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April 30, 2007
April 21-28, 2007
Optioned LHP Joe Saunders to Salt Lake; activated RHP Bartolo Colon from the 15-day DL. [4/21]
Saunders made his pitch to stick around, but it really didn't matter, beyond showing he wasn't overwrought with anticipation of a return to Utah-two quality starts in his three shows he's as ready as he's ever going to be, but the Angels sensibly want to leave him alone as a starter, and with Escobar, Colon, and Jered Weaver all back off of the DL, there wasn't space for Saunders. (Equally happily, Mike Scioscia didn't appear to give much thought to going to a six-man rotation.) With their best quintet now all in operating order, I wouldn't be surprised if the Angels go on a small tear against the Royals and White Sox this week, probably the start of a kick that will put some distance between themselves and the rest of the division.
While Wood's up and that would normally be a big deal, it's just a teaser that gives him a taste of what it's like; once Chone Figgins is ready to return, Scioscia can go back to alternating between Figgy, Erick Aybar, and Maicer Izturis at second and third. For that same reason, Wood's a better fit for the roster than Morales, especially with Casey Kotchman's bat heating up. It seems safe to say that Robb Quinlan's availability as a third baseman is more of a theoretical option, sort of like Shea Hillenbrand's, which puts them both into the roster's other three-way for two lineup spots, trying to filch time from Kotchman at first base when not DHing. Hillenbrand isn't really doing much to justify his playing time, but that was pretty much going to be the problem from the moment Bill Stoneman elected to sign him in the first place. As the rotation exemplifies, depth isn't a bad problem to have, of course, and once Wood is really ready and/or Howie Kendrick is back from the DL, they'll be able to start moving Hillenbrand into a secondary role, at which point, we're back to wondering what he's for, besides Quinlan insurance.
Placed RHP Scott Williamson on the 15-day DL (triceps tendon tightness); recalled RHP Jim Johnson from Norfolk (Triple-A). [4/24]
Losing Williamson might work up some flashbacks to last season's bullpen combustibility-he's one of the new fearsome foursome of hired guns, after all, and there's been a lot of talk about how the Orioles' pen has been much improved. That it has, but it's worth noting that they've really only been in the middle of the pack in terms of WXRL and reliever Fair Runs Allowed, but again, the virtue has been the difference between this year and last. Williamson wasn't one of the best cogs in the pen, however, and I think there shouldn't be any real surprise that he broke down despite only sporadic use. Again, only Ma Williamson might be in a position to tell us whether or not he's got a 'Made in China' birthmark under his hair. His absence shouldn't seriously disrupt the pen's performance. Although Johnson's early work at Norfolk suggests that he's finally sharpening up his curveball, I expect this will only be a brief mop-up sort of gig.
Although the lineup's generally doing good stuff in the early going, there are a few pistons that haven't started firing, so getting Hernandez back should be a boost. Not because he's going to be anything more than his usual brand of Steinbach-y goodness both at and behind the plate, but because he's pushing a virtual Hobson's choice between Castillo and Paul Bako out of the everyday lineup. In Bako's defense, he's reached base well enough to keep himself useful, but then that's one of the things that keeps him employable, along with his being a catcher, batting lefty, and no doubt being a bon vivant of some merit (there are worse alternatives, naturally, but notoriety for an absence of charm has its privileges). If adding Hernandez means some tougher at-bats for opposing pitchers and helps create a feeding-frenzy inning or two, maybe that'll help jump-start Jay Gibbons, Aubrey Huff, and Jay Payton.
Placed INF-S Alex Cintron on the Bereavement List; recalled INF-R Andy Gonzalez from Charlotte (Triple-A). [4/22]
Marte's dispatch to the DL might be a bit of mercy-he is hurt, of course, but his season-opening slump was beginning to be a bit of a distraction, enough to get some people quailing about the end of his prospectudom. I guess I look at the amount of playing time (41 plate appearances) and his having only turned 23, and I wonder about such sensibilities. The guy's young, he plays a good third, and if I remember correctly, Matt Williams struggled to get his OBP over .250 until after his 24th birthday. Marte doesn't have Williams' power, of course, but it seems strange to go Chicken Little on someone with Marte's track record and talent.
Instead, I'd rather worry about the way things are without him. It's a nice matter of convenience that they can plug Casey Blake in at third base in Marte's absence, but Blake isn't hitting. It's nice to have Choo up, but Choo probably shouldn't be down-he's just marking time until the club sorts out whether it made one mistake in its winter pickups (Trot Nixon) or two (David Dellucci too?). If neither of the veteran lefty bats for the outfield corners get started up, will they move one for Choo? Or will Choo be in an even more remote corner of limbo than Ryan Garko? Garko is at least getting playing time at first, but he isn't hitting either. It makes for a somewhat interesting problem, as the Tribe tries to sort out who are the best of the second fiddles behind the lineup's core talent-Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, and Travis Hafner. It's a nice problem to have, of course, but the danger is that guaranteed money won't guarantee production, especially in the case of a hothouse flower like Nixon.
Placed RHP Rick White on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); purchased the contract of LHP Stephen Randolph from Round Rock (Triple-A). [4/25]
Pence was off to a solidly hot start in the PCL, hitting .341/.398/.588, so he fixes a problem in the lineup, right? Well... sort of. His call-up reflects that the commitment to Chris Burke was every bit as deep as the one made to Brad Lidge, without the unnecessary indignity of getting a vote of confidence before losing his job. Not that Pence isn't going to be a good thing, or that he may not be up to stay-that's all good news. The real question is whether or not he's really a centerfielder, any more than Burke is or is not, and whether or not Craig Biggio should be playing everyday. Burke really only presents a valuable alternative at second or center-push him to an outfield corner, and even if his bat does heat up, he ceases to become a likely asset relative to what other teams in the league can put in right or left.
The problem isn't that there's a choice between playing Pence if he's ready or not, it's that the Astros won't pick the best player between Biggio and Burke, because they're committed to enabling Biggio's personal Recordball quest, and hoping they can compete too. That remains a screwed-up sense of priorities, but if Pence produces, they'll have picked up some measure of offensive gain. The problem is that the gains on that side of the ledger won't add up to that much, relative to what they'd get if they weren't shackled to Biggio's place in history, and that the lack of any major gains in defense only make matters worse. If Pence isn't a good centerfielder, how does that help a staff already handicapped with having to live with Carlos Lee's stomping around in left? Will that add up to the difference between Burke and Pence at the plate, or will it be worse? With Pence, Lee, and some combination of Luke Scott and Jason Lane, will this help any of the Astros' more flyball-oriented hurlers out? As a result, I see the gains of brining up Pence as both obvious and fractional-Pence is ready to play, but the team's still out a centerfielder, and with Biggio's value on offense relying so heavily on memory of what once was, there just doesn't seem to be enough there there.
An interesting exchange, but with so many of their pitching moves coming up aces, you have to give the Royals their due in deciding to move Brian Bannister into the rotation and push Brandon Duckworth into the long relief role they probably need filled by a veteran, given the durability issues that you might worry about with Zack Greinke, Jorge de la Rosa, or Bannister. I've never gotten worked up about Bannister, and his giving up four homers in his four starts and twenty innings at Omaha aren't about to make me start, but he's shown better command, walking only four. Perhaps that means he's finally throwing his curve for strikes, and maybe it's that he's picked up a working changeup, but the danger is that he's a right-handed junkballer searching for reliable junk, which sounds a lot like Kevin Jarvis Lite to me. Still, the Royals have nothing to lose, and considering how good their gambles with de la Rosa, Rule 5 pick Joakim Soria, and even Gil Meche look so far, there seems to be no reason to forego another risk. It's their "known" quantities, guys like Todd Wellemeyer, David Riske, or Odalis Perez, who are disappointing them.
Optioned LHP Chase Wright to Trenton (Double-A); activated OF-L Hideki Matsui from the 15-day DL. [4/23]
Mike Mussina's about to return from the DL, so we're really only asking who winds up in the fourth and fifth slots behind Moose, Wang, and Andy Pettitte. Jeff Karstens is out of the picture after getting his leg broken by a line drive, so we're left picking two from among three plausibles-Hughes, Kei Igawa, and Darrell Rasner. Hughes' delivery was something less than lovely, but it was still less combustible than what Igawa's shown initially, and this still looks more like a team that's about to get its problems ironed out than one whose problems are actually deepening. It's still quite possible they'll rush themselves into making a deal for someone not named Carl Pavano to acquire the virtue of his not being Carl Pavano. That would be a mistake-given time, they may find that they're perfectly okay with what they'll get from Hughes and Igawa. All of which is to say that for all of the movement and the nattering complaining about their lot, Yankee fans should get used to the idea that this team's both less than perfect, but still probably the best ballclub in the division.
Optioned C-S Adam Melhuse to Sacramento (Triple-A); activated 1B-L Dan Johnson from the 15-day DL. [4/25]
A couple of interesting things here. First, as much as I've always liked Melhuse and as much as it's a nice thing that he's been able to salvage something of a career as the A's primary backup backstop for the last four years, he really wasn't providing all that much value from his roster spot, and if Mike Piazza's up to catching once a week or so, they were better off re-employing that spot by bringing back Johnson. (As long as Piazza doesn't have to catch Chad Gaudin; as Keith Scherer wrote recently, Jason Kendall's only real problems cutting down the running game this season have come with Gaudin on the mound.) The club's still short in the outfield, but at least with Johnson at first, they have someone who can plausibly put a charge in the ball, and if he's settled into the job at first base by the time Nick Swisher's ready to play, the A's might almost wind up with something resembling a major league lineup in another couple of days. There's a lot of if in all that, and Johnson's no sure thing, but it beats fielding a lineup that might not be ready to contend down at Sacramento.
Getting Denorfia isn't going to do the A's any good this year-his recovery from elbow surgery will keep him on the shelf until it's time to start playing the Arizona Fall League and winter league seasons. However, he is a guy Billy Beane's had some interest in for a while, and if you look at him as someone who won't even be eligible for arbitration until the 2010 season, and who might give you .290/.360/.450 in 2008-09, that's a solid bit of arbitrage. For the very promising maybe of McBeth, that seems like a reasonable risk to take, and while I'd rather have McBeth than someone like Jay Witasick, I could say the same thing about Santiago Casilla. Or Keith Atherton, but then it just seems like Witasick's instant ugliness in cleats-just add tears and stir. While I'm not wild about dealing McBeth, the slim track record and the player type (minor league relief prospect-is there such a thing?) dealt make sense in the abstract. When you come right down to it, the club needed the spot on the 40-man roster-somebody was going to have to come off once they reactivate Mark Kotsay from the 60-day DL, but swapping McBeth for Denorfia gets rid of that potential problem.
Finally, a couple of readers noted that Dallas Braden's under orders to not throw his screwball, which is interesting, but not something I'd take for an iron law-pitching coach Curt Young doesn't seem to be a Robert Michels of mound theory. The scroogie's an arrow in Braden's quiver, and something that, perhaps like the gyroball, the credulous will be watching for. Anything that plants doubt in a hitter's mind is a good thing, but to Braden's credit, he seems to be throwing a much sharper changeup these days, and that plus command of everything else in his arsenal might be enough to make him a rotation regular at some point down the road.
Cantu may be up, but he isn't back-in Iwamura's absence, Ty Wigginton's merely moving across the diamond, and the at-bats will be going to Carlos Pena at first base. This isn't really so terrible, although I'd rather see Cantu playing than Wiggy. He's the one guy out of the three you'd call a prospect, after all, although it's on him to show improvement. Pena's actually younger than Wigginton by six months or so, and although he's a year further removed from a season with an Equivalent Average in the .280s, Wigginton didn't have to deal with a manager who discarded him a year after slugging .500 against right-handers, as Pena did with Jim Leyland last spring. I guess I just have a problem with taking Wigginton all that seriously-he slugged .564 in the Trop last season, while hitting .265/.318/.429 on the road. For a guy whose career rates are .264/.323/.446, you know what I think means more. While those sorts of numbers make for an adequate third baseman, on a good team you'd rather see him filling in at either infield corner against lefties, splitting time with better batters like Iwamura or Pena. In the meantime, if Cantu simply sits, it does nothing for his value in trade.
If there's real controversy in the infield, it's whether or not Brendan Harris will keep cadging at-bats at Ben Zobrist's expense. Lou Piniella's fascination with Ryan Theriot as his solution to an incumbent shortstop's weak bat has gotten a good amount of attention, but Harris' slipping into greater playing time seems to have flown under the radar, and given that Zobrist won't be mistaken for Mark Belanger, there's a pretty good chance that this is Harris' last big opportunity, one he's capitalizing on by doing what he does best-make contact with some measure of power, play some hard-nosed baseball, and get the inevitable "he's scrappy" compliments that are his due.
Optioned RHP Jamie Vermilyea to Syracuse (Triple-A); purchased the contract of LHP Brian Tallet from Syracuse; transferred LHP B.J. Ryan from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/22]
The Jays seem to be spinning their wheels, never really getting up a full head of steam, because it doesn't look like they're going to have more than seven of their nine regulars in the lineup at any one time. That said, as I suggested last week, replacing Reed Johnson with Adam Lind isn't a setback, and I'm not sure that losing Zaun is really the end of the world. While he's much-loved in the performance-analysis community, the guy is 36, and while it's all well and good to feel aggrieved over how much of his career was wasted wandering around from one team that didn't value highly enough his offensive virtues, that doesn't mean he's going to be able to pay it forward and gain for himself all of that time back at the tail end of his career. Zaun's old, and he's old enough that losing two months to an injury becomes more than just a normal mishap. Not that a combination of Fasano and Jason Phillips works all that well-in a lineup already relying on Royce Clayton, it doesn't. But the bigger element by far is getting Glaus back, and while the lineup's lost runs to Zaun's injury, it's more than gained them back with Glaus' return. The real question isn't whether or not the lineup is better than it was a week ago-it is. The real problem is whether or not there's enough of a pitching staff here to capitalize, and with both Tomo Ohka and Josh Towers struggling, it's getting harder and harder to believe that.
Bashing Petit's prospect status seems to have been in fashion of late, but he still looks like a nifty pickup for the Human Torch, and his spot start last Sunday in what would have been Micah Owings' turn was a fine day at the office that went for naught in the standings when the lineup had its bats collectively sawed off by Matt Cain. It's ironic that the Fish now find themselves short of starters and better off using a pen stocked with no-name relievers happily ungifted with craptastic super powers like Julio's, but as I sort of noted in March, Petit's problem was really more a matter of his not being Anibal Sanchez or Josh Johnson, not that he's chopped liver. His problem is that he's been dealt to another organization crowded with better pitching prospects, but his nice start might help freshen up his prospect status and make him a slightly more valuable bargaining chip as the spring turns to summer.
The other neat little thing the Snakes pulled off by putting Petit into Owings' slot was that with Monday's off-day and the reinsertion of the Big Unit into the top slot of the rotation, they pushed back the other four starters, giving them all a full week between starts. Brandon Webb, Livan Hernandez, and Doug Davis responded by logging quality starts, while Edgar Gonzalez settled for a five-inning, four-run performance that won't help his case for why he should be in the rotation ahead of Owings. Owings just had a nice rehab outing at Tucson and is expected to be ready to come off of the DL the next time the slot rolls around on the schedule, so the dilemma of what to do with Gonzalez if he isn't in the rotation is about to come to the fore.
Even with Mark Prior out of the picture, I would question the wisdom of having gone out and gotten Miller-he's now in his fourth season since his last good one, and his health has been poor enough to make him an honorary member of the 2003 Cubs rotation. A week with a pair of off-days afforded Lou Piniella the opportunity to forego carrying an unused fifth starter, instead letting Angel Guzman gear up by taking a regular turn in Iowa that puts him in line to make Tuesday's start against the Pirates on a normal four days of rest. Because of his fragility and spotty track record, I'm not really a big Guzman believer, but I'd rather take a look at him than have screwed around with adding Miller. Of course, I would have also rather the Cubs had kept Jae-Kuk Ryu, and re-signing Miller to a guaranteed contract unnecessarily crowded the 40-man roster with another far-from-reliable veteran. The dilemma for the Cubs is really whether or not they keep Guzman up after putting him in the rotation, because another pair of off days in the next week could allow Piniella to skip using his fifth starter until Saturday, May 12th, against the Phillies, which if the Cubs keep in turn, would be followed by another tough road assignment, against the Mets on the 17th. If Guzman can have a good start on Tuesday and follow that up by delivering winnable starts against two NL East contenders, the job might be his, allowing the Cubs to let Miller keep company with Carl Pavano in what I'm sure would make a lovely reality TV show, Almost Healthy.
Meanwhile, freed from having to carry a fifth starter, the Cubs have gotten to take a look at Cherry, whose prospect status has rocketed upwards now that he finally seems relatively recovered from elbow and finger problems. A big guy with plus offerings on both sides of a sinker-slider mix, he probably won't get to stick around, but should Piniella ever tire of carrying three lefties in the pen, he's done enough good in the past week to earn a return. However, for the time being, the Cubs are really sort of using two lefties (Will Ohman and Neal Cotts) and one Scott Eyre, as the veteran southpaw seems to have just about everything-food poisoning, mechanical issues, and simple suckitude-going on at once, none of which entails getting left-handed hitters out, as they're slugging a thousand against him-1.000. No, really.
Activated INF-R Jeff Keppinger from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Louisville (Triple-A). [4/22]
In the wake of the Kearns-Lopez disaster and all of its after-effects and non-additive additions, I've been a bit given to bashing on Wayne Krivsky for his bullpen obsessions, because he seems too ready to dive into a terminal case of Wade's tremens, the compulsive need to add relievers. However, going all the way back to the start of his service with the Reds, the man does keep doing other things that I actually like. Take his decision to anticipate some offseason business, and take care of Coffey's contract right now. Coffey might have been arbitration-eligible as a super-two player after this season, but why worry about that? Keep the player happy, eliminate even the threat of going through that sort of offseason unpleasantness, and perhaps also send the message that the cheapskate sensibility of the Age of Lindner is just a memory.
Dumping Cormier's a reminder that this new willingness to spend money extends to eating contracts when it involves discarding a veteran who seems to be beyond useless. What's interesting about ditching Cormier is that this is the first seven-figure disposal that wasn't a matter of discarding another one of Dan O'Brien's mistakes (like Tony Womack or David Williams)-Cormier was a mistake of his own made during the desperate stretch of last summer, and a player whose deal he had to extend to get past Cormier's ten-and-five rights. That Krivsky was willing to sink this particular cost was perhaps characteristically bold, but Reds fans should also hope that it wound up being educational. In his place, getting down to only two lefties and bringing up Salmon now that he's about as ready as he's every going to be provides the pen with better talent as well as better balance. As I noted in this year's book, Salmon throws hard, but it looks like he's being a lot more consistent with his slider this year, and if he can keep that up, he's an improvement on the Saarloos and Santos types, instead giving them a power righthander beyond Coffey.
The decision to deal Denorfia might seem strange, because he's out for the year after elbow surgery, but they're committed to Josh Hamilton for the time being, and by the time Denorfia would be useful to them, Drew Stubbs might be ready for Double-A. So Krivsky instead decided to ditch someone no longer really in his ballclub's outfield picture for another reliever, and while that might seem like more of the same, McBeth's as interesting as a minor league reliever can get, bordering on meriting a 'prospect' label you don't often tag their kind with. A former centerfielder with mid-90s heat, he might have been able to punch his own ticket at some point with velocity alone. However, a nasty changeup and a promising slider give him an unusually broad assortment for a conversion project, and there's a decent chance he'll be able to stick in The Show before this season's out. Add in the cash and the possibility of some other goody, and it already looks like a pretty solid move.
The Rockies haven't gotten much value out of their pen this year, so there's really no shame in losing Hawkins. He hasn't been fooling people at the plate for a couple of years now, and a defense-dependent reliever without some special situational merit (like being an extreme groundball pitcher, and/or a side-armer) borders on being an oxymoron. The staff could use a situational lefty, and that's what Martin's supposed to still be good for.
Optioned RHP Scott Tyler to Carolina (Double-A); purchased the contract of RHP Wes Obermueller from Albuquerque (Triple-A). [4/22]
Placed RHP Greg Aquino on the 15-day DL (forearm tightness), retroactive to 4/21, and voided his option to Nashville (Triple-A). [4/25]
Activated C-R Ryan Budde from the 15-day DL, announced that he cleared waivers, and offered the Rule 5 pick back to the Angels. [4/23] Optioned LHP Matt Smith to Ottawa (Triple-A); recalled LHP Fabio Castro from Ottawa. [4/26]
Swapping out Smith-a pretty solid situational lefty in the making-for Castro seems somewhat odd, but the pen as a whole hasn't been doing great things, and Smith issued 11 unintentional free rides in only four frames, which is exactly the sort of thing that earns you a punitive trip to the least-popular desination in all of Triple-A. Castro has considerable promise, as something more than another hocked-up tactical matchups weapon, and he didn't embarrass himself after getting picked up from the Rangers last season, so why not? The nice thing about Castro is that his mid-90s heat and power curve can work against everybody from any side of the plate, and the Phillies are just needy enough for relief help to skip the La Russian bollocks and jump to the simple stuff, like getting people out.
Of course, they might just screw all that up and snag Rheal Cormier on Wayne Krivsky's dime, at which point you have to wonder if the ghost of Eddie Wade will ever be exorcised.
Optioned LHP Juan Perez to Indianapolis (Triple-A); activated LHP John Grabow from the 15-day DL. [4/22]
While you never want a guy to get hurt, and while Cota's a reasonably useful backup catcher, I just like the idea of having Doumit around as the high-offense alternative to Ronny Paulino behind the plate. Get Doumit a little less than half of the playing time at catcher, plus spot work at first base or in an outfield corner-hey, if Brad Eldred's allowed to clomp around in right, who can't?-and you get an extremely useful hitter 400 plate appearances, and help baseball's worst offense get a little bit better. This isn't really a young lineup as much as there's just an absence of anyone who's actually old; all of the hitters are in what you'd consider their peak-season range of 25 to 29, and they're not scoring runs, and they haven't. There's only so much wishcasting you can plausibly do with guys like Freddy Sanchez or Chris Duffy or Jose Bautista, and if the Pirates want to do anything to help themselves, they need to both open up their options by making space for someone like Doumit, and treat everyone-excepting perhaps only Jason Bay-as available for the right price.
Optioned RHP Aaron Rakers to Portland (Triple-A); recalled INF-L Oscar Robles from Portland. [4/23]
All of which boils down to the Padres getting back to 13 position players, although sort of inconveniently, three of them are catcher-only catchers. That creates an interesting question as to who gets sent down once Branyan's back-third catcher Pete Laforest, who has hit well since being called up to help cover for Bard, or Robles, the second reserve infielder with an especially slack stick. You might wonder whether or not Laforest could be productive in a third-catcher job that really involved more pinch-hitting than starting, but if Bud Black instead elected to take a page from Bruce Bochy's playbook for how he used Bard, Rob Bowen, and Mike Piazza last season, and use Laforest as his alternative to Bard in the lineup, with Bowen returning to finishing games behind the plate and/or pinch-running for Bard and Laforest, that could work. I'm not a big believer in Bowen's upside, so I wouldn't worry about any wasted greatness, and having Laforest on the bench makes for a better pinch-hitting weapon than Robles.