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April 30, 2009
The Mess in the West
Optioned OF-S Reggie Willits to Salt Lake (Triple-A). [4/14]
The tally of how deep they've gone into their organizational depth chart has become epic just a month in, even allowing for the fact that the tragic accident that robbed them of Nick Adenhart could not be anticipated. Counting Adenhart, they're down four starting pitchers (Escobar, John Lackey, and Ervin Santana), two swingmen (Moseley and Oliver, to be generous to the latter), and a quality relief prospect in Jepsen. That's six of the 12 pitchers they could have anticipated opening the year with, at least on a chalkboard, with Moseley's breakdown being a case of losing their first alternate in the rotation beyond that half-dozen. That translates into the cream of the Buzz-is that a Burt's product?-being up right now: minor league vets Palmer and Loux in the rotation, with actual prospect Ortega joining them a few months ahead of schedule, plus a double dose of Rodriguezzes in the pen, where they get to join Jason Bulger, who's finally getting the opportunity he's been trying to nail down for the last five years (and busily trying to hand it back). That said, however ugly the situation seems, keep in mind that Oliver should be back from the DL sometime next week, Moseley may not be far behind, and Santana and Lackey might be activated by May's second week or so. In the meantime, Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver have been doing good things, Ortega threw strikes in his initial effort, and the amount of damage Palmer and Loux can do won't last too much longer. Nobody's running away with the division in the meantime, so the Angels can stick it by regrouping instead of rushing.
Far more troubling than all of the turnover on the staff is their experiencing an actual breakdown from Vladi, because the Angel attack isn't so good that it can sustain that kind of loss. Kendry Morales hasn't been the unmitigated disaster so many anticipated, but the real problem is finding a way to replace Guerrero's power, and Gary Matthews Jr. shouldn't be part of the answer, because he can't be. Happily, it looks like Mike Napoli is getting a larger share of the catching duties, whether as a matter of adaptation to Vladi-free lineups, or a realization that Jeff Mathis still still can't hit being the minor mystery where causation's concerned. While you might hope that Wood could help fix the problem-perhaps by playing some third, with Chone Figgins moving to the outfield and Bobby Abreu DHing, because playing short's still a bit of a stretch for him-the Angels don't seem motivated to move things around too much more.
Optioned LHP Jerry Blevins to Sacramento (Triple-A); recalled RHP Dan Giese from Sacramento. [4/18]
Well, as much activity as this represents, the really interesting developments are more basic. First, the A's are semi-leftyless in their pen with the decision to demote Blevins, and while that's somewhat exasperating when Blevins is a pretty good prospect (as much as you can say that about lefty relievers), I think it's directly tied to the decision to bring up Giese as a mop-up man, in the same way that adding the journeyman almost automatically meant that Gallagher was headed to Sacramento. The rotation is young and has four lefty starters, so having a middle reliever means something on this team, and if the decision was to prefer an old-timer like Giese-despite his limited big-league experience, he's the second-oldest pitcher on the staff-Gallagher was already boxed out. Add in Blevins' ugly initial outings and the lean to the left in the staff, plus the skipability of fifth starter Josh Outman, translating in a couple of windows of his availability in relief work, and I guess it works well enough. Ideally, I'd like to see Blevins back and firing strikes instead of their carrying Cameron as the 12th pitcher, but Blevins did just have to fire three innings on Sunday in an extra-inning affair with the River Cats.
The other interesting element is what having Patterson up might mean. Losing Ellis and Nomar isn't good news, but sort of like having to operate down one Eric Chavez for varying amounts of time, it isn't as if these are things the organization isn't already used to. Not that turning to Hannahan is cause for fans to do Hannahan-stands, but he serves a specific purpose or two-bat lefty and play a good third-and if he's something of a replacement-level fill-in, nothing more than that's expected. You have to wonder if Bobby Crosby is going to do something worthwhile to argue for his retention; down two starting infielders, he needs to prove that he has some kind of value, and so far, he hasn't. Because of that, the really interesting question is whether or not this is Patterson's opportunity to stick. It might initially be at second base, a position only the A's seem to take him seriously at, but should he give the team a jolt of power, OBP, and speed, I can't imagine they won't decide to find ways to try to keep that in the mix somehow since they're getting so little offense from so many other players. While Patterson's adaptability to center field still remains mostly wishful thinking, I guess I wonder if he could take a page from the Governor's playbook and give the team a better in-season fix at third base than Crosby or Hannahan, sort of the way that Jerry Browne did for the division-winning '92 team, but like Browne also filling in at second and the outfield. As alternatives go, it beats throwing away at-bats on Crosby and Hannahan, where their brand of manifest destiny apparently means that balls in play find unavoidable, happy homes in somebody's glove.
Activated OF-L Ichiro Suzuki from the 15-day DL; placed LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith on the 15-day DL (triceps tendonitis), retroactive to 4/11. [4/15]
It is at times such as this, with Johjima shelved, the Mariners making do with the equally immortal (and dare we say it, the tastefully named) Rob Johnson, backed up by the scrabbling Jamie Burke, that one might ask oneself, where, oh where, has our Jeff Clement gone? What constellation of events has to transpire that might propel one of the organization's best young hitters, someone already working with the benefit of two seasons' worth of ballgames at Triple-A, to this offense-needy ballclub? Flying monkeys descending from the slopes of Mount Rainier to snatch up a Johnson on the loose? Tragic gardening accidents? As Kevin Goldstein noted on Monday, it isn't like Clement's been genuinely terrible down in Tacoma. Meanwhile, Tacoma went from doubly em-Burked to Burke-less in a matter of days, and while that might be nice in terms of establishing that, yes, Jack Zduriencik and Kevin Towers talk and are willing to do one another favors, which might prove handy in another couple of months, should the Mariners still be around to be taken seriously.
Not that Mr. Clement wouldn't be a help on that score, what with his ability to slug .450 or so. It is interesting to ponder how very few valid comparables that Clement has at this stage of his career. Looking at the list, just imagine, Willie Mays Aikens, wearing the tools of ignorance? I can see how Ed Bailey and Duke Sims work as a modest range of good and bad outcomes for Clement in the seasons to come; Ed Herrmann's career is something of a tribute to how the 1970 season witnessed a modest uptick in offense league-wide, producing a few unusual seasons for a few guys in particular. (To site a non-random example, Bert Campaneris never again hit 22 bombs or anything close to that tally; his next-highest single-season total was eight in '72, so he never even managed to reach double digits again.) I'd certainly hope that Clement turns out better than Herrmann, and that's without being motivated by a rooting interest beyond seeing talent earn an outlet. That outlet has long since been earned, and while there's a new management team on watch, it would be nice to see it granted to him.
Activated RHP Willie Eyre from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Warner Madrigal to Oklahoma City (Triple-A). [4/15]
Even with the disappointment of Eyre's on-again, off-again comeback, and the oddity of a pitching-hungry team discarding Gabbard while busily reminding itself that Scott Feldman's nothing more than rotation filler, there's satisfaction to be taken in more than a few things. The Benson menace has been shunted off to the DL for the time being, after all (hence Feldman), although even this bliss is temporary; the threat is that the vet will be back soon, the sort of news item like seeing "Surrender Dorothy" in the sky to just really put a damper on your immediate hopes and plans. More happily, the decision to bring up Holland and plug him into a long-relief role is cause for joy; his arrival prefigures the other talents on the way up, and the structure of his responsibilities suggests that he might specifically mitigate the damage a Feldman or Benson (or Vicente Padilla) might do as well as keep him loose for a late-season promotion to the rotation. Then there's the grabbing of O'Day, because even with the caliber of the kids on the way up, the Rangers should nevertheless also be in the market for free-talent finds. O'Day's a perfectly useful ROOGY candidate, a side-armer who can help round out a bullpen on a good team, so snagging him was definitely worthwhile. Whatever the present disappointments with the rotation, and the likely disappointment to come, adding Holland and O'Day to the relief corps is definitely good news.
Placed SS-L Stephen Drew on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring). [4/25]
"Flash Gordon approaching" has already been on the radar for a few weeks, so his arrival isn't really in the nick of time for anything beyond hopefully helping the pen do a job the margins of which just got a wee bit narrower now that Drew's out of the lineup. In his absence, that means a whole lot of Augie Ojeda, with Wilson's limitations as a shortstop perhaps predicating against Bob Melvin becoming ambitious enough to use his stack of cornermen to pinch-hit for Ojeda. Of course, with Ojeda stringing together enough singles to be an effective temp on top of Melvin's decision to slot Augie second in the order, we won't be seeing much of that anyway. The question really is whether or not Drew will be back and back at 100 percent in short enough order to limit the opportunities for Ojeda's inevitable slump to hurt them too badly.
Placed RHP Ryan Speier on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 4/19; recalled LHP Franklin Morales from Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [4/21]
Losing Morales for any stretch can be seen as desperately bad news in a rotation situation that might seem even more bleak because Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook are both struggling, but giving Jason Hammel a couple of spins is a useful exercise insofar as it could help inform a decision over whether or not Hammel will be able to replace Jason Marquis or Jorge De La Rosa later in the season should either veteran falter or the Rockies decide to go with people down the stretch who are more likely to be on the team in future seasons. Hammel hasn't made anything of the opportunity so far, but one start does not a career make*, and Morales is already throwing again. While many might wish it so, I don't think Baker's absence is going to translate into an opportunity for Murton; at least with Ian Stewart and Omar Quintanilla both still here, days off for any of the starting infielders are covered. You might expect some sort of opportunity should Clint Hurdle want to give Brad Hawpe time off for his neck and not simply hand the start to Seth Smith. In point of fact, Hurdle's been doing a good job of distributing playing time among his multiple playable outfielders, so maybe something will shake loose for Murton; though the mix is a little different, it isn't hard to envision a role where, beyond spot starts for any of the regulars, he would get to start in left against all lefties, with Ryan Spilborghs moving to right and Hawpe riding pine. We'll see, but obviously with Dexter Fowler already at the head of the class, Murton's opportunities are limited to extra-guy roles, here as elsewhere.
* Normal-person, non-Mike Warren category.
Traded RHP Logan Kensing to the Nationals for RHP Kyle Gunderson. [4/29]
Recalled 2B/3B-L Blake DeWitt from Albuquerque (Triple-A); placed 1B/3B-L Doug Mientkiewicz on the 15-day DL (dislocated shoulder). [4/17]
I'm not going to suggest that Minky's got a trick shoulder that he can dislocate at will, Mel Gibson-style, not when it looks like recovering from the surgery to repair the busted wing is going to keep him out of action until September (and roster expansion), but I guess whatever it takes to get him to 10 years of service time will do. In the abstract, the Dodgers are better off with DeWitt around, but it remains to be seen if he can adapt to the challenge of riding pine and receiving only sporadic playing time. Casey Blake's doing just fine in his playing time at third, and there's not a lot of cause to sit Orlando Hudson at second, at least not initially; we could always wishcast that Joe Torre could deal in DeWitt by pre-assigning a start or two per week at each position, say, a rotation that got him five starts total every two weeks, but the wild-eyed innovation the newly gabby skipper has run with this month was batting Juan Pierre ninth in a spot start, and that's probably enough excitement and planning for the lineup for a while-let the old man catch his breath after that bold masterstroke. (Sigh.) What an age, that it's come down to such thin gruel as far as player usage patterns.
Meanwhile, getting Wade back should make a difference for a bullpen that's been riding out some inconsistency, and catching flak for some changes Torre has made in the ways in which he employs them. The decision to add Will Ohman late in the spring looks good, and Ronald Belisario's improbable breakthrough-after wandering through the Marlins and Dodgers organizations, a Tommy John surgery, a suspension of some sort, only to show up in spring training and turn heads-is a credit to the team's scouting. In a way, Belisario seems to be this year's Wade, an out-of-nowhere asset who serves as a reminder that, whether by being procured, found, made, or generated via abiogenesis, quality relief help can definitely come from almost anywhere. Add in the more predictable arrival of Ramon Troncoso, and it isn't like the Dodgers have had to spend a ton of money to round out a pen that ranks second in the National League in FRA.
However, because Torre's asked Jonathan Broxton to-heaven forbid-come into save situations in the eighth inning (gasp), and even blew one opportunity, nellies on the news beat are bleating about mismanagement of the bullpen already. To which I say, cripes, haven't many of us on the sabermetric side of the fence been asking for closers to be used like real pitchers, and not as footnote-generating tokens? Whether we credit Dennis Eckersley or Jeff Reardon with being the "ninth-inning closer," that was because their fragility dictated their being moved out of the older, then-accepted role of being a bullpen's true fireman-the top-quality pitcher who happened to get the saves, instead of merely collecting them. I'd much rather see Broxton selectively challenged with more leads in the eighth inning as a season-long phenomenon and getting longer appearances overall, if perhaps some fewer, rather than dial him back to something like his 2007 workload (83 games, 82 IP). It's important to remember that the extremity at which we've arrived, an era that makes transients like Dan Kolb briefly appear to be assets, isn't where we have to be, and if everyone's going to overreact to single-game outcomes, that strikes me as a great way to have worked yourself up into a proper froth by mid-May, instead of just watching and seeing what sort of usage patterns emerge. Certainly, a contributing factor to stretching Broxton so soon has been Hong-Chih Kuo's early ineffectiveness, but even here, how worked up should anybody be over a talented pitcher who had three good games followed by three bad ones?
Placed RHP Walter Silva on the 15-day DL (strained forearm), retroactive to 4/14; recalled RHP Josh Geer from Portland (Triple-A). [4/19]
It would be easy to kid and say, Walter, we barely knew ye, but he's already throwing and seems likely to be back in short order. In the meantime, it was only natural that Gaudin would eventually get a chance in the rotation, certainly no less natural than seeing Hill break down with yet another elbow injury. Once Silva's back, I'd expect Geer to be the pitcher tossed from the rotation. Even then, though, he won't have lost his last opportunity; while Cha Seung Baek's going to be rehabbing shortly, and Hill might be back from this latest breakdown someday, Baek's a little like Kevin Correia, a journeyman nobody needs to get too hung up on, while Hill's health is the sort of thing that goes more than it comes. The really important development is the addition of Gaudin, since that potentially provides the Pad people with a third starter with some value behind Jake Peavy and Chris Young, which makes picking between Baek, Silva, Geer, and Correia more straightforward and performance-driven.
As for the infield situation, it's like the rotation, just without the front three portions of the program. Instead, even with Cabrera out for a couple of months with a broken hamate (he would have to be the Rule 5 guy who gets hurt for reals, instead of just contributing a reasonable excuse to head for the DL), they have a series of overlapping choices. Between Luis Rodriguez, David Eckstein, Edgar Gonzalez, and Chris Burke, I don't think there's anyone you'd really consider a reliable everyday shortstop, and none really have bats you'd want to have to count on, but maybe it's a functional-enough assemblage. Rodriguez's relationship with prospectdom is more than a bit dated, but there was a time when he seemed like a decent bet for some OBP when he was coming up through the Twins' system, Burke was once a prospect before his career got sucked into the maw of mindless Biggio idolatry and spat out, and Eckstein can do the mighty mite thing that has defined his career. If the Pads have let the roster become something of a collection point for various misfit toys, that's not the end of the world; some will no doubt crack under the strain of actually getting played, but some might prove keepers, and it wasn't as if they had a lot of options.
Optioned LHP Alex Hinshaw to Fresno (Triple-A); recalled C-R Steve Holm from Fresno. [4/22]
I was delighted when the Giants initially posited that their primary backup catcher would be starting third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Admittedly, I don't know if this was a case of my fond memories of Bob Brenly's playing as a corner infielder when he wasn't catching; I wasn't a Giants fan as a teen back in the day, any more than I am now, but I did like the idea of having a catcher who could do things besides catch, however badly. I similarly liked how that flexibility let Roger Craig make space on that club's roster, not just for a true backup catcher (classic catch-and-throw guy Bob Melvin), but also for a mostly notional extra catcher like Harry Spilman. Spilman wasn't that much of a quality receiver, but he batted lefty and he had a modest amount of sock, and he wouldn't wilt under the challenge of a role in which he mostly pinch-hit. When you had 15 position players, this really did come in handy when your starting catcher (Brenly) might be gallivanting around over at third base and taking his shot at a few ignominious fielding records. Of course, after the Joel Youngblood experiment of '84 at the hot corner, when that journeyman outfielder, someone who had long since given up the ghost of being an infield prospect over a decade before, gave it his best shot for an especially ugly Giants team, I'd argue that nobody looked unplayable at third base for the Giants, at least until Matt Williams went and reset everyone's standards by reacquainting them with the basics of what a third baseman looked like and was supposed to do on a diamond.
But I digress. In the same way that I was looking at Sandoval's availability to back up Bengie Molina behind the plate as some sort of echo of Brenly's heroics, I guess it wasn't too surprising that Bruce Bochy also hadn't called on Sandoval to catch before Holm was added to the mix so that these modern Giants might always have a fresh backup backstop on the bench. Even so, it was nice to see a team have 14 position players, and even some sensible roles for all of them. Sure, Holm won't play much, but then again, he shouldn't-he's no Harry Spilman, having no value at the plate. Unfortunately, it also wasn't going to last as much as a week. "Activist managers" might need to be added to the public lexicon, because instead of sensibly striking a balance between position players and pitchers, sure enough, Bochy just couldn't avoid having that seventh reliever, and all the fun shuffling back and forth to the mound that goes with it. With five veteran relievers, and not a one of them a reliable two-inning type, plus the careful management of Merkin Valdez' fragility resembling the closest thing to a developmental role in the bullpen, there apparently just weren't enough relievers to go around, so the Giants fetched up Matos. That in itself really isn't the end of the world-Matos has mid-90s heat and might be the only man in the bullpen still in it by 2011, so it's worth giving him a spin, and I wouldn't want to go to the mat to argue in favor of how much more valuable Holm or Velez might be. Besides, what's the point of carrying a 14th position player when you barely use your ninth? Other than farting around with his crummy first-base platoon and occasionally putting in Juan Uribe as a defensive replacement for Sandoval at third, it appears that Bochy believes that the purpose of the Giants' bench is to be ignored. I can understand that when we're talking Velez or Holm or Uribe or Rich Aurilia-all snubbable worthies with value as dust-catchers, but in a star-free outfield, you mean to tell me that there's really no way to get Nate Schierholtz at-bats? Hrmph.
Acquired RHP Logan Kensing from the Marlins for RHP Kyle Gunderson; activated SS-S Cristian Guzman from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Jason Bergmann and MI-R Alberto Gonzalez to Syracuse (Triple-A); transferred OF-L Roger Bernadina from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/29]
OK, I know this is another one of my Kool-Aid moments, but any team that's employing Julian Tavarez as a closer is clearly in a holding pattern and needs to find someone else. Joel Hanrahan lost his hold on the role as much by blowing his first two save opportunities as he did by doing so again with his fifth; this being the glory stat, if you haven't already showered yourself in some, you don't get much benefit of the doubt. I guess into that particular clutterbuck, I don't mind tossing Kensing into the mix. Yes, he's wild as all get out, and no, it probably won't last, but as a transient with a fastball, he's as viable a candidate for the odd save opportunity as the next guy in this definitively rag-tag relief crew.