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June 7, 2003
May 27-June 5, 2003
Activated LHP Steve Randolph from the 15-day DL. [5/30]
Designated 3B-R Matt Williams for assignment; placed RHP Matt Mantei on the 15-day DL (sprained shoulder), retroactive to 5/28; placed RHP Mike Koplove on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis), retroactive to 5/28; purchased the contract of RHP Edgar Gonzalez from Tucson; recalled RHP Jose Valverde from Tucson. [6/1]
The pitching staff has broken down all over again, which should surprise nobody condemned to sign checks to the likes of Matt Mantei, but so be it. Of far greater interest at the moment are two phenomena, the decision to trade for Shea Hillenbrand, and the continuing reliance on homegrown pitching talent in the absence of the rich, famous, and busted-up (which I've touched upon repeatedly in weeks past in this space).
First the Hillenbrand deal. It's perhaps equally fashionable to dissect it in terms of "The Curse of Larry Andersen" or the more sabermetrically orthodox and sour "Hillenbrand's the poster boy for some sort of champion's breakfast, and he don't walk much either." I think both caricatures (at least as I've drawn them) are correct in bits, but miss some more important particulars. From the Snakes' perspective, this works because they get a bat to keep their flagging hopes alive at a position where they haven't had a hitter as long as since Craig Counsell got hurt, which is the same as forever in television time. There's the question of what Hillenbrand will do outside of Fenway; he's moving to the always-friendly BOB though, and there's a very reasonable expectation that Hillenbrand will hit better there than he has as a Red Sock. Just short of 28, he's at the age where he should be as good as he's ever going to get now and for the next couple of seasons. For better or for worse, he'll be arb-eligible for the next three years, which in a double-edged sort of way means that the Snakes have leverage over him for the immediate future. While that could just mean losing money at the hands of the arbitration panel, their options include eventually non-tendering him or dumping him on somebody else when they decide that Chad Tracy or Brian Barden or Conor Jackson is their third baseman of the future, or perhaps signing him to a three-year deal that makes him worth draft picks when he's done (which coincidentally provides an arbitration-free window of cost certainty should they nevertheless decide to then deal him).
The real question is whether they needed to make the deal, and whether Hillenbrand helps them all that much right now. I have a hard time accepting that he will. With Tony Womack at short, they've already got one of the leakiest left sides a big league infield could boast. With Hillenbrand standing beside Womack, that looks pretty single-icious. Whatever his strengths, Hillenbrand won't sustain an offense as much as he's a finisher in a lineup already short of sources of OBP, which means more short-sequence scoring needs, meaning Hillenbrand basically needs to jack early and often, which he isn't really about to start doing any more than he's going to draw a ton of walks.
Then there's the problem of what having Hillenbrand means organizationally. Unlike a lot of prospect mavens, I'm just not all that sky-high on Chad Tracy. Maybe it's because I was never high on Jarrod Patterson either, but Tracy's not hitting for power in power leagues, and doesn't walk. That's not an indictment as much as a skillset that smacks of the next Mike Lamb more than the next Wade Boggs. Sure, Tracy looks good compared to Matt Williams, but at this point, Reptile Boy from your nearest freak show is looking pretty good compared to Matt Williams. The question is whether Hillenbrand is the sort of something you want in Tracy's way, which I can sort of live with on the level of win-now expediency, assuming you have a shot to win now.
Then there's the question of the arbitration payday that Hillenbrand has coming to him. Sure, they'll have Williams' $10 million coming off of the books after this season, not to mention Womack's contract at long last, but they've already committed a bunch of money to bits like Danny Bautista, Craig Counsell, and Matt Mantei, let alone the huge sums due to the stars. It won't be easy to afford what they're going to have to pay Hillenbrand, who, courtesy of the gross simplifications of the arbitration process, should realize a significant pay raise, and who, courtesy of the BOB, should have a year where he'll crank for a good average and decent-looking power numbers.
All right, that's a lot of fidgeting, I guess if you wanted to sum it up, I just don't see this as a good deal for the Snakes. Short-term, with the aces banged up, I don't see them winning the division, and long-term, the money spent to keep Hillenbrand around is just more good money after bad to fuel a team that won't be all that competitive. The question is whether you think Kim is going to turn into a star, and how much that might make the Snakes look bad long-term. I worry less about that than the more basic problem, which is that the Snakes dealt one of their best bargaining chips, got an adequate, soon-to-be expensive, gloveless temp, and it doesn't do all that much to help them win now or into the foreseeable future. It won't sting as much as it won't matter.
That's right, Jack Cust didn't even get a plate appearance, while B.J. Surhoff gets to continue to exploit that shockingly tedious play on manners, The Importance of Being B.J. The blush is pretty far off of Cust at this point, but if you give me a choice between starting Cust in left, planting Melvin Mora at short, and burying Deivi Cruz for a few days, or playing Mora in left, burying Cust for a few days, and making Cruz feel liked, given that playing Cruz isn't going to get the Orioles to third place during the life of his career, I'd take a look at Cust, just in case there's something to see. But with the Borioles committed to a program of driving attendance down to support their claim that the DC-Baltimore area can't support two teams, as well as the silly claims that somehow having another major league team around would make the Orioles less competitive than they are by choice, why take any chances? Deivi Cruz has the sort of ineptitude you can bank on, and B.J. Surhoff is great for helping generate that Roxy Music feeling--"It's the same old story, all love and glory, it's a pantomime"--without that actual sense of hope that Mother of Pearl can inspire. But what else can you say? In one song, Roxy Music conveyed more meaning about the meaning of life than the bloated corpus of Pink Floyd's contributions to aural misery, and that's where the similarity ends; Angelos is positively Floydian in his capacity to consume time, money, shelf space, and brain cells.
Recalled 2B/SS-R Freddy Sanchez from Pawtucket. [5/30]
Designated LHP Bruce Chen for assignment. [6/1]
Designated LHP Matt White for assignment; purchased the contract of RHP Hector Almonte from Pawtucket. [6/4]
There's a lot of good to be said here, but it's important to keep in mind that Kim's value to the Red Sox will entirely depend on what role they choose to employ him, and to what extent. Given the general confidence I know I feel about most things Theo Epstein, I'm hopeful, inured as I am to the New England-wide allergy to the pollen of positive thinking.
The first element that matters is that, because it's Theo, you've got an understanding in place as far as the economic engines in place in the game, and the fungibility of players equipped with a certain level of talent. Shea Hillenbrand will almost certainly cost a lot more than he's worth from 2004 to 2006, courtesy of arbitration, and the Red Sox already have options on hand: Bill Mueller short-term, Kevin Youkilis near-term. Add in that Mueller's a reliable OBP machine and a significantly better defensive player than Hillenbrand, and there's not a whole lot of reason to treat Hillenbrand as an untouchable commodity.
Then you look at this organization's unfortunate but generally short-term financial commitments to certain relievers, and the desperate need for somebody with talent to handle the high-leverage innings in-game, and you can understand the desire to add a rubber-armed reliever with nasty stuff. Beyond that, while the much-lamented 'committee' approach hasn't been ideal in-season this season, that has more to do with the talent on hand than it does with the theoretical merits (theory drawn on historical example, mind you) of running a pen in that manner. If there's a team that has the vision to plug Kim into a 'heavy' relief workload, using him for 100-110 innings that help them win games, and not wasting him on the Eckersley role that reduced his contributions to a bit of bookkeeping, it's probably the Red Sox. Obviously, there are variables in play: Grady Little might cotton up his ears and use Kim the way that the current straightjacket of conventional wisdom insists that he must; Kim might pull an Escobar and bleat that he's not going to pitch in any inning but the ninth; the players might fulminate and whine their way to a different pen usage pattern after a particularly annoying late-inning loss by citing the early-season struggles. But Kim's talent--Dibblesque kvetchery that he was done after 2001 aside--is an enormous addition to the Red Sox this year, and whether they move him into the rotation or leave him in the pen in the years to come matters very little. As long as they don't waste him in a 60-inning role, they'll be getting value, and they haven't stripped a position where they didn't have depth to get it.
Now and here probably are not the spaces in which to make light of Sammy's situation, but clearly, getting him back into the lineup is a huge gain, considering the alternative was more guaranteed bad work out of Troy O'Leary. If anything, I'm more amused by the notion that Mark Grace, self-serving clubhouse reptile par excellence, is being cited as a beloved humorist on the subject of all things Sammy by wire services. The strange obsession with binary thought, and the inevitable false dichotomies that arise from it, that seem prevalent in American culture in particular, produce silly things like this: Markie good, Sammy bad, Markie funny, Sammy burned. I wouldn't suggest either man is all good or all bad; they are, after all, just people, not Lucasfilm cutouts. But the notion that Mark Grace is somehow beloved, as opposed to being baseball's Dorian Gray, is as amusing as it is specious.
As for the other minor stuff, the pen's reshuffling was a certainty. What's interesting is that Juan Cruz lost out to Todd Wellemeyer. This is only partially Cruz's fault; after giving up four runs in a game in early May, Dusty Baker seemed to go out of his way to avoid using him. What will be really interesting is what the Cubs will do once Dave Veres is ready to be reactivated. Will they demote Wellemeyer, who has yet to allow a run of his own (and only one inherited runner)? Will they go to 12 pitchers, and trim any of Baker's useless spare parts from among O'Leary or Lenny Harris or Tom Goodwin? It's only going to get worse if, as expected, Baker satisfies his lust for Matt Williams. Ideally, one of the victims would come from among the dross, but with Baker, there are no guarantees beyond giving the AARPsters a full break. Meanwhile, Cruz will get regular work in Iowa's rotation, which is what he needs, and which will allow the Cubs to come to some sort of decision between now and July 31 as to whether he's something they want to keep or offer in trade to shore up their shot at the division title.
Placed UT-R Ryan Freel on the 15-day DL (torn hamstring), retroactive to 5/28. [5/29]
The Reds have been dumpster diving in the replacement-level rotation bin for a while now, so they can't act surprised when they have to junk two-fifths of it on the fly. They're supposed to reactivate Ryan Dempster this weekend, which gives them Paul Wilson and the four horsemen of self-wrought apocalypses: Dempster, Jimmy Haynes (fast becoming the man Don Gullett couldn't fix), and the twin relief converts, Danny Graves and John Riedling. There's little reason to expect a whole lot going forward. Dempster's damaged goods, Haynes should improve if only because getting worse may be beyond mathematical possibility, and neither of the conversion projects have given any hint of promise. Expecting Joey Hamilton to be a potential solution should be considered a dead letter, so beyond wishing upon that sunny day when the crop in Chattanooga is ready, they're effectively screwed; Louisville's stocked up on the already discarded, with Pete Harnisch's ERA in double-digits, and Jimmy Anderson and Lance Davis looking as hittable as ever. The Reds can agonize about this, because the Cubs, Astros, and Cardinals seem content to keep the front of the division close to the back, but that's the peril of relying on too many experiments, and choosing the wrong year to go Luebbers-less in the minor league free agent market.
Purchased the contract of UT-B Zach Sorensen from Buffalo; designated INF-L Bill Selby for assignment; outrighted RHP Jason Phillips to Buffalo; activated LHP Cliff Lee from the 60-day DL and optioned him to Akron (Double-A); transferred RHP Jason Bere from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/30]
Acquired C-R Clint Chauncey from the Cardinals for INF-L Bill Selby. [6/4]
Is there a god or gods? Certainly, the continued favors granted to the likes of Danny Miceli would have to make you wonder. But it's been that sort of year, as not even the exercise of hiring Jason Bere as a temp worked out, as his shoulder self-immolated quickly and messily, costing him the rest of the season, and forcing the Tribe to turn to their young guns that much sooner than expected. Still, a fivesome of C.C. Sabathia, Brian Anderson, Ricardo Rodriguez, Jason Davis, and now Billy Traber holds plenty of promise. Brian Tallet earned the shot to replace Traber in the pen as a lefty long man, having given Buffalo a good couple of months in their rotation: 51 hits in 59 IP, a 50:26 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a 4.27 ERA. Should Rodriguez continue to struggle, or should that sweet deal for Anderson ever put in an appearance, they could plug Tallet into the rotation in no time.
As for calling up Zach Sorensen, that's your basic organizational favoritism, since he was one of the original Shapiro guys, supposedly groomed for a winning attitude, competitive spirit, esprit de corps, everything but the Cult of the Offensive. He's not the worst guy to have around as your last man on the bench, since he switch-hits, can play anywhere on the field, runs a bit, bunts well, and basically might come in handy. The problem is if you want him to do anything more than that. Perhaps having him around might help light a fire under Brandon Phillips if that's what's needed. Of course, with John McDonald knocking around, that's a lot of infielders on the roster who aren't helping the Tribe score runs, but it's worthwhile as an exercise in evaluation, since it won't cost them their shot at the World Series.
Placed 2B-R Ronnie Belliard on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle), retroactive to 6/2; activated SS-R Juan Uribe from the 60-day DL; purchased the contract of LF-R Greg Vaughn from Colorado Springs; optioned OF-R Gabe Kapler to Colorado Springs. [6/3]
Blech. You hate to see something like this happen: Ronnie Belliard gets a deserved opportunity, hits as you know he can, and then gets hobbled. On a certain level, it makes a potentially complicated situation less so for the time being, since the Rockies don't seem to be quite sure what to do with their infield alignment now that Juan Uribe is back. Second, short, and third are all up in the air, because Jose Hernandez, Uribe, and Butler can play all three positions, and they've got both Chris Stynes and Greg Norton for third. After one series, they seem to be sticking with a semi-platoon of Norton and Stynes at third, happily inclined to leave Jose Hernandez at short, and using Uribe at second, with Butler retaining his utility role, with Uribe also spotting Hernandez at short. That's a nice arrangement overall, especially since Hernandez is more comfortable on the left side of the infield, having faltered in several tries at second. They also get to keep an eye on Uribe to see if he's going to develop, while keeping the right guy (Butler) on the bench. The problems will arise when Belliard's ready to come off of the DL, perhaps forcing a shift of Hernandez to third and Uribe to short full-time. That's not bad, but Stynes would then have to revert to a supersub role, which seems the sort of thing that would upset one of the game's more notable cranks.
The much less happy turn of events is flip-flopping Greg Vaughn and Gabe Kapler. Kapler should expect to be non-tendered after the season, but in the meantime, he's probably hosed wherever he's at. It might be for the best to rack up a couple of hundred good at-bats in Colorado Springs, crush some Triple-A pitching, and hope for a better deal thataways, while also getting his bat speed back to prepare him to step in should Larry Walker have another one of those multi-month injuries that come his way now and again. Greg Vaughn had a nice stint in Colorado Springs (.302/.388/.690), after all, so lots of people can. The Rockies have to hope that Vaughn adapts better to a part-time role than Kapler did, because while Clint Hurdle seems flexible with his infielders, the Walker-Jay Payton-Preston Wilson outfield looks set in stone, barring injury.
Why? What possible value does Alex Sanchez bring a bad ballclub that already has Gene Kingsale kicking around until the organization stocks itself with some ballplayers? Is there a desperate need to have an outfielder who can't cover the gaps, doesn't know where to throw the ball, and makes more outs on the basepaths than your average bear? Why go out of your way to acquire the more hopeless, older version of Andres Torres, when you ought to be taking a long look at Torres to see if he's a 2004 Tiger? Why give up talent to get an Alex Sanchez, when your organization isn't all that talent-laden to start off with? Why trade for him when you're sitting pretty when it comes to making waiver claims? Is this part of a broader effort to generate such overwhelming disinterest as to add the Tigers to the laughable list of contraction maybes? The Tigers are such a decisively bad ballclub that it's stunning to see them cultivating new and different ways to make themselves worse. Can a Miguel Dilone comeback be far off? He'd fit right in on a team committed to the punchless.
Not that getting him back will propel the Marlins back into contention, but having Mark Redman back helps shore up the pen by bumping one of the spot lefties back into it for long relief work. Interestingly, Mike Tejera's not the one in the rotation of the moment, despite giving the team a good shot at a win in four out of six starts. Tommy Phelps helped his claim by holding his own in a couple of emergency-related starts or near-start appearances, and had a good start in another game, and he's a human interest story on a team owned by an outfit that rarely sees those three words in any positive combination.
Having Tejera return to the pen in turn crowded out Juan Alvarez, which wasn't the worst thing either. As bad as Vlad Nunez has been in the early going--he's currently the third-worst reliever in the bigs--he was a major asset last season, and doesn't seem to be broken, spindled, or mutilated in any obvious way. He wasn't particularly effective in Albuquerque either, posting an ERA in the sevens and giving up more than his fair share of souvenirs, but I'm more interested in what Jack McKeon can get out of him than I am in further evidence that the PCL isn't a fun place to pitch.
Purchased the contract of RHP Jonathan Johnson from New Orleans; designated INF-R Tripp Cromer for assignment. [5/28]
Placed OF-R Richard Hidalgo on the 15-day DL (viral infection), retroactive to 5/23. [5/29]
Purchased the contract of OF-L Colin Porter from New Orleans. [5/30]
It seems like the sort of season where the Astros are going to match the Cardinals and Cubs at all points of the season, shedding a key performer for a couple of weeks here or there to help guarantee all of us out here in the audience a pennant race going at least into the trading deadline. Losing Richard Hidalgo for two weeks is a terrible break, given he's been their best-hitting outfielder in the early going, but he's only going to be gone the two weeks, making it less important to wonder who should have gotten the call in his absence. Jason Lane isn't hitting for power, and has struggled through some nagging injuries, and Henri Stanley hasn't hit for the same sort of power in his first taste of Triple-A, so instead, the Astros could stock the spot with organizational soldier Colin Porter (.318/.373/.510 at New Orleans, with 11/1 SB/CS). Porter would make a better fifth outfielder than people like Brian Hunter, Tom Goodwin, or Kerry Robinson, but Jimy Williams took the opportunity of Hidalgo's absence to get Hunter and more specifically Orlando Merced some at-bats, and that's sensible enough under the circumstances. After Hidalgo's return, and with the slow ascent of Morgan Ensberg to a more prominent role in the lineup, the Astros' offense might be the most potent in the division by July, even without a hitter at catcher or short.
At least the news on the pitching side of the ledger is good and getting better. Obviously, Roy Oswalt's return is good news, but it coincides with what looks like Wade Miller's slowly rounding into form, not to mention Jeriome Robertson's nice string of four decent starts. More impressive is the decision to retain Kirk Saarloos as a long reliever, joining the bumped Peter Munro, and creating that much more depth in a pen that was already outperforming even the Dodgers' remarkable relief corps. If they can get by with Jonathan Johnson as the fifth starter in the meantime, that won't matter a whit in a short series, and they'll be able to exploit a pen that is both the game's best and deepest.
Designated LHP Scott Mullen for assignment; placed OF-L Dee Brown on the 15-day DL (sprained wrist); placed 2B-R Carlos Febles on the 15-day DL (finger); purchased the contract of LHP Rick DeHart from Omaha; recalled OF-L Aaron Guiel and 2B-R Brent Abernathy from Omaha. [5/28]
Claimed LHP Les Walrond off of waivers from the Cardinals, and assigned him to Omaha; designated RHP Shawn Sedlacek for assignment. [5/29]
Some of these things are the specters that were certain to haunt the Royals this season no matter how well they started: the rotation is in a shambles, and Carlos Febles has done the two things he's noted for, disappoint people at the plate, and get hurt. So on a certain level, they should have been ready, and it looks to be that they were. Certainly, nabbing Brent Abernathy looks good now. He'll never be a star, but he's an adequate fill-in if Tony Pena feels the need to use Desi Relaford at short or third.
As for the rotation, it's not the end of the world if they have to plug the likes of Kris Wilson and Darrell May into the rotation. They're still getting a chance to see Jeremy Affeldt, Chris George, and Kyle Snyder, and the news isn't all bad. George could certainly use something with some movement to freeze right-handed hitters, and Affeldt and Snyder need to have their workloads kept under control lest they wind up like Hernandez or Miguel Asencio, and hobbled needlessly in the pursuit of the Sweeney line of .500-dom. Hernandez might be back tonight or this weekend in Coors, but I'd be very worried that he's going to be asked to pitch at less than 100%.
Finally, claiming Les Walrond isn't the worst use of a spot on the 40-man. Shawn Sedlacek's ERA has soared into the sevens, and he was never going to be mistaken for any scouts' favorite flavor of prospect, so outrighting him was a safe move. Walrond's reputation for being your typical semi-interesting control pitcher took a bit of hit in last year's introduction to Triple-A, when he walked 63 in 123 innings; he's been pitching in relief this year. As you can see from any organization sifting through the resurrections of Scott Mullen or Rick DeHart, the Royals haven't fixed their lack of a lefty in the pen that's been a problem going back for years, so there's an opportunity for a healthy-armed lefty like Walrond to make it up pretty quickly.
Optioned LHP Steve Colyer to Las Vegas; purchased the contract of OF-L Bubba Crosby from Las Vegas. [5/29]
Darren Dreifort's latest problem is his knees, and I can't help but think of Chris Bosio's slow-motion breakdown over time, as basically all of his joints started tearing. To Bosio's credit, he still managed to have a career; to Scott Boras's credit, whatever Dreifort does, he'll be amply compensated for his. The long-term issue will be deciding Dreifort's best role. Could he handle four-to-six innings in relief over two or three games per week? Can he handle starting? Is he just someone you have to accept that he'll break down at some point in-season, and try to plan accordingly? In his absence, the Dodgers will finally get to apply Andy Ashby to some purpose, since they need to ask themselves what they were thinking when they handed him a monster three-year deal.
There's some good news, though, in that getting Dave Roberts back was pretty desperately needed in a lineup choking on the offensive contributions of its infield, and short of anybody cranking out a good OBP beyond Paul LoDuca and (surprisingly) Brian Jordan. It's slightly amusing that for whatever reason, Bubba Crosby doesn't show up in ESPN's stats pages for the Dodgers, but you won't find him in this year's BP either. Or John Sickels' Prospect Book. That's the way it goes with first-round flops; Crosby's been knocking around the organization since being picked in the first round out of Rice in 1998, and he's been pretty consistently awful as a hitter, and a dubious glove in any outfield position. This year, he was hitting .401/.455/.710 at Vegas. It's been his first good stretch at the plate since a flirtation with mediocrity in 2001 in Double-A. Maybe he's figured something out, and maybe it's a good few weeks in the PCL. Either way, he won't get much of an opportunity, acting as a token lefty bat on the bench until Daryle Ward heals up or the Dodgers decide to make a deal to shore up the bench.
Activated RHP Jayson Durocher from the 15-day DL. [5/28]
Signed INF-R Enrique Cruz to a two-year contract extension. [6/3]
Released OF-R Jeffrey Hammonds. [6/4]
I don't what's more impressive, that the Brewers could wean themselves of Alex Sanchez's brand of excitement, or that they adopted the concept of sunk costs and finally cut bait with the perpetually doomed Jeffrey Hammonds. Sanchez is one of those special players, the man who is significantly worse than his stats might tell you, because of his spectacular ineptitude afield and his self-destructive basepath mayhem. Noochie Varner came over after hitting .303/.353/.411 in his opening months in Double-A, which is very promising; odds are he'll turn out to be a better player than Sanchez will ever be; throw in the notion of addition by subtraction now that Scott Podsednik is looking like an improvement, and the addition of a moderately hard-throwing lefty in Petty, and this is a ridiculously one-sided deal. That Doug Melvin managed to pull this off for such a spectacular zero is very much to his credit.
As for Hammonds, the comments that injuries prevented his attaining his Mile High heights in Milwaukee are just proof of how much work remains to be done. That anyone would think that a player with Hammonds' history for breakdowns would be healthy, that a man with no cartilage in one knee could hold up, or that a hitter with his ridiculously modest credentials anywhere outside of Coors would be an asset commensurate with the compensation Dean Taylor blithely hurled at him, is a pretty compelling argument that there are still a lot of people in the industry or commenting on the industry who don't, won't, and may never get it. Doug Melvin may not be genius personified, but Brewers fans should take some hope that he won't make a mistake of those proportions. The reign of Dean and Wendy was almost bad enough to make you wish for the bad old days of Sal Bando.
Meanwhile, on to the less important stuff. The Brewers are carrying Brooks Kieschnick, but not as a 12th pitcher; he's their 13th, as well as their top pinch-hitter. It's sort of fun that they're bringing Kieschnick in to pinch-hit, and then letting him pitch, but given their weakness on the bench, I'm a little surprised they haven't pulled a post-pitching double-switch yet with Kieschnick to keep his stick around, putting Kieschnick in right and (presumably) Brady Clark in center, and then dumping the pitcher's slot in Scott Podsednik's spot in the lineup in an inning he would have presumably just ended at the plate. No matter, it's a minor entertainment for the Brewers' season as it progresses. It will be fun to see if Ned Yost decides to give it a shot.
It's certainly better than spending Enrique Cruz in a pinch-hitting appearance late in a game, because the alternative is deadly old Keith Osik, and Yost doesn't seem the sort to confront a late-game situation without a catcher handy. Among the team's flock of Rule 5 picks, the continuing presence of Cruz seems a bit odd, since he isn't much of a shortstop by most accounts, and he's nowhere close to ready as a hitter. It seems interesting at this point to give him a two-year contract, but if anything that resembles a gambit to keep him in the organization. Why not try to deter the Rangers from taking him back on waivers if you guarantee him his salary for a couple years up front?
Placed RHP Rick Reed on the 15-day DL (strained abdomen), retroactive to 6/1; purchased the contract of RHP Mike Nakamura from Rochester; transferred RHP Mike Fetters from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/4]
So what's going on? Is this year's theme sound for the Twins the derisive cackle of Nelson Muntz? Todd Sears shows he might deserve a shot at Doug Mientkiewicz's job? So? Ha-ha. Lew Ford gives the Twins just another outfielder most of their division rivals would kill to have in their lineups instead of guys named Tucker or Sanchez? Ha-ha. (Ford arrives hitting .318/.370/.486 at Rochester; for the curious, Mike Cuddyer's hitting almost .400, and Justin Morneau's hitting so well he might push Minky aside by August.) Rick Reed excuses himself at a very convenient time, giving Johan Santana the shot at a job in the rotation he so richly deserves? Ha...you get the point. Again, although it's both fun and appropriate to credit Billy Beane and J.P. Ricciardi and Theo Epstein for helping to create a new management philosophy within the industry, the competitive environment is no less rich for having an organization run without the theoretical grounding but just as successful.
That said, the Twins did waste their time with Mike Fetters this past winter, blowing 40-man roster space for a couple of months, but given the success they'd had last year with Mike Jackson, I guess it's defensible if you're looking for a broken-down former closer from central casting to round out a pen the way Hollywood stocked platoons, tanks, and warships in war movies. Now that Fetters is out of the way, it's nice to see the Twins turn to one of their less-heralded Aussie projects. We've had a candle in the window for Mike Nakamura for a few years now, so it's nice to see him make it. He's a short control artist, your basic anti-Acre, with outstanding command, a good slider, and a changeup he can sell convincingly for a guy with low-wattage heat. For those reasons, it was pretty easy for the Twins to leave him out there for last winter's Rule 5 draft, and not have to worry about losing him, and just as easy for them to look forward to using him should the opportunity arise, as it has.
Agonized cries of "Merde!" emanating from the general vicinity of Jonah Keri aside, the Expos won't need a fifth starter until Saturday the 14th, courtesy of an off-day on Monday, if you can call the worst travel day in baseball, from Puerto Rico to Seattle, an off-day. Thank goodness for that ferocious Expos-Mariners rivalry, complete with the famed Bernazard Cup going to the winner. I mean, it's no secret that Washington state covets British Columbia for lebensraum and therefore detests fey Francophile Quebecois baseball enthusiasts, right? How about irredentists clamoring for a land bridge to Alaska? No? Damn, what damnably boring, amiable neighbors we have.
Anyway, minor league survivor Julio Manon has been brilliant as the Trappers' closer this year, and may well stick, probably at the expense of either Joey Eischen or Dan Smith. Eischen has flopped as a situational lefty, while Smith has been the poster boy for the evils of trying to play major league games in Hiram-Bithorn (six home runs allowed in nine innings pitched). Although Smith shouldn't be blamed overly much for something the product of Seligian caprice, he may be victimized in ways beyond his ERA as a result. The real question is whether Zach Day's shoulder will be good to go next weekend, as there are no guarantees that it will be. Given that most of Edmonton's rotation is struggling, chances are that rather than haul Sunny Kim back for another pasting, they might take a look at Scott Downs to see if they'll ever get anything for having dealt Rondell White, or take a quick look at Seung Song, who's having a nice season at Harrisburg. T.J. Tucker or Smith could step in as emergency starters, if the schedule and requirements of the intervening schedule permit, of course, since both have been starters in the past.
Placed RHP Pedro Astacio on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis), retroactive to 5/29; recalled RHP Jeremy Griffiths from Norfolk. [6/1]
It would be easy to blithely call the Mets snakebit and leave it at that, but again, they've built around older players, and older players break down. The non-event of David Cone's retirement (complete with an Angell non-book on the non-subject) pulled on some Rumpelstiltskin's heart strings, assuming they slept through the original retirement. Believe me, they shouldn't have made the sequel. However, if you're still looking to fill your daily recommended dose of schmaltz, the Mets are happy to oblige, trotting out John Franco as a general reminder of happier days.
The larger nuisance is that they haven't been able to field their best lineup for any length of time. Getting Jeromy Burnitz back was good, but losing Timo Perez forces them to keep using Roger Cedeno and Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Seeing that they're Piazza-less for weeks and potentially months to come, at least they're doing the right thing at first base, and playing Jason Phillips instead of Tony Clark. Similarly, with the rotation starting to break down, the silver lining is that at least the Mets are going to get to take long looks at Jae Seo and Mike Bacsik, and before the month is out, Aaron Heilman. The question is at what point the Mets decide to start tearing down and dealing veterans, and whether you let Steve Phillips, or his replacement, tackle that chore. The next two months will be important for the organization on several levels, since they'll have a better sense of what Piazza will be able to do in the future, and there are some contracts (like Piazza's, or Tom Glavine's) that can't be moved. The question is what can they get for guys like Steve Trachsel or Roberto Alomar. They'll almost certainly have to eat cash on any deal featuring any of their overpaid relievers, but hopefully someone will have a few prospects burning a hole in their pocket, and the Mets can help themselves out going forward.
Fired hitting coach Thad Bosley. [5/31]
I'm perhaps too easily impressed, in that it's a good thing to see a team willing to carry Adam Melhuse as a backup catcher, and a good thing for the A's to move Ron Gant out of Adam Piatt's way so that they can stick a nice lefty bat like Billy McMillon's on their bench. But those compliments come at the price of acknowledging the things that have gone wrong. Through a feedback loop where Ramon Hernandez hot start and his own cold start kept Mark Johnson pinned to the bench, letting him get more and more stale, a worthwhile winter pickup has withered to marginality, now banished to Sacramento, hopefully to get the at-bats he'll need to be able to work his way back. Carrying McMillon and Piatt and Melhuse on the bench might all be good now, but it involved wasting two months with Gant first, and Piatt's dying for at-bats. Even with Gant out of the way, given that Terrence Long isn't a center fielder any more, it's obnoxious that Long's limited horizons keep getting extended by organizational choice, while Piatt gets to mildew on the bench. Fortunately, that's changed now, with Chris Singleton and Piatt in a platoon that keeps Eric Byrnes flipping between center and left, and now that he's back, Dye resuming his duties in right, reducing Long to a fourth outfielder of sorts. The lineup and the team should be the better for it, but I hesitate to invest the A's second halves of the recent past with predictive value that, just because they've had a good first couple of months, they can count on playing .700 or better ball down the stretch.
Heresy though it might be to my fellow Chicagoans, who seem to have elevated Thad Bosley to a reputation of heroic proportions when it comes to the art of pinch-hitting, I'm not sorry to see him handed his walking papers. Given what looked like poor hitter preparation in the ALDS against the Yankees in 2001, if Billy Beane's vaunted temper is supposed to have such a low boiling point, I'm surprised Bosley wasn't gone then. I admit, it's possible that I have an unusually low boiling point myself, and thus lack perspective on the matter, but a disappointment earned shouldn't be allowed to fester, it ought to be lanced, the sooner the better. Bosley certainly wasn't the best or worst hitting coach around; he didn't seem to wreak any damage on the scale of a Burleson or a Buckner or a Hebner, and he seemed to be part of the program. But as one colleague put it, after going to the press following a conversation with Beane, and speculating out loud that he might be fired, you can award him a priesthood in the Church of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, and let it go at that.
Roa had only pitched twice in the last month, so it was pretty clear that he was not just a bad use of a roster spot, but it's worth noting that instead, Larry Bowa seems to want to carry a trio of lefties in the pen, and he's got Nick Punto collecting dust in the corner. The shame of it is that he's keeping both Hector Mercado and Dan Plesac behind Rheal Cormier, because Plesac's done, and because he's seen as a steady hand and a virtual coach, nobody's going to come to grips with his problems. This isn't really the organization to acknowledge bullpen failures anyway, and as long as you've got a manager who can bury a couple of roster spots, it'll only matter if the Phillies get into a short series where the manager should give thought to how to use every spot. The broader problem is that Plesac isn't the only reliever looking to be on his last legs, since Jose Mesa's looking like a guy pitching his team into a bullpen-by-committee. However, Mesa is only winding down his fifth or sixth comeback, so it would be premature to count him out and start speculating that Terry Adams or Turk Wendell or Carlos Silva will get some saves in the weeks or months to come.
Acquired RHP Esteban Yan and cash from the Rangers for OF-R Rick Asadoorian; placed 2B-L Fernando Vina on the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Gabe Molina to Memphis; recalled OF-R So Taguchi from Memphis. [5/27]
Acquired INF-L Bill Selby from the Indians for C-R Clint Chauncey. [6/4]
The Cardinals generally do without much in the way of depth, in large part because of a farm system that doesn't generate many position players and even fewer organizational soldiers worthy of the name. But that creates unfortunate predicaments such as this, when you're frustrated with your young pitchers and you lose your starting second baseman. Nevertheless, who in their right minds goes out of their way to send talent to other teams to pre-empt waiver claims on the likes of Esteban Yan or Bill Selby? Isn't it implicit that if you have to stoop to such levels, you blew your minor league free agent shopping season the previous winter? Why go out of your way to get Esteban Yan instead of just continuing to pitch Gabe Molina or Mike Crudale? It's amusing that while Walt Jocketty's whining about performance, when he could very easily include himself on the organization's list of disappointments. On this team's feeble bench, why is Kerry Robinson around to provide the same as but less than whatever Orlando Palmeiro is for, instead of having a power bat like Jon Nunnally around? Why is this organization convinced that turning to Miguel Cairo at second in Fernando Vina's absence is a good thing? Why is this organization willing to settle for Bill Selby as an alternative? The Cardinals were operating with a five-man lineup anyway, with or without Vina, so Cairo won't make much of a difference either way, but that's the reward the Cardinals get. As one of the most shallow organizations in baseball, if they lose a player, it's unusual if they have a replacement at any level. Whatever ground he's lost, and with an appropriate tip of the cap to his glovework, losing Fernando Vina shouldn't affect a team's shot at contention as much as it will in the NL Central. It's a tribute to Jocketty that it becomes a significant factor, for want of an adequate or, given the general over-supply of second basemen running around, an even better replacement.
And just like that, the Pads seem to be drifting into a better staff, one stocked with a few fewer treadless Tribesmen, and armed with a few more useful, recently useful, or conceivably useful types. Putting Tollberg in the rotation, Linebrink into long relief, and the Shooter into the pen all sounds better than the previously examined alternatives. Between Linebrink and Matt Herges, chances are the Pads got their best relievers on waivers this season, and Beck was essentially available on waivers after purchasing him away from the Cubs organization. That's worth remembering the next time you consider how wild some people seem to get about the likes of Luther Hackman or Brandon Villafuerte. Given my choice between the likes of Charles Nagy or Jaret Wright and Rod Beck, the Pads made the better choice. Beck has lost his velocity, but Wright has no command and Nagy no elbow worthy of the name, and when healthy, Beck made his living on setting up his splitter.
In the rotation, Keisler had the same shot that Carlton Loewer had, and while "two starts and you're out" might sound harsh, not to mention something of a team leitmotiv, Loewer has kept the team in games three out of the four games he's pitched, while Keisler looked like a guy who left a lot on the surgeon's table. Tollberg deserves a shot at the rotation, whatever his past history with the organization, especially since the Pads are pretty hard-up for a starter of any flavor. Whatever their complaints, Tollberg also doesn't seem to have built up the same baggage as either Oliver Perez or Dennis Tankersley. What's strange is that Tollberg had Tommy John surgery last summer, and seems to have gotten back in action much sooner than you'd normally expect. It's particularly interesting to note that he doesn't seem to be struggling with the same command problems most elbow transplantees go through early on, at least in terms of walking people. I wouldn't venture a guess that the Pads are rushing him or that Tollberg is a freak of nature or that medical techniques, even for the procedures we think we know about, are easily predictable. At this stage, it's just interesting to note, and we can see how it turns out, and point fingers or issue hosannas as appropriate some time later on.
Finally, the really good news is getting Mark Kotsay back. Back injuries are invariably a nuisance with the capacity to linger, but simply on paper, fielding an outfield of Kotsay, Xavier Nady, and Rondell White certainly sounds much better than any of the recent lineups relying on the likes of Shane Victorino or Brian Buchanan. Just as the pitching staff might slowly start gelling into a better unit, the lineup might also expect some improvement. I wouldn't bet against the Pads winding up with a better record than the D-Rays.
Placed CF-R Ruben Rivera on waivers; recalled RHP Jerome Williams from Fresno; placed RHP Kurt Ainsworth on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder); activated LHP Jason Christiansen from the 15-day DL. [6/3]
It's sort of interesting to see the Giants make a few adaptations. With Marvin Benard back, with Pedro Feliz starting to earn some spare time in the outfield corners, and with Jose Cruz Jr. available to move into center on the days they don't keep running Marquis Grissom out there, Rivera's value as anything more than a defensive replacement was pretty well gone.
The really interesting problem is losing Kurt Ainsworth, pushing the Giants into having to rely upon both Jesse Foppert and Jerome Williams in the middle of a pennant race. Depending on how long Ainsworth is gone, it might only be for two-ish swings through the rotation, given the off-days that will probably keep Williams in the pen until next weekend. Fortunately, with Ray Durham back in the lineup and cranking at full speed, the Giants' offense is doing fine, and that should give Felipe Alou some maneuvering room. Williams and Foppert are both in the team's future, and Foppert's performances seem to be generally trending toward the better, so it isn't like they're relying on a couple of fifth-man retread types.
Placed OF-L John Mabry on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 5/28. [5/30]
Recalled C-R Pat Borders from Tacoma. [5/31]
Losing John Mabry is, at most, a minor setback. Plus, it allows professional Gillick groupie Pat Borders another chance to mill around, corner an anonymous teammate or two to regale them with stories of his wacky World Series MVP award, while also giving Willie Bloomquist that much more scrub time in the outfield. What's not to like about this, assuming you're generally indifferent about the Mariners? Besides which, Borders has had a hot start in Tacoma, he's not the sort you miss if he doesn't make it through waivers when he has to be outrighted back to whence he came (OK, Pat Gillick would miss him, but that's about it), and the Rainiers aren't exactly laden with alternatives. The only other guy you might haul up for the short stint would be Chad Meyers, another recycled PCL veteran, but all he does is everything Bloomquist is supposed to do, but slightly better. Using him might prove embarrassing, so it's safer to haul up Borders for seven weeks well done.
Announced that LHP John Rocker cleared waivers and has been assigned to Orlando (Double-A). [5/29]
Released INF-R Damion Easley; purchased the contract of INF-L Jason Smith from Durham. [6/4]
Here's a good lot of news. First, Joe Kennedy will only miss a couple of starts, and should be back after two weeks. So they're only going to have to do without their most promising starter, but in his absence, they're willing to press Nick Bierbrodt into action, to see if he's ready to keep his comeback rolling along. In short, that also means that Steve Parris won't be entering the rotation, at least until the D-Rays satisfy their scientific curiosity as to whether or not the Carlos Reyes retreading will take. Since Reyes hasn't taken up a new pitch or seems to be doing anything differently, there's no reason to expect the league to have to spend much time adapting.
So, at what point of the program did the Devil Rays realize that picking up Damion Easley was a bad idea? That he was a waste of a spot on the 40-man roster? That he has no position, so even if he could hit, he had little value as a utility infielder? Now that he's out of the way, the theory is that the D-Rays will spot Jason Smith as a platoon partner with Jared Sandberg at third. Notionally, it's the best way to get the most out of both players, but neither has a great track record of hitting in the minors. So while on paper it's a simple enough proposition that might make you think the Rays might build a worthwhile platoon, it's worth remember you're talking Smith and Sandberg on the one hand, and that they're probably just going to come up with some new master plan in a week or two, given that they're the D-Rays. Heck, Julio Lugo will have to play some place once Rey Ordonez is ready to come off of the DL, after all.
I'm favorably impressed that the Rangers actually received something of value for Esteban Yan. I don't harbor any great faith that Rick Asadoorian is a great prospect, but he's young, he's an outstanding outfielder, and he's shown bits and pieces of an offensive game, drawing some walks. He's been flattened in the early going in his introduction to the Florida State League, but given that Yan has little or no value, and some reasonable questions about whether or not the Cardinals really do all that well with hitting instruction as an organization, taking a chance on Asadoorian is worth more than the price of a waiver claim, so the Rangers come out ahead. As for the rest, the least that can be said is that Buck Showalter's slowly getting to clear out everyone in the pen that you might identify as a Hart pickup, and instead running with (potentially desperate, moldable) organizational soldiers. Overall, the organization doesn't have a lot of depth to go spelunking with, so of course the randomly-generated R-Garcias are back, but considering R.A. Dickey's earned a place to stay, why not? Bullpens can be built even more easily than they can be bought.
The more annoying issue is losing Joaquin Benoit for the time being. With Chan Ho Park about to come off of the DL, that means the Rangers still won't be able to field a decent rotation. As it stands now, they've got Ismael Valdes, John Thomson, Park, and Colby Lewis. They won't need a fifth starter again until next Saturday, the 14th, which is still too soon for Benoit in case he's almost ready to come off the DL. That means another Victor Santos shellacking or somesuch, but the Rangers are used to it.
Finally, while Herb Perry's a good sort and all, losing him to the DL (again) is only a setback insofar as the Rangers need to worry about where they're going to send him come July 31, and it won't be easy to peddle him if he's unhealthy, let alone not hitting. With Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock both earning their keep, there's little room to fit Perry into the lineup. They're better off with a utility man like Lamb on the bench in the meantime, since he gives the bench a token lefty bat.
Placed RHP Pete Walker on the 15-day DL (strained knee); placed LF-R Shannon Stewart on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 5/29; recalled RHP Josh Towers and OF-R Jayson Werth from Syracuse. [6/4]
The 25th roster spot on the Jays' big league club has been sort of all over the place this season, with it going to various relievers most of the year. But now it looks like Carlos Tosca got his wish at the same time that those who hate carrying 12 pitchers got theirs. The Jays get to carry a third catcher after all, pleasing Tosca as far as his feeling more comfortable pinch-hitting for either half of his catching platoon. They also get to keep Reed Johnson around as the team's fourth outfielder and lefty masher, although he'll also be the regular in left in Stewart's absence, which should only run another week. They have room to carry Howie Clark as a spare part on the bench who can handle six positions. Finally, they're back to a six-man pen, having breezed by the on-again, off-again, essentially stillborn proposal to go to a four-man rotation.
What will be interesting to see is what the Jays do if they get back to worrying that six relievers is not enough, with the other eventual roster complication being that once Eric Hinske can come off of the DL, the bench may need to be reconfigured yet again. In that case, the guy who really may not fit here--beyond Huckaby of course--is Mike Bordick, given his age and contract status. However, if instead the Jays finally find an interested party for Orlando Hudson's batting average, that would work just as easily, since they could run with some combination or Clark, Berg, and Bordick at second in the meantime. Short-term, it'll still be easiest to just tell Tosca to live without a third catcher, since nobody's any more likely to nab Huckaby on waivers this time around than they were back in April.