Phillies strike out in Abreu deal

Originally Published: August 1, 2006
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

It Isn't Just The Money

Would the Yankees have been able to trade for Abreu without their unparalleled five-tool check-writing talents? Of course not. But the people who think they're only about money are the same people who think everything in life is about money.

TRIVIALITY
Sean Casey, who got traded to the Tigers hours before the trading deadline, is one of five active left-handed hitters with a .300 career batting average with at least 4,000 plate appearances. Can you name the other four? (answer below)
It isn't just about the bucks they have. It's about the brains they employ to spend those bucks. And Brian Cashman, his baseball entourage and his club's president and dollar-allocator, Randy Levine, proved again over the weekend how formidable they can be.

Cashman and Co. hovered on Abreu for weeks, foresaw the Phillies' desperation to dump dollars even while they were being told relentlessly this would never be just a salary-expungation, and then convinced the Phillies that including Cory Lidle in this trade was their only hope to make it happen.

So now here the Yankees sit, having added Abreu, Lidle and Craig Wilson (from Pittsburgh) for one talented project (C.J. Henry), one 27-year-old relief pitcher (Matt Smith), two kids out of the Gulf Coast League and a pitcher they would have released, Shawn Chacon. Amazing.

Yeah, it wouldn't have been possible without that Boss Steinbrenner checking account. But what these guys just pulled off carried an indispensable element of pre-deadline genius.

And Speaking Of That Abreu Trade ...

Now presenting the most lopsided deadline deal of this millennium: Abreu and Lidle for four guys the Yankees already have forgotten they ever employed.

C.J. Henry? "I've never seen a shortstop throw like that in my life," said one front-office man. "First-round buzz. First-round athleticism. But he's just a guy where all you do is dream about his athleticism and hope it clicks."

Matt Smith? "Fringe guy," said one scouting director.

Jesus Sanchez? Carlos Monasterios? "With players that far away, who the hell knows," said one exec.

Over and over in the last few days, people from all walks of baseball have been asking: That's all the Phillies got for Bobby Abreu? And the answer is: You've got it.

Bobby Abreu
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIThe Yankees will pay Abreu about $4.4 million this season and $15 million next year.
"I keep asking myself, 'Is there something I don't know about Bobby Abreu that they know?' " said a high-ranking official of a team that would have loved to add Abreu in a less complicated, dollar-signed world. "I'm just baffled that they could not get anything back for a guy this good. And they paid him $1.5 million to waive his no-trade clause. And they just tossed in Cory Lidle -- tossed him in. I know for a fact there were teams that offered better prospects for Lidle alone. I don't get it."

Well, we don't get it, either. We've always looked upon Pat Gillick as a man of vision. So we'll give him every opportunity to prove that he can take that $21 million he just saved on his car insurance and transform the landscape of a fallen franchise.

But we still don't get it. Gillick is right when he says this group of Phillies had its shot, didn't win and needs to be disassembled. He's right when he says they need to change the mix, and he couldn't do that without more payroll flexibility.

But we still don't get it. Three different teams told us they thought they offered a better package for just Lidle than the Phillies got for both guys. So if the market for Lidle was that good, or even close, why not do that, hold onto Abreu for two months and try to deal him again in the offseason?

If his money situation made him so tough to deal, why not hang onto him until next year, try to win with one of the best offensive players in the league and, if that didn't happen, deal him at the '07 deadline?

To make this kind of trade, just for the joy of cashing out, simply tells the sport that either you think Abreu is outrageously overrated or your team is in major financial trouble -- or both.

Maybe there's a whole different reason we're missing. But that's merely proof that, like many folks who have looked at this deal from near and far, we just don't get it.

The Rocket's Launching Pads

Just when you thought the story of Roger Clemens' near-trade to the Red Sox couldn't get any more incredible, how about this:

We now know that not all teams were even allowed to talk about Clemens.

Other clubs that called the Astros on Clemens were told: "He isn't going anywhere." Or: "He's not in play." We heard that from two teams Tuesday. It's believed that even the Yankees were told the same thing.

Yet the Red Sox got a different answer, and talked to Houston about Clemens nearly right up to the deadline. So other clubs are now wondering if, when Clemens signed with Houston, he was given some understanding that, if the Astros fell out of the race, he would be dealt to Boston.

No one on either team has acknowledged that, though. And Clemens' agent, Randy Hendricks, said in an e-mail Tuesday that he would make no comment on any aspect of this story. But we don't blame any team for wondering.

More Rocket Rumblings

We were bombarded with e-mails Tuesday from folks who seem to fall into two camps: 1) They think Clemens is a pompous, selfish phony. And 2) They think we just made up a story because we thought it would generate a lot of hits or something.

Well, people can think whatever they want about Clemens. But the story was, and is, real.

This was not some 30-second conversation between the Red Sox and Astros. It's clear now it went on, sporadically, for days. And if it was still being discussed with the trading deadline less than two hours away -- with the Astros pondering a list of what one source described as "real prospects" who would have changed teams -- that counts as serious, legitimate talk about a deal that could have happened.

In fact, you don't even have to take just our word for it. The Providence Journal's esteemed Sean McAdam, who also writes for this Web site, heard a variation of the same story.

And The Winner Of The A.J. Burnett Never-mind Award Is ...

Last July, it was impending free agent Burnett who found his name in 1.8 trillion trade rumors -- and then never went anywhere. This July, it was (who else?) Alfonso Soriano.

It was fun to listen to the Nationals try to spin their non-trade of Soriano as one of the happiest and most thrilling events in the history of the franchise -- all 260 games of it. But those lines they were reciting came right from the professors at Damage Control 101.

Left fielder
Washington Nationals

Profile
CAREER STATISTICS
GM AVG HR RBI OBP SLG
907 .281 194 531 .325 .511
Fact is, it was never the Nationals' intent to keep Soriano. It was always their intent, until approximately 3:59 p.m. EDT, to trade him. The problem wasn't that nobody wanted to give up what he was worth. The problem was how they defined what he was worth.

Their GM, Jim Bowden, is a bright, creative guy. But he priced Soriano like the only car in the showroom. And it turned out he wasn't.

The price on Carlos Lee and Bobby Abreu was more affordable than the price on Soriano. And it was easier to justify overpaying for Miguel Tejada, with three years left on his contract, than it was for Soriano, a guy with two months remaining on his free-agent countdown clock.

We don't blame the Nationals for trying to fill the D.C. sky with dreams of signing this man. But good luck. Since Soriano became arbitration-eligible, he hasn't signed even one multiyear contract. He has gone year to year to year to maximize his paycheck.

So the odds say he won't merely become a free agent in 13 weeks. He'll become the free agent.

The buzz is that he wants to start the bidding at $16 million to $17 million a year for five years. And he wants a complete no-trade clause -- a perk new team president Stan Kasten is philosophically and historically allergic to.

So that's the mess the Nationals have created: They have to sign him now -- but they can't sign him, unless somebody has a serious change-of-heart attack.

Here's To Royalty

There wasn't much talk about the Kansas City Royals on Monday in the aftermath of the deadline frenzy. But no seller had a better couple of weeks than new GM Dayton Moore.

"Dayton did one hell of a job," said one NL executive. "To go get a guy like Ryan Shealy [from Colorado], I think it sets them up now at the corners, and in the middle of the order, with Shealy on first base and [stud prospect] Alex Gordon at third and [minor-league masher] Billy Butler at DH and left field. Dayton has done an unbelievable job, in a really short time."

Moore also got at least one live arm in almost all of his five deals (Tyler Lumsden, David Cortes, Jorge De La Rosa, Joselo Diaz). So it's clear there's a vision now in Kansas City -- and some hope.

Random Thoughts

• Most decisive GM of the week: Milwaukee's Doug Melvin. Targeted exactly what he wanted for Carlos Lee. Moved so fast that Lee was off the market before we'd even worked up a good Rumor Central item on him. And managed to trade him without surrendering on this season. Great work.

Runner-up: The Dodgers' Ned Colletti. Added pieces to help him now and beyond. Gave up no young players who will haunt him. And was fast-thinking enough to put together two deals in the last two hours before the deadline (Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo).

• Time-waster award: Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Just try to imagine all the hours that vanished from the lives of his own baseball people working on assorted Tejada deals. And all the GMs they talked to. And all the additional GMs who got dragged into three-team scenarios and chain-reaction trade talk. And the only reason they wasted all that time is because Angelos won't let the guys who run his baseball operation, Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette, do their jobs. If the owner wasn't going to let these men trade Tejada for Ervin Santana or for Roy Oswalt, what would they be allowed to trade him for -- Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter?

• Best pitcher who got traded: How brutal was the pitching market before this deadline? The best pitcher -- starter or reliever -- who got traded was probably Francisco Cordero, who had nine blown saves and a 4.82 ERA.

• Best pitcher who could have gotten traded: The Orioles should have nightmares for the next five years over not dealing for Santana, a legit top-of-the-rotation force who makes $350,000 and can't be a free agent until 2011. "That's exactly the kind of pitcher," said one front-office man, "who never gets traded anymore." And one more thing: The mere fact that Angels GM Bill Stoneman was willing to offer Santana in an attempt to make that daring a deal exonerates him from all yeah-but-he-did-nothing attacks for the rest of the season.

• Most aggressive GMs who get things done: Cincinnati's Wayne Krivsky, Texas' Jon Daniels, Kansas City's Moore.

• Most aggressive GMs who didn't get much of anything done: Houston's Tim Purpura, Boston's Theo Epstein, Stoneman.

TRIVIALITY ANSWER
Ichiro Suzuki (.334), Todd Helton (.333), Juan Pierre (.302) and Bobby Abreu (.301). Casey is at .304. And the group at .299 consists of Barry Bonds and Kenny Lofton.
• Most fascinating names that were talked about but never got traded: Oswalt, Jason Schmidt, Barry Zito, Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Javy Vazquez, Jason Marquis, Coco Crisp, Andruw Jones, Chris Young, Brad Lidge, Lance Berkman, Bengie Molina, Ted Lilly, Hank Blalock, Brad Wilkerson, Pat Burrell, Ryan Madson.

• Classic trade aftermath No. 1: After the Dodgers and Devil Rays traded Jae Seo for Mark Hendrickson, the two of them combined to lose their first nine in a row following the deal (0-5 for Seo, 0-4 for Hendrickson).

• Classic trade aftermath No. 2: Wilson Betemit (Braves to Dodgers) and Willy Aybar (Dodgers to Braves) were essentially traded for each other last week (with Danys Baez as their very special co-star). Aybar got four hits in his first game as a Brave. Betemit started out 3-for-3 in his first game as a Dodger, then made an out that was lined so hard, it almost dragged the third baseman's shoulder to the left-field fence.

• Classic trade aftermath No. 3: As loyal reader Tom Wilson reports, in Matt Stairs' last game on the Royals' roster, they lost 15-2. In Stairs' first game on the Rangers' roster after being traded, they lost 15-2. The Ex-Royal Factor never dies.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com