There were lots of minor deals over the past four or five days, but nothing major, and on Sunday, the action ground to a complete halt. Calm before the storm, or harbinger of the future? This might be time to bust out the winter meetings theorem: as the ratio of newsmakers to newsgatherers drops, so does the amount of news being made. The same may now apply to the trade deadline, which peaked close to a decade ago.
Anyway, here are some reactions to the transactions that did happen, in rough order of significance:
- Astros trade Dan Wheeler to the Devil Rays for Ty Wigginton; subsequently designate Morgan Ensberg for assignment. You got me. Rumors persist that Ensberg will be traded before his DFA period ends, but even if he is, the return won’t be much. So for Wheeler and Ensberg, the Astros get a 29-year-old infielder who runs a below-average OBP with good power and so-so defense. Mildly impressive at second base, Wigginton is just a guy at third base, and this is the first season since 2004 in which he’s outhitting Ensberg. At that, the difference this year is just 17 points of EqA. This looks more like a tantrum by the Astros than a baseball decision, their frustration with Ensberg’s injury woes and power outage getting the better of them.
It’s a little surprising to see the Devil Rays trading up in age, but their bullpen has just been a disaster for three years running. Getting Wheeler, who was very good for 2 ½ years in Houston, looks like a decent buy-low play that doesn’t cost them much. On the other hand, as discussed below in the Scott Linebrink trade comments, he may just be another reliever who flamed out after 150 good innings.
Wigginton was a pretty good candidate to be non-tendered by the Rays in the offseason, as his production would generate a salary ill-suited for his projected production. The Rays can fill second base with Ben Zobrist, then perhaps Reid Brignac as early as next year, and they should be better in the late innings with Wheeler joining a now-healthy Al Reyes. The competition is Shawn Camp, Gary Glover, and Brian Stokes, so even the current version of Wheeler is an upgrade.
- Rangers trade Kenny Lofton to the Indians for Max Ramirez. This is the classic deadline deal, in which a player you’ve heard of is swapped for one you haven’t. Lofton is a nice fit for the Tribe, who have struggled to get production from the outfield corners. They can platoon Lofton in a corner, hiding his weaknesses-diminished range, no arm, can’t hit lefties-and get the most from his OBP in the #2 slot. They improve upon the second-best offense in the league, no mean feat.
- White Sox trade Tadahito Iguchi to the Phillies for Michael Dubee. That was quick. Barely 24 hours after Chase Utley was hit on the hand and knocked out of the lineup for a month, Pat Gillick betrayed his “Stand Pat” moniker and quickly nabbed a seviceable replacement in Iguchi. I wouldn’t have though the Phillies could trade a prospect so easily, but Iguchi’s value to the White Sox was dwindling fast. They cannot offer him arbitration at the end of the year, and were likely to lose him to free agency. As with the Rangers and Lofton, it’s effectively a something-for-nothing deal. Dubee has been reasonably effective in the Sally League this year; then again, he’s a Sally Leaguer who can buy his own beer, which is a negative marker.
- Padres trade Scott Linebrink to the Brewers for Will Inman, Joe Thatcher and Steve Garrison. I’m not a fan. The Brewers clearly needed to work on their bullpen, the ineffectiveness of which is one of the two biggest reasons, along with the offense, that they’re in danger of falling out of first place. Linebrink, however, is about 65 innings past his expiration date, showing the career path that so many “finds” in middle relief have before, losing his effectiveness after two, maybe two-plus seasons of effectiveness. John Habyan, to me, has always been the patron saint of this group, but there are examples littering the landscape of the last 15 years. Christina illustrated the point last week, so I’m just piling on here.
The defense of the deal, articulated to me by someone close to the Brewers, is that they didn’t give up anything. That may be literally true-Inman and Garrison are back-end starter suspects, while Thatcher is ready to be a matchup lefty right now-but all of these guys have at least some value in the market. The Brewers now have three fewer chips in play and they haven’t actually addressed their weakness in the bullpen. That this deal wasn’t “that bad” isn’t the point; it’s that it’s not good. The Cubs won this trade.
Credit Kevin Towers for moving quickly to get value for his fourth-best right-handed reliever. If Inman and Garrison are to have careers, they’ll be helped by reaching the majors for the Padres, whose Petco Park affords pitchers a lot of leeway. Thatcher steps in to take his turn at being the lefty complement to Cla Meredith in the seventh inning. As deep as the Padres have become from the right side, they haven’t quite found an answer from the left; Thatcher addresses that.
- Devil Rays trade Jorge Cantu to the Reds for Calvin Medlock and Brian Shackelford. It looks like a dump, but Medlock might be interesting. He’s a fastball/changeup guy who was pretty unholy in his second run through Double-A this year: 59 strikeouts and five walks in 47 2/3 innings. He’s been less effective in a month at Triple-A. The Devil Rays can afford to take flyers on relievers. The Reds will keep Cantu in the minors for now, I guess so they keep getting that sweet Jeff Keppinger action. Why not promote Cantu and see if he and Brandon Phillips can hit enough to be next year’s double-play combination despite below-average defense?
This is a nice haul for Jon Daniels in exchange for a player who was essentially valueless to a team going nowhere. I’ll admit that until a couple of days ago, Max Ramirez was just a name I skimmed in the daily Baseball America Prospect Report. Kevin Goldstein rates him the seventh-best catching prospect in the game, mostly on the strength of his offense. Ramirez hits for average and draws walks, and the power has come on this year. His bat will carry his glove-not good-if he stays behind the plate, and may play even if he doesn’t. It’s a nice add to an organization that needs all the help it can get.
Hopefully we’ll have some bigger names to write about today. With just five games on the schedule, 20 GMs have plenty of time to spend on the phone.