It's a Small World After All
July 30, 2006

Well, maybe I was wrong.  It turns out that in some years, the GMs actually do pull the trigger on some deals where big names move.  For the past few there hadn't been that many where a legitimate star level player switched teams, much less leagues.  This year there have already been two and it looks like there could be a couple more where star hitters were traded.  At least one thing is for sure - I will have to revise my FAABing strategy next year because having no FAAB while all this movement takes place is like being in the middle of a money drop but having no arms.  OK, so what has transpired so far:

Looking at the first big interleague trade that went down, Kevin Mench's value goes up quite a bit because now he'll get regular playing time.  Carlos Lee's value gets a bump as well both from the line-up he'll be in and his new home park.  Miller Park has been playing a little tough on home runs this year while Ameriquest is generally one of the best homer parks in the majors.  Laynce Nix value also gets a little bump because he won't have as much competition in center and, just like Joe Borchard when he switched leagues, the NL seems to be a little more friendly for free swingers.  However, he still won't be very good.  Brad Wilkerson, Jerry Hairston and Mark DeRosa will each take a hit in playing time, particularly Hairston who wasn't doing much with his bat anyway.  Talk about disappointment.  Just a couple of years ago there was a legitimate debate about who the Oriole's should keep as their regular second baseman - Brian Roberts or Hairston - because both played very good defense and posed formidable threats as lead-off men.  I guess all those injuries finally took their toll. 

The second big deal is not nearly as balanced.  Dealing for Bobby Abreu either means that the Yanks aren't optimistic that they'll get Sheffield back by September or that they aren't satisfied with the production their getting out of Williams/Phillips, which frankly has been much better than expected.  It also means that if Sheffield does come back that either he will switch positions or Giambi will play regularly at first.  It also probably means that Sheffield will be a free agent this winter since the Yankes are committed to both Matsui and Abreu for next year.  As for how Abreu will do in his new digs, probably quite well.  Yankee Stadium has historically been pretty friendly to left-handed hitters and Abreu is no exception, having hit .263/.364/.632 there.  Even more beneficial for the Yankees is how he's done against the AL East:

Against Baltimore - .312/.466/.500
Against Boston - .324/.425/.574
Against Toronto - .333/.382/.556
Against Tampa Bay - .304/.388/.429

Of course, not all of that production has come against the pitchers he'll be facing.  He has not fared well against Eric Bedard, Kris Benson, Bruce Chen, Josh Beckett or Tim Wakefield, but he has owned Matt Clement, Jason Johnson, Curt Schilling, David Wells, Brian Meadows, AJ Burnett and BJ Ryan.  Looking at that list it looks very much like the Red Sox really need to make a big move to counter because it just got a lot tougher for them to beat the Yanks.

The Cory Lidle part of the deal on the surface look pretty good because now the Yankees can stop with the charade of sending out Shawn Chacon and Sidney Ponson regularly.  But it's not fixed yet.  Lidle did have some decent years in Oakland, but back then it was a pretty good pitcher's park and he had excellent outfield defense behind him.  Not so much with the new Yankee outfield.  Worse still, Lidle has not fared nearly as well against the AL East. 

Against Baltimore:  4-6, 4.77 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
Against Boston:  2-2, 6.49 ERA, 1.52 WHIP
Against Toronto: 2-4, 6.39 ERA, 1.53 WHIP
Against Tampa Bay: 2-4, 7.08 ERA, 1.57 WHIP

And while he has pitched reasonably well against individuals like Troy Glaus, there are a bunch of guys on those rosters who hammer him:

Baltimore, Conine - .576 BA, 1.545 OPS
Baltimore, Mora - .421, 1.055 OPS
Baltimore, Roberts - .304, .838 OPS
Baltimore, Tejada - .300, 1.200 OPS

Boston, Gonzales - .333, .945 OPS
Boston, Kapler - .417, .917 OPS
Boston, Lowell - .368, 1.084 OPS
Boston, Ramirez - .421, 1.173 OPS

Tampa, Baldelli - .364, .864 OPS
Tampa, Lee -  .300, 1.117 OPS
Tampa, Lugo - .333, 1.262 OPS

Toronto, Catalanotto - .381, 1.077 OPS
Toronto, Hinske - .600, 2.667 OPS
Toronto, Wells - .500, 1.250 OPS

In short, Lidle will fare better than his predecesors but it won't be pretty. 

From the Phillies perspective, this looks like a disaster talent-wise.  Sure they get out from under Abreu's $15 million contract, but are there really that many guys who can be a free agent this winter they can spend it on?  Or do Philly fans get to look forward to watching Shane Victorino and/or David Delucci in right field next year?  Don't get me wrong, those are nice players, but they aren't the kind of impact players that can play everyday and move a team along significantly toward the playoffs, especially in a division with the free spending Mets, the scouting savvy Braves and Marlins and the sleeping giant that is the Nationals.  The Yankees could have added their entire Triple-A roster to this deal and the Phillies still wouldn't have gotten a legitimate prospect. 

The general consensus is that shortstop CJ Henry is the best prospect moving, but he has yet to hit at either of his first two levels in the minors.  Jesus Sanchez, an 18-year old catcher in the GCL, is hitting well but unless he's a defensive wiz he's a loooooooong way from contributing in the majors.  What they're left with for the next four or five years is that they got a decent reliever (Matt Smith) for Bobby Abreu.  And they thought Jim Bowden got a steal for some middle relief.  Oy!

If it wasn't obvious enough how bad the Braves bullpen has been this season, John Schuerholz made another trade for veteran help.  Only this time it wasn't a low minors prospect he gave up, it was his best bench player, Wilson Betimit in exchange for Danys Baez and Willie Aybar.  Baez will set-up Bob Wickman, further marginalizing Jorge Sosa and Ken Ray who have both been overmatched by their previous roles.  Aybar will take over as the Braves' super sub albeit with less flexibility and defense than Betimit.  Betimit, on the other hand, gets a deserved shot at playing regularly and if his recent production is any indication, he could be a borderline all star.  He still strikes out quite a bit relative to the number of times he draws a walk so that still needs some attention, but good things happen when he puts the bat on the ball.  In July he's been hitting .317 with a .583 slugging percentage.  His .359 on base (.344 for the season) isn't half bad either.  Aybar has been putting up similar numbers in Triple-A Las Vegas, but that's a little easier task in that park against lesser competition.  Still, at just 23 there's plenty of time and room for him to grow into a regular job.  For the immediate future, Betimit makes a very nice pick-up in fantasy leagues.

Walt Jocketty always seems to make a smart move at the deadline and this year was no exception.  He traded promising offensive player Hector Luna for reasonably established Ronnie Belliard.  Belliard gives the Cardinals' groundball staff another plus defender in the infield, so the fantasy value of each of the Cardinal starters gets a slight bump.  The transition from Jacobs Field to the new park in St. Louis plus the transition to a new league might cost him some production, but Belliard is pretty aggressive at the plate so if he gets pitches to hit he should be ok.  The danger is that if NL hurlers test how aggressive he is, he might not get off to a strong start.  Luna will vie for playing time with Joe Inglett at second.  This should be interesting as Luna has the greater offensive upside, but Inglett might be the better gloveman.  Given Jhonny Peralta's range limitations, lots of Luna could be bad news for an extreme groundballer like Jake Westbrook.  Conversely, the recent addition of Shin-Soo Choo might be good news for extreme flyballers like Paul Byrd and Cliff Lee, although Casey Blake more than acquitted himself in right.  Both guys have less than ideal range, but Choo should have an advantage with more experience playing the outfield.

There's no debate that Jeremy Bonderman has the stuff to be a big-time winner in the majors and probably is worthy of consideration as a "staff ace".  But his 8th inning meltdown against the Twins is symptomatic of the kind of mental errors he makes that keep me from jumping on his bandwagon.  He always seems to have one inning where he undoes much of the good work he's done earlier and more often than it should costs him a win.  No, there was nothing he could have done about the seeing eye nature of the balls in play that the Twins did hit, but his balk to force in a run and move two more into scoring position was about as fundamental as it gets.  There are certain things one can't do on the pitching rubber and it doesn't take much brain power to simply step off if the routine isn't right. 

Colby Lewis made his return to the majors (albeit for only four days) after two years of recovering from shoulder surgery.   He's a deep sleeper in AL-only leagues but one that could pan out nicely.  Two terrible outings this season make his overall Triple-A numbers look pretty mediocre.  But remove them and his ERA is 3.01 and his WHIP is 1.177, with 86 Ks against 24 walks.  His poor won-loss record is the result of not getting much run support.  In 12 of his 20 starts he's allowed 2 earned runs or less yet only has 4 wins to show for it.  Toledo at one time was a good hitters park and a great place to hit homers yet he's only allowed 9 this year, five of which came in two starts.   With Zach Miner getting pummelled in July - 5 starts, 5.78 ERA, 1.54 WHIP - Lewis might get a chance in the rotation by mid-August if the Tigers don't go outside for help.  Several years ago Lewis was a top pitching prospect in the Rangers system, featuring a mid-90s fastball and a decent complementary assortment of breaking pitches.  I've read that he's lost a few miles an hour off his fastball after the surgery cost him a season so I'm interested to see how he fares from here on out; his numbers in Triple-A warrant a look. 

Shane Komine, nicknamed the "Hawaiian Punch-out", got his first start in the majors today and while generally it's not a good idea to take too much away from a first start because most guys are pretty nervous, there were some important notes to be gleaned.  His fastball ranged in the mid-upper 80s and moved in on right-handers with his big out pitch being slow curve.  But had it not been for some well above average defense on the infield he would have been hit much harder than his line score looks.  His minor league strikeouts are probably like Rich Hill's: largely due to his curve.  And just as it has been with Hill, major league hitters don't often swing at that pitch when it's out of the strikezone.  Best case scenario is that what we have here is the next Kurt Saarloos.