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April 15, 2010

Transaction Action

Senior Shuffle

by Christina Kahrl

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CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Esmailin Caridad on the 15-day DL (strained forearm), retroactive to 4/12; recalled RHP Jeff Gray from Iowa (Triple-A). [4/14]

I almost wonder if this is less about Caridad's apparently rather minor injury, or his performance since he's had one really bad game in four, signifying nothing. He's also been throwing hard enough in his stints. Instead, I wonder if the temporary absence he was already going to sit through hasn't been turned into an opportunity to extend the spring competition for relief help into April. They clearly prefer to avoid Jeff Samardzija after his initial disaster, and Justin Berg is in barely better odor. Since that's the full spread of right-handed relief alternatives in front of closer Carlos Marmol, bringing Gray back is a case of variety being the spice of strife. I'd worry that Gray and Samardzija are too similar for this to go all that well—two right-handed relievers who throw hard, straight heat don't automatically add up to being twice as good as one right-handed reliever who throws hard, straight heat. It's almost as if, pinioned upon the agonizingly pointed realization that Samardzija's just not all that, they're thrashing about for a solution. It'll only make matters messier.


CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted OF-R Wladimir Balentien to Louisville (Triple-A). [4/14]

It's an interesting commentary on how far Balentien's stock has fallen that he passed through waivers. Not that he's a perfect fit for anybody, but when teams like the Royals, Blue Jays, and Astros take a pass on a guy who isn't that bad a bet to slug .450 or better in the majors... except that it isn't really that good a bet. PECOTA figures that's likely just a quarter of the time. One of the other easy mistakes to make is that he's a notch older than he might seem—he'll be turning 26 in July, so he's one of those cusp-type guys who you might mistake for being younger because he's born a day after July 1. While he's a defensive asset, he's flopped pretty handily in limited samples against every kind of pitcher, and his problems with making consistent contact argue against keeping him around as a bench player. So even teams with an apparently desperate need in the outfield can afford to take a pass, suggesting that if he winds up a minor-league free agent, he and his agent will have to choose his next organization carefully.


MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated OF-R Brett Carroll from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Jose Veras for assignment; optioned UT-S Emilio Bonifacio to New Orleans (Triple-A); recalled RHP Chris Leroux from New Orleans. [4/14]

With that, the Era of Good Face ends, and just as well, because it wasn't cause for smiles. Bonifacio was already on a list of players whose playing time defies easy explanation, especially in the age of shorter benches. While his defender might have winced and claimed to see something resembling a young Pat Listach or maybe even Julio Cruz, his production last season (.228 TAv), entirely consistent with his minor-league career, makes it clear we weren't even getting a slower version of Eric Yelding. His top comp, Alexis Infante, was one of the Jays' toolsy dead-end suspects from the '80s, an infielder who, like Bonifacio, ran a little, but not a lot, because he wasn't fast enough to be truly exploitive, and wasn't on base enough to generate enough opportunities. He was done before he turned 30, hitting .255/.313/.321 in the minors with a 7.2 percent walk rate, which sounds a lot worse than Bonifacio's .285/.341/.362, except that Bonifacio was a D'backs prospect, which involves playing in bandboxes like Lancaster and Tucson, two venues where Bonifacio could and did slug higher than .352. As a low-powered hitter with a 7.5 percent walk rate in the minors, what were people expecting would happen?

While it might seem at times as if the Fish get the back end of their roster catered by Gorton's, one of the virtues of going with a parts-is-parts approach is that you can readily dispose of some in that never-ending quest to find something fresh. Carroll's certainly an upgrade on Bonifacio for outfield reserves, and with the infield boasting a trio of better-hitting infield reserves in Mike Lamb, Wes Helms, and Brian Barden, there wasn't much use for Bonifacio beyond pinch-running for the catchers or the pinch-hitters, finishing blowouts, and amusing coaches from the bench with bon mots and seed-spitting feats. You can say that tossing Bonifacio over the side is a matter of setting him free to play daily in New Orleans, but like so many things that wash up in the Big Easy, it's a mess to fish him back out of the muck, and messier still to bring him back aboard. In the world of shorter five-man benches, Carroll's easily the better fit, since all he does is, you know, hit.

The pitching staff switch is a similar case of addition by addition and well as by subtraction. Veras was something of an odd choice from the “hard-throwing young veteran with lousy track record” set, pitched as poorly as you might expect, and four games into the experience, the Marlins wisely decided they'd seen enough. Leroux can get his low-90s heat to touch the mid 90s, he mixes in a nice power slider, and if he's given a reliable amount of work, he could easily turn into a nice middle-relief asset, not unlike Tim Wood.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned LHP Mitch Stetter to Indianapolis (Triple-A); activated RHP Jeff Suppan from the 15-day DL. [4/15]

There's a grim irony to seeing Suppan return to the fold on Tax Day, since employing him has long since gone from being a writeoff to merely taxing. Consider the costs. Using him already involves deleting an effective (but optionable) situational lefty, a solution that will not endure given Stetter's utility balanced against Suppan's sole defense—the expense of employing him. Suppan did not “win” the fifth starter's job as much as have it ceded to him; outpitched by both Chris Narveson and Manny Parra, rocked in the Cactus League as reliably as he's been rocked in the past, this is an act of mutually assured destruction.

He's being given today's start against the Cubs; last year, he managed two quality starts in four against them (using runs allowed, not simply a scorer's opinion), and in his career he's managed to allow “just” 4.2 runs per nine against them—including a lot of the happier times, when he managed five in seven spins as a Cardinal. It might represent a soft-ish landing of sorts, given the Cubs' struggles, but I'd expect that the days when they'll suffer through his chuck-and-duck dealing for long are over. Stetter's demonstrably useful; Manny Parra and Chris Narveson can start. All Suppan's been able to do of late is bleed the bottom line; that they're going through the rigmarole of having his pitch and fail might be accepted practice, but what happens if he has a near-adequate sort of day against the Cubs. Say, five innings, three runs, an early hook, leading to... the opportunity to start him again? There's not much in the way of win/win here. At least if they'd already released him, they might have lucked into someone else picking him up, better still, someone in the division, so at least they could avenge their .


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed SS-S Jimmy Rollins on the 15-day DL (strained calf); purchased the contract of INF-R Wilson Valdez from Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [4/14]

Losing Rollins until some point in May is painful, to be sure, but the Phillies have certain advantages. First, as Will Carroll can tell you, they're one of the best in the business when it comes to player care—when Rollins is ready, he'll be back, because this isn't the Mets. Second, it isn't like the Braves are running all that hot. They can and at some point will, of course, but there's not much cause for alarm as long as the rest of the division is dealing yet again with the experience of looking up at the Marlins' Nelson Munz-like bullying—no, they won't make something of themselves, but they keep mocking and beating up on the teams that purportedly care more. Finish behind the Fish, as the Mets probably will, while paying nine large? Ha-ha.

There's also the convenience in that Rollins' absence gives Shane Victorino a shot at the leadoff slot, something that won't hurt the Phillies' bid in the first place. That might create the additional silver lining of Victorino settling into the role many would like to see him in anyway, but if Rollins keeps walking as well as he had in the early going, it really doesn't matter.

Unfortunately, this won't be effortless for the Phillies in the meantime. There is the nagging fact that Juan Castro's fielding numbers per Clay Davenport's work as well as Sean Smith's over on Baseball-Reference suggest that the vet's lost a few steps, not that surprising for a guy who is in his age-38 season. If Castro isn't fielding, he's got nothing to offer, but as one of Ruben Amaro Jr.'s many expensive experienced roster baubles purchased early in the offseason, they're stuck with him.

The interesting thing about it is whether or not Charlie Manuel decides to leave Juan Castro in the seventh slot that Victorino had been in, while leaving Carlos Ruiz in the eight-hole. That might seem daft because of the relative value of the two players as hitters, but keep in mind that Ruiz's value outside of Banky Bank Ballpark East is overstated—as discussed in January when he got his extension, Chooch's road clip of .238/.323/.343 are barely adequate. Employing Castro in the seventh slot minimizes the amount of shaking things up but also creates the tactical opportunity to pinch-hit for Castro; once Jayson Werth comes back from his injury, it'll be interesting to see how often Manuel uses the gambit.


ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed C-R Jason LaRue on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 4/12; recalled C-L Bryan Anderson from Memphis (Triple-A). [4/14]

Consider this a case of getting a head start on the future. Anderson may still be rough behind the plate, but he bats lefty and hits right-handers well enough that he makes a fine contender for his generation's Practically Perfect Backup Catcher status. Getting stuck behind Yadier Molina has been his unvarying destiny in the Cardinals' organization for years, but his complementary skill set might make for an excellent alternative to Yadier Molina to help the regular avoid the inevitable nicks that come with catching, and unlike LaRue, his particular strength—hitting right-handers, the easy majority of starting pitchers on the planet—makes him that much more readily employable. Anderson won't steal LaRue's job, not yet, and not with LaRue expected back at the end of the month, but if he proves useful now, he'll either have left a calling card for his employment down the stretch and as a better weapon come time to draw up post-season rosters, or have showcased himself before a few big-league scouts, enriching the stock of info on his value as a bargaining chip for a few potential partners.


WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned OF-L Roger Bernadina to Syracuse (Triple-A); recalled LHP Scott Olsen and CF-R Justin Maxwell from Syracuse; placed RHP Garrett Mock on the 15-day DL (spine injury), retroactive to 4/11; designated RHP Jason Bergmann for assignment. [4/15]

The news here is simply that the Nats look like they'll retain an eight-man bullpen after adding their latest fifth starter, coming down to 12 position players at the same time that they're dealing with Ryan Zimmerman's absence with his hamstring issue. So that gives you a three-man bench: Wil Nieves, Alberto Gonzalez, and Willy Taveras. By choice. No guns to anyone's heads or nothing.

Now, I know, this is a transient thing, and complicated by Zimmerman's absence. There is at least the benefit of having a pitcher or two in Jason Marquis and Livan Hernandez who can hit well enough to pinch-hit; they're not that much less plausible than the position playing reserves, certainly.

More basically, the decision to stick with eight relievers is a product of an unreliable rotation made even more so because Marquis' pitching a lot more like the frequent-falling low-wire Wallenda he had been before last season's remarkable All-Star spin with the Rockies. Even if (or ideally, when) Marquis improves, there's still the questions over how deep into games Craig Stammen or Olsen can get. It's a rotation where getting through five innings without creating an unwinnable ballgame is a small feat to itself. Stammen's massacre by the Phillies yesterday exacerbated this problem, as six of the team's eight relievers were called upon because, as bad as Stammen was, happy timing had the Nats up against Kyle Kendrick, cause for another exploding scoreboard. A blowout loss would have been easier in terms of roster logistics—just give Miguel Batista a three-inning spin, and maybe you use just three or four relievers on the day.

No such luck, but here again, I'd credit the Nats with at least trying to win with what little they have going for them. Even after Zimmerman comes back, using Marquis and Livan as pinch-hitters wouldn't be the worst idea in the world; they're already getting regular at-bats every fifth day, and the organization isn't exactly awash in hitting talent. It is at least a way to get full use out of all 25 slots, and considering that their seventh and eighth relievers figure to get used more often than some club's sixth, it may just be a necessary adaptation to their early-season predicament.

P.M. Update: Well, just like that, the Nats mulled things over and decided to go back to an extra bench player after all, as Zimmerman wasn't available for today's game. But will Maxwell get any real playing time? He drew today's start against J.A. Happ, with Willy Taveras riding pine against the lefty. That's progress in itself, and while Maxwell's former prospect status would seem for naught if all he winds up as is a platoon outfielder who can spot Nyjer Morgan in center, that can be a very useful player. Once Zimmerman's ready to come back into action, then we'll see which way the Nats want to go, because as things stand now, they're at 12-12-1, with a dozen pitchers and position players apiece and one roster witness until Zimmerman's capable of more than observing. As for Bergmann, he may well make it through waivers; low-90s heat sounds nice in the abstract, but he's a poor man's ROOGY who lets right-handers hit .245/.311/.427, or a lot harder than a skipper likes from a specialist. Lefties get elevated to low-ballot MVP candidates, having clobbered Bergmann at a .291/.367/.518 clip.


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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