Hasta La Vista Viva Las Vargas: Mariners Swap Southpaw Jason Vargas for Angels’ Superflous Slugger Kendry Morales

Jason+Vargas+Seattle+Mariners+Photo+Day+-9ic30UeLq1lThe walls are moving in and Jason Vargas is moving out.

In a typical tight-lipped Jack Zduriencik move that developed seemingly out of thin air, the Seattle Mariners agreed today to ship their number two starter to the L.A. Angels in return for 1B/DH Kendry Morales.

Vargas has been a serviceable starter for the Mariners the last three seasons, averaging innings and posting ERA’s of 3.78, 4.25, and 3.85. He’s a gritty pitcher with good control, but his so-so stuff, gopheritis (35 home runs allowed in 2012), and increasing salary made him a likely target to be moved this off-season. Vargas has always been a pitcher who benefited from Safeco’s spacious dimensions (2.74 ERA at home vs. 4.78 ERA on the road last season) and with stadium alterations in place for the 2013 season, the Mariners likely sold Vargas while his value was at its peak.

Trading within the division isn’t a common occurrence, but the Angels needed a starting pitcher to round out their rotation and had a glut of 1B/DH players on their roster, making Morales expendable. The switch-hitting slugger posted a triple-slash of .273/.320/.467 in 2012 and added 26 2B, 22 HR, and 73 RBI in his first season back from a horrific injury suffered in 2012 against, you guessed it, the Seattle Mariners. Morales finished 5th in the AL MVP vote his last full season (2009) and finished 2012 strong, posting OPS’s of .900 in August and .829 in September/October.

While the trade makes sense for both sides (and both players are free agents after the season), it doesn’t come without some inherent risks. The Mariners are leaving a gaping void in their pitching staff behind Felix Hernandez, and will be counting on young players like Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beaven or James Paxton to produce at the big league level. Los Angeles is gambling that Vargas can produce away from the friendly confines of Safeco Field and that Morales won’t return to his pre-injury form.

Seattle’s net gain is somewhere close to zero in terms of WAR, but the team does add some desperately need offensive thump to the lineup, and may be setting themselves up for another move with Morales/Smoak/Montero all competing for plate appearance at first and DH.

The Mariners might not be a better team today than they were yesterday, but at least they’re a bit more interesting. That’s about all we can ask for…

Phillies Finally Get Their Ace: Cliff Lee, Not Roy Halladay, Headed to Philadelphia

The Phillies hope Cliff Lee can help the capture another World Series.

The Phillies hope Cliff Lee can help them capture another World Series.

For a second straight year, the Cleveland Indians sent the reigning AL Cy Young award winner to a National League contender in a deadline deal. Last season the Indians shipped out C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers, this time around lefty Cliff Lee is packing his bags for Philadelphia after Wednesday morning’s trade. The Phillies had been part of the Roy Halladay sweepstakes over the past few days, but with the team at an impasse with Toronto and little progress being made, Philadelphia decided to shift its focus to Cleveland’s star southpaw. The Indians didn’t ask for any of the prospects that the Phillies were unwilling to part with in negotiations with the Blue Jays, and a deal was quickly struck that sent Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco to Philadelphia in return for minor leaguers Jason Knapp, Lou Marson, Carlos Carrasco and and Jason Donald. The trade will be finalized pending physical examinations (just turn your head and cough please).

The Indians had high hopes of competing for an AL Central title in 2009 but quickly fell out of contention, leading to speculation that the team would try and move Lee before the deadline. Lee stumbled out of the gate but improved with each passing month, and had posted a 3-0 record with a 1.44 ERA since the All-Star break. At the time of the trade Philadelphia was seven games ahead of the Florida Marlins in the NL East, but were only 13th in the league in ERA as a team, and had largely been carried by their modern day Murderer’s Row of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. Last year’s World Series hero Cole Hamels has been inconsistent for Philly all season, and with #2 starter Brett Myers still on the DL, the team was anxious to bolster their starting rotation in hopes of capturing back-to-back Fall Classics. This move likely vaults Philadelphia above Los Angeles as the favorites to capture the NL pennant and the team was able to do so without forfeiting Kyle Drabek or Dominic Brown, two of the organizations best and most prized prospects. Like Halladay, Cliff Lee is controlled through next season, meaning that the lefty can help the Phillies in two pennant races and isn’t simply a two-to-three month rental as is the case in many deadline deals (like Sabathia last year). Philadelphia hopes that Lee is the final piece of the puzzle in their march towards becoming the first team to win two straight World Series since the Yankees ten years ago.

18-year-old Jason Knapp is thought to have the greatest potential of the players Cleveland acquired.

18-year-old Jason Knapp is believed to have the greatest potential of the players acquired by Cleveland.

For the Cleveland Indians this latest move is a historic, though not necessarily a good, as they become the first team in baseball to trade away Cy Young winners midseason in back-to-back years. The Lee deal is strangely similiar to last year’s Sabathia deal, as both seasons the Tribe was expected to push for the playoffs but struggled early and decided to move their best pitcher. Though they didn’t get Drabek or Brown, Cleveland still received 4 of the top 10 prospects in the Philadelphia organization, and stocked up for a run at the AL Central in 2010 or 2011. Lou Marson is a good-hitting catcher who is expected take over for Victor Martinez if the Indians trade Martinez before the deadline or in the offseason. Jason Donald is a fundamentally sound shortstop, Carlos Carrasco could be a middle of the rotation starter and 18-year-old Jason Knapp is rumored to have better stuff than Drabek. Some scouts are already criticizing this move, saying that Cleveland got too little in return for Lee, but the organization has a good track record in dealing star pitchers. After all, Cleveland pulled off one of the greatest heists in recent history, trading Bartolo Colon for a young Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips in 2002. If this group of prospects turns out anything like Lee, Sizemore and Phillips, the Indians could be contenders for the next decade in the Central.

Another day, another big deal in baseball as the trade deadline fast approaches. Philadelphia sets themselves up as the favorites in the NL and Cleveland stocks up for the future as they send yet another Cy Young to the Senior Circuit. Will Lee make the impact that Sabathia did for the Brewers? Does this move mean Halladay is staying put, or is their another destination for Toronto’s ace? Stay tuned, the baseball season is just heating up.

The Pujols Protection Plan: Cardinals Acquire Matt Holliday from Athletics

Matt Holliday has gone 6 for 9 in his first two games with the Cardinals.

Matt Holliday has gone 6 for 9 in his first two games with the Cardinals.

In a move that they hope will propel them to a second World Series title in four years, the St. Louis Cardinals acquired coveted slugger Matt Holliday from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for three minor league prospects. St. Louis had been rumored as a destination for Toronto’s star hurler Roy Halladay, but the team decided getting a proven hitter like Holliday to follow Albert Pujols in their lineup was a more pressing need in their playoff push. Despite a subpar supporting cast around Pujols the Cardinals still find themselves leading the NL Central by 1/2 game over the Chicago Cubs. Playing in one of baseball’s most competitive divisions, (the NL Central boasts four teams with records over .500) St. Louis’ addition of Holliday should make them the favorite to capture the Central.

At the time of the trade, 2007’s MVP runner-up was hitting .286 with 10 HRs, 54 RBIs and 12 SBs for the last place A’s. Holliday landed in Oakland during the off-season in a trade from the Colorado Rockies, a surprising move given Billy Beane’s track record for shying away from veterans with big contracts. Holliday struggled early in Oakland and the team quickly fell out of contention in the AL West. It wasn’t long before his name started to come up in baseball circles as a perfect complement to Pujols in the Cardinals’ lineup. St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa has long been a fan of Holliday from his days in Colorado, and the Red Birds were in desperate need of some offensive firepower to support their stellar pitching staff (3.72 team ERA ranks 3rd in NL). Holliday offers a rare blend of speed and power and the Cardinals hope their new slugger will make teams pay for pitching around Pujols who leads the league with 75 walks. Holliday will man leftfield opposite Ryan Ludwick, who continues to heat up after a slow start (.392-5 HR-24 RBI in July), forming a potent heart of the heart with Pujols. While this move makes the Cardinals the most talented team on paper in the NL Central, the Dodgers still remain the team to beat in the National League.

Oakland hopes Wallace becomes a mainstay in their lineup starting in 2010.

Oakland hopes new addition Brett Wallace can become a mainstay in their lineup as soon as 2010.

On the flip side of the deal, the constantly rebuilding Athletics acquire one of the best third-base prospects in baseball, 22-year-old Brett Wallace. The left-handed slugger out of Arizona State was the 13th overall pick in last year’s draft and had already reached Triple-A in the Cardinals organization. Wallace makes good contact at the plate, has plus-power for a corner infielder and hits left-handed pitching well. He is a below-average defensive third baseman and may be shifted to first base or DH, but his bat should have him playing full-time in Oakland by next season. The A’s also acquired Shane Peterson, a likely 4th outfielder in the majors unless he improves his plate discipline, and right-hander Clayton Mortenson, a groundball pitcher who projects as a fourth or fifth starter. On the surface it appears that Oakland  received a better haul of prospects than they gave up for Holliday, and the move probably saved the team a  bundle of money. Holliday is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, and if Oakland had offered him arbitration and he accepted, it would have cost them in the neighborhood of $17-18 million. However, if they declined to offer Holliday arbitration they would not have recieved two first-round compensatory picks in the 2010 draft, leaving Billy Beane little choice but to deal the slugger. As always, the A’s keen GM made the best of the situation, stockpiling the Oakland farm system with talented young players who could make an impact as early as next season.

Baseball’s first big trade of 2009 should set off a domino effect as teams in both leagues to seek to keep pace with St. Louis’ acquisition of Matt Holliday. The move puts pressure on the Phillies to up their offer for Roy Halladay and the Cubs almost certainly need to do something if they want to recapture the NL Central crown. The most nerve-wracking week in baseball just got more interesting, as the Cardinals take a major step forward, and the trade deadline continues to bear down on general managers with each passing minute.

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back: Should the Mariners Buy or Sell?

Bedard has pitched brilliantly all season, making him a prime trade target.

Bedard has pitched well all year, making him a prime trade target.

Breezing into the All-Star break with a record of 46-42 the Seattle Mariners have outperformed even the most optimistic of predictions for their 2009 season. Despite a lackluster offense (2nd to last in the American League in runs) the Mariners find themselves only four games out of first in the AL West after taking three of four from Texas over the weekend. The team has thrived in one-run games and has gotten clutch contributions from every spot in the order (Chris Shelton today, Rob Johnson yesterday, etc). Seattle’s pitching has been the linchpin to success, with a fantastic 3.74 ERA as a team (1st in AL). The pitching staff also leads the league in saves, WHIP and batting average against (.246). This season is beginning to look like 2007 for the Mariners, a year in which they scored less runs than they allowed, yet still finished with a record of 88-75. Even though they beat the odds in 2007 to finish on the winning side of the ledger, Seattle still missed the playoffs and fell to 61-101 last year. The L.A. Angels have heated up after a slow start, winning 7 of their last 10 games, and it will likely take 90+ wins to capture the division. As good as the Mariners have been, they probably can’t be expected to win more than 84-85 games. So, do the Mariners gamble that they can overtake the Angels and try to acquire some offensive firepower, or does Seattle trade some of their veterans and start building towards next season?

The Mariners' off-season addition of Gutierrez has them challenging for the division crown. Are there more moves ahead?

The Mariners' off-season addition of Gutierrez has them challenging for the division crown. Are there more moves ahead before the deadline?

New general manager Jack Zdrunciek has shown himself to be a shrewd evaluator of talent, bringing in key players like David Aardsma, Russell Branyan and Franklin Gutierrez through free agency and trades. Zdrunciek seems intent on keeping Seattle competitive this season, already acquiring Ryan Langerhans and Jack Hannahan in trades as well as shipping Yuniesky Betancourt to the Royals. However, the Mariners sent most of their best minor league players (Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, etc.) to Baltimore in the Erik Bedard deal last year and injuries to starters like Adrian Beltre, Endy Chavez and the since-departed Betancourt have exposed the lack of depth in the club’s farm system. Zdrunciek finds himself at a crossroads in the first year as Seattle’s GM, balancing the need to compete this season against the need to build a team that can challenge for the playoffs perennially. While Zdrunciek was with Milwaukee the team had a track record for shying away from big trades (except for C.C. Sabathia last season) and building one of baseball’s best farm systems (Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, JJ Hardy, etc.). Will Zdrunciek stick to this formula with the Mariners?

If Seattle does decide that they want to move some pieces before the July 31st trading deadline they have plenty of players that would attract interest throughout baseball. Pitcher Erik Bedard would likely be the most coveted Mariner, a left-handed pitcher with the potential to be a true staff ace. Bedard has struggled to stay healthy in his career with Seattle, but has been phenomenal in 2009 with a 2.63 ERA and 79 Ks in 75 innings. The Mariners would be wise to shop him around while he is healthy, as Bedard is a free-agent at the end of the year and unlikely to resign with Seattle. Another sell-high candidate for the M’s is surprising slugger Russell Branyan. Given a full-time role for the first time in his career, Branyan has responded by hitting .280 with 22 HRs and 49 RBIs. The power numbers are for real, but his high strikeout rate points to a continued dip in batting average as he is only a .237 hitter in over 2,200 lifetime at-bats. Rounding out the Mariner’s trading chips is the resurgent Jarrod Washburn. Finally pitching like the player Seattle thought they signed in 2006, Washburn’s new splitter has given him the ability to drastically cut down the number of hits he allows, and at the break he sports a 6-6 record with a 2.96 ERA. Like Bedard, Washburn will be a free-agent at the end of the season, and if he signed with another team would only net the Mariners one compensatory draft pick.

Reid Brignac would sure look good in Mariner blue.

Shortstop Reid Brignac would sure look good in Mariner blue.

On the other hand, if Seattle wants to make a run at the AL West title, there are a number of moves that the team needs to make in order to keep pace with the Angels and Rangers. One position that has long been a headache for the Mariners is shortstop. Betancourt was a disappointment before his trade and replacement Ronny Cedeno may play great defense, but he is hitting just .168 on the year. An intriguing option for the Mariners is Tampa Bay minor league shortstop Reid Brignac. Buried behind Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist in the Rays organization, Brignac is a top-tier prospect, and if the M’s can pry him away from Tampa he could become Seattle’s shortstop of the future while helping them contend for the playoffs this year. The addition of Langerhans has provided a temporary spark to the Mariners’ offense, but the team still has a glaring need for an outfielder with some pop. Most teams don’t like to trade within the division, but Seattle would greatly benefit from the power and speed combination of Oakland leftfield Matt Holliday. After a slow start to the season, Holliday has regained the form that made him a runner for up NL MVP in 2007, and with the Athletics firmly entrenched in the division cellar would be available for the right price. If Seattle doesn’t want to meet Billy Beane’s demands for Holliday, the Mariners might want to think about pursuing Washington Nationals OF Josh Willingham (.304 BA, 12 HRs, .419 OBP) who is having a career year at age 30 and would come with a much smaller price tag.

The Mariners and GM Jack Zdrunciek have some very important decisions to make over the next few weeks. Do they owe it to their fans to go out and trade for a big bat and help at third base or shortstop? Or should they move some soon-to-be free agents in order to build for the future? Needless to say, Zdrunciek and Co. will have many a sleepless night between now and July 31st.

What do you think? Should the Mariners buy or sell at the trade deadline?

Mets Acquire Jeff Francoeur, Still Suck

A struggling Francoeur wore out his welcome in Atlanta.

Thank goodness Sports Illustrated didn't jump the gun on this cover.

In one of those classic “well, what the heck it’s Thursday” trades, NL East rivals the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves swapped right-fielders, with Jeff Francoeur (plus a giant stack of cash–$270,218 to be exact–pinned to his chest) headed to the Big Apple and Ryan Church going to the ATL. Both teams have struggled in a weak division (Atlanta 42-44, New York 40-45) and were looking for something to kick start their lineups (they probably should have given steroids a chance before trying something this desperate). The Mets are in the midst of a free-fall, losing 7 of 10 and falling 6.5 games out of first place while their star players (Delgado, Reyes, Beltran) deal with various injuries and overall ineptitude. Atlanta has been overwhelmingly mediocre all season long and decided that if they wanted to finish above the Nationals, they had to get rid of The Natural fan-favorite Francoeur.

For Franceour, this move signaled rock bottom. He was long regarded as the crown jewel of the Atlanta farm system, bursting onto the scene in 2005 by hitting .300-14 HRs-45 RBIs in only 257 at-bats. He struggled the following season but bounced back in 2007, winning a Gold Glove in right-field in addition to hitting .293 with 105 RBIs. Francoeur then decided that he had accomplished all that was possible in baseball, and regressed to his free-swinging ways last season, hitting only .239 in a year that included a demotion to Double-A and an embarrassing bed-wetting incident. The Braves hoped for some improved plate disclipine from Francoeur in 2009 but at the time of the trade he was hitting a pedestrian .250 with 46 strikeouts against 12 walks. Still only 25, the Mets hope that a change of scenery (has that ever worked before) will get the once talented slugger back on track. At the very least, Francoeur is a good fielder with a plus arm who should help the Mets’ defense in the spacious Citi Field (which would basically make him the outfield version of Rey Ordonez).   

The Braves hope Church can save their souls season.

The Braves hope Church can save their season (souls).

Atlanta has a bevy of good outfield prospects, and Francoeur’s continued struggles made him expendable. Church gives the Braves a strong left-handed bat (and a much keener batter eye than Francoeur) who will likely platoon with Charlie Sheen Matt Diaz in right. Church got out to a strong start for the Mets last season before suffering a concussion and struggling with post-concussion syndrome for the rest of the year. He was hitting .280 with 2 HRs and 22 RBIs at the time of the trade and is controlled through 2011.

This move does nothing to change the fact that the Phillies are going to run away with the NL East. For the Braves, they get rid of a headache at the plate and acquire a solid-if-unspectacular replacement. For the Mets, they give up a steady run producer and gamble that Francoeur can live up to his enormous potential in a new setting. Treading water is a good thing to do if you can’t swim, but not if you’re trying to win championships…

Ranking the Offseason Moves: The Good, The Bad, and The Willy Bloomquist

$180 million! Thats a lot of Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers!

$180 million! Thats a lot of Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers!

It’s been a busy offseason in the baseball world, with some splashy free agent signings; and to no one’s surprise it was the New York Yankees who were making the most noise. But it’s not always the big names that make the difference down the stretch (or at all: see Bedard, Erik) so a thorough examination of offseason moves is imperative to get a glimpse at who has a shot at winning it all in 2009.

Mark Teixeria (New York Yankees): Everyone seemed to know this one was coming except for the teams trying to sign him, (sorry Nationals and Orioles, their laughing with you, not at you), and in the end the best bat available ended up cashing in with the wealthiest team. The Yanks swooped in at the last minute and grabbed Sexy Texy for the discount price of $180 million over 8 years, roughly equivalent to the combined payroll of the Florida Marlins over the same period. The cost was steep, but Teixeria makes the Yankees an instant favorite to win the AL East and possibly their first world series since 2000. He is force at the plate, fresh off a .308-33-121 campaign with the Braves and Angels. In addition to his offense, Teixeria plays a Gold Glove first base, something the Yankees couldn’t exactly count on the past few years with Jason Giambi. At only 28 years old, Teixeria should be a key cog in the middle of the Yankees lineup for years to come.   Grade: A+

CC Sabathia (New York Yankees): The Yanks didn’t just grab the best bat on the market, they also got the most talented pitcher in lefty workhorse Sabathia. Off the strength of a historic second half that catapulted the Milwaukee Brewers into the postseason, Sabathia’s value was at an all time high. The Yankees seemed to agree, coughing up $161 million over seven years. If CC pitches like he did down the stretch, the Yankees got a major deal; but if he succumbs to injury or the allure of Dunkin’ Donuts, they could end up swallowing a lot of cash. At just 28 like Teixeria, Sabathia should be one of the AL’s best pitchers well into the next decade. His longterm health will determine the ultimate value of this deal as he has been piling on the innings over the past few years, but nonetheless he makes New York’s rotations one of the best in all of baseball. Grade: A-

Pat Burrell (Tampa Bay Rays): The Rays look to drop off a bit after a fantastic 2008 season, but the addition of Pat “The Bat” Burrell addresses a major need for Tampa, strikeouts and below-average defense a powerful right handed bat to protect Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria in the Rays lineup. He should serve as the team’s full time DH, and will probably hit around  .260 with 30 homeruns and 90 RBI’s, which are significant upgrades over the production at the DH position last year. At two years and only $16 million, “The Bat” should be well worth the gamble and will help the Rays to stay competitive in the AL East.  Grade: B+

Derek Lowe (Atlanta Braves): After losing out on Rafael Furcal and seeing John Smoltz jump to Boston, Braves management knew they needed to act fast and they grabbed the best remaining starter in Derek Lowe. Although he will turn 36 next season, Lowe remains a frontline starter and is coming off a season in which he won 14 games with a 3.24 ERA. Pitching in Turner Field should help this groundball machine chew up plenty on innings for Atlanta. He should be effective for a couple of years, but will likely decline towards the end of his 4 year/$40 million deal. Grade: B

Milton Bradley (Chicago Cubs): The mercurial Bradley has only two seasons of over 400 at-bats, so the Cubs are taking a huge gamble with this 3 year/$30 million deal. The question has never been talent with Bradley (he posted a line of .321-22-77-.436 OBP last season with Texas) but his career has been marked by injuries and off the field issues. He spent most of last season as a DH and was bothered by a litany of ailments throughout the season. If the Cubs are expecting him to get 500 at-bats from a spot in the outfield, they are sorely mistaken. Chicago will probably end up wishing they signed Parker Brothers for this price. Grade: C- 

Francisco Rodriguez (New York Mets): The New York Mets love to blow saves. Francisco Rodriguez, fresh off a record setting 62 save season, does not. As often happens, opposites attract, and the result was a 3 year/$37 million deal that the Mets hope can erase the painful memories of the last two seasons. Besides the saves, K-Rod also posted a 2.24 ERA and averaged more than a strikeout an inning but there has been a noticeable drop in his velocity the past few seasons and long-term health is an issue. Regardless, the Mets filled a major weakness of their ballclub, which should keep their fans happen for the first week of the season or so. Grade: B

 

How will Holliday fare in a pitcher's park?

How will Holliday fare in a pitcher's park?

Matt Holliday (Oakland Athletics): This move was a bit of a shocker as Oakland GM Billy Beane has never been one to take on big contracts and he is on the hook for over $10 million with Holliday next season, but is looking to add offense to his club and take a shot at winning the wild, wild weak AL West.  Holliday is a great hitter, base stealer and a stellar teammate and will provide a huge boost to Oakland’s anemic station-to-station offense. The two-time Silver Slugger should experience a dropoff in his numbers as he is moving from a hitter friendly park (Coors Field) to a field where fly balls go to die (McAfee Coliseum), but will still inject some much needed life into the Athletics. The A’s have one of the deepest farm systems in the game and could afford to part with the three players they gave up (Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street and Greg Smith) knowing that they can either deal Holliday at the deadline or let him go at the end of the year and recieve draft picks. If Oakland’s young pitching staff can perform as expected, the A’s may make a run at the division crown. Grade: B+

Randy Johnson (San Francisco Giants): The Giants picked up a future hall-of-famer off the clearance rack with a one year/$8 million deal and add him to a formidable rotation that includes reigning NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and star in the making Matt Cain. Although 45 and quickly losing gas on his fastball, the Big Unit was still effective last year going 11-10 with a 3.91 ERA and nearly a strikeout an inning. Just five wins short of 300, Johnson should help the Giants gain a measure of respectability if he can stay off the DL. Grade: A-

Raul Ibanez (Philadelphia Phillies): Ibanez was one of the few bright spots for the Mariners last season and was arguably their best player hitting .293 with 23 HRs and 110 RBIs, including a ridiculous August where he hit .396. Then again, being the best player on the M’s is kind of like being the most talented musician in Nickleback. Ibanez is already 36 and a liability in the field so a 3 year/$31.5 million deal seems pretty generous and will probably ending up costing Philly more than they gain. Raul is great in the clubhouse, but is sure to decline at the plate. Grade: C-

Willie Bloomquist (Kansas City Royals): The Royals continue their commitment to winning now with the signing of swiss army knife Willie Bloomquist, a player who can man any position in the field, but is more likely find Jimmy Hoffa than crack one out of the park. In 161 at-bats last season, Bloomquist managed exactly one extra base hit (a double) and 9 RBIs. The Royals expect him to compete for the starting second base job, but it is difficult to believe that they don’t have a player in the minors who could duplicate Bloomquist’s numbers for far less than the 2 year/$3.1 million deal he recieved. Quite simply, WTF?!?! Grade: F-

Kerry Wood (Cleveland Indians): Just one season removed from playing for the AL pennant the Indians fell off a cliff due in large part to a bullpen meltdown that would make even Heathcliff Slocumb cringe. Wood excelled in his first season as a closer with 34 saves and 84 punchouts in 66 innings. The former starter stills brings upper 90s heat and is dominant in short stretches, which should bring some stability to Cleveland’s bullpen. If he can stay healthy (a BIG if), the Indians scored a major deal with this 2 year/$20.5 million contract. Grade: B+

Jason Giambi (Oakland A’s): Giambi returns home to the team that drafted him after a torrid seven year affair with Kirk Radomski the Yankees, and should add some punch to a lackluster Athletics offense. While Giambi only hit .247 last season, he slugged 32 HRs and drove in 96 runs in only 458 at-bats and should be able to easily outpace Emil Brown’s production at DH. Giambi should be a great return on Oakland’s 1 year/$4 million investment and the addition of his facial hair and pseudo-mullet made this deal a no brainer. Grade: A-

A.J. Burnett (New York Yankees): The Yankees still had millions burning a hole in their pockets after the signing of CC, so they grabbed another Cy Young candidate in former Bluejay A.J. Burnett. He has some of the best stuff in the game and is coming off a season in which he won 18 games and punched out 231 batters, but the big question with Burnett is whether he can stay healthy over an extended period of time. The Yankees sure seemed to think so, investing 5 years/$82.5 million in him and giving the team one of the most dominant starting fives in recent history (apologies to any Texas Rangers pitching staff of the past 10 years). The addition of Burnett to a rotation including Sabathia, Joba Chamberlain, Andy Pettite, and Chien Ming Wang make the Yankees the team to beat in the AL East. Grade: B

Ken Griffey Jr. heads to the Windy City: The Kid looks for his first ring with the White Sox

Can the Kid recapture his mojo in the AL?

Can the Kid recapture his mojo in the AL?

In what eventually proved to be the penultimate trade of the day (see Ramirez, Manny) future first ballot hall of famer Ken Griffey Jr. was shipped from his hometown Cincinnati Reds to Chicago’s other team, the oft forgotten White Sox.

Griffey Jr. was traded for minor league infielder Danny Richar and reliever Nick Masset. As a condition of the trade the Reds and White Sox will agree to split the remaining portion of Griffey’s salary as well as the $4 million cost of his buyout at the end of the season.

The Sox hope that the addition of Griffey will add left-handed pop and veteran leadership to a team that enters today a half game ahead of the hard charging Minnesota Twins in the AL Central. Junior is expected to suit up tonight as Chicago travels to Kansas City to meet the Royals in the first of a three game series.

Although currently sitting at a line of only .245-15-53, Griffey is riding a 12-game hitting streak and Chicago GM Kenny Williams believes that the pennant chase may inspire a second half resurgence from Junior. Griffey hasn’t been to the postseason since 1997 with the Mariners, but in his three postseason series he is a .305 hitter, including tying a then postseason record of five homeruns in a series against the Yankees in 1995.

Cincinnati gains little from this deal, really only dumping some salary in a season that was lost long ago. Richar is a fringe major league second baseman, but the Reds signed Brandon Phillips to a four year deal in February and are set at that position through 2011, so the best case scenario is that he becomes a utility infielder. Masset was mediocre out of the White Sox bullpen with a 4.63 ERA but sported an atrocious 1.70 WHIP thanks in large part to allowing 55 hits in only 44 2/3 innings pitched. He may be able to contribute out of the pen as an average middle reliever, but neither of these players seem to factor in the long term plans of the Red’s organization.

Junior in pinstripes? It's worth a shot.

Junior in pinstripes? It's worth a shot.

While Chicago didn’t have to give up much to acquire Griffey, the real question becomes where does he fit into the lineup and defense? Jermaine Dye and Carlos Quentin are set at the corner outfield positions, leaving centerfielder Nick Swisher the odd man out. It’s expected that Swisher will move to first base to take the place of the dyingslumping Paul Konerko. If this all shakes out as planned Griffey will return to the position where he won 10 straight gold gloves, albeit the last one coming during the Clinton administration (1999).

I expect Junior to produce well at the plate as Cingular Field plays similarly to the Great American Ballpark in terms of homeruns and runs scored. While his power and average are both down, Griffey has shown patience at the plate and the ability to work a count, as he currently has the third-best BB/K ratio of his career. However, while the addition of him will marginally improve their offense, the White Sox outfield defense will suffer as Griffey has not played full time in center since 2006 and has been below average in right field this season. Overall, this looks like a decent deal for Chicago, who hope that Junior can capture the spirit of ’97 as they push forward towards the AL Central crown.