Sign Our Pledge!
Main Sections:
Front Page
Discussion Forum
Coop. Confidential
Game Chat
Team Links
Mailing List
OAFC Column
Special Sections:

About Markusen

Books Published:
(click cover for info)

Upcomming Releases:

Baseball 2000
(Spring 2000)

The Orlando Cepeda Story
(Spring 2001)

Cooperstown Confidential
by Bruce Markusen
Previous Columns

Grading The Trading

For once, the number of trades made during the regular season nearly matched the number of trade rumors we’ve heard. Well, not quite (that will never happen in this rumor-happy world), but there was certainly a lot more activity this July, with more than 30 trades and over 100 players dealt from the All-Star break until the Monday deadline. With that in mind, here are the pennant-contending clubs that did the best on the open market: New York Yankees: Although they didn’t make any trades near the actual deadline and could still use some help in left field (either Chad Curtis or Dave Martinez would be a fine fit if the recently-released Luis Polonia doesn’t pan out), the Yankees still did plenty of dealing after the All-Star break. In pulling off four trades for veteran players, the Yankees added a premier starting pitcher in Denny Neagle (who gives them the best balanced rotation they’ve had since the departure of David Wells); an excellent all-around hitter in David Justice (who can hit both righties and lefties and is much more than just an all-or-nothing slugger); and two quality reserve players in Glenallen Hill and Jose Vizcaino (who improve a bench that was one of the worst in the league to a level of decency). No other contender did as much as the Yankees, who upgraded themselves from wildcard possibility to American League East favorite… TRADE GRADE: A Arizona Diamondbacks: According to popular opinion, the Diamondbacks made out like bandits in the Curt Schilling swap, but I’ll beg to differ. Travis Lee has too much talent not to re-emerge as the player of 1998, the one who hit a respectable .269 with 22 home runs and a decent walk total. Omar Daal is a much better pitcher than what we’ve seen this year and Vincent Padilla could solve the Phillies’ late-inning relief problems. As for Schilling, he’s a very good pitcher who will no doubt help the D-Backs; he’s just not the star he’s been made out to be. Schilling hasn’t been a dominant starter since 1998, when he logged too many innings (269) on his way toward arm woes. Although he’s still building up his arm strength, his age (33) and lack of conditioning (228 pounds on a 6’4" frame) will probably never allow him to become the imposing starter he was in 1997 and ’98. TRADE GRADE: A- Chicago White Sox: By stealing Charles Johnson and Harold Baines from the Orioles without giving up a top flight prospect, the White Sox bolstered their weakest everyday position (catcher) and provided Jerry Manuel with a terrific left-handed pinch-hitting option for a team that is overloaded with right-handed hitters. With Johnson doing the bulk of the catching down the stretch, Chris Singleton becomes Chicago’s worst hitting regular. That’s how good the Sox lineup has become. TRADE GRADE: A- New York Mets: The Mets made two significant trades prior to the deadline, both very positive in terms of what was given and what was received. In their first deal of the weekend, the Mets actually found themselves a better match than what they had tried to do the previous week, when they traded for (but failed to sign) Reds All-Star Barry Larkin. In acquiring Mike Bordick from the Orioles, the Mets actually picked up a superior overall player, one who has more power and better hands than Larkin. At the same time, they didn’t have to give up prime prospect Alex Escobar, who would have headlined the return package for Larkin… The four players the Mets surrendered for Bordick are all highly replaceable. Melvin Mora is a terrific utilityman, but the Mets still have the versatile talents of Joe McEwing and Kurt Abbott. Mike Kinkade has certainly proven he can hit in the minor leagues, but lacks the power and defensive skills to become a major league regular. As for Leslie Brea and Pat Gorman, they’re both hard-throwing pitching prospects who project as relievers, not as starters, thereby bring down their value. … In making their second trade, the Mets acquired two useful players who will strengthen areas of need while parting with one former prospect in Paul Wilson and a borderline prospect in Jason Tyner (no power, not enough walks). Rick White adds depth to a bullpen that has been one man short most of the season, while Bubba Trammell and his improving discipline at the plate will allow him to vie with Benny Agbayani for playing time in left field. At worst, Trammell will supply the Mets with another solid right-handed bat to come off the bench… TRADE GRADE: A- Oakland A’s: Jim Mecir is not exactly a household name, but perhaps he should be. Over the past two seasons, he has emerged as one of the game’s best middle inning relievers. Although the price was steep (top prospect Jesus Colome), Mecir should team with another underrated right-hander (Jeff Tam) in forming one of the best set-up relief duos in the game. TRADE GRADE: B+ Atlanta Braves: The Braves may have made up for the mistake of yielding the talented Bruce Chen for an erratic Andy Ashby by acquiring B.J. Surhoff from the Orioles. Although the trade did cost Atlanta prime pitching prospect Luis Rivera (journeyman Trenidad Hubbard and non-prospect Fernando Lunar were mere throw-ins), Surhoff will provide more than enough of a short-term return for a team that will settle for nothing less than another World Series berth. Surhoff is a solid hitter who fights and claws during every at-bat, a good defensive left fielder who hustles at every turn, and a versatile enough player to give the Braves backup support for Andres Galarraga and Chipper Jones on the infield corners. At 36 years old, Surhoff might not have many years left in his major league tank, but in terms of the year 2000, he’s as good as any position player who was dealt prior to the deadline. TRADE GRADE: B+ Cleveland Indians: Like the Braves, the Indians offered up a mixed bag of results on the trade front, but the overall short-term benefit should be positive. They overpaid for the services of Wil Cordero and David Segui, giving up a trio of talented youngsters in Enrique Wilson, Alex Ramirez, and Ricky Ledee, but did improve their outlook for the balance of the 2000 season. They also did very well in securing three right-handed pitchers for the overrated Richie Sexson. Bob Wickman, one of the National League’s top closers, should fill the void that has been felt ever since the loss of Mike Jackson to free agency. Neither Jason Bere nor Steve Woodard are as much of a sure thing as Wickman, but each has had just enough success in the past to offer the Indians hope of some quality innings down the stretch… As for Segui, his presence at first base will solidify the one defensive weak link on Cleveland’s infield, allowing Jim Thome to post most of his at-bats as a DH. With Segui, Roberto Alomar, and Omar Vizquel, the Indians now have Gold-Glove caliber players at first base, second base, and shortstop…TRADE GRADE: B- St. Louis Cardinals: Major league teams’ continuing infatuation with Mike Timlin remains bizarre, but the Cardinals did make some good acquisitions with their other deals. Jason Christiansen is a decent left-handed reliever who might be rejuvenated by joining a pennant race. Carlos Hernandez provides Tony LaRussa with a superior defensive catcher and valuable post-season experience with the Padres. And Will Clark, while just a shell of his former self, will give the Cards a needed platoon partner for Eduardo Perez during the absence of Mark McGwire… TRADE GRADE: B-

Comings and Goings

Who was the most overrated player traded prior to the deadline? Rondell White has to win the honor, hands down. Although the injury-riddled White is sometimes touted as a star, he’s never scored more than 87 runs in a season, never drawn more than 41 walks, never driven in more than 82 runs, and never hit as many as 30 home runs. White’s a good player all right, kind of a rich man’s version of Roberto Kelly, but hardly the kind of player that should have fetched a top prospect like Alfonso Soriano in return. Perhaps that’s why the Expos had to settle for left-hander Scott Downs from the Cubs … Ron Gant wins this year’s "Ken Phelps Award" for worst RBI-to-home run ratio. At the time of his trade to the Angels for Kent Bottenfield, Gant had piled up 20 home runs and only 38 RBIs. Why the Phelps Award? In 1984, Phelps drove in only 51 runs despite planting 24 balls in the seats. Others have surely done worse, but it’s about time that we remember Phelps for something other than being traded for Jay Buhner… The timing of the Tigers’ decision to release Luis Polonia seems odd, considering that the veteran outfielder had rebounded from a horrible April and May to hit a cool .338 during the month of July. General manager Randy Smith, already under fire in Detroit for a poor trading record, will have to answer questions about his failure to acquire something in return for a serviceable major league hitter.

Counting Pitches

A recent e-mail from a thoughtful reader was critical of my recent reference to "obsessive-compulsive pitch counters," calling it an unnecessary cheap shot against those who have done valuable research with this relatively new statistic. Perhaps now is as good a time as any to clarify this writer’s position on pitch counts—and those who like to keep tabs on them. I don’t dispute that counting pitches has some value in regards to protecting pitchers—especially starting pitchers under the age of 25. Such pitchers need to be monitored very closely because their arms and bodies have not yet fully developed. There are simply too many cases of pitchers in the 20-25 age bracket breaking down in their late twenties and early thirties because of overuse at a young age. Having said that, I do feel that some statistical analysts place far too much emphasis on pitch counts, to the extent that they obsess at looking at raw pitch count totals, above and beyond other aspects of starting pitching. I much prefer the analysis of someone like Jim Kaat, who is both a former pitcher (and pitching coach) and an intelligent and insightful broadcaster. Kaat believes that pitch counts can be quite misleading and easily taken out of context. For example, a starting pitcher can struggle and tire his arm with only 50 or 60 pitches (especially if his mechanics are out of whack), but a pitcher who is in a good rhythm can sometimes throw upward of 120 pitches without reaching the "tired arm" stage. There are other factors, too, such as the number of fastballs thrown vs. the number of curve balls or sliders, the latter two being far more stressful on the average pitching arm. Let’s also keep in mind that while every team in the major leagues and minor leagues counts pitches (a practice that has become fervent only within the past 20 years), we have not seen a corresponding reduction in the number of injuries being suffered by pitchers. Quite the contrary, there are more pitching injuries today (or at least more pitchers spending time on the disabled list) than in previous eras, when pitch counts were not kept so religiously—or at all. So if the object of counting pitches is to reduce the frequency and duration of injuries, then we have to ask ourselves whether they are really working. Perhaps pitch counts are just a small Band-Aid against the overwhelming damage caused by the inherently unnatural act of pitching a baseball.

Previous Columns