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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Traded 1B/LF-R Jeff Conine and cash to the Phillies for a
PTBNL. [8/27]

Dealing Conine really doesn’t affect the Orioles, except insofar as it
might encourage them to get Jay Gibbons back up to speed
as a first baseman. Kevin Millar is only under contract
for this season and isn’t much of a good idea to start off with, the
organization has no hitting prospect for first anywhere close to the major
leagues, and with Gibbons signed through 2009, he probably represents the
best solution to their first base problems. Since they won’t be contending
next year, it makes sense for them to avoid spending money for a big-name
first base free agent, and instead focusing on adding a bat who might hold
down left or DH until or unless Val Majewski and
Jeff Fiorentino prove ready for The Show.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Recalled CF-L Jerry Owens from Charlotte (Triple-A), and
placed him on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle). [8/26]

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Optioned CF-R Franklin Gutierrez to Buffalo (Triple-A);
activated 4C-R Casey Blake from the 15-day DL. [8/25]

Optioned RHP Fausto Carmona to Buffalo; recalled RHP
Edward Mujica from Buffalo. [8/26]

Carmona’s poor performance as the club’s closer isn’t really the reason
for his demotion-instead, the Tribe wants to give him a couple of
starts with the Bisons before their season ends, and then bring him back
to join the rotation once rosters expand. Part of that appears to be
concern about having Jeremy Sowers pitch too many more
innings this season, but it’s also a reflection of the ongoing debate over
Carmona’s best future role. In the meantime, Mujica has a shot at sticking
in a pen already stocked with an interesting blend of homegrown prospects
and free talent types. If Thomas Mastny-never seen as one
of the organization’s top prospects-keeps thriving in the closer’s role,
you can consider that another data point in the argument that closers are
just as much the products of accident as design. If more highly-touted
guys like Andrew Brown, Fernando
Cabrera
, and Jason Davis can thrive in set-up
roles, that’s still a credit to the organization’s pitching depth. It does
put them in an interesting situation with Rafael
Betancourt
, the pen’s token established veteran, in that he’ll be
arbitration-eligible this winter. They might offer Betancourt a cheap
two-year deal to escape the process, but failing that, non-tendering him
wouldn’t be all that surprising, or damaging.

Although Blake’s back sooner than expected, I wouldn’t hold out much hope
that he’ll get any more playing time than necessary to show him off for
anyone interested in making a waiver deal for him this week. It seems a
foregone conclusion that his option for 2007 won’t be picked up, but as a
right-handed bat with some sock that you can put into any of the four
corners in a lineup, he could be a valuable bench player for several
contenders right now. If he doesn’t get dealt, once rosters expand he’ll
be struggling to get starts in front of someone like Gutierrez in the
outfield, not to mention Ryan Garko at first.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Optioned RHP Colby Lewis to Toledo (Triple-A); optioned
OF-R Brent Clevlen to Erie (Double-A); purchased the
contract of LHP Andrew Miller from Lakeland (A-ball).
[8/27]

I have to confess that one of my most glaring blind spots is the world of
amateur talent. Maybe there are only so many hours in the day, maybe I’m
hopelessly more interested in third catchers than in first rounds, and
maybe my priorities are well out of whack. It’s a situation where it pays
to take a cue from my
colleague, Kevin Goldstein
, because my relative ignorance of Miller is
a product of his only just arriving on the pro scene. Maybe the five
innings are enough, and I’ll defer to scouting wisdom as far as an
assessment over whether or not Miller’s high-90s heat is ready to
embarrass big league hitters. Certainly, as the hard-throwing LOOGY
alternative to Jamie Walker‘s softer approach to
cat-skinning, I can see why Jim Leyland’s excited about having the kid
around. What I’m wondering is whether or not the Tigers have a good handle
on who they’re actually going to use in the postseason. After
Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman, do
they really know who they can start in a third game of a playoff series?
Justin Verlander should be rested up enough by
then, but then you’re left with leftover lefties from the
rotation-Nate Robertson, Wil Ledezma,
and Mike Maroth. Will Leyland and GM Dave Dombowski bump
two of those guys to carry someone like Miller, let alone guys like
Jason Grilli and Zach Miner? Chances
are, somebody’s going to end up cranky, especially if it’s a
recently-minted rookie, however talented.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Signed 2B-R Mark Grudzielanek to a one-year, $4 million
contract extension for 2007, with a $4 million player option for 2008.
[8/16]

Placed OF-R Reggie Sanders on the 15-day DL (knee);
recalled INF-R Jeff Keppinger from Omaha (Triple-A).
[8/25]

As a Royals fan was quick to note, I’d neglected to comment on Dayton
Moore’s decision to invest in Grudz, and the timing seems right for me to
touch on that now, in no small part because that decision makes you wonder
why the team bothered to go out and get Keppinger.

First, there’s the question over why this team needs to make a commitment
to somebody like Grudzielanek. In a league where the
average second baseman
posts an Equivalent
Average
of .255, his mark of .256 suggests that he’s not an offensive
asset. Although he’s not a liability in the field, nobody sees him as the
second coming of Frank White. He’s 36, and PECOTA
suggests that he’s not worth half what the Royals will be paying him

now, next year, or when he decides to pocket that extra $4 million for
2008. So what gives? Does he have a birthmark in the shape of the Madonna
that Moore rubs for good luck? An unmeasurable capacity for inspiring
witty banter? The Royals need to be getting rid of this kind of guy,
because he needs the job and the money more than the Royals need
him-they’re going to be stuck in rebuilding mode through 2008 whatever
Grudz does. Even if you accept he’s worth having around, an argument for
which there’s little evidence, paying him this well is just waste.

So, having made that commitment, what’s Keppinger for? Moore’s repurposed
the powerless popper, turning the singles-hitting second baseman into a
singles-hitting utility player, and having Omaha start Keppinger at all
four infield spots as well as left field. That wouldn’t be all bad, if you
think that Keppinger can hit anywhere near as well in the majors as he has
in
the minors
(.321/.375/.396 combined between Norfolk and Omaha). He
doesn’t run well, and doesn’t walk, so the closest thing he has to a
secondary skill is dropping the occasional sac bunt. That isn’t a useless
player to have around, and if he can play all four infield spots well
enough, he could even be a quality bench player. The problem as I see it
is that he isn’t significantly worse than Grudzielanek as a regular, and
while that’s not the same thing as a good player, recognizing that would
have saved them ~$3.5 million, cash better spent elsewhere.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Returned SS-R Bobby Crosby to the 15-day DL (strained
lower back), retroactive to 8/22; re-purchased the contract of INF-B
D’Angelo Jimenez from Sacramento (Triple-A). [8/25]

We’ve been through this particular chain of events once already, and in
Crosby’s absence, the club seems comfortable sticking with the Marco-Mark
keystone combo, with Marco Scutaro at short and
Mark Ellis at second, and Jimenez joining Antonio
Perez
in the role of witness. There’s a lot invested in the hope
that Crosby will be ready to come back with a couple of weeks left to
play, but if he isn’t, what are the A’s left with? My concern is that
they’ll end up losing a postseason game because Ken Macha will just stick
with Scutaro and Ellis rather than pinch-hit for either, all because he
doesn’t want to use Perez or Jimenez. If ever there was a time for
somebody to talk to Macha about Dick Williams’ various coping mechanisms
with trying to get by without middle infielders who could hit, now’s the
time.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Optioned OF-R T.J. Bohn to Tacoma; recalled UT-R
Mike Morse from Tacoma. [8/27]

It’s been a pretty crummy year for Morse-when he wasn’t missing time with
a knee injury, he was hitting a slim .244/.296/.400 for Tacoma. He’s been
starting games at first, third, short, and left, and has
hit well enough against lefties
to suggest he might have a role as a
utilityman who can also double up as the short side of a platoon. I’ve
suggested before that the guy probably needs a ‘q’ in his name to inspire
any loyalty, a la the beloved Bloomquist, but between his alphabetical
orthodoxy, his bad year at the plate, and his status as a caught and
convicted ‘roid ranger, he’s got a few strikes against him. Happily, he is
still only 24, so he can still carve out a role for himself-I know I’m
glad to see him up. Especially in the age of the twelve-man pitching
staff, a guy who can play a few positions and hit with some small measure
of sock has value as a reserve.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Placed LHP Scott Kazmir on the 15-day DL (shoulder
tightness); recalled LHP J.P. Howell from Durham
(Triple-A). [8/26]

The decision tree here is straightforward enough-they’re basically
shutting Kazmir down rather than risk a fatigue-related injury, and
possibly for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, they’re plugging in one of
the candidates for next year’s rotation. Howell’s
combined performance at Omaha and Durham
suggests he’s mastered the
level and is ready for an extended shot at the major leagues, particularly
his striking out more than eight batters per nine, his allowing very few
hard-hit balls, and a nifty 2-to-1 groundball/flyball ratio. If it turns
out that the key reason that the Royals dealt him was an accusation of
arrogance, it looks like a little bit of pride in performance is
warranted. Howell will be trying to outshine Jason Hammel
and Tim Corcoran in the weeks to come, because otherwise,
next season’s rotation may well be set through the first four slots.
Kazmir, Jae Seo, and Casey Fossum are
the trio of young vets to front the rotation, while the fourth goes to
James Shields the best of this season’s rookie Rays. If
Hammel and Howell both look good down the stretch, GM Andrew Friedman and
his crew will have all sorts of interesting alternatives this winter,
potentially shopping Seo or Fossum, or just accepting that their depth and
the competitions it creates next spring represent promise enough for the
immediate future.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Purchased the contract of 2B/OF-R Eric Young from
Oklahoma (Triple-A); optioned RHP Nick Masset to
Oklahoma. [8/25]

Blech. I’m not sure what the point of bringing Young in now is supposed to
be. He was a poor second baseman in the best of times, and is a positive
menace in the outfield. His bat’s pretty well done, so what is it that he
does that Jerry Hairston Jr. isn’t already here to do?
Not that Young (or Adam Hyzdu, for that matter) are at
all likely to be on the team’s 40-man in December; the Rangers’ shot at
the playoffs is only slightly better than already-eliminated Oklahoma’s.
Now’s the time to be looking at people who might be ready to be Rangers in
2007. Freddy Guzman should be here, and Jason
Botts
as well, once his wrist is healed. There’s no real reason
to have a guy like Young around, beyond what appears to be Buck
Showalter’s inexplicable fascination with the guy.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Optioned 2B-R Ryan Roberts to Syracuse (Triple-A). [8/27]

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Optioned 2B/SS-B Alberto Callaspo to Salt Lake
(Triple-A); activated 1B-B Tony Clark from the 15-day DL.
[8/25]

Although Conor Jackson hasn’t hit for any power as the
team’s near-regular first baseman, you shouldn’t expect Clark’s return to
herald a significant reduction of playing time for Jackson. The mistake in
having Clark under contract through 2007 wasn’t made by GM Josh Byrnes,
but was instead a final legacy of Joe Garagiola Jr. before his departure
for a MLB sinecure, so there shouldn’t be any real commitment to keeping
or playing Clark. Although his contract came with a no-trade clause
through this season, Clark’s deal isn’t that expensive-only around $1
million next year-so Byrnes has the option to retain him as insurance
against Jackson’s continued lack of progress, or deal Clark over the
winter or during spring training if he’s offered something useful. Keep in
mind that Chris Carter isn’t too far from being ready,
although his hitting .297/.390/.483 doesn’t suggest that he’s a
significantly better prospect than Jackson.

Callaspo hadn’t done anything to embarrass himself during his almost three
week-long gig as the team’s utility infielder, but now that Craig
Counsell
is off of the DL, he wasn’t needed to stick around in
the role. He’ll be back after roster expansion and presumably after
Tucson plays out its postseason, because the Sidewinders are a lock to win
the Pacific South Division in the PCL.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Recalled RHP Lance Cormier from Richmond (Triple-A). [8/25]

Somebody needed to come up and fill in the roster spot hastily vacated by
Danys Baez, and Cormier is on the 40-man.
Cormier may get another start this coming weekend, but it’s expected that
Kyle Davies will come off of the DL sometime this week,
and there’s always the possibility that they’ll take a look at
Kevin Barry in the rotation, rather than leave him in the
pen. Between Davies, Barry, and Cormier, you’d have to think that the
experiment with Oscar Villarreal in the rotation will be
coming to an end. Considering the state of their rotation, even if this
team is “only” five games out in the wild card “race,” does anyone think
they can go 20-13 in their last 33 games to get to .500, let alone play
well enough to end up at the front of the pack?

CHICAGO CUBS
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Optioned RHP Jae Kuk Ryu to Iowa (Triple-A); purchased
the contract of LHP Les Walrond from Iowa; transferred
RHP Kerry Wood from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/27]

This was pretty sloppy-why in any deity’s name you’d start Walrond against
anybody, and especially the division-leading Cardinals, when you should
instead be looking at Ryu, defies rational explanation. Instead, they used
Ryu in relief on Thursday for a couple of innings against the Phillies,
punting the opportunity. There was a lot of talk that the start could go
to either Sean Marshall or Wade Miller,
both of whom are close to coming off of the DL, and both of whom were
rested enough from the latest starts for the I-Cubs to have been ready to
pitch on Sunday. Neither got the call, though, and presumably, neither was
ready to be reactivated, so in that, we can give Jim Hendry and Dusty
Baker some benefit of the doubt. Even then, though, why bring up and start
Walrond? Isn’t this why Glendon Rusch is on the roster?
If not, why waste the roster spot on him? Rusch has pitched exactly once
since being reactivated, so he was available. If Ryu wasn’t able to start,
he would still have been presumably ready to pitch a couple of innings in
relief of Rusch. It would have been a decision which gave the Cubs the
appearance of playing a major league veteran against a playoff contender
while they kept around a rookie they should be looking at. Instead, they
brought somebody up who shouldn’t be here and took a beating.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Designated C-R Danny Ardoin for assignment; recalled C-R
Chris Iannetta from Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [8/26]

Okay, as much as I’ve always had a soft spot for the Cajun catcher, I’m
glad to see the future arrive in Denver. Iannetta hit a combined
.336/.433/.567 between Double- and Triple-A, hitting for power against
lefties and righties, drawing an impressive 48 walks in 375 PAs, and
equally important, showing that he’s a polished college-trained catcher
with the arm to deter the running game and the receiving skills to keep
anybody’s stuff in front of him. Only 23, he’s as good a catching prospect
as you’ll find anywhere these days, and a worthy rival to Brian
McCann
and Russell Martin for the title of best
young catcher in the National League. Although the Rockies are still short
three long-term solutions at the other four up-the-middle positions,
Troy Tulowitzki, Chris Nelson, and
perhaps Jeff Salazar all offer hope for a not-too-distant
future. With or without the mushball, the Rox have hitting prospects you
should be following, as a fan or as a fanthead.

NEW YORK METS
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Activated RHP Brian Bannister from the 60-day DL;
optioned OF-R Lastings Milledge to Norfolk (Triple-A);
signed C-R Kelly Stinnett to a minor league contract, and
assigned him to Norfolk. [8/24]

Optioned RHP Brian Bannister to Norfolk; recalled LHP
Oliver Perez from Norfolk. [8/25]

Neither Bannister nor Perez pitched well in their gigs as “Tonight’s Very
Special Starter,” but with Tom Glavine scheduled to
return to the rotation this week, the crisis over who’s in the rotation is
back down to a simmer from its previous threat to boil over. Between
Perez, David Williams, and John Maine,
Willie Randolph has people worth pitching to finish out the schedule.
Assuming that Pedro Martinez comes back healthy, it’s not
like any of the three is likely to wind up pitching in anything more than
a mop-up or long relief role in October, if even that.

To my way of thinking, the more troubling move is the decision to demote
Milledge. Acquiring Shawn Green didn’t solve the Mets’
outfield problems all by itself-they still have Endy
Chavez
and Michael Tucker playing left field,
and even once Cliff Floyd comes off of the DL, you’ve
still got an outfield without a single right-handed bat among its
reserves. It’s a minor tactical concern with only 34 games left to play,
but my worry is that it’s something the Mets won’t fix on their playoff
roster. Carrying Milledge instead of Tucker would be the easy fix, though,
and ideally Omar Minaya will give Milledge that consideration.
Unfortunately, neither Minaya nor Randolph have any experience putting
together a playoff roster, so I’d worry about whether they flub this
decision in addition to making a mistake like carrying twelve pitchers.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Optioned RHP Brian Sanches to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
(Triple-A); recalled LHP Matt Smith from
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [8/25]

Acquired 1B/LF-R Jeff Conine and cash from the Orioles
for a PTBNL. [8/27]

Two tweaks, but signifiant ones, each in their own way. Conine isn’t all
that valuable these days, but he can spot for David
Dellucci
in right if Jose Hernandez isn’t needed
somewhere else in the lineup. He could also start for Ryan
Howard
at first against certain lefties, and he’s arguably
adequate as a hitter who can give Pat Burrell a day off
in left. Conine also has the last couple of years with the Marlins to
suggest that he’s still familiar with the senior circuit, and in that time
he had some measure of success as a pinch-hitter. It’s a solid depth
pickup, although it does come with the nuisance of having to commit a
roster spot to Conine for 2007 because of a nearly-vested option (hence
the O’s throwing in a half million to spice up the pot).

Swapping out Sanches for Smith might seem strange in that it gives the
Phillies’ pen a heavy tilt to the left, with only three righthanders among
their seven relievers. But that’s only if you dump all lefties into the
situational box, and that’s not what Charlie Manuel is doing.
Arthur Rhodes is a sort of co-closer with Ryan
Madson
, while Fabio Castro is the Rule
5-generated last man who gets plugged into blowouts. Aaron
Fultz
is the one guy who’s being used specifically in a
situational role to help protect Geoff Geary and
Rick White from their biggest weaknesses. Sanches was
simply awful, while Smith
was holding Triple-A left-handed hitters to .200/.217/.244
. A fourth
situational guy in a seven-man configuration isn’t the end of the world,
and I’d expect that Smith will make the Phillies’ postseason roster, while
Tom Gordon bumps Castro.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Optioned OF-R Ben Johnson to Portland (Triple-A); placed
RHP Scott Williamson on the 15-day DL (strained elbow);
recalled RHP Jon Adkins from Portland. [8/26]

Exchanging Adkins for Williamson isn’t really a setback, considering that
Adkins
has been more valuable in the Pad pen than Williamson
. It does seem a
bit redundant to have both Adkins and Brian Sweeney
around as long relievers, but Sweeney’s also the club’s designated
emergency starter in case something new goes amiss with Chris
Young
. So that all makes sense, and instead, I’m a little more
concerned about the decision to demote Johnson to make room for
Russell Branyan. Does this team really need three
infielders who can’t play short knocking around on the roster, but no
genuine backup center fielder? I suspect the Pads will have Johnson on
their playoff roster if they make it, because it seems extremely unlikely
that they’d keep Manny Alexander once Khalil
Greene
is healthy, so I’m less worried about the Padres than I am
the Mets when it comes to getting their playoff roster right. I suppose
there’s value to letting Johnson play every day in Portland for the
remainder of the PCL season to keep his bat fresh. The Beavers won’t be in
the playoffs, so once they’re done with their regular season, they’re
done, and Johnson will be back.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Activated C/1B-L Robert Fick from the 15-day DL; released
UT-R Damian Jackson. [8/25]

Placed OF-R Alex Escobar on the 15-day DL (separated
shoulder); purchased the contract of RHP Kevin Gryboski
from New Orleans (Triple-A). [8/26]

Escobar breaking down is pretty much a non-news news event, since that’s
been the story of his career. If anything, the surprise should be that he
was able to play in 33 games. What may be more surprising is the decision
to cut loose Jackson, because even with a crowd of second base/outfield
types on the roster, nobody among that group-Marlon
Anderson
, Bernie Castro, Henry
Mateo
-makes a plausible backup shortstop. However, Jackson was
awful in his brief work at short
, forfeiting his slender claim on
useful utilitydom. It’s also sort of weird to see the Nats have a bench
that, in addition to that trio of inoffensive non-shortstops, has two
catchers now that Fick’s back, or a third useful lefty pinch-hitter, since
Fick, Anderson, and Daryle Ward give Frank Robinson all
sorts of guys to use off of the bench. But how do you use them? You can’t
really pull Felipe Lopez when you don’t have a backup
shortstop, and they only have three true outfielders on the roster now
that Escobar’s gone. How many days off do Nick Johnson,
Jose Vidro, or Brian Schneider need from
here on out?

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