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July 29, 2005
Outrighted RHP Shingo Takatsu to Charlotte. [7/28]
I'm a little surprised that Takatsu made it through waivers, since it isn't like he's under contract for 2006 and there are several teams who need the help in the bullpen. Given that it seems that a lot of Takatsu's effectiveness depends on the novelty of his delivery, I would have thought a National League team would have been willing to take a chance, but apparently not.
I know that I've been given to making historical comparisons in this space of late, but I see Chacon as being a less durable Mike Torrez: a wee bit uncomfortably wild, but good enough to keep you in ballgames. So I definitely like the decision to pick him up, having a perhaps unhealthy regard for a guy who's been a relatively decent starter in Coors Field. His elbow problems haven't been an issue of late, and eternal optimist that I can be, maybe working with Billy Connors this winter will clean up his mechanics. Will his strikeout rates go up now that he's come down from the High Plains? I think they will, and add in that Chacon has been able to keep people's hit rates under one per inning pitching in Denver, and I'm downright enthusiastic. You could argue that Chacon has been like Tommy Byrne and just deliberately walking everyone he doesn't want to face in a particular situation, but that's giving perhaps too much credit to the Byrne stories Yankee old-timers love to tell, as well as to Chacon for doing something with more design that most non-Madduxes intend.
Now that he's in New York, with an offense that can drop the hammer on opposing moundsmen as well as the Yankees do, that can keep the Yankees thinking in terms of winning the division instead of wondering about the wild card. Add in that the cost was only a pair of live arms that, given this organization's predilections for the aged and infirm, weren't likely to get brought up, let alone used, and this was exactly what the doctor ordered. (No doubt at the end of another long description of Kevin Brown's latest problem, which I prefer to lump together into the newly discovered medical condition of precocious crotchetyitis. Or Methuselah's Syndrome, for you Bladerunner buffs.) Add in that it reduces the odds of Hideo Nomo being anything more than an insurance policy, and it's all good.
Now if only we could have a debate between Chacon and Mayor Bloomberg on the perils of smoking. At what point would they realize that they weren't talking about the same thing?
Optioned 2B/SS-R Jose Lopez to Tacoma; recalled SS/2B-R Yuniesky Betancourt from Tacoma. [7/28]
When you get out on the fringes of relevance, you find that things get a little exotic. Having dumped the prodigal-son subplot that Bret Boone represented to finally move on to presumably better things, the Mariners now have an infield where we've got the twice-suspended Mr. Morse (for reasons unspecified and, I believe, as yet unpublished/unpublishable), an exotic Cubano import in Mr. Betancourt, and the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Mr. Lopez, much-touted and still far short of being a full Jedi. Morse and Lopez have both earned complaints about their glovework as shortstops, although Lopez seems to have made a successful shift to second base. From this group, Bill Bavasi has to conjure up an infield, with the automatic loss being if you end up answering "Willie Bloomquist" at any position. I wouldn't envy him.
Perhaps focus will come with Betancourt's arrival, since he's managed to tear through the Mariners' farm system in less than a full season in the minors. Between Double- and Triple-A, he's hit a combined .283, slugged .424, apparently played brilliant defense, and run like Alex Sanchez (a dozen times caught stealing against 19 steals). The concern would come with drawing all of 15 walks in 410 at-bats, although with only 32 strikeouts in that same stretch, he's a bit like a latter-day Joe Sewell. He seems like the sort of live-wire infield fun the Mariners haven't had since "Leetle O" Omar Vizquel was young and the antidote to years of Spike Owen, but the subsequent speculation about potentially dealing Morse seems hasty.
However, there's the rub. Morse can clearly hit, but he may not be a shortstop, and at 6'4", he might have trouble getting out of his own way if he was asked to play second base. An immediate solution might involve moving Morse, but I just don't think that the Mariners should fall all over themselves to clear the decks for Betancourt, not until they're sure he's ready, and not until they can make a useful move where they get value for Morse. The eventual, subsequent solution would then be a Betancourt/Lopez keystone combo, but the fly in that ointment is that Lopez has been awful in his big-league trials. Some wonder if he's focused, although to be fair to him, injuries have held him up this season. I like to think that Betancourt and Lopez might give the Mariners one of the best middle infields in baseball, though, so we'll just have to wait and see if the organization and Lopez can shake off their mutual funk and get down.
It's a likeable enough package, although these do seem to be the rewards for a contemptuous familiarity that motivated the Rockies to get rid of Chacon. To be fair, Chacon had been a disciplinary problem earlier on in his career, but this deal should have everything to do with his flaky performance, although I'd argue that the Rockies have been equally flaky in their attempts to flip Chacon from starting to closing and back again. So having given up on Chacon, what has Dan O'Dowd brought back in return? "Two live arms" would be damning with faint praise, but that's the appropriate shorthand.
Ramirez is the Yankee system's latest Yhency Brazoban type of product, a converted outfielder who even made an early trip to Japan in the course of becoming a pitcher. Ramirez might not be a scout's pitcher because of his height (5'11"), and his all-power assortment has inspired speculation that he'll be moved to the pen, but he does get into the low 90s to help set up a nice curveball and forkball. (Considering his lack of a good change-up, Ramirez might be the antithesis of the ill-fated Great Change-up Experiment of 2001.) Splitting this season between Columbus and Trenton (as he did last year), he's allowed 111 hits n 116 innings, while striking out 108, walking 44 and allowing 13 home runs. Add in his giving up 4.7 runs per nine, and however much hope you might hold out for a 23-year-old, going to Colorado Springs and Denver doesn't bode well for his future as a starter.
Sierra is a more typical case of flipping, since he was picked up by the Yankees in the Chris Hammond trade before '04, and rather than be kept around as a franchise's homegrown golden child, he's being dealt again. A taller, more rangy guy than Ramirez, he's a Dominican reliever with a wild mid-90s fastball and control problems. Although he mixes in a splitter often enough to make him a potentially effective big-league reliever, in Double-A this year, the 23-year-old has walked 38 in 57 2/3 innings; his 30 hits allowed and 50 strikeouts are the happier stats that might make you hope that, with coaching, he might grow up to be nasty, filthy, wicked or "Britney Spears," whatever the hip adjective is for having good stuff that studio hipsters use to show how fresh they are.
The large question is whether more grist for the mill is really what the Rockies need. Two live arms are, I suppose, a market-appropriate price for a pitcher you don't like having around, and who on top of that is due for another big arbitration raise. It's probably too much to expect or to wish for something that might change the franchise's fortunes, but two more young, bloody sacrifices, fattened up for the charnel mound of Planet Coors?
I'm sure the Astros are as uncomfortable about this as I am. Not that Backe's been anything more than an adequate fourth or fifth starter type, but when the rotation has to rely upon both Astacio and Wandy Rodriguez to back up the creaky former Yankees and the perpetually nicked-up Roy Oswalt, I'd start worrying about my ability to recapture the wild-card "title." But I'm a worrier.
Happily, Rodriguez has looked pretty good in three of his four July starts, while Astacio shut down the Mets last night, giving hope that his minor-league performance is the true herald of what he might be able to do from here on out: a 3.02 ERA, 53 hits allowed in 65 2/3 innings, a 57/12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It would be pretty cool if the Astros could use both down the stretch, because if they keep pitching this well, they'd belong, and they'd have both broken into the major leagues making significant contributions to a contender. It can't get better than that if you're either of them. That would allow them to bump Backe into the pen upon his return, because the staff could use someone to bounce Chad Harville or Russ Springer off of the roster.
Acquired SS-R J.J. Furmaniak from the Padres for C-R David Ross. [7/28]
A tip o' the cap to Dave Littlefield. Setting aside for a moment that a name like Furmaniak sounds like the ID of someone that you do not want to receive an IM from, this is a nifty little move for the Pirates. Littlefield had already made the commitment to play both Humberto Cota and Ryan Doumit, so Ross was a supernumerary (although not the misguided luxury that Benito Santiago's short, unfortunate Pirates career represented).
Furmaniak can play second, short or third, he's 25, and he has almost two years of experience in Triple-A. He's slumped somewhat in his sophomore season at the level, falling from .292/.346/.487 to .266/.324/.437. Essentially, that boils down to just a drop in his batting average, since his walk rates and power are basically the same. As a possible utility infielder, he'll be going up against Freddy Sanchez in camp next year, although it's always possible that Sanchez might win the job at third. I'd rather have one of them win a platoon job sharing the hot corner with Rob Mackowiak next season, with the other fulfilling a utility infield role, but that's a minor concern, and it appears that Littlefield and Lloyd McClendon are flexible enough to create roles for all sorts of people. I'd just rather keep Mackowiak in the infield, and leave the outfield open for the Pirates farmhands up or on the way up, so that Chris Duffy, Nate McLouth and (eventually) Craig Wilson can roam the wide open spaces.
Acquired C-R David Ross from the Pirates for SS-R J.J. Furmaniak. [7/28]
Desperation deals can get expensive, but at least the Pads went out and got someone who can actually fill the bill and be a solid, card-carrying backup catcher, and nice enough temp to fill in for Ramon Hernandez while he misses a month or two with wrist surgery. Ross is a nifty catch-and-throw receiver with enough pop to inspire comparisons to luminaries like Mark Parent or Tom Prince. He's a double alternative, in that he's a right-handed hitter and a significantly better catcher than Robert Fick. In terms of caliber, it won't be a Matt Nokes/Mike Heath '87 platoon, but then again, what is? In their moment of need, Kevin Towers brought the Padres a catcher useful enough to use in the interim as well as into October, should that prove necessary.
I do twitch a bit at the price paid, because Furmaniak is a nice middle-infield prospect. However, having Khalil Greene to cover shortstop for the next several years, plus owning an '06 option on Mark Loretta, really did leave the kid without an opportunity. Since Furmaniak's also essentially the same age as Greene, it isn't like he's a kid whose heels you can cool indefinitely, and he hasn't even been having a particularly good year in Portland. Now was probably a good time to deal him, it's just a pity that it would be for a "free talent" waiver-bait sort of player. That's essentially a snob's concern, and Towers was right to focus on flag-chasing.