May 24, 2002
May 20-22, 2002
This could be a net loss. Even setting aside Donne Wall's miserable early performance might have been because of his injury, he's been hurt most of the last two years, and he wasn't good for much last year. It would be nice if he could be a workhorse in middle relief, but it may be too much to ask. Fortunately, the Angels have both Lou Pote and Dennis Cook doing well in the middle innings, setting up the Al Levine-Troy Percival late inning combo. Matt Wise did well enough in long relief to deserve consideration, either for Wall's job if he continues to falter, or to replace anyone in the rotation in case of an injury. For the Angels, that should be a source of confidence for whenever somebody breaks down, because inevitably, somebody breaks down.
So here it is, a flat-out in-season fight for a job. Jerry Hairston Jr. doesn't deserve and has never earned job security. Before this season, his career OBP was .316, and his current OBP is .315. He's about to turn 26, and he plays a position where it's pretty easy to find talent. Brian Roberts might not be the answer, but he was hitting .294/.408/.425 in Rochester, drawing 27 walks in 186 plate appearances while swiping 14 bases in 16 attempts. His performance translates into an Equivalent Average in the .280s. I'm happy with the idea that the Orioles will give them a chance to duke it out for the job, although the obvious danger is that both might not get enough playing time for Mike Hargrove to form a reasonable best guess on who he'd rather keep around long-term. You might think Roberts could get some time at shortstop, but he was strictly a second baseman at Rochester this year, and his fielding problems at short last September haven't been forgotten.
However, this underscores one of the advantages of having Melvin Mora around, since he's both a lineup regular and the team's utility infielder. Much as I like Mike Moriarty, I think the Orioles are doing the right thing. This is particularly handy insofar as when Mora is spotting for Mike Bordick or Tony Batista or either second baseman, they can play a hitter more dangerous than Mike Moriarty in the outfield, whether that's Ryan McGuire or Gary Matthews Jr.
So here it is, the moment of truth, and the Cubs are now in the uncomfortable position of doing a doing a complete rebuild in the midst of a crash dive. With upcoming series against the Astros, Mariners and White Sox, things are likely to keep getting bad, so Bobby Hill and now Mark Prior get force-fed in an attempt to forestall a disaster that's already in progress. Now, cynic that I am, I would rather have them up after the dust has settled, after first having the handy excuse to move Don Baylor out of the way, and use it as an opportunity to make a clean break from the failed promises of the past winter. But as things stand now, I don't think the Cubs have necessarily bottomed out, and that puts Hill and Prior in a position where they're potentially tarred with what is originally an organizational and management failure.
That sort of stylistic nattering aside, Prior's ready for the call. In less than two months of professional experience, he's pitched 51 IP, allowing only 39 hits, 18 walks and 79 strikeouts; he had allowed only a single home run. His 2.29 combined ERA between WestTenn and Iowa is outstanding, but only half of his runs allowed were earned, so his real RA figure is 4.59 per nine IP. What does that mean? Well, look into the kinds of outs he was getting: his strikeout rate is so high that you can't really typify him as a groundball or flyball pitcher; he recorded only 36 groundball outs and 34 flyball outs against those 79 strikeouts. So with 70 or so balls in play (I have no idea how many hit plus error plays we might have to worry about), Prior still saw a bunch of unearned runs scored. In his case (and for the rest of WestTenn's staff for that matter), I'm not sure that the unearned runs tell us much. The Diamond Jaxx were playing without an actual shortstop for a stretch, trying to get by with veteran second baseman Mickey Lopez, and the rest of the regular infielders come with defensive question marks. Given Prior's demonstrated command of the strike zone and his ability to dominate or fool hitters, I think we can give him the benefit of the doubt. Starting off against the Pirates was an appropriate soft target for Prior to debut against; he draws them again next week, after which he should be off to a good start when he faces a lineup with a little more teeth.
The follow-up question is who will he be replacing in the rotation. Juan Cruz has a minor injury that keeps the question from becoming a front-burner issue for the moment, but there really shouldn't be any argument. Jason Bere has been the third-worst starter in baseball according to Michael Wolverton's Support-Neutral metrics, behind Julian Tavarez and Paul Abbott. Yes, worse even than Andy Benes. There's no commitment to him beyond this season, so as long as the Cubs are already leaning on Prior and Hill and Corey Patterson, they ought to be consistent and stick with Cruz.
This is a happy development for the Reds. There isn't much reason to believe that there's a solid commitment to Jimmy Haynes come hell or high water, but Jose Acevedo needed to pitch better than giving up a run per inning if he was going to mount a challenge for the fifth slot in the rotation before Brian Bohanon returns. Joey Hamilton will get to continue his renaissance at Don Gullett's direction, fitting within the five-and-out framework that's serving the team quite well at the moment.
Elsewhere, I worry the old bone about how difficult it is to criticize on the basis of what it known and unknown at any given point. Clearly, if Brady Anderson had busted out from an awful season at the age of 37 to have a useful one at the age of 38, Mark Shapiro would look pretty smart right now. But look at what he was doing: he was bringing in an old outfielder to play center, a position which it was dubious he could handle, after a ghastly season. That's a risk, to put it blandly.
Fortunately, the Indians have better options. Milton Bradley may not be back for another 7-10 days, but between Bradley and Dilbert Cabrera, the Tribe has two better players. They also now have the opportunity to take a quick look at Chris Magruder, handily swiped from Texas during John Hart's haphazard attempts to squeeze all of his veteran NRIs onto the Rangers' roster at the end of spring training. Magruder was hitting .271/.363/.441 at Buffalo, he's only 25, and he's a solid center fielder. He could pretty easily turn out to be the next Mitch Webster, and that's a good thing to have around, either as your third-best outfielder or as your top reserve.
Optioned UT-R Oscar Salazar back to Toledo. [5/22]
With Matt Anderson out for the next two to three months (which borders on a September return, once rosters expand), the pitching staff is being shaken up again, but overall, it's for the better. As entertaining/flaky as Anderson is supposed to be, the Tigers won't be any worse off Juan Acevedo closing, and they'll have the opportunity to see if Kris Keller can be a useful setup man for the time being.
The timing of Nate Cornejo's demotion seems a bit odd. He's given the Tigers a couple of quality starts in his last five, and in his last start he gave up three runs in 5.2 IP. I don't see a lot of evidence to suggest he was slipping and had earned the demotion; having made the commitment on Opening Day, you could argue that the Tigers should have kept it.
However, in Dave Dombrowski's favor, if Nate Cornejo hadn't pitched his way off of the team, you can argue pretty convincingly that Adam Bernero has pitched his way onto it. In nine starts as a Mudhen, Bernero has pitched 57 IP with a 1.58 ERA, allowing only 46 hits and 13 walks, racking up 49 strikeouts, and giving up only a pair of homeruns. He's a command-and-control right hander who can throw four pitches for strikes, and it looks like he's entirely recovered from last year's setbacks. Now that we have a Tigers rotation that features Jeff Weaver and Steve Sparks doing their usual yeoman service, Mark Redman rounding into form, and Seth Greisinger bouncing back nicely, in a month's time we might be arguing about whether or not the Tigers have the best rotation in the AL Central. Not that I think that's enough to elevate them to competitiveness with the Twins and White Sox, but the Indians might need to worry.
Placed RHP Brad Penny on the 15-day DL (biceps inflammation), retroactive to 5/19; placed SS-R Alex Gonzalez on the 15-day DL (dislocated shoulder), retroactive to 5/19; activated LHP Armando Almanza from the DL; signed 2B-R Homer Bush; designated 1B-L Nate Rolison for assignment. [5/21]
The Marlins spent a good part of this spring shopping Brad Penny around, and just as quickly a whispering campaign that there's something physically wrong with him seemed to start up. We'll have to see if this is really all there is to worry about; a biceps problem would be good news under the circumstances. Assuming it's just a two-week stint on the DL, the Fish will have an opportunity to see whether Julian Tavarez can keep his rotation slot ahead of Hansel Izquierdo. The Fish don't have another off-day until June 3, or when they'll first be able to reactivate Penny.
Elsewhere, the Marlins have lost Alex Gonzalez for a good stretch. That's not a setback, insofar as Andy Fox is a better offensive player, and Gonzalez has yet to demonstrate that he's an asset defensively. The more basic problem is who's even capable to come in for Fox as a defensive substitute. Homer Bush has little value in the first place, and he can't play short. Marty Malloy is a second baseman by experience as well. Pablo Ozuna is probably the choice here, at which point you have to ask what kind of bench carries two backup second basemen. The Fish shouldn't punt their pinch-hitting needs by stocking the bench with non-menacing middle infielders. If you aren't going to carry anyone with any defensive value, especially at a position like short, why not compensate with people who can actually hit? Again, Jeff Torborg was always the sort of manager who would haul around Jeff Schaefer or Carlos Martinez or Steve Lyons, instead of anyone who could hurt the other team, so he seems to be up to his old tricks here. The real shame is that the Marlins didn't even use the opportunity to reward Mark Smith for making the decision to follow the Loria team over from the Expos. No, Smith is not hitting well at Calgary, but if Loria can't be troubled to throw a bone to somebody who made the choice to be loyal to him, what honor is there in this organization? And all to land Homer Bush?
So the latest shakeup of the Brewers rotation gives you the same basic effective duo (Ben Sheets and Glendon Rusch), Nelson Figueroa and Ruben Quevedo trying to take advantage of the best opportunity they've received to date, and Jamey Wright coming off of the DL to make Friday's start. On a team with so many things going wrong, that actually doesn't sound so bad. As long as Nick Neugebauer isn't hurt in a career-altering way, the news as far as their rotation is concerned is pretty good.
As for Takahito Nomura, the Brewers have Ray King for situational lefty uses, and Valerio De Los Santos for long relief spots calling for a lefty. The ten-worst relievers according to Michael Wolverton's Adjusted Runs Expected are falling fast and furious. Nomura was tenth, and Mike Porzio (#8), Scott Chiasson (#5) and Jesue Colome (#1) have already been demoted. Among the survivors, the second- and third-worst relievers are Terry Mulholland and Nelson Cruz, but neither has been used very much because of injuries and ineffectiveness. Britt Reames at #4 is getting plenty of work despite his struggles, and he might manage to hang around for awhile because he's not allowing home runs and he's striking people out. Nomura was a dubious proposition from the word go, and another example of teams getting silly about imports. We've had Cuba-mania and Japanophilia, so what's next? Sure, probably the Koreans, but things will be really silly in twenty years when the insatiable demand for Surinamese leads to bidding wars on that country's first exports besides bauxite.
The Yankees can continue to thank their lucky stars that Jeffrey Loria ever picked up the phone. Beyond Roger Clemens, you've got Mike Mussina pitching adequately, Jumbo Wells battling back problems (at least), Andy Pettitte on the DL, El Duque breaking down after a great start, and the inexplicable decision to make Sterling Hitchcock the most-expensive cheerleader on the team (yes, shocking but true, even more than Ice Williams). So you would think, under the circumstances, the least the Boss could do was buy some objet d'art from that nice Mr. Loria for handing them Ted Lilly (among other useful things) for Hideki Irabu. They can even use it as the booty for a new award, the Lilly Prize, to be given to the most egregious acquisition from a small-revenue club that should have known better. Oh heck, let's just name it the Loria Prize, as tribute to this man who has otherwise achieved so little for the great game.
Needless to say, the Yankees ought to be grateful. They went into the season with a ton of rotation depth, and they've needed it. It's a bad sign that Hitchcock had to start a meaningful game this early in the season, and losing El Duque only underscores that point.
Recalled 2B-L Esteban German and UT-R Adam Piatt from Sacramento; purchased the contract of 1B-L Larry Sutton from Sacramento; optioned RHP Jeff Tam, 2B-R Frank Menechino and 1B-L Carlos Pena to Sacramento. [5/21]
Generally speaking, when I'm breaking down deals, I try to avoid looking at what like-minded analysts have to say; heck, I usually avoid looking at what journalists have to say too, because my goal here is to present my commentary, not somebody else's point-of-view. That way, I avoid the otherwise inevitable dilemma of ending a TA with footnotes, because as is, the pleasure of putting it together is pretty time-consuming. So I rely on the wires, nag the clubs about unnamed demotions or options to try to make each article as complete as possible, and later look at what everyone else had to say after I've finished my own piece.
Nevertheless, in the wake of the most bizarre deal we've seen in a very long time, I couldn't help myself; I peeked around. Now, I have a lot of respect for Rob Neyer, and for Rob's work. As a fellow product of the analysis revolution of the '80s, I suspect we share a basic philosophy of trying to inject some element of quantitative analysis to provide better qualitative commentary. That said, I think any attempt to quantitatively assess the trade of Jeremy Giambi--regardless of your opinion of Win Shares and their utility--ignores two basic problems.
First, evaluating moves is best done in the moment, in order to better appreciate the circumstances surrounding the move and the perceptions of what talent was being exchanged; anything else runs the risk of arguing of sliding down a slippery slope that winds up with arguments like how Bobby Lee should have held back Pickett's Charge for eighty years until he could order up an air strike. Omniscience is not an option in running a team, nor should it be attempted in evaluating transactions. Assessing moves on the basis of what's known and what's knowable at the moment is the only fair way to evaluate a transaction; subsequent to any move, players can get hurt, or something remarkable (like Sammy Sosa learning to take a walk) can happen. As a result, some elements are not merely unknowable at the moment, they cannot even reasonably been foreseen, and so should not be projected onto any one GM's track record as handy evidence of genius or idiocy. In the end, my philosophy is this: history written without sympathy for the unique problems of the historical moment is, in a word, pointless.
Second, this move isn't even close to being a story about baseball talent, and should not really be treated as such. It is an assertion of authority. John Mabry might be a nice person, but he's also renting a spot on the 40-man roster until Billy Beane finds a better use for it. The dare here is that the organization apparently believes it can make such an obvious discard and succeed despite such an extravagant gesture. Largesse should only be a way of life when tipping. Nevertheless, given the pending return of Mario Valdez as well as Beane's track record in acquiring and utilizing free talent, I think we can accept that there's a basis for some confidence on this front. Pride may goeth before any fall, but keep in mind the lessons of history: Whitey Herzog won without Keith Hernandez, if not exactly with or because of Neil Allen. If you can't accept that line of reasoning, that's OK, but keep in mind that you then have to decide for yourself whether or not you believe that Billy Beane, the GM responsible for helping get the small-budget A's to 193 wins over the last two years, had a sudden attack of dopiness and seriously believes the deliberately stupid-sounding Durhamisms he and his staffers are uttering for mass media consumption.
What the A's get, at best, is the removal of a perceived problem, while making a statement about who's running this dog-and-pony show. The added benefits, to be generous, are that they clear a spot on the 40-man roster before the amateur draft, because the chances that guys like John Mabry or Larry Sutton will be around for long are pretty remote.
The rest of the moves are part and parcel of a general shakeup. You can term it a panic or a grim purge, but the results are the same. Frankie Menechino didn't do himself any favors by becoming over-identified with the Giambis or with his slow start; Jeff Tam has been a disaster all season, and has been supplanted by Chad Bradford in the middle relief role. If there's a shock, it's that all three lefty relievers are still here. With Aaron Harang due to be promoted over the weekend, that may yet change. As for Carlos Pena's demotion, the explanation appears to be that having a lot of confidence in your ability can be a bad thing; the reasonable presumption of inevitable greatness doesn't win friends or influence people when you're in an ugly slump and seem indifferent about it. My inclinations are consistent; I would have been inclined to exercise more patience, considering the alternative is playing Olmedo Saenz until Mario Valdez is ready to be recalled. I'll always harken back to the ugly stretches of the rookie seasons of Jose Canseco or Pete Incaviglia, because they did turn out well, and the question of whether a minor league civics lesson would have done them any good at the time is speculative at best. But it's also in part because Pena's glovework has been fantastic. Even if he had earned a short trip to the bench, or might deserve one to send him a message, having him around when the alternative is currently limited to Saenz wouldn't have been a terrible idea.
As for what the lineup looks like from here on out, Esteban German will step in as the leadoff hitter, perhaps in a platoon role with Randy Velarde at second. After hitting .277/.393/.321 at Sacramento in the early going, he's continuing to resemble a slower Luis Castillo, although he's somewhat better about getting the ball out of the infield. There's still the active dream that he can be the next Maxie Bishop. Pending David Justice's return, the outfield will have playing time to spare for Adam Piatt (.281/.353/.432 in Sacramento) and Eric Byrnes. As long as Jeremy Giambi's defense is being used as cover for the decision to dump him, it might have made more sense to bring Mike Colangelo back so that he could take over in center and push Terrence Long to left, but that underscores the extent to which the rationales being used for Giambi's dumping are pretty thin tissue (similar to the one-dimensional comment, considering that position players are prized for that dimension by this organization). In the meantime, it's worth looking at Piatt and Byrnes, and it's worth remembering that finding good minor league sluggers (like JeGi, or Valdez for that matter) is eminently doable.
Acquired LF-L Jeremy Giambi from the Athletics for Roster Spot Rental-L John Mabry. [5/22]
Ed Wade scores a coup, and we'll see if he can accept the consequences. I'm not speaking in code, I just think it will be interesting to see how well Larry Bowa takes to Jeremy Giambi, given that he already has issues with so-called easygoing players like Travis Lee or Scott Rolen. Assuming there are enough Phillies fans remaining who remember Greg Luzinski in left, they should be ready to accept Giambi's limitations as an outfielder. Offensively, he gives them an upgrade on the ever-disappointing Lee, with Pat Burrell moving to first base, assuming that Bowa does the right thing and makes Giambi a regular. Alternatives--Giambi at first, or Giambi as a part-time player--would minimize the good that having him in the lineup can do. Since they're only five games out, it's too soon to say 'die' just because they're in last. This is the kind of move that addresses the lineup's need to add power and patience to compensate for players like Doug Glanville--power and patience that they aren't getting from Travis Lee. Now it's up to Bowa to take advantage of it.
As expect, Ron Gant returns to fulfill his part of the left field platoon with Ray Lankford, while Bubba Trammell continues to play right on a daily basis until Phil Nevin returns. There are a lot of things going badly for the Padres at the moment (like the infield), but they're not wanting for outfield help. It would be nice to get some power from Gant and Lankford and Trammell, but that should come.
Rich Aurilia is out for four to six weeks, and while the reflexive assumption should be that this should potentially blow the season for the Giants, I'm not quite so pessimistic. First, Ramon E. Martinez is a useful backup; the Giants will not be replacing Aurilia with some permanently worthless hitter like Rey Ordonez or Neifi Perez, which you might normally expect. True, they'd have to rely on continuing usefulness from David Bell and Benito Santiago, a dubious proposition, but after all, Reggie Sanders and J.T. Snow might do something useful in the next month. And beyond that, this Giants team isn't the same team that was leaning on starting pitchers like Shawn Estes and Mark Gardner to support a strong lineup. The team's balance of strengths has shifted somewhat, so that instead of Barry Bonds and a gang of offensive cronies making do with some pitching help and the great Nen-Rodriguez tandem in the bullpen, you've got a team relying on Barry Bonds, the four starting pitchers who are doing well, and the great Nen-Rodriguez tandem. Beyond the front four in the rotation, Jason Schmidt might round into form, and if he doesn't, then Kurt Ainsworth's there for recalling. That makes for a much more interesting challenger to the Snakes than last year's team, in that offensive holes usually seem to be easier to fix. If the Giants need a first baseman or a right fielder or a catcher and we're still playing games at the end of July, they can make those patches a lot more easily than fixing a rotation or overpaying to bring in Tim Worrell or Jay Witasick.
Calvin Murray's offensive limitations are pretty straightforward, but if the Rangers insist on running an outfield of Gabe Kapler, Juan Gonzalez, and Carl Everett out there, it won't matter which one of them's playing where, because the gaps turn into "Instant Double" targets. It forces Rangers' starting pitchers to crank out 18-1 groundball-flyball splits, as Kenny Rogers did on Wednesday, because with that outfield, all flying things become deadly.
Oh, and John Rocker got sent down. Again. And now he agreed to it. I think Jamey Newberg's incomparable Rangers report tackles this issue better than I could; suffice to say, as Jamey has, that hopefully working with Lee Tunnell will produce some positive results, and that the Rangers may yet harness Rocker's obvious talent. To John Hart's credit, he didn't give up much to get either Rocker or Everett, but he isn't getting much from them either, and it's hard to look savvy when your cheap pickups suck.
Activated RHP Bob File from the DL and optioned him to Syracuse. [5/22]
Whatever the size of his contract, Darrin Fletcher's job should have been considered in danger from the start of spring training, so now that he's back and Tom Wilson took the opportunity created by Fletcher's absence, he should be grateful for the paycheck and whatever playing time he gets. Wilson and Fletcher don't have the exact intermingling of skills to make an ideal platoon or job-sharing arrangement. Wilson is almost helpless against the running game, but is too good an offensive player to relegate to a strict platoon role. Fletcher is only good at controlling the running game in contrast to Wilson, and coming off of a godawful 2001, you have to wonder if he can handle the larger share a straight lefty-righty platoon would require. So the Jays will be better off splitting the playing time evenly or slightly in Wilson's favor, while anticipating the time when they can either turn Fletcher into a Diamondback, or when they give him his buyout for 2003.