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April 28, 2009
Updates from the Easts
Placed 3B-R Melvin Mora and RHP Alfredo Simon on the 15-day DL; recalled RHPs Matt Albers and Radhames Liz from Norfolk (Triple-A). [4/15]
What a difference a year makes; it's suddenly much more fun to sort through the O's moves as they more closely resemble a team and an organization with a coherent plan. While they made some funky initial choices with their pitching staff, replacing an interesting, ill-starred, and frequently injured option such as Simon with Bergesen is merely an amuse bouche, a taster that suggests how much more there is to come in terms of homegrown pitching. Simon is lost for the season, as he'll need to have his elbow rebuilt and then recover. Since Rich Hill's return from the DL is already in the cards, Bergesen may not claim Simon's spot for keeps, but after a nifty debut and with Adam Eaton and Mark Hendrickson predictably doing all within their respective powers to hand back the jobs handed to them in camp, a defense-dependent sinker/slider slinger like Bergesen can't be a step backwards from the veterans' serially stomped stylings.
There isn't nothing but good news abounding in Bal'mer, of course. Liz didn't take long to arrive and see his ERA blow up like Yaphet Kotto, a stunt he's already subjected O's fans to last season. Since, like Kotto, ERAs lack a puffer fish's capacity to expand dramatically without making a mess, the O's understandably elected to send the carnage back to Norfolk, preferring Albers' flirtations with workmanlike middle-innings relief.
There is also the nagging concern that the team's now at 13 pitchers, but with Mora due back later this week and Freel perhaps not far behind, that brief fling with a three-man bench (of Chad Moeller, Montanez, and Robert Andino, for reals) should come to an end. The question is whether the O's bring themselves to trim any one of a number of ineffective relievers from the roster, because while optioning Montanez away to make room for one seems likely, beyond that I'd expect an arm to be moved out for the other. While it was nice to take advantage of the roster flexibility afforded them by Ty Wigginton as a four corners player in Mora's absence, Andino and Moeller won't be moved aside by reason of options and the unlikelihood that the club would forgo backups at short or behind the plate. While Felix Pie could be moved as a reward for his hewing too close to the paths of regret too-recently blazed by Corey Patterson, that may have to wait on a firm decision to make room for Nolan Reimold (as suggested by Joe Sheehan earlier today, and reinforced by Kevin Goldstein's observations of his recent hot hitting), instead of merely pushing Wiggy to left, reinstalling Mora at third, and putting Pie on the pine. Admittedly, putting Wiggy in left could short-circuit our recent, elaborate, and understandable enthusiasm for Reimold, but it might also be the more likely immediate action taken by a team that has, after all, first gone through the rigmarole of re-demonstrating that retreads like Eaton and Hendrickson are disasters in cleats as rotation regulars.
Placed OF-R Rocco Baldelli on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring). [4/21]
There isn't a lot here to get worked up about. I mean, sure, it's Boston, and that's supposed to mean something on its own, but I'm more amused by the suggestion that, even with a day off before they entered into their big April showdown with the Yankees, seven relievers were not enough to get through three games. To their credit, they didn't just bring up Bowden to play emergency option, they actually plugged the prospect into their Sunday squeaker to help them breeze by concerns over how deep into the game Justin Masterson might be able to go; Masterson came out before the century mark and got the win, and Bowden threw the seventh and eighth, handing off a three-run lead. Since Daisuke Matsuzaka's rehab seems to be progressing well enough, the whole scenario's playing out as another testament to the organization's supple employment of its younger talent, however briefly, in meaningful situations. Once Dice-K is back, they can bump Masterson back to the pen, secure in the knowledge they could always move him back into the rotation if another temporary absence from any of the front five occurs, while they can also take satisfaction in how Bowden responded to a brief, important single-day spin with the team.
As for getting Lugo back, let's not jump through hoops. They're paying the man a pretty penny, he'll be an adequate regular, and the hope is that he does enough on defense to not reflect too poorly on the decision to overbid for him while Jed Lowrie's out. Nick Green poked enough safeties and flung himself in front of enough pitches to earn some consideration for keeping as a utility infielder, but it's hard to see how they'll be able to make the space for him if they decide to stick with seven relievers. Since Green's entirely fungible, however heroic he's been in his brief spin as an everyday shortstop, the Sox can afford to option or outright him at their discretion once they're confident that Lowrie will be back sometime in July. Activating Van Every matters little; it's nice to have him, certainly, but as Carter already found out, the playing time for an outfield reserve on this team will go to Baldelli when he's available. Matters might change on that score should David Ortiz's slump last any longer, but if that gets to the point that the Sox want to reconsider that commitment, they won't settle for the Van Everys or the Carters to replace Papi; they'll break out the big-game gun, and go looking for bear.
Placed OF-R Xavier Nady on the 15-day DL (elbow pain), retroactive to 4/15; recalled RHP David Robertson from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [4/16]
As the saying goes, luck can be the residue of design, but sometimes luck is just the residue of luck. Consider the happy circumstance that got Nady out of Nick Swisher's way just in time for the Bombers to discover that, the way new park plays, there's no doubt as to who should be starting in right field. Not that Nady doesn't have his uses, but they're the same virtues we already know about—as a platoon monster doing hulk-smash on southpaws, and with enough sock to be a very good fourth outfielder on a good team. The Yankees are supposed to be a good team, but it might be a little hard to see that when, to replace the immortal Cody Ransom at third base, they've stopped to... Angel Berroa. Apparently innumerable other bipeds weren't available, or had already sought other engagements to make themselves unavailable because they dislike wearing pinstripes in New York City out of fear that Starbucks-swilling Sans-culottes, inspired by latter-day Marats on WFAN, might associate the stripes with investment banking or somesuch. I mean, doesn't it have to be that? The alternative would be that this organization, the same proud organization that struggled to come up with a first baseman better than Miguel Cairo in 2007, learned nothing about the value of adequate replacements from that particular lineup atrocity, and was blowing another week of their season on some new A-Rod substitute at third base that almost no other team in the league would consider. Sure, when Alex Rodriguez returns next week, this might prove a minor matter, but blowing the last few roster spots—let alone lineup cards, not to mention forgoing a decision to simply try to stock their minor league affiliates with useful journeymen—has cost this team in the past, and costs them to this day. It's as if Clay Bellinger wasn't a happy accident, but a choice informed by what we hope must be an appallingly parochial and ideally uninfectious local sense of taste.
Then there's the noisy reshuffling of the bullpen, but one of the virtues of a no-name bullpen beyond Mariano Rivera is that, where the team is poorly set up in terms of replacing position players, they have plenty of playable alternatives among their right-handed relief help. That even extends to replacing Wang, at least to some extent; while the fascination with how his latter-day Tewksbury act might play after two strong seasons will have to remain in the realm of the theoretical for the time being, the Bombers seem set to turn to Phil Hughes in his absence. Hughes was and is still a top prospect worth checking out as a starter, even as the relatively non-famous fifth man for the Yankees, so this isn't really a setback for the team. The rotation hasn't exactly lived up to its billing beyond Wang anyway; while they're getting good work out of the seemingly ageless Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett have both delivered odd foursomes apiece in their starts, while Joba Chamberlain has allowed a lot more baserunners than you may have believed possible, given all the hype.
Placed C-R Michael Barrett on the 15-day DL (shoulder); purchased the contract of C-R Raul Chavez from Las Vegas (Triple-A). [4/18]
While the Mets may be adding discarded talent to increase depth they otherwise don't have, pity the Jays, because they have to dip into it, and what they have to lean on isn't very good. Burres and Bullington aren't good options for a big-league rotation, but the Jays' lot as such is that at least one (Burres) is stepping into Romero's slot, while Bullington seems likely to be left in middle relief to help escort and clean up after his fellow pimp'd Vegas minion. Happily, with reports indicating that Romero and Jesse Litsch will both be back in action at some point in May, it creates the question of who gets bumped from the rotation beyond Burres. Brian Tallet has done decent work in his pair of spins in the rotation, and the league doesn't seem to have caught up to Scott Richmond's low-speed offerings yet; because neither really profiles as a reliable rotation regular, the Jays' could get a little Stengelish on us with their fifth slot, using Tallet against some of their division rivals while spotting Richmond against right-leaning lineups. Barring that, they'd have to confront whether David Purcey is going to get turned around, which is worth finding out in the near term anyways. I guess I'd just enjoy the chance that the Jays play to the strengths of a group of pitchers who have their uses, without asking them to do things that they can't because starting pitchers are supposed to start and just start—Tallet might not hold up over a full season's workload in the rotation, while Richmond's off-speed stuff doesn't work all that well all that often against good lefty hitters. Why hammer square pegs into round holes, and then say the players couldn't rise to the challenge, when a bit of creative management could let everyone shine?
As for losing Barrett and turning to Chavez, while this reminds me of one of my more feeble buck bets with Jay Jaffe over who would be the Yankees' best possible backup catcher from among their feeble options in the sorry spring of 2007—I picked Chavez because he could catch and bunt (and nothing else), Jay went with the age-slackened bat of Todd Pratt, and the Yankees initially opted for Wil Nieves to make it clear how little it mattered while they seemed secure in their faith that nothing bad would ever happen to Jorge Posada—it seems unlikely that he'll play all that much for all that long. Not only does Rod Barajas enjoy Cito Gaston's full confidence—and why not, since Barajas' range of performance potential bears an uncanny resemblance to Pat Borders', and that'll do for now—but with J.P. Arencibia a likely second-half call-up, it isn't as if they need to sweat who's backing up all that much. Chavez knows the job, and while I could gripe over the lost, potentially cool opportunity to take a quick peek at whether Brian Jeroloman might be able to stick as a tasty lefty-batting backup who gets on base, his performance doesn't even remotely resemble Greg Myers'.
Activated C-R David Ross from the 15-day DL; optioned C-R Clint Sammons to Gwinnett (Triple-A). [4/16]
There are three things really in play here: the rotation, their left-field situation, and catching. To dispose of the simplest of the three first, there's no real cause for concern that Tom Glavine appears to be done and that the rotation slot will instead belong to Reyes in the meantime. As is, the Braves have been able to exploit their schedule to good effect, with none of their front four doing anything unusual in terms of their rest patterns, while the fifth slot will come up for only the second time with Tuesday's game. So there's been no in-season impact, beyond the uncertainty over Glavine's status, and given the respective projections for Reyes and Glavine, there's no loss there either (and that's without even getting into Tommy Hanson's likely readiness at some point this season). Basically, the setbacks only involve a sense of compassion, that Glavine's career might end without a last appearance on the mound; don't be surprised if they let him give it a last go in some fashion come September, if he chooses that route, and if the playoff race affords them the opportunity. They're also out money, of course, but since that's only the $1 million base, it's really negligible as these things go. If he doesn't hurt them this year by not pitching, it's just as well, because the Braves' bid for a division title is not so strong that they can afford pity parties and live-game Viking funerals for their own sake.
Similarly, the setback for Anderson can't really be considered bad news. Sure, it's an inconvenience, in that they thought they'd found a lefty-swinging semi-regular to give them some element of veteran certainty in an outfield where they chose to take risks with Jordan Schafer's readiness and Jeff Francoeur's bounce-back. They've been rewarded so far by Schafer and Frenchy, while Anderson's the one who's come apart already. This won't hurt the lineup all that much; Anderson's decline over the years isn't a matter for debate, and while I'd like to see them give Brandon Jones every opportunity to supplant him within the role, the initial play calls for a whole bunch of Matt Diaz to try and bounce back from his injury-plagued 2008 and show he still retains value as an adequate fill-in beyond his virtues as a platoon asset.
Perhaps contributing to my interest in seeing Jones get that opportunity is the team's losing McCann for an uncertain amount of time; as Will Carroll noted on Monday morning, there's no reasonable guess to be made here as far as how his vision issues play out. While David Ross has more sock than your average backup backstop, add him to a lineup already now counting on Diaz—another right-handed batter—as the regular in left, and that puts the Braves' lineup lean a bit heavily to the right. As is, the Braves' offense can't really afford to be without McCann for an extended stretch, but if it's a couple of weeks and the best-case scenario works out for them, they'll endure. If it's not, they can't really afford to lean on Ross and Diaz when they're already stuck with a low-powered starter at first base and the still far from certain comeback of Francoeur.
Placed LHP Andrew Miller on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); recalled RHP Burke Badenhop from New Orleans (Triple-A). [4/21]
Leave it to the Fish to get slippery on us, because losing Miller did not lead to their turning to anyone you would consider a usual suspect for the fulfillment of their rotation neediness. Admittedly, maybe the first call in such a circumstance, Rick Vanden Hurk, is already on the DL, but they didn't replace Miller with Badenhop either, nor did they elevate recently added retreads like Hayden Penn or Dan Meyer to rotation work despite their past experience in the role. No, they did something sort of interesting instead, ditching the disappointing Kensing to take a peek at Taylor, an organizational soldier. Nabbed in the 10th round of the 2006 draft out of Miami of Ohio, Taylor's a strike-throwing lefty who relies on a sinker and a secretive delivery in which he keeps the ball behind his head for as long as possible. It didn't seem to make much of an impression his first time out—force-fed to the Phillies, he walked six of the 22 batters he faced, and plunked another. As if facing the defending world champs wasn't a tough enough assignment, Taylor also had to make his debut with Jerry Layne behind the plate; last season, Layne ranked third among all big-league umps in walks per nine while working home plate. And, lest we forget, Taylor also had just five starts in Double-A last season, having spent most of the year at High-A, and logging just three more starts this season at the level before making his big-league debut just after getting past his 40th inning above A-ball. So, it was a tough assignment, to be sure, and as much as I generally agree with those who—from Casey Stengel to Kevin Goldstein—think a pitcher can be ready on a much faster timetable than just a full season per level, I think it's pretty clear Taylor was out of his depth. So, it's just as well that Miller is due back sometime next week.
Purchased the contract of RHP Livan Hernandez from Buffalo (Triple-A); designated UT-L Marlon Anderson for assignment. [4/11]
While there's plenty of bad news to be found here—the now reliably thumpable Livan large only gets to do so because he's no higher than second on the rotation scapegoat depth chart behind Oliver Perez—this much activity doesn't really represent all that much bad news. Losing Brian Schneider for any stretch may leave Omar Minaya feeling jilted because his favorite backstop's on the shelf, but as a practical matter, "making do" with Ramon Castro should more than suffice until Schneider is due back sometime in early May.
No, instead what's remarkable about most of these moves being made by the Mets is that while some of their solutions might strike you as less than happy—somebody with an eye toward contention employing both Livan Hernandez and Casey Fossum sounds like a team that might regret losing Nelson Figueroa, after all—but by scrupulously scraping up extra help from the discard pile, the Mets could yet transmogrify into a ballclub with a better supporting cast in-season. If you take a look at their rosters at Buffalo and Binghamton, you understand why grabbing Wily Mo and Lamb represent coups, especially when both are more likely to turn up in Citi Field than shore up a ghastly Bisons ballclub. In a sense, this is a credit to the same instinct that informed their scaring up Fernando Tatis, and consider the alternatives the Mets are currently employing at the back end of the roster. As a veteran righty-batting reserve, Gary Sheffield's playing as if he's an old 40, and not merely 40 years old; Pena might play either corner with Wes Chamberlain's natural grace and Vladimir Guerrero's capacity for off-target "feats of strength" throws, but at least he's still somewhat ambulatory and more capable than Sheff of providing Ryan Church or Daniel Murphy with some quality spotting against lefties. Lamb will have to keep in Buffalo's ice box as a veteran lefty bat to call upon only should something terrible happen to Carlos Delgado, but it beats summoning up somebody like Cuban reject Michel Abreu, and Nick Evans looks like a platoon player for the short side of any duties that come free at first or an outfield corner. Don't get me wrong, neither player's a massive pickup, and neither has as much likely value as Tatis—not unless some other organization hires Jim Bowden, at any rate, because then Pena suddenly has trade value again. But for an organization as desperately thin as the Mets are at the upper levels, I'm just glad to see Minaya aggressively sifting through other people's junk; it certainly beats the polar opposite of absolute indifference to be found up in the Bronx.
Placed C-R Carlos Ruiz on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); recalled C-R Lou Marson from Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [4/11]
Losing Ruiz for at least a few weeks wasn't exactly good news—and since he was scratched from his Monday night rehab start in Triple-A, his time away isn't about to end just yet—but it did give Marson an opportunity to pop by and provide a reminder that he's going to be a good catcher for somebody relatively soon; he certainly hasn't been overwhelmed in his brief bits of caddying for Chris Coste, while Coste's slack bat has to inspire a few questions about whether, at 36 and having already made an improbable journey to get here, he might not really be around for too much longer. We'll see how this plays out, but if Coste can't provide the punch to Ruiz's judy routine from last season as the regular, it isn't hard to see how pressure to take a longer look at Marson could build.
Outrighted LF-L Leonard Davis to Harrisburg (Double-A). [4/15]
As folks from Cincinnati might cop to, the sense of despair that's long since set in is perhaps the natural hangover that comes after the end of another Bowden reign of error. Some of this cannot be undone, and isn't even really cause for regret—after last season, re-signing Guzman had a certain amount of logic to it, after all—and while a middle-infield combo of Anderson Hernandez and Alberto Gonzalez isn't especially young or especially good, Guzman will be back today. Having already cycled through three different starters at second base—Hernandez, Harris, and the not-quite-forgotten Ronnie Belliard—it'll be interesting to see which way the team leans now that Guzman's back. Will Gonzalez get added to the keystone mix? Will they stick with Hernandez for defense and the hope that he can post a league-average OBP? It couldn't hurt, though the logic that inspires a commitment to Austin Kearns might also inform a decision to get Belliard enough playing time to keep his creds as a stretch-drive addition shined up.
If there's a cause for annoyance among the position player shifts, it's ditching Bard once they decided that if Jesus Flores is a regular, the last thing they need is two backups behind the plate. I don't care for it much, if only because Bard's at least a switch-hitter with a record of having hit somewhere for somebody, where Wil Nieves isn't always a safe bet to hit the floor getting out of bed, and it isn't like he's the best-throwing backstop bobbing about. Clearly, bad days for unions in general means tough times for the International Brotherhood of Backup Catchers, that Bard's time in could count for so little.
No, the far more telling symptom of an organization getting over its leather pants experience is the kind of turnover on a pitching staff that, already symptomatic of a full-blown case with its weird collection of leftover projects, can thrash about a bit and wind up with Kip Wells in play and call it progress. It is perhaps more significant to see Saul Rivera going nowhere for all the activity. At least Zimmermann might help the club's fans better endure the miseries of the latest pair of bad-idea veteran add-ons, Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera; I don't think it's going to surprise anyone if Zimmermann, John Lannan, Shairon Martis, and Stephen Strasburg are their four best starters at season's end.
Adding Bergmann, Mock, and Wells to the relief mix seems to be slathering on too many layers of former starting pitchers in middle-relief work, but I wouldn't go that far. Bergmann's problems with left-handed hitters is such that he's probably never really going to stick as a starter; he wasn't exactly shutting right-handers down either, and stints like last season's swing through the rotation is the sort of thing you'd rather not have to work your way down to if you can avoid it. Mock doesn't seem likely to last; between time lost to injuries over his career, and no real indication that he knew what he was doing in Syracuse (where 10 of 21 batters reached base), and no better work in his appearances with the Nats, the mystery over why his once-dominating stuff never really translated into good work could be bound for history's dustbin. Wells is an interesting resurrection, but I'd compare it to Jamey Wright's career path, where a once-promising career as a starting pitcher withers into a thirtysomething mop-up man. That might sound harsh, but not everybody gets to grow up to be Greg Maddux; some of us have to settle for being the new Jerry Don Gleaton, and last I checked, that guy got a pension. This is a team where the rotation, not matter what its future shape, isn't going to be finishing the sixth inning with any regularity, so a sponge has value, and if Wells perpetuates himself by getting soaky, it's not a bad way to be.