Happy Thanksgiving! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume Monday, December 1
August 4, 2006
July 31-August 3
Colon replacement is rarely this pleasant, but let's face it, Saunders is ready. He's got the stuff, he's generated the results despite pitching in Salt Lake, even posting a nifty 2.3-1 groundball/flyball ratio. After posting a pair of good starts, the Angels know what they have, hence their willingness to dangle Ervin Santana. How this plays out in the months and winter to come, we'll have to see, but happily, Bartolo Colon is only under contract for one more year. This is the last season of Darin Erstad's regrettable four-year deal, and while I expect they're going to re-sign him--he's Darin Erstad, greatest hero ever, after all--they could dangle Colon, absorb some of his salary, and perhaps include one of their less-promising promising young infielders if they found a deal that could bring them a top-shelf third baseman. With the sort of talent that Bill Stoneman has on hand, he can afford to play for big stakes in the offseason, but in the meantime, the Angels have an ideal situation in terms of rotation depth.
Purchased the contract of RHP Winston Abreu from Ottawa. [8/1]
Orioles fans can exult that losing Birkins isn't too much of a big deal, what with the immortal Tim Byrdak already back. Not that they should have expected all that much in return, but I'm a little disappointed that the Orioles didn't move Javy Lopez, Jeff Conine, or Kevin Millar. If there's a system that could use any sort of talent, even other people's discards, it's the Orioles. Conine and Millar are probably bad enough to make it through to a waivers-deadline deal at the end of August, while the current rumors surrounding Lopez becoming a Red Sock would be a little surprising (nobody claimed him?). At least Lopez wouldn't have to wait till October to burn his Orioles uni and move on.
Activated LHP David Wells from the 15-day DL; placed OF-L Trot Nixon on the 15-day DL (strained biceps); optioned RHP Jermaine Van Buren to Pawtucket (Triple-A); added RHP Bryan Corey to the active roster. [7/31]
For all of the rumor-mongering, the Sox didn't make any additional moves, which doesn't exactly help their bid to stay ahead of the Yankees. Wells looked far from being ready to contribute in last night's start against the Indians, so even there, they aren't necessarily any better off than they were letting Kyle Snyder take his lumps every fifth day. Snyder did look good in long relief of Wells last night though... which really only leaves the Sox with a Scylla or Charybdis sort of choice in the rotation, the sort of tag team that should encourage the Sox to take the long way round and skip them altogether as frequently as the schedule permits. At least losing Nixon isn't a major problem--now that Wily Mo Pena is present and accounted for, the Sox will just lean a little more heavily to the right in their lineup, but they shouldn't have trouble scoring runs.
As for the fading legend of Hee Seop Choi, I'm enough of an optimist to suggest that somebody ought to claim him, even after his miserable Pawtucket summer. The A's, D-Rays, Orioles, heck, even the Pirates all ought to give him a look if they can claim him on waviers or work out a minor deal in the next seven or eight days.
It's not a terrible move, since it effectively cost them nothing to rent a left-handed bat that can make contact and get on base adequately and pop a double now and again. As much as it might surprise that they would shunt Shelton aside for a powerless favorite of the chattering classes, keep in mind that Casey is only under contract through the end of this season. Barring a major mistake in the offseason--like giving Casey a contract--this is just a spur to encourage Shelton that also provides the Tigers lineup with a lefty-hitting alternative. If Shelton takes his demotion as an opportunity to get his April stroke back, Dombrowski and Leyland will be hailed as geniuses, and if he doesn't, he might instead be on the Kevin Maas Career Path to Pan-Flashing. He hasn't slugged .400 in any month since April, and from a first baseman, that's bad enough to lose your job to Sean Casey.
I do expect Shelton will be on the playoff roster, and that creates the possibility to have Shelton, Casey, and Young in the lineup simultaneously, which means somebody has to play something besides first or DH. I suppose it's possible that Shelton would endure a postseason embarrassment like Howard Johnson did in 1984, when Sparky Anderson benched his third baseman to play Marty Castillo. However, Leyland's big on being loyal as well as being a motivator, and I doubt they'd snub Shelton that way. If it protects them against another injury to Young (or a Magglio Ordonez knee to be named later giving out), it's a good thing. If Casey actually does anything more than what he's done for the Pirates, it's a bonus.
In the meantime, this might also free up Dmitri Young for some spot duty in the outfield. I know I bring up Darren Daulton's '97 campaign playing for Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski before, but making Daulton a right fielder to get his bat in the lineup didn't hurt as badly as you might think, considering how ill-equipped Daulton was to play any position at that point, and if Leyland had that sort of tactical flexibility before, I wouldn't put it past him to use Young in the outfield against an opposing righty who has real problems with lefty hitters.
Acquired RHP Joselo Diaz from the Rangers for 1B/OF-L Matt Stairs; acquired 1B-R Ryan Shealy and RHP Scott Dohmann from the Rockies for LHP Jeremy Affeldt and RHP Denny Bautista; placed 1B-L Doug Mientkiewicz on the 15-day DL (strained back), retroactive to 7/26; placed RHP Brandon Duckworth on the 15-day DL (sore elbow); activated OF-R Reggie Sanders from the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Joel Peralta from Omaha (Triple-A). [7/31]
Activated C-L Paul Bako from the 15-day DL; optioned C-R
So here it is, the long overdue tear-down of the "Save Allard Baird's Job"-edition Royals. Having failed in their primary task, it's up to Dayton Moore to figure which winds to scatter which bits into, but if you had any high hopes that the Royals would get good stuff, guess again.
The deal with the Rockies was more about cleaning house than getting goodies. Dohmann is literally just an evener, and may not remain on the 40-man roster past November. And Shealy? He's already 27, and when a guy is hitting .267/.337/.521 against right-handed pitching in Colorado Springs at that age, that isn't what you're going to get in the major leagues from him. What's he going to do here, other than provide yet another stumbling block for the now very, very ready Justin Huber? Maybe, if the Royals tried to make Huber a catcher again for snicks, I'd get it, but that seems incredibly doubtful. The only thing Moore accomplished with this deal was making sure he has a choice, and while that's not a bad thing, what this really guarantees is that the good folks in Omaha will have a pretty good first baseman for the PCL, whichever one doesn't make it up to a season of waterfalls, BBQ, and 90-100 losses.
I'm a little more non-plussed about the decision to discard Bautista already. This is a team that has been employing league-wide castoffs like Mark Redman, Brandon Duckworth, Seth Etherton even. People with little or no upside, like Mike Wood or Scott Elarton. As quick as they've been to congratulate themselve on getting five good starts out of Luke Hudson, they're also in the business of giving extra opportunities to Runelvys Hernandez. Why didn't Bautista get any of that same benefit of the doubt? Well, apparently not on Dayton Moore's watch, and while it's worth giving the new guy the benefit of the doubt, and throwing out the old and trying something new, discarding Bautista to get a modestly-able first baseman little better than a younger, perhaps more able first baseman, just really seems like an unfortunate exchange.
As for the decision to finally trade Stairs, let's be fair to Moore, it isn't his fault that Baird never flipped him for anything of value last year or in 2004. Diaz isn't all bad, mixing a solid fastball with a splitter, but he is already 26, and his command issues conjure up memories of that Bautista character, the guy they decided they couldn't fix. Combined between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Oklahoma, Diaz had struck out 75 in 63.2 innings, while walking 42 and allowing only 44 hits. Throw in a half-dozen wild pitches and hit batsmen, and you've got a wild thing in Omaha not brought to you by Marlon Perkins. He's worth looking at, certainly, but he may not be any better than Todd Wellemeyer, who they found on waivers. Maybe he becomes part of a better bullpen, but as with any reliever, it's hard to get worked up over him.
In other news, they get to keep Minky around to the bitter end, and they didn't duck an uncomfortable decision about letting Mark Grudzielanek clinch his 2007 option by letting him get 500 plate appearances. That was probably the poison pill as far as trading him away, but again, that's on Baird, not Moore. Reggie Sanders gets stuck with the distinguished elder statesmen/babysitter role, althoguh there's always the opportunity to deal him in the winter or spring. Sour grapes over what little they got for Mike MacDougal compared to some of the other deals being done for relief pitching, let's face it, if the Royals are going to be fixed, it will have to be from inside. Moore's moves in November and December will matter more than what happened at the deadline.
Optioned RHP Boof Bonser to Rochester; purchased the contract of RHP
Okay, so the Bonser, Baker, and the Candlestick maker routine in the fifth slot is getting old, and we're all waiting on a decision to call-up Matt Garza already and get it over with. Although losing your roster spot to Jason Tyner might seem extra humiliating, Tiffee wasn't playing ahead of Nick Punto, and you now have a Twins infield where the only power source is Justin Morneau, but what's a competitive ecology without a little variety? Heck, as long as Punto gets on base at a .400 clip, you can't second-guess that. Maybe we've finally found a replacement for Jose Oquendo in our hearts and minds. Getting Hunter back is also good news, since that keeps Tyner on the bench, where he might do his best work as a pinch-runner or occasional must-make-contact desperation pinch-hitter.
The other nifty little note was getting something of value for Lohse. Although bringing Lohse back from Rochester was supposed to be an exercise in trying to get value for him, it seemed unlikely to me from the start, and even less so when he pitched as poorly in the pen as he had as a starter. However, former Twin minion Wayne Krivsky came to the rescue, happily discarding some prospect he didn't draft to get the once-acceptable Lohse for the bottom of his Red rotation. And conveniently enough, Ward's a comer, raw considering this is his first year as a pro after being picked out of Gardner-Webb College in the third round of the 2005 draft, but a kid who can throw in the low 90s consistently, and occasionally dial it up to 96. He's been solid as a 22-year-old in the Midwest League, tossing 114 innings, posting a 95-37 K-BB ratio, and allowing 74 hits, two home runs, and only 2.8 runs per nine. Even in this organization's logjam of pitching talent, he might shine. It might have taken an old allegiance to pull it off, but to Terry Ryan's credit, he got something for Lohse, and probably something better than he would have gotten in this year's draft if Lohse had not accepted arbitration.
I really like the idea of getting Wilson--and getting him at this price, instead of waiting to let Chacon leave as a free agent--and thereby adding a right-handed power bat who can take over at first base and let Jason Giambi DH. Wilson helps balance out getting Bobby Abreu and eventually both Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano back. When that happens, we're back to the days where not even getting down to the Yankees' nine-hole hitter makes life any easier on a pitcher. I've already said I think the Yankees can win the division now, and this only makes that look even more likely.
Unfortunately, there is the one little problem, which was keeping the now-purposeless Andy Phillips instead of Guiel. You play in Yankee Stadium, and Matsui isn't back yet--this is the team where you do want to have somebody on the bench who can park something in the right field porch. I admit, Guiel's probably the first choice to go down once Matsui returns, but that hasn't happened yet. Now that Wilson is here, what is Phillips for? Being a better first baseman than Giambi is no longer a unique skill on the roster, and that's really the only position that Phillips can play, and he isn't even any good at it. Hitting? Again, being good enough to pinch-hit for Miguel Cairo or Bubba Crosby, but maybe no Sal Fasano, is not a player you make a point of keeping. Guiel shouldn't just be on this team now, he's somebody you want on your playoff roster, certainly instead of Nick Green. Dumping him now on something like the principle of "last hired, first fired," is just sloppy roster management. This stuff has cost the Yankees in postseasons past, so it's a bit annoying if you think they're supposed to have learned something from those years they dragged Enrique Wilson along with them as some sort of unlucky charm.
Whatever the D-Rays decide to do with Guzman, I like the idea of going out and getting him. I soft-pedaled some of my doubts about him in the Dodgers section--I just can't help but think of the equally positionless, equally touted mistake prospect of the White Sox in the late '80s and early '90s,
Basically, I'm not a true believer, but I think this deal made sense for Tampa Bay to make. Lugo was leaving as a free agent after the season anyway, and they don't have to worry about trying to make Guzman anything other than a first baseman or left fielder when they have Upton taking over at third. The core that GM Andrew Friedman and his crew has put together in short order is pretty interesting:
Your 2007 Opening Day Devil Rays? (age) C Dioner Navarro (23) 1B Jonny Gomes (26) or Joel Guzman (22)? 2B Jorge Cantu (25) 3B B.J. Upton (22) SS Ben Zobrist (26) LF Carl Crawford (25) CF Rocco Baldelli (25) RF Delmon Young (21) or Elijah Dukes (22) DH Dukes, Gomes, or Guzman?
Looking at that spread, damn straight there wasn't room for the likes of Joey Gathright. Yes, the old-timers in the lineup would be third-year starter Gomes and the rookie shortstop who gets on base all the time. That's a team with no need for any winter moves, unless somebody offers you top-shelf pitching talent for Crawford. Heck, spend the winter in Florida already. (Oh, the winter meetings are in Orlando? Easier still, and they can show up to see what's available in the Rule 5 draft.) Gomes is only starting to learn how to play first, so that's a maybe; Guzman might end up getting a look at the position in the AFL or a south-of-the-border winter league. If you judge Guzman's prowess by the question "will he be better than Travis Lee," that's an easy yes. But will he be someone who can really hit? Tampa-St. Pete is exactly the place where you can afford to find out that sort of thing.
And Pedroza, you ask? He's 22 and his .281/.437/.562 in the Sally League looks tasty, but that's a Low-A league and he played college ball at Cal State Fullerton, a top program. If he can't beat up a bunch of kids only a year or two removed from high school, he'd have some explaining to do. Pushed up to High-A, first by the Dodgers and now the Rays, he's been awful. If he has to repeat the Cal League next year, you're looking at a guy who won't see Double-A till he's 24, and if he has the bat to make it there, he winds up as filler. That's a normal timetable-he might surprise and exceed that, of course. But if that's what you get out of him, I don't think the Montgomery Biscuits will be pre-fabbing his humiliating biscuit-bearing togs too soon, and seeing him as anything above organizational soldiery would be optimistic.
Optioned RHP Scott Feldman to Oklahoma. [8/2]
Although they were supposedly involved in a lot more discussions than what these results indicate, not a bad minor pair of pickups by the Rangers. They picked up Wells just as he seems to be rounding into reliability after rehabbing his way back, and that gives them a fifth starter they'd understandably rather go down the stretch with than Rheinecker. Recovering from getting an artery replaced this spring, there's some sort of chance that Wells might bounce back to his good run of 2002-04, and it cost little to risk it. In contrast, Rheinecker hasn't had a good start since the All-Star break, and after a pair of eight-plus inning outings at the start of his extended gig in the rotation, hadn't been particularly helpful. He fits in sort of nicely in a rotation manned by four other retreads or castoffs, plus that Millwood character.
Stairs is a little more marginally handy, in that he's here to provide a lefty-hitting alternative in the outfield, back up Mark Teixeira at first, and take a few spot starts at DH when Buck Showalter wants to put Mark DeRosa in the field. Using DeRosa at DH isn't the best idea in the first place, since it sort of handicaps his chief skill, an ability to play seven or eight positions. Regardless, it affords Showalter the opportunity to mix and match Stairs, DeRosa, Brad Wilkerson, and Nelson Cruz in the right field and DH slots. Add in Jerry Hairston's ability to play second, center, or left, and you get a bench that doesn't have anyone resembling Esteban Beltre on it.
For the curious who may have noted that both guys involved played yesterday, the move happened between games of the double-header. This does put the Snakes at 13 pitchers, and everybody in the pen is pitching well, so Koplove doesn't have a job to nick from one of the others. I suppose that's slightly more affordable in the NL than in the AL, where you don't need a DH. However, this gives them a four-man bench of one reserve infielder (Damion Easley), backup catcher (Chris Snyder), whichever center fielder isn't in the lineup (Jeff DaVanon, more often than not), and either Shawn Green or Conor Jackson, depending on who starts at first. That's not so terrible, because none of these guys is Lenny Harris or Quinton McCracken, but it doesn't leave a lot of space for normal use of pinch-hitters and enduring an in-game injury, and that could really be a nuisance in extra-inning games. It would be awfully handy if one of the pitchers hit like Dontrelle Willis, but none do.
Obviously, John Schuerholz is as much of a fan of Karel Capek's The War With the Newts as I am, because how can you resist a six-foot tall amphibian who can pitch? Wait, you mean he isn't a six-foot-tall salamander? He's just a Cardinals' organizational soldier? Well, that's downright disappointing. I was wondering if they were going to make him wear a third sock and stirrup on his tail, and now I find out that what we have here is your basic cookie-cutter non-roster relief guy.
Purchased the contract of RHP Juan Mateo from West Tenn (Double-A). [8/1]
Blech. Not that the Cubs should have expected to get much for making Walker and Maddux a couple of two-month rentals for teams that matter in the standings, but they managed to actually hurt themselves in the process. The only way getting Izturis helps them is if they've decided that Ronny Cedeno needs to go back to Iowa. If they instead think that, because Izturis is under contract through 2008 (counting a team option the Cubs might forego), they'll have a particularly slick-fielding middle infield combo of Izturis at second opposite Cedeno, then they're just begging to suck. A combination of Izturis and Cedeno won't score runs for you, but it will conjure up memories of particularly feeble middle infield combos of the '70s, like the ones that Dusty Baker played with when he was a Brave (who can forget Marty Perez and Larvell Blanks in 1975?). Izturis has had a pair of good Aprils (in 2004 and 2005), which helps create the impression that he can play, where the rest of his career gives a pretty solid indication that he whatever else, he really shouldn't be an everyday player. It's more appalling still when you recognize that Neifi Perez is also under contract for next season, so the Cubs may well wind up with all three of their middle infielders struggling to post a .300 OBP.
Now that Maddux is gone and Rusch is broken, what's the rotation look like? The way it should for a team out of contention: evaluating some of the organization's deep pool of talented young pitching, trying to see if they'll ever get another quality start out of Mark Prior, and letting Carlos Zambrano remind the Bud-addled masses what a real pitching ace looks like. Rich Hill did just have his first good start, and Carlos Marmol has more promise than most converted position players, but obviously has more than a few kinks to work out. Mateo's promise was already apparent last year, inspiring the Cardinals to take him in the Rule 5 draft, but failing to find space for him, he was returned to the Cubs. Mateo's offspeed stuff isn't considered as polished as anyone would like, but he's extremely effective using his low 90s heat--last season's strikeout rate at Daytona translated to better than a 2-1 K-BB ratio in the major leagues, an impressive spreadsheet feat for an A-baller. Like last season, he's spent most of this year starting, but with little trouble at Double-A: 3.1 runs allowed per nine, 70 Ks to 26 walks, 78 hits, only six of which were home runs. He could be trouble, in that he's a flyball pitcher, but with Jae Kuk Ryu, Sean Gallagher, Randy Wells, and
Okay, we get it. Wayne Krivsky's going for it. Considering that he's only under contract through 2008 (2009 is a mutual option), and that he's already got one of the game's most moribund farm systems around, why not? If he gets this team into the playoffs, he either guarantees that '08 option, or he guarantees that he won't wind up in an ESPN studio when he isn't waiting for the phone to ring. Fixing the whole organization needs more than just the next two years, so I don't blame the man for moving boldly. Time is short, both for this assemblage of talent, and for his commitment to the organization.
That said, while each of these deals is less costly than the monster Kearns-Lopez giveaway, he did have to give up good stuff for both Cormier and Lohse. The former is somewhat understandable--Cormier has perhaps more fame than he deserves because he's been somewhere between adequate and outstanding for much of the last six years in Philly. The problem with getting Cormier is that they didn't have to merely consent to a 9½ week fling, they had to woo the 39-year-old with a contract extension for 2007 (at $2.25 million), with a club option for 2008. I don't blame Cormier for holding out and extracting security to waive his 10-and-5 rights--the man has to move to Cincinnati, after all. Germano wasn't just some organizational soldier: he'll end up in the Phillies rotation, either later on this season, or next.
Where things get really silly is making another deal to try another failed Twin in the ongoing quest to find a fifth starter better than Brandon Claussen. It's a wee bit too soon to break out a "Mission Accomplished" banner just yet, because beyond being an overpriced mediocrity coming into the season, Lohse has been a complete disaster within it. Bumped from the rotation to Rochester before being handed a shot at redeeming himself as a long reliever, Lohse had been both the Twins' least-effective reliever and one of their least-effective starters. Maybe now we know who to blame for last winter's decision to offer Lohse arbitration and hold onto him, but Krivsky's current decision to entrust him with a rotation spot down the stretch is every bit as much a bit of wishcasting as it was with Joe Mays. Worse still, Krivsky actually gave up an arm with promise for Lohse. If the team keeps Lohse, they might offer him arbitration, but that would be a mistake, since he'd still cost far more than he's worth, and arbitration's 10% maximum pay cut isn't enough. Maybe they can cut him even further back than that by trying to sign him for less after non-tendering him, but at that point, you're going to an awful lot of trouble to have Lohse around, when there's very little reason to get worked up about him in the first place.
I'm sure this will lead to more "I've always loved you" cliff-diving from craven Reds beat reporters, but points on effort don't count in the standings. If this is Krivsky acting out of self-interest and a desire to win, that's all well and good, but he could a better significantly job picking his ponies than he has.
In an exchange of problems between organizations, Dan O'Dowd didn't do as badly as you might think. Dohmann had obviously overstayed his welcome, and I've never been a big believer in Shealy's potential, given his age and modest hitting credentials generated at altitude. So flipping the two of them for pitchers with some amount of experience and ability was a pretty decent swap on the face of it, and that's without getting into whether or not Affeldt and Bautista might benefit from escaping one of baseball's worst teams. Even coming to Coors Field, (and even if Coors Field goes back to being Coors Field, as our own Joe Sheehan might order if he were Czar for a day), O'Dowd has picked two guys with talent. That said, both Affeldt and Bautista represent a huge clustersmuck of control issues that the Royals understandably got tired of. Affeldt was a disaster in the rotation, but he wasn't all bad in the pen, and lefties who throw hard and spin a nice 12-6 classic edition curve don't grow on trees. Perhaps left alone in one role, even at altitude, he'll get it turned around, but also keep in mind he's a year away from free agency-eligibility, so he might not be around for long, whether he succeeds or fails.
Affeldt was the throw-in in a sense, because the big what-if is whether or not Bautista will ever harness his stuff. It seems amazing to me that the Royals decided that if he couldn't fix them himself, he wasn't worth anything. I like the decision to give him a look in Colorado, and while some might have wished for somebody more certain or more established in a deal that had Shealy outbound in it, we do know a few things. Whatever his mechanical issues, the man throws in the mid to high 90s, and he keeps the ball on the ground. Put him in the rotation and make your pitching coach work for his dollar, or put him in the pen and groom him to close, there's talent there. Shealy wasn't going to pass Todd Helton by, and also doesn't look like the sort of player who will make the Rockies cringe with regret playing for somebody else. There's a risk here, in that Bautista may never pan out, but it's one worth taking.
Placed C-L Matt Treanor on the 15-day DL (sprained shoulder); purchased the contract of C-R Paul Hoover from Albuquerque (Triple-A); transferred RHP
Ensberg's return puts Aubrey Huff in right field, which in turn puts Jason Lane even deeper on the bench. I don't see that as a good role for Lane-guys with contact issues seem to struggle coming off of the bench-so I'm really surprised by the decision to ship out Bruntlett instead. It leaves them with another former starting outfielder on the bench on a team that has a professional pinch-hitter like Palmeiro on it. It makes Chris Burke, your starting center fielder du jour, the team's backup shortstop, when you don't really know if he can play short, and when you really can't guess that Burke at short and Willy Taveras in center is better than Burke staying in center and Bruntlett at short should anything happen to Adam Everett. However, these are nits that I'm picking, and in the same way that I like that they've created a regular role for Burke, I like having both Ensberg and Huff in the lineup. Add in the decision to give Matt Albers a shot in the rotation, and there are all sorts of things to like about Phil Garner's roster management of late.
Designated OF-B Jose Cruz Jr. for assignment. [8/1]
Not a bad swag for the Dodgers, but also not as good as it might look at first glance. Maddux is not having a particularly good year, and he's not replacing Ned Colletti's earlier mistake--Mark Hendrickson--in the rotation, but instead bumps Aaron Sele, who hadn't done all that badly. So you'll have to forgive me if I don't exactly see this as a clear case of "doing what it takes to win" or whatever. If the GM can't admit that he blew it and picked up a lemon instead of peach, a do-over deal to get a starter about as good as the one he gave up (Jae Seo) is just self-created busy-ness for its sake. I'm sure the same people who think the Dodgers are something special are feeling appropriately fuzzy about seeing Maddux in their classic uni, but he's a patch, not the Maddux of old, and a patch on a patch at that. The upside? Famous guy gets into playoff race in what might be his final season; film at 11.
The hidden benefit is taking Izturis off of Grady Little's tactical menu, sparing the manager the effort of finding a way to use a player who wasn't useful; which brings us to the other fixer-upper exchange, getting Lugo for Guzman. This might seem an expensive rental, because Lugo's a free agent at season's end. It's also something of a dare, because the Dodgers are asking Lugo to play second, a position he hasn't spent much time at since 2000, and he wasn't good at it then. Still, this is the franchise that made Davey Lopes a second baseman, and Lugo offers a similarly tasty blend of power, speed, and some OBP. If his OTJ training at second doesn't cause too much trouble, he might be the best middle-infield upgrade of the deadline. Add him to an infield that has Wilson Betemit at third and Rafael Furcal at short, and you've got a pretty gifted collection of players handling second, short, and third. This also eases the pressure on getting Jeff Kent or Nomar Garciaparra back any sooner than they'll be ready.
But what about the cost? It depends on where you stand on Guzman's prospect status. If you look at the birthday, you see that he's a 21-year-old who's holding his own at Triple-A. If you're a cynic, you'll note that .297/.353/.464 at Las Vegas isn't all that special, and there's no idea about what position, if any, that Guzman can play. He's a terrible left fielder, but at his age, he should be able to learn. His glovework at short back in the day was considered a menace by his pitchers, and he's slow on his feet; his best defensive tool is probably his arm, except it isn't clear he knows how to use it to best effect as an outfield. He's not going add much on the bases, so what you have is a positionless stork who will go as far as his bat will take him. The Dodgers decided they didn't have the time to see how far that would be, but his youth and tools do represent a real possibility that they'll look bad on this deal. However, keep in mind that this is an organization that has a 22-year-old James Loney as its first baseman of the near-future, Andy LaRoche (23 by season's end) and Blake DeWitt (21 shortly) coming up at third, and Andre Ethier (24) ready and Matt Kemp (22 soon) nearly so in the outfield. Since Guzman wasn't really a shortstop, and this isn't the DH league, what else is he but trade bait? Reasonable people can disagree over whether or not the Dodgers got value, but Lugo was the prize pickup for your middle infield needs, and if he leaves as a free agent you will get a pick or two to replace him (with Logan White doing the picking). That doesn't sound so bad to me, and if Guzman develops on Tampa Bay's watch, you can afford to be generous enough to say 'bully for them' if you're Ned Colletti.
Finally, are there any questions about how useful Jose Cruz is any more?
Signed SS-B Jose Reyes to a four-year contract extension with a club option for 2011. [8/3]
A lot to like here. First, there's the Reyes deal, which buys out his arbitration years, his first year of free agency, and his second year of free agent eligibility should they pick up the option. The annual compensation rates scale up after a $1.5 million signing bonus: $2.5 million in 2007, $4 million in '08, $5.75 million in '09, $9 million in 2010, and either $11 million on the option, or a $500K buyout. (Cheap, that.) By contemporary standards, the only really expensive season the Mets have to pay for is 2010, and then perhaps only if Reyes turns into the new Garry Templeton, instead of building on his 2006 breakout. Now, I know, Templeton was Reyes' only meaningful comparable player coming into this season, but now that Reyes has done something special as a 23-year-old, it's not a bad gamble to lock him up through his Age-27 or Age-28 seasons. At that point, he might command A-Rod money on the open market, but the Mets can cross that bridge (to the Bronx) if they have to. What it might mean for David Wright is really the 800-pound gorilla the Mets need to deal with first.
Omar Minaya also deserves kudos for his fancy footwork in pulling off the deal with the Pirates no sooner than he had lost Sanchez for the season after a car accident. Now, I don't believe that Roberto Hernandez is going to be a world-beater, but getting him does allow the Mets to ease up on Aaron Heilman's work load, and ideally get him tuned up for the playoffs. Getting Perez as a throw-in is another nice little gamble. Sure, he's a mess and may not be fixable, but isn't this what you hired Rick Peterson for in the first place? If Rick-Pete can get Perez back to anywhere close to his 2004, that would be particularly sweet, but if he simply gets brought back to usable fifth starterdom, that's a useful add-on for the next couple of seasons.
The one thing that might have Mets fans quaking is getting rid of Nady, because if Milledge isn't ready, you're down to a weak platoon of Endy Chavez and Eli Marrero. I know, Chavez has "broken out" this year, but I think we've been on that wild fun ride we called the career of Timo Perez one time too many already. However, it's a worthwhile gamble, and frankly, I'd rather have Milledge up on this team, playing with Cliff Floyd and Carlos Beltran, and getting a taste of the playoffs. It isn't quite the same thing as Andruw Jones getting the call in 1996, but it's not that different.
Finally, shipping out Pelfrey makes sense to me, although I know this is something Kevin Goldstein and I disagree about. He's in favor of pushing pitchers up fast, and in general, I might not disagree. I'm just not sold that doing it in a guy's first year as a professional is that easy a call. He wasn't embarrassed in his four big league starts, but if Pedro Martinez is ready for a regular turn in the rotation, then we can safely kill off this flirtation with the six-man rotation, and instead wonder about whether or not the seven-man pen made up of a closer and three righties and lefties will become conventional. Royce Ring managed to re-buff his dimmed prospect rep by holding lefties to a .152/.220/.152 clip at Norfolk, earning him the right to join Pedro Feliciano and the deathless Darren Oliver as the pen's lefty trio. Not a famous or expensive guy in the group, so for all the concern over the money spent bringing in Billy Wagner to close, we should again credit Minaya for not spending seven large to get a 'name' situational lefty. As much as I'd like to see Heath Bell get a shot, Ring might be part of next year's pen once Oliver leaves for somebody's larger offer, and let's face it, we're talking the seventh reliever on a team wondering what flavor they want their cakewalk to be. Tiramisu, German chocolate, or pecan pie... decisions, decisions...
Traded LHP Rheal Cormier to the Reds for RHP Justin Germano; optioned OF-L Michael Bourn to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A); recalled RHP Brian Sanches and CF-R Chris Roberson from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [7/31]
It's sort of amusing, but Pat Gillick may well have landed better value for Cormier than the sum of what he got in the Abreu deal. Don't get me wrong, Germano probably won't be the next Roy Halladay, but his list of comparables is interesting: Rick Wise pitched forever, and Adam Eaton and Kip Wells have had their moments. He's just about ready to step into the rotation already, but at the very least, he'll deserve a shot in 2007.
Acquired RHP Brian Rogers from the Tigers for 1B-L Sean Casey; acquired OF-R Xavier Nady from the Mets for RHP Roberto Hernandez and LHP Oliver Perez; acquired RHP
It's an astonishingly poor haul, but let's face it, timing is definitely not one of Dave Littlefield's gifts. The best player acquired might well be the payoff for Wells, and that's saying something, because Chavez is a far from finished product. If he adds a consistent breaking pitch, he might grow up to be an effective major league reliever, but right now, he's got a pretty significant problem getting lefties out, and in a pitching-rich system like the Pirates, a situational righty would be hard-pressed to make it. Happily, he's only 23 and has already reached Triple-A, so there's room for growth. But the rest? Rogers is a soft-tosser despite only being 24, and has already worked his way out of rotation duties to wind up in a Double-A bullpen. Heck, the man did his best work in the '60s, and would that really be the sort of guy you want to mix into your team chemistry? He has been dominant in Erie, striking out 69 and walking only 13 in 64 innings of middle relief work, but his .268 BABIP hints that his defense has been making his life a lot easier. Think
What about the major leaguers acquired? Filler, the both of them. Chacon's potentially a free agent at season's end, and while he's been bad enough this year to probably be desperate enough to stick around, at 28, what you see is what you get, the latest incarnation of such disappointments as Joey Jay, Pete Smith, or Steve McCatty. Flashes of usefulness--like last season's stretch drive with the Yankees--earn him a moderate amount of fame, but right now, he's just a guy in the way in an organization with better homegrown talent on the way up. Nady's seen as a prospect by some, but he'll be 28 next year, and as nice as this year's PETCO-unchained power spike has been, this is his ceiling. As a fourth outfielder or your worst starting outfielder on a team that gets offense from the other seven slots, he's not useless, but he's not going to make the Pirates any better, he'll only keep them stocked in inventory. The best thing to do with him is make him the new Rob Mackowiak, play him at first and third some, and then see if he fills somebody else's needs so that you can flip him for something better. They're flipping everybody else all over the diamond in an apparently random search for people to play in the positions that Jason Bay and Jack Wilson don't play, so why not?
That brings us back to whether or not Littlefield can flip people for value, and the longer the track record gets, the less believable such a proposition becomes, and the more the Jason Bay looks like an anomaly. Dealing Wilson a year or two too late to get real value for him demonstrates a real problem with understanding that this team's goal should be on building to win, not building to win 75 games if everything works out right. For four major league players (and Perez), in a seller's market, Littlefield wound up with placeholders for the rotation and the outfield, and perhaps one minor league reliever who might amount to something. That's not simply bad, it's downright pathetic.
Acquired 1B/2B/3B?-L Todd Walker from the Cubs for RHP Jose Ceda. [7/31]
Pretty much as expected, with the Pads getting a modest offensive boost at third base for a Dominican to be named now, and with Johnson pushing Young off of the roster. There will be ugly moments for Walker at third-he wasn't entirely awful playing there a decade ago, but let's face it, that was when Walker was a much younger, quicker man. But that's where having Geoff Blum and Mark Bellhorn comes in, because the thing they should really want from Walker is three at-bats per game started by a right-handed pitcher (he's .302/.360/.422 vs. RHPs this year). Bellhorn and Blum can come in for late-game defense, and start as needed versus lefties, although neither is really much better against southpaws than Walker. That's basically a decision about who's going to bat seventh or eighth against a lefty, and seasons usually aren't made or broken on that kind of detail. So, a good move by Kevin Towers, and an easy upgrade in his outfield reserves. These were the only real holes left in the NL's third-best offense, and Towers has cut bait when he had to (in the cases of Vinny Castilla and Young) and made a cheap deal when he could.
Acquired RHP Jorge Sosa from the Braves for RHP
Optioned RHP Josh Kinney to Memphis (Triple-A). [8/1]
Although this means that we got a lot less fireworks from Walt Jocketty than in years past, taking a flyer on Sosa on the off chance that pitching coach Dave Duncan can do something with him seems like a worthwhile exercise.
Purchased the contract of RHP Ryan Wagner from New Orleans (Triple-A). [7/31]