Swish, Splash...White Sox Take a Bath on Trade With Yankees
News: The White Sox and Yankees completed a trade with Chicago sending first baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher and minor league relief pitcher Kanekoa Texeira to New York for infielder Wilson Betemit and minor league pitchers Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez.
Comments: I have to admit that I don't understand this trade from the vantage point of the Sox unless it is mostly about dumping salary.
With respect to the two major leaguers in the deal, Swisher is clearly better than Betemit. While the former had the worst season of his four-year career in 2008, he was still more productive than the latter. Swisher ranked last in batting average among players with at least 502 plate appearances, yet walked 82 times and slugged 24 home runs. His decline in AVG is solely attributable to a career-low BABIP of .251, which looks like an aberration given the fact that his batted ball data were, more or less, in-line with his career marks. If anything, his better-than-ever line-drive rate (20.9%) should have produced a somewhat higher – rather than lower – BABIP and AVG.
Betemit drew six bases on balls while whiffing 56 times (or once every 3.5 trips to the plate) last year. Since joining the Yankees during the 2007 season, the utility infielder has drawn 12 walks against 89 strikeouts for a horrific BB/SO rate of .135, perhaps suggesting that he has been overmatched in the AL East.
Only a year separates the two switch hitters in age. While Betemit may be slightly more valuable as an infielder than Swisher is as a corner outfielder and first baseman, his size realistically limits him to third and first and his bat just doesn't play all that well at either position. As such, he is basically nothing more than a backup, a fungible spot on a big-league roster. Eligible for arbitration, Betemit will probably "earn" $1.5-2.0M this season.
Swisher has three years remaining on a five-year, $26.75 million contract. He will make $5.3M in 2009, $6.75M in 2010, and $9M in 2011. His deal also includes a $10.25 million club option for 2012, with a $1 million buyout. At an average of $7.35M per season, Swisher is reasonably priced and a bargain if he can return to his 2006-2007 production.
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ 2008 153 497 86 109 21 1 24 69 82 135 3 3 .219 .332 .410 .742 92 Career 611 2114 353 515 117 5 104 324 342 539 7 8 .244 .354 .451 .805 112
Wilson Betemit | INF | B/R | 6-3, 230 | 27 | MLB
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ 2008 87 189 24 50 13 0 6 25 6 56 5 6 .265 .289 .429 .718 86 Career 496 1098 145 286 60 4 42 151 108 314 5 6 .260 .325 .437 .762 95
If we can agree that Swisher is much more valuable than Betemit, then that means the White Sox had to make up the difference with the three minor leaguers that were included in this transaction. Maybe I'm missing something, but I just don't see it, whether one relies on the stats, the scouting reports, or a combination of the two.
I'll let John Manuel of Baseball America provide commentary and insights on the three prospects.
Jeff Marquez | SP | RHP | 6-2, 190 | 24 | AAA
IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA BB/9 SO/9 HR/9 80.2 93 51 42 12 24 33 4.69 2.68 3.68 1.34
Marquez endured a difficult season, getting knocked around in Triple-A before being sent back to Trenton in the second half. A 2004 supplemental first-round pick, he entered 2008 as the Yankees' No. 7 prospect but would have ranked in the 21-30 range this season had he remained a Yankee. Marquez made progress with his changeup and curve in 2007 but was back to relying almost exclusively on his 88-92 mph sinker (which can reach a bit higher) and adding a slider in '08. He's a defense-dependent, early-contact kind of pitcher who lacks a strikeout pitch. Overall, he was 8-8, 4.47 with just 51 strikeouts in 102 2/3 innings. He finished strong, pitching well during Trenton's Eastern League title run, and is pitching for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League (1-2, 4.50).
Jhonny Nunez | RP | RHP | 6-3, 185 | 23 | A+/AA/AAA
IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA BB/9 SO/9 HR/9 116.1 122 58 53 13 39 124 4.10 3.02 9.59 1.01
Nunez has the best arm and upside of any prospect in the deal. The Yankees landed him earlier this year from the Nationals in the Alberto Gonzalez deal, and moved him from the rotation to the bullpen. He originally signed with the Dodgers in 2003 out of the Dominican Republic and came to the Nationals in a 2006 trade for Marlon Anderson. Nunez has a live arm and shows two plus pitches at times—a fastball that sits at 92-94 mph, touching 95, and a slider that he throws with some power that has inconsistent tilt. He throws from a low arm slot and was outstanding after the Yankees made what one club official termed "mechanical bad habits . . . he has much better balance now." He was 2-8, 5.22 as a starter at high Class A Potomac, but as a reliever in the Double-A Eastern League, with Harrisburg and then Trenton, he went 1-0, 1.65 in 27 innings, striking out 34, and had 116 whiffs in 108 innings overall. He had three saves and seven strikeouts in five scoreless innings in the EL playoffs.
Kanekoa Texeira | RP | RHP | 6-0, 210 | 23 | A+/AA
IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA BB/9 SO/9 HR/9 61.0 46 15 9 2 21 60 1.33 3.10 8.85 0.30
Texeira was a Carolina League all-star for high Class A Winston-Salem this season and had the best slider in the White Sox's system. The 22-year-old Hawaii native was the No. 19 prospect in the CL this season. He's just 6-foot, 210 pounds and went 6-3, 1.33 combined between Winston and Double-A Birmingham in 2008, with 60 strikeouts and 21 walks allowed in 61 innings overall. He spots his 90-91 mph fastball to both sides of the plate to set up his plus slider, which is both a groundball pitch and strikeout offering.
In order to like the White Sox half of the trade, one would have to place a pretty high value on Marquez and Nunez or very little value on Texeira. It seems to me that Nunez and Texeira are more alike than not, suggesting a difference of opinion on those two relievers and/or much more optimism over Marquez than I am willing to concede. Peter Abraham points out a side benefit for the Yankees: Marquez and Nunez require 40-man protection while Texeira does not, meaning that the deal gives New York some roster flexibility as well.
Although the White Sox may hope that pitching coach Don Cooper can fix Marquez's problems, I am always skeptical of any pitcher that can't whiff at least 10% of the batters faced. With 33 SO out of 349 TBF in AAA, Marquez will need to develop a new swing-and-miss pitch or get back to being a groundball machine a la Chien-Ming Wang if he is ever going to succeed in the majors.
Sure, the White Sox will save money on this deal, but it seems as if Kenny Williams got shortchanged nonetheless. In a matter of 10 1/2 months, the Chicago GM has effectively traded Texeira and fellow pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Fautino De Los Santos plus outfielder Ryan Sweeney (as Swisher was acquired for the latter three prospects on January 3, 2008) for Betemit, Marquez, and Nunez. Yikes!