Trade Deadline: the Reckoning
Saturday's trade deadline passed and although many of the anticipated "big" deals didn't happen, there were several that will play key roles in this year's and many future pennant races.
The Reds dealt BJ Ryan and Jacobo Sequea to the Orioles for Juan Guzman. Guzman had a terrible April, but since has been a good pitcher, posting an ERA of 3.26 and a ratio of 1.479. The ratio isn't that good but the ERA is excellent for an AL pitcher. However, Guzman should be a terrific NL pitcher. Over the past 4 years against NL teams, he is 6-5 with a 3.11 ERA and a ratio of 1.190. Also in Guzman's favor, he will probably get 4 starts against Atlanta and Milwaukee, teams he has absolutely flattened in his career: 2.37 ERA and a ratio of 0.886! On the flip side of the deal, the Reds gave up two good pitching prospects. Sequea has the biggest upside but is still 2 or 3 years away from contributing to a major league staff.
The Mets were quite active, strengthening their outfield defense and their bullpen after picking up Kenny Rogers to solidify their rotation. The Mets got Darryl Hamilton and Chuck McElroy from the Rockies for Brian McRae.and minor leaguers Tom Johnson and Rigo Beltran. Although he doesn't have as much power as McRae, Hamilton is regarded as having more range in the field and a better eye at the plate. This will be a huge plus for the Mets as they have a very patient team already, getting into opposing bullpens by wearing out starters with high pitch counts. Last year's Yankees and Padres showed that this is a very successful philosophy to adopt. For the Rockies, this deal makes less sense. They have one of the largest outfields in the majors and a defensive liability in Dante Bichette playing left. Why handicap the team further with a center fielder with less range? If anything, the Rockies should adopt the philosophy the Padres had when Gwynn was out: field the most athletic outfield in the majors so that anything that is not out of the ballpark is an out. But past history indicates that the Rockies are fairly clueless when it comes to building a team to suit that ballpark. Why else would they sign an extreme fly ball pitcher like Brian Bohanon to a three year deal? Anyway, McElroy gives the Mets another veteran lefty in the bullpen. Johnson looks like he'll eventually be a utility outfielder and Beltran, an adequate reliever.
The Mets also dealt Jason Isringhausen and Greg McMichael to the A's for closer Billy Taylor. This is another very good move by the Mets as it will provide closing insurance should Armando Benitez flame out and John Franco sit out the rest of the year with his finger injury. If Benitez can become consistent in his closing duties, then Taylor be a set-up man in a bullpen that is already one of the deepest in the majors. Taylor should get at least 5 save opportunities and could wind up with as many as 20, depending on which scenario plays out.
The Braves were surprisingly quiet and what they did do, didn't really address their pressing needs. The Braves have one of the worst on-base percentages in the majors from their top two guys in the line-up. I suspected this would be a problem in the spring, with Walt Weiss' chronic injuries and Bret Boone, who was never as good a hitter as many thought after last year. The Braves also needed to replace the bat of Javy Lopez , who's out for the season with a knee injury. I thought they might trade for former Brave Fred McGriff to at least address the latter issue. Instead, the Braves traded Micah Bowie, Ruben Quevedo and a player to be named later for Jose Hernandez and Terry Mulholland. Hernandez is sort of a compromise for them. He has a little pop in his bat and can play several positions, but for his career, he gets on base about as often as Boone or Weiss. I'm sure part of his appeal to the Braves was that he had been hot in July, hitting .322. The acquisition of Terry Mulholland looks like insurance: if Bruce Chen can't adequately fill the 5th spot in the rotation or if John Smoltz' arm troubles are more serious than once thought, then Mulholland will fill in. Otherwise, he'll be a long reliever and possible left-handed set-up man. Bowie and Quevedo are both decent pitching prospects.
This past winter, both Robin Ventura and Ed Sprague wanted to sign with the Padres. The Padres said no, deciding to go with farm hand George Arias at third base. Five months later, the Pads released George Arias while Ventura and Sprague were enjoying the best years of their careers. In June, the Pads went on a winning streak that brought them to within 2 games of first place and the rumors began to swirl about bringing Mexico's favorite son, Vinny Castilla, in to play third base. The deal never happened. Why? You have to go back to December when the Pads signed Carlos Hernandez and Chris Gomez to three year deals in an effort to persuade Kevin Brown that the Pads were committed to winning. That move backfired: Brown signed with the Dodgers and the Pads were stuck with long term deals for two marginal starters. It got worse: Hernandez blew out his hamstring in the spring and the Pads had to decide whether to bring up farm hand Ben Davis or start the season with two back-up catchers, Greg Myers and Jim Leyritz. Fortunately, the Pads had dealt Greg Vaughn and Mark Sweeney for Reggie Sanders, Damian Jackson and a minor league pitcher. I say fortunately because Jackson gave them an extra infielder, which allowed them to deal Andy Sheets to the Angels for former #1 pick Phil Nevin, drafted as a third baseman but now trying to stay in the majors as a catcher. Myers got hurt and Nevin became the catcher. He was decent enough but when Leyritz got hurt, and the Pads were forced to call up Davis anyway. But surprisingly to many, Davis played brilliantly. So brilliantly in fact that he became the everyday catcher and allowed the Pads to trade Myers and Leyritz (more on the latter in a sec). And because the Pads finally had an everyday catcher but no third baseman, Phil Nevin finally got to play the position at which he was drafted. Nevin has responded since the move, going 3 for 7 with a homer and 3 RBI. Perhaps this will be one of those times when the best deal made will be the ones that weren't made.
Anyway, back to Leyritz... because of the emergence of Ben Davis and AAA backstop Wiki Gonzales, Leyritz was no longer in the Pads long term plans except as maybe a right handed pinch hitter. So they dealt him to the team that Leyritz specifically asked to go, the Yanks. In return, the Pads got Geraldo Padua, a pitching prospect in the A ball South Atlantic League. Padua's record this year is 9-4 with a 2.84 ERA and 155 Ks in 139 innings. While Leyritz will certainly bolster the Yanks bench going into the post season, Padua might very well anchor the Padres' starting rotation heading into the next century.