Tools of the trade.
The Angels made a trade on Thursday, boosting their beleaguered relief corps by acquiring righthander Ernesto Frieri from San Diego, but not in time to get the 26-year-old to the home bullpen in Anaheim, where J.P. Arencibia’s three-run shot off Dan Haren landed in the third inning to set Toronto up for what would be a 5-0 Jays win, the type of game that Frieri presumably wouldn’t have pitched in anyway, as the Angels offense couldn’t get anything going against Jays starter Brandon Morrow.
The trade makes Los Angeles better, and not just in the short term. The Angels get Frieri for nearly five months of this season, and nearly five years of control. Though his fly ball tendencies won’t play as well in Anaheim as they did in San Diego, he misses bats. He’ll help.
The division gap probably wouldn’t be 7.5 games right now if Frieri had been an Angel for the last month. Give Los Angeles GM Jerry Dipoto credit. He addressed a glaring need quickly, an unusually early deal in terms of the baseball calendar, and it’s safe to assume that he’s going to keep looking for ways to make his club better.
And that Jon Daniels is doing the same thing, and was doing it even before this last week of baseball that has seen Texas drop consecutive series after winning its first six.
But don’t expect a Texas trade anytime soon. There’s a need for a right-handed bat who can play left field (and preferably at least one of the infield corners as well), but you typically have to overpay this early in the season to persuade a team to trade present-for-future and in doing so signal to their clubhouse and fan base that they don’t believe in 2012.
No team in baseball was further behind in its division than the Angels and Padres going into play on Thursday, but only one of those two teams was motivated to mortgage a little present just a month into the schedule.
Understand that while the primary reason Jon Daniels was in Round Rock last night was to present American League Championship rings to Michael Kirkman, Mark Hamburger, Julio Borbon, and Leonys Martin, it’s worth noting that Yangervis Solarte played left field last night for the third time in four games (after the second baseman made just three outfield appearances in his first 21 games). The switch-hitter is in the midst of a 14-game hit streak in which he’s hitting a ridiculous .511/.549/.851 and torching right-handed pitching.
That open spot on the 40-man roster could belong to Solarte soon, because you’re not going to trade Justin Grimm, Miguel De Los Santos, and Rougned Odor to the Twins for the three years and $21 million owed to Josh Willingham, even if he’d be asked to fill more than the limited Brandon Snyder role.
And the Blue Jays aren’t going to try to capitalize on Edwin Encarnacion’s crazy-hot streak when they’re currently holding down the second Wild Card spot, even if you dangled Neil Ramirez and Christian Villanueva, which you aren’t going to do.
Daniels saw Solarte homer, double, and walk last night, and was also on hand to see Tanner Scheppers used on no rest for the second time all season. He reportedly tripped 100 on the gun, flashed the wipeout slider, and threw eight of his 12 ninth-inning pitches for strikes as he set the New Orleans Zephyrs down in order and locked down a 5-4 Round Rock win.
The last time the 25-year-old pitched on consecutive days (April 16-17) was the last time he was scored on (a single run on two hits on the second day). Since then: 6.2 innings, three hits, zero walks, zero runs, nine strikeouts.
That velocity and those nine punchouts – all over his last 17 outs – jump off the page, but if you’d paid close attention to Scheppers’s issues the last couple seasons, you know the zero walks stand out as much as anything.
Scheppers may have designs on that last roster spot, too, but the need for relief reinforcement doesn’t seem as immediate as it is with the role Solarte could fill.
Different case in Los Angeles. If the Angels had Scheppers, maybe they wouldn’t have traded two decent prospects for Frieri last night.
The cost to get Frieri (AAA infielder Alexi Amarista and Class A righthander Donn Roach) wasn’t necessarily prohibitive – I do wonder whether the Padres might have been able to kick their price up if talks had dragged on another day, as the Yankees are now in acute need of another big league reliever for the seventh or eighth inning – but in the case of Roach in particular this trade reminds us to never underestimate one fairly surprising reality that’s been shared with me by baseball people: Farm results really do matter, and in some cases more than they should.
That’s not to say San Diego didn’t have Roach high on its list this winter, or that they didn’t draw a bead on him in 2011 when (as a Low Class A reliever) he coaxed 3.55 as many groundouts as flyouts, but you can bet that his work as a High Class A starter over the last month, in the hitter-friendly Cal League, boosted his value and helped get this deal done. In 41.2 innings, the 22-year-old issued only three walks, and generated an impossible 6.23 groundouts for every flyout.
As much as it defies good sense, hot streaks and statistics do factor into getting deals finalized. So when you see Barret Loux or Chad Bell or Carlos Pimentel fire off a string of great-looking line scores or notice Hanser Alberto punishing full-season pitching at age 19, allow yourself to imagine that a small sample size of stats really can kick trade value up a bit if the timing is right.
I left Grimm and Cody Buckel off that list, and Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt and others, too. They occupy a different tier.
The Twins are a mess, without a lot to get excited about in the near future, and you could probably get Justin Morneau right now if you put Olt plus more on the table (there are questions as to whether uberprospect Miguel Sano will be able to stay at third base). But Texas isn’t going to take on Morneau’s $14 million this year and $14 million next year – with all the contract issues facing the club this winter – and give up Olt in the process.
The Marlins are in last place and Josh Johnson is struggling and is set to make about the same as Morneau ($13.75 million this year and $13.75 million next year), but you’re not going to include Neftali Feliz and Buckel in the discussion, the likes of which you’d probably have to do in early May to even get talks rolling.
Now, either Mitch Moreland or David Murphy, plus either Scheppers or Ramirez, plus a lower-level arm (let’s say Randol Rojas or Zach Osborne) for Morneau, who’s hitting .230/.313/.459 and is sidelined with a minor wrist injury?
Both teams say no.
Martin Perez and Nick Tepesch and Odor for Johnson?
Both teams say no. With Miami a little more emphatic about it.
Here’s the thing about the Rangers and trades. The system that Scott Servais oversaw for years has a lot more depth and ammunition than the one he runs now. Texas can get lots of things done on the trade market that other clubs either can’t get done or can’t afford to get done.
But right now, a month into the season, the only types of players you can pry free at a reasonable cost are the ones the fill a spot on the bench, or a role in the middle of the bullpen.
Texas has players with as much value as Amarista and Roach, and more of them than Los Angeles does. But Texas also has players like Solarte and Scheppers going well, which could mean you don’t have to trade Engel Beltre or Jake Brigham yet to try and address needs at the back of the roster.
Olt isn’t untouchable by any means – and I’m on record (July 26, 2011 TROT COFFEY) suggesting I’d be open to moving Feliz in the right deal – but the way this team is built, saving your best ammunition for the winter makes more sense. Trading key assets now to get a little better in 2012 isn’t as good an idea as holding onto them until the off-season, when the offense may need to be retooled through multiple means.
And here’s the other thing about mid-season trades that’s different now. The new CBA dictates that compensatory draft picks are now available only to teams who lose free agents they had for the entire season.
That means that trading for Zack Greinke this summer gets a little trickier. Do it and lose him to free agency this winter, and you have nothing to show for it in 2013. Trading for Cliff Lee in July 2010 had the back-end benefit, if he left for free agency, of two draft picks (which turned into lefthander Kevin Matthews and outfielder Zach Cone). Trading for Greinke in July 2012, unless you believed you could re-sign him in the winter – and that you would even want to in the first place – would be the definition of a rental.
Do you want to trade Perez, Buckel, Jordan Akins, and Luis Sardinas for two months of Greinke?
Of course not.
And if you’re Milwaukee, would you take less, since you would get the compensatory picks if you kept Greinke and he left in the winter?
The Rangers will make deals this season. They always do. The Angels aren’t going to slink away quietly (in spite of the fact, as Joe Sheehan notes, that they have a 6-3 record against the Orioles and Twins, and a 4-13 mark against everyone else), and even if the division looks safe in July, Texas learned in 2011 that part of the process in building a title contender is putting together a bench built to win games in National League parks.
Maybe Yangervis Solarte will get the next shot to try and earn a role on this team, but even if that happens and he produces, expect the Rangers to go find a couple proven hitters for the bench after mid-season, when more teams are out of the race and more players are available and Texas has a better sense of where its roster holes are.
For now, the club has no hole as great as those the Angels started to address with last night’s trade. While it’s unquestionable that the Rangers are better equipped than the Angels or the Tigers or the Phillies or the Giants to trade prospects for immediate help, it’s also true that the needs in Texas aren’t as great in 2012 as those most teams are saddled with, and as a result we should probably be looking more at the second and third tiers of the organization’s deep stable of prospects than the top tier as we handicap what the club might look to do, focusing with as much interest on the progress of Barret Loux and Jake Brigham and Nick Tepesch, and Engel Beltre and Christian Villanueva and Hanser Alberto, as we tend to do with players like Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt and Martin Perez.