March 27, 2003
March 20-24, 2003
Optioned RHP Ryan Rupe to Pawtucket; assigned C-L Jeff Smith to their minor league camp. [3/22]
Hey, it sucks to be a good contingency plan. It sucks almost as much to be a good contingency for a contingency. So, it sucks to be Julio Zuleta or Earl Snyder on a team that didn't move Shea Hillenbrand and added Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar and David Ortiz. Sometimes you can take the Duke away, but not necessarily take away all the Duke-isms. Overstocking Pawtucket and cutting no slack for any of the neat projects was a hallmark of Duquettery, to the point that player agents really should have known better. For every Troy O'Leary there were a half-dozen PawSox wondering why that sweet talk in December seemed like so much sweetness and light at the time.
The Cubs' catching situation is sort of resolved, in that they have Damian Miller and Paul Bako to start off with. However, neither are anything more than temps, and both didn't have good camps. McDonald and Mahoney didn't really get looked at, however, and it remains to be seen if Dusty Baker was really going to give the matter much thought. McDonald is still good enough to make a good backup catcher in the major leagues, but he doesn't have Haselmania or Gary Bennett's moxie or Joe Girardi's famed amiability and Yogi-esque lumpishness, so he's on the PCL "see the world" tour again.
Returned Rule 5 pick RHP Blake Williams to the Cardinals; released RHP Luis Pineda. [3/21]
Purchased the contracts of RHP Josias Manzanillo and LHPs Jimmy Anderson, Felix Heredia and Kent Mercker; optioned RHPs Seth Etherton and Jeff Austin to Louisville; accepted Rule 5 pick LHP Jeff Koronka back from the Rangers. [3/23]
It's not everyday that you see a team purchase four contracts at once, for the Opening Day roster no less, but the Reds really did have the roster space to play with, and if it was going to be any team, it was probably going to be this one. I'm not wild about the decision to hand a job in the rotation to Jimmy Anderson, since he was slapped around in spring, but Chris Reitsma didn't do anything to keep his job, and this is the team with Don Gullett, arguably the game's best pitching coach, so if it's going to work anywhere, it might work here. As for adding Manzanillo, Heredia, and Mercker to the pen, they're the middlemen behind the pen's core group of Scott Williamson, Scott Sullivan, John Riedling, and Gabe White. Given that Manzanillo's been a nifty situational righthander, and Heredia's got his uses as a power lefty in a middle relief role, that's shaping up to be a very strong pen, again, so the Danny Graves experiment shouldn't be endangered by anything besides the performance of Danny Graves.
Optioned OF-B Coco Crisp to Buffalo; outrighted RHP Jerrod Riggan to Buffalo; assigned RHPs Jason Boyd, Dave Elder, and Jason Phillips, 2B/3B-R Greg LaRocca, OF-R Wendell Magee, and OF-B Chris Magruder to their minor league camp; released RHP Mike Thurman. [3/21]
Coco Crisp lost out, yes, and Jody Gerut looks like he's back from the dead, but this is definitely shaping up as an interesting Indians team. I'm not calling it a good team, but it's a team with people who deserve chances or second chances, and it's a team that should be a more hopeful squad than last year's opener with moldering oldies and temps. Although I like Greg LaRocca, Casey Blake could do a nice turn as the next Ron Coomer, which isn't an All-Star, but it can give you a nice player at near-minimum salary. Gerut's been hobbled by multiple knee injuries, but the man can hit when he can play. Crisp might grow into a useful fourth outfielder or somebody's decent starter in center, but Milton Bradley's coming off of a great camp, and needs to get this chance to shine. Ben Broussard had a great camp. Bill Selby's probably never going to be anything more than the next Wayne Krenchicki, but he's worth a spot on the bench. It's turning into an easy team to root for, I guess is what I'm saying. Once the rotation gets ironed out, they're going to be a tough opponent.
Optioned 3B-R Garrett Atkins, 1B/3B/OF-R Kevin Eberwein, OF-L Luke Allen, and RHP Elio Serrano to minor league camp; assigned LHP Vic Darensbourg and 1B/3B-R Kit Pellow to their minor league camp. [3/23]
It's been sort of fun to see Garrett Atkins have a good camp this spring, especially with the happy confluence of right-now goodness that has Jose Hernandez at short, and with the recent injury to Pablo Ozuna, Ronnie Belliard at second. That, plus a Greg Norton-Chris Stynes arrangement at third, and the Rockies should score some runs right now, even if it isn't exactly your next contending Rox squad, let alone your 2004 Opening Day lineup. But that's for the future, when Atkins is ready, and the Rockies can play for right now to try and make these guys commodities to peddle to the contending and needy at the end of July. While Dan O'Dowd is supposed to be on his last legs, and while the Jack Cust deal has nothing to recommend it in terms of his recent track record, O'Dowd should have the opportunity to flip useful journeymen for future Rockies, and he has the overall reputation for being a dealer. It might be a risky proposition, but if Jerry McMorris can afford to wait, and see what O'Dowd can being him come the deadlines, it's possible that everything could work out without anybody getting fired. This team won't win right now, but there's no reason it can't be built into a winner, and bringing in a new management team every few years, only to see them get overly focused on the Mile High Question, has to get old. Sometimes, it's best to take the bloody nose and learn.
If there's a surprise, it's that Vic Darensbourg got sent down, but the Rox acquired him in part because he did have an option. But that's in part because they seem infatuated with Danny Miceli and Darren Oliver, two particularly bad ideas that should disabuse themselves right off of the roster by May 1 if the Rockies are fortunate.
In the 'pyhrric roster victory' category, on the one hand, the Fishies aren't going to carry Paul Hoover, D-Ray castoff. On the other hand, they're pretty much guaranteed to carry Brian Banks as that ever-valuable fourth catcher and mostly harmless extra bat. Of course, this is just part of Jeff Torborg's latest master plan, where he has every base covered by a man wearing the tools of ignorance, ready to crunch baserunners on close plays. That way, nobody will even try to attempt to duplicate the Marlins' unparalleled speed on the base paths. Of course, they might settle for scoring runs with baserunners, instead of making outs, but give Torborg his due, he's simply following in the footsteps of managerial greats. You know, like Steve Boros, or that guy named Torborg who managed the Mets.
I've campaigned for Everett as Julio Lugo's partner at short for a while now--despite the frequently ugly at-bats where it looks like the bat could be knocked out of his hands--because he's not that bad, he's willing to take a walk, and he's a plus defender on a team that doesn't have great middle-infield defense. Jose Vizcaino is collecting a nice check to at least notionally handle that job, however, so Everett's hosed, as are potentially nifty spare parts like Dave Matranga. However, with bench weapons like Orlando Merced for pinch-hitting, Vizcaino and Geoff Blum to range anywhere and switch-hit, Brian Hunter to pinch-run and replace Craig Biggio late in the game, you end up running out of bench space pretty quickly, because you're loaded up on specialists. As things stand now, they might not keep Morgan Ensberg, because all he should be is their starting third baseman. Unfortunately, he apparently labors with a weighty 20-month age inferiority to the immortal Blum. Similarly, Jason Lane's boxed out, even with Daryle Ward gone, because Jimy Williams wants his club well-tenderized from lots of big league exposure. After all, the experience didn't win last year, and that's this year's plan, right?
Snyder didn't have a good camp, Voyles didn't get into many games, and Hill didn't push his way past Mike MacDougal, Ryan Bukvich, or Rule 5 pick Dan Carrasco. Additionally, Kris Wilson and Rich DeHart have had good camps, and the Royals pen actually doesn't look so bad. Over on the rotation front, Chris George looks like he's put the final nail in James Baldwin's coffin, so this should be an interesting blend of scout's choices, journeymen, and homegrown talent. It's a path they may as well walk, to see what they've got, and if it's enough for a fourth-place finish ahead of the Tigers. It's probably just me, but this is the most optimistic I've been about the Royals in almost a decade.
Assigned LHP Troy Brohawn to their minor league camp. [3/21]
Acquiring Jason Conti for Javier Valentin wouldn't normally be my idea of value, but the Brewers seem determined to pick the worst available options for their catching situation this spring (having already shipped out Cody McKay), so that they can run with Eddie Perez and Keith Osik. To be fair, they gave Valentin a long look, and he had a bad camp, but nevertheless, when you're ignoring the careers of Perez and Osik, you deserve what your customers will end up having to pay--and increasingly, not pay--to see.
So instead, the Brewers decided to address another problem, which they do at least have the good sense to identify as a problem, which is the outfield. Alex Sanchez is playing on wounded wheels, and none of the other outfielders likely to make the squad can play center, and both Geoff Jenkins and Jeffrey Hammonds come at you straight from a bric-a-brac set themselves. So clearly, a little bit of depth wouldn't be a bad thing, and Conti can play center and hit well enough that he's not a huge liability. For Conti, escaping from Tampa Bay to Milwaukee probably doesn't affect anything besides his tan, since he'll get a couple of hundred plate appearances either way. At least in Milwaukee he can eat cheese curds and watch the sausage race.
As for the bullpen, Durocher is out until May, which adds to the confusion in what looks to be another random jumble of relievers. It probably helps the opportunity for Brooks Kieschnick to make the team as a long reliever and pinch-hitter, although losing Durocher in particular creates an ugly situation where the Brewers might only have two right-handed relievers in the pen, Mike DeJean and Curtis Leskanic. They're sorting through five lefty relievers (including Kieschnick), although Wayne Franklin might end up in the rotation. He would probably replace Ruben Quevedo, who might then be in the bullpen as an extra right-handed pitcher. Pity Ned Yost, it's going to be about as brutal as Alan Trammell's situation in Detroit, with even less upside. Hence the decision to claim the sticky-fingered Pasqual Coco, because he goes from being persona non grata in Toronto to one of the most promising arms in his new organization.
Optioned RHP Juan Rincon, LHP Brad Thomas, and OF-L Mike Ryan to Rochester; assigned RHPs Ben Ford and Mike Nakamura, C-R Brandon Marsters, C-L Joe Mauer, and INF-R Alex Prieto to their minor league camp. [3/23]
If there's a disappointment in the Twins' camp (beyond Johan Santana not getting to enter the rotation), it's that they're farting around with the Mike Fetters vs. Jose Cabrera battle royale for the last spot in the bullpen. Although both Fetters and Cabrera are good enough to belong in the major leagues, neither are notably superior to Juan Rincon or Mike Nakamura (or even the long-since dispatched Grant Balfour) in terms of likely performance, and Fetters, the probable winner, is notoriously high-maintenance. This could have been an opportunity for the Twins to have retained and rewarded a prospect like Rincon or an organizational soldier like Nakamura, and instead they're going to give service time and roster space to one nondescript journeyman or another.
Assigned RHP Eric Knott to their minor league camp. [3/22]
Assigned C-R Mike Hernandez to their minor league camp. [3/22]
Although we usually like to tout the young, perhaps out of a taste for the Cult of the New, or perhaps because if you had to watch Rey Ordonez bat about 400 or 500 times too often each season, you'd want to change channels too, at the end of the day, it was worth it for the Mets to not break camp with Jose Reyes. Beyond the obvious economic advantage that comes with not starting his service time/arbitration clock ticking (who wants to wind up as the Mariners did with A-Rod?), he didn't have a good camp. This was exactly the pair of contingencies for which Rey Sanchez was acquired to hold the job in the early going, where the Mets can contend or wallow on their own general merits, without any pressure on Reyes. It's perhaps just as well, since this team should rise or fall on the basis of whatever Roberto Alomar or Mo Vaughn or Jeromy Burnitz have left in the tank. Since I happen to think the answer to that is "not much," this way Reyes remains clean when the Mets falter, and he gets to come in after the usual self-pitying local firestorms starts burning itself out.
Optioned LHP Ed Yarnall to Sacramento. [3/22]
Optioned SS-R Bobby Crosby to Sacramento. [3/23]
Optioned RHP Erik Hiljus to Sacramento. [3/24]
So there it is, Mike Neu and Jeremy Fikac win jobs in the pen, and the fifth starter will be John Halama until someone else is ready to claim it. It remains to be seen if that's going to be Ed Yarnall or Aaron Harang, or if Rich Harden will slip into the picture by August. But if I were a betting man, I wouldn't bet on Halama still holding the job by June. As for Neu and Fikac, although short fireballer Buddy Hernandez and sidearmer Roy Smith perhaps commanded the most attention from seamhead outfits like ours, Neu and Fikac outpitched them both in camp, and both have the track records of success in the minors that made them every bit as viable as pen options as Hernandez or Smith. The question will be if both have good Aprils, because eventually Jim Mecir will heal up, and somebody's job will be endangered.
Eric Valent's job opportunity essentially depended on some combination of other people getting injured and/or Ricky Ledee having a bad camp, but Ledee hasn't merely kept the fourth outfielder's job, he's hit so well that he's wrestling with Marlon Byrd for the starting job in center. So instead, Valent's getting trapped on the Jon Zuber career path, not that not hitting in camp justified his escape.
Arrojo and Meadows lost out to The Jeff D'Amico Not To Be Confused With The Less Significant Jeff D'Amico (The Other Guy, Who Pitched For The Royals, wacky symbol pending) for the fifth starter's job, and Jeff Suppan won the fourth starter's job, so the Pirates have the retreaded portion of the rotation to go with former wonderboy Kris Benson and the White Sox Swag Duo, Kip Wells and Josh Fogg. Meadows had a decent camp, but he also had an option, and he's Brian Meadows, pitching's answer to Gene, Gene, the Hit Machine. And while Arrojo had good strikeout-walk numbers in camp, he was hittable and his usual fragile self. It might have been nice to keep him around in a relief role, but Lloyd McClendon seems obsessed with another crowd of journeymen to stock his pen with. That particular crowd has already been slightly thinned out by the freak injury to Mike Lincoln. So the Bucs are left with Salomon Torres, Matt Herges, Julian Tavarez, and Dennys Reyes fighting for three spots in the pen instead of two. Perhaps shockingly, Julian Tavarez is considered a lock, and although the Pirates already have two lefties in the pen (Scott Sauerbeck and Joe Beimel), Reyes has his uses. Whereas Torres is everyone's tough luck poster boy you want to see get that next chance, and Herges used to be that sort of guy before he became merely hittable and overpriced. While Tavarez and Herges don't seem like the kind of guys you'd want to devote much thought to, it could have been worse, they could have kept Pat Mahomes around.
What would have been nice, considering the light offensive contributions they can expect from the middle infield, was if they found a way to keep David Doster around as a more offensive-minded backup infielder. However, Abe Nunez had a very nice camp, so while he doesn't offer a distinction from the skittering water bug offensive contributions of either Jack Wilson or Pokey Reese, he did earn his place, and Rob Mackowiak had a stranglehold on the John Wehner/Keith Osik token ethnic-Euro-whitey-name roster spot.
Optioned RHP Mike Crudale to Memphis; assigned LHP Kevin Ohme to their minor league camp. [3/20]
Assigned C-R Yadier Molina to their minor league camp. [3/22]
It's a little interesting to see Crudale and Molina both go down, because it might mean that the Cardinals are stuck with Russ Springer and Joey Hamilton as their right-handed setup men. Cal Eldred might crack the squad, if only because he's been better than Dustin Hermanson. They're already looking at having to carry four lefty relievers, however (Steve Kline, Jeff Fassero, Rick Ankiel, and Lance Painter), and not even La Russa will find a way to make every platoon split matter if he carries four lefties in the pen, even with five right-handed starting pitchers.
Yadier Molina was sent down, but he might return because of Joe Girardi's injuries. To say that that would be ridiculously premature for someone who spent last year in the Midwest League would be obvious, but the La Russians always know better, or so they're ready to say. And since Eli Marrero is less than fully healthy, and even then the outfield is short with J.D. Drew out, it wouldn't be surprising to see a resurrection of the catcher hitting ninth gambit, since they'll have more pitchers than catchers to be able to replace with a pinch-hitter. Because as is, without Drew and potentially Marrero, you're looking at one outfield slot being staffed with the likes of Orlando Palmeiro, Kerry Robinson, Eduardo Perez, and So Taguchi, with the other three being the primary...I can't say it, I can't say "weapons off the bench," it would be false advertising.
Signed OF-R Mark Quinn to a minor league contract. [3/20]
It's a little surprising to see the Padres dispatch Mark Quinn as quickly as they did, considering they've still got Roberto Kelly around, and he might make the team. You could chalk this up as a chemistry choice, since Quinn's citizenship grades would need to come up a lot, and the Pads seem intent on starting Xavier Nady in right and Sean Burroughs at third. Given their grim determination to make Gary Bennett into a latter-day Bob Boone, they're clearly intrigued with players who carry themselves a certain way this spring, and Quinn's never been considered one of those guys.
Acquired RHP Jim Brower and a PTBNL from the Expos for RHP Livan Hernandez, UT/C-L Edwards Guzman, and cash. [3/24]
With how little regard did the Giants regard Livan Hernandez in the end? Enough to pay him to be an Expo, pay to have an end-o'-pen reliever like Jim Brower around, and give the Expos Edwards Guzman for their trouble, and for being so kind as to pick up the phone. That's what you might technically refer to as contempt, as well as a frank appreciation that they're better off with Kurt Ainsworth in the rotation, and the more derisive judgment that they're better off keeping Ryan Jensen as their fifth starter. And where better to send Livan than Minayaville, the industry's personal island of misfit Latin contracts? Much as I agree with Brian Sabean in terms of his preferences in the matter, because Ainsworth's ready and all that, hopefully the Giants get something of value as the PTBNL. Otherwise, this is merely a handwashing exercise.
Released LHP Norm Charlton. [3/20]
I've written his professional obit before, so shame on me. He's also scragged, and the Mariners made it plain they're done with him, so this should finally be the last of the last Nasty Boy. Hey, at least Jose Rijo's back, that should keep Dibble from getting too emotional, right?
Assigned OF-R Ryan Thompson to their minor league camp. [3/23] Acquired C-B Javier Valentin from the Brewers for OF-L Jason Conti; optioned RHPs Dewon Brazleton and Gerardo Garcia to Durham; assigned C-L Jorge Fabregas to their minor league camp. [3/24]
Wow! Now, sure, Javier Valentin is coming over after a godawful frosty camp with the Brewers, but he's been a nifty hitter the last couple of seasons, his knees don't appear to have given him too much trouble, and the Devil Rays couldn't ask for much better for a backup catcher to Toby Hall, especially if Hall elects to earn another early-season demotion this year. When the alternatives were people like Sandy Martinez and Jorge Fabregas, it's nice to see the Rays actually take themselves seriously for once, and make a good talent move that doesn't involve employing the mostly lifeless.
Similarly, cutting loose Greg Vaughn and sending Jared Sandberg down seems unimaginable if Hal McRae was still simmering here. Vaughn's expense is sunk, and having him around just meant that Ben Grieve was going to have to ooze around one outfield corner or the other on a nightly (or indoor twilightly) basis. Instead, Grieve should get to spend a good chunk of his time at DH in what will apparently be a DH by committee. The really big repercussion is that this, in conjunction with shipping off Conti, cinches the news that Rocco Baldelli is Lou Piniella's Opening Day center fielder. I'm less excited about Baldelli than some of my cohorts or Baseball America, but I'm more than happy to concede I could be wrong, and that Baldelli will slug better than .450 and cover ground in the outfield, and perhaps pick up a thing or two about hitting from the old man. And when the alternative is somebody like Jason Tyner, it's pretty easy to say fuhgeddaboutit and take a chance. But Baldelli's job was pretty much a certainty anyway. The other repercussions of releasing Vaughn and banishing Sandberg are that Damian Rolls might get a lot of playing time in right, at least until they find an alternative (perhaps on waivers, considering it's Damian Rolls), while Aubrey Huff gets third base to himself. It's easy to make light of that choice, considering that Huff will be their token major league hitter in their infield, but it escaped McRae, after all. But in light of these decisions, the D-Rays don't consider themselves done, and reasonably enough, they want to find an outfielder and/or infielder on the wire or in a minor deal.
Assigned LHP Ron Mahay to their minor league camp. [3/21]
Placed RHP Todd Van Poppel (strained groin), OF-L Kevin Mench (strained oblique), and 3B-R Herbert Perry (bruised knee) on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 3/21; acquired INF-R Manny Alexander from the Brewers for future considerations. [3/24]
OK, on the one hand, having to put people on the DL generally isn't what you'd call good news, but at this time of year, it's not a bad thing, because it beats having to lose people on waivers or make a deal you have to think twice about just to make space. Yes, Kevin Mench is good stuff, and needs to be on the roster and in the lineup, but not having him around means that Carl Everett will get at-bats in an outfield corner, and the Rangers can keep working on peddling him in case there's a buyer on this continent. Similarly, losing Herbert Perry makes it easier to keep both Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira. One might struggle, but if both don't, then John Hart and company have a nice problem on their hands if both futures start now instead of one now and one in 2004. And if that keeps Michael Young happy, because Young's playing second while Blalock and Teixeira alternate between third and DH because Everett's in left instead of DH, then the Rangers essentially get to open the year with a happy blend of youth and defense that lets them get a sense of how close their next contending team might be. And now that they have Manny Alexander around to remind them about Ken Caminiti's Breakfast of Champions, what isn't possible?
Corey Thurman's going back to Syracuse to return to being a starting pitcher, while Tim Young lost the second lefty's job to Trever Miller. This in turn means that the Jays' pitching staff is pretty close to set. Given some questions about durability and reliability in the bottom of the rotation, not to mention a pretty rigorous April schedule, they're almost certain to go with 12 pitchers to open. In part, that's because they should wind up keeping Rule 5 pick Aquilino Lopez, but it also looks like Doug Linton will probably make the team as a spare swingman and long reliever, replacing Pete Walker in the role Walker initially held last season before working his way into the rotation. Then, if Tanyon Sturtze or Mark Hendrickson is having trouble at the end of April or in mid-May, the Jays will have some choices to make, with Justin Miller or Linton as alternatives.