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July 30, 2010

Transaction Action

The National Redistribution Effort

by Christina Kahrl and Kevin Goldstein

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CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Mitch Talbot on the 15-day DL (strained back); optioned RHP Jess Todd to Columbus (Triple-A); recalled RHP Jensen Lewis from Columbus; purchased the contract of RHP Justin Germano from Columbus. [7/30]

DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Designated 4C-L Jeff Larish for assignment; purchased the contract of 1B/OF-R Jeff Frazier from Toledo (Triple-A). [7/30]

Adding Jhonny Peralta provides at least one more everyday player for the lineup, bringing the Tigers back up to five everyday players: Peralta at third, Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch in the outfield, Johnny Damon in the outfield or DH, and Miguel Cabrera at first base. That leaves Jim Leyland with three non-catcher positions where he's been left with game-to-game choices: an outfield/DH slot, and the middle infield.

While this past week has been brutal for the Tigers offense, now that they've gotten to this point, matters aren't quite so bad, at least in terms of coming to a few decisions on how to handle the matter. They still have the Ramon Santiago/Danny Worth combo at short that was already essentially their starting point, while Will Rhymes appears to be the flavor of the week at the keystone, but that's only until Carlos Guillen returns to action in early August.

Which leaves that extra outfield/DH slot, and here the decision to promote Frazier expands their options. For the moment, they're employing Ryan Raburn as their most frequently used left fielder, but adding Frazier gives them another right-handed bat to mix in, should they want to sit Damon, Boesch, or Jackson, particularly against any lefties. Which is specifically where a sluggy organizational soldier like Frazier could help, because he's been mashing in general (.273/.316/.527 with 56 extra-base hits in 434 PAs), but especially against lefties (.269 ISO). While the 27-year-old seven-year pro is limited to the outfield corners, he's also played a good amount of first base this season, so he can spot for Miguel Cabrera as well.


MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired RHP Matt Capps and $500,000 from the Nationals for C-R Wilson Ramos and LHP Joe Testa; optioned RHP Nick Blackburn to Rochester (Triple-A); placed INF-S Nick Punto on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 7/29; recalled INF-R Trevor Plouffe from Rochester. [7/30]

Capps may not be an exceptionally good closer as such things go, but he's good enough for the Twins' purposes, especially at this sort of price, since they'll only be paying him a little more than the Nats over the last two months of the season, and since he's under club control (and arbitration eligible) for 2011, this is a pickup that could extend into another season.

As far as adding him to a Twins' pen that already ranks among the best in the game, you may find the move odd, of course. Capps' 4.00 FRA is worse than Jon Rauch's 3.64, and his WXRL is far behind Rauch's as well, 128th overall where Rauch is in the top 25 in the majors. So as closer-to-closer comparisons go, this doesn't seem close-on the year, Rauch has outpitched Capps while both men have been employed in the closer's role.

The question of who gets to wear the cape, however, isn't always about high-end performance analysis. There's always an element of snickering in the analysis community over whatever alchemy augurs the mystical suggestion that Capps must be a closer while Rauch, the human tree, has long since been labeled a rubber-armed set-up hero. However, let's credit the Twins with being onto something here, because the next two months aren't just about what happened in the previous four, but what people are likely to do. SIERA suggests that Capps has been moderately unlucky, scoring his work with a 3.56 mark, and that's better than Rauch (4.22), who's only the fourth-best reliever in his own bullpen by that standard. With Jose Mijares and Matt Guerrier doing little better, you can understand how the Twins came to the decision to help themselves-bump Rauch up to an earlier in-game role, leave the accumulation of scorekeeping glory to Capps, and wind up with a better all-around unit.

Conveniently enough for Capps' case, he's also followed up a really ugly two-month stretch (31 hits and 17 runs allowed in 21 1/3 IP, plus four blown saves) with an effective July. Perhaps he's been favored by the shades of Jerome Holtzman or Firpo Marberry or whatever spirit it is that relievers sacrifice virgin toads to, but I'm willing to credit the Twins with some measure of faith for lining up their relief assets in the right slots. Despite the up-and-down season, Capps has shown exceptional control, walking just six of 199 batters unintentionally while striking out 38.

In short, an uncomplicated good thing, one that expands Ron Gardenhire's options in-game by pushing Rauch into the set-up mix. Since the rotation is something of a problem (rating 15th in the majors in per-game rate of SNLVAR), anything that lets Gardenhire turn games over to his pen earlier in-game should help their chances of overtaking the Sox and winning the Central.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Andrew Bailey on the 15-day DL (intercostal strain), retroactive to 7/21; activated LHP Brett Anderson from the 15-day DL; activated OF-L Travis Buck from the 60-day DL, and optioned him to Sacramento (Triple-A); transferred OF-L Ryan Sweeney from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/30]

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired MI-S Cristian Guzman and cash from the Nationals for RHPs Tanner Roark and Ryan Tatusko. [7/30]

A pretty straightforward addition of a veteran middle infielder, rather than risk anything to Ian Kinsler's injury by having to entrust too much playing time to Joaquin Arias or Andres Blanco, now or later. Once Kinsler is back in action in a couple of weeks, Guzman will have a thoroughly adequate spot starter for Kinsler or Elvis Andrus up the middle, and better insurance if a season-ending mishap strikes either starter. If there's a cause for concern, it's that Guzman's conversion to second base this season hasn't gone all that well, rating negative per several of the available metrics, but defensive replacement duty is what Blanco was born for. They didn't give up anything to make this happen, since it appears the Nats are sending along the lion's share of what Guzman will be owed for the balance of the season.

The interesting thing to note about Guzman about his hitting isn't his power or patience-he hasn't any-but the fact that his batting average and his BABIP has been consistently higher since his LASIK surgery before the 2007 season. While his value as an offensive contributor is overwhelmingly tied to his batting average, he seems to have redefined the concept of the seeing-eye single more transparently than anyone.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned LHP Brad Mills to Las Vegas (Triple-A). [7/29]
Recalled OF-L Travis Snider from New Hampshire (Double-A). [7/30]

With this, the last ripple of last weekend's unexpected doubleheader that roiled their rotation smoothes out, as the Jays wind up where they've been waiting to get as far as their roster for a week. Now that Fred Lewis is healthy and Snider is rejoining the club, the long-delayed issue of sorting out who sits from among their six useful bats at five lineup slots (the four corners plus DH) becomes something worth checking on daily. One inference to take from dealing Brett Wallace yesterday would be that they're not unhappy with some combination of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Lyle Overbay at the infield corners. With Adam Lind hitting more like expected in July (.301/.348/.554) and Bautista defying expectations he'd have turned into a pumpkin by now with 10 July homers, there's certainly not an easy solution beyond just mixing and matching to hide some of them from their weaknesses (like Overbay against lefties). Certainly, how Cito Gaston allots starts and playing time will keep Jays boxscores interesting in the weeks to come.


COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted 1B-R Brad Eldred to Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [7/29]

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Carlos Villanueva to Nashville (Triple-A); activated RHP LaTroy Hawkins from the 15-day DL. [7/29]

The Brewers' bullpen hasn't been as historically awful as the D'backs', but somebody's going to rank 29th this season, and that's this gang, although at least they rank "just" 91st on the all-time list for relief craptitude. However, this is a unit that's been getting better after a few months of John Axford and Zach Braddock in the pen. Less heralded has been the addition of journeyman Kameron Loe, but he's done a particularly good job against right-handed batters in a set-up role (.169/.241/.225), reflected in his team-leading ARP, 2.37 FRA, and second-best WXRL on the staff.

Bringing back a seemingly healthy Hawkins should help as well, but somebody was going to have to be bumped in his place, and Villanueva had the twin vices of optionability and his third lousy month in a row to make the choice easy. Since the club's been getting the benefit of good work from Trevor Hoffman in a lower-leverage role lately-not to mention it's more likely they just loan him back to the Padres than release the future Hall of Famer-it would have otherwise been down to Dave Riske or Todd Coffey. Cutting Riske (and getting a head start on buying out their 2011 option on him) would be relatively expensive, and he only recently came back from the DL, but balanced against that, they have control of Coffey for another season (and after another arbitration-related raise). Opting out of employing Villanueva for the time being was a matter of performance and discretion over making a tough choice with a journeyman. So why address today a problem you know you'll have to get to tomorrow?

In the meantime, perhaps it'll even help get Villanueva turned around. After a clean slate of frames in April, he'd posted a 6.75 ERA and allowed seven homers in 36 IP. While there have been concerns that his mechanics are out of whack, he did manage to strike out 46 batters (against 17 walks) in that time, so there's still cause for hope that he can be part of a better Brewers bullpen.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Released RHP Brendan Donnelly outright. [7/29]

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed LHP Dontrelle Willis to a minor-league contract, and assigned him to the Arizona League Giants (Rookie). [7/29]

Well, you knew he had to land somewhere, but sending him all the way down to the Arizona League seems like a pretty obvious suggestion that they're going to working on something beyond just seeing what he might still have left.


WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated LHP Scott Olsen from the 15-day DL. [7/28]
Placed RHP Stephen Strasburg on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 7/22. [7/29]
Traded RHP Matt Capps and $500,000 to the Twins for C-R Wilson Ramos and LHP Joe Testa; recalled LHP Atahualpa Severino from Syracuse (Triple-A); traded MI-S Cristian Guzman to the Rangers for RHPs Tanner Roark and Ryan Tatusko. [7/30]

KG: While it's obvious that Ramos had no future with the Twins, a good year at Triple-A would have made him a much more valuable trading chip this month. Instead, he hit just .241/.280/.345 at Rochester, and needed a July surge just to reach those numbers. He's an outstanding defender who is quick and agile behind the plate to go with a true plus arm that has gunned down half of opposing basestealers. The problem is more of an offensive one: While he's hit for average in the past, he certainly hasn't this year, and it's his primary offensive skill, because in 125 games and 509 PAs at the upper levels of the Twins system, he's amassed just nine home runs and drawn 18 walks. Throw in an injury-prone career that has seen him play over 100 games in a year just once, and his perceived value was far greater than the reality.

Originally signed as a non-drafted free agent, lefty Joe Testa lives off his fastball/cutter combination, but he's only 5-foot-10, rarely gets over 90 mph, and has a lot of problems throwing strikes. He's been consistently effective against his fellow left-handers however, and does have some LOOGY possibilities down the road.

Turning over to what the Nats got for dealing Guzman, Tatusko was an 18th-round pick in the 2007 draft. After two and a half non-descript years in the Rangers' system, he was seen as little more than an organizational player entering the year, but he's taken a big step forward at Double-A, capped by his posting a 1.34 ERA in his last six starts at Double-A Frisco. He doesn't have the stuff to miss bats, but he works consistently low in the zone with an 88-92 mph fastball that has a bit of natural sink, while he'll add in a solid breaking ball to keep hitters off balance. He's never developed a consistent changeup, and many think his long-term role could come in relief. Still, that's a huge upgrade from where he was a year ago.

A rotation mate of Tatusko's at Frisco, Tanner Roark is another low pick (25th round), that the Rangers have been able to get some value out of. He was selected out of an independent league after academic issues waylaid his college career. Roark entered the year with a reputation similar to Tatusko's, and most still see him as a fringe prospect. His fastball comes in at 89-91 mph, but it's his only pitch that rates as even average, as he gets around on his slurvy breaking ball too often, and his changeup lags well behind. Most of his success comes on his ability to throw strikes with the heater, and an inability to mix things up has already led to some inconsistency this year. He's a longshot to ever establish himself in the big leagues.

CK: It was at least a competitive team, but not a good one. However, since the season's biggest acquisition might be recapturing some measure of dignity, the Nats could afford to swap out a few of the short-time vets. The end of the Cristian Guzman relationship is perhaps long overdue, surviving its architect, the Guzman-smitten Jim Bowden, by almost two years. But after the expense of over $32 million in exhange for six years of occasional health and sporadic utility, enough was enough. His departure pre-figures Danny Espinosa's coming into the club's middle infield picture at some point next season. Whether Ian Desmond holds onto the other job will be for the next two months to help inform, so the less poncing about with Guzman getting in the way, the better.

While Ramos isn't a tremendous prospect, he's a 22-year-old catcher who can handle the defensive side of his responsibilities effectively. Whether he winds up being a cost-saving caddy and young padawan to Ivan Rodriguez in the second year of the future Hall of Famer's contract, or spends a season in Syracuse in 2011, it's a nice depth-minded addition. We'll see if they both with offering Wil Nieves arbitration, since doing so would pretty clearly keep Ramos in Triple-A for a good part of next season.

If there's a negative message to take from this, it's the glum realization that Jesus Flores is as far away from returning to action as ever, having endured a recent setback in his rehab, and still stuck hitting off tees or throwing from 90 feet. At this point, his next game action won't come until the winter, so it's understandable that the Nats would prefer not to count on him or go through a repeat of this season's revolving door of options, having employed Chris Coste, Jamie Burke, and Carlos Maldonado at different points of the season.

As for who gets saves now that Capps has been swapped away, the Nats are holding out the opportunity to get saves to Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, and prospect Drew Storen. It's a nice gesture as far as a reward to Clippard for a fine season in middle relief, but the expectation is that Storen is eventually going to win the job for keeps. Here as elsewhere, it's a small step forward as the club moves deeper into some semblance of normalcy, and puts the ward of the state period that much further behind them.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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