With roughly a quarter of the season left to go, all teams have a
responsibility to use the remaining games for goals that they can
accomplish. Because I’m either hopelessly optimistic or needlessly cruel, I
like to think teams will be using this time to do whatever they can to help
themselves win now or help them get better in the future. So starting at
the bottom, what is it that the teams in the NL East can do to help
themselves in roughly 40 games left?
The Phillies have already addressed several of their basic problems.
Unfortunately perceived as a team about to turn the corner, courtesy of
high-profile pickups like Mike Jackson and Andy Ashby, the
Phillies managed to take a bad start and build from it. General Manager Ed
Wade did not panic, nor did he throw in the towel. Instead, he’s done his
homework. Having lost Adam Eaton to bring in Ashby, he flipped Ashby
for Bruce Chen, a nice recovery.
The short list of things to do? First, the Phillies need to make certain to
call up Jimmy Rollins for an audition as the team’s shortstop.
Despite only being 21, he’s already looking like a useful hitter at
Triple-A and his defense will make a big difference to pitchers used to
Second, they should give Wayne Gomes as many save opportunities as
possible. It won’t mean anything in terms of Gomes’s talent, but plenty of
people mistake a counting stat like saves for a skill. If Mike Jackson
comes back next year, the Phillies could peddle Gomes for something of
value, and what better way to increase his value than to give him a showy
stat? It isn’t as if anyone’s going to give up anything to take Jeff
Brantley off of their hands.
Third, a pro forma statement that Terry Francona has earned his walking
papers. There are plenty of managers with better credentials from their
minor-league managerial stints, from Marc Bombard to Chris Chambliss to Tom
Spencer to Greg Biagini. Having Michael Jordan’s business card is no longer
enough, if it ever was or should have been.
The most basic mission for the Expos is survival while the ownership battle
and the potential suits and countersuits dissipate. On the field, there
isn’t much more to do than what’s already been done: Michael Barrett
has finally been moved back behind the plate and Milton Bradley is
up and playing every day.
The one thing I’d like to see is for the team to start rotating Fernando
Seguignol into left field, sharing playing time with Bradley and
Peter Bergeron between center field and left field. This will give
the Expos the chance to see if there’s going to be any reason to keep
Seguignol, while also getting them used to an outfield rotation pattern
they’ll probably have to adopt anyway once Brad Wilkerson is ready
to come up sometime in 2001.
The challenge for the Marlins is to keep pushing and evaluating and
rebuilding, lest they get too carried away with this year’s press clippings
and wind up as next year’s Phillies.
Several projects with major implications for the future are already
underway: they finally seem committed to Luis Castillo, which is
going to mean reevaluating what they want to do with Pablo Ozuna.
They should not go out of their way to do Alex Gonzalez any favors,
and if that means sticking with Andy Fox and Dave Berg or
calling up an organizational soldier like Joe Funaro, so be it. At
this point, the organization is better off having Ozuna play shortstop from
here on out, in Portland, instructional league and/or the Arizona Fall
League, then giving him every opportunity to win the job next spring.
A.J. Burnett should end up with a little more than a dozen major
league starts this year, which should give him a good taste for next year.
Rehabilitating Vladimir Nunez as a middle reliever would be a step
in the right direction. Nunez will eventually be an important part of the
Marlins staff, so better to let him continue to succeed in the role he was
so good at with the Diamondbacks last year.
The Mets don’t need to spend their time wondering about who to give early
auditions to for next year. While I’ve already lauded Brian Cashman and the
Yankees management team for doing a great job of bringing in talent for the
stretch without discarding their best prospects, I should have given Steve
Phillips similar credit. With an even more slender hand in terms of
minor-league prospects to barter with, Phillips managed to rent Mike
Bordick (one of the best shortstops to ever wear a Mets uniform) and
bring in a needed right-handed reliever (Rick White) and an
outfielder with some pop to replace Benny Agbayani on the bench,
I did not expect this team to push the Braves, and if they had stuck with
the team they opened the season with, they probably wouldn’t have. Phillips
was smart enough to want to keep improving, and managed to do it without
giving up Alex Escobar.
What can the Braves do between now and October? They desperately need to
avoid getting caught in the predicament of having to play Keith
Lockhart close to every day in the playoffs. Calling up Marcus
Giles might hose Greenville’s chances in the Southern League playoffs,
but Giles should be starting close to three-quarters of the games at second
base for the Braves right now. He should certainly be the regular next season.
The Braves could also use a good 14th position player, someone who can be a
useful pinch-hitter as well as a pinch-runner and defensive substitute. If
they don’t think George Lombard is going to be helpful, they could
consider minor-league veteran Demond Smith.
The Braves also need to keep chewing through the waivers process to see if
there’s a useful right-handed middle reliever they can snag before the end
of the month. This isn’t so much to keep up with the Mets’ swiping Rick
White as much as to meet a genuine need: Scott Kamieniecki,
John Burkett and Stan Belinda are not good choices.
Chris Kahrl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.