May 27, 2010
Senior Circuit Shakeups
Placed INF-S Tony Abreu on the 15-day DL (sprained wrist), retroactive to 5/24; recalled INF-R Ryan Roberts from Reno (Triple-A). [5/25]
Abreu's career has become something of an unpredictable compound sentence, with the action punctuated so frequently by setbacks like the injury that ended his 2007 season early and cost him all of 2008, or the service-time squabble with the Dodgers in 2009 that kept him from donning Snakeskin until after the season to this latest hurt in the midst of his providing solid work as the primary reserve at second, short, and third for his new organization that get pretty far into the thickets searching for a way to reach the period that lets you know that all that needs saying has been said in this particular unfruitful foray into inaction for Abreu-ah, here it is.
In some ways, it's sort of like recreational Kant consumption: reaching the real point about epistemology and the limits of knowledge is often painful, usually creating existential questions like "what the hell, I'm sure there's some laundry that needs my attention more than reaching the end of this paragraph." Too true, most of our hampers already runneth over. However, in the past three seasons Abreu's missed enough time to produce Kantian questions about whether happy expectations of the Abreu experience are grounded in pure reason. Things like that .615 slugging percentage in Albuquerque last season (in just 236 PAs) or bopping at a .517 clip in 253 PAs for Las Vegas as a 22-year-old in 2007 are products of both his inherent gift for making contact and the environments in which he was getting to sock and rock. For all that, his two separated campaigns in Triple-A adds up to a .210 ISO in two of the PCL's more notorious bandboxes, with an unintentional walk rate below five percent. Those aren't quite so happy as happy stats go.
Of course, what gets you buzzing is the fact that he's young, and that helps generate heightened expectations. And he switch-hits. And he plays shortstop. All of those things are cool, and put them in a blender between margaritas, and what seems to be served up is a young switch-hitting shortstop with considerable power. Everybody loves those-gimme some! Of course, the problems are legion: he's not seen as an everyday shortstop, and even getting to call Phoenix's bandbox home, you take the PCL out of the picture, and things get a lot less sunny, leading to PECOTA-generated expectations that he can hit in the .260s and get aboard right around the Guillen Line (.300) and slug around .400. That's valuable in a utility infielder, and it's around what he's been doing for the Snakes already.
It also isn't extraordinarily more valuable than what Roberts can do in his place, and since the D'backs still have Augie Ojeda gathering dust in one corner of the clubhouse, it isn't like they're unmanned for infield reserves. Roberts could just as easily provide an excellent righty-batting substitute for Kelly Johnson in Abreu's absence, given his own extensive record for batsmanship with a wee bit of pop and some patience. How long Abreu's gone for this time remains to be seen-it's not just his wrist but also a forearm issue-but the mystery of what he's capable of can be left for the future without creating overmuch anguish. If you're an Arizona fan, you can just keep rooting for the laundry.
Placed OF-R Brent Clevlen on the 15-day DL (sprained toe), retroactive to 5/24; recalled OF-S Gregor Blanco from Gwinnett (Triple-A). [5/25]
Clevlen made it into all of one start as the latest righty-batting platoon-partner-designate for the Braves' left-field morass, and perhaps something of a necessity brought on by the absence of Matt Diaz until late June. That said, the short side of platoon work in one position isn't the biggest hole to have to fill, especially when it's for a team that has Omar Infante available for spot duty in the outfield. Blanco's play for Gwinnett probably won't slot him for much more than early-inning or early-game pinch-hitting chores: he'd hit .294/.392/.375, with 22 walks in 165 PAs, eight steals in nine attempts. Nice, but whatever you want to say about Nate McLouth's defense in the middle pasture and possibly going with Blanco in center with McLouth moving to left, the Braves ain't buying, and it isn't enough to draw attention away from the lefty power Eric Hinske's been providing now that he's become the best answer for the majority of left-field starts.
Placed SS-R Paul Janish on the Bereavement Leave List; recalled UT-S Drew Sutton from Louisville (Triple-A). [5/26]
Janish is leaving the team to attend his grandmother's funeral, taking him away from the small-sample heroics that are making his season the stuff of Randy Asadoor-like fame and Strat-league coveting. Whatever you make of the shape of Orlando Cabrera's contributions so far this season, Janish's track record as a hitter is such that there's no reason to believe he'd keep cranking out a .303 TAv, so I don't think we need to fire up the "Free Paul Janish" campaign just yet. Dusty Baker's as enamored as a man can get with Janish's work with leather, and if he isn't squeezing the kid into the lineup, I'd take that as a frank appreciation of his uses and his limitations.
Designated C-R Paul Phillips for assignment; recalled C-R Chris Iannetta from Colorado Springs (Triple-A); signed 2B-S Kazuo Matsui to a minor-league contract, and assigned him to Colorado Springs. [5/25]
Outrighted C-R Paul Phillips to Colorado Springs. [5/26]
Optioned LHP Greg Smith to Colorado Springs; recalled RHP Matt Daley from Colorado Springs. [5/27]
With that, the indignity of Iannetta's demotion is done. In his absence, Miguel Olivo hit .276/.352/.487 in 22 starts as the primary catcher, questions about his receiving skills seem to have been squelched, and he's thrown out better than half of stolen-base attempts, so it isn't as if the Rockies were hurting in the meantime. However, Iannetta had wrought sufficient havoc in the PCL (.349/.447/.698 and a .300 TAv, with 10 walks in 76 PAs) to answer whatever overwrought concerns existed about his hitting less than three weeks into the big-league season. We'll see what sort of split he gets as far as the playing time behind the plate, but it remains one of the finest tandems a team can choose from in the game, providing the club the kind of depth that affords them the ability to do without one or the other for a month at a time. In a world where other clubs might be so hard up they could covet Paul Phillips, that's a massive in-season advantage.
What does that mean for everyone outside of Denver? Well, for all of the hysterics calling for Iannetta's reincarnation as a Red Sox savior, I'd suggest you give real thought to the likely price. Quality receivers with good hitting skills don't come cheaply, the Rockies know what they have, and by getting him under contract through 2013, he's more valuable still. Since Olivo's also locked up through 2011, the Rox can sit pretty and watch everyone else burn, secure in the knowledge they don't have to do anything until they decide it's Michael McKenry's turn (and he's only doing well, not great, at Colorado Springs), or Wilin Rosario's (ditto, but down in Double-A Tulsa). There's no reason for the Rockies to ditch their depth and bring up either kid when they could be heading into a pennant race, at least none provided by the kids-yet.
Then there's the fact that the Rockies certainly don't need much as things currently stand. The lineup's fairly well stocked already. Sure, in the abstract a better second baseman than Clint Barmes would be lovely, but they very easily could decide that Matsui will serve as an adequate platoon alternative, having fished him out of a dumpster for free. Or they might think that Eric Young Jr. could be the eventual answer, assuming he heals up in time to contribute. On the pitching side of the slate, the return of Jeff Francis and Jhoulys Chacin has the rotation amply shored up, enough so that they could demote Smith after getting predictably weak work from him as a temporary patch. The bullpen? Here again, they've got Huston Street and Taylor Buchholz nearing their returns, so the problem isn't that the Rockies have enough worthwhile relief pitching, but perhaps too many bodies to choose from. (In other words, Daley's opportunity to reclaim his job might be very brief, and measured in days, not weeks; Esmil Rogers is the most obvious demotion, but he's just one man.)
So, if you want catching and you don't want to keep kicking the tires on the Rangers' now-unfashionable collection, the Rockies are certainly the team to call. The problem for any suitor is that they're in the hunt and they've got the horses, so Dan O'Dowd is in a position of strength if anyone wants to pick up the phone. He doesn't have to make you happy-you need to make him happy.
Placed LHP George Sherrill on the 15-day DL (back), retroactive to 5/24; activated SS-S Rafael Furcal from the 15-day DL. [5/25]
Designated RHP Ramon Ortiz for assignment; purchased the contract of RHP Justin Miller from Albuquerque. [5/27]
Getting Furcal back in action is the most important thing here, because the rest is a matter of fixing lingering issues in the bullpen. After all, excising the last Ortiz standing was merely a matter of time once Jeff Weaver was ready for reactivation for middle-inning relief, while rousting up a ROOGY of Miller's pedigree makes for a nice tactical addition-as ever, Miller was mowing his right-handed kind like a scythe, shutting down the same-handed as an Isotope at a .132/.207/.189 clip, while PCL southpaws mashed him for .286/.342/.543. Used sparingly in his proper spots, the game's great illustrated man should remain a situational star.
As for bigger fish in the bullpen barrell, Sherrill has been struggling terribly all season, ranking as the league's worst reliever with a FRA running into the teens, so it's hard to say that the Dodgers will miss him, as much as they've already been missing what he's supposed to bring to the table. Happily, Hong-Chih Kuo is back in action and capable of pitching in more than single-inning appearances this season, so it isn't like the Dodgers are without a power lefty in the pen as much as they're without this particular power lefty. What's neat is that rather than fidget over whether they need a second southpaw, just as they decided at the start of the year when Kuo was on the shelf, they skipped selecting one. But with Scott Elbert struggling with his command and Brad Leach simply struggling, there wasn't an already-rostered addition to make, and the only other left-handed Isotope is Pirates castoff Juan Perez. So why bother adding a lefty for left-handedness' sake?
That they're also making the decision to go with 11 pitchers for the time being is cool, but almost certainly transient-Monday's day off helped, but they won't have another day of rest until June 10. Ditching Ortiz while adding Miller means they've still just got six designated relievers, because of the expectation that Carlos Monasterios is getting tomorrow's start in Denver. Geography as well as timing are both significant: Charlie Haeger's ready enough to come back from the DL, but his last rehab spin at High-A Inland Empire would put him on three days' rest for tomorrow's ballgame, and knuckleballers and altitude tend not to mix well. Vicente Padilla's only beginning his rehab, so we're a couple of weeks away from seeing him take up the open slot in the rotation, so whether Monasterios gets the turns, or Haeger returns to the rotation picture, or Haeger just comes back, but in the pen, makes for one interesting decision tree. Then again, with the 40-man full up, and that balanced against questions of what to do about Garret Anderson's uselessness or Nick Green's redundancy (now that Furcal's back), who they might bounce to add a seventh reliever should also prove interesting. Shipping the optionable Xavier Paul back to Albuquerque would be the path of least resistance for the moment, but Andre Ethier's due back next week, meaning that two position players could be living on borrowed time.
Claimed 2B-R Justin Turner off waivers from the Orioles, and optioned him to Buffalo (Triple-A); transferred CF-S Carlos Beltran from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/25]
With the nagging concerns over Luis Castillo's availability and a shortage of middle-infield alternatives in the upper levels of the organization, Turners a decent enough placeholding pickup. It certainly adds variety to have a right-handed second-base type who spares you a choice between rushing Ruben Tejada back up or the ignominy of purchasing Russ Adams' contract in case Castillo needs to reach the DL, at least to provide Jerry Manuel with an opposite-handed alternative to Alex Cora at the keystone.
Outrighted C-R Paul Hoover to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [5/26]
With that, we don't know if there's any relationship here to the wisdom of Jeff, we don't know about how long he's gone without seeing a woman naked, but we do know that he's very definitely the original Hoover Pig.
Returned SS-R Edgar Renteria to the 15-day DL (strained hamstring). [5/26]
Optioned 2B-R Matt Downs to Fresno; recalled RHP Waldis Joaquin and INF-R Russ Rohlinger from Fresno (Triple-A). [5/27]
OK, color me a bit skeptical about the full extent of the advances in sports medicine, because in short order we've seen Jimmy Rollins, Edgar Renteria, and Coco Crisp all return to the DL within a week of their reactivations, and Jacoby Ellsbury's already doing the achy-breaky on Red Sox Nation's heart without reaching a second weekend back in action. While the A's perennial litany of injuries over the years has at times bordered on scandalous (or perhaps a fact of life when you acquire or retain fragile talents with considerable downside risk), for good reason the Phillies and Red Sox are considered to be among the industry leaders when it comes to patching up their players.
That's not to say that technological or diagnostic advances haven't been made, but it's easy to get carried away with the tools and lose sight of the cases. The coincidence of so many brief returns strikes me as a reminder that there's only so much a training staff can do. Sometimes guys are just going to be hurt, and sometimes, no matter how good the reputations and the performances of the support staff, players break down. Of course, there is a distinction from a right groin and a right hamstring, or what has been pointed to as Renteria's previous and current injuries. I guess I'd look at these things on the macro level: Renteria spent the minimum amount of time on the DL, and he's broken again already. He didn't have the benefit of a rehab assignment, coming back into action without a live game. Crisp got all of a two-game rehab assignment. Rollins? Just one game. At least Ellsbury got three, and he's least broken of the re-broken. Put all of that together because of mere coincidence, and I guess I'm left wondering about the limitations of the diagnostic tools at our disposal. Obviously, the clubs want the players available, the players want to play, and the trainers are doing what they can with what they've got. Admittedly, caution and prudence aren't especially sexy.
Happily for the Giants, Juan Uribe's about as good an alternative to a starting shortstop as you could wish for, and with Freddy Sanchez playing second base every day, I'd expect Rohlinger to ride pine for the forseeable future. This might also nip in the bud any decision to put Aubrey Huff in the outfield and Pablo Sandoval at first base on any more evenings, but Bruce Bochy could still follow up on that line of thinking by spotting Rohlinger, or leave Sandoval at third and push Huff to left by spotting Travis Ishikawa at first base. Two months into the season, Ishikawa has two starts, and it's sort of hard for him to fulfill a Bergman-esque role if he's off-stage this regularly. (I'm thinking Dave, not the ubiquitous Max von Sydow.)
Placed LHP Scott Olsen on the 15-day DL (shoulder). [5/22]
Recalled OF-R Justin Maxwell from Syracuse (Triple-A). [5/23]
Placed C-R Ivan Rodriguez on the 15-day DL (strained back), retroactive to 5/23. [5/24]
Purchased the contract of C-R Carlos Maldonado from Syracuse. [5/25]
Now that Pudge is out of action, I suppose it's a virtue that the Nationals have interchangeability going for them-whether they start Maldonado or Wil Nieves or anyone capable of catching, nobody's especially important in himself. The problem is that the Nats really had taken all of the right steps against this sort of scenario, knowing as they did that Jesus Flores' comeback wasn't going to be something on the fast track. But then Jamie Burke got hurt, and Chris Coste is out for the year, and all of that carefully accumulated depth didn't save them this misfortune. Burke's been brought back from rehabbing his knee in extended spring training and deposited on Syracuse's roster, but he won't be ready for a bit.
That leaves them with Maldonado, whose merits might be best summed up by saying that he's not significantly worse than Nieves, because the newly erstwhile starting catcher ranks among the game's weakest-hitting backup backstops. If you wanted to name one, I'd narrow that particular field to Nieves (.202 career TAv), Koyie Hill (also .202), or Kevin Cash (.175), but only because guys like Craig Tatum and Drew Butera don't have their IBBB* union cards yet. Naturally, pressing any of these people into full-time play is what's officially referred to as "Bad News."
Even then, it's important to recognize we don't have a lot of Ken Phelps All-Star types knocking around in Triple-A these days, readily available for need off-season shoppers. Consider the International League's regular catchers: top prospects like Carlos Santana, Josh Thole, Tyler Flowers, and Wilson Ramos, or the guys who aren't freely available. Beyond them, you're left pondering the virtues of Indianapolis' Erik Kratz (.294 TAv) or Durham's Jose Lobaton (.240) or Pawtucket's Dusty Brown (.238). Matters aren't much different in the PCL: you don't get to shop for prospects like Buster Posey or Welington Castillo or Chris Iannetta, you get to ask yourself whether getting Edward Bellorin (.231 for the O-Royals) was really that regrettable an task left undone last winter. It's enough to make a person ask the immortal question: Where have you gone, Creighton Gubanich?
As for losing Olsen, someone was going to get bounced by the now-inevitable arrival of Stephen Strasburg. Of course, it was more likely to be a choice between Craig Stammen or Luis Atilano, and now both are in slightly better shape because absenting anybody else gives at least one of them a chance of sticking around. It's expected that J.D. Martin will get the call for Saturday's open turn, but the Nats aren't being especially communicative on the subject. Stammen's .367 SNWP is the worst on the staff, so he should be in danger from Martin as well as Strasburg. Add in the possibility of Olsen's returning to action sooner than later, and even with Chien-Ming Wang's latest timetable pushing his return back until July, I'd consider Stammen's days numbered regardless of whether or not Martin gets spot duty or not.
*: International Brotherhood of Backup Backstops, with Nationals being Local #30 as the most recently added outfit.