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July 25, 2003
Extended the contract of general manager Bill Stoneman through 2007. [7/9]
Agreed to a two-year contract extension with manager Mike Scioscia through 2007. [7/12]
While the Angels are going to be hard-pressed to repeat, it's nice to see both Stoneman and Scioscia get rewarded quickly by their new owner, Arte Moreno. You might have forgiven Moreno if he had some general ideas about having things his way, but to his credit, he had the good sense to inherit a team that has made worthwhile improvements in recent years and let it be. Scioscia's skill as a tactician and as a savvy handler of his pitching staffs made it easy to grant him his reward; if anything, the real burden lays with Stoneman, to continue snaring talent through the draft and free agencies both major and minor. That their sentences as Angels run concurrently is appropriate, since should the day ever come when Moreno feels a need to change things, there's one line of thinking that insists that a new GM should get to hire a new manager, or that a retained manager who inherits a new GM might perhaps have too much the upper hand in the relationship, but basically, Scioscia and Stoneman have a four-year mission to try to contend in baseball's most competitive division.
Traded SS-L Tony Womack to the Rockies for RHP Mike Watson. [7/18]
At this point, you might be forgiven for getting excited about Arizona's shot at making the Giants get that queasy '93 feeling, right? After all, the Squad Leader's back off of the DL, the Big Unit is back in purple and teal, and the Snakes have Brandon Webb and Miguel Batista earning their keep, so they're looking golden in the rotation, right? Of course, the working assumption is that Schilling and Johnson will re-enter the rotation as their old selves, fully healthy and ready to perform. Given Schilling's past problems with trying to push himself too quickly into commission, there will be some rough spots, especially as he tries to be a contributor to the success that he's had so little to do with in the last six weeks. Andrew Good didn't exactly pitch his way out of the rotation, so they'll undoubtedly keep him on standby in case Schilling struggles, Johnson reinjures himself, or should Elmer Dessens just continue to flop. They have managed to survive having to work through using Good, Patterson, and Capuano all at once, so it isn't like they're in bad shape as much as there's less certainty than what you might see in just black and white.
However, the latest cool proposition for the Snakes is that by getting Counsell back, he can handle most of the playing time at short, pushing Alex Cintron into a utility role, while leaving Matt Kata at second. That in turn shoves Carlos Baerga toward more bench time. While it looks like Arizona has an interesting problem on their hands once Junior Spivey comes back off of the DL (the latest had the Snakes moving Spivey back to 2B, Cintron to SS, Counsell to 3B and Kata to UT IF), they won't have to worry about Tony Womack ever again. No, it isn't that much talent, but it's certainly a major step up from the likes of Mark Grace or Quinton McCracken.
More than any particular endorsement of Cust, who arrives with his luster as a slugger fallling even further (.283/.419/.430, which if nothing else has made for a nifty rate of one walk for every 5.2 plate appearances), this is more of a comment that neither B.J. Surhoff or David Segui have been healthy enough to play all that regularly. That, and that sometimes even the Orioles notice that carrying 12 pitchers is silly. The Orioles starters are generally getting into the fifth inning every day, with Sidney Ponson, Jason Johnson, and Rodrigo Lopez doing a bit better than that of late, so Travis Driskill hasn't had much work as the team's long reliever, leaving even less work for Bauer to stake a claim to.
As for swapping Machado and Gil, the odds that it will make a difference in the generally static standings of the AL East are so remote that it ranks with a Susan Powter comeback.
Claimed RHP Bryan Hebson off of waivers from the Expos, and assigned him to Pawtucket. [7/11]
The cool news here is that in getting Casey Fossum and Giambi back, the Red Sox have decided to forego carrying two utility infielders, instead choosing to run with just Damian Jackson for that once-in-awhile start at second against a lefty, or a game-finishing appearance at short because Nomar's pining for the fjords or just plain tired some night. Now that they have Gabe Kapler to platoon with Trot Nixon in right, and with the availability to place Kevin Millar at third in case they need to give Bill Mueller a day off, Jackson really serves no other purpose beyond a pinch-running assignment now and again, so the Sox didn't really need a second utility infielder, dooming Sanchez. So now they've got Giambi on the bench as a spare lefty bat, and they can sort out whether or not he fits as a spare part for an October bench.
As for Fossum, he's moving directly into a bullpen role, which is fine for him as well as for the Sox. He didn't really demonstrate that he was ready for a job in the rotation, the Sox need the help in the pen, and as second lefties go, Fossum's potentially as good as any you'd ask for. That still doesn't fix the team's problems in the rotation, not when Derek Lowe is still struggling, and with Ramiro Mendoza temping in the fifth slot. At least John Burkett's given them a quality start five of his last six times out, but is that really a solution, or as good as it's going to get? You can hope that a successful Fossum in the pen would help them get back to placing Byung-Hyun Kim in the rotation, but scribbling Chicken Littles in Beantown are apparently more intimidating than the prospect of not making the playoffs.
As I'm reminded now and again when I manage to avoid saying something, I'm supposed to say something about everything. This singular piece of advice is one that few who know me or who have ever met me feel compelled to offer, given my almost protean ability to pedantically bite into and worry almost any topic to a miserable, shredded, ground-to-powder, pedantic death. So when I say I feel challenged by a move, as I do with the substantially less than epic quality of a Hebson claim, it's a sign of disinterest. Is Hebson going to be the next Brandon Lyon? It's pretty doubtful. Will he get a fair shake from the Red Sox if he's called up? Only if you consider three games over a 10-day call-up at some date to be named later a fair shake. And would the Red Sox keep him around beyond that? Why pretend? He's going to Pawtucket. Being a PawSock isn't quite like being a visitor to The Shady Lady Retirement Brothel, but escape is just about as likely. Only real desperation drives you there, and no matter how strong the jitters, it's more likely that the Red Sox will head to the pawn shop, hock the watch, and see what they get to spend for that big push for the stretch instead of re-using the used.
Announced that OF-L Armando Rios cleared waivers and accepted his assignment to Charlotte. [7/10]
Hopefully, Wright's only being sent down because he's the fifth starter, and not likely to pitch in the majors until sometime next week, because as fifth starters go, he hasn't really been all that bad. A Support-Neutral Value Added figure of -0.3 isn't bad for a fifth man, and he's given the Sox five quality starts in 11 times out. By contrast, Mike Porzio's not really going to be the answer to anyone's problems, even with a near-creditable start in last weekend's double-header. Down in Charlotte, he was giving up runs at a clip of 4.8 per nine innings pitched. Although some people will get hung up on a decent strikeout rate (87 K's in 96 IP), he's not really an overpowering pitcher, and beyond keeping him around as a lefty long alternative, he's not exactly a solution to a fifth spot problem that doesn't even really exist. The Sox have other issues to address, and hopefully this latest demotion isn't another one of Jerry Manuel's punitive stunts as much as just a way to keep Wright working during the All-Star break.
It doesn't get much worse than this. The Cubs are a mid-pack offense, but even that's a pretty fragile circumstance, since they're getting little or no offense out of their catchers or third basemen, next to nothing out of their bench, and only average to slightly below-average performance out of their middle infield. It's an offense fueled by their outfield and their first basemen, and now they're short an outfielder. It's down to Sammy, a creaky Moises Alou, Eric Karros over his head, and Hee Seop Choi fighting past Dusty's fascination with Karros. That's great news...in Houston.
The real tragedy is that this was shaping up as Patterson's breakthrough season. Now I know, it would be orthodox to deride his year since he's only drawn 15 walks to 329 at-bats, but he was hitting for power, playing a great center, and basically being what some of the more conservative projections anticipated, a player about as good as Garret Anderson or Devon White. If things turn out as well as PECOTA anticipates, he could even be the next Lou Brock, but with a better glove. Clearly, a devastating knee injury will change both the scale of expectations and the Cubs' chances right now, and that's before touching on trying to replace him with Dusty's dismal collection of cronies. It would be hard to come up with something as uninspired as a Tom Goodwin-Treni Hubbard platoon, but that's where the Cubs have put themselves as a matter of choice.
Optioned INF-R Rainer Olmedo to Chattanooga (Double-A). [7/13]
Placed CF-L Ken Griffey on the 15-day DL (ruptured tendon - ankle); placed RHP Scott Sullivan on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis), retroactive to 7/14; purchased the contract of OF-R Ruben Mateo from Louisville; recalled RHP Jose Acevedo from Louisville. [7/18]
Transferred Ken Griffey to the 60-day DL; purchased the contract of RHP Ryan Wagner from Louisville. [7/19]
Who's left? The outfield is down to one of the original three beasts, with Reggie Taylor in position to do all sorts of damage to team run scoring, ticket sales, you name it. He's the sort of guy who can inspire anguish and run a crowd out of the stands faster than you can say...well, Reggie Taylor. At least Jose Guillen has to be temporarily pacified, and Ruben Mateo gets a second chance after hitting .327/.408/.530 as a RiverBat, but this wasn't exactly how the Reds envisioned seeing it come to pass.
Instead, the Reds are as dead as their efforts to swap Griffey somewhere, still rotationless, left with a roster that has two third basemen they refuse to look at ahead of either the manager's son or the owner's fave over at first, a bullpen in ruins, and a rotation that's about as broken as a rotation can be. Is this a Bob Boone team or what? To be fair to the self-anointed genius, the Reds were built on overlapping risks, and many of them were bad risks. By differing turns, that's the province of Jim Bowden or Carl Lindner. Still, busting both the rotation and bullpen? Only a very few managers manage to do it simultaneously, and those are usually forces of nature like Terry Bevington...or the initial incarnation of Bob Boone.
What's worse is how limited the Reds' prospects are for fixing any of their problems in the near future. Guys like Larson arrive having re-slaughtered the International League, pasting pitching at a .324/.384/.611 clip, but he gets to keep Russ Branyan company on the bench, even with Branyan hitting. Why? Because Sean Casey is a wealthy man as well as one of the least-dangerous regulars at first in the major leagues. At least he's warming one banana magnate's heart, but all in all, it's a comment on where the Reds are that they can't even spare the time to look at players they need to evaluate now, because neither Branyan or Larson are spring chickens.
If there's good news, it's that they're replacing the failed Riedling experiment in the rotation, hopefully forever, and instead taking another look at Jose Acevedo after a decent split-role season in Louisville. Spending most of the year in long relief, he had posted a 3.43 ERA, with a 57-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 60.1 IP, allowing only 56 hits. It has to be better than sending a few thousand volts into Pete Harnisch or Joey Hamilton or whoever to see if there's anything else left. The retreads failed en masse; it's time to start investing in the new.
Placed OF-L Matt Lawton on the 15-day DL (dislocated finger); recalled 1B-L Travis Hafner and RHP Jake Westbrook from Buffalo; purchased the contract of RHP Rafael Betancourt from Buffalo; optioned LHP Jason Stanford to Buffalo; designated RHP Jose Santiago for assignment. [7/12]
Optioned INF-R Brandon Phillips to Buffalo. [7/14]
Activated INF-R John McDonald from the 15-day DL. [7/17]
Wow, another Raffy Betancourt comeback? He's gotta be in Roman numerals territory by now, the kitsch of talking about Betancourt 2.0 is so 2001. Like, totally. Much of the re-shuffling of the pitching staff is what we've been hoping for and anticipating for much of the season, so while rotoheads and season ticket holders alike might be exasperated to see Terry Mulholland threats, the Indians are letting the kids pitch. They're working through the hiccups of Brian Tallet and Billy Traber and Jake Westbrook, which makes perfect sense now that Jason Davis has earned the right to stick on the one hand, while Ricardo Rodriguez earned the right to be shopped away.
No, what we really have to sort out here in brief is walking through why the Indians would trade for Ludwick, and why they've had to ship Brandon Phillips to parts International. You can forgive the Indians for being a little confident with their young pitching, since Traber and Tallet and Westbrook all look pretty good, Davis is riding high, and despite all of the doom and gloom about C.C. Sabathia's health, he's doing pretty well to boot. So with assets to peddle, they decided instead to enrich their outfield situation, which isn't the worst decision they could make. Even with Phillips' struggles, they have choices in the middle infield, and they have young catchers. They have hitters to stock first base with. While it would be nice to have an alternative to Casey Blake at third (they don't take Greg LaRocca particularly seriously, unfortunately) since Corey Smith is struggling and Matt Whitney has lost a year, the Tribe instead decided to add outfield depth.
It's not the worst idea, since it isn't clear whether Coco Crisp and Jody Gerut are really everyday players. Gerut's earning his keep, but his knees will be a constant source of concern. Crisp may not get on base often enough or have enough power to stick as anything more than a fourth outfielder. Matt Lawton's contract will have to be endured on some level, but that doesn't mean he'll have to play. You could even note that Milton Bradley isn't the most stable player around, and come to the conclusion that it was probably worth flipping one pitcher for an outfielder with promise. Ludwick might not stick in center, but he should be a good glove and a decent power source in a corner, and he's a better fit into the Tribe's outfield rotation than Spencer was ever going to be going forward. Basically, if the Indians wind up with Bradley, Ludwick, and Gerut in the outfield, with Crisp as their fourth, and Lawton fighting for at-bats as an outfield reserve or DH (where he'll have to win out over the loser in the fight for first, either Travis Hafner or Ben Broussard).
As for Phillips, he just didn't look ready at any point this spring and summer. It's just as well, since he might even get a chance to refresh his skills as a shortstop in the minors, although in his absence, the Indians don't really have anybody worth playing at second. Ricky Gutierrez is done, and neither McDonald nor Zach Sorensen are anything more than utilitymen. Once Omar Vizquel comes off of the DL, Jhonny Peralta could get a look at second, except he's basically spent his career on the left side of the infield. Basically, the Indians will spend the playing time on McDonald and Sorensen until somebody else shows the organization that he's ready to solve to problem.
Acquired SS-L Tony Womack from the Diamondbacks for RHP Mike Watson. [7/18]
The horror here is that the Rockies have been plugging away for years, and they seem to have achieved the impossible: they're going backwards, and not just in a little way. They seem determined to acquire and play players who have no business being regulars anywhere, and Tony Womack has pride of place as the worst of the lot, not that Jay Payton or Juan Uribe or Charles Johnson or Chris Stynes are really all that far behind. The amazing thing is that this is a franchise that tried and lost with the likes of Juan Pierre, and appears to have learned nothing from it. Worse yet, Womack doesn't even fill the defensive bill, having given nobody any reason to believe that he's an adequate shortstop. Stealing bases is really neat, especially if you're in the land of make-believe or roto, but you'd think that the Rox would understand that they need real players who put runs on the board. As long as they're going to punt infield defense, why play Womack? Why not play Mark Bellhorn at short?
The other bit of non-progress was the decision to dump Ben Petrick. A mediocre partial season in 2001, persistent whining about his defense, and organizational dickering over where to play him at a time when they were screwing around with the likes of Brent Mayne, the shared history of Petrick and the Rockies is a tale of mutual disappointment. Having to flip him for Adam Bernero is about as ugly as a butcher's bill can get in situations such as these. At least there's a bit of good news: Shawn Chacon is back, and Nelson Cruz is gone, and that adds up to progress. Still, it's a bit of an exaggeration to really consider Bernero a significant improvement upon either Roa or even Cruz, so it's hard to label anything here as an add beyond Chacon's return.
Much as you might wish that the acquisition of Ben Petrick heralds an opportunity to get him back to catching, it appears that the Tigers share the same old delusion that Petrick will have value as a part-time receiver and odd body in the outfield, with sporadic playing time. You know, a lesser role than that entrusted to the likes of Brandon Inge or Shane Halter hereabouts. So while the paper element of the transaction (interchangeable pitcher for a catcher with power) looks great, it's dependent on the Tigers wising up. If you're a skeptic (and there's reason to be, after all), and don't readily concede the wisdom of taking a chance with Petrick as the regular behind the plate on the basis of his three-year old prospectdom, keep in mind this team is playing Matt Walbeck and A.J. Hinch in the meantime.
Who are the Fish fooling? Themselves? Their disgruntled, semi-aligned, generally indifferent fan base? The most gratuitously cosmetic of stretch drive moves is the acquisition of a semi-famous closer, so credit the Marlins for having all the predictability of a Golan-Globus production. While adding Urbina is a nice little move that helps the Fish drift up towards the top of the rest of the pack, is it really going to be enough to catch the Phillies? The Fish are a team flirting with .500, the Phillies are not. Admittedly, a big part of the difference between the two teams is between the virtues of the two team's pens, given the relative equality between their two rotations and offenses, but this is a lot to have given up for a combustible talent who generates footnotes. While it isn't impossible, there are several other horses in the race, and the Snakes just got their two big rotation stars back. Is this really the sort of thing that the Marlins can tell themselves is going to help, now, in the future, or even in terms of getting people to watch? Setting aside that they gave up a solid package for just over two months of Uggy's time? Who needs their organization to be Huizenganated, when you could be annihiLoria'd?
Even though the Astros have built up a comfortable lead, it won't hurt to have Kent around to keep it, and frankly, in his absence, Jimy Williams has had to rediscover that Geoff Blum is able to play short or second as well as third. If that brings the Astros to the point that Blum winds up in a utility role and Morgan Ensberg gets the lion's share of the playing time at third, instead of splitting time with Blum, all the better. Although it's nice that the Astros' rotation has been getting stronger in recent weeks--with Jeriome Robertson doing sturdily enough and Ron Villone doing good work--those aren't the sorts of things that last, making it all the more important that they have their offense firing on all cylinders, pronto.
Sometimes injuries are bad, and sometimes they provide you with opportunities. In the case of the Royals, while you don't want to automatically assume that having Hernandez and Miguel Ascencio on the DL made it easy to go out and dig up Jose Lima or hand Darrell May bigger responsibilities than mop-up work, it certainly didn't hurt. As a result, the Royals have a better rotation for Hernandez to re-enter than the one he left. Now, Jeremy Affeldt might be the fifth-best starter the Royals have, and not the second. Sure, that means counting on May and Lima. Sure, that means investing a lot of hope that Hernandez stays healthy, and that Kyle Snyder and Affeldt keep putting in good work. But when you consider the Twins' unending problems in their rotation, suddenly the Royals' pitching uncertainty isn't such a big deal any more. It would be nice to be able to say it was a product of design and intent, but it wasn't. Nevertheless, the games count, and you won't see the Royals apologizing if the Twins and Sox have gone out of their way to create a series of circumstances that generate faith and hope where there wasn't supposed to be any.
Elsewhere, it might seem that the offense isn't really any worse off, if you simply think in terms of Desi Relaford slipping into Joe Randa's job at the hot corner. However, by demoting Jarrod Patterson, that takes Relaford out of the mix of options at second, and means you're actually replacing Randa with the likes of Carlos Febles or, worse yet, Gookie.
Finally, in terms of personal misfortunes, while it's nice to see Dee Brown back, he's going to have a hard time sticking around once Mike Sweeney is ready to come off of the DL (although more and more, that doesn't look to be any time soon). Aaron Guiel has done a nifty job as a spare part in the outfield, and once Sweeney returns, neither Raul Ibanez nor Ken Harvey won't be going to the bench, and only one of them will be DHing, with Guiel losing at-bats. I can't really say that adding Juan Gonzalez would really help all that much, unless it chased Harvey to the bench (with Ibanez taking over at first), but I don't think anybody expects that to happen should the Royals acquire an outfield bat. The loser will be Guiel, meaning the odds that Brown will get a look are pretty remote for the time being.
Placed RHP Kevin Brown (strained rectus abdominus) retroactive to 7/4, and 1B-R Ron Coomer (dizziness) on the 15-day DL; recalled 1B-R Chin-Feng Chen and RHP Alfredo Gonzalez from Las Vegas; released SS-R Christian Herrera. [7/11]
Do you give the Dodgers credit for making moves they should have gotten around to weeks ago, or fret about the lost time? It wasn't like Rickey Henderson's cell phone was burning up volume minutes. The Dodgers' offense was an issue months ago, so if there's anything that's remarkable here, it's that Dan Evans and company waited until mid-July to start addressing the problem. Certainly, several things didn't work out as well as could have been anticipated: Brian Jordan wasn't supposed to suffer a season-ending injury. Fred McGriff's creeping battle with age wasn't supposed to take an unfortunate turn. Adrian Beltre wasn't supposed to continue drifting.
So now they're here, desperate, and they're sort of tackling their offensive needs by adding Henderson and Jeromy Burnitz. It still leaves them without a true centerfielder, but at least the package for Burnitz wasn't terribly expensive. Reshuffling the outfield however is just a patch, because a core lineup issue remains--an infield that isn't producing runs. A temporary solution that's turned out to be slightly helpful has been moving Paul LoDuca to first and playing David Ross regularly, but Ross isn't somebody who's going to slug .500 all season long. In short, the lineup isn't really fixed, much as having Henderson on base will make a nice difference. But once Dave Roberts comes off of the DL, the Dodgers still won't have an infield that hits. They will have another nice bench player to add to Mike Kinkade and Jolbert Cabrera. Since it'll probably be Henderson, that might translate to a nice bunch of options against lefty pitching, but they could really use Daryle Ward getting ironed out at the plate to give them a lefty hitter off the bench who can help plate runs above and beyond Henderson's on-base ability.
Placed 3B-L Corey Koskie on the 15-day DL (strained back), retroactive to 7/12; purchased the contract of INF-R Alex Prieto from Rochester; designated RHP Tony Fiore for assignment; placed OF-L Lew Ford on the 15-day DL (cracked bone - arm;) recalled 1B-L Todd Sears from Rochester. [7/20]
The Twins aren't dead yet, so let's try to look at some of this in the most positive light possible, because I semi-habitually seem to cut Terry Ryan some slack. Matt LeCroy is the backup catcher from here on out. Joe Mays is out of the rotation. Shannon Stewart will be a free agent after this year. They might start playing Doug Mientkiewicz at positions besides first base. There, see? That was pretty easy.
Except...well, for the other stuff. Dumping Kielty to add Shannon Stewart? If you're going to make a deal for a big stick, you would think they would have gotten around to the big stick part of that master plan, wouldn't you? And James Baldwin? Adding Baldwin and demoting Grant Balfour in the face of considerable evidence that Balfour has a future on the mound while Baldwin's future resembles his past in terms of major league-caliber resale-able souvenir distribution is flat out indefensible. It smacks of the sort of mindset that might deal for Rick Reed as a stretch move, or find all sorts of neat, convoluted ways to avoid handing a job in the rotation to Johan Santana. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that the Royals didn't merely fire Herk Robinson, they re-potted him in the Twin Cities. Losing Koskie is particularly grim news, especially in light of the organization's willful determination to avoid addressing the minimal offensive contributions they get from their regulars up the middle. And having already dealt Kielty for a player who isn't a significantly better hitter than Kielty, the Twins have that much less maneuvering room to acquire a middle infielder who can hit.
I guess everyone can take some amusement from the Frank Robinson versus Sunny Kim situation, where Robby's one step short of Billy Martin's old crack about Shooty Babbitt. However, this is simply random re-shuffling, not necessarily in any hope that it'll launch them into contention as much as it reflects on how frustrated they are with Kim and Tucker for their failure to capitalize on their opportunities, forcing the team back to a recycled trio.
Activated CF-B Bernie Williams from the 15-day DL; optioned SS-R Erick Almonte to Columbus. [7/9]
Designated RHP Al Reyes for assignment. [7/17]
Expectations that the Yankees might finally die are, again, wishful thinking. If they can survive in a season in which both Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams miss significant chunks of time, without having to give much thought to the angry, shrieking, self-obsessed cacophony up in New England, they should be able to roll into September in complete charge of their own destiny. Hideki Matsui's come around even as Raul Mondesi has faded, Nick Johnson will be back, and while Jason Giambi's hitting may not be Ruthian, it's at least been a solidly Phelpsian mash. Once they can safely consign the Karim Garcias and the Ruben Sierras and the Todd Zeiles to the bench to watch the Bombers score runs, the Yankees should be able to go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox offensively. Given their considerable advantage in terms of rotation depth, it doesn't really seem as close as it might be, but there's still that nagging concern about the bullpen, given the number of people Torre just hasn't adapted to missing or having around.
As a result, the Yankees did something especially bold, bringing over Armando Benitez to set up Mariano Rivera. It makes for one of the best late-inning combinations the Yankees have ever had, which says something considering Nelson-Stanton-Rivera, Karsay-Rivera, and Rivera-Wetteland were pretty sweet. Tabloid bleating aside, Benitez has been pretty effective with the Mets this year, he's still got dynamite stuff, and the Yankees desperately needed a right-handed reliever that Torre might feel comfortable using in the 7th or 8th innings. Since none of the pitchers given up to haul Benitez over are what you'd consider Goodens-to-be, the price was right, and the need is filled. This was definitely not another ill-considered move of a Sierran or Mondesian stripe.
Recalled RHP Jason Roach from Norfolk; optioned RHP Edwin Almonte to Norfolk. [7/8]
Traded RHP Armando Benitez to the Yankees for RHPs Jason Anderson, Ryan Bicondoa, and Anderson Garcia. [7/16]
Optioned OF-R Prentice Redman to Norfolk; recalled RHP Edwin Almonte from Norfolk. [7/18]
For all of the movement, you can boil these moves down to a few actually relevant points. I mean, c'mon, we've got news from the unstunning developments department, like Tsuyoshi Shinjo getting designated for assignment, so we can move on to the big stuff.
First, they got Al Leiter back, and that's good news. It isn't like they're showcasing him, since he's the closest thing to an actual star left on the team, pending Piazza's return from the DL. Second, they dumped Armando Benitez for three pitchers with working arms. That may not sound like much of a package, and it isn't, but the Mets have godawful shortcomings in terms of depth in their farm system, so even the nonchalantly packaged collection of arms is useful. It's just surprising in that this was it, even with Benitez's struggles this season. You can say much the same about the deal with the Dodgers; both pitchers are basically live-armed flyers. Any of these guys might wind up enshrined on Binghamton's walk of fame, and several of them could be useful hurlers in the majors. By buying in bulk now, the Mets get chits they can use for winter shopping or people they might actually use someday, and I suppose it's cheaper (and more certain) than taking and signing draft choices.
No, the real excitement comes in adding Victor Diaz in the Burnitz deal. He's still a bit rough as a second baseman, but he came over hitting .291/.353/.462, which may not be Jeff Kent, but it isn't Rey Sanchez either. Since Diaz is already at Double-A, there's a very real chance that he's going to be up and playing with Jose Reyes in 2004, giving the Mets some needed extra sock. He appears to really be in his early 20s, so he has the chance to grow into being an All-Star, easily making him the key player picked up in the past week.
Finally, the Mets are running (literally) with their latest iteration of the Jason Tyner product line, Jeff Duncan, on the off chance that he's an improvement on the original model. Not that it's hard, but Duncan does have more pop, and might actually be better able to keep drawing walks, so it isn't like we're talking about a Juan Pierre wannabe. While he gets run down a bit more often than you'd like, and he isn't really that much better than Pierre even with the largest benefit of the doubt, it's better than trying to make Roger Cedeno a center fielder or Shinjo a major league player.
Optioned RHP Aaron Harang to Sacramento. [7/16]
Purchased the contract of RHP Rich Harden from Sacramento; outrighted RHP Shane Bazzell to Midland (Double-A). [7/17]
Things are clearly getting a little frightening, in that the glib assumption that the A's will somehow just heat up and get a playoff spot, because that's what they always do this time of year, isn't going to happen on the strength of past history and a whole lot of wishful thinking. Having had Jermaine Dye put out of his misery for another couple of weeks (at least) sort of places the burden on Billy Beane's crew to fix an outfield that wasn't inspiring confidence when Chris Singleton was supposedly the weak spot. Instead, they've got Eric Byrnes working his way back down to simple usefulness, Terrence Long aspiring and failing to live up to that sort of modest goal, and an intriguing experiment with a platoon of Billy McMillon and Adam Piatt that would be a lot more inspiring if it wasn't their best-hitting outfielder. So things aren't good, and given that it's the attention given offensive theory that has helped make the green 'n gold gang famous and splashed all over the New York Times bestseller list, it's a problem that needs fixing. If it were anyone besides Beane, you could be forgiven a lot of pessimism. Certainly, it would have been better to have fixed the offense in May instead of the end of July, but I've been wishcasting Long in a Pirates uniform for two years, and that's about as fanciful as it gets.
One of the adaptations could just as glibly be associated with another one of the pat assertions about the A's, that, when in doubt, add more starting pitching. By turning to Rich Harden now, the A's have really reached the point where they're not just tired of the see-saw battle for the fifth slot between Harang and John Halama, they're getting close to fed up with Ted Lilly's failure to blossom as well. Harden's arrival has been much-anticipated, from his electric stuff to the premature assertion that he's the fourth ace (meaning we can forget Dave Zancanaro once and for all, right?), to his giving up only 72 hits in 101.2 IP, or his 108 strikeouts in that time. Basically, he's supposed to be sliced bread and then some, sans mustard a la Dontrelle. It's hard not to get excited about what he'll be able to do, and certainly with three big guns in front of him, there isn't a whole lot of pressure, except that this team is supposed to contend, and he'll be pitching in a run-scarce environment until that offense gets fixed.
Acquired RHP Mike Williams from the Pirates for LHP Frank Brooks; signed general manager Ed Wade to a contract extension. [7/20]
Well, something here helps, but it wasn't Ed Wade's fixation on relieving mediocrity. The price was right as far as Mike Williams, of course, but the real question is what Williams is for, and whether he's even good for that at this point. But just as managers sometimes do things to prove that they're doing things, so GMs make moves to prove that Al Haig isn't in charge here. And hey, if that sort of bold "I'm here" management style gets you a contract extension, can we blame Mr. Wade for taking that sort of thing very, very seriously?
No, the good news is that by excusing David Bell at the same time that Tyler Houston became available, the Phillies are looking at a better situation at third than they've had for a while. Not that Houston can really field the position--he does a convincing Keith Moreland, when he isn't mimicking Ron Cey's immortal 'falling tree stump'--but Bell wasn't hitting and didn't seem likely to start any time soon. Should Houston establish a claim on the job in the intervening weeks before Bell returns, the Phillies lineup will be the stronger for it, and Bell can be reduced to some things he should be better able to handle, like platooning and doing some work as a defensive replacement. And if, by doing that, he does something really well, the kind people of Philadelphia will be sure to never remember what it was Ed Wade actually signed him to do.
Extended the contract of manager Lloyd McClendon through 2004 with a club option for 2005. [7/11]
Traded RHP Mike Williams to the Phillies for LHP Frank Brooks. [7/20]
Leave it to the Pirates, they get around to having the right thing happen as far as putting Cota on the roster, and then they...don't stick with it, because they really don't seem to know any better. Cota didn't even catch in a game, which reflects both where Dave Littlefield places getting Craig Wilson playing time within his sense of priorities, and where Lloyd McClendon has his mind in-game, apparently still stuck on the opportunity to make that neat signal for another sac bunt, proving that he's got this managing thing down pat.
There are other cranky topics, particularly the re-failure to acquire talent for Mike Williams in this year's Williams deal. Certainly, if it reflected any new appreciation for the interchangeability of closers beyond the top few personalities in the field, that would be nifty, but instead, it seems that people (appropriately) don't take Williams particularly seriously as a commodity, so the Pirates got things bad both ways, in terms of plugging in a replacement-level talent in the job, enriching him, and then not enriching themselves when the time came to deal him.
Traded RHP Matt Herges to the Giants for RHP Clay Hensley and a PTBNL or cash. [7/13]
Recalled RHP Jaret Wright from Portland. [7/17]
For the Pads, this is basically good news all around. The specter of Donaldo Mendez haunts their present or future no more, Ramon Vazquez is back to do those things he does (like getting on base) that make him a very valuable shortstop in the shortstop deity-free league, and Kevin Towers managed to flip his waiver claim of Matt Herges for a talented minor league arm. Hensley wasn't on anybody's A-list since he's a short righthander (under six feet), but he throws hard, came out of a top college program last year (Texas), and in the Giants organization, seemed to be rotting in the lower rungs when, considering his college experience, you might expect him to have reached Double-A or at least opened the season with a high-A assignment. Instead, he got to play lesser godling in the Sally League before getting promoted to some cuffings in the California League. He's worth a flyer in exchange for a past flyer taken, and if the PTBNL turns out to be anything of value, the Pads will have extracted a good balance of risk and reward in exchange for nabbing a mediocrity through waivers.
OK, there is a downside. Jaret Wright's back, but beyond annoying Bob Feller, does that really even have any entertainment value? Perhaps on the level of generating quick souvenirs, but Wright's only around to blow close games and finish lost ones, and that probably isn't the sort of combination that will inspire people to stick around, even in the bleachers.
Purchased the contract of RHP Kevin Correia from Fresno; optioned RHP Jesse Foppert to Fresno. [7/10]
Acquired RHP Matt Herges from the Padres for RHP Clay Hensley and a PTBNL or cash. [7/13]
Optioned RHP Kevin Correia to Fresno; recalled RHP Jesse Foppert from Fresno. [7/20]
If there's really news here, beyond the delicately executed balance of running the pitching staff through the All-Star break, it's losing Kirk Rueter and Benito Santiago, and adding Matt Herges. Fortunately for the Giants, Rueter isn't hurt that badly, and should be activated by the time you read this. Since the rotation has already been relying on Jim Brower, they can't get enough of good news like that. Jerome Williams has been everything that both Jesse Foppert and Kurt Ainsworth were supposed to be, but beyond Jason Schmidt, a Rueter-less rotation is a bit of guesswork in terms of who Felipe Alou would name to start the second game of a postseason series. Williams is the easy choice if you want talent over Rueter's experience, but after that, things get dicey. Damian Moss and Brower aren't really lasting solutions, and Foppert's been ridiculously unreliable (and, yes, talented). So yes, the Giants need Rueter pretty badly, not just to finish out and win the division title, but to avoid starting two of those last three in playoff games.
Losing Santiago is a tough break (does the crow come with a win reduction?), since Yorvit Torrealba isn't really looking like he's going to be an everyday player, and since Alberto Castillo serves no purpose beyond having someone to play should you pinch-hit for Torrealba. It's a precarious situation, so the Giants will have to monitor Santiago's health and the waiver wire closely (helloooo, Tom Prince?), if only to avoid having to do something unfortunate down the stretch, like starting Castillo.
Finally, adding Herges for Hensley is within the realm of acceptable risk for a team in contention. While Hensley might turn into a useful big league pitcher, and Herges has been and will be waiver bait, live arms can frequently get less live pretty easily, Hensley wasn't a top-shelf talent, and the Giants needed depth in their pen, not just because of the problems in the rotation, but also because of the lack of any one outstanding talent. They've done a good job of getting by, but they're better off not having to rely too heavily on any one member of this pen.
And with that, the Mariners return to their original bench. As always, it comes in handy to have someone around to handle some of the platoon duties against particularly tough lefties when you've John Olerud on staff.
Purchased the contract of LHP Mark Malaska from Durham; optioned LHP Bobby Seay to Durham. [7/17]
There are few reasons to watch a Devil Rays game that have anything to do with actual baseball content. There's watching Rocco Baldelli do anything, and watching Aubrey Huff hit. Jeremi Gonzalez's successful comeback is one of the season's happier low-key stories. And now, happily, there's seeing Joe Kennedy pitch every five days out. That's about all there is, unless you're into watching an angry old man get infantile and irresponsible, and call it leadership, but that's what passes for baseball in these parts.
Ben Grieve's done for the year, which means he'll just have to wait and see about that Christmas card from Lou Piniella to really see where he stands in the team's thinking going forward. I know, there's a lot of coded language in there: thinking, Lou Piniella, Christmas, another tie for Dad, where were we? That's right, re-hiring Mike Veeck, that'll fix everything. He said so himself.
Getting the three-headed Lots O'Stuff from the Marlins in exchange for their single-season investment in Uggy Urbina might be the best thing to happen to the Rangers all year. Not only did they effectively rent Uggy for the right to acquire talent, they acquired three worthwhile players for the last two months (if healthy) of Uggy's season. Not one-and-stuff, but three legitimate, should-be-in-the-majors-someday, talents. The marquee player acquired is obviously Adrian Gonzalez, having already tasted Triple-A at 21, and while he's struggled to hit for any power this year, he's getting on base, hitting for average, and picks it pretty well at first. Given that Marlins hitting instruction isn't noted, either for its old crew or the staffers hauled over from Montreal, it'll be nice to see what he can do in a Rangers organization that seems to do a significantly better job developing young hitting talent. Snare is nothing to shrug off either, showing solid command and velocity for a lefty, a tremendous curve, and making a good impression that he could succeed in either a starting or high-leverage relief role. Admittedly, some people said similar things about Tony Mounce six or seven years ago, but I'm an admitted Snare booster. As for Prospect #3, Smith has better power than he's shown this year, but he's very young, and lost time to injury. He might be the least certain commodity of the three, but he has considerable upside nevertheless. All in all, a brilliant deal for the Rangers.
A similarly positive note was the decision to flip Ryan Ludwick for a young pitcher with merit. Although it apparently took the Rangers' medical staff to determine that Rodriguez's 'strained groin' was actually a torn bit of cartilage in his hip and that he may be done for the year, he's got good stuff. The right way to look at this is that it isn't an arm injury, and the Rangers have outfielders coming out of their ears. Ludwick might have been their best choice to man centerfield in the near future, but their willingness to look at Kevin Mench or Laynce Nix out there bodes well for their willingness to play their three best outfielders, and move beyond sharing life with Doug Glanville.
To the extent to which it's been that kind of year (again) in Texas, it's perhaps just as well that they've lost Kevin Mench for a month or so. In his absence, they can get reads on Laynce Nix and Marcus Thames. It's clear that Mench has a future, so the time he loses now shouldn't impact his role in 2004. It's less apparent that Thames can ever be anything more than a fourth or fifth outfielder, or that Nix will be ready for a big league job next Opening Day. By hitting .284/344/.487 in his debut at Double-A as a 22-year-old, you'd think Nix has a great future, and he does. But he's also hitting in a nice place to hit (his performance only translates to a .229 major league Equivalent Average), his walk rate has dropped, and his power still isn't quite where you want it to be. It'll come in time, and his future looks great, but he's not yet a finished product. The nicest spin to put on Nix's promotion is that it should give everybody a good idea of what he has to work on between now and next year. As for Thames, the nicest thing you can say is that he's not a Goodwin, but he's still here as a 26-year-old struggling to slug .400 in Triple-A, and since he's not an on-base machine or a runner, at best he might be a Treni Hubbard type, a platoon partner and defensive replacement for a lefty in the outfield.
Recalled RHP Corey Thurman from Syracuse; purchased the contracts of RHPs John Wasdin and Dan Reichert from Syracuse; placed 1B-R Josh Phelps on the 15-day DL (back); designated LHP Doug Davis for assignment; outrighted RHP Jeff Tam to Syracuse. [7/10]
Announced that LHP Doug Davis refused his assignment to Syracuse and became a free agent. [7/12]
Most of this is the same random re-shuffling and general disappointment that has accompanied the Blue Jay pen, although in a significantly lesser key than that playing itself out in Boston. The key happy story here is acquiring three-plus years of Bobby Kielty for the rest of Shannon Stewart's season, without having to accede to the Twins' initial interest in getting a top prospect as a throw-in (which is another way of saying it's safe to expect the PTBNL to not be a blue chipper). That's exactly the sort of trade the Jays should be making, even setting aside the general questions surrounding Stewart's utility afield or his cost now and in the years to come. Odds are they'll get the best three years of Kielty's career at the least, giving them a corner outfielder who can handle the offensive responsibilities while fielding his position well. While it wasn't a slam-dunk rip-off, it's better still, in that this deal is a reflection of the sorts of moves that can happen in a healthier, smarter trading environment. Both teams got value, but the Jays added economic power in years to come, and that's an ever-larger part of the game. If, as a result of acquiring Kielty, the Jays can afford to risk arbitration, or can sign a couple of mid-tier free agents, or extend an offer to a top-shelf free agent, they'll have this deal to thank for it.
Elsewhere, the Jays obviously understand the fungibility of their options in the rotation, since they were happy to let Doug Davis take the alternative in his apparently persistent 'my way or the highway' approach to coaching, whereas Mark Hendrickson had done little to keep himself in big league clover. That isn't to say that, beyond Corey Thurman, the new crew has any claims on the future. John Wasdin and Dan Reichert are flyers who can go Politte or Tam and the Jays wouldn't bat an eye, but if either stick, so much the better.
If there's a bad bit of news, it's our unnatural ability to whammify the young and the gifted. Josh Phelps hasn't had a terrible (read, Konerkoan) season, so you had to figure he'd hit the DL at some point this year. One of this year's great suggestions from the SABR convention was that we might want to put Bud Selig on next year's edition of BP, whereas I think it would be nice to be done with Ben Christensen once and for all if we'd just name him our Number One prospect and put him on the cover. What's that worth? Locusts? Career-ending hail storms? A plague of knee-biting dwarves from Wisconsin?