Comings and Goings (6/24-6/27)

Houston Astros- Acquired outfielder Carlos Beltran in exchange for pitcher Octavio Dotel and catcher John Buck.

Well, this definitely makes us reconsider our Richard Hidalgo trade analysis. No, Jason Lane has not been freed from the Astros depth, and no, David Weathers won’t help lessen the load from the end of the bullpen. Instead, the Astros have gone from Hidalgo to Beltran in the outfield, and from Dotel to Weathers in relief. The spread between Beltran and the 2004 version of Hidalgo is very wide, far more than between a couple of veteran right-handers.

Many have pointed to Beltran as becoming the game’s next superstar, and I won’t say anything to object to that notion. Carlos is one of the game’s best base stealers, hits for power and average, and will play a much better centerfield than Craig Biggio. The former catcher no longer has to deal with the hill in Minute Maid’s deep center, and has already made a couple of highlight reel plays in left. This is the kind of trade that can ignite a team, and adding another switch-hitting bat to a big lineup is frightening from the perspective of a Cubs fan. Kudos to Gerry Hunsicker, because this is even what he paid for Randy Johnson all those years ago.

Oakland Athletics- Acquired pitcher Octavio Dotel in exchange for pitcher Mike Wood and third basemen Mark Teahen; placed pitcher Tim Hudson on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain; recalled pitcher Kirk Saarloos from Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League (AAA), optioned infielder Ramon Castro to Sacramento.

It seems like each day the A’s get a little less healthy, and I slowly worry a little more about my guarantee of Oakland making the playoffs. I’m sure fans will cool my worries by saying that the team always blossoms in August, citing a 20-game winning streak that even St. Petersburg fans couldn’t dream of. But, now both Tim Hudson and Rich Harden are missing from the rotation, and while Dotel will add to the bullpen, I still don’t want him on the mound in crunch time.

With that being said, Billy Beane made out great here. He dealt completely from surplus, trading away a third basemen that was sitting behind the recently re-signed Eric Chavez, and a starter too far back on the organizational ladder. While Teahen was slowly becoming one of the system’s best players, his loss really won’t hurt the organization as a whole much. While the Astros may be up at night worrying whether or not John Buck turns into an All-Star, the future of Teahen and Wood mean little to the A’s, seeing as though they’ll never reach Chavez and Hudson-like proportions. Another Beane trade, and yet another thumbs up.

Kansas City Royals- Acquired pitcher Mike Wood, third basemen Mark Teahen and catcher John Buck in exchange for outfielder Carlos Beltran; recalled outfielder David DeJesus from Omaha of the Pacific Coast League (AAA), optioned pitcher Chris George to Omaha; optioned catcher Mike Tonis to Wichita of the Texas League (AA). Placed pitcher Jeremy Affeldt on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right rib cage, recalled pitcher Justin Huisman from Omaha.

I was a thumbs down before the Freddy Garcia trade, and after it, I’m even more emphatic in my beliefs. While it appeared that putting Beltran on the trade block in June would give Baird patience to find the right deal, he rushed himself, landing three C prospects for Beltran. All three may end up starting for the team at one point, but Wood is a fourth starter, Teahen a second coming of Joe Randa, and John Buck will be the division’s fourth best catcher (fifth before Olivo was dealt).

It will be an ugly second half in Kansas City, as Baird will probably spend each week flaunting another veteran on the trade block. We’ll see if he can get rid of Mike Sweeney, but I consider Brian Anderson and Joe Randa as good as gone. The Royals must really have their sights on Mike Pelfrey or Justin Upton, because I’ll all but guarantee one of the first two picks in next year’s draft. Thumbs down Baird, but excusable after a string of good moves.

Seattle Mariners trade pitcher Freddy Garcia and catcher Ben Davis to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for catcher Miguel Olivo, outfielder Jeremy Reed and infielder Mike Morse.

The consensus around Chicago is the belief I seem to follow: this deal is only excusable if Ken Williams can lock up Freddy Garcia at year’s end. And even then, Williams gave up too much. I don’t pretend to be a Garcia expert, but this writing by Peter White of Mariner Musings helped me shape my opinion:

Clearly Freddy Garcia is not “No. 1 Ace” material. He is not upper-echelon talent. He is gifted with no super powers that render him exceptionally unhittable to his opponents. He is not a pitcher to lay your pennant dreams on. He is not one who should suffer the pressure of leading a pitching staff. He’s just not that kind of pitcher. He is a good, but not great, pitcher. In reality, his true value is something more in league with Ponson and Hernandez, not Wood, Zito or Halladay. But as long as the rest of baseball believes that he is, the Mariners have to pounce on this stretch of good fortune to maximize their return.

Freddy got off to a hot start, but it was just that–a hot start. It is not a reflection of his true value. His ERA was 2.27 in April, 3.82 in May and 3.86 thus far in June. This is the absolute best case scenario for the Mariners. Garcia has a 3.90 career ERA in a pitcher’s park (though his 3.73/4.08 home/away split suggests he has never taken an extreme advantage from that). Freddy’s value will never be higher.

And the Mariners profited on Freddy’s stock, landing three quality players in return. This is more than the Royals got for Beltran, a disgrace from Ken Williams’ standpoint. He gave up three young players for Kip Wells, three players for Carl Everett, and now three for Garcia. Raiding the stock system would be OK if the team had tons of depth, a luxury the team is years removed from.

Reed was the team’s best prospect, and arguably currently stands as one of the top twenty prospects in baseball. I’ve heard comparisons ranging from Rusty Greer, to Lenny Dykstra, to Tony Gwynn. The latter has no real truth, but the Mariners definitely landed a consistent outfielder that will start everyday for them next year. This move also means the White Sox have newfound enthusiasm for an outfield of Lee-Rowand-Borchard next year. I know Rowand’s June OPS is 1.085 and Borchard has a .514 SLG in AAA, but it appears not all considerations have been made. Borchard’s AAA OBP stands at only .328, while Rowand’s career percentage is only .331. Maybe the club should take Peter Gammons’ advice and get Andruw Jones while they still can.

Cleveland Indians- Signed infielder Aaron Boone to a two-year contract with a club option for 2006, and placed him on the 15-day disabled list with a torn left knee ligament. Placed pitcher Rafael Betancourt on the 15-day disabled list with right biceps tendonitis, recalled pitcher Jeriome Robertson from Buffalo of the International League (AAA). Released pitcher Jeff D’Amico. Purchased the contract of pitcher Jack Cressend from Buffalo; designated outfielder Raul Gonzalez for assignment.

The writing is now on the wall for Omar Vizquel, a free agent at year’s end, to start pursuing other options. Don’t be surprised if Shaprio ships him off to the Cubs or Giants before the deadline, assuming they can convince the veteran to waive his 10-5 no-trade clause. Vizquel has had a nice run in Cleveland, but he’s been far too overpaid for far too long, and you can’t blame upper management for their frustration. Omar has rode a .209/.253/.291 line in June, dropping his season OPS to .702. Further north, Orlando Cabrera is slowly improving his season OPS, and despite currently having worse numbers than Vizquel, appears to be a more attractive trade candidate.

But I stray away from the original topic, Aaron Freakin’ Boone. He should have no problem duplicating Vizquel’s OPS, considering his career total of .780. Also, the versatility, raw power, and baserunning ability makes Boone a good addition, though the 2005 Indians infield might start to get crowded. Some have stated the team will move Casey Blake across the diamond, using the pair on the corners next year, but this is without considering the 27-year-old Ben Broussard has an .897 June OPS. Boone also could move to either middle infield slot, and join either Johnny Peralta, Brandon Phillips, or possibly Ronnie Belliard (re-sign?) up the middle. Re-signing Belliard, who should follow a Mark Loretta-like contract, seems to be a good idea, despite promising numbers from both Peralta and Phillips in AAA. It would give the 2005 Indians this lineup:

C- Victor Martinez
1B- Ben Broussard
2B- Aaron Boone
SS- Ronnie Belliard
3B- Casey Blake
LF- Matt Lawton
CF- Grady Sizemore
RF- Jody Gerut
DH- Travis Hafner

And, it leaves Shapiro a bench of Bard, Ludwick, McDonald and Crisp, and $10-15 million to spend on bolstering a rotation and bullpen badly in need of help. I’ve said before in this space that Cleveland has an off chance at the 2004 AL Central title, but it’s nice to see them already looking at 2005.

Philadelphia Phillies- Placed outfielder Ricky Ledee on the 15-day disabled list following surgery; recalled infielder Chase Utley from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre of the International League (AAA). Activated pitcher Randy Wolf from the 15-day disabled list; optioned pitcher Elizardo Ramirez to Reading of the Eastern League (AA).

Not a good sign for Marlon Byrd, seeing as though the club would rather add another infielder than bring back the disgruntled centerfielder. This leaves Jason Michaels as the team’s only outfield depth, and Doug Glanville to have yet another everyday job. Back up is Chase Utley, who should get some playing time considering the struggles of Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco. I’m not sure this is the right time, considering Rollins is putting the final touches on a .318/.371/.486 June, while Polanco quietly hit .313/.348/.438. I’ve always liked Chase Utley, and while I normally would support his newfound freedom, the Phillies are a half a game from first with a red-hot middle infield…don’t touch.

A huge addition is the comeback of Randy Wolf, as the Phillies managed a 5.98 ERA without him in the month of June. He’ll attempt to have a Jason Schmidt-like stabilization on a rotation that was balancing Paul Abbott, Brett Myers, and Brian Powell on Larry Bowa’s nose. Yes, this did have a circus effect, leading Bowa to go to relievers like Roberto Hernandez and Geoff Geary far too often. Wolf and Billy Wagner, he of a 11.25 ERA in June, must both have a re-emergance for the Phillies to be serious about a playoff run.

Florida Marlins- Placed pitcher Josh Beckett on the 15-day disabled list with a strain on the left side; recalled pitcher Michael Tejera from Albuquerque of the Pacific Coast League (AAA).

I spent much of my winter bitter about the fact that Beckett’s October led many analysts to wonder if he was better than Kerry Wood, one of my favorite players. Now while Wood has done little to deny that claim in 2004, he’s always been the better pitcher, but we let the Marlins playoff run cloud our minds. I’ll forgive all of you now, assuming you’ll join me in a chant…overrated, OVERRATED, OVERRATED! Before Beckett’s 2003 second half, not counting four 2001 starts, he had never been a special player, with three ERA halves of 3.86, 4.33 and 3.86. Josh is right back in line for yet another 3.86, but I’m sure he’ll be overhyped for years to come. It comes with the ring, I guess.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays- Purchased the contract of outfielder Joey Gathright from Durham of the International League (AAA); designated infielder Jose Bautista for assignment.

While a fantasy baseball world would have all the historically bad teams loaded with prospects, money steps in the way to deny us the pleasure of watching clubs have complete turnarounds. The Devil Rays don’t have a ton in their system, though Gathright, B.J. Upton and Delmon Young present very nice starts. Gathright is the first to hit the majors, after a meteoric rise through both AA and AAA. Upton will be next on the radar, as he’s currently baseball’s top prospect, and more than holding his own for a 19-year-old in the International League.

There is no question that Gathright can play, as his mixture of speed and on-base skills parallel him with the likes of Juan Pierre. But, the real question is whether Gathright fits into a lineup already flush in outfielders. It appears the notion that Rocco Baldelli plays Dimaggio-like defense is long gone, and the team is ready to put the defensively-superior Gathright where he belongs…centerfield. It’s refreshing to know that even in the midst of the organization’s greatest winning streak, the team is willing to honor their farm system.

New York Mets- Placed outfielder Karim Garcia on the 15-day disabled list with left wrist tendonitis; activated pitcher Orber Moreno from the 15-day disabled list. Recalled catcher Tom Wilson from Norfolk of the International league (AAA); designated outfielder Gerald Williams for assignment.

With Richard Hidalgo playing everyday, and Shane Spencer hitting about .300 on the bench, the need for Karim Garcia has decreased dramatically. The first half of Garcia’s career was spent being signed by teams on the notion that he was once a good prospect, I’m afraid the second half will have teams hoping to get that 2002 second half back. The Mets further cut their outfield depth by losing the Iceman, Gerald Williams, who had been playing a bit over his head (.294/.368/.588) in all of 17 at-bats. I’m sure the Marlins can find room…again.

For some reason or another, I’m a Tom Wilson fan. Wilson is no doubt a role player, a back-up catcher that hit lefties to a .847 OPS from 2001-2003, spanning 193 at-bats. Teams must keep him in that role, though, because his numbers against right-handers weren’t so nice (.649 OPS). Toronto did a magnificent job last year mixing and matching Wilson and Greg Myers, creating a very nice platoon behind the dish. Also returning is Orber Moreno, yet another member of the Duquette/Howe mix-and-match bullpen. Moreno has been one of the better pitchers, only allowing three earned runs since the beginning of May, which includes sixteen innings of work. As the club works to match the Ricky Bottalicos and John Francos with the Jose Parras and Dan Wheelers, let’s hope they find room for Moreno.

Pittsburgh Pirates- Placed pitcher Mike Johnston on the 15-day disabled list with left medial elbow inflammation; recalled pitcher Mark Corey from Nashville of the Pacific Coast League (AAA). Activated outfielder J.J. Davis from the 15-day disabled list; designated outfielder Ruben Mateo for assignment. Placed first baseman-outfielder Daryle Ward on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained right thumb; recalled outfielder Tony Alvarez from Nashville of the Pacific Coast League (AAA).

Not particularly shocking that Ruben Mateo, once a five-tool prospect, can’t manage a full year on a big league ballclub. What does shock me is Mateo’s age, only 26, and the fact that his season OBP and SLG would be career highs. Yes, this is only a 33 AB sample size, but I hope some team takes the chance. Over at U.S.S. Mariner, David Cameron makes a plea for Bill Bavasi:

Ruben Mateo could help this club now and become a nice role player for the future. He’s cheap and even toolsy. He fills a need, and he’s going to come at a bargain rate. Go get Ruben Mateo.

Also to be noted is Ward’s trip to the DL, which may hide what has been a great signing for Dave Littlefield. I can only speculate that the thumb has been bothering Ward, but the fact that his June OPS is .581, while his June was 1.140 led me to notice something. Daryle Ward has always just needed a full-time chance, and though the Pirates 1B/OF situation is a bit filled, they better make room for the 29-year-old.

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