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September 17, 2002
September 11-15, 2002
Something old, something new, so the Angels are both rewarding someone who already deserves to be here on the basis of his contributions earlier this summer, but they also have the fortitude to bring up a talented young flamethrower to give him a look-see in the midst of a pennant race. Lou Pote is already a known quantity, having done good work as a middle reliever for the Angels earlier this season. Although he pitched well, he was outpitched by both Brendan Donnelly and Scot Shields, and in the crunch for roster space, was banished to the starting rotation in Utah, getting smacked around while filling innings.
Before this season, Francisco Rodriguez had been touted as one of the best arms in the Angels' organization. Between his high-90s heat and a working slider, it's not hard to see why. But in response to persistent trouble with his elbow and shoulder, and given his youth (he'll be 21... next year), the Angels adapted, moving him out of the rotation and into a long "super closer" relief role, ensuring he'd get innings instead of situations. Between Arkansas and Salt Lake, Rodriguez tossed 83.1 IP over 50 games, allowing only 62 hits and 28 walks while striking out an incredible 120, and giving up only 26 runs (2.8 runs per nine). And he got 15 saves, although hopefully the Angels won't let that distract them. So it seems pretty apparent that he's got the physical talent to be a useful big league reliever. And if he manages to build up his arm strength in a multi-inning relief role, who's to say that he can't go into the rotation in four or five years? It isn't an "ordinary" career path, but mimicking other people's successes with the aged and infirm isn't a script for how you should get the best possible work out of real talent. Rather than take a page from what the Dodgers seem intent on doing with Eric Gagne, here's hoping that the Angels instead mimic what the Diamondbacks did with Omar Daal.
Signed C-B Raul Casanova; activated OF-B Gary Matthews Jr. from the DL. [9/11]
You can sort of understand why the Orioles picked up Raul Casanova, even if he's a 30-year-old with career rates of .233/.301/.370. Geronimo Gil is already 27, so he's as good as he's going to get. Gil's .244/.280/.377 season smacks of Jeff Tackett more than it conjures up visions of a new Rick Dempsey. Brook Fordyce's contract is unfortunately locked in through 2003, so unless the Orioles eat the money (a totally defensible option, given that Fordyce is 32 and looks done), they've got the same problem they had when they were fooling themselves into carrying Fernando Lunar on the 40-man roster for far too long. There's still no catching in the system, so what you see is what you get for a couple of years, unless they get uncharacteristically bold.
Recalled C-R Miguel Olivo from Birmingham (Double-A). [9/14]
Some good moves work both ways. The White Sox took a reasonable risk in taking Miguel Olivo from the Athletics in exchange for Chad Bradford. Yes, Bradford has been one of the best relievers in the American League this season, so it's worked out for Billy Beane's club as well, but the price is looking tastier and tastier for Kenny Williams's crew. Now, admittedly, Olivo is 24 and was repeating Birmingham, but when you've got a catcher who hit .306/.381/.479 (translating to a .251 Equivalent Average in the majors), you have to feel pretty good about it. He also hit solidly in 2001, and he's shown adequate patience in both seasons as well as solid power. After swiping 29 bases in 42 attempts, he might be the best basestealing catcher since the immortal John Stearns, or John Wathan. Defensively, he's got a strong arm, and apparently made some strides as a receiver. He shouldn't push past Mark Johnson and Josh Paul in camp, but he should be in a position to win the job before the end of next season.
The interesting contest in the AL Central is among the young catching all five teams can boast. The Tribe probably gets to claim the top slot with Victor Martinez and Josh Bard, the Sox have Olivo, and the Twins have A.J. Pierzynski already with Matt LeCroy nearby and Joe Mauer far off. The Tigers talk up Brandon Inge and also have Mike Rivera, while the Royals picked up Mike Rose on the sly, and harbor big dreams for Mike Tonis. No, it isn't Piazza and Posada, but all five teams have interesting choices to make in the next couple of seasons, and most of these guys are plausible starters or prospects.
Keeping in mind that it was only the dregs of Flash Gordon's career, the Cubs got what they almost always seem to shop for in these sorts of deals: live arms. Mike Nannini was a first round pick in 1998. He spent most of the summer in Round Rock's rotation, and got pasted for his troubles, posting a 5.81 ERA and allowing 6.2 runs per nine. In 141 IP, he allowed 151 hits, but posted a 121:64 strikeout to walk ratio, reflecting his good velocity. He's not exactly the sort of guy you normally think of Jim Hendry taking a shine to; Nannini is another one of the Astros' under-six footers, and although this year looks ugly, because of the vagaries of affiliation politics, he had to jump up to Double-A without pitching in a high-A league. At 22 and as a high school draftee, he could be anything. Right now, he isn't on a 40-man roster, but will have to be added to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Whether or not he gets added will be a tough call, although no tougher than another team's decision to risk a Rule 5 pick on a short righty with good talent and little success above A-ball.
Travis Anderson is your more traditional big college pitcher. He went to the University of Washington, and was a second-round pick in 1999; pitching in relief at Lexington--that's right, the Sally League in his fourth pro season--he posted a 4.46 ERA, and showed a lot of wildness for somebody who's supposed to be a little bit more of a finished product.
The contrast is fascinating. Who are the Astros keeping? Basically, the guys they dug up out of Venezuela or the late rounds of the draft or their draft-and-follows. Who are they trading? Their top draft choices. Think there's a lesson there?
Activated RHP Scuffy Moehler from the DL. [9/13]
He's back, and he'll be turning a few of his old tricks, working over virgin balls for cash. He's balancing his desire for a bigger score against trying to decide if Cincinnati isn't such a bad place to be.
Recalled LHP Alex Herrera from Akron (Double-A). [9/12]
Recalled 1B/LF-L Ben Broussard, RHP Ryan Drese and 1B/3B-R Earl Snyder from Buffalo; purchased the contracts of SS-R Brandon Phillips and LHPs Cliff Lee, Dave Maurer and Brian Tallet from Buffalo; placed OF-L Matt Lawton on the 15-day DL (shoulder cyst); transferred RHPs Chad Paronto, Jason Phillips and Jake Westbrook from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [9/13]
Yes, Ben Broussard should get some more time at first, left and DH to see if he can stick or if he has to compete with Karim Garcia for a job. Yes, Earl Snyder should get a look at third, if only because this team needs somebody to put there next season. Yes, gangly and effective LSU star Brian Tallet should get a look to see if he can give the rotation a low-velocity command-and-control lefty to mix into a rotation that doesn't have one of those. But the name to notice in all of this is Brandon Phillips, and the decision that having him around forces on them. Is he going to have to move to second to appease Omar Vizquel's vanity in his golden years? Considering that refers both to Vizquel's extension and his dotage, it won't be an easy choice for Mark Shapiro. It would be nice to see Phillips get to play his natural position at short, with Vizquel making the move, but organizations generally take the path of least resistance as a matter of course. Vizquel's thrown tantrums before, so it isn't hard to imagine that he'd go ballistic over the mere suggestion that he isn't what he once was at short, let alone being replaced at the position.
Activated RHP A.J. Burnett from the DL. [9/14]
Is it good news that the Marlins are going to ease up on Josh Beckett and avoid working him too hard in the last couple of weeks, monitoring his pitch count and simply giving him some exposure? The decision is akin to the stubborn refusal to shut down A.J. Burnett, who will be similarly monitored, and in an equally unimportant situation. I'd like to be optimistic, but these are the same people who oversaw running Donnie Bridges into the ground when they were all Expos. I doubt they claimed Bridges as a Jiminy Cricket as much as a guy to let the kids know "see, it ain't all bad."
Recalled 3B-R Morgan Ensberg from New Orleans. [9/11]
Ensberg only hit .288/.401/.422 for the Zephs (good for a .261 Equivalent Average), or less than you'd like to have seen if he was going to push his way back up this summer. Fortunately, Geoff Blum ended up doing a solid job offensively. You could ask yourself if the problem was whether or not Blum shouldn't have been playing second, as Craig Biggio's decline became more and more obvious. I suppose you can't blame the Astros for riding the broken-down member of the B&B Boys to the grim conclusion, but looking forward to next season, they've got to cough up $8 million to an average player, and that isn't going to help them push past the Cardinals or stay ahead of the Cubs and Reds.
The vicissitudes of fate can really leave you muttering at times. On the one hand, the Cardinals are not so wealthy in pitching talent that they couldn't use having Mike Matthews around. So why couldn't the Cardinals have worked something out with the Brewers, something to induce them to let Matthews pitch for a contending club into October, with appropriate compensation should anything bad happen to Matthews? Why bum the guy out and make him a Brewer, the NL's pinnacle of irrelevance? As far as deliberate acts of cruelty, this has be one of the nastiest things to be done to anybody on any roster in the last several weeks.
Recalled RHP Pat Strange from Norfolk. [9/12]
Pat Strange is the Mets' latest talented young pitcher. Sort of like Grant Roberts, he's a good young arm, but he's been over-touted. He's got the usual assortment that gets scouts over-excited: he's big, and he throws in the low 90s; weak command of his breaking stuff leaves him reliant on a changeup to get people, and that's not the profile of someone who's going to be a great starting pitcher. As a rotation regular for Norfolk, he allowed 4.2 runs per nine, allowing a hit per inning and a 109:57 strikeout to walk ratio in 165 innings. He's a decent option for a fourth or fifth starter right now, or, like Roberts, he could be an asset as a middle reliever.
You don't need to be named Kurtz to ponder the horror; the horror here is that the Devil Rays don't die, they're just perpetually dying. Is Dewon Brazelton up too soon? He didn't exactly blow the Southern League away, having allowed 4.25 runs per nine. To his credit, he allowed only 129 hits in 146 IP. A 109:66 strikeout to walk ratio is nice, but less than dominating. His fastball came up a bit short of advertised in his big league debut. In this organization and on this team, casting him as a starter can produce all sorts of bad things, and until he gains command of his breaking stuff, he will not be a good starter. Sadly, he got a big league contract as the third pick in the draft, so he's on an accelerated timetable pitching for an organization with no track record for successfully developing young pitchers and a manager with little sense of his responsibilities to the young pitchers in his charge.
You can take Mike Veeck cheezy-jinks out of the organization, but bringing back Delvin James for another promotional stunt reveals that beneath the proud aqua, green and black facade of this organization still beats a cornball heart. In case you missed it, James was shot less than two weeks ago, and now he's back and pitching in the majors... well, giving up runs and demonstrating that he'll compete. Watch for the Hallmark afternoon theatre special, co-hosted with fellow stunt Jim Morris. Don't blame the players; they're playing their guts out. The judgment issues belong upstairs, and as long as this organization shirks its responsibilities to itself, the permanent cycle of losing will never end.
There's some happy news, however. Jesus Colome did well in his brief stint at Durham this summer, so there's some hope he can be a relief asset next season. These last two weeks will give him a chance to... well, impressing Hal McRae probably shouldn't be important, but unfortunately it has to be for the time being.
Activated OF-B Jose Cruz Jr. from the DL. [9/15]
Cruz Junior returns from the DL and goes straight back into the lineup as the regular right fielder. In his absence, the Jays did get to take an extended look at DeWayne Wise. Wise didn't do so hot (.186/.217/.314, "good" for a .191 Equivalent Average), calling into question Gord Ash's judgment (again) as to why Wise was worth a 40-man roster spot for the last couple of seasons. But the Jays got to watch and evaluate and move up into third place, and they get another couple of weeks to look at Cruz again to decide what they want to do with their outfield in the offseason.