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July 28, 2004

Can Of Corn

Stoking the Trade Fires

by Dayn Perry

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The run-up to the 2004 non-waiver trade deadline has been relatively quiet, at least since the Astros nabbed Carlos Beltran in that June three-way deal with the A's and Royals.

But while we're all waiting with bated breath for the other shoe to teeter and drop, let's look at what's unfolded thus far from a prospect standpoint. Not bloody much, but still...

The Blue Jays last week sent reliever Terry Adams to the Red Sox for Double-A 3B John Hattig. Chris Kahrl has amply deconstructed this swap from Boston's perspective, so I'm going to focus on what Toronto now has in Hattig.

Coming into this season, Hattig, a switch-hitting third baseman, sported a career batting line of .277/.356/.374 in 411 minor league games. The Sox selected him in the 25th round of the 1998 draft, and if things go his way Hattig will be the first native of Guam ever to play in the majors. While Hattig in previous seasons hadn't shown much power, he did draw 171 unintentional walks in 1,695 plate appearances.

This season, things have been better for him. In his first extended look at the high minors, Hattig, prior to the trade, hit .295/.411/.519 in 313 plate appearances for Double-A Portland. Notable, of course, is the power spike. Besides the nice SLG, Hattig also sports an ISO of .224. What's also interesting is that Portland, normally a modest hitter's park, has been an especially unaccommodating environment for Hattig. At Portland, he hit .250/.390/.398, while on the road he hit .338/.431/.632. While some might see that .338 road average and think much of his value might be tied up in that possibly aberrant performance, also notice that his road ISO is a highly robust .294.

Hattig shows good swing mechanics from both sides of the plate, but there's some question as to whether he has the glove to remain at third. He's 6'2", 225 pounds and isn't graced with a quick first step, so a move across the diamond is perhaps likely. If that's the case, the offensive bar will be higher for him.

Hattig also turned 24 in February, so he's a bit old for the Eastern League, and this is the first season he's shown adequate power. Skills growth or fluke? It's impossible to know, but this is nonetheless a promising haul when the cost is merely Adams. If Hattig is able to stick at third and Eric Hinske continues to founder, Hattig could find himself playing a prominent role in Toronto.

***

The Brewers also made an interesting deal in recent days by obtaining 1B/3B Russ Branyan from the Indians for future considerations.

Branyan is a player who's been on stathead radars for what seems like a decade. There's no question that he can hit the snot out of the ball. What sours most organizations on him are his pornographic strikeout totals and defensive lapses at third. Still, he's a guy who proffers tremendous raw power numbers and takes his walks.

Branyan presently ranks fifth in the International League in RARP; while at age 28 his ceiling and opportunity for a meaningful major league career are limited, he can help out in the here and now. That the Brewers nabbed for, in essence, a negligible return swag speaks to his eminent availability. At present, Branyan's serviceable MjEqA of .268 is better than what the Reds, Brewers (incidentally), Padres, Tigers, Giants, Braves, Red Sox, Royals, White Sox, Mariners, Expos, Astros and Diamondbacks have been trotting out to the hot corner for most of the year.

I think that minor league causes celebres like Branyan tend to be overrated as a species (color me unimpressed with regard to Jack Cust, for instance), but Branyan deserves a regular spot in a major league lineup for an extended basis. Now that the Brewers have traded for him and added him to the 25-man roster, Branyan may get another whack at it. Leave it to Doug Melvin, one of the game's most underrated execs, to give him that chance: Branyan batted cleanup and played third last night against the Cubs.

***

Since there's been precious little to analyze thus far, here are a pair of hodgepodge deadline ruminations

  • At present, the Astros are 14 games out in the Central and six games back in the Wild Card race. With Andy Pettitte perhaps headed to the DL for the third time this season with a bum elbow, it seems only reasonable that the Astros will fire a slug into the back of the head of this year's model horse's head and sell off their veterans.

    What's notable is that Beltran, since heading Astro-ward, has done exactly what they'd hoped: provide a hulking defensive upgrade in center and hit like a house afire (.257/.342/.614 since arriving in Houston). The rest of the club, however, has puttered along as they had been pre-Beltran. They're not going to the post-season, and they haven't a scintilla of a chance at re-signing Beltran. Trade him. Then trade Jeff Kent, whose 2005 option they have no intention of picking up, to the Yankees, A's or Cardinals. Cutting bait is in the best interest of the organization, and, heck, someone needs to liven up the deadline.

  • The last thing I am is a deadline drum-beater for the somehow coveted mediocrity that is Kris Benson (or, Jeff Suppan v2.0, if you prefer). However, if there's one team that can use him in the back of the rotation, it's the Twins.

    Brad Radke and Johan Santana have been Cy Young contenders in the front two spots, and Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse have been serviceable. Still, Terry Mulholland's 4.55 R/G doesn't seem likely to hold up. The rumored deal, one that would send Doug Mientkiewicz and Mike Restovich to Pittsburgh, is reasonable. Justin Morneau is fully ready to take over at first and thrive for years to come, Restovich comes from a position of notable depth within the organization (and he's not a future star), and Mientkiewicz, while somewhat underrated by most of us in past seasons, has been an unmitigated cipher in 2004. It's a deal that makes sense for Minnesota, but only because the price for them is nominal and they're not viewing Benson as something he's squarely not, an ace.

    Here's hoping the next few days make the AP newswire beg for mercy.

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