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June 2, 1999

NL West Notebook

Gesundheit

by Dave Pease

Gesundheit

Put bluntly, former Expo Mike Lansing hasn't been all the Rockies had hoped for since they traded several pitching prospects for him during the 1996 offseason. He's had some major back troubles, isn't the defensive player he once was, and really didn't hit at all last year (.276/.325/.411 playing half his games on Planet Coors). Lansing's raw numbers are better this year, but a quick look at Clay Davenport's current EqA report shows that he's only managing a .252 Equivalent Average. That isn't terrible for a middle infielder, but coupled with Lansing's continuing back problems and mediocre defense, that's got to be a disappointment for the Rox.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Lansing "wrenched his back" sneezing in his hotel room, and had to be placed on the DL on Monday. Such an injury could only come from the NL West, the division which produced Chris Brown and his strained eyelash, and it left the Rockies making brave statements about going with Lenny Harris at second base. Harris, of course, wasn't a good defensive second baseman ten years ago, and the Rockies put up with about one game of him there before installing longtime minor-leaguer Chris Sexton on an interim basis. We're now hearing rumors that Lansing's back may require season-ending surgery.

There were some positives about the Lansing deal at the time the Rockies made it. With Eric Young leaving town, the Rockies didn't have a second baseman ready to step in and contribute, and Lansing's health problems hadn't really surfaced yet. If nothing else, it was a good sign that the Rockies made a trade to upgrade their offense, rather than their pitching.

But in the end, this was just another case of a team buying high and getting burned for it. Lansing was coming off a career year at age 29. His 20 home runs, 45 doubles, 45 walks, .338 OBP, and .472 slugging in 1997 were all career highs. Lansing looked like he'd have a monster year or two (at least as far as raw totals are concerned) in Coors, but he didn't come cheaply.

This isn't the kind of deal any team--especially a team playing half their games in Coors Field--should make, unless they're adding the last piece to a playoff contender. Colorado has a great opportunity to make exactly the opposite type of deal with the other teams in the league; all they have to do is collect Dante Bichette type hitters, let them play a couple of years and rack up some nice numbers, and ship them off for real prospects. There's no real evidence general managers around the league are as aware of Coorsflation as they probably ought to be--the Rockies haven't really rooked anyone yet, but the monster deals Bichette, Vinny Castilla and Andres Galarraga got coming off big seasons in Denver seem to indicate that. (To be fair, the Braves got an extraordinary season out of Galarraga last year.)

The cupboard is bare in the minors. The team's only young position players are Todd Helton and Neifi Perez, and Perez blows. A competent general manager would foist Bichette, Castilla, and most of the rest of the offense off on someone like the Cubs as soon as possible, take prospects in return, and gear up for a post-millenial run. As long as the team makes deals like trading pitchers for Mike Lansing, they're never going to get anywhere.

Notes

  • San Francisco continues to lead the West, with a 27-20 record as this is written. That's despite scoring only four more runs than they've allowed. Hats off to Dusty Baker, whose Giants are absolutely flouting the Pythagorean Win-Loss concept over the last few seasons.

  • After a scalding streak with the Birds, Charles Johnson is hitting .270/.357/.557, and looks like he may finally be having the breakout season that analysts have predicted for years. Think the Dodgers miss him? They recently called up superprospect Angel Pena, mainly because Todd Hundley has been hopeless against both lefthanders and the running game. The virtual Johnson for Hundley swap was a daring gamble by the boys in blue, but so far it looks like a disaster.

  • The Padres finally demoted Stan Spencer, who was getting trashed in every start, and called up former organizational Pitcher of the Year Heath Murray to replace him. Ordinarily, this sort of "switch non-prospects to get the hot hand" game is pure folderol, but Murray has reportedly added a few feet to his fastball and was blowing guys away in six starts in Las Vegas (42.2 IP, 2.32 ERA, 38 SO). At any rate, he can't do any worse than Spencer was doing.

Dave Pease is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Dave's other articles. You can contact Dave by clicking here

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