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Activated LF-R Conor Jackson from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-L Gerardo Parra to Reno (Triple-A). [5/8]

Having healed up in good time, Jackson’s return from the DL might add a little bit of lineup card variety. Against the Brewers‘ southpaws this weekend, Jackson batted second, and Stephen Drew dropped to seventh (and a day off). With Kelly Johnson still leading off as a reward for his hot start, Jackson couldn’t move back into his season-opening slot, but as Johnson’s reign of mashing terror comes to its end, Jackson could return to leading off against lefties, and perhaps eventually just reclaim the job outright. It’s a symptom of what represents a nice problem for the Snakes, regardless of how far back from slugging .600 Johnson comes, and especially once Miguel Montero comes back from the DL. What the lineup lacks in genuine star power outside of their home park-and as long as Justin Upton‘s slump continues-it can make up for somewhat in top-to-bottom depth. Even with Montero’s absence, they’ve benefited from Chris Snyder doing a bit better against right-handed pitching (.255/.405/.455), although the weirdness of his getting four of five intentional walks-and of Brad Mills‘ five total issued on the year-against the Astros in a single series exaggerates that more than a bit. Even in early May, the numbers benefit from the occasional silly stuff.

As for Parra, there’s no point in bemoaning his fate, one earned by any fourth outfield type whose tweener skill set fails to shine in any particular area. Yes he’s left-handed, and yes he’s young, so in the abstract you might think that the Snakes’ bench might be better served by having someone from the gaucheoisie among its bench players, and you might think he’s part of the future. The problem is that he’s really not that special-he’s not a plus glove in center, depositing him in the ranks of tweenerdom, without enough of any other asset to stand out as a must-keep contributor. Parra’s modest contributions on the bases, his hacking at the plate (generating just one walk by himself in 75 PA), and his limited power hardly make him a good enough player to make a point of keeping around as a contrast to three three righty-batting regulars in the outfield. A.J. Hinch hasn’t been shy about using switch-hitter Tony Abreu as a pinch-hitter from the left side (while usually spot-starting him at second and third against lefties for Kelly Johnson and Stephen Drew), so not even that element of Parra’s absence will be all that notable.

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Optioned RHP Jeff Gray to Iowa (Triple-A); activated RHP Esmailin Caridad from the 15-day DL. [5/8]

Even with his participation in the Saturday night bullpen massacre to own up to, Caridad’s importance to the pen despite a month away seems straightforward enough: brought in with the Cubs down by only a run to start the bottom of the seventh, he got a pair of infield ground balls, but errors by Starlin Castro and Mike Fontenot on his first two batters faced guaranteed he wouldn’t see Joey Votto. All five runs that frame would score with Carlos Zambrano on the mound, but the defense deserved the unwanted credit for taking a winnable ballgame well off into blowout territory. Clearly, last season’s good work hasn’t been forgotten, but with the pen looking like a mess, it’s going to be interesting to see if he remains a go-to guy in tight spots, or if he joins the lengthening list of out-of-favor farmhands.

Meanwhile, Gray’s flat heat and equally flat performance got him his walking papers, but it’s worth wondering if Justin Berg will be all that far behind. Berg’s season stats-spoiling six-run eighth inning doesn’t mean much in the context of his putting an exclamation point on a lost cause-despite the ugly outing, he’s still among the Cubs’ few positive contributors in the pen-but his ongoing wildness makes him hard to rely upon. Already someone who has averaged a walk every other inning during his minor-league career (or 10.7 percent), then add in a hit batsmen clip over two percent, so he’s the sort of guy who puts one batter out of eight aboard in ways his defense can’t say squat about it; his current season clip of putting 16 percent of opposing batters on in the majors isn’t really that far beyond that track record. Add in that the key to his success, his sinker, isn’t generating many grounders, and you’ve got another guy giving you reasons to worry about what he’s for.

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Activated LHP Dan Meyer from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Hunter Jones to New Orleans (Triple-A). [5/10]

Meyer’s return coming in the wake of Brian Sanches‘ reactivation finally gives the Fish their closest in-season facsimile to their original bullpen design, aside from swapping out their February fascination with Jose Veras for Chris Leroux. But that lone exception provides a reminder that if Meyer doesn’t earn his keep, one of the virtues of employing other people’s discards is that you’re not employing that at any great cost yourself. While Jones didn’t get really put on the spot, he retired the only lefty he got to see, and struck out three of four right-handers. He’ll be back, but whether it’s at Meyer’s eventual expense or because of another injury remains to be seen.

The major recent problem in the pen of late has been Burke Badenhop‘s recent hittability, which is frustrating, but it’s worth remembering as a caution. His sinker’s his bread-and-butter pitch, and the Marlins‘ infield defense doesn’t exactly come with the best collection of reputations, between Dan Uggla at second, Jorge Cantu at third, and Hanley Ramirez at short. That’s not to say they’re all outright liabilities-well, Uggla is-but nobody’s a major plus either. During his current six-game runs-allowed streak, he’s lost battles with batters in every way possible-leadoff homers, scattered showers of infield singles, getting lanced with liners after leaving something up. Since Badenhop works around 90, he’s never going to overpower people, relying instead on upsetting timing by how effectively he works with his slider and changeup, but if his defense isn’t converting and if he’s put into situations where he has to gun for strikeouts, it makes for a tough spot in terms of reasonable expectations for what he’s capable of.

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Activated 3B-R Chris Johnson from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Round Rock (Triple-A). [5/8]

You might pity Johnson his optionability, since he has to head to one of Texas’ less exciting baseball venues while Pedro Feliz gets to do his rotting phormer Phillie act at the hot corner, but it’s important to remember that Johnson’s not really a top prospect as much as a guy who plays third employed by the Astros organization. The way the franchise’s history has worked out, you’d almost wonder if they’re allergic to third-base prospects on general principle. Among their third basemen, the best producer at the plate in franchise history was Morgan Ensberg, handily:

Dude Year VORP
Morgan Ensberg 2005 53.4
Morgan Ensberg 2003 38.9
Bill Spiers 1997 35.0
Ken Caminiti 1992 31.9
Sean Berry 1998 28.9
Denny Walling 1986 28.9
Ken Caminiti 1994 27.3
Ken Caminiti 2000 27.3
Ty Wigginton 2008 26.8
Enos Cabell 1978 26.2

It took nearly 700 plate appearances in that ’78 season for Cabell to make the list, in which he produced at a modest .275 TAv; add in that he was about as mobile as your average barcalounger at third base, and you start to see the nature of the problem of hot corner greatness in Astros history. Their all-time leader in games played at the position, Doug Rader, a nice placeholder in the way that Feliz was in his best days; his top season (1974) clocks in as the Astros’ 11th-best third baseman campaign using VORP. Switch over to WARP, and Astros third basemen do even worse in the grand scheme of things: you’ll find Ensberg’s monster ’05 among the 20 best single player seasons in Astros history, but you certainly won’t find Enos Cabell or Doug Rader in the top 100. (You will find a reminder of the scale of the tragedy of Dickie Thon, however.)

Now, admittedly, they’ve done well at times by lurching from temp to temp when they didn’t have an easy everyday answer like Doug Rader or Ken Caminiti. Castoffs and journeymen like Dave Magadan, Phil Garner, Denny Walling, Sean Berry, Bill Spiers, and Art Howe rank among their most effective solutions to stocking the position. And then you have disastrous purported fixes, like Cabell or Ray Knight, and the risk of so much turnover is that you end up with way too much Geoff Blum, a weak latter-day echo of Spiers (or even Walling).

It’s this sort of thing that helps explain why they rushed Caminiti up, although his incredible, worth-the-price-of-admission early-career glovework helped. It also leaves you gnashing your teeth over the amount of time Ensberg wasted mid-career at Triple-A or the ridiculous speed with which they discarded Phil Nevin in the ’90s, even after drafting him as the first overall selection of 1992 out of signability considerations. If Feliz rates as a bad idea, he is at least a transient one, sort of like Buddy Bell toward the bitter end of his career.

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Activated RHP Jeff Weaver from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP John Ely to Albuquerque (Triple-A). [5/7]
Activated LF-R Manny Ramirez from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-L Xavier Paul to Albuquerque. [5/8]

Jay Jaffe‘s gearing up to say something about the Dodgers tomorrow, so I’ll keep this short and simple. While Paul outplayed both of the veterans ahead of him on the depth chart, Reed Johnson and Garret Anderson are employed to be bench players behind his Mannyness, while Paul should figure to be an everyday player with the Isotopes for the time being. The more interesting eventual question is whether or not Paul will replace Anderson in particular on the active roster, because the longer we go, th emore obvious it seems that Anderson’s Angeleno abdication is overdue. Similarly, Ely’s not going to be gone for long after a creditable second spin in the rotation-Charlie Haeger‘s latest disasterpiece is probably going to kill this latest attempt to find a new knuckleballer deader than Eddie Rommel, while it’s already being reported that Ely will be back in time for tomorrow’s turn.

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Placed RHP LaTroy Hawkins on the 15-day DL (shoulder); recalled LHP Mitch Stetter from Nashville (Triple-A). [5/9]

As I noted before, Stetter didn’t deserve to be sent down on Tax Day, but the Brewers’ decision to retain Jeff Suppan proved taxing in yet another way once they “had” to reactivate him. It took Suppan just two bad starts to re-lose the fifth starter’s slot, which has been manned since by Chris Narveson. Hawkins’ setback, coming up sore after showing slowing speed gun readings, at least sets matters aright for Stetter, while having the unfortunate side effect of leaving Suppan safe for the moment. Given the good work from Todd Coffey and Carlos Villanueva so far, plus the re-addition of Stetter, the job of setting up Trevor Hoffman shouldn’t be as much of a problem as Hoffman’s own performance has been. Getting Hawkins back will help, of course, but ideally in a way that finally evicts Suppan the roster as well as simply improving the pen.

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Placed C-L Brian Schneider on the 15-day DL (leg); purchased the contract of C-R John Hoover from Lehigh Valley (Triple-A); transferred RHP Ryan Madson from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/9]

Since Carlos Ruiz‘s status as the regular catcher isn’t in doubt and Schneider’s expected back after a minimum-length stay on the DL, this is a minor logistical nuisance, but one afforded easily enough by Madson’s helpfully hurting himself as badly as he did with that chair-punting stunt.

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Optioned UT-S Eugenio Velez to Fresno (Triple-A); placed SS-R Edgar Renteria on the 15-day DL (strained groin); recalled INF-R Ryan Rohlinger from Fresno; purchased the contract of RHP Denny Bautista from Fresno. [5/7]

Losing Renteria’s a setback, but the team’s response has been interesting enough. Moving Juan Uribe over was straightforward enough, but rather than move Mark DeRosa in to play second until Freddy Sanchez is ready to come off the DL-thus getting an outfielder’s bat into the lineup-they’re riding the hot hand since Matt Downs has made a nice enough impression in the last couple weeks. It’s one thing for John Bowker to lose out to Nate Schierholtz in the battle for the right field job, but it’s an indication of how far his stock seems to have fallen in a few short weeks, that Bruce Bochy and company will forget all of the reasons why they initially favored Bowker in the first place, and won’t exploit DeRosa’s positional flexibility. They’re also getting to a point where depth at shortstop is a concern, because Emmanuel Burriss is on the DL as well. Downs and Rohlinger have both played some short at Fresno, just as Kevin Frandsen had before them to put the utility into a utilityman’s job prospects, but neither is a natural shortstop. Once Sanchez comes off the DL in the next several days, they’ll leave Uribe alone at short and sit Downs, but the depth issue remains-hence the addition of Angel Berroa to the Grizzlies’ roster.

As for the resurrection of Denny Bautista, this brings the Giants back to a seven-man relief crew. Since it’s for the last spot on the pen’s pine, you can understand the interest in taking a peek, since Bautista had managed a 15/3 strikeout/walk ratio in 12 1/3 IP, and since he still throws hard, but as we get deeper into the season, you might wonder whether they’ll give Henry Sosa, Osiris Matos, or Waldis Joaquin any consideration, or if Santiago Casilla will get a spin once he’s healthy enough to pitch.

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Optioned OF-R Justin Maxwell to Syracuse (Triple-A); recalled LHP Matt Chico from Harrisburg (Double-A). [5/8]
Designated LHP Matt Chico for assignment; purchased the contract of LHP Doug Slaten from Syracuse. [5/9]

Chico did well enough in his emergency start spotting for an achy-elbow’d John Lannan, but not so well that he was worth keeping around, not when there’s the Stephen Strasburg clock a-ticking, and not while the other components of the rotation are earning their keep. Add in that he doesn’t have a ton of velocity, command, or ceiling, even as he comes back from TJS, and it’ll be interesting to see if anyone elects to make a claim or a minor offer before he makes it back to Harrisburg.

But beyond calling on a pinch-starter, there was also the eventual consideration as far as the team’s choice for a second southpaw in the pen, and now that Willie Harris and Ryan Zimmerman are both healthy, they could afford to move back to a seventh reliever. What’s interesting is who that second lefty is. Ron Villone‘s struggling, but Slaten has more than earned the callup on his own by dominating at Triple-A. Slaten had struck out 17 in 17 frames while allowing just 13 baserunners, and as I noted in November when the Nats snagged him from the Snakes, his career numbers in situational work look better (in a small sample) once you take having to pitch in Bankers’ Bandbox – West Campus in Phoenix out of the picture. Add that Jesse English, while eligible for being called back, had taken a thumping in one of his three games, and you can understand a decision to see where Slaten fits in, if at all.

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Are we really convinced that Freddy Sanchez gets full-time at-bats the day he comes off the DL? Bochy said something last week about a middle-infield rotation. More to the point I'm trying to make here, Matt Downs suddenly looks ready. I've seen maybe fifteen at-bats and thought he looked like a real live major league hitter --- comfortable, smart and aggressive every time. Plus, he's flat hittin' it. Just saying, they seem to like him and these untrained eyes do too.
FWIW, Rohlinger was a shortstop in high school, and while it is a far cry from pro ball, he has played the position before. He certainly has hit like a shortstop during his couple of cups of coffee on the ML roster. He is almost certainly a better option than the Giant's other 'insurance policy' - Angel Berroa. I'd personally be kind of surprised if Freddy Sanchez outhits Matt Downs if and when he comes back. Downs hit pretty well coming through the minors as well, and Sanchez was never as great as his 2006 season made it appear. He is looking like another of Brian Sabean's proven veteran mistakes.
Point well taken, since I had to make that very point about Bowker's having played first base before (in high school) before the Giants gave him a spin at the spot in 2008. That said, I think folks are getting a bit over enthusiastic about Downs after less than 40 PAs. As PECOTA suggests, he'd be a fine placeholder at the position if you lacked alternatives. I may not be the biggest fan of Freddy Sanchez's brand of adequacy, but he should be that once he's healed up, and they are paying him a pretty penny. We know how this will wind up, but I wouldn't decry Downs' eventual loss of playing time as an epically unfortunate. The disaster was already achieved when they didn't let Sanchez become a freely available free agent, but that's what I would call another bitter fruit sprung from the Brian Sabean decision tree.
CK, I'm having trouble parsing this phrase: "although the weirdness of his getting four of five intentional walks—and of Brad Mills' five total issued on the year" about Chris Snyder. Snyder got 4 IBB out of what 5? His BB on the year? D-Back IBB? Sorry if I'm being dense. And let me say thanks for the great TA work since TA has become a regular blog item.
I was being cute, because both Snyder and Mills have to this point been involved in five intentional walks total on the year so far, as a hitter and as a skipper, respectively. But four of their respective tallies involved one another: Mills as a manager called for his charges with the Astros to issue four of the five IBBs issued to Snyder. There is only one non-Chris Snyder batsman in baseball this season to merit an intentional pass call from Brad Mills: Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan, while he was--you guessed it--also batting eighth. Like I said, it's early yet, so you get some special peculiarities like this to jabber about.