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Traded RHP Chad Qualls to the Rays for a PTBNL; traded C-R Chris Snyder, SS-R Pedro Ciriaco, and $3 million to the Pirates for RHP D.J. Carrasco, INF-R Bobby Crosby, and OF-L Ryan Church; recalled C-R John Hester from Reno (Triple-A). [7/31]
Optioned OF-R Cole Gillespie to Reno. [8/1]

The Pirates deal is just ugly. All three players acquired are real-world replacement-level fodder, guys you can snap up any given winter for salaries around a million apiece or so-Carrasco is just under, Crosby at it, and Church is making $1.5 million. However, both Carrasco and Church should be under control for one more season, and hardly represent expensive arbitration cases over the winter. You could see the key component is that the Snakes get an extremely modest amount of total salary relief: If they didn’t pick up Snyder’s 2012 option for $6.75 million and if they non-tender Carrasco and Church, we’re talking about less than $2 million saved net on next year’s payroll-that’s counting a trio of players making MLB-minimum salaries in the place of Snyder, Carrasco, and Church.

So, unless there was some provision to Snyder’s 2012 option, practically speaking the Snakes aren’t saving much money if the initial reports that they’re including this much cash in this transaction are true. Which leaves us with a few possible conclusions, in an attempt to be charitable.

First, they’re giving Miguel Montero a public endorsement as their regular behind the plate, one he deserves of course. The Montero/Snyder platoon was a lovely thing to have, but dealing Snyder was something that has been expected for a while now. Dealing him for something good was what was expected, of course, and it takes some serious gymnastics to describe the Pirates’ package that generously.

To that end, the second point is that maybe they’ve been drinking the Ryan Church-brand Kool-Aid long enough to believe that maybe all he needs, a la Kelly Johnson, is a dose of playing in Phoenix to make him resemble a quality regular. Given Johnson’s redemptive campaign (despite still hitting .238/.317/.378 on the road), I suppose with Church that’s quite possible, not that it will make the D’backs substantively better, now or later-they’d still be a mostly empty vessel populated by a few too many park-effect heroes.

Third, the need for a relief pitcher at all close to major-league adequate is critical, to the point that they’re desperate for a middle-innings relief sponge like Carrasco. His 3.94 FRA for the Pirates this season is nothing special, but it’s better than the marks of anybody who has been in the Snake pen all year. His 4.11 SIERA suggests an is-what-he-is performer, which is more than Arizona’s had going for it, but it also isn’t something they should place a premium on. His assortment’s mediocre, and he’s a 33-year-old journeyman who’s been bumped from team to team for a reason.

Fourth, maybe there’s something we don’t know, and that we don’t want to know. Maybe Snyder eats puppies for breakfast. Maybe he’s an illegal alien afearin’ for his future in Phoenix. Maybe somebody’s holding a gun to Jerry Dipoto‘s head, and maybe Dipoto is just demonstrating why he shouldn’t become the next general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Because otherwise, the Pirates deal has next to nothing to recommend it, and we don’t know what, if anything, Chad Qualls brought them from the Rays.

In an attempt to be generous here, maybe this is a fire sale for its own sake. If the people paying the bills have an understandable disgust with this club’s non-achievement and now-reliable disappointment, you could certainly understand that. Maybe that’s encouraging them to just clear away stuff with an eye towards starting anew this winter. If you’re invested in how the Snakes will do in the years to come, that’s what you have to hope for, because otherwise this is a team that looks like it’s joining the Astros in dynamiting down to the foundations and staking an early claim on last place in their division for years to come.

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Traded OF-R Mitch Jones to the Pirates. [7/30]
Designated OF-R Brent Clevlen for assignment; recalled OF-L Gregor Blanco from Gwinnett (Triple-A); acquired RHP Kyle Farnsworth, OF-L Rick Ankiel, and cash from the Royals for OF-L Gregor Blanco, LHP Tim Collins, and RHP Jesse Chavez; acquired OF-R Wilkin Ramirez from the Tigers. [7/31]

This is one of those stranger cover-all-your-bases sort of deals that I don’t really mind all that much. Ankiel and Farnsworth are both unpredictable players, having had good moments and bad, but it basically only cost them Collins and a pair of disposable players you don’t miss when they’re on somebody else’s 40-man, and even Collins is sort of an unsure thing, given what an extremely unusual prospect he is. The Royals are footing most of the expense, so carrying Farnsworth and Ankiel is running the Braves less than $1 million in total.

In isolation, evaluating Farnsworth and Ankiel as improvements upon Chavez or Blanco, it’s money well-spent. But look at them in isolation, and you might lose sight of obvious improvements that didn’t need a trade to make happen, like working up the nerve to just call up Craig Kimbrel and cut the execrable Chavez outright. They could have ridden out Nate McLouth‘s demotion for a couple of weeks to see if he has some potential to come back and contribute before the year’s entirely lost to him. As much mystery is attached to McLouth’s complete failure, this isn’t Jeff Franoeur we’re talking about-McLouth is a veteran with a considerable record of success, and if there’s no physical or mental problem, ironing him out in Gwinnett might provide them with the power source the club needs.

That said, they only had to give up junk, Tim Collins, and add a few hundred thousand to the payroll, so it isn’t like this was a mistake. The question with Ankiel remains one of whether or not the power the former pitcher showed off in 2007 and 2008 is what he can get back to delivering if he’s healthy, or if in the end he’s something of a sphinx without a riddle. For as little playing time as he’s been around to accrue in Kansas City, the only thing we might have any confidence about is that he didn’t look very good in center. It’s certainly worth a peek to find out if Ankiel has something left to contribute, because of the flexibility he’d afford Bobby Cox if he can crank out an ISO of .200 or better. If Ankiel can do that, he’d be able to take a good portion of Eric Hinske‘s playing time in left field, freeing Hinske up to take starts at first base from the slumping Troy Glaus, making for better power from a couple of lineup slots.

As for Farnsworth, it’s sort of amazing to see him back in Atlanta. The last time he wore a Braves uni was October 9, 2005. He allowed Lance Berkman‘s eighth-inning grand slam and then a game-tying homer in the ninth to Brad Ausmus. The Astros won the game nine innings later, and the Braves haven’t been back to the postseason since. Farnsworth went on to rich compensation from first the Yankees and then the Royals, becoming almost immediately lamented in both situations, not unlike how his early career with the Cubs used to inspire dread-Mark Prior may have been on the mound for the tie in the infamous Bartman game (Game Six of the NLCS in 2003), but Farnsworth is reponsible for the four subsequent runs that decided the outcome, as well as for the three runs mid-game that put Game Seven out of reach. Farnsworth has been to the Aughties what George Frazier was in one World Series in the ’80s, the Losing Pitcher Mulcahy of Octoberdom.

With that sort of introduction, of course Farnsworth is capable of wreaking more damage. His 2.42 ERA has led all sorts of commentators to mistake a horseman of the apocalypse for a mild-mannered late-game asset. His 3.79 SIERA puts things in a little better perspective, but to his credit, he’s been used in high-leverage situations (assuming that isn’t an oxymoron where the Royals are concerned). Which makes all the more horrifying the possibility that he might be employed in those important situations by the Braves going forward. I’ve been harping for months on the subject of their weak collection of right-handed relievers, especially with Takashi Saito‘s problems pitching without rest between appearances, and with Peter Moylan combusting with runners on base when he isn’t being hidden from lefties of any form. It’s between such cracks that a Farnsworth may slip in and then set himself afire.

Or redeem himself more completely than any might dare hope-that’s one of the great things about the game, that such a thing might be possible. His walk rate’s at a career low, but so is his ratio of home runs to fly balls. I know what my expectation is, but here’s hoping, for his sake, that the native Atlantan has cause to forget all of the disappointments of the past.

As for the minor-league addition, the Tigers once had very high hopes for Wilkin Ramirez, but those had long since diminished, and their recent moves squeezed him off the 40-man roster. He’s a tremendous athlete with well above-average power, good speed, and a cannon for an arm, but his inability to recognize breaking balls has led to 823 strikeouts in 704 minor-league games. If Bud Selig made a new rule that forced pitchers to only throw fastballs, Ramirez would be a star. Until that happens, he remains an exciting talent that is unlikely to ever make an impact.

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Activated RHP Carlos Zambrano from the Restricted List; released RHP Bob Howry. [7/30]
Acquired 2B-L Blake DeWitt and RHPs Brett Wallach and Kyle Smit for LHP Ted Lilly, MI-R Ryan Theriot, and $2 million. [7/31]

Getting four years of DeWitt and a pair of prospects for two months of Lilly and two years beyond of Theriot might seem like a decent addition, but keep in mind that Lilly is a likely Type A free agent this winter-while the danger of his accepting an arbitration offer exists, the Cubs just punted draft-pick possibilities. You can hope that’s why they got a prospect as good as Wallach in compensation, but since Lilly wasn’t a lock as a free agent who would only be a good candidate for the better contenders, the lost possibility of a mid-round pick is slightly galling.

DeWitt’s value is easy to overrate. You might expect that he helps the team on a couple of counts, at least in terms of providing the team with a walking man who bats lefty, which could help replace what they lose in the lineup with Kosuke Fukudome spending more and more time sitting behind Tyler Colvin in right field. However, keep in mind that his overall walk rate of 10.3 percent gets a bit exaggerated by a few intentional walks that come with batting seventh or eighth; against right-handed pitchers, he’s below 10 percent when you take that into account. His overall clip of .280/.368/.384 against right-handers is decent enough, and he’s three weeks away from his 25th birthday, so there’s the possibility of some additional development. Since they’ll have him around for at least four years if they so choose, they could have a decent top-of-the-order lefty bat to slot Colvin lower down, to put some left-handed power between Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano, and not leave the lineup quite so exposed to situational righties in mid-game situations.

That said, DeWitt in the top of the order would come with risks, not least because he’s not much of a stolen-base threat. It’s interesting to note that he’s the Dodgers’ worst baserunner, almost entirely as a function of his aggressiveness in trying to stretch for extra bases on other people’s base hits, leading to four times getting gunned on the basepaths while also ranking above average in terms of the number of additional bases taken per’s evaluation of baserunning. Will the Cubs let him continue to push defenses? He’s the sort of grinder who, not unlike Theriot, will at least win a few hearts by trying.

The other thing you can say about DeWitt is that he’s made himself into a very playable second baseman, so in some ways he’s a better fit with Jeff Baker in a keystone platoon or as an everyday solution at second in the immediate future. We can speculate about an eventual return to third base, a future without Aramis Ramirez on the payroll can’t come any earlier than 2012 (if they don’t pick up his option), and DeWitt’s bat isn’t one a really competitive team can really carry at the hot corner, perhaps not even in a lineup that had Ryne Sandberg on the field instead of in the dugout.

The Dodgers love drafting bloodline players, especially with Dodgers connections, but that’s not the only reason they selected Tim Wallach‘s son in the third round. He has struck out 92 batters in just 84 2/3 innings at Low-A Great Lakes this year, but that’s mitigated by the fact that he turns 22 in December. Still, he was a two-sport star in college and is pitching full-time for the first time in his career, and he’s a physical righty with power stuff. Sitting at 91-92 mph with his fastball and touching 94 with it, Wallach complements that heater with a fine changeup, although his slurvy breaking ball needs considerable work, and he has a disturbing tendency to elevate his pitches. Because of his size, stamina, and good mechanics, he’ll continue to develop as a starter for now, but his long-term future might be as a power reliever.

Smit is a far more fringy prospect, a fifth-round pick in 2006 who has barely reached Double-A in his fifth professional year. That said, he’s made some strides over the past two years since a move to the bullpen, relying primarily on a sinker/slider combination. The sinker is a far better offering, sitting at 89-92 mph with significant downward movement, and his control is outstanding. He’s a potential middle reliever, but that’s about it.

Finally, there’s an element of regret here, in that seeing Lilly pitch live in Wrigley Field is one of those things I’ve enjoyed a lot in recent seasons. Absenting him from the Cubs’ rotation opens up an obvious spot in which to slot Zambrano, but there’s been no comment to that effect, and over on, Carrie Muskat initially noted that the Cubs had pulled former Rangers prospect Thomas Diamond early from his start for Iowa on Thursday. Since Zambrano was only making relief appearances in Iowa, it would take time to ramp him back up to a starter’s workload regardless, so a temporary selection for Lilly’s slot, starting on Monday night against the Brewers, will be a necessity.

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Traded RHP Rick VandenHurk to the Orioles for LHP Will Ohman. [7/31]
Optioned RHP Alex Sanabia to New Orleans (Triple-A). [8/1]

There’s some classically Fishy about dumping an eminently replaceable veteran like Jorge Cantu but shoring up their modest bid for contender status by adding a quality situational lefty, something they’ve been missing from their bullpen all season. Ohman has been holding lefties to .224/.324/.306 on the season (.207/.297/.349 career), perhaps a higher OBP than you’d like, but as same-side mistakes go, better to put the guy on first base than hand him a cookie. That’s also significantly better than what this year’s lefty relief options have done against left-handed batters: .263/.387/.421, against the MLB average of .237/.311/.361 (thank you, Colin Wyers).

Given that Ohman will usually be handed leads or be used in high-leverage situations in the seventh or eighth innings of games, his potential impact could end up making an outsized impact relative to what the Fish have been used to enduring. Since they’re effectively equally far back in both the NL East and NL wild card races, they can’t afford to skip these kinds of details. Their odds are still long, but they won’t lose simply because they don’t have a plausible plug-in to try to emasculate Ryan Howard with.

As contention-minded moves go, it makes for an interesting contrast to the fact that they’re essentially replacing Cantu with Logan Morrison in the big picture and in the middle of this year’s race. Eventually they’ll be moving Chris Coghlan over to third base, but Coghlan’s ability to come back from his knee injury before the end of the season is up in the air, which puts Wes Helms on the spot as a near-regular at the hot corner. Not even that’s necessarily bad news, since Helms and Cantu have been almost equals at the plate (with Cantu’s .258 TAv rating barely above Helms’ .256), while neither is going to successfully impersonate Brooks Robinson. On a practical level, that means they’re replacing Cantu and Coghlan with Morrison and Helms, but the possibility that they may be the better for it offensively goes toward explaining why they can still see themselves in this thing, and why trading for Ohman makes sense as minor tweaks go.

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Acquired RHP Mark Melancon and INF-S Jimmy Paredes from the Yankees for 1B-S Lance Berkman and $4 million; purchased the contract of 1B-L Brett Wallace from Round Rock (Triple-A); transferred RHP Felipe Paulino from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/31]

As a ninth-round pick in 2006 who received a well over-slot bonus of $600,000, Melancon was once seen as a potential late-innings stopper for the Yankees, even after 2007 Tommy John surgery, but his stock has fallen significantly of late, as he’s stalled out at Triple-A and struggled mightily in brief big-league auditions. Now 25, Melancon still has plus velocity and sink on his fastball, but at 90-93 mph he isn’t exactly blowing hitters away, while his power curve flashes plus. Once a strike-thrower, his command and control have regressed heavily this year, and some scouts say he’s begun to overthrow, thus losing even more feel on his pitches. He’s no longer the prospect he once was, but has time to turn things around and become a middle reliever with seventh-inning possibilities at best.

As for the more distant middle infielder from the lower rungs of the Yankees’ farm system, Paredes is a fast-twitch athlete with an intriguing combination of upside to go with some considerable holes in his game. While he’s played all over the infield this year, his ultimate home will be on the right side, as he lacks the arm for short or third. As is, he’s a sloppy defender who needs to improve his hands and footwork. Offensively, he’s far more interesting, offering good bat speed, gap power, and well above-average speed to go with a skinny projectable body. His plate discipline is all but non-existent, and that will catch up to him at the upper levels without a change, but with the risk, there is also definite upside here.

This really only fulfills my comments from Thursday, that the Astros aren’t even close to getting quality in these deals. Because they were going to have to pay Berkman close to $7 million for the balance of his 2010 paycheck and to buy out his 2011 option, they’re basically just recapturing $3 million for their bottom line. The prospects received are essentially just bodies, to make matters worse Berkman’s season (.294 TAv) really wasn’t bad enough that you’d think this was all he’d draw.

The problem is that the field of suitors was somewhat necessarily limited to contenders looking for a first baseman or a DH, with the complicating factor that Berkman would have to agree to go to any one of them. How many of those clubs are there, beyond the Yankees? Perhaps none of the contenders in the National League, but at least in the AL the White Sox and Rays are somewhat obvious, while the Angels have probably played themselves out of the picture. And then there was trading him to the Rangers, which could have been ugly in the way it would have decisively elevated the interests of their in-state industry frenemy for the benefit of Texan sports consumers.

How many of them were willing to add a mere $3 million to their bottom line? That’s less certain, but since all the Yankees afforded Berkman was that and a pair of filler prospects, the odds that an interested suitor could match or top that deal.

The real problem is how many of them would Berkman have agreed to go to. Here again, we can’t know. Maybe he didn’t want to take a chance of being the target of an Ozzie Guillen dressing-down. Maybe the state tax implications mattered a lot to him. Maybe he just figured the Yankees were his best shot at acquiring a ring, and if that’s where his thinking lay, can you blame him? The only team with a better shot at being in the postseason per our own Playoff Odds Report is the Rangers.

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Acquired LHP Ted Lilly, MI-R Ryan Theriot, and $2.5 million from the Cubs for 2B-L Blake DeWitt and RHPs Brett Wallach and Kyle Smit; acquired RHP Octavio Dotel and $500,000 from the Pirates for RHP James McDonald and OF-L Andrew Lambo. [7/31]
Optioned RHP Travis Schlichting to Albuquerque (Triple-A). [8/1]

Perhaps as ever with Ned Colletti’s crew, you get left with a mixed bag, a deal you can like, yet also a deal that leaves you wondering if they aren’t overcompensating. Perhaps the most frustrating element of all is the lateness of the hour, because the Dodgers’ playoff odds are down around 10 percent, a precipitous drop from where they were at the All-Star break, when they boasted an already weak 26 percent shot. Making a move really should not have waited, and if it took this long to figure out which McCourt to talk to, or to wait out the Cubs until they’d put up almost half of this year’s expense, you can see this 11th-hour development as a symptom of the organization’s management problem, as much as relief provided by it.

Renting Lilly’s last two months and two more years from Ryan Theriot serve both the needs of the present and the possibilities of the future. Lilly is a fine addition to the stretch rotation, with a .540 SNWP that fits in rather neatly in the club’s non-Kershaw starters. His recent work has had very little in terms of in-betweens: Across June and July, you’ve got seven quality starts in 11, three disaster starts, and his latest spin (and last, as a Cub), allowing no runs in 5 2/3 IP while allowing eight baserunners. Quailing over his spotty velocity sort of misses the point-even when his fastball makes one of its rare hops past 90, he’s a finesse lefty who knows how to create and control a strike zone, establishing the inside corner early in a way that at times could be called Glavinesque. There are times where he’ll get clocked by a good lefty power hitter, but the Giants, Padres, and Rockies have yet to beat Clayton Kershaw on the year, and with that sort of experience, it’s easy to understand why the Dodgers might want a second lefty in the rotation.

Similarly, Theriot is a fine addition-at least if you look at him as a middle-infield option who could slot in for Rafael Furcal at short in case of injury, and as a sometime starter at the keystone. But he should not be mistaken as the everyday second baseman, not with a .239 TAv mark on the season, reflecting a few major malfunctions in Theriot’s hitting of late. I’m not alone in thinking everything started going wrong after he belted five homers in the first two weeks of May 2009; after capping that run of uncharacteristic slugging with a two-shot day, he hit .281/.331/.340 the rest of the way, and his walk rate tumbled to seven percent, when he’d been up above 11 percent in 2008.

This year, he’s at .284/.320/.327, he still looks like he’s trying to jump out of his shoes and go yard, and his unintentional walk rate has tumbled below four percent. Add in his limited value as a baserunner-he’ll steal the occasional base, but mostly he’s a station-to-station guy-and you’ve got a hitter whose batting average is almost the sum of his contribution to his or any cause. Since his defense at second base since moving across the diamond to accommodate Starlin Castro has been less than scintillating, it isn’t like Theriot’s an easy, automatic choice to start in front of Ronnie Belliard (.238 TAv), let alone Jamey Carroll (.278 TAv). The chances that the Colletti might re-gift him over the winter would seem pretty good-Theriot has a couple of arbitration years ahead of him, Carroll is already signed through 2011, and Ivan DeJesus Jr. and later Dee Gordon ought to be put in the picture.

The Cubs paid most of the freight, and DeWitt is the sort of organizational player they Dodgers can replace, which you can sort of say about the Dotel deal as well. The Pirates are paying a good part of Dotel’s salary, and adding him addresses a season-long problem in the pen every bit as damaging as the open casting call for a fifth starter. And perhaps the talent offered up to add him is no more significant that what they cobbled together to swing their deal with the Cubs.

Can Dotel really fix a pen that has been the game’s worst with inherited baserunners? SIERA suggests he should improve, in part capturing the fact that his season stats were ugly early as a result of a bad April. The more basic problem is that he shouldn’t close-he’s a situational right-hander, whatever other label gets slapped on him, cutting down the like-handed at a .176/.226/.306 clip on the year while striking out 38 percent of them. Lefties jump him like lions on wildebeest, chewing him up at a gory .317/.436/.619 clip. Ozzie Guillen understood that, and limited Dotel’s exposure to lefties, having him face twice as many right-handers; the Pirates, not so much, which is why Dotel is having a “bad” year. He isn’t, not really, but he’s been asked to do something he isn’t very good at, with predictable results.

With the Dodgers, you can hope Joe Torre gets that, but then you have to ask about Torre’s responsibility for the middle relief disappointments already endured. However, if he uses Dotel to good effect as a situational right-hander to set up Jonathan Broxton, that will certainly make a world of difference to Dotel’s performance. It might also make the brass look gleamily bright, and make everyone forget that they gave up a pretty good arm in McDonald and a former top prospect in Lambo to get him. As another late-stage rental coming to the club too late, the problem is less the price paid than the tardy timing.

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Acquired C-R Chris Snyder, MI-R Pedro Ciriaco, and $3 million from the Diamondbacks for RHP D.J. Carrasco, INF-R Bobby Crosby, and OF-L Ryan Church; acquired OF-L Andrew Lambo and RHP James McDonald from the Dodgers for RHP Octavio Dotel; acquired RHP Joe Martinez and 1B/OF-L John Bowker from the Giants for LHP Javier Lopez; recalled RHP Daniel McCutchen, 1B-L Jeff Clement, and MI-R Argenis Diaz from Indianapolis (Triple-A). [7/31]
Recalled LHP Justin Thomas from Indianapolis. [8/1]

Now that, folks, is turnover. There’s no Bagwell-level, franchise-changing loot, but it’s a fine haul for ditching a ton of thoroughly dispensable junk, and some of it should end helping man a better Pirates ballclub on the diamond in the near term, providing a decent collection of supporting players to a team that needs help in every dimension. Essentially, Neal Huntington managed to purvey a lot of his trash into other people’s treasures, with treasure being a relative term. He’s also obviously reached some critical medium-term decisions about who plays and where on this ballclub, without coming to any final conclusions on who stays, leaving him still in a solid position to swing deals in the future.

Take the Snyder decision, the best move of the bunch. In terms of the talent surrendered, it’s not even close-Huntington ditched disposable waiver bait to add a multi-year commitment to a start-worthy backstop. It doesn’t cost the Bucs all that many of ’em, much thanks to the Snakes’ equally perplexing, munificent addition of $3 million. His home/road numbers suggest he’s not just a creation of his home park, but he’s already in his age-29 season, so there’s no real upside. Snyder is just basically a good receiver, a low-average TTO hitter who will strike out a good amount, but walk too. He’s not a star, but there are worse everyday catchers out there.

Adding Snyder clearly means that the multi-year experiment with making Ryan Doumit an everyday receiver has run its course, and while you could admire the attempt to make him into a pocket V-Mart, you can understand the decision to move away from it. They could subsequently trade Doumit to a team looking for immediate help at first base or DH or an outfield corner-doable, since he’s really only locked in for $5.1 million through 2011, plus a $500,000 buyout of his 2012-13 options. Or they could use him in the same way as they have Garrett Jones, as a fix at first base or an outfield corner. For Pittsburgh or for somebody else, it isn’t hard to see how Doumit could provide position-worthy power at any of those slots. If they hold onto him, they can pick between Jones and Doumit at first base, and bump the other into the corner mix with Lastings Milledge and Jose Tabata, making for a strange bit of mixing and matching with very different player types, but one that could produce a flexible, more effective offense.

Because of the money the Snakes are paying into the deal, if the Pirates only keep Snyder for 2011, they’re basically employing him for around $5 million (on their dime) for eight months, or $11 million through 2012 if they wound up picking up the option. The Pirates don’t have to pick up that 2012 option for $6.75 million, but plenty of teams might be interested in trading for the controlled expense for a starting catcher who can handle both the defensive responsibilities as well as chipping in a little bit from the bottom of the order. So, he’s almost as much bargaining chip as substitute.

The other additions are sort of reinforcements by type in categories the Bucs are already familiar with from past deals. McDonald is more talented than the McCutchens or the Jeff Karstens types, but will his fastball/curveball combo settle in closer to Ross Ohlendorf in terms of value? As a minor-league slugger who has flopped in big-league trials, Bowker could be the next Garrett Jones… or the latest Clement-level non-factor and disappointment. Ciriaco is the latest middle infielder in a litany of shortstops acquired to take the place of Jack Wilson, where Ronny Cedeno rules the roost, but has hardly been Honus Wagner. Whether it’s Ciriaco, or Argenis Diaz, the organization’s at least acquiring people with the athleticism to play shortstop. None of them may amount to anything, but at least it won’t be a return to the days of Dale Berra.

If relief pitching is the easiest form of currency around the deadline, we can credit Huntington with a use it or lose it logic to these moves. Dotel, Carrasco, and Lopez weren’t all certain keepers for 2011, but all three were under club control, Dotel via a club option (now made mutual by virtue of his getting dealt), Carrasco and Lopez via arbitration in case their club decided to tender them contracts and hand out near-guaranteed raises for merely adequate performance. Finding their like, either from among these pickups or from down on the farm, shouldn’t be too tough. As is, they kept the right people in terms of Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan, and if recent additions like Sean Gallagher and Wil Ledezma deliver, they’ll be well on their way toward conjuring up an equally effective no-name bullpen for even less expense.

From the Snakes deal, Ciriaco turns 25 in September, and is in his sixth pro season. While he’s yet to play in the big leagues, he should get there on his defensive skills alone. He’s one of the better defenders in the minors, combining outstanding fundamentals with the ability to make spectacular plays, but the problem is he just can’t hit. His career triple-slash line of .273/.303/.357 shows what he is, a weak contact hitter with little patience, although he does have the speed to steal bases on the rare occasions he doesn’t make an out. Rey Sanchez carved out a 15-year career with this skillset, and while that’s a foolish projection of Ciriaco, he should have some semblance of a career.

Turning to what they got for Dotel, Andrew Lambo garnered considerable attention in 2008 when he hit .288/.346/.462 for Low-A Great Lakes as a 19-year-old, showing considerable power potential. Unfortunately, it has all been downhill from there for the former prospect, as Lambo has stalled at Double-A with a .267/.320/.427 line in 185 Southern League games, including his just serving a 50-game suspension for illegal drug use. He’s a bat-only prospect with not enough bat showing up in his age-21 season for it to really matter.

McDonald is a tall, skinny righty who seemed to establish himself as a nice little bullpen piece last year, but the Dodgers returned him to Triple-A this year in the hope that the 25-year-old could be a starter long-term. While he features velocity a tick above average with a 91-93 mph fastball, his out pitch is a true plus curveball with heavy, late break. He has a decent changeup as well, but inconsistent command has been his occasional undoing throughout his career. He could turn into a back-end starter for the Pirates, but doesn’t Pittsburgh already have a ton of those?

I guess I see some similarities between Lambo’s status as a problem player and the reputations of Lastings Milledge or Jose Tabata, with some growth potential if he matures in more than a few senses. Jumping him from Low-A to Double-A last season was a challenge for a 20-year-old, after all, this year’s repeat campaign at the level has been derailed by the suspension.

Joe Martinez has been consistently good for the Giants since being a 12th-round pick in 2005, but never good enough to get much attention from scouts or prospect watchers. His fastball is the definition of average at 89-91 mph, but his curveball is a true quality offering that can generate swings and misses in the big leagues. Scouts that really like Martinez see him as a potential reliever in the big leagues, but just as many see the 27-year-old as the type of player who spends the next six years bouncing between Triple-A and the big leagues.

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Optioned OF-R Aaron Cunningham to Portland (Triple-A); activated INF-R Miguel Tejada. [7/30]
Acquired OF-R Ryan Ludwick from the Cardinals in a three-way deal in exchange for RHP Nick Greenwood, also sending RHP Corey Kluber to the Indians; designated OF-L Quintin Berry for assignment. [7/31]
Placed PH-R Oscar Salazar on the 15-day DL (strained Achilles tendon), retroactive to 7/30. [8/1]

The wasn’t just a win, it was the decisive win of the deadline. It’s a win-now move and a win-next-year move. For all those still doubting the Padres’ capacity to take this all the way to the end, it’s exactly the sort of move they had to make. The extent to which the Padres were instigators or willing participants hardly matters-if the Cardinals were crazy enough to think they just have to have Jake Westbrook, why bother getting in the way of that brand of madness, when you might profit from it?

It’s mostly just that he instantly becomes the second-best hitter in the Padres lineup, but there’s also a multiplier effect of sorts, in that he’ll expand the lineup’s strength by making it that much easier for Bud Black to play mix and match, say with Will Venable against right-handers and Chris Denorfia against lefties, and Scott Hairston against whomever, strengthening the entire offense by making sure that a few more guys get asked to do the things they can do well.

Perhaps inevitably, some observers are going to make something out the fact of Ludwick’s being dropped in behind Adrian Gonzalez “to provide protection,” and cite this as evidence for why the Pads may be scoring more runs down the stretch. (Me, I figure I’ll take my answer less complicated, like anticipating the fact that they’ll be playing 33 of their final 59 games on the road, even with the oddity of their hitting better at home.) Perhaps Ludwick in the cleanup slot will avoid a few more reasons for Gonzalez to stand and state, “they can me Mr. IBB.”

All well and good as a matter of in-game tactics, but protection shouldn’t make that big of a difference over the span of 60 games. I’d anticipate that a couple of hundred Ludwick at-bats plus the benefit of slotting the other moving parts in the offense to benefit from matchups will really be what’s responsible for a team-wide offensive improvement down the stretch. That said, it’s also amusing to keep in mind that wishing for protection doesn’t always deliver the result you anticipate; as is, the Padres have scored in the same inning after an ordered-up free pass for Gonzalez 10 out of 18 times this season.

The other benefits of tossing a couple of organizational arms to get Ludwick is that they’re getting someone they’ll control via arbitration for the 2011 season, so he’s not merely a rental. Even as he’d be headed into his age-32 season, he’ll be well worth keeping-his walk rates and power rates from the last four seasons have been relatively stable, outside of the big 2008 spike, and he’s a quality defender in either corner, with the arm for right that might get Venable kicked over to left.

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Acquired LHP Javier Lopez from the Pirates for RHP Joe Martinez and 1B/OF-L John Bowker; acquired RHP Ramon Ramirez from the Red Sox for RHP Daniel Turpen. [7/31]

This might seem like a strange bit of overcompensation, because the bullpen hasn’t been a problem this season, ranking eighth in relief FRA and ninth in ARP. However, a lot of the value they’ve gotten on the year is tied up to Brian Wilson‘s tremendous season, and not a whole lot else. Santiago Casilla and Chris Ray have managed to play key roles in short order, symptomatic of their lately coming to the conclusion that Guillermo Mota and Denny Bautista are a little too exciting.

The two pitchers they added suggests some of what they were shopping for: situational specialists. Even if they hadn’t lost Jeremy Affeldt recently, they were without a situational lefty (“Not my job,” Affeldt might quip). In theory, that’s what Lopez is good for, having managed to set them down at a .204/.323/.352 pace this season. Similarly, Ramirez is someone I’ve written a bit about as far as the Red Sox’ pen problems, and he’s the guy who had perhaps done the most to pitch his way out of a significant role. Still, he’s been a highly effective righty specialist in his day.

Since the Giants and Bruce Bochy have had success employing extreme specialists in the past, you can understand the motivation and the intention. As far as the price, Brian Sabean didn’t give up much-neither Bowker or Martinez had much of a shot of contributing, while Turpen is more of an organizational arm. They can let Lopez leave via free agency after the season, and tender Ramirez or not as they see fit, if arbitration isn’t their brand of vodka.

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Acquired RHP Jake Westbrook from the Indians and LHP Nick Greenwood from the Padres, sending OF-R Ryan Ludwick to the Padres in a three-way deal; activated OF-R Nick Stavinoha from the 15-day DL. [7/31]
Placed MI-R Tyler Greene on the 15-day DL (hand). [8/1]

Which note is stronger, the panic over the rotation that would lead to a conclusion that Westbrook has to be the antidote for a rotation that has seen Kyle Lohse, Brad Penny, and Jeff Suppan provide various flavors of sub-adequacy, or the exaggerated faith in their outfield options absent Ludwick?

To start with the rotation, Westbrook might seem very much what he’s been over the years, a ground-ball machine. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true-his overall rate of ground balls to flies generated is down, from 1.6 or better in his heyday to below 1.2 this year. His walk rate is up, and his pitches per batter is at a career high. In short, he’s simply not the efficient machine you might remember from the better Indians teams in the mid-Aughties. Some of that might be placed at the doorstep of this being his first full year back after missing most of the previous two seasons, but because he isn’t getting stronger as the season progresses, you might also have to take the Westbrook we’ve seen for the Westbrook the Cards will get.

Since we’re talking about a hurler with a strikeout rate that has already slipped below five per nine, some of the problem might be placed at the defense’s doorstep, right? Perhaps, except that here the problem is that the Indians’ defense isn’t much worse in the aggregate than the Cardinals’. Maybe you can put Westbrook in front of an infield that has Brendan Ryan at short, and you spare him the inconvenience of Skip Schumaker‘s two left feet at the keystone. Maybe once David Freese comes back from the DL, you shift Felipe Lopez to second base, and net some of the kind of improvement on defense that will make a particular difference to Westbrook’s performance.

Even so, we’re talking about a guy with a .453 SNWP for the Indians and just nine quality starts in 21. You can hope that letting him chuck and duck for five innings-á la Suppan-and then hoiking him pronto could avoid trouble, but his in-game performance isn’t the sort of thing that suggests he’s going to be a lot better in shorter outings. In short, he’s nothing more than a near-adequate fourth starter, and even then he’s probably a worse pitcher than anyone the Reds have in their stretch rotation. It takes a lot of faith in Dave Duncan‘s brand of magic to take this even that far, and it’s important to remember that not every project Duncan takes on becomes a success.

So you give up a quality outfielder for that? Derrick Goold has advanced the thesis that the Tribe has picked over the Cardinals’ system enough to not have much interest in what the Birds might have to offer, and that the Cards, Indians, and Padres know one another well enough that they might hook up and make something happen if one dance partner is not entirely pleased with the selection. It’s a persuasive line of thinking-why just advertise your own goodies when you have to have a certain something, but the buyer is peeping in somebody else’s shop window?

In the end, it takes the Cardinals to decide that they really just have to swap out their fourth-best lineup regular by performance for their fourth-best starting pitcher by default. It takes the Cardinals to decide that, in this market, which has already seen so many quality pitchers moved for so very little in terms of talent, that they have to have Jake Westbrook, and if that puts a big dent in their lineup, so be it.

That’s a mistake they made all by themselves, influenced by an exaggerated faith in the kind of hitting they’ve gotten from Jay one month into his career. Thanks to a .446 BABIP, they see a monster, but his expected production’s down around creditable fourth outfielder territory, with a .252 TAv, not the team-leading .346 clip that has him far in front Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Happily, Jay’s July will never come off the books, and they’re free to swap in Allen Craig. That would be fine-except that Craig is projected to be a considerably less valuable hitter than Ludwick as well.

Now we’ll have to see if the Cards can get enough offense from what they’ve got left to carry a rotation that isn’t radically improved for the effort. The cost of finding an improvement on Suppan or Blake Hawksworth was a lot steeper than it had to be, but with that low standard in play, you get the sense that the Cardinals left their selections to slumming at a time when the competition was looking at luxuries on the market for a fraction of its value.

A 14th-round pick last year, Greenwood is a lefty who throws strikes, but there’s not much more interesting to say about him. He lives in the high 80s with his fastball, and his breaking ball and changeup are nothing to write home about, but his ability to hit his spots (just 19 walks in 95 1/3 IP) is worth something, and his deceptive delivery has been hell on Midwest League lefties, who have hit just .223/.292/.359 against him. Greenwood turns 23 in September and hasn’t even been that good at Low-A, so calling him a future LOOGY is the most optimistic projection, but even that’s still a longshot.

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OK Christina, I have no defense of Ed Wade for this one, you win. It's not an awful trade....but it sure is a snoozer.
Christina, you're pretty cool
I was in total shock when I heard about the Ludwick deal. I hope the Reds enjoy that division title.
I don't see it that way at all. Is Ludwick more of an upgrade on a Jay/Craig platoon for the rest of the year than Westbrook is on Jeff Suppan or Blake Hawksworth? If you say yes, you don't understand just how bad Suppan and Hawksworth have been -- not just in what they have "accomplished" while pitching (Hawk has a -5.7 VORP going into today's game) but also in the strain they've placed on the team's bullpen since they absolutely cannot go deep into games.
To your question, yes. Westbrook has not been good this year, and at his age his peak sppears to be well behind him. Ludwick is a solid performer on both offense and defense, and while I like Jay as much as the next Cardinals fan, he's going to come back down to earth eventually. He's likely an 800-ish OPS guy at best.

Craig also isn't really an outfielder, so there's a defensive hit as well. I'm not sure what metrics think of Jay, but I know that Ludwick was a plus on defense.

So no, I don't think it's an upgrade to exchange Ludwick for Westbrook.
The other thing not mentioned in this article is that the Indians threw in cash so the deal was salary neutral overall. The Cardinals said they were able to add payroll for someone like Oswalt, and since Penny is done and won't reach his incentives their money owed is less than the original payroll numbers. It looks like they are set up to make some kind of impact with a waiver deal, and there could be quite a few middle infield options available in the waiver market. They'll have the flexibility to make a move there because they acquired an SP already without spending more money.

Granted, as a Cardinals fan I still don't like the deal at all and figure they could have netted a better return for Ludwick in the offseason if trading him really is a necessity to re-sign Pujols, but it isn't all bad. I hope.
I seriously doubt any team in baseball was going to give up a top 20 draft pick to sign Ted Lilly to a 3 year contract. We'll see, but smart money is on him going to a playoff type team, or being one of a couple type A free agents signed by a team, assuming the Dodgers offer him arbitration - not a given.
Craig Kimbrel often has no idea whatsoever where the ball is going so it's pretty understandable why the Braves are letting him work on his control in games that don't matter, rather than in the middle of a playoff race.
Yeah, but with Farnsworth, most everyone knows where the ball's going: Left field bleachers.