Tagged: Trades

Winter Meetings–Day One Wrapup

In recent years, the Winter Meetings have produced little–except for disappointment. After the first day of this year’s winter conclave, I can’t say that I’m particularly optimistic that this year will be significantly different. I hope I’m wrong in that assessment, but Day One produced exactly one trade and one rumored free agent signing, which is not exactly a harbinger of good things to come. Still, there are plenty of rumors, along with some analysis of what did transpire:

*The Tigers and Rangers pulled off the first deal of the meetings, with Texas alleviating its glut of catching by sending Gerald Laird to Detroit for two pitching prospects, Guillermo Moscoso and Carlos Melo. Let’s give the Rangers the edge here, as they translated an average major league catcher who’s already 29 into two good pitching prospects. The 25-year-old Moscoso has never pitched above Double-A ball, but does have a live arm, will probably start the season at Triple-A, and, if all goes well, could move into Texas’ rotation by mid-season. Melo is an interesting project. He’s only 17 and has electric stuff, but is obviously light years away from the majors. Still, he represents a good gamble.

As for Laird, he will fill an immediate need for the Tigers, who badly required a catcher for 2009. Laird is a good defensive receiver who throws well, but struggles to reach base and has only negligible power. In an ideal world, he’d be a good backup catcher, but given the Tigers’ vacancy at the position, he must seem like the next Bill Freehan or Lance Parrish. He’ll help, but only a little and only in the short term…

*The Tigers have reportedly signed free agent shortstop Adam Everett, which means that their interest in trading for Pittsburgh’s overrated Jack Wilson has ended. Everett is a throwback shortstop, a weak hitter but a supreme defender who brings back memories of Mark Belanger and Eddie Brinkman. He’ll provide the Tigers with a huge upgrade defensively over Edgar Renteria while giving Placido Polanco an excellent double-play partner, but the bottom of the Tiger lineup now looks barren. With Laird and Everett batting eighth and ninth, Jim Leyland will have to hope that his top seven can carry the load offensively…

*Rumors heavily outweighed actual transactions on Day One. The hottest trade rumor had the Orioles sending Ramon Hernandez to the Reds for infielder-outfielder Ryan Freel. This deal actually makes a lot of sense. The Orioles want to move Hernandez and his lackluster playing style (not to mention his $9 million salary, while the Reds have grown tired of Freel’s frequent injuries. This is the kind of deal that could benefit both players and teams, especially the Reds, who desperately need a frontline catcher. Freel could back up all three starting outfielders in Baltimore, while also giving the O’s a hedge against trading Brian Roberts in 2009…

*One of the most interesting rumors from earlier in the day had the Yankees sending Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera to the Dodgers for Matt Kemp and a pitcher, but LA general manager Ned Colletti denied even talking to the Yankees. I find Colletti’s denial hard to believe; that proposed trade makes so much sense for both sides that conversations should continue to take place between Colletti and Yankee GM Brian Cashman…

*On the free agent front, the Mets have offered closer Francisco Rodriguez a two-year deal worth $24 million. K-Rod is almost certain to turn down that offer, but will probably have to settle for a three-year deal in the vicinity of $36 million. Right now, there is not much of a market for closers; that reality, plus the state of the economy, will result in K-Rod going to the Mets at a bargain rate. If the Mets somehow fail to sign Rodriguez, they’ll turn to Brian Fuentes as choice No. 2. They apparently have lost all interest in Kerry Wood, who wants at least a two-year deal despite his double-digit history on the disabled list…

*The Red Sox have approached the Mets about catcher Brian Schneider, as a contingency against losing free agent catcher Jason Varitek. One good prospect coming from Boston could be enough to get such a deal done. The Mets might then look at signing Varitek, whose leadership skills would come in handy for a team that has been sorely lacking in the area of intestinal strength…

*The Jermaine Dye-for-Homer Bailey deal appears dead in the water, if it even had any life to begin with. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dye ends up being traded elsewhere, perhaps to the Mets at some point. GM Kenny Williams has been looking to re-tool his squad all winter and knows that Dye’s value will only go down as he inches closer to free agency at the end of 2009.

 

With Day One in the books, let’s hope that the second day brings us closer to some much-needed activity–and an end to what has been a cold winter stove surrounded by barren, frozen tundra.  

A Smattering of Intelligence–The Vazquez Trade, Helpful Howry, and Glass Arm Hampton

The floodgates of postseason activity haven’t exactly busted open this week, but there has been a trickle of movement on both the trade and free agent fronts since Monday. Let’s take a look at the recent moves, some beneficial, some sensible, and one that is downright head-scratching:

*The Braves and White Sox have yet to officially announce the trade that sends Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan to Atlanta for a package of four prospects, but barring a failed physical on Vazquez’ part, it seems that the deal will become a reality. I like what the White Sox have done here, acquiring two potential everyday players for an overrated pitcher who is more innings-eater than rotation ace. Vazquez, though he does provide you with 200 innings a season, has had exactly one good season (2007) in the last five. He hasn’t been a dominant No. 1 starter since he was an Expo in 2003, when he was regarded as such a hot commodity that the Yankees surrendered one of their top young hitters (Nick Johnson) for him as part of a three-man package. While Vazquez will never become the star that the Yankees once anticipated, the White Sox have managed to turn him into one of the best hitting minor league catchers in the game (Tyler Flowers) and possibly their starting shorstop in 2008 (Brent Lillibridge). The oversized Flowers might not have the defensive chops to catch long-term, but could replace Paul Konerko at first base by 2010, while also giving the Sox the flexibility to trade A.J. Pierczynski. As for Lillibridge, there are doubts about his hitting at the major league level, but his fielding skills remind some of Jason Bartlett, the shortstop for the reigning American League champions.

*The Giants have signed their second significant free agent this off season, bringing in former Cub Bobby Howry on a one-year deal. With the addition of Howry and left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, manager Bruce Bochy now has several options in the late innings, and two possible challengers to closer Brian Wilson. The 35-year-old Howry pitched to a 5.35 ERA in 2008, but he had been effective for the Cubs and White Sox over the previous four seasons. He’s long carried a reputation for being calm and composed, two required traits for a reliever called on to pick up big outs over the final three innings. Now the Giants just have to get to work on their offense, which remains putrid in the post-Barry Bonds era. If you can name four members of the Giants’ starting lineup, give yourself a pat on the shoulder. Let’s see, there’s Bengie Molina, Aaron Rowand, Randy Winn, Omar… ummm…

*Call me crazy, but I have no idea why the Astros decided that Mike Hampton was worth a $2 million salary, with a chance for another two million in incentives. So let me get this straight. That’s $2 million funnelled to a guy who has logged a total of 147 innings over the last four seasons, pitched ineffectively in 13 starts for the Braves in 2008, and has generally found more ways for a pitcher to injure himself than the Three Stooges. On top of all of that, Hampton is now 36 years old, hardly an ideal age for a pitcher to suddenly become durable and effective after years of falling considerably short in both categories. Frankly, I don’t see how Hampton merits anything more than the major league minimum, with some reasonable incentives based on his ability to take the ball every fifth day. 

Yes, Virginia, there really is not enough pitching to go around this Christmas…

Will The Hot Stove Heat Up This Week?

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday weekend has come to an end and teams will finally have to decide by Monday whether to offer arbitration to their own free agents, we should start to see some activity on the hot stove front by later in the week. Finally. One veteran pitcher who might not be offered arbitration is Andy Pettitte, who made $16 million last year and actually might be in line for an increase despite a poor year in the Bronx. (You have to love arbitration–if you’re the players, that is!) The Yankees would like to bring Pettitte back, but only at a cut from his exorbitant $16 million rate–an understandable desire in my opinion. One would think that Pettitte, who embarrassed himself with his involvement with HGH, would gladly accept a modest paycut after an off year in order to stay with a team he likes, but like so many other Yankees, he seems unwilling to accept any kind of a discount. If that’s truly his attitude, it may be time for the Yankees to say, “Good riddance.”

As free agents try to maximize every last dollar, teams continue to talk trade. One of the more intriguing conversations has involved the Reds and White Sox. In need of both a right fielder and a right-handed power hitter, the Reds would like to add Jermaine Dye. So far, they’ve been willing to offer Homer Bailey and scraps, but that doesn’t appear to be enough from Chicago’s perspective. In some ways, Dye makes sense for the Reds, but he’s also 35 years old and probably not enough of a difference maker for a team trying to make up a 16-game gap in last year’s wild card race. If I were the Reds, I’d be very careful how much I surrender for an aging Dye.

Finally, the Cubs are trying to include the Orioles as the third team as part of their on-again, off-again Jake Peavy discussions with the Padres. The Cubs would be willing to send Felix Pie to Baltimore for Garrett Olson, who would then be re-routed to San Diego. I’m not sure that I completely understand Baltimore’s interest in Pie, who has been a standout minor leaguer but has looked lost at the plate in various major league trials. Pie strikes out too much, doesn’t walk enough, and has shown little big league power. His No. 1 talent, his defensive play in center field, would also be wasted in Baltimore, since the O’s already have Adam Jones pegged to play the position for the next six to ten years. At this point, Pie is clearly a project–and one that might be a better fit for a team more desperately in search of a young center fielder.

 

Card Corner–Aurelio Rodriguez

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Aurelio Rodriguez–Topps Company–1981 (No. 34)

Although his name can be found right below that of the already-legendary Alex Rodriguez in books like Total Baseball, he has been mostly forgotten since his playing days ended in 1983. That’s more than a bit sad, partly because the original “A-Rod” left such a distinct impression on me–first as an opposing player and then during a late-career turn with the Yankees.

Aurelio Rodriguez couldn’t hit like today’s more well-known “A-Rod,” but he was one of the most graceful defensive third basemen of the 1970s. Rodriguez had the range of a shortstop and the throwing arm of a right fielder; along with his smooth hands, those skills combined to form a delightful package at the hot corner. In fact, I’ve never seen an infielder with a stronger arm than Aurelio. (A list of such arms would have to include recent infielders like Shawon Dunston and Travis Fryman or current-day players like Rafael Furcal and Troy Tulowitzki. All terrific arms, but all a notch below that of Rodriguez. ) That cannon-like right arm, which Ernie Harwell often described as a “howitzer,” made him a treat to watch during his many stops with the White Sox, Orioles, Yankees, Padres, Tigers, Washington Senators, and Angels.

A product of Cananea, Mexico, Rodriguez struggled with English during his early major league career with the Angels. As Rodriguez once said without bitterness, he knew only three words of English during his first ten days with California. “Ham and eggs” became a frequent refrain, resulting in a less-than-balanced diet for the young Rodriguez.

Always a terrific defender at the hot corner, Rodriguez failed to develop offensively with the Angels–a problem that persisted throughout his career. He resisted repeated attempts by his managers and coaches to hit outside pitches toward the opposite field, stubbornly trying to pull the ball and hit home runs. Rodriguez was also the consummate free swinger, never one to take to pitches and work out walks. And I’ve heard at least one former front official with the Tigers describe Rodriguez as a player who simply didn’t work as hard as he should have.

Although Rodriguez never became the star that the Angels once predicted, he did enjoy a solid career, especially with the Tigers. With his rifle arm and silky soft hands, Rodriguez cemented the left side of the infield for the Tigers and would have won more than one Gold Glove if not for the presence of a fellow named Brooks Robinson. How good was Rodriguez in the field? Of all the third basemen I watched throughout the seventies, only two were better defenders: Brooksie and the Yankees’ own Graig Nettles. In a decade that overflowed with slick-and-smooth fielders like Buddy Bell, Darrell Evans, Doug “The Rooster” Rader, and Mike Schmidt, that should be taken as lofty praise indeed.

Rodriguez won only one Gold Glove during his 17-year career, that coming in 1976, mostly because he had the misfortune of playing at the same time as the two acrobats named Robinson and Nettles. “Brooksie” and “Puff” became far more famous–primarily because they could hit and launch the ball with power–and were better defensively at third, but not by much. If Rodriguez had ever developed into more than a mediocre hitter with only occasional power, he might have collected a few more Gold Gloves during his dynamic years in Detroit.

In addition to the legacy he left behind for his fielding abilities, Rodriguez will also be remembered for his involvement in two intriguing episodes of baseball history–one rather trivial and the other a bit more consequential. In 1969, the Topps Company issued Rodriguez’ rookie card. Or so it seemed. The picture on the front of the card did not actually depict Rodriguez, but rather the Angels’ youthful batboy, a young man named Leonard Garcia, who happened to be wearing Aurelio’s uniform. I’ve heard two theories behind this incident, which left Rodriguez with perhaps the oddest rookie card in Topps history. According to one story, it was a simple mix-up, caused by the similarities in appearance between Garcia and Rodriguez and exacerbated by Rodriguez’ limited abilities with speaking English.  The other theory is more interesting: Rodriguez intentionally substituted Garcia for the photograph session, as a way of playing a practical joke on the people from Topps.

In 1971, Rodriguez found himself in the spotlight again when the Senators included him in a monstrous trade package that they used to acquire 1968 Cy Young Award winner Denny McLain from the Tigers. Although McLain was the headliner in the deal, the Tigers would emerge as the clear winner of the trade. Rodriguez and slick-fielding shortstop Eddie Brinkman, two of the players acquired by Detroit, would form an impenetrable left side of the infield, helping the Tigers to the American League East title in 1972. He would also become popular with Detroit fans, in part because of a nice, easygoing personality. Rodriguez would remain in the Motor City for the rest of the decade, eventually overseeing the arrival of two promising fellow infielders, Alan Trammell and Sweet Lou Whitaker.

Rodriguez would play nine seasons in Detroit before being sold to the Padres during the winter of 1979. In August of 1980, with the Yankees concerned about an aging Nettles become increasingly vulnerable to left-handed pitching, GM Gene Michael sent cash to the Padres for Rodriguez. He ended up doing nothing offensively for the Yankees down the stretch, batting a mere .220 with a slugging percentage of .323. With his career slope on a downhill path and now reduced to reserve status, Rodriguez returned to the Yankees in a limited role in 1981, the year of the Topps card shown above. Playing almost exclusively against left-handed pitching, Rodriguez made the most of his opportunities. Though he came to bat only 52 times, he batted .346 with a slugging percentage of an even .500. (I know about small sample sizes, but such numbers were simply unheard of for the offensively challenged Rodriguez.) He continued his monstrous hitting in the World Series, where he batted .417 against Dodger pitching, with five hits and a walk in 12 at-bats. His offensive performance would become obscured amidst the disappointment of four straight losses to Dodger Blue (and amidst the hubbub of George Steinbrenner’s alleged fight with two Dodger fans in an elevator), but Rodriguez couldn’t be blamed for the team’s shortfall. If only the Yankees had won the Series, then Aurelio might have been remembered as yet another October hero.

So how did the Yankees reward Rodriguez for his robust hitting in 1981? They traded him, of course, sending him to the Blue Jays for an obscure minor leaguer named Mike Lebo. And just that quickly, his days as a Yankee came to an end.

Most Yankee fans probably forgot about Rodriguez until picking up a newspaper in the fall of 2000. That’s when they would have seen the obituary. On a Saturday afternoon in September, the 52-year-old Rodriguez and a 35-year-old woman were walking on a Detroit sidewalk when the driver of a nearby car suffered a stroke, resulting in his vehicle jumping the curb and running into them. The bizarre accident killed Rodriguez, who was visiting Detroit because he was scheduled to appear at a card show the next day, along with another former Tiger and Yankee, Tom Brookens. At his funeral in Mexico a few days later, thousands of fans and friends attended the service of the likeable Rodriguez, including the Mexican president.

Sadly, Rodriguez never received a last chance to reminisce with those fans, or Tiger fans, many of whom enjoyed watching him play third base with such flair and finesse. Those fans, like this Yankee fan, would have let Aurelio know that he really was not forgotten after all.

Cashman Shoots and Swishes

When Brian Cashman shows a willingness to break out of his conservative shell, he is capable of making some very good trades. He did exactly that on Thursday, when he stole switch-hitting Nick Swisher from the White Sox for a dubious package of enigmatic infielder Wilson Betemit and two questionable pitching prospects, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez. (Do you remember when guys used to spell thier name as “Johnny?” Whatever happened to that tradition?) Swisher gives the Yankees three major attributes: power, patience at the plate, and versatility. These are three qualities that the Yankee roster desperately needs after a disappointing season that saw the team rank among the bottom half of the American League in runs scored.

In making this deal with the White Sox, Cashman has provided a classic example of swiping a player when his value is down. Just a year ago, Swisher was the best player on the Oakland A’s and a shining example of Billy Beane’s Moneyball concepts. Since Swisher is only 28 years old, I’d say he is likely to bounce back from a season that saw him bat .219 for Chicago. Bad luck, as much as anything, seems to have played a role in his low batting average. If he plays every day for the Yankees, he is fully capable of hitting 30 home runs and drawing 100 walks, and those are numbers that can help any team. His versatility will also provide some assistance. The Yankees indicate that Swisher will be their regular first baseman, but he is also a plus defender in either left or right field, and capable of playing some center field in a backup capacity. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Swisher split his time in 2009 between right field and first base. He could platoon with Xavier Nady in right, and then switch to first base on days when a left-hander starts for the opposition. That’s exactly the kind of flexibility the Yankees have lacked in recent years because of the presence of too many DH types like Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui.

Clearly, the White Sox sold way too low on Swisher, but they could potentially benefit from the deal if Betemit blossoms on the South Side. Betemit is one of those players who looks attractive to a contending team as a utility infielder because of his live bat and versatility, but he needs regular at-bats to keep his long swing in tune. He would also help himself by dropping about ten pounds; his weight was a constant concern for the Yankees. (He might also benefit from giving up switch-hitting, since he often looks helpless from the right side.) I still think that Betemit could develop into a .270 hitter with 20 home run power and decent on-base skills. The White Sox would be smart to make Betemit their starting third baseman, or at least platoon him with Josh Fields. Otherwise, they’ll be disappointed with Betemit as a sporadic backup player. 

With the trade of Swisher, along with the Matt Holliday deal and the trade that sent Kevin Gregg to the Cubs for top prospect Jose Ceda, we’ve seen three deals within the span of three days. And just think, the free agent signing period hasn’t even begun until today (Friday). If the early signs are any indication, this may turn out to be one of the busiest Hot Stove sessions we’ve seen in decades. 

A Smattering of Intelligence–Taking The Stairs, A Rack of Lamb, and Royal Failures

The Phillies made a smart move in prying Matt Stairs from the Blue Jays in exchange for what figures to be a lower level minor league prospect. With Geoff Jenkins becoming a bust in his first (and perhaps last) season in Philly, the Phillies have a use for a lefty bat who can platoon with the underrated Jayson Werth in right field, or can give Pat Burrell an occasional day off against tough right-handers. Stairs’ assets of power and patience could also be useful in a pinch-hitting role, giving the Phillies another left-handed bat (along with Greg Dobbs) for the late innings of close games. The Phillies’ bench, already a positive force because of the presence of productive semi-regulars like Werth, Dobbs, and the invaluable Chris Coste, could give them a slight edge over the thinner Mets during the final month of the regular season…

The Phillies’ acquisition of Stairs rules out any further interest in Mike Lamb, who was designated for assignment earlier in the week. Lamb has had a miserable season in Minnesota, inexplicably losing his power (he has one home run in 236 at-bats). He might draw some interest from the Dodgers, who have been disappointed by Casey Blake since his mid-season arrival from Cleveland…

I thought the Royals would be much improved under the ambitious and energetic Trey Hillman, but on the eve of September, the Royals are buried at 21 games under .500, making them better than only the Mariners among American League competitors. The list of reasons for the Royals’ struggles are numerous, including Alex Gordon’s failure to develop, a lack of improvement from David DeJesus and Mark Teahen, the fallback of Brian Bannister, and the disappointing debut of Luke Hochevar. And then there is the presence of Jose Guillen, who has been predictably bad off the field and uncharacteristically bad on it. Not only has Guillen argued with teammates, coaches, and fans (he had to be restrained from attacking a heckler this week), he also has a ghastly strikeout to walk ratio of 91-19. Even at 32, Guillen hasn’t learned an ounce of plate discipline; if anything, he’s gotten decidedly worse. His .286 on-base percentage stands to be the lowest for any full season he’s had in the major leagues. Hillman would like nothing better than to be rid of the headaches caused by Guillen (who claims his manager doesn’t talk to him), but he’s likely stuck with the chronic troublemaker. Guillen is still owed $24 million over the span of the next two seasons. Good luck finding a taker at that price…

In spite of the Royals’ disappointmenting summer, Hillman’s job should be safe. So who will be the first manager fired this off-season? Some National League names that have been mentioned include Houston’s Cecil Cooper (who seems to be taking his share of blame for a fractured clubhouse), Ned Yost (but only if the Brewers don’t win the wild card), and Washington’s Manny Acta (where someone may have to take the blame for a horrible season). On the American League side, the Tigers’ Jim Leyland and the Rangers’ Ron Washington could come under review. In New York, Joe Girardi should be safe–at least until the Yankees endure another bad start to another season.

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Heilman, The Donkey, and Baseball Cards

It’s become plainly evident that the Mets can no longer trust Aaron Heilman to close out games during Billy Wagner’s tenure on the shelf. After watching Heilman blow a save on Monday afternoon against the lowly Pirates, Jerry Manuel has to try someone else–anybody for that matter–in an effort to clot the bleeding. While there is no slam dunk choice, given the bullpen’s ERA of more than 6.70 since the All-Star break, I would nominate Pedro Feliciano. The lefty specialist has been arguably their most consistent set-up reliever over the past three years, and while he’s certainly no sure thing against right-handed bats, he’s more deserving of a shot than Scott Schoeneweis. The only other option for the Mets is a waiver trade. Omar Minaya should put in a claim for any serviceable reliever who is put on waivers. Perhaps a team looking to shed some salary will just say, “Take him,” to the Mets, and ask for no trade compensation in return…

Assuming that neither of the players to be named later are top prospects, the Diamondbacks did very well in securing Adam “Big Donkey” Dunn in a waiver deal with the Reds. The D-Backs need offense in the worst way, particularly in the form of a left-handed bat who can balance their righty-heavy lineup. Dunn is a two dimensional player–he hits home runs and draws walks–who does nothing else well, but his power and patience are so exemplary that he’ll lift the spirits of Arizona’s offense. The D-Backs plan to use Dunn in right field while Justin Upton works his way back from the disabled list; once Upton is ready, Dunn will move back to his more accustomed position in left field. The trade will also give the D-Backs, if they’re so inclined, a head start on negotiations for a long-term contract with the impending free agent. Good move on all fronts for Arizona…

Finally, it’s time to change the baseball card image on our home page. We’ve had Willie Mays (the greatest living ballplayer) up for more than a month, but we’re now ready to move on to another selection. If you’ve got a card you’d like to nominate, just post your suggestion here, along with your reasons. Perhaps you like one of the 1973 Topps cards we’ve featured on “Card Corner” (like Norm Cash, Dave McNally, or Joe Rudi), or perhaps you’d prefer something completely different. Just let us know.