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May 9, 2005
April 26- May 4, 2005
Purchased the contract of INF-R Dave Matranga from Salt Lake; placed INF-B Maicer Izturis on the 15-day DL (sprained knee). [4/27]
Some players stick with you; it's just one of those elements of fandom. I don't know why I had an interest in the careers of Lenn Sakata or Ed Jurak. I have no logical explanation for why Bill Almon's fate concerned me so. But with age, taste must get even more esoteric, because Matranga is one of those guys I can't help but root for, and not just because I called him King of the Jujubees in a typically politically incorrect moment. I admit, I've also pulled for his fellow former Astro farmhand, Royce Huffman, and not just because I have a friend named Royce or because I like Felicity Huffman's work. When Matranga got a call-up in 2003 and popped a bomb for his lone hit in five at-bats, I was happy, and when the Astros demoted him back down to Double-A Round Rock in 2004, after he'd spent the previous two seasons at Triple-A, I might not have been aflame with righteous indignation, but I wasn't all that pleased. So it's cool to see him reappear. As utility infielders go, he might be a poor man's Dave Berg, but those are the guys you enjoy gabbing about, every bit as much as about the greats, at least if you're me, or Jay Jaffe, or you, if you're reading this column.
At any rate, he won't really play, any more than Merloni had. Now that Kennedy is back, at-bats won't be easy to come by. Chone Figgins and Juan Rivera need their playing time as is. Figgins shouldn't have much to worry about. With Kennedy looking rusty, just as Dallas McPherson has since coming off of the DL, and with Darin Erstad and Steve Finley not looking so good, Figgy's one of the few regulars who's been earning his keep.
Placed LHP David Wells on the 15-day DL (foot); recalled LHP Lenny DiNardo from Pawtucket. [4/26]
Recalled RHP Tim Bausher from Pawtucket; placed RHP Curt Schilling on the 15-day DL (bone bruise - ankle), retroactive to 4/24. [4/29]
Recalled 3B-R Kevin Youkilis from Pawtucket; optioned RHP Tim Bausher to Pawtucket. [4/30]
Signed 1B-L John Olerud to a minor league contract. [5/1]
Purchased the contract of RHP Jeremi Gonzalez from Pawtucket; designated 1B-R David McCarty for assignment. [5/2]
You might normally expect these sorts of events to add up to a disaster, but why get all worked up? With his start on Sunday, Wade Miller has pushed John Halama back into the pen, and Tim Wakefield, Bronson Arroyo, Matt Clement are all pitching well. If you have to take a chance on a temp in the fifth slot, Gonzalez is probably one of the best balances of low-risk expense and a potentially high reward. No, we don't know when Schilling will be back, but if the Yankees could live with the uncertainties of when El Duque would be able to pitch in a season, I guess we can consider this sort of uncertainty a privilege of a team that can and will contend regardless. As for Jumbo's bad foot, I wouldn't be all that worried about it, since I didn't expect much in the first place. And besides, the Yankees are 5 1/2 games back already, and who thinks the Orioles are going to last?
What I'm less impressed with is the decision to haul in Olerud. I guess there's nothing at stake, and if they decide to swap out a 12th pitcher for a gray imitation of whatever it was Doug Mientkiewicz was supposed to provide in the way of certainty with leather, it makes some sort of sense. Come to think of it, maybe it's even handier, in that there might be less expectation for Olerud to be in the lineup all that regularly. But if Olerud is being thought of as insurance against anything bad happening to either David Ortiz or Kevin Millar, that just won't work out quite so well. Better the Sox give thought to playing Youkilis at first base than trust their fortunes to what's left of Olerud's hitting prowess.
Lopez is barely out of A ball, so you can consider this call-up a courtesy of his being on the 40-man and the only practical alternatives were calling up Joe Borchard or purchasing the contract of somebody like Jorge Toca. (Jeremy Giambi only just came off of the DL down in Charlotte.) Borchard is posting an OBP of .230, something the tools guys might not be so willing to bring up, having split the reed from tooting this particular clarinet far too often. So the Sox sensibly decided to skip rewarding anybody who might actually replace the lefty bats they've lost, and instead are giving Lopez a chance to sit on the Ozzeroo's bench and see if he picks something up. Besides how to make sailors blush in conversation, I mean.
So now the story is that Harvey was down because the Royals were dickering with his arbitration eligibility? That's a lot less sensible than recognizing that he's just not all that, and never was. Upon a time, I compared him to Pat Tabler; perhaps I was being far too charitable. After all, Harvey is a 27 year-old DH with a career slugging percentage of .413. If you peek at their historical Davenport Translation cards, you'll see that Harvey's all-time translated slugging comes out to .429, piss-poor for a first baseman; Tabler comes out to an even more pathetic .410, but Tabler's all-time Equivalent Average comes out to .270, while Harvey's at .256 (i.e., below average offensively for all players across all time). A victim of service-time manipulation? Heck, I don't know, but I'm not much for conspiracy theories. What I do know is that pointing out that this guy was a former All-Star is about as appropriate as my pretending that he could grow up to be Otto Velez if a lot of things start going right for him.
I gave Baker a pretty loud tout in this year's book, so I don't see this exchange as a massive setback. Freight Rincon's suspension with whatever opprobrium you want to, I see this as an opportunity for the Twins to give their current best pitching prospect a nice stretch of time in a big-league bullpen. There is the off chance that Baker will get to spot for Kyle Lohse in the rotation, but basically, this is Baker's chance to make an impression and replace Grant Balfour and J.D. Durbin on the club's Expect-O-Meter, potentially starring in either the pen or the rotation, wherever the need arises. Naturally, the failure of Balfour and Durbin to live up to their billing just yet should be noted, but this is the nature of the Twins' organizational strength: they have the bodies to afford a few setbacks. But where Durbin and Balfour were both stuff monsters, Baker's got a full assortment that he can throw for strikes, and he's up after five good starts in Rochester. All sorts of good things could come of this, or it could just be a case of blooding Baker.
Meanwhile, the three remaining members of the Twins' incomparable relief quartet are all pitching effectively, although I'm sure we'd all like to see Jesse Crain start striking out a few guys.
It's easy to get all hung up on the Womack shift, with wandering Tony getting run out to left field to at least spice things up. In most circumstances, I'd be happy that the Yankees are finally giving somebody young a chance. Unfortunately, Cano is not nearly ready as a hitter, and the expectations that he'll fix the team's interior defense are a wee bit outlandish. Just as pirates invented barbecue by taking fresh meat and burning it to a cinder to kill the worms, I'm not convinced that this is going to start off all that well either. As a hitter, Cano doesn't get on base, and while he's an improvement on Womack and Hideki Matsui is an improvement on Bernie Williams in center field, wouldn't flipping Williams and Matsui (and perhaps even Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter) have shored up the interior defense without adding another weak stick to a lineup already showing its age? And will Cano be able to live down a bad debut? It isn't like Yankees fans have been noted for their generosity and understanding.
I fear Cano might be among the players blamed for this team's failings, but he wasn't the guy who signed Jaret Wright. Bobby Meacham came up young too, also debuting at 22, and also like Cano he was supposed to fix up an old contender's interior defense; everyone recognized that Roy Smalley Jr. couldn't handle shortstop. But as the Yankees melted down again and again, you couldn't just blame managers, and the embarrassments of Howie Spira awaited them in the future. No, at that time, the Yankees turned on their own, and Meacham was singled out for what he wasn't (Cal Ripken or Tony Fernandez or Robin Yount, I guess), instead of being credited for what he was (something a far sight better than Bucky Dent and his ilk). After burning Meacham, the Bossman's boosters learned the real meaning of pain, finally treating Alvaro Espinoza as some sort of savior.
As for the other incidentals from the move, they're really not that significant. Karsay's trick elbow won't be generating any more sound effects in the Bronx, but the Yankees are still carrying a dozen pitchers. Henn is up in the same way that Colter Bean has been up, to confuse Joe Torre with another name to try to remember but invariably forget. Williams' banishment to the DH slot is more of a Roy White sort of thing than Hal McRae; however rag-armed he looked in April, he'll be back in the outfield on a pretty regular basis this summer, especially if Tino Martinez, Jason Giambi and Ruben Sierra are all going to get their at-bats. Fidgeting over Matsui's miscommunications in the outfield seems small beer; how often does anyone expect Gary Sheffield to get that close to the right-field gap, anyway?
As for Womack in left field, positionally, it's asinine, but he was a pretty good right fielder in Arizona several years back, and if there's concern about his reconstructed arm and how well that'll play in the outfield, keep in mind it's left, and that any displayed weakness will simply make it that much easier for Williams to start drawing starts in left field. That's the point where the Yankees will have to choose between Womack and Cano, and if they end up picking Cano, I'd take that as a sign of the beginning of the end for Brian Cashman.
Well, this wasn't exactly the way I had in mind for the A's to put their newfound outfield depth to the test. Eric Byrnes, falling flat as Brian Bosworth in the oh-so-appropriately titled Stone Cold (sheesh, the things that William Forsythe will do for money, who does he think he is, Powers Boothe)? Swisher, busted up for a month or so? Now the A's have to rely on both Bobby Kielty and Charles Thomas, and while I admire the organization for their confidence in each of them, losing both Swisher and Bobby Crosby changes a lot of the look and feel of this team from a blend of old and young to "Eric Chavez and those other guys." Nondescript veterandom and journeymen get that much more nondescript when big-ticket pickups like Jason Kendall seem to be taking their sweet time getting on track.
That said, it's fun to see Clark up, if only because he seemed to make himself popular with fans in camp this spring. He and Thomas both had happy feet, and there was definitely something about that which seemed to get people excited. No, I'm not arguing for a "Charlie Hustl"' team theme, but there is something to be said about good baserunning that players as different as Clark or even Mark Grace would have helped this team during at least one ugly week in October 2003.
Announced that MLB suspended OF-R Jamal Strong 10 days for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. [4/26]
Signed PH-L Dave Hansen to a minor league contract. [4/28]
Outrighted RHP John Webb to Durham. [5/4]
For Myers, the worst possible alignment of the stars came about. Most card-carrying members of the International Brotherhood of Back-Up Catchers don't have to sweat after one bad month, but the combination of coming off of a year lost to injury, his cold start kept even chillier by Gregg Zaun's hot hitting, and the presence of a guy as personally popular within the organization as Huckaby seems to be have spelled Myers' doom. As is, with the year off, he could use a few months of regular playing time at somebody's Triple-A affiliate just to get his swing back in game conditions, and see whether or not he's done at 39.
Meanwhile, Huckaby can keep up his mostly-harmless act on the Jays' bench. If Zaun breaks down, you would normally think that Guillermo Quiroz would almost certainly get the call and the playing time, because it isn't like Huckaby can step in and help in any statistically meaningful way at the plate. Unfortunately, Quiroz is still on the DL with the second collapsed lung of his short career, and it isn't like he's got work-related lung trouble. With Myers gone, Quiroz down, and Huckaby up, the Jays are down to Andy Dominique in Syracuse, which is another way of saying they're hosed if anything happens to Zaun.
You can consider me to be always off the bandwagon where Snakes prospects are concerned, so seeing Hairston depart doesn't really make me wonder about his future. He still has to show he can play left and hit well enough that his bat will play for a big-league ballclub, and I wouldn't bet too heavily on either. Besides, even with Jose Cruz Jr. on the DL, they're playing Quinton McCracken, so it isn't like a starting outfield that has Hairston and Luis Gonzalez flanking Shawn Green was ever going to happen outside of the most fervid Strat fan's imagination.
Valverde is a handy reinforcement. Even with Brandon Lyon rolling (and giving the lie to the Great Closer Panic of 2005 while answering every child's uncomfortable question, "where do closers come from?"), Mike Koplove and Brian Bruney haven't exactly settled in, and it's early for any claims that Lance Cormier is a solid commodity. Nevertheless, it's a pen that may surprise people all summer, demonstrating again that you don't need to spend seven figures to have the next Russ Springer around. If the Snakes contend with a pen made up of throw-ins, homegrown kids, and a waiver claim like Javier Lopez, much as that might discredit mass media expectations that successful bullpens require famous people, it'll instead provide the happier moral that farm systems don't have to be run by statheads to churn out good talent.
There's the big news, which is losing Wood. At this point, I think it's safe to say that with the Cubs' chances dependent on their rotation, Dusty Baker's hat looks pretty rabbitless, especially when his tactical wizardry with the intentional walk is making all the difference on the margins. I guess the real question was who had Fox ahead of Wood in your fantasy league's dead pool, and asking what you won for it. The Cubs have rushed him back before, so I guess I'm particularly worried they'll do so again, because this was, again, supposed to be one of their years.
Cubs fans are known for their willingness to see silver lining, so I guess we can accentuate the positive, instead of pondering doom, disaster, and life in the lower reaches of the NL Central. First, Glendon Rusch finally does get to go back to the rotation, and with Ryan Dempster looking like that home project you try to hide from neighbors before you finish it, whenever Wood comes back, the Cubs might end up doubly better off in terms of their rotation's strength should Rusch outpitch Dempster.
Second, assuming that Baker's tactical self-absorption doesn't keep getting in the way, Wellemeyer, Ohman and Novoa can all pitch. So can Leicester, for that matter, but getting used twice in two weeks is sub-optimal for a reliever, both in terms of expected results and how to use a roster space. The question is whether they'll catch the mild case of Blassitis that seems to be afflicting just about everyone not named Greg Maddux. I don't have a theory explaining why everyone is wild, but as a staff, the Cubs are walking a man every other inning, and you don't win doing that.
Although Matt Belisle did a nifty job in his first start in Ortiz's place, shutting down the Cardinals, he flopped in his two other starts, and with seven home runs allowed in 22 2/3 innings, he conjures up images of… well, Eric Milton, I guess. Regardless, with performances like those in the Reds rotation, I suspect Ortiz will get every benefit of the doubt in his slot. Well, unless keeping ahead of the Devil Rays for the major league lead in home runs allowed is some sort of organizational goal, but what sort of outfit would want to deliberately sabotage their responsibilities to put their best foot forward?
It's easy to embrace the rhetoric, to go young and let the kids take their lumps and pretend to have some sorts of convictions about this sort of thing. (Take this column, for instance…) The thing about Dan O'Dowd is, sticking with something isn't really one of his strong suits, so if you were a teeth-gnashing Denver resident, just ease up on your chops for a sec, and give the Rox a break.
To O'Dowd's credit, these moves aren't really major betrayals of what is an obvious rebuilding year. Atkins is supposed to be part of the immediate future, the third baseman who has to show whether or not he can handle third (few think he can), and he's the guy who was queued up ahead of Baker on the "Where is Ian Stewart?" Watch List. So Atkins gets back the job he'd won in spring training, and we'll have to see if his hitting is Hobbsian enough to overcome his Hobsonesque rep with the leather. As for bringing up Witasick, I'm always willing to give a club some benefit of the doubt when it comes to bringing in some vet for a single slot in a generally young and uncertain pen; he can be a sort of role model, or help the bullpen coach and catcher with a collection of guys who may not quite know what they're doing here. It wasn't like Dohmann or Speier were earning their keep, and they had options, so it wasn't like O'Dowd was making a mistake.
Again, somebody's shrieking somewhere, but the loss of a closer for three weeks shouldn't break a team, and Mota shouldn't be gone for any longer than that. I'm settling for "shouldn't" because it's what's appropriate: we can't know about factors like morale, any more than we can't predict a cascading effect of struggling and blown leads if Todd Jones resembles the Todd Jones who's been pitching into and out of key bullpen roles on all sorts of teams over the last five years. But that's the difference between an understandable uncertainty and a foolhardy dose of faith.
Our own Andy Baharlias was wondering when Julio Santana would be called up, and I guess here's the answer: it takes a major franchise disaster. We'll have to see what happens with Sheets' recovery from a virus that leaves him dizzy when he moves his head however slightly, but with Wes Obermueller moving into the rotation, it's every bit as bad as you think. As for Santana, the hope is that the one-time Rangers prospect can show that he has something, anything left. Nobody should have to start off their careers trying to make their living on the mound with first the Rangers and then the Devil Rays, but some guys are just lucky.
Activated CF-R Marlon Byrd from the 15-day DL; recalled 1B-L Ryan Howard from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; placed 1B-L Jim Thome on the 15-day DL (sore back), retroactive to 5/1; placed CF-L Kenny Lofton on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 4/30. [5/3]
There isn't a whole lot to say here; old players break down, and the Phillies would be lying to themselves if they didn't think that Thome's armor wasn't already cracked when they signed him up. You might call Howard's call-up a chance to showcase him, except that showcasing's something a contender does, and the Phillies' season is already looking sort of aimless. It's the three-sided Polanco/Utley/Bell problem, only with the fate of the franchise hanging in the balance, and without the sort of flexibility that Charlie Manuel has shown in keeping all three players playing. With a bad back, Thome wasn't thom-ping, so perhaps this might be for the best. If Thome can come back when he's healthy enough to help, and if Howard puts some balls in the seats in the meantime, this goes back to being a nice problem to have. If Thome's decline becomes downright Giambian, then Ed Wade is in a situation he'll never be able to find a solution for, and the model for new stadium=contention=franchise rejuvenation just gets that much more demonstrably untrue.
As for center field, losing Lofton might not be good news, but with Byrd and Jason Michaels around, it's a loss they can cover. What, you think Lofton's going to slug .500 all year? I'd bet a pound of Talluto's mozzarella that doesn't happen. Keep in mind, I'm a cheese snob and a non-gambler, but I suppose as bets go, it's like banking on the sunrise.
Not that a month's worth of data is supposed to inspire too much confidence one way or another, but I think Castillo's absence has made a few things obvious. First, it looks like Bobby Hill's shot at being anything more than a reserve is over. Freddy Sanchez earned his keep in Castillo's absence, and Hill really only plays second base. It isn't hard to tell who the loser is, even if, between Sanchez and Castillo, there may not yet be a winner. As is, Rob Mackowiak is going to have to start borrowing that much more playing time from Ty Wigginton, even if that means a bit of a climbdown by Dave Littlefield, who will have to acknowledge that the Benson deal was a small disaster. Perhaps understandably, the Pirates are preferring to use Mackowiak as the patch to pave over the Tike Redman problem in center. However, as they're demonstrating with the decision to play Daryle Ward at first with Craig Wilson in left, that generally puts Jason Bay in center, bringing the club back to the question of Mackowiak or Wigginton at third, as well as picking between Castillo and Sanchez at second. One of these is a tough call, but it isn't the choice at the hot corner.
No doubt I'll get some ribbing from Red Sox fans, because yet again, I'm going to say having Damian Jackson around is a good thing, but hear me out. Although Blum was hitting, that's a temporary condition, and he isn't really a shortstop. So with Khalil Greene still on the DL through the weekend, and with the permanently bat-less Jesse Garcia as the major alternative, I'll take Jackson's combination of moderate patience, some dose of speed, and adequate defense. The hope is that, sort of like bringing Fick onto the roster to see if he can shine in a pinch-hitting role, Jackson might be the better bench player the Pads can use, so that it's Garcia who goes down when Greene is reactivated. Of course, when Blum comes back in a few weeks, that might be a point at which the Pads might want to re-think carrying 12 pitchers, but two weeks could see Tim Redding lose his rotation slot to Darrell May, or Rudy Seanez's elbow might go "sproing!"
Recalled RHP Brad Hennessey from Fresno; optioned RHP Scott Munter to Fresno. [4/30]
Benitez's injury is a sad thing. For him personally, of course, since he's almost certainly done for the year. There's also the consideration of how this puts a major dent in Brian Sabean's intentions for how this season was going to play out, given the money he'd spent. Then there's the consideration of who to put into the closer's role. Matt Herges has the most experience, although Jeff Fassero can boast about his nice stint as one of the Cubs' saves guys back in 2001, and if Felipe Alou's feeling foolhardy, maybe he'll listen. The problem is that when you have a pen made up of various scraps, you're left with a choice like picking between a Herges and a Jim Brower. It's the sort of situation that can generate all sorts of career-altering decisions. Who's to say Alou might not push Jerome Williams into a full-time relief role, while leaving Hennessey in the rotation? Or that Jeremy Accardo might not have some sort of surprising run that makes him the new John Hudek, a low-round or undrafted relief asset who ended up sticking. Maybe this is a job that Jesse Foppert can handle, if he's ever healthy enough to pitch for any extended stretch this season.
I guess the other thing about losing Benitez is that it lowers expectations that much more. Along with Barry Bonds' most recent setback, but I guess I'm anticipating the people who will claim the Giants were contenders without Bonds, but only really saw their season die when they lost their closer. It's a silly argument, based on the sort of unrealistic appreciations of reality that an adequate April can generate, but it might provide just enough organizational cover for the Giants to allow themselves the continuing make-believe that they're players.
I'm shocked, shocked, that the Giants would risk losing one of their outfield prospects to a waiver claim. Well, okay, not so much. Torcato was one of those guys, like Matt Cepicky, that the scouty types talked up while the rest of us just shrugged. A pretty lefty swing might make for an artistically pleasing silhouette or scouting palaver, but its relationship to hitting is one of intention, not results.
The Cards fussing over whether or not losing Izzy is going to really hurt them all that much in the standings is almost as plausible as Joe Borowski solving all of the Cubs' problems and propelling them into the race. No, I didn't think so either. I mean, not even guys like Pulsipher or could screw this up, right? The more interesting momentary fix is Thompson. He's been moved to the pen while coming back from shoulder trouble after rattling off a "maybe" minor-league record for consecutive scoreless innings (some think Irvin Williams had a longer stretch pitching for Birmingham in 1907). Not gifted with overpowering stuff, he's been a bit wild at Memphis (by his own lights, seven walks in 13 2/3 innings). His key asset is a sinker, and he's young enough that a move to the pen and maturity might give him a little more giddyap. Quality relievers have come from stranger places, certainly. If I'm disappointed in anything, it's that Journell isn't getting a shot, but five bad outings is enough to frighten some dugout lionhearts.
Placed LHP Joey Eischen on the 15-day DL (broken arm). [5/2]
Recalled CF-L Endy Chavez from New Orleans; purchased the contract of OF-R Jeffrey Hammonds from New Orleans; placed OF-L Terrmel Sledge on the 15-day DL (pulled hamstring); transferred Eischen from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/3]
Progress can take all sorts of shapes, although sometimes it needs a sing-along ball. Even so, happy notes are to be found in the immediate assurances given that Chavez is only here to be a reserve, pinch-running and handling defensive substitutions and such. And the idea that the Nats are willing to--gasp--go with ten pitchers or--gasp again--do without a situational lefty… well, it's the world turned upside down, you'd think. It's cool to see that Frank Robinson has the gumption, and Jim Bowden the flexibility, to run with this sort of roster, but I can't help but wonder if necessity, and not any peculiar genius, is the unwed mother that produced this invention, a leftover of the organization's long bender with Omar Minaya. When your choices are bringing back Joe Horgan or doing without a lefty, you might end up doing something bold because you don't have a whole lot of choice.
There are dangers, of course. There's the danger that Chavez might take on a larger role, especially with Sledge out for a goodly stretch, and that might leave Ryan Church or J.J. Davis rotting on the bench instead of getting to make the most of an opportunity to prove themselves. Then there's the related problem that might come with getting guys like Davis or Church or Tony Blanco playing time, instead of letting industry offal like Hammonds or Carlos Baerga suck up the reserve at-bats and pinch-hitting action. But let's see how it plays out. Two guys are toast when, inevitably, Wil Cordero comes back off of the DL, and the Nationals decide they need an 11th pitcher again.