May 15, 2004
May 10-13, 2004
And, lest we forget, Darnell McDonald was already shipped out, thus balancing the roster. There's news good and bad, in that it appears Brian Roberts is the second baseman for keeps after his early good works, so Hairston's return isn't going to complicate anything in the middle infield. And as laughable as the suggestion that Hairston might get at-bats at DH or in the outfield might seem, given any reasonable expectation of how he'll hit, that isn't really the point. If the Birds are going to be able to deal Hairston, and get the best possible value for him, it will be because he's been properly showcased. Since this year's O's squad, as entertaining as it is, isn't going to win anything, there isn't anything at stake beyond playing the games to make exactly these sorts of choices about the future: Hairston vs. Roberts, or who's going to be part of the pitching staff for years to come.
On that subject, it would be premature to get too down on Matt Riley or too high about Danny Cabrera. Consider Cabrera's success in his debut as a nice example of what you can do to a specific opponent, similar to if not necessarily inspired by some of Casey Stengel's rotation juggling. Cabrera's a big kid who throws hard with significant control issues, but the big hard-throwing kid facing a predominantly right-handed lineup short on scouting reports on him? Sure, that's worth a roll of the dice. It's the going forward part of the program that will be a bit dicier. Cabrera's a nice scouty pitcher, but this season's five-start stint at Bowie isn't exactly enough to say he's turned the corner after a frustrating 2003. If Riley was going to be on the DL for an extended period of time, I'd expect the Orioles to have called up John Maine; because they're hoping to have Riley back before the end of the month, I'd consider this more of an opportunity to peek at Cabrera. If Cabrera shines in his next start a week from now, that might change things.
Recalled RHP Jamie Brown from Pawtucket. [5/12]
Wow, talk about a quick case of getting all nervous about Kim. He gets drubbed by Cleveland twice, and he's suddenly a problem? Maybe he just isn't a good guy to pitch against the Tribe. Sure, his other start was beating the Devil Rays, and who doesn't do that, but he could have drawn his next assignment against them, and why overreact and potentially harm his value if you decide you just have to deal him? I suppose it could really be about letting Kim get ironed out as a PawSock, since we're talking about the fifth starter's slot, and Bronson Arroyo shouldn't be bad news in the role. They could flip Kim back into relief work, although the Sox pen isn't really a problem. They're talking about getting his 'explosiveness' back, but I'm worried that they're risking turning a little something into a big something by fussing as much as they have.
The Sox are happy with Damaso Marte as their top-shelf lefty, and Neal Cotts as the earlier-use guy (to Guillen's credit, Cotts isn't being restricted to situational work), so there wasn't really room for a third lefty. Wunsch might yet earn his way back: he is a good situational reliever, after all, and as much as Billy Koch has been flogged for his inconsistency, it's Cliff Politte who's pitching his way off of the ballclub. As long as Cotts is handling complete innings, and since Marte isn't a situational pitcher either, perhaps there is room for a third lefty, just at Politte's expense.
Vina's sort of the rich man's Tony Womack, and can even boast of some occasional usefulness. It's helped him earn top dollar, despite a well-deserved rap for extreme fragility. Sometimes, that's a case of a player's body betraying him, but in Vina's case, I think it has more to do with his willingness to put himself out there. He's got a shot at the HBP record, after all, and that takes a certain mindset, which while admirable in some respects, should not elicit a lot of pity. It's how he plays, and it comes with a price.
In his absence, this is Omar Infante's big opportunity. He is only 22, so it's far too soon to get down on him, and playing every day at second, he'll hopefully remind the organization that he can be part of its future. He can't control the indefensible decision to give Vina a two-year deal, he just has to keep getting on base and doing what he can to push the Jungleers to keep him in the playing rotation. As for Jason Smith, he'll get his share of splinters and service time, hopefully with enthusiasm.
Having employed both Mark Huismann and Rick Huisman, you might suspect that the Royals have a thing for Huismenschen now that they have Justin in the organization. The hope here is that Justin survives what I call the Butthole Surfers Leap of Faith: Skip past the name, and enjoy what you get. Just because the previous pair of guys might make the Royals or their fans a bit squeamish, Justin Huisman can pitch in this man's league. Believe me, I have the same feeling about the name 'Codiroli,' and I'm sure if there's ever a non-Chris named Codiroli who winds up pitching for the A's, I'll have to make the same leap. In the meantime, I get to spout off.
As for Mike MacDougal, he needs regular work instead of being reduced to a poster child for this year's disappointments, and similarly, DeJesus can afford to be disassociated with Ken Harvey's finest hour. Both were looking warty, had options, and they can look forward to being Royals again no later than August.
If there's a weird problem with the roster as currently constructed, it's that they could use an outfielder to platoon with Aaron Guiel or Matt Stairs in left, since they both bat lefty. Trying Mendy Lopez wasn't a bad idea, but I'd love to see them at least try Brown as long as they have him around. He wasn't too shabby against them when he was playing for the Pirates, and I'd rather see the Royals get some mileage out of the roster spot, instead of treating Brown as a glorified taxi squadder.
My priorities are admittedly suspect, because I'm more non-plussed about losing Punto than Koskie. I mean, yes, Koskie's a key part of the lineup, but this just makes life simple, because they can plug Michael Cuddyer in at third for two weeks, and still wind up with an everyday lineup slot for Lew Ford. Plus, they're getting LeCroy back at a point in time when the blush on Henry Blanco has faded from rosy to dusky to deathly. That isn't to say that they'll have the good sense to play LeCroy behind the plate regularly; the Twins have had a maddening consistency when it comes to finding ways to make the bad choice initially, and only eventually luck into a better solution. Which is why I'm unhappy about losing Punto, because there is no upside to letting Luis Rivas go unchallenged at second.
But I'm not especially annoyed that Balfour isn't going to go straight into the rotation. I mean, sure, Seth Greisinger is a bad idea and a bit of a charity case, but the next egg going into that particular basket will be Rick Helling, assuming they ever get him ironed out during his rehab stint. Balfour will get stretched in middle relief, the White Sox aren't running away in any particular direction, and I guess this can be another eventual choice that the Twins can work their way up to someday.
Traded INF-R Frank Menechino to the Blue Jays for future considerations. [5/12]
I remember my joy when the A's gave Jerry Browne a new lease on life. Keep in mind, I'd gotten a bit tired of Glenn Hubbard and Willie Randolph, and Tony Phillips was never going to be able to stay healthy and play second for any length of time. It was nice because they needed somebody who could contribute from the left side of the plate more than Willie Wilson or Walt Weiss were going to, and since Browne could stand around at second or third or the outfield, he was handy.
So I'm perhaps understandably nostalgic when I think about Mark McLemore's arrival, since theoretically, he gives the A's a reserve lefty bat (he switch-hits only in the sense that if you corner him with a lefty, he'll turn around; it's sort of a bombardier beetle defense mechanism sort of thing), and he'll play anywhere you ask. As somebody to spot against a tough righthander for either Marco Scutaro or Bobby Crosby, he's a little more useful than your average utility body. As long as they don't get overly optimistic, and propel him into regular work, it'll be a net gain. Because it's important to remember that although he can handle a few more positions, McLemore's no Jerry Browne. Both of them debuted in 1986, so where Browne was still under 30 when Oakland got him, McLemore's almost 40. It would be nice to get one of those .380 OBPs Mac was posting only two years ago, but at his age, you can't expect it, just hope.
Don't confuse me for someone who has any fondness for the 2003 Tigers, but I don't mind Santiago so much, at least as utility infield aspirants go. It gets the M's back to 11 pitchers, Soriano needs to be allowed time to actually right himself, the Importance of Being Bloomquist is temporarily on hiatus, and Bret Boone has some sort of achy breaky feeling that has Mariners fans with what little hope they have left stuck in their throats. Of course, Santiago does come up having hit .180/.278/.220 at Tacoma, and numbers like those are enough to make the locals think back fondly on the salad days of the Larry Milbourne Era.
Among the litany of ideas littering the Devil Ray landscape, I guess the nice thing to say is that picking up Perez wasn't among the bad ones. He would have made a nice righty thumper, but he's out for the year, which puts them back on the hamster workout wheel of life that always leaves them with Damian Rolls, no matter how far they try to get away from having him. It hurts all the worse because of their gaggle of lefty bats that's on the roster; Rob Fick is wasting away, and it isn't like anybody really thinks that plugging in Rolls for Tino Martinez or Aubrey Huff or Carl Crawford is going to yield tangible results. Unless the Rays want to set some sort of anti-record, which might explain their way of spiting the people of St. Petersburg for signing them up for a lease that extends beyond forever.
Woodward is supposed to miss a month, but the Jays seem to like a roster configuration where they carry two right-handed-hitting infield reserves, so J.P. Ricciardi asked for a favor from a friend, and got a familiar face. Chris Gomez will play regularly at short, Menechino will apparently start there about once a week, and Dave Berg will persist on his particular plane of existence, undisturbed by the events around him.
As for replacing Speier with Lopez, it won't hurt in the short-term. Early struggles aside, Lopez has value and comes back having given Syracuse a good couple of weeks. Besides, call-ups Jason Frasor and Mike Nakamura are here and earning their keep, and bullpen depth hasn't been that much of a problem. As long as they treat their current predicament as a closer-by-committee situation, instead of marooning Terry Adams in the role, things will be fine.
Overall, swapping out Cunnane for Almanza makes perfect sense. If you're going to carry a seven-man pen, a second lefty isn't such a bad idea, especially since the C.J. Nitkowski pickup hasn't added any luster to the Mazzone Aura of Geniusdom. The real question is why Cunnane lost out to Antonio Alfonseca. But to figure that out, consider Cunnane's problem: if you have four other non-closer right-handers in the pen to contend with for playing time, what sort of usage pattern might you expect? Cunnane was handed opportunities to work in meaningful ballgames early, and in a three-game stretch, gave up the tying run, lost a tie game, and turned a 4-1 deficit into a 10-1 laugher. After that, Bobby Cox didn't seem to have a lot of confidence in him. So even if Pulpo cooks with gas over an open flame, and always has, Cox didn't seem to care, sticking with Alfonseca when push came to shove.
Signed SS-R Rey Ordonez to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Iowa. [5/12]
One of the defining characteristics of White Sox fans is the extent to which they relish an opportunity to enjoy a bit of schadenfreude, especially where it concerns the hated Snugglies. I'm not a White Sox fan--I guess we can say I'm ambidextrous, having made friends on both sides of the Cubs-Sox fence during my long, happy years in Chicago--but I can share in that general sense of giggly spite that must have rippled through the ranks of the few Southsiders who appreciate St. Rey for his faults.
I'd rather stick with Damian Jackson and Ramon Martinez, but signing Ordonez is at least a sensible bit of adding depth. If Alex Gonzalez is out for two months, and should Martinez show he really can't play the position any better than Barry Larkin (the current paragon of inadequate shortstop play), the Cubs will need to have options. As long as Dusty pinch-hits for his shortstops, it doesn't have to become a problem.
Purchased the contract of LHP Mike Matthews from Louisville. [5/11]
In The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare--never one to let a fact get in the way--gifted Bohemia, the future Czech Republic, with a coastline. (It took a few centuries, but Karel Capek made this possible in The War With the Newts, his delightfully dystopian allegory about slavery and its rationalizations.) Similar to the Bard's slippery grasp of geographic realities, the Reds took their sweet time getting around to recognizing that Jimmy Haynes is what we might call a washout.
Joe Sheehan's already made the core point, which is that Haynes was overcompensated on the basis of one lucky year, but let's face it, you're talking about a pitcher who has had the chance to work with Rick Peterson and Don Gullett, two of the best pitching coaches in the game, and he's merely flirted with mediocrity. He's already 31. You have to get to a point where you have to admit that whatever promise Haynes once held, there's not a lot of reason to keep holding out hope for it to finally show up. And before you ask, no, like a lot of problems, giant talking newts bent on world domination will not fix this.
My concern is that they should have anticipated the problem before this year, and avoided putting up $2.5 million of their limited amount of discretionary Lindner lucre. When you let the contract own you, instead of realizing that you own the contract, you're making that most fundamental of management mistakes.
I'm a little more concerned that the Reds are plugging Todd Van Poppel into the rotation. I have to admit, I always hold out a bit of hope that somehow TVP is going to do enough to make up for the long-ago disappointments of the Four Aces draft, but he's really best as a situational right-hander. However, he can handle long relief work if you ask him to, and spot starts if that's what you need at the moment. Maybe Gullett teaches him to throw a great change-up or something to give him something to mix it up against lefties, but at this point, TVP is a utility pitcher, not that that's a bad thing.
Finally, the Matthews callup gives the Reds an alternative to Phil Norton among portsiders. Norton has done fine as a situational lefty, but his near-hopelessness against righties in the early going hasn't helped in a pen where basically everyone not named John Riedling or Todd Jones has struggled. Matthews can handle multi-inning assignments or situational work, and historically, he hasn't been quite as hopeless as Norton against the inevitable right-handed hitter.
It would normally be pretty easy to say something snarky about signing Jarvis, but let's face it, he might fit into the rotation. They've lost all seven of Scott Elarton's starts, and the responsibility for that lies with Elarton. He's given up five or more runs in six of them, hasn't posted a single quality start, not even against the Expos, and they even beat him. Not that they're going to contend, but in the games where Elarton isn't conducting hitting clinics, the Rox are 14-12. Between Jarvis and a rehabbing Chin-Hui Tsao, you have to think that the Rockies will do something about this, the sooner the better.
Wow, no sooner does his name come up, but faster than you can say "shrimp", and somebody else in the room says 'shrimp' or 'plate of shrimp'...it's all part of the cosmic unconsciousness," than here's Toby Borland, big as life. OK, I admit, I'm probably the world's only Tracey Walter fan, but there are some supporting players that are hard to forget. That's the sort of thing that Borland can aspire to as a ROOGY. He was effective for the Phillies at a time when they weren't, and lost out on a shot at being a back-staffer for last year's champs because of an appendectomy and bone chips in his elbow.
The liberating aspect of being a team that can afford to sling mud at the wall to see if it sticks is that if it doesn't, you can always hose away the wreckage. It's easy enough to haul out the next retread to see if there's a there there, and Adrian Hernandez was scored on in every game he appeared in. Generally speaking, they don't keep you if you're so wild you bust the couch during the audition.
I'm pretty comfortable with this turn of events. The Pirates save some money, and they have the opportunity to get the playing time available after Mondesi's self-immolating bit of drama into the right hands. Jason Bay will get most of the playing time in one outfield corner, with Craig Wilson flipping into one of them whenever they feel like getting Ward into the lineup. For Ward, this represents close to a last chance, although by happy coincidence, he's been red-hot since his promotion, while Randall Simon has struggled during his rehab stint. They're effectively interchangeable anyway, so if the Bucs wanted to simply ship Simon back to the Cubs for a couple of dill spears and a pack of Post-It notes, that works. I'd be happier if J.J. Davis was getting real work, but a 'big series' from Rob Mackowiak on Planet Coors seems to have distracted them.
Returned Rule 5 RHP Jason Szuminski to the Cubs; activated 3B-R Jeff Cirillo from the 15-day DL. [5/11]
I've never really drank very deeply of Antonio Osuna's Kool-Aid, so while I'm sure his absence might trouble some, I'm a little more sanguine about it, since he's often gone anyway. Besides, Brandon Puffer is one of my favorite stories and names. Beyond the obvious echo of the late, great H.R. Pufnstuf, he's that happy example of a guy who scraps his way into the majors after spending some time in the indy leagues. And he's a sidearmer, and in a world short of knuckleballers to go fanboy over, we need to take our funkiness where we can get it. I doubt he'll stick, though, what with the Shooter on the way back.
In other news, the vicarious thrills of a few dozen MIT grads turned a nasty turn into a series of boxscore bitchslaps, followed by the indignity of seeing their hero returned to the ignominy of Cub farmdom. Can't blame them for rooting, of course, and since the University of Chicago's finest athletic moment--well, outside of the women's basketball team, at any rate--was Bruce Montella's stint in camp with the Bears in 1986 (he got to go to the London exhibition game and everything), I guess I'm jealous of those people. Just this once. Maybe.
Ugh, and Jeff Cirillo's back. I'm sure he's just about to get his timing back, after mean old Coors Field screwed him up. However, with Ramon Vazquez going all Steve Austin on us--he's stone cold--I suspect that the Pads will take a right-handed reserve who might hit about as well as Brian Buchanan has so far. Well, at least if Cirillo gets lucky.
Wow, the Giants will have two major league hitters in their lineup? I'm sure Felipe Alou's spring in his step won't be just the Mylanta. To be fair, Marquis Grissom has nothing to be ashamed of this year, and Pedro Feliz has had his 15 minutes, but this is a team in desperate need of a whole lot of bouncebacks from already pancaked hangers-on like Edgardo Alfonzo, Michael Tucker, Jeffrey Hammonds, Neifi Perez, and/or Deivi Cruz. You might expect improvement from A.J. Pierzynski, but this is a lineup that's going to live and die on its ability to shrug off the intentional walk, and I don't think they have the shoulders to do it.