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One of my favorite sayings–I think I first saw it in an r.s.b post back when I
was in college–is “Life is not a meritocracy.” As much as we in
America embrace the notion of a Horatio Alger ideal–that anyone can do
anything they want to if they work hard enough–the fact is that intractable,
and sometimes unfair, barriers to success do exist.

In baseball, we generally call these barriers “service time” and
“financial commitments.” Players with the MLB Seal of Approval and
guaranteed contracts keep their jobs long past the point of reason, while more
deserving younger players toil one level below, doing everything in their
power to reach The Show, but get left behind by the conservative nature of
dyed-in-the-wool baseball people who would rather watch a veteran be old than
take a chance on a younger player.

This column will highlight a number of the bad baseball players who are blocking the progress of better ones.

  • Deivi
    Cruz
    has become one of the worst players in baseball. He’s not
    remotely the defensive player he was when he came up with the Tigers, and as a
    hitter (.217/.225/.331) is less threatening than high tea with Nathan Lane and Harvey Fierstein. That the
    Orioles continue to play him every day is as disturbing as…well, the thought
    of high tea with Nathan Lane and Harvey Fierstein.

    What makes it worse is that the O’s have two reasonable shortstop candidates
    on their roster, and are playing both at other positions. Melvin
    Mora
    is over his head right now at .345/.455/.583, but even a typical
    Mora season–PECOTA projected .244/.328/.384 for a .258 EqA–would place him in
    the top half of AL shortstops offensively, and his defense is passable. He’s
    being used in left field, however. Meanwhile, Brian
    Roberts
    is playing second base in the absence of Jerry
    Hairston
    , out for a month with a broken bone in his right foot.
    Roberts was hitting .315/.401/.399 at Ottawa while playing second base, but
    was a shortstop up through 2001 and, like Mora, would be an average-minus
    defender at the position with enough of a bat to be a positive contributor
    overall.

    This problem should solve itself when Hairston returns, but Mike Hargrove
    should hasten the process by putting Mora at shortstop for now and playing Larry
    Bigbie
    (.333/.411/.603 at Ottawa)–or even the slowly-fading-away Jack
    Cust
    (.247/.403/.342 at Ottawa)–in left field in the interim. Mike
    Flanagan and Jim Beattie are making slow progress in yanking the Orioles out
    of the late 1990s, and finding out if one of those guys can be the team’s No. 5 hitter is going to be a big step along the way.

    While I’m picking on the Orioles, it’s time to complete the wipeout of my
    Scoresheet rotation and lose Rick
    Helling
    (6.36 ERA, 13 HR in 58 IP) to the waiver wire. The Orioles can
    use the next four months to see if Sean
    Douglass
    (3.18 ERA, no home runs allowed in 51 innings at Ottawa) can
    do what Josh
    Towers
    and John
    Stephens
    couldn’t: stick in the majors as a command guy with so-so
    stuff.

  • The Indians appear to be trying to set a record for most sub-700 OPS
    outfielders on one roster. While they get points for giving Jody
    Gerut
    a shot, he hasn’t hit in his month of work (.250/.256/.463, one
    walk in 80 at-bats), so it’s time to make room for Covelli
    Crisp
    (.349/.446/.494 at Buffalo), who has hopefully ditched the
    “Coco” moniker. Crisp won’t keep hitting .340, but he has greatly
    improved his walk rate this year (26 in 172 AB, vs. 102 in 1,068 AB the past
    two seasons) and might be ready to hit leadoff or second in the major leagues.
    Adding Crisp to Milton
    Bradley
    would shore up the Indians’ outfield as well, giving them two
    center fielders behind a very young, very shaky rotation.

    There’s very little chance that Crisp wouldn’t be an improvement on Matt
    Lawton
    , who has hit .233/.335/.386 since being traded away from the
    Twins in 2001, and looks done. Shane
    Spencer
    hasn’t been much better than Lawton this year, but has some
    value as a good glove on the outfield corners with a history of hitting
    lefties. Neither player should stand in Crisp’s way.

  • Buck Showalter has handled Mark
    Teixeira
    remarkably well, keeping the rookie on the roster throughout
    his dreadful April slump (.173/.283/.327 as the Rangers played the AL West)
    and getting him more and more at-bats as he’s heated up in May
    (.304/.385/.571). Teixeira is ready to be an everyday player, and the way he
    which he was handled is a sharp contrast to the way Hank
    Blalock
    was dumped one year
    ago after 100 at-bats
    .

    Now, John Hart has to remove the main complicating factor in Showalter’s OF/DH
    mix by getting rid of Ruben
    Sierra
    , who can’t hit any longer (.254/.326/.369, on the heels of
    hitting .245/.292/.379 the last five months of 2002). This will free up
    at-bats for Teixeira at DH and first base, while opening a roster spot for Ryan
    Ludwick
    , who is hitting .281/.364/.573 at Triple-A. Unfortunately,
    there’s still no place to play Ludwick, who has only played right field in the
    wake of last year’s hip surgery. Laynce
    Nix
    (.325/.376/.518 at Double-A Frisco) can’t get to Arlington fast
    enough, because this team needs a center fielder badly.

  • Matt
    Williams
    hasn’t been good in a year beginning with “2,”
    posting EqAs of .238, .256 and .265 in the 21st century. This year, he’s
    hitting .241/.323/.391, a .247 EqA, while covering just slightly more ground
    at third base than third base itself. Meanwhile, Chad
    Tracy
    has made steady progress through all the organization’s fine
    hitting environments, and is hitting .347/.402/.484 at Tucson. Promoting him
    makes a lot more sense than trading a pitcher for Shea
    Hillenbrand
    does, but to be honest, aren’t we all a little curious as
    to whether Joe Garagiola, Jr. has yet passed the horseshoe he’s had lodged in
    his system for half a decade?

    The Astros have used nine starting pitchers in 53 games, and of those, only Roy
    Oswalt
    and Tim
    Redding
    have been worth much. Scott
    Linebrink
    has been decent without ever getting out of the sixth
    inning. Jeriome
    Robertson
    (6.31 ERA), Kirk
    Saarloos
    (15.63) and Pete
    Munro
    (16.88) have been tried and found wanting in the back of the
    rotation. Brian
    Moehler
    was nice enough to get hurt before dragging the team down too
    much (7.90).

    It’s time to stop messing around before a very winnable NL Central gets away.
    Rodrigo
    Rosario
    has just ten Triple-A starts under his belt, but at 25, he’s
    the best remaining option at Triple-A New Orleans, with a 2.67 ERA and 52
    strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings. Rosario and Saarloos (2.34 ERA in 50 IP, 29 K, 6
    BB at New Orleans), placed in the back of the rotation instead of Robertson
    and Jonathan
    Johnson
    , can be the difference makers this year for a team whose aging
    lineup core a very small window of opportunity.

Those are the five situations that cry out for a change, but there are many
other players trapped in Triple-A, waiting for their organization to get back
from Clues ‘R Us. I thought the Rockies’ Garret
Atkins
could have made the team out of spring training, but he was
sent to Colorado Springs for seasoning. He’s hit .346/.393/.539, which even
after adjusting comes to a major-league EqA of .260. Chris
Stynes
hasn’t hit well enough to keep his job, and has more value to
the Rockies as a utility player and pinch-hitter anyway.

Justin
Morneau
is a better player than Doug
Mientkiewicz
right now, and that’s granting that Mientkiewicz, all
things considered, isn’t bad, especially if you can platoon him to get the
Double Word Score. Morneau just can’t stop hitting, though: his .329/.384/.620
month at New Britain got him promoted to Rochester, and he’s abused the
International League to the tune of .330/.409/.660. He’s the best left-handed
hitter in the AL Central on the day he gets promoted.

The Twins have a truly ridiculous excess of hitting talent in the upper levels
of their organization, which evokes two reactions:

  1. There’s simply no excuse for them to be so bad offensively (eighth in the
    AL in EqA).

  2. The people who think they’re built around good pitching–hi, Harold–are
    nuts. They have a sweet bullpen, but the rotation is bad, saved only by a
    superior defense.

Terry Ryan has to leverage the 41 hitters fighting for playing time into at
least one middle infielder who can hit and a starting pitcher who can miss a
bat once in a while. If there’s someone who should be trying to get Byung-Hyun
Kim
from the D’backs, it’s Ryan.

Other players I’d like to see get a job. Terrmel
Sledge
loves the Expos’ new affiliate in Edmonton. He’s at
.327/.440/.520 for a major-league EqA of .287, and could help the ‘Spos
offense at first base, or, if they wanted to sacrifice some defense–a bad idea
with their pitching staff–in center field. His best hope might be a crash
course in third-base play, where Fernando
Tatis
(.214/.281/.279) needs to go bye.

And then there’s the Dodgers. Bubba Crosby is hitting an
Ashleyriffic .406/.459/.719 at Las Vegas, which after you take all the air out
is still a major-league EqA of .325. The fifth-year pro out of Rice has
largely been a disappointment since being drafted, but considering how badly the Dodgers
need runs, Crosby should at least show up on their radar.

Finally, I’ll probably regret this, but since Jim
Edmonds
might miss time (see today’s UTK for more), I want to mention
Jon
Nunnally
, who was losing job battles back when I was excited about my
shell account and Sophia’s 386 with Windows 3.1. Nunnally, now 31, is hitting
.311/.475/.589 for the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate in Memphis. If Edmonds
does have to go on the DL, the Cardinals have to think about giving Nunnally a
call. As careful as J.D. Drew
and Albert
Pujols
have to be handled, Nunnally would provide a great alternative
on those days when La Russa is tempted to start six players with below-average
OBPs.