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Questioning Braves' decisions

Just wanted to answer some e-mail that's come in, mostly about Wednesday's column in which I listed the non-pitchers on 25-man rosters whose names weren't familiar to me ...


    Rob,
    While I agree that Mike Hessman and DeWayne Wise aren't exactly household names, I take some offense to the way you seem to indicate that by having these guys on their roster, the Braves don't know what they're doing.

    First of all, did you follow Wise's spring? He had a .318 batting average, four doubles and seven RBI in 24 games. Not great, but not shabby. Dave Hollins and he played it out for the fourth outfielder spot, and while Hollins was admittedly better, Wise is a lefty and possesses great speed.

    Secondly, Hessman is only on the roster because Eli Marrero is on the DL. Yes, the Braves could have brought up a Triple-A regular, but why would you put a starter on the bench when he could be getting valuable training and playing time in Richmond? Also, Hessman can play a plethora of positions.

    Some of the choices the Braves have made in the past have surprised me, but no one can accuse that management team of not knowing what they're doing. The Braves have been on top for so long because they are able to see things that we don't (need I mention Chris Hammond or Julio Franco?).

    Ami

No question, Wise enjoyed a solid spring and his parents should be very proud of him. I'm just not sure how relevant those 24 spring-training games are, compared to the previous 686 games -- including 70 in the majors -- in which Wise proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he struggles offensively. As I probably mentioned already, Wise's career OBP is .301 ... in the minors (in the majors, it's .207).

The Braves had Gary Matthews in camp this spring, and Matthews is a legitimate major leaguer (if just by the barest of margins) but batted just .154 in 22 exhibition games and lost the job (fourth/fifth outfielder) that had been assigned him. I guess I just don't understand why a team trying to contend for a division title would enter spring training with a choice between Gary Matthews and DeWayne Wise, when players like Matt Stairs were available for relative peanuts. Yes, the Braves' management team has a long history of success, but nobody's right every time. And this year, when the franchise's margin for error is nonexistent, the absolute lack of a quality bench could be a real problem.


    Rob,
    In response to your comments about Jason Michaels of the Phillies, a little history on him ...

    He played alongside Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell at the University of Miami. The three of them combined to form one of the deadliest 3-4-5 hitters in college baseball history, and fell just short of winning the College World Series. His college numbers were as impressive as either Huff's or Burrell's. He is an above average right fielder with a good arm.

    The problem Michaels does have is that he is behind Bobby Abreu on the depth chart. Abreu is a lefty hitter, and steals a lot of at-bats from Michaels against right-handed pitchers. It goes back to the old righty versus lefty notion. Admittedly, I am not the biggest Abreu fan, as I think he is a bit overrated.

    In my opinion, Michaels is in the same situation as Brian Giles and Richie Sexson were in Cleveland. He can't get at-bats because a veteran is ahead of him.

    Please do not compare him to Shane Spencer. Michaels is a future All Star, whereas Spencer has no future.

    Scott G.

First, it's true that Michaels played with Huff and Burrell at Miami. Burrell was the first player chosen in the '98 draft, Michaels went in the fourth round, Huff in the fifth. But while Burrell and Huff both tore through minor-league pitchers, Michaels did not. He advanced steadily through the minors, but at no point was he considered a top prospect.

And there's a big difference between Michaels and ex-Indians Giles and Sexson. When Giles was 26 and 27 he was playing semi-regularly for the Indians, and when he was 28 the Pirates grabbed him because they knew he should be playing every day. When Sexson was 24 he was playing almost every day, and when he was 25 the Brewers grabbed him because they knew he should be playing every day.

Maybe everybody's missing out on Michaels. But he's almost 28, his minor-league track record isn't all that impressive, and I haven't noticed anybody beating down the Phillies' door trying to trade for Michaels. Which isn't to say he's not a legitimate major leaguer. He could be. But you're looking at 220 at-bats, and he probably has exactly the role he deserves.


    Rob,
    I enjoyed your round-up of the Unknowns, and it made me particularly curious about Jason Michaels. For someone who, "if regularly exposed to righties probably wouldn't hit enough to hold down a regular job," I expected to see worse numbers than these: (his three-year splits)

    AB 2B 3B HR BB K AVG OBP SLG OPS
    vs. Left 118 14 0 4 17 28 .314 .397 .534 .931
    vs. Right 102 7 3 3 11 29 .275 .353 .490 .843

    Granted, it's still only 250 plate appearances, and 90 points of OPS is certainly significant, but his performance doesn't support your assertion that he would struggle against right-handed pitchers. The difference amounts to four extra-base hits. A lot of teams (oh, say the Mariners) could benefit from even that level of production.

    Bruce

No, it's not 250 plate appearances. We're just talking about his performance against right-handed pitchers, so it's more like 110 PAs, which is far, far short of a representative sample.

Look, I'm not even sure what I'm defending here. I like Michaels. I think he deserves to play more than he's playing. Instead of getting 100 at-bats per season, he should be getting two or three times that many. And it's not going to happen in Philadelphia, so I encourage some run-starved team to call Phillies GM Ed Wade and make a deal.


    Rob,
    Regarding players on current rosters that you've never heard of, I'm sure my list is much, much longer.

    Yet as all A's fans know -- and I suppose Cardinals' fans know, too -- Cody McKay is the son of Cards first-base coach (and former A's coach) Dave McKay, and I would not doubt that Cody is in the majors in large part due to nepotism.

    I know that Cody is Dave's son because the A's broadcasters, who I imagine are friends with all of the coaches, referred for years to Cody as "a prospect."

    And because I live 20 minutes from West Sacramento, where the A's Triple-A franchise plays, I got to see Cody play catcher for a couple of years in the minors. In my opinion, he wasn't a prospect.

    Rich Rifkin
    Davis, Calif.

It never even occurred to me, that Cody McKay might be related to Dave McKay, but of course he is. Do the Cardinals have a better option in the organization? Not really. They traded Eli Marrero to the Braves this winter, and their "catcher of the future," Yadier Molina -- yes, the latest member of the Catching Molinas -- is only 21 and not nearly ready for the big show. And there's something else about McKay ... he can pitch! Throwing mostly knuckleballs, McKay pitched the last two innings in the Cardinals' 11-5 loss to the Brewers on Thursday. Hitless, scoreless innings. And knowing how much Tony La Russa loves to make weird moves, I suspect that having a catcher/pitcher on his roster fulfills one of his lifelong fantasies.


    Rob,
    I was wondering why there is no discussion of players in other eras popping "Greenies" when asterisks are flying all over the place in regards to steroid use in baseball? From what I have read, a prescription was required for these speed pills, but they were easily available from team doctors (Thanks Jim Bouton). A player on a stimulant would definitely have an advantage over a player that was not. It appears that this is overlooked, or at least ignored when people discuss steriods use and the unfair advantage it creates for the players that use them. What are your thoughts?

    Mike

Mike, I'm burying this in the bottom of the page because I haven't thought enough about this subject, and even if I did I probably couldn't add much to what's already been written, especially by Jim Caple earlier this week. But I do think that nobody's said enough about greenies, which certainly were a big part of baseball in the 1960s and '70s (at least). Did pep pills enhance performance? I don't have any idea, but presumably the players thought they did or they wouldn't have been gobbling them down like so many SweetTarts.

I'm not making excuses for anybody, whether they played in the '70s or the '90s. My point is that no generation is completely clean, whether it's the players of the '90s shooting up with steroids, players of the '80s snorting coke, players of the '70s slamming greenies, or players of the '50s encouraging the tender youth of America to smoke Chesterfields and Camels.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes three columns per week during baseball's offseason. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-written with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.