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November 6, 2011
May 12-15, 2002
Placed OF-R Manny Ramirez on the 15-day DL (fractured finger); purchased the contract of UT-B Bry Nelson from Pawtucket. [5/14]
Losing Manny Ramirez for a quarter of the season isn't automatically a death knell. Pedro Martinez has just one good start against a good opponent this year, but that's the scheduler's fault. I'm hardly off the hook for advancing the claim that he won't make it to ten starts, and if losing Martinez was one of my major theories about what would lay hope low in Beantown, losing Ramirez for a month and a half might make you think I'd peg this as the beginning of the end.
Fortunately, the Red Sox managed to avoid re-enacting the Boston Tea Party using Jose Offerman as the prop obliged to be pitched into the harbor, so they have a relative wealth of alternatives with which to man the DH slot and the empty outfield corner. Beyond Offerman, they have Rickey Henderson to get on base and Brian Daubach to give the team a solid lefty power source. If they didn't have to worry about whether or not they can keep carrying Tony Clark's bat (especially in Ramirez's absence), they'd have three players for two slots to mix and match to advantage.
Assuming Martinez is still around at the start of July, and that the Sox don't meanwhile have to endure too many rough spots as John Burkett and Darren Oliver come back to earth, they should still be running with the Yankees when Ramirez returns.
Announced the retirement of DH-R Jose Canseco. [5/13]
Words cannot describe how very sad this announcement makes me. I remember Jose's zero-fer-forty stretch in 1986 for the daily agony it brought me in boxscores, day after day, not as somebody obsessed with roto (since I have yet to play in a roto league), but as an A's fan in the bleak, blasted wastes of southside Chicago. Bad times like that were worth it. Canseco filled A's fans--or at least this A's fan--with the hope for better things, especially since we were already appropriately cranky about Mike Davis.
Two of my all-time favorite games among the hundreds that I've watched in person featured great Jose moments. In 1987, against Oil Can Boyd and the Red Sox, he and Mark McGwire hit back-to-back shots in the bottom of the first inning. The next time they were due up, in a half-inning that seemed to say something about all of the principals involved, Canseco jacked another shot. Big Red stepped in, Boyd decided that his only response to suckitude was to make McGwire take a base with a bruise, McGwire started jogging to first...and Reggie Jackson chose that moment to exert some veteran leadership and rush the mound from the dugout. My other favorite Canseco moment was being in the stands to see his 100th home run, hit to dead center off of Melido Perez in old Comiskey Park.
I suppose it's worth asking, why isn't Canseco more popular? Having never met the man, I can ask a theoretical question like this with an eye towards the press. Nowadays, Canseco's fun with Madonna or his amusing business sidelights and all the rest of the mayhem that made him newsworthy for all the wrong reasons seem pretty tame, Boswellian journalistic excesses aside. If anything, better press handling (a nod to Sammy Sosa, for instance) might have made him the Cuban answer to Babe Ruth. There are people guilty of worse things who get less attention, and there are players less talented getting more attention for what they did or do on the field.
But sort of like Pete Rose or Rickey Henderson or Darryl Strawberry, there's so much extraneous stuff that we often forget the forest for the spankalicious tabloid hijinks. At the end of the day, the most fun Jose gave me and gave most of us was what he did in the batter's box. I don't think we'll see his like again anytime soon. I missed him already, and in a game that seems to go out of its way to forget that it's a form of entertainment first, a game in which scoring runs wins second, and everything else after that, I'm willing to say that everyone else should miss him too.
Placed SS-R Alex Gonzalez on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 5/10 (strained hamstring); purchased the contract of RHP Pat Mahomes from Iowa; transferred LHP Donovan Osborne from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/13]
How badly off are the Cubs? Losing Alex Gonzalez makes the lineup a gutty contender with the Pirates for the dubious honor of worst in the league. With Gonzalez out for a few weeks, you've got a lineup carrying either Joe Girardi or Roberto Machado batting seventh and Augie Ojeda batting eighth. That's a bottom of the order that's enough to make you surf over to watch Tracey Ullman, at any hour. At this stage, it probably makes sense to just keep Mark Bellhorn in the lineup and take the hit defensively at shortstop. Pitchers like Kerry Wood and Jason Bere aren't exactly inducing a lot of ground balls, so why not try scoring some runs? Of course, it doesn't help that Bill Mueller is still working to get his timing back.
What's surprising is the decision to haul up Pat Mahomes. Transferring Donovan Osborne to the 60-day DL was a must-make move, but making it to bring up Mahomes when Baylor is avoiding Scott Chiasson and having a hard time getting Pulpo Alfonseca work, and especially when Mark Prior is due up next week, is your basic roster mismanagement. Now the Cubs will have to worry about losing somebody on waivers when Prior is added to the 40-man roster, and for what? Pat Mahomes's ability to contribute usefully to a major league team is doubtful. At best, he's a 12th man in a world that should be limited to 11 pitchers. If anyone should be discarded, it should be Mahomes, but given the current fascination with Joe Borowski, I don't see it happening.
I've already made the point that if I had a choice between a second lefty (like Alex Herrera) and Chad Paronto or Charles Nagy, I'm picking the lefty for once. But as a sidelight, one of those little themes that make it fun to be a fan over the years is the number of times the story of the prodigal son gets acted on on any given team, featuring players both great or relatively unknown. In this case, I'm with the two dozen happy Indians fans who are moderately pleased to have Bruce Aven back. Back in 1997, he was an organizational soldier on his way up. After an injury, and swings through Florida, Pittsburgh, and L.A., he's still basically a decent fourth outfielder with moderate power, moderate patience, and a far better use of a roster spot than Wil Cordero for about 5% of the price. He deserves to be back, and I hope he gets to stick around for a bit.
Losing Shawn Chacon for a couple of weeks, and replacing him with Denny Stark, creates an interesting problem for the Rockies. If Stark does well, as Jason Jennings has done well, the Rox have a chance to go with three homegrown pitchers (Chacon, Jennings, and a fully healthy John Thomson), plus Stark, who they picked up in the Cirillo deal. Then the problem is which of the big contracts can they move: Mike Hampton's, or Denny Neagle's? While the money and length left on Hampton's contract is daunting ($78.5 million due in 2003-2008, plus a $20 million option for 2009 that would cost $6 million to buy out), Neagle's isn't that much easier to shop ($28 million due in 2003-2005, plus a 2006 option for $12.5 million that would cost $9 million to buy out). To get out from either deal would have to involve accepting the responsibility to pay off significant portions of those contracts for the benefit of any prospective trading partner. Better that than living with those deals, especially if it gives the Rockies anything resembling flexibility.
Meanwhile, the horror of losing Benny Agbayani is that Dan O'Dowd seems to be refusing the obvious opportunity to finally bring up Jack Cust. Playing Todd Hollandsworth isn't going to pimp his value, and Mark Little is a nice spare part, but not one of the premier offensive prospects in the game. Cust ought to be up right now, to see what he can do, to see if his work in left field can really be any worse than Fonzie Bichette's (I don't know about you, but I know I've got suspension of disbelief issues there), and to see if he can be a component of a Rockies team that seems to underwhelm whenever expectations burble above tepid.
As much as Brandon Inge's rugby attitude towards his dislocated shoulder ("DL? We doan' need no steenkin' DL") might impress people who want their jocks sturdy and willing to walk off missing limbs or compound fractures or whatever it is that makes Bill Conlin pine for the days of real men, he finally grudgingly accepted his assignment to the DL. With Matt Walbeck up, you really need to ask whether or not the Tigers should keep Rob Fick's catcher's mitt buried and hidden. I mean, if they're really going to let Dmitri Young play third base on top of letting Jose Macias be a center fielder and Shane Halter a shortstop, why stop there? Better to go whole hog on the softball theme and field slugs at every position.
Okay, so it's mid-May, the Fish are in first place despite losing chunks of their rotation for periods of time, and now they've got Brad Penny and Josh Beckett back. They might have the NL's best offense (according to EqA and runs scored, they're looking pretty good so far). If they'd just stop using Julian Tavarez, they might make things very interesting for the Braves. I know it's bittersweet to think that it benefits Jeffrey Loria and his collection of cronies and thugs, but Marlins fans and the Marlins players deserve some measure of happiness and excitement, because everything Loria seems to do seems to be to spite any worthwhile emotions.
The Astros needed a lefty for their pen for mid-game usage, and the price was right (a PTBNL who really will be named later, there isn't even a list of players to choose from that has been suggested yet), so Pedro Borbon fills a need. The problem will be sorting out whether or not the Astros can really carry 12 pitchers when they have guys like Brian Hunter and Jose Vizcaino on the bench, and when among the seven relievers three are Brandon Puffer, Scott Linebrink, and Nelson Cruz, all struggling equally terribly.
I know I prefer Puffer because he's a side-armer and Linebrink because he has a good sinker/splitter combo, and between them they give the Astros a pair of right-handers who do things differently. But then they've got to get T.J. Mathews back on the roster, plus they have to decide what to do with Tim Redding when Wade Miller returns, and they're still short a shortstopbecause they sent Adam Everett down. It's mid-May, and Jimy Williams hasn't figured out what he's got or what to do with it yet, and that's before confronting the increasingly ugly possibility that Craig Biggio might be done.
Activated LHP Brian Shouse from the DL; designated 1B/OF-R David McCarty for assignment. [5/13]
Named Tony Pena manager. [5/15]
I'll let somebody else comment on Tony Pena at greater length. I'm sorry to see that Buck Showalter wasn't given an organization that could use his sense of direction, but in a constellation of minor-league managers who have earned their stripes, a list that includes guys like Chris Chambliss and Tim Ireland and Marc Bombard and Gary Jones and Chris Cron and Ron Wotus, Pena is a deserving enough candidate of a decisively non-Garner/Baylor flavor. He's a worthy selection, and considering he's considered a very hands-on, upbeat guy, he might be the exactly right change of pace from Tony Muser.
While I'm generally a big booster of giving long-suffering journeymen and minor-league veterans a fair shake, I'm also a big believer that if you can home-grow your own support talent, as an organization you should give those guys a break if they fill a specific need and help make you a better ballclub. It's nice to know that you can always shake loose a guy like David McCarty, just as you can always find the next Raul Ibanez on the waiver wire (the best fourth outfielder in baseball? Really? Oh, my). So if you're the Royals and you have a choice between Brandon Berger and David McCarty, I think it's worth remembering that you were the one who gave McCarty the break, and not vice versa. Berger is an asset right now, moreso than McCarty or Chuck Knoblauch or Ibanez or the other various scruffy retreads, low-treads and no-treads that populate too much of this roster.
On the predictable headlines front, I doubt that many people reading this article are shocked by the news that Nick Neugebauer had to head to the DL before June. That's not tooting my own horn; if you read this site, I'm willing to bet you're already probably smart enough to disagree with me and be right to, but more importantly, smart enough to realize the Brewers were rolling the dice by trying to push Nick Neugebauer into the rotation from the start of the season after he had surgery last year.
So what's left for the rotation? Well, there's still Ben Sheets, Glendon Rusch and Ruben Quevedo. The four and five slots are the rough spots, with Jose Cabrera and Everett Stull hanging around. Jamey Wright's rehab is starting off slowly, and Nelson Figueroa isn't about to come back just yet, so Stull and Cabrera it is.
Activated DH-L David Ortiz from the DL; optioned C/1B-R Matt LeCroy to Edmonton. [5/13]
Placed RHP Brad Radke on the 15-day DL (pulled groin). [5/14]
Can the Twins really put themselves any more to the test? They lose both Joe Mays and Brad Radke, they lose Corey Koskie,they lose David Ortiz for a stretch, they lose Luis Rivas, Cristian Guzman is limping along at less than 100%, and despite all of that they're still in first place? Thank the stars for the AL Central.
So now Tony Fiore joins Matt Kinney in a rotation that isn't relying on any of its Opening Day big three (Mays, Radke, and Eric Milton), and Matt LeCroy loses out no matter how well he hits because it seems that almost anyone he could force off of the roster is also playing well, even Tom Prince. Making a choice between Ortiz and LeCroy should be considered an immediate problem. It would be happier to have both, but as long as the Twins carry 12 pitchers and want to keep all three of Brian Buchanan, Bobby Kielty, and Dustan Mohr, there's no real space for LeCroy. I don't entirely buy it, considering the Twinkies have two off days in the next week, so they don't really need the extra reliever, but it's understandable.
Announced that OF-L Henry Rodriguez has opted for free agency, rejecting an assignment to Ottawa. [5/13]
Clearly, we can infer from this move that O Henry! is a Maple Leafs fan, so how can you blame him? Those Ottawans would eat him for lunch.
Most of this doesn't mean much. The end of John Valentin's career seems devoted to losing various bits and pieces of himself. What's remarkable is the turnaround in Ty Wigginton's career. Shea Hillenbrand is already trying to go down a path we've seen players as diverse as Sammy Sosa and Fernando Vina go down: a player can learn to take the strike zone seriously, and can become an entirely different and more effective hitter.
Before this year, Wigginton was one of the worst players in organized baseball in terms of his command of the strike zone. This season at Norfolk, he's drawn 17 unintentional walks in ~150 plate appearances, while striking out only 20 times. In a perhaps not unrelated development, he was hitting .373/.436/.537 at Norfolk. The same caution that applies to Hillenbrand applies to Wigginton, of course: we're talking about a whopping six weeks, and anybody, even Mike Davis or Andy Allanson, can have a good six weeks. But more basically, I'm happy to see players set our preconceived notions on their collective ear.
When a player like Hillenbrand or Vina or Sosa or Wigginton shows this kind of change and starts taking walks, it's a radical development, both for what it means about player development (and how seriously organizations should take this aspect of player performance), and for projecting players. I've said this before about Vina and Sosa, but it's refreshing that what we think we know can be so fundamentally challenged by the choices and actions of an individual. It means the individual has the power to change himself on the one hand, and that we don't know everything on the other. These are very good things.
Ick. So not only are the Pirates rushing Kris Benson back to get him pitching in the majors less than a year after his Tommy John transplant, they're demoting one of their most effective relievers to stumble through the inevitable wildness that Benson's going to have to live with for the year, and the payoff is...what, again? That he'll get to suck, but they're paying him so much it's supposed to be justified somehow? That they're better off with Sean Lowe or Mike Fetters instead of Mike Lincoln?
In terms of expectations for Benson, think Kerry Wood 2000: wild, inconsistent, ineffective for stretches, and eventually fully healthy. It won't help the Bucs stay anywhere close to .500.
So Bud Smith gets rushed back, gets shellacked, and goes down, because whether or not you think he's still hurt, the Cardinals think he needs to pitch his arm into shape. Garrett Stephenson pitches a whopping four innings in his first start; because this is the Cardinals, it's considered a success. The only one of the hurried trio to do well was Woody Williams, facing a mostly toothless Cubs lineup. In short, this might well be a turning point, but of the repetitive directionless Cosell variety. The Cardinals have fallen low enough to even consider still having Andy Benes around a good thing. Nevertheless, as long as the Astros aren't off to a good start, the Cardinals are in the running, because it isn't like the Reds are a safe bet for 90 wins. It would just be nice to see them not acting desperate in a non-desperate situation.
Losing the worthwhile Bobby Jones after already losing Kevin Jarvis pushes the Padres even further into using their rotation of the future ahead of schedule. Joining Dennis Tankersley will be Jason Middlebrook; Brian Lawrence and Brett Tomko are going good, and Brian Tollberg has run off four useful starts. As I've said before, this really shouldn't harm the Padres in-season, it just moves up the timetable for the eventual reckoning of who's going to be in the rotation for 2003 and beyond. There are so few wrong answers within the Pads' menu of options that it's simply fun to follow along and see who wins out.
As for the Return of Wiki, you have to hope that getting him back will finally kill the six-week curse that seems to keep any Pads catcher from hitting. Is it the Hex of Terry Kennedy? The Mujambo of Benito Santiago? Or something insanely dull, like six weeks of part-time play doesn't necessarily tell you anything about anybody? Stay tuned...
At some point, even on the Devil Fishies, I guess results matter. They're like UPN or college that way, even if it doesn't help to explain Jason Tyner.
Nevertheless, I can't help but have some sympathy for Jesus Colome. Someone with a great fastball, as Colome has, needs a structured work pattern where he can get loose and throw and learn some element of command if he's going to have any kind of consistency and become a successful major league pitcher. His two grisly outings of the year (combined, he gave up 14 runs allowed in one inning) came when he'd gotten four or more days' rest.
As patient as Hal McRae is being with Tyner (and I'd argue ludicrously so), it's intensely frustrating to watch McRae flub a core feature of his responsibilities as a manager of a team in the business of developing talent. If McRae can't carve out a role for Jesus Colome to get regular work and learn on the mound on a team that has nothing better to do than to give him exactly that opportunity, then McRae has no business managing this team.
You can usually count on John Hart to make bold moves, or panic, or overreact. I suppose the appropriate term depends entirely on whether you're a Rangers fan, a cynic, or bemused observer. That said, giving up on Hank Blalock after barely more than a hundred plate appearances is simply pathetic. Herb Perry is definitely a useful spare part, but get past Blalock's ugly 1-23 start against lefty pitching, and he wasn't doing all bad: .247/.333/.390. Heck, if Pete Incaviglia had hit that well inhis first six weeks, he wouldn't have been quite the object of Jerome Holtzman's derision back in 1986.
To demote Blalock, not exactly for his performance but because the team is desperately hungry to get to .500, reflects on the usual tail-chasing that has typified so much of Hart's performance in recent years, typified by the absence of the moral courage to make a plan and stick with it. Flexibility is a good thing, but in managing an organization--and especially the start of a great talent's career--that element of moral courage is a core element of leadership and responsibility. Hart doesn't even have the benefit of arguing that the end justifies the means; 1997 wasn't that recent, after all. This was an opportunity to let Hank Blalock be a part of a team that's gone 16-9 in the last month, much of it with Blalock around. Why ship off Blalock when you've got Mike Lamb and Jason Romero gathering dust?
Chan Ho Park came back at a choice moment in the schedule; his first two starts are against the Tigers followed by a start against the Royals, and while that's not entirely rehab work, it's not far off.
Traded LHP Pedro Borbon to the Astros for a PTBNL. [5/15]
Esteban Loaiza is the first of the early comebacks for the Jays; there's also a very good chance that Steve Parris will show up at some point later on this year. So for the moment, the rotation is Roy Halladay, Loaiza, Brandon Lyon, Justin Miller, and Luke Prokopec. Unfortunately, that's probably going to have to do it until a week or so into June, and with Lyon and Prokopec taking their lumps after injuries have already forced the Jays to rush up guys like Mike Smith and Scott Cassidy, things really aren't working out well this spring in terms of giving almost any of their young pitchers with talent above A ball a reliable work pattern and good learning experience. At least Loaiza will have a good two months to be showcased, and it's worth remembering that he throws four pitches for strikes, and he seems to still have good velocity. He might bring something better than shiny rocks come the end of July.
Kudos to the Blue Jays for unloading Pedro Borbon in what is an extremely favorable buyer's market as far as lefty relievers are concerned. Several teams have at least one lefty too many; the A's and Cubs come to mind, but you could count the Orioles too. The Blue Jays managed to get a space on their 40-man roster, save half of what they owed Borbon, unloaded the worst of their three lefties in the pen, and they got a marker with the Astros, an organization with talent. No, it isn't Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell, but it's a nifty little bit of addition by subtraction that has a shot at being addition by addition.