July 29, 2006
July 27-28, 2006
Recalled LHP Javier Lopez from Pawtucket (Triple-A. [7/28]
The timing might seem odd, in that Marte is hitting just .261/.322/.451 as a Bison, and after a torrid June, he's gone back into a bit of a funk at the plate. But as it begins to look like the siren song suggesting that Aaron Boone and/or Casey Blake are available only inspires a chorus of crickets, I can't blame GM Mark Shapiro for deciding to skip the flirting and just get on with the future, and handling the long-awaited change at third base with all of the declicacy that Henry VIII treated his wives with. Nabbing Marte in the offseason probably represents the club's 2006 highlight, although certainly their pair of trades with the Mariners have proven to be causes of celebration as well. Only 22, Marte makes this a fine week for additions alongside Shin-Soo Choo, joining Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta to give the Indians an especially talented young cadre of hitters to support Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner through their primes. That's the core of a lineup that should be lowering the boom on pitchers for the next four or five years.
Optioned LHP Andy Sisco to Omaha (Triple-A). [7/28]
Signed C-R Mike Redmond to a two-year contract extension, with a club option for 2009. [7/27]
This sort of stability might be the antidote for those people who complain all that moving around players do these days, but let's credit Terry Ryan for not caring whether or not Frank DeFord takes his nose out of his snifter to stop whining about the good old days, and simply making a good call on at least one of his free-agent bench additions in recent years. Redmond's more like my idea of the perfect backup catcher, in that he's just that, a backup catcher, and not somebody so good that lots of teams wish he was starting for them, like Josh Bard or Gerald Laird or Ramon Castro or Gregg Zaun. Redmond controls the running game well enough, and chips in the Junior Ortiz empty .300 one-off with an annual regularity. If there's a rival for the title of best backup catcher who can really only be a backup catcher, it might be the Tigers' Vance Wilson, but we're probably getting into Andy Milonakis-quality debate territory.
Apparently Ken Macha shrunk back from the prospect of keeping Kirk Saarloos back in the rotation, especially after Saarloos provided a nice enough reminder of how a long reliever can help keep you in the game when a starter flops. I guess I don't doubt that it makes a difference on a team that already has to cope with Esteban Loaiza's early exits ever five days, and having an untried fifth man sort of exacerbates that.
Since the experiment with rushing up Jason Windsor didn't work out so well, the latest Plan B involves taking a spin with Komine. A Hawaiian import who pitched in Nebraska in college--who knows, maybe it was the side benefit of one of the school's many scouting trips to Samoa for football players--Komine has decent velocity and throws four pitches for strikes. He's been relatively hot in the last two months, striking out 63 in 63 innings while walking only 14, with a 101/32 K/BB in 120 1/3 IP overall. Already 25, he's in his first full season back from having Tommy John surgery in 2004; he also impressed in the Arizona Fall League last winter.
So what's the downside? Well, at 5-foot-8 or -9, he'll be one of the smallest right-handers in a big-league rotation, and there's a lot of bias to overcome when you're a short righty. However, giving him a shot at becoming the club's fifth man doesn't seem too risky. If Komine ends up being able to give the team quality starts half of the time, take his once-a-week turn (the A's schedule is Thursday game-free until September 21), and throw six innings with any regularity, he'll be an upgrade on Loaiza, let alone Windsor.
Meanwhile, although the reshuffling of the lefties seems random enough, I suppose if you had to pick them in order, you'd want Sauerbeck, then Flores, then a nice lunch, phoning an old friend, taking the dog to a park you've never been to, and then maybe, but only maybe, picking Keisler. So with Sauerbeck hurt, they've got the right guy in place, and if Macha has to make do with only one lefty in the pen, tough cookies.
Placed OF-L Chris Snelling on the 15-day DL (shoulder impingement). [7/27]
It's sort of sad when a player's career has been reduced to Chevy Chase's impression of Gerald Ford, and while this latest injury conjures up images of his getting hurt when the door did indeed hit him from behind on his way out, this was actually a pre-existing injury that he was able to play through down in Tacoma, and the Mariners are generously treating this as an opportunity to give Snelling all of the benefits of being on the big-league roster in the meantime. So now Snelling can afford to eat at Outback every night, except that I suspect that, like any native, he probably doesn't care much for a mass-market interpretation of his country's cuisine.
Acquired LF-R Carlos Lee and RF-R Nelson Cruz from the Brewers for RHP Francisco Cordero, OF-R Kevin Mench, CF-L Laynce Nix, and LHP Julian Cordero; recalled RHP Josh Rupe from Oklahoma (Triple-A); optioned CF-B Freddy Guzman to Oklahoma. [7/28]
So, the Rangers get a difference-making bat, the sort of hitter who can help them actually win the West, and that was all it took to get him? A corner outfielder who might have lost his job to Jason Botts, a failed former closer, a washout center-field suspect and a low-A lefty? Even if the challenge now is for Texas to get Lee signed after the season's done, there's nothing wrong with getting him interested by participating in a pennant race and then having an exclusive negotiating window. If he leaves, regardless of whether the Rangers won or lost they'll get quality picks, and even if he does leave, as if the Rangers didn't already get the big stuff in this trade, they probably also got the second-best player in the deal by getting Cruz packaged in. After not beating out Gabe Gross for a reserve spot in the outfield, Cruz only went down to Nashville and mashed, hitting .302/.378/.528. Walks? He's got 40 unintentionals in 423 PA, a solid ratio. Fielding? The man's a good right fielder, complete with the arm to freeze runners. Heck, the guy is even running well, swiping 17 bases in 23 attempts. I wouldn't bet against Cruz outhitting Mench, let alone Lee, so the Rangers are even insured against losing the prize pickup of the deadline after the season. In the meantime, they may be two wins better in the remaining ~60 games on the schedule, and that's a critical upgrade in the already-tight AL West. Credit the Rangers not simply for gambling on a win, credit them with making a brilliant trade.
Rios' long-anticipated return makes the decision to discard Shea Hillenbrand that much easier to live with. Now, John Gibbons' nice problem to have is sorting out who plays left, who DHs and who sits on any given day among Reed Johnson, Eric Hinske and Frank Catalanotto. That sort of depth also allows the Jays to ease Rios back into the lineup, or let Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay or Troy Glaus take routine off-days without seriously hurting the lineup. Given the relatively slender deck that Joe Torre's playing with in New York, it's a nice comparative advantage, as long as Gibbons remains willing to keep finding ways to get Hinske into the lineup.
And... that's it? Don't get me wrong, I really like Aybar as a second baseman. His bat plays well there, he'll only be 24 next year, and this year's bust-out at the plate at Las Vegas might provide encouragement that he'll be a good regular at the position. Unfortunately, he really only plays second, and summoning up memories of Pedro Guerrero during his moonlighting as a third baseman, just because in the Dodgers' organization, they've always liked fiddling around. And can Betemit play shortstop? Only if asked, and there are some things you should only ask for in an emergency. So I don't buy the argument that the Braves got an infielder anywhere close to as valuable as Betemit. Betemit can play third and short, and he's not only a more established hitter, he's simply better, especially in the power department. Since Betemit's only 24 now, it isn't like he's reached his peak--he has considerable future value. And expense? Betemit won't be arbitration-eligible this winter.
So, for all that, the Braves would have to get themselves a hell of an evener, right? Wrong. They got the consistently less-than-advertised Cubano, Baez, to be the set-up man people have heard of to support newly-rented closer Bob Wickman. Even if you buy that the Braves have a shot from 6 1/2 games out in the wild-card race, and if you believe that getting a reliever was a difference-making move (a no less dodgy proposition), and if you subscribe to the idea that to pursue the wild card and to get a reliever, Betemit wasn't only their best chit to trade, he was the one they had to deal to get something to help them, then maybe you see this as a deal that did Atlanta some good. Me, it looks like they're pursuing an already difficult objective with even less than they had going for them before they made the deal. What happens when Chipper Jones breaks down again, or if Edgar Renteria needs a weekend off? How does it help that fragile bid on contention when you now have to turn to Pete Orr, because he can play the infield positions that Aybar can't?
I guess there's the notional virtue that the Braves won't be fiddling around with all that talk of moving Chipper to the outfield any more, not now that Betemit's gone. Should they elect to deal Marcus Giles after this season, there's the money saved by plugging Aybar in at second, but they'd really need to get something for Giles, and the year he's had doesn't help them with that. As deadline mistakes go, this may be one of John Schuerholz's worst. Between discarding Andy Marte and Betemit, the GM has put a serious dent in his franchise's future.
Optioned RHP David Aardsma to Iowa; recalled LHP Rich Hill from Iowa (Triple-A). [7/28]
It's going to be worth giving Hill as many bites of the apple as it takes, even if the guy seems to have an uncanny knack to wind up with a mouth full of worms every time. In his defense, I suppose we could note that Hill has faced a contending team in all five of his starts, but given the mayhem that is the NL playoff picture, that just means he hasn't faced the Pirates (and he can't face the Cubs). I guess there's a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don't dilemma here, in that if the Cubs left Hill in Iowa all year, it might boost his trade value, but how do they know they want to trade him until they look at him in the majors? That's the conundrum of Cubbiedom: just plain damned.
It's incredible that this was all it took for the Dodgers to land Betemit, patching their hole at third base and giving them a hitter who makes up for Jeff Kent's absence. Whether they play Betemit at third and move Cesar Izturis across the diamond to second, or make Betemit play second, the solution doesn't really matter, because in landing Betemit they have a player they didn't have in Aybar--an infielder that (presumably) Grady Little will play instead of wondering why he isn't winning games with nice young men like Izturis and Ramon Martinez.
And skip the Dodgers' chances this year, they've got Betemit! Although Jeff Kent, Bill Mueller and Rafael Furcal are all under contract for 2007, Mueller's career is probably over because of his cartilage-free right knee. So rather than continue asking Aybar to play a position that wasn't his best, and rather than settling for somebody like Aaron Boone or David Bell, the Dodgers somehow managed to get into the Betemit auction, and more strangely still win it with a less-promising infielder and two months of Danny Baez? Hayzoos maria, that's a ridiculously good deal by Ned Colletti. It helps the Dodgers now and years into the future, and by adding an infielder who can first replace Mueller and later Kent, they haven't even put a stumbling block in front of either Andy LaRoche or Blake DeWitt for their eventual challenges for the big-league job at the hot corner.
Traded LF-R Carlos Lee and RF-R Nelson Cruz to the Rangers for RHP Francisco Cordero, OF-R Kevin Mench, CF-L Laynce Nix and LHP Julian Cordero; placed RHP Jose Capellan on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder), retroactive to 7/25; acquired 3B-R David Bell from the Phillies for RHP Wilfrido Laureano. [7/28]
The Brewers are on the fence about what kind of team they are, and now... they're on the fence about what kind of team they want to be. Rather than make a move that helps them now or in the future, Doug Melvin managed to make a deal that does neither. Mench is already 28, only a year and a half younger than Lee, so this isn't even a good exchange in terms of getting some up-and-comer. Disastrously bad deal that this is, the guy with upside in this trade--Cruz--went to Rangers. Maybe this works out if you really believe that Mench can hit outside of Texas, but there isn't a lot of supporting evidence for that, not when he's slugged .503 on his career at home, and .454 on the road.
Where this does work is financially, making this a throwback to... what, the hoary (ahem) days of Sal Bando? After all, even in arbitration, Mench will cost a lot less than signing Lee would have, and Lee rejected what the Brewers felt had to be their final offer ($48 million over four years). There's just about no way that Melvin can get away from paying an aging Geoff Jenkins his $7 million next year, so you can pretty much guarantee that the Brewers will have a weak pair of starting outfielders, Jenkins because age happens, and Mench because Melvin didn't capitalize on the decision to deal Lee. I suppose getting rid of Cruz makes some strange sort of sense, because after all, he'd simply be blocked, again, what with Mench and Jenkins in the way. Yes, that also means that Corey Hart has to wait another year, despite his having more offensive upside than any of these other guys.
Oh, but wait, they got a reliever, and he's better than Dan Kolb, even! Yippee. Except that isn't even true: Kolb has a "better" WXRL than Cordero, -.159 to -.902. Since both of them are on the wrong side of 30, what does it even matter? Again, my concern is that the major motivator was financial: Cordero is a "proven" closer, and he's already signed for 2007. Scratch another item off of Melvin's winter list of things to do--he doesn't need to find somebody to challenge Derrick Turnbow, because now he's got someone who... might not win that challenge, just the same as bringing Kolb in last winter. Unfortunately, Cordero's $5 million option eats up just about all of whatever savings were supposed to be achieved from moving down from Lee to Mench. Maybe the financial math works if Melvin's sure he can take the money he offered to Lee and pay for a top-shelf free-agent starting pitcher or a center fielder, but that didn't have to involve trading Lee for a package that won't help the Brewers win now, next year or ever.
What about the other goodies? Nix is already a washout at the major-league level, and his hitting at Oklahoma (.269/.323/.430) is barely enough to help at Triple-A. Picking up somebody who might not even beat out Dave Krynzel for the job of playing center in Nashville is not something you had to do. Julian Cordero is a 21-year-old lefty down in the Midwest League. Neither too young nor too old for the level, it's his debut at the lowest rung of full-season play, he's also been neither too good or bad, striking out 49 and walking 26 in 68 innings, giving up 4.1 runs per nine. The nicest aspect of his performance has been his moving into the rotation this month: in five starts, he's allowed fewer than a baserunner per inning in 26 frames, and struck out 18. He's also posted solid groundball/flyball rates, more than 2-1, and the related lack of people hitting for much power, as hitters are only slugging .321 against him. He can sometimes dial it up over 90, but he has no consistent second pitch. It's a bit early to expect much either way, and for this deal to make any sense, the Brewers need for him to fulfill some inflated expectations.
Trading Lee was a unique opportunity, where Melvin could have extracted maximum value. Instead, he got some of the guys who've helped the Rangers win nothing and like it, great prep work for doing likewise in Milwaukee. Even the chances that any of the players acquired will be as valuable as the draft choices forfeited by making the deal instead of holding onto Lee seems doubtful. The core of talent in Milwaukee is such that they should be able to contend, but it's going to have to be despite this trade, instead of because of it (in part).
As for adding Bell, it's a nothing bit of roster-stocking. Jeff Cirillo can't play third every day, and Rickie Weeks is going onto the DL, so Tony Graffanino is going to have to be pressed into action. The organization is otherwise stuck with guys like Chris Barnwell, Brent Abernathy, and Zach Sorensen, and settling for having any of them back would too obviously send the message that Milwaukee is done this year. They shouldn't have bothered, because nobody should be fooled. Bell will do what he does best--log service time--but he won't help the Brewers win games.
For all of the prevaricating on how this six-man rotation gewgaw will be good for Pedro Martinez, I'm not buying it. Yes, maybe the extra day off for Pedro will help him, but I'm not sold that this is the best thing for Mike Pelfrey, and if I were the Mets, I'd rather try to keep Tom Glavine, Steve Trachsel, John Maine and Orlando Hernandez on turn. There's not a lot in their performance records that would suggest that El Duque or Trachsel do better on long rest. If they need to jumble things around to compensate for Pedro's need to work on five days' rest, that can be done, especially when the team's got very little else to occupy Omar Minaya's time down the stretch.
Acquired RHP Wilfrido Laureano from the Brewers for 3B-R David Bell. [7/28]
Blech. Not that discarding Bell isn't a fine idea, even if it exposes one of GM Pat Gillick's more unfortunate winter mistakes in signing Abraham Nunez to a two-year deal. But this is what the guy was here for, to play, so maybe he does something in the last two months, and more likely, the Phillies get a nasty reminder that not only do they not have a major league third baseman, they don't even have a decent third base prospect. Let's call this the Curse of Rick Schu, where everyone who tries to replace Mike Schmidt inherits nothing more than bitterness (in Scott Rolen's case) or failure (in everybody else's).
Acquired LHP Mike Stanton from the Nationals for RHP Shairon Martis. [7/28]
As narrow as the margin might be in the NL West and in the wild card race, I'm more than a little surprised to see anybody give up much of anything for a pitcher like Stanton. Although the excuse offered is that the Giants were worried about how young their pen denizens were, I'm not buying it, not when they've got Armando Benitez and Steve Kline hanging around, and it isn't like they found Vinny Chulk or Jonathan Sanchez flipping burgers before they wound up in the Giants pen. If anything, the real intention is that this shows that Brian Sabean is doing everything in his power to shore up this club and maximize his team's shot. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, but giving up Martis to add what's left of Stanton's career ended up being a pretty expensive compensation gesture.
If we're supposed to expect Jim Bowden to endure a reality check against his ambitions for what he wants for Alfonso Soriano, I doubt that getting something for Stanton helps any. I mean, it's Mike Stanton we're talking about, and the Nats didn't just get somebody with a pulse, they got somebody who no-hit Panama in the World Baseball Shenanigan while pitching for the Netherlands despite his relative youth (19). Martis is an solid talent for one so young, throwing in the low 90s, with a good feel for his curve, and if he's been up-and-down at Augusta down in the Sally League (4.6 runs per nine, a month missed to elbow trouble, against a nifty 66/21 K/BB in 76 2/3 IP), need I remind you that they got something with promise for Mike Stanton?
As for bringing up Hughes to take the ex-famous reliever's place, that works just fine. Hughes was having another strong season in Triple-A, striking out 80 in 65 1/3 IP, although he did walk 37 on his own while also allowing so many unearned runs that his runs per nine was 3.9, compared to a prettier 2.48 ERA. One of Bowden's more succesful retreading experiments, Hughes throws hard and still has a nice slider and splitter, so having him back isn't like an unwanted dose of the Gryboskis. With Micah Bowie handling the lefty relief work well enough, the Nats might have four relievers worth using (with Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch rounding things out), not bad considering that they dealt three guys this month. That in itself should be a bit educational, but the mania for finding relief help in somebody else's organization seems to be the fashionable notion no matter how often it doesn't work out.