Comings and Goings (6/28-6/30)

Boston Red Sox – Signed pitcher Pedro Astacio to a minor league contract.

Someone must have remembered that the Yankees were once courting Astacio, and facing their largest deficit of the season, decided to strike. At the time, New York was at odds to sign either Orlando Hernandez (“El Duque”) or Astacio, both of whom were working to return from injury. They went with their former pitcher, Hernandez, who has just recently returned to the mound. The right-hander has made five starts in the minors, three good starts in the Florida State League, and two bad starts with the Columbus Clippers. He’s clearly not ready to help the Evil Empire, and with Steinbrenner “virtually guaranteeing” to acquire a starting pitcher, El Duque may not be a help to the Yankees at all.

The same is not true with Pedro Astacio, who doesn’t have to overcome much in Beantown. Byung-Hyun Kim is already on the road back, but his 17.1 innings in eight appearances leads me to believe the Japanese hurler may return a reliever. This would put Astacio as recovering pitcher #1a, and in line to replace the struggling Bronson Arroyo in the rotation. Derek Lowe might be a better candidate, but his name and 2002 season are enough to finish the year with the team. As of today, the Red Sox are on the outside looking in at the Wild Card, meaning Theo Epstein will have more of a battle to get in the playoffs than some thought. It’s still common belief that the Rangers will eventually fall off, leaving the A’s the West and the Red Sox the Wild Card. But, can the BoSox afford to send Lowe out every fifth day, waiting for that next OK start?

Overall, this is a low-risk, decent reward signing, and shouldn’t be bashed by anyone.

Houston Astros – Placed pitcher Wade Miller on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to June 26, with tendonitis in his right shoulder, recalled pitcher Jeremy Griffiths from New Orleans of the Pacific Coast League (AAA). Activated pitcher Andy Pettitte from the 15-day disabled list; optioned infielder Eric Bruntlett to New Orleans.

Very unfortunate injury for Houston, who was banking on Pettitte’s return eliminating the fifth starter combo of Brandon Duckworth and Pete Munro, though the latter’s month was remarkably better than Tim Redding can say. Just like Lowe in Boston, it might be time to pull the plug on Tim Redding, and to fool around the rotation until one pitcher along the lines of Munro, Jeremy Griffiths, or Travis Buchholz fits. It’s not a grave enough situation to acquire another starter, Lord knows the Beltran trade ended those hopes, but just assuming Tim Redding will revert to last year is wrong.

Let’s look at the current Miller-Pettite value spread. Wade was just starting to turn on the jets when the shoulder pain was too strong, allowing only three earned runs in his last four starts. If memory serves me right, not something to bank on, Miller started feeling pain in his June 15 start against the Cubs, though he would pitch through it, allowing one run in 6.1 innings. And then there is Andy Pettitte. Not counting his latest start on Tuesday, Pettitte had allowed one earned run or less in five out of six starts. But this doesn’t say much, as it twice included the Pittsburgh Pirates, who can sometimes look worse than a team of girls playing softball in gym. I’m still shorting Pettitte’s stock, and I can guarantee the team will hurt from losing one and gaining the other.

Kansas City Royals – Acquired infielder Jose Bautista from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for cash; placed third baseman Joe Randa on the 15-day disabled list with torn cartilage in his right knee; transferred pitcher Kevin Appier to the 60-day disabled list. Fired pitching coach John Cumberland; named Mike Mason interim pitching coach.

Few players get to be in four organizations before turning twenty-four, but Bautista is one of those ‘special’ players. Actually, Jose is gifted with talent, but a combination of being rushed and being largely inactive have led to being largely ineffective. So much so that in twenty-five starts this season, Bautista has had five hits, all going for singles. His newest team is the Kansas City Royals, where Bautista might have an everyday job replacing the recently injured Joe Randa.

Allard Baird was likely hoping to showcase Randa for teams in the upcoming weeks, but unless scouts are willing to visit the operating room, that probably won’t be likely. Randa will be back before the trade deadline, but probably not effective enough for a team to gamble on. The more likely situation is an August trade, similar to the Cubs sending the Giants third basemen Bill Mueller shortly before the August 31 waiver deadline. If you remember, the Cubs received reliever Jeff Verplancke in that deal, who has done a whole bunch of nothing since. So, for all you Royals fans that were hoping for some return on Randa, think again.

It is considered a big deal if the Mets or Dodgers fire their hitting coaches, but the Royals fire a pitching coach and it goes unnoticed? It is crazy to think the hitting coach is more important than the pitching coach, because it is quite the opposite. Coaches like Leo Mazzone, Dave Duncan or Mike Maddux have helped their organizations more than their fellow hitting coaches, whom we haven’t heard of. Cumberland is now gone, thanks to his 4.98 ERA pitching staff, good for thirteenth in the AL. Some might actually point to DiPS here, as the Royals have contact pitchers (the worst staff K/9 in the AL), as well as the league’s worst batting average against. Bad luck can be pointed to here, but there have been more than a few disappointments (Leskanic, Affeldt) and injuries (Hernandez, Asencio) to warrant a firing.

Cleveland Indians – Purchased the contracts of pitcher Bob Howry and outfielder Mark Little from Buffalo of the International League (AAA); optioned pitcher Cliff Bartosh to Buffalo; transferred infielder Aaron Boone to the 60-day disabled list; designated pitcher Jack Cressend for assignment.

So, while Curt Leskanic, who I advised the Indians sign, is pitching in Boston, while former Red Sox reliever Bobby Howry gets his call-up in Cleveland. Howry’s AAA ERA of 5.19 appears to be a bit misleading, as his peripherals (22 H/22 IP, 24 K/6 BB) would suggest a better performance. Jack Cressend, one of the men falling from Cleveland, had a AAA ERA of 2.60, though he managed to allow more hits and less strikeouts than innings pitched. Bartosh was definitely deserving of a trip down, seeing as though a 12.76 K/9 just couldn’t outweigh the little problem of a 2.28 WHIP he was having.

Also coming up is Mark Little, the latest on the Indians carousel of bench players. In recent weeks, we’ve seen Sandy Martinez and Raul Gonzalez come up, but both have been sent down immediately. Little might fit the same mold, as the Indians can’t keep denying top prospect Grady Sizemore. The centerfielder is hitting over .350 in June, bouncing back from a wrist injury that plagued the numbers from his first two months. Just like David Wright in New York and Dallas McPherson in Anaheim, it’s time for Grady Sizemore to sip some coffee.

Milwaukee Brewers – Activated third basemen Wes Helms from the 15-day disabled list; sent infielder Jeff Liefer to Indianapolis of the International League (AAA).

This is the end of a starting job for Keith Ginter, who is hitting .275/.336/.457 as a third basemen this season. Ginter, who should now try shortstop, is more than deserving of a starting spot on this team, but Junior Spivey is having too good a season. I still think it’s time to sell Spivey while at his highest, though the Brewers are too close to make a move that any Brewer fan might take as a ‘firesale’ move. Just like the Royals last year, Milwaukee has to ride this nice run out as long as it will go, even if they will likely be in fifth by five games come September. But, more kudos to Ned Yost and Mike Maddux, who keep doing more and more as Milwaukee coaches.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays – Optioned pitcher Chad Gaudin to Durham of the International League (AAA); recalled pitcher Bartolome Fortunato from Durham.

If you remember, Gaudin threw a perfect game last year in the minors, which began a meteoric ascent to the Majors, ending in a fifteen game cup of coffee. Chad more than held his own in those games, which included three starts, tossing 40 innings of 3.60 ERA baseball. But, I still think he was a little rushed, and I hope it won’t do a lot to his development.

But, at worst, Gaudin is going to end up as a reliever. In 2003, 25.2 of Gaudin’s 40 innings were from the bullpen, where he allowed 21 hits for a 3.16 ERA. This year that trend has continued, where his relief ERA (15 IP worth) is sitting at an even 3.00. There isn’t a ton of room for Gaudin, who has found himself a little lost in what has turned out to be a decent bullpen in Tampa. But, one could still argue, Gaudin is still a better relief candidate than Fortunato or Travis Harper.

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