April 15, 2002
April 11-13, 2002
The Braves finally get their rotation in order, and while it looks like they'll have to protect Greg Maddux's arm in the early going, that's SOP in these parts. The danger the Braves might have worried about (besides a serious injury to Maddux) was that they'd get off to a particularly slow start while somebody else was coming out of the gate like a house afire; that didn't happen, so the Braves can treat the season as a blank slate instead of one where they have to make up any ground. Indeed, the injury to Maddux initiated the cycle of reviewing whether Damian Moss or Albie Lopez should be the fifth starter earlier than you might have expected, so that's a positive.
The return of Marty Cordova isn't the kind of reinforcement that should inspire visions of third place or anything fantastic like that, but having him in the lineup is a good thing compared to fielding an outfield with both Melvin Mora and Chris Singleton in it. Of course, it isn't really fair to single out Singleton and Mora; Mora has good on-base skills, and should be somewhere in the lineup on a near-daily basis, and Singleton is one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. With Jeff Conine playing his age (and with two or three more years to go on his contract) while David Segui makes his usual tepid contributions, this is a team with offensive problems galore. Marty Cordova might only be an adequate-hitting DH, but this team can use that.
Signed OF-R Bernard Gilkey to a minor-league contract. [4/13]
Now that Kyle Farnsworth has broken his foot in a warm-up accident (he may not be back until June), the Cubs' bullpen is getting awfully thin from the right side. Already carrying a trio of lefties, they're down to just Antonio Alfonseca, Carlos Zambrano, and Joe Borowski.
Beyond the concerns that Alfonseca or Borowski might not be more than replacement-level talent, though, is this really as much of a problem as it sounds? Interestingly, you couldn't really characterize any of the lefties as a situational guy. Jeff Fassero, Jesus Pena, and Donovan Osborne are all ex-starters, and Fassero was used as a closer just last season. So Don Baylor doesn't have to mix and match from at-bat to at-bat, which is fine, because are there that many situations where you're really going to get excited about the opportunity to get Joe Borowski into the ballgame? Until Baylor gets any confidence in him, Zambrano will probably be condemned to low-leverage situations initially, which means that you'll have Fassero or Osborne pitching with the game on the line in the seventh or eighth inning.
Bringing in Bernard Gilkey to play in Iowa might look menacing, up until you take a look and see who is playing in the I-Cubs outfield: minor-league journeymen Jayson Bass and Mark Budzinski, and major-league journeymen Angel Echevarria and Kimera Bartee. By way of contrast, the Double-A Diamond Jaxx outfield has Gary Johnson, Nic Jackson, and Jorge Piedra, guys on the way up. There may not be a better snapshot of the difference between Double-A as the level where you find talent versus Triple-A being a collection of mercenaries and temps hanging around for shots at the tasty fifth-outfielder's job.
This is about as close as you get to a zero-impact move. The Reds have the good fortune to have three talented catchers. Jason LaRue deserves to be considered the best of the bunch, and Kelly Stinnett is really only a good backup catcher these days, but Corky Miller could start for a few teams. They all bat right-handed, they can all hit a little, and they're all solid catch-and-throw types. Stinnett is only supposed to be out for a couple of weeks, so Miller's opportunity to shine will be brief at best, The team hurt by this isn't the Reds, it's the Louisville RiverBats.
Named Felipe Alou bench coach. [4/12]
The reinvention of the bench coach is one of those things that I think has gotten interesting over time. The transmogrification from drinking buddy or clubhouse sergeant into a manager's mentor, consiglieri, tactical foil, resident wizened dugout prune, and guy who helps keep track of all of the things a manager used to take care of before he was losing a couple of hours a day to the answering of repetitive questions before and after games, is one of those things that helps turn most managers into ciphers. Who might be the brains of a particular operation? Guys like Alou or the Gerbil or Ken Macha or Bryan Little, or their managers?
I'm an optimist at heart, so I want to believe that Alou will make a fine mentor for Luis Pujols. Long-suffering Tigers fans deserve a little hope. My concern is just whether or not Alou, a National Leaguer, will understand the different balance of tactical and strategic options a manager has in-game and in-season in the American League. But this is the Tigers, and almost anything different has to be an improvement.
No sooner did Darrell May re-debut on this side of the Pacific than he re-strained his strained groin in his first game on Saturday. That might get Durbin brought back, or it might get Blake Stein plopped into the rotation. More likely, you'll see Chris George recalled. There's an opportunity for Brett Laxton or Bryan Rekar to get the call as well, and one of the most entertaining things about Tony Muser and Allard Baird is that you just don't know which way they'll jump, although you can almost resign yourself to it not working out, even if they did the right thing for the right reasons. Putting George into the rotation right now would be a defensible commitment to letting the hometown fans see a key part of the future learn and grow; putting Rekar in right now would give them a chance to re-tread a retread who might command some trade value by July if there isn't a work stoppage and if things break their way.
This isn't just idle speculation, because with Durbin down the Royals really only have three starters on the roster, plus May. The Royals' schedule for the rest of the month only has room for a fifth starter on one date in the next two weeks, next Saturday, but that doesn't obviate the need for a fourth starter. Somebody has to come up in the next week even if May is healthy and doesn't need a trip to the DL but just some extra rest to make that fifth-slot start on the 20th, so there's room to bring up and use George or Rekar or whoever. It'll be fun to see who they choose.
This isn't a bad thing for the Brewers, in that they seemed to be pressing Jamey Wright into action in the first place. If there's been a problem for the Brewers this spring, it's been the shortage of viable alternatives for their rotation. There are concerns about the health of Nick Neugebauer and Ruben Quevedo and Jamey Wright, but the Brewers couldn't initially afford to pay much attention until surgical procedures entered the menu.
By claiming Nelson Figueroa off of waivers over a week ago, the roster calculus changed slightly, in that the guy who's hurting worst could finally be placed on the DL, and Figueroa could enter the rotation. With a 4.44 ERA in 16 big-league starts before this season, he should be more than an adequate replacement--he should be a good fourth or fifth starter for most teams.
This is also a good opportunity to take a look at organizational soldier Brian Mallette. He throws in the low 90s, and along with Jose Cabrera and Luis Vizcaino, makes for a good trio of guys who might turn into valuable big-league relievers, either for the Brewers or in trade to help an organization that needs all the prospects it can get.
The Brewers really ought to accept that they aren't going to compete for anything more than fourth place if everything breaks their way; protecting Quevedo and Neugebauer if there is even the slightest concern about their shoulders should be a priority. Attendance is going to go down in Year Two in Miller Park regardless; the team sucks, the novelty is gone, and the cockamamie roof already doesn't work as well as it was supposed to. So if you have to make the paying customers watch Ryan Glynn or Jimmy Osting or Andrew Lorraine, that's just another penalty for the years spent letting Sal Bando run the show. The nicest thing to say under the circumstances it that it's to the credit of Dean Taylor and his staff that they have a trio of minor-league free-agent types as good as Lorraine, Osting, and Glynn in-house in the first place.
All five starting pitchers are struggling to toss more than five innings per start, so the Twins figured that they could use an extra reliever to help mop up. Not only have the frontline relievers, guys like Eddie Guardado and Bob Wells, pitched plenty, but the back end of the pen--LaTroy Hawkins and Jack Cressend and J.C. Romero--are all working at a pace to toss over 110 relief innings apiece. Now, obviously that's not going to be true of the entire season; the rotation should have its good runs as well as its bad ones. While I'm generally not a fan of a seven-man bullpen, this isn't a bad time to bring up somebody to mop up and help keep your best relievers from being overworked before May.
There's a lot to be said for retaining a "fleet in being," so to speak, where the point isn't whether or not you're using all of your resources as much as you are preserving them for future use. Everyone's working regularly and well--Cressend had a bad inning against the Blue Jays, but that's about it--so why ask them to do more, and why not cut them some slack in a blowout now and again?
Fiore is the perfect journeyman under the circumstances; moderately effective, replaceable should you outright him, neither an asset nor a problem. When the time comes and the performance of the team dictates another use for the last slot on the roster, the Twins will have freedom of action to do as they see fit.
Warren Morris has already seen the mildly gaudy optimism of spring training (in which he hit a whopping .235) wither away, so the Twins finally brought the multiple-backup-second-basemen experiment to an end. That leaves the position to Denny Hocking and Jay Canizaro for the next two to four weeks or so that Luis Rivas is expected to miss. Since it's merely a question of which one of them bats ninth, it's not a major issue for the lineup. Depending on your frame of reference, you could either think back on the Cookie Newman/Steve Lombardozzi days, or to Dick Williams's annual scramble to find three or four second basemen to simultaneously ignore and keep.
Randy Choate was thrown to the wolves in a mop-up situation on April 11, then sent off with some dismissive comments about his lack of control because of three walks allowed in a game that was already a lost cause, this when he was pitching on no rest after an appearance on the 10th.
Now, maybe that's just silly motivational stuff. Maybe it's because Mike Stanton and Ted Lilly are both pitching well, the Yankees don't feel they need a situational lefty. Maybe it didn't help that Ramiro Mendoza does not seem to be 100% just yet, so the Yankees could use a warm right-handed body to toss junk innings in lost causes or with big leads. Maybe with the Rocket and Andy Pettitte both having some problems in the early going, they feel they have to carry somebody who can toss those innings to get them to the sixth or seventh and the rest of the bullpen once a week or so. But firing on Choate on his way down after he was put in a tough spot and gave them their three innings seems pretty raw to me.
Activated LHP Randy Wolf from the DL; recalled OF-R Jason Michaels from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; outrighted LHP Hector Mercado to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; placed PH-B Dave Hollins on the 15-day DL (infected spider bite). [4/12]
Randy Wolf's return brings the Phillies' rotation back to full strength (we'll set aside Brett Myers for the moment). With Terry Adams temporarily out, Dave Coggin has been spared from being bumped from the rotation for the moment. That gives the Phillies a rotation of Wolf, Robert Person, Vicente Padilla (two good starts against the Braves and now a dominant effort against the Reds), Brandon Duckworth, and either Adams or Coggin. That's better than a rotation relying on both Coggin and Adams, and hopefully the Phillies won't simply let money dictate their choice for fifth starter. As is, they might even have a real need for Adams in the bullpen, what with Ricky Bottalico self-immolating for what would be a fifth straight season and with Rheal Cormier scuffling.
There is other good news, in that replacing Dave Hollins with somebody who can play a position or hit or both is good news. Ricky Ledee and John Mabry aren't particularly dangerous, based on the past several seasons, and while I think Nick Punto has value, he isn't going to hit like Alex Arias off of the bench. On the basis of his season at Scranton last year, Jason Michaels isn't an outright cure for the ills of a weak-hitting bench, but he had a good Arizona Fall League campaign and a good spring, and Larry Bowa apparently likes him. He might create an opportunity for himself as a result, and at least he can play somewhere on the field.
As previously mentioned, sometimes these things have a way of working themselves out. We're not even two weeks into the season, and there's already talk noting how Andy Benes is struggling, forcing it, pushing, just about any euphemism for "he's bad, and probably done" that you might think up. Tony LaRussa is making the appropriate conciliatory noises about the sadness of watching a once-great player struggle, but he could have just as easily pre-recorded them, because there was little reason to expect Benes to contribute.
Meanwhile, courtesy of Woody Williams's injury, Bud Smith is back up now, instead of having to wait until LaRussa puts Benes out of their mutual misery. Even with a healthy Williams, Smith is probably the third-best starter in the organization, so getting him back couldn't happen a moment too soon. The schedule gets tougher in May, and the Cards are best-served if they've finally gotten to the point of fielding their best rotation instead of catering to an unearned pecking order.
In terms of losing a player, I don't know if there's a tougher loss to take for the Mariners than losing Edgar Martinez. Okay, losing Mike Cameron or Ichiro Suzuki would be devastating as well, especially Cameron, because of the organization's lack of quality outfielders healthy and/or ready to play above A ball. But this one is tough to take, as Martinez is expected to be out at least 4-6 weeks, probably two months.
Because of Mark McLemore, the Mariners can sort of afford to replace a single regular hitter; in Martinez's absence Ruben Sierra will be playing every day, DHing against right-handers and playing left field against lefties. McLemore enters a semi-platoon with Ron Wright, with McLemore starting in left against right-handed pitching and Wright DHing. That's an appropriate adaptation, and Wright is a guy who deserves a break. His bad back derailed his prospectdom, turning him from the Pirates' first baseman of the future (he was one of the signature prospects in the Neagle trade back in '96) into a guy you felt sorry for to a good minor-league slugger. He won't be Hank Sauer, but he should be a useful spare part.
Creating the McLemore/Wright platoon and playing Sierra everyday are obvious adaptations, but losing a player of Martinez's magnitude should create incentive to do something to score more. This creates the obvious suggestion: how about getting Ben Davis into the lineup a little more often? Davis does a better job reaching base, and in the absence of Martinez's tremendous on-base skills, the Mariners need every little bit of it that they can get.
Most teams would take a loss like Juan Gonzalez as a gut-punch to their offense. This being the Rangers, they may not even notice. In his absence, the three outfield spots and the DH job will be manned by Gabe Kapler, Rusty Greer, Kevin Mench, and Carl Everett. There's a chance that Jerry Narron will use the DH playing time as a chance to rest others and get some people into the lineup; Pudge Rodriguez has already gotten a DH start (allowing Bill Haselman to get into the lineup). A complicating factor is that Carl Everett still doesn't look capable of playing a big-league center field. That might get Frank Catalanotto into the outfield (with Kapler in center field) and get Michael Young some more playing time.
If there's a complaint about the roster, it's about having both Mike Lamb and Herbert Perry on the bench as backups to Hank Blalock. This is a roster without a defensive substitute for center field--something it could really use--but instead there are two backup third basemen. Admittedly, Perry can fill in at first, and there's also an organizational effort to convert Lamb into a utility man, but it's a bit early in the day to say he can now adequately fill in defensively anywhere other than third. The differences wouldn't be enough to get the Rangers to second place, but it would help now and again.
How long will Gonzo be gone? Initial comments from the Rangers would seem to indicate that he won't be evaluated for ten days, which makes it seem likely that he'll be on the DL for longer than a couple of weeks. With John Hart running the show, I would strike a note of cautionary pessimism. The Tribe during Hart's reign, especially the latter years, was notorious for obfuscating, fudging, and understating the severity of player injuries. The Rangers weren't known for this sort of thing beforehand, but in the wake of the Ryan Dittfurth gambit, there's reason to believe the issue was Hart, and not the Indians as an organization.
Giving up five home runs in less than nine innings pitched is a great way to cool off any feverish concerns about whether or not Brian Cooper might get claimed on waivers. By the time Cooper's turn in the rotation comes up again, Chris Carpenter is supposed to be activated off of the DL to take it.
When that happens, Pascual Coco is pretty likely to get demoted. He hasn't had any success in his attempts to convert to being a reliever (he was briefly bad in Syracuse before his struggles this weekend), and the alternative is Justin Miller. Given the choice between letting Coco work regularly in the SkyChiefs' bullpen, or having him rot as the last man in the Blue Jays' pen, they're better off with Coco in Syracuse and Miller taking his chances mopping up.