|Tuesday, July 30
What happens to deadline prospects?
By Joe Sheehan
Special to ESPN.com
Jon Adkins. Felix Diaz. Ricardo Rodriguez.
The names have begun to fly in the trade-deadline frenzy, and along with the stars you know, you're hearing a lot of names that aren't as familiar to you. Adkins is a Triple-A right-hander with an ERA above 6.00, Diaz is a Double-A right-hander who's having a good year, and Rodriguez has been tearing up the Texas League with a 1.99 ERA. Players like this are the coin of the realm in late July, as teams out of contention swap the guys who can't help them anymore for ones who may in the future.
The problem is that teams picking up young players generally don't get much. Over the last five years, dozens of minor leaguers have changed teams, but only a few have become major leaguers of any stripe. A look back at deadline deals over the last few years shows us just how little non-contenders have been getting:
At the time, this looked like a coup for Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd, who'd swapped an overrated shortstop with a good glove for a package of talent that would provide cheap support for his expensive stars. Eh, not so fast. Ortiz played reasonably well after the trade (.255/.314/.495) last year, but never got untracked in 2002 and is probably lost for the year after surgery to repair a knee ligament. His .244/.309/.306 line is brutal, especially given his home park. It's now an open question whether Ortiz will ever be more than a backup infielder.
Encarnacion was caught in the visa checks this spring, and went from 25 years old to 27, ending his prospect status. He was later released by the Rockies and is now in the Cubs system; his upside is fifth outfielder. Belitz, a hard-throwing left-handed reliever, has posted a 5.11 ERA at Triple-A.
Ugueth Urbina from Montreal to Boston for Tomo Ohka, Rich Rundles
Ohka, who really should have been in the Red Sox rotation at the time of this deal, was the class of last year's trade-deadline prospects. He's been a huge part of the Expos' surprising success this year with a 3.77 ERA in 21 starts. Rundles has posted a 4.58 ERA in eight starts at high-A Brevard County, having spent most of the season on the DL.
Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal from Pittsburgh to San Francisco for Armando Rios, Ryan Vogelsong
Sometimes, you just get unlucky. Within a month of this trade, both Rios and Vogelsong had gone down with season-ending injuries. Vogelsong, the prospect in the deal, had his elbow taken apart and put back together, and has thrown just 19 2/3 innings this year, all in the minors. He's at least another year away from contributing.
Sterling Hitchcock from San Diego to the Yankees for Brett Jodie, Darren Blakely
This was a straight salary dump, as the players the Padres brought back from New York weren't prospects in any real sense. Jodie is back in the Yankees system, while Darren Blakely is hitting .233/.350/.366 for Double-A Mobile in the Padres' organization.
Of all the prospects dealt in the 2001 deadline trades, only Ohka has turned into a contributor, and only Rundles and Vogelsong have much of a chance to match even his contributions.
Chen continues to be one of the game's most frustrating players. He pitched very well for the Phillies after this deal (15 starts, 3.63 ERA). In 2001, he struggled amid murmurs that he was uncoachable, then was traded to the Mets in July. Two teams later, he's working as a reliever under Don Gullett in Cincinnati, trying to be the latest in a long line of Gullett success stories. He's been traded four times in less than two years.
Osting has bounced around himself, serving time as a waiver pinball among the Phillies, Padres and Brewers. He's never gotten a chance to be a major-league pitcher, although his 3.35 ERA in 20 starts at Indianapolis is consistent with his performance record to date. Osting could help the Brewers right now, and should eventually have a good major-league career.
David Justice from Indians to Yankees for Ricky Ledee, Jake Westbrook, Zach Day
Ledee was the Yankees' best outfield prospect at the time, but has never hit at the major-league level and is now hanging on to a fourth-outfielder spot with the Phillies. His plate discipline is now his best asset (24 walks against 127 at-bats).
Westbrook and Day illustrate a point we've been making for years: There's no such thing as a pitching prospect. They get hurt or have to make a dozen adjustments after having success at Double-A. The odds against getting a good pitcher in a trade-deadline talent dump appear to be about 10-to-1, based on the names in this article.
Westbrook bounced between Triple-A and the majors last year, and underwent elbow surgery in February. Day went to Montreal in exchange for Milton Bradley -- a great deal for the Indians -- and is working as a swingman (5.40 ERA in 11 2/3 innings) for the surprising Expos. (Ledee was later traded that same year for David Segui; while Justice flourished with the Yankees, the Indians missed the playoffs by one game.)
Denny Neagle from Reds to Yankees for Drew Henson, Jackson Melian, Ed Yarnall, Brian Reith
Drew Henson looks like Andy Morales with a better three-step drop, with a prospect status that has more to do with his pedigree and price tag than anything he's done as a professional baseball player. He's not with the Reds anymore, having used his football leverage to get himself back to the Yankees. Twenty-eight walks and 107 strikeouts in 354 at-bats aren't going to get him into pinstripes.
Henson still looks the best of any of these guys. Jackson Melian washed out of the Reds' organization and is now with the Cubs. He projects as a fifth outfielder. In the Pacific Coast League. Reith was briefly in the Reds rotation last year, but a 7.81 ERA pushed him back to the minors. He's now in the Phillies' system, fighting an arm injury. Ed Yarnall was sold to Chunichi in the Japanese Leagues at the end of spring training in 2001.
Curt Schilling from Phillies to D-Backs for Vicente Padilla, Omar Daal, Travis Lee, Nelson Figueroa
Schilling's amazing work over the past three years has overshadowed just how good a package the Phillies received for him. While Travis Lee has never become the hitter he was expected to be, Omar Daal gave the Phillies an effective 2001 season before being traded to the Dodgers, and Figueroa was good in a swing role (3.94 ERA) in 2001 as well. Padilla made the NL All-Star team this year, one of just five starting pitchers to do so, and has been among the league's leaders in ERA most of the year. That's a lot of good innings, especially when you compare it to many of the other trades we're discussing. This haul is up there with the trade of Schilling's current partner in "K"rime for the best deadline deal of the last four years.
Charles Johnson from Orioles to White Sox for Brook Fordyce, Miguel Felix, Jason Lakman, Juan Figueroa
None of the three pitching prospects in this deal have pitched at the Triple-A level for the Orioles. Only Figueroa has pitched in the Orioles' chain this year. This was a "who?" package at the time, and remains so today.
B.J. Surhoff from Orioles to Braves for Luis Rivera, Fernando Lunar, Trenidad Hubbard
Rivera looked like a hard-throwing relief prospect at the time, but his health problems persisted, and he may never pitch again after shoulder surgery in 2001. Lunar has been the good-field, no-hit catcher he was projected to be, losing his job to Geronimo Gil along the way.
Mike Bordick from Orioles to Mets for Melvin Mora, Lesli Brea, Mike Kinkade, Pat Gorman
Brea was at the center of a controversy when his age was questioned in the wake of the deal. The stories about what Syd Thrift did or did not know, or did or did not care about, may be apocryphal, but it was embarrassing for the GM. Brea has pitched well at Rochester this year, and could eventually give Baltimore a cheap, live arm to support Jorge Julio in a set-up role.
Melvin Mora became a father. Melvin Mora became a father. Melvin Mora became a father. Melvin Mora became a father. Melvin Mora became a father. When not chasing his quintuplets, he's played six positions for the Orioles, but seems to have settled in at shortstop. Even though Gorman got hurt, this was a good trade for the Os, a forgotten gem in Syd Thrift's curriculum vitae.
Brewers trade Bob Wickman/Jason Bere/Steve Woodard to Cleveland for Richie Sexson, Paul Rigdon, Kane Davis, Marcus Scutaro
On the whole, 2000 was a good season for teams cashing in chips. In this deal, the Brewers got a power-hitting first baseman and some live arms, one of whom got hurt after a good two months in 2001, and another who was packaged to the Rockies for the team's current closer, Mike DeJean. Scutaro would have made a good, cheap second-base solution, but the Brewers never liked him and kept trying to give the job to veterans.
Stein has had sporadic success without ever finding a role, and now has a 5.11 career ERA in 455 2/3 innings. D'Amico and Rigby have been injured and ineffective. D'Amico, who seems to exist solely to cause confusion between the two Jeff D'Amicos, is in the middle of a Mike Morganesque tour of Triple-A cities.
Juan Guzman from Orioles to Reds for B.J. Ryan, Jacobo Sequea
Ryan has fought his control in trying to become a left-handed set-up man. He throws very hard and is the kind of pitcher who could go Arthur Rhodes on the league one year. He's only 26, and could use a role in which he pitches more innings. Sequea is still just 20 years old, and working his way through the O's system, striking out fewer than six guys per nine at Double-A Bowie.
Matt Mantei from Marlins to D-Backs for Brad Penny, Vladimir Nunez, Abraham Nunez
Garagiola's Folly. While Abraham Nunez hasn't panned out -- shoulder problems have stalled his development -- the two pitchers have been very good for the Fish. Brad Penny is part of their excellent young rotation, while Vlad Nunez spent part of this season as their closer, and has been dominant at times. Penny's injury problems and low strikeout rate have dimmed his star, but really, this is a great package for a relief pitcher. Something to think about, J.P.
Livan Hernandez from Marlins to Giants for Jason Grilli, Nate Bump
Neither Grilli nor Bump has turned out well despite being among the Giants' top prospects at the time of the deal. Bump hasn't even pitched in the majors yet, although he's bounced back from surgery to be moderately effective at Double-A Portland this year (14 starts, 3.53 ERA). Grilli is out for the year following elbow surgery.
Kenny Rogers from A's to Mets for Terrence Long, Leo Vasquez
The funny thing about this deal is that the A's followed it up by acquiring Kevin Appier and Randy Velarde, and eventually falling just short of the wild card. Long became their starting center fielder in May 2000, a job he holds today despite stagnant offense and inadequate defense. Vasquez was 26 at the time of the deal, never reached the majors and is no longer pitching professionally.
David Segui from M's to Blue Jays for Tom Davey, Steve Sinclair
This was a dump. Sinclair wasn't even a prospect at the time and is now pitching middle relief for the Iowa Cubs, while Davey has failed multiple times at being Trevor Hoffman's set-up man in San Diego.
Jose Hernandez from Cubs to Braves for Ruben Quevedo, Micah Bowie, Joey Nation
This looked like a great deal for the Cubs, getting two live arms and Micah Bowie for a disposable shortstop. They coughed up most of the value at the trade deadline in 2001, sending Quevedo to Milwaukee for David Weathers in an ill-fated attempt to win the wild card. Bowie was one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 1999, posting a 10.24 ERA in 51 innings. Joey Nation is still just 23, but hasn't pitched yet in 2002 after being released by the Cubs late last year.
Tatis would have one hell of a 1999 season -- .298/.404/.553 with 34 bombs -- as the Cardinals' third baseman before nagging injuries turned him into a disappointment, then an Expo. Mark Little was never more than a fifth outfielder prospect; he's done well in that role for the Rockies.
Randy Johnson from M's to Astros for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, John Halama
The gold standard for deadline deals saw the Mariners pick up three contributors to a 116-win team, including the ace and starting shortstop. Garcia was a high-upside pitching prospect at the time, Halama the crafty left-handed prospect and Guillen the toolsy Venezuelan shortstop caught in a logjam of infielders. All have been good to great players for the Mariners the past few seasons, and all remain with the team, integral parts of another contender.
Carlos Perez, Mark Grudzielanek, Hiram Bocachica from Expos to Dodgers for Ted Lilly, Peter Bergeron, Jon Tucker, Wilton Guerrero
One of two completely inexplicable trades made by Tommy Lasorda in his last days as anything but a Dodger figurehead. In retrospect, though, the Dodgers may have won the deal. Neither Lilly nor Bergeron has fulfilled high expectations yet -- although Lilly seems poised to do so (with the A's, via the Yankees) while Jon Tucker is out of baseball and Wilton Guerrero a utilityman. This deal is one of the better arguments for cashing in prospects at the trade deadline; lambasted at the time by analysts, it now looks like, at worst, a break-even deal for the Dodgers.
Jeff Shaw from Reds to Dodgers for Paul Konerko, Dennys Reyes
Woof. Tommy Lasorda traded a slugging corner man who hadn't hit for the Dodgers yet and the guy they expected to be Fernando Jr. for 35 1/3 innings of relief. While the way in which Reyes was mishandled in Cincinnati helped stagnate his development, Konerko went to the White Sox and became one of the AL's better sluggers at first base. He and Richie Sexson are the two best position players to be traded for veteran help at the deadline in the last few years.
Todd Zeile from Marlins to Rangers for Jose Santo, Dan DeYoung
Neither Santo nor DeYoung ever came close to the major leagues, and neither is playing in organized baseball at this point. Most guys traded at the deadline this year will have more in common with these two than with, say, Konerko.
Esteban Loaiza from Pirates to Rangers for Warren Morris, Todd Van Poppel
Morris, 1997 College World Series hero, would have an excellent 1999 season for the Pirates as their starting second baseman. He declined in 2000, spent most of 2001 in the minors and is now with Pawtucket, his third Triple-A team of 2002.
Let's see ... that's 64 prospects, 44 of whom have reached the major leagues, but many for just a cup of hotel-room make-it-yourself coffee. (In fairness, the 2001 crop hasn't had that much chance to achieve.) Of all these players, only 14 have ever had a good season in the majors, and just three or four can be called stars, with some others -- Brad Penny, Ted Lilly -- still getting there. That's a buyer's market, and not one encouraging to teams holding 31-year-olds with $2 million left on a contract and two months to free agency.
If you're a fan of a team trying to build for the future, look at any moves your favorite GM makes this week with skepticism. While it may look like he's acquiring building blocks, it's more likely that the names you see in the paper won't ever appear there again.
You can check out more work from the team of writers of the Baseball Prospectus (tm) at their web site at baseballprospectus.com. Joe Sheehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.