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July 23, 2009

Transaction Action

Catsup or Ketchup or Catch-up?

by Christina Kahrl

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CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired RHP Connor Graham from the Rockies for RHP Rafael Betancourt. [7/23]

An excellent little pickup for the last couple of months of Betancourt's Indians career, although Graham's small in the same way that Robin Hood's sidekick cut a chibiform figure. Standing 6-foot-7 and weighing in at 235 pounds or so, Graham's the kind of big-bodied drool-worthy power right-hander that forces scouts to reach for their bibs, pumping mid-90s gas while complementing it with a slider that's become a much better pitch this season. Picked in the fifth round of the 2007 draft out of Miami of Ohio, he's even a relative local, but that small-college pedigree helps explain why he's 23 and in the California League. Still, it's a hitter's circuit, and he's allowed just 3.9 runs per nine while striking out 87 and walking 41 in 80 1/3 IP, and surredering just two homers. While Kevin Goldstein suggests that his eventual destination is the pen for most, noting his "relief arm action," that doesn't make him any less worthwile a pickup for the Tribe, who might test the big feller with a late-season spin in Double-A at nearby Akron.

What I find horrifying to ponder is what this means for the 2009 Tribe pen's bid for franchise history. As bad as this year's pen has been, its staff-wide 5.58 FRA is only the third-worst mark in team history. The worst two were those infamous pens of the 1986 and 1987 editions of the Indians, clubs that had to count Ernie Camacho and Darrell Akerfelds among its best of the day, having not yet learned to place their faith in Doug Jones, and left sorting through Rich Yett, Bryan Oelkers, Jamie "the Rat" Easterly, and so many more; these weren't spectacularly bad bullpens on the merits of any one particular contributor, they were collaborative efforts. (Although you will find Rich Thompson's 1985 season among the team's all-time worst single-season relief contributions, rating second in worst-ever ARP marks only to Ed Connolly's 1967 campaign. (Surely, ARPs so low as to leave either man swimming with the seals, you would think, but Thompson had future gigs in the majors to look forward to; Connolly did not.)


ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated 2B-L Kelly Johnson from the 15-day DL; optioned INF-S Brooks Conrad to Gwinnett (Triple-A). [7/23]

As awful as Johnson's season has been, he might take some solace in the fact that Martin Prado cannot reproduce through budding or some other form or asexual procreation, so Bobby Cox cannot have him simultaneously Pipp someone at the keystone and, say, at first base. After all, Casey Kotchman's not got anything to blame for his slack hitting these days beyond the suggestion that this is what you get from a Kotch grab-you're bound to come up empty-handed. Best that Johnson start swinging his stick, to get it in gear and deliver some power of his own, and thus help plant a suggestion in Cox's head.

As for Conrad, the rover should be able to milk his nice little stint with los Bravos for further work somewhere under the sun, but perhaps also right here, especially if Greg Norton doesn't step it up and give Cox a productive switch-hitting pinch-hitter off of the bench. Failing that, Conrad might at least get a better deal on his next split contract as a minor league free agent this winter, not to mention a potentially ridiculous Strat card, because there's nothing like two triples in 34 PA to generate some outright triple spots mid-card to hurt and annoy your opponents with.


COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired RHP Rafael Betancourt from the Indians for RHP Connor Graham. [7/23]

While Graham's a prospect worthy of the epithet, this was a good move by the Rockies as well as the Tribe. Betancourt's clearly been the best Indians reliever of the season, delivering a FRA of 3.22 and an ARP mark of 6.3, marks that would make him no less valuable to the Rockies than Huston Street has been this season Concerns over whether or not Street can really close-on perhaps a more aesthetic level than anything else, given that he is and has-can be addressed somewhat by having Betancourt pick up the odd save opportunity, perhaps giving Jim Tracy the freedom of action to employ either as needed and as dictated by game situations. What remains to be seen is whether Jhoulys Chacin will be called up after all, after they pulled him early out of Wednesday's game and announced he'd be part of their pen, as Kevin Goldstein reported earlier today. The Rockies have an offday today, after all, Manny Corpas hasn't been officially placed on the DL to get the chips dug out of his elbow just yet, and Betancourt could make a flight and be in Denver for tomorrow night's matchup against the Giants.


HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed 1B-S Lance Berkman on the 15-day DL (strained calf); recalled INF-R Edwin Maysonet from Round Rock (Triple-A). [7/23]

As much as I've argued for the last couple of seasons, here on the site and in the Astros' essay of the 2008 edition of the annual, that the Astros have nothing to lose with their kamikaze-run philosophy, one of the dangers of doing so is that when you take even the smallest hit, you wind up in the drink, and, by definition, you don't get to make a kamikaze run packing a parachute. So the 'Stros go from one shot in ten to fish-on-the-floor gasp-y, because in his absence they're stuck with Duncan envy, not to mention the likelihood of Chris Coste getting pressed into everyday play. Berkman may only miss the minimum-we can look forward to what Will Carroll has to say on the subject tomorrow-but in the meantime, they're a Quad-A lefty-batting journeyman away from an even notionally effective patch.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Designated OF-R Mitch Jones for assignment; optioned C-R A.J. Ellis to Albuquerque (Triple-A); activated LHP Eric Stults from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Albuquerque. [7/2]
Activated LF-R Manny Ramirez from the Restricted List; activated RHP Claudio Vargas from the 60-day DL; transferred LHP Hong-Chih Kuo from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/3]
Placed LHP Eric Milton on the 15-day DL (strained back), retroactive to 6/28; recalled INF-L Blake DeWitt from Albuquerque. [7/5]
Outrighted OF-R Mitch Jones to Albuquerque. [7/6]
Placed RHP Ronald Belisario on the 15-day DL (elbow), retroactive to 7/6; recalled RHP Cory Wade from Albuquerque. [7/8]
Optioned INF-L Blake DeWitt to Albuquerque; recalled LHP Scott Elbert from Albuquerque. [7/11]
Placed RHP Cory Wade on the 15-day DL ; recalled INF-L Blake DeWitt from Albuquerque. [7/16]
Activated RHP Jason Schmidt from the 60-day DL; optioned LHP Scott Elbert to Albuquerque; transferred LHP Eric Milton from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/20]

There's something almost Homeric about these Dodgers, I find. I mean, sure, Manny Ramirez is easy: the flawed hero of remarkable gifts, capable of tremendous feats of strength, proud possessor of occasionally noisome personality traits, all spiced up with a panache that the ancient Greeks would relish, with or without tzatziki. But consider the lot of the man he's taken his job back from, Juan Pierre? For all of the palavering over his value as a speedster, what are his defenders devoted to if not the practice of hermeneutics, desperately trying to interpret the hidden value they believe to be there? Or the return of Schmidt? Like Odysseus, he washes up, years after being given up for dead by so many, and still capable of throwing a pitch in anger? Never mind that it'll all end in tears and a pile of bodies-doesn't that describe a Dodgers' rotation that has benefited from the variegated contributions of Eric Milton and Jeff Weaver and that guy from Euboea with the lightning-quick spear and a mountain-load of goats, productive women, and bodacious vineyards. Or productive ones.

To chase after the point, it's the body count that's got me to worrying, because looking at the Dodgers' pitching options, as much as I think we all expect them to waltz their way to October, how would you set up a post-season rotation? Keeping their best starter by SNWP, the 21-year-old Clayton Kershaw, down to an unthreatening total innings tally is tall order enough, but let's say that Joe Torre manages that. Who's next? Well, Randy Wolf and Chad Billingsley both start, sure, but is that good enough to beat the best teams in the American League? Sure, using the 2006 Cardinals (there's Weaver again) as the standard, but then we get into who else? No poncing around with the Schmidts or Weavers or Miltons at that point, not in a winner-takes-all series as opposed to lining up enough people to tackle 162 assignments. Will Hiroki Kuroda round into last season's fine form? He's a month removed from his last quality start, and has all of two in 10 turns in the rotation. It's the sort of consideration that adds a bit of tinder to the suggestion that they're in on Doc Halladay.

Then there's the matter of losing Belisario, until at least mid-August if the latest reports are correct. He was already one of their three irreplaceably good relievers, and Torre's been working all three hard. Will the skipper ease up on Ramon Troncoso and Jonathon Broxton when the stretch turns into more of what ought to be a coasting glide to the division title? Or will he blow a key asset on that one game he feels he just has to win in August? It may be nothing, but it's interesting to keep in mind that Cory Wade was in this very position last year, wound up throwing 97 relief innings across the full season, and now he's nothing like the same pitcher. Torre's track record with burning through his relievers is already something Yankees fans remember only too well, so the question is whether or not he'll learn, or just count on his being able to find the next Wade, Belisario, or Troncoso. Hooked up to the sort of pipeline that Logan White's laid down, that's not a bad bet, but I'd rather see a lower rate of spoilage if it was at all possible, especially given that the Dodgers should win the division handily.


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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