When the Sox decided to not decide between Lastings Milledge and Brent Lillibridge at the end of Spring Training, while I was certainly quizzical of whether they'd be smarter to stock up on bullpen depth due to the fact that one of their starters is Phil Humber (or not Phil Humber somehow), it was a lot more puzzling what kind of juggling act Ozzie would have to pull to find at-bats for Lilibridge, Milledge and positional nomad Mark Teahen.
Well, mark me down as wrong on both accounts.
Through a bizarre combination of blowouts, extra-inning games,
pinch-running opportunities, and Adam Dunn's impromptu appendectomy
(pretty much the only type of appendectomy), the Sox found a
surprising amount of time for all their understudies, but also due to
this bizarre combination, they had pretty much exhausted their entire
bullpen against the two worst offenses in the division.
Given the situation, Thursday's pregame announcement to designate Spring
Training wonder Lastings Milledge while promoting reliever Jeff Gray to
come pitch at replacement level for the big club doesn't register as
the most illogical decision ever. However, it certainly makes the entire decision process that led to this look mighty
Instead of going to Triple-A Charlotte, like he would have if cut at the
end of Spring Training, Milledge was placed on waivers, and seems
unlikely to return. The Sox instead retained Brett Lillibridge, who
provides better defense and speed but negligible upside.
In fairness, if you can play outfield badly enough to merit being cut
after one start, Milledge might very well have done so. If the front
office was really struck with the immediacy of their bullpen crisis,
it's not hard to imagine management siding with the guy who can field
his position on first instinct.
If keeping Milledge on the 25-man roster was the team being too tempted
by his talent to not have him immediately available, then the failure to
protect him seems like they gambled on not needing an extra pitcher and
had the gambit blow up in their faces with comical immediacy. A true "I immediately regret this decision!" moment.
Screwing yourself out of a fourth outfielder by not playing the options
correctly--and not exactly a gold glover at that--isn't a significant front
office blunder, just a discouraging one. More significant would be
trading for Vernon Wells' contract, or deciding to win every off-season
bidding war by offering one more year to each target than the rest of
the league is willing to, or getting into a bidding war for A.J.
Pierzynski at all (between his on-base skills and his inability to hold
runners, are we paying him for anything that is measured statistically
anymore?). Those are the type of moves that actually sidetrack seasons or hint front office incompetence that will manifest itself in future unfortunate ways.
Forcing Ozzie to tell a player to pack to his bags t just over a week after he made the team is merely sloppy. Unnecessarily so.