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August 6, 2009

Transaction Action

Assorted National League Moves

by Christina Kahrl

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ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated C-R Chris Snyder from the 15-day DL; optioned C-S Luke Carlin to Reno (Triple-A). [7/28]

CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed MI-S Andres Blanco on the 15-day DL (strained calf); recalled LHP Tom Gorzelanny from Iowa (Triple-A). [8/4]
Activated INF-S Aaron Miles from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Jeff Stevens to Iowa; released LHP Jason Waddell. [8/5]

So, Gorzo's up, and he's gone straight into the rotation as the club decides to leave Sean Marshall be in the pen. I like the move for all sorts of reasons, not least the suggestion that, just maybe, pitching coach Larry Rothschild can help Gorzelanny with a fresh take on the southpaw, and without having to get past the assorted causes for frustration in Pittsburgh. I know that might be overly sunny, but I don't mean this to be a criticism of the Pirates; sometimes a player really does need a change of scenery and the chance to work with somebody new. (If this becomes a symptomatic issue, however, or if both Gorzo and Ian Snell star with their new teams, that's cause for a serious self-examination, however.)

Add in that Gorzelanny was doing really well in Triple-A (striking out 85 in 87 IP while walking 30, and allowing 3.2 runs per nine), and that he's not throwing with any less velocity, and there's a decent chance that a deal that might initially have been interpreted as being all about John Grabow, pedestrian lefty reliever, becomes instead a value-add that keeps the rotation stocked during Ted Lilly's absence. Certainly, Gorzo's first start against the Reds (yeah, I know, not exactly a major league lineup) went extremely well, but there's a decent chance that he remains a quality option to turn to in case Rich Harden gets hurt or Randy Wells turns back into a pumpkin after Lilly comes back off of the DL. With Harden a free agent-to-be, Gorzo could even put down an initial marker for his bid for the open slot in the rotation.

As for exchanging Blanco for Miles, the sad thing is that whatever their respective price tags say, it's something of a step backwards for the club's bench, as they go from Blanco's defensive wizardry to... well, defining what Miles is for still sort of defies explanation. The platoon of Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker (Miff Fontenaker?) is handling the chores at second base better than Miles can provide a viable alternative to, Miles can't really play short unless you order him to, and it isn't like he's a pinch-runner of any utility.


CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired 3B-R Scott Rolen from the Blue Jays for 3B-R Edwin Encarnacion and RHPs Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart; traded UT-S Jerry Hairston Jr. to the Yankees for C-L Chase Weems to Reds; purchased the contracts of RHPs Justin Lehr and Kip Wells from Louisville (Triple-A). [7/31]
Activated 3B-R Scott Rolen. [8/1]

It seems strange to have exerted the effort to get Rolen; while Encarnacion, when healthy, has been as much a source of frustration as a decent enough placeholder at third, and with this season already sunk, it seems strange to have exchanged two years of that for one year of Rolen, a player with an even more elaborate reputation for fragility and frustration. You can try and interpret this as a daring gamble to add a fading superstar in the hope that, put in the bandbox the Reds play in, he'll bust out. I guess I keep looking at what would have been a career-high BABIP with the Jays this year had it lasted (.341), power that's still flagging from that last big hurrah in 2006, and a walk rate below 10 percent of his plate appearances, and I wonder how much the narrative that "he's learned to employ his (sotto voce: remaining) skills in new ways" that's in vogue isn't a bit of circular logic that degenerates into wheel-spinning if that BABIP number drops.

It's nice that the Jays are paying some undisclosed portion of his $11 million salary in 2010. It's nice that he's a Midwesterner who wanted to come home. But the real suggestion here is that the Reds think they're making a play to win the division in 2010, which makes some sense given that they'll have the veterans in the rotation in place for at least next season (Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang are both under contract with options for 2011), and despite the bad news on Edinson Volquez, they'll have Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, and Micah Owings around as well. Which is ducky, if your chief criterion is having enough bodies to fill a rotation, but another matter altogether if you're gunning to win with them. This year's performances leave a lot to be desired; while you can project or expect better work from Owings and Bailey, nobody's got a SNWP above .500, and if that doesn't change, neither will the Reds' fortunes. Given that they also have some basic up-the-middle issues to resolve-finding a shortstop, a starting catcher, and making Willy Taveras go away-that have some internal solutions both obvious (Drew Stubbs) and less so (Brandon Phillips moves back to short, with Todd Frazier taking the keystone?), they might be able to make things interesting, but you could say that about this team last spring, when it had a functioning Volquez.

Any improvements with an eye towards getting people on base would certainly be a welcome change of direction. As things stand, the Reds' weak attack seems likely to join an ignominious, but not exactly rare, few teams that have failed to have any single player draw 50 unintentional walks on a season for them (the 2008 Nats managed it last year), although Joey Votto could do it if frustration doesn't set in. They might be joined by the Royals and the Giants, though, making it a more crowded kind of ignominy. The Giants' epic inability to draw walks ranks as one of the more spectacular achievements of team-wide fruitless activity at the plate; with a team-wide unintentional walk rate of 5.4 percent, they rank 12th all-time, behind 10 high-mound era teams from the '60s and the decidedly un-memorable Pirates team of 1957. (I'll leave it to Steven Goldman to explain why we should remember Whammy Douglas or Chuck Churn.)

In the meantime, I'm amused by their pair of call-ups, and not because it involves another pair of funny names. Beyond his cool nickname potential, "Panzer" Lehr's been a personal favorite for years, having moved from behind the plate to the mound in college when he transferred from UC Santa Barbara to USC, where he played with Barry Zito before getting drafted by Oakland as well in the same season ('99, eighth round). He's something of a right-handed junkballer, having developed a curve to progress from his initial sinker/slider blend, and having experimented with a forkball over the years. Nobody else had given him a shot at starting in the majors before the Reds in their present desperate state, but he'd made 128 starts in the minors bouncing from the A's to the Brewers, Marinters, Reds, Phillies, and then back to the Reds in-season this year. Still, nobody should have anticipated his shutting out the Cubs in his second start, although it obviously buys him future opportunities. "Short" right-handed control types in their early 30s aren't exactly popular, but there are worse guys to run with as your fifth starter than someone who, in his minor league career, has averaged 6.5 K/9 against 2.5 UBB/9.

As for Kip Wells, we know Kip Wells, and these days, he's either no Kip Wells (if you remember the good old days when he was a White Sox prospect or a Pirates rotation asset) or very much Kip Wells (if the last six years are supposed to define a person). As a prospective middle-innings sponge for mop-uppery, he might have his uses.


MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted UT-R Andy Gonzalez to New Orleans (Triple-A); outrighted LHP Graham Taylor to Jacksonville (Double-A). [8/5]

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded RHP Claudio Vargas to the Brewers for UT/C-R Vinny Rottino; activated LHP George Sherrill. [7/31]
Activated RHP Cory Wade from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Albuquerque (Triple-A). [8/1]

Ditching Vargas was exactly that, once they needed the roster space for something else-namely, Sherrill. Consider it one of the benefits of employing roster vagrants of this caliber, or Eric Milton or Jeff Weaver, for that matter; nobody really wants any of them, and there's no reason to expect much, but it's nice if it works out well. It's sort of like getting a box of popcorn: I mean, sure, if there's nothing else, you eat it if you have to eat something, and somebody has to pitch; it's in the rules. Having ditched Vargas, you can measure his basic utility in terms of what he was dealt for: even if you can set aside the fact that Rottino's 29 and in Double-A, he's not really much of a catcher, so his case as an aspiring 25th man is about as notional as they get. His chief virtue was that he's not on the 40-man roster, allowing the Dodgers to make way for somebody they wanted as opposed to one they sort of wound up with.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Jeff Suppan on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 7/28; optioned INF-R Bill Hall to Nashville (Triple-A). [7/30] Recalled 2B/OF-L Hernan Iribarren and RHP Mike Burns from Nashville; acquired RHP Claudio Vargas from the Dodgers for C/UT-R Vinny Rottino. [7/31] Activated RHP Claudio Vargas; optioned RHP Tim Dillard to Nashville; signed CF-L Corey Patterson. [8/1]
Placed RF-R Corey Hart on the 15-day DL (appendectomy), retroactive to 8/2; recalled INF-R Bill Hall from Nashville. [8/3]

The PECOTA-driven playoff odds might judge the Brewers's chances rather harshly, putting them at three percent, and they might be only .500, but the Cubs and Cardinals aren't running too far ahead of them. So, no matter how many blows they're taking, they can still make a race of this, and getting Vargas from the Dodgers contributes towards that, because as many pitchers in both the rotation and the pen the team's lost in recent weeks, they're well-served to add even the most perfunctorily functional.

The rotation's the first area of interest in terms of the Brew Crew having options to ponder. Whether the news that both Suppan and David Bush might be back at the end of next week is good or bad isn't really all that clear-cut, considering that neither has performed all that well this season. Offdays on the schedule help them navigate around a shortened list of options for the rotation. Carlos Villanueva's been called upon to help paper over the holes (doing badly the first time out, and well the second), and relying too much on Mr. Burns to beat anyone within an inch of their life doesn't lend itself to happiness, meaning that they will probably be back to their Opening Day quintet that wasn't propelling them to greatness in the first place. They might turn to Vargas, of course, having relied on him in the role in 2007, but like Villanueva's 2008 rotation disaster (.359 SNWP), Vargas' '07 (.455) wasn't all that special either.

Then there's the quandary of what to do in right field during Hart's extended absence. The starter wasn't having a great season, generating just a .277 EqA, so a month without him seems like a survivable proposition, right? Well, maybe, but with Jody Gerut deeply out of favor (if he was ever in it, making me wonder why they bothered to liberate him from San Diego in the first place), Frank Catalanotto's getting the starts. That seems crazy to me; Gerut hit well in '08 (.304 EqA), and Cat's a borderline DH type at this point of his career. If you're going to punt defense, why not haul Mat Gamel back up and stick him in the outfield? If you need an outfielder, why not Gerut? Why, given these options, do you wind up starting Catalanotto? It does get worse: he's being platooned... with Bill Hall. I guess they have to pay Hall to do something, but as with all of the other things they've asked, the end product appears to be disappointment. Heck, as long as you're going to platoon, why not platoon Gerut with Brendan Katin, who plays right field and was slugging .558 off of southpaws? A pity they so casually discarded Brad Nelson, busily slugging over .500 against right-handers in Tacoma after Jack Zduriencik snapped him up. In general, it just seems as if the Brewers have worked their way down to a worst-possible alternative in case of losing a starting outfielder.

I guess I'm left feeling that the more things change with the Brewers, the more they stay the same. They have issues with losing mediocre (or worse players), and wind up having possibilities to improve, except that they're really sort of squandered. A good starting pitcher would make a difference, but I look at a Catalanotto/Hall platoon and wonder if the bags aren't already being packed.


NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Designated RHP Elmer Dessens for assignment; recalled C-R Robinson Cancel from Buffalo (Triple-A). [7/30]
Activated OF-R Gary Sheffield from the 15-day DL; designated C-R Robinson Cancel for assignment. [8/2]
Optioned LHP Pat Misch to Buffalo; outrighted RHP Elmer Dessens to Buffalo; purchased the contract of RHP Nelson Figueroa from Buffalo. [8/3]
Placed LHP Jon Niese on the 60-day DL (torn hamstring); re-purchased the contract of RHP Elmer Dessens from Buffalo; acquired 2B-S Anderson Hernandez from the Nationals for 2B-S Greg Veloz. [8/6]

So, for those of you keeping track, this really just boils down to one fact: Nelson Figueroa is a man of destiny. Sure, the Mets have their other dramas, the swirling controversy over this player's recovery or that player's rehabilitation, but can anything really compare to the unavoidability of Nelson Figueroa? Sure, he got knocked around upon his return to the rotation, but so what? Once it picks its man, destiny can be a real bitch. Destiny took that Niese kid, shredded his hammy, and put a nice, big dent in his future. Fernando Nieve? Shredded quad, out until September, if then. John Maine? Seemingly well and truly sunk as far as August is concerned, so no help there either. At this rate, you might wonder if Tony Bernazard's really out of work because he was hatching a plan to put up some new barrier to Nelson Figueroa-man of destiny. Tim Redding would be wise to keep his head down in the bullpen, because the mighty Mets should be properly wed to their undistinguished present, and there is perhaps no better candidate to represent that than Figgy, the local favorite, the long-service journeyman, the man of destiny.

It's in that light that we must judge the decision to acquire (bl)Andy Hernandez from the Nats. The sad thing about dealing for Hernandez is how much it's symptomatic of the franchise's current sorry predicament: gamely unwilling to concede, yet equally unable to improve given their having to resort to the pick of such players of Angel Berroa's ilk because of staffing issues in both the majors and minors. Luis Castillo's sprained ankle just means that the Mets have yet another reason to regret their roster at Buffalo, and with Alex Cora playing through an injury as well, there is at least the certainty that Hernandez can play second and short for a team that doesn't really know who might play either position in the days to come.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Virgil Vasquez to Indianapolis (Triple-A); recalled RHP Steven Jackson from Indianapolis. [8/2]

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned OF-R Nick Stavinoha to Memphis (Triple-A); recalled RHP Mitchell Boggs from Memphis. [7/31]
Optioned RHP Mitchell Boggs to Memphis; activated INF-R Khalil Greene from the 15-day DL. [8/1]
Outrighted INF-R Brian Barden to Memphis. [8/6]


WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed OF-R Austin Kearns on the 15-day DL (thumb), retroactive to 8/4; purchased the contract of OF-R Jorge Padilla from Syracuse (Triple-A). [8/5]
Traded 2B-S Anderson Hernandez to the Mets for 2B-S Greg Veloz; recalled RHP Saul Rivera from Syracuse (Triple-A). [8/6]

The news here isn't so much as what they've added as much as what they've made go away. Kearns' thumb injury might mean the end to his season if he opts for surgery, which would perhaps be a form of mercy (as well as a convenient explanation for his implosion at the plate this season). Hernandez was the ultimate placeholder at second, so it's no surprise they didn't get anything for him; although Veloz resembled a prospect last season, he pancaked in the Florida State League this season, hitting just .232/.297/.303. The nicest thing you can say is that, as this was his age-21 season, the young Dominican has plenty of time to recover. But having gotten Hernandez (and Kearns) out of the way, the Nats can perhaps give Ronnie Belliard the dignity of a swan song at second, or see if Willie Harris' latest new role with the club is to stick at the keystone, boosting the lineup a wee bit with his various contributions-getting aboard, speed on the bases, modest sock. If those don't look so hot, maybe in September and upon roster expansion they take a peek at Ian Desmond at the keystone after a somewhat decent season since recovering from surgery on his wrist.


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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