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June 14, 2002
June 11-12, 2002
This was a move to get an extra infielder on the roster while Junior Spivey recovers from a cramping hammy. As is, with free-agent hangers-on like Jay Bell and Matt Williams getting tan and rested on the DL, the Snakes have already had to rely on Craig Counsell and Tony Womack on a daily basis. With Spivey hurt, they were down to Chris Donnels as a backup infielder, as well as firing up some Mr. Rogers action from the purple-panda make-believe about Greg Colbrunn as a third baseman. They needed to have somebody around who could play shortstop and second base. Cintron is on the 40-man roster, Hanley Frias is not, and Danny Klassen isn't doing so well in Tucson, so the choice was pretty simple.
So in a tight spot, the Snakes did what seems almost unthinkable: they went down to ten pitchers. And it isn't even April! Although it may just as well be; the schedule inspired this latter-day unorthodoxy. Because of the lame profusion of off-days generated by the commitment to interleague entertainment, the Snakes don't need their fifth starter until their weekend series against the Blue Jays that starts on the 21st, and they don't have to choose between Miguel Batista and Brian Anderson until next Tuesday for who doesn't get skipped. Chances are, it will be Brian Anderson who misses his turn, but the Snakes' desperate shortage of right-handed relief help could force some changes.
In theory, they're supposed to reactivate Todd Stottlemyre soon, and that could bump Batista back into the bullpen. But like the decision to come down to ten pitchers, this would be robbing one part of the roster to shore up another. Stottlemyre might be more useful than Charles Nagy or Andy Benes, but the Snakes can't afford to risk handing the Giants or the Dodgers any notches in the standings just because they're out eight million smackers and the Toad makes for a great human-interest story. They're also supposed to get Matt Mantei back; if you're lucky, you might get the consistency of a Michael Cimino film festival. A little bit of The Deer Hunter, right before something big, expensive, and painful happens. Somebody recovered from Heaven's Gate, didn't they? Anybody?
On that level, the Snakes are moving to get a radical solution to Bret Prinz's problems. They're demoting him all the way to the California League to match him up with pitching coach Royal Clayton in the hope that Clayton can get him back to side-arming effectively. There really shouldn't be any stigma. If Clayton can turn him around quickly and well, then Arizona doesn't need to worry about another Garagiola/Mantei special. Of course, given the dearth of talent in Arizona's organization, perhaps not even Joe Garagiola Jr. can afford a Garagiola special.
The White Sox had the great good fortune to actually get some small amount of good work out of Sandy Alomar Jr. in the early going. No, he wasn't catching particularly well, since his knees are shot and he can't throw as well as he did ten years ago, but he did give the Sox a modest bit of offense, hitting .284/.298/.448. In a lineup that has been suffering through Royce Clayton and bad starts from Carlos Lee, Jose Valentin, and Mark Johnson, getting anything from Alomar was a happy accident. In his absence, the Sox have to hope that Johnson gets his bat going, or at least starts drawing walks the way he can, because organizational favorite Josh Paul has continued to hit like the Joe Girardi of the International League (.243/.299/.322).
Meanwhile, with three straight road interleague series coming up, Jerry Manuel decided to come down from 12 pitchers so that they'd have Willie Harris around to pinch-hit and pinch-run. It wasn't an easy choice, insofar as the Sox still have a weak rotation, but outside of Keith Foulke's publicized struggles, the Sox bullpen is actually coming around. Rocky Biddle and Matt Ginter have both been effective since their recalls from Charlotte. Damaso Marte and the now-healthy Kelly Wunsch give them a pair of quality lefties. Bobby Howry and Antonio Osuna have both gotten stronger as the season has gone on.
The only problem pitcher at the moment is Foulke. Given Foulke's long-standing desire to move back into the rotation, and Gary Glover's clear inadequacy as a starter, it couldn't hurt the Sox to give some thought to letting Foulke go back to starting. He used to be able to throw four pitches for strikes, and if anything, he's gotten predictably overreliant on his change-up as a reliever. Even if the Sox are serious about trading for Jeff Weaver, they need more than one starting pitcher. Beyond Glover's struggles, Todd Ritchie has been awful, adding insult to the injury of having coughed up Kip Wells and Josh Fogg to get him.
Here's exactly the reason why I didn't want to see Bobby Hill up early. Setting aside the problem Don Baylor invariably seems to have with anybody who might only know him as a dissembling sac addict, Hill was not given the kind of commitment that a team needing make a clean break with the past has to make to justify calling him up in the first place.
I guess I'm of the Cortez school of thought when it comes to being a bad team with good prospects: when you commit to the kids, burn the boats and move on. Bringing up Hill this early in the season created an opportunity for Baylor to work his talent for indecisive activity and undo what should have been a positive commitment. Baylor couldn't just play Hill and leave him in one slot, he couldn't stick with him through thick and thin, because he's busy trying to save his own hide in the self-destructive ways he knows, and the Cubs' roster does have a wealth of reasonable alternatives like Mark Bellhorn and Chris Stynes and even Delino DeShields. So after a wee bit of a rough spot, Baylor gets cranky and makes a move, because he is, after all, the man in charge.
But why should he be? Beyond active decisions like Joe Girardi worship or frenzied bunting, what ever qualified Don Baylor to manage a major-league team? Why does Corey Patterson sit against lefties when the Cubs don't know if he can hit them or not? When you're the Cubs and you have nothing at stake, and the alternative isn't somebody who can play but is instead just Darren Lewis, what's the point of platooning Patterson? If the Cubs play Patterson every day, by the time their games matter again they'll know whether or not they need to get him a platoon mate.
Baylor seems incapable of accepting that his job is now one of letting the people who will be Cubs after he's gone go out and play. Jim Hendry and his staff have done an outstanding job of assembling talent down on the farm, but as long as Baylor is in place, it won't be easy for the Cubs to use it.
Placed OF-L Bobby Higginson on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 6/9; purchased the contract of 1B/OF-L Ryan Jackson from Toledo; transferred RHP Matt Anderson from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/12]
With Bobby Higginson down and out, how are the Tigers utilizing their newfound batch of at-bats? While they had the DH, it was playing Shane Halter in left field. I suppose it's easy to take pot shots; they might have played Jacob Cruz if he wasn't on the DL, after all. With three road series in NL parks coming up, they'll let Dmitri Young thunder around out there.
Sometimes when you give free talent a shot, it doesn't work. Just because it's free doesn't mean it's freely good. Minor-league veteran Brian Shouse didn't do anything to inspire confidence in his brief trial. He didn't show much control, and lefties pounded him. It's still to the Royals credit that they gave him a look at all, if only to temporarily break the demoralizing Mexican standoff between Tony Cogan and Scott Mullen for the top situational-lefty role anywhere, for hundreds of miles in a few directions, mostly towards Montana. For a brief moment, Brian Shouse resembled hope, and now, as in so many other ways, hope in Kansas has died. Now the Royals are back to the squalid little business of rough-housing in the basement to see who gets fourth place in the AL Central.
Traded 2B-L Warren Morris to the Cardinals for a PTBNL. [6/11]
One of the things that has been fun about Ron Gardenhire this spring has been that he's let his left-handed relievers actually pitch. Eddie Guardado and J.C. Romero haven't been used in situational roles, they're actually getting complete innings in high-leverage situations. If anyone in the bullpen is being used situationally, it's a right-handed veteran, Mike Jackson, and that's worked, too.
With Bob Wells broken down, and with Romero and Guardado and Tony Fiore and LaTroy Hawkins all capable of pitching multiple innings in their outings, and with Matt Kinney bumped into the bullpen because of the pair of off-days, it looks like they've finally brought somebody up to be a "normal" situational lefty. Travis Miller is still as useful as he has been in years past. His demotion reflected a measure of well-placed confidence on Gardenhire's part in Romero and Guardado. He's still a good second lefty for any big-league pen, but those poor small-market Twins just happen to be happily deep in useful relief help, both by talent and by productive usage patterns. At Edmonton, Miller had posted a 3.99 ERA with a 24-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He probably won't stick around for long after Brad Radke comes off of the DL, assuming he isn't squeezed out by somebody like Grant Balfour or Matt Carnes or Juan Padilla or John Sneed. Yes, the Twins are as deep and unemptying as a vat of cafeteria eggs.
Claimed RHP Nate Field on waivers from the Royals and optioned him to Columbus. [6/12]
The Yankees are short of right-handed relievers on the organizational level. Columbus has lost Brandon Knight and Mike Thurman, Mariano Rivera is on the DL, and if the Yankees lost any other bodies, they'd have to consider bringing back Jay Tessmer. So just to have somebody who's had some big league experience and who might be a moderately effective 11th man just in case somebody else breaks down, it made some bit of sense to claim Nate Field.
Acquired 2B-L Warren Morris from the Twins for a PTBNL; signed OF-R Ice Williams to a minor-league contract. [6/11]
I try to be as optimistic as a guy can be about people who were once prospects, but Warren Morris is coming over from a nice place to hit, Edmonton, and he was only hitting .261/.281/.435 with the Trappers. Why did the Cardinals want him? He's not better than Stubby Clapp or Chad Meyers, the other second-base types knocking around at Triple-A. Third base for the Redbirds is manned by Mike Coolbaugh; he's also more useful than Morris. So why add a bad action figure to the island of misfit toys in Memphis? Ice Williams is sort of understandable, since the Cardinals have been weak in terms of organizational outfield depth for about a decade.
Pity the Padres, as they're about to face the Marines, Red Sox, and Yankees, and they're trying to fix their rotation, their bullpen, and their lineup all at the same time. On some level, at least they're still trying.
Dennis Tankersley's bewildering and uncharacteristic wildness is being chalked up as an extreme case of the jitters, but it's a major organizational setback. It, in turn, has gotten Oliver Perez to the majors considerably earlier than anyone expected. Perez is a 20-year-old Mexican stringbean with a great curve and good heat, but the emphasis should be on the fact that he's just 20. He has four starts above A ball under his belt, but his overall numbers are extremely impressive: a 1.63 ERA, 47 hits (and 40 walks) in 71 2/3 innings, and a hundred strikeouts. He's allowed just one homer un all year. The Padres are generally the sort of organization that's aware of the risks, but bringing him up to feed him to the Mariners this weekend seems desperate.
In the bullpen, J.J. Trujillo is one of those guys I can't help but like. He's a submariner who generally does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground, and while I don't like him as much as I do Kelly Wunsch or Chad Bradford, it can't hurt to take a peek. He had allowed only 37 baserunners in 39 innings as Mobile's closer, with 48 strikeouts, two runs allowed, and a lone tater. Jeremy Fikac probably didn't deserve a demotion considering the relative patience the Pads had with Jason Boyd, but his big boomtastic fly-ball tendencies had moved from annoying to debilitating.
The last call-up is the one I probably like the most, because it shows a sense of responsibility about the future. Having made the decision to move Ryan Klesko back to the outfield this spring, the Pads should stick with that decision out of fairness to Klesko, to see if that's really in the cards for their shared future together. The question is who to stick at first base in Phil Nevin's absence. You could do worse than resurrecting Kevin Barker, the Brewers' Opening Day first baseman back in 2000. Although he was hitting just .257/.343/.385 for the Beavers, he was doing all of his admittedly minor damage off of right-handed pitching, and it wasn't that long ago—OK, it was 1999—that he was slugging .500 against righties.
The point is this: the Padres are desperate, but they may as well have the pieces they wanted in place for their future in those places. Klesko should be in the outfield to see if he's going to cut it as an outfielder, and if by some happy accident Barker turns into the new Lee Stevens during the next few weeks, that's gravy.