We seek the Grail

Bring us... a shrubbery

I'm hoping this is one of those darkest before the dawn weeks because being at the bottom of the Tout Wars standings, even though it's an expert's league... well, it stinks.

I acquired Joe Lawrence in last week's FAAB and apparently I greatly over-estimated everyone else's interest in him.  I was looking around at other rosters and thought there were about 4 or 5 other teams that would be interested in middle infield help.  I was wrong.  Or at least they weren't interested in this middle infielder.  But I'm kinda puzzled as to why.

I know I'll get a lot of grief over this, but Peter Gammons has said on several occasions that the Jays were looking to install Lawrence at second, even going so far as to say that they'd trade Orlando Hudson for help, presumably for the rotation.  After his second mention, I looked at his minor league numbers.  I was as surprised as I was disappointed because last year, they were simply awful.  A 24-year old in AAA hitting .220 with no power?  Blech.  However, the previous year split between high A and AA, he hit .291 with 13 homers and 28 steals.  Fine numbers for a middle infielder who also qualifies at catcher - he played 75 games there last year.  Almost as impressive is that he has more walks than strikeouts in his career.  Decent speed, decent power, excellent selectivity at the plate.

So why was he so overmatched in AAA?  After a little more research, I discovered that he suffered from a mysterious hand injury for much of last season.  After two visits to a hand specialist, it was determined that he didn't need surgery, but that didn't stop the struggles.  This spring didn't look any better.  Nevertheless, there's definitely talent there.  The only question is whether or not he is healthy enough to take over second, moving incumbent Homer Bush to the bench or even to another team.

Initially, I suspected this could be a case of Gammons getting bad information.  It wouldn't be the first time someone in the media thought they had the inside scoop on something and it turned out to be a false alarm.  But the Blue Jays have a new GM who stresses on base and probably doesn't want to begin his career by lying to the media.  While Bush has good speed, his low on base does not fit well with the new on-base Jays.  Hudson gets on base, but his success rate at stealing bases is not strong.  And neither one of them has shown much pop.   If the Jays are looking for a lead-off man who can draw walks, get on base, maybe swipe a few bases and pop a few homers, Lawrence makes sense.  Hopefully, Buck Martinez will get the message.

It's just a flesh wound

There was a time not too long ago when injuries were a major factor in how a team fared.  I'm not sure that's the case anymore.  Jeff Zimmerman had a sore elbow and there were concerns that he had either bone spurs or something more serious.  He went in for exploratory surgery, got the elbow cleaned up and now he's expected back before the All-Star break.  Ken Griffey Jr. went down with a knee injury that 5 or 6 years ago might have sidelined him for the year.  Edgar Martinez went down with a hamstring injury that would have definitely cost him the season.  Both are expected back by mid-May.  Seemingly serious injuries are being operated on and rehabbed in a matter of weeks rather than months.  It's gotten to the point where avoiding players perceived to be injury-prone is almost too conservative, like putting all your money in a mattress instead of a bank.

King of the who?

I'm hoping that Paul Wilson and Wilson Alvarez get traded soon because Devil Ray manager Hal McRae simply doesn't make sound decisions.  The context here is that the Devil Rays have lost 11 in a row.  The team is down on it's luck and the morale is low, making unnecessary risks likely to backfire.  They are playing the Yankees and Paul Wilson is squared off against Mike Mussina in a pitcher's duel.

Wilson pitched a solid game but is down 3-2 after he finished the 8th inning.  He threw just 110 pitches to that point, but he hadn't really fooled the Yankee hitters, as they'd already got 8 hits off him, 4 of them for doubles.  That many doubles is usually a bad sign.  Wilson certainly wasn't fooling the hitters any more and likely didn't have much left in the tank.  In the 8th inning, Jason Giambi lined out, Posada walked and Wilson got Ventura to hit into an inning-ending double play.  So the evidence is there that he wasn't gonna be striking out the side in the ninth.

Undaunted, McRae sent Wilson out for the ninth, 110 pitches and all.  The result was predictable.  Another double and a single and the lead becomes 2, dimming the hopes that the D-Rays can break the losing streak.  It was only after 14 pitches (and 4 batters) that McRae finally realized that Wilson was done.  But McRae himself wasn't done yet.

The bullpen for the D-Rays has been sort of a mess lately.  One of their worst relievers has been Jesus Colome, who has walked at least one batter in 8 of his 11 appearances.  It's not just walks, though.  He's given up 21 hits in just 13 innings.  If there was ever a young pitcher in desperate need of some more time at AAA to get his mechanics/focus right, it's Colome.  More importantly, Colome is the pitcher least likely to help the D-Rays get a win.  But McRae felt that this was the best moment to bring him in to get his exercise.  As you can probably guess, Colome comes in and allows an inherited baserunner to score and the game is essentially over, because Mariano Rivera will come in with a 3-run lead to face an offense that would rather bunt than hit away.

Speaking of which, the reason Wilson was down by one going into the ninth inning was because in the 8th when the D-Ray lead-off man got on base, McRae wasted an out bunting him to second with 2 speedy singles hitters due up next.  If there's any team that can absolutely not afford to waste outs on sacrifice bunts, it's the Devil Rays.  Hit and run, steal, whatever, but don't waste outs, especially when you're lead-off hitter gets on via the walk.  Making matter worse, presumably, McRae bunted because he wanted to stay out of the double play.  But the next two batters, Abernathy and Tyner, had grounded into zero double plays this year and a combined total of 9 double plays last year.  They had nearly the same chance of hitting a triple as they did of hitting into a double play.  Bunting did get the runner in scoring position, but it wasted the talent - making contact and running fast - of one of his hitters by giving the other team an easy out.

McRae is pretty clearly a manager who is not only doesn't understand modern day offense, but has a great deal of difficulty understanding how to manage a pitching staff.  But the cardinal sin he's guilty of is not knowing what his players can do.  It's as if he's not really watching the game.  Unless he's a heck of a defensive coach, there're not many positives here.  So the sooner that Alvarez and Wilson get traded, the better.

Bring out your dead

Speaking of which, there are a couple of teams that would make fine trading partners with the D-Rays.  The White Sox could use some quality starting pitching and the D-Rays could use some quality young positional players like Joe Crede, Tim Hummell, Joe Borchard or even Carlos Lee.  The Blue Jays could also use some starting depth and could trade either Orlando Hudson or Jayson Werth, neither of whom have a clear position with the Jays.  Cleveland is another nice match as they need some starting depth and could offer Earl Snyder.

In the NL, the D-backs could use another quality starter, as could the Giants, but neither has much to offer from the farm.  The Expos have been wheeling and dealing this year, so maybe they'd be willing to part with Peter Bergeron or Matt Cepicky or Ron Callaway.  Philadelphia could use another starter and have Jason Michaels, who probably doesn't figure in their long term plans.  If the Phills have decided that this year is lost, they could deal Rolen for Wilson, pare payroll, and make room for Travis Chapman, who is currently demolishing AA pitching.

And then there are the long shots who may take a flyer on a good pitcher making a little more than a million a year (Wilson).  Seattle, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Colorado (for Jack Cust?) and Houston could all benefit from a deal with Tampa Bay.  But before the D-Rays start stockpiling talent, they first need to decide that they want a manager who understands the talent he's working with.  Buck Showalter, who rebuilt the Yanks and built the D-backs, sure looks like a good fit in Tampa now.