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May 29, 2007
Optioned 3B-R Matt Brown to Salt Lake (Triple-A); activated INF-S Maicer Izturis from the 15-day DL. [5/15]
Well, as flips go, Brandon Wood to Brown to Izturis to Kendrick all sounds solid enough, especially considering Wood and Brown weren't up to play, but there's still lingering concern over whether or not Kendrick's at 100 percent. He hasn't been pasting the ball with as much authority as I'd like, especially what with my being a convert to the Church of Kendrick and all that. Having him back beats playing Eric Aybar every day, and if it means fewer at-bats for this latest incarnation of Alfredo Griffin and the guys like Shea Hillenbrand, I'm sure Angels fans will be okay with that. The offense is actually getting a bit underway already, thanks in part to the bats of Orlando Cabrera, Casey Kotchman, and Mike Napoli heating up of late. Add Kendrick and Chone Figgins to that, plus that Vladi character, and you've presumably got the talent to lift the Angels' offense into the top half of the league.
Placed RHP Josh Beckett on the 15-day DL (finger avulsion), retroactive to 5/14; recalled RHP Devern Hansack from Pawtucket (Triple-A); optioned RHP Devern Hansack to Pawtucket. [5/19]
This was the fancy footwork required to dance around Beckett's disabling and a double-header. It worked out well enough, in that while Hansack got smacked around by the Braves to lead off a rout, Gabbard delivered a winnable ballgame on a day when the offense kicked in. Then, rather than leave the roster spot idle, the Sox brought in Delcarmen to give them another mop-up reliever to keep Joel Pineiro and Kyle Snyder company. (To be fair to Delcarmen, he's a prospect, not an experiment, and better things can and should be expected, especially should the Sox pull the plug on last winter's pickup of the wrong Mariner free agent hurler.) As reported in the Boston Globe, Beckett's expected to be reactivated in time for tonight's start against the Indians after a good side session, but even if he wasn't, it isn't like another missed turn would handicap the Sox all that much, sitting 11 games up as they are. If Beckett's still rusty, they can simply repeat the trick and bring back Hansack (having done his obligatory ten days in Pawtucket, and since this wouldn't be a move forced by a new injury) for what might presumably represent another quick-hook start, however badly or well he does. Again, the advantage of having a big lead, and something where the Sox can afford to avoid any of the risks that the Yankees will have to run with their staff if they're to catch up.
Optioned MI-R Andy Gonzalez to Charlotte (Triple-A); reinstated INF-S Alex Cintron from the Bereavement List. [5/16]
Among anyone's possessions, some things are artifacts, and perhaps reflect some simpler time, conveying to the bearer a frisson of a simpler proposition. I have two such items, one of which isn't really germane-it's a metal Lufthansa spork I nicked back at a time when such things could still be found on airplanes, and it remains my preferred tool for scooping a soft-boiled egg out of its shell. The more relevant item is one of the serigraphs Leroy Neiman made of Mark McGwire. A prized possession, and an echo from the unabashed fandom I felt towards Big Mac going all the way back to his start as a pro. McGwire helped to give me a particularly pleasant memory of the first game I went to with my baby brother, bashing a back-to-back shot with Jose Canseco in the fourth, and getting pelted by a vengeful Oil Can Boyd after Canseco homered again in the sixth. I'm always going to remember McGwire fondly for that day, but also for a lot of subsequent good works on the diamond.
As injury-marred as his career was, and while noting that I rooted for him from his first day in the majors to his last, I think even I have to concede the point that McGwire's place in history is a bit complicated by the modern realization that whatever extra substance he used at the very least helped him remain on the field of play. As Gary Huckabay originally noted, health is a skill too, and it's one McGwire didn't really have, and while I wonder if whatever PED McGwire used rewarded me with the not-so-guilty pleasure of watching him hit, I think there's a contrast to be made with someone like Jim Thome. Let's pretend that we know that Thome's played clean his entire career, because there seems to be no reason to believe otherwise-don't we all like seeing Jim Thome mash? I still remember the fear of Jeebus he put in the Yankees in the 1998 ALCS, in what was otherwise one of the most tedious postseasons of modern memory. At the age that McGwire was mashing 70 homers (34), Thome was losing almost two-thirds of a season to injury. Can we ever even that out? Should we even try? Can we ever know what might have been either way, had Thome used something, had McGwire not? Beats me, but I really doubt it. I simply suspect that where we'll always have to argue about what McGwire did or didn't do, and what it may or may not have meant, with Thome there's a relief that we don't have to have those kinds of arguments, any more than we did about Fred McGriff.
I bring up the Crime Dog because Thome should end up passing McGriff's career mark of 493 home runs this season, and while that's probably not especially notable on the face of it, I do think about it during this summer, one that will become known for another famous home run. Those 493 probably represent the highest total for anybody on the all-time list who appears likely to remain unimplicated in any of the 'Steroid Era' investigations, and probably the highest mark for someone likely to remain outside of the Hall of Fame (or dependent on the whims of some future iteration of the always-morphing Veterans Committee). Among the active players still adding to their totals and well ahead of Thome on the list, I suspect Frank Thomas will get elected; if he doesn't, it's just further confirmation that the electorate doesn't deserve the ballot. Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa... well, we'll just have to see, won't we? At any rate, I guess I figure 493 represents a new threshold of sorts, the mark of the best slugger not in the Hall and who is perhaps just short of qualified to be elected. I felt the same way about Dave Kingman's 442, back when that total meant something.
Anyway, I'm not really going anywhere with this, except that it seems to be that Thome's getting into the conversation for all-time greats, and perhaps even to my own surprise, might be closing in on short-list status as my new choice for the all-time best at first base. The Big Hurt's spent more than half his career at DH where Thome will almost certainly wind up with more career games at first than DH, while Lou Gehrig's career is a testament to the weaknesses of an unintegrated past where half the teams were little better than baseball's answer to the Washington Generals.
And McGwire? Well, as I started off with, my fondness for a simpler time has its mementos, and whatever today's ambiguities or my responsibilities as an analyst, I know that I will always have that day in July twenty years ago, and I know that I do not enjoy my memories of McGwire's career any less. But I can also make a concession to the complicated present by recognizing Thome, and if I don't wind up with a picture of Thome in the dining room, it's not meant as a slight. Frankly, I'd probably rather Neiman got around to painting Frank Thomas, anyway, in part because I've probably seen more Thomas at-bats live than of any other single player, and because nobody I've ever seen-not even Sammy in Wrigley-could make a home crowd go quiet and watch with anticipation as much as the Big Hurt did in the house Big Jim Thompson built on the South Side.
In the meantime, as far as the Sox are concerned, getting Thome back couldn't come a moment too soon. He remains almost as much a terror at the plate now as he was ten years ago, and if the Sox are going to have much shot at keeping up with the Indians in the division, they need his stick in the lineup. Perhaps it's coincidence that Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye have both heated up a bit of late with Thome back, but I remain a believer on the subject of lineup synergy; like Pascal on another item of faith, I'm willing to concede that I'll believe in the absence of really conclusive evidence to the contrary, and if that means that I wind up the butt of a few Easter Bunny-believer jokes from my colleagues here, so be it.
As for bringing back Toby Hall, he seems to be throwing pain-free, and if that means the Sox actually have a viable alternative to A.J. Pierzynski, that's all good, and a return to one of the niftier little parts of Kenny Williams' original design. That doesn't repair some of the uglier problems in the lineup any more than getting Thome back does in isolation. Sweeney started 13 of 15 games, but didn't hit enough in that time to inspire confidence, so center and left are seeing Darin Erstad, Luis Terrero, and Rob Mackowiak of late, or the kind of mix that makes people pine for Scott Podsednik.
Sold RHP Brian Sikorski to the Yakult Swallows of the Japanese Leagues. [5/17]
Marte was back, but he was never really fully back in action, instead splitting time at the hot corner with four corners utility ace Casey Blake. It probably didn't help that Marte didn't exactly set the International League afire during his punitive demotion, hitting a paltry .242/.286/.455-or, not as well as the Bisons' regular third baseman Keith Ginter (.248/.364/.455). That sort of says something right there-Marte's demotion wound up being something of an inconvenience for Buffalo. In a sense, because of Blake's positional flexibility Marte's really competing with Ryan Garko for playing time, and with Garko swinging a hot bat, that's a fight Marte is still losing. The Indians have the depth to afford Marte's failures for the time being, but there's no bragging right to be exploited just because Coco Crisp also hasn't exactly panned out for the Red Sox. This simply has to be seen as a setback for a player who once seemed to be a franchise talent at third. It's too soon to suggest that Josh Bard might have been the best player involved in that deal (as well as amusing that he generated that value for the Padres), but the fact that you have to think about it just reflects how much both teams can't feel good about the trade.
As for replacing the sweet sound of Mujica popping catcher's mitts with the sideways slinging of Koplove, while I'd like to see more of Mujica, Koplove had an out clause if he hadn't gotten promoted at a certain point of he season. Since he'd done good work at Buffalo (14 strikeouts in 18 IP, with 14 hits and eight walks, but no homers allowed, and only two runs), and since it's just the last spot in the pen, the Indians elected to take a look before potentially losing him. That's sensible enough, because with teams like Oakland and Detroit holding open casting calls for relief help, there was a very real chance Koplove could be used to good effect against them. If Koplove earns his keep, they'll have a sidearmer to add into the mix of an already-improved pen, and if he doesn't, they can always go back to Mujica, or bring back Rafael Perez to give them a second lefty.
Optioned LHP Andrew Miller to Erie (Double-A). [5/22]
I talked about the pre-planned Miller-Bonderman exchange last week, so I'll instead focus on what the Tigers have left in the pen. See if this sounds good to you: in front of Todd Jones, you've got Jose Mesa, Jason Grilli, and Miner from the right side, and Wil Ledezma, Bobby Seay, and Tim Byrdak from the left. Who's the second-best reliever in that group, Ledezma or Grilli? Neither one has been doing so hot in the early going, and neither one has been used in anything like the high-leverage role that Rodney was in. Byrdak seems to be doing good work in situational duty, and Seay's a nice enough retread, but that trio of right-handed options doesn't count a single guy who can just flat-out overpower people at the plate, and that's a little frightening. As easy as it is to assert that bullpens can be built, it's a lot easier if that includes somebody who can fool a lot of people some of the time.
Optioned LF-R Billy Butler to Omaha (Triple-A); activated 1B-R Ryan Shealy from the 15-day DL. [5/16]
Well, that's a bummer-Soria was one of the fun things about this club, and a good example of Dayton Moore's delivering an old-fashioned scouting coup. As Will Carroll noted today, this could be something serious, but the Royals are making publicly optimistic noises, and it would be nice to see if they ever do get the benefit of twinning Soria and Dotel in the late frames. It's not the end of the world if Dotel's closing games in the meantime, the real difference is that Soria represents some portion of the club's future, while Dotel's an obvious rental who, if he delivers value, gets flipped at the deadline. (Dotel's player option for 2008 is voidable, so that doesn't represent any kind of deterrent to getting him dealt. Similarly, getting LaRue back is a matter of having a merc instead of an organizational soldier like Phillips to alternate with John Buck, and if the Royals are lucky, LaRue will show people something in the next two months that makes him bundle-able in some deadline deal.
As for Shealy, twelve games back, and the guy's delivered one extra-base hit outside of Coors Field. If there was a more perfect foil for Ross Gload's bid for more playing time (from Gload's perspective), I don't know who it might be. Not that there's anything wrong with winding up with an adequate platoon, because that's still progress, and that can't be a source for disappointment, not unless you're one of those Shealy believers. It's interesting that the alternative to Shealy while Gload's on the DL is Mike Sweeney, because Sweeney's also volunteered to catch now and again in a bid to enhance his deadline value. Since the Royals will almost certainly be paying the lion's share of Sweeney's contract even after they put him in somebody else's uniform, the real gain will be the playing time they "buy" back, which will presumably go to someone like Butler. While his debut was a little disappointing, in the same way that Alex Gordon represents a big building block, so too does Butler, and his initial introduction to The Show can't be held against him any more than Gordon's should be.
Placed LHP Glen Perkins on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder); purchased the contract of LHP Carmen Cali from Rochester (Triple-A). [5/22]
Maybe it's just me, but I don't think the Twins' straits in their pen are particularly dire. Yes, Reyes and Perkins are pretty talented, but so is Miller, and Cali might be able to fulfill a situational role well enough. If nothing else, I wouldn't blame this particular problem for their predicament I'd still go back to bashing them on the well-worn subjects of their mistakes in the rotation and the lineup. Like Reyes, Cali's a journeyman with some measure of success at some points of his career, and like with Reyes, I wouldn't put it past Ron Gardenhire to find a way to put Cali to good use. Miller's simply an organizational soldier without as much talent as so many talented hurlers in the organization, but he's got a sharp curve, and translating last season's performance as a swingman down at Rochester tells us he could strike out more than six batters per nine in the big leagues. At the very least, he might effectively soak up innings (sort of like Perkins might have), which is helpful when the Twins are still running Ramon Ortiz out there in the hope that his early run of success means something more than the last several years or his five consecutive drubbings do.
Optioned LHP Sean Henn to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A); purchased the contract of LHP Ron Villone from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; transferred RHP Jose Veras from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/15]
Clippard gave the team a nice start against the Mets, then got handled by the Angels, so I think it's more deeply reflective of the club's situation that it's already used eleven starting pitchers, and that Clippard and Matt DeSalvo represent improvement when there aren't that many people who see them as anything more than fourth or fifth starter types. Neither has a dominating assortment, but neither one of them is doomed to Wasdindom, they're just not likely to develop beyond becoming solid No. 4s. That's okay, and this wouldn't really matter if the club didn't have other significant problems. While the turnover has been something of a story, the overall performance hasn't really been debilitatingly bad. The starter who were decisively awful-Chase Wright, Jeff Karstens, and Kei Igawa-have all been sent away, and Carl Pavano's absent to the general satisfaction of all concerned. Looking at everyone else, and you've got a rotation where nobody's really worse than replacement-level, at least according to SNLVAR. It's troubling that Mike Mussina's been very mortal, but overall, the staff ranks 18th in SNLVAR, and 21st in Fair Runs Allowed. While the Yankees situation might have been larded with extra drama from the usual Big Apple histrionics, their situation hasn't been anywhere as awful as the complete meltdown in Texas, or the neverending patchwork Manny Acta's had to pull off with the Nationals, or a pair of screwed-up rotations in Florida, or the Cardinals' assorted disappointments. I wouldn't single out the rotation as the sole reason why the Yankees are in fourth place and wondering how far the Rocket can carry them once he belatedly re-launches his stop-and-start career.
Recalled LHP Ron Flores from Sacramento (Triple-A). [5/18]
So what is the horror of the present? Leonardo DiNardo starting today's game, Milton Bradley proving to be a DL yo-yo instead of getting his game onboard, and Alan Embree getting saves. Some of these things will come to an end in the next week, as it's expected that Duchscherer, Bradley, and Mark Kotsay will all be off of the DL in short order. The Duke and Embree should be okay as a late-game combo, while Kotsay's return probably puts Shannon Stewart, Travis Buck, and Jack Cust in some sort of job-share, splitting time at DH or an outfield corner while spotting for Dan Johnson, Kotsay, and Bradley on their days off. It'll be interesting to see if getting Kotsay back onto the 40-man will involve transferring somebody else onto the 60-day DL; Mike Piazza's gone until at least mid-June, which gets him into six-week territory, and the team's public pessimism about Piazza's recovery might prefigure his getting transferred. It's that, or something more minor, like outrighting someone like Lewis or Ramirez or Murphy, but if Piazza's timetable pushes up any closer to eight weeks, we get into the range where the A's don't have to risk losing somebody on waivers until the end of June.
As for the state of the staff, I guess I'd rather look at DiNardo than invest much hope that Lewis' junkball assortment of curves and changes of speed works against a big league lineup. The question is whether or not DiNardo can function well enough as the staff's fifth man until that point in the future that Rich Harden presumably comes off of the DL. Assuming he survives tonight's gig against the Rangers without getting his ears pinned back, he'll draw the Red Sox his next time around, which might not be epic in the annals of vengeance, but would at least be more interesting than most fifth starter's starts.
Optioned RHP Sean Green and LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith to Tacoma (Triple-A); activated RHP Felix Hernandez from the 15-day DL. [5/15]
Net, these are all basically good things. King Felix is in the rotation, and if he's initially limited to facing 20-25 batters in a start, it beats using Jeff Weaver or Ramirez. Which raises another point-while Ramirez is out and the timing seems poor because he'd thrown quality starts, two of his three on the year, in the two outings before the one he had to leave early, he nascent greatness really only seemed to be a figment of Bill Bavasi's personal brand of hope and faith, and as Cha Seung Baek is demonstrating, it isn't like the organization doesn't have better homegrown alternatives to bad winter decisions like Weaver or Ramirez. Replacing Ramirez in the rotation will be Ryan Feierabend tonight, and while he might not be ready to deliver quality starts more than half the time, that's still useful to a club that has a reasonable shot of keeping up with the Angels for a little while, or at least until (or if) LAnaheim gets in gear. Similarly, losing Reitsma isn't really a setback, not considering his performance, and not when the club can call up someone with Huber's gifts (notably, a nifty power curve and a low 90s fastball). He wasn't pitching that effectively in Tacoma, allowing 16 runs 24.2 IP, plus more than a hit per inning, but his 19:5 K:BB ratio is a more basic reflection of his talent. Reitsma's another one of Bavasi's ideas, which again calls into question whether or not the team might not be in better shape if it didn't have an autopilot feature.
Placed OF-R Rocco Baldelli on the 15-day DL (hamstring strain); activated 4C-S Greg Norton from the 15-day DL. [5/17]
The injuries might keep the pressure off, but at some point the Rays are going to have to come to terms with certain facts. First, I don't think it's coincidence that the Rays are the worst team in the league in converting balls in play into outs while playing Brendan Harris at short or Ty Wigginton at third or second, or with B.J. Upton's latest position experiment producing uneven results. While Elijah Dukes is supposed to be a great defensive center fielder, it hasn't shown up in two months of stats; even conceding that the tools are crude, he's not rating very well in Clay's system. And behind these problems there are the questions of what to do with Baldelli, with Gomes, or with Jorge Cantu, questions that get exacerbated by injury and poor production. Then there's the additional problem-while Baldelli might still command top value, Gomes and Cantu won't. That isn't to suggest that they both might not still be worth flipping for some young relief help, but how many teams are in that boat, with relievers to spare, and short of a few bats, and who among them would think to take a chance on guys like Gomes or Cantu? I'd love to see the Twins throw something at the Rays to get either Gomes or Cantu, but is it going to happen? I really doubt it, but it's an interesting dilemma for the Rays, to be sure.
Returned RHP Kevin Millwood to the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); placed LHP Ron Mahay on the 15-day DL (strained ribcage), retroactive to 5/12; recalled RHP Scott Feldman and LHP A.J. Murray from Oklahoma (Triple-A). [5/15]
Joe dealt with what's wrong with the Rangers' pitching staff to some small extent already. So, I'll instead turn to something that I don't think should get off scot-free, which is the club's offense. I think the problem here is what I refer to a Qaddafi Syndrome-you draw a "Line of Death," and then you can neither back down nor really defend the position. You can explain how you got there, of course, but that's more academic, and consequently a lot less intimidating. It isn't just that Wilkerson's bad or broken, or Blalock disappointing, or Catalanotto really capable of producing something significantly less than what you want out of your DH slot. It's that they're mutually unsupportable articles of faith, and that you can't really put together a lineup built on the assumptions that they're going to fulfill your expectations for them, and once the ramshackle house of cards implodes, you're not left with anything-not the dignity of a few dump-off deals for value, because you're suddenly left a number of guys without much value, and not even the shelter of player failures, not when you so signally assembled the team. You just recognize that you've put this together, and that it didn't work. The Soriano trade is the one that'll get hung on Jon Daniels, but I wouldn't blame him for that-he made a reasonable exchange on the face of a lot of available information, and it blew up in his face. Nor can we really blame him for failing to come up with an unorthodox solution to the impossible challenge of figuring out what to do with Blalock as his star went from dimming to disabled. I guess there's reason to bang on him over Catalanotto, but then we need to recall that he took a decent risk on Sammy Sosa, and that's paid off pretty well. Nelson Cruz simply isn't hitting, but it's been worth taking the time to see if he could, and the team similarly made the right call to entrust the catching duties to Gerald Laird. It's going to be a bitter summer for the Rangers, one that might necessarily inspire an aggressiveness about tearing up some chunk of the club,
Despite an impressive debut, Litsch may not be ready, having gotten cuffed around in his next two starts, but he's very much someone to keep an eye on. In some ones, he's a particularly good example of a type the Jays have liked picking in the past, a guy with a broad assortment (a fastball he can sink or cut when he isn't dialing it into the low 90s, plus a curve, slider, and change) plus fine command, but no one true out pitch. We suggested in Baseball Prospectus 2007 that he needed to learn how to get people to chase stuff rather than follow the organization's faith in pitching to contact, and perhaps that might yet end up making the difference. At least Dustin McGowan has put up quality starts in his last two outings, while Shaun Marcum's delivered three straight (one blown in the eighth as a matter of managerial decision), so while this is sort of a reflection on the direction the season has turned, if the Jays end up getting a sense of what part of the team's rotation of the immediate future belongs to any or all three of these youngsters, that's a worthy goal. Roy Halladay will be back this week, no doubt bouncing Litsch back down, but if Marcum and McGowan both continue to thrive, the Jays might have a more interesting decision to make next month when (presumably) Gustavo Chacin's ready to come off of the DL.