July 25, 2006
July 22-24, 2006
Our own Will Carroll has shared his concerns about Escobar's reports of elbow pain after his first start back from the DL, but the danger here isn't that Escobar might break down, but that he might not break down quickly if he's going to break down at all. It would be worse to try and let Escobar muscle through it, take one for the team, and give 110% because he "wants to win" or some such nonsense. (Since Gary Sheffield's youthful indiscretions with deliberately committing errors as a Brewer, has any player ever "wanted to lose"?) If Escobar stumbles, the Angels would be better off quickly re-shelving him until he is fully healthy and handing off his rotation slot to Joe Saunders in the meantime. This isn't about letting Escobar win a medal for self-sacrifice; it's about winning the division and using everybody on the roster to best effect. If it turns out that Escobar can't take the grind of starting, then he still makes a good reliever. Nobody uses five starters in the postseason anyway, and it isn't like Escobar would start ahead of any of the other rotation regulars, especially if Jered Weaver just keeps rolling. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves: there's reason for concern, but maybe Escobar can do it. If he shows that he can't, they have options.
First base has been a sore spot for the Angels all season, with first Casey Kotchman's case of mono, taking a peek at Dallas McPherson before trying to settle him at third base--only to lose him to the DL as well--and now there's the recognition that their accelerated promotion schedule for Morales since signing him after his defection from Cuba hasn't really worked out. Neither Kotchman nor McPherson look close to coming back off of the DL, and Darin Erstad remains safely injured and unlikely to mar any lineup cards anytime soon, so the new, new solution is to mix and match with what they've got. That probably involves starting Robb Quinlan against all lefties, giving Howie Kendrick some meaningful playing time. Unfortunately, none of the club's outfielders has any experience at first base; DH Tim Salmon might volunteer to try out a first baseman's glove, but there doesn't seem to be much talk of that. Hopefully for the Angels, they'll give Kendrick a real opportunity, but failing that, it wouldn't hurt them to see if they can pry Craig Wilson away from the Pirates.
Purchased the contract of LHP Kason Gabbard from Pawtucket (Triple-A). [7/22]
Standards are something that you really ought to adhere to, but I think we've all been there when it comes to letting them slip when it's getting late, and the Red Sox are so hard up for starting pitching that they've had to stop checking basics like a quick guesstimate on a tattoo-to-tooth ratio and move straight into letting "breathing-yes, no, or optional?" be their guide. When a kid give up ten baserunners and three runs in 5 1/3 innings, that shouldn't really be considered a good day's work for anyone not named Jose Lima (insert kaboom sound here). One man's moxie is another's lucky break.
That said, Gabbard has been a survivor, pitching his way through having his elbow operated on twice, and he was doing a few of the things a lefty with merely solid velocity has to do in order to survive. He was keeping the ball on the ground, with a higher than 2.6-1 groundball/flyball ratio, and inducing 16 double plays in 102 2/3 innings. This year might be something of a breakthrough, in that not only did he finally pitch his way out of Double-A in his third go'round, he's also allowing just 3.8 runs per nine after previously giving them up at a clip of 5.4. He's just 24 and he's struck out seven batters per nine in his minor-league career. I'd put him in the same category as Lenny DiNardo, in that it's quite plausible that he could be a useful fifth starter. That might not sound like a lot, but it's more than whatever it is that Kyle Snyder has going for him.
I don't like what I see. It isn't that MacDougal or Alomar might not be improvements on the people they're replacing, Cliff Politte (essentially) and Widger. But bringing these two in is sort of like deciding that as long as you've been able to rig up a temporary fix, you've fixed your problems. Although he's got some amount of experience as a closer, and that fits in nicely enough within the club's "team pen" concept, can the White Sox really count on a pitcher with MacDougal's injury history and consistent wildness? Although last season's improved control might be cause for hope, MacDougal's already 29 and more likely to be the new Chad Fox than anything else. Former closer or no, MacDougal's more like David Riske: a nice pickup, but no guarantee to replace what Dustin Hermanson and Politte did for this team last year.
As far as the catching "upgrade," while Widger clearly hadn't earned his keep, Alomar is merely a replacement in kind, perhaps even less so. While there's some thought that Alomar's being able to speak Spanish might prove helpful, the man's a knee-less wreck who can't start consecutive games, and he has very little left to offer at the plate. Don't let an empty batting average with the Dodgers fool you--in the last seven years, he's been useful at the plate for one multi-month stretch, with the Sox in 2002. Bringing Alomar back for a third Sox stint probably shouldn't surprise Kenny Williams watchers; the man traded for Sandy's brother Robby in consecutive seasons, after all. Sometimes, certain solutions seem like the only ones, as a matter of habit. For the Yankees in the '80s, it was getting Ron Hassey; for the A's, it's been bringing back Rickey Henderson. We all have habits.
What I dislike about this is that it doesn't really provide solutions. If they lose A.J. Pierzynski to a serious or season-ending injury, the Sox are still in the same situation they were before they picked up Alomar, which is having to use Chris Stewart in a playoff game. If they lose Pierzynski, the Sox have no starting catcher. If they lose Bobby Jenks, can you really rely on MacDougal? What I dislike about these deals is that they're minor improvements by design, and that this is what Kenny Williams is spending his time on, instead of angling to actually get something worthwhile. I don't question the fact that the Sox didn't give up much to add MacDougal and Alomar, but that's not the problem. There's a danger that Williams will be satisfied with these moves, despite their not changing the fact that the Sox still need a worthwhile backup catcher, and they may still need help in the pen.
Purchased the contract of RHP Tom Mastny from Buffalo (Triple-A); optioned RHP Edward Mujica to Buffalo. [7/24]
Sort of a random reshuffle, if you ask me. Mujica hadn't really done badly or especially well in middle relief, and while Mastny has had an outstanding first year as a full-time reliever, allowing just 2.3 runs per nine--no home runs--and striking out 76 in 64 2/3 IP while walking only 24, Mujica had pitched well in the minors as well: 0.9 runs allowed, no home runs, 38 Ks in 41 innings, only 13 walks. Perhaps it's an exercise in seeing if the lumbering Mastny's pitchability is good enough to cut it in the majors. He doesn't have any dominating pitch, but he gets a lot of credit for guile. Mujica's already seen as a prospect, but Mastny's a little more iffy. By taking a peek at Mastny now, they might end up learning whether or not he's worth putting on their 40-man this winter, something they were going to have to do anyway. The team's currently conducting its exercise to see if Jason Davis can become a quality setup man, so experimentation is in the air, but unless and until the club deals Rafael Betancourt and/or Guillermo Mota, they're not enough spots to go around.
Traded RHP Mike MacDougal to the White Sox for LHP Tyler Lumsden and RHP Daniel Cortes. [7/24]
Not a huge swag for MacDougal, but then nobody should have expected one, given his spotty track records in terms of performance and health. Neither pitcher is a sure thing, but the Royals need anything and anybody with promise, and both Lumsden and Cortes resemble that.
Lumsden is the prospect in the package, a big lefty out of Clemson with a fastball and usable offspeed stuff who hasn't yet converted it into punching people out at the plate. To be fair, he missed all of 2005 recovering from surgery on his elbow, and in his initial introduction to Double-A, he'd been pretty good: 3.4 runs allowed per nine, and just nine home runs allowed in 123 2/3 IP. His groundball/flyball ratio is over 3:1, and he's induced 19 double plays. Also, by making 20 starts in the season's first four months, he's answered questions about the elbow. Keep in mind that Birmingham, where he's been pitching, boasts a nice pitchers' park, and that only 5.2 Ks per nine is not a strong performance. His road performance isn't all bad, but it might be a bit much to expect to be able to press him into a big-league rotation by next spring, even one as desperate as the Royals, and expect any kind of success.
Cortes isn't a bad second fiddle in the deal. Just 19 and in his first full season as a pro, the Sox picked him out of high school in the seventh round of the 2005 draft. They've nevertheless been aggressive in promoting him to the Sally League. The results have been mixed, as you might expect given someone so young who only really has a fastball so far: 5.1 runs allowed per nine, more than a hit per inning, but a 96-38 K/BB in 107.2 innings. It's a flyer worth taking, certainly, and it isn't like the Royals need to worry about mounting a pennant push anytime soon.
Meanwhile, back on the big-league roster, in his month in Omaha Costa clobbered the ball, hitting .381/.431/.686, including eight home runs, so he'd earned the call back, certainly. It's now up to the Royals to actually play him, which means shunting Emil Brown back into the DH mix. There, Brown will end up splitting time with Matt Stairs, but that's fine. Costa has a future, and Stairs or Brown should be dealt by the end of August for either the highest bid, or whoever Dayton Moore might want to curry favor with.
Designated RHP Kris Wilson for assignment; recalled RHP T.J. Beam from Columbus (Triple-A). [7/24]
Traded RHP Scott Williamson to the Padres for LHP Fabian Jimenez and RHP Joel Santo. [7/22]
It's a bit sad that the Cubs season is breaking down into the answer to an observer's morbid curiosity as to who will be left by the end of September. You can tell that the end isn't nigh, it's already here, because Dusty Baker is wasting everybody's time playing Neifi Perez as often as possible. Responsible management would make sure that both Todd Walker and Phil Nevin were playing for as long as there's hope of dealing both by the end of August; in contrast, the only people besides Dusty to value Perez highly were the Rockies' Bob Gebhard and the Royals' Allard Baird, and perhaps appropriately, neither is running a team these days. Not that Walker or Nevin would fetch much, but as spare parts or throw-ins, they have value to a contender. Only letting them play one at a time doesn't do the organization any good.
As for Lee's reinjury, this wouldn't be the first injury where the Cubs let wishful thinking be their guide, and it probably won't be their last. This season was over the moment he got hurt. This offers the organization a worthwhile excuse to do what's long overdue: It's time for the club to cut bait on the last vestiges of Dustydom, including the man himself. I know, that means doing something tough, and probably even firing the guy in front of his young son, but Baker is the one who's made the decision to use the boy as a human shield as a way of embarrassing the local media into silence. That done, they can start coming to grips with their need to start retooling and rebuilding. Lee can be be a part of it, of course, and while he will probably never do anything like 2005 again, he's a talented enough player to be able to help this team over the remainder of his monster contract.
I'm not too terribly busted up about losing Marshall for the time being. However big his splash in spring training, it hasn't been an inspired rookie campaign, and making only one quality start in his last seven has dropped him to 8-for-19 overall. If he hasn't been one of the Cubs' bad-news starters, like everyone else not named Carlos Zambrano, he can't really be counted among the good. He's earned the right to be taken seriously as part of the rotation picture for 2007, but the Cubs should also take another look at Rich Hill, which they plan to do in Marshall's absence.
Dealing Williamson was sensible enough, especially since the Cubs really should be sorting out whether or not guys like Aardsma and Wuertz can help them in 2007, before they do something as silly as they did last winter and spend far too much of their discretionary dollars adding veteran relief help. There is the question of the hidden cost of Jim Hendry's decision to sign Williamson to a multi-year contract, since having Williamson on the 40-man helped crowd out pitchers like Todd Wellemeyer, Jermaine Van Buren, John Koronka and Jon Leicester. Williamson was part of a risk, the guess that this team would be in contention, but it carried a penalty, and the burden for flipping him is whether or not the Cubs got as well as they received beyond what little pitching Williamson did for them in the season and a half he was with the organization.
In the deal itself, they took the standard minor-league arms with promise. Both Jimenez and Santo can throw heat in the low 90s, but between them in their performance in the Midwest League, they've walked 106 and struck out 102 in 179 1/3 innings, adding 17 wild pitches to make things interesting. Santo is Dominican, Jimenez (Jimenez Angulo in some sources) a more rare Colombian. Santo is already 22 and struggling in his repeater season at Low-A, while Jimenez is still shy of his 20th birthday and has made progress from last year's ugly stint as a Wizard (7.03 ERA, two baserunners per inning). Are either going to make it? I guess Jimenez is the more interesting of the two, because he's gotten up to mediocre from bad, and he's younger, but they're both just possibilities and wishcasts for the time being, standard fare as young hurlers go. I could kibbitz about how the organization could really use a position player with even modest promise, but let's face it, for a two-month rental of a player as injury-prone as Williamson, this seems about right as exchange rates go. The challenge is that they have to wind up doing more for the Cubs that what Wellemeyer's doing for the Royals, Van Buren's doing for Boston or Koronka's doing for the Rangers. I don't much care for those odds.
Placed LHP Kent Mercker on the 15-day DL (elbow inflammation), retroactive to 7/21. [7/22]
Recalled LHP Brian Shackelford from Louisville (Triple-A). [7/23]
The major reconstruction of this pen is already done, and whether or not Shackelford can adequately replace Mercker as the team's second lefty setup man is pretty small beer next to the larger investment in adding closer Eddie Guardado and relievers Gary Majewski and Bill Bray. Given how much is invested, though, don't be surprised if Shackelford gets flogged for every failure. The offense is already down a quarter-run per game since the break, though, and there's very little the pen can do about that, can they now?
I'm not quite sure why some people are worked up about getting Backe back. Whatever Backe's reputation for playoff heroics, keep in mind that what made them heroic was their perceived unlikelihood, and the reason for that was because Backe's little more than a nice scrapheap find, but he is not a key rotation regular, just a potentially more reliable fourth starter than Taylor Buchholz or Wandy Rodriguez, although without the upside of either of them. Since this is the back of the rotation we're talking about, what would really help the Astros would be getting last year's edition of Andy Pettitte to show up.
Traded C-R Sandy Alomar to the White Sox for RHP B.J. LaMura. [7/23]
Activated OF-R Jason Repko from the 60-day DL. [7/24]
Losing Kent is one of those things that the Dodgers might be getting used to, but it doesn't help them any. They've scored more than three runs just twice since the break, and while that isn't entirely Aybar's fault--he did rip two doubles in first game up before going cold--it's indicative of Kent's irreplaceability. This is an injury made worse by Grady Little's indecision: rather than make sure to play Aybar daily, since he's the best bat the club has for either second or third, he's fiddling around with ways to get Ramon Martinez playing time, and learning that for a third baseman, Cesar Izturis hits a lot like a punchless shortstop. There are other goats as well; good luck to Paul Simon in finding a working rhyme scheme for "Where have you gone, Nomar Garciaparra," Jose Cruz Jr. has been just as quick to disappear, and J.D. Drew certainly chose the wrong time to go cold.
As for deciding to dump Alomar now that they have Toby Hall to back up Russ Martin, that's all well and good. LaMura has a nice enough slider, but control problems severe enough to encourage people to believe that he may never make it onto a team's 40-man roster. Repko's reactivation does put him in place to be the primary right-handed caddy to the club's three starting outfielders, all of whom bat lefty, but then that only involves passing by the flagging Cruz.
Designated C-R Sal Fasano for assignment. [7/22]
Fasano has had deal with a good amount of indignity in his career, like being punted by the Royals because they were certain that a blushing younster like a 35-year-old Chad Kreuter absolutely needed to have a fellow thirtysomething, Tim Spehr, around to be absolutely confident that they didn't have a catcher with a future. So being DFA'd is something he's used to. Coming up on his 35th birthday, he's still not the worst second-string catcher to have, but it's a matter of luck if he winds up on a contender as their backup backstop. The Cardinals could certainly use somebody better than Gary Bennett, but the Yankees have been mentioned because of their dissatisfaction with Kelly Stinnett. The Rockies remain effectively catcherless regardless of who's wearing the tools of ignorance, so they could potentially help themselves and their slim shot at contention by making a phone call.
Acquired RHP Scott Williamson from the Cubs for LHP Fabian Jimenez and RHP Joel Santo. [7/22]
Added RHP Scott Williamson to the active roster; optioned 1B/3B-R Justin Leone to Portland (Triple-A). [7/24]
A pretty clear indication that Kevin Towers is taking his opportunity to win the division every bit as seriously as he should, and not merely settling for okay work from waiver bait like Brian Sweeney or Scott Cassidy or Brian Sikorski. The Padres' pen has really been built on the achievements of their top tandem, Trevor Hoffman and Scott Linebrink. They harbor high hopes for what Cla Meredith will do, but they can't really pencil him as their #3 reliever. So yes, adding a reliever made sense, and giving up Jimenez and Santo makes sense, and getting a veteran with experience both closing and pitching for playoff teams was a worthwhile target.
Now, you'd be right to note that Williamson hasn't pitched all that well this season. Keep in mind he's also had to pitch through Dusty Baker's caprices. The particularly odd part of his performance so far has been his struggles against right-handed hitters. That might improve some coming to PETCO, of course, and it will obviously help to have Bruce Bochy choosing when and how to use him instead of Baker. Additionally, Williamson is only under contract through this season, so for the penny-conscious Padres, he's a nice add from the beancounter's perspective. There is the concern that, like MacDougal, his health record makes him a difficult choice to count on, but he's been a significantly better pitcher than MacDougal, yet he cost less to get. Credit Kevin Towers for taking a worthwhile risk at relatively low cost for a known--if fragile--commodity.
Transferred RHP Tim Worrell from the 15- to the 60-day DL; optioned 1B-L Chad Santos to Fresno (Triple-A). [7/22]
Just a wee bit of tidying up after the Hillenbrand acquisition, so nothing fancy here.
Optioned UT-R Melvin Dorta to Harrisburg (Double-A). [7/23]
Named Mike Rizzo, previously the Scouting Director of the Diamondbacks, to be their new Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Baseball Operations. [7/24]
Getting Church makes sense for a club that has just found out that Jose Guillen is done for the year and perhaps longer, and really only has Alex Escobar around as an alternative to Church for right-field starts. This might help take some of the pressure off of Church in terms of not putting him in a position they don't think he can play--if he doesn't have to play center, that can no longer be used as a distraction, nor can it be used as an excuse. Church has struggled during his minor-league stints, but he has a fairly clean shot at playing, even moreso should the Nats deal Alfonso Soriano. It's up to him to simply hit, and earn a future thereby. I've made little secret of my hope that he'll do so, but no time like the present.
Meanwhile, up in the front office, somebody might want to tell the Boy Genius (Classic Edition) that the new kid in town might represent a bit of a menace to his future as a Washingtonian. Rizzo's one of the best up-and-coming candidates for a GM's job, and given that Jim Bowden's performance is an always-unsettling blend of good moves and bad, a nice solid player development guy makes for an equally solid fit for a Stan Kasten production. I suppose there's a chance that Bowden could fit in as the Schuerholzian mover and shaker, with Rizzo settling for aping Roy Clark's role as the player development guru behind the scenes, but Kasten didn't get the Braves rolling working with Schuerholz, he got things turned around working with Clark and Bobby Cox (first as GM, and later as field manager). The attention-hungry GM was a later addition to the Braves' "formula" for success.