6.01.2005

Where Is The Love For ... D'ANGELO JIMENEZ?



First of all, thank you to the kind person that pointed out the above photo, graciously posted by the official web presence of Major League Baseball. Would that E$PN, the world-wide leader in super-annuated pandering ingratiation, and Major League Baseball's #1 ambassador, were able to offer one of its humble servants a boon such as an up-to-date headshot. But I digress. After weeks and weeks of wanton drunkeness (in and out of unforgiving and unrelenting rooms of champagne), trying to come to grips with the wanderlust of Mr. Jim Tracy's managerial acumen, I am clear of head and clean of spirit, and ready to once again tackle the decisions and problems that will forever rollblock and gouge baseball.

Some of us might want to talk about last night's hard-knuckle loss to Chicago yesterday evening. Some of us might want to ask why Mr. Jim Tracy was willing to give up an out in our last inning to have a certain first baseman bunt over a runner with no outs so that a rookie catcher and a hitter with a poor history against right handed pitching has a chance to win the game. Some of us might also wonder why anyone would ever give an out to Ryan Dempster, a man whose continued presence on the mound at the end of games with his team ahead gives potent ammunition to the growing throng of people whose faith in the moxie of a closer has turned atheistic. Thankfully, some of us are beyond such questions, and are, for the moment, grateful we are given the chance to sacrifice our 800+ OPS on the altar of productive outs, if only to show up the ludicrous nature of the decision-process that lead to this untimely death.

Instead of dwelling in my own stew, I would like to dip my toe into the molasses of another sticky wicket - that of the Cincinnati Reds. Here are two quotes from their players:

"It's tough. He's not a troublemaker. He's not a guy that complained. He wants the ball. It's just upsetting. It's a tough way to lose a guy that's been here and dedicated himself to the organization." - Ken Griffey Jr.


"I don't have anything good to say about the guy to be personally honest with you. He is a cancer in every single clubhouse that he goes to." - Ryan Freel


I would like to say that these quotes pertain to those offending pieces of theraputic furniture Mr. Dave Miley excised from the clubhouse. Anyone with working eyesight can guess that the former quote (Mr. Griffey's) pertains to beleagured pitching machine Danny Graves, while the latter inglorius quote (from Mr. Freel) pertains to beleagured middle infielder D'Angelo Jimenez. Both players were tied to multi-million dollar contracts, both were underperforming, and both were sent to their doom in an attempt to gain favor with fickle fates that seemingly dictate the woes that befall this team of confused misfits.

Of course, were the Reds saavy enough to make moves that were beneficial to the future of the team, they would have made other moves in lieu of these. Some possible repositionings: moving their best run producer (Mr. Adam Dunn) into a higher batting slot, removing the odious presence of Graves understudy Eric Milton from the pitching staff, or trading away overpaid charlatans like Sean Casey to make room for Wily Mo Pena as a full-time monster, or simply installing Ryan Wagner as the closer in lieu of suffering through another month of the shameful ministrations of Mr. Graves. Of course, I am not in a position to expertly predict whether such moves would be any more effective than the moves already executed.

Nor am I here to defend the move concerning Mr. Graves. Mr. Graves was yoked to a multi-million, multi-year contract, and the Reds treated this investment the way Arthur Andersen treated Enron documentation. Because of the serendipity stumbled upon by their Red brethren in Boston with converting troubled closer Derek Lowe into Cy Young candidate Derek Lowe, the Cincinnati club thought it would benefit their pitching staff to execute a similar plan with Mr. Graves.

The key difference: Mr. Lowe has a history of starting games in the minor leagues. Mr. Graves has always been a reliever. The results for the Reds, as you can imagine, were disastrous, and even Mr. Graves (more belly itcher than pitcher since this turn) points out the deleterious effect this failed experiment has had on his performance as a reliever. A more prudent course of action, as noted before, would be to demote Mr. Graves within the bullpen and give him the opportunity to find the stuff he lost over a year ago. Instead, the Reds took the opportunity to parlay Mr. Graves' questionable show of emotion into a hasty decision that leaves the organization penniless and moxieless.

Clearly, this move was so devestating as to inspire Sean Casey to babble incoherent nonsense like this: "This is not his fault. We stink. For us to be 15-28 has nothing to do with Danny Graves. That's the frustrating part for me."

On the contrary, Mr. Casey. A good amount of the Reds' failure can be laid at the feet of Mr. Graves. He appeared in 20 games for the Reds. He allowed runs in 9 of those 20 appearances. He allowed 30 hits and 12 walks in those 20 games, striking out only 8 hitters. Granted, the Reds pitching staff often failed to hand the ball over to the bullpen with a lead at stake. Indeed, it was an occasion to celebrate for the Reds bullpen when they took the mound after the game was official. Such ineptitude meant Mr. Graves wasn't allowed to blow more than the 2 saves he's credited with. Regardless, such odious performance seemed to guarantee that many blown saves were in his, and the Reds' future. The fact that a pitcher with such a poor record of performance was able to garner 10 saves while offering such defecatory delights only points to the questionable stature of the save statistic. But, like I said, I am not here to defend Mr. Graves.

Instead, I would like to look at Mr. Freel's questionable comment regarding Mr. Jimenez. As many of you know, Mr. Jimenez has had a turbulent major league career. As a prospect in the New York Yankee farm system (back when such appelation was a sign of quality), he was forecasted to be the sort of player that Alfonso Soriano became, but (unlike his fellow farmhand) with a better eye for pitches. Indeed, Mr. Soriano's gifts of athleticism and impatience have him quickly turning into a rich man's Juan Encarnacion. However, Mr. Jimenez - his prospects were very high, until a car accident broke his neck. Despite such dire straits, Mr. Jimenez worked to get back onto the field of dreams. The Yankees rewarded his perserverance and gumption by trading him to a lesser pinstriped team, the San Diego Padres.

And then began the carousel - after some middling performances with San Diego, he was ousted by fellow rookie Ramon Vazquez, and traded to the White Sox. After middling performances with the White Sox in the place of Ray Durham, he was replaced by Roberto Alomar and traded to the Reds. After offering a full season of above-average performance for a middle infielder (82 walks, 43 extra base hits, 76 runs scored), he was awarded a one-year contract for over two million dollars. And then a slow start this year finds him demoted. Unlike the bloodletting and bawling teammates proffered with Mr. Graves' unfortunate, yet justified, ouster, there is Mr. Freel's venomous quote.

Far be it from me to come off as a clubhouse oncologist, but I have to take Mr. Freel's unwarranted dismissal of his former teammate with some salt. For one, Mr. Jimenez was cutting into Mr. Freel's playing time - the exit of Mr. Jimenez is surely beneficial to Mr. Freel and his quest to impress beat writers and hot-dog eaters with his multi-positional alabaster-skinned hustle.

For another, there is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Jimenez's supposed malignance (a claim that has tainted his shuttling throughout the major leagues) would be a welcome disease were he producing. Some other cancerous performers of note: Albert Belle, Kevin Brown, Ted Williams, Jim Rice, and, of course, Barry Bonds. Dog-born men, all of them, some people claim. Yet, when meted with Herculean production, such abrasiveness was then recast as beneficial friction. It is the nature of the beast, and it is couched in hollow cliches such as those exhumed by Mr. Freel, a man who, in different circumstances (and with a different 142 at-bats to his credit this year), could find himself pressed against the glass ceiling.

What's most troubling about Mr. Jimenez's demotion is that he was never given a chance to succeed. His failure to produce this year came in only 105 at-bats, merely one-fifth of the plate appearances garnered by a full-time player throughout a season. Many players can struggle over the course of 100 at bats - high-caliber players such as Victor Martinez and Eric Chavez come to mind as current examples. I know all too well of the impatience of managers when it comes to players (usually of a certain racial disposition) that supposedly fail to produce in the time they're haphazardly allotted. Some teams prefer to foster young talent, and swaddle them in situations that ensure growth and success. And some teams prefer to toss their young talent into the deep end of running rivers, and scratch their head when the bubbles cease to rise to the surface.

My rhetorical question to Reds management - who do you have on your roster that could potentially do better than Mr. Jimenez? Shortstop Felipe Lopez, at the ripe old age of 25, has finally grabbed the baseball by its stiches and tearing with rabid fervor, so he is ensconced, for the time being. Third baseman Joe Randa, perhaps a questionable acquisition at first blush (low cost notwithstanding), has exceeded expectations with his play. Mr. Freel, now the nominal second baseman, discovered many playing opportunities in the outfield as one player or another came up lame. And then there is Rich Aurilia.

Rich Aurilia, age 33, a player whose last high-quality season came in 2001, a player who last positively contributed to a team's efforts to win games came in 2003, a player whose effectiveness has descended down a slope slick with old age and injury. This is the player taking up D'Angelo Jimenez's roster space. If only Rich Aurilia were actually some freak of nature discovered by a Veeckian madman, there in stirrups and cleats to offer fans a glimpse into a strange and curious world they know nothing about, instead of offering Reds followers the same clumsy idiocy they've come to know and shun.

Mr. Jimenez is only 27 years of age, an age where many baseball players blossom from plump bulbs into fierce flowers. Mr. Aurilia, as you might imagine, has been wilting for quite some time. And yet, the Cincinnati Reds, an organization once again caught in the throes of remediation, choose the ghostly veteran presence of Mr. Aurilia over the potential and production (and possible persnickety pustulence) of Mr. Jimenez. It is one decision in a long line of decisions that have lead this once-proud and powerful organization to be one of the worst in this pasttime. But for the inglorious grace of court jesters like the Devil Rays and Royals and Rockies, the Reds would be proud recipients of a doormat, a kick me sign, and piles upon piles of fan-thrown refuse.

Mr. Freel, look not at your fellow ex-teammate as the source of this malady, for the cancer you decry is within the very uniform you wear, and within the clubhouse walls you skulk. Yes, I am not happy with many of the decisions made by Mr. Jim Tracy, both within the game and without. But, every day, I wake up thankful that I am part of an organization that can discern the difference between a ditch and the hindquarters of a horse. Despite various setbacks and rolling hurdles, I give thanks that I am a Los Angeles Dodger. More importantly, I give thanks that I am not a Cincinnati Red. I hope that D'Angelo Jimenez is soon able to give such thanks.

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-vishal

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