May 19, 2008
Designated OF-L Jason Tyner for assignment; recalled LHP Jeremy Sowers from Buffalo (Triple-A). [5/16]
Optioned LHP Jeremy Sowers to Buffalo; recalled 1B-L Michael Aubrey from Buffalo. [5/17]
Aubrey's easy to root for, and it's a great thing to see him up. His performance in the minors this year was more a demonstration of health than a reflection that he's all the way back from his seemingly endless litany of hurts-back in the day, his power projection was perhaps the most tantalizing element of the package-but even so, it's something. In April, Aubrey played most of the time at first down in Akron, and hit .282/.330/.456 (and .300 while slugging .500 against RHPs), and his Buffalo performance in the subsequent pair of weeks (.341/.383/.432) did nothing to take away from the suggestion that he's healthy and still has fine plate coverage. As a more practical matter, he's also potentially very useful to an Indians team that's getting very little out of Travis Hafner, and which might also need to consider using Ryan Garko as something less than an everyday first baseman. Since Aubrey can play a good first base when healthy, it could turn into a nice platoon situation, although the lack of solid everyday players in the outfield corners sort of handicaps their ability to afford the roster space for a first base platoon and a full-time DH and a platoon of David Dellucci and Franklin Gutierrez in a corner. Add in the optionless Andy Marte cooling his heels on the bench, and you get a sense of the problem-somebody's got to go, but if nobody's hitting and few guys are optionable, the choice becomes quite literally cutting.
Sowers was up for nothing more than a spot start created by last Monday's doubleheader, so sending him down doesn't resolve the issue of what happens when Jake Westbrook's ready to come off of the DL, perhaps in time for the end of the week. He was apparently sharp in yesterday's rehab outing, generating ground-ball outs and overpowering the kiddies down in Low-A, but he might have to make a second rehab appearance against more advanced competition. That has less to do with his timetable as it does with the comparatively nice problem the Tribe has in its rotation right now: five starters going pretty well-setting aside Fausto Carmona's command problems for the moment-with Aaron Laffey doing nothing that merits him getting pulled from the rotation. While you might wonder about Paul Byrd after his struggles last season, the veteran junkballer's delivered four quality starts in his last six, so it isn't like he's holding the Tribe down. So, the suggestion that Westbrook's return might get slow-walked isn't unreasonable, to see if developments-somebody else goes down with a naggy hurt, for instance-alter that picture.
Optioned LHP Chuck James to Richmond (Triple-A); recalled RHP Phil Stockman from Richmond. [5/16]
I have a sort of personal rooting interest in Stockman, not because I'm a fan of all things Australian-for every gift to western civilization like Muriel's Wedding, there's something awful yet unavoidably memorable, like the "Drink Me Wallaby Squash, Mate" jingle or Vegemite-but because I got to see him during his first go-round with Atlanta back in 2006, when he showed plus velocity. Like so many other Braves relievers, he was somebody else's discard (in this case, the Snakes). His career has been handicapped by wildness, recurring finger blisters, back problems, hamstring woes, and visa snafus, yet here he is, still a behemoth, and still throwing hard. The Braves appeared to be extra careful with getting him geared up this spring, apparently giving him extra rest between outings down in Richmond; he appeared in consecutive games for the first time only last week. Given the initial turnover in Atlanta's bullpen, it'll be interesting if he can end up carving out a small spot for himself in the same way that similarly castoff Tyler Yates and Chad Paronto did in recent seasons, and Jeff Bennett has done so far as a Brave, this year and last. I certainly wouldn't rule it out, but between his well-earned reputation for fragility, just try and check him out while you can; you'll be entertained.
In the meantime, James' rotation slot may very well wind up in Bennett's possession. That's not really a cause for alarm in itself, unless you're Chuck James, but getting him right is the more important organizational objective where he's concerned. You have to feel some pity for James-you put one of the more extreme fly-ball pitchers around up against the Phillies in their park and the Rockies in Coors, and bad things happened? Somebody, cue Claude Rains. James might not be wild about being optionable, but the way he's pitching, it's just as well that he do some great feats against the International League to put himself back into consideration for a return in June or July (or to make himself an attractive bargaining chip by the deadline).
The Braves have the leisure of today's off day to leave picking a fifth starter until the weekend. If not Bennett, then perhaps fellow retread Jorge Campillo, but either way, the choice won't exactly contribute to the youngish cast of the Braves rotation of late, since Bennett's just shy of 28, while Campillo's pushing 30, but as a pair of scrapheap finds for the fifth slot, they're credits to the organization's bushbeaters. If it's not quite the crew of the formerly famous forecasted at season's start, what of it? Jair Jurrjens has staked a claim on one slot, and Jo-Jo Reyes hasn't embarrassed himself in any of his turns-giving up five runs against the Phillies in CBP is far from a dishonor, especially when the fifth was a matter of managerial discretion. Better these options than the usual wishcasting for Mike Hampton, whose track record involves... well, heck, let's just cue up Claude Rains again, as long as we're on the subject of Hampton's unavailability.
Placed 1B-L Daryle Ward on the 15-day DL (bulging disc - lower back), retroactive to 5/14; purchased the contract of 1B-L Micah Hoffpauir from Iowa (Triple-A). [5/18]
Looking at the still-hefty, still-omnivorous Ward, you might be surprised when I say that you might think that his fall shouldn't be too earth-shattering for the Cubs, but nevertheless, I worry and wonder. Like Ward, Hoffpauir's really only a first baseman; he'll play the outfield under orders, but that means ignoring a warning label or two. The more important concern is tactical-Ward was the club's lefty pinch-hitter in high-leverage situations, and that's perhaps a wee bit extra-important in a lineup with little lefty power that leans heavily to the right. Now, it's sort of manager's choice, between Mike Fontenot, who's good for decent doses of contact, OBP, and line-drive power, and Hoffpauir, an organizational soldier with modest sock in his seventh season of Cubsdom. It's a great thing for him to have made it, but in the same way people shouldn't have been dancing in the streets when Phil Stephenson made it up, not everybody has to throw a party. PECOTA projected him to hit .257/.325/.433 if he was in the majors, which translates to a .257 Equivalent Average, or well short of what you want out of your first basemen; top comps included Jorge Piedra and Simon Pond, both of whom briefly appeared on prospect lists earlier in their careers, and neither of whom panned out.
Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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