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May 18, 2010

Transaction Action

The Upper Cust

by Christina Kahrl

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CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Sold RHP Saul Rivera to the Diamondbacks. [5/17]
Placed MI-S Asdrubal Cabrera on the 15-day DL (fractured forearm); recalled MI-R Jason Donald from Columbus (Triple-A). [5/18]

Another season and another setback for Cabrera? Well, tanjit, just when you think a guy's really arrived, he's out for another month-plus. He should be back in action come July, counting rehab work and all that, but in the meantime, the Tribe's on the spot as far as demonstrating the virtues—and the limitations—of another part of the package received for Cliff Lee last summer. Unfortunately, just as they've already discovered with Lou Marson, the danger's that they'll find that all they got in Donald is just another moderately useful fill-in type of player. Add in the struggles of Carlos Carrasco at Columbus, and Jason Knapp's ongoing recovery from shoulder surgery last fall, and that deal's only looking worse with the passage of time.

However, right now they get to see what they've got in Donald. The good news is that he seems to have shaken off the effects of last season's injury-marred campaign to hit a good clip for the Clippers in the early going this year: .277/.396/.423 and walking about 13 percent of the time, which translates to .254/.352/.388 and a .267 TAv, or very Jamey Carroll-like, right down to his swiping 10 bags in a dozen attempts. That's a decent filler player, and someone you might anticipate makes for a useful enough mix-and-match guy with Luis Valbuena and Mark Grudzielanek up the middle.

However, the impact of losing Cabrera will also be felt on defense, although different metrics suggest some difference about the extent—Cabrera's range afield at short has taken a hit in recent seasons by some measures, after all, so his reputation as a plus defender is still more that than something captured in performance metrics. However, scouting reports on Donald suggest a guy with good basic skills and sound in terms of execution but very little in the way of the tools to play shortstop with anything more than a perfunctory adequacy. Simple metrics like Range Factor, Clay Davenport's translated fielding stats, and Total Zone Fielding Runs haven't been especially kind in terms of their comments on his play at short either, and it's worth noting that he was playing second base more than shortstop for Columbus. (Anderson Hernandez was manning short more often than not down in Triple-A.) Valbuena's limited work at short doesn't grade out much better, which adds up to the suggestion that Indians pitchers won't be getting a ton of support from their infield beyond the usual wizardry on the deuce from Mark Grudzielanek.

As far as the full balance of pros and cons, it certainly seems as if Donald can make a fine case for being a part of the team's middle-infield picture into the future. With Grudz a month away from his 40th birthday, you can see how a Donald/Valbuena combo to cover second base duties and spot for Cabrera at shortstop once the latter's back from the DL would work out nicely enough, but it's a placeholding solution that differs from the previous setup only in that it adds youth and some speed—worthwhile things, but hardly game-changing for an Indians team that needs runs, ranking as it does mid-pack with just a .257 team TAv. Cabrera might have been hard-pressed to repeat last season's .286, but they won't get anything like that from whatever combination of Grudz, Donald, and Valbuena they land on to cover both middle infield slots.


DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Transferred LHP Bobby Seay from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/17]
NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RHP Chan Ho Park from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Ivan Nova to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [5/17]
Optioned OF-R Greg Golson to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; recalled RHP Mark Melancon from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [5/18]

No sooner had the activated Park than the Yankees got the pleasure of a Chan Ho No! outing, as he coughed up three runs on a pair of homers in his second inning of work. We can dicker about whether or not it was worth risking the second frame in his first game back, but keep in mind that the Yankees' bullpen isn't exactly set just yet, with Alfredo Aceves disabled, and Sergio Mitre spotting in the rotation for first Andy Pettitte and then Javier Vazquez. Both of Joe Girardi's late-game set-up options are getting pasted: David Robertson owns an ugly 8.77 FRA, and Damaso Marte's wrought havoc in situational scenarios, delivering a 7.91 FRA thanks to his staff-leading 2.9 inherited runs allowed. Add in that Robertson had pitched on both Saturday and Sunday, and you can understand how the skipper sought to squeeze a second spin out of the veteran set-up man. Besides, it isn't like Victor Martinez and Kevin Youkilis are chumps.

The issue instead is one of sorting out who should be pitching in front of Mariano Rivera, because 'Just Say Mo' won't fly as far as bridging ballgames from the sixth through the eighth. Happily, the talent's there, even absent Aceves: Joba Chamberlain's doing good work, and if Robertson and Marte continue to struggle, deadline deals for situational weapons hardly qualify as missions impossible. Even if they decide to skip shopping, there are live arms on the 40-man, and just as the team's done fine “getting by” with former no-names like Brian Bruney or Aceves or Robertson or Jose Veras or Edwar Ramirez, they won't suffer too terribly if they have to resort to Romulo Sanchez or Mark Melancon to fill up the pen.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RHP Justin Duchscherer from the 15-day DL; re-purchased the contract of DH-L Jack Cust from Sacramento (Triple-A); optioned RHP Henry Rodriguez to Sacramento; designated RHP Edwar Ramirez for assignment. [5/15]
Optioned C-R Josh Donaldson to Sacramento; returned RHP Justin Duchscherer to the 15-day DL (hip soreness); designated RHP Chad Gaudin for assignment; activated C-R Kurt Suzuki from the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Henry Rodriguez from Sacramento; purchased the contract of LHP Cedrick Bowers from Sacramento. [5/16]

Remember when the A's overhauled their training staff? And remember how yesterday's issues weren't supposed today's? Well, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. If, as Alphonse Karr also said, “Happiness is composed of misfortunes avoided,” perhaps we have to accept that some misfortunes are unavoidable because they're instinsic to those who suffer.

That may sound desperately Calvinistic, but there's not much else to say about employing the Duke at this point. It sounds as if he'll need surgery, again, and it sounds as if he's out for the year, again. More fundamentally, we know that he's broken, and given the miseries going back more to the tail end of 2008, we know that waiting around for him to be fixed up and ready to contribute is beginning to be a sad sort of echo of the back end of Rick Langford's career, if you had the misfortune of waiting for that comeback that never came. Whether the A's decide the play the waiting game again remains to be seen—it didn't cost that much this year, and it won't next winter either. Given that this is the team that let everyone from Steve Karsay to Mike Norris go out on their shields, I won't be surprised if they afford the Duke the same generous gesture, on the off chance that maybe they get some shred of what they had. I just wouldn't invest much faith in the outcome: we hope for a redemptive performance, but we can also expect disappointment.

The penalties of relying on Duchscherer go beyond his flitting in and out of existence on the mound, of course. In what became a pen start on Saturday, Tyson Ross did his bit in an emergency, while Gaudin pancaked badly enough to see his roster status squashed flat. Swapped in for him to keep the over-30 contingent in the pen fully stocked is the well-traveled Bowers, and while somebody has to go down for the inevitable call-up of a starter to replace the Duke—probably Vin Mazzaro, come Thursday's turn—it would be interesting to see what the man who's played in both the Korean and Japanese leagues can do. He's always been a bit wild, with better-than-average velocity for a lefty, while mixing in a decent curve, and he'd done happy stuff in Sacramento, striking out 26 in 17 2/3 IP, or just over 36 percent of his batters faced, while walking eight. Of course, the other easy choice to move aside for Mazzaro would be the even harder-throwing Rodriguez, and the pen does already have both Craig Breslow and Jerry Blevins from the left side. We'll see; having gone to the trouble of adding him, it would be interesting to see him do more than just suit up.

Meanwhile, for all that curdled ambition and mound mayhem, there is at least the happiness to be found in seeing Suzuki back in action, as well as the interesting decision to bring back Cust—to man left field, no less. That's somewhat understandable if you look at the collection of disjointed contributions from the men manning the outfield—the powerless Ryan Sweeney balanced against Eric Patterson's delivery of power but little else, the reintroduction of Rajai Davis to life beyond a single-season .361 BABIP, the hope that Jake Fox will hit enough at some position to merit retention, and the cipher named Gabe Gross. Despite happy talk about Coco Crisp and Mark Ellis starting rehab assignments last week, neither got into a game over the weekend, so the position-playing picture for the time being seems set, with Cust in the outfield.

That's because they're waiting on Eric Chavez at DH, of course, and Chavez is slowly doing better of late. In the meantime it means taking a defensive hit in left, but that's not the worst decision to make, given the team's desperate need for offense. But can Cust deliver it? For the River Cats, he was mostly just walking, providing just a .163 ISO while working 31 unintentionals out of opposing pitchers in 144 PAs. That's not to poor-mouth his production too much, but he remains the same player nobody else wanted, either via free agency or waivers. That the A's have again had to turn to him in their hour of need reflects less that he's going to suddenly go nuts on the league and make everyone in the universe rue the day they made him go to Sacramento as much as they're about as hard-up for hitting help as a club can get. That the situation's no different than when they bought him away from the Padres in 2007 reflects on how poorly so many other machinations have worked out. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose indeed.


TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Designated LF-R Pat Burrell for assignment; purchased the contract of 1B/3B-L Hank Blalock from Durham (Triple-A). [5/15]

So, they Rays sank the cost, having dug the shaft. Is this cause for congratulations? Appeasing the Boras always comes with benefits and hazards—I can't imagine the wrath of Burrell's agent, Greg Genske, comes with nearly the same overdrawn potential for drama and headlines—but it's their $9 million. If they've decided that Burrell was a waste of roster space after having gotten so little benefit out of signing him in the first place, that says something about their ruthlessness in terms of making sure they propel themselves back into the playoff picture, but also their capacity for error. Burrell turned out exceptionally badly; maybe injuries were the cause, and maybe the competitive ecology of the toughest division in baseball didn't agree with him, but either way, you have to chalk up signing him as an expensive misfortune, one that initially looked very much like a good idea—I have to plead very guilty of believing it to be so, after all.

The question is whether or not Blalock is the solution, because the Rays' offense is clocking in at a mid-stack seventh place via True Average—between the Royals and Indians of all ballclubs—and nowhere close to the Yankees or Twins or even the injury-riddled Red Sox. Here again, while I think it's extremely cool that they challenged Blalock by having him play third base regularly with the Bulls to expand their options with his potential applications, I'm not exactly bullish on what he's going to be capable of doing as far as DHing. In the aggregate, his Durham numbers look nifty: .349/.405/.505. Keen. But translate that performance, and you get .288/.339/.423, better than Burrell, but just a .266 TAv that hardly suggests “he's back.” Then you look at what he'd been doing, and it gets weaker still: an unintentional walk rate below 10 percent, even against right-handers, and an ISO barely above .100 against righties (.106, to be exact). That's a pretty weak bat for DH, where “better than Burrell” isn't the standard you live with when you need offense. In short, it isn't a hitter who has sufficiently dispensed with the multitudes of concerns about his ability to contribute, enumerated back in March.

Now, maybe a few weeks in, they'll find he's fitting in, spotting at first for Carlos Pena, and drawing the majority of starts against right-handers at DH. But I'm skeptical that he'll convincingly outhit Willy Aybar, let alone hold the job, which leads to long-term speculation about what they'll do when they need to search for “better than Blalock” as opposed to “better than Burrell.” My hope's that they set their standards somewhat higher, but as we've seen with Burrell, the Rays aren't perfect when it comes to making their selections. Then again, who is? We know they'll make an informed choice, but it's because of the options on hand that I expect the Rays to be bat shopping in July, not congratulating themselves on their giving a Boras client a chance to try and still flail.


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted 1B-R Ryan Garko to Oklahoma City (Triple-A). [5/18]

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed OF-L Travis Snider on the 15-day DL (sprained wrist), retroactive to 5/15. [5/17]
Activated 3B-R Edwin Encarnacion from the 15-day DL. [5/18]

The resulting shuffle itself isn't really that problematic: Randy Ruiz moves back to the bench, Encarnacion moves back into the lineup at third base, Adam Lind resumes his DH duties, Jose Bautista's moving back out to right field, and Fred Lewis moves from right to his better position over in left. It's a nice little switch that reflects the virtues of having Bautista capable of bouncing around from the hot corner to the outfield corners. Sure, he won't slug .545 all year, but he can hurt lefties, and even against right-handers his career ISO is .158, playable enough when you need an offensively helpful utility option.

The real cause for frustration is that Snider had just gotten on track, slugging .711 in a dozen May games that inspire confidence that he's in the Show to stay from here on out. But even here, I see this as a nice problem to have. Snider should be back in early June, and the Jays weren't going to win the AL East anyway. But in the meantime they get to take a long look at Encarnacion, Bautista, and Lewis, and think about who's going to hit the bench more often than not once Snider's back. My answer? At this rate, I'd start thinking in taking that decision tree in a slightly different direction: sit Lyle Overbay against all left-handers always, with Encarnacion moving across the diamond. And while Alex Gonzalez was among the names found in today's Funcky stuff, it's worth remembering that Vernon Wells also seems a poor bet to do what he's been doing all year, so getting spot starts in center for Lewis later this summer would create another outlet for this overlap.


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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