Puma Derailed By Calf; Cubs Sign Ryan to Minor League Deal

Houston first basemen Lance Berkman left last night’s game in the eighth inning with a calf strain.  He’s listed as day-to-day, but Berkman admitted the calf had been bothering him for a while.  [MLB]

Lacking “organizational depth” (Piniella’s term) in left-handed relievers, the Chicago Cubs signed former Toronto closer B.J. Ryan to a minor league deal.  Ryan will report to the Cubs’ Arizona training complex and if all goes well, head to AAA Iowa for seasoning.  [ESPN]

The Braves look forward to the return of Javier Vasquez, and think Mike Gonzalez is still a couple of days away from returning to the mound.  Gonzalez is struggling with elbow inflammation.  [MLB]

Texas and St. Louis are contenders in the Roy Halliday sweepstakes.  Personally, I’m not sure that Toronto should deal their ace away – it’s hard to find guys like Halliday, no matter how many prospects or players you might get.  Only one team has ever really turned this to their favor – Cleveland’s trading Bartolo Colon netted them Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips (since traded).  [MLB]

Boston is willing to eat shortstop Julio Lugo’s salary, and is looking for takers in a trade according to Ken Rosenthal.  The oft-injured shortstop has a year and a half left on a $9 million per season contract.  [FoxSports]

No news is bad news – the Mets remain unsure about the return of too many players.  The longer Reyes, Maine, Delgado, and Beltran remain on the DL, the worse my prediction that the Mets would win the NL East looks…  [MLB]

By the way, if you like tragedies, read Cliff Corcoran’s opinion on why the Cubs are miserable failures so far in 2009.  [SI.com]

Five more minor leaguers out of the Dominican Republic were suspended for steroid use.  Anybody surprised?  [ESPN]

Hurry Back!  Padre ace Jake Peavy lost his boot and is throwing a little.  Rehab begins now that Peavy got a clean bill of health from team doctors…  Milwaukee starter Dave Bush continues to struggle in his rehab, having suffered a torn triceps.  LA’s Cory Wade heads to the DL with a right shoulder strain.  Atlanta’s Jo-Jo Reyes gets a rehab stint in Gwinnett.

Welcome Back!  The Royals activated Alex Gordon and newly acquired shorstop Yuniesky Betancourt from the DL.  (I missed this trade while vacationing…  The Royals sent cash and a couple of players to Seattle to fill a gap at short.  Danny Cortes is a fireballer with control issues joining his third organization.  Just 22, he might benefit by becoming a reliever.  The other guy, Derrick Saito, is a Hawaiian reliever who was drafted out of Cal Poly.  He has skills and could make the Mariners happy in 2011.  Seattle filled the organization gap by signing Alex Cintron to a minor league deal.).  The Royals need a shot in the arm, and this could help immensely.  Colorado welcomes back reliever Manny Corpas.

Others coming back to the majors?  Blake DeWitt (Dodgers), Josh Whitesell (D-backs), Angel Berroa (Mets), Alexi Casilla (Twins), Garrett Mock (Nationals), Wesley Wright (Astros).

Others heading in the wrong direction?  Mett Belisle (Giants) and Tony Pena (Royals) were designated for assignment.  The Mets dispatched Argenis Reyes back to the minors.

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You’re Out of Order – The Whole Lineup is Out of Order!

Fun stuff first – the Houston Astros Michael Bourn batted first and second against the Brewers because Cecil Cooper changed his mind about whether Bourn or Kaz Matsui should bat first or second. The lineup card in the dugout said one thing, the one given to the home plate umpire said something else. So, after Bourn led off with a single, Brewers Manager Ken Macha pointed out the error of the Astros ways, the home plate umpire called Bourn out, and then made Bourn bat again. He made another out.

Scott Schoenweis left Florida to return to his Arizona home yesterday when he learned his wife died unexpectedly in their home. The D-Backs reliever is on the bereavement list, and Arizona players chalked the number 60 on hats and shoes in support.

Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury has fantastic range. Last night he caught 12 fly balls – about four times more than the normal day, and as many as any AL outfielder ever.

Welcome back: Cards Chris Carpenter, who beat the Cubs in his return from the DL last night. Kevin Youkilis returned last night and helped the Red Sox top the Jays. And, the first homer of the season for Big Papi! Now, he can relax. Might be time to go get him.

Andy was asking about stolen bases… Arizona’s Mark Reynolds (who?) had four last night against the Marlins.

ESPN reported that Jake Peavy might be heading to Chicago – but not the Cubs. The White Sox… Say it ain’t so!!!

Injury Updates:

Elijah Dukes hits the DL with a strained left hamstring. Say hello to outfielder Justin Maxwell, a 4th round draft pick in 2005 who has power and speed and a big hole in his swing. He will work a walk, but mostly because some pitchers fear him. He’s never hung around any one level very long, so it’s hard to get a reading, but he might have an impact. In 2010.

Oakland infielder Mark Ellis’s calf injury was worse than though – now on the 60 day DL, where teammate Eric Chavez and his shoulder and back reside.

Rick Ankiel is close to returning to the Cards. When Carpenter was recalled, the Cards sent outfielder Shane Robinson back to AAA Memphis.

Nate Robertson returns to the Tigers, costing Lucas French his spot on the roster.

Nick Massett goes to Cincy’s DL list with a left oblique strain.

Boston’s John Smoltz begins a rehab stint with Greenville. Cliff Floyd works his in Lake Elsinore for San Diego.

Comings and Goings:

I mentioned rookie Wilkin Ramirez the other day. The new Tiger homered last night.

Unhappy with Garrett Mock, the Nationals sent Mock to AAA and recalled Craig Stammen. No prospect. The Nats also designated Alex Cintron for assignment and recalled occasional prospect Jason Bergmann.

Craig Breslow got off to a slow start with the Twins, was designated for assignment, but got claimed by the A’s. This is the first time Breslow hadn’t pitched well in the majors, but his overall career has been pretty good. We’ll see if he can’t put it back together.

Doug Slaten will cover for Scot Schoenweis in Arizona; Anthony Swarzak gets Breslow’s spot in Minnesota. Swarzak fits the Twins’ mold – control pitcher, might get a few striekouts. He was pitching well in Rochester (AAA), so he earned a look. Swarzak was a second round pick in 2004 right out of Nova High School in Davie, Florida (about 20 minutes south of here).

2009 Season Forecast: Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles
2008: 68-93 (5th AL East, 28.5 games back)
Runs Scored: 782
Runs Allowed: 869

With the trade of Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard to Houston and Seattle respectively for prospects, 2008 represented the first year of a rebuilding plan in the American League’s toughest division.  But these Orioles weren’t half bad.  Sure, they were 22 – 50 inside their division, but actually above .500 against everyone else (46 – 43).  The reason?  The Orioles had a decent offense and a handful of young pitchers finding their way.  It’s a good time to be a Baltimore fan – just don’t expect to make the playoffs until a rotation anchor or two can be found.

Looking Back on 2008

With 782 runs scored, the Orioles finished in the middle of the league in terms of scoring – just a few runs behind the Yankees.  What they lacked was pitching and defense – having allowed 869 runs, which was next to last in the American League.

Baltimore got off to a great start – winning sixteen in April and fighting for the division lead for the first month.  Things slowed in May thanks to a streak against their own division where they lost ten of thirteen, but a solid June followed.  Even though the leaders in the division were starting to pull away, the Orioles were still five games over .500 as late as June 20th.  Heck, if Toronto had a 39 – 34 record at this point in the season, the way they finished, the Blue Jays might have won a playoff spot.

Instead, the Orioles got cold after the all-star break.  Ending a five-game losing streak had them at .500 for the last time on July 11th, and from that point on, Baltimore was a non-factor, losing a few games each month to .500 until September, when playing rookies killed the overall record.  The Orioles went 5 – 20 to close the season, ruining what had been, until then, a reasonably successful summer in Camden Yards.

Tell me about that offense

Behind the plate, the new Cincinnati Red, Ramon Hernandez, held his own.  He provided a little power, and a .250+ batting average, but not much else. Hernandez has actually slipped some from his performance in 2006, which didn’t help, but his backup, Guillermo Quiroz, couldn’t hit .200 in 134 at bats.

The infield was reasonably strong at two spots.  Third baseman Melvin Mora had a decent enough season, driving in 104 runs and batting .285.  Second sacker Brian Roberts is a great leadoff hitter, just missing .300, hitting 51 doubles, adding some triples and homers, a lot of walks, and 40 stolen bases in 50 chances.  Kevin Millar struggled to hit .234, but even that had a few homers and some walks.  For the position, that’s not good enough and he’s likely to move to a bench role with another team in 2009.  Where the Orioles really struggled was finding a consistent option at short.  Of the guys playing at least 200 innings (and nobody played more than 400 innings there), the best hitting option was former White Sox prospect Alex Cintron, who hit .286 but with little power or other helpers.  The rest averaged about .200 as a group, including Brandon Fahey, Freddie Bynum, and Juan Castro.

The outfield featured rookie Adam Jones, who hit .270, but showed room for power potential, a little speed, but not much else at this stage.  As such, he’s mildly below average as a hitter, but if he could step forward one or two notches, he could help.  Luke Scott came over from Houston and hit well enough, with 23 homers and showing some plate discipline.  However, his occasional platoon partner, Jay Payton, struggled at the plate – so the net result wasn’t exactly positive.  Rightfielder Nick Markakis continued to show growth as a future star, hitting for power (20 – 87 – .306) and getting on base.

If Markakis wasn’t the best hitter on the team, it was Aubrey Huff, who had a career season (32 – 108 – .304.)  Both scored about 7.5 runs per 27 outs, and anchored the offense.  Only Oscar Salazar hit well off the bench, and he didn’t have 100 plate appearances.

Defensively:

Baltimore pitchers worked with a defense that was not quite league average…  The league turned converted 68.6% batted balls in play into outs.  Baltimore finished at .68.5%.

Around the horn, Mora and Millar was just a touch above average, while Brian Roberts was just a touch below league average.  Most of the shortstops had decent defensive stats except Bynum, so while the offense at short was lacking, the defense was not.  However, the team was rather weak in terms of turning double plays in part because there were a lot of flyball pitchers and Roberts was working with a different partner most of the season.

Markakis and Scott were a shade off of league average, while Adam Jones was slightly worse than that.  When Jay Payton played, he couldn’t hit but the ball found his glove.  Luis Montanez, however, played three outfield positions and never seemed to be standing where the ball was hit…  Between them all, the outfield was actually below average and with a fly ball staff, this was a problem.

Hernandez had an awful year throwing out runners – 99 of the 123 people who tried to steal were successful.  Throw in the fact that he was slightly above average in terms of mistakes per game and that the staff’s ERA and winning percentage wasn’t very strong, my system suggests that Hernandez was among the weaker catchers in the AL.

Now Pitching…

Only two pitchers had really strong seasons for Baltimore.  Starter Jeremy Guthrie was about 19 runs better than the average pitcher, going 10 – 12, with good control through a few too many balls left the yard.  It was the second solid season for Guthrie, who is far and away the ace of the staff.  Middle reliever Jim Johnson didn’t allow a homer all season, which kept his ERA down, and despite having ordinary walk and strikeout data was also valuable for the Orioles.

Unfortunately, too many guys were WAY below average here.  Among the rotation starters, Brian Burres (-21 runs), Daniel Cabrera (-14 runs), Radhames Liz (-22 runs), Garrett Olson (-29 runs), and Steve Trachsel (-20 runs in 8 starts) got the Orioles in the hole early all too often.  Chris Waters came up and had 11 middling to below average starts with a 5.01 ERA and was an improvement.

The bullpen had Chad Bradford for a while, and George Sherrill had 33 saves, but they weren’t by any means awesome.  Sherrill’s ERA was 4.73, so he wasn’t setting the AL on fire as the Orioles’ fireman.  Most of the other relievers, including Dennis Sarfate, Lance Cormier, Jamie Walker and others struggled to put up league average numbers.  Compare that to the staffs of Boston, New York, or Tampa (much less Toronto), and you can see where the team needs to improve.

Forecasting 2009:

Ideally, the Orioles would like to see a little more offense, but more importantly, they have to find ways to keep the other team from scoring runs.  To get to .500, you’re talking about cutting more than 100 runs from the runs allowed, which means finding six decent pitchers and improving the outfield defense.

Offensively, the changes start at catcher (Greg Zaun for Ramon Hernandez, with Matt Wieters possibly getting his shot at some point this season), as well as first base (Millar is gone, with Ty Wigginton here).  Cesar Izturis arrives from St. Louis to play short – he’s not a championship quality hitter, but will be an improvement over the crew who played here last year.  It looks like the Orioles will not be trading Brian Roberts (they shouldn’t), which helps, and if Melvin Mora stays productive, the infield will be solid.  Defensively, they are probably 5 to 10 runs better, and offensively they are probably 15 runs better.

The outfield has added Felix Pie and Ryan Freel, but I don’t see how either of them will take Jones, Scott, or Markakis out of the lineup.  However, Pie could be the surprise – and as a defensive replacement, he’ll be solid.  The outfield of Scott, Jones, and Markakis can still produce runs, but more importantly there are a couple of bench performers who can contribute.  Offensively this is probably worth ten runs, and defensively, this could be worth ten runs, too.

Zaun is a better defensive catcher than Hernandez, but he’s been catching since Doug Ault was in Toronto (not really), and his contribution will not last the season.  Of the NRIs, Robby Hammock might play, and he can at least hit the ball some.  Chad Moeller and Guillermo Quiroz are in camp, but neither will be making a big contribution in the near future.  Matt Wieters has a job as soon as he’s ready.

One assumes that Huff should stay productive in his role, but he was so good last year, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s off by ten runs this season.

There are, oh, 120 pitchers in camp in Ft. Lauderdale hoping to make the Orioles roster in April.  Guthrie is still here, and Rich Hill arrives from Chicago trying to put his career back together.  Hill would be a step up if he brings his best game.  The rest are a bunch of unknowns.  Matt Alberts was better as a reliever, but he could start some and be an improvement of ten runs over somebody.  Brian Bass comes over from Minnesota where, as a reliever, he wasn’t special.  As a starter he was tolerable here in Baltimore.  He might get a shot.  Troy Patton came over with the Tejada deal, he might be ready for a few starts.  George Sherrill needs to up his performance – and someone else needs to help out in the bullpen.

The problem is that they are all unproven rookies or second year guys.  Could they be better?  Sure – but it’s just not something you can predict with any dependability.

As such, I see the runs scored/runs allowed breakdown to be somewhere around 800/850, which translates to about 76 wins.  In this division, that’s a tall order, but there are enough pieces to see a better team in Baltimore.  If one or two pitchers step up in the rotation – a Hill and a Sherrill, for example – suddenly these guys are approaching .500 – and that’s pretty impressive.  When a few more young arms make it to the majors, this team might be ready to compete for a playoff spot.

Down on the Farm…

AAA Norfolk’s best hitter was Oscar Salazar (13 – 85 – .316), who got a cup of coffee with the big league club and played well.  He could have slid into the first base slot, and may well get this job after spending a decade in the minors (he’s 30).  He’s just been blocked everywhere he’s been (Oakland, the Mets, Detroit, Kansas City, Anaheim, and Cleveland), and he wasn’t a good enough middle infielder when he was younger.  However, with the ability to play the whole infield, he’s a good bench option.  Radhames Liz and Jim Miller pitched well enough to earn shots with the parent club last year.

Matt Wieters, the future catcher, hit .365 at AA Bowie in 208 at bats, with 12 homers and 51 RBI.  He can’t be far off…  Lou Montanez and Nolan Reimhold hit for power; Montanez had the higher batting average, but Reimhold has the better plate discipline.  David Hernandez and Chris Tillman led a quartet of Bay Sox pitchers to double-digit victories (the others were Brad Bergeson and Jason Berken, two other potential studs).  Both showed killer K/9 rates and will be in line for rotation spots by 2010 if not sometime this summer.  Julio Manon dominated as the closer – he’s just not a young prospect.  He’s 36 this summer.

Cole McMurray and Pat Egan led the hurlers at Aberdeen (High A), with closer Brandon Cooney (from nearby Florida Atlantic – near me, anyway) showing strong numbers.  Other than Wieters, the Frederick Keys also had first baseman Brandon Snyder (15 – 80 – .315) and pitchers Brandon Erbe and Jake Arrieta, who both had strong strikeout numbers if not solid won-loss records.