Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Trade Speculator - Minor Moves

I suppose the title of this entry is not entirely true as both moves involved players who should have a fairly decent impact on their teams. Whether the players are responsible for making or breaking the seasons of their respective clubs is yet to be seen. Rather, the reason this entry is titled 'Minor Moves' is due to the relative obscurity of these trades. How they came about and the surprisingly quick nature of the moves.

The first move I will discuss, is the San Diego Padres trade of Randy Wolf to the Houston Astros for minor league right hander Chad Reineke. The Padres continue to clean house and rid themselves of any player who doesn't have much of a future with the club. Interestingly, the 5th place Astros, who are over 10 games out for the wild card, entered into the 'buyers' market.

Adding Randy Wolf will not hurt the Astros and will certainly lessen the blow of the loss of Roy Oswalt. Does this enter the Astros into the playoff race? Certainly not. But the cost was minimal and provides the Astros with some above average innings. At worst, this stirs the pot in the National League and possibly causes a team to miss the playoffs that should have been in it-think the 2007 Mets. The cost will be slightly under $2M for this rental.

There are two best case scenarios in my opinion. The first, and most likely, the Astros let Wolf walk at the end of the season and receive compensation for him based on the thinking that Wolf will at least be a type B free agent. This can also help build good will with the Houston fan base, as the front office can claim to 'having gone for it' by acquiring Wolf.

The second scenario, although it negates the 'gone for it' claim, places the Astros in a position to be a seller over the next 8 days. Anything can happen between now and July 31st. Another team could discover that they are one pitcher away, or simply want to add depth and offer more then the Astros gave up. There are a lot of teams that could use another starting pitcher, and many of those should not have the goods to go after AJ Burnett or Erik Bedard. Thus, Wolf is the best of the next tier of pitchers that are speculated to be available.

In return for Wolf, the Padres add Chad Reineke, a 26 year old right handed pitcher who hasn't been outstanding during his professional career, however he also hasn't been terrible.

According to Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein, Reineke entered the 2008 season as the Astros 6th best prospect. However, keep in mind that speaks more to the terrible system that the Astros possess then the overall ability of Reineke as Goldstein rates the pitcher as a '2 star' prospect. I will ignore the negative Goldstein writes about, as much of them were referencing Reineke the starter. Goldstein had the following praise to offer about Reineke,
The Good: Reineke has a solid fastball that sits in the low 90s and can touch 93-94 at times. He primarily uses it to set up a plus slider that has nice two-plane break, which Reineke uses as an out pitch. He has a big durable body, and maintains his velocity late into games when he starts. He has a good pickoff move and controls the running game well.
A nice fastball combined with a plus slider is a solid combination for any pitcher. Most starters would benefit from adding another above average pitch, or two. However, at 26, nobody is going to confuse Reineke for his high ceiling as a starter, rather, he projects long term as a reliever. This is presumably the pitcher the Padres feel they are picking up. Moving Reineke to the bullpen full time may add a mile or two to his fastball. Combined with a 'herky jerky' delivery, Reineke might come as quite the bargain for the Padres as a legitimate bullpen option.

At the very least, the Padres can bank the remaining money they would have spent on Wolf and use it this offseason. Possibly, Reineke turns into Chris Young, and benefits from being a fly ball pitcher with plus stuff at PETCO.

Unfortunately I have to name a winner and a loser. For the time being, the Padres are the winners as they cut costs and add some decent potential. If Wolf turns into a type B free agent or is flipped in the next week for a superior prospect then Reineke, the Astros win. I hope I don't show up in google searches under 'Astros win'.

The second transaction, and substantially less confusing, saw the Washington Nationals move closer Jon Rauch to the Arizona Diamondbacks for middle infielder Emilio Bonifacio. Before even looking closer into this deal, I have to grade the Diamondbacks as the obvious winner in this trade, this, despite really liking Bonifacio and really disliking Rauch.

Jon Rauch is an absolute steal of a player to acquire. Owed about $5M over the next 2+ seasons, Rauch's durability and decent to strong numbers over his career is enough to make him an excellent acquisition. It is additionally surprising that a team like the Nationals would feel the cheap Rauch (who is a monster of a man) would be an expendable piece. However, maybe Bowden dislikes O'Dowd and did this trade to drive down the value of Brian Fuentes.

Coming over to the Diamondbacks, Rauch immediately improves the clubs bullpen for the short and long term. He adds a pitcher who can be used in any relief mode and makes a somewhat weak and shallow bullpen into a strong and deep one. Just like that! I can see the Diamondbacks going to a closer by committee, but that does not lessen the value of the trade for the club.

When I first heard that Emilio Bonifacio was the player the Nationals were receiving in return for Rauch, I was startled. I had thought Bonifacio's presence is what made Alberto Callaspo expendable during last year's Hot Stove League. However, it appears as though the Diamondbacks did not see much of a future for Bonifacio within the organization.

The Nationals receive an unpolished 23 year old with blazing speed. However, Bonifacio needs to develop a lot of plate discipline and greatly improve his walk rate before being considered a quality every day major leaguer. At this point, he'd make the perfect compliment for Ronnie Belliard, how are people against cloning with that sort of creation? (note: this creation only applies if it does not own Belliard's tongue)

John Sickels of Minor League Ball ("DOT COM!") rated Bonifacio as a C+ entering this season, although one could argue that this rating is reflective of the depth of the Arizona system. That is, the distance from the top to the bottom is far greater for Arizona, then it is for the Phillies. However, agreeing with this rating, Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus rated Bonifacio as a '2 star' prospect, citing his lack of power and inability to take a walk as the rational. In other words, Bonifacio ranks favorably with Darren Ford-the outfielder the Giants received for Ray Durham.

In all, the Nationals had no real reason to make this trade. Rauch has got to have substantially more value then this given how strong he has been in the closers role this season. He is relatively young, durable, and cheap. It is hard to believe teams were not lining up to acquire him. That is, with the Giants-Brewers trade in mind, a reliever of Rauch's value should net a substantial amount more then Durham. Bowden didn't get more.

Thus, the Diamondbacks are the clear winners of this trade. Outside of Bonifacio turning into a top of the order regular, who more then holds his own in the field, this trade lacks a lot of direction and understanding from my point of view.

BallHype: hype it up!

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