July 28, 2004
There's something essentially embarrassing about your state of affairs when your outfielders are batting 7-8-9, as the Orioles' trio has in a few of the most recent games. Now, sure, a lot of that depends on whether or that David Newhan's playing in the outfield or not, but there's nothing good to say about what Larry Bigbie has done this year. So as pathetic states of affairs go, I suppose it's obvious that the Orioles have to be happy to have the immortal Surhoff back in action.
You'd be right if you accuse me of pedantry when I bring up the fact that Jack Cust is hitting .269/.394/.496 for Ottawa. However, Val Majewski's doing well at Bowie, hitting .299/.354/.493, and while that's not the stuff of instant stardom, in these parts, that's a prospect.
I'm sort of glum about this, since Norton is one of those players I've liked far beyond the good reasons to want to have him around. In his prime, he was an underrated defender on the infield corners, and spare parts who walk and hit for power and switch-hit should be thought of kindly. But he also lost out with the White Sox, then spent four years as a Rockies bench beast, pidgeon-holed into that pinch-hitting role that claimed Dave Hansen and Mark Sweeney. Not that anyone should feel sorry for them--it's a living--but when you have to watch some teams screw around at third base, Norton could have been a slightly better-than-adequate fill-in. Anyway, he is 32, so the end probably isn't far off, but he's just another one of those guys you rooted for, only to watch his career go by.
That said, you can't really blame the Tigers, whose bench seems crammed with people staking claims to playing-time these days. Skip past the tremendous years that Pudge and Carlos Guillen are having, and you've got almost an entire team helping put runs on the board. Specific to Norton's woes, Jason Smith has done a nice enough job in a utility infielder's role, and while he's not going to make anybody forget Ernie Riles, he's a lefty hitter with some sock who can play second, third, or short.
But skip that; did anybody notice that Marcus Thames bopped his 30th bomb of the season on Monday? I know, the first 24 were with the Mudhens, but still...
If there's something that's obvious by now, it's that I'm a bit of a transactions junkie. In my strat leagues, I was incorrigible on the subject of roster tweaking, constantly rejuggling, constantly fiddling. In that sense, my disdain for someone like Jim Bowden was born from an awareness of a shared addiction. On some level, I like to pretend I was rational about it, but that's the habit talking--generating a veneer to paper over that desperate hunger to make a move. Usually, I was fine from the start, and really didn't need to busy myself the way I did, but for me, the game wasn't fun if I wasn't talking about deals.
But those sorts of fun and games were just that: fun and games. The moves were never born out of need, not in the specific sense of needing to fix a team, which is why I have that much more respect for the Rangers now: they're not tweaking for its own sake, they're rejuggling because they have to. Just last week, they cycled several bodies onto and off of their 40-man and active rosters, and they're not merely keeping it up, they're far from finished. If you're having trouble keeping up with who does what, the only constants in the rotation are Kenny Rogers and Ryan Drese, the bullpen is now back to counting on Jeff Nelson to be the setup man they thought they'd signed. Their DH is out of commission, but that isn't exactly a loss when they have too many outfielders to go around and Herb Perry just happy to be here.
Except arguably in the case of the outfielders, it isn't a situation where the Rangers have an embarrassment of riches as much as they have a constant need for activity to minimize the perils of a shallow rotation. Nelson's return is handy, because although the pen has been outstanding, it isn't exactly a collection of reliable talents, not when you have to count on people like Carlos Almanzar, Ron Mahay, and Brian Shouse. Beyond Francisco Cordero, the pen is really just a monument to Buck Showalter's careful use of a limited group to compensate for that rotation. As high wire acts go, it's the best in the game, and makes for an interesting contrast with the A's and the Angels.
It is my sincere hope that this event is being celebrated by everyone inside the Devil Rays with the horse sense to know that the organization has been an embarrassment to the game for far too long. Not that Fred McGriff is evil, he's just a guy who understandably wants to achieve a milestone before hanging up his cleats and spending the rest of his life watching Buccaneers games or golfing or saving the rain forest or whatever it is former athletes do besides pounding analgesics. But he was done--not just twice-baked, not remixed, but done, wine-to-vinegar you wouldn't even use to cook with done. If the D-Rays are finally committed to washing out the bug zapper, there's no time like the present. After all, ichor and chitin starts to smell, no matter how well crisped.
So now Lopez is back, again. He was only hitting .273/.329/423 for Louisville--so no, he hasn't reacquired his prospect status. But when you're starting Juan Castro as often as the Reds have, you have to take your opportunities to look at the other stuff on the 40-man roster when you can get them. Since Barry Larkin's popped yet another gasket Lopez will get another brief window of opportunity to try to convince somebody he's still the shortstop of the future, and it's worth noting that he's still only 24...
OK, I can't blame you for skipping ahead, I'm not exactly waiting around for him either.
As noted yesterday, here it is, the move we expected. What can I say? I'm still sufficiently juvenile that I get a bang out of reading boxscores in the morning, and on that level, Branyan's eye candy. This can go beyond his achievements, however Three True Outcomes-oriented they may be. He'll also give Ned Yost the flexibility to plug him into either the infielder or outfield corners, double-switching with a flair that already having Brooks Kiechnick around to pinch-hit and pitch encourages. In any of the corners, Branyan can spot start or be swapped in. Brady Clark should stick in the fourth outfielder's role, but I suspect we'll see both Helms and Grieve lose starts. The shame is that Geoff Jenkins should be added to that list; whatever his pricetag, he's having a dreadful season.
As for Magruder, when you're a fifth outfielder on the make, you get used to this sort of thing. The challenge is to be in the right place at the right time, because that's what gets you service time and a better bed. The Brewers have been a good choice for any minor league vet for the last couple of seasons, especially as Yost and Doug Melvin went out of their way to clean out most of the cannon fodder left over from the previous administration. For Magruder, it just didn't quite work out. His agent should stick with NL teams this winter, because of the deeper bench (no DH), and because Magruder can switch-hit and handle all three outfield positions.
OK, maybe I'm trying to make a silk purse out of something here, but as it worked out, I wouldn't be too busted up over having had to lose Ramon Hernandez for a stretch if I was the Padres. Quintero got to work with the big league staff and didn't embarrass himself, and Miguel Ojeda demonstrated that he's a perfectly acceptable spot starter. So rather than have to worry about what they might have to do should anything bad happen to Hernandez again, or even Ojeda, they're set for down the stretch. I know, it doesn't sound like much, but any information that reinforces an automatic dismissal of any interest in Gary Bennett is a good thing.