June 30, 2007  

2007 Off-Season Trades

Date Team Gets Team Gets
Dec. 18
RP Chris Ray
'07 4th Round
'08 1st Round
'08 4th Round
MAR SP Francisco Liriano
Dec. 18
SP John Patterson
PHI '07 4th Round
Dec. 19
RP Dan Wheeler
MAR '07 6th Round
Dec. 19
SP Mark Buehrle
VAN OF Pat Burrell
Dec. 28
SP Vicente Padilla
RP Juan Rincon
PHI '07 14th Round
Dec. 30
SP Derrek Lowe
2B Luis Castillo
LV '07 3rd Round
Jan. 6
OF Michael Cuddyer
VAN '08 3rd Round
Jan. 25
SP Brandon McCarthy
VAN '07 6th Round
Jan. 29
RP Tom Gordon
NWK '07 4th Round
Jan. 29
'07 9th Round
SAR OF Ken Griffey Jr.
Jan. 31
'07 12th Round
SAR SS B.J. Upton
Jan. 31
Protected Lists Due
Feb. 24
Draft Day
Feb. 24
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
MAR '08 15th Round
Mar. 18
Opening Day

The Hot Stove League!

As we all eagerly await this year's trade deadline -- remember, it's the Sunday after the MLB All-Star Game, so this year's deadline is the end of Sunday July 15th -- let's take a look back at what was a surprisingly active off-season.

There were 12 trades made during this year's off-season. By way of comparison, just nine were made during last year's off-season. In fact, there were just 20 trades made all year last season!

This year's 12 off-season trades involved 16 players, including three players ineligible for the current season, and 13 draft picks, including four for the 2008 draft.

The most active teams this off-season were the Las Vegas Rat Pack and Marietta Mighty Men, who each swung five deals with various teams. The next busiest were the Philadelphia Endzone Animals and Vancouver Ironfist, with three each, followed by D.C. Bushslappers (2), Sardine City Straphangers (2), Arkansas Golden Falcons (1), Hoboken Cutters (1), Honolulu Sharks (1) and Newark Sugar Bears (1). The Carolina Mudcats, Hillsborough Hired Hitmen, New Jersey Team Buddah and South Boston Gang didn't make any deals during the off-season. No two teams made more than one deal with each other this off-season.

We broke down the 12 trades into three groups: The trades that were "win-wins," that left both teams relatively happy; the deals that one team appeared to come out ahead on; and the deals that did nothing for either team.

Sounds Like a Good Deal!

Most deals are proposed as a win-win for both teams. But obviously things don't always work out that way. Sometimes an owner gives up too much for a favorite player, or lets a disliked player go for too little. Sometimes what looked like a fair deal at the time turns out to be egregiously one-sided should one of the players involved suddenly blossom into a star or turn into a pumpkin. And sometimes an owner just gets snookered. But every once in awhile, there's the rare deal that really is good for everyone involved.

One of those win-win trades was this off-season's biggest deal -- in every sense of the word. It also was the first one. Las Vegas and Marietta pulled off a blockbuster on Dec. 18, with Vegas sending young phenom Francisco Liriano to Marietta in exchange for RP Chris Ray and Marietta's 4th Round pick in 2007 and 1st Round and 4th Round picks in 2008.

Liriano, Francisco Lirianoa 23-year-old lefthander, was the 20th overall pick in last year's draft as the first ineligible prospect selected -- a gamble by the Rat Pack, as at the time it wasn't clear that he would start the '06 MLB season in the majors. But he did make the MLB, first as a reliever and then as a starter, and he put up incredible numbers (12-3, 2.16 ERA, 9.1 R/9, 144 Ks in 121.0 IP). But the southpaw battled elbow problems late in the year and, in November, underwent Tommy John surgery. He's expected to miss the entire 2007 MLB season but could be back in time for the start of 2008, barring another setback. In DMBL terms, that means he'll be eligible as a superstar for this season, ineligible for next season, and who knows what he'll be the year after that. This left Vegas owner Eric Wickstrom in a quandry. After trading away prospects and draft picks last year to reach the post-season for the first time, he was already to committed to rebuilding in 2007. Liriano's sensational numbers this year would be of little use to a team likely to finish in last place anyway, and his ineligible status for the following season and the uncertainty of what they'll get the year after that might further extend the rebuilding project. Marietta, on the other hand, was ready to contend this year -- if not win the division, at least make the post-season for the fifth consecutive year. And with a rebuilding project of its own likely in the near future -- the team would turn in a protected list with 11 of its 15 players in their 30s, including seven who were 35 or older -- owner David Landsman wasn't put off by the idea of rehabbing Liriano next season, as even after the lost year he'd still be just 25 years old. As for this year, Marietta got everything they could have hoped for in Liriano (9-1, 2.65 ERA, 10.5 R/9, .765 QS%, 134 K in 105.1 IP).

It's too early to know Chris Rayhow this trade will work out for Vegas, as we'll have to wait and see what he gets for the 1st Round and 4th Round picks in the 2008 draft. But even so, he's done very well so far. Ray pitched great (2-2, 9 SV, 3.66 ERA, 9.4 R/9), made the All-Star team, and ultimately was packaged in a deal with D.C. that brought back yet another first rounder in '08, plus a top prospect and a very good outfielder. (More on that trade in our next edition.) And the 2007 fourth-rounder (#54 overall) was used to select outfielder Corey Hart, who hasn't done much in limited duty for the Pack this year (.247, .697 OPS in 105 PA), but the Rats don't care as they're in last anyway. More importantly, the 25-year-old looks like a keeper for '08 (.318, .926 OPS, 10 HR, 16 SB in 198 AB).

It's too early to know for sure, but both teams are happy with the results so far, so we'll tentatively call this one a win-win.

The Mighty Men also appear to be even-steven in another pre-season deal. The Mites sent future DMBL Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. to the Straphangers in exchange for a 9th Round draft pick. Most interpreted this trade as a nice gesture by the Marietta front office, an attempt to do the right thing for one of the league's all-time classiest players. The Mites had no use for Griffey given their crowded OF/DH situation, but instead of humiliating the six-time All-Star by not protecting him, they gave him to the new expansion team in Sardine City, which could use the veteran as an attendance draw. Ken Griffey Jr.The Straphangers are clearly going nowhere this season, so Griffey's struggles at the plate (.209, .637 OPS) aren't hurting anything, and his ABs are still greeted with hundreds of popping flashbulbs. What's really surprising, though, is that the 37-year-old Junior looks like he'll be worth protecting next season (.290, .950 OPS in MLB '07). So why are we calling this trade a draw? The Mites used Sardine City's ninth rounder (#114 overall) to select Bengie Molina, who is having a very good year (.342, .955 OPS), albeit in limited playing time (114 AB). Molina's primary role is as a lefty masher, and so far he's done that spectacularly well (.415, 1.162 OPS). Until recently, Molina had looked like a potential keeper for next season (MLB: .235 BA, .583 OPS in June '07; .283 BA, .728 OPS overall), but he'd have to finish strong to get back on Marieta's protected list. Still, Marietta did a mitzvah and got a good player for now, while Sardine City got a keeper for next year. Sounds like this deal made everybody a winner.

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

The question of who really won or lost a trade can rarely be answered objectively, especially within the same season -- sometimes the deal that looks great today looks very foolish tomorrow. But there are some trades we feel confident will be regarded in the future as being a victory for one side over the other.

There's still a lot of MLB left to be played, but if the protected lists were due tomorrow, this trade would certainly be regarded as the most lopsided of the pre-season. In an 11th hour trade on Jan. 31 -- the day each team had to announce its keepers -- Vegas made a seemingly inconsequential deal with the Straphangers, acquiring a 12th Round draft pick in exchange for perennial prospect B.J. Upton. B.J. UptonThe Rats had invested quite a lot in Upton the previous year, taking him in the fourth round (#47 overall), protecting him, and then keeping him on their farm system all year, only to see him struggle to hit Major League pitching and come up short of eligibility anyway (MLB '06: .246 BA, .593 OPS in 189 PA). Las Vegas, by trading him to Sardine City, actually accomplished two things: They got a draft pick, and they removed the temptation of drafting him again. The 12th round pick, as could be expected, didn't pan out -- the Rats took Juan Cruz, who was released after a so-so six weeks in middle relief (4.29 ERA, 14.9 R/9). If Upton again flopped in the MLB this season, this trade would have been quickly forgotten. But...

The Hangmen stashed Upton away on their farm system, and so far they've been delighted with how the 22-year-old second baseman has been progressing (.320 BA, .941 OPS in MLB '07). Just to twist the knife a little more, Cruz actually might be worth something next season (3.38 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 36 K in 29.1 IP) -- but he's now with Arkansas. Considering how much they'd invested in Upton, how little they got for him, and how good he looks now, this is not a trade Vegas fans will remember fondly. Even if Upton craters in the second half of the MLB season, it would be a draw; but as things stand now, this is looking like a big win for Sardine City.

Another deal that didn't look too exciting at the time looks much more interesting today. Philly, with too many players to protect, figured it was better to get something than nothing for its leftovers. So, three days after Christmas, the Endzone Animals gift-wrapped starter Vicente Padilla and reliever Juan Rincon and sent the package to Hoboken; Juan Rinconall they got in return was a 14th Round draft pick. Both pitchers were protected by the Cutters. So far this season, Padilla has been a workhorse for the Cutters, going 10-3 with a 4.55 ERA and .500 QS%; Rincon has been the team's closer, going 14-for-16 in save opportunities (despite a 5.04 ERA and 13.0 R/9).  Neither one looks like a keeper for next season -- Padilla has a 6.69 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, Rincon has a 4.23 ERA and 1.63 WHIP -- but even as one-year wonders, it's a nice return on their minimal investment. Oh, and the 14th Round pick? Philly used it to select perennial prospect Zack Greinke, who after a hot start in April has cooled off considerably (4.83 ERA, 1.47 WHIP) and has lost his spot in the Royals' rotation. This one has to be regarded as a big win for Hoboken.

One pre-season trade we thought was a win for one team now looks like a victory for the other. Marietta's trade of RP Dan Wheeler to D.C. in exchange for a 6th Round draft pick seemed like a win for the Bushslappers, as it came just a day after Vegas had given up a fourth rounder for an ineligible prospect. A sixth sounded very reasonable for a 29-year-old reliever with solid MLB numbers (2.52 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 68 K in 71.1 IP) the previous year. But Wheeler has been a disaster so far in D.C., posting a 6.07 ERA and 1.63 WHIP; even worse, his status as a keeper is in doubt as he's posted a 6.19 ERA in the MLB so far this year (though his 1.21 WHIP and 9 BB, 42 K in 36.1 IP are still very good). Pushing this trade even further into Marietta's win column is the fact that they used that sixth rounder (#73 overall) to take Milton Bradley, who is having a solid year for the Mighty Men (.305, .906 OPS), though it remains to be seen if he'll be able to stay healthy enough to even be considered a keeper for next season (.292, .819 OPS in 65 AB). It looked good at the time, but now this deal has to be regarded as a win for Marietta.

But D.C. did win a trade when they picked up two players in a deal with Vegas. Again, this deal looked better at the time, as the Rat Pack got a 3rd Round draft pick in exchange for two 30-something veterans they were unlikely to protect -- starting pitcher Derek Lowe and second baseman Luis Castillo. A third rounder isn't cheap, but it was well worth it as D.C. got back two key components in their playoff run. Castillo is D.C.'s every-day second baseman, hitting .299 (.362 OBP), and has gone 11-for-14 on the basepaths. He's also been one of the league's top defensive second baseman, as he's right at the top in both fielding percentage and total chances per game. And Lowe has been one of the league's top starting pitchers over the first half, going 11-6 with a 3.89 ERA, 12.9 R/9 and a .700 QS% to make the All-Star team. Derek LoweIf it just ended there, this deal might be considered even, but it gets better for the Bushslappers. Castillo, at the moment, is a borderline keeper for next year (.304 BA, .350 OBP, 7 SB in 260 AB), but Lowe looks like a lock (8-7, 3.03 ERA, 1.14 WHIP in 115.2 IP). It looks like D.C. sure got their money's worth. As for Vegas fans, they couldn't care less about giving up Castillo, but they certainly wouldn't mind having Lowe back for next season. But what really makes the deal annoying to Vegas fans is that the front office used that pick -- the third of the third round (#31 overall) -- to select third baseman Edwin Encarnacion. It doesn't matter that he's hitting an empty .287 (.728 OPS) with atrocious defense this season, as they're in last place anyway, but it appears to be more of the same for next year (.269, .723 OPS, .949 fielding percentage in the MLB this year). Next season, if he's still a Rat, he'll likely be sitting behind Chone Figgins (.310, .759 OPS, 18 SB), who looks like he'll only be eligible at third. He may even be sitting in Triple-A as the recently acquired Alex Gordon has been coming on after a miserable first two months of the season (.235 BA, .698 OPS overall; .326, .885 in June). Vegas may not have given up much, but at this point it looks like they got nothing back, while D.C. got two regular players and an apparent keeper for next season. That makes this trade a win for the Bushslappers.

This next deal went from a win to a tie to a win again. Just two days before the protected lists were due, the Sugar Bears dealt away veteran reliever Tom Gordon to the Sharks in exchange for a 4th Round draft pick. At the time of the deal, callers to Honolulu Sports Talk Radio KKEA 1420 AM blasted it as overpaying for a 39-year-old reliever, even one with pretty good numbers (3.34 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 68 K in 59.1 IP in MLB '06). Gordon has been the Sharks' closer for the entire season, and they're in the thick of the race for a playoff spot. On the other hand, Gordon has 7 losses and 8 blown saves, for a terrible .667 SV%, to go along with a 5.94 ERA and 16.0 R/9. Tom GordonMeanwhile, Newark fans were very happy to exchange Gordon for the first pick of the fourth round, until it was used to select Javier Vazquez. The former phenom had a huge '04 for Tijuana (15-6, 3.42 ERA, 1.21 WHIP), but outside of that has never lived up to the hype of being the 9th overall pick of the 2001 draft. Sugar Bear fans immediately began bemoaning the loss a valuable pitcher like Gordon in exchange for a dud like Vazquez. But so far this season, J.V. has been the ace of the Sugar Bear staff, with an 11-2 record. Granted, that may have something to do with the astounding 9.6 runs the Sugar Bears have averaged in each of his starts, but his 4.05 ERA, 12.4 R/9 and .550 QS% aren't bad either. Making this trade look even better is the fact that Vazquez is looking like a keeper for next season (3.95 ERA, 1.14 wHIP in MLB '07), while Gordon is not (4.82 ERA, 1.71 WHIP in MLB '07). Their current DMBL seasons alone would be enough, but that coupled with Vazquez's potential for next season make this one, once again, a win for Newark.

We don't know how this next trade will ultimately work out, but for now, it sure looks one-sided at the moment. The Endzone Animals gave up a 2008 3rd Round Draft Pick for Michael Cuddyer -- which seemed like a high price to pay for a guy with good but not great numbers for an outfielder (.284, .867 OPS in MLB '06). The trade looks even worse now for Philly as Cuddyer had a brutal first half (.240, .630 OPS), reducing him to a part-time role. For next year, Cuddyer's numbers are basically the same (.290, .822 in MLB '07), making him a borderline keeper. We don't know what player the Vans will get with Philly's third round pick, but you have to assume he will be better than what they gave up. At the moment, we'll put this one down as a win for Vancouver.

The early returns on another deal swung by the Iron Fist also appear to be in Vancouver's favor. The Fisters traded reliever Brandon McCarthy to Marietta for a 6th Round draft pick in 2007. Although McCarthy was eligible for this DMBL season, his numbers weren't too impressive (4.68 ERA, 1.30 WHIP in MLB '06), and in fact he has yet to appear in the DMBL this year. No, this was a deal aimed at the future. Brandon McCarthyA month earlier, McCarthy had been traded in the MLB as well, to the Texas Rangers, who were going to put him in the rotation for the upcoming season. Marietta hoped the 24-year-old's return to the rotation would allow him to put up numbers like he had two years ago as a rookie with the White Sox (4.03 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in MLB '05) which made him the 26th pick of the '06 DMBL draft. Instead, Texas has been a nightmare for McCarthy (5.90 ERA, 1.57 WHIP in MLB '07), and it remains to be seen if Marietta will be willing to invest another spot on the keeper list and the farm team to keep him and hope for a better year next year. Interestingly, the Iron Fist used Marietta's sixth rounder to take a very similar player in Chad Billingsley, a 23-year-old right-hander who is eligible but essentially unusable for this DMBL season (3.80 ERA, but 1.67 WHIP, 58 BB, 59 K in MLB '06). The Fisters have kept him tucked away in Triple-A so far, but his numbers look very good for next season (4.01 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 19 BB, 44 K in MLB '07), and at this point you have to pencil him onto Vancouver's protected list. There's still time for McCarthy to turn things around and/or Billingsley to implode, but if the season ended today, you'd have to call this one another win for Vancouver.

Swappin' Spit

As the saying goes, one man's trash is another man's... well, in this case, trash. Sometimes teams make trades that appear to help no one at all.

The classic example this season was the pre-keeper list deal between Las Vegas and Vancouver. Mark BuehrleThe Rats got Mark Buehrle and the Fisters got Pat Burrell. Three months later, neither one got protected. What was the point of that? One might say neither team lost anything, but then again, maybe not. It's possible either team could have gotten at least a late pick for Burrell, as Hoboken took him in the 5th round (#62 overall). However, as it turned out, his numbers are awful (.160, .565 OPS in 131 AB) and just as bad for next season (.205 BA, .749 OPS in MLB), so maybe not. On the other hand, Buehrle -- who was taken by D.C. in the 11th Round (#143 overall) -- looks like a terrific keeper for next season (4-4, 3.33 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in the MLB). It looks like both sides lost this trade by letting Buehrle slip through their fingers.

That deal was made a day after Las Vegas pulled off a swap that also went nowhere. The Rats sent a 4th Round pick to Philly for prospect John Patterson -- which seemed like a a steep price for a 29-year-old ineligible pitcher coming off arm surgery, who had just one good year in his MLB career. It's all the more curious when you consider Philly probably couldn't have protected him anyway. Naturally, Patterson broke down again and now won't be eligible for next year either; the Rats cut him in April. So why is this deal included among the duds, rather than going down as a big winner for Philly? Because they used that fourth round pick (#51 overall) to select Mike Pelfrey, who is 0-5 with a 6.53 ERA and 1.75 WHIP, and is unlikely to be eligible for next season anyway. Sounds like everyone's a loser in this trade.

Another odd deal was struck between the Golden Falcons and Mighty Men on Draft Day. Kevin KouzmanoffIn the 14th Round (#194 overall), Marietta took prospect Kevin Kouzmanoff. Almost immediately, they traded him to Arkansas for their 15th Round pick in '08. Had Kouzmanoff's value plunged by a full round just in a matter of minutes? Maybe, like a new car, his value depreciated the second he was driven off the lot. Still, giving up a 14th rounder today for a 15th rounder tomorrow doesn't sound like a wise strategy. But Arkansas can't crow about it either -- the Kouz is hitting just .221 (.660 OPS) in the MLB this season. He's still on Arkansas's roster, but likely won't be for long. We'll call this one a loss all around.

Chris Nabholz was the subject of one of the league's most controversial trades on Dec. 12, 1991, when the Austin Outlaws southpaw was dealt to the Scranton Sparrows for unspecified "future considerations." The cantankerous owners couldn't agree on adequate compensation and ultimately the trade was resolved through arbitration, with Scranton getting Austin's 5th and 15th round picks in 1993. Trades for "future considerations," players to be named later, cash and so on were banned after this trade. Nabholz now lives in Pottsville, Pa., where he helps coach the local high school team and at baseball camps. Click Here for past articles.