With little more than two weeks’ worth of games under our belts, you might not have expected really big moves to have been made, but injuries have driven a few major changes, creating a busy week as far as significant roster moves.
The deal sending Marlon Byrd to the Red Sox for Michael Bowden and a player to be named is the obvious early-season compensation gesture for a contender with mounting reasons for concern. With Jacoby Ellsbury out until at least June and Carl Crawford’s rehab inching along toward recovery, you could understand GM Ben Cherington’s dire need after reserve Jason Repko separated his shoulder.
Is Byrd that much of a fix? For the cost in talent (the already outbound Bowden) and considering the minimized expense with the Cubs also sending cash to offset Byrd’s $6.5 million salary, he’s a godsend, especially if you’re looking for an upgrade relative to Repko or Darnell McDonald. But you also have cause to keep your enthusiasm curbed: He’s already 34 years old, he’s lost several steps in center, and he hasn’t slugged .400 against right-handed pitchers since leaving Texas’s homer-happy bandbox after 2009. Indeed, he’s never put up an .800 OPS on a season outside of The Ballpark in Arlington.
In short, Byrd is a lot like one of his new teammates, Cody Ross. Each of them is a heck of a fourth outfielder on a great team, and a nice player to have if he’s your worst outfield regular. That might be Boston later this spring or summer, but until Crawford and Ellsbury come back, they aren’t there yet.
As for the other major doings on the transaction front:
So, Cliff Lee goes from Wednesday night’s 10-inning hero to an absent friend on the 15-day DL, just like that. If that isn’t a case of the object lesson walking right up and clubbing Phillies manager Charlie Manuel over the head, I don’t know what is. This is Lee’s fourth trip to the DL with an abdominal strain of one sort or another. He’s lost anywhere from 35-60 days to his past hurts.That bad news seems to suggest you can expect a one-month test (and five or six starts) to see if the Phillies’ phlailing offense can put up enough runs for Kyle Kendrick. A nice enough utility pitcher, Kendrick’s had problems with left-handed pitching over his entire career, and that figures to stay bad his second and third time through big-league lineups. If you didn’t already think the Marlins, Nationals or Braves had a shot at winning this division, you should now.
The Cardinals losing Lance Berkman to a strained calf couldn’t be less conveniently timed, because the first choice to take his place in the lineup, Allen Craig, is only just starting his minor-league rehab assignment. For the time being, this means Matt Carpenter will get regular at-bats at first base. That isn’t a bad thing, not in itself: If Carpenter continues to mash in his ongoing trial, he’ll get to stick around. If he doesn’t once people start building a book on him and adjust, that’s also going to be important to know, because he’ll know what to work on. As for Berkman, you can take some solace in the knowledge that the previous time he landed on the DL with a strained calf (in 2009), he missed 20 days.
If Johnny Damon is the antidote to Shelley Duncan for the Indians, you might wonder if the cure is worse than the problem. It’s been more than two years since Damon slugged enough to merit regular work at DH or an outfield corner, and betting on a bounceback at 38 is indicative of how desperate the Tribe’s need is.
If there’s a team that might be able to breathe slightly more easily despite its woes, it might be the Diamondbacks. Sure, they’re mucking around .500 while the Dodgers are grabbing headlines as April’s hottest team. But with center fielder Chris Young and No. 2 starter Daniel Hudson joining shortstop Stephen Drew on the DL, and with right fielder Justin Upton trying to recover from a bruised thumb, you might reasonably think the D-backs are in a literal world of hurt.However, Hudson’s dispatch to the DL seems almost precautionary in nature after his MRI showed no damage, Young may miss no more than a week more than the minimum, and Drew is working his way back and might be back around the same time. By mid-May, these absences may already be a memory, and the Dodgers will have come back to the pack. But in the meantime, keep in mind that this is a team that has been willing to trust and contend with home-grown talent, as they did last year with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and right-hander Josh Collmenter.So who’s on the spot? In the rotation, Hudson’s absence means that it might be time to give highly touted Trevor Bauer a two- or three-turn spin, especially as he blows through Double-A lineups: 3-0 with 20 Ks and one run allowed in 15 2/3 IP in his first three outings, but also a dozen walks. However, he’s not the automatic choice, because Barry Enright is also on the 40-man roster and is off to a good start at Reno (1.83 ERA in four starts). If it’s only a short stint in the rotation without an automatic shot at sticking around at the expense of Collmenter after his slow start, it might be Enright’s opportunity.
Among the position players, turning to rookie A.J. Pollock for some outfield playing time represents a great way to let Pollock cut his teeth early. He was the D-backs’ fifth-rated prospect according to Baseball America before the season, but he’s more of a classic tweener type than a high upside prospect. Even so, the Notre Dame product has the kind of line-drive power that might play up in Chase Field, and if he proves he can handle center well enough, he stands a good chance of getting called back for the stretch run.
Finally, the Snakes were busy snapping up some free talent, getting Josh Bell from the Orioles for a player to be named later. This isn’t a huge deal, but it wasn’t that long ago that Bell was considered a top prospect in the Dodgers’ system, and it didn’t look like he was going to catch a break after failing to make a good impression during Buck Showalter’s first two months on the job in Baltimore after Miguel Tejada was dealt away. Considering the D-backs are relying on journeyman Ryan Roberts as their regular third baseman, it’s a nice depth-minded move, and if they turn Bell around, he’ll come in handy.
Neat factoid of the day: ESPN Stats & Info writer Jeremy Mills passed along the news that Mark Teixeira has the all-time switch-hitting record for hitting homers from both sides of the plate in a single game, having done it a 13th time in Saturday’s rout of the Red Sox. Chili Davis and Hall of Famer Eddie Murray are tied for second on the list with 11, and a notch behind them are Mickey Mantle and Ken Caminiti. What about Chipper Jones? He’s bombed from both sides in a game “just” six times; it only seems like he delivered all six of those games against the Mets.
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Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.