Comings and Goings (8/5-8/8)

As much as we hate when real life reigns over baseball and salary over hobby, oftentimes it’s unavoidable. Forgive me for the brief C+G hiatus, especially at one of the season’s most pressing times. Hopefully you read some of the other THT transaction review articles, which gave fantastic breakdowns. And with that, Comings and Goings returns to…

St. Louis Cardinals – Acquired outfielder Larry Walker from the Colorado Rockies for Jason Burch and two players to be named later.

This is a case where the strong get stronger, and the weak get weaker. While St. Louis has had strong production from the 1-5 spots of the order, disappointing performances by Reggie Sanders and Ray Lankford — and the sheer existence of Mike Matheny — detracted from the lineup as a whole. Walker, one of the game’s better players in the 90s, will come in to take pressure from Sanders, a job from Lankford, and add another .300/.400/.500 bat to baseball’s best team.

And yes, Walker is still capable of .900 OPS offensive production. The Rockies franchise player before Todd Helton’s arrival, Walker was hardly a byproduct of Coors Field, simply an innocent bystander benefiting further from its presence. After last year I would have gambled Walker’s time had expired, and I would have lost money. Larry is hitting again, and playing good defense, though you wonder when either skill will fall victim to an aging body. Overall, Walker is hitting .321/.465/.625 this year, and surprisingly enough, has a road OPS that trumps his Colorado stats.

Unlike trades for Nomar or Steve Finley, this is not a two-month rental. Walker comes not just with a $3M price tag in 2004, but also demands $5M in salary from St. Louis next year. I doubt that money will hinder the Cards from signing Renteria, Morris, and Cris Carpenter, a group that was never going to stay together past this season. While Larry’s injuries make $5M a risky sum, the potential gain is greater than the equally expensive Raul Ibanez types.

Another question this trade raises is whether Colorado got enough for their one-time superstar. Dan O’Dowd’s leash has been extra long in Denver, and you have to wonder when ownership will finally cut bait. The only named player thus far is 21-year-old, Midwest League reliever Jason Burch. A 21st round pick from the University of Nebraska, Burch has good peripheral numbers in a league way too advanced for his collegiate experience. The St. Louis Dispatch suggests the two players to be named are Chris Narveson and John Gall, two of the better prospects in a weak system. Narveson is a southpaw that is slowly coming around in the Texas League, while Gall looks to be another Jack Cust-like acquisition.

My Cubbies were never going to catch these Cards, who now can go R-L-R-L in the 3-6 spots. Atlanta winced after seeing this trade, knowing their NLCS hopes took another big hit.

Toronto Blue Jays – Fired manager Carlos Tosca, named John Gibbons interim manager.

While not exactly conventional, a surprisingly supportive media and badly timed injuries led to Tosca’s firing. Since becoming General Manager, J.P. Ricciardi has made many moves without criticism, as people kept promising he was building for next year. Well, since becoming GM he’s been pointing to this year, which is producing lackluster results.

Why the bad year? It all started in April, when an offense touted so highly slugged just .394, led by a .316 SLG from star Vernon Wells. The 5.02 April ERA also contributed to the 7-15 record, as free agent signees Pat Hentgen and Miguel Batista were both sporting ERAs above 5.94. Furthermore, Aquilino Lopez led an underachieving bullpen with his 11.42 ERA, beginning his struggles that have yet to cease. Despite breakdowns by the likes of Kerry Ligtenberg and Terry Adams, the Blue Jays had a 15-14 record in May, as new closer Jason Frasor threw 15 scoreless innings. Despite a .193/.313/.344 month from Carlos Delgado, Vernon Wells led the offense with a 1.022 OPS.

In June came the bad luck, the injuries. Carlos Delgado got 0 at-bats, Vernon Wells only 51, and Roy Halladay only managed four starts. Despite a season-low .714 OPS from the offense, both Miguel Batista and Ted Lilly pushed the team to a 14-17 record. Halladay’s injury continued in July, though the team received great performances from the unlikely heroes Josh Towers, Ted Lilly and David Bush. Alexis Rios led an offense that wasn’t getting any help from stars Delgado and Wells. And this, is why Carlos Tosca got fired.

So, what is next for these Blue Jays? Well, youth. Rios, Bush, Frasor and Vinnie Chulk are just a few success stories from what is turning out to be a rebuilding season. Gabe Gross just hit his first Major League home run, and you have to expect prospects Guillermo Quiroz and Russ Adams to not be far behind. Delgado will be courted at season’s close, but the acquisition of Eric Crozier (keep reading), doesn’t force his re-signing. Rather than re-sign Delgado, why not play Crozier at first and sign Troy Glaus, allowing the trade of Eric Hinske? Just a thought.

Chicago White Sox – Acquired second basemen Robbie Alomar from the Arizona Diamondbacks for a player to be named and cash considerations.

Rather than make more jests at Ken Williams for continually reacquiring the same personnel, why don’t we shift our laughter to Willie Harris? After hitting .384 in May, his best month as a pro, Harris hit .184 in the months of June and July. Part of the blame should go to Jose Valentin, whose return from injury forced Harris into a utility role between the infield and outfield.

Now, Harris’ playing time has diminished to near zero. Juan Uribe, who almost made the All-Star team, will also seeing a decrease in playing time after a .123 average in July. Uribe is hitting only .194 on the road this season, as opposed to .321/.365/.600 at the Cell. Still just 25 year old, Uribe is showing the makings of a potentially All-Star shortstop, which is why the Sox will make no play at Valentin this offseason.

Alomar, an unquestioned Hall of Famer, had a .382 OBP when traded. Still showing quite a platoon split, Alomar has a .966 OPS since the All-Star Break. He can still pick it up the middle, and his ‘leadership’ on the field will get a good mention by the press. While an unnecessary trade, Ken Williams has yet to give up on what is shaping up to be another fading season.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

Cleveland Indians – Acquired hitter Josh Phelps from the Toronto Blue Jays for infielder Eric Crozier; designated outfielder Alex Escobar for assignment.

When coming up, Phelps was a can’t-miss prospect, a minor leaguer sure to transform into a good hitter. It’s too early to tell if Phelps missed, though his continuing terrible platoon split is a little scarier than, say, Hee Seop Choi. Ben Broussard has quietly hit for an .809 OPS this season, showing virtually no platoon split in either direction. But mind you, his .815 OPS vs. left-handers comes in only 38 at-bats, as the team used Lou Merloni and his .356/.409/.577 line in those situations.

It’s almost impossible for Phelps to improve on that, and it would be stupid to halt Travis Hafner’s development due to his southpaw struggles. But, Merloni will likely be gone in 2005, giving the Indians a southpaw first basemen until Michael Aubrey takes the full-time job. Crozier had no future in Cleveland, and my guess is this is a circumstance of Mark Shapiro identifying an undervalued stock and buying low, with the hopes of selling high.

Philadelphia Phillies – Placed outfielder Pat Burrell on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to Wednesday, with a strained left wrist; purchased the contract of infielder Lou Collier from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre of the International League (AAA).

Timing is everything. Before the season, sportswriters seemed to have a general consensus that the Cubs, Astros or Phillies would win the NL Pennant. The former was almost laughed at early on, when Dusty Baker couldn’t go a week with a set 25-man roster. With Prior, Wood and Sosa out, the Cubs were an afterthought in a world consumed with Houston or Philly. Convinced the Cardinals would fall and the Braves wouldn’t rise, surely Vegas dropped their World Series odds for both squads. With one team dead, batters were undoubtedly picking from a pool of two.

And then something funny happened…Cubs started getting healthy. We saw Sosa, Prior and Wood return, along with less heralded additions like Mark Grudzielanek and Mike Remlinger. The beat-up Cubs of early on were merely table-setters for what a healthy team could do. And while problems won’t disappear in the Windy City, there appears to be no stopping the phoenix from grabbing the Wild Card by the talons. This dream has already been put to rest in Houston, who encountered their rash of injuries too late. And now in Philadelphia, team #3 is watching helplessly as stars fall down the drain.

Oft injured has been Billy Wagner, the key offseason acquisition that was supposed to complete the ‘Phlawless Phillies’. His time on the DL has given closer duties to Tim Worrell, who in turn added pressure on Ryan Madson. Remember, if not for a haunting midseason reunion with starting, Madson would have a Joe Nathan-like ERA of 1.19. But Madson then hit the DL shortly before the trade deadline, forcing Ed Wade to make a Felix Rodriguez for Ricky Ledee switch, leaving Philly’s outfield a man short. This would prove to be vital when Pat Burrell, slowly recovering from a disastrous 2003 campaign, went down.

Burrell’s injury will impact an offense that, like the club as a whole, blossomed early. Jim Thome’s awesomeness has been trumped by the likes of Jim Edmonds, as Thome’s name slowly slips from MVP lists.

Boston Red Sox – Acquired pitcher Mike Myers from the Seattle Mariners for a player to be named later or cash considerations; optioned pitcher Mark Malaska to Pawtucket of the International League.

Name dropping 101: the art of using an ‘important’ name when not necessary. A perfect example exists in baseball, where a team may acquire a veteran when a young, capable player is waiting in the balance.

Mike Myers 2004 vs. LH: .258/.359/.394
Mark Malaska 2004 vs. LH: .188/.289/.212

At least Myers comes cheap.

San Francisco Giants – Purchased the contract of pitcher Brad Hennessey from Fresno of the Pacific Coast League (AAA); optioned pitcher Merkin Valdez to Norwich of the Eastern League (AA).

Hennessey won’t be remembered in the same way those who came before him aren’t, simply players on the wrong end of a milestone. Hennessey ran out of gas to the Cubs in his Major League debut Saturday, becoming the 204th pitcher Maddux has beat, and the loser in Greg’s 300th win. But Hennessey is a good story himself, a former first rounder that has battled back from arm injuries to success. The 21st overall choice in the 2001 draft, Hennessey has gone from bust to being the ’01 first round’s 12th representative.

I never understood the idea of moving former top prospect Merkin Valdez to relief, especially with 2003 first round choice David Aardesma lurking in the PCL. El Mago, as Valdez is called, gave up five runs in 1.2 innings before being sent back to the AA starting rotation. Arms like this are a precious commodity, and to risk that players’ psyche for a two-game fill-in is reckless.

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