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April 22, 2002
April 18-20, 2002
But that shouldn't really be the question. What we should ask is whether not having Levine available for middle-relief duties (since he'd been bumped up to closing) made a significant impact in any of the Angels' games. Going through the Angels' games during Percival's absence, there are really only two you might wonder about: the opening pair from the series against the Mariners that started on April 8.
In the first game, the Angels held a 3-0 lead going into the seventh. Donne Wall gave up a pair of runs in the seventh, and Ben Weber gave up three more in the eighth to provide the losing margin; Levine came in and finished that game, but the damage was already done. The next night, trailing 2-1 going into the top of the ninth, Brendan Donnelly gave up three runs to put the game pretty much out of reach.
Now, on a certain level, putting Donnelly into that situation was created by the decision to use all of the front-line relievers the night before. Levine might have been beat in the eighth inning of the first game, and there were no guarantees that the Angels could tie up the game the next night, even down one run. Kazuhiro Sasaki did set them down in order, after all. If anything, I think that there's a stronger interrelationship across games (the interrelationship between who was used in the first game, and who was available on the second) than there is in terms of the value of one particular reliever in the closer's role. I don't think anyone should blame Scioscia for trying to win on the 8th and using his best relievers to that end; he had no idea he'd be in a one-run situation going into the ninth inning in the next day's game. The Angels might have lost an extra game as a result of not having Percival around, but that's a really big maybe. Clearly, Mike Scioscia's menu of options about who to bring in and when he could bring them in was different, but I think it says a lot about the value of relief pitching in general that even with a team like the Angels, one likely to get caught in a lot of close games given their generally solid staff and merely adequate offense, can point to only a couple of games that might have been affected by the absence of their closer.
Not that it isn't nice to have Percival back, of course. It just doesn't seem too likely to make that big of an impact.
Announced that C-R Fernando Lunar cleared waivers and is now a Rochester RedWing. [4/19]
Whew! Good thing that only took a year or so to figure out. When guys like Ramon Castro and Bobby Estalella are clearing waivers, an organization needs to be able to recognize what that says about what the other 29 teams are thinking about their roster space.
John Burkett's return gives the Red Sox the same choice they had a month ago, which is whether they should run with Tim Wakefield or Darren Oliver in the rotation. Oliver has had a good pair of starts; he's also Darren Oliver, Jaime Navarro's left-handed reflection. Letting Wakefield start every fifth day--and give the bullpen a greater likelihood of only having to put in two or three innings--seems like a good idea to me. You could still reserve Oliver for spot starts in Wakefield's or Frank Castillo's slots against teams that you might want to throw a lefty against, like the Athletics or maybe the Edgar Martinez-less Mariners.
There seems to be a typically regional/insane bit of wishful thinking going on, where all of the sins and shortcomings of the past are being projected onto Jose Offerman. Look, he didn't hold a gun to the Duke's head to get his contract, and he is a useful hitter. He only gave the Sox one really good season, but his "bad" years were both still useful. He gets on base, and he can fill in at a couple of positions. He's not good on the deuce, but that's not a disaster as much as it's something to work around. An offense-defense platoon of Offerman and Rey Sanchez could be handy.
Yet to hear some Beantowners shriek, it would be better to have kept Lou Merloni. I'm not anti-Merloni, but with Sanchez available to move over to shortstop if anything happens to Nomar Garciaparra, it isn't that important to carry a utility infielder who can play there. The choice wasn't between Merloni and Offerman; it should have boiled down to being between Merloni and Carlos Baerga. Given that Baerga is six years removed from his last decent season and doesn't really have a position, Merloni's skill set (he can handle any spot in the infield, makes good contact, and gets the ball in play) looks pretty handy to me. Once Shea Hillenbrand's second hot start turns into Shea Hillenbrand's second Hillenbrandesque season, it isn't like Baerga is going to be a viable alternative at third base.
Signed DH-R Jose Canseco to a minor-league contract. [4/18]
As I'm happily reminded on a pretty consistent basis by a sharp audience, I have my blind spots. Among them, this is one in particular with which you'll have to indulge me. I'm happy to see Jose back. I'm happy enough to start thinking about buying a White Sox jersey with his name on it, which is insanely happy by my standards.
The larger question is whether or not he'll get to play. As things stand now, the Sox have both Aaron Rowand and Jeff Liefer not playing much in reserve roles, and both deserve to play, certainly moreso than Jose Canseco does. Carrying a 12th pitcher doesn't help Canseco's shot any, but you can't really blame the Sox for that 12th man when they have three starters struggling. So Canseco will get to play his way into shape for a month or two, and if the Sox get an opportunity where somebody offers pitching for Rowand or Carlos Lee, maybe something might happen that gets him back in pursuit of his 500th home run. In the meantime, he's exactly where he declined to be with the Expos, in Triple-A. Even if he didn't want to spend the spring in Ottawa, he should probably take this as an opportunity to eat some humble pie.
Losing a DH is the last thing the Tigers need to worry about for the time being. Not that I'm a big booster of Randall Simon, but he has the hot hand at the moment, and the roster has Rob Fick and Mitch Meluskey both dying for more at-bats than they're getting, and Craig Monroe could help against lefty pitching. The last thing the Tigers need to be doing at this point is playing Dean Palmer out of a sense of obligation or a desire to get something for the money Randy Smith has already spent.
I have my reservations about having Nate Cornejo up right now this instant. He had a bad camp, he's scuffled in two starts, and it's hard to ask any young pitcher to work with an infield defense that has Shane Halter at shortstop, waving at grounders. Perhaps letting someone a little more experienced, like Matt Perisho, work every fifth day, while Cornejo gets ironed out at Toledo, makes sense. You'd hate to see a young, talented starter get into bad habits because he starts thinking twice about his stuff on the basis of outcomes he can't entirely command.
Placed RHP Nelson Cruz on the 15-day DL (sore shoulder). [4/19]
Recalled RHP Tim Redding from New Orleans. [4/20]
With Wade Miller a good month away from returning to the rotation, the Astros were pretty much locked into calling up Tim Redding to replace him in the rotation no matter what. That hurts, but Redding is one of the best upper-level pitching prospects in the game today, and Dave Mlicki chose the perfect time to be useful. Should Redding or Carlos Hernandez be able to show anything in the next month, the Astros should not only be able to ride out Miller's injury and keep pace with the Cardinals, they could pick up ground.
The convenient happenstance is that they get to move Nelson Cruz off of the roster at a point when he's pitched badly enough to be demoted, while getting to review what Ricky Stone and Brandon Puffer can do for them at the back end of the bullpen. If Scott Linebrink doesn't turn it around, he won't stick, because Stone has looked very good, while Puffer gives the Astros a side-armer who might help them go after the right-handed boppers in some of the other lineups in the division.
Recalled LHP Chris George from Omaha. [4/19]
Hats off to the Royals, who did something commendable under the circumstances. The Royals have decent infield defense and crummy run support. They may as well let George take his lumps. He's jumped around a lot since a good first half in 2000 in Wichita, and they're better off letting him settle within a structured workload with a single pitching coach aimed at making him an important part of the next good Royals team.
Kevin Brown's trick elbow has become a serious issue, of course, but the Dodgers can be glad that they didn't chop up their roster too much too soon when it seemed like they had too many starting pitchers a month ago. With Brown out, they can plug in Omar Daal behind Hideo Nomo, Odalis Perez, Kazuhisa Ishii, and Andy Ashby. Sure, that's three lefties, and sure, that means they're still wasting Eric Gagne in the closer's role. A month ago, people were panicking about Daal's poor spring and forgetting that the alternatives included Terry Mulholland.
Does this seriously change the Dodgers' outlook? Not really, in that the Giants have had just about everything break their way and they're not 16-2 or something, so as long as the Dodgers aren't facing too steep a climb in-season, they can make up for losing Brown for the time being.
The larger problem is deciding whether or not to do something about the right side of the infield or the still-gaping hole in center field, because the organization doesn't have the internal options offensively that they had with the pitching staff.
Now that Paul Quantrill is struggling, Guillermo Mota has a decent shot at claiming a semi-important role within the pen, with Quantrill facing the grim fate of joining Mulholland in the mop-up situations. A straight, hard fastball is a good pitch to have in Chavez Ravine, and the Dodgers field a good defensive lineup these days.
No sooner does Davey Lopes get axed than the Brewers sweep a four-game set with the Cardinals, so everything is just ducky, right? Keeping in mind that I'm not a big fan of Lopes's work so far, he did deserve to be hired. He was canned way too soon and for reasons that defy explanation.
Dean Taylor's comment that firing Lopes demonstrates the organization's commitment to winning is some of the most meaningless window dressing to be uttered by a non-Selig in the organization's history, counting Sal Bando and Harry Dalton. Comments about how "with some different direction and some different leadership in the dugout and in the clubhouse...this club will play better" should be completely unacceptable coming from the man who has more to do with the shape of today's Brewers--and the results this team generates than Lopes ever could. It reflects a deeper unwillingness to publicly accept that he's the guy who brought in Eric Young and Jeffrey Hammonds. How did signing Young "give Lopes every chance to succeed"? How did making Hammonds the organization's big-ticket pickup help? How did going bonkers over Henry Blanco for a couple of years help? How did settling for Glendon Rusch for Jeromy Burnitz help?
This team is hopeless; it was hopeless before the season started. Opening badly was one likely outcome on a team that is going to be a bad team all year. Why hold Lopes accountable for the roster than Dean Taylor assembled?
Activated OF-R Brian Buchanan from the DL; optioned C/1B-R Matt LeCroy to Edmonton. [4/19]
Although we expected Joe Mays to have an unfortunate experience in the 2002 season, there's no pleasure in being right about it. Fortunately for the Twins, they have a wealth of young pitching. Matt Kinney is only a year removed from being considered one of the better rookie pitchers around, and he still has that great hard sinker that got everyone excited in the first place. Now that he's up, he has a chance to compete directly with Kyle Lohse for the fifth slot in the rotation for as long as Mays is out. This shouldn't seriously affect the Twins in the next month or so, and it might give them a stronger rotation come June.
Brian Buchanan's return highlights another nice depth problem the Twins have this spring. Bobby Kielty and Dustan Mohr both deserve to stick around and hold down right field, which reduces Buchanan to extra-bat status. On a team that's going to have to pinch-hit for their second basemen all summer, that's not a bad thing, plus Buchanan can count on spot starts in the outfield corners or at DH. One of the old hallmarks of Tom Kelly's successful teams was that he always found a way to use everyone on the roster; it looks like Ron Gardenhire is doing similar good deeds. That doesn't make it any easier for Matt LeCroy to stick, but the Twins don't need another DH or first baseman, and A.J. Pierzynski has the catching job nailed down. It might be fun to have LeCroy around to platoon with Pierzynski and DH and play first base a couple of times per week, but as you can see, there are enough people here who can play, and that leaves LeCroy in a pinch.
Why is Andy Benes on the DL? For insurance purposes? To hand him some service time as a parting gift? Andy Benes has made no bones about the fact that he's retiring. This might be a generous/classy move for the moment, but practical concerns dictate that it shouldn't last, just as much as Benes's results for the last several seasons dictate not keeping the option of bringing him back on life support in any way, shape, or form.
At the end of the day, this is no more honest than trying to hide somebody on the 60-day DL; if the goal is to save money by having a portion of Benes's salary covered by insurance, that's just another form of cheating.
That's not to say I won't miss Benes. Who doesn't like big guys who throw hard? The question is whether he labored under unfair expectations. It always seemed like some people felt cheated that he wasn't the next Roger Clemens, but he had a hell of a career as a good second or third banana. Starting off as the workhorse on several forgettable Padres teams, he was consistently good, but not great. Unfortunately, when he was handed an opportunity to matter after being traded to the Mariners during their stretch drive in 1995, Benes blew it, struggling terribly in his introduction to the DH league, and not doing much in the postseason either. He came back to be an important part of the almost-something '96 Cardinals, including a good start in Game One of the NLCS, but that team would go down as one of the most dramatic choke jobs in playoff history. He got to be an original Diamondback, but that would be his last good season. The last three years have been pretty forgettable.
I think Benes makes for an interesting contrast with near-peer Kevin Tapani. Both pitchers' big-league careers really got underway in 1990, despite the fact that Tapani is four years older than Benes. On a certain level, less was expected of Tapani, which isn't to say that he was the Paul Abbott or Cory Lidle of his day, just that Andy Benes was supposed to be one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, and Kevin Tapani was not.
While Benes was going from "can't-miss" to "didn't miss, but...," Tapani managed to win a World Series ring and battled back from a unique finger injury that endangered his career. Tapani wound up 143-125, with a 4.35 career ERA, spending the bulk of his career in the AL, while Benes finished 150-137 with a 4.03 career ERA while spending the bulk of his career in the NL; the ERA discrepancy isn't big enough to mean an awful lot because of those kinds of considerations. Tapani wound up pitching 2,265 innings to Benes's 2418 1/3, making 354 starts to Benes's 373.
This story doesn't really go anywhere; it's sort of an idle muse that Benes was, for some, supposed to be the best of his generation, and he wound up with a career that wasn't too different from another good starter coming up at the same time. Close your eyes, and there's no way you would mistake them, of course. Benes had that whole bulging Todd Worrell neck-muscle thing going for him, while Tapani just had great hair and a weak chin. Tapani sort of typified the crafty right-hander from the get-go, while Benes had the great arm and the nagging perception that he wasn't quite what was expected. Both were among the best of their generation, which is great for one of them, while creating an unfair sense of disappointment for another.
The Cardinals have a problem, in that they have only four starters on the roster at the moment, which produced Mike Timlin's spot start on Friday. They won't have to worry about needing a fifth starter again until next Saturday, but Stephenson won't be available, and Woody Williams won't be fully recovered. That might lead to Travis Smith entering the rotation next weekend. I'd like to see if the Cardinals would consider giving Mike Matthews a look in the rotation; Josh Pearce might be one of the organization's best prospects, but that's because this isn't an organization known for having lots of talent on the farm. He would not crack many other organization's top-20 lists. Fielding their best offense while trying to make do with a couple of journeymen in the back of the rotation shouldn't cost the Cardinals too much ground now; joking around with Pearce doesn't stand much chance of success.
Signed CF-L Tom Goodwin to a minor-league contract. [4/18]
In the trail of the Giants' outstanding start, there have been only two problem pitchers on the entire staff, the two left-handed relievers. Jason Christiansen might have the excuse of elbow problems; Aaron Fultz doesn't have that excuse. Now, it's early yet, and sample-size issues obviously apply; Fultz has had his moments, and makes an acceptable second spot lefty in the pen. The larger issue is Christiansen, who hasn't been reliably healthy in years.
For all of the lame excuses made on the Giants' behalf--usually of the variety flavored "they win, and Dusty's a genius"--they seem to be bleeding money in the bullpen. Chad Zerbe is what he was last year, a good temp. Because he won't be much more than that, the Giants may need to start shopping for some veteran left-handed relief help, because Christiansen is more than three years removed from his last good season.
The decisions to fork over serious money to Jason Christiansen on top of the serious money blown on Tim Worrell or giving up too much to get Jay Witasick (scratch $5 million for this year alone for that trio of journeymen) makes it an open question about whether or not Brian Sabean gets where good relief help comes from, and what constitutes good relief help. As far as their vaunted track record of success, the last I checked, the Giants don't look like they've achieved as much as the Padres or the Mets have in the last five years. They have the best hitter in the history of the game, and they haven't won their league or the World Series. That, my friends, is the bottom line. They're off to a good start this year, but here's hoping they build on that success instead of sit on it.
It would be easy to take potshots at the decision to sign Tom Goodwin. After all, he might be years past his slim hold on usefulness as an everyday hitter. But how can we criticize signing him when we're projecting him to have an almost identical OBP as current leadoff man Tsuyhoshi Shinjo? Thank goodness the Giants have a perfectly adequate replacement on hand.
Recalled RHP Francisco Cordero from Oklahoma. [4/19]
As expected, Francisco Cordero was recalled as soon as he was eligible to be. This gives the Rangers a bullpen with a bevy of right-handed relief help: Cordero, Steve Woodard, Todd Van Poppel, Hideki Irabu in his current incarnation as a Kaz Sasaki wannabe, plus Dan Miceli and Rudy Seanez. They don't really have a lefty situational guy on staff, and looking at the decision to carry guys like Miceli or Seanez, you might question the decision to send John Rocker to the minors.
The Blue Jays staff sort of rounds back into shape. Chris Carpenter resumes his place at the front of the rotation, and Scott Cassidy returns to the long-relief role he originally made the staff to man. So the Jays are carrying a 12-man staff, including all three of the lefty relievers, one of whom you might have expected to have been dealt by now. Cassidy and Corey Thurman have both done well in early exposure in middle-relief roles, but both were also starters before this season. While it's early to speculate, Brandon Lyon has options, Scott Eyre isn't doing himself any favors as far as keeping his rotation slot, and Carpenter will almost certainly be shopped every day between now and the end of July. Good performance will create opportunities.
Carrying 12 pitchers is almost always one too many, but you can interpret this as a set of interlocking choices as far as roster design. The Jays haven't managed to deal one of the lefty relievers yet, and they're committed to carrying Rule 5er Thurman all season. So to make room, cutting from among the position players, you really only had a choice between Brian Lesher, utilityman Joe Lawrence, and utility infielder Chris Woodward. Lawrence is out of options, and worthwhile enough that there's a danger that he would get claimed. Tactically, it might be nicer to have Lesher's bat on the bench over Woodward's glove, since the Jays already have a good utility infielder in Dave Berg. But while the chances are slim that Woodward would be claimed, they're next to non-existent that Lesher might be. Both players are examples of "free talent," the kinds of guys who are useful because of their skills, but replaceable easily enough. There isn't really a right or wrong answer as far as which one you could cut; my bias is to want to keep the bat over the glove.