The Perfect Deadline Deal

Jake PeavyI will write a trade deadline recap looking at all the deals. However, for me, one stands out way beyond the rest. Minutes after the deadline passed, a bombshell dropped across the newswires. Jake Peavy got traded to the White Sox for pitchers Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Adam Russell, and Dexter Carter.

I don't even know where to start with this trade. It's as good as a deadline deal gets.

Jake Peavy is one of baseball's best pitchers when healthy. He has not been for months though. In fact, he is still on the DL. Chicago likes Peavy's chances to be back by the end of August. Jake is a former Cy Young award-winner, and relies on a wicked fastball-slider combo to overwhelm hitters. When healthy, he and Mark Buehrle will be a formidable 1-2 punch.

Clayton Richard is a 25-year-old southpaw in the midst of his first full season in the majors. He slid into the White Sox rotation in the middle of this year, and has been okay. His better days are ahead of him, and he will immediately look better in Petco's much more spacious confines. He looks like a third or fourth starter to me.

Aaron Poreda is the gem of the deal. He is only 22 years old, but has flown through Chicago's minor league system. A former first-round pick, he is a tall lefty with a powerful arm and good stuff. He has been effective in the White Sox bullpen in limited opportunities, but make no mistake, his future is as a starter. San Diego will send him to AAA for a little seasoning, which is a good idea. He should get a look in September though, and be in the rotation by 2010. He has as good of a chance to become a top-of-the-rotation starter as any prospect in baseball.

Adam Russell is a tall right-handed reliever (interestingly, all the pitchers the Padres got are abnormally tall). He is a bit older at 26 years of age, and got in 22 games for the White Sox last year out of the bullpen. Russell looks like an average reliever, but it's worth noting that he is inducing way more ground balls this year, and he is also moving to Petco. He could be a pleasant surprise in this deal, though he will not be a star.

Dexter Carter is the prospect by far the longest away from the majors. The 22-year-old from Old Dominion has plenty to like though. He has overpowered hitters since his pro debut around this time last year. Just this year, he has 143 strikeouts in 118 innings. Carter has been pitching in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League, and he is if anything a little old for the league. Still, the insane strikeout numbers speak to a powerful arm. It is too early to say how good Carter may be, but I will take my chances with an arm like that.

As a baseball fan, I love this trade. It's got everything you could ever want. A bona fide star player is involved. A top prospect is involved. Peavy turned down the White Sox earlier this year, but apparently has had a change of heart. Nobody saw the deal coming. It was stunning when it became public.

The deal is so risky for Chicago. Peavy may only get five or six starts before the end of the year. On top of that, the White Sox are not an elite team. They are in a winnable division, but they aren't that much better than the Mariners. Granted, Peavy is under contract for the next three years (and a fourth if the White Sox exercise a massive $22 million option), so Peavy is not a rent-a-player. Still, at least part of the motivation for making the deal now is to win now, and Peavy will be healthy for a month at best.

This is the boldest deal I've ever seen. It's no secret that White Sox GM Ken Williams loves Jake Peavy, and he also loves making bold deals. However, I never imagined something this bold or risky.

This was a no-brainer for the Padres. Even if they pick up all of Peavy's salary this year, it's a terrific deal for them. They rid themselves of a hefty contract, and in the process get some premium talent back. Clayton Richard will be plugged into the rotation immediately, and it shouldn't take long for Poreda to join him. He and Latos have the potential to become a fantastic duo at the top of the rotation for years to come. San Diego still really needs some hitting, but their pitching is all of sudden young, cheap, and good.

This was not a no-brainer for the White Sox. Peavy is obviously the best player in this deal, and he should be great for several years once he is healthy. However, I am not as high on him as Ken Williams is. Peavy is a bit of a max effort guy, and his stuff strains his arm more than a guy like Mark Buehrle. Peavy also has quite a bit of mileage on his arm for as young as he is. I think Peavy will develop arm problems within the next few years, or if he doesn't, his velocity will sink a little, and the slider will flatten out a little.

On top of my concerns over Peavy, I am very high on Aaron Poreda. It would not surprise me if he is a better pitcher than Jake within the next few years. He will certainly be better for the price - $15-17 million versus $400-500K - but he may just be flat-out better if Peavy fades some as I think he may. Add in the rest of the talent in the deal, and the financial aspect, and that's why it is such a no-brainer for San Diego.

As a final note, I wonder what kind of discussions Ken Williams had with J.P. Ricciardi about Roy Halladay. Williams said he made a push for Roy, and was disappointed with the response. Granted, Halladay is not under contract for as long as Peavy, and he is a few years older. I also have a hunch that Williams simply like Peavy better. However, you would have to think the Blue Jays got a comparable offer for Halladay to what the Padres just accepted for Peavy.

If Chicago wouldn't part with Poreda for Halladay, I would understand. However, for the sake of argument, let's say they offered Poreda, Clayton Richard, and Josh Fields. That seems plausible. I like that package better than the rumored Phillies deals. I prefer Poreda to Kyle Drabek, and Richard is comparable to J.A. Happ at worst. Fields is a young third baseman with power potential. I don't like him as much as Dominic Brown, but he is closer to the majors and plays a more premium position. Plus, as I said earlier, I prefer Poreda to Drabek, so Fields does not have to be better than Brown to make the deal worth it.

Was Ricciardi really that stuck on getting four players? Granted, I'm speculating a ton here with my proposed trade. However, looking at the Peavy deal, and knowing that the White Sox went after Halladay, I question how Toronto and Chicago did not come to an agreement. More specifically, I question Ricciardi. It's only excusable if the White Sox would not include Poreda. Otherwise, Ricciardi blew it.

In the end, I'm glad the White Sox did not get Roy Halladay. This Jake Peavy deal is everything a baseball fan could ask for. It came out of nowhere. It's bold and risky. It has star power. It happened right up against the deadline. It's dramatic no matter what angle you look at it from. This is what the trade deadline is all about.

Washburn To Tigers

Jarrod WashburnAfter lots of speculation, Jarrod Washburn is indeed gone. He is going to the Detroit Tigers for pitchers Luke French and Mauricio Robles. Detroit was not a place that ever popped up in Washburn rumors, so the move is a bit surprising. The Yankees in particular have to be disappointed. Let's take a closer look at the deal.

We all know about Jarrod Washburn. He found a new way to throw the two-seamer and it practically changed the course of Mariners history. He has been fantastic with the new weapon, and a new defense behind him. It's all added up to a perfect storm that has resulted in the best year of Washburn's career. He will team with Edwin Jackson and Justin Verlander to make a formidable front three in the Tigers rotation. It may help them separate a little in the AL Central, and certainly helps their chances in the playoffs. Additionally, Washburn's fly ball tendency will play even better in Comerica than it did in Safeco.

Mauricio Robles is a young left-hander in advanced A ball right now. Just 21 years old, he is on the rise. Robles has struck out 111 batters in just 91.1 innings in the minors this year, which is way up from last year. Furthermore, his ground out to air out rate has doubled, though it is still only around 0.9. These are all positive signs though, especially since he has improved so much while also jumping levels.

Luke French pitched against the Mariners when they traveled to Detroit. He will turn 24 in about a month, so he is also young. French seemed to find something this year, because his strikeout rate has also gone up considerably this year despite jumping a level. He also has been somewhat effective in 29.1 innings with the Tigers this year. French seems to be cut out of the Garrett Olson/Jason Vargas/Jarrod Washburn pre-2009 mold. He looks like a number four or five starter waiting to happen.

Initial reaction in the cyberworld to this deal seems to be "that's it?" I felt the same way to a certain extent, but do not after thinking about the deal a little. Only Jack Z will know the other offers on the table. However, if the Yankees weren't willing to talk about guys like Joba, Phil Hughes, or Jesus Montero, I doubt they had better prospects to offer than these two. Also, Washburn is a free agent in two months. He is a rent-a-player. That suppresses his value.

Jarrod looks like he will be a Type B free agent at this point, meaning the Mariners would have received a compensatory draft pick after the second round if they held on to him the rest of the year and then lost him in free agency. In my eyes, Seattle acquired two pitchers talented enough to warrant selecting at that point in an amateur draft. With the Mariners out of contention at this point, this is a good deal. Additionally, people worried about the organizational pitching depth after the Wilson-Snell trade should feel better now. We got one back with Robles.

I doubt Z is done for the day. He certainly will keep talking to other teams. At the very least Roy Corcoran needs to go somewhere. It would not surprise me if another bullpen piece went somewhere either. Sean White might make sense. I do think the Mariners are done making big deals though.

UPDATE (12:11 PDT) - Both U.S.S. Mariner and Lookout Landing love the Washburn deal, so initial bum reactions (mostly based on sporadic tweets) are going to change. I still wonder how the M's clubhouse will react, but before today most players seemed to think a Washburn deal was quite possible. It should not shock them.

Balentien Shipped To Reds

Wladimir Balentien
It's been a fast and furious morning to say the least. The Cliff Lee deal will get the national publicity, but nobody is busier than the Mariners right now. Word just broke that Wladimir Balentien has been traded to the Reds for Robert Manuel.

It was only a matter of time before Balentien got traded once he was designated for assignment. This is hardly a shocking deal. Manuel is a 26-year-old right-handed reliever with decent numbers. Of particular note is how few home runs he has given up, despite being a fly-ball pitcher. Nothing special, but a guy that should be able to get the job done in middle relief if needed.

The most remarkable part of this deal is that it happened today. I am impressed that Jack Z can juggle so much at once and make things happen. That's two trades and one draft signing in roughly three hours. A total of 10 players are involved in the three transactions. Madness.

Rich Poythress Signs

Rich PoythressNobody is going to cover this in the wake of the big trade today, but the Mariners have come to terms with second round pick Rich Poythress. I haven't found any reports of how big the signing bonus is. Poythress was the M's pick between Steven Baron and Kyle Seager, both of whom have already signed. Seager is in Clinton right now and doing more than fine. It would not surprise me if Poythress also begins his pro career there.


Poythress was on my 2009 watchlist. He's got some serious power in his bat. He played third in college but most everyone believes he will end up at first base. His bat is what makes him a prospect anyway, so it's not a big deal if he has to switch.

UPDATE (4:35 pm PDT) - Poythress will start his career in AA according to reports. The M's must like his bat even more than I do.

Snell and Wilson Coming To Seattle

Jack Wilson
Word is breaking that the Mariners and Pirates have pulled a swap involving seven players total. I probably should wait a little longer to make sure the deal is correct, but it looks like the trade is going to happen. Seattle acquires SS Jack Wilson and RHP Ian Snell from the Pirates for SS Ronny Cedeno, C/1B/let's be honest, DH Jeff Clement, RHP Nathan Adcock, RHP Brett Lorin, and RHP Aaron Pribanic. It was obvious something was up last night when Jeff Clement was pulled from the game in Tacoma, but nobody had this rumor.

The trade makes perfect sense from Pittsburgh's perspective. Wilson will be a free agent at year's end, assuming his player option is bought out as it should be. Snell didn't want to pitch for Pittsburgh ever again. In return they get a middle infielder to take Wilson's spot on the roster, a guy to place first base in the wake of the Adam LaRoche trade, and three young pitching prospects. I'm surprised they had enough leverage to get this much for these two guys.

However, the Mariners didn't get fleeced. Jack Wilson is a big upgrade at shortstop. He's always been a great defender, and he's been among the elite this year. Wilson is arguably as big of an upgrade over Cedeno on defense as Cedeno was over Betancourt. On top of that, Wilson isn't a great hitter, but he's Babe Ruth compared to what we've seen at shortstop most of the year. Because of how bad shortstop has been for the M's this year, acquiring Wilson might help the M's as much as Holliday helps the Cardinals. That sounds crazy, but might be true.

Ian Snell should not be overlooked either. He is under contract for several years. He has struggled the past season and a half in Pittsburgh, but has dominated in AAA. Relations were definitely icy between Snell and the Pirates front office, so a change of scenery is great for him. I'm a little worried Snell has some character issues because of the situation, but the Mariners have a secret weapon, Mike Sweeney. I swear he is the cure for clubhouse cancers.

Giving up five players is scary for a shortstop who may be here for only two months, and a pitcher with possible character issues. However, this isn't anywhere close to the package given up in the Erik Bedard trade. Ronny Cedeno can't be sent to the minor leagues (he's out of options), so he couldn't be sent to Tacoma to work on his hitting troubles. Jeff Clement had no future with the Mariners either. He hasn't caught in months, and Mike Carp is the clearly the first baseman of the future.

Of the trio of young pitchers included, I'm most disappointed to see Brett Lorin go. However, he is no Chris Tillman. Pribanic profiles as a back-of-the-rotation type at best, and Adcock has a pretty big arm but still not that great of command. The M's have many young arms ahead of these three in the system, and several arms from the 2009 draft look promising already. The prospects in this trade are replaceable, and the M's may have already found them in last June's draft.

Even though the Mariners gave up five younger players, this trade did not deplete the farm system. I'd argue it barely put a dent in it, actually, and in return the Mariners got a couple guys who will definitely improve the team significantly right now.

Interestingly, this trade makes the M's look like buyers. I would probably be selling right now, but I'm still fine with this deal. Keep in mind that most players will sneak through waivers, so the M's can sell in August if they really want to.

Felix, Washburn, Bedard, Snell, and RRS could be the best rotation in baseball down the stretch, especially playing behind what may be the best defense in baseball with the acquisiton of Wilson, and impending return of Adrian Beltre. That's not an outlandish stretch. If Beltre comes back with a healthy bat, the offense will look significantly better too. All of sudden, this team looks pretty decent. A below-average offense can work with the best pitching and defense in all of baseball.

I'm sure many will say this was too much to give up, and this isn't a team worth buying players for. I like the deal though. It pales in comparison to the marvelous J.J. Putz and Yuni Betancourt deals, but it is a fine one. I'd like to think that this team can make a surge with Beltre's return, especially with Snell and Wilson added to the roster. It's nice to at least give the team a chance to make a push once they get back to full strength. They deserve that chance with how hard they've played, and how admirably well they've hung tough with all the injuries.

The plot seems to continually thicken with the 2009 Mariners. A new day, a new way indeed.

UPDATE (11:56 AM PDT) - The Pirates reportedly will pay virtually all of Wilson and Snell's salaries the rest of this year. Jack Wilson is not in today's lineup for the M's, and he is not listed as an option on the bench. Also, early comments from Jack Z indicate he may pick up Wilson's option, meaning Jack is probably more than a rent-a-player. Clement is going to AAA for Pittsburgh, and all the pitchers will be going to A ball. Also, for a closer look at Pribanic and Lorin, check out my post about the Clinton LumberKings a few weeks ago.

Trade Deadline Looms


A legitimate heat wave is sweeping the northwest, and my computer doesn't do well once it gets above about 70 degrees. With 90-100 degree heat for days on end, updating the musings has proven difficult, and will likely stay that way through the trade deadline. However, too much is going on to stay completely silent. This year's trade deadline is shaping up to be a pretty decent one. First of all, a recap of some deals over the past couple days:
  • The Rockies acquired Rafael Betancourt from the Indians for minor leaguer Connor Graham. Colorado gets needed help in the bullpen. Cleveland gets a young starter that is sneaky good. Somehow Graham keeps the ball in the yard in the California league. Decent deal for both sides, but I'd say Cleveland got the better end of it.
  • The Giants acquired Ryan Garko from the Indians for minor leaguer Scott Barnes. The Giants acquired some offense, which they desperately needed. Garko is relatively young, so he could be more than a short-term answer. As for Cleveland, they got a promising young pitching prospect. Barnes has an ERA under 3.00 in the California League, which is remarkable. He's a bit of a fly ball pitcher, but clearly hitters struggle to square up his pitches. Barnes is also a lefty, only increasing his value. This is definitely a trade that helps both teams. The Giants have pitching galore, but need offense. The Indians are okay on offense, but really need young pitchers. Both teams win in what looks like a very fair deal on paper.
  • The Red Sox acquired Brian Anderson from the White Sox for Mark Kotsay. Kotsay was designated for assignment by Boston, so the trade is not shocking. Anderson is in some ways a younger version of Kotsay, though Kotsay in his prime was a superior hitter and defender. Still, Boston turned a non-asset at this point into a player with a similar skillset they can control for a few years. Anderson didn't fit in with Chicago at this point, and I'm not sure how Kotsay will fit any better. In the end, it's probably a next-to-meaningless deal, but I'd give a slight advantage to Boston.

At this point, what's way more interesting are the potential deals. Here are my bold predictions, based mostly on my gut and a little bit on rumors. I have no inside information at all, but I enjoy intrepid guesses as much as anyone:
  • Victor Martinez is not going to be traded. It sounds to me like Cleveland's ownership loves him too much. He's not that expensive for how valuable he is either. With Ryan Garko traded, Cleveland can play Victor at first base more if they really want to give Carlos Santana a chance to play in the majors. Travis Hafner is starting to look old in the DH spot too. The bottom line is that Santana and Martinez can co-exist on Cleveland's roster, so clearing room for Carlos is not an issue.
  • Roy Halladay is not going to be traded. Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi has really botched this deal in my opinion. He said way too much in the media, though Halladay is a remarkable professional and did not let it impact his performance. Additionally, if some of the rumored deals nixed are true, I think Toronto's asking price has been too low. Still, with a low asking price, they can't get something done. I don't see a team trading the farm for Roy at this point, given how expensive he is, and that he is only signed through 2010.
  • Cliff Lee is going to be traded to the Rays. I doubt Tampa Bay ever seriously entered the Roy Halladay sweepstakes, given how expensive he is. There are a few too many whispers about the Rays trying to make a big splash for them to not be looking to make a deal though. I'd put my money on Lee. He is much more affordable than Halladay for the next few years, and he complements the power arms that Tampa Bay has quite nicely. My guess is that Lee lands in Tampa Bay as part of a three-way deal that sends Kazmir to the third team involved, and both Tampa and the third team sends prospects to the Indians.
  • Jarrod Washburn is going to be traded to the Phillies. At this point, Philadelphia has to have some pressure to acquire a starting pitcher. They've aggressively pursued Roy Halladay, but that deal is falling through. They will (or perhaps already have) turned their attention to Cliff Lee, but I like my darkhorse Rays to nab him. That leaves the Phillies scrambling with only a few days to go to get a legitimate starting pitcher. Since they've already convinced themselves they can part with some good prospects to get a good pitcher to help them now, I think a deal between the M's and Phillies could happen quickly. Surely shortstop Jason Donald would look interesting to Jack Z. Throw in a guy like Carlos Carrasco too and that might be enough, unless a bidding war over Washburn happens between all the teams that lost out on Halladay and Lee.
  • Freddy Sanchez is going to the Giants. It makes way too much sense to not happen. I don't know who San Francisco will give up, but it will happen.
  • Jack Wilson will not be traded. His expiring contract is not as big of a problem as Sanchez's vesting option, so I think Pittsburgh will focus on dealing Freddy. The Pirates will run out of time to put together a deal they like to ship Wilson away.
  • The Twins will acquire Orlando Cabrera. Talks have heated up, and he seems quite expendable by the A's at this point. A deal is not imminent, but the two sides are talking, and will meet in the middle by July 31.
  • The Brewers will acquire Justin Duchscherer. They don't want to mortgage much of their future, and Justin should come cheap since he has been injured. He'll certainly come cheaper than Halladay or Lee, or even Jarrod Washburn at this point.
  • Adrian Gonzalez isn't going anywhere, but Heath Bell is. Too many teams want relievers, and San Diego has too many holes. My sleeper team to get Bell is the Angels. They seem determined to make a deal, and while they'd like a starting pitcher, I'm sure they would like the idea of Bell and Fuentes nailing down the end of ballgames. They could offer someone like Sean Rodriguez to San Diego, or maybe even Jose Arredando. That's purely speculation though.

The deadline should be fun. I think there will be significant movement, regardless of what happens with bigger guys like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Too many teams in contention have glaring holes that they can patch with trades. I'm looking forward to seeing what deals actually happen, and if any of my "educated" random guesses come to fruition.

Trio of Moves: Top Prospect Up, Pair DFAd

I was just ahead of the buzz when I wrote about Michael Saunders a little over a week ago. My opinion has not changed, but what has changed is that he is the new starting left fielder for the Mariners. Saunders got called up today, will start in left field, and to make room Wladimir Balentien was designated for assignment.

I won't spend time talking about Saunders since I already discussed him in depth not too long ago. Since writing about him he has been on a tear. His bat is ready for a new challenge, but I'm still worried about what happens if/when he struggles and needs to adjust. Like I said previously, every indication is that Saunders will be able to adjust, but how will the Mariners fare as he goes through those adjustments? I think he has to perform well from day one for this team to stay in contention, and that's a lot to ask from a youngster making his major league debut today.

With that said, Saunders is clearly an upgrade over Wladimir Balentien. He can't hit breaking stuff, and he can't lay off of it either. It's frustrating to watch, because every now and then he shows off his prodigious power. Balentien is the second Mariner in as many days to get DFA'd, joining Roy Corcoran. Let's take a quick look at these two guys all of a sudden flapping in the wind.

A player designated for assignment must be traded, released, or re-assigned to the minor leagues by their team within 10 days of being designated. Additionally, once DFA'd, a player is subject to waivers. That means other teams will have a chance to claim them before they can be released or sent to the minors. Ask Jamie Burke about the process. He's a pro - he's gone through it twice this year. For some players (like Burke), the process is largely ceremonial. Once no team claims a player that has been designated for assignment, it's pretty much just like sending a player down to the minors. The only difference is that the player is no longer on the 40-man roster either, meaning they have to be put back on it to come back up to the majors.

The last paragraph is the extended way of saying both Corcoran and Balentien must be passed on by every other team in major league baseball to get sent to Tacoma. Some think Roy will make it through, but I have my doubts. Too many teams are looking for bullpen arms, and Corcoran would be a cheap, risk-free option coming off a good 2008 campaign, and a string of solid outings recently. If I had to hazard a guess, I would pick the Twins. My dark horse would be the Orioles though. Adding Corcoran might make it easier for them to ship away Danys Baez or George Sherrill, though teams having fire sales aren't usually all that worried about replacements. If Corcoran is not traded before the deadline, expect him to get assigned to Tacoma.

Balentien almost certainly will not make it through waivers. He's too young with too much power for some bad team to not take a chance on him. I would be surprised if he is not traded within the next week. The new M's dumping ground, the Kansas City Royals, could be where Wladimir ends up. If not there, I'd be surprised if he got past the Padres on waivers.

Promoting Michael Saunders is the riskiest move to date by the new regime. I'm curious to hear from both Wakamatsu and Z on it. Langerhans was doing fine in left field. He was giving the M's exactly what they could expect.

So, why Michael Saunders, and why now? Is this a move to try to bolster the offense the rest of the way? Or is this a little bit more about getting Michael's growing pains out of the way now so he can hit the ground running in 2010? It's probably a bit of both, but I want to hear what Wak and Z have to say about it.

Cardinals Bolster Lineup With Holliday

Matt HollidayBarring a Roy Halladay trade, the biggest deal of the deadline went down this morning. Matt Holliday is now a St. Louis Cardinal. The Cardinals are sending Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen, and Shane Peterson to the A's for the slugging outfielder.

Holliday's value sunk after a sluggish start in Oakland. Power especially was lacking. However, there have been serious signs of life in July, and even his current production rate will help the Cardinals lineup. On top of that, Holliday's batting average on balls in play so far this year is about 50 points worse than his career mark, and his strikeout rate has not gone up. Perhaps Matt is not hitting the ball as hard, but on paper that looks like some bad luck.Between regression to the mean and returning to the NL, Holliday could explode in St. Louis.

As for who the A's acquired, Brett Wallace is the centerpiece. Faithful readers of mine likely remember him from last year's watchlist. I love his bat, as does pretty much everyone now. That's why the A's got him, and they may bring him up immediately to play third base. I do not think he is quite ready, but I thought the same about fellow 2008 watchlist member Gordon Beckham, and he is doing just fine for the White Sox right now.

Shane Peterson is an outfielder also from last year's draft class. In his first full pro season, Shane is already in AA and hitting modestly well. He makes consistent content, but does not have a ton of power. Speed is a tremendous asset for him though, and he is a smart baserunner too. Though I haven't seen him play, I have a hunch he plays awfully good defense with his skillset.

Clayton Mortensen was the Cardinals first round draft pick in 2007. He has a local connection as a former Gonzaga bulldog. Mortensen is a right-handed pitcher already in AAA. He gets a few more ground balls than an average pitcher, but everything else about him is pretty much just there. At 24 years old, Clayton will still develop some, but he doesn't look like much more than a decent starter to me.

Oakland originally traded Carlos Gonzalez, Greg Smith, and Huston Street for Holliday. Wallace essentially takes the place of Gonzalez, but I think most would consider Carlos a better prospect. He is younger and has hit better than Wallace in AAA. Mortensen is a young starting pitcher like Greg Smith, but Smith is definitely superior. Lastly, Huston Street and Shane Peterson are the hardest two to compare. If Peterson develops into a major league contributor for five or six years, with two or three of those as a starting-caliber player, he will be an upgrade over what the A's would have got from Huston this point going forward. Though Matt Holliday's value probably has sunk, the A's did not sell him at half price. They got a decent haul for him.

St. Louis needs to find a way to re-sign Matt Holliday to make this deal worthwhile for them. In the immediate future, this bolsters their playoff chances a ton. Pujols and Holliday are a scary good combo, especially in a division with several decent teams, but no great ones. The Cubs could still make a charge with Aramis Ramirez's turn and a bit more productive Alfonso Soriano, but St. Louis has to be the favorites now.

This feels a little bit to me like the Scott Rolen trade back in 2003. After Rolen turned down a huge contract extension in Philadelphia, it seemed likely he would get traded before the deadline. Holliday was in a similar position, where people expected him to get dealt before the deadline from the start of the season. Rolen ultimately signed an extension in St. Louis that was considerably smaller than the one he turned down in Philadelphia, and was a fixture in the heart of the Cardinals order for several years.

Holliday is a few years older than Rolen was in 2003, and the talent St. Louis gave up to get him may prove to be better than what they gave the Phillies back then. I have a hunch Matt Holliday will love playing in St. Louis, so perhaps he will stay for a bit of a discounted price. He will have to with Pujols around, gobbling up a significant portion of the payroll (and deservedly so).

I've been impressed with Cardinals GM John Mozeliak ever since he took over a few years ago. His drafts produced all the players St. Louis gave up in the Holliday deal. Now we know he has some serious guts. His legacy now rides on this deal. I'm even more impressed with him now.

Albert Pujols has been clamoring for more help and an indication that the team is really serious about winning. He shouldn't have any doubts now.

Buehrle Throws Perfect Game

Mark BuehrleThe title says it all. A perfect game is a really big deal, but what is there to really analyze? Mark Buehrle pitched well, and got help from his defense. That's the storyline for any perfect game (though DeWayne Wise came up with an incredible catch to save it in the ninth).

With that being said, it seems especially surprising that Mark Buehrle would throw one. He is a real good pitcher, but his greatest strength is consistentcy. He always gives the White Sox quality starts, but there is not much of a range to his performances. He rarely has a brilliant performance, but also rarely has a bad one. Every start is about as good as the last.

It's not hard to theoretically figure out how likely it is for a pitcher to throw a perfect game though. The question boils down to how likely a pitcher is to get 27 outs in a row. On-base percentage is essentially the chance a player does not make an out, so taking 1 and subracting Buehrle's opponents' on-base percentage from it gives the chance that Buehrle gets any one hitter out. Raise that to the 27th power, and you have the theoretical chance that Buehrle gets a perfect game in his career.

For his career, Buehrle has held opponents to a .313 on-base percentage. That means he has a .687 chance of getting an out against a typical batter he has faced in his career. Based on that number alone, he should pitch a perfect game 1 out of every 25,245 starts. Then again, this is only the chance he gets 27 outs in a row, so you could further argue that the odds are slimmer. For instance, he could retire the final batter of his previous start, then retire 26 in a row and get a hit in his next start, or get the final 2 outs in his previous start...you get the picture. The odds are slim.

However, Buehrle is holding opponents to a .301 on-base against this year. Still, based on his 2009 numbers alone, it was roughly a 15,187 to 1 chance. Considering he definitely won't get any more than 40 starts (including any possible playoff ones) this year, the odds are still razor thin. Moreover, that's assuming Buehrle was facing a team with a league-average on-base percentage. The Rays as a team have a .353 OBP, while the league average is .330. Accounting for that, and the fact that Buehrle retired the final batter in his previous start, you could argue the odds were as miniscule as 55,683 to 1 that Buerhle would throw a perfect game today.

No matter how you slice or dice it, a perfect game is special. The odds aren't so ridiculous that they should never happen. That's the beauty of playing so many games every year. However, no pitcher in major league history has ever had nearly enough starts to reasonably say they should throw a perfect game.

To prove how ridiculously good a pitcher would have to be to expect a perfect game, let's make a hypothetical one. Let's say our pitcher made 35 starts for 30 years in a row. This pitcher is a durable workhorse to say the least. That would be a total of 1050 starts in his career. This theoretical pitcher would have to hold opponents to .227 on-base percentage for his entire career to likely throw a perfect game. That's equivalent to approximately a 0.68 WHIP, again, for an entire 30-year starting career. Mark Buehrle may not seem like the type to throw one, but frankly no pitcher has ever been the type.

A perfect game takes a perfect storm. While being a better pitcher greatly increases the odds, and facing a bad offense does too, it's the difference between lightning striking once or twice. Theoretically, lightning striking once has a much better chance of happening - but in reality, it's hard to see a difference because both are so remote.

BoSox Make Pair Of Deals

Still no big deals as the trade deadline looms, but the Red Sox made a pair of trades today. Here they are:

  • Red Sox acquire 1B Adam LaRoche from the Pirates for SS Argenis Diaz and RHP Hunter Strickland

LaRoche is a heck of a luxury for Boston. Mike Lowell is coming off hip surgery, and David Ortiz continues to look a tad old. LaRoche adds a good bat at first to the team. This will allow Boston to move Kevin Youkilis over to third easier, as well as rest David Ortiz more frequently if they desire. He may be on the team for only the rest of this year, but the Red Sox did not part with any of their top prospects.

Pittsburgh has no obvious internal replacement for LaRoche, but he will be a free agent at the end of the season. Neal Huntington must not have liked his chances to re-sign Adam. Both players acquired in the deal are young. Diaz's best chance to make the majors is with his glove. He is yet to hit, and does not look like much of a hitter. Strickland is even younger, but already doesn't get too many grounders or strikeouts. He looks like a servicable pitcher at best. It is not much of a haul for the Pirates unless Diaz becomes a real slick defender.

  • Red Sox acquire OF/1B Chris Duncan and a player to be named later from the Cardinals for SS Julio Lugo

Lugo was designated for assignment a little bit ago, so a trade involving him was likely. Word is that the Red Sox will pick up some of Lugo's exorbitant salary. Still, Boston turned someone completely off their roster into a left-handed bat with a little power and experience.

The deal makes sense for St. Louis too. Duncan was struggling badly, and Khalil Greene's problems at shortstop have left the position depleted. Lugo will likely take over as the starter from Brendan Ryan, though I actually think he will be a slight downgrade. Ryan's defense is much better, and on top of that I wonder if Lugo will continue to hit as well as he has. Lugo will need to hit well to make up for the loss on defense.

These are two significantly different deals, but at the end of the day the Red Sox are now better than they were at the start of it. They got the better end of the LaRoche deal, and at worst the Lugo one is a wash. More than that, Boston showed great knowledge of their personnel, and how to make good deals. Mike Lowell's hip is a concern, but Youkilis is a better replacement than anything Boston could find on the trade market. Freeing Youkilis up to move around by improving the depth at first comes at a much cheaper price, and likely let the Red Sox field a better lineup than if they went after a third baseman and kept Youkilis at first.

Some GMs Say Too Much

It's tough to be a good major league GM, it really is. There are so many ways to fail. Talent evaluation, vision, crafting trades, and free agent deals must all mesh together somehow. These are the concrete factors that most GMs are hired and fired upon. It is only part of the job though.

Interpersonal skills and communication are just as important to being a succesful general manager. Why does a newly hired GM almost always hire a new manager? Those two need to be able to work together to maximize the talent on the roster.

Even more importantly, there is how a GM treats the players. Granted, the GM does not interact with them nearly as closely as the coaching staff, but he (or eventually she) is always fielding questions about personnel from the media. Needless to say, whatever is said gets back to the players. There is a right and wrong way to go about media relations.

The past couple weeks, two GMs in particular have shown the wrong way to handle player relations in the media. Consequently, they have put players and franchises in tough situations.

Start with Neal Huntington, the Pirates general manager. Since being hired a couple years ago (just beating out Jack Zduriencik, interestingly enough), Pittsburgh has made incremental progress on the field and there are the beginnings of a solid, youthful core. Neal seems to have a pretty good eye for talent, and an ability to avoid bad trades and contracts better than his predecessors.

However, Huntington is hampering his own efforts badly with what he is telling the media. Look at the Ian Snell situation.

By all accounts, Snell has a tricky personality to deal with. His struggles the past few years seem as much tied to his personality as any physical changes. Because of that, it might be unfair to pin Snell's problems on the team when Snell supposedly requested to be sent down to AAA.

Still, Neal kicked Snell on his way out for no good reason by calling his contract a mistake, and saying that the team is simply trying to salvage something out of the deal now. Since those public comments, teams have lined up with an assortment of offers for Snell, especially since he has dominated in his return to AAA. On top of that, Snell's replacement in the majors, Virgil Vasquez has struggled. It seems like it is clearly time to either promote Snell, or trade him. What do the Pirates do?

The answer is neither. Snell does not want to be called back up, and the Pirates can't get a trade offer they like, according to reports.

Gee, I wonder why? It's surprising that a team won't give up quality talent to acquire someone signed to a mistake of a contract. It's also surprising that a player does not want to be called up after the team's GM claimed they are just trying to salvage something from him.

I don't care how difficult Snell's personality is to deal with. Neal Huntington created the Snell debacle with what he said in the media. Now, a guy who should clearly be in Pittsburgh's starting rotation will not pitch for them, and has minimal trade value despite being rather young with a somewhat reasonable contract. Huntington's poor choice of words have put the Pirates in about as bad of a position with Ian Snell as imaginable.

Huntington has made the Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson situation difficult too. Pittsburgh's double play combo are great friends, so great that they would be willing to sign contract extensions in Pittsburgh if it means they get to stay together, even if it meant pay cuts. Neither seem to have higher maintenance personalities like Ian Snell, and the Pirates do not have any budding prospects that they would block. Neal Huntington rightly decided to offer both contract extensions.

Reportedly, both Sanchez and Wilson received two-year proposals. Sanchez's was for around $10 million total, and Wilson's for $8 million total. Both contracts would make the players take significant paycuts. Sanchez, in particular, is due a little over $8 million just next year. Both Sanchez and Wilson rejected the offers.

In response, Neal Huntington went to the media on Sunday and said negotiations were dead. He said, "The response is such that they don't even feel we are in the same ballpark because they feel like years, dollars, the foundation is so far off their expectations that it's not worth countering." Not quite as harsh as branding a contract a mistake, but still, Huntington hardly painted an optimistic picture.

Of course, the media had to go to Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson with Huntington's words. Both had different takes than Huntington.

"I did not know that it was negotiable," Sanchez said. "I was under the assumption that it was a take-it-or-leave-it deal and that there was going to be no wiggle room."

"We thought it was more of a take-it-or-leave-it type of deal because of the situation of trying to get it done quickly," Wilson said. "At no point have either of us been interested in shutting this down. We both are very interested in being Pirates. I don't think this is dead by any means."

Those do not sound like players unwilling to negotiate to me. Those sound like players that have not been communicated to by the GM. They both understand that the Pirates are trying to work out deals now, because if they cannot come to agreements they want time to trade them. Maybe it is fair to say that Wilson and Sanchez should have sent counter offers regardless of their perception of the nature of the deals, but it is understandable why they felt the way they did.

Sanchez and Wilson's friendship will save Huntington on this public blunder. I think both care about staying together with the Pirates more than enough to deal with the drama their GM is putting them through right now. However, Pittsburgh would be in better shape right now if Huntington would stop saying so much in the media.

Huntington is not the only GM sticking his foot in his mouth right now though. Blue Jays general manager JP Ricciardi is treating Roy Halladay even worse. A couple weeks ago, Ricciardi said publicly that he would entertain offers for his team's ace, who many believe is the best pitcher in baseball right now.

With where the Blue Jays are at, Ricciardi's position makes sound baseball sense. Financially, they need to cut some payroll (partly due to a few bad long-term contracts given to Vernon Wells and Alex Rios). The team has many promising young players too. Adding to that mix the premium young talent Roy Halladay would demand in a trade could work out well. Purely, from a baseball perspective, Ricciardi did nothing wrong.

However, from an interpersonal perspective, what was JP thinking? Did he really think he wouldn't spark a massive story? Ever since his comment, all eyes in baseball have focused on Halladay trade rumors. It has turned into a circus.

Moreover, Roy Halladay is the antithesis of a prima donna. He just wants to go out and pitch. The less buzz around him off the field, the better. Considering how long both Ricciardi and Halladay have been around in Toronto now, JP should know this. Additionally, Halladay is on the record saying that he likes in Toronto, and does not want to leave. JP should have known this as well, and realized that would only add to the drama.

Well, Halladay did not want to leave a few weeks ago at least. Now rumors are starting to surface that Roy is withdrawing emotionally. Not surprisingly, the media firestorm set off by JP is taking a toll on Roy. Halladay certainly does not like it, and it may be zapping his desire to stay with the Blue Jays.

For instance, after the complete game Halladay threw in his last start against Boston, he tipped his cap to the crowd as he left the mound. That sparked all sorts of rumors that maybe Halladay knows it could have been his last start. Halladay did not see the tip of the cap that way at all; he simply said the moment warranted a tip. He was getting cheered for throwing a complete game to beat the Red Sox after all. The tip had nothing to do with trade rumors, yet that's all the media would ask about after they saw it. Wouldn't that be annoying, especially if you, like Halladay, don't relish talking about off-field distractions?

If Halladay now wants to leave Toronto, it will be because of the buzz Ricciardi has created. Also, it will hurt Toronto's leverage in trade talks. Teams will be able to make a final offer and let the Blue Jays sweat, knowing that they really cannot afford to hold on to Halladay. All of a sudden, Ricciardi's inability to realize the impact of his public comments may have tangibly impacted potential Halladay deals.

It will only be the biggest trade in Blue Jays history if Roy Halladay is dealt. You'd think JP Ricciardi would have been cognizant of that before saying he will listen to offers. The media response, and Halladay's subsequent response to that, should not be shocking.

Both Huntington and Ricciardi are GMs with a track record of making mostly solid personnel decisions. It is easy to look back and see why they got hired in the first place. However, their mouths are interfering with their abilities.

Media relations and interpersonal communication are important skills for a GM to have. It helps with team chemistry and unity within the organization, but more than that, it clearly impacts trades and negotiations. Right now, the 2009 trade deadline is being impacted by communication gaffes as much as anything else.

Brewers Acquire Felipe Lopez

Felipe LopezYesterday, Milwaukee made a trade that got little national attention between Tom Watson's magical performance at The Open, and Lance Armstrong conceding that he would not beat his teammate, Alberto Cantador, in the Tour de France this year. However, it is a trade that may impact the Mariners. The Brewers acquired infielder Felipe Lopez from the Diamondbacks for minor leaguers Cole Gillespie and Roque Mercedes.

This is a solid deal for both clubs. Starting with Arizona, Lopez is a free agent at the end of the year, and the D'Backs are clearly out of contention. They have Augie Ojeda and Ryan Roberts, who are definitely downgrades, but can man second base well enough for the remainder of the season. In return a player that likely would leave after this lost season, Arizona got a couple pieces that could be a part of their future.

Long-time readers of the Musings may remember Cole Gillespie from my very first watchlist back in 2006. Cole, now 25, is in his first year in AAA and doing so-so. He started the year with a wrist injury, and perhaps that is part of the reason for a sluggish year. Gillespie does a little bit of everything, but not a lot of anything. He definitely is no Justin Upton, and I doubt he will jump over Gerardo Parra or Chris Young on the outfield depth chart either. He looks like a backup outfielder for the D'Backs starting next year, unless Chris Young fall flat on his face again like he did at the start of this year.

Roque Mercedes is a 22-year-old power arm in advanced A ball. Arizona may move him to AA, which is what I would do. He has dominated in the bullpen so far this year and definitely profiles as a reliever at this point. As a bullpen arm at his age and level, I am not ready to say he is a budding closer. However, a dominating second half in AA may change my mind. Roque certainly has promise, and a legitimate chance to reach the majors in the next two or three years.

All in all, the Diamondbacks got a couple prospects that have a good chance to become useful role players for several years in exchange for a second baseman they only had for a couple more months. It is not a home run of a deal, but it was one certainly worth making.

As for the Brewers, they are in the thick of the playoff hunt right now. They have Casey McGehee at second base after Rickie Weeks went down with a season-ending injury. So far, McGehee has been sensational, batting well over .300 with power. However, McGehee's OPS of nearly .900 is over 200 points higher than his career .774 OPS in the minors. There is no way he keeps up his current pace. It is a miracle he has done as well as he has for this long. Felipe Lopez is definitely an upgrade at second base, and they gave away none of their prized prospects.

However, Milwaukee could play Lopez elsewhere. He could certainly play shortstop, which makes trading JJ Hardy a little easier. Lopez could take Hardy's place the rest of the season, leave in free agency, and the spot would be top-prospect Alcides Escobar's in 2010. Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin pointed out Felipe's defensive versatility when the deal was officially announced.

If JJ Hardy is now a little more available, that is good news for the Mariners. It would take Jarrod Washburn or Erik Bedard to acquire him, but that would be a good deal. Ryan Rowland-Smith has put together three strong starts in a row in AAA, so he could take a spot in the rotation. On top of that, Brandon Morrow should be ready to come back before the end of the year too. There are answers in the rotation, and I doubt both Washburn and Bedard are coming back in 2010. Hardy would upgrade the Mariners this year, and also be a long-term answer at a spot where the team has no internal answers remotely close to ready.

You know Jack Z is talking to the Doug Melvin. They are good friends. Surely JJ Hardy has come up. Surely Bedard and Washburn have too. It is surprising a rumor hasn't surfaced involving those names yet, but maybe one will now.

Another Cheap Shortstop Option

Omar Quintanilla
With the All Star Break, there is not much use in updating the projected standings until next week. Thankfully, there is a little trade deadline news.

The middle infield trade options are thinner, at least for the time being. Word out of Pittsburgh is that the Pirates are looking to sign 2B Freddy Sanchez and SS Jack Wilson to contract extensions. The two are quite good friends, so good that neither will re-up without the other. It is an interesting turn of events, considering both seemed halfway out the door a week ago.

This is a disappointing turn of events for the Mariners. Both Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez would be good fits in Seattle, and the two teams matched up reasonably well in a possible deal. From Pittsburgh's perspective though, locking the duo up makes great sense. Neither is blocking a good-looking prospect. Keeping a few veterans would help restore the team's credibility with the fan base too, though I doubt anyone has forgotten that the team locked up Nate McLouth long-term in the offseason, and traded him for prospects midway through this year.

Anyway, where does this leave the Mariners?

The first thing is to look at Ronny Cedeno, the worst bat in the lineup. Sure, his hitting stinks, but his defense has been good. Yuni was by far the worst defensive shortstop in baseball, and if Ronny keeps up his current pace, he is arguably in the tier right below the elite players this year. On top of that, his BABIP is a stunning .200, and for his career it is .289 (including the .200 average this year). Granted, .289 is not great, but Cedeno has had horrible luck. Even with all his strikeouts, his batting line should be closer to .205/.242/.356, which is still awful, but less awful. It makes him Yuni Betancourt version 2009 awful, but with way better defense.

So, the goal is to find an upgrade at shortstop. There are a couple of options often discussed out there:

  • Julio Lugo, INF, Red Sox - Boston may have to DFA or release Lugo any day now as guys return from the DL. Julio is in his 30s, so he is older. He is hitting decently well this year, and would be an upgrade at the plate. However, Lugo's defense has slipped dramatically this year. He certainly doesn't fit the Ryan Langerhans/Jack Hannahan light-hitting, great defense, cheap pick-up mold. I'm not sure he is better than Ronny Cedeno.
  • J.J. Hardy, SS, Brewers - Hardy would clearly be an upgrade over Cedeno, as well as nearly any shortstop in baseball. He has a league average bat at a position with few league average hitters, and combines that with killer defense. Hardy is also just 26 years old, but all indications are that Alcides Escobar is Milwaukee's shortstop of the future. Alcides is sitting in AAA, tantalizingly easy to call up. On top of all that, the Brewers could use pitching, so guys like Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn must look attractive to them. I would be willing to part with one of them to get Hardy.
The Mariners should not go after Lugo, and I doubt they will. They should pursue Hardy, and I'm sure they are. You know Zduriencik has a good relationship with the front office personnel that he was working for at this time last year. I would dangle Erik Bedard, and if that's not enough, throw Jeff Clement in. I'd try to sell Milwaukee on the idea that they could use Clement at first base if Prince Fielder leaves once his contract is up, which appears likely.

Still, if the Brewers want a few more prospects for Hardy, he might cost a little too much for the Mariners. However, there is a cheaper option that is worth considering:
  • Omar Quintanilla, SS, Rockies - At 27 years old, Omar is neither young nor old. He is yet to have success in the majors, and won't ever get an opportunity in Colorado with Troy Tulowitzki around. In fact, Quintanilla only has 32 at-bats all year despite playing in the NL, where pinch-hitters are used much more often. He is buried on the Rockies bench.
There is a reason Omar rides the pine though. He didn't hit well at all as Tulowitzki's injury replacement last year, especially away from spacious Coors Field. In fact, he has seen action in bits and pieces of the past five seasons, including this one, and never hit.

Why does Omar Quintanilla intrigue me then?

Quintanilla has fielded pretty well, despite the offensive struggles. On top of that, his minor league track record at the plate is much more solid than his MLB shortcomings would suggest. The only similar defensive players to Omar I could find are guys like Augie Ojeda, Robert Andino, and Paul Janish. Those players do not hit either, but give no reason to believe that they are better than they have shown.

There is no way Omar would cost that much. I would offer Josh Wilson and Roy Corcoran, and see what the Rockies say. Colorado is looking for bullpen help, and maybe they would take a chance on a guy like Corcoran for such a small loss to them. Trading a struggling middle reliever for a potential starting shortstop would be good for the M's, and trading a useless bench player for a possible bullpen upgrade would be good for the Rockies.

Omar Quintanilla is essentially another Ronny Cedeno. He's got a good glove, but is yet to hit in the majors despite a track record of success in the minors. Collect enough guys like that, and one is bound to pan out.

Jared Mitchell Signs; Nick Franklin Soon?

Slowly but surely, first round draft picks are signing. The most recent is Jared Mitchell, the 23rd overall pick, for a $1.2 million bonus. Still no word on either of the M's first round choices, Dustin Ackley and Nick Franklin.

However, there is no reason a Franklin deal cannot happen soon. He was the 27th pick overall, and the 26th and 28th picks have already signed, for $1.2 million and $1.13 million, respectively. On top of that, the 25th pick, high school outfielder Mike Trout, has already signed for $1.215 million. High school shortstop Jiovanni Mier, the 21st overall pick, has already agreed to a $1.358 million bonus.

Franklin was the second high school shortstop taken behind Mier. There is no way he can justify asking for more than Jiovanni. Looking at the guys picked around Franklin, the Mariners cannot justify anything much lower than $1.15 million. So, the two sides should already be about $200,000 apart at most. The Mariners did go at least $200,000 over slot to sign their supplemental first round pick, Steven Baron (his bonus is bigger than Brett Jackson's, the 31st overall pick). Maybe that drove Franklin's asking price up a bit.

Still, the M's face some tough negotiations with Ackley and his agent, the dreaded Scott Boras. It would be good for them to sign Nick Franklin soon, so that they can focus on their top pick. With all the selections around Nick already inked, there is no reason he and the M's can't come to a deal soon. He's not a Rick Porcello, who fell because of signability issues a couple years ago. I'm expecting Nick to sign for a bonus a shade under $1.2 million, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Michael Saunders Is Not The Answer...Yet

Michael SaundersIt is no secret that the Mariners offense is bad. The lineup really only features three guys who are above average hitters - Ichiro, Russell Branyan, and surprisingly Franklin Gutierrez. It also features a couple league average guys, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jose Lopez, though the average players are completely different types of hitters. That leaves four spots in the lineup to try to upgrade the offense.

The internal option that pops up from time to time is Michael Saunders. He is an outfielder, so he fills one of those holes in the lineup. He also is the Mariners top position prospect. On top of all that, Saunders is currently in AAA Tacoma and hitting quite well, with a batting average hovering around .300, and an OPS around .900.

As the Mariners stay in contention, the trade deadline approaches, and the offense continues to struggle, debate over promoting Michael Saunders is likely to heat up. Instead of waiting for the debate to grow, I figured I would make a pre-emptive strike. That way, you, the faithful readers of the Mariners Musings, will be able to impress all your friends with your insight when they start talking about Saunders.

Let's get to know Michael Saunders a little bit better. Hailing from beautiful Victoria, BC, Saunders was drafted by the Mariners in the 11th round in 2004. His first full season of pro ball was spent in Wisconsin in 2006, where he batted only .240 with 4 home runs. Michael still got promoted to High Desert to start 2007 though, and he began to flourish, batting almost .300 with 14 home runs before a call-up to AA at the end of the year. He started 2008 in AA, but then moved up to AAA near the end of that season. Now, Saunders is still in AAA, and near the point of the year where he has been promoted that past couple seasons.

In particular, there is a ton to like about what Saunders is doing this year at the plate. His walk rate is down a little from where it has been throughout his minor league career, but his strikeout rate is literally half of what it was in 2007. Not surprisingly, that has helped his batting average. Furthermore, Michael is not sacrificing power to cut down on the strikeouts. In fact, he is on pace to set a career-high in slugging percentage. At 22 years old, Saunders would be on pace to bat .300 with 25 home runs in Tacoma if he had not missed April with an injury. His 6'4" frame is likely to fill out some more too, so more power is not out of the question in the future.

Clearly, there is a ton to like about Michael Saunders. He is not far away from the majors. In fact, he is probably a better hitter than current M's left fielder Ryan Langerhans right now. Saunders already makes contact a little more often, and hits for a little more power.

However, as much as I like Michael Saunders, I would not call him up. Langerhan's defense is better (because Langerhans is a better defender than almost anyone), so Saunders would have to be a better hitter to be the better option. He will be the better hitter, but not right away. The jump from AAA to the majors is significant, especially for a guy like Saunders, yet to make his major league debut. Even the jump from AA to AAA last year threw Saunders off a little bit.

Saunders is likely to struggle for the first couple weeks at least in the majors. If he doesn't, then the league will adjust to him, and he will have to adjust to that. The point is that Saunders will likely struggle at the plate at some point. Adam Jones did too when he was called up a couple years back. Colby Rasmus struggled at the start of the year in St. Louis. Ditto for Travis Snider with the Blue Jays, and he ultimately got sent back down. Prospects face growing pains.

Michael has the talent to get through the growing pains, but the Mariners can't afford to let him work through it in the middle of a pennant race. It is not the best climate for Saunders to work through the inevitable growing pains either. I would much rather see Saunders get called up in September once the AAA season is over, and pinch hit here and there. If the Mariners get eliminated from the race, then play Saunders every day in left field for the last week or two of the regular season.

It would be the best for everyone. Saunders can get his feet wet in the majors, and hopefully get the awe of making it to the big leagues out of the way. He would also be helpful off the bench. With a little major league experience, and maybe some extra seasoning in the Arizona fall league, Saunders will be better prepared for 2010 - where I think he will be the favorite to start Opening Day in left field.

Prospects rarely are the answer in a pennant race because they have to work through growing pains in a pressure-packed situation. I doubt Saunders would be an exception to the rule. As excited as I will be if/when he gets called up, he would not help the Mariners right now. It won't stunt his development much, if at all, if he stays in Tacoma either. Michael's real future with the Mariners is in 2010 and beyond.

Mariners 2009 Midseason Grades

This is going to be a longer post than usual. Without any games today though, we all have more time than usual, right?

The Mariners are poised for an intriguing second half. Are they buyers or sellers? Can they stay in the pennant chase? What will it take for the M's to pass the Rangers and Angels?

The only way to look at the future is through the past. So, today I will take a look at the first half of 2009. I will assign each player a grade.

Grading is difficult, especially in a context like this. I will be weighing two main factors: how good a player is, and how good they were expected to be. So, anyone playing at a superstar level will get an 'A,' but consider two players who are league average. If one was supposed to be in AAA but got thrust into the role, they may end up with a 'B.' Meanwhile, if the other has been a clean-up hitter and slipped, they may get a 'D.'

I will only grade players still on the M's roster that have logged enough time on the field to evaluate them. That means no Yuni, or recent acquisitions Ryan Langerhans and Jack Hannahan. Players are listed in order of jersey number, just to mix it up a little bit. Here are my midseason grades for the 2009 Mariners:

  • Kenji Johjima: He seemed like a candidate to bounce back after an awful 2008 season, despite his age. To a certain extent he has, but not as much as I hoped. Kenji's defense has been good this year, though pitchers still do not seem like they enjoy throwing to him. Grade: D+
  • Ronny Cedeno: His glove is as good as advertised. His bat is not. Ronny hits a few too many balls hard for me to think he won't bounce back at the plate with regular playing time. His average has risen some the past few weeks. Still, it has been painful to watch him in the batter's box so far. Grade: D
  • Jose Lopez: Jose still does not have much range at second, or much patience at the plate. He makes up for some of it though with decent power. It's still a mystery how he drives in so many runs. Even though Lopez is still young, I'm starting to think he is what he is at this point. Grade: C
  • Mike Sweeney: He really doesn't have much left to offer on the field. Injuries have taken their toll. Off the field though, he has united a clubhouse in shambles at the end of last year. Players like Sweeney make a rookie manager's job a bunch easier. That has to be taken into consideration. Grade: C
  • Endy Chavez: He is done for the year (and half of next), but he was an important player in the first half of the season. The M's got what they should have expected out of Endy - great defense with light hitting. Grade: C
  • Franklin Gutierrez: Guti was supposed to have defense, but he still had to adjust to center field. Immediately, he established himself as an elite defender. Franklin also had not been much at the plate in Cleveland, but his minor league track record was promising. Additionally, the M's coaching staff believed he had power potential. The last month, he has definitely shown that. Gutierrez looks like a player piecing it all together right now, and it is fun to watch. Grade: A
  • Shawn Kelley: With this being Shawn's rookie season, coming up from AA, and two months on the shelf with an injury, I thought long and hard about skipping him. He is a little too important to the bullpen though to do that. Basically, he was a pleasant surprise until he got hurt, and since being back he has been unpleasantly getting hit hard. All things considered, this is an unfair grade. I really should give an incomplete. Grade: D
  • Ken Griffey Jr.: The batting average is low, but Junior still gets respect. He walks a ton, and still has a bit of power left in his bat. He is the M's best option at DH, and one of the better bats on the team. He also has closed the gap between Ichiro and the rest of the team in the clubhouse. Oh, and he is a Seattle icon that returned home to finish a glorious career. That's a nice cherry on top. Grade: C
  • Wladimir Balentien: Balentien looks about as good as he did last year. In other words, he has power, but he is too aggressive. At some point he should adjust and get better, and the fact that he hasn't is disappointing. Grade: D+
  • Adrian Beltre: It's unfair picking on a guy with bone spurs in his shoulder, but he played every day through it. That says something about his character. More than that, the pain did not seem to impact his defense at all, making his phenomenal play even more unhuman. However, the pain certainly impacted his offense. A healthy Beltre would be a heck of a boost to the team in September. Even the damaged one contributed. Grade: C
  • Russell Branyan: The muscle already has a career high in home runs. He can hit lefties. Everything he hits is epic. Rusell's defense is not great, but even that is better than what we've seen the past couple years. What's not to love? Grade: A
  • Rob Johnson: Rob is hard to grade. His defense really is not that great. His hitting has been about what could have been expected, and that's not great either. Pitchers love throwing to him though, and I am willing to give him some credit for how well the staff has done. Grade: C
  • Felix Hernandez: King Felix is growing up right before our eyes. He's going deep into ballgames. He's stopping losing streaks. He made the All-Star team, and pitched a scoreless inning in the midsummer classic. He is becoming an ace, and it is exciting to watch. Grade: A
  • Brandon Morrow: Between injuries and inconsistency, this has not been a fun year for Morrow. His most recent start against the Rangers was rock bottom. With such tremendous stuff, it should not take him much time in Tacoma to figure things out. He just needs a little more command. If he finds it, he will be better than any player the M's could add in a deadline deal. Grade: F
  • Jason Vargas: Somewhat of a throw-in in the Putz trade, Vargas has ended up playing a key role so far thanks to all the injuries. His home run rate will eventually catch up to him, but he battles admirably well, and for the most part has kept the M's in games that he pitches. Grade: B
  • Chris Jakubauskas: Another unheralded player coming out of spring training, Chris has saved the bullpen on numerous occasions from getting completely spent in one game. His ERA should come down if he continues to pitch as well as he has. Long relief is a great spot for him. Grade: B
  • Miguel Batista: After a horrendous 2008 season, Miguel has bounced back considerably this year. It helps that he finds himself mostly in low-stress situations, but he is throwing more strikes and keeping the ball in the ballpark. Batista still is not worth the money, but at least he has rebounded to the point that he is useful again. Grade: C+
  • Erik Bedard: When Bedard is on the mound, he is as good as any pitcher the M's have. However, he usually doesn't finish the sixth inning, and he seems a bit fragile. Still, his attitude, health, and performance are all better than last year. When Bedard is healthy, it's hard to argue there is a better duo than King Felix and him. Grade: B-
  • Sean White: Talk about heroes. White has come out of nowhere to become one of the best relievers in the American League. It's hard to believe he can keep it up, but he is one of the biggest reasons the bullpen has been shockingly good this season. Grade: A
  • Roy Corcoran: Talk about struggling. After a breakout 2008 campaign, I figured Corcoran would take a step back this year. I didn't think it would be this bad though. There are signs that he is starting to turn it around, but things could not go any worse for Roy than they did in the first half. Grade: F
  • Garrett Olson: It is hard to imagine where this team would be without Garrett. He seems to be steadily improving even as he bounces between the rotation and bullpen. His stuff is deceptively good, and he seems to have a future as a solid starter. He is solid now. Grade: B-
  • Ichiro: It looked like Ichiro might be showing a little age after a disappointing 2008. I was wrong. He has come back with a vengeance in 2009, and is arguably having his best season yet. His offensive abilities are still overrated, but they have always been overrated. Ichiro is back, and as good as ever. Grade: A
  • David Aardsma: Aardsma always had the stuff, but now he has some command to go with hit. He has really taken charge of the closer's role and flourished. He could have been an all-star, because he has been about as good as any reliever in baseball. Branyan is still the steal of the offseason in my opinion, but Aardsma is nipping at his heels. Grade: A
  • Jarrod Washburn: Where did this come from? I thought Washburn might be helped out by a vastly improved defense, but that's not all that has happened. Jarrod is working deeper into ballgames, and lefties just can't hit him anymore. He has reinvented himself, and the M's are getting the best performance of his career. I have to think he will come back to reality some in the second half, but he's still a different pitcher now. Grade: B+
  • Mark Lowe: The good news is that Lowe has his velocity completely back after the big arm surgery a few years ago. The tight spin on his breaking stuff is back too. He should be better with the stuff he has, but sometimes it takes a couple years to recover from massive arm surgery like he had. Lowe has flashes of brilliance, and he may be in the process of getting all back together. Grade: B-
All in all, it was a fantastic first half for the Mariners. There were many more bright spots than dark ones. While some guys performed over their true abilities, others were under. This team really is about as good as it has shown so far.

Letter To Nats Fans

Nationals logoThe Washington Nationals, clearly the worst team in baseball, fired Manny Acta today. Old M's friend Jim Riggleman will take over for presumably the rest of the season. Apparently he's found his niche in the majors; he takes over teams in the middle of trainwreck seasons.

Acta's firing is unfortunate because he is hardly the source of Washington's problems. Someone had to take the blame though. Interestingly, the Nats issued a letter addressed to their fans along with the firing. You can read it here, but I've taken the time to sort through the euphemisms and give an honest translation below:

Hey fans,

The team sucks this year and we know it. We thought Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes wouldn't be headaches, and Adam Dunn would actually make a difference. We thought Jim Bowden and Manny Acta knew what they were doing. With all that, and some luck, we though we might be able to win more than a game every now and then. We want to win, we really do!

You have to admit, there are some guys worth hanging on to though. It's not like we're blown out every night. Need some convincing? Umm...John Lannan has had some nice starts (let's not talk about the rest of the rotation)...Adam Dunn has hit some homers (just don't bring up his defense)...Ryan Zimmerman is an all-star (crap, everyone has at least one though)...oh wait! Zimmerman had a 30-game hit-streak too. That's pretty good...What else...umm...we've got Nyjier Morgan now! He can run fast. That's kind of cool, right?...Gosh, there's no sugar-coating this disaster. Our bullpen blows. Our defense blows. Our young guys don't know what they're doing. We can't even watch it anymore without running to the bathroom and puking our lungs out at the seventh inning stretch. Anything has to be better than this. We want to win, we really do!

So, we're canning Manny Acta and handing the reigns to Jim Riggleman. Frankly, we know Acta isn't the problem, but like we just said, anything has to be better than this. It's not like it can get any worse. We want to win, we really do!

This season is a lost cause, so we're already looking ahead to how we can be better in 2010. We're praying to God we sign Stephen Strasburg, because we know we're screwed and you'll hate us forever if we don't ink him to a deal. He'll be coming straight to the majors and joining the rest of our young guys (note: insert every player on the roster under 25 years old here except Ross Detwiler, because he's been shelled in his last few starts). Don't forget about our other prospects either! (note: insert every player under 23 years old in the system doing halfway decently here)...Gosh, who are we kidding? We don't have much. We're gonna have a fire sale, and try to get some young talent that way.

Remember, when we bought the Nationals, we didn't promise success right away. Therefore, you shouldn't be all that surprised or disappointed. The DC area still beats Montreal, you can take solace in that. Plus, we want to win, we really do!

Look at it this way: yeah, we really suck, and it's going to be a while before we're respectable. But, we can't get any worse, and won't it be sweeter when we are good after slogging through such awful seasons? That's the best spin we've put on this whole mess so far, so let's stop now.

Sincerely,
The Washington Nationals Baseball Club

If I Were In Charge Of The Home Run Derby

Josh HamiltonI can't stand "analysis" of the Home Run Derby. Here's what you need to know. Eight sluggers are going to step to the plate, and try to hit home runs. One of them is likely to get in the zone in the first round, and whoever does will be remembered best, whether they win or not.

Instead of mindless analysis, I thought I'd write a more interesting piece (at least in my eyes) about the Home Run Derby in general. I don't have any serious qualms with it, but there are a series of changes I would make to the format. I've put them in order from most to least realistic, at least in my estimation:

  • Give a reward for the longest home run. Technically, distance doesn't matter in the derby, just the total home runs. However, in reality, distance does matter. Whoever hits the longest home run deserves something.
  • The reigning champion is always invited. Where is Justin Morneau this year? Sports fans always like following a title defense. Inviting the previous champ builds in a guaranteed storyline for each Home Run Derby. Then again, this may require the next change...
  • Invite sluggers not on either All-Star team. Technically, there is no rule against this. Also, MLB "broke" it to have all the active hitters with 500 career home runs battle in a derby a couple years ago. Maybe I'm partial as a Mariners fan, but I want to see Russell Branyan in a Home Run Derby. Just like the NBA goes beyond their All-Star teams routinely for their skills competitions, Major League Baseball should simply try to pick the best home run hitters.
  • Have home runs carry over from round to round. Let's be honest, Justin Morneau won last year's derby, but who really won it? Josh Hamilton, that's who. He was voted a starter in this year's midsummer classic despite missing a couple months of the first half. That's how powerful his 2008 derby performance was. He put on the most memorable derby performance of all time, so he should be the winner. Carrying home run totals from round to round would have ensured that. You could argue that it would make the derby more boring, especially in cases where a guy like Hamilton explodes in a round, but I have an answer for that to...
  • Shorten the derby to two rounds. Think back on the derby rounds you remember. They are almost all in the first round. The only exceptions I can think of are Sammy Sosa's second round in 2000, and Barry Bonds in the 1994 final. Hitters are fatigued by the third round every year, setting the stage for an anti-climactic final. Shortening the derby to only two rounds should make the final more interesting when first round totals are close (remember, I want totals to carry over), and also get through guaranteed anti-climactic finals quicker when someone has an epic first round.
  • Extend the derby field to nine, and have three go on to the second (and final) round. With the current 8-hitter, 3-round format, a total of 14 "at-bats" take place. My proposed format has 12 "at-bats," so it is not much shorter. I like nine because then the first round resembles a regular batting lineup, and then I would have podium for the end to award first, second, and third place. All ties would be broken by the current "blast-off" rule.
Under my rules, here is what the 2009 Home Run Derby lineup would look like:
  1. Josh Hamilton
  2. Ryan Howard
  3. Nelson Cruz
  4. Prince Fielder
  5. Russell Branyan
  6. Adam Dunn
  7. Adrian Gonzalez
  8. Carlos Pena
  9. Albert Pujols
It's very lefty-heavy, but I don't know who I would remove. Technically, under my own rules I should include Justin Morneau, but I'm counting Hamilton as last year's winner. He would have been if my modified derby rules were used. Though this year's actual derby lineup looks great, I like this theoretical one more.

The Home Run Derby isn't broken, but it could be even better. A few tweaks would make it even more entertaining.

Futures Game Players to Watch

Alex LiddiAll star festivities start before the all star break, with the futures game (this Sunday, 11 AM PDT). Baseball America selects some of baseball's finest prospects in their expert estimation from around the minors, and assembles them on one field in a United States versus the World format. Only two prospects can be picked from each farm system, so it is a virtual lock that every organization will be represented. Really, everyone is worth watching in this game. However, here are a few players I will be watching in particular:

WORLD ROSTER

Neftali Feliz, RHP, AAA, Rangers - Feliz is only 21 years old, and doing a fine job in AAA. Perhaps most impressive, he has allowed only 1 home run in 69.1 innings pitched. Neftali has flown through the Rangers system, and he may be in Texas impacting the AL West pennant race by the end of the year. He is a legitimate in-house option for them, and looking more long-term he could anchor their pitching staff for years to come.

Junichi Tazawa, RHP, AA, Red Sox - There was a bidding war over this Japanese pitcher in the offseason, with some scouts and clubs thinking Tazawa was ready for the majors. Boston signed him for fairly big money, especially for a guy that they sent to AA. Junichi is having a solid year though, and at 23 is a solid looking prospect. It will be even more interesting to see if Tazawa blazes the trail for many Japanese players to not sign with Japanese teams and head to America, or if he remains an exception.

Carlos Santana, C, AA, Indians - It's doubtful that the Indians will trade Victor Martinez, but the main reason they can somewhat seriously consider it is because of Santana (though, honestly, Victor's current backup, Kelly Shoppach, isn't all that bad). If Santana has a great futures game, don't be surprised if the national media starts reporting more Victor Martinez trade rumors. Personally, I think Santana is clearly at least a year away from the majors, and on top of that I think he is a bit overrated at this point.

Jesus Montero, C, AA, Yankees - Meet the heir apparent to Jorge Posada. At 6'4", Jesus is a tall catcher, and I do not know how good his defensive skills are. However, he can definitely swing the bat. Montero is only 20 years old, and already holding his own in AA. In particular, his power numbers are impressive. If the Yankees can squeeze one or two more decent years out of Jorge, it doesn't look like they will have to worry about catcher for another decade.

Alcides Escobar, SS, AAA, Brewers - Escobar has been a highly thought of prospect for a few years now, though his path to the majors is still blocked by the rather young JJ Hardy. The reason Hardy rumors continue to persist are because of how good most scouts think Escobar is. I have never had the chance to see him play, but reports are that his defense is fantastic, and he projects as a good hitter too. Escobar hits for good average, but he'll never have the power that JJ Hardy has. He is another prospect that I think is overrated just a bit, though I like his future. Expect JJ Hardy rumors to ramp up if Escobar has a great futures game.

Alex Liddi, 3B, A+, Mariners - This is the third time I've written about Liddi this week, so if you follow me you've probably got a good idea what I'm about to say. He has always had five-tool talent, but put it all together for the first time in High Desert. He is a threat to capture the California League triple crown right now, and I hope he gets significant playing time in the Futures game. I want to see how he handles himself against pitchers in more advanced leagues, even if it is for only an at-bat or two.

Dayan Viciedo, 3B, AA, White Sox - Viciedo, like Tazawa, was a highly touted international free agent. This time, the White Sox won the bidding war, and many believed Viciedo may go straight to the majors. Chicago started him out in AA though, and it is a good thing they did. The Cuban is overly aggressive, like Cubans tend to be, and as a result he has struggled. Then again, he is only 20 years old playing in AA ball, so it was probably unfair to expect him to dominate. Suffice it to say his production did not get him in the futures game; his raw talent and potential did.

Tyson Gillies, OF, A+, Mariners - Representing the M's along with Liddi is Tyson Gillies, a 20-year-old Canadian with significant hearing loss. He profiles as a leadoff hitter with good defense in center field, and he has enjoyed a fine season so far in the leadoff spot for the potent High Desert lineup. Again, if you follow me, this is the third time you've read something about Tyson this week. He's still the same player he was at the start of the week, and I am looking forward to seeing him play.

UNITED STATES ROSTER

Brad Lincoln, RHP, AAA, Pirates - The 2006 watchlist member is recovering from major arm surgery quite nicely, and will likely be in the majors by year's end. Pittsburgh has a few nice starters, but nobody with the power stuff that Lincoln has.

Brian Matusz, AA, Orioles - Baltimore's first-round pick just a year ago is flying through the minors, and may even reach the majors by the end of the year. He was considered one of the most polished pitchers in the 2008 draft, making him a candidate to rise through the minors quickly. Still, Matusz has certainly been more overpowering than I expected him to be thus far, and I think the Orioles may have a better pitcher on their hands than maybe even they thought they were getting.

Chris Tillman, AAA, Orioles - Yes, this is the same former Mariners farmhand included in the Erik Bedard deal. He is now one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball, and if you think the Bedard trade looks bad now, wait until Tillman makes the majors. He and Matusz should anchor the top of Baltimore's rotation for years to come. They even complement each other nicely, with Tillman being a righty and Matusz a lefty.

Tyler Flowers, C, AA, White Sox - Flowers can flat-out rake. His bat would is easily good enough to get him to the majors at any position, but at catcher it makes him especially valuable. He is a little bit older at 23 years of age, but he should be ready to crush major league pitching right as A.J. Pierzynski runs out of gas.

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, AA, Pirates - The 2008 watch list member has prodigious power. In fact, I'd like to see him in home run derby on Monday, because he would more than hold his own. Pedro's plate discipline is lacking though, and I am worried that he may never develop it because it looks like Pittsburgh is already pushing him quickly through the minor league system. I expect him to look a bit like Wily Mo Pena at the plate in the futures game.

Brett Wallace, 3B, AAA, Cardinals - If there is one prospect to watch in this entire game, it has to be Brett Wallace. Granted, I am partial to him, considering he was on my 2008 watchlist. However, he should get the warmest ovation since the game will be in St. Louis. More importantly, the Cardinals need some bats to protect Albert Pujols, and Wallace is the best internal option they have. You can bet that Cardinals fans know that, and that they will be watching Brett intently. Wallace is the mostly likely player in this game to impact the 2009 playoff picture.

Jemile Weeks, 2B, A+, Athletics - Another 2008 watchlist member, Weeks started the year hurt, but is off to an extremely fast start as a professional now that he is healthy. He has been awful against left-handers (in a very small sample size though), but he has more than made up for it against righties. Also, Jemile's defense receives high marks. His set of skills at second base definitely make him a candidate to fly through the minors.

Every player in the game deserves a write-up, but here is more than a handful of gems that I am particularly looking forward to seeing. The futures game is a great kick-off to the all-star festivities, and the first opportunity to see many of baseball's future all-stars.