|IN THIS ISSUE|
|Anaheim Angels||Return to Top|
Placed UT-R Shane Halter on the 15-day DL (dislocated finger), retroactive to 6/14; activated C-R Bengie Molina from the 15-day DL. [6/19]
Losing Halter might have cost the Angels a guy who can run around anywhere you put him on the diamond, but they’re not really hurting for depth. Since Chone Figgins is going all Cesar Tovar on us, showing the world that can play anywhere, and with a bench that offers Alfredo Amezaga to handle middle infield reserve chores and Robb Quinlan filling in at the corners, the only area where Halter might have been missed was at the plate…at which point, having recognized this, you stop asking where to send the ‘get well soon’ cards.
So, with an extra spot on the roster to wonder about, they went to three catchers for the time being. Now, in part, there’s the concern that Bengie Molina has been less than his best behind the plate this year, so he’ll get to play his way into form. But at the back end of the roster, I guess if you let them work at it long enough, I’m sure that the Angels will find a way to make the White Sox rue the day they ever gave Josh Paul the kiss-off. He’s better than anyone at getting that pesky green pie piece in Trivial Pursuit, perhaps. Or he lets everyone else eat his fries. When you’re talking third catchers, this chemistry stuff is really important.
|Baltimore Orioles||Return to Top|
Placed LHP Eric DuBose on the 15-day DL (sore elbow); recalled OF-R Tim Raines Jr. from Ottawa. [6/20]
With DuBose out until August or so, the Orioles’ rotation gets another exercise in re-jumbling itself. Matt Riley is already back, and Kurt Ainsworth probably won’t be back until September, if then. It would be easy to just put Rodrigo Lopez back into the rotation, because at this point, the organization may not have any healthy alternative. John Maine’s pitching badly in Ottawa, and the other potential Lynx call-ups involve names like Sean Bergman, Dave Borkowski, and Andrew Lorraine. You know, names like those of the toasty crunchable winners of that game show Richard Dawson hosted. So yes, it’s panic stations.
|Chicago White Sox||Return to Top|
Recalled LHP Arnie Munoz from Charlotte. [6/19]
Optioned Munoz to Charlotte; recalled RHP Jon Rauch from Charlotte. [6/20]
Consider the Koch trade an index of how far Ozzie’s stock has risen. Not only did he get Kenny Williams to dump his most annoying problem, he acquired a player he took a shine to personally from his days in the Marlins’ organization. Sadly, he’s also about as close to useless in today’s environment as a shortstop who hits, runs, and fields like Alex Sanchez could be. Since he’s also already 26, you shouldn’t mistake him for a prospect who’s going places. If one of the infielders gets really seriously hurt, Valdez might get the call. I suppose everyone needs a pinch-caught-stealing now and again, after all.
But basically, this was a dump, with the favoritism angle working in as a bonus. Having gotten Koch out of the way, the Sox can spread their saves between Shingo Takatsu and Damaso Marte. If they slip up, experienced former closers like Cliff Politte and Mike Jackson are on hand. It might mean foregoing the machismo that lost them Opening Day, but the Sox are better off without it.
Finally, in a move that demonstrates Kenny Williams would rather win than fidget over old lines in the sand, Jon Rauch has the fifth starter’s job back. It’s refreshing that Williams decided to self-edit and forget about what happened last time, but the Sox are going to have to settle down and actually give Rauch multiple turns before passing judgment on the results. Flitting from Felix Diaz to Rauch to Neal Cotts to Arnie Munoz over five starts told them nothing, predictably enough. If they can settle down and let Rauch show them if they need to make a move at the end of July or not, they’ll be better off.
|Detroit Tigers||Return to Top|
Optioned LHP Steve Colyer to Toledo; recalled RHP Franklyn German from Toledo. [6/20]
|New York Yankees||Return to Top|
Purchased the contract of LHP Brad Halsey from Columbus. [6/19]
Halsey was called up to plug the hole created by Kevin Brown’s breakdown, the latest problem in a rotation teetering between usefulness and asking what Chuck Cary is up to these days. Indeed, if not for Javier Vazquez, to paraphrase Jefferson Davis, the Yankees would have no starting pitcher. Sure, Brown has been useful, Mussina has had his moments, and outside of New England, lots of people wish Jon Lieber well, but the rotation is every bit the source of concern we thought it would be. It would be unusual for Halsey to be part of the solution, considering how long it has been since Andy Pettitte came up, the last homegrown starter to really amount to something. (Ted Lilly was a Dodgers product who arrived by way of Montreal; the next names to enjoy any sort of success beyond Pettitte were the Polish Prince, Scott Kamieniecki, and Sterling Hitchcock).
So, much as people are in a hurry to say pitchers can’t develop or learn their craft in Denver, it might be easy to make an equally compelling case that they can’t do that in New York. The distinction is that the environmental factors in the Big Apple are social, not atmospheric. Having pitched in major college action, Halsey has been pushed up the chain pretty quickly for a 2002 pick, but he’s here after spending almost a full year above A-ball, having split 2003 between high-A and Double-A, and spent this year at Columbus. Still, his 52nd pro start was in Chavez Ravine. Halsey has good control and decent stuff, but he’s been hittable at every level, and not especially dominant in terms of putting people away. He won’t be here for long, but hopefully, he won’t endure some sort of Bobby Bradley-style meltdown. It might seem random that Halsey’s getting picked over Alex Graman already, but that’s the Mad Kingdom for you.
|Oakland Athletics||Return to Top|
Placed OF-L Billy McMillon on the 15-day DL (back); recalled RHP Justin Lehr from Sacramento. [6/17]
There’s no special dignity in ranking 11th among AL bullpens in Adjusted Runs Prevented. The mass accumulation of left-handed persons left the A’s having to overwork Chad Bradford, entrust and then learn not to trust Jim Mecir with late leads, and press Justin Duchscherer into a high-leverage role. Plus, the fearsome threesome of the portside crew–Arthur Rhodes, Chris Hammond, and Ricky Rincon–hasn’t done well enough to frighten Oscar Gamble out of a lineup, and you’d have to dig up the right phonebook to look Oscar up to sign him and put his 54 year-old body into a lineup, just so that he could show you he’s not frightened, platoon split or no.
So it’s perhaps just as well that they turn to the farm to see if there’s any help to be had. A former catcher, ‘Panzer’ Lehr was a two-way starter at USC, but moved into the pen full-time in 2002 after a rough introduction to the Texas League. He’s got good velocity and some useful breaking stuff. Roto-heads stressing about the A’s closing situation will already be having palpitations born of the knowledge that Lehr had 12 saves for Sacramento, and that after a good winter campaign where he was closing in Puerto Rico. Add in 38 strikeouts in 32 IP, and you can get excited. I wouldn’t read much into the saves, but given Oakland’s need for a right-handed reliever, Lehr could easily be whatever it is that Rich Harden is supposed to be whenever he isn’t being more valuable as a starting pitcher.
|Texas Rangers||Return to Top|
According to ESPN, John Wasdin’s up for his second career start, which I guess is a nice way of saying that everyone gets a do-over in life now and again. Believe me, as an A’s fan, I’d rather forget the ugliness of his first full year in the majors, although he did go on to do good work as a utility pitcher for the Red Sox. And how many people get traded for Jose Canseco and get third or fifth chances? OK, Ruben Sierra, but c’mon, who else? OK, Bobby Witt got a lot of breaks. And Otis Nixon redefined the whole concept of second chances, in a Steve Howe sort of way. Well, Jeff Russell didn’t, so I have a point. Sort of. Anyway, like the noisy Was-din of the “Whazzup” phenomenon, we can move on. If you think me bitter over the Canseco trade of ’92, you’d be right.
|Toronto Blue Jays||Return to Top|
Placed C-R Bobby Estalella on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle); recalled RHP Michael Nakamura from Syracuse. [6/19]
Thus sparing the Jays from having to sort out what to do about their three catchers combo, which should take Gregg Zaun out of circulation for DH at-bats, but at this point, that isn’t bad news for Zaun as much as it is for Kevin Cash. Surprisingly, it doesn’t mean a return to everyday play for Josh Phelps. Even with Carlos Delgado out of commission and DH-less interleague games being played, Carlos Tosca has managed to continue his little game of lineup peekaboo with Phelps.
Meanwhile, in the pen, Nakamura isn’t up for anything more than show. Bob File and Justin Speier both seem to be rounding into form, and with Jason Frasor and Vinny Chulk doing good work, there isn’t a lot of room or work left over for newbies. Kerry Ligtenberg will be back from the DL at some point, and Nakamura is the obvious fall guy. That isn’t to say nothing he does matters; if he does well in his bit, he might contribute to a decision to peddle one of the veteran relievers, at which point you could credit him with good works, a contribution towards an organizational comfort level, and whatever goodies come over in trade. Not sole credit, of course, but on the level that everything matters, how Nakamura does could have an impact.
|Arizona Diamondbacks||Return to Top|
Placed RHP Jose Valverde on the 15-day DL (shoulder tendinitis). [6/18]
Purchased the contract of RHP Lance Cormier from Tucson. [6/19]
Recalled RHP Greg Aquino from Tucson; activated 2B-B Roberto Alomar and 1B-R Greg Colbrunn from the 15-day DL; placed PH-B Alan Zinter on the 15-day DL (plantar fascitis); designated OF-LDoug Devore for assignment; optioned RHP Lance Cormier to Tucson. [6/20]
Sometimes, the Snakes show a talent for clumsy non-solutions that ought to serve as inspiration for physical comedians everywhere. Flinging a young starter up two levels within a month is something you generally want to avoid, especially when it’s a ‘give us a good start or else’ situation. It gets even dopier when you have an alternative at hand, and even more silly yet when you sort out all of the repercussions for a flaky, temporary move.
Cormier had a nice couple of months at El Paso, then got back up to Tucson for a couple of weeks. At both levels, he’d flashed the control that makes people notice him, but nobody thinks of him as a blue-chipper. Yet he was rushed up because Andrew Good had a bad first start the previous swing through the rotation.
But was Good unavailable, because he’d pitched between his start on the 12th, and what wound up being Cormier’s debut on the 19th? He had not, so he was available. Were the Snakes short a long reliever then, and so might want to leave Good in the pen? No, because “Double-ph” Stephen Randolph and Elmer Dessens were both rested for the 19th. So the Snakes weren’t short-handed, they were just fickle.
Beyond all that, you have to purchase Cormier’s contract, which indirectly contributed to the outrighting of Devore. Although he should slip through waivers, I’d claim him if I had need for a lefty-hitting fourth outfielder. Was one start and firing up Cormier’s arbitration clock worth that? Not a chance. Add in that Good had to pitch anyway (in their defense, that was something the Snakes could not have known ahead of time), and you’ve got nothing for something to show for your efforts.
None of which should serve as any inspiration about how they’ll handle the second base situation now that Alomar is back. Scott Hairston might have a nine-game hitting streak at the moment, but his slugging and OBP have been steadily dropping. Now, part of that is that nobody thought he was going to slug .600 all year, but if the Snakes see his numbers drop any further, they have to start wondering about whether or not the ex-famous person on the bench needs a few starts.
Given that it’s a cut-bait sort of season, they’d be far better off flipping Alomar to the contender with the nicest smile and the most promising future considerations. Hairston’s defense has been better than expected, so they’re better off committing to him than dishing out another helping of how they handled Cormier, or will handle Greg Aquino. Who else can carry 12 pitchers without a fifth starter? Losing must lead to lurching, because it certainly isn’t generating leadership.
|Atlanta Braves||Return to Top|
Signed 1B-R Luis Lopez to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Richmond. [6/18]
It’s a reflection on the state of affairs in Georgia that Paul Byrd’s return is about as much ‘here comes the cavalry’ as the Braves are gonna get. Horacio Ramirez is working towards a rehabilitation, but isn’t there yet, so barring a recognition that neither John Thomson or Mike Hampton are doing the Braves many favors, they have to settle for swapping out the fifth starter temp (Travis Smith) until then. On that level, merely shuffling Smith to the pen is an interesting choice. Certainly, Nitkowski didn’t add to the Mazzone luster any more than Thomson or Hampton have, so the Braves still have a second lefty to scare up at some point. (Even then, they’re letting Armando Almanza curdle in a situational role.) But once Ramirez is ready to come back, something is going to have to give in the rotation. So bump Hampton, and get that second lefty in the pen? I don’t see it, so I suspect that Thomson’s career-long tough luck will continue.
I’m not usually an ogre wishing for bad things, but I’m going to have a bitter laugh at the Braves’ expense if they end up having to call up Luis Lopez at some point. Not only did they have and discard Russell Branyan, they’re desperate for offensive help, and if they don’t turn back to Adam LaRoche when he’s ready to come off of the DL, and instead give playing time to someone like Lopez, they’ll deserve another…well, they don’t call it an October surprise in Atlanta, not any more, do they? I suppose the surprise would take a slightly different form, in that the Braves may not play any more than the three scheduled games they have that month.
|Chicago Cubs||Return to Top|
Sammy’s return defies overstatement as far as its importance. They got good work out of Todd Hollandsworth, which reflects one of the virtues of having Dusty around (when in doubt, he trusts age), and if that playing time helps Hollandsworth stay sharp deep into the season, the Cubs have a better bench for it. In Sammito’s absence, the lineup continued to score runs, but having him back makes it that much more likely that they can sustain that sort of output. And besides, now that Sammy’s back, Rick Reilly might pretend to take an interest in the national pastime.
The more basic problem is one that has haunted the team from the time that Todd Walker decided playing for the Cubs mattered more than money. Will Walker and Grudz platoon? Not so far: confronting the A’s wall of lefty starting pitching, Walker still got a start. Since neither player is a defensive asset, and Grudz’s platoon numbers over the years have seen lefty-murdilatin’, perhaps a bit of a platoon makes sense, but Walker’s been hot, making it hard to choose a job-sharing set-up. In short, Dusty has the same tough choice. Given the absence of a real shortstop, there might be some curiosity in seeing how bad Grudz could be there. It isn’t as if Ramon Martinez can really handle the position on a day-in, day-out level. And considering the Cubs are one of the best pitching staffs in baseball at keeping the ball out of play, I’d think an offense-oriented lineup makes the most sense. Sadly, Martinez is one of Dusty’s guys, one of that cadre of sidekicks that some managers, supervillains, and weak buddy movies seem to collect; he’ll keep getting to play.
|Cincinnati Reds||Return to Top|
Designated RHP Brian Reith for assignment. [6/19]
Either it’s going to be a hell of a PTBNL, or the Yankees just did the Reds a significant favor. Manning is a minor league journeyman, and while not a complete non-factor, he is the sort of guy you get as a minor league free agent. In Cincy, there’s a bullpen with needs: The Reds have had the worst relief in the National League. As a result, White might not have to worry about being limited to a situational role, even though Phil Norton has flopped at the task. Mike Matthews has worked out all right, and Todd Jones has been the team’s only consistently effective reliever. Perhaps, with White around to share the load, Danny Graves and John Riedling will turn things around, but as it stands, we’re still talking about a fundamentally shallow team that can only run with this division as long as the three purported contenders for the title fail to take themselves seriously.
|Colorado Rockies||Return to Top|
There it is, a classic Rockies moment. They just got their outfield back, so who plays? It isn’t very often that I favor a pair of outfielders older than 35, but I would have thought that the Matt Holliday charade had gone far enough. Unfortunately, rather than recognize they don’t have outfield prospects, Dan O’Dowd’s crew is pretending they have one. I guess we can sympathize; I mean, who, at the end of the day, doesn’t wish for better things? But Holliday is another mile-high illusion, and although that summons up visions of the Blake Street Bomber heydays, he isn’t even that good, although he does summon up Fonzie flashbacks with outfield play so raw even Kevin Reimer looks away.
Now, I have to admit, the Rockies aren’t going to get a lot out of this season, almost any way you slice it. But one of the few ways their future will get better is by dealing people like Jeromy Burnitz or Larry Walker or Preston Wilson, and the best way to do that is play them until somebody takes an interest. Because barring the notion that this team was assembled randomly, it’s a collection of rental talent they can afford to surround Todd Helton with. And it isn’t the sort of talent you rent to own. At most, Holliday has proven he should be a September call-up, presumably after he demonstrates he learned something in the PCL in the meantime. As is, he should be oversloughed by some appropriate goody gotten in barter. Or Brad Hawpe. Or Jeff Baker, if he gets move to the outfield because the future at third might belong to Ian Stewart. But as much as the future doesn’t belong to Jeromy Burnitz, it doesn’t belong to Holliday either, any more than Doug Frobel or Ken Gerhart were stars of the future.
|Florida Marlins||Return to Top|
Optioned RHP Mike Neu to Albuquerque. [6/18]
Activated RHP Justin Wayne from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Albuquerque. [6/19]
As I sort of touched on before, sometimes you build a pitching staff on performance, and sometimes on talent, and when you’re really hard up, you take what you can get. Maybe Jack McKeon can iron out Billy Koch, maybe Koch is the sort of guy who can handle the National League, maybe Koch will love Miami’s mugginess. They didn’t have to give up anything of value to get him, but they will have to absorb some dollars, which hurts a bit. Still, as a setup man for Benitez who might get a save opportunity of his own now and again, Koch gives McKeon the freedom of action to use Benitez in the eighth inning now and again, assuming that he has Koch available for the next night. Josias Manzanillo, Toby Borland, and Matt Perisho might all have their situational uses, and Ben Howard throws really hard. Although not a fan of Darren Oliver, he’s the long reliever and sixth starter, ready to step into the rotation if one of the front five breaks down. All told, it might not rank with last season’s stretch pickups of Uggy Urbina, Rick Helling, and Chad Fox, but it’s another indication of a management willing to actively attack a problem to achieve some solutions.
|Montreal Expos||Return to Top|
One indication of the creeping problem of the decay of the Expos isn’t just the meltdown of the major league team as it gets whittled down to a Spidery place in history, but the organization-wide collapse of what had been a superb player development system. Harrisburg, once a near-dynasty in the Eastern League, is a pathetic 24-46, and the overall winning percentage of the four full-season affiliates is .435, 36 games below .500. Worse yet, above A-ball, there are perhaps only two pitchers worth calling up for any reason, and Hill was one of them. (The other is Scott Downs, finally healthy and thriving up in Edmonton, although Mike Hinckley is coming on strong since his promotion to Harrisburg.)
The pitching has some reason for hope, however. Hill isn’t a blue-chipper, being more of a strike-thrower, but he is a Canadian, and that still cuts some ice in the Great White North. Beyond Hill, John Patterson, Joey Eischen, and Dan Smith should all be ready to return by the All-Star break. And at some point, Downs might get some consideration. So the team is arguably at its cobbled-together worst at the moment, and even with Tomo Ohka lost for the year, should still be able to put something resembling a big league pitching staff together for the second half.
|New York Mets||Return to Top|
Recalled LHP Pedro Feliciano from Norfolk. [6/17]
Optioned RHP Tyler Yates to Norfolk. [6/18]
Naturally, getting Reyes back is great news in a season where a few things seem to be going the Mets’ way these days. It’s probably too sour a note to strike to speak of the dilemma of who plays where in the middle infield, but with Kaz Matsui merely looking like Roy Smalley III in so many ways, it will deserve revisiting come the off-season. Certainly, I think we’d all rather see Reyes play at his best position, and if people can get by with Jeff Kent or Todd Walker or Alfonso Soriano, how bad could Kaz be at the keystone, anyway?
Beyond the good stuff that comes of having Reyes here, the Mets also get to address what to do about third base. Ty Wigginton won’t have to keep moonlighting at second, so Art Howe has a choice between Wigginton and Todd Zeile at third. Neither is a great glove, so offensive considerations, such as they are, should be paramount. In that case, Wigginton should get the majority of playing time, although Zeile’s continuing, career-sustaining usefulness against lefties should get him at-bats.
Overall, it produces a fun, interesting, but less-than-great lineup. There’s something sort of tactically cool about having your non-Piazza first basemen bat eighth, since it frees you to use Jason Phillips, Todd Zeile, Eric Valent, and Vance Wilson (with Piazza shuttling over to first) in all sorts of double-switch scenarios. It’s not the same thing as having a legitimately good first baseman, of course, but it’s not bad. To his credit, Howe has been pretty flexible tactically, also keeping third base and his pair of decent reserve outfielders (Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer) in play. It may not be rocket science, but it has been creative. It’s the strangest thing, but for the first time since Davey Johnson left town, I’m in danger of liking this team.
|Philadelphia Phillies||Return to Top|
Larry Bowa has essentially said that Marlon Byrd should be playing wherever he isn’t managing. This is half of true wisdom, and would that Ed Wade would provide the other half and keep Marlon Byrd, so that Bowa could manage anywhere Byrd isn’t playing. But Byrd doesn’t have a 1980 Phillies friendship bracelet, or whatever it is that has Bowa and Dallas Green and Dick Ruthven and whoever else all swearing to give up everyone else to preserve their own skins. Which leaves the Phillies short a center fielder, until the quest to find Garry Maddox or some facsimile thereof provides someone handier than Doug Glanville.
And yes, the fruit basket is from the Marlins.
Short-term, though, if the guess is that Charlie Manuel is supposed to fix Byrd in Scranton, there are worse fates than spreading the at-bats between Jason Michaels and Ricky Ledee. There’s still the Glanville menace, but if he’s left in a fifth outfielder/pinch-runner/defensive replacement role, that’s not all bad either. That said, if that’s their answer for any length of time, it’s going to be a bit rough on the pitching staff in terms of balls dropping in the gaps.
|Pittsburgh Pirates||Return to Top|
As long as Kip Wells can’t joke about ‘pull my finger,’ the Pirates are in a sort of roster limbo, where they’ve had to bring Burnett up, but they can’t exactly commit to him. It’s unfair to Burnett because he’s also not pitching well to begin with. Indeed, he’s got the highest ERA of anyone in Nashville’s rotation, and he’s not even averaging five innings per start. There’s not even the handy excuse that Burnett’s the guy on the 40-man roster, because David Williams and John Van Benschoten are too, and they’re both doing significantly better than Burnett:
2004 IP R/9 WHIP K/9 Burnett 47.0 5.56 1.64 4.8 Van Benschoten 74.0 4.99 1.38 6.3 Williams 84.1 3.84 1.23 7.2
More basically, I think the decision actually reflects on Burnett’s relatively lesser profile prospect-wise relative to Williams or Van Benschoten. They’re getting their work in instead of drifting among big league variables. If Burnett shows something, that could change, but so far, he hasn’t. So his future is the one that’s easiest to comfortably risk or jigger around with.
|San Diego Padres||Return to Top|
Beyond the inelegance of swapping out a position player for a pitcher on alternate days (leaving you at the 13-12 balance that’s not de rigeur these days among the bon ton set), a cool pair of moves for the Pads. Better still, they get a guy who has been a useful big league reliever off of waivers, where he’d been deposited for his failure to fit into Jimy Williams’s fiendishly clever master plan to become Darth Jimious and launch his crusade to eradicate all under-30 life with cool two-handed weapons. Except for life forms that can bunt. And Ewoks. Aren’t they just too cute to die?
(By way of comparison, Stone might have sucked this year, but he still pitched better than David Weathers has, according to Michael Wolverton’s Reliever Evaluation Tools. I guess the Padres could reasonably ask for Richard Hidalgo for their new waiver claim.)
Anyway, bringing in Stone helps compensate for Antonio Osuna’s usual breakdowns, giving the Pad pen a rubber arm that might outlast the return of Jake Peavy from the DL at the end of the month. Stone’s pitching for his job against Blaine Neal and Brian Sweeney, with all three living on time borrowed from Peavy, Osuna, and Brian Buchanan. I know, why isn’t Kerry Robinson part of the roster calculus? Go figger.
Anyway, there’s other good news. Tankersley gave the Padres four winnable starts, which keeps him on the team’s near- and long-term radar. After all, do you want to bet that David Wells or Ismael Valdez will be in the rotation throughout the rest of the season? So the Pads are armed with good results and happy experience. Beyond that, getting Vazquez back gives Bruce Bochy a lefty hitter on the short list for the game’s best utility infielders–Vazquez’s ’04 year-to-date performance notwithstanding–which he can use to alternate with Khalil Greene and Mark Loretta. Of course, if Sean Burroughs keeps hitting like Wade Boggs Lite for a diet-conscious age (not fried, no hot sauce, and skinless dark meat only, please), Vazquez could get a few spot starts at third.
|San Francisco Giants||Return to Top|
Optioned LHP Noah Lowry to Fresno; recalled RHP David Aardsma from Fresno. [6/20]
|St. Louis Cardinals||Return to Top|
Not that anyone should really worry when we’re talking about a La Russian ballclub, but no, this doesn’t mean coming down from 11 pitchers to 10; it’s 12 down to 11, with a third catcher being the current usage for that last spot on the bench. I’m a little mystified by the decision, both in light of La Russa’s purported rationale, and considering the roster.
First, La Russa is claiming he’s keeping all three catchers because of the great performance of the starting pitchers. I’m not sure why three catchers, two of them rookies, are responsible for five veteran starters having good seasons. The first thing I think of when being handed this particular brand of farfel is the results of Keith Woolner’s groundbreaking work on the absence of any statistical support for the notion that there’s a predictable game-calling skill among catchers. But, as Keith pointed out, perhaps that’s because that skill lingers below the level of statistical detectability, sort of like claims the world was made in seven days or that Larry King isn’t animatronics gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Still, you’d think that the underlying meaning would be that maybe, after all of the love shown to Mike Matheny as a receiver, maybe he’s just not all that after all. That’s not the realization the Cardinals will come to, and given Matheny’s deserved reputation for toughness, I doubt they’ll easily reach a point where they see him as an interchangeable part. But if he isn’t clearly better than either Cody McKay or Yadier Molina, what does it say about Matheny’s value? The Cardinals have so very few bargaining chips in the first place, it would be nice if this embarrassing embarrassment of riches might encourage them to peddle one for something they need, but let’s not kid ourselves, nobody’s going to give up much of value for Matheny, even less for McKay, and it would be a bit hasty to deal Molina.
Which brings me to the second problem, which is sorting out how to best use that last spot on the roster. What sense is there in keeping Molina around if he’s going to spend time watching games instead of playing in them? At 22, he shouldn’t be hanging around on the bench, hoping to get a start per week. Meanwhile, you’ve got a bench that has the two catchers, a pair of lefty hitters (Marlon Anderson, John Mabry), Roger Cedeno, and Hector Luna. What you won’t find is a right-handed masher to platoon with Ray Lankford or use as a pinch-hitting Orosco-eraser. They thought about the problem in camp, but none of the alternatives have panned out, and they’re still short a good right-handed bat on the bench.
It’s understandable that the Cardinals won’t make a move with Matheny, considering he’s a veteran and it would take a very self-assured team to think about its October ambitions while sticking with Molina and McKay. But at some point, they should get around to adding a right-handed bat on their bench, ideally someone who can play some outfield, and bringing So Taguchi back should not be the answer. Walt Jocketty has achieved some minor miracles in the past, but here’s hoping the Cardinals don’t wait around too long in trying to secure another.