Monday, July 31, 2006
With manager Felipe Alou losing patience with Giants closer Armando Benitez, who muffed his last three save opportunities, watch for ex-starter Brad Hennessey to get a chance to close a few games. If it goes well, he might close a few more. Hennessey, 26, has never been projected as a save specialist, but then again the former 21st overall pick has never envisioned himself in the bullpen, either. But that's where he has been watching the games lately. Problem is, he allows a few too many baserunners despite his sparkling 2.60 ERA. As an alternative, of course, there's always Jonathan Sanchez, a lefty with a 95-mph fastball who has been compared to Oliver Perez when Oliver Perez was Oliver Perez. Sanchez has the potential to strike out nearly a batter an inning and owns a microscopic ERA. You never know. Alou could see a succession of lefty hitters coming up in a save situation, look down to the bullpen, and spot the eager, 24-year-old rookie.
Where is Brad Eldred, now that they really need him? Even if a hundred Lilliputians strapped the gigantic first baseman behind a Peterbilt rolled him to Pittsburgh, he still can't play after fracturing the joint and collateral ligament of his left thumb in a collision with a baserunner nearly three months ago. It's a pity, because with trades of Sean Casey to the Tigers and Craig Wilson to the Yankees the long overdue rookie finally would have rightfully claimed the Pirates first base bag as his own. Instead Xavier Nady will play first. At 6-foot-five and 275 pounds, and just coming of age at 26, and after hitting a combined 40 homers in three professional stops last year, the job should have been Eldred's last spring. But the front office decided to sign a few free agents after thinking they might surprise a few people this year. Regrettably, the surprise turned out to be that the Pirates are still the Pirates, and the signing of Casey, Roberto Hernandez, Jeromy Burnitz and other moves backfired, none worse than relegating the long overdue Eldred to the AAA Indianapolis Indians.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Dodgers first baseman Nomar Garciaparra has told manager Grady Little he may be able to return from his strained oblique injury as soon as Tuesday, but Little will be tempted to give rookie James Loney a try instead. There's little to lose to let Garciaparra rest longer, especially considering the risk of returning him too soon from his rib cage strain. Little will likely want to see whether Loney can tranfer his hot minor league hitting to Los Angeles, as he is leading the Pacific Coast League with a .372 average. If Garciparra looks strong when he participates in batting practice sometime at midweek, Loney, a first baseman, still may get playing time in the outfield, where he has played intermittently for the Las Vegas '51s and amply demonstrated his powerful if not always accurate throwing arm.
With the trade deadline only hours away, the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies were preparing to announce the trade of Phillies star right fielder Bobby Abreu, 32, to New York after the Phillies dropped a demand for prospect Eric Duncan as centerpiece of the deal. Duncan, 22, had been a pet of Yankees GM Brian Cashman after the New Jersey native was named Arizona Fall League MVP last year. While signed as a third baseman, Duncan is expected to be converted to a first baseman by the Yankees, as his cross-diamond throwing has been inaccurate. Full details were expected to be disclosed before the trade deadline lapsed at 4 p.m. Its consumation, after negotiations for more than eight weeks, represents a triumph over other clubs competing to win Abreu's services, most notably the Boston Red Sox. While talks intensified in recent weeks, Cashman has been scouting Abreu since spring training, and that may have influenced his decision not to pick up the option on Yankees right fielder Gary Sheffield's contract. The acquisition of Abreu likely leaves Sheffield, currently on the disabled list, as odd man out.
A speculative, independent critique of the pre-op surgical plan for Dodgers relief pitcher Eric Gagne appears to cast doubt not only on the outlook for the remainder of the 30-year-old hurler's career, but perhaps even his prospect for his living out a normal, pain-free life. Gagne, the 2003 Cy Young Award winner, currently is recovering from an elective operation to repair a herniated disc in his lower back. The procedure sidelined him for the rest of the season, as expected. But much more is at stake considering puzzling choices associated with the procedure. While Todd Helton, Alex Rodriguez and other players with similar spinal pain have chosen rest, rehabilitation and medication, Gagne has taken a relatively radical course. The choice to operate was based on magnetic resonance images indicating spinal anomalies following Gagne's simple, common discomfort while rising from bed. But such anomalies are typical. MRIs of one in five individuals will show similar indications, while the patient experiences no discomfort or other manifestations. An elderly or infirm patient or one with a history of back discomfort might cause alarm with such pain, but the agitation should be far more ephemeral or transient in the case of a well-conditioned athlete such as Gagne. Dodgers bravado would have fans believe Gagne will be ready to return to play next spring, no problem. Yet the fact remains that the decision to intervene with surgery could have, however remote, repercussions leading to a lifelong medicinal regimen and potential discomfort when attempting ordinary activities such as picking up luggage, driving, bathing or even washing hands, let alone throwing a baseball.
A hitter, a pitcher, a first-born, a kidney -- nothing seems too much to pay for the privilege of renting Nationals slugger Alfonso Soriano for two months. Yet, ironically, it was a scant 200 days ago that Soriano was still the property of the Texas Rangers, who were only too happy to spin him to Washington for next to nothing. All the Rangers have to show for the highly sought superstar are outfielder Brad Wilkerson, playing part-time and batting .230, and pitcher A.A. Galarraga, mired appropriately enough at AA. To think what might have been had the Rangers held Soriano to trade him now. Instead, he is the biggest loss to Rangers owner Tom Hicks since the team gave up on Travis Hafner, sending him off to Cleveland for Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese. Now Texas has acquired Carlos Lee in yet another two-month rental, giving up Kevin Mench, an outstanding hitter with a great eye at the plate. Mench is just coming into his prime at 28, playing a coy defense despite his lack of speed, spraying the ball to all fields with power and hitting righties almost as well as lefties despite manager Bucky Showalter playing him part time and leaving him to bat without protection in the No. 7 spot. Like Washington, Cleveland, San Diego and other teams smart enough to trade with Texas, Milwaukee will reap dividends for years to come.
Once the pride of the Houston Astros bullpen, superstar closer Brad Lidge suddenly finds himself expendable in frenetic trade talks to acquire yet another bat. It's a bit of a shock, but the emergence of relief pitchers Chad Qualis and Dan Wheeler has made the unthinkalbe thinkable, especially with Lidge's puzzling meltdowns in critical situations throughout the year. Teammate Roger Clemens, and pitching coaches Mark Bailey and Jim Hickey have worked tirelessly with the 30-year-old former fan favorite to keep him from tipping pitches and to convince him to stick with the form that has helped him chalk up 23 saves and strike out more than 70 in fewer than 50 innings. But the one part of Lidge's game they can't reach is between his ears, as Lidge seems to have lost his killer instinct since his untimely reversal of fortunes in last year's post season. Time after time Lidge has had batters on the ropes with two strikes against them, and two outs in his pocket, only to give up hits so costly that his earned run average has ballooned to more than 5.00. Meanwhile Qualis, 28, has held lefties to a .218 batting average and righties to .236. Wheeler, 29, who already has closed one game for a save, has been touched up a bit by lefties, batting .292 against him, but has held righties to little more than .200.
Those thinking veteran Craig Counsell will be given back his starting shortstop job for his 36th birthday on Aug. 21, don't waste breath blowing out the candles. Counsell likely will have recovered from his broken rib by then, but no way he can he push rookie phenom Stephen Drew off the field. Drew, 23, remains a work in progress, but so far he has not embarrassed himself defensively and is swinging a huge bat, even flirting with a .400 average for brief periods. Expect the Diamondbacks to keep earning dividends on the $4 million signing bonus they handed Drew, and expect the former first rounder to be a fixture in the middle for years to come. Drew is the most recent of three brothers, the others being J.D. Drew and Tim Drew, to enter the baseball arena. But though he may be the youngest, he projects as the potentially the best player of the three.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Whatever the momentus and considerable achievements of newly inducted Baseball Hall of Fame writer Tracy Ringolsby -- they should not include his coverage of Rockies first baseman Todd Helton's bout with Crohn's disease. There is no shame in contracting Crohn's Disease, only shame in not treating it. But the Rockies and attendant medical authorities have continually and deliberately led Ringolsby and a complacent Front Range media away from the smoking gun that explains why Helton is a mere shadow of his former self. Helton has been dropped from the No. 3 spot in the batting order to No. 5 as his average languishes in the .270 range and his home run total stalls at a mere dozen, despite playing in the best hitter's park in the National League. The cause is Helton's continuing struggle against the debilitations of Crohn's disease, including intermittent bowl discomfort and irregularities, gastro-intestinal pain and a vague feeling of weakness as if suffering from low-grade fever. Though Helton potentially may have to deal with it for the remainder of his life, prospects are good that the malady can be successfully managed with diet modification and anti-inflammatory medicine. One day soon Helton may return to normal or near normal. But for the time being, it will remain a challenge for him to try to play an energetic game when with little warning at any time, he feels as though the claws of a raptor have suddenly clutched his gut. The disease most commonly strikes men in their 20s and 30s in industrialized nations in northern climates, but thankfully is rarely fatal.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Twins SP Brad Radke, who finally worked his ERA under 5.00 with a succession of solid outings, is thrilled about the prospect of pitching in the World Series, now that his team is in the thick of the pennant race. But even if Minnesota wins the Fall Classic -- a very big IF -- the 33-year-old righty will regard it as nothing more than a crowning achievement. After this season, Radke will be history, having promised his family that he will retire to a fabulous mansion nearing completion in the pricey Los Angeles suburb of Bel Air, not far from Beverly Hills and one of the posh homes of Barry Bonds. There Radke will reside for about nine months out of the year, but will not entirely forsake his Northern Mississippi River haunts. Radke has a special attachment to his boat, the lush links and Minnesota-Wisconsin shoreviews near his sequestered Midwest home of the past several years. Though it is far too early to predict the Twins will make the playoffs, and foolish to think the rival White Sox won't eventually stumble out of a recent swoon, it is scary to think that the Twins recent three-game sweep of the Pale Hose in Chicago came with center fielder Tori Hunter and left fielder Shannon Stewart disabled and SP (San) Francisco Liriano watching from the sidelines.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Just when you thought the formerly great Kansas City Royals franchise was lost, adrift, listing heavily without direction, purpose or pride, along comes GM Dayton Moore with a startling, single, bold stroke - the trade of RP Elmer Dessens to the Dodgers for struggling SP Odalis Perez-- to make it perfectly clear that, much to the contrary, the team remains unwaveringly committed, unyieldingly focused and more determined than ever to cling to its long established goal of stinking up the American League.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Starting pitchers Dustin Moseley, replacing Jared Weaver, and Joe Saunders, replacing Kelvim Escobar, are being called to Los Angeles from Salt Lake City. The Angels have announced Weaver will miss at least one start as a precaution to ease mild tendonitis of the bicep, giving Mosely at least one major league start. Saunders is expected to see at least two starts while Escobar serves a 15-day disabled list stint. Saunders owns a 10-3 record with a 2.51 ERA, Moseley 8-4 with a 3.99 ERA, both for the AAA Bees. Moseley will start Monday, Saunders on Tuesday.
Expect the Orioles to deal veteran Jeff Conine at virtually any reasonable price now that his bat has finally come to life, and he has the attention of several potential suitors. Conine's fate is sealed not only because the July 31 trade deadline is approaching, but because teammate Jay Gibbons is eligible to return from the DL July 29. Gibbons has rested his sore knee, and needs to play in Conine's outfield spot because of the emergence of youngster Nick Markakis. Markakis' sparkling play has won him the everyday right field job, leaving Conine as the odd man out.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Washington Nationals center fielder Alex Escobar seems like another player in another time on another planet now, but once upon a time he was so highly prized that the Indians traded no less than superstar Robbie Alomar to the Mets to acquire him. Blessed with speed, power and a cannon for an arm, Escobar was one of those perennial can't-miss, five-tool prospects who was to have served as the cornerstone of the Cleveland outfield for years to come. Then came multiple injuries, mostly to the legs, including a 2001 torn ACL that called for a restructuring of his knee, a procedure so difficult that Escobar's prospects dimmed to the point that he ultimately was released outright. After a number of obscure stops over the past five years, Escobar has a total of three stolen bases and only a handful of plate appearances, and at 27, the luster has long since faded from his star. But look for Nats manager Frank Robinson to give Escobar every chance to demonstrate whether he has anything left, if for no other reason than because of whom he once was, if not for whom he is now.
Saturday, July 01, 2006
The Washington Nationals refusal to call up prospect Larry Broadway from New Orleans sets a dubious tone for the team's new ownership, despite its big talk about "doing things right" and commitment to winning. By recent count Broadway, a power-hitting first baseman, was hitting .308 with nine homers, after hitting .339 in the Arizona Fall League, and was well on pace toward reaching close to the 100 RBI plateau by the end of the Zephyrs season. Moreover, Broadway has been named to the Triple A All-Star team in which the top players in the International League will face off against the best in the Pacific Coast League. Yet when Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson missed several games with injury, and even when the team needed a DH during interleague play, Broadway was left to languish in the steamy Mississippi Delta. It's still very early in the Lerner Group's tenure as new owners of the Nationals, but with GM Jim Bowden staying on without interruption, excuses wear thin for the team's failure to call up Broadway and put the best possible team on the field. With the Kansas City Royals and Florida Marlins, major league baseball already has two too many teams that rank bean counting ahead of achievement. At 25, Broadway has earned the chance to familiarize himself with major league play and its commensurate pressure. For the sake of Broadway's development, the National's should disregard his rendezvous with salary arbitration and let him play as often and as soon as possible.