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June 24, 2010
Fiddling While the Toast Burns
Acquired 5C-R Jake Fox from the A's for RHP Ross Wolf; optioned RHP Chris Tillman to Norfolk (Triple-A); designated RHP Cla Meredith for assignment. [6/22]
On the one hand, you can credit the Orioles a certain acquisitiveness-they didn't give anything up of value to get Fox. On the other hand, it's not exactly certain what he's for. Left field, instead of Corey Patterson? Or just platooning with Patterson? Or getting some playing time at designated hitter or first base, instead of a single additional at-bat getting expended on a bad idea like Garrett Atkins? Sure, this all sounds well and good, but they're still lugging around Atkins and unwilling to come to terms with his basic uselessness. They're still playing Miguel Tejada every day at third base, with little better reason, beyond some lingering notion of his popularity and a recrudescence of fame associated with his name. We're also talking about a club willing to stick Ty Wigginton at second base, whatever the consequences in the field-if these are the standards in play, I guess if Wiggy can play second, then of course Fox can be planted out in left field.
Consider the pegs they have to work with to fill their holes at first base, third base, left field, and DH:
Now, looking at that group, the easy answer is that any future lineup should involve a whole lot less Patterson. However, while Scott and Wigginton both need to be in the lineup, after that, it isn't quite so simple. In the abstract, I'd much rather keep Wigginton in this particular mix and spot someone who can play second to help the pitchers, but the Orioles don't exactly have even a nice little Rich Dauer or Harold Reynolds type knocking around to pick it, which contributes towards why we're seeing Patterson at all. Face it, when the alternative is a lot of Julio Lugo at second, you can understand how getting intrigued by Wigginton at the keystone without having to offend any more of the big-contract guys gets to resembling a rational choice.
Now, if they pick Fox to get at-bats, he's the worst fielder of the lot, so DH would be his role, with Scott and Wiggy manning first and left. I throw Tejada into all of this as a way of pointing out that if they wanted to put Scott at first and Wigginton at third, they'd have space to leave Fox and DH and find some new hero for left-field duties. Unfortunately, Nolan Reimold's bat isn't turning with the Tides; he's mashing lefties, and that's it. They're still fiddling with making him a first baseman, which isn't really what they need him to be, not if they're afraid of playing Scott in left field and feel forced to employ Wigginton in the infield alone.
Optioned LHP Felix Doubront to Pawtucket (Triple-A); recalled RHP Robert Manuel from Pawtucket. [6/19]
Optioned RHP Robert Manuel to Pawtucket; recalled OF-L Josh Reddick from Pawtucket. [6/22]
So, Doubront got his much-anticipated first start, and it went badly, as he gave up five runs in five innings, but with Daisuke Matsuzaka coming off the DL later today to make the start against the Rockies, the rotation's about to be re-filled. The question is sorting out who is going to get shipped out with Dice-K's reactivation; Scott Atchison and Dustin Richardson aren't getting much work, so it isn't like they have to go back to a dozen pitchers.
Besides, there is their desperate need for functional outfielders. Recalling Reddick wasn't merely another flirtation with making sure the outfield prospect never really settles into a groove anywhere-face it, hauling a kid up to face Ubaldo Jimenez is several shades of wrong-it was a reaction to J.D. Drew's ongoing hamstring problem, one likely to keep him out of Boston's attempt to avoid getting swept in Denver today. The outfield depth issue is also still compounded by Mike Cameron's non-stop issues with durability, let alone ever hitting for power.
Meanwhile, Mike Lowell hasn't started a ballgame in 10 days, and has drawn a lone pinch-hit appearance. At some point, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jeremy Hermida will be back from the DL, and even with 14 position players, you only get to ship Reddick out once. Sending Daniel Nava or Darnell McDonald down makes for hard choices, since both have handily outplayed Lowell, and Bill Hall's versatility obviates much argument in favor of keeping Lowell because of what is now his mostly theoretical utility as a third baseman.
At some point, the team that traded Nomar, traded Manny, and let Kevin Millar go away is going to have take stock of another marquee item out of the front window and consign it to the dustier shelves of its own past, although in this case, it's looking more and more like a DFA, with the hope that maybe somebody steps up and gives them the odd goody to help stock the PawSox. If they're holding out for some sort of major value in trade, it's not like they're doing Lowell any favors by not playing him.
Designated C-R Chad Moeller for assignment; purchased the contract of OF-L Colin Curtis from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [6/21]
The need for the safety net behind the plate had gotten pretty tenuous in short order. Jorge Posada resumed taking on some of the catching chores within two weeks of his return from the DL, Francisco Cervelli started hitting a lot more like Francisco Cervelli and less like Mickey Cochrane, and Moeller is a third catcher in the finest Ralph Houk-level tradition, someone you perhaps indulge A.J. Burnett with, and otherwise better left behind glass for doomsday scenarios involving the Copacabana, biblical floods, or a plague of sewer gators. Since the team's doing its last swing through National League venues, management decided to get more "National League" by adding a lefty pinch-hitting-type person, and rewarded organizational soldier Curtis with the call-up.
A fourth-round pick from Arizona State in the 2006 draft and already 25 years old, Curtis is your basic tweener type, an outfielder who can play a little bit of all three positions, but lacks the glove to stick in center and the bat to handle a corner as a regular. He adds next to nothing on the bases and doesn't walk all that much, so you're left with a hacker, but if he keeps lining singles, he could stick. Marcus Thames should be back next week, but Chad Huffman would be the likely guy boxed out when that happens. For Curtis, the question really becomes whether or not the Yankees would prefer to use his slot some other way, whether for a third catcher better than Moeller, or a non-Posada bat for their DH mix-meaning perhaps another spin with Juan Miranda-or just leaving Curtis alone until they trade for something better than their in-house options.
Activated CF-S Coco Crisp from the 15-day DL; designated UT-L Eric Patterson for assignment; acquired RHP Ross Wolf from the Orioles for 5C-R Jake Fox, and optioned Wolf to Sacramento (Triple-A). [6/22]
So, in losing Fox they've ditched another notional DH option, cementing themselves that much more firmly in the "Cust or bust" proposition that really should have been Plan A all along. That's not exactly the end of the world, and if you're the sort of sunny optimist who takes this latest spin with Crisp in center as the latest antidote to another June swoon, you're to be admired for your persistence. But it's a funny thing indeed to see a team with problems as far as depth and keeping people healthy keep losing talent as well. If we sometimes talk about "injury stacks," this is to some extent a roster inflexibility stack-the A's wound up with a pile of people out of options, and between losing people to injuries and not really sorting out what to do with people like Fox or Patterson, you end up seeing a team shed people they'd formerly valued wind up discarded for little or no return whatsoever.
Take the payoff for losing Fox before they lost him on waivers. The best you can say is that the A's did Sacramento a favor by acquiring a useful arm, no small thing for the River Cats considering how frequently they've been raided by their parent. Wolf has been a successful-ish Triple-A long reliever for the last four years or so, first in the Marlins organization, then the Orioles. He's still armed with a mediocre assortment, and at 27, that doesn't seem likely to change any time soon. His signal virtue is that he'll help the team's top affiliate without having to be added to the 40-man. As with discarding Patterson and realizing that much less benefit from the Harden deal of 2008, finding out that Wolfs eat Foxes is the sort of toxic exercise that should teach one lasting lesson: if a Cub comes calling, don't answer. More fundamentally, this seems an awful lot like picking up Willy Taveras and suggesting you might find a taker-Fox wasn't going to make it through waivers, so why box yourself into a bad spot up front?
As for Patterson's fate, there are certain things you have to accept. The A's were always willing to publicly entertain the possibility he might play second, or third, or center, yet despite their need at any and all of those positions since acquiring Patterson in the lamentable 2008 deal that put Harden in Wrigleyville, Corey's brother only ever got a real shot at a job in left field, and then just during a stretch going from April 24-May 11 this year. Was he an outright failure? Hardly. He slugged .509, belting eight extra-base hits in 56 plate appearances. Shortly thereafter, they called up Jack Cust, and treated employing the two men as a mutually exclusive proposition. Now they've discarded Patterson while retaining the likes of Gabe Gross, and they still have one of the worst offenses in the league.
On the lengthening litany of silly and strange things going on with the A's this season-whether Daric Barton's electively dumb fascination with sac bunts, or Bob Geren's needlessly bold intentional walks-ditching someone who does things when you put him in the lineup... well, it just sort of fits right in, doesn't it? Here's hoping Patterson lands on a team that could use him, of which there isn't a shortage of candidates: the Padres, White Sox, Angels, Twins, Diamondbacks, Marlins, the Rockies if they wanted to take a spin with him at second, heck, even reunification with brother Corey in Baltimore could work. If he keeps showing anything like the big platoon split he flashed at times in Oakland, he's a useful part-time player, but if he just produces at a lesser Hairston-like clip, that's still a useful player.
Optioned and eventually outrighted 3B-R Edwin Encarnacion to Las Vegas (Triple-A); recalled 2B-R Jarrett Hoffpauir from Las Vegas. [6/21]
Think on that: nobody claimed Encarnacion. Not a one, this when somebody grabbed Jake Fox. Of course, Encarnacion was making more than $5 million this season, and he's arbitration-eligible next year, and offering him less within that system isn't something you see very often, so clearly nobody thought employing him for that much or more next year was especially tantalizing.
Considering he was the key component of last summer's Scott Rolen deal, and Rolen is having a great season, this sort of leaves the Jays in that unhappy predicament of finding out that if you break it, you buy it, and maybe you bought it broken, and maybe you bought it with the torn-up half of a $100 bill that you didn't know that the Reds had the other half of, and maybe this metaphor is as busted up as Double-E's future. Regardless, the old deal is on the old regime, and the new regime and the old skipper apparently just don't care for the cut of Encarnacion's jib.
He wouldn't be the first refugee from a weaker league bandbox eaten up by the best division in baseball-what's this, another gratuitous Garrett Atkins slam?-but it says something about the ignominy of his lot that he lost his job, not to Jose Bautista on merit alone, or to Bautista via the eventual recuperation of Travis Snider, but to a nice little bat-control type like Hoffpauir. Encarnacion lost his job while delivering career-best walk rates and power, and he he lost it without playing an especially bad third base. He was producing a ridiculously low .167 BABIP, and while he is a fly-ball guy, that just doesn't seem like the sort of thing that would last indefinitely.
So, what do you do with Hoffpauir? For a hitter being asked to start at third, he makes a heck of a second baseman. He was crushing PCL pitching in Las Vegas, but that's Vegas for you: he'd hit .328/.378/.532 overall, but .383/.434/.670 in his home park. It's no wonder that once you translate his performance, you're left with a .254 TAv, nice, but not really special. So, you've got an unintentional walk rate of 8.1 percent; that'll go down. That .204 ISO also won't come with him in his carry-on bag. The Jays have treated him to playing against his original parent organization, providing him the thrill of revenge, but basically you've got a 27-year-old filler infielder, thoroughly employable, and somebody who may stick even after Snider comes back, but someone who you merely mark time with before trading up as cynically as Janey Wilcox.