June 25, 2009
AL West Moves
Optioned RHPs Fernando Rodriguez and Kevin Jepsen to Salt Lake (Triple-A); activated LHP Darren Oliver from the 15-day DL. [5/4]
One of the great tests of a manager is whether or not he can adapt to the talent on hand when he's taken out of his element. It's relatively clear that these aren't the Angels people expect-they're a bad baserunning team, they're a bad defensive team, and the bullpen-an area of in-game management where every skipper makes his mark, both in the who he has and the how involved in the use of them-is almost bad enough to put Manny Acta's job in danger. Mike Scioscia, of course, has what might be for all practical consideration a lifetime deal, so he's not in any danger, nor should he be; whether you think he wears a halo or not, the Angels skipper is managing a first-place club, after all.
That they've been able to come this far with that pen, on top of dealing with so many extended absences from the rotation, provides easy entry into the number of things that are going right for them. Santana's situation is frustrating and Lackey's been inconsistent, but it isn't hard to envision how the rotation should round into a usable front three of Lackey, Joe Saunders, and Jered Weaver. Matt Palmer seems to have made the leap to effective-enough LAIM-o (or League-Average Innings Muncher), but however gaudy a 6-1 record might seem, he's gotten the benefit of facing some of the weakest opponents of any AL hurler with 30 or more innings pitched, and that's without facing Oakland yet. That suggests he's not really the guy you count on as your fourth man, allowing you to keep winging it as far as the fifth slot, and I think we all doubt how a finesse righty like O'Sullivan presents a better alternative. In short, they need Santana back and healthy, and while the expectation is that he might be reactivated shortly, the club doesn't have much wiggle room heading into a stretch of 13 straight games without an offday after today's respite.
The pen's a thornier disasterpiece, because the in-house options won't get better by just looking at them. Shields is out for the year, robbing the Angels of the man who had been their one solid right-handed reliever before this campaign, so while Brian Fuentes has adapted and Darren Oliver remains a useful enough set-up southpaw, Scioscia's been left scrambling for alternatives. Jason Bulger, Jose Arredondo, and Kevin Jepsen all throw hard, but with explosive results. Bulger's unsafe at any speed against lefties, the demoted Arredondo seemingly can't find the strike zone at any level, and Jepsen's apparently auditioning for a different kind of role in la-la-land. That leaves them with Old Unreliable (Justin Speier), plus a few non-K-Rod Rodriguez non-brothers (and therefore non-gypsy dildo punks) to be named later. If the Angels will be shopping for anything between now and the end of next month, you can expect they'll be kicking the tires on veteran right-handed relievers who happen to be free agents-to-be, say, Octavio Dotel, LaTroy Hawkins, or Rafael Betancourt.
Similar to the rotation's handicaps and the unanswered questions about that pen, the offense has had its issues as well. Howie Kendrick's implosion at the plate added to Vladimir Guerrero's catching an achy summer old that has him hacking like a man much more advanced in age than his 34 years, is a way to come around to discuss how many things have gone right for them. Dropping Bobby Abreu into the second slot behind Chone Figgins has created a lovely pair atop of the order to cash in on the hot starts from Torii Hunter and Juan Rivera-both among the league's top 20 in cashing in their RBI Opportunities-and Kendry Morales. Morales and Rivera in particular have reinforced the suggestion that the Angels were right to place their faith in them, and neither is getting the benefit of any major flukiness in terms of their line-drive rates or BABIP; they're just hitting as effectively as their proponents would have had cause to believe they could. Finally given an opportunity to simply stick, Morales has thrived in a platoon at first base, bopping right-handed pitching at a .288/.345/.566 clip. Rivera appears to have healed up from his knee-related woes well enough to resume the (admittedly walk-less) raking and power that inspired those comparisons to Jose Guillen back when the Angels did their own bit of Nationals pillaging in that particular deal.
While Kendrick's failure as a prospect is a massive disappointment, the other asset acquired in that steal of a deal, Maicer Izturis, was available to plug right in at second base. The question is whether they might be able to puch up their offense just that little bit extra in light of that instance of "prospect go boom." As bad as Kendrick was, the Angels aren't getting production from their middle infield as a whole. Whether it's a good thing or not, Erick Aybar is growing up to be a sanely managed Alfredo Griffin-for the Angels' talk of baserunning derring-do aside, they seem intent on keeping this aspiring basepaths commando nailed to first base during those odd occasions he reaches base. Promoting yet another Rodriguez in Sean suggests the possibility that they could help themselves by working him into the mid-infield rotation in light of his terrorizing the PCL at a .273/.355/.634 clip, which translates to .244/.319/.536, more than a bit unusual in a second sacker in terms of the shape of his performance, but also pretty handy for a contender that could use runs. Admittedly, a good chunk of that production is Rodriguez's environment-aided flirtation with hitting .400 and slugging over .900 on balls in play in Utah, which wouldn't happen in Anaheim. Still, some extra sock would go a long way, and Izturis can play short well enough. I suppose we could also moot the idea of hauling up Brandon Wood-whose translated performance for Salt Lake comes to .258/.328/.507-to play third and move Figgins over to second, but the Angels don't seem inclined to mess with success in their conversion of their former multi-positional super-sub to a full-time third baseman, and Wood plays short about as well as your average box of rocks. Since the only other lineup regular to discuss replacing to get better mileage out of this offense is Vladi, and that isn't going to happen, there's not a whole lot else to expect as far as in-house improvements within the realm of possibility.
Placed 3B-L Eric Chavez on the 15-day DL (strained forearm), retroactive to 4/25; recalled MI-R Gregorio Petit from Sacramento (Triple-A). [5/1]
In reviewing the team's performance, think on where things stand-godawful offense and a bad defense? That's not merely craptacular, it's justification for wholesale roster violence. The pitching staff gets talked up a bit, especially the rotation, but that's in part because if you have nothing nice to say, you're left sitting with Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who might be delightfully vicious company were it not for the inconvenient fact of her being long dead. Which makes for an easy segue towards talking about the A's offense, because there can be no more moribund unit than one that has been reduced to exulting over their good fortune that the Rays handed over Adam Kennedy as a favor. Even that might not turn out all that well, as Bob Geren's threatened to not play Mark Ellis regularly once the previous keystone regular comes off of the DL this weekend, aerating some nonsense about lineup decisions being decided by performance, a meaningless sort of comment given that Jack Hannahan, Bobby Crosby, Ryan Sweeney, and Orlando Cabrera don't seem to be living in any particular fear for their jobs.* Criminy, Crosby's been getting starts at first base, leading to this sort of horrifying circular syllogism: if major league first basemen can hit this badly, and Bobby Crosby can hit this badly, then Bobby Crosby must be a first baseman. (We might refer to this as the Miguel Cairo Indulgence, sold to a paying public that really ought to be beyond such gullibility.) I guess my despair is that this isn't a good defensive team either, but that's as much about a high volume of wishcasting involved with asserting that Sweeney can play center, or Jason Giambi first base, or Jack Cust right field.
So what's to be done? As much as this club is "only" 7½ games back, it's essentially an exercise in waiting to find out who will fork over the mostest for Matt Holliday-and that's going to come to all that bloody much at this rate, given his tepid hitting-and deciding at what point to initiate the summary executions portion of the program. Although there is no reason to pick up Giambi's option for 2010, Daric Barton's done nothing with his Sacramento stint to merit much faith; .245/.365/.385 is the sort of line that inspires questions over whether he might not try catching again. Happily, with the interleague road games behind them, the club should never again have to ask its pitchers to endure Giambi and Cust on the field at the same time. It would be lovely if they'd work up the temerity to pick a favorite between Buck and Cunningham and stick the winner in right field for a month instead of a week. It would be lovely, as long as they're willing to assert that a player can play a defensive position and have it be so-to see them give Eric Patterson a spin in center. I'd be happy to see them shed Cabrera at this point, if only because I'd rather see what Cliff Pennington would do in a multi-month spin at short to provide some ammo for off-season decision-making with an eye towards 2010. Later on in the season, we can talk about Corey Brown or Chris Carter (this one, not that one) or Sean Doolittle (although Brown and Doolittle are both currently shelved with knee injuries).
As for the pitching, the best we can say is that any evaluative goals have been achieved with some of the young starters-Trevor Cahill, Dallas Braden, Vinny Mazzaro, Josh Outman-and not with others, such as Gio Gonzalez or Brett Anderson or Dana Eveland or Sean Gallagher. Such are the benefits and perils of mass acquisition, I guess, although it's worth noting that the successes, outside of Outman, have been the home-grown prospects, while the failures have been trade pickups to a man. I was skeptical that this would turn out even this well, but the currently achieved unit-wide mediocrity stands a good chance of improving in the second half should the "winners" outnumber the losers in terms of getting turns. With only three quality starts on the season and just one in his last five, I have to figure that Anderson's season will involve a Sacramento sojourn or a workload-minded shutdown at some point. The pen offers bittersweet pleasures like getting to turn to a free-talent pickup like Breslow-and having to, because Lucky Numbers Blevins can't keep his ERA from going plural. Looking at the unit-wide performance, Russ Springer and Santiago Casilla aren't earning their keep, and Brad Ziegler's lost his role as the closer to Andrew Bailey, but Ziegler and Bailey plus the still-useful Michael Wuertz have been a decent trio of right-handers. With the news that the Duke should be back soon, plus the hope that if Casilla can't turn the corner, at least they have Henry Rodriguez healthy and doing fearsome things in his bounceback from hernia surgery (35 strikeouts in 19 IP, and now pitching at Sacramento). Throw in Edgar Gonzalez as an innings sponge to help out with the kids, and it's the happiest unit in this unhappy predicament.
*: Add in the indignity that one of their nearest-to-readiness prospects, Adrian Cardenas, is another second-base type whose bat may not play on third, and you might get cranky. Except of course that the standards set by Hannahan and Crosby are such that an adequate-hitting second baseman would do very nicely, thenkyooverramuch.
Placed RHP Roy Corcoran on the 15-day DL (strained neck), retroactive to 4/29. [4/30]
I'll be writing a bit about the Mariners' possibilities as far as dealing with an eye towards contending or tearing down for ESPN.com tomorrow, but I suppose I'll cheat and say that I remain positive on this team's possibilities, even with their rotation seeming a patchwork assortment, and with a lineup little better than Oakland's.
The rotation's a key source of strength, with the interesting challenge not being how to make up for the unlamented absence of Silva-some Bill Bavasi gifts just keep on giving-but instead Bedard's availability. Healthy, he can help this team contend in the weak West, or he can be bartered away for beer and skittles, or assorted more useful baseball-related goodies, with better packages coming the healthier he seems to be. Pace what to do with Jarrod Washburn, because the pair of veteran lefties line up nicely behind Felix Hernandez to give the Mariners a front three who all rank among baseball's top 25 in Support-Neutral Winning Percentage. The club's done well with adapting to injuries and setbacks as well. As unfair as it has been to jerk Brandon Morrow around, his upside value as a starter is much higher than any contributions he'd make in the pen. Having already bumped Chris Jakubauskas, the real question is whether they'll leave Morrow in the rotation once Bedard returns. Bumping Garrett Olson-already the skippable fifth man-is easy enough, but will the M's manage to leave Morrow be while also trusting that Jason Vargas' bottled lightning becomes the sort of commodity they can count on off the shelf? Or, having seen Jakubauskas become an important part of the staff pitching out of the pen encourage further mission creep if they decide they don't like Morrow in this latest assigned role after all? Vargas may well have pitched his way out of the rotation by then; expecting that he'll deliver a .579 Support-Neutral Winning Percentage all year seems an act of faith almost millenarian in its madness, but in some perverse way, his faltering might create enough flux to encourage the club to leave Morrow be, rather than create any more additional role churn. Regardless, having enjoyed the benefit of David Aardsma's settling in as their closer-providing additional proof that bullpen stoppers can be made as well as born-the Mariners ought to be able to leave Morrow alone.
The lineup is the real issue that they need to address, and the more aggressively the better. "Losing" Endy Chavez for the year has the compensation of it only being Endy Chavez that they've lost. Calling up Carp might provide a suggestion about one possible solution, which would be to move him or Russell Branyan out to left field; neither man has played that much outfield, but Carp's young and Branyan's not an asset wherever he is, and for a club this run-hungry, taking a hit in left field when they have a pair of plus defenders manning center and right seems a modest risk well worth taking. That's also because they can't really make their middle-infield problem go away. Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Lopez, and Ronny Cedeno in any combination doesn't seem likely to produce many runs, and the organization's lack of depth up the middle might best be reflected in the fact that Mike Morse is playing at short and second for Tacoma these days. Whichever direction the Mariners go in terms of the standings may well depend on their willingness to look around at any available short-term rentals among veteran free agents-to-be.
Of course, there is also catcher, a position we've all been screeching about for a while now. While some might despair that there's no Jeff Clement anywhere in this flurry of activity, it should also be noted he hasn't caught a game in six weeks, having reverted to full-time DH duties while Tacoma's employed Carp at first base and Adam Moore behind the plate. Moore's glove work gets considerably higher marks than Clement's were ever going to earn, thanks to his stronger arm and a better rep for game-calling. He's hitting effectively enough for the Rainiers (.298/.341/.438) since his early-May promotion from Double-A, but that's not quite so good as to make hauling him up for the interim during Johjima's latest absence a reasonable risk. It increasingly looks like the job will eventually go to Moore, but in the meantime the team's getting by with Burke and organizational stumblebum Rob Johnson. They'll be re-blighted by Johjima in time for this weekend's series against the Dodgers anyways, so it's just as well that they exercise patience and caution with Moore in the meantime.
Placed CF-L Josh Hamilton on the 15-day DL (strained intercostal muscle), retroactive to 4/27; recalled C-R Max Ramirez from Oklahoma City (Triple-A). [5/1]
The fun thing has been how well the Rangers have adapted in Hamilton's absence. It hasn't all worked out, of course-Brandon Boggs looks more and more like he's just not going to be a useful enough reserve, and David Murphy's not doing a lot, but Marlon Byrd's done his usual fine job as the practically perfect fourth outfielder, and Andruw Jones has made for a nice spare. While worrying about Chris Davis is all well and good, it sort of masks the extent to which Hank Blalock isn't having a very special season either-being a better-hitting DH than Mike Jacobs or David Ortiz's worst-ever slump isn't exactly a bragging right. So, with Hamilton's return before the All-Star break in the offing, the Rangers will have an interesting group of branches on their decision tree. One of them might involve making the minor leagues a Smoak-free workplace, of course, but the interesting challenge will be to see how Ron Washington makes these pieces fit together, and to what extent Jon Daniels decides to pull the plug on a top-billed prospect like Davis when there's a division to be won. Putting Blalock at first base might buy them time on a decision as far as bringing up Justin Smoak, but with Hamilton's return, somebody's going to be riding pine, and Davis is the obviously unproductive player in the everyday lineup
As for keeping the rotation patched up and running now that they've suffered through yet another McCarthy meltdown, found a convenient injury-related way to stop hedging on Benson after he lit up yet another mound with the usual poisonous outcomes. The question is whether they've got the horses to actually make a go of it. Kevin Millwood's looking solid enough as the staff ace he was signed to be, while Vicente Padilla's delivering as a better-than LAIM rotation regular. Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux have done admirable work in keeping Scott Feldman on a tight rein, getting just seven quality starts in 12 yet .604 Support-Neutral Winning Percentage thanks to a quick hook. From there, though, we get into the messier, more fungal bits of this brand of rotatio-touille. Derek Holland and Matt Harrison both hold considerable promise; they're also delivering SNWPs in the .450s, which ain't going to cut it if either the Mariners or the Angels fix up any of their own issues. Doug Mathis doesn't seem like a viable alternative if improvement's the objectie, but what the Rangers do here will tell us a lot about how they see themselves. Letting it ride with Holland and Harrison would be entirely defensible, both as endorsements for each, but also in anticipation that both will be important contributors in the years to come.
Can the pen provide much support? I've been happy with how they've leaned on Jason Jennings as a long-relief sponge, and Daniels can continue to congratulate himself for grabbing Darren O'Day. With Francisco and C.J. Wilson trading off the closer's role, the late innings seem like they'll be well enough taken care of, while picking up Grilli cheaply enough should give them a non-ROOGY right-hander for set-up duties. The real question mark beyond Francisco's health-until he's ready to pitch on consecutive nights, at any rate-is how much more faith should be placed in Eddie Guardado. Former famous person or not, a lefty who isn't doing well against lefties, hasn't done well in high-leverage situations, and who also struggles to pitch effectively without rest between appearances has limited use, even in a seven-man pen.