June 24, 2005
One of the nice things about having a roster as flexible as Anaheim's is that the loss of just about anybody can be covered. Finley's out? No problem, a temporary platoon in center of Chone Figgins and Juan Rivera can do the trick (Figgins can even keep platooning with Dallas McPherson at third base, making this really a McPherson/Rivera platoon. It's convenient that this has also happened as Adam Kennedy heats up, but there's a similar convenience in getting Izturis back just as Orlando Cabrera needs a day or two off. It's this sort of depth that fuels titles; with minor exceptions like Ben Molina or Scot Shields, it isn't like anyone's putting in a career performance. The Angels could gripe about their injuries, the way it's usually fashionable to do, but why bother? They're in first, and unlike the Rangers, it isn't like they need to find half of a rotation in the middle of the season.
Interesting… so the Orioles finally get their legitimate center fielder back, but with Javy Lopez out, Melvin Mora aching and Brian Roberts' power finishing up its transit of the inner solar system before disappearing back into the Oort Cloud for a few decades, this is clearly a situation where the O's need some of the other bits to start contributing. Unfortunately, old-timers like Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro don't seem like good bets to slug more than .450. Jay Gibbons has been doing his thing, but the Orioles really need Larry Bigbie and Newhan (spotting for Mora at third) to do something in the next couple of weeks. At least the news is that Lopez will be back sometime around the All-Star break, but if the Orioles want to keep making the Yankees and Red Sox sweat, they need help from the supporting cast in the meantime.
El Duque's used to using the regular season as a tune-up, so it's happy circumstance that the Sox don't have to rely on him too heavily. Plus, with the other four starters having great seasons, while McCarthy remains the guy they should want to have a little bit of seasoning just in case anybody really breaks down, it's a nice situation. As the fifth wheel, McCarthy will be skipped, but ideally, he'll get in a few innings, stay fresh, and learn a thing or two.
Davis gave the Tribe one good start in two, beating the hapless Giants in PacBell while taking a beating from the White Sox. By fifth-starter standards, not so bad, but with the Indians slowly making up ground, they can use a little bit more than that. Even if Jake Westbrook and Scott Elarton are hot, C.C. Sabathia still isn't, so Millwood can hopefully take up some of the slack and help the rotation keep plugging along, racking up wins while the offense keeps raking.
The Tigers have become so much fun to follow that it's hard to get everything said in a single sitting, like I have to in the course of a TA. As one reader pointed out after last week, what about the whole Carlos Pena/Chris Shelton exchange? An extremely valid question, since Pena seems to have stranded himself in that career limbo that claimed previous wunderkinds like Travis Lee. Both players impressed everyone with fancy footwork, smooth strokes and a whole lot of underwhelming performance at the plate. That the Tigs had the sense to finally make a swap on the basis of performance, and skip beyond what they're paying Pena, is a good thing. At Toledo, Shelton had nothing left to prove after hitting .335/.421/.568, and if neither he nor Dmitri Young can match Pena's grace around the bag, Shelton gives the Tigers a middle-of-the-order hitter they need that much more in the absence of both Guillen and free-agent boondoggle Magglio Ordonez.
Which is my way of segueing into a reality check, which is that while this might be a fun team, it's fun and modestly successful despite a lot of this past winter's attempts to improve the club, and not because of much of what Dave Dombrowski did then. Omar Infante is finally heating up, and Nook Logan is settling in as a center fielder who can play center. With Brandon Inge coming of age at third base, and Shelton moving into a regular role, it's still an improving young lineup outside of the veteran core of Guillen/Ivan Rodriguez/Young/Rondell White.
The other change, hopefully for the better, is giving Douglass a shot at the fifth slot in the rotation. After Wil Ledezma flopped, somebody had to get a look-see, and there are worse guys to ponder for the bottom of your rotation than Douglass. Although he's in his third organization of the last three years, he's only just turned 26 this season, and as a Mudhen, he was rolling: 2.87 ERA, a 9-1 record, 61 hits and 27 walks allowed in 81 2/3 IP, with 76 strikeouts. Douglass isn't overpowering, but a right-handed control artist who throws this well might stick as a fifth starter, especially if he's spotted against the right opponents. And if this helps Ledezma get back on track in the meantime, that's an added bonus, because this organization still can't boast the kind of pitching talent that allows it to see one of its better arms fizzle without feeling pain.
Placed LHP Jeremy Affeldt (strained groin) and RHP Ambiorix Burgos (shoulder tightness) on the 15-day DL; placed 1B-R Mike Sweeney on the 15-day DL (wrist), retroactive to 6/16; recalled 1B-R Justin Huber from Wichita (Double-A); recalled LHP Jimmy Gobble from Omaha. [6/20]
Purchased the contract of RHP Jonah Bayliss from Wichita (Double-A); transferred DH-R Ken Harvey from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/21]
It's rough to lose a right-handed power source for an extended period of time. The Royals need power, they need offense, they need a first baseman, and in losing Sweeney again, they lost all of those things. Oh, and they lost Harvey for a while too, although that's not the same thing. So enter Huber, a nifty enough swipe from the Mets last summer, and someone who was hitting .328/.416/.514 in Wichita before his 23rd birthday. He's pretty much done with catching, which makes sense consider that he's 6'5" and already carrying a reputation for fragility. I think it's hard to expect him to thrive, given how completely irredeemably awful the Royals' season is turning out. The best players on the team in the early going have been Rule 5 pick Andy Sisco and Emil "Suitcase" Brown.
At least the pitching staff isn't a complete disaster. Runelvys Hernandez is pitching regularly, which is a moral victory of sorts for the organization that scragged Jose Rosado, and D.J. Carrasco and Zack Greinke are obvious building blocks. But again, in a trainwreck sort of season, the key is to make sure as many get out alive as possible, instead of worrying about whether or not 'Buddyball' can keep the Royals from losing a hundred games.
Outrighted RHP Daylan Childress to New Britain (Double-A). [6/16]
The Twins' middle-infield situation has become a bit of a zoo of late, enough so that getting Rivas back is hailed as some sort of good thing in some circles. On a team that inflicts Juan Castro on itself, I guess improvements are relative, but it's all the more sad when they could be playing a middle-infield combo of Luis Rodriguez and Jason Bartlett and doing much better than trying to make a Castro/Rivas combo work. If this is all part of some master plan to make Kenny Williams overconfident, it's working. Too well.
Placed RHP Kevin Brown on the 15-day DL (lower back spasms), retroactive to 6/16. [6/18]
Recalled LHP Sean Henn from Columbus. [6/19]
Kevin Brown's native ability to make himself disliked seems to have made him the target for a residue of odium that ought to be spread around, splashing Carl Pavano and the luckless Jaret Wright as well. But because Brown's charm seems to have moved from background concern to accepted fact, it seems he's that much less dealable for a team that wishes he was gone as thoroughly as so many of its fans. So instead, they're stuck with one another, and if Brown has sucked in ways that make memories of Ed Whitson, Mike Witt, and David Cone's final pinstriped incarnation all congeal into one festering bag of historical pus, he's still a Yankee, and Javier Vazquez ain't. (For those people fretting that Cone wasted two more years beyond his death in pinstripes on other people's teams, I'd suggest that this is sort of like trying to figure out which "Friday the 13th" movie will be shown last at a "Friday the 13th" film festival. After enough gore, screaming, and the odd genitalia shot, does it really matter?)
Brown's unlamented absence creates time and space for Henn to take his shot at joining Chien-Ming Wang as that strangest of animals, the Yankees prospect. But where Wang's thrived with near-surgical precision, Henn's been more of a griller, still delivering, but a bit more messily, and with some flame-broiling. Across 12 starts in Double- and Triple-A, he's allowed just 60 hits and three home runs in 73 1/3 IP, with a pretty solid 55/21 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It'll be only a brief trial, perhaps three starts, as Brown will be back, no doubt with a moment of silence for the traditional Big Apple introspection moment before his activation, followed by the Big Apple expectoration moment upon its announcement.
Some of this makes sense, and some of it less so. The need for a second lefty in the pen had apparently become acute amidst a relief corps that Ken Macha seems quick to pull, mix'n'match, and jerk every possible lever in order to show that he's at least doing the scrappy "never-say-die" thing from the dugout. I never understood why Harikkala was ever on the 40-man roster, and I certainly don't see a problem with retaining Ryan Glynn as a long reliever for a rotation where a recuperating Harden will carry a lighter load for the time being. Heck, it isn't like Kirk Saarloos gets out of the sixth inning all that often, yesterday's shutout aside. At least Joe Blanton's recent run of three good starts in his last four is a happy development, with continued good work being hinted at because of his 20-8 strikeout to walk ratio in 27 2/3 June innings, after an ugly 16/23 split in his first 48 2/3 IP this season.
I don't know to what extent Cruz might be moping over his arbitration loss, and there is no way to know. Picking that particular fight can be a bad way to start a relationship with your new organization, but on that score, I'm sure there's blame to go around, between the agent and the team. When you give up 28 runs in 23 1/3 IP, excuses abound, and an early-season back problem was a handicap. However, there is a potential happy ending, in that the A's have sent Cruz to Sacramento to get innings in as a starter, and if that works, who's to say he might not yet become the quality starting pitcher that a lot of us have been saying he could be? It's more likely that he'll simply get the innings he wasn't getting in Oakland because Macha had understandably become reluctant to use him, and come back into a relief role, but much will depend on when Garcia is ready to come up to stay (soon), and whether or not Saarloos is holding onto the fifth slot of the rotation.
Finally, swapping Ginter back in makes sense, in that he can be a right-handed bat to alternate for lefties Dan Johnson and Scott Hatteberg for DH at-bats against lefties, contend with Marco Scutaro and Mark Ellis for starts at second, and spot for Eric Chavez at third. A fifth outfielder was something the A's don't need, not when the front four are basically all going to draw every start they're healthy enough to make.
Lopez's call-up was to help cover for Adrian Beltre's bad back and Bret Boone's bad bat, but to be fair, the prospect has missed most of the season already with a back injury, appearing in only nine games at Tacoma. He's officially been moved to second, which beyond being an endorsement of Mike Morse is a telling comment on the incipient conclusion of the Boone Era at the keystone. I suspect he'll be sent down for a different utility infielder, although Pokey Reese isn't due back until sometime around the All-Star break, and Ramon Santiago may never return to a big-league roster. Regardless, Lopez will hopefully be in the lineup to stay by August. As for Dobbs, he couldn't do Dave Hansen's job as well as Hansen, and there's only space for one Willie Bloomquist pity-spot on the roster.
Outrighted DH-R Josh Phelps to Durham. [6/17]
Released RHP Pedro Astacio. [6/21]
And just like that, a contender rips out two-fifths of its rotation and goes with the guys it has on hand. Despite providing a quality start in six of his 12 games, the Rangers decided the Pedro Astacio experiment had flopped. More explicably, Ryan Drese's fifteen minutes had obviously expired not that long after those of the artist who gave us the immortal Uh-Oh song. I know, we'll be telling children about that one the same way your parents talked about Chubby Checker, right? Okay, not so much, maybe you can just browbeat them with bland, Drese-y anecdotes in a long-winded retelling about Rangers starters who stopped.
Anyway, Buck Showalter's moved boldly, handing over the fourth slot to Ricardo Rodriguez, and the fifth to lefty C.J. Wilson. Wilson may not last long, given past problems with his mechanics, enduring ones with his control, and this being his first year back from having Tommy John surgery on his elbow. But with Oklahoma's rotation in shreds, and Frisco's sort of fraying as well, you can bet that the Rangers are watching the wires and burning out a few cell phones.
Gaudin hadn't done anything to earn his keep in the rotation, and the current plan is to fill the fifth slot with Pete Walker for four turns or so, so that all makes sense. I definitely like to see a team go with eleven pitchers instead of twelve. My only concern is based on how John Gibbons' player usage patterns seem to work out, not as a way of saying he's doing a bad job, but because he's already got four outfielders he likes to play regularly, and I don't see Gross getting to do much more than watch baseball get played. When you have a backup catcher as completely ineffectual as Ken Huckaby is on the roster, carrying a third makes sense, if only because it does allow to pinch-hit for Huckaby on Gregg Zaun's off days without then having to put Zaun in the game, and given that Gibbons pinch-hits about as often as he uses his bench anyway, why not do that instead of letting Gross go stale? Gross may be ready to play in the bigs, but he won't be doing this.
Placed RHP Russ Ortiz on the 15-day DL (rib cage strain); designated RHP Matt Herges for assignment; recalled RHP Mike Koplove from Tucson; purchased the contract of RHP Brandon Medders from Tucson. [6/18]
Ortiz is supposed to miss just two weeks, so depending on how the schedule breaks, that might only be two starts. In his place, former Nat Claudio Vargas will be plugged in, which isn't really good news, but if it is just two starts, it won't kill the Snakes. Ortiz wasn't pitching well, so perhaps the rest will do him good, allowing him to earn his keep along with the rotation's performance front three, Brandon Webb, Javier Vazquez, and the still-not-dead-yet Shawn Estes.
Of greater concern is the bullpen, where "Kid" Cormier, (not the Rheal deal) remains the only consistent performer. Koplove never should have been sent down in the first place, and the team's turning to a gamey all-eyes spud like Herges, however temporarily, reflects their desperation. Now, maybe Brian Bruney will gain some control, and maybe Medders will be part of the answer. After posting a 37-11 strikeout to walk ratio in 30 Tucson innings, Medders looks like he's as recovered from last summer's shoulder surgery as he's going to be. (I'll leave it to Will Carroll to say whether or not his slightly funky delivery is a handicap or an asset.) An organizational soldier picked out of Mississippi State in 2001, Medders might be a nice reminder that a franchise's depth can generate replacements just as adequate as the wire, or in the case of a guy like Herges, better than the wire.
Signed RHP Jim Brower. [6/15]
Placed RHP Tim Hudson on the 15-day DL (strained oblique). [6/16]
So, Hudson re-strains his sproingy oblique, Mike Hampton isn't coming off of the DL soon, and Horacio Ramirez is about to go on. The Braves are down to Kyle Davies on a short leash, and filling spots with Jorge Sosa and perhaps Seth Greisinger. I'd expect John Schuerholz to be doing everything he can to try to land a starter, except that his problem with peddling kids for experience is that he currently needs the kids, just to keep up. The way things are going, Zach Miner, Anthony Lerew, and perhaps even Chuck James will all have to start being considered, because Sosa and Greisinger are temporary solutions at best.
Placed RHP David Crouthers on waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release; optioned RHP John Koronka to Iowa; recalled LHP Rich Hill from Iowa. [6/15]
This is promising, but I've said that before under similar circumstances. You've seen this plotline before: Cubs farm system, abounding in talented arms, calls another talented kid up who's still so fresh, he's wearing his cap frontwards and everything. Then it's one bad outing, perhaps two, and the gruff manager says something about Venezuelans pitching badly if they don't eat enough plaintains, or how Norwegians pine for the fjords in day games, or some other half-baked notion that makes you wish he'd shake the dust out of his noggin.
Still, I'm glad to see Williams up, and if Hill is a better weapon to rely upon than a situational beastie like Bartosh, I simply hope Baker will use him as such, instead of relegating the young lefty to a brief, "Get Jim Edmonds or get lost" gig. Williams might even get to stick in the rotation if he builds on his first start (happily, a good one), even with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood both due back. Carlos Zambrano seems pretty nicked up, and Sergio Mitre has provided adequacy, which is nice, but only so nice. Williams can pitch in the bigs, and with the big three all at less than their best, and Greg Maddux winding down, the Cubs are in the strange position of needing help in the rotation.
Hill's debut is a nice extra wrinkle. Amidst the organization's rich haul of pitching talent, they also have a 6'5" lefty who can dial into the low 90s? Shucks, that's just terrible, not that it excuses losing Andy Sisco, but it helps to explain the dilemma of having a crowd of talent to squeeze onto your 40-man roster. A big power pitcher out of the University of Michigan, Hill really seems to have come into his own this year, after struggling with his control in the Florida State League last year. As a rotation regular in Double-A, Hill had struck out 90 in 57 2/3 IP (with 42 hits and 21 walks allowed), before striking out another 29 in 18 2/3 IP at Iowa. It'll be interesting to see how they squeeze all of the talent onto the staff, but if there's one thing we've seen with Dusty's management, if he's left with a choice, he usually makes the wrong one initially. Dusty's halo came off last summer, but we'll have to see if he's held accountable for how the staff has been jerked around this spring, beyond the problems with Prior and Wood. Being ruled by the rock instead of the rudder is a bad way to run a staff, but with enough talent lying around, you might be able to get away with it without too many people complaining.
Activated 2B/SS-B Ray Olmedo from the 60-day DL and optioned him to Louisville; transferred RHP Paul Wilson from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/17]
Placed INF-B Luis Lopez on the 15-day DL (torn hamstring); recalled 2B/SS-R William Bergolla from Louisville. [6/20]
Losing Wilson for the year really sort of clinches ignominy for a season that now might, at best, get to boast a dignity-saving desperate escape that could only be likened to Captain Bligh's spectacular survival after gaining enduring infamy for losing his ship. Under these sorts of circumstances, losing Lopez for the season is sort of the ultimate irrelevant problem for this team; it's like noticing that the laundry needs doing in the middle of a four-alarm house fire.
Returned Rule-5 LHP Matt Merricks to the Dodgers. [6/18]
Outrighted LHP Matt Perisho to Albuquerque. [6/15]
Recalled RHP Randy Messenger from Albuquerque; optioned LHP Chad Bentz to Albuquerque. [6/22]
So much for mentoring. I mean, the Fish brought in the original Blister Kid, a man who's lost millions to the perception that he isn't tough because of weak finger flesh, and what does he do for the similarly afflicted Beckett? Well, show him that he never did get over it, I guess, because Beckett still has the same problem. He may heal quickly enough to only miss a couple of turns, the first of which will go to the original TBD roster golem, Travis Smith.
I'm not one to get turgid in my claims that a lost closer will ruin an entire season. As has been demonstrated before, most teams do pretty well winning games they lead in going into the ninth. In the context of the regular season's long haul, a closer as good as Gagne basically just overkills opportunities that people as varied as Joe Borowski or Brandon Lyon can handle well enough. But in the case of the Dodgers, I worry, not because I think the Dodgers won't still do fine with most of their ninth-inning leads, but because of how thinly stretched they seem to be in terms of pitching talent already. It isn't who gets the saves, although fantasy-minded bookkeepers will care. The problem becomes more one of who's good enough to use to protect any lead in any inning; if you're holding back Yhency Brazoban or Duaner Sanchez to log that all-important save, who's pitching the sixth, seventh or eighth innings for a staff where the rotation is already injury-depleted? Giovanni Carrara and… and… Scott Erickson? Kelly Wunsch is good for one situational out. But you see the problem: it isn't about logging footnotes of a team's success, like a save statistic, it's having people who can pitch. At this stage, the Dodgers need as much of those guys as they can get, which is why Dessens' return is good news. He's gone straight into the rotation for the moment, which is fine, it means it's that much less likely that Erickson will be allowed to spot the opposition a few crooked-number frames. But it's a staff that needs Odalis Perez back more than it needs Gagne, if only to give them somebody to take leads into the seventh, push a pitcher like Dessens back into the pen, and keep the workload on that pen to a survivable minimum.
Signed C-R Benito Santiago to a minor league contract. [6/16]
Released RHP Mike DeJean; placed 2B-B Kazuo Matsui on the 15-day DL (bruised knee), retroactive to 6/17; purchased the contract of OF-R Gerald Williams from Norfolk; activated LHP Dae-Sung Koo from the 15-day DL. [6/20]
Acquired RHP Kevin Hodge from the Astros to complete their trade of 4/21. [6/18]
Placed C-R Ramon Hernandez on the 15-day DL (sprained wrist), retroactive to 6/18; placed RHP Adam Eaton on the 15-day DL (strained finger), retroactive to 6/16; recalled OF-L Paul McAnulty from Mobile (Double-A); activated RHP Tim Redding from the 15-day DL. [6/22]
Is it just me, or has this been a particularly rough year for catchers? Maybe it's just the A's fan in me, wondering if Jason Kendall spent all year hitting with a broken bat, but with Pudge Rodriguez hurting, Javy Lopez and Dan Wilson out, and Ramon Hernandez down, it seems like an unusually tough season on backstops. Ben Molina's missed time, Victor Martinez has been as cold as Kendall, and this is all without bringing up the backup catchers, who've been pretty hard-hit as well.
So with Hernandez broken down for the time being, what did the Pads do? Something really cool: they asked Robert Fick to strap the tools of ignorance back on, giving an otherwise shame-faced pinch-hitter a chance at regaining an actual career for himself. Fick did catch five innings for the Devil Rays last season, but beyond that, he hasn't caught regularly since 2001, that age-27 season that people felt meant that he'd arrived. Fick won't get back to those days, but for a few weeks, it's worth seeing if he can give you what you know you won't get from Miguel Ojeda. A tip of the cap to Kevin Towers, Bruce Bochy and the rest of the Pad people for taking a chance, and potentially winding up with a stronger roster for it.
As for Eaton's absence, it sounds as if he might only miss the two weeks he's already missed a good chunk of, so that he'll be back in the first few days of July. Darrell May did a good job finishing up Eaton's injury-ruined start, and then taking Eaton's turn the first time out. Because there aren't any off days for the rest of the month, May will get two more turns, against the Mariners and Dodgers, neither of whom look like the sort of opponents you'd want to instead spot Redding against. It shouldn't be the sort of thing that will cost them their hold on first place.
It doesn't seem fair that, on top of all of his other woes, Hawkins would now break down. I guess this pretty much guarantees he'll be picking up his player option and remaining a Giant for 2006, since who's going to deal for him now? At least it gives a retreaded sidearmer like Puffer another shot, since you can never have too many sidearmers in my book. Puffer's even been moderately effective in Fresno, allowing a hit per inning pitched, and posting a 25-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 1/3 IP. This might be the situation that Puffer needs to get his career back to where it was in 2002, when he was a find dug up by the Astros out of the indy leagues. Even if it's just as a situational righty, the Giants are so jumbled-up that Tyler Walker is being treated like a made guy. It's that sort of fluid set-up that allows journeymen just enough leverage to turn opportunity into another year or two of service time.
Activated 3B-R Scott Rolen from the 15-day DL optioned OF-L Skip Schumaker to Memphis. [6/18]
The horror! The Cardinals have actually slipped all the way down to seventh in the National League in Equivalent Average. With their offense falling so far from expectations, it's been up to a rotation in which nobody sucks, and a bullpen that has seen Al Reyes and Brad Thompson make people forget that Kiko Calero ever existed. But where the hitting woes are concerned, Larry Walker has shown his age, there's been way too much of John Mabry or So Taguchi in the lineup, and the catchers are, predictably, not hitting. All that on top of losing one of the game's best players, and surprise, you're suddenly not so much the juggernaut you wished you were. We can all simply hope that Rolen's not losing his pull shoulder for any length of time, at least if you want the Cards to keep the Central boring.