Former Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman was traded today by the Atlanta Braves to the Boston Red Sox for first baseman Adam LaRoche.
Today was the so-called trade deadline, and it saw a lot more action than in past years.
The “deadline” only means that 40-man roster players from now on have to pass through waivers before a trade is complete. Let’s say the Blue Jays want to send Roy Halladay to the Angels. Every team in the American League with a worse winning percentage than the Angels would be able to claim him first, but of course Toronto would withdraw the waivers and Halladay would remain a Blue Jay. Many GMs choose not to botch some else’s trade by exercising a waiver claim because they know a time may come when they want to sneak someone through waivers and it might be done to them.
Despite rumors to the contrary, the Angels made no moves. A last-minute rumor out of ESPN.com had the Angels acquiring Halladay for Joe Saunders and a bunch of prospects, but Angels GM Tony Reagins later said the report was “inaccurate.” Other rumors had the Angels in pursuit of Padres closer Heath Bell, but San Diego didn’t move him either.
Former U.S. Senator William Proxmire used to give a Golden Fleece Award for public officials he felt wasted taxpayer dollars. I’ll give the baseball version of the Golden Fleece Award to White Sox GM Ken Williams, who coughed up much of his team’s future today to San Diego for the Padres’ ace starter Jake Peavy.
Jake Peavy pitching for Lake Elsinore against Rancho Cucamonga in April 2001.
The Padres got pitchers Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Dexter Carter and Adam Russell. Richard was ranked the Sox’ #3 prospect this year by Baseball America, and Poreda #2. Carter has a jaw-dropping 143 strikeouts in 118 innings for Low-A Kannapolis. Russell has a 3.20 ERA and seven saves for the Sox’ Triple-A team in Charlotte with 51 strikeouts in 56.1 innings.
Those who think only of instant gratification and can’t grasp that baseball continues beyond the end of the World Series will probably think the White Sox made a great deal, that they’ve guaranteed themselves a post-season title by flushing the farm for Peavy. Check back in five years and it may be a different story.
And as usually happens at times like this, the Angels fan boards are filled with outrage because Tony Reagins didn’t make a similarly short-sighted deal.
As I’ve written many times, I think the importance of trades is way overblown.
Let’s start with the Angels’ 2002 championship year. What was the big blockbuster trade pulled before the trade deadline that made the difference?
There wasn’t one.
The only trade was with Milwaukee. The Angels acquired Alex Ochoa as a spare outfielder to back up Tim Salmon, whose knees were going bad. They also got third-string catcher Sal Fasano. In exchange, they gave up spare catcher Jorge Fabrergas, minor league infielder Johnny Raburn, and minor league pitcher Pedro Liriano.
Of course, we heard the same outrage when Bill Stoneman refused to trade young talent such as John Lackey or Francisco Rodriguez for some aging veteran.
A year ago, with Stoneman retired and Reagins now the GM, the Angels sent Casey Kotchman and minor league pitcher Stephen Marek to Atlanta to rent Mark Teixeira. The instant gratification crowd was delirious with joy. A World Series championship was guaranteed, they proclaimed. Yet three months later, the Angels were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, and Teixeira left as a free agent for the Yankees.
WIth divisional play, the wild card and three rounds of playoffs, there’s just too much unknown to declare that only one move “guarantees” anything. Back in Mid-May, when the Angels were struggling to reach .500 and the fan boards were screaming that the Angels’ season was over, I predicted that the Angels would run away from the division in the second half. That seems to be happening now, with Texas the only reasonable threat.
So a trade won’t make a difference in reaching the post-season, barring a collapse or more catastrophic injuries. (But they’ve survived the last few weeks quite nicely without Vlad Guerrero, Torii Hunter and Juan Rivera. To quote Alfred E. Newman, “What, me worry?”)
A trade, therefore, would only be with an eye to the post-season, where as I said it’s just way too uncertain. The 2006 National League representative was the 83-78 St. Louis Cardinals, basically a .500 ballclub. And a big show of hands from all of you who predicted before the season began that the Colorado Rockies would go to the World Series in 2007 and the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.
The New York Yankees have had a team payroll between 2004 and 2009 of between $184 million and $209 million, far more than any other team, yet they didn’t go to the World Series once. All that money, all those free agents, all those “name” trades guaranteed nothing.
Bill Stoneman used to have a saying, “We made our moves last winter.” He meant that if an organization builds depth in its roster and farm system, and signs free agents where needed, they really don’t need to panic mid-season. Bill was almost always right during his tenure, and he’s been proven right this year. The Angels have survived a catastrophic season that saw injuries to many key players, and the death of top prospect Nick Adenhart, yet they’re playing .600 ball and in first place at the end of July. Why? One reason is they never flushed the farm for instant gratification. Another reason is that they plugged holes by signing free agents Brian Fuentes and Bobby Abreu, and retained Juan Rivera while letting go veteran outfielder Garret Anderson and combustible closer Francisco Rodriguez.
Are the Angels perfect? Of course not. They have a lot of injury concerns. Their starting rotation is shaky. The bullpen has been unreliable. Yet somehow they’re still playing .600 ball. I would have tried to add a starting pitcher and a reliever, just as Reagins did, but I wouldn’t flush the future to do it and neither did Reagins.
Casey Kotchman was on the move again, traded by Atlanta today to the Boston Red Sox for Adam LaRoche. The son of a legendary Angels minor league manager/scout (Tom Kotchman) was traded for the son of a former Angels closer (Dave LaRoche). Casey should flourish in Fenway Park, where it’s only 302 feet down the right field line. He was having quite a week, with homers on Sunday at Milwaukee and Wednesday at Florida.
UPDATE August 1, 2009 4:00 AM PDT — The Angels won 11-5 in Minnesota last night, giving them a 61-40 (.604) record which is the best in the American League. When you consider all the terrible things that have happened to the team this year, that’s simply incredible.
Former Lake Elsinore Storm mascot Hamlet in his prime, April 1998.
Three articles of interest on the Los Angeles Times web site that may interest you.
“Steve Dalkowski Had the Stuff of Legends” is written by Bull Durham writer-director Ron Shelton. He writes that Dalkowski was the loose inspiration for Nook LaLoosh. Dalkowski may be the fast throwing pitcher ever, but his career was ruined by alcohol.
“Lake Elsinore Storm Mascots are Born to Thrill” by Times columnist Bill Plaschke. Lake Elsinore was the Angels’ California League affiliate 1994-2000 before switching with the Padres for Rancho Cucamonga. The photo in the article shows Hamlet, the popular Storm sea serpent mascot in the 1990s. The costume looks a bit dingy. I sure wouldn’t want to be inside it. A trivia note … Although Hamlet had a regular performer, others were known to wear it. Mario Mendoza, Jr., the son of the major league shortstop/Storm manager and a future Angels minor league pitcher, wore it on occasion when hanging out with the team as a teenager. So did one of the twin teenage girls who were part of the Storm family; one dated Francisco Rodriguez, although I can’t remember which one wore the Hamlet outfit.
“A National Pastime for Only Half the Nation” by Times columnist Kurt Streeter. The article is about a writer who questions why women are forced to play softball and not their own brand of baseball. If this subject interests you, I’ll also refer you to the web site of Jean Hastings Ardell www.jeanardell.com, who wrote the landmark book Breaking Into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime, which you can order through Amazon.com among other places.