April 12, 2006
Released LHP Vic Darensbourg. [4/7]
Designated C-R Raul Chavez for assignment; purchased the contract of RHP Cory Morris from Ottawa. [4/9]
The activity is the predictable outcome of the Orioles' general shortage of big league-ready pitching help, a couple of injuries, and some particularly unhelpful major and minor league free agent pickups. But to be fair, they have added LaTroy Hawkins, and both Chris Ray and Sendy Rleal look like the real deal. The frustration is that there isn't more homegrown help that's ready to contribute in relief roles, which leaves the club hoping that warmed-over roster bodies like Jim Brower or Tim Byrdak will be useful, illusions that only grinding, bitter experience can dispel. If giving up on DuBose seems a hard thing, keep in mind that the Orioles really only invested a flyer in him after the rest of the game had already moved on. Like Rick Bauer before him, it wasn't like reviewing what he could and couldn't do cost the Orioles a shot at the World Series. In the meantime, there are worse mop-up men to have around than Halama, and if GM Mike Flanagan chooses to, he can accept his current state of weakness as an opportunity to shop early and often on the waiver wire.
So what of Morris? An organizational soldier drafted in the 15th round of the 2001 draft, he's closing in on his 27th birthday. He had to repeat the Sally League to finally make the jump up to the High-A Carolina League, and his dominance at Double-A last year--3.03 ERA, and 159 Ks in 142.2 IP--can be partially ascribed to his repeating that level as well. His reliance on breaking stuff should be a warning sign that he was significantly more advanced than his competition in Double-A, because his fastball only tops out around 90. Maybe he'll add velocity as a reliever, and maybe his starting experience will give the Orioles a matched set of adequate righty-lefty long men between Morris and Halama, allowing them that much more of an opportunity to hide Brower and Byrdak. You can always hope.
At least they don't have the bad sense to keep Chavez. If you wanted to name a worst backup catcher in baseball, Chavez would almost certainly be on the short list.
Signed DH-L David Ortiz to a four-year contract extension through 2010. [4/10]
Papi seems about as good a bet as you're going to get in the hefty DH segment of the market, and let's face it, you can't buy the sort of star power he seems to command in Boston. Roll up Luis Tiant and George Scott, and you start to get some idea of the man's cachet. If you're worried about his age, what's worth noting is that his top four and most meaningful historical PECOTA comparables--Fred McGriff in 1994, Willie McCovey in 1968, and Willie Stargell in 1970--all had a lot more than four or five useful seasons left in them. His other top comparable is Carlos Delgado in 2003, and nobody seems to expect him to implode any time soon. The next tier of guys among his comps might seem to be a source of concern--Boog Powell, Mike Epstein, Mo Vaughn?--but Ortiz seems more committed to conditioning than Powell or Vaughn, and barring a new interest in pschedelia, seems unlikely to be as flaky as Epstein. It's a good investment in one of the game's best hitters, and not merely a Varitek-like reward contract.
Traded SS-R Brandon Phillips to the Reds for a PTBNL or cash. [4/7]
If you're an Indians fan and you're bitter, you should be, but sometimes prospects go into funks when their careers don't play out the way they thought they would. At best, you can hope that having Phillips pushed Jhonny Peralta, and you can let go what the Indians might have gotten for Phillips if they'd only dealt him a year or two earlier.
Re-signed RHP Matt Mantei to a minor league contract. [4/8]
Signed OF-L Prentice Redman to a minor league contract. [4/10]
Claimed C-B Koyie Hill off of waivers from the Diamondbacks. [4/6]
Designated C-R Wil Nieves for assignment; outrighted RHP Jorge De Paula to Columbus (Triple-A). [4/7]
I like the decision to snag Hill, not because he's all that or ever was--he was always just another body in Dodger blue, and too many prospect hounds and guys on the beat never see past that--but it's better for the Yankees to have insurance behind the plate. If anything happened to Jorge Posada, there's no way they should expect Kelly Stinnett to hold up over any extended period of time at 36 years old. Hill isn't a solution to that problem as much as an alternative that spares you the indignity of trying to find out what guys like Ken Huckaby or Alberto Castillo are up to. You might reasonably ask why the Yankees are carrying three catchers instead of an extra bat to soak up some DH at-bats, but that's the ripple effect of letting the otherwise admirable Bernie Williams take a career-reward farewell tour through the DH slot, which in turn "forces" them to carry Bubba Crosby as their de facto fourth outfielder. You can always hope that Andy Phillips picks up enough dry cleaning or whatever to catch a break and get a few at-bats, but even then, I'd rather have Carlos Pena on the roster, and let Jason Giambi DH against most RHPs.
Acquired RHP Jose De La Cruz from the Devil Rays for RHP Marcos Carvajal. [4/6]
Not a bad pickup by the Mariners, in that De La Cruz is all sorts of scouty as hurlers go--big at 6'6", and overpowering with 8.8 K/9 in the Midwest League last year. Plus, although he isn't that young for having been at that level last year, he's still only 22, and happily doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster just yet. So as a way of managing your roster, this was pretty tasty: Bill Bavasi nabbed Carvajal for Yorvit Torrealba, effectively borrowing the 40-man roster spot until they needed to use it to add a spring training NRI to the active roster, while flipping Carvajal for something of prospective value. Plus, they did temporarily get the value of the contingency that Carvajal might have built on last season's Rule 5-generated stint with the Rockies, and impressed them in camp. He didn't, but that's why the value was contingent. Basically, a nice, aggressive, flexible way of managing your roster, so tip o' the cap to Bavasi and company.
The extended chain gets a little more complicated, as these things are wont to: Carvajal was picked up for Yorvit Torrealba (a thouroughly replaceable catcher), and Torrealba was picked up as part of the package for the Giants' rental of Randy Winn. So if you like the idea of getting Jesse Foppert and De La Cruz for two months' of Winn's time--keeping in mind that nobody expected Winn to go Bonds-bonkers on the National League in that two month stint--more power to you.
De La Cruz isn't without wrinkles, of course. Walking 35 guys in 62 innings in A-ball represents a bit of a problem, and he had a big platoon split, allowing left-handed hitters to tattoo him at a .291 clip while he was limiting righties to .183 (data courtesy of the always nifty Almanac from Baseball America, the book I always say is the perfect companion to the annual for every sort of fan). Minor league relievers are probably the dodgiest sort of talent when it comes to harboring any sort of expectations, but a flyer on De La Rosa as a reward for some off-season roster time on Carvajal seems entirely worthwhile.
Designated RHP Carlos Hines for assignment; claimed RHP Scott Dunn off of waivers from the Angels and optioned him to Durham (Triple-A); announced that RHP Chad Harville has accepted his assignment to Durham.[4/5]
Placed SS-R Julio Lugo on the 15-day DL (strained abdomen), retroactive to 4/4; released RHP Jesus Colome; recalled RHP Scott Dunn from Durham; signed INF-B Tomas Perez to a one-year contract; transferred INF-R Luis Ordaz from the 15- to the 60-day DL; acquired RHP Marcos Carvajal from the Mariners for RHP Jose De La Cruz. [4/6]
Placed LHP Mark Hendrickson on the 15-day DL (back). [4/10]
The Rays have had more than their share of bad luck with injuries in the early going. Losing Lugo is particularly unfortunate, not simply because they're losing their starting shortstop, but because they can't showcase him from the DL. He's supposed to be back before the month is out, however, so the only real inconvenience is that he's shelved while Jorge Cantu is numbered among the club's walking wounded. That makes for more Nick Green and Perez up the middle than the paying customers should have to see, but again, it's a temporary thing. Happily, the club has the right sensibility through all of this, nabbing potentially useful hurlers like Dunn and Carvajal while cutting bait on Old Regime experiments like Colome.
As for Hendrickson's breakdown, I'm reminded of an unhappy experience in 1986 at Comiskey Park. (The old one, of course, not the Cell.) Desperate to see some pitching show up on Oakland's roster, I made a point of going to the park to see if my visiting childhood favorites could get a good day out of Joaquin Andujar. But in the bottom of the first, Andujar walked John Cangelosi, balked him over to second, then picked the speedy waterbug off, only to reinjure his hammy on the play. I wanted to see Andujar, and one out into the game, he's out, forcing this A's fan to cringe through another unhappy evening spent with what was left of Rick Langford. That's sort of how I would approach any expectations as far as Hendrickson is concerned. If you're a Rays fan, I'd tell you what I'd have told me if I had the advantage of a professorial talking dog and a wayback machine: remember what it is you're getting worked up about, enjoy that enthusiasm, and just don't get too worked up or too disappointed. Improvement never comes overnight, and it doesn't come because of guys like Andujar or Hendrickson. Jason Hammel got called up yesterday to take his place, and that's more the sign of things to come, and reason for hope and faith.
Outrighted LHP Erasmo Ramirez to Oklahoma. [4/10]
It's getting to the point that the entrance to The Ballpark should have a sign that says "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Hurl Here," not as a comment on what happens if mass quantities of watered-down ballpark beer don't agree with you, but because of what seems like the inevitable fate of every pitcher whose aspirations reach all the way to middling. Like so many pitchers who have wandered through the Rangers' organization, Bauer's career is either on its last legs, or it will be after he has to try to make a living with that jetstream to the right-field bleachers whistling overhead. This could be especially ugly if he hasn't mastered his problems pitching from the stretch, although he does have a decent mix of pitches and enough velocity to surprise people now and again. He was certainly worth taking a flyer on--you can only put your faith in John Wasdin so many times, after all--and you can hope that pitching coach Mark Connor can fix his mechanics, but there are few more hostile environments in which to try getting a guy pushing 30 sorted out once and or all.
As for the minor league deal, Durazo's contract call for him to be called him by May 15, or he then has an option to become a free agent. That's a good gig for Durazo, in that he can take the time to get his stroke back and show teams he has something left, or not. Certainly, there's a very real possibility that the Rangers will get frustrated with Phil Nevin by then, assuming that you see his hot start as a bit of raging against the dying of the light instead of a return to his former form despite his turning 35. I'd be happier to see Jason Botts up in that circumstance, but I've probably beaten that particular drum beyond the point of Spinal Tap self-combustibility.
Designated C/1B-R Jason Phillips for assignment. [4/7]
Activated C-B Gregg Zaun from the 15-day DL. [4/8]
Perhaps the Jays have an understanding with Phillips, so that he'll gladly accept the assignment to Syracuse, but I'm still frustrated that the organization simply discarded Guillermo Quiroz. Admittedly, that's probably going to wind up being pretty small beer, because the important thing is that the Jays have one of the best catching tandems in baseball with both Zaun and Ben Molina healthy.
Optioned RHP Joey Devine to Richmond; recalled RHP Peter Moylan from Richmond. [4/10]
I'll leave the Jones situation for later in the week, as we get a sense of what Plan C involves now that Andy Marte is in Buffalo. It might seem cavalier to take the Braves' ability to win in the face of any disaster, but a hit like this is survivable if it's a matter of weeks or some non-squiggly number of months. Until something else happens, I think we all harbor the suspicion that, like some hive-minded collective of baseball-playing cockroaches, the Braves would finish first in the NL East in the face of General Sherman comeback tour of the Deep, the second coming of Lester Maddox, or a planet-killing asteroid strike.
Ah, the Braves and their bullpen. Devine seems to be the savior with feet of clay, sort of the organization's latter-day Len Barker of the amateur draft, but if they'd only just stop futzing around and asking for deliverance from the seemingly endless cycle of trying to figure out who this year's Will Cunnane is, and let Devine get some consistent reps at a single level somewhere down on the farm, he'd be able to contribute sooner rather than later. But instead, the Braves seem to keep asking why nothing's faster than a microwave, and burning themselves on that flash-fried burrito. They're talking about a back problem, but in general, a slow food approach will serve them better, giving them something worth adding to the menu instead of something pre-fabricated and unhealthy.
In the meantime, as far as finding their new "who" support staff in the pen, Boyer was struggling with a sore shoulder, so Ray's his replacement for low-leverage, middle inning mop-up situations. For even that much, he seems a stretch, even with a little bit of Braves magic: he's 32, with a long track record of failure as an organizational soldier in the Royals' system, and little subsequent on his wanderings through the the Giants, Brewers, and White Sox organizations. When Ray goes down, chances are, he'll be outrighted. Moylan might seem more interesting, if only because he's more exotic: Australian, and a sidearmer at that. Originally another Down Under discovery of the Twins almost ten years ago, Moylan didn't stick then; he's 30 now. Wince, and you might pretend you're getting Chad Bradford in one of these miserable Outback Steakhouse commercials.
Signed General Manager Jim Hendry to a two-year contract extension. [4/8]
It might seem that I have an extremely negative opinion of Hendry, given my frequent criticism, but that's really about his catering to his manager's tastes in bench players. Even there, a good working relationship with your manager is part of the job, so as frustrating as it might be at times, it's what a good GM does, and Hendry does it. And perhaps most importantly, Hendry's been a key part of why the Cubs have one of the better player development programs in baseball. Tantalizing young hurlers may not be quite as numerous here as they are in the Twins' system, but the Cubs have done a superb job of accumulating a good number of them.
A strong player development program in turn gives Hendry the sort of goodies with which to swing the sweetest big league deals, like adding Juan Pierre or stealing Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, or Michael Barrett. As often as I might gnash my teeth over expensive multi-year deals a la Mike Remlinger past and present, that's only a matter of losing money on dodgy risks. If there was a hole in his game, it's his taste in corner outfielders, but nobody's perfect, and having had the good sense to get Matt Murton from the Red Sox has left the team with only one slot to make a veteran mistake at. I've no doubt been hard on Hendry in the past, but that's because I keep hoping we'll get another Ramirez trade instead of a Jacque Jones multi-year deal, and because the organization is so close to really mattering. He's a big part of the reason why the Cubs can harbor any realistic notions about contending, and deserves to be amply rewarded for that.
Optioned OF-R Chris Denorfia to Louisville. [4/8]
Picking up Phillips is exactly the sort of thing a GM with a new franchise to run and no real second baseman with a future in the offing should do, so credit Wayne Krivsky with taking a chance. Despite it seeming as if we've been waiting for Phillips forever and a day, he's still shy of his 25th birthday. Depending on how seriously you take the suggestion that Phillips didn't handle his extended stays at Buffalo well, getting particularly cranky about it last year, there might still be something more like the guy who hit .285/.343/.400 with 34 doubles as a Bison in 2004. (Frankly, I'm disappointed that the Marlins didn't offer the PTBNL to find out; he would have been a nifty fit for them at second base.) He still plays a good short, and if his hitting isn't going to make him a star, it also isn't going to be completely useless as a utility infielder with some modest punch. He's obviously a better choice to have around than someone like Menechino, but also somebody who probably has a better future than either William Bergolla or Ray Olmedo.
As far as the active roster, though, what about swapping Phillips for Denorfia? Guess what that means? Probably time for Ryan Freel as the club's fourth outfielder, and probably more than factory-recommended use of Tony Womack at any position, but that's sadly already part of the program. It's a good thing that both Freel and Womack have considerable experience in the outfield, of course, because the only other outfield reserve on the squad is minor league vet Andy Abad, who seems pigeon-holed in a pinch-hitting role.
What you can hope for is that by adding Phillips, Krivsky feels he has the freedom of action to shop Rich Aurilia or even Womack. As frustrating as a platoon of Aurilia and Scott Hatteberg at first base might be in the meantime, finding a keeper at first base is something on Krivsky's 'to do' list, and it's better that they've got Austin Kearns playing in one corner on an everyday basis.
Outrighted RHP Nate Bump to Albuquerque (Triple-A).
Placed RHP Eric Gagne on the 15-day DL (elbow, again), retroactive to 4/1. [4/6]
Purchased the contract of RHP Takashi Saito from Las Vegas (Triple-A); transferred OF-R Jayson Werth from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/7]
Gagne has already had his third surgery on the elbow, but the optimistic guesstimate is that he'll be back in two months. So, just like that, you might be inclined to despair now that Nomar and Gagne are broken all over again, because you might think that the Dodgers aren't too different from last year's team: a notionally impressive assembly of talent on paper that seems primed to disappoint. But there's a reason why the Dodgers are already hyperextending their collective organizational shoulder to pat themselves on the back and point out their wisdom in going out and getting Danys Baez. That's the least of it, because this year's pen would be hard-pressed to be a problem, considering that the club also still has a holstered Jonathan Broxton, as well as Yhency Brazoban looking like he's back in form. Saito doesn't seem like the sort of Japanese Leagues vet to get too worked up on: he's 36, and after a long career at Yokohama, seems best as a back-end roster oddity, helping out in mop-up work.
Claimed SS-R Angel Chavez off of waivers from the Giants, and optioned him to Reading (Double-A). [4/5]
Pity the Pad people, because it only takes a swift kick in the Estes to put them back on that always-queasy funhouse-ride, the Chan Ho Park Experience. But keep in mind that Estes is far from critical to this ballclub, and with the experiment in resurrecting Dewon Brazelton's fortunes having considerable capacity to go amiss, you could pretty much anticipate that Park's return to the rotation was only a matter of time. If anything, I'm wondering why Woody Williams seems to have fallen similarly out of favor, to have been slotted behind Brazelton. Williams' experiment with the knuckleball might be a source for concern or excitement (knuckleball fans being an omnipresent subcult in the ranks of fandom), but it isn't like he's entirely bad news after a merely adequate season last year. I'm sort of amused by the news that he's experimenting with the flutterball, considering that two of his top PECOTA comparables are Joe Niekro and Tom Candiotti, but let's face it, there aren't exactly throngs of almost-fortysomething rotation-regular righthanders who aren't bound for the Hall of Fame.
It might get lost in the Bonds backstory, but the Giants actually have a season of baseball to play, not a drama to act out. Losing Lowry for any length of time is bad news for a rotation that already has to rely on Jamey Wright, but Correia's an adequate fill-in for a few weeks. If Lowry lingers on the DL, though, the Giants season gets every bit as bent out of shape as its theatrical arc already seems to be.
The good news is that Jon Rauch will get to stay in the pen, and hopefully establish himself there. The bad news? The Nats can't play make-believe any more over what Ryan Drese could be or might be, and will instead have to unhappily make do with what he is: a waiver-wire mistake, snapped up with an unfortunate piranha-like swiftness without thought to his coming over with a guaranteed deal for the following season. Yes, Tomo Ohka would be pretty handy to have these days, considering he's costing the Brewers $4.5 million to fill one rotation slot, while I very much doubt that Ramon Ortiz ($2.5 million), Tony Armas Jr. ($2.1 million), Drese ($1.8 million), and Pedro Astacio ($700 K) will combine to produce as much value across three.