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October 1, 2009

Transaction Action

Winding Down the NL

by Christina Kahrl

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CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Suspended OF-S Milton Bradley for the balance of the season. [9/20]
Activated OF-R Reed Johnson from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Thomas Diamond for assignment; purchased the contract of OF-L Tyler Colvin from Tennessee (Double-A). [9/21]
Outrighted RHP Thomas Diamond to Iowa (Triple-A). [9/23]

It's easy, so much later, to suggest that signing Bradley is cause for regret, but to borrow from the experiences of a childhood spent shoveling equine waste products for pay, Jim Hendry knew exactly what he was stepping into. To some extent, as a National League club's GM, you have to admire the man's brio as far trying something nobody had done before, but does he really have to display an artist's petulance and disgust when what he imagined doesn't turn out so well on the canvas? It's easier still to think in terms of regret as far as ever getting into the bidding in the first place, but now that the Cubs are stuck with Bradley and pondering pennies-to-dollars deals that might banish him to Texas or Florida or some other far-off location, I'm left wondering if there's much recognition of the fact that the same logic tree that spat out Bradley as the answer in an off-season of near-pointless turnover is also the same one that said making Alfonso Soriano ludicrously wealthy for a time far into the future made some sort of sense. Breaking out the big-game blunderbuss has been very much a hit-and-miss proposition, so when it comes to punitive banishments for seemingly hateful things aimed at Cubs fans, it might make sense for leadership to recognize its own culpability in the matter. Poor-mouthing because of the doubt over ownership is particularly ill-considered; after all, this team did afford itself an additional $11 million in debt to afford people it wasn't even employing, and transient fancies like Ryan Freel or Joey Gathright were predictably bad ideas.

In the meantime, without Bradley to kick around and Soriano shelved with injury instead of elective choice, the outfield's been more of an open trial for Sam Fuld in center, plus Micah Hoffpauir, Jake Fox, Bobby Scales, So Taguchi, and now Johnson in the outfield corners. Fuld makes a nice OBP-oriented pest in the eighth slot, but there's some serious Dascenzo potential for over-infatuation with the scrappy little white guy. Laugh if you wish, but this is an audience and an organization that took Reed Johnson seriously as a speed player (not to mention as a center fielder) because he shows a lot of blue in his socks, and seeing Fuld as anything more than a potentially popular reserve just re-creates the issue of how to keep an eight-man lineup firing when one of your corner outfielders-Kosuke Fukudome-doesn't hit for power. Hoffpauir and Fox still represent to more slugly options in a possible post-Bradley future for right field, but both aren't going to win praise for their leather work, and both would contribute to the team's OBP problem.

Again, in a National League lineup, it's less easy to afford people in high-offense slots who have some major hole in their game and still field a top offense, whether it's Fuld and Fukudome lacking power, Soriano's injury-aided implosion, or Hoffpauir and Fox contributing very little in terms of baserunners. Bradley was an attempt to address that, and while in the abstract it made sense given the weak field of free agents, it didn't work. Getting exasperated doesn't help, and it shouldn't be taken for granted that swapping him for Pat Burrell would be any better. However, given that they're already locked in with big-ticket expenses and an aging roster going forward, it's not like they can fold up and go away under new ownership, and the longer the meter runs on this group of players, the more risks they're going to have to run. If that means adding Burrell and confronting an ugly pick between him and Soriano for who goes to right field, that might have to do.

In such a thick field of semi/sorta solutions, Colvin's not got a lot to add, yet. However, he did put up a solid season after missing time early and then essentially playing his way into shape at Daytona while recovering from an off-season TJS on his elbow, finishing hot enough to produce a .300/.334/.524 season in 330 PA in his third spin at Double-A. Despite the way that sounds, he did only just turn 24, so while his reaching base via the occasional free pass is a bit too occasional (just 14 unintentionals), he's worth kicking around as a potential reserve type or employable outfield tweener, or as a throw-in on the next deal with the Pirates.


CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated C/1B-R Ramon Hernandez from the 15-day DL. [9/19]
Activated CF-R Willy Taveras from the 15-day DL. [9/22]
Activated OF-L Chris Dickerson from the 15-day DL. [9/30]

Hernandez and Taveras might punch up their numbers a bit in the garbage time remaining to the Reds, but whatever they do shouldn't get them off the hook as far as their responsibility for helping make sure this Red menace was as overrated a danger to its immediate neighbors as Bela Kun. These two are not like Jay Bruce, in terms of being worthy choices for a final spin to end their years on an up note-there can be no up note for them. Dickerson, on the other hand, is more like Jay Bruce, in that he's worth seeing as an important part of next year's team. (Bruce is hitting .353/.463/.765 since his reactivation, by the way.) While Drew Stubbs is getting all sluggy, that's almost entirely a product of the bandbox the Reds call home, with seven of his eight homers and a .662 SLG against his lone homer and Taveresque .277 SLG on the road. Since Stubbs bats righty and Dickerson bats lefty and can play all three outfield positions, it makes for a much more interesting job-sharing arrangement than anything involving meaningful playing time for Taveras; such an arrangement ought to favor Stubbs, but Dickerson should also get at-bats in the corners as well. Add in variations on a boppy, low-OBP theme like Jonny Gomes and Wladimir Balentien-and (ideally, avoidably) Laynce Nix-and while I'm not sure Dusty Baker's the ultimate skipper for running such an elaborate series a mix-and-match options, it's not automatically a source of weakness.


COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Recalled RHP Samuel Deduno from Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [9/19]
Activated RHP Aaron Cook from the 15-day DL. [9/25]

With Cook returning to action despite predictions that have bounced between dire, speculative, and hopeful, and then having a good game, it looks as if the Rockies' rotation for the regular season was squared away without having to rely too much on fifth starters. They managed to skip the slot at least three times in Cook's absence, and while the four turns taken by Jose Contreras, Josh Fogg, and Esmil Rogers generated just one quality start (by Contreras in his Rockies debut), only Fogg's game was a disaster. If Cook does well today in his second turn since reactivation, he'd be squared away to take the fourth start in the NLDS, with Ubaldo Jimenez opening, followed by Jorge De La Rosa and Jason Marquis. If Cook doesn't, however, then Jason Hammel's ready for the gig. Setting aside veteran vs. relative noob issues, as a matter of strict performance, the start should go to Cook, given that he's been their fourth-best starter, with a SNWP of .500 to Hammel's .475. That's not an indictment of Hammel; he's an important part of the reason why the Rockies will be in October while the Braves will be watching despite their much heavier investment in their rotation. It's entertaining that Hammel, essentially a free talent because of the Rays' roster crunch, plus Cubs discard Marquis (.528 SNWP) and the oft-retreaded De La Rosa (.507) wound up being such stalwarts, but that's just another reflection of how much the game can surprise you, even when extensive performance records would have suggested such seasons as more than a bit unlikely. Rock on.


HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Roy Oswalt on the 15-day DL (back), retroactive to 9/16. [9/24]

While the boxscores might be replete with odd names and Oswalt's absence only makes matters seem worse, it's worth noting that the Astros nevertheless finish the year with two of their Opening Day rotation regulars and their first alternate still in the traces: Wandy Rodriguez and Scuffy Moehler, plus Felipe Paulino. Rodriguez has had an outstanding season, ranking 13th in the major leagues in Support-Neutral Winning Percentage, and while Oswalt's had an unhappy campaign, he's at the 44th rung, and still an obvious asset. The bad news is that you'll find Moehler and Paulino ranked 129th and 130th in the majors in SNWP among the 161 pitchers who've started games and thrown 80 or more innings on the year. Among the absent friends, Mike Hampton's been even worse, coming in at number 135.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Recalled RHP Mike Burns from Nashville (Triple-A). [9/18]
Activated RHP Seth McClung from the 15-day DL. [9/19]


NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Claimed RHP Jack Egbert off of waivers from the White Sox; transferred CF-L Fernando Martinez from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [9/25]
Transferred LHP Oliver Perez from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [9/28]

Dilbert's baseball-playing cousin isn't really a pitching prospect, but as an arm who generates a good number of ground-ball outs with a decent sinker/change mix, he's not a bad choice for staff filler, especially in a system as poorly set for talent at the upper levels, and equally underequipped with quality minions from the minor league free-talent pool. (Seriously, could Omar Minaya do any worse than Skeletor level as far as easily satisfied minion requirements go? Who were the Bisons going to use next, Clawful?)


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated LHP J.C. Romero from the 15-day DL. [9/28]

Romero returned to action on Monday night against the Astros, but he certainly didn't look good, showing slightly worse velocity, giving up hits to two of his first three batters-the first out was recorded against the pitcher, Tim Byrdak-and then surviving deep drives by a recuperating Aaron Boone and then Carlos Lee. So if you suspect that Charlie Manuel's still popping Pepcid when it comes to picking his pitching staff, you're probably right. At least the news that Jamie Moyer's done doesn't really affect matters any; he didn't belong in the conversation as far as picking a rotation, and the questions over what sort of long-relief scenario invites Moyer into a game don't suggest victory.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Claimed RHP Anthony Claggett off of waivers from the Yankees; transferred RHP Jose Ascanio from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [9/24]
Activated RHP Anthony Claggett. [9/28]

You might remember Claggett as part of the package of kitties that came over from Detroit in the Gary Sheffield deal, the "other guy" beyond Kevin Whelan and Humberto Sanchez. For a right-hander, he's got fringy velocity, low-90s stuff that needs his plus slider for him to get by. He's not a prospect, but he's started and closed and he's only 25 years old, so as utility arms go, he's probably worth grabbing if only to see if there's a way you can use him. For staffing the back end of a Pirates' crew, the odd press-ganging via waivers will do.


SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated RHP Mike Adams from the 15-day DL. [9/17]

There's something about Adams' season that just seems like a mirage, because the numbers are mind-boggling, even setting aside that his 0.77 ERA is the product of six of his nine runs being unearned: 21 baserunners in 35 innings? And 44 strikeouts? Heath Bell's probably no longer a qualifier for "Most Underrated Reliever in Baseball" after saving more than 40 games and no doubt getting the magic 'C' appended to his name in popular and press-y imagination, and Luke Gregerson's gotten his due as the primary set-up man. Not that Adams doesn't have other noteworthy teammates besides in the Pad pen: Ed Mujica's had an excellent season as well, but he's being given a spin in the rotation at present, and isn't flubbing it. Adams might get some competition from Joe Thatcher, who established himself as a situational lefty this year, holding southpaws to .184/.256/.263 while striking out 54 against just 11 unintentionals in 44 1/3 IP. Perhaps Bell's mantle can be spread around, and the Pads' bullpen can be labeled the most underrated unit in the game? At any rate, as unpredictable as reliever performance can be, there's strength in numbers (bodies and numbers alike), and it's the sort of thing that you can credit to Bud Black and his staff.


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

Recalled RHP Josh Kinney and INF-Rs David Freese and Tyler Greene from Memphis (Triple-A); purchased the contract of C-R Matt Pagnozzi from Memphis. [9/23]

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed C-R Jesus Flores on the 60-day DL (torn labrum); purchased C-R Jamie Burke from the Mariners. [9/18]

Losing Flores for enough time that he won't be back in action until sometime during spring training certainly casts a pall over the club's off-season plans, because instead of getting to anticipate the prospect's blossoming into a quality full-time receiver, they're left mulling the usual awful veteran fare available via free aygency, whether something old and familiar (Brian Schneider) or something old and less so (Rod Barajas, Jason Kendall). While wags might expect lots of talk about chemistry and leadership, straight out of the steamer trunk they put such canned chatter into after they freed themselves from Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada, I guess there's something to be said for the notion that a reassuring presence behind the plate might not hurt too badly given that contention's out of the question, and someone who works well with kids might contribute indirect, long-term benefits. In the meantime, they bought a favor from the Mariners in the form of Burke, which isn't a huge favor, but there's only so much Josh Bard or Wil Nieves you can ask people to watch. The real question is whether or not Flores' arm will have much snap in it once he returns, because failing that and in the absence of any near-ready prospects at the position, next year's catching situation could be much like this year's, where only the names change, but the production remains execrable.


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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