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June 1, 2002
Transaction Analysis: May 28-29, 2002
Transaction Analysis, May 28-29, 2002
by Chris Kahrl
With David Eckstein's knee still aching and now that Benji Gil is back in the fold, who plays short and who gets to be the utility infielder? Two or three years ago, you would think that it would be Benji Gil being the utility infielder, and Jose Nieves getting a shot at short. But after not getting to start ahead of Alfredo Amezaga, Nieves may be stuck with the dreaded utility label. Its sort of like being a fry cook for life. You may or may not be good at it, but the level of skill you bring to the job doesn't really matter. You'll never get to run the register, much less make it to assistant manager, and it's up to you to decide whether or not to be the best fry cook you can be before descending into unpoetic madness.
Jose Parra hasn't really been as good as you might think given his 3.21 ERA; he's given up 24 baserunners in his 14 IP, with an ugly 11-8 walk to strikeout ratio. However, the Snakes are short of worthwhile right handed relievers. Even though I consider bringing Bret Prinz back a good thing, why bump Parra when you're carrying four lefty relievers, including the routinely splattered Eddie Oropesa? The bullpen has been a problem all season, and pledging allegiance to Oropesa or Mike Morgan after their struggles isn't going to help the Snakes put any distance between themselves and the rest of the NL West. Yes, Matt Mantei's due back any minute now, but how many minutes will he be around for? This is a problem, the sort of thing that hurts a team even more in a short series, should Arizona again get to a point where they're in one that matters.
Ugh, so now the Braves go from having only five useful hitters in the lineup to four? Not that they were primed to go on a division-winning run or anything, but at this rate, every team in the division should still be in the running for the title at the All-Star Break.
Marcus Giles is out for three weeks, which puts Keith Lockhart on the spot. It's not a good bet to expect much from him, and it might even lead to a semi-platoon with Jesse Garcia. Nevertheless, I wouldn't take John Schuerholz or Bobby Cox to task for keeping Lockhart around in particular; the Braves were supposed to insured against this particular circumstance with the already-injured Mark DeRosa.
The silver lining is that Matt Franco might get an opportunity to pass Lockhart by as one of the team's primary lefty pinch-hitters. Franco was off to a decent start for Richmond, hitting .289/.349/.457, and he can spot at first, second or third base as needed. In the absence of a hitter at first, Franco might even wind up getting quite a few starts there, but that should only reinforce the need for a trade.
If there's a bad bit of news, it's that with all of the injuries, the Braves have three members of Richmond's regular lineup on their big league bench: Matt Franco, Darren Bragg, and Jesse Garcia. The question I have to ask is if that's the best they could do. If there's space to place blame, it's probably on Schuerholz for not being more agressive in signing minor league free agents this past winter, because position player depth wasn't an organizational strength before the injuries (these people take George Lombard seriously, remember?), and it certainly isn't one now, after them.
Released INF-R Alex Arias. [5/28]
So now the Cubs are back to three catchers. This makes sense because cutting Joe Girardi is probably baseball's equivalent to publicly broadcasting baby seal clubbings, and Todd Hundley's entitlement program has years to run before all the money's spent. I guess I'm a sucker, insofar as I'd play Hundley until he couldn't play, or he retired in disgust, or he got back somewhere in the vicinity of where he was in 2000 or even 1994. The alternative is an awful lot of Girardi and Roberto Machado, which makes a nice starter kit for finding ways to keep the Brewers company in the basement.
More practically, because the Cubs have Roosevelt Brown, Mark Bellhorn, and Chris Stynes on the bench, they actually have some useful pinch-hitters for their catchers. Assuming Don Baylor observes the traditional self-imposed rule of always keeping an extra catcher on the bench, he still gets the opportunity to pinch-hit for his catching trio at least once per game. That ought to beg the question about self-imposed "rules" in baseball, but it's Baylor's lot to adapt timidly if he adapts at all.
Now that Brady Anderson has been cut and Russell Branyan essentially owns the left field job, the Indians needed somebody to fill the role of being the alternative to Travis Fryman at third. John McDonald has his virtues as a sweet-fielding alternative to Omar Vizquel or Ricky Gutierrez, but he's not a bat you stick in the lineup to get some runs. In contrast, Bill Selby has been a worthwhile hitter for years, and with Fryman struggling, especially against right-handed pitching, it's handy to have Selby up after he hit a pretty typical .295/.359/.473 in Buffalo in the first two months. Of course, this is all assuming that the Indians aren't wrestling with the idea of running up their own white flag. Even though I don't care for their chances, I would argue it's far too soon to give up already.
Courtesy of Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools, we can appreciate that the Rockies have the fourth-best bullpen in baseball. Even though they've lost a valuable reliever in Rick White (2.9 Adjusted Runs Prevented), he was fifth in the pen in terms of effectiveness, behind Todd Jones, Jose Jimenez, Justin Speier, and Chris Nichting. Missing from that list are lefties Kent Mercker and Dennys Reyes, but both have also pitched well.
Mercker and Reyes also ex-starters, so they can be useful for more than just a spot-lefty Honeycutt/Orosco Role (HOR? Nah, Sickels' LOOGY, for Lefty One-Out GuY is still a better acronym in a world already overrun by cryptic acronyms), so Brian Fuentes might get a look-see in the spot role. He was effective at it in Colorado Springs, holding lefties to a homerless .161 average while posting overall numbers of a 4.28 ERA, with 28 hits, 17 walks and 38 strikeouts in 27.1 IP.
In Kevin Millar's absence, Eric Owens did the things that he can do well when things go his way, playing a decent outfield, stealing a few bases, and hitting for a decent average. Those are exactly the sorts of things that Jeff Torborg has a tendency to go ga-ga for, so Millar is probably out of a regular job. That allows him to return to his previous incarnation as dangerous spot starter and bench menace for high leverage pinch-hitting situations, but it won't help the Fish score many more runs. However, with the slender margins involved in what it might take to win or lose the NL East, a key bench hitter and some good outfield defense might make the difference in the right situation.
Between Millar and Owens, neither is so good that the answer of which one would do the team the most good getting 400 plate appearances is that obvious. Keep in mind when I say that, I don't think that Owens will be as bad as his 2001 was, and I don't really expect that Millar should be as good as his 2001 was. Millar is clearly the stronger hitter, but Owens brings enough things to the table to make him a frighteningly enticing alternative, especially to someone with Torborg's known prejudices.
I have to go over this again, but can anyone explain what Marty Malloy is here for? He was a nice human interest story for about thirty seconds or so, but now that the Marlins have lost the Lesser Alex Gonzalez, they really ought to have somebody on the roster who can back up Andy Fox at short, and Pablo Ozuna more closely resembles that than Malloy.
Activated RHP Wade Miller from the DL; placed RHP Dave Mlicki on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 5/26, with a (strained intercostal muscle); optioned 3B-R Morgan Ensberg to New Orleans; recalled 2B/3B-R Keith Ginter from New Orleans. [5/29]
Some ideas are just bad. The York anti-aircraft tank, or a national park named after James Watt, or a value system based on the example set by the Abominable Dr. Phibes all come to mind. But dumping on Morgan Ensberg when he's outhit the other options on the roster and Keith Ginter is astonishingly bad. Look at the rate stats, even given Ensberg's disappointing start:
AVG OBP SLG EQA Ensberg .236 .336 .386 .255 Blum .243 .333 .338 .239 Vizcaino .321 .329 .395 .241 Ginter (AAA) .254 .350 .368 .230 (major league equivalent)
So even though Ensberg's doing less than you might have expected given his performance in the minors, he's doing better than the various circus midgets that the Astros propose to replace him with. But the Astros are lagging further and further behind the Reds and Cardinals, two teams with problems of their own, so something has to be done, right? The problems they have in the bullpen won't be addressed by sending down Ensberg, and replacing Ensberg with Geoff Blum and Jose Vizcaino isn't going to improve the team offensively. Nothing about sending Ensberg down is going to fix the Astros' poor performance in one-run games. The Astros are a bad defensive team, but that also isn't Ensberg's fault; Ensberg can't make Julio Lugo a better shortstop, he can't give Craig Biggio his knees and his lateral range back, and he can't make Daryle Ward a good left fielder.
Fortunately, the Astros have the second-best rotation in the National League behind the Dodgers in the early going, based on Michael Wolverton's Support-Neutral data. If anything, now that Wade Miller is back and Tim Redding is making a strong case for being in the rotation to stay, the Astros may as well let it ride, only seeking to fix the bullpen if they can get someone of value cheaply with the labor scare.
The owners of the worst bullpen in baseball won't miss Blake Stein. Indeed, Stein's departure for the disabled list whittles down the list of the ten least effective relievers in the game (using Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools) by one more Mohican, leaving Jason Boyd and Britt Reames as the last serious contenders for this particular crown of thorns.
Happily for the Royals, they're obviously better off with Brad Voyles. In limited work in Omaha, Voyles had posted a 1.56 ERA, allowing only 9 hits and 9 walks in 17.1 IP, with 17 strikeouts. Yes, he's still wild, but the Royals need the help. Roberto Hernandez has the nice sinecure of infrequent closerdom, and Cory Bailey and Brian Shouse have done a nifty job of plating other people's baserunners. At least until Angel Berroa comes up to stay, Allard Baird could use having somebody on the roster to demonstrate that he has managed to get something of value in some deal, any deal.
It's also nice on some level to have Brent Mayne back. A.J. Hinch finally showed a little bit of promise at the plate, at least in a Tom Prince kind of way, hitting .218/.299/.423 with a .244 Equivalent Average, or about as well as you'd reasonably expect from a backup catcher. Mayne isn't going to be a massive improvement, but he's the other half of what can be an adequate job-sharing solution until (and if) Mike Tonis ever turns into something.
And so, for a brief instant, the Dodgers were leftyless in the pen. It was for no particular reason beyond a fit of pique directed at Jeff Williams, but now that they have Jesse Orosco back, they're not.
Signed INF-R Bobby Smith to a minor league contract. [5/29]
That's right, the Brewers are picking scraps up from the Devil Rays. It's not easy being baseball's most lucrative franchise, and yet having a hard time competing for talent with powerhouses like Tampa Bay.
Apparently, the Devil Rays' bobblehead giveaways scheduled for this year were for two of these very gentlemen, Jason Tyner and Toby Hall. Think about that. As dumb as baseball's dumbest organization is, they did have the smarts to finally cut bait on Tyner, baseball's worst regular. That's a cause for hope, right? I suppose that depends; only the Devil Rays would consider making Jason Tyner a regular in an outfield corner. There is an astounding lack of self-awareness, not only on the organizational management level, but in the team's marketing division. A bobblehead doll for Jason Tyner?
BP staffers like to joke about accumulating Lame Shares, but I think the Devil Rays are the first team to take that concept to heart and use it as a way to outdo themselves in finding new and interesting ways to run fans off. There is something ageless about a Jason Tyner bobblehead doll, of course, in that rather than try to give fans something that symbolizes hope or optimism or a commitment to improvement, or even something like a Randy Winn bobblehead doll that wouldn't say much of anything at all, the Devil Fishies want to give their fans something that represents how totally hopeless this franchise is, just like Jason Tyner. It's sort of like a Jose Tartabull doll for the Kansas City A's to tell fans to abandon hope, or one for Jim Gantner with the Brewers to remind fans that the hometown nine is well-intentioned and mostly harmless. A Jason Tyner bobblehead doll might be the game's most compelling anti-marketing tool this side of Bud Selig.
That riff aside, there is some good news for the D-Rays. Aubrey Huff should step in and split the first base and DH jobs with Steve Cox, with Greg Vaughn moving to left. Vaughn might have had an almost historic bad start, but as ugly as Vaughn's .133/.262/.260 start is, it was still worth more offensively than Tyner's .214/.249/.238. There are various explanations being trotted out for Hall's bad start--he showed up to camp overweight, he was pressing, he was doing badly with pitch identification--but at the end of the day, I can accept sending him to Durham to get his stroke back. Neither Carlos Pena or Hank Blalock hit as badly (and as I've argued in the past, had given some good reasons to be retained), but they've already been shipped off.
The baffling element of the demotion is who should be around to catch in Hall's absence. John Flaherty has had a nice fifty at-bats or so, but the rest of his career basically says you can expect that to stop. So why call up Paul Hoover, who was hitting .211/.270/.400, or about as well as you'd expect from him given his track record? Why not call up Sal Fasano, who's hitting .257/.385/.495? Fasano won't hit like that in the majors, of course, but he won't hit less than Hoover, he'll be a viable alternative to Flaherty in the lineup in a way Hoover will never be, and he's got an outstanding defensive reputation. If getting him onto the 40-man roster is an issue, I can offer an easy suggestion: outright Paul Hoover off of it. Overall, the Devil Rays will get a bit more offense out of their outfielders, their DH, and their catching situation, but it could have been better.
Chris Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.
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