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August 1, 2008

Prospectus Hit List

After the Storm

by Jay Jaffe

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Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor


With the rest of the baseball world focused on the trade deadline, the Cubs take care of business on the field, widening their NL Central lead by sweeping a four-game series with the Brewers in Wrigley North. Rich Harden handles the broom and notches his first win as a Cub; he's got a 1.11 ERA in four starts since being traded. If there's concern to be had, it's that Kerry Wood's blister problem, while providing him with much-needed rest, is taxing replacement closer Carlos Marmol, who's fourth in the league in WXRL but on an 80-appearance pace; he's put up a 6.85 ERA and 7.7 BB/9 over the past two months.


Red Sox
Always With the Drama: Manny Ramirez's two-game absence from last weekend's Yankees series due to his (allegedly phantom) knee tendonitis punches his ticket out of Boston, and the Sox trade him to the Dodgers in a last-minute three-way deal, replacing him with Jason Bay, and surrendering spare parts (Craig Hansen, Brandon Moss, the remainder of Manny's 2008 salary) to round things out. It's a typically ugly end to a favorite Red Sox' career in Boston (see Nomar Garciaparra, Jim Rice, Luis Tiant, et al), accompanied by the swell of house organs to play him off the Beantown stage, and while one can argue Ramirez's skills are on the decline, his production (.299/.398/.529, and in the league's top 10 in OBP, SLG, HR and VORP, not to mention .347/.473/.587 while dogging it in July) is no trivial matter for a newcomer to replace. That said, Bay comes very cheap ($5.75 million this year, $7.5 million next year), is six years younger than Ramirez and a better defender, and he's been one of the NL's top 20 hitters this year. All in all, not a bad pill to make the team's biggest headache go away.


Despite their attempts to acquire Jason Bay falling through after a deal had initially been reported, the Rays still enjoy a three-game cushion in the AL East, and the same bevy of prospects they had on July 31. Even at the cost of prospects Reid Brignac and Jeff Niemann, the deal would have been nice for more beyond the catchy hook of Bay in the Bay; the Rays offense hit just .232/.311/.370 in July, and the lefty-heavy lineup has hit .242/.320/.394 against southpaws this year. In any event, there's hope for help from within, as Rocco Baldelli appears to be nearing a return.


White Sox
Kenny Williams finally gets his man, acquiring longtime trade target Ken Griffey Jr. and handing over the keys to center field. Griffey's approval was said to hinge on returning to his old stomping grounds (we know how picky he can be when it comes to the desire to go home), which means he'll push Nick Swisher to first base and struggling Paul Konerko (.214/.312/.349, and an even worse .209/.274/.284 since returning from injury three weeks ago) to the bench. Though that may not be a popular move, it comes at a negligible cost (Danny Richar and Nick Masset), and in a tight division race, that's a chance worth taking.


Thanks to an 18-6 July, a sweep of the Red Sox, and a 14-0-2 record in their last 16 series against AL clubs, the Halos now have the majors' best record and a double-digit lead in the AL West, so with an eye for October they swap underpowered Casey Kotchman and a live arm for Mark Teixeira. On the one hand, it's a bold move to trade an organizational golden boy for a pending free agent, but Kotchman has been dishing out a thin gruel even for a slick-fielding first baseman (.287/.327/.448), and of course the Angels have the financial clout to re-sign the big slugger should they so decide. Hours after the deal, John Lackey snaps a rocky string (21 runs allowed in a 23 2/3-inning span) to take a no-hitter into the ninth at Fenway Park.


Now 24-15 under Jerry Manuel and having recently spent a week in first place, the Mets stand pat at the deadline, protecting their nearly-bare cupboard of prospects and banking that the likes of Fernando Tatis (.397/.463/.767 in July), Carlos Delgado (.357/.445/.714), and Jose Reyes (.336/.403/.560, haters take note) can maintain their recent production. Their big concern should be the rotation, where John Maine's rotator cuff strain and Mike Pelfrey's workload add to the concerns of a team that's tossed starts to Tony Armas Jr. and Brandon Knight in recent weeks. That Pelfrey's suddenly indispensable counts as good news, not bad; he's put up a 3.01 ERA and seven quality starts out of his last 12, and now ranks second on the staff to Johan Santana in SNLVAR.


The Yankees roar out of the All-Star break with eight straight wins, including a series victory over the Red Sox, and with so much sound and fury emanating from their rivals up north, Brian Cashman plays the Stealth Bomber and quietly lands Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte, and Ivan Rodriguez. The first two come at a cost of three-fifths of their Triple-A rotation (but not Ian Kennedy) plus struggling prospect suspect Jose Tabata, while the latter deal covers for the decision to end Jorge Posada's season and relieves them of Kyle Farnsworth, who despite his recent string of nine no-hit innings and 11 consecutive scoreless outings was still yielding 2.2 HR/9. Both moves beef up the right side of the lineup (the Yanks are slugging .397 versus lefties), and if Pudge isn't exactly in his prime, his .271 EqA is his best since 2004, he's throwing out 36 percent of baserunners, and he still rates as a plus defender (8 FRAA). Like the Bobby Abreu deal two years ago, these slam-dunk moves give an aging, expensive team with no firm grip on a postseason spot a fighting chance, which after their slow start is all they can ask for.


Jostling for position, the Phillies retake the NL East lead by beating up on the division's two non-contenders to help erase the sour taste of going 2-4 against the Marlins and Mets the week before. Brett Myers offers improved results in his second start back from the minors (7 4 1 0 1 2), but hey, it's the Nationals, and if that's not enough to unsettle the stomach regarding the Phillies' middling rotation" then consider Joe Blanton's ugly numbers (8 11 7 7 4 2) in his two starts since being acquired.


Having padded their bench with Tony Clark and stolen Jon Rauch from the Nationals earlier this month, the Snakes pass the deadline quietly. The good news is that they've righted themselves, with a 14-11 July representing their first winning month since April, and their two-game lead in the NL West their biggest in a month. While Micah Owings has been sent down, the Brandon Webb-Dan Haren tandem is back in full force, combining for a 2.28 ERA, 74/15 K/BB, and 10 quality starts out of 11. Haren actually has 11 in a row himself, a span during which he's put up a 1.62 ERA.


Blue Jays
In which J.P. Ricciardi attempts to deke any remaining Jays fans by pretending his team is still in the race, holding onto A.J. Burnett and making an ultimately unsuccessful run at Raul Ibañez. If there's good news to be had in Toronto, it's that Adam Lind is still a part of the franchise, though his .379/.396/.644 July raises an uncomfortable question, namely how much better the Jays' season would look if he'd gotten more than 44 plate appearances over the first three months while the team's other left fielders were hitting a combined .233/.321/.310. Yeah, Slic Ric may want to ignore that question...


Having completed their summer shopping, the Brewers fall flat on their faces given the chance to overtake the Cubs, losing four straight at home to the NL Central leaders and five in a row overall by a combined score of 42-17. Rickie Weeks' struggles on offense and defense place him squarely in the crosshairs these days; he's hitting .213/.313/.369 against righties, and at best may deserve only the short half of a platoon with newly acquired Ray Durham. Still, on the heels of a 16-11 July that has them one game out of the wild-card spot, this is hardly the end of the world for the Brew Crew.


With their deadline deals long since done, the A's have lost 12 out of 14 and appear to be playing out the string. The considerably thinned rotation has been bombed lately, with Greg Smith and Dana Eveland combining for a 6.03 ERA and 32/32 K/BB ratio in July, though Sean Gallagher (3.22 ERA and 9.3 K/9) has pitched well since being acquired. Perhaps the most interesting development is in the bullpen, where Brad Zeigler has set a record with 30 consecutive scoreless innings to start his major-league career; the sidearming reliever is getting double plays at an absurdly high rate of 50 percent.


In or Out? It's tough to read the Tigers' intentions. Their sole trade sends Ivan Rodriguez to the Yankees for Kyle Farnsworth—a swap of pending free agents that saves cash but leaves the Tigers with Brandon Inge as their starting catcher, hearkening back to the pre-Pudge nadir when the team made a run at the 1962 Mets. The impetus is to shore up a bullpen that's 11th in WXRL, with Todd Jones out of the closer role and DL-bound after an 11.23 ERA and three blown saves in his last 13 outings. Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya have been erratic since returning (30 walks in 37 combined innings), while Farnsworth returns to the scene of the crime, the spot where two good months in a ballpark more suited to his, um, talents back in 2005 netted him a three-year deal that he never lived up to. Good luck with that one.


The Brewers have traded for CC Sabathia and the Cubs for Rich Harden, but the Cardinals hope to draw an ace from their existing deck with the return of Chris Carpenter. With just two starts under his belt in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, Carpenter makes an encouraging 2008 debut (4 5 1 1 2 2) and helps the Redbirds retake the Wild Card lead. Less inspiringly, they restore Jason Isringhausen to the closer role, a move borne more out of frustration with Ryan Franklin's horrendous stretch (11 2/3 innings, 20 hits, 10 runs, five homers) than Izzy's recent performance (6.23 ERA in July).


Free Francisco? The Twins make no moves at the deadline and continue to ignore the top upgrade available to them, the recall of Francisco Liriano from Triple-A. Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Liriano got off to a rough start early this season, but over the last two months, he's 10-0 with a 2.67 ERA and 80/13 K/BB ratio in 70 2/3 innings at Rochester. He's healthy, and his arbitration clock has been sufficiently gamed to avoid Super-Two status, leaving the suggestion that his exile is punishment for his failure to communicate with the team over the condition of his arm. It may not matter much in the grand scheme, with Alexi Casilla lost for the year due to a torn ligament in his right thumb; his .313/.351/.424 was good for third on the team in VORP, and the team was 36-24 with him in the lineup, 23-24 without.


Ned Being Ned: The Dodgers pull off a buzzer-beater to land the deadline's biggest impact player in Manny Ramirez, but the road they take to get there smacks of GM Ned Colletti's desperation to save his job. His trade for Casey Blake costs him a pair of decent prospects and sounds the organizational death knell for perpetually-mothballed blue-chipper Andy LaRoche, who drew just 15 starts and 59 at-bats in six weeks on the roster—zero points to Joe Torre here—having fallen behind slumping Blake DeWitt in the pecking order. The trade of LaRoche and 2006 first-rounder Bryan Morris brings them a two-month rental of the slugger they desperately lack in Ramirez, but leaves Torre in the unnatural (for him) position of marginalizing the expensive and ineffective Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones, or (more typically) the young, productive, and increasingly frustrated Andre Ethier, and—if merit is involved—at best leaves them with the frightening defensive alignment of Ramirez-Kemp-Ethier. Welcome to Dysfunction Junction.


White Flag: With Chipper Jones and Tim Hudson hitting the DL and the latter likely headed for Tommy John surgery, the Braves cry "Uncle!" by trading Mark Teixeira to the Angels for Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek. It's a meager return given the bounty they surrendered for Tex a year ago, but they had little choice but to punt given their latest five-game losing streak, the avalanche of staff injuries that has keyed their 6-23 record in one-run games, and the fact that practically nothing has gone right for them all year.


Their run differential says they've got no business to be within hailing distance of first place, yet the Marlins persist as some Non-Giving-Up School Guy, taking series from the Cubs and Mets on the week. They fall short in their run to land big fish Manny Ramirez, but their battered rotation, 15th in the league in SNLVAR—gets a boost with the return of Anibal Sanchez, who's solid (5.2 6 2 2 2 4) in his first start in 15 months following shoulder surgery. Also pitching well lately: Chris Volstad (2.38 ERA through four big-league starts) and Ricky Nolasco (2.88 ERA and eight quality starts in his last 10).


Though they reach their high-water mark with respect to .500 and finish the month with a 13-12 record, the Rangers find themselves firmly in 2008's also-ran category, 12 1/2 games out of first place in the AL West. As potent as there offense has been—they lead the majors in runs per game (5.6) and EqA (.279) while claiming three of the league's top five hitters in VORP—the pitching staff has been even more porous, allowing a major-league worst 5.9 runs per game and a whopping 7.0 in July. The rotation combines for a 7.45 ERA for the month, paced by Vicente Padilla's 6.35, though some blame falls to a defense that conspires to yield a .347 BABIP with those poor saps on the mound.


Their season in tatters, the Indians make a solid pair of moves to build for the future, snagging Anthony Reyes on the cheap from the Cardinals and shipping Casey Blake to the Dodgers for pitcher Jonathan Meloan and catcher Carlos Santana (oye como va!). Blake's departure creates a vacancy that will test Andy Marte, whose July numbers were starting to look major league before a 3-for-22 swoon served the usual reminder about small sample sizes; he's still carrying a .195/.253/.335 line through 437 big-league plate appearances, and this may be the former top prospect's last real bid for a career beyond the fringes.


The thrum of deadline activity can be felt in many places, but not Baltimore, where Andy MacPhail holds onto Brian Roberts (biiiig surprise) and George Sherrill ("The Orioles want teams to pay for a guy with 30 saves, teams are offering for a guy with the other numbers of a decent middle reliever," says one front-office type). But then it's all about the waiver bait with this club, because deals for the likes of Kevin Millar (.245/.343/.419), Melvin Mora (.249/.314/.424) and Jay Payton (.244/.280/.373) are sure to bring a king's ransom in the kind of Grade-D Staff Filler that has the O's second-to-last in the league in SNLVAR and combined Win Expectancy.


A 17-10 July has the Rockies entertaining delusions of contention, so they hold onto the much-sought Brian Fuentes and Matt Holliday. Not that they shouldn't be buoyed by recent developments such as Ubaldo Jiminez's 1.74 ERA in July, Chris Iannetta's emergence as the team's top catcher (.276/.378/.537), Troy Tulowitzki's 20-for-36 tear since returning from his second DL stint, Ian Stewart's 18-for-42 tear since returning from the minors, or an offense that cranks out 6.o runs per game for the month in the absence of Todd Helton. It's just that the Rox are 12 games under .500 and eight games out; betting on lightning to strike again even in a relatively weak division is a surefire recipe for disappointment.


Fresh off a four-game winning streak, the Royals are thinking contention, so they stand pat at the deadline. Okay. They're not thinking contention, but they are 28-25 since May 31, dead even with the Red Sox in that span and just two games behind the Rays. That's not so much a function of the lineup, where Mike Aviles (.330/.355/.536) and David DeJesus (.310/.376/.503) are the only hitters with an OPS above 800 in that span. Nor is it the rotation, three-fifths of which has put up ERAs above 5.00 over those two months, with Gil Meche (3.09) and Kyle Davies (4.58) the exceptions. Which leaves the bullpen, where the big three of Ron Mahay, Ramon Ramirez, and Joakim Soria has put up a 2.33 ERA since May, and the unit, aside from Jimmy Gobble's 10-run turkey, has been solid (3.81 ERA).


The diagnosis of Ed Wade's senile dementia is confirmed, and while he avoids the social faux pas of using the laundry hamper as an outhouse, his amusingly befuddled brain cooks up a scheme to follow his Randy Wolf doozy with a perplexing deal for LaTroy Hawkins. Yes, their 20-34 record since May 27 notwithstanding, once that rusted jalopy gets some fuzzy dice, this team will be doing 90 on the interstate to the promised land.


The Reds unload Junior Griffey in a deal of minimal impact, but Adam Dunn stays in place, drawing only minimal interest even coming off a monster July (.310/.381/.762) in which his 12 homers push him into the major-league lead with 32. That's not just a product of home park; he's got 16 on the road, and is hitting .245/.391/.601 there, compared to .241/.380/.534 at home.


Attempting to hit a six-run homer with a dead mackerel and thus rebuild their system over the course of a weekend, the Mariners wind up holding the bag on both Raul Ibañez and Jarrod Washburn—to say nothing of Erik Bedard and Adrian Beltre—when the deadline bell rings. Flush with waiver bait, they do manage one deal, shipping ancient Arthur Rhodes to the Marlins in exchange for 22-year-old Gaby Hernandez, a once-promising hurler who's been felled by an intracostal strain and a case of high-altitude sickness known as the Albuquerque Flu (7.24 ERA and 1.9 HR/9). With little to recommend the bleak present, the team appears ready to convert acting closer Brandon Morrow to a rotation role, a move complicated by the shaky condition of J.J. Putz.


Having already dispensed with Ray Durham, his most tradable commodity, Brian Sabean kicks up his heels at the deadline and admires the craftsmanship necessary to assemble a team where the headlines and punchlines are one and the same. If only the Giants' lineup could hit against Barry Zito in a game, they might better the 14 runs they scraped together this week, or even field a lineup where a majority of the hitters have EqAs above .260. If only.


New GM Neal Huntington puts his stamp on the team while attempting to erase years of Dave Littlefield deadline embarrassments, and the returns are promising. For Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte, he nets a high-upside prospect (Jose Tabata) who's still young enough to turn it around, plus some bulk rotation options which can't hurt a team that's already last in the league in SNLVAR. For Jason Bay he liberates Andy LaRoche and gets a pair of former first-round pitchers (Craig Hansen and Bryan Morris) who may yet pan out. Organizational depth, cost control, staff improvement, future core players... it all beats the hell out of Matt Morris.


A Century of Futility: Khalil Greene fractures a metacarpal punching a storage chest after his 100th strikeout of the year. He could be gone for the remainder, though given his .213/.260/.339 showing, the lineup will hardly miss him. Chase Headley isn't exactly setting the world ablaze either (.245/.291/.424 and a 41/8 K/BB ratio), and his presence is squeezing at-bats from a few of the lineup's more productive hitters, but such is the price of playing out the string. At least the Pads get a spot of good news with the sterling return of Chris Young (5 2 0 0 2 8), pitching in the majors for the first time in over two months since an Albert Pujols line drive rearranged his face.


Christmas in July: It's gift-giving season for the Nationals, as they follow up their absurdly imbalanced trade of Jon Rauch to Arizona and a generous contract extension to Cristian Guzman by dropping eight straight games to contenders and pretenders alike. Four of the losses come by a combined score of 8-3, which says plenty about the enfeebled state of their offense (last in the majors in EqA) and the ill fortune of their rotation: John Lannan and Jason Bergmann have the worst Luck of any NL pitchers, and Odalis Perez is in the bottom 12 as well.

The Prospectus Hit List rankings are derived from Won-Loss records and several measurements pertaining to run differentials, both actual and adjusted, from Baseball Prospectus Adjusted Standings through the close of play on every Sunday.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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