Send down Jered Weaver? Send in the clowns
BY STEVE BISHEFF
The Orange County Register
ANAHEIM, Calif. - It seems so ridiculous, so strangely unprecedented, that at first you don't think you're hearing it right.
Come on, the Angels aren't really about to send Jered Weaver, the best young pitcher they have had in years, back down to the minor leagues, are they?
It appears they are, if not later this week, then early the following one.
Even if Weaver pitches a shutout Tuesday night against Kansas City, even if he improves his eye-popping 3-0 record, his 1.86 ERA and the skimpy .162 batting average against him, he's a good bet to go.
"Hey, they obviously have got a Cy Young winner coming back, and I'm the odd man out," a surprisingly unfazed Weaver said.
But wait a minute. Isn't this a team dangling by its fingernails at the bottom of the AL West? Isn't this a club struggling to squeeze out any victories it can? And hasn't Weaver easily been its most effective starter in the past few weeks?
The goal should be to keep the pitcher who makes you the best baseball team, shouldn't it?
Apparently not. Not when you've got a couple of other starting pitchers with shaky stats but huge contracts. Not when you've paid one guy $8 million for this season and extended another for three more years at a gaudy $28.5 million.
The Angels are seemingly committed to Jeff Weaver, Jered's older brother, and Kelvim Escobar, even though Jeff has a 3-9 record and 6.15 ERA and Escobar continues to find creative ways to lose games.
"I think it's unusual today, with pitching at such a premium, for an organization to face a decision like this one," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "It will work itself out."
Maybe, but how many starts can these guys gamble away when they're already a half-dozen or so games out of first place? How many times can they send these two guys out to lose when they've got a kid who could replace either one and have an excellent chance to win?
Nobody is arguing that room shouldn't be made for Bartolo Colon, the Cy Young Award winner who is returning from a shoulder injury after making a less-than-impressive start in what was supposed to be his final rehab assignment Monday night.
Colon carried this staff a year ago and, if healthy, has earned the right to ease back in as soon as he is ready.
But sending out "Little Weaver," as he's known in the Angels clubhouse, would be crazy.
Unless, of course, there is an ulterior motive. Unless the Angels don't want to devalue any of their established starters while they are quietly trying to trade one of them for the much-needed bat they should have acquired in the offseason.
No one in the organization will admit that's what is happening, but it's the only thing that seems to make any sense.
Maybe Scioscia gave a veiled hint at such a scenario when he said: "It's tough for us to delete guys until this thing totally settles."
The funny thing is, the recurring rumor is that the pitcher the club is shopping is Ervin Santana, the other young power starter who seemed to be settling into this rotation for, oh, the next 10 years.
Why you would give Escobar a $28.5 million extension and consider dealing a kid with Santana's ability is beyond me. But then it wouldn't be the first time GM Bill Stoneman's logic was off somewhere in its own weird world.
In the meantime, the Angels try to rationalize by claiming young Weaver is "not a finished product." Scioscia used that description while saying the 2004 first-round draft pick still had things to learn.
"He needs to improve his changeup off his fastball," pitching coach Bud Black said.
But really, they're getting picky here. The bottom line is how the kid performs on the field, and so far, after three starts, he has been close to flawless.
"I've gotten the opportunity and done well," Weaver said. "I know down the line I'll be here for the long haul. I feel good that I've made the decision tough on them."
It would be one thing if the Angels were in first place, leading by five games. But this controversial move would be made at a time when the club's psyche is shakier than the U.S. soccer team was in its World Cup debut Monday.
Darin Erstad's return to the lineup only further complicates an already deepening offensive puzzle. His Gold Glove-caliber defense will be welcomed back in center field, but Erstad wasn't hitting when he was injured and didn't hit much in his rehab assignments leading to his return.
And when he's in the lineup, it means some combination of Chone Figgins, Tim Salmon, Juan Rivera or Dallas McPherson isn't.
Continuity hardly has been an Angels trademark this season.
Judging by what is about to happen to Jered Weaver, neither has common sense.
"Trying to hit him was like trying to drink coffee with a fork." - Willie Stargell on Sandy Koufax