June 20, 2002
June 13-17, 2002
A nice, normal, low-stakes exchange. All that happened here, practically speaking, was switching an ineffective reliever and an organizational soldier. The Angels took a flyer on Donne Wall on the off chance that the sweet reliever of 1998 or the simply useful reliever of 1999 might make a reappearance. He didn't, but the bum-shouldered 2000-2001 version did.
So what comes next for Wall? Probably a lot of money from the Indians or the Giants, given their track records. Somebody is likely to remember that he looked adequate at times in spring training, and it's usually easier to give Donne Wall service time than it is to pick an organizational soldier who deserves a break, or acknowledging that finding good relief help isn't really all that hard. I guess that's expansion pitching for you, keeping the people you've heard about in uniform so you can keep the people you ought to be scouting in Triple-A.
The roster cannibalization continues. After a good ten weeks in the Texas League, it makes sense to have Duaner Sanchez up. In the oft-repeated story of the weak minor-league starter who moves into the bullpen and thrives, Sanchez posted a 2.78 ERA as a reliever at El Paso, not an easy place to pitch. He allowed only 31 hits and 12 unintentional walks in 35 2/3 innings, while striking out 37. Perhaps most important for his development, he logged 13 saves, which gives him that closer pixie dust gloss that may keep him from ever having to start again. Considering this team still has Mike Morgan hanging on for dear life, and even misses Jose Parra, the Snakes can use somebody, anybody, to give them right-handed relief help.
The problem is that they're still on the merry-go-round of exacerbating one problem to address another. With Junior Spivey on the DL and Alex Cintron in the lineup, they're essentially without a utility infielder. Certainly, this is a problem exacerbated by losing both Spivey and Jay Bell. Fortunately, Craig Counsell has proved adequate at shortstop, but the only team that would give him as much work at short as he's gotten would have to be the team playing Tony Womack. The Snakes aren't among the best teams in baseball defensively, currently ranking 12th on the Defensive Efficiency Report.
Offensively, counting on Womack, Counsell and Cintron as your three regulars doesn't make scoring runs any easier. And yet the Snakes are in first place, and rank third in the NL in Equivalent Average. Fun, ain't it? Spivey and Luis Gonzalez and even Damian Miller have gotten goodly heaps of attention in the early going, but has anyone noticed that Steve Finley's having a hell of a year? When you have four players among the top ten hitters at their positions, and it just so happens that none of them play first base, chances are your offense is doing some pretty good things.
Placed 1B-R Jeff Conine on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring). [6/15]
A long-ago, once-upon-a-time prospect with the Cardinals, Jose Leon is basically up to platoon with Jay Gibbons at first base now that Jeff Conine is out. That creates playing time in the outfield, but with the road series in National League parks being a schedule-wide blight, Marty Cordova takes over in left. Melvin Mora has become less available for outfield duty of late, as he's getting more and more work at shortstop at Mike Bordick's expense. That should mean we'll see an outfield of Chris Singleton, Gary Matthews Jr. and Cordova pretty often over the next week. That boils down to having Singleton, Matthews and Bordick share two lineup slots, with Cordova and Mora playing every day. It's a reasonable adaptation.
Keep in mind, there aren't a whole lot of options internally. Rochester's first baseman was Ryan McGuire, and he's already up. Doug Gredvig is doing well in Bowie, but he's only 22, not even on the 40-man roster yet, and this is his first season above A ball. It would be great to see a utility man and minor-league vet like Howie Clark finally get the call he earned years ago, but he bats left-handed, and that's not what the Orioles need at the moment.
If you're pining for Conine, don't worry. He's signed through 2004, with an option for 2005. At this rate, he'll be here longer than the Angeloses. The only shame is that with David Segui also on the DL, the Orioles' master plan of hoarding mid-tier first basemen doesn't do them much good.
Of course this looks like a rip-off. It is. I can't fault the Reds for keeping their sights low, dealing for somebody cheap with talent instead of somebody expensive with fame. They even did it early enough in the season that they've got a good month-plus to see if Bruce Chen will perplex Don Gullett as much as he has every other pitching coach he's had, or if Gullett can add to his reputation as one of the best in the business.
That Chen only cost a piece of waiver bait like Jim Brower is either another boner by Omar Minaya or a troubling sign that Chen has issues that cannot be fixed easily. Okay, it's clearly the former; the question is whether it's also the latter. If Chen is unfixable, then the Reds did nothing that will hurt their ability to deal for a top starter at the end of July. If Gullett can turn Chen around, then the Reds just got somebody with the talent to be a front-of-the-rotation starter, and that for a 29-year-old long reliever who's as good as he's ever going to get.
Scratch another one of Mark Shapiro's bright offseason ideas. Signing Ricky Gutierrez was one of those poisoned notions that had next to nothing to recommend it. He's 32, or right around the age when mediocre players get bad in a hurry, and he was never an especially nimble shortstop. Indeed, his profound problems going to his right should have been taken as a good indicator that he probably wasn't the sort of shortstop you can easily turn into a useful second baseman. But he got a three-year deal, and if it doesn't look good in year one, the chances that it'll be a peach in year three is about as likely as a forthcoming home movie series featuring Pamela Anderson and Shmoo.
Of course, that isn't the full story. Something "had" to be done in the wake of the decision to send Roberto Alomar to the Mets. The question is whether this particular something had to be done. Gutierrez is a shortstop by experience, and not a long-term solution at this stage of his career. Signing him did nothing in terms of prestige ("Season-ticket holders, renew! We've got Gutierrez!"), and giving him three years was irresponsible. The only level on which the deal might have made sense was if it gave Shapiro freedom of action to explore peddling Omar Vizquel. However, given Vizquel's price tag after his latest extension (he costs about as much as Alomar in 2003, and is also signed for 2004 with a mutual option for 2005), there can only be a short list of potential takers. The Snakes and Mets, of course, and maybe the Cardinals as part of a challenge trade fueled by some new bout of frustration with Edgar Renteria.
If there's a silver lining, it's that in Gutierrez's absence, the Indians can showcase John McDonald. The window of opportunity to turn him into a Royal is still dead, ever since Allard Baird's nifty pickup of Angel Berroa, but there are plenty of shortstop-hungry NL teams. Of course, if the Tribe deals Vizquel, they'll be shortstop-hungry as well. McDonald's glovework gets plenty of kudos, but his offense is going to be down in the Neifi/St. Rey range, and to put it politely, that's a lot of offense to compensate for.
Paul Shuey is doing a lot to become the new Jeff Nelson, just without the cachet, the playoff glory, or the rehab junkets in Tampa. You have to wonder if Nelson regrets leaving the Yankees. I mean, who wants to rehab in San Bernardino or Appleton? Sure, they're nice enough, but they're not Tampa. At any rate, in Shuey's absence, the Indians should get plenty of opportunity to go on deep buyer's remorse jags running Mark Wohlers and Chad Paronto out there.
Sadly, Jose Ortiz gets to enter the Todd Walker Zone, where high expectations become luggage instead of sunshine, because the next couple of weeks should be Brent Butler's golden opportunity to seize the second-base job. Humidified balls or no, there's an advantage to getting the ball in play in Coors Field, and the ability to do that a little more often than the next guy gives you just that slight edge to do something that looks special enough to get a couple hundred at-bats to stake a real claim to a job.
Butler is just 24, although it seems like he's been around forever because once upon a not-so-distant long ago, he was the only hitting prospect the Cardinals had. He did not have the range for shortstop, but he's generally popular for his on-field acumen, he hits for more power than your Craig Counsells of the world, and he's not totally hopeless as somebody who might draw some walks someday. He stopped after a couple of years in the minors, but he did it once. If he does it again, he could be one of the better hitters at second base in the league. Of course, the same thing has been said about Ortiz, and was said about Terry Shumpert when he first came up with the Royals. The point is that there's always a way to scare up some talent at second base.
This was an overdue move, to put it mildly. With Vic Darensbourg and Armando Almanza both healthy, even with Michael Tejera making spot starts the Fish had a pair of useful lefties in the pen, and only Andy Fox able to play shortstop on the roster. Pablo Ozuna won't make anyone forget Rey Sanchez at shortstop, but at least he can play the position, unlike the other notional utility infielder on the roster, Homer Bush.
Shane Reynolds is out for the season, which has Jimy Williams wringing his hands and griping about trying to win with young pitchers. Let's be honest here: this isn't your normal collection of kids. Wade Miller is experienced, and you couldn't pick a better young trio than Roy Oswalt, Tim Redding and Carlos Hernandez. Kirk Saarloos is up to get a look in the fifth slot for at least as long as Dave Mlicki stays on the DL. This is not a rotation that handicaps the Astros' chances of getting back in the race.
What it does make is for a handy enough excuse, which, if rehearsed often enough, might become believable. But this team's problems have been more connected to bad roster construction and another 1999-style dose of bad luck in one-run games. Any attempt to set up the starting pitching would be an insult to what has been a very effective unit, if not the team's greatest strength.
Alan Zinter was a first-round pick in June 1989 with the Mets. He was traded straight up for Rico Brogna in 1994. It would be hard to identify that Brogna was ever a better player than Zinter, but Brogna's career has already gone to the major leagues and then on to baseball Valhalla.
After the indignity of being traded to the Tigers, Zinter was the last cut of spring training for the Cubs once or twice, and now he finally gets to make his long-overdue major-league debut. And his chances of getting work? Jeff Bagwell is no Glenn Davis, so it isn't like there's a Harry Spilman role to be carved out for Zinter for some spot starts. The team already has the best (miscast) backup catcher in baseball in Gregg Zaun, so there isn't really a need there. Orlando Merced is the team's primary high-leverage pinch-hitter, so Zinter's call-up really just seems to be a case where the team (and ex-Mets staffer Gerry Hunsicker) decided to give Zinter a good turn.
The Royals are apparently cranky about losing Nate Field on a waiver claim, so they promoted young outfielder Alexis Gomez for no other reason than because he was on the 40-man roster. Why spite yourself because somebody else claimed a replaceable mop-up reliever? There is a good reason, insofar as there is a current roster management problem. The majority of players the Royals have on the 15-day DL (and therefore still on the 40-man roster) all seem to be about to come off of the DL, and nobody needs to be pushed to the 60-day DL. None of that helps answer the unanswerable question of why Donnie Sadler is on the 25- or 40-man in the first place.
Activated RHP Bryan Corey from the DL, and optioned him to Las Vegas. [6/13]
Omar Minaya has got to have all us nascent Washington Federals fans wondering. As old-school Expos fan/BP correspondent Jonah Keri notes, Minaya's work so far this translates into the Expos sending off Scott Strickland, Jim Serrano, Jason Bay, Geoff Blum, Guillermo Mota and Wilken Ruan to bring in Jim Brower, Dicky Gonzalez, the since-released Lou Collier, Jose Macias and Matt Herges. To shorten it up, that's a bunch of useful stuff for two old middle relievers of moderate talent, two old utilitymen of moderate talent (one already released), and Dicky Gonzalez. Since nobody's placing bets on Gonzalez becoming the next Greg Maddux, I'm comfortable in characterizing the net effect of these moves as disastrous.
There was concern this spring that the Expos would decline into being a flow-through organization, and nothing about these moves should inspire any confidence that Minaya is operating the team on the level. If Minaya believes he's helping the Expos contend by acquiring people like Brower or Herges, his competence needs to be called into question. Otherwise, it looks like he's deliberately seeding other teams with the talent other people put into this organization for the purposes of fielding a better ballclub someday. If it weren't for Frank Robinson and the players doing some fun things on the field, the spectacle would be even more noxious.
Zach Day is the prize from last summer's trade of Angryman, Milton Bradley. He's up to replace Carl Pavano in the rotation, an overdue change given Pavano's struggles and debilitating lucklessness. It comes at Britt Reames's expense, which narrows the field among baseball's least-effective relievers even further. Among the survivors on Michael Wolverton's list of the ten worst in the league are the Dodgers' Terry Mulholland and the Orioles' B.J. Ryan. The Twins' Boomer Wells had worked his way down into this company, but he's temporarily on ice.
This says a lot about how quickly and thoroughly the Sterling Hitchcock signing is being consigned to the Whitson Zone. Not only would the Yankees rather start Mike Thurman, they'd rather let Andy Pettitte rehab in the major leagues than let Hitchcock start any more games that count. Not that this is unreasonable. It's almost July, and the Red Sox are still in first place. Some effort has to be expended to set things right, although it doesn't hurt that the Yankees are headed for series against the Padres, Orioles and Mets, while the Red Sox have to face the Dodgers, Indians and Braves.
I'm always happy to see an organization hire Chris Chambliss, whether or not he's here to fix their offensive problems. You can't fix Rey Ordonez, after all, setting aside the question of whether or not it's humane. As Mo Vaughn pointed out earlier this year in previous hitting coach Dave Engle's defense, it isn't like there are a bunch of people here who have no idea what they're doing. The Mets are as Steve Phillips made them: they're mostly old, and bringing in sluggers with slowing bats, like Vaughn and Jeromy Burnitz, were risks that had nothing to do with the caliber of instruction.
The larger issue is whether or not Chambliss is here for another reason. I don't think Bobby Valentine deserves to be fired, but New York has a way of creating its own drama. The failure of the Mets to succeed this year belongs with Phillips more than anyone else, but it would be more than a little strange to see Valentine retained, Phillips fired or stepping down or up or wherever, and the new guy having to work with Bobby V.
There aren't a lot of high-profile alternatives elsewhere in the organization. Beyond Chambliss, who deserves a shot somewhere, the only other person who has ever been mentioned in connection with a big-league managing job is third-base coach Matt Galante, and that wasn't recently. First-base coach Mookie Wilson might amuse, but basically, if the Mets were to fire Valentine in-season, they really only have Chambliss available to take over. Of course, it would be fun to see Buck Showalter follow in Yogi Berra's footsteps and take his turn in Flushing Meadows. Either way, it might be the only way for the Mets to steal some of the Yankees' thunder.
A bad break for Grant Roberts, who was finally resembling the prospect that the Mets' hype machine had made him out to be. Now, it was in a long-relief role, which is different from starting, but it's to Bobby Valentine's credit that Roberts was being put to work in a low-leverage role initially, and being worked into bigger and better things. Fortunately, the injury isn't supposed to be serious, so the Mets should be able to get him back by the end of the month.
Now that Dan Plesac is in the fold and the Phillies are still as irrelevant as they were when they acquired him, there are two lefty relievers on staff, so Hector Mercado wasn't especially valuable.
The good news is getting Carlos Silva back. In a season that has been heavy on bad news and backsliding, the experiment with Silva in a Weaveresque long-relief role is at least one thing the Phillies can point to as a little project with an eye towards some future good team. After all, right now there are more important things going on locally, like the persistent need of the local press to burnish the backsides of anyone remotely connected to the '80 Phillies at the expense of the people who are Phillies today.
It bears repeating: Scott Rolen is not a replaceable commodity, but tantrum-prone managers and destructive blowhards are. The Phillies need to be judged on the basis of who they keep and who they send away, and making the choice that's most agreeable to Bill Conlin really should be the last thing on their minds. Belittling, bullying and trashing a quality ballplayer to ...well, what is the objective, anyway? For its own sake?
The timing of getting Jim Edmonds back is almost ideal. The Cardinals rotation is chugging along with virtual functionality. The lineup can't afford to go without a major hitter, not when Tino Martinez isn't adding a whole lot and the self-inflicted hole at third base festers. The timing also works out nicely in that before next week's showdown with the Reds, the Cardinals get to face the woeful Cubs and Brewers, and there's nothing better than an opportunity to beat the bejeezuz out of the scrubs to help create a decisive in-season moment.
If So Taguchi's call-up sold tickets, it's news to me.
Placed PH-L Mark Sweeney on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 6/6; transferred RHP Brian Tollberg from the 15- to the 60-day DL; claimed OF-B Eugene Kingsale off of waivers from the Mariners. [6/14]
Claiming Eugene Kingsale has to be a temporary roster solution at best. He's out of options, so once Sean Burroughs and Phil Nevin come off of the DL, people are going to be packing for Portland. In the meantime, he offers a nice defensive replacement for Bubba Trammell and a pinch-runner.
Getting Ramon E. Martinez back is good news, although it doesn't help him in particular to come back with both Jeff Kent and Rich Aurilia both healthy and playing. Martinez might make for a useful alternative in the lineup to J.T. Snow, whose uselessness seems to be testing even Dusty Baker's patience. At the moment, Damon Minor is getting a good chunk of time at first base, which is overdue.
There's an opportunity to build a Minor/Martinez platoon in the lineup, with Kent flipping between first base (against left-handed pitching) and second base (against right-handed pitching). That would get Martinez regular playing time, strengthen the lineup, improve the defense up the middle now and again, and only leave Snow and Brian Sabean wondering why Snow was given a contract that pays him $6.85 million in 2003 and $6.5 million in 2004 (fortunately, there is a $750,000 buyout for that year). The Giants need to do what's best for their shot at winning right now, instead of fretting over the money Sabean made the mistake of spending in 1999.
As for Tom Goodwin, anybody who makes the mistake of outplaying the Yellow Peril in center field can expect to hear "sayonara."
Activated DH-R Edgar Martinez from the DL; designated OF-B Eugene Kingsale for assignment, and lost him on waivers to the Padres. [6/14]
It's a strange choice to activate Edgar Martinez now, as the Mariners start three road series against the National League. As a result, he won't get regular at-bats until next week. Not that having the best hitter on anybody's bench anywhere for the next week or so is a bad thing, but perhaps the Mariners are worried about having to listen to two sets of footsteps.
On a basic level, this is just more bad news that highlights what a disappointment Luke Prokopec has been. Beyond the 5.86 ERA or the mere four quality starts in a dozen outings, he got smacked around by the Devil Rays his last time out. When a rubbery cartilaginous fish that generally settles for terrorizing plankton can get good wood on you, there's usually something wrong, but apparently he's only going to miss the minimum two weeks.
Steve Parris doesn't have a whole lot of trade value, no matter how well he does, but having him back should make it easier for the Blue Jays to shop Esteban Loaiza. If Parris can last, they'd be able to field a full rotation without automatically handing rotation slots to Brandon Lyon or Prokopec by default, let alone rushing Mike Smith back up. This is another way of saying that it's been nice seeing Pete Walker and Justin Miller do something with the opportunities they've been given. Eventually, Lyon and Prokopec (and even Chris Carpenter) will return to the rotation, at which point the Jays can try to start dealing from their surplus of starters.