Garcia fills major hole in White Sox's rotation
June 28: Contending in the American League Central despite getting next to nothing out of their No. 5 starters, the White Sox made a bold move to fill the hole in their rotation on Sunday. After taking a weekend series from the crosstown Cubs, the White Sox announced that they had acquired Freddy Garcia from the Mariners in exchange for three well-regarded young players: Triple-A outfielder Jeremy Reed, big-league catcher Miguel Olivo and Double-A shortstop Michael Morse. Chicago also received perennially disappointing catcher Ben Davis and cash to help offset the remainder of Davis' $1.4 million salary for 2004.
Garcia, a 28-year-old right-hander, has recovered from a two-year slump that saw him go 28-24 with a 4.45 ERA in 2002-03 after emerging as one of the American League's best pitchers in 2001. In 15 starts this season, he has a 3.20 ERA, an 82-32 strikeout-walk ratio and a .236 opponent average with eight homers in 107 innings. His record is a misleading 4-7 because he has received the worst run support (2.19) in the AL. Garcia has done a better job of establishing his low-90s fastball, which has made his changeup and curveball all the more effective. At his best, he's the top pitcher in a White Sox rotation that also includes Mark Buehrle and Esteban Loaiza. Garcia's career record is 76-50, 3.89 in 170 games. He had been so inconsistent over the previous two seasons that the Mariners had considered nontendering him or trading him cheaply during the offseason, but they eventually agreed on a one-year contract worth $6.875 million. He'll be a free agent at the end of this season. Garcia is close to White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, which should enhance Chicago's chances to re-sign him.
Reed was the top prospect in the White Sox system but Chicago's minor-league outfield depth (which includes Brian Anderson, Joe Borchard and Ryan Sweeney) made him a little easier to part with. Reed, 23, was a 2002 second-round pick out of Long Beach State, and he led the minors with a .373 average and .453 on-base percentage in 2003, his first full pro season. Reed got off to a hot start at Triple-A Charlotte in 2004, batting .325 in April, but has hit just .254 since. Overall, he's hitting .275/.357/.420 with eight homers, 37 RBI and 12 steals (in 19 attempts) in 73 games. Reed is a very gifted hitter who probably will top out at 15-20 homers annually. He does an excellent job of controlling the strike zone and has plus speed, though he tends to get caught stealing more than he should. He's an average center fielder and profiles better offensively at that position than he would on a corner. Reed instantly becomes Seattle's center fielder of the future, and the future could come as early as the second half of this season.
Olivo, 24, is a major upgrade at catcher for the Mariners, who had been starting Dan Wilson and had exiled Davis to Triple-A. Olivo has power in his bat and his arm, and if he regains the plate discipline he showed in the minors he may hit for average as well. He also runs better than most catchers. In 46 games this year, Olivo has hit .270/.316/.496 with seven homers, 26 RBI and five steals (in nine tries). He has thrown out 25.9 percent of basestealers after ranking third in the AL at 35.8 percent in 2003. Olivo has career totals of .245/.295/.403 with 14 homers, 58 RBI and 11 steals in 166 big-league games. He won't be arbitration-eligible until after the 2005 season.
Morse, 22, has been a revelation in his fifth pro season. A third-round pick out of a Florida high school in 2000, he batted just .248/.307/.369 in 2000-03. A promotion to Double-A Birmingham definitely agreed with him, as he has hit .287/.336/.536 with a career-high 11 homers and 38 RBI in 54 games. His plate discipline (46 strikeouts, 15 walks in 209 at-bats) is still a concern, but he has shown definite progress at the plate. Defensively, he's very big (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) for a shortstop. His arm and hands are fine but his range is just adequate, and he figures to move to third base in the future.
Davis, 27, never has delivered on the promise that made him the No. 2 overall pick (by the Padres) in the 1995 draft. He went just 3-for-33 (.091) for Seattle this season before being demoted to Triple-A Tacoma in early May. He hasn't hit much there either: .248/.321/.397 with four homers and 15 RBI in 39 games. A switch-hitter with decent pop, Davis chases too many pitches out of the strike zone. His best tool is his throwing arm. A career .237/.310/.362 hitter with 32 homers and 188 RBIs in 432 games, he'll share Chicago's catching job with Sandy Alomar Jr. and Jamie Burke. Davis almost certainly will be nontendered rather than offered arbitration following the season.
-- Jim Callis
Royals acquire solid prospects for Beltran
June 25: Everyone in baseball knew Royals general manager Allard Baird had to trade Carlos Beltran. That was the whole problem.
Baird pulled the trigger Thursday night, sending Beltran to the Astros in a three-way trade. The Athletics netted righthander Octavio Dotel in the transaction, as well as less than $1 million in cash. For Beltran, the Royals received three minor leaguers -- catcher John Buck from the Astros, and third baseman Mark Teahen and righthander Mike Wood from the A's.
Oakland gets the power arm it has coveted for its bullpen in Dotel, 30, who has been inconsistent as the Astros' closer this season while replacing Billy Wagner. He was 0-4, 3.12 with 14 saves this season, with a 50-15 strikeout-walk ratio in 35 innings.
Beltran was hitting .278/.367/.534 this season, with 15 homers and 51 RBIs. He's regarded as a fluid, above-average defender in center field, and he's an exceptional baserunner who was 14-for-17 in stealing bases this season.
The Royals' return on Beltran, a 27-year-old impending free agent and five-tool center fielder, seems reasonable considering the circumstances. Beltran and his agent, Scott Boras, have insisted all along that the outfielder would exercise his free agency this offseason, and no team can expect to get a hometown discount. Because the Royals fell out of contention in the American League Central quickly, and because Baird felt he had to get something for Beltran in a trade, the Royals were going to have a hard time getting fair value for their best player.
As it is, Baird got three players who have a chance to be big league regulars, and all three are already in Triple-A. Teahen, a supplemental first-round pick in 2002 out of Saint Mary's, began the year as the No. 15 prospect in the A's system, but he has had a breakout 2004 season, earning a promotion to Triple-A Sacramento after hitting .335-6-36 at Double-A Midland.
Since his promotion, Teahen has batted .275-0-10 in 69 at-bats, with eight doubles. Power is the biggest question mark with Teahen. He had a .543 slugging percentage at Midland, a hitter's park in a hitter's league, but his .391 mark at Sacramento is closer to the .366 career slugging mark he had entering the 2004 season. Teahen, 22, also has a 40-66 walk-strikeout ratio in 266 at-bats this season. He has a plus arm and average range, and had made just six errors in 73 games this season.
Wood, 24, ranked ahead of Teahen on the A's list to start the year, at No. 12 on their Top 30. He was 11-3, 2.80 at Triple-A Sacramento this season and was 9-3, 3.05 there last year. In a brief big league trip last year, Wood went 2-1, 10.54 and was hit hard, giving up 24 hits in 14 innings.
A 10th-round pick in 2001 out of North Florida, Wood lacks overpowering stuff. He's a sinkerballer who throws in the 86-89 mph range, and he commands the pitch well. He also commands his split-finger fastball and changeup, both average offerings. Wood, who was a dominating closer in college, profiles as either a middle reliever or back-of-the-rotation starter.
Buck, who turns 24 on July 7, has had a bounce-back year at Triple-A New Orleans after struggling the last two seasons. He was hitting .300-12-35 in 227 at-bats for the Zephyrs. Buck's solid raw power and a return to health have allowed him to break out this season. A broken hand short-circuited his 2003 season, but he's already matched his home run total for all of 2002, his last full season.
Buck is an above-average defender, and Pacific Coast League managers named him the best defensive catcher in the league last summer in BA's Best Tools survey. He has leadership skills that allow him to take charge of a pitching staff and does a great job of handling breaking pitches in the dirt. He has a plus arm, though his long throwing motion sometimes leads to slumps in throwing runners out.
-- John Manuel
Royals land solid arm for Grimsley
June 22: While Carlos Beltran remains on the trading block, the Royals have already started the process of jettisoning useful major leaguers for prospects, sending right-handed reliever Jason Grimsley to the Orioles for right-hander Denny Bautista.
This is the second time in less than a year that Bautista has been dealt for a major leaguer. He was sent from the Marlins to the Orioles on Aug. 31 last season with left-hander Don Levinski for Jeff Conine. Over the offseason, the Orioles learned that Bautista was two years older than his listed age, but even at 23 he's still a young, promising arm.
The Orioles, whose season got off to a promising start, were looking for pitching help to turn around a disastrous June that has seen the team fall into last place in the American League East. They got Grimsley, a reliable veteran who is 3-3, 3.38 this season. He'll work out of the bullpen to begin with but could pitch out of the rotation if needed.
But Grimsley came at a high price. For him the Royals pick up a prospect who immediately becomes one of the best arms in their system. Bautista was rated as the Orioles' No. 5 prospect over the winter. He was 3-5, 4.74 for Double-A Bowie this season, with 72 strikeouts and 33 walks in 63 innings. In his big league debut in late May, he allowed eight earned runs in two relief appearances, spanning two innings with the Orioles.
Bautista features a mid-90s fastball that will touch 97-98 mph. He also throws a power curveball that shows signs of being a plus pitch, and a solid, if inconsistent, changeup. Before he makes the jump to the majors, he needs to develop a more consistent delivery, as he too often throws across his body, affecting his control.
-- J.J. Cooper
White returns to Reds
June 18: Last July 31, the Yankees sent minor league left-hander Charlie Manning to the Reds in a deal for Aaron Boone, then acquired Gabe White from Cincinnati for cash considerations later in the afternoon. On Friday, both southpaws went back to their previous destinations as New York shipped White to Cincinnati for Manning.
The Yankees included $700,000 in the trade to help offset the remainder of White's $2.125 million salary for 2004. He also has an option for $1.925 million for 2005. New York will pay the $200,000 buyout if the Reds decline the option, or send them a player to be named later if they pick it up.
White, 32, works with a good changeup and an average-at-best fastball. American League hitters didn't have much problem solving that combination, as White posted a 6.82 ERA in parts of two seasons as a Yankee. He has struggled mightily in 2004, going 0-1, 8.27 in 24 games and falling into disuse in the bullpen. In 21 innings, he had an 8-7 strikeout-walk ratio, while opponents batted .355 with two homers against him. He owns a 33-24, 4.42 record and 16 saves in 426 career appearances. New York will use White's 25-man roster spot to promote lefty Brad Halsey, who will make his major league debut with a start against the Dodgers on Saturday.
Manning, 25, signed as a 2001 ninth-round pick from the University of Tampa. He has a high-80s fastball that has topped out at 93 but also dropped to the low-80s at times in 2003. He supplements it with a cutter, slider and changeup. In 13 starts at Double-A Chattanooga, he went 4-4, 5.12. He had a 71-21 K-BB ratio, five homers allowed and a .292 opponent average in 70 innings. The Yankees assigned him to Double-A Trenton.
-- Jim Callis
White Sox bid adieu to failed closer Koch
June 17: After giving up on Keith Foulke as their closer in 2002, the White Sox traded him to the Athletics in a deal for Billy Koch. The idea was that Koch would finish games for Chicago, but that plan proved to be a disaster. Koch had a 5.51 ERA and blew seven of his 26 save opportunities in a season and a half with the White Sox, leaving him without a clear role in their bullpen. He'll now get a fresh start with the Marlins, who traded Triple-A shortstop Wilson Valdez for Koch on Thursday.
Koch, a 29-year-old right-hander, will help set up Armando Benitez in Florida. Koch was shelled last year when his once-upper-90s fastball dipped to 91-93 mph, and though he regained some velocity this year his results haven't been much better. Even when Koch pushed triple digits on the radar gun, he didn't miss a lot of bats because his four-seam fastball is fairly straight and his two-seamer and slider aren't dominant pitches. He also struggles at times to get ahead in the count, forcing him to come with the four-seamer.
In 24 games this year, Koch was 1-1, 5.40 with a 25-16 strikeout-walk ratio, .255 opponent average and three homers in 23 innings. For his career, he has gone 28-23, 3.91 with 163 saves in 356 appearances. He's making $6.375 million this season in final year of a two-year, $10.625 million contract. The White Sox will pick up more than half of the roughly $3.9 million due him for the remainder of 2004. Koch will be arbitration-eligible after the season.
Valdez, 25, signed out of the Dominican Republic with the Expos in 1997 and went to the Marlins on a waiver claim in March 2002. His career began to turn around last year after a long talk with then-Florida third-base coach Ozzie Guillen, whom he's now reunited with in the White Sox organization, with Guillen serving his first year as Chicago's manager. Valdez is a line-drive, contact hitter who could bat second in a lineup if he drew some more walks. He has plus speed and good baserunning skills, and he has thrived at shortstop since moving from second base last year. His arm and range are assets. In 66 games at Triple-A Albuquerque, Valdez hit .319/.357/.400 with two homers, 25 RBIs and 19 steals in 31 attempts.
-- Jim Callis
Astros deal Hidalgo to Mets
June 17: Almost since the time they signed Richard Hidalgo to a four-year, $32 million deal before the 2001 season, the Astros have regretted it and have looked to unload his contract. They accomplished that goal on Thursday, sending Hidalgo to the Mets for David Weathers and Triple-A right-hander Jeremy Griffiths. As a side benefit for Houston, outfielder Jason Lane now can receive some long-overdue playing time.
The Astros reportedly included $4 million in the contract to offset the remaining cash due Hidalgo, who has a $12 million salary for 2004 and will get either $15 million in salary or a $2 million buyout for 2005. Houston also assumes the remainder of Weathers' $3.9 million salary for 2004. Both Hidalgo and Weathers will become free agents after the season.
Hidalgo, 28, is loaded with tools but provided inconsistent production for the Astros. He hit .314 with 44 homers in 2000, then dipped to .258 with a total of 34 longballs over the next two seasons before rebounding to bat .309 with 28 homers a year ago. But he slumped again in 2004, batting .256/.309/.412 with four homers and 30 RBIs in 58 games. He's at his best when he doesn't try to muscle up and pull everything. He has one of the best right-field arms in the game, leading the majors with 22 outfield assists last year, though his instincts are a little shaky in the outfield. He's an average baserunner. In 813 career games, Hidalgo has hit .278/.356/.501 with 134 homers and 465 RBIs.
Weathers, a 34-year-old righthander, has an onerous contract of his own, signing with the Mets as a free agent for three years and $9.4 millon after the 2001 season. He's a durable reliever who relies on a sinker/slider combination and is best used in a setup role. In 32 games this year, he has gone 5-3, 4.28 with a 25-15 strikeout-walk ratio, five homers and a .304 opponent average in 34 innings. He has a career 50-58, 4.48 record and 14 saves in 580 lifetime appearances.
Griffiths, 26, signed out of the University of Toledo as a 1999 third-round pick. He struggled in his first shot at the big leagues in 2003, going 1-4, 7.02 in nine appearances. Griffiths has spent all of this year in Triple-A, going 5-2, 3.47 in 13 starts at Norfolk. He has a 31-29 strikeout-walk ratio in 70 innings, while opponents have batted .258 with six homers against him. Griffiths works with a low-90s fastball, a slider, changeup and curveball. He hasn't missed nearly enough bats since moving to Triple-A last year, and his lack of a dominant pitch leaves him a future as a back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever.
-- Jim Callis
Expos finally move Bergeron
June 13: After giving Peter Bergeron numerous chances to win their center-field job, the Expos finally gave up on him. Montreal traded Bergeron to the Brewers for two minor leaguers, righthander Jason Childers and outfielder Jason Belcher, and a player to be named later.
Bergeron, 25, turned in two desultory seasons as a regular for the Expos in 2000-01, then spent most of the next two seasons (including all of 2003) in Triple-A. A hot spring earned him another chance in 2004, but Bergeron batted just .214/.250/.214 with one RBI in 11 games before straining his right rib cage and going on the disabled list. Optioned to Triple-A Edmonton after coming off the DL in late May, he was hitting .512/.545/.732 in 11 games there at the time of the deal. Speed is Bergeron's best tool, and he throws better than most center fielders. But he has been woefully ineffective in the majors because he's a slappy hitter who doesn't get on base enough. He even has been erratic on the basepaths, succeeding on just 31 of 55 (56 percent) steal attempts. A career .226/.303/.308 hitter with eight homers and 56 RBIs in 308 games, Bergeron doesn't appear to be anything more than Triple-A insurance for the Brewers.
Childers, 29, signed out of Kennesaw State (Ga.) as a nondrafted free agent in 1997. At 6 feet and 160 pounds, he's not as physically impressive as his younger brother Matt, whom the Brewers always have regarded as a superior prospect, but Jason clearly outpitched him in the Milwaukee system. Childers had a career 2.92 ERA as a Brewers minor leaguer and was 1-0, 1.26 with an International League-leading 15 saves at Triple-A Indianapolis this year. He had a 27-9 strikeout-walk ratio in 29 innings, and opponents were batting just .196 with no homers against him. Childers' fastball is a pedestrian 86-89 mph, but he has a good curveball, useful changeup and plus control. He could contribute to Montreal's bullpen later in the year.
Belcher, 22, projected as Milwaukee's catcher of the future after signing as a 2000 fifth-round pick out of an Arkansas high school. But he had repeated injury problems and was so poor defensively that he became a full-time outfielder in 2003. Belcher has a promising bat, hitting for average and drawing a decent amount of walks, though he'll have to step up his power production after the position switch. He's a purely offensive player who offers little as a runner or a defender. In 47 games this year at Double-A Huntsville, he hit .289/.357/.438 with three homers and 17 RBI.
-- Jim Callis
June 18 update: The Expos completed the deal by sending Double-A right-hander Saul Rivera to the Brewers. Rivera, 26, originally signed with the Twins as a 1998 ninth-round pick out of the University of Mobile (Ala.). He went to the Mets on waivers in November 2001, then to Montreal in the Scott Strickland/Bruce Chen trade in April 2002. Rivera, who sat out all of 2003, had a 0-2, 7.71 record in 18 appearances at Harrisburg this year. In 21 innings, he had a 15-12 K-BB ratio, while opponents batted .307 with three homers against him. For a little guy (5-foot-11, 165 pounds), Rivera throws exceptionally hard (low-90s fastball), but his secondary pitches and command never have come around consistently.