May 5, 1999
AL West Notebook
Jim Edmonds' injury and a four-man rotation in Texas
What happened to the bizarre gag order that the Angels' front office imposed about discussing player injuries? It looks like they temporarily rescinded it after the announcement that Jim Edmonds' right shoulder would require surgery and that he wouldn't be back in the lineup for at least four months. Immediately, a number of players and coaches questioned Edmonds' motives for not having the surgery performed over the winter.
Of course, getting bad-mouthed by his teammates is nothing new for Edmonds, who despite being the best player on the team, is obviously disliked by the Angels' "gamer" contingent (led by Gary Disarcina and Coach Larry Bowa). After Anaheim's annual stretch drive stumble last year, Edmonds was singled out for not "playing with enough intensity", despite leading the team with a .340/.400/.585 performance in September.
Since the injury, the Halos have been lauded for having the foresight not to trade any of their outfielders during the off-season. Nice reframing, but the fact is that the Angels are screwed as a result of this injury and the organization seems very willing to let Edmonds take the fall for it. In the grand Disney tradition, they over-hyped their product following the Mo Vaughn signing. Rolling the dice with a suspect pitching staff, the Angels gambled that a surplus outfielder would fetch a better arm in July than in January. They lost. Edmonds will be on the disabled list until after the trading deadline and since a player can't be traded while on the DL, Anaheim is left with Grade C prospects and waiver-wire fodder to swap for pitching help, unless they elect to weaken their lineup somewhere else.
With his present consisting of public floggings and painful rehab, what about Edmonds' future? Anaheim could let him leave as a free agent after the season (he won't get the necessary 320 plate appearances to guarantee his contract), but the club option for 2000 is at the bargain-basement price of $4.65 million. Expect the Angels to pick up the option while the Disney PR machine spews out drivel about "putting the past behind them". Not too long afterward, the Angels really will put the past behind them when they send Edmonds packing.
And yet, as if some omnipresent corporation controlled it, the media spin continues. Recently, Manager Terry Collins heaped praise on Garret Anderson's performance this year, noting that he has been "playing the game hard" and "going after balls in the outfield". Of course, Edmonds has been doing those things for years, along with getting on base, hitting for power and playing great defense. His loss costs them more than they want to admit.
Oates' Texas Two-Step
Down in the Lone Star State, Johnny Oates continues to tinker with his misfiring pitching staff. In the last couple of weeks, he announced two changes designed to make things run a little smoother.
Oates' first move is a good idea whose time has come. After the initial week of the season, in which the relievers logged as many innings as the starters, the Rangers went to a twelve-man staff by recalling reliever Jeff Zimmerman from Oklahoma City. Immediately, Zimmerman was used against the Mariners as the first man out of the bullpen on consecutive nights. The 26-year-old righthander shut the Mariners down in both games, allowing one single in four-plus innings.
After that performance, the neurons fired in Oates' brain. Oates announced that Zimmerman was going to be the Rangers' "short long man", a reliever used when the starter is struggling in the early innings, but the game is still close. With the Rangers' high-octane offense, Zimmerman could log double digits in wins. Oates deserves credit--not only for quickly identifying Zimmerman's talent, but for bucking conventional wisdom and recognizing that the pivotal point in a game often happens before the late innings.
Oates' second decision is a high-risk maneuver that could create more problems than it solves. He's moving the Rangers to a four-man rotation. The announcement came in the wake of John Burkett's recent trip to the DL with shoulder problems. Of course, the way Burkett has pitched for the last year, the notion may have been rattling around Oates' noggin for awhile.
With no attractive starting options in the bullpen or Triple-A, a four-man rotation may seem the best way for the Rangers to seize the moment and put some distance between themselves and their struggling division rivals. But Oates is considering it as a longer-term solution, through at least early June and perhaps even the rest of the season. The problem is that his starting pitchers aren't accustomed to working on three days' rest, thus increasing the likelihood of injury and reduced performance. Last year, major league starters posted quality starts only 29% of the time on three days' rest, as compared to 48% of the time with four days' rest.
Oates is taking a couple of prudent steps to maximize the chance of the four-man rotation succeeding and minimize the risk of injury. Starters will be limited to between 90 and 100 pitches and no member of the rotation will start more than three consecutive times on three days' rest. Overworking the Texas bullpen is almost as great of a concern as wearing out the starters. Oates has addressed this by carrying eight relievers and showing a willingness to use all of them.
Recent attempts at a four-man rotation have generally ended quickly, and without significant success, so don't expect great things from Texas' effort.