Catching Up On Trades

I have been derelict in my duties. Last year around this time I was writing something nearly every day that covered the many signings and trades that were talking place during the always frantic offseason. This year—first because of the time it took to work on The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006 and then because of the time it takes to write for some of my other gigs—I’ve let the wheeling and dealing go by without much comment.

While far too many players have switched teams for me to do a complete recap now, I’d like to try a speed version. The following may not contain the same sort of lengthy, stat-heavy ramblings that you’re used to from me. Instead, I’ll try to say a few words on just about every trade of any significance that has gone down since the end of the season. If nothing else, I can clean the slate in my mind and start fresh with the new wave of moves that are sure to occur just shortly after this article is posted.

Without further mea culpas and explanations, on with the show …

San Diego acquired Vinny Castilla from Washington for Brian Lawrence

The first major trade of the offseason was one that made me scatch my head. Brian Lawrence is no great shakes at this point—he turns 30 years old in May and went 32-44 with a 4.37 ERA over the past three years despite playing in extreme pitcher’s ballparks—but I certainly would have expected him to fetch something more than Vinny Castilla. Perhaps the Padres played their hand too early, because had they waited to deal Lawrence until after guys like Esteban Loaiza and Paul Byrd signed as free agents, their asking price could have risen quite a bit.

In Castilla’s two stints with the Rockies he has hit .295/.341/.531 spread over 1,083 games. In 684 games playing elsewhere—Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Houston and Washington—he has hit .251/.295/.404. That’s the beauty of Coors Field. The Castilla the Padres are getting is a 38-year-old who hit .253/.319/.403 for the Nationals in 2005. Why a contending team would trade for a player like that and hand him an everyday job is unclear, and why they’d give up a solid innings-eater in the process is really confusing.

San Diego acquired Mike Cameron from New York for Xavier Nady

Hopefully Padres fans didn’t send off those angry e-mails yet, because I really like this deal for San Diego. Mike Cameron has long been hugely underrated and his outstanding defense will fit perfectly in Petco Park. The only negative is that Cameron once again finds himself playing in a horrible ballpark for hitting. First it was Safeco Field for four years, then Shea Stadium for two seasons, and now he’ll be calling baseball’s most pitcher-friendly park home. The poor guy is a .249/.340/.442 career hitter, but he’d be a household name if he could have switched locations with Castilla.

This isn’t a horrible deal for the Mets, because Cameron’s value was significantly lessened playing right field next to Carlos Beltran. Xavier Nady was once a highly thought of prospect, but he is now 27 years old and a career .263/.320/.414 hitter. His defensive versatility gives Nady some added value, but the Padres clearly didn’t think he was a passable option at third base or they wouldn’t have gone after Castilla. My guess is that he’ll slide into a platoon role with New York, where he can provide some value mashing lefties.

New York acquired Carlos Delgado from Florida for Mike Jacobs, Yusmeiro Petit, and Grant Psomas

The Marlins have been criticized left and right this offseason for going through yet another firesale. While I agree that completely busting up a contending team every few years isn’t exactly a great thing for the fan base, from a purely on-field perspective I think they’re doing a decent job. For instance, Florida signed Carlos Delgado as a free agent last offseason, paid him to hit .301/.399/.582 with 33 homers and 115 RBIs, and then cashed him for three good young players. I really can’t see how that is a huge mistake.

Meanwhile, the Mets unload more good prospects to acquire another pricey veteran on the wrong side of 30, and in this case a guy who they could have simply signed a year ago. Delgado is a huge addition to New York’s lineup, but a Mike Jacobs/Nady platoon would have provided plenty of offense at first base anyway, and losing Yusmeiro Petit may come back to haunt the Mets just slightly less than losing Scott Kazmir has.

Boston acquired Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota from Florida for Anibal Sanchez, Hanley Ramirez, Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia

Again, trading away a World Series MVP and a three-time All-Star is never going to look good when what you get in return is four guys most fans have never heard of. However, like with the Delgado deal, the Marlins did well here in acquiring young talent. Anibal Sanchez is one of the better pitching prospects around, and while Hanley Ramirez’s prospect stock doesn’t match his actual production at this point, he has a ton of long-term potential. Within a few years this deal may have netted the Marlins a top-line starting pitcher and a quality big-league shortstop.

I’m also somewhat bullish about this deal for the Red Sox, because Josh Beckett addresses one of their biggest needs (a top-line starter), Guillermo Mota should provide a nice boost to a bullpen that really struggled in 2005, and Mike Lowell probably has a better chance at bouncing back than most people think. Losing Sanchez and Ramirez hurts, but Boston has quite a few good pitching prospects who are close to the majors, and Ramirez’s place in their long-term plans was unclear.

Minnesota acquired Luis Castillo from Florida for Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

I wrote several thousand words about this trade over at my blog, so I’ll spare you that and give the relatively short version here: Minnesota has been desperate for a quality middle infielder for years now, and Luis Castillo gives them a good defensive second baseman who gets on base and comes along with a reasonable salary. The price to get him was reasonable, as Travis Bowyer was just one of several quality relief options in the system and Scott Tyler is a former second-round pick who has been largely a bust.

Bowyer has scary fastball velocity and his minor league strikeout rates have been more than high enough to make up for a lot of his control problems. I like his chances of becoming a dominant late-inning reliever down the road, but unless Tyler suddenly has a pitching epiphany that’s pretty close to the worst-case scenario for Minnesota and something they can probably live with.

New York acquired Paul Lo Duca from Florida for Gaby Hernandez and a PTBNL

I would have tried to sign Ramon Hernandez and held on to a decent prospect for once, but unless the PTBNL is someone significant this is a safe enough move for the Mets. Paul Lo Duca should give New York a league-average catcher for less money and fewer years than Hernandez would have required, although to a big-market team that doesn’t seem nearly as important as actually having the better catcher and still possessing a quality pitching prospect like Gaby Hernandez.

Tampa Bay acquired Sean Burroughs from San Diego for Dewon Brazelton

Your basic swap of young underachievers. Sean Burroughs is a former top prospect who never developed any power and has seemingly regressed as a player over the past couple seasons, while Dewon Brazelton is a former top-five pick who has never looked like more than a potential middle-of-the-rotation starter as a pro. I still think the Padres would have been better off with Lawrence and Burroughs than Brazelton and Castilla, but I can understand why they wanted to give up on Burroughs.

Baltimore acquired LaTroy Hawkins from San Francisco for Steve Kline

This is an elderly version of the Burroughs-for-Brazelton swap, with the Orioles and Giants trading disappointing veteran relievers. Both LaTroy Hawkins (56.1 innings, 3.83 ERA) and Steve Kline (61 innings, 4.28 ERA) struggled a bit in 2005, but they are good bets to turn things about in 2006 and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were each among the top relievers in their new leagues.

Chicago acquired Juan Pierre from Florida for Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco, and Renyel Pinto

Juan Pierre is probably underrated by the stathead world, and the Cubs certainly needed to find someone to get on base in front of Derrek Lee, but this strikes me as Chicago significantly overpaying for a known commodity who really isn’t all that great. Three intriguing young pitchers for a 28-year-old center fielder with good speed who hit .303/.354/.378 over the past three years and takes home a sizable paycheck? The Marlins did very well here, stockpiling more young arms.

Pittsburgh acquired Sean Casey from Cincinnati for Dave Williams

This is a fairly good example of why the Pirates win 70 games every year. General manager Dave Littlefield never seems quite sure if he’s rebuilding or not, and acquiring a mediocre veteran like Sean Casey won’t help Pittsburgh win much now or in the future. Dave Williams is certainly nothing special, but he’s a decent bet for 150 innings of league-average pitching, and the Pirates could just as easily have held on to him and given Craig Wilson the everyday job at first base.

The Reds clear their outfield logjam by opening up first base for Adam Dunn, and they get their hands on a relatively inexpensive starting pitcher who should at least be able to avoid being horrible. Cincinnati won’t miss Casey’s empty batting average much, and their pitching staff is a tiny step closer to offering at least a little support to what figures to be a very solid lineup. A sad thought: Williams’ 4.41 ERA in 138.2 innings this year would have ranked fifth among the 12 Cincinnati pitchers who threw at least 40 innings.

Arizona acquired Johnny Estrada from Atlanta for Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal

I don’t think much of Lance Cormier or Oscar Villarreal, but the Braves had little need for Johnny Estrada with Brian McCann’s emergence last season and elite catching prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia next in the organization’s always plentiful talent pipeline. Once upon a time I thought Atlanta got fleeced when they sent Kevin Millwood to the Phillies for Estrada. The deal worked out well for the Braves, as Estrada gave them one outstanding season (.314/.378/.450 in 2004) and then struggled with injuries while hitting like I thought he would (.261/.303/.367) this year.

What Arizona needs with a 30-year-old catcher who has questionable hitting skills is beyond me, especially since they already have a couple of iffy hitters on the catching depth chart in Chris Snyder and Koyie Hill. If you can’t have quality you might as well have quantity, I guess, and the price was certainly about right.

Chicago acquired Jim Thome from Philadelphia for Aaron Rowand, Gio Gonzalez and Daniel Haigwood

There are all sorts of different ways to view this trade. At the most basic level though, I’m a Twins fan who is pained by every White Sox victory, and I’d have rather Chicago didn’t make this deal. So even with the questions surrounding Jim Thome’s health and what losing Aaron Rowand does to Chicago’s defense, and even with the two quality pitching prospects the White Sox lose, I think this is a quality gamble on their part.

It’s also a very nice swap for the Phillies, who make room for Ryan Howard at first base, get a very underrated 28-year-old center fielder, and stock their system with some nice arms. I’d bet on both Thome and Howard hitting 30+ homers in 2005 and both Rowand and his replacement, Brian Anderson, being above-average center fielders, so this could be a win-win situation.

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