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ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Recalled C-R Mike
Napoli
from Salt Lake (Triple-A); optioned C-R Jeff
Mathis
to Salt Lake. [5/3]

Placed RHP Chris Bootcheck on the 15-day DL (strained
hamstring); recalled OF-R Tommy Murphy from Salt Lake.
[5/4]

Bootcheck’s spotting for Kevin Gregg in the long relief
role while Gregg slipped into the rotation for a blistered Kelvim
Escobar
came to a quick end when he hurt himself trying to join the
pile-up during Tuesday’s A’s-Angels brawl.

Their plans to carry a supernumerary twelfth pitcher scotched, the Angels
addressed their need for a spare center fielder in light of Darin
Erstad
‘s ankle problems. Might the Angels be on the cusp of an
Erstad-free lineup? Perish the thought, because if there’s one thing
Anaheim’s rivals might have banked, it’s the 400 outs or so that Erstad’s
always good for, while beaming that corn-fed flyover state smile for the
kiddies. Already 26, Murphy’s not a premium prospect, but the organization
feels he can play a good center, and he did have a nice second go-round in
the Texas League last season.

The interesting aspect of their roster calculus was that, at least
notionally, Dallas McPherson could have been called up to
play third, with Chone Figgins taking over in center during
Erstad’s absence. But as Jay Jaffe
has already noted
, McPherson isn’t winning friends and influencing
people with his play in Utah. They might also have called Reggie
Willits
back, but they might have felt his bat had gone soft after
ten days spent watching rather than doing. So Murphy gets his shot at being
the team’s Jeff DaVanon substitute.

Finally, with the catching situation, this should be more than just a
change, but an upgrade. Admittedly, I’m biased, yet conflicted: as a fellow
ethnic napoletan’ (that’s the area surrounding Naples to all youse),
I’m hoping the paesano puts some hurting on everyone… but the A’s.
Napoli is an uncomplicated prospect, perhaps one with a limited up-side, but
somebody who has made big strides as a catcher in the last year. More
importantly, unlike the sort of fuzzy hope that Jeff Mathis
finally hits outside of bandboxes, Napoli has a decent spread of secondary
offensive skills. Napoli might make for the top half of a good
offense-defense platoon with Jose Molina, although anything
that involves fewer at-bats for Molina would help.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Purchased the contracts of LHP Kurt Birkins and RHP
Julio Manon from Ottawa (Triple-A); optioned RHP
Eddy Rodriguez to Ottawa; designated RHP Jim
Brower
and C-R Eli Whiteside for assignment. [5/2]

Julio
Manon
… Julio Manon… Why, that’s a name I
haven’t heard in a long time
, and for good reason; he’s one of those
especially well-travelled retreads, having pitched in baseball’s answer to
the Jundland Wastes, appearing in both the Korean and Taiwanese leagues. He
was sold into that by Omar Minaya after shining as a minor league closer in
the Expos’ chain, but even before we noted that he had Brendan
Donnelly
-like potential as a helping hand in the pen (in the 2003
edition of the annual), he’d made his way through both the Cardinals’ and
D-Rays’ organizations, not to mention a stint with the indy league St. Paul
Saints. If he still has the fastball-splitty mix that made him successful as
a reliever in 2002 and 2003, he might be quite able to step in and be less ulcerous as Jim
Brower
.

By contrast, Birkins is something of an
organizational soldier
, picked as a draft-and-follow in the 33rd round
of the 2000 draft after he’d dropped out of UCLA after one season. He has
decent velocity for a lefty, and gets credited for having some breaking
stuff worth watching. Considering that he basically only pitched the one
season at UCLA and some juco ball, he’s not somebody you should peg up
higher than most high school draftees. He’s survived the last four years in
the minors, which is a skill, and he did strike out almost eight men per
nine in his (admittedly aged) debut in Double-A last season. The hope is
that he’ll fit in as a situational lefty, which in turn would let
John Halama stick to long relief work, and it wouldn’t be
shocking if Birkins handled the role easily enough.

So, to sum up, a nice pair of call-ups, interesting at the very least, and
not just because they’d be hard-pressed to be worse than Brower.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Activated 1B-L Hee-Seop Choi from his rehabilitation
assignment, and optioned him to Pawtucket (Triple-A). [5/4]

This is probably for the best, considering that both Kevin
Youkilis
and Mike Lowell are playing well, and
better to let J.T. Snow than Choi rot on the bench and
provide that wafting aroma referred to as clubhouse moxie. Later, down the
stretch, after Choi has a few hundred PAs under his belt while Snow’s been
reduced to Stapleton-like
roster carrion
, the Sox can make that particular switch, to give
themselves a quality power bat in a reserve role in August and on into the
postseason.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Optioned RHP Brian Slocum to Buffalo (Triple-A); activated
LHP C.C. Sabathia from the 15-day DL. [5/2]

A superlative from me about this being a good thing wouldn’t add much to its
obviousness, and as I’ve touched on previously, the choice between Slocum
and Jeremy Guthrie had been made. If Guthrie doesn’t make
progress as a big league reliever, he might end up in the same boat that
Jason Davis is in, holding on as a bargaining chip, and
potentially outrightable if he fails.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Placed 1B-R Mike Sweeney on the 15-day DL (bulging disk –
upper back); recalled 1B-R Justin Huber from Omaha
(Triple-A). [5/3]

Better that we focus on the positive here, and not bemoan what this might
mean as far as the Royals ever being able to move some portion of Sweeney’s
contract to some other franchise. At Omaha, Huber was pasting the ball at a
.301/.427/.603 clip, and as he nears his 24th birthday, there’s no time like
the present to see if the answer to the club’s first base needs is right
here, a product of one of Allard Baird’s genuinely commendable trades. And
so you might be content, except that the Royals are going to find a way to
screw even this one thing up, as they fail to give Huber the consideration
they once gave to Ken Harvey, for chri’sakes. That’s
because Huber’s going to be platooned with Matt Stairs, and
much as the Wonder Hamster might rank among my favorite players, the idea
that Huber’s up on one of baseball’s worst teams and will not get a
shot at playing every day sort of explains why the Royals are doomed to a
world of suck in the past, present, and future. Only the Royals would defer
to the greatness of Stairs, not to mention Doug fricking,
buy-a-vowel-already, why-why-WHY!?! Mientkiewicz
, and only the Royals
would be left wondering why that didn’t work out so well.

No wonder I don’t like the Royals. It isn’t just that they’re bad; it’s that
they’re bad and dumb, and that makes a team about as uninteresting and
unworthy of sympathy as you might think possible.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Optioned 3B-L Sean Burroughs to Durham (Triple-A);
designated INF-R Nick Green for assignment. [5/4]

These moves are in anticipation of today’s activation of Aubrey
Huff
and Julio Lugo, but the always-bubbly Joe
Maddon put Burroughs’ demotion in proper context, noting that this was moe
about making sure that Burroughs gets regular at-bats than an indictment of
his potential. Again, the D-Rays know that they’re in the business of
turning Burroughs around, not expecting him to solve all of his problems all
at once. In the meantime, they can get Huff back up to speed, and hopefully
showcase him for that deal that the unlamentedly departed Chuck LaMar
consistently forgot to make.

As for Nick Green and whether that’s the case… not so much. Green was
never really a prospect in the first place, just another ex-Brave,
representative of the one trick in LaMar’s bag: when in doubt, turn back to
where you came from. Like any second base type aspiring for a utility
career, you need to be able to play short or hit a little, and Green
couldn’t really do either. As a result, he loses out to guys like
Tomas Perez and Russ Branyan, since Perez
can (notionally) play short, and Branyan can (supposedly) hit. So credit the
Rays with making the right choices. It’ll get a little more interesting once
Jorge Cantu and Rocco Baldelli come off of
the DL, because while Greg Norton is an easy demotion, for
the second move you might have to decide whether or not Joey
Gathright
is going to hit enough to keep on the big league team, or
if the time has come to bench or trade Damon Hollins. That
said, it’ll probably be Branyan, unless Gathright really just shows
absolutely no sign of making progress.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Placed LHP Fabio Castro on the 15-day DL (strained Rule 5,
er… groin); recalled RHP Robinson Tejeda from Oklahoma
(Triple-A). [5/2]

How conveniently timed to make space for the Rangers’ latest choice for
fifth starter. With Castro, it was probably just a matter of time until the
Rangers came up with something plausible, although given some of the funky
injuries players have had over the years (like hurting your back putting on
a cowboy boot or hurting your hand wrestling a hotel television) or
implausibly suggested (like Chris Brown‘s aching eyelid or
Jeff Kent‘s claim that his truck jumped him), you have to
think they could have claimed Castro was the lucky survivor of a Bulgarian assassination plot and get away
with it, for all the active oversight the commissioner’s office exercises
over these things.

Meanwhile, add Tejeda to the Rangers’ list of discards gone right, because
on top of getting good stuff from Ron Mahay and
Rick Bauer out of the pen, they’re getting workmanlike
performances from John Koronka and Vicente
Padilla
in the early going. Tejeda and Padilla aren’t retreads as
much as guys Pat Gillick didn’t think he could use in Philly, so it isn’t
like either was a scrapheap find the way the other three were, but it’s a
credit to the Rangers that they’ve managed to fill in their staff despite
the disastrous exchange of Chris Young and Adam
Eaton
in the rotation. That said, I’m not confident about either
Tejeda or Padilla keeping it up; Tejeda needs much better command because
The Ballpark tends not to forgive allowing too many baserunners, while
Padilla’s upside is his continuing to be workmanlike. But it’s working well
enough so far, and Buck Showalter, Jon Daniels, and the rest of the front
office crew certainly deserve credit for it.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Optioned LHP Brian Tallet to Syracuse (Triple-A); removed
LHP Scott Downs from the bereavement list. [5/2]

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Placed RHP Russ Ortiz on the 15-day DL (strained calf,
suckitis); recalled RHP Casey Daigle from Tucson
(Triple-A). [5/2]

So the Melvin legacy gets to funk about on the Disabled List, a spot where
he at least provides his team with some addition by self-subtraction, and
possibly cash if there’s insurance involved. But even simple deletion
understates how positive this development might be, because in Ortiz’s
absence, Juan Cruz had a nifty start, encouraging those of
us who think last summer’s stint in Sacramento’s rotation is indicative of
his still-extant potential for goodness. Optimist that I am, I think his
shot at putting up rates similar to those in 60th or
75th-percentile forecasts are pretty reasonable. Additionally, Daigle’s progress as a reliever
makes him a nice enough replacement for Cruz in the pen, so this is a
win-win situation twice over.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Placed RHP Lance Cormier on the 15-day DL (strained
oblique); recalled RHP Peter Moylan from Richmond
(Triple-A). [5/3]

I remain pretty sympathetic to Cormier, in that he gave the Snakes a great
first half last season, before collapsing under the workload that manager
Bob Melvin gave him. Hence, I think he was a pretty canny pickup by the
Braves, and hope he continues to build on that success. The Braves seem to
think he’ll only miss the requisite two weeks, but in the meantime, they can
take another spin with Aussie re-import Moylan. We’ll see if his side-arming
can work anything like the same sort of mayhem it did in the WBC, but for
Atlanta, this isn’t a bad spot to be in, considering the team’s generally
getting solid enough work from everyone in the bullpen.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Placed OF-R Cody Ross on the 15-day DL (bruised finger),
retroactive to 4/29; recalled OF-R Chris Denorfia from
Louisville (Triple-A); gave UT-L Tony Womack his
unconditional release. [5/2]

Placed INF-R Rich Aurilia on the 15-day DL (strained
groin); recalled 2B/SS-B Ray Olmedo from Louisville. [5/4]

I’m not busted up about the decision to call up Denorfia, even if it means
that he might not get to play every day. After a team sustains enough
injuries, you can only go so far with your 40-man roster, and it wasn’t like
purchasing the contracts of guys like Alex Sanchez or
Terrence Long would make any sense whatsoever.

Losing Aurilia is actually a little strange in its effect, since he was in
something of a platoon with Scott Hatteberg at first base.
I suppose it’s possible that the Reds could avoid a third more Hatteberg at
the exact same price by moving Adam Dunn to first against
lefties and starting Denorfia in left in those games, but I wouldn’t bet on
it–there’s probably a sentiment that there’s no need to get too demanding
with the big guy as far as defensive assignments go. They might instead let
reserve catcher Javier Valentin make a few appearances there,
since he’s not getting as many at-bats as you might like with both
Jason LaRue and David Ross around to
catch. Olmedo won’t enter the picture; he’s up hoping to make a tepid bid on
a middle-infield utility role, but he’s more basically one of the big losers
after Wayne Krivsky’s inspired decision to not just get Brandon
Phillips
, but to play him. Olmedo might be a handy enough reserve
if the Reds had the space for him, but they won’t have that while they’re
happy with three catchers on the active roster.

In lesser, related news on the subject of “Where do second basemen come
from?”, Womack’s release apparently comes with the realization that
nobody, not even one of the indy leagues, employs Dan O’Brian as a GM.
Otherwise, the guy would be in like flint, because he’s fast donchaknow.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Activated OF-L Jorge Piedra from the 15-day DL, and
optioned him to Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [5/2]

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Claimed OF-B Joe Borchard off of waivers from the Mariners;
designated OF-L Matt Cepicky for assignment. [5/3]

Huzzah! This is what being a crummy team is all about–getting aggressive
with waiver claims. Borchard is a nifty pickup for the team that needs
everything, not that he’s an All-Star in the making or the next late
bloomer, a la Jeromy Burnitz, but even a small opportunity
at having a slugger to spare is something this club should be taking chances
on. For myself, I think it’s pretty interesting that Borchard doesn’t really
have a
strong set of comparables
. That might mean he’s uniquely talented, but
it might also mean he’s baseball’s answer to the furry
lobster
. Right field should belong to Borchard during Jeremy
Hermida
‘s extended absence, but once Hermida returns, the question
becomes one of whether Borchard will be restricted to spotting Hermida and
Josh Willingham in the corners, or if he’ll get a shot at
any of the playing time being wasted on Reggie Abercrombie
or Eric Reed. Again, when you’re a team that’s happily
without expectations, you can afford to take a few chances.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Placed OF-L Ricky Ledee on the 15-day DL (strained groin);
recalled OF-L Andre Ethier from Las Vegas (Triple-A). [5/2]

This is a good idea, not because Ethier’s replacing Ledee, but because he’s
replacing Jose Cruz Jr.. For all of the talk that Cruz is
in a “deep slump,” I think it’s more likely he’s just being the
Jose Cruz Jr. that the Snakes and Red Sox had reason to discard. Notionally,
it’s a platoon between the two, but clearly, this is Ned Colletti’s bid to
look extra-smart by showing off the kid he got for Milton
Bradley
, and conveniently papering over the organization’s decision
to keep Cruz. In Vegas, Ethier was hitting .349/.447/.500, which admittedly
is the nature of life in Vegas, but he hasn’t been overmatched by pitching
in Triple-A, and he hasn’t embarassed himself in his first few big league
games. Considering that this is a lineup with six famous guys and
Dioner Navarro in it, I could definitely see this working
out as an exercise in breaking the kid in within a veteran lineup. As a
former major-college star at Arizona State, Ethier was already a good bet to
have an accelerated timetable as far as his arrival in the bigs, and letting
the future start now is a worthwhile risk by Colletti and company.

The minor question should Ethier thrive is whether you’d rather have Ledee
or Cruz, and if we’re talking about a reserve role, better to keep Ledee. If
you’re worrying about someone to hit lefties, it isn’t like Jayson
Werth
will remain among the missing, after all.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Placed RHP Tomo Ohka on the 15-day DL (partially torn
rotator cuff), retroactive to 5/2. [5/3]

To replace Ohka in the rotation for tomorrow’s start, it’s expected that the
choice will be between Ben Hendrickson or Jared
Fernandez
(who will be recalled from Nashville today). Ned Yost was
noncommital, but that’s because the choice isn’t merely limited to those
two. Panzer
Lehr
did start eleven games in Triple-A last season, and his most recent
in-game action was an inning on Tuesday night. That ought to give him enough
time to be ready to pitch a few innings on Saturday, either as the front of
a “pen start,” or with the intention to give him a full
five-plus-inning gig.

Admittedly, Lehr would be a temporary option, but until the Brewers learn
whether Ohka’s shoulder trouble keeps him out a month or derails his entire
season, they’re in the market for temporary solutions. With David
Bush
more than rising to the challenge of rotation work and
Ben Sheets back, it isn’t like the Brewers are in desperate
straits to replace Ohka. Whether they choose Hendrickson or Dana
Eveland
(0.87 ERA, with 17 hits, six walks, and 31 Ks in 31 IP down
at Nashville) to take Ohka’s place, their ability to contend won’t be
seriously endangered. At the same time, they might learn whether Hendrickson
might finally stick, or if plans to move Eveland to the pen can be junked.
So despite potentially losing a solidly average big-league starter,
potentially for the season, the Brewers seem well-positioned to adapt to and
overcome this particular setback.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Optioned UT-R Mike Edwards to Indianapolis (Triple-A);
reactivated C-B Ryan Doumit from the 15-day DL. [5/2]

Doumit may be back, but he’ll be taking a seat on the bench because manager
Jim Tracy has correctly identified the most balanced player from among the
Bucs’ trio of catching alternatives. If Humberto Cota has
the makings of a fine backup catcher, it’s nice to see that’s what Tracy
sees him as, instead preferring Ronny
Paulino
‘s blend of catching skills and offensive up-side. That’s
not an indictment of Doumit, but nobody’s going to start writing home over
his glovework. The possibility of an offense-defense platoon between Doumit
and Cota had and has merit, but it wasn’t certain that Tracy would strike
upon that particular formula with a balance that gave Doumit 350 PAs to
exploit his considerable potential as a hitter. The only indefensible choice
would have been playing Cota regularly all season, but we’re only a month
into the season, and Tracy has correctly identified his better alternatives,
and he’s made an understandable choice.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Brian Falkenborg from Memphis
(Triple-A); optioned OF-L Skip Schumaker to Memphis. [5/2]

Basically, this adds up to Falkenborg replacing Ricardo
Rincon
while acknowledging that John Gall makes a
better spare part than Schumaker on this particular bench. The
Falkenborg-Rincon thing won’t stick for that long–Tony LaRussa will be
happier with a second lefty, and the rest of the pen’s doing well–but the
Gall-Schumaker exchange makes all sorts of sense as a minor upgrade.

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