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July 30, 2009

Prospectus Today

Review and Reset

by Joe Sheehan

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One June 11, 2008, the Pirates started the following lineup against the Washington Nationals:

Nate McLouth CF
Freddy Sanchez 2B
Jason Bay LF
Ryan Doumit C
Xavier Nady RF
Adam LaRoche 1B
Jose Bautista 3B
Jack Wilson SS
Ian Snell P

403 days later, just one of those players, Doumit, remains on the team. Seven of the nine have been traded in deals that have revamped both the Pirates' major-league roster and their farm system. Facing a relentless chorus of complaints from the veterans on his team and the fans in hit city, Neal Huntington has executed a tear-down of a condemned franchise and started over at the bottom, making the kind of bloodless transactions that his predecessors never did. As all GMs are, Huntington will be judge by what goes up in its place, but make no mistake about this: He did his job. Huntington was hired to do exactly what he's done, reboot a baseball team that had been in fail mode since the winter of 1992. Whatever you think of the plan, you can't argue anything but that he executed it wholeheartedly, and that alone puts the Pirates ahead of a third of MLB teams.

The latest deals may be the best of the bunch. Yesterday, Huntington flipped the last of his veterans for more talent, a mix of upside and current ability that makes the Pirates-the relevant ones, the ones from 2011 onward-better. He flipped Freddy Sanchez to the Giants for Tim Alderson. I wrote about Alderson the other day; he's a top-40 prospect going into next season, a hurler who doesn't have the big fastball to mark him as a high-upside guy, but whose command and arsenal will make him an effective major-league pitcher once he arrives. The downside of a guy like this is Ian Kennedy, who I think has been abducted by aliens, but the more likely path is that of a credible #3 starter, at a low cost, for six years. You can build around that.

The Pirates won the Alderson deal handily. It's less clear that the margin on the Wilson deal is significant, but as the world's last remaining believer in Jeff Clement-maybe it's a USC thing-I love this deal for the Pirates. Clement has been badly mishandled by the Mariners, who made him the #3 pick in the 2005 draft and immediately stopped liking him. Well, not immediately, but it seems that once Clement struggled upon an aggressive promotion to Tacoma in 2007, he fell out of their plans. Injury problems and below-average defense behind the plate haven't helped matters. Now he's 26, with a career line of .284/.372/.495 at Tacoma, and he's only played about 70 games in the field the last two seasons. I like the 252/155 K/BB at Triple-A, and see him less as Mickey Tettleton-the home-run power isn't there and more as Brian Harper with more walks and less average.

The Pirates already have a so-so defensive catcher who can hit a bit in Ryan Doumit, but if they can use the next two months to figure out where Clement fits, give him the extended major-league playing time he's deserved for a while, they might end up with a very inexpensive catcher would allow them to shop Doumit, or they might find out that rotating the two behind the plate and through first base is a better idea than just handing that job to Steven Pearce. As far as the pitchers are concerned, I can't say I know a ton about them, and they seem like scouting picks rather than performance ones. If the three combine for 250 major-league innings I'll be surprised, with Brett Lorin the favorite to have a career.

Rebuilding is a process, a plan, and it can take years. Pirates fans, so accustomed to losing and frustrated by it don't want to see more of it. Give Huntington credit: he traded the players he traded at or near the peak of their value, rebuilding the talent base in the system. The Pirates are better off now than they were 403 days ago.

I was open to the idea of the Giants trading Alderson, so I can't be overly critical that they did so. Still, this doesn't seem like enough for him; I wanted to deal him for a four-win upgrade and adding Sanchez, even with his strong defense, might be worth two wins at the outside. They did deal a lesser prospect for Ryan Garko, who might be a win better than Travis Ishikawa over two months, but on the whole, I think they undersold an asset in Alderson. As will be a theme in today's piece, we can never really know the road not taken, and if the bigger deal wasn't available, maybe this was the best Brian Sabean could get for Alderson. If that was the case, I think the Giants would have been better off keeping him; it's not enough of a gain, and honestly, the variance in acquiring a guy like Sanchez, whose value is in his batting average, swamps the projected performance gain.

I'm less sure what the Mariners are doing, although it looks better when you see it as the end of years of mishandling Clement. They blocked him with the Kenji Johjima extension, then by signing Ken Griffey Jr's. ghost. There was no plan to play him, ever, so this is at least a use of him that picks them up an asset. Jack Wilson is having a good defensive season, and will help a team that needs to win 3-2 every night. That won't make them a contender, but you can see a plan where they want to maximize defense next year as well, bringing along more pitching, and he's someone who helps with that plan. See also, Rafael Belliard and the 1991 Braves. I think getting Snell is the more interesting play; Safeco sets up well for him, and we know he has talent. He could have a good bounceback in that park.

The biggest trade of the day was the Phillies' acquisition of Cliff Lee, in lieu of Roy Halladay, for a collection of prospects. It's interesting…there was a scroll on ESPN stating that the four (Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson and Jason Knapp) were the team's #2, #3, #4 and #10 prospects, per Baseball America. Now, that's technically true, but clearly misleading; that reflects a ranking from December or so, and we have much more information now both on those four and on guys like Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Dominic Brown. The Phillies, as I see it, got 85% of Roy Halladay for 65% of the cost, and a lot of financial savings. That's a good trade, and if you remove it from the context of the Halladay conversation, it holds up as a move they could make given Lee's contract status and the depth of their system. Next to the converation about Halladay-and again, we don't know what really happened-it looks fantastic.

That's not to say it was a bad deal for the Indians, who got three guys who will be contributors come next spring. A middle infield of Donald and Asdrubal Cabrera will be inexpensive and productive for a number of years, with Donald taking over at what will be his best position, second base. Marson is an effective bridge from Victor Martinez-who now has to be traded in the next two days-to the Carlos Santana Era. Carrasco is another midrotation guy, in my opinion, but you'll find people who think he can be better than that. In any case, the Indians added a lot of value in exchange for one player (and Ben Francisco, who's a fourth outfielder).

With those trades down and about 27 hours to the deadline, let's reset things.

  • Roy Halladay is still available, although with each passing hour it becomes less likely that he gets dealt. I've stuck by the idea that the White Sox are first in line, and I continue to do so. Here's the thing: if you think Alexei Ramirez is a shortstop, and you're not going to play Gordon Beckham there, you may as well trade Beckham, who isn't going to be anything special at third. By putting him into the package they traded for Jake Peavy, the Sox can get Halladay, which would make them the favorites in the AL Central.

    From J.P. Ricciardi's standpoint, he does need to trade Halladay, but not necessarily this week. If the right deal isn't there, he's better off auctioning off Halladay in December in Indianapolis than accepting a bad deal. The Twins had to trade Johan Santana when the did because of the pitcher's aggressive threats to use his no-trade clause, and that deal hurt the franchise because it didn't return value. Making that kind of deal would be the worst outcome for the Blue Jays.

    Regardless of whether he trades Halladay, Ricciardi should look to dump all the veterans he has who are having their best seasons in quite some time. Scott Rolen, Marco Scutaro and Lyle Overbay haven't had this kind of trade value in a while; the GM needs to capitalize on this to acquire talent and free up resources.

  • As mentioned, the Indians pretty much have committed to moving Victor Martinez. The interesting thing here is that Martinez has played so much first base that teams with solid catching situations have been in on him. Acquiring Martinez to play first is a waste, but this factor does improve the Indians' chance of getting value back for him. Everybody out there needs a bat, but the Red Sox have been the team mentioned most often. The Dodgers, suffering through Russell Martin's nightmare, would get a huge boost by adding Martinez, psychically completing the Santana deal from last summer in the process.
  • The Orioles and Nationals still have bats to move, and the Orioles have George Sherrill as well. It would be a waste if the two teams go to August 1 with all their veterans, as none of the players in question are a part of either team's future. Sometimes, you have to just get something, especially at a time in the game when offering arbitration as a means to collect draft picks is a very dangerous proposition.

  • 19 of 30 teams-the Mets are on that side of the line-can be described as "playing for this year." Thirteen of those have yet to make a deal. Lots of moves could still happen. My sense is that we'll see a number of second-tier deals-I've already been asked more questions about Kevin Correia this morning than in my entire life to date-and one blockbuster, probably from off the radar.

    Man, this is fun.

--

This morning, The New York Times is reporting that Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are on the list of 103 players who tested positive during anonymous survey drug testing in 2003. I'll leave the rending of garments to others. I just want to point out that running this story today, when there's no doubt that the list has been in various hands for some time, might as well have been planned by Roger Goodell. This should be a bright time for baseball, with the focus on the pennant races and the trade deadline, and instead we're going to get nothing but "steroids" and "cheaters" and the same tired mock outrage we've gotten for years.

The argument for releasing the list is to avoid just this happening, over and over again. These names came out at the trade deadline. I'm certain, absolutely certain, that the next names will be of players on postseason teams and the story will break in October. The next ones will come out during the winter meetings, then as pitchers and catchers report. We will have a constant cycle of gotcha stories until the names are no longer sexy.

Until and unless baseball controls the story, it will be controlled by people who at best have no concern for baseball, and at worst have an interest in its embarrassment. I don't take any pleasure in advocating that a hundred baseball players be treated this way, but that process is inevitable, so MLB and the MLBPA have to find a way to own the process.

In other news, somewhere a 6'2, 320-pound man who plays a popular sport professionally for a living ran very, very quickly on a hot summer day. Nobody cared.

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

Related Content:  Deal,  The Who,  The Process,  Victor Sanchez

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