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March 22, 2003
March 17-19, 2003
Placed RHP Matt Wise on the 15-day DL (torn ligament-elbow). [3/18]
Matt Wise is done for the year, which reduces the candidates for the fifth starter's job to Mickey Callaway and Scott Schoeneweis. And since Schoeneweis is fighting off a minor hamstring injury, and has done some low-key sparring with Mike Scioscia for that rotation slot, while Callaway is having a good camp after a nice cameo as a spare starter last summer, Callaway's the clear favorite.
Signed LF-L Luis Gonzalez to a three-year contract extension through 2006. [3/18]
Jerry Colangelo gets high marks for some for his occasional magnanimity, but the decision to enrich Luis Gonzalez for past good deeds with a contract that takes him at least just past his 39th birthday (and that's without bringing up the mutual option for 2007) is foolhardy at best. His 2002 was definitely a step down from his 2001 and 2000 seasons, and with age comes increasing fragility. As much as the Snakes got a relative bargain for their initial investment in Gonzalez, why follow that with a huge financial mistake? For it is a mistake, and not merely a risk. Do they simply expect the Unit and Schilling to go on forever? What is this, Sam Peckinpaugh's The Wild Bunch? The greybeards don't really just keep winning until they die in their cleats, do they? You would think they would have learned from the bad deals they cut with Matt Williams and Jay Bell, but apparently not.
Elsewhere, Mike Bell's already 30, which in this organization, makes him the perfect understudy for Williams. That still falls well short of being Warren Oates to Williams' Ben Johnson.
Received Rule 5 draftee RHP Buddy Hernandez back from the Athletics. [3/17]
Optioned SS/3B-B Wilson Betemit, 2B-R Nick Green, and 1B-L Adam LaRoche to Richmond; assigned INF-R Ramon Castro, C-L Bryce Terveen, C-R Mike Hubbard and RHP Derrick Lewis to their minor league camp. [3/18]
Betemit's shot at a job was limited considering there wasn't a full-time job available, at least not until they send Vinny Castilla to the knacker. Ramon Castro could have made a place for himself in a utility role, but he didn't hit and kicked a few balls, and the Braves' camp is littered with journeymen like Los Dos Francos, Darren Bragg, Bo Porter and Donzell McDonald, all having good camps. To complicate things, they've got a lot of positional flexibility: Matt Franco can play second or third in a pinch, Mark DeRosa can play any of the infield positions, and Rob Fick can back up the outfield corners. So the odds favor Bobby Cox carrying all three catchers (Javy Lopez and both backups, Johnny Estrada and Henry Blanco), leaving one spot on the roster if both Julio Franco and Marcus Giles get jobs and the Braves stick with 11 pitchers. That leaves Bragg, Porter, and McDonald fighting for the Treni Hubbard slot, the spare outfielder who gets to pinch-run for those catchers.
Stephens was hurt for much of camp, so even with Scott Erickson's breakdown, he was going to have a hard time pushing into the rotation after the signings of Omar Daal and Rick Helling. As is, Helling isn't even guaranteed to start ahead of Pat Hentgen, who has done everything in his power to prove that on the mound, he's worse than inert, he's potential energy self-transmogrifying into kinetic high-velocity menace. Jason Johnson might have to head into the pen, just to make certain Orioles fans get their share of cheap souvenirs.
Optioned RHPs Jon Adkins and Edwin Almonte, INF-R Tim Hummel, and LHP Arnaldo Munoz to Charlotte; assigned 2B/SS-R Jorge Nunez and OF-Rs Anthony Sanders and Mario Valenzuela to their minor league camp; received Rule 5 draftee RHP Gary Majewski back from Toronto, and assigned to Charlotte. [3/18]
The Sox have picked their fifth starter, and it isn't Jon Rauch. Instead, it's Esteban Loaiza. It's an entirely sensible, defensible choice, dictated by results on the field. Rauch didn't look sharp, and after last season's struggles and shoulder woes, he needed to. Loaiza has flashed fine command, good enough to suggest he might be the fourth starter in April if it allows Danny Wright any extra time to rest up and be full speed when he can and does pitch.
A lesser development is that the infield reserves are starting to be sorted out. D'Angelo Jimenez is having a good camp, and Tony Graffanino has been healthy enough to play. However, I wouldn't count out Tim Hummel and/or Jorge Nunez just yet, since Willie Harris is having a terrible camp. The real beneficiary may end up being Aaron Miles, although if Jimenez gets the starting job at second, Jerry Manuel might have reservations about keeping Miles around as a part-time player. Miles had an outstanding little season for Birmingham last year, hitting .322/.369/.450, which boils down to a decent little switch-hitter with some pop. He walks less than you'd like (40 times in ~590 PA), he's not a gifted gloveman at second, and he runs with a little too much reckless abandon (16 times caught versus only 25 successful steals), but he's the guy who's hot in camp, while Harris struggles. It wouldn't be the first time Manuel decided to go with the fresh legs that made a good impression in camp, and frankly, there isn't enough of a difference between Harris and Miles for the Sox to operate out of preference. If Miles beats Harris out, it'll be done on merit.
Placed UT-L Russell Branyan on 15-day DL (torn labrum-shoulder). [3/18]
Branyan's out until May, which creates a little bit of wiggle room in terms of getting Brandon Larson onto the roster and into the lineup, and perhaps creates some roster space/hope for Ruben Mateo. Lance Davis tickled some roto sweet teeth once upon a time, but for every Dave Fleming, there are a half dozen guys who wish they could be Dave Fleming and have that one year, but don't quite get there.
Named Carl Willis pitching coach. [3/19]
The Indians' rotation situation has gotten a wee bit simpler with the decision to send Brian Tallet away, while consigning Billy Traber to a swing role. Neither decision may last. While technically this all means is that Jason Davis has won the job as the fifth starter, over the next few months it isn't Davis' job that Traber and Tallet will be nabbing. The rest of the rotation involves Jason Bere and Brian Anderson, after all, and C.C. Sabathia's long-term future is less than sunny considering his bulk, his workload, and his past history. Ricardo Rodriguez has a rotation spot for the moment, but he's not really any different than Davis or Traber or Tallet--they're all young and promising, and it's not that unlikely that all four could be in the rotation by September.
In other news, Josh Bard won the catching job over Victor Martinez. Conspiracy theorists will undoubtedly note that this could be a none-too-subtle attempt to gerrymander Martinez's service time, but the Tribe likes Bard's work behind the plate, and Martinez had a bad camp. He'll be back, but it highlights the nice problem that the Tribe has.
Similarly, Alex Escobar's demotion shouldn't surprise. Although Matt Lawton and Karim Garcia aren't at full speed, Milton Bradley, and Ben Broussard are both having outstanding camps, and the Tribe has people like Jody Gerut and Shane Spencer pressing for reserve roles. This doesn't look anything like last year's outfield, not a Brady Anderson or Todd Dunwoody in sight, and fringe fifth outfield types like Chris Magruder seem crowded out. It all makes for an interesting transition year, where a third place finish is the most likely destination given the stratification of the AL Central, but whether they're third with a bullet or by default, this is going to a fun team to watch in August.
Placed SS-R Juan Uribe on the 60-day DL (broken foot); acquired LHP Javier Lopez from the Red Sox for a player to be named or cash. [3/18]
Lopez was a Rule 5 pick by Boston from Arizona, and while he's intriguing, he wasn't going to make it with the Red Sox, and he was about to be offered back to the Snakes. The Rockies, operating out of the pack-rattery for which they are deservedly known, saw the shiny object and made an offer. The Red Sox can perhaps derive some little glee at tweaking the Snakes for not working out some form of compensation, by sending Lopez to a divisional rival.
Optioned RHP Shane Loux and LHP Eric Eckenstahler to Toledo; assigned RHPs Fernando De La Cruz and Chris Mears, C-Rs Robinson Cancel and Luis Tavares, INF-R Danny Klassen, 2B-L Warren Morris, 1B/OF-L Kevin Witt, and OF-Rs Craig Monroe and Ernie Young to minor league camp. [3/18]
I remain an unthinking Ernie Young fan, and it's easy to envision Klassen, Witt or Monroe being valuable spare parts on a major league bench. The real news is the daunting situation of the Tigers' rotation this spring. If there was a team that should have been aggressive in trying to sign up both Bruce Chen and Rob Bell, it should have been the Tigers, because right now, they're really going to have to go with Nate Cornejo, Steve Sparks, Mike Maroth, ...and...well, Jeremy Bonderman has had a good inning or two... Adam Bernero's looked bad, but not as bad as Gary Knotts...Andy Van Hekken's strikeout-to-walk ratio is down to 1:3, that's not as bad as it gets...Dave Rozema is still retired, um...all of which gets you to thinking why Alan Trammell would ever think that this managing thing was a good idea. Dave Dombrowski's had to rule over some pretty grim rebuilds, but this might be the worst yet. He should keep an eye on the waiver wire as spring training ends, because he might not have two starters he can rely on, let alone five.
The demotion of Jared Fernandez only sort of simplifies things in terms of competition in camp. Yes, the final job in the rotation is down to Jeriome Robertson and Tim Redding, which fortunately means Jesus Sanchez is not being considered. However, Sanchez is still in camp and in the mix for the pen. Ken Vining could have earned a job, but his camp was as bad as Sanchez's, and he's not quite as famous for it, so he hardly gets the benefit of conviction. As a result, Sanchez is still a threat to make the team as a spare lefty, because he's got that crusting of veterandom that cuts a few dice with Jimy Williams. By hauling in the frequently-hauled Bruce Chen, at least there's an alternative, but if Chen pushes everyone else's wrong buttons, it might be a little difficult to expect him to charm Jimy.
Optioned RHPs Shawn Sedlacek and Wes Obermueller and OF-L Alexis Gomez to Omaha; assigned LHP Jimmy Osting, 1B-B Morgan Burkhart, and INF-Rs Julius Matos and Luis Ordaz to their minor league camp. [3/17]
You could be cynical and crank about how demoting Sedlacek and Obermueller represents the same old Royals, and foreshadows yet another season where you can count on stale entertainers like James Baldwin working as the moundsman equivalent of dinner theater. Fortunately, you'd be wrong. It looks like the Royals are going to break with a "tough love" rotation of Albie Lopez, Runelvys Hernandez, Jeremy Affeldt, and two of Kyle Snyder, Chris George, and Darrell May. It may be ugly, ugly enough to run with the Tigers in the early going. But Lopez isn't a bad token vet, Hernandez, Affeldt, and Snyder hold obvious promise, and the Royals really do need to come to some sort of conclusion about Chris George. Why bother with Baldwin? He needs the job and the service time more than the Royals need him to log it with them. However, opportunities exist in Detroit, if he's insistent on contributing to an AL Central cellar-dweller.
Claimed SS-R Gookie Dawkins off of waivers from the Reds; optioned CF-R Wilkin Ruan, LHP Victor Alvarez, and RHP Alfredo Gonzalez to their minor league camp; assigned RHPs David Lee and Rodney Myers and LHP Lindsay Gulin to their minor league camp. [3/17]
Optioned 1B-R Chin-Feng Chen to Las Vegas. [3/19]
No, the Dodgers don't know what they want to do with Gookie Dawkins, and I don't either. It isn't like Dawkins is that likely to top a year like the one Alex Cora just had, and near- or long-term, if I had to pick, I'd take Cesar Izturis over Dawkins. But the price tag was cheap, and Joe Thurston's not exactly winning the job at second as much as he's laying in it. With guys like Jason Romano, Terry Shumpert, and Dilbert Cabrera all fighting for a roster spot and able to play second, the Dodgers could jump in all sorts of directions, although perhaps not so far as to simply give the job to Quilvio Veras. What nabbing Dawkins does is allow them to not choose any of the options they started off with in case Thurston is gearing up for a Pittaro April special.
Adam Johnson's demotion might be the only modest surprise here, but he had a lousy camp, and the Twins have talented young pitching coming out of their collective ears, let alone vets like Mike Fetters having solid camps. Johnson was optionable, and earned being optioned.
Optioned 3B-R Drew Henson to Columbus. [3/12]
On one level, they finally did it, they finally found a taker for one of their extra outfield bodies. Now, it might have cost them even more money and brought them yet another extra outfield body, but at least they got a spare lefty out of the deal, that has to help, right? The Yankees can afford this sort of thing, but they did acquire some positives. First, although they'll end up spending more money over the next two years to employ Trammell, they save a sliver of cash right now (White's due to make $5 million, versus Trammell's $2.5 million), but they're just borrowing against the future, when Trammell's due $4.75 (and the inevitable $250,000 buyout for 2005) in 2004. However, Trammell's 2004 contract is on the Mondesi- and Hitchcock- and so-many-other-current-roster-millstones-free books of the future. Trammell's got experience as a right-handed part-time player, so having him around to spot at DH or for Godzilla in right is probably for the best, since by comparison Rondell White's injuries can't be predicted in a way that let you pick and choose how and when you can use him, should he have even adapted to the role. And you get Mark Phillips as a door prize, and as a lefty who throws hard but has trouble with his command, you can add him to the rest of the lemmings that try to run through the minors. Just because they're lemmings and all striving to reach the same place at the price of their own destruction doesn't mean all of them are doomed. Some get to land on the others and make it, after all.
If there's something to be grumpy about, it's that Andy Phillips didn't get much of a look in camp, while Todd Zeile gets a free pass to Opening Day. But we've discussed that, and even if, predictably, nothing about Zeile's spring is indicating that he's any less done or has any defensive value, that's not what the Yankees are about these days.
Optioned INF-R Jose Flores to Sacramento; returned Rule 5 draftee RHP Buddy Hernandez to the Braves. [3/17]
Assigned 1B-R Luis Lopez to their minor league camp. [3/19]
The winners of this spring's free-for-all for the last couple of bullpen slots seem set. Fellow Rule 5er Mike Neu clearly outpitched Hernandez, while Jeremy Fikac had a nice camp to win a spot. With Keith Foulke, Chad Bradford, and Ricky Rincon locked in, and Jim Mecir out, that leaves a job that appears to have been won by Micah Bowie as the team's second lefty, and doubling as the lefty long reliever on a staff that will already boast four lefty starters. Erik Hiljus is notionally an alternative, but Bowie's been better. Both of them are borrowing time to show something until Mecir and perhaps Ed Yarnall are fully ready.
Signed OF-L Kenny Lofton to a one-year contract. [3/14]
All of a sudden, your 2003 Pittsburgh Pirates more closely resemble the Homestead Homies than the Milwaukee Brewers. Two-thirds of the outfield will be journeymen Reggie Sanders and Kenny Lofton, backed up by journeyman Matt Stairs, who contends with journeymen Randall Simon and Kevin Young for playing time at first base. It's not lousy as much as brazenly mediocre, but that's improvement in these parts, and Dave Littlefield isn't paying top dollar for anyone he had to sign himself. Lofton may not be a major asset as a center fielder anymore, but the Pirates are perhaps counting on their strong double play combo to cut their rotation some slack. Plus, Lofton at the top of the order isn't a bad thing to have, although a return to usefulness by Jason Kendall would make things even better.
Although I can understand the positives for the Yankees, I like this deal a lot more from the Padres' perspective. With Nevin gone, they need somebody who can play regularly in an outfield corner more than they needed a nice 350-400 at-bats guy like Trammell. Although Rondell White is coming off of an awful season, he's also a decent bet to bounce back if he plays regularly. Yes, health will always be an issue, but if you're the Pads and you're pretty much hosed and locked into the bottom of the NL West for the near term, why not take the risk that he turns into the Comeback Player of the Year? Similarly, the Pads seem inclined to roll the dice in the other outfield corner, since it looks like they want Xavier Nady to win the job instead of settling for some dull, amiable, and mostly harmless combination of Brady Anderson and Brian Buchanan.
Released RHP Jamey Wright. [3/18]
Placed C-R Dan Wilson on the 15-day DL (strained oblique). [3/19]
Happy stories abound in Mariners' camp. First, Gil Meche looks like he's won the fifth starter's job, which represents the first step on his particular comeback trail from arm problems and other issues. He's still dealing in the 90s and snaps off a pretty curve, and it's sort of libelous to really term him a mere fifth starter. If (and it's a big if) he can hold up all year, he'll be a lot more valuable than that, similar to Joel Pineiro in terms of his value relative to his fame. And as for Dan Wilson hitting the DL, that's not happy in itself, but Pat Gillick is undoubtedly ecstatic that organizational tchotchke Pat Borders will get to catch dust on a major league roster as a result.
Signed RHP Rob Bell to a minor league contract; optioned RHP Luis De Los Santos to Durham and INF-B Felix Escalona to Orlando (Double-A); reassigned LHPs Jon Switzer and Edgar Huerta and C-L Sandy Martinez to their minor league camp. [3/17]
Released 1B-L Lee Stevens. [3/18]
It isn't often that I have good things to say in this space, but I'm pleased with the decision to take a chance on Rob Bell. Not that I'm confident in the organization's track record in developing talent, but Bell is talented, and Paul Wilson did get his career back on track here, after all. And when you consider the rotation, with Jim Parque locked in behind Joe Kennedy and Victor Zambrano, Nick Bierbrodt seems likely to open as the fourth starter, and with Steve Parris or Dewon Brazelton in the fifth slot... even if you make allowances, Brazelton is hurt, and Parris or Parque are perhaps only shadows of their former fourth starter glory. It isn't hard to envision Bell forcing his way onto the team after a good month or two in Durham, but much will depend on Bell finally getting his problems ironed out and earning the chance.
As for Lee Stevens not beating out Travis Lee or Greg Vaughn, how much celebrating does decorum permit, let alone make sense? There are other good things afoot, however, since it seems that Aubrey Huff might finally get the look at third this year that he deserved years ago. So overall, they might be a stronger team offensively than many expect. Heck, it's spring, let's get silly: they might even avoid 100 losses if everything breaks right.
Optioned C-R Gerald Laird to Oklahoma. [3/19]
Not that it has anything to do with these moves, but the latest news comes from John Hart, with a straight face: "As far as our best alternative for leadoff, it's Glanville." Really. Yes, that's the same Doug Glanville who is a proud owner of one good OBP in six years as a regular. So you can count on a lineup with Einar Diaz and Glanville and...well, at least Hank Blalock's playing second base instead of their keeping Mike Young in the lineup every day. But that begs the question: If Glanville's defense is what's pushing Carl Everett into the scrum for DH at-bats, why is Blalock's adventure at second acceptable? I'm not disagreeing with Showalter's choices as much as it's interesting to see where preferences for defense versus offense, with talent, present value, and future value get mixed in to reach these interlocking choices. However, a lineup with Diaz and Glanville hitting 9th and leadoff can't help but suck some value out of A-Rod's at-bats.
More to the point, demoting Gerald Laird reduces the backup catching options to Chad Kreuter and Todd Greene. Kreuter's been hurt, and Greene's had a great camp, but the Rangers would be better off carrying both, letting Greene get some at-bats at DH or first once in awhile, and keeping Diaz relegated to only semi-regular status.
Returned Rule 5 draftee RHP Gary Majewski to the White Sox. [3/18]
The Jays' decision to hand five-year deals to Hinske and Wells is one of those little bold strokes that tell you the game's getting healthier in terms of adapting to the economic system it has built for itself. It's easy to identify why it's a risk. Either could get hurt, leaving the Jays on the hook for nice chunks of change for both or either. But there are very few hitters over the last 20 years that, given full-time opportunities and good health, go on to have disappointing careers relative to their minor league performances (this is where naysayers can feel free to cue up those Brad Komminsk anecdotes). I guess the question is whether or not they would have gotten this kind of security without the existence of arbitration, and the answer is that they almost certainly wouldn't. But with the caprices of the system over the heads of all parties concerned, it produces this sort of happy result.
Evan Thomas and Josh Towers both had chances to win jobs, but Thomas had a bad camp, and Towers didn't make a strong enough case for a bullpen job. Pete Walker and Mark Hendrickson won jobs in the rotation. Corey Thurman's had a good camp, and Rule 5 pick Aquilino Lopez is going to end up being kept. Plus Tim Young and Trever Miller have had a nice time fighting for a spot as a spare lefty in the pen. All of it means that worthwhile flyers like Towers or Thomas or Majewski fell by the wayside. It also means that the organization could afford to be intolerant of Pascual Coco's decision to pull a Ruben Rivera sticky-fingers act in the clubhouse.