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August 3, 2010

Transaction Action

AL Roundup

by Christina Kahrl

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CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed LHP Erick Threets on the 15-day DL (turf toe - big toe), retroactive to 7/31; recalled RHP Carlos Torres from Charlotte (Triple-A). [8/3]

While disabling Threets is handy in part because it opens up a space for Torres to take, providing the Sox with a spot starter for tonight's makeup game in Detroit, the problem of finding a second lefty for the Sox pen has been a problem going back a couple of years now. They've tried journeymen (Threets, Randy Williams, Jimmy Gobble, Horacio Ramirez, Mike Myers), prospects (Aaron Poreda, Boone Logan, Clayton Richard), and even the odd organizational soldier (who among us can forget Wes Whisler?), but basically it's been a site of turnover since Neal Cotts was dealt after 2006.

Understandably, not everybody can be Matt Thornton, but since Williams is the only option on the 40-man, you can see why the Sox will be calling up their first-round pick from just this past June, Chris Sale, once they get Torres' spot start out of the way. As Kevin Goldstein noted a few weeks back, Sale has been pushed aggressively in-system since being selected 13th overall, delivering all-or-nothing outcomes for Charlotte in two weeks of Triple-A action, striking out 16 of 26 batters, walking four, and giving up a pair of solo homers. Pumping reliable low-90s heat that touches 95 from a slingy three-quarters delivery, the 6-foot-5 Sale makes for an exciting talent-driven decision over hoping some well-aged lefty falls to them via waivers before the end of the month. Kevin Goldstein reports his slider is an OK pitch, and his change grades better than that, while noting that this quick debut would hopefully not short-circuit a future in the rotation.

In the meantime, there's Torres' turn to come. He remains what he's been in the past, a late-developing 27-year-old minor-league vet with a decent assortment and a good sense of how to change speeds, but that doesn't make him anything more than a back-end piece for the bullpen and these sorts of spot assignments. He's managed 122 strikeouts against 56 unintentional walks in 129 1/3 IP, allowing 3.7 runs per nine, with a somewhat average rate of grounders, no steep platoon issue, and an ability to pitch deeper into ballgames. He won't have the complete advantage of anonymity against the Tigers, having faced Will Rhymes, Danny Worth, and Jeff Frazier in a Mudhens/Knights showdown in early May-which Torres lost-and pitching a big-league inning against the Kitties last year.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned LHP Cedrick Bowers to Sacramento (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Boof Bonser from Sacramento; transferred RHP Ben Sheets from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/31]

With Andrew Bailey on the DL until the weekend and Michael Wuertz and Craig Breslow elevated into a closing duumvirate in the meantime, it might seem slightly strange that the A's swapped in Bonser for their third lefty, Cedrick the Entertaining. Homers, walks, strikeouts, if you want home-plate outcomes, Bowers delivers. But with Brett Anderson back in the rotation, the A's are back up to a trio of lefties in the rotation, plus Jerry Blevins has done a nice job in a supporting southpaw role, limiting lefties to .242/.266/.274.

Swapping in Bonser makes sense because he alone of the relievers on staff can handle a pen-saving long relief assignment in case a starter makes an early exit. It probably isn't everything the former first-rounder dreamed of, but if he becomes the latest top pick who ends up claiming a career for himself as a middle reliever-say, like Jason Grilli or Bobby Seay-you can fire up a debate on whether that constitutes success or failure. If the 21st overall pick in the draft has a useful big-league career, that ought to constitute success, no? It isn't like that was an especially great year for talent-Adam Wainwright and Kelly Johnson are the names that jump out at you as far as the immediately subsequent picks, and last I heard, the Braves are really good at this sort of thing.

At any rate, considering Bonser's career-long problems with lefties, he's almost certainly better cut out for relief work anyway. Concerns over his abilities since coming back from getting both his labrum and rotator cuff repaired seem to have been answered, since his fastball is sitting in the low 90s and touching 95. He's out of options, so this latest opportunity represents a deal-or-die proposition, since he'd have to go back through waivers if he disappoints.


SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed OF-S Milton Bradley on the 15-day DL (knee - tendinitis), retroactive to 7/27; optioned 1B-S Justin Smoak to Tacoma (Triple-A); recalled RHP Sean White and INF-R Matt Tuiasosopo from Tacoma. [7/31]
Optioned C-R Rob Johnson to Tacoma; recalled C-R Adam Moore from Tacoma. [8/3]

We can't know what pressure a player puts on himself, but Smoak's utter implosion after the Lee deal was enough of a cause for concern that you can see why the Mariners decided to park him in the PCL for a couple of weeks-a 23/1 K/BB ratio in 65 PAs sort of transcends mere slumpery. Maybe keeping Casey Kotchman in the rotation for playing time at first base didn't exactly help, but since Kotchman is still terrible, yet still plays, their fascination with inoffensive first basemen seems like the Curse of Jeff Clement is in effect-"No young man shall surpass me in his claim for my rightful place in Mariners history." Or words to that effect, I'm sure it'll all be explained on the next episode of Ghostmongering Baloney on the SciFi channel.*

While I'm sure we'd all rather see an uncomplicated endorsement of Smoak from the Mariners, if he wasn't hitting, you can understand a decision to just die their quiet major-league death with Kotchman chopping away, while Smoak tries to regroup. If Smoak is going to be fixed, let's face it, he'll win the job in time-if Kotchman is the competition, that's the definition of dump-worthy, having been discarded, dealt, and and/or readily replaced in quick succession by three previous employers. Besides, if extended exposure to the offensive malnutrition Kotchman provides on offense doesn't wean the Mariners of their fascination with him, perhaps nothing can.

Speaking of massive disappointments, the latest example of Milton being Milton is his latest physical breakdown. His high-water mark in June (.212/.306/.424) was still well short of any ambitions held for him, but in fairness, the knee has been bugging him for most of July. Sometimes, he can't even manage one of the three things that form what Joe Sheehan initially suggested was Bradley's own seemingly impossible tripartite proposition: he cannot be healthy, hit, and play the outfield regularly at the same time. The DH at-bats are generally going to Russell Branyan, and considering he only drew four first-base starts after his reacquisition, he's not a cure for Kotchman the Mariners seem willing to exploit. As a result, if, when... no, let's stick with if Bradley ever comes back this season, his bid for playing time is going to involve a lot of his heading back out into left field, where Michael Saunders is slowly assembling a solid claim to the job, leaving Bradley as the calculated risk that failed.

In the meantime, bringing Tuiasosopo back was necessary because Jose Lopez's hamstring injury has kept him out of the starting lineup for a week. He'd been slumping of late for the Rainiers, hitting just .167/.307/.274 in July, but Josh Wilson's painful encounter with his limitations as a hitter forced the M's to expand their options. Tuiasosopo has mostly been alternating between third and left for Tacoma, with very few reps at short or second, so his conversion to a utilityman's career path appears to be on hold.

The bolder move is the decision to go back to favoring Moore over Johnson. With a projected value in the .230-.240 TAv range, it isn't like the 26-year-old Moore is an All-Star in the making-although there's always team tokenism and position scarcity that he'd have going for him; see Buck, John, All-Star-but he was hitting .321/359/.463 while throwing out 43 percent of stolen-base attempts. With that, he can certainly be forgiven his poor five-week spin at the start of the season, and with the benefit of everyday play for almost seven weeks since recovering from the heel injury that initially shelved him, he simply provided ample reminder of why he's the best they have at present.

Despite his demotion, Rob Johnson remains a good catch-and-throw backup, but he's also a player who seems especially allergic to his home park, having produced at a thoroughly adequate .239/.313/.359 clip on the road in his brief career. The Mariners might be a little overfond of him, but letting him get everyday at-bats with the Rainiers while taking an extended spin with Moore is probably the best favor they could have done for him, while they carry Josh Bard around as the designated old caddy.

In Bard's defense, it's worth noting that even he has a fine SB/CS split, having nabbed 33 percent, a mark he hasn't attained since his days as an Indians prospect, and a reminder of how much these things depend on the other half of the battery. The Mariners are throwing out a third of attempts as a team after killing off 40 percent last year. That's not all Don Wakamatsu, ex-catcher-the Mariners would have been over 30 percent in 2008 with Kenji Johjima handling most of the chores, if not for that fifth of a season or so with Clement behind the plate, and Johjima and company killed off 39 percent in 2007. In short, it's something they've been collectively good at for a while now, beyond changes in personnel and management.

*: Technically, Jeff Clement isn't dead, he's just in Pittsburgh, the next-worst fate in baseball, so any summoning would conjure up the ectoplasmic shade of his bat, which remains understandably put out by its early demise.


TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Andy Sonnanstine on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 7/23; recalled RHP Jeremy Hellickson from Durham (Triple-A). [8/2]
Optioned RHP Jeremy Hellickson to Durham; recalled 1B-L Dan Johnson from Durham. [8/3]

When you have unparalleled pitching depth, you get to do some things other teams might only dream of. Thanks to Hellickson's unquestioned readiness to pitch in the majors, the Rays got to hand the entire rotation an additional day of rest. The most significant impact might be on staff innings and starts leader James Shields, since he's been given the opportunity to take just one turn in the next 10 days before their next homestand. So Hellickson came right up, shut down a playoff contender and served notice that if anything happens to any of the front five, they won't need to turn to Sonnanstine, because they'll be just fine.

That done, they're temporarily dialing down to a six-man pen, as Hellickson gave way to a temporary replacement for Carlos Pena. The regular first baseman is fighting off a sore foot, while Johnson's reimportation from Japan has been a success, as he's raked for Durham at a .303/.430/.624 clip, for an International League-leading .287 True Average. He's coming up on his 31st birthday in a week, so it isn't like he's an overlooked star, just somebody better than Casey Kotchman at a time when some people went a bit overboard on perceived defensive value. Johnson has produced a huge platoon split, mashing IL right-handers at a .332/.447/.705 clip, with 25 homers in 304 PAs. The Rays have also taken the extraordinary step of having Johnson play a lot of third base and left field, where he's been workmanlike and sure-handed. If he's big league-playable, the Rays could have another multi-positional supersub on their hands.


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated LHP Derek Holland from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Oklahoma City (Triple-A). [8/2]

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

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Triple-A,  Year Of The Injury,  Tacoma

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