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May 14, 2003
May 8-11, 2003
Activated RHP Aaron Sele from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-L Gary Johnson to Salt Lake. [5/9]
As anticipated, Sele slipped right into the rotation, trailing the return of Kevin Appier, bumping Scot Shields and Mickey Callaway back into the pen. If anything, that puts the Angels' rotation in a precarious position. Ramon Ortiz has made only two quality starts in eight, and John Lackey's only made two in nine. The only starter they've been able to rely upon in the first six weeks has been Jarrod Washburn. At least by putting Shields and Callaway in the pen, they've shored up the bullpen that's going to have to continue to be the team's major strength. As a unit, it's the best pen in the AL according to Michael Wolverton's reliever evaluation tools, and it's the only area where the Angels have had any sort of consistent advantage over their opponents. That the pen has been that effective while dealing with Troy Percival at less than his best and Felix Rodriguez's struggles and absence is a testament to the continued wisdom of the organization's commitment to digging up relievers from any and all of the four corners of the globe. But that sort of underscores the point that the Angels have gotten most of their good work out of just two relievers, Shields and Brendan Donnelly, similar to how they've really only gotten consistent good work out of one starter. Given that they're still right around .500, it isn't like they're dead in the water, but with so few pitchers doing as well as the Angels might have reasonably expected coming into the season, it's going to be pretty important for Mike Scioscia and Bud Black to get a few more of their charges into working order.
So here he is, Bruce Chen a Red Sock, the brazenly uncoachable prodigy. To reiterate, it's a good thing for them to take a flyer. Their pen has been the worst in the AL in terms of performance, which they can blame on injuries or pressure or just plain old bad luck or whatever. It would be easy to say it's all about the "unsettled roles," but that sort of nonsense is basically coming from the same people who insisted Mariano Rivera and Byung-Hyun Kim were finished after their 2001 postseason performances. Less than the role, it has everything to do with the people selected. Chad Fox? Bobby Howry? The Sox were overenthusiastic bidders for guys like Ramiro Mendoza and Mike Timlin, and now they're counting on Brandon Lyon and Chen and Jason Shiell, none of whom cost anything like what their more highly-touted pickups did. There's no substitute for performance analysis and scouting, certainly not mere money.
Traded RHP Alan Benes to the Rangers for a PTBNL. [5/9]
The Cubs are in first place, but losing Sammy Sosa for any length of time is going to help make a tight NL Central race stay tight. Their offense has been strong because none of their lineup regulars have struggled in the opening month or so. That's less the problem than that losing Sosa also exacerbates a bad situation as far as Dusty Baker's roster design foibles. The roster has no automatically sensible lineup replacement for Sosa because they're carrying people like Troy O'Leary, Tom Goodwin, and Lenny Harris on the bench. These aren't the kinds of players you plug into a lineup for two weeks or longer (it's uncertain how long Sosa's going to be out). They're a trio of bench-warmers and managerial cronies you carry around, apparently to cater to your celebrity manager's sensibilities. If, instead, you wanted to score some runs, then you've got some problems. Carrying two first basemen who don't play another position while paring down to only 13 position players really hurts, and because the Cubs don't have somebody they can bump onto the 60-day DL, they don't have roster space to play with to add somebody like Phil Hiatt to fill out the bench.
Iowa doesn't really provide an alternative to doing this or futzing around with the likes of O'Leary; the outfield regulars there are Midre Cummings, Jackson Melian, and Nic Jackson, backed up by Treni Hubbard. Jackson's not hitting and making up for time lost to last season's injuries, and guys like Cummings or Melian aren't really solutions any more than O'Leary is. Dave Kelton's been moved back to third, temporarily ending the experiment with making him a left fielder, but he's not really hitting either.
Given the talent on hand, they could bump Mark Bellhorn to left--he's gotten a bit of experience there in Triple-A in years past. Then they could ride the hot hand and play Ramon Martinez at third regularly, and at least keep as many worthwhile bats in the lineup as possible. Martinez has been very productive in the early going, and Baker's crankiness with Bellhorn's patience aside, at least Bellhorn's getting on base, something beyond any of his trinity of roster lackeys. But the odds of that are pretty remote. It seems far more likely that the Cubs will just keep plugging in O'Leary, because at the end of the day, they can just blame him if and when he doesn't hit or continues to not hit. I'd consider that an abdication of responsibility as well as a failure to take your shot at contention seriously, but I've been known to jump to a conclusion or two, especially where the Cubs are concerned.
This is basically a net gain for the Indians, in that Karim Garcia didn't look like he was going to achieve a reprise of one of his few big league career high notes, wrist problem or no. In his absence, they've got Bradley back in center, and they get to take a look at Jody Gerut in right to see if he can adjust to a platoon role with Shane Spencer. So they get a bit of a net gain defensively, and they get to evaluate the talent that may or may not be in the outfield for the next contending Tribe squad.
Transferred OF-L Chris Richard from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/10]
Because of last week's rescheduling and the double-header they ended up having to play against the Braves on Thursday, the Rockies needed a sixth starter to make Monday's start. While nobody in the rotation besides Shawn Chacon is pitching all that well, Denny Neagle's rehab hasn't been as wrinkle-free as either he or the Rox would like. If Young made a nice impression, he might have the opportunity to come back sooner than anyone might expect. He's sort of in an interesting position, particularly vis-a-vis having Aaron Cook in the organization. Lest anyone pretend there's such an animal as absolute consensus in the stathead community, it's fun to bring up Cook and Young. Citing strikeout rates from their minor league careers, some statheads and some scouts peg Young as the more promising talent of the two. He's a recent Stanford product with good command and a full assortment and solid velocity, after all. Citing physical talent, particularly high 90s heat and a great sinker, some statheads (and, of course, some scouts) go with Cook instead. You could argue that's good old-fashioned ornery contrarian instinct, or that it reflects a certain dependence on the organization's claim that they've been trying to get Young to work on command and to get away from being a power pitcher. That's the sort of anecdote that generally sets off my alarm bells, flashing me back to old claims that Todd Van Poppel's curve was so good, minor league umps had to call it a ball because they'd never seen something so effective (ahem), or going even further back, Mel Stottlemyre's insane determination to make Doc Gooden less of a power pitcher. At any rate, Young wasn't really doing all that well in Colorado Springs; a 3.82 ERA and a 3-1 record sounds good, but he'd given up 18 runs and 19 walks in 33 IP, while striking out 21. He's still talented, and still worth taking an interest in, but sometimes in the prospect prospecting biz, doublethink is more trouble than it's worth, and foxy outfoxing can be just so much wankery.
Optioned RHP Matt Anderson to Toledo. [5/8]
Purchased the contract of LHP Steve Avery from Toledo. [5/9]
The nicest possible way to interpret this is that the Tigers might get two or three good months out of Steve Avery before they can flip him to a lefty-less contender for the inevitable live arm from A-ball. More basically, it reflects a certain double-edged desperation. Given the large number of people in the pen without much in the way of big league experience, it can't hurt to have a former phenom and much-lauded Brave come in and serve as a model citizen and sounding board. And given that Matt Anderson seems broke in a way that ain't easy to fix, taking him away from the miseries of the present isn't a bad idea. If, at the end of the day, the Tigers can flip Avery at the end of July or August, and in the meantime he teaches something to Wil Ledezma or Chris Spurling, that's about as close as it gets to good news in the Motor City these days.
As for Anderson, the Tigers seem to be doing the sensible thing, in that he's going to try to get back on track by pitching for two or three innings at a time, to improve his arm strength and/or adapt to life without the velocity he left on the surgeon's table. There's no wishcasting here, everyone needs to just grit their teeth and hope he adapts.
I'm sort of more intrigued by the notion that, in Anderson's absence, they might let knuckleballer Steve Sparks get a save now and again. He is the other veteran in this team's pen beyond Avery, and while Franklyn German is the guy who pumps gas, he's also wild as sin. Not that there will be that many save opps to go around, but this could be the sort of gig that gets Sparks one good contract. I hear the Red Sox pay well for modest past relief success, so perhaps that's something to keep in mind if you're Sparks. Or his agent.
Purchased the contract of LHP Dontrelle Willis from Carolina (Double-A); placed RHP Josh Beckett on the 15-day DL (strained elbow), retroactive to 5/8; recalled RHP Blaine Neal from Albuquerque; outrighted OF-R Gerald Williams to Albuquerque. [5/9]
Fired manager Jeff Torborg, pitching coach Brad Arnsberg and strength and conditioning coach Dale Torborg; named Jack McKeon manager, Doug Davis bench coach and promoted Wayne Rosenthal to pitching coach. [5/10]
There's a story about Huey Long down in Louisiana, if I remember correctly, that ran something like this: When speaking to a group of potential benefactors and campaign contributors, Long promised that anybody who threw in his lot with Huey now could expect a big piece of the action, that anybody who waffled and later came aboard could expect a littler piece of the action, and that anybody who didn't side with Huey Long could expect, after his election, "good government." I can't say I'm kidding when I suggest baseball is run any differently as an industry. By hiring McKeon without considering a worthy minority candidate or two, the Marlins have now apparently run afoul of Bud Selig's campaign to create token-stroking procedures that give credence to a claim that minority candidates get due consideration--this in an outfit where competence hasn't really made it to the level of being a core concern in the industry's hiring practices. Given that the Tigers managed to duck the rough justice that the commissioner was supposed to have meted out when they jumped into bed with Phil Garner without even bothering to invite anyone else to the party, what can we expect from Bud now? If he really does fine the Lorians, he'll probably end up having to loan them the money to pay the fine. If he doesn't fine the Lorians, he'll merely add to his laboriously built-up reputation for being a weak reed in any tight spot involving anything besides the union. The Lorians have basically been his creatures from the start, so he'd undoubtedly feel some anguish over deliberately trodding on one of their tentacles for mere public sport. However, he does have to consider the embarassments the game has endured in terms of minority hiring (which, to be fair, have been overstated compared to some professional sports organizations, the NCAA in particular coming to mind). And, to the wonderment of the rest of us, Selig seems to have this almost Clintonesque obliviousness as to his historical destiny being simply odious no matter what he does from here on out. As a result, I can see Bud playing to the crowd in fine ham-fisted style, and judiciously fining his good friend Jeffrey something less than the maximum, and something close to either what his good friend Jeffrey can afford or that he can afford to borrow. None of this will get Chris Chambliss a job before the likes of Ned Yost or a reheated Jack McKeon, but it will work out sort of neatly, from at least somebody's point of view.
Now, having said all that, I'm still sort of glad to see McKeon back. He's an underrated manager in many respects, and certainly a better choice than Jeff Torborg ever was for resurrection. The question is whether or not McKeon is, in his professional twilight, here to be a self-mockery a la Thrift, collecting checks from a meddlesome owner and catering to his various cronies so that he can remain in the game. Or will he instead do what Jack McKeon has generally done in the confused situations he's inherited in the past, which is shake things up a bit, and help create a sense of direction? For both his legacy and that of the Fish and their fans, I hope it's the latter. There's already the scramble to question whether or not McKeon might overwork the pen in the way that Torborg overworked the rotation, creating a staff holocaust in-season that only a few have ever achieved (Terry Bevington comes to mind). Frankly, I think such concerns are overstated. Scott Williamson was dubious/questionable goods in terms of his long-term health before McKeon got hold of him in Cincinnati, and none of the other relievers broke down under workloads that only seem high compared to the pampered 40-inning seaosns lefty situational clowns get in some places, or the 60 innings neatly carved out for ace closers to log save stats while contributing very little toward team wins. McKeon made Mark Davis a very wealthy man, and seemed to effortlessly get good years out of people like Doug Bird or Lance McCullers or even Mark Grant. I'd think the concerns about McKeon's ability to handle a big league bullpen these days are more than a little overstated; there's controversy enough with this particular fishmongering to far from require a body or two in a closet to provide otherwise absent skeletons.
As for the decision to plug Dontrelle Willis into the rotation right now, I'm not wild about it. The team thinks it's a contender, and Willis has only six starts above A-ball--and only 11 above low-A--under his belt in his career. Admittedly, he's coming off of a great six starts at Carolina, posting a 1.49 ERA (and no unearned runs to spoil that), and only 33 baserunners against 32 strikeouts in 36.1 IP. But between organizational expectations and desperation and his relative inexperience, we're going to have to hope that McKeon keeps Willis' workload relatively modest.
Waived SS-R Julio Lugo. [5/9]
This non-shocking denouement leaves Lugo unemployed, the union having to file a grievance that won't add any to its reputation with fans or commentators, and the Astros smug in their moral certainty while getting no closer to having a shortstop than they were before. No, I'm not a member of the Sons of Damaso Garcia, grieving for all the victims, worthy and unworthy, of Jimy Williams' managerial decisions. And no, I'm not condoning the actions that Lugo has been accused of taking. I just don't share the certitude that the Astros have done the right thing, not when they could have worked on rehabilitating Lugo. Now he's unemployed and someone with a rep for anger management issues. This is a positive result?
The Twins' ongoing nice problem of having too many talented young players continues to create little roster quakes, with Mike Cuddyer's demotion--and the decision to instead keep Todd Sears around--being the latest. Much as I might agree that having Cuddyer get regular playing time is a good idea, I'm not sold that that playing time has to be at Rochester. Now I know I'm beating the horse's bones to dust by now on this, but the problem remains Doug Mientkiewiecz, and, to a lesser extent, Dustan Mohr. Even with Mike Cuddyer and Sears around, Minky and Mohr are getting regular playing time. Bobby Kielty's nicks and bruises are contributing to that, at least to Mohr's benefit, but I'm still more than a little surprised that the Twins are so reluctant to come to terms with Minky's essential mediocrity. He can't keep the job because of the cachet of being around the 2002 Twins forever, can he? The only interesting wrinkle is that the Twins had Cuddyer play second in Rochester, which would at least present a creative solution to Luis Rivas' continuing non-progress as a prospect.
Wait a minute, wasn't Art Howe supposed to inject a bit of that easy manner and confident handling of his players for which he gets credit? Instead, we get a mini-brouhaha over who's on first? This is nuts. If you fail to ask your team's star player if he's OK with moving to first before leaking it to the press, what's the supposed difference between that and Bobby Valentine's old shenanigans?
Meanwhile, it would be fair to say the bullpen is sort of a shambles. They've got three lefties, only one reliable righty (Stormy Weathers), Armando Benitez trying to get back on track while fending off rumors of his imminent dispatch to everywhere between Churchill and McMurdo Sound in this hemisphere, and then they've got Pat Strange and Jason Middlebrook sort of cooling their heels in the pen. Strange and Middlebrook have value, and could easily turn into middle relief assets the way that Grant Roberts did before his injury, except that isn't really Howe's modus operandi with young starting pitchers. In Oakland, he wasn't running the staff, and in Houston, his lone real success on that front was arguably Curt Schilling in 1991--and the Astros gave up on Schilling after the experiment. So I'm not confident that Middlebrook and Strange will get real work. But what's everyone concerned about? David Cone and John Franco will haul their broken-down selves back onto the active roster soon, and that's going to help, right?
I'm not wild about this move, not that I'm a huge believer in the as-yet unachieved greatness of Jeremy Fikac, or one of those chauvinists who thinks that Micah Bowie can't pitch, as much as I fret about what the switch means in terms of how the pen is structured right now. By adding Bowie to the pen, the A's have only two right-handed relievers they seem comfortable using, Keith Foulke and Chad Bradford. Rule 5er Mike Neu has been used very carefully, although Ken Macha seems to be giving him more work in lost causes in recent weeks. Jim Mecir doesn't really seem to be 100%, and he isn't getting time on the mound to regain his touch. Fikac might have been struggling, but assembling a pen that might encourage Macha to overuse Foulke and Bradford before the All-Star break doesn't seem like a really good idea.
Because of the schedule, the Phillies won't have a lot of call for a fifth starter, so rather than let Duckworth shuffle between the pen and the rotation, they're keeping him in turn by flipping him back down to Scranton, and letting Eric Junge join Joe Roa in the long relief role in the pen. As long as everyone's comfortable, and Duckworth isn't going to get bent out of shape for being bumped like this at every instance, it can work just fine. Unfortunately, Duckworth is struggling, and the Phillies might need to come to terms with the idea that it would make sense to avoid some of these Duquetteish roster machinations if it costs them the confidence of one very promising pitcher. As is, they're barely using Roa, so it isn't like they're putting all of their roster spots to work, and a supernumerary mop-up man should rank pretty low on anybody's list of needs or wants.
Placed RHP Adam Eaton on the 15-day DL (strained groin), retroactive to 5/5; purchased the contract of LHP Roger Deago from Mobile (Double-A); transferred UT-R Phil Nevin from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/9]
There's always a little thrill when somebody comes up that you know nothing about. It doesn't happen all that often, sadly, but still, here it is. Despite all of the injuries and problems that have afflicted the organization's pitching, the Padres had choices. Instead, they skipped past their issues with Dennis Tankersley or Oliver Perez, decided not to pressure Cory Stewart, or to take a chance with Carlton Loewer or Randy Keisler or even Charles Nagy, or overlook past dissatisfactions with Brian Tollberg. Instead they dipped down to Double-A to call up Roger Deago. My mind goes blank, the name means nothing to me. Who is Roger Deago? Another one of the Pads' Mexican imports? Some college star I overlooked? An organizational soldier finally catching a break? No, none of those things. Deago's a 'veteran' of the Panamanian national team and a lefty junkballer, probably younger than Jesse Orosco and older than Rick Ankiel. Down in Mobile, in his professional debut, he allowed 29 hits and a dozen walks in 33.1 IP, striking out 32, and posting a 3.51 ERA. As choices go, I guess it counts as inspired, since who really has scouting reports on somebody like this? Spotting him against the Mets, a team with its share of offensive problems, was a nice stunt, and it'll be interesting to see how he does against the Braves and Brewers if he gets another couple of starts.
Curiosities aside, losing Adam Eaton isn't really the end of the world, since it doesn't look to be a major injury. In his absence, Mike Bynum and Deago might claim rotation slots, which would crowd out the likes of Clay Condrey when Eaton returns.
Placed OF-L Marvin Benard on the 15-day DL (knee inflammation), retroactive to 5/5; recalled OF-R Jason Ellison from Fresno; activated RHP Ryan Jensen from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Chad Zerbe to Fresno. [5/9]
Placed 2B-B Ray Durham on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle); recalled SS-R Cody Ransom from Fresno. [5/11]
All in all, this really hurts, so the rest of the NL West should be cheered by this news. First, the good news for the Giants: Ryan Jensen isn't replacing Jesse Foppert in the rotation, and will instead give the pen an alternative to Jim Brower to handle long relief duties. None of the Giants' starters are workhorses in terms of being able to rack up innings, so having a couple of guys who can handle two or three inning outings in blowout wins or blowout losses is probably pretty handy on a team that has to count on the pen's core four of Felix Rodriguez, Tim Worrell, Joe Nathan, and Scott Eyre to handle the close games. Again, because the rotation rarely goes beyond the sixth inning, the Giants have to worry about using those four in the games they've got their best shots to win, and can't afford to use them in the games where they don't. While there's plenty of attention being devoted to the loss of Robb Nen for the year, they've got four good relievers and useful middle relief. The pen is not this team's most significant problem.
Less happily, losing Durham and Benard really hurts. Durham's replacement is Sabean's latest roster folly, Neifi Perez, giving opposing pitchers a much-needed third relatively easy out in the lineup. Cody Ransom isn't much of a prospect, so he doesn't really give the Giants an alternative during the month or so that Durham's expected to be out. And losing Benard, despite his light contributions this year, robs the Giants of their best pinch-hitting option on the bench, while locking them that much more into having to play Marquis Grissom or Ruben Rivera in center. The Giants are still in first place in part because nobody else in the division has their act together, but these are the sorts of things that add up in terms of not putting more distance between them and the pack now, when they had the advantage of getting the jump on the Dodgers or Snakes.
There isn't a whole lot to say here. Sasaki wasn't immediately pushed back into the closer's role, his absence made no impact on the Mariners in the grand scheme of things, and Soriano gave them a nice reminder that hauling in Giovanni Carrara might have been entirely unnecessary. If they don't take the lessons that sort of stuff provides, so be it, and if they lose an extra game because they wanted Carrara instead of Soriano, or have that much less money to spend because they have to have Sasaki and Nelson and Rhodes, and thus can't do something like go out and get a third baseman or a left fielder with some sock, don't expect anyone else in the league to feel their pain.
Purchased the contract of LHP John Rocker from Orlando (Double-A); recalled INF-R Felix Escalona from Orlando; purchased the contract of OF-L Jason Tyner from Durham; activated LHP Jim Parque from the 15-day DL; designated OF-L George Lombard and 3B-R Chris Truby for assignment; optioned RHP Victor Zambrano to Durham; placed RHP Steve Parris on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis). [5/9]
OK, it's undoubtedly silly to weep for Chris Truby, but what the hell happened here? Teaches me to ever start interpreting a random series of choices by the randomly-run organization in a positive way. My modest hopes for the likes of Truby or George Lombard aside, who in their right mind resurrects Jason Tyner, symbol of all that was wrong in years past? Does this mean his Bobblehead Day is back on? Is keeping Al Martin's job safe really this important? Why is Damion Easley still here, and was Truby excused for making Easley look useless? Admittedly, what doesn't show up here is the plan to promote Jared Sandberg and hand back the third base job, but that still begs the question of what guys like Easley or Martin are for, let alone Tyner. An added misfortune is that in losing Rey Ordonez, they don't really have a utility infielder who can handle shortstop, so they're pressing Felix Escalona into action at his least-likely position. Escalona still doesn't have a lot of experience above A-ball, so the absence of a real alternative to Ordonez (of all people) really doesn't look too good.
As for the state of the staff, it's not quite as stunning. Steve Parris is never going to be the kind of guy you can count on for too long these days, although replacing him in the rotation with Jim Parque is just more of the same. After a bad outing and a postgame tantrum, Jorge Sosa's out of the rotation, leaving a slot open for the moment, although Travis Harper might end up getting slipped into the fifth slot now that Zambrano has been banished and while Nick Bierbrodt still gets rehabilitated in a long relief role. What it really means is that you can sort of count on Joe Kennedy and maybe Dewon Brazelton every fifth day, and after that, all bets are off. Practically speaking, the Rays are really only running an extended spring training in a season where they're over their more normal .333 because they won four out of six against the Tigers (raising both team's winning percentages). They nevertheless seem to be quite earnest--if unfortunately directionless--in their ambitions to be something more than what they are.
For those of you keeping score at home, that's Alan Benes into the rotation, Todd Van Poppel and Ryan Drese out of the rotation, and your basic Ranger shambles. Benes is the right sort for the Rangers to just hopelessly cast their lot with, effectively getting him off of waivers or for the organizational equivalent of a lint sandwich (hold the bread) to just keep having bodies to start the game with.
Now that Herb Perry's back, it's interesting that they elected to keep Mark Teixeira around. They're basically without a fourth outfielder by carrying both Teixeira and Ruben Sierra on the roster, and Perry's not going to take playing time away from Hank Blalock anymore. So if they want to pinch-hit for Ryan Christenson--and with all those bats around, why wouldn't you want to?--they have to bump Carl Everett or possibly even Michael Young out to center field, except that they don't really have a utility infielder either, so Blalock has to play second or Sierra or Teixeira an outfield corner if you want to get Christenson's bat out of a high-leverage situation. Talk about choices that come with a price. Needless to say, I'm not impressed, keeping all of the bats without having a way to use all of them is one of those basic mistakes that people like Pat Corrales might have made during their managerial careers, but that you'd think teams would avoid these days. Apparently not.