June 10, 2010
Optioned 1B/LF-R Matt LaPorta to Columbus (Triple-A); activated 1B/3B-R Andy Marte from the 15-day DL. [6/7]
Designated 2B-R Mark Grudzielanek for assignment; purchased the contract of MI-S Anderson Hernandez from Columbus. [6/8]
As the season regresses more deeply into hopelessness, you can understand a decision to put the bigger picture into view. Sending down a top prospect might seem to be a case of going against that grain, when you'd think playing prospects would be the major order of business. But LaPorta's season has been a disaster, pure and simple, and while you can wonder why he should be sitting while we wait for Austin Kearns' BABIP balloon to pop or Travis Hafner's paycheck to stop buying him at-bats, if LaPorta had done something more with his opportunities, the issue wouldn't exist. You can dig into his count data and see that he's generating hitters counts better, but an ugly tally of pop flies seems to suggest he's not executing well when he pulls the trigger. Of course, slugging .277 tells you that too, and since he's still striking out less than 20 percent of the time, it's not like he's hopelessly flailing as much as executing badly. Regular playing time in Triple-A should cure what ails him, barring a prospect implosion worth comparing to Brad Komminsk—or Marte, if you want some ominous foreshadowing.
Meanwhile, the Indians will go through the rigmarole of employing Hafner and waiting to see if Kearns' inevitable cooling will be measured in Fahrenheit or Kelvin. But doesn't dismissing Grudz mean that they're trying to get younger or more flexible? After all, a 40-year-old, part-time, second base-only singles hitter isn't exactly a necessary position player for a non-contender, right? And Hernandez offers better flexibility, since he switch-hits and can play short, and the Tribe's down to picking between Jason Donald and Luis Valbuena, neither of whom is earning his keep.
However, this wasn't a case of going younger for its own sake as much as a bit of deck-chair shuffling on an already-sunk roster. After Grudz tweaked a hamstring over the weekend, the Tribe was going to have to make a move to bring Anderson up in his place, but they were short of space on the 40-man to fit him in. They offered to put Grudzielanek on the 60-day DL (and off the 40-man), and he said no thanks, probably preferring the possibility of playing somewhere—somewhere else—inside that window, especially since this might be his last season after a year out of the majors. Let's face it, if the man would prefer to wind down his career in some other way than a September swan song on Cleveland's roster, can you blame him?
Now that they've excused Grudz, they have their trio of Tom Veryzer types to pick from for their middle-infield assignments. The problem is that the best position for all three is second base, as all of them have their shortcomings at short. There's value in seeing if Donald can beat that expectation, of course, but it's sort of like running with a high-school science project on the big-league stage: just because you can show that the potato can power a battery doesn't mean you want to bet on spudly solutions to power your offense.
Designated SS-R Adam Everett for assignment; recalled INF-R Danny Worth from Toledo (Triple-A). [6/8]
Everett was the worst-hitting semi-regular at shortstop anywhere in the major leagues, hitting .185/.221/.247 with a .174 TAv, or worse than Cesar Izturis, Tommy Manzella, or Juan Castro, and a lot worse than the slick-fielding Ramon Santiago (.256/.350/.296), and a .246 TAv. However, perhaps not even that was going to kill off Everett's opportunity to fulfill his perceived role as part of the Tigers' small step towards fronting a better defense. However, any decline in his glove work would and perhaps did, since multiple metrics suggest he's lost several steps afield, and what's the point of carrying a defensive specialist at short when his defense isn't special? Jim Leyland oratorically gave Everett the full Viking funeral, noting his qualities as a human being and as a ballplayer and as a professional—none of which spared the man a trip to the woodchipper, of course, but it's what people expect of Leyland.
The other consideration in play is that with Santiago having won away a majority of the starts at short for himself, that takes him out of the prospective equation as far as defensive replacement duties for Carlos Guillen at second base. Now sure, to have been able to bring in Everett and move Santiago across the bag, that isn't rocket science, but here again, if Everett's not even living up to the defensive portion of his proposed utility, why bother?
So by swapping in Worth for someone they found increasingly worthless, they're adding a home-grown slick-fielding kid with plenty of experience at both middle-infield positions. As I said last month when they initially called him up, he's "not really enough of a hitter to represent much more than another variation on a theme already being played by Everett and Santiago. ... [I]f he makes a good impression now, that should count in his favor later, considering the Kitties already count leather among their favorite flavors for position players."
That last bit is obviously less true now, because if defense was especially in vogue after the Rays won a pennant, it's obvious that the worm's turning on that particular topic, at least here, and as the Tigers deal with changing performance and changing constellations of possibility as far as who plays what role on the active roster. Certainly, it seems as if Leyland's bucked pure defensive-mindedness to do things in the intervening weeks that do nothing in terms of helping him field a quality defense: Johnny Damon starting ballgames in center field, for example (in interleague play, and with injuries to consider, but still), or the decision to put Guillen at second base as the latest twist in the career of that positional gypsy.
If there was a Moneyball-related revolution in terms of mainstream perception that OBP was undervalued, and that has run its course, are we seeing the defensive counter-revolution run its own? I'd suggest that the faddish overreactive elements seem to be playing themselves out. However, it's worth remembering that the post-'09 rush to anoint genius-dom was generated by the performance analysis community as well as the media out of a misplaced faith in suggestive—not conclusive—data, a faith that inevitably suffered because of the conceit that we already have the tools to describe fielding value as precisely as we do hitting or pitching. That doesn't mean we've seen the last of players like Adam Everett, of course—when he was in his prime, he had value that was about more than just his glove work, and contributing TAv marks in the .240s and even the .230s was enough to help the Astros contend for four years, and even win a pennant.
Of course, those days ended after 2005, and he'd run out of time in Houston, drifting to Minnesota and finally Detroit as teams kept hoping that the latter-day Mark Belanger had something left. No matter how deep your thirst for shortstops, going digging and striking Oyler doesn't mean you've got a renewable middle-infield resource. Just as they were better off with Santiago in the first place, before they ever signed Everett, they're better off with Santiago and Worth now.
Activated RHP Pat Neshek from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Rochester (Triple-A). [6/5]
Activated RF-R Michael Cuddyer from the Bereavement Leave List; placed 2B-L Orlando Hudson on the 15-day DL (sprained wrist), retroactive to 5/31. [6/8]
Perhaps inevitably, they decided that Hudson's eventual recovery would be best served by an actual trip to the DL, but with J.J. Hardy dealing with his own wrist injury, they're still somewhat short-handed in the infield. As has happened in the past, Matt Tolbert and Nick Punto have gone from being interchangeably unfortunate choices at one position to the starters at two, and Danny Valencia's sprinkling singles often enough to stake his own weak claim to the job at third base. And Brendan Harris has had to play as well, spotting for an illin' Justin Morneau rather than remain buried on the bench in his infield sinecure. Indeed, the team had to play the Harris-Tolbert-Valencia-Punto alignment in two games over the weekend; non-shockingly, they wound up one-run squeakers, but the Twins broke even.
That infield might fly through their regularly scheduled beatings to mete out to the Royals, and happily it's expected that Hudson will be back in action at some point next week. That's especially good news when you look at the schedule and see that the Twins are about to draw a few tougher interleague matchups—the Braves, then the Rockies, and then a trip to Philadelphia. However, getting Cuddyer back will make a big difference, not least once they hit the road and lose the DH—between Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, and Delmon Young, two people will be riding pine, allowing Ron Gardenhire to pinch-hit for more than just his pitchers.
Placed 3B-R Aramis Ramirez on the 15-day DL (thumb), retroactive to 6/8; recalled 4C-L Chad Tracy from Iowa (Triple-A). [6/9]
If you look at his performance alone, it seems as if Ramirez hasn't been right all season long. Sure, he ripped a trio of homers in his first nine games, but that was essentially all he did, and since that initial 5-for-35 with five walks and those three homers, he's done worse at the plate to climb down to his current clip of hitting .168/.232/.285. There's a point at which a cold start becomes something more than a slump; Ramirez passed it a month ago, and we'll see what this means as far as any kind of eventual timetable for a return.
In his absence, they'll get more runs if only because it would be hard to receive fewer from almost anybody. Bringing Tracy back after his big month in the cornfields, hitting .396/.427/648, fills part of the bill, but only part. Considering that covers all of 96 PAs, the most you can say that they convey is that he was raking, he still doesn't walk much, he's still stronger against right-handers, and he enjoyed his time there. He also played third base whenever he did take the field, starting 19 games there, his most extensive game-time experience at the position since 2007, when his knee troubles were only just beginning, and happily he didn't do too badly. Even so, I wouldn't take his big month as an I-Cub as anything more than a suggestion that he's healthier than he's been in a while, the sort of thing that brings his higher-end projection—say, his 70 percent clip, bopping for a .263 Tav—that much closer to possibility. As a bit of career rebirth, he'll take it if he can get it, and if he can play third base well enough, he'll be certain to draw interest on the market.
Since Jeff Baker's still on the roster as a five-position utilityman—having played everywhere but short and center as a big-leaguer—he should be ready to employ as Tracy's platoon partner and perhaps also as his defensive replacement. Since a platoon's also sort of coalescing at second base between Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot, it makes for an interesting infield for Lou Piniella to choose from. There are the two regulars (Derrek Lee at first base and Starlin Castro at short) plus the two platoons, which amply cover the club at the four spots. Add that to a crowded outfield picture, and it's no wonder that the Derrek Lee rumors have legs, not that his hitting is helping move him much. But it creates an interesting amount of flexibility for Piniella as far as in-game tactics, since he can effectively swap in a useful player in-game for anyone but Geovany Soto.
Outrighted 1B-L Mike Lamb to New Orleans (Triple-A). [6/9]
Activated 4C-L Mat Gamel from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Nashville (Triple-A). [6/4]
Released RHP Jeff Suppan. [6/7]
Recalled RHP Chris Smith from Nashville; transferred RHP LaTroy Hawkins from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/8]
Activated RHP David Riske from the 60-day DL; placed RHP Todd Coffey on the 15-day DL (bruised thumb), retroactive to 5/30. [6/8]
Usually, you hear the term “fact-finding mission” and you might assume equal measures of waste, expense, and pointless discoveries. Say, something like, “the Senator determined that the beaches of the Marshall Islands still have sand on them.” This is absolutely true, of course, but it is expensive to go find out.
But what do you do with the Brewers' multi-month exercise in the serial self-inflicted stupidity of demonstrating that Jeff Suppan can't contribute in any capacity? Start? Nope, not good at that still, same as last year, or the year before, or the year before that. Mop-up? Only if you like to take a rag to a mess and see things get even messier. It took two months to achieve something seen as inevitable last fall, but having tethered themselves to the expense, they preferred to let themselves be sunk with the cost of employing Jeff Suppan, rather than sink it. For $42 million and 97 turns, the Brewers got a .442 SNWP, surprising perhaps only the people signing the checks.
Now, obviously it's easy to beat on the Brewers on this particular topic. Skip something as sporting as shooting fish in a barrel, it's like putting Suppan inside Bernie Brewers' abandoned beer stein*, and putting that in front of Big Bertha and letting rip over open sights. But the indignity of this is that the Brewers are basically out of it, 10 games under .500 and 8.5 out in the NL Central race, and Jeff Suppan was allowed to help dig them down to that point, because the organization was unwilling to admit to a mistake made—four years in—and that because there was still another $14.5 million to shell out for shellings. That's just self-imposed patheticism, without the dignity of being pitiable as a result. There is no master plan that has, as an element, the proposition that “and if Jeff Suppan comes around, we'll have them exactly where we want them!”
So now they're finally beyond the Age of Suppan, and the Brewer bullpen, having already received its better reinforcements in the form of John Axford or Zach Braddock last month, has to settle for making space for a soft-tossing minor-league vet like Chris Smith and resurrecting a retreaded Riske. At least that resembles a normal, Suppan-exclusive decision tree, although they're still so hard up for relief help that they're carrying an eight-man pen on the proposition that more is, when all else fails, more. Of course, this is also a pen studiously avoiding the use of Trevor Hoffman, and the unit that's also employing the well-traveled Kameron Loe. Add in utility pitchers Manny Parra and Carlos Villanueva, and you've got a misshapen heap of talent and experience, and a tough bunch to fashion a functioning pen out of mid-stream. But will Ken Macha find useful roles some, all, or any of them? It's one of the few areas of actual operational discretion left to managers these days, but numbers don't equal performance metrics, not if Macha can't figure out ways to employ his small relief crowd to good effect.
* Of course, that's because these days Bernie's, y'know, for kids, whereas back in the past, he even had a Bonnie Brewer to keep him company in his outfield love shack—of course, those were the swinging '70s—not to mention a life devoted entirely to diving into a gigantic stein full of beer to celebrate the sporadic success of the Brew Crew.
Activated LHP Dana Eveland; optioned LHP Brian Burres to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [6/4]
Designated LHP Jack Taschner for assignment; optioned 1B-L Jeff Clement to Indianapolis; recalled RHP Brad Lincoln from Indianapolis; purchased the contract of OF-R Jose Tabata from Indianapolis. [6/9]
So, with the rush to haul up talent that will not be arbitration eligible until after the 2013 season—yes, that far ahead—the Pirates are making an effort to resemble their better selves by at long last bringing up Lincoln for rotation work, and put Tabata into the starting outfield at Clement's expense. It's another exercise in demonstrating the disincentives towards trying to field your best team up front, since the Pirates can talk about seasoning and growth and development, but face it, when they're picking between waiver bait like Dana Eveland or waiver bait-to-be like Jeff Karstens for their fifth starter, all because they've finally expanded their options beyond the question of using Brian Burres at all, it sort of calls into question to what extent the franchise is playing with an eye towards the standings involving wins and losses, versus those measured in terms of club control and service time.
Not that such a decision is evil—the Pirates' obligation as a form of entertainment is to provide a plausibly entertaining ballclub. In some ways, they've outdone themselves, coming in an MLB-best five games ahead of their expected record so far this season. I doubt that has helped attendance that much, however, and keep in mind, that's despite getting 32 starts out of 56 from starters with a SNWP of .420 or lower, and despite a lineup of journeymen and discards keep Andrew McCutchen and Ryan Doumit company. When you're overperforming this obviously given how many regulars are playing poorly, it's hard to even make the sale that matters are improving all that much.
However, it's hard not to suggest that you're better off when you're excusing a starting first baseman who drew three unintentional walks in two months. For the first third of the season, Clement might have successfully kept Andy LaRoche and perhaps even Charlie Morton out of the klieg lights as far as the nominations for “most disappointing Bucco,” but now that he's gone, it's open season on the alternatives. Akinori Iwamura? He might not still be a Pirate by July. Lastings Milledge? He's getting time in right field as Tabata time begins in left, with Garrett Jones moving into the infield, but Milledge and Tabata will need to do more than hint at slugging .400 or better to keep their slots in the corners; not that I'm a huge believer in Steven Pearce, but eventually he'll be back from the DL, at which point Jones could be on the move again. Not even the Pirates will endure Milledge's punchless production if it continues.
Tabata arrives with leadoff man credentials this club could use, having hit .308/.373/.424 for Indy, or what works out to a league leaderboard-worthy .280 TAv. His drawing 22 unintentional walks in 252 PAs isn't quite so reassuring, although when you're talking about a 21-year-old in Triple-A, some slack can be cut. He's also managed 25 steals in 31 attempts, a healthy 81 percent clip. He was immediately deposited in the leadoff slot against the Nats last night, which sort of like the decision to slot Neil Walker in the second slot as a sluggier sort of second baseman hitting second at least represents improvement over Iwamura and LaRoche or Iwamura and Crosby or the like. With McCutchen and Jones behind them, it makes for as good a short stack attack as the Bucs could boast all season.
To try to extend things will depend on how well LaRoche and also Lastings Milledge do further down in the order, as they'll probably be batting sixth and seventh on the nights that Doumit's behind the plate. While Milledge ranks among the team's better regulars in OBI%, he's going to be expected to do better than 13.6 percent if he's going to do the club much good, and hitting for better power would certainly help. And LaRoche frankly has to show something, anything, before he simply loses his job to Pedro Alvarez.
Over in the rotation, it isn't like Lincoln won't be an improvement on Burres, Karstens, Eveland, Morton, etc. The question is whether he'll pitch well enough to stick as something more than a redoubtable runner-up in that sort of tallest midget competition. Happily, he should. Three years removed from TJS, he arrived last night providing reminders for why he's a legitimate pitching prospect, slinging mid-90s heat supplemented by a big-breaking curve against the Nats, although he wound up surrendering four extra-base hits, five runs, and nine baserunners in six frames.
At Indianapolis, he's been dominant, delivering eight quality starts in 11 turns, striking at 55 against 14 walks in 68
One fun factoid about Lincoln is that he takes hitting seriously, having DH'd for the University of Houston before the Pirates selected him in the first round. As a pro, he'd gone 7-for-22 with a couple of doubles in the minors, so in last night's debut, it probably shouldn't have shocked folks that he ripped a couple of base hits and plated a run.
Optioned OF-L Jon Jay to Memphis (Triple-A); signed OF-S Randy Winn to a one-year contract; transferred RHP Kyle Lohse from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/5]
Optioned RHP P.J. Walters to Memphis; recalled RHP Fernando Salas from Memphis. [6/8]
Well, there it was—Walters didn't earn his keep, so the Cardinals elected to re-employ his roster spot after he took a beating in the rotation and then another in long relief. As a result, Adam Ottavino looks like he'll get a third turn as the designated filler in the rotation in the meantime, with a fifth starter not being strictly necessary until next week against the Mariners. While wishful thinking would suggest that Brad Penny will be back in time for that slot, recent comments indicate that's looking unlikely. After experimenting with Blake Hawksworth in Walters' place on Monday, only to see the changeup fiend take a beating that sucked Walters into long-relief chores, the next time the fifth slot comes up is inside 10 days of Walters' demotion, so it will take a DL move to get him back for the next turn. So, if they don't re-employ Hawksworth and if Penny isn't healed up in time, they'll be reaching for somebody else. Maybe this will be Evan MacLane's big opportunity. More likely, given the club's reliable taste in bottom-feeding—we'll get to Randy Winn in a second—I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them reach for some sort of Zaius ex machina, because if anyone can retread any old ape, it's got to be Dave Duncan. On the other hand, I hear that Jeff Suppan's available...
As for Winn, some might be more than a little perplexed as to why the Cards would reach for him at all, given that he won't start, and he has no track record for ever being a useful bench player after outlasting his utility as an everyday player last year with the Giants. To make matters sillier, Jay was producing just fine as a backup and has a future in the organization and the game. However, Winn is experienced, and he has seen the circuit a few thousand times, and he has all of the little gewgaws that make you think he's notionally useful: a switch-hitter with experience in center field, fast-ish, associated with success—well, actually, not so much as far as that last bit, but he was on a non-wild card second-place finisher once in his career, and he's played with plenty of very successful people, and that has to count for something, right? Those things generally set him apart from the season-opening trio of right-handed organizational types who were on the club's initial bench. Of course, Jay had already helped fix that issue.
The additional complication is of course the question of depth. If Colby Rasmus really had to miss more than a couple of days with his current calf issue, where would they be? Counting on Jay as an everyday player? Or moving Skip Schumaker back to the outfield? Turning to Schumaker was my first thought, especially since he's continuing to stumble around the middle infield, but keep in mind that the in-house alternatives to Schumaker include Aaron Miles. That's because, right now this instant, Felipe Lopez has to man third while David Freese nurses his own nagging hurt. So you can see how even the better-sounding abstractions run afoul of the needs of the present. Winn might be a mixed blessing, but he was readily available, and it isn't like they just took a spin with Willy Taveras or the like.
They can't really lose all that much for trying Winn, because if he flops, they can dump him and always go back to Jay after granting the farmhand a few weeks of full-time play with Memphis. If they've nabbed a Winn-ing gambit, they've got him for the pro-rated major-league minimum. Why not? He's disposable, and if he fails, you can bet that he'll be disposed of; if he becomes another one of La Russa's oft-praised collection of retreaded vets, so much the better.