The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Deadline City

The trading deadline is a great time to be part of Baseball Prospectus. Not only is it fun to watch guys and gals like prospect guru Kevin Goldstein, transaction maven Christina Kahrl and yenta hotliner Will Carroll do the voodoo that they do so well, but kicking the deals around on our internal mailing list is always informative, and simply being privy to the flood of competing rumors and connecting the various dots is a blast.

Somewhere amid our internal roundtable on Monday, in dissecting the initial announcement of the Mark Teixeira-to-Atlanta trade, BP intern/FI research assistant Peter Quadrino summoned forth the study I did of Braves GM John Schuerholz's track record in dealing prospects (former colleague Dayn Perry recalled it, too). I quickly decided that updating it would make for an appropriate lead for this week's Prospectus Hit and Run:
While Jason Schmidt and Jermaine Dye remain the cautionary tales, they're the exceptions rather than the rule when it comes to Schuerholz's track record. In my study, I found that only six out of the 80 traded prospects (arbitrarily defined as having not accumulated 502 plate appearances or 162 innings in the bigs) had thus far managed 10.0 WARP post-trade, a "career of consequence."

Revisiting those numbers two years later, Dye and Schmidt have distanced themselves from the pack, even though they've fallen on hard times in 2007. Meanwhile, Wes Helms and Jamie Walker have crossed the 10.0 WARP threshold, the latter as a rather wealthy man but nonetheless a situational reliever, bringing our running total to eight careers of consequence.

...[Wilson] Betemit and [Adam] Wainwright look like reasonable bets to make the grade, but even if they do, that would make 10 careers of consequence out of a new total of 87 (the aforementioned plus Max Ramirez and a few others, but not the ones in the Texeira deal). As good a deal as the Teixeira one looks for the Rangers right now, those are steep odds to beat.
As it is, the deal looks a bit better for the Rangers, given that it expanded to five prospects for Tex and lefty reliever Ron Mahay: catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Elvis Andrus, and pitchers Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, and Beau Jones, the latter two apparently added to mitigate Harrison's sore shoulder. The Baseball America Prospect Handbook has Salty, Andrus, and Harrison 1-2-3 among the Braves prospects, with Jones 14th and Feliz 18t; Salty was 36th overall, Andrus 65th, and Harrison 90th. At BP, Goldstein's Top 10 Prospects had Salty, Harrison and Feliz 1-2-3 and Andrus 5th, with Salty 51st, Harrison 79th, and Feliz 98th overall.

I've been pretty critical of Rangers GM Jon Daniels in recent weeks, but I dished out a reasonable amount of praise for his deadline work in a piece I did for today's New York Sun:
Most intriguing is Saltalamacchia, a 6-foot-4-inch switch-hitter who projects as one of the game's top-hitting catchers. Already boasting an elite backstop in 23-year-old Brian McCann, the Braves found at-bats for "Salty" at first base; after a hot start, a slump dragged his numbers down to .284 AVG/.333 OBA/.411 SLG. That's light for a first sacker, but solid for a catcher, particularly on a team getting considerably less from incumbent Gerald Laird. Andrus is years away from the majors, but he's been playing against competition that's three years his senior, and with Young signed through 2013, time is on his side. Harrison's a big strike-throwing lefty with solid control and good velocity; his recent shoulder soreness prompted the inclusion of the other two pitchers as insurance.

In shipping Gagne to the Red Sox, Daniels acquired immediate help and future promise. Southpaw Kason Gabbard, 25, has filled in admirably for the injured Curt Schilling, putting up a 3.73 ERA through seven starts. His ability to induce ground balls by the dozen will aid a rotation that's giving up the league's highest slugging percentage. Outfielder David Murphy, 25, is a card-carrying member of the Future Fourth Outfielders of America; he's a good enough defender to handle center field, and while his plate discipline improved markedly over the past year, his power remains middling. The key to the deal is 17-year-old Dominican Engel Beltre, a toolsy outfielder with good speed, a good arm, and power that's evoked comparisons to Barry Bonds and Darryl Strawberry from scouts. It may take a decade to see who came out ahead here.

Daniels made one other solid move prior to that pair, shipping Lofton back to Cleveland for another catching prospect, Max Ramirez. Thanks to a refined approach, the 22-year-old is hitting .306/.420/.500 in High-A, but his defense is suspect, he's undersized (5-foot-11, 170 lbs), and he joins a farm system already stocked with the highly-regarded Taylor Teagarden behind the plate. A shift likely looms, though a bat of his caliber won't go to waste.

These moves won't turn the Rangers' 2007 around, but they've gone a long way toward restocking a system whose minor league talent ranked among the game's bottom ten. For doing that, Daniels may just have earned his extension.
The Gagne move was a big one around these parts, even bigger than the Scott Proctor/Wilson Betemit move that had me gnashing my teeth in disgust for both of my teams. In talking to Steven Goldman last night, the bearded one offered an interesting take that he replicates in today's Sun: the Gagne move actually helps the Yankees because it prevented him from going to the Tigers or Indians, since it's more likely the Yanks are challenging for the Wild Card instead of the division:
...the Yankees are in the wild card business, the Red Sox are on their victory lap, and the two aren't in any kind of direct competition except when they're playing head-to-head, something that happens just six more times this season. The Yankees can worry about what should be a deadly back end of the bullpen for Boston with Gagne, Hideki Okajima, and Jon Papelbon when and if they make the postseason and have to play them.

Until then, Theo Epstein and pals have given the Yankees a huge break. The Yankees are competing with the Indians for the wild card, and the Tigers could be in the mix should the Indians pass them for the AL Central lead. Even if they don't, the Yankees have eight games remaining with the Tigers and three with the Indians, which is to say that the Yankees will be spending 20% of their remaining time in 2007 playing exactly who they need to be playing. Both of those teams, particularly the Tigers, have had problems in the bullpen. When the Red Sox stepped up to the plate on Gagne, they prevented the Yankees' real rivals from getting an upgrade they desperately needed.

...For either of these clubs, acquiring Gagne would have been a season-altering event. After 105 games, the two teams are one game apart. In broad terms, they are equals. The reasons for their record may differ, but neither is the superior of the other. Had either team improved their bullpen, the stalemate might have been broken. For the Yankees, who need both teams to be weak, that would have been disastrous.
As for the Proctor deal, the interesting point is the Yanks' avoidance of the relievers on the market in favor of a plan to promote heat-throwing Double-A prospect Joba Chamberlain and perhaps also Ross Ohlendorf (acquired in the Randy Johnson deal): "There are certain guys in my system right now that I have people telling me could replace Scott Proctor," GM Brian Cashman told the New York Times. "And if that’s the case, that’s what made me consider the opportunity for Wilson Betemit. We have needs, there’s no doubt about that. But there’s a belief that some of those needs might very well be met from within."

Betemit, as I pointed out in the Hit and Run, got the screw job from the Dodgers; batting average aside, he's been a much more productive hitter than Nomar Garciaparra, though the latter's timely hitting with runners in scoring position has given him the "clutch" tag. While Betemit's versatility and ability to come off the bench are assets sorely missing on the current Yankee roster, I don't particularly trust Joe Torre to integrate him into the mix. And for all the sense it makes to have Betemit as a fallback option in case Alex Rodriguez departs, if the Dodgers didn't see it then the Yankees certainly won't; they'll be under far too much pressure to Do Something Big if A-Rod leaves and will have to get a Name Player there, even if said Name Player is actually more expensive and less productive.

Anyway, I've got plenty more to say on the topic of the deadline, but I've got to bang on the Hit List for a few hours before I head to Yankee Stadium to boo what's left of the ever-charming Kyle Farnsworth. Five 1-2-3 innings this year in 45 appearances -- not to mention working back-to-back days just five times as well -- and he's complaining? Grab drink, dude.

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