Happy Holidays! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume Monday, December 29
May 11, 2004
Boo-farging-hoo. Angels in the outfield? This isn't Christopher Lloyd angelicly watching over this team's fortunes. At least in this instance, it's more like a spectral Christopher Walken cold-bloodedly trimming dead weight, like the King of New York putting Arty Clay down for the good of mankind. Erstad's hamstring injury is significant enough to cost him a lot of time. If it rises to the level of a situation where the Angels get any grass back on insurance, it's entirely a win-win proposition.
While the A's fan in me is less than thrilled to see Erstad unable to contribute his usual "catalytic" outy exploits, and as much as I share the general faith that Casey Kotchman is one of the best young hitting prospects in the game today, and while I generally like kids on the way up to get their opportunities, I have my reservations about Kotchman's ability to help right now this instant. At Arkansas, he was hitting .368/.438/.544, which sounds great, but it's another way of saying that he was hitting singles, not drawing a lot of walks, and not hitting for so much power that a promotion was on the no-brainer level because he was beating the Texas League like so many insolent serfs. By way of comparison, in terms of Isolated Power--slugging minus batting average--he wasn't hammering as well as Nick Gorneault and Tommy Murphy, neither of whom are members of the Arkansas blue-chipper trio. Still, it's a bit of exposure while the team is riding high, the Angels are wisely going to let Kotchman play rather than watch the Robb Quinlans of the world, and arguably, this is about as low-pressure a debut on a first-place team in May can get. I see this as a learning experience, but one he'll get demoted from.
Unfortunately for them, I suspect the Angels' fortunes will turn this week. That has as much to do with the schedule as it does with the mounting injuries. If you wanted to fire up a good run, there are few better ways than to draw two series against the Tigers in your last four, and one against the "Don't Tread on Me" (because I'm mostly cartilage and sort of squishy) Devil Fishies. They don't really draw any other easy somebodies for almost a month.
I'm actually pleased that Ozzie Guillen pretty much took Valentin's absence as an opportunity to play both Willie Harris and Juan Uribe every day. Yes, he still spotted Harris for Dransfeldt against a lefty, but Harris is getting at-bats against lefties, and better to let that happen now and again to see if he makes any improvements before writing him off as a poor man's Wally Backman. Meanwhile, Uribe got at-bats, and Guillen now has the happy mix-and-match dilemma of making sure that Valentin, Uribe, and Harris all get at-bats. If someone might start seeing some of his playing time leak away, it might be Joe Crede, because he's still struggling to keep his OBP over the Guillen Line (.284 career, but we could just as easily round down to .280). At any rate, it'll be worth watching, because as mentioned before, Guillen's doing a good job of keeping everyone playing. Well, okay, not Jamie Burke, but when your lot in life is to play 'Driving Miss Daisy' with Sandy Alomar, you've got your hands full enough not to have the time to notice. The real question is whether spot lefties like Timo Perez and Ross Gload will ever start justifying the confidence, but I respect Ozzie's willingness to use'm since he's got'em.
The Tribe's pen has easily been the worst in the majors. Although Tadano only had three games in which to contribute to that disappointment, he barely resembled the prospect we're expecting, showing up as quite hittable. Jimenez has been a useful high-leverage reliever in years past, so if he's fully healthy, he might be able to push his way into a few saves, sharing the closer's role with Raffy Betancourt until David Riske shows he's stopped channeling the spirit of Ron Davis.
There isn't a lot to add to this. The Royals are banking on a roster built around Berroa and Mike Sweeney. As much as it can, you might hope that this will encourage Carlos Beltran to stay, but the Royals have so many needs that I still think peddling him for goodies at the deadline makes sense.
Why give Pat Gillick a watch, when you can give him the gift guaranteed to give Mariners fans paroxysms of grief? While I'm sure there's some group of people inclined to think that Borders is sort of like Terry Mulholland or Jesse Orosco, a guy who's cool because he plays until the dogcatcher is called in. But over the last five years, his employers have been the Devil Rays organization and Pat Gillick. You might call that hanging on out of love for the game, but it sort of also resembles freeze-drying Snoopy after he gets shot down by the Red Baron that one last time, so that you never have to let go of days gone by.
The nice interpretation of this move is that it will allow Davis an opportunity to play every day and get his swing back. Davis has also drawn complaints about his glovework, so why not? Dan Wilson has cranked his usual near-empty average up for the occasion, and always gets good marks for his play behind the dish. So it's an entirely defensible move, and one where there's a hope that Davis might get his act together and re-launch his shot at claiming the catching job. The downsides? Without having a qualified big league backup handy, Wilson might get worn out, and Davis could wash out completely.
I guess this represents an initial opportunity for Bruney to reach for the brass ring. The Sultan is as close to a legitimate closer prospect as things get, having closed for Team USA in the past, and having gotten the usual hosannas people who throw in the 90s with that always-appropriate accessory, the slider. In 20.1 IP at Tucson, he allowed 21 baserunners (10 were walks), with 20 Ks, so it looks like he's got his good stuff going early on. Teamed with Jose Valverde, your Snakes' pen of the future could be every bit as nasty as you might have pretended it was going into the season.
On that note, shed a tear for roster carrion. Matt Mantei's on the roster and not closing, while running neck-in-neck with Oscar Villareal for the title of least valuable pitcher. Mantei may not have results, but he has got closer's mojo, and that ought to help him on ladies' night or something.
"Did you see my trick elbow?"
The name of the game is to keep from having to run a lineup featuring both Jesse Garcia and Dewayne Wise in it. (They couldn't avoid it on the 7th, when they not only played those two, but Hessman as well; the Astros' Tim Redding promptly logged his first win and first quality start of the season.) At least the offensive struggles come with tangible, understandable excuses: people have been hurt, Adam LaRoche is taking his time to get settled in, and Mark DeRosa is reminding people that, for a lineup regular, he makes a nifty utility infielder. Less readily identified are the problems with the pitching staff; nobody's very interested that Antonio Alfonseca is as useless as ever, and Mike Hampton doesn't look retreaded, he looks worn to the point that all you can see is steel belting and the kids' report cards. On that level, it's pretty impressive that this team is hanging around .500.
I know we've rated Betemit highly in the past, but nothing he's done at Richmond this year justifies the promotion. He was hitting only .224/.286/.368, which looks like the beginnings of a third season where he hasn't progressed beyond his stellar 2001. He's here because the Braves need healthy bodies, and the edges of the 40-man roster are being tested pretty mightily.
Released RHP Ben Christensen from West Tenn (Double-A). [5/8]
A-Gonz the Currently Lesser, the man who owes Steve Bartman big time, because it's Bartman or a place in history as the Bull Durham's soaked glove of '84 story in our latest chapter of Wrigley postseason futility, is gone? For six weeks? And he might even be missed? Who knew?
The problem isn't so much one of A-Gonz's merits, few though they may be. There's the larger issue of whether anybody left on the roster can play shortstop. As much of a Ramon Martinez booster as I might be, it' sort of iffy that Martinez can handle the job. But does he need to? With Kerry Wood and eventually Mark Prior, groundballs aren't plentiful, but beyond those two, the other rotation regulars all rely pretty heavily on getting groundball outs, Carlos Zambrano in particular. So this isn't a particularly happy turn of events. Martinez's offensive contributions, while still likely to dwarf Gonzalez's, aren't exactly going to make people forget Shawon Dunston, and if the glovework if Bowa-like for its rangelessness, you've got the worst of both worlds in Cubs history, circa 1985.
Under those circumstances, it makes sense to have a reserve who can play short, and Damian Jackson is an underrated player at the position. He's never going to pan out at the plate, but as utility infielders go, he's not a complete offensive zero: he'll take a walk, and he can run. Considering the alternatives, Jackson may even stick beyond some reactivations. Jose Macias might feel threatened, but he serves no useful purpose. If, once Mark Grudzielanek is ready to come back, Macias has to head for the beauty of downtown Davenport, the Cubs can mix Grudz in at short, retain Martinez as their main infield reserve, and hang onto Jackson until A-Gonz's return from the DL.
I suppose Ben Christensen deserves something. How about good riddance? It would be hard to imagine a more despicable act on the field than his cowardly attack on Anthony Molina, but among any roster of second-tier sins are the apologies made on his behalf by some in the working press and within the Cubs' organization. For his crimes, I had hoped he'd never make it, and I remain hopeful that in this one small case, the universe continues to have a sense of justice.
Larson is now moving into that 'perpetually broken' reputation that haunts some guys. Mickey Klutts, for example. Paul Molitor was famous for fragility, but he started off showing people he could have a career before getting hurt, and then bounced back to be a pretty durable ballplayer. Larson hasn't given any indication that he's going to ever hold up over time, so he serves as a useful reminder that healthiness is a talent, just like any other.
Hummel was alternating between second and third, and had not yet put in an inning at shortstop in Louisville, so he's really only going to help cover for Ryan Freel in the infield while Freel is pressed into duty in the outfield. The Reds could still use a shortstop, of course; Larkin can't turn the deuce, and his range has diminished to virtual Cey-sility. At the plate, he's withered into a singles hitter, with very few milestones within reach: a 200th homerun is nine away; I'm not betting he'll get there. I suppose he could swipe his 380th base; he's got one to go. But the Reds have been down this road before, and if they're willing to turn a blind eye to mismanagement so that Pete Rose can take a victory lap for three years or so, you can understand a local willingness to let a much better player do likewise. Minus all the illegal stuff, of course.
To be far more fair to Barry's legacy as one of the greatest shortstops in National League history, the best in franchise history, and an all-around superb ballplayer, this is like Ryne Sandberg's bitter end, where he was done, but beloved, and still better than a few. (On a different not, it's not at all like Ozzie Smith's going away in 1996, when he was better than many, including Royce Clayton, his presumptive heir.) As long as the Reds aren't going to miss the playoffs over this sort of thing, I guess it's Carl Lindner's plaything, and you can pay to watch it if you want.
Roberts was doing a nifty job of getting on base, so losing him is a pretty bad break for a Dodgers lineup that's shaped up pretty well courtesy of Paul DePodesta's patches and a few reversions to form. As ever, Jim Tracy's not falling into a more tidy set of solutions to cover for Roberts, instead flipping Paul LoDuca and Shawn Green into the outfield to get Robin Ventura and David Ross into the lineup. Roberts should be back next week, so Tracy is maximizing his flexibility, spreading the playing time around, and despite those losses, the Dodgers have the good sense to shop Juan Encarnacion around for whatever magic beans he might bring. Don't we all love garbanzos?
Take this as a do-or-die situation for Thurston. He was only hitting .247/.316/.376 in Las Vegas, or worse than some species of cacti would do in his place. His place on the 40-man roster is pretty clearly in jeopardy, so if he doesn't do something now, you can forget about him as anything more than a Hot Stove League apparition that didn't even live up to the lofty standards set for the breed by James Mouton.
Purchased the contract of RHP James Baldwin from Norfolk; optioned RHP Tyler Yates to Norfolk. [5/9]
So let me get this straight: they won't pitch Grant Roberts, they're this quick to quit on their bold spring stroke of acting as if Tyler Yates was all that, all because they really want to turn to James Baldwin at this point of the season? I suppose it makes sense, they did think Scott Erickson had something left in the tank, after all. So what is the objective? This team isn't going to win the division this year, which represents a crime when you're the people paying Mike Piazza and Mike Cameron, but so be it. Why surround them with oldish dreck? To give them teammates they've heard of? The Yates experiment was bold at least, but why abandon it so quickly, and why not consider Grant Roberts as an alternative? I mean, c'mon, James Baldwin? Who's next, Jaime Navarro?
Ouch. Although Larry Bowa has been downright rigid in his player usage patterns this season, losing Polanco costs the Phillies their real backup shortstop. Tomas Perez might be a useful utility man and pinch-hitter, but he's not a great choice to plug in at short to start for a week or two at a time, should anything happen to Jimmy Rollins. The more serious danger is that Bowa is going to let fear dictate another choice, as he might play Perez every day at second, and strand Utley on the bench. Particularly in this situation, Utley should be the everyday second baseman. He gives them a handy bat with a future, and the sort of guy who might yet either push his way into a platoon with David Bell, or make Bell a bench elephant of the particularly pricey variety. As expected, Utley was hitting well enough with Scranton (.263/.350/.475), and Bell is continuing to be an enormous disappointment, but those factors seem to be encouraging Bowa to manage even more reflexively and unimaginatively than before. On paper, this team deserved to be a 10-game favorite in the division; if they fail, much as Bowa might want to take a page from Casey's book and claim he couldn't have done it without his players, the onus should and will lie squarely with the last of the pepper pots.
Some things are actually turning out OK. I goofed and exaggerated thoughtlessly when I whined about Craig Wilson earlier in the season, but he's playing every day. Bay is back, and he'll be in the lineup just about every day as well. There's still way too much Chris Stynes and Rob Mackowiak for anybody's taste, especially since it involves leaving Bobby Hill and J.J. Davis on the bench more often than not. I guess the hope has to be that the veteran leadership that Raul Mondesi is about to exhibit, like Derek Bell before him, will encourage a similarly angry old man like Stynes to storm off sometime, clearing the roster of the low-rent, low-reward, garish K-Mart offseason fripperies, and getting around to playing the ballplayers. It might be taking pace at an agonizingly slow pace, but at least it seems to be finally happening.
Activated RHP Dustin Hermanson from the 15-day DL. [5/8]
Presumably, Hermanson will resume his role as the team's fifth starter, where he can try to try to confuse Felipe Alou over who his worst starter might be, the ex-Expo, or noted opera buff Brett Tomko. At least the move does provide one benefit, which is that it means local boy done good Tyler Walker is getting to stick for awhile. Walker might provide some value cleaning up after Hermanson, Aardsma, or Kirk Rueter, and allowing Alou to carry a long relief trio (along with Wayne Franklin and Jim Brower) for use in games within shouting distance. Before Matt Herges makes things interesting, of course.
Meanwhile, like the lesson of Pandora's Box, Don Aase can undoubtedly only feel the regret for roster moves that can't be undone: Aardsma is part of the historical record, and the name 'Aase' will never again be at the top of a page of any baseball records book. Well, OK, it isn't impossible. I suppose an initiative to scout and develop Finns, Estonians, and Icelanders might produce a bevy of Aadlunds, Aagaards, and Aanensens. Perhaps this is Brian Kingman's life's work now that he's lost whatever measure of celebrity it was that got him speaking engagements with the Vacaville Rotarians.
This isn't exactly good news. Yes, Calero's back, having demonstrated that he's healthy enough to pitch after striking out 20 in 19 IP. But the downside is that Lincoln, as much as he might be retreaded moribundity personified, wasn't anywhere close to the worst pitcher in the pen despite a 5.19 ERA. Cal Eldred and Julian Tavarez have been significantly worse, as noted by Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation tools, but where they've benefited from some great early pitching by Ray King in particular, Lincoln has been let down, often by those two. It's an interesting turnabout, considering that King has been dramatically awful with inherited runners in past seasons. Not having seen enough tape of King across seasons, I don't know if Dave Duncan has helped him with his slide step, or if it's mere statistical variance, but I'd like to think it's an actively pursued change for the better.
So the Cardinals pen is still awash in mediocre aspirations for survival of a few slender bets. Wait a minute, I think we have a bit of reality programming on our hands. Sadly, they're not an appropriately cute bunch, so I suspect Fox will want to replace them with a crack team of bodysurfing waiters from Malibu who read album end notes for philosophical insight. Odds are that this crack Zima Speedo Squad can't do any worse than Eldred and Tavarez, and it's ambitious branding to help reach audience segments almost entirely ignored by professional sports, so why not?