June 6, 2007
Transaction of the Day
American League Roundup
A nicely layered group of moves, exchanging the non-used Morales for a spot start by Saunders in Bartolo Colon's place, followed by reactivating Anderson. These things rarely work out so tidily, so this was pretty remarkable. There's a solid chance that Saunders will be back up, because off-day or no, if there's any question about Colon, the Angels have an obvious incentive to be cautious with their veteran, and generous in their use of the kid.
One pity of the exchange is that Morales actually delivered in all three games he was allowed to start this year, more than can be said for Shea Hillenbrand. I know Hillenbrand just got off of a might wind, three-homer month, and that represents "improvement" (he slugged .384 with a .247 OBP) but keep in mind that he hit them off of Mike Wood, Chad Durbin, and Ryan Feierabend, or a trio of pitchers you'd hope that your DH in Salt Lake might do some damage against. It's becoming an interesting proposition as far as what Hillenbrand is actually for-now that Anderson is back, the Angels can rotate him and Vladimir Guerrero through the DH slot when they're not starting in one of the corners, with Reggie Willits getting regular playing time in those slots and DH as well. In contrast, a Willits-Hillenbrand platoon in the DH/outfield floater slot doesn't really do much good-Hillenbrand would have to hit to make it a worthwhile proposition. Hillenbrand also doesn't have much value as Casey Kotchman's platoon mate-again, there's someone better for that job in Robb Quinlan already on the roster. Even if the Chone Figgins trade rumors are true, the organization has Maicer Izturis coming back from the DL shortly. (Brandon Wood's cold streak in Utah only seems to be getting longer; he's down to .225/.324/.396.). While Izturis' activation is more likely to mean bad news for Nathan Haynes than Hillenbrand, we're getting deep enough into the season that a rented non-hitting part-time DH might no longer be seen as a useful way to employ a roster spot.
As for Saunders, he delivered exactly what he was supposed to-a third consecutive quality start, a third consecutive win, and another suggestion that if the Angels want to dangle anything in barter, a starting pitcher wouldn't be such a terrible idea. Kelvim Escobar and John Lackey are in relatively recent extensions that lock them up through 2009, reflecting their importance to the club, and Jered Weaver is the alpha dog among the kids. It would be pretty unlikely to find someone who would take a chance on Bartolo Colon, even if LA was inclined to ditch the former Cy Young winner like a Gabor to be named later. So if the Angels were going to peddle hurlers to find offensive help, either for the outfield or at DH, or perhaps even third if it was a rental for the remainder of the season, they're left with Ervin Santana and Saunders to shop, and it would take a pretty unfortunate combination of events to have dealing either make sense. So, if they're smart, I just spun my wheels-I would expect them to stand pat, and if Colon lasts the season, I'm sure he can find Valhalla in someone else's uniform after the season.
Activated RHP Josh Beckett from the 15-day DL. [5/29]
Placed CF-L Darin Erstad on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle); recalled OF-L Jerry Owens from Charlotte (Triple-A). [6/1]
Three punitive demotions out of a pen I opened the year touting-ouch. I'm sure it hurt MacDougal, Aardsma, and Andy Sisco more than it hurts me, but even that doesn't capture the full flavor of the disappointments to be found in the Sox pen-Matt Thornton and Nick Masset have also had their problems, really reducing the pen to the human barrel, Bobby Jenks, and a new crew of special friends. MacDougal walked 15 of 111 batters, Aardsma had been far too hittable, and neither had been especially effective against right-handers, while Sisco had been slapped around pretty hard in anything beyond a situational role.
So to some extent, the replacements make sense-Prinz is a side-armer who might provide some ROOGY relief, while Bukvich seems to have made a solid recovery from his 2005 Tommy John surgery, and both were throwing effectively for the Knights. Prinz isn't still touching the mid-90s, and I can't say if Bukvich's bender is as nasty as it used to be when he was first coming up through the Royals' chain, but we'll see if pitching coach Don Cooper can do any more with them than he was able to with Aardsma and MacDougal. If they succeed, that represents an object lesson in the fungibility of second-tier relief help, and while that might not add any particular luster to Cooper's previously sparkly reputation, it does stand as something of a credit to Kenny Williams and the front office crew for stocking up on experienced minor league help this past winter.
As for losing Erstad, it would be difficult to describe this as a setback or a surprise. The man has played a full season once in the last five years (2005), and only one in the last seven you could call good (2004). It's been a non-shocker that he hasn't been useful at the plate; it's been a genuine disappointment that he's not the center fielder he once was. In his place, the Sox didn't take the opportunity to bring back Ryan Sweeney (who's battling turf toe), nor did they decide to forgive Brian Anderson; instead, they hauled up Owens. The former Expos prospect has been hitting well down in Charlotte-.305/.386/.389, with 23 steals in 30 attempts, and walking in more than 10 percent of his plate appearances. Basically, that means Owens has bounced back to hitting more like he did in 2005 at Birmingham (.331/.393/.406) than he did in his rough introduction to the International League last season (.262/.330/.346), but with an improved walk rate. That doesn't make him much more than what he was always going to be in a best-case scenario-a basepaths commando with contact skills and a measure of patience-but that still represents something perhaps handier than a broken-down formerly famous person.
Optioned RHP Mike Koplove to Buffalo (Triple-A); recalled OF-R Franklin Gutierrez from Buffalo. [5/31]
Released RHP Jose Mesa. [6/3] Activated RHP Fernando Rodney from the 15-day DL. [6/5]
That's only $2.5 million down the drain, money spent on one of the most ill-advised relief pickups of the entire winter, not simply because Mesa was terrible, but because he was predictably terrible, and even if Dave Dombrowski had somehow foreseen that he needed relief depth, Mesa isn't really part of the solution, and at that price, he was a drain on whatever pennant dividend the Tigers were supposed to have garnered from last season. Between the money thrown at Mesa, and the equally wasted cash-equally predictably wasted, at that-thrown at Sean Casey ($4 million), the Jungleers really have no one but themselves to blame if they feel they're short on cash at the deadline and can't take on salary should they come to their senses and seek help at first base or in the pen. Dombrowski's a fine GM, but he's as capable of making expensive mistakes as the rest of us, and examples such as these testify to that.
Placed DH-L Jason Giambi on the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Matt DeSalvo to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A); recalled RHP Chris Britton and OF-R Kevin Thompson from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [6/1]
The Yankees losses add up to Giambi plus Minky, which equals Giambi plus getting back a second roster spot to help replace him. Bad news-wise, that's not nearly so debilitating-Johnny Damon winds up playing a lot of DH, Melky Cabrera plays center regularly, and the balance of offense and defense really doesn't come out so bad. Melky should hit better than he has, and he's better than Minky, so that's not that big a deal, and if Giambi isn't slugging, he's not nearly so valuable. What's really broken here is the sensibility behind some of the club's call-ups and player usage patterns. Miguel Cairo, starting at first base? Isn't that about as sensible as starting a man-sized jai alai scoop? And what's Basak for? He's essentially up because Joe Torre likes the cut of his jib-you need an extra bat, and that's what matters to you? There's something instructive in the fact that this organization had Carlos Pena in its control just last season, and managed to find a way to screw that up, in part because of Torre's familiar fondness for scrubs like Andy Phillips. They don't need Basak-they already have an easily-ignored utility man in Cairo, and the regulars at second, third, and short play every day, so the don't need a spare. They'd be a lot better off hauling up a minor league veteran like Shelley Duncan-he's hitting .303/.383/.611 for Scranton, he's a lefty who offers an alternative to Josh Phelps at first, and he's not even showing a platoon split. Hell, if you really just want a multi-position guy, even Phillips would have been a better idea than Basak, as he's started a number of games at second for Scranton.
As for DeSalvo's getting shuttled, let's face it, he's gone from human interest story to symptom of the rotation's ills. The league caught up to him, but the Yankees don't seem to think they have many alternatives, barring the Godot-like "waiting for Rocket" exercise that killed the Astros by inches last season. I say symptom, because as he's struggled, pace the rotation as a whole. We're in June, and the Yankees have gotten two quality starts out of eight from Mike Mussina, and while the latest Yankee it-boy is now the recipient of the DeSalvoes of happy press Clippards, like DeSalvo, he delivered a quality start in his first outing, and since... well, he's pitched well enough to not get yo-yo'd the way DeSalvo has been. On the positive side, Andy Pettitte's delivered nine quality starts in 12, and Chien-Ming Wang's delivered five in eight (one was blown by Torre's long leash in his first game back).
Now, three bad slots is a pretty tough combination to overcome for any team, even one that was supposed to field the league's best offense, but that isn't the Yankees, not this year. The pen's at least a little better off, as the Yankees are slowly coming to grips with the idea that the experience of Luis Vizcaino or Ron Villone doesn't make them better than Britton (29 baserunners, no homers, and 26 strikeouts in 23 Scranton innings) or Henn. Britton was a useful reliever last season. But even the fitful attempt to fix the pen is just yet another symptom of a franchise given to reaction instead of action, of correcting original mistakes made because of an addiction to familiarity or experience. Getting the Rocket is really only one part of the solution. This club needs to get Moose right, it needs to stop punting runs at a premium offensive production position like first base, and it really needs to start taking the little things-like who's on the roster, and why-seriously. They've been able to afford Torre's foibles for years, but if he can't change with the demands of the day, then it's time to start thinking in terms of responding to them with someone who can.
Designated OF-R Hiram Bocachica for assignment; activated OF-S Milton Bradley from the 15-day DL; announced that RHP David Shafer cleared waivers and was outrighted to Sacramento (Triple-A); purchased minor league OF-L Dee Brown from the Diamondbacks (for Sacramento's benefit, not their own). [5/30]
This latest roster dance is that Bradley's sort of here, but sort of not, while Mark Kotsay of all people represents the rock of durability in comparison. This just pushes 'pause' on the eventual difficult decision on who to sit down on a night-to-night basis between the outfield corners, DH, and first base. With Kotsay taking over full-time in center, even with a rest day now and again, those are likely to be absorbed by Bradley or Chris Snelling, whenever he comes back. So for Dan Johnson, Travis Buck, Jack Cust, and Shannon Stewart, you've got four bats for three lineup slots (one of the four goes to Nick Swisher), and beyond building a Travinon Stewbuck platoon (there's gotta be a coffee tie-in there, right?), it looks like Cust's playing time will start to dry up the way Jim Traber's did in 1986 after his hot streak (although if memory serves, Traber also got hurt, but let's face it, his minor league career didn't offer a lot of support for the suggestion that he'd slug .500 in The Show). That's sad for Cust, but if it means that Johnson's earning his keep, and that Kotsay and Bradley are healthy and playing relatively regularly, that's just fine from the A's perspective. It's when Mike Piazza and Snelling come back that that things will get really interesting. Having Piazza catch when Chad Gaudin pitches might be a perfect storm for baserunning mayhem, but really, how much worse could it get? Thieves are a perfect 13-for-13 against a Gaudin/Jason Kendall battery, spoiling Kendall's otherwise pedestrian 27 percent gun-down rate. (As ever, credit to BP comrade and boxscore maven Keith Scherer for initially pointing out Gaudin's +9 destiny in the Strat card universe for next season's set.) Plug in Piazza behind the plate a few times a week, and while that might ruin Adam Melhuse's second-half plans, it might get Kendall into a more appropriate part-time role, and help the offense now and again. As in-season wishcasts go, it's probably more viable than praying for Kurt Suzuki.
It's also just as well that they finally cut bait on Witasick-apparently they decided the last thing they needed was a bullpen grognard grumbling about his role when he hadn't really been all that in the first place. He was being used in a highly situational role, and he wasn't doing well in it, nor was he rising to the occasion in key situations. Bellyache all you like, but if you're definitively fungible in the first place, don't be surprised when you're thrown in the nearest dumpster after grousing. In his place, I like seeing Casilla up. I don't know if he's ever going to master his control issues-handing out 14 free paces in 24 innings of Sacramento action makes that seem unlikely. However, with a 2-1 groundball/flyball ratio and 29 strikeouts in that same time, not to mention his wiping out pretty much all right-handed people in the shadow of the Sacramento ziggurat, you've got a guy who at least looks useful. Setting aside any confusion over what to call him-Casilla's the moundsman formerly known as Jairo Garcia-it should be an upgrade, and at the very least gives the A's a shot at seeing if he's worth that spot on the 40-man, or if, at 26, he's just not going to pan out.
Optioned RHP Jon Huber to Tacoma (Triple-A); recalled LHP Ryan Feierabend from Tacoma. [5/29]
Optioned RHP Jae Kuk Ryu to Durham (Triple-A); designated RHP Jae Seo for assignment. [6/1]
The lovely thing about the Devil Rays' situation is that they have the freedom to do as they choose when players do badly. Travis Lee learned this last year, but the nice thing about finally having standards-and depth-is that you can be afford to be fickle. If a guy struggles, he's gone, because what has he ever done for the D-Rays, besides help them finish fifth? With Seo, three quality starts in ten isn't good, even for a fifth starter, and when five of his other starts were of the disasterpiece variety, that goes too far. In Ryu's case, he might not have been the worst reliever on the staff, but he also wasn't among the best, and the Bulls have a sudden need for starting pitching, having just delivered two-fifths of its rotation to the Rays. Since Ryu was a starter in the Cubs system, this represents an opportunity for him to stretch out his arm. Edwin Jackson's only put up four quality starts in ten (with two of those blown after the sixth), and if either of the new starters fail to take root, Ryu might have a better case for replacing them on the basis of good work done in Durham than the equally bumped Casey Fossum will from the Raypen.
Into the rotation are Howell and Sonnanstine, two different kinds of acquisitions, and two very different pitchers. Howell was stolen from the Royals in one of Dayton Moore's more regrettable transactions, although at least Joey Gathright is slugging .400, albeit in Omaha, and that's not something Ryan Shealy can say. To return to the Rays, although Howell continued to do a good job in Durham as far as keeping the ball on the ground, generating almost twice as many groundball outs as flyballs, but he's been touchable, giving up a hit per inning. More happily, he posted a 64:17 K:UIBB ratio in 63.2 IP. There's also the matter of his allowing a pretty large number of unearned runs-12, to make 40 total-and whether that just means that infield defense has been a teamwide problem, I don't think he's going to get significantly better help in The Show with Brendan Harris playing short and B.J. Upton looking as multi-thumbed as an Overlord afield, if every bit as powerful as one at the plate. Most of his unearned runs came earlier in the season, and he did just rattle off three quality starts in his last four for the Bulls (and the fourth was a five-inning stint with two baserunners allowed), so he may be as ready as he needs to be. Howell still has his mastery of four pitches, still changes speeds well, still puts his fastball where he wants it (including inside-really inside-with a notable frequency, and still spins a heavy curve that hitters struggle to get any lift on. His reputation for cockiness might make the D-Rays the swaggeringest bunch of young bad-asses just begging to be beaten, so much the better if they keep backing that up with their play; I definitely like that he's up.
In contrast, Sonnanstine is your more basic homegrown organizational soldier, a 2004 13th-rounder out of Kent State who became a much more interesting prospect when he mastered a plus changeup to supplemental his initial skill at throwing strikes with a more modest assortment. He's been a reliable inning eater, and earned the organization's Pitcher of the Year award last season, and logged eight quality starts in the 11 he made for Durham this spring. In terms of more traditional stats, he's still fooling people at the plate if not classically overpowering them, striking out 66 in 71 innings while allowing only 75 baserunners. Is his 2.66 ERA a reasonable representation of his ability? As a less groundball-dependent hurler, he's less likely to cough up unearned runs than Howell, but in the big leagues, flying things have a greater tendency to wind up in fans' hands instead of gloves, and in his debut, he gave up four extra-base hits. He also muscled past a four-run fourth to pitch seven innings, which sort of gives you the risks and rewards he offers the Rays in a microcosm. Since he's not seen as the high-upside type the way that former Durham rotation-mates Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel are, there's nothing wrong with deciding to say there's no time like the present to see if a right-handed control fiend has a place in the Rays rotation of the immediate future.
Lastly, there's the setback in their selection of backup backstops, which matters... very little. Now in his eleventh organization in an 18-year career, Papo Casanova has obviously been almost as quick to to move around as the original lothario, and if his reasons why are a bit less exciting, he's every bit as persistent. The mistaken impression of his upside was a Rancho Cucamonga fiction generated back in 1994, but he's not simply outlasted it, he's enjoyed a productive career. Carrying him as the backup's no great gain or loss, and it's just nice to see him add an eighth season in The Show after the amount of his life he's invested in being a ballplayer. The real problem to losing first Josh Paul and then Riggans is what it means for the catching assignments down the chain, because the Rays are now definitely short, especially in the upper levels. A minor deal or raiding the Atlantic League wouldn't be out of the question.
Signed LHP Mark Redman to a minor league contract. [5/28]
Sorting out the ins and outs of the Rangers rotation is sort of like investigating the insides of butter churn-it's sticky, a bit mashed up, and not necessarily good for you. I suppose it's mostly 'ins'; the outs are hard to come by. Whether you want to talk consonant-driven concussive mayhem with Koronka or Rheinecker, or waiting for Millwood and Brandon McCarthy to heal up, the only thing the Rangers really seem to have sorted out is that they're better off without Wood. A pinch of Redman might stick for a bit, but it gets caught in your teeth something nasty, and you can't always get it out as cleanly or quickly as the Braves just did. It says something about how far beyond desperation you've gotten when Redman's not just a flyer you take, he's the lotto ticket that inspires you to start planning how to spend the money when you "win." ,The rotation is no longer merely bad-last in the majors in SNLVAR and Fair Runs Average, the only relief is that they're also last in starter innings pitched, because you wouldn't want extra helpings, would you now?
As for the position player reshuffle, at least there's better news there, and not just because Victor Diaz is temporarily making me look smart for consistently singing his praises during his Mets days. Cruz had lost playing time not just to Diaz, but to Marlon Byrd, and that's pretty much when you've moved out of prospect status and earned a refreshing fourth spin through the PCL. I'm not sure if we'll see Hairston play some third base, but since the "regular" is currently Ramon Vazquez, I wouldn't be surprised if he's not only in the outfield rotation, but also asked to put in an appearance at the hot corner.
Purchased the contract of RHP Brian Wolfe from Syracuse (Triple-A). [5/28]
Maybe because I never harbored any great hopes that the Blue Jays would be relevant, I'm actually enjoying some elements of their season. Joe and I have already spoken kindly about what's going on in the rotation, but they're also getting the opportunity to give Adam Lind a trial by fire in Reed Johnson's absence, and if Overbay's broken hand means that they're willing to take a look at Thigpen to sort out how close the future is to starting now, even that's a good thing. Thiggy wasn't hitting for much power for the Chiefs (and many thanks to the readers who have taken the time to let me know they're not the Sky Chiefs these days), but .299/.371/.416 out of a 24-year-old catcher is a prospect. He gets good marks for his receiving skills, but throwing out only five of 47 baserunners makes it clear he won't be making anyone forget Ivan Rodriguez anytime soon. It shouldn't be a long stay-Gregg Zaun's due back off of the DL this weekend, but once Thigpen proves to be ready, that would give the Jays an upgrade on Jason Phillips and/or Sal Fasano, turning what has been a weakness in Zaun's absence into a potential source of OBP-driven strength in a job-share between Thigpen and Zaun.
Meanwhile, over at first base, in Overbay's absence, the Jays are alternating Matt Stairs with Phillips and Clark, which isn't what you'd want on a contender, but then you weren't supposed to see them as such. Any solution that involves more time for the Wonder Hamster in the lineup-or even gives us the fun of seeing Stairs and Frank Thomas both in a lineup-works for me. Clark's handy enough to have even filled in at short since his recall, and while he's not the hitter he once was, lefty bats who can handle a utility role are useful, and if Clark's able to play six positions, that's a solid last man on any bench.
As for the rotation, as Will noted earlier today, it's hard to say that getting Doc Halladay back is entirely a good thing if he isn't quite the same pitcher we're used to seeing, but Litsch got lit up in his three starts after shutting down the Orioles, so there was no reason to entertain the option of making space for him in the rotation at someone else's expense.