Mets lose on Delgado, settle for Mientkiewicz
Jan. 26: After finishing second in the Carlos Delgado sweepstakes, the Mets acted quickly to find a replacement. They traded their possible first baseman of the future, Ian Bladergroen, to the Red Sox for a new first baseman of the present, Doug Mientkiewicz.
Mientkiewicz, 30, is coming off his worst season since his 1999 rookie season, batting just .238/.326/.350 with six homers and 35 RBI in 127 games while dealing with a nagging wrist injury. He went from the Twins to the Red Sox in the Nomar Garciaparra deal because Minnesota wanted to make room for Justin Morneau. He similarly found himself on the outside of Boston's crowded lineup, getting just 107 at-bats in the final two months but serving as a valuable defensive replacement. He's been in the news of late for wanting to maintain possession of the ball from the final out of the World Series, a ball the Red Sox would like to have. Mientkiewicz is a career .272/.363/.404 hitter with 44 homers and 276 RBI in 692 games, including a pair of .300-plus seasons under his belt. He has limited power, but posts good on-base percentages and is an excellent contact hitter. One of the better defensive first basemen around, he won a Gold Glove in 2001. Mientkiewicz will assume starting duties for the Mets while making $3.75 million in the final season of a two-year, $7 million contract. Boston agreed to pay for the deal's $450,000 buyout if New York doesn't pick up his $4 million option for 2006.
The Mets took Bladergroen in the 44th round out of Lamar (Colo.) CC in 2002 as a draft-and-follow. After he led national JuCo players with 32 homers the following spring, they signed him away from a commitment to the University of Nebraska. Bladergroen, 21, got off to a blistering start in his first full season, hitting .342/.397/.595 with 13 home runs and 74 RBI in 72 games at low Class A Capital City. But he tore a ligament in his left wrist, ending his 2004 season on July 1. Bladergroen's best tool is his power, but he also has shown the ability to hit for average and looked surprisingly nimble at first base. His bat speed isn't exceptional, which may be an issue at higher levels, and he could use a little more patience at the plate. He's a career .316/.376/.505 hitter with 19 homers and 110 RBI in 146 pro games. Bladergroen is still recovering from wrist surgery but should be good to go for the season, which he'll begin at high Class A Wilmington.
-- Kevin Goldstein
D-Backs keep dealing, send Hillenbrand to Jays
Jan. 12: Another day, another deal for the Diamondbacks. After shipping Stephen Randolph to the Cubs on Monday, and moving Randy Johnson to the Yankees while acquiring Shawn Green from the Dodgers on Tuesday, Arizona traded Shea Hillenbrand to the Blue Jays for minor league right-hander Adam Peterson on Wednesday.
Hillenbrand, 29, became expendable after the Diamondbacks took care of his two positions by signing Troy Glaus to play third base and trading for Green, moving Chad Tracy to first base. For Toronto, he'll probably DH and be the primary backup to Eric Hinske at first base. Hillenbrand batted .310/.348/.464 with 15 homers and 80 RBI in 148 games in 2004. He hits for average with line-drive power, making good contact but drawing few walks (24 last year). Hillenbrand is a below-average runner and third baseman, and he's an adequate first baseman. He's eligible for arbitration after making $2.6 million in 2004. In 577 big league games, he has hit .288/.322/.448 with 65 homers and 309 RBI.
Peterson, 25, was a fourth-round pick out of Wichita State in 2002. Considered a sleeper to fill Toronto's closer role in 2004, he appeared in just three games for the Blue Jays, posting a 16.88 ERA. He split the year between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Syracuse, going 4-4, 6.93 with 15 saves in 46 games. In 49 innings, he had a 57-26 strikeout-walk ratio while allowing a .297 average and seven homers. He never got back on track after getting shelled in the majors, as Triple-A hitters strafed him for a 12.86 ERA and .404 average. Peterson still has big-time stuff, with an upper-90s fastball and a sometimes-nasty slider. He also mixes in a straight changeup that shows some sink. There's a lot of effort in his delivery, which hampers his ability to throw strikes. His career record in the minors is 11-10, 4.18 with 31 saves in 107 appearances.
-- Jim Callis
Yankees, Diamondbacks finally close Johnson, Green deals
Jan. 11: After weeks of speculation, Randy Johnson joined the Yankees and Shawn Green became a Diamondback on Tuesday. First, Arizona sent Johnson to New York for Javier Vazquez and prospects Dioner Navarro and Brad Halsey. Then the Diamondbacks sent Navarro and minor league right-handers William Juarez, Beltran Perez and Danny Muegge to the Dodgers for Shawn Green.
It wouldn't be a Yankees trade if significant cash weren't involved. New York gave Johnson a two-year, $32 million contract extension on top of the $16 million he'll make in 2005, and sent $9 million to Arizona to help defray the remaining three years and $34.5 million remaining on Vazquez' deal. Los Angeles gave $10 million to the Diamondbacks to offset the $16 million salary due in 2005 for Green, who reworked his contact into a three-year, $32 million pact. The Dodgers put some of their savings into a four-year, $36 million contract for free agent Derek Lowe, a deal on the verge of being finalized.
The net effect for Arizona: It traded Johnson and three minor league arms (none considered a top prospect) for Vazquez, Green, Halsey and $19 million.
Assuming that no one needs a scouting report on Johnson (tall guy, throws hard), Vazquez (quality stuff, 2004 All-Star but a 6.92 ERA after the break) and Green (91 homers in 2001-02, 47 in 2003-04 while battling a shoulder injury and recovering from surgery), let's focus on the young players in the deal.
Navarro, a 20-year-old catcher, signed out of Venezuela in 2000. He entered 2004 as the Yankees' top prospect, but his stock dropped after he arrived in spring training overweight and overconfident. His bat speed slowed and he hit .263/.340/.366 with four homers and 45 RBI in 110 games between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Columbus. In 2003, he had made consistent hard contact from both sides of the plate. His best tool is his strong arm, which erased 33 percent of basestealers last year, while his receiving skills are average. The Dodgers have had a hole at catcher since trading Paul Lo Duca last summer, and Navarro now becomes their second-best backstop prospect, trailing Russell Martin. Navarro, who went 3-for-7 in his big league debut last September, could see time in Los Angeles this year but likely will start the season in Triple-A. He's a career .277/.349/.402 hitter with 21 homers and 168 RBI in 356 minor league games.
Halsey, 23, was an eighth-round pick out of Texas in 2002, when he was the No. 1 starter on the Longhorns' College World Series championship team (though he missed Omaha with a back injury). The Yankees gave him a shot at pitching in their rotation last summer, and he went 1-3, 6.47 in eight games (seven starts). He spent most of 2004 at Columbus, going 11-4, 2.63 in 24 outings (23 starts). He had a 109-37 strikeout-walk ratio in 144 innings, while opponents batted .237 with eight homers. Halsey throws strikes but lacks an out pitch, which hurts his ceiling. His best offering is his slider, and he also works with an 87-90 mph fastball and a changeup. Halsey, who could grab the last spot in Arizona's rotation during spring training, has a career 34-14, 3.26 record in 64 minor league games.
A Nicaraguan, the 23-year-old Juarez turned pro in 2000. Brought along slowly and usually old for his league, he began 2004 by going 3-1, 1.55 in seven starts at low Class A South Bend, improving his career record to 24-12, 2.61. Promoted to Double-A El Paso to face hitters more his own age, Juarez struggled to a 3-7, 5.00 mark in 13 starts. In 76 innings at Double-A, he had a 68-22 K-BB ratio while opponents hit .269 with four homers. He owns a plus fastball, but he'll need to make significant refinements to his slider and changeup to succeed at the upper levels.
Perez, 23, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1999. Once one of Arizona's top pitching prospects, Perez hit a wall upon reaching Double-A in 2002 and hasn't been able to get past it. He spent all of 2004 at El Paso, going 2-6, 4.41 with three saves in 37 appearances (eight starts). He had a 77-46 K-BB ratio in 104 innings as opponents batted .261 with 14 homers. Like Juarez, his low-90s fastball is his lone reliable pitch. His slider is more of a slurve and his changeup hasn't progressed. He's a career 33-33, 4.28 pitcher in 149 pro games.
Another former Longhorn, the 23-year-old Muegge was a 19th-round pick in 2003. He's also similar to Halsey in that he doesn't have a pitch that distinguishes himself. His fastball and breaking ball are average, and he projects more as a reliever despite going 14-4, 3.12 in 26 games (25 starts) at South Bend last year. Muegge had a 104-42 K-BB ratio, .253 opponent average and 16 homers allowed in 153 innings. His career record is 16-7, 3.32 in 47 games (25 starts).
-- Jim Callis
Cubs gain bullpen lefty in Randolph
Jan. 10: Seeking a second left-hander to go with Mike Remlinger in their bullpen, the Cubs added another candidate on Monday. Chicago picked up Stephen Randolph from the Diamondbacks for a player to be named later.
The 30-year-old Randolph's primary competition for that second southpaw spot will be Will Ohman. Randolph has enough stuff, featuring a solid average fastball and a slider that's tough on left-handers, but often gets into trouble because he lacks control. In 45 games (six starts) for Arizona last year, he went 2-5, 5.51 with a poor 62-76 strikeout-walk ratio in 82 innings. Opponents batted just .235, but did tag him for 11 homers. In two big league seasons, he has gone 10-6, 4.89 in 95 appearances.
Update: The Cubs completed the trade by sending cash considerations to the Diamondbacks.
-- Jim Callis
Tigers acquire Wilson, free up Inge for hot corner
Jan. 6: The Tigers traded for a backup catcher Thursday, allowing them to address their third-base situation. After picking up Vance Wilson from the Mets for minor league shortstop Anderson Hernandez, Detroit no longer needs Brandon Inge to serve as its No. 2 catcher and will make him its regular third baseman.
Wilson, 31, is a competent reserve coming off his best year with the bat. He hit .274/.335/.427 with four homers and 21 RBI in 157 at-bats over 79 games. He usually hits for a modest average and has decent power. He stands out more on defense, where he threw out 32 percent of base-stealers last season. Wilson has good catch-and-throw skills, moves well behind the plate and calls a good game. He's a career .254/.308/.384 hitter with 17 homers and 92 RBI in 286 games and 649 at-bats.
Hernandez, 22, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2001. He too excels more with his glove. He has consistent hands, fluid actions, excellent range and a strong arm. He can make accurate throws even when he's off balance, and makes both the routine and the flashy play. He committed just 18 errors in 125 games between high Class A Lakeland and Double-A Erie last year. Hernandez has added some strength, but he's still weak at the plate. He batted a soft .274/.326/.376 with five homers, 29 RBI and 17 steals in 2004. He lacks the plate discipline to make much use of his above-average speed. In 418 minor league games, he has hit .257/.305/.345 with nine homers, 127 RBI and 87 steals.
-- Jim Callis