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May 29, 2002
May 23-27, 2002
This move was less of an indictment of Mark Lukasiewicz's modest but useful achievements as the pen's second lefty than it was one driven by the injury to David Eckstein in conjunction with the continued absence of Benji Gil. As a result, the Angels seemed to feel Alfredo Amezaga had to be called up, even though he was only hitting .234/.297/.314 at Salt Lake.
Shortstop isn't a position of strength for the Angels' organization; necessity was the mother of the reinventing of Eckstein as a shortstop in the first place. Brian Specht hasn't played well in his first two months at Arkansas, so rather than give the organization's other semi-prospect at the position above A ball a brief audition, they went with Amezaga.
If anything, that has to be considered a pretty grim assessment of the value of Jose Nieves. Once considered a top shortstop prospect by the likes of Ed Lynch, Nieves is now not even trusted with a weekend's worth of starts. Would it have killed the Angels to have started Nieves and actually kept their second lefty for three or four days?
The troubling thing about both Amezaga and Specht is that it looks like the longer they've been in the Angels' organization, the less patient they have become as hitters. Amezaga went from one walk every seven at-bats in 2000 to one for almost every 14. Specht went from drawing one every six at-bats in his first season to one every 11 or so. Beyond whatever limited prospects Amezaga or Specht have, that ought to be considered a problem, organizationally.
Signed RHP Jose Mercedes to a minor-league contract. [5/25]
Danny Bautista is gone for at least three months with a major shoulder injury, and that might prevent him from showing up for anything more than a cameo in September. As a result, Bautista might not even make the postseason roster should the Snakes get to October.
They should, however, be in decent shape in his absence. They have David Dellucci back, for starters, and they can always return to the Erubiel Durazo experiment in right field if they feel like it. Jose Guillen makes for a nice enough defensive substitute. The danger is that they'll let 50 at-bats from Quinton McCracken encourage them to get silly and pretend that the rest of his career shouldn't tell them all that they need to know about QMcC at 31. With choices ranging from Dellucci in right and Durazo at first base, to Mark Grace at first with Durazo lumbering around in right, to anything involving QMcC as anything more than a fifth outfielder, the fresh alternative should come last. That, or Joe Garagiola Jr. needs to start shopping, and now is a bad time considering that so many teams feel they're in the hunt, and corner outfielders on the hopeless teams (Jeffrey Hammonds? Alex Ochoa? Greg Vaughn?) aren't necessarily worthwhile pickups.
Signing Jose Mercedes is a worthwhile flyer for the Snakes to take. Setting aside the problems Tucson has had fielding a healthy rotation, this is the organization hoping against hope to get things out of Armando Reynoso and Todd Stottlemyre, so there's always room for an extra body.
Acquired OF-R Scott Morgan from the Padres for a PTBNL. [5/25]
This is part of the White Sox' ongoing attempt to stock Charlotte in a late scramble to shore up what has been the International League's worst team in the early going. They should now be able to run with an outfield of Scott Morgan, Joe Borchard, and Anthony Sanders, and that's a lot better than anything involving Justin Baughman or Eric Battersby playing out of position.
Placed LHP Ron Mahay on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis), retroactive to 5/23; recalled RHP Courtney Duncan from Iowa; activated SS-R Alex Gonzalez from the DL; optioned IF-B Augie Ojeda to Iowa. [5/25]
Two bits of good news here. First, Augie Ojeda didn't do much with his moment on the stage, so that not even his slick glove or his ability to drop a bunt down could spare him. Getting Alex Gonzalez back is clearly good news for a team that isn't getting any offense from left field, third base or catcher, and could hardly afford a fifth out in the lineup with Ojeda struggling as well.
In Ojeda's absence, the Cubs are fine carrying Mark Bellhorn and Chris Stynes as their utility infielders. Both can hit, and they give Don Baylor alternatives to Bill Mueller if Mueller doesn't get back on track soon. The Cubs don't really need some slick willie gloveman for a utility infielder if Gonzalez is healthy; Bellhorn can do some spot duty at shortstop as a starter, especially when somebody like Kerry Wood or Mark Prior is on the mound.
The reshuffling of the Cubs' pen is causing it to take slightly better shape as well, if not exactly for a pro-active reason. Ron Mahay gave up six home runs in 14 2/3 innings, marking another development in what's been a debilitating long-ball tendency in recent years.
When he's feeling managerly, Baylor prefers to attempt LaRussian stunts with his relievers. Whittling the roster down to just one lefty helps in the sense that he can't try to shove people into micro-roles, and Mahay has never really seemed to be a good fit for a situational role to start off with. Now the Cubs have to deal with a bullpen with four right-handers (plus Jeff Fassero) available to set up Antonio Alfonseca, with two of them being journeymen Joe Borowski and Pat Mahomes.
Now, coming at this from a scouty angle, it makes some sense to have Courtney Duncan around. He was an asset last year, he throws hard, and it's more likely that he'll be part of the next good Cubs bullpen than Alfonseca will. With the tedious commitment to Jason Bere being observed, it looks like Juan Cruz will get a stint in the bullpen, at least until Carlos Zambrano or Flash Gordon or Kyle Farnsworth are back. So that's two guys with talent for set-up duties for the time being. Being at a point of almost inevitably turning to Borowski or Mahomes in high-leverage situations is not a good thing. Hopefully, Duncan will get a chance to stick and do what he did last year, so that when the uninjured return, they can move the career 12th-pitcher types out of the way.
Optioned 2B/SS-R Gookie Dawkins to Chattanooga (Double-A). [5/23]
Activated CF-L Ken Griffey Jr. from the DL. [5/24]
As much as I favor offense in roster design and player usage, does it really make any sense whatsoever to punt carrying a utility infielder so that you can carry all of your outfielders, especially when one of them is Reggie Taylor? Wilton Guerrero might be able to handle shortstop or third base in an emergency, but he's bad at it, and Barry Larkin is the most likely starting shortstop in the game today to need a defensive replacement, as well as the one most likely to take a few days off for another one of his plethora of aches and pains.
If there's a team that needs somebody on the bench who can play shortstop, it's the Reds. There is no reasonable explanation for carrying Taylor and Guerrero for pinch-hitting responsibilities to the exclusion of somebody who can actually play shortstop. They're the last men on the bench behind two better-hitting outfielders (Brady Clark, and whoever isn't starting from among Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Sean Casey, and Juan Encarnacion).
Recalled RHP Kris Keller from Toledo. [5/24]
Optioned C-R Mike Rivera to Toledo. [5/26]
Activated C-R Brandon Inge from the DL. [5/27]
The news here is that Mike Rivera is out of a job because the new-look Tigers want to run with "isn't he glovely" Brandon Inge, with Matt Walbeck in the grizzled Tommy Lee Jones role of wrinkled elder statesman and doyen of the tools of ignorance. This, as opposed to letting Rivera play every day, is exactly the edge the Tigers need in their drive to maintain some sort of slender advantage over the Royals before they, in turn, get Brent Mayne back, because at that point, who knows which way the French judge will swing?
Look, I appreciate the desire to improve, and I appreciate the desire to switch between one catching prospect and another when you have two of them, and I appreciate the perceived virtue of carrying an old backup catcher to show one of the younger catchers the ropes (theoretically, and assuming he's a good egg). But Inge has never been much of a hitting prospect, and he's had more of an opportunity to not be the next Brad Ausmus than Rivera has gotten to show he's not the next Lance Parrish. Rivera has been dumped after less than 100 plate appearances, and that's not enough to tell anybody anything. Did the possibility that Rivera wouldn't set the world on fire in his first 100 plate appearances even occur to anyone in the organization, with an eye towards what subsequent (likely) course of action would follow? These are the Detroit Tigers of 2002; a challenge to "be Lance Parrish or else!" in your first 30 games is pathetic as well as pointless. Behind the plate, Rivera was throwing well, but had a few more passed balls than you'd like; without sorting it out, I'm willing to guess a good number of them are the product of getting to work with knuckleballer Steve Sparks.
There isn't enough of anything here to justify any decision to reverse a call made in spring training, but that's the key here. This isn't a call born out by the comparative success Rivera has enjoyed as a hitter on his career versus the lack of success Inge has had outside of his neat, limited recent work. This wasn't a call made in spring training by the manager of the moment or the now-vested GM/President/Motown Duce. This is the latest "pitching and defense" move of the new ruling duarchy of Luis Pujols and Dave Dombrowski, and as such is a move that doesn't reflect anything beyond a superficial concern for the present. It is not progress in the same way that ending the rigamarole of pretending Shane Halter was a shortstop is progress. There, Pujols and Dombrowski were correcting an egregious and silly mistake. Here, they have to exercise some discretion; they're favoring the catching prospect with the press clippings over the catching prospect with the better track record as a hitter. It isn't clear that that's progress.
This isn't entirely a bad thing. Scott Linebrink hasn't done well, and the bullpen as a whole has been a disaster for the last week or more. Ricky Stone has been almost the only reliable healthy reliever on the staff, so any opportunity to give someone else a shot (or a break) can't be all bad right around now.
Any more breaks like this, and you can take Darren Dreifort's name out of the Dodger/Fox boondoggle cracks, and replace it with Kevin Brown's. The Dodgers are spinning this as a different injury to a different part of his throwing elbow, and that he should only miss two starts. Given their investment in him, it's sensible for them to be cautious.
In his absence, they'll plug Omar Daal back into the rotation, which temporarily leaves them lefty-less in the bullpen, because they scapegoated Jeff Williams for last week's bullpen smackdown. In theory, they're going to get Terry Mulholland back later on this week, which, equally theoretically, is supposed to be a good thing. Fortunately, this is the NL West, and the Giants and Snakes aren't invincible.
Putting Williams on the spot is just lame. He was rarely used during his time up, but he gave the team a good two-inning outing on May 23, then got hammered when asked to enter a lost cause the next day. It seems silly to reshuffle for the sake of reshuffling when the only other lefty in the bullpen is Omar Daal, and especially when all that Dennis Springer adds is a mop-up man for a pen that already features three other ex-starting pitchers and workhorse Paul Quantrill.
As mentioned last week, the Brewers now have a rotation again, instead of having to spot-start Everett Stull and Jose Cabrera. It may not be a great rotation, but it's functional, and for the Brewers, that's pretty darn good. They still have one Lenny Harris too many, and an Eric Young problem, and some deeper questions about a lack of organizational vision, but otherwise, this is progress of the "Fresh Potato Day at the Gulag" variety.
Casey Blake didn't do much damage at the dish during Corey Koskie's absence, but as it turned out, it didn't matter. The Twins are in first place despite losing Koskie and two-thirds of their big three in the rotation, and they're about to get Brad Radke back as well. While the White Sox are stalking, they didn't fix any of their own problems in the meantime. If there are windows of opportunity, there are also windows of risk. The Sox didn't burgle their opportunity, and the Twins didn't take a flying leap.
Well, for the moment, the Expos seem to have a platoon in center field, using Brad Wilkerson and Jose Macias, while Frank Robinson goes out of his way to start anybody besides Lee Stevens at first base, a task made easier now that the Big Cat is back off of the DL. To help make all of this possible, Robby has a platoon in left field of Troy O'Leary and Wil Cordero that he didn't have a month ago.
Now, that's a pretty ugly pairing in left, and a pretty grim pair of geezers at first, but it is all being dictated by the expediency of the present, and aimed at helping the Expos win as many games as possible right now this instant in the absence of ready homegrown alternatives. That's enough to give people in Montreal something to talk about (if they notice), scare the assorted munchkins in the NL East, and provide an object lesson in the virtue of nabbing talent on the cheap to patch holes. Cordero and O'Leary and Galarraga all came cheaply, while Stevens was a mistake inherited from the previous administration. If the Expos manage to cobble together league-average performance out of left field and first base, it ought to tell people not to spend on people like Stevens or Kevin Young or Jeffrey Hammonds or anyone else from the "What the hell do people like Katie Couric do to make all that money anyway?" Hall of Spluttering Sticker Shock Apoplexy. And it might force me and my like-minded colleagues to cut the over-30 set some slack.
Well, let's not jump to any conclusions just yet. Ahem.
Another week, another ex-Expo savior, and another reason to wonder why we have to keep hearing about every pinstriped slice of bread that cost a bundle as far as signing bonuses are concerned (without panning out). Okay, it really is just one start, and Mike Thurman is hard to peg since he's almost always pitching through some sort of major joint problem.
Far more troubling was Joe Torre's subsequent announcement that he didn't even know who the guy was in spring training. Normally, I'd be willing to write that off as blustery media-driven infotainment, but this is the same manager who chose Alberto Castillo over Bobby Estalella (and a couple of other better candidates), and the same manager who glibly signed off on reserving a roster spot for the urn holding the mortal remains of Ice Williams. Luckily, with an offensive core as good as Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada, the Yankees can afford all sorts of goofy choices for their bench.
Purchased the contract of LHP Bobby M. Jones from Norfolk; optioned RHP Mark Corey to Norfolk. [5/24]
With Kane Davis injured, the Mets needed an extra body capable of doing multiple mop-up innings in lost causes and blowout wins. In terms of staff balance, however, the bad Bobby Jones also gives the Mets a lefty able to cope with a two- or three-inning appearance to go with right-handed ex-starters Grant Roberts and Stormy Weathers. Roberts and Weathers actually get used in winning efforts, so more appropriately, Jones gets to hang out with roster novelty item Satoru Komiyama and split the garbage time.
In the general shakeup of the pitching staff, the Athletics have made some needed adaptations. They finally moved to a four-two split in the bullpen, dumping third lefty Mike Holtz and pushing Mike Fyhrie into a middle-relief role. In deciding which lefty to move, Holtz was the one least likely to have value in trade later on this summer as well as the least likely to turn out well. From my perspective, it's remarkable that he lasted this long. Fyhrie was a very useful middle reliever in 2000, and he gives the A's somebody who can handle several innings and keep them in the game in case a starter hits the showers early, so this is a clear gain.
As for having Aaron Harang up, it's a good thing, and something worth considering for more than a couple of spot starts until Cory Lidle returns this weekend. Harang was the main prize in Billy Beane's lesser-known Texas heist, when he got Harang and lefty Ryan Cullen for a Randy Velarde single-season rental. He survived Midland last year, posting a 4.14 ERA while showing very good control, and he has good mechanics for a big pitcher. Harang throws reasonably hard, mixes in his breaking stuff effectively, and changes speeds well. He was again flirting with a 5-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in Sacramento this spring, so I think it's safe to say he doesn't have too much more to learn in the minors.
Fifth starter Erik Hiljus has one quality start in eight shots, and he didn't even do well against the Orioles last week. He gets another shot at them today. With Cory Lidle's return imminent, Hiljus has to be on the bubble.
For the Phillies, this isn't a great move, but it's understandable. It's potentially expensive insofar as Rheal Cormier already costs real simoleans to do the lefty set-up gig, and Cliff Politte has a good arm when it's sound. But Dan Plesac is good in the role, and it wasn't like they gave up Jack Cust to get him.
Traded OF-R Scott Morgan to the White Sox for a PTBNL. [5/25]
What's interesting here is that the Pads are clearing space, so consider this reason to believe that something is up. This sort of move suggests one of three things.
Whether it's any of this remains to be seen, but Kevin Towers doesn't do things without a good reason for doing them.
Pat Gillick manages to get overlooked and underrated, but he is nevertheless one of the bolder GMs around the game for moves exactly like this. With two weeks or so to go before Edgar Martinez returns from the DL, he decided to bump Mark McLemore back into his utility role to get his best hitting prospect a cameo. The Mariners aren't exactly cruising, but they're looking good in the standings, so by doing this, they get Snelling some exposure just in case they actually need him later this summer. If anything bad happens to Martinez again, or to Ruben Sierra or Ichiro Suzuki or whoever, Snelling will have already gotten his debut out of the way. He wasn't hitting for much power in San Antonio yet, but recovering from a broken thumb sounds like a reasonable excuse to me. Keep in mind that the nagging injuries are a concern for Snelling's long-term development, since he manages to bang himself up pretty regularly. Nevertheless, he's only 21, and his power should come with age and experience.
Recalled RHP Rob Bell from Oklahoma; purchased the contracts of LHP Juan Alvarez and RHP Anthony Telford from Oklahoma; optioned LHP Doug Davis to Oklahoma; designated LHP Chris Michalak and RHP Steve Woodard for assignment. [5/27]
Wacky old John Hart, he'll shake things up just as soon as look at you. Doug Davis got worked hard straight out of the gate, subsequently struggled, and this is the thanks he gets? For outpitching Chan Ho Park and Dave Burba? That isn't to say bringing Rob Bell back isn't a good thing; it clearly is. But if Hart had wanted to make a point about how his preference for aged meat had gotten him in any trouble, he should have bumped Burba to the bullpen for Bell's benefit and left Davis alone. Davis and Bell stand a very good chance to be rotation regulars for the Rangers for years to come, and important parts of the next good Rangers squad. Dave Burba has a very good chance of staying on John Hart's Christmas card list. The odds that either Hart or Burba will be around the next time the Rangers matter, or even for Doug Davis' 40th career win (he's at 21), seem long, especially if things keep going the way they're going.
Otherwise, most of this is just random reshuffling. Steve Woodard managed to disappoint yet again, but there's just as much reason to expect him to be the next Anthony Telford as there is to haul in what's left of the original article. Like Hart's overreactions toward the end of his stay in Cleveland, he seems to be lashing out at convenient--if not always correct--targets. But it does give him something to show Tom Hicks over coffee in the morning, to prove he's working for the money.
Traded LHP Dan Plesac to the Philadelphia Phillies for RHP Cliff Politte. [5/25]
Apparently this was the best the Blue Jays could get, and all things considered, it isn't a bad deal. Sure, the ideal circumstance is that you pillage a team like the Cardinals or Diamondbacks for flesh and treasure, but the Snakes weren't biting. This looks a lot more like a fair-value deal, as opposed to Allard's Catch o' the Day.
The Phillies get something they needed right now, and in shipping off Cliff Politte, dispatched someone with promise as well as some question marks about his ability to stay healthy. Since Plesac is retirement-bound after the year, there's no shot at his turning into a draft pick for the acquiring team. So for the last few months of Plesac's career, the Blue Jays get a pitcher who throws hard, someone who has been successful as a starting pitcher, and someone who, at 28, might be poised to finally turn into the pitcher some hoped he'd become when he was the Cardinals' organizational Pitcher of the Year in 1997. If, as rumored, Politte gets a crack at a job in the rotation in a month or so, and that works, then it turns out to be a great deal for the Blue Jays. That's the benefit of taking out a flyer like this, but it doesn't come without risk.