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ATLANTA BRAVES

Acquired RHP Andy Ashby from the Phillies for LHPs Bruce Chen
and Jimmy Osting. [7/12]

Laugh if you’re a disinterested bystander or a Mets fan, and cry if you
care about the Braves.

I don’t know who deserves more venom: John Schuerholz for doing something
this stupid, or the talking heads who are chirping about what a great deal
this is for the Braves. As long as the Braves are interested in getting
pitchers who were pretty good once upon a time, and dumping significant
portions of their future to merely rent them, maybe they should have raised
their sights a little. They could have asked the Phillies for Steve
Carlton. Shane Rawley? Hell, ask for John Denny! Robin Roberts? Either
Robin Roberts? Both of them?

In terms of immediate impact, this doesn’t do that much to help the Braves.
Even counting a nice start or two before the break, Andy Ashby has been
about as valuable to his team as pitchers like Scott Karl and Brian
Bohanon, both of whom have earned trips to the bullpen. As Joe Sheehan
has already pointed out,
Ashby’s strikeout rate has been dropping for three
straight seasons, and that’s a bad sign under any circumstance.

The other thing Mets fans can do is breathe a sigh of relief, because there
isn’t all that much more the Braves have to help themselves. They’ve played
their best trump to get somebody who is pitching as well as Scott Karl.
They didn’t bring in anybody in case Reggie Sanders doesn’t turn it around,
and they still haven’t brought in an adequate backup to insure them against
anything happening to Javy Lopez.

As far as the shape of the rest of the pitching staff, all this trade does
is give the Braves a choice between Terry Mulholland and John Burkett for
their fifth starter. While either of them makes for a nice fifth starter,
Mulholland will probably suck up the middle innings that Bruce Chen was
already doing such a fine job of throwing. A bullpen counting on Mulholland
and Scott Kamieniecki and John Rocker looks like a bullpen filled with the
hittable and the wild. The Braves will need to use Jason Marquis in
higher-leverage situations and hope to get a healthy Kevin McGlinchy back.
Toss in Mike Remlinger’s return and there’s some hope, as long as Bobby Cox
uses the talented guys and not the ex-famous people.

The Braves still ought to win the division, but they haven’t done anything
to improve themselves significantly for the playoffs, and did it at the
expense of putting a dent in their ability to contend in the future.


CINCINNATI REDS

Traded LHP Denny Neagle and CF Mike Frank to the Yankees for
LHP Ed Yarnall, 3B Drew Henson, OF Jackson Melian and
RHP Brian Reith; placed 3B Aaron Boone on the 15-day DL,
retroactive to 7/10 (strained knee); purchased the contracts of RHP
Larry Luebbers and 3B Mike Bell from Louisville. [7/12]

Okay, so while they’re probably not calling this the "White Flag
Trade," there’s plenty of wailing about the deal. Reds fans should
take heart, though. While Jim Bowden couldn’t get the real prizes of the
Yankees’ system, he managed to instead land an outstanding group of
"risk" projects.

Ed Yarnall should still develop into one of the best young left-handed
starters in the game. That’s a lot more important for the organization over
the next four or five years than keeping Denny Neagle around for right now.
After helping the Reds win as many as 85 games this year, all Neagle would
have brought in was a nice compensation draft choice. Instead, the Reds get
Yarnall and three more prospects, all likely to be significantly
better than any late-first-round pick.

For starters, Drew Henson feeds Jim Bowden’s Freon Deion football fetish.
If he elects to become a full-time baseball player, he’ll be better than
Sanders ever was, although he may not pan out as a third baseman. Only a
full-time commitment will tell us if he can stay at third base, but he will
hit enough to play somewhere. He’s definitely worth the risk to
see if he chooses baseball.

Brian Reith is off to a tremendous start in the pitcher-friendly Florida
State League, with an ERA around 2.00. In an organization as bereft of
starting pitching talent as the Reds’, he immediately becomes one of their
top minor-league pitchers. As with any pitcher with only A-ball experience,
there are plenty of caveats: if he stays healthy, if he can make the jump
to Double-A.

Jackson Melian is 21 and already in Double-A, and while I’m not as
enthusiastic as others are about him, he’s still a reasonably solid
prospect. Because of the presence of better offensive corner outfield
prospects like Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn and Ben Broussard, he may end up
having to move to center field, where he’ll be competing with Alejandro
Diaz (nee Quezada) to earn… a long career in Louisville. Of the four
players in the package, he’s the worst, and he’s still a decent
prospect.

But there is risk. Melian might never gain command of the strike zone and
may falter in the face of stiff organizational competition. Yarnall and
Reith could join Curt Lyons and Mo Sanford on the Reds’ list of famous
maybes; developing pitchers is synonymous with risk. Michigan might win the
Big 11 and end up hurting Ohioans’ feelings in two sports. But these are
all risks worth taking, and the potential payoff is a slugging third
baseman and two-fifths of a good rotation.

Of course, what’s really fun about all this is that I’m not sold that this
deal kills off the Reds’ chances at sneaking up on the Cardinals. While
it’s a longshot, if Mark McGwire stays away for any great length of time,
anything over 80 wins might be enough. The Reds still have too many
problems to mount a serious challenge, but it isn’t impossible.

Finally, congrats to Larry Luebbers for picking the right organization to
sign with as a minor-league free agent. Again. His agent is someone for
other minor-league veterans to call, because how many other guys with over
200 minor-league starts are getting third chances?

While losing Aaron Boone might open the floodgates on the left side of the
infield, Mike Bell has been hitting well in Louisville, and now that Chris
Stynes will be playing regularly, he should make for a nice replacement for
Stynes on the bench as a utility infielder. It might be enough to get him a
career, because he’s a better player than Billy Ripken or Eduardo Perez or
some of the other nepotistas who are always hanging around.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS

No moves to report, but a credit for some confusion on my part, to be
followed by a predictable rant. As Dr. Judd Choate has pointed out, Jeff
Suppan
has been bumped from the rotation. I’m sorry to everybody that I
wasn’t entirely up to speed on the demotion, but frankly, I’m boggled.

What makes the decision to demote Suppan to the pen inexplicable is the
perpetuation of one of the longest-running failed experiments around, Tony
Muser’s amazing "patience" with Jay Witasick as a starting
pitcher. While Muser’s patience has paid off in spades in the case of
someone like Mac Suzuki–to a much greater extent than anyone besides Muser
dreamed possible–he’s been even more patient with Witasick, for a longer
period of time and with fewer tangible results.

Wait a minute, skip that, bad pitching IS tangible. You can measure it,
dissect it, cringe while you watch it if you can’t bring yourself to get up
and fetch a beer, but after enough time, you should just want to make it
stop. Whether it’s masochism towards himself or sadism towards the legions
of Royals fans scattered across the steppes, it’s definitely a waste of the
Royals’ available pitching resources. Suppan has been a better starter than
Witasick all along, and barring a reasonable excuse like wanting to rest
Suppan’s arm or have him develop a forkball or something, it’s high time
that the Royals sent Witasick on to a happier future as a good major-league
reliever and left Suppan where he belongs.


NEW YORK METS

Recalled LHP Rich Rodriguez from Norfolk; optioned RHP Eric
Cammack
to Norfolk. [7/10]

Signed RHPs Willie Banks and Oscar Henriquez to minor-league
contracts and assigned them to Norfolk. [7/12]

In the open casting call the Mets are conducting, Willie Banks and Oscar
Henriquez are two interesting guys to take flyers on. Banks is yet another
Japanese Leagues vet fresh off the boat and looking for a full non-fishy
meal and a roof over his head, while if Henriquez can still dial up his
high-90s heat, he’d be helpful.

As far as I know, Rich Rodriguez has not exposed himself in public or
sprayed bleach on the Fourth Estate, so at least he’s a solid citizen, even
if he hasn’t pitched that effectively.


NEW YORK YANKEES

Acquired LHP Denny Neagle and CF Mike Frank from the Reds for
3B Drew Henson, OF Jackson Melian, LHP Ed Yarnall and
RHP Brian Reith; placed OF Shane Spencer on the 60-day DL
(torn ACL – knee); optioned RHP Darrell Einerston to Columbus. [7/12]

As Jim Bowden takes on a bunch of risks that could make the Yankees look
bad three years from now, keep in mind that Brian Cashman and Mark Newman
managed to add one of the best starting pitchers around without giving up
D’Angelo Jimenez or Alfonso Soriano; Nick Johnson is beyond consideration
in any deal. They’ve still got plenty of minor-league pitching talent, such
as Ted Lilly and Ricardo Aramboles (although it looks like they might have
pushed Randy Keisler too quickly, a la Ryan Bradley).

The real problem is that they’re getting close to trimming just about
everybody but the top prospects, and that’s going to hurt in another
couple of weeks when they realize they haven’t clinched anything with the
David Justice and Denny Neagle deals. They still need another bat or two in
the lineup to be able to fend off the Blue Jays and keep their lead over
the Red Sox, something that was already necessary before they lost
Shane Spencer for the year. If Nick Johnson heals in time, he can be one of
the two bats they need.

Even with Johnson, they need another outfielder, preferably one who bats
right-handed. Moises Alou apparently won’t come, and the cost for Manny
Ramirez would cut the organization to the bone. Brian Sabean isn’t going to
give up Ellis Burks cheaply and Chad Curtis would only make the team’s
offensive problems worse. I won’t be surprised if the Yankees get someone
like Glenallen Hill or Ron Gant for a song, but for an outfit this old,
either one of them are about as useful as Metamucil: having them around
would only keep Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez regular, and that’s exactly
what the Yankees don’t need.

Of course, they now have a rotation of Neagle, El Duque, Roger Clemens,
Andy Pettitte and David Cone, and the major benefit of adding Neagle is
that Ramiro Mendoza will go to the pen once he heals. That won’t come a
moment too soon: Jeff Nelson is always fragile, and Jason Grimsley may not
be able to bounce back after being overworked. I suspect Doc Gooden will do
the Yankees version of the Raiders’ old David Humm shuffle, where the Doc
goes on the DL or into voluntary retirement and heads for Atlantic City or
Tampa for a couple of weeks until he’s needed because Cone has to go on the
DL.

So they’ve bolstered the pen as well as the rotation, without doing enough
to address their offensive problems. It isn’t enough to put the Yankees
clearly ahead of the Blue Jays. If I’m a Yankees fan, I’d be worrying that
it’s the next trade, the one that comes if they’re still neck-and-neck with
Toronto at the end of the month, that is really going to hurt.


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Acquired LHPs Bruce Chen and Jimmy Osting from the Braves for
a little more than three months of RHP Andy Ashby‘s valuable time.
[7/12]

There’s a lot of talk about how disappointing Bruce Chen has been in his
grand total of 11 major-league starts. In his first two portions of
major league seasons, including those eleven starts, Chen pitched a
whopping 71 1/3 innings, with a 5.05 ERA, at the ages of 21 and 22. That’s
a meaningless sample size on which to pass judgment, unlike his
considerable (and consistently good) minor-league numbers. If you’re really
hung up on those 11 starts, I would recommend people to look up the
beginnings of the careers of Greg Maddux (5.59 ERA in his first two years,
encompassing 32 starts at the ages of 20 and 21). Consider Tom Glavine,
with a 5.54 ERA in his first nine starts as a 21 year old. How long did it
take Curt Schilling to become good?

Add in that Jimmy Osting is a decent (but not outstanding) prospect, and
this has the beginnings of a great deal for Ed Wade.

Now it remains to be seen whether or not he does the other half of his job:
firing Terry Francona before he can lay a finger on Chen and make him
another one of the waggle-armed walking wounded littering the recent
Phillies past. Replacing Francona with a Lachemann to be named later makes
all sorts of sense.

If Francona is allowed to ruin or misuse Chen the way he’s abused Curt
Schilling and Wolf and Person, then John Schuerholz will have pulled off
that classic underhanded move of dealing a player into a situation that
mangles his immediate future, sort of like sending Frank Castillo to Planet
Coors or a reliever to the Mariners. The worst-case scenario for the
Phillies is that they end up making Schuerholz look smarter than he is for
making this deal. It is within Ed Wade’s power to make sure it doesn’t come
to that.

In terms of what this does for the team itself, it looks like Dave Coggin
gets to stick around in the rotation, which only creates more incentive to
have Francona fragged in his office.


SAN DIEGO PADRES

Claimed RHP Todd Erdos off of waivers from the Yankees. [7/12]

Todd Erdos still throws hard and could still turn into a handy middle
reliever. Having drafted him, it was no surprise that the Padres would
reclaim him. Now if they’ll push aside the Almanzars and the Reyeses and
get on with trying to improve, they’ll be fine.

Chris Kahrl can be reached at ckahrl@baseballprospectus.com.