There are some trades that simply make you scratch your head, look at the information twice to make sure you processed it correctly, and then leave you wondering what one side or the other was thinking. That’s exactly how I feel about looking at the St. Louis Cardinals’ end of the John Lackey trade made with the Boston Red Sox.
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The deal was this—St. Louis gave up starting pitcher Joe Kelly and outfielder Allen Craig. Boston gave up Lackey, minor league pitcher Corey Littrell and cash.
Kelly is 26-years-old and a reasonably established major league pitcher for his age, having won 10 games with a 2.69 ERA a year ago. Hamstring problems have limited him in 2014, with seven starts and a 4.37 ERA. So he’s not without question marks, but this is a young pitcher that has already been an important part of a pennant-winning team’s staff, both in the rotation and the bullpen.
Craig’s record is even more established. From 2011-13, he had an on-base percentage in excess of .350, a slugging percentage over .450, was a feared hitter with runners in scoring position and hit three home runs in the 2011 World Series win over the Texas Rangers. He’s endured a miserable 2014 season thus far, but shouldn’t three years of success get you some benefit of the doubt?
It seems that St. Louis chose to trade both Kelly and Craig when their value was at its lowest. This would have been a respectable package to offer Boston if the pitcher in question were Jon Lester. Not for Lackey.
I don’t mean to knock Lackey. I understand why the Cardinals and other contenders would want him. He’s a 35-year-old veteran with a lot of postseason savvy, having won the clinching game of two different World Series, 2002 with the Angels and last year with the Red Sox.
In the 2013 postseason, he beat David Price in the Division Series against Tampa Bay, outdueled Justin Verlander for Detroit in the League Championship Series and then beat Michael Wacha in the World Series Game 6 clincher against these same Cardinals. As October resumes go, that’s pretty damn good.
All of that makes Lackey the kind of player to get, to maybe offer an unproven prospect for. Does it really make him worth dealing a talented young starting pitcher and 29-year-old outfielder who has established he can do everything at the plate, from hit for power to get on base?
Lackey is not a staff ace. While his ERA has stabilized in the mid-3.00s over the last year and a half after two miserable years in Boston and then missing all of 2012 with Tommy John surgery, he’s not the kind of pitcher that’s going to carry you into the postseason. He’s a nice, reliable piece to have on hand and he can win you a big game in October.
But that places enormous pressure on the Cardinal front office to see Lackey win his postseason starts this year, presuming St. Louis makes it. Would he even start the wild-card game if that’s where the Cardinals end up? Again, if you were trading one prospect to get him, then it makes sense for this organization, so close to winning it all last year, to go all-in. What a price they paid though.
Maybe Littrell holds the key to the St. Louis interest. As a 21-year-old in Class A he posted a 1.74 ERA, and has a respectable 3.60 ERA this year in Double A. If he comes through and becomes a part of a major league rotation, it solves the long-term Cardinal dilemma with this deal.
All I can say is this—as a Red Sox fan, I would have been thrilled with a trade that brought either Kelly or Craig. When I saw they got both, I had to shake my head and look twice. It almost made up for the organization’s indefensible decision to low-ball Jon Lester and put themselves in a position where they had to trade the lefty. Almost, but not quite.
I’m not sure how St. Louis fans feel about this trade. I was watching the Cardinals-Brewers game last night, and the reports are that it “rattled’ the St. Louis clubhouse, and I didn’t get the impression that the rattling was positive.
If the Cardinals win the World Series and Lackey wins the kind of clutch starts he did for the Red Sox last season, then the price is worth it. But that’s a lot to put on a handful of starts by a 35-year-old middle-of-the-rotation arm.
Should the Boston Red Sox throw in the towel, tank the rest of the 2014 season and try and get prospects for their veteran players? That was a question this Red Sox fan received via text message this week from a friend.
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It’s not an unreasonable question. Even in a world where one-third of the teams of the major leagues qualify for the postseason, the Red Sox are still 40-51, in last place in the American League East, and nine games off the pace for both the division title and a wild-card spot.
The offense is anemic and there are seven teams between them and the final playoff berth. That’s a tough climb and not a lot of time with which to do it.
Moreover, the Red Sox are a veteran team that is already working young players into the lineup. Young talent like outfielder Mookie Betts and starting pitcher Rubby de la Rosa are getting more opportunities. That’s added to a group that started the season with 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. as regulars and has seen early callup Brock Holt become arguably the team’s best player in the first half of the season.
In that light, the decision to release veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski and call up Christian Vazquez to get work in behind the plate seems to fit with a bigger commitment to youth. But that was a fairly easy call—Pierzynski was monumentally unproductive and there was no reason to expect anything different. With the veterans remaining, it’s not such an easy call.
The veterans a contender would likely have interest in, and the Red Sox might be willing to deal (meaning David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are obviously off the table) would be the following…
I don’t think Gomes and Ross really fit the parameters of this discussion that were outlined at the top. They could certainly be traded, but they aren’t going to net any significant return. If you’re contending, each is a player you like to have, but on the flip side, trading them doesn’t exactly qualify as unconditional surrender.
That leaves the trio of Victorino, Napoli and Lackey that would be the focal point of my friend’s query. My gut level response is that no, I am not ready to write off the season.
No, this is not a diehard belief that a playoff run is inevitable if only we give it a little more time. I haven’t viewed this edition of the Boston Red Sox as likely to make the postseason all year and obviously nothing has happened to change that. But that doesn’t mean that doing so is impossible—coming from nine back and jumping over several teams would be impressive, but hardly unprecedented.
Furthermore, there are things to play for besides reaching the postseason. I’d like to see this team rally and get back above .500. If they did that, there would at least be an outside chance of making the playoffs. I don’t live in a world where there’s no difference between an 84-78 non-playoff team and a 100-loss train wreck. I’m a subscriber to the MLB Extra Innings package and watch virtually all Red Sox games, and I don’t want to see a full two-plus months poured down the drain.
Now this doesn’t mean I’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. Look, if a desperate contender wows the Red Sox with a really great package of prospects, then yes, go ahead and make the trade. In 2012, I didn’t want to write off the last two months, but when the Los Angeles Dodgers called and offered to take every bad contract off the Boston books, it was, to borrow a famous movie phrase, an offer I couldn’t refuse.
But does anyone really see a contender with a good farm system deciding they simply had to have any of Victorino (who’s been hurt all year with a hamstring problem), Napoli or Lackey so badly that they’d part with a Grade A prospect and maybe a Grade B on top of it? I don’t see it.
If the Red Sox get inquiries, due diligence requires they take the call. But there’s a big distinction between listening to offers and hanging a sign that says “Fire Sale” on the front lawn.
I’m not sure where we got this notion that the minute a team deems themselves out of contention, they have to dump every veteran player they have. It’s not like this is the World Cup, where the next one doesn’t happen for another four years. We will actually start over again next April and all of those players mentioned can help.
A bigger question would be this—Jon Lester is coming up on free agency this winter and there’s no sign he’ll ink a contract extension during the season. If Boston can’t sign him, do they deal Lester now? That would be a deal that would net a significant package of prospects and it most certainly would result in this season going down the tubes. But there are no trade rumors in the wind, and the Lester issue is a dynamic unto itself, separate from the general “Should we deal off the veterans” question that I was posed at the top.
Unless the Red Sox get an unlikely knock-your-socks-off offer, they should hang on to their veterans—Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and John Lackey—and salvage as much as they can from the 2014 season.
The trade deadline has passed in major league baseball, and while there weren’t blockbusters, there were some significant moves. Most of the deals were congregated in the American League, and here’s a rundown and some thoughts on the biggest trades.
*Texas made the first strike of the July trading season nine days ago when the acquired Matt Garza from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for minor league pitcher C.J. Edwards and major league starter Justin Grimm.
I like Garza a lot, and he undeniably helps the Rangers. This is a pitcher who had a 3.45 ERA in his three years in Wrigley Field, and he had a 3.86 ERA during his previous tenure with the Tampa Bay Rays. This tells us he can pitch in the American League, and the fact Garza was MVP of the 2008 League Championship Series—including a Game 7 win over Boston’s Jon Lester—tells us he can pitch in the clutch.
But…Garza is also a rental, as he goes to the free agent market in the offseason. Texas is 4 ½ games out of first place in the AL West, and it’s asking a lot for one acquisition to push you past a good Oakland team in a span of two months. And to give up prospects in exchange for a one-game wild-card shot is just foolish.
It’s possible Texas signs Garza to a long-term extension, and if that’s the case the deal makes a little more sense, but after the Los Angeles Angels pulled this with Zack Greinke last year and then let him walk, I’m not ready to assume anything.
Furthermore, I like Grimm. I know his ERA is 6.347 after 17 starts, but he’s only 24-years-old, and he was pitching very well for a stretch of a couple months. If you can get him to make some adjustments, he can settle into being a good big-league starter.
*Boston gets Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox as part of a three-way deal including the Detroit Tigers. The Red Sox gave up infielder Jose Iglesias, along with minor league pitchers J.B. Wendeken and Francellis Montas.
I’m a Red Sox fan, and I was initially very negative on this deal. Iglesias has been a revelation this year. We knew he could play defense, but we’ve also seen that he can hit, and he can also play third base, in addition to his natural shortstop.
And I’m not a big Peavy fan. He had a great run in San Diego, winning the Cy Young Award in 2007, but since coming to the White Sox, he’s been more pedestrian, with a 4.00 ERA over 3 ½ years, and only one healthy season. In short, take Peavy away from Petco Park, the NL West and DH-less lineups, and suddenly he’s not an ace anymore.
I just completed a podcast at Prime Sports Network on this topic, and host Greg DePalma did talk me off the ledge. If the Red Sox get Bucholz back, a rotation of Bucholz-Lester-Peavy-Lackey is going to be tough to handle in a postseason series.
And it’s not as though I think Peavy’s terrible—he does strengthen the rotation for August and September and is a steady middle-of-the-rotation guy. So on balance, I’d have preferred the Sox not do this deal because of the long-term implications, but it has its strengths.
The team I think really made out well was the Tigers. They get Iglesias, which provides them insurance for Jhonny Peralta, who’s part of the BioGenesis investigations. Unlike A-Rod, Peralta is actually playing, playing for a contender and playing well. Meaning Peralta is actually relevant to this baseball season, while A-Rod realistically is not. But I don’t mean to suggest the media should alter their coverage habits in any way.
Anyway, Iglesias can take over the shortstop job if Peralta is suspended, and if not, Iglesias can still be a solid utility man and if Miguel Cabrera needs some rest for the hip issues that have plagued him lately, that’s an option.
Detroit also strengthened their bullpen, picking up Jose Veras from the Houston Astros. Veras has 19 saves with a 2.93 ERA in hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park. Now you plop Veras into the vaster expanse of Comerica Park and put him into a winning situation. As of today, Joaquin Benoit is still the Tiger closer, but I’m looking for Veras to take over the job.
It’s not like Veras suddenly turns this problematic Detroit relief corps into a strength, but he is going to help. Between him and Iglesias, I think the Tigers made some nice additions at the trade deadline.
Another team that made a significant upgrade at an affordable price was the Baltimore Orioles. It started last week when they got Francisco Rodriguez in exchange for 20-year-old minor leaguer Nick Delmonico. The kid is hitting .339, but he’s still in Class A, and K-Rod had a 1.09 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers. Rodriguez is also battle-tested in the postseason and after the Orioles lost two playoff games in the late innings to the Yankees in the 2012 playoffs, that can’t be overlooked.
Baltimore also acquired two starting pitchers. Scott Feldman’s been in town for a few weeks, and in the final hour before the deadline, the Orioles got Bud Norris from Houston. The price was significant—outfielder L.J. Hoes and minor league pitcher Josh Hader, both well-regarded. But neither was their top prospect, that being starting pitcher Dylan Bundy.
What’s more, Norris is only 28-years-old and not far removed from being a top prospect himself. In his first year facing American League lineups, now that Houston has switched leagues, Norris has a 3.93 ERA. Over the course of his career, his ERA is a respectable 4.33 in 118 starts. You’re talking about someone who is already a #4-starter and can still blossom into being a top-tier arm.
It was over the weekend that the New York Yankees added outfielder Alfonso Soriano from the Chicago Cubs. Soriano is an extremely overrated player, who hits few home runs, but does not consistently get on base and is in decline.
Over at the blog Stat Intelligence, Jeff Fogle wrote that the Yankees added a mediocre player from the inferior league and called it an upgrade. Jeff likened it to an SEC football team trading for an overrated quarterback from the Sun Belt.
I agree with this completely, but there is one factor not to overlook—the Yankees are hideous offensively. If this hypothetical SEC team had a high schooler playing quarterback, the Sun Belt kid really would be an upgrade. And we’d take it as a sign that something had really gone awry in the program for this to be an upgrade. That’s how I see the Soriano acquisition. But if the Yankees are going to make the playoffs, they need to A-Rod to come back and contribute.
The Cleveland Indians dealt 20-year-old shortstop Juan Herrera to St. Louis in exchange for veteran reliever Marc Rzepczynski. He’s been lost in the shuffle in St. Louis, and ineffective in his 11 appearances, but “R-Zep” as Tony LaRussa called him in his autobiography does bring some veteran cache and big-game experience to a team that’s now within a half-game of the wild-card and 3 ½ of Detroit in the AL Central.
IN THE NATIONAL LEAGUE
It was quiet in the National League, with one exception. Arizona dealt starting pitcher Ian Kennedy to San Diego for reliever Joe Thatcher. I don’t know what to make of this from the Diamondbacks’ standpoint. Kennedy has been a disappointment this season and hasn’t had a good year since 2011. Arizona also needs bullpen help, and with a 2.10 ERA, Thatcher provides that.
But at the same time…Kennedy also had a good year in 2010, it’s not like he’s bad, and you have to think he’s worth more than a 32-year-old reliever who probably pitches the seventh inning. I think it helps Arizona for the next couple months, but at what cost? The good news is that trading Kennedy means the D-Backs are confident that Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy will be back in the first half of August as planned.
One side of this deal I have no second thoughts on is that it’s great for San Diego. For a team not in contention, a pitcher like Thatcher is window dressing, and Petco Park might be just what Kennedy needs to get his confidence back.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS
I’m not ready to change my predictions based on any of these trades. The American League contenders mostly cancelled each other out, and the National League didn’t have big additions. I’m still seeing Detroit and St. Louis as the teams to beat.
MLB coverage the rest of the week here at TheSportsNotebook will focus on more in-depth looks at each league, not only with regard to the trade deadline, but general play since the All-Star break and any news on the BioGenesis front.
The July 31 MLB trade deadline has now been over for a couple hours, and it seems safe to say that everything is now in the books, with the Texas Rangers’ acquisition of Ryan Dempster from the Chicago C ubs looking like the last notable deal, getting in just under the wire before the clock struck 4 PM ET. Presuming that there’s nothing else that just hasn’t been made public—or if there is, it won’t be noteworthy, here’s some closing thoughts on baseball’s annual summer trading frenzy…
*Texas may have gotten Dempster, but I don’t think any team lost more during this deadline run-up than the Rangers. They watched their chief rival, the Los Angeles Angels, add Zack Greinke to an already stacked pitching rotation. In the meantime, Texas lost Colby Lewis for the season, got news that Neftali Feliz’s rehab has been set back, had the farm system to swing a significant deal and missed not only on Greinke, but Cole Hamels and Matt Garza. Of course missing on Hamels isn’t their fault, because Philadelphia locked him to a long-term deal, but it was certainly a possibility and a good trade match if the lefty had been made available. Garza’s dealing with some minor injuries, but Texas’ 3 ½ game lead in the AL West, and six-game cushion making for the playoffs would have allowed for him to miss a start or two. And Garza, the MVP of the 2008 ALCS for Tampa, with a good track record against AL East teams, would have been a great addition to a playoff staff. Dempster is more of an insurance policy—he stabilizes the rotation and can help prevent the team from collapsing, but I have a hard time seeing him win big playoff games.
*If Texas didn’t invest their prospects, the New York Yankees found out the cost of not having any to invest. Maybe the Yanks can win the World Series with Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes and Ian Nova, or a healthy Andy Pettite in behind C.C. Sabathia, but I’d hate to have to try it when you’re an organization who lives by a championship-or-bust mantra. The only thing saving the Rangers and Yanks is that Los Angeles’ slow start might yet confine them to the wild-card and perhaps they’ll get knocked out in a one-game shot. But in a best-of-five, and certainly a best-of-seven, either New York or Texas would be a solid underdog to the Halos.
*I thought both the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers got a little carried away in adding veterans, with the White Sox pickup of Francisco Liriano and the Dodgers’ acquisition of Shane Victorino being too short-term for organizations that should be focused on rebuilding. Furthermore, with Chicago already having Kevin Youkilis and Brett Myers, while LA had added Hanley Ramirez, the teams had made reasonable efforts to get better. The Dodgers did the better of the two teams, but both put a lot of pressure on themselves to win now in a season that wasn’t supposed to be about that.
*The Baltimore Orioles appear to have avoided a similar temptation. I say “appear” because the rumors of Joe Blanton going from Philly to Baltimore were so strong a few hours ago I’m half-expecting to see a late story that says the deal was done in time and there just some hang-up before it went public. If the Orioles gave up any prospect of value this would have been a major mistake for the reasons outlined above with Chicago and Los Angeles. If it was just about taking Blanton’s contract I could have seen it, but either way, the Orioles don’t need to be adding mediocre veterans.
*I’ve got mixed feelings about the Detroit Tigers. I thought they would have been a much better fit for Dempster. Texas, as noted above, needed an ace, not another adequate #3-caliber starter. Detroit has the ace of all aces in Justin Verlander, but could have used more depth. They got a little bit in adding Miami’s Anibal Sanchez, but Dempster would have been even better. Nonetheless, I won’t pan a team too hard for not getting a 35-year-old impending free agent whose value is artificially high after four good months in an otherwise checkered career.
*Cincinnati helped their bullpen n getting Jonathan Broxton and given his ability to pitch either setup or close, it gives Dusty Baker some nice options along with Aroldis Chapman. But this team needed a bat and with a big hole in centerfield, Victorino would have been a good piece. The Reds helped themselves, but not at the spot they needed it most.
*The same goes for Pittsburgh—a good deal for Wandy Rodriguez, but they badly needed an impact bat. They did swing a deal for Miami’s Gaby Sanchez. This one could be interesting—while Sanchez has been a complete disaster this season and finished slow last year, he has shown some potential. Certainly Pittsburgh would have liked to get more for the offense, but it wouldn’t shock me if Sanchez paid big dividends.
*St. Louis played it low-key, just adding Edwin Mujica from Miami for the bullpen and that’s the approach the Cards should have taken. They need to get their starting pitching figured out for the long haul—will Adam Wainwright return to his old form, can they count on Chris Carpenter next year, what’s the long-term status of Jaime Garcia? That’s got to be a bigger priority than a makeshift piece at the deadline, and given that they just won the World Series, there’s no need for win-now urgency.
*Arizona made a smart move in not trading Justin Upton, though the folks in Pittsburgh might be disappointed. The D-Backs are right in the wild-card race, have an outside shot at winning the NL West and more to the point, are on very sound footing for the future with a good farm system. There was no need to move an in-his-prime rightfielder.
In this summer of discontent for the Philadelphia Phillies most of the trade discussion has centered on starting pitcher Cole Hamels, as he approaches free agency. Hamels is indeed the biggest name on the rumor mill right now, but the Phils have another key piece on the market that’s far more likely to actually be dealt within the next two weeks and that’s centerfielder Shane Victorino. TheSportsNotebook evaluates the Shane Victorino trade rumors–the teams said to be interested, those that might be interested and those that should be interested.
Victorino started getting full-time major league at-bats in 2006 and that’s just about the time the Phils became good, as they contended for a playoff berth in ’06 and then began their current streak of NL East titles one year later. His on-base percentages were consistently in the .340/.350 range, save for an off-year in 2010 and his slugging percentages showed gradual improvement—again briefly interrupted by 2010—and peaked with last year’s .491 number, a season where he should have gotten some dark horse consideration in the MVP discussion. This year the player is on a bad year, at .311/.379, but at 31 years of age we can still just write it off to a bad year and even when Victorino doesn’t hit he plays a defensive centerfield that’s as good as any in the game.
The Phillies are 39-51, 14 games off the pace in the NL East and 11 games out of the wild-card. Even if St. Louis made a run from a similar deficit at a later date last year I think it’s safe to say the Phils need to be sellers and put their team together for 2013 and beyond. Hamels is going to command a top-of-the-market salary and the organization needs to put all their chips on signing the pitcher to a contract extension here in the next two weeks. That makes Victorino expendable and a farm system depleted by the win-now focus of the past few years needs the reinforcements he could bring.
Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Dodgers are said to be the top suitors for Victorino and he fits well in both places. The Reds have a gaping hole in centerfield, where Chris Heisey and Drew Stubbs are both offensive liabilities. Even if Victorino’s worst offensive year continues he’s no worse than either of the Reds’ current outfielders and neither of them have Victorino’s upside and postseason experience. The Dodgers might have the National League’s best centerfielder in Matt Kemp, but the Bobby Abreu/Juan Rivera tandem in left field is a big weakness. If you bring in Victorino he can play center and you allow Kemp to play left, something that could give a needed break to the latter’s hamstring that’s been such a problem in the first half of the season.
One factor trading teams will have to consider is that Philadelphia’s park is hitter-friendly and while Victorino’s numbers were good, they aren’t stratospheric. The Reds could reasonably expect his career norms (.341/.433 stat line overall) to transfer to Great American Ballpark, but in the vast expanse that is Dodger Stadium, it’s prudent for Los Angeles to expect a dropoff. But the flip side to that coin is Victorino’s defensive range becomes an even bigger plus if you’re the Dodgers, or any other team playing in a big ballpark.
Based on the current rumors being reported over at ESPN.com, the Dodgers seem to be the most serious and given how bad their offense is beyond Kemp that makes the most sense. But given that the Reds really went all-in this season when they locked up Joey Votto for big money, and given that Dusty Baker isn’t going to get many more shots at managing a World Series winner, it makes sense to expect Cincinnati to get serious for some type of significant upgrade and the Victorino sweepstakes are as good a fit for them as they are for the Dodgers. Perhaps more so, given that Los Angeles has more weaknesses in the everyday lineup and could have their attention turned elsewhere.
Another team that would clearly be better by the addition of Victorino is the New York Mets, but what are the odds that two archrivals are going to strengthen each other? We might as well ask what the odds are of the Yankees and Red Sox getting together on a deal. Speaking of the Yankees, with Brett Gardner’s elbow still having him on the disabled list and Raul Ibanez defensively challenged, Victorino could fit with the Yanks. But that requires moving him or Curtis Granderson to left field, which certainly can be done, but isn’t as neatly logical as the Dodgers shifting Kemp as his sore hamstring to a corner outfield spot. It also presumes the Yankees taking their eye off the ball when it comes to starting pitching.
One team that’s not in the mix—at least publicly—but should at least be asking is the Cleveland Indians. As long you’re trotting Johnny Damon out to play left field every day, you should be in the market for outfield help. You can move Michael Brantley to left, slot Victorino in center and allow Damon to function as he should, which is a fourth outfielder and DH, who can help you with some intangibles in a playoff chase. While Cleveland’s first priority needs to be the corner infield, a move for Victorino is not a bad fallback strategy.
However it unfolds, the only way one can imagine Victorino still in a Phillies’ uniform on August 1 is if negotiations with Hamels fall apart—and perhaps not even then. And in spite of Victorino’s current numbers, his career trajectory and age suggest the Dodgers, Reds and maybe the Indians would be wise to pursue him and lock him to a 2-3 year contract extension.