Archive for July 2010

Minnesota Twins Grab Matt Capps and Other MLB Trade Deadline Notes

July 30, 2010

It’s just been reported that the Twins have acquired Nationals’ closer Matt Capps for AAA catcher Wilson Ramos and LHP Joe Testa.  It’s a solid win-now move for the Twins.

Capps hasn’t really pitched all that great for a closer (2.80 ERA) but he’s certainly been good, and the odds are strong he’ll strengthen the Twins bullpen considerably for the last two months of this season.  Capps throws strikes, which the Twins highly value, and American League hitters have seen very little of him to date, which favors Capps.

Ramos is a highly regarded prospect, but he’s definitely no sure thing.  He’s been hitting better of late at AAA Rochester, but he’s still got only a .241 batting average and a .625 OPS for the season.  Meanwhile, Capps has one more year of control before he becomes a free agent, and the Twins could possibly get a draft pick or two then, if he continues to pitch well and they offer him arbitration.

The second prospect, Joe Testa, is a small 24 year old left-hander who is currently getting hit hard (8.25 ERA) at AA New Britain.  Like a lot of trade throw-ins, he’s got a good arm, but he’s getting a little old to be struggling out of the bullpen at the AA level.

The Twins look like a better team than the White Sox on paper, and the move will certainly give the Twins a shot in the arm as they try to make the post-season in the first year of their new ballpark.

A number of other trades were announced today, the most significant obviously being the Phillies’ acquisition of Roy Oswalt.  One thing seems obvious, however — except for the Cliff Lee trade, it’s definitely a buyers’ market this year.

Ultimately, Oswalt only required the Phils to add $1 million to his 2o12 buy-out, rather than requiring them to exercise the option now.  Also, the Astros sent east $11 million toward Oswalt’s future contract obligations.  Even so, the ‘Stros didn’t get a whole lot in return.

J. A. Happ had a fine rookie year last year, but he’s been injured most of this season, and he turns 28 in October.  He’s under team control another four years after this one, but something about Happ strikes me there’s a  good chance he’ll blow out his arm some time in the next couple of seasons.

The two minor leaguers the Astros got have tools, but otherwise don’t really impress me.  In fact, the ‘Stros immediately flipped 19 year old centerfielder Anthony Gose to the Blue Jays for 23 year old 1Bman Brett Wallace.

Gose has great speed and some obvious talent, but he isn’t much of a baseball player yet.  He’s stolen 36 bases at Class A+ Clearwater, but he’s been thrown out 27 times, an awful 57% success rate.  He’d be better off just keeping still at that rate, and it’s only going to get harder to steal bases as he advances to the high minors, let alone the major leagues.

Actually, Brett Wallace sort of has the same problem.  He was the 11th player selected in the 2008 Draft, a great Draft for college hitters, but he’s now with his fourth major league organization (Cardinals, A’s, Blue Jays and now Astros) in two years.  He hasn’t developed as a hitter as fast as hoped, and he’s proven that his defense probably isn’t good enough to play anywhere but first, which means he has to hit.

Wallace currently has an .868 OPS at AAA Las Vegas, which is pretty good, but not good enough to play first base at the major league level.  He turns 24 in late August.

Other examples of a buyers’ market: the Orioles sending Miguel Tejada and $1.1 million to the Padres for 24 year old RHP Wynn Pelzer, who has a 4.20 ERA as a starter at AA San Antonio with generally unimpressive ratios.  Meanwhile, the Marlins sent Jorge Cantu and $600,000 to the Rangers for two AA pitchers, one of whom hasn’t pitched at all this year because he’s recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Sure, the Orioles and Marlins are saving some money they otherwise would have had to pay out in salary to Tejada and Cantu between now and the end of the season, but even so, they sure didn’t get much in return.

San Francisco Giants Should Probably Just Keep Still

July 29, 2010

As the trade deadline approaches, a lot of people want the Giants to acquire the big power bat they need to shore up their sputtering offense.  At this point, however, I just don’t see any way the Giants can put together a package for the kind of player who might actually make a difference without weakening the team just as much somewhere else, as they head into the last two months of the season.

Yes, an Adam Dunn or Prince Fielder would make a big difference in the line-up, but what exactly are the Giants going to have to give up to get a player of this caliber?  The answer is obvious: one of their starting pitchers: Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez or Madison Bumgarner.

If that trade is made, who are you going to make the Giants’ fifth starter?  No one that I can see, unless you are willing to take on Carlos Zambrano and the potential headaches and enormous future contract commitments he brings with him.

Or the Giants could trade away their future in the form of Pablo Sandoval or Buster Posey.  Do you really see that happening?  I don’t.

The problem is the Giants really don’t have much top-flight talent in their minor league system.  I like Brandon Belt, who is still hitting a ton (.360 with a 1.130 OPS after 86 ABs at Class AA Richmond), but he’s a former 5th round pick with less than a season of professional experience.  No one really knows if he’s for real yet.

I like Thomas Neal, also at Richmond, but he isn’t exactly murdering the ball (.289 batting average, .792 OPS as I write this).

Daryl Maday?  Getting his brains beaten out at AAA Fresno.

Lefty Eric Surkamp at A+ San Jose?  He’s on the DL for an indefinite period after injuring his hip fielding a ground ball on July 18.

Charlie Culberson is looking good in San Jose, hitting .327 with a .904 OPS, but he’s a long, long way from the majors.  Even more so with young right-handed pitching prospects Jorge Bucardo and Jose Casilla.  You don’t give up proven major league talent at the trade deadline for low, full-season Class A pitchers; there’s too much risk they’ll get hurt before they ever really amount to anything.

I could mention a few other guys I kinda like, but what’s the point?  No GM would accept a prospect package centered around any of them.

So what’s left?  Joe Rosenthal of Fox Sports thinks the Giants have some interest in the Marlins’ Jorge Cantu, although Giants’ beat writer Henry Schulman doesn’t agree.

At first blush, the thought of going after Cantu has a certain appeal.  He might, in fact, be an extremely cheap acquisition, because Cot’s Baseball Contracts says he will be a free agent at the end of this year.  If Cantu continues to play the last two months of 2010 the way he played the first four (he currently has .716 OPS), he won’t be a Type-A free agent, and in any event the Marlins won’t offer him arbitration for fear that he might accept.

As such, the Giants could conceivably acquire Cantu for less than what the Dodgers gave up today to obtain Scott Podsednik from the Royals (more on that below), particularly if the Giants are willing to assume the approximately $2 million left on Cantu’s 2010 contract.

So what if the Giants do acquire Cantu — does it really help them?  Not much that I can see.

Cantu can play three positions: 1B, 2B and 3B.  At 3B, his .716 OPS isn’t significantly better than Pablo Sandoval’s .706 OPS and is worse than Juan Uribe’s .776 OPS.

At second, Cantu beats Freddy Sanchez’s .660 OPS, but Freddy’s .328 on-base percentage is twenty points than Cantu’s.  Also, Sanchez plays appreciably better defense, and the Giants aren’t paying Freddy $6 million this year to be a back-up, at least not to someone who isn’t significantly better.  Of course, Juan Uribe can also play second.

At first, Cantu, a right-handed hitter, has a .722 OPS against left-handed pitching, while Aubrey Huff, a left-handed hitter, has a .929 OPS against left-handed pitching.  The Giants also have Sandoval, Buster Posey and Travis Ishikawa for platoons or when they want to play Huff in the outfield to get another bat in the line-up.

In short, Cantu would be unlikely to provide the Giants with much more than depth.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ move to get Scott Podsednik looks like a good move for both teams.  Podsednik has a .353 on-base percentage so far this year, matching his 2009 mark.  He still runs well, so he still has value as a top of the line-up hitter.

However, at age 34, Podsednik isn’t likely to be a good player long enough to help the Royals when they finally put together a winning team.

The two minor leaguers the Royals got aren’t great, but they aren’t terrible either.  Catcher Lucas May is described as the best catching prospect in the Dodgers’s system by espn.com, but he’s unlikely to develop into a star.

May turns 26 in late October and currently has an .848 OPS at AAA Albuquerque, a good place to hit. My guess is that he develops into a useful back-up catcher at the major league level.

The Royals also received RHP Elisaul Pimentel.  He turned 22 about three weeks ago.

Pimentel has a 9-3 record with a 3.49 ERA with good ratios in the Class A Midwest League.  He’s another good young arm, but he’s nothing special.

If nothing else, the Royals turned an oldster into minor league depth, which they can certainly use as they continue to build for the future.

Washington Nationals’ Decision to Scratch Stephen Strasburg the Right Move

July 28, 2010

The Washington Nationals scratched Stephen Strasburg from his start tonight at home against the Atlanta Braves, when Strasburg couldn’t “get loose” in the bullpen before the game.  The people in attendance at the game booed loudly when the decision to pull Strasburg was announced, which isn’t surprising when you consider that one-third of the fans likely bought tickets for that game only because Strasburg was scheduled to start.  Nonetheless, it was absolutely the right move for the Nationals to make.

It has already been well reported that the Nationals have decided (or agreed with Strasburg’s agent Scott Boras) that Strasburg will not pitch more than 160 professional innings this year and that once he reaches that 160 inning cut-off, he will be shut down for the season even if it occurs as early as late August.  Strasburg has already pitched 109.2 innings this season in the majors and minors, which roughly matches the number of innings he pitched in college last year.

The initial diagnosis of Strasburg’s problem is “shoulder inflammation”, and he is listed as “day to day”.

At this point in Strasburg’s career, with all the money, hopes and aspirations the Nationals have invested in Strasburg, there’s just no reason whatsoever not to err on the side of caution.  It’s not like the Nationals are in the thick of a pennant race, and we all know how fragile young pitchers can be.

Don’t kill the Golden Goose, at least not unless there is really something important like a playoff birth or game on the line.  Meanwhile, replacement starter Miguel Batista (and the Nats’ bullpen) shut down the Braves 3-0.  Once in a while common sense is rewarded and justice does indeed triumph in the end.

Florida Marlins Lose Chris Coghlan to Shaving Cream Pie Injury

July 28, 2010

If you haven’t already heard, young Marlins star Chris Coghlan may require surgery after he tore the meniscus in his left knee while applying a shaving cream pie to the face of teammate Wes Helms during a post-game TV interview.  Here’s the video.

The only thing positive you can say about this injury is that at least it isn’t a cover-up for even stupider, more reprehensible cause of injury.

I will say this: the episode adds further fuel to my suspicions that Coghlan is kind of a putz.  Last season, I wrote about an extremely silly incident in which Coghlan bad-mouthed to the press the Milwaukee Brewers fan who caught his first major league home run in the bleachers of Miller Field.  The fan wanted to negotiate as much in memorabilia as he could get for the home run ball, which was essentially the fan’s right, since the ball belonged to him once he caught it.

Although the fan wasn’t entirely sympathetic, Coghlan came across as another spoiled ballplayer jerk who doesn’t appreciate the fact that it’s the fans and their money spent that makes guys like him rich, rich men.

In Coghlan’s defense, he did end up winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award, so one could argue he has at least some foundation for his inflated self opinion.  I’m hoping that the shaving cream pie fiasco causes Coghlan to do a little soul-searching, although I kind of doubt it.

For what it’s worth, I would like to note that Coghlan was having a Pablo Sandoval kind of sophomore season before the injury.  After hitting .321 and posting an .850 OPS last year (and winning the big award), he is hitting .268 with a .718 OPS this year.

By way of comparison, Sandoval (who was not a true rookie last year since he had 145 at-bats in 2008), hit .330 with a .943 OPS in 2009, but is hitting only .263 with a .710 OPS as I write this.  I’d still rather have Sandoval going forward, however, because he’s 14 months younger than Coghlan.

The point is that sophomore seasons can be a real bitch, especially for young hitters, and it’s foolish to give up on a young player just because he has a bad sophomore season.  The time to get worried is if he doesn’t bounce back in Year Three.

Consolation for Minnesota Twins Fans

July 27, 2010

I’m sure that tonight many Twins fans are again ruing management’s decision to send Matt Garza to the Rays before the 2008 season.  The deal has definitely played out better for the Rays so far, and the Twins could sure use Garza’s strong right arm this season. Nevertheless, Twins’ fans still have plenty to be hopeful for in this deal.

One of the things that frustrates me about fans and the media is their inability to see the long term — meaning beyond the present season or the next season at most.  The key piece in this deal for Minnesota was obtaining Delmon Young.  While he was disappointing his first two seasons (and he really wasn’t that bad either season), he’s now hitting .328 with an .895 OPS, after tonight’s 19-1 pounding of the Royals in which Delmon got four hits including two doubles.  The thing is, Delmon’s still only 24 years old.

As I said, the Rays got the better end of this deal, because Garza has been the best player of the bunch.  Going forward from this moment, I’d still rather have Garza than Young, because, even though Garza, as a pitcher, has a higher probability of getting hurt, he may have an additional season before he becomes a free agent.  I’m also concerned about whether Young can be consistently good as an offensive player due to his inability to draw walks.

That being said, Young’s talents are obvious, and he could easily be an All-Star each of the next two seasons.  Young had a reputation as a hot-head early in his career, mainly due to an incident in the minors in which he got a 50 game suspension for throwing his bat into the chest of an umpire.  However, the fact that he’s still in Minnesota after two-plus seasons with the Twins, who highly value “character” and don’t put up with a lot of guff in the clubhouse, suggests Young has matured considerably.

As for the rest of the deal, it has been kind of a wash.  Jason Bartlett had a great year in 2009 (.879 OPS), but his OPS as a Ray in 2008 was a mediocre .690, and he has a meager .665 OPS this season.  At age 30 this year, he isn’t likely to reach a .775 OPS again in any full season going forward.

Brendan Harris has now played his way out of the majors this season, but he had a solid season for the Twins in 2008.  Although his defense wasn’t particularly good anywhere, he gave the team some flexibility by playing 2B, SS and 3B that year.

The final players in the deal, OF Jason Pridie and RHP Eddie Morlan, are no longer with either team.  Pridie is 26 this year and now playing for the Mets top farm club, the Buffalo Bison.  He doesn’t look like a future major leaguer, but he’s close enough and young enough he could get lucky.

The Rays released Morlan after a poor start at AA Montgomery, which doesn’t really make sense given that Morlan is only 24 this year.  The Brewers picked him up and he’s now pitching pretty well for their AA team in Huntsville.  Given his age, he’s still a prospect, but he hasn’t shown any improvement since reaching AA ball in late 2007.

Watch Out for Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen

July 24, 2010

The Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen is a good example of why MLB teams like guys with tools.  Jansen is a big (6’6″ and 220 lbs) 22 year old right-hander from Curacao (Andruw Jones’ birthplace) who just got called up to take Justin Miller’s place on the Dodgers’ major league roster.

Jansen started his professional career as a catcher, but after more than 1,000 plate appearances at or below the Class A+ level, Jansen proved he just can’t hit (.647 career minor league OPS).

Live arm: the Dodgers converted Jansen into a pitcher this year, and after only 22 appearances at the AA level (1.67 ERA and 50 Ks in a mere 27 IP), the Bums decided he is major league ready.

Actually, I don’t think Jansen is major league ready just yet. His command is suspect — 17 walks in those 27 AA innings pitched — although he clearly has electric stuff.

If I were the Dodgers’ GM, I would have promoted Jansen to AAA Albuquerque.  With 65 games left to play, the Dodgers are six games back of the NL West lead and only only 2.5 games off the wild card.  Too early to promote projects.

Albuquerque is a tough place to pitch, and it would be a good place for Jansen to learn that he has to attack the zone to keep those extra runs from scoring. (I contend that Fergie Jenkins and Greg Maddux won and won again in hitters’ parks in large part — they did had great stuff — because they attacked the zone.)

Meanwhile, Justin Miller once again gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop.  His 4.44 ERA isn’t Dodger Stadium worthy, but his other numbers are good (24.1 IP, 22 hits, eight walks and 30 Ks — his four gopher balls killed him).

Justin Miller is either highly unappreciated, or he has a problematic personality that hasn’t been adequately reported since he’s a bottom-of-the-bullpen pitcher.  Another possibility is that teams (the Marlins, Giants and Dodgers) just don’t think his stuff matches his results.

However, Miller’s results over the last three and a half seasons are such the teams should look only at the results.

Like Kiko Calero, who was recently cut from AAA Albuquerque despite a 3.00 ERA after 15 appearances, the Giants might want to consider Miller for a minor league contract.

P.S.  They play professional baseball in Holland.  Like Italy, the pro league plays a 42-game schedule each year (what does that prove?).  About half of the players in Holland’s pro league come from Holland’s Caribbean possessions, mainly Aruba and Curacao.  Baseball is as popular there as the Latin American Caribbean nations: Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela, Panama, Nicaragua and Mexico. Baseball is also popular (and major league ballplayers have come out of) the English-speaking Virgin Islands.

Don’t Do It, Brian Sabean!

July 24, 2010

Buster Olney passes on a rumor that the Giants had scouts eyeing the Royals’ Jose Guillen.  Sigh!

One of the definitions of an idiot is someone who cannot learn from his mistakes.  Guillen isn’t worth anything more than a single B-grade prospect, if that, but he’s exactly the type of overrated psuedo-power hitter Giants GM Brian Sabean has overrated so many times in the past.

Guillen is 34 years old and having a good season for him (.800 OPS so far this year); but even at this rate of performance, he really isn’t worth two lumps of sugar, when you consider that he’s playing his home games in one of MLB’s best hitters’ parks (although I will acknowledge he’s hitting a little better on the road this year than at home).

Guillen’s outfield defense is so good at this point in his career that he’s played all of 19 of his 93 games this season in the field.  The Giants are already playing Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell in the outfield way more than can be considered desirable, because the team’s hitting is so bad.

Since the Giants now have Pat Burrell, who they are paying the major league minimum and cost them nothing in terms of talent sent away, why in the world would Jose Guillen even be on their radar?  It just doesn’t make any sense in a rational universe.

If you haven’t notice, we don’t live in one.  Every time I read about the Giants’ reputed interest in Guillen, I have flashbacks (in the PTSD sense) of Shea Hillenbrand.  This was one of Sabean’s worst moves, even though Jeremy Accardo only had one good season as a Blue Jay.

Hillenbrand wasn’t just bad: he actively hurt the Giants the last two plus months of 2006 with his sorry offensive performance as the every-day 1Bman.

Hillenbrand was an awful lot like Jose Guillen: a down-right mediocre player who thought he was a star and had the attitude to go with his mistaken, unjustified self-image.  Another ex-Giant, Neifi Perez, comes to mind when thinking of this kind of player, but at least the Neifster could pick it on defense.

These kinds of guys are a pain in the ass from the get go, and if you are stupid enough to bring one of them on board, you deserve what you get.

I would feel a lot better about it all if Brian Sabean hadn’t traded away talent for turkeys like these so many times in the past.