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June 30, 2010

Transaction Action

Disorderly Conduct

by Christina Kahrl

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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed OF-R Lou Montanez on the 15-day DL(strained oblique). [6/25]
Recalled RHP Brad Bergesen from Norfolk (Triple-A). [6/26]
Designated 1B-R Garrett Atkins for assignment; activated RHP Koji Uehara from the 15-day DL. [6/27]

Well, at least they're finally done with Atkins, not that they ever should have gotten involved with seeing what he'd do in the toughest division in the tougher league in the first place. It was obvious in January that this was money flushed, so moping about it isn't going to do anyone much good. The problem is that the organization didn't want to believe that Atkins had nothing to offer as a regular at first base, and apparently didn't care about a track record for non-performance outside of Coors (.249/.316/.399 career). At first base, a guy who can't slug .400, someone who also doesn't get on base? That's worth $4.5 million?

Here again, the best spin you put on this isn't that the Orioles were just flat-out stupid in evaluating what Atkins was going to provide, it's that by overpaying a 30-year-old free agent with a modest reputation, they play-acted with the market effectively enough to convince people to take their phone calls in the future. Me, I'd skip the play-acting, and settle for making moves that actually involve fielding a better ballclub. In the meantime, first base should belong to Ty Wigginton most of the time, since it seems as if the brass prefers to leave Luke Scott alone in the DH slot. With Felix Pie hitting effectively in his rehab work at High-A Frederick, they may soon have Corey Patterson out of the lineup as well, leaving second base to the ministrations of converted third baseman Scott Moore and converted E-6 Julio Lugo. This is progress, at least as much as you can hope for as far as the position players are concerned.

As for the decision to move to 13 pitchers, Bergesen's return invitation to the rotation as the designated fifth of the present went as badly as the previous spins, so it's hard to say if he's really locked in for more than a few more starts. There hasn't been enough to choose from the quality of the performances by Bergesen and Chris Tillman this season to make a commitment to either. But is an eight-man pen really necessary? To be fair, just one reliever, Jason Berken, has been delivering consistently good work this season, with an outstanding 1.19 relief-only FRA. However, things could be turning around, in that Uehara has been effective in his brief work, David Hernandez (3.17 FRAr) has had his moments, and Will Ohman has been an effective situational lefty (LHBs: .205/.308/.227 against), so that's a quartet you can work with. Taking a chance on Alfredo Simon's fastball makes sense, but it's sorting out the remaining slots that needs work.

Who does the sorting remains to be seen of course. Don Baylor is as noisily announcing his eligibility and interest now as he did in talking his way into the Rockies' job, and has a broad record for disappointment to show for his stints in Denver and Chicago. Buck Showalter's unquestioned record as an organizer is balanced against the now elaborate fears over his reputation as a martinet. Rick Dempsey has the local figure angle going for him, of course, but we'll see if the team's fully weaned from the local fave angle after briefly propping up Mike Flanagan in the front office. And then there's Eric Wedge, who would be something of a repeat of the Mike Hargrove experience-set malaise on full slather, Sulu-except for Wedge's especially horrific track record for bullpen mismanagement. Are they really sure they don't want to just give Davey Johnson a call?


BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka from the 15-day DL; placed DH-R Mike Lowell on the 15-day DL (hip), retroactive to 6/23. [6/24]
Optioned OF-L Josh Reddick to Pawtucket (Triple-A); recalled LHP Fabio Castro from Pawtucket. [6/25]
Placed 2B-R Dustin Pedroia on the 15-day DL (foot); recalled SS-R Angel Sanchez from Pawtucket. [6/26]
Acquired UT-L Eric Patterson from the Athletics for LHP Fabian Williamson. [6/27]
Activated UT-L Eric Patterson; designated LHP Fabio Castro for assignment; noted the departure of RHP Boof Bonser as a free agent after he cleared waivers. [6/28]
Placed C/1B-S Victor Martinez on the 15-day DL (broken thumb), retroactive to 6/28; purchased the contract of C-R Gustavo Molina from Pawtucket. [6/29]

You can break this ugly scenario down in several ways, but the Red Sox are clearly taking on water, and have to start thinking in terms of how the intervening schedule between V-Mart's return after the All-Star break and Pedroia's return in August helps or hurts them. Five games against the Rays and three against the Jays don't represent an easy trio of matchups, but at least they draw the Orioles. After the break, the Sox then make a 14-game swing through the AL West. To some extent, it's a favorable schedule. They don't have to sweat facing the Yankees and seeing each outcome potentially move them a game further back. If they can fend off the Rays, a contending team with issues all their own after taking a 12-18 tumble in their last 30, the Sox should have the depth to ride this out and stay at the front of the wild-card pack.

Should is a problem, though. Given the names involved, you should think that the rotation's the least of their worriesâ€"even absent Josh Beckett for the time being, and in light of Clay Buchholz's knee injury, this is a club still has Jon Lester and John Lackey up front, with Dice-K back in action, Tim Wakefield bringing up the rear, and a nice scheduling spread that might keep Buchholz from having to pitch until July 6, obviating the need to replace him in the rotation in the meantime. But then there's the issue with the fact that fame doesn't take the mound. Lackey and Matsuzaka have both been merely adequate, posting SNWP marks of .472 and .501, respectively. Wakefield' has been less than that, clocking in at a .435 that's scraping along barely above replacement level, although he has managed quality starts in half of his dozen turns.

Better is expected from all three, although it's hard to suggest we really know what comes next with Wakefield. You can try and make light of Martinez's absence from behind the plate as far as how this creates an easy way to let Matsuzaka get his way and pitch to his preferred receiver, Jason Varitek, but that's obviously a lot to give up to get there. Lackey has managed nine quality starts in 16 while putting up a career-low 5.3 K/9 and a career-worst 3.5 BB/9. Recently, he's been less wild but more hittable, so it isn't like there's a trend that leads cleanly towards happiness and better performance and validation and all that good stuffâ€"his K/9 from his quality starts is just under 4.0, for example. It's no wonder that SIERA winds up looking at this mess and suggesting he's slightly worse (4.88) than his actual 4.69 ERA. With Buchholz likely out for more than a week, the Sox rotation's reduced to one quality performer this season in Lester (.613 SNWP), but with the offense now a mess, the pressure will be on the starters to deliver better work.

On offense, what's left? Bill Hall's moving into Pedroia's slot at second base, and Varitek will start almost daily behind the dish during Martinez's absence. In themselves, these may not look like disasters, but taken together they're appalling. Varitek is hitting better than Martinez, so on paper this looks like a possible improvement, but it's more realistic to compare Varitek's 2009 value as what you can expect going forwardâ€"using MLVr, that's a loss of roughly a third of a run per ballgame right there, between V-Mart 2010 and Tek '09. Using just Hall's 2010 vs. Pedroia's 2010, that's about a fifth of a run lost per game. So, keeping this on cocktail-napkin level, that's a half-run per game; take it out to 20 games, and that's a win you've theoretically lost.

Let's apply that to what we know about the timetables for recovery of the players involved. They're supposed to have Martinez back after the break, so that half of this worst-case equation only proves problematic for another 11 games; let's say that's so. Then there are another 30-35 games without Pedroia beyond that to worry about. To be charitable to the Sox, that adds up to a rough 1.3 wins' worth of difference on offense. But then there are other penalties involved. There's the penalty of losing Pedroia on defense (and putting the error-prone Hall in his place). There's the extra hit they'll take when a guy like Sanchez has to spot in the infield for Hall or Marco Scutaro, or when Molina (the honorary Shemp of the Far-Flung Molinas) is spotting Tek. And with Martinez off the table for first-base work on top of losing Lowell to injury, you probably won't see David Ortiz hidden from any of the lefties who now routinely take Papi's lunch money away. I don't think suggesting this is at least a two-win hit is all that unreasonable; if anything, it might be too conservative, so I wouldn't shrug off three wins as the possible downside in the abstract.

The problem is that these aren't the only issues they're trying to work around in the lineup. J.D. Drew still isn't 100 percent, and Mike Cameron has yet to start three consecutive games since May. The blush is slowly coming off Daniel Nava in left field, and Jeremy Hermida and Jacoby Ellsbury are little closer to returns to action. Suddenly, trading for Patterson goes from being a handy bit of grabbery to virtual necessary, not least because he can notionally help replace Hall in the multi-positional supersub slot, although he's not an effective enough infielder to make a real go of it. Eventually, the Sox will come up against Patterson's optionlessness, but in the meantime, he's someone who might provide lefty power in left field if Nava's second-week slump gets any longer than that.

Even that's not it, of course. Even this fast-and-loose exercise operates without addressing the factors that we can't count, but have to accept exist. Morale is a factor in every human endeavor, and while I won't pretend to say I can do any better than anyone else as far as pinning it down, I don't think it's implausible to suggest that a losing streak absent Pedroia could eat at a club. Terry Francona has managed clubs through setbacks before, and everyone involved is a professional. Nevertheless, whether this club beats this latest challenge or crumples, you've got a team that will craft it's own narrative, one that goes beyond the initial, anti-septic assembly of a better defensive club. Maybe the rotation will be the heroes, maybe it will be Nava or Patterson, or maybe this is Hall's moment. Maybe Varitek adds something to an already storied career. Happily, it isn't as if the Rays (or, further back, the Angels, Tigers, and Twins) don't have their own problems to tackle in the weeks to come.

Before the double dose of disaster, the busy shuffling hadn't radically altered the roster landscape. It was instead the basic tacking from one presumed need to the next. When they recalled Castro, the Red Sox briefly ramped all the way up to 13 pitchers after a six-reliever extra-inning affair, but just as Lowell wasn't playing, Castro did not appear in a single game while on the roster. Swapping in Patterson got them back to “just” seven relievers, for now.


CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Bobby Jenks on the Bereavement Leave List; purchased the contract of LHP Erick Threets from Charlotte (Triple-A). [6/27]
CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Jensen Lewis and INF-L Luis Valbuena to Columbus (Triple-A); recalled LHP Aaron Laffey from Columbus; claimed INF-R Jayson Nix off waivers from the White Sox; designated RHP Shane Lindsay for assignment. [6/25]
Traded 1B-L Russell Branyan and future considerations to the Mariners for OF-L Ezequiel Carrera and SS-S Juan Diaz; recalled 1B/LF-R Matt LaPorta from Columbus. [6/27]

Well, if nothing else, the Indians are slowly getting closer to a rebuilding-ish type of team. Trading Branyan makes for a frank acknowledgment that it's high time to stick LaPorta at first base and just see if he sinks or swims. In his month at Columbus, he did all that he could to redeem his horrific first two months in the majors, raking the International League at a .362/.457/.638 clip in 18 games. On the list of things that can yet be achieved in Cleveland, figuring out if LaPorta is their answer at first base for next season ranks close to the top. The price tag is reasonable enough as well as buy-back plans goâ€"the Indians will either pay off Branyan's 2011 option ($500,000) if the Mariners decide to not exercise it, or they'll ship off a PTBNL. As prices paid to get LaPorta's path cleared, it's worthwhile. So, now they're not futzing around with putting him back out in left or DH or whatever. They can just leave LaPorta be, and see if he's worth the wait. He will be, so the Indians will be better off.

Plus, they didn't just hand Branyan away, they got stuff! Not great stuff, of course, but guys you can play at up-the-middle positions. Sort ofâ€"what did you expect, this was a Russell Branyan dump, after all. Carrera's a 23-year-old water bug, a short speedster whose bat plays best in center but whose arm might conjure up comparisons to some of the game's finest noodlesâ€"Rudy Law, anyone? For Tacoma, Carrera was hitting .268/.339/.315, which means he's doing slightly better at slugging than Kevin's cat, but most of those very few extra-base hits came in usual-suspect venues like Salt Lake and Las Vegas, and in contrast the cat apparently doesn't get out much. The fact that he's walking just eight percent of the time, and has been successful on just nine of his 14 steals, makes his bid for utility as a speed guy and fourth outfielder type look pretty weak, but he did just turn 23. Rated as the 14th-best Mariners prospect by Kevin Goldstein and the 15th-best by Baseball America before the season, you should take both numbers at less than their face valueâ€"the Mariners' system is exceptionally shallow at present, so being in the teens in their organization doesn't mean a lot.

Similarly, Diaz isn't a perfect prospect, but he's a 21-year-old shortstop from the Dominican with a little bit of pop in his bat, hitting .295/.345/.433 with seven homers, plus eight steals in 10 attempts. Unfortunately, he's repeating the level this season, and that sock has been exaggerated by his getting to call High Desert home in the Cal League. Away from the bandbox the Mavericks play in, he's hit .254/.297/.415 in a hitter's circuit. Perhaps predictably, he's cut his strikeout rate a little, down to 16.3 percent this season from 18.5 last; in short, he's not flailing. His ability to stick at short isn't guaranteed, since he's a bit error-prone, but the metric-driven information is mixed, tending towards the positiveâ€"Clay's tough fielding translations of his work in the minors were only modestly negative, -4, -2, and -4 in his full-time assignments in 2007-09, and Total Zone suggested he was good for 7, 19, and 0 runs in those same seasons. Standing 6-foot-3 and 180, he might fill out to the point that he outgrows short, but you could also suggest he'll add power as he matures, and given his age, he should mature. But he's also got quite a ways to go, and the better pitching and tougher environments of Double-A could put a big dent in his future. Is he worth having? Absolutely, but he also isn't Asdrubal Cabrera.

Meanwhile, just as it's good news to see the Tribe turn to LaPorta, there's plenty to like about the decision to bring in Nix and put him back at his natural position. He won't hit much more than a filler infielder, with some extra sock against lefties in particular, but like Mark Grudzielanek, he's an occasionally electric defender around the keystone, and unlike Grudz he at least has some power left to tap. To help out a pitching staff challenged to work with a ton of turnover in the middle infield, Nix might make a nice antidote to Valbuena's frustrating shortcomings. That can leave Manny Acta to picking between Andy Hernandez and Jason Donald at short until Cabrera comes back from the DL in a month.

 


MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted INF-R Brendan Harris to Rochester (Triple-A); purchased the contract of OF-R Jason Repko from Rochester. [6/25]
Activated LHP Jose Mijares from the Restricted List; optioned RHP Jeff Manship to Rochester. [6/26]

At some point, you figured the Twins were finally going to come to their senses as far as carrying so many redundant, useless infieldersâ€"having lived with this issue for years, having tried actively to correct it by bringing in Joe Crede in the past, or now Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy. Unfortunately, Hudson's hitting like an honorary punchless piñata since his return from the DL, delivering at a .209/.261/.256 clip that would fit directly into the career records of Alexi Casilla or Matt Tolbert. Happily, this was one of the months that Nick Punto decided to do a lot of the little stuff that makes him useful, drawing 11 walks and even pelting five extra-base hits while manning short in Hardy's absence. And with the decision to plug Jim Thome in at DH and risk Jason Kubel's stomping around in right field so that they can return Michael Cuddyer to third base, they're better able to carry Hudson for his bat unless/until he's fully healthy again.

So, with that ambitious, offense-oriented alignment on tap, bringing in a right-handed-hitting outfielder who can cover a corner effectively was exactly what they needed. All the better to get Kubel out of games earlier, and spot for him now and again against the odd lefty, after all. Not that Repko's track record for hitting anybody is all that special: in a career punctuated by injuries, he's managed to hit southpaws at a .244/.314/.423 clip (against .217/.288/.339 vs. RHPs), but he's employable enough as a bench player when you add in his ability to play all three pastures and run.

 


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded UT-L Eric Patterson to the Red Sox for LHP Fabian Williamson. [6/27]

Remember this flavor of SAT-related fun?

inedible:lint::undrinkable:_________

... where you'd get cryptic multiple-choice suggestions like “Windex,” “human sweat,” “lye,” or “Tab,” and you'd have to figure out which one was closest to the intent of the test-writing team's concept of what's a sufficiently vile yet not quite deadly liquid roughly equivalent to the concept of consuming post-laundry pocket taffy. The crux of the problem for the fervid teen test-taker is that there really isn't a correct answerâ€"after all, who would willingly drink Tab?

So imagine the A's predicament, now that they're at that exciting proposition where:

Jake Fox:Ross Wolf::Eric Patterson:Fabian Williamson

Except that, unlike a can of Tab or a mouthful of sweater fuzzies, that's not really an impossible proposition as far as things fans are asked to swallow, because it just came to pass in the space of a week. So instead, it's a double dose of roster devolution generated by the A's acting very much like all of those rational economic actors who rationally ran the economy into the ground. The great misfortune to this latter-day bit of funnyball is that they didn't have CDOs on Eric Patterson or Sean Gallagher or Matt Murton, they just got to have them up until they found out they weren't really worth anything, and worth considerably less than what they gave up: Rich Harden's already negotiated 2009 option.* Whatever it was that valuation tools guessed at as far as future player value of the jetsam that washed up in Oakland at the time, it added up to zero multiplied by the service time each accrued en route to their becoming ex-A's. There are ways to manage talent, to convert it from promise into promises kept, but this isn't the latest instance, that much is certain.

Instead, in this latest pursuit of diminishing returns, after paying the opportunity cost to determine that Patterson wasn't going to play second or third or center, by publicly designating him for assignment the A's threatened to turn him into nothing. The Red Sox, operating on the proposition that something is frequently better than nothing, picked up the phone, and convinced the A's to convert their incipient bit of nothing into... the guy the Red Sox got for putting David Aardsma on the Mariners before the 2009 season. That's what Williamson has been in a nutshell: a 40-man favor passed along from team to team, as if baseball were operated by the Gands, and there's a round-robin orgy of kicked-along obligations to be made up.

So, as with Wolf, the A's get a non-roster player for a departing-the-roster player, meaning that they've converted a nothing-for-nothing proposition into a matter of getting something plus getting the roster spot back. Brilliant? Well, sort of, for the time being. As a 2006 draft pick who signed before he turned 18, Williamson's time free from the 40-man ends immediately after the 2011 season, so he's only a photon in terms of a being an observable yet mass-less object for the next year and a half.

Could Williamson earn a spot on the 40-man? That's not entirely inconceivable, but at least there is some good news in all of this. Not that he's an overpowering prospect by any stretch, but Williamson is a 21-year-old beanpole who boasts normal lefty velocity that tops out in the high 80s, which he complements with a nice change and a usable curve. You can hope he'll pick up a few ticks on the gun as he gets older and fills out, but you can't necessarily bet on it. He was also pitching effectively as a starter at High-A Salem this season, allowing a half-run less than the league average with 4.1 RA/9, but that's about as good as it gets on the numbers front. OK, that, and he's given up just three homers on the season. But with 34 walks and 40 Ks in 65 1/3 IP, he was not exactly owning the zone in the Carolina League.

Dig a little deeper, and you find twice as many ground-ball outs as caught flies, and the fact that he's got significantly better ratios through his first three innings (including 2.8 RA/9 with a stronger ground-ball ratio) as opposed to his work in the fourth and fifth (6.6 RA/9, 13 walks versus 12 Ks in 23 1/3 IP). Given his youth, the level of competition, and the fact that this is his first full season as a starter, that's not too surprising He's also totally bass-ackwards, which argues against his growing up to be a LOOGY relief specialist someday, at least until he learns to use what he's got to set up his fellow lefties a lot more effectively.

So sure, maybe he'll earn a place on the 40-man someday, or not, but the farm system has gotten a bit thin as far as left-handed help. And that's it from this particular branch of the Harden... well, not decision tree, so let's instead refer to it as the decision scrubbery that took root after tossing Harden towards Wrigleyville. That and some Sacramento glory, and those two nice weeks that Patterson gave the club in May in his one shot at doing something. In fairness to Patterson, he did do something, but it didn't matterâ€"by the time he was allowed to do something, he could only embarrass, however temporarily, those who would discard him.

* Of course, that's not all the A's have to show for handing away Hardenâ€"and Chad Gaudinâ€"in 2008. They also do still own the future of Josh Donaldson, which might yet add up to something, or become just another bargaining chip, since the job behind the dish belongs to Kurt Suzuki. And for people really concerned on the ultimate final tabulation of value received for making Rich Harden somebody else's problem, we can't forget Corey Wimberley, the player they received from the Rockies for Murton. On the other hand, Gallagher was part of the package for Scott Hairston, who after trying and failing in Oakland returned to the Padres in a bit of ouroborotic symmetry that left the Padres with everybody and the A's an object lesson in the pointlessness of chasing tail to find happiness.

 


SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Shawn Kelley on the 15-day DL (elbow), retroactive to 6/16; activated RHP Doug Fister from the 15-day DL; activated C-R Adam Moore from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Tacoma (Triple-A). [6/25]
Placed DH-R Mike Sweeney on the 15-day DL (back), retroactive to 6/26; optioned 1B/LF-L Mike Carp to Tacoma; acquired 1B-L Russell Branyan from the Indians for OF-L Ezequiel Carrera and SS-S Juan Diaz; purchased the contract of RHP David Pauley from Tacoma. [6/27]

It's an interesting play for the Mariners to add Branyan now, but let's face it, this comes with two definite benefits. First, it gets Casey Kotchman the hell out of the lineup and consigns his career to the same graveyard that houses the careers of other what-were-we-thinking monstrosities: Pee-Wee Briley, Rick Astley, Elizabeth Berkeley. That's a right-now per-game gain of about four-tenths of a run per MLVr, or a three-win move if you take Branyan for granted as an everyday player in Kotchman's place for the balance of the season. Of course, there's Kotchman's glovely reputation to burnish. If it adds up to a win's worth of differenceâ€"and it won'tâ€"it's a straightforward, cheap upgrade.

What might make this sort of upgrade seem strange is that the Mariners are doneâ€"aren't they? Looking at what they can to help themselves, and the improvements already in the works, I wouldn't consider the Mariners dead. But keep in mind, they're not chasing the top teams of the AL East, but the flawed contenders of the AL West, and they have three series apiece against their division rivals yet to play. Why say die when they have such huge, fixable holes as obvious as getting Kotchman out of the lineup? And when they could have the best rotation in the league in the second half once Erik Bedard comes back from the DL? Admittedly, they'll need things like Doug Fister to avoid turning into a pumpkin to give them a dominating four horsemen to ride, and for Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, and Jose Lopez to show up. And, ideally, a crummy bullpen that ranks 24th in ARP, 26th in FRA, and 29th in WXRL needs to do less harm.

The other major benefit is that Branyan is under team control for 2011â€"if Jack Z wills it, at any rate, and his $5 million price tag doesn't sound too shabby if the alternatives involve another dose of wishing up a starâ€"presumably yet another white dwarf like Kotchman, or Mike Carp. That's to be determined, of course, but next year's team could get offensive help from Dustin Ackley, Alex Liddi, maybe even Greg Halmanâ€"none of whom will be answers at first base. So getting a loan with an option to buy on a starting first baseman who can post a TAv in the .280s or .290s, in exchange for yet another puffed-up Cal Leaguer and a outfield tweener who might not be a good fit as a starter in anybody's pasture, that's a bargain, especially if the option gets picked up.

 


TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned C-S Dioner Navarro to Durham (Triple-A); recalled OF-L Matt Joyce from Durham. [6/25]

As ever, there's a segment of the stathead community thrown into utter bliss with the sighting of Matt Joyce doing anything. After all, as the syllogism goes, we all know that the Rays are smart, the Rays acquired Matt Joyce for Edwin Jackson, so having Matt Joyce is smart. And he was delivering a .435 OBP in Durham! He's whatever combination of best things you've been waiting for that floats your boat: sliced bread, second comings, Chinese Democracy, whatever.

And it's true, he did have a .435 OBPâ€"in 115 plate appearances, although it comes with a much less exciting .185 ISO. So far, his opportunity, as far as it goes, has been to spot for Carl Crawford during a break from the latter's shoulder injury. Could Joyce wind up with something more than that? Not necessarily in an outfield corner in an everyday capacity, at least not this season, because the middle-infield crowd seems to have planted Ben Zobrist in right field for the time being, and Crawford is an everyday player. Nevertheless, it's possible that Joyce could hang around, because the club is still carting around utilityman Willy Aybar and the still-done Hank Blalock for the designated hitting duties, something neither guy is fulfilling at all well. Sure enough, with Crawford back last night, Joyce started at DH. And didn't do anything, but Rome wasn't built in a day.

If they do finally work Joyce into the lineup, it makes for an especially interesting development because he'd be the second semi-regular player they'd be employing whose value is greatly tied to his ability to walk. That's cool, to be sure, but also a last-ditch for a Rays team enduring major disappointment from B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, and Pat Burrell (before his release). That's the good newsâ€"OBP is life, life is OBP. But it's also something the Rays fell back to, having other big ideas to get out the way first, and it's not exactly like having Tony Phillips and Mickey Tettleton on the same team, like the late-Sparky Tigers. Joyce is going to have to slug a lot better than he had been for the Bulls if he's going to earn lasting consideration, and it's increasingly looking like the Rays' other walking man is really only just that.

John Jaso is already wearing the halo that others are ready to plant on Joyce as well. After some early hot hitting propelled his numbers towards stratosphere, his batsmanship has won for him a straightforward job-share with Kelly Shoppach. That's great, because it's a matter of adding offense at a position where anybody getting runs is coming out ahead. Even so, Jaso's doing less and less hitting of late, settling for providing value by taking his base. The excitement about Jaso should be tempered by the fact that he's hitting just .244/.357/.345 over the last two monthsâ€"that's a walk rate of 14 percent, and not a whole lot else as far as offensive value outside of that. It's also not all that out of character with the balance of his career, as he has just a .147 ISO in the minors over his eight seasons there, which drops to .125 if you're talking about his Triple-A experience alone.

As a solution for the seemingly endless cycle of hope and failure tied to Dioner Navarro's career, he's a lovely addition, but Tettleton he ain't. It's more like finding that you have one of Brad Ausmus' good years in your quiver, after you've had to endure one too many of Brad Ausmus' bad years.

Now, obviously, it's going to be better to use Joyce and Jaso than Blalock and Navarro, and the Rays are the better for it. And despite frequently complaints that a walking team is a passive team, or team that undershoots its anticipated runs scoredâ€"well, that's also not true. Consider the walking-est teams of the fully recorded era, stretching back to 1954 (for a full list, go here:

Year
Team
BB Rate
RS
EstRS
Delta
2000 Mariners 11.50% 907 900 +7
1999 Athletics 11.46% 893 878 +15
1955 Indians 11.37% 698 750 -52
1956 Red Sox 11.18% 771 822 -42
2000 Athletics 11.16% 947 910 +37
1993 Tigers 10.99% 899 892 +7
1955 Red Sox 10.79% 755 771 -16
1956 Indians 10.77% 712 682 +30
1994 Yankees 10.76% 670 687 -17
1994 Tigers 10.76% 652 639 +13

Why look, there are a couple of late-Sparky Tigers teams up there! And a couple of iterations of the Moneyball A's! OK, it's a list of usual suspects in some ways, but work with me. Just looking at that group, the teams that exceeded their expected runs also had another basic benefit to make sure they cashed in their opportunitiesâ€"power, in the form of ISO marks in the .170s or better.

However, there is one extreme exception: the 1956 Indians, Al Lopez's last Tribe squad before he decided to chase the Yankees from some other venue. This was a team that managed to finish second in the league thanks to a strong pitching staff and a propensity for annihilating the three worst teams in the league, winning a league-best 77 percent of its games against the hapless A's, Senators, and Orioles.

The teams that underwhelmed expectations were three clubs from the tactically static '50s... and the '94 Yankees. The latter was Buck Showalter's masterpiece (if any of his teams were), and was easily the best team in the league in a season that was no more destined for greatness and redemption than the '94 Expos were thanks to the work stoppage. One thing about those '94 Yankees, though: with 112 GIDPs in 113 games, they were easily leading the league. Not that they had a great shot at the GIDP'est of them all, the 1990 Red Sox with 174 in 162 games, but they had one more gift among so many. (For the curious, the Twins and Giants could both make a run this season.)

What does this mean for the Rays? Well, they are already second in the majors in walk rate with a 10.17 percent clip, and that's without adding Joyce to the mix. And sort of like the 1956 Indians, per the adjusted standings report they've had the benefit of facing some of the weakest opponents, including a 10-2 record against the Mariners and Orioles. Naturally, the Rays won't always get to face that kind of opposition, so improving themselves any way they can can't come too soon. But their modest power is troubling, and while you can hope Joyce can help matters there, at least relative to Burrell and Blalock, Jaso is already about as good as he's going to get in terms of power contributions.

Which is a long way around as far as getting to say that finally having Joyce here is nice, but it would be better if Pena and Upton started bopping, because they're not about to lose their jobs, and the Rays aren't going to get major power spikes from anywhere else among their cast of characters.


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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