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June 3, 2002
Transaction Analysis: May 30-June 1
Transaction Analysis, May 30-June 1, 2002
by Chris Kahrl
As mentioned before, the Reds need to have somebody on their bench who can actually play shortstop, and while I'd keep Gookie Dawkins around for the purpose, Juan Castro is believed to have his moments as a fielder. Any team carrying Barry Larkin at short needs to have a fresh pair of legs around to spare Larkin any unnecessary action (blowouts, lost causes, at the first twinge of a hamstring). In Castro's case, baseball teams almost have to infer that he has a good glove; if not, there isn't a whole lot of anything else there to put him on a roster.
Somebody had to go to make room for Castro. To my surprise, and after thinking about it for a bit, I can't say I disagree with the choice. Brady Clark is off to a slow start this year. He's hitting just .162/.244/.216, but he's also only gotten around 40 plate appearances in two months of work. By way of contrast, Wilton Guerrero and Reggie Taylor have gotten around 70 plate appearances apiece. Sure, hitting has a way of creating more playing time for itself, and Clark didn't hit, but it is worth asking whether Bob Boone was doing the right thing in favoring Guerrero and Taylor when it came to allocating what little playing time there was. Clark's track record as a hitter has been stronger than either Taylor's or Guerrero's for years.
But now that Ken Griffey Jr. is back, the chances of Clark getting any kind of playing time to get out of his mini-slump are pretty remote. As long as the starts in the outfield are being distributed among Griffey, Adam Dunn, Juan Encarnacion, and Austin Kearns, Boone and Jim Bowden can instead focus on specific skills that their bench players offer. Taylor can pinch-run and be a solid defensive replacement. Guerrero can run, get the ball in play as a pinch-hitter, and take the field at almost any position in case of an emergency. As bench weapons, they're not great, but they can do some things. The Reds don't have a position-playing regular that they need to pinch-hit for routinely (maybe Jason LaRue, but he's not hopeless, and Corky Miller has been outstanding), so they really only need to worry about using pinch-hitters for the pitcher, and they've already got whoever doesn't start in the outfield in that particular game ready (courtesy of Boone's outfield rotation scheme) to come into a high-leverage pinch-hitting situation.
Meanwhile, Clark will have a chance to regain his stroke down in Louisville, along with Ruben Mateo. In case anything happens to one of the front four in the outfield, the Reds can recall Clark or Mateo to resume the fourth outfielder's role, while appropriately marooning Taylor and Guerrero in the specialized niches in which they belong. All in all, it shapes up nicely enough. Sure, it would be better if they had somebody who could do two things (start at second base for Todd Walker against tough lefties, and back up Larkin at shortstop), but the last guy who could do those two things was Pokey Reese, and he thought he was king of the world.
I'm sad to see Jacob Cruz go down, yet again, with yet another knee injury. After all, if Randall Simon could catch a break with this team, I was figuring that it was only a matter of time before Cruz got a shot at some playing time.
To make matters worse, Damion Easley's return isn't exactly a good thing. While the situation at shortstop seems settled for the time being now that Ramon Santiago is up, the second-base situation is a mess. The problem is that while the Tigers have three candidates on the roster, none of the three outshines the others, and none of them hold much upside, so even if there was a right choice, it wouldn't be very right for very long. Damian Jackson is the starter of the moment, but he'll be 29 in August. As a regular or near-regular in the last three years, he hasn't hit in two of them. There comes a point when you have to stop wondering about his potential and move on. Then there are Damion Easley and Shane Halter, both of whom can handle second base. All of these guys are modest offensive contributors, none of them zeroes or the kind of hitter who hurt the offense, but none are serious assets either.
So there's a decent chance that Luis Pujols will piddle around with all three of them, getting little good work out of any of them, and not turning any of them into something somebody might trade for. Expectations need to be kept appropriately low in these parts, but this can't help but depress.
Four of the five worst bullpens in baseball are in the American League, and it says something about how badly relief pitching in the AL seems to be these days that the Tigers' pen isn't among those four--they're tenth in the league by Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools. They're tenth despite getting good work out of only three relievers: ersatz closer Juan Acevedo, infrequently-used Rule 5 pick Jeff Farnsworth, and Jose Lima's designated pitcher, Julio Santana. So considering all of that, getting Danny Patterson back is a good thing, assuming that he's able to actually pitch and that the elbow soreness that cost him nearly two months isn't the start of something worse. I don't think there's too much to worry about beyond the normal unpredictability, in so far as Patterson had a good rehab stint at Toledo.
Chad Fox is "healthy." Honest. Even if the Brewers could get his notoriously fragile elbow insured, they wouldn't. They're giving it a vote of confidence and a box of chocolates instead. No one is allowed to mention past boo-boos; there's probably a hefty fine involved.
As good as Fox can be when he's physically able to throw his slider, he's had two Tommy John procedures on his elbow, he's broken it, and now he's coming off of two months on the DL because his elbow isn't quite right. There may not be a player more appropriately symbolic of Seligian strategic planning and self-immolation. Well, besides Jeffrey Hammonds.
While Mike Buddie was probably doomed from the moment that Davey Lopes was fired, cutting him loose does create a potential problem if the rotation breaks down again. Buddie was at least good for sopping up innings. As the return of the notoriously fragile Fox highlights, who's going to do that now? Not Fox, and certainly not situational lefty Ray King. That means that among Jose Cabrera, Luis Vizcaino, notional closer Mike DeJean, and lefty Luis De Los Santos, somebody's going to have to soak up innings if Nelson Figueroa or Glendon Rusch struggles to get through the sixth.
Returned RHP Brad Radke to the 15-day DL (pulled groin); recalled LHP Johan Santana from Edmonton. [5/31]
The good news is that the Twins are already used to life without Brad Radke, at least in the short term. The bad news is that you have to wonder how long it can last. Kyle Lohse and Matt Kinney have earned the right to stick around, but Eric Milton has been amazingly and frustratingly inconsistent, and Rick Reed has been barely adequate.
To replace Radke this time around, the Twins are giving themselves an option. They could turn to Tony Fiore again, although now that they've cut Mike Trombley loose, Ron Gardenhire might feel he needs Fiore in the bullpen for long right-handed work. So that creates an opportunity for Johan Santana. As a rotation regular for Edmonton, Santana was doing reasonably well. Even adjusting for a 3.14 ERA made prettier because of a number of unearned runs, he was giving up about a run every other inning--not bad for the PCL--while allowing 38 hits and 27 walks in 48 2/3 innings, and punching out 75 hitters.
The question isn't whether Santana can be effective in time, because he's a hard-throwing lefty with some flashes of success in the past. The question for the Twins is whether they can live with the contributions of guys like Kinney and Lohse and Santana while keeping their lead in the AL Central. Short term, I don't see why not. The Indians are still a mess, and the White Sox rotation is still a zoo without a keeper.
Keeping that in mind, the Twins need to be more careful with Radke. Since he did not actually tear a muscle, he should be able to make a start at some point in June. The question is whether it will be closer to the middle or the end of the month. As far as the schedule and the decaying management negotiating position are concerned, there are four months to go, so there's no point in pushing too hard too fast.
Fortunately for the Mets, John Valentin is back. I mean, one hot weekend was good enough to get Rey Ordonez to third on the team in RBI, but that says more about how permanently impossible it is for Roberto Alomar to drive in nonexistent baserunners generated by the bottom of the Mets' order, or how badly Mo Vaughn has done, rather than representing an Ordonez positive. With Valentin and Joe McEwing and Mark Johnson, the Mets may not have a great lineup, but they do have offensive weapons on the bench, and Bobby Valentine generally isn't shy about using them. With starters who don't create a lot of infield chances--just Jeff D'Amico at the moment--Valentine could help out his offense by spotting Valentin at shortstop.
As expected, Cory Lidle replaces Erik Hiljus, and Aaron Harang gets a shot at taking over the fifth slot. It's worth remembering that a year ago, Hiljus was merely a worthwhile journeyman, a good spring NRI, and the sort of guy you plug into the fifth slot when you can't find something better. That's a step below guys like Gil Heredia and Cory Lidle, who are talented enough to have good runs of their own. If a guy like Hiljus turns out well, assisted by some nifty run support, that's nice, but Harang should end up being something better than that.
Jeff Tam's call-up should be brief. It was caused by a glut of relief usage in some ugly ballgames in the middle of last week, so this was not a reprieve from his previous earned demotion. Once David Justice is ready to come off of the DL, the A's will probably go back down to 11 pitchers, and Tam is the obvious target for a demotion. If Tam has a good couple of weeks and Mike Fyhrie struggles, their roles could reverse quickly enough, but for the time being, Tam shouldn't stick around.
The nicest thing to say about life without Robert Person is that the Phillies learned that the next time they lose a starter, they shouldn't hand his rotation slot to David Coggin. Assuming that Robert Person can be Robert Person from here on out, this is another little kicker in the Phillies' drive towards relevance, along with the lineup shakeup and the early Christmas present from Oakland.
The Phillies don't have to match the Braves and the Mets starter for starter, they just need to get good consistent work while fixing the lineup. If they do that, anything is possible, because the offensive problems of the division's favored pair aren't about to end.
The really bad news is that it looks like David Williams is out for the year, so he won't get the development time that you could consider to be the reason for being for the entire franchise. Worse yet, Williams was pitching in pain for at least the last month, and neglected to mention it to anybody. If ever you wanted the opportunity to make an announcement to every pitcher in the organization, now is the time to browbeat everyone about how tremendously selfish, stupid, and ultimately self-defeating this sort of thing is. Who cares if you impress Dallas Green?
There are worse after-effects. The Bucs have already punted one rotation slot, using it for Kris Benson's in-season rehab. That means that the rotation is down to the two gifts from the White Sox, Benson, Jimmy Anderson, and...well, it's back to Bronson Arroyo for the moment, since the "Opening Day Starter--Ron Villone" idea didn't exactly work out so well.
Arroyo is coming off of a good two months at Nashville in which he posted a 2.35 ERA, allowing 56 hits (three home runs) and 10 walks in 65 innings, while striking out 55. He's only 25, has a good amount of experience in the majors already. Happier yet, he's been effective against left-handed hitters this year, holding them to a .206 average with little power, so he might actually be learning with time, experience, and practice. You know, that good old-fashioned stuff. As fifth starters go, the Pirates could do worse.
The problem is the Benson escapade, which pretty much leaves them guaranteed one ugly, bullpen-consuming loss per week, beyond their usual problems with a developing rotation and a pathetic offense.
The good news is that the Cardinals supposedly have their top lefty back. The bad news is, like so many of their other call-backs, there's an open question about whether or not Steve Kline is 100% physically. This brought a grudging acknowledgment from Tony LaRussa that he wouldn't press Kline into the eveready role that he's had over the last few years. Like the comments that he'd be careful with Garrett Stephenson, this probably needs to be taken with Redman's new tobacco alternative, "teaspoon o' salt" chewy plugs, in original "Tang o' the Sea" and spearmint flavors.
Placed 3B-L Sean Burroughs on the 15-day DL (sprained shoulder), retroactive to 5/29; placed RHP Brian Tollberg on the 15-day DL (torn ligament - elbow); activated RHP Bobby J. Jones from the DL; purchased the contract of 2B/SS-R Julio Matos from Portland; outrighted C-R Javier Cardona to Portland. [5/30]
There are bad weeks, and then there are bad weeks. The Padres just lost their starting corner infielders for most of the time between now and the All-Star Game, a rotation starter for the year, and even their bench coach, Rob Picciolo, to surgery to repair an aneurysm.
Starting with the worst injury first, Brian Tollberg is out for the year. Coming on the heels of losing Kevin Jarvis for longer than they expected, the Padres have been forced to lean on some of their young pitching talent prematurely. Behind the more experienced trio of the better Bobby Jones, Brett Tomko, and Brian Lawrence, they're working with Dennis Tankersley and Jason Middlebrook. That's as good a pair as you might want to press into action, but it's going to be bumpy, and this helps send the Pads' season even further down the road where everything's aimed at next year.
Elsewhere, they're going to have to do without Phil Nevin for at least six weeks, and Sean Burroughs for three. They're hoping that Burroughs doesn't have to have surgery--if he does, that would pretty much blow a season in which, if nothing else, they're able to hand him a learning year at third base.
Meanwhile, Bruce Bochy has to put together an infield. Ryan Klesko gets first base for the duration, because the Pads have outfielders who can outhit Deivi Cruz, and that's the standard the Pads have sunk to in their current predicament. Now, instead of picking and choosing among Cruz and Ramon Vazquez and D'Angelo Jimenez, Bochy can no longer afford to be cranky with Vazquez or Jimenez for their early-season struggles. Well, he might still decide to let Julio Matos play because he's the devil Bochy doesn't know, but for now it looks like Jimenez will play third, Cruz short, and Vazquez second, with Treni Hubbard starting at third against some lefties, replacing Vazquez in the lineup and with Jimenez moving back to second.
Myself, I think it's too much wasted motion. The Pads are better off evaluating people on the basis of their potential to contribute to the next good Padres team. D'Angelo Jimenez needs to be evaluated as to whether or not he can be that squad's everyday second baseman. Vazquez needs to be looked at as a shortstop, not as the next Tim Flannery. If he doesn't turn out well, then you can try and make him into Tim Flannery. If, after a lot more playing time than they've seen so far, they don't inspire any confidence or optimism, then I can see getting cranky, but for the time being, the organization's first priority should be on playing people and avoiding impatience.
A Rule 5 pick goes to the DL? This non-shocking sequence of events is pretty small beer in a world that hands the Lakers "only" two out of seven games and calls it a reasonable facsimile of fairness.
What arguably isn't fair is that Travis Harper got bumped from the rotation, because Harper gave the D-Rays two decent starts out of three. The money squandered on Alvarez will never come back, so there isn't much reason to hand him starts. Nobody is going to trade for him given his girth and track record, and having him pitch isn't going to salvage Chuck LaMar's reputation. He's a free agent after this year anyway. Why bother? If anybody deserves to be bumped, even briefly, it's probably Tanyon Sturtze. Although Sturtze was their most effective starter last year, he's developed the nasty recent habit of coughing up what is, for the D-Rays, an insurmountable four runs almost every night out.
Chris Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.