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Charging the Mound: Why Won't Teams Do the Right Thing?

Chris Liss

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire.com and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 6:13pm
To: liss@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound - Set Them Free

We've spent a lot of time on-air venting about the dumb things that some teams are doing, and what we'd do different. We've even spent some time in this space castigating teams like the Indians and Orioles for not having their priorities in order when setting their rosters and meting out playing time. As we have said before, for teams like these, at-bats and innings are their only currency, not marginal wins. The fantasy implications of this are pretty obvious - guys that we've expected to get significant playing time and thus have invested our draft dollars and rosters spots are wasting away, either in the minors or on their teams' respective benches.

I thought about this again as I was setting my ever-so-depressing CardRunners League lineup for the next two weeks (you know what's fun? trying to guess who will play more over the next two weeks - Orlando Hudson or Erick Aybar?). Because of a slew of injuries and the demotions, I'm left hoping that either Michael Brantley or Alex Gordon, preferably both, will get the call from their brain-dead teams despite indications from each that they're in no particular hurry to call them up. Especially in the case of Gordon, I really want to see him land on a different team. He'll be out of options next year, forcing the Royals' hands a little bit. I wish instead they'd just trade him now and let him play. The Twins in particular could use him if they're willing to play him at third base. I can't imagine him being any worse than what they've gotten from the position so far.

There are a few other guys I'd love to see a change of scenery for, and not all of them are on my fantasy watch. Sticking with the Royals, Kila Ka'aihue continues to rake at Triple-A Omaha (.325/.493/.588 - that's right, he's getting on-base nearly half the time there), yet can't sniff much of a chance. Even when he was up with the team earlier, he was given all of four at-bats. He's 26 years old right now, in his third year at Triple-A. What more does he have left to prove? He's entering what should be the prime years of his career, yet seems buried with no end in sight, thanks to the continued presence of Jose Guillen on the roster. If the Royals stick with the plan to play Gordon in left field and call him up, then Ka'aihue is still blocked. Either way, one worthy hitter isn't going to be able to play.

I can't disagree with what the Angels have been doing with Brandon Wood this year - a 2:36 BB:K ratio is pretty egregious. He just got activated from the DL on Tuesday and will start at third against the Brewers, thanks to Erick Aybar's injury on Monday. This might be his last chance to impress in this organization, given that he's had so many false starts and because he's out of options. I don't like how they've called him up only to bench him on multiple occasions in the past, and I think he's really stagnated. There's a non-zero chance that he's the type of player that would flourish in another organization.

It's hard to critique the Blue Jays' offense, but I get the idea that we're not going to see Brett Wallace until September, due to their unwavering commitment to Lyle Overbay. Overbay has been hitting well in June (.871 OPS), furthering the notion that they don't expect to promote Wallace anytime soon. But even with him hitting well in a half-month, Overbay's line is .233/.306/.405. I can buy the notion that you don't call up the rookie prospect merely just to play him if the team is competing, but that's only when the veteran will clearly be better in the short-term. I don't think that's going to be the case here. I know that Wallace isn't a trade target, at least unless the Jays become buyers, though it's worth noting that two organizations have already traded him without getting him up to the majors. I just want to see him get called up and get a chance to play.

My list is too AL and hitter-centric. Who are some NL'ers or pitchers that you'd like to see emancipated? It looks as if Pedro Alvarez is going to get the call soon enough, so that's one guy. Who else is there that you're waiting for to get a chance?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 11:26pm
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound - Set Them Free

Wallace isn't exactly killing Triple-A (.838 OPS at age 23), and Overbay's not going to be a .233 hitter all year at age 33. So I think there is a decent argument that Overbay's the better option for right now as long as the Jays are nominally contending. But I'd hope if they slip a few more games, and all hope is lost that they make the move anyway because as you pointed out, at-bats are the relevant currency, not wins when you're out of contention. The problem is that players, managers, front offices and some fans actually care about winning even in the absence of a chance to make the playoffs. Managers and GMs who beat expectations keep their jobs, and players are happier on a team that's not an embarrassment. Moreover, a lot of fans identify closely with their teams, so losing 90-plus will sour them even if it's for a good cause. So very often the moves that make sense from a long-term "win a World Series eventually" standpoint don't happen in the interest of short-term success.

The other problem is the one the Orioles are facing where they made some of the right moves - trading Erik Bedard for prospects, putting together a good core of young players, but then jumped the gun, thinking they were the 2008 Rays and signed a couple veteran pieces like Garrett Atkins, Kevin Millwood and Miguel Tejada to put them over the top. Now they're panicking because after two months of being the worst team in baseball, there's a sense that the rebuilding was a failure. So you can take the short-term hit by dealing the Bedards off your team, but then if your rebuilding plan takes more time than advertised or hits a setback, it seems the short-term pain you put your fans through was all for naught. Of course, the O's should give away Tejada to the Twins, Angels or anyone who would have him, cut Atkins and sell Millwood for a bag of baseballs, over-under totals for 2010 be damned. But GM Andy MacPhail still hopes the team finishes with a better record than last year, as if it matters.

Regarding the Royals, why can't they use Gordon in left and Ka'aihue at DH? Guillen can either sit or push Scott Podsednik for at-bats in right. It's not a hard solution, and Guillen's a free agent after the year, so it's not like they're stuck with him if he doesn't like it. As for Wood, every 25-year old has a "non-zero" chance of turning things around, but I'd put my money on Andy Marte having a career before Wood.

As for players I'd like to see get a chance - how about Jeremy Hellickson? You can't tell me the Rays couldn't use him arm, either as a starter or a setup guy as they make their playoff run. Seems like it would be better for him to get his feet wet earlier rather than later. Maybe move Hellickson into the rotation and Wade Davis into the pen. Matt LaPorta, who's killed it since being demoted to Triple-A, ought to get a shot to play first base full time. Who cares if the team signed Russell Branyan, who's got eight homers but a .796 OPS? I'd also like to see the Phillies move Domonic Brown to Triple-A asap, and if he crushes it for a month the way he's destroyed Double-A this year, get him up in the bigs. He'd be a defensive upgrade over Raul Ibanez immediately, and he could provide a spark for the offense with his speed. I wouldn't mind seeing Aroldis Chapman get a shot, either. It's probably too risky given that they're contending, and he's been so inconsistent, but it would be entertaining at least, and I'm not sure how much the level change would matter - he's going to walk batters, but dominate no matter where he is.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 2:00am
To: liss@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound - Set Them Free

I'd love to see Chapman up right now for the Reds. Their bullpen is in desperate straits, and I think he'd fit in right now as a two-inning guy, being allowed to go all-out while learning to beat major league hitters. This is a classic situation asking for the Earl Weaver treatment - a pitcher that's got great stuff but is somewhat raw, someone that hasn't gone too deep in his starts at Triple-A (59.2 innings in 12 starts), and a bullpen that might sink a team that might otherwise contend. But in virtually every interview I've seen, the Reds say they're developing him as a starter and not viewing him as someone to help out their bullpen. But they're saying the same thing with Edinson Volquez in his rehab, and he's on target to be back in a little less than a month. Even if Homer Bailey isn't ready to return from the DL by then, that's still one spot too few to fill with both Chapman and Volquez.

As far as the O's go, at least Millwood didn't cost them the full contract - the Rangers took on $3 million of his contract (and used the savings to take a chance on Rich Harden - oops), and Millwood will be a free agent at the end of the year. I think that they might find a taker for him. That's one area that MacPhail actually hasn't done a bad job - spinning off veterans for prospects. The George Sherrill for Josh Bell trade was particularly well-executed. Millwood has sort of blown the plan in his last couple of starts, but a few decent starts could restore his value. But the Atkins/Tejada combo was just silly - I can see signing one or the other if you want to buy a half-season for Bell, but both? And that quote from MacPhail, *after* the implosion has started, like you pointed out, is unconscionable.

With the Royals, I agree - why can't they use Gordon in left and Ka'aihue at DH now? Why aren't they doing it already? If they don't see that as it stands, why don't I trust them to do the right thing even if they trade Guillen this summer? There's zero reason that Gordon and especially Ka'aihue should be in Omaha right now. Keep in mind that theoretically Rick Ankiel will be back in the picture too, to further muck it up. As Rany Jazayerli notes, GM Dayton Moore seems to devalue players he's inherited in favor of those he's acquired. Both Gordon and Ka'aihue were in the system when he came onboard.

I agree with you about Hellickson, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's up in one capacity or another soon. You and I both have shares in him this year (and Desmond Jennings, for that matter, though I think he's further out now). Because the Rays have been patient in promoting Hellickson up each rung of the ladder, I think he's ready to contribute right now. I'd like to see him in the 2008 David Price role, albeit up sooner. While the Rays have made a few missteps here-and-there (paging Pat Burrell on the red courtesy phone), I trust them more than other teams to make it work.

Also, not only do I think that it's a good idea to get Domonic Brown up to Triple-A, I think it's an imperative for the Phillies. Jayson Werth is a free agent this offseason and won't come cheap to re-sign, current slump notwithstanding. Given their other future outlays, the Phillies really need to decide if Werth's worth committing to for the next 3-4 years at a pretty high price, or have Brown ready to slot in. Factor in the continuing immolation of Raul Ibanez (.232/.326/.448 after the All-Star break last year, .250/.342/.395 so far this year), and there's legitimate concern that they'll absolutely need Brown at one of the corners next year. Why not get him closer sooner rather than later?

Finally, we talked about the Conor Jackson trade on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today (Sirius 125, XM 241) when it broke on Tuesday, and the more I think about it, the less it makes sense for the A's. It's not that Rajai Davis in real life deserves an unchallenged hold on a starting job once Coco Crisp comes back, but it's that the A's just added a redundant part, and provided another hurdle for Michael Taylor to get a shot later this year. Yes, Taylor has been hurt and hasn't produced yet, but we still have nearly two-thirds of the season left, and it's not too hard to envision him heating up and forcing their hand.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 11:00pm
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound - Set Them Free

The odd thing about the Jackson deal is that he's really just an older, right-handed version of Ryan Sweeney (or Daric Barton) with little power and good on-base skills. Do they really need two of those with Davis, Coco Crisp and Jack Cust on the roster, and Taylor one three-week hot streak away from being ready? I actually think it was just a value-based trade as they gave up an middle relief prospect for him. It's like if you were ahead by 20 steals and someone wanted to deal you Michael Bourn for a waiver-wire level player, you'd just do it and figure out what to do with him and your other players later. As a Davis owner, I'm a bit nervous that it's going to cut into his playing time - Davis sat Wednesday against Ryan Dempster, though that game was at Wrigley, and there was no DH.

I actually think Jennings will get the call sooner than you do - he's heated up of late, and the Rays know they're in a dogfight just to make the playoffs with the Red Sox only three games back, despite not having Josh Beckett, Jacoby Ellsbury or Mike Cameron healthy most of the year. If Jennings is ready, they need to DH Ben Zobrist or Sean Rodriguez as necessary and get him into the outfield. Hank Blalock and Willy Aybar are decent bench bats, but don't need to see regular playing time.