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August 13, 2003
Designated INF-R Benji Gil for assignment; purchased the contract of RHP Kevin Gregg from Salt Lake. [8/8]
For the Angels, this is an interesting collection of decisions. For starters, to their credit, they've accepted that the cost of retaining Benji Gil after last year's glory is sunk, and that they're better off moving on and running with Alfredo Amezaga as their utility infielder, no matter how cold his start. After all, if Gil isn't going to be here next year, why waste the playing time, when they could instead get a sense of whether or not Amezaga has a future in the role? For if he doesn't, they'll have that much better a sense that they need to acquire a higher-end utility infielder, and if he does, well, that's where they can move that potential need that much lower on this winter's list of priorities.
As for Darin Erstad's latest breakdown, it's a bad break, to be certain, but what were the odds that the Angels were actually going to find a taker for his contract, and that they would work out the financial details? Actually more solid than you'd think; it isn't like the Angels need to help themselves for the stretch drive, since they're selling off. Erstad could well have tickled somebody's Van Slyke bone, after all. But in the meantime, they're stuck with the deal they saw fit to ink. The danger is that they'll waste too much time on Eric Owens in center, although to their credit, they've already let Figgins get three straight starts in center since calling him up. Similar to Amezaga, if he gives the Angels a good six or seven weeks, they can let Owens shuffle off to the Tigers or wherever it is that bad leadoff men go to die, and they'll have a useful fifth outfielder to complement having Jeff DaVanon on the bench as their fourth.
The other cool thing, at least for this A's fan, was to see Kevin Gregg get a call-up and start. A long-time organizational soldier with Oakland and yet another former A's farmhand who turned up in Anaheim, Gregg has had an exceptional season pitching between Double- and Triple-A as a minor league free agent for the Angels organization. In 131.2 IP, with half a season spent in Salt Lake, he'd allowed 125 hits and only 31 walks, while striking out 112, and allowing 4.4 runs per nine. Never overpowering, Gregg has managed to survive to get a debut start in half of the double-header that in turn spelled doom to Gil's spot on the roster. He gave them a great six innings, but didn't get a win for his troubles. Still, having followed him this far, it's just a nice thing to see him get the shot and do well with it. The Angels really don't have to worry about losing Mickey Callaway if they're going to continue to snag and use the Greggs of the world to fill out the bottom of the staff on a need basis.
Acquired LHP Aric Leclair from the Royals for RHP Paul Abbott. [8/8]
Talk about gimmes. Not that Aric Leclair is going to grow up to be the next John Smoltz, but Paul Abbott isn't going to be Doyle Alexander '87 at this stage of his career, at least not anywhere higher than the Atlantic League. What Leclair is is a particularly tough lefty reliever in the minors. Although he's already 25, and without much experience above A-ball, he's been effective this year: 53 strikeouts versus 27 unintentional walks in 38.2 IP. If you're the Snakes, you know Abbott doesn't really serve any purpose, especially not with the Tucson Snakelings not really going anywhere in the PCL. If Leclair turns into an alternative to the likes of Eddie Oropesa, this really turns into a little something for nothing.
The easy comment would be something appropriately snide about Mike Hargrove and his hunger to keep 12 pitchers around.
Well, regardless of whether you're the Red Sox or Mendoza, you might consider inactivity a small mercy. Not everyone can top a seven ERA in both relief and starting, but as this rate, Red Sox fans are ready to blame him for giving up Bucky Dent's mighty pop-up. Casey Fossum got a spot start in a double-header, as soon as he came back, got roughed up, and went back into the pen, but he still has a shot to pitch his way onto the Red Sox's postseason roster with a few good appearances. Scott Sauerbeck is for situational spots, Alan Embree for important late innings, so the Sox could use a spare lefty. Behind presumed locks like Byung-Hyun Kim, Mike Timlin, Embree, Sauerbeck, and Scott Williamson, anybody could wind up with a job for the last pair of slots. The decision itself might remind some people of Dan Duquette's days, but a fifth starter like John Burkett probably shouldn't get a slot. So that ought to leave Fossum in a group with the likes of Brandon Lyon, Mendoza, and Todd Jones for those last two jobs. Fossum still has good stuff, he's a lefty, he could spot start if someone got hurt, and he could toss four or five innings in relief if that was necessary. Another alternative is that Derek Lowe could be pushed into the postseason pen, especially if he continues to be outpitched by Burkett, but having Lowe might make it easier to tap Fossum to give the Sox a 4-3 righty-lefty split in the pen, with two former starters in Lowe and Fossum available to get a game to the seventh inning in case a starter gets hurt or rocked.
But all of this is, of course, wildly premature, and Fossum would have to start pitching well to make things interesting.
Optioned C-R Jamie Burke to Charlotte. [8/11]
As if there weren't enough disadvantages to having Sandy Alomar Jr. around as your backup backstop, here's another reminder. When Miguel Olivo had to take a few days off for a sore shoulder, Alomar's not physically reliable enough to count on to cover the games. That's happy news for a journeyman like Burke, who might even luck into the infamous Joe Ayrault postseason roster job if the Sox make it that far. If Olivo were to suffer a postseason injury, would you want to count on Alomar's ability to play in consecutive games, even setting aside his offensive skills? It's not a happy situation, and hopefully, Kenny Williams will work out some sort of waiver deal to get a better third catcher into the mix, preferably one who bats lefty.
Recalled RHP Aaron Harang from Louisville; optioned OF-L Mark Budzinski to Louisville. [8/9]
Six baserunners in almost six innings pitched! It's a red-letter day. If Kent Mercker hadn't gotten heavily smited by Sean Burroughs, Harang might have given up only a single run in his Reds debut. As is, one start, and he can back up a claim to be the best starter on the team. Yes, that's silly, but the Reds' rotation has been a joke all year. When you underperform Chan Ho Park and his moundmates, your sole bragging right as a team is that you're proof that it is possible to almost randomly assemble a worse group of starters than what the Rangers have to offer.
The shame here is that by banging up his ankle, Victor Martinez loses time to cement his future as the Tribe's catcher. So instead, it's back to Josh Bard. To his credit, Bard didn't sulk as a Bison, instead pasting the ball to the tune of .330/.408/.522 in 35 games, and basically resurrecting his borderline prospect status. The danger, for the Tribe, is that they could let the simmering competition between Bard and Martinez be a rollicking good thing for too long, swinging from one choice to the other and back again, all without making a commitment. They know that Martinez is the more significant prospect. However, that's not to say they should trade Bard this winter. The Indians don't have that much depth behind the plate, and while Bard has his boosters, he wouldn't draw that much in trade. It makes sense, from an organizational perspective, to keep both in the organization as long as options permit, even if it means one might get to knock Tom Prince out of Buffalo's hearts and minds as the epitome of ignorance's tools.
It's a desperate thing indeed to settle for Paul Abbott's hot hand in the PCL over the admittedly modest virtues of having Kris Wilson start. The worst thing you can interpret from it is that, having watched Jose Lima work some magic, they felt magic was the sort of thing you get in a can at Wal-Mart, and spray as needed. Certainly, Abbott needs it, because while he's been decent enough in his comeback from the shoulder surgery that cost him all of 2002, he's not exactly the sort you can count on. Wilson, if nothing else, had given them a decent start the last time out, against the White Sox, while handling the odious chores associated with long relief and mop-up duty well enough. If anything, getting Abbott should create a bit of concern that Lima's groin injury is worse than we hope, because if the Royals end up relying on Abbott down the stretch, they're making life that much easier for the White Sox and Twins.
Optioned RHP David Manning to Indianapolis. [8/10]
Purchased the contract of LHP Doug Davis from Indianapolis. [8/11]
After years of minor league miniondom, Manning got a pair of starts, got rocked, and got replaced. Having picked up Doug Davis, the Brewers are right to take a look at him on the off chance that Davis's great pitching in the minors this season, and flashes of promise in the majors, adds up to a useful Brewer starter. The question is whether Davis can get away from a reputation for annoying his pitching coaches with his stubbornness. If Mike Maddux can reach him, the Brewers might wind up with a solid fourth or fifth starter. If he can't, well, that's where Davis's familiarity with becoming somebody else's problem becomes an asset again. In life, if you know how to pack quickly and keep people's names straight, odds are, you'll go far, even if it's just in a Willie Loman sort of way.
As much as it is hard to use a term like 'tragic' and any property of Carl Pohlad (y'know, the haphazard stadium blackmailer and Budbanker who helps the commish break the game's financial rules now and again) in the same sentence, there is tragedy here. For the Twins are making that most basic mistake when you're blessed with the horn of plenty with young talent: they're flipping through everybody, hunting for a hot hand to reassure them that, yes, they do have great young talent. But because of that depth, nobody has gotten a clean shot at a job, so Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau and Mike Restovich and Todd Sears all get cycled through, even though the Twins need to settle on a bat to keep Dustan Mohr on the bench. This week's rationalization is that Jacque Jones's hamstring needs resting, so Mohr and Restovich get some semi-regular time, and the Twins still have an open slot in their lineup beyond the one vacated by Jones. If they'd stuck with any one of these guys, they would be better off, but instead they've managed to avoid committing to any of them, circling round and round to re-trip over Mohr, and never really fixing the problem. Since the Twins are already carrying a weak pair of middle infielders, and they have to outlast Torii Hunter's modest offensive contributions, and given that there's this division title at stake, you would think they would have come up with a plan and executed it. But instead, they've frittered away most of the season without coming to any conclusions that they hadn't already reached a year ago as far as their fine depth. It would be nice if they took the present a little more seriously, since shots at division titles don't just waltz by every so often, even in a Kenny Williams division.
Vargas has been a hell of a starter for the Expos this year, not bad when you consider he was replacing Tony Armas Jr., for whom so much was hoped, and so little achieved. As one of the throw-ins from the Marlins in the Floyd deal, Vargas yielded dividends quickly, showing considerably more promise than a guy typically criticized for an overreliance on mid-90s heat, and a shortage of alternatives or instincts on the mound. That stands in stark contrast with the re-arrival of Scott Downs, the payoff for dumping Rondell White on the Cubs three years ago. In case you forgot, Downs hurt his elbow almost immediately upon arrival, so this is his first time back in the majors since his Tommy John surgery. Downs has always been stereotyped as the cunning lefty, he just lacks the half-dozen Hibbardly seasons that make it a truism. He was managing to give up fewer than five runs per nine in Edmonton, no easy feat for the recently re-healthed, but he wasn't dominating, barely striking out four per nine. The Expos need to see if he's going to be worth the slot on the 40-man roster, so it's just as well that he's up, but it's almost more a question of getting confirmation that the White deal will never work out well, and they can cut bait on Downs now that he's healthy and after he takes a shellacking or six.
Purchased the contract of RHP Nelson Figueroa from Nashville; optioned RHP Duaner Sanchez to Nashville; designated OF-R Adam Hyzdu for assignment; optioned RHP Ryan Vogelsong to Nashville; purchased the contract of LHP Mike Gonzalez from Nashville. [8/10]
Pat Mahomes, Nelson Figueroa, are there two more indicative adds? It's like knowing you're at the ends of the Earth when you see the steamer trunks with the zillion odd stickers on them get tossed off the bus in whatever horseless town you wound up in. Still, there are worse things to have happen. Figueroa's got the opportunity to be a useful fifth starter for somebody, and he comes up after having an outstanding year as the ace of the Nashville rotation, giving up 3.2 runs per nine and 144 hits in 151.1 IP, alongside a nice 121-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's never going to be a dominant starter, but the Pirates might be able to make him into something about as valuable as Elmer Dessens wound up being in barter. It can't hurt to find out, certainly. The less said about having Mahomes up, on the other hand, the better. He's a garbage-time king up after pitching middle relief in Triple-A. Any expectations that he's going to be anything more than a mop-up man ought to be quashed immediately.
The more obviously positive development is the decision to call up Mike Gonzalez. A flamethrower as lefties go, Gonzalez was dealt and reacquired in the wake of the sacrificial pillaging at the hands of the Red Sox. Having lost time to injuries in the past, Gonzalez managed to lose the first two months or so of the year to back problems, which he can add to his past knee and shoulder issues, so you can understand why the Bucs have converted him to relief. Given that they've jerked talented young pitchers like Duaner Sanchez and Ryan Vogelsong around, there's no real reason to belive that Gonzalez will be treated any better, but at this point, the Pirates are in such a strange, self-destructive place that who knows who will still be standing in a couple of weeks?
Agreed to terms with INF-R Mark Loretta on a two-year contract extension with an option for 2006. [8/8]
Generally speaking, the fashionable thing to say here would be that the Pads achieved cost certainty, with the double-edged possibility of making Loretta either more marketable in trade at some point in the next couple of years, or letting the 'small-market' Padres achieve budgetary responsibility. Or whatever. More basically, they seem awfully excited about giving money to a utility infielder about to turn 32. I'm more inclined to fret over the lost opportunity, where the Pads failed to deal Loretta while he was having a nice little season, because given his age, his modest base of skills, and that this is his first really good season since 1998, this was the best time to cash in. Loretta hasn't flamed out in any year, but we're not talking about a building block, we're talking about a useful journeyman. That's not a bad thing; if the Pads try to make a splash in Petco, Loretta can be an extra offensive bit who won't suck up outs, doing a decent enough job of reaching base. But he's old, and if the Pads don't get out the gate quickly next year, or threaten at any point, they should be working to flip him as soon as possible, especially before the blush really comes off.
Recalled RHP Jimmy Journell from Memphis; optioned RHP Josh Pearce to Memphis. [8/11]
Journell's here to do long relief, although the motivation for exchanging him and Pearce, as sensible as it may be in terms of talent, should make you ask why Journell wasn't up in the first place. True, Pearce has been a starter more recently than Journell, and any team relying upon Jeff Fassero in a rotation slot as long as Matt Morris is on the DL has issues to worry about and a motive to cultivate alternatives. However, Morris hopes to hurry his way back by this weekend, and the Cardinals, in their desperation, are willing to indulge him. As a result, and armed with the positive example of what fellow rookie Dan Haren has already meant to them, they're giving Journell a brief look-see. Considering they're still only getting useful pitching out of Jason Isringhausen and Jason Simontacchi from among their relievers, Journell's opportunity is very real, and entirely up to him to convert into something more than another cup of coffee.
Sure, it's still a 10-game lead, but without Rich Aurilia at short and Durham at second, what do you have? Arguably the worst-hitting group of infielders in the game. I guess it's to their credit that they're moving Edgardo Alfonzo to second so that they can get Pedro Feliz into the lineup at third, if the alternative is playing Cody Ransom at short and playing Neifi Perez at second. While some doubt that Alfonzo can handle the defensive responsibilities of second, Feliz isn't really an offensive asset, not when he's never achieved a .290 OBP. You could be surprised how quickly a 10-game lead becomes a five-game lead when you're short in the pen, the rotation, and the lineup, no matter how good it is to have the best hitter in baseball. Since there's no timetable on the returns of either Durham or Aurilia, this could actually get interesting, especially with the Braves and Marlins coming up next week. You would think this would be a very good time for the Giants to try to make a waivers deal for an infielder; heck, last week, in dealing with the Orioles, you could argue that Sabean would have been wise to have asked for somebody like Ivanon Coffie as a throw-in, just in case of a situation exactly like this.
Woo-hoo! Perhaps the long-awaited Jason Tyner Bobblehead lives. On a more basic level, Aubrey Huff has been able to handle right field a little more than half the time, so the Devil Fishies' need for a reserve outfielder became a little apparent, especially when the alternative was Al Martin. So Tyner's back, able to skitter about in any of the outfield positions, slap a few pitches, and run the bases a bit more sensibly than Alex Sanchez. As for the Liefer-at-third experiment, with both Damian Rolls and Jared Sandberg playing well enough to stick around, it was never going to get a clean shot.
Signed RHP Mickey Callaway to a minor league contract. [8/8]
Heck, if Aaron Harang can be a minor deity in the Rhineland for a near-quality start, just think what Mickey Callaway could be in Texas. It's not a bad pickup, certainly less expensive and otherwise undifferentiated from similar decisions to haul in guys like Pat Mahomes or Mark Petkovsek. Again, we should not penalize Tom Hicks and his minions for doing their part to redistribute wealth in contemporary American society. Frankly, if every journeyman pitcher got a chunk of Hicks change as a reward for a plausible claim that they might be an improvement on Chan Ho Park, you'd make for some really happy carpet bagging.
All of this adds up to the Jays coming to terms that they're out. With only a few weeks to roster expansion, they're also comfortable getting away from carrying a dozen pitchers. That might sound radical, especially since you might wonder what they're going to do with Kevin Cash while also keeping both halves of the Greg Myers-Tom Wilson catching platoon--Gromteg Wilmyersson?--but there is a plan. First, they'll be giving Cash a chance to catch a lot of pitchers who will be on next year's team. At the plate, having him around will give him exposure he seems to need, given his career pattern of struggling upon his introduction to a new level. If, on the other hand, Cash has a great stretch, the Jays have that much more catching coming out of their ears to work with, between the big league platoon, Cash, and Guillermo Quiroz. Cash did only hit .270/.331/.442 at Syracuse this year (good for a .237 Equivalent Average in the big leagues), which, compared to Quiroz's .282/.368/.512 (.246 big league Equivalent Average), and given their relative ages (Cash is 25, Quiroz 21), makes Cash someone whose future in the organization really has to start now.
Elsewhere, they're trimming the veteran relievers they had claimed on waivers, found they couldn't flip, and knew they weren't going to keep. Acevedo and Service are familiar with the waiver wire, having come here from there before going back there again. So rather than hand them the team's most valuable commodity at the moment--playing time--they're looking at people they need to make a decision about between now and picking a 40-man roster in November. Josh Towers isn't really in that category, but he'll get a couple of starts in Lidle's slot to make an impression that he's ready to be more than a Four-A control artist. Stranger things have happened in these sorts of desperate situations, and Towers has exceptional command, having walked only 19 men unintentionally in 132.2 IP (or fewer than 1.3 walks per nine). Again, Bob Tewksbury and even Cory Lidle came out of longshots, so stranger things have happened, but there's no sense in betting on it.
As for Reichert, the Jays definitely want to see what they've got. Having been handled in a less than optimal way by the Royals before having to lose time in the perdition of Tampa Bay, Reichert was given over four months to pitch in the pen for Syracuse, to mixed results. He has struck out 57 in 56.1 IP, but 33 unintentional walks in that time is the sort of thing that keeps Brian Bowles out of the team's near-term plans. It'll be up to Reichert to show that he has sharpened setting up and employing his great slider in a relief role, and the Jays will spend the next seven weeks seeing if he has.