May 19, 2004
May 13-16, 2004
Ainsworth's out of the rotation, and Rodrigo Lopez is heading into it, in what looks like an admirable sense of priorities. It would have been easy for Lee Mazzilli to avoid making this particular decision, and leave Lopez in a role in which he was thriving. To his credit, Mazzilli decided to take a risk, and see if he can get somebody resembling the Lopez who was a rotation stalwart in 2002. It's appropriate, because as Michael Wolverton's Support-Neutral stats illustrate, the Orioles have the least-effective rotation in the AL, and Ainsworth was the worst-performing regular. (Sure, Ponson has been more exasperating, given the expectations and the expense, but that's a different scale.) It is, however, a risk. The only other effective right-handed reliever in the pen beyond Lopez has been closer Jorge Julio, and deleting Lopez from the pen picture leaves Mazzilli with only Julio, B.J. Ryan, and Buddy Groom doing good work. Cubillan's your standard-issue aspiring 11th pitcher, which might help, if only because Mike DeJean has been a season-long disaster, and John Parrish hasn't inspired much confidence. So there's pressure, pressure on Lopez to show that 2003 was an anomaly, and pressure on Cubillan and DeJean and Rick Bauer to do good work. But if the Birds get quality starts out of Lopez more than half the time, it'll represent a major gain.
Meanwhile, Ainsworth can polish his control, and might be ready to enter the rotation once Danny Cabrera's fling flops, or should Erik Bedard just not get ironed out. He'll be joined by John Maine and a rehabbing Matt Riley among their choices for rotation replacements.
Bar none, the Tribe has had the worst pen in the major leagues, so you can forgive them if they're a little antsy about it. I like the moves, but then I've always felt that Miller could turn into a useful ROOGY since making his escape from the indy leagues, and Bartosh seems to be a decent bet to have a long career as a spot lefty. What I'm less enthusiastic about is the decision to turn to Chad Durbin as a starter after Jeff D'Amico's predictable breakdown. Consistent with the rest of his career, Durbin's been drubbable, and I don't see this being a lasting solution. I admire them for not rushing up Kyle Denney, and it has to be a bit annoying that Jeriome Robertson is pitching too terribly to be considered at the same time that Jason Stanford is hurt. These are distractions, though. In time, Stanford will be back, and Durbin will join Cressend and Rick Behenna and Wayne Garland and Rich Yett and Bryan Oelkers in that dusty, best-forgotten wigwam stuck way in the back of the attic.
I wish I had something appropriately cruel to say about this, but having to call up Wilton is punishment enough. I merely hope Guiel recovers fully, while Royals fans enjoy the delightful contrasts between having three remarkably dissimilar human beings playing the outfield corners, and first base or DH. I mean, Juan Gonzalez, Ken Harvey, and the Wonder Hamster, Matt Stairs? Toss in Mike Sweeney, and what is this, an ethnically correct Fantastic Four?
Acquired RHP Tanyon Sturtze from the Dodgers for a PTBNL. [5/15]
Some things I don't get, and never will. I don't understand religion, for example, or anybody's undying fascination with Jackie Kennedy. They're just sort of 'gotta have faith' doodads that I have to shrug off as the burden of others, and accept as a permanent non-concern on my personal radar. But I also don't get how teams can fart around with their own organizations, and fail to sign up a few good or at least functional minor league free agents. How do you wind up having to trade for Tanyon Sturtze, let alone potentially needing him? Don't blame Jose Contreras; the conceit of hunting him down in the first place returns the onus to the organization that offered him the big money. These people re-signed Mike Thurman, and they seem to quail at the prospect of giving Alex Graman a shot. Tanyon Sturtze? This hardly represents proof that the Yankees can outspend their mistakes. More appropriately, it seems like proof that they've got lousy taste in journeymen.
Does anyone shed a tear for a former Yankee? Imagine his surprise when, wounded in the line of duty, he has to face not the happy junketing of Tampa good times, he's...well, he's got to do things the way all them other ballplayers do things? Criminy! Welcome to two months of hell, and a chance to see how the other half lives--or in this case, the other 96.7% of major league baseball not on the Yankees' 40-man.
The real problem for Texas is that if Nelson isn't back until August, they'll have to slip him through waivers to deal him to a contender. Or they could always be contenders under their own power, at which point Nelson becomes a handy end-game reinforcement, which, if you consider that they're going to have to rely on Carlos Almanzar and Jay Powell in the meantime, seems absolutely necessary, while also becoming that much less likely-sounding.
There are some matchups, some relationships, some constellations of humanity, that are always meant to be. I mean, sure, I'm not a big fan of Meatwad, but what would the Aqua Team Hunger Force be without him? So when you ask why the D-Rays seem to get all busy and do stuff, and then still wind up with Jorge Sosa and Damian Rolls, it's because it was always meant to be that way. Actually, now that I think about it, Mr. Naimoli does seem to have a lot in common with Master Shake, not that I'd nominate Lou Piniella to be the model of Frylock's saturnine wisdom. I mean, talk about suspension of disbelief issues. Fear not, sports fans, just as soon as they sort out why Austro-Plutonians are stealing their cable, I'm sure they'll get back to the business at hand, and field a competitive team. It could happen, you know. It's gotta be up there with a giant levitating order of fries with a goatee, donchathink?
You can consider this iteration of the Pond-Clark swap to have everything to do with two other people: Frankie Menechino and Josh Phelps. Acquiring Frankie gave the Jays another infielder while still keeping Dave Berg anchored to the bench's last spot (or, the "keep Zaun company for a few innings" spot), so suddenly Howie's collection of attributes got whittled down to 'hits lefty' and 'plays the outfield,' with a recent history of not hitting any better than Berg. Since Phelps has been struggling and Reed Johnson needs a platoon mate, the organization's preference for Pond's bat over Clark's came to the fore, absent any hitting by Howie to generate general happiness.
But does that make sense? PECOTA's weighted-mean projection for Pond in 2004 is an uninspiring .257/.319/.423, while Clark gets projected to a .270/.327/.396 season. Pond's a DH, and Clark's a utility man who can handle anywhere but shortstop. I'd probably keep both and dump Berg, but Berg's signed to money, and the Jays aren't likely to cut bait on him just yet. But in the meantime, there's not a lot of reason to prefer Pond's bat to Clark's, except that the Jays are frustrated, and as long as one doesn't hit, the other will get a look.
All kidding about Mantei's porcelain arm aside, this might well be a case of a new injury being a product of compensation for a bum joint, or in this case, Mantei hurting his shoulder as he tries to compensate for his perpetually funky elbow. I guess the misfortune is that the Snakes will be hard-pressed to deal him for anything better than a box of chocolates--not the nice ones, or even the ones that the EU refers to as 'family chocolate,' but a nice box of that domestic waxy gunk, probably referred to as 'freedom chocolate.' Or was that 'freedom vanilla?' Anyway, the Snakes won't be getting value, not that anybody would have bet on it after their repeated failures to come to any decision on where they were in the great scheme of things going into the season.
Happily, though, it looks like repeated thwackings with the reality stick have the Snakes finally accepting their lot, which is to stop pussyfooting around, and move more toward playing the kids. So Fossum isn't going into the bullpen, he's replacing Arizona's replacement for Evan Mecham as the poster boy for wasted ambition, the lamentable Elmer Dessens. You might wonder why Dessens got bumped instead of Casey Daigle. Daigle's far from established or all that promising, but it's the choice to stick with Daigle over Dessens that cheers me up. I'm not a big believer in Daigle's promise, but at least he has some, whereas a righted Dessens only gives you an adequate fifth starter. Even then, Daigle's given the D-Backs two quality starts in seven, and Dessens has yet to get out of the sixth inning of a game. Dessens will at least provide some mop-up skills, cleaning up after Daigle or Fossum, neither of whom can be counted on to get deep into games.
Announced that RHP Will Cunnane cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Richmond. [5/15]
None of this counts the impending placement of Marcus Giles on the DL or Raffy Furcal's unavailability to play the field, so the Braves have been reduced to an infield featuring Green at second, Wilson Betemit at short, and Mark DeRosa at third. When you wonder if you might miss Jesse Garcia, you're redefining the term 'hard times.' Garcia's supposed to be back on Tuesday, but there's no timetable for when Furcal might be able to do anything more than pinch-hit (it's a reflection of how short-handed they are that they won't place him on the DL).
So into that disaster they get to turn to Green, and that's not all bad. He's a reflection of some of their predilections in player development---he non-nascent superstar category, that is. Green's athletic, a former shortstop picked up as a draft-and-follow in 1998, with solid power for a second baseman, and a decent defensive rep. He's already 25, and not a great prospect, but as organizational soldiers go, he has more upside than Garcia, and he might be able to hang around as long as this infield is short-handed and desperate.
Corky's still zero-for-year at the plate, although he's drawn walks, so no matter how highly-regarded his glovework, he wasn't going to get kept around once LaRue was ready to come off of the DL. It's sort of a shame for him, since Javier Valentin did nothing to earn his keep during LaRue's absence, leaving the Reds almost as short-handed behind the plate as they have been at the hot corner.
How this team is over .500 beggars description. The Reds are in the bottom quarter of the league offensively, their bullpen has been awful, and nobody's been all that effective in the rotation. But they're three games over .500, six games better than expected, and it isn't because they've been playing the Expos. Dave Miley for Manager of the Year? It certainly helps that Danny Graves, John Riedling, and Todd Jones have done yeoman work in preserving leads, and the offensive trio of Sean Casey, Adam Dunn, and Ken Griffey Jr. have been carrying the wounded lineup. But it's been a remarkable little achievement early on.
Recalled RHPs Allan Simpson and Jason Young from Colorado Springs; optioned 2B-B Aaron Miles to Colorado Springs. [5/16]
Wow, apparently the Rockies have selected the J-Lo definition of commitment, having bugged out of the four-man rotation in less time than it took to explain the reasons why they wanted to do it in the first place. And that's OK, of course, since it involves getting on to the business of playing the people of promise instead of the randomly wishful oddbodies left lying around. Scott Elarton was a wishcast, but if he's ever going to recapture his former promise, it wasn't going to be as a rotation regular on Planet Coors. By placing Dohmann and Simpson in the pen, they add a couple of live arms, and by placing Young and presumably Aaron Cook, they're going to be able to see who is and who isn't in Chin-Hui Tsao's way when he's ready to come off the DL. Woven in with the decisions to look at Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe, and there are more and more reasons to start following this team to see whether or not Dan O'Dowd can stick with them.
If there's something here to feel dumb about, it's Aaron Miles. Yes, I know Royce Clayton resembles a big league shortstop playing in Coors, but was it really worth getting that cranky with Juan Uribe? Especially when it brought nothing and nobody in return? Miles is a warm body who plays second, and at 27, he's not somebody with a future. Now the Rox are left wondering if they should enter the Jerry Hairston sweeps, not that that would do anything more than give them a time-serving space-filler of the first rank.
And here's where things get interesting. Are the Brewers pushing themselves into their transition phase too soon? This was going to be the year where they moved beyond having to count on the Matt Kinneys of the world--but are we already there? Adams certainly didn't have much left to prove in the minors, having spent more than a year in Double-A before this year's promotion to Indianapolis. He's got good velocity, and with 225 strikeouts in 185 professional innings, he's not just impressing the gun. Given that the Brewers' pen has been the worst in the NL, and that they've gotten useful work out of Danny Kolb alone (speaking of people stranded in the closer's role and not pitching much), the Brewers could clearly use whatever help they can get in the pen. I'm happy to see Adams up, but then I'm just crazy/silly/optimistic enough to think that Kinney could turn into a handy middle reliever.
Optioned OF-L Ron Calloway to Edmonton. [5/16]
Talk about show-signings. If re-upping Vidro to this sort of money is supposed to make bidders reach for their checkbooks because they're convinced that the people of Portland or Monterrey or Las Vegas or Washington, D.C. are going to fall all over themselves trying to get season tickets to see the great one, well, spare me. This is more about letting Omar Minaya pretend he has choices, while spending way too much on a good player who's going to turn 30 in August. Vidro is not considered a defensive asset, so his skills are basically limited to hitting for power and hitting for average, and if he loses the average as he ages, you've got a really expensive formerly good ballplayer on your hands. Add in that he plays second, a position where injuries happen with alarming frequency, and that he doesn't have the sock or the ability to be an asset at another position, and faster than you can say If I was shopping for a ballclub, I'd be a lot more impressed if they'd let the Expos offer Vlad arbitration than I am with having Jose Vidro beyond his 34th birthday. Frankly, a look at Vidro's PECOTA comps--Johnny Ray, Davey Johnson, Bill Doran--contain wayyyy too many stars who suffered major flameouts for my taste. Feel free to chide me for frightening easily.
From Scott Erickson to James Baldwin to Matt Ginter...well, as Moltke (the Elder, naturally) put it, no plan survives contact with the enemy. But perhaps some plans were designed to fail, and the Mets might as well thank their lucky stars that they wound up on Plan C. Although you do need to ask, if all it takes is one bad start to give up on James Baldwin, why sign him or even call him up? When you sign James Baldwin, you're making a pact with whatever ancient god relishes the agony of season-ticket holders. For the bad blood and worn entrails offered up, you reap a harvest of despair and anguish, a nexus of unhappy psychic energy liable to create a multi-dimensional black hole of emotional despair and multiple Post cover stories. Hmmm, it's almost the start of a premise for the next Ghostbusters movie, which will simply have to include some of those neat new crash test dummies Lorne Michaels is flogging into C-list celebritydom. Throw in Kate Beckinsale cast as Jim Duquette, the sexy young GM targeted by the gods to be served up to a liver-spotted sclerotic monster from beyond the grave...no, wait, I forgot, we want Bill Murray to get the girl...
Anyway, my point is that they're almost certainly better off fiddling with Ginter to see if anything happens, than they would have been if they'd entrusted the slot to Erickson or Baldwin for any length of time. A 27-4 strikeout to walk ratio in 34.2 IP at Norfolk was pretty nifty, and while he's more of a command guy than a dominant pitcher, after a few years of being jerked around by the White Sox, flipping between starting and relieving until he'd gone from prospectdom to an organizational afterthought, he's still somebody with decent velocity, a good slider, and a healthy arm. Give Rick Peterson enough guys like that, and a few good things can happen faster than you can recall where Cory Lidle was before he was a Billy Beane throw-in.
Finally, for all of my ranting about Roberts, he's damaged goods, and required surgery on his shoulder. His labrum had frayed, and although he seemed to get caught in an argument with the organization about it, he'll finally have surgery. So he was never really an option, which sort of helps explain the willingness to freebase a bit of Baldwin before moving on to more practical alternatives.
I'm sure this will be treated as another setback, but to their credit, the Phillies are inching their way back, and the two weeks or so that Wagner will be missing shouldn't make the difference between the team winning or losing. Unfortunately, because the Phillies aren't looking like the juggernaut they were on paper, a blown save or two from Tim Worrell will undoubtedly lead to some silly after-action parsing and prevaricating in Philly in October if they don't win. Of course, if they really don't pull away at any point this summer, people will be playing that sort of game all winter long, using different segments and different 'if only' moments.
I know, like me, you think Marlon Anderson or Tony Womack or Cedeno, and you think 'contender.' I don't know what's worse, the idea that this is the organization that wasted the tail end of Mark McGwire's career, or that they seemed to have learned nothing from it, and seem content to follow a similar ambition during Albert Pujols' prime. Is there a word for an ant lion that settles for dust bunnies, and defines its sense of happiness in terms of the universe providing just a few more dust bunnies? I mean, beyond 'exasperating' or 'hopefully unlikely to reproduce' or 'sea monkey charlatanry?'
What's really disappointing about all this is that this division is there for the taking. Chicago's Dustiny (kudos to Steven Goldman for that particular coined bit of genius) is more like Bubbly Creek, a murky, directionless morass, and the Astros seem content to play rope-a-dope for its own sake, forgetting that little bit about putting your man down at the end of the whole drama. So the Cardinals could matter, but they sure do seem inclined to avoid it, if at all possible.