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June 1, 2010

Transaction Action

NL Central Update

by Christina Kahrl

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CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed LHP John Grabow on the 15-day DL (knee); purchased the contract of RHP Andrew Cashner from Iowa (Triple-A); transferred RHP Angel Guzman from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/31]

The Cubs' bullpen performance has been lousy, with a relief-only FRA of 5.44 (26th in MLB, and 14th in the NL), and Grabow has been a major part of the problem. The knee has been bugging him for most of May, if not all season, and while reports differ over the nature of the injury, with some saying that it's sprained, and others that it's tendinitis, obviously when a reliever goes two weeks without a scoreless appearance, something's not quite right. We'll see about the severity of the injury, and whether or not Grabow's more functional when he returns. What's a stake is determining whether or not he becomes the latest bad-news mid-market middle-relief selection that Jim Hendry's made while spending other people's money.

As for how well off they are in the meantime, the pen might be ready to deliver much better work in the weeks to come, as Grabow's the latest non-performer excised. Say what you will for the off-season's failures, but Hendry and Lou Piniella have been aggressive about reshuffling the pen, with just three pitchers left from the Opening Day unit. Bumping Tom Gorzelanny from the rotation means that Lou Piniella will still have three southpaws in the pen: Gorzo, plus late-game asset Sean Marshall and rookie James Russell. For right-handed assets, closer Carlos Marmol is still in place, but now the supporting cast is made up of a revived Bobby Howry plus a pair of rookies, Jeff Stevens and now Cashner. A trio of rookie arms in the pen? In a Lou Piniella bullpen? Why not, when the talent's there?

Where Stevens has been on the cusp of sticking for a couple of seasons thanks to his power assortment, Cashner's arrival has been anticipated since his being drafted in the first round of 2008 out of TCU, where he'd been a closer. The Cubs had been starting him, believing that his combination of a mid-90s fastball and power slider was just too tasty to not want beginning games instead of finishing him; this wasn't a Billy Koch situation, where he was just starting to get reps, although some scouts felt his future was in the pen. Either way, this represents a nice Weaver-style test, where the 23-year-old Cashner can be broken in as a reliever whatever his eventual role. It isn't like starting pitching is the team's problem, after all.

To their credit, while starting him in the bus leagues, the Cubs were not pressing Cashner particularly hard. Last year, his first full campaign as a pro, he averaged 17.5 batters per turn in 24 starts, and they'd dialed that up to 22.8 in nine starts this season between Double- and Triple-A before identifying their need at the major-league level and moving him to the I-Cubs bullpen to prep him for his call-up. It isn't hard to envision Cashner thriving as a major-league pen: his fastball more reliably registers into the high 90s, and it isn't a Samardzija-like two-way laser, zapped to home plate and then relayed out towards the fences.

Now, the fun thing to note is that for all of the understandable kvetching over the Cubs' farm system, it's worth noting that they now have an impressive gaggle of kids contributing. Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro are both going to stick among the position players, and beyond that current trio of relief tyros, you can envision situations where righty Jay Jackson or lefty John Gaub would be helping a lot of teams. It's the sort of depth that puts a lot of pressure on the recent failures, guys like Justin Berg or Samardzija, to pitch or get ditched, but that's a nice problem to have. If Piniella winds up using rookies to good effect in a season initially expected to be the last stand of a veteran ballclub, folks should line up to credit him, Hendry, and the organization with doing a nifty job of integrating young talent.


CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Enerio Del Rosario to Louisville (Triple-A); recalled RHP Sam LeCure from Louisville. [5/28]
Activated SS-R Paul Janish from the Bereavement Leave List; placed C-R Ryan Hanigan on the 15-day DL (broken thumb); optioned UT-S Drew Sutton to Louisville; transferred OF-L Chris Dickerson from the 15- to the 60-day DL; purchased the contract of C-R Corky Miller from Louisville. [5/29]

LeCure may not get the touts that Mike Leake has earned or Homer Bailey has long been granted, or the anticipation attached to Travis Wood, but he's a pitching prospect in his own right, so having him available to step in for Bailey isn't bad news for the Reds as they give this contention thing a shot. The problem has always been that he was a fly-ball pitcher coming up in an organization where the end destination—the homer-happy Gap—is a place where fly balls live extraordinarily productive lives.

So the alarm klaxons should go off... except that a funny thing's happening this year. LeCure's basically doubled his rate of ground-ball outs to caught flies this season, going from 0.9 in '08 and 0.8 in '09 to 1.6 in 2010. Now, I know we can all be a bit guilty of overreacting to these things and going all happy over grounders and getting overly sour on fly balls, but remember, the kid has been heading to the Gap, where bad things happen to young pitchers. Obviously, he's doing something differently, and you can add in that almost spun a nine-inning no-hitter for Louisville last week. Never the hardest-throwing hurler, he was at least always a strike-thrower, and he dials his heat up around 89-90 while touching 92, while mixing in a slider and change effectively. He showed all of it off to good effect in a soft-landing debut against the Astros on the 28th, getting more grounders than flies but allowing nine baserunners in six innings (plus a tenth intentionally on orders) en route to a win. He'll get a second spin and a tougher test against the Cardinals tomorrow, but we'll see if his new focus on keeping the ball on the ground ends up being the sort of career development that keeps him on the radar for the team's first alternate starter.

Meanwhile, losing Hanigan has to be seen as a significant setback, unless your rose-colored glasses peer into the future and see Ramon Hernandez producing a .400 OBP all season long. Hernandez's power has been gone for years, and his home/road split in the early going has been nothing short of ridiculous: .393/.493/.574 in the Gap, and .163/.265/.209 on the road, or badly enough to where starting Corky Miller starts to sound like a good idea. That's not really that extraordinary on this team, of course, considering they've convinced themselves that Miguel Cairo's a playable alternative at first base during Joey Votto's recent absence, thanks to his hitting .341/.386/.561 in the bandbox versus a more Cairo-like .200/.238/.200 everywhere else. Unhappily, the home stats seem to keep blinding them to who they've actually got, coincidentally spoiling an opportunity to finally set Micah Owings loose. Yonder Alonso's on the 40-man, of course, but he hasn't hit well at either Double- or Triple-A, certainly not enough to distract the club from Cairo's brand of home-cooked excellence. Add in that Cairo's six-start stretch starting at first base came at home against the Pirates and Astros, and you add another layer of obfuscation sure to keep Cairo employed. Happily enough, Votto's expected back in the lineup today, so they only had to take yesterday's loss at the Cardinals' hands (claws?) with Cairo unsurprisingly less productive.

The other oddity is the decision to move Dickerson to the 60-day DL. Now, that's not to say that he won't miss the full 60 days since going to the DL at the end of April, but the fact that Bill Bray's still on the 40-man, still isn't on the DL, yet still isn't pitching as he begins his comeback from last season's TJS makes me think there are some additional budget-minded considerations in play, since avoiding adding him to the big-league DL will push his initial arbitration eligibility off a year. It's penny-wise, of course, and not really a big issue unless you think Dickerson's going to be back sooner. However, with Chris Heisey and Laynce Nix on the bench in the meantime, it isn't like they're really that short-handed in the outfield in terms of playable players, it's just that they'll continue to miss Dickerson's potential contributions in terms of a good OBP.


HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Bud Norris on the 15-day DL (bursitis, tendinitis – biceps), retroactive to 5/24; optioned INF-R Oswaldo Navarro to Round Rock (Triple-A); recalled LHPs Wesley Wright and Gustavo Chacin from Round Rock. [5/28]

As things seem to go from bad to worse, there's the glum news that Scuffy Moehler has taken Norris' place in the rotation. As with so many other areas, the Astros do things differently than most organizations, deciding as they did to pay someone who was a sub-replacement-level starter last season $2.3 million to stick around. That's great for Scuffy at the outset, of course, but not so good for the Astros. On the other hand, with the good news that Norris might not miss much more than the minimum, Moehler's spinning a couple of disaster starts in the interim could endanger his job security. It isn't like he has to be their designated long reliever of choice; both Wright and Chacin are drawing long-relief assignments, and with four right-handers as rotation regulars and with just Tim Byrdak for situational relief (another one of those market-specific acquired tastes), having a pair of lefties in long-relief roles might not be so terrible, at least as a way of providing some variety within the metronome-like beatings. At some point you have to figure the veteran scrubs will have some more lordly pique visited upon them, especially as management acts out its frustrations over this long-anticipated trip to the abyss. It isn't like whacking Kazuo Matsui and demoting J.R. Towles is going to be the end of it, nor should it be.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed OF-L Jody Gerut on the 15-day DL (bruised heel), retroactive to 5/23; recalled OF-L Adam Stern from Nashville (Triple-A). [5/28]
Designated RHP Claudio Vargas for assignment; purchased the contract of LHP Chris Capuano from Nashville. [5/29]
Activated RHP Josh Butler from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Huntsville (Double-A). [5/31]
Activated OF-L Jim Edmonds from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Marco Estrada to Nashville; designated OF-L Adam Stern for assignment; recalled RHP Kameron Loe from Nashville. [6/1]

As with so much involving the Brewers these days, meh. It's neat to see Capuano finally come back after losing the last two seasons to his bum elbow, and he'll be stepping into the rotation that still isn't sufficiently stocked despite a multitude of ex-starting types knocking around. It's slightly odd that he's bumping Manny Parra, considering that Parra wasn't even close to being the Brewers' worst starter, or next-to-worst starter. Or third-worst. But heck, if they want to keep getting beaten around the Bush or let the Nargle keep swiping starts, that's their business. Hampered by baseball's worst defense despite their attempts to shore the unit up with Carlos Gomez and Alcides Escobar, perhaps there's only so much success they should expect from their men on the mound. But Capuano's back, in part because he'd have been allowed to walk if they hadn't called him up, and when you're relying on one of the worst rotations in baseball, you can't shed talent quite so casually, not when it might live up to a "better-than-Suppan" standard.

Meanwhile you can pity Vargas for his failure to learn a very basic lesson: How to be Jeff Suppan. His efforts this season could certainly be mistaken for their surpassing Suppanery, as he'd posted a Boeing-level ERA, and putting the Brewers even further behind in eight of 17 games. However, he had the twin misfortunes of recent competence—creating an impression of disappointment, where Jeff Suppan's reliable in his failures—and never being granted the opportunity to say 'yes' upon being offered a zillion dollars. One of the keys to being Jeff Suppan is being consistent cause for excoriation and saying yes to other people's bad ideas, talents which I expect could make him a great Secretary of the Interior, or perhaps an investment banker.

Finally, I'd take the exchange of Edmonds for Gerut as being roughly as significant as getting Gomez back so soon after losing Edmonds. Gomez's hitting has gone back to quiescence since that vengeance series against the Twins, so whether they were in a position to spot the better-hitting Gerut or the better-hitting Edmonds for him, that's fine, except insofar as it creates the question of whether or not Gomez was really all they could have gotten for two years of J.J. Hardy.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Charlie Morton on the 15-day DL (shoulder fatigue); recalled RHP Steven Jackson from Indianapolis (Triple-A). [5/28]
Reacquired OF-L Jonathan Van Every from the Red Sox for C-R Josue Peley. [5/31]

In another case of going over old ground as the Bucs take steps in uncharted directions, the Pirates are circling back to one of yesterday's men, and plugging Jeff Karstens into the rotation in Morton's absence. As patchwork solutions go, it's not the worst thing to happen to the team; they're still counting on Brian Burres, after all, and Burres' two quality starts out of seven isn't very different from Morton's delivery of three in 10. The sad thing is that we don't know how long Morton's been dealing with shoulder woes, or when he'll be back, which are no small things considering that he was expected to stand out from the small herd of Grade-C prospects acquired in Neal Huntington's tear-down of a non-contender. Unfortunately, this just means he's keeping Andy LaRoche company, with both of them in their age-26 seasons. As I've said in the past, you can't blame the design that much, in that both Morton and LaRoche were worth acquiring, and better was and should be expected.

Meanwhile, on the good deeds done front, the Pirates got Van Every back for having done Boston the favor of loaning him to them in their moment of need. This is swell for the Pirates and Sox, and the move suggests that Theo Epstein and Huntington might be willing to do one another favors in the future; we'll see. You can be sympathetic to Van Every as well, in that he might have harbored hopes of sticking with his employer of the last two seasons on the off chance that he might play in a pennant race or something, instead of returning to Indianapolis and the dubious pleasures of a call-up to the Steel City should they tire of Ryan Church or something. Peley's merely a placeholding token, a strong-armed 22-year-old Venezuelan emigré with career OBP and SLG marks in the .250s and in his fourth year as a pro.



For updates on any and all kinds of transaction action, follow Christina on Twitter.

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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