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April 23, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Theo Flips Boston The Byrd

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired CF-R Marlon Byrd and cash from the Cubs for RHP Michael Bowden and a player to be named later. [4/21]
Designated UTL-L Nate Spears for assignment. [4/21]

With Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford sidelined due to injuries, the Red Sox needed another major-league quality outfielder. Naturally, Theo Epstein’s new team just so happened to have a potential solution. Potential, because it isn’t clear that Byrd will ever make a full recovery from last May’s incident at, coincidentally, Fenway, in which a pitch struck the center fielder in his face. Byrd missed more than 40 games due to multiple facial fractures. When Byrd returned, he managed to hit just .255/.311/.380 in 300 plate appearances. Byrd is 3-for-43 on the 2012 season, giving him a batting average around .235 since the injury. Sometimes, players struck in the head just don’t recover on the field, and it isn’t obvious that Byrd will avoid that fate.

Commenting on whether the Red Sox paid fair value for Byrd is impossible without knowing the other player’s identity. Given that Chicago is picking up almost Byrd’s entire tab, expect the unknown to be better than filler.

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Placed OF-L Brett Gardner on the 15-day disabled list. [4/18]
Recalled RHP Cody Eppley from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre [4/19]

New York wasted no time in placing Gardner on the disabled list due to a sore elbow. Brian Cashman’s decision to call up a pitcher, rather than maneuver his 40-man roster and add one of the outfielders stationed at Triple-A (presumably Dewayne Wise, Curtis Dickerson, or Cole Garner) is interesting. The Yankees could try to work through Gardner’s absence by having Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones split left field duties while rotating regulars through the designated-hitter spot.

In Eppley, the Yankees have a side-arming right-handed pitcher with a high-80s fastball and sweeping slider. Eppley drew comparisons to Darren O’Day during his days with the Rangers, which is a kind way of saying that his best-case scenario involves the term “ROOGY”.  That might sound harsh, but keep in mind that Eppley was drafted in the 43rd round, so being added to a 40-man and getting a cup of major-league coffee is a victory within itself.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Claimed RHP Rich Thompson off waivers from the Angels. [4/20]
Claimed UTL-R Luke Hughes off waivers from the Twins. [4/22]

Here is what I wrote about Thompson after the Angels designated him for assignment last week:

Thompson will not be someone the Angels look back in four months and regret letting go, but he is someone another team will enjoy employing. A smallish righty with high-80s velocity, a curveball, and a cutter, Thompson managed more than 50 innings of 3.00-ERA ball in his only full season last year. The Angels never seemed to have enough room in their bullpen or enough interest in Thompson to give him a longer leash. Perhaps it had something to do with Thompson’s home-run issues. Whatever the reasoning, Thompson should find a home in another organization.

Hughes lost his spot on the Twins 25- and 40-man rosters, though he could find himself in another organization. The Australian native failed to impress in 2011 after hitting .223/.289/.338 in more than 300 plate appearances. He can play second and third base, as well as the corner outfield, and his power production is superior to most utility infielder types, though it comes at the expense of frequent contact. Hughes appears to be out of options, so the A’s will have to keep him on the 25-man roster.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Transferred C-R Robinson Chirinos to the 60-day disabled list. [4/19]
Claimed 1B-L Brandon Allen off waivers from the Athletics. [4/19]
Optioned PH-L Stephen Vogt to Triple-A Durham. [4/20]
Reinstated CF-R B.J. Upton from the 15-day disabled list. [4/20]
Optioned SS-L Reid Brignac to Triple-A Durham. [4/20]

I chronicled Allen last week, writing:

Yet, even with all that stated you should still expect another team to grab hold of him, due to the upside involved. The biggest obstacle is that Allen lacks options, so a team that wants to work with him on shortening his swing or fine-tuning his pitch recognition will have to do it over the course of a major-league season. That isn’t easy for the team or the player, but an organization in need of power off the bench or an upside play at first base could be excused for giving Allen a go.

Before landing Allen, the Rays bench consisted of Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac, Chris Gimenez, and Stephen Vogt; a quartet that produced one extra-base hit over its first 49 plate appearances. Allen’s greatest strength is his strength, though his inability to hit the baseball consistently has caused him to change organizations three times. The Rays have held some level of infatuation with Allen dating back at least a year, and can use his skill set off the bench, making this a sensible marriage.

Allen’s days as a member of the Rays are just beginning, and Brignac’s could be ending. Reportedly, the Rays were interested in trading Brignac during the offseason following one of the worst hitting seasons in league history. Brignac is a good defender at shortstop with a strong arm and plenty of range. However, miserable plate discipline keeps Brignac from fulfilling his power potential. The overall package makes sense as a utility infielder, and it would not be surprising if Brignac staffs that role on a team other than the Rays sooner than later.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired 3B-S Josh Bell from the Orioles for a player to be named later. [4/21]

Bell’s resemblance to Matt Kemp earned him the nickname “Baby Kemp” during his days with the Dodgers. Switch-hitting third basemen with plus-plus raw power and impressive arm strength don’t grow on trees, yet the Dodgers and Orioles have been willing to part with him. Murmurs about Bell’s conditioning aside, his fielding ability and woeful plate discipline (he has 78 strikeouts and six walks in 226 major-league plate appearances) make him a one-dimensional swing-for-the-fences slugger. That would be fine, except Bell’s skill set is no longer resulting in good performances in Triple-A, as he comes to the D’Backs mired in a 3-for-32 slump. The best-case scenario is Bell turning into a bench player, though even that outcome seems doubtful. 

CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Michael Bowden and a player to be named later for CF-R Marlon Byrd and cash. [4/21]

You had to think the Cubs might be the landing spot for Bowden. A few of the Red Sox personnel men who were responsible for drafting Bowden are now in Chicago. That lot includes Jason McLeod, who tabbed Bowden’s 19-strikeout perfect game as the best prep pitching performance he had ever seen. Bowden’s recent seasons have hardly been so charmed. His lofty prospect status has diminished along with his once lethal curveball—a development that led to him ditching the curve for a cutter last season.

There is little doubt that Bowden’s lack of a true out pitch will sentence him to a life in the bullpen. He may find success in the role, as he has in the minors, perhaps in part due to a deceptive and unorthodox short-armed delivery. One thing to watch for is Bowden’s reliance on pitching up in the zone. On days when the wind is blowing out at Wrigley Field, Bowden will be living dangerously.

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

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