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August 6, 2003
Transferred RHP Willis Roberts from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/31]
Optioned RHP Jason Shiell to Pawtucket. [8/1]
Designated UT-R Lou Collier for assignment. [8/3]
In this case as well as with the Orioles bumping Willis Roberts off of their 40-man, these are moves to clean up the roster in the wake of a wave of acquisitions. If the standard of success is that Shiell wasn't as bad as Ramiro Mendoza, he would still be here, but that isn't it. The organization has invested a chunk of change in Mendoza, and they feel he has some shot at being worth some portion of the sum due. Shiell, by contrast, has to pitch for his life, and earned Pawsoxery.
Gosh, that was easy. Somebody was going to have to get moved out of the way once the White Sox needed to have a fifth starter again, and their fanciful excursion with Mike Porzio aside, it was going to be Dan Wright. So who to shunt aside, if there's nobody hurt? Well, at just the right moment, a moment where you might forgive the organization for being frozen with indecision, leave it to a veteran pitcher to step up and open his trap to complain about his manager's handling of the pen. That's what experience teaches you, and the White Sox should never forget Rick White's courageous decision to self-immolate at the right moment. That isn't to say that White hasn't been working towards this moment, brick upon brick, bad outing after another, but that's what a veteran knows to do, to help his team any way he can.
On a more practical level, White's reliance on the splitter seems to have both helped and hindered him this year, as he's getting hammered by right-handed hitters, but I don't think anybody's going to be surprised if, after he clears waivers, he's a Cardinal again.
Meanwhile, just to show that there were no hard feelings for having gotten cranky with Wright previously, they fed him to the Mariners, one of the league's better offenses, as a welcome-back. Predictably, Wright got smacked around. With friends like this in the division, the Royals don't need enemies.
Recalled RHP Sergio Mitre from West Tenn (Double-A); placed PH-L Lenny Harris on waivers. [8/2]
Activated RHP Mark Prior from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Sergio Mitre to West Tenn (Double-A). [8/4]
Losing Mark Prior turned out not to be such a big deal. Sure, they had to start and lose with Sergio Mitre once, but Juan Cruz gave them two quality starts in two turns, and the rest of the rotation has had a great run of late. Matt Clement has run off five straight quality starts since Prior broke down, Carlos Zambrano three in four starts (although one was 'blown' by a couple of runs allowed in the 8th inning of a 9-2 game), and Shawn Estes even gave them two good starts out of three. Kerry Wood pitched a shutout and got smacked around a couple of times, which is arguably the worst performance of anyone since Prior's last start before the All-Star break. You'd think that would add up to a hot streak, but the offense has been predictably limp, meaning all that good pitching added up to a 10-8 'run' in Prior's absence. His own hitting exploits aside, I hardly think that Prior's return is going to make things better offensively. Instead, you have to hope that the additions of Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez do that, and if they do start doing what you wished, Lofton to get on base, and Ramirez to just plain hit, you might wind up with a hot streak that actually makes the Cubs more than a .500 ballclub. Stranger things have happened, but even if it doesn't, this division's there for anyone who can keep their heads above .500.
As for recent losses, it seems reasonable to expect Grudz to be out close to a month. For a player of his caliber, this doesn't mean much in terms of most teams' lineups, and oddly enough, it won't amount to a hill of beans here either. The Cubs' bench is one of the worst if not the worst unit in baseball, but if there's one thing they could afford to lose, it was their starting second baseman. Ramon Martinez isn't a step down as a hitter, and might well be an upgrade afield, so the problem is less with the everyday lineup than it is with the bench, which has lost Martinez and replaced him with Augie Ojeda. As utility infielders go, Ojeda has some value as a defensive replacement at short or second, he's a good bunter, and he has more pop than you'd expect, plus he's named Augie. But he's also no Ramon Martinez, and you've got a bench reduced to whoever isn't starting at first between Hee Seop Choi and Eric Karros, Ojeda, Troy O'Leary, Doug Glanville, and Paul Bako, which is pretty toothless, even if it is finally Harris-free. The speculation that they'll demote Choi if they acquire the likes of a John VanderWal or Matt Stairs is particularly galling; Karros is only hitting .263/.310/.417 against right-handed pitching, so they still need the platoon. What they need a VanderWal or a Stairs for is to give them a pinch-hitter that actually makes the opposing manager think about who he needs to have warmed up in the pen. Instead, they've got Troy O'Leary and a 12th pitcher. At least they won't have Lenny Harris around any more to inspire comparisons to being assaulted with a bowl of cherries.
Recalled UT-R Ryan Freel from Louisville. [7/31] Recalled RHP Josh Hall from Chattanooga (Double-A). [8/2]
Purchased the contract of OF-L Mark Budzinski from Louisville; optioned RHP Josh Hall to Chattanooga (Double-A). [8/3]
Placed RHP Jimmy Haynes on the 15-day DL (bulging disk - back). [8/4]
Mostly, the Reds are just filling out the back end of the roster after making their contributions to the race in the AL East, but it's worth taking note that Josh Hall came up, didn't embarrass himself in his start this past weekend, and then got sent down because the Reds don't need a fifth starter again until the weekend. Although Hall might not superficially fill a prospect-like profile considering he's a young righthander who lost time and velocity to shoulder surgery, at 22 and having his third solid season in a row, he's actually closer to being a big league pitcher than many of the Reds' other young pitching talents. He's allowed less than a hit per inning (113 in 121 IP), he's posting a decent strikeout-to-walk rate (94-43), but having allowed 4.1 runs per nine in his third summer in his second season in Chattanooga, you have to think he's not perfectly ready. Given that the Reds need anybody who resembles a big league starter, if nothing else, Hall might get a few turns in September to give the Reds a sense of whether he could claim a job next spring.
As for Freel and Budzinski, they're a solid pair of minor league vets. Like many minor league second basemen who didn't pick up prospect labels, Freel has picked up other positions, spending time at third and the outfield. The success stories for these sorts of guys include people like Shane Halter and Joe McEwing, so while Freel's already 27, neither McEwing or Halter stuck any earlier in their careers. The key is being able to do a convincing job in the infield, which separates these guys from somebody like Chad Meyers. Freel can run well, and he isn't an offensive zero, so he might hang around. As for Budzinski, he's sort of a stretch, in that he's a good glove for an outfield corner, he usually does a decent job of reaching base, and he bats lefty, but that's exactly the type of player who used to get into the Greg Gross career path of career pinch-hitter and fifth outfielder, and who has been crowded off of 25-man rosters by the current fascination with underutilized 12th pitchers.
This is one of those eternal knife-edge propositions, good or bad, half-empty or half-full? A few things are clear: the Rockies weren't going out of their way to play Bellhorn ahead of Chris Stynes, so his missing the next month might suck in terms of his career or in terms of a lost opportunity, but it wasn't an opportunity that the Rockies were giving a lot of consideration to in the first place. Instead, they've called up Garrett Atkins, and claim that he's going to get a significant chunk of the playing time at third for the duration. That might be true. Atkins does come up having hit .320/.375/.482 in his debut season at Triple-A, which sounds impressive, but it also only adds up to 35 unintentional walks in 459 plate appearances, and that isn't really that much power for a guy bopping in a bopper's bandbox like Colorado Springs, which is why he only translates to a .244 Equivalent Average at the major league level. (By way of contrast, Stynes, in a season that's impressive to some, is managing to clock in at .259.) Then there are the persistent questions about whether or not Atkins can handle third. All that kvetching aside, he's only 23, so it isn't like he's not a prospect, but he still has work to do. But he's supposed to get a real opportunity, and he's young enough to have a nifty career.
Outrighted LHP Steve Avery off of the 40-man roster. [8/2]
Unlike the road to success, the road to nowhere doesn't have potholes, it has rest areas with names like 'A.J. Hinch' or 'Matt Walbeck.' You might think that the Tigers ought to be looking at people who might be useful in 2004 instead of lingering with the same sorts who are definitely equipped with the skills to get you to 120 losses, but not these Tigers. So Ben Petrick gets to be a third catcher on a team that seems content with two stopgaps. And why not? They discarded Mike Rivera for Gene Kingsale, only to lose interest in that bright idea inside of two months. They're playing Alex Sanchez every day, but had Andres Torres up for the last six weeks without really knowing why or what for. Are the Tigers bad because they're young? Not entirely. They're bad because that's what they're good at.
This is about as strange as it gets, because while it's clear that the Astros needed to do something to paper over their latest loss of Roy Oswalt from the rotation, potentially losing Peter Munro on waivers or as a free agent really isn't a great idea. Munro has been an asset in the pen this year and last, and instead of keeping him around, they want to have the frequently crisped Dan Miceli around? There's no accounting for taste, I guess. Munro will come in handy for somebody, if they take the time to invest a claim.
Meanwhile, it looks like they're going to give Jared Fernandez first crack at the job in the rotation, which is happy news if you're one of the legion of fans of the knuckler. I know I've been rooting for Fernandez to get a shot for a while, especially after he got less than a clean shot at a job with the Reds last summer, but placing him in Non-Carbonated Fruit Beverage Park is bold enough stuff to make me question my commitment to curiosity. He drew the Marlins on a hot Miami day his first time out, but I'm less enthusiastic about what might happen in his home starts. Still, he came up after (perhaps predictably) doing yeoman's work as an innings-eater for New Orleans. Fernandez hasn't been wild with the flutterball this year, walking only 36 in 156 IP, just over two per nine, virtually Tewksburian for anybody, let alone a knuckleballer. Since he's also only struck out 51, I'm not really optimistic that Fernandez is the solution to their short-term Oswalt-free issues, but I'm happy to see somebody willing to try him out.
Optioned RHP Sean Lowe to Omaha. [8/1]
Among the things we never could have foreseen before the season started, the idea that the availability of Jose Lima would affect a pennant race has to be up there. Happily--again, say that with a straight face--Lima should only miss the two weeks, after which he'll bring his brand of fun back to the mound.
Replacing him for the time being is one of the Royals' legitimate pitching prospects, Jimmy Gobble. After having an injury-wracked debut at Double-A last season, Gobble has been solid at the level this year, going 12-8, allowing 3.9 runs per nine, giving up 128 hits and 39 walks in 132.2 IP with 100 strikeouts. Having just turned 22, and having command of a solid fastball and change that he mixes effectively with an outstanding curve, his future is very promising. Even with the speculation that Kevin Appier is going to be signed shortly, Gobble could stick around for a bit, even if you forgive the Royals some irrational exuberance over his contributing to a shutout of the mighty Devil Rays. Kyle Snyder's shoulder problems haven't gone away, and they just asked Darrell May to start on three days' rest last weekend after having to use Kris Wilson in the pen, so starting pitching is short all over again.
Fired hitting coach Jack Clark; named George Hendrick interim hitting coach. [8/4]
There isn't really much to say about the symptoms of panic. People get fired, rosters get reshuffled, mea culpas get polished through frequent use, and scapegoats get nominated. I guess the nicest thing to say under the circumstances is that at least they'll definitely get to keep making Andy Ashby start for his paycheck now that Ishii has broken down. The question is who will draw the fifth starter's turn next weekend, with Wilson Alvarez representing a much better alternative to taking another spin with a Scott Mullen emergency start.
Activated 3B-L Corey Koskie from the 15-day DL; optioned INF-R Alex Prieto to Rochester. [8/3]
Perhaps all too predictably, no combination of Chris Gomez and Denny Hocking was going to cover for Koskie's absence. Easily the lineup's best hitter, Koskie couldn't come back at a better time. Neither the White Sox or Royals are firing on all cylinders, and the Twins are within five games of first place. They've got a reasonably soft schedule from here on out, with seven games apiece left against the Royals and the White Sox, and no other games against a team with a winning record (but 10 to go against the Tigers). By contrast, the White Sox have to play the Red Sox and Yankees a few times, the Royals have a couple of series to go against Boston, and the two of them play seven of their last ten against each other. So if you think the comeback is all that improbable, Minnesota has a few things going their way: they've got Koskie back, Johan Santana in the rotation at long last, and a schedule that ought to give them a decided advantage over the two other contenders.
Recalled RHP Jeremy Griffiths from Norfolk; optioned RHP Edwin Almonte to Norfolk. [8/2]
Only up for a spot start, Griffiths gave the Mets a good outing against the Cardinals. However, he doesn't rate as highly in the team's expectations for the future (or anybody else's expectations) as someone like Aaron Heilman. Griffiths had a great Arizona Fall League, and has had a nice season in Norfolk, allowing 3.6 runs per nine and barely a baserunner per inning, but I'd liken his situation to Walt Terrell's before 1983: he doesn't get rated with the team's top young pitchers, so while he might get an opportunity, he can probably expect to be bartered away for something else that's useful. Not that I expect Jim Duquette to flip Griffiths for the next Howard Johnson, or anything as completely unfair as that.
There was apparently a good amount of interest in Harville at the trade deadline, but Mecir's twin bad knees were an important factor that kept Harville off of the table. Despite being buried in the regurgitated comparisons to Billy Wagner--Harville's short and throws hard, donchaknow--he's had a nifty season as Sacramento's closer, allowing only 61 of his own baserunners in 57 IP, posting a 2.05 ERA, and striking out 57. That should be good enough to erase concerns about his shoulder after last year's tendinitis woes. If you feel he's been around forever, you'd be right, this has been his fourth year or partial year at Sacramento, and speaking as an escapee, I know how that kind of time in the central valley can be slow time. However, Harville's 26, still throws hard after all that time, and still has some nasty breaking stuff. He should give the A's a different sort of setup man for Keith Foulke, which is all the more necessary with Chad Bradford struggling.
Optioned OF-R Adam Hyzdu to Nashville. [8/3]
Recalled RHP Ryan Vogelsong from Nashville. [8/4]
Having gotten a quick refresher on why Brian Giles isn't a center fielder, the Pirates have brought up Tike Redman to handle the position. So, should you wonder why it's Redman who's up over J.J. Davis or Larry Barnes considering both have outhit Redman at Nashville, it's all about leather. That in turn pushes Giles to left, Matt Stairs to the bench, and gives Redman a tremendous opportunity to stake a claim for next year. He did hit .294/.357/.400 with 42 steals (and only nine times caught) leading off for the Sounds, so he shouldn't be the weak spot in the lineup. Since he's 26, he has no other time than the present, and the Pirates' lack of alternatives might get him some serious playing time over the next year or two.
As for Mark Corey, he's here after logging a quick 30 saves for the Sounds, which means absolutely nothing, beyond a spot on the team's walk of fame someday, I'm sure. He has struck out 63 in 45.2 IP, which is a little more meaningful, so he might get a chance at being the next Mike Williams now that Mike Lincoln's struggling in his quest to be the next Mike Williams, and as long as it's all about creating Mike Williamses for the purpose of dealing them, there's nothing wrong with that. They just need to remember that they held onto the original a wee bit too long this last time around.
There are worse possible tradeoffs than losing Kirk Rueter and resuscitating Dustin Hermanson. I mean, I understand that Mike Krukow was willing to pitch in a pinch, and that almost certainly wouldn't have turned out very well. After showing his usual mettle by giving up 5.5 runs per nine for Fresno, Hermanson caught a break the first time around, drawing what's left of the Reds. This weekend's start against the Phillies should be a more representative example of what Felipe Alou can expect from one of his old standbys.
The Mariners may stand pat as a matter of philosophy, but both of these moves have solid rationales to support them. Meyers over Ugueto is easy enough. Ugueto served two purposes, he could play the middle infield, and he could pinch-run. The addition of Rey Sanchez eradicated one of two reasons to keep Ugueto. So in considering Meyer's virtues, adding Sanchez instead allowed the Mariners to think in terms of having a last man on the bench who, although he's a bit challenged as far as playing the infield, can handle the outfield well enough, runs better than Ugueto, and is a decisively better hitter. At Tacoma, Meyers was hitting .290/.357/.396, while swiping 35 bases in 45 attempts. That's not a great player, but it's a far sight more useful than Ugueto was ever going to be. The question is whether Meyers will get to stick once Jeff Cirillo comes off of the DL, but he'll have to outshine Pat Borders, and whether anyone can do that to Pat Gillick's satisfaction is unknowable.
As for the other side, Taylor failed to do well in an organization that has depth enough to have a short fuse with failure. It isn't really a great opportunity for Looper to earn a chance to stick, since Kaz Sasaki is supposed to be reactivated shortly, but it's a gimme for Looper as a reward for working his way up from mere nepotism to organizational soldiery. He's a decent sinker-slider type who could be the 11th man on a lot of staffs on the strength of last year's great year in the Texas League or this year's 3.09 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 64 IP in his Triple-A debut.
Placed UT-R Terry Shumpert on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 7/31; purchased the contracts of RHP Chad Gaudin and LHP Jon Switzer from Orlando (Double-A). [8/1]
Bad ideas and the Devil Rays are one of those basic combinations that always seem to fit, hand in glove, so seeing them rush up a couple of young pitchers should come as no surprise to anybody. Chad Gaudin has all of three starts above A-ball to his credit, but he looked good in front of the old man, sealing his fate with that nice Hall of Fame game appearance. So he's up, because his team's manager is impatient to see somebody who can pitch. And while it's clear Gaudin has promise, having allowed only 97 total hits plus walks in 99.1 IP and 2.2 runs per nine, he's not Doc Gooden. He's 20, and just barely two years removed from high school. He's fodder for the unslaked thirst of Mt. Piniella for virginal arms. It probably doesn't hurt that he's pitching for an organization whose GM needs as many happy player development stories as he can get if he's going to hold onto his job, hence the broad-based commitment to irresponsibility with Gaudin's future.
That's the really bad news. The merely bad news is that Switzer probably isn't that much more ready. Orlando's no hitter's park, but he was giving up 4.5 runs per nine, so while 113 hits and 30 walks in 121 IP sounds pretty good, is this really going to be any different from what happened with Dewon Brazelton? If there's a silver lining, it's that neither Switzer or Gaudin are being pushed into the rotation, but does anyone really think that Piniella is going to stick with a usage pattern for either of them? If he does, defying all expectations as well as the numerous counter-examples littering the team's pitching stats, then the potential good news is that it will give them some sense of where and when they can expect either to actually to be ready for the major leagues.