Comings and Goings (4/29-5/2)

New York Yankees – Activated outfielder Kenny Lofton from the 15-day disabled list; optioned outfielder Bubba Crosby to Columbus of the International League (AAA). Activated pitcher Jon Lieber from the 15-day disabled list; optioned pitcher Alex Graman to Columbus of the International League (AAA); placed first baseman Travis Lee on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left shoulder; purchased the contract of infielder Homer Bush from Columbus; transferred pitcher Jorge De Paula from the 15-day to the 60-day disabled list.

Lieber looked pretty good Saturday. If he can stay healthy, his addition to the rotation is a major plus for the Bombers since Jose Contreras has been less than stellar (7.41 ERA, 5 HR in 17 IP). Assuming Mike Mussina comes around (he pitched well Sunday) a front four of Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, Mussina and Lieber is as good as you’ll find anywhere, except for maybe Boston or Houston.

Lofton gives the Yankees a legitimate centerfielder again, assuming he gets out of Joe Torre‘s doghouse. Even though Lofton was only hitting .167, he had five BB in his 29 plate appearances and really wasn’t playing that badly. I know he had a rough spring, but Torre should be leading Lofton off vs. RHP; his defense (compared to Bernie Williams) should have him in the lineup every day. Ruben Sierra is swinging a pretty hot bat though, so he, Lofton and Williams will likely split time among the CF and DH slots – meaning that whenever Lofton sits, Yankee fans will be subjected to Williams in CF.

Before the season I felt DePaula was ready for a #5 rotation spot if someone went down. I was actually looking forward to seeing him throw for a month while Lieber was out. Now he’s out for the year.

Lee really doesn’t have a role on this team unless Jason Giambi is hurt; you really shouldn’t be wasting a roster spot on a defensive replacement at 1B and Tony Clark is the 1B/PH. I never thought I’d say this, but Bush is actually of more use to the team, because anyone that takes time from Enrique Wilson is doing the team a valuable service. Actually, Miguel Cairo has started 5 of the last 6, so it’s quite possible Enrique’s reign of terror has finally subsided. Cairo is no prize either, so an extra middle infielder still means that you can pinch hit for the second basemen (whoever they may be) twice a game!

But how does Bush (.313 OBP/.341 SLG in Columbus) get the call when Brian Myrow is hitting .369/.536 for the same team? Myrow hit .447/.525 for Trenton last year so it’s not a fluke. Myrow is also a lefty, you think that would help him in Yankee Stadium? I realize he’s 28 which makes him a non-prospect, but Bush is 31!

Mike Easler didn’t get a real MLB job until he was 29, so it’s not unprecedented for a player to finally become a big league regular in his late 20s. Myrow’s been playing 1B this year, but he’s a 3B/2B by trade, and his defense would have to be pretty bad to make him a worse option than Wilson, Bush or Cairo. If you’ve assessed that he can’t play 2B, move Derek Jeter there, put Alex Rodriguez at SS, where he belongs. This would open up 3B to FREE BRIAN MYROW!

Arizona Diamondbacks – Placed first baseman Richie Sexson on the 15-day disabled list with a subluxation of his left shoulder and a bruised humeral joint; purchased the contract of outfielder Doug DeVore from Tucson of the Pacific Coast League (AAA).

This might not be as bad as it sounds for the Diamondbacks. Sexson is out indefinitely and Shea Hillenbrand avoids the bench. Actually, that does sound pretty bad. But it doesn’t look like Sexson will be out too long, it looks like he could be back as soon as two weeks. While Hillenbrand isn’t exactly hitting well, he’s a pretty good option to have for a 3rd corner or 5th infielder. If Sexson were lost for the season it would cost Arizona 35-40 runs (3.5-4 wins).

DeVore, 26, is a typical 4th outfielder. He won’t embarrass himself, but he’s not a potential starter down the line either.

Boston Red Sox – Activated pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim from the 15-day disabled list; optioned pitcher Phil Seibel to Portland of the Eastern League (AA).

I love Kim, I think he’s one of the best young pitchers in baseball. What Bob Brenly did to him in the 2001 World Series was criminal, so I’ve been sort of rooting for him ever since.

He pitched a gem in his first outing of the year Thursday; five innings of one-hit shutout ball against the Devil Rays.

I don’t understand why this guy gets the flack he does. He sports a career ERA+ of 141. He bounced back after the Series debacle and posted a 216 ERA+ and 36 saves in 2002. He’s just 25 years old and he’s struck out 10 batters per 9 innings in his career. In fairness, there is a question as to whether or not he can handle the workload of a rotation starter, he’s only made 13 starts in his career. But, he’s had the first month off, so he’s probably less likely to hit the wall at the end of the season. He’ll only end up making 27-28 starts if he’s in the rotation for the rest of the season.

Kim is now the 5th starter in Boston – he’s easily the best 5th starter in baseball, actually, he’d probably be the best 4th starter in baseball (tough call with Wade Miller and Matt Clement). Kim gives the Red Sox what the Yankees don’t have in the back of the rotation, and he could very well be the difference that pushes Boston past the Yankees for the first time since 1995.

Texas Rangers – Activated first baseman Mark Teixeira from the 15-day disabled list; optioned first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to Oklahoma of the Pacific Coast League (AAA).

The first place Rangers (sounds strange, doesn’t it?) went 8-6 in Teixeira’s absence. Teixeira is back from a strained oblique and the former overall number one pick returns to AAA, after holding his own (.276/.323/.483) for eight games in his first shot at the show. Teixeira likely will be moved to the outfield once the Rangers deem Gonzalez ready for the majors.

Kansas City Royals – Activated infielder Desi Relaford from the 15-day disabled list; optioned infielder Andres Blanco to Wichita of the Texas League (AA). Activated shortstop Angel Berroa from the 15-day disabled list; placed infielder Tony Graffanino on the 15-day disabled list with a left knee meniscus tear; purchased the contract of pitcher Eduardo Villacis from Wichita of the Texas League (AA); optioned pitcher Justin Huisman to Omaha of the Pacific Coast League (AAA).

Berroa was off to a slow start and was on the DL with migrane headaches – perhaps they were caused by watching this team stumble terribly out of the gate? KC has the worst record of any team that plays in the United States (8-16), and desperately needs Berroa to bounce back. Blanco is just 20 and he wasn’t an embarrassment (.259/.333/.333) as a replacement, he’s got a great glove too. But he’s a few years away from sticking in the majors. It goes without saying that Berroa’s return to form is a pre-requisite for the Royals getting back on track.

Relaford is the poor-man’s Jose Oquendo, he can play anywhere on the field and gives the Royals some flexibility. For the next few weeks Relaford will play 2B filling in for Graffanino, who was placed on the DL with a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Personally, I’d rather have Huisman on my staff than Villacis. Both are right-handed, but Huisman has pinpoint control (7 walks in 62 IP last season at AA Tulsa). Villacis pitched in A ball last year, and while good, he wasn’t nearly as effective as Huisman was in AA. This one puzzles me.

Anaheim Angels – Placed designated hitter Tim Salmon on the 15-day disabled list with an inflamed left knee; purchased the contract of pitcher Matt Hensley from Salt Lake of the Pacific Coast League (AAA); designated pitcher Yoshitaka Mizuo for assignment.

The Angels take another hit, first Garrett Anderson, now Tim Salmon to the DL.

Salmon wasn’t hitting, and the team is still 15-10. Jeff DaVanon will pick up the at-bats, and the team probably won’t miss a beat. Of course, they’d rather have a healthy Salmon, but the way he was playing, his presence won’t be missed.

Hensley, 25, has decent control, but he’s basically a mop-up man.

Mizuo, who turned 36 Sunday, was signed away from Japan to help in the bullpen. He hasn’t pitched well in limited duty at Salt Lake City (AAA) (5 BB in 4.2 IP) and should clear waivers and remain in the organization. He only faced 14 batters last year, given that and his age, I’ll be shocked if he ends up providing the Angels with any valuable innings.

Baltimore Orioles – Placed first baseman-designated hitter David Segui on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to Sunday, with inflammation of the left knee; recalled outfielder Darnell McDonald from Ottawa of the International League (AAA).

Go figure, Segui is on the DL again. Who’da thunk it? Four years, just under $28 million and a grand total of 188 games for Segui in Baltimore. He’s been a decent hitter when healthy, and he had established himself as a .360/.490 player before the deal was signed (average for a 1B/DH). But he turned 35 in the first year of the deal and he’ll be 38 before it’s finished. This is just another example of why you don’t give a non-star at this age (Segui turned 35 halfway through the first year of the deal) this kind of a contract. This is up there with Damion Easley, it has to go down – dollar for dollar – as one of the worst deals in history.

McDonald is nothing special, he’s a typical reserve outfielder. He’ll hit .260 with no power, he’s fast, but he’s just a 70% career basestealer, and that’s against minor-league batteries.

Cincinnati Reds – Recalled catcher Corky Miller from Louisville of the International League (AAA). Placed catcher Jason LaRue on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured finger.

LaRue is out indefinitely. I was kind of surpised in 2002 when the Reds went with LaRue as the regular over Miller, who is two years younger and had torn up Chattanooga and Louisville the year before, to the tune of .378/.535. LaRue throws a little better, but in 193 major league ABs Miller has hit (.323/.393) basically what LaRue has hit in his nearly 1,300 AB (.315/.410). I don’t think the Reds miss a beat here, and when you consider the age difference, if they are equal in talent, I’d play the younger player – at a minimum they should be splitting time 50/50 when both are healthy.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays – Designated pitcher Damian Moss for assignment; purchased the contract of pitcher Dicky Gonzalez from Durham of the International League (AAA).

The jig appears to be up for Moss. He exploded on the scene in 2002, finishing 12-6 with a 3.42 ERA for the Braves. He only struck out 111 and walked 89 in 179 IP and many statheads saw this as evidence he was doing it with smoke and mirrors. The suspicions were confirmed in 2003, as Moss fell to 10-12 and the ERA flew to 5.16 (ERA+ 83). Moss posted a 6.22 ERA over the last two months of the season with Baltimore. Now he’s been DNA’d by the Devil Rays, it doesn’t get too much worse than that, does it?

Gonzalez is a short (5′ 11″) 25-year-old right-hander who has excellent control (206 BB in 1,014 minor league IP). He was pitching great for Durham, a 1.64 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 3 walks in 22 IP. He’ll see action out of the bullpen, with the possibility for starts in Tampa as well. I’d rather see him in my rotation than Mark Hendrickson, I imagine Lou Piniella will figure this out too.

St. Louis Cardinals – Optioned second baseman Bo Hart to Memphis of the Pacific Coast League (AAA); recalled pitcher Josh Pearce from Memphis.

Joe McEwing II, is the victim of the Cardinals’ decision to go with a 12th pitcher. Why an NL team would leave themselves with just five bench players is beyond me. I’ve always felt that last spot would be much better served with another PH, a defensive replacement if you have a bad defensive regular somewhere, or an extra player who plays the position of your worst hitter (so you can PH for him more often). The Rockies are the only team that can possibly justify having a 12th pitcher on the roster, and this current stretch does not involve a trip to Denver for the Cards.

The Cardinals have a decent rotation, and there is no reason they need more than Isringhausen, Kline, Eldred, King, Lincoln and Tavarez in the bullpen. Tony LaRussa has always had a tendency to over-manage, making too many pitching changes (necessitating a 12th pitcher), and he limits his bench to accomodate this vice. This doesn’t make any sense to me, especially when you’ve got two dead spots (Mike Matheny and the pitcher) in the lineup, three when Tony Womack comes back to Earth. I’m not saying Hart needs to be the 25th man, but you’ve got John Mabry, Kevin Witt and John Gall mashing the ball in Memphis, how about giving yourself another PH option instead of a useless 12th pitcher?

Pearce, 26, has outstanding control (13 BB in 107 IP last year). He was a starter throughout his minor league career, but he was moved to the bullpen this year. Pearce’s ERA at Memphis is 1.64, he fanned 13 (one BB) in 11 innings before getting the call. I can see why they want to give him a shot, but just trade one of your other six relievers to one of the 25 or so teams looking for bullpen help if you think he’s ready. To free a spot for Pearce I think you can spare the 6th arm out of the pen for either another prospect or a decent bench player.

Chicago Cubs – Recalled pitcher Glendon Rusch from Iowa of the Pacific Coast League (AAA); optioned pitcher Michael Wuertz to Iowa.

Anyone else find it strange that Iowa is in the Pacific Coast League? We’re at least a few 10.5′s away from this being an accurate assesment of Iowa’s geography, no?

Wuertz was a nice story, making the squad unexpectedly out of spring training. Unfortunately players like that have to get off to a quick start or midnight strikes quickly. Wuertz ran up a 10.38 ERA and finds himself back in Iowa. At least he earned the major league minimum salary for a month . . .

My favorite band is Rush, perhaps that’s why I’ve always liked Glendon Rusch’s arm, even if he doesn’t spell his last name correctly. I really fell in love with his K/BB rates in 2000 and 2001, when he fanned 313 in 370 innings, while walking just 87 for the Mets. He went to Milwaukee and fell apart in 2002, walking 76 in 211 IP (terrible for him) and giving up 30 dingers. Last year it got worse (6.43 ERA) and for the first time since 1999 he was out of the rotation. He was extremely ‘hit unlucky’ last year – when not walking, getting hit by a pitch, homering or striking out, opponents hit .333. The NL average was .297.

Call me crazy, but I still like him for some reason. He pitched very well in Iowa – 16 K, one walk in 19 innings – we’ll see if he can make the most of his latest shot. He’s a lefty, so it’s highly unlikely it will be his last shot, even if he falters. For now he looks like a 2nd lefty in the bullpen, but I’m sure he’ll get a start sooner or later, especially if Mark Prior is out longer than expected.

San Francisco Giants – Optioned pitcher Kevin Correia to Fresno of the Pacific Coast League (AAA); recalled pitcher David Aardsma from Fresno.

The Giants swap out one of their top starting pitching prospects for one of the top relief prospects. Aardsma made the opening day roster after pitching for Rice University and San Jose (A) last season. He struggled a little with the Giants (7 BB, 10 H in 6 IP) and was sent down, but now he’s back. The Giants would be better served to get him some time in AAA and hold off on starting the arbitration clock.

Correia was bombed in his first start vs. the Marlins Friday, and promptly finds himself headed back to Fresno. He looked solid with the Giants at the end of last season. Assuming he’s healthy he will work out the kinks and get back to San Francisco before the season is over.

Chicago White Sox – Recalled catcher-infielder Jamie Burke from Charlotte of the International League (AAA). Optioned pitcher Dan Wright to Charlotte of the International League (AAA).

Burke is a non prospect because he’s 32, but it’s great to see him get another shot after a couple of cups of coffee. He posted a .363 OBP at Charlotte last year, and he’s a career .281 hitter in the minors. He’s got no power, but he’ll hit a little if he gets the chance. You can do a lot worse for a 3rd catcher.

Wright’s career is going nowhere. He’s 26, and his ERAs are steadily rising: 5.18 in 2002, 6.15 in 2003 and 8.15 in four starts this year. He walked 11 and struck out just six in 17.2 innings. He was making great progress through the minors. At age 23 in AA (2001) he struck out 128 and walked just 41 in 134 innings (2.82 ERA). The White Sox decided to promote him the big club, skipping AAA completely.

Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s obvious now that he was rushed; the unfortunate result is that his career is in jeopardy. MLB front offices, are a lot like doctors. They are both definitely the best in the world at what they do; but unfortunately the results of their decisions are a crapshoot the great majority of the time. And people wonder why Eli Manning wants a say in where he’s going work for the next 15 years?

It appears that the best thing for Wright at this point is to leave him in AAA until he can have a run of sustained success, hopefully he’ll be able to work his way back.

Detroit Tigers – Acquired pitcher Felix Sanchez from the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Jon Connolly and a player to be named.

This is a nice minor league challenge trade. Connolly is a 20-year-old soft-tosser with unpeccable command (59 BB in 290 minor league IP). You have to take it slow with these types (top fastball is reported at 86), but who knows, maybe he’ll become another Charlie Leibrandt.

Sanchez is a year older than Connolly, and was switched to the bullpen last year. He’s got good stuff (318 K in 340 IP, 131 BB, 3.60 ERA), but there’s no place for him in Chicago. Detroit will be able to use him sooner than Chicago would.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Acquired outfielder Rich Thompson from the Kansas City Royals and assigned him to Nashville of the Pacific Coast League (AAA).

Thompson was a Rule 5 pick over the winter, and the Royals decided he wasn’t worth the roster spot after all. He has no power (14 extra-base hits in 403 AB last year), but he can fly. Thompson was successful in 48 of 55 steal attempts last year. His walk rate was down last year, but it’s about average for his minor league career.

I think teams see visions of Brett Butler when they come across a player like Thompson. Many forget that most of what separated a Butler from a Rudy Law (who is just nine months older than Butler) was plate discipline. If a player like this can’t walk 12-15% of the time, like Butler did in his best years, he’s not going to have much of a career.

Thompson has a shot. Butler struggled at first (44 OPS+ in 1982 at age 25), he was an average player at age 26-27, and he really didn’t become a good player until he was 28 years old – the year after his walk rate shot up.

Power for hitters is like a fastball for a pitcher – in almost all cases there are certain minimums that need to be met, unless you can play gold glove defense at shortstop or something. Plate discipline is like command. The guys with the power get most of the chances (rightfully so), but if you have exceptional command you can eventually work your way up. Likewise, if all you have going for you is plate discipline and some speed (and of course the ability to hit the ball – see not: Bergeron, Peter), you can still make it if things break right.

Thompson is, like Connolly, a guy that throws 86 on his best day. Charlie Leibrandt and Brett Butler show that guys like this can have a career if they work at it and outthink their opponents. But usually these careers don’t take off until a player is in his mid-late 20s – you need some experience to be able to get by without the physical tools – and you need to find someone desperate enough to give you a chance.

That’s my long-winded way of saying that if Thompson can up the walk rate he’s got a shot at a having a career, but the odds are pretty long against it.

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