August 04, 2009

Anyone catch the Cardinals/Dodgers series last week? Probably the best four-game series during the regular season I've seen in a long time. It had home runs, blown saves, pitchers' duels, key pinch hits, great catches ... everything. As a former Philly resident, I'm a Phillies phan -- but watching Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa match wits in the NL Championship Series would be an early Christmas present. So Cubs, Astros, Brewers and Rockies, don't mess this up for me.

If that series represented what's right with baseball, the action at the non-waiver trade deadline is what's wrong. Everyone gets excited about the deadline deals and what they mean to competition in the game. But what they actually mean is that some teams have the fiscal odds stacked against them and are doomed to serve as farm clubs for big-market teams. Toronto? Best they can do is third. Pittsburgh? Uses Velcro to put names on the uniforms. Kansas City? Out of the division race by Memorial Day every year. The Lords of Baseball have to address the fiscal disparity in the sport or risk making half the teams irrelevant.

So now that I've rained on the parade, let's examine what happened with those trades. It's hard to argue with St. Louis' new offense (why is Albert Pujols batting .200 and only two extra-base hits since Matt Holliday came to town?), Boston's new Hall of Fame backstop (don't let the clubhouse door hit your backside on the way out Jason Varitek), or Philly's new ace and fourth outfielder (getting Cleveland to throw in Ben Francisco was grand larceny). However, this is a pitching fantasy baseball column so let's see what all this movement meant to pitching this season (in the short term) and the future (long term).

Jarrod Washburn (DET): For those of you that do not believe in the contract year hypothesis, I present Washburn, who is setting career marks in ERA, WHIP and K/BB, while being on-pace for his first 200-inning season since 2003. He is only 8-6 with a middling Mariners team, but with the Tigers, could see 7-plus more wins. However, he'll be 35 next week, which means a smart team like Detroit (smart except for its bullpen decisions) won't pay for his career year, but Arizona, New York (either one) or Chicago (again, either one), likely will. That means Detroit will also get a sandwich pick in the draft (mmm, sandwiches...). If you own him in a non-keeper league, enjoy the increase in wins. In you have him in a keeper league, think seriously about packaging him in a deal for next year. And as for Luke French going to the Mariners, he's been giving up too many walks as a soft thrower for me to be a believer.

Ian Snell (SEA): It's now or never for Snell as he gets a fresh start in Seattle. Pitching for the Pirates can be as frustrating as, well, rooting for the Pirates, but pitching is done between the ears as well, and Snell has shown maturity issues this year. And if you don't buy the "million-dollar arm/10-cent head" argument, realize that even when he won 14 games for Pittsburgh in 2006, his WHIP was close to 1.50. He's done nothing to warrant the sleeper tag he gets every March. But having said that, the Mariners have a brilliant manager and a great general manager, and if anyone in the AL can squeeze the talent out of him, it's Seattle. Let's say he could be good for five wins if all goes well and will definitely help you in strikeouts, but is a cheap keeper in AL-only (think $8 or less for the strikeouts) for '10.

Justin Masterson (CLE): I've always thought Masterson deserved a longer look in the rotation. However, no one ever asks me (Bitter, party of one...). He needs to get stretched out, but unless Cleveland management doesn't know what it's doing (wait, bad example), he should be in the rotation later this season and in contention for a spot in '10. The problem is he goes to a bad team. Or rather, a team that looks good on paper, but has no chemistry. I like him as an endgame pitcher for next season, and is worth keeping for $5 or less in AL-only. And if you're in a crazy deep AL-only, or one where you have minor leaguers, keep an eye on Nick Hagadone, another piece of the V-Mart deal. He's likely two seasons away, but he's a post-Tommy John surgery lefty that gets strikeouts.

Brewers: The Brew Crew are losing arms left and right and need warm bodies in their rotation. Unfortunately, that's all they got in acquiring Claudio Vargas from the Dodgers. Vargas has nice numbers as a reliever for LA, but as a starter he'll likely slip back toward his career ratios which are closer to a 1.50 WHIP and a 5.00 ERA. That means no value for you. No value for the Brewers. No October for Milwaukee.

Twins/Marlins/Red Sox/Dodgers: Remember, this is in terms of pitching, and all four appear to have weaker staffs than they did at the beginning of the season. For Minnesota, Kevin Slowey is lost for the year and Francisco Liriano is simply lost. Florida hasn't been able to clone Josh Johnson and their bullpen is a mess. Boston has no reliable starter after Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. And the Dodgers are relying on two young guys (Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw) and an older one (Randy Wolf). None of them look ready for the postseason. The take home lesson is that all of them will be looking for pitchers that pass through waivers, so keep an eye on Doug Davis, Jon Garland, Carl Pavano, Livan Hernandez and Bronson Arroyo. And lest you downgrade the value of post-deadline trades, remember that Jeff Bagwell and John Smoltz were both obtained in August deals.

Cliff Lee (PHI): My friend Mike is a Lee owner and asked me what to expect with him in Philly (heck of a catch, huh?). That's like saying, "So, this Christmas thing. Will I really enjoy getting presents?" I told him to enjoy the boost in wins to go along with the rest of his numbers. Lee goes to a hitter's park in the NL, but that's about the same as a pitcher's park in the AL. His ratios are not as good as last year's, but with the Phillies offense (and more importantly for a ground ball pitcher, their defense) behind him, he could see 8+ wins the rest of the way and keep his ratios. And with a paltry $8 million club option for next year and Lee turning 31, this marriage should be more Gwyneth and Chris rather than Heather and Tommy (or Heather and Richie come to think of it).

Padres: San Diego won the lottery twice when they traded Jake Peavy to the White Sox. First, they unloaded his salary, which is great considering he's still injured. Second, because Peavy had initially refused a similar deal in May, the White Sox upped their offer and included Clayton Richard. Richard and Mat Latos are turning into aces for the Padres, which means good ratios but awful win totals. Both are looking like keepers for NL-only leagues. Keep an eye also on Aaron Poreda, but I wouldn't go as far to call him a keeper. Just a pitcher of interest. As for Peavy, I wouldn't expect any fantasy value this season (although he could make a postseason appearance if the White Sox make it), but don't expect those sub-3.00 ERAs any more. His AO/GO is about 1.00, and those fly balls may create more HR in Chicago's south side than they did in San Diego.

Nationals: I respect the Nats for not folding up the tent and handing away their talent (note, this is different from what I say about Toronto below, and very different from the Royals who thought they could command high prices for "talent" that will simply yield the same results next year). Nick Johnson wasn't all that much a loss, unless you had stock in a DC-area ER. The Nats held onto their good young pitchers and their outfielders. Sure, Adam Dunn could be shown the door, but I still like their resolve. As for their pitchers, because the Nats cannot assure any of them decent win totals, it's hard to call any of them keepers except perhaps Jordan Zimmerman because of his strikeouts (yes, I am saying John Lannan is not a keeper).

J.P. Ricciardi: I'm going to hate the playa not the game here. Last week, I said I just couldn't imagine Ricciardi not selling high on Roy Halladay, with all the innings he's pitched and all the buzz. And, yes, it sounds disingenuous of me to say a smaller-market team made a mistake by not giving up their ace to a big-market team, but this is still how the league runs, whether I like it or not. He was the hottest commodity on the market, but once the Phillies blinked and stole Lee and Francisco, no one else was around to pay Toronto's ransom. So now they have an ace who once again won't play in October, a team that gives no reason to think it will be any better next year, and a '11 free agent who will have less value when they unload him a year from now. I know a few baseball people who are updating their resumes for a Blue Jays front office next year. Can I go ahead and send mine, too?

I just had to mention my head scratching in the John Grabow/Tom Gorzelanny for Kevin Hart/Jose Ascanio/Josh Harrison trade. I know Hart is having control issues with too many walks, but honestly, the Pirates might have stolen a young mid-rotation starter, a setup man, and a decent 2B of the future from the Cubs for a lefty reliever who is also having WHIP issues and a has-been starter. Nice job, Buccos. Enjoy the time off in October, Cubbies.

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