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June 23, 2010

Transaction Action

Shuffling Seniors

by Christina Kahrl

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ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RHP Takashi Saito from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Craig Kimbrel to Gwinnett (Triple-A). [6/21]

We'll see if Saito holds up any better now that he's back, given my previously expressed doubts over whether he can handle a truly regular workload. Certainly, the Braves have tried to use him more regularly than the Red Sox did, but it remains an open question as to whether or not he can handle it. As for the Braves' great wild man, Kimbrel only walked four in five innings in his second go-round, striking out 10. Once again, that sort of mayhem was generally too rich for Bobby Cox's blood-Kimbrel pitched in three big-lead situations, but did get to appear in his first-ever tied game in the majors his last time out, which he made characteristically interesting, juicing the bases on a walk, his own error, a passed ball, and then another walk, then striking out the next two Royals before ending the inning with a popup to short. Happily for the Braves, they took the lead in the bottom of the frame, creating a save opportunity for both Billy Wagner and Cox's blood pressure. How much longer they spin their wheels with Jesse Chavez rotting on the roster remains to be seen, but I wouldn't bet against Kimbrel's taking his place for keeps by the time teams have to submit their post-season rosters.

 


COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Matt Daley on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 6/11; recalled RHP Juan Rincon from Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [6/16]
Placed SS-R Troy Tulowitzki on the 15-day DL (fractured wrist); recalled INF-R Chris Nelson from Colorado Springs. [6/18]
Activated RHP Huston Street from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Juan Rincon for assignment. [6/22]

To say that losing Tulo is devastating to the Rockies' playoff chances borders on understatement taken well past a stiff upper lip and straight to mummification. Sure, it might "only" be six weeks or so, and they still have a shot slightly under one in four. That strikes me as charitable. They're tasked with replacing the league's best player at the position (per WARP for a 162-game season), and I'd argue the best in baseball given that Alex Gonzalez is going to cool off at some point. And their first fallback option? They've moved Clint Barmes to short and spotted Jonathan Herrera at the keystone.

How bad is that going to be? That's probably as good as a push at defense balanced against the loss of a run (using MLVr) every two or three games. Add the problem to a lineup already carrying Barmes' outtastic contributions and carrying what's left of Todd Helton, and you've got a club that was already merely average in terms of walking and below-average for power (with just a .130 ISO on the road with Tulo in the lineup) doomed to get a lot worse in short order. Keep in mind, this was already a bad offense, ranking 25th with a team True Average of .254. Now they're replacing one of their best players with a cookie-cutter futility infield type, basically bat-less, however glovely he might be. Switching to Kaz Matsui-flailing away at a Herreresque .239/.289/.295 clip for the Sky Sox-only changes the name, not the nature of the problem.

Are there other in-house options? Eric Young Jr. doesn't look close to recovering, and down in Tulsa you've got guys like Eider Torres and Daniel Mayora. Barring a trade, Nelson might have to do, assuming he gets the opportunity to actually play. Unfortunately, while he's in his age-24 season and presumably as ready as he'll get, his hitting record is mixed, he's in his third injury-afflicted season in his seventh as a pro (this year, it has been his oblique), and despite a strong arm and plus speed, these tools haven't translated into plus play at short or at the plate. His translated performance in this year's injury-shortened campaign boils down to .252/.318/.422, or a lot better than Barmes or Herrera, but still a ways short of Tulo-level goodness. Banking on Nelson requires both faith and opportunity, but how much will we see of either. He drew the start in Tuesday night's game at third against lefty Jon Lester, instead of Melvin Mora no less, which the Rox squeaked out with a 2-1 win. That's essentially the proposition, absent Tulo: fault-free execution with the pitching staff, good enough offense. That plus a lot of mediocrity from the Giants, Dodgers, and Padres, and maybe the next six weeks won't go so badly. It's going to be a hard row to hoe, certainly.

If the best-case scenario is that Tulo is back around August 1 (presumably including a rehab assignment), that's 35 more games to go. Until they catch the Marlins after the break, those games are all against teams above .500 with playoff aspirations of their own. So don't be fooled by the happy outcome against a bad Brewers team over last weekend. Between now and the end of July, they'll only get to see one more genuinely bad ballclub, the Pirates. Extend the injury's duration out to the more pessimistic eight-week span, and you add another series against the Pirates, but it doesn't really improve matters much, since they'll also draw the Giants and Mets.

If there's a happy note, the injury's recovery arc shouldn't be handicapped by the end of the minor-league season. So, even if his timetable is closer to eight weeks than six, he will still be able to get rehab at-bats. Yeah, I'm not calling for a parade either.


MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Designated LHP Renyel Pinto for assignment; recalled RHP Tim Wood from New Orleans (Triple-A). [6/17]
Placed RHP Clay Hensley on the 15-day DL (strained neck), retroactive to 6/12; optioned CF-R Cameron Maybin to New Orleans; transferred C-L John Baker from the 15- to the 60-day DL; purchased the contracts of RHP Scot Strickland and 1B-L Mike Lamb from New Orleans. [6/18]
Optioned RHP Jay Buente to New Orleans; designated RHP Jorge Sosa for assignment. [6/21]
Purchased the contracts of RHP Alejandro Sanabia from Jacksonville (Double-A) and LHP James Houser from New Orleans; released LHP Hunter Jones. [6/22]

When it comes to reducing fandom to an exercise in rooting for the laundry, leave it the Marlins to keep their bullpen set to full churn as they chunk through people who may or may not provide them with some assistance. Maybe it's a faith born of the notion that when they found value in Dan Meyer or Brian Sanches, they had some sort of golden touch with the selection of disposable pen men.

So, what about the latest additions to an increasingly anonymous offerings being hauled out of the bullpen by the Fishmongers? Houser? Like Meyer, he's left-handed, a former prospect, and discarded by the most reputable sort of operator, the Rays in this instance. Sanabia? He's just 21, extremely young, a soft-tossing stringbean and a strike-thrower joining the big-league bullpen after working in Jacksonville's rotation. Maybe this is a way of managing his workload, but he was never considered a top prospect. Maybe he'll fill out into something after earning the distinction as the first person selected in the 32nd round of the 2006 draft to make it to the majors, scotching Dan Dorn's shot at the distinction. Yippee. And Scott Strickland? He used to be somebody, back when the Expos existed; the man even pitched for them.

Considering that Sosa pitched in eight games, Buente four, and Pinto one, what is the point of debating performance in these instances? Wood still throws as hard now as he did when he made the Opening Day roster. Jones was due for Tommy John surgery, so at least recovering his roster slot makes some sort of sense. But this very much resembles churn without any obvious shot of getting butter for it.

There is at least the decision to demote Maybin, which makes sense in that at least he'll get everyday at-bats in New Orleans to try and redeem his fading prospect status. Meanwhile, Mike Stanton will be the right fielder, Cody Ross will enhance his trade value as much as possible by manning center as effectively as he can, and the Fish will wind up with a stretch outfield of under-control assets in Maybin, Stanton, and Chris Coghlan while mounting another bid to play spoiler. It's not exactly root-worthy, but it is the best way to guarantee Maybin doesn't go stale while also giving Stanton a clean shot at a job.


HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Designated RHP Casey Daigle, C-R Kevin Cash, and OF-L Cory Sullivan for assignment; optioned LHP Wesley Wright to Round Rock (Triple-A); activated RHP Chris Sampson from the 15-day DL; recalled 3B-R Chris Johnson from Round Rock; purchased the contracts of C-L Jason Castro and OF-R Jason Bourgeois from Round Rock. [6/22]

The significance here isn't that Ed Wade ditched three in-season call-ups, but that he decided to replace them with a couple of people who presumably have their places in a presumably better future for Houston baseball. Oh, and the appropriately named Jason Bourgeois, because at this stage even middle-class aspirations would be a case of moving on up for the Astros. Johnson doesn't exactly have a huge future, but Pedro Feliz has been an utter disaster as a place-holding pickup. Castro may not be entirely ready, having only hit .265/.365/.355 in the PCL, but he just celebrated his 23rd birthday on Waterloo Day, and on such an occasion, what better way to mark the passing of an old ambition than to turn the page and take a look at the future? I wouldn't expect Castro to really be ready at the plate so much as he has more of a pulse than Humberto Quintero, let alone Cash, and after throwing out 38 percent of runners attempting to steal, and having moved beyond that nagging concern over arbitration after 2012-because what else is there to worry about, beyond a quest for fourth or fifth place?-he will at least prove an interesting alternative to the strong-armed Quintero.

 


LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Chad Billingsley on the 15-day DL (groin), retroactive to 6/13. [6/15]
Recalled RHP Travis Schlichting from Albuquerque (Triple-A). [6/16]
Placed SS-S Rafael Furcal on the Bereavement Leave List; recalled MI-R Chin-lung Hu from Albuquerque. [6/17]
Activated RHP Vicente Padilla from the 15-day DL; placed RHP Carlos Monasterios on the 15-day DL (blistered finger). [6/19]

The timing of all of this is a bit inconvenient, because Billingsley's brief absence-he's expected to only miss the minimum, and thanks to consecutive Mondays off, the Dodgers will only have to summon up a non-Monasterios alternative in the rotation now that Padilla is back just once, on Thursday against the Angels. Charlie Haeger's name has come up for that start, but knuckleballer or no, he'd be starting on three days' rest, having just spun a quality start for the Isotopes in Iowa on Sunday. The purported alternative is repurchasing Claudio Vargas, which is the sort of thing that might encourage you to consider a pen start led off by Jeff Weaver instead. (Sadly, Jered Weaver's next scheduled turn is Friday, so there's no shot at any Weaver-on-Weaver diamond fracticide.)

As for Monasterios, what, a Rule 5 pick lands on the DL? No shock there, right? In fairness, this is an actual, easily observable and verifiable injury, with the irony being that it's Ismael's curse that struck him down. We'll see if the Dodgers end up pursuing any of the various cures for ulcerating extremities Valdez had to attempt in his career; I always thought the rice regimen, shoving his hands into barrels of the stuff-not unlike Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, and uncounted dozens of Han's henchmen.

He'd already handed back his shot at rotation work with Padilla's return already mapped out, and having gotten hammered in interleague action. It would have been convenient if he'd been around to take one more turn to prevent the roster move for Thursday's matchup, but it's a minor logistical issue. Once he's healthy enough to put something on the ball without leaving something ickily ichorous on the ball, he should still have value in a bullpen that is still handicapped by uncertainty on how much Joe Torre can rely on George Sherrill and Ramon Troncoso. Happily, the Dodgers have gotten boosts from Justin Miller doing his painted ROOGY act, while Hong-Chih Kuo has been flat-out dominating against everybody (especially notable/cool that lefties have gone 0-for-22 with three walks, a sac fly, and 11 Ks against him). Ronald Belisario hasn't hurt a lead he's been handed since early May. Even with Sherrill and Troncoso struggling, it's a pen that is slowly recovering from the self-inflicted double dose of Ortizes to climb towards its proper place among the better pens in the game.

 


MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RHP Todd Coffey from the 15-day DL; outrighted RHP Chris Smith to Nashville (Triple-A). [6/20]
NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Jenrry Mejia to Binghamton (Double-A); recalled RHP Bobby Parnell from Buffalo (Triple-A). [6/21]
Signed RHP Ramon Ortiz, and optioned him to Buffalo. [6/22]

For all of the gnashing of teeth over Mejia's making the roster, his "unreadiness," his working in relief, I think we can credit the organization for doing something really very sensible. They took a top-tier arm who is only 20, yet entirely able to get big-league hitters out, and broke him in as a middle reliever. That gave him experience while limiting his workload, both good ideas on their face. And now they're bumping him back to the minors to stretch him out to get him in gear for starting. He may end up with less than 120 innings on the season the way this is going, while contributing to a contender in different ways and at different points. That sounds like good short-term and long-term management of a top talent. Meanwhile, Parnell should be a fine replacement in the middle-relief role, and maybe more, considering that right now Elmer Dessens is the team's go-to right-handed set-up guy, and while he has been extremely effective, how long do you want to count on that?

 


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Designated RHP Scott Mathieson for assignment; purchased the contract of C-R Dane Sardinha from Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [6/19]
Placed C-R Carlos Ruiz on the 15-day DL (concussion), retroactive to 6/19; optioned RHP Scott Mathieson to Lehigh Valley; outrighhted PH-L Greg Dobbs to Lehigh Valley; recalled LHP Mike Zagurski from Lehigh Valley; activated SS-S Jimmy Rollins from the 15-day DL. [6/22]

The big news is getting Rollins back, because predictably enough Ruben Amaro Jr.'s taste in expensive reserves proved to be craptastic, and time wasted on substitutes like Wilson Valdez and Juan Castro contributed to a team record of 26-29 in his absence. Now that he's back, the Phillies can get back to the business of trying to add a third jewel to their run on pennants, although it's clear they haven't done themselves all that many favors in the meantime.

Not that they're being dumb about in-season roster management, not entirely. Designating Mathieson might have seemed extreme, given that he has options left, but it's an indication that the Phillies would rather have opened up some space on their 40-man, since they're at 38 and will have Ryan Madson coming back from the 60-day DL and ratcheting that tally back up to 39 at some point. What's especially interesting of course is who you'll find among those 38 "keepers"-Brian Bocock, for example, as well as the lamentable Valdez and Castro, or the lamentable Ross Gload, with all four being retained on the 40-man ahead of Dobbs. Once it became clear that they couldn't slip Mathieson through waivers, they settled for optioning him. Meanwhile, they remain the franchise that employs Willy Taveras (albeit in Triple-A), they deserve him.

At least Sardinha's understandable for the moment, because he's up while Ruiz recovers from getting his bell rung. You can expect Brian Schneider to get most of the starts behind the dish in the meantime. Heck, Sardinha is even already over 30, almost a pre-requisite on this team. (And he's a washout as a former second-rounder given a big-league contract in another one of Jim Bowden's spectacular misfires with the Reds back in 2002). On a ballclub where just Shane Victorino and Ben Francisco can make that claim among the position players, being old enough to remember Family Ties before syndication apparently matters.

 


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Designated 2B-L Akinori Iwamura for assignment; recalled 3B-L Pedro Alvarez from Indianapolis (Triple-A). [6/16]
Optioned 2B-L Akinori Iwamura to Indianapolis. [6/22]

Sports loves its dates, always has, and always will. Big days just go with the territory. Think on it: we love our Sunday night baseball, our Games of the Week, Monday Night Football, Selection Sunday, the draft-any draft-the lottery, you name it, we watch it. We simply get hung up on time where events are concerned.

I bring this up where baseball is concerned because I think we have to ask, do we now have a new landmark? A date we should circle on our calendars, because we know, we just know excitement is to follow? I'm speaking of course of the day when super-two arbitration eligibility hits its sunset, liberating ballclubs to provide their actual best teams. Here it is, June, that time of year where the ballclubs with the best bean-counters issue their rubber-stamp on the proposition that now, with a third of a season already in the books, it's about time to field your best possible ballclub.

Leave it to corporate America to take another basic proposition of merit, and utterly leach it of any value. Here Alvarez is-and as wonderful and overdue as it might be, it's almost as joyless and stupid an exercise as when the Rays play service-time rope-a-dope with Evan Longoria to get him to agree to that multi-year extension they'll be congratulating themselves on for its obvious payroll virtuosity well into the future.

The bitter truth is that baseball is an entertainment funded by wealthy men, and it's generally accepted that the secret to wealth is to be cheap-or inherit, if you're especially dim. More fundamentally, the proposition that the product you deploy on the field is your best effort, your shot at trying to take something and make it better, that's relative nonsense, at least if you want to believe that talent is a question of assembling your best now. Admittedly, the Pirates won't be all that much better now, having spun their wheels with increasingly obnoxious propositions that Delwyn Young just really can't play third base, or that maybe the zillionth C- or D-grade suspect from the Yankees or Red Sox just doesn't really have all that much to offer. But what's the point of the exercise? How do you engender faith that the team's trying? "By the cynical manipulation of service time, believe me, we're actually trying to win you over-understand, we don't believe in our April or May lineups either."

So the consumers? Screw them, the dim saps, they're just buying tickets to a baseball-flavored entertainment in a lovely, publicly-funded venue, and that's what they're getting for their ill-spent cash. The quality of the franchise? Here again, why bother, because in the game today there's an automatic, built-in financial disincentive to fielding your best ballclub until you're good and ready. The pursuit of excellence? Well, sure, maybe, in principle, and we'll get around to it. Maybe.

It's times like this that baseball's near autarky when it comes to the supply of ballplayers tips over from the redeeming, as a question of seeing the best play the best, and veers into the irredeemably vile and stupid. Alvarez was as ready as he had to be in spring training. As generous as it was to treat the good people of Indianapolis to 66 games and 278 plate appearances, it was obnoxious. There's Operation Covered Butt-look, Andy LaRoche can play second! Sort of, we hope, maybe, a .296 OBP travels anywhere, don't it?-and the slow lurch towards a better-ish lineup.

It's great to see Pedro Alvarez up. It's a crying shame that it had to wait until mid-June. And it's a despicable product of sensible operational practice that pushing Alvarez's arbitration eligibility back a year really was the best thing the Pirates could do under the circumstances. Maybe by August, folks will notice he's here. Maybe by 2012, it'll help sell a few tickets. Maybe. But wise talent management and cynical manipulation is a tough sell after almost two decades' worth of stupidity, and I cannot help but wonder if the Pirates haven't saved a penny, deferred an arbitration case, and marked time in the lengthening roll of futility without losing the sense of the purpose of the exercise.

 


SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned INF-S Lance Zawadzki to Portland (Triple-A); recalled C-R Dusty Ryan from Portland. [6/22]
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated SS-R Edgar Renteria from the 15-day DL; optioned INF-R Matt Downs to Fresno (Triple-A). [6/16]

Renteria is back and back starting at shortstop, with the happy development that, just as they've decided to make sure they keep Andres Torres getting playing time at all three outfield slots, Juan Uribe will continue to spot at short while also being the primary reserve at third and second. Add in the willingness to slip Buster Posey behind the plate once in a while, and it's hard to envision a team with greater flexibility than the Giants, where their top 10 hitters give them at least two good starters at all eight positions. That leaves Travis Ishikawa and Nate Schierholtz spending a lot of time on the pine, while Eli Whiteside has done enough good as the primary backup catcher to earn his keep. There are plenty of heroes here: Aubrey Huff, for his willingness to play in the outfield, or Brian Sabean, for grabbing while the grabbing was good once Pat Burrell landed on the scrap heap, or Bruce Bochy for his willingness to sit Aaron Rowand and create a greater role for Torres. That's not to say there aren't causes for concern: Torres and Huff will inevitably cool off, Posey is already cooling after a nice 6-for-12 first impression, and Uribe, Renteria, and Freddy Sanchez have plenty of mediocrity (or worse) in their recent past to encourage anyone to remain sanguine all summer. But in the meantime, it's shaken out better than you could have hoped, and we'll see how well the club exploits its depth from here.

 


WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned LHP John Lannan to Harrisburg (Double-A); activated LHP Ross Detwiler from the 60-day DL, and optioned him to Harrisburg; transferred RHP Garrett Mock from the 15- to the 60-day DL; purchased the contract of RHP Joel Peralta from Syracuse (Triple-A). [6/21]

Shipping out Lannan should no longer be cause for surprise, what with concerns about his drifting arm slot, a hittable spread of junk, and his consistent failures, generating a .388 SNWP, and just four quality starts in 14 turns, with a fifth blown QS to count if you're feeling charitable. So, he'd clearly earned his walking papers, even in a rotation this weak. After all, Luis Atilano has yet to really secure a spot as much as be sucked into one; he's been better than Lannan or J.D. Martin, but one quality start in his last nine isn't really a way to acquire job security. They could afford to get punitive with Lannan because they won't need a fifth starter again until next week against the Braves. Unfortunately, the returns of Chien-Ming Wang and Scott Olsen are a few weeks away yet, with Jordan Zimmermann and Jason Marquis presumably even further away than that. So, come next week once the need to plead for a fifth arises, it could be Lannan again. Or Craig Stammen again. Or Matt Chico again, he's still on the 40-man. Heck, it could even be Shairon Martis again; he even has a streak of six straight quality starts going for him. For all of the variety and turnover, it seems as if the Nats have to keep coming back to the usual suspects.

However, their hauling up Joel Peralta makes for a definite break. He may be every bit as retreaded as Tyler Walker or Miguel Batista, having journeyed between occasional success punctuated by thumpings as a situational right-hander in Anaheim, Kansas City, and Denver. However, the fun thing for the Dominican journeyman is that he was plugged in as the Chiefs' closer this spring, and notched a perfect 20-for-20 in his save opportunities. Sure, it's not the sort of diamond glory in upstate New York that baseball players usually dream about, but it was accompanied by some surprising success against left-handed batters. On his career in the majors, Peralta has been pummeled by lefties, giving up a .281/.356/.560 clip, while striking out 15 percent of them (against 21 percent and .255/.292/.421 versus right-handers). So, more power, more walks, fewer strikeouts... a situational guy, pure and simple. However, with Syracuse he's been bass-ackwards, limiting lefties to a .135/.182/.154 clip, while striking them out 33 percent of the time. Admittedly, this is a limited sample, and he's already 34. But it's going to be interesting to see if he's doing anything differently, because it could give his career a new lease on life.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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