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July 7, 2010

Transaction Action

Western Horizons

by Christina Kahrl

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LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RHP Rich Thompson from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Trevor Bell to Salt Lake (Triple-A). [7/2]
Optioned RHP Sean O'Sullivan and 1B-R Robb Quinlan to Salt Lake; purchased the contracts of 1B/LF-L Paul McAnulty and OF-L Cory Aldridge from Salt Lake. [7/4]

If nothing else, the Angels' lineup issues keep finding new and exciting ways of getting more interesting. The latest setback involves Juan Rivera's vision, as he's had to sit out the last week dealing with stress-related vision impairment. Now, stress is known to cause all sorts of secondary issues, and having vision impairment is no laughing matter for a professional athlete. But short of being able to easily disable Rivera while keeping the option of a retroactive move open to them, the Angels made use of what flexibility they could by ditching two long relievers and Quinlan, while adding a pair of veteran journeyman to the outfield/first base/DH mix to compensate for Rivera's absence.

The extent to which Quinlan's the definition of a placeholder and 25th man's 25th man should apparent by now. At a time when they've had desperate need at third base, Quinlan hasn't logged more than a single inning, and didn't draw a single start. When Kendry Morales went down, he drew five starts at first base, not representing a clearly better option than Kevin Frandsen or Michael Ryan. With Rivera shelved, for most of the resultant left-field work they turned instead to Quinlan's bÍte noir and rival for the organization's affections and the more-secure 12th slot among the position players, Reggie Willits. Willits does just some of the things that Quinlan does not-some and not all because at this point it's hard to identify what it is that Quinlan does-like run and bunt and make like it's the Deadball Era, only a century out of fashion, like the Kaiser. When you have endured injuries at first, third, and left, all positions Quinlan purportedly plays, and you simply don't play the guy, it's time to admit he exists on a roster only until you actually pick a last man on the bench, since actually going directly to 24 men would eventually annoy fans, the commentariat, and a few union heavies.

In their hour of need, such a luxury as Quinlan, bench-bound charmer he might be, was no longer affordable.* Since the non-Rivera alternative to Willits was Hideki Matsui, and however permanently fashionable Godzilla might be, he moves with all of the grace and skill you'd expect of a man in a rubber suit, so the Angels called for reinforcements, and who better than two of the most well-traveled minor-league vets this side of Ernie Young?

Aldridge is the senior partner of the two. A fourth-round draft choice of the Braves in 1997, he got a brief cameo in Atlanta in 2001, after which he flitted to Kansas City-before Dayton Moore, so it wasn't just all about that-then to the White Sox, the Mets, then the Newark Bears in the Atlantic League (too soon to wear their awesome new logo), then back to the Royals-by which point it was all about that-and just this last winter he became a L'Anaheimian outfielder for hire. Always a free swinger with a career minor-league strikeout rate pushing 25 percent, he's slugged around .500 most of the last six seasons, while shedding the speed and athleticism that initially made him a prospect. He's also walked around 9 percent on his career, nice, but hardly exceptional, and his Triple-A rate is down closer to 6 percent. It's great to see him break through again, however dire the circumstance, but considering that his road performance in the PCL was already down at .276/.340/.428, you're left with an understandably savage .229 True Average from a guy who just turned 31, so let's skip putting a halo on this Halo just yet.

The other add-on is McAnulty, a squat ex-prospect whose ex- standing is of slightly more recent vintage. As a one-tool player, he wasn't exactly a blue chipper after starring at Long Beach State, but as a bat-only type the Pads picked him in the 12th round of the 2002 draft. After moving up to Triple-A for part of 2005, he spent the three subsequent seasons marking time there, usually manning first base, sometimes knocking around left field, and sporadically showing up at third base and right field as the Padres struggled to find ways to extend his utility while running up against the fact that he wasn't going to push past Adrian Gonzalez or hit enough to play an outfield corner every day. He got his first real chance to hang around in the majors in 2008, but by then he was already being crowded up by other prospects. Last season, he washed up in the Red Sox and then the Rockies organizations, and came back to SoCal as a minor-league free agent and established "professional hitter." The Angels initially put him in Double-A, where he went silly, bopping 14 homers in 176 PAs as a 29-year-old Texas Leaguer.

That got him back to the PCL, where he'd been splitting time between DH, first, and third, but unlike Aldridge he wasn't becoming a much more mild hitter elsewhere in the circuit, overall hitting at a .360/.390/.559 pace that translates to a .243 TAv. All of which suggest he's little more than a variant on Ryan, someone you can spot at first base for Mike Napoli if you want that extra lefty bat, with the one extra element being that he's given third base a shot often enough to make him a similar variant from the dissatisfactions with Brandon Wood once in a while (especially once the fascination with Frandsen wears off).

As for adding Thompson to the pen, his saga of occasional availability has been a reliably tantalizing feature of relief maybes among Halos relievers for years. Sure enough, he did many of the things associated with his previous appearances, throwing low-90s heat, spinning a still-nifty curve, and allowing a home run.

* If he's that irreplaceable as a traveling companion, they really ought to skip carrying him around as a roster hobbit, and just get around to extending him the dignity of putting him on a coaching track.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Claimed RHP Jeff Lyman off waivers from the Braves, and optioned him to Midland (Double-A). [7/2]
Placed LHP Dallas Braden on the 15-day DL (elbow), retroactive to 6/23; recalled RHP Clay Mortensen from Sacramento (Triple-A); signed RHP Boof Bonser to a minor-league contract, and assigned him to Sacramento. [7/3]
Placed LF-R Conor Jackson on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 7/1; optioned RHP Clay Mortensen to Sacramento; purchased the contract of OF-L Matt Watson from Sacramento; recalled OF-R Matt Carson from Sacramento; transferred OF-L Travis Buck from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/5]

Which is more topsy-turvy, the A's outfield or their rotation? They've only used nine different starting pitchers for five slots, after all, and that's after getting Mortensen's spot start in Braden's place, against 11 different starting outfielders for three pastures so far. That's without Watson becoming the 12th (yet), and with the expectation that both Braden and Brett Anderson will be back in action at some point before July runs out, they may not need to summon a 10th starting pitcher any time soon. Indeed, with Vin Mazzaro on a streak of three quality starts, bumping him as the last-arriving of the current slate of starters once both Braden and Anderson return doesn't seem quite right for a non-contender. Mazzaro's .518 SNWP is just sixth among the rotation regulars, but with Justin Duchscherer already gone for the year, is he really who needs to be bumped?

If anything, the A's should be considering what they might get for Ben Sheets, whose disappointing .439 SNWP can be held up as a nice little comeback story only so far. It will necessarily not be a great deal, given his weak performance and his high price tag, but you have to expect the A's will eat a good chunk of change, appropriate given the initial thought that he was being inked for a pair of purposes: as a veteran staff-stocker, sure, but also as a big-ticket item whose addition might get the union to stop complaining about the A's overall payroll. If the A's eat a big chunk of that salary, that takes the latter consideration out of the picture, at least for this year.

That leaves you with whether or not his value as a rotation regular is all that important, and he has managed 10 quality starts in 17 through his first six innings (and using earned runs), which should be useful back-end filler. Unfortunately, given Sheets' even less impressive record for staying healthy over a full season, I wouldn't think that's something worth banking on. And with much better options to choose from, if Billy Beane and Dave Forst realize anything in the way of an actual p-word-worthy prospect, it'll be a good turn indeed.

As far as the designated seventh man du jour for the five-man, Mortensen didn't embarrass himself with his spot start, giving up eight baserunners and four runs against seven strikeouts in six frames. That was against the injury-enfeebled Indians, however, so I wouldn't get too worked up about his instantly losing his job after taking this one turn. With Sacramento, he had 10 wins and was delivering 7.1 K/9. He was also doing a great job of keeping the pitcher's best friend in order and exploiting a nice sinker, getting 16 double plays while seeing six of eight stolen-base attempts cut down while he was on the mound. On the other hand, he was allowing 4.5 runs per nine, and exploding after the fifth inning, allowing 20 runs in 23 IP with 27 hits and eight walks, so past concerns that he might be best off as a middle man brought in to put that sinker to use with men on base still seem to be current.

As for seeing Jackson vacate the outfield within two weeks of arriving in it seems like appropriate cause for alarm-if he's never going to be durable, and he isn't going to slug outside of bandboxes like Phoenix, his utility as an everyday player is obviously limited, even for a team as outfielder-needy as the A's have been and still are. Carson and Watson aren't fixes as much as people described as outfielders in the past who will play there in the future, having done so in the past. Watson at least has the virtue of having seen the world while plying his trade, having put in a ton of time in Sacramento (2004-06, before signing after beginning the season with the Lancaster Barnstormers in the independent Atlantic League following stints in Japan, Korea, and other remote locations. But they make poor antidotes to the power-free outfield of Coco Crisp, Rajai Davis, Ryan Sweeney, Gabe Gross, Greg Gross, and what's left of Wayne Gross. As rum lots go, it's too much Bacardi, and not enough punch.


SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated C-S Josh Bard from the 15-day DL; designated C-R Eliezer Alfonzo for assignment. [6/29]
Outrighted C-R Eliezer Alfonzo to Tacoma (Triple-A). [6/30]

Mariners catchers have produced a collective .220 True Average, where the position that requires the tools of ignorance has produced an industry-wide .259. On the list of Mariners' problem positions, it's merely the second-worst slot for offense-they're getting just a .219 TAv from their third basemen, thanks to Jose Lopez's miserable season. Next worst was first base, but trading for Russell Branyan should have meant they'd improve upon their .225 clip, except that lately they're DHing Branyan to get Kotchman's horrific batsmanship in the lineup for the suggested benefits of his ability to dance around the bag at first base. Think that's the extent of their offensive problems? Not at all, not when their shortstops-mostly men named Wilson-are at .228, below the MLB-wide average of .252. That's actually better relative to league than their left fielders, who have collaborated with the opposition poorly enough to post a .240 TAv where all left fielders are at .274. For fun and games, it's worth noting that the 1906 White Sox, the so-called "Hitless Wonders," had a .258 team True Average. The Mariners are at .243, and as good as their rotation can be, could be, and should be once Erik Bedard comes back from the DL, they've got a lot of ground to make up-as well as a ton of offense.


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned LHP Matt Harrison to Oklahoma City (Triple-A); recalled RHP Omar Beltre from Oklahoma City. [6/30]
Acquired C-R Bengie Molina from the Giants for RHPs Chris Ray and Michael Mann; recalled RHP Pedro Strop from Oklahoma City. [7/1]
Optioned C-R Max Ramirez to Oklahoma City; activated C-R Bengie Molina. [7/2]
Optioned RHP Omar Beltre to Oklahoma City; recalled RHP Doug Mathis from Oklahoma City. [7/6]

You can understand how the Rangers got frustrated. They had two labeled catching prospects, names associated with prospectdom, one with nimble receiving skills whom they had drafted themselves, another they'd traded for in the big Teixeira deal. And what they had to show for it? Two grumpy in-season demotions, followed by Taylor Teagarden's repatriation to the Texas League-where he isn't hitting-and Jarrod Saltalamacchia's send-down to Okie City, where he's hitting right-handers well enough (.270/.338/.461), except that between non-reporting an injury and throwing out just 14 percent of PCL basestealers, he isn't exactly building up a robust case for his being rehabilitated as far as the organization's good graces. Having already resorted to veteran catch-and-throw type Matt Treanor to give them some semblance of satisfactory pro-grade receiving, the Rangers thought they might pull off an offense/defense combo by turning to Max Ramirez... except that while Ramirez hit well enough to make that a doable proposition, he also struggled as a receiver as well as a thrower, nabbing just 17 percent of the 29 stolen-base attempts.

So, for all that, the Rangers got frustrated, and they dispensed with one promising arm among many, having finally gotten to see some measure of what Main might be capable of after a few years of waiting. Main plus a year and a half of Ray wasn't a cheap price to pay for a serviceable big-league catcher they'll control for just the next three months. Even with a clear shot at a division title, was this really necessary, or might they have profited from showing the same patience they did with Julio Borbon as their center fielder?

I'm reminded of the old Bill James observation that a failure to pick between multiple good options leads to no good options, which in this case seems to have born full fruit. From having three compelling catching prospects to pick from to carry at the bottom of their batting order, the Rangers have dispensed with all of them, and wound up with a catch-and-throw regular with an outsized reputation as a hitter, backed up with a catch-and-throw benchie with a broad-based admiration for his dance card. Salty started one game, Teagarden 10, and Ramirez 22. They were in first place despite all of that. Not decisively, but they're up front, and that's despite a mess behind the plate, the possession of all of their initial options plus Treanor, and time to make a confident call in their preferred options.

Instead, they wigged out and bought themselves a brand name-not a premium player, not an improvement, but a known commodity of mixed utility. They dealt for the 35-year-old guy with single-season True Averages of .245, .264, .250, and .234 the last four years, or one season above average for a low-offense position. One. To bring him to the tougher league, albeit with the benefit of the hitter's haven they call home. To Molina's credit, he's durable, having managed to catch 120 or more games in each of the previous three seasons, but did the Rangers really require rented durability and adequacy? How is that supposed to improve matters any in 2011, when Molina is a memory, and they still have to sort out their preferences between Teagarden, Salty, and Ramirez? Is it telling that they cannot pick between them now?

Molina's virtues as a hitter are more than a little overrated, but that's a function of durability at a tough position and a demonstrated track record for producing above-average OBI% marks in 2007 (16.9 percent), 2008 (19.3 percent), and 2009 (17.1 percent). As sabermetrically orthodox as it is to state that the concept of clutch is an adjective, not a repeatable skill, we can grant Molina that much, that his track record backs up his reputation. Balanced against that, Molina doesn't walk, this year's spike past 6 percent aside; his high point in the last four campaigns was 2006's 4.2 percent clip. He is a fly-ball hitter with a low strikeout rate, so the Ballpark should help him more than your generic slow right-handed hitter. Still, the odds of a sub-.300 OBP are pretty good, balanced against the shot that he'll slug in the .400s.

Admittedly, those sorts of numbers aren't too far off from the best-case scenarios for Teagarden or Salty. Whether or not it was worth giving up Main to get someone more certain of delivering just that much speaks volumes about where the Rangers are right now-halfway toward advancing the timetable for regime change in the AL West, and getting conservative to preserve that bid. Main may well blow out his arm, and Ray is a thoroughly replaceable reliever, so this may not hurt them in the least. Still, it shouldn't be interpreted as securing them anything but the ability to avoid fidgeting at a position where years or choice have led to no choices. That's not exactly a clear-cut symptom of progress, but at least it isn't outright failure.



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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