September 15, 2007
Transaction of the Day
AL East Roundup
Optioned RHP Jim Johnson to Norfolk (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Radhames Liz from Bowie (Double-A). [8/25]
Who or What Bears Watching? Olson, of course, but he's one of the better prospects in the organization, and has already gotten his initial trials by fire. There's also the decision to bring up Liz, on the strength of a generally solid Double-A campaign-161 strikeouts in 137 IP, but that came with 70 walks, hence his less-dominating 3.9 runs allowed per nine, and with some benefit from his home park, this might be a bit of a rush job. To their belated credit, the O's are putting Liz back into te pen despite the premature conclusions to the seasons of Erik Bedard and Jeremy Guthrie. That's partially because of his three-start meltdown, where a slow hook in his debut (he had allowed only two in five before a three-run sixth) was followed by two ugly outings blighted by a case of the walkies. Still, he's one of the few truly bright lights coming up through the farm system, so a taster-and a decision to nevertheless also limit his innings this month-is a nice reward.
In what might seem like a undifferentiated collection of scrapheap help, I also wouldn't lump Cabrera in with the retreads or thinly-treaded types like Santos, Zambrano, Bell, or Leicester. (Why is it that whenever I see Leicester's name, I think of how the pronunciation of 'Gloucester' gets mangled on a Russian submarine?) That's mostly my stubborn faith that Cabrera's talent is going to win out in the end, and that somewhat like Jeremy Guthrie, he'll make the Indians rue the day that their 40-man roster crunch cost them another guy who can pitch. Throw in the Mazzone factor, and I like he chances that the Orioles will have another low-cost arm that ought to have them scratching their noggins and renoodling about that whole massive bullpen overspend from last winter.
Random Acts of Genius: Managing to unload Trachsel for fully functional ballplayers of promise. There's no understating this-Moore could be the team's regular third baseman for several seasons. He's a solid defender at the hot corner, and add in that he hit .290/.395/.597 against right-handed pitching down at Iowa this year, and he looks like the new Aubrey Huff, only with better glove skills, and he's still shy of his 24th birthday. In this scenario, Melvin Mora would still be an everyday player, perhaps platooning with Moore at third while acting as a sort of super-utility rover who acts as the club's first-line reserve at all positions but pitcher and catcher. That in turn could liberate them from things like playing the overdone types like Jay Payton or Jay Gibbons, or relying too heavily on mediocrities like Corey Patterson or Aubrey Huff in the future.
That's all sweet, but then they also get a Cherry on top? A guy who throws in the mid-90s is like candy. Admittedly, his breaking stuff hasn't helped him as much against lefties as you'd like, but there's nothing that says he couldn't wind up an effective situational right-hander, or that Leo Mazzone might teach him something with enough wiggle to make a difference.
Which gets me to the capper-you're telling me that the Orioles made this deal? Even if there's a buddy-buddy discount where former Cub/new O's exec Andy MacPhail and Cubs GM Jim Hendry caught up on their golf games and asked about doing one another a favor, not even if MacPhail offered to pay off some old bar bill does this come close to adding up. This is the sort of talent-add trade he Orioles have needed to be making for years, and if a MacPhail/Jim Duquette provides the combination of contacts and amiability that helps them swing those deals in a way that GM Jim Flanagan wasn't able to without first getting book-ended between the two of them, then you might take this as a sign of better days ahead. Or it's just a one-off, where an active Cub front office minion helps his former master. Either way, O's fans should be happy.
Who Isn't Here? Hayden Penn, Jeff Fiorentino, and Val Majewski were all seen as top prospects in the organization at one point or another. Majewski hit a pretty hollow .272/.345/.386 between Double- and Triple-A, not so hot for a guy who's already 26; Fiorentino delivered an only slightly more satisfactory .282/.346/.445, with 11 homers after July 1, so he's not dead yet. Penn's handling is more a matter of the O's just being careful; he made a couple of season-ending starts with Norfolk to prove that his elbow was sound after having surgery to remove bone chips earlier in the season; he'll get an audition for next year's rotation by getting in some work by pitching in the Arizona Fall League.
Recalled RHP Clay Buchholz, LHP Craig Breslow, CF-L Jacoby Ellsbury, and OF-L Brandon Moss from Pawtucket (Triple-A); purchased the contracts of RHP Bryan Corey and SS-R Royce Clayton from Pawtucket; transferred RHP Brendan Donnelly from the 15- to the 60-day DL; activated C-R Doug Mirabelli from the 15-day DL. [9/1]
Who or What Bears Watching? Who goes onto the postseason roster in Donnelly's slot, certainly, since you can pretty much take it for granted that the Sox tabbed him knowing full well he wouldn't be available to pitch. It could have been lefty Javy Lopez, but the Sox went through the rigmarole of adding Lopez with a week to go in August, and have subsequently been reminded that he just doesn't seem to really be cut out for lefty situation work, not when he's putting southpaw swingers on base at a .360 clip. It looks like the Sox are going to be stuck with twelve pitchers in the postseason, which is just dumb, especially when one of them is Lopez, and another is Julian Tavarez. It would have been nice to find a way to have Ellsbury on the postseason roster, to be sure, especially when the only outfield reserve as matters stand otherwise will be platoonie Bobby Kielty. With Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew as your fragile starters in the corners, do you really want to be stuck with Kielty and the effectively sessile Eric Hinske as your only options?
Random Niceness: I guess that Royce Clayton gets to be associated with a winning ballclub, probably for the last time. That would have been true of his career since 2001, when he was Kenny Williams' lamentable choice to replace Jose Valentin at short; the White Sox finished at 83-79. There's of course the chance that the Jays finish above .500 this year, but they were a .500 team when they let Clayton go, and they're a .500 team now.
Who Isn't Here? Whatever did happen to Craig Hansen? Health problems make a convenient excuse, but 93 baserunners in 51 1/3 IP probably have a wee bit more to do with this particular iteration of the cautionary tale about how college relief stars don't just jump to The Show and make a difference. In his defense, he didn't allow many extra-base hits (a total of 10), he kept the ball on the ground, and if he didn't walk them, he did a pretty sweet job of shutting down right-handed hitters (.223/.355/.262-keep in mind, that's a .355 OBP). You might also ask after George Kottaras, especially considering the predictably weak performances of guys like Doug Mirabelli (and no, I don't care how much Tim Wakefield goes all leprechaun over "me lucky charm") or Kevin Cash. Sadly, Kottaras hit International League right-handers at an inexcusable .224/.291/.405 clip, or just good enough to make sure he'll be in the IL for a long time to come. He also only threw out 20 percent of opposing base thieves; if he didn't hit, and he can't stop baserunners, I think we in the analysis community have to accept that the scouts had a point; certainly, I was much more optimistic about Kottaras a year ago.
Designated OF-R Kevin Thompson for assignment (and subsequently losing him on waivers to the Athletics); released RHP Jim Brower.
Who or What Bears Watching? Kennedy, of course, because he adds to the deepening drama of who's in the rotation, now and into October. That he's already cranked out two quality starts in three while Roger Clemens consults with his collection of trainers, manservants, cleatblacks, and dramatists, and while Mike Mussina delivers a non-mighty eight baserunners in less than six shutout innings, certainly makes things interesting.
At this point, the only people who should be locked in for October starts are obvious-Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte. Get beyond that, and you get into the excitement of a Joe Torre pick'em, because the Moose and the Rocket haven't been all that good, and Philip Hughes hasn't been any better. Even if you assume that Clemens would get the call to start any Game Three-LDS, LCS, or World Series-there's a very real opportunity for Kennedy to wind up on the spot. That could be an opportunity for Jim Beattie-like postseason heroics (if you remember 1978), or Dave Righetti's somewhat more mixed bag (ditto re: 1981), or Andy Pettitte's start in 1995 against the Mariners in a losing cause.
It's not as unlikely as it might sound at first blush, though-Torre did start Wang in the 2005 postseason. Wang was only the second rookie starter Joe Torre's used in his Yankee incarnation as a skipper; the first was Orlando Hernandez in 1998, and using a 32-year-old el Duque hardly seems worth counting. As a result, the chances that either Kennedy or Hughes might start a postseason game could represent the latest element of Torre's lately-found decisiveness, the decision-making sea-change that took Mussina out of the regular rotation to start off with.
There's also the question of who gets to wind up on the postseason roster because of the virtue of being left-handed and a relief pitcher. I don't really think Igawa or Henn have much of a prayer, but there's something sort of interesting to their being limited to Ron Villone. Similarly, it's interesting that they might end up keeping Minky on the roster as the designated defensive replacement for Jason Giambi at first base; the Yankees do seem to understand the need, but the question is whether or not they'll make the space.
Random Niceness: I'm just still thinking it's way cool that Wilson Betemit's their primary alternate for starting assignments at all four infield positions. It's the sort of thing that, combined with the relative reliability of the four starters, actually makes carrying Minky to be available to do what Dave Stapleton was supposed to back in 1986 an affordable proposition. The thing that's frustrating is that, as a result, the Yankees could have had the roster space for something extra, like a deluxe pinch-runner-someone exactly like Brett Gardner, who 39 bases in 46 attempts between Trenton and Scranton. I guess it's also nice that Sardinha's up, but he should be off of the 40-man in two months' time after a ghastly .222/.306/.387 season with Scranton.
Who Isn't Here? Chase Wright, if you remember one name from a particularly panicky period in Bronx drama from earlier this season. There's also no word on the whereabouts of Carl Pavano; I didn't go looking, but there again, I don't think the Yankees are sending out any search parties for their Opening Day starter.
Placed MI-S Ben Zobrist on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); recalled UT-R Joel Guzman from Durham (Triple-A). [8/19]
Who or What Bears Watching? Whether or not Josh Wilson keeps the shortstop job nailed down, because that will make next year's spring training a bit rough for Brendan Harris-Evan Longoria's going to arrive, and Akinori Iwamura can move to a couple of positions, but second probably makes more sense than short. Harris isn't showing much more range on the other side of the keystone, which might doom him to the role some expected from him all along-good-hitting infield reserve. If Wilson keeps delivering just enough offense and reliable defense, that might be enough to earn him consideration as the main contender with Zobrist for the job at short next spring. Even then, for the two of them it's a bit of volcano-dancing, at least if you assume that Reid Brignac will be up at some point someday.
Random Niceness: I guess that the Rays had the sense of charity to call up Guzman, Velandia, and Casanova, albeit for very different reasons. Guzman's starting to look like those comparisons to the last Daddy Longlegs,
Who Isn't Here? Quite a few guys-Jae-Kuk Ryu, Jae Seo, Chad Orvella, Jeff Niemann, Mitch Talbot, Shawn Camp, Elliott Johnson, Wes Bankston... just remember-Durham's playing for all the (International League) marbles against Richmond this weekend and early into next week. Also, Elijah Dukes, but he hasn't played since June, not even on a semi-pro team, as was once rumored might have been possible.
Signed LHP Joe Kennedy to a minor league contract. [8/28]
Who or What Bears Watching? Whether Lind can get a head start on next season, although his production at Syracuse after his losing the job in left field with the parent club wasn't all that much more impressive-after his demotion, he hit .297/.364/.457 for the Chiefs, pretty weak power production for a corner outfielder, and 11 unintentional walks in 154 PA doesn't really sound like a guy who's that much of an OBP source either.
A notch below that, I'm intrigued to see Kennedy wind up with the Jays, because it meant that none of the contenders must have wanted a piece of him, and Kennedy just needed to find a place to pitch after being discarded by the Snakes in August. It's a pretty interesting development for a guy who had delivered eight quality starts in 16 for the A's, and at a time when several contender's rotations are falling apart or fraying, that Kennedy would wind up pitching in meaningless mop-up and situational spots for a meaningless team might mean something else is in play. I wouldn't get worked about Banks, not after an International League season where he got hit relatively hard by right- and left-handed hitters, surrendering 192 hits in 169 IP, 71 for extra bases, 22 out of the yard. He did only walk 24 of 714 batters faced, but it looks like scouts' concerns about his lack of anything solid beyond his splitter remain entirely valid.
The other reason not to get worked up about either of them is that the Jays are already seeing next year's rotation pitching for them right now. Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, and Jesse Litsch should all be sufficiently ensconced behind A.J. Burnett and Roy Halladay that it would take some spectacularly bad work next spring to give Chacin a shot at sticking around as something other than an extra guy. If Chacin proves that he's fully recovered from his shoulder surgery next spring, he might wind up being a nice bargaining chip for J.P. Ricciardi, but there's also a solid chance that Chacin joins Mike Maroth on the list of fast fades by southpaws whose peak involved adequacy, nothing more.
Random Act of Madness: McDonald's contract. He's a little more than a week removed from his 33rd birthday, and hitting .243/.267/.321-and that's about what you should expect from John McDonald. He's a good fielder, but he also isn't Mark Belanger or Ozzie Smith out there. He is not the definition of a replacement-level shortstop-he's a full win worse than that at the plate, and to repeat myself, that's normal for him. Paying this sort of player almost $2 million per ought to rank with trading for Matt Morris and picking up the tab on the list of firing-level offenses in a contemporary front office.
Random Niceness: Bringing up Luna's a gesture of some sort, although he didn't field that much better at Syracuse than he did in spring training (which put him in Buffalo) or Buffalo, so his future as a useful utility infielder has to continue to be seen as very much in doubt. That's a pity, because he still has the bat to be one of the better hitters in the role. Of course, if he could play short on an everyday basis, demand for his services would go through the roof, but as things stand now, it's as if he got trapped in the same sort of odd mid-career spiral that derailed Deivi Cruz.
Who Isn't Here? Catching prospect Robinson Diaz, which might surprise you looking at his stats-he hit .320/.346/.413 between Double- and Triple-A-but a broken hamate ended his season before he could see about challenging Curtis Thigpen for the job of backing up Gregg Zaun. I guess I'm mildly surprised Ty Taubenheim didn't get a courtesy call, but they probably made the right call with letting shortstop Sergio Santos just close out a year in which he refreshed his status as a prospect by hitting .250/325/.477 at Double-A.