March 30, 2004
March 25-28, 2004
Optioned RHP Derrick Turnbow to Salt Lake. [3/27]
Under almost any circumstance, you'd have to think that the Angels could use Derrick Turnbow for relief work right around now. Brendan Donnelly's still hurting from the line drive to the head he took, and Greg Jones has to show he's fully healthy. But just about everything that could have gone wrong for Turnbow did. First, he pitched badly, and generally young guys with one last option should try to avoid that sort of thing. In our spring of noisy public discontent, getting caught for steroid use last year probably didn't help him much either. How would you like to run the risk of becoming steroid use's poster child in Los Angeles? Finally, with whichever one of the six starters who loses his job will moving into the pen, and with seventh starter Kevin Gregg having a great camp in relief work, you have to figure a quiet spring in the PCL might be the best way for Turnbow to get his season underway.
The Braves need big league-ready arms if they're going to be able to push Larry Bowa into tripping all over himself on the way to a pennant race. The question is whether or not you think John Schuerholz is targeting the right pitchers to shore up his staff. I like that he's taken on two guys with risk and up-side in Juan Cruz and Chris Reitsma, but the key word is 'risk.' Both could merely be useful relievers, at which point you got something you can normally find on waivers (as the Braves have in the past) for some of your few upper-level goodies. As decisions go, I don't disagree with the philosophy: the Phillies might be ten-game favorites, but I'm one of those skeptics who think that they'll find a way to keep things interesting. So gearing up now makes sense.
The question is whether the Braves have fed their need, or whether their problems remain as thoroughgoing as they appear to be. As Opening Day approaches, on the back end of a rotation stocked with the mostly functional, they're wishcasting Jaret Wright into the fifth slot. That's on top of their hoping that John Thomson works out, and while I'd consider that appropriate optimism, a slow start by the team and by Thomson might get the hounds baying for blood. Paul Byrd might be ready in early May, but if the Braves are falling back that soon, it strains credulity to assume that Byrd will fix a rotation that might have problems with quality and reliability by then.
But just as I already wondered about Cruz, let's take Reitsma. He was very effective as a reliever last year, rating well in Michael Wolverton's relief metrics. Over his big league career (the last three years), he's posted a relief ERA of 3.26 while striking out seven guys per nine. That's tasty. If he's a starter, he's got a 4.91 ERA in 53 starts, and 5.8 runs allowed per nine innings. As a starter, he's homer-prone, his strikeout rates drop to middling. Sure, some of that might be the normal mayhem associated with trying to work for Bob Boone, but some of it may also be that Reitsma just isn't going to be a great starting pitcher someday. To have given up two highly-regarded arms this early for a good big league reliever isn't a terrible exchange on the face of it, but the Braves don't have a lot of pitching talent above A-ball to peddle at this point. If the Braves can't make big solutions in-season for lack of an extra bargaining chip, it wasn't because they lost it in the couch.
The Orioles have been the source for quite a few warm fuzzies this winter, and not merely because of proximity. Beyond the big news signings, the prematurely ended drama of the second base battle let the Orioles show off Brian Roberts to advantage while also letting them get Fontenot some serious playing time in spring. Roberts looks like he'll be fine as the leadoff man, and Fontenot didn't embarrass himself. It might force them to deal Hairston for less than they'd like once he returns, since both he and Mark McLemore probably won't be ready to play before late April, and that makes for a crowded roster. However, that's far from the end of the world. Fontenot's progress puts everyone on a clock, and none of the big leaguers are going to grow up to be Robbie Alomar. At some point, the Orioles will have answers and an extra prospect or two, and who wouldn't want that in their immediate future?
As for the demotion of Pebbles, or Little Rock if you prefer, Kid Raines had a good camp, and Luis Matos' career has been all over the place, including the DL a few times too often. While Raines might not be a great alternative, he's at least demonstrated he'll be a useful one, should Matos break down again.
Reassigned 2B-R Carlos Febles to their minor league camp; optioned RHP Anastacio Martinez and C-R Andy Dominique to Pawtucket. [3/25]
And just as Brent Gates fell, or Geronimo Pena before him, so too has the other half of Los Dos Carlitos shuffled onto the second base habitrail of former prospectdom. And just as the memory of Gates troubles me, I suspect Febles haunts Rany's idle wishes, and Pena's ghost haunts the ruin of a thousand thousand fantasy leagues gone bad. That's fandom for you.
Although I never drank deeply of the East River or whatever spirits inspired fanciful local notions of Timo Perez, Superstar, in the Big Apple, this looks like a sensible exchange. Joe Borchard was hurt all spring, and the Sox could use a lefty-hitting outfield reserve to back up Aaron Rowand in particular. As a fifth outfielder, spot starter and pinch-runner, he's an asset, and against the weak rotations of the AL Central, he'll come in handy. The danger is that his mix of small-ball weensy weapons will appeal to the Ozzeroo's narcissism and the happy memories of an inflated appreciation of his own worth as a player, producing the kind of playing time Timo was used to in New York.
Although you might wonder why Wright was in Cubs' camp, cut Jim Hendry a break and remember the timeline. Although he'd saved money on getting Todd Walker relatively cheaply he hadn't signed Maddux yet when he signed Wright, and didn't know if he would or could.
Optioned LHP Brandon Claussen to Louisville. [3/28]
It isn't often that you'd tab a March move as a white flag, but swapping out Reitsma for future-oriented goodies certainly resembles exactly that. Although I'm not a big fan of guys like Brian Reith or Todd Jones or Todd Van Poppel, the Reds' pen is stocked with arms of in all sorts of flavors: talented, prospect-y, established, or journeyman. So they had depth to deal from.
Despite the change in leadership, this deal actually fits in pretty handily with last summer's mass acquisition of other people's young pitching, although the swag is a little more promising than last year's deals. Jung Bong might get typecast into a lefty bullpen role after the miserable camps that Mike Matthews and Phil Norton have had, but he could also slip into the rotation when the need arises. As a franchise, the Reds blew it with Dennys Reyes; here's hoping that they let Bong pitch, instead of wishing he'll be the new Eddie Guardado. Nelson is arguably less of a prospect, but in a year or two, he could wind up being more valuable than Reitsma, either as a starter or reliever. Getting both Bong and Nelson may not make a major difference for your 2004 Reds, but it ought to mean something in 2005 and beyond.
What's a little more surprising is the decision to run off Brandon Claussen. Thirteen spring strikeouts in 14 innings may not mean much in the grand scheme of things, but Claussen has obvious promise. Hopefully, the season's early fascination with guys like Jesus Sanchez and Jimmy Haynes will peter out, and the Reds can get into the business of looking at the good stuff that's nearly ready.
Purchased INF-R Brent Abernathy from the Tigers. [3/26]
Released RHP Giovanni Carrara. [3/27]
Acquired a PTBNL from the Mets for INF-R Ricky Gutierrez; optioned LHP Cliff Bartosh to Buffalo; reassigned RHPs Dave Lee and Matt Miller, C-R Brian Luderer, UT-B Zach Sorensen and OF-R Ernie Young to their minor league camp. [3/28]
By dealing Gutierrez, the Tribe reaps the triple benefits of making his comeback somebody else's problem, getting somebody else to pay some segment of what they'd have lost otherwise upon releasing him, and they get to make and observe commitments to Lou Merloni and John McDonald as the team's utility infielders. Okay, that last one doesn't really inspire a lot of excitement, but how excited should any of us be about the team sparing itself some of the final expense of the original mistake in signing Gutierrez? Then, in purchasing Abernathy, they get the Bisons a regular who can also double as a utility spare at the big league level, and he won't cost much or break your heart if you outrighted him and he got claimed. He does box out Sorensen, but at this point, Sorensen's a reminder of a crop of players Shapiro helped develop. I did not say crop of prospects, mind you, but we can all be nostalgic about the guys you get attached to at the start. I have an unhealthy fondness for the memory of Bill Almon, so it isn't like sense and sensibility have anything to do with it.
Released 2B-R Damian Jackson. [3/28]
...thereby making Aaron Miles the starting second baseman out of the same inexorable logic that even Clint Eastwood ran out of bullets once in awhile. Some people are excited about Miles, but beyond his being a regular in Coors Field, and how that'll affect some fantasy fortunes, you can basically consider him a two-year temp, or twice as much Ronnie Belliard for the price of one.
Sold 2B-R Brent Abernathy to the Indians. [3/26]
Sold 2B-R Pablo Ozuna to the Phillies. [3/28]
It's no surprise to think that we'll see German back shortly. Look at it this way, he's already contributed to the team's regular season success: by allowing four home runs in spring training, he was a key contributor to a decision to sign Uggy Urbina. There's no 'i' in team, or taters neither. That's team spirit. Like Snarf's lone observation ("Snarf"), you can't hope to explain why a bad thing adds to the virtue of a miserable collection, you simply have to trust that we're all better Thundercats because of it.
If you're keeping score at home, and odds are, if you're a cranky, befuddled Marlin minority partner, you are, that math adds up to Mike Neu, Isotope, and a good chunk of change saved, for Mark Redman. But as you already know, Monty Burns has big plans for Neu, involving nerve tonic, dancing mascots, and all the other bells and whistles you associate with make those Shelbyvillains pay.
Outrighted OF-L Dee Brown to Omaha. [3/25]
Signed RHP Jamey Wright to a minor league contract. [3/27]
Febles, Brown, Ken Harvey, Mike Tonis... some of these guys were prospects of note for a reason, but most of them belong to the Ed Hearn School of Fanciful Notions, young players we hear too much about in the same way that Peter Gammons will let us know how Andy Yount is doing. None of this is a bad thing, of course, just slightly idiosyncratic. We all have our blind spots, or in my case, infamous old stupid-bad Giles-for-Ricky Rincon assessments. If we're all to be judged by our mistakes, I guess there's some virtue to making them big. Or so Vince Naimoli says.
On a less self-absorbed note, Wright is a nifty pickup for the Royals. Chris George is pitching his way out of the industry, and Kevin Appier and Jimmy Gobble are still banged up. Jeremy Affeldt isn't pitching well enough to have any job security. I was beginning to think this might mark a return to grace for Kris Wilson, or that Dennys Reyes' comeback might start here and now, but in their hour of need, Wright came free after his release from the Cubs. He might move directly onto the Opening Day roster, which won't win the division for the Royals, but at least it might keep them from falling too far back in what might be a pretty cold start.
Released RHP Dave Veres. [3/26]
For those of you keeping score, it was the Cubs who win the booby prize of having paid Veres too much too late. Having cycled through all three of the NL Central contenders, I'm sure he'll be a great guy to have around in Pittsburgh.
Optioned OF-R Chin-Feng Chen to Las Vegas; reassigned RHP Agustin Montero and INF-R Eric Riggs to their minor league camp. [3/26]
Reassigned 1B-R Luis Garcia, C-R Ryan Kellner, INF-R Jose Flores and RHP Masao Kida to their minor league camp. [3/27]
Outrighted RHP Adam Johnson to Rochester; optioned 1B-L Justin Morneau, RF-R Michael Restovich, and SS-B Augie Ojeda to Rochester. [3/26]
Repaint those "Free Erubiel Durazo!" campaign posters, because our new victim is the even more difficult case of Justin Morneau. Where Durazo lacked for quality competition, making his cause one easily embraced and just as easily over-flagellated, Morneau's burdened with quality players in his path, an organization that appreciates his virtues and his future, and options left to use. Mike Restovich is similarly blighted, just less so, although one of his stumbling blocks is the insuperable, fascinating conversion of Michael Cuddyer from middle infield to third to outfield to a utility role. That path to the majors alone might make him my favorite hard-hitting multi-positional guy since Arci Cianfrocco thundered around shortstop for the Padres now and again. It's almost enough to make Twins fans remember Roy Smalley Jr. fondly.
On the less important fronts, Adam Johnson's career is looking about as wrecked as it can get without convictions of multiple surgeries or Steve Blass Disease. I'm surprised nobody put in a claim, but it's a reflection on how far his star has fallen. And Augie Ojeda? Much as I'm one of the thoughtless dozens who root for guys named Augie, he'd lost the utility job for Cuddyer and Nick Punto, both of whom offer more at the plate. Credit Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan both for what's shaping up to be a really cool multipurpose bench.
Maybe it's because Val Pascucci is my type of Three True Outcomes type of guy at the plate, but I would have liked to see him get a cleaner shot at Joe Vitiello's job. That's assuming Vitiello even gets one, of course, but Vitiello has had a great camp, joining Peter Bergeron, Henry Mateo, and Terrmel Sledge on the short list of nice surprises in camp. Naturally, a cynic would point out the reason underlying some of the surprise, but forgive Expos fans for their suspension of disbelief; the team's still theirs, after all.
Optioned RHP Jason Anderson to Norfolk; reassigned LHP Pedro Feliciano to their minor league camp. [3/26]
Acquired 2B-R Ricky Gutierrez from the Indians for a PTBNL. [3/28]
Consider one of these pickups an add, and the other a dump. Matt Ginter's just a name and a once and future Tide whose futures started ebbing awhile ago, so really, the Mets were just getting Timo Perez out of the way in an outfield reserve picture crowded with Raul Gonzalez, Roger Cedeno, and Shane Spencer. Spencer might feel some sympathy, having once been equally blighted with a prospect label born of Big Apple bumpkinry than any sensible recognition of skill, but it's Perez who's on a contender now, while Spencer's stuck in a team harboring dreams as bold as second place if lots of good stuff goes their way and lots of bad stuff happens to other people.
As for Ricky Gutierrez, I know it's mean-spirited to rain on this particular parade, and the Mets have acquired him out of need, what with Kaz Matsui and Jose Reyes nursing hurts. But rain it must be, because Gutierrez isn't exactly an offensive asset, and defensively, he was bordering on done three years ago. It's nice to see him get a chance to go out of the game getting to play again, but he's not a solution to the team's infield depth problems.
Reassigned CF-B Nick Swisher to their minor league camp. [3/26]
Received Rule 5 pick RHP Chris Mabeus back from the Rangers. [3/27]
Swisher ended up getting a lot of playing time this spring, which you could interpret several ways. Perhaps he was playing to get used to seeing more advanced competition, perhaps it was to show off some lessons learned in the batting cages, and perhaps it was to showcase him in case someone's not slipped all the way into anti-Moneyball conniptions.
Purchased 2B-R Pablo Ozuna from the Tigers. [3/28]
I guess the Phillies are the victims of that strange realization that they may indeed miss Nick Punto, but getting Ozuna was basically motivated by injuries. David Bell, Tomas Perez, and Chase Utley are all banged up, and chances are somebody might have to be on the DL. Once they determine who, they can flip Placido Polanco to second or third as needed, and start Ozuna at second if need be.
Placed SS-R Rey Ordonez on the minor league restricted list. [3/27]
Ordonez left camp a couple of weeks ago, and elected to not return. Again, it's early to start talking MVP, but this is the sort of selfless act which normally only gets associated with willful subtractions like Derek Bell. Sometimes, the best player knows when not to try to contribute, but in all seriousness, it looks like Ordonez felt his chances of winning the job were nil, and decided to skedaddle, and the Pads seem willing to let it slide, without any really hard feelings. Although the 'restricted list' sounds ominous or punitive, it's simply a way to retain his rights until they sort out if anyone else is interested, and if he's interested in playing for them.
Meanwhile, it's all Khalil Greene. Since both Ramon Vazquez and starting second baseman Mark Loretta can play short, the Pads won't even need to carry some no-hit sack of used leather in a utility infield role, making for a stronger bench and better roster flexibility in-season.
Optioned OF-R Jamal Strong and SS-B Luis Ugueto to Tacoma; reassigned 1B-R Bucky Jacobsen and C-R Luis Oliveros to their minor league camp. [3/26]
I'll leave the skewering of all things Ugueto to Derek in his more sadistically gleeful moments, since the way the Mariners are shaping up, this might be one of the season's highlights.
Optioned RHP Kevin Correia to Fresno. [3/27]
It isn't so much Kevin Correia's demotion that upsets me as much as the suggestion that it might be a bad thing considering the state of the rest of the staff. Is there any other combination of words that involves moving parts like 'Dustin Hermanson' and 'rotation,' without also summoning up 'foolhardy' or 'deathwish?'
I'm impressed on a couple of levels, in that it looks like the Cards are going to find a way to keep Hector Luna after all, and recognized the obvious in cutting loose Vaughn. Unfortunately, the fascination with Tony Womack means they don't really have a second baseman yet, and deleting the obvious loser from the equation in left field doesn't really mean a solution is at hand, but keeping Luna is something with some potential long-term benefits. I'm concerned they're excited because he had hits at a few good men-on-base moments, and that they'll expect more of the same early on, but if they could find ways to keep Shawon Dunston active most of the year back in the day, they should be able to carry Luna on the end of the bench, even if they do carry twelve pitchers. That's one situation where multi-position flexibility like Womack and Luna provide, help them, and kill somebody like Witt. With Pujols starting to take root at first, Witt was potentially reduced to the sort of pinch-hitting role a guy like Steve Braun would have had twenty years ago, except that that's twenty years out of fashion, and the roster spot gets burned on the likes of Julian Tavarez.
Outrighted LHP Bobby Seay to Durham. [2/26]
Reassigned C-R Danny Ardoin to their minor league camp. [3/28]
Optioned RHP Vinny Chulk to Syracuse; reassigned C-R Paul Chiaffredo, OF-R Noah Hall, RHP Josue Matos and LHP Dave Maurer to their minor league camp. [3/28]
Pity Vinny Chulk; he's merely a decent arm in an organization loaded with better ones on the way up. Faster than you can forget Pascual Coco, there's a decent chance that Chulk will have to hope he can mill around at the back end of bullpens or rotations in suitably exotic lost causes, like Cincinnati or Milwaukee or Detroit.