Happy Labor Day! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume on Tuesday, September 2.
March 18, 2002
March 6-13, 2002
Optioned CF-L Nathan Haynes to Salt Lake. [3/8]
Remember him? Nathan Haynes has had surgery on both of his knees, and at worst he might only turn out to be a valuable player the same way Orlando Palmeiro is a valuable player. His latest injury in a long litany of injuries is to his thumb, and it should keep out for a couple of months. Nevertheless, he's still just 22, and he's a pretty good centerfielder. Haynes isn't a great prospect, but he's young enough to become useful, so it isn't like he's Norm Hutchins. He'll probably get a cuppajoe in September.
Named Grady Little manager. [3/11]
Grady Little has deserved a break for awhile, and it's nice to see that the Indians and Charlie Manuel (another guy who deserved the break he finally got for quite some time) were willing to give it to him. What's interesting about the situation is that Little was effectively the only candidate. This was because the Indians decided to not let their victimization through MLB's mismanagement of the Tom Hicks front office smash-and-grab scandal stand in the way of their decision to let Little talk to the Red Sox. The other burgled organization, the Athletics, kept the most plausible alternative to Little, bench coach Ken Macha, out of the running. (Don't weep for Macha; the odds seem pretty good that he will be managing somewhere in baseball by 2003.)
These responses to yet another incidence of baseball not taking its own administration particularly seriously reflect that while systemic mismanagement is an issue for the industry, in a specific situation like this, it doesn't add up to a crippling problem... yet. But organizations--at least the good ones--are in the business of developing talent off of the diamond as well as on it, and if the eventual diaspora of the brighter bulbs throughout the game is going to actually take place and create a stronger brand of baseball nationwide, there's going to have be a more practical approach to how organizations can expect compensation, and some punishments with stronger teeth than another weak, gummy fine from Czar Bud and his minions.
All that ranting aside, congratulations to Little and to the Red Sox, and shame again on both John Harrington and the new bunch for not making this happen sooner.
Optioned RHP John Stephens to Rochester; optioned RHPs Steve Bechler and Mike Paradis, LHP Matt Riley, and CF-B Tim Raines Jr. to Bowie (Double-A); assigned RHPs Juan Rosario and Jay Spurgeon, LHP Eric DuBose, C-Rs Mike Hubbard and Eli Whiteside, 1B-R Domingo Martinez, OF-R Darryl Brinkley and 2B/SS-B Manny Del Rosario to minor league camp. [3/12]
John Stephens didn't get much of a look, giving up six baserunners and four runs in five innings. It says a wee bit too much about the Orioles that there's a real chance that nice aspiring fifth starter journeymen like either Chris Brock or Calvin Maduro, who can be fifth starters if everything breaks their way, and fifth starters if they don't, will wind up in their rotation, but Stephens somehow doesn't merit a serious look. The Orioles are the way they are because they want to be.
There's some entertaining dross in the cutdowns, which portends more bad news for the relationship between the Orioles and Rochester. Red Wings management is already rightfully cranky about the sorry state of affairs where the organization doesn't merely draw poor free agents at the major league level, but also manages to miss out on minor league free agents to build something that at least may draw fans for a long-loyal affiliate. Domingo Martinez is 34, which actually seems pretty young for a guy who spent three straight years in Knoxville, the three subsequent years in Syracuse, and then three years on the International League's celebrity tour, and that only gets you up to his whereabouts through 1996. Eric DuBose, unretired? Matt Whiteside? Mike Hubbard? Rochester can't become a free agent fast enough at this rate.
Optioned RHPs Edwin Almonte and Ryan Kohlmeier and LHP Thomas Jacquez to Charlotte; re-assigned C-R Mark Dalesandro and C-B Lee Evans, 2B-R Justin Baughman, LHPs Corwin Malone, Arnaldo Munoz and Dennis Ulacia, RHP Brian West and OF-R Mario Valenzuela to minor league camp; released CF-R Julio Ramirez. [3/11]
Released LHP Onan Masaoka. [3/13]
No real stories here from among the demotions. The closest thing resembling a surprise might be that Brian West didn't get a longer look, especially with a rotation spot or two still up in the air, but he's one of the Sox cornucopia of pitching prospects, and he does only have high A-ball experience. Corwin Malone's future looks bright, but he got spanked in camp, and that's not indicative of anything beyond the obvious, which is that he has work to do. Ryan Kohlmeier had a bad camp, but a good year between the minors and majors could still turn him into the next Wohlers/Weathers/Karchner-style discard to pick up the next Jon Garland or similar goodies. He's a low-risk option to swindle the easily gulled or relief-desperate. Mario Valenzuela excites some people, and he had a good camp; he's also older than Aaron Rowand, a similar hitter, and somebody who won't be playing center field. In an organization already loaded with right-handed power, that makes him a great piece of trade bait, and he could turn into a moderately useful corner outfielder if everything broke his way.
Optioned INF-L Ivanon Coffie to Iowa; optioned RHPs Jose Cueto and Francis Beltran, Nominal Human Being Ben Christensen and LHP Steve Smyth to West Tenn (Double-A); re-assigned C-Rs Ryan Jorgensen and Yoon-Min Kweon to minor league camp. [3/11]
Ivanon Coffie's relatively quick demotion bodes well for Mark Bellhorn, but Bellhorn's a better player in every phase of the game, so this really shouldn't be shocking on any level. Augie Ojeda should make the team as the spare infield glove on the bench, but with Bellhorn hitting well and Chris Stynes not, the more interesting problem is whether or not Bellhorn wins the third base job with Bill Mueller headed for the DL. Because of his slow recovery from shoulder surgery, Steve Smyth was sent away, but he's a subsequent, and not current, candidate for the last slot in the rotation. Meanwhile, none of the veteran candidates for fifth starter are pitching at all well: Donovan Osborne is giving up two baserunners per inning, and six runs in seven pitched; he's the "leader" of a pack that also features Julian Tavarez and Jesus Sanchez. All the more reason to take a long look at Mark Prior, even if it means foregoing breaking Prior with some bullpen work.
The only way these two elements (Bellhorn vs. Stynes, the old stiffs vs. Prior) intertwine is that Don Baylor's contributions to the selection process should be a source for discouragement. Stynes and one of the two lefties will win the jobs, they won't contribute much to the Cubs' push to keep up with the Astros, and Baylor and most commentators will gladly blame the players and not the decisions to go with them. Well, that sounds grumpy, and here it is spring; maybe good things will happen despite these expectations.
Ben Christensen? The news item here is that a self-pitying scumbag gets sent away, but to Tennessee instead of east of Eden. Watch as he publicly jabbers about his spirituality in a pathetic quest to resemble a member of the human race, even going so far as to apparently lie about trying to mend fences with his victim. No film at eleven; this thing has gotten too much air time already.
Optioned RHP Luke Hudson to Louisville; optioned OF-R Jackson Melian and C-R Dane Sardinha to Chattanooga (Double-A); assigned SS-L Mike Caruso, 3B-R Brandon Larson, UT-R Chris Sexton, 1B-L Alex Hernandez, OF-R Jermaine Allensworth, RHP Brandon Kolb, and LHPs Brian Bohanon, Trever Miller and Pedro Feliciano to their minor league camp. [3/10]
Outrighted RHP Chris Booker to Chattanooga (Double-A). [3/13]
Most of this is part and parcel of putting your 2002 Louisville RiverBats in their places, but I am surprised by the speed with which Jared Fernandez, Brian Reith and Ty Howington were demoted. Brian Bohanon is understandable, considering he's injured, and Luke Hudson had a terrible spring. But with Lance Davis's shoulder aching, the fifth slot of the rotation is almost being handed to Jimmy Haynes by default, and as much as I'd be willing to take my chances with him, that's not a good thing as long as he isn't pitching well. For the moment, the rotation's front four seem to be Chris Reitsma, Elmer Dessens, Joey Hamilton and Jose Acevedo. Demoting Reith and Howington is defensible on the level of accepting that the organization wants them to start off in the minors; Reith has last year's big league debut to live down, and Howington has only made seven starts above A-ball. But if Jared Fernandez isn't going to get a look with Davis hurt and Jimmy Haynes the main candidate, especially after having a good couple of weeks, then he'll probably never get a real shot with the Reds.
Similar to the demotions of Howington and Reith, in that they'll be back this summer, are the demotions of Austin Kearns and Ben Broussard. Broussard's role may be as trade bait now that Sean Casey has been handed a Lindner Special, but he's coming off of an outstanding season in Double-A and seems fully recovered from the wrist problems that hampered him in 2000. Kearns is the team's right fielder of the future, where the timetable for when the future arrives depending entirely on what Kearns does in Louisville, and very little on whatever happens with Ruben Mateo or Juan Encarnacion.
Optioned RHPs Sean DePaula, Chad Paronto and Jason Phillips to Buffalo; re-assigned LHPs Jason Stanford, Billy Traber and Dave Maurer and RHPs Jason Beverlin and J.D. Brammer to minor league camp. [3/11]
No surprises here, except the semi-grim news that none of this group will help patch the Indians' rotation. With Jaret Wright and Charles Nagy both looking done (still, making this the third year of a waiting process that might inspire a Neil Allen comeback), the Tribe is essentially left with Omar Olivares and Jose Mercedes for veteran options, and Ryan Drese and Tim Drew for the homegrown ones. Drese and Drew aren't pitching well, and Olivares and Mercedes are, but Drese just had a good outing, and a couple of those in a row will probably be enough to win the job at this rate.
Placed RHP Scott Elarton on the 60-day DL; assigned RHPs Aaron Cook, Ryan Kibler, Carlos Almanzar, Cam Esslinger, Matt Whiteside and Jason Young, LHPs Todd Belitz, Josh Kalinowski and Colin Young, C-B J.D. Closser, C-R Dan Conway, OF-Rs Matt Holliday and Cliff Brumbaugh, 1B/OF-L Ross Gload and OF-B Rene Reyes to their minor league camp. [3/13]
The demotions of Cliff Brumbaugh and Ross Gload pretty much clear the decks for the fight over backup outfield slots. With Benny Agbayani outplaying Todd Hollandsworth and left-handed hitters in center and right already, if Hollandsworth was on the bench he'd give Buddy Bell two good lefties on the bench (along with switch-hitter Greg Norton). From a roster makeup point of view, that boils down to a question of which right-handed hitting outfielders have a shot at the fifth outfielder's slot. So far, Mark Little seems to have a slight lead on John Barnes and Mario Encarnacion. Of course, all of this pretty much blocks Jack Cust from making the team as a left fielder, but Cust isn't exactly playing often enough for Dan O'Dowd's threats on this front to be taken very seriously.
Assigned RHPs Tim Adkins, Kenny Baugh, Jared Camp, Seth Greisinger, Shane Heams, Kris Keller, Shane Loux and Fernando Rodney, and LHPs Tim Kalita, Mike Maroth, Jared Rivera and Andy Van Hekken to their minor league camp. [3/10]
Anyone remember how long ago Jared Camp was the Rule 5 godling one fine December? Okay, I suppose most of you have lives, so never mind. The Tigers can afford to send down this bundle of talent, as they have to sort through Adams Pettyjohn and Bernero and NRIs like Matt Perisho, Julio Santana, Oscar Henriquez and Bill Simas to see who's going to fill out the bullpen.
The Marlins have too many spare outfielders in camp, so pinch-hitting and bench jobs were already at a premium, pretty much crowding out Nate Rolison even before he could show whether or not he was fully recovered from the hamate injury that derailed his 2001 season. Geoff Goetz is similarly out of the picture in a bullpen that already features two useful left-handed relievers in Armando Almaza and Vic Darensbourg, and the Fish still have to make some tough choices between Nate Teut and Mike Tejera if they even want to try and carry a third lefty.
Hallelu... oh, wait a minute, even with Chris Truby traded, it's no sure thing that Morgan Ensberg will get the starting job at third for the Astros. Ensberg isn't having a great spring, while Keith Ginter is. Worse yet, there's the unsettling suggestion that Geoff Blum could play a lot of third base, and if Adam Everett wins the job at short (and with Jose Vizcaino guaranteed to make the roster), Julio Lugo has to get a roster spot (and playing time) somewhere, all of which could crowd Ensberg out of the lineup, off of the roster, and, as Doctor John would say, back to New Orleans.
If, on the other hand, Ensberg wins the job, that creates for a strange and crowded bench, with Blum, Lugo and Vizcaino giving Jimy Williams a fistful of experienced guys to mix and match behind the Double-E rookie left side of the infield. It also doesn't leave any room on the roster for Ginter or a real fourth outfielder. That isn't that much of a problem; Blum and Orlando Merced both have outfield experience and Lugo has been experimented with as an outfielder, so the Astros are exploring their alternatives to Brian Hunter behind their starting three.
Granted LHP Jose Rosado his outright release. [3/10]
Rany Jazayerli has already dealt with Jose Rosado's release better than I could in this space, so let's restrict this to the interesting news that Mac Suzuki, Brett Laxton, Brad Voyles and Orber Moreno did not get many looks in camp. The reason that's interesting is because of who is having good camps: homegrown talent like Dan Reichert, Jeremy Affeldt and even Wichita's closer, Nate Field, as well as journeymen Darrell May (from Japan) and Bryan Rekar (from even further from the majors, Tampa Bay). It's also nice to see that Allard Baird isn't holding himself too closely to that old "rule" that if you traded a major leaguer for a minor leaguer, that minor leaguer has to make the team if he's at all close because it reflects on management. At this point, Brett Laxton looks like he's never going to live up to the promise he had as a freshman at LSU, while Brad Voyles seemed like he was going to be a lock for the big league pen coming into camp.
Optioned SS-R Billy Hall to Indianapolis; optioned RHPs Jose Mieses and Matt Childers, LHP Luis Martinez and OF-Rs Jeff Deardorff and Cristian Guerrero to Huntsville (AA); optioned RHP J.M. Gold to High Desert (A); re-assigned RHPs Jayson Durocher and Robert Marquez, LHP Jimmy Osting and OF-R Robert Perez to minor league camp. [3/11]
I'm a little sad to see Grant Balfour not get a longer look, but fourteen baserunners in less than four innings is a good way to get yourself reassigned in short order. Plus, the Twins have a wealth of young pitching to sort through. Brad Thomas, J.C. Romero and Matt Kinney are all pitching well enough to merit consideration in long relief roles if none of them push past Kyle Lohse for the fifth starter's job, which gives Ron Gardenhire a lot to think about during the next two weeks beyond settling on who his starting right fielder is going to be.
Acquired 3B-R Chris Truby from the Astros for UT-B Geoff Blum. [3/12]
Kudos to Omar Minaya for getting Chris Truby, because Truby does give the Expos a right-handed power source for the bottom of the lineup to adequately patch over the ongoing absence of Fernando Tatis. He can also pick it well enough at third, so as Plan B goes, this isn't too shabby. Geoff Blum will be missed, insofar as the Expos options among their utility infielders run from Mike Mordecai to Tomas de la Rosa to Andy Tracy, and de la Rosa and Tracy are busy playing their way off of Ottawa, let alone Montreal. But bench strength isn't going to be one of the features of your 2002 Expos.
The danger lies in other areas. By bringing in the Big Cat, the Expos are opening themselves up to the possibility of giving Lee Stevens some playing time in left field once in awhile, his first action there since 1998. Doing that on top of having Jose Canseco around, you can pretty much consider any shot of Brad Wilkerson's ever getting taken seriously by his new GM to be bleeding badly if not DOA. Considering the Expos need a little bit of everything, and since Minaya seems to favor Latin players, the odds are good that some GM is going to pilfer Wilkerson by offering a tan and rested Miguel Dilone (or worse). Laugh now, but this team has Sandy Martinez and Alan Mills in uniform, and those two would have trouble making a Northern League team these days.
Released CF-R Ruben Rivera. [3/12]
Okay, so Ruben Rivera is monumentally stupid. But keep in mind what this probably means for the Yankees: Ice Williams is on the team, not because he belongs in the major league any more, but because he is not monumentally stupid. It worked for Clay Bellinger for years, and the Yankees have been able to forego having an actual backup to Bernie Williams in center for years, so unless this is the year Bernie gets hurt, it won't have any practical implications beyond another Yankee bench peopled by veteran dross waving towels, slapping butts, and wondering how they lucked into this gig.
Released OF-L Mark Sweeney and 1B-R Danny Peoples. [3/13]
Mark Sweeney had a bad camp, while Mark Johnson is slugging nearly .800, so I can't blame the Mets for making this choice. Both are patient hitters, but Johnson has always had more power, while Sweeney used to be better at making contact. The Mets have to make room on the 40-man roster for Johnson and Johnny Valentin anyway, and Sweeney may well elect to accept a few months in Norfolk for the shot at being a bench player down the stretch on a team expected to be in contention.
But so far, the Mets look like they'll have an interesting bench, even absent Sweeney. They'll have Johnson for the role of pinch-hit bopper, and Lou Collier to smack lefties, and Joe McEwing as mid-innings spare part, and Gary Matthews Jr. for double-switches involving Jay Payton. Valentin might be useful if he's healthy, but that's a huge if.
No reason to blame them for these moves, because they're totally defensible and not particularly expensive. At his best, Warren Morris was a solid placeholder, and now he's not. Given the Pirates' instructional problems, it will be mildly interesting to see what Morris might do with an another organization, but this isn't the Frank Catalanotto story we're retelling here.
The real story is whether or not Dave Littlefield can make cuts that would make the beancounters squawk, like Pat Meares and Derek Bell, since neither is giving any indication that they can be useful ever again. Well, that's not true; Derek Bell can say something inspirational about people learning to accept their role, like that pesky old John VanderWal for having the gall to outhit the great Derek Bell. At this point, perhaps Bell needs to take advice of Chuck Noll and move on to his life's work, whether that's unmotivational speaking or selling insurance or whatever.
Extended the contract of general manager Kevin Towers through 2007, with an option for 2008. [3/7]
Purchased the contract of RHP Steve Reed. [3/8]
Optioned SS-R Donaldo Mendez, RHPs Andy Shibilo and Ben Howard, and LHPs Cliff Bartosh, Mike Bynum and Eric Cyr to Mobile (Double-A); optioned Hitter-R Xavier Nady to Lake Elsinore (A); assigned C-R Dusty Wathan and RHPs Brandon Villafuerte, Jake Peavy and J.J. Trujillo to their minor league camp. [3/11]
Anybody want to take odds on the Padres winning a couple of division titles before that contract runs out? What's the over-under? Three seems about right, through 2008, three in seven years, considering the shape of things to come in Los Angeles and San Francisco in particular, and the absence of a long-term plan in Colorado. At any rate, Towers should be around to enjoy the fruits of his success, and then some, as well as the new ballpark. Which makes me wonder: if the Padres win divisions, and have a new ballpark, did they win because of the revenue stream of the ballpark, or because of the work Kevin Towers and company have already done? And will they be big-market, while the Giants decline into small-marketdom because Barry Bonds gets old between now and 2008? Gee, Budnomics gets so tricky sometimes, I'm not sure if it makes sense.
Outrighted RHP Manny Aybar to Fresno, which he accepted, amiably enough. [3/12]
Optioned SS-B Wilmy Caceres, UT-R Damian Rolls and RHPs Jason Standridge and Matt White to Durham; optioned RHPs Brandon Backe, Dewon Brazelton and Enger Veras and SS-B Ramon Soler to Orlando (Double-A); optioned SS-R Jace Brewer to Bakersfield (A); assigned OF-R Rocco Baldelli and OF-Ls Carl Crawford and Josh Hamilton, LHP Jon Switzer, C-Rs Kevin Brown and Paul Hoover; INF-Rs Jorge Cantu and Andy Sheets to their minor league camp. [3/13]
Well, with this new Disney movie about phoney chances to be a phoney big leaguer, can you blame everybody under the sun for wanting to be a Devil Ray? It's a little more genuine than Pirates of the Caribbean, if only just barely. Nevertheless, a tip of the cap to the organization, because who knew that wasting some playing time on a publicity stunt could translate into all sorts of guys taking some final chances on getting back to the Show with an otherwise hopeless franchise? Carlos Chantres has to be pissed; this is the second year he has to regret not making the choice that Eric Hiljus made after 2000, and it's Hiljus who's got experience as the #5 starter on a playoff team, while Chantres has... well, whatever it is his agent told him about how it made sense to be a Brewer in 2001.
The funny thing is, the bullpen is actually pretty full. Travis Phelps, Esteban Yan, Victor Zambrano, Doug Creek, and a couple of bodies from among Tom Martin, Kevin McGlinchy and Jesus Colome, plus a few leftover bodies from the fight for rotation spots, gives you a pretty crowded picture. As much as I've always liked Reggie Harris and Rich Croushore, they're probably doomed to a Durham summer.
With the logjam of bodies crowding the Rangers' mounds and practice fields in spring training, the Rangers had to ship off the kids at some point. Sending them all away at once underscores a couple of points: first, if the cadre of Doug Davis and Rob Bell and Aaron Myette doesn't work out, there's young pitching talent in the organization beyond them. Jovanny Cedeno may not ever be healthy enough to develop fully, but Benoit and Dittfurth and Hughes all pump gas and look good. Duchscherer dominates with his command and should prove to be a ludicrous steal from the Red Sox, while Pratt is your basic command lefty who has that shot at Moyerdom if things break his way. But there's a difference between talent and having the time and space to commit to it at the present. The Rangers have Colby Lewis in camp as well as a stack of NRI journeymen to sort through, so they need to give spring innings to those guys, mostly to see who's healthy, and then make some tough calls. Given that most of the NRIs (or guys like Dave Burba or Jay Powell) probably won't turn out too well, the organization is still well-positioned for the long term. Not that 2003 is that far away, but that's when we can really expect the Rangers to start scaring people with a strong crop of hitting and pitching coming up from the farm.
Optioned 2B-B Orlando Hudson to Syracuse. [3/12]
Hudson came into camp with a real shot at winning the second base job, and apparently he didn't take the opportunity as seriously as he should have. That isn't to say he won't get other opportunities; Homer Bush is only a default setting, sort of a latter-day Dave Cash Lite. That's not a bad thing, it's just replaceable, and if Hudson takes this as a lesson that he has to earn the job, that's all to the good.