August 12, 2002
August 4-7, 2002
Rick Helling resumes his role as the Snakes' third starter, which isn't especially good or bad. Helling has been no more or less effective than Miguel Batista or Brian Anderson, creating a small dilemma over who the third and fourth starters must be once the playoffs roll around. The shame is that John Patterson had to go down. He gave the Snakes two quality starts in three, which is reason for them to have considered keeping him in the rotation and bumping Batista or Anderson into the bullpen.
The pen could use the help, for depth and to have a long reliever around. Greg Swindell has provided some insanely jacktastic good times this year, and Matt Mantei is rehabbing in the majors between injuries. Fortunately, Byung-Hyun Kim and Mike Koplove have been among the best relievers in the game. Mike Fetters has been useful since being acquired, while Mike Myers has been effective in doing what he's paid to do (get lefties, who are hitting .148/.279/.204 against him), and ineffective in that other part (righties are tattooing him at a .346/.433/.481 clip). But none of the effective four are what you would call long relievers, guys who can make a three- or four-inning pen-saving outing if/when one of the #3 through 5 starters get rocked early.
The other thing that's intersting is to stop and think about who's successful in this pen: Kim, Koplove and Myers all throw sidearm. Take a look at Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evalution Tools, and see who's on the leader boards. Old lefties like Mike Remlinger and Chris Hammond and Buddy Groom, none of whom are specialists per se. Sidearmers like Kim and Chad Bradford and Steve Reed. Journeymen not known for their velocity, like Shiggy Hasegawa or Tony Fiore or Julio Santana or Ben Weber. Yes, there are the desired flamethrowers as well--Robb Nen, Eric Gagne, Octavio Dotel, LaTroy Hawkins, Luis Vizcaino--but it's interesting to see that the only identifiable pattern is that there is no pattern. Diversity seems to be the rule of the day, instead of any particular uber-model. Remember that the next time somebody gets hot for some other speed gun champion.
For the Orioles, they get one of their solid veteran citizens back, nicely timed to coincide with Jay Gibbons' ongoing wrist problems. So while he's taking a breather now and again, Gibbons enters the mix with Chris Richard, Gary Matthews Jr. and Marty Cordova to stock the DH and corner outfield slots. The losers in the crush for playing time are, as expected, Jose Leon and Howie Clark. It's a slight surprise that Leon lost out to Clark. By using only thirteen position players, I would think that the Orioles would have valued Clark's ability to play almost anywhere. They're short-handed in people who can play the outfield well with Melvin Mora starting at short, and Leon can only play first or third. Jeff Conine isn't really an option as an outfield regular; as a gazelle, he makes a great Hungry Lion Manwich.
The great thing about having somebody like Willie Banks is that you can yo-yo him back and forth through waivers without really having to worry about losing him. And as mop-up relievers go, you can certainly do a lot worse. Now that the Red Sox have Bobby Howry, they can afford to breathe a little easier about their bullpen situation, but they're still not so deep in right-handed relief help that they can't use Banks. It would be nice if Frank Castillo could contribute in some way, shape or form now that Tim Wakefield has been put in the rotation, but at least the Sox have fixed their need for lefty relievers with Alan Embree and Chris Haney. If they can find a third reliable right-handed reliever behind Howry and Uggy Urbina, they'll have what they need for October.
Man, does Brian Kingman have serious mujambo or what? He not only got Jason Bere knocked out of the 20-loss race earlier this summer, he hexed Todd Ritchie's burgeoning campaign as well? That's juju the likes of which few other owners of baseball's less-famous records can boast. I mean, Chief Wilson can rest easy, if he's got spells to cast from beyond the grave, nobody's made a run on the single-season triples record since Kiki Cuyler in 1925. Maybe Paul Molitor's raft of injuries and problems in the mid-'80s came from his 1982 challenge to Graig Nettles' single-season third base double plays record set in 1971. If it's so, Nettles ain't talkin'. But Todd Ritchie really seemed to have it all going for him. He had a track record for relative durability, he's been the worst starter in the game today by a country mile (check out Michael Wolverton's Support Neutral numbers), and the White Sox don't have a lot of alternatives to him. So seeing him get struck down with three-quarters of the twenty achieved, and a third of the season to go, just goes to show that no one should underestimate Brian Kingman's desire to retain his niche in history.
Optioned RHP Francis Beltran to West Tennessee (Double-A). [8/4]
Recalled LHP Steve Smyth from Iowa. [8/6]
Steve Smyth gets to inherit Jon Lieber's rotation slot, at least until Jason Bere comes back in another few days. The Cubs keep flip-flopping between whether they think Smyth will be a starter or a reliever. Short-term, it's worth taking a peek at Smyth as a starter. Lieber's elbow has knocked him out of action for next year; the Cubs don't have to re-sign him, but they might give him a multi-year deal at a discounted price. But that means two slots are open for 2003 after the trio of Mark Prior, Matt Clement and Kerry Wood. The Cubs have been hankering for a lefty in the rotation going all the way back to Greg Hibbard, Steve Trout, or Ken Holtzman (depending on your bitterness threshold), so they might give Smyth a serious look-see. Smyth throws four pitches for strikes, has better than average velocity for a lefty, and he's a big-program college pitcher (USC). Coming back from a shoulder injury, Smyth had done well between Double-A and Triple-A, giving up just under 4.3 runs per nine while allowing 91 hits and 28 walks in 99.1 IP, with 96 strikeouts. As an alternative to Juan Cruz and Carlos Zambrano for the last two slots in next year's rotation, Smyth deserves consideration.
Activated RHP Joey Hamilton from the DL; placed RHP Elmer Dessens on the 15-day DL (strained groin), retroactive to 8/2; reclaimed RHP Brian Reith off waivers from the Phillies and optioned him to Louisville; transferred RHP Carlos Almanzar from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/6]
As the Reds limp along, staying in contention as much because of the Cardinals' recent dive as for anything that they've done, they're having to constantly reshuffle the rotation on the fly. Some managers would be driven to distraction by problems like this, but between Jim Bowden's acquisition of multiple candidates and Bob Boone's being happiest when he's operating on the fly, the Reds are coping. Today's rotation is composed of retreads Jimmy Haynes, Scuffy Moehler and Joey Hamilton, with Ryan Dempster and knuckleballer Jared Fernandez tossed in for leavening. If that group goes through three complete turns, either Boone will have been kidnapped, or good things will have happened. Joey Hamilton had to take his last turn in Coors, so he may yet be useful, but there's reason to worry that either Dempster is that rare pitcher who can't get anything from Don Gullett, or his arm is about to fall off.
In other news, Jim Bowden is firing up a waiver war, snagging Brian Reith back from the Phillies. As things worked out, he didn't lose either of the pitchers he had to outright to make room on the roster for his trade pickups. Seth Etherton was returned, courtesy of a commissioner's ruling, and Reith just came back, so Bowden lost nothing for his troubles.
Acquired OF-B Covelli Crisp from the Cardinals to complete the Finley trade; purchased the contract of OF-L Karim Garcia from Buffalo; recalled RHP Jason Phillips from Buffalo; optioned RHP Jaret Wright and OF-B Chris Magruder to Buffalo. [8/6]
So Jaret Wright finally goes away, and the Indians... bring back Dave Burba? Who's next, Ken Schrom? Rich Yett? Do they all get curtain calls? Blech. At least the Tribe is doing something interesting. If they aren't going to play Ben Broussard in left, experimenting with Karim Garcia to see if there's anything there is a worthwhile use of their time. Since coming over from the Clippers, Garcia has been insanely hot, and his combined numbers (.301/349/.507) are worth taking a peek. If he makes himself an asset, he's on the right team to stick, at least for as much as a Chito Martinez-style brush with glory. If not, Broussard should be back when rosters expand.
The other news is that the Tribe got a decent throw-in from the Cardinals. Covelli Crisp isn't a top prospect, but he could be more than another organizational soldier like Chris Magruder. He broke through last year in the Carolina League, and retained that success moving up to Double-A. At 22, he's interesting because he's picking up better command of the strike zone, he can run, and he seems to be picking up power as he matures. When acquired, he was hitting .301/.365/.428 for New Haven, not scintillating, but good for a young player debuting in the pitcher's league at the Double-A level. Picking from the Cardinals' organization, with alternatives like Chris Morris or Tim Lemon, it looks like Mark Shapiro got the best outfielder the Birds had left.
Signed manager Clint Hurdle to a two-year contract extension. [8/7]
It's too early to get a real read on Clint Hurdle as a manager. He and the team got off on a good foot, and the organization is comfortable and happy with him. His games of "musical second baseman" make you think he's a latter-day Dick Williams, but he hasn't been afraid of bold moves (like hauling Denny Neagle out of the rotation) as well as fidgety ones. He's been one of the numerous managers-in-waiting who took the trouble to earn his stripes in the minors, so let's wait and see what he does with a full winter to gear up for his first camp.
Charles Johnson's struggles have been horrendous this season, and all the more galling because the Marlins have two fine catchers behind him. Ramon Castro would be starting on any of a dozen other major league teams, while Mike Redmond is arguably the best second-string catcher in baseball. If Johnson had been hurt and stayed hurt, everyone would probably have been happier for it. Johnson could have rehabbed in peace, and the Castro-Redmond combo would have given the Marlins something significantly better than so-called 'replacement' value. Then the Marlins would have gone into the stretch with catching to shop, with needy contenders all the needier because of Sandy Alomar's escape to the irrelevance of Colorado. Now that Johnson has broken down again, you would hope that the Fish would let Castro get most of the at-bats to raise his value in barter this winter, but this being the Loria Teal-gills, you have to wonder if they've thought that far ahead.
Jason Lane hasn't had the great season you would have liked in New Orleans, only hitting .275/.331/.471, which translates to a .248 Equivalent Average in the major leagues. But with Daryle Ward not hitting much in his first shot at everyday play (he's parked at a .250 EqA, and has failed to display the power which was his previous calling card), the Astros should keep their options open. Jimy Williams is probably allergic to the word 'platoon,' and frankly, Lane's a good enough hitting prospect that he shouldn't be platooned as much as placed in a job-sharing arrangement with Ward. As a stretch move, this isn't a bad idea.
One of the nice things about a three-month victory lap is that you don't have to push when you get a nudge on the road to destiny. Eric Milton will have to miss as much as five weeks because of a tear in the lateral meniscus of his knee, but Juan Rincon isn't chopped liver. What's annoying is that Milton will return after the end of the minor league season, meaning he'll lose that option for his rehabilitation starts, which makes the task of getting him up to speed to make a few big league starts at the end of September that much more difficult. But the odds of this pulling somebody in the Central within ten games of the Twins remain, of course, laughable.
Well, I admit it. Not even for the sake of argument can I pretend that this is a bad thing for the Yankees, not even at my most contrarian. Even more fortunately for the Yankees, the rotation is rounding into shape beyond getting a healthy Roger Clemens into the fold. Andy Pettite is going strong, and El Duque's been pretty solid. Mike Mussina's struggles are still a major source of concern, and Jumbo Wells hasn't had a good start against a decent lineup since June, but they're duking it out for the the once-a-series fourth starter assignment, with loser getting to pal around with Sterling Hitchcock in the bullpen.
Although this is a reasonable exchange in terms of talent on the face of it, does this really shape up too well for the Mets' roster design? Mark Little isn't Babe Ruth; at this rate, he may not even be Sammy Byrd. But does it make sense to go with Tony Tarasco and Joe McEwing as your only outfield subs? Having Wigginton (or Marcos Scutaro) around makes sense, since it gives the Mets a better hitter on the bench than many of their outfielders. The Mets have, however, addressed their outfield weakness to some extent by making Wigginton play some outfield in Norfolk in the past month or so. He's not quite as patient as he was earlier in the season (which was as remarkable in its own way as Shea Hillenbrand's flirtation with discipline in April), but he's still having a fine season, hitting .306/.367/.437. That only translates to a .257 Equivalent Average, bad for an outfielder, but pretty good compared to Jeromy Burnitz (.236) or Roger Cedeno (.242).
The problem, however, still goes back to McEwing versus Little. McEwing's ability to play multiple positions only reproduces what Wigginton adds; neither of them can play short or center, so they're basically subbing at the same spots. Mark Little hasn't been a significantly better hitter on his minor league career than Wigginton (more power, lower average, more patience), but he has been a good defensive outfielder, and he can play center. Little over McEwing would have at least given the Mets that much more of a sliver's advantage, offensively and defensively, but the Cult of Super Joe is one thing that can't be reasoned with.
Wait, where's the Wilson Alvarez Devil Fishie Farewell ticket package? Seventeen wins and sixty-three unforgettable starts later, how could anyone not want to flock to witness the end of a five-year era?
Now that he's back, Alvarez will not be joining the rotation. The Devil Rays will continue to rely on their main front three of Paul Wilson, Tanyon Sturtze and Joe Kennedy, with Victor Zambrano and Jorge Sosa currently clinging to the fourth and fifth slots. If it seems like a strange decision, keep in mind that it's almost progress. At least the Rays will get a sense of what they've got, and what they can do. Zambrano has gone from last year's best reliever to this year's bullpen turkey to someone who just gave them a good start in his first attempt. He's mostly a minor league journeyman, but you could have said the same thing about Sturtze two years ago. Sosa is the Rule 5 pick who's been pressed into the rotation for want of alternatives and to give him something to do.
I don't know who's more exhausted trying to say something about the latest reshuffle of the Rangers, me or Jamey Newberg. Yes, Todd Hollandsworth is hurt, and somebody hurt is usually a bad thing. For the Rangers, it actually keeps them in the happy state of playing people who need to be played, to see who's going to be useful for 2003. Adding Travis Hafner to that mix for the next two months would be a good thing. He's been bopping in Okie to the tune of .338/.458/.545, translating to a PCL-best .301 major league Equivalent Average. If Raffy Palmeiro really wants to spend as much time as possible DHing in the last year of his contract next year, Hafner would be a hell of a step up from Lee Stevens or Mike Lamb or whoever.
As for losing Chan Ho Park, this has been a lost season for him from the start. He almost had a good July, but basically it's been bad news having him around in the first year of his contract. The decision to give him what he got was bold (or rash) enough to make Kevin Malone and Darren Dreifort blush simultaneously. If you've got a sense of irony, you're probably amused that Park's latest breakdown is because of an Ismael Valdes-style massive insta-blister on his pitching hand. Valdes' capacity to break down this way is one of many reasons he gets undervalued, and why the Rangers were wise to capitalize on that unfair rap with a cheap contract; unfortunately for Mr. Hicks' bottom-line, now that Park has gone Valdes on us, I doubt there's a contract rebate rider in his contract. But as far as what this means for the Rangers rotation, it's not the end of the world. Kenny Rogers and Valdes still anchor the rotation, while the Rangers get to sort through Joaquin Benoit and Aaron Myette and hopefully now Rob Bell again, to see whether all of them are ready, freeing the Rangers from having to chase both Rogers and Valdes as free agents in the off-season.
The Jays know that Eyre wasn't going to make it through waivers, but he had his shot, and as a starter, he didn't exploit it. However, he was extremely useful as a reliever. He shut down lefty hitters, and he had done a good job with inherited runners--a lot of inherited runners. But he's also pretty far-flung from his prospect days, and the Jays have a lot of talent to sort through to determine the shape of their roster before they have to set it for the (still-extant for the moment) Rule 5 draft. This is where interchangeability becomes a bad thing for a player; if you flop somehow, the value of your spot on the 40-man roster is higher than your value. Eyre's a lefty, so there's no doubt he'll be claimed; the Giants are supposed to be interested.
Mark Hendrickson is the latest two-sport wunderkind, which at 28 and a Blue Jay, doesn't mean he's about to take the world by storm, but he might at least expunge the memory of Danny Ainge's lackluster big league career. Hendrickson has had an outstanding partial season with Syracuse, posting a 3.52 ERA (mostly as a starter), giving up about a hit per inning with a 3-1 strikeout to walk ratio. He's not really some raw flamethrower; he can paint in the high 80s or low 90s, has command of his breaking stuff, owns a decent change, and might be a nifty addition. Indeed, he might be an upgrade on Eyre, which is sort of the point.