Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 4, 2000
BASEBALL: Grading the Deadline Deals (AL)

Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website

The trading deadline is past; Peter Gammons can take a breath again, although from appearances heís still exhaling pent-up rumors. What emerges are a few common themes:

1. Almost every deal that was made was to fill teamsí weak spots with acceptable contributors, rather than to upgrade from contributing players to stars. The order of the day was the Mike Bordicks and B.J. Surhoffs of the world, not the Sammy Sosas and Albert Belles.

2. The contenders mostly held on to their top prospects; nobody sold the crown jewel of their farm system. Most teams, whether their farm system is loaded with talent or just trickling players, have 2 or 3 prospects who are critical to the organizationís future. Nearly none of those prospects were moved, unless you count Ed Yarnall.

3. The players who were dealt by the contenders were mostly high-risk players rather than sure contributors: guys with talent whose stock had fallen sharply. The guys they got in return were mostly low-risk players who are likely to keep doing what they were doing for a few more months.

Letís look at the deals that were done over the past two months and try to grade the teams (hey, if I didnít run a column like this they would yank my amateur sportswriterís license); Iíll take on the AL this week and get to the NL races later, unless something more interesting intervenes.

AL CENTRAL

INDIANS: C-
The Indians made so many moves that itís hard to make sense of it all, ultimately dumping two of their everyday outfielders (Justice and Sexson are now replaced by Russell Branyan, Wil Cordero and David Segui), overhauling the pitching staff and serving as a halfway house to Ricky Ledee. The Segui move works if they're serious about this season; the Justice deal was defensible if they were rebuilding. What gives?

Dealing Sexson looks bad, given his monstrous power and youth and the Indiansí history of dealing big young sluggers (Giles, Burnitz, Casey) for mediocre pitchers. Sexson is not productive at this point, given his dismal on-base percentages in 1999 and 2000, but at age 25 it seems hasty for them to give up on his ability to learn the strike zone. The guys who came in return are useful but unimpressive; Iíd hate to rely on Jason Bere, and the talented Mr. Woodard has been awful this year.

The fascination with Wil Cordero, to the point of trading two good young players for him, paying his 3-year $9 million contract and possibly demoting Branyan to play him everyday, is utterly inexplicable. Cordero has a reputation as a good bat because he had some pop for a shortstop, but he hasnít played there in five years. As a corner outfielder he's woefully inadequate, combining mediocre power with minimal speed and an inability to get on base. Ordinarily you would assume he must be one heck of a nice guy to get so many undeserved chances, but he is basically unrepentant about beating his wife.

Peter Gammons called him an ďexperienced situational hitter,Ē which is baseball-speak for a guy who doesnít hit real well on the whole. You take the ďsituationalĒ hitters and I will take the guys who are just good hitters like Manny Ramirez (last yearís Divisional Series or not), and we will see who wins more games. More to the point, if a guy is a ďsituationalĒ hitter, why play him everyday? Why not just save him to pinch hit in the ďsituationsĒ where he will supposedly excel, rather than polluting the lineup with outs in meaningless situations (like the first six innings of a tie game, for example).

WHITE SOX: A-
Chicago could have used another starting pitcher, but their main need was at catcher and they upgraded tremendously, getting a guy whoís battle-tested and will steady their defense, plus he will hit a little. Charles Johnson should remind White Sox fans of a rich manís Ron Karkovice, a cannon arm and home run power but little else. Harold Baines should remind them of a poor manís Harold Baines, a shell of the guy whose number was retired by the White Sox 11 years ago. Baines has not, traditionally, been a good guy to acquire for the stretch run; ask the Rangers, Indians or Aís. Still, both came cheap, so there is little to complain about.

ROYALS, TWINS: B
Neither of these teams are in the race; both had already jettisoned their useless veterans, so neither really needed to make a major deal. The Royals gambled that they can afford to keep Johnny Damon; letís hope they were right. It's hard to believe that Damon won't get swallowed up by one of The Haves this winter.

TIGERS: F
The recent run to right the ship notwithstanding, this is a bad veteran team whose best player will walk after the season. Now itís too late to cash in Dean Palmer, Gonzalez, Easley, Jones, Moehler, Nomo and Higginson for some young talent. Oops.

AL WEST

MARINERS: B
Seattleís only significant deal was to get Al ďWhat, me married?Ē Martin for the eminently replaceable John Mabry and disappointing pitching prospect Tom Davey. Iím not that impressed with Martin and I'm not sure where he'll play, but he's having a good year and gives them insurance in case Buhner gets hurt (imagine that) or Rickey sprains his motivational muscle. Still, there are plenty of cheap substitutes for McLemore and Bell at second and third; Seattle's failure to find one is almost inexcusable.

Aís: B+
The Aís real challenge, long-term, is to shift from accumulating guys with good hitting stats to getting some complete players. Itís hard to develop a solid pitching staff with a beer-league defense, no matter how many runs you score. Adding Mario Valdez widens the talent base yet again, but how many 1B/DHs does one organization need? The Aís already have five in their everyday lineup, including Ben Grieve, who is outlasting the competition to make a run at Jim Riceís GIDP record despite being (1) lefthanded and (2) 24 years old.

In the short run, they needed bullpen help, and while Colome may turn out to be a steep price for the Larry Andersen-ish Jim Mecir, Mecir will take some heat off an overworked Jeff Tam. But the pen is still thin, the everyday rightfielder is still hitting .220 and Terrence Long is still leading off. I think the Aís are still a year away; judging from their nonchalance around the deadline, I suspect they do too.

ANGELS: B-
The Gant for Bottenfield deal could have been made after the dealine; nobody else wanted either one of those guys. Bottenfield can be usable, but getting him out of town clears the path for the young pitchers, and Gant isnít quite so finished that he couldnít hit better down the stretch than Scott Speizio. The best you can say is that the Angels arenít fooling themselves about being serious contenders, so they're doing this on the cheap.

RANGERS: B-
The Rangers were quieter than perhaps they should have been -- they didnít deal Wetteland -- but the Segui/Ledee move seems like a decent gamble in going for youth. I can easily understand if the Rangers arenít really sure what their strengths and weaknesses are until they get better medical prognoses on their many hobbled players.

AL EAST

YANKEES: A+
$@!#@ Yankees did it again. They managed to get a couple of good players, rather than great ones, in Neagle and Justice, and Glenallen ďSpidermanĒ Hill gives them a proven righthanded hitter who mercifully wonít have to use his iron glove. Of the guys they gave up for Neagle, only Yarnall is likely to contribute anything at all before 2002. Jackson Melian seems like your classic AAS ballplayer: Athlete Awaiting Skills. Heís young enough that he might learn to play the game, but then he might not. The Indians found more immediate help in Ricky Ledee and Jake Westbrook, but those guys were not going to hold down steady jobs in the Bronx, ever.

Some Yankee fans were upset (in a ďHey, thereís a paint chip on my MercedesĒ kind of way) that they didnít bring home a superstar, and the Yanks do still have some legitimate holes, like the offensive cavities at first and third. But with the collective bargaining agreement coming up and the howls over revenue sharing only getting louder, George has to figure that loading up his team with Sammy Sosas and Juan Gonzalezes is only going to make the Philadelphias and Torontos of the world that much quicker to join Les Miserables de Montreal faction in ganging up on Mr. Big's cable money.

ORIOLES: C-
Well, the Oís got the first step down: they are no longer in denial. They are no contender and no closer to being a contender. In that sense, the moves they made make sense; the next time a championship flag is raised over Camden Yards, Surhoff, Bordick, Timlin, Baines and Will Clark will all be retired.

Unfortunately, they only got the housecleaning concept right; they forgot to get anyone in return. Luis Rivera (obtained in the Surhoff deal) is supposed to be a prospect, but I have yet to see anyone get a pitcher from the Braves and find the guy completely healthy (ask Jim Bowden how long it took to get Denny Neagle back in form). The guys the Mets gave up are mildly useful. At 28, Melvin Mora doesnít have long to learn the ropes, but for a team out of contention itís worth spending two months to see if Mora can learn to play shortstop. He hits well enough to play there but not to play center field regularly, and if he canít learn thereís every indication that Bordick will come back to Baltimore next year to fill in until permanent help arrives. Leslie Brea (the typical wild fireballer, walking six men per nine innings in AA ball) and Mike Kinkade (a guy who hits for average with a little power and plays several positions almost as well as Pedro Guerrero played them) could be helpful spare parts, but Brea isnít close to ready.

BLUE JAYS: B
The Jays only made one deal of note, which was a disappointment since they have more holes than O.J.ís alibi. They still have gaps in the starting rotation (Iím still waiting to find out what Carpenterís injury is), they still have Alex Gonzalez at short, and now they have Craig Grebeck at second and Marty Cordova in right.

The one deal they made, I like. Steve Trachsel is a solid pitcher, notwithstanding his record the last two years, and heís never been hurt, rare for a starter these days. The guy they gave up, second baseman Brent Abernathy, is supposed to be pretty good, which begs the question of why he wasnít eating Homer Bushís lunch by now.

DEVIL RAYS: B-
I donít really know that much about Abernathy, but Trachsel isn't old and he isn't expensive; if you have to trade a guy like that you have serious financial problems. The Mecir deal also made sense, since good middle relievers on a dismal team are basically pointless and Jesus Colome supposedly has Grade A heat. By contrast, they were unable to unload any of the aging slugs, I mean sluggers, a serious drain on Tampa Bayís budget and ability to develop youngsters. Some days, you just canít get rid of a bomb.

The deal with the Mets wasnít totally awful; Jason Tyner is several years younger than Bubba Trammell, and Paul Wilson might maybe turn back into a pitching prospect with some patience. Right now, though, Iíd rather bet on Dwight Goodenís future than Wilsonís.

I wonder if trading Trammell for Tyner is a sign that the Rays are about to head back in the direction of slap-hitting speedsters and away from power. The Rays are like the guy in your rotisserie league who lost the pennant last year because he had no closer, so this year he goes and buys four of them, none named Mariano Rivera, and the rest of his team stinks. They havenít figured out that just having a plan (speed and defense! No, lumbering power hitters!) isnít enough; you have to show good judgment in getting talented players, and you need people in or entering their prime.

RED SOX: C
The Arrojo deal isnít necessarily a bad deal; it may well improve the Sox. My initial reaction was positive, then skeptical the more I thought about it, as Iíll explain below.

Obviously the short-term key is whether Arrojoís present is more valuable than Roseís future. Granted, Arrojo has not quite been the same since his injury in early 1999, and for all we know he could be older than Luis Tiant, but he does have some tricky stuff and he wasnít half as bad as his numbers look from Colorado. On the road, his ERA was right around the league average, so it would not be unreasonable for him to get turned around and post an ERA around 4.00 the rest of the way. Given Joe Kerriganís record with reclamation projects like Fassero and Schourek and Ramon, there is reason for Sox fans to hope for the best here.

Lansing might also help if used properly. He was a decent player in Montreal who fell off sharply in Colorado. My sense is that, with his chronic back problems, what Lansing needs most is to get away from the grind of playing everyday. Unfortunately, it doesnít look so far like Jimy has figured this out Ė he has been playing everyday so far (granted, with Offerman out) and worse yet, on Tuesday he actually tried batting him LEADOFF! At this pace, Lansing will probably be finished as a major league player by the end of his contract next season.

The cost in players wasnít that high. Iíve always liked Jeff Frye, but his injury record is ghastly. Rose is the opposite: he never distinguished himself as a legitimate prospect, but heís young, healthy and possesses a respectable fastball, so if he can get out of Colorado quickly there is always the outside chance he could develop into a decent pitcher. The problem with this deal isnít who Boston got or gave up; at the end of the day this is not an earthshaking trade. The problem is how it impacts the available alternatives and what it says about the Red Sox.

First, was Arrojo the best available pitcher? I would rather have had Masato Yoshii, who was brilliant down the stretch last year, and beyond Colorado thereís certainly a bigger upside to Ismael Valdes. Second, acquiring a guy like Lansing is fine for the Yankees or Dodgers, but the Red Sox presumably donít have an unlimited budget to eat other teamsí mistakes. Itís bad enough when itís one expensive year (like the Mets bought in Derek Bell), but Lansing will cost them $6 million next season.

Worst of all is Boston's refusal to bite the bullet and pick a few young pitchers to stick in the rotation and live with their ups and downs. Rose just wasnít the right guy, in my opinion, but at least he was given half a shot. But a guy like Okha, for example, has nothing more to prove at AAA; if you gave him a few months in the rotation you could start to get a fix on whether he might survive the jump to the majors. Same with Paxton Crawford and Juan Pena, although itís not the Sox fault that Pena skipped right to the Saberhagen stage of his career. Jerking guys in and out of the rotation after two or three starts is no way to develop young pitchers; thatís the old Steinbrenner method. Ferry in a guy like Schourek -- as we have seen -- and even if heís a hit, after three or four months you need another to re-order another quick-fix guy.

As for the prior acquisitions of Sprague and Gilkey, they fit in with the prevailing theme: bad players that are better than the REALLY bad players they replaced. For a team that seems one or two quality players away from the prize, that isnít enough; the Sox simply did not add a guy who will bring positive value to the club rather than just stanching the bleeding.

And, to top this all off, the Sox go out and get Rico Brogna. Now, Brogna's a good guy and a good fielder, and he was a fine hitter in 1994-95. But let's look at 1999-2000:

Avg Slg Obp OPS
Rico Brogna .273 .441 .329 .770
Mike Stanley .263 .449 .373 .822

And that's without mentioning that Brogna has grounded into 22 double plays in that stretch to Stanley's 9, in just 89 more plate appearances. Yes, Stanley had Fenway on his side, but this is yet another addition that adds nothing. Brogna gets on base at a rate well below the league average, which is dismal for a first baseman.

In my opinion, Dan Duquette dropped the ball. The Sox could still win the division or the wild card, but it's now a long shot, and they are taking on ballast they don't need. I've been a Duquette fan in the past, but anyone who thinks you win championships by collecting the likes of Sprague, Lansing and Brogna has no business running a contender. Hey, the Cubbies' GM job is open...

QUOTE
ďCorey Lidle is in for the Mets... Lidle is an ancestor of Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamboat.Ē
-- Ralph Kiner

TRIVIA QUESTION
Robin Roberts (twice) held the record for most home runs allowed in a single season, until Bert Blyleven broke it. Who held the record before Roberts?

ANSWER TO LAST WEEKíS TRIVIA QUESTION
Kent Tekulve holds the major league record for most career intentional walks.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:41 AM | Baseball Columns | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)
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