June 30, 2004
The news here is that the Angels finally have the pitching staff they would have liked to have entered the season with, although with the tweak that Sele is in the rotation, and Ramon Ortiz in the pen. They had already gotten Brendan Donnelly back last week, and both Sele and Percival are supposed to be ready for action. Considering the quality of the pen, Percival won't be plopped directly back into the closer's role, but Sele is being placed directly into the rotation.
Because of that, Ortiz is fussing over his not being ahead of John Lackey on the depth chart, since paydays are what keeps Bartolo Colon in the rotation, no questions asked. Ortiz doesn't have leverage, so his desire to start is the sort of thing that can be taken under consideration, right ahead of concern over capacity to pout or hold his breath 'til he turns blue or whatever. Given that the Angels are in the thick of things, with a great shot at winning the division, Ortiz's status as the team's sixth starter, to plug in again should anything happen to one of the other five, is far too important for them to give in to his whining for a trade.
I guess we can dissect this into its components, to see what the Sox have done for themselves. First, they get Freddy Garcia, and that's the good thing. The Sox have a decent front three for October, and once Schoeneweis comes back off of the DL, he can wrestle with Jon Garland for bragging rights over who the team's contender is for "America's Best Fifth Starter."
The question is whether Garcia is really that much of a top starter. This year, he's the seventh-best rotation regular in the American League, according to Michael Wolverton's Support-Neutral metrics, so the quick answer would be 'yes.' Unfortunately, you're talking about a guy who was the Mariners' fifth-best starter in 2003, and who ranked behind both Jamie Moyer and Joel Pineiro in 2002. He's not a scrub, but he's also not the instant ace the pricetag, whether in prospects or on payday, would lead you to believe.
Consider Garcia's career:
YEAR GS IP RA QS BQS 1999 33 201.3 4.29 15 1 2000 20 121.3 4.60 11 0 2001 34 238.7 3.32 22 4 2002 33 219.7 4.42 18 3 2003 33 201.3 4.87 18 1 2004 15 107.0 3.28 10 1
[Quality Starts were calculated using runs, not earned runs; BQS are 'Blown Quality Starts,' games where after the first six innings, he'd given up three or fewer runs, only to give up a total of more than four runs before leaving the game.]
Now, sure, 2004 looks great, but it doesn't exactly fit a pattern of performance, does it now? So, will they get this year's Freddy for the rest of the year, or will they get the 2000, 2002, or 2003 editions that annoyed Mariners fans to no end? I guess the Sox are betting they're getting Ozzie Guillen's talented friend, and will trust to good fortune and a happy trade wind.
So they got a starting pitcher, what are they going to do behind the plate? Sandy Alomar isn't a safe bet to handle back-to-back games, setting aside his nearly spent bat. So that should mean either a whole lot of Ben Davis, or some active shopping. Davis has been a remarkable disappointment, even for a highly-touted catching prospect, to the point that he's gulled all sorts of people into hoping he'd turned the corner, including me now and again. At this point, he's the guy who bats ninth when he plays, and ideally someone who can catch more often than not while not pissing off the pitching staff.
As for the shopping option, it's ugly. A notional rental like Charles Johnson is signed for insane cash through 2005. Your normal target of molestable opportunity in this situation would be the Expos, but Einar Diaz's only virtue is his relative durability. Even if they wanted him, considering that the Sox poor-mouthed their way into getting money from the Mariners to help pay for Ben Davis, I suspect they would have nothing but trouble if they try to get their 28 co-conspirators to help foot the bill for Diaz in their pursuit of the AL Central tri'pennant.
And then there's the bill, because the Sox clearly gave up a lot. Even though he hasn't set the International League afire, shipping off Reed isn't anything you shrug off easily. The organization thinks itself deep in outfield talent, however, with Joe Borchard showing signs of life these days, and Ryan Sweeney supposed to be something. Heck, even Andres Torres is looking good. So peddling Reed for three months of Freddy Garcia is tough, but perhaps understandable.
It's when you get to their having to throw in their starting catcher where you have to start wondering what Kenny Williams will do for anybody when he feels needy. While Olivo is not nor is he likely to become a star, he's a very useful everyday player--both now and in the future--if you're not gifted with one of the current greats. And then there's Morse, who you can't really blow off as a warm body when he's hit .287/.336/.536 as a 22-year-old shortstop in his Double-A debut.
All of that, for three months of Freddy Garcia? It's a steep price, too steep, but I guess I understand the rationale if you think in terms of October baseball. The Sox could have won the AL Central without this deal, and this deal doesn't really improve their chances over the rest of the season all that much. The Twins could finally sort themselves out, after all, and stop trying to phone it in. But what's the point of getting to October if you then have to start both Schoeneweis and Garland, instead of picking between the two? A shallow rotation that isn't front-loaded with something like the Viola-Blyleven tag-team of '87 is pretty hard to outlast, even more so in today's three-tiered playoff system. So I can accept the argument that the Sox needed a top starter. The question really is whether Garcia is that guy, and there, I think it's an extreme reach.
The Indians have been short-handed in all sorts of ways, but things have taken an even more difficult turn with the twinned losses of C.C. Sabathia (to injury concern) and Cliff Lee (to a suspension). So upon losing Betancourt as well, and considering they're relying on the likes of Scott Elarton, you can understand why they'd bring up a pair of swingmen like Robertson and Cressend. Either could enter the rotation (if need be), or handle multi-inning middle-relief chores. At this point, the Tribe needs to worry about having a staff with the stamina to cover six or seven games per week.
Still, despite losing Betancourt, the pen isn't really in too terrible condition. David Riske is coming around, Matt Miller has been superb, and Kaz Tadano seems to be sorting himself out now that he's seen the elephant. Jose Jimenez has been spotty in the closer's role, but Bob Wickman's return isn't that far off. All in all, they might have a pen to fear by the time the stretch rolls around.
Finally, bringing Boone aboard on a Lieber-like "wait 'til next year" contract isn't such a bad idea. The 2005 compensation package is heavily incentive-based, while the club option for 2006 automatically triggers if Boone plays well enough in 2005 to have garnered those incentives. It's a potential win-win scenario, with the team's risk alleviated by the incentives structure. So if Boone's awful after a year away from the game, they can part ways easily enough.
What, then, of the future at third? Casey Blake should be arb-eligible after this season, so this could make him an easy non-tender decision if he wants a big payday. Blake's not the best third baseman around, however, which means the Tribe ought to entertain the notion of moving him to first or DH, where he might make for a particularly good mix-and-match option with Travis Hafner and perhaps Ben Broussard. Broussard only rates a 'perhaps' because first basemen who don't slug .400 don't last, but the Tribe has other extra lefty bat options to mix in, perhaps prodigal surfer Russell Branyan or the entirely unheralded Eric Crozier (.284/.370/.584 at Buffalo)--and eventually Michael Aubrey.
The one notion you should be able to scratch is Corey Smith as a potential entry into the third-base mix. He's still struggling in every phase of the game playing third for Akron (again). So on that level, signing Boone was a solid bit of insurance, particularly in case Blake has to leave this winter, because there's nobody else within the system they could plausibly turn to. Well, besides Branyan, but seeing him come back at third would probably be a bit too much to expect.
This is a setback for Inge, because he was starting to win the lion's share of playing time at third, so in his absence, los Tigres will have to turn back to their other catcher conversion, returning Eric Munson to regular playing time. Still, let's not overstate the matter; Inge is in his Age-27 year, and his season isn't quite enough playing time for anyone to say he's really arrived, not with any conviction. He is putting the hurt on lefties, which is handy, and he hasn't done badly in his time at third. And although Inge seems to have been granted a certain ageless prospect status, he is older than Munson. The Tigers won't curl up and die in his absence, but clearly, it's important for them to get as much of a look at Inge as possible, to sort out his role in their future.
The easy follow-on move to trading Beltran is the decision to bring DeJesus back and give him every opportunity to keep the job. What's the alternative, after all? Damian Jackson? Nobody else on the roster can really play the position. They're in an almost equally desperate situation behind the plate, as Buck pretty much has to stop there. Although Buck only has a season's worth of playing time at Triple-A, when the alternative is Alberto Castillo, you can't let him sit. It might be rotten to kick them while they're down, but let's face it, when your roster has Castillo and Jackson, or Desi Relaford sinking back into the primordial ooze from which he arose, or has had Wilton Guerrero around, either you're in desperate straits, or you're the Expos, and just happy to be invited.
The shame here is what's happened with Affeldt. Lurching from rotation to relief to closer to out for two months is a lousy way to go through a season, and the Royals aren't at a point where they know what to do with him in September, let alone next year. This isn't a Miguel Batista utility pitcher proposition, or even a thoughtful conversion, a la Dave Righetti; it's just blundering towards a plan of action. Hopefully, Affeldt will step into the sort of role where I could see him thrive, as a latter-day Mark Davis (hold your pitchforks, folks) or Ken Dayley or something. I may be in the minority, but I just don't see him having a career in the rotation.
For a moment, things looked desperate, but instead, they're simply aggravating. Hudson isn't supposed to be gone for more than the two weeks, so he should be back in action at the end of the All-Star break, and Rich Harden's left shoulder injury shouldn't keep him out of action, so the rotation will be temporarily patched with Saarloos. (Justin Duchscherer's assumed too important a role in middle relief to be pushed into the rotation, especially with Zito's short games, Harden's recovery, and Saarloos to consider.)
Saarloos' overall numbers in Triple-A this year are frankly appalling, but some are taking hope that, since recovering from a broken finger, he's had a good four starts with the River Cats. I'm not quite so enthusiastic, considering he's been a bit wilder than I'd like, but the gig is short-term, which is why Joe Blanton wasn't given much consideration. You could probably discount calling up either Mario Ramos or John Rheinecker to spot for Hudson (what, a fourth lefty in the rotation?), plus neither are doing all that well. So it was Saarloos or Steve Woodard, and Woodard would have had to have his contract purchased, triggering another tweak to the 40-man roster. Rather than play those games, the A's decided to take their chances with Saarloos. Here's hoping it doesn't sting too badly.
A tremendous deal, no doubt about it, so a tip of the cap to Bill Bavasi for bleeding Kenny Williams when he had the opportunity and the need. The real question is whether he got a bad player in the deal. Reed might be overrated as prospects go, by us at least, but he'll make a dandy solution to the Randy Winn problem in center, and give the Mariners a potential OBP machine in the outfield to match Ichiro! Admittedly, Reed was only hitting .275/.355/.420 in Triple-A, so if you're big on Shin-Soo Choo or Jamal Strong, and think all they got was another solid OBP-generating outfielder who might not be a star, keep in mind that he only just turned 23, and on its own, his future is worth gambling away three months of Freddy Garcia.
Then there's Olivo, who, coming up on his 26th birthday, seems to have established himself as one of the best B-list catchers in baseball, hitting .270/.316/.496, while remaining a great catch-and-throw guy. His breakthrough wasn't fueled by the Comiskey reconfiguration, either, so it looks like he's turning into the prospect Michael Lewis skipped over. What's sort of nuts is that they didn't peddle Dan Wilson in the deal, since he'll just be in the way between now and the end of his season and his (hopefully final) bloated contract.
Finally, there's Morse, who might be what Michael Garciaparra is not, which is the team's shortstop of the future. Morse comes over after hitting .287/.336/.536, including 11 home runs in 226 PA at Double-A. He's only one year age-wise ahead of Garciaparra, and light years ahead performance-wise. Morse is big for a shortstop at 6'4", and not considered a blue-chipper, but that might change.
So what does that ring up to? For three months of a flaky starting pitcher and a washout catcher, Bavasi brought M's fans a starting center fielder and catcher in 2005, and perhaps their starting shortstop come 2006. Three skill positions, three guys who can hit, and three guys with solid four- to six-year windows to be something. It doesn't get much sweeter than that, Seattle. Welcome to your season highlight.
Neck, freak arm, lousy performance, whatever, the Rangers are busy being relevant--the last thing they need to do is spend too much longer fretting about what's up with April's human interest story--and move on to this 'trying to win the division' thing. Rodriguez will start off in the bullpen, but it's worth reminding everybody that he's still here after missing the rest of last season following his being acquired for Ryan Ludwick. Like Ludwick, he's been snakebit in terms of his health, including having to have an appendectomy this spring, but he's supposed to be ready to roll now. In a rotation currently counting on John Wasdin, Nick Bierbrodt, and Joaquin Benoit, he could pitch his way into the rotation in relatively short order.
Gathright is one of those happy few to escape Biscuitry this season. Despite his relative youth (22), it's easy to see him as a product of that Jason Tyner slap-happy mold that nobody told the manufacturer to leave to limited editions these days. He swiped 69 bases last year between A-ball and Double-A, and 25 more already between Montgomery and Durham, and he can play center, so a rush to compare him to Juan Pierre or Tom Goodwin (as John Sickels did this year) isn't premature. However, that also involves the noodle arm and a standard question of whether that does you that much good everyday in the big leagues. For the duration of Rocco Baldelli's thigh injury, it's a solid move, though, allowing the D-Rays to leave Carl Crawford and Jose Cruz alone in the corners. Beyond that, he'd be a solid fit as the team's fourth outfielder, because Rob Fick certainly isn't the answer there. Indeed, now that the Rays are wasting time on the Crime Dog Show (pony not included), Fick's better off someplace else.
The litany keeps getting longer, but at least they're not trading talent away to let Jason Grimsley participate. On that level, having Ligtenberg healthy for the next month matters, since a good month should let the Jays convert him into a middling young pitcher of some sort. Last I checked, there's no great reward for finishing third in the AL East, so why waste innings in August on guys like Ligtenberg or Terry Adams or Justin Speier that could instead be spent as evaluation time for what sort of future Vinny Chulk and Bob File have with the organization. Unfortunately, Ligtenberg is signed for multiple millions through 2005, so he'll probably be harder to deal than 'til-season's-end rentals like Speier or Adams.
What's interesting is that even with Frankie C. back on the DL, Josh Phelps isn't in the lineup. Normally, you might expect some teeth-gnashing over this, but Phelps' failure to adapt to the league, and particularly his unwillingness to move up on the plate, have turned him into a formerly talented cipher faster than you can say 'Joe Charbonneau'. OK, that's a lot of syllables...how about 'Kevin Maas'? So instead, you've got Howie Clark at first base (or, stranger still, Chris Gomez on a day when Menechino started at short), and a lot of Dave Berg in left. I guess the most positive development has been that Alexis Rios has gotten plenty of playing time, not that he's doing much to dispel the Curse of Rob Ducey thus far.
Certainly, things will change when Carlos Delgado and Vernon Wells come off of the DL. Barring any improvement, though, Phelps will remain buried. I wanted to see Howie Clark get a break, but it looks like he's gotten a bit more than that.
Acquired OF-R Jackson Melian from the Yankees for a PTBNL, and assigned him to Greenville (Double-A). [6/27]
Deeper into the organization's bowels we go, as the Braves turn to a 28 year-old minor league journeyman. Back in the late '90s, Unsudden Sam McConnell was a Pirates farmhand, but between a lack of velocity, an ugly introduction to Double-A in 1999, and setbacks in Triple-A in the next two seasons, he was consigned to the Bureau of Very Minor Movements, flitting first to the Phillies in 2002 before joining the Braves organization last year. As a rotation regular in Richmond, he'd posted a 3.78 ERA and a 47:19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 78.2 IP. With the Braves, he's supposed to be deposited into a mop-up role in what's veering into a mop-up sort of season.
Remlinger's setback highlights concern that the Cubs may have rushed him back. For the time being, they do still have Kent Mercker handling situational duties, although not at all well. Lefties--the ones with the talent that you leave in to face him--are hitting .344/.405/.469 against Mercker, while right-handers--the pinch-hitters among them--are hitting .182/.302/.227. Those numbers have to stare Dusty in the face and leave him shaking his head every now and again, certainly, although Mercker has been useful in situational work in recent years. And since the Cubs are short-handed in the pen, and Mercker's been relatively useful overall, if not wildly successful in his assigned mission to freeze lefty boppers, I suspect they're not too choosy about what they've got.
Wuertz shouldn't be up for long. Todd Wellemeyer's rehab stint is already humming along, so he may be back before the holiday weekend is over.
Josh Beckett could heal up before the All-Star break, but the Fish seem content to let him really recover, on the theory that maybe he'll be ready to fire on all cylinders down the stretch. It's either that, or this sort of ongoing drama where the last year resembles a microcosm of Bret Saberhagen's entire career. What's interesting is that during this latest brief absence, Darren Oliver apparently didn't get much more than perfunctory consideration as the potential plug-in for the two or three starts available. Instead, it looks like the work will go to Mike Tejera.
Tejera has been generally handy in the Isotopes rotation, posting a 3.58 ERA, allowing fewer than a hit per inning pitched, but perhaps predictably still losing a few more pitches into the bleachers than anybody would like (12 in 78 IP). That does not bode well for his future as a member of a big league rotation, but at this point, Tejera is stuck in that limbo between big league fifth starter/long reliever and Triple-A nomadism.
Well, I clamored long enough for it, and here he is, just in time to get drubbed by the Blue Jays. Still, there's no second-guessing the need to have him here. In Edmonton, he'd allowed only 1.15 baserunners per inning pitched. Somewhat less promising was his 46:18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 96.2 IP, since you might worry about his ability to fool most of the people most of the time. However, with Claudio Vargas struggling to the point of being dropped from the rotation, something had to give. Downs will have a brief opportunity to earn his keep, because John Patterson should be back sometime soon. That might not bump Downs from the rotation, however. If Sunny Kim continues to struggle, and Downs shows anything in the next start or two, he might stick.
Wolf is back, but he's being worked back up to speed, being held to low pitch counts for his first few starts. I suppose the Phillies reasonably believe that they're better off getting four or five good innings out of Wolf than five bad ones from Brian Powell, since the bullpen is going to have to pitch just as much anyway. For the moment, Wolf's return also generates that epic confrontation between Paul Abbott and Powell over the fifth slot. Abbott is slated to start against the Expos on Wednesday, and if he can't put up five good innings against them, then the Phillies are left with that chicken/egg type of dilemma, where they have no fifth starter, but how many people do? Admittedly, the Phillies will once Vicente Padilla comes off the DL and Brett Myers moves back to #5, but that won't be until after the All-Star break, so the Abbott-Powell death match will persist until that point.
The winnowing question about which holds more sway in your mind, optimism or pessimism, gets a little bit of a review here. Did you think Daryle Ward had everything figured out? Or did you avoid the irrational exuberance impulse and decide Sparky Anderson's right, and every dog does have his day? Now that Ward might have to miss a good chunk of time with a bum thumb, the question can be safely deposited into the realm of speculation. It's sort of akin to Ruben Mateo's situation, in that he hit in his limited playing time, and now he's waiver bait. He should be claimed, assuming Littlefield can't deal him by Monday.
The real question is what Lloyd McClendon will do with the playing time. I suppose you could platoon Randall Simon and Davis or Alvarez in one lineup slot, with Simon playing first against right-handed starters, and Davis or Alvarez playing right field against the lefties, with Craig Wilson flipping between the two while still playing every day. But that involves a lot of Randall Simon, sausage molester and good-natured out. I'd rather see Alvarez play on the basis of his having hit .308/.393/.487 in Nashville, or Davis on the basis of what he did last year. The Pirates have nothing to gain from playing Simon, and besides, he might be guilty of slippery-slope moral turpitude and start slapping pierogies around.