Trade Dudline
July 23, 2006

"Is there a gas leak in here?"
- Plankton

Sometimes I feel like I'm an extra on an episode of Spongebob Squarepants, watching in utter amazement and amusement at the zaniness that's going on.  Some of the trade rumors being floated around sound as if they originated from Spongebob's loyal but not-so-intellectual best friend Patrick Star.  Well, except for that episode where his skull was replaced with a brain coral... but that's another story. 

But first I wanted to add my two cents on the Bonds saga.  It was thought that if he was indicted this past week that the Commissioner would suspend him and that just as quickly the Player's Union would file a grievance to have the suspension overturned.  One question: why would the Player's Union do anything for someone who isn't in their union?  For the last five years, if I'm not mistaken, Bonds has not been a member of the union so that he could reap all the marketing rewards of being Barry Bonds and not share any of it with his fellow players.  If you've played any baseball simulation or video games, you are no doubt familiar with the player "San Francisco Left Fielder".  His defection from the union is the reason his name isn't listed.  He gave the union a big stiff arm so that he could get the big payday from his PED usage.  My guess is that Bonds would have the sympathy of Orza and Fehr but not their legal counsel and that he would be left to his own devices if suspended.  That, like his choice to use HGH and numerous steroids since 1999, is the path he chose for himself.

The most amusing (or perhaps disturbing) aspect of this sad episode in baseball history is that people are beginning to question why the government is "out to get to Bonds."  It's actually a pretty simple answer: he broke the law.  I know it sounds far-fetched given the legal abuses that have occurred under the current administration, but the Justice Department generally tries to punish people who've flagrantly broken laws.  Since the early 90s it's been illegal to use steroids without a doctor's acknowledgment.  Bonds has been one of the more obvious abusers of steroids in baseball and thus an obvious target for law enforcement.  True, it wasn't illegal under baseball's rules to use steroids, but neither is it against baseball's rules to poison opposing players.  That, like using steroids, would certainly give a player (or team) a competitive advantage, don't you think?  It seems strange that no one has tried that yet... maybe that will be on the table in the next collective bargaining agreement.  Nevertheless, it's illegal and punishable to do so.  Go figure.

And there is precedent for the legal powers that be going after guys who have "broken" laws even though the laws don't specifically forbid their actions.  Michael Milliken was sent to the white collar big house for securities violations involving junk bonds even though they were still a grey area under the law when he did so.  His activities played a significant role in the failure of the Savings and Loans, costing taxpayers billions of dollars in bailout money.  Even after all the fines and penalties Milliken was a billion dollars richer for his efforts.  Like they are with Bonds, some people are still on the fence about him.  And we wonder why the guys at Enron, Adelphia, Worldcomm, etc. thought they could get away with their schemes...

But back to Bonds... He admitted to "unknowingly using steroids".  It's next to impossible to regularly use a controlled substance for at least a year (as he admitted) without knowing it.  And the Feds have already exacted plea bargains from Bonds' trainer and supplier.  There's a popular meme going around that a competent attorney could indict a ham sandwich.  Perhaps, but on what charge and can he/she also get a conviction?  Because if a district attorney or a federal prosecutor is going to use public funds to indict someone (or a ham sandwich) for a crime, he/she had better be reasonably certain that a conviction is a feasible outcome.  No indictment doesn't mean that Bonds is less guilty of wrong doing than a lunch; it merely means the prosecutor doesn't have enough compelling evidence to expect a conviction.  And with top defense attorneys not above using any tactic to get their client off the hook, that's not an easy benchmark to achieve.

But you you know what I find most humorous in all the talk of Bonds and steroids?  There are still people who argue that there's no proof that steroids have an impact on baseball.  The punchline is that when you ask those same people for an explanation for the home run binge of the last decade, the first thing that almost always comes out their mouths is that "hitters are bigger and stronger".  And what exactly do steroids do?  They make one bigger and stronger.  But I guess just not in a baseball way, eh? 

The saddest part of this is that Bonds career is dead and he just doesn't know it yet.  It's likely the Feds will continue pursuing this until they get what they want from him.  It sets a bad example if an obvious law breaker gets away with it; it tends to undermine people's belief in the justice system, even with how flawed it is.  They aren't in the habit of giving up until they get something in return, either a plea or a trial.  I doubt any team is going to want to sign a guy with this kind of legal baggage who's also a liability in the field, even the Giants.

Speaking of the Giants (and back on topic, thank you), they swung a pretty good deal with the Blue Jays to acquire Shea Hillenbrand.  In exchange for Jeremy Accardo, they got Hillenbrand and Vinnie Chulk.  And they say the Reds overpaid for middle relief... how about the Blue Jays?  He's still relatively young, but Accardo's numbers in the minors weren't that exciting and his stuff isn't much above average and only arguably better than Chulk's.  Hillenbrand is not particularly good against right-handers so while he may start out as a full-time player, he will have to get much hotter than his .244 July average to prevent falling into a platoon with Mark Sweeney.   The consensus is probably that the Braves got the best deal when it comes to relievers in trade but Wickman will probably retire after this season, so two months for a prospect is still pretty expensive.

Who's leading the wild card races?  Cincy and ChiSox.   The Braves, who just made the deal for closer Bob Wickman are only 6 games back but their chances are slim with five teams ahead of them.  In the AL, the Yankees are only a game and a half back of the Sox and the Twins are a measly 3 back after a terrible first half.  With Liriano on fire, Santana and Radke on their usual second half surges, the Twins only need to address their outfield situation to steal away with the wild card.  Interestingly enough, they were going to have to address those situations in the offseason anyway with Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart eligible free agency.  Hunter might be able to come back in a few weeks so why not go ahead and fix the outfield, win the wild card and make some noise in the post-season?  Josh Rabe and Jason Tyner clearly aren't the answer.  Tyner's batting average and defense are decent, but he has yet to draw a walk or hit an extra base hit.  That's not going to cut it for a team that has limited power already.  Why not trade for Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Lee or Ryan Klesko or Frank Catalanotto or Jose Guillen or Craig Wilson or Dave Roberts or Jeromy Burnitz or Jose Cruz Jr. or Pat Burrell.  There's a rumor that the Twins are the mystery team in the Soriano Sweepstakes.  It's not a bad fit as they have numerous young, ready for the majors players and some pretty decent pitching prospects, all of whom won't get the time of day from Ron Gardenhire.  Jim Bowden's biggest score for Soriano would likely be a trade with them.

As for Soriano, I'm still of the opinion that the Nats, now that their new ownership is official, should with all speed sign him to a long term deal.  Sure, they could trade him for prospects and try to sign him this winter.  But if they do that they risk that Soriano will not have the good will he currently has toward the team and that he will only go to the highest bidder.  That could prove more expensive than signing him now and picking up veteran cast-offs to bolster the rotation, something Jim Bowden has done with some success the last two years with Esteban Loaiza, Hector Carrasco and Ramon Ortiz.

There's little doubt the Nats will have enough cash to sign Soriano.  This Saturday they drew over 38,000 to a game that matched-up the last place Nats with the equally feeble Cubs.  The new ownership has gone to considerable lengths to make the game experience more fan friendly with more diversity on the food menu, more family friendly activities, and thousands of low cost ($3 and $5) tickets.  The between-innings entertainment is also much improved with a President's race (similar to Milwaukee's famous sausage race) and a giveaway called Nats Make a Deal in which a fan is allowed to choose between a signed piece of memorabilia (like a signed jersey) or what is in one of two boxes.  On Saturday, the gifts in the boxes were a) a game-used piece of gum and b) XM radios for the entire row the fan had been sitting in. 

There was a group of shirtless guys in the upper deck with the letters for "GO NATS GO" painted on their chests, but the "T" was smeared so from my seat it looked like "GONADS GO".  That has nothing to do with the topic at hand, but I thought it was pretty funny anyway.  Even opposing players were enjoying the atmosphere as Phil Nevin was seen head banging in left field when the PA system was playing REO Speedwagon's "Take it on the Run" during a coaches visit.  I can't defend his taste in music.  But I can defend my prediction that the Washington Nationals are well on their way to becoming, at least money-wise, a powerhouse franchise.

But back to Soriano - he electrifies the crowd every time he comes up.  The Nats had played incredibly bad baseball over the first two innings of yesterday's game thanks in part to third base coach Tony Beasley's abysmally bad decisions to send Soriano home from third twice.  The first time was on a comebacker to the pitcher and the second was on a shallow flyball to Jacque Jones.  Still, after Soriano's triple, the stadium was on it's collective feet.  I don't know why GMs are so willing to part with guys like Soriano and Barry Zito.  These are the kind of players one builds a franchise around, not sell off for a couple of magic beans.  Talent and durability like theirs, even with the weaknesses in their game, is incredibly hard to find. 

One smaller move that Bowden made recently that got overlooked was signing Luis Matos.  He's had lots of injury troubles the last two or three years and his offensive upside doesn't look all that great compared to Soriano and Kearns, but he definitely has the range and arm to play center in RFK.  If he can benefit from Frank Robinson the way most Expo/Nationals hitters have, he should be a pretty solid player for the team for years to come.   His first year in Baltimore 27% of his balls in play were line-drives.  He's been swinging for the fences a bit too much the last couple of years but if he gets back to his earlier form, RFK should become very friendly for him with an ample number of doubles and triples to offset the lack of true home run power.  That's always a big if, but the potential is there.

I literally laughed out loud when I read that the Orioles would move Kevin Millar, Javy Lopez, Latroy Hawkins, Jeff Conine or Rodrigo Lopez for major league ready prospects.  With the exception of Javy Lopez whose bat is still decent if you can use him as a catcher every once in a while, none of those guys are even replacement level.  Why would any GM trade a guy making major league minimum for a guy who wouldn't be any more productive yet making two or three times the money?  If I were a GM and had major league ready prospects, I'm not sure I would give up even one for the whole lot of that crew.  I would, however, trade low level prospects to help my bench.  But giving up a guaranteed major league talent for bench help, a non-strikeout, non-groundball reliever with baserunner issues or a starter with gopheritis seems like a high price to pay.

The Tigers and Mets are leading their respective divisions and doing a pretty good job of playing with the big boys in their league.  Why is there any urgency for them to make a big trade?  It seems to me that the onus for making a big deal is on the teams trying to catch them.  Their GMs already made their big deals in the offseason; that's why they are winning now.  I acknowledge that both of those teams do have weaknesses that could be addressed, but neither team is so glaringly weak in one place that it will no doubt be their undoing in the playoffs.  The Tigers need a left-handed power hitter.  Well, if Dmitri Young is healthy, that need isn't as great.  The Mets need another starter behind Glavine and Pedro, but if Mike Pelfrey pitches to his ability, that need isn't as great either.  I would be very surprised if either team gives up their prized prospects this year.  They might make a lesser deal involving some lower level guys, but I just can't see dealing a Lastings Milledge or a Humberto Sanchez for a two month star rental. 

Brian Meadows has the tenacity to close, although is not a long term solution.  As long as he's getting the low strike he'll be ok.  But if an umpire forces him to elevate, he's going to be hit very hard because his stuff is below average.  Still, some playoff aspirant will find him attractive to help their bullpen.  Meanwhile, Seth McLung has found his niche in Durham bullpen.  Against Triple-A hitters he's thrown 12.2 innings, allowed 11 baserunners (only 2 walks) and 3 earned runs while striking out 22!  There is your Tampa Bay Devil Rays closer as of August 1.