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July 27, 2004
You know you're worried about your bullpen when you dump your utility infielder to carry a seventh reliever. Admittedly, we're talking Shane Halter, and it was only for a few days, but there's a bit of organization brio here. Sure, having Chone Figgins helps, but he's in the starting lineup. What elevates brio to foolhardiness is making this choice while also carrying a third catcher. Apparently two Molinas aren't enough to cover two roster spots. Anyway, Amezaga hadn't recovered his marginal prospect status during his return engagement to the home of the Union's theocratic vassal state. (No, not Texas; no matter what Madonna says, self-worship is not an official religion.)
Not that Hensley doesn't belong by the way, however many relievers the Angels are carrying.
Remember John Maine? Hauling him up, only to sink him publicly, has to be one of the worst public relations disasters since one ill-fated battlecruiser went to Havana. (On that note, kids, remember, smoking doesn't kill people, exploding boiler rooms do.) It seems unfair, especially since Maine was finally enjoying his first solid month in Triple-A. I know, they had a double-header last week, and somebody had to start the first game against the Twins on Friday, and it wasn't going to be Sidney Ponson on short rest. But as long as you're going to call up a pitcher for the double-header, and it was a reliever, why not give John Parrish a spot start? It isn't like that would have left the pen short a lefty, not with Buddy Groom gathering dust and B.J. Ryan having an outstanding season.
I guess flipping from Little Rock Raines to Darnell McDonald demonstrates some sort of reassuring depth, because they're relatively interchangeable, except that with no true center fielder on the roster with Matos on the DL, I'd be a lot happier if Little Rock was still around. And besides, why make the elaborate exchange, when all it nets you is one Maine disaster and the bullpen stylings of the ageless Todd Williams? Williams wasn't even pitching that well, and at 33, he's a man with a future every bit as rosy as Jeff Bittiger's.
Purchased the contract of LHP Abe Alvarez from Portland (Double-A); designated LHP Jimmy Anderson for assignment; added INF-R Ricky Gutierrez to the 25-man roster; optioned Alvarez back to Portland. [7/22]
Recalled C/UT-R Andy Dominique from Pawtucket; placed RHP Curtis Leskanic (tendonitis - shoulder) and OF-L Trot Nixon (strained quadriceps) on the 15-day DL; transferred LHP Brad Thomas from 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/25]
What is it with Ricky Gutierrez and pity? Yes, he was once a nice little player, but now that he's on his fourth organization this season, it's worth noting there's still no reason to believe that he's anything other than done. Even before the injuries, he wasn't an asset afield, so how is he supposed to help a team that just lost its defensive replacement? Offensively, what will he possibly give the Sox that a Jackie Gutierrez comeback wouldn't have done for them? This looks like another case of organizational over-management, and like the inane decision to go out and get Jimmy Anderson, it's a move that didn't need doing. Hell, as long as you're making a deal with the Blue Jays, why not ask for one sardine from their otherwise full can of utility infielders? If the key requirement is for a defensive replacement for Mark Bellhorn who can play some short, Ricky Gutierrez only loosely meets the definition, only in the sense that you could say the same thing of a bag of hammers if you chose to activate it.
Similarly, the return of the God of Walks is troubling as much as it represents good news for lesser Greek deities. He can't play anywhere beyond the corners, and since Gutierrez serves no purpose and Bill Mueller can't really play second base, it's almost as if the organization is having a reaction formation to the feeble-minded local worship of Pokey Reese, False Idol. Just because the townies love a scrub doesn't mean you need to find a worse scrub or forego acquiring someone who could actually help your team. At least the news on Reese's calf is good, so the charade will only last two or three weeks.
If there's genuinely good news, it's the pickup of Terry Adams. I know, he's a reverse platoon guy, and the Monster could represent all sorts of trouble. But he is a relatively reliable arm, and perhaps getting him will obviate some of the sillier pen shenanigans that have been tested this summer. The price was right, considering that Hattig hardly had a future in an organization already loaded at the hot corner. Unfortunately, Adams is more experienced that he is valuable. The Sox have to keep hoping that they'll get Byung-Hyun Kim or Scott Williamson back some time soon.
Admittedly, the news is grim. Ordonez is out for two months, and maybe all year. It's even worse when you consider that Maggs is the closest thing to a local icon this team has, beyond the manager. So what to do? Whatever hopes his GM harbors for him, Borchard isn't ready, so in the interim between now and if Frank Thomas is able to come off the DL in September, the Sox have to be glad they got Carl Everett early. Until Thomas' return, they don't have to worry too much about squeezing Everett into the outfield, as they can instead keep spreading the playing time around among Ross Gload, Timo Perez, and Willie Harris on days they want him away from second base. On paper, a lineup that has Everett in right field and Thomas at DH sounds pretty good, but again, even that's in doubt.
Acquired future considerations from the Brewers for 1B/3B/OF-L Russell Branyan. [7/26]
I don't want to say that I'm a Sizemore skeptic, but his touts have outstripped his production. Despite last season's breakout, he's still a work in progress. Although equipped with an all-tools rep, at Buffalo, he was hitting .292/.360/.442, which only translates to a .230 Equivalent Average in the big leagues. Look again: that doesn't add up to a lot of power, and he drew only 37 walks in 444 plate appearances. On the 'still needs work' front, he still wasn't running all that well (12 for 21 stealing bases), and his arm remains pretty weak.
But all of those minor gripes aside, we're talking about someone just short of his 22nd birthday who really can play, and whose initial challenge is to beat out Coco Crisp. Given how well most of the rest of the lineup is cranking, Sizemore could be plugged into the 9th slot in the lineup and left alone. He's coming into the tail end of a pennant chase, with skills worth playing and a future we should all envy. This isn't really a pennant-minded move, but as long as the Tribe sticks with the plan to actually let Sizemore play as they go down the stretch, I'm impressed.
Recalled RHP Shawn Camp from Omaha. [7/21]
Activated OF-L Michael Ryan from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Rochester. [7/20]
Activated 1B-L Doug Mientkiewicz from the 15-day DL; optioned Bowen back to New Britain (Double-A). [7/22]
Ugh-a-ugh. We knew that Mauer's knee injury will probably irreparably handicap his career at a far-too-early date, but his unavailability and Matt LeCroy's cranky knees seem to suggest that Terry Ryan's going to have to eat all of that praise he was heaping on Henry Blanco not so long ago. Career-path wise, of course, you've got Shannon Stewart to DH for a few years to come (although that could change if they make Jacque Jones go away in the off-season). First base might be an option, if only because of concerns for Justin Morneau's glovework, but Mauer's future as a catcher seem pretty short-term at best.
Thank goodness they've got a guy like Minky to help make up the difference, right? Although he's being talked up as a bartering chip, let's face it, he's 30, expensive, and not especially talented. It's going to take a monumentally bad bit of judgment to get him (and his expense) onto somebody else's roster. In other words, the Pirates would be making an enormous mistake if they took him as one of the big parts of any deal involving Kris Benson, even if he's not the Benson of old.
Recalled RHP Bret Prinz from Columbus; optioned OF-L Bubba Crosby to Columbus. [7/25]
Recalled LHP Bobby Madritsch from Tacoma; designated UT-R Hiram Bocachica for assignment. [7/21]
Released 1B-L John Olerud. [7/23]
Recalled RHP Nick Regilio from Oklahoma; placed RHP Joaquin Benoit on the bereavement list. [7/20]
Activated OF-R Brian Jordan from the 15-day DL and C-R Gerald Laird from the 60-day DL; recalled RHP Rosman Garcia from Oklahoma; designated OF-R Chad Allen and C-R Danny Ardoin for assignment. [7/23]
Check that out: the Rangers designated four bodies for assignment, and they could afford to. That's what journeymen are for, so guys like Alexander, Conti, Ardoin, and Allen, much as they all might be adequate big league backups or equally adequate Triple-A regulars, are used to the flip-flops between life in the bus ride leagues and the big league happiness of multi-star hotels. And still the Rangers rule the roost.
In the wake of so many returns, what's the roster look like? Dickey slips back into the rotation, and it's an open question as to whether Regilio or Benoit will get the rotation slot that's going to be abandoned by the ill-fated Ricardo Rodriguez. And then there's the Johnny Wasdin issue. Since both Chan Ho Park and Juan Dominguez have had setbacks in their rehabbery, you might consider the Rangers desperate, but not them. Cracked contingencies aside, they've been making do with omelettes for months already; if anything, they need to worry about running out of chickens. How else can you sort out how a team whose rotation runs Rogers and Drese and then whimper and wheeze can be in first place? I guess you don't need an endoscopy to see that at least they don't have Colon problems: Their bad eggs are absent, or easily discarded.
Behind the plate, Laird's back ahead of schedule. He won't get all of his old job back; Rod Barajas' Cerone season has made sure of that. But instead of having to push Laird into the full-time role, the Rangers have the happier situation of having two useful catchers on hand. As a result, they won't have to worry about overworking either.
Similarly, now that Jordan is back, they don't exactly have to hand him playing time. He'll get to split at-bats in the outfield corners and at DH with Kevin Mench, David Dellucci, Brad Fullmer, and Gary Matthews Jr. Three jobs, five bats, two lefty, and there should be enough work to go around. The guy who might lose out is Fullmer, because he isn't hitting that well, he has no real position that he can manage in a pinch, and cutting him wouldn't involve having to eat a lot of expense. He's probably saved for the time being by a knee injury, but should it come time to pick a postseason roster, Fullmer's going to be hard to keep.
Recalled RHP Michael Nakamura from Syracuse; purchased the contract of RHP Sean Douglass from Syracuse. [7/25]
I wish I wasn't pressed for time, because I usually try to say something nice about a guy on the way out. Clearly, Hentgen was one of the better un-famous workhorses of his day. He never got that Jack Morris cachet, and the shoulder injury pretty much relegated his career to deserving mention with other briefly great guys like Moose Earnshaw or Mario Soto or Mike Moore. Not that there's anything wrong with that, and he certainly earned a living, but Hentgen was once a horse, and perhaps most like Soto, his career blossomed and died in the ignominy of irrelevance in the standings. Happily unlike Soto, Hentgen did get those two rings at the very start of his career with the Jays, so it certainly wasn't all for naught. His comeback in 2003 went far better than anyone really could believe, and it was a bit much to expect any more than that. Anyway, he'll be missed.
So where does a retirement, an ace heading to the DL, and a deal leave the pitching staff? Let's just say that the patches are going to be nothing if not creative. Kevin Frederick has been one of those guys I've always wondered how he'd work out, after a career spent flitting between dominance and inadequacy; now we'll get to see. Sean Douglass was having his moments in the Syracuse rotation; now he's getting the same opportunity fellow Orioles refugee Josh Towers has. This may well be Mike Nakamura's shot at finally joining the ranks of big league sidearmers. While I suppose it's going to be a point of pride to try to finish third, sorting out whether there's any wheat among the chaff has to be Job One.
Finally, I suppose Hattig is a nice pickup. He was hitting .295/.411/.519 in the Eastern League, and that's worth something. Terry Adams, apparently. Anyway, at 24 and just now in Double-A, he's having the sort of career where he can't afford a misstep. He hasn't had one so far, although he's flopped in mid-season promotions each of the last two years. Still, he's not a liability at third, he switch-hits, and offensively, he's broken out in his first full season in Double-A. The organization has long lacked any talent at third; the days when you could argue the merits of Tom Evans versus Casey Blake are long gone. Finally, it isn't like Eric Hinske's doing all that much to earn any job security these days. If he continues to just poke along, I wouldn't bet against his being dealt before the escalators in his five-year, $14.75 million deal start to sting. That wouldn't hand the job to Hattig; I suspect the small horde of utility infielders would soak up the playing time if they're still around, and you can count on the Jays being active again in the minor league free agency market. If you'd told me a year ago that Hinske would be in danger of playing his way out of the near-term picture, I would have been surprised. No longer.
Recalled RHP Edgar Gonzalez from Tucson; optioned RHP Brian Bruney to Tucson. [7/22]
Not that I'm wild about Lance Cormier, but at least it looks like the Snakes have completely turned the page. As of now, the rotation is Randy Johnson, young vets Brandon Webb and Casey Fossum, and rookies Edgar Gonzalez and Cormier. They've even given both that unhappy vote of confidence where they're supposed to get the rest of the summer to show what they can do, but big-time losing streaks have a way of squelching even the best of intentions. Perhaps if they finally consummate a Unit deal, they'll be in a position to let either Steve Sparks or Elmer Dessens reclaim his slot, but until then, both have been banished to the pen, where at least Dessens has done decent work in a mop-up role.
What's less encouraging is the decision to bump Bruney, one of the few occasionally effective relievers in one of baseball's worst pens. Would cutting Mike Fetters really have hurt so badly? And why activate and keep Baerga? Terrero's future isn't too far off, especially once Luis Gonzalez hits the DL next week, and it isn't like Baerga or Quinton McCracken will draw any trade interest. Robbie Alomar, maybe, but at this point, he's buried and the team is watching Scott Hairston try to counter-adapt to the league's pitchers.
Signed UT-B Denny Hocking to a minor league contract. [7/23]
This has to be the best Cub season ever. How else is Andy MacPhail supposed to feel? His team's making money, contending, and he even got to indulge in one of his favorite pastimes, the random acquisitions of fellow former Twins. Sure, he got LaTroy Hawkins earlier on, but that cost money. The roster equivalent of comfort food always makes for a simpler pleasure. The real question is whether Andy gets his toy on the roster over either of Dusty Baker's former Giants on the big league bench. Catfight!
On that front, I think we can forgive Dusty for acting out in the bullpen. Not that Beltran hasn't had his control problems of late, or that Leicester hasn't earned the chance to stick, but I suspect the real target of Dusty's ire is Farnsworth the Flammable. When you have this sort of talent, though, and options to burn, you can afford some random tweaking. As is, Todd Wellemeyer has been one of the pen's homegrown heroes, and both Beltran and Leicester have had their moments. Hopefully their sheer numbers will keep Joe Borowski from much consideration come September.
As reunion tours go, Wright and the Rockies probably ranks with Michael Parť and the Cruisers, but does it matter? Nobody's willing to play the American Legion post down the street, and what else are you supposed to do in a pinch? There's a whole lot of season left to play, after all, and nobody wants to start giving the Snakes any ideas about their place in the grand scheme of things.
Recalled RHP Justin Wayne from Albuquerque. [7/23]
The Marlins aren't exactly firing on all cylinders in their pitching staff, so it says something about Oliver that it was as if they were happy to be rid of him. Oliver hadn't taken his demotion to the pen all that well, but he had been pretty useful in the pen. Still, there's an old-time way of handling clubhouse Bolsheviks, and Jack McKeon's a traditional sort of guy. Shipping a cranky lefty to the cramped quarters of Orangina Fizzy Citrus Beverage Ballpark over in Houston seems like a pretty nasty send-off to me.
Acquired LHP Darren Oliver from the Marlins for a PTBNL or cash. [7/22]
Optioned Qualls back to New Orleans. [7/23]
Pity the poor air-conditioned masses of Houston. Wade Miller and Andy Pettitte have been hurt for significant stretches, but this team had the depth to cope, right? Except that Duckworth was a disaster, Tim Redding little better, and both earned consideration from the Inconceivable Jimy Williams for the role of his personal bÍte noir. And the once-fabled farm? Taylor Buchholz and Chad Qualls have both struggled terribly; Kirk Saarloos is in Oakland. The Peter Munro resurrection has worked out well enough, I suppose, but they're short-handed in a season they entered thinking they had depth.
There is some hope on the homegrown horizon, however: Carlos Hernandez is getting his velocity back and pitching well, and having him available to provide an alternative to Munro or Redding in the bottom of the rotation might at least save the 'Stros from the indignity of dealing for Ron Villone or something. As is, they felt the need to go get Oliver, but the price seems to have been right. As a spot lefty long man and occasional situational goof, at least he gives Phil Garner a choice to mull between Oliver and Mike Gallo. I suppose they're still in the Wild Card hunt, but they're also closer to last place in their division. Were I an Astros fan, I'd harbor no great hopes for a late-season solution.
From the storied history of unenthusiastic "Welcome back" parties, this probably doesn't quite rank with Grover Cleveland's non-consecutive comeback, but it's close. In the short-term, it looks like Encarnacion gets his job back, while Jim Tracy gets to build a three-headed monster in left field, splicing time between Jayson Werth, Dave Roberts, and Jason Grabowski. Jaysoysove Roberthbowski? It's hard to see what Encarnacion does better than any of them. OK, he can throw. But he's the worst of the lot at getting on base, and he doesn't have more power than either Grabowski or Werth. If anyone could talk Encarnacion into a part-time role, the Dodgers would be the better for it, but in the meantime, he remains the white whale that Paul DePodesta would happily let get away, lest he run up the insurance rates.
Acquired 3B/1B/OF-L Russell Branyan from the Indians for future considerations. [7/26]
You can't really take them seriously as contenders, but what else could the Brewers do to make themselves entertaining? Russ Branyan? The original Whifferiffic Turbo-Charged Surfer Dude? I guess that's one way to paper over Wes Helms' shortcomings and get some power into the lineup. I'm simply impressed that the Brew Crew decided to think of it. I admit, I'm hoping they'll press him into the lineup at third, because the alternative is to put him in right field, and that wouldn't really do all that much good. Although Ben Grieve and Brady Clark aren't hitting for power, they are getting on base, and on a team already saddled with Scott Podsednik starting to look like merely the new Rick Manning, they need all the baserunners they can get. At any rate, on a team already giving us the boxscore jollies of Brooks Kieschnick, adding Branyan seems like a surfeit of everyday amusement.
Meanwhile, as expected, Hendrickson is up to take over the fifth starter's job unearned by Wes Obermueller. In terms of options, there really weren't any. Hendrickson's 2.27 Triple-A ERA is as impressive as it looks; he wasn't the beneficiary of a bunch of unearned runs in that regard. He'd managed to strike out 74 batters in 99.2 IP, while allowing 93 hits and 22 walks. Although his reliance on breaking stuff and last season's elbow troubles should make anyone concerned, he's the obvious best choice for the job internally: Indy has nothing resembling a regular rotation, and nobody else is doing well, and Huntsville's rotation doesn't have anyone ready and waiting. What, you think they're going to make unofficial pitching coach Dave Burba a starter?
Recalled RHP Roy Corcoran from Edmonton; optioned LHP Chad Bentz to Edmonton. [7/23]
Not that Downs was all that, but he had given the Expos two good starts out of five, so it wasn't like he was entirely hopeless. But baseball's nomad squad seems to have the benefit of a temporary pitching surfeit. Rocky Biddle has earned his keep in the rotation, and John Patterson is back, and Tony Armas Jr. isn't doing too shabby, and Day and Livan Hernandez are the front men. So it's going to be a bit before Downs gets another look.
Shoring up the pen is another situation altogether. Corcoran doesn't have that many fans outside of these circles: He's that rare righty under six feet tall, and he's a bit wild. But he has consistently put up solid minor league numbers, and the Expos are owners of one of the worst pens in the big leagues. Corcoran also owns a nasty curve and a good fastball, and he keeps the ball on the ground. As long as you're MLB's collection of crash test dummies, why not test a few theories, like whether or not short right-handers can succeed?
Recalled Wheeler back from Norfolk; placed OF-R Shane Spencer on the 15-day DL (foot lacerations). [7/23]
The big news here is, of course, the arrival of David Wright. Sort of like the Indians with Sizemore, he's a major part of their future, and they're on the periphery of a pennant push, so why not let him be a part of that? But more basically, Wright is significantly more ready than Sizemore, having raced through the upper levels of the Mets' system by hitting .341/.441/.605 between Binghamton and Norfolk. Will he be the team's best third baseman since Howard Johnson? Absolutely, and I don't think anyone thinks there's such a thing as a Gregg Jefferies jinx, at least not one that affects anyone besides Gregg Jefferies.
What calling Wright up does right now is push Ty Wigginton over to another infield position, across the diamond to first. But now that Wiggy's power outburst in early July has come and gone, the extent to which he looks like a player whose bat plays well enough at first isn't going to last. It's an adequate enough fix, although it does make for that much less of a chance that the Mets will get Vance Wilson into the lineup a little more often and let Piazza play some more first. Still, it's a defensive tradeoff worth living with: Bad catcher stays behind the plate, outstanding young third baseman takes over at third, pushing the inadequate third baseman over to first, where he may not be such a bad guy to have. Either that, or the Mets will have a Jeff McKnight Night at the ballpark. Who knows, maybe both.
Slightly less impressive is the announcement that the Mets plan on letting Yates compete for a job setting up Braden Looper. Yates has the velocity, and it might be the best way to exploit his occasional capacity to overpower people. But more basically, think on that again: rookie pitcher, New York, critical role, pennant race. Think things haven't changed for the better?
Outrighted OF-L Darren Bragg to Portland. [7/20]
So you want Rich Aurilia, because you need a right-handed hitting reserve infielder, which is what you thought you'd gotten when you had to take Jeff Cirillo in a mutual problem exchange with these selfsame Seattle-ites, and then you don't cut Cirillo loose? Argh. Who needs two badly aging former stars? Besides ABC, I mean.
The tragedy is that now they'd really be better off with Ramon Vazquez on the bench, because it would give them a lefty-hitting alternative in the infield, and it isn't like life with Terrence Long or Kerry Robinson is all sweetness and light. And if getting Vazquez warmed up is so important, why then is it so important to keep Xavier Nady on the big league bench to get lost in a heap of dust bunnies? I suppose he's more fresh than Brian Buchanan, but then why wasn't Buchanan given a little more PT?
Anyway, my point is that this bench is fixable. Aurilia's a useful part, of course, and he does give the Pads a right-handed-hitting infield reserve who can play short, but there's a little bit too much explanation, and not enough actually sensible sorting out that seems to be going on. Fortunately, with Nevin back, the lineup gets its core right-handed bopper back, and Long goes back to the bench. Going against their top two division rivals this week, followed by a Phillies team even more desperate, the Pads needed to be at their best, and beyond the bench, it looks like they are.
Nobody expected the Cardinals to really go this long with only 11 pitchers, did they? Well, it was a good thing while it lasted.
Anyone else remember the hullabaloo over Lankford in April? I remember not being impressed, and PECOTA wasn't either (.226/.338/.378 projected), and here we are in July, and since that big April when he hit .280/.383/.580, he's hit .250/.333/.382. Not that that's Kerry Robinson or something, but this is a comeback inspiring on its own terms, not because of what Lankford has done. As spare parts go, the Cards can do worse (and frequently do), but this wasn't the fix some people wanted it to be. Happily for them, another ex-Card--John Mabry--seems to have filled the bill, but I still don't think the Cards have a full outfield, just an outfield where they've filled the space. There's only so far you can go with veteran Styrofoam, so hopefully the Cards won't rest on their place in the standings, and will instead make a deal to help themselves.
As for Haren, he's being pressed into a utility pitcher role, at least until something happens to somebody else. That's sort of been the roles of Cal Eldred and Jason Simontacchi, but Simontacchi pitched his way off of the club, and Eldred is well on his way. On almost any other club, Eldred would be gone, but as we all know, Tony La Russa's big on the ethical treatment of everything in his phylum, so it's better to let a wounded thing die slowly than go to the vet, I suppose. It's a good spot for Haren, though, because everyone else in the pen is a veteran reliever, and nobody's really cut out for long relief work should one of the starters get hammered. As La Russa observed, it's a good role to give Haren some experience, and if he helps spare the pen in blowouts, so much the better. He might even vulture a few wins through some mid-game rallies.