July 3, 2007
Transaction Analysis Special
Cunningham was one of the better position player prospects in the White Sox chain, so getting him for something of an organizational-filler type represents a minor coup for the Snakes. Richar isn't worthless, but he also isn't gifted with a lot of star potential, not in a system that stole Alberto Callaspo from the Angels and which also has to figure out Mark Reynolds' eventual infield home. They're already into the range of having to ask themselves what benefit there is to offering Orlando Hudson arbitration this winter, or whether they might not be better off non-tendering or dealing him, so even though Richar was already up to Triple-A, he wasn't gifted with a great future within the organization. In contrast, Cunningham could end up hitting his way into an already-talented future-minded outfield with Chris B. Young, Carlos Quentin, Carlos Gonzalez and Justin Upton. Quality outfielders can end up paying off in spades, and if Cunningham develops beyond being "just" an exceptionally disciplined hitter who delivers base hits and generates walks, he'll end up making the White Sox look really bad.
That said, the question is whether he'll develop or not. He's only 21 and already in High-A, and hitting .294/.376/.476 in the Carolina League is really promising. However, it doesn't involve a lot of doubles--which might project to more damage as he fills out--nor does it involve a lot of homers, so while he's patient enough to draw walks in 11 percent of his PA this year, and relatively quick (stealing 22 bags in 30 attempts), he's also a non-center fielder with offensive skills that must improve if his bat is going to play in a corner in the big leagues. It's sort of the same quandary the Sox faced when they had Jeff Abbott coming up; minor-league hitting machines are all well and good, but what do you do with them if they can't consistently slug better than .450 in the big leagues? It's worthwhile to invest in finding out if Cunningham can beat that rap, especially considering his age, and also considering what the Snakes had to give up to get him. All told, another nifty deal pulled off by Josh Byrnes.
I really like this exchange, but then I'm much more optimistic about Ledezma's upside as a potential starter than I am McBride's, so if the Braves were willing to ponder a future with McBride starting ballgames, they're better off plugging Ledezma into that same wishcast. Perhaps I'm being overly optimistic about his potential as a starter, but he did deliver four winnable starts in 2006, including solid games against the Yankees, Indians and Angels. I know, it's easy to play games with those sorts of splits, but I don't think simple splits between how he does after 30 or 50 pitches tell us the whole story. If the guy hasn't had his arm stretched out by regular rotation work, of course he's going to run out of steam. Admittedly, he opened the year in the Mudhens rotation, but then he spent a couple of months in Jim Leyland's "Ignore" bin. I know that this seems like a lot of special pleading, and frankly, it is; I think Ledezma's good enough to take seriously as a starter, especially in a world that takes Horacio Ramirez seriously in that very role. If the Braves "only" get a solid lefty reliever out of the deal, in exchange for one whose maddening control problems had probably eliminated him from consideration for a team in the playoff hunt, again, that's an upgrade, albeit one in a relatively minor key.
Chicago White Sox
It may seem as if madness takes many forms, and that you might have to hope that this is a mistake of the South Sea Bubble variety instead of something more in the uncorrectable dementia department. However, I see this as a not-so-terrible move by Kenny Williams. For the sake of argument, what's Richar for? It seems to me he's the obvious near-ready replacement at second base for Tadahito Iguchi, and that this is a transaction that gives Williams a solid fallback position at second if he deals Iguchi at the deadline and if the Sox decide to punt on their contractual provision with Iguchi that forces them to make him an offer or let him become a free agent by the end of the calendar year.
That's the concept in abstract, but is Richar up to it? The Dominican is doing well at Triple-A this season (.285/.348/.479 at the time of the trade), but keep in mind that he's already 24, and that he's a beneficiary of a hitter-friendly park, hitting .310/.380/.517 in Tucson versus .261/.313/.445 everywhere else in the PCL. He's not an exceptional second baseman, but since he was once toolsy enough to get time at short and third, there's a reasonable possibility that he might become better than most as opposed to better than some. Generally speaking, I don't think it works, but I guess teasing out the prospective logic behind it--a prospective Iguchi replacement for an outfielder who might only exasperate to the same extent that Ryan Sweeney has--at least helps us understand what's going on here. It's not a great deal, but if Cunningham's power doesn't blossom, there no real harm done. The real damage will come with a failure to get value for Iguchi, and if the Sox don't achieve that, then they wind up down one prospect and worse off at the keystone. There's still a good month to seven or eight weeks to see if Williams realizes the full value on this particular daisy chain.
At what price chemistry? I know that Barrett's reputation had been reduced to his being some sort of hellish combination between Clint Courtney's winsome charm and Mike Heath's game-calling atrocities, but still, this strikes me as a major mistake. I also have a hard time reconciling Barrett's reputation for being one of the more amiable guys when it comes to signing baseballs for kids to this stuff, so I really can't say if this is all his fault, some portion of his fault, or if fighting with the pitchers is going to be something that comes up with other guys on the staff. It's pretty much a straight loss as far as talent behind the plate, and barring some sort of happy accident as far as catcher ERAs-considering how little evidence there is to suggest that there's a measurable game-calling skill-there's almost nothing to support that this is going to work out on any level. That the Cubs are paying a wild card rival to emply a better catcher than anyone they have, and in exchange get the modest prospect-y virtues of Burke... I suppose that tells you all you need to know about the state of Cubbydom, doesn't it now? I guess the best thing to say is that at 19, Burke has plenty of time to learn how to stop striking out in 30 percent of his plate appearances.
I guess the major problem with this move for me is that it creates another lineup problem on a team that doesn't know what it's doing in the outfield, and still has something of clutterbuck at short. Bowen's kind of funny in that he's had very up and down career. He was once seen as a top catching prospect after an outstanding age-20 season in the Midwest League, hitting .255/.321/.452 in 2001, only to follow that up by cratering in 2002 with a plunge that might conjure up visions of Jeff Goldbach among particularly nervous Cubs fans. Bowen rallied enough again in 2003 in making his leap to the upper levels to earn a big league call-up, imploded again in 2004, had to settle for splitting time in Rochester with Chris Heintz and Corky Miller in 2005, and finally escaped the Twins' organization when first Minnesota and then Detroit couldn't slip him through waivers at the end of spring training in 2006. He did well enough as the Padres' third catcher last season, finishing games and drawing pinch-running duties, but I guess I just don't see the tremendous offensive upside that might make him the significant improvement on Henry Blanco or Koyie Hill that this club needs in a post-Barrett lineup.
That might seem harsh, but then again, the performance record is spread so far over the map that it's hard to draw meaningful comparisons. I think it's interesting that Bowen hasn't drawn many useful comps via PECOTA, but when you alternate usefulness and crippling broken-bat seasons the way that Bowen has, it's hard to know what to take seriously about him. I'm inclined to make a facile comparison to Geno Petralli, another survivor type behind the plate who had switch-hitting as his primary offensive virtue, and who subsequently acquired an outsized offensive reputation because he had the good fortune to be in the major leagues for the offensive explosion of 1987. Unlike Petralli, though, Bowen's particularly athletic for a catcher, which is interesting in that "fast for a catcher" sort of way for those of us who still remember John Stearns fondly.
Behind the plate, Bowen gets credit for being a much more smooth receiver than Barrett, but it isn't like he's got Blanco's arm strength. Like most solid catch-and-throw types, he struggled to throw out baserunners while working with a Pads rotation that's mostly indifferent to what's happening on the basepaths behind them. So, however concretely the problems with having Michael Barrett catch affected the staff, they don't seem to get a huge boost behind the plate any more than they have at it. In short, this was a terrible trade on the face of it, with the only potential upside coming from some notional addition by subtraction. Even in this very unusual circumstance, I'm not buying.
This is definitely a mixed bag, and while I'm not really wild about exchanging Ledezma for McBride, I guess the move does have the advantage of buying the Tigers more time on the service-time clock when it comes to a primary bullpen lefty. Bobby Seay is doing really good work in the situational role already (holding them to .122/.140/.195 already), and McBride has the talent to be the kind of high-end lefty reliever that might help the Tigers out of their relief quandary. The problem is that McBride's wildness issues earlier this season bordered on Blassian, and while things have seemed more solid since he came back up from Richmond (only four walks in 15 innings for the Braves and Tigers, against 16 strikeouts), I think that has to be a concern going forward. He's thriving in situational work (again), so adding him does mean that the Tigers now have a solid pair of situational guys, but there is the hope that McBride can handle longer assignments in the same way that Ledezma did. It's a risk, and a pretty straightforward challenge trade, but if it works, the Tigers get that added benefit of extra service time, on top of whatever scouting coup they might have pulled off if McBride's wildness is permanently a thing of the past.
Much more impressive was getting Capellan so cheaply. If there's one thing the Tigers' pen was lacking, especially since Joel Zumaya's injury, it was somebody who could overpower people at the plate. Capellan has the fastball to do it, and he's understandably chuffed over how he was treated by the Brewers, so maybe pitching angry for another contender will give him that element of Juan Berenguer-style vengefulness that comes into play in the World Series. Okay, that's getting ahead of myself, but again, Capellan's very much a quality arm, and adding him to the Tigers' ailing pen this cheaply was a nifty pickup.
By pouting over his demotion to Triple-A, Capellan had made himself persona non grata, and however justified his exasperation with the organization may well be, it didn't help. What the Beermen get for their troubles is a soft-tossing curveball artist who may or may not be able to survive the jump up to Double-A. In short, it's a waste. The Brewers took a pitcher who gave them good work in 2006, needlessly alienated him because they were putzing around with filler types like Elmer Dessens and Chris Spurling, and wound up getting an aspiring organizational soldier type for him. The Brewers may be riding high at the moment, but that's not exactly the ideal way to run your talent, and just because they managed to steal Capellan for an overdone Danny Kolb is no reason to subsequently deride Capellan.
Awfully charitable of them, don't you think? In all seriousness, these sorts of small favors can represent an intimation of a certain comfort level in working with another general manager, so I guess the message to take from this for Nats and Twins fans is that a subsequent deadline deal between the two to help Terry Ryan's team chase the Tribe shouldn't be overly surprising.
Well, this is all interesting. While I don't think we can elevate the Bradley dump to Jeremy Giambi status as a deal made for non-baseball reasons, it's clearly not just a matter of talent. I'm not pleased about this, in no small part because of how fond I was of Bradley for his work in the ALCS last year, but I also don't have to work with the guy day in and day out. The A's clearly had, and still have, an outfield crunch, and somebody had to come out of the picture, even with Travis Buck's nagging hurts, and Chris Snelling's perennial perch on the DL. I've advocated discarding Shannon Stewart, but Stewart heated up at the right time, and seems to be the semi-sorta favorite to keep sharing time with Buck in one outfield corner, while Nick Swisher handles the other, and Mark Kotsay absorbs most of the playing time in center. I would rather have had Kotsay in a reserve role, and given Bradley every benefit of the doubt as the near-everyday starter in center field. However, considering Bradley's bad wheels, that admittedly sounds better in theory than it would have probably worked on the field.
So, if Bradley can't play center, and you're happier with what you're getting from Trannon Stewbuck, on some level, the question becomes whether or not you'd rather have Dan Johnson or Bradley in the lineup, with Swisher's most-frequent position dependent on your answer. Me, I'd almost reflexively rather have Bradley, but consider what PECOTA's baseline projections for the two of them were before the season:
Player AVG/ OBP/ SLG/ EqA HR VORP (Position) Bradley .270/.355/.442/.282 15 10.9 (RF) Johnson .267/.364/.450/.290 15 12.1 (1B)
That's a lot closer than I expected. Johnson is more valuable relative to other first basemen than Bradley is relative to other right fielders, the weighted mean projection slightly favors Johnson despite his past struggles, and he's been outplaying Bradley this season. Add in that Bradley is a pain to have around, and that the DL-related mayhem has 40-man roster spots at a premium, and my first-blush response--"man, that seems hasty or dumb"--is off-base. Whether through injury or attitude, Bradley has become a fungible ballplayer instead of a premium talent, and when the A's decided that enough was enough, he was affordably ditchable.
Scrabbling after relief help under the current extremities the A's are operating under is a little more obviously understandable. I've always had a weak spot for Van Buren, so I'm happy to see him get a shot here; it beats the doofing around with Jay Witasick or Colby Lewis or Ruddy Lugo. While his reliance on his slider and the absence of movement on his fastball has kept him something of a bass-ackwards right-hander, I'd still almost rather take my chances on the unknown quantity over the reliably bad. As for Brown, he was the big, sketchy, hard-throwing throw-in from the Indians on the Kouzmanoff/Barfield exchange this past winter, and was shining in Portland before the deal, striking out one out of every three right-handed hitters he faced while mowing them down at a .141/.223/.188 clip. Life against lefties, on the other hand, promises a future as a ROOGY-PCL lefties were belting him around (.311/.415/.533), and that isn't likely to get better in the major leagues. Still, a situational right-hander has value. If you could mesh Van Buren's slider with Brown's ability to overpower hitters, that would equal one great reliever, but even just adding two puzzle pieces to a complicated jigsaw pen helps.
Finally, ditching Melhuse for Suzuki puts a smile on my face. While Suzuki might not become a great player, he's an outstanding catch-and-throw guy with solid on-base skills, sort of a better version of Mike Redmond in my most dreamy wishcasts; A's fans might happily settle for a better-defensive version of Gerald Laird. As an alternative to Jason Kendall, and perhaps even as the essential backup catcher in any scenario that has Mike Piazza catching once he's reactivated, I like the possibilities. While you might expect that the roster space crunch will almost certainly force Suzuki back to Sacramento once Piazza's back, ditching Bradley might indicate that nobody's completely safe, and if Suzuki continues to hit when he gets to start, that might make things very interesting indeed.
St. Louis Cardinals
Sometimes the concept of replacement level doesn't do a relative improvement justice. In the abstract, adding a fourth starter like Maroth might not seem like such a big deal. Maroth is barely above replacement level as a starter (3.6, with a Tiger staff-worst SNLVA of -0.7), so he might not seem like the one you want when it comes to fixing up your rotation. But when you're replacing Kip Wells, and you're getting a 16-point swing in VORP and a difference of more than a win in Support-Neutral terms, an exchange that takes you from implacable failure to reliable mediocrity, that's a major improvement. Wells had given the Cardinals three quality starts in 15, and one in his last 12, while Maroth had delivered four in 13 in the DH league, and then promptly rewarded Walt Jocketty's latest bit of bargain-hunting with another in his Cardinals debut. Add in that he's coming over to the DH-less league, and you can reasonably expect Maroth to improve on his early performance. This isn't a brilliant move as much as a necessary one, and another example of Jocketty's ability to get something that improves his ballclub despite what very little he has to offer other GMs in trade. The PTBNL will have to be decided by September, but I wouldn't expect it to be from among the front ranks of the Cardinals' prospect inventory.
San Diego Padres
There's nothing wrong with being the cleaner of major league baseball, and while images of Kevin Towers as Leon might keep Ned Colletti up nights, let's face it, the Padres are deal with other people's problems by taking them on as their own responsibility, and devil take the consequences. Barrett and Bradley might not be charmers, but if there was a point at which we might have suggested that the A's were identifying personality issues as the next big under-appreciated market segment, that's clearly now the Padres' turf. The Barrett deal is just a straightforward steal; if they could cope with Mike Piazza behind the plate last year, they can certainly stomach alternating Barrett with Josh Bard, and if getting free of his combats with the Cubs staff and instead being charged with catching a very experienced rotation doesn't shut up questions about his game-calling, nothing will. While Petco is no place you want to try to get your bat turned around, again, as a part-time alternative to Bard, you could do a lot worse. The Pads are now decisively covered as far as injury-proofing their backstop contributions to their pennant push.
The bigger deal is getting Bradley, because the Pads don't exactly have Mike Cameron flanked by Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. Jose Cruz Jr. has politely fizzed back down to the decent little fourth outfielder he is, Terrmel Sledge has contributed power but not many times on base, while Brian Giles has done the opposite, with his power a mere memory. Now, if the older Giles brother can continue getting on base at a .360-plus clip, he's an asset as a leadoff man, so plugging Bradley--once healthy--into left seems eminently sensible to me. It isn't as if Sledge hasn't flubbed previous opportunities, and in point of fact, Bradley's a year younger than Sledge. While he's perhaps as much if not more of a lightning rod as Barrett, Bradley should be an outstanding upgrade that allows the Pads to employ Russell Branyan pretty much as a pinch-hitter when he isn't spotting for Kevin Kouzmanoff, and Hiram Bocachica primarily as a pinch-runner.
I don't want to wax poetic on the virtues of Melhuse, but I'm glad to see him get a shot at some real at-bats, and plugging him in as Gerald Laird's caddy gives the Rangers a slightly better mix. a switch-hitter who still has some pop behind Laird's more general all-around usefulness (this year's slow starstrikes me as anomalous), plus another guy that Ron Washington is familiar with from their days in Oakland. Stewart isn't the worst backup to have around, but he's a better fit with a team that has a good-hitting regular, and while the Rangers had reason to believe that's what they have in Laird, if they wind up with a more solid arrangement where Melhuse can take the starts against the tougher right-handers, it should help Laird's productivity while buying him some more regular rest behind the plate. As remarkable as first Jim Sundberg and later Ivan Rodriguez were for their durability in handling as much of the catching duties as they did, they rank among the most exceptionally rugged catchers of the last 50 years, and shouldn't be seen as useful in-house suggestions for how much of a workload Laird can handle.
Well, they liked the guy well enough to throw the Twins a minor league free agent, which isn't really all bad or good. Speigner isn't one of the better arms to come out of the prodigious Twins farm system, but in the Nats' chain he's a prospect, and he had his moments coming out of the pen. I'm impressed that the Nats actually put Speigner to work-wags might comment on the extent to which they had little choice, naturally-but they've done likewise with Jesus Flores behind the plate. Having tested Speigner and found him unready, I think it's also a positive to keep him in the organization at this low, low price. Somebody sees something in him, and if the total cost was the money to pick him in the Rule 5 draft plus two months or so of Darnell McDonald's time, that's still a relatively cheap way to indulge your curiosity.