February 24, 2004
February 20-23, 2004
Signed RHP Jason Middlebrook to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/20]
Not a bad little claim, considering that the Angels have only two relatively solid starting pitchers. Let's face it, Kelvim Escobar, John Lackey, and Ramon Ortiz all hold differing levels of promise, but each has significant room for improvement, both in consistency and quality. Aaron Sele's around, but he's even less of a sure thing. Scot Shields has value, but the Angels are short in the pen. As a result, Middlebrook might finally stick somewhere besides his past experience in limbo, getting ping-ponged along the wire between the Mets and Padres. There should be a spot or two available; Middlebrook's primary competition will be Greg Jones, Scott Dunn, Kevin Gregg, and perhaps Derrick Turnbow.
Signed OF/C-R Eli Marrero to a one-year contract extension, taking him through 2005. [2/23]
While there's still plenty of speculation that Johnny Estrada can win the starting catcher's job, with the deal the Braves just gave Marrero potentially coming in around $7 million, I just don't see it. Estrada's slugging outburst of last summer was heavily batting average-inflated, and he's not a young player, but one in his prime right now. He'll make a valuable alternative if Marrero's seemingly endless litany of injuries gets any longer this season, but the job should be Marrero's to lose.
Signed RHP Brian Rose to a minor league contract. [2/22]
Signed LHP Mark Watson to a minor league contract. [2/23]
At last, a Rose comeback worth mentioning. Brian Rose endured that ultimate career interruption for a young pitcher, a trade to Colorado, which was followed by struggle, injury, even a brief, ignominious bout of Devil Raydom, and which has yet to find anything resembling a happy ending. Once upon a time, he was brash, talented, and highly touted, and he did at least have a decent AFL this past winter. He might be the sort of guy Don Gullett can really resurrect, but there's a good chance there never was a there there, and that Rose was merely another overhyped Soxling. Given Cincinnati's broad, nondescript ensemble cast from which to select a rotation, the odds of at least a cameo are pretty good.
Last year, the Reds harbored some hope that Watson would demonstrate how easy it can be to find an adequate lefty situational guy, but kidney inflammation ended his season early. This year, he'll have another good shot, because the most established lefties the Reds have to their name are Phil Norton and Mike Matthews.
Signed LHP Greg Swindell to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/22]
Another potential claimant to the long-vacant bullpen throne of Jerry Don Gleaton, as the Royals haven't had a lefty reliever worthy of the name in a decade. That's not to say Flounder makes a great claimant, more along the lines of the great-grandmother in everybody's family tree who claims to be a descendant of Pocahantas's heir through John Rolfe, thereby entitling the lucky relatives to most of the Virginia Tidewater. Fortunately, nobody believed her, at least not in my family, lest we get to be known as whiny, notionally historically-minded cranks seeking a handout.
Anyway, as we mentioned last week, Swindell's competition is pretty thin, and after losing last season to injury and family considerations, I suppose it makes sense to make sure you have to be carried out before calling it quits.
Hired Athletics Assistant GM Paul DePodesta to be their General Manager, replacing Dan Evans. [2/17]
This point sort of obliquely comes up in the Reds chapter in this year's book, but one of the more interesting tensions within the game is within a single generation of aspiring front office types. DePo's one of the game's sharpest minds, a reputation that Evans once sported according to some Fourth Estaters. But where Evans earned it with the White Sox, probing STATS to get what he needed now and again, he never really had a roadside conversion; he's old school. DePo does his own homework, understands the value of the money you pay to top talent, the overarching principles that will eradicate baseball's middle class, and he's armed with the sort of money to finance a player development program that doesn't need to cut corners.
That said, DePo doesn't walk on water. He's got plenty of garbage to work with in terms of inherited contracts, and it will be hard to match the roster turnover that J.P. Ricciardi achieved early on in the establishment of his program in Toronto. It's also important to consider DePo won't get to really add talent now as much as shop for it off of other people's rosters, but chances are that any significant deals will have to wait a few months. Naturally, you can expect him to deal with the people he knows; that's par for the course, as the extended Beanean trade circle gets another partner to deal in. But overnight miracles would be unfair to expect. Next winter should be fun, after he gets a good read on what to move and what to get off of the 40-man.
If there's a problem here, it's the idea that the Dodgers are finally run by somebody I can't help but root for. If Bostonians have their evil empire, and football fans everywhere have the Cowboys, as a kid growing up in Northern California, there was one great Satan: the Dodgers. Where the Giants of the '70s and early '80s represented a sort of moribund leftover from the honeymoon age of Mays and McCovey, and the threadbare post-Green Machine A's resembled a past-prime pinup trying to avoid mention on the cover of People magazine and just disappear after one failed comeback attempt too many, the Dodgers represented slick, sunny sanctimony. They were the team of Steve Garvey, stealth sinner, and the Pastaman, all tinsel and little actual mining-quality ore. Naturally, they were loathsome, and having no fictive commitment to journalistic "professionalism," it's a feeling I've yet to entirely discard.
Except now. With Lasorda a figure of fun and inconsequence, and the menace of Garvey's political ambition drowned in sex, and so many tremendously disappointing Dodgers teams added to the historical ledger, loathing atrophies to distaste, and change can produce respect. I suppose that this is a reminder that nothing is permanent, but it'll be a long-time coming before I can admit even a grudging rooting interest.
Signed LHP Chris Michalak to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/20]
Signed RHP Dan Reichert to a minor league contract. [2/23]
Reichert's the name to note, as Michalak should wind up spending even more time at the Triple-A level to add to his substantive career totals; 2001 is a lonely exception within the last four years, it being the only season that Michalak didn't pitch in both the PCL and International League. Of course, he did spend it in the big leagues, or Toronto with some Texas leavening, so perhaps he wasn't too busted up about it.
Reichert made a decently successful transition to relief work last year, but he still needs to add some measure of control before he's going to stick. Considering he's now with the Brewers, he may not have to wait to find it. However, it's sort of interesting to note his arrival here; like Doug Davis before him, he's acquired a reputation for having coachability issues. Davis showed enough in his Brewer time to temporarily dispel those sorts of concerns, and Reichert seems likely to get the same benefit of the doubt.
Designated RHP Pat Strange for assignment. [2/21]
Promoted Coordinator of Professional Scouting David Forst to Assistant GM, replacing Paul DePodesta, and promoted minor league hitting coach Billy Owens to Director of Player Personnel. [2/20]
Signed RF-R Raul Mondesi to a one-year contract, with a club option for 2005. [2/23]
Frankly, I cannot imagine a player I'd rather not have. Mondesi is good copy, but generally manages to annoy his teams with his assertive, vacuous leadership skills. He's an offensive mediocrity and an overrated defender, with an age as understated as Julio Franco's. What's the upside here? The possibility of a fifth-place finish? The longer the Pirates fend off their actual responsibility, to see if J.J. Davis or Tony Alvarez or Tike Redman have a place in some better future, the more they're just stalling. If Dave Littlefield thinks this is the sort of move that'll keep him gainfully employed, desperation is hitting a new, low definition. Even if you give the Bucs the benefit of the doubt, and consider Mondesi a summer rental to be flipped before the end of July, as rental hitters go, he's not going to fetch much in exchange.
Looking at it from Mondesi's perspective, this was a genius move. He's got another year's worth of guaranteed money, a team bereft of any stronger personalities, and expectations that however bad he might be, he can't be as useless as Derek Bell. If anything, he might actually be worse. There won't be an Operation Shutdown for him, he'll play. And four hundred outs or so later, you'll have on-base tagouts, wild throws from the corner, and aggressive hitting to make some segment of the audience think he's giving you your money's worth. Raul Mondesi isn't a solution, he's a symptom of something that still isn't right.
Signed 1B-L Damon Minor to a minor league contract. [2/20]
With Dusty busy creating tight pennant races in the NL Central, I suppose the coast was finally clear for Minor to return to the Giants, or at least the resistible charms of Fresno. But as long as the in-house alternatives to J.T. Snow are limited to Pedro Feliz or Lance Niekro, Minor should have a place in the organization. Although we've been ready to credit Brian Sabean for much that has gone well on his watch, drafting or developing young hitting talent or assembling a decent crop of useful minor league veterans have not been hallmarks of the Sabean era.
Re-signed 1B/OF-R Albert Pujols to a seven-year, $100 million contract, with a club option for 2011. [2/20]
Setting aside the persistent age concerns, which must have been resolved, privately, to the Cardinals' satisfaction, I suppose this is good news, as the Cards nominate Pujols for immovable object status. Having rooted him in place, they may have to fix on a position for him, and this winter's failure to assemble a good supporting cast has to be a source of long-term concern.
Re-signed 3B-L Hank Blalock to a five-year, $15.25 million contract, with a club option for 2009. [2/21]
This seems a rush to spend, aimed as much at proving the virtues of "financial flexibility" to the locals--"we kept the guy named Hank!"--as anything else. The most generous allowance would be to compare this to John Hart's long-term pre-arbitration eligibility contracts of Tribal days long gone. Blalock's agent felt the deal premature, aspiring to more later. Depending on how it's structured, I guess it makes sense, but the atmospherics of the move, making it to "prove" what's possible in the post-A-Rod world, strikes me as a bit of public relations shammery.