triple-A). [3/20]

I'm less excited about Donald's ultimate upside than many, and Hodges' future at third base is the stuff of which International League fantasy drafts are made of, so neither of these send-downs should be seen as major developments. Donald may graduate to the team's utility infield job, but he's better off playing every day in Triple-A until the Indians learn if they're set with Anderson Hernandez, Mark Grudzielanek, and/or Andy Marte for infield reserves in the early going.


DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Alfredo Figaro, 1B/LF-L Ryan Strieby, CF-R Casper Wells, and RF-L Brennan Boesch to Toledo (Triple-A); optioned SS-R Audy Ciriaco to Erie (Double-A); signed RHP Casey Fien to a minor-league contract. [3/20]

While Wells made a solid play in camp for a job-sharing arrangment in center with Austin Jackson, he had to contend with Jim Leyland's stated fascination with Clete Thomas plus multi-positional lefty masher Ryan Raburn, and Don Kelly might also stick as an up-the-middle reserve. Even sans Wells, there's an argument that the Tigers could run with 14 position players, given who's on hand, but that's before getting into the even thornier question of who lands the last spots on a pitching staff that, because of injuries, is beginning to look undermanned. So, given Wells' modest prospect status, it's not a big surprise that he'll get a shot at enhancing that status by staying healthy and hitting as an everyday player for the Mudhens.

He'll be joined by Fien, whose three-week roster gypsy experience ended where it began, as Fien finally returned to his original organization after flitting through the camps of the Red Sox and Blue Jays. The funny thing is, now that he's back with his parent outfit, and even though he went straight to their minor-league camp, he's nevertheless got a decent shot at making it back onto the 40-man, because the big-league bullpen is chock-a-block with guys who are injured, having bad camps, or a bit of both. While the decision to stock up on lefty relief options was planned, it isn't like they'll keep all four of Fu-Te Ni, Phil Coke, Daniel Schlereth, and Brad Thomas, even if they go to seven relievers.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned OF-R Jarrod Dyson to Omaha (Triple-A). [3/19]
Optioned RHP Gaby Hernandez to Omaha. [3/22]

MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Anthony Swarzak, 3B-Rs Danny Valencia and Luke Hughes, and INF-R Trevor Plouffe to Rochester (Triple-A). [3/20]
Optioned RHP Jeff Manship to Rochester. [3/21]
Agreed to terms with C-L Joe Mauer on an eight-year, $184 million contract extension, running through 2018. [3/22]

There is, of course, no Twins player who has ever been this good who they have gone on to make this sort of commitment to. Just take a look at the club's all-time single-season WARP leaderboard, but for brevity's sake, here's the top five:

	
Dude             Year   Age   WARP
Chuck Knoblauch  1996    27    9.7
Joe Mauer        2009    26    8.9
Bert Blyleven    1973    22    8.8
Johan Santana    2004    25    8.4
Frank Viola      1988    28    8.1

You know the litany, as far as what happened. Knoblach became a Yankee. Santana? A Met. Viola? A Met. Blyleven? Traded to the Rangers, for Roy Smalley Jr. and stuff. These were not happy endings, yet that was the organization's legacy with its best players. The indignity gets worse when you move to the second half of the top 10, because that involves fessing up to dealing Rod Carew for Ken Landreaux and stuff. Harmon Killebrew and Zoillo Versalles they kept to close to the very end, but Mauer's the one where, operating within some facsimile of the game's current economics, they made a real commitment to, at the point at which they had to make a decision of one sort or another. It represents the best of all possible breaks with that unhappy past, but it also ends up being the signature move of the present. Not Opening Day at Target Field, but this. Here. Now.

At last week's Chicago booksigning—the one at DePaul, because the one at the University of Chicago awaits us—I had to remind folks that while the name on the top of the organization is still Pohlad, there's a pretty big difference organizationally between how Carl operated and how his sons have. That the organization was willing to make this commitment, complete with sealing the deal in no-trade-clause cement from beginning to end, truly lays the foundation on what is now quite obviously their house, and whether that's their own, or the team's, or Joe Mauer's, or the good people of Minnesota, it hardly matters, because it's set for a length of time that goes the full breadth of PECOTA's initial slate of projecting Mauer as a four-win player over the next 10 years. Even then, Mauer's career path is so extraordinary that it makes projecting his long-term future a particularly exciting exercise—just to dip into one subset of what goes into it, his comparables aren't all that comparable, after all, ranging from Victor Martinez and Mike Piazza to Mark Grace and Hal Morris, a group of players whose varying performances range in flavors from good to excellent so disparate as to suggest it's as significant as the presence of the letter 'M' as an initial.

That's the other thing that comes home here: Was this a home-town discount? Maybe the market rate would have gone much, much higher, as a matter of supply and demand, but I doubt we would have seen another A-Rod contract (10 years and $275 million), given that there was an injury issue to consider. Similarly, $23 million per year rates less than what CC Sabathia got from the Yankees, and slightly less than what Mark Teixeira got. It's also more than Derek Jeter ever got paid for a single season, far more than anything any current Red Sock has received, and is a good $5 million per year more than what Alfonso Soriano will make for the Cubs from 2011-14. (Ouch.)

Of course, that injury-related consideration touches on a topic that Colin Wyers addressed in a blog post earlier today—since Justin Morneau's locked in for four more years, through his age-32 season, the future at first base could and should very well belong to Mauer. At that point in time, most of today's other big-ticket items on the Twins payroll could be long gone, whether that's Michael Cuddyer (signed through 2011) or Joe Nathan (2011 or 2012 if they pick their option). While there are a large number of arbitration cases haunting the next few seasons, some of those players will have played themselves out of consideration, while others will have earned the sort of multi-year commitments already made to Cuddyer, Denard Span, Scott Baker, Jason Kubel, and Nick Blackburn—commitments made by today's brand of Pohlad ownership, not yesterday's.

As for the rest, sure, the Manship has sailed, and there are some easy punchlines and puns which... I may just have to save for private occasions, far from the eyes, ears, or imaginations of the easily offended. Sometimes, it's just too perilous. Excusing Valencia from the third-base picture isn't a surprise; it seems as if Brendan Harris has nailed the job down, although we're sure to see a good amount of Nick Punto there as well, so that the utilityman gets in enough bats to provide his brand of utility—walks, steals, sac bunts, or the Deadball Era suite of little-man goodies.


NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Romulo Sanchez to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [3/19]
Returned Rule 5 pick OF-R Jamie Hoffman to the Dodgers. [3/22]

Yes, it's true, there's no room for token Romulos in the Evil Empire. They don't settle for being gloriously entertaining on the small screen, preferring to stick with big plans and total domination. Given the franchise's heightened expectations for a successful title defense with a generally veteran roster, there's also no cause for keeping some guy named Hoffman. Why go young, and why say 'yippie' in the outfield? We all know the Yankees want to Winn. Besides, even if the Yankees can't sell out Nu Yankee, you can't accuse them of selling out, not like some; they've been on this side of the tracks for decades, and at least their place of business is a monument to their ongoing relevance, and not merely a glorified gift shop devoted to Boomer self-adulation.


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired C-R Matt Treanor from the Brewers for MI-S Ray Olmedo. [3/22]

Given the initial talk that catcher belonged to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, you might wonder if this means that Taylor Teagarden's stock slipped that badly. Or have the Rangers simply decided to make one of their two young catchers a regular, and entrust reserve duties to a veteran catch-and-throw type? The subtext to really read into is that this seems like a smart bit of insurance against Salty's latest injury proving to be more severe than it might initially appear. Promising pair of kid catchers or no, last year the Rangers wound up having to briefly call on organizational soldier Kevin Richardson and trading for Ivan Rodriguez out of need. Treanor's simply the insurance policy they lacked, because the alternatives if either of Saltgarden are gone were sorting out whether or not Toby Hall will ever return to full function, a return engagement for Richardson, or asking Max Ramirez to be ready to catch in the big leagues sooner than he might ever be. It's a no-cost move, and might mean good things for Joaquin Arias in his bid to stick as the team's utility infielder.


ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Jose Marte to Reno (Triple-A). [3/19]
ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned LHP Michael Dunn and RHP Jeff Lyman to Gwinnett (Triple-A). [3/21]
COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Esmil Rogers and INF-R Chris Nelson to Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [3/21]
MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Returned Rule 5 pick 3B-R Jorge Jimenez back to the Red Sox. [3/21]

While Jimenez was initially part of some exaggerated enthusiasm, that was another case of early-camp irrational exuberance. With Logan Morrison struggling in his first bid for the big-league job at first base, the Fish could end up keeping some combination of organizational soldier Gaby Sanchez, Wes Helms, and perhaps even non-roster invite Mike Lamb to play whichever corner Jorge Cantu isn't. There's every indication that third will be Cantu's spot, but we'll see if that takes that far into the season; if he's struggling to hit, and blames the challenge and distraction of fielding at third, will they blink, or stick with it. None of the four is an excellent defender at the hot corner, but all four have experience there. All of which makes for an interesting subsequent decision for the last spot or two on the bench. Will they keep Lamb to back up Sanchez and do the experienced pinch-hitter thing, when they already have Helms? Between Lamb, Brett Carroll, Hector Luna, Brian Barden, and Donnie Murphy, they have five reasonable candidates for what might be just two roster spots. Barden's the one who seems to be engendering some sympathy; the minor-league veteran is trying to stick as a utilityman after washing out as a third-base prospect with the Snakes. If finding someone who plays third well and the middle infield well enough is a major selective criterion, Barden may be their guy for at least one of those slots, not least because the Fish seem favorably impressed with his effort afield up the middle so far. He won't wind up as the next Casey McGehee—heck, safe money says Casey McGehee won't even get to repeat the experience—but Barden's a long-service minor-leaguer who could use a break. Carroll and Lamb also have their uses, while Luna's bulked up to the point that his playing days up the middle seem close to done.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHPs James McDonald and Jon Link and C-R Lucas May to Albuquerque (Triple-A). [3/20]
Released RHP Eric Gagne. [3/21]
Received Rule 5 pick OF-R Jamie Hoffman back from the Yankees; released INF-R Angel Berroa. [3/22]

It might be a minor upset that McDonald didn't win the fifth starter's job in camp, but it's also just that—the fifth starter's job. By the end of today, the Dodgers will have seen additional starts from Russ Ortiz, Charlie Haeger, and Rule 5 pick Carlos Monasterios, and they'll also have to mull the merits of Ramon Ortiz and Eric Stults. Now, maybe the Taiwan trip was an unnecessary distraction which has left the field full of candidates somewhat far into spring training, but the additional problem is that the way their April schedule flops for them, and considering the care with which they may want to handle Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, they may end up not really being able to skip the fifth slot all that easily in the early going. That's not really the end of the world—if Joe Torre's selection is informed by more heavily weighting past performance than however zesty any one of these spring flings proved to be, that's just as well. The visa-related delay of Ronald Belisario may prove convenient in terms of keeping Monasterios in the pen, and while I'd love to see Haeger get an extended spin to add a younger name to our limited choices for knuckleball heroes, as long as it isn't an Ortiz TBNL, it'll be a defensible selection.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired MI-S Ray Olmedo from the Rangers for C-R Matt Treanor. [3/22]

Seems like a pretty straightforward exchange of one up-the-middle spare for another, with the upshot being that it seems as if George Kottaras has won the backup catcher's job outright.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned 3B-L Pedro Alvarez and OF-R Jose Tabata to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [3/19]

Alvarez is reportedly going down to work on playing third base, hitting left-handers, practice his penmanship, and whatever else it is that might keep his service-time clock for starting before he's safely out of range of achieving super-two arbitration eligibility after the 2012 season. I argued the counter-position as far as what the Braves should do with Jason Heyward in last week's chat, but in the case of the Pirates, I'm down with service-time manipulation. The Bucs won't matter this year, and almost certainly not next year; digging out of their trough will owe a lot not just to how well Alvarez develops—he's already done—but how long they control him. In the meantime, Andy LaRoche gets a stay of execution. Whatever LaRoche's ultimate fate, the guy who may profit from this is Neil Walker, since he might get a shot at sticking around as a five-corner reserve, having gotten in some game action in the outfield, while also taking some instruction on the right side of the infield. Walker may be a disappointment as a top prospect, but his chances of having a career as a usable bench player seems pretty good. Since Jeff Clement seems to be in danger of landing in the same crater LaRoche already created, it isn't like anyone at either infield corner should command all that much job security; whoever ends up looking good by the time Alvarez arrives will get to stay, and others become fodder for the next wave of bit-flipping, as the Pirates discard a few more disappointments for whatever C-list prospects they can get.


SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHPs Radhames Liz, Ryan Webb, and Luis Perdomo to Portland (Triple-A). [3/21]
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Josh Kinney to Memphis (Triple-A). [3/21]
WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned LHP Matt Chico to Syracuse (Triple-A); optioned RHP Stephen Strasburg to Harrisburg (Double-A). [3/20]
Optioned RHP Shairon Martis to Syracuse. [3/22]

Sending down Strasburg might be the signature move in what was a wipeout weekend for top prospects—after all, the Bucs bucked Alvarez, the Dodgers ditched McDonald, and the Twins landed the Manship. OK, not so much that last one, but you see my point. The Nats also reassigned Drew Storen to their minor-league camp, so with this set of moves, their camp battles for rounding out the rotation and stocking the pen have pretty much taken shape as far as the final contestants being lined up. The pen's also somewhat set because of the optionlessness of five relievers, plus the expense of Matt Capps as the guy being paid to close. Excitement on that score might take the shape of cutting a Tyler Walker or Jason Bergmann. There's even less suspense in the lineup now that they have also officially announced that Willie Harris will be their right fielder come Opening Day.

The rotation situation's down to four contenders for the two spots behind John Lannan, Jason Marquis, and Garrett Mock: Livan Hernandez, J.D. Martin, Scott Olsen, and Craig Stammen. Since Strasburg and Chien-Ming Wang will be ready at some point this season, somebody's going to have to take a fall, so the most any of these four can hope for is to do well enough to at least challenge Mock's newly minted job security.

Stammen's the pistol who alone among the quartet can boast a Nationals' pedigree as a draft pick (12th round of 2005). An organizational soldier out of the University of Dayton, he wasn't merely proof of nature's abhorrence of vacuums when he was sucked into the majors last season, managing eight quality starts through six IP in his 18 turns. As a sinkerballer without upside beyond back-end rotation starter, he's nevertheless an acceptable choice, because turning to him represents a reward of sorts for someone who had to be plugged into last season's breach, but also because he's already on the 40-man, and might benefit from what's supposed to be a better defense this time around.

Martin's only broadly like Stammen, in that he's on the 40-man and throws strikes, but he was a supplemental first-rounder for the Tribe in 2001 who shed chunks of his career and his potential because of injuries along the way. A control artist with a modest amount of bullpen experience, he might become a great decisioins vulture in the middle innings for a staff that's going to need somebody to absorb mid-game frames, but he'd also make a serviceable starter in the meantime.

Livan's only too well known as commodities go. Like a greasy spoon, he might try to make up for what's on the menu by throwing in a few extra meatballs if you order spaghetti; it won't make the mess that much more appetizing, but at least there's volume involved, at an affordable price. However, it's worth remembering that he's still able to provide counting-stat staples, taking turns, and, defense permitting, keeping you in a few ballgames. That might seem like effusive praise for a pitcher who hasn't managed to allow less than five runs per nine in any of the last four seasons, but he did manage 12 quality starts in his first 20 for the Mets last season, and made six more in his eight turns with the Nats. Selecting Hernandez would be easy, in that he'd deliver what you expect, take a few beatings, and not miss his turns. For a non-contender, he's an unambitious, placeholding sort of choice, and somebody you can afford to cut loose once Wang and Strasburg are ready.

Finally, there's Olsen, now entering the fourth year since his 2006 breakthrough season, and still looking to repeat even the modest success of 2008 after losing 2009 to a labrum repair. His velocity's down and he's been drubbed in Grapefruit action. Enthusiasm for him always struck me as a bit overstated, and with Lannan in the rotation, it's not like they need a lefty for lefty's sake in either of the last two slots. Since Jim Bowden's long gone, it also isn't like they need to validate the decision to trade for him; they already have Josh Willingham to brag about. If Olsen winds up in extended spring training to build his arm strength, it wouldn't surprise me in the least.


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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