July 8, 2009
Snagging a Snake
Acquired RHP Tony Peņa from the D'backs for 1B-L Brandon Allen. [7/7]
Designated LHP Jimmy Gobble for assignment. [7/8]
The Sox clearly needed help in their bullpen, ranking a sub-mediocre 21st in the majors in FRA from their relief crew. The question is whether or not they gave up too much to get what they did, because Allen's a worthwhile prospect, so much so that he ranked third on Kevin Goldstein's pre-season Top 11 Prospects list. That said, first base is a tough position to be a prospect-you either hit, or you don't make it. Teams can generally go around hunting for bats to fill their first-base bill, so to hack it, a prospect really has to deliver without a hiccup if he's going to avoid the Quad-A label and wind up wondering if the time's going to come when he might get a taste of a tasty Japanese leagues payday. As noted in the Snakes' segment, Allen's progression has ceased to be effortless of late. In light of the White Sox's 2010 commitments to Paul Konerko (and A.J. Pierzynski) and their previous acquisition of Tyler Flowers-the big kid could still wind up at first base if he doesn't pan out behind the plate, after all, although the intention is still to leave him at catcher-it isn't like Allen had an easy place to break in on the big-league roster in the immediate future.
So, the price was right in terms of expending a chit in barter, but did they really get something they needed in exchange? Although Peņa's coming over from the weaker league and going to have to rise to the challenge of pitching in the homer-happy Cell, it's worth remembering that Blankety-Blank Bank Ballpark West in Phoenix is no joyride for moundsmen, and as a reliever it wasn't like he was getting to mow down opposing pitchers by virtue of senior circuit-ry. The more basic problem is that he just wasn't pitching well, even as the third-best reliever on the staff. This year's setback also isn't remarkable in light of his fall from grace in 2008: whereas he was one of the invincible three amigos in the Snake pen of 2007 with a 4.244 WXRL, last year he dropped off to a merely good 1.611. Change your flavor to a rate-based metric, and Peņa's FRA has gone from 3.01 to 4.87 to 5.27.
The situational dominance against right-handers that underlay his '07 breakthrough with a 521 OPS bounced up to 695 last year, and is back down to 629, and might be lower still if not for bad breaks with BABIP. Nevertheless, lefties are pasting him at a .317/.403/.524 clip, which suggests that he's going to be something of a situational right-hander for a staff that sort of already employs Octavio Dotel in the role. He doesn't seem to lose that much effectiveness with men aboard, and he's still basically the same pitcher he was before in terms of throwing mid-90s heat and a good slider. I suppose it's also worth noting that he'll be under contractual control for the next three seasons, but since he'll be arbitration-eligible and the Sox have Bobby Jenks, Scott Linebrink, and Matt Thornton under control for the next two years, that's not really a major consideration in terms of payroll management or staffing the pen.
As much as the Sox needed to help themselves out some, this doesn't seem like a great move to have made. Allen was one of their few upper-level bullets they could afford to fire without hurting themselves, and this was all they got for him? The thing to wonder about with the Sox is whether or not they've seen something that they might fix, because with their successes with other mid-career veteran pitchers, that could be in play here. It would be easy to say that any improvement in performance will simply reflect a BABIP that's high now going down, but that sort of analysis mistakes cause for effect, and I'll be interested in seeing what pitching coach Don Cooper makes of him.
Activated RHP Yusmeiro Petit from the 15-day DL; optioned INF-R Ryan Roberts to Reno (Triple-A). [7/4]
Traded RHP Tony Peņa to the White Sox for 1B-L Brandon Allen. [7/7]
The Snakes shed their ability to contend this year more than a wee while ago, so it's just as well that they're starting to swap out their bit parts for value. The pack of contenders is always looking for help in their bullpens, so dealing a reliever for a prospect is standard operating procedure. To flip Peņa now, when his star has waned a bit but not too much from his heyday in 2007, was equally logical. To get a prospect as worthwhile as Allen? That's decent enough as returns go: 23 years old, tons of mash-worthy power potential coming into the season, and improving athleticism. Even so, he comes with question marks.
First, there's the question over whether or not he'll really pan out as a first baseman, because he's a bad glove there, with little to no potential to move to the outfield. Then there's the problem of his follow-up campaign at Double-A this season after an exceptional month-plus (.275/.358/.614) there last year-it hasn't been inspired, to put it politely, as he hit .290/.372/.452. That might sound like an improvement, but his walk rate wasn't all that special, just 27 unintentionals in 274 PA. The dip in power contributes to why translating his performance and forecasting his peak only gets you to a weak .274 EqA, barely employable at first base. Then there's his performance at Triple-A since a promotion there in the second half of June: an execrable .262/.262/.377 in 15 games. He's young yet, so there's no reason to give up, but he's a flawed or at least unfinished prospect as such things go.
Now, I know he's been called "arguably the best hitting prospect in the system" by some, but he wasn't, not when that system has Tyler Flowers or Jordan Danks in it. But he's an interesting prospect at a position the Snakes don't have a great answer for themselves at the upper levels-my enthusiasm for Josh Whitesell remains firmly curbed-but like the man he was traded for, he's also someone whose stock is down.