Bobby Jenks pitching for Arkansas in May 2002.
Long-time visitors of the FutureAngels.com web site know that each winter I post recordings of Angels minor leagues to help us through the off-season. My personal Methadone for our baseball addiction.
These go back to 2003, so I’m rummaging through some of the earliest games for “classics” I can post starting this Friday.
Right now I’m listening to an August 14, 2003 game in which Bobby Jenks started for the Double-A Arkansas Travelers against the now-defunct El Paso Diablos. After all the early setbacks in his career — injuries, immaturity, an infamous profile in ESPN: The Magazine — Jenks appeared to be turning a corner in his second stint with the Travs.
But such hopes were optimistic.
Bobby injured his elbow while pitching for the Triple-A Salt Lake Stingers at Fresno on April 19, 2004. (Click here to watch the video; Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection required.) Later that year, he would be suspended after getting into a fight with a teammate while on rehab at the Angels’ minor league complex in Mesa, Arizona.
That winter, the Angels tried to pass Jenks through waivers from the major league 40-man roster onto the Triple-A roster so they could sign free agents. They hoped Jenks’ injuries, diminished velocity and immature reputation might discourage other teams from claiming him.
The White Sox took a chance, paid the Angels the waiver fee, and Jenks became their headache.
Chicago sent him down to Double-A to start 2005, and moved him into the bullpen. Perhaps more mature, or simply viewing the waiver deal as a wakeup call, Jenks pitched his way into the White Sox bullpen and was on the mound when they won the World Series over the Houston Astros.
Bobby has been a decent, but not spectacular, reliever. Over six seasons, he’s averaged a little over an inning an appearance, averaging 59 appearances per season over the last five years.
For those into WHIP — (Walks + Hits) / (Innings Pitched) — that number has crept up the last four years:
2007 – 0.892
2008 – 1.103
2009 – 1.275
2010 – 1.367
Those aren’t bad numbers, but as Bobby passes through the prime years of his career (he’ll be 30 in March) they’re trending in the wrong direction.
Bobby’s physical conditioning and periodic injuries remain a concern in Chicago, and an October 3 article on WhiteSox.com suggests he may have worn out his welcome.
As an arbitration-eligible closer, the White Sox have control over Bobby Jenks going into the 2011 season.
General manager Ken Williams’ comments on Sunday, though, made Jenks’ return seem less likely and put the right-hander on the list of possible non-tender candidates.
“That’s something we have to evaluate strongly because I’ve been disappointed on a number of levels,” Williams said. “And there are certain things that I’m not going to talk about right now.”
Which got me to thinking …
When Bobby began his professional career in 2000, he was assigned to the Rookie-A Butte CopperKings. His pitching coach that first summer was Mike Butcher, who himself was starting a new career as an instructor. Butch was the minor league roving pitching instructor during Jenks’ last two seasons with the Angels, so he knows Bobby as well as anyone does. Angels general manager Tony Reagins was the farm director during Bobby’s last three seasons.
If the White Sox let go Jenks, and with the shaky condition of the Angels’ bullpen, would it make sense to bring him home?
Do Tony Reagins, manager Mike Scioscia and Mike Butcher want to introduce an unpredictable element to the bullpen, having rid themselves of headcase Francisco Rodriguez two years ago?
It’s a thought to ponder.
As for that August 14, 2003 Travs game, look for it on FutureAngels.com in a couple weeks.
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.
Joe Torres was one of two Angels first-round selections in the June 2000 draft. In this August 2000 photo, he’s pitching for the Boise Hawks.
Joe Torres was arguably the top left-handed high school pitching prospect in the nation entering the June 2000 draft. He was selected by the Angels with the first of two picks they had in the first round, selected #10 overall.
(The Angels selected RHP Chris Bootcheck with the #20 pick, which was compensation from the Oakland A’s in exchange for signing a former Angel as a free agent. Who was that Angel? The answer is at the end of the article.)
Joe began his career with legendary manager Tom Kotchman, who at the time was running the Boise Hawks in the Northwest League. Not quite 18, he posted stellar numbers. In 46 innings, he struck out 52, walked 23, and had a 2.54 ERA.
Then it started to go wrong.
Torres suffered a sore shoulder in spring training. He finally reported to Cedar Rapids in late May but after four starts was returned to Tom Kotchman, this time in the Pioneer League with the Provo Angels (today’s Orem Owlz).
Joe got through a full season in 2002, posting a 3.52 ERA in 133 innings, but wildness crept into his game — a SO:BB ratio of 87:66 — and his strikeout rate showed an alarming decline.
Torres began 2003 with Rancho Cucamonga but clearly something was wrong, and eventually he underwent “Tommy John” surgery. He spent the next year and a half on rehab at the Angels’ minor league complex in Mesa, joining another top high school pitching prospect — Nick Adenhart.
Top pitching prospects Joe Torres and Nick Adenhart show off their “Tommy John” scars while on rehab at Mesa in August 2004.
Nick’s recovery was successful, but Joe’s was not.
During the 2005 and 2006 seasons, Torres walked more than he struck out. He found himself in the bullpen, and since 2005 has not started a game.
After 2006, he took his minor league free agency and signed with the White Sox.
The 2009 season found him in the Rangers’ organization, pitching for Double-A Frisco in the Texas League. This May 22 article in his hometown newspaper recounts Torres’ career history, and concludes with his optimism that a major league job was in his near future.
But he was released on the Fourth of July.
Perusing this morning the minor league transactions listed on MiLB.com, I saw that the Dodgers had signed Joe and assigned him to the Inland Empire 66ers in the California League, the same league as the Angels’ Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. Joe is back in High-A ball for the first time since 2006, a big step backwards in his dream.
For all his years in pro ball, Torres is only 26 years old, turning 27 in September. He could still find his way to the big leagues one day; the baseball gods sometimes reward those who are persistent.
But his career to date is yet another reminder that first-round draft status guarantees nothing. Too much uncertainty awaits ahead.
The Angels got the A’s first-round pick in the June 2000 draft in exchange for Oakland signing reliever Mike Magnante as a free agent. A’s GM Billy Beane admitted making a mistake because he signed Magnante before the Angels could offer him arbitration. The penalty was losing his first-round draft pick.
Because I’m unemployed, I’m putting out to bid some items from my collection.
Now on eBay are two jerseys worn by Bobby Jenks during the 2002 season. He split the year between Arkansas and Rancho Cucamonga. Both jerseys were autographed by Bobby after the 2002 season, when I caught up with him at Arizona Fall League.