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July 29, 2003
The hope is that Troy Glaus won't be gone for long, but if the Angels weren't dead in the water already, this sort of clinches it. Having already lost Brad Fullmer, they're down to playing Scott Spiezio at third, and Shawn Wooten at first, while bumping Tim Salmon to the DH role to let Jeff DaVanon play more regularly. With the stretch on us, they're apparently shopping Spiezio, which basically can be interpreted to mean that they get it as far as realizing they're out this year. Instead, they're playing up how it's nice to get to twelve pitchers, and on some level, they have a point, since they've got a couple of starters with problems getting beyond five innings, and nobody in the rotation is a genuine innings-eater. Mickey Callaway will really only be a mop-up bridge in games where the starter hits the shower early, but on this particular staff, that might have some value as far as letting the other relievers avoid getting overworked in that situation. On a team where the lineup has struggled to maintain mediocrity, and the rotation has struggled, the pen has been the team's greatest source of strength. It might be interesting to see if anyone else is asking the Angels for relief pitching, and whether the Angels are confident in their ability to find the next Brendan Donnelly or Ben Weber if they did decide to peddle any of their core relievers.
It's a little odd to see Chone Figgins get sent down, since he's effectively being punished because he's optionable and Benji Gil is not. As anticipated, Gil has been an overpriced holdover, and with Glaus out, the need for a utility infielder with some offensive utility led the Angels to take the time to see if Amezaga can earn a claim on a job for next year. Amezaga arrives after hitting .347/.391/.490 at Salt Lake, which is, of course, Salt Lake. He's not really a prospect, but if the mission is outhitting Gil as opposed to expecting for him to be any more than that, he has a shot.
Activated RHP Bret Prinz from the 60-day DL, and optioned him to Tucson. [7/25]
Philly is so close that everything the Snakes do matters, so it's interesting to see them reconfigure their infield so completely that they're now running with three different infield starters from what they opened the season with. They weren't going to miss Matt Williams or Tony Womack, but it's interesting that they've decided to turn away from Overbay after moving Craig Counsell to third and bumping Hillenbrand over to first. Certainly, it gives them a tighter infield, but Overbay was getting on base relatively well, and I'm not convinced that the Snakes wouldn't have been better off keeping Counsell in a part-time role, splitting his starts between second, third, and short, so that Bob Brenly could continue to mix and match Matt Kata, Alex Cintron, and Counsell to best advantage. Similarly, it's sort of unhappy to have Hammock in Tucson, since he was a right-handed bat they could add to the infield mix, and instead, the Snakes are going to keep carrying all three of the men who've been splitting time in right field as well as a non-hitting backup catcher. It's less than ideal for the time being, but between now and the end of August, they'll have opportunities to set things aright.
Designated SS-R Ed Rogers for assignment. [7/21]
Mike Hargrove has always made it pretty plain he's more comfortable with a dozen pitchers, and with Buddy Groom struggling and B.J. Ryan effectively worthless in anything but a platoon-advantage role, hauling Eric DuBose makes sense. Perhaps only challenged by fellow retread Rigo Beltran, DuBose has been the highlight of the Lynx moundsmen this summer, posting a 3.39 ERA and 9-5 record, allowing 32 walks and 112 hits in 114 IP, while striking out 112. Keep in mind, this is the same Eric DuBose who was one among many Cardinal disappointments from back when Sandy Alderson was exporting most of the A's established talent to former Oakland staffer Walt Jocketty's outfit in St. Louis. After leaving the game briefly, he's come back and thrived in the Orioles organization, joining Rodrigo Lopez and perhaps Travis Driskill as journeymen turned around by a team hardly famous for its success stories.
As for losing David Segui for the rest of the season, it's not a new sensation, and it doesn't really hurt the Orioles per se. They've already gotten happy results from playing Luis Matos. With Segui out of the way, it's good for them to play Larry Bigbie, but it would also be good for them to take Jack Cust seriously. Despite years of wondering, he is still only 24, and it isn't like B.J. Surhoff would do anything that matters for the Orioles' near-term anyway.
Scott Sauerbeck isn't the best or worst situational lefty around, so going out and getting him isn't a bad thing considering they didn't give up that much (Lyon, who was a waiver claim, and an overhyped minor league reliever). The real value in adding him is that they'll start using Alan Embree in a more significant role, and sticking Sauerbeck with the partial-inning situational chores. Embree's too good to waste on the role, and if adding Sauerbeck leads Grady Little to use Embree for complete innings, the Red Sox will get that much more quality work from their pen, projecting it's ability to cover for the rotation's shortcomings earlier within games. Generally speaking, Sauerbeck's not even as destructive as some situational lefties, in that he's more likely to walk a right-handed hitter than give up a big blow.
Predictably, Mike Porzio didn't stick, having profited from not having annoyed Jerry Manuel long enough to get three starts, but the Sox are back where they were, which is either turning back to Danny Wright, or deciding to shop for another starter. As a result, it's hard to anticipate what Ginter will get to do here. He's up after a fine season in Charlotte, but the Sox will need a fifth starter again at some point, so somebody will have to go. The question is whether it should be Ginter if he makes a good initial impression, or one of the other right-handed relievers, like Rick White or Gary Glover, for instance. As for David Sanders, nobody should give up on him. He spent most of June wondering if Manuel had forgotten that he was in the pen, and then had that bad outing against the Tigers to put him on the wrong side of Manuel's capriciousness. Nevertheless, he basically confirmed that he's a lefty with good velocity, so you can expect that he'll get other opportunities. But with Kelly Wunsch back and Damaso Marte doing yeoman work, the Sox have a great pair of lefties already.
Placed RHP Mark Prior on the 15-day DL (shoulder contusion), retroactive to 7/12; purchased the contract of RHP Sergio Mitre from West Tenn (Double-A); transferred CF-L Corey Patterson from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/21]
To say that the Cubs pulled off a stunningly good deal would be obvious, because not only do they get a rental on Lofton, they have several years of Aramis Ramirez to look forward to. Despite whatever loathing he seems to have elicited among the bumblebees buzzing in the stands in Pittsburgh, he's only just 25, and should be the best Cubs third baseman since Ron Cey. They get a leadoff hitter they need and another power source that they need, and if it means they'll be fielding a pretty awful defensive outfield, that's a small price to pay for a serious offensive boost. But to put this into perspective, the Cubs are effectively equidistant from the Pirates and the Astros, and while it might be worth griping that the Cubs should have done something like this a month ago, a deal like this wouldn't have been available a month ago. The Cubs are a .500 team, and while it's nice that they've identified their problems and tackled them, they're going to need to be a terror down the stretch.
Mark Prior's breaking down make those fearful for the workload Dusty Baker was placing on his young shoulders feel vindicated, but the identified cause of the injury was his highly publicized collision with Marcus Giles, so it isn't really something you can blame Baker for. The real problem is that it really takes the wind out of the Cubs' sails. Talk about gory, what team in a pennant race throws a neophyte like Sergio Mitre at the Braves' lineup and doesn't realize it's effectively giving up a game? Unfortunately, unless the Cubs spot-start Cruz or Wellemeyer, they may have to repeat the exercise this coming weekend, when the need for a fifth starter will come up again.
Getting Prior back will be critical for the Cubs' sketch pennant hopes. Now that they've shored up the offense, should they actually reach October, the Cubs would be a real menace in the playoffs. Do you think anybody would want to face the Cubs' rotation in a short series, even if they clearly outclass the Cubs offensively, as the Braves and Giants do?
Larson got all of one start after his recall, so it wasn't like he was getting a serious opportunity. Which is a pity, since he's 27, and his future is now, and the Reds aren't going anywhere as things stand. Unfortunately, they remain the team that will apparently happily die with Sean Casey at a prime offensive slot, eating up close to 10% of the team's payroll at the behest of the banana baron.
Recalled LHP Jason Stanford from Buffalo; optioned LHP Brian Tallet to Buffalo. [7/23]
Exercised the two-year club option on manager Eric Wedge for 2005 and 2006. [7/25]
I'm pleased to see the Indians make the commitment to Wedge this early on. Unlike several more famous candidates currently being considered for all sorts of recycling opportunities, the Indians took a chance on someone who wasn't well-known outside of the organization, and he's part of a management team who's part of the program. That sort of "risk" from a front office needs to be appreciated and heralded. By way of contrast, look at who the White Sox are supposedly interested in to replace Jerry Manuel. None of them are known for their in-game management skills, and none of them are all that familiar with the organization or its players. Why would that represent an improvement, beyond change for change's sake? By putting thought into who they wanted and why, the Indians have a manager they value, and having seen that he knows what he's doing in terms of the brass tacks of the job, they're set.
Neagle may or may not need Tommy John surgery on his elbow, which means he probably wouldn't pitch again until he was almost 36, and would be a dodgy proposition as to whether or not he'd be at all useful in the last year of his contract, in 2005. I'm uncertain as to whether or not the Rockies will have to keep him over the full life of the contract for insurance purposes, because injury or no, unless he really wants to retire, we could have another Albert Belle/roster ghost situation.
Now that Neagle's out of the way, the Rox have quickly turned to their best pitching prospect, propelling Chin-hui Tsao up from Double-A. After having his elbow fixed up a year and a half ago, he's reacquired his velocity and has shown outstanding command so far. It's a bit troubling that Tsao was given no opportunity to pitch in Colorado Springs, where one of the notional virtues of having a Triple-A affiliate at elevation is that you can have your young talent learn a little bit about what works in thin air. However, Tsao was dominant in the Texas League, posting a 2.46 ERA, allowing only 88 hits in 113.1 IP, and achieving a jaw-dropping 125-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Although his optionability might make it tempting to yo-yo him around, he has a chance to stick right now, joining Jason Jennings and Shawn Chacon as home-grown tributes to an improving player development program.
A further reflection on the positive developments on the farm is the ascent of Rene Reyes. While there's definitely something a bit disconcerting about a guy whose closest comps are people like Alex Johnson and Shawn Abner, and while his age (25) and sort of tweener skill set probably should make him no more than a good fourth outfielder, it isn't like we're talking about a Goodwin. A fourth outfielder with some pop and a dash of speed can be an asset, although on this team, it might also be good enough to start ahead of the likes of Jay Payton.
Yes, the Tigers are as bad as they come, and they're determined to stick with Matt Walbeck behind the plate after A.J. Hinch broke down. That's where they're at, going from Brandon Inge to Hinch to Walbeck, and this after discarding Mike Rivera and choosing to not take Ben Petrick seriously. Sometimes, greatness of such historic magnitude is built incrementally, each little decision impacting the others. In a situation such as this, however, the Tigers seem to be trying to work their way so far down that they're going to earn the right to draft Akeem Olajuwon if they get any worse.
A happier development is the wisdom in cutting loose Steve Avery to look at a homegrown lefty reliever. Eckenstahler seems aggressively wild for a guy with an average assortment, having plunked six batters and walked 19 more in 40.2 IP, but he's striking people out (38) and allowing few hits (28), so it isn't like he's without promise. If anything, it was surprising that he had to wait this long for a call-up for as long as this team has been taking hidings with the likes of Avery, but an ankle injury in April cost Eckenstahler a few weeks. Now that he's shown that he's healthy and dangerous, the Tigers are better off looking at him from here on out, instead of wasting innings or playing time on talent best consigned to the flames of the undignified present.
As we discussed last time around, the Royals have moved pretty convincingly from moribund to fielding one of the best rotations in baseball, to the point that Jeremy Affeldt has gone from being their second-best to their fourth or fifth man. And more entertaining still, it's the product of home growth (Runelvys Hernandez, Affeldt, and Kyle Snyder) and free talent acquisition (Jose Lima and Darrell May). That's right, no big ticket Cuban, no famous free agent, no Hall of Famer, nobody who's supposed to drive ticket sales, no high-end offseason signing and press conference. Fun, huh?
As for Joe Randa's return, Randa might not be a significant offensive asset, but he's also a better hitter than Carlos Febles, meaning that the Royals can shift Desi Relaford back to second, and continue enjoying having an unheralded middle infield cranking out runs better than most.
So here it is, Dave Roberts is back, and Rickey Henderson's hit the bench, while the Dodgers fart around with Larry Barnes and David Ross in a semi-platoon between first and catcher, with Paul LoDuca flipping between the positions. Given that Fred McGriff's on the DL and Daryle Ward has fallen to exceptionally dismal levels of ineffectiveness, you can forgive them for being somewhere around Plan C or so, but a Barnes-Ross platoon isn't really a good plan. It isn't really going to fix the team's offense, as expected, which forces an already weak lineup to rely that much more heavily on Jim Tracy's tactical acumen. It's worth remembering that once upon a time, Rickey Henderson started off as a first baseman, but the odds that he'd do well with it now are admittedly slight. Shawn Green has some experience at first, but basically, they're first baseman-less, and they're still not going to get any offense out of their middle infield. The best they can hope for is that either the Cubs give them Eric Karros back on a lark, or that Ward gets his hitting straightened out with a couple of weeks playing everyday in Vegas.
Bill Hall's still referred to as a prospect in some places, but he's up after hitting .282/.335/.407, good for a .224 big league Equivalent Average, which might work for the Dodgers, but would hopefully fall short of regular play anywhere else. However, since the Brewers employ Royce Clayton, they don't really have a present or a future between those two. Instead, they're sort of glancing at Hall before they get around to their actual future in the next year or so, whenever J.J. Hardy is ready.
The good news is that the Expos are only four back in the wild card race, and they've got Vlad back, so no reason to say die just yet. Unfortunately, he's not obviously back at full speed, but when the alternative was an outfield that has both Endy Chavez and Ron Calloway in it, not to mention the scar at third base, you can understand everyone making a decision to get hasty. Similarly, plugging Zach Day back into the rotation is a further example that the Expos will, if nothing else, go out with as much of the first team in the line of fire as possible.
Some might be more excited by Jesse Orosco's arrival, since it gives Joe Torre a famous reliever with a simple usage pattern to employ in a role that allows the Yankees to then apply Chris Hammond for more general uses, and Sterling Hitchcock to that long-awaited Tampa rehab vacation. Sure, it might mean something in the playoffs, but I'm not really sold on Orosco's value. He hasn't really been dominant against left-handed hitters over the last few years, although in his defense, you could generally expect that he faces the best, and he holds them to hitting rates that are roughly near league-average. Obviously, he knows his job, is used to pitching from the stretch, and isn't the type you have to worry about getting rattled. But at the end of the day, it's really a move for Joe Torre's peace of mind, and a bit of compensation for past roster design mistakes (Hitchcock being only the most egregious example).
No, perhaps predictably, I'm more enthusiastic about getting Nick Johnson back, because of what it means in terms of ripple effects. With the DH at-bats going back to Johnson, Torre has a couple of veterans on the bench in Ruben Sierra and Karim Garcia that he can turn to should he finally tire of Raul Mondesi's deathless slump (as long as we have a voluble Boss back, can we resurrect the 'Mr. April' epithet?). Garcia can probably count on being forgotten, but Sierra's a noisy and noticeable presence that you might hope he'll get time to stand around in right field at Mondesi's expense. And if this also means less playing time for Todd Zeile, so much the better. Anything beyond using him as a platoon partner for Robin Ventura is a gross error of judgment.
Signed 1B-L Scott Hatteberg to a two-year contract extension with a club option for 2006. [7/26]
The most charitable thing you can say about giving a low-wattage first baseman a seven-figure guarantee is that it's a case of playing possum to see if people will stop calling you brilliant, so that hopefully the green 'n gold gang can pull of a couple of needed heists. The next most charitable thing you can say is that Scott Hatteberg's a minor celebrity because of this best-selling book, and who doesn't want to see a good guy get some good reward? The least charitable thing you could say is that this resembles the wasted faith in Terrence Long, with the despair that wasting a roster spot and limited financial resources should inspire. If you're an A's fan, don't bother making excuses. As inexplicable gestures go, this has to rank up there with Bruce Bochte's comeback.
Designated LHP Hector Mercado for assignment. [7/21]
Recalled C-R Humberto Cota from Nashville. [7/21]
Acquired RHPs Brandon Lyon and Anastacio Martinez from the Red Sox for LHP Scott Sauerbeck and LHP Mike Gonzalez; acquired UT-R Jose Hernandez, RHP Matt Bruback and a PTBNL from the Cubs for CF-L Kenny Lofton and 3B-R Aramis Ramirez. [7/22]
Recalled RHP Brian Meadows from Nashville. [7/23]
Placed RHP Brandon Lyon on the 15-day DL (elbow). [7/25]
Recalled RHP Duaner Sanchez from Nashville. [7/26]
On the good side, Dave Littlefield has partially disassembled a team that had far too much in common with so many Bonifay-led expeditions to nowhere. No, what's disappointing is the swag, which calls into question why Littlefield took so long to get to this point. Effectively, all he got for Aramis Ramirez and his rental of Kenny Lofton was a live-armed pitcher and another low-end veteran rental (with the caveat that the Cubs' system has plenty of talent, so that PTBNL could be something of value). To put it another way, if you're going to rent Lofton, why only get Hernandez? To acquire the likes of Matt Bruback? I say that as a Bruback fan, but nevertheless, while I have been and will continue to be a Hernandez fan, he's 34 going on done. If he isn't playing short, he's hard-pressed to be an asset in a big league lineup, and even that's a bit of a stretch these days. I guess it could be worse, they could have Rob Mackowiak starting at third. Wait till next year, it may well happen.
I guess the positive is Bruback, and he can pitch. He's no sure thing, but he's not worthless. Pitching in the PCL, he had an ERA under 4.00 (3.96), had given up 120 hits in 125.0 IP, but his lack of dominating stuff is perhaps reflected in a 90-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's useful, and he might turn into a decent third or good fourth starter. To be fair to Littlefield, you can't expect him to fix the franchise with a single deal, but this one didn't. He lost a useful starter at third and a leadoff hitter to acquire a nifty fourth starter. If freeing up the salary that Ramirez was to draw in the future is ticketed for the next Pokey Reese, though, color me unimpressed.
Then, in the deal with the Red Sox, they flipped Scott Sauerbeck for a bum-winged waiver claim, with the requisite spare arm on the side, but having to give up one of their own as an evener. Basically, not much of a deal, not after the commitment made to Sauerbeck, and hardly commensurate to what other teams have been able to get for situational lefties in their pre-Oroscan prime. Now that Lyon's come up lame, the Pirates might get something else, but it isn't going to be Kevin Youkilis, and there isn't a whole lot of good stuff in the Red Sox system. It's sort of remarkable that they took the Red Sox at their word that Lyon was fine… as long as you're dealing, why not make sure? The whole thing was a thinly-veiled dump, at best.
Losing Morris probably kills the Cardinals' pennant hopes, especially if he misses most of August. However, to put the best possible spin on it, his broken finger will give his shoulder time it needs, and it isn't inconceivable that Morris could come back a week or two before Labor Day and have a great stretch. In his absence, they're short-handed, to be polite. Rather than turn to Jason Simontacchi (and just as well, since Simontacchi's been their second-best reliever behind Izzy these days), they're calling on Jeff Fassero. Fassero rounds out a rotation of Woody Williams, the still-embittering shortcomings of Brett Tomko, Garrett Stephenson's game efforts, and rookie Dan Haren. You can start to understand why the Astros think they're safe running with the rotation they've got now. In short, you've got a lot of pressure on the Cardinals offense to keep scoring, because very little else is going to keep this team in the running.
Traded LHP Jesse Orosco to the Yankees for a PTBNL or cash. [7/22]
Nady had been slumping of late, so I can understand the decision to send him down, but I'm still not entirely comfortable with the decision to make Nevin an outfielder and leave Ryan Klesko at first. Klesko is, at best, an indifferent first baseman, which isn't to say he makes a great outfielder, but he can do less damage standing in one corner or the other. By contrast, Nevin was a catcher as well as a creditable third baseman, and might actually make a good first baseman. I suppose, once the rosters expand, and should they deal Rondell White, they'll have Nady back up to man left, but in the meantime, I'd love to see them make the best of having the essentially positionless Klesko go to a position where he has less impact on a day-to-day basis in the field. Since Brian Buchanan can play an outfield corner, you could even port both halves of the platoon to left.
You could almost consider Cirillo's going absent with leave a bit of a mercy move, since Cirillo's the most obvious disappointment on the roster. What's even more surprising is the determination to push Willie Bloomquist into the role of third base option. The more obvious alternative is Mark McLemore, but McLemore isn't hitting much either. Ideally, you'd see the team respond to Edgar Martinez's entreaties to make a deal, but is that really something any of us expect Pat Gillick to do? There are other teams shopping for third base help, and how many guys would you go out to trade for? Sure, talking to Dan O'Dowd about Mark Bellhorn makes sense, but do you really want to put yourself out to see if the Orioles might part with Tony Batista or the Reds with any of their third base crowd? Basically, it would take identification of the problem and an ambition to solve it, and there's not a lot of reason to believe the Mariners really acknowledge that there's even an issue.
Acquired RHPs Frankie Francisco and Josh Rupe and OF-L Anthony Webster from the White Sox to complete the Carl Everett deal. [7/24]
One of the disadvantages of having a guy like Juan Gonzalez around as a potential chit to flip is that not only is he amusingly unwilling to join some relevant team in some playoff-related context, he's fragile enough that even if you're John Hart and finally could get him to flexify his mulish insistence on sitting still, he might just do as he did, and break down at an extremely inopportune moment. So instead of signing Gonzo to be a useful player over the two years of his deal, he's been little better than Richie Zisk for all of the value he's added. You could glibly lump Ismael Valdes into that category, except that there are several teams that won't take Valdes seriously no matter how he pitches, and in a year such as this, when he's been hurt for most of the season, he's nobody's asset. Valdes is basically always available, and generally unwanted. He'll probably be a bargain on this winter's free agent market, but he could just as easily re-pumpkin as crank out one of his finer seasons.
In the meantime, the Rangers are left with revisiting Colby Lewis. He's been significantly more successful in in his seven starts down in Triple-A (3.07 ERA) than the majors (8.33), and he remains one of their finest young arms, so you can forgive them for just plugging on ahead in the hope that the six weeks in Oklahoma have him better prepared to claim a spot in next year's rotation than the first two-plus months did. He'll get plugged in for Valdes, just as Jason Jones (along with Marcus Thames and Laynce Nix) will get playing time in Gonzo's absence. Jones is sort of a fun story, a star from Kennesaw State University from their 1999 Division II World Series team who has become an organizational soldier for the Rangers. He isn't really a prospect, and comes up hitting only .288/.374/.437. It's nice to see him get a look, but he's 26, and no more than a nifty spare part in the making.
As for the package received from the White Sox, it wasn't bad, but it also didn't involve anyone you'd call a blue chip prospect. Anthony Webster floats some people's boats because he's semi-speedy and a contact hitter who hit .352 last year, but in his full-season debut, he's hitting .289 with no power and only marginal on-base ability (.353). However, he is only 20, and he could develop. Rupe and Francisco are functioning live arms with good stuff and A-ball pedigrees, and the organization can use those, but there aren't exceptional odds that either will turn out to be anything more than aspiring Ryan Drese wannabes. It's worth acquiring them, and ridiculous to bank on them.
Having Josh Phelps back effectively pushes Reed Johnson to the bench, and Cliff Politte will get saves to the joy of whoever cares about that flavor of footnotery. Mark Hendrickson returns to the rotation, but there's no real commitment to him any more than there is to John Wasdin. If something better comes along, they're out of the rotation. It's a little surprising to see Thurman and Reichert both get shipped out already, but both will be back, and both should get looks in September. Thurman might even get a crack at a rotation slot, while Reichert could wind up in almost any role, but seems primed to turn into a relief asset.