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November 10, 2008

Transaction Analysis

NL Roundup

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Outrighted OF-R Javier Brito and RHP Edgar Gonzalez to Tucson (Triple-A). [11/4]

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Outrighted RHP Vladimir Nunez, C-R Corky Miller, and 2B-S Ruben Gotay to Gwinnett (Triple-A). [10/3]
Purchased the contract of RHP Luis Valdez from Mississippi (Double-A). [10/22]

The item of interest here is the decision to add Valdez to the 40-man roster. The Pirates refugee had a nifty season as the closer for the Missi-Braves, striking out 77 in 65 1/3 IP, notching 28 saves, and keeping hitters on both sides of the plate well under control, allowing right-handers to slug only .280, and lefties .283. That said, he had some control issues (33 unintentional walks, essentially one every other inning), and his nice-looking 2.76 ERA is betrayed by his surrendering half again as many unearned runs, for a total RA of 4.13. This was the Dominican's best season since his stateside debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2004, and given that he'll be 25 next season, he's not exactly a young thing. However many saves he racked up in the Southern League, nominating him for future closerdom would be as rash in his instance as it would be with almost every minor league closer-his low-90s heat isn't overpowering, but he supplements it with a nice split as a change of pace. It's certainly representative of their faith that they think they have something here, but it's also a bit of protection against the Rule 5 draft, because there's a non-negligible chance he'll be able to help a team as a middle reliever in relatively short order.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Outrighted LHP Carmen Pignatiello to Iowa (Triple-A). [10/13]
Outrighted RHP Billy Petrick to Iowa; announced that 3B-R Casey McGehee was claimed off of waivers by the Brewers. [10/29]

CINCINNATI REDS
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Outrighted RHP Jon Adkins, LHP Adam Pettyjohn, and UT-R Jolbert Cabrera to Louisville (Triple-A); Cabrera refused the assignment, preferring free agency. [10/3]
Outrighted LHP Bobby Livingston to Louisville. [11/3]

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Outrighted LHP Cedrick Bowers to Colorado Springs (Triple-A), but he refused the assignment and became a free agent. [10/28]

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Claimed LHP Dan Meyer off of waivers from the Athletics. [11/3]

You might be forgiven if you think that if Meyer's the cavalry, that pony won't run; four big-league starts, four losses, and 21 runs allowed in 15 IP might not sound like much of a source of help. Even so, nabbing Meyer off of waivers is nevertheless a pretty good move. We're still talking about a lefty whose fastball regularly reaches into the low 90s, and one whose slider has its moments. He's a bit fly ball-happy, which doesn't play well in the DH league, but put him in a park like Dolphins Stadium that doesn't make things easy on righty power, give him the kind of run support that the Marlins' offense can generate, and it isn't too hard to see good things happening. Even so, I'm not convinced he'll hack it as a starter-for Sacramento, he only managed nine quality starts in 20, so while his 8.0 K/9 in the PCL seems promising, he might be more of a long relief/swing type in an era where not every team knows how to use one of those when it comes in a southpawed edition. If the Fish move Scott Olsen, they might only have one lefty in their rotation (Andrew Miller), which might make for a role for Meyer as a middle reliever who soaks up a few frames, lets Fredi Gonzalez watch the workloads of Anibal Sanchez, Josh Johnson, and Chris Volstad, and creates matchup questions for opponents. While it would be easy to flog the A's over letting him go, especially if he pans out in Miami, there's something to be said for the fact that Meyer might only make it with a change of scenery; the Hudson deal's long since lost, of course.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Outrighted RHPs Dave Borkowski, Jack Cassel, and Ryan Houston, and 2B-R Jose Castillo to Round Rock (Triple-A); noted that Borkowski and Castillo refused the assignment and are now free agents. [10/8]
Purchased the contract of LHP Polin Trinidad from Corpus Christi (Double-A); outrighted RHP Paul Estrada to Corpus Christi. [10/31]
Outrighted INF-R Mark Saccomanno outright to Round Rock. [11/3]
Signed RHP LaTroy Hawkins to a one-year, $3.5 million contract; signed RHP Chia-Jen Lo to a minor league contract. [11/7]

Lo and behold, the Astros have ramped up their player development efforts in a new direction. While I wouldn't want to get people prematurely worked up over Lo's signing and what it means for his future specifically, what this pickup represents is that the organization is starting to get results from a commitment to scouting Asia and Australia, an effort being guided by former gaijin and minor league slugger Glen Barker. While they aren't exactly blazing any trails here the way that they did with Venezuela a couple of decades ago, it's definitely the sort of thing the organization should be doing. While I took a studiously ambivalent stance in the Astros essay in BP2008 on the decision to name Ed Wade and launch this past season's banzai run at relevance at the big-league level, that sort of activity on the main stage doesn't mean that the team's ignoring an improved commitment to the farm system. On his own, Lo's interesting, a hard-throwing closer from Taiwan who, according to Kevin Goldstein, "has lots of college and international experience, closing for the Taiwanese national team." Since he'll be 23 next spring, you can anticipate a full-season assignment in the system, and as interesting as it will be to see if his mid-90s heat plays well on this side of the Pacific, here's hoping he's only the first fruit of this new initiative on Wade's watch.

The decision to re-up Hawkins seems pricey, but it's only a one-year deal, and he was something more than just a successful situational hero once he moved back into the National League. In a very short stretch, he ranked among the team's best relievers last season, and given that while they have guys they can use, the team doesn't really possess anyone you'd count among the game's reliable icemen, and there's not a lot of harm in strength in numbers.

Finally, the addition of Trinidad represents a few things at once-the still-dodgy quantity of talent to be found in the upper rungs of the system, of course, but it's also a reward for the stringy southpaw from the Dominican. A finesse lefty, he pitched his way into a promotion from High-A to Double-A in his second year in full-season leagues, and finished strong by logging six quality starts in his last seven. His numbers aren't too shabby:


Level     GS   IP    BB/K   K/9    RA   DERA
High-A    10   62    11/34  4.9   2.61  3.71
Double-A  18  107.1  21/75  6.3   3.94  4.47

... but the interesting thing is that he struggled terribly against his fellow lefties. They hammered him at Double-A (.309/.385/.500, versus .249/.275/.386 against righties), and he was similarly bass-ackwards in his work for the Salem Avalanche in the Carolina League (.262/.295/.357 against the same-handed, and .188/.230/.285 against the guys who were supposed to have the platoon advantage). Obviously, that's a bit funky, and pitching like Jamie Moyer when you're almost half the old man's age might make for a tough road, but this is clearly an instance when performance merits his elevation to a 40-man a bit short on homegrown goodies. Going forward, if he keeps up the good work, he'll pitch himself into the picture for a back-end rotation slot.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Re-signed RHP Joe Bateman and LHPs Lindsay Gulin, Sam Narron, and Chris Narveson to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [10/8]
Claimed 3B-R Casey McGehee off of waivers from the Cubs; designated 4C-R Joe Dillon for assignment. [10/29]
Declined the 2009 club option for INF-L Craig Counsell; noted that 4C-R Joe Dillon was claimed off of waivers by the Athletics. [10/31]

While I sang Dillon's praises last week, as exchanges go, it makes sense for the Brewers to have snagged McGehee and kept him in his place. The team's wide-open third base situation might create space for a guy with McGehee's skills: decent contact hitting, modest power, and excellent glove work. Add in a dash of utility at first base and even as an emergency catcher after some time spent behind the plate at Iowa, and he might make a very effective bench player, perhaps doing some defensive replacement chores for the infamously lead-gloved Mat Gamel at the hot corner should Gamel wind up the Brewers' starter at some point next season. McGehee's hitting .296/.345/.429 in Iowa translates to just a peak EqA of .241, so we're clearly talking about an aspiring utility player whose opportunities might depend on Gamel's-something that Gamel's projected EqA peak of .294 at Double-A last year suggests won't be too far off after pasting the Southern League at a .329/.395/.537 clip. (A platoon doesn't suggest itself, as neither player leaned hard towards their natural sides.) Naturally, any suggestion that Gamel might take over at third next season might first depend on the Brewers sorting out what Bill Hall is for, but they've been working on that for a couple of years now, and still don't really have an answer.

NEW YORK METS
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Outrighted LHP Adam Bostick, RHP Nelson Figueroa, and C-R Gustavo Molina to Buffalo (Triple-A). [10/21]
Picked up their 2009 option on 1B-L Carlos Delgado for $12 million. [10/31]

It's hard to get worked up about the decision to pick up Delgado's option. Sure, this is a winter when Mark Teixeira's on the market, but between the need to shop for pitching-which runs from pricey to downright expensive-and the question over whether or not the Mets need a multi-year solution or just a holdover at first base, you can't blame them for not going shopping (or going after the likes of Mike Jacobs) and just settling for spending the additional $8 million to keep Delgado beyond the $4 million it would have cost them to buy out that option. Translated to these terms-$8 million added to the budget-on the not-unreasonable chance that you get another season from the aging bopper that rates among the top half for first basemen in baseball sounds pretty tasty, actually. Setting Mike Carp's timetable for a 2010 bid for the job isn't such a terrible setback for the kid; he'll only be 23 next season (and 24 in 2010), and if he builds on last year's hitting at Double-A (.299/.403/.471, and .314/.425/.486 against right-handers) in a Triple-A campaign, his current projected peak EqA of .298 will have that much more evidence to support it.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Released RHP Francisco Rosario; claimed RHP Scott Nestor off of waivers from the Marlins. [10/1]
Outrighted OF-R T.J. Bohn to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [10/3]
Outrighted INF-R Mike Cervenak to Lehigh Valley. [11/3]
Released OF-R So Taguchi; outrighted 1B-L Andy Tracy to Lehigh Valley. [11/4]

There's something sort of ironic about the Phillies swapping out Rosario for Nestor, but that's life in the fast lane, or at least the lane populated by guys who throw hard (or used to). Nestor's a big guy who throws consistently in the mid-90s, touching the high 90s, but he's very wild, throws with a really violent delivery, and the fastball's the only pitch he really has (the slider rates as average on its better days). In terms of performance, with the Isotopes he was nothing short of radioactive, walking 48 unintentionally, and giving up 51 runs in 61 2/3 IP. As far as other "Wild Thing" indicators, he also struck out 64, and chipped in a half-dozen hit batsmen and wild pitches. He might be something, but like Rosario, he might not be; as the one once was, the other now is the kind of guy that some teams can afford the space on the 40-man to find out, and that some teams won't exactly miss more often than not if they don't. It's a worthwhile investment for the Phillies, but also not exactly a tragedy for the Fish.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Outrighted RHPs Yoslan Herrera and Marino Salas to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [10/24].
Outrighted RHPs Ronald Belisario and John Van Benschoten to Indianapolis. [10/29] Purchased the contract of RHP Evan Meek from Indianapolis. [11/3]

The only thing to note here is the clearing away of some of the more embarrassing vestiges of the previous regimes, as Van Benschoten represented just one of many draft-day failures, while Herrera represented part of Dave Littlefield's misbegotten Cuban prospecting. As for the re-addition of last winter's Rule 5 pick from the Rays to their 40-man, however much Meek struggled with his command during his month-plus with the big-league club, guys who can dial it up into the high 90s are generally going to attract attention come the next time the Rule 5 draft rolls around, and moving to make sure he remains Pirates property makes some amount of sense. With Meek, the question remains whether he's ever going to harness his heat and hard curve to really turn into the power reliever people have been hoping he'd be, but it's worth taking the time to find out, especially when you're the Pirates.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Outrighted C-S Luke Carlin and INF-R Sean Kazmar to Portland (Triple-A); announced that C-S Josh Bard and LHP Shawn Estes cleared waivers and became free agents. [10/6]
Outrighted RHP Kevin Cameron and INF-R Craig Stansberry to Portland; activated RHP Tim Stauffer from the 60-day DL and outrighted him to Portland. [10/8]
Activated C-R Michael Barrett from the 60-day DL and outrighted him to Portland; claimed 2B-R Travis Denker off of waivers from the Giants. [10/10]
Outrighted OF-R Chip Ambres to Portland, but he refused the assignment to become a free agent. [10/14]
Exercised their $9 million 2009 option on OF-L Brian Giles. [11/7]

While the 60-day DL allowed for an expansion of players under control beyond just 40 on the 40-man, it's nevertheless pretty impressive that the Pads cut nine guys off of their roster in the last month. Just as their September grabbery on the waiver wire indicated, they have a good handle on how replaceable a lot of the talent they had on hand was, so their most recent decision to snag Denker should be seen as unsurprising. In what was Denker's first season above A-ball, he spent two months with the Giants and didn't embarrass himself, and hit for the kind of power that most people can at Fresno, which similarly doesn't speak badly of him, even if it doesn't exactly provide a ringing endorsement. Even if all of his slugging in the PCL was a product of Grizzlies Stadium's friendly dimensions (.280/.389/.551, with six of his seven homers), he did get on base in other places, hitting .283/.357/.389. That combination of age and performance translates into a nifty projected peak EqA of .289. Add in that he's a serviceable second baseman afield and only 23 years old, and you might just have seen the Pads add their Opening Day starting second baseman by a waiver claim, one that might be more than just a placeholder. Consider the alternatives: Edgar Gonzalez was a placeholder, Luis Rodriguez is no better, and Matt Antonelli is going to have to prove that his disastrous season with the Beavers last year was the exception, not what we should expect from him. While the Pads may add somebody else via trade, looking at the field and the opportunity it reflects, Denker's opportunities look reasonably tasty.

As for the Giles pickup, let's face it, when a guy ranks among the most productive players in the league with a .314 EqA, the move make all sorts of sense, above and beyond any lingering grumblies over his unwillingness to be dealt. And naturally enough, there's nothing wrong with selling season-ticket holders on seeing a player who wants to stay in San Diego so badly he won't let them send him away.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Outrighted RHPs Kevin Correia and Brad Hennessey, LHP Geno Espineli, 1B/3B-R Scott McClain, and SS-R Ivan Ochoa to Fresno (Triple-A). [10/8]
Outrighted C-R Eliezer Alfonzo and RHP Tyler Walker outright to Fresno; noted that Walker refused the assignment and is a free agent; lost 2B-R Travis Denker on a waiver claim by the Padres. [10/10]
Re-signed SS-R Ivan Ochoa. [10/30]

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Claimed LHP Charlie Manning off of waivers from the Nationals; designated 1B-R Josh Phelps for assignment. [10/15]
Outrighted 1B-R Josh Phelps to Memphis (Triple-A). [10/17]
Outrighted C-L Mark Johnson to Memphis, but he refused the assignment to become a free agent. [10/23]
Re-signed C-R Jason LaRue to a one-year, $950,000 contract. [11/4]

Manning's utility as a second lefty almost automatically makes him a La Russian in the making. While his overall performance with the Nats left a lot to be desired, and while he's not going to overpower people with a modest fastball/slider mix, he did limit lefties to .203/.284/.392. That's not the ideal level you'd like, but a waiver claim's a lot cheaper than a mistake made in free agency, Ron Villone's already out the door, and you could understand if there's some Randy Flores fatigue hereabouts (even without questions about Flores' frayed labrum). Tyler Johnson's recovery from the shoulder problems that shelved him for all of 2008 also puts his utility to the team going forward in some doubt, and while Manning's a situational specialist of merely modest virtue, in light of the Cards' plight in the pen so early in the winter's proceedings, it's a worthwhile pickup until they see whatever other relief help they can score on the market.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Outrighted OF-L Ryan Langerhans and RHP Levale Speigner to Syracuse (Triple-A); lost LHP Charlie Manning on a waiver claim by the Cardinals. [10/15]
Outrighted RHP Ryan Wagner and INF-R Pete Orr to Syracuse; Orr refused the assignment to become a free agent; activated RHP Chad Cordero from the 60-day DL and outrighted him to Syracuse, but he also refused the assignment to become a free agent. [10/30]
Activated 1B-S Dmitri Young from the 60-day DL, and outrighted him to Syracuse. [11/4]

I think it's safe to say that the $5 million that Young is under contract for next season wasn't going to be picked up on waivers by any other team, not when there are so many concerns over Young's ability to keep himself at a playing weight and keep his diabetes at bay. Since there are simultaneous concerns that Nick Johnson won't be 100 percent in time to start on Opening Day, I guess the happy face I can paint on this particular predicament is that if one or the other of the Nats' first basemen isn't healthy, at least they might have somebody. The problem is that with these two, they may wind up again having neither, not really what you want when you've committed $10.5 million to your first base situation-superstar spending for non-star performance. Still, even if neither are healthy, the money's already spent either way, so no point crying. At best, it's a nice read on the market for Young (nonexistent), and appropriately deciding that they'd be better off opening up the spot on the 40-man for other purposes.


As ever, thanks to Kevin Goldstein for his insights.

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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