Comings and Goings (6/14-6/20)

Houston Astros trade outfielder Richard Hidalgo to New York Mets for pitchers David Weathers and Jeremy Griffiths.

Jason Lane is Free! Finally, the Astros have decided to relinquish their top prospect, and while this has yet to gain any publicity, it is likely one of the largest factors of this trade. Houston would not make this deal if they didn’t have anyone adequate to back Hidalgo up, and the fact is, Lane is more than adequate. In fact, Lane has the entire package, he hits homers (38 in the Texas League in ’01), steals bases (20 in Midwest League in ’00), and will take his walks (career .352 OBP in MLB). The only problem is that Lane has not been getting many reps, as 29 of his 65 at-bats have been in the last eight games, when Hidalgo finally frustrated Jimy Williams enough.

While Lane is a great replacement, the fact is they didn’t get enough for Richard Hidalgo, an outfielder with a .501 career slugging percentage. Hidalgo’s career has been a mixed bag, with his 2000 and 2003 seasons containing MVP-caliber numbers. I think a move to Shea Stadium will hurt Hidalgo, meaning it will keep him from rebounding from his ugly early season numbers. His road OPS this season is a mere .659, and he’s only had three hits in 19 at-bats from 2001 to today. While that’s all fact, this is a nice acquisition by the Mets, as they fill a gaping hole that was producing a .667 OPS. They aren’t taking on a ton of payroll, and if he catches fire, they still have a chance at first.

I seem to remember Weathers’ two-month stay with the Cubs in 2001 as more up and down than the 3.18 ERA would suggest. The fact is that in the last four years, before 2004, Weathers had pitched in 297 games (74.25 a season), and kept his ERA under three (2.86). One thing to worry about, however, is that from 2001-2003, Weathers has averaged a 24% rise in terms of ERA. Considering how Williams overuses his relievers, I will guarantee that ERA stays over four this year. And Jeremy Griffiths? Brandon Duckworth, v. 2.0.

Overall, I look at this trade as the Astros acquiring Weathers, Griffiths, Lane and $3 million (according to Gerry Hunsicker) in exchange for their right fielder, which seems to work out fine. That $3 million will go to filling whatever hole an injury opens before July 31. The Mets gave up a replaceable (Bottalico) reliever and a minor prospect to fill their worst hole, which is very good. I predicted New York to finish third in the NL East this season, and while it seemed insane at the time, I’m going to stand by my prediction.

0-10 trade scale: I’ll say 5 for the Astros, and 7.5 for the Mets.

Chicago White Sox trade pitcher Billy Koch to the Florida Marlins for infielder Wilson Valdez.

I’m not really sure if this is a good place to bash Ken Williams, or to praise him. The Keith Foulke trade was awful, but it’s a little late to be bringing up that mistake again. Instead, I will applaud Williams for admitting his screw up, and getting rid of a cancer before it could further plague the team. The White Sox bullpen has been a strength this year, currently performing to the tune of a 3.68 ERA. Without Koch? Take out the ‘pen high 5.40, and the bullpen’s total drops to 3.39. A look at who contributes to that:

Takatsu: 1.08 ERA
Adkins: 2.74 ERA
Marte: 2.79 ERA
Cotts: 4.64 ERA
Jackson: 5.40 ERA
Politte: 5.48 ERA

This is actually a testament to Williams, as all of these players were Williams’ acquisitions. Takatsu has pitched out of his mind this year, and Cotts has been much better than the ERA suggests. Jackson and Politte have been disappointments, but I expect much more from both in the second half. Adkins and Marte display Williams’ true strengths, the ability to steal cheap talent from other organizations. The former, Adkins, will prosper the most from this trade, as he becomes the main right-handed set-up man now. Williams took about as much flak for this trade (Ray Durham to the A’s) as John Scheurholtz got when trading Kevin Millwood for possible All-Star Johnny Estrada. Sometimes, us transaction analyzers truly are idiots.

0-10 trade scale: 7.5 for White Sox, 4 for Marlins

Boston Red Sox- Activated outfielder Trot Nixon from the 15-day disabled list; optioned pitcher Anastacio Martinez to Pawtucket of the International League (AAA).

Another week, another big bat returns to the vaunted Red Sox lineup. Nixon was instrumental last year, and it’s a quantum leap to go from Gabe Kapler to him. With that being said, while I believed the Red Sox could come back from 2.5 back, the team now find itself 4.5 games behind the hottest team in baseball.

Sure, Kevin Brown is hurt, but so is Curt Schilling. Javier Vazquez has been everything Pedro has, and the Yanks have the advantage just about everywhere else. If Boston can stay within three games come September, maybe they can slip through what will surely be a depleted New York bullpen. But with these two teams, forecasting anything after the trade deadline is a fool’s game.

One of the disadvantages of starting Comings and Goings at the beginning of the season, I missed out on commenting on all the winter deals. While Trot Nixon’s three-year extension wasn’t exactly headline-worthy, the $21 million turned my head. But after seeing that Garret Anderson ($12M per) and Jacque Jones ($8M per) make more money, my mind changed.

Consider that Garret Anderson gets praised for consistency, finally eclipsing the title of underrated. Anderson has been golden for the Angels, having an OPS fall between .780-.886 in every season since 1998, a streak lasting six years. This is nice, but I like Nixon’s numbers better. Trot, the younger of the two players, has hit an OPS between .808-.974 in each year since 1999, lasting five years. Nixon is constantly overshadowed by better players, but the fact is, he just may have the best left-handed bat for an outfielder in the American League.

Chicago Cubs- Signed infielder Ricky Gutierrez to a minor league contract. Activated outfielder Sammy Sosa from the 15-day disabled list; optioned outfielder Jason Dubois to Iowa of the Pacific Coast League (AAA). Activated infielder Mark Grudzielanek from the 60-day disabled list; designated pitcher Jimmy Anderson for assignment.

Watching the Cubs everyday, the average Cubs fan may think of Todd Hollandsworth as some sort of a god. But while the outfielder has come up big at some big times this year, his numbers are only .245/.317/.394 this year. Sammy Sosa, wherever his talent level is at, will provide a big boost for this lineup. I say this as a cynical Sosa fan, seeing him as a sort of baseball version of Dominique Wilkens. Coming from a Bulls fan, that’s not a compliment.

While the North Siders struggled early on in Sosa’s absence, they’ve really come on strong of late, correlating well with the breakout of Derrek Lee. The first basemen is on pace to hit nearly sixty doubles, but hardly will hit enough home runs to outslug Sosa, like I suggested in the season preview. But regardless, Lee has been the Cubs’ best hitter of late, sporting a nifty .438/.494/.781 line in June thus far. Honestly, him and Todd Walker should be anointed as godsends.

Thank God Todd Walker and Ramon Martinez are hitting well, preventing the Cubs from using the worst middle infield on the planet…far worse than anything in Minnesota. Studes said in THT not long ago that Rey Ordonez was the Majors’ worst hitter one week, and it seems like that streak keeps continuing. We’ve also confronted Gutierrez’ sub-.400 OPS before, and I can say with certainty that the two would struggle to produce a .600 OPS in a season.

But, I’ve said it before, Jim Hendry will do anything for this team. He knows that Ricky Gutierrez isn’t likely to help the team considerably, but he also knows that the current Cubs have a middle infield at least three deep at every middle infield position:

2B- Grudzielanek, Walker, Gutierrez
SS- Gonzo, Martinez, Ordonez

There is nothing Dusty likes more than seeing a depth chart with six post-30 veterans up the middle.

Toronto Blue Jays- Placed outfielder Vernon Wells on the 15-day disabled list with a right calf strain; activated second basemen Orlando Hudson from the 15-day disabled list.

Last year, the combination of Vernon Wells and Carlos Delgado were one of the best in baseball. Delgado was an MVP candidate, and Wells finally became everything he was touted to be. The two could do little else but lead their club to yet another third place finish, which is why this season shows just how valuable that really is. Delgado and Wells have struggled this year, and the Blue Jays currently find themselves behind the Devil Rays. Consider that the two of these players brought in 30.7% of Blue Jays’ runs last year, and insane number for just two players. Without these two, third place is a difficult finish for Toronto.

One thing this injury does however, is buy Alexis Rios time. We worried Frank Catalnotto’s return would stunt Rios’ growth, which is moving at the pace of a midget. Alexis will now have the chance to move back to center, his old stomping grounds, and where he was accustomed to playing before 2004. We need to start seeing results from this kid, or Blue Jays’ brass may be forced to send him back down.

I’m glad Orlando Hudson is back, though it’s unfortunate his injury halted his All-Star bid. In fact, I had Hudson pegged as the 2004 Junior Spivey, and I look for them to follow similar career paths. For now, I’ll just have to side with Mr. Gleeman on who the Blue Jays’ representative should be.

New York Mets- Fired hitting coach Denny Walling; named coach Don Baylor hitting instructor on an interim basis; Placed catcher Vance Wilson on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring; purchased the contract of catcher Tom Wilson from Norfolk of the International League (AAA). Recalled pitcher Pedro Feliciano from Norfolk. Activated second basemen Jose Reyes from the 60-day disabled list; purchased the contract of pitcher Jose Parra from Norfolk; optioned Pedro Feliciano to Norfolk; designated Tom Wilson and Esix Snead for assignment.

Wow. First of all let me laugh at the fates of Tom Wilson, Pedro Feliciano and Esix Snead, who appear to have just about no worth to this franchise. It has to be a very rich team to be employing so many different players every year, though whether it works or not is another question. The Mets ability to stay afloat this year has been unlike any Mets team in recent memory, and it may be enough to sneak through the NL East cracks, though I won’t be buying those odds.

I really devalue the responsibility of a hitting coach, especially one with the fate of spending 81 games in a pitcher’s park. Mike Cameron was never going to hit in Shea, and the only real Walling disappointment has been the lack of development from Jason Phillips, who took a significant step backwards in the last year. Is this enough to command a firing? I don’t think so, but a public relations move is necessary when you’re coaching the second-worst hitting team in your league.

Be excited to have Jose Reyes back, as he is one of the most exciting young players in the game. I’ve been counting down the days to the B.J. Upton arrival in Tampa Bay, but I’m almost more excited to have Reyes returning. One of the reasons the Mets were my choice to finish third in the East this year was the fact that Matsui and Reyes at the top of the order were the only 1-2 in baseball that could compete with Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo at a track meet. Reyes is extremely fun to watch, and a name I’ll be looking for in the box score on a nightly basis.

Anaheim Angels- Activated first basemen Darin Erstad from the 15-day disabled list; placed catcher Bengie Molina on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to June 4, with a strained left calf. Activated pitcher Brendan Donnelly from the 60-day disabled list, designated pitcher Dusty Bergman for assignment. Activated catcher Bengie Molina from the 15-day disabled list; placed infielder Shane Halter on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to June 14, with a dislocated left ring finger.

Three big name additions to the lineup, as Erstad, Molina and Donnelly make their triumphant returns. It’s a nasty thought, but Darin Erstad prevents an offensive boost at first base, since the Angels dramatic Casey Kotchman promotion didn’t go well. Bengie’s absence only further proved the gap between him and Jose, as Bengie remains an immensely better player. Ben has learned the art of the .700 OPS, something Jose or Yadier might never be able to learn.

With Ben Weber finally getting hit by Major League hitting, this is a nice time for Donnelly’s return. Watching Weber and Joe Borowski struggle must greatly concern Donnelly, the third of the Independent League relievers turned stars. Donnelly may be the best of the three, and should provide a huge jolt for an Angel bullpen that has Weber and Troy Percival badly struggling. At this point, let me say there is no way the Angels are going to keep up with the Oakland A’s in the second half of this season. But to their credit, I’ve been saying that since Day 1, and they’re still here.

Kansas City Royals- Released pitcher Curt Leskanic; recalled pitcher Rudy Seanez from Omaha of the Pacific Coast League (AAA).

Of the twenty contenders, which is teams within six games of first place, eight teams have bullpen ERAs over 4.00. Ranked by ERA:

Minnesota- 4.13
Florida- 4.15
Atlanta- 4.17
ChiCubs- 4.36
Oakland- 4.66
Cincinnati- 4.66
San Francisco- 4.75
Cleveland- 5.30

Despite his horrific 8.04 ERA this season, Curt Leskanic should be worth the pick-up for one of these eight ballclubs. Although his Colorado seasons were scattered with ineffectiveness, Leskanic has been a very reliable pitcher since coming down to sea level. He was one of the Royals best relievers in the second half last year, and I think he would make a nice, cheap sign this year. Mark Shapiro, you’re very close, time to start wheeling and dealing!

New York Yankees- Placed pitcher Kevin Brown on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain, retroactive to June 10; recalled outfielder Bubba Crosby from Columbus of the International League (AAA). Purchased the contract of pitcher Brad Halsey from Columbus.

Chicago White Sox- Recalled pitcher Arnie Munoz from Birmingham of the Southern League (AA). Optioned pitcher Arnie Munoz to Charlotte of the International League (AAA); recalled pitcher Jon Rauch from Charlotte.

Atlanta Braves- Activated pitcher Paul Byrd from the 60-day disabled list; designated pitcher C.J. Nitkowski for assignment.

For some reason, I decided to put all these transactions together. This week marked the debut of three different pitchers, but in three very different fashions. One is a AAA lefty replacing a superstar in the nation’s largest spotlight, one is a AA stud trying to fill a gaping hole, and one is an aging veteran finally returning from injury. Brad Halsey, Arnie Munoz, Paul Byrd. As different as they come.

After 22 straight scoreless AAA innings, the Yankees decided to call up Halsey to pitch against the hated Dodgers this last Saturday. Halsey won’t offer a great pitch selection, and it’s not as if his 6-1 frame just cries out projectability. But the lefty pitched well in Dodger Stadium, allowing five hits, one walk and two runs in 5.2 innings, enough to earn him the win.

Munoz, among the ERA leaders in the Southern League, was called up to try and fill the White Sox cursed fifth starter role, which hasn’t won since Harey Carey was broadcasting. Munoz, a small southpaw that converted to starting this year, struggled terribly against the paltry Montreal Expos, allowing ten hits, three walks and eleven runs in only three innings. The former Baseball America Winter League Player of the Year got sent right back to the minor leagues, but now takes his damaged mind to Charlotte, another new home.

And most of us know Paul Byrd’s story. After years of ineptitude at the Major League level, dating all the way back to 1995, Byrd put it all together in 2002, where his 3.90 ERA was good enough for 17 wins. This earned him a fat contract with the Braves, for whom he didn’t throw one pitch in the 2003 season. This Sunday was his return to the mound and his debut with the Braves, and it went fantastically, as Byrd threw seven innings of shutout ball against the Indians. Byrd will replace Travis Smith in the Braves rotation, a trade off that Atlanta fans would take any day of the week, even if the Dan Meyer countdown has begun.

Where these three futures lead, no one knows. My best guess is that Halsey will pitch himself into a trade, where he’ll have a swingman career akin to that of John Halama. Munoz could be anywhere from a superstar to a dud, but I would doubt he’ll ever have much of a career as a starter. And Byrd? Yes, he’s destined for that old Jimmy Haynes/Kevin Jarvis path of not being any good.

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