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May 9, 2003

Transaction Analysis

May 1-7, 2003

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS Return to Top

Designated LHP Rich Rodriguez for assignment; activated RHP Kevin Appier from the 15-day DL. [5/7]

With Appier's return, Mike Scioscia had a paper choice between Scot Shields and Mickey Callaway for the fifth slot in the rotation. Shields gave them a pair of usable starts, while Callaway has struggled since his six shutout innings on April 1. The point is essentially mooted by the expected return of Aaron Sele this weekend, not necessarily a good thing as much as a thing. The Angels have Mondays off for the rest of the month (and all the way until June 9), so that means the fifth starter's only going to get a start per week for almost a month, so it's arguably less important than having another good long reliever to help paper over the questions in the rotation: Appier's or Sele's durability, or the performance of John Lackey or Ramon Ortiz. Having Callaway and Shields available will help on that score. If anybody pitches badly enough to lose his job in the rotation, Scioscia might have the choice of plugging Callaway or Shields back into the rotation. Unfortunately, the Angels are committed to spending over $20 million on Appier and Sele in 2004, so it's more likely that they'll just gut it out and blame the players' performances if they fail to contend.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS Return to Top

Placed LHP Randy Johnson on the 15-day DL (knee surgery), retroactive to 4/28; recalled RHP Brandon Webb from Tucson. [5/1]

Activated RHP Curt Schilling from the 15-day DL; optioned C/UT-R Robby Hammock to Tucson. [5/3]

Placed RHP Byung-Hyun Kim on the 15-day DL (ankle), retroactive to 4/30; placed LHP Stephen Randolph on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); purchased the contract of RHP Scott Service from Tuscon; recalled LHP Chris Capuano from Tucson. [5/4]

Placed INF-L Craig Counsell on the 15-day DL (thumb); recalled INF-R Alex Cintron from Tucson. [5/7]

The short story? Bad turns to worse, as the wheels keep coming off the Snakes' collective wheels. Losing the Unit and Kim while getting Schilling back at less than 100% creates space for Aaron Good and Brandon Webb in the rotation, along with Miguel Batista remaining in it. Basically, the rotation is in shreds. Kim's ankle has been a problem from the season's start, while Johnson only came off the DL for a single start before having to return for surgery. The hope is that Johnson will be back by mid-June, and Kim sooner, but given the desperation reflected in the decision to activate Schilling after only two weeks away with his appendectomy, the Snakes' moves point to the expectation that a losing season would be a financial setback for a team locked into a series of major financial commitments in the next few years. It might be a bit much to take Jerry Colangelo at his word, of course, but when the blush comes off as the team gets older and creakier and losing-er, the Snakes will have a hard time being a must-have entertainment ticket. Naturally, all of this will be given to us straight from Colangelo's ever-ready unofficial publicist, Bob Nightengale, who seems to have cultivated a similar relationship with Colangelo that Jerome Holtzman enjoys with Bud Selig. It's not bad to have friends inside the game, of course, but some compromises are more compromising than others. That said, and given I've gone over this ground with the Snakes several times in the last few weeks, it would be appropriate to wish Jerry Holtzman well, and that he has a full and speedy recovery.

An equally significant loss is Craig Counsell, who won't be back until mid-July at the earliest, and more likely mid-August. In his absence, the Snakes' offense is carrying regulars at shortstop and third who aren't putting runs on the board, and won't. Counsell was their best table-setting option to either Matt Williams or Tony Womack, and in his absence, the D'backs are effectively hosed. Alex Cintron was having a nifty season in Tucson in the early going; so is Pat Borders. Cintron's track record as a developing hitter leaves a lot to be desired, and defensively, he's not much of an upgrade on Womack, which basically leaves the Snakes without the sort of lefty-righty, on-base or out options they have when Counsell's available.

So can the offense be fixed? As much as you can expect their right fielders to start doing better collectively, there's no reason to expect their catchers or Carlos Baerga to keep doing what they've been doing, which leaves you with a lineup depending on the oldster duo of Luis Gonzalez and Steve Finley, plus whatever they can hope for from Junior Spivey (less than last year) and Lyle Overbay (more than from Mark Grace). It isn't a pretty picture, and the schedule isn't particularly helpful in the weeks to come; they'll be alternating series against sad sacks like the Pads or Pirates with harder competition from the Giants and Phillies. If you think they're panicking now, just wait until the first week or two of June.

ATLANTA BRAVES Return to Top

Placed RHP Darren Holmes on the 15-day DL (sore arm), retroactive to 5/2; recalled RHP Joe Dawley from Richmond. [5/7]

Although the Braves' pen hasn't quite been the major asset it was last season, it hasn't really been as bad as it looks. Only two relievers have done significantly badly according to Michael Wolverton's reliever evaluation tools. One of them, Jason Marquis, gave up five runs to clinch a loss the Braves were already well along towards, already down three runs in the bottom of the seventh. Joey Dawley's the other goat, giving up five runs in a game the Braves were already losing 11-1, and six more in a game they were losing 10-2. In other words, as bad as those two pitched, they gave up 16 runs in three different games the Braves weren't likely to win. That doesn't excuse their godawful performances, but it doesn't mean the pen has really done all that badly in the early going, and it doesn't mean that the pen is really that much of a problem. There was little chance that the pen was going to be as great as it was last year, but that's a testament to how good last year's pen was. This year, they're neither very strong or very weak; they're adequate. If John Schuerholz wants to look for problems to fix, they're some of the same old ones: making Vinny Castilla somebody else's problem, and finding a way to finally move on to life behind the plate long after Javy Lopez's peak disappeared into history.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES Return to Top

Activated 1B-B David Segui from the 15-day DL; placed RHP Rodrigo Lopez on the 15-day DL (strained oblique). [5/3]

Placed OF-L B.J. Surhoff on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); recalled LHP Eric Dubose from Ottawa. [5/4]

Optioned LHP Eric Dubose to Ottawa; recalled RHP Travis Driskill from Ottawa. [5/5]

Transferred LHP Erik Bedard from the 15- to the 60-day DL; placed C-R Brook Fordyce on bereavement leave; purchased the contract of C-R Roberto Machado from Ottawa. [5/7]

The return of David Segui could have produced the unhappy result that the Orioles would either have Larry Bigbie hanging around, scrabbling for at-bats, or that they'd send Melvin Mora to the bench. To his credit (and in the conveniently-timed absence of B.J. Surhoff), Mike Hargrove seems to have come up with a practical solution, plugging Mora into the everyday lineup and swinging him between left field and shortstop while creating a platoon of Bigbie in left against right-handed starters, and Deivi Cruz at short against lefties. That way, Bigbie plays, and Mora plays, and the Orioles have a decent balance of commitments to somebody who may or may not have a future, and somebody who's helping them score runs, all at Cruz's expense.

Hopefully, the solution will stick even after Surhoff returns from the DL. If anything, the guy who needs to be excused from that equation is Cruz, given his horrendous start and limited defensive value. It might be cruel to force Jose Morban into the job right now, but releasing Cruz and taking their chance with Brian Roberts as a shortstop has always been one of those variants I have a hard time giving up on. Roberts isn't going to get anything out of more time in Triple-A, and better to figure out right now if he has value on the 40-man or not.

Meanwhile, the larger here-and-now problem is what they're going to do about their rotation. Rodrigo Lopez went pumpkin from the opening bell, producing just one quality start in six. Given past complaints about how the Orioles assess and handle injuries, there's real concern that what's being called a strained oblique could be something worse; it's up to the Orioles to show they've got their house in order before anyone should invest a lot of confidence in their public comments on when Lopez will be back, something they've avoided commenting on so far. What makes the situation even worse is that they're taking the opportunity to hand the spare rotation slot to Pat Hentgen. If their options were limited to Hentgen or Travis Driskill, you might understand, but Eric DuBose just gave them a great spot start last weekend. Of course, if you don't give the slot to Hentgen, you need to ask yourself what Hentgen is for, and nobody's got an answer for that, not one that goes beyond rewarding good citizenship, and feeling obligated to show something for the time and money invested in him. In 9.2 IP against the Tigers in his last two outings, he's given up five runs and 16 baserunners. That's the Tigers, not a major league lineup. You know what comes next.

BOSTON RED SOX Return to Top

Claimed LHP Bruce Chen off of waivers from the Astros. [5/7]

Yes, he is the game's great unsung enfant terrible. Yes, he may never amount to a hill of hand-painted pinto beans you occasionally mistake for Easter candy. But at the end of the day, Bruce Chen is a lefty, he throws hard, and it's close to impossible to avoid taking a bite, just to see if you can swallow it. If, at the end of the day, you get that same disappointing crunch that Chen's previous half-dozen employers sampled, well, that's the risk. Somewhere in that jar, there's just gotta be a little bit of candy, right?

CHICAGO WHITE SOX Return to Top

Optioned OF-R Aaron Rowand to Charlotte; recalled 2B/OF-L Willie Harris from Charlotte. [5/1]

Optioned LHP Josh Stewart to Charlotte. [5/4]

Activated RHP Dan Wright from the 15-day DL. [5/5]

Aaron Rowand's ghastly start and the Sox's current 1-6 run has to have exacerbated an already-existing sense of exasperation. So, the response was to speedily hand his job to Willie Harris, in the hope that the offense would get some needed help. It's a pretty reasonable hope if you look at how well Harris has been hitting. In terms of Equivalent Average, he's been the most productive hitter in the International League per at-bat, trailing only Jason Bay for all of Triple-A. Hitting .420/.500/.691 as he has at Charlotte isn't anywhere close to what the Sox can reasonably expect, of course, but he can play a solid center, he runs well, and he gets on base. It helps their lineup balance to have another lefty somewhere in the mix as well. Basically, it's worth the change of gears, and if Rowand gets back on track in Triple-A and earns a recall, then the Sox will be the stronger for it in terms of outfield depth in the second half.

Josh Stewart did a nice job in his five-start trial of fire, giving the Sox two quality starts, another where he gave up only two runs in five innings, and really only getting clobbered once. If Jon Garland keeps giving up five runs in two out of three starts, the time will come when the Sox won't have to just live with that. If Stewart has a good month in Charlotte, don't be surprised if the Sox do some reshuffling, whether that means taking another spin with Stewart, or dealing for a veteran starter, because they can't just amiably assume the division will drop into their laps and then act surprised when it doesn't a third season in a row, can they?

CHICAGO CUBS Return to Top

Activated RHP Antonio Alfonseca from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Alan Benes for assignment. [5/5]

The Cubs have a nice problem, in that they've got enough pitching talent on the roster that an old Hendry compadre like Alan Benes can't rely on past history at Creighton to spare him from being cut. Strictly speaking, risking losing Benes on waivers was the correct choice, because he's the most likely to slip through, and he has the least likelihood of ever really haunting the Cubs if he doesn't. They'll have a more interesting problem when the time comes to reactivate Dave Veres, with the likely outcome being Juan Cruz's being optioned to Iowa.

What's also interesting is that because of Alfonseca's early injury, and in part because there's a new manager in town with no established loyalties to the guys he inherited, the Cubs are in a less-heralded "closer-by-committee" situation if they choose to be. This is good in several ways. First, it removes Pulpo from the lofty perch he was propped up on for very little reason. Second, it allows Dusty Baker to use everybody as needed, and not because somebody's been anointed with magic closer pixie dust. It's just as well, since four of the six relievers in the pen have had runs as closers, and that's not even counting Veres on the DL. This may be the first time that Dusty's had this sort of freedom of action since 1997 after the acquisition of Roberto Hernandez to use in tandem with Rod Beck. Given his past history, he's always had a closer, but in this situation, where nobody's being paid to close per se now that Pulpo has slipped out of the job, he might futz about for a few months, riding the hot hand, or anoint somebody by the All-Star break, or mix and match and do what the Red Sox went into the season claiming they were going to do. If the Cubs don't settle on one guy and win games in the meantime, the only people who will be unhappy will be fantasy leaguers, which says volumes about the relative value of saves.

CINCINNATI REDS Return to Top

Activated SS-R Barry Larkin from the 15-day DL; optioned UT-R Ryan Freel to Louisville. [5/6]

Talk about bittersweet reunions. Are the Reds really any better having Larkin around? He hasn't been able to handle short for a couple of years, and offensively, there's little indication he's going to ever hit again well enough to justify putting him in the lineup regularly at short. The question of experimenting with him at other positions in the twilight of his career might make sense if, like the Astros with Craig Biggio, you want to make the division a little more competitive, but the Reds are in this thing for all of their early troubles, and I'd hate to see them do anything that might hinder their capacity to contend, just because they feel obligated to let Barry Larkin sweat for his paycheck. Hopefully, they'll leave him in a part-time role as shortstop emeritus, and keep Felipe Lopez fresh with a full-blown job-sharing assignment. For once, Bob Boone's inability to sit still might actually work out best for all concerned.

CLEVELAND INDIANS Return to Top

Purchased the contract of RHP Dave Elder from Buffalo; outrighted RHP Aaron Myette to Buffalo. [5/1]

Purchased the contract of RHP Jason Boyd from Buffalo; outrighted RHP Jose Santiago to Buffalo. [5/4]

The pen's been shaken up, but generally speaking, this is a classic bit of scapegoating. The problem isn't Aaron Myette on the basis of two outings or Jose Santiago posting a 3.94 ERA, although his hittability with men on has been a major nuisance. Guys like Jason Boyd and Dave Elder aren't any more or less talented, because all four have something to recommend them. Well, OK, not Boyd, he's been spectacularly combustible over the years. No, none of this means much. The real problem remains the worst non-Tiger offense in the league, but it's easier to get cranky and punish a few random relievers to scare up the rest of the roster than it is to put a gun to Josh Bard's head, and order him and Brandon Phillips and Travis Hafner to start hitting.

COLORADO ROCKIES Return to Top

Placed 1B/OF-L Chris Richard on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); purchased the contract of 1B/OF-L Mark Sweeney from Colorado Springs; transferred RHP Denny Stark from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/1]

The embarrassment here is that Dan O'Dowd dealt Jack Cust for Richard, and Richard is done for the year with a surgically repaired shoulder that needs to be re-repaired. He's 29, and he might be done. Cust may never have a position, and he may be Jeremy Giambi Extra Lite and thus totally incapable of holding a regular job on the basis of his hitting. It's still a humiliating exchange, since O'Dowd failed to deal Cust for value earlier, and failed to acquire anything of value when he finally tired of having Cust around. It's even more humiliating when you consider that Mark Sweeney is a nearly interchangeable analog to Richard: lefty, can play first or an outfield corner, does a little bit offensively, but not enough for you to ever plug him into the lineup for longer than a week. That sort of talent shouldn't cost a sometime, one-time, still-time commodity like Cust.

FLORIDA MARLINS Return to Top

Placed LHP Mark Redman on the 15-day DL (fractured thumb), retroactive to 4/30; recalled RHP Justin Wayne from Albuquerque. [5/3]

Transferred RHP A.J. Burnett from the 15- to the 60-day DL; recalled LHP Juan Alvarez from Albuquerque. [5/6]

As expected, two-fifths of the rotation is down, and Mike Tejera gets plugged into one slot, and Justin Wayne got first crack at the other. Now it appears that Dontrelle Willis is going to be rushed up after all of six starts above A-ball, perhaps for Friday night's game against the Rockies. Having already made my appreciation of what happens when you turn over young pitching to Jeff Torborg's tender mercies perfectly clear, it appears that the Lorians don't merely want to screw up a second franchise's now, they're interested in bollixing its future as well. I guess you have to tip your cap to them; they make no little plans.

It must be a slow news week or something, because the fascination with the Marlins and the stolen base seems to have clogged some bandwidth of late, so let me add my two cents. The Fish might be running, but they still won't score without a ladder. Barring that, three outfielders who can put runs on the board would be nice. I know it's sabermetrically orthodox to deride the running game, but my derision goes deeper, going back to the 1976 AL West non-division-winning A's, who under Chuck Tanner's amiable guidance stole lots of bases and surrendered the division title for the first time since 1970. They finished 2.5 games behind a Royals team that had Al Cowens and a Tom Poquette-Jim Wohlford platoon in the outfield--you'll find that in the dictionary listed under 'indignity.' That, and then there was the false promise of Billyball, with people like Wayne Gross and Dwayne Murphy stealing home and Rickey flying like the wind, and for all that I learned pretty early on that you're better off beating the other guy to a bloody pulp than trying to annoy him to death. Admittedly, I'm oversimplifying, since the '76 A's needed a third and fourth starter, and I'm blurring over the psychic scars of having to watch Dave Collins for a year, but all in all, speed is for speed freaks, and not for your more consistently productive members of society.

HOUSTON ASTROS Return to Top

Designated SS-R Julio Lugo for assignment; purchased the contract of INF-R David Matranga from New Orleans. [5/1]

Recalled SS-R Adam Everett, RHP Kirk Saarloos, and LHP Nate Bland from New Orleans; optioned INF-R David Matranga and LHPs Jeriome Robertson and Bruce Chen to New Orleans. [5/2]

Designated LHP Bruce Chen for assignment. [5/3]

I suppose it's a shame that Julio Lugo doesn't play some place other than short, otherwise he'd be a natural fit with the Red Sox. Kidding aside, I'm not sure what to think about the decision-making process when it comes to releasing players for off-field conduct in general, and something as reprehensible as an accusation that you beat your wife in particular. If the union gripes, they lose a PR war for an eventual legal win. Would the union have fought for Bobby Cox if the Braves had taken a stand in that situation? The White Sox turned a blind eye of sorts over Albert Belle at one point. Is there a precedent? Is there a standard? Is talent and the lack of an adequate alternative the best defense against outright release for abusing your significant other? To say that there's no good guy here would be the easy response. I don't find anything noble in the Astros' stance or baseball's, any more than I have any love for anyone who might speak on Lugo's behalf. Damning all their eyes is perhaps too easy. It might also be appropriate.

In Lugo's absence, the Astros get to do a smart thing, which is alternate between Adam Everett's superb glovework and Jose Vizcaino's contract at shortstop. It would be easier to live with if they weren't already carrying Brad Ausmus around in the lineup like a piece of overpriced luggage, as well as waiting for Lance Berkman to heat up. Given that they've got Jeff Kent at second, and making do with Craig Biggio in center, they can use the defensive help they'll get with Everett in the lineup, but it will be interesting to see if the natural adaptation to having to plug in Everett in the #8 hole occurs, which would be to let Gregg Zaun claim some playing time behind the plate at Ausmus' expense, instead of carrying two low-wattage regulars in the lineup.

Meanwhile, as speculated here and elsewhere, the Astros finally made a move to fix the rotation--or Jeriome Robertson--problem. Again, I'll mention I've broken with much of right-thinking analysis herd, in that I think plugging in Kirk Saarloos makes plenty of sense, regardless of his fastball's limitations. Heck, it's not that tough to post an ERA better than Robertson's (woo-hoo, let's get into the sevens), but that's not my point. Saarloos had his moments last year, and he's been remarkably successful in the minors. Given that they're playing for real stakes, better that the Astros just plug and play. In a sense, Saarloos will be pitching against Scott Linebrink to see which of them can keep that last slot in the rotation after Scuffy Moehler comes back from the DL. If Linebrink continues to be effective, and Saarloos does well as well, they have a nice problem on their hands.

The other interesting development is the decision to cut bait on Bruce Chen. It's not a strange decision, seeing as it's happened five times before, but the legend of the impossibly difficult Chen only seems to grow at an exponential rate. Replacing him with a journeyman like Nate Bland as the pen's token lefty (Billy Wagner isn't in any danger of being pressed into situational duty, after all) might at least give the Astros somebody they can call on with low, realizable expectations.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS Return to Top

Recalled RHP Kyle Snyder from Omaha; optioned RHP Jeremy Hill to Omaha. [5/1]

Activated LHP Jeremy Affeldt from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-R Brandon Berger to Omaha. [5/6]

Purchased the contract of RHP Sean Lowe from Omaha; optioned RHP Ryan Bukvich to Omaha. [5/7]

All in all, that didn't turn out too badly. In Affeldt's absence from the rotation, the Royals got to see that Kyle Snyder isn't ready, but at least he saw the elephant and wasn't a complete disaster. There should still be some concern about Affeldt's blister problem, since those seem to have a tendency to linger or recur, leading to the inevitable wacky stories about exercises like shoving your hands in bowls full of uncooked rice or whatever to toughen them up. Hopefully, he'll be fine, and provide Runelvys Hernandez with a delightfully talented southpaw complement in a rotation happily built around farmhands with futures.

There's a point of departure on that sort of wisdom, of course, in that the Royals let themselves get frustrated with Ryan Bukvich's control problems. He was the pen's lone really ineffective pitcher, so they could have gotten by, but for Bukvich this represents an opportunity to iron out his problems, while the Royals get a veteran mop-up man in Lowe. If and when the time comes for someone to come back up, there's little danger or loss to subsequently designating Lowe for assignment. Again, that would constitute further evidence that your current Royals have a much better understanding of roster management than we've seen in years.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS Return to Top

Recalled RHP Ruben Quevedo from Indianapolis; optioned LHP Shane Nance to Indianapolis. [5/1]

Is it progress? Ruben Quevedo's back, as he should be, but he's the fifth starter, and can apparently count on being skipped time and again so that the Brewers can let Wayne Franklin generate all sorts of squiggly numbers every fifth day. This might be even more frustrating than life under Wendy and Dean, because there are some things, some moves, you have to like. It was a good thing to grab Matt Kinney on the cheap. OK...that's actually about the extent of the good news. I'm one of those people who thinks you just need to plug Quevedo into the rotation, take your lumps, and see what you get. You have to accept he's got a body by Sid Fernandez and a bunch of talent. You're the worst team in the league, and Quevedo doesn't have an option left after this year. Just pitch him. It isn't like Franklin's going to grow into something or Quevedo's going to take you to the cleaners in arbitration. Just pitch him, and hope he learns or fails. There isn't a whole lot else for the Brewers to get out of this season, unless you think adding digits to Royce Clayton's career totals makes for high drama.

MINNESOTA TWINS Return to Top

Returned RHP Mike Fetters to the 15-day DL (hamstring), retroactive to 4/27; recalled RHP Juan Rincon from Rochester. [5/1]

This non-shocking development isn't quite the level of obviousness in the face of organizational bluster we all came to know and love from Iraq's Information Minister. More of a Bond villain, "Hold on, I have to babble about my master plan" predictable plot device. For Mike Fetters' next trick, he'll stay on the DL. Don't worry, folks, he's a professional, he knows how.

In the meantime, the Twins are stronger for it. At best, Fetters is a one-inning reliever on a team that needs multi-inning relievers, at least until they come to their senses and plug Johan Santana into the rotation. In part, the problem is that in addition to having to live with Joe Mays and Rick Reed doing about as well as you'd expect, none of the other starters are off to good starts, so the Twins aren't getting the sort of work from anybody in the rotation that takes any kind of load off of the pen's shoulders. Ron Gardenhire did an outstanding job with last year's pen, but it'll be hard to repeat the performance if he has to rely on them too heavily as a unit in the early going.

NEW YORK METS Return to Top

Placed 1B-L Mo Vaughn on the 15-day DL (knee); recalled C-R Jason Phillips from Norfolk. [5/3]

When will the America of the tabloids, the America we all know and love from the grocery store, when will that America discover Mo Vaughn and give him the love he so richly deserves? How much more do we need to know about Nick Nolte's drinking or Rosie O'Donnell's being Rosie O'Donnell, anyway? Mo is street, he's money, he keeps it real. Mo's better than a twinkie, he's fresh even when he's a few years stale. How can the Mets seriously propose to move Mike Piazza to first base when it means benching a mouthy treasure like Mo? Steve Phillips should be ashamed of himself. I mean, nobody just says Mo without knowing he's mad, bad, and dangerous to have. Why pretend that this year's Mets squad had any other fate than, say, the Torborg Mets? Just because in some alternate universe or multiple-repeated Strat simulation of the 2003 season, the Mets might win the NL East 7% of the time? Phooey. Time to finally give America its most anticipated whacking since Ralphie Cifaretto. Or at least a Mo vs. Steve cage match. Or locking them in a theater showing The Real Cancun. OK, that's low, let's settle for the whacking, it's far more humane.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES Return to Top

Optioned 2B/3B-L Chase Utley to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; activated INF-R Placido Polanco from the 15-day DL. [5/1]

To repeat what I said over the weekend, as long as the Phillies are given a choice between Jason Michaels as a spare bat off the bench and an extra infielder, they seem to be making the correct call in keeping the extra bat. That's not an endorsement of Tomas Perez's hitting a hollow .300 or of Michaels as some sort of superior bench weapon. It's an acknowledgment that Larry Bowa wasn't likely to use Utley or Nick Punto often enough to keep them useful, since he likes to keep his lineup pretty stable. As is, Bowa has got the daily choice to make in center field, which doesn't seem to be doing Marlon Byrd any good. So why put Utley in a similar situation? Polanco's going to start 95% of the time at second if he's healthy, and the roster spot is better used, and Utley's future better served, by going with a spare outfield-caliber bat on the bench. If Michaels rises to the level of being Mutt to Tyler Houston's lefty Jeff, then the Phillies will have a good pinch-hitting duo to use in high-leverage situations, and Bowa will look pretty clever. In short, this seems like another canny appreciation by Ed Wade of roster space and use in conjunction with an assessment of what Bowa is prepared to do with the talent on hand.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES Return to Top

Activated OF-L Brian Giles from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-R Adam Hyzdu to Nashville. [5/7]

Many happy returns for the Buccos, since Giles resumes his duties in left, pushing Matt Stairs (and, less happily, Craig Wilson) back to the bench. It can't come too soon, since the Pirates are floundering offensively and stuck in a six-game swoon. It won't save them, not in itself, but at least it's a small bit of good news on a team that needs all that it can get.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS Return to Top

Placed RHP Russ Springer on the 15-day DL (strained elbow); optioned OF-L Kerry Robinson to Memphis; recalled RHP Mike Crudale and LHP Kevin Ohme from Memphis. [5/2]

It seems strange that the Cardinals decided to move to 12 pitchers when their rotation has been doing good work, but the spare at-bats to lefty hitters are going to Orlando Palmeiro now that J.D. Drew is back, and Robinson, while nothing special, doesn't play shortstop or catch or teach pilates or play on a diet of nothing but wheat germ, so he's not exactly a LaRussian renaissance man in that classic Scott Hemond mold. Admittedly, they don't have really reliable talent in the pen, since they're leaning on the likes of retreaded Dustin Hermanson and Cal Eldred and Jeff Fassero in tight situations, and none of them have been especially helpful. It's almost a blessing that Russ Springer broke down, since he was doing a nifty Jim Acker JackPAC jacktastic act in his appearances, coughing up six home runs in 12.1 IP.

SAN DIEGO PADRES Return to Top

Optioned LHP Oliver Perez to Portland; recalled LHP Mike Bynum from Portland. [5/1]

The Padres seem to be having more than their share of ill fortune with their young starting pitching prospects, because the concern with Oliver Perez boils down to the same sort of thing being whispered about Dennis Tankersley, which is that they're basically jittery. It's almost the antithesis of what's happening with the young pitching talent in Florida; instead of overworking these guys, there's a concern that they may have infectious Blassitis in the organization. It seems crazy that they demoted Perez only one start after he'd shut down the Cubs in his first good outing of the year, but this looks like another one of those demotions where he was being punished for the cumulative effect of his bad start, and not on the basis of his most recent work. In his Portland debut, Perez struck out eight and walked one over six innings, winning the game and only allowing a couple of runs. I remain confident that both of them will turn out OK, but you can understand the frustration the Padres have to be feeling.

So now, finally, they're semi-committing to Mike Bynum in the rotation. He's a college lefty with a great slider and decent velocity, with the reservation that he hurt himself pretty badly in 2001 because he didn't fess up to an injury, which interrupted what had been a smooth ascent through the system. You can pretty much take it for granted that Clay Condrey isn't going to amount to a whole lot, but the almost grudging way in which Bynum is being granted the opportunity is a reflection on the time he lost and the way in which he lost it. It's a bit of a surprise that the Pads have to have both Condrey and Bynum in the rotation in May, but that takes us back to the failures and failings of Perez and Tankersley. The alternatives aren't great; Ben Howard is struggling with his control, which pretty much leaves Carlton Loewer, and Loewer's even more in desperate need of reps and innings after his injury-marred career than Bynum is. So while the Pads are still an organization you can characterize as well-stocked with pitching talent, they're in a strange place at the moment, caught slightly short-handed. Things will get better.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS Return to Top

Recalled RHP Dewon Brazelton from Durham; optioned INF-R Felix Escalona to Orlando (Double-A). [5/3]

Well, say this for them, at long last the D-Rays are trying to be an expansion team instead of a circus act. Sure, lots of us statheads are grousing that they seem to be pressing guys like Rocco Baldelli or Dewon Brazelton or Seth McClung or Jorge Sosa into action. But why the hell not? There's enough concern that there are things wrong with this organization on so many levels, why not play their better talent with their (notionally) best instruction? Heck, we would have complained about the Mets keeping Ed Kranepool up as soon as they did. This is what expansion franchises should be doing, on a certain level. If the talent is close enough to major-league ready, why not put an end to the cockamamie uninspired promotions, the meaningless drives for career milestones, or the non-prospects? Yes, it means going to arbitration sooner with individual players, and yes, it means starting their free agent clocks sooner. But if you're the Devil Fishies, and you've earned a laughingstock reputation, there is no better way to try to establish some brand credibility than to finally give their (notional) fans something worth watching, something that will make them say "I was there" at the start of a career for somebody like Brazelton or Baldelli, instead of out-trivializing the Mariners by raising their Rupert Jones or Bob Stinson with a John Flaherty or a Mike Kelly.

OK, to brass tacks. Brazelton still isn't much for breaking stuff, but he's got good heat and a changeup he knows how to use. He isn't going to be Doc Gooden or Roger Clemens, but he's not really that far off from major league-ready. If it means not treating their fans to Jim Parque, or getting Nick Bierbrodt back on track in a long relief role, and if Brazelton is moderately successful, there's no downside. Since he hasn't already flopped, they don't have to worry about running somebody like Parque or Carlos Reyes or Jeremi Gonzalez out there.

TEXAS RANGERS Return to Top

Recalled RHP Joaquin Benoit from Oklahoma; optioned OF-R Kevin Mench to Oklahoma; released C-B Chad Kreuter. [5/2]

Activated RHPs Jay Powell and Todd Van Poppel from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Erasmo Ramirez and RHP Rosman Garcia to Oklahoma. [5/3]

Signed RHP Jamey Wright to a minor league contract and assigned him to Oklahoma. [5/5]

Joaquin Benoit wasn't dominating people in the PCL, allowing 16 runs in 29 IP, but a 24:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio is about as good as the news gets in the Redhawks rotation, so why not? The pressure's on immediately, beyond the obvious, in that the Rangers had the good sense to sign Jamey Wright as a bit of veteran insurance. While I'm rapidly losing faith that Wright will ever develop into an asset as a rotation regular, the Rangers clearly need some depth. Chan Ho Park has gone Whitson on them, Ismael Valdes has broken down yet again, and they're to the point that they're pressing Todd Van Poppel into the rotation. The decision to release Doug Davis is looking sillier by the day, especially since they're currently fielding a rotation of Benoit, Van Poppel, John Thomson, Ryan Drese, and Colby Lewis. That's not going to provide a whole lot of help against their AL West rivals; hell, it's not the sort of rotation that makes them competitive with anybody if not for their lineup. At this point, the Rangers have to hope Valdes or Park gets ready to pitch soon, so that they can bump Van Poppel back into the role he's better suited for, long relief. They need help there both because of and in addition to their needs in the rotation, because veteran relievers like Jay Powell and Esteban Yan have been debacles no smaller than Pat Mahomes or Mark Petkovsek in years past. The earliest they can hope for Jeff Zimmerman back is the end of July. All in all, this is an organization that needs arms, even if they're aspiring to mediocrity like Wright, or a wee bit short of earning the promotion, like Benoit.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS Return to Top

Placed RHP Pete Walker on the 15-day DL (sore shoulder). [5/2]

Outrighted LHP Jason Kershner to Syracuse. [5/5]

Recalled RHP Brian Bowles from Syracuse. [5/6]

As it turned out, before the Jays had to confront the repercussions of placing Jeff Tam on waivers, they had to place Pete Walker on the DL, which granted Tam a reprieve. Similarly, Jason Kershner's struggles helped give Doug Creek and Trever Miller a wee bit of job security, so instead the Jays could afford to bring in a right-handed reliever who might eventually squeeze Tam off the roster once Walker's ready to return. Mustang Sally Bowles is still a wee bit on the wild side (11 walks in 17 IP), but better to have him up and invest the time to see if he's worth keeping on the 40-man than futzing around with a third lefty. Bowles had rattled off a quick eight saves for Syracuse, and with Walker out of action and Kelvim Escobar's utility in any role in question, there's an opportunity for Bowles to earn a set-up job.

Catch the Doug Pappas World Tour as it rolls into California. SoCal Pizza Feed this Saturday, May 10. NoCal Pizza Feed Wednesday, May 14. Special guests, mystery guests, and more. Head here to sign up.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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