May 3, 2003
April 24-30, 2003
Placed CF-L Darin Erstad on the 15-day DL (hamstring), retroactive to 4/20; purchased the contract of OF-L Gary Johnson from Salt Lake. [4/26]
Optioned RHP Derrick Turnbow to Arkansas (Double-A); reactivated RHP Francisco Rodriguez from the bereavement list. [4/29]
This isn't really that devastating for the Angels offensively. As we've belabored here in the past, and will continue to do into the foreseeable future, or just if Darin Erstad fails to put up his second good offensive season in the last five, Erstad is not an irreplaceable player in the lineup. Even if he's only being replaced with Eric Owens and Jeff DaVanon, they're still going to be able to put the same sort of offensive production from Erstad's last few seasons on the board. The real loss will be defensive, because both Owens and DaVanon are fourth outfielders or tweeners. At least initially, Gary Johnson will simply slip into the spare outfielder role that originally went to Julio Ramirez, spotting as Tim Salmon's legs, but he will get more playing time than Ramirez was going to, and he does give Scioscia a lefty bat on the bench with a wee bit of sock. It's a good thing tactically, because it allows Scioscia to flip through his DH platoon more than once, or have a lefty bat to spot for his catchers, as well as having Johnson available to spot against a tough right-hander.
If there's a question, it's whether losing Erstad for an unknown length of time will contribute to a general concern about whether or not the Angels can keep up with the Mariners and Athletics. Some of it is out of their hands, in that there isn't a whole lot the Angels can do to affect the Mariners and A's directly, but as long as they can keep pace in the division, they can worry about something like whether or not the wild card is in play in three months' time.
The Big Unit came off the DL, struck out a dozen Mets in six innings, and still wasn't really himself, having allowed nine hits. And then it turned out that he needed knee surgery anyway, and that he's going to be out between three and six weeks. Meanwhile, they accepted the inevitable, and put Schilling on the DL, and so they've been juggling even more than they perhaps had to, and will still have to turn to the likes of Andrew Good or John Patterson or Brandon Webb, same as they've had to kick around for the last couple of weeks. Schilling will be back this weekend, but they still need one of the kids to fill the fifth slot. On the basis of start last Sunday (and strong follow-up Friday night), you'd have to expect Webb to get the call, so as long as they make that choice and stick with it a couple of times through the rotation, Snakes fans should be as happy as they can be under the circumstances. And those are? Well, teams that rely on old players are going to have problems with old guys breaking down. Admittedly, Schilling and Johnson have been remarkably durable, and their injuries (knee instead of arm, and appendicitis?) don't lend themselves to a legitimate "told you so" comment, but still, age and durability rarely go hand in hand.
Rather than rush to a choice, they're making the move to third catcherdom, having gotten some good hitting out of Robby Hammock, and with both Rod Barajas and Chad Moeller hitting, they've got three catchers they'd like to play, and one infielder too few for as long as narrow-minded league rules prevent them from cloning Craig Counsell to play both short and third. Barajas has always been just a catch-and-throw type, while Hammock has hit in the minors, and Moeller hasn't really, so the Snakes aren't really as flush with catchers as they might think. Still, it wasn't like Damian Miller was carved from prospecty clay and massive toutery, so they can certainly make do.
How quickly the Chicken Littles don't merely come out of their bunkers, they take up scribbling policy papers on how sky-falling is merely a theoretical possibility, and that environazis are a much more dangerous public menace. Fick spent his two weeks plus a day or two on the DL, the Braves went on a 10-2 run, Los Dos Francos were fine manning first in his brief absence, and Johnny Estrada even did enough to hopefully remind the Braves that he'd be the better choice for a playoff roster than Henry Blanco, should the Braves get to the postseason or win the division for the ninth straight year. Now that Fick is back, he gets his job, and the Braves get their nice pinch-hitting platoon of Francos back on the bench. Tactically, there's a lot to be said for taking advantage of roster size to have a fully-functioning platoon ready to plug in that doubles as your top tandem of pinch-hitters, but how many NL teams actually give their benches that much thought?
All things considered, this is probably for the best. It isn't like David Segui or Marty Cordova are going to convincingly help the Orioles ever get out of the undignified three-pygmy wrestling fracas at the bottom of the AL East, now or into the future. Larry Bigbie is already too old to grow up to be the next Mike Young, and nobody should want to be the next Ken Gerhart or Larry Sheets, but still, it's something. If you're a corner outfielder, you better thump, and Bigbie hasn't really yet. Better to find out if there's a there there, because life with the likes of Cordova or Segui or B.J. Surhoff is already nowhere. The Orioles need to be aggressive in terms of who they're going to keep on their 40-man roster next winter, and there's plenty of pruning to do.
Acquired RHP Michael Nicolas from the Brewers for a PTBNL or cash. [4/24]
Placed RHP Chad Fox on the 15-day DL (strained oblique). [4/28]
Activated LHP Alan Embree from the 15-day DL. [4/29]
The nicest thing I can think of to say is that a month off with a strained oblique is a month off where Chad Fox probably won't blow out his trick elbow. But he wasn't really all that special when he could pitch, and I'm not convinced there's any reason to be excited about when he does. He was the relative longshot in a pen that was expecting something a little more stable from the likes of Ramiro Mendoza. Mike Timlin hasn't been anything special, and Alan Embree broke down. The objective lesson is that the likes of Brandon Lyon are both available and cheaper. That's not to say I disagree with what they've tried to do, or that I disagree with the ambition of deliberately building a bullpen-by-committee as opposed to falling into one. But they didn't have to spend on Mendoza, and they didn't have to get overly excited about Fox. At the end of the day, they're still spending close to $10 million on their pen, and they arguably could have gotten by with less expense and a few more flyers.
Speaking of which, as far as explaining the decision to nab Mike Nicolas, there are two legacies in play here. First, you've got Theo Epstein going for the ex-Padre factor, and nabbing somebody he was familiar with. The Brewers claimed Nicolas off waivers from the Padres the day before, and promptly flipped him to the Red Sox as a nice little favor. Second, you're talking about the organization that turned a blind eye to Wil Cordero's odious off-field conduct. But the more significant factor is the first, and Epstein knows he just got a guy with tremendous velocity who might be a low-cost replacement to some of this year's pricier fare.
If, in the words of Earl Weaver, your backup shortstop is at Rochester, it's worth noting that Buffalo's even closer to Cleveland than Rochester is to Baltimore. Having lost Milton Bradley, the Indians did a smart thing, and didn't bother trying for too long to make Karim Garcia into a center fielder. So instead, in the absence of a backup centerfielder who can handle the position for two weeks or more, they've called up Jody Gerut to take the playing time. In addition to being a nice steal from the Rockies, Gerut might turn out to be a better-fielding knock-off of Darren Bragg. He can pop a bit, takes a free pass, and he can handle center. There are worse guys playing the position regularly around the majors, although not all of them have Gerut's history of knee problems. As a result, Gerut has a clear opportunity to earn a chance to stick after nearly making the team out of spring training. Matt Lawton looks like he still shouldn't be playing, and Karim Garcia seems to be on the downslope of his cyclical swing from Caddy to pumpkin and back again. A good couple of weeks for Gerut could get him playing time at the expense of either player, not to mention Bradley, even if that inspires another angry Milton moment about his victimization in the grand scheme of things.
Outrighted UT-R Hiram Bocachica to Toledo. [4/24]
Gene Kingsale's been away for a couple of days dealing with his being knighted by Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands as one of Her Majesty's Aruban semi-subjects. Can you blame him? Given a choice between being with the Tigers or hanging out with Dutch royals in the waters of guns, rum, and naughty banking, I know where I'd rather be, and I don't even tan well. Of course, that sort of honor may also end up costing him his job, along with a few baserunning blunders, because Andres Torres is going to get a clean shot at playing in center. It's just as well, in the sense that Torres has shown some patience, he can run, and he can play center, and better that they see if someone like that has a future in the organization than spend more time on the likes of Craig Paquette. How do you think Dean Palmer feels? They've cut loose Damion Easley and now Paquette. Palmer's fragile and positionless, not to mention hitting about as well as Shelley Duvall in The Shining. What makes him special? Heck, he isn't even good enough to party with Queen Beatrix.
There is perhaps no more telling sign of organizational angst than not merely reshuffling deck chairs on the Titanic, but doing it with a zesty blend of defensiveness and anger. First, you have the cranky dispatch of Vladi Nunez to New Mexico, less than a month into the season the year after his being their primary relief asset. Admittedly, he was the second-worst reliever in baseball according to Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools (behind the already-departed Josias Manzanillo), and five separate games in which he gave up three or more runs will pretty much scrag his season totals whatever he does from here on out. But do they think pitching in the PCL is going to help him? What's their major league pitching coach for if he can't fix somebody he worked with last year? Levrault and Borland are nothing if not serviceable middle relief candidates, although I like Levrault's potential to go Borowski on us. By contrast, Borland's moment in the sun was back before Monica Lewinsky was a gleam in any tabloid's eye.
Things only get murkier when you move over to the celebrated case of A.J. Burnett, who has been coming up in the same sentences as terms like "Jeff Torborg," "molestation," and "remarkable professional indifference to the consequences of one's actions" for more than a year now. Burnett has gamely tried to pin the blame for his completely torn elbow on Jeffrey Loria and his gang of henchmen, perhaps figuring that nobody would rally to the defense of such creepy-crawlies in the first place. It smacks of a bit of naivete on Burnett's part, since Torborg runs with the rest of that scaly herd. So now Burnett's done until at June or so of next year at the earliest, and the Fish will respond by bumping Mike Tejera back into the rotation, and replacing him with Tommy Phelps in the pen in terms of lefty relief duties as Armando Almanza's second. Justin Wayne came up to make the spot start, but his return is basically guaranteed by Mark Redman's broken thumb, which gives the Fish a replacement rotation of Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, Carl Pavano, and Tejera and Wayne, which is a lot of prospect list talent (past and present) and the comparatively unheralded Tejera. It's not a bad bunch to run with, and they should still flirt with .500. However, with concerns that Penny might not be sound, and given Pavano's past history, and considering who's in charge of the fish tank, it would premature to say that Florida's going to be fine.
Scuffy wasn't doing so hot, but the Astros' response to losing him is pretty interesting. Rather than bring up Kirk Saarloos, and rather than turn to someone like Pete Munro after last year's good work as a starter, they're plopping Scott Linebrink into the rotation. Now, they do have problems with starting pitching beyond Moehler, since Jeriome Robertson has done nothing to justify Jimy Williams's strange decision to place confidence in him, so Saarloos or Munro might be in the rotation in another week regardless. But Linebrink hasn't been a rotation regular since 1999 in the Giants organization, and he wasn't good at it. It's an odd situation of sorts, since the Astros' strength in middle relievers with starting experience threatens to give Williams a troubling flurry of alternatives. Octavio Dotel? Brad Lidge? Ricky Stone? Bruce Chen? Munro? He might never have to call on Saarloos or Chad Qualls because he'll be busy sifting through the guys he's already got.
Dave Roberts' strained hamstring played an appropriate part in the decision to recall Romano, but Jim Tracy seems determined to just hand the playing time to Jolbert Cabrera and be done with it. That reduces Romano to nothing more than an insurance policy, which is sort of a waste of the time of all concerned. Cabrera's nothing more than that sort of spare part, and Romano's opportunity to grow into more than that seems to be limited by managerial decision.
Meanwhile, losing Paul Shuey isn't good news, but with the performance the pen has put in after the first month, the Dodgers seem likely to be able to survive the loss for the time being. The starters are all going strong, and the only pitcher struggling is Andy Ashby, who's withering away from lack of use. If anything, this staff is starting to resemble some of those Dodgers staffs from the '70s or early '80s, where everybody's useful and nobody--well, OK, nobody besides Rick Sutcliffe or Steve Howe--seems to hit a bad patch.
Placed LHP Valerio de los Santos on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis); purchased the contract of RHP Leo Estrella from Indianapolis. [4/29]
OK, so the Brewers are trying to take the first month as a mulligan. Todd Ritchie pitched better than last year but no better than he was expected to pitch last year, so going back to Ruben Quevedo and his dose of the maybes in the rotation makes sense. More importantly, they seem to be addressing their bullpen's lopsidedly lefty nature, moving down from four lefty relievers to three, and giving long-suffering Leo Estrella a shot as a long reliever while finally doing something people in Wisconsin might find entertaining, and hauling in Kieschnick's double double-duty act: Beyond merely pitching and hitting better than most of his teammates, he adds entertainment value and roster flexibility.
The Twins are at the point where they need to start cutting bait and allowing for their own capacity as an organization to improve from within. As expected, Doug Mientkiewicz isn't putting runs on the board; the only first basemen doing less are a couple of Tigers, Kevin Young, Mark Grace, and Jeff Liefer, in short, nobody who should be playing the position regularly either. Matt LeCroy and Todd Sears would be hard-pressed to do worse, and for both of them, the future is now. To Ron Gardenhire's credit, he wasn't afraid to slap Sears straight into the lineup. Unfortunately, it hasn't been at Mientkiewicz's expense.
Mientkiewicz is only the most egregious example. They need to start asking themselves if Luis Rivas is ever going to grow up to be something, or if he's just the next Jerry Hairston Jr. They have to stop even-handedly giving starts to Bobby Kielty (11 starts) and Dustan Mohr (nine) in the outfield, and keep Kielty in the lineup until there's a valid reason to take him out. They have to acknowledge that they don't owe anything to Rick Reed, and run Johan Santana into the rotation. The Twins aren't out of the running, and they don't have to go shopping. They simply have to adopt the same sort of flexibility when it comes to their commitments to players that organizations like the A's observe as a matter of course. Failing that, they'll wind up no better than the 1997 Pirates, a cautionary tale of the little engine that contended, and then handed out rewards without thinking about their failure to actually win something more tangible than a neat press clipping or two about being a feel-good story.
Tony Armas has given some analysts concern for awhile, and I have to confess to not having been one of them. Fortunately, there doesn't seem to be a lot of concern, and there's some hope that he's not that hurt after he got a good read on his MRI. He might not even require a rehab assignment, and he's already long-tossing. In his absence, Claudio Vargas goes straight into the rotation, which might seem a bit ahead of schedule, since Vargas is still very much the hard-throwing work in progress. Spotted against lineups he can overpower and/or if he's eventually bumped into a long relief role, he could be an asset this year, well ahead of schedule.
So far, so good. Rivera is back, seems to be healthy, and was able to pitch on back-to-back nights. It won't mean as much in-season as it will in October, but if he's allowed to be fully recovered, the Yankees can probably expect him to continue to be the cooler's cooler in the closer's role. It's worth noting that in-season, they didn't really suffer for his absence, but that's the fungible nature of relief pitching.
Cerda's collapse on Tuesday merely slammed the door on another Mets loss, but given his talent and that he wasn't doing that badly this year beyond that outing, this demotion smacks more of a GM trying to look busy in front of the guy with the axe than a move intended to fix any concrete problem. The Mets do have the veteran lefty duo of Mike Stanton and Graeme Lloyd still on the team, so they're not short in that department. If anything, it just seems like Steve Phillips was sending somebody down and wishing it was Armando Benitez. If there's a team likely to re-enact last season's fold-up a bit earlier in the season, it's the Mets, who could dissolve into a welter of backbiting, firings, and the obligatory self-pitying eruptions of Mo Vaughn.
What can I say, the years spent in Chicago almost automatically make me a Grabowski guy for the name alone, setting aside my year of sporting a Ditka mustache. Grabowski can hit, hit for power, and get on base, he'd be well worth some playing time, but he'll be lucky to get more than a spot start or two. That's because the A's have the opportunity in Dye's absence to take a long look at Eric Byrnes, and beyond that, they're having trouble getting at-bats to Adam Piatt. Byrnes is already sporting a seven-game hit streak, and while he's no more likely than T-Long to grow into a top-shelf outfield star, he can be a nice contributor to an offense that starts with the left side of the infield. Dye's going to be out until the end of May, so they should get a very good read on whether Byrnes can push his way into some of Long's or Chris Singleton's playing time, or if Billy Beane is going to have to go shopping in July. He'll do it as a matter of habit, of course, but this will help shape his shopping list.
Essentially, this boiled down to a choice between keeping Punto, a good gloveman willing to take a free pass, Jason Michaels, an outfielder who can hit like your basic reserve outfielder, and Tomas Perez, the veteran utility infielder. Considering how early it is in the year, the Phillies made the right choice. While I might have more use for Punto than Perez, better to wait and see if Perez has anything left and let Punto get some at-bats, and in terms of bench strength, better to have the spare right-handed bat with some pop. The more important decision is whether or not they'll let Marlon Byrd crowd Ricky Ledee in center. At least initially, it looks like Larry Bowa is going to do the right thing, and let Byrd play to see if he can heat up. The danger is that at some point they'll get frustrated and turn back to Ledee on the basis of his nice start, and ignore the differences between the two of them defensively. Given a fair trial, Byrd will hit, and hopefully the Phillies will continue to recognize that and not worry about winning the pennant in May.
Claimed 2B/OF-L Jermaine Clark off waivers from the Rangers and optioned him to Portland. [4/30]
It's sort of a shame that they didn't claim Clark and then keep him up. Mark Loretta's career has been defined by words like "default," or "fallback," so it might be interesting if the Padres would give Clark the same opportunity they're giving Ramon Vazquez, to just get on base and provide workmanlike defense. It seems strange to think of having Tim Flannery types at both middle infield positions, but that's what the Pads could do now that they've got Clark.
Optioned RHP Jerome Williams to Fresno; recalled LHP Jeff Urban from Fresno. [4/26]
Activated RHP Jason Schmidt from the bereavement list; optined LHP Jeff Urban to Fresno. [4/29]
Acquired LHP Matt Blank from the Expos to complete the 3/24 Livan Hernandez trade, and optioned him to Fresno. [4/30]
Basically, all of the roster juggling created by Jason Schmidt's loss gave them a pen that was never nearing empty, a spot start for Jerome Williams, and a Jason Schmidt back mentally squared away to throw a complete game shutout. In terms of roster management and result, it was pretty close to ideal. Seems to me that with some agility in the front office in terms of creative thinking and players with options, a smart GM can adapt to the challenges the new official bereavement list can create. Tip o'the cap to Brian Sabean for handling the situation well.
Recalled RHP Rafael Soriano from Tacoma. [4/24]
Rafael Soriano is up in Kaz Sasaki's absence, but he has very little chance of sticking. The Mariners are already carrying a pair of veteran middle relievers in Giovanni Carrara and Shiggy Hasegawa, so they're already having enough trouble getting innings to Julio Mateo. Since nobody in the rotation is pitching his way out of a job, when Sasaki's back is healed up, Soriano's going back to Tacoma.
Recalled 2B/3B-R Felix Escalona from Orlando (Double-A). [4/24]
Placed LHP Bobby Seay on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis), retroactive to 4/24. [4/27]
Activated 1B-L Travis Lee from the 15-day DL. [4/29]
With Damian Rolls on the DL and Terry Shumpert being called on to do spot duty in the outfield and as a platoon partner for Al Martin at DH, the Rays needed somebody to fill a utility infield role, so up comes Escalona. The more interesting dilemma is what they're going to do now that Travis Lee is back. Who hits the bench? Al Martin, or George Lombard? Lee resumes his duties at first, Aubrey Huff moves back into right field, and who plays in the remaining lineup slot? Piniella seems to have built a pair of platoons to choose from: Martin and Damion Easley (now that Chris Truby's getting the playing time at third), and Lombard and Shumpert. I think I've gone on record often enough to point out that should mean that the Rays have two roster spots to spare, and that they can just plug in Lombard and Shumpert, pending Ben Grieve's return from the DL.
Placed RHP Ismael Valdes on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis), retroactive to 4/20. [4/24]
Designated LHP Doug Davis for assignment; purchased the contract of LHP Erasmo Ramirez from Frisco (Double-A). [4/27]
Placed RHP Chan Ho Park on the 15-day DL (strained back), retroactive to 4/27; announced that C-B Chad Kreuter cleared waivers and accepted assignment to Oklahoma; purchased the contract of UT-R Donnie Sadler from Oklahoma and recalled UT-L Mike Lamb from Oklahoma. [4/29]
It's a sad thing to be in the boat the Rangers are in at the moment, but part of this goes to Buck Showalter's reputation for decisiveness. Make a bad impression? You're gone, and those things you thought you had coming your way? They're gone too. So with Chan Ho Park on the DL for his confidence...er, back, Chad Kreuter, his personal catcher, is gone too. Doug Davis seemed to get on Buck's bad side quickly enough, so one call-up, one start, and he's gone. The news generally gets worse from there, in that it looks like Ismael Valdes isn't merely hurting, he's hurt. So this could be a year where the rotation actually gets worse than last year's, which would have been a stunning proposition a few months ago, considering how bad last year's performance was. There gets to be a point where decisiveness leaves you with two smoking barrels and a bunch of survivors you wish hadn't. How else do you explain a pen now stocked with the likes of Erasmo Ramirez or Brian Shouse or Rosman Garcia? Building a pen around people you don't have to worry being claimed on waivers is generally considered less than ideal.
If there's a silver lining, and it's usually hard to find one whenever Donnie Sadler darkens your door, it's that the alternative to Einar Diaz behind the plate will be Gerald Laird instead of Kreuter. The expectation, or some might say hope, is that Laird will push Einar Diaz into a reserve role long before Diaz's contract runs out. Now might be a bit premature in terms of Laird's readiness, but it isn't like Diaz is going to get better. It's also nice to have Mike Lamb back to play any corner or man the plate in an emergency.
The Jays took a chance on Tam, thinking he'd really made an adjustment at the end of last season with the A's that would return him to usefulness. That turned out to be wishful thinking, so to their credit, rather than remain wedded to his ineffectiveness for the next five months, they considered his spot one they could re-stock with a waiver claim. Doug Davis can be a useful fourth starter in the major leagues, and the Rangers' haste in giving up on him bordered on unseemly. For the Jays, he's a good add. Initially, he'll be in the pen (giving them a lamentable four lefties), but the plan is to work him into the rotation and see what they've got. With Mark Hendrickson pitching his way out of his slot, and Pete Walker always having value in a swing role, they've got a couple of spots in the rotation available, so they could have a re-tooled rotation with Davis and Kelvim Escobar in it within two weeks.
Perhaps characteristically, I'm more enthusiastic about Davis than Escobar, but in part that's because if you take a look at Escobar's career, as much as you might excuse his inconsistency with the inconsistent way in which he's been used, he simply hasn't been all that great. He does seem to relish tanking in non-save situations, which isn't an accusation that he does it deliberately as much as he seems to have convinced himself he can only relieve in save situations. For an admittedly talented mediocrity who is just that, mediocre, that's annoying enough. It'll be interesting to see if the Jays move him between now and the end of July, or if they take the draft picks.