LaForce to Rehab, Others to Minors as Sazeracs Shake It Up

As the New Orleans Sazeracs were being slaughtered 20-2 by the last-place Jackson Hammerheads on Monday, a thought formed in the minds of owner/GM Jeff Wiggins and manager George Knox: enough is enough.  Although the Sazeracs are off to a solid start for an expansion team, hovering around the .500 mark, several players have clearly struggled, and rumors of a breakdown in team discipline are rampant.  In the weak of their humiliating defeat, Wiggins and Knox made a major roster shakeup, demoting some underperformers and trying to get the team’s party-hearty culture under control.

“Overall, I’m happy with how our team’s performed so far,” said Wiggins.  “But there’s a handful of guys who aren’t performing up to what we expect, and some guys who are clearly more focused on partying than playing.  That doesn’t fly around here.”

Topping the list of demotions was starter Norm “Rattler” LaForce, who started the infamous Monday game.  LaForce allowed eight runs over 4 1/3 innings, which put him at 0-3 with a 13.21 ERA on the season.  Worse yet, according to team sources, LaForce is one of the heaviest partiers on the team, regularly staying until closing time at the bars and clubs of the Big Easy.

Knox confirmed that the team has ordered LaForce to enter alcohol rehab before he reports to the minors.  “On the field, Norm wasn’t getting it done.  But it’s off the field where we’ve been really worried about him.  New Orleans is a city full of temptation, and Norm has been enjoying it a little too much.  Can’t have him doing that anymore.”

LaForce denied that he had a problem with alcohol.  “That’s a bunch of crap,” he told reporters.  “I’m sure as hell not the only guy on this team who spends time hanging out on Bourbon Street.  But I’ve had a bad start to the year, so it was easy to make an example of me.  It sucks being the scapegoat.”

Taking LaForce’s slot in the rotation will be left-hander Zeke Foster.  The 24-year-old Foster pitched out of the bullpen for Silver City last year, where he compiled a 4.91 ERA over 24 appearances.

New Orleans also sent down a pair of relievers, lefty Hal Gilreath and righty Barrett Turbeville.  Both of them appeared in the infamous 20-2 beatdown, and both have struggled mightily this year.  Gilreath’s ERA sat at 11.00 at the time of his demotion, while Turbeville’s sat at 8.22.  Both of them also were reportedly among the clique of hard partiers on the team, although neither was nearly as much of a problem as LaForce.  Neither Gilreath nor Turbeville have been ordered to go to rehab.

Taking their slots in the bullpen are a pair of right-handers, Jon Esquibel and Bradley Slinger.  Esquibel, a 21-year-old rookie out of Idaho A&M, is a hard thrower with a reputation for being somewhat homer-prone.  Slinger, 25, pitched in Jackson last year and went 4-2 with a 3.16 ERA before going down in August with a partially-torn rotator cuff.  He managed to avoid surgery, strengthening his arm through rehab.

According to Knox, Esquibel is expected to take on Turbeville’s late-inning duties, while Slinger is likely to see work as a long man.

In addition to shaking up the pitching staff, the Sazeracs also made a change in the backup catcher role, sending down Dave Chavez and calling up Dustin Gould.  Chavez has a reputation as a strong defender, but he looked utterly overmatched at the plate, going 1-for-12 during his brief time with New Orleans.  Knox confirmed that Chavez was being sent down solely for performance reasons, and that the team was not concerned with his extracurricular activities.

Wiggins noted that further changes could be coming, especially if certain team members don’t curtail their nightlife activities.  “I don’t mind guys going out and having fun,” the owner said.  “That’s what New Orleans is all about.  But when it gets out of control and starts affecting your performance on the field, that’s when I mind.  Hopefully everybody got the message.”

Jackson, California Roll the Dice on a Deal

The Jackson Hammerheads and California Sharks have a lot in common, apart from their cartilage-based mascots.  Each team is in second place in its division, trailing the first-place team by 5 games.  With the trading deadline at hand, both teams had one last shot to strengthen their teams for the stretch run.  They wound up making a deal with each other, with California sending 1B John Lassen to Jackson in exchange for left-handed reliever Hal Gilreath.

Unsurprisingly, the trade was proposed by Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler, one of the league’s most active wheeler-dealers.  When Sharks owner/GM Colin Mills indicated that he was seeking help for his team’s struggling bullpen, Butler swung into action.  After a brief negotiation, the deal was struck.

For California, the deal is as much about the future as the present.  The Sharks have struggled to establish a reliable relief corps behind right-hander Jan Arzola and rubber-armed closer Eugene Grace.  Veteran David Watts flamed out early and spent much of the season in the minors, pitching to an 11.13 ERA on the season.  19-year-old Luke Bond has proven gopher ball-prone, and he is currently injured.  Long man Ty Shive has struggled with control.  Righty Milan Constant became rusty from erratic use before being demoted.  30-year-old rookie Herman Moret was a pleasant surprise at first, but his numbers drooped as hitters figured him out.  Southpaw Boss Walker, acquired from Salt Lake in a midseason swap, has been decent, but is less than durable.

Hal Gilreath
Hal Gilreath

The acquisition of Gilreath, a 23-year-old slider specialist, comes as part of a larger shakeup of California’s bullpen, as the team has demoted Moret, Watts, and Shive and called up Constant and journeyman Kerry Lopez to join Gilreath.

“We need a bridge to get us to the end of games,” said Mills.  “We’ve seen too many games slip away late.”

Gilreath struggled in limited action with the Hammerheads, posting a 9.72 ERA and allowing 10 hits and 9 walks over 8 1/3 innings.  But Sharks manager Eduardo Aponte likes the lefty’s growth potential.

“Like a lot of young pitchers, Hal has not yet mastered command and the art of pitching to situations,” said Aponte.  “But if we can get his mechanics sorted, he could be a cornerstone for us for many years.”

John Lassen
John Lassen

The 32-year-old Lassen represents Jackson’s latest attempt to make up for their foolhardy decision to trade away popular first sacker Eddie Battin to Knoxville in late May.  Lacy Wilczynski, who has spent the majority of the time at first since Battin’s departure, has batted .247 with virtually zero power, and the Hammerheads are desperate to get more production from the position.

Whether Lassen will be the answer remains to be seen.  The LA native put up a .310 average with 13 homers last year in the independent American Association, but he was an utter flop with the Sharks.  The team benched up after a month of dismal numbers, and ultimately sent him to the minors in June.  In 43 games with California, Lassen batted an astounding .160 with 2 home runs, contributing nothing from an offensive standpoint other than a decent batting eye (drawing 14 walks in 103 at-bats).  Lassen does have a reputation as an excellent glove man, however, a key consideration for the fielding-challenged Hammerheads.

“We bought low on John Lassen,” said Hammerheads manager Lou Hayes.  “We think he’s gonna turn it around for us, and be a solid contributor with the bat and save us runs with his glove too.”

On one level, this is a minor deal, a swap of struggling players in search of a fresh start.  (“What harm could it do to roll the dice?” mused Mills.)  But the deal has significant upside potential for both sides.  If Lassen’s numbers can rebound toward last year’s form, it could fill a major hole in Jackson’s lineup and allow them to chase down the first-place Smokies.  If Gilreath can straighten himself out and start throwing strikes, on the other hand, the Sharks might benefit from this trade for years to come.

PBL Transactions, 5/10/15 – 5/16/15

The following transactions occurred in the Patriot League over the last week:

 

Jackson Hammerheads

 

Jackson Hammerheads: Called up DH Armando Behrens and CF James Johnson.  Demoted RPs Hal Gilreath and Brett Pollan.

 

Orlando Calrissians

 

Orlando Calrissians: Placed CF Glen Madden on the 15-day disabled list. Called up RP Erik Geis.