Time for D-Backs to slow down and think
Let me get this straight: The Diamondbacks just hired an interim general manager, one who is closely tied to the previous GM, whom the team fired with five years left on his contract.
And now the D-Backs are going to allow that interim GM, Jerry Dipoto, to blow up their roster when they probably will not even employ him after this season?
The Diamondbacks obviously have a measure of confidence in Dipoto, whom they’ll consider for their permanent GM position. But unless they plan to dramatically reduce payroll — something they say is not necessary — their likely course before July 31 is to trade potential free agents but not long-term fixtures such as right-hander Dan Haren.
The D-Backs will listen on any of their players; that’s what struggling teams do. But they currently project their 2011 payroll to decline from about $78 million to the $65 million to $70 million range, and that’s after subtracting approximately $20 million due to the expiring contracts of right-hander Brandon Webb and released outfielder Eric Byrnes. In other words, they shouldn’t need to dump salary.
Thus, first baseman Adam LaRoche and relievers Chad Qualls and Aaron Heilman — all potential free agents — are the most likely D-Backs to be traded. The team also has been trying to move catcher Chris Snyder since last offseason.
Among those likely to stay:
Second baseman Kelly Johnson. The D-Backs control him for next season though his salary will rise from $2.35 million. The free-agent class at second base is thin and club officials seem to view Tony Abreu as more of a utility man.
Shortstop Stephen Drew. The Tigers have expressed interest, according to FOXSports.com’s Jon Paul Morosi, but the D-Backs control Drew for two more years after this one and lack a suitable replacement for him.
Haren. A team that moves an ace under long-term control would need young starting pitching back, and such deals rarely materialize. Trading such a pitcher also would signal a lengthy rebuilding process, and the D-Backs’ fan base already is fragile. For similar reasons, the Indians are reluctant to move All-Star right-hander Fausto Carmona, who is a less accomplished pitcher than Haren.
The D-Backs probably would be more willing to deal right-hander Edwin Jackson, whose salary will increase from $4.2 million to $8.35 million next season. They might even entertain possibilities with third baseman Mark Reynolds, who is coveted by other clubs despite his high strikeout totals.
Then again, the D-Backs probably would not want to move any of their bigger chips until they name a permanent GM. They just fired their manager and GM. It would behoove them to slow down.
If Buck Showalter is named Orioles manager, his coaching staff figures to be a blend of familiar faces — some who worked for him previously, some with ties to the Orioles’ past.
Mark Connor, who served as pitching coach under Showalter with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers, could rejoin him in Baltimore; he currently is a consultant for the Rangers.
Blue Jays third base/infield coach Brian Butterfield, who worked with Showalter in the Yankees’ organization and served on his coaching staff with the D-Backs, also would be available; Jays manager Cito Gaston is resigning at the end of the season.
Sources say Showalter also is fond of former major-league second baseman Bill Ripken, who began his career with the Orioles. B.J. Surhoff, another former Oriole, also would be a possibility for the staff.
Former Indians manager Eric Wedge, who currently is the second choice to Showalter for the Orioles’ job, should not lack for possibilities if he wants to manage next season.
Gaston and the Braves’ Bobby Cox are retiring. The Royals’ Ned Yost, Marlins’ Edwin Rodriguez and Diamondbacks’ Kirk Gibson are interim managers, and jobs with the Cubs, Dodgers, Brewers and Pirates all could open.
The Reds, even with their success this season, might want a more affordable manager than Dusty Baker, who is in the final year of his contract with a salary of about $3.5 million.
NO DUNN DEAL
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo evidently was telling the truth when he said that acquiring first baseman Adam Dunn would be “very painful” for an interested club.
Rival club officials say the Nationals’ asking price for Dunn is exorbitant; one says the Nats wanted either second baseman Gordon Beckham or right fielder Carlos Quentin from the White Sox.
Rizzo drafted Quentin for the Diamondbacks in 2003, but Dunn-for-Quentin would not be an even exchange — Dunn is a potential free agent while Quentin is under club control for two more seasons.
The Nats’ approach with Dunn is curious. Team president Stan Kasten says he “loves” Dunn and points out that during his tenure with the Braves, he occasionally re-signed free agents after a season was over. Dunn, though, says he wanted an extension done in spring training; he detests being part of trade rumors.
The Nationals could trade Dunn for younger players, use their savings to fill other holes and commit to left fielder Josh Willingham, who likely will earn $6.5 million to $7 million in his final year of arbitration.
Then again, the 3-4-5 combination of Ryan Zimmerman, Dunn and Willingham is one of the Nationals’ strengths. Dunn repeatedly has said he wants to stay; he sees the Nats following the same path as the Reds, one of his former clubs.
“We’re going to be real good in a couple of years, if not sooner,” he says.
MEEK INHERITS THE EARTH
In June 2005, right-hander Evan Meek was released by the Twins after issuing an astonishing 36 walks in 18 innings at Single A Beloit.
Former major-league pitcher Charlie Kerfeld, then scouting for the Padres, heard that Meek had a good arm. He went looking for Meek in the Seattle area, rounded up a high-school catcher and had Meek throw for him at Tacoma’s Triple A stadium while the Rainiers were on the road.
Kerfeld signed Meek for nothing, simply offering him the opportunity to make a minor-league club. Meek did just that, and a year later the Padres sent him to the Rays in a deal for Russell Branyan, who helped the Pads win the 2006 NL West title. The Rays left Meek unprotected after the ’07 season, and the Pirates grabbed him in the Rule V5 draft.
You know the rest of the story: Meek, whose 0.96 ERA is the lowest of an NL reliever, is an All-Star.
Kerfeld actually had a similar experience with left-hander George Sherrill, whom he signed out of an independent league for $2,500 while working for the Mariners.
Sherrill was a 2008 All-Star.
BLUE JAYS: SELLING OR LOADING UP PICKS?
The Blue Jays reaped extra draft picks by offering arbitration last offseason to two free agents who signed with other clubs: shortstop Marco Scutaro, a Type A, and catcher Rod Barajas, a Type B.
The Jays could employ the same strategy again if they do not receive appropriate trade offers for several of their potential free agents: left-handed reliever Scott Downs, a likely Type A, and righty reliever Jason Frasor and All-Star catcher John Buck, likely Type Bs.
When rival executives discuss trades with the Blue Jays, they inquire most about the team’s young starting pitchers. Right-hander Shaun Marcum, the oldest of that group at 28, is on the DL with elbow inflammation but expected to return shortly after the All-Star break. He possibly could make three starts before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
Marcum is earning a mere $850,000 and under club control for two more seasons so the Jays will not give him away. The same goes for shortstop Alex Gonzalez; the Jays can keep him next season by exercising his modest $2.5 million club option. Even Jose Bautista, who is tied for the major-league lead with 21 homers, will remain relatively affordable next season in his final year of arbitration. His salary is $2.4 million.
THE RAYS’ SECRET WEAPONS
Cliff Lee’s 89-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio is ridiculous but for a pitcher signed as a minor-league free agent, Rays right-hander Joaquin Benoit isn’t faring too badly either.
Benoit has struck out 38 and walked only four, and the numbers are 55 and seven if you include his stats from Triple A. He started the season in the minors, building arm strength as he completed his recovery from shoulder surgery.
Rookie catcher John Jaso, another surprising Ray, boasts an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio in his own right — 31 walks, 17 strikeouts. In 198 plate appearances, his on-base percentage is .394.
The Rays were confident that Jaso could hit but questioned his defense. He made tremendous strides under the tutelage of Jamie Nelson, the team’s minor-league catching coordinator.
METS’ TEJADA A FIND
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The Mets, under GM Omar Minaya, clearly had more quality young players than many of their critics (including this one) believed. Ruben Tejada, a middle infielder, is merely the latest example.
Tejada, 20, plays beyond his years. He is showing little offensively but could be the team’s second baseman next season; Luis Castillo should be easier to move entering the final year of his contract.
The Mets also have a second-base prospect at Double A: the oft-injured Reese Havens, who was the 22nd overall pick in the 2008 draft. Club officials believe that Havens could develop into their Chase Utley.
As for Tejada, manager Jerry Manuel says, “He knows when it’s time to take a pitch; you don’t have to give him a sign. He wants to do things, too. He looks for signs. He wants to be active, hit-and-run, bunt, do those things.”
Tejada is 5-foot-11, 162 pounds.
“He’s relatively small. He doesn’t have great speed. He doesn’t have power,” Manuel says. “But he has almost an Eckstein-like mentality on how to play.”
NATS’ DESMOND: “A CHANCE TO BE SPECIAL”
The Nationals remain supportive of rookie shortstop Ian Desmond, who leads the majors with 21 errors. Brewers rookie shortstop Alcides Escobar is next with 14, but it is not unusual for young shortstops to pile up errors: Robin Yount had 44 as a rookie in 1975.
“I don’t have the numbers to back it up, but I can’t imagine anyone goes further to his left and right to get to balls,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman says of Desmond.
“Our infield instructors — Pat Listach, Tim Foli — pretty much said in spring training that you can probably pencil in 30 to 35 errors. We’ll live with it.
“He’s got a lot of leadership qualities. He chirps to his teammates a bit, gets on them a little bit. He has a chance to be special.”
BIG LEAGUERS AT LAST
Ask a Rangers official how many hours it took to get Dominican right-handers Alexi Ogando and Omar Beltre to the U.S., and the answer is “hundreds” — not including the time invested in scouting and player development.
Ogando and Beltre were barred from entering the U.S. for five years after participating in visa fraud. They received small sums of money for agreeing to marry women who wanted to enter the U.S. The women essentially were trafficked as low-wage workers or prostitutes.
One Rangers official says the quest to bring the pitchers to the U.S. included:
Requests for help from the Bush Adminstration, the Justice Department and Homeland Security.
A weeklong trip to Japan two years ago as the Rangers pondered whether to sell the pitchers to Japanese clubs.
Countless meetings with the players in the Dominican to explore options and discuss the situation.
A half-dozen meetings with the U.S. consulate in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo.
A meeting with a local district attorney to pursue an angle in which the players would help fight human trafficking.
What a journey.
Welcome, Alexi and Omar.
THE EDUCATION OF STRASBURG
Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said he spoke with Stephen Strasburg in Atlanta after a recent start, and Strasburg mentioned that the Braves’ hitters were sitting on his changeup.
Zimmerman pointed out that Strasburg will need to adjust to hitters as they adjust to him—- and mentioned that Strasburg, on top of all of his other gifts, is ready for such challenges.
“He thinks way ahead of his years,” Zimmerman said.
AROUND THE HORN
* Some within the Nats’ organization are in favor of trading Nyjer Morgan to clear center field for Roger Bernadina.
Morgan has regressed this season. Bernadina, 26, is four years younger and can help win games with any of his five tools.
* Rookie right-hander John Ely has a 6.32 ERA in his last six starts, but the Dodgers seem resigned to adding only a reliever, if anyone, before July 31.
* Yes, Cubs closer Carlos Marmol deserves to be an All-Star.
Marmol’s rate of 17.04 strikeouts per nine innings, if he sustains it over a full season, would be the highest by a reliever in major-league history.
And it’s not even close — the previous high belongs to Eric Gagne, who had 14.98 strikeouts per nine innings in 2003.
* A rival executive says of White Sox right-hander J.J. Putz, “His split is all the way back — it’s a legit out pitch.”
The same exec marvels at All-Star lefty Matt Thornton, who is again relying almost exclusively on his fastball, throwing it 88.7 percent of the time with an average velocity of 95.9 mph, according to the PitchFx data on Fangraphs.com.
“Nobody can touch it,” the exec says.
* Bengie Molina gives the Rangers something they haven’t had in a long time: a veteran catcher who takes pride in his game management.
Molina threw out the White Sox’s Juan Pierre attempting to steal Sunday — an impressive feat, considering that the Rangers’ pitcher at the time, righty Scott Feldman, is slow to the plate.
* The Marlins will wait another week to 10 days before deciding whether to become sellers.
Infielder Jorge Cantu, a potential free agent earning $6 million, could be especially attractive. He would fit well with the Braves or Rangers.
* One scout offers high praise for the Rangers’ Vladimir Guerrero, saying “He looks as good as I’ve seen him in 10 years.”
The same scout says of shortstop Elvis Andrus, “He plays like he has five years in.”
* The Rockies’ Jason Giambi had a point when he said of the Padres, “When they get runners on, they are different hitters.”
With no one on base, the Padres are batting .243/.301/.353. With runners in scoring position, they are hitting .272/.375/.413.
* Speaking of the Padres, Mets right fielder Jeff Francoeur certainly is not the reason that no Padres pitcher was named to the NL All-Star team.
Francoeur said he circled every Padres reliever on the players’ ballot and wrote, “Send ‘em all.”
* Before his current 2-for-19 slump, Indians catcher Carlos Santana appeared to be adjusting to the majors as well as any young hitter in recent Cleveland history — including Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez.
Santana, 24, has batted third since his promotion, and in 98 plate appearances he’s hitting .286/.429/.597. One Indians official says he has “crazy” command of the strike zone.
* And finally, Mets manager Jerry Manuel says he does not track his status through media reports, but he knew he was in trouble earlier this season when he attended the Broadway production of “Fences.”
Afterward, Manuel and his wife went backstage to meet Denzel Washington, the show’s star. Washington did not know Manuel but sure seemed to be aware of his situation.
He embraced Manuel, saying, “Let me give you a hug.”
“I said, ‘Whoa, they must really be killing me,’” Manuel said, referring to the media. “That’s when I knew the heat was on.”