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March 31, 2010

Transaction Action

Turn of the Screw, AL

by Christina Kahrl

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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Chris Tillman, LHP Alberto Castillo, and 2B-R Justin Turner to Norfolk (Triple-A); signed OF-L Joey Gathright to a minor-league contract. [3/30]
Optioned OF-R Lou Montanez to Norfolk. [3/31]

There are several flavors of disappointment involved here, because all four players shipped out have value, and it was reasonable to anticipate that some or all of them might have cracked the roster. But to take them in turn, let's look at what's happened.

First, the most significant shocker, the decision to ship out Tillman. It's easy and fair to say that this was a numbers game, simply as a matter of counting heads. With veterans Kevin Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie atop the rotation, with Brad Bergesen and Brian Matusz lined up behind them, barring something goofy like a six-man rotation—because some bad ideas die hard—somebody was going to be bumped, and it wasn't just going to be Jason Berken. David Hernandez is a legitimate prospect in his own right, after all, but there's no way he's a better prospect than Tillman. The same goes for Bergesen and Matusz, but the one thing all of them consistently have going for them is they're slightly older than Tillman. Tillman really has no business going back to the International League, but as a 21-year-old, his total workload is something to monitor and manage carefully.

The easiest thing to suggest would be that they make a trade, but who do you deal from this crew? Not Matusz or Bergesen or Hernandez—any suggestion of dealing any of them is ridiculously premature. Millwood, perhaps? Beyond the issue of having just acquired him, there's whatever veteranosity he's supposed to add to this young rotation, even in the face of PECOTA's expectation that he'll lose ground from last year's bounce-back campaign. If Millwood's going to be dealt for maximum value, the timing for that is in July, not now. Jeremy Guthrie, then? Not so much, not when he's coming off of a down year, and with two more spins in arbitration to look forward to through 2012, he's neither a guaranteed quantity or a cheap pickup. Perhaps in a couple of months, Guthrie's value goes up, but by then we're into contender shopping season, at which point Millwood becomes the item the O's would want to shop.

So, in the meantime, Tillman's future remains glorious, it's just that it's still in the future. It's a nice problem to have, but also one I expect to be resolved by midway point of the season.

Castillo's send-down is a bit more of a genuine surprise, but that may just be me. Koji Uehara is headed for the DL, and Kam Mickolio might be, yet they don't have room for Castillo? A bullpen's last few slots can be an area for managerial discretion, and it looks as if the situational lefty gig's going to belong to be Will Ohman's, but the de rigueur second-lefty slot is going to Mark Hendrickson, mop-up hero. Berken's going to apparently join him for mid-game responsibilities, leaving late-game set-up work in front of Mike Gonzalez to Jim Johnson, Cla Meredith, Matt Albers, and Ohman. That's not a bad unit; add Mickolio and Uehara in place of Albers and Berken, and it's better still. Further consideration for Castillo was no doubt handicapped by the previous decision to retain Hendrickson and bring in Ohman, but he's sure to be back this summer once somebody gets hurt or pitches badly between Ohman and Hendrickson—not all that unlikely as propositions go.

Between the two position players, beyond pro forma observances about these latest victims of the seven-man bullpen, these don't really represent disappointments of the same magnitude. As much as I like what Montanez could do as a part-time player in the outfield corners, there's already a playing-time logjam between first base, DH, and left field, where four players—Luke Scott, Nolan Reimold, Felix Pie, and Garrett Atkins—will be splitting up the at-bats. Add Ty Wigginton to that mix from the bench as a four corners reserve who can also stand in at second base, and you can see how Montanez was boxed out. The presence of Wigginton as well as backup middle infielder Robert Andino left Turner's turn depending on the status of Brian Roberts' back; while Turner's given shortstop and third base the obligatory spins any non-star minor-league second baseman must to have a shot at a career, he didn't look good at either position with the Tides last season, so his shot at a utilityman's career is on hold until he does. It's worth remembering that Andino's not really a necessary feature of a roster that has a starting third baseman, Miguel Tejada, who could easily slide over to spot for Cesar Izturis at short, but do you make that move for Turner's benefit? Neither Turner or Andino figure to play all that much in either scenario, and you could argue that Andino makes a slightly faster option for any occasional pinch-running chores (although even there, Dave Trembley only got in the habit of using him as one after roster expansion last year).


BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Boof Bonser (groin) and INF-S Jed Lowrie (mononucleosis) on the 15-day DL. [3/31]

Is it just me, or did reports of Bonser's achy-breaky groin start cropping up at exactly the same time people started noting he wasn't going to beat out guys like Scott Atchison and Joe Nelson. Add in the year away due to injury, that he's out of options, and his career-long struggles getting left-handed people out—a 200-point platoon split via OPS reflecting the scope of the problem—and you're left with a guy who could use a nice, long rehab stint to work on his repertoire.


CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Dan Hudson, OF-L Alejandro De Aza, and UT-R Brent Lillibridge to Charlotte (Triple-A). [3/30]

With these demotions, three anticipated position decisions get resolved. In the rotation, with Hudson's demotion it's clear that, regardless of Freddy Garcia's velocity issues this spring, the fifth starter's job belongs to Chief, while the club's fascination with hard-throwing former shortstop Sergio Santos was enough to win him the seventh reliever's slot. This seems reasonable enough—if Chief struggles or Santos implodes in actual game action, the Sox will have learned something, and in the meantime Hudson will be taking regular turns in the Knights' rotation and presumably be ready to step into either job, as needed.

As a moundsman, Santos is sort of a mirror reflection of what he was as a position player—a strong arm, lots of power, lots of strikeouts, and an unpredictable future. He was interesting as prospect then—ripping 58 extra-base hits while playing shortstop in the Jays' chain in 2007 was reason to take notice—but there were just enough holes as far as strike-zone command and range at short that he may never have been more than a utilityman. Those are considerably more common than relievers who throw 98 mph fastballs, so you can consider this a reasonable gamble as far as not jut making it to the majors, but potentially enjoying a much more productive career. It'll be interesting to see what Don Cooper makes of him, but if you're going to carry seven relievers, using the last slot to look at a project pitcher isn't any worse an idea than, say, using it on a Rule 5 pick. Since Santos is out of options, his predicament is a lot like a Rule 5 selection's, in that he'd have to pass through waivers if the Sox decide they can't keep him on the big-league club. The problem is that he's barely beyond sushi-grade raw, even for a conversion project: counting last year's AFL stint and spring training, Santos has just over 50 innings as a pro, anywhere and everywhere. He does have 63 strikeouts in 51 1/3 IP, against 34 unintentional walks, so expect mayhem when he pitches. However Ozzie Guillen employs him, perhaps blowouts initially and higher-leverage situations later on, he should be one of the most interesting back-end roster guys around.

Finally, shipping out the frequently unfortunate De Aza predictably locks in the Mark Kotsay/Andruw Jones job-sharing arrangement at DH. De Aza has had his opportunities to stick with the Fish in the past, but injuries and alternatives kept cropping up. His unusual power spike last year with New Orleans—he had a .206 ISO after rarely getting beyond .120 in previous minor-league campaigns—was interesting to see from a player previously plopped into the generic speed guy bin. While it feels like he's been around forever—he was the Marlins' Opening Day center fielder in 2007, after all—he's only just turning 26.

As for Kotsay and Jones, as terrible the sense of foreboding Sox fans may feel on the subject, what if you're an optimist? What if you want to believe that, maybe, just maybe, there's a possible happy outcome? Say, like the Brewers enjoyed in 1982 with on-his-last-legs Don Money and a by-then leg-less Roy Howell? That wasn't a great DH tandem, and that turned out okay-ish, right? The problem is that the better-case scenarios for Kotsay look like they involve an OBP around .340 and a DH slugging .410. Dial up Andruw Jones' high-end PECOTA projections, up around the 80 or 90 percent level, you get into similar OBPs and slugging up around .480 or .500, which would be lovely, even if there's some reasonable doubt over whether he could manage it over 450 plate appearances. Kenny Williams' reputation for being a dealer is going to have to be put to work this summer, because when the Sox are kicking around three or four games back in the Central and struggling to score runs, finding better bats for DH and possibly third base and left field as well are on the to-do list.


CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned OF-S Trevor Crowe and C-R Wyatt Torregas to Columbus (Triple-A); outrighted LHP Jeremy Sowers to Columbus; placed RHP Hector Ambriz on the 15-day DL (elbow), retractive to 3/27. [3/31]
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Sean O'Sullivan to Salt Lake (Triple-A). [3/31]
MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned LHP Glen Perkins and C-R Wilson Ramos to Rochester (Triple-A); placed RHP Joe Nathan (elbow) and C-S Bobby Morales (wrist) on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 3/26. [3/31]

Setting aside the past drama the club has had with Perkins, these are generally positive developments. First, because it means that Francisco Liriano's secured the fifth slot in the rotation. I wouldn't say that necessarily makes him the fifth starter or a fifth starter, because the upside possibility with Liriano is still that he might become the high-impact front-end rotation regular who helps propel the club from their current middling expectations of an AL Central title to a team that might handily win that division and make for a tough matchup against whichever AL East monster they draw in the first round. As for shipping out Ramos and tabbing Drew Butera as their backup catcher, that's a sensible move in terms of doing what's best for Ramos' future. As a legitimate catching prospect marooned behind Joe Mauer, Ramos might be doomed to be a deadline day bargaining chip this year, but there's no better way to help him become the most valuable chip possible than to play every day in Triple-A. Butera has no real upside value, but he's a solid catch-and-throw sort and an organizational legacy (part of team's mission statement is a charge to employ all catchers named Butera). Until Morales is healed up—around May Day or so—you can expect that the Twins will give the people a whole lot of Mauer, but with five day games after night games in April alone, Butera's likely to get a couple of starts.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned INF-R Steven Tolleson to Sacramento (Triple-A); reassigned RHP Jason Jennings to Sacramento. [3/30]
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Dale Thayer to Durham (Triple-A); noted that 1B-L Dan Johnson accepted his assignment to Durham. [3/30]
TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Reassigned C-R Matt Treanor, UT-R Esteban German, and INF-R Gregorio Petit to their minor-league camp. [3/31]

With the news of Ian Kinsler's injury reverberating along the news wires, there are a couple of important factors in play that should keep anyone from panicking. First, as Will pointed out this morning, he'll be back shortly, so the decisions to ship out German and Petit don't exactly represent ringing endorsements of Joaquin Arias and Andres Blanco as much as a ready acknowledgment that Blanco was going to be their glovely middle infield reserve in any scenario, while Arias is getting a taste of what he might eventually earn if his prospect rep still has anything left to it. To accentuate the positive, Treanor's decision t agree to the demotion is a twofold bit of good news, first because it means that Jarrod Saltalamacchia's health is no longer a pressing concern, and second because it preserves the club's depth at catcher if Salty's availability becomes an issue again.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned LHP David Purcey and Jesse Carlson to Las Vegas (Triple-A); reassigned OF-L Jeremy Reed to Las Vegas. [3/30]

Demoting Purcey and Carlson are somewhat similar, in that they're both lefties, both pushing 30, and both have a good amount of big-league experience under their belts, and the Jays don't exactly know what to do with either of them. From his past pinnacle as the 16th overall selection in the 2004 draft, Purcey's problem is that he's the hard-throwing lefty who has failed to develop consistency mechanically or as a starting pitcher. The latest solution is to put him in the pen, and sending him back to Vegas is just his latest setback as he tries to figure out what he's for. Carlson has had two full seasons in the big-league bullpen: a rookie season that looked better than it was (per SIERA), and a sophomore slump that looked worse than it was. Hampered by a knee injury during camp, and with a track record which doesn't really suggest he's a straightforward lefty specialist in an age where that's the expected application of a left-handed pitching-type person, tossing him back to Triple-A.

Now, both have talent, and both could be useful, and it would be easy to spout off about how smart organizations know how to use talent to best effect. But their both being shipped out is a reflection of the challenge the Jays are dealing with in terms of picking from among a multitude of worthwhile pitchers, and unfortunately one where past performance or obvious talent doesn't make for easy choices beyond the first six or seven guys. Add in that pitchers like Brian Tallet could be employed in the pen or the rotation easily enough, and it provides a fluid scenario in which a lot of possibilities crop up.

Start with the starters: Shaun Marcum and Ricky Romero are easy enough. To their credit, the Jays are holding the line with Brandon Morrow as a starting pitcher, and the injury to Mark Rzepczynski opens up an opportunity for Dana Eveland to potentially join the rotation. But you've got Brett Cecil looking as ready as he's ever going to need to be, and Tallet as a nice utility option in case they bump Eveland to the pen or Cecil to Vegas. Even with almost a full rotation's worth of useful starters out of action (Dustin McGowan, Scott Richmond, Jesse Litsch, and Rzepczynski), and while Eveland's been waiver bait and Tallet's upside as a trencherman is perhaps just the successful digestion of many eaten innings, they've nevertheless got a touch choice to make.

The bullpen's little easier. Sure, there are gimmes, in that Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, and Kevin Gregg will be there. But then you've got veteran filler Shawn Camp coming off a pair of useful seasons, young veterans Jeremy Accardo and Cassey Janssen with recent value to consider, and hard-throwing Josh Roenicke and Merkin Valdez to choose from. That's eight guys still around and still worth considering. Just one of them's left-handed, which is why Eveland (or Tallet) could find a ready home in relief, but that bumps two guys, and not everyone has options: Camp, Valdez, and Eveland would all have to pass through waivers, and it's an iffy proposition that any of them would make it. That might make it seem like an obvious case of picking two from among Roenicke, Janssen, and Accardo—and all of them are worth keeping.

In contrast, parking Reed in Triple-A was easy, because once Edwin Encarnacion proved he was healthy, the club was set for its position player choices, with the only variable being whether newly named leadoff man Jose Bautista was going to play third or right field. Because of their relative paucity of position-playing options, it'll be interesting to see if the Jays get grabby on the wire in the hours and days to come, because they're at 37 on the 40-man, and it doesn't look like any non-roster invites will crack the club.



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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