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April 5, 2007
Transaction of the Day
Roster Review of the Centrals
Outrighted OF-R Luis Terrero to Charlotte (Triple-A); reassigned RHP Ryan Bukvich and C-R Wiki Gonzalez to their minor league camp; released 1B-R Eduardo Perez; added C-R Gustavo Molina to major league camp. [3/27]
Final Roster Shape: 14 position players, 11 pitchers, which, while generally representing the sort of spread I'd like to see, comes together sort of strangely in the Sox' case. How do you wind up with so few offensive assets from among 14 different position players? This isn't just a Darin Erstad thing or a Scott Podsednik thing-when they don't win games with those two playing regularly, something's going to change, or fourth place becomes very possible. No, what has me wondering is why a team with two starting outfielders who don't hit and a shortstop it's worth pinch-hitting for now and again winds up without a thumper from either side of the plate on the bench. Does a team really need two utility infielders beyond a multi-position supersub like Rob Mackowiak? Assuming for the sake of argument that Mackowiak's the lefty bat off the bench who helps you in a few ways, I'd argue that keeping Perez would have made sense. He'd have been what he's always been (when healthy), that lefty masher off the bench this team doesn't have, and who would have been especially handy to bring in for lefty-hitting guys like Erstad and Podzilla. Instead, Ozzie Guillen elected to keep last year's bench together, and while that gets into questions of team chemistry that I'm in no position to refute, it still leaves the club with a missed opportunity as far as adding a tactical weapon it obviously lacks.
Surprises and Disappointments: I might be the only person who doesn't work for the White Sox as bullish as they are about their bullpen. I know, David Aardsma, Andy Sisco, and Nick Masset aren't really household names, and Mike MacDougal seems more a product of the Meissen Royal Porcelain Manufactory than the Royals' farm system, but there's a lot of talent in play. If those three talented cast-offs join MacDougal, Thornton, and Bobby Jenks to provide the Sox with a top-to-bottom quality pen every bit as dominating as that of 2005, it'll be another feather apiece for the caps of Kenny Williams, Guillen, and pitching coach Don Cooper.
The fifth starter fight ended up propelling John Danks into The Show ahead of what was initially anticipated as his schedule, but Charlie Haeger didn't inspire much confidence, and Gavin Floyd proved as explosive as ever-in the not-good way. You can charitably interpret this to also be one of those situations where a team says they've seen enough, and don't think a kid has all that much to learn in the International League, and it does seem like Danks has that kind of talent. Among the position players, beyond the Perez thing, losing Hall for the season wasn't supposed to be part of the plan, and coming as it did, after the club dealt away Chris Stewart, it's a damned inconvenience. We'll see if Gustavo gets to be the Gummo to the rest of the Flying Molinas backstop act (although he's no relation, so he's sort of a poor man's Gummo).
New Developments: Is there any other team in baseball that would pay Pablo Ozuna seven figures? And from that, on top of their carrying Alex Cintron, is there anything we should infer about Juan Uribe's legal issues?
Cool Tactical Options? Guillen's got a lot of flexibility in having three guys who can play short well enough to start, three who can play center well enough to start, and Mackowiak besides all that. Guillen runs a relatively active bench, so everybody's going to get to play, which is pretty much the definition of "cool tactical options"-a bench that's sharp from frequent use.
Optioned OF-L Shin-Soo Choo, OF-R Ben Francisco, and LHP Juan Lara to Buffalo (Triple-A); reassigned INF-R Luis Rivas to their minor league camp; received Rule 5 pick RHP Jim Ed Warden back from the Phillies, and Rule 5 pick OF-R Ryan Goleski back from the Athletics. [3/28]
Surprises and Disappointments: That Hector Luna forgot what his mitt was for, and then that Inglett got hurt, which generated the surprise of finding Mike Rouse on an Opening Day roster. That's really not that big a deal, though-Rouse is pretty useful as long as he doesn't have to play short for an extended stretch, and since the Indians' infield of Jhonny Peralta, Josh Barfield, and Andy Marte won't need too many off-days, there's no problem. The lefty-swinging Rouse could even be helpful as someone who (like Inglett) makes a fine spot starter for Barfield against the tougher right-handers in the league.
As far as what disappoints me, I'm sad to see Choo get sent down, but that was relatively certain once the Tribe decided to take a chance on Trot Nixon. What's semi-surprising is that the team decided to keep Ryan Garko around in a part-time role, because first base seems to initially belong to Casey Blake. Hopefully, Garko gets enough playing time to stay sharp and contribute.
Cool Tactical Options? Regardless of whether it was Choo or Nixon, between having Blake available to play all four corners in a pinch, and with Garko, Nixon, Jason Michaels, and David Dellucci to mix and match for platoon advantages, Eric Wedge can basically cycle five guys who can hit-to be perhaps generous in Nixon's case-through three lineup slots (first base and the outfield corners). That's the sort of thing that would make Casey Stengel and Earl Weaver jealous.
Is This Really Going to Work? It's up to Jhonny Peralta to prove that it was his eyes, or his conditioning, or playing between Aaron Boone and Ronnie Belliard for much of last season, but whatever 'it' was, he has to show that it's in the past, and that he'll be back as the budding star he seemed to be in 2005. If he does that, then yes, this is going to work.
Placed LHP Kenny Rogers on the 15-day disabled list. [3/29]
Final Roster Shape: 12 position players, 12 pitchers, and one Neifi
Surprises and Disappointments: Chad Durbin's the fifth starter on a defending pennant winner, so that's pretty disappointing, but after losing Kenny Rogers to shoulder surgery to remove blood clots for at least the next three months, what's a team supposed to do? How about starting Wil Ledezma? He outpitched Zach Miner down the stretch, so why not him? Admittedly, in the early going, while skipping the fifth slot, Jim Leyland could possibly get away with hiding Durbin a bit, and perhaps turn to Ledezma as the season drags on. That just highlights the guy who's really under the spot-Mike Maroth.
New Developments: Okay, let me make it clear that I really, really like what having Carlos Guillen does for a club in the lineup. But if he's going to go Ernie Banks on us and have to take that no-in-between steps jump from short to first base early on in the life of this contract, does $48 million really make sense? His PECOTA valuation suggests "yes, very much so," but that's contingent on his being a shortstop. Let's say that Guillen hits something like .290/.370/.490 during the life of the contract and avoids a major, career-altering injury. He's already 31, so that would be impressive, and it wouldn't be crippling to field a first baseman who hits .290/.370/.490. (That's better than Sean Casey, after all.) What is potentially a major handicap is carrying a first baseman at that price.
Cool Tactical Options? Just for the sake of argument, but there's a chance that making Omar Infante the starting shortstop, putting Guillen at first, and benching Sean Casey might be a net gain for a game in which an extreme groundballer started-although the Tigers don't really have one of those. It's still a near-enough proposition that it might still make sense: Infante's median projected WARP (ie, his combined value as a hitter and fielder) for 2007 is 3.2, Casey's is 1.7, or a win and a half's worth of difference between playing your starting first baseman versus playing your utility infielder. All of which just makes you wonder how long it has to be that they watch Casey plink seasoned, veteran singles and cost them runs before they decide to take a second spin with Chris Shelton.
Is This Really Going to Work? No. The longer I look, I really think talking about this team and the playoffs sounds less and less likely. Some of the problems are very fixable-getting the Gambling Man back in July is one of those things, but getting a first baseman who can hit is another, and there seems to be no real recognition that there's a problem.
Acquired RHP Ben Hendrickson from the Brewers for C-R Maxim St. Pierre. [3/27]
Final Roster Shape: 13 position players, 12 pitchers
Surprises and Disappointments: Getting over their infatuation with Gathright is nice; it isn't often that teams learn from their mistakes so quickly. So, David DeJesus is back in center, Mark Teahen's at third, and the difference between Gathright and Alex Gordon in the lineup will be more than a little massive. Or, if you prefer, the difference between Teahen and Gathright, but either way, it's a net gain in runs scored for very little sacrifice on defense. In the outfield, it's also interesting to note that Reggie Sanders is out of a job, as they're expressing some love for Emil Brown.
The rotation's sort of an interesting blend of the ridiculous (Gil Meche and Brandon Duckworth, although for very different reasons), the potentially sublime (Zack Greinke), and the merely adrift (Odalis Perez, Jorge De La Rosa). It's hard to take the Duckworth/De La Rosa back end of that seriously for any particular length of time, but the proposition that the Royals might have three functional starters is still a step in the right direction. We'll see if Hudson's return from the DL represents some measure of improvement, but there's also the nifty little deal that brought in Ben Hendrickson cheaply.
New Developments: The pen is an interesting mix of journeymen who nevertheless have some promise (Todd Wellemeyer, Jason Standridge), balanced against some youngsters with plenty of promise (Ryan Braun, Rule 5 steal Joakim Soria), and the standard-issue veterans (Dotel, David Riske). Again, there's reason to see some form of promise here.
Cool Tactical Options? Life after Angel Berroa is a good thing indeed. Not that Tony Pena Jr. is an asset, but a decisively bad ballplayer is a bad thing to get out of the way. If pinch-hitting for the Royals shortstop du jour is a full-time job, I suppose this might explain what Ross Gload is for.
Is This Really Going to Work? The Royals more closely resemble a major league team than they have in years. That in itself is a bit of a victory, and while some of it isn't Dayton Moore's to brag about, he's done a lot to shake things up and bring them to this point in less than a year on the job. We'll see if it really adds up, but a 70-win season doesn't really sound so very implausible.
Reassigned LHP Mike Venafro, C-R Brad King, 1B/C-R Matthew LeCroy, and INF-Rs Tommy Watkins and Glenn Williams to their minor league camp. [3/27]
Final Roster Shape: 14 position players, 11 pitchers, but one of the "hitters" is third catcher Chris Heintz, who's here because of the concerns over Joe Mauer's lower leg and how regularly he'll really be able to catch. The sad thing about the Twins is that should Mauer get pushed into DHing, playing Mike Redmond in the lineup and benching the likes of Jason Tyner or Rondell White isn't really an offensive or defensive setback. If you want to consider that strength, feel free.
Surprises and Disappointments: Nothing really; the correct term we should probably use here was "grim foreboding" instead of "surprise," because the initial proposition that a team would choose to use Ramon Ortiz, Ponson, and Carlos Silva pretty much redefines the notion of what consenting adulthood entails. If we choose to view the Twins in archaeological terms, the good news is that there may not be enough of Silva, Ortiz, and Ponson to get plastered regularly enough to really create an identifiable stratum in the organization's history-they'll just get obliterated beyond the point that carbon dating and an electron microscope can determine whether or not there was even such a period in Twins history. Keeping that in mind, perhaps Terry Ryan would be served to keep the historical record fuzzy, and skip ahead already to the good part, when Matt Garza or Glen Perkins get to be parts of the solution.
Cool Tactical Options? As the Orioles were just reminded, Ron Gardenhire likes to be aggressive with the Little Piranhas, which is neat, but also a matter of extracting what little value there is to be had when you play guys like Tyner or Nick Punto or the like. Punto's still useful as a guy who can be flipped around to second or even short in moments of need, but what would really make that a winning proposition would be a real third baseman, which the Twins don't have yet.
Is This Really Going to Work? The bullpen still features the same group that basically owned any lead after the sixth. Assuming that the White Sox or Tigers keep wallowing in their problems, and that the Tribe doesn't race out to a lead, the Twins remain a very viable stalking horse for any division leader. Should the Red Sox also falter, the wild card remains a possibility. It's just going to require Ryan to remember what he figured out a couple of months into last season, which is that you don't have to die with your mistakes. He's made plenty, but he has the talent to repair them.
Optioned RHPs Mark Prior and Rocky Cherry and OF-B Angel Pagan to Iowa (Triple-A); outrighted RHP Ken Ray to the minors. [3/28]
Final Roster Shape: 13 position players, 12 pitchers, and not a one of them can really play center field. That's certainly interesting, but if Alfonso Soriano's mishaps in the early going number more than Lou Piniella's fingers and toes by month's end, that'll be in for some second-guessing. I'm not sure how well the workload is going to be parceled out in the bullpen, since Neal Cotts and Angel Guzman probably need more work than might be available to iron out their issues.
Surprises and Disappointments: Mark Prior, back out in the cornfields? Can you get lost in Des Moines, or is winding up in Des Moines the definition of being lost when you thought you were on the road back to Chicago? Disappointing for different reasons was the demotion of Rocky Cherry, who showed why he's on the 40-man by mowing people down with a cruel low-90s sinker and a plus slider. "I was really impressed with him," said one American League scout. "Good size, good fastball, very aggressive-there's a lot to like there."
Cool Tactical Options? Once he's in full operating order, I do like what having Cliff Floyd around does for the outfield, since it allows Lou Piniella to spread work around between Floyd, Matt Murton, and Jacque Jones. I'd like to see Daryle Ward coming in for Cesar Izturis as often as he comes in for the pitcher-sure, it might mean an intentional walk to bring up the pitcher's slot, but if they pitch to the guy, it's better than taking your chances with Cesar frickin' Izturis. That in turn might create space for a larger role for Ronny Cedeno than just as a utility infielder, maybe even eventually earning him a second bite of the apple as far as his being the team's "shortstop of the future."
Is This Really Going to Work? This could end up being a very weird sort of club, where the whole is less than the sum of the parts. That might be a throwback to older Cub disappointments, but there are serious questions about whether or not Soriano can handle center, whether or not Barrett can catch well enough for a good ballclub, and whether Izturis is someone who should get 400 PAs for a team with postseason ambitions. Jason Marquis and Wade Miller in a contender's rotation? It's the NL Central, so these things don't necessarily make 85 wins and a shot at the postseason impossible, but they don't make either goal any easier, either.
Optioned LHP Bobby Livingston and RHP Gary Majewski to Louisville (Triple-A); received cash from the Devil Rays to complete the deal that sent INF-R Brendan Harris to Tampa Bay. [3/29]
Final Roster Shape: 13 position players, 12 pitchers, although with eight guys on the DL, it's almost a miracle that they found enough bodies. Keep that in mind-the Reds had only 33 healthy guys to pick their 25 from, and purchasing a contract or two to iron out the wrinkles gets difficult when there's only one guy from among the wounded who has to come off of the 40-man and wind up on the 60-day DL. The only healthy position players on the 40-man not on the active roster are Joey Votto and Chris Dickerson. In that kind of situation, complaining about why Chad Moeller's on the Opening Day roster is really besides the point. It also kept the Reds from really being able to keep an eye on the waiver wire, and it might have contributed to the falling-out with Dustin Hermanson, because getting their presumptive closer onto the 40-man wasn't going to be easy in the wake of so many injuries.
Even so, the fact they kept Jon Coutlangus up, yet they still have Brian Shackelford on the 40-man and they retained Rule 5 pick Jared Burton as the seventh reliever, combines to suggest that this wasn't the best-made collection of roster decisions. Shackelford's already 30, and Burton might be a bit of a stretch as a keeper-worthy talent. Still, if you're rebuilding, I can understand keeping Burton (he does throw in the low 90s, and has a solid slider), and I can understand Coutlangus. But why then keep Shackelford? Losing him on waivers isn't exactly a potentially crippling loss, and if one of Wayne Krivsky's calling cards is his expansive collection of friends in the industry, where are they now? All waiting for his sour grapes over Gary Majewski's shoulder to play out?
Surprises and Disappointments: "If you're looking for anybody from the Kearns trade, none of us are in right now. Please try back later, and we'll try and remind you what that was all about." Oh, and that Josh Hamilton cat had a pretty great camp, but I suspect you heard about that already.
Cool Tactical Options? In the face of the insane number of injuries, be thankful that Ryan Freel's still among the ambulatory, because Narron could start him anywhere but short and get by. Moeller's played his way out of the league at least twice, but there's something to be said for carrying a third catcher when the first two (David Ross and Javier Valentin) are basically going to share the job and play pretty regularly. Jerry Narron can pinch-run for one, use Moeller, and still observe the convention that for a catcher who gets an off-day when he isn't starting, it stays an off-day.
Placed RHP Brandon Backe (elbow surgery) and C-B Hector Gimenez (shoulder) on the 15-day DL; released OF-R Charlton Jimerson and LHP Kelly Wunsch outright. [3/28]
Final Roster Shape: 13 position players, 12 pitchers
Surprises and Disappointments: Chris Sampson winning a rotation spot is pretty surprising, but I've been a fan for a while now. The contrast is to the disappointment that Wandy Rodriguez has a rotation spot as well, and there ought to be some leftover heartburn over the decision to sign up Woody Williams. Perhaps even more troubling is a pen in which Dave Borkowski goes from being retreaded extra guy to one of the better relievers; seeing both Scuffy Moehler and Rick White make the staff can't be taken as a good sign. On some level, you can consider it a symptom of a worthwhile decision, however, in that Fernando Nieve and Matt Albers will both be starting for Round Rock, and should both be ready to step directly into the rotation once Rodriguez or Sampson struggle.
Cool Tactical Options? I do still love the interactions that Phil Garner can (and does) exploit, switching in Mike Lamb in the infield corners, potentially moving Chris Burke back and forth between center and second, and using Mark Loretta aggressively for either of the light-hitting starters up the middle. And if he's short in the outfield, he can always move Lance Berkman back out there as needed. It creates perhaps the best menu of possibilities for in-game machinations. Still, having a second baseman, shortstop, or catcher who could hit would transcend cool, and be simply better.
Operatic Comeback: Richard Hidalgo's return didn't really work out, but Jason Lane had a great camp, slugging .645. That's just below the "+200 Rule" that John Perrotto brought up yesterday (Lane's career SLG is .475), but if it nevertheless heralds his being able to hit his way into the lineup and share right field with Luke Scott, that's not a bad thing.
Is This Really Going to Work? I've railed about the slavish devotion to Craig Biggio's career totals perhaps too often already, but let's face it, when that's your priority, you've defined yourself as a club focused on providing ticket holders with entertainment, not wins.
Acquired C-R Maxim St. Pierre from the Royals for RHP Ben Hendrickson; outrighted C-R Mike Rivera and RHP Grant Balfour outright to Nashville (Triple-A). [3/27]
Final Roster Shape: 13 position players, 12 pitchers
Surprises and Disappointments: Third base is more than a little bit of a concern-can Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino put enough runs on the board to fill the bill for the time being? Is Corey Koskie really done? (Probably, and that's a sad thing indeed.) At shortstop, will J.J. Hardy break out, or break down? Will Rickie Weeks ever master playing second, or will the organization wind up wondering if it moved the wrong infielder to the outfield?
Carlos Villanueva's made the team as a reliever? That seems a little odd, but the entire pen is balanced between interesting and repulsive, and amidst so many other question marks, slotting a simply talented pitcher into an old-style middle relief role isn't the worst idea. But everywhere else provides little or no certainty. Will Derrick Turnbow turn things around setting up Francisco Cordero? Will Greg Aquino ever come into his own, or is he just supposed to be maddening? Will Matt Wise and Elmer Dessens be assets, or go back to being the sorts you find bobbing around on waivers? They say life's better after you get over the Dan Kolb experience the second time, and this pen should provide at least that much.
New Developments: The outfield's been remade in a way that should leave everyone impressed: Doug Melvin and Ned Yost combined a dash of Soriano (making Bill Hall a center fielder) with a belated bit of position resolution (finally making Corey Hart a regular), and spliced in a little bit of Cleveland's "when in doubt, build a platoon," potentially restoring Geoff Jenkins and Kevin Mench into that wee bit of studliness that gives us Kevoff Menkins.
Cool Tactical Options? Should they ever bring in a real third baseman (whether it's an unexpected full recovery by Koskie, a recall of Ryan Braun, or an outside acquisition), it's semi-cool to have both Counsell and Graffy to use at second, short, or third interchangeably. At the very least, they're covered if Hardy or Weeks break down again. Using Anthony Gwynn as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner might not be a great way to ever turn him into anything more than a fifth outfielder, but on this team, that skill set is going to come in handy.
Reassigned RHP Josh Sharpless, C-R Einar Diaz, and OF-L Michael Ryan to their minor league camp. [3/27]
Final Roster Shape: 13 position players, 12 pitchers
New Developments: They kissed and made up with Chris Duffy, so this year, the pitching staff gets the benefit of someone who can actually play centerfield, instead of a converted third baseman or Nate McLouth. The question is whether or not they know who's going to be in the rotation to receive those benefits. Who gets bumped when Zach Duke goes back to being 100 percent-Shawn Chacon? Tom Gorzelanny? It's going to be somebody with options, which is unfortunate, but then again, I didn't buy into the "Tony Armas Jr. is going to be back" suggestion.
Cool Tactical Options? They tried way too many funky ideas last year, like Jose Bautista in center, and they didn't work. This year's inspired idea, to see if they can play Freddy Sanchez at second, seems a similar exploration of an idea that you'd never envision working out well on a good team, but it's on hold while Sanchez recovers from a bum knee. That affords the team another chance to see if Jose Castillo's ever going to develop, and between flashes of talent at the plate and occasionally inspired play at second, that's not the worst thing. Castillo's 26, so if he doesn't look good in Sanchez's absence, it probably means it's just not going to happen. Nothing wrong with finding out for sure.
Operatic Comeback: John Wasdin, with another chance to resume being himself somewhere besides the great state of Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain. It'll open to an audience of one, and I promise, I'll let you know how it turns out.
Is This Really Going to Work? It seems strange to suggest, but the Pirates could probably use a move to the AL. Between Brad Eldred and Ryan Doumit, they have two bats worth looking at, and nowhere to really play them. Eldred's not really an outfielder, and Doumit's good enough to play at catcher or first or maybe even DH, but he's on a team that has an established first baseman and an even more talented backstop in Ronny Paulino.
Outrighted RHP Scott Dohmann to the minors; placed LHP Mark Mulder (shoulder surgery), RHP Josh Kinney (elbow), and OF-R Juan Encarnacion (wrist surgery) on the 15-day DL; optioned OF-L John Rodriguez to the minors. [3/28]
Final Roster Shape: 13 position players, 12 pitchers
Surprises and Disappointments: The rotation's beginning to look like it'll be a lot better than anyone expected, as Adam Wainwright looks like he'll be a solid starter, Anthony Reyes looks ready to settle in, and Kip Wells looks like a potential bargain. Of course, if anything goes wrong with Chris Carpenter, they're still cooked, but the rotation's not quite as ugly as it looked a couple of months ago.
Life Goes On: Losing Encarnacion is survivable, in no small part because of the commitment to Chris Duncan and the retention of Preston Wilson. I would have liked to have seem them keep Rodriguez instead of Skip Schumaker, but Duncan, Wilson, Scott Spiezio, and So Taguchi figure to soak up the playing time, and I guess I can accept an argument that with two unnatural outfielders like Spiezio and Duncan clomping around out there, Schumaker's defensive virtues were a necessary addition to the mix.
Cool Tactical Options? Spiezio can be flipped around all over, which is pretty cool, as well as a credit to Tony La Russa's willingness to bring back somebody he knew. It's been easy to bang on La Russa about it in the past-and I have-but when it works, credit's due. Spiezio wasn't as done as he looked in Seattle. Now he's a significant tactical asset for the world champs.