August 02, 2004

Trading Deadline Breakdown

Today's Musical Selection: "Sold" by John Michael Montgomery

Howdy, folks! Well, it looks like the baseball owners complied with my request for more trading action, and therefore I do indeed have some trades to break down in my inimitable style. For those of you who weren't reading me last year (which is almost all of you), be advised that I'm not one for the traditional analysis you find from so many other sources. The way I figure it, if you want to read the usual surface-level analysis, you can get that a lot of places. With me, on the other hand, you can expect a closer look at what the deal really means. This is the kind of exclusive analysis you can only get from Mediocre Fred. So sit back and prepare to be enlightened as you have never been enlightened before, unless you used to hang out with Dock Ellis.

Four-way deal: BOSTON receives SS Orlando Cabrera and 1B Doug Mientkiewicz;
CHICAGO (NL) receives SS Nomar Garciaparra, minor-league OF Matt Murtin and some filthy lucre;
MINNESOTA recieves minor-league P Justin Jones;
MONTREAL receives SS Alex Gonzalez, minor-league P Francis Beltran, minor-league IF Brendan Harris, three Chicago dogs and a gallon of New England clam chowder

Now, most all of the commentators are focusing on how Nomar will improve the Cubs, or how the Sawx's chemistry will be affected by swapping out half the infield at the trading deadline. And as usual, these commentators will have missed the key issue, which is how the deal affects Montreal. This is all that matters to me, since this is the team I might be rooting for next year.

So how did the Expos do? Well, they parted with Orlando Cabrera, a fine shortstop having a bit of a down year. He's hitting .246 with little power on the year, and he's making $6 million, so you can imagine why Montreal might be interested in unloading him.

And what did they receive in exchange? Well, for one thing, they received Alex Gonzalez. (There is more than one Alex Gonzalez in the league, so to be clear, this is the Cubs' Alex Gonzalez, not to be confused with the Marlins' Alex Gonzalez, who is also a shortstop, or the Rangers' Alex Gonzalez, whose first name is actually Adrian, or the Cardinals' Alex Gonzalez, who is Tony Womack.) Gonzalez is a shortstop who's having a bit of a down career. You may remember him as the guy who butchered the ground ball that really cost the Cubs a shot at the World Series last year, Bartman aside. His career numbers are worse than Cabrera's down-year numbers. And he's two years older than Cabrera. But at least he's cheaper; Gonzalez only makes $5.75 million, a whopping $250,000 savings over Cabrera's hefty price tag. Um.

Perhaps Expos GM Omar Minaya got confused and thought he was actually acquiring the Marlins' Alex Gonzalez, who also can't hit but is four years younger, or the Rangers' Alex Gonzalez, who actually can hit, or the Cardinals' Alex Gonzalez, who as we all recall is Tony Womack. Perhaps he thought he was acquiring Speedy Gonzalez, the Warner Brothers cartoon mouse, who is at least a useful pinch runner. Any of them would have been a better choice than the Alex Gonzalez the Expos actually acquired.

As for the minor leaguers, they're both such hot prospects that I've never even heard of them. Oh goody.

In his defense, Minaya had this to say about the deal: "I think (Cabrera) expressed that he wanted to move on and explore the free-agent market. We just felt that it was best for us to go out there and try to at least not get nothing for him." And they succeeded. They did not get nothing for Cabrera. They did, however, get as close to nothing as it is statistically possible to get without actually getting nothing. If this is what we Washington fans have to look forward to, Las Vegas can have the Expos. Pass the Alka-Seltzer, please.

LOS ANGELES receives OF Steve Finley and C Brent Mayne from ARIZONA in exchange for minor-leaguers C Koyie Hill, OF Reggie Abercrombie and P Bill Murphy...

which occurred after LOS ANGELES received P Brad Penny, 1B Hee Seop Choi and minor-league P Murphy from FLORIDA for C Paul LoDuca, RP Guillermo Mota and OF Juan Encarnacion

Most commentators are talking about this deal in terms of what is does for LA's and Florida's respective pennant chances, and as always they miss the real story, which is what this series of trades was not, which was a deal to acquire Randy Johnson and Charles Johnson (no relation, as far as I know, inasmuch as they belong to different races, but who can be sure?).

See, when LA swung its deal with Florida, everyone assumed that they were going to turn around and use those pieces to acquire Randy Johnson from Arizona. It was a fine idea, and it all went off without a hitch, except for one tiny, insignificant detail: Arizona did not actually want the pieces that LA had acquired. This was a bit of a problem for the Dodgers, as they had dealt away one of the league's best catchers, a quality young reliever, and a top bench bat to get these pieces that, as it turns out, Arizona didn't want. Thus chastened, the Dodgers hustled back to Florida and attempted to return the pieces they'd paid so dearly for, but alas, they'd neglected to save the receipt, and the Marlins regretfully informed them that all sales are final without a receipt, and walked away laughing.

Now the Dodgers needed a catcher, and since they were already in the market for guys named Johnson, they decided to acquire Charles from the Rockies. Alas, Charles Johnson decided that the warm Southern California weather and pennant-race excitement was not something he'd care for, and vetoed the deal, choosing to remain with fourth-place Colorado. The thin air must have gone to his head.

Meanwhile, along came Arizona again. Perhaps you can't quite afford the Big Unit, the D'backs said, but perhaps we can interest you in a slightly used Steve Finley? And if it's a catcher you're in the market for, perhaps we can get you into the Brent Mayne? A classic bait-and-switch. And by this point, the Dodgers were pretty much ready to say yes to anything, so they took the deal. All of which goes to show, you need to know what you can afford before you start picking up players left and right. A useful lesson to all of us as the holiday shopping season approaches.

A key subplot in this deal involves Koyie Hill. If the overpopulation crisis has gotten so severe that parents feel the need to make their kids stand out by giving them obviously made-up names like "Koyie," clearly we have a problem on our hands. Please breed carefully, people. And if you know anyone inclined to name his or her child something like "Koyie," please have this person spayed or neutered. Thank you.

NEW YORK (AL) receives P Esteban Loaiza from CHICAGO (AL) for P Jose Contreras and cold, hard cash

As usual, the commentators are focusing on whether Loaiza has what it takes to pitch in the Big Apple, and whether Contreras can turn it around with the ChiSox, and once again they miss the key issue, which is this deal's impact on my dad. As loyal readers will know, my dad is a big Yankee fan, and he despises Contreras with a fairly startling passion. Despite the fact that Contreras has never harmed him personally, he has wished ill on Contreras that he would not wish on his mortal enemies. So, naturally, this trade is a godsend for him.

I had lunch with my mom yesterday, and I aked her about Dad's reaction to the Contreras trade. "Oh, he was extremely happy," Mom said. "Very excited. There was dancing involved." So I'm happy for him. I'm also looking forward to his reaction when he realizes that Esteban Loaiza does not constitute an improvement. In his entire maddening and disappointing career, Loaiza has had one truly impressive season, which was last year. This year, his ERA is around 5.50, and he's shown the exact same inconsistency that so infuriated Dad in Contreras. So I'm expecting to hear a great many unpleasant things about Loaiza from him soon. I'm going to buy earplugs for Mom.

NEW YORK (NL) acquires SP Kris Benson and minor-league IF Jeff Keppinger from PITTSBURGH for 3B Ty Wigginton, IF Jose Bautista and minor-league P Matt Peterson

NEW YORK (NL) acquires SP Victor Zambrano and RP Bartolome Fortunato from TAMPA BAY for minor-league Ps Scott Kazmir and Jose Diaz

I'm considering these trades together because they prove the same point. Looking at these trades, both of which involve trading young players for established starters, you would think that the Mets are in a pennant race. You would not think that the Mets were, say, fourth in the NL East, 9 games back. Because a team in that position making these deals, trading the future for the present, would be really, really stupid.

And yet, you discover, this is exactly what happened. Not only that, the man making these deals was not fired. Nor was he denounced as an impostor sent by a rival team to destroy the Mets' future. Nor was he subjected to a random drug test. What gives?

In order to understand this trade, you have to understand New York. And what you have to understand about New York is that New York is a town for winners. New York doesn't have time for losers. They back winners, and winners only. So if you operate a New York team, and you're not a winner, you'd damned well better pretend you are one, or perceptive New York fans will notice and your team will not draw flies the rest of the decade. (Ask the Islanders for details.) So I believe Mets GM Steve Phillips knew these trades were a dumb idea. In his heart, he realized that the Mets were not contenders. But he also knew he had to pretend, or pay the price, which is loserdom, a fate worse than death in New York.

I wonder if Phillips, Scott Layden, Isiah Thomas, Glen Sather and Ernie Accorsi ever get together for drinks at the "New York Delusional General Managers Club."

(Side note: Tampa Bay will rue the day they traded Bartolome Fortunato. Not because of his talent, because of his name. Teams like Tampa Bay don't have a lot going for them, and a Bartolome Fortunato is a rare gift from the baseball gods. Squander it, and ye shall suffer vengeance. If Kazmir blows out his arm in two years, you'll know why. Bad karma.)

PHILADELPHIA sends OF Ricky Ledee and minor-league P Alfredo Simon to SAN FRANCISCO for RP Felix Rodriguez

PHILADELPHIA sends minor-leaguers P Josh Hancock and IF Anderson Machado to CINCINNATI for RP Todd Jones and minor-league OF Brad Correll

Another pair of trades, and again they illustrate the same point. The key for Philadelphia is not the deals that did happen, but the one that didn't, the one that would have guaranteed the Phillies the pennant:

PHILADELPHIA sends manager Larry Bowa to THE UNEMPLOYMENT LINE for any other sentient human being

(Note to any Philly fans that are reading this: I repeat, the above deal did not happen. I aplogize for getting your hopes up.)

Actually, that may be casting the net too narrowly. The guy from "Weekend at Bernie's" could probably manage the Phillies to the pennant. When will Philadelphia management grasp this simple point?

Truth be told, most managers don't affect the standings that much. Really great managers might pick up a couple extra games, but by and large your choice of manager is unlikely to win you the pennant. In a few cases, however, your manager can absolutely lose you the pennant, and Bowa is one such case. He's too volatile, too insecure, too willing to offend his stars to lead a pennant winner. He can turn a cellar-dweller into a respectable club (in fact, he did just that with the Phillies a few years back), but he's not emotionally equipped to lead a team to a pennant. The fact that he's on the road to yet another 80-85 win season with the talent on that team is criminal. I know he's a local icon and all, but enough is enough. The Phillies need a calmer, steadier hand. I hear Cito Gaston is available.

(Actual baseball note: Keep an eye on Brad Correll. I saw him play in Potomac, and he was one of the few Cannons who appeared to know what he was doing. Recently, the Reds promoted him to AA. In a couple years, he could be doing great things for the Phillies. We now return you to your regularly schedule pseudo-analytical nonsense.)

FLORIDA acquires SP Ismael Valdez from SAN DIEGO for minor-league P Travis Chick

The commentators have made relatively little of this deal, even though I think it could prove to be crucial. The reason for that, which the commentators have of course ignored, is that someone in this deal is a moron.

Valdez has produced a 9-6 record, which must involve an incredible amount of run support given his 5.53 ERA. He's a replacement-level pitcher at best. But both San Diego and Florida are, at least theoretically, in the pennant race. If Valdez isn't good enough to pitch for pennant-contending San Diego, why is he good enough to pitch for pennant-contending Florida? Either the Marlins gave up a prospect for a useless player, or the Padres dealt away a guy they'll later wish they had. As I said, someone's a moron in this deal. Given Valdez's ERA, I'm guessing it's Florida. But we shall see.

TEXAS picks up SP Scott Erickson and cash from NEW YORK (NL) for a player to be named later

Another trade that's been little noticed, but it is absolutely essential. Why? Because any team that thinks Scott Erickson is an improvement cannot possibly make the playoffs. Know where Erickson lead the Orioles all those years he was anchoring their staff? Straight down the commode. And if you don't think Erickson was to blame for Baltimore's ineptitude, I give you this. Does this look like the pedigree of an ace to you? Erickson is very handsome, the ladies love him, and he has a high-quality wife (Lisa Guerrero). But his impression of a major-league pitcher is growing increasingly pathetic. I know Texas is desperate for pitching, but geez, how desperate can you be? Anyone who believed that the Rangers could win the division, your reality check has arrived.

FLORIDA acquires RP Rudy Seanez from Kansas City for OF Abraham Nunez

Here's another trade that the commentariat has ignored, and they shouldn't be. This is another crucial deal, because... oh, wait, this deal doesn't matter at all. Never mind. Sorry. Moving on.

SEATTLE trades Nobody to NOWHERE in exchange for Nothing

Hey, Mariners fans! Remember all those years that you were in contention, and Pat Gillick didn't make any deals to help the club, no matter how badly they were needed? Well, you can rest easy: Now that the Mariners have a new GM (Bill Bavasi), are out of contention and the team is burdened with an aging, expensive roster and could desperately stand to unload a few veterans. And the Mariners still aren't making any deals. So kudos to them for standing firm on principle.

Still, I think the M's need to take a good hard look at this. After all, one of the key portions of the general manager's job description is trading, and Bavasi, like Gillick before him, doesn't really appear to go for that. Perhaps trading is against Bavasi's religion. Perhpas he has very high standards for deals, like the guy who refues to date women who are not pageant-quality. Perhaps his cell-phone plan has killer roaming charges. Perhaps the M's send their GM on vacation in the Himalayas every July. I don't know. But it's time for Seattle to insist that their GM give this "trading" thing a try, and if he continues to resist, they should replace him with someone who will. Enough is enough.

(Hey, Frinklin, I hope you don't mind my busting on the M's. Deep down in your heart, you know it's true.)

On a quick boxing note, I don't know what's sadder: Mike Tyson's flame-out against that hand-picked tomato can, or the fact that this almost certainly isn't the end of his career. I shudder to think.

That's all for today. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at August 2, 2004 06:13 PM
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