August 8, 2003
In practical terms, this doesn't really hurt the Snakes' offense, what they've been getting of it. Since Lyle Overbay was sent down, Shea Hillenbrand has basically been the everyday first baseman, with Craig Counsell manning third most of the time. Getting Hammock back gives Counsell a platoon mate while allowing the Snakes to keep Hillenbrand at first and Carlos Baerga in a pinch-hitting role. Since Grace wasn't much of a threat to anyone at the plate, they were better off putting the roster spot to use. The surprise is that they didn't bring Overbay back, since he's thumping the ball pretty well down there. However, having him back would have crowded out Counsell (or Matt Kata even more than he already has been), or pushed him into some playing time at short, which is far from his best position. I can understand the decision to have Hammock up, but it's a tactically-minded choice which reflects the extent to which the Snakes see themselves as in it, as opposed to trying to see if Overbay's in the future. That may change come roster expansion, of course, but in the meantime, they're within five in the wild card race, and re-armed with the Big Two in the rotation. Given their roster and commitments, they should be gunning for the short-term.
This has been the sort of year where the Braves have challenged their own convention of assembling a worthwhile pen out of spare parts by acquiring or re-signing the semi-famous, ranging from Roberto Hernandez and Ray King to Holmes. But it's proven dramatically unsuccessful, with Hernandez and King doing especially badly, while Holmes has struggled to be consistent and now healthy. So it's sort of interesting to see them turn to Cunnane, because the pen needs the help on the one hand, and Cunnane's track record of Triple-A success and major league combustion has been pretty consistent. His lowest ERA in any of the six seasons he's spent parts of in the majors was 4.23 in 2000; in no other year did he get it under five. He's been successful in the minors as a starter as recently as 2000, and he's been very effective as a reliever, but control right-handers without a dominant assortment can linger without really turning into anything. They can also find late life in their careers a la Mike Trombley or Mike Williams, as well, and the Braves have had a good record in getting something out of perceived nothings in the pen. It would be a nice reminder of the recent past if they succeed with Cunnane where Hernandez, King, and Holmes have all failed.
Signed C-B Raul Casanova to a minor league contract and assigned him to Ottawa. [8/6]
Losing Mora is a definite pity, because he's easily been the best player on the team and the best player they've had in a few years. However, he hasn't been the only ray of light, he's only being rested to let his hand heal, and he should be back before the end of the month.
As far as good news, Cust is up, although as previously noted in this space, he hasn't exactly dominated the International League. He was hitting .285/.422/.426, or basically, walking a lot, and not bopping as much as you'd wish. But in a sense, Cust is unlike everyone else, as a quick check of his PECOTA card would tell you. He's young, he walks a ton, and he doesn't have a position. That's been true for years now, but he's also approaching the age when you could expect a power spike from a normal player, as opposed to the proto-Phelps so many of us had wishcast him into. I guess you could compare him to Nick Johnson, only healthier, but again, that's a stretch. Considering the Orioles aren't anywhere but their annual fantasy about third place, it would make sense to just drop Cust into the lineup and play him to see if there's ever going to be a 'there' there. After all, this season the Birds have gotten a good sense that Brian Roberts and Luis Matos have futures, which will have a major impact on their decision-making this winter. Elsewhere, Larry Bigbie's getting at-bats, and Jay Gibbons has continued to develop into an offensive stalwart. If they had Cust around as a further source of OBP, they could actually score a few runs next year.
Some players seem to be recirculated by certain teams as a matter of course, so at this rate, McCarty can probably count on being a Blue Jay someday. He's a moderate offensive threat against lefties, and he can spot at first or in the outfield, with the Red Sox stressing he'll be a nimble defensive replacement for either Kevin Millar or David Ortiz. Adding him does let the Sox move Millar to right against lefty starters, which in turn makes it easy to give Gabe Kapler left field in those games, allowing Manny Ramirez to DH. True, they're still short a lefty bat on the bench, but they'll get that back for the stretch when (of if) Giambi gets healthy, and they know full well they don't have to carry 12 pitchers in October.
Recalled RHP Joe Valentine from Louisville. [8/5]
You would hope or expect that from this time forward, they'll give Larson a couple of months to either prove he's a keeper, or earn his way to minor league free agency. Having hit .323/.384/.617 for Louisville this year, it should be clear that he's done with the minors. They have the playing time to spare to let Larson and (once healthy) Russ Branyan play every day, to see if either or both can stick around. Even if either struggles, they could make a great platoon next year, with either getting extra starts in an outfield corner or at first, as needed. The more the Reds look, the more certain they should get, with the bittersweet knowledge that success would only make Sean Casey's contract look like that much more of a mistake.
Hauling up Joe Valentine gives them something to see from last week's Guillen deal. They can focus on the 55 strikeouts in 54.1 IP, and hope that the control problems (34 walks allowed on his own power) or the nearly 5.5 runs he's allowed per nine are less significant. As discussed last week, he's a flyer, one with modest notoriety since he was acquired in a Billy Beane-Kenny Williams deal, but he's really just a hard-throwing live arm. He could become an asset, or a regular saves leader in the International League.
The bad news here is that Jose Acevedo had to go to the DL after spraining his ankle in the dugout on Wednesday. As the team's token starter with a future, they needed him to get as much development time as possible, but the time lost won't cost them the knowledge that he's in this team's rotation, when he comes back and next year. Having just sent down Josh Hall, they're forced to resort to John Bale going today, which isn't a happy development, but at this point, the Reds are just trying to get the season over while fielding a full team.
Inge comes back up having hit .275/.327/.444 in his 39 games as a Mudhen, which translates to a .238 Equivalent Average, or just about good enough to be a big league backup. Meanwhile, the Tigers are futzing around with fantasies that Ben Petrick might be the next Dale Murphy, or maybe Brian Downing, or maybe Dave Engle. When you're the worst team in baseball, you need to dream the impossible dreams, after all.
Rick White, an Astro? Why, in a park with a short fence in left, would you bring in a guy having a bad year who relies heavily on a forkball that doesn't fool right-handed hitters? Why would you bring him in to replace someone who has been an effective contributor in the pen? Saarloos had been the fourth horseman in a foursome of effective right-handed relievers that have done such great work setting up Billy Wagner, the team's greatest source of strength. Admittedly, they still have the front three of Octavio Dotel, Brad Lidge, and Ricky Stone, but who in their right mind really wants to have both Danny Miceli and Rick White instead of Saarloos on your postseason roster? Because they've got experience at mediocrity? Saarloos was basically being used in a junk reliever role, finishing up losses and the like, but he'd been very effective, posting a 3.48 ERA as a reliever. In a rotation already beset by injuries and loaded with concern about how effectively or how long its current cast can last in-game, it is stunning to see the Astros haul in a couple of old, mediocre, 'specialists.' This isn't just playing down to the level of their rivals in the NL Central, it borders on throwing the thing to the Cubs or Cardinals if either harbor the ambition to take it.
I'm generally wont to fire on nostalgia in roster moves, but how can you avoid some measure of sympathy, seeing Kevin Appier come back to where he got his start, and get to pitch in a meaningful game or two for the Royals for the first time? Nostalgia aside, there's the more basic question of need. They already have Jimmy Gobble up, and they just lost Snyder to his increasingly troubling shoulder woes. Jose Lima's going to miss at least another start (filled by Kris Wilson), which leaves the Royals relying on Runelvys Hernandez, Darrell May, Gobble, Wilson, and Appier. If the choice is between Appier and bringing Chris George back, better they take their chances with Appier. If Appier does something in the two starts he'll get between now and when Lima can be reactivated, the Royals will have a choice between Gobble and Wilson for the fifth slot, and that's not that bad a situation to be in. If Appier goes into the tank and gets shellacked both times out, they can dump him, but his grisly July aside, he wasn't worthless with the Angels, and he should come in handy for the next seven or eight weeks.
As for hauling up Julius Matos, Desi Relaford's in the lineup someplace on a daily basis, and the Royals can use a utility infielder who can handle all four positions. Matos has the added benefit of being more dangerous than the likes of Pokey Reese, so basically, he's a worthwhile body on the bench.
Optioned RHP Jeremy Griffiths to Norfolk; recalled C-R Joe DePastino from Norfolk. [8/5]
Activated RHP Grant Roberts from the 60-day DL; optioned C-R Joe DePastino to Norfolk. [8/7]
Returning to his role in the pen, it's important for Roberts to get some big league pitching under his belt to erase the memory of last season's embarrassing disclosures. He's still a young man, still has a great arm, and if everyone can pretend that Bret Saberhagen and David Cone weren't the people they were on their worst behavior in Mets uniforms, everyone can give Roberts a second chance to be an important part of this ballclub.
Here it is, arguably the ultimate concession (I suppose it could be topped by a Paul O'Neill comeback, but the odds on that are pretty steep) to Joe Torre's strengths, needs, and shortcomings as a manager, all in one move. Rather than force Torre to get acquainted with an unfamiliar talented reliever, the Yankees had to ask the Mariners to ease their manager's inability to adapt to the new. If Nelson was what he once was, that might make some sense. The problem is that he's Jeff Nelson, only less so. He's still vulnerable to lefties, there are the usual questions about his durability, and he's struggled away from the safety of Safeco. The Yankees can reasonably respond that Nelson's coming over to a manager familiar with his strengths and likely to use him to best advantage. I just don't see it turning out as well as they might wish. Like Jesse Orosco, Nelson's a well-worn specialist in the twilight of his useful career. It's one thing to crack about how he'll snap off those unhittable frisbees until the day he dies; it's another to know he can't do it that often, or for very long. Despite some superficially nice stats, it's worth noting that he's been remarkably effective in plating other people's baserunners this year. This was a pen that could have used Benitez's durability, but now it resembles a 2003 reunion of "The A-Team," complete with an animatronic George Peppard, everyone famous for something, and everyone diminished to the point that you have to ask aloud why anyone thought this was a good idea.
OK, it's nice to have a huge lead and the knowledge that perhaps not even the '64 Phillies could blow it at this point, but still, losing Rich Aurilia to an emergency appendectomy is an unwanted surprise. It's hard to avoid nightmarish visions of what happened to Adrian Beltre with his appendectomy, but Aurilia had his in the first world, and because of the huge lead, the Giants don't have to be in a hurry to get him back. There is of course the shame that he hit the DL just as he was heating up at the plate, but streaks and slumps defy rational explanation, and Aurilia's an offensive asset regardless, even in a clear down season for him. As long as he's healthy and playing in September, the Giants will be fine.
The real downside of all this being a whole lot of Neifi Perez for the paying customers, and a bit of Cody Ransom at short while Ray Durham shakes off another nagging injury. Ransom remains what he is, an organizational soldier and someone who could effectively replace...well, Neifi Perez. Ransom was hitting all of .252/.336/.416 in Fresno, which doesn't amount to much considering the park and the league. At 27, he's not really a prospect, just a handy enough temp for situations like this: injured starters, big lead in the division, and little pressure.
Recalled RHP J.J. Putz from Tacoma. [8/7]
You can speculate that the Mariners made this particular move because they were cranky at Nelson for having belabored the obvious on the subject of another trade deadline without a move to help the Mariners win now. Nelson's right to gripe, but as a result, he suggested himself as the instrument of the Mariners' improvement, getting shipped off to his old stomping grounds for a significantly better reliever. Assuming Bob Melvin recognizes it, he can use Benitez to project the rest of the pen forward in-game, because unlike Nelson, he's not a restricted-use specialist, but a pure flamethrower who can start and finish his own innings. Now they can really reserve Julio Mateo, Rafael Soriano, and Shiggy Hasegawa for the first sign of trouble from a starter, while leaving Benitez, Arthur Lee Rhodes, and Kaz Sasaki for the final 2-3 innings. The Mariners already had the strongest pen among AL contenders, and now even moreso. Hopefully, Melvin doesn't get too caught up in the mystique of starting pitcher machismo come October.
As for Putz's recall, he's only here because of the advantages of having the team's Triple-A affiliate in the neighborhood, pending Benitez's arrival and placement on the active roster. These sorts of geographic alliances don't get played up, but several teams have had the wisdom to develop them: the Cubs with Iowa, the Indians with Buffalo, the Red Sox with Pawtucket, the A's with Sacramento, and also the Mariners.
Transferred OF-L Ben Grieve from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/5]
You wouldn't mind a long vacation from Lou Piniella either, I expect.