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March 31, 2009
The All-A Edition
Placed LHP Rich Hill on the 15-day DL (strained elbow); optioned RHP Jim Miller to Norfolk (Triple-A); assigned C-S Matt Wieters to minor league camp. [3/29]
The indignity of Wieters' demotion is asset management, pure and simple, and while this service-time gamesmanship is a frustrating part of the system for fans thirsty for progress in any form, this should do wonders for interest in the Tides' box scores until that happy day when they decide he's safely removed from super-two arbitration eligibility after the 2011 season. While it would have been cool for the Orioles to make a statement by keeping Wieters from day one, the gray reality of franchise operations and payroll control have their place on the sports page now as ever, regardless of what certain fanciful boomers pretend about the nature of the game at the time of their childhoods. Love or hate it, Andy MacPhail was always a careful manager of his assets with the Twins and Cubs, so it's no surprise to see him doing likewise on his watch in Bal'mer.
Pauley's been a stathead fave in a few very deep fantasy leagues, but that strikes me as the ongoing peril of working up too much enthusiasm for decent strike-throwers with modest records of success in the minors. It's understandable-everyone's looking for pitching, and in real life as in fantasies, bushes get beaten with enough severity that the lunatic fringe of shrub-rights activists get worked up over the mistreatment of enslaved hedges. But it's worthwhile to dial back your enthusiasm just a wee bit and recognize that while some aspiring Kevin Jarvis wannabes have careers too, more often they don't, for the very reasons that scouts usually identify: merely adequate assortments, the unhappy infrequency of big-league parks big enough to keep their mistakes in play, or the reliable incidence with which they get tabbed as presumptive sixth starters by teams that decide, upon further consideration, they like having a six-B, six-C, or six-D in their stead. Let's face it, Hill's going to be given a shot before Pauley will, as stowing the unpredictable lefty is a matter of 40-man management of a pitcher without options more likely to be nabbed than Pauley.
If there's a sad note to be struck, I'd strike it for Montanez, but after the O's fell into employing both Ryan Freel and Ty Wigginton this winter at relatively modest cost, the need for an outfielder who hits righty, however well he bopped at Double-A his umpteenth time over at the level, was understandable. He'll have a chance at reminding the organization if last season reflects his new level of ability, probably in plenty of time for Ryan Freel's next injury to make room for his promotion.
Optioned RHPs Lance Broadway, Jack Egbert, and Jeff Marquez to Charlotte (Triple-A); placed 2B-R Jayson Nix on the 15-day DL (strained quadriceps), retroactive to 3/27; placed OF-L Jerry Owens on waivers, preliminary to attempting to outright him to Charlotte. [3/30]
It might strike some as unusual that I have a newfound enthusiasm for the proposition involved in "DeWayne Wise, starting outfielder," but as half of a platoon in center, one that deposits Brian Anderson in the short half of the platoon and serving as a defensive replacement when he isn't starting versus southpaws, I see that as a useful enough adaptation to a collection of talent where nobody was the next Lance Johnson, let alone Mickey Mantle. Speed-mongers in fantasy leagues might mourn Owens' passing, but credit Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams with focusing on real-team results instead of category victories. Add that to the decision to make Chris Getz the starting second baseman and have Wilson Betemit likely cadge some starts at third from Josh Fields, and it looks more and more like a lineup with enough offensive options from the left to help Jim Thome balance out the traditional lean to the right still evinced in the bats of Jermaine Dye, Carlos Quentin, Alexei Ramirez, and Paul Konerko. Keeping Brent Lillibridge as the primary middle infield reserve is interesting, in that we'll have to see if he gets meaningful playing time between spotting for Getz and Ramirez up the middle, but it's possible. It's probably only exciting to me that Corky Miller is being kept as A.J. Pierzynski's caddy; he's really just a catch-and-throw type who draws the occasional walk, but with his strong arm and batting righty, he makes a better alternative than Toby Hall did, and maybe he'll help out some as the designated catcher for baserunner-indifferent Gavin Floyd.
The other development is that the crowd of pitchers demoted means that the Sox are increasingly willing to risk advanced timetables for Bartolo Colon and Jose Contreras, while keeping Clayton Richard all the same. I don't hate the decisions, but then I like what I saw of Richard in a long relief role, and if the Sox do have both of the big men back in action in April, they're both also likely to come out early, creating that much more of an opportunity for Richard to relieve. If anything, the surprise might be that Mike MacDougal's getting kept as the last man in the pen. That's not a cause for alarm; MacDougal has always been combustible, and the Sox have been willing to pull the plug on him before, but he's had his moments, and if the Sox have ironed him out enough to get some use out of him, he's not the worst retreaded reliever to have around as insurance against Octavio Dotel and/or Scott Linebrink breaking down again. Even so, the fragility of that pair and MacDougal's unpredictability seem to have contributed to a decision to convert Egbert to relief work; his strike-throwing skills might get the benefit of some extra zip in the role-he certainly wouldn't be the first. Marquez and Broadway will settle for squaring off in Charlotte in their bids to be first man called up should (or once) Contreras or Colon break down again, accepting of course that this means they wouldn't go straight to Richard in such a circumstance.
Optioned C-R Chris Gimenez and OF-S Trevor Crowe to Columbus (Triple-A). [3/28]
Placed RHP Joel Zumaya on the 15-day DL (sore shoulder), retroactive to 3/27; placed LHP Dontrelle Willis on the 15-day DL (anxiety); returned Rule 5 pick LHP Kyle Bloom to the Pirates. [3/29]
First off, let's deal with the famous person news item, and then to the deal that perhaps triggered it. Sheff's release coincides with Frank Thomas' announcement that he's still willing and able to play. It makes for an interesting addendum to commentary on the state of DH play. Consider the expected starters at DH in the AL, and their projected median EqAs:
AL East AL Central AL West Luke Scott Orioles .275 Jim Thome, White Sox .287 Juan Rivera, Angels .266 David Ortiz, BoSox .297 Travis Hafner, Tribe .273 Jack Cust, Athletics .300 Hideki Matsui, Yanks .279 Marcus Thames, Tigers .271 Ken Griffey Jr., M's .272 Pat Burrell, Rays .293 Billy Butler, Royals .282 Hank Blalock, Rangers .265 Adam Lind, BJays .270 Jason Kubel, Twins .273
Now, some of these are obviously proxies: Juan Rivera isn't really going to be an everyday DH, we can also expect the Angels to rotate Vlad Guerrero and Bobby Abreu through the position, and similarly I'd anticipate Kid Griffey and Burrell donning something more than a batter's glove. Scott, Lind, Thames, and Kubel all figure to be platooned some and play a decent number of games in the outfield as well. Generally speaking, all of these situations reflect a reality that helps to explain why true DHs are rare items any more-Sparky Anderson's roster-extending tendency of rotating several people through the DH slot makes all sorts of sense as a matter of design when you're playing in a league where 12-man pitching staffs are a ubiquitous menace.
If you want to talk "true" DHs, we really only have the reliably unglovely Papi, Thome, and Pronk, and the chances that their ranks might be joined by two fragile vets (Godzilla and Blalock), Butler's stony gifts, and the rangelessness of Cust. Even there, I'd expect to see Cust and Blalock occasionally playing in the outfield and at first base, respectively. So we've got three definite DHs, two more who probably will be, and at most another two who might be. And seven teams that prefer a little flexibility as a matter of design.
Now, consider the Equivalent Averages to be found among the players in that field. If anything, they might understate the anticipated production from the DHs around the league, because in the cases of the probable platoons in Baltimore, Toronto, Detroit, and Kansas City, that suggests that the individual projections could move up a bit were the players involved more routinely sat against the same-handed. Regardless, the worst projection of the lot is Blalock's, which is mitigated slightly by his injury history and is something of a necessary evil after the Rangers elected to pick up his $6.2 million option for '09. If he bounces back as a hitter-only player and somehow engenders an attached draft pick coming Texas' way, we may end up calling Jon Daniels a genius; on the other hand, if the Rangers offered arbitration, Blalock would be smart to accept.
Consider also that Sheff's projected for a .271 EqA, not shabby for a 40-year-old. Thomas? Just .249. Both of those marks would be found around the bottom for worst projected production at DH, and in each instance, we're talking about guys who really can't play anywhere but DH these days. It pains me more than a little, because the Big Hurt is among my favorite still-active (sort of) players, but there comes a time when it's over, and for all of the talk about how well players are aging today, to some extent you've got to have a hook to keep on keeping on if you're reduced to DH at an advanced age. Griffey's got the prodigal son drama to act out, for instance, where Thomas and Sheffield have... well, maybe Frank gets a chance to play in a White Sox uni to end his career preliminary to an interesting bid for the Hall of Fame, but I don't see the Sox going out of their way to make it so, even if somebody gets hurt.
What about Sheff? While he's the better player than Thomas is at this point, the absence of any citizenship awards on his mantlepiece probably doesn't help, and his more recent track record for fragility might even have teams thinking that grabbing him at the minimum is more than they care to afford. Even a suddenly discovered enthusiasm for, say, playing first base wouldn't help him any. It would be fun to suggest putting him there for the Fish to leave Jorge Cantu at third and Emilio Bonifacio on the bench, but would conjuring up an echo of the '97 World Champions really play well in Miami, given that it's accompanied by memories of the subsequent, squalid teardown of the team?
Not every retirement is voluntary, of course, but if they're actually set on continuing to play, it looks like they're down to a very few options. There's always Japan, of course, but other great players-including recently elected Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson-have been willing to play in the independent leagues. That's not for everybody, but finding a job these days is no laughing matter, and when there's not a great case to be made on your behalf, considering all of your options is really all you're left with.
As for getting Anderson, other than its Sheff-erasing quality, it's not really a tremendous pickup by its lonesome. If it prefigures extra time at DH for Carlos Guillen, that's not entirely good news, but if Anderson is the defensive replacement for Guillen and a pair of fresh legs to give Magglio Ordonez or Curtis Granderson the odd day off while encouraging the team to retain... well, OK, Jeff Larish's predicted performance isn't worth making space for, not when he's projected to deliver a Laga-like low OBP with too-occasional occasional left-handed power, but since Larish has swung a hot bat in camp, he seems a likely lock. But how about Mike Hessman, who's out of options and more of a real choice at third base than Larish is, and the Tigers are otherwise stuck with Brandon Inge's punchless stick at the hot corner? It's nice to posit as an argument, certainly, and there's nothing saying they can't keep both, but if Jim Leyland elects to carry a 12th pitcher, somebody's going to be out of luck. And that's beyond the seemingly already luckless Ryan Raburn and Brent Clevlen, who apparently suffer for their lack of lefty-ness where Anderson at least offers a right-leaning Tigers team that quality.
Optioned RHP Luke Hochevar to Omaha (Triple-A). [3/31]
The horror involved is that the fight for the fourth and fifth slots in the rotation has apparently been resolved to management's satisfaction, and the answers involve Horacio Ramirez and Sir Sidney Ponson. This is the kind of mistake a team makes thinking in terms of having some people who are optionable and other people who are "known" quantities; the misfortune is that Ramirez and Ponson are well-known to be terrible starting pitchers, and the pleasures of employing them, however novel and exciting they might be to the Royals, will wear off with a grisly probability. Start your pool on the respective dates Ramirez and the courageous Dutch knight-or was that the knight with Dutch courage?-get hauled back out of the rotation. It's a pity to see this happen for the Royals; as is, their bid for contention in the competitive AL Central is one that will depend on a lot of things going right, but betting on Ponson and Ramirez just makes the odds a wee bit longer.
Optioned RHP Rich Thompson to Salt Lake (Triple-A). [3/30]
Optioned OF-L Jason Pridie to Rochester (Triple-A). [3/27]
There's something fitting that, just a few short years after I was making an argument to Kevin Goldstein for why Curtis Thigpen belonged on (the bottom of) his list of the best catching prospects in the game, I now find myself having to grin and bear it as an A's fan that Thiggy appears to be the designated backup backstop for the team that I'm admittedly a fan of. Not that I don't mind the proposition that Landon Powell ought to prove that he's healthy or that Joel Galarraga might need some breaking in at Sacramento; it's just that, of all the transaction columns, on all the teams, in the world, he had to walk into mine. I won't quite subject myself to a Renault-like volte face and suddenly start talking about what a great thing this is for the A's-Thigpen was readily available for good reason, because the bat wasn't really all that, and the arm is that tick or two short of making him a catch-and-throw guy to boot, what with his failing to do better than gun 16 percent of stolen-base attempts in either of his last two spins in Triple-A. Is it a matter of Thigpen's experience at first base, and having him replace Jason Giambi now and again late in games? They cut Rob Bowen for this? Marcus Jensen wasn't available? Erg.
The other moves have nothing like the same surprising quality about them. Schroder was crowded out by the decision to trade for Michael Wuertz (who, like Santiago Casilla, is out of options), and not even Joey Devine's health might help get him back from the River Cats any time soon. Cunningham remains promising, but he's also behind Travis Buck for starts in right field, and it's just as well that he's going to get everyday play in Sacramento. Petit was another squeezed-out option, as the middle infield's already gone a Bobby Crosby too far to make it easy to decide what to do with Cliff Pennington should they retain Crosby. It all adds up to the basis of another PCL contender in the big valley, but we'll have to see what it means for the A's season-opening roster.
I'm disappointed to see Clement go down, because the alternatives to his being in the lineup involves heaping helpings of Endy Chavez in left (instead of Ken Griffey Jr., DHing in Clement's place), Kenji Johjima behind the plate, and Russell Branyan and Mike Sweeney at first base. The Branyan thing's interesting enough and shouldn't cost them runs, so this really boils down to choosing a whole lot of Endy Chavez and/or a whole lot of Johjima, and as these things go, that's just not especially tasty for a team whose offense begins to look downright ugly when it can look forward to the bats of Chavez, Johjima, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Franklin Gutierrez in regular use. It takes a lot of wishcasting upon Jose Lopez to make matters look any better, but added together, it spells a lovely bid for a league-worst lineup. Clement wasn't going to make all the difference by himself, but with over a thousand plate appearances as a Rainier already, there's not much point in sending him thataways when the alternatives are unlikely to generate as much offense. Talk of "a crowded DH picture" betrays an inability to choose the best option, and referring to the growing number of catchers in the organization only incentivizes the team to get a good read on Clement's playability behind the plate now before turning to options still on the way up.
As for going out and getting Burke, I guess this means that, while you can take the Bloomquist out of the Mariners, you can always find a new Bloomquist by another name. Burke has proven willing to move around the diamond and play wherever ordered, and he can run a little. Maybe if he huffs and puffs and makes his head bob around a lot, the activity will make him instantly beloved, and inspire clever baseball-y plays off of such great Burke quotes as, "Never despair, but if you do, work on in despair," which, come to think of it, might be the advice Mariners fans take to heart. Or, "No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear." A cheery sort, that Mr. Burke, and he didn't even have to endure the odd Bavasi, merely the products of another well-born dynasty that muddled along to mixed results.
I'm not here to discuss the fate of Ensberg; at this stage of his career, every day must seem like the Ides of March when it comes to people cutting him, so a bit of et tu, Matt Silverman shouldn't be cause for surprise, let alone cause for insomnia in a Rays' front office full of lean and hungry-looking men who think too much. Instead, let's turn to the Bard's next observation, that such men are dangerous, because it's overthinking that seems to have inspired the decision to demote David Price despite his obvious talent and readiness. Kevin Goldstein has already beaten me to the punch on this in-house, but there's only a pennant at stake in this division-not simply a divisional flag for cunning re-use-and as good as Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann are as nice little very tall pitching prospects, they having nothing like Price's upside, regardless of how their lack of options makes figuring out what to do with them a minor organizational priority. They had all winter to work on that, and what's getting bandied about at present is dumping one of them on the Padres? There's a non-shocking development. The best case you can conjure up to defend this is, let's face it, with the help of a few off days, they might need their fifth starter three times by the last day of the month, and while every game will probably end up mattering in the AL East standings, the worst that can happen is Niemann or Hammel-whoever isn't the Padre to be named later-loses three games and gets bumped to dozenth pitcherdom while Price makes his way back from his current load of Durham bull.
Koshansky floated some people's boats in years past, but when you're a Rockies farmhand, you get the benefit of hitting in places like Tulsa or Colorado Springs, boons to mediocre minor league sluggers (or, to be fair, great minor league sluggers, emphasis on minor). Playing in front of the home frenzy in the equally thin air of the Rockies' top farm club, Koshansky hit an impressive .355/.429/.700. No, really. The problem is more reflected in his hitting .249/.335/.506 everywhere else in the PCL last season, which is part of why we're forecasting him to hit just .219/.294/.412 with a .240 EqA were he a big-leaguer entering his age-27 season. He's not the worst guy to have tucked away at Triple-A, but he's also far from the best; if something happens to Chris Davis, better the Rangers consider asking Hank Blalock to play the field than reaching down for Koshansky.
Traded C-R Curtis Thigpen to the A's for a PTBNL or cash; released LHP Mike Maroth and RHP Rick Bauer. [3/27]
Traded OF-L Josh Anderson to the Tigers for RHP Rudy Darrow; placed RHP Charlie Morton on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 3/27. [3/30]
Dealing away Anderson provides the revelatory development that the job in center is Jordan Schafer's, probably about as on schedule as it would have been before last spring's suspension for HGH. Given that Anderson's primary virtue was his defense and his speed, and he didn't have a surfeit sufficient to outshine the alternatives, this looks like another canny example of the Braves making a careful decision to clear the decks for their best prospect at a position. Their track record is that they stick with these calls, so I doubt Schafer's going to have to worry about his job after back-to-back oh-fers. His defense is supposed to be solid, his arm a nice deterrent to opposing baserunners, and if he won't walk much initially, defense, speed, and a bit of power was enough to go on for more than a few center-field prospects.
Now, in itself that's sort of cool, of course, but it's also a clean break from employing Anderson at all, which therefore also means that the fourth outfield job should belong to Gregor Blanco. That's not an unimportant consideration for a team that is also counting on Jeff Francoeur to be back at full speed, one that's also counting on Garret Anderson and Matt Diaz to stay relatively healthy in a platoon. Given the uncertainties of Schafer's initial success, the outcome of Frenchy's bounce-back effort, and the elder-care involved with that tandem in left, plus plenty of pinch-hitting opportunities (leading off innings for the pitcher's slot, for example), Blanco seems a safe bet to get a solid chunk of playing time. The guy who's still semi-screwed is Brandon Jones, but he was from the moment they inked Anderson and he needed to erase memories of last season's funk-iness, so it's just as well.
As for the Chipper Jones extension, what's already suggested by MORP in its valuation of the man's future is that they're overpaying for what they might expect to get from him if you read off of a straight forecast. So sure, so much for the hometown discount, and perhaps the Braves are also paying a premium for a positive association with a single-team franchise player to make his best-possible bid for the Hall of Fame. Not that he'd wind up on a plaque wearing anyone else's cap, but you have to figure playing for a single team's going to help his shot. All of that said, there's a reasonable bet to be made that he exceeds the projections that we have for him, since he's already enjoying a remarkable late-career second wind in terms of his power and productivity, not to mention an even more impressive improvement afield as he creeps closer to his 40th birthday (documented in both The Fielding Bible: Volume II and Clay Davenport's new play-by-play fielding metrics). Taken together, these factors go a long way toward explaining why his Similarity Index score is as low as it is-simply put, there's nobody in the history of baseball who's been anything like Chipper Jones, which makes predicting what's to come a bit entertaining, not to mention dicey. The Braves are betting high, and while it's easy to take potshots at the obvious risk, that risk is entirely understandable.