May 2006

Ringolsby: Cubs Interested In Shealy

I’ve been waiting almost a month for a name to surface in connection with the Cubs’ first base vacancy that I actually like.  I’ve heard about Mike Sweeney, Kevin Millar, Tony Clark, and Jeff Conine.  While I was OK with the Clark idea, that deal made more sense two weeks ago.  I could see Derrek Lee back on the field for the Cubs in about one month.  In that case, you’d hope Jim Hendry could acquire a player who may be useful beyond then.

Even more ideal, though, would be acquiring a player who the Cubs might still want around if they cash in 2006 as a rebuilding year.  Ryan Shealy fits that description.  The 26 year-old right-handed first baseman is said to interest the Cubs.  Granted it was for Colorado Springs, but Shealy hit .328/.393/.601 in Triple A last year.  He’s at .293/.370/.683 in 11 games this season.

Acquiring Shealy is all about his 30 HR potential and nothing about his defense.  The Rockies attempted to convert him into an outfielder this spring, and the increased throws caused an elbow injury.  He’s a huge guy, and it’s not going to be pretty to see him lumber around the outfield. 

I know you typically need an arm to play right field, but once Shealy’s elbow is 100%, why not try him in right field a bit?  If Jeromy Burnitz can do it, maybe Shealy can too.  Jacque Jones is 1 for 18 against lefties and is hitting .238/.295/.363 against them over the past three seasons.  That’s like throwing Royce Clayton, Mike Matheny, or Neifi Perez out in right field.  The Cubs, as much as any team, need to be able to hit southpaws.  Maybe Shealy could push Matt Murton a bit too and DH in the AL interleague games.  Trust me, the Cubs can find this guy 350-400 ABs.

The Cubs have been auditioning all sorts of kid pitchers this year, and it’s time to send one of them packing for Shealy before a smarter team like the Red Sox or Athletics snags him.   

Yanks Need Outfield Help

The trade rumor question on everyone’s mind today: who are the Yankees getting to replace Hideki Matsui?

Buster Olney ran through seven options in his blog today.  Let’s assess these first.

1. Bobby Abreu was the headliner today.  Olney reiterated Gillick’s aggressive attempts to deal him this winter.  But as a few commenters on this site have mentioned, why would the Phillies trade Abreu to the Yanks when their team is contending?  New York doesn’t have an equitable starting pitcher to offer in return (unless Carl Pavano gets a visit from the 2003 fairy again).  Dealing Abreu for Philip Hughes and another prospect just isn’t sensible for the Phillies.

2. With a projection of .273/.335/.406, Shannon Stewart ain’t replacing Matsui’s offense.  Matsui is a 5-6 win player, Stewart is a two win player. 

3. Torii Hunter is a better option, though his defense is not what it once was.  If the Twins could wrangle Hughes for Hunter, it would be a killer move for them.  It seems likely that the Yankees will at least inquire, and Hunter would be happy on the big stage.

4. Olney rightfully questions Aubrey Huff as a poor fit because of a slow start, poor defense, and no good match among Yankee pitching prospects.

5. Alfonso Soriano is sounding less crazy each time I think about it.  But again, could this happen without Hughes? Wouldn’t be worth that price.

6. Mike Cameron…not sure why he is on this list.

7. Austin Kearns…see Mike Cameron.

Now to add a few others:

A couple of mid-tier options I mentioned in conjunction with St. Louis still could apply: Reggie Sanders, David Dellucci, and Craig Wilson would all come at a lesser cost. 

Some more large salaried possibilities: Carlos Lee, Shawn Green, Luis Gonzalez, Raul Ibanez, Jim Edmonds, Mark Kotsay, and Juan Pierre.  These guys are admittedly less likely for various reasons, but it’s always fun to speculate.  I was surprised to hear that the Brewers are trying to work out a contract extension for Lee.

I really could see Hunter as the guy, especially since the Twins are already in fourth place, 8.5 games out. If the Yanks want a player comparable to Matsui, it should cost them Hughes and perhaps Jose Tabata or another younger prospect.

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Nats Fire Sale?

Interesting article from Ken Rosenthal today.  He mentions how the Nationals’ new management, in an attempt to build long-term could consider trades for Livan Hernandez, Jose Guillen, Alfonso Soriano, Nick Johnson, and Brian Schneider.

Johnson could bring an incredible bounty, especially if he continues to hit for this kind of power and stays healthy.  Back in March, Jim Bowden signed Johnson to a deal well below his market value.

PECOTA calls for another nice year for Hernandez, though no one could’ve seen all of these HRs allowed coming.  We could be looking to a season akin to his 1998 if this keeps up.  Still, a team with a significant void in the rotation like the Mets could gain a few wins with him.  Same goes for Guillen, who can handle either outfield corner capably.  Should be a fun team to watch from a trade rumor perspective; I’ll try to establish some sources.

Lilly Wants To Be A Giant

Ted Lilly was forthcoming yesterday with his desire: he’d like to play in the Bay Area for either the Giants or A’s.  Lilly mentioned that he was looking at the Giants’ rotation and doesn’t know whether they would have an opening.  I think we can reasonably answer his question.

Matt Morris, Noah Lowry, and Matt Cain form the foundation of the rotation.

Still, the Giants definitely will have a need for a starter.  Jason Schmidt is a free agent after this season.  If his first 52 innings are any indication, he’s going to have a huge price tag.  San Francisco may have to deal him midseason; I know Boston has expressed some interest.

Then there’s Brad Hennessey and Jamey Wright, a couple of guys with journeyman written all over them.  One of them might make a tolerable fifth but I wouldn’t bet on it.  Plus, the whole Matt Morris idea ain’t lookin’ so good right now.  The Giants have a few decent arms down at Double A, but their rotation has holes.

I don’t see the A’s re-signing Lilly, but they didn’t seem to have a big need for Esteban Loaiza either.  Stranger things have happened.

The fact that Lilly has yet to fully realize his promise won’t stop clubs from bidding on the free agent.  The southpaw seemed on the verge of a breakout after making 31 starts for the 2003 A’s.  He had a healthy strikeout rate and kept the walks at a reasonable level.  However, the A’s dealt him to Toronto that offseason because he was arbitration-eligible.

He started ’04 with a sore wrist.  Lilly still made it through a decent year, tossing a career high in innings.  His 4.06 per nine walk rate was a cause for concern, however.

Lilly began ’05 with another problem, shoulder tendinitis.  The issue lingered and then in May of that year his pitching coach accused him of being "lethargic" after a side session.  By July, the word was biceps tendinitis.  This time there was the dreaded visit to Dr. Lewis Yocum.  He made it out of there unscathed, but his shoulder blade caused discomfort by September. 

This season, his non-throwing shoulder barked a little bit.  Lilly seems OK now, and his 3.18 ERA through 34 innings looks pretty.  Still, he won’t see sustained success walking more than four batters per nine unless he becomes unhittable again, as he was in ’04. 

Given that Lilly will be 30 in 2006 and hasn’t shown both health and control in the same season since 2003, he’s probably going to be a bad signing.  Baseball Prospectus says he’d only be worth about $6MM if signed for 2007-09.  Nonetheless, if Barry stays and Schmidt leaves, I could see the Giants offering Lilly the standard 3/21 deal.  As with Morris, it won’t end well.   

Olney: Cards Considering Stewart/Hunter

I haven’t addressed the Cardinal outfield situation since March 5th.  Since then, many things have changed:

Kevin Mench is hitting .300/.328/.591 with 9 home runs.  He’s been driving in a lot of runs as the Rangers’ sixth place hitter.  What’s more, Jason Marquis has stunk it up (6.00 ERA) and John Koronka came out of nowhere to toss four quality starts in seven tries.  Can’t see any kind of Mench for Marquis swap now.

Also, Jim Edmonds is hitting .240/.333/.417, and Will Carroll thinks he may have to shut it down for a while to get completely right again.

Toss in a strained elbow for Sidney Ponson (who has a 2.81 ERA) and a sore back for Mark Mulder, and the Cardinals can’t afford to deal a starting pitcher right now.

The need for an outfielder persists.  So Taguchi isn’t hitting.  Larry Bigbie was activated yesterday, and he deserves a shot.  According to Cardinals Diaspora, a recent Buster Olney report indicates interest from Walt Jocketty in Torii Hunter or Shannon Stewart.  As noted in the post, Stewart is more their style.  He makes $6.5MM this year and is off to a .295/.352/.384 start.  PECOTA expects his age 32 season to finish around .272/.335/.406.  Is that really any better than the .264/.334/.423 season projected for Bigbie?

The Craig Wilson option remains a viable one, and Luis Gonzalez‘s .832 OPS ain’t bad.  Cards fans dream of Miguel Cabrera, but Dontrelle Willis seems more likely to be dealt this summer.  Haven’t seen any smoke on that one for a while, though the Cards did show interestAnthony Reyes remains the best trading chip, as he has a 3.62 ERA and 35/5 K/BB ratio at Triple A.  About a week ago, Viva El Birdos noted some interesting developments surrounding a Reyes start.

A few more possibilities, based on my own speculation: Eric Hinske, Reggie Sanders, Alfonso Soriano, Emil Brown, Brady Clark, Jose Cruz Jr., Matt Lawton, David Dellucci, and Victor Diaz.

If I were GM?  I’d probably start with Lawton but see what it would take to get Reggie back.

Mets Rotation Concerns

Reader Brian M. recently asked:

"Where do the Mets turn now that Victor Zambrano is out for the year?  Bannister will be back in week or so, but with Maine also being placed on the DL, and Lima getting slammed today, the Mets need one more arm.  Do they turn to Heilman (the obvious choice, but Mets brass are too stubborn to take him out of the ‘pen)?  Time to search free agency?  Perhaps time to trade Victor Diaz?  What should they do, and what do you think they will do?"

Good question, Brian.  The Mets currently have a rotation of Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, Steve Trachsel, and Brian Bannister.  Bannister is eligible to come off the DL on May 12th, but his actual return date is uncertain.  John Maine can return on May 18th, which is also no lock.

Today marked the next round of Lima Time, and it wasn’t pretty.  He’ll probably remain in the rotation anyway until Bannister gets back.  For the next few weeks, I expect the Mets to pair Lima with their last remaining option from the Norfolk rotation: Jeremi Gonzalez.  Gonzalez will probably get two or three starts this month for the Mets; he has a 3.03 ERA through six Triple A starts this year.  Jason Scobie is a longshot; he’s performing poorly so far and is more of a minor league lifer.

Yusaku Iriki, never a great option, will be out until June with a steroid suspension.  With just two Double A starts under his belt, promoting Mike Pelfrey right now could be a tad risky for one of the best pitching prospects in baseball.  Jeremi Gonzalez is a fine fifth starter for the rest of May, and I’m not sure he’ll do much worse than Pelfrey would.  With Billy Wagner‘s finger in doubt, the bullpen cannot afford to lose Aaron Heilman.

Come June and beyond, a fifth starter of Gonzalez/Lima/Maine won’t cut it.  Bannister profiles as a fifth starter himself, and Trachsel something of a fourth.  The Mets are going to be looking for a solid #3 type.  Both Pelfrey and Alay Soler have the goods, but are they ready for The Show?

Soler is a 26 year-old Cuban defector who breezed through Single A and has had one good start at Double A so far.  Baseball America says he has two plus pitches and big-game experience, so he may be closer than some people realize.  Back in 2003, the Yankees gave Jose Contreras just six starts in the minors before promoting him.  Contreras went 7-2 with a 3.30 ERA and 1.15 WHIP for the big club that year, posting the highest strikeout rate of his career.  Soler could provide a similar shot in the arm in mid-June, and I’d probably promote him over Pelfrey.

Omar Minaya will be prowling the trade market regardless.  If the Cubs are out of it by July, Greg Maddux might make a good fit.  Jason Schmidt and Barry Zito will also have the rumor mill churning in a few months.  If Minaya decides to bring in more of a #4 type, he can make a play for Joel Pineiro or Gil Meche from Seattle, maybe Kip Wells from the Pirates if he’s healthy.

Here’s the problem: Lastings Milledge is tearing up Triple A, and he is the one trading chip the Mets have left that can bring a #2-3 starter.  I do not expect the Mets to trade him.  Young outfield prospect Carlos Gomez has been overmatched at Double A so far, and Victor Diaz needs to start hitting to get his stock up.  Double A first baseman Brett Harper could be part of a package, as could Triple A 2B Jeff Keppinger.  17 year-old outfielder Fernando Martinez would be a nice prize for a team like the Pirates or Mariners and is the best prospect the Mets can offer not named Milledge.

To review: Omar’s options are A)Soler/Pelfrey, B)trade Milledge for a true #2-3, or C)get a second-tier guy for Diaz and a few other mid-level prospects. 

If it were up to me?  I’d try everything under the sun to get Schmidt from Brian Sabean without including Milledge, starting now.  In the meantime I would promote Soler in June and give him a good 5-7 starts.  If Soler does well, I’d stand pat at the deadline knowing that I could still use Pelfrey if necessary.  If Soler bombed, I would offer Fernando Martinez and/or Victor Diaz to get the best available starter.  This is what I expect Minaya to do as well, perhaps settling for a Diaz/Pineiro swap when nothing reasonable comes along.

One last aggressive option up for debate: would Omar give up Milledge to acquire Dontrelle Willis at the deadline?

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Craig Hansen A Starter?

A few more rumors out of Boston:

Is Craig Hansen developing a third pitch so that the Red Sox can use him in the rotation?  Could be, according to my source.  They’ll wait and see what comes of David Wells‘s rehab start first, however.  Given that Hansen suffered from a tired arm last year, the Red Sox will have to be extra careful if they try it.

My source also corrected my Dustin Pedroia speculation, saying that while the club is not happy with Pedroia as a shortstop, they will have no problem using him in place of Mark Loretta if need be.  Loretta has four hits in his last eight at-bats, so he may be coming around.

Oliver Perez Available?

Here’s a new one for ya, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus’s Will Carroll yesterday:

"One rumor from the last few days is that Oliver Perez and Ryan Doumit are being dangled to the Phillies."

Would this deal make a good fit?  It seems a foregone conclusion that Mike Lieberthal is spending his last year as a Phillie, so the team does need to begin thinking long-term about its backstop.  Doumit would be a decent option.  Ronny Paulino has impressed the Pirates so far, and just a few weeks ago Jim Tracy indicated that Humberto Cota would start more often than Doumit for defensive purposes.

While I don’t doubt Doumit’s availability, the Phils would be well served to give Carlos Ruiz a crack at the job in 2007.  Granted he’s not a super prospect at age 27, but an impressive 2005 at Triple A coupled with his current .386/.448/.663 line warrants a look.

Obviously, the Phillies need pitching.  Their 4.99 team ERA is better than only the Giants.  Their starters have been pretty much toasted outside of Brett Myers (though he has allowed more than 1.5 baserunners per inning so far).  The hit rates on these guys are out of this world.  If you subscribe to the idea that hit rate is largely influenced by defense and luck, you may expect these guys to turn it around.

I do know that Jon Lieber is better than his 6.87 ERA by a long shot.  But Ryan Madson has failed in every aspect of pitching so far: hit, home run, and walk prevention, strikeout rate, you name it.  I did not see that coming at all, especially after his sparkling spring.  With Madson and Gavin Floyd getting smacked around consistently, the Phillies desperately need a reliable veteran to step in if they are to close the five game gap with the Mets.  They also need to support their pitchers with better defense – they’re second from the bottom in defensive efficiency this year.

I don’t think Oliver Perez is the answer.  Dejan Kovacevic’s April 3rd piece shows how the Pirates are playing it cool, but internally they have to be concerned about his lack of velocity.  As the article says, heat was a main ingredient of Perez’s 2004 breakout.  The Bucs can afford to sit around for at least a few more months to see if it comes back, but a contender like Philadelphia cannot. 

The Phils are stacked with young pitchers like Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzalez, and Scott Mathieson, so I can’t see where an Oliver Perez project fits in.  A Hamels callup, possibly this month, may be the shot in the arm the team needs.  On the other hand, Perez is a Scott Boras client, and it’s not like Littlefield hasn’t given away star players in the past…    

Do The Red Sox Need Izturis?

It is apparent that Dodgers shortstop Cesar Izturis is available, as the Dodgers don’t have an opening for him at shortstop.  I would think that the overall health/performance shakiness of the entire infield would be enough for L.A. to keep Izturis around as a backup all season.

But the rumors persist, the main one being that the Red Sox are interested.  I have to wonder why.  The team already has a slick-fielding, walk-allergic shortstop, and his name is Alex Gonzalez.  I admit, Gonzalez had a terrible April with the bat.  But he’s had similar months in his career, so why not see if he can shake it off and hit his usual .240 with decent pop?  That’s all that was expected in the first place.

Now, if the Red Sox were jonesing to acquire, say, Julio Lugo, I’d understand.  A healthy Lugo would be worth a good three wins in the standings compared to Gonzo.  But Cesar Izturis is a .261/.295/.338 career hitter, and he’s signed through 2007.  Even if Gonzalez tanks and Izturis is himself, the team’s gain is minimal.  The Dodgers are going to want something decent in return for Izturis, so why bother?  They already gave up something decent to reacquire Tim Wakefield‘s personal catcher.   

Pedroia Falling Out of Favor?

A source out of Boston had a little nugget about Red Sox second base/shortstop prospect Dustin Pedroia.  Pedroia, by the way, is the 11th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball Prospectus.

My source tells me that Pedroia is "falling out of favor with the Sox brass."  Apparently the Red Sox think he’s gotten way too big and is too slow to play shortstop.

Pedroia has come back from a shoulder strain to play shortstop for Boston’s Triple A affiliate.  He was moved to second base last year, but the Hanley Ramirez trade resulted in a switch back to short.  The 22 year-old is hitting .269/.367/.385 for the Pawtucket Red Sox in 52 ABs. 

You have to be worried about Pedroia’s lack of power at the Triple A level , dating back to last year.  Nonetheless, BP projects Pedroia to hit .290/.362/.450 in the Majors this year.  My guess is that Pedroia is showcased in the big leagues within a month’s time.  He could serve as a major young trading chip for Boston this summer.