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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bold Predictions: Employment Edition

  • Two veteran closers lost their jobs yesterday, Jason Isringhausen of the Cardinals and Eric Gagne of the Brewers.  Both manager, Tony LaRussa and Ned Yost (the teams were playing each other, ironically), promised a closer-by-committee situation.  But, we should take heed of who they turned to for their first opportunities.  On Saturday afternoon LaRussa handed the ball to Ryan Franklin in the 9th.  Franklin has a 1.89 ERA with 12 holds, so it's hard for me to imagine a situation in which he would not be a good choice.  It took him 14 pitches to dispense with the top of the Brewers order.  Today, Ned Yost turned the ball over to Salomon Torres.  Torres, a former closer for the Pirates, has gone 3-0 with a save, two holds, and a 2.74 ERA since arriving in Milwaukee.  He has a history of success and durability, pitching 90+ innings for Pittsburgh three seasons in a row from '04-'06 with an ERA below 3.00, 15 saves, and 58 holds.  While it is possible that LaRussa and Yost might opt for Russ Springer or Brian Shouse when they see an all left-handed lineup, those situations will be rare.  Fantasy owners should set their sights on Franklin and Torres.
  • For those playing in leagues that require two or more catchers, might I suggest taking a look at Miguel Olivo of the Royals. Olivo has made 15 starts already this season, either in favor of John Buck or as the DH.  He's got 4 HR and 10 RBI. Only seven backstops can match those numbers. Granted, it's a small sample, but this is a tough position to fill and sometimes you've got to take some risks. Olivo does have a history of decent power, hitting 16 HR in each of the last two seasons. So if you're currently carrying Buck, Josh Bard, Brian Schneider, or Chris Coste, you'd probably be better served by picking up Olivo.
  • The Tigers cut ties with Jacque Jones this week as part of their ongoing efforts to shake up the offense.  Detroit is second in the AL in scoring, so one must question whether they should really be punishing position players.  I might have considered sending a message through Nate Robertson (1-4, 6.64).  There are two points to be made here.  First, Jacque Jones is going to land elsewhere, probably as a starter.  Last year, after a slow start, Jones hit .332 with 46 RBI after the All-Star break.  He proved he could play respectably well at any outfield position, so there are plenty of potential suitors, including the Padres, Marlins, Blue Jays, and Twins.  He could be a very productive fourth or fifth outfielder in a deep fantasy league.  Additionally, Jones' release has resulted in more playing time for Marcus Thames and Matt Joyce, while Sheffield gets more playing time in left field.  However, Matt Joyce isn't going to be the Tiger's long-term solution.  Obviously, there has been a frenzy of media speculation about Barry Bonds.  It would be a logical match, undoubtedly, and one must wonder whether Detroit could do any better (certainly not for the price).  However, Tigers management has already angered some of their fellow Robber Barons by handing out several monster contracts in the last couple seasons, will they risk the additional spite from the commissioner's office by breaking the collusion agreement regarding Bonds?  It seems doubtful.  On the other hand, they ransacked their farm system in order to get Cabrera and Willis, so they probably don't have the right set of pieces for acquiring an left-handed impact guy like Andre Ethier (unless they deal Inge and eat much of his contract).  They may be forced to consider Bonds or Kenny Lofton (who might actually be the better fit).
  • One has to wonder how much longer John Gibbons will be managing the Toronto Blue Jays.  He has quite possibly the best pitching staff in all of baseball, but hasn't been able to climb out of the AL East cellar.  Sure, you can't blame Gibbons for injuries to Vernon Wells, David Eckstein, Jeremy Accardo, and John McDonald.  However, what you can blame Gibbons for is being too patient with his starting pitchers and not patient enough with his hitters.  Twice in the series with Cleveland he sent an Ace back out to the mound after he had thrown well over a hundred pitches (Halladay in the 7th on Friday, Burnett in the 8th today), only to be forced to remove him after he'd allowed several baserunners.  What I don't understand, especially, is that we're talking about a team that has a solid bullpen and starters who have already worked deep into the game.  If he was trying to push his horses to give him quality starts, it might be one thing, but these guys were clearly exhausted, having already done their jobs!  Hand the ball to Jesse Carlson, Scott Downs, Brian Tallet, and B. J. Ryan, all of whom have pitched excellently so far and had plenty of rest, because the Toronto rotation consistently pitches deep into games, even when Gibbons isn't forcing it on them.  They also has Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp (and Accardo, until recently) out there who haven't started the season very strong, but have histories of success.  There is plenty of depth, but Gibbons only seems to trust his Aces.  I don't think anybody's mismanaged a quality pitching staff this badly since Grady Little got booted out of Boston.  Additionally, Gibbons' has also had a much-publicized confrontation with Frank Thomas, which resulted in the Big Hurt heading to Oakland where he has a .391 OBP and 10 RBI in 17 games.  The only guys with 10 RBI for Toronto during that span is, you guessed it, Vernon Wells, who won't be taking the field again for two months.  Without Thomas or Wells, Alex Rios will have to move to center field, and the corner outfield spots and DH with presumably be shared by some combination of Shannon Stewart, Brad Wilkerson, Kevin Mench, and Matt Stairs.  Stairs has played quite well, but Stewart, Wilkerson, and Mench have combined for 7 runs, 0 HR, and 11 RBI in close to 200 ABs so far.  Meanwhile, Adam Lind, a bonafide top prospect toils at AAA, where he is hitting .329 with a 903 OPS.  But, since he didn't produce in the first three games after they released Thomas, Gibbons benched him and eventually he had to be sent back so he could get regular playing time.  The Jays had very high expectation going into the season and they still aren't that far back in the crowed AL East.  Any team with this much pitching can get hot and make a run, as the Padres prove almost every year, but I think Toronto is going to need to spur it by firing their hot-headed manager and bringing in a fresh perspective.  Hey, I think Jack McKeon is available.   

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