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June 23, 2009
Moves and Grooves
Losing Matsuzaka makes for a tidy solution to the dilemma of what to do about the rotation with John Smoltz about to come off of the DL, certainly, fending off for a few weeks the question of whether Dice-K should go to the pen, or whether Boston should shop Brad Penny for the best possible deal, or what. Who's to say that this convenient contretemps doesn't suggest to the Boston brass that they just hold onto their depth in the rotation and see if that doesn't engender better offers from starter-desperate bubble contenders by the end of July. In the meantime, given that the Red Sox are getting this from their rotation:
Dude GS IP/S QS SNWP Josh Beckett 14 6.5 9 .567 Tim Wakefield 14 6.3 10* .533 Jon Lester 14 6.2 7 .525 Brad Penny 13 5.5 8* .464 Daisuke Matsuzaka 8 4.4 0 .341 Justin Masterson 6 5.9 2 .507 *: Includes a Quality Start through six blown after the sixth.
That's another way of saying that Matsuzaka wasn't earning his keep, yes, but also that Penny's pitching well enough for a back-end bit piece by AL East standards, but not quite so well that he's a must-keep option once Dice-K is back and presumably ready to pitch at something more closely approximating his previous standards. Similarly, Masterson was almost the definition of adequacy, struggling to get through the sixth inning, but doing well enough that if Penny goes bad, Dice-K struggles, and Smoltz does no better, the Red Sox have a solid enough fall-back option.
As for what they're doing in the meantime, unless the Red Sox are really upset with George Kottaras' limitations controlling the running game after he's pegged just 14 percent of opponents' attempts at thievery-and there was no reason to expect anything else-I'd expect that Brown's call-up isn't likely to be much more than a temporary visit and an odd adaptation to traveling to National League parks in their next two series. After all, I guess they can pinch-run for Jason Varitek or pinch-hit for Kottaras, and they'll still have a catcher on the bench... until they activate Smoltz on Thursday to take Dice-K's place in the rotation. Me, I'd rather have had the extra pinch-runner or pinch-hitter, but Jonathan Van Every's on the shelf with a knee injury, Chris Carter isn't hitting, and you've already taken a spin with Jeff Bailey. For their other options among position players on the 40-man at present, Travis Denker, Gil Velazquez, and Argenis Diaz don't hit enough to help all that much either. It's not a happy group of choices, but they're full up on the 40-man, so you can understand an unwillingness to expand the range of options to include non-roster options when we're talking about a two-day call-up.
Outrighted INF-S Wilson Betemit to Charlotte (Triple-A). [6/12]
Designated RHP Greg Aquino for assignment; purchased the contract of LHP Mike Gosling from Columbus (Triple-A). [6/19]
The interesting follow-on for activating Sizemore will be to see who loses the playing time he'll absorb. Activating before an interleague series in Pittsburgh means he won't be DHing, so clearly the Indians think he's going to be able to step back into action on the diamond. Ben Francisco should be the easy answer, since Luis Valbuena and Jamey Carroll are both doing enough in the infield to keep Mark DeRosa employed out in left field. Even that would represent just a temporary respite for Valbuena and Carroll, however, since Asdrubal Cabrera's rehabbing at a pace that might put him back in Cleveland before the calendar flips to July. That could push Valbuena and Carroll into a platoon at the keystone-not the worst outcome-while DeRosa plays left until he's dealt. The Tribe should have seen about what they ought to have expected from Francisco in the meantime, and while growing up to be a fourth outfielder isn't anybody's fondest wish, it beats not working.
Placed RHP Jeremy Bonderman on the 15-day DL (thoracic outlet compression syndrome), retroactive to 6/9; optioned OF-L Clete Thomas to Toledo (Triple-A); purchased the contract of OF-L Don Kelly from Toledo; recalled RHP Ryan Perry from Toledo. [6/12]
It's interesting to note that results here do matter, and that while the Tiggers are riding atop the Central, they're not settling for bad work from key veterans. Patience with Willis' difficulties has been extended and reached a point of appropriate cessation, and Bonderman's still broken; both extraordinary situations which required decisive responses. What's interesting is that the team did not then do something of a piece and, say, put Nate Robertson back into the rotation, or even Zach Minor, but have instead turned to Figaro. This shouldn't be that surprising in itself, I guess, but I also wouldn't say it's merely some latter-day faith in the farm system born of witnessing the breakthrough of Rick Porcello; remember, in 1997 when past Marlin stalwart Pat Rapp faltered and Tony Saunders got worn down in-season, the Dombrowski/Leyland management duo sifted through various in-house alternatives before landing on Livan Hernandez (and, to a lesser extent, Kirt Ojala).
That said, I don't really see that Figaro's ready to step into a big-league rotation. His low-90s sinker doesn't generate that many ground-ball outs (his ratio of grounders to flies was 1.2), and his curve and change weren't fooling many Eastern League lefties, as they were hitting him at a .271/.323/.475 clip, and he seemed to struggle with his command once he'd put anyone on base. Still, there's a there there, so to speak, in that he was mowing right-handers down at a .178/.228/.267 clip. Not that the Tigers will play mix-and-match with his starting assignments, though singling out the Brewers for Figaro's debut certainly made sense. It's fun to note that this also isn't that different from the huge platoon splits that Livan showed early in his career. I wouldn't recommend getting carried away as far as this being a solution so much as just suggesting that it's an interesting bit of in-season tacking, as the Tigers try to keep heading towards a title while giving live arms like Figaro or Dolsi opportunities to contribute.
As for the latest fix for the outfield corners, Kelly's a strange name to see resurface in the Motor City, since he's a former Detroit organizational soldier who, having washed out as a former eighth-round pick from the '01 draft, has subsequently bounced through the Pirates' and D'backs' organizations before heading back to his original outfit. He's played all over the diamond, so he could be to Jim Leyland's taste considering the skipper's notoriety for Wehner-fancying, but as Chris Aguila or now Thomas might tell you, being in with Leyland only goes so far. Tigers fans can appreciate this sort of capriciousness with scrubs du jour, since it's an echo of Sparky Anderson's legacy, but even so, it's almost as if the skipper's elected to go out of his way to find an especially improbable stand-in for the en-doghouse'd Magglio Ordonez.
Placed CF-S Coco Crisp on the 15-day DL (strained rotator cuff), retroactive to 6/13; recalled INF-L Tug Hulett from Omaha (Triple-A). [6/14]
Davies pitched his way out of the rotation by delivering just a .442 Support-Neutral Winning Percentage and failing to deliver a quality start in his last five, while Luke Hochevar's probably going to be living off of that shutdown of all Reds not named Johnny Gomes on June 12 for a few turns yet. The situation no doubt engenders new hope for all those Sidney Ponson fans out there with the Dutch Knight's rehab wrapping up, and with the fifth slot due up this coming weekend. Just be careful what you wish for; Ponson's .446 SNWP is an improvement, but effectively of the kind that might matter if this were figure skating and not baseball. With the team stuck in a losing streak and whatever slender hopes existed for a bid at contention fading, you can understand the team becoming a little frustrated, but I guess I'd hope they remember this is Sidney Ponson, and in the end, whatever future the Royals have depends more on what Kyle Davies grows up to be.
Activated SS-S Nick Punto from the 15-day DL; optioned 2B-S Alexi Casilla to Rochester (Triple-A). [6/12]
Swarzak didn't really excuse himself from consideration, having delivered three quality starts in five turns, but Francisco Liriano chose a good time to deliver a few winnable ballgames, and with Scott Baker settling back into some semblance of his former self, the pressure to do something in the rotation has eased. Perkins delivered quality starts his first two times out (although one was blown in the seventh), but basically Swarzak's performance creates discretionary depth, where any further failures from among the front five has the rookie representing the easy solution. In contrast, the bullpen and the outfield have no such happy alternatives to fall back upon. Not that Pridie wouldn't outhit Delmon Young or Carlos Gomez as things stand, but that, in Pridie, we're talking about an outfielder we projected to hit .245/.291/.405, and that would represent improvement, assuming he could deliver even that much after struggling at Rochester (.255/.285/.333). That the pen's down to fodder like Keppel and Sean Henn is hardly cause for favorable comment, but since Ron Gardenhire has increasingly been reduced to a unit where Joe Nathan, Jose Mijares, and Matt Guerrier protect leads, and R.A. Dickey soaks up mop-up innings, figuring out who fills the last two slots may temporarily be a case of seeing who doesn't make lost causes uglier. It's not going to be too much longer before names like Anthony Slama, Rob Delaney, or Juan Morillo start showing up.
Activated DH-R Pat Burrell from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-L Matt Joyce to Durham (Triple-A). [6/12]
The timing of Burrell's return was somewhat curious, since it preceded the team's dive into the interleague portion of the schedule, and the Rays aren't going to sit Carl Crawford. So we've been treated to Burrell in right field when he hasn't been sitting on the bench, all while the team's increasingly odd faith in Gabe Gross persists, with Joyce bound Bulls-ward yet again no less. If there's good news of a less complicated kind, it's that Brignac did about what you'd expect in a multi-week trial, showing modest sock and contact ability, struggling to get on base, not really proving to be as rangy at short as you'd wish, but basically not doing anything that might alter people's perceptions of him as a prospect. Whether that influences any decisions the Rays make in terms of dealing from depth to add something they feel they need to make a repeat trip to October, we'll have to see.
Placed RHP Casey Janssen on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 6/14; purchased the contract of LHP Brad Mills from Las Vegas (Triple-A). [6/17]
Taking Halladay out of the Jays' picture is one of those massive changes of the landscape that would leave you wondering if we'd gone straight from thoughtfully drawn compositions to Jackson Pollock territory, but it's been that kind of season for the Jays, and what good news there is may be reflected in the fact that they have a prospect of Cecil's caliber to turn to during what is supposed to be a brief absence for the staff ace. Since Halladay will be back to take a turn this weekend, the real equation should be the Jays getting to replace Janssen with Cecil in what would be a net improvement. As we feared before the season, Mills was in danger of being rushed up, and looked it his first time out, and as a command-oriented lefty with predictably modest velocity, he's one of the zillion people you might call the next Doug Davis, so the upside is perhaps a little limited. However, given that this is a rotation where there's some understanding that Scott Richmond's the type of right-handed guy you can skip or set aside for certain assignments, perhaps Mills would be able to be employed effectively in a tandem of sorts? It couldn't hurt too badly, and since the Jays have had to lurch from one rotation alignment to the next with very little predictably from one cycle of turns to the next, they've had to adapt on the fly more than most above-.500 clubs. Credit J.P. Ricciardi and Cito Gaston alike for rolling with the punches reasonably well-in the rotation. How well they adapt to life without Downs is a much more dire question than their getting used to life without the oft-absent B.J. Ryan, but the good news is that he's already throwing off of a mound, leaving the hope that beyond some squabbling over whether individual save opportunities go to Ryan or Jason Frasor or even Accardo-he'd been closing effectively in Vegas, overpowering people in the PCL-it's the kind of issue perhaps more troubling to point-hungry fantasy GMs than anyone concerned with real wins and losses.
The middling existence of a second or sixth banana in a bullpen isn't usually fraught with certainties, but Guzman has been an especially unlucky sort. Success can be fleeting enough, but turnover in middle relief is such that keeping track of who's the latest set-up star can be sort of like trying to sort out which group of nomads was trampling where when-Scythians or Huns, Gepids or Franks, Vandals or Goths, Sportos, Waistoids, or Dweebies, you name it, they all had their good runs, and then they almost all end up under somebody's knife or edged problem-solver. Guzman's wanderings have had less to do with his going anywhere geographically and more to do with his state of well-being, which generally tends toward "broken," with odd instances of effectiveness thrown in to keep things interesting. His most recent run of good work was enough to place him not simply second in the Cubs' pen in WXRL, but also good enough to rank him among MLB's top 30, and handily leading the team in the less context-sensitive ARP and FRA. Given his extensive past history with injuries and inactivity, it was hard to count on his lasting the year, but the Cubs can take some solace in that Kevin Gregg, Carlos Marmol, Jose Ascanio, and Sean Marshall have done relatively good work collectively, and that with Guzman still possibly back sometime later this summer, they might be better able to rely on him during their stretch run. As something of an organizational arm, Hart shouldn't be expected to play a major part, but as that unpublished classic, Bambi Laid an Egg, or Where Do Middle Relievers Come From? relates, all sorts of experimentation can lead to finding some effective relief help. Who's to say Aaron Heilman won't get turned around, after all?
Placed SS-R Alex Gonzalez on the 15-day DL (bone chips - elbow), retroactive to 6/19; optioned LHP Matt Maloney to Louisville; recalled C/UT-S Wilkin Castillo from Louisville; purchased the contract of 2B-L Danny Richar from Louisville; transferred 3B-R Edwin Encarnacion from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [6/20]
With A-Gonz gone for at least a month, the Reds' left side of the infield goes from being on-baseless but not entirely permissive to an open sieve with Jerry Hairston Jr. manning short while Adam Rosales continues to absorb playing time at third. Although Richar's played some at short with the Bats, he's a second baseman, and while you'd think his hitting .290/.330/.438 might engender some further thought of having former shortstop Brandon Phillips move across the bag to play his former position, translating that performance gets Richar down around .271/.311/.429, or right around where there's not a lot of point to preferring him to Hairston beyond the odd platoon assignment (Richar has hit Triple-A right-handers at a .299/.336/.465 clip), and since Phillips isn't going to play short, it's sort of besides the point to speculate. Spotting Richar at third for Rosales wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, even with the defensive handicaps, but those ought to be acceptable risks, since they're already part of the problem with employing Rosales at all. At least Votto's return brings to a head the decision between Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan behind the plate, getting one lineup slot back from relative fallowness, and that number of empty lineup slots ought to get one spot smaller if Encarnacion really will be back by next week, even if they'll still have the defensive handicap to deal with.
Placed RHP Kiko Calero on the 15-day DL. [6/18]
Optioned OF-L Fernando Martinez to Buffalo (Triple-A); recalled 1B/OF-R Nick Evans from Binghamton (Double-A); claimed LHP Arturo Lopez off of waivers from the Padres, and optioned him to Buffalo. [6/19]
With Beltran joining Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado on the list of shelved Mets offensive stars, it's tilting over into a situation in which I worry this will play to Jerry Manuel's worst instincts as a manager-during his stint with the White Sox, when his lineups would struggle, he'd get a bit little ball-happy, which could have the effect of turning a run-desperate situation worse. It's not hard to see why not; would you really want to sit back and play for big innings when you're hoping Jeremy Reed's finally going to pan out as a big-league center fielder? As is, barring a decision to place their faith in Martinez for a few weeks, the fall-backs are gong to involve a lot of careful in-game management of overlapping platoon options, with Evans perhaps taking up the chore of platooning with Danny Murphy at first, keeping Fernando Tatis in the mix, and trying to avoid overtaxing Gary Sheffield.
I can sign on for some of that, but I'm concerned about a proposition that in the league where pitchers hit in a lineup that already has a shortstop to pinch-hit for as well and platoons at catcher and first, that adding two open-casting slots in the outfield won't help as much as it may be better to just take their chances with Martinez, play Sheffield in left more often than not, and keep Reed in his more normal reserve role spotting for the two of them. That may seem strange, coming from me, since I love in-game tactical chicanery more than most, but with so many moving parts, I think my hope here is that the Mets won't get too clever, when they might instead be able to use this as an opportunity to get Martinez in gear should Beltran be gone for longer or Sheffield break down. As is, with the Phillies dealing with their own handicaps, the division could remain a bit of a scrum for the next month or so, and it would be more sensible to take a larger view of the possibilities and provide the players with a certain amount of stability rather than getting overly worked up over every night's lineup and the inevitable Apple-flavored hysteria. As is, Manuel's slowly coming to terms with the fact that his overmanaging the bullpen has become an issue, so it would be nice if the Mets stopped lurching and began planning for how they're going to handle the weeks to come.
Placed LF-L Raul Ibaņez on the 15-day DL (groin); recalled OF-R John Mayberry Jr. from Lehigh Valley. [6/18]
Since it looks as if Ibaņez won't miss any more than the two weeks to his groin injury, this is less desperate as situations go than it may appear at first glance, even with the injury-riddled Mets nonetheless within two games of first place. The outfield is one of the spots where the Phillies have solid depth, with Matt Stairs and Greg Dobbs (were Ryan Howard not out for a few games) available to start against right-handed pitchers, and with Mayberry representing a decent platoon partner and defensive replacement for either. Add in a pair of offdays on the schedule between now and that early-July series against the Mets that Ibaņez should be back in the fold for, and it's a 13-game interruption they should be able to endure, even running up against a couple of AL East opponents on their interleague slate.
Pearce was only playing first base and wasn't hitting well enough-just .277/.363/.476 for Indy, with just 28 unintentional walks in 270 PA-to make this a no-brainer for his half of the proposition, but Monroe had no chance of absorbing any playing time on a club that has open questions in both outfield corners. Pearce started at first base his first game up, but barring a trade that puts the Pirates down one LaRoche, that's not really something that's going to take.
Wherever he plays, and however much we've kibitzed about it, it would appear that Khalil Greene is in a better place and can keep on keeping on now that he's back and hitting with an aplomb we all haven't had the pleasure of seeing in a few seasons. And if it just so happens to help the Cardinals win a few ballgames in the meantime, more power to them. If he does slug and keep on slugging, it'll serve as an important reminder of how much we do not know on the subject of a person's sense of well-being and its impact on any one of us in our capacity as earners with jobs to do. Here's hoping this is the last time we have to worry about Greene on this score.
Activated RHP Kip Wells from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Jason Bergmann to Syracuse (Triple-A). [6/16]