May 24, 2007
Placed 3B-L Chad Tracy on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); purchased the contract of UT-R Mark Reynolds from Mobile (Double-A); claimed INF-L Jason Smith off of waivers from the Blue Jays; designated RHP Casey Daigle for assignment; transferred OF-S Jeff DaVanon from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/16]
For all of the activity, what this really boils down to is two things-Mark Reynolds is the guy playing at third base in Tracy's absence, and Callaspo's back in action after the union did its job in filing a grievance, and all concerned agreed to put Callaspo under counseling. Of the two items, Reynolds getting brought up is the exciting reflection of an organization that isn't afraid to take some chances. Rather than do the stolid thing and observe service time or favor experience and play someone like Smith or Sadler at third, or call up an organizational soldier like Brian Barden "because it's his turn," the Snakes instead went down into their own system and dug up the guy with the offensive profile to step into Tracy's role and give the offense a boost.
As prospect go, Reynolds is a bit of an odd sort-he played short in college next to Ryan Zimmerman, but his final position is still a bit fluid because of his limitations. He's drifted to second or third, and played some in the outfield, but on a team with Orlando Hudson at second, his immediate future might have to be at third. He'll have some Bobby Bonilla -like moments at the hot corner, but he's not useless, and with consistent reps, might be able to stick it out there. Either way, if he can handle second or third, he's got tremendous value, either in trade or as a potential replacement for Hudson or Tracy. At the plate, he already looks ready-PECOTA pegged him to slug .460 if he made it up this year, and his hitting .306/.394/.537 at Mobile suggests that isn't really outlandish. He seems to get a bit pull-happy when he isn't lacing balls into the outfield, but his nifty first week up in Tracy's absence seems to indicate that he's ready now. That might create an interesting subsequent roster crunch, because Reynolds' positional flexibility recommends him over an aspiring DH like Jerry Hairston Jr., and the Snakes' current offensive woes aren't providing a lot of support for leaving the roster entirely as-is. Basically, his call-up reflects an organization that isn't afraid to take a risk or two on its young talent, but that's reinforced by the certainty that their prospects can or will deliver.
More stolidly, there's nothing fun about Callaspo's return, but it does seem to reflect a process where everyone did as they felt they should. The D'backs made their point by suspending Callaspo for missing a flight while being interviewed by police specifically, and symbolically demonstrating their difference from how the Mariners with Julio Mateo (an implausibly coincidental demotion) or the Phillies with Brett Myers (snoozy indifference followed by a belated gesture in the face of public outrage). The union did its grim duty, and presumably Callaspo feels chastened, he's getting help, and he's back on the team. It's not something to celebrate, but it's probably the best way this sort of scenario can work out. Ideally, the counseling helps, Callaspo gets straightened out, and everyone comes out ahead.
Optioned C-S Brayan Pena to Richmond (Triple-A); activated LHP Mark Redman from the 15-day DL. [5/18]
There's a couple of interesting things in play here. First, it seems as if three quality starts from Kyle Davies in his last four has helped shore up his status in the rotation, encouraging the Braves to dispense with Redman's gray gravitas after his first healthy-toe start didn't turn out any better than his pre-DL outings had. So, if Davies has given them the confidence to count on him, that allows the Braves to go back to experimenting with the rotation slot that really still sits empty since Mike Hampton's latest meltdown. Lerew may not get much considerations-although he gave the team a quality start in his debut before getting smacked around in his next two, it's come to light that he's been pitching with a sore elbow he'd neglected to mention to anybody for the last month, never a good way to win friends and influence people. There's some speculation he may not be back this season, instead going back down to Richmond once he's healthy. That throws things relatively wide open-come Saturday, they'll turn to journeyman Buddy Carlyle on the basis of his hot start, but they gave some thought to one of the prospects shining down in Double-A. Organizational soldier Trey Hodges also rated mention, because of decent start to his season, but I figure the 20 walks in 25 innings is a convincing deterrent. There's also a rehabbing Lance Cormier to consider, and should Carlyle falter, he's probably seen as next in line. Again, this is the fifth slot, and if Davies continues to reward the club's confidence in him, they may be able to sit pretty and skip looking for starting help at the deadline.
Keeping Salty up instead of Pena is an interesting development, one that might make you wonder how he's going to get playing time watching Brian McCann soak up most of the playing time behind the plate. That's where last week's release of Craig Wilson telegraphs what appears to be the intention-Saltalamacchia is going to end up playing some first base, providing Scott Thorman with an erstwhile platoon partner. It won't be a strict platoon-Thorman doesn't have to be hidden from every lefty, and Salty will still have his catching duties to attend to. Basically, it's a decision that puts the best possible talent on the roster, gives them a catcher worth playing in case McCann needs a rest, and gives Salty a chance to contribute to a contender in a secondary role. That preps him for more regular work in case anything serious happens to McCann, while also showcasing him.
As for Devine's promotion, we'll have to see if it sticks. He's been very hot lately, throwing scoreless outings 12 of his last 13 times out, with eight hits and four walks in 13.1 innings, while striking out 16. He's also showing a major platoon split so far, and while that doesn't bode well for any immediate bid to renew his claim on "closer of the future" cachet, it might make Peter Moylan nervous about his job security as a designated ROOGY (or, as John Sickels coined it, a Righty One-Out GuY). Generating almost twice as many grounders as flyball outs is a great way to make yourself popular, and with both Oscar Villarreal and Chad Paronto both struggling in low-leverage roles, it isn't like there aren't candidates to be shunted aside should Devine make a good initial impression. The NL East has it's share of righty-heavy lineups, as the Phillies, Fish, and Mets all lean pretty heavily that way, which makes a guy who can overpower right-handed bats especially valuable to the Braves. We'll see if Devine rises to this challenge.
Optioned LHP Neal Cotts to Iowa (Triple-A). [5/20]
One of the things you see from a Piniella-run club is a punitive demotion or two. Cotts' overall contribution doesn't look so bad, but his recent run of combustibility seemed symptomatic of the pen's failures in general. Marshall's up to step into the fifth slot in the rotation, replacing Angel Guzman, who's been drafted into the pen. Overall, I like that exchange, mostly because it's a question of putting Guzman's arm to use in a way that might actually keep him healthy enough to contribute over a full season. It would almost be a first for him, but if he joins Ryan Dempster, Michael Wuertz, and Bobby Howry as examples of former starters who found new life in relief work, it wouldn't be a surprise.
Again, in the rotation, Marshall toed the rubber against the Padres last night, and looked sharp. The weakness in his shoulder that slowed him in spring training seems to have been dispensed with, as he's run off four useful starts in Iowa to get himself back in gear. If his prospective stardom seems to suffer in comparison to Rich Hill's, the guy's still a lefty with a high-velocity sinker and good curve, and as fifth starters go, he's still pretty promising. While Cotts has to be feeling a bit chastened, overall this was a nice realignment of available talent, one that might get the Cubs a little closer to fielding a quality pen while still boasting a strong top-to-bottom rotation.
Optioned LHP Bobby Livingston and INF-R Jeff Keppinger to Louisville (Triple-A); recalled RHP Marcus McBeth and purchased the contract of C-R Chad Moeller from Louisville. [5/15]
For all of the reshuffling, the upshots are these: the pen has Salmon back, the lineup has Encarnacion back, and Kirk Saarloos has received a field promotion from mop-up man to fifth starter. I'm in favor of the lot. Salmon's the least of it, although with the club getting good work out of only two relievers (Stormy Weathers and "the Tongue"), they're going to have to see something from him in pretty short order. Even with seven bodies in the pen, when one of them's a Rule 5 pick (Jared Burton), and another is the retreading-in-progress of Victor Santos, you can't afford too much premature experimentation.
Turning to Encarnacion, if the demotion was a matter of lighting a fire under him, as several have suggested, it seems he didn't miss the point. Down in Batsville USA, he rattled off seven multi-hit games in 11, cranking out a .413/.426/.674 line that shows you can hit your way out of Kentucky as readily as off the island (Hispaniola, in Encarnacion's case, lest we forget). As for whether or not this was really necessary, or if the Reds really did themselves a disservice by having guys like Keppinger and Juan Castro start five of the eleven games during the demotion, that can best be answered by whether or not they're trying to get Encarnacion back into the picture as one of the key components of their lineup, or if their disgust (and Hamilton-fancying) hasn't gotten to the point that they just don't turn third over to Ryan Freel and trade their now-undermined third base prospect. If it's the former, and the punitive demotion ends up being credited for Encarnacion's turnaround, it'll be part of the "good Krivsky" list, but if the latter, it may end up being as egregiously expensive as the Kearns/Lopez trade.
Moving on to the rotation, Saarloos is no particular prize, but he's a handy enough utility pitcher, and if they were going to judge Livingston on a single start, then perhaps it's for the best that they plug the journeyman into the slot, pending the perhaps-ominous return of Eric Milton to full health. If Saarloos can deliver non-disaster starts of the five frames & three runs variety, it's pretty likely that Jerry Narron will consider himself fortunate; indeed, if that's the case, Saarloos might be the first starter Narron isn't willing to risk blowing a quality start with.
Activated RHP Ramon Ramirez from the 15-day DL. [5/15]
Placed 1B-L Mike Jacobs on the 15-day DL(fractured thumb), retroactive to 5/14; activated RHP Byung-Hyun Kim from the 15-day DL. [5/17]
In Jacobs' absence, Aaron Boone's gotten the lion's share of playing time in the lineup at first base, and while I'd like to have seen some way of getting Joe Borchard or Todd Linden some playing time to see if either will ever be able to contribute, Boone's had a hot bat, and Borchard and Linden anything but. I guess the frustrating or interesting thing is that they've devoted as much playing time as they have to Reggie Abercrombie and Alfredo Amezaga, two guys without any real up-side, while not doing much with Borchard since Jeremy Hermida's reactivation, and next to nothing with Linden since snagging him off of waivers. Now, certainly, neither Linden nor Borchard are really center fielders, but since when is Amezaga? (Arguably since some point last June, or about when Abercrombie really started falling out of favor.) Admittedly, center field is the problem position in this lineup, especially now that Hermida's back and bashing, but it's frustrating that in year two of their post-Pierre existence, they still haven't found a suitable alternative, or really even tried.
Meanwhile, that new-and-improved sheen seems to have come off like so many scales in the once-young rotation. Kim's activation wasn't a solution to the pen's problems, but was instead a matter of patching up a rotation that's still using Wes Obermueller. From among Beinfest's bounty, the only acquired starter left standing is the one initially seen as the least of them, Sergio Mitre, while homegrown goodies Dontrelle Willis and Scott Olsen both predate the Lorian invasion that brought Beinfest to town in its train. Using Kim as a starter for the time being seems sensible given their needs, but it's interesting to speculate whether or not he might be subsequently pushed back into the pen once Anibal Sanchez, the Nolasco Kid, and/or Josh Johnson come back from the DL.
Into this messed-up scenario, it's interesting to see Miller among their prospective retreads. After washing out of the Blue Jays organization, he was last seen getting a brief spring trial with the D-Rays in camp last year, where he did well, was nevertheless shipped off to Durham, and later sold across the water to the Chiba Lotte Marines, where he was all sorts of awful. So now he's back, and although already discarded by the Phillies' organization, he's had a nifty run with the Isotopes, striking out 20 in 12 innings while allowing only 13 baserunners and three runs, and holding the opposition homerless. That suggests there's still some life in his sinker-slider mix, and if he's throwing strikes consistently for the first time in years, perhaps the old expectation the Jays held about his capacity to shine in a relief role might yet come to pass. I mean, what's the downside? Fish fans have already seen jacktastic action from Jorge Julio; they should be inured to any subsequent agony.
[Editor's Note: In point of fact, Olsen was picked in the Loria's first year of ownership, four months after they took over the team.--CK]
Designated MI-R Wilson Valdez for assignment; recalled LHP Hong-Chih Kuo from Las Vegas (Triple-A). [5/15]
There's something about the Abreu promotion that just seems downright spazzy. It isn't that the kid's not a prospect-he's one of their best, and expected to be a sound everyday second baseman someday. Down in Vegas, he was swinging a hot bat (.347/.397/.503), but he's not really a power source, a patient hitter, or notably fast-he's "just" a really good second baseman who could somebody's solid regular someday. But he's apparently here to play a bit of third, and on a team that's already trying to spread playing time between and even better prospect, Andy LaRoche, and a pretty good player in Wilson Betemit, not to mention Jeff Kent at the keystone. It isn't like LaRoche isn't contributing during his time on the team, and there isn't a question of being short-handed on the bench, because Grady Little fave Ramon E. Martinez is still here. So what gives? The team would be better off playing LaRoche and Betemit in the infield and hauling up an outfielder like Matt Kemp to see if pushing Juan Pierre or a recently slumping Andre Ethier.
Before breaking down, Tsao pitched 18 innings, or the second-highest season total of his major league career so far; assuming he can come off of the DL, that all-time high of 43.1 frames from 2003 still seems achievable. That's the risk with employing a hurler even less durable than Rudy Seanez, of course, but it creates an opportunity for the club to bring back Brazoban from the perdition of Sin City. Barely a year removed from having his elbow Tommy John'd, he was throwing bullets for the 51s after an initial rehab gig in the Cal League, striking out 14 in 13.2 innings against only nine baserunners in Triple-A. A little more ominous was his surrendering a pair of bombs. We'll see if he's ready, and he certainly looked great last night, striking out the side while walking one. Given that he's been all over the place on his career, it's hard to know what to expect, but in a low-leverage role, he might be able to earn a spot in the second-best bullpen in baseball.
Optioned LHP Fabio Castro to Reading (Double-A). [5/20] Activated RHP Ryan Madson from the 15-day DL. [5/23]
While Eldred's demotion might depress some of us who favor some elements of the Three True Outcomes over others, the real dilemma was that it looks like Eldred and Ryan Doumit are mutually exclusive propositions on a 13-man position player spread. That may not seem absolutely necessary when Xavier Nady is getting some time in center field while Doumit plays right, but last year's bad answers (Chris Duffy and Nate McLouth) are both actually outfielders, and Duffy's the only true center fielder. As a result, I think moving Eldred back down where he might get to play and go back to thumping the occasional tape-measure smash makes sense, given the available playing time. It's easy to see this as an equation of Cota versus Eldred, but if Doumit's not really catching much more than twice per week, I can understand why they might want to carry Cota as the infrequently-played last man on the bench who finishes up catching starts by either Doumit or Ronny Paulino, that's probably not the end of the world, given how little they were putting Eldred to work. If you want to change that, we get into what it is that Jim Tracy adds to the mix.
As for filling the last spot on the staff, Rogers was the body picked up from the Tigers for Sean Casey, an exchange where the Pirates already came out ahead by subtracting Casey's bat from their lineup, but there's an opportunity here for Rogers to make the exchange work out even better in the Bucs' favor. He's a sinker-slider guy who survives on command more than anything, but he's been particularly tough in Indy this summer, while being a little more wild than you might expect, walking eight and striking out 16 in 20 IP. It can't hurt to take a peek, especially if the spot was otherwise being devoted to a journeyman like McLeary, and since there's no great initial expectation beyond finding out if he's effective staff filler, it might be a great opportunity for a guy with solid but modest ability to chalk up some service time and prove whether or not he can help a team.
Optioned LHP Jonathan Sanchez to Fresno (Triple-A); activated RHP Russ Ortiz from the 15-day DL. [5/21]
It seems a little strange that the team is carrying seven relievers, and Sanchez isn't one of them, especially considering the performances involved. However, between the two guys in the pen who actually aren't carrying their weight, Vinnie Chulk is supposed to be somebody, while Kevin Correia is the pen's designated multi-inning middle man. Sanchez wasn't pitching that well, not when he'd allowed 28 of 70 batters to reach base, and although he'd done a good job mowing down lefties (.160/.300/.320), in a pen already stocked with ex-famous person Steve Kline and Jack Taschner from south side of the street, I can see sending down Sanchez to get him innings making some sort of sense. The reps at Fresno might make him the better choice to replace either of the nominal guys ahead of him on the depth chart, because his combination of a plus fastball in the low 90s and a nasty change make him a potentially dominating lefty bigger than a mere situational role.
So, how soon does he get back? I think the answer will depend to some extent on how well Ortiz does in unseating Correia as the staff's long reliever and presumptive sixth starter in case anyone melts down in the rotation. If he's awful in the pen, the Giants could always ditch him, and if Correia doesn't improve, they don't have to shackle themselves to him either. I know, the big news is that Ortiz has lost his rotation spot to Tim Lincecum, but that's something of a non-event.
Claimed HP Todd Wellemeyer off of waivers from the Royals. [5/15]
Activated RHP Jerome Williams from the 15-day DL. [5/15]
What's that add up to in terms of starting pitchers on the DL? If you count Michael O'Connor, a full fist's worth at five (if you don't, a full Simpsons fist, then). Last man standing is Matt Chico, the best prospect of the bunch, so there's some solace to be taken from that, but the balance of the rotation has been staffed with journeymen Jason Simontacchi and Bacsik, Rule 5 pick Levale Speigner, and the first time through sans Bergmann, a pen start of sorts led off by Micah Bowie. That's really sort of what they're getting from Speigner as well, so the workhorses are the guys like Chico, Bacsik, and Simontacchi, any one of whom might get through the sixth inning on a good night. That said, the trio did run off three straight quality starts last weekend, so while the situation is dire, it seems as if there's no flag to run up. Still, this scenario places an even heavier demand on the pen, already handily in the major league-lead in terms of total innings pitched. so I suppose the good news is that have a former starter like Traber in the pen to replace Bowie does still leave them with a couple of lefties in the pen, with Ray King doing the situational job, while giving them another guy who can handle multi-inning outings.