September 3, 2008
Optioned RHP Radhames Liz to Norfolk (Triple-A); recalled UT-R Oscar Salazar from Norfolk. [8/30]
The only real news is the decision to bring Jones back this quickly, although they'll do so with care. Obviously, this represents a risk of some sort, but I guess if you were trying to find an alternative to Jay Payton, you'd be willing to take one as well. I'd like to see if they'd have instead given Luis Montanez a bit more of a review in center, because while the O's know that Jones is the future and Payton's a mistake on his way to free-agent penury after two years of Angelos-funded largess, there's potential added value to be dug up should Montanez prove playable enough in center to make a perfect fit as the team's fourth outfielder, capable of giving Jones a day off now and again in 2009, while also potentially providing right-handed pop to spot for the two lefty-batting regulars in the corners. Beyond Jones' activation, the only other minor notes to strike would be if you've been keeping score on past Oriole deals, because then you should remember that Miller's part of the package received from the Rockies when the O's needed to make Rodrigo Lopez go away, while Mickolio's one of the lesser (yet still useful) bits received from the Mariners in that gift that keeps on giving, the Bedard deal. It should say something about the team's shifting fortunes that where Miller's going to have to pitch pretty carefully as a flyballer without truly dominant stuff (belying his 96 Ks in 83 IP), he could nevertheless pan out, while Mickolio's another instance where everyone prefers what you're serving up when you cook with gas.
Placed RHP Josh Beckett on the 15-day DL. [8/28]
I know that the sunshine scenario is that Beckett's not really gone for all that long, and that's all well and good, but I guess I'm left with wondering if it's well and good enough. So far, it's been OK, as Bowden bent but didn't break against the White Sox in his debut last weekend, and Beckett's supposed to be back in time for the slot's next turn on Friday. It's also helpful that the remaining schedule's conveniently front-loaded with the weak matchups against the Orioles and Rangers up first, but after this weekend the Sox have to see tough divisional opponents in five of their six remaining series, and that's part of the reason why I'm wondering if our Playoff Odds Report isn't understating the odds of an AL Central team's slipping in as the wild card-the team that built up the Red Sox's current run differential isn't the one they're playing with now.
Now sure, maybe Beckett's absence and the struggles that Jon Lester has had over the past month since being ridden pretty hard in July don't matter that much, but I guess my take on the Sox having to resort to taking on the salaries of moderately useful players like Kotsay and Paul Byrd is that it's a symptom of having to scramble to be just good enough to get to October, and hoping the actual stars are all in working order once they're there. In this, seeing September baseball in Boston has plenty of potential to wind up resembling a pack of Rolling Stones trading cards: $95 later, you're wondering what minor deity you offended so much that you wound up with a fistful of Ronnie Wood and Chuck Leavell. (Which would be no different from my baseball card experiences as a kid, come to think of it; after a bit too much Larry Biittner and Jim Essian, I was so done with that.) As long as the entire lineup's getting on base at a .390-plus clip-even Coco Crisp, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jason Varitek are all hitting of late-while Dustin Pedroia slugs .700, it may not matter, but if the Sox don't have Beckett and Lester at their best in the postseason, they start looking pretty vincible in a short series. Ideally, Beckett's initial tuneup against the Rangers goes well, and he's ready to finish with a flourish.
Optioned RHP Dave Robertson to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Alfredo Aceves from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [8/28]
Well, it's all too little and too late, but at least the Yankees get to play spoiler, and that could be especially fun that last weekend of the season. Sure, it's nice to get Chamberlain and Giese back, but we already know about them, and contributing to the froth of Jobamania isn't really necessary-he's good, and he's important to the Yankees' future. What's actually interesting here is Aceves, a Mexican League veteran of the past six seasons who managed to pitch his way from High-A Tampa to the majors in a single season. Across three levels, he's thrown 140
Released LHP Kurt Birkins. [8/29]
You may be wondering about the name that isn't here-David Price's-but we'll get to him in a second. In terms of what's actually already been done, Perez's name is very much worth noting-the speedy center fielder hit a decent .288/.361/./393 for Durham this season, employing the little man's game by showing nifty command of the strike zone and running the bases well (swiping 43 bases in 55 attempts). Between his speed and his ability to play a good center, he's an outstanding bit part for a post-season roster, especially in light of the relative inability of the non-Upton outfielders to play center all that effectively; should B.J. Upton get hurt, the Rays would be in a bit of a spot, and having Perez already set as his caddy now and into October insures them somewhat against that.
While Kevin's already speculated that the Ryu maneuver is intended to keep a space warm for David Price a la K-Rod in 2002, they already had that base covered with Chad Orvella's banishment to the 60-day DL to recover from shoulder surgery in May. The key distinction between the two scenarios is that Francisco Rodriguez was not on the 40-man roster on September 1, and as it turned out that didn't matter, because he still wound up on the post-season roster, defying some expectations that he wouldn't be eligible, whereas Price, the top pick of the 2007 draft, is already on the 40-man as part and parcel of his signing a big-league contract at the deadline last August. So this isn't really all that subtle-it's there as an option awaiting the Rays should they elect to put Price on the post-season roster, because he's already in-house on the 40-man and in the organization. Instead, I'd liken the K-Rod situation to their technically having Hernandez and Velandia within the organization before September 1, and therefore presumably eligible for the post-season roster should the Rays suffer an injury in the middle infield or behind the plate between now and season's end. Lords above and below have mercy if this comes to matter, but points to Andrew Friedman's crew for anticipating worst-case scenarios.
Designated DH-L Matt Stairs for assignment; purchased the contract of OF-L Travis Snider from Syracuse (Triple-A). [8/28]
The big news is the decision to bring Snider up right now and give him the month to get familiar and make a head start on claiming an outfield corner for himself. Opening the season as a DH in High-A, he'll finish it in The Show, and it adds up to a pretty impressive climb:
Level PA AVG/ OBP/ SLG UBB K HR A+ 66 .270/.333/.557 5 22 4 AA 423 .262/.357/.461 52 116 17 AAA 70 .344/.386/.516 4 16 2 Total 559 .275/.358/.480 61 158 23
That's not really quite so impressive, but there are a number of caveats to keep in mind. First, remember, the guy's only 20 years old. Second, the big thing that doesn't show up in these numbers is how much better Snider hit right-handers than lefties in Double-A, .277/.382/.523 off of normals against a feeble .225/.291/.304 against the gaucherie. Maybe he'll figure lefties out, maybe he won't, but whether he does or not isn't going to prevent him from making money raking against the majority of major league starting pitchers. Striking out a bit shy of 30 percent of the time isn't great news, but it's also a potentially positive indicator for growth potential, especially in one this young.
I guess calling him up makes sense in the abstract, but I wonder how much of it is an overreaction to his nice run with Syracuse, which was heavily batting average-aided; certainly his Double-A line is more promise than delivery. Also, as a practical matter I wonder if the skipper who mismanaged the starts to the careers of young sluggers like Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green is really the man you want running Snider's, but we'll see; like so much else with the Jays, it's a case where something that might seem sensible in the abstract still has nestled within it the potential to blow up in their faces. If the old man puts a dent in Snider's future in the same way he did with Delgado and Green, it'll be the sort of minor mishap this organization shouldn't really be affording itself, but having nominated old Cito as their temporary tin god shining with organizational dignity otherwise long since lost, I suspect there isn't going to be a lot of pro-active "let's not let that happen" memoranda flying around the office.
As far as less complicated but nevertheless still happy news, the Eckstein deal's a nice exchange-not only do the Jays finally clear up their infield muddle-short belongs to John McDonald, so they're done there-they also managed to get a Grade-C pitching prospect for their troubles. Beck's a huge fastball/slider type where both pitches are reasonably effective, and he's a guy who spent the season in the Cal League and didn't get bombed out by it. He throws strikes and managed to survive well enough in his stint as a starting pitcher this season (he moved out of the pen in June), even rattling off five quality starts in his last six, and finishing the year with 89 Ks against only 25 walks in 95 IP, allowing only 86 hits and eight homers. Admittedly, he'll be 24 next year in camp, so he is going to have to show the Jays something in Double-A next season to make a case that he's something more than just a parting gift for their having deposited Eckstein on a potential playoff team, but we'll have to see.
Optioned LHP Doug Slaten to Tucson (Triple-A); recalled RHP Billy Buckner from Tucson. [8/24]
The Snakes did a lot of genuinely cool things at the deadline, shoring up their post-season roster not simply as a matter of putting their best ready or near-ready talent on the active roster before the deadline, but also with one of the best waiver-deal pickups of this particular August, plus they added a live-armed lefty, having tired of their own token southpaw. All in all, you have to give Josh Byrnes and company high marks for tweaking their setup quite nicely.
Dealing with the moves in their order of significance, first there's the matter of replacing the absent and injured Orlando Hudson at the keystone with someone more closely resembling a major league regular than Augie Ojeda. (Nothing against Augie, a perfectly useful reserve better left in that role.) Adding Eckstein to play second base down the stretch and into October notionally should give the Snakes a solid patch, and while he's never played a lot of second base in the major leagues, when he was climbing up the Red Sox chain, he was more regularly employed at the keystone than short, and you'd have to expect that his at times frighteningly weak arm will be a lot less of a problem in the field at second than short. His credentials for batting atop a lineup remain in relative order; his Blue Jays total of unintentional walks plus HBPs as a percentage of total PA still adds up to better than 10 percent, about where they need to be for a player with so little power and dissipating speed to have value.
I guess if I have a concern, it's that if there's one thing Eckstein has not really demonstrated in the past, it's the ability to overcome the distractions of batting in the second slot, something he'll have to do for Arizona (or has so far, despite initial published reports stating that he'd lead off). On his career, Eckstein has hit a useless .236/.286/.288 as a number-two hitter across 213 PA, and while that's less than five percent of his total career PA, it's still so very much worse than the balance of his career that, however good a bunter he is, being charged with the specific mindset of moving the leadoff man over just may not be something that he's effective at. (This is where the more cynical among you will note that Stephen Drew doesn't get on base as much as an ideal leadoff hitter; touché.)
Then there are the virtues of tweaking their bullpen. I'm favorably disposed toward the decision to fish Ledezma off of waivers. Although he's not especially effective as a situational southpaw, he's a lefty with consistent low-90s velocity with a relative blind eye to opposing hitters in terms of performance splits; since it's the rare situational starlet who manages to avoid facing opposite-batting bete noirs more than half the time, there's a more general utility to employing Ledezma that you don't get relying on, say, Doug Slaten, although there is the possibility that they'll find a way to carry both/ (They could make room for Slaten by naming the still-injured Edgar Gonzalez to the post-season roster, and then in light of making the unhappy "discovery" that Gonzalez just can't go, they'd replace him from within the organization with... why, golly, a second lefty, perhaps?) Then there's also the clean placement of Scherzer on the roster, which similarly should bolster the bullpen now and into the playoffs with yet another power arm, the sort of thing that might serve the Snakes' Secret Sauce a little extra relish.
In contrast, there's nothing really subtle about getting Justin Upton back, even if Brad Thompson's head shot has him missing action in the meantime. The interesting ripple effect that Upton's return revealed is that the Snakes moved Adam Dunn to first base after all, even though it's a position that he doesn't have a lot of experience at, while leaving their initial first baseman, Conor Jackson, out in left field. As I suggested a few weeks back as far as the most sensible outcomes possible from the D'backs' positional overlaps once everyone's healthy, that means reducing Chad Tracy to a bench player, because the Eckstein acquisition also kills off most of the consideration that was being given to trying Mark Reynolds at second base. Having a quality lefty bat on the bench isn't exactly the end of the world for Arizona, though it does put the onus on Bob Melvin to play Tracy often enough to keep him sharp. As for Dunn, this seems like an acknowledgment that he's a problem wherever he is on the diamond, while also representing an equally frank acknowledgment that maybe first-base defense really isn't the most important thing in the world. As is, if we use MLVr for some quick napkin-level guesstimates, replacing Tracy with Upton over the balance of the season should improve the lineup by two or three runs in total in September, while replacing Ojeda with Eckstein might be good for another one or two; that tots up to a half-win's worth of difference, and in a race that might wind up a squeaker at the finish, these are the sorts of differences that add up.
Activated RHP Manny Acosta from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Matt DeSalvo to Richmond (Triple-A). [8/23]
With the Braves already beyond relevance, most of this doesn't matter much; if you were concerned about that APB to see where Jorge Julio goes kablooey next, here he is, and as a sign of how far things have gone in the pen, he and Dessens might nevertheless actually help improve matters. However, beyond playing out the string, there is one especially interesting pickup: getting a prospect worthy of the name for a month of Mark Kotsay, not to mention realizing some savings on that score since Boston's picking up the balance owed to Kotsay. (Since Atlanta received around $5 million from Oakland up front in the Kotsay deal, on some level that lowers their out-of-pocket expense for having employed Kotsay this season to a negligible fraction of his annual compensation.)
Sumoza's a pretty interesting prospect, a 20-year-old Venezuelan in his third (partial) season as a pro, and showing improving power. Although not overly imposing physically, he's probably going to have to cut on the basis of whatever he does at the plate, because while he's athletic enough to make the occasional appearance in center in short-season ball, it's expected that he'll have to move to a corner permanently once he advances. For the Spinners this season, he cranked at a .301/.366/.549 clip, a rung below where we'd be able to get a rough cut of his peak performance, so looks like we'll all have to wait until Poblano reverts to PECOTA and gives us a sense of the kid's future, beyond a general suggestion that it'll be good.
In terms of final accounting on the Kotsay deal, while Atlanta's out Joey Devine (and, lest we forget, an organizational filler pitcher, Jamie Richmond), that was their cost for taking a chance on Kotsay as their center-field answer when they could reasonably anticipate they'd contend. Having Kotsay didn't cost them much in cash, and in exchange for Devine, the Braves got the time value of the money received from Oakland plus Kotsay's contributions, and then they converted those newly-irrelevant contributions into a worthwhile outfield prospect. So, Devine for money plus big-league playing time plus an outfield prospect? That sounds pretty good to me, and that's setting aside the fact that anything that keeps you from having to take Josh Anderson seriously as an everyday player is a good thing. Add in that Gregor Blanco made his bones in the meantime while Kotsay was on the DL, and in total this represents something of a silver lining on the Braves' bitter season.
Outrighted RHP Justin Miller to Albuquerque. [8/22]
Thus does McPherson close the books on an exceptional comeback season slugging for Albuquerque instead of the Giants or A's or Yankees or Twins or Royals-all teams that knew they needed help at the infield corners in December, when McPherson could have been anybody's ballplayer-and land himself on a bench in Miami. Now, sure, maybe those of us raised on Phelpsian legendry would like our minor league heroes to be a bit better than McPherson's translated .259 EqA suggests the hottest Isotope to be, but still, he had a season to remember: 42 homers in 530 PA, an impressive Three True Outcomes percentage of 53.96, heck, he even nabbed 14 bases in 19 attempts to placate a few of you speed freaks. It could have turned out better, but an August slump (.175/.245/.340 with 41 Ks in 106 PA) took a bit of the edge off of a great season.
As for the rest, while there's all sorts of attention being paid to Kevin Gregg's knee injury taking him out of active duty (not to mention the closer's role), that's really less important than the quality of reinforcements they're getting in the pen. Andrew Miller can step straight into Pinto's place in the pen, as the Marlins avoid upsetting the rebuilt rotation they've employed of late. Performance suggests that Waechter can easily fill Gregg's shoes, should they ask him to. Finally, De La Cruz comes up with the benefit of a pretty solid season as a starter at Albuquerque under his belt, having generated 7.2 K/9 in 25 starts and 147
Activated OF-L Ryan Church from the 15-day DL; optioned C-R Robinson Cancel to New Orleans (Triple-A). [8/22]
What's interesting amidst all of this activity is the simple fact that this is a first-place team, after all, but one that's still really having to wing it; what I had to say about Boston above is a much more serious concern here, because the Mets are in much more danger of being caught from behind (again), and you can understand how, in their desperation, they'll do whatever they can to keep that from happening.
The lineup's a bit of a mess. With Castro out of action, they're stuck with Brian Schneider and Cancel behind the plate, which isn't going to score them (m)any runs. With Luis Castillo still less than 100 percent, they're playing Damion Easley at second base; offensively, that's also not doing them much good. With Church, they're treading carefully, which is nice if a belatedly-developed commitment to his well-being, and he's still not hitting much, but if he can contribute to a four-headed monster in the outfield corners, with Church and Fernando Tatis alternating with Nick Evans and Daniel Murphy, maybe that works out well enough.
The other major problem area is the rotation, where the news that Maine's out for a while leads to the decision to trust their fate to Niese as one of their front five starters. Now sure, obviously it beats revisiting the Figueroa experiment, but to be fair, Figgy's got some value as a long-relief inning sponge for a staff that's going to have to pick its spots for employing its best pitchers in the most important situations. Between time spent in Double- and Triple-A, Niese's had a nifty season:
Level IP H BB K R HR RA/9 BR/9 G/F AA 124.1 118 44 112 53 5 3.84 11.9 1.50 AAA 39.2 34 14 42 15 4 3.97 11.3 1.66
Basically, good, but not dominant, or about what you'd expect from what Kevin reported a couple of weeks ago, a lefty who deals high-80s heat and a nice curve, and who perhaps makes a nice back-end starter, but that's it. Frankly, that's what the Mets need from him, especially since the fifth slot should only come up three more times this season: against the Nats in DC, and then versus the Cubs and Marlins in the season's final week, including the last regular-season game, which may not matter. Instead, the Mets have the more interesting challenge of seeing if Oliver Perez and Pedro Martinez can deliver down the stretch, whether or not Mike Pelfrey wears out, and whether or not it makes sense to flip Pedro and Johan Santana next week (courtesy of a pair of offdays) to move Santana back a day and potentially better set him up to start either a tie-breaker or lead off a NLDS. Niese isn't responsible for those things, he just needs to try keeping squiggly numbers off the scoreboard for five frames, and the first time out, against the Brewers, that wasn't in his power. Next week's matchup with the Nats might be more his speed, and then it remains to be seen if the Cubs will be running out their best that last week of the season.
Placed OF-L Geoff Jenkins on 15-day DL (strained hip flexor); recalled 1B-L Andy Tracy from Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [8/23]
I wasn't wild about the Jenkins acquisition at the time, so you'll no doubt be unsurprised that I see the opportunity to excuse him for whatever length of time as a minor boon for the ballclub-when a platoon corner hits .259/.317/.418 against the people he's being paid well to hit, he's the sort of guy you book for the Steve Kemp vacation package, not someone you count on down the stretch. (The lamentable commitment to employing him next season as well is a problem for the months to come.) Happily, the Phillies have a pair of better options on hand, with Greg Dobbs available to play an outfield corner when he isn't spotting for their other expensive mistake last winter, third baseman Pedro Feliz. The addition of Stairs as a spare lefty bat off of the bench makes employing Dobbs that much easier to do on a day-to-day basis, because having Stairs in the fold affords Charlie Manuel a full breadth of in-game options even after starting Dobbs for Feliz (or Stairs for Jayson Werth), because he'll still have one lefty with power on his bench whether he starts one or the other. That said, we shouldn't mistake the now-gray Stairs for the Wonder Hamster of years past-Stairs wasn't slugging .400 against right-handers, and setting aside the intentional passes, he wasn't walking all that much either. Still, he's a guy who can pull who now gets to call home a park with close corners and shallow power alleys, and that can work well enough.
Placed OF-R Austin Kearns on the 15-day DL (stress fracture-foot), retroactive to 8/25; activated OF-S Elijah Dukes from the 15-day DL. [8/26]