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June 26, 2002
June 18-24, 2002
Between games of the doubleheader, recalled RHP John Lackey from Salt Lake; optioned RHP Brendan Donnelly to Salt Lake. [6/24]
The Angels are supposedly worried about their bullpen, mainly because of Al Levine's struggles, but perhaps also because Donne Wall turned out to be a lemon. Even Troy Percival has been downright vincible at times. So on the heels of promoting Scot Shields, they're bringing up Brendan Donnelly in the midst of his outstanding season with the Stingers. He's given up less than a baserunner per inning while striking out 34 men in 26 innings.
Because some of the higher-profile people aren't doing as well as the Angels would like, rumors are swirling about the team's purported interest in Antonio Alfonseca. It's worth keeping in mind that the performance of the Angels' relievers ranks fourth in the American League, according to Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools, so the bullpen isn't really a weak spot. Dennis Cook, Lou Pote and Ben Weber have been outstanding, and Percival hasn't been bad. It's also worth noting that where Pote and Weber are now isn't too different from where Shields or Donnelly could be in a couple of years. All four have put in a good chunk of time in the minors, nobody has done them any favors, and they can all pitch effectively given the chance. Given the positive experience with Weber and Pote, why should the Angels' make the Wade mistake and haul in Famous Reliever Antonio Alfonseca, one of the most overrated and liberally compensated relievers of the last few years? Pulpo has done well with the Cubs so far, but if you're the Angels, that means you'd be buying high.
This might seem like a strange decision by the Braves. Although George Lombard is going to be hard-pressed to ever live up to his billing as a prospect, if there's one thing the Braves' organization has in spades, it's guys who can throw reasonably hard. If there's one thing they seem short of, it's people who do all of the things in the non-pitching half of the game. Dumping Lombard for just another moderately talented, big, hard-throwing guy like Kris Keller is a pretty damning statement on whether or not Lombard has anything to offer. Of course, who or what is damned is open to interpretation: Lombard, or the Braves' judgement? After all, aren't these the same people who made Terry Pendleton a stretch-drive pickup in 1996? That was only about as plausible at the time as putting Millard Fillmore in charge of the Office of Homeland Security would be now.
To give the Braves credit, take a look at the alternatives on the roster. Even with reserve outfielders Dave Martinez and B.J. Surhoff out for the year, the Braves didn't want Lombard around, and they're apparently happier with Darren Bragg and Matt Franco on their bench. Indeed, Franco and Bragg are both doing so well that if there's anybody on the roster in danger when Marcus Giles and Mark DeRosa come off of the DL, it should be sacred roster cows like Keith Lockhart or Wes Helms (beyond the obvious return engagement of Jesse Garcia in Richmond). Matt Franco is hitting well enough that if he isn't the answer at first base, he could just slide across the diamond and start at third base. So all things considered, beyond a bigger, bolder acquisition of a starting first baseman worthy of the name, the Braves are relatively well-covered on the big-league roster once they get people like Giles and DeRosa back.
If there's something to gripe about, it's discarding Lombard in a ticky-tack deal like this, instead of finding a way to toss him into a deal for a first baseman. But Lombard needed to come off of his rehab assignment at some point, and the Braves didn't have a trade at hand for a first sacker. If anyone, blame the Cubs for their inveterate foot-dragging and lolly-gagging; it always seems as if they're the last people on the planet to notice when they're out of the race, again.
It ain't over for either of these guys just yet. If you're holding out hope for Paxton Crawford, just remember that the Red Sox are puttering around with Rolando Arrojo in the rotation after futzing around with Darren Oliver. The front four are secure, but the Red Sox have plenty of options for that fifth slot in the rotation.
As for Jeff Wallace...in the crucible of a pennant race, it may not take much to put Casey Fossum or Chris Haney or the just-acquired Alan Embree into disfavor. Not that I'm saying Embree isn't a great pickup; he most certainly is, on the basis of the information we have at hand. Indeed, this was a very balanced trade. It cost a good young pitcher and an interesting young pitcher, but in terms of getting something for something, this is a solid challenge trade, where the Red Sox get a must-have-now and someone potentially useful for one of their better young pitchers and someone potentially useful. Not only did the Red Sox get a hard-throwing lefty with a track record of getting lefties out (and who happens to be making very little by today's standards), they got one of the Padres' indy league imports, Andy Shibilo. Shibilo actually throws reasonably hard, so he's a bit better than just a run-of-the-mill throw-in.
Don Baylor has been hot and bothered to get Angel Echevarria up somehow for weeks. This is a sensible idea. With the struggles of stone-cold Rosie Brown, the Cubs aren't exactly stocked with power on the bench, and they have good utility infielders to spare with Mark Bellhorn and Chris Stynes on the bench—-now that both Alex Gonzalez and Bill Mueller are off of the DL—-so banishing Augie Ojeda to Iowa is an easy way to make space.
Echevarria comes up after hitting .295/.357/.558 as an I-Cub. So it's all good, right? Well, if it was a promotion strictly based on merit, sure, but sadly, it probably has more to do with Baylor's need to have another familiar face in his clubhouse as the good ship Cubbyana grinds itself to bits on the shores of Lake Michigan. Echevarria isn't up because he was swinging a hot bat at Iowa. If that was the sole important criterion, Julio Zuleta's even hotter hitting (.289/.362/.626, with 18 home runs in 210 plate appearances) would mean something. Instead, Echevarria's past association with those Rockie powerhouses from the Baylor years has him in the amiable pinstripes of the frustrated friendly confines. Cronyism being a Chicago tradition, I'm sure folks won't take this the wrong way.
If there's a type of transaction I hate, it's the demotion of the undeserving demotee with an option, just to paper over some temporary need. Sorry kid, we can't bench the manager's son or Juan Encarnacion or the owner's favorite first baseman, even if you have out-hit all of them. And lordy lordy, how could we ever consider unloading somebody as useless as Wilton Guerrero? He can play all sorts of positions badly. Can you? He's related to somebody more famous than you, too. Can you pinch-run like Reggie Taylor? Face it, kid, you've got an option. Performance, shmerformance.
Now, you might argue that the Reds could lose somebody like Guerrero or Reggie Taylor on waivers. So what? Add the GM of the claiming team to your Christmas card list and move on. The ease with which you can find people to replace Taylor or Guerrero is highlighted by how easy it was to dig them up in the first place. If you find a plastic bag that just washed up on the beach, chances are it ain't full of buried treasure.
Luis Pineda apparently did have to come up, because the Reds won't put Gabe White on the DL while carrying project goof Jose Silva. After already spotting Bruce Chen in the rotation, when they decided they wanted to push Joey Hamilton's next start back, they didn't have anyone on the roster who could start on Monday. Having traded Jim Brower, they don't have an emergency starter in the pen anymore, so Pineda had to come up.
Demoting Kearns for failing to address which of the goofy science projects on the roster—-Guerrero, Silva, Taylor, take your pick—-serves no purpose on a team that's supposed to be taking its shot at contention right now. The time for screwing around should be deemed over. If there's trimming to be done, trim the fat, not your own knuckle.
Recalled 1B/LF-L Ben Broussard from Buffalo; placed OF-L Todd Dunwoody on the 15-day DL (sprained foot/ankle). [6/22]
Let's set aside the latest relief injury, or the always-grim news of the return of Heath Murray to the major leagues. Beyond a high-velocity object or two violating Pennsylvania air space or interrupting water traffic on Lake Erie, Murray's arrival really doesn't mean much in itself.
The larger question is "why Murray?". With Roy Smith and Sean DePaula both struggling for the Bisons, Martin Vargas pitching worse than his ERA might make you think, and Dave Elder doing well but just arriving in Buffalo, you can use Murray to fill that last slot in a big-league bullpen, and hope you don't need to make that many calls.
By far the more interesting development is the call-up of Ben Broussard to get some playing time in left field. Speaking as the noisy proponent of putting Broussard on our Top 40 Prospects list this past winter, I'm happy, although concerned for his safety in the outfield. But if other teams are willing to live with Daryle Ward or Jeremy Giambi or potentially Jack Cust, why not go with the flow and give Broussard a shot? He comes up after hitting .267/.392/.513 in Buffalo, which basically means he'll give them a better shot at some OBP than Russell Branyan was doing while also providing similarly attractive power. At 25, Broussard's future may as well be now, and the Indians don't have any alternatives since coming to their senses about Brady Anderson.
I'm happy to see the Tribe take some risks in-season, before things get too far away from them. The Twins might have the biggest lead of any AL division leader, but they're not invincible, and the White Sox still need to fix their rotation. The Indians' biggest problems are on offense, where they're 11th in the American League, ahead of only the unforgivably bad Royals, Devil Rays and Tigers. With Broussard and Milton Bradley playing, and with Ricky Gutierrez out of the way, there's hope that the Indians might have improved themselves at several positions at once. It still doesn't fix Einar Diaz or Travis Fryman, but let's see if they make up any ground now, and worry about the other big problems later.
Traded RHP Kris Keller to the Braves for OF-L George Lombard; designated 1B/OF-L Ryan Jackson for assignment. [6/19]
It's usually hard to find something nice to say about the Tigers. I mean, OK, they did finally fire Phil Garner and Randy Smith, so this has probably been their best year as an organization since they fired Bo Schembechler. Beyond that, they were smart enough to get Jacob Cruz, although they seem unwilling to really give him a chance. They're smart enough to eventually identify, after accumulating plenty of direct evidence to support the thesis, that Shane Halter is not a major-league shortstop.
I'm also happy to see them take a flyer on George Lombard. Not that I think he's the next Candy Maldonado (or the next Franklin Stubbs, either), but at 26, he needs a shot at a job. Where better than a team as definitively moribund and beside the point as the Tigers? And when you don't have to give up anything to give him that shot, how sweet is that? If worse comes to worst, he'll just be another Wendell Magee, an ex-prospect who got a chance to erase any doubt about the 'ex-' part. If he hits anything like this year's rehab stint (.308/.400/.538), then he's a Greek god. If, more realistically, he just gets within 60 points of that OBP or SLG, he'll be a useful starter on a team short of those.
Beat them feisty Koreans. [6/25]
What can I say? It was a good match, and I couldn't help but watch. After a great performance from the U.S., despite the officiating problems (that pale next to the much more systemic woes in the NBA or NFL), this year's World Cup has simply been a bunch of fun. Appropriate apologies to the angry millions in Spain and Italy, of course.
When I predicted that Kirk Saarloos would be among the first 2001 draftees promoted to the majors, it was without any kind of expectation that he'd do what he's done in the Texas League this year. Moving into a starting role, Saarloos posted a 1.40 ERA and a 10-1 record, allowing only one homer in 83 1/3 innings among the 48 hits he did permit, striking out 82 while walking just 21, and posting nearly a 3-to-1 groundball/flyball ratio. In short, he didn't look like a guy who needed to be in the Texas League.
Saarloos is not a dominating flamethrower, but a relatively polished product out of Cal State Fullerton picked in the third round. He didn't even do too badly in his first start, going four good innings before blowing up in the fifth. He got mauled by the Mariners in his second start. Is he being rushed? Almost certainly, but considering how well he was pitching in Double-A, you can't blame the Astros from getting enthusiastic given their immediate need for somebody to fill out the rotation.
Purchased the contract of RHP Shawn Sedlacek from Omaha; placed LHP Jeremy Affeldt on the 15-day DL (blistered finger), retroactive to 6/9; fired pitching coach Al Nipper; named John Cumberland pitching coach; released LHP Jose Rosado from Omaha; activated LHP Chris George from the DL and optioned him to Omaha. [6/18]
On a team so indifferent to their proud past that they merely dress up as the Missouri Dodgers and call it baseball, I suppose you can understand how Rob and Rany's sense of apathy got deadly. I guess I don't have the luxury, do I? What to say...what is there to say?
Happily, there's always something to say. Shawn Sedlacek steps into the rotation to replace Jeremy Affeldt, and that's not all bad news. Sedlacek was picked in the 14th round of the 1998 draft out of Iowa State, not a top program, and not one where Sedlacek made himself famous. He's not known for having any dominating pitch, but between Wichita and Omaha this year, he posted a 3.28 ERA, allowing only 81 hits and 19 walks in 98 2/3 innings, while striking out 82. He doesn't throw hard, but that kind of command deserves notice a lot more than whatever Jaime Navarro is up to these days.
It might strike you as odd, but the Royals' rotation hasn't really been that much of a problem this year. Sure, Paul Byrd deserves all sorts of credit, but the point is that the Royals haven't stuck with somebody consistently awful, so as a result, they haven't done too badly. Beyond Byrd, Jeff Suppan and Darrell May have been functional, and Miguel Ascencio and Jeremy Affeldt have been nice surprises.
After seeing Dan Reichert and Chris George struggle, it's sort of remarkable to see an out-and-out bad team at least field an adequate rotation. Indeed, according to Michael Wolverton's Support-Neutral analysis, the Royals have the second-best rotation in the AL Central behind the Indians, and they're better than the Blue Jays, Devil Rays, Brewers, Padres and Marlins as well. No, it isn't even a top-20 performance, but nobody said the Royals' silver lining was made out of more than tinfoil. Perhaps it's just nice that's it there. If Sedlacek turns into a useful fourth starter in the big leagues, if Ascencio and Affeldt turn out well, if May turns into as worthwhile a retread project as Byrd has, that's something positive. Add to all of that that Tony Pena got his own man as a pitching coach, and you ought to feel something.
As for swapping Donzell McDonald and Aaron Guiel, it's a shame that they Royals had to make up their minds about McDonald so quickly. He'd drawn walks, and making up your mind about somebody with fewer than 30 plate appearances is silly, especially on a team paying Michael Tucker to play baseball. What's wrong with playing somebody in the outfield who actually can play it, as opposed to Chuck Knoblauch or Mark Quinn or Raul Ibanez?
As if things couldn't much worse for the Brewers, losing their Brett Favre look-alike won't help ticket sales any. Geoff Jenkins probably ought to be out for the rest of the season, since he probably won't be able to play for another two months, which gets us into quick rehab assignments at the end of August to come back poorly prepared in September. That may not sound so smart, but the Brewers rushed several players off of the DL last year, managing to reinjure almost all of them in the process. I wouldn't recommend that you act surprised if they've learned nothing from the experience.
In Jenkins's absence, the Brewers now have playing time to spare for Alex Ochoa and Matt Stairs to move from being the fourth and fifth outfielders into having at least one outfield corner to fight over between themselves. This does cement Alex Sanchez into the everyday job in center field (once he heals up), and it does mean Jeffrey Hammonds will play every day for as long as he's able. Now that the blush is off of Hammonds (again), that boils down into four outfielders who would be fine third outfielders on teams with two other good outfielders. The Brewers aren't that team. At best, they're a larder for somebody else to get a needed spare part down the stretch, assuming that Dean Taylor is sensible enough to treat all of the non-Sexson hitters on the roster as such.
It isn't inconceivable that minor-league journeyman Dan Smith might get this chance to step into the rotation. He was doing quite well in Ottawa's rotation, posting a 3.24 ERA over 14 starts and 83 1/3 innings. He surrendered just 71 hits (but ten home runs), and 17 unintentional walks, while striking out 61. He's fun to keep in mind for other reasons, of course; he's the ex-wonderboy from Kansas who, like so many Rangers pitching prospects, didn't turn out so well in the Rangers organization; he's also the guy who gave up Tony Gwynn's 3000th hit, and the guy who retired 20 straight Red Sox in his big-league debut, as an Expo, in 1999. As minor-league journeymen go, you could do worse.
The competition isn't overwhelming, either. Masato Yoshii's performance as the fifth starter has been spotty at best, while Zach Day didn't make a great impression in his first shot at replacing Carl Pavano in the rotation.
Pavano certainly deserved his demotion, showing very little command in the strike zone with any of his pitches, and getting consistently hammered. This was an enormous disappointment, considering that his elbow was finally supposed to be healthy. However, the Expos are being sensible about this. They need to see if they can get him back on track without doing anything that keeps them from being competitive, in part because a more competitive team will probably fetch a bigger purse than an uncompetitive one, and in part because it will allow them to make an informed decision about whether to non-tender Pavano prior to next winter's arbitration rematch.
Finally, tip your cap to first-round draft choice turned organizational victim Donnie Bridges, sacrificed to the tune of more than 200 innings at the tender age of 21 between Double-A Harrisburg and Single-A Jupiter in the 2000 season. And no, not that it means anything, but the innings didn't matter. Harrisburg didn't do anything, and Jupiter was even worse. Naturally, his shoulder started aching in 2001, and now he's waiver bait. Expos fans can at least take some hope in the knowledge that anyone responsible for this catastrophe is now working for them snappy teal fellers in the same division.
I doubt that the Phillies have a brazen accountant/stathead in their midst willing to slap Ed Wade upside the head and say, "I told you so, you dim git." I mean, c'mon, accounting isn't a profession famed for its ability to inspire moral courage. With Arthur Andersen going belly up and any accountant employed by any MLB franchise about to look like a sniveling weasel in case legal action forces any books open, and this being a tough job market and all, I figure the chance of someone pointing out that Ricky Bottalico is not merely short of being a replacement-level reliever, but that he's fraudulently expensive, are pretty remote. This is especially so in an organization as noted for catering to its toadies, old guard, and courtesans as the Phillies are.
Frankly, the odds are pretty solid that Doug Nickle will be a more than adequate replacement. Bottalico is one of the game's most overrated relievers, while Nickle comes up after tossing 41 relief innings for Scranton, posting a 3.07 ERA.
Finalized an agreement with OF/1B-L Ryan Klesko on a two-year contract extension. [6/20]
Placed RHP Bobby J. Jones on the 15-day DL (strained elbow), retroactive to 6/16; recalled RHP Jeremy Fikac from Mobile (Double-A); outrighted UT-R Trenidad Hubbard to Portland; purchased the contract of RHP Jake Peavy from Mobile; optioned RHP J.J. Trujillo to Mobile; recalled LHP Eric Cyr from Mobile. [6/21]
Traded LHP Alan Embree and RHP Andy Shibilo to the Red Sox for RHPs Brad Baker and Dan Giese; purchased the contract of RHP David Lundquist from Portland. [6/23]
The retooling is on, as the Padres move from being the in-between team that was making a transition from the interesting blend of veterans and young talent to leaning a bit more heavily towards the young talent side of the equation.
In the constellation of outstanding young pitching talent the Padres have accumulated, you can argue over whether Jacob Peavy or Dennis Tankersley is the better prospect. Peavy has good velocity as well as good command of a slider and change-up, but he's 21, and you ought to worry about whether he'll get overworked in a Padres season that isn't as suddenly meaningless as it is now devoted to development. After giving up 65 hits while posting a 89-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 80 1/3 innings, it didn't look like Peavy had any more left to learn at Mobile than his 2.80 ERA would lead you to believe.
Eric Cyr also arrives, but unlike Peavy, he wasn't as dominant in Mobile's rotation (giving up 37 runs in 72 1/3 innings), so he's slotted for the bullpen for the moment. Hopefully, he'll be able to take advantage of his great moving heat, and he'll get some extended outings to work on his still-primitive breaking stuff. David Lundquist is staff filler at this point; he was not doing well in Portland, posting a 5.63 ERA but managing to knock down 21 saves for the last-place Beavers. I think that says enough about Lundquist's importance to the Padres and the save statistic's importance to posterity.
The Alan Embree trade is about what you might have hoped for in terms of the payoff in what was an extended risk/reward scheme. Brad Baker is one of the best young pitchers in the Red Sox farm system, and Dan Giese is a long reliever with outstanding control. Baker is doing well in a repeat engagement in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League (after a poor 2001 debut). He's apparently taken the Red Sox seriously in laying off of the weight training that sapped his fastball of its consistency, speed, and movement. Baker is still very young-—21-—but he has not been worked particularly hard, and has shown good command of his off-speed stuff for someone at his age.
As for Dan Giese, he's something of a hometown project. Drafted by the Red Sox out of the University of San Diego in 1999, he's languished at the lowest rungs of the minors as a middle reliever despite pitching well and showing exceptional command. He's already 25, so we're probably talking about an organizational soldier in the making. As compensation for Shibilo, he's interesting enough.
Oh, and about that picking the Padres to win the NL West... well, peeping past the mounds of egg that the fates have rightfully howitzered at my particular foxhole, I did say I was probably a year early. If it works for Branch Rickey and trades, I can live with the consequences of applying it to the always-entertaining art of wild-ass guessery.
Announced that OF-L Tom Goodwin cleared waivers and accepted his assignment to Fresno. [6/21]
Sometimes, it's good to know your place. If your place is Fresno, that might not be easy to accept, but when Tsuyoshi Shinjo is the everyday center fielder on the big-league club, it's not the worst Triple-A assignment to accept. Chances are, you'd be renting anywhere else anyway, so why not hang around an organization that doesn't even have a center fielder?
Canned the always-voluble Oscar Acosta from his position as pitching coach. [6/20]
Named Orel Hershiser pitching coach. [6/22]
Placed OF-R Gabe Kapler on the 15-day DL (tendinitis - wrist); recalled RHP Joaquin Benoit from Oklahoma; between games of the double-header, optioned Benoit back to Oklahoma, and recalled RHP Aaron Myette. [6/24]
I'm a little mystified by the decision to change from Oscar Acosta to Orel Hershiser. It's almost as if the order of who is replacing who seems a bit off.
Acosta, for whatever name he has for himself, got it from working in the minors and being willing to fire on all comers if he felt he wasn't getting 100% effort. Although I'm not really a fan of some of the things he had to say, it's worth crediting him for being part of last year's successful Cubs staff, and the Cubs' pitchers, generally a younger group, were all in his corner when he and Don Baylor had their falling-out last autumn. Working with an older Rangers staff laden with more established veterans in an organization operated by the tin-eared John Hart, I can understand Acosta subsequently running into trouble.
Why, then, was he brought in? Why wasn't an old cipher (and recent peer) like Orel Hershiser tabbed from the get-go, considering the make-up of the staff? What, Dan Miceli is supposed to respond to someone telling him he's a bum? Hershiser has nothing in the way of practical instructional experience, and he's about to be handed a staff that will have to feature a lot of up-and-coming talent as the season(s) wear on. I'm not saying Hershiser is going to do badly as much as I think we can expect rough spots at the outset. I'm more bemused by the notion of what sort of coach Hershiser will be. Will he be the guy who whined about Mike Scott out of jealousy or spite, or the more mature"did-what-he-had-to-do-to-compete" practitioner of the last few years of his career?
In the meantime, the doubleheader on Monday created the need for six starters. Beyond Kenny Rogers, Ismael Valdes, Dave Burba and Chan Ho Park, they now have both Joaquin Benoit and Rob Bell. There's still the issue of what to do with Doug Davis, or eventually, Aaron Myette. Seeing as they aren't contending and won't, you would think that Dave Burba's days would be numbered, and that the Rangers should be all ears if someone comes asking after free agents-to-be Kenny Rogers or Ismael Valdes. In that sense, the Rangers can make some changes for 2003, creating room for their younger pitchers, arguably pleasing Tom Hicks' newfound interest in the bottom line while starting on building a team that can contend with any of the other three in the division.
The Rangers are not as fortunate on the offensive side of the diamond, since they're locked into multi-year commitments (beyond 2002) with four outfielders—-Carl Everett, Gabe Kapler, Juan Gonzalez and Rusty Greer-—none of whom seem able to play center field every day. The Rangers need to start weighing the choice of whose contract needs eating, because beyond Kapler (and then only because he's cheapest), none of them are tradeable.
Lastly, I apologize in advance if I'm even worse than usual in getting back to any e-mail this column produces. If need be, hunt me down at the SABR convention in Boston in person (probably haunting the Brassey's table, or at Sunday's Pizza Feed), and tell me what you have to say. I promise, you'll get an argument, although I expect we'll both end up enjoying it.