Happy Labor Day! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume on Tuesday, September 2.
June 12, 2002
June 9-10, 2002
Without Lou Merloni on the roster, the only thing that the Sox might have had to wonder about in Rey Sanchez's absence was whether they had someone on the bench who could play shortstop in case something happened to Nomar Garciaparra. With Merloni around, the question is one of who plays second base and who plays first. Jose Offerman hasn't played second yet this year, but he's available to do so. There's Merloni, of course, and the Sox can let minor-league veteran Bry Nelson get a start or two. There's also Carlos Baerga, but if the Sox are concerned about Offerman's glove at second, I can only imagine what they should think of Baerga's.
Perhaps familiarity in Offerman's case has overbred contempt, but the decision to call up Juan Diaz is a pretty clear signal that the Red Sox are less concerned about keeping second base covered than they are about their problems at first base. They could have called up Gary DiSarcina, after all. The Sox have reason to be concerned, because Tony Clark has been the least dangerous first baseman in the game. Not one of; the. And while life is about to get better with the return of Manny Ramirez, nobody should have to haul an inoffensive first baseman around. Juan Diaz hasn't done particularly well with the PawSox this year. Representative of the power stroke for which he's known, the beefy Cuban has slugged ten home runs, but beyond that, he doesn't have a lot to show for his trouble. He hit just .247/.293/.410, good for a translated .219 Equivalent Average in the major leagues. That's not good, but it would be an improvement on Tony Clark.
For the curious, Dernell Stenson has dissipated into a light-hitting left fielder, and Cal Pickering is still out for the year. This ought to be an ideal situation for old friend Izzy Alcantara to ride to the rescue, except he's busy slugging .500 for the irrelevant Indy Indians in the Brewers' organization.
Recalled IF-B Augie Ojeda from Iowa. [6/10]
The nice way to look at this is that the Cubs turned a minor-league journeyman into a 22-year-old outfielder whose tools have drawn almost unanimous praise. Jackson Melian is hitting .223/.362/.364, with a respectable Three True Outcomes (that's strikeouts, walks and home runs to those uninitiated into the mysteries of the Rob Deer Fan Club) percentage of almost 54% in all of his plate appearances. Just as clearly, that isn't really a good thing. Melian isn't making much contact or hitting for much power. He's always been an all-tools talent, but he's had problems over his entire career converting those tools into skills. It's a good thing to see him taking walks, but he's still far away from becoming a real prospect. He probably is 22 (unless he was the recipient of a multi-year visa), but nevertheless you're talking about a guy in his third year at Double-A.
The not-so-nice way of looking at this is that the Cubs are in their final contractual stretch with Joe Girardi, and they've got an ongoing big problem in terms of getting Todd Hundley back on track. If there's something that's overdue, it's riding Girardi off on a rail (who would trade for him?) for hitting badly enough—consistently—at a level that gets people like Delino DeShields in danger of being cut or Bobby Hill in danger of being shipped back to Iowa. But Girardi is Don Baylor's creature, and as long as TribCorp feels that firing Baylor would be an unnecessary injury to the bottom line, Joltless Joe should be safe.
Barbs like these aside, this isn't really the end of the world. Keep in mind, Robert Machado might be better than Joe Girardi, but that's an easy standard. It will be easy for Andy MacPhail to find somebody else as good as Robert Machado, if he cares to.
The other nice ripple effect is that with Augie Ojeda up to be a glovely utility infielder, the Cubs can afford to use guys like Mark Bellhorn or Rosie Brown or Chris Stynes as pinch-hitters for their second basemen, catchers, for Alex Gonzalez, as well as for the pitcher's spot. Well, except that Baylor will have bunted his way out of as many big innings as possible, so the Cubs' opportunities for high-leverage plate appearances go from infrequent to rare. But in terms of talent on hand, things are nevertheless slightly better. If only the bench coach's job description only included words about putting NyQuil in Baylor's coffee...
After a lone spot start, Carlos Almanzar is apparently out for a month or two. Because of off days on Thursday and next Monday, the Reds don't have to determine who their fifth starter is until Saturday the 22nd, so they can take their time deciding whether Jose Rijo will have recovered, or if they want to delay the decision by spot starting somebody like Jim Brower.
As for internal/organizational options, the farm offers another spin with Jose Acevedo; prior to this latest injury, they were looking at Brian Bohanon as a reliever, but that may have just changed. Seth Etherton shouldn't be fully recovered and ready to start by month's end. Nobody from among Jared Fernandez, Luke Hudson, and Brian Reith is stepping forward at Louisville, Lance Davis has pitched his way down to Double-A, and nobody at Chattanooga is looking great beyond Josh Hall. At 21 and just out of A ball with only 2001 under his belt as a pro, it would be madness to push Hall up any faster than they already have. So either Rijo is going to be healthy, or they'll look at Acevedo or Bohanon, or they'll go with a temp like Brower until something else comes along.
All of this is a long way of saying that they really should keep shopping.
Danny Patterson pitched hurt in spring training, went to the DL early in the season, just came back and pitched like he was hurt again, so he's back on the DL. Look, everyone can have impaired judgment about some things. My favorite Bob Dylan album is Nashville Skyline, which, as one friend put it, is proof that I don't really like Bob Dylan. In this situation, the Tigers just need to adapt to the fact that there's nothing urgent about getting Danny Patterson back. He's under contract for more than $5 million over the next two years. Better to give him all the time he needs, pray he doesn't need any major surgery, and stop trying to prove that they really like him by making him do something which makes you wonder whether they really do.
As for bringing back Craig Monroe one more time.... Bobby Higginson isn't hitting lefties this year, although he has in the past. Neither Rob Fick or Randall Simon are hitting lefties either, and neither have given cause—the way Higginson has—to inspire you to think that they will. I would think that the opportunity is there for Monroe to finally get an audition as a lefty thumper. He has a track record of pasting lefties in the minors, the Tigers clearly aren't so good that they can't use the help, and it isn't like Craig Paquette should be getting the work instead.
Acquired C-R Robert Machado from the Cubs for OF-R Jackson Melian; placed C-L Paul Bako on the 15-day DL (dislocated pinky); placed RHP Chad Fox on the 15-day DL (strained rotator cuff); purchased the contract of RHP Jayson Durocher from Indianapolis. [6/9]
The Brewers are running out of catchers throughout the organization, in part because they've lost both Papo Casanova and Paul Bako. Marcus Jensen had to come up from Indianapolis, Brian Moon got bumped up, Lance Burkhart has been awful enough to play his way down to Huntsville, and suddenly there's a shortage of people who can actually catch. They were lucky to get Sal Fasano as a free agent at this stage of the season. So getting Robert Machado fills an immediate need.
Was the move really necessary? The absence of Bako and Casanova isn't going to drive the Brewers any deeper into the basement; they're baseball's worst team, regardless. As long as they have a good catch-and-throw guy like Jensen up, why not move Tyler Houston back behind the plate? If they're going to be able to dodge the last few payments on Mark Loretta's contract, they need to get him playing time to make a tradable commodity anyway, so why give up something to get a minor-league journeyman who fills a very temporary need?
I try to deal with news in this space, so I think we can safely pass over Chad Fox's latest trip to the DL. This is one of those press releases that the Brewers never have to throw away; they can just Xerox the original and leave the dates blank. It would save some pennies to help finance that next Selig-Prieb hashish brownie/"believe me now?" bake sale. The only thing Chad Fox represents for the Brewers now is a body they hope to get a healthy month from so they can make him tantalizing enough to the Snakes in an attempted re-enactment of the Mantei heist.
Placed RHP Jack Cressend on the 15-day DL (strained rotator cuff); recalled C/1B-R Matt LeCroy from Edmonton. [6/9]
It's to Ron Gardenhire's credit that, just as Tom Kelly always seemed to have in years past, the Twins once again have a good bullpen-actually, the American League's best bullpen in the early going. It hasn't even been particularly close; they've got space between themselves and the #2 Yankees, according to Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools. Only two members of the seven-man pen haven't pulled their weight in the early going: the previously reliable Boomer Wells, and Jack Cressend. Cressend was valuable last year, so they're better off resting him to see if he'll be available in July and beyond while getting up to 14 position players.
Especially when that one hitter is Matt LeCroy. He's been the best-hitting regular at Triple-A this season, so he doesn't have much left to prove. He's an asset at DH, and can spot-start for Doug Mientkiewicz at first base against tough lefties, and it will be interesting to see if Gardenhire gives him a start behind the plate at some point. As is, LeCroy is getting an opportunity to push past David Ortiz in the DH job.
This highlights a distinction between the first-edition Gardenhire Twins and the successful Kelly teams of the past. As Kelly did before, Gardenhire seems content to try and use everyone. However, by comparison Kelly never had this kind of depth. People like Randy Bush or Gene Larkin or Pedro Munoz weren't great players as much as they were useful ones used often enough to be fresh so that they were always available to be used to best advantage. This Twins squad has LeCroy and Ortiz, two hitters capable of being among the league's best DHs, and they already have four useful corner outfielders to mix and match. Beyond that, they also have Michael Cuddyer and Mike Restovich on the way up and enjoying great years at Edmonton. For Terry Ryan, this has to be that much sweeter, because this is clearly his team, and not Andy MacPhail's or Kelly's. If anyone deserves credit for saving the Twins in Minnesota, I would nominate Ryan and his staff.
Placed RHP Mariano Rivera on the 15-day DL (strained groin), retroactive to 6/9; placed RF-R Juan Rivera on the 15-day DL (fractured kneecap), retroactive to 6/8; recalled RHPBrandon Knight and OF-R Marcus Thames from Columbus. [6/10]
One of the nice things about the 162-game season is that it rewards depth. In each of these cases, the Yankees should feel no pressure. Mariano Rivera might be well-regarded and all, even with Rob Dibble's mujambo on him for last year's blown save, but Steve Karsay was baseball's best reliever last year, and he was effective as the Indians' closer in 2000, logging 19 saves in 24 opportunities before the Tribe got all excited about bringing in Bob Wickman. There isn't a better substitute closer in the game today. Since Ramiro Mendoza is already starting to pitch more effectively, he might be ready to take Karsay's place in the set-up role, which really leaves the Yankees no worse off during the couple of weeks that Rivera is expected to miss.
As for Juan Rivera, well, Marcus Thames is a nice alternative and the Yankees' next-best outfield prospect above A ball, and they still have the John Vander Wal/Shane Spencer platoon lying around. Thames's performance in Columbus was nowhere as good as Rivera's: .216/.310/.374, which translates to a .222 Equivalent Average in the majors, but he's coming off of an outstanding 2001 in Norwich, when he tied for the minor-league lead in extra-base hits. He's already 25, so he's not a great prospect as much as he's a high-end organizational soldier. The Yankees almost have the depth to live with the almost inevitable Rondell White breakdown, considering they're batting Nick Johnson eighth and ninth.
So Taguchi's translated Equivalent Average comes to .190; he was hitting .244/.284/.331. Citing the fact that he was Ichiro Suzuki's teammate in Japan is almost as appropriate as rousting Lloyd McClendon's Little League teammates because of who they played with, but I'm sure that all of St. Louis is alight with the excitement that only a Japanese defensive replacement can inspire. Keep in mind, this is the team entertaining fanciful notions of building a new fortress mallpark (Cardinal City?) in East St. Louis, undoubtedly complete with a bridge with no off-ramps to the surrounding community, a helipad to spare luxury-box seat butts from having to sit (or be trapped) on the bridge, barrier walls that would impress urban planners like Vauban or Maginot, and the requisite private army to defend the perimeter. So hey, what's a little make-believe about the organization's Japanese follow-up to their scouting triumph in the Cuban market, Rene Arocha?
Taguchi has some marginal value as a defensive replacement, which could come in handy on a team where backup catcher Eli Marrero is fourth on the team in outfield starts. But Marrero's usefulness as an outfielder should prod more thought about the importance of defense in general, and that doesn't help Taguchi any. Looking forward, once Jim Edmonds recovers, Marrero will be available for what he really offers the Cardinals, which is a way to get the Double Mikes of Doom (DiFelice and Matheny) out of the lineup.
Claimed LHP Jason Pearson off of waivers from the Padres and optioned him to Fresno. [6/10]
The Giants need lefty relief help, especially since it is now obvious that they'll be without Jason Christiansen for the season. However, down on the farm the cupboard is pretty bare. Fresno is getting by with Troy Brohawn and Joe Horgan, and neither one is pitching that well. So it's just as well that Brian Sabean and his staff keep an eye on the waiver wire and do some judicious cherry-picking. As mentioned before, Jason Pearson is an interesting guy in a Tony Fossas sort of way, one of those lefty gunslingers who's had to swing through every two-dog town in the flyover states to get to the majors. Why not?
The Rangers only gave up Hicksbux to get Calvin Murray, and now that they have both Jason Romano and Ryan Ludwick on the roster, they don't really need him any more. To an extent, John Hart used an asset he has more of (money, instead of prospects) to acquire something he needed at the moment (someone who could play center field). Since he's not going overboard on any kind of commitment to Murray, and now that there's reason enough to let Ludwick and Romano duke it out for the job, it was a relatively nice little exercise of in-season roster management. He found relatively free talent, and didn't give up a core asset to get something he needed at the moment. It doesn't make Carl Everett go away or get Gabe Kapler to hit, but this reshuffle does the Rangers the favor of putting Ludwick and Romano in center field while opening an opportunity for Kevin Mench to get some at-bats in left field. That's a better all-around alignment than anything involving playing Murray or Everett regularly.
Because of that wacky interleague schedule, the Rangers are one of the teams that have both Thursday and next Monday off, so they won't need a fifth starter until Saturday the 22nd against the feeble Pirates. So they're doing Rob Bell a favor, letting him take a regular turn or two down in Triple-A. Of course, Doug Davis might get the call, but for the time being, the Rangers correctly identified the opportunity to get an extra reliever on the roster while keeping their starters on rotation.