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March 4, 2010

Transaction Analysis

F-Lop'ping Around

by Christina Kahrl

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American League
National League

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Claimed RHP Casey Fien off waivers from the Tigers; designated RHP Gaby Hernandez for assignment (and subsequently lost him on a waiver claim by the Royals). [3/1]
Signed INF-L Nate Spears to a minor-league contract. [3/2]

Well, much as I might get to speculatin' about grab-worthiness, leave it to the perpetually acquisitive Theo Epstein to get grabby. This doesn't alter Fien's outlook all that much; he's a (now former) Tiger of only slightly different stripes compared to the previous occupants of this particular roster spot-Hernandez and Robert Manuel-neither of whom were Red Sox in an actual, real ballgame. However, Fien's just that slightly bit better, making this sort of marginal, fractional improvement via aggressive wire-snarfing so interesting. With a minor-league performance involving 239 strikeouts and 43 unintentional walks in 222 1/3 IP, Fien is useful enough as a guy without truly dominant stuff, but he's armed with a four-seam fastball that gets into the low 90s; it's his slider that would have to improve for him to become anything more than a back-end type in the bullpen. Maybe the Sox figure that out, and maybe not, but they're better off with Fien than they were with Manuel-and they may even actually use him at some point.

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Signed RHP Tom Mastny to a minor-league contract. [3/1]

Mastny's coming back to the Tribe after an unsuccessful spin through the Japanese leagues, having labored for the Bay Stars in Yokohama last season. In 61 2/3 IP, he got fairly lit up, surrendering 79 hits, 25 walks, 11 hit batsmen (yes, really), eight homers, and 45 runs (or 6.6 RA/9). So, having wrought more mayhem than American visitors of greater fame or productivity, the former Cleveland organizational soldier is back and stateside. Now 29 and perhaps still remembered fondly for his work in the 2007 ALCS, he's one of the gentle-giant types, standing 6-foot-6 and using that altitude to attack the zone with a mediocre assortment. Obviously, it's a lot more likely that he'll be starring for Columbus than contributing in Cleveland.

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Placed RHP Henry Barrera on the 60-day DL (elbow surgery); claimed RHP Gaby Hernandez off waivers from the Red Sox. [3/3]

Barrera's recovery from last summer's elbow surgery already figured to plant him on the long-term disabled list, so Dayton Moore effectively had a roster spot to play with. The fact that Moore's already filled it with another person, however, can't exactly be seen as good news for a number of non-roster invites, notably Matt Herges, Brad Thompson, or Jorge Campillo. But the more interesting proposition is that Hernandez could be a dark horse for exactly the sort of job I suggested might be his destiny the last time he changed teams: second-division starter. The Royals' rotation picture is already almost fully stocked with set starters, with few options to go around (Brian Bannister's unluckily in possession of one), so it isn't entirely implausible that Hernandez could push his way into the fifth slot sooner or later. The greater likelihood is that he'll be in Omaha, waiting for Trey Hillman's initial selections to slump. His combination of hittability (his strikeout rates have dropped to mediocrity since getting out of A-ball in 2007), decent stuff, relative durability, and fly-ball tendencies don't portend greatness (especially not with the Royals' defense behind him), but he's relatively ready, and it beats taking spins with Bruce Chen or Sir Sidney Ponson.

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Officially added RHP Chan Ho Park to the 40-man roster; designated RHP Edwar Ramirez for assignment. [2/28]

Seeing Ramirez show up as potential waiver bait has plenty of people in a tizzy, because he's an interesting possibility for a pickup if you go by his minor-league numbers alone: 146 Ks in 102 Triple-A innings alone, and 438 in 328 1/3 career minor-league innings. However, he's a changeup artist, and not especially fine with his control, which means he works with an especially slender margin for error. That worked out reasonably well in 2008, when he was near the bottom of the Yankees' bullpen, contributing in mop-up situations more often than not (28 of his 55 games were with a score differential of at least four runs one way or another), producing an understandably modest season via WXRL (0.255), as well as an unremarkable 3.95 FRA. Even then, smoking Triple-A lifers when you're smokeless isn't quite as impressive now that the level seems much more devoted to serving as a spare parts larder for the majors than a finishing school for prospects on the way there. A change of leagues and a pitcher-friendly park-especially a park with one of the tougher hitter's backdrops-could help, but you could say that about several dozen relievers looking for a break. The real problem with a pitcher of this type is that it's easy to claim he could be the next Doug Jones. It's true, he could be, but that's sort of like pointing out that every no-velo lefty could be the next Jamie Moyer-those guys weren't archetypes, they were the 1-in-1,000 extraordinary success stories. We'll have to see if anyone elects to throw something at the Yankees to get him before he reaches waivers, or if someone snags him there.

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Signed RHP Jason Jennings and Brett Tomko to minor-league contracts. [2/28]

The happy spin to put on this is that Jennings and Tomko have, respectively, little chance and none to make the team-Jennings because he's Jason Jennings, while Tomko's still recuperating from last year's elbow injury, and might not be ready to pitch in games until May. Unfortunately, there's the snaggy, nasty business of the big-league rotation to worry about: Dallas Braden's nerve damage in his foot, Justin Duchscherer's back woes, Ben Sheets' native fragility. Game action will address some of these concerns, proving some spectral and others desperate, because ideally the A's won't have to press all three of Gio Gonzalez, Vin Mazzaro, and Trevor Cahill directly back into the big-league rotation. Jennings should instead be part of an honorable tradition of adding a few well-traveled graybeards to the River Cats, although it remains to be seen if he'll be more Old Deuteronomy than Growltiger if he's marooned in Sacramento. Last year's names of note in the role of designated old dudes included Jerome Williams and Shawn Chacon, so the briefly famous and briefly very good Jennings should fit right in. Tomko's delayed arrival, on the other hand, might serve him better, because by the time he's ready to go, things may very well have started to go wrong in the big-league rotation, and Tomko did manage a complete-game shutout in his last start, after all, getting his 100th career win to boot.

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Released INF-R Khalil Greene. [2/26]

Once Greene didn't report because of his ongoing symptoms of social anxiety disorder, this was something of a predictable upshot. The hope now is that he can get well. If you have or know anyone who has SAD, you know it just doesn't go away with a snap of the fingers; also, this is different from Jim Eisenreich's experience with Tourette syndrome, if similar only in that a very good player has seen his career derailed by something that is hard to get a handle on. Whether Greene responds to the specific medications that might help, or to psychotherapy, or to both, there's no point in speculating over a potential timetable. It's simply more important that he recover. We can just look forward to the possibility that a better future involves Greene well, perhaps playing, and ideally back to playing as well as anyone ever hoped for him. Here's hoping those all come in time, but if you're curious or looking to help someone you know with SAD, you can always refer to this handy list of available resources.

On a massively less important front, the Rangers now have to deal with the issue of who their primary utility infielder might be. Joaquin Arias and non-roster journeyman Ray Olmedo might be the favorites, if only because Esteban German and Matt Brown can't play shortstop. But my hope would be that the Rangers don't think in directly linear terms here-they could always spot Michael Young at short in a pinch on Elvis Andrus' days off, and utilize German as an experienced utilityman than either the slack-batted Olmedo or the ill-starred Arias. Arias' career trajectory has already been badly altered by a shoulder injury, and while he had a decent winter spin in the Dominican in terms of making contact and stealing bases, all the slapping, running, and fielding in the world might not be enough to stick as one of just three or at most four non-catcher position-playing reserves the Rangers figure to keep for Opening Day. While German would fit, I'm in the camp of those who expect Jon Daniels to watch the waiver wire like a hawk, and potentially swing a late-March deal for an infield reserve type who might become available as rosters crunch down to 25.

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Outrighted LHP Arturo Lopez to Buffalo (Triple-A). [2/26]

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Signed UT-S Felipe Lopez to a one-year, $2 million contract. [2/27]

Of all the places that Lopez might go to and not cause any agita, St. Louis might be one of the few that wouldn't inspire general suspicion of what's to come. First, there's the actual need for him: Brendan Ryan may not be missing from action all that long, so hopefully F-Lop won't be playing all that much shortstop, but between that injury, the lead-gloved Skip Schumaker's continued employment at second, and the likelihood that rookie David Freese gets another crack at the job at third, it isn't like the Cardinals' infield is staffed up with certainty and stars.

Then there's also the fact that Lopez actually shined in St. Louis after getting away from the Nats at the tail end of 2008; where many teams might wonder about the reappearance of the sleepwalker who stumbled through the D.C. portion of his career, there's a relatively recent positive direct experience to consider. Finally, Tony La Russa likes his multi-positional utility players, and whether Lopez logs all that much time in the outfield and/or mans second base so that Schumaker can be sort of both the starting second baseman and the de facto fourth outfielder, you can bet that he'll get a good amount of playing time. While his value as a baserunner has plummeted in recent years, he's a decent bet to crank out a .340 OBP or better (although as I noted in November, that comes with caution flags). Plug that in wherever you need it in the lineup and at whatever position-as the Cards will have to-and you've given Albert Pujols someone else to drive in.

As for that baserunning thing, it's worth an additional look, just because if F-Lop has lost something in any one dimension of his odd blend of talents, it seems to be his speed on the bases. Consider how the shape of his production on the basepaths changed over the last four years:

2006 44 12 -0.46 0.14 1.73 0.65 1.22 3.3
2007 24 9 -0.89 -0.03 0.18 -2.00 -0.36 -3.1
2008 8 8 -0.34 -2.57 0.53 -3.22 -0.16 -5.8
2009 6 6 0.25 -2.88 -0.90 -0.81 -0.09 -4.4

That's a massive loss of value, obviously, and one that occurred during a player's generally accepted peak, from his age-26 through age-29 seasons. Considering we're talking about five different teams over four seasons, there's obviously a mish-mash of potential contributing factors: surfaces, coaches, and managerial usage patterns and preferred in-game tactics. Nevertheless, you're looking at a guy whose value stealing bases is shot, and who hasn't really contributed in any other way as far as advancing on hits, outs, or plays of any stripe. The trough from 2006 to 2008 involves a nine-run swing in value, not generally the sort of thing a player with Lopez's limitations can easily afford.

Happily for the Cardinals, it's come at an easily affordable price. If Lopez's baserunning and defense suggests a slower Luis Castillo, at this price and with the added benefit of some modest pop as well as positional flexibility, he's a boon. Combined with Julio Lugo, he ought to give the Cardinals a decent tandem of frequently-used reserves at the very least, and a useful enough fall-back position should Freese be the one who flops. I'd be worried less for Freese, however, than the chances for stathead favorite Ruben Gotay (who, as I pointed out in his player comment in the book this year, is more than a little overrated in this regard), but also Allen Craig's chances. However, Craig's been labeled by La Russa as more of an outfielder coming into camp, a position that is still crowded with reserve options, but none with quite the same level of experience as Lugo and Lopez.

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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