National League

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Placed INF-S Ruben Gotay on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled LHP Jo-Jo Reyes from Richmond (Triple-A). [8/19]
Placed 1B-L Casey Kotchman on the bereavement list; recalled OF-L Brandon Jones from Richmond. [8/20]

Reyes’ season has been up and down in more than one sense, beyond just yo-yo’ing between Richmond and Atlanta like some latter-day Confederate errand boy; during his initial extended engagement in the Braves rotation, he struggled, then starred, then struggled:

Range      G/GS  QS   IP   BR  UBB   K  HR    R   RA/9
5/3-23     5/5    0  24.2  47   10  21   4   18    6.6
5/28-6/29  7/7    6* 44.2  54   16  35   4   16    3.2
7/5-27     4/3    0  13.1  35   11   8   2   15   11.8
* one QS was blown after the sixth inning

Reyes came back with Bobby Cox‘s assertion that the kid had better throw strikes ringing in his ears, and he responded with a great first game back (albeit one marred with a wild first pair of frames). The same assortment that makes him a prospect is still all there-a fastball that sits in the low 90s, a plus curve, and a slider and changeup he can get over for strikes; the problem seems to be a matter of inconsistent mechanics, and not a young pitcher getting nibbly, so obviously that’s something that will have to get tightened up over time.

At any rate, the Braves rotation really doesn’t have any alternative to using Reyes, even without getting into their predicament with injuries. he was already their fourth-best starter on the season, and looking forward to 2009, it’s just as well that they get to evaluate Reyes, Jorge Campillo, and Jair Jurrjens (the 6 x J Trio?) in the present, see what kind of future Charlie Morton carves out for himself as well, and endure the last little bit of Mike Hampton’s career as a Brave before spending that $6 million to buy out his 2009 option to save the additional $14 million it would cost to employ him to… pitch? Get parked back on the DL? I’ll let you judge the relative odds of which.

As for the exchange of Jones for Kotchman, I might be the loner on this one, but I’d rather have the guy who’s up in the lineup than the guy who’s gone. Jones really should be playing for a Braves team that’s out of the race, especially when the alternative is playing Omar Infante in left. Pace Gregor Blanco in center instead of Mark Kotsay, because this is a club that really ought to be using the season’s last six weeks for evaluation purposes, not to give the odd future free agent or two a chance to spruce up his credentials. Kotchman’s a permanent part of the scenery, so I’m not suggesting a one-for-one, it’s just that Jones has nothing left to prove in Richmond, and better that the Braves determine if he’s next year’s starting left fielder. That might sound like just bold talk in light of Jones’ hitting only .260/.343/.405 in Triple-A, but he’s been hot in August (.319/.412/.569) after enduring a ghastly July (.202/.302/.321), and he’s still doing almost all of his damage against right-handers (.265/.364/.423). There apparently wasn’t anything wrong with him in July, although he had just been demoted after his initial tour with the parent club, and it wasn’t like he’d earned a return trip to Richmond after hitting .278/.316/.463. If there was a bit of sulking involved in that July slump, it would have certainly been human and understandable, but that’s where we run up against the limits of making any claims as far as causation-we can only know that Jones struggled, in the same way that we’ve got the rest of his performance record to be able to say that these things happen, and he’s got a pretty good long-term picture on the basis of that performance.

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Activated 1B-L Joey Votto from the Bereavement List; optioned 1B-R Adam Rosales to Louisville (Triple-A). [8/16]
Placed UT-R Jerry Hairston Jr. on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled 1B-R Adam Rosales from Louisville. [8/20]

It isn’t like Hairston was really back-since his reactivation to open the month, he’d managed to make all of 18 PA, and gotten on base a very Hairston-like five times. Not to kick a man while he’s down, but playing time’s only going to take air out of his numbers, healthy or not, and he can’t really play short any better than Jeff Keppinger, which leaves the team where it has been since Alex Gonzalez got hurt in the first place-without a shortstop. Even if he simply hit at his normal level, Hairston might have had some value in the outfield mix, spotting for Chris Dickerson or Corey Patterson, but if he can’t play, that’s besides the point.

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Signed RHP Oscar Villareal to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [8/16]
Placed RHP Matt Herges on the 15-day DL (back stiffness); recalled RHP Ryan Speier from Colorado Springs. [8/20]

Things really seem to have gone down the tubes for Herges of late, so perhaps deactivating him is just as well. Through June 30, he wasn’t pitching that well, having allowed 19 runs and 59 baserunners in 40 2/3 IP, and he had a WXRL of 0.324. Nice, not great, but still significantly better than what he’s done since, having seen 18 runs scored off of him in 17 2/3 IP from among the 40 baserunners he’d allowed in that stretch; his WXRL swung from the positive to its new low of -0.4102 in that time, seven-tenths of a win’s worth of damage. Bringing Herges back was neither as expensive or as dubious a proposition as taking another spin with Mark Redman was, but it was still expensive ($2.5 million, plus whatever it’ll take to make the club’s 2009 option go away), and it was still dubious. As Steven Goldman pointed out in the Yankees team essay in BP2K6, it’s a pretty rare reliever who delivers consistent annual excellence, let alone consistent mediocrity, so throwing seven large at a sporadically effective 38-year-old hurler with more bad than good the previous four seasons seemed like an especially chancy roll of the dice.

Thanks to Bil Burke for data assistance.

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Designated RHP Justin Miller for assignment. [8/15]
Purchased the contract of C-R Paul Lo Duca from Albuquerque (Triple-A). [8/16]

Well, that’s a bummer. As the game’s great illustrated man, Justin Miller’s easy to root for if you’re alt-anything, and in terms of his performance this season, he’s still doing just fine as far as situational right-hander heroics, having limited them to .224/.317/.346 this season. So it’s especially irksome that he’s off the team because they want to carry three catchers, not to mention three lefty relievers, and when one of them’s Mark Hendrickson, a guy who’s been handed more jobs and more service time than George H.W. Bush, it just doesn’t seem quite right. I guess if there’s good news for Fish fans, it’s that Logan Kensing‘s given them a pair of good outings in four since his recall, and the well-traveled Joe Nelson‘s been excellent since his reactivation. Still, it just seems like Miller would have his uses in this pen, where Hendrickson (specifically) does not.

As for Miller, I guess I get to wondering about the incipient national terrors that await us as Gen X and Gen Y get a little on the saggy side, let alone the laughter likely to echo out of mortuaries forty or fifty years from now as any one of our personal jokes get played out on us to an audience that won’t have someone to explain the symbolism or irony or intent. On the other hand, I suspect any painted lad or lady will be beyond caring at that point, but as I’m still pondering my first tatt (or two), it’s the sort of thing that I wonder about.

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Placed 2B-S Kazuo Matsui on the 15-day DL (back), retroactive to 8/13; purchased the contract of C/1B-R J.R. House from Round Rock (Triple-A). [8/16]
Claimed 2B/3B-R Jose Castillo off of waivers. [8/20]

In terms of shedding runs, the Astros are finding their fair share of ways. Consider the cost of switching from Carlos Lee to Geoff Blum, the practical upshot of what they get for losing Lee for the season and moving Ty Wigginton to left field: Lee’s MLVr was .321, while Blum’s is -.105. That’s a .426 swing per game, or almost a half-run’s worth of difference, day in, day out. Now multiply that by 46, the number of games the Astros had left at the point that they lost Lee for the year. You get 19.6, or nearly twenty runs, a nearly two-game swing in the standings because you decide to trust Geoff Blum won’t be a distraction, whereas that mean old Barry Bonds would probably alienate Astros fans by helping score runs and keep their make-believe bid for contention viable. Keep in mind that Bonds’ MLVr in 2007 was .421, meaning that even with ground lost to Father Time, he might have been an improvement on Lee. (Let’s skip the question of whether Bonds or el Caballo is the better fielder-they’re both ungood, and it’s only left field.)

So now they’ve lost Matsui as well, and he’s been something less than you’d want to throw $16.5 million at, but he’s also more valuable than Mark Loretta-the MLVr loss there is between Matsui’s .050 and Loretta’s -.060, or something almost negligible, but also something which could get a bit worse, considering that Loretta’s projected MLVr was -.114. Add in hits on baserunning (something Matsui does well) and defense, and it gets expensive in terms of runs, run increments, you name it, the Astros are losing it. Swapping in Castillo, perhaps a better defender at second than Loretta, doesn’t help; his MLVr with the Giants was -.120, only slightly better than PECOTA projected him to do (-.133).

Assuming it isn’t already too late-and it is, but let’s indulge Ed Wade and credit him with sincerity as well as ambition-the one place they can make up lost ground beyond the obvious Bonds-related pickup would be at catcher. They’re starting Humberto Quintero regularly these days, and he’s hitting .243/.270/.308, or about as well as you might expect. (This also means that Brad Ausmus isn’t getting the “blaze of glory” package apparently reserved for only the very best very done Astros.) House has continued to do what he’s done since he launched his comeback two years back, hammer hurlers and give catching his best shot. At Round Rock, he was hitting .303/.377/.476, which really only makes for a .245 EqA, but that’s still a huge step up from what they’re getting and will get from Quintero or Ausmus. Sure, House can’t throw well; PCL baserunners have stolen 27 bases in 31 attempts in 40 games. That’s still less than a steal per game allowed, so I’m not sure we’re really talking about something at the Matt LeCroy/Frank Robinson level as far as a crying shame. On the other hand, if House’s defense behind the plate is that bad, why not play him at first, move Berkman to an outfield corner, and leave Wigginton at third base? That might not be ideal, but it would still cost you fewer runs than playing Blum in Lee’s place. Worried House needs a platoon partner? Hell, summon Mike Lamb from his couch or the golf course or wherever he’s gotten himself to since earning his release from the Twins [Ed. note: In point of fact, Lamb remains a Twin, although if you blink you might miss his increasingly rare appearances.]; maybe a return to his former stomping grounds will revive his bat, and maybe it won’t. But when you’re putting up Geoff Blum as a solution, everything works better, whether that’s platooning Lamb and House at first, or playing Lamb at third and moving Wigginton out to left after all, or maybe just doing the blitheringly obvious and signing Barry Bonds. It would only require genuine desire to achieve oft-stated ambitions. Whodathunk that was something that goes away with injuries?

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Acquired RHP Greg Maddux for two PTBNLs or cash from the Padres. [8/19]
Optioned LHP Eric Stults to Las Vegas (Triple-A). [8/20]

On the one hand, this was exactly the sort of thing that the Dodgers needed in light of their losing Brad Penny-admittedly an idealized, productive Penny-and needing to shore up their rotation. Within the Dodgers’ rotation, Maddux’s 3.3 SNLVAR would rate a cozy fourth behind their still-healthy front three of Chad Billingsley (5.1), Derek Lowe (3.9), and Hiroki Kuroda (3.6). Add in Clay Kershaw, and you’ve got five starters you won’t cringe over running out there against anybody, and you can dispense with playing matchup games with guys like Stults and/or Jason Johnson. That still leaves Johnson available for tandem duties to pick up Kershaw in games with early big leads (for either team), or that involve quickly run-up pitch counts, not to mention clean-up whenever any rotation regular delivers a disaster start, but adding Maddux also lessons the likelihood that LA is going to have to worry about too many of those in the remaining stretch of season.

Now, Maddux had given the Pads 13 quality starts in 26, a mixed bag certainly, about what you can get by with from a fourth or fifth starter. Can he continue to perform around that level, and around a level that can get the Dodgers past the Snakes and into the playoffs? As much as Maddux’s ability to make things work out should be a matter of legend, I have a few nagging concerns. Maddux is something of a ground-ball pitcher this year (1.5 ground-ball outs for every fly), so while you might think that means that leaving Petco in his past might not hurt him all that much, he’s derived a huge benefit from pitching in San Diego this season, allowing 3.3 runs per nine at home for the Pads against 6.4 everywhere else. Everything goes up for him on the road in terms of his rates, even his strikeouts, but risking a few more direct challenges of hitters because he’s working in less forgiving environments than Petco means more hard-hit balls heading towards the gaps or over the fence, and more extra-base hits.

It’s also a bit of a dodgy proposition that the Dodgers’ infield defense can pick him up. Even if the Pads and Dodgers rank just about the same in terms of Defensive Efficiency, keep in mind that the Dodgers aren’t really the team that compiled those numbers, not any more. They don’t have Raffy Furcal or Chin-Lung Hu at short, they have Nomar Garciaparra. They don’t have light-footed Blake DeWitt at third, they have the more leaden Casey Blake. They have Manny being Manny in left, in a market that doesn’t have legions waiting to make every conceivable excuse for more basic ineptitude. They have Jeff Kent at the keystone; add that to Nomar, and that’s the very definition of creaky double-play combos. Maddux had been getting a slightly better performance from his supporting cast afield than your average Pad pitcher, with his players getting outs on 70.9 percent of all balls in play, where Pads in general were getting 69.8 percent; if he winds up getting the less than 69.9 percent performance the Dodgers probably can’t continue to achieve with their current alignment, how’s that supposed to work out with a pitcher who needs his defense to help him out on 80 percent of all plate appearances against him?

Now, all of that said, don’t get me wrong-this was a move the Dodgers needed to make, and I love it as a fan (even if an avowed Dodger disliker) because it gives one of the great masters a chance to pitch in a postseason one more time, and win or lose, I’d rather see Greg Maddux out there than Jason Johnson with everything on the line. So I’m also a bit skeptical about how this is going to work out, but a quick check of the schedule suggests that Maddux is going to draw the Giants and Padres twice, and then perhaps the Phillies, Nats, D’backs, and Rockies once apiece. He’ll have to make a start in Coors Field beyond the difficulty of making his Dodgers debut in Banking Behemoth Ballpark (East) against the Phillies on Friday, but in the abstract that’s not a terrible slate of potential opponents for an artist to work a few more masterpieces into his legend. We’ll still have to see what ended up having to be given up, but given the stakes, I really like the move.

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Acquired RHP Luis Ayala from the Nationals for a PTBNL; transferred OF-R Moises Alou from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/17]
Optioned RHP Eddie Kunz to New Orleans (Triple-A). [8/18]
Signed RHP Al Reyes to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Binghamton (Double-A); sent MI-S Anderson Hernandez to the Nationals to complete the Ayala trade. [8/20]

Activity can so easily be mistaken for progress, so while I think it was clear that Kunz wasn’t ready, I’m no more convinced that Ayala can help them than that they didn’t just get their best reinforcement in Reyes off of waivers. Ayala’s been horrendous with the Nats, struggling with his command and his control, and he’s simply not the dominant reliever he used to be before he hurt himself pitching in the lamentable World Baseball Classic. He’s not even showing much value as a situational right-hander, so apart from being Latin-and this is Omar Minaya we’re talking about-and right-handed, there doesn’t seem to be all that much reason to have decided he was the reliever to add on at this point of the season, even if the price was effectively nothing. Reyes at least has a few nagging hurts plus pitching in a dome in the tougher league to excuse his struggles; now that Jason Isringhausen‘s done for the year, Ayala will quite simply be the worst-performing reliever on a playoff team should the Mets make it there despite him. Although Reyes rather liked the dome, even if he’s limited to situational ROOGY work, that’s still more than the Mets will get from Ayala, and still fits in nicely enough in a pen that’s going to have to play matchup games to survive.

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Activated RHP Rudy Seanez from the 15-day DL; optioned INF-R Mike Cervenak to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [8/16]
Activated 3B-R Pedro Feliz from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Les Walrond to Lehigh Valley. [8/20]

Is getting Feliz back going to have an outsized impact? Maybe, if only because the Phillies gave Eric Bruntlett 13 of the 24 starts at third base during Feliz’s absence. Greg Dobbs hit .295/.333/.636 in 48 PA in that time, although that involves a good amount of his pinch-hitting heroics beyond time at the hot corner. Bruntlett? He chipped in by hitting .127/.226/.149, and keep in mind, he only started at third base during this period, so it wasn’t like he had all sorts of distractions. So they saw all sorts of lefties, and that’s why they had to keep running Bruntlett out there, right? Well, no; they saw four in the 24 games, and Bruntlett started all four, and they won two of those four, beating Mike Hampton and John Lannan, and losing in extras in Paul Maholm‘s game against them, and in the bottom of the ninth in Clayton Kershaw‘s. So there were nine games in which the Phillies told themselves with a clear conscience and with all malice aforethought that starting Bruntlett ahead of Dobbs against a right-handed pitcher made sense; they went 5-4 in those games. Setting aside the problem of what to do when the other team started a lefty, something that having Feliz back should certainly address, it’s just very hard for me to believe that Dobbs might not have been able to make a difference in some of those games.

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Placed INF-L Doug Mientkiewicz on the Bereavement List; recalled OF-L Nyjer Morgan from Indianapolis (Triple-A). [8/18]

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Optioned RHP Cla Meredith to Portland (Triple-A); recalled RHP Chad Reineke from Portland (Triple-A). [8/16]
Acquired two PTBNLs or cash from the Dodgers for RHP Greg Maddux; activated RHP Brett Tomko from the 15-day DL. [8/19]

Having already nabbed the man from the Astros in the Randy Wolf deal, I suppose it was only a matter of time until the team counting on Cha Seung Baek got Reineke into their rotaiton, even before they decided to deal Maddux. In three starts with the Beavers, Reineke introduced the organization to the good and the bad that comes with counting on him, allowing five homers across 17 1/3 IP, but also allowing just eight runs and striking out 13. As a pretty extreme fly-ball pitcher, as strange as it might sound, he might be safer in the major leagues pitching in Petco than continuing to launch souvenir showers in PCL locations across the country. As if the Pads couldn’t get any less impressive as a collection of foemen; beyond Jake Peavy, the rest of the non-Reineke rotation involves Baek and (Josh) Banks, plus a nondescript veteran journeyman TBNL. Which one, though? Shawn Estes is still recovering, Brett Tomko’s arm might not be stretched, meaning Wil Ledezma could be the next lucky winner of a rough-and-tumble night at the office. Gods above and below have mercy on you if you’re depending on the outcome in some manner.

As for the Maddux deal, intradivisional rivalry aside, it was a generous gesture, one I hope for the Pads’ sake is rewarded with a pair of nice add-ons from Logan White’s farm system.

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Placed LHP Jonathan Sanchez on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 8/12; recalled RHP Sergio Romo from Fresno (Triple-A). [8/16]

Evaluation of Sanchez’s shoulder indicates that the problem isn’t serious, so it’s as much a matter of resting him at the tail end of a breakout season as much as anything else. In his place, the club’s slotting Matt Palmer into the rotation, which is a nice reward for an organizational soldier making his big-league debut in his age-29 season after getting brought in as a true 31st-round pick in 2002 (in other words, he wasn’t a draft-and-follow selection, back in the day when we had such things). Palmer gets a good number of ground-ball outs with a relatively low-velocity arsenal where nothing’s fast but everything wiggles.

As for filling the roster spot, Romo’s sort of similar to Palmer in terms of dubious prospectdom, in that he’s not overpowering, but he’s relatively remarkable because he’s a reliever who throws seven pitches for strikes: two- and four-seam fastballs, curve, change, slider, splitter, and cutter. Add in that he’s a stocky max-effort reliever, and it’s sort of like a one-man band-it may not be great, but it’s definitely interesting to witness.

Thanks to Kevin Goldstein for always-sound scouting dope.

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Acquired a PTBNL from the Mets for RHP Luis Ayala. [8/17]
Purchased the contract of RHP Marco Estrada from Columbus (Triple-A). [8/19]
Optioned 4C-L Kory Casto to Columbus; acquired MI-S Anderson Hernandez from the Mets to complete the Ayala trade. [8/20]

As trash deals go, this actually has about as much upside to it as the previous dump of Jon Rauch on the D’backs, if only because Ayala’s useless and Andy Hernandez once resembled a prospect with a lot better upside than Emilio Bonifacio ever had, even if that was a few years ago and Hernandez will be 26 next year. Still Hernandez can play short, and maybe that’ll come in handy when the world market shortage in no-hit middle infielders sneaks up on the other 29 teams in baseball, leaving the Nats in the catbird seat.

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