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July 27, 2010

Transaction Action

NL East and Central

by Christina Kahrl

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CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Mitch Atkins to Iowa (Triple-A); recalled RHP Jeff Stevens from Iowa. [7/20]
Activated RHP Brian Schlitter from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Jeff Stevens to Iowa. [7/23]


CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Micah Owings to Louisville (Triple-A); recalled RHP Carlos Fisher from Louisville. [7/21]
Activated C-R Ramon Hernandez from the 15-day DL; outrighted C-R Corky Miller to Louisville; signed RHP Jason Isringhausen to a minor-league contract and assigned him to Louisville; purchased the contract of RHP Jose Arredondo from Louisville, and placed him on the 60-day DL. [7/22]

The good news here isn't the flyer they've taken out on Izzy or the decision to put Owings out of his mop-up duty misery in the major-league pen, it's that they got Hernandez back from the DL-and put him on the bench, where he belongs. Ryan Hanigan remains the regular receiver, which makes for a nice, quiet changeover from the veteran to the organizational soldier on the basis of picking the better hitter, since both are solid receivers who do a good job deterring the running game. As much sport as the sabermetric community likes to make of Dusty Baker's seemingly over-pruned decision tree, to his credit it looks as if the old-school skipper didn't formulaically stick with the unwritten rule that a regular doesn't lose his job to an injury.


HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Designated RHP Casey Daigle for assignment. [7/19]
Recalled LHP Wesley Wright from Round Rock (Triple-A). [7/20]
Designated LHP Polin Trinidad and RHP Gary Majewski for assignment; optioned MI-S Oswaldo Navarro to Round Rock; claimed MI-S Anderson Hernandez off waivers from the Indians; claimed RHP Nelson Figueroa off waivers from the Phillies; outrighed RHP Casey Daigle to Round Rock. [7/21]
Outrighted RHP Gary Majewski and LHP Polin Trinidad to Round Rock. [7/23]
Optioned RHP Chris Sampson to Round Rock; recalled LHP Fernando Abad from Corpus Christi (Double-A). [7/25]

Yesterday, the Colonel did a tremendous job digging into the Wright proposition, and after giving up 10 runs in 9 2/3 IP across two starts against the Cubs, you might reasonably come to the conclusion that he's got the wrong stuff. That said, it isn't like the Astros have that many rockets to fire up, and most of the alternatives risk launching pad disasters. Scuffy Moehler is out for a little while longer, so he's not gassed up for a go just yet. They could easily turn to Figueroa or Gustavo Chacin, choices they may well have to moot should they actually pull off a Roy Oswalt trade to their satisfaction. You can take that choice as another symptom of a near-empty system, but considering that they could snap up Andy Hernandez on waivers and see themslves as all the better for it, it isn't like this team can hide the clues of its hitting bottom all that easily.

The one guy who's not quite like the rest is Abad, as he'd be a middling prospect in almost any organization, because lefties who throw consistently in the low 90s don't grow on trees, not even in the Dominican Republic. He's in a somewhat similar predicament as Wright, in that he seems like he should be something more than just another LOOGY-he throws a good changeup and an effective curve-and he can be effective over multiple innings, but whether or not he's a starting pitcher is sort of difficult to say. You could suggest that the Astros are bad enough and short of personnel to the point that they ought to afford themselves some creativity, perhaps by switching out pure rotation assignments-especially after an Oswalt trade-and meting out a tandem assignment or two in a couple of slots. Forcing Wright or Abad or Figueroa or even Chacin to try and be big-league rotation regulars isn't necessarily a formula for eventual success, not for them, and not for the Astros, but some flexibility in job descriptions might actually help the team sort out what everyone on board is capable of contributing.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RHP Yovani Gallardo from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-R Lorenzo Cain to Nashville (Triple-A). [7/22]

NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated 2B-S Luis Castillo from the 15-day DL; optioned MI-R Ruben Tejada to Buffalo (Triple-A). [7/19]
Optioned 2B-R Justin Turner to Buffalo; activated LHP Oliver Perez from the 15-day DL. [7/21]
Signed RHP Chad Cordero, and assigned him to Buffalo. [7/22]
Designated RHP Fernando Nieve for assignment; recalled RHP Manny Acosta from Buffalo. [7/23]
Placed C-R Rod Barajas on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 7/25; purchased the contract of 1B-R Mike Hessman from Buffalo. [7/26]

If the Marlins don't really have it all figured out, why should anyone expect the Mets to, given they're stuck in a very similar position in the standings despite being staked to a much different, much more expensive proposition? For the Mets, winding up the noisome spoiler wouldn't count for a moral victory, it would be the unwanted consolation prize of another season that didn't provide vindication for management. The Mets may be the team that came into the season with the widest possible variance between their best-case and worst-case scenarios-72 wins or 92, you could understand how either could come to pass-but here they are, mucking around .500 instead of providing some strong basis for aggressive action with the deadline upon us.

That said, things really do seem to be coming together, if you want to take the Mets seriously. Getting Castillo back has been a straightforward-enough fix for a lineup slot that had scarred over in his absence. That's not to say that Castillo is great, but in the rush to whine about his paydays, the simple fact is that he remains their most productive regular at the keystone, and if he chips in a .340 OBP or a .250 TAv, they're better off than they were with Alex Cora or Ruben Tejada.

They're also not massively set back by losing Barajas for a couple of weeks, except that it does probably scotch the rumored opportunity to ditch him on the Red Sox. In the meantime, they get to hand over the catching chores to some sort of job-sharing arrangement between rookie Josh Thole and an ageless asset in Henry Blanco, an overall improvement that might leave Barajas in the third man's slot-or settling for Blanco's playing time-by the time he comes back. Not unlike the successful contributions they've gotten from Ike Davis or Jon Niese or Bobby Parnell, making space for Thole affords them the opportunity to break in a prospect in a meaningful role while also contending.

While there's a lot of little, likeable stuff going on, the question of whether or not it provides enough of a platform to contend with, on the other hand, isn't as obvious. They haven't really sorted out what they'll do with Perez-something relief-ish, when they're running out of bodies-but Perez's return does highlight the last big hole on this ballclub, which is the one remaining open rotation slot that they haven't been able to fill since their season-opening plan went pieces. If you treat R.A. Dickey's long-awaited success as the fortuitous plug-in to float over the site of John Maine's latest sinking, there's still the matter of replacing Perez with something or somebody better than the merely adequate Hisanori Takahashi (.457 SNWP). What they have to work with also isn't the best; they have prospects, but not many to spare. They can dangle Jeff Francoeur all they like, but as something of an acquired taste, winding up with him is something of a transactional cul-de-sac.

Thinking about the man in charge, it was easier for Omar Minaya when he was heading up the Expos. There, he could pull the trigger on a big, lamentable "going for it" trade like the infamous Bartolo Colon rental, and not have to worry overmuch about the consequences. After all, he was just making do with limited resources, and acting as steward for a franchise that was a ward of the 29 co-conspirators bent on getting the game out of Quebec. Now, six years into his Metropolitan incarnation, a creditable .500 finish isn't really something that will burnish his reputation, let alone provide much job security.


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Kyle Kendrick to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A); recalled RHP Drew Carpenter from Lehigh Valley. [7/20]
Optioned RHP Drew Carpenter to Lehigh Valley; purchased the contract of RHP Vance Worley from Reading (Double-A). [7/21]
Recalled RHP Kyle Kendrick from Lehigh Valley. [7/24]
Optioned RHP Vance Worley to Lehigh Valley; recalled LHP J.A. Happ from Lehigh Valley. [7/25]
Placed LHP Jamie Moyer on the 15-day DL (sprained elbow), retroactive to 7/21. [7/26]

So, for all that, Carpenter logged three innings in a blowout loss they could have been handed to Rule 5 roster fob David Herndon, Worley got an inning to make his debut and then go back to his second season of Double-A, and they got J.A. Happ back. Yet for all of that, they're still stuck with Kendrick as the rotation's fifth man, and he still can't get left-handed hitters out to save his life, as they continue to clobber him at a .320/.378/.592 clip, which isn't radically different from his career pace for pasting by the southpawed (.323/.387/.545). For all the off-season jabbering about inside knowledge and how he was learning to employ his cutter and his changeup to better effect, the results are in fact worse, and not because he's been especially unlucky.

This is sort of akin to the point I made in the Mitch Boggs player comment in this year's edition of the annual, about how not all BABIP factoids are equally meaningful, so try not to take them as destiny. The basic problem isn't related to regression or the guys fielding behind him or ill fortune, it's because his $^&%(#@( doesn't work against major-league lefties over any great length of time. Kendrick is a victim of circumstance only insofar as he's on a planet where left-handedness exists, because anybody stepping in on that side of the plate is certainly going to victimize him. It's nice that the Phillies have tried to fix it, because that's what a smart team tries to do with a player-maximize his potential.

So why not do that with a pitcher's usage pattern? Consider the Phillies' other problem starter in the rotation, Joe Blanton. At least with Blanton the Phillies seem to be getting slow improvement-Kentucky Joe has put up seven quality starts (through the first six innings) in his last eight, and despite the overall ugly results, he's drawn a tougher slate of opponents than anyone else in their rotation on the year. With Kendrick, he's at nine of 19 as far as quality starts on the season, with an exasperating tendency to alternate his bad and good days.

Given Kendrick's career-spanning platoon problem, you'd anticipate he's the guy you'd want to line up and pick your spots with, but he doesn't seem to be employed with any particular care as far as who he faces. Sort of like Moyer, he has his uses and you can see how he might be employable. In Moyer's case, as an innings muncher, ideally in the bigger venues. In Kendrick's, perhaps as a true swing starter/middle relief guy, if we still had those, except in today's era of hyper-specialization, we don't. Which is the problem in a nutshell-not every player gets to be used ideally, and ballclubs have needs. Getting Happ back might have spared them Kendrick, but he's not the league's worst fifth starter, and the good news is that they have Happ. They could try and pick their spots with Kendrick-running him up against the Snakes or the Fish seems straightforward enough-but the Mets, Giants, and Dodgers? That seems like bad news just waiting to be made for a team that can't afford many more missteps.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed C-S Ryan Doumit on the 15-day DL (concussion); recalled C-S Jason Jaramillo from Indianapolis (Triple-A). [7/22]
Optioned RHP Brad Lincoln to Indianapolis; designated RHP Brendan Donnelly for assignment. [7/26]
Recalled RHP Steven Jackson and purchased the contract of LHP Wil Ledezma from Indianapolis. [7/27]

As easy as it might be to pity Pirates fans, let's not forget to pity some of the Pirates themselves. The paying customers won't get the benefit of seeing Ryan Doumit rake after he took a hard hit at home plate from Rickie Weeks. That leaves them to root for a Jaramillo bounce-back or Erik Kratz to finally establish himself in his first big-league shot in his age-30 season as a pro, or a whole lot of cause to hope that Doumit recovers completely, however long it takes.

At least they're getting a fun twofer to shore up their bullpen. Ledezma you should know only too well by now, since this is his eighth incarnation as far as organizations he's been affiliated with. If his latest spin in Triple-A provided a reminder that he may be a Quad-A pitcher, how can you not want to take a look at a hard-throwing lefty who has struck out more than a third of all batters faced down at Indy? Because with 50 Ks in 38 1/3 IP against just 40 total baserunners, Ledezma's been delivering good stuff all season for that stammering tribe, the I-Indians. Ledezma has always been struggling against the expectation that lefties need to become lefty specialists, but given that the Pirates simply need people who can pitch, here's hoping this is a happy match between hurler and opportunity.

The other call-up is Jackson, still a sinker baller of moderate effectiveness, and still hanging around as one of the innumerable Yankee tokens who washed into the organization during the busy tear-down phase that Neal Huntington had to put the rickety ship he inherited through in order to get down to some serious remodeling. This Mr. Steven Jackson is not to be confused with the Steve Jackson, the gaming industry genius who gave us "Evil Stevie's Pirate Game", which sort of like the Pittsburgh Pirates requires a lot of building blocks and a lot of money to get into it as seriously as the competition. Admittedly, it's just a few grand on Legos, but is that really so much? Somehow, I expect people keep asking the Nuttings effectively the same thing, because otherwise, if you want to play with the big boys, what's the point of the Nuttings' doings?


ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned LHP Evan MacLane to Memphis (Triple-A); recalled RHP Fernando Salas from Memphis. [7/19]
Optioned 4C-R Allen Craig to Memphis; recalled RHP P.J. Walters from Memphis. [7/23]
Activated OF-R Ryan Ludwick from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP P.J. Walters to Memphis. [7/24]


WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned OF-R Justin Maxwell to Syracuse (Triple-A); recalled RHP Luis Atilano from Syracuse. [7/19]
Placed RHP Luis Atilano on the 15-day DL (bone chips - elbow), retroactive to 7/21. [7/23]
Recalled RHP Collin Balester from Syracuse. [7/24]
Placed RHP J.D. Martin on the 15-day DL (back); recalled LHP Ross Detwiler from Harrisburg (Double-A). [7/25]

This sort of puts the Nats' rotation picture back in a blender, where all you can really be sure of after tonight's late scratch of Stephen Strasburg after his warmups is a whole lot more Livan Hernandez, and then multiple spins with TBD. Losing Atilano and Martin after their latest turns tore off a couple of band-aids before anyone from among the teeming horde on the DL was up to speed. As happy as anything can be in the shadow of the Strasburg news-not very-at least Jason Marquis and Jordan Zimmermann and Scott Olsen are all close and pitching in the minors. (It's beginning to look like we can dispense with discussing Chien-Ming Wang for a while yet.) Olsen seems to be at the front of the queue, possibly coming back in time for this weekend's action, but even so I expect we'll see Detwiler take at least a second turn.

From there, things don't get any better than employing people of the basis of their availability. As is, Craig Stammen's delivered two quality starts in five since his punitive demotion, so it would be hard to say he's earning his keep as much as clinging to it for lack of many alternatives. Since they're full up on the 40-man, they may have to turn back to John Lannan, Matt Chico, or even Shairon Martis, because that's what they've got rostered, and if they lose Strasburg for any length of time on top of Atilano and Martin, the club's basically in survival mode, fielding a team because there's a schedule to play out.


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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