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May 22, 2002
May 16-19, 2002
Sometimes, you can bellyache about freeing Erubiel Durazo, and that can make you feel good, if something well short of all-powerful. At least venting is a healthy response to obvious injustice. Sometimes, the team already knows it's the right thing to do, as the Snakes had finally acknowledged in spring training.
But better than ineffectual nattering, or a concession that the obvious is indeed obvious, is when the player makes it plain to everyone that there really shouldn't be any lingering doubt on the subject. Erubiel Durazo is free, not because someone opened the cage door, but because he beat it open with some Philly-smacking Samson-swinging jawbone action that made it plain that his day has not merely arrived, it was always here. And if it just so happens to reduce Mark Grace to Lead Chain Smoker on the Varsity Pep Squad, well, that's overdue, too.
Mark DeRosa is out for a couple of months, which is generally a bad thing. A few months ago, I wrote that he was the best utility infielder in baseball, and while ~60 plate appearances isn't anything conclusive to go on, his hot start didn't exactly discredit the claim.
What losing DeRosa does is preserve the Braves from Bobby Cox's temporary infatuation with DeRosa at Marcus Giles's expense. As much as the Braves need runs at the moment, Giles was one of the worst choices for benching, especially considering how little Vinny Castilla is doing (as expected) and the lack of offense they're getting from their first basemen (also expected). DeRosa only got two starts at Castilla's expense, and Castilla has been the worst of the lot. Of course, he's supposed to be a big-ticket pickup, like B.J. Surhoff was.
On the other hand, now that Jesse Garcia is up, there isn't an alternative on the bench to anybody in the lineup. Sift through the Braves' scrubs, and you've got whichever one of Julio Franco or Wes Helms isn't starting at first base, Darren Bragg to pinch-hit, Henry Blanco for his catching prowess, Keith Lockhart to redefine whatever it is to be Keith Lockhart, and now Garcia to pinch-run for whoever in the lineup actually gets on base. That should mean that Garcia will be not brought in to pinch-run for the catchers or the first basemen.
With just 13 position players, that makes for a pretty weak bunch of combinations and uses of roster spots. Counting on Garcia and Lockhart to be the second-tier pinch-hitters behind a "front" tier of Bragg and Franco is about as weak a collection of choices as you could find, and the Braves are not so good that they can afford to squander playing time on so much that lacks menace. John Schuerholz should get on the horn before he starts thinking about activating Terry Pendleton.
David Segui is out for at least three months, which means it might be September before he's back, and at which point he'll be almost exactly as useful to the Orioles as he is on the DL. Not having him around isn't going to lay the Orioles low, not when they have Jeff Conine signed for oodles of cash to be another adequate first baseman.
The Segui Problem is that he's a sunk cost. The $7 million he's due this year, and the $14 million he's due over the next two, are gone. The best the Orioles can hope for is that he gets healthy enough to get himself traded before the deal expires, because there's nothing about Segui that is going to help push the Orioles on to bigger and better things beyond what he might bring into the organization in trade. Unfortunately, because of the money involved, he's about as tradeable as Albert Belle is. Jeff Conine is more tradeable because his contract is for less money and his 2005 comes with an affordable buyout, but would the Orioles ever deal Conine, given that they refused to do so last summer?
Lest you think I'm too cranky about the Orioles, it's worth pointing out that there is good news. Free talent pickups like Jay Gibbons and Tony Batista and even Gary Matthews Jr. have all been outstanding. Ryan McGuire isn't too shabby himself, hitting .298/.361/.475 at Rochester, but you should only expect him to be a useful fifth outfielder and backup first baseman.
The Orioles have nobody who should be an absolute regular in either center field or left field, so that they can afford to mix and match and use a little bit of depth. Melvin Mora is being used as a Tony Phillips rover, flitting among second base, shortstop, and the outfield. Marty Cordova can play left field and DH, but should probably sit a couple of days a week. Chris Singleton's game is primarily defensive, but he has value in an outfield rotation. Gary Matthews has his uses, and he gives the Orioles a third option in center beyond Singleton and Mora. McGuire can be spotted against some right-handers. It's a situation where Mike Hargrove can use everybody to advantage if he wants to.
The White Sox needed to do something for the Knights' outfield and offense, one of the culprits in Charlotte's grisly start this season. Yes, Jose Canseco retired, but Joe Borchard broke his foot in spring training and Mario Valenzuela is out of action, which meant Justin Baughman and Eric Battersby have been playing way too often in the outfield.
Surprisingly enough, all three of Brooks Kieschnick, Damon Buford, and Anthony Sanders were available for nothing or next to nothing, which isn't to say that the price is wrong, but that their availability illustrates that free talent is still pretty freely available. Kieschnick would still be a valuable semi-regular at DH for somebody, and both Buford and Sanders can be near-adequate fifth outfielders just as easily (and for a fifth of the price) as Brian "Sir Speedy" Hunter is. As in-season patches go, this is about as good as it gets.
As for replacing Mike Porzio with Kelly Wunsch, this is obvious good news, even if Wunsch isn't 100%. Porzio's reign of terror placed him among the ten least effective relievers in the major leagues, and almost alone among the guys on that list, there wasn't a lot of reason to expect him to be valuable or some recent bit of history at the major-league level that might have convinced somebody to take a chance on him.
The Reds don't merely have their ducks in a row, their ducks are slugging it out for who goes to the front of the line instead of milling around or acting duck-like. Austin Kearns has staked a claim to the right-field job even earlier than expected. Ken Griffey, Jr. is due back shortly. Adam Dunn has to play every day. Juan Encarnacion is slugging over .500.
So you wind up with a situation where Brady Clark--one of the game's best fourth outfielders--rots on the bench of a team that has four better outfielders, and where does that leave Ruben Mateo? He shouldn't take playing time from Kearns, and he isn't doing the organization any favors as far as his marketability if he's on the big-league bench squabbling with Reggie Taylor over which one of them is the fifth outfielder. Taylor has no value at any level, but that's why he's a 25th man; Mateo can have value in trade if he plays every day at Louisville, and that becomes even more important if the Reds' run at relevance lasts into June and July and Jim Bowden decides to do some stretch shopping.
Named Buddy Bell consultant to baseball operations. [5/16]
Like the Mafia, or bandits like the Dillinger Gang, baseball is organized into loosely affiliated families and crews. Buddy Bell was an old associate of the Hart caporegime, so when he was out of work, he could fall in with some of his old partners in crime in Cleveland. Better than my muddling through it, I think what we really need is a Sam Peckinpah film on Frank Lane to show a piker like Oliver Stone how real directors mutilate the historical record for mass entertainment.
The Rockies have an interesting problem coming up, both in Denver and in the rotation at Colorado Springs. Denny Stark has pitched well enough since Shawn Chacon went on the DL to stick around; Chacon is about to return, and he pitched well enough to keep his job. So regardless of which choice the Rockies make in their rotation, the Sky Sox are almost certainly short a starter for longer than the initial couple of weeks that Stark was supposed to be gone.
The Sky Sox rotation is a mixed bag: Chris Holt is having a nifty season and Victor Santos is holding his own, but both Ryan Seifert and Bobby Munoz are doing badly. So enter Bryan Rekar, returning to his old cell in the dungeon he started off in, consigned to be the #2 starter in one of the PCL's most explosive bandboxes.
Eduardo Villacis is an A-ball reliever of minor distinction, so this was an organizationally-minded move at most.
Named Mike Veeck senior vice president of marketing and communications and Jim Stapleton senior vice president of business affairs; purchased the contract of SS-B Ramon Santiago from Toledo; optioned UT-R Oscar Salazar to Toledo; transferred C-B Mitch Meluskey from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/17]
There's good news here, which is a surprise. First off, the Tigers made a move towards fielding a baseball team instead of a third-rate softball squad. Now they'll have a real third baseman (Chris Truby), a real shortstop (Ramon Santiago), and...well, they're still short a real center fielder, but Rome wasn't built in a day. Truby will hit every bit as well as Craig Paquette to boot.
Santiago is not considered as much of a prospect as Omar Infante is, but he's recovered from last year's shoulder problem, he can play shortstop, he's patient, and he can run. It's not like we're talking about the next Ozzie Guillen here; he might actually be pretty handy, not to mention an upgrade on Shane Halter afield. This in turn pushes Halter back into the utility role in which he's good, and Craig Paquette...well, into the "bad ideas" bin that Dave Dombrowski needs to share responsibility with the departed Randy Smith for. It should also end, once and for all, the project of letting Dmitri Young wallow around at third base. Paquette can probably be relegated to forming a platoon with Randall Simon at first base; expensive, but appropriate.
Matt Anderson went back on the DL in the time it took this TA to be compiled, having made one appearance and felt more discomfort in his ailing right shoulder. For now, Juan Acevedo remains the nominal closer.
If there's an element of grim news, it's the decision to haul in Mike Veeck. I've touched on his dubious contributions to major-league baseball in the past, but it says something about where the Tigers are if they think that hauling in the man who helped turn the Devil Rays into baseball's ultimate joyless joke franchise is the kind of assistance they need.
There was a time when the Tigers were a proud, historic franchise. I know, it seems like a long time ago, before Bo Schembechler, but it's true. Now all they have is the uniform, which makes them sort of today's answer to the Horace Clarke Yankees: snappily dressed, but worse than irrelevant, just flat-out dull. Hauling in Veeck to make them cheesy and dull pretty much reduces the franchise to a new low, lower than Bo, lower than the reign of The Great Nepotista Smith. I'm sure we're all dying to see a Dmitri Young promotion where he dyes his hair between every at-bat. That will undoubtedly be one of the more dignified moments.
Placed C-R Ramon Castro on the 15-day DL (strained elbow); recalled IF-R Pablo Osuna from Calgary. [5/17]
Ramon Castro hurt his elbow on a throw, creating concerns that he'd be out for months. However, he got a reprieve from Dr. James Andrews, and it looks like he'll be back inside of a month.
The shape of the roster is less of an issue, because the Fish have two catchers already around. It just postpones the question of what to do about having Charles Johnson and Castro and a solid backup like Mike Redmond. Castro is too good to sit, Johnson is supposed to be a marquee player, while Redmond is my favorite for the game's "best backup catcher," a backup good enough to be a great backup, instead of being so good he should be starting 100 games.
The strange thing is the accumulation of infielders. Marty Malloy is already around as Jeff Torborg's latest flight of Jeff Schaeferesque fancy. Pablo Ozuna will be 28 in August, so he's no longer a prospect as much as a guy who might be a useful utility infielder or temp. Andy Fox is supposed to be good for everything everywhere, but he's going to be the regular at shortstop while Alex the Bad Gonzalez misses six weeks. It wouldn't be hard to envision a Fox/Ozuna platoon, and actually seeing a net improvement both offensively and defensively.
Acquired RHP Eduardo Villacis from the Rockies for RHP Bryan Rekar. [5/17]
Losing Chris George for a couple of weeks makes way for Darrell May to re-enter the rotation. For those of you keeping track at home, that means Paul Byrd and Jeff Suppan up front, backed by May and Jeremy Affeldt. Affeldt and May give Tony Pena a pair of distinctly different lefties, one a retread and one a prospect on the way up. And what's left? Homme du jour in the fifth slot, depending on the collective whimsies of Allard Baird and Pena. It might be Blake Stein. It might be Dan Reichert. It might be Mac Suzuki. At this rate, it could be Doug Bird. I happen to think they're better off taking a long, lingering look at Stein to decide if he's worth the slot on the 40-man roster, but Suzuki-mania may have brought dozens to the ballpark in years past, and that's gotta be a factor.
Although hosannas for Jesse Orosco are de rigeur, he's not that much of an asset. Beyond having two lefties in the rotation, the Dodgers have both Omar Daal and Terry Mulholland in the pen as well, so it isn't like they'll be short of lefty help. Guillermo Mota is supposed to be throwing harder than ever because of an adjustment made by pitching coach Jim Colborn, and between Chavez Ravine and the occasional struggles with hittability for both Bloody Paul Quantrill and Giovanni Carrara, he has an opportunity to stick if he has a few good outings.
Placed C-B Raul Casanova on the 15-day DL (torn ulnar collateral ligament); purchased the contract of C-B Marcus Jensen from Indianapolis; designated RHPEverett Stull for assignment; recalled LHP Valerio De Los Santos from Indianapolis. [5/17]
There's not anything resembling good news here. Raul Casanova tore up his elbow sliding into Corky Miller, derailing yet another season in what looks like a career filled with lost opportunities. Matt Stairs is on the DL for a hamstring, but it may just as well be for bench ennui; neither Davey Lopes or Jerry Royster seemed to remember that Stairs has his uses against right-handed pitching.
That creates a Brewers team that's forcing season-ticket holders to watch Paul Bako and Alex Sanchez play almost daily, a team that has one Eric Young too many, a team that is paying Mark Loretta and Jose Hernandez bundles of cash when it needs only one of them.
Clearly, the Brewers problem is, as '80s philosopher and ABC front man Martin Fry put it, "I've seen the future, I can't afford it." Please. In the same way that I hope that the people of the great state of Minnesota pass a spite provision that endorses a new stadium for anyone but Carl Pohlad, perhaps the path to labor peace lies through a Selig- and Selig-Prieb-free industry.
Traded 3B-R Chris Truby to the Tigers for UT-B Jose Macias. [5/16]
Let me get this straight: the Expos started off with Geoff Blum, one of the better utilitymen around, a switch-hitter with some pop who could play six positions. They needed a temporary fill-in at third base with Fernando Tatis starting off on the DL; they could have used Blum, but they acquired Chris Truby for Blum, cutting costs and acquiring a decent player. Now, with Tatis back, Omar Minaya decides to go out and get...a switch-hitting utility man with some pop who can play five or six positions.
Macias is slightly older than Blum, but he's faster and more athletic, offensively they're close to a push, and Macias is arguably the better defender. Initially, I was extremely skeptical about this deal, but in retrospect--and after reviewing the track records of both Blum and Macias as hitters--it ends up looking like an elegant combination of rental and potentially minor upgrade. Kudos to Omar Minaya for a solid bit of trading that handled his roster's immediate and long-term needs over the opening couple of months.
Cory Lidle is out at least two weeks and three starts, but it might be worse than that. Shoulder soreness is always pretty vague, and while its supposed to be a relatively minor bit of tweaking, we'll have to wait and see. Lidle's track record of health isn't exactly sterling, so it's worth the A's while to be cautious, but I can't help but wonder if this is another lost cause.
In a season taking a turn for the ugly, this is just the latest bad news. A rotation counting on both Mike Fyhrie and Erik Hiljus is already having issues, and with Tim Hudson struggling pretty badly of late, it makes for a lot of one-sided affairs.
Losing Armando Rios could come at a worse time--like last month--but it's another reason why the Pirates offense is going to have a hard time ever firing on all cylinders. Not that the Pirates on all cylinders would do much to outpace a Ford Escort, but you'd still like to see a team put its best foot forward. Rob Mackowiak starting in the outfield is not part of putting your best foot forward.
Since it seems like nothing is going to get Craig Wilson into the lineup on an everyday basis, it would be nice if Chad Hermansen got a look in right field, because given a choice between Mackowiak and Adrian Brown, I don't see too many reasons to prefer Mackowiak. Wilson and Hermansen would do something to help the Bucs score runs right now, but David Littlefield seems to have a bizarre fascination with observing at least one past commitment. At this point they're not merely hoping to see if Kevin Young pulls out of his career-ending crash dive, they're watching the sputtering embers of the wreck burn themselves out, optimistically hoping that something will miraculously fix Professor Bonifay's Amazing Fantabulous Non-Hitting First Base Wonder.
Placed 1B/3B-R Phil Nevin on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 4/12; purchased the contract of IF-R Alex Pelaez from Portland; transferred RHP Matt DeWitt and LHP Jose Nunez from the 15- to 60-day DL; purchased the contract of LHP Kevin Pickford from Portland ; optioned UT-B Cesar Crespo to Portland. [5/16]
On a certain level, losing Phil Nevin temporarily to his shoulder strain isn't the end of the world for the Padres, offensively or defensively. Ryan Klesko moves from right field to first base, and Bubba Trammell enters the lineup on an everyday basis. Ron Gant is due off of the DL shortly, so he'll take Trammell's place as Ray Lankford's platoon mate in left field.
There's going to be some cost, however, in that Ryan Klesko is one of the most brutal first basemen in the game today. I can't imagine it's going to do D'Angelo Jimenez or Sean Burroughs or Deivi Cruz any good. Bubba Trammell might be a marginal improvement in the outfield over Klesko, so between losing depth and flexibility (now that Trammell's no longer an option but a lock for playing time) and a defensive nick, this is bad news for a Padres team that's on the fringes of mattering in the NL West.
The other adaptation is that with two rotation starters on the DL and Brian Tollberg not entirely back in anyone's full confidence, the Padres have moved to 12 pitchers, bringing in a second lefty for the pen. Kevin Pickford was a finesse lefty starter in the Pirates chain in the late '90s, relying on control and a curve. As with a lot of guys, you can expect him to have a long and fruitful career, assuming he survives the auditions. There's the added issue that Tom Davey hasn't rounded into form just yet, so that leaves the Pads with Davey and Jason Boyd that they can't fully count on. Jeremy Fikac is working his way into high-leverage situations, however, so Pickford's chances of sticking around will have to come at Davey's or Boyd's expense once the useful Bobby Jones and Kevin Jarvis return from the DL.
Placed RHP Delvin James on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis); optioned RHP Jason Standridge to Durham; recalled SS-L Jason Smith from Durham; purchased the contract of RHP Lee Gardner from Durham. [5/17]
Wilson Alvarez is due to come back shortly, so he'll be the mid-term replacement for Delvin James in the rotation. The short-term replacement was Travis Harper (for a single successful start); considering this team's willingness to commit to a new master plan every other year, the long-term answer could be anyone from Jose Rijo to Jim Magrane to Sarah Michelle Gellar.
The grim news is the claim that Jason Smith will share third base with Jared Sandberg. This stupendous waste of time is merely the latest development in a long chain of flounders made since the organizational fiat that Aubrey Huff could not be a third baseman. Conceding that Huff may never be a very good glove at third base, why not play him long enough to find out that it can't be done? What would it cost the Devil Fishies? A shot at sixth place in a five-team division?
Smith has next to no command of the strike zone and tepid power; he was a poor prospect for a shortstop. Sandberg is a borderline non-prospect as a third baseman, but why give up on him in less than a month? Why be in this business if you second-guess every organizational decision within days of it being made? I'm not a big Sandberg fan, but you may as well play him until you have enough playing time to say it isn't going to work. Sandberg is at least as entitled to a quarter of a season before you quit on him as Jason Tyner is. If you aren't going to play Sandberg, play Russ Johnson to score some runs. Or play Felix Escalona twice a week to make sure he gets an opportunity to watch, learn, and employ those lessons, so that he has something to show for his first year above A ball. But Jason Smith? He's about to turn 25, and has yet to show he can hit above A-ball. Devil Rays fans, if they exist, don't deserve this.
Activated OF-R Juan Gonzalez from the DL; placed UT-L Frank Catalanotto on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 4/11 (strained groin and back spasms); signed C-RDanny Ardoin to a contract with Oklahoma. [5/17]
One of the nice problems that the Rangers have is that they can endure losses to their offensive core relatively well because of their wealth of alternatives, especially in the outfield. So while Frank Catalanotto is due back around June 1, they can afford to "make do" with Mike Young playing second base every day. With Juan Gonzalez, Rusty Greer, Kevin Mench, Gabe Kapler, and Calvin Murray to mix and match in the outfield, they still don't really have to fret about the absence of Carl Everett. It would be nice if Kapler and Greer actually started hitting, because they'd finally have some value in trade if they did, but that's a long-term problem.
As for the Rangers' ongoing catching reshuffle, I like both moves. There's nothing particularly insightful in noting that Todd Greene will out-hit Hector Ortiz, and that the Rangers can use him to share the job with Bill Haselman and get better overall production than they would if they played Haselman almost daily and had Ortiz stumble into a few defensive innings once in a while. And as far as alternatives go, Danny Ardoin rejoins Grady Fuson, and provides a better all-around replacement than Ortiz if anything happens to either Haselman or Greene.
Activated LF-R Shannon Stewart from the DL. [5/16]
Getting Shannon Stewart back is desperately good news, especially considering that none of the Jays' outfielders are hitting. The fun thing about the Blue Jays right now is that they have their superstar hitting (Carlos Delgado), their rookie left side of the infield is hitting, journeymen like Dave Berg and Tom Wilson are hitting, so the only thing that isn't working out at the moment is the outfield trio of Vernon Wells, Raul Mondesi, and Jose Cruz, Jr., from whom so much was expected. Now, I don't know how unusual it is for a team to have three regulars not hitting at once; I suspect the answer would be "not very," so it's merely interesting coincidence. But considering that the Jays are supposed to want to move one of those outfielders (OK, not Wells), it would be nice if Mondesi or Cruz would accommodate them by doing something.