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July 8, 2009
The Faltering Breeze in Texas
Placed 1B-R Jeff Bailey on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle); purchased the contract of 1B-R Aaron Bates from Pawtucket (Triple-A); transferred SS-S Jed Lowrie from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/6]
While this is bad news for Bailey in terms of the sheer inconvenience of the timing-he had a real shot at playing time, what with Mike Lowell's latest excusal from active duty-this is also a genuinely ungood thing for the Red Sox, because once you get past Bailey, we get into the unfortunate circumstance of so many of the organization's fall-back options flat-out falling down. Mark Kotsay's been healthy enough to play of late, so Bailey might have been reduced to job-sharing if not an outright platoon, but Kotsay's not going to do much damage at the plate-to the opposition, at any rate. He is managing .319/.347/.426 against right-handers, about what he's good for at best, and still far short of what a team should get from its first baseman. There isn't really all that much alternative, however; Lars Anderson was subject to overly elaborate and overly ambitious expectations-and I ran with that crowd, so I'm guilty of harboring them myself-and has instead hit an uninspiring .262/.356/.407 for Double-A Portland. He's still only 22 years old, so it isn't like he's an instant non-prospect or organizational unperson, he's just no longer doubleplusgood. At Pawtucket, Chris Carter is slowly overcoming his slow start to go off on a five-game, single-riffic hitting streak; he's hitting .294/.350/.487 against right-handers in the International League. That's better than Kotsay if he kept the power, a big if. The nicest thing you can say about Paul McAnulty is that he has a Three True Outcomes percentage of 37.5 percent against right-handers; he's a worse option than Carter. So Kotsay it is, against right-handers.
To platoon with him, they've brought up Bates. He might only be 25 years old, but he's an organizational soldier in the making. He's played left field for Portland most of this season (to accommodate Anderson), but he's a first baseman. Before a promotion to the PawSox a month ago, he'd hit fine at Double-A (.340/.405/.505), but it was a repeat campaign, and most of the power was against lefties, and walking in little more than seven percent of his PA wasn't really the sort of batsmanship you want from your first baseman. In his month in Triple-A, he's been awful, hitting .182/.273/.295 despite a return to first base. Still, he's right-handed, Mark Kotsay isn't, and I guess the notion of using Nick Green as Kotsay's platoon partner would be seen as some sort of dimunition of his over-burnished (and fading) 15 minutes.
Happily, this won't linger as an issue, since it seems as if Mike Lowell will be back after the All-Star break. Of course, they're also full up on the 40-man, so even beyond optioning somebody down for his benefit, that same somebody or someone else is going to have to be designated for assignment once they reactivate Lowrie sometime soon. Whether that's Bates, Travis Denker, Argenis Diaz, or even Carter, it isn't like they'll be risking much on somebody else's fanciful waiver claim.
Activated CF-L Josh Hamilton from the 15-day DL; optioned 1B-L Chris Davis to Oklahoma City (Triple-A). [7/6]
Activated RHP Dustin Nippert from the 60-day DL; optioned CF-L Julio Borbon to Oklahoma City; transferred RHP Brandon McCarthy from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/7]
Reactivating Nippert had long been anticipated, and they immediately placed the former Snakes pitching prospect into the rotation, bumping Derek Holland to a pen that's now moved beyond self-consciously big to eight-man overstuffed. Happily, they've been quite adamant about Holland's long-term future as a starting pitcher, but in the meantime, they're in the weird situation of having three different grouplets of relievers: the late-game trio (Frank Francisco, C.J. Wilson, Darren O'Day), the veteran mid-game guys (Eddie Guardado and Jason Jennings), and now a trio of mop-up relievers, with Holland joining Jason Grilli and Doug Mathis. Roll it all together, it makes for the eighth-best pen in the AL, posting a unit-wide FRA of 4.57. I can't see Holland making his way into a higher-leveral LOOGY role, not when they're still stuck with Guardado beyond Wilson's high-profile role as Closer, Second Class. But seeing as they've willing to carry Mathis as well as Jennings after trading for Grilli, it's clear that layering can be a seasonal answer in Texas, at least in some people's minds. Add in the nearness of the All-Star break, and the need for this many relief arms seems stranger still.
As for the previous move, calling it quitting on Chris Davis might seem extreme, but let's face it, at first base every passing week brings us closer to the dawning of Justin Smoak Era for the Rangers. How about a return to third base, then? Well, that pesky zillion-year commitment to Michael Young (through 2013) presents an insurmountable roadblock, unless young Mr. Davis elects for extra-legal solutions involving blackmail, frame-ups, or a shallow grave. Davis' play at first base was considered good enough that he really shouldn't be reduced the DH in the Smoak-y future, and at any rate, there he would gets heaped into a mix of outfielders he may or may not outhit. Frankly, if the Rangers decide to take this year seriously and decide to field a rotation that might challenge the titans of the AL East in October, I'd think putting Davis into the pile that'll need mounding up to get the Jays to consider parting with Roy Halladay would be a very good idea indeed.
In the meantime, the upshot is that Hank Blalock will start getting the playing time at first base, but there's also the suggestion that Andruw Jones could get in there some as well. (If that isn't an Ernie Banks-like leap across the defensive spectrum, I don't know what is, but that's a reflection of Andruw's creeping case of olditude.) Keeping Julio Borbon around might have been worthwhile-barring that eight-man pitching staff, of course-albeit within limits. Say, if Borbon were to have gotten playing time in center, spot-starting in center against right-handers and/or when a more fly ball-oriented pitcher is starting, say Dustin Nippert or Tommy Hunter. That involves Hamilton moving to a corner, but that's not a bad thing, and it's not like the Rangers had Hamilton only play center in 2008. But the situation's more than a bit crowded, in what represents something of an interesting dilemma for the Rangers, even with only three position-playing reserves; although the DH slot's come free with Blalock's move to first, spreading at-bats among Marlon Byrd, Nelson Cruz, and David Murphy makes for an interesting challenge, with Jones also in the back end of that mix. There really are only two obvious "bench" players in that sense of the word: Omar Vizquel doing his Obi-Wan thing for Elvis Andrus, and Taylor Teagarden starting once every four or five games behind the plate.