Happy Thanksgiving! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume Monday, December 1
August 21, 2002
August 15-18, 2002
Acquired OF-R Mark Little from the Mets for a PTBNL, and assigned him to Tucson. [8/16]
A nice easy pickup for the Snakes, made all the nicer by their need for a spare outfielder. The Sidesnakes' outfield isn't loaded with potential big league Snakes: Micah Franklin is more of a DH these days, Doug Devore isn't exactly a prospect, which really only leaves James Mouton. Little is a better all-around player than Mouton, so he goes straight to the front of the line in case anything happens to any of the big league outfielders. Presumably, he'll come up before September 1, coincidental with placing one of the backup catchers on the DL, and thus keeping everyone eligible for the postseason roster.
Is it just me, or have a really high number of catchers seen their offensive number crater this season? Glove men like Einar Diaz, Gary Bennett and Bengie Molina have plummeted down to Matheny territory, but well-regarded offensive catchers like Ramon Hernandez, Charles Johnson, Jason LaRue, and yes, Javy Lopez, have all done worse than expected as well. Combined with the usual "contributions" of guys like Brad Ausmus or Joe Girardi or Brent Mayne, or the continued entropic spirals of Todd Hundley and Jason Kendall, you're left with a divide between the nine or ten good regular catchers, and a bunch of situations which didn't pan out as well as you would have expected. Overall, catcher is now the weakest offensive position in the majors, well behind second and short. It all adds up to another way of saying that Jorge Posada and Mike Piazza tower over everyone else. It seems strange that something involving baseball in New York would go under- or uncommented upon, but the Big Apple has baseball's best catchers, and it falls short of being an overdone story?
Anyway, Jason LaRue's only 28, and Ramon Hernandez 26; both have fallen short of expectations before, probably requiring adjustment of the expectometer. But Lopez and Charles Johnson are both 31, which means they're well down the road towards the decline phase of their careers, and both have carried heavy workloads behind the plate. Johnson did have a great first half in 2001 to build on his outstanding 2000, but he struggled in '98, '99, and for the last year and a half. He isn't done, but expecting anything like 2000 again would be a longshot. Lopez is, by comparison, even more frightening. He's on a four-year slide that doesn't seem to be bottoming out. He was still useful as recently as last season, but his fragility on top of his decline pretty much demands that the Braves add a quality backup for 2003 (Lopez has a player option for next season, and it would border on miraculous for him not to exercise it).
Sadly, Henry Blanco isn't it. He's a nifty catch-and-throw guy, but he's also about to turn 31, and his career highs are a .320 OBP (in Coors) and a .394 SLG. The odds that he'll ever top either in a 200 at-bat season are pretty remote.
Mike Bordick's return won't add much to the team's offense, but defensively, he's still a better shortstop than Melvin Mora on an everyday basis. Getting him back is almost certainly good news for an extreme groundball pitcher like Scott Erickson in particular, and Travis Driskill and (if/when healthy) Sidney Ponson to a lesser extent.
What Bordick's return does to the lineup is another thing altogether. He effectively pushes Mora back into the mix of players in the first base/outfield/DH pool, already crowded because of the returns of Jeff Conine and Chris Richard from the DL. With Jay Gibbons, Marty Cordova, Gary Matthews Jr., and Chris Singleton all looking for at-bats, that's seven players to squeeze into five lineup slots. Sitting Singleton and Conine as often as possible would make the most sense; Matthews and Mora can each play center effectively enough, while Conine no longer hits well enough to merit full-time play at first or DH. Pushing Singleton into a bench role while restricting Conine to a platoon role with Richard or Gibbons would make the most sense, but with over $9 million committed to Conine through 2004, I suspect that his paychecks and solid citizenship will keep him in the lineup much more than that.
Acquired LHP Shawn Estes and cash from the Mets for LHP Pedro Feliciano, OF-R Elvin Andujar and two PTBNLs; placed RHP Scott Sullivan on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis), retroactive to 8/10. [8/15]
Shawn Estes joins Scuffy Moehler and Ryan Dempster as Jim Bowden and the Reds try to retool their rotation on the fly while trying to remain in contention. Estes had made four quality starts in his last five before joining the Reds, so maybe he's got Doyle Alexander '87 potential, but that would require turning Nelson's blind eye to certain issues. First, Estes is notoriously fragile and unreliable. Pitching in pitcher's parks in his entire career, he's even further removed from his 1997 signature season than Dempster is from his 2000 breakout or Moehler from his 1998 peak.
The Reds do need the help, however. They've only gotten five quality starts in seventeen games this month, one by Jared Fernandez, and the other four by these three merc amigos, while only going 8-9. Heightening the suspense is that the Cardinals have only managed to go 10-9 this month.
Fortunately, Estes didn't cost that much to acquire. Elvin Andujar is 22, a year older than originally advertised, and while he's promising, he's also yet to play in a full-season A-ball league. Pedro Feliciano is an interesting lefty reliever in a world full of interesting lefty relievers. The two PTBNLs aren't supposed to be top prospects.
Perhaps Bob Wickman won't be adding to his save total after all. The bad news is that is that the Tribe seems locked in to trying to let Mark Wohlers close. This is one of those silly reflexive decisions, where the veteran gets the role because he had it once upon a time. But in terms of Wohlers' skills, this is a really bad idea. Wohlers can get saves, but it has to be against selected lineup combinations against specific opponents with lots of righthanded hitters either due up or in the lineup in general. Otherwise, Wohlers' wildness creates the potential for big innings, and his problems with leaving his stuff up against lefties generates instant big innings. At best, to be charitable, Wohlers can be an adequate part of a closer-by-committee, as the Indians browse through everybody in the bullpen. Instead, he's going to be turkeyfied by some jacktastic good times faster than you can say 'Tom Niedenfuer.'
As valuable acquisitions go, this is admittedly better than picking up Girls Gone Wild 17: Pocatello Party Time! with those valuable Scouting Department discretionary funds. Given a choice between Erik Sabel's persistent failures with mastering the splitter, and Jason Beverlin's all-around adequacy, the Tigers made the right choice. Whether either of them would still be on the 40-man roster come December is an open question; the Tigers should save slots to participate in the Rule 5 draft as aggressively as possible. Perhaps they're hoping to make a good impression on Beverlin to convince him to stick around as a NRI next spring.
Activated C-R Charles Johnson from the DL; optioned RHP Blaine Neal to Calgary. [8/16]
There's only $25 million and three years to go, so CJ will be the Poster Fish for years to come, especially with Jeff Torborg doing a swell job of eliminating the alternative guppies. The added misfortune is that they overlooked the opportunity to either showcase or simply play Ramon Castro for his own good. As a result, the only beneficiary of this situation was Mike Redmond, who deserves good things, but not on the level that it handicaps the organization's ability to make Castro a more obvious commodity.
For those of you keeping score, the latest permutation to the Astros rotation is that they're running with Wade Miller, Roy Oswalt, Carlos Hernandez, Kirk Saarloos and Peter Munro, with Dave Mlicki thankfully shoved aside. Mlicki gave the 'Stros one quality start in five outings, and that was against the Pirates, the weakest offense in the league. So, while Gerry Hunsicker and Jimy Williams have been frustrating for all of the things they've done to keep runs off of their side of the scoreboard, they're evening things out by going into the stretch with their best rotation. Considering that starting pitching is already an advantage that the Astros hold over the Cardinals and Reds, maximizing that advantage is probably the best thing they can do. Happily, they don't have to resort to the broken-down like the Cardinals, or the disposable like the Reds. Instead, they're going with four homegrown talents and a nifty waiverbait snag in Munro. Having lost Shane Reynolds and seen Mlicki's impact minimized by injury, it couldn't have worked out much better than it has considering that Miller and Hernandez have both had to miss significant time.
The hope is that Kevin Brown can contribute in the bullpen, but for the same reason that this wasn't really an option for David Cone--the inability to bounce back and pitch with any frequency--you need to worry about how well it will work out for Brown. It does allow Jim Tracy to duck angering Omar Daal again by bumping him out of the rotation. It lets Newscorp feel like their Foxbux are being spent on something they can see.
The Dodgers are not picking up ground on the Snakes, but they are leading the Giants in the wild card, so it seems strange that they would make a move that smacks of desperation like this does. Paul Shuey shouldn't be terrible for the next six weeks, and Jesse Orosco and Bloody Paul Quantrill have been handy helpers for Eric Gagne's outstanding season in the closer's role. The pen hasn't been great (and it misses Daal), but it has room to improve without the Dodgers trying to get some bang for the bucks being spent on Brown.
At long last, the Brewers will get to take a look at Jimmy Osting in the rotation, but seeing Ruben Quevedo have to go down represents yet another failure in what has been an unremitting saga of failure for the Brew Crew. He's given up six or more runs in seven of his last thirteen starts. He's got conditioning issues, and consistency issues, and he's made himself unpopular in his two previous organizations, but he's also pitching in a bandbox for a bad team, and a flyball pitcher with a lousy outfield defense. The most galling aspect of his performance is perhaps how badly he's pitched on the road: 67 runs allowed in 76.2 IP? With twenty home runs allowed? It isn't like he's made all fifteen of his road starts in Coors Field.
Quevedo's failure to make progress can't be all Dave Stewart's fault, or Quevedo's fault, or Davey Lopes, or Jerry Royster. It's the organization, top to bottom, and the responsibility lies with everyone from Dean Taylor on down.
Optioned OF/1B/3B-R Michael Cuddyer to Edmonton; recalled C/1B-R Matt LeCroy from Edmonton. [8/17]
The happy circumstance of the Twins' organization is that they can flit back and forth between their choices. Do they want Michael Cuddyer or Matt LeCroy to be their primary right-handed bat off of the bench? When they reach the postseason, they can afford to carry both when they cut back down to ten pitchers, but in the meantime, they get to go back and forth between the two, letting one play regularly in the PCL while the other takes a couple of weeks spotting for lineup regulars. LeCroy gives them a third catcher, a righthanded-hitting caddy at first for Doug Mientkiewicz, and a DH platoon mate for David Ortiz, while Cuddyer gives them someone to fill in at second, third, or either outfield corner.
Placed RHP T.J. Tucker on the 15-day DL (sprained back). [8/18]
Erg, if there's an unhappy development, it's that losing Wil Cordero creates outfield playing time for Sibling Guerrero and Jose Macias. At least Macias has slugged unusually well, but Sibling has no business being on a 25-man roster. The only sense in keeping him is as a gambit to coax Vlad Guerrero to sign an extension for beyond 2003, and what are the odds that the 29 Expos co-owners will sign off on that instead of bidding on his services themselves?
Yee-ha, more cannon fodder for the YES network's ever-gripping reality programming, like Pinstriped Elimidate, Yankee Fifth Wheel, Snappy Flappy WB Yank-tastic Booty Call, and of course Jerry Springer, where Alex Arias concedes he's married to his midget transsexual uncle. Oh, and keep the Red Sox in the rear view mirror all the while.
Someday, when the Yankees aren't winning, the obnoxiousness of their trappings will evaporate as quickly as the Mets' swagger did in the early '90s. But in the meantime, we all have to grin and bear it.
Traded LHP Shawn Estes and cash to the Reds for LHP Pedro Feliciano, OF-R Elvin Andujar and two PTBNLs. [8/15]
Recalled LHP Mike Bacsik from Norfolk; traded OF-R Mark Little to the Diamondbacks for a PTBNL. [8/16]
Scratch starter number two. Joe Sheehan's argument for why, before the season, he felt the Mets could/should/would finish last seems to be working out. The argument was that they'd fall short of contention (check), trade some of their veteran starters (check), and have nothing to work with down the stretch... which hasn't quite worked out yet. The most combustible starters are gone, as you probably could have expected: they've bumped Jeff D'Amico to the pen after he tanked and they've dumped Shawn Estes, which gets them down to the big three of Pedro Astacio, Steve Trachsel, and Al Leiter, or the three guys who mattered the most from the get-go, still in place and still pitching well. Swapping Estes and D'Amico for John Thomson and Mike Bacsik isn't such a bad thing for the Mets rotation; it's still the team's most fundamental asset. It did cost them Jay Payton, however, leaving them even more short-handed in the outfield to get there.
Did they get anything for their investment in Estes? I mean, sure, they only lost extremely replaceable players to get Estes in the first place; Desi Relaford is a good utility infielder, but you can usually beat the bushes and find another one of those, and Tsuyoshi Shinjo's only assets come in promotions or leather. So for that, they got three-quarters of a season from Shawn Estes, and four Red tadpoles. One of them is actually an ex-Dodger; Pedro Feliciano is a lefty reliever with the usual command and junk. Elvin Andujar is 22 and does a decent job of getting on base and hitting for power, but he also hasn't gotten out of short-season ball yet. Do the math: 23 in full-season A-ball, 24 in advanced A-ball and/or Double-A, 25 in Double-A or Triple-A... he either has to rocket through the system, or he's going to be an organizational soldier. Who the PTBNLs will be isn't that big of a deal; the Mets need depth for the organization, and the Reds have a lot of semi-useful minor league hitters.
Life without the Opening Day starter shouldn't be too heavy an emotional load for the Pirates at this stage of the season. The Todd Ritchie trade yielded better options than their putative top starter from last year, so the Pirates are better off all-round. As mentioned in this space, Ron Villone was already a waste of a roster spot at this stage of the season. Al Reyes might not be an up-and-coming prospect, but if the Pirates had no reasonable expectation of rooting around and finding a use for Villone, they might at least find a way to make Reyes useful. They'll also get to spend the next six weeks (if played) looking at whether or not Brian Meadows or Bronson Arroyo can be the next Todd Ritchie. Don't hold your breath.
Not to mention Al Reyes is potentially a very handy reliever. At Nashville this season, he was his usually hard-to-hit self, allowing only 40 hits in 66.2 IP, while showing improved command with a 90:20 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Interestingly enough, he's managed to hit nine batters, almost leading the Sounds; given that he's allowing fewer than three walks per nine, that looks like a lot of purpose pitches. Given that he still throws hard, he's worth a look-see, on the off chance that he can become the club's next cheap bullpen asset.
Placed RHP Bobby J. Jones on the 15-day DL (strained back), retroactive to 8/11; recalled LHP Mike Bynum from Portland. [8/15]
Placed LHP Bobby M. Jones on the 15-day DL (forearm contusion); recalled RHP Dennis Tankersley from Portland; placed LHP Kevin Walker on the 15-day DL (elbow tendinitis) retroactive to 8/12; purchased the contract of RHP Jonathan Johnson of Portland. [8/17]
I know I join Padres fans everywhere when I state my shock and disappointment to see the world headquarters of Bobby Jonesery suddenly transformed into a Bobby Jones-free workplace. I'm sure this will befuddle Bob Jones believers everywhere, but this won't hurt the Pad people. Taking another spin with Dennis Tankersley is a good thing, insofar as there's not going to be any other way to help him get over his storied rookie jitters than to desensitize him. Call it immersion, tough love, whatever, getting him out there in the increasingly low-pressure environment in San Diego is probably the best thing they can do under the circumstances.
As a result, the Padres rotation is now a glimpse of the future, now that the Joneses and the Jarvises and their ilk are out of the way. Beyond Brett Tomko, you've got the young quartet of Tankersley, the soon-to-be-reactivated Oliver Perez, Brian Lawrence, and Jake Peavy. They've been touted in the past, and I'll tout them as much as I can any group of twentysomething pitchers, and they still look like a group that could run with the Cubs in terms of young starting pitching talent. And since the Padres don't have Bruce Kimm calling the shots, while the Cubs' flamethrowing threesome of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Matt Clement might float some people's boats, there's reason to believe the Pads' group will turn out better.
In terms of impact moves, this won't be touted as one of them, but that isn't quite fair. The Giants' bullpen is the third-best in the league according to Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools, and Jay Witasick has been an important component of that success. So has Felix Rodriguez's recent encouraging bounceback, and making Aaron Fultz go away, and nabbing Scott Eyre. Generally speaking, it's a deep pen, one of the team's hidden strengths. Losing Manny Aybar for the moment isn't too big a deal; he should be ready to go if/when somebody else breaks down, and he was already contributing since his callup.
Pat Gillick got something he desperately needed. As things stand now, Valdes is their second-best starter behind Jamie Moyer. Chief Garcia will undoubtedly get started ahead of Valdes in a playoff rotation, but the real ripple effect is that the Mariners can now duck starting James Baldwin in October, instead running with Joel Pineiro as their #4 if they don't bump him back into some high-leverage relief role. Better yet, they managed to acquire one of the thirty best starters in the game for two B-list prospects, who while they're both worthwhile, aren't exactly premium talents. To get a quality starter they needed for the kind of chattel any farm system ought to be able to produce on demand is as tasty as a free meal.
Look, at this stage of the game, there are really only two questions to worry about as far as the D-Rays are concerned: will a strike wreck their shot at 110 losses (and do they have what it takes to do it in fewer than 162 games?), and what happened to all those Jason Tyner bobblehead dolls? Having already decided that trying to build a set of the political leaders of Europe in 1914 would be a vanity I should not indulge, I'd be really unhappy if I didn't fill my tchotchke bill with the ultimate expression of Devil Ray-dom. Just to think on all those Jason Tyner bobbleheads, gathering dust in some Florida warehouse filled with surplus tinned beef from the Spanish-American War, it's almost enough to make you moderately interested.
Traded RHP Ismael Valdes to the Mariners for 2B-L Jermaine Clark and LHP Derrick Van Dusen. [8/18]
Ismael Valdes is sort of the ultimate rental. Because of unfair characterizations that he's somehow less manly than Bob Feller for not healing himself with a combination of branding irons, leeches, and whiskey, he ends up being pretty cheap as quality pitchers go, and he's almost always unable to receive anything more than a short-term offer. So you don't wind up with a Hampton-sized albatross, you get a quality starter for a short-term drive on contention, and... well, as the Rangers know now, when it doesn't work and you don't contend, he's an easy chit to flip to somebody who is contending.
So what about the swag? Derrick Van Dusen is sort of the latest iteration of the always popular Glavineus portsideia: although less expensive than a Dutch tulip, if this always-fickle flower blossoms, you've got yourself a heck of lefty starting pitcher, able to crank out quality starts and deal four pitches for strikes. If he doesn't pan out, well, you were only taking a flyer for a couple of months of Ismael Valdes' time, and the draft choice he may or may not bring you through the vagaries of the Elias compensation system.
As an added bonus, the Rangers got Jermaine Clark. At 26, he's no spring chicken as second base prospects go, but hitting .266/.370/.375 (with 60 unintentional walks in 443 plate appearances) while stealing 29 bases in 43 attempts makes him an interesting potential platoon partner for Mike Young at second base. Getting a pair of useful minor leaguers for Valdes at this stage of the season, and with his impending free agency, is a good enough minor accomplishment.
Add the season-ending injury to Frankie Catalanotto as the latest small disaster to afflict the Rangers this season. As a result, they don't get to peddle him for good stuff, they have him making $2.3 million this year with a tender/non-tender decision to make, and they don't know where he fits in for next year: second, instead of Young or Clark? The outfield, where the Rangers already have contracts galore rotting? Adding Jason Hart to the big league roster at least gives them a direct opportunity to get an early read on his future on the 40-man. He hasn't been a Custian disaster in the outfield. His numbers in the minors only translate to a .251 Equivalent Average in the majors, far short of what you want from someone who'll be playing first, left or DH, but he has smacked lefties around to the tune of .331 while slugging .624, so he might have a role as a platoon partner.
Placed OF-B Jose Cruz Jr. on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle), retroactive to 8/10; placed RHP Chris Carpenter on the 15-day DL (shoulder looseness); recalled RHP Mike Smith and OF-L Pedro Swann from Syracuse. [8/15]
The bad news in Toronto is the Jays are still stuck with a thirteen-pitcher roster. In part, that's because of injuries, but a complicating factor goes back to last winter. Because of the late changeover in the front office, the Jays entered the minor league free agent market late, and after already being handed the farm system that Gord Ash had run down, J.P. Ricciardi has been left with some pretty slim pickings in the upper levels of his organization. Add that to several injuries to top prospects, and you've got a limited number of position players to draw upon.
Carlos Delgado and Jose Cruz Jr. should both be back from the DL before the end of the month, so they'll be back up to thirteen or fourteen hitters before the end of next week. In the meantime, that leaves them with a bench that relies on Dave Berg and Tom Wilson as the moving parts among ten semi-regulars. That leaves Pedro Swann and Brian Lesher as the lefty-righty bats on the bench to use as pinch-hitters for Ken Huckaby or (temporarily everyday) right fielder DeWayne Wise.
Who else could they call up? Unfortunately, because of injuries throughout the organization, they have to leave somebody at Syracuse, otherwise Jayson Werth, Glenn Williams, or Chad Mottola might get more consideration. But beyond Werth (who has to help the SkyChiefs finish their season by catching because of the shortage of people in the organization who can catch, exacerbated by the recent injury to Kevin Cash), Mottola and Williams are journeymen no more or less critical than Swann and Lesher, and pumping too many non-roster bodies onto the big league roster could end up costing the Jays somebody on waivers. So the twelve-hitter roster is really just an adaptation to injuries and the exigencies of the present, while maintaining a loyalty to the future. In the meantime, they get to load up Wise's playing time, to decide if he'll still be on the 40-man in December, which is at least some sort of benefit.
Meanwhile, the pitching staff makes for an odd group. You've got the five-man rotation of veterans Esteban Loaiza and Steve Parris, young star Roy Halladay, and journeymen Pete Walker and Justin Miller. In the pen, you've got the pair of top relievers, Kelvim Escobar and Cliff Politte, and the pair of lefties, Felix Heredia and Mark Hendrickson. And after that, you've got the four projects: Rule 5 draftee Corey Thurman, and promising young once-and-future starters Luke Prokopec, Mike Smith and Scott Cassidy. With so many arms around, everyone needs innings, and the window of opportunity for dealing Loaiza or Parris is getting pretty slender if it hasn't already been bricked over. Why not treat the last couple of months as an extended spring training? Pete Walker is already considered a long reliever who should only be a starter in circumstances such as these. Beyond Halladay, why not junk normal usage patterns, reserving Escobar for save usage (given he'll bleat if used in any other way), and giving the other eleven pitchers relatively balanced workloads? The lefties, Heredia or Hendrickson, aren't even situational specialists. The Jays could repeat an experiment that has gone unrepeated since Tony LaRussa gave it a spin in Oakland in 1993, keeping in mind that it didn't really work out too well then in the week that it was tried.