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American League

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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Claimed RHP Scott McGough off waivers from the Miami Marlins. [4/14]

Scott McGough is getting perilously close to that phase of his career during which people will refer to him as a “journeyman” relief pitcher. I won’t do that here, because the man’s still only 26 years old, but the fact is that he’s with his third organization in six years, and only last year made his big-league debut with Miami, throwing just two-thirds of an inning and allowing three runs in the process, which would be a bad line even if you didn’t know that it came against the Phillies.

Now, the late debut isn’t entirely McGough’s fault: he missed the entirety of the 2014 season after Tommy John surgery, and indeed bounced back well enough that he was able to put up a 1.93 ERA over 37 â…“ minor-league relief innings last year. As sometimes happens after surgery, his fastball velocity ticked up slightly in 2015 (to just a shade under 94 mph); he pairs that pitch which a changeup at 87 and a curveball at about 84. All three pitches generate fly balls at rates somewhat above average, which’ll keep Baltimore’s outfielders busy (and which makes this pickup a little perplexing: Rickard and Trumbo both had negative FRAA’s last year). For now, he’ll join the Orioles’ Triple-A club in Norfolk and wait and see if he’ll get another shot. —Rian Watt

BOSTON RED SOX
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Activated C-R Christian Vazquez from the 15-day disabled list; optioned C-S Blake Swihart to Triple-A Pawtucket. [4/15]

The Blake Swihart demotion isn’t just about Christian Vazquez, and yet Vazquez is where we have to start. Twelve months removed from Tommy John surgery, Vazquez has already proven capable of gunning down runners with his plus-plus arm once again. Because of that, he’s back in the majors, and in the majors is where he belongs.

This is, unequivocally, a good thing for the Red Sox, a team that needs all the help it can get when it comes to getting results from its rotation. Vazquez is one of the best defensive catchers in the game when healthy — both by the numbers and by the eye test — and recent advancements have made us well aware of how important pitch-framing can be. While Vazquez doesn’t profile as a significant offensive threat, his .241/.312/.319 line in 208 PA belies much stronger performances in the upper minors. Pairing him with Ryan Hanigan gives the Red Sox a plus defensive and tolerable offensive couple behind the plate, and does so at very little cost.

While Swihart did little to deserve a demotion—he had a .391 OBP and .258 TAv in 2016 after a strong second half of 2015—it’s not unreasonable for the Red Sox to send a 24-year-old, unrefined backstop to Pawtucket to work on his defense. That’s because his development is incredibly important to the future of the franchise. No matter what you think of Vazquez it’s hard to argue against Swihart having the much higher upside. And while he may not be in the Mookie Betts/Xander Bogaerts tier of young stalwarts, Swihart’s prospect pedigree suggests he can be a franchise cornerstone in due time. Letting him play every day isn’t just smart; it’s necessary.

No, sending Swihart down isn’t the issue. This is the issue:

On paper, it makes sense. Vazquez is a plus defender and Swihart is not (yet), so it’s reasonable for the Red Sox to explore alternate paths to playing time for Swihart. In fact, when both Vazquez and Swihart are in their primes, you can imagine an ideal scenario in which Vazquez catches 80-90 games a season with Swihart catching the rest and also playing left field, first base or DH for an additional 50-60 games.

But if you’re sending Swihart down to Triple-A to work on his defense behind the plate, let him devote everything to improving behind the plate. It’s a testament to Swihart’s offensive potential that he might prove a playable option in left field, but he can be special if he remains a full-time or near-full-time backstop. As talented as Swihart could be with the bat, Kyle Schwarber he is not; the positional value is a big part of what makes Swihart so attractive.

There’s no reason for Red Sox Nation to grab the pitchforks just yet. If Swihart is going to catch 80-90% of the time in Pawtucket and start taking fly balls in left field on his off days, then fine. But if this move is indicative of a larger shift away for the position, it seems like an awful waste. There’s nothing in Swihart’s profile that suggests he can’t grow into an above-average, everyday starter behind the plate, and as talented as Vazquez is, he’s no sure thing offensively. In other words, as good as Vazquez is with the glove, his overall talent isn’t such that you need to mess with the development of a terrific prospect just to let Vazquez play.

In a sense this is a good problem for the Red Sox to have. They clearly feel comfortable with Vazquez as their everyday catcher, and it’s possible they’re just letting Swihart get more reps before Hanigan is dealt to a needy contender in a few weeks’ time. But it’s also possible that the Red Sox are compounding the mistakes they made in assembling a shoddy rotation by disrupting the development of one of their more important young players for the sake of immediate improvement. If they’re impeding Swihart’s growth for instant gratification and a player they hope is the next Yadier Molina, but might really be the next Jose Molina, then the pitchfork-grabbing in New England should commence post-haste. —Ben Carsley

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Recalled SHP Pat Venditte from Triple-A Buffalo; designated RHP Arnold Leon for assignment. [4/13]

When the Blue Jays claimed Pat Venditte of waivers from the Oakland Athletics in October, he would have been considered something of a long shot to make the Blue Jays April roster. Toronto had lefties Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup, and then acquired Drew Storen, Gavin Floyd, and Jesse Chavez to help fill out the right-handed depth spots in the bullpen.

However, Loup injured his arm and seems nowhere close to returning, and his fill-in, Franklin Morales, has also gone on the DL with “arm fatigue.” With the lefty-heavy Yankees in town and Brett Cecil struggling to find his curveball, the call went out to Venditte to fill a spot. As the only switch-pitcher in the modern era (Greg A. Harris threw left-handed once in his final career outing, so that doesn’t really count), and without plus stuff from either side, Venditte has been viewed as something of a novelty act. However, when digging a bit deeper into his numbers, it’s pretty easy to see value there.

Throughout his minor league career, and in his brief sample in the majors in 2015, Venditte has dominated left-handed hitters. When throwing left-on-left, big leaguers hit just .116/.188/.256, for a TAv of .185. That’s elite. His numbers against righties were quite the opposite, though, as they hit him to the tune of a .294 TAv. However, almost all of that damage was done by switch-hitters, who absolutely torch Venditte. A rule has been written that says he must declare his handedness before the at-bat, so a switch-hitter will still always have the platoon advantage. When throwing right-handed to righties, Venditte allowed a meager slash line .205/.295/.282. When facing Venditte from the left side, righties hit .391/.444/.826. As long as the Blue Jays limit him to opponents that hit from only one side, Venditte could become a real asset.

Arnold Leon was always a very long shot to stick with Toronto, as he likely only made the opening day roster because he was out of options and Marco Estrada was starting on the disabled list. He only made it into two games, blowing an eighth-inning lead in one of them. With Estrada returning and Rule 5 pick Joe Biagini showing that he has enough stuff to warrant a job as the seventh man in a pen, Leon’s days were clearly numbered. There is a decent chance that he will clear waivers and end up in Buffalo as injury depth. —Joshua Howsam

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Recalled RHP Derek Law from Triple-A Sacramento [4/15]

Derek Law was the Giants’ ninth-rounder in 2011 out of Miami Dade JC. He’s worked exclusively in relief roles since signing, spending all of last season pitching out of the Double-A Richmond bullpen after returning mid-season from June 2014 Tommy John surgery. Law has always featured enough stuff to profile as a big league reliever—never recording fewer than nine a strikeout per inning at any minor league stop—but it’s likely a reduction in free passes (4.5 BB/9 in 2014; 2.8 BB/9 last season) that has made him a more palatable bullpen option for the big club.

Law’s delivery has plenty of deception, featuring a stop-and-go stab behind his body that can disrupt hitters’ timing. Though it adds deception, the jerky arm-plunge can negatively impact his fastball command at times, as well as his ability to land his breaking ball for a strike. He throws an above-average fastball that sits between 92-95 and will reach 96 at best with the late bursting finish of a high-velocity pitch. His curve shows big downer break with solid power in the 78-81 mph range, but the aforementioned arm-stab in his delivery can cause Law’s control of the pitch to waver. A three-pitch reliever, he mixes a slider/cutter-type offering at 85-88 with lateral glove-side tilt, used mostly to right-handed bats. For a contending team like San Francisco, Law likely profiles as a standard middle reliever, with the chance to hand the ball off to the closer if his ability to command his fastball and secondary pitches takes a step forward over time. —Adam McInturff

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jfranco77
4/18
Interesting note about Venditte and his troubles with switch hitters. Poor guy ... the Yankees have 3 regular switch hitters in their lineup (Teix, Beltran, Headley), even if calling Headley a "hitter" is a bit generous these days.