August 28, 2004
Wow, well, sometimes you get what you ask for. I would have liked to have seen the memo that my guardian angel is granting wishes, because if I had some say, I'm relatively sure world peace would have ranked ahead of getting Little Rock back to Baltimore. The problem remains the same, though: play Raines and Val Majewski and Jay Gibbons, while risking sitting down B.J. Surhoff's single-tastic good-guy vibe, or keep playing the guys whose win ceiling is still in the low 70s.
On that level, I'm interpreting the decision to dispatch Garcia as progress. If they recognize that a guy like Garcia isn't part of a better Orioles team, perhaps they'll recognize their responsibility to the future and to sorting out the 40-man roster. Similarly, while I have my doubts about Majewski as a center fielder, it's worth looking at, an idea that Lee Mazzilli seems to have committed himself to. Next spring should be a lot more interesting than this year's opening reliance on Luis Matos, because they'll have Matos, Majewski, Jerry Hairston Jr. and perhaps Little Rock to check out. As long as they pick and stick with one, instead of flitting between options in-season, they might finally have the position covered.
The other cool development is the latest Bruce Chen sighting. I know, I'm a broken record on this, and no doubt my fondness for Chen can be safely blamed on my interest in any lefty with heat or my befriending an old Panamanian Chinese woman on a farm in Viriginia's Blue Ridge four years ago, where we discussed the Yankees and her countryman (Chen), and not farming. So I'm biased. Nevertheless, given the Orioles' desperate need for starters, and their modest success with formerly famous warm body Dave Borkowski, why not? Although Chen was giving up 4.5 runs per nine in Triple-A, it's hard to turn a blind eye to 116 strikeouts in 105 1/3 innings. Sure, he might just be the latest twist on a Jeff Juden theme, the great arm that never pans out because he finds ways to make you want him gone, but when it's August and you're looking at Borkowski, let's face it, it's close enough to closing time that you can lower your standards a bit. They retreaded Eric DuBose and Matt Riley and Rodrigo Lopez, with mixed results, and that's good enough to elicit envy in Texas.
Some punishments don't actually punish, or avenge, or do anything beyond highlight a general frustration. In this, you might consider Berroa's demotion to be like Conrad von Hotzendorf's ill-fated Strafexpedition. Sure, it's a way of keeping busy, but was an objective achieved? And did something else happen while you were all wound up on this particular fixation? Berroa didn't show any better patience in Wichita, and he mashed three home runs in two weeks off of pitching staffs laden with kids propelled out of A ball. Yippee. He also played in 11 games where no errors were assessed to him, so perhaps something positive came of the demotion. Meanwhile, Blanco played over his head, no doubt muddying the issue for some. Don't fuss; the kid caught the Rangers and Mariners on the schedule, and everyone wants in the lineup on those days.
Meanwhile, I'm happy to see that Calvin Pickering's shot at getting to stick is this much more uncomplicated. I know, that might seem cold, but Sweeney's fragility isn't an issue that can be fixed within the season, not in a way that's going to change the standings. At this point, Allard Baird's primary responsibility is seeing what he's got, and deciding what he can do with it going into the winter meetings. If he has Sweeney and Harvey, and Pickering shows that he's a keeper, then he has have Harvey to deal if they can't coax him into a platoon and spare-part role. All three play first base or should DH, after all, and if Pickering is as good as his Omaha numbers say he can be, Harvey's the least valuable of the three, but still a handy insurance policy against Sweeney's next breakdown. It could wind up being a very nice problem to have, although Harvey's low price tag might make him interesting to some of the usual suspects, the people who pay to have Randall Simon or David Segui around, for example.
Activated RHP Chad Bradford from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Justin Lehr to Sacramento. [8/23]
"Panzer" Lehr may not be as out of gas as Robert Shaw's "Tiger" was in one of the all-time cheesy war movies, but he was crowded out, as the A's stick with a seven-man bullpen for the moment. Behind Octavio Dotel, they have the veteran pairs of set-up men (from the left, Arthur Rhodes and Ricky Rincon; from the right, Bradford and Jim Mecir), and the two middle men (lefty Chris Hammond and righty Justin Duchscherer). That's at least one reliever too many for a postseason roster, and that's before you get to the prickly issue of who gets dropped from the postseason rotation and deposited into the bullpen. Although Lehr was apparently comfortable with the decision, stating he'd only be disappointed if he wasn't back when rosters expanded, the A's still have a fundamentally critical set of roster decisions to make, and five weeks in which to make them.
Purchased the contract of LHP Scott Kazmir from Montgomery (Double-A); optioned RHP Franklin Nunez to Durham. [8/23]
So here it is, the big test. Is Kazmir the jewel with the unfixable flaw, or the diamond in the rough? The first few starts won't tell us much, beyond that he's talented and raw, and that can mean anything. Monday night, he looked to be everything his believers and his doubters thought he was: overpowering stuff, spotty command and mechanics. In other words, a work in progress. It is nice to see the Devil Fishies with a pitching prospect with the same sort of potential that their fans are already coming to expect from among their young hitters. OK, they had that already with Joe Kennedy, and sort of screwed that up. Well, try, try again and all that, right?
Placed LHP Erasmo Ramirez on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/17; activated RHP R.A. Dickey from the 15-day DL. [8/23]
Dickey won't be entering the rotation, happily, instead going into the pen in anticipation of Chan Ho Park's return and the expected call-up of John Wasdin to get Scott Erickson the hell out of the way before he does any more damage. When that all happens, that gives the Rangers a rotation of Kenny Rogers, Ryan Drese, Park, Wasdin and Young, and while that might not sound like much, it's probably the best five the Rangers have had all season. Hell, finding a third starter would automatically give them their best five, and Park's expected to be healthy enough to be useful.
The more interesting contretemps is whether or not Young is ready to step in. It would be hard for him to be as disappointing as Joaquin Benoit, of course, but I'm a little more optimistic than that. Beyond the jokey aspect of the Rangers actually having pilfered some talent from the Expos in the Einar Diaz dump, Young is talented enough to wonder about. Although he's another huge guy (6'10") without an overpowering fastball, he spins a nice curve now that he junked the slider that wasn't getting it done. As one of the Frisco Roughriders (and pardon me, but isn't that a softball team from San Fran's Tenderloin district?), he put up a decent three months, posting a 4.48 ERA, allowing 94 hits and 34 unintentional walks in 88 1/3 innings, and striking out 75. No, it wasn't impressive, not for a guy who already had Double-A experience. However, promoted to Oklahoma, he has a good five starts, winning three games, allowing just 29 baserunners in 30 1/3 innings and striking out 34. Again, I know, it's just five games, but we are talking about the Rangers here. It's better than a Brian Bohanon comeback, okay? With a quick hook and plenty of run support, it could work out.
Of course, as an A's fan, this is all a cause for concern. I'd be much happier if the Rangers auto-crumpled as quickly and effectively as the White Sox did; that is such a cool trick, after all. That sort of re-defines "suck," like an airlock failure, but with baseballs.
Activated OF-R Austin Kearns from the 60-day DL; optioned RHP Matt Belisle to Louisville. [8/24]
Well, at least the season's final five weeks won't have to be wasted time. Kearns joins Adam Dunn and Wily Mo Pena in the outfield, which allows the Reds to get reads on how well Kearns is recuperating and whether or not Pena can play an adequate center field. Dunn continues doing the star turn that, along with Adrian Beltre, has us less worried about the short-lived BP cover curse. On the other hand, this year's cover had a baseball and numbers on it, and we have seen revanchist flat-earthers within the game and the media going out of their way to decry modernity. Maybe analysis is doomed.
Yes, Captain Obvious, I'm kidding.
Well, I guess the nice way to look at losing Wilson again is that it will afford the Rox the opportunity to review why Freeman is on the 40-man roster. It can't be the wacky name, because it was only that, they'd have traded for Rodney Choy Foo by now. (Currently with the Indians, Foo is one of those great minor-league names that, like Rouglas Odor, we may never see in a big-league uniform.) Still, like their sad devotion to Matt Holliday ("Shares 93% of his DNA coding with Spam"), it's one of those squalid little moments that accompanies the death of a season that's bleeding and headed into the bush for an appropriately lonely, anonymous end. Wilson gets a pass to escape the proceedings, and the Rox get the opportunity to decide whatever it is that Freeman is for. I mean, besides providing a name for a bit character on Wacky Races: The Next Generation. Notionally, he'll platoon with Jorge Piedra in center, but here's hoping that's the extent of it.
Consider it a bit of conceit on my part, but I'm always happy when somebody I considered a prospect makes it up, especially as I'm trying to get out of the yoga pretzel I've tied myself up in, having predicted in this year's book that Jeff Francis would make it up by August. But as I've said elsewhere, I'm a sucker for lefties with a decent heater. Add in Francis' control, a nifty curve, a great second half in '02, and mechanics everyone agrees are pretty smooth, and it wasn't really all that insightful. Besides, he's coming to Coors, so how much of a prospect will he wind up being? However, that's the sort of park-adjusted overcompensation I consider extraordinarily short-sighted. The Rockies do have to pitch to the other guys, after all, and Francis is a legitimately good prospect in any environment, the sort of pitcher anybody would want in their system.
What I find interesting is what the Rockies did with him within the season. After he spent 2003 in the high-A California League, you'd expect him to have opened at Double-A this year, considering he was in the Pac-10 in 2002. He blew the Texas League away, posting a 1.98 ERA and a 13-1 record. In 113 2/3 innings, he treated the league to all the dignity and respect of a man among midget wrestlers: 73 hits, 22 walks and 147 strikeouts. Given a taste of mile-high baseball at Colorado Springs, he acclimated well enough, posting a 3.07 ERA in seven starts, allowing 35 hits and seven walks in 41 innings, while striking out 49. So he spent most of the year at the lower level, got a little bit more than a month at altitude for finishing school, and here he is. It's a circumstance that illustrates how the Rockies can use their affiliate choices to their advantage.
The other thing I find interesting about Francis is that he's shown a flair for claiming the inside corner, pelting four batters in the PCL after hitting just five in Double-A. Since he's thrown a mere four wild pitches on the season, I sort of wonder whether he's been encouraged to go Pedro on the other team when forced to pitch in high-offense environments. On some level, it makes sense as an adaptation: Pedro Astacio was always among the more aggressive inside pitchers during his time in Coors, routinely flirting with the league lead in hit batsmen. Anyway, it's just wild speculation on my part, but something to watch.
Placed LHP Chris Capuano on the 15-day DL (sore elbow); recalled RHP Pedro Liriano from Indianapolis. [8/25]
Capuano is starting to remind me of Curt Young, a guy with promise who in some alternate universe could have stayed healthy and been a heck of a third starter, but who, in our world, can't move beyond "could have." At the moment, I guess the question is whether Liriano will replace him in the rotation. I don't see much reason to think that it's a good idea; given that he's a sinker/slider guy who relies a bit more heavily on the slider than he fools people with the sinker, a future in the pen has always been anticipated. At Triple-A, Liriano surrendered 21 home runs in 126 1/3 innings, and was allowing 5.8 runs per nine. Having picked him up in the deadline Alex Ochoa deal in 2002, it's sensible enough for the Brewers to look at the pitcher in whom they've invested a 40-man roster spot.
I guess that the alternative would be hauling Ben Hendrickson back up to see if he can avoid a loss in a big-league appearance for the first time in his brief career. I know, the options sound ugly, but remember, they already have Wes Obermueller up to take beatings. Any hope of finishing third or fourth in the division is fading fast.
Recalled RHP Aaron Heilman from Norfolk; optioned RHP Matt Ginter to Norfolk. [8/23]
Purchased the contract of RHP Heath Bell from Norfolk; optioned Heilman to Norfolk. [8/24]
Signed OF-R Brian Buchanan; optioned Bell to Norfolk; designated OF-R Prentice Redman for assignment. [8/25]
Sort of like some Olneyed bleating about the Dodgers' vulnerability (they have to be vulnerable, otherwise the world just has one more former beat writer Peter Principled up to columnist to populate that particular clutch within the BBWAA herd), the Mets have to assume everything they think they know is true. Kazmir is not going to be all that. Kazuo Matsui and Jose Reyes will be. David Wright will be a star. Mike Cameron's slow start was just that. The worst thing they can do in this situation is go into a fetal curl, just because the world is made up of people who want to bury you.
On that level, I take the Buchanan pickup as hopeful. No, he doesn't fix any particular problem, but he has been a useful bench weapon and platoon partner, and when your 40-man roster has as much spare room on it as the Mets' does, it's easy to go wire shopping for help.
I was disappointed to see Heilman whipsawed so quickly. Yes, last year in the big leagues wasn't pretty, and his 2004 season at Norfolk hasn't inspired much confidence: 138 hits allowed in 136 2/3 innings, and 5.3 runs allowed per nine (his ERA, 4.28, masks a ton of unearned runs), but with a more-promising 112-54 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Perhaps Heilman will do something with extended exposure to Rick Peterson, or perhaps he'll be discarded as thoughtlessly as Kazmir was. We'll have to see.
Just as it worked out in the end that Jose Bautista, one of the various Rule 5 properties from last winter's 40-man roster miscalculation, finally found his way back home, so too did Brooks, just a lot sooner, so it lacked the convenient simultaneity of the Milo & Otis get lost, get laid and get home plotline.
Meanwhile, Brooks didn't exactly make headlines pitching in Nashville. Flipped between long relief and starting for the Sounds, he basically gave up a run every other inning while coughing up 13 bombs in 83 1/3 frames. Why is he up? The injuries, of course, but what's not reflected by the promotion is how much Nashville has been reduced to a skeleton crew. In part, that's because they're dead in the water, while down at Double-A, Altoona has a shot at Eastern League glory, so not a lot of people are getting late-season peeks at Triple-A. Basically, the Pirates can't wait to wrap up the Triple-A season, or, for that matter, the big-league schedule.
Placed LHP Sterling Hitchcock on the 15-day DL (strained elbow); recalled RHP Dennis Tankersley from Portland; announced that OF-R Brian Buchanan refused an outright assignment to Portland and became a free agent (subsequently signing with the Mets). [8/24]
As always, there's going to be a question about whether or not Tankersley can settle down and just take advantage of a situation when it's handed to him. Why else bring in someone refried leftover like Hitchcock if there wasn't that oft-reinforced doubt? It's interesting to follow, from a clinical perspective, of course. To hear some statheads talk, basic human factors don't get a lot of coverage, but to be fair, that isn't because any of us think they don't matter, it's just that we can't measure them, or talk about them with any authority. Let's face it, Freud couldn't talk about them with any authority. So instead, the big "if": if Tankersley is up to the challenge, then the Padres won't miss Hitchcock in the least. As much as it would be nice to anticipate the sort of success his minor-league numbers generally lead us to anticipate, Tankerlsey is one of those cases where we all just have to wait and see. I hope he makes it, but that's my eternal optimism talking, and he's not even left-handed.
Recalled RHP David Aardsma from Fresno; optioned RHP Kevin Correia to Fresno. [8/25]