Friday, December 05, 2003

The Empire Strikes Back ... Or Do They? 

Never one to be outdone, Boss George yesterday spearheaded a trade with Les Expos, acquiring Montreal's staff ace and great human being Javier Vazquez for on-base machine and my favorite (former) Yankee Nick Johnson, as well as a sack of bats and a sack of balls (see: choad).

Randol Doyle Choate was initially a player-to-be-named later in this deal, with "later" turning out to be around an hour's time. He's 28 years old, and has played parts of the last four seasons with the Yankees. In 91 big league innings, Choate has struck out 64 batters while walking 51. The K/9 isn't too bad (6.40), but the K/BB is pretty scary (1.25). He's done a good job keeping the ball in the yard, surrendering only four homers in those 91 innings. His career numbers with Columbus of the International League (AAA) are quite good, striking out 129 and walking 56 in 147 innings, while giving up only 6 longballs. He's hardly a prospect at this point, but he could certainly contribute 70 league-average-or-better innings for a lot of major league clubs ... just not the Yankees.

What was once a glut of pinstriped Riveras (Mariano, Ruben, Juan) has been whittled down to a single one. Thursday morning I heard somewhere that Juan Rivera was almost a dealbreaker for the Yankees. After pissing myself, I felt much better. On the bright side, Rivera tore apart left-handed pitching this season to the tune of a 1.018 OPS (.326 GPA). On the dim side, that was only in 50 at-bats. On the bleak side, almost everything else. He actually posted an .879 OPS (.293 GPA) in 772 AAA at-bats since 2001, with 29 homers and 128 RBIs. It all fell apart, as it does for so many, when he joined the big club. If the Expos can re-sign Vladimir Guerrero, Rivera could play left-field with Brad Wilkerson shifting over to center, leaving Endy Chavez and his .648 OPS (.221 GPA) twiddling his thumbs.

Nick Johnson is a very good batter. He's adequate in the field, but at the plate he really seems to get it. It? Yep, he gets it. The guy walked 70 times in 324 AB, striking out only 57 times. He even managed 14 homers while posting a team-high .422 OBP. I like this kid, and I think he has a huge upside.

That being said, the Yankees had to make this deal. They pick up the Expos best pitcher, and certainly one of the better young non-Cub starters in the National League. Is he better than Curt Schilling? No, definitely not. Is he better than Bartolo Colon? Maybe. Thinner? Definitely. Cheaper? No chance. Will the Yankees sign Colon anyway now that they have Vazquez? They might. Can I write in sentence fragments for an entire blog? We'll just have to see. Vazquez is a young, accomplished, level-headed strikeout pitcher that the Yankees aging rotation desperately needed. He doesn't walk a lot of guys, but will give up his share of homeruns. That being said, he'll likely be the Yankees #2 guy behind The Moose, and a damned fine one at that.

It's hard to fault either team for making this deal. The Yankees needed an upgrade to the rotation, and needed a frontline guy to keep up with the Red Sox. The Expos needed to shed payroll to make an offer to Vlady, and got a very good hitter with a huge ceiling along with some spare parts.

Advantage: Push

THIS JUST IN: In an article in today's Montreal Gazette, Pat Hickey doesn't think the Yankees made out so well:

The Yankees bolstered their starting rotation yesterday when they acquired Javier Vazquez from the Expos for first-baseman Nick Johnson, outfielder Juan Rivera and left-handed relief pitcher Randy Choate.

Or did they?

The deal is the Yankees' response to the Red Sox acquiring Curt Schilling, but the only edge Vazquez, 27, has over Schilling, 37, is the fact he's a lot younger. He's no Schilling and he'll have to be a lot more consistent than he was here if he's going to fill any of the holes left in the Yankees' rotation. Roger Clemens is definitely gone and there is no assurance that David Wells or Andy Pettitte will be back. They are all better than Vazquez.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Bombers Cough Up Millions For Middle Relief ... Yankee Dogs Now $18 

The Yankees excess is hard at work again, this time (over)spending on warm bodies to set up Mariano Rivera. Tom Gordon signed a two-year deal yesterday worth $7.2 million, and Ontario's own Paul Quantrill signed a similar two-year pact worth $6.8 million. Add to that the soon-to-be deals for Felix "Don't Call me Gil" Heredia (two years, $3.6 million) and Gabe White (two years, $6 million), plus the $10 million they owe Steve Karsay through 2005 and the $2.4 million Chris Hammond will make in 2004, and the Anskys will have $36 million tied up in middle relief over the next couple of seasons. That's more than half of what the Brewers will spend on their entire roster over the same span.

                      2001               2002               2003

                 K/9  K/BB  HR/9    K/9  K/BB  HR/9    K/9  K/BB  HR/9
Tom Gordon      13.30 4.19  0.79   10.13 3.00  0.63   11.07 2.94  0.49
Paul Quantrill   6.29 4.83  0.65    6.22 2.12  0.12    5.12 2.93  0.23
Gabe White       6.25 1.81  2.39    6.79 4.10  0.50    5.59 3.63  1.35
Felix Heredia    7.20 1.75  1.54    5.33 1.19  0.86    4.66 1.36  1.03

The first thing that immediately jumps out at me is Flash Gordon's strikeout rates. He was seventh in the majors this season in K/9 with 11.07 (among pitchers with at least 40 ip). That's better than Billy Wagner (10.99), John Smoltz (10.21), and Octavio Dotel (10.03). He had Tommy John surgery four years ago, and has missed a good deal of playing time over the past five seasons, including much of 1999 and all of 2000. If he stays healthy, he'll give the Yankee bullpen the power arm (aside from M-Riv) they've sorely missed during the past few seasons of incomprehensible failure.

Paul Quantrill, while no doubt aided by the friendly confines of Dodger Stadium (park factors of 93 and 91 the past two seasons), should provide some much-needed relief, and will offer a change of pace from Gordon's hard stuff. He has very good control and, while he doesn't strike out a ton of hitters, gives up a ridiculously low number of homeruns. Last season he gave up one longball for approximately every 36 innings he pitched. While astounding, it was put to shame by his 2002 rate of one every 72 innings. That would be like a starting pitcher giving up one homerun for every 12 six-inning starts he makes. He is an extreme groundball pitcher, giving up almost twice as many groundballs as flyballs over the last three years. While this helps keep the ball in the yard, it may not be the best complement to the Yankees infield defense.

Gabe White and Felix Heredia are probably league-average relievers. They both pitched pretty well for the Yankees last season, which apparently was enough for Boss George to pay them like they were replacement-level middle-infielders.

Quite frankly, the Yankee bullpen was s*** last season. With Heredia and White effectively replacing the 2003 versions of themselves, Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon (when he plays), will be a huge upgrade over the jigsaw puzzle suckfest that has dominated the middle innings at the Stadium of late.

Castillo Resigns With Marlins ... Anonymous Mets Blogger Giddy With Disbelief 

I would like to personally thank the Florida Marlins for signing Luis Castillo so the Mets didn't have to. I'm sorry, but I guess I'm the only one who wasn't jumping out of my shorts to give away $16 million over three years for a .731 OPS (256 GPA), which is exactly what Castillo has posted since 2001. Granted, he's a gold-glover at second base, the second-most important defensive position after shortstop. You want stolen bases? Look elsewhere. Castillo has been caught almost a third of the time over the past three seasons (102 SB in 152 chances).

The Mets will apparently now turn their attention to Kazuo Matsui, who will probably get a deal similar to that of Hideki Matsui ($21 million over three years). I would sooner do that than spend $16 million on Luis. That is, of course, provided it doesn't require moving Jose Reyes to second base. Mets management is apparently split on this idea. Ownership is in favor of moving Reyes, while GM Jim Duquette and other executives are opposed to the idea (as am I).

Of course, the Mets will be bidding against no less than five other teams (Yankees, Orioles, Mariners, Dodgers, Angels), with the Dodgers, Angels, and Orioles certain to have an opening for him at shortstop. I've read that he won't want to share the Yankee spotlight with Hideki Matsui, preferring to be the prominent Japanese player on any team (cross Seattle of the list?).

There is also talk about the Mets signing Brooklyn's own Rich Aurilia to play second base, or third base with Ty Wigginton moving to second. Aside from his ridiculously-out-of-character year in 2001 (.324 BA, 37 HR, 97 RBI), he's been a pretty mediocre hitter, sporting a .278 career BA, .331 career OBP, and .444 career slugging.

An intriguing possibility that hasn't really been mentioned yet would be trading for Jose Vidro, who is a very good, fairly patient switch hitter with some pop. He's scheduled to make $7 million this year. Maybe the Mets could put together a nice little package of prospects and ship them to Montreal for Vidro and Livan Hernandez ($6 million). That would allow the Expos to free up $13 million in 2004, which might leave them enough wiggle room to afford Javier Vazquez' arbitration award and bring back Vlad Guerrero. I might even be willing to take on arbo-eligible Orlando Cabrera (who won a gold glove in 2001) to play third base. Hernandez and Cabrera would be one-year trials who could be dumped after '04 if they suck it up Robbie Alomar-style.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

D-Backs Bag Sexton ... Cancel Pending Order With Wind Tunnels, Inc. 

Now that the chips have fallen in the Curt Schilling deal, the D-Backs wasted no time consummating a follow-up deal with the Beermakers, trading a grab bag of would-be prospects and spare parts for the only thing that previously separated the Brewers from any other minor league ballclub.

The centerpiece of this deal is Richie Sexson, whose 465 whiffs over the past three seasons exceed all but the holy trinity of Jose Hernandez (550), Jim Thome (506), and Mike Cameron (468). Fortunately for Arizona, Sexson has looked a lot more like Thome than offensive wastelands Hernandez and Cameron. He's averaged 40 homers and 117 RBI over that same span and, while he's not quite up to the walking-machine status of Thome, he has increased his walk totals each season as well (60, 70, 98). His GPA this season was .308, 5th best among ML first-basemen (Helton, Delgado, Giambi, Thome).

My favorite line from the ESPN.com article has got to be this one:

With Shea Hillenbrand at third base, Arizona has a pair of solid right-handed bats in what has been, in recent years, a lineup dominated by left-handed hitters.

I don't know about you guys, but the last time I checked, a .302 OBP is not what I would consider "solid". That's what Shea Hillenbrand put up for the D-Backs in 330 AB. Small sample size? He has gotten on base at a .314 clip since 2001 (1617 AB), with a grand total of 62 walks.

The major league "talent" the Brewers got back in this deal is marginal. Here they are with their OPS and GPA from 2003:

Player           OPS   GPA
Junior Spivey   .759  .255
Craig Counsell  .631  .224
Chad Moeller    .770  .260
Lyle Overbay    .898  .308 (2002 Tuscon AAA)

Overbay is the only one here who isn't a waste of a roster spot, though Moeller's .260 GPA would have been good for 7th among big league catchers, between Ramon Hernandez (.263) and Paul Lo Duca (.245). I had Moeller in a fantasy league this season, but Arizona manager Bob Brenly stopped playing him for some unknown reason. He apparently favored Rod Barajas' razor-thin .201 GPA. Overbay struggled a bit this year with the big club, posting a .767 OPS and a respectable .265 GPA. He'll take over at first base for Milwaukee, seamlessly replacing the strikeout void Sexson leaves behind (67 in 254 AB).

The other player of note in this deal is Jorge De La Rosa, who the D-Backs had just acquired minutes earlier from the Red Sox in the Curt Schilling swap. De La Rosa notched a 2.80 ERA with Portland of the Eastern League, striking out 102 while walking only 36 in 99.2 innings. He also did a good job keeping the ball in the park, giving up only six homers. He's only 22, and could have a bright future with Milwaukee, until he no longer fits under their $30 million payroll umbrella and is traded to the D-Backs for prospects.

A pretty good trade for Arizona, as they get the sluggardly slugger they've been looking for. Sexson will cost them $8.6 million this year, but they were able to jettison Counsell and his $3.15 million along with Spivey and his $2,367,500 price tag.

Advantage: Diamondbacks

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