May 2, 2007
Transaction of the Day
Optioned CF-L Brian Anderson to Charlotte (Triple-A); placed DH-L Jim Thome on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 4/28; recalled OF-L Ryan Sweeney from Charlotte. [4/29]
So, just so we've all got this straight, with Scott Podsednik out, with Jim Thome out, with Darin Erstad hitting exactly as well as you'd expect Darin Erstad to hit, and with no left fielder, you turn to Rob Mackowiak, a nifty utility player to be sure, but a guy whose offensive peak was a few years ago, and was only good for slugging in the .420-.440 range? The nicest way to spin this is that maybe they'll let Sweeney play, and maybe they'll sort out that there's better promise of getting something out of that than playing both Erstad and Mackowiak and whichever non-hitter Ozzie chooses to DH. Maybe they're going to let Anderson get his bat back by letting him play every day in Charlotte, and will bring him back after some regular playing time brings him back to about his level-admittedly probably no better than Erstad-y, but it beats punting on him.
As far as wacky call-ups, Luis Terrero is exactly the right kind of outfielder for this kind of outfield. Doesn't walk, doesn't slug, doesn't run as well as you'd like but more often than he should, and gifted with a capacity to achieve feats of tremendous athleticism and make equally astonishing bad decisions. Who's next, Alex Sanchez?
Sweeney's comparables make for interesting reading, but they also beg a few questions. Alex Romero, or Grady Sizemore? Robinson Cano, or Ryan Langerhans? Is Nick Markakis a good sign, or bad? Sweeney's youth is going to be what keeps the debate raging for another year or two, but projecting him to hit .285/.333/.429 looks a lot better than what's expected from Podzilla (.264/.329/.371) or Erstad, even if he keeps hitting .258/.309/.371, which we doubt. Some good things are starting to happen in the rotation, but without run support, this team isn't going to be able to keep up with the other three contenders. Drowning in your own Kool-Aid is not an Olympic event; here's hoping the White Sox figure that out.
I've never been a big Shealy believer, and there's something sort of predictably geometric about his lineup slots this year, so losing him to the DL isn't exactly what I'd consider a setback. He's not the next Kevin Millar; heck, he's not even the next Steve Balboni. Is he a nice filler? Sure, but eventually, the Royals will graduate out of that sort of ballclub.
Which is where getting Butler up already comes in. Down at Omaha, Butler already had twice as many homers as any two of his teammates, hitting .337/.445/.584. Now, sadly, he may be to left field what Sam Horn was to first base, or the American League's answer to Chris Duncan. Perhaps even more sadly, the Royals have to play Mike Sweeney right up until someone lets them pay Team X to get him out of Kansas City before his contract runs out at season's end. I suppose it's possible they could play Sweeney at first and DH Butler, and see if Sweeney can avoid hurting himself more handily than Butler will hurt the pitching staff playing dodgeball in left, but it's perhaps just as well that they're playing Brian Daubach at first for the time being. Butler's awful, perhaps Kevin Reimer-level historically awful, but this is the Royals, and they can always hope he'll get better. Say, to merely "worse than Bo Jackson in his daffier moments," or "Lonnie Smith, but without the damage control gene." They've got little to lose, except the odd ballgame, and there's not an appreciable difference between finishing in fifth place versus fifth place with an exclamation point. Butler's hitting certainly doesn't seem likely to require any further seasoning down in Omaha-when comes to his work at the plate, he's the real tabasco.
The exchange in the pen is actually pretty tasty, although it's not a matter of giving up on Braun-he still has power stuff, but little command, and swapping in Musser to perhaps take a longer look at whether or not he can stick as a second lefty could be a good thing. Somebody's got to eventually join Joakim Soria as a keepable bit in the bullpen, right?
Acquired OF-L Ryan Langerhans from the Braves for a PTBNL or cash; optioned LHP Dallas Braden to Sacramento (Triple-A). [4/29]
Desperation can take many forms, and can lead to all sorts of regrettable choices, awkward morning-after conversations, and the odd coyote-ugly roster move. But while I'm not sure if PECOTA was smoking something when it saw Langerhans as someone who should slug .450 this year, I will not do the same sort of flip-flop this one of my oldest friends does. Al's a Yankees fan, and while he might trash a guy for years, as soon as his team (the Yankees) picks up that very guy, guess who suddenly has a silver lining? It's the sort of thing you can rib him about, certainly, but he'll stick to his guns, right up until that player gets dealt. Langerhans... well, let's just say that I like him in that Mike Kingery sort of way-at his very best, he can play a solid outfield, he throws well, and maybe he hits enough line drives in a good year that he slugs in the low .400s. That's not worthless, and it certainly means something for a team as short of outfielders as the A's are. But I still don't see him slugging .450.
So, with him in the fold, he's moved straight into center field, something that'll probably stick even after Nick Swisher gets back in action, perhaps in time for the weekend's series in St. Pete. That's when things might get interesting-who sits if, for the sake of argument, Langerhans, Travis Buck, Shannon Stewart, and Dan Johnson are all hitting? Okay, scratch that, odds are one of them won't be. I'd like to see Buck and Johnson keep playing, and get Stewart out of the outfield, which would mean Swisher starts in left field and Langerhans stays out there in center. Then, once Kielty comes back, you might actually get around to using him as a platoon partner a little more aggressively, either for Buck or Langerhans. Unfortunately, there's this current mania for making Stewart the leadoff man, and while a .333 OBP while hitting in the slot is no great shakes, it was an improvement on Jason Kendall.
Finally, while Braden's down, he's not out. A convenient stretch of off days afforded the A's the opportunity to skip the fifth slot until May 12th's game against the Tribe, so the A's could instead flip back to carrying a real backup catcher and letting Mike Piazza go back to only worrying about when or if he's going to start doing some damage at the plate.
Traded OF-L Ryan Langerhans to the A's for a PTBNL or cash; recalled UT-L Willie Harris from Richmond (Triple-A). [4/29]
Dealing Langerhans to the A's might seem to resemble a double-pity trade-there's a film noir title that perhaps appropriately never saw the light of day-"Double Pity," starring Barbara Stanwyck? Probably more a Veronica Lake vehicle. Anyway, it was a move made because Langerhans was stone-cold bad and in danger of being outrighted to Richmond (he was out of options), while the A's were pan-handling for outfield help. The Braves lineup is in a pretty interesting place without him-for the time being they'll employ Harris and Matt Diaz in a platoon in left, generally hitting out of the bottom third of the order. They're not limited to platooning them, since they could also use Craig Wilson or even Scott Thorman, but those seem more like tactical gambits, and given that Bobby Cox has kept things pretty simple, I'd only expect those sorts of things if Cox ever gives Andruw Jones or Jeff Francouer a few innings off in center and right. Harris helps cover them there, as well, since he can play all three outfield slots as well as second, short, and third.
Now, I know what you're saying. Willie Harris? That's okay-you can take this as a choice that has a couple of virtues. I've already noted the position flexibility, which is handy. There's also Harris' speed, which makes him a nice pinch-running option if he's pushed back into a bench role, and from the eighth slot in the lineup potentially increases the value of the pitcher's default to sac bunt, whether he steals second and gets bunted to third (a tougher play for the defense), or if by being on second, he's that much more likely to make it home on single by Kelly Johnson or Edgar Renteria from the top of the order. Okay, that's the former Strat manager in me, but then there's also the scoutier angle-the Braves really think they've really helped Harris at the plate now that minor league hitting instructor Jack Maloof has him hitting with his feel planted. Harris was off to an extremely hot start down at Richmond (.362/.457/.603), and given that he's another native Georgian, they decided to take a chance and see if they have something here. Harris has always had some modicum of patience, and if he can deliver a solid average, there's a sort of cool Dion James Lite vibe to the thing.
As far as Plan C, that's the other nice thing about the Braves' left field situation. If Harris tanks, they can turn to Gregor Blanco, a very similar ballplayer in terms of speed and an ability to get on base; Blanco's off to a good start as well, hitting .343/.443/.418. And beyond Blanco, there's Brandon Jones, also hitting well, but a rung down at Double-A Mississippi (.289/.330/.536). There's no need for the Braves to make a commitment to anybody here; they can instead wait and see if their instruction's gotten Harris back to the sort of Chone Figgins type he once seemed to be, and failing that, they can explore the trade market. If Blanco or Jones make a case to make it up, and Harris has been solid in the meantime, they could even bump Pete Orr to make room, using Harris and Chris Woodward as the primary infield reserves. Tasty, no?
Meanwhile, I'm sure fantheads and some Braves fans are more worked up about Bob Wickman's latest breakdown. Don't be. This is a manager and a team with plenty of success and experience with closer-by-committee set-ups, and as dirty a term as that may have become after Grady Little "proved" it didn't work in 2003, it can and does work, for some. Wickman's probably remembered locally for his good work down the stretch last season, but the games he pitched in Cleveland counted too, and put it all together, and you wind up with a heavy, old guy having a mediocre season. Now he's a year heavier and older, and you want to assume he's Iron Man? Be careful what you wish for.
In his absence, Cox won't have to automatically plug in former Pirates closer Mike Gonzalez. Instead, he has the flexibility to use Gonzalez against lefty-heavy scenarios, perhaps Aussie side-armer Peter Moylan against unpullable right-handed hitters, or the all-around goodness of eventual relief star Rafael Soriano in more straightforward save situations. It might exasperate some of you looking to corner saves in your leagues, but from my point of view, it's delightfully meritocratic and egalitarian, and might give the Braves the subsequent benefit of knowing they can trust all sorts of guys in any key situation-something that'll especially loom large coming down the stretch and/or playing games in October.
Placed RHP Orlando Hernandez on the 15-day DL (shoulder bursitis), retroactive to 4/25; placed INF-S Jose Valentin on the 15-day DL (knee), retroactive to 4/29; recalled RHP Chan Ho Park and purchased the contract of 2B-S Ruben Gotay from New Orleans (Triple-A). [4/30]
The Mets see two of their fragile wishcasts break down, and while it's inconvenient that it happened simultaneously, one of these things is more destructive than the other. While I've been a big Jose Valentin fan going back fifteen years or so (his turning things around in 1991 was enough to turn the Padres eyes, certainly), he was a poor bet to continue to slug .490, considering his age and his questionable durability. The real regret here is that they really don't have a great set of alternatives. Damion Easley didn't seem like too terrible an idea at the time, and they should be able to make do. Gotay's still pretty young at 24, and salvaging him from the Royals might turn out pretty well if his early hitting at New Orleans is any indication (.256/.367/.439).
The bigger problem is losing El Duque, but it was also more easily anticipated. The problem is more one of choices. Park was the most-famous of the alternatives, but there seems to be a bit too much "Lima Time!" infamy potential, and he was pitching really poorly down in the Big Easy: six homers allowed in 21 innings, one good start and two ghastly ones out of four. So the question now is whether or not the Mets would like to go young, and bring up someone like Philip Humber, or if the Mike Pelfrey experience has been enough to chill their enthusiasm for that prospect. The really interesting alternative might be Jorge Sosa, because he's been outstanding for the Zephyrs, winning four in five starts, logging five quality starts, and striking out 29 while walking only four in 32 IP. If they can resurrect Oliver Perez, why not Sosa too? It beats taking another spin with Park, who's luck has gone from lousy to worse, depending on whether he's only pitched poorly or fended off life-threatening internal bleeding. Sympathy's a good thing, but the Mets have a division title to defend, and I'd rather they not commit to the famous people when some of Omar Minaya's other, less-publicized moves might work out significantly better.