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April 3, 2007
Transaction of the Day
Roster Reviews of the Wests
Reassigned RHP Matt Hensley to their minor league camp. [3/27]
Final Roster Shape: 14 position players, 11 pitchers
Surprises and Disappointments: You might be a little surprised to see both Chris Bootcheck and Dustin Moseley making the club, but it's entirely a matter of injury, as Moseley is sticking as the filler for the rotation until Jered Weaver (and later, Bartolo Colon) come back from the DL. Will either stick around once the famous guys get back? Maybe one of them, but that's a bit of wishcasting fomented in no small part by the fact that I like the idea of more teams taking a page from an older playbook and doing as the Tigers did with Jason Grilli, making an ex-prospect with starting experience into a handy, dandy long relief guy. With bullpen specialization getting downright Darwinian, there's nothing wrong with leaving the specialists in their niches and making sure there's a soaker capable of mopping up innings. Notionally, this is what Hector Carrasco is for, but I expect he'll be used in higher-leverage situations. Whether it's a matter of gearing up Weaver or Colon to full-length outings, or bringing in Bootcheck when Moseley struggles, or using either Moseley or Bootcheck as the righthanded guy who lets Mike Scioscia pull southpaw Joe Saunders quickly out of a bad start, it's a gambit that should work for the Angels for the next few weeks.
It's probably that much more affordable to retain later in the spring, because I can't see the Angels sticking with both Tommy Murphy and Reggie Willits for very long, even with Chone Figgins out until sometime in May with a broken finger. I'm a little surprised that Gorneault didn't get kept over one of them, if only to provide Scioscia with a righty-swinging outfield reserve, especially since Gorneault did relatively well this spring (.395/.455/.553), while Murphy was Murphy (.235/.286/.412). I guess I just like the idea of a Gorneault/Willits reserve combo better, sort of a thunder and lightning mix, instead of a lightning and... well, to borrow from this year's book, lightning and Yugo mix. Okay, having murdered that metaphor, the one thing I wouldn't envision is either of them being replaced by a second lefty; not that I'm wildly optimistic about the worthwhile Darren Oliver showing up, but he's their lone concession to situational convention.
Behind the plate, Jeff Mathis looked as lost as ever at the plate, so even without a great spring to dispel concerns about his late fade last season, Mike Napoli doesn't look like he's going to lose his job to the prospect mavens' preferred solution. I really don't get the enthusiasm for Mathis, but I guess it's just one of those things some people can't let go of. He's still young yet, but he's going to have to hit a lot better than he has to ever get a shot at becoming an honorary Molina.New Developments: Giving Shields the money we said he deserved in Baseball Prospectus 2007. Apparently he liked reading that; on the other hand, Garret Anderson's threatening to blow our minds and draw fifty walks after seeing his player comment. Angels fans should appreciate that sensibility, but you'll have to forgive me if I'm going to hold off worrying about a Doc Leary experience for the next few months.
Cool Tactical Options? It's sort of interesting to have Erick Aybar around in a utility role, on top of presumptive starting third baseman Maicer Izturis being able to move over to short or second in a pinch. That sort of opens things up in the infield corners, since Shea Hillenbrand and Robb Quinlan can flip back and forth, presumably spotting for Casey Kotchman against lefties. Sadly, any chance for Dallas McPherson to add his (mostly guessed-at) lefty pop to that mix is bollixed up by his deposit on the DL, courtesy of back surgery. The good news is that this almost certainly guarantees Kotchman a lot of at-bats with which to make the job his once and for all, or should he falter, force Hillenbrand into regular play at first. But to take this back to Aybar, he's the player best positioned to exploit Figgy's absence and carve out a super-utility role for himself. That might make Figgins the tradeable commodity, or it might enhance Aybar's value to a team in some potential title-sealing deal.
Returned Rule 5 pick OF-R Ryan Goleski to the Indians. [3/28]
Surprises and Disappointments: Travis Buck isn't just up, he's the everyday right fielder. Maybe he's a natural and will fit right in, but that seems a lot like a "Ken Gerhart-outfielder of the future!" moment for this nervous A's fan. To be fair, Buck's not anything like the flawed player Gerhart was, but he's being asked to fulfill a premium offensive role in a lineup that's already taking a risk on guys like Shannon Stewart and Mike Piazza in premium offensive roles. Joe Kennedy in the rotation, sure-it's a matter of swapping in a guy with talent who had to come up with a craptastic organization (as the D-Rays were, then). But now Chad Gaudin too? Admittedly, this is another injury-generated situation, but that's not much condolence to a rotation that suddenly has to count heavily on Joe Blanton. Loaiza was expected back from the DL sometime next week, but yesterday's evaluation makes it clear that was wishful thinking; this is a staff that's already picking up where last season's left off as far as injuries and disruptions. And did I mention they're carrying three lefties in the pen?
Cool Tactical Options? I suppose there's a chance that Bob Geren uses Nick Swisher as a swing-spot guy in the lineup, moving back and forth between the outfield and first base so that the A's can maintain a platoon between Walker at first and Bobby Kielty in right. But I'm not really happy with a roster that goes to seven relievers, but also carries a third-ish catcher and only one reserve infielder, not when there's no real first baseman, and not when the regular infielders include Eric Chavez' aches-and-pains act, Mark Ellis' capacity for catastrophic breakdown, and only fuzzy answers as far as what they can expect from Bobby Crosby. As for the moundsmen, I guess there's some possibility that a sometime starter like DiNardo will help them paper over having Kennedy and Gaudin in the rotation during the first weeks.
Operatic Comeback: I guess I don't feel so bad that Erubiel Durazo didn't really get full coverage in the book-like the end of Gallipolli, some mad dashes to glory are meant to come up short. But Dan Johnson's breakdown is probably an equally career-killing event, because by the time he's healthy, the organization may have a sense of whether Daric Barton's ready, and they may have gotten good enough work out of Swisher and Todd Walker in the meantime to make a Johnson comeback an irrelevancy. Such is life for the middling talent at first base.
Is This Really Going to Work? Shannon Stewart, regular outfielder? Travis Buck, ready right now? The rotation, with Kennedy on the spot? The surfeit of southpaws? An aging Mike Piazza, coming to the better league in a division where the best starters are all righthanded? I'm all in favor of change, and I like risk more than most, but this is a roster built too much on the supposition that some things will be as you like them.
Reassigned RHP Jorge Campillo to their minor league camp. [3/27]
Final Roster Shape: 13 position players, 12 pitchers, and a bench that would gum you to death, if it had gums.
Surprises and Disappointments: The pen's an interesting blend of experience and talent, with more of the former than the latter. Certainly, as a core quintet, J.J. Putz backed by Chris Reitsma and Julio Mateo from the right side, and Rhodes and George Sherrill from the left doesn't sound all bad. Then there's the pair of kids to round out the seven-man pen, and as Kevin touched on yesterday, Morrow's pretty good. Sean White's a University of Washington product picked by the Braves in the 8th round of the 2003 draft who's here via the Rule 5 Draft; he'll be in a long relief role until he proves he doesn't belong here. I'm dubious about either spending the full season on the roster, but Morrow's Mike Hargrove's latest fair-haired boy (a la Emiliano Fruto last season), and White's got the fun and follies of the inevitable Rule 5 sprain or some nicely vague "tendonitis," with the inevitable extended rehab assignment, to look forward to. It's a bit of a surprise that they both got spots, and that guys like Jake Woods, Sean Green, and Jon Huber all got sent down, but Green and Huber struggled, and Woods would have been a third lefty not getting innings. It's a nice blend of functionality while also reflecting the organization's faith in aggressive promotions.
Less happily, it takes planning to wind up with a bench on which Willie Bloomquist might be your second-best bat, but the Mariners achieved this worthy goal with an admirable determination. If they find a way to deal Ben Broussard, they might even be able to get rid of the noisome "second-best" part of that proposition. To replace him as the notional lefty bat off of the bench, I understand Travis Lee is available, and the good news is that Bill Bavasi won't even have to trade something to Jim Bowden to get him.
Cool Tactical Options? Broussard can spot for Richie Sexson at first against certain right-handers, substitute for Jose Guillen in similar circumstances, and play DH when the M's want some offense. Willie Bloomquist can play anywhere, but it involves playing Willie Bloomquist. If you want a virtue, I suppose he can spank the odd single against lefties more usually prone to surrendering game-losing extra-base hits. Sadly, I suspect if you feed him a few dozen of Harry Caray's proverbial "extra biscuits for breakfast," you'll just wind up with a fat Willie Bloomquist and no fence-scraping bombs.
Operatic Comeback? Jamie Burke, backup backstop. It's a surefire hit if Christopher Guest gets a hold of it, although I think Eugene Levy's eyebrows lose something hidden behind a catcher's mask. Maybe John Turturro does a star turn as the jilted St. Rey of the Glovely Legend.
Is This Really Going to Work? Whether you want to talk about big-risk trade pickups llike Horacio Ramirez or Jose Vidro, big-risk big-money signings like Jarrod Washburn or Miguel Batista or Jeff Weaver, or big-time frustration with homegrown goodies like second baseman Jose Lopez, the whole team is like a "Hot or Not?" litmus test, where you definitely don't want to wind up having to hang out after determining the probable answer in the first fifteen minutes. Mix in Jose Guillen for those socially inappropriate fisticuffs for flavor, and you have an odd, angry, directionless team. Still, sort of like last season's Blue Jays, I could see them finishing second, but that has more to do with some bad things in the East Bay and Texas than a tribute to something going really right in Rain City.
Optioned RHPs Frank Francisco and Wes Littleton to Oklahoma (Triple-A); waived RHP Rick Bauer outright. [3/28]
Final Roster Shape: 13 position players, 12 pitchers, which actually works okay for this collection. The starting infielders are all everyday guys, so reserves like Matt Kata and Jerry Hairston Jr. don't figure to get a lot of playing time around the horn. The gaggle of five outfielders for four lineup slots (the outfield and DH) seems like a great way to spread around playing time until they see if Sammy Sosa is for real, if Brad Wilkerson's ever going to be back, or if this isn't the scenario in which Nelson Cruz blossoms. It's not exactly unsettled, it's just fluid.
Surprises and Disappointments: Robinson Tejeda and (later) Jamey Wright don't sound like an inspired pairing for the back end of the rotation, and we've talked about how Texas and Brandon McCarthy might not work out so well, but I still admire the execution. I'd rather the Rangers look at the Tejedas and the McCarthys than wind up taking another spin with the John Wasdin types. That said, I don't figure Wright will last long, but again, that's okay-if he does, he's a fifth starter, and if he doesn't, they can either take a chance that a Mazzone-free Bruce Chen can get back to where he was in 2005, or that someone like Edinson Volquez will be ready.
There are a couple of fun journeymen who managed to stick, not just Chen. Chris Stewart's a perfectly serviceable backup catcher. Kata provides a little more sock than your standard infield reserve, and if he can't really play a great short, Michael Young seems relatively indestructible, so why bother?
Cool Tactical Options? Hairston can play all over the place, but he lacks Bloomquistian virtues afield, and doesn't really make up for it at the plate. I like having Chen and Wood around as potential middle-innings sponges should the kids in the rotation struggle.
Operatic Comeback? Sosa, of course. The movie will star Gong Li as his love interest, and will conclude with the ronin outfielder mightily smiting Rick Reilly's head, depositing said offending object a few thousand yards from home plate after a fabulous baseball bat duel where they balance on the screen, the edge of the outfield fence, and do backflips around the bases. Because, let's face it, if your villains aren't great foes, you're left with something real and sort of squalid, like Albert Belle.
Claimed OF-L Jeff Salazar off of waivers from the Rockies, and optioned him to Tucson (Triple-A). [3/28]
Final Roster Shape: 13 position players, 12 pitchers, but it also isn't exactly final. Micah Owings is supposed to be the temp in the fifth starter's slot during the Big Unit's absence, and he needs to have his contract purchased when the fifth slot comes up. So, somebody's coming off of the active roster later on this week, and somebody's going to wind up either going onto the 60-day DL or getting outrighted off of the currently-full 40-man. Owings will get a two-start trial before going back down; it's almost worth not making him the fifth because of that sort of roster manipulation question, but Enrique Gonzalez didn't have a good camp and Yusmeiro Petit just got here, and the division race figures to be too tight to let 40-man considerations dictate their choices. But that still leaves Dustin Nippert, who has made the team as a long reliever and who did have a good camp. I'd just plug him in for those two starts and be done with it-only if Johnson was out for longer could I see calling up Owings making some sort of sense, but not for just a quickie debut and return, and Nippert's actually a starter with some real promise.
Surprises and Disappointments: Probably the most disappointing thing is not getting to start off the season with Quentin in right and Randy Johnson in the rotation, but there's enough depth here to cope with what should be two temporary problems. In Quentin's place, Scott Hairston will get a deserved (if brief) opportunity to show if he's got it in him to ever hit well enough to stick. It's sort of sad to see Krynzel get outrighted after a good camp, but let's face it, he's just Dave Krynzel, and other than the Marlins, there aren't that many teams likely to snag him. I've touched on the Owings versus Nippert choice, but it really doesn't seem to make much sense to me to keep Nippert around for a week of not-starting and long relief work when you could use somebody on the bench who's a real centerfielder.
Cool Tactical Options? Carrying only three outfield-only hitters might seem like a problem when it comes to finding enough pinch-hitters to go around, but beyond their clutter of corner infielders, utility infielder Alberto Callaspo's a good enough hitter that, should Bob Melvin decide to get creative, if either Orlando Hudson or Stephen Drew end an inning late in games, he can double-switch and bury the pitcher in their lineup slots, swapping in Callaspo. Also, now that Robby Hammock's back in the show, the team has a third catcher who can also handle all four corners.
Nifty Little Moves: I like the decisions to snag both Salazar and Durbin-Salazar because he's a decent fourth-outfield type, and Durbin because he's an arm with an unhappy performance record, but he's still an arm. It's nice to see Brian Barden make the team after four seasons above A-ball, but there's sort of a question as to what he's for besides contact-hitting, because utility infielders who can't play up the middle have limited value, perhaps even less so on a club already saddled with a first base-only Tony Clark on the bench. It might work, but it essentially demands that Melvin press Barden into the challenges of pinch-hitting in the big leagues.
Is This Really Going to Work? Doug Slaten is the team's situational lefty, even after 26 baserunners and a dozen runs allowed in 9.2 Cactus League innings. I know, it's Arizona, but that's not promising.
Placed LHP Tom Martin on the 15-day DL (strained groin). [3/29]
Final Roster Shape: 13 position players, 12 pitchers
Surprises and Disappointments: While I like the decision to take their chances with Jason Hirsh in the rotation, that's not to say that the team is making a commitment to talent all across the board. Take their placing Josh Fogg and Rodrigo Lopez in the rotation, for starters. The upside of Fogg's "victory" over Byung-Hyun Kim has next to no possibility of providing the Rockies with a better rotation, and it apparently annoyed Kim to no end. If Kim had any value in trade-unlikely, I know-that's probably scragged, yet Fogg has even less value. On top of all that, the Rockies are possibly the only team in baseball to have placed any value at all on Lopez. Taylor Buchholz also managed to stick in the pen, but at least in his case, I think we can accept an argument that it's a way to plausibly redeem his otherwise wilted potential. Elsewhere in the pen, LaTroy Hawkins had a good camp, and I'm pretty much always going to wish him well after he got run out of Wrigleyville on a rail; here's hoping he defeats expectations and does great things.
Among the hitters, although Finley's won a spot, he's here to provide veteran insurance, as the commitment to playing Willy Taveras regularly still seems to be in place. There should still be enough playing time to get Finley up to 300 PAs or so, even without any of the starting three in the outfield going down with an injury.
Cool Tactical Options? Jeff Baker gets to be Brad Hawpe's erstwhile platoon partner, but he'll also provide power in all four corners, and he's a good enough fielder to be an asset at any of them. But generally speaking, this isn't a roster that Clint Hurdle has to get cute with-Rox fans can soak up the pleasure in watching Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta join Brad Hawpe, Garrett Atkins, and Matt Holliday as a quality homegrown core. If you want tactical chicanery, watch some ESPN Classic broadcasts of World Series games from the 70s or 80s. (Like me.)
Is This Really Going to Work? If Kaz Matsui were a soft drink, he'd be one of those weird ones from the Land of the Rising Sun, especially the ones with weird floating balls of gummy goo in it, where you can't decide if it's really all fluid, let alone whether or not it's any good to drink. Nevertheless, the club seems to be drinking him in like so much Kool-Aid; gods above and below only know why, but then that is this team's story, and they're sticking to it.
Optioned LHP Tim Hamulack to Las Vegas (Triple-A); reassigned C-L Sandy Martinez, C-R Kelly Stinnett, and RHP Joe Mays to Las Vegas. [3/27]
Final Roster Shape: 14 position players, 11 pitchers
Surprises and Disappointments: "Wilson Valdez, Opening Day starter" sort of sums up the disappointment side of the equation, but at least Raffy Furcal isn't out for the season. It's a bit sad to see Loney go back down, but somebody was going to lose out in the club's sifting through talented kids and the formerly famous, and Matt Kemp made the right impression. That isn't to say that Grady Little and Ned Colletti made the wrong choice-with Nomar Garciaparra and Olmedo Saenz healthy for the time being, first base is crowded, and Loney's "conversion" to the outfield seems like another classic Dodger position switch that isn't automatically a good idea. A singles-only spring probably didn't help Loney much, but even with him down and Kemp up, there's still the same issue as far as parsing out playing time. However, the good news is that Grady Little isn't keeping Kemp on the bench-he'll let him split time with Andre Ethier in right, but there's probably a solid chance that he'll get playing time at the expense of Luis Gonzalez and Juan Pierre. Time for Colletti to recognize that where costs are concerned, time to sink some like the Bismarck, slam the Budweiser, and accept that he won't just win on the merits of his additions-this is an organization with the kind of depth that can save a GM from his worst winter mistakes.
And hey, Traction Action stuck, and while I generally root for Rudy Seanez wherever he pitches, these are the Dodgers, and I'm from Northern California. I'll leave my interest on "politely supportive." On the other hand, Tsao had a fine camp, and didn't stick. Take that as a good sign-if he shows that he's healthy into May, I can't believe he'll be stuck in the PCL for that much longer.
Cool Tactical Options? Marlon Anderson would probably not embarrass himself afield starting games anywhere but center or shortstop, and if he can ever summon up last season's stretch drive vibe for any length of time, we might actually have to start talking about him in terms of whether or not he's one of the best utilitymen in the game. Beyond that, there's Ramon Martinez, who... well, has something appealing about him where Grady Little's concerned.
Operatic Comeback? Larry Bigbie? Not so much. The man did have a great camp (.357/.400/.554), but after so much down time and less-than-mediocrity spiced with rare flashes of ability, the Dodgers understandably decided to let him take it to Vegas and show them he's got the stuff when the games count.
Is This Really Going to Work? Picking Brett Tomko over Chad Billingsley for the fifth slot in the rotation seems regrettable, but Billingsley's being deposited in an Earl Weaver-style long relief role, and if/when Tomko hits bottom, Billingsley should be read to step in. Of course, given that there aren't that many quality commodities in the pen, there's a chance that Billingsley could wind up stranded, a suddenly irreplaceable option in a pen bereft of the best help, but again, if it's a matter of finding an adequate fifth starter because everyone else in the rotation has panned out, and the pen needs the help, that's not the worst situation. Behind the plate, Russell Martin and Mike Lieberthal both had poor camps, but I still like the combination. Don't get panicky, this is one area where the decision to haul in someone from among the formerly famous will work out better than an ill-conceived latter-day Christopher Lambert vehicle.
Optioned RHP Tim Stauffer to Portland (Triple-A). [3/28]
Final Roster Shape: 13 position players, 12 pitchers
Surprises and Disappointments: Terrmel Sledge won the job in left field, but he's going to the sixth slot in the lineup, just as I hoped all along (going so far as to say as much in this year's book). That makes for a Giles & Giles tag team at the top of the order, which is actually pretty slick.
Over on the pitching staff, as impressive as it is that Bud Black decided to forego carrying a lefty reliever, it's a little weird to have both Kevin Cameron and Mike Thompson knocking around at the back of the bullpen. Maybe Cameron's off-speed junk makes him the guy who gets spotted against certain lefty lineups; maybe it's Heath Bell's splitter that makes him that guy. But between Thompson's ambiguous role, Cameron's dubious utility, and the never-ending (and never achieved) comeback of Doug Brocail, I'm not sure there's really a good supporting cast in the pen who can help keep things simple should Trevor Hoffman start losing anything to Father Time.
New Developments: Settling up early with Adrian Gonzalez should pay dividends, at least in the goodwill department, and even with the extension and the option, they only control his career through his age-28 season. That's not bad for either party-if Gonzalez can fetch a better price, he'll be at an age when letting go of a "merely" very good first baseman can make sense for an organization, and if he blossoms as much as I think he could, the Pads may have bought themselves a hometown discount by making his life and theirs so easy for the next four seasons.
Cool Tactical Options? It's sort of neat to have a switch-hitting reserve in the infield (Geoff Blum), in the outfield (Jose Cruz Jr.), and behind the plate (Rob Bowen). Beyond that trio, the bench boasts lefty sluggers Russell Branyan and Paul McAnulty. This basically puts Cruz Jr. in the position of being Black's go-to pinch-hitter against lefty situational monsters, but let's face it, the Pads' lineup probably doesn't have a single regular Black would pull against anybody. Although the starting eight are something short of a top-to-bottom murderer's row, that's still a testament to the lineup's balance.
Loaned RHP David Cortes to the Mexico City Red Devils of the Mexican League. [3/28]
Final Roster Shape: 13 position players, 12 pitchers
Surprises and Disappointments: Brad Hennessey made the team after a ghastly spring-is a commitment to twelve pitchers at any price really worth this price? Their best right-handed reliever is probably Vinny Chulk, which isn't an indictment of Chulk, but between Armando Benitez' durability issues, and guys like Hennessey and Kevin Correia, this isn't a dominating group. If there's a guy who was supposed to be here, but who just didn't win a job, it was Brian Wilson. Just like their cross-Bay rivals, the Giants have a trio of lefties in the pen, but there's no Leonardo DiNardo and a Rule 5 guy hereabouts. Instead, Bruce Bochy has the rubber-armed virtues of Steve Kline, Jonathan Sanchez's simply excellent stuff, and the semi-interesting Jack Taschner. If Taschner tanks, he's the sort of guy you can put in Fresno without any regrets. Among the hitters, you might be a little surprised that the Giants ditched Ellison and have gone with just Todd Linden as their lone outfield reserve, but remember, third baseman Pedro Feliz can play a goodly amount of left, and the reason they don't need a centerfielder on the bench is that Dave Roberts' backup, Randy Winn, starts in right field.
Cool Tactical Options? Lance Niekro's back, and there's some possibility that he'll soak up some platoon at-bats in the infield corners, because nominal everyday first baseman Rich Aurilia is probably also the infield's de facto primary reserve at the other three positions. That makes space for a platoon of Ryan Klesko and Niekro in case anything happens to Ray Durham or Omar Vizquel or Feliz, which almost makes you wonder why the Giants shouldn't just skip the injury portion of that proposal, and make Feliz the rover and Aurilia the third baseman. Regardless, it's a nice bit of overlap, with Kevin Frandsen as the other other infielder.
Operatic Comeback? The Russ Ortiz Experiment switches over from spring filler to real-time exercise. Will a lighter and leaner Ortiz mean an effective rotation starter, or will he just be Russ Ortiz? Will he just be better than Jamey Wright? It's worth seeing, but here's hoping that if the tail end of Ortiz' career gets any more like that of Mike Torrez, the world of baseball sticks him in the Kevin Jarvis Zone before he does anything really unfortunate.