Comings and Goings (6/21-6/23)by Bryan Smith
June 25, 2004
Detroit Tigers- Signed shortstop Carlos Guillen to a three-year contract extension through the 2007 season. Placed infielder Greg Norton on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to June 18, with left knee inflammation; purchased the contract of outfielder Marcus Thames from Triple-A Toledo.
Yes, that is a Mariner fan whimpering in the corner, crying as the knife gets dug in a little deeper. After Carlos Guillen had produced a .719 OPS as Seattle's shortstop in 2001-2003, Bill Bavasi shipped him for one-time Tiger hot-rod prospect Ramon Santiago. Bavasi brought in the 'steady' Rich Aurilia, who has been anything but in the Northwest. Meanwhile, Guillen is producing a .917 OPS for the Tigers, who have a better record than Bavasi's M's.
When trying to come across comparisons for Carlos Guillen, I found two very interesting names: Hubie Brooks, and Aurilia of all people. Before the 1986 season, Brooks had produced three consecutive OPS lines of .604, .758 and .723. But, the Expo shortstop blossomed in 1986, hitting .340/.388/.569 in a shortened 80-game season. Aurilia had a similar experience in the seasons leading up to 2001, where his OPS numbers had been .726, .780 and .783. Aurilia went on to hit .324/.369/.572 with the Giants in 2001, prolonging his career enough to replace some guy named Carlos Guillen. So, what came next for these two shortstops? Brooks' next three seasons had OPS numbers of .726, .766 and .721, much more in line with his career .717. Aurilia is still working on his third year since 2001, but the last two were .718 and .735 respectively. This doesn't bode well for Detroit fans, who just watched management dish out $14 million for their newfound shortstop.
While Marcus Thames was more than deserving of a call-up, I'm disappointed about its aftereffects. Thames' visit to the Majors briefly ends the AAA Home Run Race, that while not as exciting as McGwire and Sosa, still has been fun to follow. Thames had an amazing .329/.410/.735 line when he was called, but despite those numbers, he still wouldn't win the AAA MVP. That award belongs to Calvin Pickering, a Royal first basemen who has already hit 25 homers, and sports a line of .328/.455/.772. Think of Thames as Sosa, Pickering as McGwire. Marcus is ready to help the Major League club, but unfortunately Detroit won't be seeing Randy Johnson during his time up.
Kansas City Royals trade pitcher Jason Grimsley to the Baltimore Orioles for pitcher Denny Bautista.
Time to toot my own horn! Quote from my Royals preview made before the season:
Jason Grimsley will improve in 2004, guaranteed. Grimsley’s GB/FB rate of 3.68 was higher than that of even Derek Lowe's, yet Grimsley’s hit rate went up drastically last year. This was largely due to bad luck, and I doubt the Royals very good infield defense affected him negatively. Assuming Grimsley maintains high groundball ratios, expect his H/9 and ERA to reduce dramatically in ’04.
I also must say, this is before seeing the fact that Grimsley's 2003 DiPS ERA, as composed by Jay Jaffe, was 4.09. This was against a real ERA of 5.16, indicating there was great improvement to come on the way. Whether I expected this much or not, I can't really tell you, but Grimsley has been great this year.
But, in no way does that warrant a last-place team trading a good pitching prospect for him. The Baltimore Orioles, trying to hold onto hope long enough to bring fans to Camden, traded away part of their future in 23-year-old Denny Bautista. Sure, the Pedro Martinez relative aged too much in the offseason (2 years, I believe) and has a high ERA in AA, but he's the real deal. I saw him at the Futures Game in 2003, and found him to be the most intimidating pitcher to take the mound. Bautista was the largest of the pitchers, and threw the hardest, consistently touching the mid-90s. He may fit better as a reliever down the road, but his potential is much higher than say, Jason Grimsley.
Honest to God, if the Orioles were so infatuated with adding a right-handed reliever, Curt Leskanic was available...for just cash. Baltimore seems more centered around 'good' public relations moves than good baseball moves, which will ultimately send their organization crashing down into the depths of Hell, likely sending them on a stint of consecutive last place AL East finishes.
Colorado Rockies- Activated outfielder Larry Walker from the 15-day disabled list; optioned outfielder Kit Pellow to Colorado Springs of the Pacific Coast League (AAA).
And this would be the aforementioned superstar return. What I failed to mention on the front-page hook was that an aging superstar was returning to the National League's second-worst team. Larry Walker is done and bordering on becoming no more valuable than Dante Bichette was in his final years. Consider that last year Walker saw his OPS decline for the third straight season, all the way below .900 at .898. This was probably due to two facts: that his second half line was .265/.412/.444 and that he was hitting .227/.370/.395 on the road. It's probably a mixture of both, but the latter stat is scary for Dan O'Dowd if he decides to approach the trade market with his one-time superstar. Five years ago, who would have thought Steve Finley was a better July trade candidate than Larry Walker? Or, that after the 2004 season, fans would be begging Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker to retire already?!?!?
Boston Red Sox- Signed pitcher Curtis Leskanic; optioned pitcher Mark Malaska to Pawtucket of the International League (AAA).
Theo Epstein and Jim Hendry are similar GMs, and it's easily visible in the Leskanic and Gutierrez signings. They both chose to overlook the horrendous 2004 numbers of their signees, instead focusing on the past. Granted, Leskanic's 3.20 ERA from '01-'03 is better than Gutierrez can boast, but you get the point. Theo made this same move for Gabe Kapler in 2003, and a year later, he's still their fourth outfielder.
By adding another right-hander, the club had no choice but to lose a LOOGY. Mark Malaska was sent down, leaving Rule V pick Lenny Dinardo as the second lefty in the bullpen. This season, Malaska is allowing a .231/.310/.269 line from lefties, as opposed to the .290/.314/.355 line by Dinardo. Why a team in such a heated race would care about hanging onto their Rule V pick in late June is beyond me. By contrast, Leskanic allowed a .230/.348/.337 line from lefties in the years 2001-2003. Not bad, but not Mark Malaska either.
But shame on a few GMs for not seeing a good buy here. A reinvigorated Leskanic (and there in lies the only problem) could be a great help to any real contender.
San Diego Padres- Placed catcher Ramon Hernandez on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left knee; recalled catcher Humberto Quintero from Portland of the Pacific Coast League (AAA).
Rumors have had Quintero in the package for Carlos Beltran, so you have to bet the Royals will be watching. Before looking into the numbers, I thought this may have been a Baird-inspired move, but then I saw Quintero hitting .302 with great defense at AAA (Editor's Note: Beltran was traded to the Astros, not the Padres, with a different defensive-first catcher in the deal). But when I say .302, take it with a grain of salt, as his OBP is merely .323. This makes him a sort of more powerful, less patient version of Yadier Molina. The third member of Las Tres Molinas is hitting .225/.344/.250 through his first 40 at-bats, after a .302/.387/.377 line at AAA. By rough estimates, look for a .230/.250/.325 line from Quintero in his time up.
Sure that's bad, but not too much worse than the disappointing .764 OPS that Ramon Hernandez has. Since I pointed out the ugly Carlos Guillen trade above, let me say Billy Beane definitely took Towers in the Hernandez trade. Damian Miller has been an improvement at catcher, Kotsay an improvement in center, and Terrence Long has been predictably terrible in San Diego. Kevin Towers would like to turn back the clock if he could here, but he'd also pull the plug if he could on the Matt Bush draft too.
Oakland A's- Placed pitcher Chris Hammond on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to June 12, with a strained left shoulder; recalled infielder Ramon Castro from Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League (AAA).
As Matthew pointed out at THT Live, yet another team decided to call up one of its top-five minor leaguers to look at. Just to remind readers, this is what Namee said of Castro in that article:
He hits for a good average (to go with good plate discipline), plays solid defense, and rarely grounds into double plays (just 33 GDP in 691 career games)... Henri Stanley's weakness is that he's not a "toolsy" player; Ramon Castro's weakness appears to be Triple-A pitching.
Now, let me say that having your weakness be Triple-A pitching is not a good way to have a Major League career. While crushing AA is nice, your performance at AAA is more indicative of the kind of career you will have in the Majors, so you could say I'm not as high on Castro. But as a fellow THTer, I was excited to see the A's fulfill Matthew's wish, despite the fact that the infielder is hitting only .233/.321/.362 at Sacramento. With Chavez and Ellis down, the A's need all the infield help they can get, so calling up Castro for two weeks is a move I can't complain about.
Hammond leaves the A's with two lefties in the 'pen, so they aren't in grave danger. The only problem here is that Arthur Rhodes, the one-time closer, is 'retiring' lefties to the tune of .371/.415/.600. While Hammond is hardly recreating his 2002 season, he's done well in his situational role, containing left-handers to a .278/.289/.333 line. But don't fear Oakland fans, when in need, Ken Macha is much more likely to go with Ricardo Rincon, who is getting them out at one of the league's best lines: .182/.200/.212.
Chicago White Sox- Purchased the contract of pitcher Vic Darensbourg from Charlotte of the International League (AAA). Sent outright the contract of infielder Kelly Dransfeldt to Charlotte.
I was thinking what to write for this transaction when I came across a quote from "The Jerry Royster Experience" on Baseball Think Factory:
Certain players seem to fall through the cracks in the White Sox organization. While the Sox will pick up gems like Tony Graffanino, Esteban Loaiza, and Shingo Takatsu out of nowhere, they'll also let decent organizational soldiers get away, like Kip Wells, Chad Bradford, and now Ginter. I think Kelly Wunsch will be the next one on that list - he's been great when he's been healthy, but it seems the organization has no interest in him anymore.
I agree completely here, and am shocked on how far Kelly Wunsch has fallen from grace since his injury. To Darensbourg's credit, his AAA ERA was better at 2.64 vs. 3.33, but I would think previous great service time would override that. A smart organization in need of a good LOOGY (see Boston Red Sox), should identify Wunsch and try to sneak him out of the organization without Ken Williams noticing... sadly, a feat I find very possible.
Toronto Blue Jays- Purchased the contract of RHP Adam Peterson from New Hampshire of the Eastern League (AA); designated pitcher Jason Kershner for assignment.
What a difference three months make. It wasn't long ago that we talked of the end of the Blue Jays bullpen being Justin Speier, Kerry Ligtenberg, and Aquilino Lopez. Kershner, De Los Santos, and Terry Adams were to round out the group for a team we projected as a Wild Card contender. Oops. Now, Toronto finds themselves behind the Devil Rays, and the bullpen outlook has changed completely. The team now has five pitchers (Mike Nakamura, Jason Frasor, Bob File, Vinny Chulk, Peterson) that weren't projected as relievers three months ago. J.P. Riccardi is very future-oriented, and since this year's bunch has failed to meet expectations, the Jays are trying a lot of different ideas, such as a new bullpen and Alexis Rios.
St. Louis Cardinals- Recalled outfielder So Taguchi from Memphis of the Pacific Coast League (AAA); optioned catcher Cody McKay to Memphis.
While Jim Edmonds nurses his old body on the bench, the Cardinals brought Taguchi back to Busch. So made his stay worthwhile by scoring a run on a Paul Bako passed ball to seal a 10-9 victory on Wednesday. This officially ends the Cody McKay experiment, which wasn't doing well with a .512 OPS. Molina has impressed coaches and management so much that he will remain the Cards back-up catcher now that Mike Matheny has returned. Furthermore, Yadier may actually cause Matheny to not land an extension, giving them more money to re-up Edgar Renteria. A little good, a little bad for Cubs fans.
Bryan Smith, co-founder of Baseball Analysts, is a freelance writer with work appearing at SI.com, BaseballProspectus.com and Baseball America. Feel free to e-mail Bryan here, and look for his annual prospect list at SI.com next week.