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April 26, 2010

Transaction Action

An AL Quartet

by Christina Kahrl

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LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed C-R Jeff Mathis on the 15-day DL (broken hand); recalled 4C-R Robb Quinlan from Salt Lake (Triple-A). [4/20]
Activated LHP Brian Fuentes from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Francisco Rodriguez to Salt Lake. [4/21]
Placed C-R Bobby Wilson on the 15-day DL (concussion, strained ankle); recalled C-R Ryan Budde from Salt Lake. [4/24]

Last year's saves leader or no, Fuentes' return to action was immediately punctuated with a Johnny Storm-like cry of "Flame On!" Now, with speculation that the equally combustible Fernando Rodney might be tapped for the odd save opportunity, you can expect a scramble of panic in the fantasy markets, but the more significant issue is whether or not this tactical freedom of action for Mike Scioscia will prove liberating. For myself, I like the possibilities that this "problem" could become a source of strength.

Now some might argue that, in the abstract, Rodney and Fuentes aren't exactly the guys proponents of a closer-by-committee would propose. Fair enough, I'll buy that: Fuentes' strikeout rate dropped below 20 percent last year, and his unintentional walk rate's nearing 10 percent, and Rodney was already there. Their defenders could rightly note that last season Rodney ranked in the top 10 per WXRL, and Fuentes in the top 40 (league-leading saves tally or no). Selecting one stat risks making the mistake of thinking the Angels have a power tandem in the making. Broaden your choices, and you get a more nuanced picture of how the two performed last season. Ranking them by Adjusted Runs Prevented, the Angels' pair of save accumulators aren't exactly capital-C closers:

Guy UBBr SOr FRA SIERA ARP Rank
Fuentes 9.1% 19.0% 3.91 4.38 7.6 84
Rodney 11.2% 18.2% 4.26 4.26 4.8 119

If a closer's supposed to shut people down, what the Angels have are a pair of veteran relievers who are a bit wild, more defense-dependent than most shut-down relievers, and thus a lot more likely to cough up runs. That's survivable and manageable if you employ them to best effect by playing matchups. Resorting to a role-sharing solution almost automatically requires having imperfect options on hand in the first place. And, as the Red Sox discovered when they tried to create a committee, doing so by design just invites controversy and headlines and media-related distractions, repeating the observer's paradox that handicaps so much tactical discretion in today's game.

But if instead of designing a committee you fall into one, perhaps that can be framed as an understandable adaptation to the talent on hand. It may not be the perfect situation, but by providing Scioscia with the opportunity to use his two "30 saves guys" by matchup instead of formulaically by inning or some abstract sense of precedence, it might work out better than it would by assigning his two closer types defined roles. Both have the virtue of experience pitching as set-up men before, and both have already got the security of the considerable coin they're making in Anaheim.

Meanwhile, behind the plate, with Mathis out until some point in June (early or in the middle), this might represent a bit of redemption for Mike Napoli. Mathis' uncharacteristic hot hitting or Napoli's slack bat in the early going aside, the Halos won't be hurting on offense as a result of this switch. The real question is whether or not Scioscia's reservations over Napoli's defense create all that much playing time for whichever non-Napoli backstop is on the roster in the meantime. It's a setback for Wilson that, because of his getting his clock cleaned at home plate Friday night, he's out of action so soon after moving a rung up the depth chart. Wilson may not be a hard-hitting batsman, but Budde's bat has even less to offer. However, Budde's a strong-armed catch-and-throw type, and should at least provide Napoli with a good defensive caddy.


BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Brad Bergesen to Norfolk (Triple-A); recalled LHP Alberto Castillo from Norfolk. [4/20]
Claimed LHP Pedro Viola off waivers from the Reds, and optioned him to Norfolk; transferred OF-L Felix Pie from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/21]
Optioned 2B-R Justin Turner to Norfolk; recalled 1B-L Rhyne Hughes from Norfolk. [4/24]

The O's won't need a fifth starter until the weekend, so Bergesen went out with the Tides after a trio of disaster starts, having earned the demotion. The question now is whether he's first choice to come back to man the slot, since Chris Tillman spun a nice eight-inning, three-run game on Friday, while Jake Arrieta's given up just two runs total in four turns, striking out 23 in 25 innings while allowing exactly that many baserunners, with 13 hits and 10 walks. While the O's can skip the fifth slot until Saturday, they could move up the decision on the basis of the next scheduled turns of any of the three: Tillman's next start on four days' rest would be on Wednesday, Arrieta's on Thursday, and Bergesen's on Friday, but as the decision to bring up Hughes reflects, the O's aren't going to settle for bad work indefinitely.

Which brings up the more immediately interesting decision, to bring up Hughes less than three weeks into the season. Whatever Garrett Atkins' virtues as a veteran ballplayer, you don't get to play first base for very long these days slugging less than .300 (not unless you're Pete Rose, at any rate). As maddening as it might be to some to see the Orioles belatedly recognize the predictable—that a Coors-inflated 30-year-old coming off a bad year was a bad bet to thrive in the strongest division in the stronger circuit—all that's really been lost in the big picture is money. Call it trickle-down economics—it's cash that has gone from Big Tobacco or Orioles fans to Peter Angelos to Garrett Atkins. That's nice for him, and if you're upset about it, focus less on the money than the oddity of the decision itself. Atkins was a bad choice from day one; the fact that he's at risk of losing his job now is just the risk that was inherent to employing him in the first place.

So, in a desperate quest for a hot hand, it's the turn of a reward for swapping out Gregg Zaun last summer. Although Hughes is heading into his age-26 season and so happens to be younger than Garrett Jones, I wouldn't nominate him to be the next Jones, or even the next Jim Traber if you want to keep it local. Nevertheless, he has his uses: he's a good glove at first base, and his combined clip of .285/.353/.516 against right-handers in Double- and Triple-A last season suggests some measure of platoon value, at least relative to Atkins. Now that they know that Pie's gone for months, they're also sorting between Luke Scott, Nolan Reimold, and now Montanez as well between the left field and DH slots. The problem at all three of these lineup slots is that their cold start could reinforce their indecisiveness in selecting from among their options. Scott's potential trade value and Reimold's anticipated long-term value to the franchise should be the key considerations, but when you're 3-16 and handicapped by the worst offensive production in the league (their team TAv is .227), it's easy to get wrapped up in the disaster of the present.


BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed CF-R Mike Cameron on the 15-day DL (sports hernia); placed OF-L Jacoby Ellsbury on the 15-day DL (broken ribs), retroactive to 4/12; recalled CF-L Josh Reddick from Pawtucket (Triple-A); purchased to contract of OF-R Darnell McDonald from Pawtucket; traded LHP Andrew Dobies to the White Sox for future considerations. [4/20]
Acquired OF-L Jonathan Van Every from the Pirates for a PTBNL; optioned CF-L Josh Reddick to Pawtucket; designated RHP Santo Luis for assignment. [4/24]

It's worth remembering that the impact of this outfield wipeout is easily overstated, and that the damage was minimized by Theo Epstein's moves in the past—notably by getting Jeremy Hermida to add depth back on Guy Fawkes Day—and present. Jacoby Ellsbury's a name because he's in Boston and a former top prospect and all that, but the margins between Ellsbury's projected production in 2010 (.270 TAv) and Hermida's (.265) is negligible. Add in to that the fact that Ellsbury's defensive value is a bit on the dodgy side. Even swapping from Ellsbury to Marco Scutaro in the leadoff slot isn't some major setback in any way other than those relying on Ellsbury's stolen-base tallies in their fantasy leagues. It's not a happy event, of course, and Ellsbury was off to a good start, but the Sox should be covered in terms of what they can reasonably expect during his absence.

Cameron's absence is the one that might have greater impact because of his defensive value, but if the latest positive reports on his comeback are true, he might be back in action at some point next week, keeping his absence right around the minimum. Even so, as minor-league journeyman Darnell McDonald's homering in his first two starts reflects, a brief absence of their regular in center doesn't necessarily mean the Sox are unmanned in the meantime. In re-acquiring their former farmhand in Van Every, they resorted for something easy and familiar as an alternative, since they know him, he has the range for center, and he has some lefty sock to provide as an alternative to Old McDonald in a loose platoon in center in the meantime. For prospect mavens, it's mildly disappointing that they didn't use this as an opportunity to take a longer look at their future in center by playing Reddick, but that's defensible as well. He was off to an awful start with the PawSox, and if McDonald had already made enough of an initial splash to claim a significant chunk of the playing time during Cameron's brief absence, having Reddick around to split time wasn't the best way to get a top prospect back on track at the plate.

The real offensive questions in the meantime are the ones where Boston's doom truly rests: if David Ortiz and J.D. Drew struggle all season, it's going to be tough to keep up with the Yankees and Rays. Replacing Ellsbury and Cameron is in part easy because they're not irreplaceable; lose one or the other for any considerable length of time, and it makes Hermida an everyday player without too much of a hit. Drew's slow start is just one of those things that three weeks of playing time generates for any regular, but Ortiz's precipitous decline could be that additional hit they can't afford to take. Hermida or Mike Lowell can be improvements on what Ortiz is doing now, but not on what Ortiz was expected to deliver, whether in terms of slugging well into the .500s against righties, or a TAv in the .280-.290 range.


CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired LHP Andrew Dobies from the Red Sox for future considerations. [4/20]
CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned OF-L Michael Brantley to Columbus (Triple-A). [4/19]
Activated 1B-L Russell Branyan from the 15-day DL. [4/20]

Through discovery, Robert Boyle proved that the true source of absolute cold was not some primum frigidum, as Aristotle would have had it, but the great 17th-century scientist wasn't familiar with the elements employed in this year's Indians offense. Brantley's stone-cold start made this a straightforward enough proposition as far as who had to lose his job once Branyan, TTO hero par excellence, was ready to retun, but that's not to say the Tribe doesn't still have problems on offense. Matt LaPorta moved back out to left field in Brantley's place, but LaPorta's not been much better at the plate, whether you're measuring by True Average or Kelvin when it comes to sorting out who's closest to absolute zero. If you'd suggested that, three weeks into the season, Austin Kearns would lead the team in starts in left field, you might be understandably concerned that this was a symptom of something amiss. While I've already made one suggestion for a fix behind the plate, the problem in the outfield isn't nearly so simple. LaPorta's supposed to be the solution, and if he doesn't inspire confidence soon, the Tribe could find itself fishing around for alternatives. If Kearns is the standard to improve upon, that's too easy, when the expectation was that LaPorta would finally fulfill the expectations long held for him, instead of becoming a roster echo of Andy Marte.


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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