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Optioned 3B-S Josh Bell to Norfolk (Triple-A); activated LHP Mike Gonzalez from the 60-day DL; recalled LHP Troy Patton from Norfolk; transferred RHP Jim Johnson from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/22]
Activated RHP Kevin Millwood from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Troy Patton to Norfolk. [7/22]
Activated 2B-S Brian Roberts from the 60-day DL; designated INF-L Scott Moore for assignment. [7/23]
Activated C-S Matt Wieters from the 15-day DL; optioned C-R Craig Tatum to Norfolk. [7/25]

While the non-choice about who the skipper of the future will be continues to be left in limbo, there’s not a lot to get worked up over here. Maybe Wieters will live up to his promise, and maybe Millwood will show enough in his last turn before the deadline to so wow the scouts in attendance that the Orioles get an offer they can’t refuse-which may well be any offer at all, at this rate. But of a different nature altogether is their getting Roberts back, because having Bobs in action before the deadline is a critical showcase opportunity for the team before its freedom of action with the star second baseman becomes more and more constrained as a matter of contractual provisions. That’s because Roberts can block trades to just eight teams this year, then a dozen of his selection in 2011, after which his 2012 and 2013 seasons involve full no-trade protection. So if they have any interest in leveraging Roberts, there’s no time like the present, and given how thoroughly the team has gone off the rails this season, you can understand how he might decide he’s better off departing the scene before things get any worse, or the memory of having him around palls.

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Optioned LHP Dustin Richardson to Pawtucket (Triple-A); activated RHP Clay Buchholz from the 15-day DL; activated INF-S Jed Lowrie from the 60-day DL; designated 1BR Ryan Shealy for assignment; outrighted RHP Fernando Cabrera to Pawtucket. [7/21]
Activated OF-L Jeremy Hermida from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-S Daniel Nava to Pawtucket. [7/22]
Activated RHP Josh Beckett from the 60-day DL; optioned RHP Michael Bowden to Pawtucket; outrighted 1BR Ryan Shealy to Pawtucket. [7/23]
Activated C/1B-S Victor Martinez from the 15-day DL; optioned C-R Dusty brown to Pawtucket; outrighted 1BR Aaron Bates to Pawtucket. [7/26]

So, things slowly return to their original design as they desperately try to regain the ground lost to the Yankees and Rays. The rotation’s the best set of the reinforced segments of the squad, reclaiming Buchholz and Beckett while bumping Tim Wakefield to the bullpen and Bowden to Pawtucket (for now). It should be a significantly improved rotation, but that’s only as long as Beckett is more like himself, and less like the guy who set the Sox back in the standings over the first six weeks of the season. You can expect that the Sox will handle Beckett with care, and while he got the benefit of a soft landing facing the weak Mariners attack on Friday, we’ll have to see if his subsequent comments about his dissatisfaction with his breaking stuff are perfectionism or cause for concern.

Adding Lowrie to their infield mix creates an interesting three-sided proposition at second base, where Terry Francona could pick Bill Hall, Eric Patterson, or Lowrie on any given night and have a few decent reasons to run with any of the three. How long they hold onto Patterson-since he’s still out of options-makes the proposition particularly interesting. Lowrie has the benefit of his big August in 2008 (.284/.353/.490), which combined with a good dose of luck on batted-ball results helps to obscure the less exciting month that followed (.213/.333/.313 while striking out more than 30 percent of the time), after which he’s been sick or injured so frequently that he logged less than 140 PAs total between 2009 and 2010. So he gets the benefit of some vague sense of mystery and something positive, but if you dial back to the player he was coming up in 2006 and 2007 and anticipate he can still be that player, he should be able to produce something in the upper reaches of his spread of 2010 forecasts, north of a .260 True Average, an upgrade on Patterson who leaves them free to use the roving Hall as needed anywhere else in the lineup.

In some ways, the choices at the keystone are an echo of their similarly rich collection of choices in the outfield, except that there’s less retained fondness involved, and more variety doesn’t necessarily make your options that much better, especially without any one of them outshining the other in terms of their offensive contributions. While life sometimes provides us with reminders that it’s important to not get too carried away with how much you fancy the things you like, how high should the hopes be that Hermida will outperform Nava in the lefty-batting portion of a left-field platoon? I’d imagine that the roaring guns of Nava groan* for employment on the basis of the OBP payload he can deliver, not the power he packs. But even here, the tradeoff’s merely a matter of pleasing a picky palate and not outright need, as the Sox rank second in the majors in ISO and fourth in unintentional walk rate-there isn’t a major problem to be addressed either way.

*: Apologies. Maybe it’s because, back in the ’70s, it seemed like you could turn on Channel 40 from Sacramento every weekend and see David Niven fuss over making a big ‘splosion and save the Royal Navy from an accident of imaginary geography, but I wouldn’t be my father’s child if I didn’t try to live down to the family standard for overwrought puns. We now return you to our regularly scheduled baseball entertainments.

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Optioned RHP Jensen Lewis to Columbus (Triple-A). [7/21]
Placed LHP Aaron Laffey on the 15-day DL (shoulder fatigue); activated RF-L Shin-Soo Choo from the 15-day DL. [7/23]

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Optioned RHP Casey Fien to Toledo (Triple-A); recalled INF-R Scott Sizemore from Toledo. [7/21]
Placed RF-R Magglio Ordonez on the 15-day DL (fractured ankle); placed INF-S Carlos Guillen on the 15-day DL (strained calf); purchased the contracts of UT-L Will Rhymes and 1B/3B-L Jeff Larish from Toledo; designated RHP Casey Fien for assignment; released RHP Billy Buckner. [7/25]

Just a few days back, I fleetingly stumped for Ryan Raburn for third-base play during Brandon Inge‘s absence. But like wishing aloud for my own Italian duchy or Grosz’s Explosion, there wasn’t a lot of point to railing over it, because at the time it looked as if it could be safely filed in the “Highly Unlikely” bin. Instead, this was immediately seen as Don Kelly‘s medium-sized opportunity, with Sizemore getting an equally modest shot at redemption as the likely eventual greater partner in a third-base job-sharing arrangement.

Then a massive injury stack intervened, leaving the question of who starts at second, third, shortstop, and DH open and unresolved, especially with Guillen out until early August. In a situation this fluid, it’s hard to peg what the final outcomes will be, especially if desperation mounts should the Tigers slip further and further behind the White Sox and Twins. It’s easy to see how Sizemore or Danny Worth or Ramon Santiago could get big chunks of the playing time, but then you’ve got six-position utilitymen like Kelly and Raburn and now Rhymes to mix in, plus Larish to spot at the corners and DH; it isn’t hard to anticipate how Jim Leyland’s task in divvying up the playing time might end up being as simultaneously nebulous yet absolute as Joe Stalin and Winston Churchill splitting up Eastern Europe on little more than a cocktail napkin.

As far as Sizemore, after getting shipped off to Toledo five weeks into the season, he regrouped and hit like the prospect he’d entered the season as, cranking at a .329/.392/.515 clip (and a translated .277 True Average). On the other hand, while he did get some exposure to playing time at third base, we’re talking about a whopping four games’ worth; a fifth appearance at the hot corner as a pro came last season, in which he didn’t field a single chance. He also had to shrug off a recent hip problem that shelved him for two weeks, and you can wonder about whether or not he’s 100 percent while also being asked to man a new position. So as second chances go, you’ve got a guy who’s recovering or recovered from injury, playing a new position, in a pennant race, and all of that after already getting shipped out after a massively disappointing debut and comments about how he’d dealt with the crush of expectations and needed a break from all that. I’m glad he’s getting the shot, but we shouldn’t simply envy him his opportunity.

Highlighting the problem Leyland has in making out a lineup card, keep in mind that Sizemore and Don Kelly are both projected to have TAv marks in the same range, so it isn’t like we’re talking about all that many obvious calls one way or another, not when those are the only choices placed on the menu as a matter of design. As a 27-year-old organizational soldier whose chief virtues are a smattering of steals and sac bunts and batting lefty, Rhymes comes in with a projected .221 TAv that shouldn’t be rated up on the basis of some improved fortune on balls in play in a repeat campaign in Toledo.

Seeing Larish get another opportunity is a nice example of treating a minor-league slugger with the dignity he deserves. After bopping at a .303/.393/.543 clip against right-handed pitching in his third season as a Mudhen in his age-27 campaign, he’s a barely adequate fall-back option for DH turns and spot duty at the corners, since there isn’t a lot about his hitting to suggest he’ll far outproduce a projected TAv in the .240s unless he’s deliberately hidden away from lefties in a necessarily complicated mix-and-match scheme. His lack of range at third might keep Leyland squeamish over favoring him at third base, which is just as well when the club’s short enough of bats to slot in for DH duties as is.

The more basic problem is that, absent Ordonez and Guillen, and in light of Brennan Boesch‘s power outage continuing, they’re probably incapable of avoiding Larish’s perceived value as a power source in the lineup. Given the unwieldy collection of alternatives and the relative unknowns over how much possible defensive value they might get from Sizemore or Larish at third base, or Worth or Santiago or Rhymes at second to help offset the obvious hit the listing lineup’s taking, there’s not an easy envelope back-level exercise involving MLVr that can handily capture how badly hit the Tigers are. Given the offensive contributions of Inge, Guillen, and Ordonez, suggesting a loss of just a half-run per game strikes me as a bit conservative; I’d put this closer to a run per game, or the difference of a win every 10 games played or so.

Is there good news in all of this? First off, there’s the matter of geography-the Tigers are still in the AL Central, where body blows of this nature are apparently getting meted out indiscriminately, since the Sox had to scratch Jake Peavy for the year, and the Twins are still waiting on Justin Morneau‘s recovery from PCS. And there’s certainly good news if you’re a bean-counter, since Ordonez’s absence until late September keeps his 2011 option for $15 million from vesting, expanding Dave Dombrowski’s off-season options considerably. And then there’s the optimism you can harbor because Guillen’s time on the DL might not take him away from the action much longer than the minimum, which would put him back in action about three weeks before Inge. That’s about six weeks before there’s much of an opportunity to sort out what’s to be done with Ordonez, absent any venue for his getting in a rehab stint to get back up to game speed. Here again, thanks to the way the AL Central races seem to shape up, the distinction between a late-season return and a season-ending injury could be critically important.

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Activated INF-S Alexi Casilla from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Jeff Manship to Rochester (Triple-A). [7/22]
Returned 2B-L Orlando Hudson to the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 7/24. [7/25]
Recalled C-S Jose Morales from Rochester. [7/23]

Re-losing Hudson for an undetermined length of time might not produce an echoing anticipation of the apocalypse, but it certainly puts the Twins that much more back in the basket of unhappy options, as they have to pick between Casilla and Nick Punto at second base as well as making a call between Danny Valencia and Punto at third. Happily, that’s the extent of their choices, since Matt Tolbert is still on the DL, and Ron Gardenhire initially preferred Casilla and Valencia, punting Punto to the pine in the meantime. And conveniently enough, J.J. Hardy has been rapping out enough base hits that you might figure things are just fine. If Casilla can make something of this opportunity, after all, maybe he’d finally remind folks why having him take over for Luis Castillo seemed like such a bright idea back in the day. I guess I’m still stuck on the possibility of hauling Trevor Plouffe back up, but a lot of that is his insanely big platoon performance at Rochester, where he’s mashed 10 of his 15 homers in his 117 PAs against southpaws; add in seven homers hit in July, and that makes for a nice crunchy alternative to the increasingly thin offerings of late from the little piranhas. Another interesting alternative in the organization is veteran D’Angelo Jimenez, brought back from the Mexican League last month, but the 32-year-old isn’t setting the International League afire, hitting just .250/.298/.427.

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Activated RHP Sergio Mitre from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Jonathan Albaladejo to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [7/24]

So, with that the Bishop was activated and drummed, almost exactly according to the Evil Empire’s plan, or at least per the standard expectations and obsequies that attend spotting a Mitre emerge from a crowd of alternatives. Now, with Dan Haren dealt to Anaheim and Cliff Lee in Texas, acquired at prices that the builders of multiple massive public works construction projects built with an eye toward soul-crushing domination could laugh off easily, the matter of whether this latest tattoo beaten at the Bishop’s expense makes for some sort of picked-up pace in the pinstriped pursuit of a more plausible pitcher.

It’s the sort of thing that should keep the Big Apple’s chatterocracy in full foam-flecked fury in a strudel with layers both bitter and embittering: Andy Pettitte‘s slow natural recovery (absent a PED-ly boost this time, lest we forget), living with an understandable fear of Javier Vazquez‘s capacity for copious jacktasms, A.J. Burnett‘s permanent inconstancy, fretting over Phil Hughes‘ workload, and the routine despair over all-hours Jobamarama drama. Alfredo Aceves‘ recovery is going slowly, which takes arguably their best internal option off the table for the time being.

All of which ought to bring the Yankees back to pondering the market. That ought to especially be the case when the pricing is as steeply discounted because of a willingness to absorb the cost of employing the expensive, as the Haren deal reflects.

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Agreed to terms with C-R Kurt Suzuki on a three-year, $16 million contract, with a vesting option for 2014. [7/23]
Placed RHP Ben Sheets on the 15-day DL (strained elbow), retroactive to 7/20; recalled LHP Cedrick Bowers from Sacramento (Triple-A). [7/24]

If going three sheets to the wind is a matter of not having all your options tied down, does that mean being fully Sheets-less in the breeze leaves you utterly adrift? There’s certainly something sobering about the A’s losing their best bargaining chip to his latest injury before they could successfully redeploy Operation Avoid Union Grievance via Loot Yielding (or “Avoid UGLY” for short) to some other roster. Since the expectation in the near term is that Brett Anderson will replace Sheets, and that’s an improvement, it’s important to note that the relative benefits here aren’t between those two, but in how Sheets’ timely absence means that none of the better, younger alternatives in the rotation will be bounced in the meantime.

In the broad strokes, this leaves Sheets’ contributions to the club to two ephemeral areas: his occasional presence and even less frequent effectiveness in the rotation as an innings sponge with weak absorbency, and his larger shadow over the club’s 2010 payroll. Since the latter of those two contributions was a major portion of why he ever wound up an Athletic, I suppose that if there’s supposed to have been a “Mission Accomplished!” moment, it was probably back at the distribution of the press release announcing his addition, because per Sherlock Holmes’ observation of the dog that didn’t bark, the A’s didn’t wind up in the same publicly embarrassing quandary as the more transparently avaricious Marlins. Now that it seems unlikely Sheets will qualify for Type-A free agent status, there’s always the possibility of offering Sheets arbitration, but that would entail the risk of his accepting and having to go before the panel, which nobody besides Sheets might want.

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Placed C-R Matt Treanor on the 15-day DL (sprained knee); recalled C-R Taylor Teagarden from Frisco (Double-A). [7/24]

This might have been big news before the trade for Bengie Molina, but now it’s a pretty straightforward exchange, swapping in a sweet-squatting receiver who’s a plus behind the plate for a younger version of the same. There isn’t even any relative resolution of the status of Teagarden over Jarrod Saltalamacchia to infer here; Teagarden is the better catch-and-throw guy, Salty remains the better offensive prospect, and neither of them have been doing enough at the plate to merit a callup absent an injury. As a matter of selecting backup backstops, favoring the glove over the bat isn’t especially novel, and Molina should still get three-quarters of the starts or so, while the offensive impact between Teagarden and Treanor should be negligible.

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Optioned LHP Marc Rzepczynski to Las Vegas (Triple-A); recalled UT-S Mike McCoy from Las Vegas. [7/22]
Signed OF-R Jason Lane to a minor-league contract, and assigned him to Las Vegas. [7/23]

A combination of injuries and recoveries created a new sense of priorities, because Shaun Marcum‘s blistered finger healed up well enough for him to make his next start, while Fred Lewis‘ ankle had him inactive for a couple of days-a couple of poorly timed days, because the Jays had activated and optioned the guy they’d like to give those at-bats to, Travis Snider, to Double-A on July 17, starting a 10-day clock they couldn’t dodge without a DL move.

Now, Lewis wasn’t going to be gone long enough to necessitate a DL move, and the Jays didn’t want to go with a short bench in the meantime, so they exploited Marcum’s recovery to ditch their once-through spin with a six-man rotation and add a batter. The Jays are at 39 players on their 40-man roster, so they could have added somebody, but instead elected to leave a slot open and bring back McCoy over Jarrett Hoffpauir-the only real rostered alternative for this snippet of service time-for the couple of days before they could swap in Snider.

All of which was all very sensible as roster management goes… except that then the rains came on Friday, forcing Sunday’s doubleheader and opening up another slot for a sixth starter come Wednesday. It couldn’t be Rzepczynski, the immediate loser in his competition with Jesse Litsch in the fight for fifthdom on the basis of a second bad start, because here again, there’s no DL move that lets them get Rzepczynski back within his own 10-day reassignment window. So that need for a different sixth starter will add another couple of days’ waiting for Snider, as the Jays instead cycle Brad Mills through the roster spot for Wednesday’s spot start before they finally re-add the power-hitting prospect for Friday’s game.