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July 31, 2007

Prospectus Today

Day-Before Exchanges

by Joe Sheehan

Three deals were made Monday, the last full day of non-waiver trading before today's 4 p.m. ET deadline. With Mark Teixeira now apparently a Brave-the deal remains unofficial as of this morning-will the removal of the market's biggest bat spur a series of other deals? Here's a look at the three swaps, all involving NL East contenders, completed yesterday.

First, Jon Daniels did what he needed to do, converting his biggest chip, Teixeira, into a solid package of prospects. Jarrod Saltalamacchia will end up as either the AL's best-hitting catcher or an above-average first baseman. The Rangers get two months to develop a preference one way or another. Elvis Andrus may be, as Jay Jaffe alluded, an updated version of Joaquin Arias, but an 18-year-old who's playing in High-A and whose numbers (.244/.330/.335) aren't that far behind the league averages-with a home park that just obliterates offense-is very valuable. Neftali Perez is a hard-throwing upside play, and we should learn today who the second pitcher in the trade is.

I've come around on this deal from the Braves' standpoint. I noted in my chat yesterday, and on radio in Austin, that Saltalamacchia probably would have given the Braves 75-80 percent of Teixeira's production for a lot less cost. I think that underrates Teixeira, in no small part because the defensive difference between the two players is substantial. Saltalamacchia is a converted catcher, while Teixeira is an above-average glove man at first. This assumes the Braves would have gone ahead with Saltalamacchia, rather than continuing to play Julio Franco at first. The gap between Teixeira and Franco can't be measured with existing technology.

This deal also gives the Braves additional lefty depth in Ron Mahay, and in total makes the Braves two, perhaps three wins better over the last two months. Those wins might be the difference in an National League that's bunched together like a peloton. I can't help but think of 1993, when John Schuerholz picked up Fred McGriff from the Padres. McGriff was terrific for the Braves in the second half, proving essential to their one-game win over the Giants in the Last Real Pennant Race. Teixeira doesn't have to lead the Braves to 104 wins to have a similar impact.

The Mets issued a lukewarm response Monday evening by acquiring Luis Castillo from the Twins in exchange for two non-prospects. It was an interesting decision given how well Ruben Gotay has been playing. Gotay is over his head, to be sure, and may require a platoon partner, but the true gap between he and Castillo isn't that large, and Castillo comes with all kinds of reliability issues. What this deal should do is make the Mets lineup flow better, as Castillo will bat second and give the Mets a nice OBP boost over what Paul Lo Duca had been providing, or what Lastings Milledge is likely to. I'm just not sure it makes them all that much better.

The cost, however, was so low that it's essentially a free rental. I'm not sure why Terry Ryan would accept such a limited return on Castillo. Dustin Martin is an over-aged outfield prospect taken low in the 2006 draft. He's struck out once every four at-bats in the Florida State League while hitting just five home runs and posting a .134 isolated power. At best, he could be a fourth or fifth outfielder in the majors, and there's a better chance that he never makes the majors than that he contributes to a major league team. Drew Butera, son of ex-Twins catcher Sal, is a backup-catcher prospect with an odd mix of offensive skills, a decent defensive reputation, and no speed. Essentially, the Twins dealt Castillo for a couple of organization guys. I can understand making that trade On August 31, or even at 3:56 p.m. this afternoon, but I don't know why you make it yesterday. It's not like the offer wouldn't be there today.

The Phillies completed the set of NL East deals by trading Matt Maloney to the Reds for Kyle Lohse. Yes, Virginia, Kyle Lohse is, right now, the best starting pitcher to change teams this year. Lohse is a back-end starter, a 5.00-ERA guy whose stuff has always outstripped his performances. That the Phillies would trade for him tells you all you need to know about their roatation-does anyone remember when they had six starting pitchers?-and their prospects for improving it. Maloney is a performance prospect, a college lefty who, despite being a big guy, tops out below 90. I might call him a left-handed Will Inman, except that Maloney has actually pitched well at Double-A. He could grow up to be a back-end guy, and given that the Reds were going to lose Lohse at the end of the year, a decent return.

With about three hours to go before the deadline, Eric Gagne is the biggest name in the wind, coveted by the Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox. Jon Daniels has to move him, because there's no rational argument for making a long-term commitment to him after the season. Gagne threw 14 innings in 2005 and 2006, and as good as he is when healthy, he's going to be an uninsurable risk this offseason. Gagne will be the biggest name, and best player, dealt today.

I suspect will see a flurry of smaller deals, as teams turn their attention away from the big names as 4 p.m. draws closer and try to make some improvements on the margins. The Nationals, Royals, Pirates, and Giants all have impending free agents who would be more valuable to teams playing meaningful games.

Check out the trade deadline chat all afternoon at Baseball Prospectus. We'll have John Perrotto and Kevin Goldstein taking you up to the deadline with the latest rumors, and then Nate Silver and Christina Kahrl come in at 4 p.m. to break down everything that happens.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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