August 27, 2003
The disappointment of 2003 hits another level, as Eckstein's jittery enthusiasm can't even gain him pardon from yet another bad break for this year's Angels edition. I guess the short answer is that this is just another something that's making the remainder of the season just that much more colorless for the Angels, with the added nuisance that it comes right after Benji Gil's release. They'll get to look at Alfredo Amezaga that much more, as he'll take over the everyday chores at short. I suppose that they'll really know what he's for by the end of the season, but by cutting Gil, they don't really have a backup shortstop on the roster.
In case you've forgotten, Durrington was up in '99, and didn't hit. Since then, he's had injury problems, gotten flipped through a few organizations, and come back to the Angels as a minor league elder statesman of sorts. He was doing well this year, drawing a high number of walks compared to his career rates (61 in 521 PA), and he's still a speed guy, swiping 35 bases. He won't hit much, and his power's almost negligible, but if he can do those things from the bench, he could still have a career as a utility infielder and pinch-runner.
Optioned 1B/3B-R Jose Leon to Ottawa. [8/21]
Although my natural instinct here is to praise the Orioles for taking a look at Little Rock, since they could sort out whether or not he has a part in their future, at the same time, they seem to be content to let B.J. Surhoff sap away at-bats from Larry Bigbie and Jack Cust. I suppose if it's part of a master plan to showcase Surhoff for a waiver deal, that makes some sort of sense, but unless the Orioles get to the business of playing their future, they're wasting everyone's time but B.J. Surhoff's.
At any rate, Raines is up after having a superficially nice year, split between Bowie (.308/.371/.449) and Ottawa (.299/.357/.439), stealing a combined 51 bases (versus 15 times caught). He's drawn all of 41 walks in 520 PA, less than you'd like from a leadoff prospect. Happily, he's only just about to turn 24, but that's less than a year younger than Luis Matos. Matos remains a more promising player, and has already staked a claim to the job in center. Nevertheless, the Orioles don't have anything to worry about in the near future, beyond a theoretical challenge for fourth place from the D-Rays someday, so they could get away with a corner outfielder without a lot of power to see what sort of player Raines grows up to be. There are worse ways to spend playing time, including the aforementioned Surhoff, or the danger that they'll have Jeff Conine and David Segui around next year.
The Red Sox are semi-committed to Fossum as a starting pitcher nowadays, so after making his emergency assignment on Thursday, he's back to being a Paw Sock rotation regular. That is as it should be, since the Sox need for him to get in his reps every fifth day while they have the option, what with time running out on the minor league season. That way, in case something else goes awry in September (or if John Burkett keeps being so Burkett-y), Fossum will be prepped if they have to reinsert him into the rotation for more than a start.
Obviously, this is a good stretch move for the Sox, in that it gives them a sidearming right-handed reliever to mix things up, and Sullivan has been one of the most rubbery of rubber arms in any bullpen anywhere. Naturally, we'll have to see who the PTBNL is, but he'll be named shortly, and considering it's the Reds on the one hand, and the White Sox on the other, it'll probably be another live arm. Anyway, Sullivan is one of those relievers who really does seem to do well with runners on, losing nothing from the stretch, and he's used to it, so postseason experience or no, he's a clearly worthwhile pickup. Indeed, his addition gives the Sox a good foursome in the pen, of Sullivan and Flash Gordon from the right side, and Wunsch and Damaso Marte from the left. All four are talented enough to use in any situation, meaning the Sox could even do the dreaded committee, freaking out New England journalists and fantasy leaguers alike. And while I'm not wild about him, Billy Koch should be here in September, and if he's got anything to contribute, the Sox might be able to go into the postseason with a bullpen as good as any other in the AL.
Taken together, you could interpret the additions of Womack and Goodwin as devastatingly effective blows in the playoff drives in Houston or St. Louis. On behalf of them, of course. Theoretically, Tony Womack gives you a replacement at second base until Mark Grudzielanek can make it back, and then a utility infielder who can do neat things like pinch-run or tell stories about how he owns Mariano Rivera. But is Womack worth even that? He can't hit, and never has. Defensively, he's one of the most overrated infielders in the game, although he's had the advantage of playing behind a few well-known power pitchers who rarely had to rely on Womack much. I guess that's a bit of good news, in that the Cubs' rotation isn't all that defense-dependent. But he's another player whose value is almost entirely wishful, and whose greatest contribution will come in the form of keeping scores low and games short with quick at-bats and quicker trips to the dugout.
It looks like the Cubs will platoon Womack, which sort of mitigates the damage, while showing at least enough sense to recognize that Ramon Martinez has been murdilatin' lefties this year. It would have made more sense to have called up Bobby Hill to play in Grudz's space, with Martinez perhaps still getting starts against lefties, but that's not the way DustyBall gets played. With Womack reaching base against right-handers somewhere in the range of .250 (that's OBP, not his average), he's bad enough to inspire La Russian visions of batting the pitcher eighth. The notion that that works for Dusty speaks volumes about why the NL Central is close.
Recalled UT-R Ryan Freel from Louisville. [8/20]
Traded RHP Scott Sullivan to the White Sox for a PTBNL. [8/21]
Recalled RHP Joe Valentine from Louisville. [8/22]
Placed SS-R Barry Larkin on the 15-day DL (sprained finger); purchased the contract of UT-R Jim Chamblee from Louisville. [8/23]
Chamblee has been one of those Triple-A lifers who you'd expect to have spent time in Pawtucket and Louisville, and this is his fifth year at that level. As a result, it's a nice thing to see him up, although admittedly it comes as a product of the Reds' debilitating raft of injuries. He's one of those guys who plays a little bit of second and third and first and the outfield corners, and hits well enough to be handy as a Triple-A regular, and well enough to be a better choice to have around as a pinch-hitter than the likes of Lenny Harris.
There is the opportunity here for the Reds to do something fun, and give D'Angelo Jimenez a look at shortstop, thus allowing them to field a better offensive lineup by putting Chamblee at third and Freel at second. It would be worth doing if they wanted to find someone who could be more than a temp during Barry Larkin's various absences as he gets deeper into his career-ending swoon, but it's understandable if they instead choose to leave well enough alone, keeping Jimenez at second and considering that position filled, and reviewing what Ray Olmedo's future with the team might be. And besides, Russ Branyan should be off the DL shortly, and that's certain to chase Chamblee off the roster, making this particular notion fanciful at best. What I find odd is that the Reds seem pleased with what they're seeing from Olmedo, when it's at best similar to Felipe Lopez's production, with even worse glovework. It would be easy to ascribe this to other factors, like Lopez failing to live up to expectations, while Olmedo's homegrown. Mostly, it's just a minor odd note in a season of disappointments. You see too much Juan Castro in the starting lineup, and perhaps everyone starts looking pretty good.
Signed INF-R Benji Gil to a minor league contract. [8/24]
Is this really where he had to wind up? An irrelevant supernumerary? Admittedly, with the implosion of Brandon Phillips, the Tribe is a bit short in the infield. Currently, they have to rely on a John McDonald-Jhonny Peralta combo on the deuce day in and day out, but why, if you're Gil, do you make this choice, when Omar Vizquel's about to come off of the DL? Not to mention that there are contenders who could use Benji Gil, as noxious as that might sound.
Traded UT-L Tony Womack to the Cubs for RHP Emmanuel Ramires; recalled INF-R Pablo Ozuna from Colorado Springs; placed RHP Shawn Chacon on the 15-day DL (elbow inflammation), retroactive to 8/17; recalled LHP Cory Vance from Colorado Springs. [8/19]. [8/19]
Having lost Chacon for the remainder of the season, the Rockies are moving into the casting call portion of the season, where everybody gets a look/see, just in case there's something somebody forgot. So to their credit, they'll look at prospects like Chin-Hui Tsao or Vance, but they'll also experiment with Jose Jimenez, to see if he can be the purple mountains' answer to Kelvim Escobar. By taking some chances, the Rox will be able to make some informed decisions this winter, but after the season he's given them, the good news is that Chacon can be considered a homegrown asset every bit as significant as Jason Jennings.
Vance has not yet been pressed into the rotation, but you have to think it'll happen at some point. Down at Colorado Springs, where the air's equally thin, he was giving up 5.1 runs per nine IP, with a 96-48 strikeout to walk ratio in 157.1 innings. It's interesting to note he was picked in the same round (the 4th) out of the same school (Georgia Tech) only a year later than Chuck Crowder (1999 vs. 2000), but he's the one who made it. Back in the day, it was Crowder who was the lefty who had all the prospect mavens all aflutter. That was because Crowder had electric stuff, while Vance is more of your basic finesse lefty. Crowder lost the plate, and may never resurface. Vance is here, and should stick.
When Atkins was initially called up, the Rockies talked about how he was going to get an even split of the playing time, but in three weeks with the team, that meant six starts in 19 games, or not really a split, and in the end, not really a trial. I suppose, like so many other purple plans planned out loud for public consumption, this wasn't really the plan, unless Atkins went six for six in his debut or something, at which point it would have been. Atkins didn't get a shot, struggled, and a well-spun excuse leaps immediately to hand, that the player's failure changed everything. Here and now, perhaps as well as anywhere, Stengel's observation that he couldn't have done it without the players serves as a cover as well as a truism.
Now that Bellhorn is back from an injury that allowed him a chance to get regular playing time in Colorado Springs, perhaps the Rockies will finally play him semi-regularly, or as much as they claimed they would where Atkins was concerned. At least then they'd get something immediate and more tangible than the general outiness that Womack brought to the table. Sadly, their continued fascination with Chris Stynes isn't going away. However, by dealing Womack they are committing themselves to Juan Uribe at short, which just goes to show that you can take Neifi Perez out of Denver, but a Neifi state of mind is forever. It's better than deploying the Womack menace, but it doesn't really represent a step forward as much as a resignation to a fate.
I guess we can consider whether or not Emmanuel Ramires (aka Emmanuel Ramirez, aka Pedro Olivero, and not an Uribe in the lot) is a better prospect than Mike Watson, the arm they gave up to get Womack, with an answer of 'very probably' having to do for the time being. Ramires/Ramirez throws hard, strikes out a batter per inning, and he's a reliever. That could mean anything, because with minor league relievers, there's ever more 'youneverknow' than there is with minor league pitchers in general. At least getting Womack off of the roster is a reward unto itself, not that going out and getting him so that you can get rid of him again should get to be a habit.
Claimed RHP John Ennis off of waivers from the Braves, and optioned him to Toledo. [8/20]
Optioned LHP Eric Eckenstahler and C-B Matt Walbeck to Toledo; designated RHP Steve Sparks for assignment; recalled RHPs Franklyn German and Fernando Rodney from Toledo; purchased the contract of RHP Brian Schmack from Erie (Double-A). [8/24]
This latest roster re-shuffling is a worthwhile exercise in exploring who's good for what, with everyone effectively playing for their jobs on the 40-man roster, and not just the active one. It's a bit of a surprise to see Sparks cut loose, considering he was thought of as a solid citizen. But he also hadn't really pitched all that well, basically existing to sop up innings after so many hammerin' time moments for the various and sundry prospects. Equally surprising is the decision to send Eckenstahler away, since he had not been ineffective in a situational relief role. But I guess the time is now to look at the control-free flamethrowers, so German and Rodney get to come back. It's an open question as to whether either know what they're doing or where it's going when they're up on the mound. German managed to hit six batters and throw six wild pitches in his 29.1 IP as a Mudhen. However, both cook with gas, and both could become assets with trade value, something Sparks and Eckenstahler are unlikely to ever achieve. It's sort of fun to see them call up minor league journeyman Brian Schmack. He's been effective as Erie's closer, notching 29 saves and posting a 47-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 57 IP. An indy league survivor who latched on with the White Sox, he was eventually packaged with Aaron Myette to the Rangers in the execrable Royce Clayton deal, struggled for two years in the Rangers' system, and turned up here as a minor league free agent. He's spent the bulk of his career as staff filler, so it's nice to see him turn up in his ninth year as a pro. Closers do come from the strangest places, so it would be amusing to see if Schmack could challenge for the job that's notionally supposed to get handed to someone like German or Rodney. Heck, in these parts, you have to take what amusement you can get.
The really interesting decision is to cut loose Matt Walbeck, which can be interpreted as a bold proclamation of faith in Brandon Inge on the one hand, and a more furtive move to slip Ben Petrick into the backup catcher's role. Since they're still spotting Petrick in the outfield, that's actually a pretty nice setup. They get to give Petrick at-bats to see if he's worthwhile, instead of letting him rust on the bench, while handing the lion's share of the backstop time to Inge. Inge has hit .355/.394/.548 since being handed his old job back at the beginning of the month, which is inspired, but also a level he's unlikely to sustain for much longer, especially with the Tigers entering a phase where they'll see contending teams in six of their last 10 series. Still, it's the stuff of hope, and while I'm no fan of Inge's, the organization has invested a lot in terms of expectations and playing time on the off chance that Inge finally does grow up to be something, and this is the first glimmer of something positive that they've seen for their troubles.
There's also good news in seeing the Tigers claiming people off of waivers at this point of the year, although I guess we can take it for granted that they won't be able to be nearly so bold in the Rule 5 draft this time around. But let's face it, there wasn't enough talent in the organization to adequately stock the 40-man to start off with, so one of the luxuries of being this bad is that you can afford to treat the wire as a cafeteria line where you're always first. So the Tigers get Ennis, who despite an essentially bad season in his first full year in Triple-A (6.3 runs allowed per nine) has got a live arm, with good velocity and a better curve, and he's only 23. This is exactly the sort of aggressiveness the organization should be showing, instead of wringing their hands and wondering about numbers like 20, 43, or 120, day in and day out.
Signed RHP Rick Helling; recalled RosterSpot-L Lenny Harris from Albuquerque; placed LHP Armando Almanza on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis), retroactive to 8/20; placed OF-L Todd Hollandsworth on the 15-day DL (back inflammation), retroactive to 8/14; transferred RHPs Tim Spooneybarger and Kevin Olsen from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/21]
They're still here, still in it, and they're turning to...who? In a moment of need, they're bringing in Lenny Harris and Rick Helling? In other news from the Department of General Inadequacy, what's next, casting Emo Phillips as a romantic lead? However, it's not as bad as it sounds. Helling is joining the ad hoc pen that the Fish have scraped together for their stretch run, joining Chad Fox and Nate Bump as complements to Uggy Urbina and Braden Looper. Before you ask, yes, they are that shorthanded. Tim Spooneybarger's out for the year, and with Almanza and Tommy Phelps both on the DL, they're down to just Mike Tejera as the token lefty in the pen. The Marlins' pen hasn't been as spectacularly awful as those of the Cardinals or Expos among the contenders or near-contenders, and it hasn't even been that significantly worse than the Braves. None of that means the same thing as good, however, so they're right to keep fiddling. Fox is nobody to count on, and Bump will probably get moved aside once either Almanza or Phelps are ready to come off of the DL. But better that they keep scrambling, because the Phillies haven't gotten away from them yet.
As for Lenny Harris, hopefully it's not a panic stations situation. Although Harris serves no purpose, since he's not a threat at the plate and has no position, he's also the last warm body on the bench, behind better options like Ramon Castro or Andy Fox or Brian Banks for pinch-hitting assignments. So his being around really should only be for as long as Todd Hollandsworth's back is an issue. Again, it's a reflection on how shallow the Fish are at the moment, both that they've called upon Harris and that they'll miss Hollandsworth. There is the danger that Jack McKeon might go all gooey and nostalgic over having Harris around, but everyone already on the team's bench fills an offensive or defensive role that Harris can't fill.
Ah, the stretch drive, a time when Jimy Williams can reliably be counted upon to go Mesozoic on his roster. Jose Vizcaino is like an aged wine: it doesn't matter if it's vinegar, the price on the bottle tells you he's valuable, so dammit, here he is. As for swapping backup catchers down the stretch, despite occasional odd claims made on his behalf, Raul Chavez isn't a prospect, but he's been popular with the organization for a while, whereas Gregg Zaun...well, there have been few places where Zaun has played that he hasn't managed to annoy a few people. There was also apparently some dissatisfaction with his gamecalling, and he wasn't hitting, so Zaun went from stathead posterboy for backup catcherdom at its best to ineffective and appropriate cut. Chavez was hitting .277/.320/.411 at New Orleans, which translates to a .220 Equivalent Average in the bigs. Unfortunately, he's 30, and his catch-and-throw rep, while enough to make him a similar player to Brad Ausmus, wouldn't get him into most big league lineups.
So McGriff comes off of the DL, and Robin Ventura's been cooking along, and what do the Dodgers do? Bench Adrian Beltre? No, he's slugging well, even if he isn't getting on base. Bench McGriff? No, he's had an awful season, but he was the big ticket signing, so his brand of somnambulism has to get spliced into the lineup. So what happens? The Dodgers bench one of their only effective hitters. Why did they trade for Ventura at all, when the impossible challenge was to win the NL West by Aug. 22, the point at which the Dodgers were going to sign off on going back to the same lame infield that hasn't produced runs all years? The shame of it is that they're still in the Wild Card race, but with so many teams in play, they can't afford to waste their time on April's bad ideas. McGriff's a spare part at best, with only Ken Harvey, Paul Konerko, and Scott Hatteberg hitting worse among regulars at first base. It's time to move on and take a shot at winning, not show McGriff a loyalty he hasn't earned with an organization that's paying him for his time.
The Brewers were done with Eric Young, having failed to achieve anything in bringing him in beyond shunting aside Ronnie Belliard and achieving the entirely meaningless accomplishment of no longer being the strikeout'nest team in baseball. When you're phobic about standing out in a crowd, chances are, you're the Brewers. Anyway, they were done with him, and can now spend the last five weeks or so of the season seeing if Billy Hall can get a head start on winning the job at second, or if Keith Ginter has a future as something more than a utility man. A 2004 infield with Hall or Ginter at second, with J.J. Hardy challenging for the job at short, Helms at third, and Sexson at first may not equal a bunch of All-Stars, but at least it's not entirely depressing.
The real question is what they've gotten out of peddling Young and DeJean. We'll have no idea in DeJean's case for almost three weeks. As for getting Bruso for the tail end of their Young mishap, it's a fair swap. After putting in four years at UC Davis (shudder, you have to watch those people), he was in his second season as a pro in the Giants organization, and was moving up quickly, having worked his way out of the California League and then continuing to thrive in Double-A. Overall, he's given up 141 hits in 161 IP, with a 122-21 strikeout to walk ratio. Sounds tasty, right? Absolutely, but he's not armed with a dominant pitch, so he's not exactly a scouty type. For five weeks of Eric Young, he's not quite a steal, but he's a fine add for an organization that needs all the talent it can get.
Placed RHP Rick Reed on the 15-day DL (strained back), retroactive to 8/18; optioned OF-R Michael Restovich to Rochester; purchased the contract of LHP Carlos Pulido from Rochester; recalled C-B Rob Bowen from Rochester; announced that RHP James Baldwin declined his assignment to Rochester, and elected to become a free agent. [8/20]
The significant gain here is that the Twins are going to employ Matt LeCroy as their DH or have him split time at first with Doug Mientkiewicz that much more regularly. So they add a big right-handed stick to the lineup that much more often, with the roster adaptation being that they'll have a better defensive backup catcher than LeCroy behind A.J. Pierzynski. Bowen has been on some prospect lists, since he catches, switch-hits, and even hits now and again. This year was one of the 'agains,' as he actually did some damage in Double- and Triple-A (.285/.356/.456 between the two levels) after struggling in the Florida State League last year. He's only 22, so he should have every opportunity to emerge as a solid backup worth using in 50-60 games at the least. Yes, the Twins could have done this a month or so ago with Tom Prince remaining in the job that Bowen gets right now, but LeCroy hadn't won over Ron Gardenhire yet. Having done that, the point is that they're trying to get to the point that they can field an outfield of Torii Hunter, Shannon Stewart, and Jacque Jones, as soon as Jones' groin starts cooperating. That would make it that much easier to just drop LeCroy into the everyday lineup at first or DH, and allow the Twins to field what really would be their best lineup down the stretch. It's sort of nice to see that sort of thing unfold, but again, with the wealth of alternatives the Twins have, you can understand if they spent all of this time screwing around, only to finally get here.
Elsewhere, I guess they've "lost" Rick Reed, temporarily returning Joe Mays to the rotation. As long as nothing's threatening Johan Santana's slot, there's nothing wrong with shifting around the bottom of the rotation. After all, there's an off chance that they could get Eric Milton in September, although throwing him into a pennant race would be a pretty bold gamble. Their big three of the moment is not the big three of the past, however, as they're relying most heavily on Santana, Kyle Lohse, and Kenny Rogers. Obviously, that's not a formula for a great postseason, especially if they end up getting matched up with the Red Sox or Yankees (depending on how the West plays out, and who wins the wild card).
Other minor notes are that James Baldwin's right to forego the assignment, even if it costs him a slender shot at pitching with this team in October. After all, there's no season left in Rochester, so why go back and remain Twins property? Better to unhook yourself and see what comes up, even if it's a longshot, because you're just James Baldwin.
Lastly, Carlos Pulido's return to the major leagues for the first time since 1994, in a season that was his first back inside MLB-affiliated baseball since a three-game stint in Norfolk in 1998 (he pitched in Taiwan, Mexico, the Atlantic League, and not at all for 2000 and 2001 in between), well, that's pretty remarkable. It also helps to be lefty, to want to avoid the tedium of life selling cars or insurance or tractor supplies or airport screening or whatever, and having a willingness to never say die. It's cool, but it also sort of reminds me of Kevin Hickey's comeback in 1989. Hickey was also a 32-year-old lefty, and while he was only out of the majors for more than five years to Pulido's eight-plus, Hickey did a full season's work as a situational lefty, and hung around for a couple of years after that. By way of contrast, Pulido is sort of like a more deserving version of the Jim Morris story. He earned a call-up by allowing just under four runs per nine, but I don't think anyone's advertising his comeback as anything more than a shot at some mop-up duty, followed by minor league free agency. It's a fun story, but longer to discuss than to chuckle over.
Apparently the Expos are holding a similar casting call for bench spots as the one they do for filling their booth, with Warren Cromartie potentially drawing double duty as a part-time announcer and pinch-hitter. That 29 co-conspirators can do this to a team and call it baseball remains...well, the stuff of lawsuits, certainly. Anyway, Todd Zeile is no danger to others, and perhaps only to himself, assuming you give him something sharper than a spork. There's no reason to spot him for the more dangerous Wil Cordero, unless Cordero's indicted or tired or something. Zeile can't play third--even though the Expos have planted him there--so the only nice thing you can say here as that at least we can all thank various deities that he isn't Lenny Harris.
Traded LHP Sterling Hitchcock to the Cardinals for RHP Justin Pope and LHP Ben Julianel. [8/22]
Activated RHP Jose Contreras from the 15-day DL. [8/24]
One wonders what DePaula was here for in the first place. Certainly, he deserves a happy place in the 2003 season diary, as the player who technically pushed Todd Zeile to the dustbin of Joe Torre's fondness. In the meantime, they're better off with Rivera to mix and match with David Dellucci and Karim Garcia in right field.
On the level of similar masterstrokes involving the elimination of past mistakes, finding anybody who would take Sterling Hitchcock off of the active roster was a godsend. Admittedly, Justin Pope's blush as a prospect has faded a bit, now that his mechanics are a bit of a jumble and his velocity's down; nobody who gives up 5.8 runs per nine in the Florida State League is helping himself. Nevertheless, the Yankees don't have to worry about winding up with Hitchcock wasting a postseason roster slot, they get a young pitcher and an obligatory minor league lefty. Between making Zeile and Raul Mondesi go away, and now this, you have to credit the Yankees for having the good sense to make bad ideas disappear.
Traded 1B-R Jorge Toca to the Pirates for a PTBNL. [8/21]
I guess that's happy, in that the Mets get to shut down Cliff Floyd for the year without his actually sustaining a devastating injury, because in the meantime, it allows them to take longer looks at Jeff Duncan and Prentice Redman for outfield jobs in 2004. Redman wasn't having a great year in Norfolk, hitting only .258/.328/.415, but he's had big platoon splits in the past, and might make it as half of a platoon in either corner. He'll have to wait for the time being. For the stretch, it looks like the Mets are moving to an outfield alignment of letting Roger Cedeno play out the string in right, with platoons of Timo Perez and Joe McEwing in left and Duncan and Raul Gonzalez in center. Eventually, they might let Redman work his way into this outfield rotation, because Perez isn't hitting, and Cedeno ranks with Vince Coleman on the team's list of all-time bad ideas.
Placed LHP Mark Mulder on the 15-day DL (hip tendinitis), retroactive to 8/20; purchased the contract of RHP Mike Wood from Sacramento. [8/21]
As Will Carroll has already pointed out, Mulder's done for the year, and losing the fifth-best starter in baseball is never a good thing. Beyond that, the damage will ripple out onto the rest of the roster. The Athletics no longer get to think about their fearsome foursome in the rotation, they get reduced to Hudson and Zito and guys not so neato. That's not to say I don't like Rich Harden, but bumping him up to the third slot is rough, both in a pennant race and, should it work out, in a playoff series.
It also means Ted Lilly's a lock for the rotation from here on out, and that the fifth slot could be a battle between Wood and John Halama. Wood has a nifty sinker as the key to a four-pitch assortment, and is a solid representative of the organization's faith in command/control righthanders, since the one thing Wood doesn't have is a 90-plus heater. In a partial season in Sacramento this year, he was allowing only 3.4 runs per nine, had given up only five home runs in 91.1 IP, and posted a 59-22 strikeout to walk ratio. He might make an effective tag-team partner for Halama and Lilly for spot-starting against right-handed heavy lineups, but there's thought being given to calling up Justin Duchscherer to take the next turn in the fifth slot. Sacramento's got nothing at stake, having run away with their division, and the A's probably aren't overly concerned about what happens to the River Cats in September, so odds are that Wood and Duchscherer will both get looks. Since neither Lilly or Halama have really earned their keep, Oakland may end up giving all sorts of people auditions in the middle of a pennant race.
Acquired 1B-R Jorge Toca from the Mets for a PTBNL. [8/21]
I know I'm inclined to complain about almost everything the Pirates are up to these days, so let's start on the nice note, which is that it's good to see J.J. Davis up. He's here after a nifty season in Nashville, having hit .280/.339/.537. Having banged out 24 home runs and 55 extra-base hits, he's got power, he can run a bit (22 steals), and the Pirates can use him, even if he doesn't walk as much as you'd like. He's also still a bit rough in the outfield, but we're not talking Derek Bell here. As a plug-in for either outfield corner, he's a token representative of something resembling a promising future.
But what's up with bringing Rob Mackowiak back? After the pickups of both Bobby Hill and Freddy Sanchez, you'd think that Mackowiak has no future in the Pirates infield. And the amazing thing is that by sending down Cota, they're back to having to hold back Craig Wilson for backup catching chores, after failing to hand Wilson the job at first base after having the good sense to make Randall Simon somebody else's problem. So they've effectively fixed nothing, beyond giving Matt Stairs a nice opportunity to add to his career totals. Now, I really like Matt Stairs, and if his numbers are that much more exciting when he's inducted into the Maritime Provinces Baseball Hall of Fame in Halifax or wherever, I'll be as proud as anybody not named Stairs. But as decisions go, this is about as defensible as favoring Randall Simon.
As for picking up Jorge Toca, while Toca has no value to a major league team, and was never the prospect the Mets made him out to be, presumably he isn't being added to the Pirates organization to give them an alternative at first base. Instead, he should only represent an addition to Nashville's drive into the PCL playoffs, since the Sounds lineup will obviously miss Davis.
As always, you have to be impressed with Walt Jocketty's efforts to upgrade his team despite a dire shortage of farmhands worthy of eliciting much interest from other teams. So when he decided to fire off some of the few bullets he does have, he gets...Sterling Hitchcock? The worst free agent signing of the winter of 2001-02? A mop-up man with no track record for being healthy and effective in the last four years? Admittedly, the Cardinals have the worst pen of any contender, and the third-worst in all of baseball, ahead of only the Tigers and Padres, so adding random stuff makes sense.
The problem is that's been the program all summer. Mike DeJean hasn't had a great year, but he's not a bad risk, and the Cardinals may not have had to give up that much to get him (although it's easy to point out, they don't have much to give). But that's assuming the Cardinals have a plan, which in Hitchcock's case, they don't. Will he relieve? Possibly, and with Matt Morris back, it makes sense, since they've got the veteran foursome of Morris, Woody Williams, Garrett Stephenson, and Brett Tomko, and rookie Dan Haren in the fifth slot doing just fine. Although the blush is off of Pope as he's struggled in the Florida State League, he was still one of the best chits Jocketty had to bargain with, rating the organization's fourth-best prospect according to Baseball America. Sterling Hitchcock?
If anything, the previous deal for Esteban Yan indicates how much thought the Cards are putting into fixing their pen, as Yan washed out pretty thoroughly. Settling for getting people you've heard of is no way to staunch the bleeding, but it has allowed the Cards to cycle through a lot of junk without actually fixing their pen. It would be nice if the Cardinals started investing more care in who they brought in as minor league free agents to stock their upper level affiliates, or actually showed some patience with some of the pitching talent they have on hand. Guys like Jimmy Journell or Josh Pearce can contribute in relief roles, but it takes confidence and knowledge of what they can do. Instead, the Cards have been chasing the slender perceived benefits of acquiring mediocre to downright bad random veterans, straining to keep up in a pennant race where everyone's dawdling and there's little danger of anyone running away with it.
Acquired 2B-R Eric Young from the Brewers for RHP Greg Bruso; activated SS-R Rich Aurilia and RHP Felix Rodriguez from the 15-day DL; optioned SS-R Cody Ransom, LHP Chad Zerbe and OF-L Tony Torcato to Fresno. [8/19]
For all of the shuffling, we can boil this down to a few important shifts. First, since they seem to be getting by with Dustin Hermanson in a rotation slot, losing Jesse Foppert while getting Kirk Rueter back just means that they've got a veteran foursome of Jason Schmidt, Rueter, Sidney Ponson, and Hermanson, with Jerome Williams in the fifth slot. What the Giants might choose to do with their playoff rotation will be interesting, because if they pick Hermanson over Williams, I'd expect the worst.
In the ex-Brewer corner, they've added Eric Young to a pile that already includes Jeffrey Hammonds and Marquis Grissom. In part, they can blame the experiment with Edgardo Alfonzo at second, which did not look good, forcing the Giants to bring in an alternative should Ray Durham take his time healing. As is, the Giants are carrying 13 pitchers, and their unwillingness to turn to guys like Todd Linden or Tony Torcato is understandable, but their having to rely on Hammonds, or having to go out and get Young, represents a pretty chilly endorsement of what they've got to call upon from Fresno. But getting Young is a good deal, in that because of a weak bench, they could use the extra hitter. Once Durham and J.T. Snow come off of the DL, the Giants' bench will rely on Andres Galarraga, Young, Hammonds, and Pedro Feliz, which isn't great, but at least it's not the Mariners.
Which brings us to the 13-pitcher problem, what with mop-up men like Matt Herges and Kevin Correia and Jim Brower all hanging around, plus Tim Worrell with his glossy new closer veneer, plus the usual organizational suspects, Felix Rodriguez and Joe Nathan, and lefties Jason Christiansen and Scott Eyre. The righties, Nathan and Brower, have been outstanding in terms of mowing down the appropriately-handed opponents, Herges is having a great year, and Rodriguez and Worrell have their reps for effectiveness in their roles as setup man and closer, respectively. Correia's pretty clearly crowded out, but that means seven relievers have legit claims on postseason roster slots, which in turn may mean that whoever isn't in the postseason rotation may not be on the postseason roster.
It's a minor point, but who's going to get the last spot on the Mariners' postseason roster, assuming they get that far? Ben Davis, Rey Sanchez, and John Mabry should all be locks, in part because they're the team's main backups at catcher, short, and the outfield. Willie Bloomquist can play six positions, and for whatever reason, his name seems to hold some sort of hypnotic power, so odds are, he's in. So that leaves the question of whether or not Greg Colbrunn will be able to play, and if he is, who gets bumped? Bloomquist? Or Jeff Cirillo? Cirillo's earned the right to be left off, but would a Pat Gillick team make that kind of move? They could always pare down to 10 pitchers, but then who gets dropped? Julio Mateo or Rafael Soriano, both of whom have been key cogs in the pen? Ryan Franklin, since he's technically the fifth starter? Freddy Garcia, since he's been awful? Admittedly, it might all be irrelevant, and there seems to be a general sense of drippy malaise in the Northwest given what happened last season and appears to be happening this year. But with eight of their last 10 series against losing ballclubs, their recent rough stretch aside, the Mariners aren't in bad shape for making the postseason. Carlos Guillen may not be A-Rod, but he's a valuable offensive player in a lineup that functions on the strength of four stars and three cogs, and endures the problems behind the plate and at third.
Claimed OF/1B/3B?-R Adam Piatt off of waivers from the Athletics. [8/19]
Piatt is a sweet pickup, because even if he wasn't hitting all that well in Oakland, a hundred at-bats scattered over nearly five months means pretty close to nothing. Admittedly, he'd greased the wheels for his release by kvetching about playing time, but he had a point, as anyone who had to wonder why Terrence Long was playing might. Here, he'll have an opportunity to take starts against lefties away from either Travis Lee at first or Carl Crawford in left, and probably a start or two at DH. The Devil Fishies can use the right-handed power, and Piatt was definitely worth a waiver claim. I know, I like him more than PECOTA says I should, I guess I just like a player with positional flexibility who can fill a platoon role, and getting that sort of player on waivers is downright tasty.
Optioned RHP Juan Dominguez to Oklahoma; recalled RHP Rosman Garcia from Oklahoma. [8/23]
You might ask why Dominguez got optioned now, when the Rangers could have waited a week? Because he's going back for less than 20 days (since there isn't a whole lot of Triple-A season left), apparently it won't count as his first option. However, there's still the unanswered question of why they called him up at all, when they didn't need to add him to the 40-man until November. Why call him up before Sept. 1 and roster expansion? Did they really just not give a rat's patoot about the generally common knowledge that he needs a breaking pitch? Having seen for themselves that this was indeed the case, at the cost of granting him service time, how does that add up to a particularly good idea? The value of a "learning experience" seems like a stretch.
Optioned RHP Dan Reichert to Syracuse. [8/24]
The Blue Jays are desperately short in the rotation at the moment, since Pete Walker got to crowd in among Josh Towers and Mark Hendrickson as the team's choices for dirty duo at the bottom of the rotation behind Roy Halladay, Kelvim Escobar, and Cory "I'd pitch for Oakland" Lidle. It's not a happy collection of choices, but you can basically count on the Jays to spend another winter sifting through other guys like Towers or Walker or Tanyon Sturtze, who are generally available on waivers or for spare change.