July 13, 2004
Speaking as someone with obsessive/compulsive issues all my own, I guess I should sympathize with Theo Epstein's plight. After all, it's such a little thing, fixing a bullpen, sometimes done so easily. But fidget and fidget and fidget, and in no time, you've got an outsized management problem that takes on a life of its own. And in the end, you've fixed nothing, but you've fridge-binged and worried yourself sick, enriching Ben and Jerry and losing sleep.
Happily, the end might be in sight. DiNardo shouldn't miss too much time, which should let him resume the second lefty's shift in the pen. Then, you have to think that either Byung-Hyun Kim or Scott Williamson will be back, at which point Boston's pen is stocked again, and there's no need for the Jimmy Andersons to be around. As is, fortune supplied them with Curtis Leskanic, who promptly resumed being himself once he got away from the Royals. With a little bit of patience, Theo will be able to leave the freezer alone, or at least get a full night's sleep.
For all of the weeping over the Cubs, it's worth noting somebody else in town has a bit more to say about their own destiny, and is having its share of miserable luck with player health. Losing Ordonez and Thomas consecutively is better than losing them concurrently, I guess, but it certainly isn't helpful in a world where the Twins are toying with their destiny. Worse still, it comes on the heels of having dealt Jeremy Reed, so the Sox will have to test their conviction that Borchard is the better prospect.
Down at Charlotte, he doing some things to justify that faith, hitting .267/.329/.500, but he wasn't doing everything. Yes, he was flashing good power and good D, but those numbers only add up to a .235 translated Equivalent Average, and he was showing little patience, and striking out quite a bit. However, as Clay Davenport has shown, that's not always a bad thing when expecting future growth. Borchard's talented, but was he making progress? Sure, it was significant progress over last season at Charlotte, but it wasn't exactly the blossoming we were hoping for. Still, we're talking about a guy who just turned 25, and he might be the sort of player who really comes into his own now.
On that level, we will get to see, because Thomas will be gone for a while, and Maggs isn't ready to do much more than DH at the moment. The question is whether Borchard will show something now, so that when the Big Hurt comes back off of the DL, the Sox will have a question over who to sit, Aaron Rowand or Borchard. It could be a nice problem, or Borchard can whiff his way back to Charlotte and see the playing time go to Ross Gload as a semi-regular DH until Thomas heals up. I'm willing to give Borchard the benefit of the doubt, especially since he's one of Kenny Williams' faves, and will get significantly more consideration than that.
Well, color my face red, Bartosh barely had time to unpack, doing a good and a bad deed apiece in his two games. He did get Scott Hatteberg out with the bases loaded and two outs in the Indians' Friday night win, but he then turned a 6-5 trail into a 10-5 rout by getting grand slammed by Erubiel Durazo. Such is life in those high-leverage situational moments. Getting Betancourt into the mix in a pen that has nowhere to go but up will help, to be sure. Betancourt has been a bit cookie-prone in the early going, but he's also been a little more hittable than you'd expect. Some of that will even out in the second half, if he's healthy. But part of all this is my not-so-secret hope to see the Indians keep up the stalking horse gig, and push the Sox and the Twins down the stretch.
Optioned RHP Franklyn German to Toledo; recalled LHP Wil Ledezma from Erie (Double-A). [7/12]
It's sort of hard to condemn both Colyer and German, because neither held (or inspired) much weight with their manager, getting used sporadically. In general, the pen has relied on the veteran foursome of Uggy Urbina, Danny Patterson, Esteban Yan, and Jamie Walker. With Patterson out, Al Levine seems to be the guy who won't have to mop up so often, which left much less time for German to get a look-see. Eventually, you have to think the Tigers will take the time to take a real look at German, but they're understandably determined to avoid looking like they're giving up this soon, a year out from last season's ugliness.
But on that level, they're not futzing around, not really. If you're going to evaluate, why not do so boldly? A year after serving out last season's Rule 5 sentence on the big league bench, Ledezma is back by earning it. He was dominant in a half season down in the Eastern League, allowing a 1.10 WHIP, and posting a league-leading 2.42 ERA with a 98-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 111.2 IP. He was still throwing with velocity, and showing improved touch with his off-speed stuff, so I don't doubt that the improvement is real. He was picked as a diamond in the rough, and it's a credit to Tigers scouting and player development that they pitched him enough last year to let him learn something, and then let him really develop this year.
Now that he's back, the real question is whether he'll step into the rotation, bumping Gary Knotts back into the pen. I don't see why not, although Knotts isn't struggling. The starter who has been awful is Jeremy Bonderman, pretty much all season. The question is whether or not they're going to keep rolling with it, or do something. But that gets into politics, what with Bonderman being the poster kid for the Tigers' future. If they take their lumps with Bonderman and Ledezma now, I think it's worth crediting them with having the gumption to stand by the kids while also making a point about fielding a better team. There's nothing in the rules that says you can't do both, after all.
As much as anybody or everybody should want out of Kansas City, I don't think anybody, beyond perhaps one college roommate who did make the choice, would choose to go to Korea to further his professional ambitions. So shed a tear for Mendy, because he's a semi-useful benchie who can maul the occasional lefty and play all four infield positions. If more rosters weren't burdened with extraneous warmed-over relievers, they'd have more space for spare parts like Lopez, and we'd get a better brand of baseball, one with fewer pitching changes and a better balance of tactical choices across both halves of an inning.
Oh, yippee, some people's MVP is back. I guess I'd be a little more enthusiastic about this if we could be confident that Stewart was completely healthy, but nobody's confident about that. Meanwhile, Morneau waits, a victim of the conceit that this team doesn't need him. Perhaps Mike Ryan will ride into the rescue; this is the team that honors the memory of Randy Bush, after all. And they're a half-game out using Jose Offerman and Terry Mulholland. Who said this contending stuff was hard?
If you're defined by your ambitions, the Twins are the ultimate Midwesterners, easily satisfied with a non-ostentatious commitment to mediocrity.
I guess it is about time that we got a non-Livan reminder that some Cubans are worth the hype. Given that he's coming back from shoulder surgery, you might wonder whether or not El Duque is ready. But given that most of the Yankees' rotation seems to be treating the regular season as a rehab assignment anyway, and they're still way out in front, does it matter? This team didn't die when it had to turn to Tanyon Sturtze, and that has to be some sort of ultimate test of team quality. As much as there might some concern over Mike Mussina, Javier Vazquez has been the stalwart they obviously needed, Jon Lieber is slowly rounding into form, Kevin Brown will be back shortly, and El Duque is already back. Who knows, maybe Jose Contreras will take off the pumpkin suit someday. He had consecutive good starts in May, in case you didn't hear.
So if you're a Yankee hater, think on that. The rotation has been a shambles in the first half. Donovan Osborne? Yikes. And despite that, they've got a seven-game lead. How good will they be if they're ever firing on all pistons?
Now that Chavez is back, I guess the A's can start exploring whether a Mark McLemore/Marco Scutaro platoon at second will make Californios forget the keystone combo of Tim Flannery and Jerry Royster from the Padres' mid-'80s heyday. It probably won't be a straight platoon, perhaps more something like Bobby Grich and Rob Wilfong with the Angels during the same period, with the lefty getting spot duty, and the right-handed hitter getting the lion's share of the playing time. I know, Mr. Bentsen, Scooter is no Bobby Grich. He isn't a lion either, for that matter. But it's a fixer-upper solution until something better comes loose.
Oh, and that Chavez guy, he's pretty handy too, I suppose. But during June and July, while Chavez was gone, the A's run-scoring went up by nearly a full run per game. Part of that was finally getting good work from Bobby Crosby and Mark Kotsay, as well as a Scott Hatteberg's possession by a Lectroid from the eighth dimension. That Billy Beane, fooling around with oscillation overthrusters. You knew he had to be up to something with Hatteberg, didn't we?
White-flaggeriffic! Like the Spanish navy at Manila Bay, you have to give them credit for being here, but there's a point at which you just have to choose discretion over valor, and that time has clearly come. But wait, it gets even cooler. Justin Leone, shortstop? Why the hell not? OK, don't we all wish. Instead, it's Wee Willie Bloomquist, spanking a mean single and playing like Stimpy on speed. You can hear Bill Bavasi now: "By God, I swear he'll make people forget Domingo Ramos!" Still, Leone will get some time at short, and more at third at Scott Spiezio's expense. That ought to put Spiezio on the block as well as Aurilia, but do you really think they'll make all the old men go away?
The lingering question is where will Aurilia go? The Astros and Cubs could both use a shortstop, and they're contenders. The Giants would be an obvious match, and though they don't have much to offer, Aurilia's just a rental till the end of the season anyway. Given how mushy the Mariners tend to be on all the personal stuff, I sort of expect a huggy press conference with the Giants, with everyone living happily ever after, or something like that.
It's a weird outfield rotation, but it's doing good work. Nix is the best player of the lot, of course, but the Rangers aren't relying on him over-much because of the amount of offense they've gotten from the infield. Then you've got Kevin Mench and David Dellucci, with Eric Young and Gary Matthews Jr. doing good stuff in supporting roles. It's the way you sort of like to see a team built: solid offensive contributors in the outfield aren't too hard to find, generally, while an All-Star infield is nothing to sneeze at. Throw in Rod Barajas in his Cerone season, and you've got a nifty offense. It almost sounds scripted, but there's that pesky Brian Jordan signing to live down. I suppose it wouldn't be nice to call Jordan baseball's Juan Gonzalez with a smiley face, but let's face it, the tortured storyline is that Jordan is a long-suffering competitor, while JuanGo's sullen and unmotivated. It has to be so, we read it in the papers. Right?
Service's injury was very convenient, what with Danny Bautista out and the Snakes needing a replacement not named QMcC. Terrero is what he was coming into the season, perhaps their best upper level outfield prospect (at least as long as they're pushing Josh Kroeger a bit too quickly). In his time at Tucson, Terrero was hitting .330/.370/.569 (which translates to a .259 Equivalent Average), and swiped 14 bases in 16 attempts. He'd also only played about a month and a half's worth of baseball in his second season at the level, after losing time to a pair of events that demonstrated what might be termed 'emotion management issues.' He's an all-tools talent and 24, so he'll be around for a while. Whether he hits well enough to be a genuinely good prospect remains to be seen. Given the Snakes' desperation, it's worth taking the time to see. Right now, I don't really see his up-side ranking with those of a young Raul Mondesi or Juan Encarnacion, but it's that sort of talent. If he shows something now, it might make it that much easier for the Snakes to deal Steve Finley, because the one skill Terrero has that is big league ready right now is his glovework.
They're fine, both of them. Really. You can believe them this time. Or not. But given that the Cubs are well behind the Cardinals, and were expected to be well ahead, you can sort of understand where that creeping need to kick-start a second half rally is coming from. You've got something like a half-dozen people in the press box working on books about this team, after all, from the underacknowledged George Castle to artlessly regurgitative Gene Wojciechowski, my own officially anointed Worst Beatwriter Ever, so it would be a horrendous pity if they didn't actually win anything, donchaknow.
Still, they do have the handy excuse that the five aces rotation didn't quite shape out so well, between the overlapping injuries or the Madduxian descent into Mike Madduxery. (There's something jarring about seeing Greg Maddux become someone who can beat somebody only some of the time.) Now that Woody's back and Prior's pitching his way back into form, it isn't hard to envision a rotation where those two and Zambrano blaze their way through the league's lineups. Certainly, everybody's waiting for it. I simply hope that it happens and that we see the Snugglies give the Cards a run for their money, instead of becoming the shoe that never dropped.
I guess there are those moments, like the super slo-mo of Ralph Wiggum's heartbreak, when you know you're done for, and it can be captured for posterity. Perhaps some hardcore local unreformed Trotskyites hadn't given up on the Reds' rebellion in the NL Central, but chances are, losing Griffey is the event that leads everyone to admit that the bandwagon won't come out of the ditch, and it's time to cut the ponies from their traces. It might be because I have no emotional attachment to Griffey, but the only tragedy here is that endured by those whose faith was the most hopeful. It isn't like Griffey hasn't had a great career, after all, and he isn't done. If there's an up-side, it's that Brandon Larson is playing and starting to hit, Wily Mo Pena is surprising people, and D'Angelo Jimenez and Adam Dunn are banishing concerns about their ability. On the pitching side of the ledger, Paul Wilson seems to have come fully into his own, and Aaron Harang and Jose Acevedo have had their moments. It isn't all good news, but it's all important to think about when considering what the roster should look like in 2005.
By the way, if any of you are at the SABR convention in Cincinnati this week, I hope we run into each other. It'll be a great opportunity to see the GAP (for those of us who haven't yet) and jaw about the great game.
Technically, I guess we have to refer to the Dodgers "losing" Encarnacion, but could you blame them if they decided not to find him? Rotating through Jayson Werth, Jason Grabowski, and Olmedo Saenz in the available playing time (with a one-armed Shawn Green flipping from the outfield corner to the infield as needed) lets Jim Tracy use his bench with even more brio than usual, mixing and matching and using a great group of role players to best advantage. Chen could be a helpful add-on to what is turning into one of the best benches in the game, having hit .318/.380/.619 in Vegas, but he'll be hard-pressed to get at-bats. Not that we should expect Werth to keep slugging .600, but I don't think anybody thought Saenz had anything left, and DePo had the sense to go get Werth and Grabowski from his brother wolves from the Beane pack.
By contrast, Encarnacion was an inherited liability, picked up by the previous regime as a gambit to prove it was up to doing things. Encarnacion's that superb fantasy talent, easily impressing beat writers and fantasy gamers with 'category' stats, while not actually helping to generate as many runs as you'd think. He peaked at the appropriate time in the appropriate way, and the Marlins dumped him when the getting was good. Signing Encarnacion to a two-year deal was either what worked for Dan Evans, or was a great way of handicapping his soon-to-be former employer. Either way, it's a burden the Dodgers have been hoping to unload for months.
It makes for a great contrast among the contenders within the division. The Dodgers rely on selected tactics, platoons, and a number of retreads. You could argue they have a true star in Eric Gagne, but let's face it, he's a closer, and closers don't win divisions on their own. In contrast, you have the Giants, who will go wherever Barry Bonds and Jason Schmidt carry them. Where Tracy fidgets, Felipe observes (to be charitable). Then you have the Padres, flashing new park money and high expectations, a hastily assembled blend of oldish mercs and homegrown goodies. There are no good guys or bad guys, just three very different teams, all with their merits. It's still a little disconcerting to think that I like what the Dodgers are up to, but it's going to be a great flag chase down the stretch.
OK, I know it's goofy, but I'm happy to see Erickson finally make it. He's one of those minor league soldiers who has knocked around, in his case, this being his eighth year as a pro, and his sixth above A-ball. At 29, he's already almost too old to merit an honorable mention as a Ken Phelps All-Star, but he can make contact, hit lefty, play second or third, and run a little, so he has his uses. As a way to use the last spot on the roster while the schedule obviates the need for a fifth starter, it's an appropriately clever little move.
Meanwhile, Obermueller can pitch for his life down in Indy, because he hasn't earned his keep in Milwaukee. By the time the Brewers need a fifth man next week, he may have lost his job to Ben Hendrickson by default.
One of the symptoms of despair is the point at which you stop trying. I would not blame Andy Fox for his release, not even because of his ofer-thirty streak at the plate. Not that I think he'd be great, but how is a man supposed to hit if he gets three starts in ten and a half weeks? If you've got a player like that on your roster, you're wasting a roster spot just as certainly as you would if you had Jesse Orosco. Frank Robinson deserves some blame, for either giving up on or forgetting Fox, neither of which is acceptable. Ron Calloway has been similarly forgotten, and while he's also no great shakes, when you use players like this, you reap appropriate profits from such thoughtless investments.
If there's one thing consistently delightful about the Big Apple, it's that unique blend of provincial self-importance and bombastic gullibility. Faster than you can say Sidd Finch, Alay Soler is supposed to come in on a raft and fix the Mets' rotation? I love it, especially from a city that seemed to learn nothing from Jose Contreras, let alone the never-achieved stardom of Timo Perez. But I guess if you call a ham sandwich 'Cuban,' it costs twice as much, and if the discerning cognoscenti of the center of the universe don't know any better, why let them in on the joke? New York might consider itself cynical, or even try to aspire to live up to the slur 'home of the world-weary poseur,' but it's things like this that leave me convinced that hope springs eternal everywhere. OK, except in Montreal. If cynicism has a home on this continent, it ought to be there, no?
At any rate, they've identified that they have problems, they're just hung up on dubious solutions to one amongst many. If they really turn to Scott Erickson, thinking he'll be an improvement on Jae Seo or Matt Ginter, consider me a skeptic. I'd be a lot more impressed if they were shopping around for a third baseman who can play with the big kids, for starters, even if only as a rental before David Wright comes up next year.