December 2005

And the deals keep on coming

I guess the discussions that went on in Dallas are paying off as several deals are coming to fruition.

Let’s start with the Milton Bradley deal. It’s not often you see two guys with big league experience get traded for one prospect (usually, it’s the other way around), but I guess when Bradley’s involved, all bets are off. The Dodgers wanted to make a "character" move, plain and simple. Not only did they improve in that regard by dealing the oft-maligned Bradley, they received one of the best people — not just players — in the Minor Leagues. Andre Ethier is an outstanding hitter and above-average outfielder. And his makeup, as anyone will tell you, is off the charts. There’s a reason he was chosen by the Arizona Fall League as this year’s recipient of the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award. He should reach LA before the year is over. You can hear Andre discuss the trade and the charitable donation he’s making in conjunction with the Stenson Award on my radio show, "Around the Minors" this Friday on MLB Radio at 2 p.m. ET.

While that deal is official, the Javy Vazquez deal isn’t quite. But again, it’s an interesting one from a Minors perspective. The key to the deal for the D-Backs is White Sox CF prospect Chris Young. The guy’s got 30-30 potential. He’s hit 50 homers and stolen 63 bases over the past two seasons and skipped over High-A ball as if it was nothing in 2005.

The White Sox are clearly gearing up for another run next year, bringing in established guys in Jim Thome and Vazquez to do so. But here’s the thing. One is older and an injury concern, the other hasn’t pitched well consistently in two years and will be on his third team in three years (one move not his choice, the other his demand). To get these question marks, the White Sox have given up two lefty pitching prospects, one good in Daniel Haigwood and one arguably one of the best Minor League southpaws in the game in Gio Gonzalez, and a young center fielder with about as much five-tool upside as anyone. And it also puts a lot of pressure on Brian Anderson, no? He’s the guy in center now…at least he won’t be looking over his shoulder. If they win in 2006, no one will say a  word, but that’s a lot of future to mortgage for a pair of guys who aren’t exactly bankable products these days.

And, finally, there’s the Joey Gathright rumor. This might be a good situation for the Rays and the Marlins (if you can say anything baseball-related in South Florida is in a "good sitaution" these days). The Rays have some outfield depth, with Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and Jonny Gomes ready to go and uber-prospect Delmon Young not far behind. The speedy Gathright doesn’t look like he’d have a role outside of fourth outfielder/pinch-runner. And, frankly, he’s too good for that. The Marlins, on the other hand, are now spilling over with pitching prospects. I’m not sure I’d give up Scott Olsen, who assuming health is Major League ready and pitches from the left side, but you’ve got to give to get. Gathright would become the Marlins’ every-day center fielder, forming an exciting perfecta in the outfield with Jeremy Hermida. Olsen would step into the Rays rotation to join Scott Kazmir as one of the more intriguing young lefty combinations I’ve ever seen. We’ll see how that one plays out, but for once it could be a deal that works for everyone involved.

Opening a door

You tend to spend most of your time looking at the prospects who changed teams in trades this time of year. Sometimes, though, it’s the prospects left behind who have the greater opportunity.

Several of the big trades completed at the Winter Meetings open up opportunities for Minor Leaguers who’s paths to the bigs were previously blocked. It was a good week for second baseman, ending with Dan Uggla being taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Marlins and likely being given the opportunity to start the season as their starter at that position.

On Wednesday, two trades opened the door for a pair of second base prospects. When Mark Loretta was dealt to the Red Sox for Doug Mirabelli, Josh Barfield must’ve jumped for joy (You can find out by tuning into Around the Minors on MLB Radio on Friday, 2 p.m. ET.). He should now get a shot at the second-base job, barring any other moves. Sure, there are some vets on the roster who may share some time with him, but I see him taking over full-time sooner rather than later.

Then there’s Texas. With Soriano gone, it’s time for Ian Kinsler to get a shot. He hit 23 homers, drove in 94 runs and stole 19 bases in Triple-A.

Of course, it might be smart for these prospects to keep their fingers crossed until guys like Mark Grudzielanek and Bret Boone sign, but why rain on their parade now.

Marlins add some more arms

Well, at least they’re just about done, with just Ron Villone left to head out the door. And you’ve got to hand it to Florida on the receiving end. They now arguably have the best assortment of Minor League arms in baseball, adding three Cubs in the Juan Pierre deal. Sergio Mitre, Renyel Pinto and Ricky Nolasco are all intriguing with differing upsides. Personally, I think Nolasco is the best of this bunch and will fight it out with Anibal Sanchez for "best arm received in the ’05 fire sale" award.

Dewon Brazelton has a new home in San Diego. Good park to pitch in. Maybe the change in scenery will turn things around for him. He’s still just 25, plenty of time to have a career, if he chooses to. And I think that’s what it comes down to. The stuff has always been there, maybe sometimes rough around the edges, but the head was far behind. Maybe getting sent down and everything that happened last year will finally get it screwed on straight and he can get a fresh start in San Diego.

On the flip side, Burroughs will get another shot on a team chock full o’ young talent (assuming he stays in Tampa). Not sure how his arrival fits in with the rumors that top Braves prospect Andy Marte is heading to the Rays in what amounts to a three-team deal (Renteria to Atlanta; Lugo to Boston), but we’ll worry about that when it happens.

Talked to the Upton brothers yesterday. The interview will air on Around the Minors on MLB Radio on Friday, 2 p.m. ET. B.J. is excited about the changes going on in the Rays’ organization. He’s hoping his days in Durham are over and he can take over in Tampa (if they trade Lugo, that would open the door, no?) As for his brother, he’s still in limbo. Justin hasn’t yet signed with the Diamondbacks, who took him No. 1 overall in last June’s draft. The Upton family wasn’t thrilled about the draft-related questions, but they were answered politely. He’s still optimistic about getting it done in time…

Dallas Dealings

Welcome to Dallas and the 2005 Winter Meetings…

Over the next few days, I’m going to do my darndest to keep you all up to date on all the wheelings and dealings here in Dallas, at least as far as they pertain to Minor League players. I’ll post on the done deals, the rumors, the whispers. Many of those rumors won’t come to fruition, and I’m sure many of them won’t even be true. But one of the best things about combining blogging with a gossip-fest like the Winter Meetings is that I don’t really have to care about accuracy. (Wow, I just got a brief glimpse of what it must be like to work for Fox News).

At any rate, we’re just getting going here, but here’s a brief synopsis of what’s gone on Hot Stove-wise from a prospect perspective so far:

The Marlins have traded away just about all of their Major League talent (I have not been able to substantiate rumors that Juan Pierre is circling the lobby here with his luggage). In the process they have gathered up quite a collection of Minor League talent (in no particular order): Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado, Yusmeiro Petit, Mike Jacobs, Gaby Hernandez, Harvey Garcia. Don’t be surprised if you see Jake Taylor catching and Willie Mays Hayes playing center for that team in 2006. Of course, the ironic thing about making the "Major League" film reference is that the Indians’ fictional owner tried to make the team so awful so she could move the team to South Florida and a sweet stadium deal.

The Mets’ lone pitching prospect, or so it seems, is now Brian Bannister. He will have to pitch every day for Norfolk in 2006. Petit and Hernandez are gone and many of the other arms are either hurt (Humber, Lindstrom) or unproven (Soler). That cha-ching sound you just heard is the price tag of unsigned first-rounder Mike Pelfrey going up.

Over in Chicago, something must be in the water. The White Sox traded two top-notch lefty pitching prospects (Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Haigwood), along with their starting big league center fielder, for an aging, oft-injured first baseman. A short while later, the Cubs, after throwing $23 million at the likes of Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre, traded their best Minor League reliever — Jermaine Van Buren — a guy who could do what Howry does for about $11 million less, to the Red Sox for a bucket of baseballs.

OK, we all caught up? Good. More later as things unfold…

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