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May 28, 2009

Transaction Analysis

AL East Moves

by Christina Kahrl

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American League

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Placed RHP Dennis Sarfate on the 15-day DL (finger). [5/2]
Recalled RHP Bob McCrory from Norfolk (Triple-A). [5/3]
Acquired OF-L Joey Gathright from the Cubs for UT-R Ryan Freel, and assigned him to Norfolk. [5/9]
Optioned RHP Bob McCrory to Norfolk; recalled OF-R Nolan Reimold from Norfolk. [5/14]
Placed OF-L Luke Scott on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 5/11; activated LHP Rich Hill from the 15-day DL. [5/16]
Released RHP Adam Eaton; recalled RHP Matt Albers from Norfolk. [5/22]
Placed OF-R Lou Montanez on the 15-Day DL (torn ligaments - thumb), retroactive to 5/23; purchased the contract of RHP Jason Berken from Norfolk. [5/26]
Placed RHP Koji Uehara on the 15-Day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 5/24; activated OF-L Luke Scott from the 15-Day DL. [5/27]
Optioned RHP Chris Ray to Norfolk; recalled RHP David Hernandez from Norfolk. [5/28]

Some of this is good news of a general type, which we can anticipate more of going forward. To start off with the rotation, while losing Uehara isn't good news, he also isn't expected to be out much more than the minimum, and with the talent on hand, the O's rotation isn't exactly short of worthwhile guys to run out there, having happily moved past their awkward Adam Eaton/Mark Hendrickson place-holding phase. And that's without turning to those seen as their top pitching prospects. In contrast, as retreading exercises go, the Orioles' spin with Rich Hill isn't of a piece with Eaton's reincarnation; the upside potential of a power lefty with knee-buckling breaking stuff is worth checking out, even if Hill's problems with consistency or command end up bringing the exercise to naught. A pair of decent outings preceded his Wednesday night massacre at the hands of the Blue Jays, but I expect if he keeps up that balance of worthwhile to worthless, the organization will feel that the adventure has been worth embarking upon.

Berken joins Brad Bergesen as a good example of the kind of talent the Orioles have in a well-stocked second rank of young pitching talent. A sixth-round pick out of Clemson in 2006 and already a Tommy John surgery survivor, he put up a fine season in Double-A last year, giving Bowie a 3.58 ERA and 4.3 R/9, with a 125/38 strikeout/walk ratio in 145 2/3 IP. As a matter of translation, Berken comes off better than Bergesen did at Bowie, generating a 4.76 DERA to Bergesen's 5.29. Like Bergesen, he's very much an organizational type, and something of a short strike-thrower with a broad arsenal but modest velocity. Even so, he's certainly someone worth taking a spin with before going too far with the Eatons of this world.

Tonight's debut by Hernandez is something slightly different, if only because he's a bigger guy with a harder fastball, a more broadly demonstrated track record for durability since being snagged in the 16th round of the 2005 draft after starring at Cosumnes River College, and with a pair of league strikeout titles to his credit (Carolina League in 2007, Eastern League in '08). As noted in this year's edition of the annual, his funky mechanics don't win friends and influence people in scouting ranks, the fastball only touches 94 or so instead of sitting there, and he's had problems mastering off-speed stuff. That said, he's here after completely dominating Rochester last week, striking out 14 in 7 1/3 IP while allowing just three hits and no walks; however, he did allow three unearned runs, which is part of what takes some of the steam out of his season numbers. On the year for the Tides he's cranked out a 2.91 ERA but almost four runs allowed per nine, and that's not because he's a ground-ball pitcher being betrayed by his infield. Thanks to that Rochester game he's struck out 60 in 43 1/3 innings, so whatever the concerns about his mechanics or his stuff, he's certainly interesting, and definitely worth checking out tonight as he goes up against the Tigers.

The interesting question is who moves out of the way when Uehara comes back in another 10 days or so, because between Berken, Bergesen, and Hernandez, somebody's going to be headed back down to Triple-A. Remember, this is before we get into what happens when Chris Tillman or Brian Matusz are ready.

Then there's the good news to be found in the outfield, where calling up Reimold was an opportunity created in equal parts by Felix Pie's implosion and Scott's injury. Effectively handed the job in left, Reimold had been delivering nifty numbers for Norfolk: .394/.485/.743, with a league-leading .358 Equivalent Average. He's continued his raking in the majors, and slugging better than .500 in his first 50 or so big-league PA might make you think that he's an undiscovered gem. I'd suggest that he's just a finished product with no further business in the minors, and still the guy we suggested over the winter would be a fine addition to an outfield rotation, the kind of player who will put up a low OBP but brings to the table plus power and an arm that would fit quite nicely in right field if not for some guy named Markakis. If he and Scott split time between left field and DH, with Pie and Wigginton or Montanez nipping at the scraps, that's just another nice reflection of the quantity of playable prospects the organization's cranking out of late. When we get to see Wieters and Tillman and Matusz, they'll already have the benefit of a collection of fellow farmhands set up in supporting roles.

Which brings me to more minor matters. Dealing Freel is more a reflection of how well so many other things worked out for the Orioles this winter after they dealt away Ramon Hernandez to acquire him from the Reds, which was simply an exchange of expensive problems. At that point, they didn't know the market would bring Wigginton's price down so low that they'd have a useful enough four-corner reserve making less than Freel was going to this year in this season or next. They didn't know they'd be able to get up-the-middle talent in Pie and Robert Andino for mediocre moundsmen who were within months of being crowded out of the team's pitching picture. They did know that Freel's hard-won reputation for fragility made his availability unpredictable, that his bat wasn't a Great American Bombpark-generated fiction, and that he'd run, play a passable second or third, and an occasionally inspired outfield. Having added a better batter in Wigginton and relative youth and stronger defensive skill sets in Pie and Andino, and in light of the fact that both Andino and Pie were available in the first place because they were optionless and couldn't be sent to the minors, and because there also wasn't a lot of reason to believe Freel even represented an improvement on Lou Montanez as an outfield reserve, the O's came to a somewhat sensible conclusion before deciding to reactivate Freel: they just didn't need the guy, especially when his history with injuries suggests he's hard to rely on.

As for adding Gathright, this may keep the Tides cresting. Now 30-15 atop the International League South, they're nevertheless being pressed from behind by the always-fearsome Durham Bulls, and Gathright's an improvement from Justin Christian to round out a Norfolk outfield that was getting high-octane offense from Reimold with assists from Oscar Salazar (.380/.424/.632, and a .300 EqA) and Jeff Fiorentino.

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Activated OF-R Rocco Baldelli from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-L Jonathan Van Every to Pawtucket (Triple-A). [5/7]
Designated LHP Javier Lopez for assignment; purchased the contract of RHP Daniel Bard from Pawtucket. [5/10]
Placed 1B Kevin Youkilis on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 5/5; recalled INF-R Gil Velazquez from Pawtucket. [5/12]
Outrighted LHP Javier Lopez to Pawtucket. [5/15]
Activated 1B/3B-R Kevin Youkilis from the 15-day DL; optioned UT-R Gil Velazquez to Pawtucket. [5/20]
Activated RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Hunter Jones to Pawtucket. [5/22]

The thing about the Red Sox is that for every breakdown there always seems to be an opportunity waiting to be exploited. That's more true in some cases, like the rotation during Dice-K's absence-letting Justin Masterson refresh his credentials as a rotation fill-in and aspiring utility pitcher isn't such a bad thing to have to fall back on in the early going. Later in the year, if something like this had happened, they would probably turn to Michael Bowden or Clay Buchholz, but early on, they got to see that Masterson can do it, but is still probably more useful as a reliever. In the meantime, they were able to break in Bard a bit in a low-leverage role, and see what his reliably mid-90s fastball might offer the team in the pen. Even getting a chance to look at Jones was a nice opportunity to evaluate his potential as a second lefty; he didn't fail, limiting his fellow-handers to .188/.235/.313, but getting hammered by big-league right-handers. Having ditched Lopez on the PawSox, Boston doesn't have a second lefty in the pen at present, but after his moderately useful introduction, I expect he'll get another look if Theo Epstein and Terry Francona decide to make space for one.

But as reassuring as explorations of their options on the mound may be, things aren't nearly so neat in terms of what happens when a position player or two breaks down. Witness the increasingly brackish enthusiasm for Nick Green, whose Denny Doyle moment is just about up. Now that he spanked his singles in enough profusion early on to set himself above Velazquez, it's important to recognize his limitations-he's a second-base type without pop, patience, or speed, and as a shortstop, he very much looks like a second baseman doing everything he can. Everyone loves a scrapper, but he shouldn't be playing in front of Julio Lugo. The absence of Youkilis provided that long-awaited opportunity to see what Jeff Bailey can do, which turned out to be about what had always been expected: a problem making contact, decent pop, and the sort of stroke that suggests he'll have his number retired by Pawtucket someday.

Now, while Mark Kotsay is supposed to be the guy, once he's healthy, who gets the playing time should Youkilis break down, people who pray for more Kotsay ought to be more careful what they wish for. Add Kotsay to Baldelli, and you've got a pair of unpredictable outfield reserves in terms of availability and a level of performance you can count on. Admittedly, that doesn't matter as long as Jason Bay and J.D. Drew are putting runs on the board, but if either breaks down, that's a problem. It's one that could create an opportunity for Van Every, but ignoring Kotsay or Baldelli to turn to a nine-year minor league vet whose interesting mix of secondary offensive skills suggests real utility... well, if they've trusted in Green and Bailey, maybe that's possible, and maybe it wouldn't be if the vets were in operating order. The infield corners have it even worse; Chris Carter (not the one who's bounced from the White Sox to the Snakes to the A's) and Paul McAnulty aren't doing anything in Pawtucket to provide an alternative answer to Bailey at first, and Lars Anderson isn't smiting the Eastern League much (.240/.337/.416). At third, the Sox have nothing to turn to beyond moving Youkilis across the diamond if anything happens to Mike Lowell-a fine option, certainly, but suffice to say the team's depth in the infield corners barely goes more than one deep, and for a big-money team with even bigger expectations, it makes for an interesting quandary.

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Placed LHP Damaso Marte on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendonitis), retroactive to 4/26; recalled RHP Anthony Claggett from Scranton-Wilkes Barre. [5/3]
Optioned RHP Anthony Claggett to Scranton-Wilkes Barre; recalled RHP Alfredo Aceves from Scranton-Wilkes Barre. [5/4]
Placed C-S Jorge Posada on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled C-R Francisco Cervelli from Trenton (Double-A). [5/5]
Activated 3B-R Alex Rodriguez from the 15-day DL; placed C-R Jose Molina on the 15-day DL (strained quad); optioned RHP Mark Melancon to Scranton-Wilkes Barre; purchased the contract of C-R Kevin Cash from Scranton-Wilkes Barre; designated RHP Steven Jackson for assignment. [5/8] Optioned RHP David Robertson to Scranton-Wilkes Barre; purchased the contract of RHP Brett Tomko from Scranton-Wilkes Barre; designated RHP Eric Hacker for assignment. [5/9]
Traded RHP Eric Hacker to the Pirates for RHP Romulo Sanchez, and assigned Sanchez to Scranton-Wilkes Barre. [5/16]
Lost RHP Steven Jackson on a waiver claim by the Pirates. [5/18]
Activated RHP Brian Bruney from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Edwar Ramirez to Scranton-Wilkes Barre. [5/19]
Activated RHP Chien-Ming Wang from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Jonathan Albaladejo to Scranton-Wilkes Barre. [5/22]
Placed RHP Brian Bruney on the 15-day DL (elbow), retroactive to 5/20; recalled RHP David Robertson from Scranton-Wilkes Barre. [5/26]

There's not much to say about getting A-Rod back; it isn't like they had anything to fall back on, not having given thought towards scrounging a Scott McClain type after blowing a spot on the 40-man all winter on Cody Ransom. I mean really, Angel Berroa? A choice between Berroa and Ransom should be the bad choice you make resolving whose your Triple-A affiliate's starting shortstop because you don't have a prospect at the position; it should not be where you wind up when your starting third baseman breaks down. I suppose the Bombers have moved from one hot-corner hell to another, since they can get back to getting their hate/hate relationship with Rodriguez back in gear.

That said, I wouldn't say that the same problem is in evidence behind the plate. Replacing a player of Posada's caliber-past or present-isn't easy, even were position scarcity not a factor. We've banged on Molina repeatedly for what he isn't-a regular catcher-but that's not to say he's not a useful enough catch-and-throw backup, however overly treasured he might be in some quarters. If Posada alone was absent, there'd be something to complain about, because Molina would almost certainly be elevated to everyday play. However, he's out as well, putting Cervelli on the spot, and he's moderately interesting as catching prospects go, being a bit unusual in that he's been able to hit for decent averages, and sometimes boosting his OBP with a good number of HBPs. The problem is the absence of power, and if he can't adapt to life in a league where people paint on purpose relatively regularly as opposed to struggling to hit strike zone as a matter of learning how, then he might just be a no-OBP, no-power catcher who isn't an improvement on Cash, let alone Molina. It's worth checking out what he can do, but the fact remains that the Yankees have been reduced to this situation by an ill-timed injury stack. Happily, both Posada and Molina will be back, Posada on Friday, and Molina a week or so after.

As for the bullpen, it's rare that we get such an elaborate, well-nigh overdone exercise in demonstrating the concept of fungibility when it comes to relief pitching. Having had the courage to divorce themselves from going after any "name" relievers to tuck behind Mariano Rivera in the pen, they're reducing that wisdom to a form of absurd profusion by seemingly swapping everybody all the time. They're eventually landing on the answers that we all probably came into the season sensing as the "right" ones-Aceves, for example. Slowly, things are getting better, as the pen's Fair Run Average is finally under six (5.69). But a Tomko sighting? Who's next, Neil Allen? Still, in all their profusion, there are relievers who have definitely been a part of the problem, yet remain with the staff. Jose Veras has struggled in almost every situation he's been put in, and Phil Coke has been alternately effective and explosive in the LOOGY role (.238 OBP, but four homers and a pair of doubles allowed in 42 PA againt LHBs). In such a predicament, it might seem odd that Joe Girardi's been reluctant to trust Edwar Ramirez in more important situations, but as with placing their trust in Aceves, perhaps that's something that only time and performance will earn.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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