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April 13, 2010

Transaction Action

Captive, O Captive!

by Christina Kahrl

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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed 2B-S Brian Roberts on the 15-day DL (abdominal strain), retroactive to 4/10; recalled 2B-R Justin Turner from Norfolk (Triple-A). [4/12]

So, now it turns out that Roberts' abdomen is not the only problem, because his back injury from spring training appears to have been exacerbated. He won't be out just the two weeks, since he's apparently going to spend these next two weeks doing nothing baseball-related.

Sometimes precaution generates additional payoffs, in that Roberts' health woes during the spring contributed to a decision to make a deal to add Julio Lugo rather than just make do with Robert Andino as their primary middle infield reserve. As I noted at the time, the Orioles can better afford Lugo in the field for any length of time because of a heavily fly ball-oriented rotation, but that doesn't mean carrying Turner can't make for an adequate alternative with some left-mashing attributes. That same pitching staff is what also puts utilityman Ty Wigginton, another Swiss Army knife of butchery, into the keystone picture.

Since all of these options are sub-good in terms of the hit the team takes on offense and defense, the real question is how Dave Trembley's going to design his lineup during the stretch that Roberts misses. Lugo led off against Dana Eveland, and Felix Pie got the job against Shaun Marcum on Sunday and Matt Garza on Monday. This may not bode well for Nolan Reimold's bid to retain a full-time role, since Trembley was already willing to get Luke Scott outfield playing time, and unless Trembley reactivates the Scott-to-first variant, that puts somebody on the bench, and it won't be Garrett Atkins, unfortunately.

As leadoff-y as a piece of Pie might sound, this isn't the best alignment the lineup's got going for it. I don't mean to run down Pie, a player who deserves a shot better shot than he ever got with the Cubs, but Reimold shouldn't have to sit that much more often, just because Roberts is out. That seems like mugging Paul to pay Peter's hospital bill—not only would two saints be very, very disappointed in you, you're suddenly in a lot more trouble than you started out with. Playing Pie is fine, but keeping Reimold in the regular rotation, spotting for Markakis in right or Pie in left or DHing, also needs doing. With Roberts out, I'd argue that the best move would be to push Atkins into part-time play, and see what Scott can do at first base. If Atkins gripes, use him at third on Miguel Tejada's rare days off, so that you can at least keep him in play at the position when, inevitably, he has to be offered around at the end of July.

 


KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RHP Gil Meche from the 15-day DL; optioned INF-R Mike Aviles to Omaha (Triple-A). [4/11]

It's not my province to suggest the Royals brought Meche back too soon, but he clearly lacked both command and control, so there's obviously some fine-tuning in order. However, there is the good news that Meche didn't say his shoulder felt bad during the game or after, and it's important to remember that, while past seasons of murky player care were cause for controversy, the expectation is that the page has been turned with a new training staff. Reports of his performance in his extended spring training game were positive, after all, and as ugly as the Royals' recent history has been, the fact that they changed the training staff suggests that they've been active in correcting the problem. Perhaps it's easy to be blasé about this, since it's the Royals and perhaps not even fourth place in the AL Central is really at stake, but I'd favor cutting them some slack. One bad ballgame should be only that—mixed in among all the other bad ballgames.

The problem that many might have is with the exchange—the Royals were already at 12 pitchers, and now they're at 13. Perhaps it's fatalistic to say so, but in the Royals' case, it probably doesn't matter. Certainly you can blame the injuries to Alex Gordon and Josh Fields for contributing; once Gordon comes back—shortly—you have to expect that one of the pitchers will go away. And while sending down Aviles can and should stick in the craw of anyone invested in the outcome of another Royals season, if you take the long view, you can accept that, at least in Omaha he'll get playing time to solidify the obvious, instead of having to watch worse players play from the bench.

Which brings us to the odious, correctable issue, the self-inflicted wound that is within the Royals' power to heal.* My favorite aphorism, by some accounts Scottish, goes, "He who can't be ruled by the rudder, must be ruled by the rocks." Which brings me to my topic: the lamentable Yuniesky Betancourt, bane of the sky blue boys who lack blue skies. Having made the mistake of trading for Betancourt, you can accept that the Royals aren't just being patient, they're whole-hog Braudelian when it comes to wading through the endless seasonal slog it might take to find that one good year Betancourt might have in him. Braudel had to be imprisoned to have the time to write his masterpiece, La Méditerranée; Royals fans only feel imprisoned while having to witness Dayton Moore's.

But until that happy day, the day when the Royals belatedly realize that Betancourt's one of the Cubans you didn't want to wind up with, and until the capacity to make a snap judgment based on the realization that Betancourt will never become that player, the only way they'll learn is by steering past all of the now too-obvious navigation hazards and wrecking themselves. Once that's done, they can patch things up easily enough with Aviles; having sent him to Omaha, they know where he is. All they'll have lost is money, and what they may have gained is a bit of wisdom. It does Aviles' career no favors in the meantime, of course, but this year's iteration of the Ken Phelps All-Stars just found its shortstop—what, you thought it should be Luis Hernandez?

*: Careful readers might notice the thoroughly useless metaphor. The Royals can heal themselves... by touching themselves? You will no doubt respond, "But they're already screwing around unproductively.” Point taken, dear reader. Welcome to the mystery of Kansas City baseball.

 


SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted OF-L Ryan Langerhans to Tacoma (Triple-A). [4/12]
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed C-L Miguel Montero on the 15-day DL (sprained knee); recalled C-R John Hester from Reno (Triple-A). [4/11]

Will already covered the details on Montero's situation this a.m. Beyond the obvious case of giving thanks for little things—like not acting on all of the rumors over whether or not they want or should deal Chris Snyder—the more basic problem is that the Snakes just lost more slugging than you might think. What had been an evenly split set-up in terms of four lefty-batting regulars and four from the right now leans slightly right, and Snyder's career clips against right-handed pitching (.223/.315/.377 overall) only look vaguely playable because of his home venue and a big chunk of intentional walks from his duties batting eighth. While Kelly Johnson is coming off a great week and we all expect big things from Justin Upton, the Snakes were already projected to finish in a tie for 14th in True Average. That's not going to get better with Montero gone for at least a month, and with Adam LaRoche going through his usual early-season Rip Van Winkle routine, and Stephen Drew and Chris Young needing to get on with it already and enjoy the careers we've been waiting on for longer than anyone cares to remember, the Snakes' offensive situation could become as precarious as their rotation. And as their happy opening-season matchups betray, they won't get to pad stats against the Pirates all season.

 


CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned 3B-L Juan Francisco to Louisville (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Mike Leake from Louisville; designated LHP Pedro Viola for assignment. [4/11]

On a day of debuts on minor-league fields—with a nation's eyes on Altoona to see something snappier than its everyday curve—it was almost the perfect way for Leake to make his own, relatively low-key pro debut. This wasn't a surprising development, but compared to Aroldis Chapman or Stephen Strasburg, Leake was just a first-round draft choice signed to just a $2.27 million bonus—nothing, nothing! Besides which, he's a relatively finished product, so breaking him out of the box is about as anticlimactic as Christmas without wrapping paper.

If anything, we can hope that the fact that he's not exactly dominant and all-world wonderful will be his best defense, in that he'll have the virtue of not being Mark Prior, of having to get pulled out of games earlier, of not tempting Dusty Baker to push when he can just accept what the Arizona State star can deliver. See, I just talked myself into it... except that critics will rightly note that Dusty didn't settle for a fine six-inning, 81-pitch, one-run game. The debut wasn't pretty, as Leake was wild with all six of his pitches (if you credit him with three kinds of fastballs, a sinker, cutter, and four-seam), walking seven in 6 2/3 innings. Workload worriers will also note that Baker had the perfect opportunity to hook Leake in the bottom of the sixth, when he was leading off, down 1-0 on the scoreboard. In Baker's defense, Leake's not your average weak-waving pitcher at the plate, having hit well in college, so why burn a pinch hitter? Sure enough, Leake singled, the sort of reinforcement you can charge positively or negatively, but Leake might have matched his average of pitches per inning next time on the bump, and gotten through seven having thrown less than 100 pitches, probably pleasing everybody, right? But then the risks came home to roost in the seventh, as he labored through 26 pitches before getting hooked before the inning ended after a pair of walks and a wild pitch.

The fact that he's here now makes the way things play out from here that much more interesting. I'll admit that, in picking the Reds to finish second this season, the depth of the team's pitching in general and the rotation in particular played a big part in my thinking. With Leake up, and Travis Wood and perhaps Chapman as well not far off, and Edinson Volquez due back for the stretch run, that's a lot of reinforcements with talent on top of a rotation that already looks good. A cynic might suggest that it's enough talented pitching that perhaps not even Dusty Baker can burn through it all, but let's see how it plays out in the weeks and months to come. It's clear he's not treating his younger hurlers with kid gloves early. Homer Bailey's inefficiency in his first turn is reflective of the wildness that's automatically associated with him; that wasn't the last five-inning, hundred-plus pitch effort we'll see from him, no matter who's skippering the Reds. Johnny Cueto threw 109 pitches in his first turn, and 110 last night. While not all 100-pitch outings are created equal—you need to add the function of time to give that number weight—I've said in the past that 120 can be seen as the new 100, and with Dusty charging his charges with these kinds of workloads this early, it gets one to wondering what he'll be asking of them come June or July.

 


NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Sean Green on the 15-day DL (intercostal strain); purchased the contract of LHP Raul Valdes from Buffalo (Triple-A); designated RHP Clint Everts for assignment. [4/11]

Green's dispatch to the DL elicited some mocking surprise among local media types in the press box before the game, suggesting that what was strained was the relationship, not the man's intercostal whoziwhatsits dorsi. Be that as it may, they just gave the well-traveled Cuban Valdes his big break to serve as both a left-handed extender and erstwhile specialist, and the Mets promptly pressed him into action on Sunday without cause for regret.

What might instead be cause for regret is the decision to have given Everts a big-league contract back in December, when 40-man roster spots are at a premium. Not that there isn't a good reason to wish Everts well—the former Expos first-rounder from 2002 is one of the four pitchers picked before Zack Greinke, joining Bryan Bullington, Chris Gruler, and Adam Loewen to form an ill-starred quartet. He has the additional misfortune of being one of the minority of pitchers who don't bounce back all that effectively from TJS. And for all that, he's still plugging away at it, he had a good season in the Nats' system last season, and he won't turn 26 until August. He could be a find, certainly, but he also might have been someone you could sign to a tasty split deal; the Rule 5 draft was already out of the way by the time he signed, after all.

 


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RHP Joel Hanrahan from the 15-day DL; purchased the contract of LHP Brian Burres from Indianapolis (Triple-A); optioned RHP Daniel McCutchen to Indianapolis; designated RHP Hayden Penn for assignment. [4/12]

You might wonder if this is an unfair bit of example-making of McCutchen after one blowout loss, but that's not the case. Instead, if anything it looks like a good bit of roster management. The Bucs already made a point of keeping Zack Duke on four days' rest this season, pushing McCutchen's debut until after Duke's second start, thanks to last week's day off. Add in further empty days on Tax Day and next Monday, and they won't need a fifth starter until sometime next week.

McCutchen could come back sooner than that, though, if needed; with Ross Ohlendorf needing to beg off making Monday night's start because of a sneak attack by a soft bed on his back, the Bucs needed to haul in somebody to take his turn—and any claim Penn might have made on it, he'd already blown by making a lousy and now brief impression. So the start goes to Burres, because he's available and disposable; he may not be on the roster long enough to wear his uni a second time before he's back in Indiana. If Ohlendorf has to go to the DL, the Buccos will be free to bring back McCutchen to take his next turn inside the usual 10-day window that a demotion normally has to last—in all cases save injury.

Now, sure, McCutchen will never be a great major-league pitcher, but he could eventually stick as a back-end rotation guy, and that's all he's being asked to be here. That's a limited upside, but such is the story with most of the people acquired in the tear-down of the Kid McClatchy franchise that, for all its efforts, only achieved Nutting. Well, that, and a pretty ballpark, and that's something.

Meanwhile, the 'pen has Hanrahan back, ready to accumulate holds and all that excitement that gets attached to that. To be fair, the Pitt pen's not really that shabby a unit. Veterans like Octavio Dotel, Brendan Donnelly, and Javier Lopez are worth having around, Hanrahan and Evan Meek are reliably interesting projects for at least another year or two, and D.J. Carrasco is not the worst middle-innings sponge to have around. Taken as a whole, there's some late-July trade value there, while also providing a good enough pen to do a perfunctory job of supporting the starters. That's not the same thing as a great pen, but it should be competent. Pittsburgh has to take progress where it can find it, and competence is certainly a step in the right direction.

 


SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Chris Young on the 15-day DL (shoulder tightness), retroactive to 4/7; recalled RHP Adam Russell from Portland (Triple-A). [4/12]

OK, so he's not in full operating order, again, but as Paul DePodesta pointed out, this was very much a case of being sensibly cautious, since they were already looking at a missed turn for the big man. They should have Russell on the roster for the better part of a week at the least, and when the time comes to select a spot starter over the weekend, they'll have the flexibility to do some shuffling.

As for any anguish over this, the thing to remember is that Young's a relatively rare sort of pitcher, in that there aren't a lot of 6'10" starting pitchers running around. For all of the speculation that Randy Johnson would burn out early because we'd never seen anything like him, he didn't, proof positive that we shouldn't jump to conclusions. If karma's demand is that Young pays twice over whatever setbacks were supposed to leave the Big Unit in history's cabinet of curiosities, that's hardly fair, but this latest breakdown should only reconfirm the extent to which individual pitchers are just that, individual. The game's had great short pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux; it's also had bad short pitchers. It's had great tall pitchers, occasionally useful tall pitchers (say, Mike Smithson or Mark Hendrickson), and awful tall pitchers.

The long and short of it is that, on the extremes, you're going to find fewer examples, and any generalizations you make about the group are going to be foolhardy. Young's proven ill-starred at least, and that has less to do with simply being tall or a Padre than just being Chris Young and a professional baseball player. Given the team's sensible caution, I wouldn't give up any hope for a solid bounce-back campaign for him.

 


WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed UT-R Mike Morse on the 15-day DL (calf strain); optioned RHP Garrett Mock to Syracuse (Triple-A); recalled OF-L Roger Bernadina from Syracuse (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Livan Hernandez from Syracuse. [4/11]

I ran through many of the factors in play on Sunday, as the Nats planned on Livan large all along. The leftovers from this decision tree are two-fold. First, there's the question of why they ever handed Mock a rotation slot in the first place; there may be no immutable laws of roster management engraved on any tablets anywhere, but giving a guy one start at the start of the season before breaking off the commitment sort of cheapens the institution of pre-season promises, like it was something disposable, like a vote of confidence, or marriage. The promise may have been made, but in their hearts, the Nats were just waiting to hitch their wagon to Scott Olsen, which they will come this very Thursday. That might last until June, maybe even July—this is a lot bigger than K-Fed, folks.

The other question is whether Bernadina was the guy to go with after Morse got hurt while they're also limping along without Ryan Zimmerman. However, with Willie Harris and Adam Kennedy both able to play third base, and with the 40-man full up after adding Livan, it wasn't like they had that much incentive to purchase the contract of someone like Eric Bruntlett, especially since the problem's temporary, and later this summer they'll have to sort out who loses his space once Stephen Strasburg's ready for the big-league stage, or once Chien-Ming Wang and eventually Jesus Flores have to come back off the 60-day DL. Bernadina had the twin benefits of getting out to a good start at Syracuse and already being on the 40-man, and if Harris gets featured more prominently in the infield mix, then a lefty-hitting outfielder to keep Willy Taveras and Kennedy out of the everyday lineup doesn't sound like such a bad idea.


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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