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Placed LHP Eric O’Flaherty on the 15-day DL (viral infection); optioned MIR Brandon Hicks to Gwinnett (Triple-A); activated RF-L Jason Heyward from the 15-day DL; recalled LHP Michael Dunn from Gwinnett. [7/15]

Bringing Heyward back couldn’t come too soon on the schedule, since his presence helps bring the Braves back down to “just” two question marks in the outfield. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that their question marks have been more productive than the question mark that Nate McLouth‘s bat had become before a concussion forced him to the DL. That has been a nice interim development, but it still leaves them short of what they thought they’d have on offense with McLouth in full working order, placing Frank Wren in the position of having a problem he may or may not elect to fix by reaching outside the organization in the next two weeks.

Consider their lot at McLouth’s initial position, out in center. Bobby Cox has resorted to a loose job-sharing arrangement between Gregor Blanco and Melky Cabrera that generally has come to involve more Melky and less Blanco. Despite Cabrera’s longer big-league experience, this isn’t a matter of favoring the veteran over the youngster, insofar as Blanco is nine months older than his rival for playing time. A moderately surprising development has been Cox’s decision to count on Cabrera for starts against left-handed pitching, because Cabrera’s career performance against lefties is so lackluster (.257/.328/.355), with a walk rate below 10 percent and little power. But given that the choice is Blanco, a player with no power against anybody and someone whose chief contribution so far has been a decent walk rate against right-handers, it isn’t like Cox has a great, easy choice to make here. If, day to day, the skipper is drifting back toward a preference for Cabrera, that’s a matter of letting a placeholder regain his place.

What of left field? Since coming back from the DL, Matt Diaz has been part of the answer in the corners, in that he’s been raking against lefties, same as ever. If you don’t get too hung up on which lefties (big days against Chris Narveson and Manny Parra aren’t exactly rare), you’ve got a platoon piece for left field. Unfortunately, Eric Hinske‘s extended slump has left them mulling other options for platoon partners-which they don’t really have on hand, fueling trade rumors, which makes even more sense if you take the “in for a penny, in for a pound” perspective: If you’re going to grant Cox his druthers at shortstop, why not add a big bat, and where better than in left field? Or, at its simplest, why not Adam Dunn, and why not right now?

However, with McLouth rehabbing at nearby Gwinnett, they may not pull the trigger on anything bigger than a reactivation of their original center fielder, as anticlimactic as that might seem. Frankly, lest they be perceived as a desperation shopper, their best option, especially in public, is to keep faith with McLouth for the next week or two. If he’s an answer at one slot, that really leaves them with just one to stock with whatever combination of Melky, Diaz, Hinske, and Omar Infante works well enough.

The problem is that while McLouth has put in seven ballgames already with Gwinnett, and while that alone is good news, the Braves cannot indulge his hitting like he had before the injury-the improvement Cabrera and Blanco have made upon his .220 TAv is merely relative, to get Braves center fielders to a still-woeful .236 overall, where McLouth was originally projected to post a True Average in the .280-.290 range. They don’t just need him back in action, they need the premium player they thought they’d acquired when they snagged him from the Pirates. If they do get that, and land one of the better offensive outfielders available in trade, they’ll have provided Cox with all of the offensive weapons he needs to go out at least a division-winner.

Losing O’Flaherty takes a bit of starch out of a bullpen that had been getting quality contributions from five different relievers. While they have another effective southpaw in the pen to run out there in front of Billy Wagner this season-rookie Jonny Venters is second on the team in ARP-this isn’t a relief crew so good or so reliable to give Cox entirely peaceful evenings. While Kris Medlen has been effective in middle relief chores, he’s being kept in the rotation now that Jair Jurrjens is back from the DL, punting Kenshin Kawakami into the same “what’s he for?” relief limbo already populated by Jesse Chavez. Peter Moylan has struggled with baserunners, either holding them close or keeping them from scoring, and he’s a bit of a situational creature, while Takashi Saito remains a fragile asset who may not be able to handle regular use.

Put all of that together, and it wasn’t too much of a surprise to see Dunn in a tight spot yesterday, coming into the sixth inning with two men on once the Brewers chased Derek Lowe in an attempt to rally. Sure, it was pitching with a five-run lead, but it wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Happily, Dunn lived up to the expectations he came in with since his inclusion in the Vazquez trade, stranding both men. At Gwinnett, he was virtually the most dominating thing to roll through town since Sherman himself, striking out 56 in 42 2/3 IP, allowing just 26 hits and 20 walks, no homers, and retiring righties and lefties alike without much prejudice. Given his power assortment and complete dominance at the level, the problem may be less one of whether or not he deserves to stick around as whether or not he could be a fourth lefty in a pen featuring Venters and a healthy O’Flaherty beyond Wagner. That seems a bit unlikely, but until we know how long O’Flaherty is gone for, the question could be academic. Meanwhile, they’re continuing to avoid a decision to ditch Chavez and just place their faith in Craig Kimbrel, however wild.

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Signed RHP Russ Springer to a minor-league contract, and assigned him to Louisville (Triple-A). [7/16]
Activated RHP Edinson Volquez from the 60-day DL; optioned LHP Matt Maloney to Louisville; transferred RHP Mike Lincoln from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/17]

Well, as expected, Volquez returned to action, only after proving he could take his turns on four days’ rest without any decrease in effectiveness during his rehab work. Armed with seven days’ rest heading into his 2010 big-league debut, he shut down the Rockies with aplomb, throwing hard and well in the latest bit of good news for the Reds‘ rotation. Add in the decision to move Mike Leake back to the fifth turn in the initial second-half swing through the rotation, and you could be forgiven the hope that costly sacrifices aren’t in the offing.

Since there’s no news on when Aaron Harang will be back, and Homer Bailey is still weeks away from a return to action, it’s up to the present quintet of Bronson Arroyo, Volquez, Travis Wood, Johnny Cueto, and Leake. The real risk is the desperate bullpen situation, because bad relief work is going to tempt Dusty Baker to ask for that extra inning here or there from their starters, this from a staff that already ranks in the top five in total workload. Essentially, the pen’s been Arthur Rhodes handing leads over to Francisco Cordero; two good weeks from Bill Bray has made him their obvious third quality reliever, with the team’s full-season 4.70 bullpen FRA only being good enough to come in as an 11th-place ranking in the league that depends on so few happy few even Henry V might shrink from going once more unto the breach. As you’d expect to be the case, sighting the ageless Springer is a symptom of outright programmatic desperation-why go out and get something good or wait out the kinks with something new when you can acquire old, cheap, and familiar so easily?

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Outrighted LHP Dan Meyer to New Orleans (Triple-A). [7/14]
Purchased the contract of RHP Jhan Marinez from Jacksonville (Double-A). [7/16]
Designated PH-L Mike Lamb for assignment; recalled OF-L Bryan Petersen from New Orleans. [7/18]

For all of the churn the Fish pen has been prone to this season, sometimes you come across the good stuff and not just another incarnation of Meyer or Scott Strickland or Jose Veras. But as a way of breaking the cycle of endlessly churning while trying to improve upon a mediocre 18th place among big-league bullpens, while Marinez isn’t going to lead you to exclaim, “IcBin“-it’s just a guess, but he’s probably not a Rammstein guy-he’s clearly a case of the cream rising to the top. Marinez isn’t just any arm, but about as live-armed as they get, which is why Kevin Goldstein slotted him sixth in the system before the season.

Another slender Dominican, Marinez is very different from most in that his easy, smooth mechanics deliver a plus assortment of high-90s heat (touching 98) and a power slider, but despite the easy delivery, once the ball leaves his hands, it’s wilder than Spiro Agnew with a thesaurus and a fifth of gin. Just 21 years old, Marinez has been moving up the chain fast-this spring, he was initially asked to repeat at High-A Jupiter after being boosted up to the Florida State League last season with nothing more than Rookie-league experience, but by early June he’d pitched his way up to Double-A. Across the two levels, he managed 60 strikeouts against 20 unintentional walks in 40 innings, while allowing just 21 hits. Perhaps predictably given his stature, balls in play tend to be airborne, but if he can overpower this many hitters on into the future, that’s less of a problem for a reliever pitching in Miami.

As for the decision to change up the bench mix, Petersen might be replacing Lamb, but he’s not coming in like a lion, having struggled at the plate in the Big Easy since his initial bit of yo-yo’ing from the Zephyrs to the Fish and back again, with a lower walk rate and negligible power. Instead, it’s a matter of his being on the 40-man and being a ready choice to bring up with Chris Coghlan‘s back injury potentially forcing him to the DL. Unfortunately, the team’s options on the 40-man are limited, because Cameron Maybin is still out with bursitis in his shoulder, while Brett Carroll hasn’t hit appreciably better than Petersen. If the Marlins do lose Coghlan for an extended stretch, the danger is that they’ll be down to a repeat of the Emilio Bonifacio experience.

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Placed RHP Brian Moehler on the 15-day DL (strained groin), retroactive to 7/8. [7/17]
Purchased the contract of RHP Gary Majewski from Round Rock (Triple-A); designated RHP Casey Daigle for assignment. [7/19]

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Placed OF-R Reed Johnson on the 15-day DL (strained back), retroactive to 7/9; activated LF-R Manny Ramirez from the 15-day DL. [7/15]

Getting Ramirez back is an obvious boon, but the minor misfortune here is that losing Johnson effectively costs them their best alternative for spotting Andre Ethier against the league’s tougher lefties. But even now, they’re refusing to cut bait with Garret Anderson, even as they keep Xavier Paul up as a caddy and lefty bat on the bench, and while they have better alternatives to fulfill that specific platoon role-perhaps Jamie Hoffman, if you wanted a righty batter who really can play center where Johnson only tries, or Prentice Redman if you wanted a professional hitter. But those are small beer as Dodger gambits go, and if they’re serious about bringing up Trayvon Robinson, that might resolve the issue much more decisively, albeit in a way that pushes Paul back to Triple-A, with little future beyond backing up a star-studded cast in the Dodgers‘ outfield. Calling up Robinson might be especially interesting if you consider the chances of anyone named McCourt still owning the team by the time Robinson reaches the latter stages of arbitration-reaching for the brass ring is a lot less expensive when you may not be around to afford the full cost of your actions.

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Returned LHP Doug Davis to the 15-day DL, retroactive to 7/10; recalled OF-R Lorenzo Cain from Nashville (Triple-A). [7/16]

The Brewers’ glum rotation situation keeps finding ways to get worse, as Davis lasted just a lone spin before returning to inactivity. He struggled badly against a bad Bucs lineup, seeing 10 of 24 Pirates reach base and four score, surrendering a pair of homers, and making it seem as if activating him in the first place wasn’t an especially good idea. So even with the expectation that Yovani Gallardo might return to the rotation later this week, they’re back to mulling options like Chris Capuano or Carlos Villanueva to round out their rotation for the time being, this while already relying on Manny Parra and Chris Narveson. Can it get worse? Of course it can, because while the rotation ranks 27th in the majors in per-game Support-Neutral value, the pen ranks an even more appalling 29th in FRA and 93rd in all-time ghastliness.

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Activated OF-S Carlos Beltran from the 60-day DL; transferred 4CR Fernando Tatis from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/15]
Optioned 1B/OF-R Nick Evans to Buffalo (Triple-A); recalled 2B-R Justin Turner from Buffalo. [7/16]

Getting Beltran back might seem like cause for celebration. Unfortunately, with concerns over whether or not his wheels will last in regular work in center, and with so much of the rest of the lineup in a shambles, adding one more star to the firmament of the club’s stars-and-scrubs constellation may not be enough for this team to avoid going nova.

It’s one thing to witness the non-resurrection of Jeff Francoeur; since April he’s hitting .236/.277/.333 with an unintentional walk rate just a sliver above two percent, or just badly enough that it was obvious who would be out of a job once Beltran returned.* But the Mets are enduring a similar predictable disappointment with Rod Barajas, hitting .224/.270/.322 since his season-opening slugging petered out after May 9. Relying on Alex Cora and Ruben Tejada up the middle more often than not has made a bad situation worse-Cora hasn’t had a good season while playing regularly since 2004, while Tejada is clearly overmatched, with his bad numbers trending worse the more he plays. That’s what encouraged the club to haul up Turner-why not add an alternative while Reyes recovers, one who can spot for Cora against lefties?

Happily, there are fixes which may prove enough to keep the club in contention for the stretch run, fixes that the club is also proving happy to consider, rather than keep settling for the results of their past projects. Beltran puts Francoeur into a fourth outfielder’s role, a long overdue recognition that the latter’s benefits are limited to a strong arm and strong-arming the odd southpaw; per MLVr, if you decide to plug in Beltran’s 2009 work as representative of something like what we’d expect from him this season, that’s better than a run netted every third day. Fidget over the defense if you wish, but you can always hope that the Mets eventually rid themselves of the preconceived notion that Beltran is a center fielder, and like Willie Mays before him, that’s what he has to do as long as he’s able to play in a pasture. If, as was the case this weekend, he has to rest every fourth day, that’s still not a setback if Jerry Manuel can look forward and pick his spots with Francoeur’s spot starts.

Beyond that, the club doesn’t have to deal to wind up with a better hand. Josh Thole could start taking on more playing time behind the plate, and while I wouldn’t use his insanely good debut so far as representative, that’ll be an OBP boost for a club that needs it. In the middle infield, you won’t need to fix Cora or Tejada as much as bench the former and ship out the latter once Jose Reyes is healthy. As is, Luis Castillo‘s rehab is already well underway, and if you can get over the years-old sticker shock and accept him as an OBP source, that’s an in-house upgrade at a position where the Mets are otherwise getting next to nothing.

*: Mets fans now know, you can pray to A. Pagan, or to a Pagan, Angel, but either way, you stand a better chance of deliverance than placing your faith in a Frenchy.

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Noted the loss of CF-L Quintin Berry on a waiver claim by the Padres. [7/14]
Optioned LHP Antonio Bastardo to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A); designated RHP Nelson Figueroa for assignment; outrighted C-R Dane Sardinha to Lehigh Valley; activated RHP Chad Durbin from the 15-day DL. [7/15]
Activated INF-R Placido Polanco from the 15-day DL; released MIR Juan Castro. [7/17]

Now that Polanco is back, the interesting question to ask is whether or not the Phillies might do the sensible thing in terms of boosting their offense, and have him handle second base regularly during Chase Utley‘s absence. Admittedly, this really boils down to a choice between Greg Dobbs‘ bat (with Cody Ransom handling platoon chores and defensive substitutions), against whatever intangible benefits are appended to Wilson Valdez. Since being brought back and played with some regularity, Dobbs is hitting about the way that you’d expect him to given regular work: .270/.325/.459, a nice reminder that there’s a big difference between evaluating (or writing off) someone stuck in a pinch-hitting reserve role, and a guy with plenty of playing time doing badly.

Speaking of which, we’ve now seen the team come to the non-controversial realization that, yes, signing Juan Castro served no positive purpose beyond providing his teammates with the pleasure of his company. Playing him at short during Jimmy Rollins‘s multiple absences, at third during Polanco’s, and at second after Chase Utley’s breakdown really leaves you wondering why a club would employ a 38-year-old utility infielder who can’t hit or run. Add in that he wasn’t fielding well, and the club’s 15-18 record while starting Castro anywhere really shouldn’t be a surprise; if anything, it’s a great mark essentially playing a man down on most opponents.

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Purchased the contract of C-R Erik Kratz from Indianapolis (Triple-A); transferred RHP Chris Jakubauskas from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/16]

As noted last time around, Kratz was effectively guaranteed a call-up he’d already earned after starring for Indianapolis in his second campaign there. He should make for an interesting offense-oriented platoon partner with Ryan Doumit, not that he’s going to slug .700 or better against lefties in the majors (as he had been doing with the I-Indians). Still, that’s not the standard he has to live up to, since Doumit’s career clip against them involves more than 70 points less SLG, and when Doumit is hitting just .190/.264/.300 against them this year. However, even as a caddy for the weak-throwing Doumit (throwing out less than 11 percent of stolen-base attempts), Kratz may not seem like a great deterrent to an opponent’s running game, having nabbed just 21 percent this year, but he did manage to shoot down 30 percent last year. While a newly fabricated Eryan Kramit platoon doesn’t quite have the defensive chops that Mike LaValliere and Don Slaught had with the last good Pirates ballclub two decades ago-and it was all Spanky, since Sluggo was a bat-first backstop-this is still a decent upgrade that will help the Bucs score runs from the slot, whichever receiver they’re employing.

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Claimed CF-L Quintin Berry on waivers from the Phillies, and optioned him to San Antonio (Triple-A). [7/14]
Placed RHP Mat Latos on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 7/9; placed RHP Mike Adams on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 7/12; recalled RHP Ernesto Frieri and OF-S Luis Durango from Portland (Triple-A). [7/16]

The “ailing” yet suddenly feeling much healthier Latos was already put through his paces with a 40- or 50-pitch bullpen session yesterday, but even with today’s day off and the retroactive move, they won’t be able to bring him back in time for the next time the fifth slot comes up. That might be Tim Stauffer‘s cue for a second start, but that’s almost certainly the extent of this “opportunity” for whomever they haul up, because next Monday is another day off, which means that they won’t need a fifth starter again until the last day of the month.

So, in light of Adams’ seemingly not-very-serious strain-despite a good amount of injury history in his past-and in light of the possession of some additional bullpen depth to explore, plus their still-frustrating outfield, they decided to check out their options. In the outfield, that means creating an opportunity for Durango to revisit his Miguel Dilone act of basepath boogie and punchless patter at the plate. Given that Li’l Gwynn has been hitting just fine for the last couple of months, this isn’t Durango’s big break.

In the pen, Adams was merely the fifth-best reliever-albeit a very good one-in the game’s best relief corps. The question is whether or not Frieri could do better, because his conversion to full-time relief work after shoulder surgery seems to be an unqualified success. As a Beaver, he was shooting opponents en masse, striking out 49 of 143 faced, walking 17 (unintentional), and allowing just 14 hits in 37 2/3 IP. Despite being an extreme fly-ball pitcher (0.3 GB/FB ratio), he’d allowed just two homers while pitching in the PCL, and with a low-90s fastball and power curve, he’s a relief asset with two quality pitches.

Obviously, both Latos and Adams will be back, so you can see these moves as a bit of showcasing, for the benefit of themselves and others. If they find that Frieri’s readily employable, they can that much more easily afford to part with a reliever to help them fix up their outfield mess. If Durango shows anything, he might be more attractive as a bargaining chip as well, but he could also replace any one of the several slack-batted veterans manning the Pad pasturage at present.

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Placed OF-R Nick Stavinoha on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 7/12; recalled 4CR Allen Craig from Memphis (Triple-A). [7/15]

While injury’s the rationale for swapping one from among their gaggle of righty-batting corner outfield types to another, returning to Craig proved convenient to the Cardinals almost immediately, because his utility in the infield as well as the outfield corners gave Tony La Russa a bench bat he could spot at first base during a day off for Albert Pujols. With Pujols recovering from fouling a ball off his foot, plus Colby Rasmus dealing with a hamstring issue, and then add in the chances that right fielder Ryan Ludwick will miss another week and third baseman David Freese perhaps two, and you wind up with a scenario where having Craig around becomes a much better alternative. Craig spent most of 2008 and a little bit of 2009 in the minors at third base, and while it’s definitely not his best spot, this many injuries in a lineup demands you play your best bats in whatever combination. Add in that Craig is coming back up swinging a hot bat after playing every day for Memphis, where Stavinoha has had to hit in the straitened circumstances of an infrequently used reserve, and this makes for a sensible change of horses, as well as one that’s conveniently timed.