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June 13, 2003
Optioned RHP Bart Miadich to Salt Lake City. [6/8]
Activated CF-L Darin Erstad from the 15-day DL. [6/9]
Getting Darin Erstad back comes at an interesting time. It's not a bad thing, certainly, even if Jeff DaVanon looks like Babe Ruth of late. It's easy to point out that out of his quick eight homeruns, DaVanon popped four long drives into Hiram-Bithorn's Caribbean jetstream, and another two off of the D-Rays in their bandbox. But the real news is that the Angels got to learn a bit about whether or not going out of their way to add Eric Owens was really such a worthwhile exercise. That was an issue going back to the original decision, but now, the Angels have a compelling ~120ish plate appearances that somehow mean so much more than DaVanon's and Owens' relative track records as hitters at differing levels for the last couple of years. DaVanon has been the convincingly better hitter for several years, and there's very little reason to consider Owens a good center fielder. The Angels had their option within the organization all along. That begs the question of what Owens is for, if he's sub-ideal fourth outfielder. As fifth outfielder/pinch-runner types, he's not as fast as Chone Figgins, and he's significantly further out of practice than Figgins if either was pressed into duty in the infield.
Whatever DaVanon's production was in the meantime, it's essentially gravy. As disappointing as Erstad has been as a hitter for most of the last five years, getting him back provides the Angels with a happier blend of offensive production they can expect and outstanding defense. That's not an endorsement of Erstad's offensive value as much as it's a concession that DaVanon isn't going to be Ruthian for the weeks and months to come, and however inconsistent he's been, Erstad has value. Not commensurate to his compensation, but that's a Mousy investment sunk and swapped off to Arturo Moreno, and not Mike Scioscia's problem per se.
Placed OF-L David Dellucci on the 15-day DL (concussion), retroactive to 6/2; recalled C/OF-R Robby Hammock from Tucson. [6/6]
Activated RHP Brandon Webb from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Edgar Gonzalez to Tucson. [6/7]
Dellucci's concussion couldn't really have come at a worse time for him, professionally, since it finally seemed he was going to get some more regular work in the outfield. Neither Danny Bautista nor Quinton McCracken are hitting, leaving the team short in yet another area offensively. There is hope that Dellucci will be ready to come off of the DL next week. However, in their need, they've turned to Hammock as their right fielder, which is a reasonable enough decision given that they're not dead yet, just sort of drifting to some funerary dirge while hoping that Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling come back someday. At least they got Brandon Webb back. As is, the rotation is now down to their Durazo prize, Elmer Dessens, plus utility pitcher Miguel Batista, Webb, and Webb's fellow rookies, Andrew Good and John Patterson. From that gang, as disappointing as Dessens might be to Joe Garagiola, Jr., Patterson's the only one who really isn't holding his job, and the Snakes' rotation ranks second in the National League overall in terms of Michael Wolverton's Support-Neutral Value Added, a nice mark considering the famous portions of the rotation are hurt or have been dealt.
Claimed C-R Mike Rivera off of waivers from the Padres, and assigned him to Charlotte. [6/9]
I'm one of those people who, while loving Moneyball and actually finding Michael Lewis' portrayal of Billy Beane quite moving, didn't really see the book as being really all that cruel to Kenny Williams. This is, of course, unsurprising to read in this space, where vented spleen, infantile rage, righteous anger, and invariably snide commentary nuzzle up. No, if I had to make an observation about where it came up short, it was on a few minor notes, one of which was that Miguel Olivo was a worthwhile pickup as the return for Chad Bradford, and not exactly a non-entity. Now that Olivo's won the catching job with the White Sox, and looks like a sturdily useful player (no Girardi or Matheny he), it's worth noting that among Kenny Williams' many mistakes, he did not settle for nothing for Bradford. Williams' public outrage over Moneyball is probably more an expression of the pressures of failure and the omnipresent case of tin ears you find in front offices laden with disappointment.
Anyway, it's similarly interesting to see the Sox add Mike Rivera off of waivers. Other teams had greater need, and should have claimed him, certainly. What the very right-handed Sox plan to do with Rivera is sort of an open question, but I guess we can count on certain things. Sandy Alomar will break down as reliably as an Italian sports car, and Josh Paul's flavor seems to have finally given out after having been chewed over for far too long. Given the organization's relative lack of depth behind the plate, Rivera's a good claim, and a useful alternative should anything happen to Olivo. The Sox do need to have choices, after all, considering they have to still consider themselves in the running in the AL Central. The alternative is to start thinking about when to schedule some firings.
Choi's collision was another scary moment in what has been an ugly collection of scary collisions of late, and obviously his making a full recovery is high on my list of wishes. He seemed to be struggling at the plate as his manager became more and more determined to move from the more-sensible platoon arrangement he opened the season with to a more equitable job-sharing arrangement with Eric Karros. Hopefully, when he makes a full recovery, Choi can reclaim the playing time that it's in the organization's best interests to give him, but who's to say? In Choi's absence, they've hauled up Dave Kelton, without a really clear idea of what position he's going to play, since they've waffled on that, again, having gone back and forth on his playing third or left or first in-season last season, over the winter, and in-season this season as well. At Iowa, Kelton was beginning to hit for power of late, ratcheting up his numbers to .304/.385/.466, which translates to a .260 Equivalent Average in the big leagues, or less than you'd like from a regular at any of the positions that they might ask Kelton to play, but pretty promising for a kid who's only just 23, has been jerked all over the diamond while moving up through the upper levels of the minors, and who ought to be their...well, something...of the future. And it's better work with wood than they can expect from the likes of a Baker bench, and with DH at-bats available courtesy of interleague play, it's a good choice to give Kelton some playing time. It'll make their active roster choices at the end of July and August that much more interesting, since a decision to pack Troy O'Leary with the postseason luggage instead of leaving him at home would be a wee bit of a mistake.
Visions of playoff grandeur are premature, however, and losing Choi is all the more unfortunate for the Cubs and their hopes of contention because it comes in concert with Dusty Baker's decision to give up on Mark Bellhorn and give Lenny Harris an unearned "career achievement" parting gift of playing time galore. Fans in Chicago, Houston, and St. Louis alike are all obviously interested in when that parting might happen, cynics noting that Harris stopped being a professional ballplayer years ago, while Harris happily hangs out, more than willing to overstay his welcome by a year or five if it means the party doesn't stop. So in asking them to play regularly, the Cubs offense will make Karros do something--hit right-handed pitching--that he's really not very good at, and at which Lenny Harris is even worse. Damian Miller's starting to resemble the guy he's always been, and not the favorite son All-Star selection he was handed last year, and Alex Gonzalez, late-game heroics aside, isn't getting on base. Where Jimy Williams might deserve criticism for only slowly coming to trust Morgan Ensberg, or just as slowly recognizing that there's not a beanhill of difference between Jose Vizcaino and Adam Everett, it takes a genius of Dusty's caliber to see somebody who poked 27 homeruns and who drew 76 walks in the major leagues last year, and not only not know what he's for, but to actually complain about the results and ask him to be a little bit more like Lenny Harris. Dusty didn't need time to let the mental horizons of Cubbiness provide him with a lack of vision; in a way perhaps not seen since...well, last year, Dusty just has a knack for it.
Outrighted RHP Joey Hamilton to Louisville. [6/6]
Activated RHP Ryan Dempster from the 15-day DL. [6/7]
It's worth noting that the worst rotation, in terms of performance, hasn't been the Devil Rays, busted up by the unsupervised swamp-bound volcanery of Lou Piniella. It hasn't been the banged-up Padres or the habitually feeble Rangers or even the Brewers. No, instead, it's been Bob Boone's rotation confections. As a unit, it has been a disaster that does little to Don Gullett's reputation as the best pitching coach in the game, or aid Boone's increasingly tortured attempts to cultivate a reputation as a tactician or an inspirational or something beyond being can't-sit-still Bob Boone. It does nothing for Jim Bowden's reputation as a goldhunter famed for panning a creative solution or two out of what might seem the driest of dry creekbeds. And beyond all of these men, and the responsibility which, fairly or no, will stick to them for their parts, is the guilt of Carl Lindner's caprice, giving you yesteryear's Reds at today's prices to help make sure this team went into 2003 rotationless and frustrated. The Reds are still in contention this year, but that's more the result of the three other runners in the race all seeming content to kick off their shoes now and again, and break for oranges and beer, and wonder if the Reds want to keep up.
Cruz might be back, but his job in the rotation is gone. In his absence, Scott Elarton has had to start four games in Coors, and pitched well enough to give the Rockies a shot to win in three of them (and winning the one game he didn't). So Cruz will have to take his various flavors of changeup to the pen, and wait for somebody to pitch his way out of the rotation. He crowds out Vic Darensbourg, who remains just a chit in trade in some overdue O'Dowd transaction chicanery. Javier Lopez and Brian Fuentes have been two of the best parts of the Rockies' pen, and basically crowding Darensbourg out in terms of lefty relief work, but given that Darensbourg has been a modest asset as a situational reliever in two of the last three years, he ought to be worthwhile as a throw-in in a larger deal. It just depends on what O'Dowd might want, which, given that everything strikes his fancy at some point or another, is perhaps even less predictable than Johnny Depp's role choices.
Picking on the Tigers is sort of up there with pigsticking as sport goes. It isn't like the pig has a fighting chance, or that there's even a wing devoted to porcine bravado in the Pigsticking Hall of Fame. There's just the blood, and the screaming, and the indignity of going through with the act, which, with an appropriately stiff lip, is no doubt what duty demands under the circumstances. But today, there isn't much point to it. Are the Tigers still allowed to charge admission? Why? It isn't a major league sporting event on either side of the ball. It's Christians vs. Lions in the top of the inning, and murder in the bottom. One of the few things a Tigers fan should be asked to pay for was watching Carlos Pena pick it at first, and the hope that he'll come around as a hitter, and that's gone for the moment. I guess that leaves Dmitri Young's hitting and occasional hair hijinks, and Jeremy Bonderman, and the perhaps inevitable Brian Kingman media appearances, as he publicly pleads with Alan Trammell to not let Bonderman or Adam Bernero or Mike Maroth or all three erase his little corner of history. Sitting through Tigers games is going to start showing up in creative sentencing guidelines:
"Twenty hours of community service, changing bedpans or somesuch, or a Tigers homestand."
..."Give me a minute."
The Astros went 9-5 during Hidalgo's stint on the DL, Porter got a couple of hits and looked like a viable alternative as fifth outfielders go, and there really wasn't much to complain about how the last couple of weeks worked out. Admittedly, they drew the Orioles and D-Rays during that time, but those games count in the standings too, the Astros didn't go into a tailspin, and Hidalgo seems fine since coming off, so it wasn't a bad turn of events.
Optioned RHP Brad Voyles to Omaha; recalled LHP Les Walrond from Omaha. [6/8]
If there's something strange here, it isn't that they decided to take a look-see at Les Walrond to determine if he might be their best lefty reliever since...ye gods, let's see...Mike Magnante? Jerry Don Gleaton? Tom Burgmeier? Ugh. Anyway, it's a list where it's easy to move up, so a good month or two, and the Royals might want to put Walrond on their Walk of Fame or something. No, what's odd is the decision to send down Brad Voyles and keep up Jason Gilfillan. Voyles pitched decently in his brief stint, while Gilfillan has been pretty combustible.
Don't let it be said that Dan Evans doesn't have a sentimental streak. It's sort of fun to see Wilson Alvarez amble into this latest comeback attempt, courtesy of a fellow former Reinsdorf minion. Best yet, he might actually be healthy enough to pitch this time around, unlike his various fitful attempts at getting back into the game with the Devil Rays. He was solid in a swing role in Las Vegas this spring: 1.68 runs allowed per nine (not that his 0.74 ERA is that shabby), 29 hits and 11 walks allowed in 48.1 IP, he can still dent bread with his fastball, at least for a lefty, and he seems able to handle a long relief or spot starting role. That might threaten Andy Ashby's job, but now that Darren Dreifort's out for the year, and with the rest of the Vegas rotation stocked with less-interesting retreads than Alvarez. (Did you wonder where Masato Kida wound up? Look no further. Andrew Lorraine? Scott Winchester? Indy league survivor Lindsay Gulin? The 51's pitching staff represents the most anguished hanging-on collection of desperadoes this side of Cincinnati.) So in short, Alvarez was their best pitcher in Triple-A, and while both Edwin Jackson and Joel Hanrahan are pitching well in Double-A, this is their first full season above A-ball, and it would be a bit dicey to call on either down the stretch if the Dodgers need a starter. So it's Wilson Alvarez, and another thing to add to the shopping list if they want to keep up with the Giants.
Placed RF-R Vladimir Guerrero on the 15-day DL (herniated disk), retroactive to 6/5; placed 1B/OF-L Jeff Liefer on waivers; purchased the contract of LHP Anthony Ferrari from Edmonton; purchased the contract of UT-L Edwards Guzman. [6/6]
OK, I'm sure this is the Götterdammerung of Jonah Keri's hopes for all things Expo, since losing Vlad creates a lineup that's down to Jose Vidro, Brad Wilkerson, Orlando Cabrera, and Brian Schneider on the days he's penciled in. That pretty much reduces baseball's wandering franchise to offensive starvation. At least they'll get to look at Ron Calloway in the meantime, as opposed to doing something like last year's Troy O'Leary exercise, or this year's resignation to work with Wil Cordero at first until something a little more hopeful comes along. What's frustrating is that it may not be necessary, and given that Vladi's injury might keep him out for a considerable length of time, it should push the Expos to think in terms of something more than a temporary patch. And they can, because down in Edmonton, Terrmel Sledge has been one of the most productive hitters in the minor leagues, lighting up the PCL to the tune of .338/.446/.554, which is good for a .294 big league Equivalent Average. He's drawn 40 walks in 249 plate appearances, while adding in 10 homeruns. In a lineup that could use OBP, power, and a corner outfielder, you would think that Sledge was made to order. Since he also has experience playing first, what's to lose in calling him up and letting him play? I could also bring up Val Pascucci as an alternative to Cordero at first, but if they aren't going to consider Sledge after how well he's hit, and instead turned to the warmed-over remains of Edwards Guzman, then you can take it for granted they didn't look twice at Pascucci.
As for Vladi, beyond what this does to the Expos' October hopes, the injury couldn't come at a worse time. He's a free agent after the season, so his value just took a huge hit, especially if, as Will Carroll has pointed out, there's any question of spinal stenosis. A cynic might point out that this probably also ruins whatever chances that the Expos had of getting a motherlode of prospects for Guerrero at the trading deadline, but as last year's winter meetings demonstrated, Omar Minaya isn't very quick on his feet when he needs to make a move, and besides, talking about it just hurts Jonah's feelings.
If you get nothing for little, do you really get to brag about it? Is it really reassuring, or is this that classic case of baiting and switching the easily distracted and easily satisfied idiot prince? Marcus Thames isn't really an asset as much as an organizational soldier and a better option to fill out the back end of a roster than people like Ice Williams or Ryan Thompson or Ruben Sierra. But given that the bottom of a roster is a matter of managerial discretion and, in this case, presumably a case of owner comfort, you can understand how this turns into something that matters for the Yankees and the battles they win and lose on the phones, in Tampa, between the Boss' ears, and on the newsprint battlefields of Manhattan. And to be fair, as useless as Sierra is as a starting DH, he's better than Todd Zeile. This means a loss of face for Joe Torre, but if Torre didn't understand that Zeile's no one to pin your hopes on, he's even worse off than the people happy to have the Bad Bald One on hand.
In short, Boston and Toronto aren't a-quakin' in their boots over this sort of superficially decisive move. The Yankees are desperate. This might make news, but it's when the Yankees really accept that they're cornered, that they're going to lose if they don't really do something, that should have the other worthwhile teams of the AL East worried.
Scutaro didn't hit in the dribs of playing time he got, and given that the team has its Joe McEwing sweet tooth to satisfy, and Jay Bell's pulling a Toby Harrah '85 or HoJo '95 "God, don't make me swing" season at the plate, at least giving the Mets a walk or two for their trouble, well, it's back to the International League for Mr. Scutaro. As for bumping Pat Strange, even with the Mets' rotation troubles, he wasn't getting innings to stay sharp, and they've got to pitch Stanton if they're going to ever be able to trade him.
Activated RHP Jay Witasick and LHP Kevin Walker from the 60-day DL, and RHP Brandon Villafuerte from the 15-day DL; optioned Walker to Portland; outrighted Villafuerte to Portland; placed INF-R Lou Merloni on the 15-day DL (knee); outrighted LHP Roger Deago to Mobile (Double-A). [6/9]
Ouch, not only do the Pads lose two solid on-base types from the middle infield, they have to revisit odd choices of yesteryear in replacing both of them with former Rule 5 adventure Donaldo Mendez. They picked him after a nice 2000 season in the Midwest League, low A-ball, then let him collect a bit of dust on their bench in 2001, then watched him struggle in Double- and Triple-A last year, meaning he's never really gotten to play at High-A. This year, in Portland, he was hitting .249/.313/.333, and while that's not your daddy's PCL bandbox, it's still the PCL, and that's godawful hitting. His speed, which once made him look like the sort of guy who could steal a few bags, seems to have fallen by the wayside, and his glovework, once a point of pride, seems to have regressed.
However, looking at Mendez now is sort of an acknowledgment that they've got Khalil Greene on the fast track; after only hitting .275/.327/.406 at Double-A in the season's first two months, they've promoted him to Portland already, which helps create a 'now or never' pressure on Mendez's future in the organization. It's looked like 'never' going back to the decision to draft him back in December of 2000, but no point in fretting about it. The larger concern is whether they'll press Greene into action before he's really ready.
Acquired RHP Matt White from the Red Sox for OF-B Sheldon Fulse; designated OF-R Cristian Guerrero for assignment. [6/6]
Again, when you have a couple of spots on the 40-man roster stocked with filler of a merely vague prospecty status, you can indulge in a bit of kleptomania with an eye towards the waiver wire and whoever gets designated for assignment.
If the Devil Rays weren't desperate, what would their other quality be? Foolhardy? You could almost call the decision to claim Jeff Liefer and try him as a third baseman bold. He's been an awful third baseman at every level he's tried to do it, and it remains to be seen if his bat will carry his glove, but seeing as you're the D-Rays, and you don't have a third baseman because you turned a better third baseman than Liefer into your right fielder, and you know Jason Smith won't hit, well then, why not? The problem is that Liefer at third is the sort of thing that conjures up memories of Butch Hobson or Joel Youngblood, only less so. You might cut Liefer considerable slack, and accept that the shoulder problems that afflicted his early years in the minors after being a first-round pick in 1995 helped make his limitations at third appear even worse, creating a similarity to Herb Perry, where repeated knee injuries helped foster a lot of concern that Perry would never be able to handle playing third on an everyday basis. Liefer's comparable players are guys like Marv Throneberry or Franklin Stubbs or Eric Anthony, people who got the Glenn Braggs treatment as far as being flavors of month in the prospect porn market, followed by the squalid recognition that there was no there there. Liefer's never been my idea of a guy you'd put into a job in an outfield corner or first or DH, and he's flubbed the opportunities he's been given. Handed a shot at a job at his worst position in baseball's worst organization, it's just crazy enough to work, but I wouldn't bet on it.
Here's a happy, if belated turn of events. Why the Rangers invested in Ruben Sierra in the first place begs an answer, but like so many aspects of John Hart's "watch me authorize checks--that's power!" regime, that's for us to laugh at, and Hart to explain to Tom Hicks. But sort of like the decision to pay Chan Ho Park money that might make Darren Dreifort blush, it's just one of those little moves a non-contender felt it had to make to prove that when you pay John Hart to schlep his way down to Texas, you don't skimp on the little things. After all, there's the possibility that, for your money, you might be able to flip a marginal DH for an aspiring fourth outfielder who may grow up to be a genuine fourth outfielder. Even though the "investment" in Sierra was modest, and you could argue that the potential payoff for having a backup of putative value who creates a worthwhile excuse to send Kevin Mench to the minors for a few extra weeks on the off chance it pushes his arbitration clock back, it basically wasn't worth the time or the benefit. If you can't dig up a Marcus Thames on your own in the minor league free agent market, you're probably the sort of team that's paying Doug Glanville seven large to be...oops. And who in their right mind...alrighty then, never mind. So, what would Jerry Reinsdorf say? Is John Hart a Point A General Manager, or a Point C GM?
I guess there's other bad news, in that Ryan Christenson wasn't capable of staking a claim that he could do Glanville's job as well as Glanville, making Glanville boosters (Penn grads and who else?) happy that their man is safe until Laynce Nix is ready. The misfortune is that they'll have to play Glanville for the near term, because Carl Everett can't play center, and that means some sort of combination where Mark Teixeira and Kevin Mench split time in the lineup and fill various positions whenever Raffy Palmeiro or Everett or Juan Gonzalez want to DH or take a day off. Until then we'll have to wait for the Rangers to deal one of the old men--and they're all free agents after this year--and hope that Nix's great start at Frisco bodes well for his being able to jump up for an August pot of coffee or a shot at the job in center next spring, and that they'll let Mench and Teixeira man the outfield corners. And by then, maybe Thames will be ready to be the team's fourth outfielder, completing this particular daisy chain.
As for Park's latest breakdown, it seems to be related to his general torso trouble, maybe being related to his previous back injury, maybe not, but it borders on the unimportant unless you're interested in criticizing Hart for spilt milk. The more basic issue is figuring out what the Rangers will do with their rotation in the meantime. Victor Santos doesn't look ready, so effectively, they've got two slots to fill, and the last thing they need to do is dredge up another temp like Alan Benes from somebody else's organization. They have Jamey Wright available, and by Rangers standards, he might be a solid rotation starter to complement John Thomson, Colby Lewis, and Ismael Valdes. They may not even have a problem with that last slot, since Joaquin Benoit should be ready to come off of the DL at the beginning of next week, in time to round out the rotation. Then they can wonder if Colby Lewis is going to iron out his inconsistencies. In a Park-free scenario, that actually looks like the best rotation they've had in years.