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April 16, 2010

Transaction Action

North of the Border

by Christina Kahrl

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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed LHP Mike Gonzalez on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 4/10. [4/14]
Recalled RHP Kam Mickolio from Norfolk (Triple-A). [4/15]

Gonzalez is already expected to be out three weeks, so we're talking about a return in May, whether a rehab stint runs concurrently or subsequently to his recovery. So, save ops for Jim Johnson in the meantime, with the subsequent fantasy scramble. More significantly, it's cause for mild alarm that this is a shoulder, when his past problems were with his elbow and knee. Given his own off-season decisions regarding his bullpen in Atlanta, you can understand if ex-O's exec Frank Wren offers a timely tsk at their already considerable expense.

Beyond the ballclub, there's the question of what people are supposed to take from this latest mishap, since signing Gonzalez was held up as an example of organizational progress. If it was supposed to be a bit of positive spin in December for a club already on the upswing, what does his early-season breakdown do for them? It isn't like their winter and spring were entirely non-controversial: they signed Garrett Atkins early for plenty, for example, and that's turning out as badly as you'd expect, even if we are shy of two weeks of play. They also traded for Kevin Millwood, with eventual repercussion of a Norfolk assignment for ready-as-he'll-ever-be Chris Tillman. Those three moves represent the core of their major elective decision-making this past winter, and none of it's looking especially good right now.

Eventually, of course, they might still be able to flip a healthy Gonzalez at the deadline, since he's under contract for 2011 as well. But his value in such a deal just took a hit, because this is the sort of additional injury that keeps sensible clubs seeing him through lenses a darker shade of red than rose. More likely, I won't be surprised if they keep him, and use that to send a message that they're committed to their commitments. That might sound trite, but that can be as important in the clubhouse or in the hot stove league.


BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Claimed RHP Santo Luis off waivers from the White Sox, and optioned him to Portland (Double-A); transferred SS-S Jed Lowrie from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/14]
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Transferred LF-R Chris Pettit from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/13]
Placed LHP Brian Fuentes on the 15-day DL (strained back), retroactive to 4/6; optioned RHP Bobby Cassevah from the 15-day DL; activated OF-S Reggie Willits from the 15-day DL; purchased the contract of RHP Francisco Rodriguez from Salt Lake (Triple-A). [4/14]
Activated LHP Scott Kazmir from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-R Terry Evans to Salt Lake. [4/15]

No sooner do the Angels have their ducks in a row in the rotation and on the bench, than they manage to lose one of their late-game relievers. It shouldn't be a shattering loss, in that Fuentes could be back late next week, so Fernando Rodney's spin as the club's equally frightening closer should come to a quick end. There's the amusement that they have Non-KRod in the pen to breed confusion among their foes, but he's not going to fix a pen that, in the early going, joins those of three other expected contenders in 26th through 29th place in team FRA. (The Royals have already assumed their natural position at the very bottom, contributing to reported speculation that there's a shakeup coming. Who better to blame, the bullpen, or the men who built it?)

As for fixing up the rotation, Kazmir's first start was ghastly, with seven extra-base hits allowed in four innings, plus a trio of walks. Still, it was while facing the Yankees in Yankee Stadium, pretty much the antithesis of a soft landing, and with just seven called strikes and more than a few bad breaks on called balls, I wouldn't say it represented anything more telling than an especially rough day at the office. Kazmir's track record against the Yankees was evenly split before, with seven quality starts in 14 spins, good against the Yankees, but not great in the broad strokes. However, that he got clobbered in his first turn back becomes one of now several sources of discontent. It might only be 10 games, but for an Angels team with a lot of things amiss, it becomes another thing for people to latch onto and worry about.

Which brings me to my foibles, since I have them as well. I'm less surprised that Evans slipped through waivers than I was that Wladimir Balentien did, given that he's already 28 and has merely bopped with the benefit of Utah's high country as his home. Take him away from the Buzz, and PECOTA savages him, a reflection of the fact that it's a hitters' park in a hitters' league, and he's a player purportedly at his peak. It isn't shocking that he's been shipped out with Willits healthy and ready to resume his place as the club's fourth outfielder.

Given Mike Scioscia's predilections, it also shouldn't be a surprise that he wound up keeping his unused third catcher, Bobby Wilson, instead of an unused right-handed-hitting outfielder. This gets stranger still when it isn't as if Mike Napoli's injured—he's just out of favor, and not getting many at-bats himself. The other way of looking at it is that if they plan on using their third catcher more than a right-handed caddy for Bobby Abreu in right. Either way, it's a roster spot not seeing a lot of use, but the significance of such a thing is dwarfed by the potential ramifications of a decision to bench Napoli. If the Angels play also-ran far into the season, you would have to anticipate there's a market for him this summer. Think it's unlikely? Since he was a super-two player, next winter would be his third spin through arbitration, and at $3.6 million, he's already a bit pricey if he's going to be riding pine on the basis of the organization's exaggerated faith in Jeff Mathis. If the Angels' summer turns into an exercise of commoditizing the parts to retool for the future, two-plus years of team control on Napoli might fetch them something in terms of talent.


TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed C-R Kelly Shoppach on the 15-day DL (sprained knee), retroactive to 4/11; recalled C-L John Jaso from Durham (Triple-A). [4/13]

Since the expectation is that Shoppach will only miss the minimum allotment of time, this is less of a positive opportunity for Dioner Navarro than a potential threat, a menacing gift from Fortuna*, as capricious as she is generous. (Just ask Ignatius J. Reilly, Fortuna's not someone you want to cross.) In Shoppach's absence, Navarro's going to be back on the regular grind, and might reasonably be expected by his employers to do something to keep his portion of the job-share behind the plate intact than it is for him to win a larger share of playing time. If he keeps struggling to post any rate stat above .300, that's only going to risk ceding some part of his share once Shoppach's back at month's end, because the balance between Navarro's good times and bad is already leaning toward the bad as is.

As for Jaso, his prospect window's already shut; a nice 2007 season with the Biscuits (.280 TAv) has been followed with a double dose of disappointment, first in a return campaign in Alabama and then a brief Bullish cameo in '08, and then in a full season in Triple-A in 2009. Now in his age-26 campaign, his primary virtues are that he's left-handed, and can hit better than many backup catchers, but his receiving skills are such that he's best as a backup to a better receiver who bats right-handed, to face the right-handers with particular problems with lefties; he doesn't have a big platoon split himself. It makes him a nice reserve to either Shoppach or Navarro, since the latter's so much stronger against lefties, and leaves the Rays covered in case they lose either for any length of time, but it's an opportunity to be a nice backup, not to threaten the established big-league tandem.

*: No, not this Fortuna.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed 2B-R Aaron Hill on the 15-day DL (hamstring), retroactive to 4/8; purchased the contract of OF-L Jeremy Reed from Las Vegas (Triple-A). [4/12]
Signed SS-R Adeiny Hechevarria to a four-year, $10 million contract. [4/13]
Claimed 3B-R Shawn Bowman off waivers from the Mets, and optioned him to Las Vegas. [4/14]
Acquired OF-L Fred Lewis from the Giants for future considerations; transferred RHP Dustin McGowan from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/15]
Optioned OF-L Jeremy Reed to Las Vegas (Triple-A). [4/16]

In terms of talent acquired, it takes no special brain power or capacity for observation to suggest that getting Lewis is unreservedly good news for the Jays. As noted above in the Giants' segment, he's pegged for a TAv in the .270s, and with a career walk rate right at 10 percent, he'll be a nice alternative in the outfield to Jose Bautista, both leading off and playing in a corner. His arm's a bit short for right, and his power is just barely above notional, but beggars can't be choosers, and the Jays are very much in the business of begging for position-playing help these days, what with long-service minor-league journeymen like Randy Ruiz and Mike McCoy peopling the roster.

The real dilemma? Playing him. The Jays are saying the appropriate, polite things, as far as saying that Lewis isn't guaranteed a starting role, and endorsing their current crew—in comments to the Fourth Estate, what else are they supposed to do? Throw Bautista under the bus, but ask him to enjoy the view from below (and the bench)? The real worry in some quarters is that they're being skippered by the same man who, in 1994, given a choice between a young Carlos Delgado or a young Shawn Green, picked Darnell Coles and Mike Huff. The man who is also last manager to play Joe Carter in center field. It's easy to cherry-pick those sorts of facts and bang on Gaston; I spent a good part of the '90s doing so.

But this is different from those things, in that Lewis is already an established veteran, so it won't be a case of another kid getting a dent in his future, courtesy of the mean old skeptical skipper. Another bad few weeks for Travis Snider, though, is another matter entirely. It's also worth remembering that Gaston's done a reasonably good job of keeping a few key bench players active in the past; think Jacob Brumfield in the '90s or Bautista and Kevin Millar last season. He may not be Ron Gardenhire, but he's neither is he Ralph Houk in terms of picking his nine and then taking a full-season nap. A rotation where Bautista and Lewis both play plenty doesn't seem very far-fetched. The risk of an outfield with Lewis in left and Bautista in right and Snider in Las Vegas, unfortunately, might also not be very far-fetched.

The neediness for position-playing help is evidenced in the other two additions in the week that was, the signing of Hechevarria and the decision to claim Bowman. Exacerbating the need was the example of losing Hill, which we'll take last. Considering that the balance of the position players on the 40-man roster but not on the active roster are Reed, Jarrett Hoffpauir (a waivers claim from the Cardinals), and former Cubs blue-chip washout Brian Dopirak, you can see the need for bodies.

To put the least matter first, Bowman's a Canadian, which understandably counts for something north of the border. He was on both the Canadian WBC and World Cup clubs last season. He's also missed parts of each of the last three seasons with back problems, requiring surgery in '07 that cost him most of the year. He's not especially young, as this is his age-25 season, and he's perhaps more of a platoon bat than anything. You can squint and hope for a Ron Coomer sort of career, but that's the longshot upside of a national product perhaps best suited for enlistment as an organizational soldier.

The lone exception as far as retreaded leftovers from other people's outfits is Cuban import Adeiny Hechevarria. A mere 21 years old with a slick-fielding rep, we'll have to see how much he'll hit, but initial translations of his brief experience of his work in Castro country puts him in Rey Ordonez territory. That said, he is just 21, and Alex Anthopolous suggested that he could show more power once he learns how to pull, since he's more of an inside-out swinger so far. While a skeptic would suggest that all this does is say that the Jays have managed to find John McDonald's replacement, we'll see what Hechevarria does with a timetable that should put him in Double-A by season's end. If nothing else, I like the move as a reflection of an active push to improve their lot by actively pushing their way into markets usually associated with bigger spenders, rather than just strap in for the slow, frequently quiet victories in player development. It's interesting that Hechevarria's a Jay and Miguel Sano's a Twin, but that's more a topic for Kevin Goldstein than me.

Which brings us up to the unhappy present, with Hill shelved. The good news is that he's already ticketed for a rehab assignment and should be back in time for next weekend. In the meantime, they've alternated McCoy and McDonald at the keystone, settling for glovely contributions while enjoying the benefit of Alex Gonzalez's convincing two-week impression of a young Miguel Tejada—or Hill. In short, it's a just two-week absence, and a club can ride that sort of thing out in any one of a number of ways. The fact that Gonzo got hot while Hill recuperated was happy circumstance. Now, if Gonzalez keeps slugging once Hill returns, we might talk about something more than 10 games in the funhouse, but in the meantime, it hasn't proved the devastating setback you might have thought at first glance. It's the nature of the season's grind, and getting Hill back in short order is one of those survivable, manageable in-season issues.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded OF-L Fred Lewis to the Blue Jays for future considerations. [4/15]

Bouncing Lewis was inevitable, and it's debatable over whether they chose the right guys or the wrong guys to play in right field, but it's a somewhat pointless exercise. Between Lewis, John Bowker, Nate Schierholtz, Eugenio Velez, and Andres Torres, you couldn't keep all of them in the age of the seven-man bullpen. It's noteworthy that the four keepers have already played in right field, and we're less than two weeks into the season, but initially, they've really just run with a Bowker/Torres platoon, switching in Velez and Schierholtz on double switches. From that quintet (Lewis included), only Bowker was optionable, so moving anybody else risks losing talent. Most of them wouldn't pass through waivers; Torres might, but the other four could be seen as grab-worthy, depending on who needs what and when.

Consider their projections:

Dude Age AVG/OBP/SLG TAv
Lewis 29 .271/.349/.427 .274
Bowker 26 .278/.353/.480 .288
Schierholtz 26 .288/.333/.469 .275
Torres 32 .230/.306/.406 .251
Velez 28 .278/.324/.422 .261

It might look easy to suggest they picked the wrong guy, but there are a couple of worthwhile additional notes. Positionally, Velez doubles as a backup at second base, which matters a little while Freddy Sanchez is on the DL; Torres can play a good center, which also matters because Lewis, Bowker, and Schierholtz are all really just corner outfielders (indeed, Bowker might be best employed at DH). Lewis, Bowker, and Schierholtz all bat lefty, while Torres and Velez both switch-hit, and Torres was much more productive against left-handed pitchers, especially last season.

The solution, to move Lewis, really boils down to an inability to pick between Bowker and Schierholtz. There is also the strange grip Velez has over people's imaginations to explain, but that probably defies rational explanation; his playing second base is hardly unique among Giants corner outfielders, what with Mark DeRosa manning left field. If they offered around Schierholtz and found no takers, wouldn't that help suggest who they ought to have around? Lewis might have been the oldest, but as a more patient hitter as well as someone with some speed, he could have provided Bruce Bochy with some different looks in his lineup, at least letting him swap Aaron Rowand out of the leadoff slot now and again.

Instead, the Giants get pick between the lefty-hitting power guy who hits for more power versus the one who fields slightly better. It hardly represents a vote of confidence in Bowker, and it just puts off a probable decision between the two until later. That's because, one way or another, they'll be revisiting this particular problem once Freddy Sanchez is ready to come off the Disabled List. One of these four or Travis Ishikawa will have to go; Ishikawa's also out of options, so once again, Bowker's the only player in a new group of five that they can send to Fresno without any concern for freeing him.

In the end, this was about timing. If Sanchez wasn't on the DL in the first place, the reckoning would have already come, and the Giants wouldn't have the courage of their conviction that Bowker's their starting right fielder until they decided Schierholtz could be instead. Instead, it was delayed, and gave the Giants an excuse to punt a third lefty-batting outfielder they were already down on despite his usefulness and despite their lineup's OBP issues, and despite the expectation that they'll finish toward the back end of the league in runs scored, in no small part because of that problem with getting people on base.


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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