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April 14, 2002
April 9-10, 2002
I don't know which image of Clay Bellinger's career rings more true: is he a battered jugger from the Rutger Hauer classic The Blood of Heroes, taking his lumps moving from The League to the dog towns and back again? Or is he Willie Loman, the guy who might be able to live with his lot if he has a shot at modest notoriety, but forced to confront his waning relevance in a world where even Anaheim can smugly jerk him around? He has a World Series ring or two, dontchaknow.
I hope Bellinger has got a philosophical outlook on things. There was a time when some of my favorite players were those last guys on benches, players like Eddie Jurak or Steve Henderson or Harry Spilman, not because they were great, but because I figured somebody ought to wish them well. Similarly, I suspect somebody ought there loves Clay Bellinger, and why not? He's had the dream career for a scrubeenie.
On the far more relevant side of things, bringing back Dennis Cook gets the Angels to 12 pitchers now that all their suspensions have been served. In Troy Percival's absence, Mike Scioscia is using his relievers all over the place in all sorts of roles, so having both Cook and Mark Lukasiewicz to handle left-handed "jobs" should lead to even more interruptions in the action. As long as Percival is out, Scioscia might even put Cook in a save situation or two, while keeping Lukasiewicz in the situational lefty role. Of course, life would be better if the Angels had only 11 pitchers, but they'd have to have somebody who could hit to fill that extra position-player job, and they don't have that. They're going out of their collective way to not let Jeff DaVanon play as is.
Depending on your point of view, letting Todd Stottlemyre's career resume is either a great way to make sure that the effort to collect the insurance money looks honest, or it's a noble gesture, or it's totally irresponsible. With all due respect to letting a great competitor compete, I'm more in line with the last view. Can he compete? Of course he can, and I'm sure it'll make for an inspirational story, a motivational video, and some breezy assertions in 40 or 50 years about how players are sissies compared to today's players, because nobody in the future has Stottlemyre's guts or courage or desire.
More importantly, can he be a useful part of a rotation in a divisional fight that should be nastier that a sack o' cats? I don't think so. Miguel Batista shouldn't be in the bullpen the year after he was the third-best starter on the team. Even with the worthwhile addition of Rick Helling, the Snakes should not be trying to sort out two different projects: the struggle to see if Brian Anderson is ever going to get back, and the noble dream that Stottlemyre still has something left in the tank.
Greg Colbrunn's return is good news. Danny Klassen wasn't getting a whole lot of playing time with Junior Spivey's hot start and Craig Counsell's stolid perpetuation, so the Snakes are better off with an experienced right-handed pinch-hitter to pair off with top lefty pinch-hitter David Dellucci. After that, you're left with Chris Donnels, Jose Guillen, and Quinton McCracken, so Erubiel Durazo can't get back fast enough.
Placed RHP Albie Lopez on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 4/8 (strained groin); recalled RHP Kevin Gryboski from Richmond; will recall RHP John Ennis from Greenville (Double-A), effective 4/10; acquired LHP Andy Pratt from the Rangers for LHP Ben Kozlowski; designated RHP Aaron Small for assignment. [4/9]
The Braves' careful roster dance continues, as they weave their way towards having a rotation of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Kevin Millwood, Jason Marquis, and probably Damian Moss. So the loss of Albie Lopez for a couple of weeks to a non-throwing injury is pretty small beer. OK, small, expensive beer. Moss may well end up claiming a rotation job for himself in the meantime, which would be an upgrade that would push Lopez into the spot-starter/long-relief role in which he'd probably be most valuable.
But all of that is in the future, and in the meantime, the Braves scrambled to keep themselves covered. John Ennis is my personal favorite in what looks like an outstanding young rotation down in Greenville, and his introduction to the major leagues with only a week's worth of experience above A ball wasn't all bad (two runs in four innings). With Maddux expected to be reactivated, he'll go back down, while hard-throwing Kevin Gryboski will hang around as the last man in the pen until Lopez returns.
Releasing Aaron Small only highlights the fact that the Braves understand better than most that there's a certain disposability among relievers of a certain caliber, regardless of their big-league experience. However, the circumstances of his release seem a little strange. He was cut to make room on the 40-man roster for Andy Pratt, and while Pratt is a decent enough soft-tosser prospect as soft-tosser prospects go, I don't know if you'll find many people who'd rather have him than Ben Kozlowski, who is younger, throws harder, is coming off of a good first full season as a pro, and doesn't have to be added to the 40-man for another couple of seasons. The only explanation I can come up with is that John Schuerholz wanted to get into John Hart's good graces and do him a favor; if a Hart/Tom Hicks panic in June leads to a rash of trades to break up the A-Rodlings, the Braves might want to be in their good graces if they want something, such as getting Rusty Greer to man first base.
Announced that 1B/LF-R Julio Zuleta cleared waivers, and assigned him to Iowa. [4/10]
The Angels didn't claim him? The Braves? The Pirates? The Orioles? Not even the Reds? I'm not claiming that Julio Zuleta is about to become the next Cliff Johnson or something, but he's a power source who can do some good thumping in a part-time role. I'm genuinely surprised that nobody would take a flyer on him.
Designated LHP Josh Kalinowski for assignment. [4/9]
Somebody had to be bumped off of the 40-man roster to make room for Chris Nichting, but considering the usual complaints about how scarce pitching is these days, I suspect somebody will claim Kalinowski on waivers. He's left-handed, he has options left, and in his second year since elbow surgery, he's somebody whose performance should improve this year.
Announced that Luis Pujols will manage for the rest of 2002; fired pitching coach Dan Warthen and third-base coach Doug Mansolino; named Steve McCatty pitching coach, Rafael Landestoy infield coach/first-base coach; moved Juan Samuel to third-base coach; optioned RHP Nate Cornejo to Toledo; recalled UT-R Oscar Salazar from Toledo. [4/9]
With the logjam of DH/1B/LF/3B types on top of the uniquely Tigeresque problem of having three catchers who can hit on on the roster, and with scheduling permitting no actual need for a fifth starter until April 20, the Tigers did a good thing in making the exchange of Nate Cornejo for Oscar Salazar. Salazar is an appropriate understudy for Jose Macias in a supersub role, while Cornejo will get to make his next start for the Mudhens and still be available for that start on the 20th.
It may make you ask what the point of the 162-game schedule is, considering that if the long season is supposed to be a test of strength, shouldn't it force you to keep the people in the main roles on the roster (the lineup, the rotation) around? These opportunities aren't spread evenly; not every team has a fifth starter with options, allowing him to be yo-yoed back and forth whenever you get an scenario like this, and not every team identifies those opportunities when they arise. Creative roster management might annoy in terms of trying to keep track of who's on and off the roster on any given week, but it is an area where a team with cheap help (with options) can maximize their ability to use their roster spots to give them a competitive advantage, so it's a good thing.
Where it gets interesting is if we have a contending team with an optionable fifth starter. Will anybody squawk if a team gets creative, effectively expanding their roster to 26 or 27 men, keeping that extra pinch-hitter or pinch-runner or defensive sub while juggling fifth starters over a month or two? Probably not. The Mets have done it for a few years, and it's a credit to Steve Phillips, although it does create that same roster turnover that some self-embalmed New York ex-writer might whine about.
This being the Tigers, I doubt anybody cares too much, beyond the fact that it gives Nate Cornejo a chance to stay on his cycle in the rotation without having to pitch in the majors.
Bobby Valentine is a tinkerer by nature, so now that Mo Vaughn is out and Mark Johnson is in the lineup and Timo Perez is on the roster, you can understand how he might want a different skill set on his bench than the one McKay Christensen offers. Perez and Christensen do many of the same things: they're both runners, they're both considered good gloves, they both don't hit for much power or draw many walks, and they both do a pretty good job of getting the ball in play. Why carry two? Now that Johnson is in the lineup, the bench does not have a lefty pinch-hitter who can take a pitch or pop the occasional home run, so enter Tarasco. Arguably, it represents a canny appreciation of the talent on the bench, and an effort to create a variety of different offensive weapons for Valentine to choose from. It may not add a single win to the Mets' tally, but I like the move as an attempt to design a roster around discrete skills as opposed to a more gross appreciation that in 400 plate appearances, Christensen and Tarasco might create (or save) a roughly equivalent number of runs.
Turned out to be the team that actually signed C-R Pat Borders, not the Angels. [4/7]
This was a flat-out mistake by yours truly, so apologies to all of the deeply affected parties: Mr. Borders, the Rainiers, and Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma. Chalk this up as another instance of Pat Gillick doing another favor for his favorite ex-Blue Jay. At this point of his career, Borders is still no threat to Dan Wilson, same as ten years ago, but in another ten, anyone want to lay odds on Borders outplaying Wilson in a semi-pro league?
Purchased the contract of LHP Chris Michalak from Oklahoma; optioned RHP Francisco Cordero to Oklahoma; transferred LHP Rich Rodriguez from the 15- to 60-day DL; acquired LHP Ben Kozlowski from the Braves for LHP Andy Pratt. [4/9]
Wow, that's a happy turn of events. The league forced the Rangers to designate Andy Pratt for assignment as punishment for attempting to put Ryan Dittfurth on the 60-day DL. Whether it's John Hart or Grady Fuson who deserves the credit, I don't know, but they made this work out to their benefit by exchanging Pratt for a better prospect.
Ben Kozlowski is a big, relatively hard-throwing lefty (low 90s) who doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster for another couple of years, and he had an outstanding 2001 season in Macon in his first full year in the minor leagues. Pratt, by comparison, is a modestly interesting control fiend, far from being as promising as Mario Ramos within the organization as soft-tossing lefties go. Ten years from now, Pratt could be Blaise Ilsley or Chris Michalak or Dave Otto a lot more easily than he's going to be Jamie Moyer, because that's how the vast majority of those guys turn out. Given how easily Michalak was acquired (off of waivers), if you can get a guy with physical talent and with the success that Kozlowski has already shown in his brief career in exchange for an Andy Pratt, that's a steal.
Scott Cassidy pitched three innings on Monday, so he was essentially gassed for the week. Bringing up Justin Miller gives Miller an opportunity to pitch in as a middle reliever--something the Jays are needing a lot of these days--while keeping him in play for the last rotation slot. Brian Cooper is almost certain to get the boot shortly, and while Esteban Loaiza is happily less hurt than initially feared, he's weeks away from a return. So how the Jays handle their rotation between now and May should be what you might call serial tryouts, where Cooper and Scott Eyre and maybe Miller and Cassidy all get looks, all with an eye towards shaking up the staff when Loaiza and Chris Carpenter and Steve Parris return. They'll be balancing the opportunities to showcase the older guys to contenders and near-contenders with the younger guys who might be more important come 2003, making for an extremely fluid situation in terms of roster management, as well as a difficult challenge for the coaches and managers in both Toronto and Syracuse.