August 25, 2000
NL East Notebook
With roughly a quarter of the season left to go, all teams have a responsibility to use the remaining games for goals that they can accomplish. Because I'm either hopelessly optimistic or needlessly cruel, I like to think teams will be using this time to do whatever they can to help themselves win now or help them get better in the future. So starting at the bottom, what is it that the teams in the NL East can do to help themselves in roughly 40 games left?
The Phillies have already addressed several of their basic problems. Unfortunately perceived as a team about to turn the corner, courtesy of high-profile pickups like Mike Jackson and Andy Ashby, the Phillies managed to take a bad start and build from it. General Manager Ed Wade did not panic, nor did he throw in the towel. Instead, he's done his homework. Having lost Adam Eaton to bring in Ashby, he flipped Ashby for Bruce Chen, a nice recovery.
The short list of things to do? First, the Phillies need to make certain to call up Jimmy Rollins for an audition as the team's shortstop. Despite only being 21, he's already looking like a useful hitter at Triple-A and his defense will make a big difference to pitchers used to Desi Relaford.
Second, they should give Wayne Gomes as many save opportunities as possible. It won't mean anything in terms of Gomes's talent, but plenty of people mistake a counting stat like saves for a skill. If Mike Jackson comes back next year, the Phillies could peddle Gomes for something of value, and what better way to increase his value than to give him a showy stat? It isn't as if anyone's going to give up anything to take Jeff Brantley off of their hands.
Third, a pro forma statement that Terry Francona has earned his walking papers. There are plenty of managers with better credentials from their minor-league managerial stints, from Marc Bombard to Chris Chambliss to Tom Spencer to Greg Biagini. Having Michael Jordan's business card is no longer enough, if it ever was or should have been.
The most basic mission for the Expos is survival while the ownership battle and the potential suits and countersuits dissipate. On the field, there isn't much more to do than what's already been done: Michael Barrett has finally been moved back behind the plate and Milton Bradley is up and playing every day.
The one thing I'd like to see is for the team to start rotating Fernando Seguignol into left field, sharing playing time with Bradley and Peter Bergeron between center field and left field. This will give the Expos the chance to see if there's going to be any reason to keep Seguignol, while also getting them used to an outfield rotation pattern they'll probably have to adopt anyway once Brad Wilkerson is ready to come up sometime in 2001.
The challenge for the Marlins is to keep pushing and evaluating and rebuilding, lest they get too carried away with this year's press clippings and wind up as next year's Phillies.
Several projects with major implications for the future are already underway: they finally seem committed to Luis Castillo, which is going to mean reevaluating what they want to do with Pablo Ozuna. They should not go out of their way to do Alex Gonzalez any favors, and if that means sticking with Andy Fox and Dave Berg or calling up an organizational soldier like Joe Funaro, so be it. At this point, the organization is better off having Ozuna play shortstop from here on out, in Portland, instructional league and/or the Arizona Fall League, then giving him every opportunity to win the job next spring.
A.J. Burnett should end up with a little more than a dozen major league starts this year, which should give him a good taste for next year. Rehabilitating Vladimir Nunez as a middle reliever would be a step in the right direction. Nunez will eventually be an important part of the Marlins staff, so better to let him continue to succeed in the role he was so good at with the Diamondbacks last year.
The Mets don't need to spend their time wondering about who to give early auditions to for next year. While I've already lauded Brian Cashman and the Yankees management team for doing a great job of bringing in talent for the stretch without discarding their best prospects, I should have given Steve Phillips similar credit. With an even more slender hand in terms of minor-league prospects to barter with, Phillips managed to rent Mike Bordick (one of the best shortstops to ever wear a Mets uniform) and bring in a needed right-handed reliever (Rick White) and an outfielder with some pop to replace Benny Agbayani on the bench, Bubba Trammell.
I did not expect this team to push the Braves, and if they had stuck with the team they opened the season with, they probably wouldn't have. Phillips was smart enough to want to keep improving, and managed to do it without giving up Alex Escobar.
What can the Braves do between now and October? They desperately need to avoid getting caught in the predicament of having to play Keith Lockhart close to every day in the playoffs. Calling up Marcus Giles might hose Greenville's chances in the Southern League playoffs, but Giles should be starting close to three-quarters of the games at second base for the Braves right now. He should certainly be the regular next season.
The Braves could also use a good 14th position player, someone who can be a useful pinch-hitter as well as a pinch-runner and defensive substitute. If they don't think George Lombard is going to be helpful, they could consider minor-league veteran Demond Smith.
The Braves also need to keep chewing through the waivers process to see if there's a useful right-handed middle reliever they can snag before the end of the month. This isn't so much to keep up with the Mets' swiping Rick White as much as to meet a genuine need: Scott Kamieniecki, John Burkett and Stan Belinda are not good choices.
Chris Kahrl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.