Late Season Puzzlers

With the season winding down and the number of teams falling out of playoff contention increasing, more and more managers and general managers are getting an opportunity to look at their roster for next year.  The minor league playoffs are over and pretty much every prospect that is going to be called up already has been.  What is puzzling is that several managers aren't playing those young players, leaving themselves no more of a clue going into next year than if they hadn't brought up these players at all.  On the plus side, I guess they'll have a better idea of how much to order for next season's post game spreads.

Al Martin is getting the majority of at bats at DH for the Devil Rays.  I know Pinella likes to win and loves veteran leadership, but there isn't a playoff for the worst teams in baseball, so he really has little to play for right now other than to get a handle on what kind of talent he has at his disposal for next year.  Instead of wasting at bats on a 35-year old journeyman who might not be with the team after next week, why not give those DH ABs to a young kid he hasn't seen much of like Pete LaForest or Johnny Gomes or Adam Piatt or Matt Diaz.  It's not like he doesn't have plenty of options.  And it's not like Al Martin is suddenly becoming a good player.  His OPS currently sits at .655 for the season and .573 for the month.  Those are the 4th worst marks in the American League for an outfielder with at least 200 at bats.  If Pinella is serious about wanting to reach 70 wins (or at least getting close), wouldn't it be a good idea to play hitters who might be able to parlay their skills into runs instead of fielding practice for the opposition?

It's a shame that a guy who's hitting .667 can't get regular at bats.  But that's what faces Chris Magruder in Cleveland.  Tribe manager Eric Wedge is trying to give Jody Gerut as much exposure as possible for consideration for the Rookie of the Year award.  But despite the fact that he deserves it - he has better overall numbers than Matsui, but hasn't had the luxury of hitting behind Giambi, Jeter, Posada, etc. to pile up the gaudy RBI numbers - he probably won't come close to winning it.  Wedge has to give Coco Crisp at bats to see if he can be their long-term solution at lead-off, and, supposedly, Alex Escobar regular time to see if he has enough discipline to realize his power potential.  He can't play Magruder at DH either because that's where both Ben Broussard and Travis Hafner are trying to prove they can be everyday players.  And it's not like any of these guys is falling flat either: none of them have a batting average lower than .290 this month.  Only Escobar and Crisp have a slugging percentage below .580 and they are getting on base better than 35% of the time.  Still, it must be hard to sit a guy who's OPS is 600 points better than Barry Bonds'.   Obviously, that kind of production can't be sustained into next season, but Magruder is no fluke, posting an .862 OPS in the minors this year split between 3 levels.  Escobar, who's OPS currently stands at .757 (.736 in September) posted a .768 OPS in the minors.  With Ryan Ludwick, Matt Lawton, Milton Bradley and probably Ellis Burks coming back next year, it doesn't seem likely that Escobar will push his way into the regular outfield picture anytime soon and doesn't look like a particularly good 4th outfield candidate.  Magruder, however, might have value as such.

Last year's champs, the Angels, were eliminated from the playoffs but Mike Scioscia continues to play his regulars.  It's somewhat admirable that he's doing so to keep a fairly close race in the West and the wild card fairly legitimate.  Of course, the Angels will have to look at their team this offseason with an eye toward upgrading several positions, the most obvious of which is first base.  Playing Scott Spiezio and Shawn Wooten everyday might get you closer to winning games this year (although it's certainly no guarantee), but it won't have one iota of effect on determing whether the Angels will have to go out and get a real first basemen this winter.  Playing Rob Quinlan and/or Adam Riggs might.  Brad Fullmer is best suited to DHing and the Angels need better production out of first base than what they got this season.  Riggs (who's posted a .902 OPS this season in Anaheim, .844 in AAA) and Quinlan (.797 in AAA, .708 in Anaheim, but .952 last year in AAA) look a little more promising than Wooten (.680) and Spiezio (.783). 

And why is BJ Surhoff (.771 OPS) playing so much in Baltimore?  Jack Cust (.762 OPS, .848 in AAA) continues to rot on the bench, getting only sporadic playing time.  Jay Gibbons will move from right field to be the O's first baseman next season.  Why not make the move now, let take Cust regular hacks in left and move Larry Bigbie (or the O's left fielder du jour) to right and see what happens.  Sure, Cust is a blooper show to watch in the field, but at least he'll get a chance to make up for it at the plate.  Is Surhoff's defense and/or leadership the final two weeks of a rebuilding season that valuable?  I have my doubts.