July 30, 2005
Outrighted UT-B Zach Sorensen to Salt Lake; recalled LHP Jake Woods from Salt Lake. [7/29]
Mike Scioscia's repeated wheedling for a lefty reliever finally bears fruit, as Bill Stoneman gave him back Woods. I don't see why there had to be any argument on the subject. If the manager doesn't have any use for a utility stiff like Sorensen, and says he has a need for a lefty reliever, what's there to talk about? It's Zach Sorensen, and a question about the last spot on the roster; the easy answer is invariably going to be to give the manager what he wants. As is, the pen has to deal with the inconsistencies of both Esteban Yan and Kevin Gregg, both of whom have been shunted off into long relief or mop-up duties because of their unreliability. Getting a lefty, even one like Woods who lacks a crisp breaking pitch, is a better way to make use of a roster spot.
Although there aren't a lot of alternatives to Woods in-house, Dusty Bergman is having another nice season in the PCL (2.32 ERA and a 46/10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 54 1/3 innings), but the problem with bringing him up would be that they'd have to add him to the 40-man roster. I would have thought that outrighting Sorensen would have addressed the problem, but perhaps Stoneman has another use in mind for the now-empty spot on the 40-man.
It might be a case of too little, too late, but this is a good move for the Orioles on a couple of levels. First, as a win-now move, it gets them a right-handed hitting outfielder who helps balance out the lineup. Byrnes won't be asked to lead off; instead, the plan is to have him bat second. Maybe I'm giving Lee Mazzilli too much benefit of the doubt, but I like that, because it looks like a willingness to overlook Byrnes' strikeouts in favor of exploiting his combination of power and speed (in that order) to complement a lineup that already has Brian Roberts creating opportunities at the top of the order. Add in that Byrnes is usually a fan favorite for his hustle (his stupidity in the '03 ALCS seems to have been too easily forgotten), and he might become a Baltimore fixture. A good stretch performance might bring him a nice multi-year package, certainly, so beyond the pennant race, the pressure will be on him to do some big things.
Which brings me to the other aspect of why I like this trade. Whether or not the Orioles forego re-signing Byrnes, however this season works out, at least they've gotten Bigbie out of the way. Eventually, Val Majewski will be back, and eventually, Nick Markakis will be ready. Bigbie clearly wasn't going to earn a full-time job, and wasn't going to be a worthwhile contributor to this year's stretch drive or some future good Orioles team. Byrnes gives them someone to play the position now, and if Byrnes' financial expectations are a bit too much to accept, the future holds promise. If they instead decide to just offer him arbitration, it isn't like Byrnes has had the sort of year where he'll have all of the advantages with the arb panel, and that tides them over another Bigbie-free season to see how soon Majewski and Markakis will be ready to play in the majors.
Placed CF-R Torii Hunter on the 15-day DL (ankle). [7/29]
Hunter's break was as grisly as these sorts of things get; seeing it last night left me with Theismann and Krumrie flashbacks, although this wasn't quite that ugly. Still, the Twins are a team equipped with the sort of depth to be able to handle a loss, even one as significant as one of the league's best defensive center fielders. In the lineup, this should just mean more playing time for Matt LeCroy at DH, with Lew Ford taking over in center field. Even if Ford isn't Hunter, he can handle the responsibilities of playing center.
The real problem is the team's lack of depth in the outfield in the meantime. (Yes, chiding Terry Ryan for discarding Michael Restovich would be appropriate right around now.) I guess there's the possibility that Terry Tiffee or perhaps a recalled Michael Ryan might get some share of the resulting playing time. These would be temporary solutions, though, mere patches where real holes exist. Calling up Kevin West might make sense, since he's hitting .282/.367/.484 for Rochester, but like using Jason Bartlett (.327/.404/.459) to fix the hole at shortstop, it might just make too much sense. Given the Twins' flagging commitment to their own farmhands, there may be the sense that something more must be done to help the Twins keep up in the AL wild-card race. A lefty bat would be pretty handy--would bringing Matt Lawton back be inconceivable?
Two games, and it's back to Frickin' Franklin? Graman got into two games, the first trying to clean up Kevin Brown's mess down 5-3 with runners at second and third, and then mopping up the ninth inning of a lost game. He did not do well in either outing. For that, they quit on him, and now go to somebody who they know can't pitch? Here's hoping Graman gets claimed by one of several pitching-needy teams, ideally one in the AL, so that he might appropriately avenge himself on his parent organization for their lack of patience.
This is a wee bit overdue. Consider the notional virtues of having Borders around. Is this a young, inexperienced pitching staff that needs to work with a veteran catcher? No, and although I'm sure Borders can read a scouting report with considerable professionalism, most of his game experience of the last few years has been in the PCL. Are his catching skills the sort that gives you a defensive edge? Again, no, not really, since Borders had problems handling sharp breaking stuff 10 years ago, and hasn't improved with (considerable) age. So he's an asset in the lineup? Well... if you pressed, I might concede that he's a better choice to have hit than asking Carlton Fisk to try and make a comeback, but even then, I wouldn't be so sure. To get even this far, Borders needed Dan Wilson's season-ending injury and Gonzalez's losing six weeks to a strained hamstring, but there's as little explanation for why they didn't bring Gonzalez back at the beginning of July (once he'd healed) as there is for the wacky preference for Borders over Miguel Olivo. Admittedly, Olivo's career horizon has pancaked this year, but demoting him in a fit of pique, followed by playing him fitfully, isn't really the best way to help get a guy back on track, and there was never an upside to playing Borders, beyond potentially appeasing the ghost of Pat Gillick. It's best if the Mariners bring this sorry episode to a close, and never speak of it again.
This is what dealing Joe Kennedy gets you? A few weeks of Byrnes, followed by flipping him for one of the bigger disappointments in recent outfield prospectdom? Well, I guess Bigbie has his virtues. He's cheap, he's breathing and he has all his fingers and toes. The Rockies' outfield is in particularly bad straits these days, what with Matt Holliday being a (tinsel) star, and Brad Hawpe on the DL until some point deep in August.
I guess Bigbie's major virtue would be that he might take over in center field for Cory Sullivan, but why not let Jorge Piedra do that? Try not to cringe, but the Rockies' "best" outfield is probably Piedra in center, flanked by Hawpe and Holliday. Bigbie is a left-handed hitter, so he's not even a good choice as the fourth outfielder as Hawpe's platoon mate and defensive replacement. Since the organization doesn't seem inclined to give Piedra an opportunity, I guess the best-case scenario is Bigbie in center, but I suspect he'll be in right field until Hawpe's return, giving you instead perhaps the worst possible assortment, Sullivan in center flanked by Bigbie and Holliday. This isn't even a formula for success in the PCL. The organization failed to leverage Kennedy and failed to leverage Byrnes into something that will actually make them any better. In a season's worth of on-field disappointment, it's galling that they have to also live with failure in the front office.
The other move is the return to 12 pitchers, and the quick deletion of Machado from the infield picture. I guess with Clint Barmes looking more and more likely to return to the diamond in September, they decided to discard Machado so that they could continue to bear witness to Aaron Miles's worthlessness. Miles is the leftover from the unfortunate decision to dump Juan Uribe, and if there's one thing Dan O'Dowd has done, it's leave the evidence of his management lying around. The master plan for Machado is for him to dump switch-hitting.
Meanwhile, I do like the decision to bring up Lopez. After excusing himself from the Dodgers organization earlier this spring, he signed up with the Rockies and pitched well for the Sky Sox (18 baserunners in 19 2/3 innings, with 25 strikeouts). He's still apparently a one-trick pony, showing people his slider to set up his slider so that he can finish them off with his slider. Regardless of whether you think it's inappropriate for an AgeGate criminal to forget that tricks are for kids, better that the Rockies rely on someone with a trick, as opposed to none. (Is it just me, or does the old bunny look pretty bad, and is this the only time that someone other than Hugh Hefner gets to say that?)
Designated RHP Scott Erickson for assignment; optioned C-B Mike Rose to Las Vegas; recalled C-B Dioner Navarro from Las Vegas; purchased the contract of RHP Jonathan Broxton from Jacksonville (Double-A). [7/29]
Being a DePologist in the past, I guess it will surprise few when I say that I love these moves. The Dodgers' problems in their pen and with their catching situation had both gotten critical, and with the division title still there for the taking, it's to their credit that they could do something like this, staying in-house and making the moves that might actually put L.A. back in the race.
On the pitching side of the ledger, Erickson's departure was overdue, and the long-anticipated decision to move Broxton to the bullpen last month to prepare him for a call-up looks like genius. Broxton's a flamethrower with good control, having allowed just 29 walks against 101 strikeouts in 92 innings. his velocity seems to be nearing triple digits now that he's a full-time reliever. Ideally, he's going to be used in a multi-inning set-up role, because the Dodgers need quantity as well as quality in their pen, and banishing him to the closer's role would be a mistake. At 21, he's primed to give the Dodgers several good years in the pen, after which they can sort out whether or not he's ready to return to a rotation. He can be given to bulking up, so perhaps regular work in the pen will keep his weight in manageable ranges, lest he get into Mike Fetters or, worse yet, El Guapo territory.
In the same way that calling up Broxton addresses the team's bullpen problems, calling up Navarro seems a sensible fix for the team's catching problems. Although the expectation that Navarro will immediately hit for power is an exaggeration left over from his popping a dozen home runs in A ball in '02, Navarro's real assets are his ability to get on base and his skill as a catcher. With Jason Phillips slumping at the plate as well as struggling behind it, Jim Tracy needed somebody who might provide a better alternative in both regards, and much as I've always valued him as a potential big-league reserve, that wasn't going to be Rose. Navarro will be overpowered at times, having come up hitting just .266/.366/.390 at Las Vegas, but he is only 21. If the Dodgers take a page from the Cardinals' playbook, and manage him as patiently and effectively as Walt Jocketty's outfit has handled Yadier Molina so far, this might work out ideally, both in terms of giving the Dodgers a backstop who can catch well, perhaps getting better work out of Phillips by resting him now and again, and launching Navarro into what's expected to be a good big-league career.
Added C-R David Ross to the active roster; recalled LHP Craig Breslow from Portland; placed C-R Ramon Hernandez on the 15-day DL (wrist); placed LHP Chris Hammond on the 15-day DL (strained neck). [7/29]
Hammond looked about as done as a pitcher could look when I saw him this spring, which says a lot more about my limitations as a scout than it does about Hammond's value. If you look at our team performance pages, you'll see that Hammond has been the second most-valuable reliever on the team, behind only Akinori Otsuka. I'm not sure how well former Yalie and Indie Leaguer Breslow is going to fill the bill for the Pads' need for a situational lefty, especially since this is his first year above A ball in anyone's organization (he was drafted by the Brewers in '02), but his being here is a statement on how desperate the Pads' situation is becoming.
As for the Park-for-Nevin swap, it's officially being made on Saturday, not Friday, so I'm holding talking about it over until tomorrow. If you're flying to Bhutan and can't see what I have to say tomorrow, for the time being, please accept my suggestion that the Padres have not significantly helped their fortunes, any more than the Rangers have addressed their lack of offensive depth or fixed their rotation. This may well have been that rarest of swaps, a lose-lose trade.