May 12, 2005
May 4-9, 2005
The thing about niches is that they can get ever more elaborate the longer they persist. Take the current pursuit of fractions upon fractions of situational advantages in bullpens today. Like a latter-day version of the hyper-specialization of body armor in the Renaissance, bullpens are becoming overly specialized to the point of ornate, fragile, dangerous uselessness, particularly if the starter's knocked out of the box by the third inning. What use are specialists when they only have value in select roles? If you're worried about running out of lefties after two, your problem isn't your bullpen, it's your capacity for worry.
Consider this the peril of over-adaptation. Somebody gets touted for digging up a Chad Bradford, and suddenly all the kids on the block have to have one. Enter Steve Schmoll and Meredith, and perhaps someone like Matt Miller, although to an obviously lesser extent. No, that's not a lot of guys to name as representative of a trend, but on the other hand, nobody went out of their way to find the next Doug Jones while he was showing that there's more than one way to skin a cat. Maybe side-arming righthanders will replace second or third situational lefties as the big league roster's answer to the pet rock. To be fair, side-arming righties are more valuable than either situational lefties or rocks (leashed or feral), but what needs to be learned is not that side-arming right-handed relievers are useful, but whether they can be as useful as Dan Quisenberry or Mark Eichhorn, relievers capable of carrying heavy workloads year after year. (Leave it to the Royals to try to make Scott Sullivan a 'normal' righthander; they're clever that way.)
On the other hand, another interesting aspect to this phenomenon is how little minor league experience seems to matter in terms of the enthusiasm they generate. Schmoll and Meredith have both essentially gone from A-ball to the majors; Miller knocked around in the indy leagues before being taken seriously. It seems interesting to think that in this regard, sidearmers might represent a sort of fusion between stathead and scouty sensibilities. Statheads like the idea of exploiting under-appreciated talent and the cost-effectiveness that can represent; scouts can appreciate the effectiveness a sidearmer can have against like-handed batters at seemingly any level, and everyone gets that there's a platoon asset in the making with guys like this. The question is whether the end is enough of an end in itself.
Where Meredith is different is that unlike a Bradford, Schmoll, or Miller, he was picked high, the Sox nabbing him out of Virginia Commonwealth in the sixth round of last year's draft. Whether this is a case of Meredith being the sidearmer with extraordinary potential, or if the Sox, like the A's and their (in)famous draft of 2002, are changing the dynamics of who gets picked and why in the amateur draft, or both, I can't say. But it certainly seems that Meredith's up too soon, and Schmoll's only just getting by. They might be better than J.J. Trujillo, but there's more progress to be made. Ideally, Meredith and company will be the ones making it.
Activated RHP Felix Diaz from the 15-day DL and optioned him to Charlotte. [5/7]
After my last column, Sox fans appropriately chided me for skipping past the injury problems the team was having in its infield, which is all the more appropriate since I was focusing on the nit (not having a good outfield reserve), and skipping over the more significant problem, which was having people who were healthy and who could handle second or short. Hence Lopez's call-up, since he was on the 40-man. Happily, having Harris back does address both issues, although his ability to play short still seems more virtual and wished-for than being there. But he can be a better spot-starter in the outfield than Timo Perez, and that's handy.
As for moving over to twelve pitchers, it's not hard to understand why, although why Walker seems a little more mystifying. Of the six relievers Ozzie Guillen could call on, neither middle reliever (lefty Neal Cotts and righty Luis Vizcaino) has been all that effective, and co-closer Shingo Takatsu has had his problems. If you're going to run a committee guided by the principle of relying on the hot hand, it becomes hard to trust Takatsu night in and out, especially when he Jeff Bajenaru has been a bit wild, but he has been effective at Charlotte. Last year's mop-up man, Jon Adkins has moved back to starting, although his durability in the role is in question, and at 27, it isn't like he's a kid; regardless, he's struggling too. I suspect the real reason Walker is up is that, like Lopez, he's on the 40-man, although unlike Lopez and more like Burke, I think they're not worried at all about potentially losing Walker if they have to outright him. So they're letting the kids pitch where they will pitch, and handing that last slot to a well-traveled situational guy. It's defensible, but if Vizcaino and Cotts continue to struggle, change should be in the offing.
I've sort of worn out the point that the differences between Percival and Ugueth Urbina in Detroit won't add up to a bean's worth of value (Starbuck's, Taster's Choice, at that scale, it hardly matters), however much money was spent in the faith that it's just so. The proof will come on the field, of course, and the tangible benefit for the Tigers, stuck as they are with Percival's contract, is that a month or two of good work by Urbina might make him a swell commodity to peddle come the end of July.
Recalled RHP Leo Nunez from Wichita (Double-A); placed LHP Brian Anderson on the 15-day DL (elbow soreness). [5/9]
Claimed RHP Daylan Childress off of waivers from the Reds. [5/6]
Well, this does somewhat set aright a roster imbalance that's been a minor problem since Terry Ryan elected to sign Mike Redmond. With Mauer catching often enough, Redmond looking good, and Matt LeCroy available as a third catcher who, whatever he lacks as a deterrent to the running game, nevertheless enjoys the pitching staff's confidence, Miller was a wasted roster spot on a team already carrying someone like Juan Castro. Tiffee seems to be here to filch playing time from Michael Cuddyer at third, and while you might think that doesn't prevent Ron Gardenhire from starting Cuddyer for the even colder Luis Rivas at second base, Gardy's come up with a clean fix there, plugging in Nick Punto in today's recreation of the epic fight between Steve Lombardozzi and Al Newman for keystone dominance. Yes, that's an oxymoron; I'm not a big believer that in regular playing time, Punto can be all that much of an on-base threat (neither is PECOTA, more substantively). Improving on Rivas is almost impossible to avoid; settling for Punto will simply fuel further October ambitions in Chicago.
Optioned OF-L Shin-Soo Choo to Tacoma; purchased the contract of PH-L Dave Hansen from Tacoma; transferred SS-R Pokey Reese from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/4] Placed C-R Dan Wilson on the 60-day DL (knee); purchased the contract of C-R Wiki Gonzalez from Tacoma. [5/6]
This is pretty small beer in itself, except for what it says about how Mike Hargrove plans on using his bench, and apparently how little he plans on resting his starting outfielders. The outfield situation isn't really too much of a surprise, not when the starting trio of Reed, Winn, and Suzuki have made 94 of the first 99 outfield starts. Off of the bench, Willie Bloomquist has gotten four starts in center for Reed, and Raul Ibanez has made a lone start in left for Winn; Bloomquist has come off of the bench to appear in a game in center once, which is the only time a player has come off of the bench to play in the outfield. That isn't too different from what Grover's done at second base (Bret Boone has played all but two innings) or third (Adrian Beltre has played all but six frames), so guys like Hansen or Greg Dobbs or Bloomquist or Scott Spiezio get to be the largely anonymous "other" guys, maybe soaking up a few starts at DH, and a few pinch-hitting appearances. Ralph Houk would be proud; it takes a lot of thought to craft a bench intended and qualified for infrequent use.
As for the catching situation, I guess Dan Wilson has finally become his franchise's "signature" catcher. Sure, erasing memories of Dave Valle or Bob Kearney or Bob Stinson might not seem like such a big deal, but it took a lot of money and organizational willpower to make sure that when you catchers in Seattle, you think Dan Wilson. Face it, that's part of fandom: as an A's fan, when I think of our catchers, Terry Steinbach comes first. Cubs fans of a certain age might always think of Randy Hundley or Jody Davis; someday, maybe it'll be Michael Barrett. I'm sure there are some Yankees fans who think of Thurman Munson first, as there are those who think of Yogi if they're old enough to remember when he wasn't the world's second-most marketable raisin, and no doubt some think Jorge Posada, because forgetting Matt Nokes or Mark Salas was part of a healing process. I guess I ponder all of this because, however much money the Mariners have wasted over the years on retaining Wilson instead of improving their catching situation, his knee injury could well end his career as well as this season. Good or bad, it might be the end of an era, although a combination of Miguel Olivo and Wiki Gonzalez will do more than well enough in the breach.
Riley was and remains a worthwhile risk, but the word to pay attention to is risk. Giving up 14 runs in 12.7 IP pretty much whittled the concept of worthwhile to nothing. The whole pen isn't turning out quite so well as they might have wished: Doug Brocail is predictably scuffling, and with Carlos Almanzar and Nick Regilio not adding a lot of value (and now with Almanzar out for the year), getting good work from right-handed relievers in the middle innings has been a problem. With Brian Shouse and Ron Mahay doing good stuff, good work from lefties hasn't been an issue, so the Rangers are being pushed by circumstance into the potentially happy situation of having Loe and Joaquin Benoit taking on important roles in the pen that could either make them wealthy (eventually) in the relief role, or readily available and experienced enough to step into the rotation when somebody melts down. And in Texas, somebody always melts down. Loe might not have the dominating stuff some might expect from a 6'8" frame, but at 23 he's young enough that his velocity might pick up, sparing him the fate of being another Mike Smithson type.
Gosh, there's nothing quite so unsatisfying as being right about something I wrote last week. So now Zaun's down, and the Jays are hosed, and the Sky Chiefs are even more hosed, so what a bunch of hosers.
It's sort of a good news/bad news proposition, but the good far outweighs the bad. First, getting Cruz Junior back is good in itself. Not only does it get the charred microwave scunge with that 'McCracken' label on its uniform out of the lineup, it helps shore up an attack that's still waiting for Shawn Green to show up, and still weighted down with Royce Clayton and its inoffensive catchers. The bad news is that the Snakes will still be handicapped by McCracken, and even if the lowered expectations for results from a pinch-hitter might keep QMcC alive and well for a while longer, just remember, laughter is the most appropriate response to a McCracken at-bat.
Meanwhile, because off days are scarce, Bob Melvin preferred to go with twelve pitchers, although it's expected Kata will be back up at some point. So, appropriately enough, that leaves Alex Cintron as the obvious primary utility infielder, but with Clayton doing so little to contribute, it might bear asking why their roles shouldn't be reversed.
Signed LHP Darren Oliver to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Iowa. [5/7]
Placed RHP Ben Weber on the 15-day DL (bulging disc - neck); placed OF-R Wily Mo Pena on the 15-day DL (strained quad), retroactive to 5/3; recalled RHP Todd Coffey and 2B/SS-R William Bergolla from Louisville. [5/9]
It's madness to rail against day-to-day lineup construction, so I'm not incined to spin my wheels over Austin Kearns's at-bats, not when he isn't hitting all that well despite more than 100 plate appearances. Adam Dunn has started 29 of 32 games, Ken Griffey, Jr. 28, Kearns 22, and Wily Mo Pena an even dozen. Kearns is the only one of the four who's struggling, and if there's concern that Pena needs more time, I guess I'm still sufficiently troubled by strike zone discipline to indulge Dave Miley to keep picking his spots once he returns from the DL. If you want to get cranky about something, get cranky about seeing way too much Rich Aurilia in the early going. If Bergolla's call-up is an indication of that much more dissatisfaction with a middle infield of Felipe Lopez and D'Angelo Jimenez, I'd worry that the Reds are going to just deepen their struggles as they fish around for quick fixes and superficial attachments.
I guess this was a mercy demotion, because why hold Burke responsible for what's happening in Houston? Luke Scott didn't work out. Jason Lane hasn't earned his keep. Early numbers for Craig Biggio's defensive work are execrable. So who's to blame? The same management team that has decided to ship Burke out to a place where he'll be allowed to play.
Getting Berkman back is good news, of course, and that should give the Astros an outfield with Willy Taveras flanked by Berkman and Lane, possibly the best defensive alignment they have had since the early '90s trio of Steve Finley, Luis Gonzalez, and James Mouton. However, if Taveras and Lane don't hit, it still adds up to a bad ballclub that might make my picking the 'Stros for the basement one of my correct observations.
Activated LHP Wilson Alvarez from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Buddy Carlyle for assignment; placed 3B-B Jose Valentin on the 15-day DL (knee); purchased the contract of UT-R Mike Edwards from Las Vegas. [5/4]
Designated INF-R Norihiro Nakamura for assignment. [5/8]
Purchased the contract of INF-L Oscar Robles from Mexico City of the Mexican League. [5/9]
Losing Valentin is not a good thing, and his deserved rep as a great teammate will no doubt be a thing missed. However, he wasn't hitting, and his value was more positional and contingent than it was bound up in what he'd be worth as a third baseman. If he isn't playing short, he's simply not the same sort of asset, although having him would make losing Cesar Izturis to a roughly-broken DP far more bearable.
Happily, since the Dodgers are getting value from the other seven slots in the lineup, they can afford to be a bit creative with their third base situation. True, you might not want Olmedo Saenz playing third in anything less than an emergency or through late-game machinations, but they have scored 21 runs in the two games he started at third, winning both. You might think that Mike Edwards isn't really a solution, and that like Saenz or Jason Grabowski he can temp there; last season at Sacramento, Edwards committed 21 errors in 88 games. However, Edwards was a high school shortstop when he was picked by the Indians back in '95. He's one of the few survivors from the Tribe's "grow winners" mantra from that period; Zach Sorensen and Scott Pratt didn't turn out so well. Escaping the Indians after an injury-plagued 2001, Edwards drifted through the Reds organization, put in two years with the A's at Sacramento, and getting himself remembered by Paul DePodesta along the way. He's always been a patient hitter, if not as much of a power source as you might like, so he'll have his uses. So between Edwards, Grabowski, Saenz, Robles, and Antonio Perez once he comes off of the DL, Jim Tracy won't want for choices.
(What can I say, I wrote our first Mike Edwards player comment in the 2000 edition of BP, so I'm sentimental.)
Nakamura didn't do anything? And here I thought all the overrated imports came from Cuba. He'd make a nice Mariner, though.
Not to slight Cameron or Benson, but it isn't like the Mets can get that much better than they were in their absence. In Cameron's place, Victor Diaz has been more than adequate, so instead of getting a bump every day, the Mets instead have the happy knowledge that they can survive Cliff Floyd's next injury. In the rotation, expectations for Benson should be set low, and Jae Seo was pitching better than Benson can be expected to do until he's fully back up to speed. Again, that's not a bad thing, because if the Mets have learned to prefer Seo or Aaron Heilman to Kaz Ishii, they'll be the better for it down the road. If there's a problem, it's really in the middle infield and with Mike Piazza's troubling case of birthday accumulation.
Placed RHP Tim Worrell on the 15-day DL (personal reasons); recalled RHP Robinson Tejeda from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [5/6]
One of the few reasons to pay to watch Pirates baseball goes down, leaving season ticket holders to wonder about dumping the next month or two's worth of home games on Craig's List. With Wilson out, Daryle Ward becomes that much more an everyday player at first, which means that the Bucs could play Redman or Rob Mackowiak in the outfield. McClendon has already made his solemn pledge to play Redman, making for an ever-darker pall scudding over an already stricken season.
But if you consider the season to be an extenuation of spring training, just think of the playing time spread as an exercise in maybes. The Pirates have already been alternating Bobby Hill and Ty Wigginton at third, as the organization lurches from choice to choice to (ideally) justify one of Littlefield's non-Giles trades.
You might be wondering, why did the Pirates pick up Santiago again? Not to rent and then flip to somebody, not with several teams looking for catching help. Out of a sense of largesse, figuring that the Royals could use some help? Because the only joy to be found in these parts comes from finally requiting Dave Littlefield's secret desire to cut Benito Santiago? Consider it a case of Buffalo Redux, where like last year's pointless pickup of Raul Mondesi, Littlefield got somebody he couldn't use, or even really explain why he'd made the move, just a few short months after making it. And like Mondesi, the purported veteran leader refused to rehab in the minors; chalk that up as a double foul, on Santiago for pulling the stunt (and perhaps anticipating his release, given last year's events with Mondesi), and Littlefield for walking into it. Meanwhile, the Bucs can make do with the job-sharing arrangement betwixt Dave Ross and Humberto Cota, and they won't be any worse for it, any more than they were without Santiago in the first place.
Outrighted 2B/SS-R Jesse Garcia to Portland; placed RHP Tim Redding on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder); designated LHP Randy Williams for assignment; purchased the contracts of RHPs Brian Falkenborg and Tim Stauffer from Portland; activated SS-R Khalil Greene from the 15-day DL. [5/9]
So, Greene's back at short, but the ever-fragile Williams is out of the rotation, and you have to wonder if it's going to take all of the king's horses and men to put this team together again in time to keep up with the streaking Dodgers. Somewhat predictably, the organization has gone for the bold fix, pushing Stauffer up into the opportunity. The organization's top pick out of the University of Richmond in 2003 sat out that half-season to spare his shoulder, and roared through High-A, Double-A and into the PCL in his first pro season in '04. Ideally, this will turn out better than last year's similarly bold "Freddy Guzman can be our center fielder now" decision. Six good starts at Portland give reason to think it will, and if Stauffer seems more of a command pitcher than a blazer, he's coming up to a forgiving ballpark supported by a starting lineup (and defense) that's at full strength. If he thrives while Williams spends the balance of the month on the DL, it's Redding's and Darrell May's jobs that will be at risk.
Armas will be stepping directly into the rotation, bumping Zach Day to the pen, where he'll have to alternate with Jon Rauch in the long relief/mop-up role. Both might not have to linger there for long; it isn't like anyone's betting on Armas being healthy, reliable, and durable, and Tomo Ohka is struggling with his command while trying to come back from last season's gruesome shattering of his forearm. With John Patterson thriving, the Nats can afford to mix and match between Armas, Rauch, Day, and Ohka should Frank Robinson get really frustrated with any of them. We'll see how long this pauper's embarrassment of riches lasts.
I'm not really wild about demoting Davis. No, he wasn't hitting, but a hot week by Ryan Church seems to have blotted out any memory of April, and Davis could have his virtues. Why clog up the roster with more reserve infielders? With Vidro out, Jamey Carroll will get most of the playing time at second, and it isn't like Jeffrey Hammonds or Carlos Baerga are going to do anything beyond sucking, a skill honed with considerable experience in each case. (Both players got starts against a lefty on Tuesday night, which seems like all sorts of incentive to start lefties against the Nats.) As is, it isn't like Mateo is a prospect; he's already 28, and he's got a track record that conjures up memories of Guerrero. Wilton Guerrero, not the talented one. If Mateo is going to demonstrate he belongs on a 40-man roster at all, it won't be through the epic role of reserve backup infielder and pinch-runner, and as is, Mateo's shoulder might keep him from playing the infield for any extended period of time. A reserve pinch-hitter to back up Baerga? Consider this the trouble with not having a real farm system or the capacity to actively participate in the market for minor league free agents.
Unfortunately, the Nationals fancy themselves contenders, and why not, given the lack of a dominant team in the NL East. However, if Jim Bowden sticks with the Hammondses and Baergas because they were tenured enough to be granted the privilege of watching the people who get you there, he'll be stuck with people who won't keep you there. The best spin, as ever, is to hope that regular playing time will get Davis back on track, after which he can force one of the supernumerary graybeards into a deserved re-retirement.