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May 10, 2006
Like last season's decision to react to Kotchman's hot streak in Utah, the Angels seem inclined to let McPherson's recent slugging in the PCL be enough of a case to have him up. He responded with an instant sombrero while starting at first base, which highlights the always-interesting possibilities for the Angels with Erstad and Kotchman simultaneously out of action. Remember, Chone Figgins can only play one position at a time.
Depending on where the great supersub isn't, the team needs to pick starters at two from this list: first, third, and center. There's some overlap, but at first, they have McPherson, Robb Quinlan, and Howie Kendrick; in center, Figgins, Rivera, and Tommy Murphy; and at third, Figgins, McPherson, Edgardo Alfonzo, and at least notionally, Kendrick and Quinlan. Let's discard Alfonzo, giving the Angels the benefit of noticing that he has more forks sticking out of him than a victim of the Blue Rajah. Beyond Figgins, the guys I'd want playing in that group are probably Rivera and Kendrick, although that probably puts Kendrick wondering if he's stuck in a re-enactment of Rod Carew's career, without first getting some real time at the keystone. However, Kendrick's struggles against major league pitching seem to have opened the door for McPherson, and perhaps a McPherson-Quinlan platoon... at first. So far, there's no suggestion that Figgins is really a utility man as much as he's a full-time third baseman, with benefits.
What might change that? How can the Angels get Figgins into center, and play Kendrick regularly? Assuming that Kendrick taking grounders at third bears no fruit--it hasn't so far--that puts him at first base. Quinlan's not really a good idea at third base anymore, so if the Angels are going to build a platoon, I'd suggest that it might instead be one that involves McPherson and Rivera, with Figgins playing center against RHPs, and McPherson at the hot corner in those games. Against lefties, Rivera plays center, Figgins goes to third, and McPherson hits the bench.
Losing Lopez still leaves the Orioles short a hitter, although now that Miguel Tejada is back at shortstop, the good news is that they're platooning prospect Brandon Fahey with Chris Gomez at second. That's better than starting both of them, and as platoons go, this one sort of reminds me of San Diego's Tirry Flanoyster setup in the mid-'80s, with Fahey doing Tim Flannery's side of things, and Gomez doing Jerry Royster's utilityman and starter-versus-lefties gig. Cognoscenti might prefer a reference to the Mets' setup of Rally Backenhire at second from that same period, because Fahey seems to be drawing top-of-the-order work the same way that Wally Backman did. But Fahey's no Backman, and I just don't think comparing Gomez to Ron Gardenhire is fair to Gomez, no matter how down on him anybody might be.
Meanwhile, getting Matos back seems to be the perfect way for both Corey Patterson and Nick Markakis to outlast their shortcomings, because however badly things are going for them, it's even worse for Matos. Losing Lopez highlights the extent to which signing up Jeff Conine and Kevin Millar didn't really give the team a left fielder, first baseman, or a DH as much as it gave them famous old men, emphasis on 'old.' Dealing either to the Cubs won't generate riches, not unless Cubs GM Jim Hendry makes an uncharacteristic mistake and overpays. Orioles fans shouldn't hold their breaths on that score.
Optioned RHP Manny Delcarmen to Pawtucket (Triple-A). [5/7]
Purchased the contract of LHP Mike Holtz from Pawtucket. 5/9]
As exchanges go, this is really all about the question about what to do for two different bit roles, fifth starter and lefty specialist. As talented as Delcarmen is, he can't be either of those things. Lenny DiNardo might work in either role, but as the team's fifth starter of the moment, he isn't shining, posting two decent starts against weak Mariner and Oriole lineups getting smacked around by the D-Rays and B-Jays. Certainly, he hasn't done anything to garner him any consideration once David Wells returns in another week or so.
DiNardo's problem is that he might lose the other job while he's being plugged into the rotation, because Holtz might be better equipped to do lefty situational work. He's apparently refreshed from a stint in Japan after two years in the minors (spent pitching for the equally hapless Devil Ray and Pirate organizations). Before that, he was pretty much central casting's answer to anybody's call for a second lefty in the pen, which might be enough for Boston's situational needs. Complicating the situation is David Riske's coming return from the DL--even if Boston moves up to a dozen pitchers, one of DiNardo or Holtz will go down. DiNardo's hopes rest on things out of his control: the combination of off days and Jumbo's recovery time before re-entering the rotation, and whether or not Holtz does well in the situational gig in the meantime.
No, the man did not go onto the DL with a prison riot, sciataca's a pinched nerve. Happily, the advantage to having four other quality starters in your rotation is that you can do something different with your fifth slot, and with a nod towards their own history, it seems as if the Sox have done exactly that. In Contreras' absence, the White Sox get to indulge in everyone's favorite area of curiosity, taking a look-see at a young knuckleballer. Whether you want to talk about Wilbur Wood or just remember Charlie Hough's two-year stint on the South Side, you don't have to go all the way back to Eddie Cicotte to remember that there's a taste for the flutterball in Bridgeport. Considering that Haeger's only 22 and was pretty hittable last season, it's hard to get too worked up about him, but he's also as promising as his performance at Charlotte this season suggests: 2.3 runs allowed per nine, and 25 hits allowed in 40 IP, and no home runs. He's still far from mastering the pitch--assuming he ever will--with 20 walks in that time, but it would be insanely cool fun to have a capable young knuckleballer live up to the overbilling previously accorded to Charlie Zink. It isn't like Contreras will be gone for that long, so this is more a cameo than anything else. Beyond catchers A.J. Pierzynski and Chris Widger, the only person who might feel put out by this might be presumptive rotation candidate Brandon McCarthy. However, the Sox' pen is pretty shallow, and leaving McCarthy where he is and will probably have to be down the stretch makes sense. If Haeger proves capable during his audition, the Sox will have expanded their options.
Getting Young back does give the Tigers the happiness of an extra bat from the left side of the plate to break up a heavily right-handed lot, but it comes with the price of making it slightly more difficult to get Magglio Ordonez out of the field now and again without having to bench their DH. Still, it's a nice problem to have.
Announced that RHP Luke Hudson cleared waivers and was assigned to Omaha. [5/6]
Okay, as much glee as Royals fans should take from getting rid of two of their most loathsome millstones, one apiece from the mound and the offense, let's consider what we've got here. You've still got a lineup featuring Kerry Robinson and Esteban German. Ken Phelps All-Star types like Matt Stairs and Emil Brown, or even Guiel, might be fun to have around. Unfortunately, progress up and out of this hole cannot be measured in Stairs, not when you're trying to climb out of the Marianas Trench. You still have Justin Huber on the bench. You still have the team that's making excuses for Angel Berroa instead of judging him. You still have the team that thought bringing in Mark Grudzielanek, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Reggie Sanders were good ideas. It's time to stop singling out the worst from among the bad, time to stop burning people in effigy, and move on to burning down the house. There aren't five players currently on this team who will substantively contribute towards the organization's next .500 record. That isn't deadly, that's death.
I wonder about Cabrera's being taken seriously on what he can do, as opposed to being labeled for what he can't. He doesn't look like he'll be able to play a major-league center field, but that was the first unreasonable thing the Yankees expected from him. Now he's being asked to replaced Gary Sheffield, and although this year's start at Columbus is promising (.385/.430/.566), it would be pretty optimistic to say that he already projects as a quality power bat. Still, this is more like a Jerry Mumphrey problem, not a Dave Collins situation, and to their credit, after successfully breaking in and sticking with Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang last summer, the Yankees aren't quite so allergic to youth these days. Hopefully, this will wind up being a situation where Cabrera doesn't embarrass himself again, and instead makes a case for why he should be ahead of guys like Andy Phillips and Bubba Crosby when the Yankees determine their postseason roster in August.
Placed OF-B Milton Bradley on the 15-day DL (sprained knee). [5/7]
Recalled C-R Jeremy Brown from Sacramento. [5/9]
Goldstein's already plugged Brown, so I'll simply note that he's slipping into town to replace the suspended Jason Kendall, as the A's try to cheat the usual advantage that New York teams reap by benefit of playing in the same city that suspension appeals get conducted in. It's not really a setback for the A's, since Brown can catch as well as hit, and Adam Melhuse has always had some virtues at the plate if less so behind it. Frankly, the whole question of coaxing Kendall to do this to avoid having to option Antonio Perez to Sacramento instead seems a wee bit overwrought. Perez desperately needs at-bats, and as long as the team keeps pretending that they're perfectly fine with Marco Scutaro as the primary utility infielder, they're wasting the roster spot anyway.
In Bradley's absence, Bobby Kielty and Jay Payton haven't done much to earn their keep, making it seem that, even with Nick Swisher's hot start, the outfield problem is no more close to being solved than it was in years past. Bradley's looking like he'll be gone for most of the next seven days, so Payton and Kielty will get further opportunities to demonstrate the faith in them has not been entirely misplaced.
Gaudin had tossed seven innings across the previous five days, including four the night before he was optioned, so this was more about getting in an available arm for the weekend than an indictment of Gaudin's performance. (Keep in mind, Justin Duchscherer's persistent problems figure large here.) Roney wasn't really doing all that well or badly pitching in relief at Sacto, allowing a hit per inning pitched, but with 19 Ks in 15 frames.
I suppose the only thing that's significant about Miceli's absence is how it affects Chad Orvella. After all, what else is there? Harville's going to pitch, of course, and probably not all that well if past performance is any indication, and Tyler Walker appears to be the closer du jour. So what about Orvella? The battle with his pitching coach over his mechanics seems to have had no positive result, as he's been uncharacteristically wild, and unless the Rays want to spend their entire existence mulling the benefits of the Micelis over the Harvilles and getting worked up about the Walkers, a little bit of flexibility might serve them well.
The Rangers are gaming the system, having sorted out that once you sort out that you don't have a reliable fifth starter, you don't need to keep any one of the aspirants around for much time between starts. It appears that John Rheinecker will get the next call to handle the role, but it's more than a week until the Rangers need a fifth again, and why let the roster spot go slack with a last-reliever-in-the-pen guy when you could instead let someone like Tejeda continue starting by shipping him back to Okie? Unless Tejeda (or Rheinecker) can't handle the psychic trauma of yo-yo'ing back and forth, the only thing the Rangers have to worry about racking up are frequent flyer miles. Consider this a successful little bit of gaming the system. In taking the disadvantage of not having a steady fifth man, and instead using it as a way to make sure you have a spare reliever around. Feldman's pretty handy, keeps the ball on the ground and throws hard, so credit the Rangers for making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. (Beats feeding the thing to the dog, donchaknow.)
When it turns out that offseason plaudits don't automatically entitle you to a .600 record on the field, you'd probably get testy too, but this isn't drastic, this is the benefit of having good stuff down on the farm. When guys like Chulk or Frasor struggle, it's not like the Jays are busy determining the whereabouts of Jason Grimsley. Rosario was flashing some of his former promise as a prospect in the minors, striking out 29 in 22.1 IP while allowing 20 hits (one of which left the yard) and eight walks, and Chulk had been terrible. Having options when you're struggling and the whole team isn't living up to its billing is a bad place to be in, no doubt, perhaps made worse when you don't have the benefit of a big contract, a la Josh Towers. You can be forgiven for wondering whether or not blaming the expensive people would reflect on management, and whether or not it's easier to snipe at the small fry to reinforce the point that expectations remain high. Nevertheless, most teams would be ecstatic to have guys like McGowan and Rosario to call up after better-established pitchers have faltered, and the Jays can afford to send a message and run a meritocracy in these specific cases.
Activated LHP Horacio Ramirez from the 15-day DL; placed LHP Chuck James on the 15-day DL (strained). [5/6]
Returned LHP Horacio Ramirez to the 15-day DL (hamstring). [5/7]
Purchased the contract of RHP Chad Paronto from Richmond. [5/9]
Ramirez's activation was an emergency measure in case of his possible use on Sunday, but now the Braves have put him back on the DL to make sure that he gets three rehab starts in Richmond before they really press him back into action. And when the alternatives include somebody like Paronto, can you blame them for this sort of thing? Maybe I'm appropriately skeptical about how well the Braves will be able to get good use out of the Will Cunnanes of the world now that Leo Mazzone works in Baltimore. Since washing out as an Orioles prospect, Paronto's bounced from Buffalo to Memphis to Nashville to Richmond, and while that might have afforded him the opportunity to visit just about all of the major battlefields of the War of 1812 and the Civil War, he doesn't appear to have picked up an out pitch along the way.
The guy who gets a reprise out of this is Jorge Sosa. Until Ramirez is back, it's his spot in the rotation that's at stake, especially now that John Thomson has worked back into the club's good graces. James could look forward to a similarly lengthy and perhaps productive rehab effort once he's ready to go, getting some innings, perhaps with an eye towards whether or not he might get used for bigger things later on this summer. In the meantime, I expect we can look forward to Ramirez returning to the rotation, Sosa going to the pen, and Paronto going back to Richmond.
Platoons hard, make brain hurt. What's more remarkable, that the club hasn't noticed Jacque Jones's 1-for-18 start against LHPs, or that a team with four guys who can play second base felt itself short of second basemen, and called up Theriot to make it five? The Cubs are wondering about their offense, for good reason, but it's always going to be easier to blame the players--Juan Pierre for his cold streaks, Derrek Lee for getting hurt, Jones for not being the everyday slugger they pretended he was this winter--than to look in the mirror, or ponder what tactical modifications you might make to let players do what they can do well and not ask them to do what they can't. Instead, they've got a manager who uses his son as a human shield at postgame press conferences, because those mean old reporters might someday ask what the hell is going on here.
Helton's return is nice to see, not simply because of his status as Greatest Rockie Ever or because of his unfortunate intestinal discontent. It's nice simply on the level of Colorado having its best player back during its first extended stretch of meaningful ballgames in what seems like ages. The lineup needs the help if Colorado is going to keep itself above .500, and it wasn't like Eli Marrero was going to slug .600-plus from here on out. Heck, the club even seems to have gotten over its massive mancrush on Luis Gonzalez, and barring their getting to that place where Cory Sullivan is concerned once he cools off, getting Helton back really only leaves their catching situation as the one obvious area requiring an upgrade.
The nicest thing you can say about Spilborghs is that at least he's an eminently outrightable player on the 40-man, should the Rockies pull off a two-for-one deal or want to purchase the contract of somebody before November.
Outrighted OF-L Matt Cepicky to Albuquerque (Triple-A). [5/5]
After all of the hype, and even with a bit of postseason celebrity to his credit, Burke's been somewhat buried this season. In part, that's what bringing in Preston Wilson hath wrought, because fellow subs like Orlando Palmeiro, Mike Lamb, and Eric Bruntlett aren't getting too much time either. Both Wilson and Jason Lane are struggling to consistently put runs on the board from the outfield corners, so once Burke comes back, he might get a wee bit more playing time, but in the meantime, McEwing seems perfectly well equipped for a role that generally involves being ignored.
Activated LHP Odalis Perez from the bereavement list; optioned INF-L Oscar Robles to Las Vegas. [5/9]
Martin may well be in vogue within the organization because of what he isn't (somebody Paul DePodesta picked up), but that shouldn't lead anyone to overlook that he's a catching prospect in his own right. The power that disappeared in Double-A last season hasn't put in a reappearance yet (he was hitting .297/.389/.417 at Vegas), but we're still talking about a good catcher who can hit, and he's only 23. Certainly, if he hits now, between his experience working with the Dodgers' talented young pitchers and his own abilities, then GM Ned Colletti will have the opportunity to ponder whether he might want to shop Navarro sometime between now and next April. In the meantime, the Dodgers are fine behind the plate, and get the time to see how ready Martin is, so despite losing Navarro, treat this as a positive development.
As for Robles' most recent dispatch, what do you expect? The club already made a point of favoring Ramon Martinez, so even getting on base wasn't enough to earn him any extra consideration. Aaron Sele is an ex-famous person, and as Colletti would be sure to tell you, he's no Scott Erickson. However, Sele is merely moving into the opportunity that Perez created through his own ineptitude. I don't really think it's a lasting solution, although there is the danger that if Perez pitches well in the pen, no amount of Sele being Sele might get him his old job back. Tim Hamulack isn't rising to his opportunity in the pen, so the Dodgers can be rightfully concerned about whether or not they have any reliable lefty relief help. The problem is that carrying Hamulack, Perez, and Joe Beimel seems like a pretty major overcompensation gesture, and the bench would definitely be better off with a second backup infielder.
Recalled RHP Jared Fernandez from Nashville (Triple-A). [5/5]
Zambrano's done for the year, which is pretty amusing when you consider that he was acquired for Scott Kazmir on the Mets' faith that Kazmir would break down irretrievably and soon. Now that it's Lima Tima ("kaboom sound included"), at least Mets fans can take solace in the knowledge that there is now somebody definitively worse than Darren Oliver on the roster, although Oliver does seem to be enjoying one of his rare good seasons in the early going. But as I noted in the NY Sun, the real answer to this team's rotation issues is in their bullpen, and the sooner they just accept that Aaron Heilman is the third starter this rotation otherwise lacks, the better for their prospects now and into the postseason. Futzing around with the Olivers, Limas, and Jeremi Gonzalezes of the world is not going to fix the rotation, and finding good pen help is much more easily done. If Willie Randolph and Rick Peterson are dismissing the suggestion out of hand, it's worth bringing up the folly of relying on their own experience too heavily. Instead, a little bit of recognition of a capacity for error needs to be acknowledged, particularly concerning Peterson's part in getting Zambrano for Kazmir.
The bullpen might seem shallow, but that's not really the case. Beyond closer Billy Wagner, Duaner Sanchez has been fine, Chad Bradford and Pedro Feliciano have their situational uses. The problem has been turning around Jorge Julio, because while he's doing a much better job of throwing strikes, he's also still doing a great job of catching too much of the plate in a way that only creates instant happiness (and souvenirs) amongst bleacher creatures.
Enter Bell, who you might hope could help shore up the pen after notching 20 Ks in 13.1 IP at Norfolk. As we noted in this year's edition of the annual, Bell was among the most unlucky pitchers in baseball last season when it came to BABIP, but if he's finally harnessed his fastball/split combo, he could wind up being the second quality setup man the pen would seem to require to reassure Randolph's anxieties over moving Heilman to the rotation. We can certainly hope so, even if you aren't tired of seeing the Braves win--I'd much rather see the Mets take their best shot than allow their season to be poisoned by the contributions of Jose Lima and his ilk.
While losing Lieberthal sounds serious, it isn't the setback it once was. Remember that he isn't the star he used to be. Instead, he's merely a good player these days, and one you can afford to replace with substitutes like Sal Fasano and Ruiz. Although not really a prospect considering his age (he's already 27) or his experience (entering his fourth season above A-ball), Ruiz was hitting .385/.448/.637 down at Scranton, and that's not a bad guy to have around as an alternative to Fasano in case he gets into one of those nightly sombrero jags that he can be prone to. Ruiz's top comparable is Mike Heath, which doesn't make that much sense considering that this is his first shot, while Heath already had three years as a near-regular catcher at this age. However, Ruiz has a better rep as a receiver than Heath ever did, and has the strong arm Heath had, so if the offensive skill sets are as similar as their defensive talents, that's more than a useful player, it's somebody worth starting. Maybe it's a matter of propinquity, but Phillies fans might do well to compare him to Bo Diaz a talented enough all-around backstop who caught a late break and was a worthwhile starter on a pennant-winner hereabouts.
While I like what manager Jim Tracy is doing with his catching situation, I'm a little less impresed with what he's doing at third base in Randa's absence. I know there's some enthusiasm in the organization for making Bautista a multi-positional supersub, and that's just dandy, but with the playing time available, giving their hot corner starts to Freddy Sanchez while Bautista gets to spice up the "who's today's center fielder?" drama is a poor allocation of assets. The Pirates are guilty of being overly enthusiastic about both Chris Duffy and Nate McLouth, but that's the organization's fault--either might make a serviceable temporary solution in center, but Sanchez will never be more than that at second base, not third. As long as Randa's out, and with the season looking like the disappointment many of us expected it to be, better that Tracy and GM Dave Littlefield take an extended look at the prospect who should be playing third every day no later than August. At that point, they'll have hopefully sorted out that people like Randa and Burnitz (and Sean Casey, for that matter) can't help them, because the club really should be trying to decide whether or not Bautista, McLouth, Sanchez, and Duffy ever will.
Optioned C-R Justin Knoedler to Connecticut, then transferred his option to Fresno (Triple-A); recalled OF-B Dan Ortmeier from Fresno; activated LHP Noah Lowry from the 15-day DL; designated LHP Jeff Fassero for assignment. [5/8]
Consider this one of the penalties of cultivating the aged. Alou's out for four to six weeks. Replacing him in the lineup will be Steve Finley, but playing center field of course, with the odd ripple being that Randy Winn will have to lob his dying quails from right. That makes for some interesting outfield play, to be sure, considering Barry Bonds's relative immobility in left. Skip asking whether or not Jason Ellison or Ortmeier now get to claim to be Barry's legs--after hitting .304/.357/.470 at Fresno, the Giants might need to press Ortmeier's bat into the lineup at first base to make up for the sudden realization that Lance Niekro is not an everyday player.
What's interesting about this is how much playing time Bigbie might get, or if this makes So Taguchi the club's top righty-hitting reserve. Either way, it's the wrong question to ask, because Bigbie's not going to outhit John Rodriguez, the guy who really should push Taguchi to the bench. If that's the question you're asking, then you need to wonder whether you'd rather have Taguchi, Bigbie, or Juan Encarnacion starting in the other outfield corner, and I don't think that the answers are all that cut and dried. Encarnacion is looking like the mistake this team needed to avoid making when it came to replacing Larry Walker (which makes Rodriguez that much more of a godsend), but I don't think it's impossible that the Cardinals could craft a workable job-sharing arrangement between the four hitters in the two corners. The decision that really needs to be made is getting Rodriguez into the lineup more often, but Tony LaRussa seems to have gotten most of the way there already.