Comings and Goings (7/15-7/18)

Chicago White Sox – Acquired outfielder Carl Everett from the Montreal Expos for pitcher Jon Rauch and minor league pitcher Gary Majewski.

Everett didn’t quite see his Second City return get the “He’s Back” headlines that Michael Jordan once garnered, but White Sox fans will be happy to see Carl return to the lineup. Not only did the White Sox find a bat to help replace the injured Frank Thomas, but they also found a potential replacement for Magglio Ordonez. Ken Williams’ showed foresight we seldom see, though giving up on Rauch so early may hurt like Kip Wells has.

In last year’s stint with the White Sox, Everett hit .301/.377/.473, including a .282/.366/.462 line at U.S. Cellular Field. His numbers have been affected by an injury this year, explaining the abysmal .697 OPS. Williams is hoping a return to the American League, and a four-week stint in the DH spot, will help ignite Everett and the ailing Sox.

At full strength, Ozzie Guillen should be left to platoon Everett and Aaron Rowand. Carl is hitting only .237/.293/.316 against southpaws this year, and from 2001-2003, his OPS was .240 points lower. As for Rowand, who is just coming off a .375/.420/.641 June, his numbers are always better against left-handers, as seen by his 1.115 OPS against them this season. Next year, Everett will likely move to right field, forcing Rowand into a Spring Training battle with highly touted, overrated prospect Joe Borchard.

You also have to give Omar Minaya some credit here, for seeing a good opportunity in Rauch, and a complete sunk cost in Everett. Since Williams’ degrading comments about Rauch months ago, every GM in baseball has had their eyes on acquiring the 2000 Minor League Player of the Year at a cheap cost. Minaya thought he did that, only giving away an ‘expensive’ outfielder that was drastically underperforming.

So, let’s turn the clock forward a little bit, and try and forecast what the Expos might do down the road. This season the Expos have received good pitching by five starters: Tomo Ohka (3.01 ERA), Livan Hernandez (3.92), Zach Day (4.04), Tony Armas Jr. (4.24) and John Patterson (3.29). Both Ohka and Day are currently on the DL, and both are expected to return to their starting spots in 2005. Adding Jon Rauch would give them six starters, allowing Minaya to send one packing at the trade deadline. With that being said, I expect the arbitration-eligible Tony Armas to be shipped away within the next 11 days, possibly in return for some position prospects.

Minnesota Twins – Placed first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to July 7, with left wrist soreness; recalled infielder-designated hitter Justin Morneau from Rochester of the International League (AAA).

There’s a little bit of irony here, seeing as though just when Mientkiewicz started to get his ship righted, his wrist injury was just too much to bear. After paining through a .240/.298/.354 May, and an even worse .150/.310/.200 June, Doug was hitting .412/.500/.941 in July before hitting the DL. The disappointing season has led to a –4 WSAA, currently the worst for American League first basemen.

But, one can see light at the end of the tunnel, as Mientkiewicz’s injury allowed Terry Ryan to call up Justin Morneau before he might leave to play for Canada in the Olympics. Morneau was hitting .306/.377/.615 in the International League, and bats like that will probably come in handy down the stretch. After seeing the rival Sox acquire the offensive piece they’ve been searching for, Ryan must do something to shore up his pitching staff.

Besides Johan Santana and Brad Radke, the Twins really lack anything consistent to put out there every fifth day. Carlos Silva is not one to be trusted, and it appears now that Kyle Lohse is nothing more than an innings-eating, league average fifth starter. Ryan must identify the offensive excess he has, and use it to land a starter. Trading Michael Cuddyer is a bad idea, since he could be useful playing second or third next year, and Morneau should only be dealt to land Randy Johnson. So who?

None other than Jacque Jones. With Shannon Stewart and Torii Hunter under long-term contracts, Rod Gardenhire will have no problem deciding whether to start Lew Ford, Michael Restovich or top prospect Jason Kubel everyday next year. Jones provides zero power against left-handers, and lacks the ability to get on base against any pitcher. But, Ryan should have no problem finding a GM still hanging onto 2002, hoping Jones might solve an offensive hole. Using excess to his advantage is something I’ve never seen from Ryan, but in the midst of his most heated playoff race to date, now would be a good time.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays – Designated first baseman-designated hitter Fred McGriff for assignment; optioned infielder Damian Rolls to Durham of the International League (AAA); recalled outfielder Joey Gathright and infielder Jorge Cantu from Durham.

Whether or not the producers are willing to admit it, I’m fairly sure the upcoming movie “Mr. 3,000” starring Bernie Mac is based off the career of Fred McGriff. Mac, a superstar satisfied with 3,000 hits, retires until the history books are changed to leave him one short. Mac returns to the game to find himself overmatched, seemingly unable to achieve his goal. Given McGriff’s career in acting, I’m shocked he wasn’t considered for the role.

But unlike the movie, I don’t think there will be a happy ending for Fred McGriff. Not only do I not believe he will reach 500 home runs, currently seven away, but I also don’t believe he will ever be inducted into the Hall of Fame. At this time, McGriff would rank tied for 478th all-time in batting average, 71st in slugging percentage, tied for 21st in home runs, 81st in hits and 34th in RBI. The counting stats are more a testament to his longevity than his skill, as McGriff was never the type of player a kid might idolize while growing up.

McGriff was hitting .181/.272/.306 with the Devil Rays this year, and a more pathetic .138/.167/.207 in Tropicana Field. With John Olerud (read on) hitting the open market, there is no reason for a team to take a chance on a public relations story like the Crime Dog.

In his place is a pair of interesting names in Cantu and Gathright. Cantu, once a shortstop prospect known for his defense, had 18 home runs in 1979 professional at-bats entering the 2004 season. Playing second, short and third with the Durham Bulls, Cantu has found his stroke, already hitting 21 home runs before his promotion. Whether Cantu fits in the everyday plans or not is beside the point, having an infielder with that kind of pop off the bench is invaluable.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

We also see the return of Joey Gathright, Tampa’s speedy centerfield prospect that was 6/22 before being sent down on July 3. Between then and his promotion, Gathright was 20/43 at the plate, stealing 14 bases in 17 attempts in just ten games. I’m under the notion that the club should pursue trading Rocco Baldelli this winter, but seeing as though he’s a demi-god in some circles, I have fewer expectations for that than I do Terry Ryan making a trade.

Toronto Blue Jays – Activated outfielder Vernon Wells from the 15-day disabled list; optioned infielder-outfielder Howie Clark to Syracuse of the International League (AAA).

On June 11, Carlos Tosca decided to bench Alexis Rios, as the touted prospect was hitting .180/.241/.220 with the Blue Jays through fifty-four at-bats. This must have stirred something in Rios’ belly, as Toronto has finally seen what made Rios burst onto the prospect scene last year. Since his benching, Rios has hit .333/.362/.486 in 111 at-bats, including 11 doubles and three triples. He’s hit safely in 24 of his last 29 games, through an amazing 4/4 performance on Sunday Night Baseball.

And with all that, Blue Jays’ superstar Vernon Wells returns to the lineup, pushing Rios back to positions unknown on the corners. Rios will start playing right field everyday, in effect benching Frank Catalanotto until J.P. Riccardi finds a home for him. With Carlos Delgado announcing his refusal to waive a no-trade clause, the Jays are left with Catalanotto as their top piece of trade bait.

Seattle Mariners – Activated catcher Miguel Olivo from the 15-day disabled list; purchased the contracts of pitcher George Sherrill and infielder Bucky Jacobsen from Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League (AAA); designated first baseman John Olerud and catcher Pat Borders for assignment.

Meet your new-look Mariners lineup:

C- Miguel Olivo
1B- Scott Spezio
2B- Bret Boone
SS- Jolbert Cabrera
3B- Justin Leone
LF- Raul Ibanez
CF- Randy Winn
RF- Ichiro Suzuki
DH- Bucky Jacobsen

While neither Olivo, Leone or Jacobsen fit in the “25 and under” category, it is still nice to see the Mariners getting a little younger. Jacobsen, a 28-year-old with no glove, was hitting .312/.422/.661 in AAA before his promotion. In his first eight at-bats, Jacobsen collected five hits, four walks and two home runs, one of the best Major League debuts in recent memory. Leone also has a .556 SLG this year, giving the guys at U.S.S. Mariner some redemption for what has been a lost season.

It’s unfortunate to see Olerud go, he’s a class act with a good enough on-base percentage to attract some teams. The Red Sox, on the verge of seeing David Ortiz suspended about ten games, should call up Bill Bavasi about the availability of the first basemen. Also said to be interested are the San Francisco Giants, who would have to throw J.T. Snow in the trade for economical reasons. Boston could have a nice dual platoon combination at 1B/DH with Kevin Millar/Ellis Burks and David Ortiz/Olerud. Wasting that many roster spots on two positions is a little sketchy though, especially when the bullpen could use a little tidying up in the back end.

As for Pat Borders, he’s left to join McGriff, Ricky Gutierrez and Rey Ordonez to form the “Worst OPS When Released” team. His contribution? .487.

Atlanta Braves – Activated second baseman Marcus Giles from the 60-day disabled list; activated outfielder Dewayne Wise from the 15-day disabled list and optioned him to Richmond of the International League (AAA); designated infielder Jesse Garcia for assignment.

While this might appear to be similar to the Vernon Wells transaction, seeing as though the replacement is playing well under the superstar, Nick Green has been a little overrated this season. After an .837 OPS in his debut month of May, Green had a .681 June, and was flirting with .700 upon Giles’ return. Hopefully John Scheurholtz will recognize there is a market for a guy like Nick Green, and maybe spin him for the bat he’s after this week.

Giles’ return is huge for a team that is seeing Chipper Jones emerge from the Pat Burrell cave, and watching J.D. Drew turn into the superstar that he was once prescribed to be. Atlanta is now flawless in the 1-6 spots, and even deeper if Eli Marrero can continue his .990 OPS pace. And yes, please file that number into the “Random, What the Hell?” file.

It took me a while to believe it, but Atlanta really could win the NL East. At this point, I feel there are strong arguments for Philly, Atlanta, and yes, even the New York Mets. Mix the breakouts of J.D. Drew and Johnny Estrada with Leo Mazzone reclamation projects like Jaret Wright and Antonio Alfonseca, and out pops out a division contender. If Bobby Cox can do it one more time, he might just slip into my top ten managers ever list. Even without the rings.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Activated pitcher Odalis Perez from the 15-day disabled list; placed pitcher Edwin Jackson on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right forearm.

With a 13-1 record in their last 14 games, the Dodgers are as frustrating for Giants and Padres fans as the Cardinals are to us Cubs fans. Los Angeles is playing some great baseball, and losing Edwin Jackson won’t even put a chink in the club’s armor.

Give the offense the nod for the Dodgers’ recent great play, as the pitching has gotten all the credit for far too long. Los Angeles has five everyday hitters with an OPS above .800 in July, including three over 1.100. Jayson Werth is proving to be good enough to play everyday, surely making Paul DePodesta doubt if adding Carlos Delgado would actually improve the club. In fact, Los Angeles is one of the few Major League teams that needs little to no tweaking, maybe one more pitcher for the end of the staff.

Great, I pick LA in 2002 and 2003, but once I turn my back, it looks like they might run away with the division.

Cincinnati Reds – Activated first baseman Sean Casey from the 15-day disabled list; optioned catcher Corky Miller to Louisville of the International League (AAA); sent outright outfielder Stephen Smitherman to Louisville. Designated pitcher Jesus Sanchez for assignment; purchased the contract of outfielder Jason Romano from Louisville of the International League (AAA).

If anyone needs to add a starter by the deadline, it’s the Cincinnati Reds, a team managing to stay afloat despite a 4.97 ERA by their starters. Only Paul Wilson, Aaron Harang and Cory Lidle belong on Major League teams, much less clubs gunning for the Wild Card.

Cincinnati is kind of the Dodgers’ anti-Christ, a team that has always relied on offense rather than pitching in crunch time. It was assumed that without Griffey and Austin Kearns, the Reds’ outfield would fall apart. But with the help of super-utility man Ryan Freel and Wily Mo Pena, everything has stayed steady in the Great American Ballpark. I want to focus on Wily Mo Pena, who has six home runs in his last eight games, in which his line is .484/.500/.1.129. Nutty.

Despite not learning the conventional way, it appears the 22-year-old is ready for an everyday job. This presents the first excess problem for Dave O’Miley, who has to lose Sean Casey, Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr., Austin Kearns or Pena this winter. My choice, as it has always been, would be Casey, who will have higher trade value than ever this year. I see Casey as a Tino Martinez-type, and expect him to suffer through a similar decline, starting next year. An infield of Dunn, Jimenez, Freel and Edwin Encarnacion would be good next year, assuming they land a damn good starter for Casey.

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