Happy Thanksgiving! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume Monday, December 1
August 29, 2002
August 22-25, 2002
Well, it's never a good thing when you lose your best hitter, and it's even less of a good thing when it happens in the middle of a pennant race. Fortunately, the Mariners aren't at their best either, so between the eventual end of the A's hot streak and the chances that the Mariners aren't going to make tracks, the Angels should still be in the hunt for both the wild card and the division title. The problem is that with minor league seasons petering out, and Salmon not ready to hit for another few days, the Angels may not have a place for him to rehab in game situations before he's ready to come back off of the DL. Meanwhile, they'll have to run with Alex Ochoa (while congratulating themselves on getting him) or Orlando Palmeiro in right.
In the fifth starter's slot, Mike Scioscia elected to forego moving Scott Schoeneweis back from the bullpen, instead trying to capitalize on the noted "Happy Ex-Devil Ray" factor. Pitching for Salt Lake, Mickey Callaway was giving up only 2.5 runs per nine in a half-season as a rotation regular, which in the PCL is something you write home about. Because we're talking about a refugee from baseball's worst organization coming over to a good team in a nice place to pitch, I think it's entirely plausible that he could wind up being an outstanding fifth starter--if that isn't an oxymoron--down the stretch.
This brings the Braves' bullpen back to full strength. John Smoltz goes back to being merely the fourth-best reliever in the game's best pen, and Mike Remlinger resumes his role as the team's best reliever in those high-leverage situations before the ninth. Kevin Gryboski has obvious talent, but between walking too many people and allowing inherited runners to score at the worst rate on the team, he'd lost out to Albie Lopez and Kerry Ligtenberg for the last spot on the postseason staff. Now it's between Lopez and Ligtenberg for the last spot in the pen, with the loser getting bumped off of the roster by Wes Helms when he gets reactivated (Helms can stay on the DL through 9/1 without becoming ineligible).
Placed OF-B Gary Matthews Jr. on the 15-day DL (wrist tendinitis), retroactive to 8/24; recalled RHP Sean Douglass from Rochester. [8/25]
Not that Gary Matthews Jr. was the difference between the Orioles being in third or fourth place, but all losing him does is give Chris Singleton a sense of happiness in that way that only job security through the absence of competition can. Singleton and Jeff Conine will get the at-bats that come free, which is swell for them, but has absolutely nothing to do with the Orioles learning anything about who can help them become relevant as opposed to peaking short of .500.
The really bizarre development is the Orioles going to thirteen pitchers, including a trio of righthanded ex-starters aspiring to fourth or fifth starterdom. What value is there to having Sean Douglass and Rick Bauer and Chris Brock around? On top of third lefty Yorkis Perez? Instead of bringing Howie Clark or Jose Leon back up? Admittedly, the organization is almost entirely bereft of hitting prospects, but why forego experienced minor league hands, just so that you can overstock a bullpen to the point that nobody's going to get enough work?
The question isn't whether Douglass or Bauer should be looked at, because they should be. But why have them both up now, before roster expansion? And why keep Chris Brock around at all? He's 31, and a waste of a 40-man slot at a time when the Orioles might at least claim some free agent to be on waivers who might subsequently bring them a draft choice.
Claimed OF-R Benny Agbayani off of waivers from the Rockies. [8/26]
Talk about happy waiver snarfs. Tony Clark isn't doing the job as Brian Daubach's platoon partner, and Carlos Baerga is only a shade more dangerous than Clark. The question is who gets cut from the active roster if the Red Sox want to get Agbayani eligible for the postseason roster--which they should, considering he's slugged over .500 against lefties the last four years. Lou Merloni is the team's utility infielder and designated Nomar sidekick, so it really is between Clark, Baerga... or an extra pitcher. Considering that you want to go into the postseason carrying only ten or at most eleven pitchers, the Red Sox could safely push Willie Banks back to the PawSox, keeping all of the hitters (Clark for his glove at first, Agbayani for his slugging, Merloni for utility infield duties, Baerga for good luck belly rubs). It isn't like anyone's going to claim Banks if they designate him for assignment, which is precisely why he's useful to them in the first place.
Placed INF-R Tony Graffanino on the 15-day DL (knee); recalled INF-B D'Angelo Jimenez from Charlotte. [8/25]
This is an extremely bad break for Tony Graffanino, who should have sailed into free agency this winter feeling pretty good about his chances of being rewarded with the sort of coin that one of the game's best utility infielders deserves. Instead, he's torn up his knee and he's out for the year, and in an offseason that might see all sorts of tire-kicking and reluctant bidding on free agents, any warning labels can cost you dearly if you're a member of the shrinking veteran middle class.
To add insult to injury, since the White Sox managed to acquire D'Angelo Jimenez for a "Get Well Soon" card, they've already got a pretty nifty utility infielder to replace Graffy with. Returning to his original position at short at Charlotte, Jimenez played it well enough while hitting .280/.372/.478. Next spring, the White Sox should look forward to letting Jimenez join Willie Harris, Jose Valentin, and Joe Crede take up most of the playing time at second, short and third.
Recalled 2B-B Bobby Hill from Iowa. [8/26]
I don't know whether or not I owe Ed Lynch an apology. For years, he was an easy target because of his conviction that, if you were within fifteen games of the wild-card, you weren't out of it, and you didn't need to start dealing veterans. But was it a deeply held conviction, or was Lynch merely following orders? Andy MacPhail, in polished preppy obliviousness, insisted that everything was pretty swell three months into the season. So now we're at the end of August, and only the Brewers really look worse in the entire league, and they're stuck with Fred McGriff when he was looking valuable for several contenders, with Hee Seop Choi ready and waiting. They've acquired nothing that you would consider anything more than minor league depth.
And yet the organization's talking heads are palavering about the lack of desire? Who brought Todd Hundley in, or Moises Alou, without giving any thought to what people have been saying about them for years? What was the last organization in the world to be gulled by the legend of Alex Gonzalez's nascent greatness? Who turns a blind eye to when Chris Stynes throws another little fit against the local writers? Who fails, year in and year out, to convert their somnambulistic vets into young talent?
Desire? You bet that word should be kicked around, as in 'why don't the Cubs desire to build a consistent winner?' This year has produced three good things: Corey Patterson got to play, Mark Bellhorn got to play, and Sammy Sosa told the Cubs out loud what they need to hear, which is that they suck. If that doesn't wrinkle a few executive polo shirts, nothing will.
Placed OF-R Austin Kearns on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); activated RHP Elmer Dessens from the DL; purchased the contract of OF-R Jose Guillen from Louisville; optioned RHP Chris Reitsma to Louisville. [8/27]
Barring an Oakland-style winning streak, the Reds have (sadly) been purged from the pennant race. They mounted an inspired challenge this year, and perhaps the greatest of their successes was that they got to break in the third starter in what should be the division's best outfield for the rest of this decade. But now Austin Kearns is hurt, and all there is to look forward to is the opening of the Great American Ballpark next spring. The mass acquisition of merc starters didn't come soon enough, and the low-wattage offensive contributions of the Reds infield is going to have to be addressed this winter.
In that vein, a major issue is that they've got a year left on Barry Larkin's contract, which should also be the last year of Larkin's career at this rate. The question is whether or not the Reds can dig up the right caddy and/or candidate to completely replace Larkin. This isn't an Ozzie Smith versus Royce Clayton situation; unlike Ozzie, Larkin's career is going to end after his days as a useful player are used up. The problem for the Reds is finding a utility infielder who can handle short for around eighty games as well as contributing some offense, and guys like that aren't too common. Unfortunately, Larkin is only the most obvious problem in an infield loaded with mediocrity this season. Jim Bowden's capacity to wheel and deal will be put to the test this winter, but wheel and deal he must if he wants to keep up with the Astros or Cardinals, or to forestall the Cubs' burgeoning collection of young talent.
Next summer, Josh Bard was probably going to mount a challenge to the contract with Einar Diaz's name on it that has a stranglehold on the Indians' catching job, so it's not a bad thing that they're getting down to it early. Bard had a nice season in Buffalo in his first full year at Triple-A, hitting .297/.332/.436, which translates to a .243 Equivalent Average if he'd been in the majors. That doesn't sound like much, but Bard is a switch-hitter who's better from the left side and a good catch-and-throw guy to boot, so he has the ability to work his way into a job-sharing arrangement with Diaz, contract or no contract. The Tribe is really only on the hook to Diaz for less than $5 million over the next two years, or $7.5 million over three if they pick up their option on 2005. Since Bard is already 24, they may as well start getting familiar with him right now.
This month's punitive rotation demotion is brought to you by... drumroll please... the unfortunate Shawn Chacon. No, he doesn't spell his name H-A-M-P-T-O-N either (not excepting Hampton's recent success), but at least they're trying to punish somebody who's a starting pitcher, and that's pretty close to the problem, isn't it? Besides, who wants to punish people if it hurts or costs money? Today's bystander had options, so aside from bruising Chacon's feelings, there's no harm. Who cares if he was one of the only good things to happen to this team in 2001? He'd had a couple of bad starts in his last five or six, and the Padres are starting to creep into the neighborhood of fourth place. Nothing like a bold temporary decision to make you look decisive for days, maybe even weeks.
Acquired RHP Jeremy Bonderman from the Athletics to complete the three-way Weaver/Pena/Lilly trade from 7/6. [8/22]
Optioned RHP Fernando Rodney to Toledo. [8/25]
Perhaps surprising only a very few, I was incorrect, and the Tigers did indeed add another good prospect in the Weaver deal by acquiring Jeremy Bonderman from the A's. Coming into the season Bonderman was considered an entirely unfinished product. A high school pitcher a year removed from entering the draft, you might have expected him to struggle since the A's don't have a low A-ball affiliate and he made his professional debut in the advanced California League. He didn't really struggle; giving up 4.8 runs per nine doesn't sound too good, but he's in a hitter's league and he's 19. Even more impressively, he posted a 160-54 strikeout to walk ration in 144.2 IP, while giving up only 129 hits. Above all else, he brings mid-90s heat, and his command of his breaking stuff is pretty advanced for one with so little experience.
In short, he's that rare high school pitcher that you want to take a flyer on early on in his pro career. It'll be four or five years before he'll get to the chalk board to erase Jeff Weaver's name, but he's an outstanding pickup.
So we've got a month left, and today's trivia question is who's going to finish the year in the Marlins' rotation? Who would you allow Jeff Torborg to manage in the last month of the season? Okay, Julian Tavarez is good. Brad Penny is the last of the wunderkinder left standing. Then you've got Mike Tejera and Carl Pavano, two guys whose paths to the present have been very different, but they're both talented.
And then... well, we'll have to see, because a fifth starter won't be needed until next Tuesday, after the rosters expand. But barring general cluelessness and its role in organizational decision-making, I doubt that Beckett will start another game this year. Sadly, they're still claiming things will be fine for both A.J. Burnett and Beckett, but at this point, nobody should have much faith in what they have to say on the subject.
The happy news is that Toby Borland has been given a new last chance in the majors. He's basically had a bad six years or so, losing his son, his kid brother, and parts of his elbow. The big sidearming stringbean is fun to watch work, so if you're among those brave grizzled few going to Marlins games, check him out and wish him well.
Acquired RHP Flash Gordon from the Cubs for LHP Russ Rohlicek and two PTBNLs. [8/22]
The Cardinals get the headlines for their capacity to win while unraveling, but the Astros' situation isn't that much less dire. Losing Richard Hidalgo might not be the end of the world, insofar as not having him around when he hasn't hit like he can isn't a huge loss. The question is whether or not he'll be 100% when he comes back off of the DL. Between Orlando Merced, Brian Hunter, and Jason Lane, they'll be covered, but it would be better to get a fully healthy Hidalgo for the last three weeks of the season. The other problem is that losing Merced to the starting lineup really puts the pressure on Alan Zinter and Lane to succeed in pinch-hitting roles. It isn't fair to either of them, but Merced has been a significant asset as a pinch-hitter.
As for acquiring Flash Gordon, at least it doesn't appear to have cost them that much in the way of prospects. They do need the help in the pen. Ricky Stone looks like he's been overworked, and Nelson Cruz is really only somebody you use when you're behind. Sidearmer Brandon Puffer has his uses as a situational righthander, but lefties are killing him. Enter Gordon, who can usually do a good job of freezing lefties with his curve, at least during those instants when he's healthy. Gordon gives them an alternative to lefty situational specialist Pedro Borbon, and a semi-famous ex-closer in case Billy Wagner's elbow acts up again. The key pitcher in the Astros pen is still Octavio Dotel, but Gordon makes for an adequate extra arm.
If there's a decision to question, it's keeping Cruz or Dave Mlicki over Puffer on the active roster. If either Cruz or Mlicki have to start a game in September of have to appear in a game in October, that can only mean something bad has happened, whereas using Puffer against key right-handed batters that you know the opposing manager won't pull would be a nice tactical option. If you're carrying twelve pitchers, two of them shouldn't be mop-up men.
Brian Jordan's an identified star and all that, and it's never a good thing to lose a useful player, but it's worth pointing out he's been the fourth-best hitter among the Dodgers' outfielders. That means acknowledging more than just their canny pickup of Dave Roberts to fill the leadoff role, it means accepting that Marquis Grissom has had a kickass season, defying all expectations. Grissom still isn't walking, and he still isn't much of a threat to your average right-handed pitcher, but he's pasting lefties, bopping ten taters in around 120 plate appearances. Grissom shouldn't really be allowed to play every day in Jordan's absence, but with Mike Kinkade around to play left, Jim Tracy should be able to continue to field an offense that can put up runs in Chavez Ravine. It's helped that Adrian Beltre chose August as a good time to get hot.
Bringing back Guillermo Mota isn't exactly an indictment of Kevin Brown's live action rehab in the Dodgers pen, but with the blush off of Kaz Ishii's rose and with only three relievers pitching consistently well, Tracy needs all the arms he can get. Eric Gagne and Bloody Paul Quantrill only combine to give you a couple of innings per night (Jesse Orosco's thin slips of appearances barely contribute more than an isolated successful matchup or two per week), so getting Mota back and with the anticipated return of Giovanni Carrara in a few days, the Dodgers have to hope they'll be covered. It's sort of unfortunate that they felt that Beirne's options had to be taken advantage of, since he had actually done well in his couple of weeks with the team. But the gamble is that Paul Shuey will be an asset by the time the playoffs roll around, and for their sake, he'd better be.
Purchased the contract of LHP Shane Nance from Indianapolis; designated C-B Raul Casanova for assignment. [8/24]
Just remember, in this organization, Matt Childers is a prospect. He might not be on anybody else's prospect lists... okay, the Dodgers, maybe the Cardinals, maybe even the Orioles... but 21 baserunners and a dozen runs in nine innings pitched later, you have to ask yourself why they bothered rushing him up if they weren't willing to accept the likely consequences.
I stand corrected: the Mets are in last place. So how did that win-now philosophy work out, anyway? The amazing thing was that, in Alfonzo's absence, the Mets went 3-16, including that grisly twelve-game losing streak that was not noted for its number of close games. Mike Piazza's having his worst month in recent memory while Mo Vaughn's slugging under .400 for August; the usual Big Apple big overreaction reaped its own rewards. There's no dignity to any of this, just a reprise of the squalorous, ugly end of the Torborg Mets. The final misfortune will be if Bobby Valentine is held accountable for the pot of pyrite at the end of Steve Phillips' rainbow.
Aaron Harang's introduction to big league reality works out like this: the A's don't need their fifth starter again between now and when rosters expand, and it's extremely unlikely that they'd keep a space on the postseason roster warm for a fifth starter who won't draw a postseason start now that Cory Lidle has done a convincing Hershiser impression. Nevertheless, I don't agree with the logic of keeping Harang off of the postseason roster entirely. You need to have somebody in the bullpen who can come into games where the starter has gotten rocked and needs to come out by the third, and who can then give you four or five innings and allow you to go into the next game with a stocked pen. Much as I like the idea of having Adam Piatt's bat on the postseason roster's bench, if you're telling me that the A's have to make do with Micah Bowie as that long man, I'm not going to be wildly enthusiastic about it. Hopefully Ted Lilly will be ready to pitch by then, mooting my qualms.
Placed RHP Matt Morris on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring) and LHP Mike Matthews on the 15-day DL (strained hip), retroactive to 8/21; purchased the contracts of RHPs Rick White and Nerio Rodriguez from Memphis; designated INF-R Mike Coolbaugh and OF-R William Ortega for assignment. [8/24]
Acquired LHP Jeff Fassero and cash from the Cubs for two PTBNLs. [8/25]
Optioned RHP Kevin Joseph to Memphis. [8/26]
How much more interesting could the NL Central race get? Sure, Woody Williams and Garrett Stephenson are supposed to be back any minute, and healthy too. Maybe it will actually work out this time around. It seems a stretch, but could it be any more unlikely than the resurrection of Andy Benes, or the Luther Hackman trojan starter gambit semi-working, or the improbable successes of Jason Simontacchi? Given this organization's track record and obvious desperation, barring a collapse by the Astros, you can pretty much count on Matt Morris pitching in two weeks. Out of consideration of the magnificence of their effort, you can only hope that it doesn't hinder his ability to pitch effectively in October.
The other dangerous situation is whether or not Jeff Fassero is a pennant-blowing plant by the permanently envious Cubbies, a grenade deposited in the Cardinals' pen with the pin already out. He's been one of the ten worst relievers in baseball. Not that he's been effective against anybody, he has been especially ineffective against lefties (.353/.412/.435), so he has little or no situational value. How's he supposed to get a lefty out nowadays, by startling them? His value to the Cardinals is that he can share a laugh with Dave Duncan reminiscing about their favorite episodes of Designing Women. Face it, if you put Delta Burke up on a pedestal, odds are you're going to have leave her there for awhile. But it simply highlights that losing Mike Matthews was another little cut that the Cards could ill afford. The question is why acquire someone as worthless as Fassero has been; could Jason Jacome or Les Walrond or even Kevin Ohme really do worse? Guaranteed? They'd really have to work at it.
Outrighted RHP Tom Davey to Portland. [8/26]
Saying Wiki Gonzalez is having a snakebit bad year is sort of like pointing out that the Attorney General has turned out to be scary-bad this year: the question isn't whether or not you need to say it, but whether or not you're allowed to say it, since such a comment is fraught with the implication that you must possess a mean-spirited command of the obvious.
Todd Greene's recall was caused by Bill Haselman's sore shoulder, not because Travis Hafner needed to be shipped out. Since the Rangers are operating under the shadow of a strike, the choice sort of makes sense. Under normal circumstances, it would have made more sense to cut Todd Hollandsworth or C.J. Nitkowski or Rich Rodriguez, but cutting Hollandsworth would require paying him during a work stoppage, while Nitkowski and Rodriguez fill those critical second and third lefty roles in the pen now that Dennys Reyes has been bumped up to the rotation.
I've advocated giving Reyes a chance to start for awhile now, but under these circumstances, it isn't quite as sensible. The Rangers are doing the right thing in keeping both Joaquin Benoit and Aaron Myette in their rotation to the end; why not follow the same course of action with Rob Bell? Chances are those three will be fighting for two rotation slots next spring. Reyes may have first dibs on claiming the token lefty slot (assuming Kenny Rogers is uninvited as a free agent this winter), but why excuse one of the other contenders for next year's rotation when you could use him in tandem with Reyes or Benoit or Myette to give you eight innings in a game that doesn't make you use anybody else? And if Bell is just coming back when rosters expand, why send him down at all, and why keep the spare lefties who will be so much offseason flotsam in just a month? The Rangers are better off keeping Bell around to pitch and learn than they are fretting about a fifth inning tactical decision over whether or not to bring in Rich Rodriguez.
Activated 1B-L Carlos Delgado from the DL; recalled RHP Brian Bowles from Syracuse; placed RHP Luke Prokopec on the 15-day DL (elbow pain), retroactive to 8/24; optioned OF-L Pedro Swann to Syracuse. [8/25]
That's interesting. With Carlos Delgado's return from the DL, the Jays could have gotten back down to a dozen pitchers, but they chose not to. As mentioned before, injuries have become an issue at every level of the organization, so Pedro Swann returns to Syracuse as much out of need for Syracuse as there's a desire to see if Brian Bowles has finally picked up enough command of his breaking stuff to throw it for strikes. Another problem has been that Jose Cruz Jr. is out for longer than expected, as it turned out that he's got a torn ligament in his ankle, which may simply end his season.