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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Released LHP Vic Darensbourg. [4/7]

Purchased the contract of LHP John Halama from Ottawa
(Triple-A); designated LHP Eric DuBose for assignment.
[4/8]

Designated C-R Raul Chavez for assignment; purchased the
contract of RHP Cory Morris from Ottawa. [4/9]

The activity is the predictable outcome of the Orioles’ general shortage of
big league-ready pitching help, a couple of injuries, and some particularly
unhelpful major and minor league free agent pickups. But to be fair, they
have added LaTroy Hawkins, and both Chris
Ray
and Sendy Rleal look like the real deal. The
frustration is that there isn’t more homegrown help that’s ready to
contribute in relief roles, which leaves the club hoping that warmed-over
roster bodies like Jim Brower or Tim
Byrdak
will be useful, illusions that only grinding, bitter
experience can dispel. If giving up on DuBose seems a hard thing, keep in
mind that the Orioles really only invested a flyer in
him after the rest of the game had already moved on. Like Rick
Bauer
before him, it wasn’t like reviewing what he could and
couldn’t do cost the Orioles a shot at the World Series. In the meantime,
there are worse mop-up men to have around than Halama, and if GM Mike
Flanagan chooses to, he can accept his current state of weakness as an
opportunity to shop early and often on the waiver wire.

So what of Morris? An organizational soldier drafted in the 15th round of
the 2001 draft, he’s closing in on his 27th birthday. He had to repeat the
Sally League to finally make the jump up to the High-A Carolina League, and
his dominance at Double-A last year–3.03 ERA, and 159 Ks in 142.2 IP–can
be partially ascribed to his repeating that level as well. His
reliance on breaking stuff should be a warning sign that he was
significantly more advanced than his competition in Double-A, because his
fastball only tops out around 90. Maybe he’ll add velocity as a reliever,
and maybe his starting experience will give the Orioles a matched set of
adequate righty-lefty long men between Morris and Halama, allowing them that
much more of an opportunity to hide Brower and Byrdak. You can always hope.

At least they don’t have the bad sense to keep Chavez. If you wanted to name
a worst backup catcher in baseball, Chavez would almost certainly be on the
short list.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Signed DH-L David Ortiz to a four-year contract extension
through 2010. [4/10]

Papi seems about as good a bet as you’re going to get in the hefty DH
segment of the market, and let’s face it, you can’t buy the sort of star
power he seems to command in Boston. Roll up Luis Tiant and
George Scott, and you start to get some idea of the man’s
cachet. If you’re worried about his age, what’s worth noting is that his top
four and most meaningful historical PECOTA comparables–Fred
McGriff
in 1994, Willie McCovey in 1968, and
Willie Stargell in 1970–all had a lot more than four or
five useful seasons left in them. His other top comparable is Carlos
Delgado
in 2003, and nobody seems to expect him to implode any time
soon. The next tier of guys among his comps might seem to be a source of
concern–Boog Powell, Mike Epstein,
Mo Vaughn?–but Ortiz seems more committed to conditioning
than Powell or Vaughn, and barring a new interest in pschedelia, seems
unlikely to be as flaky as Epstein. It’s a good investment in one of the
game’s best hitters, and not merely a Varitek-like reward contract.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Traded SS-R Brandon Phillips to the Reds for a PTBNL or
cash. [4/7]

If you’re an Indians fan and you’re bitter, you should be, but sometimes
prospects go into funks when their careers don’t play out the way they
thought they would. At best, you can hope that having Phillips pushed
Jhonny Peralta, and you can let go what the Indians might have gotten for Phillips if they’d only dealt him a year or two earlier.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Re-signed RHP Matt Mantei to a minor league contract. [4/8]

Signed OF-L Prentice Redman to a minor league contract.
[4/10]

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Claimed C-B Koyie Hill off of waivers from the
Diamondbacks. [4/6]

Designated C-R Wil Nieves for assignment; outrighted RHP
Jorge De Paula to Columbus (Triple-A). [4/7]

I like the decision to snag Hill, not because he’s all that or ever was–he
was always just another body in Dodger blue, and too many prospect hounds
and guys on the beat never see past that–but it’s better for the Yankees to
have insurance behind the plate. If anything happened to Jorge
Posada
, there’s no way they should expect Kelly
Stinnett
to hold up over any extended period of time at 36 years
old. Hill isn’t a solution to that problem as much as an alternative that
spares you the indignity of trying to find out what guys like Ken
Huckaby
or Alberto Castillo are up to. You might
reasonably ask why the Yankees are carrying three catchers instead of an
extra bat to soak up some DH at-bats, but that’s the ripple effect of
letting the otherwise admirable Bernie Williams take a
career-reward farewell tour through the DH slot, which in turn
“forces” them to carry Bubba Crosby as their de
facto fourth outfielder. You can always hope that Andy
Phillips
picks up enough dry cleaning or whatever to catch a break
and get a few at-bats, but even then, I’d rather have Carlos
Pena
on the roster, and let Jason Giambi DH
against most RHPs.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Acquired RHP Jose De La Cruz from the Devil Rays for RHP
Marcos Carvajal. [4/6]

Not a bad pickup by the Mariners, in that De La Cruz is all sorts of scouty
as hurlers go–big at 6’6″, and overpowering with 8.8 K/9 in the Midwest
League last year. Plus, although he isn’t that young for having been at that
level last year, he’s still only 22, and happily doesn’t have to be added to
the 40-man roster just yet. So as a way of managing your roster, this was
pretty tasty: Bill Bavasi nabbed Carvajal for Yorvit
Torrealba
, effectively borrowing the 40-man roster spot until they
needed to use it to add a spring training NRI to the active roster, while
flipping Carvajal for something of prospective value. Plus, they did
temporarily get the value of the contingency that Carvajal might have built
on last season’s Rule 5-generated stint with the Rockies, and impressed them
in camp. He didn’t, but that’s why the value was contingent. Basically, a
nice, aggressive, flexible way of managing your roster, so tip o’ the cap to
Bavasi and company.

The extended chain gets a little more complicated, as these things are wont
to: Carvajal was picked up for Yorvit Torrealba (a
thouroughly replaceable catcher), and Torrealba was picked up as part of the
package for the Giants’ rental of Randy Winn. So if you
like the idea of getting Jesse Foppert and De La Cruz for
two months’ of Winn’s time–keeping in mind that nobody expected Winn to go
Bonds-bonkers on the National League in that two month stint–more power to
you.

De La Cruz isn’t without wrinkles, of course. Walking 35 guys in 62 innings
in A-ball represents a bit of a problem, and he had a big platoon split,
allowing left-handed hitters to tattoo him at a .291 clip while he was
limiting righties to .183 (data courtesy of the always nifty Almanac from
Baseball America, the book I always say is the perfect companion to the
annual for every sort of fan). Minor league relievers are probably the
dodgiest sort of talent when it comes to harboring any sort of expectations,
but a flyer on De La Rosa as a reward for some off-season roster time on
Carvajal seems entirely worthwhile.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Designated RHP Carlos Hines for assignment; claimed RHP
Scott Dunn off of waivers from the Angels and optioned him
to Durham (Triple-A); announced that RHP Chad Harville has
accepted his assignment to Durham.[4/5]

Placed SS-R Julio Lugo on the 15-day DL (strained abdomen),
retroactive to 4/4; released RHP Jesus Colome; recalled RHP
Scott Dunn from Durham; signed INF-B Tomas Perez to
a one-year contract; transferred INF-R Luis Ordaz from the
15- to the 60-day DL; acquired RHP Marcos Carvajal from the
Mariners for RHP Jose De La Cruz. [4/6]

Placed LHP Mark Hendrickson on the 15-day DL (back). [4/10]

The Rays have had more than their share of bad luck with injuries in the
early going. Losing Lugo is particularly unfortunate, not simply because
they’re losing their starting shortstop, but because they can’t showcase him
from the DL. He’s supposed to be back before the month is out, however, so
the only real inconvenience is that he’s shelved while Jorge
Cantu
is numbered among the club’s walking wounded. That makes for
more Nick Green and Perez up the middle than the paying
customers should have to see, but again, it’s a temporary thing. Happily,
the club has the right sensibility through all of this, nabbing potentially
useful hurlers like Dunn and Carvajal while cutting bait on Old Regime
experiments like Colome.

As for Hendrickson’s breakdown, I’m reminded of an unhappy experience in
1986 at Comiskey Park. (The old one, of course, not the Cell.) Desperate to
see some pitching show up on Oakland’s roster, I made a point of going to
the park to see if my visiting childhood favorites could get a good day out
of Joaquin Andujar. But in the bottom of the first, Andujar
walked John Cangelosi, balked him over to second, then
picked the speedy waterbug off, only to reinjure his hammy on the play. I
wanted to see Andujar, and one out into the game, he’s out, forcing this A’s
fan to cringe through another unhappy evening spent with what was left of
Rick Langford. That’s sort of how I would approach any expectations as far as Hendrickson is concerned. If you’re a Rays fan, I’d tell you what I’d have told me if I had the
advantage of a professorial
talking dog and a wayback machine
: remember what it is you’re getting
worked up about, enjoy that enthusiasm, and just don’t get too worked
up or too disappointed. Improvement never comes overnight, and it doesn’t
come because of guys like Andujar or Hendrickson. Jason Hammel got called up yesterday to take his place, and that’s more the sign of things to come, and reason for hope and faith.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Rick Bauer from Oklahoma
(Triple-A); optioned RHP R.A. Dickey to Oklahoma; re-signed
DH-L Erubiel Durazo to a minor league contract. [4/7]

Outrighted LHP Erasmo Ramirez to Oklahoma. [4/10]

It’s getting to the point that the entrance to The Ballpark should have a
sign that says “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Hurl Here,” not as a
comment on what happens if mass quantities of watered-down ballpark beer
don’t agree with you, but because of what seems like the inevitable fate of
every pitcher whose aspirations reach all the way to middling. Like so many
pitchers who have wandered through the Rangers’ organization, Bauer’s career
is either on its last legs, or it will be after he has to try to make a
living with that jetstream to the right-field bleachers whistling overhead.
This could be especially ugly if he hasn’t mastered his problems pitching
from the stretch, although he does have a decent mix of pitches and enough
velocity to surprise people now and again. He was certainly worth taking a
flyer on–you can only put your faith in John Wasdin so
many times, after all–and you can hope that pitching coach Mark Connor can
fix his mechanics, but there are few more hostile environments in which to
try getting a guy pushing 30 sorted out once and or all.

As for the minor league deal, Durazo’s contract call for him to be called
him by May 15, or he then has an option to become a free agent. That’s a
good gig for Durazo, in that he can take the time to get his stroke back and
show teams he has something left, or not. Certainly, there’s a very real
possibility that the Rangers will get frustrated with Phil Nevin by then, assuming that you see his hot start as a bit of raging against the dying of the light instead of a return to his former form despite his turning 35. I’d be happier to see Jason Botts
up in that circumstance, but I’ve probably beaten that particular drum
beyond the point of Spinal Tap self-combustibility.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Designated C/1B-R Jason Phillips for assignment. [4/7]

Activated C-B Gregg Zaun from the 15-day DL. [4/8]

Perhaps the Jays have an understanding with Phillips, so that he’ll gladly
accept the assignment to Syracuse, but I’m still frustrated that the
organization simply discarded Guillermo Quiroz. Admittedly,
that’s probably going to wind up being pretty small beer, because the
important thing is that the Jays have one of the best catching tandems in
baseball with both Zaun and Ben Molina healthy.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Purchased the contract of RHP Ken Ray from Richmond
(Triple-A); recalled RHP Joey Devine from Richmond; placed
LHP Horacio Ramirez on the 15-day DL; optioned RHP
Blaine Boyer to Richmond. [4/6]

Optioned RHP Joey Devine to Richmond; recalled RHP
Peter Moylan from Richmond. [4/10]

I’ll leave the Jones situation for later in the week, as we get a sense of
what Plan C involves now that Andy Marte is in Buffalo. It might seem cavalier to take the Braves’ ability to win in the face of any disaster, but a hit like this is survivable if it’s a matter of weeks or
some non-squiggly number of months. Until something else happens, I think we
all harbor the suspicion that, like some hive-minded collective of
baseball-playing cockroaches, the Braves would finish first in the NL East
in the face of General Sherman comeback tour of the Deep, the second coming
of Lester Maddox, or
a planet-killing asteroid strike.

Ah, the Braves and their bullpen. Devine seems to be the savior with feet
of clay, sort of the organization’s latter-day Len Barker of the amateur draft, but if they’d only just stop futzing around and asking for deliverance from the seemingly endless cycle of trying to figure out who this year’s Will Cunnane is, and let Devine get some consistent reps at a single level somewhere down on the farm, he’d be able to contribute sooner rather than later. But instead, the Braves seem to keep
asking why nothing’s faster than a microwave, and burning themselves on that
flash-fried burrito. They’re talking about a back problem, but in general, a
slow food approach will serve them better, giving them something worth
adding to the menu instead of something pre-fabricated and unhealthy.

In the meantime, as far as finding their new “who” support staff
in the pen, Boyer was struggling with a sore shoulder, so Ray’s his
replacement for low-leverage, middle inning mop-up situations. For even that
much, he seems a stretch, even with a little bit of Braves magic: he’s 32,
with a long track record of failure as an organizational soldier in the
Royals’ system, and little subsequent on his wanderings through the the
Giants, Brewers, and White Sox organizations. When Ray goes down, chances
are, he’ll be outrighted. Moylan might seem more interesting, if only
because he’s more exotic: Australian, and a sidearmer at that. Originally
another Down Under discovery of the Twins almost ten years ago, Moylan
didn’t stick then; he’s 30 now. Wince, and you might pretend you’re getting
Chad Bradford in one of these miserable Outback Steakhouse
commercials.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Signed General Manager Jim Hendry to a two-year contract extension. [4/8]

It might seem that I have an extremely negative opinion of Hendry, given my
frequent criticism, but that’s really about his catering to his manager’s
tastes in bench players. Even there, a good working relationship with your
manager is part of the job, so as frustrating as it might be at times, it’s
what a good GM does, and Hendry does it. And perhaps most importantly,
Hendry’s been a key part of why the Cubs have one of the better player
development programs in baseball. Tantalizing young hurlers may not be quite
as numerous here as they are in the Twins’ system, but the Cubs have done a
superb job of accumulating a good number of them.

A strong player development program in turn gives Hendry the sort of goodies
with which to swing the sweetest big league deals, like adding Juan
Pierre
or stealing Derrek Lee, Aramis
Ramirez
, or Michael Barrett. As often as I might
gnash my teeth over expensive multi-year deals a la Mike Remlinger past and present, that’s only a matter of losing money on dodgy risks. If there was a hole in his game, it’s his taste in corner outfielders, but nobody’s perfect, and having had the good sense to get Matt Murton from the Red Sox has left the team with only one slot to make a veteran mistake at. I’ve no doubt been hard on Hendry in the past, but that’s because I keep hoping we’ll get another
Ramirez trade instead of a Jacque Jones multi-year deal, and because the organization is so close to really mattering. He’s a big part of the reason why the Cubs can harbor any realistic notions about contending, and deserves to be amply rewarded for that.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Announced that C-R Dane Sardinha has cleared waivers and accepted his assignment to Louisville (Triple-A), and that INF-R
Frank Menechino has accepted his assignment to Louisville.
[4/5]

Acquired SS-R Brandon Phillips from the Indians for a PTBNL
or cash; designated INF-B Matt Kata for assignment. [4/7]

Optioned OF-R Chris Denorfia to Louisville. [4/8]

Picking up Phillips is exactly the sort of thing a GM with a new franchise
to run and no real second baseman with a future in the offing should do, so
credit Wayne Krivsky with taking a chance. Despite it seeming as if we’ve
been waiting for Phillips forever and a day, he’s still shy of his 25th
birthday. Depending on how seriously you take the suggestion that Phillips
didn’t handle his extended stays at Buffalo well, getting particularly
cranky about it last year, there might still be something more like the guy
who hit .285/.343/.400 with 34 doubles as a Bison in 2004. (Frankly, I’m
disappointed that the Marlins didn’t offer the PTBNL to find out; he would
have been a nifty fit for them at second base.) He still plays a good short,
and if his hitting isn’t going to make him a star, it also isn’t going to be
completely useless as a utility infielder with some modest punch. He’s
obviously a better choice to have around than someone like Menechino, but
also somebody who probably has a better future than either William Bergolla or Ray Olmedo.

As far as the active roster, though, what about swapping Phillips for
Denorfia? Guess what that means? Probably time for Ryan
Freel
as the club’s fourth outfielder, and probably more than
factory-recommended use of Tony Womack at any position, but that’s sadly already part of the program. It’s a good thing that both Freel and Womack have considerable experience in the outfield, of course, because the only other outfield reserve on the squad is minor league vet
Andy Abad, who seems pigeon-holed in a pinch-hitting role.

What you can hope for is that by adding Phillips, Krivsky feels he has the
freedom of action to shop Rich Aurilia or even Womack. As frustrating as a platoon of Aurilia and Scott Hatteberg at first base might be in the meantime, finding a keeper at first base is something on Krivsky’s ‘to do’ list, and it’s better that they’ve got Austin Kearns playing in one corner on an everyday basis.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Announced that LHP Jaime Cerda and RHP Mike
Esposito
have cleared waivers and accepted their assignments to
Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [4/5]

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Outrighted RHP Nate Bump to Albuquerque (Triple-A).

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Placed RHP Eric Gagne on the 15-day DL (elbow, again),
retroactive to 4/1. [4/6]

Purchased the contract of RHP Takashi Saito from Las Vegas
(Triple-A); transferred OF-R Jayson Werth from the 15- to
the 60-day DL. [4/7]

Gagne has already had his third surgery on the elbow, but the optimistic
guesstimate is that he’ll be back in two months. So, just like that, you
might be inclined to despair now that Nomar and Gagne are broken all over
again, because you might think that the Dodgers aren’t too different from
last year’s team: a notionally impressive assembly of talent on paper that
seems primed to disappoint. But there’s a reason why the Dodgers are already
hyperextending their collective organizational shoulder to pat themselves on
the back and point out their wisdom in going out and getting Danys
Baez
. That’s the least of it, because this year’s pen would be
hard-pressed to be a problem, considering that the club also still has a
holstered Jonathan Broxton, as well as Yhency Brazoban looking like he’s back in form. Saito doesn’t seem like the sort of Japanese Leagues vet to get too worked up on: he’s 36, and after a long career at Yokohama, seems best as a back-end roster oddity, helping out in mop-up work.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Claimed SS-R Angel Chavez off of waivers from the Giants,
and optioned him to Reading (Double-A). [4/5]

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Placed LHP Shawn Estes on the 15-day DL (strained elbow),
retroactive to 4/6; recalled RHP Scott Cassidy from
Portland (Triple-A). [4/7]

Pity the Pad people, because it only takes a swift kick in the Estes to put
them back on that always-queasy funhouse-ride, the Chan Ho
Park
Experience. But keep in mind that Estes is far from critical
to this ballclub, and with the experiment in resurrecting Dewon
Brazelton
‘s fortunes having considerable capacity to go amiss, you
could pretty much anticipate that Park’s return to the rotation was only a
matter of time. If anything, I’m wondering why Woody
Williams
seems to have fallen similarly out of favor, to have been
slotted behind Brazelton. Williams’ experiment with the knuckleball might be
a source for concern or excitement (knuckleball fans being an omnipresent
subcult in the ranks of fandom), but it isn’t like he’s entirely bad news
after a merely adequate season last year. I’m sort of amused by the news
that he’s experimenting with the flutterball, considering that two of his
top PECOTA comparables are Joe Niekro and Tom
Candiotti
, but let’s face it, there aren’t exactly throngs of
almost-fortysomething rotation-regular righthanders who aren’t bound for the
Hall of Fame.

Also, in other news, Ryan Klesko appears to be out until
mid-July, so Adrian Gonzalez‘s opportunity is that much
more solid.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Placed LHP Noah Lowry on the 15-day DL (strained oblique);
recalled RHP Kevin Correia from Fresno (Triple-A). [4/7]

It might get lost in the Bonds backstory, but the Giants actually have a
season of baseball to play, not a drama to act out. Losing Lowry for any
length of time is bad news for a rotation that already has to rely on
Jamey Wright, but Correia’s an adequate fill-in for a few
weeks. If Lowry lingers on the DL, though, the Giants season gets every bit
as bent out of shape as its theatrical arc already seems to be.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Activated RHP Ryan Drese from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP
Jason Bergmann to New Orleans (Triple-A). [4/8]

The good news is that Jon Rauch will get to stay in the
pen, and hopefully establish himself there. The bad news? The Nats can’t
play make-believe any more over what Ryan Drese could be or
might be, and will instead have to unhappily make do with what he is: a
waiver-wire mistake, snapped up with an unfortunate piranha-like swiftness
without thought to his coming over with a guaranteed deal for the following
season. Yes, Tomo Ohka would be pretty handy to have these
days, considering he’s costing the Brewers $4.5 million to fill one rotation
slot, while I very much doubt that Ramon Ortiz ($2.5
million), Tony Armas Jr. ($2.1 million), Drese ($1.8
million), and Pedro Astacio ($700 K) will combine to
produce as much value across three.