Results tagged ‘ Omar Minaya ’

Trading Deadline Trades: Good Deals or Buyer Beware

As the second half of the season begins, teams begin assessing their 2012 seasons with an eye on the future.  Some teams go all in, picking up top players by dealing top prospects, some teams add bit parts to supplement their rosters, some teams stand pat, and other teams become sellers, giving up on their present for a shot at the future.

Some of these trades work immediately (such as the Cardinals/Blue Jays Colby Rasmus trade last year), while others backfire immensely (such as the Red Sox’s acquisition of Larry Andersen at the expense of Jeff Bagwell), and others seem to have no appreciable benefit (such as the Diamondbacks’ trade for Adam Dunn).  Additionally, not all of these happen at the end of July, big trades often happen any time from May through August.  Below is a selection of players involved in at least two mid-season trades – some as prospects, some as high-priced veterans, and some as both – that help underscore the possibilities and the risks involved.

Traded Player 1:  David Cone
Trade 1
Backdrop: The 1992 Mets were the worst team money could buy (or so we’re told by Bob Klapisch), the 1992 Blue Jays were looking for another top of the rotation pitcher, and David Cone was about to become a free agent for the first time.
Trade: Mets traded David Cone for a PTBNL (Ryan Thompson) and Jeff Kent (more on him later).
Result: Blue Jays rode Cone’s 2.55 ERA across 53 innings, followed by four decent starts in the playoffs to their first World Series win.
Aftermath: Mets had Kent as their 2B (sometimes 3B) of the future, Ryan Thompson played baseball professionally (that’s all I’m giving him because I remember wondering why the Mets didn’t have anyone better), and Cone signed with the big money Royals in the off-season.  With the picks, the Blue Jays drafted Matt Farner (never made it past A ball) and Tony Medrano (1,449 games in the minors but never made the majors).
Winner: Blue Jays because flags fly forever.

Trade 2
Backdrop: The 1995 Blue Jays acquired Cone from the Royals in April for David Sinnes, Chris Stynes, and Tony Medrano (a player the Blue Jays drafted with a pick they received when the Royals signed Cone).  The Blue Jays were struggling and the Yankees’ renewal was in full swing, needing one more, preferably veteran, pitcher to take the reins.
Trade: Blue Jays traded Cone for Jason Jarvis (never made it out of AA), Mike Gordon (never made it out of AA), and Marty Janzen (27 career games in the majors).
Result: Yankees lost in five games to a Mariners team led by Randy Johnson (more on him later) and Ken Griffey, Jr.  The Blue Jays have not made the playoffs since 1993.
Aftermath: Cone stuck around in the Bronx, pitching there through 2000, picking up four World Series Rings and throwing a perfect game in 1999.
Winner: The Yankees, as the players they gave up did not amount to anything and Cone was very productive in his time there.

Moral of the story: Acquire David Cone.

Traded Player 2: Jeff Kent
Trade 1
Backdrop: The 1992 Mets were looking to pick up some young talent and the Blue Jays wanted another top of the rotation starter.
Trade: Blue Jays traded Kent and a PTBNL (Ryan Thompson) for David Cone.
Result: The Blue Jays won the World Series.  Kent hit 239/289/407 (“good” for a 97 OPS+) and Ryan Thompson hit roughly as well.
Aftermath: Kent hit 21 home runs in 1993, 14 in 1993, and 20 in 1995, but never really put it all together.  After turning a corner in 1996 (hitting 290/331/436 in 89 games), Kent was dealt to the Indians (more on that later).  Thompson was never much more than a 4th outfielder with some power, as he struck out a lot (347 in 1385 career PA).
Winner: the Blue Jays, especially because of what the Mets did next.

Trade 2
Backdrop: The 1996 Mets had Edgardo Alfonzo coming up to play third base and wanted to get an upgrade from Jose Vizcaino at second base (but apparently had no issue with Butch Huskey playing first base…), while the Indians viewed Vizcaino as a serviceable second baseman.
Trade: Kent was dealt by the Mets to the Indians with Jose Vizcaino for Carlos Baerga and Alvaro Espinoza.
Result: The Indians remained very good for the next few years while the Mets were killed by Baerga’s lack of production.  Vizcaino and Espinoza were minor parts to the deal.
Aftermath:  Baerga never hit and Kent was traded after the season to the Giants for Matt Williams.
Winner:  The Mets lost but the Indians did not really win.  Perhaps if the Indians won a World Series and either Vizcaino or Kent were a part of it…

Moral of the story: Don’t acquire Jeff Kent (well, yet).

Traded Player 3: Carlos Beltran
Trade 1
Backdrop: In 2004, the Royals were on their way to another 100-loss season, the Astros were a CF away from being a truly elite team, and Carlos Beltran was months away from attaining free agent riches.
Trade: In a three-team trade, the Royals sent Beltran to the Astros, the A’s sent Mark Teahen and Mike Wood to the Royals, the Astros sent Octavio Dotel to the A’s, and the Astros sent John Buck to the Royals.  In short, the Royals traded Beltran and got back Mark Teahen, Mike Wood, and John Buck.
Result: The Astros were 38-34 prior to the trade and 52-36 after, falling to the Cardinals in a tight seven game series.  Beltran hit 258/368/559 in the regular season, 455/500/1.091 in the NLDS, and 417/563/958 in the NLCS, mashing eight home runs.
Aftermath: Beltran went on to free agent riches in Queens, Dotel got hurt the following season, Teahen had a nice 2006 but never really never figured it out, Mike Wood peaked as a swingman, and John Buck has turned into a low-average/high-power catcher for the Marlins.  The Astros drafted Eli Iorg and Tommy Manzella with the picks they received as compensation for Beltran.
Winner: The Astros, who used Beltran for his peak value: a hired gun.

Trade 2
Backdrop: In 2011, the Mets were a team beginning a rebuilding process and the Giants were looking to make a late charge by acquiring a slugging outfielder in an attempt to win the World Series for a second consecutive year.
Trade: The Mets sent Beltran to the Giants for Zack Wheeler.
Result: The Giants missed the playoffs, though Beltran put up a robust 323/369/551 line in 44 games.
Aftermath: Wheeler’s stock has spiked, with Baseball America naming him the #10 overall and #6 pitching prospect in baseball.  The Giants were not able to offer Beltran arbitration due to a contractual stipulation (the curse of Minaya), so were unable to offset his loss with draft picks.
Winner: So far, the Mets.  However, if Wheeler gets hurt, the Giants may be the winner due to extra ticket sales caused by the acquisition.

Moral of the story: Beltran can hit, but cannot carry an offense.  Trade for him but only if you don’t expect him to carry your team.

Traded Player 4: Cliff Lee

Trade 1
Backdrop: In 2002, the Expos were owned by Major League Baseball and thought they were in the hunt for a playoff spot.  The Indians were having a bad year and looking to jettison some veterans in order to get some additional young talent.
Trade:  Expos dealt Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew (brother of Stephen and JD) for Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, and Lee Stevens.
Result: The Expos missed the playoffs and began a slow slide into mediocrity that they have only recently been able to reverse.
Aftermath: The Expos dealt Colon to the White Sox in the off-season; the Indians got a lot of value out of Sizemore and Lee, and dealt Phillips to the Reds in 2006 in a pretty terrible trade.
Winner:  The Indians and it’s not even close.  Flags fly forever, but this accelerated the Expos demise.

Trade 2
Backdrop: The Indians were having a bad year and looking to jettison some veterans in order to get some additional young talent (yes, I copied that from the previous trade).  The Phillies were looking to add one more pitcher to get over the top and win a second consecutive World Series.
Trade:  The Indians dealt Lee and Ben Francisco to the Phillies for Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, and Lou Marson.
Result: The Phillies repeated as NL Champions lost to the Yankees in the World Series.
Aftermath: None of the prospects sent to Cleveland have amounted to much and Cliff Lee dominated for the Phillies.  The Phillies dealt Lee to the Mariners in the off-season to the Mariners for J.C. Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont, and Tyson Gillies – none of which have done much of anything.
Winner: The Phillies because of 2009, but it may have made more sense to keep him for 2010.

Trade 3
Backdrop: The Mariners 2010 season fell apart, with Erik Bedard being injured and their offense being nonexistent.  The Rangers needed another pitcher for the stretch run and wanted a playoff-tested veteran.
Trade: Mariners dealt Mark Lowe (and cash) to the Rangers for Matthew Lawson, Blake Beavan, Justin Smoak, and Josh Lueke, who is a horrible person (see here, here, and here).
Result: The Rangers were AL Champions, but lost to the Giants in the World Series.
Aftermath: The Rangers lost Lee in free agency, while the Mariners turned Leuke into John Jaso.  Justin Smoak, the main prospect acquired, has struggled mightily in the majors after drawing Mark Teixeira (more on him, soon) comparisons.
Winner: The Rangers, as flags, even league championship flags, fly forever.

Moral of the story: Acquire Cliff Lee.

Traded Player 5: Mark Teixeira
Trade 1
Backdrop: The 2007 Rangers were struggling and looking to maximize the value of their best player, Mark Teixeira.  The Braves had just missed the playoffs for the first time since the George H.W. Bush administration (1990) and sorely needed an upgrade from Scott Thorman at first base.
Trade: The Rangers dealt Teixeira and lefty-specialist Ron Mahay for Jarrod Saltalamacchia (more on him later), Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, and Matt Harrison.
Result: The Braves did not really improve much with Teixeira (56-51 before, 28-27 after), as their winning percentage decreased.
Aftermath: The Braves missed the playoffs and Andrus, Feliz, and All-Star Harrison are key parts to the Rangers recent success.
Winner:  The Rangers, not even close.

Trade 2
Backdrop: The Braves, fearing they would lose Teixeira in the off season, wanted to make a deal.  The Angels needed a 1B who could hit, sick of Casey Kotchman’s poor-hitting ways.
Trade:  The Braves dealt Teixeira to the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim for Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek.
Result:  The Angels won the AL West, but lost to the Red Sox in the ALDS 3-1.  Casey Kotchman put up a 237/331/316 line in 2008 and a 282/354/409 in 2009 for the Braves before being shipped up to Boston.
Aftermath: The Angels ended up picking Mike Trout and Tyler Skaggs with the picks they received as compensation for Teixeira signing with the Yankees.
Winner:  Neither team won immediately, but it appears the Angels won in the long run as Skaggs was used to acquire Dan Haren and Mike Trout is quite awesome.

Moral of the story:  Mark Teixeira is really good, but not as a hired gun.  Or, perhaps, maybe Mark Teixeira needs to play in one of the five largest markets in the United States.

Traded Player 6: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Trade 1
Backdrop:  The 2007 Rangers were struggling and looking to maximize the value of their best player, Mark Teixeira.  The Braves had just missed the playoffs for the first time since the George H.W. Bush administration (1990) and sorely needed an upgrade from Scott Thorman at first base.
Trade: The Rangers dealt Teixeira and lefty-specialist Ron Mahay for Jarrod Saltalamacchia (more on him later), Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, and Matt Harrison.
Result:  The Braves missed the playoffs and the Rangers went 28-28 for the rest of the season.
Aftermath: To fully understand this trade, you must understand what the Braves dealt.  Prior to 2007, Andrus was the #65 prospect according to Baseball America, but would jump to #19 after 2007, Feliz was unranked, but would be #93 after the season, followed by #10 then #9, Matt Harrison was the #90 prospect, and Saltalamacchia was the #36 after being #18 the season before.
Winner: If the trade was only for Saltalamacchia, the Braves won.  Include anything else and the Rangers smoked them.  This trade may have ended up worse than the Indians/Expos trade involving Cliff Lee.

Trade 2
Backdrop: The 2010 Red Sox needed a replacement for Jason Varitek and were willing to give up a few prospects in exchange.
Trade: The Rangers dealt Saltalamacchia to Boston for Chris McGuiness, Roman Mendez, and a PTBNL (Michael Thomas).
Result:  The Red Sox missed the playoffs, as did the Rangers.
Aftermath:  Salty has turned into one of the top hitting catchers in baseball and none of the prospects are doing much of anything.
Winner:  It appears the Red Sox.

Moral of the story:  Trade for Jarrod Saltalamacchia – it works 60% of the time, every time.

Traded Player 7: Randy Johnson
Trade 1
Backdrop: The 1989 Expos felt they were one pitcher away from making a run (they were only three games back at the time) and thought Johnson would never put it all together.  The Mariners decided to jettison some salary and take a flier on a pitcher with a huge amount of risk and reward.
Trade:  The Mariners dealt Mark Langston to the Expos for Gene Harris, Brian Holman, Randy Johnson, and a PTBNL (Mike Campbell).
Result:  Les Expos finished 81-81, missing the playoffs.  Johnson walked 70 and struck out 104 in 131 innings for the Mariners.
Aftermath:  Randy Johnson was awesome.  Absolutely awesome.  I once saw him go 2/4 with a RBI while striking out 10 over eight innings (though the Mets beat them in the NLDS).  Langston pitched very well for the Expos (2.39 ERA over 24 starts), but went to the Angels in the off season.  The Expos picked Rondell White and Gabe White (no relation, it appears) with compensation picks.
Winner: Rondell White had a nice career, Gabe White was better than I thought, and Langston pitched well, but the Expos dealt an all-time legend for four months of 148 ERA+ and a few picks, and then missed the playoffs.  The Mariners won and it’s not even close.

Trade 2
Backdrop: The 1998 Mariners were not spending money to keep their veterans and were looking to maximize their return in exchange for Johnson, by then one of the top pitchers in the game, with a Cy Young Award (also second place twice and third place once) to go with his no-hitter.  The Astros were in “win now” mode, and needed an ace to anchor their rotation.
Trade: The Mariners dealt Johnson to the Astros for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and a PTBNL (John Halama).
Result: The Astros, led by Johnson’s silly 10-1, 1.28 ERA across 11 starts in which he averaged nearly eight innings per start, went 37-16 for the final two months of the season, taking the NL Central crown before losing to the eventual NL Champion San Diego Padres in four games.  The Mariners finished under .500 for the first time since 1994 and would finish under .500 in 1999 as well.
Aftermath:  The Mariners used Garcia and a Halama as key parts in their 116-win season in 2001, but neither team made it to the World Series.  Johnson signed with the Diamondbacks in the off-season, netting the Astros Mike Rosamond and Jay Perez, or, as they’re more commonly known, “who?”
Winner:  The Astros won in the short term while the Mariners won a few years later.  In total, I’d say the Astros came out ahead.

Moral of the story:  Acquiring Hall of Fame pitchers in their prime is a good idea.

Traded 8: Curt Schilling
Trade 1
Backdrop:  The 1988 Red Sox needed another starting pitcher and the Baltimore Orioles wanted to pick up some young talent.
Trade:  The Red Sox dealt Schilling and Brady Anderson for Mike Boddiker.
Result: The Red Sox won the AL East but then were swept by the Oakland A’s in the ALCS, who then lost 4-1 to the LA Dodgers in the World Series.  The Orioles, after firing Cal Ripken (Sr.) after a 0-6 start, hired Frank Robinson on their way to a 54-107 finish.
Aftermath: Schilling did not do much for the Orioles until he was used as a reliever in 1990, but was dealt to the Astros before the 1991 season, then to the Phillies before the 1992 season.  Anderson had a few good seasons and then an amazing steroid-fueled season.  Boddiker pitched a few more solid seasons for the Red Sox before pitching in Kansas City and Milwaukee.
Winner:  The Orioles, as Anderson was a solid center fielder for about a decade, but they basically gave away Schilling (with Pete Harnisch and Steve Finley) for Glenn Davis to the Astros, who then gave him to the Phillies for Jason Grimsley.  Yes, Curt Schilling was really once traded STRAIGHT UP for Jason Grimsley.

Trade 2
Backdrop:  The 2000 Phillies wouldn’t spend money on players (just ask Scott Rolen) and the Diamondbacks needed one more top-flight pitcher to make them serious contenders.
Trade: The Phillies dealt Schilling to the Diamondbacks for Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa, Travis Lee, and Vicente Padilla.
Result: The Phillies lost 93 games, but the Diamondbacks went 28-32, missing the playoffs despite putting up a 3.69 ERA (130 ERA+) in 13 starts.
Aftermath:  The Diamondbacks won the World Series, largely due to Schilling and Randy Johnson in 2001, while none of the pitchers amounted to much of anything (unless you were a part of Padilla Flotilla).
Winner:  The Diamondbacks, though it took a year to play out.

Moral of the story:  Curt Schilling was a great pitcher, but he was traded five times!  He was traded by the Red Sox to the Orioles to the Astros to the Phillies to the Diamondbacks to the Red Sox.

Either way, give it a few years and you’ll see who the winner of a trade was – unless one of the teams wins the World Series, then it was probably worth it all.

Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.

Sources:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/

http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/rankings/top-100-prospects/all-time.html

Non-Hype Prospect – Lucas Duda

Lucas Duda – Where did he come from?

One of the most fascinating things in baseball prospecting, at least for me, isn’t the top prospect who becomes the great player (though that is pretty cool).  For me, one of the most fascinating things is when the non-prospect, the non-top-pick makes a splash in the major leagues.  One of the sudden splashes over the past few years is Mets OF/1B, Lucas Duda.

After attending Arlington High School in Riverside, California, Duda was not selected in the Rule IV draft and went to the University of Southern California, where he, well, played for three years.  The vast majority of people who play professional baseball, even ones who never make the major leagues, dominated in college, putting up numbers more associated with video games than reality.  Duda was not one of them, as he put up a 208/322/299 slash line as a freshman in 2005, a 298/391/398 as a sophomore in 2006, and a 280/378/468 line as a junior in 2007.  While his numbers look good as a sophomore and a junior, the USC Trojans team hit a composite 313/398/423 slash line in 2006 and 286/369/399 in 2007.

Nevertheless, Omar Minaya and his staff saw something and drafted Duda with the 29th pick of the 7th round (243rd overall) of the 2007 draft, signed him for $85,000, and assigned him to the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ short-season A affiliate in the New York Penn League.  Duda put up a tremendous 299/398/462 slash line in 67 games, resulting in Baseball America ranking Duda the #29 prospect in the Mets system.  In 2008, the Mets assigned Duda to the St. Lucie Mets, their affiliate in the High A Florida State League, a league that is traditionally difficult on hitters.  Duda had a solid year in St. Lucie, putting up a 263/358/398 line with 11 home runs.  For context, only three hitters hit more than 15 home runs, Ryan Strieby, Brian Dopirak, and Juan Francisco; Brennan Boesch hit 7 in 461 PA, J.P. Arencibia and Logan Morrison hit 13 each.  After the season Baseball America rated Duda the #20 prospect in their system.

In 2009, Duda was assigned to the Binghamton Mets in the AA Eastern League, where he put up a 281/380/428 line across 110 games.  In mid August, Duda strained his knee, keeping him out for the next two weeks.  Though Duda’s line showed impressive patience, it lacked power, something a slow-footed 1B/OF must show in order to get promoted.  Duda failed to make Baseball America’s list of top 30 Mets prospects and returned to Binghamton to start 2010.  Primarily playing left field with Nick Evans, Josh Satin, and Marshall Hubbard manning the first sack, Duda crushed AA pitching, putting up a 286/411/503 line across 45 games before being promoted to the International League’s Buffalo Bisons, the Mets’ AAA affiliate in mid-June.  Duda hit even more in AAA, putting up a 314/389/610 line in 70 games in Buffalo, while primarily playing left field, with Mike Jacobs and Nick Evans (he was promoted in early July) primarily playing first base.  The Mets brought Duda up when rosters expanded in September, showing patience, power, and a massive hole in his swing while putting up a 202/261/417 line across 29 games, all in left field.  Suddenly, baseball writers took notice, with Baseball America ranking Duda the Mets’ #7 prospect and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo naming Lucas Duda the Organizational Player of the Year for putting up a 304/398/569 line across AA and AAA with 23 homers and 87 RBI.

2011 started with Duda playing for the Mets as Jason Bay missed the first part of the season.  After being sent back to Buffalo on April 10, Duda returned to the Mets for two days in early May, but for the most part remained in Buffalo for two months with Jason Bay in left field and Ike Davis at first base for the Mets.  Duda put up an impressive 302/414/597 line with ten home runs in 38 games while playing 16 games in right field, 18 games in left field, and 8 games at first base.  Called up by the Mets on June 9, Duda proved that he belonged in the big leagues.  Splitting time between first base (43 games, 37 starts) and right field (42 games, 38 starts), with a little bit of left field mixed in (4 games, all starts), Duda put up an impressive 292/370/482 line before being shut down for the season in late September after crashing into a wall.

In 2012, Duda has been the Mets primary right fielder, putting up a 256/337/436 line while playing some of the worst outfield defense in the league with a -7.2 UZR and a -50.4 UZR/150 (according to Fangraphs), which would absolutely destroy Manny Ramirez’s -28.3 UZR/150, which is the worst defender since 2002, as calculated by Fangraphs.  I don’t mean to pick on Duda, but having seen outfields of Endy Chavez, Carlos Beltran, and Cliff Floyd or Shawn Green, or Beltran, Floyd, and Mike Cameron, it is stark how little ground Duda covers and how poor his routes to batted balls often happen to be.   That being said, Duda is being paid large sums of money to hit, and that he has done at a rate higher than the average major leaguer.

So what should we expect from Duda going forward?  I think Duda will be a solid #5 or #6 hitter going forward, but I don’t think he will ever become an elite #3 or #4 hitter, and if a team is forced to rely upon his bat too much, they could be in for a lot of trouble.   As big as Duda is, and as long as his swing appears to be, Duda does not strike out that much, only striking out 57 times in 347 PA in 2011.  Of course, in Duda’s slower start in 2012, he has struck out 21 times in 22 games, meaning that his low strike out rate in 2011 may have been a mirage due to pitchers not being familiar with Duda.

That being said, any contribution from Duda is impressive – he is one of three 7th round picks from the 2007 draft to make the majors, with Orioles outfielder Matt Angle (#219 overall) appearing in 31 games in 2011, and Diamondbacks pick Bryan Augenstein (#223) appearing in 7 games with the Diamondbacks in 2009 and 5 games with the Cardinals in 2011.  It’s also important to note that Duda is one of the two Mets picks in the first 20 rounds (23 overall) of the 2007 draft that made the major leagues.  The other is Mets’ supplemental first round pick (#42 overall) Eddie Kunz, who has, to put it mildly, not pitched up to his draft status.  Of course, before saying that Duda was the best pick in the 2007 draft for the Mets, it’s necessary to note that Duda has produced 0.8 WAR (according to Baseball Reference), but 21st round pick Dillon Gee has produced 2.3 WAR.

Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.

Sources:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/d/dudalu01.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=duda–001luc

http://www.usctrojans.com/sports/m-basebl/spec-rel/090110aab.html

http://sports.espn.go.com/new-york/mlb/columns/story?columnist=rubin_adam&id=5522074

http://www.thebaseballcube.com/players/profile.asp?P=Lucas-Duda

http://www.thebaseballcube.com/teams/stats.asp?Y=2005&T=20064

http://www.thebaseballcube.com/teams/stats.asp?Y=2006&T=20064

http://www.thebaseballcube.com/teams/stats.asp?Y=2007&T=20064

http://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/?query_type=year_round&year_ID=2007&draft_round=7&draft_type=junreg

http://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/?query_type=franch_year&team_ID=NYM&year_ID=2007&draft_type=junreg&

http://www.baseballamerica.com/statistics/players/cards/80933

http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=2502&position=1B/OF

http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=2502&position=1B/OF#fielding

http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/leader.cgi?type=bat&id=fc07902f

http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/team.cgi?id=6e6cd691

http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/team.cgi?id=4f7b68be

http://newyork.mets.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20101107&content_id=16024590&vkey=news_nym&c_id=nym

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/worst-defenders-since-2002

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/a/anglema01.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/a/augenbr01.shtml

Non-Hype Prospect – Heath Bell

It is often said that Americans love the narrative of the underdog.  That is only partially true: the whole world loves the underdog.  We root for the upset; we root for the improbable; we root for the statistically improbable.  There’s nothing the world loves more than David taking out Goliath (unless, of course, we have Goliath on our fantasy team).  The prospect equivalent to David is the undrafted free agent.  A player so undesired, whose desire to play professional baseball is so unrequited, that no team values them highly enough to say their name on a conference call.  Many of these players are signed and never make it out of A ball, but a select few make the show and become stars including, but not limited to, Larry Bowa, Kevin Mitchell, Bobby Bonilla, and Jim Leyritz.

Much has been made about how Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round in 1988, but he was drafted (albeit as a favor to his father by his godfather, Tommy Lasorda).  The subject of this article is three-time All-Star Heath Bell, a pitcher who placed 8th in the 2010 National League Cy Young Award vote.  Despite lettering in football, basketball, and baseball while attending Tustin High School in Tustin, California, Bell failed to impress scouts and was not drafted.  Bell attended Santiago Canyon College and was named a freshman All-American in 1997.  The Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected Bell in the 69th Round of the 1997 draft.  The 69th round had a total of three picks (neither of which appeared to play any professional baseball at any point), the final of which was Bell.   Bell didn’t sign with the Devil Rays and made two appearances for the El Dorado Broncos in the National Baseball Congress World Series.  Alas, Bell was not drafted in 1998 and signed with the New York Mets as an undrafted free agent in 1998.

Bell impressed from the start, a 2.54 ERA and 61 strike outs in 22 games (46 innings) at Kingsport of the Rookie Level Appalachian League in 1998 earned him a promotion to the Mets full season A affiliate for 1999, the South Atlantic League’s Capital City Bombers.  In Capital City, Bell put up a 2.60 ERA with 68 strikeouts across 62.1 innings.  In 2000, Bell appeared in 48 games for the St. Lucie Mets, the Mets’ affiliate in the High A Florida State League.  In St. Lucie, Bell continued to excel, striking out 75 in 60 innings while putting up a sparkling 2.55 ERA.

Bell hit his first bump in 2001, when he was promoted to the Mets’ affiliate in the Eastern League, the Binghamton Mets.  Bell appeared in 43 games, striking out 55 and putting up a 6.02 ERA.  Bell returned to Binghamton in 2002 and put up an electric 1.18 ERA while striking out 49 in 38 innings.  Bell was promoted to the Norfolk Tides, the Mets AAA affiliate in the International League, and pitched reasonably well, putting up a 4.26 ERA with 28 strike outs in 31.2 innings.  In 2003, Bell put up a lackluster 4.71 ERA at Norfolk, while striking out 44 in 49.2 innings.  After the season, it was revealed that Bell had a stress fracture in his right arm that Mets team doctors failed to diagnose.

After one two-inning appearance in Binghamton to start 2004, Bell was promoted to Norfolk, where he put up a 3.12 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 55.2 innings, earning Bell a September call up to the Mets where he put up a respectable 3.33 ERA with 27 strikeouts across 24.1 innings.  In 2005, Bell began riding the “Heath Bell Express”, as he was shuttled between AAA Norfolk and New York as the Mets whenever the Mets needed another bullpen arm.  Bell put up a 1.69 ERA in Norfolk and a 5.59 ERA for the Mets.  Bell clashed with Mets’ Pitching Coach Rick Peterson, who put the kibosh on Bell’s weight-losing in-line skating that helped him lose weight during spring training.  In 2006, Bell resumed riding the “Heath Bell Express” as he put up a 1.29 ERA in Norfolk and a 5.11 ERA for the Mets.

In mid-November, the Mets dealt Heath Bell and Royce Ring to the San Diego Padres for Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins.  Acquiring Bell paid immediate dividends for the Padres.  After putting up a 2.02 ERA over 93.2 innings in 2007, Bell put up a 3.58 ERA over 78 innings in 2008.  In 2009, longtime Padres closer Trevor Hoffman signed with the Milwaukee Brewers and Bell became the closer, racking up a National League-leading 42 saves to go with his sparkling 2.71 ERA.  Bell’s success has continued, as he put up 47 saves to go with a 1.93 ERA in 2010 followed by 43 saves and a 2.44 ERA in 2011.

After the 2011 season, Bell became a free agent for the first time and signed a three-year contract worth $27 million (with a vesting option for a fourth year worth another $9 million based upon games finished) with the Florida Miami Marlins.  While Bell has not been perfect to start the season (or, even, particularly good), there is no reason to suspect Bell will be anything other than the top-tier closer that he has been for the past three seasons.  On a personal note, I must say I am happy for him.  I always felt that the Mets misused him, though some of that may have been a result of his outspoken ways, as first reported in an article by Tim Kurkjian:

“Everything in New York was so serious,” Bell said. “I should keep my mouth shut, but I never do. In 2005, I didn’t pitch for 28 straight days. I don’t know if I did something to Willie [Randolph, then the manager of the Mets]. I didn’t always get along with [then pitching coach] Rick Peterson. I don’t know if they wanted to make me the scapegoat. It was a bad situation. I was an undrafted player. I was a walk-on. I was the last guy to get to the big leagues. I came in with [former manager] Art Howe, then went to Willie. I was with [former general manager] Steve Phillips, then [former GM] Jim Duquette, then [current general manager] Omar Minaya. No one really saw me. But they heard about me in the papers.”

Alas, the first question is: What happened?  How did every team miss on Bell (twice, as he was not drafted in the 1998 draft)?  The answer is that drafting baseball players is incredibly difficult and the level of play between high school and college are an ocean away from the level of play in the major leagues.  This difference of play requires scouts to make projections about players four to six years into the future, a difficult task at best. The Mets should get credit for giving Bell a chance, but should be severely dinged for the fact that, once he showed the ability to thoroughly dominate AAA, never giving Bell a chance to succeed at the major league level.  Further, former Mets General Manager Omar Minaya should be excoriated for his trades prior to the 2007 season.  Dealing Bell and Royce Ring to the Padres for non-factors Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins was just the start of the problem.  Minaya continued by dealing relievers Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom to the Marlins for Jason Vargas and Adam Bostick (which would have worked out well had Minaya not dealt the solid Vargas to the Seattle Mariners in the ill-fated J.J. Putz deal), then dealing reliever Brian Bannister for Ambiorix Burgos, who pitched poorly, got hurt, then committed a number of crimes (assaulting his girlfriend, hit an run, then kidnapping and poisoning his ex-wife).

The second question is: How did Bell figure it out?  Clearly the Mets felt Bell was little more than a middle reliever or, possibly even gave bell the dreaded 4A label.  Maybe Bell was better than the Mets believed, but I feel that Bell learned a lot from one of the greatest closers of all time, Trevor HoffmanAs Bell put it:

“Trevor taught me a lot, including, ‘let’s have fun,'” Bell said. “He taught me that we have to be serious, but we’re allowed to have fun before and after games. Before the position players arrive every spring, the pitchers play games with comebackers [balls hit back to the box] and we play a game where we hit in the cage with fungos. It’s fun. San Diego has allowed me to be me. When the game starts, I want to tear your head off, but I’m one of the nicest guys I know. In Philadelphia last year, a fan screamed at me from the stands, ‘How many cheesesteaks did you have today, four?’ I yelled back, ‘Only three, why don’t you get me a fourth?’ Another guy yelled, ‘Hey, fatso.’ I yelled back, ‘Tell me something I don’t know. C’mon, this is Philly, you’re supposed to be better hecklers than that.'”

In the end, Heath Bell made it his own way and we should all be rooting for him, the true underdog.

Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.

Sources:

http://www.baseball-reference.com

http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=bell–001hea

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/bellhe01.shtml

http://www.heathbell21.com/?page_id=2

http://sandiego.padres.mlb.com/news/print.jsp?ymd=20090413&content_id=4253624&vkey=news_sd&fext=.jsp&c_id=sd

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mets/bell-rings-true-san-diego-article-1.270871

http://newyork.mets.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20061115&content_id=1741019&vkey=news_nym&fext=.jsp&c_id=nym

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=kurkjian_tim&id=4073444

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07G23zMGa4g

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=3620877

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=3631601

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/29/ambiorix-burgos-charged-w_n_698163.html

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