The Deed is Done
July 31, 2006

So Soriano doesn't go anywhere.  As usual Jim Bowden is getting mercilessly bashed for "failing" to trade one of the most productive players in the NL - well, he is among the top 10 or 12 in OPS and RC27.  But what if Bowden was a victim of his own success?  The Bobby Abreu trade showed that it's possible to get a top player for yard trash, and Bowden's deal that fetched Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez for primarily middle/late inning relievers certainly showed how desperate teams are for pitching, both to find it and to keep what they have.  The rumors flying around were that Bowden was being offered Matt Garza and Scott Baker or Humberto Sanchez and Joel Zumaya but what if he was being offered just one guy straight up, or some combination of lesser prospects.  There has been some confirmation of that as the rumored offer from the Angels was Erick Aybar, Jose Arredondo or Tommy Mendoza, and either Reggie Willits or Tommy Murphy.  Hardly what one would describe as a bounty of young talent as Aybar is the only real prospect in the bunch and he's probably the Angel's third or fourth best infield prospect. 

Most teams won't part with their best prospects, instead dealing second tier young talent.  So is a guy like Soriano worth more than two or three players who might end up as role players in a year or two?  Soriano has expressed an interest to stay in Washington that seems sincere, so if there's a chance to keep him he's worth more than a couple of guys who could be the next Jason Davis or Lew Ford or Damian Jackson.  Sure, it would have been nice if the Nationals could have gotten Matt Garza and Jason Kubel but I have doubts they were ever offered anything close to that. 

There has been much discussion that the Nats won't be able to afford Soriano's salary demands.  Frankly, I don't expect money to be an issue at all.  The Nats are drawing more than 35,000 a game since the Lerners officially took over.  More significantly, the team is going from an ownership group that was so penurious that it refused to pony up for TVs in the pressbox until June of last year, to an owner who is worth more than a billion dollars and has been an ardent fan of Washington baseball since the days when Babe Ruth was still playing.  It won't be money that keeps Soriano from re-upping with the Nats.  The biggest sticking point will be a no-trade clause.  Soriano wants to control where and when he plays for the duration of his next contract while team president Stan Kasten stipulates that he has never given out a no-trade clause in all his previous years with the Braves and Hawks.   If they can reach a compromise on that issue, Soriano will remain a National for a few more years.

The worst case scenario is that the Nats can't re-sign him and the team gets two compensation draft picks from the team that signs him.  But how bad is it to let the same guys who drafted Chad Cordero, Bill Bray and Ryan Zimmerman (the Expos/Nats' 2003-2005 first round picks) get more a couple more high draft picks?  Isn't that also better than getting some other team's chaff?   I really don't see a losing situation here for Bowden and the Nats.  Some scenarios are clearly better than others, but none look like a disaster.

One suggestion for the Nationals before they start spending this winter - get a better medical and training staff.  For the second year in a row, the Nationals are among baseball's worst at keeping players healthy.  Keeping the guys they paid for on the field will do as much for their fortunes in the standings as acquiring top free agents and prospects.

What's particularly unusual about the Sean Casey trade is that Chris Shelton has been more productive offensively than Casey, even over the last several months.  Casey's injuries have played a part in that but when you get Sean Casey, that's what you get.  Perhaps Shelton's demotion is punishment for his defensive miscues Sunday against the Twins.  There were a couple of plays on grounders that he should have made in the 8th inning that ended up scoring runs.  But sending him to Triple-A seems a little harsh.  He can still be productive as a DH or as a pinch hitter off the bench.

June and July have historically been slow months for Casey but three homers in four months? His nagging injuries have completely robbed him of power and Comerica Park won't help.  If the Tigers were looking for left-handed power, they sure have an odd definition for it.  It's also interesting that in a team by team comparison, Casey has fared poorly against AL teams, particularly Cleveland, Chicago and Minnesota.  Outside of hitting Javier Vazquez well, he has a total of four career hits against the current members of the White Sox staff in 19 bats.  Against the current Indians, he has 9 hits in 36 at bats and against the Twins, 8 in 31 ABs.  Against only Vazquez does he have a homer.  Minus Vazquez, that's a career .244 average versus the Tigers primary competition in the AL Central. 

I'm not sure why the Reds keep acquiring starters who give up primarily fly balls. Home runs have always been Kyle Lohse' Achilles heel so moving him to the park with the 4th highest home run rate seems, well, not smart.  Career, his numbers outside (5.21 ERA/1.51 WHIP) and on grass (5.28 ERA/1.54 WHIP) are significantly worse than inside (4.59 ERA/1.39 WHIP) or on turf (4.55 ERA/1.37 WHIP).  Lohse still has a decent fastball but right-handers have been clobbering him for the last three years.  And guess who resides in the NL Central?  Well, besides two of the best right-handed hitters in baseball, Albert Pujols and Derrek Lee, there's also Scott Rolen, Aramis Ramirez and Jason Bay.  The smiles on their faces when they visit Cincy will grow a little wider.

The Reds also dealt Justin Germano to the Phillies in exchange for Rheal Cormier.  Germano doesn't have great stuff, but if he can regain his confidence in his control he could develop into a Rick Reed-type back-end starter for the Phillies.  He does induce a decent number of groundballs so the ballpark shouldn't be much of a factor.  Cormier has been surprisingly effective this year and will play a key role in setting up newly acquired closer Eddie Guardado.

After they discovered that Duaner Sanchez would be out for the rest of the season due to a shoulder separation suffered in a car accident, the Mets addressed their bullpen by trading Xavier Nady to the Pirates for Oliver Perez and Roberto Hernandez.  Hernandez had a very solid year in Shea last year and Omar Minaya is hoping he still has some magic left in that 40-year old arm.  Perez is a very nice pick-up for next year if nothing else.  The Mets have a staff full of pitching "coaches" like Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, plus one of the best actual pitching coaches in the game, Rick Peterson.  If that brain trust can't prefect Perez' considerable talent, it's doubtful anyone can.  Lastings Milledge will be called up to replace Nady.  In the short term he might replace his production; in the long term he most likely will and then some.

A second deal spinning Perez plus Heath Bell to the Padres in exchange for Scott Linebrink was ultimately nixed by the Padres.  Had they made that deal, the Padres' playoff hopes would have been dealt a crushing blow.  While none of the teams in the NL West is particularly formidable, the Padres' best chance to win the division is on the strength of their superior bullpen.  Without Linebrink salting away the 8th night after night, the Padres thin starting staff would have been exposed. 

One deal the Padres did make was sending
Jose Ceda to the Cubs for Todd Walker, who will be moved over to third base.  I'm still trying to figure out how this deal makes the Padres significantly better.  Walker doesn't have much power nor does he run, and his ability to get on base is just above average.  He doesn't have much range in the field and when he was coming up with the Twins he was moved from third to second in part because he doesn't have a particularly strong arm.  He's clearly a better option on offense than Geoff Blum or Mark Bellhorn but he's obviously not the answer the Padres were hoping for.  The switch in ballpark will hurt the rate he puts up numbers, but the increased playing time and better line-up will boost his overall numbers some. 

The Dodgers were pretty active at the deadline, bolstering their rotation with Greg Maddux and bringing in speedy infielder Julio Lugo.  I say "infielder" because the Dodgers seem to be pretty happy with Rafael Furcal at short, leaving Lugo to find his playing time at either second base, or third once Jeff Kent returns.  Maddux provides an upgrade but how much of one remains to be seen since he's not been very good since April, posting ERAs of 5.94, 6.25 and 5.21 in the months since.  Lugo adds some on base and speed but what the Dodger line-up really needed was some home run power as they are 29th in the majors in home runs despite playing in the major's 10th best park for hitting homers.  Still, he's an obvious offensive upgrade over Cesar Izturis so the Dodgers' move toward becoming the '85 Cardinals might turn out well.

The Cubs got Cesar Izturis to help out their infield defense.  Ronny Cedeno had not settled into the shortstop job and the Cubs felt they needed some stability.  Of course, it might have helped the youngster's confidence to know that Dusty Baker wouldn't sit him on a whim for Neifi Perez.  Regardless, Izturis will provide excellent defense at short, iffy offense and allow Cedeno to mature into the complete player he's capable of as long as Baker isn't on the North Side of Chicago next year.  Otherwise, he'll end up like so much other wasted young talent in the Cubs organization the last couple of years.

The Devil Rays made out pretty well here as they were able to deal a player they weren't able to sign for two pretty good minor league talents, one of whom could help them as soon as next year.  Guzman can play infield or outfield and projects to have big time home run power.  Pedroza is a little farther away but also grades out pretty well. 

The Braves finally gave up on Jorge Sosa, sending him to the pitcher doctor, Dave Duncan, in exchange for Rich Scalamandre.  Duncan has had great success fixing lost pitchers and if he can refine Sosa, the Cardinals will have a stud.  On the Braves side, Scalamandre might have some future as a lefty specialist (if he learns to throw left-handed) but is probably better off sticking with his true gift as a free lance assassin who uses a single golden bullet fired from a pistol made of gold to off his victims.  Given how much difficulty the Braves have had in dealing with Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado this season, their desperate search for outside-the-box solutions is almost understandable. 

The Rangers continued to re-shape their roster, sending prospects out to bring back Kip Wells and Matt Stairs.  Stairs is a known commodity, providing a decent power bat off the bench.  Wells is an interesting play because he's got the talent to become a top-end starter but has struggled with consistency.  Pitching coach Mark Connor has done well with Vicente Padilla making Wells a bit of a sleeper down the stretch.  He's returning from injury so he is probably not back to full strength but from 2003 -2005 he struck out 6 or more batter in 34% of his starts including a 12 K outing against the Phillies last year.

One of the most interesting deals of the day involved the Royals sending Jeremy Affeldt and Denny Bautista to Colorado in exchange for Ryan Shealy and Scott Dohmann.  Bob Apodaca doesn't get the credit he deserves for being an excellent pitching coach, but if he can get the underachieving Affeldt and Bautista to perform, he won't be under the radar any more.  Both guys have tremendous stuff: Affeldt, a low-mid 90s fastball and great curve and Bautista, a mid-high 90s fastball and decent slider.  They might have the best stuff of anyone in the Rockies organization.

As for the Royals, it'll be interesting to see what they do with Shealy given that they already have Justin Huber in Triple-A and Mike Sweeney in the majors at first.  Perhaps the question really should be what they are going to do with the other guys because Shealy has serious power and a pretty good eye for balls he can drive.  The one caveat about his success so far is that he's generally been much older than his competition in the minors so there's still some question as to how he will handle playing with boys his own age. 

I suppose I saved the best (or worst depending on your perspective) for last.  In most fantasy baseball leagues there always seem to be a couple of owners who always seem to be on the losing end of trades they make.  They are often referred to as "guppies", as in food for the sharks.  Hello, Dave Littlefield.  Actually, that's not entirely fair, but dealing a useful offensive player for a largely useless pitcher doesn't help one's reputation. 

The Pirates had been eager to trade Craig Wilson for some time now.  Why?  I have no idea.  True, he's not a very good defensive player anywhere on the diamond, but he crushes lefties (career .959 OPS against them) and is pretty good overall (.803 OPS), this despite battling hand injuries last year.  Once they dealt Sean Casey for a decent pitching prospect, first base (Wilson's "best" position) was available.  Does Littlefield think that Brad Eldred (currently hitting .226 in Triple-A) is really ready to take over there?  The Pirates have no one in Double-A, unless you're a big Simon Pond fan. 
So basically, Littlefield created a hole in his line-up by dealing one of his more productive hitters so that he could acquire Shawn Chacon, an incredibly mediocre arm, despite the fact that his organization is practically overflowing with good arms and is short on offensive talent.  Maybe the plan is to play newly acquired Xavier Nady at first, but that still doesn't explain why he would trade a usable commodity for a useless one given his organization context. 

I joked with Todd Zola of Mastersball that you have to hand it to the Yankees for doing their due diligence on this.  They loaded up on below average starting pitchers this year with the knowledge that they would be able to find a taker.  Hello, Dave Littlefield.

The Pirates were at the center of much of the action at the deadline and I have to wonder what they were thinking.  In exchange for Sean Casey and Craig Wilson (two of the team's more productive hitters), Oliver Perez and Kip Wells (two of the more talented arms in their organization) they got Xavier Nady (who is pretty much the same player as Wilson with better defense but a less potent bat), Shawn Chacon (who's value is at best questionable) and two decent minor league arms, neither of whom rated in the top 30 best prospects of either former team according to
Baseball America before the season began.  One has to use a great deal of imagination to see how the Pirates are better off today.