Breaking down August trades

Cubs strengthen bench with Grieve
Aug. 31: With Todd Hollandsworth slow to return from a bruised right shin he sustained in June, the Cubs moved to bolster their bench and outfield depth on Tuesday. They acquired Ben Grieve from the Brewers for a player to be named later and cash.

Grieve, 28, once was one of the most promising young outfielders in the game before his career took a downturn after the Athletics sent him to the Devil Rays in the Johnny Damon trade of January 2001. After three disappointing years in Tampa Bay, Grieve signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Brewers as a free agent. He hit .261/.364/.415 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in 108 games for Milwaukee. His power and bat speed aren't what they once were, and because he offers little as a baserunner and defender, he really shouldn't be used as a regular. He has career totals of .269/.367/.442 with 117 homers and 485 RBIs in 938 games.

The Cubs also added catching depth for September on Tuesday by picking up Mike DiFelice from the Tigers for a player to be named later.

Sept. 3 update: The Cubs don't have much to do thanks to the Hurricane Frances-induced cancellation of their series with the Marlins, so they completed the trade with the Brewers that made outfielder Ben Greive a Cub. Chicago sent lefthander Andy Pratt to Milwaukee as the player to be named in the deal.

Pratt, 25, has had a nightmarish season with a case of the yips, struggling to find the strike zone with any consistency. After reaching the major leagues last year with the Braves -- who acquired him from the Rangers in the spring of 2003 for lefthander Ben Kozlowski -- Pratt fell all the way to the Rookie-level Arizona League in an effort to rediscover his command. He made four appearances in Chicago this year, walking seven in 1 2/3 innings with a 21.60 ERA before the Cubs mercifully sent him back down to the minors. He made 10 appearances in Double-A and Triple-A, walking 36 in 30 1/3 innings and giving up 41 earned runs (12.16 ERA).

Pratt always has had control issues in pro ball, and had walked 276 in 730 career innings. When he's right, he shows a low-90s fastball that sits at 92-93 mph, very good velocity for a lefthander, and also shows a power slider. Pratt throws a curveball and changeup that also can be average pitches, but he's never had the consistency to put the entire package together.

-- Jim Callis and John Manuel

Astros add Wheeler to staff
Aug. 27: After putting Dan Miceli, Darren Oliver and Andy Pettitte on the disabled list this month, the Astros needed pitching reinforcements. They found one Friday in a minor trade with the Mets, getting Dan Wheeler for high Class A outfielder Adam Seuss.

A 26-year-old righthander, Wheeler is best known for winning the 1999 Pan American Games semifinal that qualified Team USA for the 2000 Olympics. His top pitch is his slider, and he also has an average fastball and a changeup. He never has found a way to get lefthanders out, and that has been a huge problem this season, as lefties have walloped him at a .404/.465/.663 clip with six homers in 89 at-bats. Wheeler went 3-1, 4.80 in 32 appearances (one start) for the Mets, with a 46-17 strikeout-walk ratio in 51 innings. Opponents batted .307 with nine homers against him. His career record is 6-9, 5.15 with two saves in 97 games.

Seuss, 23, signed as a 36th-round pick in 2002 from UC Riverside. He's a nondescript outfielder/DH who doesn't have a standout tool. He has hit .283/.370/.396 with seven homers and 64 RBIs in 104 games at high Class A Salem this year, boosting his career numbers to .263/.346/.384 with 17 homers and 132 RBIs in 246 contests.

-- Jim Callis

Dodgers find relief with Dessens
Aug. 19: The Dodgers' strength in righthanded relievers has thinned out in the last three weeks after the trade of Guillermo Mota and a season-ending knee injury to Darren Dreifort. Los Angeles moved to shore up its righty bullpen depth Thursday, acquiring Elmer Dessens and cash from the Diamondbacks for outfield prospect Jereme Milons.

Dessens, 33, opened the year in Arizona's rotation but was the demoted to the bullpen in May. He has pitched much better in relief (2.03 ERA in 29 appearances) than as a starter (1-5, 7.68 in nine outings). Overall, he has a 1-6, 4.75 record and a 55-23 strikeout-walk ratio in 85 innings. Opponents are batting .301 with 11 homers against him. He mixes sinkers, sliders and cutters, relying on trying to trick hitters rather than blowing the ball by them. Dessens is making $4 million in 2004, and his contract calls for either a $4.5 million salary or $300,000 buyout next year. His career record is 39-49, 4.49 in 237 games.

Milons, 21, was a 21st-round pick out of a Mississippi high school in 2001. His brother Freddie is a wide receiver with the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers. In 114 games at low Class A Columbus and high Class A Vero Beach this year, Jereme has batted .267/.315/.387 with 10 homers, 55 RBIs and 29 steals. Considered the fastest runner in the Dodgers system, he earns 70 grades (on the 20-80 scouting scale) with his speed. Milons covers a lot of ground in center field, where his instincts have improved significantly. He has some power potential, but he swings for the fences too much at times and lengthens his swing. If he can develop an approach that would allow him to get on base more frequently, he could take better advantage of his speed. He's a career .273/.325/.382 hitter with 12 homers, 101 RBIs and 48 steals in 210 pro games.

-- Jim Callis

Phillies acquire Lidle to bolster rotation
Aug. 9: While the surging Braves have put significant distance between the Phillies and first place in the National League East, Philadelphia still harbors hope of reaching the postseason, lingering just three games behind the Cubs for the NL wild card. To that end, the Phillies moved to bolster their rotation Monday, acquiring Cory Lidle from the Reds for a pair of low Class A players, outfielder Javon Moran and lefthander Joe Wilson, and either a player to be named later or cash considerations.

Lidle, a 32-year-old righthander, is in his seventh major league season and has a 52-49, 4.57 career record. He's gone just 7-10, 5.32 for the Reds this season, ending a three-game personal losing streak Sunday when he beat the Rockies in Denver, giving up just three runs in six innings at Coors Field. Lidle, who signed a one-year, $2.75 million deal in the offseason, becomes a free agent after the season. A sinkerballer with a split-finger fastball, curve and changeup, Lidle has never missed many bats in his career (955 hits allowed in 905 innings), but he should be an upgrade for the Phillies in the No. 5 spot in the rotation, where veteran Paul Abbott (1-6, 6.24) has been a disaster. The Phillies also are without disabled starters Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla.

Moran, 21, was a fifth-round pick in 2003 out of Auburn, and has played mostly center field for Class A Lakewood. The righthanded hitter was batting .284/.340/.386 with two home runs and 37 RBIs for the Blue Claws with 41 stolen bases, but he also had been caught 16 times and had just 24 walks. His on-base percentage had been bolstered by 12 HBPs. Moran's best tool is his speed, which rates close to 80 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale and helps him have excellent range in center field. Moran has struggled of late, going just 3-for-24 to drop his average to its lowest point since mid-May.

Wilson, 22, is a hard-throwing lefthander who has yet to experience consistent success since signing as a 13th-round pick out of Maryland-Baltimore County in 2003. He was 4-5, 3.03 for the Blue Claws with 85 strikeouts in 86 innings, and South Atlantic League hitters had 63 hits against him, batting just .205. However, Wilson lacks control of his fastball and secondary stuff due to a maximum-effort delivery. His fastball has reached 93 mph and he has a playable changeup, but his slider remains inconsistent. Both Wilson and Moran will be assigned to low Class A Dayton.

Once the player to be named has been identified, we'll analyze him as well.

Aug. 13 update: The Phillies sent right-hander Elizardo Ramirez to the Reds to complete the Lidle deal.

Nicknamed "Easy," Ramirez jumped from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League to the high Class A Florida State League last season, registering a 101-33 strikeout-walk ratio. His composure, command, desire and build are reminiscent of Pedro Martinez, but Ramirez doesn't have the same kind of stuff. He has a loose arm and an easy, compact delivery that should allow him to be a workhorse. His fastball sits in the 90 mph range, topping out at 92. He throws an average curveball and changeup, but has had success because of an advanced feel for pitching and excellent location to both sides of the plate.

Ramirez started the year at high Class A Clearwater, going 5-1, 2.44. His strikeouts and hit rates were troubling in the past, and they didn't look much better this season. In 59 innings, he allowed 55 hits and struck out just 33. It only got worse when he was promoted to Double-A Reading, where he went 2-5, 6.68. He allowed 51 hits and struck out just 20 in 34 innings. He must stay sharp and maintain a consistent delivery, being careful not to pitch too fine. Otherwise, his average stuff across the board can be exposed.

-- John Manuel

Cards stack the deck with Walker
Aug. 6: Less than a week after the Cubs traded for Nomar Garciaparra, the Cardinals responded to their National League Central rivals with a move of their own -- acquiring Larry Walker from the Rockies on Friday for low Class A right-hander Jason Burch, two players to be named later and $8.25 million.

The Rockies had tried to deal Walker to the Diamondbacks in November 2002, then the Rangers and Marlins last week, only to have him exercise his no-trade rights each time. Colorado will save $9.25 million on the remainder of his contract, which calls for $12.5 million this year and next (about $4 million remains in 2004) and either a $15 million option or $1 million buyout in 2006.

With the savings, the Rockies plan to re-sign outfielder Jeromy Burnitz and pitchers Shawn Chacon, Jason Jennings and Jason Kennedy. They also plan on making a late run at their 14th-round pick, Georgia high school outfielder Dexter Fowler. Ranked as a first-round talent by Baseball America, Fowler slid in the draft because of signability concerns. A five-tool player, Fowler has a full scholarship offer from Miami.

The Cardinals owned a 9½-game lead over the Cubs at the time of the deal, so they had the NL Central pretty much sewn up. Walker's addition will make them even stronger for the playoffs. The 37-year-old outfielder missed most of the first three months of the season with a strained left groin, but since returning he quickly has regained the batting stroke that made him a five-time All-Star, three-time NL batting champion and the 1997 NL MVP. In 38 games, he has batted .324/.464/.630 with six homers and 20 RBI. He'll obviously miss Coors Field, but he'll still be a dangerous hitter.

While Walker isn't as quick in the bases or in right field as he used to be, his baserunning and defensive instincts are still top-notch. His once-powerful throwing arm also has slipped a little, but the seven-time Gold Glover still throws well. He's a career .315/.401/.568 hitter with 357 homers, 1,232 RBI and 224 steals in 1,844 games.

Burch, 21, was a 21st-round pick out of Nebraska in 2003. Managers recently rated his slider as the low Class A Midwest League's best breaking pitch in Baseball America's annual Best Tools survey. It's not a hard slider, but it has a lot of sideways break that makes it difficult to hit. At 6-foot-5, Burch also delivers the ball from angles that make his pitches tough for batters to pick up. His other main pitch is a low-90s fastball with a little sink. In 44 games at Peoria this year, he has gone 5-5, 3.61 with a 60-24 strikeout-walk ratio in 52 innings. Opponents are batting .219 with one homer off him. His pro record is 5-8, 3.36 in 74 appearances.

Aug. 11 update: The Cardinals sent lefthanders Chris Narveson and Luis Martinez to the Rockies to complete the trade.

Narveson, 22, signed as a second-round pick out of a North Carolina high school in 2000. He quickly established himself as one of the Cardinals' top pitching prospects, only to succumb to Tommy John surgery in August 2001. He bounced back last year and has pitched better in 2004 than his record at Double-A Tennessee (4-10, 4.43 in 22 starts) would indicate. He has a 112-51 strikeout-walk ratio in 120 innings, while opponents have batted .245 with 11 homers. Narveson's strength is mixing four solid pitches (high-80s fastball, slider, curveball, changeup), with the changeup probably his best offering. He has a career mark of 26-33, 3.38 in 93 minor league games.

Martinez, 23, signed with the Brewers out of the Dominican Republic in 1996. He was one of the top lefties in the Milwaukee system, but the Brewers waived him in February after he shot a man twice in the chest and once in the left leg after a traffic dispute in the Dominican. Local authorities ruled that Martinez acted in self defense. He has gone 7-12, 4.40 in 23 starts this season between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Memphis. He has a 112-59 K-BB ratio, .284 opponent average and 14 homers allowed in 137 innings. Martinez' best pitch is a changeup, and he also throws an average fastball and mediocre curveball. His career record in the minors is 40-59, 4.84 in 179 games, and he went 0-3, 9.92 in four starts for the Brewers last year.

-- Jim Callis

Phelps lands with Indians
Aug. 6: A year ago, Josh Phelps looked like one of the building blocks for the Blue Jays. But after he had gone through a season-long slump in 2004 while approaching arbitration, Toronto decided to trade him on Friday. The Blue Jays sent Phelps to the Indians for Triple-A first baseman/outfielder Eric Crozier.

Phelps, 26, hit .279/.355/.497 with 35 homers in 674 at-bats in 2002-03. But this year, he has backed off the plate and pitchers have found they can get him out easily by working him low and away. Phelps is hitting just .237/.296/.417 with 12 homers and 51 RBI in 79 games.

He has power to all fields, but he needs to make further adjustments and tighten his strike zone (18 walks vs. 73 whiffs in 295 at-bats in 2004). Originally a catcher, Phelps had injury problems while behind the plate and is now a DH/first baseman. He doesn't offer much as a runner or a defender. Likely to be eligible for arbitration with two-plus years of service time after 2004, he's a career .266/.337/.473 hitter with 47 homers and 176 RBI in 281 games.

Crozier, 25, was a 41st-round pick out of Norfolk State in 2002, when he led the Mid-Eastern Conference in hitting at .376. His bat is his ticket, especially as his power has emerged with 39 homers in 643 at-bats over the last two seasons. In 84 games at Triple-A Buffalo this year, he hit .297/.375/.571 with 20 homers and 43 RBI, easily the best performance of his pro career. He has played primarily first base, but he also can play left field and has enough arm strength for right. In 426 minor league games, he has batted .270/.368/.450 with 57 homers and 216 RBI.

-- Jim Callis

Red Sox find second lefty for bullpen
Aug. 6: Looking for a second lefty reliever to team with Alan Embree in their bullpen, the Red Sox have given big league opportunities to Jimmy Anderson, Lenny DiNardo, Bobby M. Jones, Mark Malaska and Phil Seibel this year. Still not satisfied, Boston turned to another option on Friday, acquiring Mike Myers from the Mariners for a player to be named later or cash considerations.

Myers, 35, is a true lefty specialist, having worked just 404 innings in 659 major league games. A sidearmer, he goes after lefties with a sinker and slider. He was once effective against righthanders by coming inside aggressively with a mid-80s fastball, but they have adjusted and teed off on him in the last three years. He has gone 4-1, 4.88 in 50 appearances this year, with a 23-17 strikeout-walk ratio in 28 innings. Opponents have batted .279 with three homers against him, and righties have lit him up for a .316 average and .926 on-base plus slugging percentage. Myers, who's making $550,000 this season, will become a free agent afterward. He has a career record of 16-21, 4.41 with four saves.

Trading Myers cleared a roster spot for Korean righthander Cha Baek, one of Seattle's better pitching prospects. He was set to join the Mariners in Tampa Bay today.

Once the player to be named has been identified, we'll analyze him as well.

Update: The Red Sox completed the deal by sending cash considerations to the Mariners.

-- Jim Callis

Déjà vu all over again: White Sox reunite Alomars
Aug. 5: During their failed stretch drive in 2003, the White Sox traded for Carl Everett and Roberto Alomar. Trying once again to make a run (but fading fast), Chicago reacquired Everett in mid-July. The White Sox repeated the past once again on Thursday, picking up Alomar from the Diamondbacks from a player to be named later and cash equivalent to the waiver price.

Like Everett, Alomar wasn't pursued by the White Sox after becoming a free agent last offseason. The best offer he got was a one-year, $1 million contract from Arizona, with $350,000 deferred. Now 36, Alomar doesn't resemble the player who made 12 straight all-star teams and won 10 Gold Gloves from 1990-2001. To his credit, he has been an improvement over the player who sleepwalked through 2002 and half of 2003 with the Mets. His bat has rebounded, as he has hit .309/.382/.473 with three homers and 16 RBIs in 38 games. His range has diminished significantly in the field from his prime. He missed two months after Ben Sheets broke his right hand with a pitch in April. Alomar, whose brother Sandy Jr. catches for the White Sox, is a career .301/.372/.444 hitter with 209 homers, 1,126 RBIs and 474 steals in 2,361 games.

Once the player to be named has been identified, we'll analyze him as well.

Feb. 18, 2005 update: The Diamondbacks acquired lefthander Brad Murray from the White Sox to complete the deal. A 27th-round pick out of Embry-Riddle (Fla.) in 2000, Murray operates primarily with a fastball and slider. In 59 games between high Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham last year, he went 3-8, 5.07 with three saves. In 82 innings, he had a 37-26 strikeout-walk ration, with opponents batting .304 with five homers against him. He has a career 13-14, 3.86 record with nine saves in 190 pro games.

-- Jim Callis