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May 29, 2003

Prospectus Today

The Barriers to Success

by Joe Sheehan

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One of my favorite sayings--I think I first saw it in an r.s.b post back when I was in college--is "Life is not a meritocracy." As much as we in America embrace the notion of a Horatio Alger ideal--that anyone can do anything they want to if they work hard enough--the fact is that intractable, and sometimes unfair, barriers to success do exist.

In baseball, we generally call these barriers "service time" and "financial commitments." Players with the MLB Seal of Approval and guaranteed contracts keep their jobs long past the point of reason, while more deserving younger players toil one level below, doing everything in their power to reach The Show, but get left behind by the conservative nature of dyed-in-the-wool baseball people who would rather watch a veteran be old than take a chance on a younger player.

This column will highlight a number of the bad baseball players who are blocking the progress of better ones.

  • Deivi Cruz has become one of the worst players in baseball. He's not remotely the defensive player he was when he came up with the Tigers, and as a hitter (.217/.225/.331) is less threatening than high tea with Nathan Lane and Harvey Fierstein. That the Orioles continue to play him every day is as disturbing as...well, the thought of high tea with Nathan Lane and Harvey Fierstein.

    What makes it worse is that the O's have two reasonable shortstop candidates on their roster, and are playing both at other positions. Melvin Mora is over his head right now at .345/.455/.583, but even a typical Mora season--PECOTA projected .244/.328/.384 for a .258 EqA--would place him in the top half of AL shortstops offensively, and his defense is passable. He's being used in left field, however. Meanwhile, Brian Roberts is playing second base in the absence of Jerry Hairston, out for a month with a broken bone in his right foot. Roberts was hitting .315/.401/.399 at Ottawa while playing second base, but was a shortstop up through 2001 and, like Mora, would be an average-minus defender at the position with enough of a bat to be a positive contributor overall.

    This problem should solve itself when Hairston returns, but Mike Hargrove should hasten the process by putting Mora at shortstop for now and playing Larry Bigbie (.333/.411/.603 at Ottawa)--or even the slowly-fading-away Jack Cust (.247/.403/.342 at Ottawa)--in left field in the interim. Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie are making slow progress in yanking the Orioles out of the late 1990s, and finding out if one of those guys can be the team's No. 5 hitter is going to be a big step along the way.

    While I'm picking on the Orioles, it's time to complete the wipeout of my Scoresheet rotation and lose Rick Helling (6.36 ERA, 13 HR in 58 IP) to the waiver wire. The Orioles can use the next four months to see if Sean Douglass (3.18 ERA, no home runs allowed in 51 innings at Ottawa) can do what Josh Towers and John Stephens couldn't: stick in the majors as a command guy with so-so stuff.

  • The Indians appear to be trying to set a record for most sub-700 OPS outfielders on one roster. While they get points for giving Jody Gerut a shot, he hasn't hit in his month of work (.250/.256/.463, one walk in 80 at-bats), so it's time to make room for Covelli Crisp (.349/.446/.494 at Buffalo), who has hopefully ditched the "Coco" moniker. Crisp won't keep hitting .340, but he has greatly improved his walk rate this year (26 in 172 AB, vs. 102 in 1,068 AB the past two seasons) and might be ready to hit leadoff or second in the major leagues. Adding Crisp to Milton Bradley would shore up the Indians' outfield as well, giving them two center fielders behind a very young, very shaky rotation.

    There's very little chance that Crisp wouldn't be an improvement on Matt Lawton, who has hit .233/.335/.386 since being traded away from the Twins in 2001, and looks done. Shane Spencer hasn't been much better than Lawton this year, but has some value as a good glove on the outfield corners with a history of hitting lefties. Neither player should stand in Crisp's way.

  • Buck Showalter has handled Mark Teixeira remarkably well, keeping the rookie on the roster throughout his dreadful April slump (.173/.283/.327 as the Rangers played the AL West) and getting him more and more at-bats as he's heated up in May (.304/.385/.571). Teixeira is ready to be an everyday player, and the way he which he was handled is a sharp contrast to the way Hank Blalock was dumped one year ago after 100 at-bats.

    Now, John Hart has to remove the main complicating factor in Showalter's OF/DH mix by getting rid of Ruben Sierra, who can't hit any longer (.254/.326/.369, on the heels of hitting .245/.292/.379 the last five months of 2002). This will free up at-bats for Teixeira at DH and first base, while opening a roster spot for Ryan Ludwick, who is hitting .281/.364/.573 at Triple-A. Unfortunately, there's still no place to play Ludwick, who has only played right field in the wake of last year's hip surgery. Laynce Nix (.325/.376/.518 at Double-A Frisco) can't get to Arlington fast enough, because this team needs a center fielder badly.

  • Matt Williams hasn't been good in a year beginning with "2," posting EqAs of .238, .256 and .265 in the 21st century. This year, he's hitting .241/.323/.391, a .247 EqA, while covering just slightly more ground at third base than third base itself. Meanwhile, Chad Tracy has made steady progress through all the organization's fine hitting environments, and is hitting .347/.402/.484 at Tucson. Promoting him makes a lot more sense than trading a pitcher for Shea Hillenbrand does, but to be honest, aren't we all a little curious as to whether Joe Garagiola, Jr. has yet passed the horseshoe he's had lodged in his system for half a decade?

    The Astros have used nine starting pitchers in 53 games, and of those, only Roy Oswalt and Tim Redding have been worth much. Scott Linebrink has been decent without ever getting out of the sixth inning. Jeriome Robertson (6.31 ERA), Kirk Saarloos (15.63) and Pete Munro (16.88) have been tried and found wanting in the back of the rotation. Brian Moehler was nice enough to get hurt before dragging the team down too much (7.90).

    It's time to stop messing around before a very winnable NL Central gets away. Rodrigo Rosario has just ten Triple-A starts under his belt, but at 25, he's the best remaining option at Triple-A New Orleans, with a 2.67 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings. Rosario and Saarloos (2.34 ERA in 50 IP, 29 K, 6 BB at New Orleans), placed in the back of the rotation instead of Robertson and Jonathan Johnson, can be the difference makers this year for a team whose aging lineup core a very small window of opportunity.

Those are the five situations that cry out for a change, but there are many other players trapped in Triple-A, waiting for their organization to get back from Clues 'R Us. I thought the Rockies' Garret Atkins could have made the team out of spring training, but he was sent to Colorado Springs for seasoning. He's hit .346/.393/.539, which even after adjusting comes to a major-league EqA of .260. Chris Stynes hasn't hit well enough to keep his job, and has more value to the Rockies as a utility player and pinch-hitter anyway.

Justin Morneau is a better player than Doug Mientkiewicz right now, and that's granting that Mientkiewicz, all things considered, isn't bad, especially if you can platoon him to get the Double Word Score. Morneau just can't stop hitting, though: his .329/.384/.620 month at New Britain got him promoted to Rochester, and he's abused the International League to the tune of .330/.409/.660. He's the best left-handed hitter in the AL Central on the day he gets promoted.

The Twins have a truly ridiculous excess of hitting talent in the upper levels of their organization, which evokes two reactions:

  1. There's simply no excuse for them to be so bad offensively (eighth in the AL in EqA).

  2. The people who think they're built around good pitching--hi, Harold--are nuts. They have a sweet bullpen, but the rotation is bad, saved only by a superior defense.
Terry Ryan has to leverage the 41 hitters fighting for playing time into at least one middle infielder who can hit and a starting pitcher who can miss a bat once in a while. If there's someone who should be trying to get Byung-Hyun Kim from the D'backs, it's Ryan.

Other players I'd like to see get a job. Terrmel Sledge loves the Expos' new affiliate in Edmonton. He's at .327/.440/.520 for a major-league EqA of .287, and could help the 'Spos offense at first base, or, if they wanted to sacrifice some defense--a bad idea with their pitching staff--in center field. His best hope might be a crash course in third-base play, where Fernando Tatis (.214/.281/.279) needs to go bye.

And then there's the Dodgers. Bubba Crosby is hitting an Ashleyriffic .406/.459/.719 at Las Vegas, which after you take all the air out is still a major-league EqA of .325. The fifth-year pro out of Rice has largely been a disappointment since being drafted, but considering how badly the Dodgers need runs, Crosby should at least show up on their radar.

Finally, I'll probably regret this, but since Jim Edmonds might miss time (see today's UTK for more), I want to mention Jon Nunnally, who was losing job battles back when I was excited about my shell account and Sophia's 386 with Windows 3.1. Nunnally, now 31, is hitting .311/.475/.589 for the Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate in Memphis. If Edmonds does have to go on the DL, the Cardinals have to think about giving Nunnally a call. As careful as J.D. Drew and Albert Pujols have to be handled, Nunnally would provide a great alternative on those days when La Russa is tempted to start six players with below-average OBPs.

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

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