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August 26, 2007

Every Given Sunday

Down to the Wire

by John Perrotto

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Post-waiver deadline trades have been almost nonexistent this month. What this means could be two things: Either a lot of players didn't clear waivers and can't be traded, or contenders believe no one available is that much of an upgrade over what they already have. Whatever the answer, it seems unlikely there will be a flurry of deals made before midnight Friday, the deadline for a player having to be with an organization in order to be eligible for that team's postseason roster.

Thus, about the only intrigue we can expect next weekend is who will be on the list of call-ups when the major league active roster limit expands from 25 to 40 on Saturday. Even in that case, there seem to be very few players who will make much of a difference in the pennant races. Nevertheless, there will be enough interesting new faces. Here is a list of 12 players, three veterans and nine prospects, who could get the call when rosters expands and will be worth keeping an eye on:

First, the veterans:

  • Juan Rivera, OF, Angels. He's been on the disabled list all season after fracturing a leg while playing winter ball in his native Venezuela in December 2006. He has played in 10 rehabilitation assignment games with High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Triple-A Salt Lake, hitting a combined .297/.333/.378 in 39 plate appearances. Rivera had the best season of his six-year career in 2006 as an Angel, hitting .310/.362/.525 with a 33.5 VORP. Anything resembling that in September would only help the Angels in their bid to fend off Seattle in the American League West.
  • R.A. Dickey, RHP, Brewers. The wheels are coming off for the Brewers, but perhaps a 32-year-old knuckleballer can provide a lift as they battle the Cubs and Cardinals down the wire. Dickey is 11-6 with a 3.74 ERA in 156 1/3 innings for Triple-A Nashville this season. However, Dickey's lone appearance in the major leagues since converting from a conventional pitcher to a flutterballer wasn't good, as he was tagged for six home runs in a 3 1/3 innings of a start on April 6 last season while pitching for Texas against Detroit.
  • Royce Clayton, SS, Red Sox. The Blue Jays released Clayton earlier this month after he hit .254/.304/.344 with a minus-1.7 VORP, and lost his starting job to John McDonald. The Red Sox signed him this past week and sent him to Pawtucket. While Red Sox Nation continues to be paranoid about the Yankees being in their rearview mirror in the AL East standings, the paranoia would need to grow to epic proportions before manager Terry Francona becomes tempted to replace starting shortstop Julio Lugo or even utility infielder Alex Cora with the 37-year-old Clayton.

And the kids:

  • Ian Kennedy, RHP, Yankees. The Yankees have gone prospect-happy this season, and their first-round draft pick from Florida State last year, seems to be the next in line to join the major-league club. If struggling Mike Mussina gets hits hard again Monday in Detroit, Kennedy could take his slot in the rotation. Kennedy, 22, is a combined 12-2 with a 1.86 ERA in 24 starts and 140 2/3 innings with High-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton, and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He has also struck out 10.0 batters per nine innings.
  • Jonathan Meloan, RHP, Dodgers. Meloan was so impressive in spring training that Dodgers manager Grady Little said he would pitch in the major leagues some time this season. With the Dodgers struggling to stay in the NL West and wild card races, there is no time like the present to bring up a 23-year-old reliever who is 7-2 with a 2.15 ERA and an eye-popping 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings in a combined 62 2/3 innings with Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A Las Vegas.
  • Juan Morillo, RHP, Rockies. The Rockies are hanging on in the NL wild card race by just their fingernails, and a struggling bullpen is a big reason why hopes are fading. A 23-year-old with a fastball clocked at 100 mph like Morillo could help turn that around, as he's gone a combined 6-5 with a 2.59 ERA in 62 2/3 innings. One red flag, though, is Morillo's 4.5 walks per nine innings.
  • Ross Detwiler, RHP, Nationals. The Nats have made a habit of getting their first-round draft picks to the major leagues quickly, and their top choice this year from Missouri State should be no exception. Detwiler's numbers have been pedestrian so far-he's 1-2, 4.44 in seven starts and 24 1/3 innings, though the 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings is a good sign.
  • Jeff Niemann, RHP, Rays. The gigantic first-round pick from Rice in 2004 has battled injury problems throughout his career, but has made 23 starts and worked 119 1/3 innings at Triple-A Durham this season. His 11-5 record and 4.00 ERA are nothing special, but his 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings should pique the interest of the pitching-hungry Devil Rays.
  • Gaby Hernandez, RHP, Marlins. The Fish are going nowhere after their surprising performance of 2006, and never was that more evident than Saturday, when they re-signed Byung-Hyun Kim as a free agent just 22 days after losing him to Arizona on a waiver claim. September figures to be an open tryout camp in Miami, and the 21-year-old Hernandez, acquired from the Mets in the Paul Lo Duca trade in 2005-06 offseason, will get a shot. A local product of Belen Jesuit High School, Hernandez has gone 9-9 with a 3.54 ERA in 26 starts and 147 1/3 innings for Double-A Carolina this year.
  • Joey Votto, 1B, Reds. Cincinnati's playing much better under Pete Mackanin, going 27-19 since he replaced Jerry Narron as manager, but Votto should provide further excitement in the final month of the season. The 23-year-old has hit .299/.387/.483 with 21 home runs with Triple-A Louisville this season. The left-handed hitter's power is still developing, and he should thrive in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.
  • Steven Pearce, 1B, Pirates. One of the biggest breakout players of the year in the minor leagues, Pearce has hit a combined .340/.401/.638 with 31 homers and 14 stolen bases in 521 plate appearances spread between High-A Lynchburg, Double-A Altoona, and Triple-A Indianapolis. Pearce has also started playing right field in recent weeks, a sensible adaptation since Adam LaRoche seems entrenched at first base in Pittsburgh. Pearce does not have to be protected on the 40-man roster this upcoming winter, and the penurious Pirates are always loathe to start the arbitration clock ticking on a player before it is necessary. However, Pearce is 24 and has dominated at the top three levels of the minor leagues this season, so the Pirates should want to see how he fares against major-league competition.
  • J.R. Towles, C, Astros. Good catching prospects are hard to find, but one has blossomed in the Astros' system this season as the 23-year-old Houston-area native is hitting a combined .286/.396/.458 with 11 home runs while playing his way up from High-A Salem, through Double-A Corpus Christi before ascending to Triple-A Round Rock. While the Astros have long been smitten with Brad Ausmus' defense, sooner or later they are going to have to go with a catcher that can produce at least replacement-level offense; Towles seems capable of doing more than that.

---

It seems more like 20 years ago than just two since the White Sox won the World Series, as they are now battling Kansas City to stay out of the cellar in the AL Central. Despite the White Sox' horrible season coming on the heels of a poor second half in 2006, General Manager Ken Williams says he is not rebuilding.

That started to become clear in July, when the White Sox signed left-handed Mark Buehrle to a four-year, $56 million contract extension and came into even clearer focus when they gave Jermaine Dye a two-year, $22 million extension earlier this month. "As I've always said, I'll let you know when we're in a rebuilding mode," Williams told the Chicago Tribune. "Now is not the time for that. We still have far too many pieces that I consider championship pieces for us to go in that direction." Added manager Ozzie Guillen, "With Buehrle's signature and JD's signature, we are going to show the fans in Chicago we are going to go for it in 2008."

The White Sox now have seven players who are scheduled to make at least $10 million next season; they had none in 2005. According to the Tribune's Mark Gonzales, the White Sox have 12 players under contract for a total of $94,325,000 next season. The Sox would seemingly need to trade one of their big-money players in a cost-cutting maneuver; right-handers Jose Contreras and Javier Vazquez would the two most logical guys to shop. However, there is now talk that the White Sox might actually increase their payroll from $108 million this season, perhaps primarily by making a run at center fielder Torii Hunter as a free agent.

"As with every offseason, we'll listen to overtures, but I'm not anxious to break up the one component that has been the most consistent," Williams said about trading a starting pitcher. "So it would have to be something we felt rounded us out as a whole."

---

The final score still seems incomprehensible: Texas Rangers 30, Baltimore Orioles 3. Yet that is how the first game of Wednesday night's doubleheader in Baltimore turned out. The Rangers set the American League record for runs scored in a game; it was also the most runs scored in the major leagues since the Chicago Cubs dropped 36 on Louisville on June 28, 1897.

Reactions from the shell-shocked participants? "I've never seen 30," Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar said. "Thank God they don't get two wins for the one game." "You look up and you see 30 runs on the board and you are just blown away," Rangers shortstop Michael Young said. "I don't have any idea to explain. It's not something you could ever expect, but it was awesome."

Here are some interesting facts from the game, courtesy of the Dallas Morning News' Evan Grant and the Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly:

  • The Rangers' 65 plate appearances tied the AL record for a nine-inning game, originally set by Milwaukee against Toronto on Aug. 28, 1992, a total that's one of short of the major league record of 66, set by Philadelphia in a 26-23 loss to the Cubs on Aug. 25, 1922.
  • Four different Rangers had at least four RBI, the first time that has happened since Philadelphia's Pete Rose, Garry Maddox, Mike Schmidt, and Bob Boone did it on May 17, 1979 in a 23-22 win over the Cubs.
  • Rangers catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and third baseman Ramon Vazquez each had two home runs, four hits and seven RBI while hitting in the eight and nine slots of the batting order. Saltalamacchia had five RBI in his first 18 games with the Rangers after being acquired from Atlanta in a July trade, while Vazquez had eight RBI in his previous 68 games.
  • Wes Littleton got the save despite entering at the start of the seventh inning with a 14-3 lead. He fulfilled the official scorer's requirement by virtue of being the Rangers' last pitcher and working at least three innings.
  • Orioles relievers Brian Burres, Rob Bell, and Paul Shuey combined to allow 20 hits and 24 runs in four innings. That pushed the Orioles' relief ERA from 4.39 to 4.60, dropping them from seventh in the AL to 11th.
  • The Orioles' 30 runs allowed were one less than the 31 that Baltimore ace Erik Bedard had allowed in his previous 17 starts combined.

---

Brandon Webb's march toward immortality ended Wednesday when the Diamondbacks right-hander's streak of scoreless innings ended at 42-17 short of Orel Hershiser's major league record set in 1988-when Milwaukee plated a run in the first inning.

That didn't bother Webb in the least. "He never said anything about (the streak) to any of us," Diamondbacks first baseman Tony Clark told the East Valley Tribune. "That's Webby. That's a testament to him. He takes everything in stride, dials it in, and wants to give our team every chance to win a ball game. During the streak, and at the end of the streak, that was no different."

Prince Fielder lined a single to left to drive in Gabe Gross from third base with the streak buster, though D'backs manager Bob Melvin showed his commitment to going for the record by playing the infield in. Gross was the first man to reach third base in 61 at-bats against Webb. "To be honest, when that happened, I was relieved," said Webb, who received a two-minute standing ovation after the run scored. "It was a streak that was amazing to me that I was able to do it. It was fun while it lasted. I'm hoping to start a new one."

Diamondbacks catcher Chris Snyder, who has caught all of Webb's starts this season, said the reigning NL Cy Young winner immediately turned the page after giving up the run. "It was 'It happened. It's over with. That's all they get. Now we have our focus set on other things, finishing strong,'" Snyder said. "It was a great run. It was exciting. I was happy to be a part of it. It was incredible to see what that guy did over that stretch. That's unseen."

---

From the rumor mill: The Cubs are considering re-signing catcher Jason Kendall, who can become a free agent at the end of the season. Kendall has had a revival with the bat since coming back to the NL, hitting .304/.398/.412 in 119 plate appearances for the Cubs after starting the season with a .226/.261/.281 line with Oakland before being traded. By all appearances, it seems Boston is going to let third baseman Mike Lowell test the free agent market this winter rather than try to sign him to a contract extension before the end of the season. Detroit would be receptive to trading for a designated hitter-type if the cost is reasonable as a safeguard in case Gary Sheffield's injured shoulder causes him to miss a significant portion of the stretch run. St. Louis is certain to pick up the $8 million club option on closer Jason Isringhausen for 2008, and there is a good chance the Cardinals will add another year to his deal. Arizona doesn't figure to re-sign right-hander Livan Hernandez when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season, and will instead look to trade for a veteran starter over the winter. Oakland may cut ties with popular arbitration-eligible utility infielder Marco Scutaro this winter, as they have more cost-efficient options in Jack Hannahan and Donnie Murphy, neither of whom can go to arbitration. Tampa Bay is expected to pick up the two-year option on manager Joe Maddon's contract, but will likely make changes to the coaching staff. Pittsburgh is keeping mum on its search for a chief executive officer to replace Kevin McClatchy, who is stepping down at the end of the season. However, two names that keep popping up are former Montreal and Boston GM Dan Duquette and former Arizona GM Joe Garagiola Jr. Duquette currently runs a youth sports academy in Hinsdale, Mass., and Garagiola is Major League Baseball's vice president of baseball operations.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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