Sosa and other Developments    (06/14/00)

The biggest news in baseball this week is the eventual departure of Sammy Sosa from Chi-Town.  There are a number of rumors as to why the Cubs are so desperate to trade Sosa, who has become as identifiable with the Windy City as Michael Jordan.  However, each attempt that has been made to justify this move is increasingly ludicrous, whether by the Cubs GM Ed Lynch, team president Andy MacPhail, manager Don Baylor or the folks in the media who have covered this circus.  They wanna get younger, they wanna get cheaper, Sosa's not what they need, he's a distraction... hogwash.  Sosa is a very good hitter, a decent defensive player and most importantly to any franchise, a huge draw for the fans.  Any team that would actively want to get rid of such a commodity should not be in the business of baseball.

It could be argued that Sammy Sosa is the best player the Cubs have ever had.  Bill James came up with a formula that helps compare players across eras: Linear Weights Runs Created per 27 Outs or LRC/27.  Basically, it estimates how many runs per game a team would score if it was comprised entirely of clones of this particular player, then it adjusts that number based on the league average during that period.  Sosa has a career LRC/27 of 4.56 entering this year.  Ryne Sandberg had a career mark of 4.20.  Billy Williams finished with a 4.07; Ernie Banks - 4.17; Andre Dawson - 4.19.  Only Hack Wilson (4.77) and Kiki Cuyler (4.76) have better career marks and they weren't with the Cubs as long as Sammy has been.  And yet the Cubs feel compelled to trade this guy.  So, if you're looking for a reason why the Tribune Corp wants to rid itself of the best product it's ever had, you're gonna come up empty.

That said, let's look at the rumored offers to see which one best addresses the Cubs' needs.

Yankees trade P Ramiro Mendoza, 3B Drew Henson and SS Alfonso Soriano for Sosa.

The Cubs could use another starter, but if they are trading for the future, this is a need which they can address from within.  Mike Meyers, Carlos Zambrano, Ben Christiansen and Joey Nation are all above average - excellent prospects.  In two years, they will all be in the majors.  Mendoza, as I've addressed in an earlier column concerning the Yankees woes, just isn't that great.  He's a fine fit for the Yanks because he doesn't have to start every 5 days.  But there is little evidence that he can make it as a front line starter.  Soriano has finally picked up his game offensively in AAA and he's always been a decent - good fielder.  However, his strikeout to walk ratio is not very good and he doesn't really draw many walks anyway.  This could be a big problem once he starts facing major league breaking pitches.  The Cubs could use a good shortstop, but Soriano is probably not it.  Henson is still very young, so his power may yet develop.  He has a decent idea about the strikezone and is probably the best prospect in this deal.  With Willie Green and Shane Andrews projected to man third for the foreseeable future, the Cubs can get by, but could use an upgrade.

Yankees trade SS Alfonso Soriano, 3B Drew Henson, OF Ricky Ledee or OF Shane Spencer and OF Jackson Melian for Sosa.

There are some who say that Soriano will follow a similar career path to that of Nomar Garciaparra.  They say he has similar power, better speed and like Nomar, doesn't walk a whole lot.  While the first two may be true, it should be noted that Garciaparra has walked more than he struck out in 4 out of 7 seasons in his professional career.  Soriano has accomplished that only once and that was when he was in the minor leagues in Japan.  He has not come even remotely close since.  Ledee is clearly the better choice between he and Spencer - better defensively, more speed, better plate discipline, comparable power and he's two years younger.  Ledee would take over in right presumably and the Cubs would have two solid regular outfielders once Corey Patterson makes the show for good, probably sometime in 2002.  Melian, like Henson, has a potentially high upside, but is struggling in AA right now.  He's probably 2 years away as well.

Yankees trade SS Alfonso Soriano, P Ed Yarnall, 3B Drew Henson and P Jake Westbrook for Sosa.

Yarnall was supposed to be the Yanks 5th starter this year.  Right now, it's questionable whether he can make it as the 5th starter for AAA Columbus.  Westbrook has fared a little better, but he's not exactly setting the world on fire either.  The Cubs already have 4 minor league starters who are better than these two.  They could move Van Poppel, who has finally figured out how to pitch, out of the bullpen and have a 5th.  When including Kerry Wood and Jon Lieber, it's pretty clear that the Cubs don't need two mediocre minor league starters.

Red Sox trade C Steve Lomasney, P Sun Woo Kim, 1B Dernell Stenson, IF Donnie Sadler for Sosa.

Catcher is another area that Cubs need to address.  Lomasney is a fine defensive catcher and has good power.  Many in the overly enthusiastic Red Sox Nation have dubbed him the next Fisk, but that may be a little zealous.  His strikezone judgment is still lacking and it's not probable that he'll hit for a high average.  With Varitek emerging as one of the better backstops in the AL, the Sox could part with Lomasney without much hesitation.  Sun Kim is probably the best of the Red Sox pitching prospects and one of the top 20 in all of baseball.  Stenson has often been compared to a young Mo Vaughn and that prediction might gold true.  But the Cubs already have Julio Zuleta in AAA and Hee Seop Choi in AA, so it's questionable how much they really need another first baseman, even if they let Mark Grace go to free agency this winter.  Sadler has great speed and can play either middle infield position reasonably well.  He'll eventually be an Eric Young type... but the Cubs already have Eric Young.

Red Sox trade OF Trot Nixon, C Steve Lomasney, P Sun Woo Kim and P Tomo Ohka or 1B Dernell Stenson for Sosa and Kevin Tapani or Ismael Valdes.

Ohka doesn't have Kim's good velocity, but he was good enough with his control to throw a perfect game this year.  But again, it's not clear that the Cubs are that desperate for starting pitching.  Trot Nixon would fill the void in right left by Sosa's departure and would probably do a  better job than Ledee in that spot.  The Cubs would like to dump some salary so there is some additional attraction to this deal.  Unfortunately, Nixon is nearly arbitration eligible so how much they'd save remains to be seen.

Mets trade OF Alex Escobar, P Grant Roberts and P Pat Strange for Sosa.

Escobar is the best outfield prospect listed here.  In fact, he might be the best outfield prospect, period.  He has a Guerrero-type arm, great speed, a decent knowledge of the strikezone and very good power.  An outfield that had both Patterson and Escobar would be pretty incredible defensively... so good that they might get away with putting a DH type in left.  Grant Roberts is a decent pitching prospect and might be pitching in the majors right now if the Mets didn't already have 57 starting pitchers on their roster already.  Pat Strange is the best pitcher the Mets have in their farm system, but is currently in high A ball.  So he's at least 3 years away.  But for right now, he's 9-0 with a 2.48 ERA.

Looking at what's been offered supposedly, the best deal would be Soriano, Ledee, Henson and Melian for Sosa.  However, I think that one is highly unlikely as it would utterly gut the Yanks' farm system of decent positional prospects.  That and with the crumbling of their rotation, the Yanks have a more pressing need for pitching help.  So my guess is that the deal for Lomasney, Kim, Stenson and Sadler is the one that gets Sosa to the town where he was signed as a free agent 5 years ago.  Yes, Sammy Sosa was a Boston Red Sox for a few brief months in the offseason following the 1994 work stoppage.  He was granted free agency due to a loophole in the contract rules during the stoppage and he signed a contract with Duquette and the Red Sox.  However, as part of the agreement between the owners and players to return to the business of baseball, all contracts that were signed during that period were negated and Sammy was a Cub once again to start the 1995 season.

Other perspectives

If you're playing in a fantasy league, now would be a great time to acquire Jose Lima.  It appears that he has turned the corner, and judging by the comments of several team leaders after last nights' win over Colorado and the fallout over Melusky/Mieske 1, the 'Stros might have as well.  Lima's biggest problem the past month has not been giving up homers, as it was in April, but run support.  Over his last 6 starts, he's thrown 40+ innings, given up 45 hits (6 homers) and 11 walks while striking out 28.  His ERA over that span is 4.50.  Not great, but not bad considering one of those starts came in Colorado.  However, the Astros have only scored 2.93 runs per game for him over that span.  For the season, they've only tallied 3.95 per game in Lima's starts, 7th worst in the NL.

Shane Reynolds, by comparison, has given up 35 hits (7 homers), 4 walks and struck out 21 in 33+ innings over the last 30 days.  His ERA has been 4.32.  A big reason why Reynolds has 5 more wins than Lima this year is run support: Reynolds has received 6.43 runs of support per outing this year.

If/when the Astros start scoring for Lima and he continues his current revival, he could finish strongly.  Andy Benes experienced a season similar to Lima's in 1996 and finished with 18 wins for St. Louis.

Speaking of St. Louis, how has Garret Stephenson been able jump out to an 8-2 record?  He's certainly pitched effectively, but 8.65 runs of support per game (2nd best in the NL) certainly hasn't hurt his chances.  Fellow Cardinal Pat Hentgen has had 7.13 runs of support, good for 7th best in the NL.  But he's just 5-6.  Shows you how ineffective he's really been.  As soon as LaRussa is comfortable allowing Matt Morris to go more than 4 innings, Hentgen will probably be out of the rotation and could be traded.

Kevin Tapani has only gotten 3.7 runs of support per game, 4th worst in the NL.  However, his problem might not get any better as the Cubs do not exactly possess an intimidating run scoring machine.  With the likes of Joe Girardi and Damon Buford getting regular at bats and the impending departure of Sosa, it's quite possible they'll score even less.

Jack McKeon is either a maniac or a genius.  We'll know for sure by the end of this season.  Last year, he squeezed 300+ innings of relief out of Scott Williamson, Danny Graves and Scott Sullivan.  Most relievers who throw that many innings either end up on the disabled list or in the crapper.  So far, neither has happened to the Reds trio.  However, never one to err on the side of caution, he's doing the same thing again this year.  Scott Williamson is currently on pace for a Gossage-like 125+ innings this year and Graves and Sullivan are not far behind.  It could be that they have incredibly resilient arms.  Or it could be that they'll look like extras in Saving Private Ryan by August.  Stay tuned.