July 29, 2006
Right Idea, Lousy Execution
Well, thanks to Doug Melvin for letting me get yesterday's column posted before pulling the trigger on a Carlos Lee trade. Unfortunately for Melvin and the Brewers, the deal he made didn't quite achieve the necessary goals. In dealing Lee for established major leaguers while including a prospect in the trade, Melvin split the baby, acknowledging the Brewers needed to get some value for the probably departing Lee but unable to make a move that would signal the obvious: that he needs to worry about 2007, not 2006.
The trade just doesn't make the 2007 team much better, if at all. They'll have the opportunity to retain Kevin Mench through the arbitration process, and Mench looks for all the world like a non-tender candidate, a corner outfielder who hasn't hit all that well outside of Arlington. Francisco Cordero--who other than Thursday's meltdown against the Yankees has pitched very well for three months--is an upgrade in the bullpen with a cheap contract option for '07. The other two pieces are of little value: a failed center-field prospect in Laynce Nix, and a possibly live left arm--but one who's 21 years old in low-A ball-in Julian Cordero.
Judging whether a trade is good or not in the absence of specific information about what offers were not accepted is a dangerous game. It is possible that this package from the Rangers was the best Melvin could do, and therefore represents the maximum return on Lee. Given that there were still 72 hours to go until the deadline, and there are 20-odd teams out there trying to make the postseason, I'm inclined to believe that this wasn't. Melvin wanted to have it both ways: be free of the possibility that Lee could leave, while avoiding the perception that he was giving up on the chance of a 2006 playoff run.
While an easier sell to a long-suffering fan base, the trade doesn't accomplish any goal beyond public relations. The Brewers aren't any better today-the downgrade from Lee to Mench (who arguably shouldn't even play ahead of Corey Hart) is significant, and the presence of Cordero doesn't make up for it-and won't be better in '07. Giving up Nelson Cruz in the swap is hard to explain. Cruz himself might be a better player than Mench; the two are at least of a type, right-handed power bats with middling OBPs and moderate defensive value, and Cruz would make just six figures for at least the next 2˝ seasons.
With Hart and Cruz around, there was no need to acquire a right-handed corner-outfield bat to replace Lee. Mench is just fodder, acquired to sustain the illusion that the Brewers are contenders rather than actually make the team one. This was a terrible deal by Doug Melvin, really his first clunker since he took over the team.
As bad a job as Melvin did, that's how good this deal look for the Rangers, who basically dealt Cordero to upgrade from Mench to Lee in their lineup. Unless you're Wayne Krivsky, you always trade set-up relievers for everyday players. It was a mild surprise to see the Rangers trading pitching for hitting, but this deal is good enough to justify their doing so. There's still time for them to pick up a pitcher or two to fill out the bullpen in front of Akinori Otsuka, even if they have to do so in August. I don't know if this deal makes the Rangers the favorite in the AL West, but it closes the small gap between them and the two teams above them in the standings.