White Sox don't stand pat, deal for Thome
Nov. 25: World Series champions can fall into the trap of trying to keep their club intact rather than attempting to improve. The White Sox showed that they won't, however, when they finalized a trade with the Phillies on Friday that brought them Jim Thome for Aaron Rowand, Double-A lefthander Daniel Haigwood and a player to be named later. Multiple baseball sources have identified the additional player as high Class A lefty Gio Gonzalez. Philadelphia also included $22 million to defray the remaining $46 million over the next three years of Thome's contract, a six-year deal worth $85 million.
Thome's departure clears the way for the Phillies to make National League rookie of the year Ryan Howard an everyday player at first base, while Rowand fills their hole in center field. From the White Sox's perspective, Thome is insurance in case Paul Konerko departs as a free agent and a DH if Konerko returns. Chicago is expected to turn over center field to a minor leaguer, most likely 2003 first-round pick Brian Anderson.
Thome, 35, hit a total of 89 homers in his first two seasons with Philadelphia, but dropped to .207/.360/.352 with seven homers and 30 RBI in 59 games in 2005 when he was plagued by back and elbow injuries. He had elbow surgery in August, ending his season. When healthy, Thome is one of the best left-handed power hitters in the game and annually among his league's leader in walks. He will strike out and doesn't do much on the basepaths or defensively, but that's an acceptable tradeoff for his production. He's a career .281/.408/.562 hitter with 430 homers and 1,193 RBI in 1,738 games.
Rowand, 28, is one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball and was deserving of a Gold Glove in 2005. But his production slipped in his second year as a regular, from .310/.361/.544 with 24 homers in 2004 to .270/.329/.407 with 13 homers in 2005. He does a lot more damage against left-handers, with a career .863 OPS against southpaws compared to .771 against righties (and just .703 this season). His speed and power are average, though he has good instincts and has stolen 33 bases in 43 tries over the last two years. Rowand will make $3.2 million in 2006 and his contract calls for a player option of $3.25 million and a club option of $5 million in 2007. He has batted .283/.337/.451 with 54 homers, 211 RBI and 38 steals in 579 career games.
Gonzalez, 20, would become the second-best prospect in the Phillies system, ranking behind only Cole Hamels. A supplemental-first round pick out of a Miami high school in 2004, Gonzalez split his first full season between low Class A Kannapolis and high Class A Winston-Salem. He went 13-6, 2.82 in 24 games (23 starts), with a 163-47 K-BB ratio in 131 innings. Opponents batted just .205 with eight homers against him. Gonzalez's best pitch is an outstanding curveball, and he also has a low-90s fastball and a quality changeup. He throws strikes, and the only real question about him is how well his 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame will hold up. He had some back and shoulder problems in 2005.
Haigwood, 22, was a 16th-round pick in 2002 out of Midland High in Pleasant Plains, Ark., where he won his first 43 decisions before losing his finale. He has been a consistent winner as a pro as well, going 32-11. He went 14-3, 2.82 in 26 starts this year between Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham. In 144 innings, he had a 160-64 K-BB ratio, a .223 opponent average and eight homers allowed. He doesn't overwhelm hitters so much as keep them off balance. His curveball is his best pitch, his changeup has improved and he throws both two-seam and four-seam fastballs. His sinker is better than his four-seamer, which ranges from 88-92 mph.
Beckett deal nets Marlins four prospects
Nov. 24: Since Roger Clemens established himself in the mid-1980s, the Red Sox almost always have had one of the very best starters in the American League. First Clemens, then Pedro Martinez, then Martinez and Curt Schilling in 2004. But when Martinez left for the Mets and Schilling was hurt, the 2005 Red Sox lacked an ace and it showed.
Boston took steps to remedy that shortcoming, completing a seven-player deal with Florida on Thanksgiving. The Red Sox got Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota in exchange for four prospects: shortstop Hanley Ramirez and right-handers Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia.
The Marlins' motivation was financial. The Red Sox will assume the last two years and $18 million on Lowell's contract, and they also face arbitration with Beckett and Mota. They also shed salary in another big trade on Thursday, sending Carlos Delgado to the Mets.
Beckett, a 25-year-old right-hander, has yet to achieve the superstardom predicted for him but still has No. 1 starter stuff, not to mention the 2003 World Series MVP award. Beckett can reach the upper 90s with his four-seam fastball, get good sink on his two-seamer at 92-94 mph and make hitters look silly with his curveball. He also has a good changeup. He's coming off his best season yet in 2005, when he went 15-8, with a 3.38 ERA in 29 starts, though he did make two trips to the disabled list, one with recurring blister problems on his right middle finger and another with a strained left oblique. In 180 innings, Beckett had a 166-58 K-BB ratio while limiting opponents to a .234 average and 14 homers. He has a career 41-34, 3.46 record in 106 games, and his ERA is significantly lower in Florida (3.14) than elsewhere (3.83).
Lowell, 31, is coming off his worst season, having batted .236/.298/.360 with eight homers and 58 RBI in 150 games. He hit .293/.365/.505 with 27 homers and 85 RBI in 158 games in 2004, and there has been no explanation for his decline. He did win a Gold Glove at third base in 2005, where he has solid range, good hands and a strong arm. He's a career .272/.339/.461 hitter with 143 homers and 578 RBI in 989 games.
Mota, a 32-year-old right-hander, could be a boost to a Boston bullpen that finished next-to-last in the majors with a 5.15 ERA. Mota was one of the game's top setup men in 2003-04, though he slipped this year when he was bothered by elbow inflammation that landed him on the disabled list in May. He went 2-2, 4.70 with two saves and 14 holds in 56 games. He had a 60-32 K-BB ratio in 67 innings, while opponents hit .254 with five homers against him. When he's right, Mota works primarily with a mid-90s fastball and a plus changeup. He also mixes in a slider. He has gone 22-24, 3.61 with seven saves and 81 holds in 386 career games.
Ramirez, 21, is one of the game's top shortstop prospects but also something of an enigma. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2000, he never has had a breakout year to match his considerable tools. He batted .271/.335/.385 with six homers, 52 RBI and 26 steals in 122 games this year at Double-A Portland. Ramirez has the bat speed, raw power and pitch recognition to hit .300 with 20-plus homers per season, but he has yet to show the focus and preparation to get him there. He has above-average speed and shortstop range, as well as a plus-plus arm. The Marlins don't have an obvious starter at shortstop, so Ramirez could get a long look in spring training. He struck out in his two big league at-bats in September.
Sanchez, 21, established himself as one of Boston's best pitching prospects after recovering from surgery to move a nerve in his elbow in 2003. He went 9-6, 2.85 in 25 starts between high Class A Wilmington and Porltand in 2005. He had a 158-40 K-BB ratio in 136 innings, and held opponents to a .212 average and 12 homers. Sanchez has a 93-95 mph fastball, yet his changeup might be his best pitch. He's still refining his curveball, though he flashes a solid-average breaker at times.
Delgado, 21, has bounced back strong since missing the 2002 and 2003 seasons following Tommy John surgery. Signed as an outfielder out of Venezuela in 2001, he has a mid-90s fastball that tops out at 98 mph, and his changeup currently is a better pitch than this curveball. He went 7-3, 3.50 with two saves in 33 relief appearances at low Class A Greenville this year. He had a 69-39 K-BB ratio in 72 innings, and opponents batted .215 with three homers against him.
Florida originally signed the 21-year-old Garcia out of Venezuela in 2001. They released him in 2002, and he quickly hooked up with the Red Sox, whose international scouting director at the time was Louie Elajua -- the Marlins' director of Latin American scouting when they signed him. Garcia's stuff is very similar to Delgado's. Garcia throws a little harder on a consistent basis, but his secondary pitches haven't made as much progress. He went 3-5, 2.01 with six saves in 32 relief outings at Greenville. In 45 innings, he had a 54-18 K-BB ratio, .275 opponent average and three homers allowed.
Mets get Delgado a year after losing chase
Nov. 24: The Mets lost out to the Marlins in the free-agent hunt for Carlos Delgado after the 2004 season, but they finally got their man on Thanksgiving. New York acquired Delgado from Florida in exchange for three prospects: right-hander Yusmeiro Petit, first baseman/catcher Mike Jacobs and third baseman Grant Psomas. The Marlins also sent $7 million to the Mets toward the three years and $48 million remaining on Delgado's contract.
Florida finalized a second major trade on Thursday, sending Josh Beckett to Boston in a seven-player deal.
Delgado, 33, reached 30 homers for the ninth consecutive season in 2005, hitting .301/.399/.582 with 33 homers and 115 RBI in 144 games in his first year in the National League. He remains as dangerous as ever, an all-around hitter who produces for power and average and also draws lots of walks. He's not much of a baserunner or defender at first base. He's a career .284/.393/.559 hitter with 369 homers and 1,173 RBI in 1,567 games.
Petit, a 21-year-old right-hander, was the best pitching prospect in the Mets' system and will compete for a job in a decimated Marlins rotation. Signed out of Venezuela in 2001, he has gone 28-20, 2.71 with 491 strikeouts in 402 innings. He's not as overpowering as those numbers would suggest, however. Petit's command and deception, more than sheer stuff, give batters fits. He has good life on an 88-90 mph fastball and also throws a changeup, slider and curveball. He went 9-6, 3.60 in 24 starts this year, including an 0-3, 9.20 performance following a late-season promotion to Triple-A Norfolk. In 133 combined innings, he had a 144-24 K-BB ratio and allowed a .230 average and 20 homers.
Jacobs, 25, attracted attention by batting .310/.375/.710 with 11 homers and 23 RBI in 30 games after getting his first big-league callup in August. He'll factor in the competition to replace Delgado in the Florida lineup, with fellow prospect Josh Willingham looming as his biggest competition. A 38th-round pick out of Grossmont (Calif.) JC in 1999, Jacobs batted .321/.376/.589 with 25 homers and 93 RBI in 117 games to win the Double-A Eastern League MVP award before his promotion. He's a left-handed pull hitter with power, though it remains to be seen if big-league pitchers will exploit his lack of plate discipline. Jacobs signed as a catcher, but he's a below-average defender who won't see much time there in the majors. Tearing the labrum in his throwing shoulder in 2004 didn't help his arm strength.
Psomas, 23, exploded in his first full season after signing as a 15th-round pick from West Virginia in 2004. He batted .301/.399/.517 wtih 20 homers and 69 RBI in 133 games between low Class A Hagerstown and high Class A St. Lucie. A gap hitter with some pull power, he understands the strike zone but is still working on pitch recognition. He's an average defender with some arm strength.
Padres get Hill as third-base insurance
Nov. 21: For the second time this month, the Padres have traded for a third baseman. In case Nov. 3 acquisition Vinny Castilla can't hold up for a full season at age 38, San Diego now has Bobby Hill after acquiring him from the Pirates for a player to be named later or cash.
The centerpiece of the July 2003 Aramis Ramirez trade for Pittsburgh, Hill never could grab a starting job with the Pirates. He got into just 58 games and received only 93 at-bats this year, hitting .269/.343/.333 with no homers and steals and just 11 RBI. Speed is his best tool, and he's average or worse across the board in the other categories. He doesn't hit for a high average or have much pop -- especially for a third baseman -- and he doesn't stand out at the hot corner or at second base, his two primary positions. He's a career .262/.343/.350 hitter with six homers, 58 RBI and six steals in 249 games.
When the player to be named has been identified, we'll analyze him as well.
Padres end center-field search with Cameron
Nov. 18: The Padres have been looking for a center fielder they can count on since moving into Petco Park, and they believe they finally found their man on Friday. San Diego acquired Mike Cameron from the Mets in exchange for Xavier Nady.
Cameron, 32, gives the Padres their best defensive center fielder since they moved into spacious Petco before the 2004 season. A two-time Gold Glove winner, Cameron spent most of his 2005 season in right field, in deference to Carlos Beltran with the Mets, but can chase fly balls into the gaps with anyone. On offense, he offers power and speed, though he makes inconsistent contact and thus doesn't hit for high average. His walk rate declined in two years with the Mets, though it remains decent. Cameron batted .273/.342/.477 with 12 homers, 39 RBI and 13 steals in 76 games in 2005. His season ended after a frightening outfield collision with Beltran at Petco on Aug. 11, in which he broke his nose, cheekbone and the orbital socket around his right eye. He'll make $6 million this season, the last in a three-year $19.5 million contract that includes a $7 million club option or $500,000 buyout for 2007. Cameron is a career .249/.340/.442 hitter with 173 homers, 625 RBI and 229 steals in 1,268 games.
Nady, 27, never was able to establish himself as a full-time regular in San Diego after signing a five-year, $2.85 million major-league contract as a second-round pick in 2000. Power is his best tool and nothing else in his game stands out as a plus. His long swing has led to strikeouts and mediocre batting averages, and his speed and defense (at both first base and the outfield corners) are just so-so. Nady hit .261/.321/.439 with 13 homers and 43 RBI in 124 games for the Padres in 2005. He may platoon at first base with left-handed-hitting Mike Jacobs for the Mets. Nady is a career .263/.320/.414 hitter with 25 homers and 91 RBI in 269 games.
Nady doesn't seem like a tremendous return for Cameron, who fills a need for the Padres. But the Mets couldn't play Cameron at his best position and will use the savings on his contract to pursue free agents this offseason.
Rangers pick up Leicester from Cubs
Nov. 16: Shortly before 40-man rosters have to be set for the winter, there's always a small flurry of deals as clubs figure they're better off getting something for players they won't protect. The first such trade of 2005 occurred Wednesday, as the Rangers added Jon Leicester from the Cubs for a player to be named later or cash.
Leicester, a 26-year-old right-hander, has an intriguing arm that could help Texas, which seemingly always is in need of more pitching. He has a plus fastball that jumps to the mid-90s when he works out of the bullpen. He also has a slider and a splitter that have their moments, though he undermines the quality of his stuff with inconsistent control.
He opened 2005 with the Cubs but spent most of the year at Triple-A Iowa, where he went 3-8 with a 5.51 ERA in 24 games (16 starts). He had a 73-42 K-BB ratio in 98 innings, and opponents hit .294 with 17 homers against him. Leicester has appeared in 38 big league games over the last two seasons, going 5-3, 4.80.