Happy Labor Day! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume on Tuesday, September 2.
July 28, 2002
July 22-25, 2002
Cancelled Richard's recall/reactivation; announced they would recall 2B-B Brian Roberts from Rochester on Friday. [7/25]
Skip the decisiveness, we're back in business as Akbar's House of Waffletastic Indecision.
Chris Richard managed to reinjure himself in his last game in Rochester, so Brian Roberts got a reprieve for blowing his previous opportunity to be recalled by not having his passport handy. That brings us back to the same point we were at before Roberts got sent down, which is that the Orioles will flim-flam their way through their second-base situation, wallowing through a non-choice between Roberts and Jerry Hairston Jr. It could be worse, because it has been--they could keep finding ways to get Luis Lopez into the lineup. Assuming that finishing close to .500 or keeping third place are actual (versus worthwhile) goals, this doesn't really help realize either of them.
Dustin Hermanson's domestic accident takes him out of competition with Frank Castillo for a spot at the bottom of the bullpen, because the current plan of action is to have Casey Fossum slip into the fifth rotation slot. Castillo could be an effective long reliever on a team that needs more than one. He's never been particularly durable, however, so it's an open question about what will happen if the Red Sox try to have him work on consecutive days or three times in a week.
As for bumping Casey Fossum into the rotation, I'm strangely optimistic considering he didn't toss a quality start in his seven tries last fall, or that he gave up 15 runs in 25 innings for Pawtucket during his demotion. In part, it's because of the alternatives; Castillo has been a disappointment, Darren Oliver is now thankfully someone else's problem, Hermanson wasn't a source of hope even before he was hurt, and Pawtucket is stocked with people like Don Wengert and Jamie Brewington. If they aren't going to move Tim Wakefield into the rotation, Casey Fossum is the next best thing they have. I'd be happier if he had gotten more time in a long-relief role, or more time in the PawSox rotation, but the Red Sox need to consider desperate options if they want to keep up in the AL East and the wild-card race. I doubt that they want to add more space for yet another entry in their "gloriously successful also-ran" tradition.
Kenny Williams is earning his spot as the worst GM in the business. Like Allard Baird or Dean Taylor or Randy Smith, he's blown a lot of money he shouldn't have on talent that doesn't help his team win any more games than they would if he had done nothing. Unlike them, however, Williams was handed an exceptional core of talent, and in his two years, he hasn't capitalized on it, instead achieving whatever it is that you might claim as his legacy. (A rotation in ruins, stalled careers, and homegrown talent leaked all over other people's rosters come to mind.) At least the good folks of Bridgeport get all the Royce Clayton and Todd Ritchie they'll pay for.
Now this, dumping the Little Bull on Oakland and apparently paying the Athletics for the privilege of doing so. No matter how little confidence you might have that the system of draft-pick compensation for teams that lose free agents is going to remain in place for next summer's draft, Jon Adkins is never going to be worth as much as the draft picks would have been. If a potential gain is supposed to be avoiding the cost of signing those theoretical draft picks, why then pay the Athletics now?
Adkins, however, does have his merits. He isn't turning out well as a starting pitcher because his willful avoidance of instruction on how to throw a change-up. However, he has a decent sinker/slider combo, and that might make him a useful reliever. The last two months of Ray Durham's 2002 season is worth a lot more than this, though, and Williams managed to make a bad decision expensive as well as indefensible.
As for the decision to fire Nardi Contreras...I'll take Gutless Organizational Euphemisms for $200, Alex? There seems to be a problem here with Jerry Manuel and his coaches. Von Joshua came in as a good hitting coach, did some good things, and he got whacked. Nardi Contreras came in as a good pitching coach, did some good things, and now he's been whacked. There have been problems getting the young pitching in the organization to develop as well as has been hoped, but this move smacks of Kenny Williams failing to hold himself accountable for the pitching he traded and that succeeded elsewhere.
Activated CF-L Ken Griffey Jr. from the DL; optioned OF-R Raul Gonzalez to Louisville. [7/22]
Placed 1B-L Sean Casey on the 15-day DL (torn shoulder muscle); acquired RHP Scuffy Moehler, OF/3B-R Matt Boone and cash from the Tigers for IF-B David Espinosa and two PTBNLs; exercised their option on Manager Bob Boone for 2003; received RHP Seth Etherton back from the Yankees after MLB Central Command rules that he could not properly be claimed on waivers, voiding the Yankees' claim. [7/23]
The Reds hope to paper over the loss of Sean Casey by splitting his at-bats among Brandon Larson, Russell Branyan and Reggie Taylor. Two of those ideas seem reasonable enough, especially considering Casey's limited contributions this season. A Branyan/Larson job-sharing arrangement at first base could work out pretty well as far as getting runs on the board. Instead, though, it seems that the Reds will try to use Adam Dunn at first base while putting Larson and Branyan in the outfield. I guess it does add one unique asset, which is that Dunn almost instantly becomes the hardest-throwing first baseman in the game. I'm sure if there are any throws to the left-field corner to start a 3-7-4-6-3-5 double-play, the Reds are prepared like nobody else can ever be.
There's the misfortune of Bob Boone's insane identification of Taylor as a player who should be in that mix, let alone on the roster.
But things are better since they acquired an extra starter relatively cheaply, right? A lot depends on who the two players to be named are, because once it became clear David Espinosa couldn't play shortstop, his value to the organization started dropping. The question is whether Moehler is that much of an improvement.
The Reds have popped the hood on Ryan Dempster in the hopes that Don Gullett can achieve a fast in-season engine-block replacement. Chris Reitsma? Maybe he's in the rotation, and maybe he's out. Bob Boone's future may be secure, but that doesn't mean he's spreading the wealth. Moehler? In. Elmer Dessens? The ace. Jimmy Haynes? In. Bruce Chen? Another experiment, give him time. Jared Fernandez? Thanks, but only for the moment. It's easy to criticize, but what if it works? It wouldn't exactly be a return to the seven- or eight-man rotations you'd see Joe McCarthy or Casey Stengel run out there, but if deliberate uncertainty works where the five- or six-man has not, it might inspire imitation.
Traded UT-R Dilbert Cabrera to the Dodgers in exchange for LHP Lance Caraccioli. [7/22]
Placed RHP Bob Wickman on the 15-day DL (strained forearm), retroactive to 7/22; recalled RHP Chad Paronto from Buffalo. [7/23] Placed LHP Heath Murray on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 7/22; recalled RHP Dave Elder from Buffalo. [7/24]
The relevance of these moves can be summed up pretty easily: they'll have absolutely no effect on the Indians' performance this season. Closer relevance is one of the most egregious overstatements in media and public perception today, especially with almost every regular saves-accumulating guy crammed into the constraints of the Dennis Eckersley role. It's sort of a shame in Wickman's case, since there was a time, long ago, that he was one hell of a pitcher, and you got to see him a lot more often. By 1999, he was withering away into the bloated self-importance of ubercloserdom, at which point he went from distinctly valuable to mostly expensive. It wasn't because of a concern for age or his workload; he'd just stumbled across his 30th birthday.
What losing Wickman for a while will do is give Paul Shuey a chance to strut his stuff in the closer role. Or David Riske. Or Sean DePaula. Or anybody not named Chad Paronto or Mark Wohlers. It will also--hopefully--make the Indians ask themselves whey they're paying more than $5 million per year for the next couple of years for somebody who at best will contribute one-ninth (or less) of the innings of around 30 or 40 games in which they had already earned a ninth inning lead.
Traded RHP Scuffy Moehler, 3B/OF-R Matt Boone and a bundle o'bucks to the Reds for IF-B David Espinosa and two PTBNLs; recalled RHP Brian Powell from Toledo. [7/23]
Some tunnels go straight down, and the only light you can hope for is from the heat generated by the planetary core. So it goes with the Tigers. If there's somebody as unhappy as Ramon Santiago is about his being out for four to six weeks, it might be Mike Maroth and Steve Sparks. Both generate more groundball outs than anything else, and as long as the only alternative to Santiago is Shane Halter, they're both going to be dying for a shortstop who can make basic plays or who can take care of his half of the deuce. You would think that the last thing the Tigers would want to do as they review young pitchers is to waste time on Halter at a position he's given every indication he can't play regularly.
The one guy most likely to be indifferent is Jose Lima, a pretty extreme flyballer who is now back in the rotation. With the trade of Scuffy Moehler, the Tigers will also be replacing Adam Bernero with Brian Powell. Powell is sort of Jose Lima without the Astrodome or the good times. He's been knocking around forever, and perhaps there's the hope that he might be the next Travis Driskill or something.
The more baffling question is what they're going to get from the Reds beyond David Espinosa. Espinosa has been an ugly blend of interesting and appalling in the California League. He's patient, about his only worthwhile offensive trait in a league that favors hitters. He doesn't have much power, but at 20, he's young. He doesn't hit for average, but he's young. He gets caught stealing a lot, but he's young. He commits an error every third night or so, which makes him remarkably similar to another shortstop-turned-second baseman-turned--well, who knows?--Hiram Bocachica. Hopefully, the Tigers will get value in the other two players in the deal, because otherwise they have a 40-man roster slot invested in somebody who may not be ready for Double-A next year. Espinosa's development is a long-term commitment, to say the least, and if the Tigers have one thing in spades, it's time.
With the acquisitions of Bocachica and Espinosa, I think we can identify the operating philosophy in play. The Tigers are in the business of acquiring everyone's disappointing semi-prospects. Randall Simon, Wendell Magee, Damian Jackson, George Lombard, Bocachica, Espinosa...if there's a common strand, it's that none of them turned out to be as much as their parent organizations wished they'd be. Bocachica went from being a promising shortstop to, well, Bill Almon Lite? Extra-Lite? Magee was supposed to be a power-hitting prospect, but coming up in a Phillies organization bereft of hitting instruction, he's a fifth outfielder who thinks he coulda been a contender. George Lombard is another Braves offload, someone who got talked up, but once he became an ex-Brave, the pixie dust came off. Jacob Cruz was the best hitting prospect in the Giants organization for awhile. Damian Jackson was supposed to be a shortstop of the future, and after squirreling him away from the Tribe, the Padres expended a lot of time and effort hoping it would happen. The guy in the group who's come closest to living up to his expectations is Simon, and that's because there weren't many.
Well, here's the change in the rotation, The Astros are betting that they're going to get the Dave Mlicki who briefly showed up earlier this season, and not the guy who was a disaster last season or a dud the year before. They're tipping things Mlicki's way, insofar as they're letting him return against the feeble Pirates. Of course they're demoting an outstanding pitcher in Tim Redding, while making the usual mushmouthed announcements about how he just needs experience, as if more time as a Zephyr will make him an Astro, while more time as an Astro will make Mlicki an asset.
The really questionable aspect of this is the decision to have Mlicki replace Peter Munro instead of Nelson Cruz in the rotation. This isn't the first time that a Jimy Williams personnel choice is costing the Astros runs and wins. His decision to kick Morgan Ensberg down in favor of playing scrubs, his infatuation with Mlicki and Cruz, and his debilitating commitment to an awful middle infield all illustrate that the job of a manager has a significantly larger impact on his team's performance than minor considerations like matching Pythagorean projections, or the number of times he bunts. A manager defines who plays and when, creating the range within which a team's expectations can be framed. Jimy Williams has done an amazing job of limiting his team's potential for success.
I can't imagine a more deadly blow to the Royals' hopes to finish second in the NL Central than losing Mike Sweeney for any length of time. In terms of things that matter, however, the Royals got him signed to a multi-year deal. There's not a whole lot else to worry about. I mean, sure, now Raul Ibanez will play a whole lot of first, and that's a good thing insofar as he seems to hit better when he gets to also play in the field. The ugly part is that the Royals are pretty much stuck with playing Michael Tucker and Chuck Knoblauch on a regular basis.
Acquired UT-R Dilbert Cabrera from the Indians for LHP Lance Caraccioli. [7/22]
Traded UT-R Hiram Bocachica to the Tigers for RHP Tom Farmer and a PTBNL. [7/25]
Tyler Houston turned out to be pretty expensive. He cost a pair of decent arms from the farm system, plus outrighting Craig House off of the 40-man roster, plus trading Hiram Bocachica to make room on the 25-man roster. Four players to get a utility man? Admittedly, Houston is outhitting both of the Dodgers' starters in the infield corners, but so can Dave Hansen, and Hansen isn't about to be handed a larger job. If anything, this keeps Hansen mired in the pigeonhole into which he's been placed, while the organization sheds talent it could have spent to bring in something else, like a genuinely good hitter at first base. Houston is a decent enough addition, a pretty good example of free talent, although the Dodgers have acquired him at his highest market price. He can be a useful hitter but not an exceptional one, and players who hit about as well as Houston are available on waivers, even in-season (Adam Melhuse, for example). But now the Dodgers have him, and they're marginally better for it.
Traded 1B/3B/C?-L Tyler Houston and a PTBNL to the Dodgers for RHP Ben Diggins and LHP Shane Nance; recalled DH-R Izzy Alcantara from Indianapolis. [7/23]
There's some good news here, at least insofar as the Brewers acquired some talent in exchange for investing a couple of years of playing time on a bit of waiver fodder like Tyler Houston. Ben Diggins may not work out as a starter--a 3.63 ERA in the Florida State League is not a badge of honor--but he's the kind of pitcher scouts drool over, 6'7" with heat that can get into the high 90s when his mechanics are sound. He's worth nabbing, even if he doesn't master a breaking pitch or a change-up; the return on a gas-pumping closer can be a lot higher than Tyler Houston will ever be. If Diggins develops as a starter, then so much the better.
Shane Nance is a college lefty with a broad variety of junk. In Las Vegas, he's been decent against lefties, holding them homerless and to a ~.300 OBP. If having him around frees up Ray King in exchange for something else of value, that's an added benefit.
Similarly, bringing up Jimmy Osting gives the Brewers further options with what they can do with their pitching staff. Osting is supposed to be in the bullpen, at least initially. The Brewers won't need a fifth starter until next weekend, at which point Osting might get some consideration. If not, Jose Cabrera is available to start. The point is that by using Osting--more waiver bait--after seeing a worthwhile and similar experiment with Nelson Figueroa flop is what the Brewers should be doing. The problems remain with their doing what they shouldn't. Now that Houston has been dealt, who plays third base? Mark Loretta. Really. So now Ronnie Belliard gets to rot behind both Eric Young and Loretta, which is a nice snapshot for how the Brewers can achieve the almost unimaginable, which is to spend more money on the team since sending family retainer Sal Bando away, and get worse doing it.
Activated RHP Steve Trachsel from the DL; optioned RHP Jae Weong Seo to Norfolk. [7/22]
Signed LHP Al Leiter to a two-year contract extension with a mutual option for 2005. [7/24]
The Mets seem to be gearing up for a repeat of 2001: they'll hang on the fringes of contention, pat themselves on the back for rallying from a ghastly start, and not amount to mattering in the grand scheme of things. They're flogging the lucky break of their 2000 NLCS matchup for all it's worth, never mind that it hasn't added up to a whole lot more than the Padres have since 1998, beyond the expense, of course. So don't expect an acknowledgment that today holds almost as little promise for this team as tomorrow. Steve Phillips will play out his hand, and not deal it for a new one.
Placed LHP Ted Lilly on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 7/21; recalled RHP Aaron Harang from Sacramento. [7/24]
Acquired 2B-B Ray Durham from the White Sox for RHP Jon Adkins; cash also changed hands. [7/25]
Let me get this straight: you get Ray Durham for two months and the money to pay him, and it only costs you one marginal arm? The trade gives you an opportunity to sign Durham after exposing him to the fun of a pennant race on a team that expect to win year-in and year-out, or gets you the draft picks he'll bring (if the free agent/draft pick connection remains in place, an iffy bet). And there's full transparency here, there's nothing else, right? No selling off your firstborn, or a free car, or filling out a lifetime's worth of entries in the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes?
The wrinkle to this no-brainer is what the A's will do with Durham now that they have him. Stuck in his now-traditional role as the second-best second baseman in his league (now behind Alfonso Soriano after being parked behind Roberto Alomar for his entire career), Durham is being seen as a solution to the problem in center field. That's been mentioned in Durham's career before, and it's a move he fought while with the White Sox. Whether Billy Beane's powers of persuasion work as well with players as they do with GMs remains to be seen.
Will the benefits of this experiment add up, even with the obvious virtue of getting Terrence Long out of center field? The plan of the moment is to have Durham DH until he adjusts to taking fly balls in center field in practice, and that probably puts David Justice in left field (or out of the lineup) for a few games, which won't be helpful. Then, assuming Durham accepts and adapts to center field, you have to worry about the runs you'll lose to the inevitable mental mistake or three, all against the backdrop of a pennant race.
I don't disagree with the decision on the face of it; Mark Ellis is a good second baseman, helping to tighten up the infield defense considerably over where it was with Frankie Menechino at the keystone. But Durham could rebel against the decision, and there's a chance that this won't add up to a significant defensive gain within the 60 games or so that are left.
Offensively, it's easy. Durham is arguably the best hitter in the lineup, and he definitely gives the A's the leadoff hitter they need. Could he get better in an environment which isn't fiddling with little-ball tactics, and with the benefit of a lineup that does a better job of getting on base? Probably. This isn't the Big Red Machine adding Joe Morgan, but in terms of getting something for nothing, this is about as tasty as it gets.
What becomes problematic is whether Terrence Long should start if he isn't playing center field. He probably doesn't deserve to start ahead of Adam Piatt or Eric Byrnes in an outfield corner. If he's not the starting center fielder, he should be added to the pile of talent to use in trade, on the off chance that some other organization values his cost certainty.
Losing Ted Lilly doesn't make the A's participation in the Weaver deal look good in the short term, but the trade wasn't designed for its short-term gains as much as its long-term payoffs. As long as Lilly's shoulder responds to rest, the A's will have an option for the stretch if one of the other starters breaks down or if Cory Lidle's latest second-half frenzy peters out. Meanwhile, they're back to using Aaron Harang as the fifth starter, and with him having logged five quality starts in his first eight, that's not a bad thing.
Now that the season is truly, honestly down the tubes, the Phillies can take the time to evaluate some of their choices for 2003. For the moment, they're doing the right thing about plopping Terry Adams into the bullpen and letting Joe Roa enter the rotation. A cynic would note that this should also kill any chance of Adams reaching the 170-inning threshold that vests his 2003 option, but in this organization, you would almost have to believe this is nothing more than a fortunate coincidence. After all, this is the team that claims it has to hold on to Dan Plesac for his mentoring skills. If the bottom line, either in terms of talent acquisition for 2003, or saving money, was an issue for the Phillies, you would think they would be considerably more aggressive in terms of doing something about it.
Killing off the year has another, cheerier angle to it: it means that Ed Wade's Line of Death over whether or not to call up Brett Myers can safely be transgressed. It's just as well, since Myers's command isn't going to get any better in Scranton: a 97/20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 128 innings isn't a sign of a guy who needs to worry about control. He's young and some are concerned with his workload, but he throws strikes and avoids the baserunners that would raise his pitch counts, generate the long innings, or force him to pitch from the stretch. Bringing Myers up now on the strength of a 3.59 ERA, allowing less than a hit per inning pitched and with only nine home runs allowed seems good enough for me. He can dial up mid-90s heat, has a great curve, and knows how to use his changeup. If the Phillies have a reason to want to finish the schedule at all, it's to see what Myers might mean to them in 2003.
As for Roa, I'm happy to see him catch the break. He's always been a soft-toss artist--the term finesse righty just isn't catching on--but he's also been one of those guys who can be a perfectly acceptable fifth starter if you just have to have one. This is rapidly becoming the summer of the long-suffering minor-league rotation regular, and that's not a bad thing if it comes at the expense of the Beneses or Nagys or Bobby Witts of the world.
The odd thing is the loss of Robert Person, since his MRI results even more surprisingly showed no structural damage. Now, reading a MRI is an art even within the medical community, and of course Person says he wants a second opinion. With Larry Bowa already palavering about how Person would have to go into the bullpen if he does come back this year, if there's a matter of intent involving the Phillies and what they want to do with a veteran pitcher, it's here and not with Adams. Person will be a free agent after this season, and his price tag isn't going to be helped by his performance, his apparent injury, or the nuclear winter a lot of free agents can expect. It isn't hard to interpret Bowa's latest bluster as an invitation to Person to see himself out if he doesn't like what the team is doing.
Signed LHP Darren Oliver to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Memphis. [7/20]
They're starting Andy Benes, so at least they're thinking in terms of contingencies. Unfortunately, it's more along the lines of "well, this hasn't quite gotten the Reds back into first place, but perhaps this might..." What's next, another Ken Hill comeback?
An escapee from the Phillies organization as a minor-league free agent last winter, Jason Kershner has good potential as a useful lefty reliever. He doesn't throw hard, but survives on junk and command, and lefties have only managed to hit .185 and slug .262 off of him in the PCL this summer. Since dealing Alan Embree, the Padres need to score a new lefty, what with the alternative being Mike Holtz and all.
Tony Torcato isn't really a prospect, he's just pretty talented for someone from the Giants' farm system, so he gets referred to as a prospect. He's coming up hitting .291/.333/.437 for the Grizzlies (major league EqA: .220), which would be merely inadequate if he could play center field. He can't.
As a result, Tom Goodwin should get most of the playing in center as long as Tsuyoshi Shinjo is out. Brian Simmons would have been a better call-up (his performance translated to a .243 EqA), but he isn't on the 40-man. This shouldn't be a problem when people like Goodwin or Shawon Dunston are the team's veteran leaders, but this is the Giants, and acknowledging an absence of competence apparently crimps clubhouse chemistry.
Instead, the Giants could transfer Jason Christiansen from the 15- to the 60-day DL to make room for Simmons, but that presumes that the Giants aren't committed to some sort of experiment to try and win with as little talent as possible. Losing Shinjo is definitely a setback on that front.
Optioned LHP Brian Fitzgerald to Tacoma. [7/25]
I like Doug Creek more than most, considering the amount of time he put into the minor leagues as a solid starter and reliever, and he can be valuable. So can Brian Fitzgerald given time. Time, however, is the problem, because time is what the Mariners don't really have, and they've already made the mistake of not previously investing it when their lead was mammoth and they could take a leisurely review of what their own lefties can do. Pat Gillick will have to do more than this if he wants to help the Mariners retain their slender lead.
The trade-off here was nicely done, insofar as sending Joe Lawrence down to give him a month or so of work at Syracuse is a good way to keep him working on his second base play and his hitting, and passing him through waivers to do it, coincides with a time when almost everybody is counting roster spots and can't make too many frivolous claims just to take a flyer on a guy. I'm not putting Lawrence down, because if I were the Devil Rays or the Snakes or one of the other organizations with little or no minor league talent, it's a claim worth staking--then give it a couple of days, and try the same thing, and if worst comes to worst, you're in a Tim Pugh Waiver War scenario.
Orlando Hudson is coming off of a nifty four months at Syracuse, having hit .305/.363/.456, good for a .252 translated Equivalent Average. It's also a way to showcase Hudson if he's on anybody's wish list. Jabbering journalists inventing amusing stories aside, his brand of smack chat isn't what put him in Syracuse. If Hudson produces, he can make himself a keeper. If he produces no more than Homer Bush, he'll be an asset on the hoof, waiting for conversion to steak.