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ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Recalled RHP A.J. Achter from Triple-A Salt Lake. [9/5]

Even the most hardcore of Angels fans are probably skimming right past this. Achter is a guy who has flitted back and forth between Salt Lake and Los Angeles (of Anaheim) all season, not pitching particularly well when he's had big-league chances. His 3.86 ERA is fine, of course, but his 6.45 FIP and 6.94 DRA put truth to the lie–he has struck out 11 batters in 28 innings and allowed seven home runs. He is, like many mopup men, fungible.

But I care about A.J. Achter. This has been my first year as primary transaction analyst here at Baseball Prospectus, and all year, by my side, has been Achter. One of my duties is to filter through the mass of formal transactions that MLB publishes–the call-ups, the disabled list stints, the trades and signings–to try to note the ones that you, the reader, might care about. Most of these moves don’t rate putting digital pen to digital paper, and this Achter call-up should be no exception.

Except:

  • 4/9/16: Los Angeles Angels selected the contract of A.J. Achter from Salt Lake Bees.
  • 4/11/16: Los Angeles Angels optioned A.J. Achter to Salt Lake Bees.
  • 5/1/16: Los Angeles Angels recalled A.J. Achter from Salt Lake Bees.
  • 5/12/16: Los Angeles Angels optioned A.J. Achter to Salt Lake Bees.
  • 5/17/16: Los Angeles Angels recalled A.J. Achter from Salt Lake Bees.
  • 5/22/16: Los Angeles Angels designated RHP A.J. Achter for assignment.
  • 5/24/16: Los Angeles Angels sent A.J. Achter outright to Salt Lake Bees.
  • 6/13/16: Los Angeles Angels selected the contract of A.J. Achter from Salt Lake Bees.
  • 6/27/16: Los Angeles Angels optioned A.J. Achter to Salt Lake Bees.
  • 7/18/16: Los Angeles Angels designated RHP A.J. Achter for assignment.
  • 7/21/16: Los Angeles Angels sent A.J. Achter outright to Salt Lake Bees.
  • 8/9/16: Los Angeles Angels selected the contract of RHP A.J. Achter from Salt Lake Bees.
  • 8/11/16: Los Angeles Angels optioned A.J. Achter to Salt Lake Bees.
  • 8/21/16: Los Angeles Angels recalled A.J. Achter from Salt Lake Bees.
  • 8/29/16: Los Angeles Angels optioned RHP A.J. Achter to Salt Lake Bees.
  • 9/05/16: Los Angeles Angels recalled A.J. Achter from Salt Lake Bees.

I've received 18 separate notifications that Achter’s roster status had changed in some way–so far–during the 2016 baseball season. He has, by my count, now begun his seventh stint with the big-league Angels this season. In every single month of the year, there he was, popping up in my emails at least once, often two to three times. May, especially, was a mass of motion. No matter if I was in China or California or Michigan, Achter was there with me. No matter what was happening in baseball, if Max Scherzer was striking out 20 guys or Kris Bryant was hitting three homers in a game, Achter was there, in my inbox, waiting to be filed under “inconsequential.”

And no matter when the Angels needed an extra relief arm after a tough game or an extra roster spot after an acquisition, Achter was there too–making the trip from Utah to California and back again. Rinse and repeat. There’s a famous quote attributed to Woody Allen: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” A.J. Achter is certainly four-fifths of that way to success, reliably present both when you need him and when you do not. In my life, I long to be that special kind of steady and true; even if this move is inconsequential to some, this is my small way of recognizing my hero of dependability, the spiritual sidekick to this column.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Released DH-R Billy Butler. [9/11]

The Butler did it, if by “it” we mean ate up a significant chunk of salary on a team that could ill afford to waste money. From the jump, many were skeptical of the Athletics’ investment in the defensively-challenged hitter, as the A’s are notorious for their inability to make big-money investments, and Butler was coming off the worst season of his career. Instead of bouncing back in Oakland, he’s now bouncing out of a job after not hitting well enough to keep a regular gig or offset his negative clubhouse reputation.

Prior to his 2014 season–up to that point the worst of Butler’s career–he was as steady as they come. For five consecutive seasons, like clockwork, he played in 159 or more games and hit well above average–his True Average fluctuated between .279 and .302. But starting in 2014, his final season with the Royals, he started swinging at more balls outside of the zone and making less contact on them, and it appears that his rate of hard contact has diminished a bit as well. Especially against left-handed pitchers, it doesn’t seem like the ball is leaving his bat with the same speed it used to.

While Country Breakfast still can make solid contact on balls in the zone (especially against right-handers), pitchers challenged him less with balls in the zone than ever before, and only 44 percent of balls he saw were in the strike zone. You know how the way pitchers attack a hitter can tell you whether or not that player has lost it? Maybe this is another data point away from Butler as an effective hitter. (Also, maybe the Athletics should’ve listened to Rob. Butler was mentioned as a candidate for decline in that afore-linked article back in 2014.)

Butler has posted a reverse platoon split in his two seasons with the Athletics; it’s still possible that he could bounce back a little in his next run with a team if that split effect is due to luck rather than a skill cratering. Then again, after three seasons of this level of offensive performance, I wouldn’t count on it.

It is extraordinarily well-documented that the Athletics are a team that has to earn extra value as they operate on the margins. With Butler’s dead money now a sunk cost, the only option the A’s have is to try to find another of their patented low-cost surprise performers … without trying to find part-time plate appearances for the team’s highest-paid player. And while Butler’s still something close to a league-average hitter, his lack of fielding and flexibility may move Country Breakfast into the Mike Hessman Triple-A superstar role–not a big-league DH.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Signed SS-R Alexei Ramirez. [9/8]

Coming into the season, Brad Miller was The Man at shortstop for the Rays. After acquiring him in the offseason, the team hoped to look past his defensive inadequacies and cement him as the team’s six of the future. Instead of plugging the hole up the middle, Miller has demonstrated that as a shortstop, he’s a pretty good first baseman, and as the team sunk out of contention, they acquired Matt Duffy from the Giants. Problem solved, except for the fact that Duffy needed season-ending surgery, and all of a sudden, the Rays need a warm body to finish out their disappointing 2016 season.

Enter Ramirez, whose new role as emergency stopgap is quite the fall for a player who was hailed as a nice little buy-low candidate for the Padres this past offseason. The Cuban shortstop is far removed from his All-Star status, but still projected for solid defense at the infield’s most critical position. Even if his True Average stayed the same as 2015’s disappointing .236 mark, he could still be an upgrade over the disaster that was the 2015 Padres’ infield. As Ramirez’s offense continued to fade–his power sunk to new lows–his defense slipped away along with it. BP’s Fielding Runs Above Average metric rated him at +4 runs in 2015, but -9 runs in 2016. That swing of almost a win and a half took Ramirez from a sweet value on a one-year deal to a below-replacement infielder cut free midseason.

Ramirez will give it another shot this offseason, but sometimes when you go, you’re gone. If his defense truly has gone the way of the buffalo, then there’s not much room for him in the majors any more.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Released OF-R Brandon Barnes. [9/10]

If you had to name one strength of the as-constructed Colorado Rockies roster, you’d probably first think of MVP candidate Nolan Arenado, but you wouldn’t be remiss if you also wanted to consider the team’s outfield. With veterans Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon, talented tool shed David Dahl, and Raimel Tapia lurking, the Rockies are stacked enough to shift defensive star Gerardo Parra into a first baseman role. And on a roster like this, even in September, there is no room for a player like Barnes.

Barnes’ career was built on illusion–that his prodigious speed and defensive acumen made up for whatever deficiencies he had at the dish. Despite a 27-homer minor-league season back in 2010, he’s a lots-of-strikeouts-but-no-walks hitter with a career .289 OBP, so his hustle better be able to win back a lot of runs in order to earn positive value. But according to FRAA, Barnes was slightly below average in his past three years in Colorado (-0.3 runs), and the metrics Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating mark him as passing fair, but no game-changer. As for baserunning, well, you have to reach base to earn value through that method, and Barnes doesn’t reach enough to allow his skills to earn more than a run or two per season.

At 30, Barnes still plays like his hair is on fire, and players like that with a bankable skill like speed earn every opportunity as s fifth outfielder or depth roster piece. But despite the highlight-reel catches and sprints between the bags, it will be tough to imagine any team giving more than a minor-league contract to a player with such limited offensive value.