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June 11, 2005
Transaction of the Day
Acquired C/UT-R Eli Marrero from the Royals for 2B/3B-B Pete Maestrales and cash. [6/8]
Never mind Maestrales; he'll be 26 next month, and he's an Atlantic League refugee in the lowest full-season rung in the minors; having him around is only slightly better than giving Henry the Puffy Taco a tryout. No, this was a dump, where the Royals got fast cash rather than losing Marrero to the waiver wire.
More to the point, the Orioles were willing to take a chance on helping themselves, what with Javy Lopez out until sometime around the All-Star break. Not to slight Geronimo Gil or Sal Fasano too much, but both are OBP sinkholes with modest power and solid catch-and-throw reps, while Marrero, his brief and ugly stint with the Royals aside, can mash, especially against lefties. And whereas Fasano and Gil can only catch, Marrero has his uses after Lopez returns. The O's outfield and DH situations tilt heavily to the left side of the plate, so Marrero will come in handy as a platoon starter.
As for his struggles as a Royal, well, after years of being relevant in St. Louis in Atlanta, how would you feel about becoming just another part of one of baseball's worst-run franchises? Just because there isn't a metric for morale doesn't mean it isn't a factor, and a hundred regrettable plate appearances aren't enough to write a guy off. Besides, the Yankees are wallowing more deeply than a Nora Ephron film, and the Red Sox are busy going Hollywood and sniggering over their Queer Eye fuzz-busting antics, so points to the Orioles for taking themselves seriously and staying pro-active as far as their catching situation is concerned.
This is a relatively interesting move for the Tigers, because while it doesn't really improve them all that much, it does give them a reconfiguration that's interesting in a couple of ways. At least notionally, they no longer needed Urbina after Troy Percival had returned, especially since Kyle Farnsworth and Franklyn German are both doing nifty jobs as set-up men. (We'll set aside the misfortune of the money misspent on Mr. Percival for the moment; it's probably unnecessary to revisit Dave Dombrowski's Winter of Big Mistakes, since I pretty thoroughly kvetched about Percival and Magglio Ordonez months ago.)
What Polanco does right now is give the Tigers an alternative to Omar Infante's complete reversion to bad old form, as well as insurance against Carlos Guillen's wonky knee. It does make the decision to purchase Tony Giarratano from Double-A and get his arb clock ticking seemingly regrettable, but the Tigs plan on playing Giarratano at shortstop while handing second base to Polanco, leaving Guillen inactive and Infante the unenthused inheritor of Martinez's utility role. So the lineup is slightly better off, and when Guillen returns, they'll have a good offensive pair in their middle infield.
Not that this makes them a contender; these are the Tigers, after all. Assuming that Dombrowski's thinking of his roster in terms of bargaining chips, the other thing to keep in mind is that Polanco is a nice thing to have around to dangle at the end of July. Sure, it might seem a bit mercenary, but the Tigers don't matter in the standings, and Dombrowski's most fundamental responsibility is to do whatever it takes to make the franchise better. It might be a risk, in terms of expecting that a middle infielder who can hit reasonably well will be more valuable than a guy carrying the "closer" label, but who's more readily gulled about that sort of thing than Ed Wade anyway? The Jungleers are better off seeing what they can turn Polanco into, and using him to modest advantage in the meantime. If they fail to do so, and just get three months of Polanco, they will not have really helped themselves in any appreciable way compared to if they'd simply kept Urbina.
As much as getting a fourth starter can be considered a steal, this is a steal for the Brewers. I've never had much use for Spivey as anything more than his being the new Jerry Royster, a platoon second baseman who at his best fills the short side of the platoon. Admittedly, the comparison is a stretch, based on a facile appreciation of their similar strengths and similar weaknesses. I'd recommend against hanging on to Spivey's 2002/Age 27 season, during which he had the BOB going for him. He is not someone who I'd bet on having another 50 extra-base-hit season; as is, 40 would be a stretch. Add in that he's merely an adequate glove at second, and he looks like the sort of talent you can find among the better minor-league free agents, although the Brewers already had and discarded Ron Belliard. Then there's the happy circumstance that moving Spivey makes space for Rickie Weeks, and even if I'm not on that particular bandwagon, and everyone should have some reservations about a middle infield that might have to rely on Weeks at second base and Bill Hall at shortstop, it still makes for a nice blend of present and future.
Even if Ohka is no better than a fourth starter on most teams, that's a far more valuable commodity than Spivey. With Ben Sheets already off of the DL, Ohka is actually Milwaukee's fifth man, and getting him spares the Brewers having to sort out their preferences between warm bodies like Gary Glover or Wes Obermueller. Admittedly, Ohka probably won't like pitching in Miller Park nearly as much as almost everyone enjoys settling in at RFK, and there's no guarantee that he'll iron out his control issues. The new infield alignment won't help, but Ohka's a flyball pitcher, and will instead have to regret an equally ugly group of outfield gloves. But a starting pitcher with some upside and a spot for Weeks in exchange for the right to get rid of the very replaceable Spivey? That's management with a fair balance of guts and vision.
Addictions aren't for everyone. You need to know how to manage these things, after all, and integrate them effectively into your more proper workaday existence so that you control your turgid escapist needs, and not wind up being their wagged tail instead. Thinking on that is why I'll always feel sorry for Ed Wade: like any junkie after a few too many hits, the rush he must get from acquiring yet another famous relief pitcher has to be getting more and more transient, as the receptors in his transaction joyspot get burned out through overindulgence. What do you do with a General Manager with overcompensation issues and questionable judgment when it comes to sorting out his bullpen, beyond start wondering whether it's time for an intervention?
The Phillies have very few goodies to peddle, and any franchise with so much invested in Jim Thome pretty much has to go for broke in the present. So when Wade takes one of his very few available commodities in Polanco, and flips him for yet another relief pitcher and a utility infielder who, at best, might fulfill Chase Utley's need to spotted against a few of the league's lefties, you have to wonder if this man will ever have a pen good enough to fulfill his unrealizable dream of late-inning perfection. It's like being baseball's Pellinore, except that instead of pointlessly pursuing the Questing Beast, he settles for what he can catch, and winds up being one of those goofs wearing a coonskin cap.
The real shame of it is that the Phillies' pen wasn't even that bad. Sure, Tim Worrell has his issues, and Terry Adams was an easily anticipated mistake. But behind Billy Wagner, Ryan Madson and Rheal Cormier and even Geoff Geary haven't sucked. What are this team's real problems? Did anything really need fixing? Thome's early struggles aside, and outside of David Bell's slow start, the offense hasn't really been a problem. Other than getting Thome in working order, and hoping that Vicente Padilla bounces back, there isn't much you could reasonably wish for that you aren't already getting.
In short, dealing Polanco, one of the team's only peddleable players, and getting nothing that really makes the team better in any way, was a mistake. The excuse that this was an exchange of angry men, with Polanco bitter over his still being in Philly, and Urbina coming off of a fight with some teammates, simply isn't good enough. It might be a rationale, but it's not an excuse for losing sight of a limited range of choices when it comes to helping your team. If Ed Wade was trying to make a move that would propel the Phillies to the front of the pack in the bunched-up NL East, he came up short yet again.
Jim Bowden is nothing if not a gambler, and with his future role with the OTBNL (owner to be named later) likely to be affected by how well he manages the hand he has now, can you blame him for being unwilling to wait on Jose Vidro's return sometime in the second half of July? Jamey Carroll isn't a good everyday player, and the Nationals' unlikely bid for contention can't afford too many weak spots. Sadly, picking up Spivey doesn't really fix the problem, any more than swapping in Drese for Ohka does anything to really shore up the rotation. Like all too many of Bowden's moves in Cincinnati, this looked like something, without actually translating into advancement of the club.
Let's start with Spivey, since some people are still playing make-believe because of his 2002 season. In the last two seasons, he's posted Equivalent Averages of .252 and .268, and then there's this season's slump to .238. Nice, but not great, and nowhere close to that age-27 season in '02, when he was at .292. He's 30, he really only plays second base--and that not anything beyond adequately. He's been a very good lefty masher: .305/.413/.568 from 2002 through to the present. You might look at his .270/.340/.401 line over that same period against right-handers and get excited, but since '02, he's hit roughly .242/.313/.364 against right-handers, or not exactly well enough to be a recognizable improvement over Carroll. Now that Spivey is playing his home games in his first pitchers' park since A ball, I wouldn't harbor any great expectations.
Then there's the issue of the move's affordability. Ohka was out of favor, and the Nationals seemed to feel they could afford to move him once Drese became available. Now, maybe Drese actually becomes an effective big-league starter away from the homer-happy wind tunnel in Texas, and maybe not having to face the DH will make his life significantly better, and no doubt he'll enjoy the benefit of pitching in RFK. But it would be a stretch to expect that he'll be a good starter, as opposed to hoping he'll be adequate, and the organization's depth issues are such that you have to ask if ditching a potentially good big-league starter for a mediocre second baseman really helps. Yes, John Patterson is off of the DL, but Tony Armas doesn't look right yet, and with both Zach Day and Jon Rauch on the DL, the Nats don't have the pitching depth to discard a starter for a hitter who will not significantly improve the lineup.
Perhaps Bowden has to take this sort of risk, but it looks like a risk for its own sake, instead of being a constructive move. What happens when Vidro returns? Spivey doesn't really have another position, although being able to fill in at third base or in left field might be within his abilities. I guess there's solace to be found in believing that if anybody might flip Spivey once Vidro returns, it would be the game's most hyperactive GM.