Comings and Goings (5/17-5/19)

Chicago Cubs — Placed RF Sammy Sosa on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 16, with a sprained ligament in his lower back; recalled OF Jason Dubois from Triple-A Iowa. Placed pitcher Kerry Wood on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 13, due to an injured triceps; recalled pitcher Michael Wuertz from Iowa of the Pacific Coast League (AAA).

Talk about freak injuries — Sosa has a sprained ligament in his lower back and he suffered the injury when he sneezed twice. Wow — it makes me scared to blink if world-class athletes can’t even sneeze without blowing out their backs. He will be out at least a few weeks. Just when you think you’ve seen it all … think of the frustration if the Cubs lose this thing by a game or two.

When it rains it pours, as Wood hits the shelf the day after Sosa. I wouldn’t worry too much about Wood, he’s 95% right now, and they say he’s going on the DL as a precautionary measure. He should be back 5/28.

Despite the injuries piling up, the Cubs are hanging in; they’re a game behind Houston — yet they haven’t had the services of Mark Prior or Mark Grudzielanek (four games played); Alex Gonzalez has already missed 15 games (and will likely be out six weeks total). A platoon of Todd Hollandsworth and Jose Macias will obviously be a major drop-off from Sosa. In the race with a tough Houston squad every game will count and it is looking like the Cubs may be snake-bit yet again.

DuBois is a big (6’5″ 225) outfielder who turns 25 Wednesday. He was hitting .382/.628 (OBP/SLG) in Iowa, including 12 HR in 137 AB. He was a Rule 5 pick of the Blue Jays in December 2002, but he didn’t stick. His power was down last year (15 HR/443 AB in AA), but obviously it appears to be back. Dubois has fanned 372 times in 1,374 minor league AB (including 39 times this year), so it’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts to big league pitching. His K rate isn’t at the red alert stage, but it’s close.

It’s kind of a paradox — once you’ve proven you can hit major league pitching, it doesn’t matter how much you strike out, in terms of production (see Hernandez, Jose — 2001-02). But if you whiff too much in the minors, it’s often a sign that you’ll have trouble adjusting in the majors (see Branyan, Russ). That’s why statheads care about batter strikeouts in development, but still love guys like Rob Deer and Mickey Tettleton.

Anaheim Angels — Placed 3B Troy Glaus on the 60-day disabled list (retroactive to May 11) due to impending surgery on his right shoulder; selected the contract of INF Adam Riggs from Triple-A Salt Lake.

This one hurts. Unlike the Tim Salmon injury, Glaus was off to a fantastic start, hitting .387/.694. Unlike Garrett Anderson’s injury, there is no Jeff DaVanon to step in and hit .427/.492 in Glaus’ place. The Angels’ third baseman is now Shane Halter, Chone Figgins or Alfredo Amezaga. Without a trade the loss of Glaus could cost them as many as 6-8 games in the standings. Figgins is the best of that group. He’ll get on base at a .340/.350 clip, and surprisingly, Figgins has decent 2B/3B power and brings speed to the table as well.

They’ve called up Adam Riggs, who is 31 and was playing his 11th season in the minors. At age 24-25 he only played 110 games in 1997-98 combined, though he hit .332 with 50 BB and 44 extra-base hits in 397 AB (granted, it was at Albequerque). In 1999 or 2000 when he should have gotten his shot, he was with the Dodgers and Adrian Beltre blocked the way.

Riggs is not a hidden star or anything, but he is probably better than any of the others. It’s hard to tell whether or not they’ll give him a shot, but I’m not going to hold my breath. I’d guess he could hit .325/.400 if given the job. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPs Projections are even more optimistic, figuring Riggs for .332/.442 (he’s got Figgins at .358/.410, Halter at .295/.378 and Amezaga at .313/.352).

Third base is on a down cycle in the majors right now too — there are very few good 3B out there, which makes trading for one a little tougher than it otherwise would be. Richie Sexson should be back Friday in Arizona, so perhaps the Diamondbacks would move Shea Hillenbrand reasonably cheaply. He’s nothing special, and I’d only make the move if Figgins and Riggs falter, but it is another option.

Short of an unexpected trade for a star 3B I’d just platoon Riggs and Figgins.

Atlanta Braves — Placed 2B Marcus Giles on the 15-day disabled list and INF Jesse Garcia was activated from the bereavement list.

Devestating loss for the Braves, as Giles was consolidating his 2003 gains with a .339/.381/.475 start. He could be out for two months with a broken collarbone.

Nick Green, 25, is going to get some time now; he’s got some pop, and he was hitting .377 in Richmond over 77 AB. Based on his other 1,769 minor league AB before 2004, I think he’ll struggle to hit .250 in Atlanta and he doesn’t draw enough walks to make up for that.

This is a pretty big loss for the Braves. The NL East is tight — the Braves are 17-21 and just four games out. Even if they get it together, the loss of Giles for eight weeks could cost them two or three crucial games. They needed several things to go right this year, but it hasn’t worked out. Rafael Furcal, Chipper Jones, J.D. Drew and now Giles have been hurt. Mike Hampton, Adam LaRoche and Mark DeRosa have been terrible. John Thomson and Russ Ortiz have barely been adequate. Horacio Ramirez, Jaret Wright and Johnny Estrada have been great, but it just hasn’t been enough to make up for the rest of the issues.

I believe the reign is now over — it was a great run, they’re entitled to a mulligan — I’m not knocking the organization. The bigger question is whether or not they’ll be able to reload for 2005, or if they’ll have to tear it apart completely. It’s hard to tell if this is the 1959 Yankees or the 1965 Yankees … while the team isn’t too old on the surface, the 1965 Yankees didn’t look to be either. Joe Pepitone was just 24. Tony Kubek was 28 (and played terribly). Mickey Mantle was only a year older than Chipper Jones. Tom Tresh was just 27 and had a great year. Mel Stottlemyre was just 23, Al Downing 24 and Whitey Ford was 36 but still going strong. I don’t think anyone thought the Yankees would completely implode in 1966 either.

I’m not saying that the Braves will be challenging the Devil Rays next year or anything. But the Braves farm system has not done a good job of late — and it’s a lot easier for a team to fall apart than most people think. I’m just saying that John Schuerholz needs to be careful here, that’s all.

Cincinnati Reds — Returned OF Austin Kearns from a rehabilitation assignment and reinstated him from the 15-day disabled list; outrighted OF Jason Romano to Louisville.

After 2002 I had penciled Kearns in my head for super-stardom. Generally, 22-year-olds don’t hit .407/.500 (even in good hitter’s parks) unless they are bound for greatness. There was a mitigating factor I missed though.

Kearns is injury-prone. In the majors and minors in 2001 he only played 65 games. He played 120 in 2002 and 85 last year. Now the broken forearm. These injuries aren’t just a matter of lost production — they are lost opportunities to develop and grow. Kearns stagnated last year, his OPS+ dropped from 130 to 113. I’ll be watching him very closely this year to see if he can bounce back to his 2002 level — and to see if he can stay in the lineup.

Arizona Diamondbacks — Placed INF Greg Colbrunn on the 15-day disabled list (retroactive to May 16) due to tendinitis in his right wrist; recalled INF Scott Hairston from Triple-A Tucson.

Hairston is one of the top prospects in baseball. The 2B was hitting .375/.565 for Tucson, and turns 24 this coming Tuesday. His defense is still a little shaky (six errors in 28 games) and Arizona has recently been playing him in the outfield, but I think it’s time to give him the second base job. Bob Brenly disagrees and continues to play Matt Kata (.315/.403 career, 422 AB), who has the advantage of being 26 months older than Hairston. If you aren’t going to play Hairston, why bother calling him up?

Tampa Bay Devil Rays — Recalled OF Jonny Gomes from Triple-A Durham and designated OF Midre Cummings for assignment. Cummings has cleared waivers and has until Friday to accept his assignment to Triple-A Durham. Optioned RHPs Jeremi Gonzalez and Chad Gaudin to Class AAA Durham and recalled RHP Rob Bell and RHP Jason Standridge from his rehab assignment and reinstated him from the 15-day DL. RHP Dicky Gonzalez has cleared waivers and has accepted his assignment to Triple-A Durham. Assigned 1B Fred McGriff to Triple-A Durham.

Gomes, 23, is the classic ‘Three True Outcomes’ player. In his three-year minor league career (entering 2004), 51% of his PA ended in a BB, K or HR. HBP were included in BB for the purpose of this discussion, as Gomes was hit by 49 pitches in 320 games. This year in Durham it was 53.4%. That includes nine HR in 73 AB and a .364/.740 line, Gomes has hit 72 HR in 1,186 minor league AB.

It looks like Gomes will be a PH for now, as he’s not going to crack the Crawford-Baldelli-Cruz outfield and Tino Martinez and Robert Fick hold down the 1B/DH duties. Gomes did spell Martinez Wednesday against Boston, but I don’t think that’ll be a permanent change. He is a RHB though, so perhaps he’ll get regular starts at DH vs. LHP.

It is likely that Gomes will be sent back down when McGriff comes up at the end of the month. Did you ever think a team would have room for three left-handed-hitting first basemen over the age of 30? I suppose if you’re 11-28, it doesn’t really matter that you let kids play though …

By the way, Gomes has struck out three times in his first five PA (0-for-5), but he’s faced Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke in four of the five trips, so I’ll cut him some slack for now …

I’ve always liked Gonzalez. That fantasy team loyalty can be quite a force, he was on my squad in the late 90s. I was really happy to see him have some success last year after not throwing a pitch in 2000 or 2001. I hope he gets himself straightened out in Durham — I think he will, whenever a pitcher that I think is good pitches poorly, I immediately assume he’s pitching through a minor injury — this situation is no different.

Bell gets yet another chance. Another example of a pitcher with potential who was rushed to the majors before he was ready. Bell had only 18 starts above A ball (12 AA, 6 AAA) when he was thrust into the Cincinnati rotation in 2000. He didn’t pitch terribly (7-8, 98 ERA+) but he was very wild (73 BB, 140 IP) compared to his minor league career. The following year he struggled, and after nine starts he was traded to the Rangers for Ruben Mateo and Edwin Encarnacion. He pretty much fell apart after that, and was finally released after the 2002 season.

He’s been pitching great in Durham, 5-0 with a 1.69 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 37 innings (eight walks). He’s a great gamble for a team like Tampa Bay — it’s definitely not too late for Bell to have a good career.

Did anyone else forget that Midre Cummings existed?

Kansas City Royals — Placed OF Aaron Guiel on the 15-day disabled list with blurred vision in his left eye. Purchased the contract of INF Wilton Guerrero from Triple-A Omaha. Designated RHP Joe Dawley for assignment.

Last week I mentioned that while I disagreed with the decision, I could understand that the Royals had to play Aaron Guiel rather than the struggling David DeJesus. But now Guiel is out, and I just can’t understand playing Matt Stairs over DeJesus. Stairs is a nice player, an underrated hitter. He’s also 36 years old. DeJesus has done everything he can in the minors — it’s time to get him to the majors and let him play every day. You’re 10 games out; I don’t care about not starting the arbitration clock at this point, he’s 24-years-old — let’s start the major league development clock.

If you can’t flip Stairs (there are several contending teams that could use a platoon OF/DH) at least put Stairs/Harvey/DeJesus on a two-of-the-three-play-each-day rotation vs. RHP and let DeJesus and Stairs alternate vs. LHP (with Harvey playing everyday).

Toronto Blue Jays — Signed catcher Bobby Estalella to a minor league contract and assigned him to Syracuse of the International League (AAA).

I love this signing. I’ve always felt Estalella was worthy of a major-league job and now he’s finally with an organization where he can get a fair shake. He’d be a nice compliment for Kevin Cash — assuming Cash develops, he’s hitting .293/.363 — and he’s a good insurance policy as well, Greg Myers is 38, who knows how much longer he’ll be productive (assuming he comes back okay from the sprained ankle).

I know it seems like he’s been around forever, but Estalella isn’t 30 yet. He definitely hasn’t been as abused as your typical 30-year-old catcher. Mike Stanley was 30 when he finally got his first ‘real’ major-league job (more than 250 AB in a season) and turned in a pretty nice career. I could see Estalella following a similar path.

New York Mets — Designated RHP James Baldwin for assignment. Recalled RHP Matt Ginter from Triple-A Norfolk.

After pitching well in Norfolk, two big league starts were all it took for the Mets to realize James Baldwin doesn’t fit into their plans. That’s two more than most of the rest of the free world needed, but who’s counting …

Ginter, 26, was the #22 pick in the 1999 Draft. The White Sox flipped him to the Mets for Timo Perez late in spring training, a nice pickup for Jim Duquette. He was pitching very well in Norfolk (34.7 IP, 27 K, 4 BB, 1.56 ERA) and looked solid in his first start against the Cardinals Tuesday (5.7 IP, 4 K, 1 BB, 8 H, 2 R, 1 ER). Over his career he’s pitched very well in the minors, but he’s struggled in 105 major league innings, spread over 2000-03. But he hasn’t been terrible, and the White Sox have had a tendency to rush their young pitchers. Shea Stadium is one of the better environments for a developing pitcher — and I think he’s ready to turn the corner.

Colorado Rockies — Optioned IF Aaron Miles to Triple-A Colorado Springs. Recalled RHP Allan Simpson from Colorado Springs.

I thought Miles would show better, but .277/.361 in 97 AB for a team that plays in Coors Field just isn’t getting it done. When you are a 27-year-old rookie, you need to get hot early, and Miles unfortunately didn’t. Luis Gonzalez (not that one) gets the 2B job now. Gonzalez hasn’t been that much better (.303/.436) — basically he has three fewer AB, the same number of hits and walks, and two more HR. But he is 2 1/2 years younger, so he gets to stay.

Simpson, 26, gets his first shot at the show, and he throws hard (549 K, 296 BB in 503 minor league IP entering 2004). He came to the Rockies this winter from Seattle; for another minor league RHP, 24-year-old Chris Buglovsky, currently in AA.

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