Red Sox say goodbye to playoff hero Roberts
Dec. 21: Two months after he stole the most important base in team history, the Red Sox gave Dave Roberts the opportunity to play more regularly by trading him to his hometown Padres. In exchange for Roberts on Monday, Boston received Jay Payton, Ramon Vazquez, minor league right-hander David Pauley and $2.65 million to help pay for the remainder of Payton's contract.
Roberts, 32, was relegated to reserve duty when the Red Sox picked him up in a July trade with the Dodgers. He got just 86 at-bats in the last two months of the regular season and didn't come to the plate in the postseason, but he'll be forever remembered for his pinch-running heroics in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. With Boston down three games to none and trailing 4-3 in the ninth inning, Roberts stole second base and scored the tying run against Mariano Rivera, the first step in the Red Sox's historic comeback. After also scoring the tying run in the eighth inning of Game 5, he didn't appear again in the playoffs. Roberts batted .254/.337/.379 with four homers, 35 RBI and 38 steals in 113 games in 2004. He's a slap hitter with very good speed and bunting ability and next to no power. He'll fill holes in center field and the leadoff spot for the Padres. Defensively, he has good range and a mediocre arm. Eligible for arbitation after making $1.5 million last season, he's a career .259/.335/.344 hitter with 11 homers, 99 RBI and 135 steals in 422 games.
Last offseason, the 32-year-old Payton signed a two-year, $5.5 million contract with the Padres. He strained a hamstring during spring training, however, and never covered center field at Petco Park like San Diego had hoped. He also slumped offensively, hitting .260/.326/.367 with eight homers and 55 RBI in 143 games. He had hit 44 homers in 2002-03, though he also was helped by Coors Field. Last year notwithstanding, Payton is a solid hitter with average power. He has good speed, but he isn't a basestealing threat and often takes poor routes in the outfield. He does have a strong arm. Payton figures to platoon with Trot Nixon in right field for Boston, while also backing up the other two outfield spots and serving as a defensive replacement. He'll make $3.5 million in 2005 and will collect either a $4 million option or $500,000 buyout for 2006. In 715 games, he has hit .285/.335/.443 with 77 homers and 300 RBI.
Vazquez, 28, was San Diego's regular second baseman in 2002 and shortstop in 2003, but was supplanted by Mark Loretta and Khalil Greene. He got just 115 big league at-bats in 2004, hitting .235/.297/.322 with one homer and 13 RBI, and spent two months at Triple-A Portland. He also missed a month with a strained right oblique muscle. Vazquez has a decent eye at the plate and likes to serve pitches to the opposite field with an inside-out swing that reduces his power. He has slightly above-average speed and even better baserunning instincts, though he doesn't steal very often. He's more dependable than flashy in the field, and he has below-average range at shortstop. Vazquez will serve as Boston's utility infielder in 2004. He has batted .262/.334/.344 with six homers and 79 RBI in 313 games.
Pauley, 21, was an eighth-round pick out of a Colorado high school in 2001. He pitched at high Class A Lake Elsinore in 2004, going 7-12, 4.17 in 27 games (26 starts). He had a 128-60 K-BB ratio in 153 innings, while opponents batted .262 with eight homers against him. Pauley's best pitch is his curveball, which fluctuates from 50-70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, but he sometimes throws it too much. His fastball runs from 87-91 mph with decent movement, and his changeup lacks deception. He has a career 24-29, 3.97 record in 79 minor league games.
-- Jim Callis
M's roster crunch again becomes Rockies' gain
Dec. 20: After signing free agents Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, plus re-signing Ron Villone, the Mariners had a crunch on 40-man roster spots. Rather than risk losing relief prospect Aaron Taylor for nothing on waivers, Seattle traded him to Colorado on Monday for Double-A right-hander Sean Green. The clubs made a similar deal a year ago, with the Mariners sending Allan Simpson to the Rockies for Chris Buglovsky.
Taylor, a 27-year-old righty, signed with the Braves as an 11th-round pick in 1996 out of Lowndes High (Valdosta, Ga.), which also produced the Drew brothers. Taylor did little in four years in the Atlanta system, and the Mariners acquired him for $4,000 in the Double-A phase of the 1999 Rule 5 draft. He began to blossom after quitting baseball briefly in 2001, and he has made 20 major league appearances over the last three seasons, with no record and an 8.86 ERA. Both his size (6-foot-8, 240 pounds) and fastball can be intimidating. Taylor threw his heavy heater at 94-97 mph before having surgery to repair a small tear in his rotator cuff in 2003, and he pitched at mostly 92-93 mph last year while he rebuilt his arm strength. He's still trying to develop consistency with his slider and splitter, which show flashes of being plus pitches. If one or both of those pitches come around, he could be a late-innings weapon in a big league bullpen. Taylor spent most of 2004 at Double-A San Antonio, going 3-1, 2.89 in 30 games. He had a 37-14 strikeout-walk ratio in 37 innings, while opponents batted .200 with two homers against him. His career minor league record is 22-43, 4.91 with 50 saves in 237 games.
Green, 25, was a 12th-round pick out of Louisville in 2000. He has a 92-94 mph fastball but little else beyond arm strength. His slider and changeup are below-average pitches, and his command wavers. He went 4-3, 3.03 with two saves in 52 games at Double-A Tulsa last season, with a 50-29 K-BB ratio, .223 opponent average and five homers in 77 innings. He has a 13-20, 4.72 mark and four saves in 215 career games.
-- Jim Callis
Mulder deal reduces Big Three to one
Dec. 18: It's official. The Oakland Athletics are rebuilding.
After failing to reach the postseason for the first time in five seasons, Oakland traded left-hander Mark Mulder to the Cardinals, just two days after dealing another member of its Big Three, right-hander Tim Hudson, to the Braves. In return for Mulder, the Cardinals received right-handers Dan Haren and Kiko Calero, as well as prized hitting prospect Daric Barton.
Mulder, 27, will be eligible for free agency following the 2006 season and is coming off his worst season since his rookie campaign. His 17-8 record went with a disappointing 4.43 ERA, including a 6.29 mark in 11 starts after Aug. 1. The A's were concerned about Mulder's health in the second half after he struggled with hip problems in 2003, but by all accounts he checked out fine. The second overall pick in the 1998 draft out of Michigan State, Mulder owns a career major league record of 81-42, 3.92 in 150 games, all of them starts. In 1003 innings, he has a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 668-298.
Tall (6-foot-6) and athletic, Mulder has excellent control of a four-pitch repertoire, with a low-90s fastball he throws downhill, a power slider, a big breaking curveball and a solid changeup. Mulder will step into the ace role for the Cardinals, a team that had the best record in the National League last season, yet clearly lacked a true No. 1 starter.
Haren, 24, was the Cardinals' second-round pick in 2001 out of Pepperdine and has spent each of the last two seasons splitting time between Triple-A Memphis and St. Louis. He's 6-10 with a 4.85 ERA in his 118 2/3 big league innings, including a 3-3, 4.50 mark in 2004. In 46 innings, he allowed 45 hits, walked 17, and struck out 32. Haren was a factor in the bullpen during the postseason, pitching 4 2/3 scoreless innings in a pair of appearances against the Red Sox in the 2004 World Series.
For Triple-A Memphis in 2004, he went 11-4, 4.15 with a Pacific Coast League-best 150 strikeouts against 33 walks in 128 innings, giving him a career minor league mark of 32-17, 3.15 with an impressive 462-68 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 475 innings. Haren has the size, makeup and pitch combination to become a solid starter in the big leagues, though he'll be hard pressed to match Mulder's achievements. A strong splitter, biting slider and solid-average change complement his 88-92 mph fastball. Most likely moving into the A's rotation for 2005, the move to the American League will unfortunately take away Haren's bat. The West Coast Conference player of the year in 2001 as a pitcher-DH, Haren has hit .277 with five homers in 47 minor league at-bats.
Calero, 29, is the definition of a late-bloomer. The Royals drafted him in 1996 out of Division II St. Thomas (Fla.) in the 27th round, and he spent seven seasons in the organization before signing with the Cardinals as a free agent following the 2002 season.
Since earning a bullpen spot after a strong spring training in 2003, Calero has been one of the Cardinals' best setup men, despite having his debut season interrupted by knee surgery. In two seasons, he's 4-2, 2.80 with a sterling 98-30 strikeout-walk ratio and has allowed just 56 hits in 83 2/3 innings. He had some shoulder problems late in the season, but was used heavily out of the bullpen in the postseason, appearing in eight games and going 2-1, 4.82. Calero's fastball isn't overpowering at 88-92 mph, but his slider is a true out pitch that often has opposing batters chasing it well out of the zone. He'll shore up the A's bullpen while also providing some insurance should righty reliever prospects Huston Street and Jairo Garcia require some more seasoning.
Barton, 19, could prove to be the real prize in this deal. While January elbow surgery caused him to miss the first six weeks of the season, Barton was one of the top offensive forces in the low Class A Midwest League, batting .313/.445/.551 in 90 games. Baseball America ranked him the MWL's No. 2 prospect. The .445 on-base percentage led the league, and his 69-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 313 at-bats is attractive to Oakland, an organization that covets plate discipline like no other.
Barton already has shown above-average game power and projects to hit 25-30 home runs annually down the road. A 2003 first-round pick (28th overall) out of Marina High in Huntington Beach, Calif., Barton has a career minor league batting record of .306/.436/.480 in 144 games, with 92 runs, 106 RBI and 17 home runs in 483 at-bats.
For all his offensive potential, Barton has no clear future big league position. He was drafted as a catcher, but his below-average arm and average receiving skills (as well as his polished bat) make a position change likely. He played six games at third base in 2003, and at a listed 6-feet tall, he's not a prototype first baseman. His lack of athleticism and the A's improved catching depth--they drafted top college catchers Landon Powell and Kurt Suzuki in 2004--should speed the move to first base or left field nonetheless. Barton is expected to team with one of them (most likely Powell) at Oakland's new high Class A Stockton affiliate in 2005.
-- Kevin Goldstein
Braves add Hudson to refortified rotation
Dec. 16: The Braves added their second all-star pitcher in six days on Thursday. After picking up Dan Kolb from the Brewers, Atlanta made an even stronger move to bolster its pitching staff by getting Tim Hudson from the Athletics in exchange for Dan Meyer, Juan Cruz and Charles Thomas.
Kolb's acquisition allowed the Braves to move John Smoltz from closer to the front of its rotation, and Hudson now makes that starting staff considerably stronger. A 29-year-old righthander, Hudson has a career .702 winning percentage that ranks second behind only Pedro Martinez (.705) among active pitchers. He made the all-star team for the second time in 2004, going 12-6, 3.53 in 27 starts, missing six weeks with a strained left oblique muscle that also bothered him in the 2003 playoffs. He had a 103-44 strikeout-walk ratio in 189 innings, succeeding by getting grounders rather than by blowing opponents away. They batted .267 with just eight homers against him. Hudson's bread and butter is a low-90s sinker, and he backs it up with a changeup, slider and splitter. His tenacity adds to his package. Hudson's career record is 92-39, 3.30 in 183 career starts. Oakland's impetus for trading him was his pending free agency, as he'll hit the market after making $6.5 million in 2005. The A's hope that Rich Harden will be able to join Mark Mulder and Barry Zito to form a new Big Three, and that Meyer and/or Joe Blanton will be able to step in at the back of their rotation.
Meyer, a 23-year-old lefthander, made his major league debut in September, pitching two scoreless innings. A supplemental first-round pick (34th overall) in 2002 out of James Madison, he was the highest college draft pick for the Braves since they took Mike Kelly second overall in 1991. Meyer spent most of 2004 in the minors, going 9-6, 2.49 in 26 games (24 starts) between Double-A Greenville and Triple-A Richmond. He had a 146-37 strikeout-walk ratio in 126 innings, while opponents hit .236 with seven homers against him. Meyer does a fine job of throwing strikes and keeping the ball down in the zone, and though he's usually around the plate he's not easy to hit. He has two plus pitches in his 91-93 mph fastball and his tight slider, and his changeup is also effective. He may be ready to make the A's out of spring training, and if he's not he shouldn't need much more time in the minors, where he has a career 19-19, 2.71 record in 67 games.
Cruz, a 26-year-old righty, has yet to live up to the promise that once made him one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, but he was very effective out of the bullpen for Atlanta last season. Acquired in a March trade with the Cubs, he went 6-2, 2.75 in 50 games. He had a 70-30 K-BB ratio in 72 innings as opponents hit .224 with seven homers. Cruz still has nasty stuff, featuring a mid-90s sinker, a darting slider and a changeup. All three are plus pitches at times. His biggest need is to improve his location, as he has been vulnerable to homers and ran up high pitch counts as a starter. It's unclear whether the A's will try to use him as a starter or a reliever. After making $370,000 in 2004, he's eligible for arbitration. Cruz has gone 14-21, 3.99 in 128 big league games (23 starts).
Thomas, 25, was a surprise contributor to the Braves' 13th consecutive division title in 2004. A 19th-round pick out of Western Carolina in 2000, he did little in the minors before coming on at Double-A Greenville at the end of 2003. He carried that momentum into last season, hitting .358/.416/.535 with four homers and 32 RBI in 61 games at Triple-A Richmond to earn a callup. Thomas filled a need as a platoon left fielder for Atlanta, batting .288/.368/.445 with seven homers and 31 RBI in 83 games. Whether he can repeat that performance remains to be seen, but he's an athletic outfielder who laces line drives to the gaps and shows plus speed on the bases. He has better range and arm strength than most left fielders. He could platoon with Eric Byrnes at that position for Oakland.
-- Jim Callis
Royals get Marrero for platoon duty
Dec. 16: Shortly after trading one catcher (Benito Santiago) on Thursday, the Royals made another deal that may have found his replacement as the backup to John Buck. Kansas City acquired Eli Marrero from the Braves for righthander Jorge Vasquez. Atlanta also included a significant amount of cash to help offset Marrero's $3 million salary in 2005, the end of a two-year $5 million contract.
Though he played only the outfield in 2004, the 31-year-old Marrero has spent more time at catcher than at any other position in the majors. He hit .320/.374/.520 with 10 homers and 40 RBI in 90 games last season, playing primarily against lefthanders. The Royals plan on using him in the same fashion. He was less pull-conscious in 2004 than he had been in the past, and using the entire field made him a better hitter. He has slightly above-average speed, which helps him on the bases and in the outfield. His arm also can be an asset there or behind the plate. Marrero is a career .250/.307/.410 hitter with 53 homers and 227 RBI in 615 games.
Vasquez, 26, made his major league debut this year by posting an 8.10 ERA in two appearances. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1998, he improved when he moved to the bullpen full-time in 2002. He mainly works with a low-90s fastball and a splitter. Vasquez spent most of 2004 at Double-A Wichita, going 4-5, 4.68 with 19 saves in 49 appearances. Opponents hit .227 with three homers against him as he fashioned a 71-27 strikeout-walk ratio in 60 innings. He owns a career 15-30, 3.41 record with 27 saves in 192 minor league games.
-- Jim Callis
Pirates tab Santiago as Kendall's successor
Dec. 16: After trading all-star Jason Kendall to the Athletics last month, the Pirates found his successor on Thursday. They acquired Benito Santiago from the Royals for minor league righthander Leo Nunez. Kansas City also kicked in some cash toward Santiago's $2.15 million salary for 2005.
Santiago, 39, signed a two-year, $4.3 million contract last offseason to become the Royals' starting catcher, but his 2004 season was as disappointing as Kansas City's. Santiago broke his left hand in June, ending his season after he batted .274/.312/.434 with six homers and 23 RBI in 49 games. He rarely draws a walk (just eight last season), but he hits for a decent average and shows occasional power. A five-time all-star -- most recently in 2002, when he also was the National League Championship Series MVP for the Giants -- Santiago has eroded from a Gold Glove catcher to merely average behind the plate. He still runs well for a backstop but is too aggressive for his own good. In 1,972 big league games, he has hit .263/.307/.415 with 217 homers and 920 RBI.
Nunez, 21, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2000. He has been called "Little Pedro" because he's a short, frail Dominican with a live arm. He has a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 97, and he has made strides with his slider and curveball. If he can't pick up a changeup, his future will be in relief. Nunez finished fifth in the low Class A South Atlantic League in strikeouts (140 in 144 innings) and seventh in ERA (3.13) last season. He went 10-4 with one save in 27 games (20 starts), giving up 121 hits (including 16 homers) and 46 walks. His career record as a pro is 27-15, 3.38 in 84 games.
-- Jim Callis
Brewers keep dealing, send Ginter to A's
Dec. 15: Mark Ellis' shoulder injury kept him out of the Oakland lineup in 2004, and the Athletics never got comfortable at second base. They hope they filled that hole Wednesday, getting Keith Ginter from Milwaukee for minor league outfielder Nelson Cruz and righthander Justin Lehr. It was the Brewers' third deal in five days, as they sent Dan Kolb to Atlanta on Saturday and acquired Carlos Lee from the White Sox on Monday.
Ginter, 28, was a semiregular for the Brewers in 2004, splitting time between second and third base. If Ellis is ready for Opening Day, Ginter still can help the A's by backing up both of those positions. Ginter hit .262/.333/.479 with 19 homers and 60 RBI in 113 games in 2004. He has adopted a power hitter's approach that leaves him vulnerable to offspeed stuff away. As a baserunner and a defender, he's just adequate. Ginter signed a three-year, $1.925 million contract last spring and is owed $450,000 in 2005 and $1.025 in 2006. He's a career .257/.344/.448 hitter with 35 homers and 115 RBI in 274 games.
Cruz, 24, signed with the Mets out of the Dominican Republic in 1998 and was traded to Oakland for Jorge Velandia two years later. He had a breakthrough season in 2004, hitting .326/.390/.562 with 26 homers, 100 RBI and 16 steals in 137 games at the high Class A, Double-A and Triple-A levels. Cruz has five-tool talent and has started to hit for average as he improves his control of the strike zone. He has power to all fields and runs well. His strong arm is well suited for right field. In 512 career games in the minors, he has batted .287/.349/.472 with 70 homers, 351 RBI and 87 steals.
Lehr, 27, was a 1999 eighth-round pick out of Southern California. He spent his first three years in college as a catcher at UC Santa Barbara before transferring and becoming the Trojans' No. 2 starter behind Barry Zito. Lehr made the majors for the first time in 2004, going 1-1, 5.23 in 27 games. He gave up 35 hits (three homers) and 14 walks while striking out 16 in 33 innings. At Triple-A Sacramento, he went 4-2, 2.65 with 13 saves in 32 appearances. Lehr had control problems in the majors, but he has a 93-95 mph fastball and a decent slider.
-- John Manuel
Angels turn Ortiz into ex-first-rounder
Dec. 14: After declining an option on Ramon Ortiz and considering nontendering him, the Angels exchanged him for a former first-round pick on Tuesday. The Reds gave up righthander Dustin Moseley for Ortiz, who will move into their rotation after falling out of Anaheim's.
Ortiz, 31, won 44 games from 2001-03 but dropped to a swingman role in 2004, when he went 5-7, 4.43 in 34 games (14 starts). He had an 82-38 strikeout-walk ratio in 128 innings as opponents batted .280 with 18 homers. Though he has good stuff with a low- to mid-90s fastball plus a slider that's tough at times, he hasn't lived up the Pedro Martinez comparisons that were fashionable when he was coming up from the minors. Like Martinez, Ortiz is a short Dominican, but he lacks life on his fastball and doesn't get a good downward plane on his pitches. He made $3,266,667 in 2004, the final season of a three-year, $7.25 million contract. That deal included a 2005 option for $5.5 million, but the Angels bought him out for $100,000. He's eligible for arbitration, though the Reds are expected to try to sign him before going through that process. In 157 big league games, Ortiz has gone 59-49, 4.60.
Moseley, 22, was a supplemental first-round pick (34th overall) out of an Arkansas high school in 2000. He's a finesse pitcher who relies on locating his 88-92 mph fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup. He doesn't have a true out pitch, which limits his ceiling. Lower-back problems cost him a couple of starts in 2004, when he went 5-6, 3.86 in 20 starts between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville. He had an 88-44 K-BB ratio in 119 innings, while opponents hit .252 with 11 homers. His career record in the minors is 33-32, 3.71 in 98 starts.
-- Jim Callis
Brewers acquire big bat in Lee
Dec. 13: The White Sox' dismantling of their outfield continued Monday. Already resigned to losing all-star Magglio Ordonez to free agency, they traded Carlos Lee to the Brewers for Scott Podsednik, Luis Vizcaino and a player to be named.
Lee, 28, gives Milwaukee the righthanded power bat it missed after trading Richie Sexson last December. Geoff Jenkins led the Brewers with 27 homers last season, and their offense finished last in the NL in batting (.248), tied for last in homers (135) and 15th in runs (634). Meanwhile, Lee had the best season of his career, batting .305/.366/.525 with 31 homers, 99 RBI, 11 steals and a franchise-record 28-game hitting streak. His speed and defensive ability are average, and he didn't make an error in 148 games in left field. He'll make $8 million in 2005, and his contract calls for a club option at $8.5 million or a $500,000 buyout in 2006. He's a career .288/.340/.488 hitter with 152 homers and 552 RBI in 880 games.
Podsednik, 28, was the runner-up in the National League rookie-of-the-year voting in 2003 and led the majors with 70 steals in 2004, but he otherwise saw his production decline significantly. He hit .244/.313/.364 with 12 homers and 39 RBI in 154 games, and most telling was the fact that he scored just 84 runs. One Brewers official at the winter meetings said Podsednik tried to hit for power too frequently in 2004, which resulted in more homers (he hit nine in 2003) but a worse approach at the plate (his on-base percentage dipped 66 points). A good center fielder with an average arm, he may push Aaron Rowand to an outfield corner in Chicago. Podsednik signed a contract extension in May that will pay him $550,000 in 2005 and $1.9 million in 2006. In 327 major league games, he has hit .275/.343/.400 with 22 homers, 105 RBI and 113 steals.
Vizcaino was the Brewers' best setup man and the second key member of the bullpen traded in the last three days, following the deal that sent closer Dan Kolb to the Braves. The Brewers invested the money they saved in that move (which netted prized minor league righthander Jose Capellan) in this trade.
A 30-year-old righthander, Vizcaino had 21 holds in 2004, when he went 4-4, 3.75 in 73 appearances. Opponents hit .228 with 12 homers against him, and he struck out 63 and walked 24 in 72 innings. He works up in the strike zone with mid-90s fastballs that are hard to catch up to, but when hitters do he's vulnerable to homers. His second pitch is a slider. After making $550,000 in 2004, he's eligible for arbitration. Vizcaino's big league record is 15-12, 4.52 with seven saves and 52 holds in 273 games.
Jan. 10 update: The Brewers completed the deal by sending minor league first baseman Travis Hinton to the White Sox. Hinton, 24, signed as a 13th-round pick out of Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) CC in 2001. Though he hit .304/.364/.509 with 22 homers and 88 RBI in 136 games at high Class A High Desert in 2004, he was very old for the California League, which significantly favors hitters. He does have some bat speed, but he never hit for average in the past and is a below-average runner and defender. In 384 games as a pro, he has hit .271/.335/.429 with 42 homers and 210 RBI.
-- John Manuel
Orioles draft Hagerty, send him to Marlins
Dec. 13: Nine months after the Cubs took lefthander Luke Hagerty 32nd overall in the 2002 draft, he looked like a steal. He tore through hitters in his first spring training, and scouts whispered that he looked more deserving of being the No. 1 overall pick than his former Ball State teammate Bryan Bullington, who had gone first in the draft to the Pirates. Then Hagerty blew out his elbow warming up for his final spring start, and he had Tommy John surgery that kept him out for the entire 2003 season.
Hagerty's career took another detour on Monday. He pitched just 23 innings in 2004, none above short-season Boise, and the Cubs gambled that they could slide him through the major league Rule 5 draft after opting not to protect him on their 40-man roster. But the Orioles selected him, then traded him shortly afterward to the Marlins for a player to be named later.
If the 23-year-old Hagerty can regain the stuff he had before surgery, he can pitch at the front of a major league rotation. He was throwing a mid-90s fastball and a nasty slider when he got hurt, and his 6-foot-7, 230-pound frame made him all the more intimidating. Hagerty showed flashes of his previous form this summer, but the Cubs shut him down after four outings as a precaution because he had been working nonstop on his rehab for 14 months. Under the Rule 5 guidelines, the Marlins must keep him on their active major league roster. If they want to send Hagerty to the minors, they'd have to offer him back to the Cubs for half of his $50,000 draft price and then pass him through waivers.
Once the player to be named has been identified, we'll analyze him as well.
-- Jim Callis
Jays, Rays make Sunday's only (minor) deal
Dec. 12: There were no blockbusters involving Tim Hudson or Randy Johnson on Sunday at the winter meetings, but there was one small trade. The Devil Rays traded Chad Gaudin to the Blue Jays for Kevin Cash.
Gaudin, a 21-year-old right-hander, reached the majors in 2003, just two years after being drafted in the 34th round out of a Louisiana high school. Though he's not imposing at 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, his quick arm generates 86-92 mph velocity on his fastball and tight spin on his slider. He also throws a changeup. A starter in the minors who fits better as a middle reliever in the minors, Gaudin went 1-2, 4.85 in 26 games (four starts) this year. In 43 innings, he had a 30-16 strikeout-walk ratio, while opponents batted .337 with four homers against him. He also went 1-3, 4.72 with two saves in 17 games at Triple-A Durham. Gaudin's career record in the majors is 3-2, 4.25 in 41 games (seven starts).
Cash, 27, returns to his hometown of Tampa. He opened the season as Toronto's primary catcher but didn't hit enough to keep the job. He batted .193/.249/.309 with four homers and 21 RBI in 60 games. He never hit for much of an average in the minors (.262), though he did show more pop (.449). Cash always has stood out more for his catch-and-throw skills and continued to do so in 2004, when he erased 42 percent of basestealers. In 101 big league games, he has hit .173/.222/.262 with five homers and 29 RBI.
-- Jim Callis
Braves add Kolb to bullpen, move Smoltz to rotation
Dec. 11: The first major trade of the Winter Meetings involved one of the game's most successful closers in 2004 and one of its hardest-throwing prospects. In a move that will allow them to move John Smoltz back into their rotation, the Braves acquired Dan Kolb from the Brewers in exchange for right-hander Jose Capellan and a player to be named later.
Kolb, a 29-year-old righty, was an All-Star in 2004, his first year as a full-time closer. He saved 39 games in 44 tries, going 0-4, 2.98 in 64 appearances. While his strikeout-walk ratio was an uninspiring 21-15 in 57 innings, opponents batted just .234 with three homers against him. Kolb has a lively mid-90s sinker that would seem to be a natural strikeout pitch, but he gets a lot more groundballs than swings-and-misses. His groundball/flyball ratio of 3.49, well above the major league average of 1.21, was the key to his success in 2004. He uses a slider as his second pitch. Kolb had rotator-cuff surgery in 2002 but obviously has made a complete recovery. Eligible for arbitration, he'll get a significant raise over his $1.5 million salary of last season. He has a career record of 6-13, 3.65 with 61 saves in 169 appearances.
Capellan, 23, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1998. He had Tommy John surgery in 2001 and missed all of 2002, but since has recovered to the point where he can put triple digits on a radar gun. He maintains his velocity deep into games, sitting at 94-97 mph with little effort. Capellan has good command and keeps the ball down, but he needs to improve his spike curveball and seldom-used changeup. Some scouts think his future lies as a closer rather than as a starter, but the Braves used him primarily in the latter role. Pitching at three levels from high Class A to Triple-A in 2004, he went 14-4, 2.32 in 24 games (23 starts). He fanned 152 and walked 45 in 140 innings, while opponents batted .221 with one homer against him. He also went 0-1, 11.25 in three games (two starts) in his first taste of the majors. Capellan has a career 21-18, 3.00 record in 74 minor league games.
Dec. 13 update: After initial speculation that the player to be named would be lefthander Dan Meyer and then righthander Buddy Hernandez, the Braves sent righthanded reliever Alec Zumwalt to the Brewers. A fourth-round pick out of a North Carolina high school in 1999 as an outfielder, he moved to the mound after the 2001 season. Zumwalt, 23, has arm strength and can throw his fastball in the low 90s, but he's still searching for reliable secondary pitches and command. The Devil Rays selected him in the major league Rule 5 draft in December 2003 but eventually returned him to the Braves, for whom he went 3-7, 5.09 with one save in 46 games at Double-A Greenville last season. He had a 67-38 K-BB ratio in 76 innings, permitting a .283 opponent average and five homers. His lifetime record in the minors is 11-14, 4.38 in 132 games.
-- Jim Callis
Rhodes changes clubs again, this time for Lawton
Dec. 11: Two weeks after acquiring him from Oakland as part of the the Jason Kendall trade, the Pirates sent Arthur Rhodes packing again. Rhodes went to the Indians for Matt Lawton. Cleveland will send cash to Pittsburgh to cover part of Lawton's 2005 salary, while the Pirates will pick up part of Rhodes' salary in 2006.
Lawton, 33, likely will replace Kendall as Pittsburgh's leadoff hitter and play left field. The Indians deemed him expendable because they have a surplus of outfielders, all of whom are younger and cheaper than Lawton, who will make $7.25 million next season as his four-year, $27 million contract comes to an end. In 2004, he made his second All-Star team but slumped in the second half, finishing at .277/.366/.421 with 20 homers, 73 RBI and 23 steals in 150 games. He has solid power and speed, as well as a good eye at the plate, but he has become somewhat of a defensive liability after knee and shoulder surgeries in recent years. In 1,182 career games, he has batted .269/.370/.421 with 125 homers, 577 RBIs and 147 steals.
The A's signed the 35-year-old Rhodes for three years and $9.2 million to replace Keith Foulke as their closer, but that plan quickly went awry. He blew five of 14 save opportunities and had a 5.28 ERA in late June, when he began a seven-week stint on the disabled list with a strained back. He finished the year with a 3-3, 5.12 record and nine saves in 37 appearances. Opponents battered him for a .293 average and nine homers, while he had a 34-21 strikeout-walk ratio in 39 innings. Rhodes, who will pitch in his familiar setup role with Pittsburgh, can pound hitters with low-90s fastballs and hard sliders when he's 100 percent. He has $6.2 million remaining on the final two years of his contract. In 551 big league games, he has gone 72-54, 4.36 with 26 saves and 130 holds.
-- Jim Callis
Yankees welcome Stanton back to bullpen
Dec. 3: Mike Stanton gave the Yankees six solid seasons of lefty relief, but when he became a free agent following the 2002 season, they gave him an ultimatum and 15 minutes to decide. He wound up signing with the Mets, and the Yankees soon became dissatisfied with southpaw relievers such as Chris Hammond, Felix Heredia and Gabe White. So they returned to the past Friday and reacquired Stanton in exchange for Heredia. The Mets also kicked in $975,000 to help offset the difference in salaries.
Stanton, 37, was one of two relievers picked up Friday by the Yankees, who also traded for Felix Rodriguez. Stanton is coming off a career-high 83 appearances in 2004, in which he went 2-6, 3.16 with 25 holds. He had a 58-33 strikeout-walk ratio in 77 innings, with opponents batting .237 with six homers. He goes after hitters with a lively low-90s fastball, a plus slider and a splitter. He'll make $4 million in 2005, the final year of a three-year, $9 million deal. Stanton has a career 57-50, 3.76 mark with 76 saves and 232 holds in 968 games.
Heredia, 29, pitched so poorly that he worked just 11 innings after the All-Star break. Overall, he went 1-1, 6.28 with five holds. His K-BB ratio was just 25-20 in 39 innings, and opponents hit .278 with five homers. The Yankees expected more when they signed him to a two-year, $3.8 million contract prior to the season. He'll earn $1.85 million in 2005, but needs to regain some velocity on his fastball and effectiveness with his changeup. Heredia has career totals of 28-19, 4.44 with six saves and 78 holds in 508 games.
-- Jim Callis
Phillies hope Lofton can fill center-field void
Dec. 3: The Yankees lacked bullpen depth in 2004, while the Phillies were dissatisfied with their center-field play. The teams tried to help each other out Friday, with New York sending Kenny Lofton to Philadelphia for Felix Rodriguez. The Yankees also included $1.525 million in the trade.
Lofton, 37, is expected to start for the Phillies in front of Marlon Byrd and Jason Michaels. A six-time All-Star with five stolen-base titles and four Gold Gloves to his credit, Lofton was hampered by muscle strains in both legs in 2004. He hit .275/.346/.395 with three homers, 18 RBI and seven steals in 83 games. He has slowed considerably, and while he still has above-average speed he's no longer the factor as a bunter, basestealer and defender that he once was. Lofton will make $3.1 million in 2005, the final year of a two-year, $7.25 million contract he signed as a free agent. He has career totals of .297/.372/.425 with 118 homers, 666 RBI and 545 steals (the most among active players).
Rodriguez, a 32-year-old right-hander, was one of two bullpen reinforcements acquired by the Yankees, as Mike Stanton returned to New York in a trade with the Mets. It's the second trade of the year for Rodriguez, who moved from San Francisco to Philadelphia in June. He went 5-8, 3.29 with one save and 20 holds in 76 appearances this year. In 66 innings, he had a 59-29 strikeout-walk ratio while limiting opponents to a .244 average and eight homers. Rodriguez relies mainly on a mid-90s four-seam fastball and can be tough when he's throwing strikes. He also will flash a slider and changeup. He exercised a player option that calls for $3.15 million in 2005, bringing the final value of a four-year contract he originally signed with the Giants to $11.95 million. He has gone 37-25, 3.41 with 11 saves and 128 holds in 498 career games.
-- Jim Callis