(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Role of a AAA Roster Filler

It's hard to imagine what motivates a 34 year-old, at the prime of his life, to stay in the minors after a five-year absence from the majors. My guess is that the money is good enough to keep potential temporary roster fillers interested in staying, that it's better than many of them can earn elsewhere at the same age (especially if they didn't go to college) and that the dream of making a Major League roster once again and contributing mightily is so intoxicating as to prevent some of these guys from getting out.

But these guys' careers really rest on a foundation made of eggshells. Take Andy Tracy, who last played in the majors five years ago but who got called up to the Phillies when Geoff Jenkins went on the disabled list. Tracy got into last night's epic against the Mets as a pinch hitter, made an out, and took his place on the bench. As I watched the game, I had a bad feeling for Tracy, because the Phillies' bullpen was asked to go 9 innings. That meant, of course, that certain players (such as Clay Condrey) would be unavailable for tonight. And that meant that the Phillies would need an extra arm for tonight's game against the Mets and to set up a critical (aren't all the games critical now?) four-game series this weekend against the Cubs at Wrigley.

So what did the Phillies do?

They sent Tracy back down to the minors almost as quickly as he got to Citizens Bank Park and called up a AA pitcher named Drew Carpenter, a behemoth out of Long Beach State (he was a #2 pick a year ago) who dazzled in spring training in an outing against the Yankees, only not to stay in shape and to pitch his way to a 5.67 ERA at Reading. Carpenter, clearly, will be the long reliever tonight if Kyle Kendrick doesn't last past 5 innings.

Carpenter, of course, is likely to get sent down once the Phillies' 'pen gets rested. Of course, he could be back on September 1, when rosters expand. Still, Carpenter's story is an interesting tale. Had he built upon his inaugural minor-league season and his spring training performance, he could have joined the Phillies rotation in July or August. Instead, he struggled to his current record, showing that talent alone doesn't get you there. Maturity means a great deal.

They say that AA ball separates the potential Major Leaguers from those who will have good stories to tell back home about the guys they played with who made the Majors. Drew Carpenter's journey thus far is incomplete. Phillies' fans can only hope that once he gets a taste of the trappings of the big club, he'll focus better next season and force his way into front-office conversations about the next home-grown starting pitchers.

Meanwhile, Andy Tracy goes back down to Lehigh Valley, wondering, perhaps, if he'll be a September 1 call-up and where his career goes from here.