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April 4, 2010

Transaction Action

Turn of the Screw, NL

by Christina Kahrl

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ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHPs Kevin Mulvey and Billy Buckner, 1B-L Brandon Allen, and OF-R Cole Gillespie to Reno (Triple-A). [3/30]
Outrighted RHP Jose Marte to Reno. [4/2]
Optioned LHPs Clay Zavada and Zach Kroenke, C-R Jon Hester, and INF-R Ryan Roberts to Reno; purchased the contract of RHP Rodrigo Lopez from Reno. [4/3]

The state of the Snakes is perhaps best reflected in the remarkable fact that Lopez isn't a happy camp story stuck in the fifth slot, a transient Cactus League phenomenon likely to come to a(nother) noisy end once the real action starts. No, Lopez isn't merely the quintet's afterthought; he's the No. 4, behind Ian Kennedy, who himself might at present only be a worthwhile risk as the fifth man in a good team's rotation. Which leaves them where, with Kris Benson in the rotation as well as Kennedy and Lopez? That's a patch in a Webb-less present that not even Jonah Jameson could love. This team is expected to contend, so you can see how that proposition's already subject to your basic existential crisis, because Brandon Webb may not be back until after the All-Star break.

In the meantime, while they're carrying eight relievers, if A.J. Hinch merely keeps the front four on four days' rest and exploits two days off in the season's first eight, he won't need a fifth starter until the second weekend of the season, and that'll be in Petco against the Padres, or a reasonably soft landing as such things go. Whether they turn to Benson, or haul back up Billy Buckner or Bryan Augenstein or Kevin Mulvey. You can bet that the D'backs will be watching the wires carefully, because finding better than Benson is about as low a standard as you might set. If we get into May and nothing's looking good, I guess I fancy the possibility of Wes Roemer sneaking into the picture, since he is at least a strike-thrower, however modest his assortment might be.

As for that eight-man pen, it's disappointing that the flamboyantly fuzzy Zavada isn't among them, but it's being spun as a case of his having a bad camp. However, so few pitchers acquitted themselves well in Cactus action, save for fellow southpaw Jordan Norberto, one of the few who did, showing the above-average velocity that will be his calling card. Still, Norberto's now the lone lefty, and it seems who was optionable was an equally key consideration; among the mid-game bubble types, Blaine Boyer and Leo Rosales are both out of options, and Rosales showed up throwing harder. The balance of the pen is made up of the moderately famous: Chad Qualls, Bob Howry, Aaron Heilman, Juan Gutierrez. And lastly Esmerling Vasquez, who despite dialing up mid-90s heat and getting a decent dose of experience last season, might have to show something in the early going to preserve himself from a Reno vacation once the need for a fifth starter inevitably crops up.

As for the position player selections, Tony Abreu and Rusty Ryal beat out Roberts, although the retention of Augie Ojeda played its part as well. Hinch gave Abreu enough time at shortstop to let them really weigh their caddying alternative if they had dealt Ojeda. How Hinch uses Abreu will be interesting, because among the five reserves, he's the one whose playing time doesn't see predictable. As long as he's around, Ojeda should be reduced to game-ending defensive replacement chores, and the odd spot start for Stephen Drew, and Ryal's going to see a lot of pinch-hitting work, appropriate given his best position is 'hitter.' On the other hand, Chris Snyder and Gerardo Parra should be in the lineup often enough that they're not really bench players per se; will Abreu join them in spotting regularly for Kelly Johnson at second, Mark Reynolds at third, and Drew at short?


ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted RHP Juan Abreu to Myrtle Beach (High-A); noted the loss of RHP Manny Acosta to the Mets on a waiver claim. [3/30]
Placed MI-R Diory Hernandez (shoulder) and CF-L Jordan Schafer (hand) on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 3/26; optioned LHP Jonny Venters and C-R Clint Sammons to Gwinnett (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RF-L Jason Heyward from Gwinnett. [4/3]

And with that, the Heyward Era in right field gets launched. Jo-Jo Reyes and Jesse Chavez beat out Venters and Craig Kimbrel, although those figure to be ephemeral victories. Although not yet on the roster, Kimbrel pitched well enough that he'll show up at some point this season, while one of the victors is doomed to lose his spot if and when Scott Proctor's deemed ready to return from rehabbing his elbow back to full speed from his TJS.


CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned 1B/OF-L Micah Hoffpauir and OF-L Sam Fuld to Iowa (Triple-A); released DH-R Kevin Millar. [3/30]

This leaves Chad Tracy as the left-handed pinch-hitter on the bench who simultaneously provides opposite-handed cover for Derrek Lee at first and Aramis Ramirez at third, so that's not so terrible as solutions go. Tracy may not be much of a third baseman after his past knee problems, but once they deal Andres Blanco, you could anticipate they were going to favor keeping the guy who gave them the most infield flexibility. Add in rookie Tyler Colvin to provide some lefty pop from the bench as well, and even absent Hoffpauir, it isn't like the right-leaning lineup lacks for lefty alternatives for Lou Piniella to turn to in-game. As for the losers in these camp combats, Fuld could obviously use a trade to another organization, because if he's already been passed by Colvin, he's never going to escape the fifth outfielder treadmill here. With a baseline projection for a .464 SLG, Hoffpauir would be useful for a team looking for cheap power at first base or DH, but let's be real, it isn't like he's going to magically wind up on the White Sox, and his utility as an outfielder is really more of a matter of playing him there to just enhance your options as far as getting his bat into games; he'll never make an adequate everyday outfielder.


MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Purchased the contract of RHP Clay Hensley from New Orleans (Triple-A). [4/2]
Placed RHP Brian Sanches on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); placed OF-R Brett Carroll on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 3/26; purchased the contracts of RHP Jose Veras, INF-R Brian Barden, and 1B/3B-L Mike Lamb from New Orleans; recalled RHP Tim Wood from New Orleans; designated RHP Cristhian Martinez and OF-L Jai Miller for assignment. [4/3]

While it is cool that four non-roster players ended up making the team, much of this isn't really news given the way camp was playing out. In terms of the position-player mix, Lamb figures to join Wes Helms in doing the veteran corner infielder and frequent pinch-hitter thing, while Barden's the journeyman who sufficiently convinced his new employers that he can handle the middle infield well enough to be a better batter than most utility infielders.

Hensley was already going to make the team before the Fish traded for former fry Nate Robertson to add him to their rotation. Hensley's still sticking around, just as their primary long reliever, a role that figures to see plenty of work with questions about the durability of Robertson and Anibal Sanchez, and the reliability of Chris Volstad. eras was a virtual lock to make the staff weeks ago, and given that he still throws hard and he's moving to the new league, anticipating some measure of success as one of Fredi Gonzalez's charges doesn't seem extraordinary. To some extent, the concerns over this year's pen doing worse than last year's might be exaggerated, since it isn't the same cast, not with Burke Badenhop healthy, and new faces like Veras, Hensley, and Wood on hand. That may not sound all that impressive, but last year nobody was really counting on Kiko Calero or Sanches or Dan Meyer, and two years ago nobody was betting on Joe Nelson or Justin Miller. There's a point at which you have to credit a manager and an organization for having a solid sense of reliever fungibility, and while that might mean lightning strikes someday, and they wind up with a lousy pen, it isn't like they're sitting still or over-rewarding adequacy.


HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned INF-R Edwin Maysonet and LHP Wilton Lopez to Round Rock (Triple-A). [3/30]
Placed RHPs Yorman Bazardo (shoulder) and Alberto Castillo (shoulder) and 1B-S Lance Berkman (knee) on the 15-day DL. [3/31]
Purchased the contract of OF-L Cory Sullivan from Round Rock. [4/3]

The ghastly thing about Berkman's breakdown isn't that it's going to expose Chris Johnson, it's that their fall-back starter at first base in Berkman's absence is going to be Geoff Blum. Johnson will still start on occasion, but just against lefties, with Pedro Feliz moving across the diamond to first. Whatever limited opportunities the Astros have to get off the launching pad depends almost entirely on their stars, and with Roy Oswalt showing his age and Berkman reduced to bystander, the kamikaze run isn't just over, we're into the unhappy future most of the other aspirants for the GM job thought obvious two years ago. Ed Wade's managed to keep things much more interesting than many expected despite the franchise's desperate plight, but now we're left with seeing how much rookies like Johnson and Tommy Manzella and eventually Jason Castro inspire hope, and whether young players like Bud Norris, Felipe Paulino, Sam Gervacio, and J.R. Towles give folks something to root for. We can already anticipate that it won't add up to a good team as stars-'n-scrubs combos go, but the real question is whether it'll add up to a last-place squad if the stars don't shine while the scrubs get scrubbed.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Released LHP Eric Stults to sign with the Hiroshima Carp of the Japanese leagues; placed OF-R Jason Repko on waivers. [3/30]
Released 4C-L Doug Mientkiewicz. [4/3]

With that, certain decisions fall into place. Charlie Haeger's being handed the fifth slot in the rotation, and long may he keep it, lest the flutterball shortage reach truly dire levels. Minky and Repko shared the fate of losing out to Garret Anderson and Reed Johnson for bench options, and while Mientkiewicz was allowed to mope for a bit before rejecting an offer to coach, his desire to keep playing has him set loose upon the leagues at a time when potential employers might be few and far between.

The move that has me wondering is Stults getting set free to Japan. Not that he won't be well compensated, and may or may not succeed, but given that several rotations could use someone as good as Stults, I'm mildly surprised that nobody took the Theo Epstein tack and said, no, they really didn't want to agreeably let the man skip through waivers and across the Pacific. When Epstein did so with Kevin Millar, it was treated as a scandal, when it was in fact sensible operations practice, and while Stults isn't nearly the same caliber of talent (there are few rotations he'd safely ensconce himself in), it'll be interesting to see if this particular industry-wide practice continues to be simply accepted.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Voided the option of RHP Josh Butler to Nashville (Triple-A), and placed him on the 15-day DL (elbow); placed RHP Jeff Suppan on the 15-day DL (cervical disc pain), retroactive to 3/26, 2010. [3/30]
Optioned RHP Marco Estrada to Nashville. [4/4]

So, the Brewers decided Jeff Suppan's hurt, or hurting, or hurting someone, and in an act of generosity to their rivals and peers, refused to risk inflicting him on anyone else. That's one way of looking at it; the alternative is that they understandably have so little confidence in David Bush and Manny Parra at the back end of their rotation that they're willing to ponder swapping in Suppan at some later date. Since the market's hardly clamoring for Suppan to be set loose upon it, nobody's really going to fidget over whether or not he's actually hurting all that much. As is, franchise operations generally tend to be less than fractious on Czar Bud's watch, so why rock the boat over the right to employ someone the other 29 would rather face?


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded RHP Virgil Vasquez to the Rays for a PTBNL. [4/2]
Purchased the contracts of RHP D.J. Carrasco and LHP Jack Taschner from Indianapolis (Triple-A); placed RHPs Joel Hanrahan (elbow) and Jose Ascanio (shoulder surgery) on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 3/26; designated INF-L Ramon Vazquez for assignment; optioned 1B/OF-R Steve Pearce to Indianapolis. [4/4]

SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned LHP Wade LeBlanc to Portland (Triple-A). [3/31]
Purchased the contracts of LHP Cesar Ramos and PH-L Matt Stairs from Portland; placed LHP Joe Thatcher on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to3/26; optioned RHP Adam Russell to Portland. [4/4]

The real news here is who didn't get moved, as the Pads squad will carry Mat Latos as the fifth starter after all. Because it's almost guaranteed that Latos will see his workload managed in some fashion or another that involves his getting less than 180 IP or 32 starts, LeBlanc is still be in the picture; add in the likelihood of some new Chris Young disaster or the chances of Jon Garland or Kevin Correia getting dealt in July or August, and you can virtually guarantee he'll be taking turns at some point this summer.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHPs Kevin Pucetas and Henry Sosa, LHP Alex Hinshaw, C-R Buster Posey, 3B-R Ryan Rohlinger, and 2B/3B-R Matt Downs to Fresno (Triple-A). [4/2]
Purchased the contracts of RHPs Guillermo Mota and Todd Wellemeyer; placed 2B-R Freddy Sanchez (shoulder surgery) and MI-S Emmanuel Burriss (foot) on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 3/26; placed OF-L Fred Lewis on the 15-day DL (intercostal strain), retroactive to 3/27. [4/4]

With the decisions to demote Pucetas and Hinshaw and Posey, the victories of their respective rivals are secured. Posey's the least surprising, if also the most disappointing; his fight wasn't with Eli Whiteside, but with the proposition he'd be best off getting at-bats in Fresno instead of sharing the big-league catching chores with Bengie Molina, and perhaps starting just three times a week instead of playing every day. The Giants understandably chose the development path for their best position-playing prospect, but if that changes by July, I wouldn't be surprised in the least; a playoff roster with Posey having passed some larger measure of a big-league test seems probable. As for the other victory of grizzle over sizzle, the fifth starter's job is being handed to Todd Wellemeyer, a fact that already seemed set in stone after Madison Bumgarner was shipped out; Pucetas seems the more likely summoning for a sixth man's spot starts in-season, while Bumgarner will have to prove his fastball's back and he's ready to stick. But not all's a matter of old over new; young veteran Hinshaw lost out to flame-throwing Dan Runzler for the situational lefty chores in the pen. It's the outcome of a happier sort of problem, since both lefties can be overpowering; however, to some extent Hinshaw was also boxed out by the anticipated decision to retain graybeard Guillermo Mota, giving the Giants a pair of non-roster survivors on the pitching staff.


WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP J.D. Martin to Syracuse (Triple-A). [3/31]
Optioned RHP Luis Atilano to Syracuse. [4/1]
Optioned LHP Scott Olsen and OF-L Roger Bernadina to Syracuse. [4/3]
Purchased the contracts of RHP Miguel Batista and OF-R Willy Taveras from Syracuse (Triple-A); placed RHP Chien-Ming Wang (shoulder surgery), LHP Ross Detwiler (hip surgery), and C-R Jesus Flores (shoulder surgery) on the 60-day DL; placed C-R Chris Coste on the 15-day DL (strained elbow), retroactive to 4/2. [4/4]

What, no Atilano the Hun? This, after Nats fans already suffered the indignity of an Atahualpa Severino demotion? Who can believers in great symbols of defiance to Western Civilization turn to? John "Tamer"-Lannan? OK, sure, why not John Lanna? The way he paints the outside of the box, you could accuse him of taking his cue from history and constructing a gilded cage in which to render his victims helpless. For surely, as Marlowe stated, what major-league hitter has not felt, after Lannan's delicate deliveries lead to yet another out,

O dreary engines of my loathed sight,
That see my crown, my honour, and my name
Thrust under yoke and thraldom of a thief

Which might overstate the indignity of being beaten by a strike-throwing lefty, but only just. Lannan may not be the last Inca or the man who made Rome tremble, and statheads may denounce what they see as the ephemerality of his success, but just as the Timurid dynasty had its day, Lannan's had and may still have his.

Better to celebrate what he's done than mull too long the selections to round out the roster. Take Tyler Walker or Miguel Batista, for example. One of that pair or perhaps the pen's second lefty, Jesse English, figure to lose his job to the eventual activation of Livan Hernandez, a figure of such reliable indestructability that I figure he compares to no man out of history, but may instead be the stuff of Terminator 9: Completing the Game. And what scenario for the obliteration of life as we know it would be complete without Willy Taveras, who's now locked in as the Nats' fourth outfielder, platooning with Willie Harris in right field?

Whoever gets bumped for Hernandez highlights the extent to which there's no point in getting worked up over whoever the current occupants of the last two slots in the rotation are either, because it's just a matter of owning the right to eventually lose your job to Chien-Ming Wang and Stephen Strasburg. Garrett Mock was named to the rotation weeks ago, and in his subsequent games seemed singularly devoted to making the Nats reconsider the commitment. The rotation situation in April's a case of both Livan large and being Mock'd, and if you'd expected those selections in February, you really should be using your powers of prescience to better ends. But this too shall pass.

In the meantime, it's a bit of a bummer to see Martin sent down, and it's strange to see Olsen bumped after seemingly getting himself straightened out as April approached. Both lost out not just to Mock and Hernandez, but also to Craig Stammen, who can't be considered a lock to still have a rotation job in August or September, however admirable his success as another homegrown product. In short, turnover, in terms of who's taking turns, should be again the name of the game, in one respect making this year, compared to last, the same.



Follow Christina's TA publication updates via http://twitter.com/ChristinaKahrl

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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