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December 3, 2008

Transaction of the Day

A Peach of a Deal

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Acquired C-R Tyler Flowers, SS-R Brent Lillibridge, 3B-R Jon Gilmore, and LHP Santos Rodriguez for RHP Javier Vazquez and LHP Boone Logan. [12/2]

While Sox fans have reason to be concerned that dealing Vazquez and not getting a starter close to ready coming back in the deal exposes them to a rotation of Danks, Buehrle, Floyd, humming a few bars, and getting back to Danks, Buehrle, and Floyd, let's remember that familiarity bred contempt for a few of the team's high-profile pickups of late, notably departing free agent Orlando Cabrera, but not excepting Vazquez.

Flowers is the obvious prize, though his glove work behind the dish is questionable enough that he's no sure thing. Which is not to say this is a bad pack, it's just that it's comprised of disparate parts, players on different trajectories moving at different speeds who might answer different needs at different times. Lillibridge can run and he can handle short well enough, but he was also highly overrated after a batting average-inflated 2006 season, and there's a pretty good chance he's just a utility player who allows the Sox to wean themselves from the Age of Ozuna once and for all. He's not a bad add, but he's also probably not a starting shortstop that lets the Sox move Alexei Ramirez to third instead of short, which means the Ramirez-at-short experiment isn't being ended before it gets started. Lillibridge also doesn't pose much danger for Chris Getz at second. So, he's filler.

What about the young third baseman, Jon Gilmore? Although he got a taste of Sally League last season before moving back down to short-season A-ball in the Appy League, Gilmore has yet to graduate to full-season league. That's fine-as a 2007 supplemental first-round pick in his age-19 season, the goal was to see how well the athletic former high school shortstop and quarterback adjusted to the pro game. He gets plenty of credit for a quick bat, readily reflected in his peppering Appalachia at a .337/.365/.473 clip, or what might be more easily described as a lot of singles and doubles. His glove work at third is still a bit rough, but he has the hands, arm, and grace to handle the position. Maybe these gifts mean that the Sox have found their new Joe Crede type a few years down the line. Maybe, and it's worth waiting to see, but still only a 'maybe,' with the acumen of Sox scouting duly taken into account. In the meantime, it's still looking like Wilson Betemit and maybe Josh Fields at third, a solid bit of placeholding I like, but might do less for you.

I really don't have a lot to say about Rodriguez, who isn't exactly a tall drink of water out of the Dominican: 6'5" but listed at 180, he's more of a swizzle stick, but 45 strikeouts in 29 GCL innings has a way of really catching the eye on the printed page, and those are the product of an arm that delivers 90-93 mph heat. Despite what five wild pitches might convey, reports on his wildness are not to be exaggerated.

Which brings us back to the player who has to make this deal really work, Flowers. Getting a top catching prospect is a good idea in the abstract, and it's interesting (in light of all the attention) that Kenny Williams managed to pull it off with a team that wasn't the Rangers. What makes him a prospect is that he's a catcher who hits, and heading into what will be his age-23 season, he's also ready for Double-A, which puts him into the range of possibilities as far as arriving at the end of '09 if that goes really well, and perhaps more reasonably 2010. (Which matters, in light of the club's financial commitment to A.J. Pierzynski through that very season.) He put the hurt on the Carolina League as something more than just a Three True Outcomes type, thwacking 32 doubles from a .288 clip while also delivering 200 walks and strikeouts in 520 PA (split almost evenly, 98 walks and 102 whiffs). While everyone's worked up over his exceptional AFL performance, I wouldn't get worked up over the numbers there-I still have that James Mouton hangover to live down-as much as they represent a continuation of his second-half breakout for Myrtle Beach, hitting .328/.454/.586 after the league's all-star break. If you want to believe that might make him the new Piazza, you can be forgiven that-it's clear that he's breaking out, and might climb the ladder fast.

In this organization, concern over his catching skills is less of a stumbling block than it was with a team that has Brian McCann. Even so, concerns over his receiving skills and his bulk should give his new organization pause; without improving his footwork and release times, throwing out 28 percent of opposing baserunners in the Carolina League seems likely to go down against more polished basestealers at higher levels. More interesting still in the winter of speculation over whether or not CC Sabathia's too big a signing to risk, in physical as well as financial dimensions. Keep in mind that Flowers isn't simply big-listed at 6'4" and 245 pounds, he's taller and heavier than Lance Parrish, and heavier than Andy Allanson and Joe Mauer, the largest backstops of recent memory. Search through Baseball Reference (all hail Sean Forman), there have been only six catchers who were both 6'2" or taller and 230 or heavier since 1901: Ernie Lombardi, Javy Lopez, Pete Varney (briefly a White Sox backup backstop in the '70s), and three current catchers, Ronny Paulino of the Pirates, A.J. Ellis of the Dodgers, and Colt Morton with the Padres. Lopez and Lombardi were never considered defensive assets, but the latter three get good marks. However, everyone on this list is smaller than Flowers, and as Kevin Goldstein noted in his Top 11 for the Braves, it's not a good weight.

To recap, I can accept a big bet on Flowers being something at the plate because of the development curve, even while I think that taking the risk that he could pan out at catcher is pretty speculative. Basically, the bat could play at first and DH, and in an organization employing Jim Thome for one more year and Paul Konerko for two, that has value to the Sox even if he doesn't pan out at catcher. Gilmore and Rodriguez are long-term markers, guys we won't really know whether the tools translate into high confidence-level projectable results for another couple of years, but both are worth having. Lillibridge might have the most name recognition; you'll get over that.

Was it worth tearing out one plank of the rotation that propelled the Sox to the postseason this year? I'm inclined to think so, because Vazquez wasn't cheap, the Sox need all kinds of talent, and this year's division title was something of a nice surprise that helps buy Kenny Williams and company breathing room and credibility as they embark on a rebuild. The real question is whether or not they could have gotten more, but that's speculative and best. If they were talking turkey with the Braves but couldn't land one of the center fielders, it's easy to suggest you take your Vazquez and go elsewhere, but given that a lot of teams don't have any more love for the well-traveled right-hander than the Sox had, that's easier said than done, and there's not much reason to anticipate he's got another 2007 season in him, not in light of his performance in the other four of the last five years.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Acquired RHP Javier Vazquez and LHP Boone Logan from the White Sox for C-R Tyler Flowers, SS-R Brent Lillibridge, 3B-R Jon Gilmore, and LHP Santos Rodriguez. [12/2]

The Braves haven't been to the playoffs since 2005, not for lack of trying. In that time, regearing the lineup with younger, better parts continued as smoothly as before, with prospects like Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar, and seemingly Jeff Francouer all successfully integrated. Think about that for a second: three quality up-the-middle regulars, with Jordan Schafer and Gorkys Hernandez on the way up to potentially complete the set. Add that sort of good stuff to Chipper Jones on one corner or another, and you have a lineup that ought to be part of a contender. Same old Braves, right?

The problem's been the team's pitching.* However, last year's reunion rotation didn't solve all their problems, nor did the recent abandonment of what had been a decades-long experience with the fundamental replaceability of most relief pitching. Keeping the rotation going with thirtysomethings hasn't really worked out so well in the last several seasons: eventually, old men break down or peter out. Mike Hampton was less than what they needed, and then he wasn't even that the last four years. John Smoltz got old, Tim Hudson's busted, and bringing back Tom Glavine proved as lamentable in practice as it appeared at first blush. Anticipated retread successes, another regular feature in the glory days, with John Thomson and Jorge Sosa didn't work out. Home-grown hurler Chuck James disappeared under a welter of walks and homers before breaking down. Nabbing Jair Jurrjens from the Tigers and Jorge Campillo off the rejects pile kept things going nicely last season, but that did not a rotation make, and the Braves' unit finished 11th in the league in SNLVA Rate, 12th in Expected Wins, and next to last in starter innings pitched in 2008.

So yeah, they need starting pitching. They also have a gaggle of desireable prospects, and apparently they still want to give this contending thing a shot, rather than curl up for a year and wait for the kids. Like a lot of teams, the Braves aren't affording themselves the time to rebuild, and they instead focus on retooling. That can mean making space for the kids once they come, but it also means some more of the same, getting somebody else's thirtysomething starter, somebody already under contractual control. Landing Vazquez is just the latest iteration of this particular play, and while I like the deal, it's important to recognize that this is an act of repetition to keep this club hanging around an 80-win talent level that automatically puts you in the playoff picture in the senior circuit.

Of himself, Vazquez is a decent enough pickup, a mid-rotation starter who's flirted with being slightly more than that at times. Last season's .504 SNLVA Rate doesn't sound great, rating 91st among all big-league starters with 100 IP, a big drop from his 2007 mark of .566, but of a piece with his 2006 mark of .500. Arguments that he'll be happier and perhaps more dominant in the NL have to go back to his Expos days more than five years ago, and conveniently overlook that he was as adequate as ever in his season with the Snakes in 2005 (.531), which wasn't all that much better than his much-lamented season with the Yankees in '04 (.520). It's more important to accept that his range is as a guy who'll give you 30 starts or more, and give you solid performance, not dominance. That's entirely acceptable, of course, especially when the alternative might be a call to a tanned, rested, and forever unready Rick Behenna.

The change of leagues is going to help him of course, but not really because getting out of the Cell is going to make a big difference for him-in his three seasons as a White Sock, he allowed 4.4 R/9 against 4.9 R/9 on the road. No, what's going to make a difference for Vazquez is his problem with getting through the sixth inning, which has been especially tough for Vazquez in recent seasons. As a matter of timing, that's usually around when a starting pitcher is seeing the heart of the order the third time, but in the NL, with the pitcher's slot generating easier outs, that might happen a little later in an individual start. If Vazquez's problem is a combination of the best hitters getting a good look at him and running out of gas around his 90th pitch, that can be mitigated a bit by a manager more inclined to recognize the need to hook him while the hooking's good, instead of a skipper who dares you to finish what you started, and then gets understandably cranky when you predictably don't. Assuming the exchange of the pitcher for the DH helps avoid his past problems of hitting the wall against a lineup's best the third time through, Vazquez could wind up with a superficially excellent-seeming season if Bobby Cox hooks him after six innings. Cox wouldn't have to be obvious about it and insult Vazquez's dignity-NL skippers always have pinch-hitting and double-switch possibilities to bring into play-and Vazquez wouldn't really be a radically different pitcher. He'd simply be given the advantage of being lifted before he was pushed into too many of those unhappy third at-bats against the people who can hurt him.

The financial element of this deal shouldn't be underrated. While Vazquez isn't cheap-$23 million over 2009 and 2010-put that money in the context of the current market. You simply can't get a known quantity like Vazquez for a two-year deal from among this winter's free agents. Put this move up against spending more over three or four years for some mid-market rotation regular, and this move comes across as especially inspired as an adaptation to what little time the Braves have left to run as Chipper Jones' ballclub. If they can't make a better play at contention in 2009 than they have the last three years, it won't be a matter of turning the page-it will have already been turned and glued shut.

Finally, on the most fundamental level you have to credit the Braves for what this deal boils down to in terms of impact at the big-league level: they got a solid mid-rotation starter, and they didn't have to give up any of their better prospects in the deal. Sure, skip putting Jason Heyward or Tommy Hanson into an exchange of this nature, but they didn't even have to deal from their second rank, the guys like Jordan Schafer and Gorkys Hernandez, and this despite the fact that they're making a trade with a team that needs a center fielder? Admittedly, if the Sox had gotten Hernandez or Schafer, that would have been a real coup, but I don't mean to beat up on Kenny Williams in this space-he did apparently try to get them, and he didn't. The Braves were willing to deal from depth in prospects and take on salary, and working with an organization that could use the salary space and the talent. From Frank Wren on down, the Braves deserve credit in targeting Vazquez-rarely in Ozzie Guillen's favor for any great length of time-and getting him relatively reasonably with prospects they could afford to trade away.

As for getting Logan, I guess I'm of two minds on the subject. He's a lefty who cooks with gas, but he's also acquired a rep as a guy not especially gifted with a lot of aptitude. Maybe Roger McDowell will reach him where another good pitching coach, Don Cooper, apparently struggled, but I'm reluctant to get as enthusiastic about adding Logan as I was yesterday about the organization's grabbing Eric O'Flaherty on waivers. If I had to put O'Flaherty, Logan, and Jeff Ridgway in some particular order, that would be it, and it's nice that all of them have better than average velocity for southpaws. While I doubt that Emperor Charles V was talking about lefty relief help when he picked Plus ultra as his motto, I guess the Braves can take some satisfaction in achieving Redundancy plus ultra.

*: I know, as well as multiple meltdowns from among their non-Chipper options on the corners, but we'll set that aside for the time being-this is just my argument.


As ever, a shoutout to Kevin Goldstein among others for his input, and thanks to Caleb Peiffer for his research assistance.

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

Related Content:  A's,  The Who,  A.J. Ellis,  The Call-up,  Boone Logan

24 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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eneff1
(940)

Craig Heyward, RIP. Maybe Jason can be the new Iron Head.

Dec 03, 2008 12:16 PM
rating: 2
 
Matthew Avery

Christina-

With the Braves target Burnett (or perhaps Peavy), it seems like they're looking to enter 2009 with the top 4 pitchers in their rotation right-handed. Now, while on some level you've got to take what you can get when it comes to quality starters, do you think this is a potential mistake in a division with so many quality LH bats?

Dec 03, 2008 12:18 PM
rating: 0
 
cyborg

Don't you think the stretch run comments by Guillen about Vazquez not being able to show up for a big game and then getting bombed in September?

Dec 03, 2008 13:48 PM
rating: -1
 
Patrick

Is there still talk of making Lillibridge a CF, as the Braves were thinking about a year or two ago? That would seem to make a better fit with the White Sox.

Dec 03, 2008 15:58 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Stop and ask yourself this: If you don't hit well for a shortstop, why would a guy's bat play in center?

Dec 03, 2008 17:07 PM
 
Patrick

In the abstract, it wouldn't. But for the White Sox it might be worth looking at, especially if 2008 was more of an abberration than 2006. Unless they are planning to deal for a CF or sign a free agent at the position, Lillibridge might be preferrable to Brian Anderson, Jerry Owens, and/or Dewayne Wise. And even if he's not starting, having a utility guy who can play center and the left side of the infield is worth a try.

Dec 04, 2008 07:41 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Is it useful? Sure. Is it hugely valuable? The Orioles' experience with Brandon Fahey might prove a useful comparison, which provides a decisive 'no.' To put it another way, I'd rather play Wise and Owens (oh, the humanity, having to type that); heck, I might even trade for Willy Taveras. Not all of these guys grow up to have Mackowiak-like careers, and hitting more like Mackowiak did in the minors would be a good start for Lillibridge.

Dec 04, 2008 15:16 PM
 
Justice

I like the Sox' moves this off season. After the deal with Oakland to acquire Nick Swicher, the Sox farm system was a somewhat bare cupboard. In the Swisher and Vazquez deals in 2008, they have added six prospects plus Wilson Betemit. Flowers and Marquez hopefully have a high ceiling and, who knows, perhaps 2008 will be an aberration in Lillibridge's career.

In addition, the Sox offered arbitration to Orlando Cabrera and stand to net two additional high draft picks if he declines arbitration, as is expected.

Let's not forget, Vazquez has been terribly inconsistent in Chicago and during his whole career. Ozzie Guillen seemed to sour on Vazquez in late September and I can't really blame the Sox skipper. Vazquez went 0-4 with a 13.22 ERA in his last fourt starts. He was not exactly Bob Gibson down the stretch of a tough pennant race. In fact, I may have witnessed Vazquez' last decent start for the White Sox in person: a 4-2 victory over the Tigers in the first game a doubleheader on September 15, 2008.

Vazquez could very well rebound in the National League. If so, and if some of the prospects pan out, this could be a good trade for both clubs. I see one more advantage for the Sox: with the money they save on Vazquez' salary, they might have a shot at signing a veteran to short-term contract to stablize their pitching rotation in 2009 and to give their young starters time to develop.

Any chance the Sox sign an Andy Pettitte or a Jon Garland?


Dec 03, 2008 16:55 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Actually, one of the points of my piece is exactly this: Vazquez has been consistent these last five years. Four years of usefulness and one genuinely good year describes what? A generally useful starting pitcher, somebody you can count on among your front four.

As for the Guillen/souring issue, was 2006 so long ago? The disgust isn't a recent development; Vazquez earned his penalty stripes in Ozzie's eyes. However much this sort of thing is engendered by wishcasting that Vazquez be the 2007 edition every year, instead of the 2004, 2005, 2006, or 2008 editions, there comes a time when you have accept a guy's baseline. In Vazquez's case, that's utility.

For the reasons I've already articulated, my expectation isn't that Vazquez "succeeds" in the NL, it's that if he's used with care, he'll shine, and if he's used as someone who's supposed to deliver six or seven innings every time out without an eye to the game situation and the matchups, nobody's going to get any more from him than the Sox already did. He's "Handle With Care." My belief is that Bobby Cox could exercise that care, and that it's easier to do so in the NL. That does NOT make Vazquez a better pitcher than he is--it merely means he's been used more effectively.

I'd put Chicago's chances at signing Pettitte at zero, and the utility of bringing back Garland only slightly better.

Dec 03, 2008 17:16 PM
 
Justice

I must admit that during his tenure in Chicago, Vazquez was often stronger in the early innings and prone to getting hit hard somewhere in the 6th inning. Vazquez, however, would occasionally throw a game that was way better than that. In 2006, for example, he had a string of outings in mid-summer where he struggled badly in the middle innings and then, on August 5, 2006 at the Skydome, beat the Blue Jays 7-1 and struck out 13 guys. In 2007, Vazquez had a number of sterling outings and likely was the major reason the Sox did not lose 100 games.

When I said that he was inconsistent, I was focusing on the intermittent positive reinforcement that accompanied Vazquez' time in Chicago. Fans -- and I suspect Guillen, as well -- always thought the dominant, unhittable Vazquez was just the next start away. Was that wishful thinking? I suppose so. Occasionally pitching brilliantly perhaps does nothing more than raise expectations.

I agree that with no DH in the NL, the Braves are likely to use Vazquez more efficiently.

Putting Pettitte and Garland out of the picture, do you expect the Sox to pursue any established starters or, alternatively, to go with Buerhle/Danks/Floyd and two from Richard/Marquez/Broadway/Poreda/someone not on the radar screen currently?

Thanks for the excellent work at this website and the spirited discussion that this forum provides.

Dec 03, 2008 21:50 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Justice, no worries, I enjoy the rough and tumble of a good argument--isn't that fundamental to fandom?--and last I checked, not even the Pope's self-authored license for infallibility works on the highway. I'm gratified that we get to do this hereabouts these days, it's one of the things I think we're all happy we added.

I'm probably more bullish on Richard and Marquez than anybody the Sox don't employ, but not so much with Broadway, and I'd probably anticipate that Poreda's another year away from really having an impact. That said, even the silt at the bottom of my brand of Kool-Aid suggests that these are all options for fifth starter, and the Sox now have two open slots. If Richard and Marquez pan out as the club's four-five guys, we'll have to tip our caps to them for a brave bit of decision-making, but I wouldn't be surprised in the least if the Sox sign a low-end veteran to a one-year deal (or one year plus an option) to help tide them over until 2010.

Dec 03, 2008 22:24 PM
 
mickbolt

Forget Pettitte, forget Garland, forget Vazquez!

Javier is full of talent but most of us get tired of hearing about that talet and than watching him perform with less than enthusiastic efforts.

The White Sox pulled off a division title last season with the losses of third baseman Joe Crede, starting pitcher Jose Contreras and their top offensive star of 2008 Carlos Quentin. All this and plus having to overcome the pathetic efforts of Javy down the stretch which almost cost the team the division all by himself when he went 0-4 after being challenged as a big-game pitcher. Say what you may about Ozzie Guillen and Don Cooper but Bobby Cox will also find out that they were right in their assessment of him.

If Cox is going to perform miracles in Atlanta than why hasn't he already sone it with his own pitchers. Good luck with Boone Logan too.

Dec 03, 2008 18:47 PM
rating: -1
 
sbnirish77
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Leave it to Christina to decide the merits of a trade on the performance of a minor leaguer - and a cheater at that.

From Baseball America "Flowers began his pro career in inauspicious fashion. He tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs shortly after signing in May 2006, and his 50-game suspension cost him the first month of the 2007 season."

Do you think Atlanta knew something the White Sox didn't?

Which steriod-enhanced comp are you using for this analysis?

Dec 03, 2008 21:06 PM
rating: -4
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Since he was clean when his hitting got significantly better in July and August, and clean while he was in the AFL, I guess the point here is that steroids aren't the only source of superior performance. Whodathunkit?

Dec 03, 2008 21:33 PM
 
sbnirish77
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

so now you are supporting this trade based on two months of clean performance by a minor leaguer ... now you are really out there on a limb

Dec 04, 2008 09:44 AM
rating: -4
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I represent no branch of thought beyond my own, and this wouldn't be the first time I'm accused of being an optimist up in my own tree.

Dec 04, 2008 10:20 AM
 
Fresh Hops

I think Vazquez may be the unlukiest pitcher I've ever seen. Find me one other pitcher to average 3.7 K/BB over a four year stretch with an ERA of 4.4 in that period.

Perhaps moving to a neutral park for homers will help.

Dec 03, 2008 21:31 PM
rating: 0
 
Fresh Hops

Not just 3.7K/BB--that ratio with almost 800 Ks.

Dec 03, 2008 21:33 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

As I noted, the park hasn't really been Vazquez's problem. There comes a point where people need to move past his K/BB ratio, and see him for what he is: useful, not great. This is sort of akin to the way people got worked up over Glendon Rusch for his 2000 and 2001 seasons: yes, he had a nice K/9 and K/BB ratio, and no, it didn't portend burgeoning greatness.

Dec 03, 2008 21:37 PM
 
Fresh Hops

I'm still not convinced this is really Vazquez and not bad luck. 2008, Vazquez DER with no one on: .710; with runners, .637. In 2006, .765 and .652. Those splits strike me as odd, and out of sync with pitchers generally. Vazquez's diminished performance regarding K% and BB% don't seem out of step with other pitcher's performance when working with men on, so I'm tempted to say this is luck. I guess I'm ultimately inclined to agree that after five years of MLB performance that's matched his peripherals in just one season, we shouldn't expect Vazquez to turn it around and match their predictions. I still expect a little regression toward what his peripherals suggest.

Dec 04, 2008 12:58 PM
rating: 0
 
ClubberLang

His problem has never been stuff. It's that his command of it isn't always good -- I don't think he always knows where it's going, so he tends to leave meatballs that end up being hit hard. Very hard. Also, he has a maddening tendency to throw the wrong pitch at precisely the wrong time - he has a great fastball with movement and yet for some reason at crucial times he goes with like his 4th best pitch, which predictably gets whacked. This doesn't happen with the other Sox pitchers all that much, so it's not an AJP problem, it's a Javy problem. This tends to exacerbate itself once he lets the first guy on base -- things tend to pile up in a hurry on him (in the 5th and 6th innings in 2006 when I had a ticket package we used to joke that it was about time for "Thirty Three-Mile Island" to make his appearance, 33 of course being Javy's uni number).

After years of watching him do this, it's probably not luck. He is what he is.

Dec 04, 2008 07:18 AM
rating: 1
 
Fresh Hops

Vazquez actually gives up fewer homers per ball in play when he has men on base.

Dec 04, 2008 13:00 PM
rating: 0
 
howitzer17

Not sure how you can go wrong picking up a 200 + inning pitcher for prospects and not even blue chippers.

Dec 04, 2008 07:08 AM
rating: 1
 
howitzer17

As long as his name isn't Silva!!! haha

Dec 04, 2008 07:10 AM
rating: 0
 
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