August 18, 2006
Signed 1B-L Carlos Pena to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Pawtucket (Triple-A). [8/16]
Acquired 4C-L Eric Hinske and cash from the Blue Jays for a PTBNL. [8/17]
The Yankees could almost cry foul here, if they hadn't already gotten Bobby Abreu for a song, and not even a particularly good one, perhaps something along the lines of an Oingo Boingo B-side that time appropriately forgot.
Getting Pena to exercise his free agency option to walk off of the Clippers' roster and become a quality reserve waiting for the call in Boston's outfit was already pretty tasty-Pena hit .262/.391/.496 against RHPs in the International League, not too much more than what you might hope from him since he hit .254/.355/.493 against them in the big leagues last year. Add in that he's a plus defender at first, and the Sox have their substitute for previous decisions to lefty-hitting reserves like John Olerud or Roberto Petagine. Yankees fans can work themselves up to a new level of obnoxified by this exchange, but they're not alone-as an A's fan, I would have loved to seen Pena picked up as an alternative to getting Dan Johnson back on track, but Johnson is slugging .627 for Sacramento, so it's probably safe to say that he's right as rain. But this move also makes me think that the Tigers' decision to release Pena outright in camp so that they could cycle guys like Jack Hannahan, Alexis Gomez, Ramon Santiago, Jason Grilli, and Roman Colon through the last couple of spots on the roster deserves reconsideration. If the Tigers had kept Pena, they wouldn't have had to trade for Sean Casey, and they would have had a better in-house alternative to Chris Shelton should he falter, as he did. Pena was projected to a .294 Equivalent Average before the season, while Casey was projected to .275, and has achieved even less. If you'd asked me in February which one I'd rather have, I'd have said Pena, but I've been something of a Casey detractor for... well, forever, because the Hal Morris types generally don't inspire a lot of an enthusiasm in me for them as anything more than temps.
So, Pena was already a nifty no-cost add, but what really gets silly is that then the Red Sox get another gimme from a division "rival" to combat the Evil Empire? Javy Lopez for nothing as a two-month rental can be written off as a case of the Orioles screwing up, because they mishandled the decision about who to have at DH, and flubbed an opportunity to convert Lopez for real goodies last winter when his value as a catcher would have commanded something in barter. But to now have the Blue Jays agreeably hand over a lefty power bat who can help a Red Sox lineup that, without Trot Nixon, really could use a lefty to mix in at all four corners of the infield and outfield? That's a wee bit convenient, that, especially on a team that has right-handed hitters starting at first, third, and in both outfield corners. Hinske should be a near-regular at all four spots (plus DH on those rare days Papi might want off), perhaps particularly spot-starting for Wily Mo Pena, Mike Lowell, and Kevin Youkilis. Not that any of the three are having trouble with right-handed pitching this year, but would you rather really have to count on Gabe Kapler?
Basically, I wouldn't credit Theo Epstein with any particular genius here, beyond the sensible decision to help his team. He took advantage of Toronto's agreeability while simultaneously swiping a potentially useful sub from the Yankees' organization, and that's all good, but it took one team willing to play handmaiden, and perhaps some sort of discreet suggestion to Pena to exercise his option to leave the Yankees. So Epstein will fight the Yankees on the beaches and fight them in the hills and fight them from the banks of the Hudson to Plymouth Rock and back. Did you expect anything less?
Announced that INF-L Ramon Vazquez cleared waivers and was outrighted to Buffalo (Triple-A). [8/16]
Signed C-R Vance Wilson to a two-year contract extension. [8/17]
It looks like Polanco might be back in time to get into some game action in the last week or two of the regular season, and ideally, that'll be enough for the team to have him prepped for postseason play. The difference between Polanco and Omar Infante is relatively negligible at the plate or in the field, and if you want to start kibbitzing over how much you lose by having Santiago on the bench versus having Infante there, well, that's not quite the sort of thing that's going to keep the Tigers out of the postseason. As these things go, it could have been a lot worse, so I think it's safe to say that if you want to see the Tigers at their best going into a postseason series, you should still.
Meanwhile, wow, talk about job security for Wilson. Seems a bit premature to start handing out the high-fives given that we've got six weeks to play, but Wilson's a solid representative of the Tom Prince class of backups, a guy with just enough pop and a solid enough catch-and-throw skills that you can plug him in for ten days or two weeks whenever your starter goes down. This does keep him under contract through his 35th birthday, and I don't know if he'll have much value beyond that point, but it's nice to see him collect the payday (around $1.9 million over the two years).
Optioned RHP Jose Veras to Columbus (Triple-A); activated RHP Octavio Dotel from the 15-day DL. [8/16]
Although Lidle's loss of his grandmother is a bit of personal grief that I hope he and his family can accept and work through, it won't affect the pennant race much, except that it puts an extra arm in the Yankees pen between Lidle's starts, even helping cover today's doubleheader. Lidle started on the 16th, so his next start wasn't going to fall until the 21st anyway, the fifth game of this weekend's big series with the Sox. So for the team, it isn't really a setback-they'll have Bruney or whoever else they want to haul up from Columbus over the weekend to help keep the very bottom of the pen manned. At the top of it, they're also presumably in better shape now that the always-engaging Dotel is up and ready to go. The Yankees pen already has five guys doing good work in it, but Dotel gives the club some insurance against Kyle Farnsworth's occasional fugues or the question over whether or not Scott Proctor has Cinderella-level pumpkin potential. To Proctor's credit he's bounced back since the All-Star break, but there's nothing wrong with having some insurance.
Optioned PH-L Greg Dobbs to Tacoma (Triple-A); purchased the contract of LHP Eric O'Flaherty from Tacoma. [8/16]
The irrepressibly hopeful folks over at U.S.S. Mariner did a nifty if predictably overenthusiastic writeup of O'Flaherty's tool kit, noting that he's a Pacific Northwest kind of guy they drafted in 2003. He can get it into the low 90s and mixes in a nice slider, and with more than twice as many groundball outs as flyballs, he'll probably profit from having a shortstop as slick as Yuniesky Betancourt. That might nibble into his otherwise apparent hittability in a season mostly spent between the Cal League and Double-A, but to be fair, the Texas League isn't all that pitcher-friendly, and the Cal League's a menace for any moundsman. That said, his limited exposure above A-ball should encourage you to curb your enthusiasm. He's effectively replacing Jake Woods as the pen's second lefty behind George Sherrill now that Woods has replaced Joel Pineiro in the rotation, and I like that the Mariners are taking a look at him. Unlike the uninspiring results from Adam Jones, the team's getting rewards for having promoted Mark Lowe aggressively. Nothing wrong with home-growing your own Joe Klink clones.
Mentioning Jones' situation brings to the fore the possibilities now that Snelling has been reactivated, because if the team really wants to help itself, there's no time like the present as far as seeing if Snelling can finally play center and avoid hurting himself. There's no benefit to keeping Willie Bloomquist playing with anything like the regularity he's been given this summer, and Jones clearly isn't ready. If Snelling is, Jones is going to be spending next summer in Tacoma anyway, and now that there's no question over whether or not this team had a shot, why not just get on with seeing if Snelling's future is now, if ever.
The timing's right for this sort of thing. Harville hasn't earned his keep, and Burroughs didn't find his stroke down in Durham (.214/.262/.258, or a one-way ticket to the SurfDogs), so it's fine to start cutting bait when you're thinking about who's going to be among next year's shiver of Devil Rays. (I figured that was the closest cartilagenous fish, that, so perhaps there's a collective term for the rays and skates waiting to be coined. A beam of rays, perhaps?)
The key here is sorting out how they're going to handle Orvella now that he's back. There's nothing for him to master at Triple-A, not when he struck out 55 of the 154 hitters he faced for the Bulls while walking only nine, not when he limited them to a .217 average. The question really is whether he'll be pitching his way or pitching coach Mike Butcher's. Orvella's commented on how he's more relaxed nowadays, for whatever that means, and if he's relaxed and doing things Butcher's way, he may finally stick. With a little bit of leeway, they'll wind up with a fine reliever, and might be back to considering better choices for high-leverage relief roles than Seth McClung or Brian Meadows.
Pity the Rangers, because they did take their best shot, and it isn't really their fault that Wells broke down, and they've been coping with Wilkerson's bum shoulder all summer. So now they're back to what was good enough earlier in the season, with John Koronka returning from Oklahoma to rejoin the rotation this weekend. There is the problem of fielding a full rotation now that Vicente Padilla's been suspended for his part in this week's Angel-Ranger rumbles, but they'll make do. Although John Wasdin asked for his release rather than go back to Oklahoma when the Rangers shipped him out two weeks ago, this is exactly the premise of Wasdin's career, not to mention the film And God Created Wasdin (arguably the lowlight of Curt Jürgens' career-I think we all know Tab Hunter really should have gotten the part). In Wilkerson's absence, the Rangers can still alternate between Matt Stairs and Nelson Cruz, while I don't expect that this will herald any real playing time for Guzman at Little Sarge's expense in center. The decision over whether or not to offer Wilkerson arbitration this winter can wait for November, and the Rangers can get a sense of whether or not they want to commit to Cruz in the meantime.
Traded LHP Scott Schoeneweis to the Reds for a PTBNL or cash; purchased the contract of LHP Davis Romero from Syracuse (Triple-A). [8/16]
What's mine is yours, and what is yours is mine.-Shakespeare, but probably not on the subject of sydicate baseball.
If you were buying that big winter dignity campaign eight or nine months ago, you've been chumped. There's really nothing nice to say about J.P. Ricciardi's decision to give Theo Epstein an assist, because it doesn't look like the Jays will get much more than that, forgetting the second half of the Bard's collectivist sensibility. The PTBNL almost certainly won't be a significant player, and since the Jays are at 37 on their 40-man roster, it isn't like they needed to wait until the offseason to make space for a Red Sox prospect.
No, I think this is Arnold Johnson territory, where the man running the Jays would rather see Boston give New York a run for their money than observe his responsibilities to his charges. It's nice for Hinske to get into a pennant race, of course, and if you're truly Macchiavellian, you might think that Ricciardi's hoping that if Boston beats out the Yanks, it might lead to an offseason intervention by the Boss, but I think that's too clever by half. We don't have a commissioner with any Bowie Kuhn-style tendencies to squawk about this and to get sniffly about sanctity and pennant races-that man's responsible for the atrocity of trying to make the All-Star Game matter, after all, and he doesn't give a fig for what interleague play does to screw up who winds up playing in October. Everybody involved is an adult, and it's reason for the Yankees to note that it's like that with the Jays, and see if they can tweak the perpetually in motion yet perpetually third-place team in the division someday in return. I wouldn't harbor any expectations that the Jays will get anything of value for Schoeneweis either, for that matter, but that's because the Reds have little in the way of prospects. As much as getting American greenbacks is no small logistical issue for the Blue Jays, if that's all there is to tearing down the non-contender that got overloaded with preseason hosannas, that's no badge of honor.
I guess the happy news is that this gives the Jays a chance to start noticing who's on their roster, and start looking at them. Rosario was just milling around in the 25th slot, nursing a hurt back while the Jays basically ignored him, but that's just part of the decision to actively screw up their own rotation by demoting Casey Janssen a couple of weeks ago. Romero may or may not help fix that, since he's bounced between starting and relieving in the Blue Jay chain. The little Panamanian lefty seems to have the right mix to be something more than just a situational lefty, because while he's shut down his fellow gaucheés at an incredible .133/.231/.236 clip, there's no shame in holding right-handers to .257/.305/.376. His ratios are also sweet: a 2-1 groundball-flyball ratio, and 25 walks against 106 Ks in 118.1 innings. His heat usually hangs around in the high 80s, so normal lefty velocity from a three-quarters delivery, but he has a curve he fools people with, and spots his changeup well. He could wind up being part of the solution to the team's muddied rotation picture, instead of merely challenging Brian Tallet over who gets to move into Schoeneweis' slot in the pen. Because he's been so touch on lefties, I expect it's the pen that will claim him, but it doesn't have to be so.
I'm less excited about Hattig's recall, because what Q-factor goes with being baseball's first Guamer-Guamacker? Guamamian?-whatever, it's cooler than being mistakenly reported as the latest Army brat or Foreign Service baby, because he's an honest-to-goodness... person from Guam. As a player, Hattig's not much of a prospect, already 26 and only hitting .276/.341/.394, but he was doing better against right-handers, and that helps him fulfill some of Hinske's role as a bench player who can fill in at first and third. He's also the sort who gets outrighted off of the 40-man and probably slips through waivers. Think of him as halfway between Shea Hillenbrand and Terry Tiffee, but with a slightly better glove at the hot corner, and you'll have a sense of his upside.
Cormier's good at inducing grounders, but he's still short an overpowering pitch that would make him a consistently effective long reliever, let alone a starter, and that's what the Braves have been reduced to for the time being. Cormier's had a pretty decent seven-start run with Richmond, but let's face it, picking two from among Cormier, Oscar Villarreal, and Kevin Barry to fill out your rotation when you're supposed to be making a stretch push is pretty suboptimal. Things should improve next week, because Kyle Davies should be back soon. That will probably put Cormier in Richmond and leave the fifth slot to Villarreal after his nice stint against the Nats, but that still doesn't add up to a strong rotation.
Placed LHP Scott Eyre on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); purchased the contract of LHP Ryan O'Malley from Iowa (Triple-A). [8/16]
Whatever satisfaction that the Cubs might derive from the knowledge that their three expensive relievers are also their three best relievers this season, keep in mind that it wasn't supposed to only add up to the 18th-best pen in the game. There again, Ryan Dempster has demonstrated that flaky performance can be a career-defining quality in your closer every bit as much as a signature moustache or AC/DC's "Hell's Bells" or some quirky mannerism. I guess the pity is that Dempster doesn't even have Jim Kern's cachet. He's just a mediocre closer without anything else to get worked up about, which is worth more than a bad starter, and worth a lot less than what the Cubs are paying him.
In Eyre's place, the Cubs have called up an organizational soldier instead of another one of their young pitchers with promise, and he's not replacing Eyre in the pen, instead stepping into the rotation. O'Malley was a college pitcher at the University of Memphis, and signed up as an undrafted free agent in 2002. It took him two years, but he's passed the hurdle from Double- to Triple-A this year. He's still short of a world-beater, allowing 4.5 runs per nine, and he's a hittable strike-thrower, punching out only 71 while walking 29 in 124 innings. He's in the rotation as a result of the club's 18-inning marathon on the 15th, and after doing nicely in Wednesday's start against an Astros team that was probably short of both sleep and scouting reports, O'Malley will no doubt get further opportunities. After Carlos Zambrano, it's a crapshoot anyway, with O'Malley contending with Carlos Marmol, Juan Mateo, Angel Guzman, and Rich Hill to see who gets to fill out the rotation. With that sort of spread of young talent, the Cubs should be able to get a good read on who's best prepared to contribute next year, and who needs to work on what in the winter leagues to be able to mount their own challenge for a slot. If that isn't enough silver lining for this season's suffocating, overcast mugginess, Cubs fans, you can always keep hoping that the next Jeffrey Loria tantrum brings you Joe Girardi to skipper next season's team.
Acquired LHP Scott Schoeneweis from the Blue Jays for a PTBNL or cash; transferred LHP Kent Mercker from the 15- to the 60-day DL; optioned LHP Brian Shackelford to Louisville (Triple-A); announced that 2B/SS-R William Bergolla cleared waivers and was outrighted to Louisville. [8/16]
Sign the Reds up for that Lay's sponsorship, because when it comes to relievers, I betcha they can't have just one... more. Seems appropriate enough, since Wayne Krivsky was properly screwed in the deal with the Nats, but enough about that. Schoeneweis gives the Reds exactly what they had in Mercker and what they thought they'd gotten in Rheal Cormier before he started hobbling up as well, and now that the team's in for several pennies, you can understand how they've decided to just stop counting and do whatever it takes to keep their bid for the wild-card going. There isn't all much talent in the farm system left in the organization anyway, so a PTBNL probably won't be anyone they'll miss, and if it's a matter of instead spending extra cash to get to the playoffs, that would more than pay for itself. Basically, the organization that Wayne Krivsky inherited wasn't too far from broken, so no problem as far as going for broke now. Rebuilding the farm system is a multi-year project to start off with, so it isn't like going out and getting Schoeneweis undermines that. We can debate the marginal difference between Shackelford and Schoeneweis, but I don't really begrudge them that before even getting to the question over whether or not Shackelford passed his most recent good citizenship check.
Matt Treanor groupies are no doubt really happy, and while that might seem a snide throwaway sort of remark, my favorite fan ballpark sign is still the one I saw televised in Seattle for Bill Haselman (it read, quite simply, "Haselmania!", and that's the sort of thing you don't even know if his in-laws really feel), and my favorite ballpark moment was hanging out with George Williams' brother and kids and nephews/nieces (memory blurs a bit on the spread of whose was whose) in the stands of Comiskey Park 2.0, hoping that our guy came into that day's A's game against the Sox. Perhaps it's a reflection on the kind of sensibility you have to have for this beat, but backup catchers are for me what knuckleballers are for some people, or what utility infielders are for Jay Jaffe. Somebody really ought to be the ultimate fifth outfielder fanboy/girl, and while I'm always going to have a spot in my heart for guys like Terry Puhl or Thad Bosley, you start getting into Dewayne Wise territory, and that's where I start to bug out. Mop-up middle relievers need their boosters, and there again, I know I probably had an unhealthy curiousity about the peregrinations of Warren Brusstar or Rich Bordi, but again, that just doesn't have that same vibe-some of the most surprising guys end up giving you a good season in long relief, at which point your sad sack isn't quite so sad, transcending the pity-root category. Let's face it, even Jerry Don Gleaton had his moments.
So Treanor's up, and I care, although the former Strat-O manager in me keeps wishing that the Fish would give Josh Willingham some extra time behind the plate so that he might not get a +3 arm or a passed ball rating of 20. I know, that's neither here nor there for most of you, but if I have zero interest in fantasy baseball, part of me is always going to be a games geekette.
Released OF-R Preston Wilson outright. [8/15]
... thereby making him an entirely free free agent for any borderline contender who might need some help. The Braves are pretty hard up for outfield help, and I suppose a reunion with the Rockies would represent an upgrade on the likes of Choo Freeman or Ryan Spilborghs.
This was expected as far as these things go, and it's the sort of thing that the Mets can afford while taking their victory lap and laughing over the squalor of the NL wild card chase. Since John Maine is going good, there's really just the question of preference about who to stick in the rotation in Pedro's absence: Oliver Perez? David Williams? Brian Bannister? Alay Soler is hurt, so he's out of the picture, and Mike Pelfrey really should be in the minors. The only wrong answer is Jose Lima, and even that's a matter of debate if you're one of those guys hungering for another sighting of Mrs. Lima. Beyond keeping everyone tuned up and ready for October, that's really what the Mets are left to work out, so barring an announcement over who's taking Pedro's place, this is really more Will Carroll's beat, as far as following the staff ace's recovery.
No big deal, as the Cardinals just swap out that eighth reliever for an outfield reserve. I know, it's only Timo Perez, but the Cards are giving Chris Duncan regular at-bats in the big leagues, and want to give John Rodriguez regular at-bats in the minors. Since a DL move wasn't involved, Rodriguez wasn't eligible to be called back up anyway, having instead to accept at least the ten days down in Memphis. All of which is to say, I wouldn't worry about Timo winding up on the postseason roster at Rodriguez's expense.
Placed LHP Micah Bowie on the 15-day DL (strained lat), retroactive to 8/10. [8/17]
To a certain extent, Bowie can already claim mission accomplished for 2006. His fifteen-game gig with the Nats should get him in someone's camp with a solid shot at winning a second lefty job in somebody's bullpen next spring, and if he's further proof that you shouldn't trade for Braves pitching prospects, he's also proof that all sorts of people can end up becoming useful relievers.