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May 16, 2006
Getting Lopez back couldn't come a moment too soon, because the Orioles' lineup will be that much better off if they only have to wonder about what sort of platoon they might build using Kevin Millar, Luis Matos, Corey Patterson, and Nick Markakis. It's possible to build a decent enough semi-platoons in center and left using those four now that Lopez is getting DH at-bats. They don't need to be managed in an entirely rigorous manner--you want to see what Patterson or Markakis might do against some lefties, after all, and there are games where Jay Gibbons or Jeff Conine might need a day off. I'd be more impressed if the O's found a real first baseman, but Gibbons may well be that player if either Val Majewski or Jeff Fiorentino finally start hitting and join the big league club's outfield.
Losing Gomez isn't entirely bad news, since it really shouldn't affect the Orioles' fourth-place destiny. What his absence does provide is the opportunity to play Brandon Fahey every day until Brian Roberts returns from the DL at the end of the week. After that, he should probably go back down to the minors, because he's a potential bargaining chip, and there's no better way to be shoppable than to hawk your wares through everyday play.
To fill out the infield, the Orioles have recalled one of their most long-in-the-tooth former prospects. These days, after almost 400 games at Bowie, Rogers is perhaps the ultimate organizational soldier. At the very least, he'd done more than enough to get his BaySock jersey retired, and perhaps get a drinking fountain named for him. Perhaps luxuriating in his ascent to Ottawa, he's proving to be no David Newhan, enjoying his new environs while pasting pitches at a .313/.369/.438 clip. That's not really all that special--it's average, with merely modest power and little patience, and he's four-for-seven nabbing bases besides. Already 27, he's no prospect, but he can run a little, bunt, and perhaps generally fulfill the utility infielder role. I expect he'll stick while Fahey goes down, in part because he has no future as anything more than a utilityman, and in part because there's no need to rush to outright him until the Orioles need the 40-man roster space for somebody specific.
Purchased the contract of RHP Agustin Montero from Charlotte (Triple-A). [5/12]
The White Sox are short of good bullpen help, so almost anybody might have a chance to become a contributor. Although Montero's never particularly shined in any of the organizations (A's, Dodgers, and Rangers) he's pitched for, he had struck out 22 in 24 Charlotte innings, against only 18 baserunners. He'll be 29 in August, so he's no prospect, but Dewayne Buice came from somewhere, and relief pitchers are exactly the sort of talent you can drum up with a butterfly net and a decent search pattern. Montero has 531 Ks in 562 career minor league innings, so he's able to fool some of the people some of the time, and his reputation is that he throws hard. Neither Boone Logan nor Matt Thornton are pitching all that well, so the opportunity is there for Montero--and beyond him, former Rockies lefty Javier Lopez--to earn a job.
Sold RHP Steve Karsay to the Athletics. [5/14]
I'm doubly impressed, because it looks like the Tribe has kept their eye on the long-term objective, which is sorting out whether or not guys like Carmona, Jeremy Guthrie or Jason Davis can help them, and not wishcasting that a little veteran moxie will solve their pitching problems. Karsay and Graves are equally dodgy bets, although of different natures: after so many injuries, Karsay never seems to be able to pitch all that often, while Graves pitches in ways that make you wish he'd stop. Even if one of them had worked out, it would have only been a temporary fix, and the Indians are better off seeing what they've got on the 40-man.
Optioned RHP Steve Andrade to Omaha (Triple-A). [5/12]
For Yankees fans already conditioned to bleat for Scott Proctor's head on a pointed stick because he walked somebody and he's under 40 and doesn't have Roger Angell following him around, so why is he even here, you're about to learn what life is really like where the other half lives. When you're left with the pumpkin formerly named Aaron Small and Erickson's drifting off the stage of "Where Are They Now?", you've got real problems that might make some people ask what Bob Shirley's up to these days. Take hope: guys like Sturtze and Small and Erickson aren't worth their weight in knishes, but if the Yankees can break from their fascination with finding the next Grimsley, they might actually find a few more Proctors. Matt Smith didn't embarrass himself--why not bring him back, instead of somebody else you wouldn't want to pitch in the Old-Timers game?
Then there's the outfield, which won't be so easily fixed with Matsui out until August and Gary Sheffield hanging out on the DL for the time being. What does that leave? Bernie Williams in right field, playing someplace other than center field when he isn't being a bad DH? Some Yankees fans might be asking themselves if such a thing is even allowed. Playing Melky Cabrera and Bubba Crosby should not be the solution either--Cabrera might have a future, but can it be now? Happily, the club does seem inclined to deposit Cabrera in the ninth slot of the lineup and give him a fair trial in left, but he's not a great bet to hit well enough to stick. In the near term, getting Sheffield back quickly would seem to be the best possible outcome, but bringing up Carlos Pena to help produce runs as a first baseman or DH would also make sense. Now's not the time to worry about rewarding Andy Phillips for his years of service within the system--Torre won't play him, so just give the guy a watch and try something that might score some runs. Pena can be a power source from the left side of the plate, something that Williams and Cabrera will not be, and even after they get Sheffield back, better to then add Pena as a replacement for Godzilla's absent bat than settle for just one reinforcement.
Purchased RHP Steve Karsay from the Indians. [5/14]
Yuck. There's no good news to be teased out of all of this: Keisler's presence gives the club a third lefty apparently made necessary to Ken Macha's way of thinking because he's stumbled across the remarkable discovery that if you reduce Joe Kennedy to situational work, you not only tire him out, you run out of lefties in the pen right quick. At least Gaudin can pitch, but if the pen's short Duchscherer and Kennedy, it can't really afford further problems from Huston Street or Kiko Calero. What Karsay adds to all of this, and for how long, is a desperate question, but the expectation is that he will be up sometime soon. I'd rather have Gaudin, but perhaps the former wunderkind with the trick elbow will get to replace either Ron Flores or Keisler.
Recalled RHP Emiliano Fruto from Tacoma (Triple-A); optioned LHP Bobby Livingston to Tacoma. [5/14]
Hargrove's fascination with Fruto seems to know no bounds, so it was probably only a matter of time until the beefy Colombian was called up. Although the initial rationale is that the club needed a fresh arm after Saturday's extra-inning game, Fruto can throw strikes with both offspeed stuff and a good fastball, and he was doing well in Tacoma (22 baserunners and 23 Ks in 20.2 IP), so despite his relative youth, Hargrove might find a way to argue for keeping him around.
Having made the decision to discard Shouse, I guess you can credit the Rangers for at least getting something for him, and Cruz isn't a lousy player to have. He's a utility infielder with some sock, and despite losing a year of his career to spending a season on the Brewers' bench through the Rule 5 draft, he's in his third season since. Although he was hopelessly blocked in Milwaukee, with the Rangers he might eventually stick as a reserve.
Recalled RHP Jae-Kuk Ryu from Iowa (Triple-A); optioned RHP Angel Guzman to Iowa. [5/13]
'Failure to thrive' sort of fits with the generally medical terminology that should be employed in describing Cub fortunes already overly dependent on questions of health and well-being. Guzman really shouldn't have been up, but after the fitful demotions to the pen or Iowa of relative veterans like Glendon Rusch and Jerome Williams, the rules do sort of suggest that you nevertheless put somebody out on the mound. The problem isn't whether or not Guzman's a prospect--he is--or whether or not the Cubs have pitching--they do. From Williams or Rusch or Guzman or Rich Hill, or now Ryu, a big league team should be happy to call on any of them. The problem is having the intestinal fortitude to stick with any of them past a first or second bad outing, and that seems to be sorely lacking.
However, I do like that Ryu's in a long relief role, and I do hope he gets to actually pitch in that role. After seven starts at Iowa, Ryu had shown some wildness (15 walks) in his 42 IP, more than you'd like from a guy who's supposed to be able to throw four pitches for strikes. You can reasonably hope that his velocity will improve in a relief role, and perhaps the Cubs can pare down his arsenal and focus on what works while he's up. Unfortunately, there's very little indication that the team can simultaneously use and instruct their pitching charges, and I think it's more likely that Ryu will get the same abrupt "what have you done for me" treatment ("Well, I just got here." "Not good enough! Get out of my sight! To the cornfields with him! We need to win four games tomorrow, and you can't do that!").
Although Mercker's been good in the early going, the team does still have a pair of lefties in the pen, with both Brian Shackelford and Chris Hammond. Burns' arrival gives the team another look at the aspiring ROOGY, and he's managed to yet again dominate in the minors, mowing down Triple-A hitters 17 times in 14.2 IP, and continuing to be especially tough on right-handers. He'll turn 28 later on this summer, so his usefulness is in the present, but unless the Reds decide to cut bait on Rick White, Burns will have a hard time sticking; in a seven-man pen that already has one-time prospect Matt Belisle in something like a long relief role, there ought to be space for a situational righthander.
Mitre's breakdown might seem a setback, but keep in mind, he was the least-promising arm picked up in the Pierre deal, and he seems likely to go no higher than what he is already, a fifth starter aspiring for the better job security of being a fourth. Losing him for the time being simply opens up an opportunity for Ricky Nolasco sooner rather than later. This allows us to take a step back and look at how Joe Girardi's gaggle of kid pitchers have done in the early going.
Pitcher WXRL VORP IP Josh Johnson -0.23 5.5 22.2 Randy Messenger 0.15 2.7 13.2 Ricky Nolasco 0.07 2.0 17.1 Sergio Mitre -- 1.2 35.0 Scott Olsen -- -0.9 29.2 Jason Vargas -0.37 -5.4 32.1
I know, I'm skipping Logan Kensing and Petit, but there isn't a lot to go on with either. So, from that group of pitching prospects, there are some happy stories. Vargas has not been one of them, so shipping him out seems pretty reasonable, especially considering his slender resume above A-ball: three Double-A starts last season before his elevation to the majors. But otherwise, nobody's a dramatic failure, everybody's getting work. Mitre's been solid in the rotation, Olsen hsn't been a flop, and Johnson's done well since he's been moved out of his opening relief role. Messenger did spend a couple of weeks in Triple-A, so he's not being ignored in the bullpen. Five of these six guys can start, which makes for all sorts of opportunities to use them in middle relief, spot starts, and whatever creative or competitive dynamic that Girardi chooses to create with his staff.
Petit and Pinto are further possible starters, and both had been rotation regulars with the 'Topes, although with mixed results. Petit had tossed seven starts: 45 hits and six bombs in 40.1 IP, with a dozen walks and 27 Ks. That's not great, but Albuquerque isn't a fun place to pitch, and the kid is only 21. Pinto's coming up on his 24th birthday, and has finally managed to pitch well in his third shot at Triple-A after two good partial seasons at Double-A West Tenn with the Cubs. In his eight Albuquerque starts, Pinto's performance has reflected his power-pitching talents: 40 Ks in 43.1 IP, with 29 hits and 26 walks allowed. He's also shown better ability to overpower lefty hitters, something he hadn't been effective at in the past. Sensibly enough, the plan is to introduce them both to the major leagues through the pen, and while the Fish can't keep them all up at once, you can employ whatever schooling metaphor you choose, with the possibility that a lot more of the fry will end up making it than you find in the animal kingdom.
Is there a lesson here? Well, the lack of alternatives certainly gives Girardi and GM Larry Beinfest the advantage of just letting the kids play, no questions asked, but I think it's notable that they aren't disappointing people the way some veteran-mongers would anticipate, despite our being only six weeks or so into the season. Kids like Josh Willingham, Dan Uggla, and Hanley Ramirez are more than earning their keep, and an oft-quit-upon journeyman like Miguel Olivo is reminding people he's still a handy enough catcher. Against that, the only players whose performance has been genuinely disappointing are Vargas and first baseman Mike Jacobs, so for all the doom and gloom, this is actually a fun little ballclub.
Astacio was really just out of luck, having worked his way down to the bottom of the totem pole without getting much opportunity to work his way back up. He's been passed up by Wandy Rodriguez, Fernando Nieve, and Taylor Buchholz for the back three jobs in the rotation, and journeyman Dave Borkowski has done well enough as the designated mop-up guy (a MUGGY?) to encourage the 'Stros to simply send Astacio down for regular work. It's for the best, since he's more likely to make a new claim on a big-league job by pitching well in Round Rock's rotation than he is as the most-readily overlooked pitcher in the pen. Miller notionally gives the Astros their primary lefty reliever back, although their reliance on Miller and Mike Gallo remains the confession of weakness it's been for years. Long gone are the days when this team had guys like Frank DiPino, Jeff Calhoun, and Joe Sambito to choose from.
Anybody else wonder if The Curse of DePo is starting to take shape? Aren't curses supposed to require a wizened gypsy woman? If DePo has one in his posse, what was her job title with the Dodgers last season? Deputy Director of Communications - Virgin Toad Acquisitions? Is the evil eye a management skill? Wouldn't she really just be working for Tommy Lasorda anyway, as part of his master plan to resume his lordship over all things Dodgers? He's already had Frank McCourt's spine surgically replaced with a special McKinley edition eclair. Unfortunately, like most aspiring evil geniuses, the Pastaman's master plans have an irksome habit of not working out.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers have to sort out what to do at third base in Mueller's absence. Manager Grady Little seems uncertain, moving back and forth between young Willy Aybar and Olmedo Saenz's signature re-enactment of the Battle of Fallen Timbers. They also now have the benefit of carrying both of their utility infielders--Robles and Ramon Martinez--on the roster at the same time, so Little has a veritable profusion of choices. As long as Saenz is kept away from groundball fiend Derek Lowe's starts, and as long as Aybar gets most of the playing time, it should work out reasonably well.
Optioned RHP Jared Fernandez to Nashville (Triple-A). [5/14]
If there's one thing the Brewers could really use, it's an entirely healthy Ben Sheets. However, they can't swing a minor deal for that, so they'll settle for solving a problem several rungs further down on their wishlist, and pick up an experienced situational lefty to help compensate for the fact that Jorge de la Rosa just isn't really cut out for the role. Shouse definitely fills that bill, and Cruz is nothing more than a former Rule 5er without a future in an organization already laden with tasty alternatives up the middle. A nice minor deal with plenty of tactical benefit at negligible cost? Nicely done, Mr. Melvin.
So much for the power of suggestion. Fans in Philadelphia will find no better friends than the brand of genius that inspires Met decision-making. Jose Lima and Gonzalez are the people teams like the Royals lose with, not guys the Mets should try winning with. What's the point of scouting if these are the guys you wind up having to use in case of an emergency? True, the only reason they're both here is that Brian Bannister and John Maine and Victor Zambrano all got hurt, but it's always easier to find a good reliever than a guy who can give you starts that create ballgames you can win, and rather than think about finding a reliever and moving Aaron Heilman to the role he's most needed in, the Mets would rather make a bad situation worse to help make a pennant race of it.
Losing Rowand to his Fred Lynn moment is a bad break in more ways than one, because it may well end up exposing the Phillies' purported outfield depth strength as one of the great nonsense bits of prospect mongering around. Roberson's likely to split the time in center with Shane Victorino, but this isn't a bit of grooming for a youngster--Roberson will be 27 in August, and he was hitting a merely adequate .287/.333/.375 for Scranton. He's shown power in A-ball and Double-A in the past two seasons, but he was an old regular at both levels, and will have to show he can hit people his own age at Triple-A and above before he can achieve even the limited ceiling his boosters believe he can. What of their other center field prospects? Michael Bourn is repeating Double-A, and hitting .269/.336/.343, or well short of legitimate prospect status for a repeater. Greg Golson perhaps? Floundering in the Sally League.
The real shame is that their picking up David Dellucci does nothing to help them fill in for Rowand. So in the end, it really should be about what Victorino might do for them. His top most-comparable players makes for a list of pretty useful players, and he's done nothing to give the Phillies reason to rank their homegrown goodies ahead of him. Here's hoping that Pat Gillick and Charlie Manuel just take him seriously, because he's a perfectly fine replacement for Rowand for a week or a month, and that they skip the press clippings on the system's prospects.
In my off-season comments, I pretty much made it plain that I wasn't a big fan of Duffy, any more than I'm a big fan of Nate McLouth. Duffy's injury-prone, and his track record spoke of merely modest ability, while McLouth doesn't seem to be someone who can play center. That could get really ugly if McLouth really ends up being stretched at the position, because he's flanked by a weak-armed Jason Bay and the used-up remains of Jeromy Burnitz. Burnitz struggled with balls hit over his head at the best of times, and these aren't they. Nevertheless, I admire their willingness to take the chance. If McLouth can play center, they may well have filled their need there until Andrew McCutchen is ready.
Behind McLouth is erstwhile third baseman of the future Jose Bautista, but he's also getting time at third while shortstop Jack Wilson's bad hammy keeps Freddy Sanchez off the hot corner. That particular ripple helps explain why a Jim Tracy fave like Edwards is up, when the club might more properly be in need of a spare outfielder who can play center. Because Edwards can play a little bit of third as well as possibly spot for Burnitz in right against tough lefties, they're able to leave Bautista in the "maybe he's a center fielder" category.
Losing Williams for up to two months is a particularly tough blow to a team with limited options for its rotation, but to their credit, the Padres have responded by putting a stop to some of their science projects. They don't need to see what Brazelton or Johnson might do, and they don't need a third catcher now that they have Josh Bard backing up Mike Piazza. Even without Williams, they do have four useful starting pitchers, ranging from staff ace Jake Peavy on down to Clay Hensley. The mildly uncomfortable suggestion is that they might have to chose between someone like Adkins or Shawn Estes for the fifth slot, but Brian Sweeney was once a starter, and turning to him while putting Meredith in his place in the pen could work out well, as long as Meredith's kept away from too many of the lefty power bats you find in the division.
The one thing that really doesn't work is Brower, but like Brazelton, he'll do his damage, and then Kevin Towers will have the good sense to make him go away. It would be better if he didn't have a "Show Me" instinct on these things, but Brower will be quick to oblige, and should be just as quickly headed someplace else.
What's interesting is the decision to call up McAnulty. Adrian Gonzalez has gone Burroughs on the Pads at first base, and while it's a worthwhile thing to have taken a look at him through the deal with the Rangers, there is a pennant to win, and this is first base we're talking about. A good organization has alternatives at a high-offense position like first, and McAnulty is a worthwhile fall-back position if they really do tire of Gonzalez, coming up after hitting .278/.389/.583 at Portland. Jack Cust is doing even better than that, but hopefully I won't be asked to turn in my stathead's propeller beanie if I accept that's a lost cause, especially in the DH-less league.
Activated 2B-B Ray Durham from the 15-day DL. [5/12]
With Schneider's meltdown, all of this is really about cobbling together a job-sharing sort of arrangement behind the plate. Sniffly Brad Ausmus boosters might turn up their noses, but I think a combination of Fick, Matt LeCroy and Gonzalez might actually work out quite nicely. Neither Fick nor LeCroy will ever win a Gold Glove, but the Nats are so desperate for runs that they really have nothing to lose by building a three-headed platoon around their hitting skills, with Gonzalez finishing games as the designated defensive rep or coming in after LeCroy or Fick get pinch-run for in the seventh or later.
Unfortunately, that isn't going to be how things play out. The Nats lack the stomach for such a gambit, and seem to be inclined instead to give Gonzalez all sorts of playing time to make life easier on pitchers--the other guys as well as their own. There's nothing in Gonzalez's resume that should encourage anyone to think he'll hit, and on the Nats' generally journeyman staff, why bother with an experienced catcher? If Ramon Ortiz fidgets, who cares? If LeCroy was having severe problems against the running game (nabbing just one of fourteen), so too was Schneider (4 of 20). Although the Nats' four main starting pitchers were pretty good at controlling the running game last season, perhaps the problem isn't so much LeCroy as much as it lies with them. But let's face it, the team can't find a way to pick Ryan Church over anybody in center--he first suffers the indignity of seeing his job handed to Brandon Watson, then has to deal with watching an awful lot of Marlon Byrd from the bench. In that light, why expect a creative solution to one serious offensive problem amongst many other problems?
As for making space on the 40-man, now that we know Guzman's position, remember kids, there are only thirty-odd months left in which to enjoy his contributions to the Nationals. However, as long as Bowden's egregiously big mistake is on the DL, at least Nats fans won't have to deal with the indignity of watching him play.