I enjoyed my BP colleague Christina Kahrl’s take on the Dodgers’ acquisition of George Sherrill from the Orioles for prospective third baseman Josh Bell and righty Steve Johnson:
Torre had his talents, no doubt about it, but he did become spectacularly risk-averse in the bullpen. Most managers are, but Torre reached an extreme. As I’ve remarked before, Joe Girardi has “made” more Major League relievers in less than two years running the Yankees than Torre did in his last five years, perhaps longer.
If you’re the Orioles, you wish you could have done more than this, but the organization isn’t willing to move Brian Roberts, while Melvin Mora and Aubrey Huff haven’t been productive enough to excite anyone. Still, in Bell they added the possible replacement for Mora, and none too soon. There’s some question as to whether Bell can stay at third, and the club still desperately needs help at shortstop, but this is a start.
The Red Sox made an excellent move in picking up Victor Martinez. They received an offensively talented catcher-first baseman who can spell Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis, or, by pushing Youkilis to third base, Mike Lowell. Martinez can’t throw, but Varitek can’t either, so no big loss there. Martinez can belong to the Red Sox for another year if they pick up his $7.5 million option, which seems like a no-brainer. The one risk here is that Martinez has been in a severe slump; in his last 30 games he’s hit .161/.268/.279.
The acquisition of Martinez rendered Adam LaRoche redundant, so he was swapped off to the Braves for Casey Kotchman. Kotchman is the New Millennium Doug Mientkiewicz, and he’ll take on that role for the Sox. A greater role in the future will depend on this offseason. If Varitek wants to come back, he has the contractual right to do so, and that could block up the catchers’ position a bit. Mike Lowell has another year to go on his deal, and has no-trade protection. David Ortiz is also signed for another year.
The Braves made an odd deal here, picking up an imminent free agent who isn’t a great hitter for a first baseman. True, Kotchman hadn’t hit like on either, but he’s better at getting on base and is the superior gloveman. The Bravos may do well in the short term given that LaRoche is a second-half hitter, but the gain here is likely small and they may be in possession of neither player by November.
These moves will have an impact on the Yankees as they fight the Red Sox the rest of the way. The Sox have hit well in their own ballpark, averaging 5.7 runs per game in the Fens, but have hit just .252/.336/.402 on the road with an average of 4.6 runs per game. The league-average offense scores 4.7. How the addition of Martinez benefits the Red Sox depends on how they spot him to best advantage in different pitcher match-ups, and if they’re willing to cut into David Ortiz’s playing time now and again or bench Mike Lowell against the odd right-hander in road games. In addition, the deal cost the Sox Justin Masterson the versatile swingman. They might miss having him around.
In terms of the moves the Yankees did not make, it’s a bit surprising to see the long-coveted Jarod Wasburn go to the Tigers for two left-handed pitching prospects, Luke French, who has pitched seven games in the majors this year with strong results, and Mauricio Robles, an A-ball pitcher. Neither is a high-value prospect, just “interesting,” and it seems odd that the Yankees couldn’t have made a competitive offer had they wanted to do so. Now they have the choice of sticking with Sergio Mitre, pulling Phil Hughes out of the bullpen, or trying another minor leaguer, either another retread like (choke) Kei Igawa, or go with an untried pitcher such as Scranton’s George Kontos or Trenton’s Zach McAllister (currently on the disabled list with a “tired arm”). Given Mitre’s track record, they have very little to lose by rolling the dice on anyone this side of Sidney Ponson.
This may be interesting only to me, but I’m fascinated by the fact that CC Sabathia, who is not fat, far outweighs — this is going by listed weights, which are at least partially fictional, but it’s what we’ve got — Hippo Vaughn, Fats Fothergill (who died young of his name), Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons (listed at 185), Jumbo Elliot, and Blimp Phelps. I’m pretty sure, though, that Rich “El Guapo” Garces and Jumbo Brown could take him. Especially if they teamed up.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Tigers 3, Indians 1: Yankees fans saw Justin Verlander shut down the Yankees, and he did the same thing to the Indians, limiting them to two hits, three walks and a single run in seven innings. Eleven Indians walked back to the dugout with their bats in their hands. Note that Matt LaPorta, slugging prospect, made his Major League debut in right field and went 0-for-4. By the way, Carl Pavano on Friday night: 7.1/5/2/2/0/3.
Blue Jays 4, Orioles 3: Birds swept by Bluebirds. It was easy to scoff at the idea of journeyman Scott Richmond holding up the Jays’ rotation in the absence of so many quality arms back in April, but it’s much harder to do so now that he’s 4-0 with a 2.67 ERA. Many of the bats that carried the Jays early have predictably cooled, and yet they’re still here. Their next three series are against the Indians, Angels, and A’s, so expect them to stick around a little longer. Then they get the Yankees at home, a test for both teams.
Houston 7, Braves 5: The Astros take two of three in Atlanta, an embarrassment for the latter club, a team with playoff aspirations. Braves pitching has been good, but they just can’t find the stick. It’s a strange day when once is forced to acknowledge that the return of a healthy Garrett Anderson could actually help — not that it will help a lot, but no one is hitting now, not even Chipper Jones.
Reds 5, Pirates 0: The two Pirates losses in this series were shutouts, one by Bronson Arroyo, the other by Johnny Cueto. Cueto has allowed one run in his last 23 innings (oppo: Cubs, Astros, Pirates). With Brandon Moss struggling, there’s an opening for team top prospect Andrew McCutchen, but his work at Triple-A (.261/.309/.466) doesn’t really demand it.
Rays 5, Red Sox 3: The Rays take an important series from the Sox and climb a little closer to .500. The Red Sox were never able to get things going with James Shields. He’s a tough pitcher no doubt, but you wonder how long Terry Francona can maintain faith in David Ortiz given his homerless .208/.298/.302 on the season — aside from the shortstops, the rest of his team is hitting. Also of note, the Rays have the capability to punish the Sox for sticking with Jason Varitek. Varitek has hit quite well this year, all things considered, but can’t throw. The league knew that, but they’ll certainly take note of the eight steals the Sox allowed today (six by Carl Crawford) and increase the pressure. At least Brad Penny pitched well.
Brewers 4, Diamondbacks 3: I mocked Tom Gordon’s advanced age in a previous installment, but it was still depressing to see him carried off the field with a serious hamstring injury after a play at the plate on Sunday. At this stage of his career, any injury could mean the end of what has been an extremely memorable career. Gordon spent a lot of time as a so-so starter when it was obvious from the outset that his outcomes were far better out of the pen. He had great stuff, a killer curve, and the apparent endurance to be a starter, but he struggled with control over longer outings and the required consistency was never quite there. He didn’t become a pure reliever until he was 30, and in that decade of his life, 30-39, he was 36-31 with 142 saves and an ERA of 3.10. It’s not hard to imagine that if he had spent his 20s in the bullpen — and he came up at 20 — we might be looking at a future Hall of Famer now.
Royals 7, Twins 5: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that over the weekend, Willie Bloomquist hit his first home run since June 26, 2007… Sidney Ponson is now 0-4, with a 7.16 ERA. Why not do what the Jays did and call up whatever pitcher you have closest to being ready and just gamble on the upside instead of the predictable downside? For the Royals, that might be Daniel Cortes, who they sent down for a Texas League encore (why?) – he hasn’t pitched well, but he has the stuff – and Carlos Rosa, a former starter who is bullpenning it at Triple-A Omaha… Luke Hochevar is off to a great start down there, 4-0, 1.44 ERA, though without dominant strikeout numbers. Their division is soft enough that one more pitcher could make a difference.
Cubs 6, Marlins 4: Time to panic about Ricky Nolasco (1-3, 7.03) yet? …It’s rather amazing that the Cubs are 13-11 with the middle or their order struggling as much as it has — Derek Lee, Milton Bradley, Geo Soto have yet to put their hitting shoes on, and Aramis Ramirez is hurt. As a team, the club has scored far more runs than you would have expected given the component parts.
Giants 1, Rockies 0: A Barry Zito start. He’s not been half bad this year. Though written off long ago, Zito is just the latest exemplar of the old truism that pitchers can reinvent themselves ( the previous exemplar, Randy Johnson, pitched seven shutout innings on Saturday at the age of 64). The problem is that they can revert just as quickly, especially when they’re Giants and are unlikely to be supported by any kind of offense. That too is a truism.
Mariners 8, Athletics 7: Fifteen innings to bury Oakland’s hopes of a rebirth in the year of weakened (and fallen) Angels. As the Clash sang , “How many local dollars for a local anesthetic?” Matt Holliday: 0-for-7 and he hadn’t done anything before that. At least Josh Outman, wannabe superhero, pitched a strong game, and they can put a portion of the loss on Brad Ziegler’s unavailability due to illness. Darn it, I always want to type “Ron Ziegler.” Older types and historians know why.
Dodgers 7, Padres 3: At 11-15 the Padres are not yet where they belong, but they’ll have to play outside of the division to get there… Matt Kemp is 4-for-24 over the last seven games and Manny Ramirez has missed time with a bum leg, but the Dodgers roll anyway behind Chad Billingsley, who may prove to be Joe Torre’s greatest pitching legacy after Mariano Rivera. What, you thought it was Rick Mahler?
Rangers 5, White Sox 1: In which both teams reach the .500 mark. Ian Kinsler hit his ninth home run, which is one more than the Twins’ Scott Baker has allowed. Note Chicago’s starting outfield, from left to right: Carlos Quentin, who has eight home runs but is hitting .200 over his
THE WEEKEND FROM HELL
Of all the troubling events of the past weekend in Boston, perhaps the most ominous development was Joba Chamberlain’s Friday evening start, in which he pitched like a much older man, walking four and striking out two. Naturally, various broadcast crews spent the weekend wondering if this meant that Chamberlain should be sent back to the bullpen, where he threw harder. Guys: reduced velocity and a loss of control does not indicate that a pitcher is starting or relieving. Reduced velocity and a loss of control indicates that something is wrong. Any argument that Chamberlain is now hoarding his stuff as a starter is purely suppositional and highly unlikely, and Chamberlain’s role is less important at this moment than the possibility that he might be hurt.
MY LATEST THEORY
Steven Jackson is on the roster purely so the Yankees can bring a full complement of players out to the foul line during the national anthem. It is painful to watch Joe Girardi manage games so as to get them into the hands of his so-called dependable veterans, pathologically avoiding the kids now on the roster. This is 180 degrees removed from the Girardi of a year ago, who did so much to revamp the bullpen after years of Joe Torre kiting from veteran to veteran. For some reason, Girardi doesn’t seem to be willing to do it again. Yet, the team isn’t winning and the pen isn’t helping, so whatever he’s trying to do in getting those pitchers reestablished, and in some cases re-reestablished requires rethinking.
WHY THE YANKEES STILL NEED TO ACQUIRE ANOTHER THIRD BASEMAN
Because even if Alex Rodriguez comes back tomorrow, he could be out again the day after. That could be for any reason, not just his hip. A pitch could fracture his hand in his first plate appearance of the season, and the Yankees would be right back where they were. This is what we call insurance. You don’t think your house will burn down tomorrow, but you pay the insurance, just in case. There will be no time this season where it will be safe for the Yankees to have so little depth at the hot corner, just because life is unpredictable. Meanwhile, playing Angel Berroa at third clearly means you’re not altogether serious about winning. Playing Cody Ransom meant that too, but it was marginally worth trying — though not without a safety net. It is stunning how little Yankees management learned from last season’s injuries.
PROBABLY WISHFUL THINKING, BUT…
…If Sidney Ponson could hold the Tigers to three runs over eight innings, as he did on Sunday, the Yankees should be okay in this series.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
? In a previous entry, I said that no one can win the NL East. Allow me to add the AL West to that formulation as well.
? Dear Angels: Can the Yankees offer you 1.5 pitchers for your own apparently despised 3B/SS Brandon Wood? With affection, Brian Cashman. Dear Rockies: Can the Yankees offer you .5 pitchers for your own redundant third baseman Jeff Baker? Respectfully, Brian “Manpower Shortage” Cashman. Dear Mike Blowers: All is forgiven. Please come home. With sincere regret, Brian “I Didn’t Work Here Then” Cashman.
? Best wishes to Braves All-Star Brian McCann as he heads for the DL trying to cure his blurred vision. We know from bad vision at the Pinstriped Bible, and we feel for you, Brian. McCann is apparently off for a second Lasik surgery.
? Gavin Floyd was battered by the Blue Jays on Friday night. Given Floyd’s unrealistically low batting average allowed on balls in play last year, forecasting a regression was one of the easiest calls of the offseason…
? I love allmusic.com, because sometimes you just have to know how many bands have covered “Daydream Believer,” “Coconut Grove,” or “Who Put the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder?”
? Sometimes I think, “Where would the Royals be without Zack Greinke?” Then a voice answers, “Where are they with him?”
? On the eve of a new Bob Dylan release, a reminder that if you haven’t been with the man on his last three albums, “Time Out of Mind,” “Love and Theft,” and “Modern Times,” you’ve missed a remarkable career renaissance. I’m not certain of Dylan has changed with the times or the times have become strange to the point that Dylan is now able to sing from a timeless American dimension in which civil war soldiers commiserate with hoboes over the Great Depression, both admiring the singing of Charley Patton and Robert Johnson, who are playing just down the line at the next soup kitchen. Many of these songs are fatalistic, but simultaneously reassuring. In the early ’60s, Dylan was an entertainer. In the mid- to late-60s he was angry. It was harder for him to find relevance from the mid-70s through the 90s, but now he’s memory, and boy, do we need memory. “I got my back to the sun ’cause the light is too intense/I can see what everybody in the world is up against/Can’t turn back, you can’t come back, sometimes we push too far/One day you’ll open up your eyes and you’ll see where we are.” Funny thing about history; you can only mourn what you’ve lost if you know what you had, and who in modern times has any use for the lessons of history? Thus the next line of the song: “Sugar Baby, get on down the road/Ain’t got no brains no how/You went years without me/Might as well keep going now.”
? One good sign for Alex Rodriguez is how well Chase Utley and Mike Lowell, both veterans of recent hip surgery, have been hitting. The Yankees have seen the latter’s work firsthand…
? It seems odd how quickly the Twins decided that Carlos Gomez was a defensive replacement rather than a starter, especially when Mike Cuddyer and Delmon Young aren’t giving them anything special at the plate. Just because Cuddyer is the rare Twin under a sort-of pricey contract doesn’t mean he has to play. As for Young, at this point the hype, always out of balance to the actual product, should no longer blind anyone to the realities of the player. The Twins, by the way, possess several mediocre third baseman that can actually play third base, and yet they have no current use for. Just sayin’.
? In case you missed it, Carl Pavano got hammered Saturday. He’s now 0-3 with a 9.50 ERA. Somehow, though the thrill isn’t quite as sweet given that the Yankees passed up their own opportunity to thrash him…
? Charlie Manuel benched Jimmy Rollins on Sunday because “He’s not swinging good.” While it is true that Rollins is batting only .162/.205/.235, unless you really think he needs a mental health break, or he’s doing some Manny-style sulking thing that we don’t know about, do you bench a former MVP and three-time All-Star? You figure a ten-year vet will work his way out of it…
? Are we off the Marlins’ bandwagon yet?
? Given that Reds’ left fielders have combined to hit .171/.275/.300 to date, why not run Micah Owings out there every once in awhile? Is Laynce Nix really going to do that much better?
? Chris Davis of the Rangers has a seven-game hitting streak going, in which he’s hitting .304/.360/.739 with three home runs, including two in his last two games. His strikeout-walk ratio in that time is 12-1, so he’s not over his troubles yet, but at least he’s holding his own for now after his miserable start. Note also Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s eight-game streak (not counting a no at-bat appearance as a defensive replacement), during which he’s hit .407/.429/
.630. His strikeout-walk ratio I during the streak is 10-1. Hey, Rudy Jaramillo: what are you teaching these guys?