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American League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Signed RHP Fernando Salas to a minor-league contract. [8/19]

For the past few years, Salas had been a consistent, reliable reliever capable of delivering quality work on the regular. Ultimately, this quiet consistency would be his downfall, as he became a bit too reliable for manager Terry Collins and the ever-frustrating Mets. After coming to the team in 2016, Salas was used heavily by the Mets, often coming in to pitch with minimal rest or in surprising situations. Eventually, he seemed to wear down and his control and velocity suffered as a result. Despite inking him to a $3 million contract this offseason, the Mets cut ties in mid-August as part of their late-season youth movement.

The Angels likely won’t benefit greatly from this move in 2017; the team already has a better-than-average bullpen, and Salas could probably use some time to rest and recover. He’s had bad seasons before, such as his 2013 campaign with St. Louis, and perhaps the familiar organization will help him turn things around to end the year. He’ll go into 2018 looking for a new contract, and he’ll likely find one given his track record of leveraged innings. It’s possible the Angels will get some small benefit out of this move—a lead on re-signing him for 2018, or perhaps some innings of serviceable relief down the stretch—but ultimately the days of Salas as a reliable hand may have run out.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Acquired OF-R Rajai Davis from Oakland Athletics in exchange for OF-S Rafael Rincones. [8/23]

Comparing Davis to the man he’s ostensibly replacing in the short term, Jackie Bradley Jr., is kind of a fool’s errand. Though Bradley’s injury will undoubtedly open up playing time for the well-heeled outfielder, he and Davis couldn’t be more different. Bradley’s an excellent defensive center fielder who transcends his speed limitations to be elite at his position. Davis is a passable center fielder despite his fleetness of foot, and better profiles as a corner guy. Bradley is a moderate power threat and an above-average left-handed bat who gets on base more than a third of the time. Davis has less power than the average outfielder, hits right-handed, and has recently struggled to keep his OBP above .300.

Davis does, however, provide legitimate game-changing speed and stolen base prowess when healthy. So, no, Davis will likely not be the kind of late-season acquisition that provides a seamless transition after an important injury. He’s just not that kind of player, and Bradley is nigh-irreplaceable. Instead, perhaps Davis will be the Red Sox’s vital pinch-running weapon in the playoffs, conjuring recollections of The Dave Roberts Steal in vital moments during the ALDS or beyond.

Perhaps he’ll unseat Chris Young as the team’s primary right-handed bat off the bench when (if?) the rest of the team gets healthy and Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez are back to back-filling in the outfield. While Davis is an immediate downgrade over the team’s incumbent center fielder, he’s likely to be a real upgrade as a pinch-runner, do-it-all backup outfielder, or even right-handed bench bat. That’s why he’ll be playing in Boston this fall.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Claimed OF-R Cesar Puello off waivers from Los Angeles Angels. [8/19]

Blink, and you might miss this. The fact that Puello was ever really an Angel at all is something of a trick of the light, as the once-touted outfield prospect only saw action in one (!) big-league game before getting cast aside in favor of Andrew Bailey back on August 12. Anyway, Puello is a former top-100 prospect by some publications, and rose as high as the Mets’ fourth-best prospect here at BP back in 2010. You’d think that with Kevin Kiermaier back and playing, with Mallex Smith and Peter Bourjos available as reserves, and with Puello’s long history of not being a major leaguer … there’d be no place for the big righty on this Rays roster. But you’d be wrong.

The Rays can kind of use a right-handed-hitting outfielder with some pop, and Puello … well, he’s the closest approximation to that thing in Tampa Bay’s system right now. There’s the chance that some ghost of his old potential might be apparating here and now, and that could make him a just-fine complement to the lefty bats of Corey Dickerson and Lucas Duda. He’s also fast, already stealing two bases in the bigs and maxing out with 45 steals in the minors back in 2010. It’s been almost four years (and four teams) since Puello cracked a top-10 list as a prospect, but perhaps now he can finally reach his apotheosis, whatever that may be and for however long that may last.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Acquired RHP Tom Koehler from Miami Marlins in exchange for RHP Osman Gutierrez. [8/19]

On a breezy weekday afternoon last year, I stumbled across an interview with Koehler on MLB Network’s most popular program, Intentional Talk. Surprisingly, I immediately liked the big right-hander, although it’s only surprising because I’m decidedly not a fan of the program he was on. Koehler was winning, giving off the kind of easy bro-jock charm that plenty of ballplayers are capable of possessing without being obnoxious or disingenuous. He’s got a combination stupid-brilliant nickname (“The Dino”), which gets me every time. To get to the point: I like Tom Koehler.

The problem is that on another, different level, I do not like Tom Koehler. Watching Koehler pitch is not an exciting experience, other than the fact that—at least this year—you’re likely to see a monster dinger or two over the course of his outings. His velocity isn’t great, his stuff isn’t exciting, his results are blah. He’s the ideal set-it-and-forget-it fifth starter for most teams—a reliable innings-eater who puts up well-below-average numbers—but on a team like the Marlins, he’s been a temporary ace (during Jose Fernandez’s recovery from Tommy John surgery) and a rotation stalwart.

This season, he’s been a disaster. Though his walk and strikeout rates have stayed the same (and his velocity is normal), he gave up twice as many homers as normal, which was enough to completely bury his performance and send him packing to the minors, just about three years later than I expected. When even the woeful Marlins rotation doesn’t have a use for you, it is a bad scene. The Blue Jays are the beneficiaries of Koehler’s bad run, and I actually have every faith he’ll rebound into his usual fifth-starter self, if not now, then by the time we get to 2018.

But what gets me about Koehler is his duality. Not only is he the guy I like, but don’t like, he’s representative of a couple of other contradictions. He’s not a “dude” (scout term), but he’s a dude (bro term). He’s not a good starting pitcher (-0.7 WARP this season), but he’s a very good starting pitcher (probably one of the top 200 or so at his profession in the world). And most of all, he’s not a pitcher any team wants to rely on—as he barely fits on the fringes of an MLB rotation—but rather he’s a pitcher every team should want as depth to deliver 100-175 not-embarrassing innings per season.

Koehler is absolutely replaceable as a replacement-level starting pitcher, without him baseball wouldn’t skip a beat. And he’s emblematic of necessary depth every single franchise needs in order to function; without this, there is no Major League Baseball. He is your team’s necessary evil, your disposable hero, everything and nothing at all.

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seanqueue
8/27
I actually have a fun Tom Koehler story. A few years ago I took my sons to their first MLB game at Citi Field. During Marlins' BP, Koehler was part of a small group shagging flies in right field. Every time a ball came their way, shouts would go out from the stands for a souvenir, with most of them being ignored. At the time, I had Koehler rostered in a deep NL only league, and I knew he had just returned to the team after the birth of his first child. A few minutes later, when a ball rolled his way, I called out, "Tom, welcome back! How's your baby?!" He turned to the stands with a big grin, pointed his glove, and lofted the ball into the stands. I yelled, "Thank you, congratulations!" and he gave another quick wave before turning back toward the infield.
bgrosnick
8/27
I love these stories. Thanks for sharing!