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September 27, 2010

Transaction Analysis

Orioles, Red Sox

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Placed RHP David Hernandez on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle); purchased the contract of RHP Armando Gabino from Norfolk (Triple-A). [8/5]
Optioned LHP Troy Patton to Norfolk; recalled C-R Craig Tatum from Norfolk. [8/9]
Activated OF-R Lou Montanez from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Norfolk. [8/13]
Placed RHP Jason Berken on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 8/13; recalled RHP Rick VandenHurk from Norfolk. [8/16]
Activated RHP Jim Johnson from the 60-day DL; optioned RHP Armando Gabino to Norfolk; transferred RHP Jason Berken from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/27]
Recalled 1B-R Brandon Snyder and OF-R Nolan Reimold from Norfolk; purchased the contract of MI-R Robert Andino from Norfolk; designated OF-R Lou Montanez for assignment. [9/1]
Recalled RHP Chris Tillman from Norfolk. [9/5]
Recalled LHP Troy Patton from Norfolk; recalled LHP Pedro Viola from Bowie (Double-A); activated RHP David Hernandez from the 15-day DL; outrighted OF-R Lou Montanez to Norfolk. [9/7]

Is There a Doctor (or Two) in the House? With any cadre of pitchers, there are bound to be casualties, but the disappointment in the Birdhouse is in the untransactioned bad news involving Jake Arrieta's elbow. He and Berken both sought second opinions, and both don't appear to have received different diagnoses-Berken should be able to rehab a torn labrum, while Arrieta is eliminating concerns over whether or not removing the spur in his elbow will increase the chances he'd be at risk for having TJS.

Of course, these are not the same thing, in terms of their import for the Orioles' 2011 plans. Arrieta is a top prospect, and had pitched a career-high 173 ⅓ IP in his age-24 season, spread across 29 starts and a relief appearance (a spacing tune-up before his promotion); he topped 100 pitches just six times in his 18 big-league starts, and four times in his 11 minor-league spins, but never topped 120 in any turn, and never faced 30 batters in a game. His combined pitches per batter faced (3.78) was slightly lower than the AL average (3.82), so he wasn't inefficient. However, among the dogs not barking was his past record for having poor mechanics as an amateur, with concerns when the O's picked him that he was throwing across his body and would need to make adjustments. This is just his third year as a pro, so that wasn't all that long ago, but the expectation is that he'll be fine as far as rejoining the rotation next spring.

On an order of lower magnitude, Berken's year was a nice bit of recapturing whatever modest prospect status he had as a middle reliever, but as with any extra arm, it's important not to get too worked up. Whether you like FRA or SIERA or WXRL to interpret what a pitcher has done, he wasn't as good as just his ERA suggested, neither especially good or bad, just a mid-game innings muncher on a staff that needed that sort of help. There's not a lot of evidence to suggest he'll stick at this level, or that he's as important as, say, Hernandez, as far as the relief arms produced by the rotation's overspill as far as talent. The key for him, as with Hernandez or Johnson or VandenHurk or Matt Albers or any of the other extra arms on hand is going to be finding ways to make themselves useful to Buck Showalter.

Silver Lining: Casualty reports aside, there's plenty to feel good about as far as the staff's young pitching is concerned. Both Brad Bergesen and Jeremy Guthrie have produced eight quality starts in their last 10 (counting those blown after six), and Brian Matusz has dealt six in his last nine. The offense has also responded with its best couple of months on the year, scoring 4.2 runs per game, up from 3.6 per in the four months previous. Beyond the usual noise as far as who started off hot and who's finishing that way, that coincides somewhat neatly with the return of Brian Roberts, but all of the early-season shenanigans at first base did a goodly amount of damage as well. It's less a matter of their becoming a quality offense as much as having one that functions.

Non-Obvious Good Move: Reimold recovered some of his lost luster with the Tides, hitting .320/.460/.443. No, the power didn't really show up, but it's a step in the right direction. Considering he'll be 27 in a couple of weeks, it's important to re-scale expectations to think of him in terms of being a good organizational player, not a prospect.

Meh: A lot of guys are getting courtesy looks before the inevitable shakeup this winter. Most are exactly the same as you remembered them. Viola and Patton both started games at their respective levels this summer, but both probably have better chances to try and make a good impression to stake an initial claim for a situational lefty role. Snyder and Andino both don't get on base enough to be really useful, but even if you could look past that, Snyder still lacks the power to make a plausible first baseman, or the glove to manage at third. Andino's modest sock for a shortstop (.141 ISO at Norfolk) could make him interesting in a Jose Hernandez ExtraLite way, especially if you want to go all hope-y on him after a big second half (.306/.360/.446), with a walk rate that was clawed up over seven percent in a little more than 200 PAs. OK, I admit, I tried to hum a few bars, but the guy is already 26, so any wishcasting where he's concerned has to start with the recognition that we're living in a world where Cesar Izturis gets a multi-year deal and nobody seems to get tired of Juan Castro.

Takeaways: Buckle in for what should be one of the most interesting offseasons in the industry, because Showalter is nothing if not decisive.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Placed 1B-R Kevin Youkilis on the 15-day DL (thumb); activated 1B-R Mike Lowell from the 15-day DL. [8/3]
Activated OF-L Jacoby Ellsbury from the 15-day DL; optioned LF-S Daniel Nava to Pawtucket (Triple-A). [8/4]
Placed LHP Hideki Okajima on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled LHP Felix Doubront from Pawtucket. [8/6]
Signed 1B-L Carlos Delgado, and assigned him to Pawtucket; outrighted OF-L Jeremy Hermida to Pawtucket. [8/9]
Placed C-R Kevin Cash on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 8/9; recalled C-S Jarrod Saltalamacchia from Pawtucket. [8/11]
Returned OF-L Jacoby Ellsbury to the 15-day DL (ribcage); recalled RHP Michael Bowden from Pawtucket. [8/14]
Placed UT-L Eric Patterson on the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Dustin Richardson to Pawtucket. [8/16]
Activated 2B-R Dustin Pedroia from the 15-day DL; recalled LF-S Daniel Nava from Pawtucket. [8/17]
Placed C-S Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the 15-day DL (leg infection), retroactive to 8/16; recalled C-R Dusty Brown from Pawtucket. [8/19]
Returned 2B-R Dustin Pedroia to the 15-day DL (foot), retroactive to 8/19; purchased the contract of INF-R Yamaico Navarro from Pawtucket. [8/20]
Activated C-R Kevin Cash from the 15-day DL; optioned C-R Dusty Brown to Pawtucket. [8/24]
Activated LHP Hideki Okajima from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Michael Bowden to Pawtucket. [8/28]
Traded RHP Manny Delcarmen to the Rockies for RHP Chris Balcom-Miller; recalled RHP Robert Manuel from Pawtucket. [8/31]
Activated C-S Jarrod Saltalamacchia and UT-L Eric Patterson from the 15-day DL; recalled LHP Dustin Richardson from Pawtucket. [9/1]
Purchased the contract of RHP Robert Coello from Pawtucket. [9/5]
Activated C-S Jason Varitek from the 15-day DL; purchased the contract of 1B-L Lars Anderson from Pawtucket; recalled CF-L Josh Reddick from Pawtucket. [9/6]
Recalled RHP Michael Bowden from Pawtucket. [9/7]
Claim RHP Matt Fox off waivers from the Twins; transferred CF-R Mike Cameron from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [9/9]
Activated RHP Matt Fox. [9/10]
Purchased the contract of LHP Rich Hill from Pawtucket; transferred 1B-R Kevin Youkilis from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [9/13]
Signed INF-S Felipe Lopez; transferred OF-L Jacoby Ellsbury from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [9/25]

The Shipwreck of Their Hopes?: So, Youkilis gets hurt; obviously, that stings more than a bit. But for all of the talk about the Sox and their vaunted staffing and advanced techniques in the trainer's room, to lose both Pedroia and Ellsbury so soon after getting them back? After enduring a similar bit of bobbing about with Mike Cameron? And Ellsbury? Tools and training are great, obviously, but the extent to which art is a critical component of diagnosis and treatment, even to this day, seems equally obvious.

That said, these aren't quite alike. Pedroia was seemingly brought back too soon, in that it wasn't more than a day or two before he was complaining of soreness and being sat back down. Ellsbury was the victim of an unexpected accident, in that he couldn't have run into a much larger human being than Tommy Hunter; "Big Pants" would probably look pretty good on a few offensive lines. But the former incident could represent a matter of reasonable risk-if Pedroia couldn't play and was lost to them, they might have seen themselves as cooked regardless, but if he could come back and contribute on some level, wouldn't that be something worth trying?

Of course, all of the DL-related anguish obscures the point that they stopped missing Pedroia all that badly once they got used to the idea of just playing Jed Lowrie regularly. The September flip-flop that puts Marco Scutaro at second and Lowrie at short has been a wash if you start from the assumption that the Sox' intended middle infield was Pedroia and Scooter-they still have Scutaro, and Lowrie's MLVr has been higher than Pedroia's was. The pain on offense was when they were forced trying to play Bill Hall daily at a position he didn't add much value, especially on defense. They're taking a defensive hit switching to Lowrie at short, of course, but not so steep as to obviate the virtue of seeing if he can handle it-if he can, your starting Sox infield for 2011 doesn't really bode well for Scooter's future as an everyday player, but you can add this to the list of Red Sox moves that focus on the result than just the contract.

Ellsbury was even easier to replace, unless you're all ginned up on stolen bases and Deadball nostalgia. His offensive production in 2009, however, was more than matched by Darnell McDonald this year; hell, even Eric Patterson topped it in his Sox at-bats.

So, if you want to talk about the genuinely deadly injury for Boston's lineup, it was losing Youkilis. Seeing how thorougly done Lowell still was only puts an exclamation point on it, but via MLVr, they were losing about a half-run per game on that move alone. Put that sort of loss on the scales in the AL East, and you wind up a .500 ballclub keeping the Jays company as competive, entertaining October wallflowers.

Obvious Good Move: Getting something of value for Delcarmen, who was just getting more expensive via arbitration without becoming more valuable. Why spend seven figures for adequacy at the back end of a pen when you can buy back the roster spot on the 40-man and get a decent prospect? Balcom-Miller isn't a blue-chipper, but he was a sixth-round pick out of a California juco just last season, and while he's probably a bullpen guy in the end, he's an interesting blend of aggression and control, hitting almost as many batters (13) as he walked (19) in 108 2/3 IP. He's only 21 years old this season, and Kevin Goldstein reports he basically lives off an 89-92 mph fastball with lots of sink, although Balcom-Miller has a good slider and a developing change; helping him is a funky delivery that gets compared to a Japanese leaguer's for its pauses.

Non-Obvious Good Move: This is the Red Sox. If they do something subtle, it's nevertheless the subject of a thousand screeches with delight or a rush to congratulate them. If you remember the scene from Bonfire of the Vanities where the insufferable opera diva at a dinner party essentially clears his throat to make a gesture toward singing for his supper, which a grateful audience immediately identifies as a lone note from a specific piece, and proof of genius, you get a sense of the thing. Well, OK, I can't resist either, so I'll nominate something-the fact that they found their way around the transaction churn to wind up with Patterson still on the roster despite his lack of options.

It's Raining Men: As noted in the past, Theo Epstein is nothing if not omnivorously acquisitive when it comes to pitchers, because after sifting through a few dozen, maybe you find something that only runs you around the league minimum. So here you've got Hill's latest attempt at a comeback, with a curve that's still pretty and still throwing harder than your average lefty. Coello is a tall 25-year-old with a year in the independent leagues to spruce up his resume after initially starting out as a catcher drafted by the Reds, then failing to stick with the Angels. Some sources claim he's got late-game velocity, but it's more in the lower end of average, sitting around 89-91 and without any supplementary breaking stuff. Fox is a classic Twins system product, except for a problem with staying healthy; he was a supplemental first-rounder back in 2004 (between Tyler Lumsden and Danny Putnam) who could touch 94 with his fastball. He can throw four pitches for strikes, but with no plus stuff you're talking about a guy who might pan out as a nice fifth starter-or not. For the price of a waiver claim, why not get grabbity?

Meh: Salty is up and already broken, but it's far too soon to say anything one way or another beyond the expectation that he has to be headed up. Lars Anderson is up as well, and it seems like we've been talking about his burgeoning greatness effectively forever, but in fairness, it's neither burgeoning, nor has it been forever, since they've only had him since 2007. He hit just .262/.340/.428 with the PawSox, but with a big platoon split (.278/.366/.474 against right-handers), and he is just 22 years old. Still, it's hard to earn your keep as a purported top-hundred prospect at first base if you don't seriously mash, so we'll see what happens next year.

What isn't meh-worthy is calling up Reddick, despite weak full-season numbers. After the break, he hit .351/.372/.627 for Pawtucket, much more like the top prospect he's been billed as. Next year will be his age-24 season, and it isn't like Jacoby Ellsbury did anything to guarantee himself a slot this year. Of course, Mike Cameron will presumably available next year, so you can add Ryan Kalish to the pile of possibilities in left field, before the Sox even have to ponder opening their wallet.

The Sound and the Fury: You can add Delgado to the long list of noisy non-stories involving Boston baseball this summer, because after injuring his hip five games into his PawSox career, that may well be it for the man. Still, you can't blame the Sox for trying-they knew what they were stuck with in Lowell.

Takeaways: It wasn't a retooling or a regearing or a reloading, it was a season in which their ambitions were thwarted, simply enough. You can blame the weaknesses of flesh, or nostalgia, or get less from John Lackey than they paid for, just as they have endured with Daisuke Matsuzaka. But they'll be back, and this year's unhappy constellation of accidents should prove more coincidence than symptoms of creeping decrepitude.

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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