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September 14, 2008
West by Central
Activated OF-S Reggie Willits from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Jason Bulger to Salt Lake (Triple-A). [8/27]
Well, it isn't quite the circumstance I envisioned, but with both Kendrick and Erick Aybar out of action, the Angels are getting to invest some time getting familiar with their alternatives, like it or not. That's notably Sean Rodriguez at second and Wood at short. It's really going to be up to Rodriguez and Wood to do something in what might otherwise be seen as a garbage time-aided quest for the league's best record. Wood's responded by delivering the Matt Williams 2.0 production that was expected of him, hitting .288/.302/.519 and belting a trio of homers in his two weeks of starts, but Rodriguez has only provided an improvement on his early-season struggling, hitting just .260/.296/.420 since taking over for Kendrick. With Chone Figgins' temporary absence with an owie, you might think this could create opportunities for Wood (or even Brown) to play some at third again, but it looks like the Angels are doing a more sensible short-term thing, and instead getting Robb Quinlan at-bats to get his stroke up to snuff, while Wood stays at short; Quinlan seems a lock to wind up on the post-season roster, so all the better that he gets in some work while the standings and a few absences create the opportunity.
This combination should make things interesting once Kendrick, Figgins, and Aybar all come back. As Will Carroll has noted, Kendrick's earning a rep as a slow healer, although the Angels' record and depth contributed to an organizational ability to take their time, and picking an infield in the present will be interesting enough. Rodriguez should obviously be out of luck, and would have to settle for a reserve role were he even retained for October. Things get really interesting when we turn to what this might mean at shortstop, because a choice between Wood and Aybar is a matter of choosing between two very different ballplayers, guys with discrete strengths and glaringly obvious shortcomings, even while neither player is perhaps all that well prepared to get on base (perhaps ever). Mike Scioscia could choose Aybar, and get speed and contact hitting and an exceptionally aggressive and rangy brand of shortstop play; Wood's purportedly shorter stroke and improved plate coverage might make his power an intriguing alternative from your standard brand of Angels baseball, even if his shortstop play leaves something to be desired. Obviously, injuries might erase the need to choose. Should Kendrick or Figgins have trouble coming back into action, the Angels have the flexibility to adapt: if it's Kendrick who's out, Figgins could move to second while Wood moves back to third; if Figgins is missing but Kendrick's back, there again, Wood can move to third.
If there is an additional consideration with these players' future status, it's that with Figgins' arbitration eligibility (and with his three-year deal running out), this really should be about sorting who can make up the Angels' middle infield of the future, between Rodriguez and Wood, Aybar and Kendrick, and perhaps Izturis as well. To some extent, whoever can't really field one of those positions goes to the pile of potential third basemen, and Wood's limits seem to suggest he may still end up being that guy, but that means putting Figgins back into the second base picture if the Angels hold onto him, or perhaps moving him back to his multi-positional roving.
Optioned RHP Lance Broadway to Charlotte (Triple-A). [8/30]
On some level, these Sox are in the same boat as Boston, in that the team that got them here isn't really the team they can field to actually haul themselves across the finish line and into October. Losing Carlos Quentin and Joe Crede and Paul Konerko exposes how quickly depth can become an issue, even with Nick Swisher's flexibility as a piece you can move between center, left, or first as needed. Now that the Sox are down to counting on DeWayne Wise in left, things could get ugly; it won't take more than a few more starts for the air to be entirely let out of Wise's numbers. It won't be long before journeymen like Owens and Bourgeois get serious consideration for outfield playing time with a division title on the line. In light of their losing Konerko, could Brad Eldred be far behind? Probably not; the erstwhile monster masher wound up hitting just .244/.305/.546 and 35 homers for Charlotte on the year because he finished up mired in a ghastly second-half slump, hitting only .203/.252/.405 while striking out in almost 38 percent of his PAs.
At least the Sox have the virtues of Ozzie Guillen's willingness to consider his options when it comes to covering for weaknesses in the batting order with platooning elsewhere in the lineup. Guillen's taken advantage of roster expansion to employ Fields as Thome's spotter against lefties, although Thome's hit southpaws pretty well this year, drawing walks at almost the same clip (12 percent vs. LHPs against 13.8 percent vs. RHPs), and with slightly more power (.275 ISO against .263), but with some of the contact issues you'd expect (striking out in almost 31 percent of all PA vs. LHPs, against less than 22 percent against the normal-handed). Add that to the season-long platoon between A.J. Pierzynski and Toby Hall behind the plate, and having Brian Anderson fulfill some defensive replacement and spot-start duties for Ken Griffey Jr. in center, and it's almost as if the Ozzeroo's a latter-day Bobby Cox.
For better or for worse, however, the man has his loyalties. Perhaps the worst thing possible happened after Crede broke down-Juan Uribe had a respectable weekend. Homering off of filler pitchers like Dustin Moseley and Darren Oliver shouldn't inspire overmuch confidence, however-he is still Juan Uribe, after all. In light of Guillen's unwillingness to play Fields at third, it might have made sense to build a platoon between Getz and Uribe (Chran Getribe?) across second and third base, with Alexei Ramirez moving between the hot corner and the keystone, but Getz inconveniently broke his wrist, taking that off the table. (Interestingly enough, however, Getz is said to be in the mix for the job at second next season; if you think that prefigures one of the more famous infielders moving along through free agency, you wouldn't be alone.) Playing Fields at third really ought to be the order of the day, especially in light of their losing so much power at other positions.
Finally, as if there weren't already enough causes for mourning in Bridgeport, there's the news of the release of Charlier Haeger, another on the always-short short list of nominees for "the next worthwhile knucklerballer." But I'd suggest to all of you flutter fans that Haeger's freedom is actually good news, since he was able to wind up wherever there was need so dire as to command his presence; his landing on the Padres is perhaps the perfect spot for him to outlast his wildness and his problems with auto-generating souvenirs.
Leaving the good news for last, getting a fully healthy Linebrink back is very good news, and if MacDougal, Wasserman, and Logan can all contribute as situational bits to line up in the middle innings, so much the better. Between Matt Thornton, Linebrink, Octavio Dotel, and D.J. Carrasco, Wasserman and MacDougal have little to no chance of playing a major role, but Logan's opportunity to wind up on the post-season roster seems pretty clear, especially in light of Horacio Ramirez's struggles since coming over to the Sox. Lefties are hitting .500/.591/.556 against Ramirez in his work for Chicago, the kind of performance that is so bad that you might wonder if the organization's going to surreptitiously encourage the clubbies to perform some horrifying laundry ritual to feed this one unwanted Sock to a force that transcends nature, one that we all know and rightly fear.
Activated C-S Victor Martinez from the 15-day DL; designated UT-R Andy Gonzalez for assignment. [8/29]
The real item of interest here is what the Tribe will end up doing with the overlapping talent they can employ at first base, catcher, and DH. From that pool, it's easy to see that Martinez should be hitting regularly, and it's also easy to see that Kelly Shoppach's earned more regular playing time behind the plate. It's easy to see how V-Mart might wind up spreading his time between all three slots, while Shoppach starts the majority of games at catcher; the questions that arise from such a scenario are who gets the balance of at-bats. Hafner's going to have a lot to prove, not necessarily right now as much as answering concerns about his health and remaining value over the winter and then subsequently in spring training; if he does that, you would then probably see Ryan Garko shunted into the same bin of light-hitting maybes with David Dellucci and Aubrey (who, beyond demonstrating health, didn't really achieve much in the minors). Collectively, that group might not be in as bad a shape as Andy Marte is at third base after his street-pizza season, but that's because Dellucci and Garko might be able to hang around and have value in reserve roles, whereas Marte's been so craptastic it remains to be seen if he can even live up to a Brad Komminsk comparison in terms of spectacular failures to launch in the annals of prospectdom.
Among the pitchers, the especially interesting call-up is Lewis. Another in what seems like the organization's succession of finesse lefties worthy of an audition for the back end of the big-league rotation, he missed a good chunk of the year with a strained lat, but between Akron and Buffalo, he'd thrown 97
Recalled LHP Dontrelle Willis and RHP Freddy Dolsi from Toledo (Triple-A). [9/1]
It would be fair to say that the Tigers are simply playing out the string at this point, with important decisions including when and whether to pull Lambert from the rotation, depending upon whether or not Dontrelle Willis and Freddy Garcia are available and ready to start. Not that Lambert's any great shakes-think Kevin Jarvis: The Return, coming soon to a drive-in near you-but of those two live-fire rehab gigs, it's the Willis start on Monday that matters, because he's Tigers property through 2010, while the entire exercise with Chief has been effectively made pointless with the Tigers' fall from relevance. Where Willis has required extensive, careful, and perhaps agonizing evaluation and re-evaluation, Garcia's been marking time in simulated games, having essentially missed the season because of last year's shoulder surgery, and having logged a whopping five innings in two minor league starts before the Tigers affiliates saw all of their seasons end almost two weeks ago. Garcia's not signed for next season, so unless there's interest in making a good impression and re-signing him, activating him and seeing what he can do in action after considerable inaction seems a bit of a dodgy proposition. If ever there was a guy who should be gunning for some winter league heroics to make a difference to his impending free agency, it's going to be Garcia.
As ever, it's nice to see Hessman catch a break. He had what might be his best season yet in the International League in his seventh campaign in the circuit, slugging a career-high .602, going to the Olympics for a spell, and despite that absence, also setting a career high in home runs, hitting 34 in just 473 PAs. (He also hit into only two double plays, but it can be hard to hit into twin killings when you're pushing the Branyan Line in Three True Outcomes percentage; 49.3 percent of Hessman's Mudhen plate appearances ended up in the stands or at home plate. At 30, he's not a prospect, but he did just spend the year playing a pretty good third for Toledo, so it might be nice to see him get a shot with somebody. Ryan's made himself interesting as a catching prospect by hitting .253/.340/.476 at Double-A Erie this season; a 2003 draft-and-follow, he's developed slowly, and this was his first real big step forward. Having just turned 24, he'll have to build on this year to keep his prospectdom going. Listed at 6'4" and 230 pounds, he might inspire some Lance Parrish nostalgia, but that's even bigger than the former Tiger great, and despite the bulk, he was nevertheless quick enough to throw out 37 percent of opposing baserunners on stolen-base attempts between Double- and Triple-A.
Recalled 1B-R Ryan Shealy from Omaha (Triple-A); purchased the contracts of RHPs Devon Lowery and Yasuhiko Yabuta and 1B-L Kila Ka'aihue from Omaha. [9/1]
September for losing ballclubs can be an interesting time of year, in that it can represent an opportunity to evaluate whether or not this guy or that has a chance to take over at a particular position. Certainly, for the Royals to have Ka'aihue and Shealy up, and to get Maier back, should make for at least something worth following this month, as the team can see if they represent internal solutions to their long-standing problems at first base and center field. Maier went straight back into action in center, with David DeJesus moving back to left, so you know they're serious about seeing if he's part of the future. At first, in terms of playing time Shealy's getting more consideration than Ka'aihue, and perhaps that's just as well, as a matter of options and determining if the former Rockie is even worth a spot on the 40-man, having failed so signally in his past opportunities. Shealy did manage to hit .283/.376/.503 in Omaha, but he's 29 and it was his fourth season in the PCL; that performance translates to a pretty crummy .244 EqA, or still far from adequate for a first baseman, and still very much like the player they acquired and then had to get familiar with the last couple of seasons. Given that Shealy has more power against lefties, his future, such as it is, might be as first Ross Gload's and then eventually as Ka'aihue's platoon caddy. As for Ka'aihue, he's clearly become a prospect of note on the strength of his breakout at Double-A this year, which he enhanced with a good month at Omaha. The combined numbers are impressive enough: .314/.456/.628 between the two levels, and finishing seventh in the Texas League and fifth in the PCL in terms of his projected peak EqA. That's the sort of year that makes for a marker down on claiming the big-league job at some point during 2009, which is why I'm not overly upset about their giving more at-bats to Shealy-if he doesn't show much now, he may not be in the organization by the time camps open, and any possibilities he has involve keeping the spot warm for the big Hawaiian.
Purchased the contract of C-R Ryan Jorgensen from Rochester (Triple-A); recalled RHPs Bobby Korecky and Philip Humber, INF-R Matt Macri, and CF-L Jason Pridie from Rochester; recalled LHP Jose Mijares from New Britain (Double-A); activated INF-S Matt Tolbert from the 15-day DL. [9/1]
Cuddyer's arrival might get the most play in terms of attention, and while it's a good thing to have him back for the first time since June, it's also important to note that he wasn't doing so well before he broke down, and having him in the fold shouldn't automatically mean he heads back into the everyday lineup, at least not at Denard Span's expense. If Cuddyer was to see playing time at anybody's expense, it might be at Carlos Gomez's; before a recent hot streak, the much-touted rookie has been awful from June through August, hitting .232/.272/.291. But even then, there's the question of whether it's worth spotting Cuddyer (with Span moving to center) or maybe instead Pridie out in right. Perhaps the forgotten man from last winter's deal with the Rays, Pridie had an oddly-shaped season for Rochester, struggling early but heating up down the stretch (.326/.364/.522 in the second half). So, while his hitting .270/.305/.435 overall isn't all that impressive (it only translates to a .244 EqA), it's also worth noting that he's got a pretty large platoon split, hitting .280/.319/.470 against right-handed pitching. Now, I'm not predicting stardom, but a lefty hitter with some power and some speed, and who's also a plus defender in center? That sounds like a pretty nice occasional antidote to Gomez's struggles. Adding both Pridie and Cuddyer could give Ron Gardenhire something he really hasn't had this season, a range of options in terms of playing matchups with his outfielders; while it makes sense in the broad scheme to have played Gomez and Delmon Young daily over the vast majority of the season to aid their development, with a few to go and a shot at a title at stake, it might be nice to play people to best advantage and not just put a scare into the White Sox, but to put them away.
The other call-up of note is Mijares, who was badly injured in a winter car accident, and who lost much of the season as he recovered from a broken elbow. Working his way back up the chain, he managed 41 strikeouts in 36
Activated OF-L Ryan Sweeney from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-L Carlos Gonzalez to Sacramento (Triple-A). [8/28]
Purchased the contracts of LHP Justin Thomas and 2B-L Luis Valbuena from Tacoma (Triple-A); activated RHP Carlos Silva from the 15-day DL; transferred UT-R Mike Morse from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [9/1]
There's good stuff going on, even if the organization seems like such a basket case in the broad strokes. Certainly, the quality of the talent they're bringing up for various cups of coffee shouldn't be in question. Valbuena's looking like an outstanding prospect, hitting .303/.375/.431 between Double- and Triple-A this year in his age-22 season, swiping 18 bases in 26 attempts, and walking in a little more than 11 percent of his PAs. There's certainly nothing wrong with having an alternative to the frustrating Jose Lopez at the keystone, although Lopez's second-half slugging combined with his being still only just 24 years old himself suggest that there's reason to believe there's room for growth. Both Venezuelans seem to be solid enough defenders, and Valbuena's production against right-handers might suggest platoon-worthy possibilities.
Tuiasosopo is likewise 22, and seems promising enough as an OBP source on the strength of a .281/.364/.453 campaign with the Rainiers, but his glove work at third is something of a problem, as suggested by both Clay Davenport's minor league fielding translation for him (-17 runs) and his total of 27 errors. Still, his peak translation of .287 says the bat will play, so even if they wind up having to move him to one of the other corners, he should have a career. Rob Johnson's third go-round in Tacoma in his age-24 season was sound enough at the plate (.305/.363/.441) to encourage the belief that he's going to make a good backup backstop for somebody, and it doesn't hurt that he also threw out 37 percent of opponents' stolen-base attempts. And Thomas? Yet another hard-throwing lefty developed by the Mariners? Some things seem to come easy for some organizations, certainly. That's not to say he's been perfect in his work between starting and relieving between Tacoma and Double-A West Tenn; he's still relatively hittable (131 allowed in 135
If there's cause for disappointment, it's that a team that should be evaluating its younger players is showing only a peripatetic commitment to doing so. Starts for Miguel Cairo at first base, what's that about, feeding their sweet tooth for Bloomquist-style putrescence? And what about only sporadically employing Wladimir Balentien? Balanced against that they're giving Valbuena playing time at second at Pedro Lopez's expense, and Tuiasosopo starts at third over Adrian Beltre, sure, but why they won't do likewise in the outfield at free agent-to-be Raul Ibanez's expense doesn't make a whole lot of sense, not unless charming Ibanez into staying on this ship of fools is somehow one of the organization's priorities.
Optioned LHP Bill White to Bakersfield (High-A); recalled RHP Luis Mendoza from Oklahoma (Triple-A). [8/29]
The only element of import here is that Teagarden's up and seeing playing time behind the plate, in part because Jarrod Saltalamacchia's out for the balance of the season, in part because he's a prospect, and in part because Gerald Laird-whatever he may think-isn't really an everyday catcher. Things should get even more crowded once the PCL playoffs wrap up and Max Ramirez comes back up; he just delivered the easier three-fourths of a cycle (for a catcher) in the first game of the championship series, so he's still swinging a hot bat despite time missed with a hip flexor.