The Trade
July 16, 2006

I'm not really sure why Jim Bowden has been bashed so much over the last four or five years.  He did a pretty remarkable job in Cincinnati picking up inexpensive players each winter and turning them into tradable commodities.  He didn't have much luck building a pitching staff there, but that might be as much attributed to the team's scouts as his decision-making.  I'm not saying it is, just saying it's possible.  He hasn't had a whole lot of luck building a pitching staff in Washington either (although Esteban Loaiza did work out pretty well for him), so maybe that part was his doing.

Still, as best as I can tell, the reason he still gets very little respect is that he signed Cristian Guzman for four years and $16 million.  One signing.  And even that one has the caveat that the player was hiding a shoulder injury.  Guzman is just entering his peak years so there's a chance it might still work out in the remaining two years of his contract.  Still, it's a bit harsh to bust a GM for one deal.  I mean does anyone ride John Schuerholz because he thought Danny Kolb would work out well as a closer for the Braves?  How about Brian Cashman for thinking Tony Womack was the answer at second base?   But apparently one questionable signing is all that it takes to cement Jim Bowden's reputation... until now.

It appears that after his trade with the Reds that brought the Nats Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner that his reputation might be rehabilitated.  I do agree that the Nats got a good deal, but let's not get carried away.  The deal's benefits are "obvious" only to those who believe the totality of baseball can be understood through batting statistics.  So allow me to try to add the perspective of someone who looks at all the numbers and who actually watches the games.

First of all, RFK is not death for hitters.  It's a very tough park for them when the weather is cooler as it was last year, but when it's as hot and humid as it has been this year, the ball carries almost as well as it does in Texas.  To whit: looking at the current ballpark factors, RFK is the 7th best park for run scoring in the majors behind the BOB, Kaufmann, Great America, Wrigley, the Metrodome and Camden Yards.  This means it's more favorable for run production than notorious hitter's parks like Coors, Arlington, Comiskey or Philly.  Both Lopez and Kearns are line drive hitters - about 23% of Kearns' balls in play are liners and Lopez hits about 20%, although he's been as high as 24% - which should play well to the park.  Both guys might take a small hit in the homer department due to the stadium, but their average, doubles and triples should all increase at RFK over Great America, offsetting much if not all of any potential decrease in production. 

Kearns' presence and the waiver pick-up of Luis Matos will allow Bowden to deal Jose Guillen.  I really don't expect Bowden to deal Alfonso Soriano.  He's an incredibly talented player who's got a great attitude and wants to stay in DC.  What's not to like?  Guillen, however, while talented, can be a bit of a headache.  He's been a solid citizen under Frank Robinson, but Frank probably isn't long for the manager's seat and Guillen might not play nice under another skipper.  The best time to deal him is now if that's what they're considering, before he becomes a problem. 

Ryan Wagner, the third player the Nats received, has the potential to be a relief ace but has struggled with mechanics and the mental side of the game.  At this point he looks like a long shot to contribute but there's always hope.  Probably the biggest concern from the Nats' side is Felipe Lopez' defense.  He has the talent to be an above average gloveman but has yet to maintain focus well enough day in and day out to do so.  So if the Nats can't count on consistent glovework from him they may have to go back to Guzman next year, which leaves Lopez without a position unless Vidro is moved.  As it stands now, Lopez has the third worst worst range factor of any regular shortstop in the baseball and the worst zone rating.  According to Dewan's Fielding Bible, he ranked 18th among major league shortstops on defense last year.  He's got a lot of work to do. 

The Reds did pick up two excellent arms in Gary Majewski, who could be their closer in less than a month given Eddie Guardado's recent track record and shoulder injury, and Bill Bray who has pitched well in his first exposure to the majors.  Brendan Harris has been a bit of a stat-head fave because of his early career success in the minors, but his defense is below average at every position he plays and his bat speed is at best average.  He does have a pretty good eye at the plate so he should have a decent career in the majors but only as a utility player. 

For the Reds part, they also had Chris Denorfia ready to contribute in the outfield and several players who can play short in the near term - Ray Olmedo, Juan Castro and now Royce Clayton.  Ryan Freel will get some more playing time as well so for a team that desperately needed bullpen help but had lots of positional depth from which to trade, it makes some sense. 

Ask any player or manager and just about the most deflating thing that can happen to a team is to lose a win in the final innings.  For anyone who has played baseball, those final few outs aren't just like any other outs because there's no coming back if you bungle them.  Put another way, the Reds traded two position players who combine to generate enough offense to give them three or four extra theoretical wins per season over the guys who are replacing them.  In return, they are getting two relievers who will save them from the extra five or six actual losses that the current Reds' relievers are giving them.  So in that light, it's not such a terrible deal for the Reds.  Still, if all of the talent develops perfectly on both sides, the Nats will have gotten the better end of this deal.  We just have to wait and see which guys pan out.

In other news, the trade of Aubrey Huff has prompted the Devil Rays to move BJ Upton from short to third in an effort to get him back to the majors sooner.  But his bat was never the question.  Neither was his glove.  It was his throwing from short that was the cause for concern.  Most of his more than 150 errors over the past four years have been throwing errors.  I'm not sure how moving him farther away from first will help correct his throwing mechanics.  I'm also not sure why Tampa continues to play Damon Hollins regularly with so many more promising options in Triple-A.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

About the most logical trade rumor I've heard so far is Cleveland moving Aaron Boone to the Dodgers for Odalis Perez.  Boone would give the Dodgers good defense while supplying a little more pop to a team that ranks dead last in the NL in homers.  Dodger Stadium is a little more homer friendly than the Jake, which would be welcome news for Boone.  Cleveland has Andy Marte waiting in the wings ready to take over at third - although his .805 OPS in Triple-A translates to about .740 in the majors which isn't much better than Boone.  Throw in 10 GIDPs and about 20 errors and Marte fans will have to understand that his first year will definitely be a learning experience.  For the Dodgers, Perez is clearly unhappy about his role and could use a fresh start somewhere else.  Jacob's Field is pitcher friendly enough to negate some of the league translation and the Indians could benefit from another solid starter.  When he's happy and healthy, Perez is a groundball pitcher with decent strikeout potential.  Sowers looks like he's still not ready for the show so Perez would buy him some time, and perhaps allow the Indians to trade Paul Byrd to a contender for prospects since it looks like the only other decent starting pitcher that's going to be available (at a reasonable price) at the deadline is Livan Hernandez. 

I expect that Ryan Klesko will be traded, probably to the Tigers.  The rumors of Bobby Abreu moving involve too many big names prospect-wise, which makes sense from the Philly angle but not so much from the team's getting Abreu for two months.  Unless a GM is being forced to pare payroll, rarely do big name players move at the deadline.  Most of the players who are traded are the kind of mid-level free agents who are roster fill-ins come winter.  Well, maybe not "fill-ins" per se, but not the big splash type free agents that garner headlines with their salaries and Abreu is more in the latter class than the former.  Anyway, I'm guessing that Klesko should be able to fetch Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya in return... kidding, just kidding.  But that's the level of absurdity one gets from most of the rumors that the sportswriters offer.  At best they would get someone like Cameron Maybin but even that's a stretch.  A couple of low minors arms is more like it.  My guess is that the only Phillie who changes teams is Tom Gordon.