July 8, 2004
Sometimes good news takes strange forms. How else are we supposed to greet the news of Dave Borkowski's latest incarnation? Shoulder surgery and trying to make a living in Randy Smith's Tigers organization would have killed off the careers of lesser men, but Borkowski has finally made it all the way back. And why not trust him for now? Who's to say he can't be the next Kevin Jarvis or something? John Maine is trying to master Triple-A, and the alternatives are guys like Sean Bergman, Andrew Lorraine, and Bruce Chen. And you wonder why Rochester locked the Orioles out of town?
Anyway, the rotation isn't quite as desperate as you might expect now that Eric DuBose, Kurt Ainsworth, and Riley have all gone missing. Rodrigo Lopez has rattled off three straight quality starts, Danny Cabrera keeps surprising everybody, and Eric Bedard seems to be getting stronger as we get deeper into the season. So why not Borkowski? Well, probably because he'd given up 5.6 runs per nine in Ottawa, and that's his happy stat. But one great start against the D-Rays is enough to keep yourself around when you're in the unusual position of having to chase Tampa Bay.
On a semi-similar, "Wow, he's not in real estate?" development, David Newhan takes his blast from the past status over to third base full-time in Mora's absence. Mora is supposed to be back around the time the All-Star break comes to an end, so Newhan's blaze of glory will have to find a different form then, but in the meantime, it's all good.
Here's a sort of good news/bad news predicament. Now that Mueller's back and Kevin Youkilis has hit a little at the big league level, how do you make room for both? Sadly, you can't, not on a team that also has a great DH and a first baseman who can hit. It makes for a crowded bench. Pokey Reese and Gabe Kapler are in reserve roles they belong in, but it's interesting to see that the Sox chose to keep a backup righthanded bat like Dave McCarty over a spare speedy utilityman like Crespo. Favoring the bats is all well and good, but McCarty's not a right-handed bat you resort to as quickly as you might turn to Youkilis or Kapler, his defensive value is effectively nil, and he's a relief pitcher of last resort. It isn't the worst way to use your final roster spot, but picking McCarty over Crespo isn't as easy a decision as it might seem given the rest of the roster. Crespo struggled pretty badly in a reserve role, so it isn't like he did much to help himself.
What's a little more troubling is the Sox trading for Jimmy Anderson. Not that they gave up much, but if this is the state you're in, you're going to way too much trouble. There's nothing Anderson gives the Sox that they couldn't have gotten out of Mark Malaska or Matt Duff or Jamie Brown or Phil Seibel or John Stephens. Why bother trading for a temp in the last spot in the pen when it's a guy with zero up-side? Picking up Puffer in an equally minor deal was a far better risk, and he might actually give the team something they could use in some sort of role.
Not being a Royals fan, I have to confess, I'm happier if they're devoting themselves to experiments with the almost unretreadable retread wannabes. You know, guys like Mateo, or Cal Pickering for that matter. Part of it is that I have to confess to a Nelsonian blind spot where Ken Harvey's notional virtues are concerned. I'm sure singles-hitting DHs have value somewhere, but it generally isn't someplace relevant to discussions about contention in the big leagues. Which I guess is exactly why he deserves every bit of the consideration I'm happy to concede to guy like Mateo or Matt Stairs, people you just have to be happy for because they're still in the game.
Sometimes, when a guy goes on the DL, you hope that he's still able to help out somehow, offering advice, saying something to the other guys, that sort of thing. Given recent events, however, I think Arthur Lee Rhodes could use a couple of weeks away from saying anything to anybody in green and gold, lest he bridle overmuch all over again about his signal failures, among others.
Wow, really? Justin Leone catches a break? I'm amazed, much more than you'd think, when a team calls up a guy who had already bopped 21 home runs while hitting .269/.344/.597. Leone is already 27, so it isn't like he has a future or needs to develop; he's as ready as he's ever going to be. At least according to Baseball America, he's an improved hitter since learning to wait on breaking stuff in winter ball in 2002-03, but he was a Three True Outcomes hitter before, and remains one now. For the time being, he's stuck in a Roy Hobbs sort of situation, wondering what might happen first in terms of Scott Spiezio falling into that Bump Bailey triangle of ill fortune: Courtney Love snapping him up, or something worse? These things have a strange way of happening to other people, after all. Just ask Olivo, who might have threatened that snuggy fuzzy Pat Borders comeback storyline.
Meanwhile, Blackley's getting first crack at Freddy Garcia's slot in the rotation. An Aussie import with decent heat for a lefty, he's rocketed through the Mariners' system, moving from short-season A-ball to A-ball to Double-A to Triple-A in four short seasons, debuting at the majors at 21. He was doing well in Tacoma, allowing 68 hits and 31 walks in 85.2 IP, while striking out 63 and posting a 2.63 ERA. He should get an extended look, so as long as he isn't pushed unreasonably in terms of his workload, this should be a good learning experience for both him and the team.
What's a little more interesting is wondering what has happened to Gil Meche. He's pitched well with the Rainiers, but will he get brought back for the fifth slot, or will the job go to Nageotte despite his rough introduction to the majors? There are worse problems to have, of course, but the particularly punitive suggestions that seem to be woven into Meche's situation have to make you wonder what's going on.
Gonzalez didn't exactly earn his recall after allowing 25 hits and 11 walks in 26.1 IP for Durham, but this is the Devil Rays, and if you don't have one candidate for a Hallmark special on the roster, it's apparently some sort of organizational by-law that you have to quickly bring back another one. Fortunato didn't embarrass himself, so he'll be back, but I was glad to see Gonzalez get another shot at being a rotation regular. This being the Devil Rays, it's a one-and-out gig, so he might come loose for very little sometime soon.
Bush was the best thing going on in Syracuse, having posted a 4.06 ERA in sixteen starts. It's a little more exciting than it sounds: although he's given up 108 hits in 99.2 IP, and 4.7 runs per nine, a strikeout to walk ratio of 88 to 19 should impress anybody. The Blue Jays, to their credit, spotted him against the hapless Expos in his first start, and he did well. Since they're mired in an evaluation season after seeing April's promises disappear into a bed of weeds before it could bloom, it's just as well that they see if Bush has a future in the big league rotation. Pat Hentgen deserved to lose his slot, having pitched far beneath a level where any notional contender might give any thought to dealing for him.
Bush was something of a dark horse amidst a herd of young pitchers noted for the presence of Dustin McGowan, Brandon League, Jason Arnold, Adam Peterson, Francisco Rosario, and Jesse Harper. Beyond the theological implications of TINSTAAPP, sometimes, simple survival defines prospectdom.
There are several levels of disappointment as a fan. I'll never forget hearing Kenny Stabler talk for the first time; that nasal Southern twang immediately made this Connecticut Yankee wonder how he commanded the respect of the other men in the huddle. It was just easier to imagine some sort of gravelly, hungover voice summoned up through the ghost of Robert Mitchum's liver.
So on a similar level, you can understand my disappointment that Bob Brenly turned out to be such an uninspiring manager. As a player, he was one of the few reasons for a kid growing up in Northern California to pay any attention to the Giants whatsoever. Taking a page from Hannah Arendt, they were both evil and bland. As a result, they were awfully easy to ignore, but there were a few guys worth watching, and Brenly was one of those few. Keep in mind, I thought Johnny Wockenfuss was pretty cool, because a backup catcher who could fill in at the infield corners and hit a little was a handy thing to have, and not just because they might luck into a 4e10 in Strat. It's easy to hope that a manager who was a nice second-tier contributor to the subsequent Hummmm Baby Giants would have taken something from those teams. Those Giants had a bench that could hit, a pitching staff that Roger Craig handled with a certain panache, and they didn't fool around with a lot of little ball antics.
Thinking back on that time, it was easy to hope that maybe all of that had taught Brenly something. Instead, you have to remember a quote I think came from Napoleon (the original, not Bismarck's riddle-less sphinx), where he said that if you know when a man was 20, you understand the man. When Bob Brenly was 20, he was chasing Mike Schmidt's records at Ohio University; the year was 1974. Now, I don't know about you, but between the last two presidents and boomers in general, I'm convinced that anything associated with adulthood in the '70s involves near-total brain rot. The baseball of the day generally reflected the times. It was the sort of decade where shortstops generally didn't hit, and second basemen batted second, when people were taken in by Chuck Tanner and Charlie Finley, and annoyed with Richie Allen. (Okay, that last point may well be for the ages.) It was the sort of time when Tim Foli could be a star.
Perhaps more basically, it's the time that's giving us a lot of our current generation of managers. Unfortunately, it isn't a generation that seems to have learned from the managers they encountered like Earl Weaver or Dick Williams, instead following the siren songs of Gene Mauch and his ilk. Sometimes, in the cases of people like Brenly or Buck Martinez, you get a facile studio-groomed personality, but at the core, we seem to wind up with a few too many bunt-happy, pen-obsessed managers with a basic disconnect when it comes to roster design, the in-game tactics that have worked for everyone from John McGraw on, or any background in evaluating raw talent.
So when the Indians do something like skipping a generation, tabbing someone who was twenty in the eighties, like Eric Wedge, can you blame them?
Optioned 1B/3B-R Mike Hessman to Richmond; activated 1B-L Adam LaRoche from the 15-day DL. [7/2]
Some of this is pretty straightforward. LaRoche will return to the lineup in a platoon role at first with Julio Franco. Can they accept his growing pains as easily as they could in the happy optimistic ignorance of April? They're teetering between contender and also-ran, and they can ill afford a lot of rookie struggling from LaRoche. On that level, his fate and the team's are tied to one another, with the pressure on right now, do or die, lest the Braves not win anything for the first time since 1994.
A little more questionable is the decision to haul J.D.'s kid brother up to the big leagues. I suppose he earned the promotion, at least if you keep your consideration limited to his 3.24 ERA at Richmond. Unfortunately, he'd given up 90 hits in 80.2 IP, and if you toss in his unearned runs, you're up to 3.8 runs allowed per nine. Sure, he might have turned the corner. He might also still just be the very hittable Tim Drew. I guess this gives the Braves a trio of former prospects in middle relief (Juan Cruz, Drew, and Unsudden Sam McConnell), and that's the sort of thing you generally like to see. Perhaps it'll work out. Perhaps it isn't nepotism. We'll have to see.
On the fun-with-numbers, Olkin/Stark beat, what does 1-2-3-4 mean for Hessman? It's his totals in walks, homeruns, doubles, and singles. It's exactly that sort of thinking that I can blame on my grandaunt Carmela, because, in her generosity, she'd send me puzzle books and word jumble workbooks well into my teens, far beyond the point when I would spend a moment looking at that sort of thing. As it was, I already had to spend time wrestling with overly clever family members over Scrabble bloodmatches, to the point that I had a lot more fun doing chores on the farm. As a result, I seem to have escaped the numerological fascination that compels most of us in the stathead community. Not that it isn't fun in small doses, but do we really need to feed that pocket protector generalization slapped onto us by the slovenly semi-literate chattel from the Fourth Estate? I think not.
Harris was having a decent but not inspiring season at Iowa. Spending most of his time at third, he's hit .311/.350/.515 in the PCL, not bad, but not the stuff of blue chip prospectdom either. Still, he isn't even 24 yet, and if he can play second well enough, he'd make a fine starter for several teams.
However, this is Dusty's club, so it isn't like Harris will get much more than a shot at bragging rights with Jason DuBois and Dave Kelton over whether or not the old guy bothered to learn his name. It's a sucker bet: Harris will get a couple of starts while Aramis Ramirez has to sit out until the weekend to rest a bum groin. He'll automatically get more starts than the individual token write-ins Dusty deigned to hand out for DuBois and Kelton.
It speaks volumes about the Cubs' status as contenders that they really do miss Hollandsworth while he's gone. That isn't just because of how well he's hit this year; nobody should expect him to hit .318/.392/.547 all year, after all. The dilemma's crux is that the outfield reserves in his absence are the equally execrable Tom Goodwin and Jose Macias. Happily, he's only gone until the All-Star break, so the indignity of their condition won't embarrass the Cubs for too long.
Placed 1B-L Sean Casey on the 15-day DL (strained calf). [7/4]
Recalled C-R Corky Miller from Louisville. [7/5]
Losing Casey is just the thing to cap the other half of the Cinderella story, where things end early at the swell affair, and you're left with some sort of rotten squash, rags, and those godawful felt clogs neither man or woman should ever be caught wearing. So what happens in his very temporary absence? How about Ryan Freel everyday in the outfield, Adam Dunn at first base, and some sort of job-sharing arrangement between Wily Mo Pena and Jacob Cruz in the other outfield corner? Even that's too simple: Juan Castro started at first base last night. There's a point at which you need to stop tipping your cap to Dave Miley for yeoman work, and not just because you're getting a crick in your neck. Juan Castro? If you're not going to play Brandon Larson in this situation, he's never going to play.
In this situation, for my two cents it would make sense to try to deal Jason LaRue and start playing Corky Miller. Consider this another test for Dan O'Brien. Will he play for the present, or will he swap an admittedly solid but increasingly overpriced catcher? Miller, backed up by Javier Valentin, wouldn't be an embarrassing temporary situation, and you would think that recent "patch" solutions behind the plate, such as Greg Myers or Gregg Zaun or their like, would make teams a little more willing to accept them.
Ryan Wagner's return won't really kick-start his stillborn Rookie of the Year campaign, but he did pitch well enough in Louisville to earn his return. In 16.2 IP, he allowed 13 hits and nine walks while striking out 19. The lack of control is an obvious concern, but barring any rampant delusions of grandeur, the Reds should be thinking in terms of building Wagner up to be a key component of this and future bullpens.
Recalled RHP Nate Bump from Albuquerque; optioned LHP Michael Tejera to Albuquerque. [7/2]
I'm perhaps over-ready to cut Jack McKeon an awful lot of slack, but optioning Aguila out of Dodge serves as a good time to remind ourselves this is a team carrying both Mike Mordecai and Damion Easley as range-free right-handed hitting utility infielders and the incredible, deathless, genuinely life-like, life-size pinch-hitting doll, Lenny Harris, on the active roster. Simultaneously. Mordecai hasn't played sixty innings in the field all year, having lost out to Easley as the team's primary infield reserve. Not that Easley's playing all that much, as McKeon seems content to play his regular lineup with the unshakeable grimmitude that only a Xerox machine and the absence of white-out can inspire.
As for Chris Aguila, he might have been a flavor of the moment in March, but a quick oh-fer-six is about as deadly as acne for a new kid's popularity. And just about as relevant when it comes significant judgments, of course. But given that Aguila's a prospect in this organization as he could be in few others, it isn't the sort of thing that's going to break them. I just wish they'd give Abraham Nunez more than accidental playing time; it isn't like Jeff Conine is earning his keep.
Burke was hitting well in his Triple-A debut, not that he's going to get much consideration for anything other than injury subbing this year or next. Jeff Kent's a no-trade through this season, and weighted down with some significant financial commitments, so it isn't like he's going away in anything other than this sort of situation, a temporary injury. So Burke's .325/.403/.513 line for the Zephyrs, PCL-inflated or no, is really just so much bait, should the Astros keep fidgeting over their ablility to contend.
Placed LHP Odalis Perez on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation); recalled RHP Edwin Jackson from Las Vegas. [7/3]
Is this really terribly bad news? As bad as Nomo has been, asking him to miss all of July, and until his arm is sound, seems like a sensible precaution animated as much by a sense of self-preservation as humane concern for Nomo's health. Perez's departure hurts considerably more, especially since Jackson may have hurt himself in his first start after his promotion to replace Perez. Of course, Jackson had also pitched pretty badly at Las Vegas (5.7 runs allowed per nine innings, along with 40 unintentional walks), so who knows what his 'loose elbow' means, beyond palpitations for a few interested observers. So now, instead of being able to keep picking between Jose Lima and Wilson Alvarez for that last spot in the rotation, the Dodgers may have to press both into action. Given that the NL West has turned into a three-team race that should stay unsettled for the next couple of months, Paul DePodesta, Jim Tracy, and company don't need to panic as much as sort through their options while waiting and watching to see who can come back and help, and when.
Just like that, Keith Ginter's back in business. I probably shouldn't get all that excited for Ginter, for the same reason that I tend to rate Spivey as an essentially interchangeable, replacement sort of talent. We're talking about second basemen who have slightly slugged in bandboxes during their careers, after all, and not in ways that make anyone forget Bobby Doerr. Admittedly, part of the problem for me in assessing Spivey fairly is consideration of the expense of having him, since he offers little appreciable value over and above what Ginter does for about a sixth of the price. It isn't Spivey's fault he's overrated on the basis of his 2002, or that he's really just an adequate hitter who can hurt a lefty in a small ballpark now and again. The real misfortune here is that he's on the DL at a time when he should be playing to be shopped, scouted, and dealt, but I don't suppose that's the sort of thing that gets people to buy season tickets and whatnot.
It's just turning into one of those sorts of years in San Diego, where everyone gets to take some time off. But despite losing Nevin for a couple of weeks, the Pads will get to do certain things in his absence, like putting Ryan Klesko at first base, to renew their investigation of what position he'll do the least defensive damage at. If he can handle first well enough, Nevin might get to move to the outfield when he returns. They're also getting Peavy back, and that's nothing to sneeze at, while also making Kerry Robinson go away at long last.
But that's me, trying to find some silver linings. We're still talking about a team in contention, but it's one that seems incapable of ever reaching a point where they're firing on all cylinders. And Vazquez, sent away? It's bad enough that they carried Robinson around as long as they did, but Jeff Cirillo is adding nothing as a utility infielder, and to ship off Vazquez for another temporarily-felt need to have a seventh reliever is just silly.
Then there's the question of who gets Nevin's playing time. Terrence Long? I'm not wild about Xavier Nady when he only hit .311/.371/.567 in the PCL, especially since he's already 25. But better to showcase that than waste the playing time on T-Long, no questions asked. There's a double advantage, where you're playing somebody better than T-Long on the off chance that you might deal him to get another somebody better than T-Long. There's a division to win, after all, and this stuff matters.
Recalled RHP David Aardsma from Fresno. [7/4]