|IN THIS ISSUE|
|CHICAGO WHITE SOX||Return to Top|
Signed RHP John Stephens to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Charlotte. [4/22]
Signed INF-B Greg Norton to a minor league contract. [4/24]
Stephens and Norton might not be at the same points in their careers, but I like each addition. The Aussie soft-tosser hasn’t been able to dent big league bread since his trial with the Orioles in ’02, having to settle for the indignities of being first a Lynx and then a PawSock. In neither season was he that radically different from the guy who awed people in his first full season in the International League in 2002:
Affiliate/Year IP H/9 BB/9 K/9 HR/9 Rochester '02 142.2 8.0 1.5 7.4 0.6 Ottawa '03 158.2 8.8 2.2 7.5 0.9 Pawtucket '04 143.0 9.3 2.0 6.4 1.5
So everything’s slipping, although how much of that is related to having to pitch in Pawtucket, who knows? Maybe he’s doomed to be the new Doug Linton, a Triple-A workhorse who drifts from one NRI deal to the next, wishing the Triple-A World Series would make a comeback, and hoping he catches somebody’s eye before settling into a long middle age spent as manager Dave Nilsson‘s pitching coach on Team Australia. But right now, I’d take this particular flyer. It’s better to have an option, just in case something goes wrong with one of the big league starters, but not for so long that it’s worth hauling up Brandon McCarthy for a spot start.
As for Norton, no, he may not be the new Denny Walling. Maybe he’s more like what Wayne Krenchicki wished he’d been, an infield reserve who could occasionally scare a right-handed pitcher. He’s coming up on 33, and seems close to done, but promoting Josh Fields in case something happened to Joe Crede would put him on the 40-man two years early, whereas Norton can be outrighted back off of the roster without much concern for the consequences.
|KANSAS CITY ROYALS||Return to Top|
How many plate appearances did Pickering get? How many? 31? 31 and out? That’s insane.
This is what happens when a bad organization takes what it considers a risk, and the stakes are low. Translated data, reasonable expectations, all of that goes out the window, because it’s easier to squelch the little chance that’s been taken when you’re fending off criticism over your endemic badness. Meanwhile, the team has retained some sort of faith in Emil Brown, with less reason.
You might see the hasty elevation of Burgos as another indictable offense. This is the kid’s first season out of A-ball, and here he is? He’s just been converted to relieving, and now he’s the closer? However good his heat is, how’s he going to adapt to life in the bigs when he’s only getting to pitch on those few occasions when the Royals have a ninth inning lead? When searching for a savior, it’s hubris to think that you could invent your own instant Joan of Arc, yet that’s exactly what the Royals are doing. It’s unfair, and almost certain to be as ill-fated as the ‘commitment’ to Pickering.
If there’s good news, it’s that the team seems interested in giving Diaz a shot. That might be a massive upgrade on the Browns or the Terrence Longs for an offense that needs the help, but if Pickering’s out that fast, who’s to say any statistically-inspired faith in Diaz has any stickiness?
|MINNESOTA TWINS||Return to Top|
Plug out, plug in, and you’ve got yourself a quick upgrade. The Twins are at full strength again, and not a moment too soon, not with the White Sox off on a merry run out of the gates. The good news is that in the interim, neither Tiffee nor Gassner humiliated himself. Since I think it’s safe to expect Luis Rivas and Juan Castro to be themselves, Tiffee’s opportunity will come, especially if the Twins start feeling antsy about the gap between them and the White Sox. Gassner’s future is a little less predictable, since he’ll still have to wait on the Twins to tire of Kyle Lohse, or for Joe Mays to break down.
|NEW YORK YANKEES||Return to Top|
Placed DH-B Ruben Sierra on the 15-day DL (biceps). [4/21]
Recalled INF-R Andy Phillips from Columbus. [4/22]
What’s more impressive, that Wright’s already injured, or that he pitched badly enough in his first four starts that people can start debating whether or not to replace “Whitsonized” with having “the Wright stuff”? Six homeruns and 36 hits in 19.2 IP? You can’t make that sort of thing up, it’s too delicious for the assorted winter doubters now shedding crocodile tears for the Pinstriped Menace.
In the absence of something old (Sierra) and something new (Wright), we’ll get to see if Joe Torre can accommodate himself to the unfamiliar. Phillips might make for a better alternative to Tino Martinez and Jason Giambi in the first base and DH mix, but he’ll have to continue his hot hitting in order to cement his spot on the roster. At best, he’s competing with Bubba Crosby for the last spot on the bench, because somebody will have to go in a month or so, once Sierra returns. That’s not exactly ideal, since forcing out Crosby would make Hideki Matsui the only plausible reserve in center field again. The ideal solution would be to come down to eleven pitchers and keep Crosby and Phillips both, not that that helps Bean stick around. (As an eighth reliever, Bean probably isn’t here for long anyway.) It might even make sense from Torre’s perspective, should he no longer have to wrestle with the mayhem of a Wright start every fifth day, although that will depend on how Chien-Ming Wang fares. It would certainly take effort to do worse.
|OAKLAND ATHLETICS||Return to Top|
Signed SS-R Bobby Crosby to a five-year, $12.75 million contract. [4/22]
Thus tackling the whole stretch of time in which the A’s control his rights, through his arbitration years. It’s no coincidence that, given that he’s 25 now, that this keeps him signed through his Age 29 season, or right about when you can normally expect a downturn after a normal career arc where he’s most likely to have his productive seasons between the ages of 25 and 29 (the ‘Age 27’ theory, if you prefer a stathead’s shorthand). He’ll still be five years short of being old enough to be a Giant at that point, but give it time.
|SEATTLE MARINERS||Return to Top|
Signed RHP Albie Lopez to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Tacoma. [4/21]
As call-ups go, this sucks. Yes, getting Spiezio off of the active roster for any stretch of time is a boon, and with three stars and eventually Pokey Reese in the infield, it isn’t like there’s a need on this team for more than two infield reserves (in this case, Willie Bloomquist and Greg Dobbs). No, what’s exasperating about this is that Choo’s up, but he won’t get to play. In the same way the infield is set–even temporary shortstop Wilson Delgado is a regular–the outfield playing time belongs to the trio of Ichiro Suzuki, Randy Winn, and Jeremy Reed.
The dilemma is that the Mariners didn’t have that many options. They’ve already got four guys on the 60-day DL, and on the 40-man, the only other outfielders available to be called up were Choo, Jamal Strong, Chris Snelling, and Wladimir Balentien. Balentien’s in A-ball, Strong just got suspended for steroids, and Snelling desperately needs at-bats to make up for losing so much of his career to injury. Spiezio would have been a natural choice to outright to make space on the 40-man, except that he’s on the DL. Bill Bavasi isn’t the sort to eat that much contract, and trying anything of the sort would generate a protest from the Player’s Association. Then there’s the problem of… well, Bavasi screwing up this winter, and not signing any minor league veteran outfielders to fulfill an organizational reserve role in exactly this situation. So Choo’s going to get to watch a lot of baseball, at least until Reese or Spiezio is ready to come off of the DL.
|TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS||Return to Top|
Transferred CF-R Rocco Baldelli from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [4/20]
No big deal here, as Gomes may not get to stick around long enough to make people wonder what Chris Singleton or Alex Sanchez are for. Webb wasn’t going to get another start, and with Mark Hendrickson due back shortly, and with Rob Bell bumped for Doug Waechter after his ghastly 4/18 start against the Yankees, the Devil Fish aren’t short of options, or long relievers.
|TEXAS RANGERS||Return to Top|
Signed RHP Jason Boyd to a minor league contract. [4/21]
Signed 3B-R Brandon Larson to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Frisco (Double-A).
I’m not a big fan of the “light a fire” method of player motivation, but Nix got demoted, bopped three homeruns in two weeks, and has come back up with his hot streak coming with him. So that means Gonzalez goes down and back to being trade bait (or waiting until David Dellucci‘s value drops or he gets hurt), while Gary Matthews Jr. gets punted into a more suitable fourth outfielder’s role after being set up thinking he had a better gig than that. Under the circumstances, I wouldn’t blame a few guys if they felt a bit cheated. I suppose there’s plenty of opportunity for fence-mending through the opportunities that might arise through Richard Hidalgo‘s cold bat and assorted aches and pains, or once Dellucci loses the cape and gets vincible. The good news out of all this is that it helps the outfield defense a bit, since Nix has a pretty good rep relative to Matthews, and it does free up Matthews to spot for Hidalgo or do a few defensive replacement stints for Kevin Mench.
As for the minor league signings, Boyd might be a positive menace, but I’m still intrigued with Larson. Yes, maybe he’s the new Mickey Klutts, a wished-for masher of lefties never healthy enough to actually live up to the billing, and so much a mighty wind when he is healthy enough that nobody wants to put up with the strikeouts long enough to see what he can do. But I’d still chance it, and there’s no real risk. If he flops, so be it, that’s Frisco’s problem.
|ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS||Return to Top|
Signed LHP Armando Almanza to a minor league contract and assigned him to Tennessee (Double-A). [4/20]
Skipping over Gosling’s failure as a prospect, this is simply a better arrangement, since Lopez can be an effective part of a big league bullpen. Gosling hasn’t yet proven he’s good enough for a Triple-A pitching staff after two seasons at the level, so this is an improvement, however incremental. Add in adding Almanza on the off chance that he might finally get turned around as a situational weapon, and Gosling might just have to settle for being a batter’s buttercup in the PCL from here on out.
|CHICAGO CUBS||Return to Top|
I like swapping in Grieve for Fontenot a lot, and not simply because I’m nostalgic for what we all might have wished Grieve to be. Having him on the roster instead of Fontenot achieves multiple good things on a tactical level. First, since Ronny Cedeno is up and rotting in that rookie reserve role that Dusty Baker loves to overlook, Jose Macias has been sucked into the superutility role that should, in turn, keep him in a reserve role. So the happy news is that Jerry Hairston Jr. will actually get to hold onto the job at second and batting leadoff, which pushes Corey Patterson into a lineup slot where his power might generate better results, without the pitcher’s spot parked in front of him.
The other wee bit of happiness is that Grieve gives Baker a lefty bat on the bench with some capacity to menace people. That leaves Baker that much more free to leave Todd Hollandsworth and Jason Dubois in their job-sharing arrangement in left. Basically, Dusty can use a quality pinch-hitter like Grieve in the sixth or seventh inning, and he’ll still have a quality outfielder to use in a double-switch or to respond to a favorable platoon matchup.
It won’t be enough to make up for Neifi Perez over the long haul, but with St. Neifi the Magnificent currently wrecking a few people’s HACKING MASS teams, Cubs fans can pretend that isn’t a problem for the time being.
|COLORADO ROCKIES||Return to Top|
Signed RHP Denny Stark to a minor league contract. [4/24]
|FLORIDA MARLINS||Return to Top|
I guess this is supposed to be one of those crippling setbacks, what with ‘Pulpo’ being baseball’s lone twelve-fingered monster, and the big-ticket veteran addition to the pen. But this really isn’t that big a deal, since Alfonseca has been a bit overrated in recent years. The question isn’t really about how much they’ll feel this particular loss, as much as how it might seem like a problem later on, once the entire non-Leiter portions of the pitching staff aren’t pitching so well. The Isotopes are stocked with a collection of young veterans and retreads, so there’s no shortage of alternatives once a Matt Perisho, Jim Mecir, or Todd Jones starts struggling. The question is whether expectations will allow the Fish to trust somebody like Ben Howard or Pete Bauer when they’re supposed to contend, or whether it will force them to retool their pen on the fly again, a la 2003.
|HOUSTON ASTROS||Return to Top|
Signed LHP Tom Martin to a minor league contract, and assigned him to Round Rock. [4/22]
|LOS ANGELES DODGERS||Return to Top|
As Will Carroll has noted, Penny’s velocity looks good, but he’s going to have to be monitored carefully. Still, the Dodgers’ rotation is down to four horses and one question, with Scott Erickson continuing to sow doubt and disaster in the fifth slot. Dessens broke down at exactly the wrong time, since he could well stake a claim for the job, but perhaps by the time he gets back, Erickson will be gone. Meanwhile, the best possible challenger to Erickson is Wilson Alvarez. The only guy in the pen pitching badly enough to be in any danger is Buddy Carlyle, so the next week will be interesting to watch, since the two of them will be pitching for their roster spot. Both aren’t the sorts of guys you worry about losing if you outright them, so their situation becomes that much more desperate.
|NEW YORK METS||Return to Top|
Placed LHP Kazuhisa Ishii on the 15-day DL (strained abdomen), retroactive to 4/19. [4/22]
Recalled RHP Jae Seo from Norfolk. [4/23]
Not all bad news here, even if it involves “losses.” Rather than an asset, Kaz Ishii is more of a thrill ride these days, sort of a Japanese mime of Tommy Byrne‘s infamous widness, so losing him isn’t exactly a setback for the organization in the larger scheme. Although Seo didn’t seem to fit comfortably on pitching coach Rick Peterson’s wishlist, after Victor Zambrano, you’d hope that wasn’t the dominant consideration in these parts. Seo remains a useful enough alternative for the rotation, although admittedly, a rotation with Seo and Aaron Heilman in it in April probably wasn’t part of Omar Minaya’s master plan. It won’t last, not with Kris Benson less than two weeks away, so Seo and Heilman will be battling for future considerations on the back end of the rotation.
Equally happy is getting Matthews out of the way. A pitcher who’s been consistently pretty good at putting men on base, as Matthews has been, isn’t really what you would have thought the Mets would have wanted in a bullpen spare, but as long as somebody with talent wasn’t around, there might have been worse choices for mop-up work. Right now Ring looks pretty good, having gotten into better shape and taken some of Peterson’s advice on his arm angles. Ring was sort of beefy as a college pitcher at San Diego State, so you can consider this part of the maturity that comes from realizing that talent alone doesn’t always work, not even for former first round picks. He’s still only 24, and as a big lefty with a little bit of giddyap and some movement on his breaking stuff, he’s worth following. (Besides, ‘Royce Ring’ is a great baseball name.) In a pen relying on mediocrities like Mike Dejean and Roberto Hernandez, the opportunity is clearly there for a guy like Ring (or Heath Bell) to step in and take a larger role.
|PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES||Return to Top|
|SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS||Return to Top|
Getting Alou in itself isn’t all that great, but the one benefit it does provide is that it pushes Michael Tucker back into a reserve role, where he can spot for Marquis Grissom or Pedro Feliz as needed. Even then, Jason Ellison is doing some good stuff, so the problem with the Giants won’t be with the quality of the reserves.
As for the Williams demotion, the Giants don’t need a fifth starter for a stretch in the schedule, and this is an opportunity to see if he can get a good start in Fresno under his belt. In this, Williams is sort of being scapegoated, since he’s a guy with an option, when all of the non-Schmidt starters are struggling.
|WASHINGTON NATIONALS||Return to Top|
Optioned LHP Joe Horgan to New Orleans. [4/24]
Recalled RHP Jon Rauch from New Orleans…[4/25]
…and good riddance. Horgan was here simply to fulfill the fashionable expectation that big league teams carry big league second lefties. The requirement in that circumstance, however, is that you actually have two. So instead, they have what looks to be a genuinely fun pen to have around. I don’t know if Frank Robinson can find innings enough to go around so that Rauch and Gary Majewski can stay sharp, but it’s certainly more fun to have the two of them and a retreaded Carrasco around as the middle men to set up the late-inning trio of Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala, and situational lefty Joey Eischen. Yes, that does mean the money spent on Antonio Osuna looks wasted, but it’s less than a million, and if Jim Bowden’s lucky, he can flip Osuna for anything above the short-season leagues with a pulse.