Sorry, We're Closed

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Rockies Avalanche

The Colorado Rockies were busy on Wednesday, making trades with the Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics.

Colorado sent outfielder Preston Wilson (and a chunk of change) to Washington in exchange for right-handed pitcher Zach Day and outfielder J.J. Davis. Following this, the Rox acquired a new outfielder, Eric Byrnes, from Oakland, sending left-handed starting pitcher Joe Kennedy and right-handed reliever Jay Witasick to the bay. The Athletics also threw in infield prospect Adam Quintanilla.

The Rockies, currently in last place in the NL West and sporting the league's worst record, traded nearly all of their valuable, or even semi-valuable, chips. (Todd Helton was pretty much taken off the table six weeks ago when he said he wanted to stick around.) Wilson, as a proven hitter and center fielder in the final year of his contract, was bound to go, having drawn interest from the Cubs and some other clubs. Kennedy, a lefty who has been effective in the past, had value, and Witasick, an up-and-down middle/setup guy, is having something of a renaissance.

Getting rid of Wilson was a no-brainer. He's 31, coming off serious knee problems, and overrated even if healthy. It's not that he's a bad player, but Wilson isn't anyone to build a franchise around. His perceived value is higher than his actual value. Of course, since he's playing out his contract, his value to another team isn't too high, either, so the Rockies had to pay a good portion of his salary.

What did Colorado get in return? Zach Day is a 27-year-old finesse pitcher with his fourth organization. He lacks strikeout stuff, and as a result can't afford his frequent control problems. If he continues to develop his change-up, Day should be a #3 or #4 starter. His sinker/slider repertoire makes him seemingly a good fit for Denver (if any pitcher can be a good fit for Denver), but Day does tend to give up the occasional home run.

J.J. Davis, Pittsburgh's first-round draft pick in 1997, couldn't crack the Nats' lineup and has been assigned from Washington's Triple-A club to Colorado's. A classic tools player without good strike zone judgement, Davis will never hit major league pitching.

It's rather amazing to see the Rockies get so little for Wilson, who led the NL in RBI in 2003. Everyone knows, of course, that an injured player in the last year of his contract playing in a ballpark that's inflated his numbers has little trade value. Colorado was in a real bind: they had to play Wilson to show other clubs that he was healthy, but the longer the Rockies waited, the less they'd get in return. Making trades isn't an easy job, especially when your team has to deal and possesses few options. (It makes you wonder just what the Cubs were offering for him that the Rockies wouldn't take.)

The Nationals get, in Wilson, a veteran center fielder who plays hard and has some speed and power. Of course, RFK Stadium in Washington has been an offensive graveyard this year, and I doubt whether Wilson can cover the ground he'll need to. With the fragile condition of Wilson's knees, I'm not sure he's much of an upgrade defensively over Brad Wilkerson, who spent a big chunk of the first half in center.

Wilson, Jose Guillen, and just-activated Ryan Church (hitting .325 before he was disabled) will form the Nats' outfield. With Nick Johnson out indefinitely with a bad heel, Wilkerson will play first.

The trade with Oakland is fascinating. Overachieving outfielder Eric Byrnes, a fan favorite due to his all-out style of play, goes to Colorado. He does a lot of things well at the plate, and has speed, but doesn't excel in any area. A fine left fielder, Byrnes is already 29, and so he won't be getting much better. His aggressiveness is out of control at times, but if he runs into enough fastballs, Byrnes could hit 25 homers in 500 at-bats for the Rockies.

Perhaps the key to the trade for the Rox is infielder Adam Quintanilla, a former star at the University of Texas. He's got the range of a second baseman but a good throwing arm. He was hitting .296 with four homers this year at Double-A; his bat has not come around the way that the Athletics thought it would when they made him the 33rd player overall taken in the 2003 draft.

To get Byrnes and Quintanilla, Colorado traded arms. Joe Kennedy is just the kind of pitcher who could do a fantastic job in a bigger park--like Oakland's. He throws four pitches (sinker, slider, curve, change); none of them are oustanding, but Kennedy is a competitor and his quality change-up has deception. He'll run the fastball in on hitters and has little fear.

He can throw with a little more confidence in Oakland. Working at Coors Field tends to mess up a lot of pitchers, especially those whose game can be destroyed by being just a little bit off their mark. Kennedy, that kind of finesse guy, could easily win ten games down the stretch for the Athletics. Oakland also got Jay Witasick, who's a decent middle-late reliever. He'll help out but is not a big player.

The A's get two arms to help them vie for the playoffs. Byrnes is replaced by Jay Payton, acquired from Boston earlier in the day after wearing out his welcome with the Red Sox (Payton had a hissy fit after finding out he was flip-flopped in the batting order after coming in for a double switch). The Red Sox got submarining righty Chad Bradford in return for Payton.

One would assume that rookie righty Joe Blanton, who's been brutal for the A's so far as a starter, will end up in the bullpen or back at Sacramento.

So here's how it shakes out:

Gains: Eric Byrnes, Adam Quintanilla, Zach Day, and J.J. Davis
Loses: Preston Wilson, a lot of money, Joe Kennedy, and Jay Witasick
Summary: The only guys who could make these trades work for Colorado are Quintanilla and Day, and those are two big gambles.

Gains: Preston Wilson, nearly for free
Loses: Zach Day, J.J. Davis, and "future considerations," likely to be a low-level prospect or some cash
Summary: Great deal for Washington.

Gains: Joe Kennedy, Jay Witasick, Jay Payton
Loses: Eric Byrnes, Adam Quintanilla, Chad Bradford
Summary: Kennedy could be an impact player for the A's. That alone makes it a good day for Billy Beane.


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