Nomar no more in Boston
July 31: The biggest trade at the deadline also involved the biggest name. Nomar Garciaparra, one of the most accomplished and beloved players in Red Sox history, moved to the Cubs in an eight-player, four-team transaction on Saturday. Boston also gave up high Class A outfielder Matt Murton and cash to Chicago, receiving Orlando Cabrera from the Expos and Doug Mientkiewicz from the Twins. The Cubs sent Alex Gonzalez and a pair of Triple-A prospects (infielder Brendan Harris, righthander Francis Beltran) to Montreal, plus low Class A lefthander Justin Jones to Minnesota.
The deal makes sense for all four sides. The Cubs made a major upgrade to their lineup without giving up a significant part of their big league club, and now look like the favorites in the National League wild-card race. Garciaparra was unhappy in Boston and probably wasn't coming back next year as a free agent, and the Red Sox were able to use him to significantly strengthen their defense, their biggest weakness. Cabrera had turned down a long-term extension to stay with the Expos, who added two good prospects who are on the verge of being ready for the majors. The Twins needed to get rookie first baseman Justin Morneau's bat in their lineup, making Mientkiewicz expendable.
Garciaparra, 31, is one of the best shortstops in baseball history. A five-time all-star and two-time American League batting champion, he provides exceptional offense for his position. Though he has been bothered by tendinitis in his right Achilles tendon this year, he has hit .321/.367/.500 with five homers and 21 RBIs in 38 games since returning to the lineup. He has been slowed by his injury, but when healthy he's a basestealing threat and has above-average range at shortstop. He owns a strong arm, though he has been slow to react to balls in the field in recent weeks. Garciaparra is making $12 million this year in the final season of a seven-year, $44.25 million contract. He's a career .323/.370/.553 hitter with 178 homers, 690 RBIs and 84 steals in 966 games.
Like Garciaparra, the 22-year-old Murton was a first-round pick (supplemental in 2003) out of Georgia Tech. One of the top hitters in a thin Boston farm system, he hit .301/.372/.452 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs in 102 games at high Class A Sarasota this year. He should hit for power and average, and his lone weakness is a throwing arm that relegates him to left field. He has batted .296/.373/.434 with 13 homers and 84 RBIs in 155 pro games.
Cabrera, 29, is having his worst season as a major leaguer but the Red Sox hope he'll snap out of it now that he's free from Montreal. After hitting .297/.347/.460 with 17 homers and 80 RBIs in 162 games last year, he has slumped to .246/.298/.336 with four homers and 31 RBIs in 103 games. Cabrera is capable of being an above-average offensive shortstop, and he's also an effective basestealer with 12 swipes this year and a career 76 percent success rate. There's little question about his defense. A 2001 Gold Glover, he covers more ground than Garciaparra and also has a strong arm and sure hands. Cabrera is making $6 million and will be a free agent at season's end. In 904 career games, he has hit .267/.315/.405 with 66 homers, 381 RBIs and 93 steals.
Mientkiewicz, 29, is an average offensive first baseman with slick defensive skills that earned him a Gold Glove in 2001. He has struggled this year while battling a sore left wrist that put him on the disabled list for two weeks earlier this month. He's batting .246/.340/.363 with five homers and 25 RBIs in 78 games. He's a line-drive, gap hitter with good patience at the plate. He stands out more defensively with excellent range and the ability to save errors by digging throws out of the dirt. Mientkiewicz will become Boston's regular first baseman, with Kevin Millar moving to right field and David Ortiz becoming a full-time DH. He's making $2.8 million in the first year of a three-year, $7 million contract that includes a $3.75 million salary or $450,000 buyout for 2006. He's a career .275/.367/.408 hitter with 43 homers and 266 RBIs in 643 games.
Harris, 23, was a 2001 fifth-round pick out of William & Mary. He's ready to take over at third base for the Expos as soon as they've decided they've had enough of Tony Batista. Harris consistently has hit .300 with gap power in the minors and has started to hit more homers this year. He missed the beginning of the season after doctors discovered a small tear in cartilage in his left knee during spring training. Since returning, he has batted .311/.353/.531 with 11 homers (four off his career high) and 35 RBIs in 69 games. He also got his first taste of the majors, going 2-for-9 in three games with the Cubs. Harris is athletic and has a strong arm to go with average speed. Harris has seen action at second base, third base and shortstop. In the minors, he has career totals of .304/.372/.488 with 35 homers and 174 RBIs in 344 games.
Beltran, 24, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1996. After being bothered by a shoulder strain in 2003, he rebounded over the winter, winning MVP honors as the closer on the Dominican's Caribbean Series championship club. He has the stuff to close in the big leagues as well, owning a mid-90s fastball, mid-80s slider and a splitter. To eventually earn that role, he'll have to improve his location, cutting down on the walks and homers he allows. Beltran spent most of the season in the majors with the Cubs, going 2-2, 4.63 in 34 games. He had a 40-22 strikeout-walk ratio in 35 innings, while opponents batted .214 with eight homers. He has a career mark of 2-2, 5.36 in 45 big league appearances.
Gonzalez, 31, is really an afterthought for the Expos, who will let him keep their shortstop position warm before letting him go as a free agent when his four-year, $20 million contract expires at the end of this season. He has good pop for a shortstop and is an asset on defense, though he doesn't hit for average and is too aggressive at the plate. Sidelined by a fractured right wrist for 10 weeks earlier this season, he has hit .217/.241/.367 with three homers and eight RBIs in 37 games. For his career, he has batted .242/.303/.393 with 124 homers, 478 RBIs and 94 steals in 1,220 contests.
Jones, 19, was a 2002 second-round pick from a Virginia high school. Considered the top lefty in the Cubs system, he has a huge ceiling but has had problems staying healthy the last two years at low Class A Lansing. He was shut down twice with a tired arm in 2003, and missed the first month of 2004 with a sore elbow. When he's 100 percent, Jones has an 89-94 mph fastball and a plus curveball to go with a changeup and splitter. In 14 starts this year, he has gone 3-3, 3.78 with a 59-22 K-BB ratio, .254 opponent average and six homers in 64 innings. He has gone 10-9, 2.65 in 42 pro starts.
-- Jim Callis
Dodgers continue makeover with Finley
July 31: The Dodgers and Diamondbacks weren't able to work out their blockbuster deal involving Randy Johnson, but they made a major trade on Saturday nonetheless. Los Angeles upgraded its outfield with Steve Finley and filled its hole at catcher (created by a six-player trade with the Marlins on Friday) with Brent Mayne. Arizona tried to salvage a lost season by bringing in three prospects: Triple-A catcher Koyie Hill, Double-A lefthander Bill Murphy and high Class A outfielder Reggie Abercrombie. Both Hill and Murphy played in the 2004 Futures Game and could help the Diamondbacks in the very near future.
First-year general manager Paul DePodesta continued his significant makeover of the Dodgers, even though they already were atop the National League West. In the past two days, Los Angeles has changed catchers (a Mayne/David Ross combo in place of Paul Lo Duca), first basemen (Hee Seop Choi moves Shawn Green back to the outfield) and two of the three outfielders (Finley and Green in place of Juan Encarnacion and Dave Roberts). The Dodgers also have added Brad Penny to their rotation in place of Wilson Alvarez, who will fill the lefty setup role vacated by the trade of Tom Martin. The bullpen will miss power righty Guillermo Mota.
Finley will take over in center field for the Dodgers, pushing Milton Bradley to one of the corners. Finley remains consistent at age 39, continuing to produce at the plate with .275/.338/.490 numbers to go with 23 homers and 48 RBIs in 104 games. He's not the prolific basestealer (just eight in 2004) and Gold Glove center fielder (he owns four) he once was, but he still gets around pretty well. Making $6.75 million in the final year of a two-year, $11.25 million contract, Finley will be a free agent at season's end. Arizona has expressed interest in trying to re-sign him. He has hit .276/.337/.449 with 272 homers, 1,025 RBIs and 304 steals in 2,231 career games.
Mayne, 36, got only 94 at-bats this year in Arizona but will play more while sharing the Dodgers' catching job with Ross. He was a fallback for Los Angeles, which worked out a deal for Rockies catcher Charles Johnson only to have Johnson exercise his no-trade clause. A slap hitter who offers little in the way of offense, Mayne has batted .255/.343/.340 with no homers and 10 RBIs in 36 games this years. He still moves well behind the plate and has thrown out 36 percent of basestealers. Another pending free agent, he's a career .265/.333/.353 hitter with 38 homers and 398 RBIs in 1,232 games.
Hill, 25, was a third baseman at Wichita State but immediately moved behind the plate after signing as a fourth-round pick in 2000. He quickly became regarded as the Dodgers' catcher of the future and reached the big leagues briefly last September, going 1-for-3. While he has good hands, athleticism and arm strength, he has had to work to improve his receiving, release and throwing accuracy. A line-drive hitter with a level swing from both sides of the plate, he makes consistent contact and sprays the ball to all fields, showing enough power to carry the alleys. He was batting .286/.339/.471 with 13 home runs and 54 RBIs in 91 games at Triple-A Las Vegas, where he had erased 25 percent of basestealers, the lowest mark among Pacific Coast League regulars. In 529 minor league games, he has hit .284/.349/.399 with 37 homers and 269 RBIs.
Murphy, 23, has been traded twice in the last two day. A 2002 third-round pick by the Athletics out of Cal State Northridge, Murphy joined the Marlins as part of the Mark Redman trade last December and then the Dodgers in the six-player deal on Friday. Hitters have trouble making contact against his lively, deceptive 89-91 mph fastball. He ranks second in the Double-A Southern League with 113 strikeouts in 104 innings, but needs to work on his location because he tops the SL with 59 walks and has allowed 17 homers, second-most in the league. He has a 6-4, 4.08 record in 20 starts, with opponents batting .215 against him. Murphy, who also throws a curveball and changeup, pitched a scoreless inning in the Futures Game at Minute Maid Park. He has a career 17-15, 3.58 mark in 58 minor league games.
Abercrombie, 23, signed as a draft-and-follow in 2000 out of Lake City (Fla.) CC after the Dodgers took him in the 23rd round the year before. He's the ultimate tools player but has struggled with plate discipline and injuries. His speed, center-field range and arm strength all earn 70 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale. He has tremendous bat speed and the strength to drive pitches out of any park to all fields. But he entered the season with a 543-84 strikeout-walk ratio and a .306 on-base percentage in 428 pro games. His development was set back further when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the Arizona Fall League least year. He worked hard with weights during his rehabilitation, adding 15 pounds of muscle and putting him at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. He was able to come back sooner than expected, making his 2004 debut in May, but batted just .173/.193/.327 with four homers, 20 RBIs and three steals in 41 games at Double-A Jacksonville. He was demoted to high Class A Vero Beach, where he hit .271/.305/.489 with five homers, 12 RBIs and 16 steals in 34 contests.
-- Will Lingo
Yankees, Chisox shake up rotations
July 31: Bill James popularized the term "challenge trade" to describe the kinds of deals like the one Saturday between the Yankees and White Sox. The teams traded starting righthanders of nearly the same age, straight up for each other, hoping a change of scenery brings the pitchers better fortune. New York divested itself of its $32 million Cuban enigma, Jose Contreras, by sending him to the Chicago for the more proven but equally unpredictable Esteban Loaiza. The Yankees also parted with a significant amount of cash ($3 million) toward the last two years of Contreras' contract.
Loaiza, 32, had a journeyman career with the Pirates, Rangers and Blue Jays before joining the White Sox last season. The move and the addition of a cut fastball made him a new pitcher. He went 21-9, 2.90, led the American League with 207 strikeouts in a career-high 226 innings and finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting. But though he made his second straight All-Star Game appearance in 2004, he hasn't been nearly as effective. Loaiza's 9-5 record belies his 4.86 ERA in 21 starts, as well as his 83-45 strikeout-walk ratio in 141 innings. Opponents have hit .283 with 23 homers as his cutter hasn't been nearly as sharp. He also throws a low-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup. Loaiza is making $4 million and becomes a free agent after the season. He has a career 99-87, 4.60 record in 290 games.
Contreras, 32, was starting to earn comparisons to Hideki Irabu, another foreign pitcher with big stuff who couldn't translate his success to the majors. Contreras had endured a tumultuous season-and-a-half since signing with the Yankees after defecting from Cuba. He chose New York over the Red Sox after a highly publicized negotiating process that led Boston CEO Larry Lucchino to brand the Yankees "The Evil Empire." Contreras needed time in the minors last season as he got acclimated to American culture and its style of baseball. He also endured a difficult separation from his family that ended this year, when his wife and children were allowed to come to the United States.
The ace of Cuba's national teams from 1999-2002, Contreras never trusted his mid-90s fastball enough with the Yankees, relying more on his slider, curveball and plus-plus splitter, his best pitch. He rarely has pitched well in big games, especially against Boston, and was relegated to middle relief in last year's playoffs. The Yankees counted on Contreras to pick up some of the slack left by the departures of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and David Wells, but he posted a 5.64 ERA in 18 starts this season. He went 8-5 with an 82-42 K-BB ratio, .250 opponent average and 22 homers in 96 innings. Contreras earns $9 million in salary and bonuses this year, followed by $8 million in 2005 and $9 million in 2006. His career record stands at 15-7, 4.64 in 36 games.
-- John Manuel
Red Sox add depth with Roberts
July 31: One of the busiest teams at the trade deadline got a little busier Saturday afternoon, as the Dodgers sent Dave Roberts to the Red Sox for Triple-A outfielder Henri Stanley.
Roberts, 32, upgrades Boston's speed, defense and depth. He lost his spot in the Dodgers' starting lineup after they acquired Hee Seop Choi (who allowed Shawn Green to return to the outfield) and Steve Finley in the last two days. Roberts' game is built around speed. He's one of the top basestealers and bunters in the game, and his quickness allows him to recover from occasional late breaks in the outfield. He possesses little power and his arm is below average. Roberts is batting .253/.340/.356 with two homers, 21 RBIs and 33 steals (in 34 attempts) in 68 games this year. He makes $975,000 this season and will be arbitration-eligible afterward. He's a career .259/.335/.337 hitter with nine homers, 85 RBIs and 130 steals in 377 games.
Stanley, 26, signed with Houston as a nondrafted free agent out of Clemson in 2000. Houston scouting director David Lakey decided to sign him after watching him play in the College World Series on an airport television. Stanley quickly became a favorite of the Astros front office, but he was lost to the Padres last November when they tried to pass him through waivers. San Diego sent him to Boston for cash and future considerations in May. In 79 games at Triple-A Portland and Pawtucket this year, he has hit .279/.363/.438 with five homers and 29 RBIs. While Stanley does many things well, he lacks a true plus tool and his well below-average arm relegates him to left field. He could serve as a pinch-hitter/fourth outfielder in the majors. He's a career .294/.385/.486 hitter with 50 homers, 245 RBIs and 72 steals in 501 pro games.
-- Kevin Goldstein
Braves pick up Martin for bullpen
July 31: With the free-spending days of Ted Turner a thing of the past, the Braves settled for making a minor trade Saturday. They acquired Tom Martin from the Dodgers for high Class A lefthander Matt Merricks. Atlanta also received cash to offset the remainder of Martin's $1.4 million salary.
Martin, a 34-year-old lefthander, has been somewhat of a disappointment this season after a strong 2003. He's 0-1, 4.13 in 47 games, with an uninspiring 18-14 strikeout-walk ratio in 28 innings. Opponents are batting .291 (up from .198 a year ago) with three homers. Martin relies on a darting fastball in the 90s, as his curveball and changeup are mostly just for show. Atlanta hopes he can become its primary lefty setup man for John Smoltz. Martin has a 9-8, 4.81 record and three saves in 249 big league appearances.
Merricks, 21, was a 2000 sixth-round pick out of a California high school. He began 2004 at Double-A Greenville but struggled and was demoted to high Class A Myrtle Beach. He has gone a combined 6-6, 3.68 in 19 games (17 starts), with a 94-34 K-BB ratio in 95 innings. Opponents have hit .244 with eight homers against him. Though he's just 5-foot-11, Merricks generates plenty of velocity. He can dial his fastball up to 95 mph on occasion and he also flashes a plus changeup. His breaking ball has consistently lagged behind his other pitches, and questions about his maturity have dogged him. Merricks' career record is 22-31, 3.58 in 84 minor league games.
-- Kevin Goldstein
Marlins replace Penny with Valdez
July 31: A day after trading Brad Penny, the Marlins found a replacement for their rotation. Florida obtained Ismael Valdez from the Padres on Saturday for low Class A righthander Travis Chick.
Valdez, a 31-year-old righthander, signed a one-year, $800,000 contract with San Diego as a free agent in January. His 9-6 record in 23 games (20 starts) is very misleading, because he has a 5.53 ERA and opponents have battered him for a .303 average and 21 homers. His 37-31 strikeout-walk ratio in 114 innings is another indication that he's not fooling anyone with his high-80s sinker, slider and changeup. He owns a big league record of 97-100, 4.04 in 300 games.
Chick, 20, is enjoying his best season since signing as a 14th-round pick out of a Texas high school in 2002. Armed with a low-90s fastball and a promising slider, he has gone 6-3, 3.95 in 26 games (nine starts) at low Class A Greensboro. Chick has a 108-26 K-BB ratio in 84 innings and has limited hitters to a .223 average and 10 homers. He has gone 10-7, 4.15 in 51 career appearances in the minors.
-- Jim Callis
Marlins add more relief in Seanez
July 31: The first trade on the day of the deadline for deals without waivers didn't exactly register on the Richter scale. The Marlins picked up their second reliever in two days on Saturday, getting Rudy Seanez from the Royals for Abraham Nunez.
Seanez, a 35-year-old righthander, signed a minor league contract with the Royals in February and joined the big league club in mid-June. He always has been able to light up a radar gun, but continually has battled injuries and command issues. Seanez is 0-1, 3.91 in 16 games this year, with a 21-11 strikeout-walk ratio in 23 innings. Opponents have hit .244 and gone homerless against him. For his career, Seanez has a 17-18, 4.50 record and 11 saves in 300 appearances. His acquisition won't have nearly the impact on Florida's bullpen that Friday's six-player trade that included Guillermo Mota will.
Nunez, 26, signed with the Diamondbacks out of the Dominican Republic in 1996 and went to the Marlins in a deal for Matt Mantei three years later. Once considered one of Florida's top prospect, Nunez has seen his star dim because he turned out to be three years older than originally believed. He also lacks the instincts to turn his abundant physical tools into baseball production. Nunez has spent the entire year in the majors because he was out of options, batting just .172/.274/.266 with one homer and five RBIs in 64 at-bats over 58 games. Though he's a switch-hitter with power, speed and arm strength, he may never be more than a reserve.
-- Jim Callis
Dodgers, Marlins swap six players, may not be done
July 30: In terms of quality major leaguers, the Dodgers and Marlins pulled off the biggest trade on Friday. Los Angeles got Brad Penny, Hee Seop Choi and Double-A lefthander Bill Murphy in exchange for Guillermo Mota, Paul Lo Duca and Juan Encarnacion. And that seems to be just the beginning for both clubs.
To replace LoDuca behind the plate, the Dodgers reportedly have worked out a deal to acquire Charles Johnson from the Rockies, pending his approval. Los Angeles also has a possible blockbuster in the works with Arizona. The Dodgers could pick up Randy Johnson and Steve Finley in return for Penny, Jayson Werth and some combination of top pitching prospects Edwin Jackson, Chad Billingsley and Chuck Tiffany. That move would require Johnson and Finley to waive their no-trade clauses, and if Johnson refuses Los Angeles could make a reduced deal for Finley. As for the Marlins, they were rumored to be pursuing a trade that would send Encarnacion and Double-A slugger Jason Stokes to the Rockies for Larry Walker -- who also has a no-trade clause. Walker rejected a trade to the Rangers on Friday and also turned down a deal to the Diamondbacks before the 2003 season.
Penny, a 26-year-old righthander, is the leading winner (48) in Marlins history and beat the Yankees twice in the 2003 World Series. He has gone 8-8 with a career-low 3.15 ERA in 21 starts this season, posting a 105-39 strikeout-walk ratio in 131 innings. Opponents are batting .249 with 10 homers against him. Penny has some nasty stuff, including a low-90s sinker, a mid-90s four-seasm fastball and a power curveball. He's at his best when he doesn't worry about velocity and remembers to mix in some curveballs and changeups to keep hitters off balance. Penny is making $3.725 million this season and will be arbitration-eligible afterward. He owns a career 48-42, 4.04 record in 131 games.
Choi, 25, joins his third team in the last eight months after the Cubs sent him to Florida in the Derrek Lee trade last November. The first Korean position player to sign with a big league organization, he received a $1.2 million bonus from Chicago in 1999. He could develop into an offensive force, because he has prodigious power potential and a good eye at the plate. He also moves well around the bag at first base. Choi has batted .270/.388/.495 with 15 homers and 40 RBIs in 95 games this year. He'll allow Shawn Green to move back to right field, where he'll replace Encarnacion. Choi is a career .242/.364/.450 hitter with 25 homers and 72 RBIs in 199 games.
Mota, a 31-year-old righthander, has emerged as one of the game's best setup men over the last two seasons. He's tied for the big league lead with eight relief wins in 2004, paces the National League with 63 relief innings and ranks eighth in the majors with 17 holds. He's 8-4, 2.14 with one save in 52 appearances. He has a 52-27 K-BB ratio in 63 innings, and has limited hitters to a .228 average and four homers. Mota has explosive stuff, blowing away hitters with a mid-90s fastball and a high-80s slider. Eric Gagne also taught Mota his changeup, giving him an extra weapon. If Armando Benitez' elbow woes persist, Mota could close for Florida. He has a $1.475 million salary for 2004 and will be arbitration-eligible again after this season. He has a career mark of 19-18, 3.29 in 304 appearances.
Lo Duca, 32, not only is one of baseball's better-hitting catchers, but he also was considered the heart and soul of the Dodgers clubhouse. He was batting .301/.351/.444 with 10 homers and 49 RBIs in 91 games and will give the Marlins a nice upgrade over their current starting catcher, Mike Redmond. Lo Duca consistently hits for average, though he hasn't approached the 25-homer power he showed in 2001. Lo Duca, who also has seen action at first base and left field, led major league catchers with 15 errors in 2003 but topped NL backstops by throwing out 34 percent of basestealers. Lo Duca has cut down on his errors to just three this year, but he has erased just 23 percent of basestealers. He's making $4.067 million this year and is another member of this trade headed to arbitration. In 588 career games, he has hit .287/.342/.428 with 57 homers and 275 RBIs.
Encarnacion, 28, was the Marlins' starting right fielder in 2003 and came to Los Angeles in a December salary dump for minor league outfielder Travis Ezi. He signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the Dodgers that pays him $3.55 million this year. He hasn't been close to worth it, hitting .235/.289/.417 with 13 homers and 43 RBIs in 86 games. Encarnacion just doesn't have enough power and on-base ability to be a productive corner outfielder. He does run well and is a good defender with a strong arm. He has career totals of .266/.311/.442 with 109 homers, 446 RBIs and 111 steals in 838 games.
Murphy, 23, was a 2002 third-round pick by the Athletics out of Cal State Northridge. Oakland used him as part of the Mark Redman trade last December. Hitters have trouble making contact against his lively, deceptive 89-91 mph fastball. He ranks second in the Double-A Southern League with 113 strikeouts in 104 innings, but needs to work on his location because he tops the SL with 59 walks and has allowed 17 homers, second-most in the league. He has a 6-4, 4.08 record in 20 starts, with opponents batting .215 against him. Murphy, who also throws a curveball and changeup, pitched a scoreless inning in the Futures Game at Minute Maid Park. He has a career 17-15, 3.58 mark in 58 minor league games.
-- Jim Callis
Mets win pursuit of Benson
July 30: With the Diamondbacks not certain to trade Randy Johnson, Kris Benson was arguably the top starting pitcher on the trade market. Several clubs pursued Benson, with the Mets closing a three-team deal for him on Friday. The Mets received Benson and Double-A second baseman Jeff Keppinger from the Pirates, with Pittsburgh getting Ty Wigginton and Double-A righthander Matt Peterson from the Mets, plus third baseman Jose Bautista from the Royals. In exchange for Bautista, Kansas City obtained Triple-A catcher Justin Huber from New York.
Benson was one of two starters acquired by the Mets on Friday, joining Victor Zambrano. A 29-year-old righthander, Benson has rebounded from Tommy John surgery in 2001 and mediocre seasons in 2002-03. The No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft, he has gone 8-8, 4.22 in 20 starts, including a 4-4, 3.01 mark in his last 10. He has a 83-44 strikeout-walk ratio in 132 innings, with opponents batting .272 with seven homers against him. Benson has four pitches that all rate as above-average at times: a low-90s fastball, plus a curveball, slider and changeup. He's making $6.1 million in the final year of a four-year, $13.8 million contract, and will become a free agent at season's end. His career record is 43-49, 4.26 in 126 starts.
Wigginton, 26, became superfluous at third base for the Mets once they promoted stud prospect David Wright from Triple-A. He has hit .285/.334/.487 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs in 86 games this year, also seeing some action at second base. Wigginton is a decent big league regular at the hot corner. He won't hit for a high average and draws just a fair amount of walks, but he has 20-homer power and won't cost the Pirates much because he won't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2005 season. He runs well for a third baseman and is a solid defender. He has career totals of .270/.327/.440 with 29 homers, 131 RBIs and 20 steals in 288 games.
By giving up Peterson in this deal and Scott Kazmir in the Zambrano trade, the Mets discarded their top two pitching prospects on the same day. Peterson, 22, was a 2000 second-round pick out of a Louisiana high school. He missed his last start at Double-A Binghamton with a strained oblique muscle, but has gone 6-4, 3.27 in 19 appearances (18 starts). He owns a 90-45 K-BB ratio in 105 innings, while opponents have hit .253 with 11 homers. Peterson's best pitch is a true 12-6 curveball, and he also throws a low-90s fastball and a promising changeup. He has a career record of 29-17, 3.33 in 86 minor league contests.
Bautista, 23, returns to the Pirates, who signed him as a draft-and-follow out of Chipola (Fla.) JC after taking him in the 20th round in 2000. He has been on a wild ride since the end of last season, going to the Orioles in December's major league Rule 5 draft, to the Devil Rays on waivers in early June, to the Royals in a cash transaction in late June and now back to Pittsburgh. Per the Rule 5 guidelines, he has spent the entire year in the majors, hitting .208/.283/.229 with two RBIs and 22 strikeouts in 48 at-bats over 41 games. Bautista has a higher ceiling than Wigginton. His best tools are his quick bat, power potential and strong arm. The Pirates now can return him to the minors, where he has batted .287/.385/.452 with 24 homers and 110 RBIs in 249 games.
Huber, 22, signed with the Mets out of Australia in 2000. He quickly emerged as one of the minors' better catching prospects, though his star has dimmed somewhat as scouts have questioned whether he'll provide enough defense to catch regularly in the majors. He has enough bat to hit for average with 20-plus homers annually, but he's mechanical behind the plate and sloppy footwork detracts from his arm, which is average at best. Huber's plate discipline has taken a step forward this year, as he has hit .270/.402/.473 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs in 88 games, mostly in Double-A. He has thrown out just 14 of 72 basestealers (19 percent) in 2004. In 368 minor league games, he has hit .279/.387/.466 with 49 homers and 240 RBIs.
Keppinger, 24, was a fourth-round pick out of Georgia in 2001, when he homered twice off Mark Prior in a College World Series game. He was having a career year at Double-A Altoona, hitting .334/.384/.409 with one homer, 33 RBIs and 10 steals (in 16 attempts) over 82 games. He has been one of the toughest hitters in the minor leagues to strike out, with just 17 whiffs in 323 at-bats. Keppinger may not do enough to merit playing every day in the majors. He's a career .307 hitter, but doesn't draw enough walks (.361 on-base percentage) or have enough extra-base pop (.411) to contribute much else offensively if he doesn't hit for a high average. He's an average runner and adequate defender.
-- Jim Callis
Mets part with Kazmir to get Zambrano
July 30: While the Devil Rays have had success developing everyday players, such as outfielders Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford and third baseman Aubrey Huff, they haven't had the same luck bringing pitchers to the major leagues. That trend could change after they pulled off a stunning trade on Friday.
Tampa Bay dealt its most effective starter, Victor Zambrano, and Triple-A righthander Bartolome Fortunato to the Mets for a pair of Double-A pitchers, most notably Scott Kazmir, one of the top lefthanders in the minors. The Rays also acquired righty Joselo Diaz.
Kazmir, 20, was the 15th overall pick out of a suburban Houston high school in 2002, when he was Baseball America's High School Player of the Year. He struggled early in 2004 with a rib strain but since has gotten healthy, gained control of his mechanics and started to dominate. His stuff is as good as any minor league lefty's. He throws a mid-90s fastball and a curveball that's well above average at times. His changeup also has made significant progress. In 15 starts between high Class A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton this year, he has gone 3-3, 2.84 with an 80-31 strikeout-walk ratio over 76 innings. Opponents have hit .236 with three homers against him. Kazmir led minor league starters with an average of 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 2003 and has a career 8-10, 2.52 record in 45 minor league starts.
Zambrano, a 28-year-old righthander, has developed into the Devil Rays' best pitcher, going 21-17 over the last two seasons. Signed originally by the Yankees as an infielder, Zambrano has gone 9-7, 4.43 in 23 games (22 starts) this year. He has a 109-96 K-BB ratio in 128 innings, allowing opponents a .230 average and 13 homers. He has an electric 92-95 mph sinker, a plus changeup and an inconsistent slider. Command is an issue with Zambrano, who led the majors in walks (106 in 188 innings) and wild pitches (15) and the American League in hit batters (20) last year. He currently tops the majors in walks (with 20 more than his nearest competitor, Brandon Webb) and hit batters (16). A career 35-27, 4.47 pitcher in 135 big league games, Zambrano will be eligible for arbitration for the first time after this season.
Diaz, 24, signed as a catcher out of the Dominican Republic with the Dodgers in the 1996 and went to the Mets in the July 2003 Jeromy Burnitz trade. He has worked primarily as a starter at Binghamton but projects as a big league reliever. If he's around the strike zone, he can baffle hitters with a live mid-90s fastball and a splitter. Diaz was 4-7, 5.18 in 21 games (19 starts) this year, with 90 strikeouts and 70 walks in 83 innings. Opponents have batted just .208 with three homers agsint him. He owns a 15-12, 4.03 career mark in 72 minor league games.
Fortunato, 29, signed as an outfielder out of the Dominican in 1996. Though he has a 93-94 mph fastball and has served as the closer at Triple-A Durham this year, he wasn't considered one of the Rays' top prospects. Fortunato was 4-3, 2.42 with nine saves in 34 games, with a 51-21 K-BB ratio in 45 innings. International League hitters were batting just .175 with four homers against him. In 157 minor league games, he has a career record of 27-20, 3.57.
-- John Manuel
Phils get much-needed bullpen help with Rodriguez
July 30: With their bullpen problems mounting, a contending team decided to deal for an experienced power reliever on Friday.
That description could have fit the Giants, who are working without a designated closer while chasing the Dodgers in the National League West. It also fits the Phillies, who placed Ryan Madson and Billy Wagner on the disabled list this week, and Philadelphia turned to San Francisco for help. The Phillies plucked Felix Rodriguez from the Giants, giving up Ricky Ledee and high Class A righthander Alfredo Simon.
Rodriguez, a 31-year-old righthander, has been consistently effective since becoming San Francisco's primary setup man in 1999. He was 3-5, 3.43 in 53 appearances this season, with 31 strikeouts and 19 walks in 45 innings. Opponents were hitting .250 with seven homers (his career high) against him. Rodriguez uses mainly fastballs, adding a sinking two-seamer during the winter to go with a four-seamer that reaches the mid-90s. He occasionally throws a slider and splitter. Rodriguez' strikeout rate (6.25 per nine innings in 2004) has declined steadily over the last three years, and he has failed in brief auditions as a closer. The Phillies will use him as a bridge to his former Giants teammate Tim Worrell, who temporarily assumes Wagner's closer duties. Rodriguez is making $3.05 million this year and has a mutual option ($3.15 million for the player, $5 million for the club) for 2005. He has gone 35-22, 3.43 with 10 saves in 475 lifetime appearances.
The Giants value the 30-year-old Ledee's ability to play all three outfield spots and hope he can help them as a platoon player against righthanders. He has hit well in limited playing time this year, batting .285/.393/.512 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 123 at-bats over 73 games. He's a good athlete who thrives more as a fourth outfielder than as a regular. Ledee has a $1.225 million salary for 2004 and will become a free agent afterward. In 635 career games and 1,614 at-bats, he has hit .246/.332/.420 with 53 homers and 260 RBIs.
Simon, 23, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1999. He originally was known as Carlos Cabrera and believed to be 21 months younger before visa problems revealed his true identity. The Phillies projected Simon as a reliever because of his size, fastball and lack of a secondary pitch, but he has pitched three straight complete games at high Class A Clearwater. He has a 7-9, 3.27 record in 21 games (20 starts). Opponents have hit .240 with 13 homers against Simon, who has a 107-38 K-BB ratio in 135 innings. He has grown from a listed 6-foot-4, 215 pounds to about 6-foot-5 and 240, and he maintains his 90-94 mph velocity deep into his starts. He finished off consecutive shutouts with a 93-mph fastball in each. Simon, who also throws a changeup and developing slider, owns a career 23-13, 3.35 mark in 64 minor league games.
-- John Manuel
Phillies get another bullpen reinforcement in Jones
July 30: Looking to bolster their bullpen, the Phillies didn't stop after acquiring Felix Rodriguez from the Giants. They added another veteran on Friday, getting Todd Jones and high Class A outfielder Brad Correll from the Reds for righthander Josh Hancock and Triple-A shortstop Anderson Machado.
An all-star in 2000 who got knocked around while toiling for four clubs over the next three seasons, Jones has had a revival in 2004. The 36-year-old righthander is tied for the major league lead with eight relief wins and ranks third in the National League with 22 holds. His fastball is registering in the low 90s, and he complements it with a splitter. He was 8-2, 3.79 with one save in 51 appearances for the Reds, with a 37-25 strikeout-walk ratio, .243 opponent average and four homers allowed in 57 innings. Jones has 185 career saves to go with a 47-44, 4.04 mark in 717 games.
Hancock, 26, had just been called up by the Phillies three days before the trade. The Red Sox drafted him in the fifth round out of Auburn in 1998, and traded him to Philadelphia for Jeremy Giambi in December 2002. Hancock has good command of three pitches: a fastball that can reach the low 90s, a curveball and a changeup. He has gone 0-2, 6.05 in nine big league games (three starts) over the last three seasons. He had spent most of 2004 at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he had gone 8-7, 4.01 in 18 starts. He had a 65-21 K-BB ratio in 108 innings, with opponents batting .263 with 10 homers. He should get a chance to crack the always-changing Reds rotation, and he profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Machado, 23, signed out of Venezuela in 1998. He has been one of the Phillies' better infield prospects since 2000, when he was one of the high Class A Florida State League's youngest everyday players and finished the season in the Double-A Eastern League playoffs. But he just hasn't hit enough, even with good patience that resulted in a minor league-high 108 walks in 2003. He missed all of April this year following an appendectomy in March, and has batted just .229/.339/.365 with six homers, 26 RBIs and 11 steals (in 17 attempts) in 77 games at Scranton. His career numbers aren't any better: .230/.337/.339 with 33 homers, 241 RBIs and 172 steals in 698 contests. There are no problems with his defense, as Machado stands out with his smooth actions, plus arm and excellent range and instincts.
Correll, 23, was drafted in the 29th round in 2002 out of Limestone (S.C.), an NCAA Division II program. He has provided decent production in the lower minors but doesn't project to offer enough to play in the big leagues as a left fielder. He signed as a third baseman before moving to the outfield in 2003. He was hitting .285/.357/.407 with nine homers and 63 RBIs in 101 games at high Class A Potomac. For his career, he has batted .278/.343/.425 with 29 homers, 187 RBIs and 25 steals in 300 games.
-- John Manuel
After Fullmer falls through, Padres turn to Hansen
July 30: Looking for a lefthanded bat to come off their bench, the Padres came close to finalizing a deal for Texas' Brad Fullmer on Friday, at the reported cost of Triple-A third baseman Jake Gautreau. But San Diego backed away because of concerns about Fullmer's sore right knee, which has landed him on the disabled list. The Padres quickly regrouped Friday night, picking up Dave Hansen from the Mariners in exchange for high Class A righthander Jon Huber.
Hansen, 35, spent 2003 with the Padres before going to Seattle in January in the Jeff Cirillo/Kevin Jarvis salary dump. A career .248 pinch-hitter, he ranks fifth all-time with 135 pinch-hits and seventh with 15 pinch-homers. Ineffective against lefties and used almost solely against righties, he has hit .282/.412/.423 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 78 at-bats over 57 games this year. He offers little as a runner or defender, seeing sporadic time at first and third base. Hansen currently makes $750,000 and will be a free agent after the season. He has career totals of .266/.367/.378 with 33 homers and 211 RBIs in 1,141 games and 1,690 at-bats.
Huber, 23, was a 2000 fifth-round pick out of a Florida high school. He throws in the low 90s and can flash a nifty curveball, but he's only a marginal prospect because he doesn't throw enough strikes or miss enough bats. He has gone 8-6, 3.70 in 20 starts at high Class A Lake Elsinore this season. He has a 100-44 strikeout-walk ratio in 107 innings, while opponents have batted .262 with nine homers. Huber, who missed time in 2003 with an elbow strain, has a career mark of 26-26, 4.98 in 96 minor league games.
-- Jim Callis
Red Sox acquire Adams for bullpen depth
July 25: The Blue Jays hoped Terry Adams would bolster their bullpen when they signed him as a free agent during the offseason. Now the Red Sox are looking for Adams to help them in relief after they acquired him on Saturday for minor league third baseman John Hattig.
Adams, a 31-year-old righthander, was coming off arthroscopic elbow surgery when he signed a one-year, $1.7 million deal with Toronto. He struggled when the Blue Jays made him their closer for part of May, but has pitched decently otherwise. He has a 4-4, 3.98 record with three saves in 42 games. He also owns a 35-22 strikeout-walk ratio in 43 innings, while opponents have batted .290 with four homers against him. Adams consistently has has more success against lefthanders, but he has taken his reverse platoon split to an extreme in 2004. Righthanders are torching him to the tune of .397/.444/.534 while he has held lefties to .208/.319/.313 production. A sinker-slider pitcher, Adams tops out in the low 90s. He has career totals of 49-60, 3.97 with 42 saves in 539 appearances (including 41 starts in 2001-02).
Hattig is trying to become the first Guam-born player to reach the major leagues after signing as a 25th-round pick in 1998. The 24-year-old switch-hitter has started to make progress the last two years after taking his conditioning more seriously. He has a good swing from both sides of the plate as well as emerging power, and the Red Sox envisioned him taking a Brian Daubach-like career path. Hattig missed time with back spasms earlier this year but pounded the ball when healthy, hitting .295/.411/.519 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs in 75 games at Double-A Portland.
He must continue to watch his weight at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, and his lack of first-step quickness may eventually force him to move to first base. Hattig is a career .280/.365/.396 hitter with 28 homers and 241 RBIs in 486 minor league games.
-- Jim Callis
Oliver moves on to Houston
July 22: As the July 31 deadline for deals without waivers approached, trade activity began to heat up on Thursday. Well, not exactly. But there was one transaction, as the Marlins sent Darren Oliver to the Astros for a player to be named later or cash considerations.
A 33-year-old lefthander, Oliver joins his sixth major league team and fifth in the last four seasons. After signing a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Marlins as a free agent, he opened the year in the Florida rotation but pitched his way into the bullpen by late May. He doesn't have an out pitch and tops out in the high 80s with his fastball, and his main attribute is his good command. In 18 games (eight starts) this year, Oliver is 2-3, 6.44. He has a 33-17 strikeout-walk ratio in 59 innings, while opponents have hit .319 with 13 homers against him. The Astros probably will use him in middle relief, a role in which he has posted a 3.32 ERA in 2004. For his career, Oliver owns an 86-79, 5.08 record.
When the player to be named is identified, we'll analyze him as well.
Update: The Astros completed the deal by sending cash considerations to the Marlins.
-- Jim Callis
Orioles, Mets exchange spare parts
July 19: Karim Garcia lost playing time with the Mets after they traded for Richard Hidalgo in mid-June. Similarly, Mike DeJean became a mopup man after the Orioles acquired Jason Grimsley shortly thereafter. So on Monday both clubs swapped their excess, with Garcia moving to Baltimore and DeJean heading to New York.
Garcia, 28, was nontendered by the Yankees in December and signed a one-year, $800,000 contract with the Mets. He shared time in right field with Shane Spencer before the Hidalgo deal, and subsequently went on the disabled list with tendinitis in his left wrist. He hit .234/.272/.401 with seven homers and 22 RBIs for New York.
Garcia is what he always has been: an overly aggressive hitter with occasional power, and a decent athlete with a strong arm. He'll help the Orioles as an extra outfielder, and they really need one with Marty Cordova, Jay Gibbons and B.J. Surhoff all on the disabled list. Garcia is a career .242/.280/427 hitter with 63 homers and 201 RBIs in 465 games. This is his second stint in Baltimore after he went 0-for-16 in eight games for the O's in 2000.
DeJean, a 33-year-old righthander, struggled mightily in his first taste of the American League this season. He parlayed a combined 19 saves with the Brewers and Cardinals last year into a one-year, $1.5 million free agent deal with the Orioles, and gave them an 0-5, 6.13 record in 37 appearances. Opponents strafed him for a .308 average with two homers, and his control was shaky with a 36-28 strikeout-walk ratio in 40 innings. DeJean uses a sinker-splitter combination and must get ahead in the count to succeed. He has a career 24-29, 4.40 mark with 52 saves in 480 games.
-- Jim Callis
Everett back on South Side
July 18: Just as they did a year ago, the White Sox have turned to Carl Everett to give their offense a boost for the pennant drive. Chicago acquired Everett from the Expos on Sunday in exchange for a pair of Triple-A righthanders, Jon Rauch and Gary Majewski.
On July 1, 2003, the White Sox picked up Everett from the Rangers for three minor leaguers: righthanders Franklin Francisco and Josh Rupe, plus outfielder Anthony Webster. Everett batted .301/.377/.473 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs in 73 games for Chicago. After the season, he signed a two-year free-agent contract worth $7.5 million with the Expos. Montreal kicked in cash toward Everett's $3 million salary for 2004. He has a player option for $4 million in 2005, and either a team option worth $5 million or a $500,000 buyout in 2006.
Everett, 33, initially figures to play right field until Magglio Ordonez fully recovers from a knee injury, then likely will become Chicago's full-time center fielder, like he was in the second half of 2003. But Everett has yet to play center in 2004 and was limited to just 39 games in Montreal by a right shoulder contusion and a sprained left ankle. He batted just .252/.319/.378 with two homers and 14 RBIs in 39 games. At this point, the switch-hitting Everett is a bigger threat from the right side. He has good power and a decent eye at the plate, though he's no longer the basestealing threat he was earlier in his career. He doesn't cover as much ground in the outfield as he used to either, though that's not as big an issue for a center fielder at U.S. Cellular Park as it would be elsewhere. His throwing arm is solid. In 1,135 career games, Everett has batted .277/.349/.475 with 163 homers, 651 RBIs and 101 steals.
Rauch, 25, signed as a third-round pick out of Morehead State in 1999. The following year, he won Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year award and a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic baseball team. But he came down with a sore shoulder that required surgery in 2001 and hasn't been the same pitcher since. The tallest pitcher in major league history at 6-foot-11, Rauch has a 91-92 mph fastball that seems quicker because of his size. He also throws a curveball, slider and changeup and needs better location to win in the majors. He went 1-1, 6.23 in two starts for the White Sox this year, drawing general manager Kenny Williams' ire when he left the ballpark before his first game concluded. A change of scenery may be just what he needs. Rauch has spent most of the year at Triple-A Charlotte, going 6-3, 3.11 in 14 games (13 starts). In 72 innings, he had a 61-25 strikeout-walk ratio while allowing opponents to bat .224 with nine homers. His career big league record is 3-2, 6.51 in 10 games (eight starts).
This marks the second time that the White Sox have dealt Majewski. After signing him out of a Houston high school in the second round of the 1998 draft, Chicago sent Majewski to the Dodgers in a March 2001 trade for Antonio Osuna before reacquiring him that July in a deal for James Baldwin. Majewski's best pitch is a natural sinker that runs up to the low 90s, and he backs it up with a slider. As Charlotte's closer, he posted a 3-3, 3.19 record and 14 saves in 35 apperances. He had a 41-16 K-BB ratio in 42 innings, while opponents hit .194 with two homers. Both Majewski and Rauch could see action in Montreal in the near future.
-- Jim Callis
Red Sox make minor move for Puffer
July 2: While Red Sox fans have been hoping for a major trade to right their reeling team, the club made a series of minor pitching moves this week. On Wednesday, Boston signed free agent Pedro Astacio to a minor league contract. Early on Friday, the Red Sox picked up Triple-A lefthander Jimmy Anderson from the Cubs for high Class A righthander Andrew Shipman and a player to be named later. Later in the day, Boston added another reliever, Brandon Puffer, from the Padres in exchange for a player to be named.
Puffer, a 28-year-old righthander, was with San Diego at the time of the trade and had gone 0-1, 5.50 in 14 big league appearances this year. Opponents had roughed him up for a .320 average and three homers in 18 innings, during which he posted a 12-11 strikeout-ratio. He also had gone 1-1, 3.34 in 22 appearances at Triple-A Portland. A sidearmer, Puffer was let go by four organizations and spent time in independent ball before reaching the majors with the Astros in 2002. He throws two- and four-seam fastballs and a sweeping slider, but still is looking for a way to combat big league lefties, who have hit .301/.473/.500 against him. In 82 career appearances in the majors, he owns a 3-4, 4.75 record. The Red Sox optioned Puffer to Triple-A Pawtucket rather than using him to fill in for Scott Williamson, who went on the disabled list Friday with a strained right forearm.
When the player to be named has been identified, we'll analyze him as well.
July 10 update: The Padres received second baseman/first baseman Peter Ciofrone to complete the trade. A 16th-round pick out of a New York high school in 2002, the 20-year-old Ciofrone stands out most for his ability to get on base. In 67 games at low Class A Augusta this year, he hit .286/.383/.387 with one homer and 33 RBI.
-- Jim Callis