July 18, 2009
Bits and Pieces
Activated 3B-R Mike Lowell from the 15-day DL; optioned 1B-R Aaron Bates to Pawtucket (Triple-A); designated SS-R Julio Lugo for assignment; recalled RHP Clay Buchholz from Pawtucket. [7/17]
Optioned RHP Clay Buchholz to Pawtucket; recalled SS-S Jed Lowrie from Pawtucket. [7/18]
To dispense with the minor matter first, Buchholz's promotion was deliberately transitory, the sort of worthwhile cameo forced on the club by its desire to let its All-Stars (Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield) not have to rush back into action. Buchholz did well enough-seven baserunners and a run allowed in 5
The more interesting developments are on the left side of the infield. Perhaps releasing Lugo outright seems like an obvious move in retrospect-he'd gotten only eight starts at short since the calendar flipped to June, and two of those involved offdays for Dustin Pedroia, not Nick Green-but it remains something of a boldly-sunk sunk cost. They're definitely going to be stuck eating at least the majority of his salary this year, and another $8.6 million of the $9 million owed to him (assuming somebody else picks him up). The happy upside of his fragility as a Sock is that they're safe from having him reach his playing time thresholds to guarantee his 2011 option for another $9 million, even if somebody else grabbed and batted him leadoff at the minimum (for them) every day between a claim and the conclusion of 2010. So, seen through that lens, they're only going to lose that much.
The question then is whether or not it makes sense. There is no new Nick Green phenomenon-as his hitting in the last month-plus reflects, he's still only Nick Green, and the job at short is Lowrie's, appropriately enough. Maybe Green has some nice feel-good hook as the team's utility infielder; this is still a fan base that remembers Denny Doyle's more extended flirtation with usefulness in 1975 fondly, even after it bought them two subsequent seasons' worth of Denny Doyle playing regularly. (A mistake nobody else made subsequently.) In that sense, the Sox are set, in that the cost of employing Lugo's erasers won't add much to their overall budget-the definitively fungible Green will never deserve more than the minimum, and Lowrie's not going to be arbitration-eligible until long after Lugo is off of the balance sheet. Once you've decided that you wouldn't play Lugo over either, the guaranteed expense of employing him doesn't seem like cause enough to keep him.
Given the elaborate concerns over Lugo's defense-and we're talking about a month's worth of starts spread across three, with injuries mixed into the equation-it'll be interesting to see who might be willing to take him on, or swing a trade with Boston for the privilege of adding him (and most of the money to pay him with) before he hits waivers. Never good on the deuce, he won't make a good candidate to make the jump to second, and his long-gone power isn't of the sort that translates to his having any utility at third. Perhaps a trip back to Houston would perk up his credentials-perhaps it would let Miguel Tejada move to third already, or Lugo could help out with the staffing issues at second and third base.
As for getting Lowell back, beyond the obvious (Lowell > (Kotsay + Bates)), with Kevin Youkilis moving back across the diamond to his more usual perch at first, I guess there's the knowledge gained that Aaron Bates owns Bruce Chen, and that Mark Kotsay still isn't good for much beyond winsome charm and a capacity to accept that life hands you benchings as well as opportunities.
Designated SS-R Tony Peņa Jr. for assignment. [7/16]
Activated 3B-L Alex Gordon and SS-R Yuniesky Betancourt from the 15-day DL; optioned CF-L Mitch Maier to Omaha (Triple-A). [7/17]
Well, here they are, with Betancourt set to take over at short as their latest low-OBP option, the somewhat circular logic of their avowal that he must be able to play the position well because he's a shortstop (and Cuban, and toolsy, and did we mention he's a shortstop?), as if they'd added their ultimate-in-prototype conception of shortstoppery. No need to be sotto voce about it-be careful what you wish for. The best-case scenario might involve the realization that, yes indeedy, Willie Bloomquist is not a shortstop. (Or a Yuniesky Betancourt, which as we know, equals 'shortstop.')
Still, snark aside, the initial lineup with their aspiring star third baseman and their newly acquired shortstop is that they get to go into the second half having reaped the twin benefits of Gordon's absence. First, they got to enjoy Mark Teahen redeeming himself as a hitter, but they also got to do so while avoiding a result of their desperate experiment of trying him out at the keystone thanks to the playing time that, in Gordon's absence, wound up in Alberto Callaspo's possession. So, Callaspo's established himself somewhat: positive outcome. Gordon back: positive outcome. Figuring out what to do with Teahen: we'll have to see.
Why the mystery? Because in the same way that they're now committed to playing Teahen (as long as they have him), they seem similarly devoted to the idea of keeping Bloomquist in the lineup. Their initial en-Gordon'd lineup had Teahen shunted out to right field predictably enough, and David DeJesus resumed his previous employment in left after a spattering of spot starts in center. And in center field? Well, they've already peeked at Ryan Freel in center (alarmingly enough), so it was no surprise that they would decide to start... why, Wee Willie Bloomquist, of course. Without Coco Crisp around, someobody's got to play there, after all, and playing these immortals justifies the decisions to have gone out and gotten them.
This isn't quite as terrible as, say, Freel is these days in the middle pasture. He's looked good out there this season, rating well by Clay's fielding metrics or RZR. Admittedly, that isn't in a ton of playing time, and Bloomquist hasn't been really tested with extensive playing time in center since 2006, when he also did well. (By coincidence, that was the last time Freel looked good in center, but after his run of injuries, it's clear he's not the same player he was then.) I can't say I'm wild about the proposition, but if it's a choice between a playable Bloomquist in center and an employment-unworthy Jose Guillen in the starting lineup, that's a reasonable choice. The frustration for some is that, in Crisp's absence, you would want this to be an opportunity to really see what Mitch Maier's capable of, considering his plus defensive reputation. The problem is, after hitting .213/.289/.309 in 155 PA, the problem is that it's right around what he should be doing. Maybe, because of the handedness and the defense, you'd rather have him than Guillen, but until the club comes to a reckoning over whether or not it might eat the $12 million owed to him 2010, that's a choice they won't be making for the time being.
Reactivated RHP Grant Balfour from the Bereavement Leave List; optioned C-L John Jaso to Durham (Triple-A). [7/17]
Activated UT-S Greg Norton from the 15-day DL; optioned OF-L Gregor Blanco to Gwinnett (Triple-A). [7/12]
Activated LHP Jo-Jo Reyes from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Gwinnett. [7/16]
Signed LHP B.J. Ryan to a minor league contract. [7/16]
You can look at this two ways, which you can consider as simultaneously operative branches on the Cubs' decision tree. First, with only Sean Marshall as their designated pen lefty, they may want to toe the line and adopt La Russian fashions by adding a second. There's not a lot of there there, so to speak, in Ryan's splits this season, but he hasn't overpowered lefties (.250/.378/.389), and he's been awful against first batters (.440/.600/.667), and with runners in scoring position (.222/.500/.667 in 18 PA, with six walks allowed against a lone strikeout). As much as you can inflate anything from his slender samplings, he's been strangely better with men on first base (.048/.142/.125).
Maybe there's something going on in terms of his being better from the stretch than the windup, and maybe that's something that his assignment to the Arizona complex helps him work the kinks out of. Regardless, last season he was much more effective in terms of all of these metrics-well, not getting lefties (.230/.373/.393)-and perhaps the greater problem by far is reflected in his declining velocity on his fastball and increasing reliance on his slider. It's important not to mistake cause for effect here, though, and perhaps there's something with Ryan's delivery that the Cubs smooth out, and perhaps this is the portion of Ryan's career where he has to endure some Guardado-like indignities while getting plenty of extra chances, because, you know, he used to be really good a short time ago, and not even in a parallel universe or anything.
The other problem, however, is what's going on with their starting pitching, and the questions over how they want to round out their rotation with Ryan Dempster DL'd after his mishap, and should Ted Lilly's knee problem becomes something that forces him to miss turns or head for the DL, they wish to turn to Marshall as a starter, from among their arsenal of former starters knocking around in the pen.
They may also decide to make that move anyway should they not like what they see from Kevin Hart (who should be recalled for Sunday's start after the reshuffle to accommodate Lilly, pushed back to Monday). With Hart's impending call-up, the club has plenty of roster slack, depending on what Lou Piniella wants to work with as far as his bench and bullpen; they could push RHP Jeff Stevens, middle infielder Andres Blanco, or outfielder Sam Fuld back down to Iowa easily enough.
Activated RHP Manny Corpas from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Matt Belisle for assignment. [7/16]
Outrighted LHP Chris Narveson to Nashville (Triple-A). [7/13]
Optioned 2B-S Argenis Reyes to Buffalo (Triple-A); recalled INF-R Angel Berroa from Buffalo. [7/16]
Signed RHP Pedro Martinez to a one-year, $2 million (pro-rated) contract. [7/15]
Activated RHP Clay Condrey from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Tyler Walker for assignment. [7/17]
I really think Marc Normandin nailed the topic of adding Pedro yesterday, in terms of the likely outcome and the potential upside, because like him, I have somewhat low expectations of what's going to happen if a lower-velocity version of Pedro pops by CBP and finds out what happens to fly balls in play in an unforgiving bandbox. The relative question is, even park-handicapped, will Pedro be a probable improvement over the likes of Antonio Bastardo or Rodrigo Lopez or Chan Ho Park-funny how that deal gets dropped from consideration in the rush to congratulate the team over their good sense in signing Raul Ibaņez, eh?-and there, I think the hope that he improves upon his weak .422 Support-Neutral Winning Percentage from 2008 makes it a less than straightforward proposition. Given that Lopez wasn't really overpowering the International League, and thus can't really be counted on as the answer either, his two good starts aside, it's a suggestion of improvement and a symbolic demonstration of a commitment by adding a formerly famous person, but how well it pans out in play, barring hiding Pedro from the home folks, figures to involve a few jacktastic bad times for the Phillies.