Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Trade deadline deals

I'm sitting here watching the Reds versus the Nationals . . . I'm not sure why. But I intended to follow up with my report on the NL Central, but things have changed so much during the past few days that I'd like to go item-by-item through the transactions made over the past week in chronological order.

July 23
Nationals sign 2B Ronnie Belliard to a 2-year contract extension worth about $3.5 mil.
Now everyone realizes that this is a bad deal; why you would go out of your way to keep a 30-something bad-body middle infielder who can barely hit (his 299/343/425 batting line this season includes some good luck). You can get poor baseball players without signing them to multi-million dollar deals.
The only real upside about this deal is the small dollar amount, so if (when) Belliard does tank, it won't cost the Nats much to dump him. And to be fair, he's at least a somewhat useful player, even if that usefulness is deteriorating.
Don't worry -- this wasn't the worst move the Nats made this week -- not by far.
July 25
Padres trade Scott Linebrink to the Brewers for minor leaguer pitchers Joe Thatcher, Will Inman, and Steve Garrison.

I discussed this trade in my last entry. Linebrink is having a bad year, getting older, and is very overrated by his home park. The Brewers didn't give up the crown jewels to get him, but it's still (as I said before) a needless exercise and a waste of resources. The Padres get some depth, with Inman a useful spare part. It's a good deal for them, as they get a decent haul from an overrated, aging reliever having a bad year.
July 27
White Sox trade 2B Tadahito Iguchi to the Phillies for RHP Michael Dubee.
Pat Gillick works fast. With MVP contender Chase Utley out for about a month, Gillick worked fast to fill the hole created in his lineup. Iguchi is a good fit. He's adequate defensively and is a decent hitter with some pop that should play well in Philly. And when Utley does come back, Iguchi can slot in as a pinch-hitter or possible third baseman. Iguchi wouldn't be anyone's first choice to play third, but he'd be a far sight better than the Dobbs/Helms/Nunez fiasco the Phillies have trotted out there so far this season. One wonders if White Sox GM Kenny Williams could have gotten more for a starting second baseman, even if he is a half-season rental (Iguchi is a free agent at season's end).
Rangers trade OF Kenny Lofton to Cleveland for minor league C Max Ramirez.
I remarked at the beginning of the season that Mark Shapiro had done a good job with the Cleveland outfield by replacing quality with quantity. Well, it was a good idea on paper, but in reality, the team is still short one outfielder. Lofton fills the void well; he's not the speedster he once was, but he's versatile and can fill holes in the outfield and at the plate. It's also nice to see him there to provide a link to the mid-90's Indians "dynasty."
Ramirez is a very good catching prospect, but with Victor Martinez behind the plate for the moment at least, the Indians used him as trade fodder. The Rangers come out of this one even better; they're not contenders this year, and with the addition of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Texas now has three of the top catching prospects in baseball (along with Ramirez and Taylor Teagarden). Hopefully they can parlay this into at least one trade, leaving them still flush with young catchers, which is always a good thing.
Devil Rays trade IF Jorge Cantu, OF Shaun Cumberland and cash to Cincinnati for RHP Calvin Medlock, LHP Brian Shackelford, and future considerations
The really notable player here is Cantu. He's an odd pick-up for the Reds, who aren't contenders by any stretch of the imagination. Also, Cantu is not the type of player the Reds usually pursue. He's a defensive liability with a low batting average and little of the "hustle and speed" skills usually valued in backup infielders. His strongest tool is his power, but it's a real stretch to see him as a full-time player outside of Tampa Bay.
Astros trade RHP Dan Wheeler to Devil Rays for INF Ty Wigginton.
I don't have a clue what this means. The Astros are contenders only in their own minds, especially now that their only worthwhile hitter (Hunter Pence) just went on the DL. Wigginton is overrated; offensively, he's a stretch at the infield corners, but that's where his defense plays best. He could be a useful part-time player, but why is a non-contender trading for a part-time player making $2.7 million? And surely they could have gotten something better for Wheeler with virtually every time looking for relief help?
Tim Purpura, you are such an enigma to me.
The Devil Rays, on the other hand, have a good-but-not-great reliever who could be spun off in another trade (in the offseason now that the deadline is over). He's also a good arm in the bullpen, and the D-Rays could certainly use one of those.
Devil Rays trade RHP Seth McClung to Brewer for RHP Grant Balfour.
I've been one of Doug Melvin's biggest fans, but the Linebrink and McClung deals mystify me. Grant Balfour is an 11th/12th pitcher on a good day, but is Seth McClung (career 6.27 ERA) any better? Sure, he has experience as a starter, but so does Jose Lima.
Nationals sign Dmitri Young to a 2-year contract extension worth about $10 mil.
This one is just inexcusable and has most of the internet calling for Jim Bowden's head (with much justification). There is just NO good reason to make this deal. The Nationals already HAVE an expensive first baseman in Nick Johnson, who is much better and younger than Dmitri Young. Bowden may not have realized this, but there is no DH in the National League. This leaves us pondering the horrific thought of "Dmitri Young, Left Fielder." And Nick Johnson, broken leg and all, isn't moving to the outfield either.
Not only did Bowden not trade any of the players that he should have (Cordero, Rauch, Young, Belliard, Kearns, Lopez, anything not nailed down), they actually signed two of them to free agent deals!
The Nationals and Pirates are in a stiff competition for the title of most hopeless franchise in major league baseball. Keep Bowden around, and it won't be a very close race.
July 30
Twins trade Luis Castillo to Mets for two minor leaguers.
There was much hemming and hawing in Minnesota, since this trade seemed to indicate that the front office was writing off 2007. I can't speak for the front office, but losing Luis Castillo does not represent a significant setback in the Twins' 2007 playoff hopes. Castillo is hitting .304 this year, but it's a pretty empty average supported only by some walks (his full line is 304/356/352). He's still spoken of as a fine basestealer, but this is no longer true; he's 9/13 in steals this year, meaning he's contributed about as much to his team via steals as Chipper Jones. He's a free agent after this year, and the Twins have a capable backup in Alexi Casilla.
I've read some very different opinions about this deal, and the difference of opinion comes down to defense. In an espn.com chat today, Jonah Keri raved about Castillo's defense. Unfortunately it seems that this, too, is just afterglow from his past achievements. Castillo turns 32 in September, and Clay Davenport's FRAA rate him as a -6 (he was -7 last season). The Davenport DTs aren't perfect, but my opinion of Castillo's defense is that it isn't enough to make this a good deal for the Mets.
Speaking of the Mets, they weren't doing so bad at second base anyhow. Ruben Gotay was hitting 350/382/504 with defense not much better or worse than Castillo's (-2 FRAA). Of course I know that Gotay isn't going to hit .350 for the rest of the season. But even so, he's got some skills and might not have ended up much worse than Castillo, if at all.
Still, the exchange won't mean a whole lot in the long run, depending on what the two prospects do in Minnesota (probably not a whole lot). But the biggest problem for the Mets would be if they decide to sign Castillo to a contract extension. Like I said, Castillo is overrated, but he's not a bad buy when you just have to pay a small portion of his $5.75 million option. But if the Mets extend his contract, not only will they likely overpay him, they'll fill up a hole in the lineup with a completely inefficient solution. Hopefully Castillo will simply walk away as a free agent and leave the Mets to fill the 2B hole more creatively.
Reds trade Kyle Lohse to the Phillies for LHP Matt Maloney.
Well, at least the Reds traded Lohse and got something human in return (further satisfying their fetish for relief pitchers). A lot of people are relatively happy with this deal, but I don't see Lohse faring any better in Philly than he did in Cincinnati. With the Reds this year, Lohse sported a poor but tolerable 4.58 ERA, but his peripherals were not exactly rosy. His 33:80 BB:K ratio in 131.2 IP isn't too shabby, but he has allowed 16 HR so far. Lohse allows more fly ball outs than ground outs by far (his GO:AO ratio is 0.82). He may be an acceptable stopgap for a terrorized starting rotation, but I'm not pulling out the party favors just yet.
July 31
Braves trade Jarrod Saltalamacchia, SS Elvis Andrus, RHP Neftali Ferez, LHP Matt Harrison and LHP Beau Jones to Texas for Mark Teixeira and LHP Ron Mahay.
This is the impact trade of the offseason so far. Basically, this trade helps both teams. It helps the Rangers by getting rid of a player who wasn't going to be around when they started contending anyways, and it also brings them back some juicy prospects, the key of course being Saltalamacchia. The big question for "Salty" is whether he can stay a catcher. Standards of offense are much higher for the former, so if Salty can stay behind the plate he can become one of the game's superstar catchers. LHP prospect Beau Jones was a late addition to the trade, an addition which disappointed Braves fans, who think a lot of Jones.
For the Braves, they get the best hitter on the market by far. Not only do the Braves get a stud in Teixeira, they had a gaping hole (first base) for him to fill perfectly. They didn't have a spot for Salty with McCann behind the plate and decided to leverage him for a more established player. You can understand their reasoning, with Chipper Jones and John Smoltz getting older and more brittle, and Andruw Jones likely departing the team next year.
The thing that could really make this a mistake for the Braves is that it's probably just a 16-month rental. Teixeira will be a free agent after the 2008 season, and Scott Boras (his agent) is already positioning him for a record-breaking windfall. Teixeira reportedly rejected an offer from the Rangers for a $140 million contract extension. I don't know that that figure has been authenticated, nor am I sure that the Rangers really wanted to keep an expensive player with a headache of an agent.
So if the Rangers and their bankroll couldn't spend enough to keep Teixeira, who's to say that the Braves will? This deal would be a true winner for the Braves if they could sign Teixeira to a reasonable extension, but that looks doubtful. This means that the Braves really have to get their value out of Teixeira in the next year-plus.
Trouble? Teixeira's suffered from some injuries this year that have sapped has power, which was prodigious even given his Texas surroundings. But he has 13 homers so far this year, meaning that the Braves can probably only expect another 12-15 from him this year -- if he's healthy. Granted, that's a big difference from the big fat zero that Scott Thorman was offensively. But it still might not be enough to get them into the postseason. And if the Braves don't reach the postseason in the year-and-a-half, I think this trade will be looked upon as a mistake.
Red Sox trade Joel Pineiro and cash to the Cardinals for a PTBNL.
Nothing to say here; the Cards are desperate to fill some holes in their pitching staff. The problem is that the Cardinals' season is OVER. And they would have been better off trading guys like Encarnacion, Kennedy, Percival, and Isringhausen.
Rangers trade Eric Gagne to Red Sox for LHP Kason Gabbard, OF David Murphy, and OF Engel Beltre. Red Sox fans should breathe a sigh of relief that the team didn't trade any of their a-list prospects, many of whom saw their names pop in trade rumors for some truly mediocre talents. That doesn't mean, though, that they shouldn't mourn the loss of those B-level guys, especially when the return is Eric Gagne.
I have nothing against Gagne, other than to question whether he can endure the rest of the season. But he has been quite good with Texas this season, no doubt. The trouble is that the Red Sox didn't really need him and may have acquired him for no reason other than PR pressure: pressure to keep Gagne from an AL rival (especially the Yankees), pressure to do SOMETHING, dammit (which is never constructive but is often a consideration).
Astros trade Morgan Ensberg and cash to the Padres for a PTBNL or cash.
The Astros told Ensberg, "Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out," and then let a perfectly good hitter with a low price tag walk out their door for NOTHING. The Astros didn't trade the assets that were expendable, and instead decided to wait until Ensberg's stock was completely devalued and let him float away.
This isn't to say that Ensberg's struggles this year (232/323/384) aren't very real. Nor can I deny that Ensberg is both wildly talented and maddeningly inconsistent. Here are his career batting lines with Houston:
2000: 7 AB (286/286/286)
2002: 132 AB (242/346/394)
2003: 385 AB (291/377/530)
2004: 411 AB (275/330/411)
2005: 526 AB (283/388/557)
2006: 387 AB (235/396/463)
2007: 224 AB (232/323/384)
That's not inconsistent; it's proof of the Chaos Theory of Baseball. Try finding some trends there.
Either way, it's worth having Ensberg around just on the off-chance that he'll become his near-MVP self again. I believe it was Jonah Keri who said, when asked how many teams should be after Ensberg, stated, "At no cost? 29."
Royals trade Octavio Dotel to Braves for Kyle Davies.
The Braves needed a rent-a-reliever and got a pretty good one, at little cost in terms of money or players. Davies is pretty much out of chances to prove that he can get big-league hitters out, but some have wondered if GM Dayton Moore (a former Braves executive) has seen something in Davies he thinks can be fixed. That's a generous analysis though, as I've heard many people wonder if Moore couldn't have gotten more for Dotel.
Dodgers trade Wilson Betemit to Yankees for Scott Proctor.
Proctor is a good enough relief pitcher who should enjoy moving to the easy league and playing for a manager who can tell him apart from Mike Marshall. Betemit is a valuable guy, but the Dodgers have an easy (and more promising) replacement right at hand in Andy Laroche.
The Yankees aren't so interested in this year; they may yet pluck a reliever off the waiver wire, and they do have some in-house guys like Chris Britton who could step up. Betemit is a valuable bench player, although since his primary position is third base, the bench is exactly where he'll be as long as A-Rod is MVPing the rest of the league.
The Betemit move is also a gambit in the ongoing public negotiations with A-Rod. Both sides are positioning themselves before they sit down at the bargaining table. Scott Boras did it by throwing around numbers like $300 million. Brian Cashman did it by stating that he could live with Wilson Betemit as the Yankees' starting third baseman next year. Neither statement is true (although unfortunately, Boras' is closer), but they are rather attempts at both sides to set themselves up for what could be a historic round of negotiations. Wilson Betemit is like Mongo from Blazing Saddles; "Wilson only pawn in game of life."
Giants trade Matt Morris to Pittsburgh for OF Rajai Davis and a PTBNL.
You know that laugh from the 1989 Batman movie? The laugh that came out of the Joker after he was dead? That's the sound I made when I heard about this trade. It was a combination of hilarity, anger, and the futility of knowing that you might as well just give it up.
This is stupid on a new level for the Pirates. I know sometimes I say that there's no reason a trade should have been made, but that was always an exaggeration until now.
I had heard that the Giants were thinking of trading Morris to a contender. So it was to my surprise that I heard he was heading to the most hopeless franchise in professional baseball. "I heard rumors all week about me being traded, but Pittsburgh was never mentioned," Morris said in the AP report. He might as well have been presiding over his own wake. Rajai Davis on the other hand, was quoted as saying, ""I had no idea this was coming." Rumors that Davis praised God and distributed cigars labelled "So Long, Suckers" to his former teammates are unfounded.
I bet Brian Sabean had to really work hard not to crack a devious grin when he discussed the trade/dump: "Almost at the 11th hour we were talking to two other teams I would consider competitors in the playoff situation. Pittsburgh stepped up, not only to take on the player as is -- meaning the contract -- but the potential return," in Davis, Sabean said." (AP) Translation: I was talking to some realistic fellows about trading Morris in return for a few easy chairs, with our team covering half his salary. Then Pirates GM Dave Littlefield stepped in and offered not only to let us strike him repeteadly with a hammer but also to pay for the hospital bills himself." Littlefield is taking on ALL of Morris' contract, meaning that Matt Morris, a mediocre innings-eater over 30, will be eating up some 20% of the Pirates' payroll next year.
The Pirates were also unable to trade any of the players they should have been pushing: Jack Wilson, Shawn Chacon, etc. The problem is that these guys (Wilson especially) had been given such stupid contracts by the Pirates that no other team would bite. The only other team willing to take on stupid liabilities like the Jack Wilson contract is ... well, the Pirates.
White Sox trade Rob Mackowiak to Padres for RHP Jon Link.
Mackowiak is a handy utility man, but I'm starting to wonder if he's finally outlived his good reputation. He was hitting 278/354/418 in Chicago, but you can take a chunk out of that when he moves to San Diego. And then he's not much of a fourth outfielder.
That's all I've come up with so far. I'll stay in touch if I hear about any pending waiver-wire deals, and should be able to get back to the NL Central soon.


tball said...

Deals not made. If I were an Angels fan, Dodgers fan, Nationals fan, I would be extremely disappointed. The Nationals need a solid long term plan, but they just seem to be making it up as they go along.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Angels have a good team that needed a bat as much as the Braves did. This is an annual non-event, but Stoneman again sat on his hands. He should have been more aggressive going after Teixeira, or maybe Glaus at 3B would have been a bigger upgrade over their current options. Angels fans should be calling for the stoning of Stoneman. Nearby, the Dodgers' firing of DePodesta looks premature now.

It's been hard to be a Rangers fan in recent years, but Daniels and his scouting staff have really changed the look of the minor league system with the draft and these trades. Some of those catchers and toolsy upside guys are going to be used to acquire needs at future trade deadlines when they are buyers.

The Whiz Kid said...

In re tball:
I agree about the Angels; I loved their energy in the early years of the Moreno era, but things have slowed down recently. Their offense is starting to atrophy, although they do have some good young talent still there. Pitching behind Lackey is good, but not stable for the long term.

I agree about the Rangers. I run hot and cold on my opinion of Daniels' work as GM. Overall, I think he could have made more trades, but he did well with what he had, especially Teixeira. The Rangers do seem to have instituted a much better system in scouting/player development. They also have the money to pursue an impact free agent, especially now that Teixeira's out of the picture. Let's just hope they don't spend it on another Millwood.
The other thing I have to keep in mind is that Daniels works with one of the more "involved" owners in the game. It's difficult to say what moves Tom Hicks has or hasn't had a hand in, but it's something to keep in mind when we judge Daniels.

In the long run, though, the Rangers may not contend next year, but they're positioning themselves to contend into the future. The Mariners and A's don't have a strong foundation for the future (though the A's can pull out some surprises yet), and the Mariners will fade. The Rangers could be the #1 or #2 team in their division by 2009 if they eat their Wheaties.