Crazy Train
July 29, 2005

No one has to wonder anymore how badly the San Diego Padres wanted to get rid of Phil Nevin.  They traded him for Chan Ho Park.  Just so this is clear, the Padres already had a  pitcher who had been so bad that even the Rangers didn't want him... his name was Pedro Astacio.  But the Pads had picked him up off waivers.  They wanted to get rid of Nevin so badly that they actually traded for another Astacio, only this one has $20 million owed to him over the next two years.  It's one thing to trade for a guy making league minimum, but quite another to trade for the same guy making an average of $10 million a year.  Actually, Park has been worse than Astacio in that after April, Park has yet to post and ERA under 5.40 or a WHIP under 1.60 in any month.  Overall, his numbers since the beginning of May are 6.35 ERA and a WHIP of 1.828; Astacio's are 6.80 ERA and a WHIP of 1.533.  This season, Astacio has had 7 starts in which he allowed 2 earned runs or less; Park has had the same number but needed 6 more starts to do it.  The same pitcher essentially, huge difference in salary. 

There is, however, a significant difference between the two pitchers.  Astacio's problem in Texas was keeping the ball in the park.  His WHIP was an acceptable 1.44 and his K/BB ratio was a fine 2.74/1.  What drove his ERA into the stratosphere was the 14 homers in 77 innings.  The gopheritis is an issue that is exacerbated by the park in Texas, but mitigated by Pecto's spacious dimensions.  Park doesn't have that problem.  Home runs have not been an issue with him as he's allowed only 8 all year.  Park's problems, to be blunt, is that he simply stinks.  He can't find the strikezone, as his 54 walks in 109 innings so obviously attests, and when he does, it has been right down the middle (unless you'd like to blame the 130 hits he's given up on bad defense).  Unlike Astacio, it hasn't been about getting unlucky with one pitch here and there; Park has been terrible with lots of pitches and that's not something a change of parks can cure.  The result is that the Pads are willing to choke themselves to death both in the rotation and in the payroll to get rid of Nevin.  It is, by definition, a suicidal urge.  That's how badly the Padres wanted to get rid of him. 

Astacio will likely get moved to the bullpen (or dumped) and Park will take his turn getting pounded regularly until the Padres lose possession of first place.  Employing Nevin as the bat boy probably would have been more constructive than this trade.  The Padres only hope in this is that the Park they get is the one who's allowed three runs or less in five of his last 8 starts, not the one who has allowed five or more runs in five of his last 10. 

The plan for Nevin is for him to DH against lefties, moving David Dellucci to the outfield.  Career-wise, Nevin has been a terror against left-handers, hitting .305 and slugging .564 against them.  But this year, he's hardly any better (.711 OPS vs .694 OPS) and has actually hit worse (.228 vs .267).  While Nevin will likely enjoy some gains from switching ballparks, it's not a given.  This year his numbers at home are not significantly different than they are on the road (.696 vs .703).  Even last year, when he complained so much about the effects of Petco, there wasn't a huge difference and it most of that was due to the difference in batting average, not isolated power (.265/.364/.465 vs .310/.371/.516).  Those who bid on him expecting a sudden return to his 40-home run form of 2001 are probably going to be quite disappointed.

The Manny Ramirez rumors are interesting from the Red Sox point of view because anyone they get in return will be a downgrade offensively.  The last rumor that almost made it to reality was that they would get Aubrey Huff and Mike Cameron in trade.  But where would everyone play?  Cameron gives them a centerfielder for next year so they wouldn't have to worry about signing Johnny Damon, but if he plays left this year, where does that put Huff?  He's too good of a player to platoon in right field with Nixon and they already have Kevin Millar and John Olerud at first with Roberto Petagine wasting his time in AAA.   Even with Manny unhappy he's still one of the most productive hitters in the AL (.941 OPS - 6th in OPS for players who qualify).  How much defense is enough to make up the difference?  Hard to say, really, but it'd have to be a lot with Mike Cameron's output (.820).  It's a great trade for the BoSox to make this winter because they can simply replace Manny with Huff and Damon with Cameron and spend money otherwise earmarked for Damon on pitching or other concerns.  But I'm not sure it makes much sense for them to overflow their roster with full-time players in the middle of a pennant chase.

Eric Byrnes was traded for the second time in a month, this time to the Orioles.  He's a good all around player, but he's two years older than Larry Bigbie, the player he was traded for.  So is he really that much better?  Bigbie had a career .276 average (.340 OBA) with 45 doubles and 26 homers in 930 ABs coming into this season.  Byrnes, in 1125 ABs, had a .271 average (.336 OBA) with 71 doubles and 38 homers.  They both offer good defense in left, so on the surface, I'd have to say that on the strength of his greater slugging percentage Byrnes is the guy to have.  However, there's still those two years in age difference.  At the same age as Bigbie, Byrnes ws hitting just .247 with a .306 OBA.  While his slugging percentage was still higher, it wasn't enough to offset the difference in the other stats. 

Those two years can be huge.  For example, there's a two year age difference between Jerry Hairston and Brian Roberts.  Before this year, there was a question as to which guy the Orioles should keep.  Hairston was the slightly better defensive player, but Roberts stayed healthy.  There isn't any question that the O's got it right (and I got it wrong) in keeping Roberts.  But if the same rules apply to this Byrnes/Bigbie trade, this time they may have gotten it wrong.

The Yankees got Shawn Chacon in trade to help their ailing rotation and they may have gotten exactly what they needed.  Moving from Colorado has to help even with coming to the AL East and facing DHs.  The Rockies were never committed on how to use him, so there still may be plenty of potential for growth.  He has very good stuff and with a decent coaching and a bullpen that can hold leads, he could be roto silver (not quite gold, but still pretty nice).  He's posted decent strikeout rates despite the high altitude and has allowed only one homer this year outside Colorado.  Run support won't be an issue with the Yanks.  So what is the downside?  He's always issued too many free passes so the WHIP will be continue to be slightly uncomfortable, but he'll be a solid bet for wins and strikeouts over the final two months.