March 16, 2010
Lefty-less and Zedliness
Received Rule 5 pick RHP Steven Johnson back from the Giants. [3/16]
Optioned RHPs Lucas Harrell, Clevelan Santeliz, Freddy Dolsi, Jhonny Nunez, and Brian Omogrosso to Charlotte (Triple-A); optioned RHP Santo Luis to Birmingham (Double-A); outrighted RHP Brandon Hynick to Charlotte. [3/16]
Acquired RHP Omar Aguilar from the Brewers in exchange for ceding any claim on Rule 5 pick LHP Chuck Lofgren. [3/16]
As change-of-scenery exchanges go, this wound up being a nice bit of flipping that might help both pitchers, while neither organization really risks much. Aguilar's the latest product of Merced College, one of the schools that has plenty of pitchers to its credit, majors and minors, but one that makes up for a rogue's gallery of wild men of one stripe or another: Brian Fuentes (2009's American League PIO leader: Pepto-Inducing Opportunities), eventual Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, Brad the Animal Lesley (he was huge in Japan!), Wild Bill Mooneyham, Blas Minor, first-edition Blue Jay Jerry Garvin... so the Blue Devils have their claims on major-league moundsmanship. (Position players, not so much—you've got backstop Dusty Ryan, and then bupkis.) Perhaps Aguilar fits into that tradition a bit too neatly, since he's having problems throwing strikes. Already heading into his age-25 season, he has gotten raked in each of his two spins in Double-A (earning him a mid-season demotion back down to High-A last summer, where he predictably resumed torching children), but he does throw mid-90s heat, and maybe the Indians will figure out a way to get him to use it to better effect than just running up a showy minor-league strikeout rate (10.4 K/9, against 4.9 UBB/9). Getting a live arm in exchange for the too-frequent disappointments Lofgren's been prey to can be seen as a moral victory of some sort.
Optioned RHPs Carlos Rosa and Victor Marte and OF-R Jordan Parraz to Omaha (Triple-A); optioned C-R Manuel Pina and MI-R Jeff Bianchi to Northwest Arkansas (Double-A); optioned LHP Noel Arguelles to Wilmington (High-A). [3/16]
Received Rule 5 pick RHP Bobby Cassevah back from the Athletics, and assigned him to their minor-league camp. [3/15]
Optioned RHPs Trevor Bell and Fernando Rodriguez to Salt Lake (Triple-A). [3/16]
With all of two innings pitched in the Cactus League, it wasn't as if Cassevah had enough action to say whether or not he'll ever make the majors. He still has low-90s velocity on a sinking fastball, and he could still be an effective reliever in the majors, perhaps even later this summer. However, it's somewhat understandable that he'd have been hard-pressed to get carried on the active roster all season, and the usual Rule 5 shenanigans—I'll take my tendinitis diagnosis murky with a full splash of rehab, thank you—wouldn't have changed the fact that the A's figure to have plenty of in-season turnover and workload management to deal with as is. So, bumping him back to th Angels isn't a stunner, but there's always the chance that he comes up and contributes as a ROOGY in Anaheim later this summer, or at some point in the future.
As for Bell, his demotion had little to do with his performance, since he never really had a shot in the first place. The front five in the Angels' rotation is settled and everyone's in camp and healthy, so Bell's being bumped to the Buzz was a bit of a foregone conclusion; he and Trevor Reckling (also just reassigned to minor-league camp) figure to be the team's most advanced upper-level prospects for rotation work. Even then, the Halos have depth that should allow them to leave Bell in Utah for several months, because Sean O'Sullivan's still in camp (for now), and the big-league staff has Matt Palmer hanging around for the express purpose of handling the chores for long relief work and the odd spot start.
Optioned CF-L Ezequiel Carrera to Tacoma (Triple-A); optioned RHPs Ricky Orta, Anthony Varvano, and Dan Cortes, LHP Edward Paredes, and 2B/OF-L Dustin Ackley to West Tenn Diamond (Double-A). [3/16]
Ackley's demotion shouldn't be cause for upset, not when he's been making what looks like a solid transition to second base, and when he's going to need more at-bats against pro pitching before he's really placed on any particular point of what's expected to be a fast track back. What that might mean for resolving the interesting experiment with having Chone Figgins and Jose Lopez alternate at second third base remains to be seen—it's already intriguing that the Mariners' brass was willing to upset at least one personal applecart by evaluating Figgins at the keystone after his exceptional development as a quality defender at third, but they were willing to explore this variant from the moment they signed him, as Jack Zduriencik telegraphed with some ambiguity about Figgins' position at the Winter Meetings announcement. Add in their willingness to move Matt Tuiasosopo around the infield from third base as well, giving him an excellent shot at winding up as a utilityman with some utility at the plate, and it's an open question as to who will wind up playing where in any particular ballgame. I love what it might mean in terms of exploring more tactically minded combinations that might focus on what players do, not what their title is. If Figgins is seen as their best possible second baseman with some pitchers on the mound, but a better third baseman for others—whether as a matter of handedness or the kinds of outs they generate—it's interesting to see a team really sorting through its options instead of simply accepting them.
Optioned RHP Jeremy Hellickson and CF-R Desmond Jennings to Durham (Triple-A); optioned LHP Alex Torres to Montgomery (Double-A). [3/15]
Injuries short-circuited any shot that Jennings had for pushing into the club's outfield picture, so his demotion's considerably less surprising than Hellickson's. The fifth starter's job is obviously Wade Davis' job to lose, with Andy Sonnanstine's bid being more a matter of having insurance in case Davis does lose it, but it seems as if Hellickson was given short shrift after a couple of dominant performances. That said, I wouldn't infer from this some sort of service-time manipulation, as the Rays have been accused of in the past; instead, Davis really does deserve the first spin on the basis of what he's already achieved, while Sonnanstine would be a solid choice in a lot of rotations, in organizations less well stocked with pitching talent.
As for the position-player fight, that's still very much a going concern, even with Jennings excused. Things are interesting because Sean Rodriguez has graduated from February sleeper to March contender, with Reid Brignac and Justin Ruggiano not doing badly. Since Ben Zobrist can only be in one lineup slot in any given ballgame, it's an open question as to whether Rodriguez or Brignac might get to play second base, or if Rodriguez, Ruggiano, or Matt Joyce (coming back from an elbow injury) will wind up in right field.
Optioned RHPs Daniel Stange and Cesar Valdez and MI-R Pedro Ciriaco to Reno (Triple-A); optioned LHP Leyson Septimo to Mobile (Double-A). [3/15]
Optioned RHP Rafael Dolis to Tennessee (Double-A). [3/16]
Optioned RHPs Shane Lindsay and Chaz Roe and C-R Michael McKenry to Colorado Springs (Triple-A); optioned RHP Al Alburquerque to Tulsa (Double-A). [3/16]
Optioned RHP Kenley Jansen and LHP Scott Elbert to Albuquerque (Triple-A); returned Rule 5 pick LHP Armando Zerpa to the Red Sox. [3/15]
Elbert had a shot at earning the fifth slot in the rotation, but it was predicated on his having a great camp—he didn't—simultaneous with everyone else having bad camps—they aren't. Instead, it looks as if Ramon Ortiz might emerge as an even more surprising candidate, but the Dodgers are double-indemnified in Ortizery, since Russ Ortiz is also looking good in terms of early work. If oft-beaten and beatable right-handed journeymen end up not being Joe Torre's flavor for fifth-manship, Eric Stults ranks as the obvious semi-experienced alternative, not to mention his being out of options. Beyond that, there's James McDonald, who isn't pitching well, and Charlie Haeger, who probably isn't doing enough good stuff to silence the nellies nattering about knuckleballs. Could it really come to this, a choice between Ortizes?
Recalling all of the great figures in history and literature whose names begin with Z reaches far beyond the scope of this article. Unlike so many revolutionary figures, we may never learn whether or not Emiliano Zapata was yet another frustrated pitcher; on the other hand, we can be reasonably certain that King Zog was not. The best Z-named ballplayer could be seen as the subject of some debate: Tom Zachary's the all-time WARP leader with 40.4, but that was all before integration and World War II, and might be best left to Mr. Goldman to regale you with sometime. Carlos Zambrano is the active leader, having produced 32.0 WARP so far, with Barry Zito not far behind with 26.2 WARP. Unless you're one of those 19th century cultists (in which case Chief Zimmer's your man), Richie Zisk tops the position players with 27.5 WARP, edging out Heinie Zimmerman (25.2) and Todd Zeile (23.7). The Nats' Ryan Zimmerman telegraphs a good deal of menace to that list, since he's already at 16.7 WARP just four years into his career. Clearly we live at a time when robust zedliness is not foreign to us, but whether or not Zerpa will add his name to the lists remains to be seen. As it stood, he was a bit of an odd selection back in December (he was flipped to the Dodgers by the Rays), and the Venezuelan's bid for a LOOGY role was a bit of a longshot from the outset, given the team has George Sherrill, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Brent Leach on the 40-man, plus the possibility of turning to Elbert later on if they so choose.
Traded RHP Omar Aguilar to the Indians to acquire the full rights to Rule 5 pick LHP Chuck Lofgren; outrighted Lofgren to Nashville (Triple-A); released LHP John Halama. [3/16]
As I noted in the Indians' segment, Lofgren almost certainly could use the change of scenery, since he's spent most of the last three years getting belted around in one part of Ohio or another, only recently escaping Akron, only to get squished up all over again with Columbus last summer. But Lofgren not only gets a new organization, barring a call to The Show, he might manage to avoid the state of Ohio altogether—the majority of the Pacific Coast League's affiliates might not play in any watersheds that empty into the Pacific, but it has no teams in the buckeye state. So who knows, maybe it was just an Ohio thing, and he'll resume the more prospect-y portion of the program. Since he's a southpaw who throws hard for the type, the plan appears to be that he'll get to keep trying to make it as a starting pitcher; if that fails, there's solace to be taken in the fact that even while getting clobbered in Columbus, he limited lefties to .216/.284/.284, so there's always a future in the bullpen to ponder. Since Lofgren's only 24, it's early to give up on his chances of having a career, even if it's not one with anything like the same sort of star power projected for him after a big 2006 season with Kinston.
Optioned RHP Scott Mathieson and CF-L Quintin Berry to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A); optioned LHP Yohan Flande and RHP J.C. Ramirez to Reading (Double-A); optioned RHP Jesus Sanchez to Clearwater (High-A). [3/15]
Optioned LHPs Aaron Poreda and Cesar Ramos to Portland (Triple-A) ; optioned LHP Steve Garrison and RHP Craig Italiano to San Antonio (Double-A). [3/15]
These might seem like a few surprising names to see shipped out already, but the numbers game was going to box a few people out. With the battle for the last rotation slot really being between Tim Stauffer and Mat Latos, even Wade LeBlanc's bid for the fifth slot seems more of a courtesy spin than a real opportunity, so Ramos was probably pre-booked for Portland whatever he did. Poreda might have gotten a longer look, but seven walks and 10 runs allowed in three games did little to dispel concerns about his command. It's beginning to look like Joe Thatcher will be the pen's lone lefty, which is well and good; between Petco forgiving a few mistakes and the longshot-at-best bid the Pads have in the West, there's little need to waste a roster spot on tactical chicanery; if Poreda wasn't ready, why bother with someone else? Italiano wasn't really a surprise; as it was for Poreda, this was his first camp with the club since coming over in trade last summer, and the plan to leave him in a relief role seems set. If he shines in the Missions' pen, he could escape the Puffy Taco's haunts in short order, and enter the big-league picture by the stretch and roster expansion.
Returned Rule 5 pick RHP Steven Johnson to the Orioles, having elected against employing him; optioned 1B-R Brett Pill to Fresno (Triple-A). [3/16]
Optioned RHP Francisco Samuel, LHP Tyler Norrick, C-L Bryan Anderson, 1B-L Mark Hamilton, OF- R Shane Robinson, and OF-L Daryl Jones to Memphis (Triple-A). [3/15]
Optioned RHP Collin Balester and LHP Atahualpa Severino to Syracuse (Triple-A); optioned RHP Ryan Mattheus and LHP Aaron Thompson to Harrisburg (Double-A); optioned RHP Juan Jaime to Potomac (High-A); released LHP Ron Villone. [3/15]
The interesting upshot of the decision to release Villone is that Jim Riggleman might forgo the opportunity to employ a second lefty in the pen behind Sean Burnett, preferring instead to focus on carrying the best half-dozen relievers (or seven), while noting that some right-handed pitchers on the club—Tyler Clippard specifically—have managed to get left-handed persons out in actual major-league ballgames. This shocking rejection of La Russian tactical obsession isn't exactly going to cost the Nats a shot at the National League East, and while it's not easy to endorse a pen relying on Matt Capps, Brian Bruney, Burnett, and Clippard as some chunkier, latter-day late-game Nasty Boys/Nasty Nats combo, I take it as a positive development. It might also be a positive symptom of retaining a skipper who managed in those far-off days of yore (also referred to as the '90s) when not everybody employed second lefties, and some clubs—the league-best '94 Expos among them—effectively did without. If it encourages Riggleman and Mike Rizzo to carry Drew Storen on the opening-day roster because he's one of their best relievers, that's something that involves promise, instead of promising fans another peek at on of the holdovers from last season's disaster. That said, Doug Slaten is still in camp as a non-roster player, and get young Bruney and Burnett and Capps and Clippard, and you get into questions about who else could and should make the team. Jason Bergmann seems set as a middle-inning righty; he's out of options anyway; that's five. Tyler Walker's getting drubbed. Miguel Batista and/or Livan Hernandez, as mop-up men and middle-innings sponges? Storen? Keep Craig Stammen around, as a reliever? It's the sort of decision tree that suggests that someone like Slaten could slip into the picture, or that there's a Nationals reliever TBNL because he hasn't been placed on waivers by his current employer just yet.