May 3, 2008
Playing Mr. Fix-It
Speaking as one of those who seemed bereft of sense in entertaining the possibility that higher expectations for this season's Seattle squad weren't unreasonable, it was the potential for a move just such as this that contributed to that confidence. Sure, Bill Bavasi made mistakes over the winter, notably failing to find a real right fielder, and in the winter before, when he failed to get a real DH. However, in each instance, what Bavasi wasted wasn't talent, it was (playing) time, (roster) space, and (other people's) money. Emiliano Fruto and Chris Snelling weren't the expensive part of getting Jose Vidro, and giving Wilkerson the Steve Kemp "pay to not play" vacation plan gets them the roster spot and playing time back only a month in. Call me an optimist, but if it only took a month to sort out that this club needs offensive help, that's a realization made with plenty of time to mount a better-staffed bid for contention in the AL West, and with the talent on hand to make it so.
Balentien's the easy snap-in solution in right field, someone they probably could have run with going into the season, forgoing them their brief, expensive dalliance with Wilkerson. In their defense, maybe they saw something in Wilkerson they thought they could fix, and then couldn't. Or maybe they wanted to avoid putting the pressure on the kid to clinch the job in camp and deliver from Opening Day onwards. Regardless of their motivations, to be fair to Bavasi-a frequent target hereabouts-they almost certainly weren't irrational, just cautious. Dispensing with that caution now, however belated it might seem to some, is admirable, and not simply because of what's at stake. Just because Bill Bavasi isn't a stathead posterboy doesn't mean he doesn't get the concept of sunk costs. Balentien's range of PECOTA-pegged possibilities isn't all that rosy for a right fielder; while his initial performance at Tacoma translated to a .291 Equivalent Average, the projection is for a much more pedestrian sub-.260 rate, significantly below average for right field. Even if that relatively modest expectation is all Balentien can do for the M's-and you can certainly hope for more, should he gain a better handle on what he should pull the trigger on-you're still talking about a decent defender with serious power and some upside; investing playing time in Balentien now, even if it doesn't add up to an October invite, should reap future rewards.
The proposition over what Clement's for has higher upside but also a lot more doubt as far as how it shakes out. Clement could become a sweet near-regular, splitting his starts between DH and spotting for Kenji Johjima behind the plate, either when the Mariners are willing to take the chance on his chancy glove work, or if Johjima's increasingly slack bat goes begging for more frequent spotting against the league's tougher right-handers. Clement's ability to contribute at DH, especially relative to Vidro, should be unquestioned-they should get better power production, but they should also wonder if Clement might provide help at first base, given Richie Sexson's now-usual production problems. The real challenge is whether they genuinely decide to employ Clement at the expense of a veteran who's still on the roster, at any position, catcher, DH, or first. One way to make that more palatable to the players on the team is to spread out the days off; maybe letting Vidro play second now to make certain that Clement and Johjima both get to play. Certainly, it wouldn't be the end of the world if you expand the range of options to include a fourth lineup spot, and recognize that Jose Lopez needs to play as if his professional existence was at stake-after last year's performance, he should enjoy no more guarantees than Vidro, Sexson, or Wilkerson.
In short, this was something the Mariners needed to do, and to their credit, they did it. Getting worked up over whether or not the future potential free agency of Clement or Balentien was at stake misses the point-the goal is to win games, and from the moment this team made its commitment to win now by going out and getting Erik Bedard, there was nothing else to consider beyond what improves the Mariners' possibilities in the present.
Optioned LHP Franklin Morales to Colorado Springs (Triple-A); recalled MI-L Omar Quintanilla and MI-S Jonathan Herrera from Colorado Springs; noted that 2B-R Jayson Nix cleared waivers and was outrighted to Colorado Springs; placed RHP Kip Wells on the 15-day DL (blood clot - right hand); acquired LHP Jorge De La Rosa from the Royals to complete the trade that sent RHP Ramon Ramirez to Kansas City; acquired RHP Jason Grilli from the Tigers for RHP Zach Simons; designated RHP Jose Capellan for assignment. [4/30]
Contention for this year's Rockies was already something of a fragile proposition. You were going to have to get a repeat from last year's exceptional work on defense, as well as probably needing to have both Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales pan out in the rotation to give Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook some company. And you were almost certainly going to have to have last year's bullpen heroics continue, not merely from the big-name late-inning guys like Manny Corpas and Brian Fuentes, but perhaps even more critically from the middle-inning contributors, particularly Matt Herges, Taylor Buchholz, Ryan Speier, and free agent add-on Luis Vizcaino. Generally speaking, it hasn't worked out too well.
You might think that the interior defense might be scragged, with Tulowitzki gone for months and Nix proving incapable of hitting well enough to carry his glove in his bid to replace the replaceable Kazuo Matsui. (I'm sympathetic to the suggestion that Nix didn't exactly get much in the way of an opportunity to prove himself; the only starter he faced twice was Brandon Webb, and that didn't go any better than the rest of his brief Rockies season.) However, it won't be the defense itself that is the problem; all of their infield options are pretty good defenders, and they also have the benefit of Willy Taveras playing center every day, so they should still be relatively strong in terms of their glove work. Instead, the Rockies' real problem will be getting enough offense from among their lineup options at second and short. That might seem flip when Tulo wasn't contributing much, but the comparison isn't between one bad month and what his replacements might do, it's between Tulo's more probable performance and theirs. In considering the lot of Clint Barmes, Herrera, and Quintanilla, Herrera's the best glove at short, and would also be a particular asset at second if he played there, but he's an even worse hitter than Nix. Quintanilla's always been stretched at short and would be better-suited for second; proposing that he might pick up Barmes at the keystone against some right-handers in a semi/sorta platoon wouldn't be a terrible idea. Adding Castro to the menu doesn't really improve matters any; at 35, his career EqA of .207 isn't a unwarranted slur, it's what he's good for. Maybe he plays short, with Herrera or Quintanilla alternating with Barmes at second. Maybe Barmes plays every day. All of these are unhappy choices, and all lead to the same result-a defense that can cover for some of the worse fielders in the corners, but a lineup that will be hard-pressed to score enough runs to build solid leads.
The rotation picture is no less unhappy. Morales may have gotten the demotion, buthe was far from the worst performer in the rotation. Ubaldo Jimenez is out of options, however, and Mark Redman's a predictably expensive mistake who always makes you pay for fooling around with him a second time. Morales actually provided more quality starts (two) in his five than both of them in their 11 (one, by Jimenez), and that despite Jimenez making five of his six starts away from Coors. So, the kid with the "Optionable-Kick Me" sign on his back goes down for not doing so hot, rather than the team doing something bold, like admitting Redman isn't a solution (they're skipping him, a choice it's wiser to make for the months, not merely days, to come). In their moment of need, they're plugging in De La Rosa, but that's not going to work out all that well; as the Royals found last year, he's not really a great option for a rotation despite a decent power mix, and would be a lot better off in situational work. Adding the veteran lefty's all well and good if they choose to employ him in the pen later on, but right now, it's a bit of Dutch-boy action planning, hoping that the hole in the rotation doesn't get any larger than a thumb when it's pretty clear the floodgates are already open.
Which brings us to the pen, and there at least not all the news is bad. Admittedly, with Corpas the youngster's free-fall has been a pretty ghastly spectacle, but it shouldn't be career-threatening. Fuentes will have his work cut out for him, but again, that's the relatively picayune matter of who accumulates the glory stat, and the area of solace for the real-world team is that the middle-relief crew has been able to repeat its performance in the early going. Well, not Vizcaino, and not situational lefty Micah Bowie, but at least they've gotten something out of a group that initially engendered more doubt than Corpas and Fuentes. At this rate, Rockies fans have to take their scattered bits of happiness where they can find them. Getting Grilli for a former second-round pick like Simons (who now appears to be a limited-upside arm with pen potential at most) provides them with a durable long reliever they have need of, given their rotation issues. Grilli will have some value as a bridge in the fifth and sixth innings to get games to the more situationally-successful relievers in front of Fuentes and Corpas.