Lost in Transactions 7/6-7/12/09: Royals not so royal; Bruce hits DL

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Yuniesky Betancourt – why? (Icon/SMI)

Welcome back to Lost in Transactions, after a month’s hiatus while I toured Europe and missed David Ortiz‘s and Alex Rodriguez‘s renaissance, the Pirates angering their players with two smart trades, Roy Halladay being put on the block, an investigation into the birthdays of Latin players, and the Mets’ and Royals’ baffling trades.

I may have missed quite a bit this past month, but this last week has been the most significant. Many moves have been made this past week that have altered the short- and long-term plans of certain teams… and some (Royals, looking at you) took some well-deserved heat. Let’s look back on the week that was.

7/6/09

San Diego Padres traded RF Scott Hairston to Oakland Athletics for RHP Ryan Webb, Sean Gallagher and LHP Craig Italiano.

People are saying that Gallagher’s inclusion into the trade (Gallagher is on the disabled list in Triple-A, so was named as the player to be named later upon official announcement of the trade) makes this a win for the Padres. I’m not so sure.

Webb is a 23-year old righty who projects as a career middle reliever, and nothing about him particularly jumps out. After the trade, he was brought to the majors and has given up four hits in 1.1 innings thus far. He throws in the mid-90s, which is a common theme among pitchers the Padres have been acquiring this year. Italiano, 22, is currently stuck in High-A ball despite being a left-hander who throws heat. He’s being used as a starter, although many feel his future is in the bullpen. With a 4.7 BB/9 in 76.2 innings for the Athletics’ High-A affiliate, that projection is likely accurate.

So we’re looking at two hard throwers whose futures in the majors are highly questionable… especially given the team’s obvious advantage when it comes to pitching. The Padres’ park can hide flaws most other parks can’t and can turn pitchers into shiny baubles. And yet, that’s all the team seems focused on: bringing in pitching. The Padres need to build core offensive hitters, not look for league-average pitching or a bullpen piece.

That’s what Sean Gallagher is: a league-average pitcher. In Petco Park, he may seem like more, but what the Padres wanted so desperately in this trade was the chance to have a pitcher under control for the next five years.

But why? Why give up a player like Scott Hairston for a No. 4 starter and two questionable bullpen pieces? Especially when you’re in a situation where you can bring in failed pitchers from other organizations and turn them into gems. Why is pitching being valued in a park such as this?

To win in this extreme pitcher’s park, you need young, core offensive players who grow up used to the park and can get past its failings. This is what players such as Chase Headley, Kyle Blanks and Will Venable are going through. But instead of stacking offensive depth in the (likely) event that some of these hitters can’t make the adjustment, they’re stacking depth in the one area they’ll never be found wanting.

The Athletics, on the other hand, realize the need to bring in young, core offensive players. Hairston may not be one of the better hitters in the game, but anyone could use a center fielder who can hit 20 home runs and maintain an OBP over .300. Is Hairston a full-time position player on a playoff team? Probably not. But much like he was on the 2007 Padres—who just missed the playoffs—he is an excellent complementary piece. The Athletics have their young pitching in place; it’s the bats they need.

Is Hairston as good as he is this year (.295/.347/.523)? With the power, yeah, probably. With the batting average, he’s likely over his head. But does that matter? Say he reverts to his .255/.312/.466 career line. I would take that on a team looking to build an offense. I would absolutely take that on the Padres, a team that needs every successful bat it can get.

With the Padres’ payroll concerns, I can’t help but think this move had financial reasons written all over it. Hairston is arbitration-eligible; the three pitchers are not.

The flip side of the argument is that you can find league-average hitters anywhere; but it’s tough to find league-average pitchers. This argument has some merit, but when you’re talking Petco Park, the reverse is true. In 29 other ballparks? I’m with you there. Petco Park? The saying doesn’t apply.

7/7/09

Arizona Diamondbacks traded RHP Tony Pena to Chicago White Sox for 1B Brandon Allen.

What a classic Kenny Williams move. Pena is the type of pitcher he loves: young, throws hard. A lot like Kevin Towers, it seems… with one catch.

Williams’ home park is a hitter’s haven, so he’s doing the opposite of what San Diego’s Kevin Towers is doing: bringing in pitchers in the hopes they can succeed in this park. Another major reason Pena was brought in was to make closer Bobby Jenks available. Jenks’ $5.6 million pact (due to go up in arbitration) is not palatable to a team seemingly struggling with finances. With Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Octavio Dotel, Jose Contreras and Ramon Castro coming off the books next year, the club will have a lot of holes to fill, but a good amount of money to do just that. The club figures to shed just over $50 million in contracts. That’s a lot.

Acquiring Pena as a young, cost-controllable reliever allows the ChiSox more flexibility in dealing away Jenks for offensive help. Speaking of offensive pieces…

It was rather curious that the Sox opted to deal away Allen, a power-slugging 23-year old. However, given that he’s a first baseman and the club has Paul Konerko committed there, it makes sense. The ChiSox’s need isn’t at first base, or even the soon-to-be-vacated designated hitter. Jim Thome or another aging slugger will fit the bill just fine. No, what the White Sox need is a long-term solution at second and center field.

Making their closer, who is in demand, available, can help get the ChiSox what they need, whether that’s at the deadline or in the offseason.

From the Diamondbacks’ perspective, I like the deal. Right now, the Diamondbacks’ main need is to get as many high-value players under control as possible. They have a lot of young players, but the team hasn’t been able to put it all together. In a situation like the Diamondbacks’, young relievers should be fungible unless they’re the second coming of Jonathan Papelbon. Pena is not. What Allen can give them is a power-hitting first baseman for years to come at a low price.

7/08/09

Los Angeles Dodgers placed RHP Ronald Belisario on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to July 6. Irritation in his right elbow.

This is a big, big loss for a Dodgers club suddenly looking for pitching depth. And the sad part is, it could have been avoided.

Belisario missed 2005-’06 due to injuries and a suspension, having come up through the Marlins’ farm system. He was a Pirate in 2007 and 2008 before signing a minor league deal with the Dodgers and making the team out of spring training.

Belisario to date has pitched 48.1 innings for the NL West-leading Dodgers; which would have paced to about 100 innings for the club. A hundred innings… a year after pitching 57. He was fewer than 10 innings away from matching his high from the previous year, spent in Double-A. In 2007, he had a combined 59 innings pitched between Double-A and High-A. What manager could possibly overwork a young reliever like that?

Oh, Joe Torre. Of course.

Torre isn’t content to let Scott Proctor serve as a warning to him. He’s right back at this year with Belisario, who had a 2.42 ERA before being DLed. Belisario throws in the mid-90s and throws a very effective slider to boot; he could develop into one of the top set-up men in the big leagues. He still might, but he’s going to have to try to do so under Torre, who shows no inclination to ease relievers into the game. Belisario’s inflammation, according to him, felt similar to the way he felt before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2005. And even Belisario admitted that the workload was getting to his arm.

What more evidence do you need? The Dodgers already have Hong-Chih Kuo, Eric Milton and Will Ohman on the disabled list. Are you kidding me?

For all of Torre’s success, he doesn’t seem to get that the games count for real in October. Why do you need to overextend a rookie reliever before the All-Star break?

I don’t get it. Never will.

It could be—probably will be—Torre’s fault when the Dodgers don’t make the World Series.

7/10/09

Burlington Bees traded Derrick Saito to Clinton LumberKings; Northwest Arkansas Naturals traded RHP Dan Cortes to West Tenn Diamond Jaxx and Seattle Mariners traded SS Yuniesky Betancourt to Kansas City Royals.

In lieu of ripping this trade apart from the Royals’ perspective, I’m going to let others do it.

Joe Posnanski:

The truth is, I had absolutely no idea just how bad a player Yuniesky Betancourt really was … and the biggest reason for this is that certain baseball people simply will not give up on him. There seems to be this very real belief that one day—one day soon—a light will turn on for him, and he will suddenly harness all of his talent, and he will hit with some authority, and he will make all the great plays defensively … and lost in this dreaming is that almost certain reality that Betancourt is slow, his bat’s slow, he has no power, he has lost any range he might have had, he’s sloppy, he blunders, he’s getting worse, he’s getting baseball old and the harsh truth is probably that there is no baseball talent to harness. Sigh.

Rany Jazayerli:

But in practice, I think that years from now we will look at the Betancourt trade the way we look at the Neifi Perez trade. Just as the trade for Perez signaled the death knell for the Allard Baird era—even though it would take years for the Royals to finally put the era out of its misery and make a change at the top—I think that the trade for Betancourt signals the point at which Dayton Moore’s tenure as GM becomes untenable. It will probably be at least a few years before the Glass family sends Moore packing, but I no longer have any expectation that the Royals will ever win anything under the current administration.

Clark Fosler:

Now, this morning, we are getting some “settle down and let this trade play out” kind of talk. The Border Patrol on 810 Radio ran down a list of minor league prospects that did NOT make it in an effort to calm the savages. In some ways, however, the logic that is in support of trade is more damning than those who are outraged by it. Listen, when the main arguments supporting the trade are that “Betancourt is not horrible” and “Cortes probably was not that good”: that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Yeah, what they said.

New York Mets traded RF Ryan Church to Atlanta Braves for RF Jeff Francouer.

Look, everyone knew Jeff Francoeur needed a change of scenery. But this?

No one should have even remotely considered giving up anything of value—like Ryan Church—for Francouer. Heck, Francouer was highly likely to be non-tendered after the season.

That’s not to say Frenchy didn’t hold some value. After all, it was only two years ago that he put up a .293/.338/.444 line. That’s certainly not All-Star caliber, but it could help the Mets if he could revert to that.

Of course, so could Church have helped the Mets. Last year, Church’s OPS was .785, which is better than any year of Francouer’s save the first year he burst on the scene. And if I’m going to play the two years ago card with Francoeur, I have to with Church: .272/.349/.464, a sight better than Frenchy.

Church had gotten off to a struggle this year, checking in at .280/.332/.375 before the trade. He also reportedly was in Mets manager Jerry Manuel’s doghouse, which doesn’t help matters. The two have similar salary futures (arbitration for the next two years). Church can cover any outfield position while Francoeur is mainly limited to right.

The Braves need more right-handed batters, not left-handed, but it’s easy to see this move from their perspective. Francoeur was a mess; the only thing that could save him at this point was a change of scenery. Even if he becomes the Francouer of his rookie year, it wasn’t going to happen in Atlanta. Period. Church represents to them an immediate offensive boost, and perhaps now that Church is farther away from his concussions, he could come through with a second half more to his career norms.

The Mets’ perspective? I may not like the trade for them this season, but I can definitely appreciate it if the Mets are looking to the future: He’s 25 years old and has a history of hitting the ball out of the park. Carlos Delgado isn’t getting younger and the team is wrecked by injuries. The Mets have an offensive black hole at second base. Church may be a good complementary outfielder, but for the Mets to win in the future, they needed to take the risk for an All-Star outfielder.

The only problem with this is that Omar Minaya is another general manager who doesn’t deserve to be but unfortunately will be for a few more years, a la Dayton Moore. The depth he’s (not) built, the job he did in Montreal that is killing the ex-Expos to this day… Mets fans might want to hope for a second-half collapse even worse than the first two just to get Minaya out of there.

Of course, if they did, the Wilpons would probably just turn back to Steve Phillips.

7/12/09

Cincinnati Reds placed RF Jay Bruce on the 15-day disabled list. Broken right wrist.

This injury was a huge blow to the Reds. Bruce may have been hitting a paltry .207, but he led the team with 18 home runs and with an abominably low .202 BABIP, he was destined to have a strong second half. He actually improved his BB and K rates; his K rate declined from 26.6 percent to 21.1, while he improved his walk rate by 1.7 percent. With his isolated power also taking a spike from .199 to .234, it’s apparent he’s improved his approach at the plate significantly.

So why the poor average? Well, the previously cited BABIP is a large culprit… but your BABIP is certain to go down when your line drive rate drops to 12.7 percent from 21.1 percent the year previous. His groundball percentage also dropped by seven percentage points, with the difference going to fly balls. So that’s why his isolated power has increased: He’s hitting more fly balls, which naturally will see more of them turn into home runs.

So the question is: really unlucky, or just homer happy? A lot of young players, once they taste success in the big leagues by hitting home runs, will become homer happy. It’s possible this is what’s ailing Bruce, and the low BABIP is of his own volition. I looked up MLB’s hit charts to see if this was the case. Here are the results, presented side by side. The left image is Bruce’s home runs (denoted by a blue ‘h’) and fly balls (red ‘f’) in 2008. The right image is from this year. They are not his cumulative homers and flies: these are only from his home park.


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Those results are fascinating. His home runs have clearly become narrowed to right field. His fly balls are concentrated in center, intimating that he tried to pull them but was too late on them, sending the ball straight out into center.

More evidence than this is needed, but I’m going to hazard a guess that Bruce needs a talking-to from his hitting coach.

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Comments

  1. Dennis Koziel said...

    Do Latin players have the best names, or what?  Yuniesky Betancourt is the neatest name in all of sport.  It’s a shame he’s not a great player so his name can be immortalized in the Hall of Fame.  Do Latin mothers keep stacks of European phone books around the house, flipping open to random pages when it becomes time to name their sons?

  2. Geoff Young said...

    “Why give up a player like Scott Hairston for a No. 4 starter and two questionable bullpen pieces?”

    Because the Padres have a stronger core of young hitters than young pitchers.

    “Especially when you’re in a situation where you can bring in failed pitchers from other organizations and turn them into gems. Why is pitching being valued in a park such as this?”

    As the Padres’ ERA+ of 80 at the All-Star break would attest, pitching hasn’t been valued enough. They aren’t bringing in failed pitchers from other organizations and turning them into gems.

    As much as I hate to see Hairston leave, this was about dealing a strength to address a weakness. The Padres desperately need arms. The guys they acquired might not be great, but at least they’re something, which is more than can be said about much of the current pitching staff.

  3. Evan Brunell said...

    I can understand the Padres having a stronger core of young hitters than young pitchers, but that package doesn’t cut it. Gallagher, Italiano and Webb aren’t going to be influential pieces on the next Padres playoff team, nevermind the next .500 Padres team.

  4. Geoff Young said...

    You may be right, although the same could be said of Hairston, in which case why not allocate your resources better?

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