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July 27, 2005
Lopez couldn't come back a moment too soon, because while some have focused on the failures of a "name" slugger like Sammy Sosa to provide much value, or Larry Bigbie's career seeming to be set at "stalled," the real reason the Orioles got into the position of contending this season was their offense, and remains their offense. Not that Sal Fasano disappointed anyone; far from it. But nobody expects Fasano to slug .480 all season, whereas with Lopez, that wouldn't be unreasonable. Add in that Lopez's return also helps against lefty pitchers, since Lopez can always flip over to DH so that a bat as weak as Bigbie's might hit the bench, with Fasano slipping into the lineup to add some extra righty oomph. Considering the slimming trends in the Orioles' opportunities, they're going to need every advantage they can get, however small.
Ideally, Whiteside is going to Ottawa with a less outspoken appreciation of the virtues of the home of Canada's Tulip Festival than David Newhan. Some people just never stop to smell the flowers, I guess.
Optioned 3B-R Kevin Youkilis to Pawtucket. [7/20]
This is just the follow-on transaction that completes last week's decision to acquire Tony Graffanino from the Royals. As used to waiting on something as the Greek God of Walks is certain to be, waiting on his big-league opportunities has to be a bit draining, even for him.
You like "Turn Back the Clock" promotions, with the old uniforms or going without electronic sound, and perhaps even cancelling fish tacos at the concession stands? No, rather than leave that experience to their fans, the White Sox are the team willing to take the concept all the way, blending "Go Go Go White Sox" sensibilities on the diamond with dusty legends about the No-Hit Wonders to give us a low-wattage winner that simply keeps winning. And why not? Considering that the lineup is reduced to scoring as many runs as can be produced by Scott Podsednik's scampering, as far as Tadahito Iguchi's line drives will take him, there does seem to be more than a few echoes of a franchise whose past is stocked with similar heroes, guys like George Davis or Eddie Collins or Nellie Fox.
But I guess it's the '50s that seemed to come to mind more than anything else while I was at Sunday's Sox game. Sitting in the upper deck of the ballpark formerly named for Cheapskate Charlie Comiskey, I couldn't help but get a laugh over the almost Stalinist scenery of the seventh inning, as the theme song of the '59 Sox was blared repeatedly as part of the stadium staff's inspired effort to make everyone bellow approval as the bullpen shut down a Red Sox rally. Thousands happily assented, and if the only thing that was missing was Ozzie Guillen shaking his fist at the masses and promising them that those less nimble teams would choke on their own patience and power and rue the day that they ever crossed the proletarian achievements of basepath mayhem. Perhaps we'll get that come the day that he abandons the dugout and stations himself in that mammoth new "Fundamentals" pavilion in the upper deck overlooking the left-field corner. From there, Ozzie's spluttering sermons would thunder over an adoring audience, punctuated by the aforementioned folk music..."We Will, We Will... Rock You!"...and parades of high-stepping cleated heroes.
Besides, however many runs come in on Paul Konerko's clouts, no doubt home runs are as fascist as Crash Davis felt strikeouts to be, and the people's heroes need to possess simpler virtues. In these heady times, the Big Hurt, always unloved, and of course a class traitor for having once hired non-union labor, will no doubt not be missed as much as blamed in his absence. In his absence, Carl Everett will step in, do his wacky shtick, and perhaps even hit enough to be worthwhile.
Transferred RHP Troy Percival from the 15- to the 60-day DL; designated LHP Doug Creek for assignment; placed INF-R Placido Polanco on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 7/12; acquired 2B/SS-R John McDonald from the Blue Jays for a PTBNL; recalled CF-L Curtis Granderson from Toledo. [7/22]
Recalled RHP Justin Verlander from Erie (Double-A); optioned 2B/SS-R Kevin Hooper to Toledo; optioned Verlander back to Erie; designated Hooper for assignment; purchased the contract of LHP Vic Darensbourg from Toledo. [7/23]
Even though they're only bouncing around .500, the Tiggers are still just five games out of the wild-card race, and given the horrors of most of the last dozen years or so, it's going to behoove Dave Dombrowski to take the next six weeks seriously, so that nobody feels that the organization started phoning it in and looking towards 2006 before its time. Thus the move to get McDonald in Polanco's absence (with Omar Infante getting yet another opportunity to redeem himself), and hence the decision to stop settling for Nook Logan, and plug in Granderson.
What, turning to prospects as a means towards contention? Center field has been a problem position for Detroit since Chet Lemon finally crumbled away, and Logan was a patch in the organization's finest Cuylerian solutions. Granderson, by comparison, is the real deal, and the best player for the position that the organization has come up with on its own since signing Ron LeFlore in 1973. During his season at Toledo, Granderson did nothing to take the shine off of his prospect status, hitting .295/.356/.517, and seems to have silenced the reservations that he might be the best guy to cover the gaps in Comerica. There's the larger concern that Granderson might not be all that special when his most-comparable players include names like Gary Thomasson, but skip down the list a bit, and you find guys like Ray Lankford and Bobby Abreu who still score highly as PECOTA-comparable players. At least initially, Logan will still get platoon playing time, starting against lefties and no doubt helping out as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner now and again.
Similarly, I'm not bent out of shape by the decision to bring up and demote Verlander to cover for the weekend double-header. Spotted against a struggling Twins offense, he did get belted around, but they're treating these gigs as tasters, not trials, so that he simply gets an idea of the competition, not an expectation that he's going to stick until he's ready. Politically, it even helps keep fans interested, since Verlander's one of the most promising arms in any farm system anywhere. It can't hurt to make it obvious to more casual fans that he won't get peddled for Doyle Alexander (as John Smoltz was), or dumped because the manager can't figure out what to do with him (as Rule 5 pick John Wetteland was), or worked into the ground a la Mark Fidrych. In the end, the Tigers should have a non-Bonderman reason to be really excited about next year's rotation.
Recalled 2B-R Donnie Murphy from Wichita (Double-A); optioned OF-R Shane Costa to Wichita (Double-A). [7/20]
As we anticipated last winter, the battle royale for the job at second base is on. Murphy earned his promotion by having hit .313/.359/.523, but Ruben Gotay certainly helped by struggling as much as he has this summer. Although we compared the coming combat between the two for the position to the one the Cardinals didn't resolve between Geronimo Pena and Luis Alicea for years, I see this as something less than that particular clash of the titans. Call it a hunch: when you have two second basemen with adequate power, less patience than you'd like, nothing you'd call speed that might make a manager notice him, and solid defensive skills. Neither one will put you over the top, and given the organization's decisive commitment to indecisiveness, it might be years before a winner emerges, but where both Pena and Alicea could play, there's just something about a couple of guys who can both boast Slammin' Sammy Khalifa among their top comparables that makes you think they both might not make it as regulars. Murphy's already been getting tried out at third and short, so the the possibilities of a career like Shane Halter's or Bill Pecota's beckons. At 22, both Gotay and Murphy are young enough to inspire optimism, of course. And so was Slammin' Sammy, once upon a time. If the organization picked the one they thought would learn and adapt better than the other, and stuck with him, I'd be more optimistic, but what are the odds of that happening?
Instead, some moves are symptoms of a persistent, perhaps incurable mental illness, even when they're meant to reflect the team's recognition that all's not well. There's just something ill about a team that stuffed a guy like Wood in middle relief all season while letting Jose Lima keep goofing around to post all of four quality starts in twenty. Maybe it's something about an overly permissive society flourishing in Kansas City, but while those sorts of struggles are acceptable for a guy like Zack Greinke, who should be part of the next eighty-win Royals ballclub, it's inexcusably bad for the staff's designated freak show. There's still every reason to expect that Wood's assignment to the minors to get him stretched for a return to the big league rotation will work out, and give the Royals the adequate third or fourth starter that they could have expected all along; the shame is that it took so long for them to realize it.
These were the contortions to get through a double-header, as Baker came up to make the spot start, did well, and went back down. It remains somewhat reassuring that if the Twins ever do tire of Joe Mays or find a way to smuggle him into any deal that helps them shore up their offense, Baker's ready to step into the rotation, but as ever, the concern is that Terry Ryan won't make the move, or won't make a move that actually helps his team as much as it gives the appearance of helping, like the Shannon Stewart trade in '03. As for Tiffee's call-up, I wouldn't get excited. He hasn't hit all that well in Rochester (.266/.313/.454), so I wouldn't get my hopes up that Michael Cuddyer or Luis Rodriguez might move over to second, not while there's the glamor of watching Bret Boone's death rattle.
It's about time. Look, the Yankees may or may not catch Boston, but whether they do or don't should not be left to the likes of pitchers named Wayne. Franklin, Garland, Gomes, none of them should be allowed to get in the way of the Yankees' banzai charge into an increasingly gray destiny. Graman's been ready to pitch in the majors for more than a year, striking out 220 hitters in 222 IP as a Columbus Clipper between '04 and '05, working almost entirely as a starting pitcher. In a bullpen whose only other lefty is Buddy Groom, you would think that the organization would have long since gotten over its manager's inability to remember who makes up the back end of the roster. Graman's real problem is that as a lefty who relies on a splitter, he isn't really the sort of guy you might typecast in a situational role, but that seems to be all the Yankees can think of to do with him. If they can move beyond that, they'll have a handy pitcher, but if they don't, he won't be the first discard likely to turn up and make them regret giving up on him.
As noted below in the Rangers' comment, the Rays' pen has been the league's worst, and while Carter obviously isn't the only guy around to bother blaming, he's not a situational reliever with the difficulties of his specialization to blame the way Trever Miller might, and somebody needs to rue the day they let Chuck LaMar down, right? People might focus on Carter's former All-Star status, but like Danny Kolb, in some things there's just no accounting for taste. However, it's beginning to look like Lou Piniella might wind up with a good pen after all. Chad Orvella is filling a key role, Joe Borowski has been outstanding since coming off of waivers from the Cubs, and it's worth remembering that Colome had an outstanding partial season with the D-Rays last year. For as long as we've been hearing about Colome, he's still only 27, and he still cooks with gas. He should still be somebody that a good GM would flip for a prospect, although with the concerns for Colome's shoulder, it might have to wait for a waiver deal in August, after he demonstrates that he's healthy.
As for fixing the catching situation, at least the Rays seem to have gotten over their embarassment for ever having traded for Cash, let along giving up a prospect like Chad Gaudin to get him. Having hit .268/.321/.574 at Durham, you may think that LaForest has finally arrived, but keep in mind that he's already 27, and only a little more than two years younger than Toby Hall. However, having popped 21 homeruns in 272 at-bats is pretty sweet, and he does hit lefty. Hall doesn't boast a consistent platoon tendency, so he might be more of the job-sharing type of backup should the Rays decide to plug LaForest into the lineup for grins.
Give credit where credit's due, at least the Rangers aren't sitting still, hoping to patch up their pitching staff and their rotation while keeping their postseason hopes alive. But let's face it, when guys like Gryboski and Baldwin represent improvement, you've got one of the worst pens in the league, which happens to be the case with the Rangers. Ranking AL bullpens by Adjuste d Runs Prevented (ARP), the Rangers have bragging rights over only the Red Sox and the Devil Rays. Where the Red Sox are hunting bigger game to fix their pen problems, the Rangers are more in hunter-gatherer mode, picking up whatever dessicated berries they can to keep themselves going, hoping that guys like Doug Brocail or John Wasdin or now Baldwin and Gryboski can help them make it the next waterhole. Don't get your hopes up; Gryboski's career-long control problems are reason enough to not expect a lot of relief from him, and while Baldwin comes over boasting a sub-two ERA, he was being used almost exclusively in mop-up situations. There's talk that Baldwin could be plugged into the rotation to help paper over Kenny Rogers's coming suspension, and while Baldwin's not the worst guy to give a fifth starter's slot, if you're being charitable, that basically describes most of the rest of the rotation.
At least the decision to turn to Gonzalez can inspire some sort of hope, because at least he's an upgrade on a roster cluttered with bats whose contributions have been as worthless as most of the pen's have been. Gonzalez's knee is healed, and he'd gotten his numbers at Oklahoma up to .316/.379/.502. His call-up heralds further change, since it looks like he'll be splitting time between DH and first while David Dellucci starts nicking starts in the outfield corners from the less deserving Richard Hidalgo.
Traded 2B/SS-R John McDonald to the Tigers for a PTBNL. [7/22]
Recalled RHP David Bush from Syracuse. [7/23]
This is a pretty sensible reshuffling for the Jays, as they put Bush back in the rotation, keep Chad Gaudin around to gain further big league experience pitching in the pen, and getting rid of a spare veteran infielder they really didn't need now that we're almost in August, and it's clear that Russ Adams is fine at shortstop. Not only are they more than adequately covered in the infield courtesy of the positional flexibility of Aaron Hill and Frank Menechino, they also have Shea Hillenbrand ready to slip over to third base as needed. It also isn't like the Jays need to worry too much about their place in the wild card race; staying close while Roy Halladay is on the DL would be pennies from heaven, and if they do it while relying on guys like Bush, Hill, and Adams in regular roles, it'll be something of a bragging right for the entire organization.
The more relevant near-term issue is who might get the boot when Corey Koskie comes off of the DL sometime this week. Gaudin seems like a good bet, since the Jays are currently carrying thirteen pitchers. Scott Downs has made two good appearances in middle relief, so he should be relatively safe. More likely targets? Although Gaudin has struggled, Brandon League is spending more time watching baseball since his recall than throwing them, having only appeared in one game in the two weeks since his recall earlier this month. If only to get him back in the swing of things, he's probably the one due to get shipped out.
Outrighted LHP Armando Almanza to Tucson. [7/22]
It speaks volumes about the state of the NL West that the Snakes are still able to entertain the idea that they've got a shot, but the Padres keep making it look like 82 wins is all that it might take to crown a division winner this year. Not that Worrell is that likely to help fix one of the league's worst pens, but at least he might, whereas there was basically no way that Kata would play a significant role on this or any D'back squad. Although Joe Garagiola Jr. has stated that Worrell won't take over as closer, the "variety of roles" he's supposed to be used in don't leave a lot to the imagination, especially when the Adventures of Brian Bruney seem to involve a few too many cliffhangers that end without the scripted happy ending, but instead close on images of snake-shaped craters a la Wil E. Coyote.
Even with Worrell, the pen still isn't fully stocked, not even with Jose Valverde rounding into form and Brandon Medders going well since his recall. Lance Cormier is showing signs of wear after allowing nine runs and nine walks in the 9 2/3 innings he's thrown in July, and the organization's blind faith in Greg Aquino has not been rewarded. But again, when your gold standard is 82, heroes can come in strange shapes and sizes, or through throwaway trades such as this. If Worrell gets his shot to be for the Snakes what Roger Mason was for the '93 Phillies, I guess that's something you might feel good about.
Recalled LHP Macay McBride from Richmond; acquired RHP Matt Lorenzo from the Rangers for RHP Kevin Gryboski. [7/21]
This isn't a bad little exchange for the Braves. Gryboski was pretty useless in a pen already stuck with Danny Kolb, so besides the value of swapping in McBride as a second lefty for the pen, there's also the possibility that moving over from the Rangers' organization to the Braves might be what Lorenzo needs to get his prospectdom back on track. Flipping between Georgia Tech and Kent State before getting drafted by the Rangers in '03, Lorenzo flashed mid-'90s heat and occasionally effective breaking stuff. He's shown some measure of talent, striking out 144 hitters in 123 innings between the Midwest and Cal Leagues last year while walking just 33, but has been struggling this year since his promotion to Double-A from Bakersfield. Moving over to an organization that does seem to know how to coach its young pitchers certainly shouldn't hurt.
As for McBride, he hasn't been particularly effective down on the farm this year: in 65 2/3 innings at Double- and Triple-A, he's giving up almost five runs per nine and a hit per inning, although he has struck out 58 batters. Perhaps the Braves are focused more on his skills, since he's a lefty who can get into the low 90s, and as a former starter, he can probably handle long relief while allowing John Foster to remain in a purely situational role. With or without Gryboski, the pen wasn't looking all that strong. Barring a trade, the Braves will have to hope that Blaine Boyer can be the guy who can get games to Chris Reitsma, which is another way of saying that you can count on their making some sort of move in the next six weeks.
Placed RHP Kerry Wood on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation); recalled LHP Rich Hill from Iowa. [7/25]
When an emergency drill goes from being an emergency to the everyday experience, I suppose you can get used to anything. Like having a great rotation, except not quite. If you add up the Support-Neutral Value Above Replacement of the teams in the league, the Cubs rank around the middle of the pack, which actually isn't so bad when you think about the time that Wood and Mark Prior have missed. However, injuries have also trouble the Braves, and by that performance metric, they've gotten the best work out of their starting pitching of any team in the NL. The Mets and Marlins have had their share of problems with durability in the rotation as well, and they also rank ahead of the Cubs' famous foursome (and supporting cast). Add in that the Cubs are an organization that's loaded with pitching talent, and I'd argue that it isn't the injuries that are choking the life out of their ambitions, it's the flakiness when it comes to relying on that talent and the usual wishy/washy commitments. Players like Neifi Perez seem blameless, while it took forever to reshuffle the responsibilities of Glendon Rusch and Ryan Dempster.
There are almost enough bits of good news here for a person to forget the first four months of the season, and think happy thoughts about the future. By moving Randa off of third, room has been made for Encarnacion to take over the position he's ready to own for the next five or six years, having plastered the International League to the tune of .309/.384/.546 in a half-season's worth of playing time. Add in getting Freel back to man second base and bat leadoff, and you might finally plant Rich Aurilia on the bench and get the Reds back to boasting a major league-quality infield, with Sean Casey being the weakest link. That's still fixable if the Reds did something clever, like moving Casey and plugging Adam Dunn in at first base so that Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, and Ken Griffey Jr. could all play simultaneously, but I think we all know they're thinking in terms of moving Dunn or Griffey, and not Casey. So the Reds' news isn't entirely rosy, such as it goes.
Renting Randa for a single season also brought the organization two young pitchers already on the cusp of making it. Germano is a bit of a stringbean, but he can get his heat over 90, and he owns a nice big-bending curve that elicits a generous comparison to Mike Krukow now and again. At Portland, Germano has posted a 3.70 ERA, giving up a hit per inning pitched in the PCL over 112 frames, and logging Defense-Independent data of 100-32-13 (strikeouts, walks, and home runs) across that workload. He's a few weeks removed from his 23rd birthday, so the chance is there for him to pick up some velocity as he ages and perhaps fills out, but even if he doesn't, he's a better body to have around than waiting on the next Jimmy Haynes to stumble into town. Chick is a bit more rough around the edges, having gotten knocked around as a 21 year-old in his introductory season at Double-A, but he's been pushed up rather aggressively for a high-school pitcher picked by the Marlins in '02. He's a bigger-framed hurler than Germano is, and gets into the mid-90s regularly, while hammering hitters with a particularly nasty slider. Again, the Southern League hasn't been kind to him, and he's struggled to a 5.45 ERA while allowing a 96-43-12 SO/BB/HR split across 102 1/3 IP. However, allowing for this being his first full season in a rotation as well as his first year in Double-A, I wouldn't get down on him. It may turn out that Germano is the throw-in in this deal.
Claimed INF-B Anderson Machado off of waivers from the Reds. [7/20]
Optioned INF-B Eddy Garabito to Colorado Springs; purchased the contract of LHP Randy Williams from Colorado Springs; placed RHP Jason Jennings on the 15-day DL (fractured finger); transferred RHP Blaine Neal from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/23]
It is in the nature of some things to inspire despair. Whenever I think of what to say about the Rockies, I almost end up sympathizing with Dan O'Dowd, whose sense of hopelessness came through loud and clear during his participation in the panel asking about the difficulties of playing baseball at altitude during SABR's annual convention in Denver in 2003. Having pondered everything, researched anything and even attempted some things, O'Dowd seemed to be a man fatalistically resigned to the handicaps of his environment. (For those who don't belong, check out SABR's site. Although I won't be at this year's convention, I can't say enough good things about the amount of fun I generally have at the annual meeting, and encourage anyone who wants to write about or simply research the game to take advantage of SABR's burgeoning list of benefits.)
So it isn't too dissimilar for me to approach saying something about the Rox on a day-to-day or weekly basis with no small amount of trepidation. It's rare when any move is about progress; most are more about the bookkeeping of disappointment. In part, that's a reflection on the modest virtues of too many Rockie farmhands, the absurd enthusiasm for some players with so little to offer, and the lurches from an over-active desire to do something and fix something alternating with the realization that there is no fixing something this broken.
Nevertheless, there's no reason to give up. Snagging Machado off of waivers lets the Rockies finally bring the exercise of putting Desi Relaford in the lineup to an end, and if Machado ends up being both a better source of OBP and a more adequate shortstop in Clint Barmes's absence, that's not all bad. Once Barmes does return, either he or Machado might move across the bag and push Luis Gonzalez into more of a supersub role and Aaron Miles out of the lineup altogether. However, it's probably more likely that Machado will wind up as another utility infielder drifting in and out of what looks like the perpetually supperating situation at second base, as the Rockies fail to fix another ongoing problem.
Less happy still is losing Jennings for the season, since it means that instead of replacing roster filler like Jamey Wright, the Rockies will have to continue to rely on him while sorting through their options. One choice will be to hope that Day gets his stamina up down in Colorado Springs. That done, Day could then step into the rotation, and wind up getting pounded into jam the way you'd expect any starting pitcher who doesn't strike a lot of people out to have done to him on Planet Coors. There is also the probability that Aaron Cook will complete his comeback from his circulatory problems, and return to the major leagues in the next week or so, and he's a better source of inspiration than Day. Finally, Reds refugee Jose Acevedo might be able to make more of his opportunity, and stick in the rotation after Day's ready, in which case Wright might finally see his ninth life expended. But given Wright's staying power, I wouldn't bet against his still starting games in Colorado into September. And why not? LoDo may not be Chinatown, and Dan O'Dowd might not be Jake Geddes, but the refrain that "It's Denver" is used to cover every sort of quirk of fate.
Notionally, this means that there's a full plate of the original Fish in the rotation, with no more Gorton's-style solutions, but when you talk fish fingers and Josh Beckett, there's more than one reason to cringe, and it isn't because of the tartar sauce. Add in that Valdez is a similarly affected tender-fleshed hurler, and one who's three years removed from his last really useful season, and I can't help but think that we're not far removed from seeing Jeffrey Loria dig back into the freezer and serve up Travis Smith to the paying customers one more time.
In the meantime, it seems strange that Olsen has lost out to Vargas for the last slot in the rotation, but with Valdez back as well, the Marlins have all sorts of choices, and only one slot to offer for as long as Beckett is healthy or A.J. Burnett is in teal. Should Valdez show that he's healthy, I suppose that there's always the possibility that he gets dealt in a low-stakes deal to a team that desperately needs a starter (Texas? the Yankees?), while the various Burnett deals fizzle out because of the expectation of how much he's supposed to bring in return.
As Joe Sheehan has noted, Bradley's the player this team cannot replace, so getting him back makes a significant difference. Now the Dodgers can go back to relying on their extra outfielders as spare parts to cover only two outfield slots, instead of all three. That should mean a lot of Jayson Werth and Ricky Ledee in the corners, with increasingly smaller doses of Jason Repko and Mike Edwards. It's an assortment that can better handle the corners, providing limited offense and decent enough defense, instead of trying to have any of them cover center, where they weren't doing the pitching staff many favors.
The question now isn't whether Bradley will set it off, but whether he'll be da bomb, or simply drop one. He managed to get tossed from one of his rehab games, but that goes with the territory of being Milton Bradley, and if you've ever talked to many umpires, it isn't unusual to find out that they look forward to going after the hard cases in a game as much as those with problems with authority enjoy a bit of confrontation with the boys in blue. So everyone gets what they wanted, with bragging rights and cred and vented anger and all the rest. The real question is whether Bradley can get it in gear enough to help drive a Dodgers comeback from the 18-27 stretch they were mired in over June and July before his reactivation.
Purchased the contract of RHP Clay Condrey from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; optioned UT-R Danny Sandoval to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; acquired INF-B Matt Kata from the Diamondbacks for RHP Tim Worrell; transferred LHP Randy Wolf from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/21]
Not that I disagree with the decision to ship out Worrell once Geary was basically ready to come back off of the DL, but is there any reason to believe that Kata has any more to offer than Sandoval? I guess the Phillies want a veteran infield reserve in the interim, because they do still have an opportunity to win either their divison of the wildcard, but Kata's just a supernumerary on a bench that already has two veteran infield reserves, and he's not really a guy who can play short. At 27, he certainly isn't a prospect, but if he and Tomas Perez give the Phillies a pair of switch-hitting backups who do a lot of pinch-hitting, while Ramon Martinez is reserved for use as Chase Utley's platoon partner, that would make sense.
Recalled 1B-R Brad Eldred from Indianapolis; optioned 2B/3B-B Bobby Hill to Indianapolis. [7/21]
To expand on what Steven Goldman said Monday, I'm not overly troubled by the suggestion that first base is a position where the Pirates have had their problems. If you build a lineup around players who are better than their peers around the league at other positions, you can get by with solidly useful first base solutions that don't bruise your wallet. You don't fall in love with Sid Bream or Orlando Merced, you get by with them as fixer-upper first basemen, finding them appropriate platoon partners where applicable, and outscoring your opponents because you've instead invested in having guys like Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Andy Van Slyke around, and also leaning on the other guy because you've got a nice Spanky & Sluggo platoon behind the plate while he's trying to get by with Damon Berryhill or Brad Ausmus. If money's tight, the last thing you want to do at first base is... well, over-invest in Kevin Young, or sign Jason Thompson to oodles of cash. Not only does this potentially leave the team susceptible to catching a nasty summer case of the olds, it potentially blocks cheap homegrown talent on the way up, as you stick with the "money" player over the kid. (For greater detail, go over to the other end of Pennsylvania, and see what's going on with the Phillies and Jim Thome.)
Happily, the Pirates don't have that exact problem when it comes to sorting out what to do when you have a Bunyanesque first baseman on the way up, as they have in Eldred. I was enthusiastic about him when I wrote about Eldred in last year's edition of the annual. In part, he's up because Daryle Ward is never going to be a fixture, but Eldred is also up for having continued to bop, slugging .674 between Altoona and Indianapolis. He's belted 28 homeruns this season despite missing three weeks with bruised ribs. Now after all that, the pressure's on, and expectations have perhaps gotten too quickly ramped up. The real dilemma for me is that I can't help but think of the similarly mammoth Joey Meyer when I think about Eldred, which leads to a comparison of the Brewers' equally troubling franchise history at first base. Even if he's always going to have a long stroke, make no mistake, he's not the new Meyer, or the next anyone else for that matter; a quick glance at his most comparable players leads off with Albert Belle, and the score's low enough that it indicates that he isn't really very comparable. For statheads, I'd like to think that Eldred's one of the most interesting players around, because of that very unpredictability, so chalk this up as another reason to watch the Pirates down the stretch. They may not quite be a good team, but it isn't like they're boring or bad.
I can't help but feel some measure of pity for Hill in the meantime. Spurned by Dusty Baker as a Cubby, he seems to have reached that same place that dooms and damns so many other up-and-coming second basemen, where he possesses no single skill that makes him someone that his manager latches onto. So like Chad Meyers or Keith Miller, Hill is a guy without a position who might make a hell of a leadoff hitter in the PCL, and who gets to be exactly that because of his failure to pass any particular Goldilocks test: not enough defense, not enough power, too short, too slow, too scrappy, too agented, too ineffably whatever that just never makes him the it-boy at the keystone. If he's lucky, he can grow up to be Jerry Hairston, turning into a useful utility second base-outfield guy, but Hairston's that rare survivor who actually stuck.
Purchased the contract of LHP Craig Breslow from Mobile (Double-A); optioned 3B-L Sean Burroughs to Portland; designated RHP Luis Mendoza for assignment; acquired 3B-R Joe Randa from the Reds for RHPs Travis Chick and Justin Germano. [7/23]
Optioned LHP Craig Breslow to Mobile (Double-A). [7/24]
"Hi, my name is Joe Randa, and I'm here to speak on behalf of an organization that many of you are familar with, Adequacy Anonymous. If you've always been good enough to get by, and handy in a pinch because the dog doesn't have opposable thumbs, you don't need to get down about that. You may want to look into our long list of motivational tapes about being the right guy in the right place at the right time. Later on, we'll have a chance to sit down with Pauly Shore. So if you're average, don't get down about it. Or up. We're here to help you learn to be happy with just enough."
Can we blame the Pads for making this move? I wouldn't, not when A.A. won't even pledge Burroughs, not when adequacy is still something for him to attain. Despite the high price paid in pitching talent to get two months of Joe Randa's time (he's a free agent this winter), the lineup needed the help, and if Randa's power will fade considerably moving from the GAP to Petco, he still won't be what Burroughs had become, "a sphinx without a riddle," perplexing and pointless. At the least, Randa's no Geoff Blum, and now that Mark Loretta is back and playing second on a daily basis, the Pads' lineup lacks a weak spot. It's worth asking if it has many strong spots, because beyond Brian Giles, the entire lineup is really an amalgamation of adequacy. That's not a bad thing; barring how you decide to use a term like 'contenders' to describe a team, the Pads field a more productive lineup than anyone in the playoff picture outside of the Marlins and the Cubs, and there's something to be said for having no real weaknesses beyond only one notable source of strength. It would have been nice to acquire a more potent hitter than Randa, but third base was the Pads' problem spot, there aren't a lot of top hitters at the position lately, and the only other third baseman who might have been available beyond Randa is probably Shea Hillenbrand, and the Blue Jays seem inclined to hold onto him. I suppose they could have done something like dealing for Mark Bellhorn, and moving him to third, but if that didn't work, everyone would have been complaining that all Kevin Towers did at the deadline was go out and get a Mark Bellhorn, and how did he expect to win when he settled for that? Randa's been talked up to the point that people in the press and the stands feel he was one of July's prizes, so the move reflects well on Towers for having made it, even with the cost of giving up Germano and Chick.
Which leaves the more troubling question: can Burroughs be rehabilitated back into some form of prospectdom? He'll turn 25 in September, and I don't know if it's a matter of going to a friendlier ballpark with cozier dimensions, or finding a hitting coach that will convince Burroughs to let it rip at the plate. Some feel that he's become too defensive at the plate. I don't know what Walt Hriniak is up to these days, but Burroughs' focus on contact might need tinkering with, so that he can do that and drive the ball, as opposed to settling for tappers to the right side of the infield and weak liners to left that don't drop. In the right situation, he might yet become a Rance Mulliniks type, a line-drive hitter and OBP source who plays a good third base and gives you enough doubles power to help an offense score runs. If the Pads let their disgust with him get the better of them, he's worth taking a flyer on, certainly.
Activated 3B-R Edgardo Alfonzo from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-L Adam Shabala to Fresno. [7/22]
If you don't look too closely, this almost looks like the Giants are putting themselves back together again. Of course, where the Giants are concerned, it's best to always avoid looking too closely. To help yourself out, switch from storing your contacts from saline to onion juice; you'll be amazed how impressionistic life can get with a few neat home remedies. But in this case, they've got Alfonzo back at third and Grissom back in center, and if that almost gives them a lineup that resembles what they wanted at season's start, that's what makes it really sting. At this point of the year, center really should just belong to Jason Ellison, with Grissom splitting time with Michael Tucker whenever Pedro Feliz isn't in an outfield corner. Although Feliz would be be more helpful at third because of his defensive value, Alfonzo's the better bat to have in the lineup over Grissom and Tucker, which makes Feliz an outfielder so that Alfonzo can man the one position he can still play. It's amazing to think that this team is within ten games of first place, but that has everything to do with the rest of the division rather than any peculiar brand of genius or good fortune.
So what can Rolen do that doesn't involve his surgically repaired shoulder? Most vacations are out of the question, as everything from poker to pinball might involve some use of his bad wing. Paying him to sit still might not be fun for him, but the regular season is not what's at stake here. The Cardinals will win the NL Central, however much they may play the hare to the five legless tortoises that call themselves their divisional rivals. That quintet can only croak their dismay over achieving little more than witnessing the Redbirds' bunny act. Meanwhile, I hope Seabol gets a chance to show something. Although his season at Memphis has been interrupted twice before already, he has managed to hit .266/.330/.507 in the third of a season he's been there. Hopefully, the odd fascination with Abraham Nunez will be dispelled by a realization that he's just a nice utility infielder, but at this point, I don't think even a Tom Lawless comeback would keep the Cards from printing playoff tickets.
Placed Cordero on unconditional release waivers. [7/25]
Claiming Kelly doesn't really help the Nats regain traction, but it does reflect an active realization by Jim Bowden that his team's best possible bench isn't the same in every situation. In particular, there are differing priorities in the wake of some of the injuries that have been endured. With Nick Johnson on the DL and Brad Wilkerson subsequently playing first every day, there isn't a need for a right-handed hitting caddy at first base. Instead, the Nats seemed to feel that what they really needed was a backup center fielder to caddy for Preston Wilson, thus reserving Ryan Church and Marlon Byrd for platoon duties in left. But you may have heard that Johnson's about to get some playing time on a rehab assignment, which might make you wonder why Bowden would risk rattling a few cages by releasing Cordero. But even if Johnson comes back by month's end, Kelly's simply more useful as a bench weapon than Cordero. Not only can he handle some defensive replacement and pinch-running chores, but if Johnson keeps having problems, Frank Robinson can always just return Wilkerson to the infield. And once Johnson returns, both Church and Byrd will be on the bench regardless, scrapping for spot starts in all three outfield positions and whatever pinch-hit chores they can get. At-bats for Cordero would be scarce, and Robinson would be without a guy who, if not a real prospect, is still a useful reserve.
Where I worry is that snagging Kelly is just another incident in a long line of the packrat pickups that have always been Bowden's signature. In an organization with as little depth as the Nats, that's less of a problem, because he has spots on his 40-man roster that he can play with. However, if this is how he keeps investing spots on the 40-man on players with low or no upside, he'll never move beyond having this sort of problem. It's what happened in Cincinnati, and if nothing was learned from that experience, it might be what happens here.