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April 27, 2004
April 19-25, 2004
The Snakes are looking at lot less than lively, to the point that they're something between licorice whips and beef jerky, only a bit softer where other people's schedules are concerned. So losing Alomar might sound like a setback, what with the team handicapped by losing a famous and expensive talent, but it means nothing in terms of their place in the standings, regardless of whether he's out for the time being or two months or forever. But with Alomar out of the way, and this winter's of delusions of grandeur dissipating as painfully as a hangover, Arizona actually gets to do some good stuff. I'm not a huge Matt Kata fan, and I don't think he's anyone's idea of a leadoff hitter, but better to play him and see what he can do before they have to make a decision about Scott Hairston's position. In that sense, if you think Alomar is done (and after two bad years, you'd be forgiven for thinking it), not having him around provides all sorts of benefits. Beyond the development time for Kata, when Alomar comes back in another six weeks or so, you might not have too much of his more recent production to make a needy contender think twice about acquiring him to fix a second base problem. If things work out well, the Snakes might only have to play Alomar for two months or so before being able to deal him for something they can use.
Having Tracy up is even better news, since they seem intent on playing him. Although I'm not as frothily enthusiastic about him as some, he's going to be a good, regular platoon partner at third base, and the handy slump of Shea Hillenbrand gives the organization sufficient cover to keep Tracy in the lineup. Again, if Tracy wins the job now, the Snakes will have a commodity worth contender's consideration in Hillenbrand, capable of manning either infield corner, mashing lefties, and unburdened by any long contractual considerations. Without having Richie Sexson signed to an extension, they might just hold onto Hillenbrand, and get really good stuff for Sexson, but the challenge for Joe Garagiola Jr. will be identifying when to pull the plug, and what sort of good stuff he can get.
If Hillenbrand were dealt in the coming months, the other roster variant that Bob Brenly could employ would be to use Robby Hammock as Tracy's platoon partner at third. Not that Hammock will make a great third baseman, but if it's only to spot against lefties, it's not a bad arrangement. Tracy's glovework at third makes a nice addition to an otherwise leaky infield, giving the Snakes the opportunity to use both players to advantage, both as a normal platoon, and one with some defensive virtue. Of course, they have that with a Tracy-Hillenbrand arrangement now, but Hillenbrand is perceived as and paid to be an everyday player. A Tracy-Hammock platoon would also keep Bobby Estalella around, while giving the team three people who can catch on the roster, and that's the sort of on-roster flexibility that can come in handy if you want to pinch-hit, pinch-run, double-switch, and (not or) adapt in-game to a player injury.
Acquired a PTBNL from the Indians for 3B/OF-L Russell Branyan. [4/25]
This is pretty cringeworthy, because I don't see the Braves as a team that could afford to discard Branyan so casually. Sure, Mike Hessman's slugging 1.000 since his demotion, and Ryan Langerhans is off to a good start, but this organization is short on hitting talent to call on as is. Leaning on Jesse Garcia or Dewayne Wise, or making Mark DeRosa a regular at third base, are not the moves of a team that wants to contend. Counting on Larry Bowa to keep things interesting in the division strikes me as a wee bit foolhardy.
There are two mitigating circumstances, however. First, there's the question of Branyan's approach to the game, which has infuriated some minor league coaches and managers in the past. At the very least, Branyan is blighted with a surfer's idioms, which I somehow don't see as being easily reconciled with Bobby Cox's idea of a ballplayer. Second, the Braves have moved Kelly Johnson to the outfield down in Greenville, and he's hitting. As shallow as the organization is, if he keeps it up, he'll move up quickly. The real question is whether he might be ready to help out in the big league outfield at some point this summer, especially if J.D. Drew keeps breaking down.
Recalled LHP Erik Bedard from Ottawa; optioned OF-B Tim Raines Jr. to Ottawa. [4/24]
The Orioles' rotation of once and future young guns-Ponson's once, Ainsworth and Bedard future, and DuBose and Riley a bit of both-will continue to have its moments, both glorious and gory, but perhaps there's an additional bit of method to credit both the Flaneattie GM tag-team and Lee Mazzilli. By depositing Rodrigo Lopez and Rick Bauer in middle relief roles, the Orioles have a pair of right-handed long relievers to spot for the three lefties (DuBose, Riley, and Bedard). The question is whether Bedard will get kept around if he continues to get hided like a scalded hog. As good as John Maine is looking at Bowie, and how well both Lopez and Bauer have done in mop-up roles, Bedard's current opportunity could fizzle out pretty quickly. In fairness, he's still trying to come back from elbow surgery, so Bedard needs reps and innings. The question is whether the Orioles want to afford his getting them in a big league rotation.
Placed LHP Brad Thomas on the 15-day DL. [4/23]
As for getting to acquire Thomas because he'd fallen out of favor in Minnesota, and then place him on the DL, that can say something about Terry Ryan's acumen in roster management, the diagnostic ability of the Twins' medical staff, the lack of oversight from MLB when it comes to placing people on the DL, or the extent to which the Twins really had lost interest in having Thomas around. The elbow isn't supposed to be a major issue, so you can probably chalk this up as a case of the organization just flat-out wanting him gone, but in the meantime, the Sox get to have him while seeing if DiNardo or Phil Seibel or Mark Malaska have what it takes to stick. You might wonder about keeping four lefties in a big league bullpen, but Byung-Hyun Kim is supposed to be back shortly, which probably pushes Bronson Arroyo into a right-handed long relief role at one of the lefties' expense. It isn't like they're auditioning Bobby M. Jones any longer; all three are talented, and if anything, the Sox get to audition all three now in a live-action extension of spring training If one of them really nails down the second lefty role behind Alan Embree, Red Sox Nation won't have to sweat out another Scott Sauerbeck acquisition.
Signed OF-R Andres Torres to a minor league contract. [4/23]
Valentin's hamstring should heal up in a couple of weeks, so the fear here isn't for his long-term prognosis. Juan Uribe is a fine substitute at shortstop, so there's no problem there. No, two concerns arise in Valentin's absence. First, there's the worry about the handedness of the lineup, which remains ridiculously right-handed, a situation only made worse with Valentin on the shelf. Although I hate using April stats as anything more than little hints, the Sox have hit .245/.315/.394 against opposing right-handers this year, and .336/.421/.637 against lefties, which sort of illustrates the problem. They're in a portion of the schedule where they'll see the Blue Jays and Orioles, and they'll catch Ted Lilly and some of the Orioles' trio of kid southpaws, and that could produce some curly-numbered innings, but how and if the Sox address this problem remains an issue.
The other concern is less the team's than it is Willie Harris's. Harris has struggled in the early going, and if Uribe continues to shine, once Valentin returns, Harris could be out of a job. If the Ozzeroo and Kenny Williams decide that Uribe should be an everyday player, then the Sox's needs for their bench shift, as they'll want what Uribe had provided, a right-handed bat to spot for Valentin at short now and again. So Harris is going to have to show something, lest Kelly Dransfeldt luck into the Dybzinski slot on a contender's bench. But making Uribe a regular will exacerbate the lineup's handedness problem, so you can understand the Sox's hope that Harris will start hitting.
Claimed 2B/OF-R Jason Romano off of waivers from the Devil Rays; optioned INF-B Rainer Olmedo to Louisville. [4/22]
Romano apparently doesn't want to play in the infield any longer, which sort of limits his utility, but with the Reds, he's still more valuable than Olmedo. Considering their roster, the Reds can afford to use Romano in an outfield reserve role. Although he can play the outfield, Ryan Freel has been leaned on more heavily as an infielder, and with Brandon Larson due off of the DL shortly, they'll have Freel and Juan Castro to back up the infielders while Romano fulfills fifth outfielder chores, pinch-running and the like. So it works out, and Olmedo gets back to a level where he can work on burnishing that prospect reputation he's still freighted with.
Recalled LHP Jeriome Robertson from Buffalo; placed LHP Jason Stanford on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 4/16. [4/20]
Optioned LHP Jeriome Robertson to Buffalo; recalled RHP Jason Anderson from Buffalo. [4/23]
Purchased the contract of RHP Kazuhito Tadano from Buffalo; designated RHP David Lee for assignment. [4/24]
Acquired 3BOF-L Russell Branyan from the Braves for a PTBNL; acquired RHP Rick White from the Dodgers for OF-L Trey Dyson; optioned RHP Jason Anderson to Buffalo.
It's a bit interesting that the Tribe is so determined to cycle through so many bodies now, when they have so little at stake. What is acquiring Rick White supposed to do for them? I like getting Russ Branyan, if only because he might give them an alternative to Casey Blake at third, but for now, he's going to join a Bisons squad already relying on guys like Mark Little, Ernie Young, and Todd Dunwoody to give a lineup starring the prospect trio of Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, and Jhonny Peralta some experienced leavening. Jeriome Robertson had a chance to work his way into the rotation, but he needed to top Jake Westbrook's perfect 21 up, 21 down long relief gig to get a shot at Stanford's slot, and that wasn't going to happen. Quibblers might point out that Westbrook achieved that and his subsequent complete game win against the Tigers, but this isn't last year's Tigers lineup he was facing.
No, the thing to really note is the arrival of Kaz Tadano, because he's that good. Some easily titillated pressbox types will dither over why he was available for import when he had been a top amateur in Japan, but unlike Kats Maeda, this guy can pitch, mixing blistering heat and good breaking stuff. It doesn't hurt that he won't understand the catcalls, but in the end, it's his talent that is the story, and if he's ready to pitch in the big leagues, he'll make us forget that other stuff.
Outrighted RHP Denny Stark to Colorado Springs. [4/21]
Activated RHP Mike MacDougal from the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Justin Huisman from Omaha; placed RHP Kevin Appier on the 15-day DL; optioned RHP D.J. Carrasco to Omaha; recalled OF-L David DeJesus from Omaha; designated OF-L Rich Thompson for assignment. [4/24]
Beyond doubt, if you asked my colleagues about my worst, most excessive faults, in the first rank among them would be my rotten habit to anoint myself the official checker of Jazayerlian optimism. In case you haven't figured it out, Rany can be a very upbeat, optimistic person, especially where the Royals are concerned. With a dose of affected grimness, I arrogate to myself the responsibility to provide a frequently pedantic counterpoint to Rany's blend of insight and optimism. It doesn't often do me much credit, but somebody needs to be a hard case now and again. The downside is that there's always a risk that, say, should a really good Royals prospect come along, he might get undersold. That's sort of how I feel about David DeJesus. I'd argue that we probably undersold him as a prospect in this year's prospect list, but if there's anyone to blame for it, blame me in the wake of some overly fulminated fulminations about Ken Harvey. DeJesus is an outstanding prospect, perhaps an old-school Royals jackrabbit with that old Royals/Herzog blend of patience and inside-the-park power and speed and defense, the sort of player that you don't have to be Rob Neyer or Rany or Bill James or whoever to acknowledge and enjoy. He's basically ready, and he's going to be everything New Yorkers claimed Timo Perez would be, only better.
Naturally, there might be some speculation that he's getting big league playing time now as a contingency for any potential decision to deal Carlos Beltran. But in the meantime, Royals fans should take heart from what good there is right now. One of the best signs of intelligence from a GM is not getting overly hung up on your modest successes. Aaron Guiel's a nice player, to be sure, and a guy who has clearly earned his big league stripes. He's also a better reserve and fourth outfielder than he is a regular. So it's to Allard Baird's credit that, rather than get all hung up on his having discovered Guiel, he recognizes the opportunity to bring up his top hitting prospect now, and get him into the lineup because he's ready. Near-term, it hurts Guiel, but Guiel will be around as a reserve. No, the guys who need to worry about DeJesus are Matt Stairs and Ken Harvey, because if DeJesus is all that from the start, regardless of where the Royals are in the standings, they're going to see their playing time start to dry up once Mike Sweeney's healthy. That's as it should be; Stairs is a nice spare lefty bat, while Harvey is a serial one-base wonder without defensive value. Sure, Stairs and Guiel can fill in for JuanGone when his inevitably achy back aches, and Stairs and Harvey can fill in at first when another Sweeney joint sproings in some new multidextrous unhealthy sort of way. But all in all, it won't be easy to keep both of them and Guiel on the roster for the duration.
Acquired OF-L Trey Dyson from the Indians for RHP Rick White.
Outrighted RHP Travis Phelps to Indianapolis. [4/21]
Placed LHP Chris Capuano on the 15-day DL retroactive to 4/19; recalled RHP Chris Saenz from Huntsville (Double-A). [4/23]
Saenz came up for a spot start, beat the Cardinals, and headed back out of town, all of which speaks immensely well of the organization. They recognize a good thing for what it was, while having the sense to send Saenz back down to Double-A to really show how ready he might be to make a more lasting jump. It's a credit to Jim Zduriencik's player development program and sense of purpose. Later on, when the Brewers have reached a point where they know they have to cut bait on Wes Obermueller or Matt Kinney or Doug Davis, Saenz may be ready to stick. That might be only a few months away. It was an exceptionally nice taster for Brewers fans as to what the future will hold once the team starts slowly replacing their near-term journeyman acquisitions with homegrown goodies.
In Hunter's absence, Lew Ford played to stay, putting up a great little month, so while the Twins didn't wind up with Justin Morneau getting playing time, they did at least get to see something happen with one of their kids. In that sense, the rash of injuries hasn't been an entirely bad thing for the Twins. Ryan earned the right to stick, Cuddyer is almost being taken seriously at long last, and Nick Punto has done well enough that he might nick a few starts from Luis Rivas. No, that last one isn't quite the Iron Horse and Wally Pipp, more Cookie Newman versus Steve Lombardozzi, but you takes your improvements where you can gets them.
Activated 3B-L Scott Hodges from the 15-day DL, and outrighted him to Edmonton. [4/24]
Optioned 1B-R Luis Lopez to Edmonton; optioned RHP Jeremy Fikac to Edmonton. [4/25]
Ugh, it's back to Endy Chavez? Haven't we already witnessed this particular brand of misery? The grisly reanimation of Peter Bergeron is one thing, but does this year really need to wind up being a jaunt through center fielders of the past? I'm sure Mitch Webster's lying around somewhere. At least it looks like even Omar Minaya has identified that Luis Lopez is the first baseman who can't hit, despite years of human interest stories and chatter about the former Jays' "prospect." But there's a bit of the mountebank to Montreal's shakeups, bordering on Bowdenesque. Sifting through everybody might get you somebody, but without a little bit of discrimination, it just means you'll have that many more names to remember without knowing what they do. As long as Carl Everett and Nick Johnson are out, the Expos should be giving Juan Rivera, Matt Cepicky, and Terrmel Sledge all the playing time they can stand, until they prove they can or can't play. If there's one thing they know beyond doubt, it's that Chavez can't.
On a smaller but still disappointing note, it wasn't fun to see Hodges get outrighted. Once a promising prospect, Hodges has been banged up, and contracting Crohn's Disease hasn't helped. On the other hand, for that very reason, you can understand and defend a decision to run him through waivers; chances are, he was going to get through. The organization still really doesn't have anyone above A-ball if Hodges doesn't pan out, so you can understand the decision to sign Tony Batista, but if Batista breaks down, Andy Fox stands to play an awful lot, and as much as Fox has always been something of a personal fave, the operative word is probably 'awful.'
Signed OF-R Gerald Williams to a minor league contract and assigned him to Norfolk. [4/24]
As long as Wigginton is out of commission with an ulcer, it would be nice to see the Mets take something of a look at Garcia. Not that he's a prospect or the future, but Ricky Gutierrez is done, and the Mets need to move beyond some misplaced sense of obligation to let him do down swinging. He's already swung, and this club doesn't need a veteran utility man who can't hit or field. If Garcia can't press Joe McEwing for playing time, he's as much of a waste of a spot on the 40-man roster as Gutierrez. The Mets need to recognize the problem, and get aggressive about snagging talent off of the wire.
Claimed C-R Michael Rivera off of waivers from the White Sox. [4/22]
As much as we can talk about a newly smarter industry, there's just something ridiculous and wrong when Sacramento has a trio of catchers good enough to help a big league ballclub. Mike Rivera's not a blue chipper by any stretch, but he could grow up to be as useful as Tom Wilson, who happens to be his teammate, and both of them get to caddy for Mike Rose, who might be one of the most underrated young minor league veterans around. Just remember, people employ Einar Diaz or Henry Blanco or John Flaherty or Brook Fordyce because they want to.
Meanwhile, the infield's taking shape, now that Frankie M joins Scooter Scutaro in an infield that seems to be taking on an '30s ethnic retro sort of feelings. As an Italian-American, I'm delighted. I'm sure somebody's supposed to be put out, or that white ethnic pride is somehow forbidden or revanchist or something. But as Michael Novak might have said in Unmeltable Ethnics, at least in one of the more chianti-soaked bits, better to bleed marinara than be subsumed in the vinyl-sided dullitude of suburban America. If there's someone who should feel menaced by this creeping squadra nostrum, it isn't King Zog (or Prince Leka), but Billy McMillon. Once Mark McLemore is ready to go, who's screwed, the fifth outfielder/DH type, or the fifth outfielder/DH type who can also play the infield? As last men on the bench go, McLemore might make more sense, but it's a shame, since McMillon could have been an asset back in the day. Now that he's with an organization that knows what he once was worth, it's sort of a shame to see him get potentially boxed out of a big league gig.
Acquired LHP Ed Yarnall from the Red Sox for a PTBNL and assigned him to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [4/19]
You might ask why, but with Cole Hamels and Bud Smith hurt, Scranton was short of useful alternatives for their rotation, and the Phillies were simply looking out for their affiliate. Yarnall won't get any more opportunity here than he did in Oakland or Boston, but as John Wasdin proves, hang around long enough, and somebody will put you to work.
Signed OF/1B-R Ben Petrick to a minor league contract and assigned him to Portland. [4/20]
It's just a flyer on another player cursed to have outlived his prospectdom. Petrick is playing first for Portland, and with his experience, an injury or two might get him up as a veteran reserve on a contender, but I wouldn't bet on it. With Todd Sears out because of back trouble, the Beavers needed the help anyway.
Recalled LHP Noah Lowry from Fresno; optioned RHP David Aardsma to Fresno. [4/21]
Activated LHP Scott Eyre from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Noah Lowry to Fresno. [4/22]
Released RHP Mike Crudale from Fresno. [4/23]
Recalled RHP Kevin Correia from Fresno; outrighted SS-R Cody Ransom to Fresno. [4/24]
Thirteen pitchers? Thirteen? Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big fan of Cody Ransom, but when you're stuck with a lineup where there's a plausible argument that your third-best hitter might be Pedro Feliz, you're a bad ballclub. Like a group of college roommates shaking the couch to get the funds for another Stroh's 30-pack, you transcend badness and move into 'squalid desperation' territory when you empty the bench to get a third long reliever (Correia) to complement Wayne Franklin and Brian Cooper. Barry Bonds should sue for non-support, or truck in The Donald to tell a dozen teammates or so "You're fired" [™ pending]
Recalled OF-L Colin Porter from Memphis; optioned RHP Jason Simontacci to Memphis. [4/20]
As long as So Taguchi has to be on the roster somehow, to justify the money wasted on his three-year deal, it makes sense to have an actually useful fourth outfielder around. Kerry Robinson wasn't that guy, but Colin Porter very well could be. Ideally, Roger Cedeno would be that guy, but Cedeno's hurt. Ray Lankford looks solid for part-time work, but given his age (he'll be 37 in another month), I'd be reluctant to overplay him. Marlon Anderson's hit well in the early going, but so has Tony Womack, and at some point, they'll be reduced to the leprous game of marbles they're prepared to fight to the last finger for the job at second. So as long as Cedeno's hurt and gone, Porter's a decent choice for a bench job that he was when the Cards snagged him off of waivers. He's a tweener, no great shakes in center, but not enough of a hitter to play everyday in a corner. Modest power, some speed, and at 28, a player as good as he's going to get. Taguchi can handle the role of being Jim Edmonds' legs for the playing time in center during blowouts or Randy Johnson starts or whatever, but Porter can be a bit more of a functioning part of LaRussa's ever-active bench. If he earns his keep, it'll make for an interesting problem once Cedeno's ready to be reactivated. At least the Cardinals are at eleven pitchers, something LaRussa rarely allows, but with Womack banged up, he must have felt exposed after having to use seven different players to start in the outfield only 19 games into the season.
Recalled RHP Doug Waechter from Durham; optioned RHP Jorge Sosa to Durham. [4/24]
Sosa might be the man off of the roster, and Waechter and Harper probably should have been on the Opening Day roster, but the problem is less Sosa than it is bad ideas like Damian Moss or Mark Hendrickson. But Piniella's singularly sweet on Hendrickson, and I guess Moss is supposed to help add veteran moxie you don't already get from Paul Abbott and John Halama. After one good game (against the White Sox and their overly right-handed lineup), Waechter has already earned a field promotion to #3 starter, which might be an acknowledgment of talent, but more likely represents the desperate prattlings of a team that wants to ignore its self-inflicted problems. This team is supposed to be going places, but their tickets all seem to be round-trips back to the noisy torpor of Tropicana.
Although Lewis's shoulder is merely supposed to be tight, I'd be a bit concerned. The rest he's supposed to be getting is all well and good, but when he comes back, he'll still be in the majors learning to pitch on the job, and he'll still have to worry about working long innings with runners aboard, pitching from the stretch. Kicking all of that around, I'm just not wildly optimistic on how it's going to work out. So in the meantime, you've got a Rangers' rotation armed with another velcro'd-together retread in John Wasdin.
At least there's happy news on another front. Nothing against Ramon Nivar, but if he's supposed to be a prospect, he should play every day, and with Laynce Nix up and doing well, that isn't going to happen here. Demoting Nivar does put the Rangers in the semi-awkward position of not having a backup center fielder who can actually play the position well; Eric Young is knocking around as a backup DH, second baseman, and notional outfielder, and I supposed David Dellucci could handle the job in a pinch. Theoretically, Brian Jordan would be Nix's backup once he comes off of the DL, although with Dellucci and Young both on the bench, at least Buck Showalter will have options. Even so, the roster's crowded; Adrian Gonzalez may not stick, good week or no, and Mark Teixeira is going to have to get at-bats once he's healthy. It's an interesting problem, but one where the Rangers can afford to consider all of their alternatives, in part because of the absence of any or many expectations of this team. Because of that, Chad Allen might stick, if only because somebody has to be fifth outfielder, and Allen doesn't need to play. They should probably give thought to dealing Young, but nobody's really hard up for a second baseman at the moment. Well, besides the Cardinals and maybe the White Sox, but the Cardinals pretend their problems away, and the White Sox aren't desperate. Yet.
Strike the lament, Howie Clark's up, and it looks like he'll get to play some. As a solution to a variety of nagging lineup and roster problems, it's an elegant fix: Clark can play the outfield, and should get Reed Johnson into a part-time role he's better suited for. Since he can also back up at first, second, and third, the Jays can afford to pinch-hit for Chris Woodward and still have some flexibility left on the bench. And as long as you're going to carry twelve pitchers, you need as much multi-positional flexibility as you can get.
As for the pitching problems, although I feel as if Towers has been scapegoated for the rotation's struggles, he's also the fifth starter, inexpensive and replaceable. He could least afford to struggle, and while I'm doubtful about how much Miguel Batista or Pat Hentgen are supposed to get a sense of professional mortality from Towers' liquidation, the organization does want to see if Miller's going to make it back from his shoulder injuries. With the amount of young pitching talent pressing up through the organization, young journeymen like Towers and Miller don't have the same sort of guarantees the vets have for the time being. Miller did strike out 21 men in 16.2 innings in his first three starts at Syracuse, so he isn't merely being cycled through.
Finally, I love seeing Nakamura getting a shot. Yes, he might be a situational righty and a work in progress as a side-armer, but as Steve Reed can tell you, there's money to be made in that kind of role, and the Jays need all the relief help they can get. It's worth noting that Aquilino Lopez joins Corey Thurman as Rule 5 picks that helped, but only briefly, but considering how little was invested in either, they both still represent the virtues of employing free talent. The two of them, and Nakamura as well for that matter, are chances you take, and as long as you don't get all crazy silly Bonifay over them, and start handing out extensions or multi-year deals, you're getting what the Jays have wanted: immediate help in the bullpen. Accepting that these guys are easily acquired and just as easily replaced is every bit as wise as making Raul Mondesi somebody else's problem, just in a lesser key.