April 2, 2009
Senior Circuit Shuffling
At first blush, I'm more than a little ambivalent about this exchange. To a certain extent, I may have liked it well enough if the wayback machine was involved somehow-Andino would have been a better option at shortstop than anybody the team employed last season, but so too would have been one of Andino's top comps, Johnnie LeMaster. (For those of you Giants fans who just keeled over in shock with LeMaster flashbacks, we'll give you a moment to get back in your seats.) This begs the question-if you had a wayback machine, why would you go back for Johnnie LeMaster? Why, for that matter, get Andino for the present? He's not an improvement upon Cesar Izturis (whom you signed to a two-year deal), he's out of options so he doesn't do Norfolk any good, he's not really all that much of a prospect at this point, and dealing away Penn means you just committed yourself to carrying both Adam Eaton and Mark Hendrickson in your rotation.
Now, I admit, I've always been curious about what Penn might do if he was ever healthy enough for long enough to get a read on him, and there are no guarantees that Penn will ever amount to anything, but we know what Eaton and Hendrickson can do, which is pitch badly enough to lose their jobs in short order. Tossing that pair into the maw of the AL East's collection of offenses is sort of like taking Steve Buscemi to the woodchipper-it's not going to be merely fatal, it's also sure to be messy. At least Penn could have represented something more like Temple Grandin's brand of a more reassuring abattoir, where what's around the bend might be... fourth place? Oh, that would be so nice, so much nicer than instant death by Eaton and Hendrickson, yes, quite. Of course, Andino's modest utility as a baserunner and middle-infield reserve spares the club that epic choice between Chris Gomez and Jolbert Cabrera, and that makes all the difference.
The upshot of the pitching demotions is that, taken in conjunction with the coming decision to retroactively place Max Scherzer on the DL until the fifth starter's slot comes up mid-month, the team elected to retain former Astros farmhand Juan Gutierrez (who's out of options), swingmen Yusmeiro Petit and Billy Buckner, and second lefty Doug Slaten while sticking with a dozen moundsmen to open the season. How that plays out come Scherzer's return remains to be seen, since Petit and Gutierrez would have to be outrighted-and would each figure to be claimed, between Petit's nice command/control repertoire and how that might slot into the tail end of somebody's rotation, while Gutierrez's mid-90s heat would almost certainly tickle somebody's waiver claiming fancy. Slaten may be better set to survive as a situational starlet now that pitching coach Bryan Price has lowered his arm slot, but we'll see how well skipper Bob Melvin adapts from having only Slaten's sporadic utility to having a (so-far notionally) better Slaten as well as winter pickup Scott Schoeneweis. A pair of situational use-only southpaws might make for enough work to keep five right-handed relievers sharp, but we'll have to see. Which leaves Buckner as the likely johnny-on-the-spot as far as having to pitch well enough in two weeks to charm the Snakes into outrighting somebody else, and while that's not inconceivable, sometimes options for those on the bubble become unavoidable destiny. As is, a second somebody's going to lose his spot once Flash Gordon rockets back onto the roster by May Day.
Released RHP Emiliano Fruto. [4/2]
Outrighted OF-L Brad Snyder to Iowa (TripleA). [3/27]
The time value of roster space is one of the more entertaining still-unquantified variables in baseball, but consider what snagging Snyder over the winter bought for the Cubs. To put it politely, his virtues as a prospect are a bit mixed, but he's interesting enough; perhaps more importantly his unhappy track record makes him a reasonable bet to make it through waivers come that inevitable point in time when you need to decide who to add to your 40-man from among your non-roster invites. But now it appears that Chad Fox probably won't make the initial roster, heading instead to the cornfields for further arm-strengthening-although with Fox, that just enhances the chances he'll combust on some distant diamond in the minors instead of seeing his elbow go kablooey in big-league action-and none of the other non-roster bodies wound up earning much consideration for retention. Throw in the decision to release Bako, and the Cubs have yet another spot on the 40-man, as they're now down to 36. That might make for some interesting trade possibilities with Chad Gaudin and Angel Guzman both out of options but not clearly locked into spots in the pen in their competitions with Rule 5 pick David Patton and organizational favorite Jeff Samardzija. Since the alternative to keeping Patton is the likelihood of the Rockies reclaiming him, the Cubs could take on somebody else's optionable bodies to exploit that space on the 40-man while making a deal that ships out Gaudin or Guzman. With Gaudin's modest cost ($2 million) and utility in a rotation, I'd be intrigued by what he might bring from the right starter-needy swap partner. In contrast, Guzman's prospect profile may not fetch much given a track record for injury almost as considerable as Fox's.
As for bumping Bako and preferring Koyie Hill, beyond reclaiming the roster spot there are a few things to recommend it. Where Bako's a bad bet to slug or get on base at better than a .300 clip at the best of times, add in his merely moderate skills behind the plate as a receiver and as a thrower, and there was no more reason to keep him than there was to throw a guaranteed contract at him in January. Beyond being a human interest story for his comeback from the near-loss of several fingers, Hill's got more pop than Bako (for what little that says), and did a nifty job throwing out runners with Iowa last year, having gunned a little more than 37 percent of opposing runners on his watch. Picking Hill over Bako really doesn't change matters if Geovany Soto gets hurt-the Cubs would still be screwed, pure and simple. But as a reserve, Hill's combination of switch-hitting sock and better throwing already made him a solid choice on paper over Bako, and after both men hit in the Cactus League, in a tallest midget kind of contest, that track record dwarfed Bako's benefits.
Noted the loss of 1B-L Joe Koshansky on a waiver claim by the Rangers. [3/29]
Now there's an interesting contretemps-two-thirds of the Holliday package goes down and the subsequent add-on of Murton doesn't make the cut either? And all because Seth Smith and Dexter Fowler-two guys they had before Matt Holliday was traded-have worked their way into an outfield rotation? That's sort of cool, because while Fowler's the future for the Rox in center, there's no harm done if some but not all of that future is now, and having him split time with Ryan Spilborghs makes sense, with Spilborghs moving to one corner or another against lefties to spot for Brad Hawpe in right or Smith in left. This should also mean that Ian Stewart gets a few starts in left, and if Jeff Baker gets a few platoon-minded starts against southpaws in either outfield corner, you've got a solid little set of homegrown options in the outfield.
If you're feeling snarky, though, it does leave you wondering what they got for Holliday. Huston Street's nice, but that's one set-up guy, one outfielder who didn't make his way past the stuff you already had, and a young starter who couldn't beat out either Jorge De La Rosa or Jason Marquis, and for what that says about Smith, that also seems not all that unexpected. Now, to be fair, where Smith's concerned, he complained of a dead arm and Franklin Morales showed up to camp throwing strikes, and having traded for Marquis, it's not unusual to see the team resign itself to seeing how bad the damage he does in-season can be. After proving that his arm is sound, for better or for worse Smith should be back up once somebody breaks down or gets bombed off the roster. As for CarGo, he wasn't guaranteed a job coming into camp, so you can't properly call this a setback per se; another spin in the minors isn't the worst challenge to set before him. If he slugs for the SkySox, he could earn a shot at Smith's expense, or allow Dan O'Dowd to explore what Hawpe might bring on the open market as a worthwhile lefty power source already locked in under team control through 2010 for $13 million, or 2011 if his employer picks up a $10 million option. And of course Fowler could falter in less than full-time play.
Acquired C-R Ronny Paulino from the Giants for RHP Hector Correa. [3/27]
Well, I can't say I'm entirely wild about all of these tweaks, but give Larry Beinfest some credit for making a few defensible moves in setting up his club's Opening Day roster. While I love the Three True Outcomes (no doubt to excess), McPherson's not much of a third baseman, and if last year's late-season slump and questions over whether he could adapt to a bench role combined to make him seem a bad bet to retain, even over Wes Helms, another corner infielder whose third-base skills leave something to be desired, I can't say that's a shocking conclusion to come to. I just struggle with the idea that you take yourself there after deciding instead to trust in Emilio Bonifacio and Gload and Helms to share the at-bats that come with playing at whichever corner that Jorge Cantu isn't on. Bonifacio may tickle the fancy of everyone still hankering for some flavor of Womackerie in an infield, outfield, or basepath to be named later, but that's a combination that beyond Bonifacio's baserunning involves very little power that doesn't come from Cantu, and perhaps even less in terms of people getting on base since none of the four get on all that well. Cutting McPherson is defensible enough in the abstract, but to cut him for this? It'll take Logan Morrison's arrival in the majors to end this brand of March madness, and not a moment too soon.
At least there's the other bits of worthwhile news with the other two moves. Trading for Paulino was already a decent add-on, bringing in a backstop with some experience and a track record for mashing lefties (.355/.417/.498 career) to balance in a platoon or job-sharing situation with John Baker. But it's also sort of amusing that, when he's making around the minimum, there's something to be said for the ready replaceability of the Miguel Olivos of the world when you don't want to pay much more than the minimum for someone in that class of player. As for picking up Penn, it's a little more strange, in that the Fish are awash in pitching prospects of their own as well as ones scared up from other organizations, but Penn is only 24 despite already being out of options, and before problems with both his shoulder and elbow and some appendicitis contributed to the reasons why he's managed just 52 starts at any level the past three seasons, as somebody who can mix a nice changeup with low-90s heat, maybe a spin in the pen's going to get him a career.
Optioned C-R J.R. Towles to Round Rock (Triple-A). [3/27]
So, they've sent Towles down and forgotten the classic advice on the assorted virtues to keeping him around, and sure, we saw that coming. Going Backe-less with the spring fashions in your rotation isn't as hard as it sounds given his spotty track record, and besides, the Astros liked their results relying upon Scuffy Moehler so much that they've elected to triple their fun by trying to repeat them with former famous people like Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz. Keppinger's a handy enough utility sort as a guy who was playing a creditable short before last season's knee injury (and horribly afterwards, tanking his final totals on the season while calling into question the Reds' judgment), and he can stand in well enough at second and third base or an outfield corner. But he doesn't get on base all that much, walking in little more than six percent of his PA, and his power is less like thunder and more like, say, Duracell. But isn't that what Geoff Blum already was, and doesn't this leave the 'Stros still short a real big-league third baseman? Not that Boone was the answer either, or this season's likely utility infielder, Jason Smith, but low-budget solutions are sure to deliver low-budget results, all while charging big-league prices. In that, the Astros' season is beginning to feel like a mumblecore classic to be named later:
"Dude, you're sort of lame."
Optioned LHP Scott Elbert to Albuquerque (Triple-A). [3/29]
Signing Ohman's a sensible choice for the fulfillment of a pen's situational needs. Hong-Chih Kuo would be wasted facing only lefties, but as a high-leverage reliever who happens to be left-handed, he'll do the Dodgers some serious good. Having Ohman available-once he's geared up and called up in a couple of weeks-will give Joe Torre a good tactical alternative to use in those more selective situations where you either want to force a left-handed hitter out of the game or get the benefit of the lefty-on-lefty matchup. That kind of depth is nice enough over the course of a season, but it should figure even larger in October now that the team's no longer employing Joe Beimel.
Placed RHP Trevor Hoffman on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 3/27. [3/30]
Fantheads might be the ones most worried by Hoffman's absence and the increasing likelihood that save opportunities will get spread out among Carlos Villanueva, Todd Coffey, and Seth McClung if he isn't in the rotation because of Braden Looper's slow recovery from his oblique injury. Brewers fans might take some solace in the suggestion that at least Jorge Julio isn't being turned to as an established something involving ninth innings. As for the infield picture, that's similarly simplified by the combination of good-enough news on the injury front-Craig Counsell is healthy enough to go without knee surgery-added to Casey McGehee's excellent camp. As a result, the club had a nice lefty/righty tandem to deposit on the bench to back up the starting infielders. Winning roster spots winds up being a zero-sum game-Counsell's health meant that Escobar's utility up the middle took a back seat to the long-term consideration for his getting enough at-bats to keep his top prospect status relatively fresh. In Lamb's case, the combination of McGehee's slick glove at third and the presence of three other lefty bats-Brad Nelson, Tony Gwynn Jr., and non-roster invite Chris Duffy-fighting for the last two reserve slots made Lamb's handedness less of a virtue. If McGehee's around as Bill Hall's backup now, and sticks around as an outstanding option as a defensive replacement for Mat Gamel later, that makes sense, and if Nelson sticks as the primary reserve at first and the outfield corners, Lamb's value as a position player was similarly rendered non-essential. (Since he's a former Yankee-well, for less than two months of Grapefruit action in 2004-I do wonder if that isn't where Lamb winds up, given A-Rod's temporary absence.) Both Gwynn and Nelson are out of options, so Duffy's bid depends not just on his performance in camp, but also now on whether Doug Melvin might move either of them. Given that their redundancy suggests they won't keep both, whether they go with Gwynn or Duffy in the spot that doesn't already go to Nelson, that shapes up as a pretty good bench, with good measures of speed, power, OBP, and general utility.
Optioned RHP Carlos Muniz and OF-L Cory Sullivan to Buffalo (Triple-A). [3/27]
Acquired LHP Jack Taschner from the Giants for C-R Ronny Paulino. [3/27]
Releasing Jenkins could make you fear for a future in which Matt Stairs is notionally their primary outfield reserve-this on a team where Raul Ibanez is planted in left, no less-but keep in mind that Pedro Feliz, Greg Dobbs, and Eric Bruntlett all have varying amounts of experience in the outfield, and it becomes a lot less of a big deal. I'd rather have kept Mayberry around than potentially making space for Miguel Cairo as the last man on the bench, but the Phillies are reportedly considering their options, and the 25th Phillie might not yet have been cut loose by somebody else. As for the trade, Paulino wasn't going to beat out Chris Coste, so he'd served his purpose as a pickup in exchange for Jason Jaramillo this winter, and became more valuable as a means to the dubious end of adding Taschner as their temporary bullpen palliative during J.C. Romero's absence. While this doesn't seem like a great pickup, sinc Taschner's hold on any job is tenuous at best, it made enough sense as a way of repurposing Paulino, and it also make it easier to send J.A. Happ back to the Iron Pigs to keep starting until the Chan Ho Park exercise runs its course or someone else in the rotation breaks down.
Optioned C-R Robinzon Diaz and 1B/RF-R Steve Pearce to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [3/28]
The minor bummer here is that McCutchen's being sent back down, but it isn't expected to be a long-term assignment to Indy. The outfield corners are currently being manned by some combination of Brandon Moss, Eric Hinske, Nyjer Morgan, and Craig Monroe, so McCutchen can't come back soon enough, since shunting Nate McLouth to a corner figures to improve the defense and make the lineup a lot more stable. Hinske is a worthwhile reserve at all four corners who should be able to get at-bats enough across those positions, wherever McCutchen is. Moss isn't a great prospect over in right field, but he's worth playing until he gives them reason to stop, while Morgan, the current temp in left, should definitely be able to stick around as a speed guy who can play in all three outfield spots and get on base well enough to want. The pity is that Pearce didn't get to stay, but he's coming up on his 26th birthday with a decision from on high that he needs to move back to first base, which leaves him something of a victim of the gaggle of LaRoches and the eventual arrival of Pedro Alvarez. The best he might have left to hope for is that Adam LaRoche gets dealt at some point before Alvarez is ready (leaving Andy LaRoche at third), and then getting some consideration (with Hinske) as a short-term patch to fulfill the team's first-base needs. If that sounds to you like the winking out of somebody's prospect status, you wouldn't be the only one.
Outrighted RHP Scott Patterson to Portland (Triple-A). [3/27]
Acquired C-R Ronny Paulino from the Phillies for LHP Jack Taschner; and traded Paulino to the Marlins for RHP Hector Correa. [3/27]
Brian Sabean and his staff don't consistently get a whole lot of credit, on this or any beat, but getting somebody like Correa, a live arm who throws in the mid-90s, for a disposable lefty like Taschner strikes me as a pretty nifty bit of flippery. Add in the relatively unexciting news that Frandsen lost out to Emmanuel Burriss at second base-and here's hoping Burriss' defense helps cover enough ground to make up for a left side of the infield that's not going to reach all that many balls in play-and it wasn't a bad few days of Giant roster moves.
There's not a lot to add to the obvious fact that this means save opportunities will be Jason Motte's or perhaps occasionally Ryan Franklin's to alternately convert or blow. This really shouldn't mean all that much to the team's conversion rates-Motte's stuff is excellent, and Franklin is a relatively known quantity-so the agony really only belongs to Perez and the people who drafted him. He'll be back as soon as Motte struggles in the role and/or somebody else breaks down, and even then only after he's demonstrated a reliable track record in terms of his health, but with that talent in play, the Cardinals' bullpen should be solid, regardless of the absence of the famous, semi-famous, or all Isringhausens.
Young might have been added to the 40-man, but he's also expected to go onto the DL to open the season as he deals with a back issue. Then, come May, they'll see if Nick Johnson's still standing, and no doubt have a new (large) wrinkle to add to their already rumpled mish-mash of options at three of the four corners (non-Zimmerman category), because it's that small horde that already got long-time Leatherpants fave Pena put off the roster. The legend of Wily Mo didn't entirely outstrip the player's actual production-seasons like 2004 and 2005 did happen, after all-but his fragility, defensive handicaps, and limitations outside of a platoon role helped bring him to this sorry end with the Nats before his age-27 season has even gotten underway. There's still enough there that somebody ought to make a point of getting, but it'll be interesting to see who, and in what capacity. Anybody thinking of signing Gary Sheffield should be giving some thought to Pena as well, or instead.