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January 29, 2009

Transaction of the Day

Heilman-a-Go-Go

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Acquired MI-R Ronny Cedeno and LHP Garrett Olson from the Cubs for RHP Aaron Heilman. [1/28]

As far as converting some of the talent received from the Putz deal, this only makes Jack Zduriencik's first big exchange that much more rewarding, because as bits to bring into the Mariners' particular puzzle, I'd definitely rather have Cedeņo than any other player in this trade, and the suggestion that it took Olson to get the deal done just speaks well to the man's ability to wring out some additional value when mere amiability might have argued for a Cedeņo/Heilman exchange. Simply in terms of service time, getting three years of a quality middle-infield prospect and five years of a guy who might be able to stick in the back end of a rotation is a great swap when you're giving up someone who might be a pig in a poke (even if Heilman might be some pig) who's under control for two seasons.

More fundamentally, however, Cedeņo represents a nice break from three and a half years of tolerance for sporadic promise from the starters in the middle infield, Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt. Admittedly, Lopez finally showed some progress in delivering power in his age-24 season, and if he can continue to head in that general direction as he moves into his peak seasons, he'll firmly move into the category of worthwhile asset. That said, he's also the guy who fell flat on his face in 2007 after seemingly establishing himself the year before. It's also important to not go too far and consider Lopez someone who broke out last year; while 41 doubles and 17 homers are nice, when they're spread across almost 700 plate appearances, you can see how Lopez wound up with a much more modest-looking .146 ISO. That's a good thing for a middle infielder at 24, to be sure, but he needs to improve from there, especially if his defense is a bit uncertain.* As for Betancourt, as a player a couple of years older and already midway through what's supposed to be his peak period, his remarkably reliable adequacy can be a bit frustrating if you harbored any ambitions for his doing something more than getting on base at around a .300 clip, or slugging better than .400. The problem with him is more that he's failed to make any progress, and while he's not a bad ballplayer, he's also very obviously settling into his status as a second-division starter. Add in that Betancourt's a player who bedevils statistical models for coming up reliably among the worse gloves, while scouts still see him as a gifted shortstop, and it's hard to say what he really represents. Barring a move in the right direction and now in his age-27 season, Betancourt becomes less and less intriguing, and more just a sphinx without a secret.

So, several years into the experiment of relying on Lopez and Betancourt as their regulars, the GM goes out and gets a player who represents a defensive upgrade on either one of them. While Cedeņo probably isn't a notably better hitter than Betancourt-indeed, they're very similar in terms of what you might expect from either going forward-and landing between the two in terms of age means that he's essentially at the same point of his career that he needs to put up and start or shut up and transition permanently into utility work, the more basic message is that Lopez and Betancourt don't have automatic job security on the new regime's watch after three years of farting around.

That's a good thing in itself, but it also gives Zduriencik some flexibility in terms of being able to make yet another trade up in the weeks and months to come-assuming Lopez pans out, for instance, somebody's going to want an under-contractual-control shortstop, whether that's Cedeņo through arbitration, or Betancourt because of the deal that will cost his employer either $11 million the next three years or $15 million over the next four. Sure, that might sound rich, but the Red Sox are out $18-27 million over the next three years on Julio Lugo, we don't know what Orlando Cabrera's going to cost just yet, Rafael Furcal cost $30 million over the next three seasons, and Edgar Renteria $18.5 million over the next two. If a contender decides it needs somebody playable instead of some glovely offensive zero, or suffers an early-season injury at short, either Betancourt or Cedeņo might fit the bill affordably and well, allowing Zduriencik to flip a marketable bit for something this franchise will need down the road.

Finally, there's also Olson, and if he's something less than an exceptional prospect, he's also worth taking a chance on when you're long overdue on a rotation makeover. While it would be foolhardy to get overly worked up over Olson's mediocre assortment; he gets caught in bad patterns because of it; right-handers in particular can load up on their cookies without feeling at all guilty as long as Olson can't snap off sharper sliders or work in a still-developing changeup with any sort of effectiveness. Certainly, eight quality starts in 26 wasn't a good sign that he's really ready to stick around, and as your standard-issue lefty who isn't going to overpower people, moving from a bad defensive ballclub to one that was worse last year isn't very encouraging either. However, the good news is that he's coming to a slightly different Mariners club than the one that had Raul Ibaņez and Richie Sexson planted in a couple of corners, and as noted, his coming over with Cedeņo might make for a better infield than last year's. If there's any hope of flipping Jarrod Washburn or Erik Bedard in their walk years (or Calos Silva with three years to go, if Zduriencik has a miracle up a sleeve TBNL), even if it involves eating some cash, there will be an opportunity for Olson at some point during the season. In the meantime, he'll have to wait and see how the planned conversions of Ryan Rowland-Smith and Brandon Morrow to rotation regularity pan out in camp. Don't be surprised when he's in Tacoma in April, and in Safeco by August, regardless of whether or not he improves any.

*: In this, Lopez is especially interesting as a case study in how the varying play-by-play metrics can see a player having wildly different defensive value-Plus/Minus hates him, Ultimate Zone Rating isn't wild, Revised Zone Rating puts him more solidly in the realm of adequacy, and Clay Davenport's new metric from this year's book loves him. As ever, if you can draw any conclusion at all, the best might be that he's not among the game's best or worst at the keystone.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Acquired RHP Aaron Heilman from the Mariners for MI-R Ronny Cedeno and LHP Garrett Olson. [1/28]

Apparently you can see Touchdown Jesus from the Holy City, because Jim Hendry apparently swung this deal for a Domer all the way from Rome. It's never been one of the more attractive features of the Midwest, the ready over-fascination with all things Notre Dame, but Heilman's a product of the program, a live arm, and the Cubs weren't quite sure what they were going to be able to do with Cede˜o (who was out of options) after signing up Aaron Miles for middle infield work, or if they'd ever have need of Olson's brand of southpaw inadequacy in a contending team's rotation. So, credit Hendry for flipping two roster oddments to acquire... well, what exactly? The thing about Heilman is that he apparently really wants to start, and while that's an admirable enough ambition, it also reflects Steven Goldman's quip that he's rarely seen "a pitcher so eager to rise to the level of his own incompetence."

It might be reasonable to entertain the hope that Heilman might be less sulky in a relief role pitching for his hometown team, because there really shouldn't be much question of his getting anything more than cursory consideration for a rotation that already needs to pick between Sean Marshall and Chad Gaudin. I suppose you can invert the proposition easily enough: strand Gaudin in the long reliever's role, and pick between Marshall and Heilman for the fifth slot. Again, we're talking fifth starters here, and Marshall could mark time in Iowa until the experiment with Heilman succeeds or fails; you could even hand-cuff Gaudin to Heilman to make sure the former has a regular role on the staff until Heilman proves he can log more innings and go deeper into ballgames. If that works out, Hendry looks brilliant, and if it doesn't, maybe Heilman accepts relieving in Wrigleyville if he has to live with it anywhere. He can always turn to Ryan Dempster and ask how the former closer turned rotation front man coped with marking time in the pen.

The best-case conspiracy theory that Cubs fans might want to conjure up around this deal is that the Padres really, really want Heilman, or that getting Heilman somehow makes it easier for Hendry to put together a package to get Jake Peavy. Failing that, it's an interesting question of preference that might yield some recouped value if Heilman thrives in a set-up or swing role, and it gets them a spot back on their 40-man roster. Although the team hasn't assembled a particularly strong group of non-roster invitees, I suppose I could envision a scenario where So Taguchi makes the team as Milton Bradley's legs or suitably inscrutable Asian clubhouse spokesperson.


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:  Yuniesky Betancourt,  The Who

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

BP Comment Quick Links

John R

"Kill floor - Comfortable, clean, spacious and with no piles of manure in sight, this is where Wilbur should go."

oh my god, that's hilarious

Jan 29, 2009 13:20 PM
rating: 0
 
Aaron/YYZ

The one thing I find thoroughly confusing about the flipping of Olsen is that if I'm Jack Z, then I absolutely want a Ronny Cedeno/Felix Pie package for Heilman more than I want a Ronny Cedeno/Garrett Olsen package.

Jan 29, 2009 13:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Evan
(47)

Of course. But I think everyone knows Pie is more valuable than Olson, so then the Cubs would be less willing to part with him.

Jan 29, 2009 16:18 PM
rating: 0
 
mswain784

Pie is too valuable to include for Heilman, so they go and swap him basically straight up for someone who is not too valuable to include. Makes tons of sense.

Jan 29, 2009 20:08 PM
rating: 0
 
samuelpage

But the Olsen trade already happened, completely independent of this deal. We have no idea whether Z knew about that trade as it was developing.

Jan 29, 2009 20:28 PM
rating: 0
 
frankg

Don't underestimate Olsen. I get MASN and watched most of the Oriole games last year. Olsen has a great presence and looked like a pitcher who was content to work on what he needed to develop even if it ment some immediate failure. The down and away change to righties was consistently off the plate but he continued to throw it. If he can master it I can see him developing into a bull dog type lefty ala Tom Glavine. I like this trade. If Stotelmyer (forgive the spelling) is as good a pitching coach as he thinks he is (and I do question his handling of Morrow and Rowland-Smith last year) than Olsen could be the real sleeper in this trade. Given Seattle's trade history, their due. Even a blind GM finds....

Jan 29, 2009 15:35 PM
rating: -1
 
bennoj

Wakamatsu let Stottlemyre go. Rick Adair is the M's pitching coach this year.

Jan 29, 2009 18:09 PM
rating: 0
 
bdoublegeez

Plus Zduriencik doesn't have much trade history since he's a new GM.

Jan 29, 2009 20:56 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I just don't think the Cubs got any better with these offseason shenanigans. Bradley might be a better hitter than DeRosa but he's also injured a lot. The Cubs gave up two of their relatively young players (Cedeno and Pie) for someone who might not even make their rotation, and they downgraded from Wood to Gregg. Granted, the Cubs had the best record last year in the NL so they didn't "need" to get better, but why go through all these motions shaking things up when all you're left with is a bunch of muck?

Jan 30, 2009 10:21 AM
rating: 0
 
cachhubguy

Bradley MIGHT be a better hitter than DeRosa? Cmon. They got a good bullpen guy for two guys who were out of options. And they upgraded from Wood to Marmol and Howry to Gregg. I am always amused when people talk about Bradley's DL time but seem to forget Kerry Wood's DL history. Bradley might get hurt but Wood's arm might also fall off.

Jan 31, 2009 15:49 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Bradley is a better hitter, but he's only topped 500 plate appearances once in his career, back in 2002. If you factor in the potential backups like Hoffpauir and Fukudome handling the rest of the appearances, it is conceivable that the RF production would have been the same as if the Cubs had retained DeRosa.

The Cubs could have kept Cedeno at least if they hadn't wasted money and a roster spot on Aaron Miles. Also, they should have been able to get someone other than a generic bullpen arm for Pie and probably would have if Olson wasn't on the list of players that the Padres wanted for Peavy.

How is it an upgrade from Wood to Marmol if the Cubs already had both? Nor do I see how Gregg is an upgrade from Howry when Howry has a lower career ERA and WHIP than Gregg. Even in that event, the bullpen was not a problem for the Cubs last year.

The problem was the Cubs had no productive lefthanded bats (besides possibly Fontenot)... and the Cubs best response was betting that Bradley will be healthy in October?

Jan 31, 2009 16:41 PM
rating: 0
 
Fresh Hops

This was a really good trade for the M's. It sorts out a confused situation at SP. Zduriencik seems to be going for quantity over quality right now, but the quality is better than replacement with upside, and that makes for a nice gamble while Seattle sorts out some of the horrible contracts they're presently saddled with. He also seems to have an eye for an undervalued skill set (fielding defense, the new walk.) My guess is that Seattle puts up their outstanding OF (Gutierrez, Ichiro, Chavez) behind Jarrod Washburn to pad his ERA until July and then trades him away, unloading his salary and possibly taking a couple of mediocre prospects in return, and Olsen arrives shortly thereafter.

Feb 01, 2009 22:02 PM
rating: 0
 
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