April 10, 2002
April 7-8, 2002
Signed C-R Pat Borders to a minor-league contract. [4/8]
The peregrinations of Pat Borders seem to have taken on an importance out of all proportion to their actual significance. You know, sort of like the royal family, only this is baseball, so it actually pertains to something of redeeming social value.
This was pretty much scripted, as Calvin Maduro wasn't needed until his start on Sunday. He earned the fifth starter's job last summer, and should hold it until John Stephens or Matt Riley makes enough noise in the minors that the Boids can't ignore the two of them any longer. In the meantime, Rick Bauer was around for mop-up work. Rodrigo Lopez is, too, but Bauer is the guy with options who will be better served starting every fifth day in Rochester.
This is not bad news in my eyes, as regular readers might expect. Replacing Dustin Hermanson in the rotation will be Tim Wakefield, and Wakefield was a better pitcher last year, and probably the year before that, too. As a knuckleballer, he seems to be a lot less likely to get precipitously worse, unlike the way Hermanson has been trending in recent years. So overall, this is good for the Red Sox. Wakefield will probably pitch better and should average longer outings as well, which saves the bullpen incrementally. That makes Grady Little's job a little easier in each swing through the rotation, and that makes the Red Sox a better team in ways that transcend just a simple "Wakefield is better than Hermanson" argument.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox also get the opportunity to use Sun-Woo Kim in their bullpen. Kim has tremendous stuff, and we've already touted him as somebody who would do well in a long-relief role where he gets consisted reps to work on his command. The question is whether the Sox will carve out that role for him, or whether they'll see-saw between mop-up and situational usage patterns.
Placed CF-L Ken Griffey Jr. on the 15-day DL (partially torn tendon - knee); recalled RF-R Ruben Mateo from Louisville. [4/8]
The optimistic scenario is that Junior comes back sometime in the next four to six weeks. The lurking fear is that he's done for the season, and the Reds just went from being a reasonable bet to finish fourth and possibly even sneak up on someone like the Cubs to evening the division up into two trios: the three teams with visions of October baseball and the three teams armed with Ralph Wiggum's driving ambition.
In those circumstances, it's in the Reds' interests to devote the playing time to Ruben Mateo. Mateo may not work out, or he may only work out as well as Juan Encarnacion is ever going to work out, but with playing time to spare, the Reds may as well use it to decide whether Mateo is going to bounce back and be a part of the next good Reds team, or if he's going to be Eric Owens. Brady Clark has value, serious value, as a fourth outfielder, and while there's a good argument that he should start, I wouldn't say that it should come at Mateo's expense. If anyone, it should come at Encarnacion's.
Before Mateo's broken leg, it was clear that between Encarnacion and Mateo, Mateo was the player with the better upside. Since the broken leg, Encarnacion hasn't exactly done much to justify confidence, while Mateo... well, he broke his leg. Now that he's healed, he deserves a long look, to see if he's going to force some interesting choices, because Austin Kearns should arrive by 2003. Almost no other organization will ever value Encarnacion, while Mateo might end up being more valuable than either Michael Tucker or Alex Ochoa. The only way that's going to happen is if he plays. If he plays well, and Kearns struggles this year and/or next, the Reds are still covered.
The Rockies are making an interesting adaptation, where they've decided to go with seven relievers during their home stands. I like the notion that there's applied thought going on--what do we as a franchise have to do to win in our environment?--but am less happy about the product. Given the overwhelming nature of the ballpark, an environment whose effects dwarf smaller concerns like situational/platoon advantages, why focus on carrying multiple relievers? What you really need isn't a 20-pitches-and-out reliever, but a horse in a middle relief or mop-up role, especially with three younger starters in the rotation.
Well, it took a week into the season to get there, but the Tigers are starting to do some good things. Not great things, not franchise-changing things, but things that essentially needed doing.
First, they got rid of the management leftovers of the Randy Smith era, starting with Randy Smith himself. There may be no better illustration of the Peter Principle in baseball today than Smith. Once upon a time, he was arguably a good farm director, and he could probably do a good job for somebody else in that role. He's been a disaster as a GM, doing all of the things you don't want a GM to do. He failed to properly evaluate the personnel he inherited, so he let guys like Frank Catalanotto slip through his fingers. He failed to spend money properly, making people like Todd Jones and Brian "Speedy" Hunter rich. He made bad, convoluted deals that always seemed to involve Brad Ausmus. His drafts, which in theory should have reflected his skills as a talent maven, didn't turned out particularly well. Like Bill Bavasi and Cam Bonifay, he was one of the poster boys for a generation of boy wonder GMs who, at the end of the day, didn't seem to have given enough thought to how to really build an organization over the long haul. If there is a unifying quality beyond their dramatic failures, it is their affability. That's great for their chances of future employment, but as far as the Tigers in 2002, it seems strange that Smith made it even this far.
Smith and Garner were casualties going into the year, it was simply a question of when Dombrowski decided to kevork the two of them. Did Dave Dombrowski keep them around as fall guys? What good is having fall guys if you throw them off of the boat after one week? With this team, you may need another fall guy by June. It's worth asking, but I think Dombrowski did what had to be done. Better to admit that it was a mistake to retain Smith and Garner even this long, and try to change the tenor of the season ASAP, instead of waiting for some more suitable moment that doesn't offend anyone's sense of decorum.
What's troubling is that Dombrowski might be trying to associate the deals of last winter (Craig Paquette?) with Smith, instead of making it clear whether or not he was in charge from the start. If Dombrowski let Smith sign Paquette, then you have to ask why, and if Dombrowski signed Paquette, then you have to worry.
As for Phil Garner, there are probably worse managers, but there are also better ones, and his time was long overdue. Luis Pujols has the track record with Dombrowski, stretching back to 1987 when he was a player-coach in the Expos' organization, that indicates he'll get a serious look-see. He did well managing Double-A Erie last season, although he had the advantage of fielding a team with plenty of Double-A experience. His bullpen was unsettled for most of the year, so he relied heavily on just two relievers, journeyman Terry Pearson (now a Tiger) and a gargantuan lefty, Eric Eckenstahler. Whether that means he'll rely more heavily on his best relievers, or whether he just had the advantage of a relatively stable rotation in Erie, we'll have to see.
At least the roster now features an actual center fielder. Andres Torres is a great glove by reputation and performance, he gets on base relatively well, and he can run a bit. He's not a top prospect, but he's good enough to play for this team, and that may turn into a nice little career. That should mean Jose Macias is back into a utility role, but even on a team filled with utility men, he will still end up playing more than he should, including regular time at second base in the absence of Damion Easley.
Dean Palmer's return matters only insofar as the Tigers have to hope he has a good enough run to convince somebody to take on his contract. It's more likely that he's going to be their DH through 2003. Losing Danny Patterson is a blow to the bullpen, especially considering his elbow has been hurting for weeks, and the Tigers are using high-falutin' jargon like "he's got a hot nerve in his elbow." Break out the leeches, I guess they need to get the evil humors out of that joint.
Charles Johnson's return from his sprained thumb was expected, but the decision to send Pablo Ozuna down was not. Now that he's gone from prospect to journeyman with one brutal correction to his DOB, Ozuna is the sort of guy who has to worry about losing his job to a nice minor-league veteran like Marty Malloy. It does make for a slightly strange roster, in that both backup infielders (Malloy and Andy Fox) bat left-handed, and the team is carrying three catchers. The three-catchers part is unworkable, because all three have value and should play. Charles Johnson is one of the league's best, Mike Redmond is one of the best backup catchers--and by that I mean a guy who should be a backup catcher, not a starter stranded on the bench--and Ramon Castro should be playing every day for some team.
What do the Marlins need that they could use this depth to repair? They're the last team that needs to trade for pitching. Assuming they aren't about to cut bait on Derrek Lee or Alex Gonzalez right now this instant, they could arguably use an upgrade in right field, where Kevin Millar will have a hard time repeating his astounding 2001.
Look again at what the Marlins need: they need Alex Gonzalez and Derrek Lee to develop. They need a better right fielder. They need these things if they're going to contend, but on the one hand they should wait and see what happens with Gonzalez and Lee, and on the other hand they have to do something about their catching situation right now. Castro will only go stale on the bench, lowering his value, and trading Redmond won't fix their problems, which leaves trading Johnson, which would be bold, controversial, and unpopular, even for Jeffrey Loria.
Optioned RHP Jeff Austin to Omaha. [4/7]
Recalled RHP Nate Field from Omaha. [4/8]
Roberto Hernandez was re-evaluated, only to discover that he's out for another month. Leave it to the Royals to screw up and prematurely option Jeff Austin in the expectation that Hernandez was going to be ready, and now they can't bring him back until ten days have passed. Nate Field isn't the end of the world; last year was the first really good year in his minor-league career, he was pretty effective as Wichita's closer, and he throws hard. What's frustrating is that jerking Austin around was unnecessary, and constitutes a good example of sloppy roster management.
Joe has already said what needed to be said here. Now that they're only making the minimum for their next employers, I suspect both Tom Goodwin and Mike Trombley will get picked up. The Tigers will hopefully avoid Goodwin, but he would give them a guy with major-league experience who can cover center field, while Trombley might be a match for somebody suitably desperate, like either Chicago team, the Royals, or maybe the Expos.
Getting Ramiro Mendoza back gives the Yankees an interesting balance in their bullpen. They have three lefties and three righties. They have got the end-game trio, with Mariano Rivera fronted by Mike Stanton and Steve Karsay, a fine situational lefty in Randy Choate, and a pair of long relievers capable of spot starts in Ramiro Mendoza and Ted Lilly. That's about as self-contained as a bullpen gets, and Yankees fans won't have to worry about the kind of routine reshuffling other teams resort to have four or five fresh arms on any/every given night.
To be fair to the extra-beefy Mo Vaughn, this wasn't an injury he could have avoided (unless of course, he stopped crowding the plate), so let's not chalk this up as another example of his ongoing bout with the fragiles. It doesn't look like he'll be out for much longer than the two weeks, which gives Mark Johnson and John Valentin the playing time in his absence. The good news for Mets fans is that at least they didn't call up Jorge Toca and continue trying to foist him off as a prospect.
The Athletics hoped that Randy Velarde wasn't that badly hurt, but with Mike Colangelo doing well in a reserve outfield role and Frankie Menechino holding his job at second base, Velarde's primary value may end up being as a reserve for Eric Chavez at third base, and getting at-bats against left-handed pitching at whatever position.
In his absence, Mark Ellis gives the A's something else, which is arguably their first real utility infielder since Jorge Velandia early on in 2000. Ellis can play shortstop and second base, which might get him a chance to stick sometime in the future, whenever the A's decide they want to rest Miguel Tejada. But if, as Earl Weaver said, his backup shortstop was in Rochester, Ellis is more likely to have to go back to Sacramento so that the A's retain room for the various bats they want to keep around. Ellis can hit and would be taken more seriously as a prospect in another organization; with Oakland he's sort of a theoretical organizational bridge between Menechino and Esteban German at second, and insurance for Tejada at short.