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September 17, 2012

Transaction Analysis

A Farewell to Old Bullpen Arms

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Released RHP Kevin Gregg. [9/14]

When the Orioles signed Gregg, he had the proven-closer tag and a little more oomph to his game. Nowadays, Gregg works quickly with a low-90s sinker, a curveball, a cutter, and a splitter. He doesn’t seem to have the foggiest idea where the pitches will wind up, though were he to guess up on the sinker he would be right more often than not. It’s unclear what the future holds for Gregg. It’s just as easy to see him latch on as a middle-relief option somewhere as it is to envision him retiring.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Recalled 1B-L Daric Barton, 2B-S Jemile Weeks, and RHP Jesse Chavez from Triple-A Sacramento. [9/10]

Barton entered last season as an extension candidate. Eighteen months later, Barton’s exit from Oakland seems guaranteed. Barton burned his final option year this season, eliminating the Athletics’ ability to stash him in the minors. That, along with Chris Carter’s breakout—he entered the weekend with the highest True Average among American League starting first baseman—relegates Barton to trade bait. Will anyone bite? Barton is a base-on-balls machine, and a solid defender to boot. He does not hit for power, however, and his ability to hit for a decent average is coming in doubt, making him an offensive liability at the cold corner. To borrow a witticism from Don Quixote: “A first baseman without power is like a knight-errant without love.” Both do a lot of traveling, and neither can capture a heart.

How’s this for a reversal of fortune. During the winter, the Athletics were willing to listen on everyone but Weeks. Naturally, the A’s are making a playoff push despite receiving minimal production from their dreadlocked second baseman. Weeks hit .220/.305/.302 prior to his demotion, a line dwarfed by stand-in Cliff Pennington (who hit .349/.364/.488 during the 14-game stretch). Expect Weeks, ostensibly the second baseman of the future, to split time with Pennington the rest of the way.

HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Activated SS-R Jed Lowrie from the 15-day disabled list. [9/11]
Released RHP Francisco Cordero [9/10]
Purchased the contract of RHP Enerio Del Rosario from Triple-A Oklahoma City. [9/10]

This is the quintessential Jed Lowrie season. He started hot and went cold, and visited the disabled list twice—including a prolonged stay down the stretch. It doesn’t feel like any progress was made here. We knew Lowrie could hit. We also knew he had durability issues. The Astros have a tough decision to make this offseason. Do they trade Lowrie, with the opinion that he’s unlikely to ever play enough to be a starter. Or do they keep him, hope for one full season, and then pull the trigger? Remember: he turns 29 next year, and that time on the big-league disabled list counts toward service time. Lowrie is two seasons from free agency, and we’re no closer to figuring out who he is. Or else we've figured out exactly who he is.

One inning is all it took for Cordero to wear out his welcome in Houston. It happened in Cordero’s second outing with the team, his first save chance. He couldn’t locate his fastball early, and narrowly avoided blowing the lead against the leadoff hitter. The next man up singled, and by then Cordero scrapped the fastball. He threw three straight sliders to Drew Stubbs. Stubbs went after the third and deposited it into the Crawfish Boxes for a go-ahead home run. Cordero didn’t help himself by blowing two more leads that week—one the next night, in the ninth inning, and another later in the week in middle relief. He went to the disabled list in early August and never came back.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Designated RHP Evan Meek for assignment. [9/10]
Recalled RHP Bryan Morris and INF-R Chase d’Arnaud from Triple-A Indianapolis. [9/10]
Purchased the contract of RHP Rick VandenHurk from Triple-A Indianapolis. [9/10]

Meek made the All-Star team in 2010, missed most of 2011 due to shoulder tightness and inflammation, and spent nearly all of this season in Triple-A while attempting to recover lost velocity. Never known for his finesse game, Meek is about power. He once resolved to hit triple digits. Perhaps the emphasis on lighting up the radar gun served as a catalyst for his health and velocity problems. His fastball no longer averages 95 mph, but closer to 92. The reduction in velocity changes the pitch’s effectiveness, and Meek’s outlook, for the worse. Unless he reinvents himself, Meek’s chances of making another All-Star team are slim.

After a long time coming, Morris is here to salvage the Jason Bay trade—or something like that. Pirates fans got their first look at Morris on Friday. He threw nine pitches, five for strikes, hit 96 mph on the gun, and left the game after an inning of work with a clean sheet. Look for Morris to become a linchpin in the Pirates bullpen; assuming he doesn’t try validating the trade all by himself.

VandenHurk appears in the majors for the sixth straight season. A heavily touted prospect at one point, the Dutchman is inching closer to making good on his potential. Our data shows a career-high 48 percent groundball rate for VandenHurk at Indianapolis. Less than stellar, however, a considerable increase over his previous best (34 percent). An altered delivery is the purported cause. VandenHurk’s delivery now features some additional body movement, a lowered arm slot, and a move on the rubber. He stands on the far first base side of the mound now, which makes sense given his closed landing.  According to a scout’s remarks to Jayson Stark, VandenHurk has also ditched his curveball for a slider. It’s too early to know if VandenHurk’s changes will lead to anything. The Pirates are at least rewarding him for trying. 

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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