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June 18, 2010
Waterloo's 195th Anniversary Edition
Signed 1B-R Ryan Shealy to a minor-league contract, and assigned him to Pawtucket. [6/17]
Designated RHP Boof Bonser for assignment; recalled LHP Felix Doubront from Pawtucket (Triple-A). [6/18]
I covered the Doubront call-up on Thursday, so you can see my anticipation of what's to come right here.
Because they don't have Jeff Bailey any more, and at some point that need for a supernumerary right-handed batter who plays first base is too much to overlook. Shealy's been the subject of needless enthusiasm before—with the Royals, for example, which shouldn't be held against him. We can rail against the exaggerated fascination with picking 12th pitchers and how that bites into opportunities for additional power sources, or flog the powder-blue party for its fascination with the likes of Doug Mientkiewicz or Ross Gload—it's as if the team's answers at first base were the product of an innate dysfunction, where aiming for creating something better by pondering their muse, Royals GMs keep coming up Muser.
But in fairness to the Royals, they did give Shealy his shot in 2007—his age-27, no-time-like-the-present campaign—and he blew it, slugging .308. He got to spend most of 2008 in Omaha as well, a knee injury wiped out most of his 2009, at which point he became an ex-Royals and signed a minor-league deal with the Rays with an eye on bopping in Durham. He did, a little, if being the Steve Balboni of the International League is brag-worthy (.238/.354/.512). To his credit or his agent's, he negotiated an out clause that allowed him to jump from the Rays' organization to Boston's. Maybe it was the fact that he had to witness Hank Blalock get called up in front of him—and not hit—perhaps hoping that Boston's rash of injuries or a willingness to carry Mike Lowell represents cause for hope. That, or he just wants to summer on the Cape.
Designated INF-R Jayson Nix for assignment; recalled 1B/3B-R Dayan Viciedo from Charlotte (Triple-A). [6/18]
For all the talk about Kenny Williams traveling with the team and wanting to shake things up... this is all that comes of it? Well, so far, and if this is the scale of their shakeups, I suppose Brent Lillibridge ought to be quaking in his cleats, as the next target of such acts of petty vengeance visited upon the roster. What else is there? Sure, they could punitively release Mark Kotsay too, but he's popular, and he sort of looks like a Baldwin, and those guys are everywhere, so you probably don't want to cross them.
That said, the lineup has issues, ranking 12th in the league, and there are few easy fixes. To be fair, some of their problems are self-correcting—behind the plate, A.J. Pierzynski had struggled, but he has started to hit in the last month, with a team-high eight extra-base hits in June while slugging .574. However, what they're getting out of their players at second base (.202 combined TAv), left field (.239 TAv), and third (.235) represent the weakest slots in the lineup, if we give Alexei Ramirez credit for playing a pretty good shortstop per several of the available defensive metrics, and the fact that he's been slugging .440 the last couple of months.
To take those in order, it's not news to report that Gordon Beckham is flailing. He's also not showing any in-season improvement to make this a matter of an early slump he's fighting his way out of. But even so, would the team play Nix or Omar Vizquel or Lilliquist in his place? That seems highly doubtful, although it would have been a nice way of giving Nix his last best shot at doing something he's good at—play second—while giving Becks a shot at fixing his stroke with the Knights. So there goes that road not taken, fair enough. While left field is the least productive slot, between DH and the outfield corners, the Sox have overlapping issues that don't involve any easy solutions, because there isn't an outfielder at Double- or Triple-A hitting well enough to earn an invitation. In left field, Juan Pierre's performance is as Dakotan as ever: flat, flat, with increasing chances of flat over the weekend, the month, the year. Carlos Quentin's hardly earned his keep either, while Andruw Jones might break down pressed into everyday play. And as powerful as the Baldwins might be, I don't think even they could swing a full-time role for Kotsay. In-house, the Sox really have nothing to fall back on, to the point that you can wistfully wonder why they didn't bring DeWayne Wise back when they had the chance.
So, to fix something somewhere without going outside the organization, they're fixing the hole at third base. In the wake of Mark Teahen's injury, Nix flopped, and Teahen's out until sometime after the All-Star break at this rate. So, why not take a look at their other Cuban investment beyond Ramirez? Viciedo certainly swings an aggressive bat, having hit .290/.329/.525 as a 21-year-old in Triple-A, striking out 20 percent of the time while drawing just seven unintentional walks in 255 PAs with Charlotte. He's got a platoon split that flops about how you'd expect, allowing for the fact that with more exposure he isn't going to slug against lefties forever: .268/.298/.443 against right-handers, .364/.426/.800 against lefties. After a brutal campaign at the hot corner last season with Birmingham (30 errors, .894 fielding percentage), he'd spent much of this season a rung up over at first, making just 10 error-free appearances at third. Given the ongoing concern with the bulk he packs on a squat frame, the long-term expectation is that he won't be moving back to third base to stay.
However, the team has its obvious need, and he's young and hits for power. Even if he doesn't win the job outright in this initial spin in the Show, if he earns a chunk of the playing time at third so that Teahen can be employed at the other corners now and again, that would represent improvement as far as the team's depth and versatility. Projecting his peak on the basis of his International League performance gives you a guy who'd top .500, and that's manna from heaven for a Sox team looking for runs. Of course, if he simply lives up to his present by delivering a translated TAv in the .260s, that's still improvement. And if he boots a few balls a third, that's not unlike what they were already suffering while Nix was there.
Placed RHP Luke Hochevar on the 15-day DL (strained elbow), retroactive to 6/12; purchased the contract of RHP Anthony Lerew from Omaha (Triple-A); released LHP John Parrish. [6/16]
Now that the industry-wide overreaction on pitch counts has perhaps hopefully touched bottom, it's worth keeping in mind that one of the things that a simple pitch count doesn't express is the concept of time. Throwing 100 pitches over nine innings isn't nearly the same sort of day at the office for a moundsman as 100 in five, obviously. It's one of the reasons I always liked Craig Wright's utilization of batters faced in the still-engaging The Diamond Appraised, because there he used an equally simple and straightforward way of seeing if a pitcher was being worked too hard: batters faced per start. Any more than pitch counts or Pitcher Abuse Points, it wasn't automatically predictive as much as it was important to note, especially with younger pitchers.
Now, consider Hochevar's lot. Before breaking down in-game against the Reds on June 11, here's his five-start run in terms of workload, with BR for baserunners, BF for batters faced, and PC for pitch count:
So, sure, the pitch counts weren't so terrible, so you won't find Hochevar among the top 100 pitchers in PAP this season. And since he's already 26, he's supposedly physically mature enough to be beyond notions of an injury nexus up through his age-24 season or whatever. But if you keep in mind that this is a guy who averaged 25 batters faced in his previous pair of big-league seasons, and you see him suddenly averaging more than 30 for an extended stretch, that's a pretty major ramp-up as such things go. It's no surprise that his career-high 10-K game involved his least efficient pitching, but I wouldn't single out that one start more than I'd look at the overall workload and contrast it with what had been the case beforehand.
Now, given that the Royals aren't going to win anything this year, not unless the league starts handing out fourth-place trophies, you'd have to wonder what was the point of opening up the throttle with Hochevar, other than to test him. He failed, but we'll see if the Royals' brass from Dayton Moore on down notice and decide to handle him with any greater care.
Meanwhile, in his place the Royals will employ one of their ubiquitous ex-Braves, which is all fine and snarky, but Lerew could end up being a feather in Moore's cap. Having fallen out of favor in Atlanta and then injuring his elbow and needing TJS that marred his 2007 and 2008 seasons, he wound up with the Royals' organization after being discarded in 2009. He put in his time in Double-A last season, demonstrating that his arm was healthy by taking 27 turns. Moved to the O-Royals this season, he'd pitched effectively, holding teams to 3.6 RA/9 while striking out 41 and walking 27 in 73 IP—or five strikeouts per nine against a notch above three walks, which isn't all that special. In terms of stuff, he's enjoyed a relatively full recovery, getting his fastball consistently into the low 90s, touching 94, and mixing in a decent changeup. Brought up to face the Astros last night, he delivered a quality start in a team win, which goes towards saying what you can hope for—a decent back-end rotation man, not a star, but a useful enough option if you're hard up. Considering the Royals are already relying on Bruce Chen in Gil Meche's slot, that's something you can now say of half of their non-Greinkes, perhaps three of four depending on how much hope you have left for Kyle Davies' upside.
Placed OF-R Marcus Thames on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled OF-R Chad Huffman from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [6/13]
Placed RHP Sergio Mitre on the 15-day DL (side); recalled LHP Boone Logan from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [6/15]
The identity of the 24th or 25th Yankee comes with greater dignity than, say, being “fourth spear carrier on the left” in Spartacus or “filthy peon” in Walker or Kevin Costner in The Big Chill, but less than, say, they have in the NBA, where they count “DNP – Coach's Decision” to at least give the uniformed witnesses some sort of statistic to compile their willing availability. Since Thames is expected back right around the minimum, you can basically assume that Huffman's going to be planted on the pine with fellow Scranton temps Kevin Russo and Chad Moeller, because Ramiro Pena is probably the only player on this bench guaranteed to be included in the baggage when it comes to packing for the postseason.
Similarly, losing the Bishop from the long-relief mix hardly matters—Mitre* was sharing mop-up chores with the reacquired Chad Gaudin, meaning that the Yankees have co-janitors sparring for the right to sponge up after a big win or a big loss. If anything, excusing one of the rivals for any length of time gives the team the chance to see if Logan's ready to do any better in his latest bid to become the bullpen's second lefty. Since the Yankees' post-season pen has four slots relatively set (Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Damasao Marte, and Chan Ho Park), it's up to Logan to show them something beyond occasionally impressive speed gun readings to earn any consideration.
* Yes, I know, it's pronounced “Meet-ray,” you spoilsports. Let's face it, “Meet-ray” sounds like one of two things: It's either the colloquial term for the Death to Flying Things Anti-Ballistic Home-Run Shield named in honor of Bob Ferguson, when animatronic Bud Selig outlaws four-base hits in 2050 to inaugurate a new Deadball Era, or it was a '50s-era concept involving lasers and convenient home delivery of beefy goodness that we're sure to receive soon after our jetpacks. Take your pick, but I've always been more interested in hats.
Designated RHP Ian Snell for assignment; purchased the contract of RHP Brian Sweeney from Tacoma (Triple-A). [6/15]
Activated DH-R Mike Sweeney from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Luke French to Tacoma (Triple-A). [6/18]
So, another talented-yet-disappointing player disappoints. This is news less because another ex-Pirate has seen his season scuttled as much as because he'd been picked up by the Mariners, who know talent and risk and upside... and saw yet another one of their rolls of dice come up craps. As bad as Snell has been, he's not the Mariners starter who ranks highest among the 20 least-effective starters in the majors—that's Ryan Rowland-Smith, the worst starting pitcher in the league with a .327 SNWP to Snell's .404. It's almost as if Snell's being punished for living down to his previous disappointments, where searching to find Rowland-Smith at the bottom of the crater might be too much trouble.
Taking a step back, it's worth doing a mid-stream evaluation on how the Mariners' big-risk win-now gambit's working out for them. In a word, badly, which isn't an indictment of Jack Zduriencik's making the attempt. It was worth rolling the dice, and there's plenty to look forward to. However, in terms of real coups, at this point they might really only have the Franklin Gutierrez pickup to brag about, since the Cliff Lee deal is just a one-year rental that depended upon the proposition that they'd contend this year. Making Jeff Clement go away isn't exactly cause for celebration, and Casey Kotchman has been a flop, to the point that he's losing his job to Mike Carp, a similarly limited, transient piece of patchwork.
So what ranks as the second-best thing to come out of the elaborate machinations to make a run this season? Starting with Chone Figgins on down the line, the big-money deals have been expensive without delivering big. Milton Bradley's having a nice June, which might get lost in the shuffle, but his latest reformation is weeks old, and tap-dancing on this particular volcano still involves Krakatoa-level risks. Identifying that David Aardsma can be an adequate closer last season was nice. So was taking a chance on an organizational soldier like Doug Fister and finding a briefly brilliant big-league starter, but with him on the DL, you can easily wonder if they're not just repeating the Rowland-Smith experience; transient solutions have the chief virtue of being oxymoronic if they're not pushing you in any particular direction.
Meanwhile, they're swapping out Snell with a definitive scrapheap find. Formerly a Mariners farmhand before getting dealt away to San Diego as the secondary sweetener in a package with Jeff Cirillo and cash to help pay Jeff Cirillo for Dave Hansen, Wiki Gonzalez, Kevin Jarvis, and a prospect named Vince Faison, or what we might call Cirillo and cash for indignity relief—because Cirillo had been that awful—and body parts. After spending more time in the PCL than with the Pads and washing up with the Rays' organization briefly, Sweeney spent 2007-2009 in Japan. He had been headed for indie-league employment with Somerset before returning to the Mariners organization this spring. It's a nice Lazarus act, and he'd been effective for the Rainiers, striking out 32 in 28
Placed OF-R Gabe Kapler on the 15-day DL (strained hip flexor); recalled OF-R Justin Ruggiano from Durham (Triple-A). [6/12]
Optioned OF-R Justin Ruggiano to Durham; activated SS-R Jason Bartlett from the 15-day DL. [6/16]
Losing Kapler really ends up hurting the Rays very little. Bartlett's absence created an outlet for them to play both Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez in the middle infield while leaving Ben Zobrist alone in right field, and voila, Rodriguez started bopping, having clubbed a team-high nine extra-base hits in June. The Rays have little or no obligation to Bartlett's future free agency or aiding him with a final spin in arbitration to come, so more than a setback for Gabe the Babe, this is a potential disaster for the former everyday shortstop. It certainly strengthens the team's hand if they decide they have a particular need and can afford to shop a middle infielder to address it. Add in that they have a similar crowd behind the plate between Kelly Shoppach, Dioner Navarro, and John Jaso, the Rays are in the remarkable position of being able to shop with ready-now shortstops and catchers (or ready-as-they'll ever be, in Navarro's case).
But there's the problem in a nutshell: What do the Rays need? Not pitching, not when their cup runneth over in terms of rotation talent—what, you expect them to bump James Shields for his staff-low .471 SNWP?—and now that their laudable risk taken with seeing what Joaquin Benoit had left has provided them a late-game power trio that ranks with immortal, unusual combinations like Percival, Balfour, and Howell of 2008, Jenks, Politte, and Hermanson in 2005, or the Violent Femmes.
And the lineup? Finding a DH who's more productive than Hank Blalock or Willy Aybar would be the most obvious issue, but that's not hard, and it may not cost the kind of talent the Rays have on offer unless they want to aim high. Or could they trade from that depth to shore up what would otherwise be a challenge trade of sorts, say if they wanted to upgrade on Carlos Pena at first base? Or to land a better backstop than their current crew? It isn't like Jaso's going to produce a .400 OBP forever, or Shoppach's an All-Star. Could they finally run out of patience with B.J. Upton, creeping up on his 26th birthday and still managing to come up short?
Sure, any of those things could happen, and the Rays are creative enough to make things happen. But the supply of real stars in center or behind the plate is limited. Trading for established guys like Cody Ross or A.J. Pierzynski aren't really solutions, let along upgrades. The Snakes are tearing down, but they don't need catching, they have Stephen Drew at short, and would you want Chris Young instead of Upton? That's like a variation on a theme while switching from a Stradivarius to a ukelele.
In short, the Rays' situation is fascinating, but potentially fruitless. You can sympathize with a decision to stand pat, because there isn't that much out there that they need, and not that much worth getting that's better than what they already have. In the abstract, it might be cool if they did something like acquiring Carlos Beltran to DH after he proves that he's healthy, but that sort of thing would requires the Mets to self-immolate first—possible, but they're a half-game out of first in the NL East.
Optioned UT-S Mike McCoy to Las Vegas (Triple-A); signed INF-R Nick Green to a one-year contract. [6/18]
Green opted out of his minor-league deal with the Dodgers, understandable since he didn't get the benefit of a call-up over Chin-Lung Hu once Rafael Furcal had to placed on the Bereavement Leave List. Not that he's hit anything at Albuquerque, or really anywhere outside of one April in Fenway that gifted him with the 15 minutes he's still milking, but he's a veteran infielder, he's an ex-Yankee as well as an ex-Sock, and maybe that'll help in ways that don't easily show up in a scorecard. It doesn't really give the Jays a better bench player than McCoy (or a stronger alternative to the permanently employed John McDonald), but along with their addition of DeWayne Wise in-season, if it demonstrates anything, it's the willing acquisitiveness of the Anthopolous regime.
Optioned RHP Cesar Valdez to Reno (Triple-A); recalled RHP Sam Demel from Reno. [6/16]
Once the Snakes made the Conor Jackson trade with the A's at the beginning of the week, the sweet relief that they can expect from adding a dose of Demel to their diet was something that I covered in depth right here.
Optioned RHP Jesse Chavez to Gwinnett (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Chris Resop from Gwinnett. [6/15]
Placed RHP Chris Resop on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); recalled RHP Jesse Chavez from Gwinnett. [6/16]
Activated LHP John Grabow from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Mitch Atkins to Iowa. [6/15]
No real news here; I'd already mentioned Grabow's coming comeback at the beginning of the week while discussing the shape of the Cubs' pen in the days and weeks to come now that Carlos Zambrano's back in the rotation, Andrew Cashner's in the pen, and Gorzo the Magnificent is in long relief right here.
Optioned RHP Enerio Del Rosario to Louisville (Triple-A); recalled RHP Jordan Smith from Carolina (Double-A). [6/15]
Placed LHP Antonio Bastardo on the 15-day DL (elbow), retroactive to 6/16; recalled RHP Scott Mathieson from Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [6/17]