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CHICAGO CUBS

Placed RHPs Rick Aguilera and Kevin Tapani on the 60-day DL;
designated the contract of OF-R Raul Gonzalez for assignment;
purchased the contracts of CF-L Corey Patterson and LHPs Joey
Nation
and Will Ohman from West Tenn (Double-A). [9/18]

In a sense, this is all progress. Pulling the plug early on Kevin Tapani’s
season is not a bad idea, considering he’s already had surgery to get a head
start on being able to pitch next season, for which he’s under contract,
plus the Cubs have an option for 2002.

The last month has been wasted with Daniel Garibay and Jamie Arnold in the
rotation. Neither Garibay nor Arnold has anything to do with the future of
the Cubs’ rotation. Time should never have been spent starting Jamie Arnold.
The Cubs would have been better off seeing if Phil Norton should be kept on
the 40-man roster.

For the final stretch, the Cubs will plug Todd Van Poppel and Joey Nation
into the rotation behind Jon Lieber, Kerry Wood and Ruben Quevedo. There are
good and bad aspects to this. No doubt it will warm the cockles of Ed
Lynch’s heart to see that two-fifths of the rotation is made up of guys he
got in the Jose Hernandez/Terry Mulholland deal. Quevedo’s performance has
been uneven at best, but Nation is coming off of an outstanding season as
West Tenn’s ace. He started the final playoff game, which the Diamond Jaxx
won in extra innings. On the year, he went 11-10 with a 3.31 ERA, while
allowing only 137 hits in 166 innings. He struck out 165 hitters while
walking 65, so it looks like the expectation that he’d pick up velocity
while filling out has occurred. At 21, he’s still extremely young and
deserves better than to have Don Baylor to watching over him.

The surprise is that Todd Van Poppel is being asked to start after an
outstanding season in the pen. It may not be as much of a formula for
disaster as I would have thought a year ago. TVP’s velocity, already no
longer what it was, seems to go through the floor when he pitches on
consecutive days. Now maybe Andy MacPhail feels that he can ask Van Poppel
to do this so that he can proceed with some of his other projects, like
trying to let Tim Worrell close a game or two with Rick Aguilera out for the
season. It’s a fool’s game to try to try to mold closers, so seeing if Todd
Van Poppel can start is the more important exercise, considering that next
year’s rotation is Lieber, Tapani, Wood and two pitchers to be named later.

Calling up Corey Patterson isn’t as bad an idea as his raw totals at West
Tenn would suggest: while he hit just .261/.338/.491 overall, he also had a
large platoon split, hitting .284 and slugging .514 against right-handers
while falling below the Mendoza line against lefties. Calling him up now can
be labeled a stunt or an attempt to take some pressure off of him next
spring. He still needs to work on his running game and his command of the
strike zone. I doubt having him share the job with Damon Buford next season
is in the cards; while it might make sense if the Cubs were competing for
something more than fourth place, as an organization they’re better off
letting Patterson work on his weaknesses in full-time play at Triple-A than
trying to squeak out a few fractions of runs here and there to gun for 70
wins.

Will Ohman was nabbed in the 1998 draft after leading the West Coast
Conference in ERA while pitching for Pepperdine. He’s coming off of a
tremendous season as a full-time reliever for West Tenn: a 1.89 ERA with
only 53 hits and 31 unintentional walks in 71 1/3 innings. A good couple of
weeks from him might get the coaching staff to sign off on letting Andy
MacPhail make Felix Heredia available as a bargaining chip this winter.


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Recalled 2B/OF-L David Newhan, SS-B Jimmy Rollins and OF-L
Reggie Taylor from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; recalled RHP Doug
Nickle
from Reading (Double-A). [9/17]

An interesting group of stories here. Jimmy Rollins is coming off of a
season that should make him the favorite to win the job at shortstop next
spring, He hit .274/.341/.457 in his first exposure to Triple-A at the age
of 21. Considering that Marlon Anderson hit .305/.370/.451 with the
advantages of repeating the level and being five years older, Rollins is the
man who will be the anchor of the Phillies’ middle infield for the rest of
the decade. Nick Punto might be the best internal candidate to be his
partner on the deuce, as Punto is coming off of a pretty good season in
Reading and just landed an Arizona Fall League assignment.

Somebody who will not be in the mix at second base is David Newhan. He’s
sort of the anti-Sefcik: he’s an outfielder asked to stand around at second
base as opposed to a second baseman asked to play the outfield, and it has
never worked out in any of the organizations that have tried it. As a last
man on the bench, Newhan could still grow up to be Keith Lockhart, with less
defensive value.

Reggie Taylor is still a major organizational favorite, his failure to draw
30 walks on his own in a season notwithstanding. For Scranton this year, he
hit .275/.310/.443 and checked in with 21 walks in 454 plate appearances.
He’ll already be 24 next spring, so he’s well down the path already blazed
by Anderson. His immediate future will largely depend on who manages next
year’s Phillies. If it’s somebody overly concerned with speed, athleticism
and the appearance of good defense, Taylor has a chance to crack the roster
and possibly the lineup. If it’s somebody more interested in putting runs on
the board, they’ll scare up somebody to work with Travis Lee and let Taylor
help Scranton get back into the playoffs in 2001.

Doug Nickle was one of the older and more experienced pitchers in the
Eastern League, but there are things to like about his year: he posted a
2.44 ERA while working as a reliever, allowing 77 baserunners in 77 1/3
innings and only four home runs. He managed almost a 2-to-1 groundball to
flyball ratio, but with only 58 strikeouts, he isn’t really flashing any
gas. He’s had a better career since joining the Phillies than the guy he was
acquired for, Gregg Jefferies.


SAN DIEGO PADRES

Agreed to terms with 3B Xavier Nady to a five-year contract;
designated C-B George Williams for assignment. [9/17]

Everyone is busy doffing their caps to Kevin Towers for making this work,
but I guess I’m wondering where Xavier Nady is going to end up playing. He’s
got a major-league contract, which basically means he’s going to be up by
2002 and which means the Pads lose a spot on the 40-man roster sooner than
they ought to have given one up. Witness cutting loose George Williams:
until Nady is on the 25-man roster, he’s going to cost the Padres a player
per year.

Nady was only an adequate third baseman at Cal, and there’s basically no way
in hell that he’s going to push past Phil Nevin and Sean Burroughs.
Superficially, that’s not a bad problem to have. There’s nothing wrong with
having too many bats around. But Nevin is going to be around for awhile, as
is Ryan Klesko, and Burroughs should beat Nady to the majors, which means
Nady could wind up replacing Tony Gwynn in right field in 2002. Pitchers
worried about the fate of balls in play should probably make plans
accordingly.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Activated RHP Frank Castillo from the DL. [9/17]

I don’t want to say it’s too little, too late, when the Jays are still
neck-in-neck with the Red Sox before the Duke’s Drones go into this
weeks’s stretch of mutually assured destruction against the Tribe. It may
even help the Blue Jays clinch second place, making me feel pretty good
about one of my preseason predictions. I guess this is just my moment to
wonder when the media went Ken Burns on us this year, and arbitrarily
decided that Toronto was not a city where important baseball games were
being played. Sure, the Blue Jays would be a lot more entertaining if they
also had a manager with a knack for paraphrasing the wit and wisdom of Ralph
Wiggum, but is that any reason to turn a blind eye to the standings? I guess
Jim Fregosi’s Ernest Borgnine impression just doesn’t carry as much weight
as it used to.

Chris Kahrl can be reached at ckahrl@baseballprospectus.com.

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