Happy Thanksgiving! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume Monday, December 1
August 6, 2002
August 1-3, 2002
Signed OF-L Darin Erstad to a four-year contract extension. [8/3]
Why would a major league baseball team hand Darin Erstad $32 million? On the one hand, the Mousemen are loyally poor-mouthing themselves and the game, and then they decide to out-Karros the Dodgers? Not that I'm a huge Garret Anderson fan, but which of these two guys really deserves to be under contract for $32 million through 2006 versus $20 million through 2004?
1999 Age AVG OBP SLG Anderson 27 .303 .336 .469 Erstad 25 .253 .308 .374 2000 Age AVG OBP SLG Anderson 28 .286 .307 .519 Erstad 26 .355 .409 .541 2001 Age AVG OBP SLG Anderson 29 .289 .314 .478 Erstad 27 .258 .331 .360 2002 Age AVG OBP SLG Anderson 30 .300 .321 .523 Erstad 28 .281 .319 .374
Now, both players are almost entirely beyond that stretch of their careers that would be the peak of a normal path, where the best years are grouped in the 25-29 age range. Anderson's major contributions are consistency and durability, hitting for average and power every season, and he's not a bad glove in center field or left field. He's getting $5 million per year through 2004 for those skills, so he'll be a free agent after he's 32. As much grief as we've given Anderson for his lack of walks and low OBP, that contract is turning out to be a pretty good management decision.
Erstad has his merits: he's an outstanding defensive outfielder, and he had a career year in 2000, and he can punt, and...well, he had a great year in 2000. In the other three seasons since 1999, Erstad has been a below-average hitter, to be charitable, and one of the lightest-hitting regular outfielders in the game over the period in question. Now, maybe Erstad's athleticism will translate into better performances as he gets older; it's not likely, but it happens. Maybe all he's doing is playing possum and waiting for liberation from the insanity of his hitting coach, Hackmaster Hatcher. But on the face of available evidence, signing Erstad through his 32nd birthday for $32 million is good news for everyone else in the division.
On the secondary moves front, the Angels are back to Los Dos Molinas behind the plate, and happily Jose Nieves cleared waivers. It isn't that Nieves is irreplaceable, but he's useful, and if Benji Gil broke down again, the Angels would be caught short-handed without Nieves. Of course, if any of the infield starters broke down, the Angels would have a problem, but so far, they've been fortunate.
This isn't really a major roster move, just reshuffling over-30 benchies. Greg Colbrunn is a nice pinch-hitter, but so is Chris Donnels. What they gain offensively from Colbrunn's return is somewhat offset by his inability to effectively play any position besides first base. Now that Matt Williams is off of the DL and playing third, though, Craig Counsell has slipped into the role of the team's utility infielder, and with Jay Bell around as celebrity dust-bunny hunter, the Snakes don't really need another backup at third base. They can comfortably carry their three-headed first-base/ace pinch-hitter combination and not worry about coming up short-handed elsewhere. It would be slightly happier if one of the first basemen was a latter-day Johnny Wockenfuss--because of the Snakes' shortage of useful catchers--but nobody has suggested that Colbrunn resume catching.
Sometimes you try to do the right thing, and it just doesn't work. Sure, getting a defensive replacement for Javy Lopez made sense. Unfortunately, getting one as ill-equipped to hit major-league pitching as Henry Blanco is only seems to have inspired Lopez to play down to Blanco's level. Sure, he's still out-hitting Blanco, but it takes someone of Blanco's ability to be able to remain the defensive replacement for someone hitting as badly as Lopez has this year.
Is Javy Lopez done? He hasn't been worth much since he turned 30. Catchers get banged up, and they get used up; it's worth remembering, because it also serves as a reminder of how remarkable Mike Piazza is. Javy Lopez had a good peak and has been an outstanding catcher in his generation, but that's been gone for the last two seasons. His lease on life as a Brave will last at least another year; John Schuerholz made the mistake of giving him a $7 million player option for 2003. Although a Benito Santiago occasionally teases us, and you don't want to say never, the most productive part of Lopez's career should be over.
Steve Torrealba comes up hitting just .234/.313/.340, highlighting an even more basic failure. The Braves went through this problem last year, when Lopez was hurt and Eddie Perez was hurt and they had to prematurely promote Torrealba to cover themselves. So why did they forget last winter about bringing in a good minor-league free agent to catch at Richmond this summer?
The only thing missing from Jose Offerman's release and the subsequent whirlwind of orgiastic public joy were angry peasants with pitchforks and torches. Boston is parochial enough for the peasants, but pitchforks are probably outlawed by the same local ordinances that close the bars early.
Recalled LHP Mike Porzio from Charlotte. [8/1]
The White Sox are rebuilding on their rebuilding mode, and they were supposed to have pitching talent coming out of their ears, so this is what they're stuck with having traded Bobby Howry? If they wanted a lefty, why not give Ken Vining another chance? As long as they're carrying 12 pitchers, why not bring up Brooks Kieschnick, to simultaneously fill the role of mop-up reliever and thumping pinch-hitter? Why not reward an organizational soldier who might turn into a bullpen asset, like Ed Almonte? If you need long relief, as the Sox so often do, why not guys like Steve Schrenk or Carlos Chantres, who have labored for years in this organization?
Mike Porzio isn't even pitching well; calling him up, let alone retaining him on the 40-man roster, is indefensible given the range of alternatives.
Placed RHP Jon Lieber on the 15-day DL (elbow tendinitis); recalled RHP Francis Beltran from West Tenn (Double-A); acquired OF-L Aron Weston from the Pirates for LHPs Tim Lavery and Ricardo Palma and cash. [8/2]
The audible intake of breath on the north side is the collective pause before the Cubs receive Dr. Andrews' diagnosis of Jon Lieber's elbow. The Cubs' orthopedic specialist thinks it's just tendinitis, and that there is no structural damage. Nevertheless, considering what's at stake, Lieber will get a second opinion.
The Cubs do have a cheap buyout for 2003 if the news is extraordinarily bad, but I doubt that they'll avail themselves of it under any circumstance. The 2003 rotation is going to have the fifth slot open already with the scheduled, unlamented departure of Jason Bere, leaving the trio of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Matt Clement. That's a good group, but not so good that the Cubs would do something as bold as to try to squeeze two kids into the rotation and forego having any elder statesmen. Lieber's value in trade down the 2003 stretch will be pretty good anyway, unless of course something really outlandish, like contention, occurs.
Darren Lewis' refusal to play for a team higher in the standings--a conviction so deeply held he retired--created the impetus for a follow-up trade with the Pirates. Aron Weston is young (21), raw, toolsy, injury-prone, and seems worth taking a flyer on. The Cubs generally do better with their young players than the Pirates do, so this should be a nice opportunity for Weston.
Joe Girardi is back, but don't blink: he'll keep his at-bats nice and short to get you back to those important messages from WGN's sponsors.
Erg, talk about minor setbacks. Travis Fryman is supposedly so filled with disgust over this season that he's contemplating retirement. However, it can't really happen soon enough if having him around is going to cost Ben Broussard playing time.
The other problem is that the Tribe is playing Lee Stevens, still lingering in mediocrity's slums, and going so far as to start him in the outfield corners. Why the Indians would do this defies description. The only thing the Tribe has to market at the moment is hope and faith. Ben Broussard and, yes, even Chris Magruder are parts of that; Fryman and Stevens are not. Fryman has to play on some level as the team's only real third baseman (Bill Selby isn't helping himself out much here, but he's 32 and not part of the future either), but Lee Stevens? Why is Broussard gone to make way for playing time for Lee Stevens?
Indians fans aren't shelling out money to watch grizzled mercs like Fryman and Stevens play out the string, badly. They can enjoy a veteran like Ellis Burks, because he's hitting. When you're rooting for an also-ran, productivity matters, and if you have to watch someone struggle, why shouldn't it be someone who might be part of the organization's future instead of someone who commands no respect for his performance today, or for his past performance for the team? Fryman gave the team two good years and three awful ones. His claim on Indians history hardly matches up to that of Brook Jacoby, for chrissakes.
Okay, on a general level, Jack Cust is tasty and he's our sort of guy. He walks, he slugs and he's young. He may need to haul Wes Chamberlain's crash helmet and chest protector out of mothballs for whenever he takes the field, but he's a good 'un, as you'd think anybody who hits .265/.407/.524 at 23 would be.
Well, almost. His minor-league performance translates to a .261 Equivalent Average in the majors, and this year hasn't really been an improvment on last year's .278/.415/.525 at the same level. He's hitting at altitude in a PCL bandbox, and he's... sitting still? He's hitting a home run once every 20 plate appearances, which is nice, but it isn't Ron Kittle or Ken Phelps mashdom either. He's still striking out a ton, which again should be a bit surprising, since he's hitting in a place where breaking balls don't break. He's beginning to resemble a more patient version of Rob Deer, except that The Deer was once an outstanding outfielder, which helped him stick as much as his bat did. A Rob Deer who doesn't field well wouldn't have had as long a career. Cust is stuck in a situation where he's going to have to impress at the plate immediately, because that's all he has to offer.
Don't get me wrong, I really like Cust, and I really like Cust's potential. But he's clearly an unfinished product, and the fact that he's remained in place while getting a year older doesn't reflect well either on him, or on Rockies hitting instruction, or both.
As for Ben Petrick, now that the team is awash in right-handed hitting outfielders, perhaps they'll move him back to catcher. Perhaps not. With this team, there's a new master plan every other week.
I overlooked Runelvys Hernandez's previous promotion. It's a good thing to have him back up, and not just because it gives me a chance to amend my oversight. He's sort of a command pitcher so far, given that he's 21 and doesn't throw hard, relying on command of a fastball, curve and change. He has the opportunity to grow into something special, and he pleasantly reflects some measure of progress the Royals have had in scouting the Dominican. However, this is his first season getting any action above A ball, so you need to worry about how much he's being pressed into action ahead of time or before he's physically mature, just to contribute to a team whose major achievement will be staying ahead of the Tigers--a goal it can achieve without rushing Hernandez.
The Royals' rotation is taking on a youngish hue, with veterans Paul Byrd and Jeff Suppan (hard to believe he's "just" 27) fronting Hernandez, Shawn Sedlacek and Miguel Asencio. While there's a lot to be said about the promise of Hernandez and Rule 5 pick Asencio, will pitching them as starters in the majors now do much to improve the odds that they'll be starters for the Royals in five years? Starts like Asencio's 118-pitch effort on July 19 aren't cause for a lot of hope that Tony Pena knows what he's doing.
Kevin Beirne is not the worst guy to have on your staff as a long reliever and mop-up man. A minor-league journeyman at this point, he was pitching well at Las Vegas, posting a 4.15 ERA while allowing 129 hits and 12 home runs in 125 2/3 innings, with an 88-to-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That's particularly handy on a staff relying on three lefties in the rotation. However, once Kevin Brown comes off of the DL, Beirne will be bumped back, barring a major meltdown by Giovanni Carrara or an injury.
Jimmy Osting's bum arm kept him from pitching at all, which leaves a rotation slot abandoned to Jose Cabrera, and makes space for one of the most overburgeoned burgeoning semi-prospects in the organization, Kid Childers (to distinguish him from his brother Jason, a fellow Brewers minion).
Matt Childers throws hard. He's thrown hard for the last six years, but beyond brief success in third season in the Midwest League (in 2000) and seven starts at Huntsville last year, it's been rough going. The Brewers have only recently come to terms with the idea that this is all he does, and that he may only pan out as a reliever. He's done some closing at Huntsville while remaining hittable, giving up 104 hits in 83 1/3 innings. Nevertheless, the Brewers need some of everything, and want for alternatives, so it isn't the end of the world if all he does is throw hard and get some experience.
Activated RHP Brad Radke from the DL; optioned 1B/C-R Matt LeCroy to Edmonton. [8/2]
Normally at this time of year, we get to talk about how the Yankees or the Mariners or the Braves can afford to coast and experiment and evaluate people slowly on their ability to contribute in October. This year, that's the situation the Twins are in, as Brad Radke gets to take his sweet time to gear up for playoff games in Minnesota.
On a certain level, the only issue to be resolved is whether Joe Mays will earn a slot in the postseason rotation. Radke and Eric Milton should be locked in, and Rick Reed probably has a veteran's stranglehold on the fourth slot. If Mays can't contribute, that opens the door for Johan Santana or Kyle Lohse. Santana and Lohse have outpitched Reed, Mays and Radke so far, which is part of the reason why the Twins are a great 162-game team, and one of the reasons why you have to wonder what Ron Gardenhire will do in the postseason. Will he pitch the people who have earned it, or the people who've put in the most time, or the oldest, or the most expensive? If Milton and Radke are going strong deep into September, he might able to afford a mistake. If they aren't, he can't. So the Twins' stretch run still matters, because everyone in the rotation beyond Milton needs to be evaluated as if he's pitching for his job.
The other area where the Twins' embarrassment of riches in talent gives them an insane number of options is among their hitters at the left end of the spectrum. The outfield corners, DH and first base are crammed with equally worthwhile hitters. Matt LeCroy had out-hit Michael Cuddyer, but Cuddyer can play the infield and outfield corners, while LeCroy is limited to first base, some catching, and DH. Both of them have to sit behind Bobby Kielty, Dustan Mohr, David Ortiz and Doug Mientkiewicz, who share three positions among them. When the time comes to make out the playoff roster, LeCroy should make it as the 14th position player; his catching should make it a lock. Giving him regular at-bats in August before bringing him back when rosters expand in September seems sensible enough in the meantime.
Losing Wil Cordero now, in the wake of dumping Cliff Floyd, reduces the Expos back to Troy O'Leary every day in left field, with Jose Macias and Matt Cepicky as alternatives. Henry Mateo isn't going to get to play much, as the sad infatuation with Ex^2-pos will keep Sibling Guerrero in his role of PT-napper.
Hey, the good news is that the Expos got prospects, even if the commissioner insists (as recently as this weekend) that he doesn't want them to exist next year.
Released LHP Mike Magnante. [8/2]
Mike Magnante was bandied about in some rumors earlier this summer, but he worked his way down to the point that he wasn't even claimable. It was a good summer to be a buyer in the veteran lefties market. Pitchers from Dan Plesac to Felix Heredia to Bruce Chen to Dennys Reyes to Ricky Rincon have changed hands.
Acquired LHPs Ricardo Palma and Tim Lavery and cash from the Cubs for OF-L Aron Weston; activated OF-L Armando Rios from the DL. [8/2]
Darren Lewis decided he'd rather be an ex-player than a Pirate, so the Bucs and the Cubs worked something out quickly. As it turns out, Dave Littlefield got a better swag because of Lewis' spite. Tim Lavery and Ricardo Palma aren't exactly live arms as much as they're lefties with track records of success in the minors. Both are 23, both have pitched well in the last few years as relievers, and in a package of quantity probably providing some level of quality, the Pirates can bank on better odds that they might just wind up with the next Ricky Rincon.
Recalled RHP Matt Duff from New Haven (Double-A). [7/30]
The Cardinals don't really need a fifth starter until August 10, but their problem is that they still can't even say that they have a fourth starter. Happily, Andy Benes has given them two good starts in his last two turns. However, there's an awful lot of bad pitching to overlook before you can really start counting on him. As a result of demoting Travis Smith and the decision to give Matt Morris a day's rest, you can look forward to another spot-start/bullpen extravaganza, leading off with Luther Hackman.
I'd argue that demoting Travis Smith was premature; he'd given them five good starts in ten, and the slender benefit of adding yet another reliever to Tony LaRussa's cavalcade of briefly-used pensters doesn't add up to a whole lot beyond the pleasures of being in the major leagues for guys like Matt Duff and Kevin Joseph. Joseph pumps gas in the high 90s, so he's worth a peek. At 28, Duff has been beating the bushes for years; his tremendous season at New Haven and Potomac this year (64 innings, 36 hits allowed, 16 unintentional walks and 91 strikeouts, to go with a 10-1 record and a 0.98 ERA) should make anybody pay attention, as well as graphically reminding everybody that if you beat the bushes, you'll usually get a couple of relievers for your trouble.
Activated LHP Eric Cyr from the DL, and optioned him to Portland. [8/3]
Here's hoping Eric Cyr gets his life and his career in order, in no particular order.
Activated RHP Rafael Soriano from the DL, and optioned him to San Antonio (Double-A). [8/2]
There's a conspiracy theory afoot among some Mariners fans that Rafael Soriano kept getting set up to fail, despite which he keeps surviving and exceeding expectations. Without a ton of experience above A ball, Soriano has done a very creditable job. He started off with five shutout relief innings, then made a pair of workmanlike starts against the Orioles, shut down the A's, matched Jon Lieber for five shutout innings before tiring, and did a decent job against the Astros in Juicy Juice Coliseum. Two bad starts then chased him to the DL. He's outpitched James Baldwin, not that it gave him much in the way of job security.
What happened to the old rule that nobody loses his job to an injury? Could there be exemptions based on age or price tag?
The answers coming out of the Devil Rays' front office make Russ Johnson's disappearance, placement on the restricted list, and now his transfer to the DL about as strange and indefinite a situation as you could ask for. Keeping on that theme, I suppose we'll have to wait and see whether or not this is something like a Rick Leach scenario, or just a "Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be Devil Fishies" runaway.
Purchased the contract of UT-R Donnie Sadler from Oklahoma; placed OF-R Juan Gonzalez on the 15-day DL (strained thumb), retroactive to 7/31; optioned LHP Juan Alvarez to Oklahoma; added LHP Dennys Reyes to the active roster. [8/2]
The Alex Rodriguez signing is always going to draw attention and fire because of the eye-catching ka-ching of "quarter-billion," but could anything have turned out as badly as Juan Gonzalez has? He gets the advantage of blending into the background of the Rangers' litany of outfield breakdowns, as well as the now-annual Pudge Rodriguez multi-month injury; when he went through this in Detroit, it was front-page stuff, and not just because he'd declined to accept Randy Smith's craven big-money offers.
Looking at this in mid-stream, with the first of the two years down, was it a worthwhile risk to sign Gonzo? It doesn't look like it. He came in as a 32 year-old free agent, generally a bad vintage; he'd had a nice bounce-back year in 2001, but he'd a sub-par 2000 season to bounce back from in the first place. Between his past health problems, his age, the likelihood of more nagging injuries and his decline from his high-water mark of 1998, it isn't that he was a bad signing as much as he was a risk rather than a guarantee. The Rangers spread the risk some by deferring a significant portion of their payouts, but nevertheless, here's hoping the Rangers found an insurer for the contract.
If there's a silver lining, it's that Kevin Mench and Frank Catalanotto should be guaranteed playing time from here on out. The obsession with getting Mike Lamb into the lineup needs to take a rest; other than letting him spot at the infield corners, he shouldn't be soaking off DH at-bats better spent on Mench or Catalanotto.