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June 13, 2006
June 8-12, 2006
There's an element of disconnect in all of us--I mean, let's face it, we're all the stars of our own shows, and not all of us operate in an environment where how well we do in our professions is as measured as it is in professional sport. That said, there's something delightfully ignorant in Erstad's pronouncements about his readiness to play:
"I'm good enough to play," Erstad said. "It's at the point where you say, 'Can you help the team win?' And I'm at that point."
Dullard that I am, I can't really set aside that this has really only been true in one of the last six seasons (2004, for those of you keeping score at home). Putting Erstad in the lineup costs the Angels runs, because instead of playing the platoon of Dallas McPherson and Robb Quinlan at third and Chone Figgins in center, the Angels will bench the platoon and move Figgins back to third. Nobody's lining up to give either half of Roblas McPhinlan a Gold Glove at the hot corner, but Figgins is a better center fielder than he is a third baseman, and if you're stuck with bad glovework at third base no matter what you choose, why then make a point of also handicapping your offense by playing Erstad? Shame on me, I forgot, the Angels need a punter, especially the way their season is going. As much as our expanded standings suggest the Angels have been a wee bit unlucky, the really obvious way this team can help itself (beyond exchanging Weavers once Bartolo Colon comes off of the DL) is offensively, and Erstad is exactly the one player on the roster who cannot do that in a full-time role.
Murphy did a nice enough job in his time on the roster (.243/.293/.432, .269 EQA, with three successful stolen base attempts), not great, but good enough to keep him in the Fifth Outfielder Picture, which is perhaps best known as that little segment at the end of every broadcast, where instead of a homeless puppy, we'll talk about the need to find a good home for a switch-hitter with modest power and speed, and good enough glovework to play all three outfield positions. Plus, he's had his shots.
Aybar shined in his dozen games and dozen plate appearances, but that playing time pattern should explain that there's more than just performance in the difference between him and Howie Kendrick in the club's middle infield prospect picture. Kendrick might not have risen to his opportunity, but he wasn't getting a clean shot at his own position at second base, and he's continuing to hammer Triple-A pitching, currently at a .407/.444/.655 clip. Kendrick also doesn't have another 2.5 years of Orlando Cabrera standing in his path to the majors, but instead a question of whether or not the Angels will try to re-sign Adam Kennedy or offer him arbitration. True, Aybar might yet get moved to second, but that seems likely to wait until next spring, and then only after the club clearly sets up a competition between him and Kendrick for the non-Cabrera job in the middle infield.
Optioned RHP Dave Pauley to Pawtucket. [6/12]
With Jumbo Wells still coping with his bum knee and Lenny DiNardo still on the DL as well, somebody had to come up to help fill out the rotation to cover over the weekend doubleheader. Lester has had a great May after a slow start, and struggled with some control issues that have moderated his ability to finish frames within his strictly monitored pitch count. That's why he's only logged 46.2 innings in 11 starts, with 43 strikeouts against 25 walks. Lefties with a power assortment as good as Lester's--low 90s heat and a sharp slider--don't come along often, and he's very clearly the organization's finest pitching prospect. He didn't embarrass himself in his first start despite having to wait out an extended rain delay (with the fitful warming up that goes with that). Given the question of whether or not Wells will ever be sound, or whether temps like DiNardo or Dave Pauley will ever provide enough adequacy, there's a very possibility that Lester could stick with a good outing or two.
As for Hansen, the club's latest line is that now that he's gotten time to work on his secondary stuff and his endurance, he'll be the PawSox closer, with an eye towards bringing him back to Boston at some point later on in the summer. As long as neither Julian Tavarez nor Rudy Seanez do much in the way of good work, there's going to be room for another good reliever, even with the Red Sox pen ranking fifth in the game in terms of a total contribution to the team's fortunes.
Although this might seem like random reshuffling, both moves are actually somewhat pointed, and represent an intolerance for failure. Vazquez is seen as a more viable spot starter for Jhonny Peralta than Merloni at shortstop. That becomes a more important consideration with Peralta's struggles only deepening, while Merloni's limitations at the plate also didn't make him a useful alternative to either Aaron Boone at third or Ron Belliard at second. Since Peralta, Boone, and Belliard all bat right-handed, and Vazquez bats lefty, it's a sensible bit of reshuffling, especially since neither Boone nor Belliard are hitting all that well themselves. However, Vazquez is several years removed from his last solid season in the majors (2003), so you can reasonably expect that his window of opportunity is relatively narrow.
As for exchanging Sauerbeck and Perez, speculation that some off-field hijinks involving drinking, driving, and the police might have inspired the moves seems overstated. Sauerbeck was failing to do his job as a situational lefty, and that's the sort of spotlight role where a couple of bad days can look that much worse. Given that he was the definition of free talent--having been scraped up out of a dumpster during the 2004 season--it wasn't like the club had to put up with too much bad work before giving Perez the same sort of opportunity in the pen that they've already created for Fausto Carmona and Jason Davis. Perez has been doing well in Akron, tossing 67.1 innings across a dozen starts, striking out 53 and walking only 22, with 53 hits allowed, three of which were home runs. I always worry about how well a pitcher who's been a starter for much of his career will adapt to the frequent stand-ups and sit-downs and short outings that go with major league situational work. That said, Perez has been dominant against Eastern League lefties, holding them homerless, limiting them to an OBP below .200 and a SLG not much higher than that, and keeping the ball on the ground against everybody (roughly a 2-1 groundball/flyball ratio). Those are all promising things, and since Perez isn't initially seen as one of the system's top prospects, this might be the best way to work him into the club's pitching picture while giving it a more reliable lefty reliever than Sauerbeck.
Purchased the contract of RHP Brandon Duckworth from Omaha; designated RHP Kyle Snyder for assignment. [6/11]
I think it's fair to say that the new guy is putting his stamp on the club pretty quickly. On the grossest of levels, you might suppose that there's not a whole lot of difference between Duckworth and Etherton: bipeds, bilateral symmetry, throw baseballs, don't call their moms often enough, and consistent struggles in major league environments. Pace Wellemeyer. When we're talking about comebacks, it's not the act, it's the venue. Like catching Ratt at your local civic center, some roads really do lead to nowhere.
Still, there is the argument that all of these things were once major league: Duckworth, Wellemeyer, and even Ratt. What comes with that epithet is that they're not uniquely Royal failures. In that, Duckworth's like Scott Elarton. Sure, both have probably caused more agony in the fantasy sphere in the last ten years than anyone since Geronimo Pena, but Duckworth once did strike out a lot of major league hitters, before he started allowing prodigious numbers of home runs and then hitting an equally prodigious number of major league hitters. However, pitching in Indianapolis this year, Duckworth was pitching well, winning eight games in twelve starts, striking out 57 in 74.1 IP, and even allowing an unusually low four home runs. All told, it's better than what he did for Round Rock last year, so maybe there's real progress to hope for. Wellemeyer had his moments as a Cub, and if both are a wee bit wild, they might paradoxically help make a bad team more bland. By contrast, nobody's had much success with Andrade or Etherton in the major leagues, no other organization but the Royals would have Nunez up so soon, and no other team would wonder when Bautista might learn from not doing. Perhaps aspirations have to be dialed back to inoffensive before they can harbor even the most modest ambition.
Although this is a bad break for Guerrier, and it's expected to cost him the next six weeks, this isn't such a bad thing from the Twins' perspective. Guerrier's only a journeying mop-up man, so it isn't like investing the mound time in him helps the Twins all that much. If they're going to be able to peddle Lohse at all before non-tendering him this winter, a little bit of big league showcasing couldn't hurt, right? That's where I don't really agree with their rationale. He's supposed to step into Guerrier's middle relief slot, and he may only continue to get smacked around while pressing in an unfamilar role, whereas in Rochester, he was resembling an effective starting pitcher, tossing a pair of complete games in four turns as a Redwing, allowing a run every four innings while striking out twelve in 24 frames. If he kept doing that sort of work, it might prove much more encouraging to a prospective shopper. Then, if you tried to mollify a trading partner's concerns by timing a spot start in the majors against one of the league's patsies, presto, you might actually get something. I know, that's probably less likely than Lohse's becoming valuable again, but all of the bidders should anticipate that Terry Ryan probably won't want to offer Lohse arbitration again.
Carl Pavano's decided where his problems are concerned, he's asses, then elbows, and so they really needed Chacon back in the rotation. At this point, the goal is not greatness, it's adequacy, and that's what they're getting from Chacon, Randy Johnson, and Jaret Wright, at great price. As long as it doesn't involve any further pathetic attempts to rediscover Aaron Small's mojo, it's improvement. Even if Joe Torre were so inclined, there aren't really alternatives down on the farm: the next-best starter in Columbus after the now-injured Darrell Rasner is Ramiro Mendoza, and even if there might be some bit of humiliation involved if the former infiltrator beat Boston, I think the Red Sox would be happy to take their chances against him. So if Chacon and Wright don't pan out, what does that leave? The club might possibly ponder Ron Villone if somebody breaks down again, but it remains to be seen if anyone in the organization remembers that Villone used to start.
Green didn't really pitch well in his time with the club, and as the Mariners start to creep into the playoff picture, you can understand why they didn't afford themselves too much time with a mere organizational soldier. Fruto only just turned 22 last week, and with mid-90s heat and some measure of success in Tacoma, you can understand how he might wind up back with the club. The 37 strikeouts in 29 IP are impressive enough, the 4.3 runs allowed per nine somewhat less so, but a single homer allowed should offer some reassurance that if the Mariners can initially take the time to use him to pitch complete innings instead of cleaning up other people's messes, get his feet wet, and settle in, he might be able to stick and contribute.
Not that impressing me is worth anything in the standings, but the Rangers just keep on showing a willingness to improve this club on its margins, and making only the most token of allowances for veterandom or status. Pulpo wasn't pitching well, and he was a doubtful bet to be an asset in the first place. So rather than fret about a few hundred thousand bucks owed to Alfonseca, the club kept its goal--winning games--in mind, and made a move.
Between Double- and Triple-A, Corey was pitching effectively, striking out 35 in 32.1 IP, allowing only 24 hits (no homers) and eight walks, and posting a 2.23 ERA. Given that the club's winning games with some relative no-names in the rotation behind Kevin Millwood, and that they're already getting good work from re-treads like Rick Bauer and Ron Mahay, why not take a look at a guy who's spent most of the last eight years in Triple-A? Don't confuse Bryan with Mark Corey--this is the Corey drafted as a shortstop by the Tigers thirteen years ago, and who was converted to pitching shortly thereafter. Although he's been able to top 90 and throw some breaking stuff for strikes, he's a guy who's had to spend much of his career in places like Toledo or Sacramento. His highlight may well be his sale to Japan in 2004, and even then, mopping up for Yomiuri really only seemed to generate the bragging right that he played with Roberto Petagine and Brian Sikorski. That's the sort of thing you probably don't tell the grandkids, even the most propeller-headed among them.
The Jays' balancing act is pretty interesting. This is a team that's leaning heavily on its offense so far, but a few improvements on the pitching and defense side of the ledger might elevate the club above the tight three-way fight in the AL East. The Jays are in the bottom third of baseball, in terms of the quality of their starting pitching, ranking 22nd in Support-Neutral Value Added. Defensively, Defensive Efficiency suggests they're in pretty good shape, but that's despite an unsettled middle infield. By bringing back Adams, they might settle the latter question, and that might in turn aid them with the former problem.
Effectively, they've flip-flopped Adams and Aaron Hill across the keystone, answering longstanding expectations that Adams's glove wouldn't play at short for very long. It remains to be seen if Hill can do any better, but that's where the slick-fielding McDonald comes in as a potential defensive replacement and occasional infield band-aid. If this slow-developing reconfiguration of the original pieces into a new infield can resolve the team's needs for better up-the-middle defense, that'll help the team afford the latest setback in the rotation that much more easily.
Chacin will be out for at least a month to rest his elbow, but A.J. Burnett is supposed to come off of the DL and rejoin the rotation next week. Unfortunately, that still leaves the team reliant upon Ted Lilly (five quality starts in thirteen), Casey Janssen (four in ten, with one blown in the seventh), and some fifth-slot combination of Ty Taubenheim (zero in four), Scott Downs (nothing doing in either start) or Tallet. If you accept the notion that most offenses can win a game in which it gets a quality start from its starting pitcher, and add in that the Jays arguably boast the best offense in baseball, you have a can't-say-no Angelina Jolie-like proposition whichever way you swing, because fixing the rotation, even if only slightly, would be a huge boon to the club. It isn't like either the Yankees or Red Sox are doing that much better with their starting pitching. Burnett is supposed to be a significant part of that improvement, but Lilly obviously ought to be doing better. Unfortunately, any improvement in the middle infield will probably mean less to a flyball pitcher like Lilly, but Janssen relies on groundball outs, and might be a beneficiary if the Adams-Hill Toronto two-step generates some quick results.
Nippert wasn't expected to step into the rotation--that job's going to Enrique Gonzalez. Even with Russ Ortiz proving to be as reliably awful since coming off of the DL as he was before going onto it, the most likely replacement for the ancien regime's big-money booboo will be Juan Cruz once he's ready to come off of the DL. There's always a chance that Kevin Jarvis might get the call if Cruz doesn't come back quickly--he'd be hard-pressed to do worse than Ortiz. The only thing at stake is the Snakes' entertaining run at contention, so it'll be interesting to see what the team does with Ortiz once Cruz is ready to be reactivated.
The Braves are short enough on good news as is, but they can take some solace in the fact that McCann was ready to come back from his sprained ankle relatively quickly, and also in the happy coincidence that Pena did a convincing McCann impression (.321/.345/.464) in his absence. That's perhaps all the more interesting because of Todd Pratt's failure to fulfill his half of the platoon role he was signed to. If Pratt continues to struggle, the chances of Pena's winding up on the postseason roster--either in Pratt's place, or as the third catcher--will go up.
Earth-shattering non-events seem to be the rule of the day in Cubsville. Wood could only make it through a single swing through the rotation once before requiring additional rest between starts. The Cubs have been quick to share the happy news that there doesn't seem to be anything structurally wrong with Wood--he just gets tired easily, and recovers slowly. That's peachy. To be fair, the Cubs are mulling thoughts of trading Woody, which seems shocking until you remember that Wood's not one of the team's mechanical men, and does things like speaking his mind or not using a firstborn son as a human shield in press conferences. It might have seemed inconceivable that Wood would become persona non grata in the organization, but this is an organization better known for tin-eared vengefulness and self-pity than for victory.
The rotation remains something of a mess--Guzman's already shown himself to be unready, and that should still be the case considering his injury-marred past have kept him from logging all that many innings to prep him for the highest level. Since being returned to the rotation, Glendon Rusch hasn't given Chicago a good start in three tries. Happily, Carlos Marmol looked good in his first start, which probably buys him another two at Rusch's expense, because Mark Prior should be on the roster by this time next week. None of that fixes baseball's worst lineup, and given the club's big fixes there involved adding "Done and Done-r"--Phil Nevin and Tony Womack--that simply isn't going to get better without a radical overhaul that transcends the active roster.
Encarnacion's ankle doesn't look to be an injury that will keep him out any longer than the two weeks, so this does not represent an opportunity for Ryan Freel to get anything more than the spot duty to which he's already been relegated. Rich Aurilia will get the lion's share of the hot corner starts instead. This seems like something of a pity, because the Reds clearly benefit when they have Freel's .380 OBP at the top of the order. I don't understand why he couldn't get a combined three starts per week between second and third, and a start apiece for the always-fragile Ken Griffey Jr. and Austin Kearns in the outfield. There's nothing to stop Jerry Narron from letting Freel actually get a crack at a Chone Figgins sort of role--the players involved lack the status to complain or might remember what good Freel has done for the club in the past. If the Reds want to take their shot at contention seriously, this would be the sort of lineup creativity and roster flexibility they really ought to consider.
I guess you can consider this a win-win from the Rockies' perspective, because the Mets are effectively paying most of the freight to make Matsui somebody else's problem (the hapless Sky Sox's, no less), while giving Colorado back a roster spot with which to employ a better backup outfielder than Marrero. True, Marrero might have made a handy platoon partner for Brad Hawpe in right, but the notion never really seemed to gain favor. But that's a pennant-minded tactical move--there's nothing wrong with investing some time to see how well Hawpe might hit lefties, and the Rox have more basic problems, like finding a center fielder. Already almost 27, Cory Sullivan just doesn't look like he's going to develop into a quality regular, and Choo Freeman doesn't look like he'll turn into an adequate fifth outfielder, let alone an alternative to Sullivan. Piedra might not make a great center fielder, but the game's not exactly black-balling minor leaguers who have been caught using PEDs, and Piedra looks like he can offer lefty sock in almost any role (hence the PECOTA comp to Henry Rodriguez). It's unlikely that Piedra will get a real shot at Sullivan's job, but settling for less doesn't have to be the way things get done here.
How well did the de la Rosa-as-starter experiment work? Three starts, 11.2 IP, 16 runs allowed, 28 baserunners, and no silver lining. By that standard, giving a soft-tosser like Villanueva a look-see has to be considered an upgrade, because even a Bryan Clutterbuck comeback could prove helpful at this stage. Zach Jackson has gotten cuffed around in both of his big league starts, and even that's seen as an improvement on the likes of de la Rosa or Ben Hendrickson, so if Villanueva's changeup stays in the yard just often enough amongst the number of flyballs you might expect from him, he too might get to be a twopenny savior for the time being.
Activated RHP John Maine from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Norfolk (Triple-A). [6/12]
Now that's sort of cool. Yes, if you're a fan of Anderson Hernandez or Jeff Keppinger, you might be shouting tanj to the heavens, but let's face it, not only does this fulfill most Mets fans' need to see Matsui removed by a bolt from the blue, unlike simply releasing him and eating the contract, this instead gives the organization the benefit of a sucker willing to pay a small portion of his salary plus a right-handed reserve outfielder who might provide additional value as a part-time first baseman and emergency catcher. As spare parts go, Marrero's handy, something that couldn't be said of Matsui in any context. Heck, if Julio Franco breaks down or can only be used in a pinch-hitting role, they're covered.
In the meantime, youth junkies will have to wait to see whether Hernandez or Keppinger gets the next chance at the second base job, because in the meantime, Willie Randolph's favoring something just short of a platoon, with Jose Valentin and Chris Woodward doing the honors. I'm an instant fan of the solution, not because I dislike Hernandez's prospects (Keppinger's seem limited to a spate of singles), but because this isn't such a bad temporary fix for a club that's in a win-now frame of mind. Valentin always had good range and tremendous instincts on the double-play, and he provides some sock from the left side of the plate. Woodward's not a huge asset, but as a former regular with a modicum of patience, he's not the worst guy to use to cover for Valentin's shortcomings, like when he gets into one of his K-laden funks or when the opposing starting pitcher happens to be left-handed. And Woodward and Valentin are both former everyday shortstops, so playing second well enough shouldn't be a problem. Should either or both break down, Omar Minaya could afford to either make a cheap deal for a veteran rental at the deadline or turn to Hernandez or Keppinger, as he saw fit. And it all involves a Matsui-free future, so it's all good.
No need to remember (the) Maine, because with Orlando Hernandez and Alay Soler doing the Jedi master-apprentice thing in the bottom two slots of the rotation, the Cubans have taken over in the meantime. Should Soler struggle or Hernandez break down--both pretty likely events, when you think about it--Maine should be prepped and ready to go to replace either of them, assuming he stays a nose ahead of Brian Bannister in the organizational popularity contest.
From stardom to mediocrity to formerly famous, we're seeing a pretty predictable climbdown in Lieberthal's career path. I guess I'm reminded that Gary Carter was basically done being a good player by the time he was 33 with more than 1500 major league games caught under his belt, and he was a legitimately great player without Lieberthal's track record for breaking down. Even if modern rehab methods have gotten Lieberthal past 1100 games caught, he's already 34 and fading badly. The Phillies might want to re-up him as a free agent after the season, but if he doesn't take a very cheap deal during the exclusive negotiating window, Pat Gillick should forego offering arbitration. The future behind the plate starts this season, and it's only a matter of which day to hold the press conference at this point.
What about the future? I'm about as enthusiastic a Chris Coste fan as you'll find outside of the Coste family, but if Lieberthal's injury is serious enough to endanger his season, the necessary move at that point would be to call up Carlos Ruiz and see what he can do. Coste and Sal Fasano have their merits as reserves and as fill-ins, but Ruiz is already 27, and if he's going to be part of the club's catching situation after this season, they need to find that out now. He is hitting .314/.395/.521 in Scranton, so there obviously isn't much left for him to prove at the level after playing there daily last year.
If Guillen's actually healthy as opposed to simply ready to play, that would be a good thing indeed. Early on, he's been good to go. Vento did good work in his brief debut, getting on base in nine of 22 PAs, but it appears obvious that the club is determined to carry three reserve second basemen--Marlon Anderson, Damian Jackson, and Brendan Harris--just in case Jose Vidro's knee finally gives out. Although both Anderson and Jackson have been adequate at the plate, Anderson's only a make-believe outfielder, and I would think it would have made slightly more sense to have optioned the oft-ignored Harris back down than a straightforward outfield reserve. In terms of pinch-hitting pop, they do still have Matt LeCroy as an alternative to Daryle Ward's lefty power off of the bench, so it isn't really that big a deal. They simply lack a real alternative to Marlon Byrd in center, and after lurching from Brandon Watson to Ryan Church with all of the commitment of an eighth grade crush, that almost represents something solid.