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April 11, 2010

Transaction Action

Going to Dozens

by Christina Kahrl

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LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned 4C-R Robb Quinlan to Salt Lake (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Bobby Cassevah from Salt Lake. [4/9]

Some shifts obviously come sooner rather than later, so for expected moves that get made, score this 'runny' on the Heinz scale of anticipation, as the Angels predictably wind up at 12 pitchers. No sooner did Quinlan go down than Mike Scioscia used Cassevah, and an alternative at first base to Kendry Morales in-game for the first time—and it was third catcher Bobby Wilson. I wouldn't read anything much into that, since Wilson came into his first game of the year with the Angels down by eight runs in the eighth inning. So the chances of seeing Mike Napoli cadging the occasional start at first base seem pretty good to me, especially with particular combinations when the opposing starter is a lefty, and a particular starting pitcher who "must" work with Jeff Mathis is taking the hill for the Halos.

As for hauling up Cassevah, it strikes me as slightly amusing, in that the A's sent the Rule 5 pick back, only to find themselves needing arms to fill out their early-season bullpen, while the Angels decided they had cause to have him up just a few short months after they'd decided he wasn't worth protecting from the December draft. His merits remain the same as what we noted in the book, and what I repeated a few short weeks ago upon his return to Anaheim. He's situationally Schlieffenesque*, going hard on the right side with a killer ground-ball rate that generates four times as many ground-ball outs as caught flies. Pitching for Double-A Arkansas last season, he limited right-handers to .199/.297/.271, while his problems with southpaws was in great part a matter of missing instead of making big mistakes (.295/.393/.343). In addition to the impressive clip for grounders, he's got a pretty good move to first, so it looks like he's got keeping the double play in order on his mind, not a bad quality in a situational animal.

*: If not Alfred von Schlieffen, how about Earnie Shavers? In the end, 'Shaversish' or 'Shaverly' struck me as clumsier turns of phrase, but when I think about packing a wallop from the right side, nobody hit harder than Shavers did—back when boxing still mattered.


BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted INF-R Robert Andino to Norfolk (Triple-A). [4/7]
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted RHP Anthony Lerew to Omaha (Triple-A). [4/7]
NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Claimed LF-R Chad Huffman off waivers from the Padres, and optioned him to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [4/7]

The Yankees' lack of depth in terms of ready-ish outfielders and a couple of open slots on the 40-man gave them the freedom of action to get grabby. Huffman's not a prospect because he's a left field-only outfielder with merely modest power, but he's 25 and does have at least a modicum of power and some patience at the plate, having hit .269/.362/.469 for Portland last season. A strong August might inspire confidence, but his year's meager merits are the cumulative product of a bass-ackwards platoon split: .301/.382/.525 against right-handers is swell, but .185/.307/.323 against lefties isn't. That might make for an employable Strat card in a 2009 PCL replay league, but scouting reports that suggest he struggles with off-speed stuff support the evidence that he has problems with the lower-velocity offerings of lefties. Reports also suggest he's a bit pull-happy, which worked out just fine for him in last season's Triple-A Home Run Derby, which he won, and as a former college quarterback, he gets the usual hosannas for athleticism despite poor play in left and a weak arm for an outfielder. Baseball America speculated over the winter that if he learned to hit to other fields, he'd improve; maybe working with Yankees coaching will get him there.

Since the Triple-A outfield is staffed with such notables as Twins organizational castoff David Winfree and former Phillies prospect Greg Golson, it isn't like the Yankees have a ready-made player to haul up in case any of the outfielders on the big-league roster break down. Huffman may not be a blue-chip prospect, but he might be the most employable of their Scranton alternatives, not that they'd ever rely on one—let's face it, if the Bombers lost a starting outfielder for the season, they won't be relying on Royce Huffman in the interim. If such a situation were to arise, you can bet that Brian Cashman would pick up the phone and find a better solution. Say, something like calling the Pirates and getting Ryan Church for an Alvaro Espinoza autograph, perhaps one from his blue period, packaged with Packo Pesos. (Because it's just Ryan Church, so he won't fetch Stacks O'Cash or even Baggy Boodle).


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted DH-L Jack Cust to Sacramento (Triple-A). [4/7]
Claimed OF-R Jai Miller off waivers from the Marlins, and optioned him to Sacramento; transferred LHP Josh Outman from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/8]

Just as free agency suggested that Cust's value on the open market was less than any abstract valuation of his performance, and less than he would have made in arbitration, so too has an action-free transit across the wire to swampy Sacramento made it clear that the A's recognized they could get away with slipping him off of the 40-man roster. Folks who might understandably rail about the expense or whether or not he belongs might miss the point that 29 other general managers let him slide by, even the ones who really could have used him, like the Blue Jays or the White Sox, or even the Royals. As a DH-only player, there were really only a very few clubs who could conceivably have a use for Cust, and none of them bit. Having chosen Eric Chavez as their DH for the full span of his latest bout of health, they took their chances on the likelihood that they'd still have Cust in reserve, and they were right to do so.

In the meantime, it hardly matters who's on their bench: designated hitters, designated witnesses, whatever, they aren't getting much playing time. Bob Geren has avoided using any of his four bench players, as between them, Jake Fox, Gabe Gross, Adam Rosales, and Eric Patterson have one start (Fox, at DH), four plate appearances, and three defensive innings in six games. Maybe it's a matter of riding a few hot hands, but it's downright Ralph Houkian in the meantime.

Finally, grabbing Miller's another holding-tank sort of move. With some power, some speed, sometimes adventurous play in center, and a strong arm, you can sort of see the outlines of Terrence Long-like upside play as far as the talent goes, a toolsy high school player who seemed to take forever to be ready. Like Long, he's had his troubles mastering the strike zone, but seems to have turned the corner somewhat in terms of his approach. Whether he achieves even Long's level of success isn't really that likely, but he's got athleticism and an improving track record going for him, and he's only in his age-25 season while already having two seasons in Triple-A under his belt. There have been more dubious campaigns for a fourth outfielder's career, and since outfield depth is an issue on the RiverCats in the meantime, he's a worthwhile pickup and use of the roster spot for the time being.


SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Designated OF-L Ryan Langerhans for assignment; purchased the contract of RHP Jesus Colome from Tacoma (Triple-A). [4/8]

Another five-man bench bites the dust as the Mariners move to seven relievers, and a situational wild man like Colome no less. It's sort of interesting to note that they dumped one former Nat for another, but beyond the fact that it costs them a glovely fifth outfielder, it underscores their confidence that Eric Byrnes can function as their primary outfield reserve, and their faith that Milton Bradley can handle left field without getting distracted from hitting or playing or staying healthy. It makes for a weird roster, but if Matt Tuiasosopo is getting spot duty at first base while also having the benefit of outfield reps in spring training, it's clear they're going to ask a few players to move around while the carry that pair of designated hitters.


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed C-S Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the 15-day DL (shoulder stiffness); purchased the contract of C-R Matt Treanor from Oklahoma City (Triple-A); transferred RHP Warner Madrigal from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/8]

So, Salty breaks down after all, and the team has to turn to Treanor. This seems a tempest in a Texas teapot, because however splashy it might be to focus on the inconvenience, it really isn't that big a deal. Let's face it, until Saltalamacchia actually ever delivers, there isn't much to miss. To turn to Rumsfeldian operational theory, if he remains the Salty we know instead of the Salty we dreamt of, he's a known unknown, and not a player so massively better than Taylor Teagarden or even Matt Treanor as to make it obvious he should be playing. The Rangers did not just lose the services of Mike Piazza, and Madrigal's legitimately hurt and legitimately belongs on the 60-day DL.

Meanwhile, Salty's upside, so long anticipated, is now a couple of years out of date, so let's focus on the positive. First, he'll be headed to a rehab stint next week. Second, we don't know if his spinal problem's going to affect his career significantly; in light of the fevered expectations balanced against the more tepid reality, it makes for an easy thing to blame.


CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Purchased the contracts of LHP James Russell and 1B/3B-L Chad Tracy from Iowa (Triple-A); placed RHP Angel Guzman (shoulder surgery) and LHP Ted Lilly (shoulder surgery) on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 3/26. [4/4]

I've commented on Tracy's victory over his rivals for the last spot on the bench already, and Lilly's absence was long-anticipated. Sunday brings a combination of bad and good news in terms of who's on the mound—Tom Gorzelanny will be making his first start, while Lilly will be missing his rehab spin due a still-stiff back. It might be an easy laughing matter that the Cubs four/five combo is Carlos Silva and Gorzo, but the Cubs have four quality starts through their first five games, and while that clip won't last, it isn't like they have to give the games in the books back.

If anything, the man who looks like he'll be missed most is Guzman, because the Cubs have suffered through a pair of bullpen meltdowns in just five games, and with this lot, that may not be too unusual. There are, of course, a major pair of good components: Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall. Veteran lefty John Grabow is an adequate lefty specialist. But then you get into problems, especially where the right-handed options are concerned. Between Justin Berg and Esmailin Caridad, you've got a useful pair of organizational arms who can contribute... but are they good enough for high-leverage roles? They could be, they might be, but are they? It'll require patience and time, two things this Cubs club is running out of. Jeff Samardzija's role as designated money pit hardly helps matters.

Considering those three right-handers who, however talented, lack much in terms of success or experience, and with a pair of lefties in the pen already, you might think that the club might have space for a righty situational guy, a Justin Miller type to just be a righty-getting geezer. But they didn't get that guy in the offseason, and in-house options like Jeff Stevens and Jeff Gray didn't earn much consideration. So instead, for a seventh reliever the club's got another organizational arm, James Russell, a third lefty and a swingman, someone who had a great camp, but someone who ends up being another guy like Caridad or Berg or Samardzija that you might be better off breaking in before late in the game. As nice as it is to reward another player from within for a great effort in Arizona, Russell's not a dominating flamethrower, but is instead a fly ball-oriented control guy.

That's useful enough in the abstract, but will it work all that well in helping round out the Cubs' pen? That's the problem in a nutshell: Will this be a pen where the whole is less than the sum of the parts? Losing Guzman has led to a changing set of responsibilities for different pitchers in the pen, and while there's reason to believe that Berg or Caridad might be quality relievers, or that Marshall can contribute, or that even Samardzija has value, it's hard to see that happening for all of them simultaneously.


CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Carlos Fisher to Louisville (Triple-A). [4/1]
Optioned LHPs Aroldis Chapman, Travis Wood, and Matt Maloney, RHP Jared Burton, and UT-S Drew Sutton to Louisville; released RHP Kip Wells. [4/2]
Designated INF-S Aaron Miles and OF-R Wladimir Balentien for assignment; purchased the contracts of INF-R Miguel Cairo and OF-L Laynce Nix from Louisville. [4/5]

The Reds made their share of interesting choices, but it will be interesting to see if they manage to swap Balentien to anybody before waivers becomes a fact of life; he'd certainly make a fine outfield option for the talent-hungry Blue Jays. Bringing Nix back after last season's bit of adequacy makes reasonable sense, as long as he's the fifth outfielder and behind Jonny Gomes and Chris Dickerson in the pecking order; Nix offers defense and modest sock in a park that rewards it, and that's not a bad combination in a reserve Red. On the other hand, picking between Miles and Cairo is one of those lose/lose propositions you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, but a Dusty Baker ballclub being the sort of squad you'd usually expect a Dusty Baker ballclub to be, the Reds decided to go with one or the other instead of selecting Sutton for the last-guy spot for early-game pinch-hitting chores.

But that's not to say that Baker was entirely in character, because there is the decision to keep farmhands like Juan Francisco and Logan Ondrusek around, as well as the certainty that last summer's first-round selection, Mike Leake, is going to make his pro debut as the fifth starter today. Of course, once Leake is activated, it may be at either Francisco or Ondrusek's expense, but you can hope it might be at Cairo's. (By interesting coincidence, today will also be Chapman's pro debut with Louisville.) Naturally, alarm klaxons are going off: Dusty Baker, young pitcher... wasn't there some sort of restraining order to keep this from ever happening again? But let's face it, Leake really was this advanced as a prospect, and as much fun as I have touting the merits of the likes of Justin Lehr, the Reds have decided to go with talent over safety. Where the Nats could afford to play it safe with Stephen Strasburg, the Reds believe they have a shot at the NL Central, and I can't say I blame them. If that involves taking a chance with Leake, here again, I can understand the reasons why, which go back to their decision to draft him in the first place.


HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Sammy Gervacio on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder); recalled RHP Wilton Lopez from Round Rock (Triple-A). [4/8]
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed C-R Brad Ausmus on the 15-day DL (pinched nerve – back), retroactive to 4/9; recalled C-R A.J. Ellis from Albuquerque (Triple-A). [4/10]

Since Ellis had to accept some form of disappointment in that he might have thought he had a shot at sticking with the team after Russell Martin's camp injury, this ends up being a nice break for him, because now he'll get at least a couple of weeks to caddy for him now that the ex-famous person's out. Not that you ever admit to wanting to grow up to be the Practically Perfect Backup Catcher, but Ellis could wind up making a reasonable case for himself. He's a good catch-and-throw guy, and for better and for worse, he got a good dose of catching Charlie Haeger's knuckleball last season with Albuquerque (generating five of Ellis' 11 passed balls on the season). Despite not being a power guy, he manages to generate a few walks, getting aboard via unintentional free passes almost 15 percent of the time, so he's not useless beside the plate when he isn't behind it. He'll never be good enough to be a regular, and in his age-29 season, there's no reason to expect him to grow up to be anything more than what he already is—a fine backup option.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Marco Estrada to Nashville (Triple-A). [4/4]
NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated SS-S Jose Reyes from the 15-day DL; optioned SS-R Ruben Tejada to Buffalo (Triple-A). [4/10]

As noted previously, a non-shocking development. For all of the build-up and the drama over his return, it was both a big stepping stone and just a ballgame, one with a ninth-inning single, a strikeout, getting hit by a pitch. I'll be interested to see tomorrow's ballgame with an eye towards whether there are any obvious rust-related issues, considering how he effectively missed spring training. That said, if he's relatively fine from early on, we'd have another reason to wonder about whether or not spring training makes all that much sense as currently constructed. In an age where the players are year-round athletes who don't head to the offseason to sell insurance or cars, spending almost two months on preliminaries may not be necessary. That's not to say it isn't cool, or good for Arizona and Florida tourism, or that it doesn't provide the industry some extra time for the latest cash-grab exhibition or “opening day” abroad, or WBC-related activities, but in terms of the time necessary to pick rosters or get players ready, it might now be longer than entirely necessary.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Joel Hanrahan on the 15-day DL (strained elbow), retroactive to 3/26; placed RHP Jose Ascanio on the 60-day DL (labrum surgery recovery), retroactive to 3/26; designated INF-L Ramon Vazquez for assignment; optioned 1B-R Steve Pearce to Indianapolis (Triple-A); purchased the contracts of RHP D.J. Carrasco and LHP Jack Taschner from Indianapolis. [4/4]
Outrighted OF-L Brandon Moss to Indianapolis. [4/5]

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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