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July 31, 2006
The Abreu Deal...and the Interesting One
Maybe "Stand Pat" wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Pat Gillick, who picked up the moniker for his lack of trading activity during stints with the Blue Jays and Mariners, made a deal yesterday that benefited a team he worked for 30 years ago: the Yankees. By trading Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to New York in exchange for four of the Yankees' downlist prospects, Gillick set his Phillies on a rebuilding path while potentially locking up a postseason spot for the Bronx Bombers.
Christina Kahrl has already shared her take on the trade, and I'm largely in agreement. This was a salary dump, nothing more, and pointing to C.J. Henry's youth and athleticism, or the upside of two Venezuelans playing five levels from the majors, doesn't begin to change that evaluation. You can point to Abreu's limited list of acceptable destinations as a handicap, but Gillick has been trying to clear Abreu's salary from his books from the moment he took the job, and combined with the trade of Jim Thome, he's cleared close to a third of the Phillies' 2007 payroll. To what end is unclear: this isn't a great free-agent winter and the Phillies are going to be more than a quick fix from contention, anyway. If some of this money goes towards locking up Chase Utley and Ryan Howard with Indians-style contracts, that's something, but the Phillies have to add around those two if this trade is to have any payoff.
How's that taxpayer-funded ballpark working out for you, Philadelphia?
It's more apparent what this deal does for the Yankees: it scares the hell out of the Red Sox. Set aside Abreu's power outage and Lidle's averageness, and consider the playing time the two will be assuming. Aaron Guiel (.214/.290/.536) and Andy Phillips (.242/.276/.406) will be sitting down so that Abreu's .277/.427/.434 can play, with Bernie Williams (.280/.326/.428) losing some playing time now and the rest when Hideki Matsui returns. It's 100-150 points of OBP; if Abreu doesn't hit another homer and plays right field like Jim Leyland after two packs, he's still worth two wins between now and October.
It breaks my heart to say this-I'm the guy who calls the 1996-2000 Yankees not the "Derek Jeter" teams but the "Bernie Williams" ones-but Williams isn't a useful player any longer, recent hot streak notwithstanding. I was wrong about his career path; if you look in the BP annuals, you'll see frequent references to how Williams could add power late in his career, especially once he left center field. That never happened; Williams just dropped off at 34 and then again at 36, and he's now not even an adequate extra outfielder. Objectively, Guiel-with lefty sock and good corner defense-has more on-field value to this team. That's not how it will play out, but it's a damning criticism of the player Williams is today.
Lidle replaces Ropey McWaiverbait, the wretched four-headed, zero-out-pitch hydra that racked up 38 runs allowed in 30 innings pitched in June and July. Aaron Small, Shawn Chacon--gee, who knew?--Kris Wilson and Sidney Ponson embarrassed themselves and gave away games every fifth day. Yankee fifth starters have an ERA of 7.73 and have averaged about 4 1/3 innings per start. Lidle doesn't have to be Barry Zito; his six-inning/three- or four-run self will be a considerable upgrade and, like, Abreu, be worth at least two wins over two months compared to the guys he's replacing.
All through July, I stood to the idea that the Yankees wouldn't be able to make a major acquisition because Brian Cashman was committed to keeping Philip Hughes and Jose Tabata in the organization. Without those guys as chips, I didn't see the Yankees as having enough to acquire a player like Abreu, especially with teams like the Dodgers and Angels, with deep farm systems, on the prowl. Well, Cashman did it, and he didn't even trade away the next group of guys, like Steven White or Eric Duncan. Instead, he leveraged the Yankees' cash reserves and negotiated a terrific deal for his team, one that should make them a favorite to reach the playoffs for the 12th straight season.
For all the attention paid to the Abreu deal, I'm not convinced it was the most interesting one made on Sunday. It's been about 12 hours since it crossed by inbox, and I still can't make sense of the Cardinals' decision to trade away Hector Luna for Ronnie Belliard. They got the older, more expensive player, which is par for the course iin late July, but I think they also got the lesser one.
Luna vs. Belliard, 2005 and 2006:
2005 AVG OBP SLG EqA BB SO SB CS FRAA (2B) Luna .285 .344 .409 .272 9 25 10 2 0 Belliard .284 .325 .450 .276 35 72 2 2 +6 2006 AVG OBP SLG EqA BB SO SB CS FRAA (2B) Luna .291 .355 .417 .267 21 34 5 3 -6 Belliard .289 .335 .419 .268 21 44 2 0 -3Luna is 26, Belliard is 31. Luna is athletic and has a good bit of speed. Belliard has lost almost all of his speed, and his body…face it, he looks like Lenny Harris.
Belliard has edges in virtually all counting stats the past two seasons because he's played more than Luna. The Cardinal was a utilityman last year and early this year before playing his way into a big share of the second-base job. When you look at their rate performance, you see that Luna's basically matched him at-bat for at-bat, and Belliard has rated a small edge with the glove, according to Clay Davenport's system.
If the Cardinals are hoping to bat Belliard second, they're in for some problems. He's a slow right-handed hitter who puts the ball on the ground and doesn't draw walks. (Belliard's good batting averages the past two seasons have served to hide the fact that he's just stopped walking: once every 17 PAs or so, about half his career rate entering 2005.) That's a recipe for double plays, not to mention the problems created by using three straight right-handed batters at the top of the lineup, four if Scott Rolen remains in the cleanup spot.
At the very least, the Cardinals have merely shuffled deck chairs, acquiring a veteran in exchange for a comparably-valued, less-experienced player. It's likely that the difference between the two won't even be a win over the last 60 games of the season. That wouldn't make it a good trade for the Cards-they lose out on Luna's peak seasons at low cost-but it would mean they didn't actively hurt themselves. On the other hand, Luna is trending upward, while Belliard seems to be treading water or sliding back. I've been advocating for Luna most of this year, and I won't stop now; he's going to outplay Belliard over the next two months, take hold of the second-base job in Cleveland and be one of the best 2Bs in the AL in 2007. If Jose Lopez and his .317 OBP can be an All-Star, Luna certainly can make next year's team.
With the trade deadline at 4 p.m. ET today, we still haven't had a resolution to the Alfonso Soriano saga. Soriano is the one player I believed would be dealt this weekend, given the market and Jim Bowdon's recent moves. There's apparently been an attempt by the Nationals to sign Soriano, which is an interesting notion, but likely a misguided one. If Soriano really is a left fielder now, he pretty much has to keep having this season to be valuable. Now, he's shown real improvement: by far the best unintentional-walk rate and K/UIBB of his career, and he's made himself an average left fielder. Still, Soriano is the classic free-agent bust waiting to happen: a corner guy hitting the market past the age of 30 and coming off of his best season. At a .310 EqA, he's worth $12 million a season, but what happens when he bats .285, or when he loses 15 steals a year? Those are the things that happen from 31 to 34, and there's little reason to believe Soriano will be immune to that.
Other names in the wind-and believe me, I await the latest submissions from Will Carroll the same as any fan-include Jason Schmidt, Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo and Brad Wilkerson. My best guess is we'll see one more blockbuster, maybe two, and then a whole host of smaller deals for bench help and bullpen arms. Soriano will end up elsewhere, one very good pitcher will change cities, and some GM will come out of the blue-or green-with a deal that no one saw coming.
Maybe, as Rob Neyer covered last week, the action trade deadline ends up having very little impact on the standings. Still, these hours leading up to it are a lot of fun, one of the best parts of being a baseball fan on a year-to-year basis. Here's hoping your favorite team gets just what it needs today.
(I can say that…mine already did.)