WTNYDecember 07, 2005
Winter Meeting Notes
By Bryan Smith

A few news and notes in the heart of the busiest week for hot stove action of the year...

According to ESPN's Jayson Stark, the Marlins are close to trading yet another player in Juan Pierre, this time to the Chicago Cubs. The speedy leadoff hitter will reportedly bring three young pitchers in to the Marlin organization: Sergio Mitre, Renyel Pinto, and Ricky Nolasco.

Before talking about the prospects involved, and the state of the loaded Marlins farm system, I want to talk about my Chicago Cubs. It now seems that the team was really counting on Furcal to sign, and has been in reeling-mode ever since. However, that is not to say that I don't like Juan Pierre, who should bounce back after having the worst season of his career. He should also provide to be a nice stop-gap for Felix Pie, who could use a season playing in Des Moines.

What's next for the Cubs, now that the bullpen and leadoff spot are off the radar? Look for the team to zero in on a right field option soon, hoping to find a #5 hitter after Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. Austin Kearns looks to be the best of the bunch, especially if Jim Hendry could put together a package involving Jerome Williams (and maybe Ryan Harvey?). Other than that, I'm not opposed to Milton Bradley, who sounds poised to thrive under Dusty Baker. However, the Cubs might as well wait until December 20, when Bradley will be released, to step up their right field efforts.

As far as shortstop goes, Ronny Cedeno is fine with me, as long as he receives far more playing time than Neifi Perez. Cedeno would go straight to eighth in the batting order, but given the seven players in front of him, offense won't really be a concern. Instead, the team will focus on getting great defense from two of their four infield spots.

And finally, no to Julio Lugo and Aubrey Huff. I don't even want to think of what Tampa is asking for those two. All I know is that it's probably more than Corey Patterson.

This new haul of Marlins minor leaguers is their weakest yet, but also their deepest. None of these players would grade above a straight B, but none would be lower than a B-. Pinto and Nolasco both pitched well in AA, however, it was their second time around. Pinto has control problems, and has stalled in now two attempts at AAA. I've compared him to a young Arthur Rhodes before, and like Rhodes, I think Pinto will thrive when moving to the bullpen.

The same could be true with Nolasco, though he has a bit more chance of succeeding in a starting role. Nolasco's groundball numbers were done last season while his strikeout numbers were up, oftentimes indicating an advancement in stuff. Like Pinto, Nolasco needs to prove it in AAA, but is on a similar timetable to Josh Johnson, the rich man's Nolasco. Mitre is not likely to be a starter for long with the Marlins, but he will begin in that role. Mitre will join Dontrelle Willis and Jason Vargas as the only certainties for such a spot.

None of these players would break the Marlins top ten, which after trading Paul Lo Duca, Carlos Delgado, Luis Castillo, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, and now Pierre, is among the most loaded in the game. Give Larry Beinfest credit...the man knows how to blow things up. Here's a look at the Marlins ten best prospects (subject to change):

1. Jeremy Hermida
2. Scott Olsen
3. Yusmeiro Petit
4. Hanley Ramirez
5. Anibal Sanchez
6. Gaby Hernandez
7. Chris Volstad
8. Travis Bowyer
9. Josh Johnson
10. Mike Jacobs

The Marlins might not win a lot of games in the next two years, but they will compete with their in-state "rivals" for being the most sub-.500 team to watch.

* * * * *

From a good system to a bad one. Last week, I worried that Omar Minaya's wheeling and dealing would start to really hurt the Mets farm system. In fact, given how often they lose their first round pick, I was worried the system would become temporarily irreparable. It wasn't the Delgado trade to push me to such assumptions -- I loved that trade for the Mets -- it was the rumors that were following it.

A few days after I wrote the article, Minaya unfortunately proved me right. The Mets General Manager traded two prospects (one to be named later), including top pitching prospect Gaby Hernandez, for the services of Paul Lo Duca. There are arguments for the move: that Molina/Hernandez would have cost more, that they would have had another year on the payroll, that they would have cost a draft pick.

However, I would have signed Molina or Hernandez. Or, better yet, try and trade for some of the catching that is available, in ways that don't cost you a top pitching prospect. There is no question that Hernandez has flaws, that his G/F rate is too low, that sooner or later, he will start to allow home runs. Maybe when he reaches more advanced levels, as he hinted last year, his effectiveness will drop off. But he's the best the Mets had left, so they owed themselves the right to find out.

Using the farm system as a trading device is not a horrible idea. Purging the system, and for players like Lo Duca, is a bad one.

* * * * *

As I write this article, Minaya is apparently close to yet another trade. But don't worry Mets fans, this time it isn't for prospects. Instead, the Mets are on the verge of trading Kris (and Anna) Benson to the big name-starved Kansas City Royals. In return, the Royals trade from the one area they have depth that the Mets lack: the bullpen.

If this deal is completed, the Mets will have landed two pieces of their 2006 bullpen in Jeremy Affeldt and Mike MacDougal. People have been predicting Affeldt to turn the corner for years, and will likely continue to do so now that Affeldt will be paired up with Rick Peterson. MacDougal has been solid in two of the last three seasons, and is now entering what should be the prime of his career.

Adding two players, as well as another in the next few days, create question marks regarding Aaron Heilman. The former Fighting Irish had his Ryan Madson-like breakout season last year in a set-up role. Does this trade mean that Heilman will take Benson's place in the rotation? Or, does it mean that he is on the trade block, either for a starter (Javier Vazquez?) or the outfielder (Manny Ramirez)?

As for the Royals, the loss of Affeldt and MacDougal, as well as the addition of Benson, won't do a lot to change their long-term plans. Benson faces the challenge of improving upon Jose Lima's 2005 numbers, a task that most Rule 5 eligibles, much less Benson, could achieve. He'll join Runelvys Hernandez and Zack Greinke in the starting rotation. The rest is pretty much impossible to forecast at this point.

Losing two players out of the bullpen will actually be OK. Andy Sisco and Ambiorix Burgos will be at the end of games, joined by Mike Wood, who pitched well in a relief role. Kyle Snyder deserves a spot, and rumor has it that Denny Bautista might even begin in the bullpen. Throw in an improved Leo Nunez and a Rule 5 pick, and the bullpen won't hurt the Royals chances of winning 63 games.

* * * * *

A move that makes sense for both teams? Could I actually be writing that for two transactions in a row? Quite possibly, assuming rumors that Sean Burroughs is headed to Tampa Bay for Dewon Brazelton are true. If so, this is a classic case of trying to rid two talented players of their environments, hoping that a move across the country, and across leagues, will help.

Both players did not receive much playing time in the Majors this season, spending more time in AAA. Actually, Brazelton never pitched for Tampa, and was hurt for much of the season, making only five starts for Durham. However, the former top-five pick could succeed in spacious PETCO Park, which would fit his flyball tendencies well. It's unlikely at this point that Brazelton could be anything more than a relief pitcher, both as that would help his stuff and minimize his control problems.

As for Burroughs, I'm not sure he'll ever succeed in anything but a bench role. Learning second base was a good idea for the former Little League World Series hero, as creating a utility infielding career would be a good idea. The other possibility is that the Devil Rays are planning to platoon Burroughs with Andy Marte, who could come over for Julio Lugo. Either way, it's likely that Burroughs won't ever do much to help the Devil Rays.

However, this was not a bad move for either team, as return expectations will be very low on both sides. Can a change in scenery turn water into wine...or at least useful spare parts?

* * * * *

One place where that happens a couple times a year is the waiver wire. About two weeks ago, the Brewers made a waiver wire acquisition that I would like to point out. Since Doug Melvin has had so much success on the waiver wire, it's definitely worth mentioning.

In the 1998 draft, Zach Sorensen was a second round choice from the prestigious Wichita State University program. He spent seven seasons in the Cleveland organization, moving to the Angels during the 2004 season. In 2004 and 2005 combined, Sorensen played 173 games with Salt Lake, amassing 646 at-bats. During that time, he hit .307/.378/.393, stealing 43 bases in 57 attemps, and striking out 103 times.

Sorensen provides everything a useful bench player should. He makes a good amount of contact, and better yet, he switch-hits, so he'll make contact in any game situation. He can also run, providing the ability to pinch run. Finally, he's quite versatile, with the ability to play up the middle well, including the outfield. He doesn't have enough power to ever become a full-time player, but if Jose Macias can have a career, Sorensen should be able to do the same.

* * * * *

That's all for now. Rich will be back tomorrow with more notes, picking up everything that I missed. Leave any hot stove thoughts below.


I criticized you last week so it's only fair I give you credit now. Minaya purged what was left of the shaky Mets minor league pitching prospects for a below average catcher making a lot of money. Bad move. If this is a sign of things to come, I suppose Mets fans can take some solace in knowing that after Lastings Milledge, there isn't anything left to purge.

Just to let you know, Dewon Brazelton did pitch for the Devil Rays in 2005, he was the Opening Day Starter. I don't believe he was injured during the 2005 season but had personal problems and probably lost some confidence. Just thought I'd clear that up for you

I sure would love to see Cliff (strikeout) Floyd in rightfield for the Cubs. He would be an upgrade over Burnitz. And would love to be playing for his hometown Cubs, it would almost be like the Sox acquiring Jim Thome (Peoria boy). But only thing is Jim Thome grew up a Cub fan and Floyd grew up a White Sox fan.

My opening day starting lineup wishlist:

Pierre - CF
Soriano - 2B (Hendry will let this one get away)
Lee - 1B
Ramirez - 3B
Floyd - RF (could happen if Hendry tried)
Murton - LF
Ausmus - C (hasn't even come to Hendry's mind)
Cedeno - SS
Zambrano - SP
Prior - SP
Zito - SP (probably not on Hendry's radar)
Maddux - SP
Rusch - SP
Bottom line we need an additional quality starter.

Given the Casey trade, it is impossible to think the Reds would now trade Kearns.

Not so fast Nolan. If the Reds are blown away by an offer for Kearns -- and they really like Rich Hill -- why not make the move? This would be their opening day roster:

C- Jason LaRue
1B- Adam Dunn
2B- Ryan Freel
SS- Felipe Lopez
3B- Edwin Encarnacion
LF- Chris Denorfia
CF- Ken Griffey Jr.
RF- Wily Mo Pena

Given the power that Pena, Griffey, Dunn and Lopez have, I think putting #2 hitter Denorfia on the roster would be a good thing.

This is a team that needs pitching, badly, and if it takes "downgrading" from Kearns to Denorfia to do so, than I think the Reds must say so be it.

I would like for some Cubs fans to explain to me how Hendry could get Floyd from the Mets.

And your reference to "strikeout", Jerry? Give me a break. He struck out 98 times in 150 games last season (with an OBP over 360).

Also: "In fact, given how often they lose their first round pick, I was worried the system would become temporarily irreparable."

2005 Mike Pelfrey
2004 Philip Humber
2003 Lastings Milledge
2002 Scott Kazmir
2001 Aaron Heilman
2000 Billy Traber
1999 * NONE *
1998 Jason Tyner
1997 Geoff Goetz
1996 Robert Stratton
1995 Ryan Jaroncyk
1994 Terrence Long
1994 Paul Wilson
1993 Kirk Presley
1992 Christopher Roberts
1992 Preston Wilson SS-OF
1991 Alfred Shirley OF
1990 Jeromy Burnitz OF
1989 Alan Zinter C
1988 Dave Proctor RHP
1987 Chris Donnels 3B
1986 Lee May OF

Shall I continue...? I'll give you a hint -- there are NO gaps in this list, since 1962.

So that's ONCE (1999) in their ENTIRE HISTORY! In fact, since 1965, the Mets have had 45 first round draft picks. In 41 years. Do the math.

Confirmation bias, anyone?

You can talk about the Mets weak minor league system (without mentioning the Mets seeming monopology over top international signings, of course), but at least be accurate when doing so.

If the Mets were smart they would move Floyd to the Cubbies for a couple of prospects (if Jerry was the GM of course :)). Floyd's value will never be higher and despite being a bit right-handed, their lineup could survive with Nady and Diaz in the corners until Milledge is ready.

Zach, very good point. I'm sorry for missing that. I guess my comment should have been in the future tense. They need to avoid losing first round picks, like they have this year, so their system can become repaired.

I can't see the Cubs getting Cliff Floyd. I'm not sure the Mets have a lot of interest in the Rich Hill/Jerome Williams types, and I wouldn't want to trade Murton, Cedeno or Pie. That leaves very little to be traded. They need to find someone who would take Williams, I think.

Now that the Cubs have acquired Pierre will they still be looking to get Bradley. I was really hoping the A's would be able to scoop him up for Kirk Saarloos and Mario Ramos, but that fell through and I've only heard Cubs and Pirates since.