Comings and Goings (5/20-5/23)

Kansas City Royals — Purchased the contract of Zack Greinke from Omaha of the Pacific Coast League (AAA); optioned Shawn Camp to Omaha.

It’s April 19, 1984, and the 5-6 Kansas City Royals want to change things up following a three game skid. They decide to use their top prospect and long reliever, 20-year-old Bret Saberhagen, as a starter against the Detroit Tigers. Saberhagen had allowed just one run in 11 relief innings (spanning 3 appearances) before this, and allowed just one run in six innings that night. The Royals would end up winning the division, but falling short of the World Series. Saberhagen would become their ace in 1985, a year in which the Royals would become champions.

Well, if you don’t like that example, here’s another. It’s May 9, 2003, and the struggling Florida Marlins need a starter to face the Colorado Rockies. The 15-21 Marlins have been playing terrible, dropping their last six games. They decide to bring up 21-year-old southpaw Dontrelle Willis from AA, where his ERA is just 1.49 in six starts. Willis scatters three runs in six innings, not factoring in the decision that night. Willis becomes a key part of a Marlins team that turns things around and wins the World Series, largely thanks to their Rookie of the Year lefty.

And then there is the 2004 version. We are once again in Kansas City, but now it’s Saturday, May 22. The Royals, who some picked to win the AL Central, are a ghastly 13-26, below the Indians and Tigers in the division. In an attempt to salvage a lost season, Allard Baird and Tony Pena decide it’s time to call up phenom Zack Greinke from AAA, where the 20-year-old has a 2.51 ERA in six starts. Greinke pitches pretty well against the contending Oakland A’s, giving up two runs in five innings, likely enough to garner another start.

But unlike the stories before Greinke’s, this one won’t end in a fairy tale. The Royals will not win the World Series this year, and they won’t win the World Series next year. In fact, Baird will trade the team’s franchise player by August, leaving Greinke to become the star. Zack will not disappoint, but unfortunately, he might not see a winning team for years, possibly coinciding with his exit from the organization.

In my Royals season preview, I noticed the similarities between Saberhagen and Greinke, using Zack’s numbers to prove he is the better prospect. Pena will have to take extra precautions to ensure that Greinke doesn’t fall down the same slippery slope, but also let him become what Saberhagen was as a 21-year-old. Few prospects have brighter futures, and we can only hope people come to Kauffman to see him blossom.

Boston Red Sox — Signed first baseman David Ortiz to a two-year contract with a club option for 2007; placed pitcher Scott Williamson on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 19, with right elbow inflammation; recalled pitcher Anastacio Martinez from Pawtucket of the International League (AAA).

Theo Epstein has a lot of decisions to make in the next year, but has already decided on the fate of David Ortiz and Trot Nixon. Ortiz will make a shade over six million dollars in both 2005 and 2006, leaving the Red Sox enough money to pursue the higher priorities. It was obvious that after last year’s playoff run, the heart and soul of the Red Sox that is Ortiz had to be brought back.

OK, so what’s left? Well, Jason Varitek, Nomar Garciaparra, Bill Mueller, Pedro Martinez, and Derek Lowe are the five big free agents that Epstein must consider. My guess is that Varitek stays, but Kevin Youkilis takes Mueller’s job on the hot corner. The team decides that despite his recent string of injuries, locking up Nomar is a helluva lot safer than putting tens of millions into Pedro’s right arm. And, Derek Lowe’s horrendous 2004 leaves him out to dry, instead being courted by the Rockies due to that GB/FB ratio.

Scott Williamson will be another interesting decision that Epstein is faced with, but for now, the main worry is replacing him in the bullpen. Williamson has ten walks in sixteen innings, but has avoided giving up runs due to only allowing six hits. Martinez had 27 K in 24.2 IP in AAA, but started to strike them out in bunches towards the end of his stay in Pawtucket, including a streak of fifteen strikeouts in six and a third innings. The team will use Mike Timlin during Williamson’s stay on the DL, not hurting themselves too much.

New York Yankees — Placed first baseman Jason Giambi on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained right ankle; recalled outfielder Bubba Crosby from Columbus of the International League (AAA); recalled pitcher Jose Contreras from a minor league assignment; optioned pitcher Bret Prinz to Columbus.

Why break this down if we already did it at THT? Larry Mahnken said it so well in the latest Rivals in Exile, I’ll just let you re-read it here…

What’s ominous for the Yanks is that the injuries are starting to get serious. Lee, Karsay and DePaula are already gone for the year, and the first big gun went down Friday night, when Jason Giambi twisted his ankle. It certainly isn’t a blessing for the Yankees, but the silver lining is that while Giambi heals his ankle over the next two weeks — something I don’t anticipate being a chronic problem — he can also rest his back and knee. But being without their best hitter for two weeks is going to be tough for the Yankees to overcome.

Giambi is immensely important to this lineup, mostly because he’s still the best left-handed power threat in the American League. Hideki Matsui will have to play well while he’s gone, or the Yankees are in danger of falling further behind the hated Red Sox.

As for Contreras, I’ll defer again to Mr. Mahnken, “Jose Contreras was very good in a tough loss Saturday, but … well, he’s Jose Contreras. Sometimes he just stinks. If he can be more consistently okay, then the Yankees can deal with that.” I’ve always been high on Contreras, and like last year, I think his little minor league visit will put him into form. I’m a buyer of Contreras in fantasy leagues, but then again, I was high on him in March.

Arizona Diamondbacks — Placed first baseman Richie Sexson on the 15-day disabled list with a left shoulder injury; recalled outfielder Doug Devore from Tucson of the Pacific Coast League (AAA).

Well, Sexson was back all of two games before re-injuring his shoulder, which might shelf him for the entire year. This leaves the Diamondbacks stuck with Shea Hillenbrand, whom they were prepared to trade. The reason this will hurt so much is the fact that Hillenbrand historically fades after hot starts, as seen by his month-by-month splits from 2001-2003:

April- .908 OPS
May- .701 OPS
June- .692 OPS
July- .853 OPS
Aug- .699 OPS
Sept- .653 OPS

So, for the duration of Hillenbrand’s career, his first half OPS has been 9.7% better than that in the second half. If you take his current .797 OPS and apply that drop, his past career predicts a .720 OPS in the second half. Think they miss Lyle Overbay? Yeah, me too.

Minnesota Twins — Recalled infielder Justin Morneau from Rochester of the International League (AAA); placed outfielder Shannon Stewart on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 18, with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

Normally I advocate that teams should not call up prospects for short stints, but Morneau’s 1.071 OPS at AAA was more than deserving of a promotion. He hit a home run in his second game off Neal Cotts, and is 3/10 since getting called up. The team had enough confidence to bat him cleanup on Sunday, though Justin seemed a little more comfortable batting eighth the day before. Morneau is everything that’s been advertised, with real Mark McGwire power.

The silver lining in Richie Sexson’s injury was that Chad Tracy’s stay as an everyday player continues, and the same situation exists here. Now, there is no excuse for Rod Gardenhire to bench Lew Ford, who has more than earned his spot with an .896 OPS. This was a helluva lot better than Stewart was hitting, so if anything, this transaction might help the Twins. Think Terry Ryan is regretting locking up Stewart? Yeah, me too.

New York Mets — Placed pitcher Al Leiter on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 12, with left shoulder tendonitis; purchased the contract outfielder Esix Snead from Norfolk of the International League (AAA). Recalled pitcher Tyler Yates from Norfolk of the International League (AAA); optioned outfielder Esix Snead to Norfolk.

After a 2.15 second half ERA last season, the Mets hoped before the season that Leiter would become the ace for one more season. Sure, his 2.52 ERA has not let anyone down, but Tom Glavine’s near no-hitter took his ERA down to 2.13, as he’s been the true ace of the staff. Jim Duquette was more than happy to let the two vets battle for the tag, but that darn shoulder ended Leiter’s competition. Tyler had one start in the minors, allowing no hits in 5.2 innings, and is now back to try to figure out Major League hitters. Most of all, the Mets were disappointed to lose another veteran from their staff, as they despise young pitchers more than Karl Malone hates Gleeman’s T-Wolves.

Let me say, with no insult to Esix Snead implied, he is the perfect player to call up in this situation. Snead is hardly a prospect, and it really doesn’t matter if his regular schedule gets interrupted. While some teams would have used Prentice Redman or even David Wright if this had happened, something has to be said for Duquette’s judgment here.

Chicago Cubs — Activated pitcher Mike Remlinger from the 15-day disabled list; placed pitcher Kent Mercker on the 15-day disabled list with back stiffness.

When the Cubs decided to pay Remlinger a ton of money for a long time, I’m not so sure that Jim Hendry realized that the aging southpaw actually had a reverse platoon split, favoring right-handers. This showed last year, as righties hit only .180 off Rem, as opposed to lefties that hit .263 off him. So, the Cubs brought in Kent Mercker this offseason, seeing that from 2001-2003, left-handers hit only .216 off him, while righties hit .289. But ironic enough, Mercker’s trend has reversed itself thus far this season, as southpaws are hitting .381 off him, and right-handers only .080.

In effect, the Cubs don’t have a LOOGY. Remlinger is a better overall reliever than Mercker, so this move will help the bullpen, and when Dusty needs to retire a southpaw, he can just call on Todd Wellemeyer, Kyle Farnsworth or LaTroy Hawkins. Now if only Baker could realize this…

Texas Rangers — Placed catcher Gerald Laird on the 15-day disabled list with a torn ligament in left thumb; purchased the contract of catcher Ken Huckaby from Class AAA Oklahoma of the Pacific Coast League; transferred pitcher Colby Lewis to the 60-day disabled list.

This move hurts from not only a team standpoint, but also from a developmental one. Laird was quick becoming a success story, hitting .307 in his first 88 at-bats. He’s never going to be a very powerful hitter, but Laird seems serviceable enough to throw out there everyday. And he’s infinitely better than the likes of Rod Barajas or Huckaby, forgetting Barajas’ weekend heroics.

Why the Rangers called up Huckaby I can’t quite understand. In Oklahoma, the team had two catchers, Ken Huckaby who was hitting .241/.289/.368 and Danny Ardoin, who was at .321/.449/.487. Sure, Huckaby has Major League experience and better defense, but why not try to catch lightning in the bottle with Ardoin? Laird is lost for three months with the thumb injury, so the Rangers might just have time to consider all options.

San Diego Padres — Recalled pitcher Rod Beck from extended spring training; sent pitcher Eddie Oropesa outright to Portland of the Pacific Coast League (AAA); placed infielder Ramon Vazquez on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right oblique; recalled pitcher Dennis Tankersley from Portland.

So here I was, waiting, waiting, waiting for Rod Beck to get to the Padres so he and David Wells could form the greatest teammate combination in history. And just as Beck’s stay in Spring Training appears to be over, David Wells goes down with injury. Maybe there is some unwritten rule that teams are only allowed one vastly overweight weight pitcher at a time, but someone really has to let me know before I get so damn excited.

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