To set things up, let's start with last Wednesday's move.
April 22, 2009
Optioned LHP Zach Jackson to Columbus (AAA)
Recalled LHP Tony Sipp from Columbus (AAA) - MLB Debut
This first move was to reinforce a bullpen that desperately needed it. Sipp, although for several years considered an excellent prospect, was in his first season in AAA because of a series of arm injuries, including an elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery. But when healthy, he was dominant, sporting a career 11.7 SO/9 ratio in the minors. In 2006, his last full season before the elbow injury, he struck out 80 in 60.1 innings in Akron. So while bringing Sipp up was a bit of a gamble, he's had the stuff to get major-league hitters for a couple years now. Given his rousing success in his first couple outings and bullpen problems around him, he's gone from his major-league debut to key late-inning reliever in the span of a week. The next time the Indians need someone to face a tough left-hander in the eighth inning, Wedge is going to call for Sipp, not Rafael Perez.
As for Jackson, he's still on the 40-man roster, and so as long he's healthy, he's going to see the majors again this season.
On the 25-man roster: 13 pitchers, 12 position players
April 29, 2009
Placed DH Travis Hafner on the 15-Day Disabled List (shoulder)
Recalled LHP Rich Rundles from Columbus (AAA)
Travis Hafner started the season extremely well, and showed that it was his shoulder that had torpedoed his 2008 season, not a drastic deterioration of ability. But despite the Indians religiously giving him days off after several straight days in the lineup, his surgically-repaired shoulder began to bother him again. He's going to see James Andrews in the next couple of days, which hopefully is nothing but a precautionary measure. Even if he does return in two weeks, the shoulder's probably not going to be 100% for a while. And each time Hafner takes an 0-for or looks bad during an at-bat, we're going to ask ourselves, "is he ok?"
The night before Hafner went on the DL, the Indians and Red Sox decimated each other's bullpen, so even though they were already carrying 13 pitchers, for the first time I can remember, they added a 14th to the roster for Thursday's game against Boston. Rich Rundles, who saw action with the team last year (earning himself a coveted Let's Go Tribe sponsorship on his b-ref page), was under consideration to make the bullpen out of Spring Training, and has done good work thus far for the Clippers. But, as was made clear from the callup, he was the emergency staff-saver if Fausto Carmona got chased early. That didn't happen, so Rundles just got to watch the game and enjoy the post-game spread before heading back to Columbus. The two-man bench hampered the Indians towards the end of Thursday's game, as Eric Wedge couldn't pinch-run for Victor Martinez in the ninth inning in a tie game because Kelly Shoppach was the DH.
On the 25-man Roster: 14 pitchers, 11 position players
May 1, 2009
Reinstated David Dellucci from the 15-day Disabled List
Optioned LHP Rich Rundles to Columbus (AAA)
There was some initial thought to bringing up Matt LaPorta now that regular at-bats were to be had, but Dellucci was doing well in his rehab assignment and was pretty much ready to go. As unfortunate as the Hafner injury was, it was good timing for David to be ready to go as Hafner was being shut down, for his very poor throwing arm makes him a liability in the outfield. So I would assume that Dellucci will make the majority of his starts as the Designated Hitter, though the Indians will probably also make use of it to give some regulars a day off from the field.
I had assumed that the Dellucci callup would end the roster shifting for the time being. But no, the biggest flurry of the week was yet to come.
On the 25-man Roster: 13 pitchers, 12 position players.
May 2, 2009
Placed RHP Joe Smith on the 15-Day Disabled List (right shoulder)
I'm not sure which move influenced the other ones, but I'll assume that the Joe Smith DL stint was a given. According to Castrovince's story, the injury is not serious, and he'll get to go to the minors (via a rehab assignment) without the Indians using an option on him. Hopefully he'll be ready to go physically and mechanically in two weeks.
Recalled 2B Luis Valbuena from Columbus (AAA) - MLB Debut
Designated IF Tony Graffanino for Assignment
Jhonny Peralta had been in a major slump, but benching him would have meant that Little Giraffe would be starting in his place, not exactly an upgrade in the lineup over even a slumping Peralta. Jamie Carroll's still at least a few weeks from coming off the DL, so that provided a nice window of opportunity for Luis Valbuena to get some major-league experience. Valbuena has played second, short, and third for Columbus, so that will allow the Indians to have a rotation of sorts among DeRosa, Peralta, Cabrera, and Valbuena for now. To make the decision a lot easier, Valbuena was hitting .321/.436/.538 for Columbus, so he should be able to go right into the lineup without the Indians worrying him being an offensive liability.
I don't forsee this promotion being permanent for Valbuena. He's probably up here until Carroll comes off the DL, as all the positions on the infield are spoken for, and the Indians aren't going to keep him on the roster as a second utility infielder.
The Indians needed to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Matt LaPorta, so I think Graffanino would have stuck around if the Indians had just brought up Valbuena. Instead, he'll probably pass through waivers, and will be free to become a free agent if he wishes.
Purchased the Contract of OF Matt LaPorta from Columbus (AAA) and Recalled him to Cleveland - MLB Debut
There's been plenty of speculation about when the Indians were going to bring up the centerpiece of the Sabathia trade. LaPorta's been sizzling at the plate for Columbus, posting a 1.054 OPS in his first month in AAA. There are service time implications involved, so there needed to be a compelling reason to bring him up now. Ben Francisco's offensive problems probably had the Indians Front Office thinking about the move, but it was probably the Hafner injury that made the decision clear. Pronk's injured shoulder cleared a spot for the returning David Dellucci to occupy, still leaving Francisco and Trevor Crowe sharing left field. If Hafner hadn't gotten hurt, the Indians probably would have been content to muddle along with Dellucci and Francisco in left, as imperfect as that might sound.
Eric Wedge mentioned in the Castrovince story that LaPorta would serve as part of a platoon with David Dellucci, which I don't buy at all. LaPorta should be playing left field on a regular basis, with Ben Francisco relegated to a fourth outfielder. David Dellucci, when he's in the lineup, should be the DH, and only rarely venture out into left field. There's a distinct possibility that LaPorta won't be going back to AAA, for the opportunity is there to win the everyday left field job.
Recalled IF Josh Barfield from Columbus (AAA)
Optioned OF Trevor Crowe to Columbus (AAA)
With the Indians bringing up two outfielders in as many days, they swapped their pinch-runner outfielder for a pinch-runner infielder to balance out their position players. Crowe didn't do much offensively in his time with the team, and with LaPorta coming up, was going to get little opportunity to play.
On the 25-man Roster: 12 pitchers, 13 position players.
Beyond the particular needs addressed by these moves, I look at these callups also as an attempt to jump-start the team. The Indians sit, despite their 9-14 record, just 2.5 games out of first. And frankly, LaPorta and Valbuena are better players right now, despite their age and experience, than the players they replaced on the roster (Graffanino and Crowe).