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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Durham Bulls on the Move: Welcome Back, Winston Abreu

Posted by on Thu, Aug 6, 2009 at 3:49 PM

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In what is surely the weirdest transaction we'll see this year, Winston Abreu has been re-signed by Tampa and will report to Durham on Friday.

Abreu began the year in Durham and was, to put a fine point on it, awesome. He was the awesomest pitcher on the staff, in fact, posting a 1.41 ERA in 23 appearances. In 32 innings, he allowed just 14 hits and 10 walks (that's a stingy 0.75 WHIP and .128 opponents' batting average), and struck out a dazzling 49 hitters. The 32-year-old Dominican went 3-0 for the Bulls, with 10 saves.

Abreu's return is really strange. He was promoted to Tampa earlier this season, pitched in a couple of games there, and then was designated for assignment. That in itself made little sense, since the Rays had just called up a guy who was out of options (meaning he couldn't be sent back to Durham without clearing waivers), didn't use him much at all, and were then forced to move him. They traded him to Cleveland for John Meloan, who now pitches for the Bulls. Abreu made three appearances for the Indians and got hit around pretty hard. A few days ago, the Indians designated him for assignment, and he was claimed by the Rays.

This means, among other things, that the Rays got John Meloan essentially for free.

It also means that Abreu will be reunited with Dale Thayer in an encore performance of The Wonder Twins of the Durham Bullpen, and it makes late innings very un-fun for opposing teams: the Bulls now have two of the best closers in the International League. Thayer was on the All-Star team, and Abreu almost certainly would have been had he not been recalled to the majors.

It further means that a move will need to be made to clear roster space in Durham for Abreu---although the Rays are having a lot of fun these days getting Bulls to jump through the Hudson Valley loophole, and perhaps we'll see that happen again. But the Hudson Valley end of the dugout, which currently seats three Bulls-in-waiting, is getting crowded. At this point, a more significant shift seems likelier, e.g. the demotion of Calvin Medlock or Joe Bateman to Montgomery, the release of someone like Jorge Julio or Matt DeSalvo, or even the return of Dale Thayer to the majors (which would mean the concomitant movement of someone off of the major-league roster, a notion that is entirely beyond my powers of consideration).

One thing is sure: Charlie Montoyo will be thrilled. Ever since Abreu left the Bulls, Montoyo has occasionally mentioned his name, here hoping that Jorge Julio would pick up where Abreu left off, there expressing gratitude that Jason Childers has lately done just that. If Abreu pitches anywhere near as well as he did in his first stint with the Bulls, he'll improve a bullpen that is already looking pretty good right now.

Part of me can't help wondering if this was all some sort of gentleman's agreement between the Rays and the Indians, whereby an elaborate transactional contraption would be set up to allow for Abreu's return to the Rays. What the Indians got out of the deal, I have no idea. Maybe Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro receives a bunch of pink flamingos, or perhaps Jason Childers will decorate a beach chair for him.

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