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July 21, 2004
It would be easy to say something derisive about the deal, but let's face it, dumping DeJean was a priority, and the Orioles have been short-handed in the outfield. Luis Matos and Larry Bigbie aren't earning their keep, and Jerry Hairston's a threat to Brian Roberts, not to anybody as an outfielder. With the organization acting shocked that Raffy Palmeiro got old, there's playing time to be spread around, and while Garcia's not a prospect, maybe now is his Chito Martinez moment.
Beyond getting DeJean out of their system, there's the other good news of getting their best player back. There's been too much attention placed on his glovework because he's leading the majors in errors at third. Perhaps Orioles fans have been spoiled by decades of Brooksie and Doug DeCinces and even a bit of Ripken, but Mora hasn't been an embarrassment at third. He's shown good anticipation on the deuce and decent range, so it isn't like we're talking Floyd Rayford here. Although the Orioles don't have an outfield laden with stars or even adequacies, they don't have an alternative at third.
Isn't this great? All of the team's big-ticket investments are coming back at exactly the time the Sox need to get themselves a lead in the wild card chase. I mean sure, the Yankees could go hare-y on us, and take a nap, skip a week of the season to spend it frolicking in the Poconos, or declare August "Flaherty time," but I wouldn't hold my breath. And now that the pinstriped secret agent is back, nobody expects Boston to actually pick up ground, do they? OK, he may not be handed leads to hand back, but he could do all sorts of stuff, like put steel shavings in Manny Ramirez's soap, send Pedro Martinez anonymous memos about team rules and policies, or kidnap Joe Castiglione and threaten to assassinate him. If you can't directly affect the outcome, dabbling in psych warfare is a great way to contribute to the campaign.
As for Youkilis, it wasn't like he was getting to play. Nobody's got a chance when you have to contend with Mr. Reese's irresistible moniker. You might suggest that Reese's value as a utility infielder might come into the equation, especially since Mark Bellhorn probably needs a glovely backup at second. The problem with that idea is that Reese hasn't been used as a defensive replacement much, if at all, and even the concept of using Reese as Derek Lowe's designated second sacker seems to have wilted in the face of Bellhorn's hot hitting. So off to the PawSox with the Greek Godling of Walks, where he dream Yostian dreams. I should hasten to mention those will be Eddie-flavored, because you have to pity the kid who wants to grow up to be Ned or Gus.
Exploiting losers is fun. If you don't believe me, just ask Tom Vu. At any rate, with Big Hurt on the shelf, the Sox felt needy, and who likes going the rigamarole of making trades with a real team? They might ask questions, and talking is labor-intensive. So it's always easier to pull up at Omar's Pillage Hut and stuff something into the sack. If it happens to be one guy you swore you'd dump, and another who you've been willing to risk losing to the Rule 5 Draft a few times, well, come on, they've got their fingers and toes and play baseball and all that.
And on a certain level, Everett's perfect for the Sox, both for now, and for after Thomas's return. He's already familiar with the team from last season's summer rental, and on this heavily right-handed hitting team, he gives them a switch-hitter to mix things up. He'll handle the DH duties for now, but later on, he should get work in all three outfield slots, spotting for Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee, or Aaron Rowand, and reducing Timo Perez to pinch-running and D-repping.
Finally, don't weep for Borchard. I'm relieved that the Sox are more interested in winning than in their investment in him, especially since he doesn't look anything close to ready. They can revisit their fascination in him at a more appropriate time. Like winter ball.
This should be a straight-up replacement, with Inge stepping into most of the playing time in center while Sanchez heals. Consider that: it isn't just good news that Inge is back, but also that he'll be playing. I know he's 27, but how can I avoid the double-take? Anyway, it isn't like the Tiggers have a choice, because Craig Monroe isn't really a center fielder, and Omar Infante's busy pulling an Inge at second base, and they punted Andres Torres, so as long as they're in for an Inge, why not go the distance? Besides, Sanchez's tagtastic good times aside, he's not much of a center fielder to start off with, so it isn't like the pitching staff isn't used to having to live with works in progress.
Think on that, the next time you're short of something nasty to say to somebody: not good enough for Kansas City. But keep in mind, Guiel's getting over a bit of blurred vision, so while the Royals entertain the mostly-absent masses with Dee Brown, hopefully Guiel can his stroke back in order.
Sometimes good things happen to good people, even if they don't happen to think of the good thing as a boon for themselves. I'm sure Minky's god-fearing and loves Mom and country and puppies and rainy days, but true justice is getting him out of Morneau's way. I guess that I'm bemused by the Twins' trying to fob off criticism by claiming that Morneau has things to work on: if that's the case, why have him work on them in the cleanup slot? Because you're the sort of team that claims Henry Blanco's been doing good deeds. The contempt for reality boggles, but the Twins allow themselves to go as far as their ambitions take them, and these days, that's frequently second place. Anyway, they now have a great cleanup hitter on their hands. Don't think that the Sox didn't notice; they suddenly felt a much more urgent need to replace Frank Thomas with Carl Everett instead of Joe Borchard. This should stay interesting, to say the least.
Mussina's breakdown is bad news for all sorts of reasons, mostly because it highlights the team's unwillingness to really think of alternatives within the organization. Graman? They won't do that. Admiral Halsey? Maybe. But Mussina remains a question going into August, and the Yankees have too many questions beyond Javier Vazquez. It's shaping up to be a very similar season to last year, where a shallow rotation didn't play well in October's mini-marathon.
Designated 1B-L John Olerud and C-R Pat Borders for assignment; activated C-R Miguel Olivo from the 15-day DL; purchased the contract of 1B-R Bucky Jacobsen and LHP George Sherrill from Tacoma. [7/15]
Activated RHP Aaron Taylor from the 60-day DL, and optioned him to San Antonio (Double-A). [7/17]
What's next, designating Pat Gillick for assignment? Ye gods, talk about Operation Clean Sweep. Olerud wasn't completely worthless, but he had rejected being dealt, and to his credit, Bavasi didn't shy from making a choice. It will be interesting to see where he lands (Atlanta? San Francisco?), but he's has already stated that he has no interest in skipping across a few time-zones, so odds are that it's a west coast team or nobody.
Given the trio of releases, who might be next? Bret Boone, of course, because of his impending free agency--although it isn't like they have a readily available player to put in his place within the system, not unless they want to wind up with a Willie Bloomquist/Ramon Santiago combo on the deuce. Dave Hansen or Jolbert Cabrera might fetch an A-ball arm from some NL team hunting for a professional spare part. The Cubs or Braves would do.
So who's a Mariner these days? Minor league cult icon Bucky Jacobsen, for starters. Sure, he won the Triple-A home run derby, adding to his fame, and he hit .312/.422/.661, which sounds downright Phelpsian. The downside is that he'll turn 29 at the end of next month, and he's had to spend the last five full seasons at Double-A or above, so it really is now or never for Bucky. To his credit, this was his first successful season above Double-A, having previously flopped in his last year in Triple-A...in 2001. So cachet or no, at best, he's an experiment in fun in an unfun situation. He is not a part of the logn-term future.
Then there's George Sherrill, one of several aspiring closers who pitched for the Rainiers this summer. In 50.1 IP at Tacoma, he gave up 50 baserunners (eight of them on unintentional walks), while striking out 62. So he's a prospect, right? Well, sure, because people who get people out are worth paying attention to, but rather than being a product of the system or some Gillick pick in the amateur draft, Sherrill is a 27 year-old indy league refugee in his first full season with a professional organization. But he's two things Bucky is not: a lefty, and a pitcher, two things that are great if you want to stick around for a while.
That's nifty as a near-term fix, except that it's a bit undermined by the organization's decision to retain Scott Spiezio. Understandably, they want to play Justin Leone at third base, and that's fine. I guess cutting Spiezio costs them the rest of his $2.7 million due this year, and then $6.45 million over the next three. I guess Spiezio's multipositional… value makes him handy, and his contract preserves him. It's Cirilloriffic!
There's another thing to fret about, which is how the Mariners treat Edgar Martinez in his last year. I don't see any reason to take him out of the lineup, beyond his performance. I know, that sounds silly, but consider the downside of hauling him out of the lineup. First, you add to the general sense of despair among the fan base. Sure, that's part of the meltdown anyway, but why not transmogrify what you have left to an Edgar Martinez farewell tour? On the other hand, if you blow it, you've got players chattering among themselves about those outright releases, the past failures to acquire stretch drive help, and then this? Just to let Bucky Jacobsen DH instead of play first? Or to get Scott Spiezio into the lineup? Who needs that? There's a lot of value to being an attractive destination to players; giving Edgar a properly lengthy Viking funeral would at least remind people that some teams do right by their heroes.
Released RHP Rick Helling from Oklahoma. [7/16]
Passed along the news that Helling has announced his retirement. [7/17]
As an A's fan, all I can say is that I hope that this is the sort of thing that the Rangers spend the next few weeks concerning themselves with, instead of fixing their rotation or something.
I feel for Rick Helling, if only because it was a career filled with stutters as much as any measure of success. A first round pick back in '92, I suppose expectations were high and on some level he disappointed them, but he still managed to have a career. Whether you think that he was forced up through the bandboxes of the Rangers' system, or if he flat out struggled, in the early '90s he fell out of favor, getting tossed into the Burkett deal of 1996 before being flipped back for Ed Vosberg in an even more contemptuous bit of discarding. It was from that point that Helling made a name for himself, giving the Rangers three good and one adequate season before skipping over to the Snakes a year too late for a ring, and then the indignity or Orioledom before last season's saving trade to the Marlins. He tended to frighten people--GMs, managers, pitching coaches, bleacher creatures, you name it--for his frequent bouts of Blyleven's Disease. As careers go, it falls well short of Bobo Newsom's wasted greatness, but it was still a good stretch after nearly being abandoned.
There's always something reassuring when a child makes an adult decision, especially when it isn't one of the 'Run away to Vegas' variety. It's one of those rites of passage, and although I'm undoubtedly being every bit as prematurely happy for the D-Rays as the Piniella groupies, for me, the release of Fred McGriff, still well short of his miserable 500th home run, is an inspiration. Could it be that the Cartilagenous Shrimpsuckers have finally realized their in the baseball, not recordball, business? May we all dare to dream so boldly.
On a similar note, Cantu's call-up is a happy development, ill as it may bode for the scrawny, desperate perpetuations of Rey Sanchez and Geoff Blum. While everyone's itching for B.J. Upton's arrival, Cantu was having a tremendous year at Durham, hitting .310/.339/.596 (or a translated .267 Equivalent Average). And yes, that means he doesn't walk to save his life, and that significantly alters the extent to which I'm enthusiastic about him. He can play second, third, or short, though, and that, plus a bunch of power, immediately conjures up visions of Luis Aguayo. Well, at least. Considering he's only 22, he could be a lot more than Aguayo, and since he'll be hitting in a bandbox, he'll be useful.
Wells came back sooner than expected, and that almost gets the Jays' original lineup active, all at the same time. They're still short one Catalanotto, but there's a huge difference defensively between having that Reed Johnson in center and Dave Berg in left combo instead of Johnson in left and Wells in center. Regardless of the offensive pickup, I suspect the pitching staff is going to be happier. The offense isn't anything to sniff out, though.
It's sort of interesting for what this means in the second half. As long as Delgado's around, the Jays should be able to score at a good clip, perhaps even mounting a respectable second-half run that would thwart the thwartable ambitions of the D-Rays and Orioles. There wouldn't be anything wrong with that, in that it might take the bitter edge off of a season gone wrong, even if Delgado does get dealt. And it might help attract free agents. It might even generate some schadenfreude-inspired happiness, as Beantowners express glee over a Blue Jays win over the Yankees. That's New England for you, though, what with its historic commitment to the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be happy.
What I don't get is sending down Howie Clark and retaining the four horsemen of utilitydom (or utility doom, as you like it). How is the roster better off by simultaneously carrying Chris Gomez, Frankie Menechino, Chris Woodward, and Dave Berg, all right-handed-hitting infielders, none of whom can really play the outfield? I know, I'm arguing for a guy who's hit .217/.292/.348, just because he hits lefty and can play the outfield, and that seems weak, but nobody's going to trade for Dave Berg, and he's effectively useless given the rest of the roster's composition. Designating him for assignment might at least elicit an offer, although I guess the idea of eating the expense if no one expressed an interest might be too rich for the Blue Jays' blood. Everyone makes mistakes, but when you spend too much on a moderately useful utilityman already past thirty, as the Jays did after 2002, you're throwing money and roster flexibility away.
Good's disappearance onto the DL isn't what forced the Snakes to return Elmer Dessens back into the roation: they're doing that by choice. So if you're keeping track, that's a last-place team with a rotation that has both Dessens and Steve Sparks in it. I suppose Casey Fossum's six-plus ERA isn't the sort of thing that ought to inspire you to start looking at the kids, but to Fossum's credit, he has been putting up quality starts every other game for the last six weeks (or four out of eight starts, if you prefer).
There is, however, a more basic problem, which is that the kids aren't all right. Edgar Gonzalez is taking his turns in Tucson, and Matt Henrie seems to be vaulting up the chain; it's fair to expect that at least Gonzalez will be up before September. But beyond that, not a lot has gone right within the organization. Dustin Nippert struggled before blowing out his elbow, Greg Aquino's raw enough to be an oyster, and Mike Gosling is thought to have promise so far isn't turning out too well. Lance Cormier and Casey Daigle will probably get recalled after their early demonstrations of unreadiness. So for now, the farm's looking like so much raked dirt.
The dilemma is emblematic of the challenge Joe Garagiola Jr. has on his hands for the next few weeks. I guess the good news is that he can't fool himself anymore, but you have to worry about how much stuff he's going to get for Unit or Robby Alomar or even Brent Mayne. These people think Juan Brito's a going concern and Shea Hillenbrand a star, after all. We'll have to see. Teardowns of any type aren't easy, but the Snakes are going to have to pick from among other people's players well if they want to shorten the trough they're going to be in for a while.
Yes, they're back, but what's particularly fun is how they're back. On the offensive side of the ledger, they're back at full strength now that Giles is back. But more basically, the lineup has been reconfigured. Instead of Chipper Jones in left, he's at third. That's produced two interrelated benefits. First, it's moved Mark DeRosa into the utility role he's made for, helping to wipe Jesse Garcia off of the roster because Nick Green has been everything DeRosa or Wilson Betemit have not. How long Green can stick around as an infield reserve is an open question, since he really only plays second, but as long as DeRosa's on the bench, it isn't a major issue.
More importantly, by moving Chipper into the infield, the Braves have made space for a platoon of Charles Thomas and Eli Marrero in left. Now, no, I don't expect Rogers to keep hitting like he wants to permanently erase the memory of Dion James, but I don't expect him to segue into Ralph Garr flashbacks either. Seamhead purists might note that if Thomas hits more like we might expect, that doesn't add up to a great-hitting outfielder, and that's true--but that's the abstract comparison. Here in reality, the Braves needed an offensive improvement over what they were getting from DeRosa's playing time. Although they sort of fell into it on the go, it's easier to find outfielders who can out-hit utility infielders than it is to find good offensive outfielders growing on trees.
No more Garcia. No more Dewayne Wise. No more DeRosa getting five or six starts per week. Instead, you've got Giles, a platoon that's putting runs on the board, a stronger bench, and the chance that Adam LaRoche adjusts and gets hot down the stretch. Leo Mazzone may have Wrighted Jaret, but now that Paul Byrd is back, he might not need to fix Mike Hampton or John Thomson. Horacio Ramirez will be back for the stretch run. That might put Thomson in the pen, and keep both of them out of the postseason rotation if and when the time comes.
So, without a blue chip prospect or a major deal, the Braves are back. It's enough to make a grown Bowa weep.
Some horrors are better left unknown, so I suppose only the real masochists were actively interested in watching St. Rey of the Wounded Bat go through his usual motions. I guess that's the nature of being a Cubs fan: you're on the rack, and life itself is the Spanish Inquisition. On a certain level, this respite provides you with double the pleasure: not only is Ordonez gone, but Ramon Martinez won't have to play much shortstop from here on out. I guess it's silly of me to wonder how much better Carlos Zambrano's record would be if he had the benefit of a real shortstop the last couple of months, considering he's a fairly extreme grounball pitcher, but I can't help myself. At any rate, the job at short is A-Gonz's, until he's dead or the Cubs find somebody better. Bet on the latter.
Less heralded is the news that Wellemeyer is back. What with the flitting about of a few of the stars between active and inactive and rehabbing and rehabbed, it's easy to lose track of the pitching depth that has been the hallmark of Jim Hendry's organization. Beyond LaTroy Hawkins, the relievers who have done the job have all been farmhands like Wellemeyer, Francis Beltran, and Jon Leicester. Having over-committed to guys like Joe Borowski and Mike Remlinger, it's nice to get a reminder that when you actually crank out good pitching depth, bullpens aren't so hard to stock. I suppose that milk's been spilt for a few years, and I don't think any of us have Andy MacPhail pegged as weepy.
Placed 3B-R Brandon Larson on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring). [7/19]
Is it enough to keep the improbable pursuit of second place going? Getting Casey back spares the Reds the indignity of ever again letting Juan Castro start at first, and that's even more significant than it sounds, because having to start Castro at all is a reflection of the organization's multiplicity of bad fallback choices.
The hope is that Romano can at least be the center fielder the team needs in Ken Griffey's absence. In an outfield with two leadfooters in the corners (and in the case of Wily Mo Pena, a particularly awkward and ungainly one), having someone who can handle the gaps is desperately necessary. Despite his varied virtues, it isn't Ryan Freel (making it just as well that Larson has broken down again, since it leaves third open for Freel). If Romano has finally fully adapted to his desired avocation in the outfield, he could provide the Reds with another player like Freel, providing some decent OBP, a few steals, and after Griffey's return, a hand fourth outfielder.
The really happy news is the shoe that's dropping after yesterday's deadline, which will be the call-up of Brandon Claussen to take over a spot in the rotation. Added to a rotation with three solid working parts in Paul Wilson, Cory Lidle, and Aaron Harang, it might be the sort of thing that keeps the Reds alive for that second-place finish a lot longer than you'd have thought possible. Or perhaps thought possible before Mark Prior's latest breakdown.
Placed RHP Denny Stark on the 15-day DL (strained groin); purchased the contract of RHP Travis Driskill from Colorado Springs; activated RHP Turk Wendell from the 60-day DL, and designated him for assignment. [7/19]
As if the Rox didn't have enough problems, the pitching staff is becoming a bit of a mess. Lopez earned a demotion (it's never pretty when a sidearmer loses track of his release point), and Stark earned his release if not for his injury. With Joe Kennedy on the DL for a few more days, Chin Hui Tsao's shoulder hurting and nobody optimistic that he's going to don a cape and solve the rotation's problems, it looks like Jeff Fassero will get another spot start.
As straight plug-in, plug-out solutions, this worked pretty neatly, leaving the rest of the rotation relatively undisturbed. And since Perez was as ready as he's going to be this year, that whole hazy Nomo menace can remain in the realm of the insubstantial. Jackson isn't supposed to be badly hurt, so the Dodgers can continue to reshuffle the rotation as needed once he's ready to come back, and undoubtedly bouncing Wilson Alvarez back to long relief.
Recalled OF-L Ron Calloway from Edmonton. [7/19]
Don't we all just love happy endings? One of Bud's lackeys has a need? No problem, he's also conveniently one of the 29 co-conspirators who operate the Montreal Spiders, so what better solution than to raid that increasingly bare community cupboard? It isn't that Rauch and Majewski don't have some promise, despite their injury histories. Rauch has pitched well in Charlotte's rotation, allowing 3.4 runs and striking out 7.6 per nine. Like so many other former starters, Majewski seems to have reacquired some promise as a reliever, allowing 1.2 baserunners and striking out about a man per inning. I can see them both being useful, similar to Patterson. Apparently, that's what this franchise is for, the pitching suspect who needs a retreading. It was one thing when the Expos were doing it by choice, and resurrecting big leaguers like Dennis Martinez or Pascual Perez. Now, they're the Quadruple-A team that gets to give guys reps until they're ready to be dealt to someone who needs them.
I guess the most fundamental question is whether or not the 28 other members of this particular coalition of the willing really want to pay the White Sox $800 grand for their shot at the AL Central title. Make no mistake, that's who gets to foot the bill. I can't imagine it makes the Twins all that happy, not unless they're supposed to be mollified by the interest payments Czar Bud has to make to Carl Pohlad. See, that's the problem right there: when your cons become both needlessly complex and too obvious, you get sloppy and people get angry, because they know they're being had. Perhaps syndicate baseball could duck the attentions of Oliver Wendell Holmes back in the day, but these days, it stinks.
Anyway, I guess the other bit to sort out is the outfield rotation. Like a cockroach, I can't see meteor strikes or thermonuclear war getting Endy Chavez out of the lineup, and Brad Wilkerson's set in one corner, which leaves Terrmel Sledge, Juan Rivera, and Calloway competing to see who gets an apple on Frank Robinson's desk first on a day-to-day basis. Sledge seems to be the current hot hand, as Rivera once was. In that environment, I don't harbor any great expectations that Calloway isn't going to rot on the bench, because even the featured pinch-hitter's role has a line, with Henry Mateo contending with Rivera and Jamey Carroll.
At this point, the Mets have to resort to some desperate risks, because they haven't landed any of those healing balms that cure all ills. So the pen's lack of depth requires picking up DeJean, while they hope that Rick Peterson can work some magic with whatever is left of Erickson's one-time vaunted 'best arm in baseball.'
DeJean should actually help, assuming he's over his early struggles (a big assumption). The Mets' pen is pretty shallow, relying heavily on Orber Moreno and Ricky Bottalico before the ninth inning, and that's not even as nice as it sounds, which isn't very. If the pen hasn't been awful, it hasn't been inspired either, so shoring it up is a worthwhile pursuit. Coming at the cost of having to deal their best lefty pinch-hitter isn't so hot, but it makes it easier to rely on Eric Valent for that sort of thing.
So what can we expect from Erickson? To be blunt, nothing, which means that a lot depends on your worldview. Is everything you get going to be gravy, or grits? And if you get good stuff, can he be more than the fifth starter? Again, I'd hate to get my hopes up. He could reinjure himself easily enough, and then there's remembering that he was pretty hittable at the best of times, and with an infield defense that has its share of issues, perhaps even moreso. Maybe Peterson will do a Lazarus act for us, but consider me wary that the reborn isn't just going to keel over shortly.
This really isn't turning out to be Davis's year, as he returns to the DL again, but with Tony Alvarez already on the bench as well, this may not turn out to be Davis's organization.
The Bucs also needed a warm body to back up Jason Kendall, and that isn't Humberto Cota while he's trying to get over a strained oblique. House was hitting well enough in Nashville (.269/.333/.519, for a translated .237 Equivalent Average), and splitting time behind the plate, at first, and in the outfield, he's really only up on an emergency basis, to catch, and then only if Kendall needs a breather. A contributing factor was that now that Craig Wilson has settled into everyday play at first base or in right field, it didn't make sense to also ask him to be Kendall's backup.
Wilson and Rob Mackowiak have made for an interesting tandem within the lineup. Now that Lloyd McClendon has Mackowiak starting at third, he tries to get him off third before game's end, usually rotating to the outfield in Wilson's place. It's half of a nifty tactical gambit, marred only by the choice to use Chris Stynes as the nominal defensive replacement at third. It's one of those maddening things about McClendon, like his recognition that Bobby Hill ought to play more, while continuing to play Jose Castillo and Abraham Nunez far too regularly at second.