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March 24, 2009

Transaction Analysis

Eastern Promises

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Optioned RHP David Hernandez to Norfolk (Triple-A); optioned RHP Jim Hoey and LHP Troy Patton to Bowie (Double-A); optioned LHP Brian Matusz and RHP Chorye Spoone to Frederick (High-A). [3/15]
Optioned LHP Wilfrido Perez and OF-R Nolan Reimold to Norfolk; released RHP Scott Chiasson and C-R Guillermo Quiroz. [3/20]
Optioned RHP Bradley Bergesen to Norfolk. [3/21]

I'm probably one of the very few people outside of the Quiroz family who worries and wonders about Guillermo's fate, but that's because he's been a tough-luck player with a career about as defined by tough luck as someone who did at least get real service time can endure, including the oddity of twice dealing with a collapsed lung. We're now six years removed from his big 2003 in his age-21 season, when he broke through in his first full year above A-ball by hitting .282/.372/.518 for Double-A New Haven. The best hitting prospects from that team were Alex Rios and Gabe Gross, and while Quiroz wasn't quite as good a hitter, he was better than other guys who had a prospect-y vibe, like Russ Adams and John-Ford Griffin. He was younger than all of them, hit for more power than any of them, and given that he struck out in less than 20 percent of his plate appearances, it wasn't like he had significant contact issues. That said, the track record of injuries and moving through four different organizations in four years doesn't bode well. I guess I'm the sort of optimist who thinks that somebody who can do what Quiroz did then might just need to be left alone on one team and get some real playing time; he's no less likely to establish himself than the John Bakers or the Matt Treanors of the world.

As for the rest, I think it's safe to say we'll be seeing more of Matusz and Hernandez, and perhaps also Patton and Spoone; the stakes for the present fight for roster spots on the staff is perhaps all the more desperate because it's a fight to have jobs to defend against the well-nigh inevitable wave of pitching talent that's going to arrive in Baltimore between the tail end of this season and the course of 2010. Today's losers from among Hayden Penn or Chris Waters, or Brian Bass or David Pauley, stand to question whether they'll still be in the organization by July, or by September. Similarly, Reimold shouldn't worry too much-he had a great camp, but that was immaterial beyond the nice impression made-not while the team's still sorting through the roles and playing time to spread around between Ty Wigginton, Luke Scott, Felix Pie, Lou Montanez, and Ryan Freel for the club's starting jobs in left field and at DH, as well as backing up essentially every other position but shortstop and catcher. Assuming that the Birds really do decide to go the Longoria route and manipulate Matt Wieters' service time, that lot plus Chris Gomez and Robby Hammock may well round out your collection of position players on your Opening Day roster. While the team's at 40 on their 40-man without space for Wieters or Gomez or Hammock, they only have to squeeze in two, and Spoone seems a likely assignment to the 60-day DL-putting one other guy on the 40-man on the spot. Will the Orioles eat salary and release someone like Danys Baez?

BOSTON RED SOX
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Optioned SS-R Argenis Diaz to Double-A Portland (Double-A). [3/10]
Optioned LHP Hunter Jones to Pawtucket (Triple-A); optioned C-R Mark Wagner to Portland; optioned LHP Felix Doubront to Salem (High-A); noted the loss of RHP Wes Littleton on a waiver claim by the Brewers. [3/17]
Released C-S Josh Bard outright. [3/18]
Optioned RHP Junichi Tazawa to Portland; optioned RHP Michael Bowden to Pawtucket. [3/22]

Bard's release had very little to do with his having a good or bad camp-he was hitting just fine, but the Sox would have owed him as much as a fifth of his salary instead of a sixth had they kept him any longer, and the entire $1.7 million had he made the team on Opening Day. Now, perhaps holding onto him could have made some extra bit of sense, you might think, because surely they'd be able to peddle him before that point, no? No. Because included in the elaborately silly explanation to themselves about what their non-Tek catcher must do is that this unnamed someone or somebody must catch Tim Wakefield, because the alternative, like, say, asking Jason Varitek to, y'know, do so is apparently inconceivable and defies several local ordinances, not to mention that it contravenes matters of faith handed down from William Bradford or Cotton Mather or Eddie Collins or some other rigid keeper of unquestioned tradition. I guess I look at the scenario and wonder again why retaining Varitek made any sense. Consider the median projected performances of Boston's alternatives for donning the tools of ignorance:


Dude     Age  PA  AVG/ OBP/ SLG/ EqA   VORP   WARP
Varitek   37 258 .235/.323/.389/.249    3.4    1.4
Bard      31 245 .265/.337/.386/.253    4.9    1.0
Kottaras  26 404 .214/.302/.370/.235  -10.0    0.6
Brown     27 336 .205/.275/.326/.209  -11.5    0.3

There's a lot of unproductive bloodlessness here, and with the choice being between something to sink your teeth into or cucumber sandwiches, I'm left asking, "where's the beef?"* Instead, we have a special sort of sacred cow that people shouldn't necessarily stop traffic for, let alone accommodate when the ticklish subject of catching flutterballs arises. Not that there's no time like the present for Kottaras, but the present isn't going to be very special, and if something happens to Varitek, the Sox get left with the same sorry state of affairs they had to deal with last year: something in a scrubby or non-prospect flavor, while punting offensive production at a lineup slot in the name of turning the catcher position into a sinecure for a former talent and a former prospect. If getting rid of the best hitter of the four catchers in camp sounds like a great idea to you, you probably work for the Rays or Yankees.

At its core, this just doesn't make much sense. The financial stakes of retaining Bard are relatively low as these things go, but because the Red Sox seem to be operating their decision tree on who does what behind the plate with a group of iron-clad if/then statements-"if Wakefield pitches, then Tek cannot catch"-they don't seem to be considering the more basic question of whether or not they have a good catcher, and what might actually make them better while trying to avoid the fate of last year's Yankees.

*: Strange but true, in the late '80s Clara Peller and I went to the same hairdresser on 57th Street. Make of that what you will, but Hyde Park was cool before Obama.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Optioned RHP Andrew Brackman to Charleston (A-ball). [3/9]
Optioned RHP Christian Garcia to Trenton (Double-A); optioned RHP Ian Kennedy to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [3/15]
Optioned LHP Wilkin De La Rosa to Tampa (High-A); optioned LHP Michael Dunn and RHP Eric Hacker to Trenton. [3/16]
Optioned RHPs Anthony Claggett, Phil Hughes, and Steven Jackson to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; optioned RHP Humberto Sanchez to Trenton. [3/21]
Acquired C-R Chris Stewart from the White Sox for future considerations. [3/22]

It's interesting that the Yankees would deal for Stewart, but not that interesting. He's one of the few backup alternatives around who doesn't threaten Jose Molina in terms of too-easily outshining him at the plate when not behind it, but stranding him in Scranton gives the Yankees a notional veteran to turn to should Jorge Posada's shoulder act up or Molina get hurt. What Stewart really provides is early-season time for Francisco Cervelli to be left alone and catching regularly in the system's upper levels while sparing the Yankees the horrors of automatically calling up Kevin Cash should something happen to Posada or Molina. Molina's limitations to simply throwing well really shouldn't represent a risk for Posada's playing time, and should the starter break down, you'd think a Molina/Stewart tandem would inspire a lot of pinch-hitting, but the Cult of the Least Molina seems to have propped Jose up on a pinstriped pedestal both inside the organization and out.

In other news, I guess this sort of counts as a Brackman sighting, right? I mean, this is so much more tangible than Sasquatch.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Optioned LHP James Houser to Durham (Triple-A). [3/10]
Optioned RHPs Wade Davis, Dale Thayer, and Mitch Talbot to Durham. [3/16]
Reclaimed Rule 5 pick Eduardo Morlan from the Brewers. [3/19]
Returned Rule 5 pick RHP Derek Rodriguez to the White Sox. [3/23]

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Outrighted OF-L Buck Coats and RHP T.J. Beam to Las Vegas (Triple-A). [3/11]
Optioned RHP Robert Ray and LHPs Bill Murphy and Davis Romero to Las Vegas; optioned RHPs Matt Bush and Luis Perez to Dunedin (High-A). [3/16]

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Outrighted RHP Anthony Lerew to Gwinnett (Triple-A). [3/4]
Released RHP Phil Stockman. [3/15]
Optioned RHPs Stephen Marek, James Parr, Todd Redmond, and Luis Valdez to Gwinnett. [3/16]

The pity of Stockman's career is that the big Aussie's hurt again, and the Braves finally decided enough was enough, and that they'd rather find another way to put his spot on the 40-man to use. As Will Carroll has always taken care to remind us, health is a skill, and very much an underrated one. We know that Stockman can pitch, and his stuff would play in the majors; as Bobby Cox noted in reference to the move, "every time we've wanted to call somebody up, he was the guy. But he was hurt and couldn't go." The basic physical requirement of being able to perform is what defines whether or not a guy gets to have a career, and so far, that's what Stockman's missing. Besides which, moving him brought the Braves down to 39 on the roster, which is pretty interesting given the camps that Jordan Schafer and Tommy Hanson are having, not to mention a similarly unintimidated Jason Heyward. I would still anticipate that Hanson's not going anywhere but back to Gwinnett, and because he's not a center fielder, Heyward's crowded out by the group of outfielders the Braves have on hand. But Schafer's making things interesting, especially with Josh Anderson's inescapable destiny to grow up to be Josh Anderson.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Released OF-L Jay Gibbons; optioned OF-L Jai Miller to New Orleans (Triple-A). [3/13]
Returned Rule 5 pick LHP Zachary Kroenke to the Yankees; optioned RHP Christopher Leroux to Jacksonville (Double-A); optioned RHP Dallas Trahern to New Orleans; released RHP Harvey Garcia. [3/16]
Optioned LHP Taylor Tankersley to New Orleans. [3/23]

Shipping out Tankersley is a surprise, considering that he's logged substantial time in their pen, and he contributed a combined 3.3 WXRL to the Fishpen in 2006 and 2007 before last year's control problems made him a wild Isotope for much of the summer. Given that he's only 26, I wouldn't give up on him; he was optionable, so they did, he does have to make some improvements, and I'd take this as a reflection of the extent to which the Fish aren't just a low-wages kiddie corps, results do matter, and last year's failures make it clear that this wasn't just a simple case of overreacting to some spotty spring performance in limited playing time in meaningless exhibitions. In the meantime, the Fish do still have Renyel Pinto as the primary lefty, and from the scrap heap they can pick between Dan Meyer and the peripatetic John Koronka for a second southpaw.

Pinto remains an interesting oddity, as he's definitely not a situational lefty-last year he walked more than 11 percent of opposing lefty batters, and also surrendered a homer to them every 15 plate appearances. He seems to have ditched the slider that made him an interesting rotation option coming up through the Cubs' system, but his fastball/changeup mix has been much more effective against right-handers in terms of limited damage, and during his brief big-league career he's walked both lefties and righties 14 percent of the time. He's not overpowering, being another lefty with sub-90 heat, which makes him that much more interesting. It'll be fun to see if Fredi Gonzalez continues to avoid using him in a situational role, or gets trapped by the normative pressures of how you're "supposed" to use your primary lefty, or the skipper instead elects to see if Meyer or Koronka can handle those chores. Since all three have been starting pitchers, it's certainly a very different situation than that which you find in most big-league bullpens, so it bears watching.

NEW YORK METS
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Released RHP Duaner Sanchez. [3/10]
Optioned RHP Eddie Kunz to Buffalo (Triple-A). [3/13]
Claimed RHP Fernando Nieve off of waivers from the Astros. [3/14]
Released Rule 5 pick RHP Rocky Cherry outright after the Orioles declined his return. [3/17]
Optioned RHPs Jon Niese and Connor Robertson and C-R Robinson Cancel to Buffalo. [3/19]
Released LHP Tom Martin; optioned RHP Brandon Knight to Buffalo (Triple-A). [3/22]

It shouldn't really be a surprise that the non-famous people aren't going to wind up on the Mets' final roster; the convenient injury to Tim Redding aside, there's still Freddy Garcia to cut now that it seems Livan Hernandez has the fifth job in the rotation sewn up, and Niese and Kunz were both up ahead of schedule last year as was. The funny thing about the Mets' roster is that, even though they're only at 36 on their 40-man, they have even more slack than just those four open slots, considering that, among those 36, they have a good amount of redundancy: Cory Sullivan and Jeremy Reed and Marlon Anderson? With Rob Mackowiak in camp as a non-roster invite? Or consider the relievers: Sean Green and Darren O'Day might both be nice right-handed situational guys, so of course Kunz and Robertson and Cherry weren't going to get many opportunities. Throw Nieve into the mix as a talented right-hander who will hopefully get back on track with the Bisons, and it makes for an interesting group of second-rank talents, if not necessarily one with a ton of hidden upside.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Optioned RHPs Andrew Carpenter and Scott Nestor and LHP Sergio Escalona to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A); optioned C-L Joel Naughton to Reading (Double-A); optioned RHP Drew Naylor to Clearwater (High-A). [3/16]
Optioned RHP Kyle Kendrick, C-R Lou Marson, and MI-R Brad Harman to Lehigh Valley. [3/23]

There are a few flavors of bad news coming out of Phillies camp, like the specter of Miguel Cairo making the team, but Jason Donald (reassigned to the minors) and Harman are better off getting regular at-bats as Iron Pigs instead of gathering splinters watching Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins both rally back to full-time action with the team after differing kinds of absences (rehab in the former case, Team USA-related distractions on the other). It's sort of a crowded roster, which makes the news that Geoff Jenkins might get ditched entirely unsurprising. Considering that I criticized the decision to sign the ancient Brewer at the time and since, the presence of Matt Stairs and John Mayberry Jr.'s nice turn in the Grapefruit League combine to suggest enough depth already on hand to encourage the club to entertain the risks that attend counting on a full season of Jayson Werth in right field. Ronny Paulino might have been on borrowed time as well, but perhaps Chris Coste's injury-plagued spring will create space for the former Pirate on the roster. If anything, Cairo's survival is probably directly related to whether or not Greg Dobbs has to head to the DL should the Phillies shrink from making their overdue call on Jenkins. After years of failure, the reason he's in this position, maddening as it might be to some statheads, is that he's had a nice camp while another notional non-roster veteran like Marcus Giles has not, and while that would seem a silly way in the abstract to pick between them, frankly, when you consider how much the regulars play, having Cairo around as the last man on the bench because they cut Jenkins or Dobbs is hurt or somesuch is not the same thing as saying the Phillies are doomed because they have Miguel Cairo playing for them.

After all, they wouldn't be dumb enough to, you know, play him regularly at first base or something.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Optioned LHP Michael O'Connor to Syracuse (Triple-A); optioned LHP Ross Detwiler to Harrisburg (Double-A). [3/10]
Signed RHP Kip Wells to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [3/11]
Signed RHP Julian Tavarez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [3/13]
Optioned RHPs Tyler Clippard and Marco Estrada and OF-R Justin Maxwell and OF-L Leonard Davis to Syracuse (Triple-A); optioned RHP Luis Atilano and SS-R Ian Desmond to Harrisburg (Double-A). [3/16]
Signed LHP Joe Beimel to a one-year, $2 million contract; released RHP Shawn Hill. [3/18]
Optioned OF-L Roger Bernadina and C-R Luke Montz to Triple-A Syracuse.
Signed C-S Josh Bard to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [3/21]

While discarded dreck like Wells and Tavarez are now in camp, and that represents a chilling echo of the sort of undiscriminating Bowden-style omnivorousness when it comes to snapping freely available talent like some of the gravity challenged at an all-you-can-eat buffet, the news for the Nats is far from all bad. Wells resembles a pickup like Ryan Drese and probably won't add up to much beyond some inflicted miseries to the the good folks up in Syracuse, but Tavarez did some good work for the Braves last season after bombing with the Red Sox and Brewers. As something of a utility pitcher on a team that may need help in the rotation or in the form of a multi-inning reliever who could compensate for that rotation's weakness, it isn't out of the question that Tavarez might at least be useful.

Those earlier moves, however, were easily trumped qualitatively by the late-camp additions of Beimel and Bard. Beimel is automatically the best lefty in the pen, and an easy solution to a problem that was beginning to shape up when the only other options were the equally frustrating Wil Ledezma and Mike Hinckley. Ledezma's combination of spring performance and a live fastball makes him an easy choice to keep, but would you really want to count on his being the team's top southpaw? Hinckley's brief bit of good work last fall was probably the one thing that kept him on the 40-man after a career that's been beset by injuries and a far too infrequent relationship with throwing strikes; he may get outrighted in short order, because with Ledezma, Tavarez, and Jesus Colome all signed to non-roster deals, somebody's going to get bumped.

The question is whether this adds up to a good bullpen: Joel Hanrahan closing, Saul Rivera and Beimel as the primary pair setting up, Ledezma and Tavarez in the middle, Colome and/or Jason Bergmann kept around as a situational right-hander, and maybe Steven Shell or Garrett Mock landing the last spot. It doesn't sound pretty, but considering that the last couple of spins for Manny Acta have involved a lot of careful management of similarly combustible properties, I guess I harbor a strange sense of optimism on the subject.

As for Bard, as moves go, I like this one because it involves pairing up Jesus Flores with a veteran caddy who offers Acta a different-handed alternative to the youngster, where someone like Wil Nieves offers a sort of poor man's Jose Molina suite of a low OBP, a nice arm, and few other guarantees. The other option behind the plate, Javier Valentin, has some of Bard's qualities-switch-hitting and a spotty track record for throwing out baserunners-but Valentin's receiving skills are more generally in doubt, perhaps unfairly in light of his getting stuffed into a pinch-hitting role last season that he didn't exactly ask for. However, since Bard's younger than both Valentin and Molina, he doesn't even suffer the handicap of relative non-prospectdom, and he can point to some effectiveness at reaching base while having to hit in Petco. He can even excuse some of his throwing problems as a matter of working with baserunner-indifferent moundsmen like Chris Young. All in all, it's a good depth move that could also give them an outstanding tandem in Flores and Bard that more closely approximates what they might have wished for last season from Flores and Paul Lo Duca


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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