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June 5, 2002
Transaction Analysis: June 2-3, 2002
Transaction Analysis, June 2-3, 2002
by Chris Kahrl
Perhaps overlooked in the Red Sox exceptional opening pair of months has been the comparatively mediocre performance of the bullpen. Some of it can't be helped. Rich Garces has been hurt much of the season, and has been one of baseball's worst relievers. Rolando Arrojo has been merely adequate as a middle reliever, and while Sun-Woo Kim had encouraging peripherals (like his strikeout-to-walk ratio, or his hits per nine innings), he was not effective. Casey Fossum has done everything well but the one thing you usually expect of your situational lefty: succeed in his situations. Lefties have tattooed him, and he's let most of his inherited runners score.
Indeed, beyond Tim Wakefield's exceptional work as a long reliever and Uggy Urbina's success as the closer, you have to consider the Sox pen a source of concern. Looking ahead to the perils of the postseason and short series, if nothing else, they need Garces healthy and pitching like it was 2000. Given his girth and his age, I wouldn't bet my last dollar on it happening.
So Mike Port (or whoever) should reshuffle the pen given the opportunity, and should actively shop around. Willie Banks isn't going to be the answer, at least not to any question you want asked. Chris Haney is coming off of a good two months in Pawtucket, posting a 2.79 ERA while allowing 27 hits and ten walks (with 31 strikeouts) in 29 innings. Having him around will hopefully free up Casey Fossum for longer outings more appropriate to his skill set as an ex-starter, potentially even stretching him out for a return to that role, especially now that Darren Oliver's bubble has burst. Dustin Hermanson is not going to be an asset as the fifth starter once he comes back either, but he might, in turn, be handy in the bullpen.
Released RHP Chris Holt from Colorado Springs. [6/2]
So now Chris Holt is a free man. This was a contractual requirement as opposed to a reflection on his performance. As the ace of the SkySox, he posted a 3.71 ERA, winning six games while giving up 68 hits in 70 1/3 innings, with a 53-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
There are enough teams seriously hard up for starting pitching help that Holt should wind up somewhere with a chance to resurface in a big-league uniform. The White Sox, Cardinals, and Marlins would all be good targets for Mr. Holt's agent. There's no reason to get doe-eyed over Holt: he's hittable and he needs a good defense to make it as a fifth starter. But all three of these teams are in contention, and have run up against depth issues with injuries in their rotations. Having an insurance policy around would not be a bad thing.
This is where I will again stump for Matt Stairs to be sent to some appropriately relevant team, whether it's the Braves or the Mets or Snakes or Dodgers or even the Angels or Marlins. All of them could use a lefty bat with some pop for either an outfield corner or first base. To keep expectations appropriately low, Dean Taylor should take what he can get. Stairs isn't hitting, and at 34, he won't be around for much longer. Nevertheless, on this team, the Wonder Hamster is wasted, in no small part because of the massive miscalculation known as Jeffrey Hammonds. Now that Hammonds is (appropriately for his skills) in right field instead of in center, Alex Ochoa and Matt Stairs have been shunted into fourth and fifth outfield roles so that Alex Sanchez can challenge the wisdom of "learn by doing" on a nightly basis. In the same way that the Brewers have too many infielders, they have outfielders they don't know what to do with, a collection of perfectly useful mediocrity whose whole is less than the sum of its component parts.
The question isn't whether or not the Brewers should eat some salary; they have to pay these guys anyway, and the players have no chance of being useful to the next good Brewers team. Better that they send Stairs to the Angels and Mark Loretta to the Braves for anything than continue to torture the brat-munching faithful with a commitment to stick with what they've got. What they've got won't fill the stands or create any faith in the future, but it can and does inspire apathy.
Mike Lincoln had never pitched his way off of the team, so on a basic level, this rights a wrong. But there's more at stake here than simply reshuffling the bullpen. Replacing Bronson Arroyo in the rotation will be Joe Beimel, which in turn leaves Scott Sauerbeck and Ron Villone as the pen's lefties. Sauerbeck has returned to usefulness as a situational lefty, while Villone has always been best suited for a long- or middle-relief role, so this is all to the good.
The question is whether Beimel will sink or swim. Beimel was successful in relief last year and has been this year, but this is hardly an ideal observance of the Earl Weaver diktat on breaking in rookies as middle relievers. On his career, Beimel hasn't inspired a lot of confidence that he could handle a starting job. In his brief big-league time, right-handed batters have pounded him to the tune of .297/.375/.436. He was a starter in the minors, but his experience as a starter above A ball is limited to less than a half-season in 2000, plus last year's big-league disaster, when he posted a 6.43 ERA as a starter. So he really doesn't have a whole lot of experience starting games above A ball. Then again, this is the team that has Lloyd McClendon's OJT act stumbling through nearly every conceivable mistake, and that flipped on Arroyo after one start.
I like much of what Dave Littlefield has done, and perhaps no one (well, okay, Dean Taylor, and whoever replaces Chuck LaMar) has a job this tough in the majors, but that's not to say there isn't room for improvement.
Announced that RHP Steve Woodard rejected an assignment to Oklahoma City, and instead became a free agent. [6/3]
I suppose that it is theoretically possible for me to lose faith after a while, but call me a glutton for disappointment. I mean, I still remember the night after watching Highlander 2 on its opening night as one of the most amusing nights of my life, because my inappropriately high expectations were so completely thrashed. After coming out feeling stunned to have witnessed this new pinnacle of crapola, there was nothing to do but drink and laugh and tell jokes about how bad it was. But not-so-secretly, deep down I still wished it had been a good view instead of Attack of the Space Catholics.
So, to surprise nobody, I figure somebody should take a flyer on Woodard, stick him in their Triple-A rotation, and call him up once a problem arises in the big-league rotation. If Jason Bere can briefly flirt with usefulness, anything's possible.
Fired manager Buck Martinez and coach Garth Iorg; named Carlos Tosca manager for the remainder of the season; named Brian Butterfield third-base coach; designated OF-R Brian Lesher for assignment; recalled C-R Ken Huckaby from Syracuse. [6/3]
I hope it won't be too disappointing if I don't have that much to say about Buck Martinez and his departure from managing. If anything, this was a mercy killing; he was a dead man before the season began, and the question wasn't if he was going to be fired as much as whether or not he'd get the full season so that the Jays could then hire the candidate of their choice next winter, or if he would somehow get himself fired in-season. He achieved the latter.
On a certain level, I can't shake the feeling that Martinez was the accidental tourist in his own managerial career, as if he could never get out of the studio and into his job, or identify that he had real responsibility as opposed to a responsibility to talk about responsibility. Sometimes he identified problems, but he never seemed to notice he was charged with fixing them. He was personable and popular, in the way that so many of his slick peers in this facile yet vacuous generation of managers seem to be, so he got good publicity. Like Terry Francona, he managed to avoid a Ray Knight-style debacle, so he might get recycled despite having given no indication that he's somebody that you would actually want to have managing a ballclub.
The real question now is whether Carlos Tosca is merely a manager for the remainder of the season, or somebody with a shot at the job. He has plenty of experience managing minor-league teams, most of it good. Unlike Buck Showalter, the mention of his name doesn't seem to inspire bleating and hissy fits in the locker room. Positive results and a willingness to work within the vision that J.P. Ricciardi has for the team, the roster, and the future could produce job security.
As for the roster move, now that Shannon Stewart is back from the DL, the Blue Jays have four outfielders they can use for three slots. If any one of them gets a day off (and thus meaning Stewart isn't the DH), then carrying a third catcher allows the Jays to DH Tom Wilson, while letting Ken Huckaby back up Darrin Fletcher. Given their current roster alignment, that's a better use of the last spot on the bench, since Lesher wasn't playing, and as before, there's little risk of his being claimed on waivers.
Chris Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.
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