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Acquired UT-R Ryan Freel for cash and a PTBNL; activated C-R John Buck from the 15-day DL; optioned INF-L Tug Hulett to Omaha (Triple-A). [7/6]

I guess if you have the Willie Bloomquist, why not take two? Becoming a foster home for the scrappy and position-less is at least an organizational identity of some sort. What Freel’s for should be answered in the outfield, which is just as well given his troubles staying healthy. Offensively, he’s not going to be much of an improvement on the agonies they’ve already been enduring with Jose Guillen‘s decrepitude, and while Mitch Maier‘s not hitting, I doubt they’re going to bump David DeJesus back into center field to make room for Ryan Freel. I figure if anyone’s out of luck, it’s either going to be third catcher Brayan Peña, who is out of options and might be claimable in a world where catching seems in particularly short supply of late, or it’s going to be one of the punchless shortstops, either Luis Hernandez or Tony Peña Jr. Arguing for it being one of the shortstops is that they’re taking Bloomquist seriously enough at short to start him in 16 of the last 30 games.

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Activated 3B-R Aramis Ramirez, OF-R Reed Johnson, and RHP Angel Guzman from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Kevin Hart and OF-L Sam Fuld to Iowa (Triple-A); placed RHP David Patton on the 15-day DL (strained groin), retroactive to 7/5; traded UT-R Ryan Freel to the Royals for a PTBNL. [7/6]

Well, that actually worked out relatively neatly. So, the Cubs get Aramis Ramirez back, which is good on several levels, in that it places a plus defender back at third as well as the team’s leader in OBI percentage, as A-Ram was plating a remarkable (and unsustainable) 22.2 percent of his baserunners. That said, he also led the team in 2008, driving in 18.8 percent, a top 20 performance in the majors among hitters with at least 300 PA, which was an almost exact repeat of what he’d achieved in 2007; in 2006 he was in the top 20 again, but that time out it was while driving in 19.2 percent of his baserunners. You have to go back to 2005 to find him outside of the top 20; he was 24th, while driving in almost exactly 18 percent of men on base. He “missed” again in 2004, when he finished 23rd overall while plating 18.4 percent of those proverbial ducks on the pond. Now, I know that arguing that hitters are clutch isn’t really the fashion, but there does seem to be something here in terms of a repeatable skill, and while I’d still state that “clutch” is just an adjective we use to describe people who can hit for power, it’s also clear that A-Ram hasn’t run into a season like, say, Fred Lynn‘s 1988 season with the Orioles, when, before he was dealt to the Tigers, he somehow managed to drive in just 19 runners on base out of 204 while hitting 18 home runs on the season, or 9.3 percent. (On the other hand, once dealt to the Tigs, Lynn plated 18.8 percent of his men aboard.)

In the meantime, they’ve managed to keep Andres Blanco‘s glove for spot defense up the middle, and the bench is loaded with bats with power with Jake Fox, Micah Hoffpauir, and Jeff Baker (against lefties). Baker makes an interesting potential platoon partner with Mike Fontenot at second that might help buy back some of the over-exposure Fontenot seems to have suffered from as an everyday player, while Hoffpauir and Fox have the sort of power to make a case for why the Cubs should petition for a quick move to the DH league. They might seem short of outfielders, but Baker’s useful there as well, and Fox and Hoffpauir will stand in the corners they’re told to, and with Milton Bradley‘s capacity for one form of combustion or another, that sort of bench strength will come into play often enough. Whether or not Alfonso Soriano‘s hitting well enough to start ahead of Fox or Hoffpauir, let alone whether he should be starting ahead of a Fontenaker platoon at the keystone, is a subject for another day. Admittedly, they do only have Kosuke Fukudome as far as a legitimate center fielder; Reed Johnson’s still just a guy mistaken for one. But here again, I’d find hard to accept an argument that they’re leaning too heavily on offense when they do still rank fourth in the majors in Defensive Efficiency, and second in PADE, and they are still carrying Blanco, a defense-only reserve for the middle infielders.

Oh hallelujah and joy, a team has only 11 pitchers! Moving Hart and retaining Jeff Samarzija makes plenty of sense in this alignment, because with Rich Harden becoming a cause for concern and going with a “short” staff, beyond their late-game trio of Carlos Marmol, Kevin Gregg, and Guzman, they’re better off with guys like Samardzija or Aaron Heilman or Sean Marshall, all of whom have been starting pitchers and go multiple innings. Of course, Marmol, Gregg, and Guzman are all former starters as well, and to Piniella’s credit, he’s proven willing to let Gregg and Guzman throw multiple innings some days. He’s gone the other direction with Marmol, spreading his best reliever thin by working him in 43 games, one shy of the league lead. It’s an interesting way to manage a pen, but also one that’s made possible by doing without any stunted, overbred, situationally precarious specialists.