Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Falcon Crest

*** As for my "Midnight Train" series, it'll have to be put on hold for now. I'm in a new apartment, and my resources are somewhat limited. However, here's my NFL preview for my hometown Atlanta Falcons ***

2005: You know, after the Minnesota game, there was reason to be excited. The Falcons had a turnover differential of +4 for the season, a 3-1 record, and only a loss to a very good Seattle team. Unfortunately, the Minnesota game would be the high point of the season. Our offense wouldn't play as well, and our defense would go from an elite performance into defensive hell. The low point of the season had to be the final game against Carolina. How terrible. However, I blame some of the Falcons' misfortunes on bad luck. Or at least, the disappearance of it. In fact, I'm gonna make a bold statement:The '05 Falcons didn't play that much more poorly than the '04 Falcons. In fact, if you look at overall performance, both teams were probably 8-8 teams, but the '04 squad really had things that went their way. The '05 offense was better, the best it's been since '02. The '05 defense, however, was much worse. I don't think the '04 defense was that great, but it was good. 2002 was the only time in the Vick era that our defense has truly been special.

Strategy and tendencies: The Falcons are a stubborn team. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers use 3 receiver sets less often than the Falcons. No team runs the ball in the first half more than the Falcons. Only 3 teams ran more period, and that was probably b/c they had late leads to help. One was the Steelers, another was the 11-5 Bears, and the third was the 13-3 Broncos. So, needless to say, no team prefers to run as much as the Falcons, though some do out of necessity. The Falcons, when they run, try their best to protect Warrick Dunn - we used a fullback on 83% of all rushing attempts. The Falcons almost never opt to pass in short yardage situations, and even when behind late in the game, still prefer to run. That may change as our receiving corps develops and if/when Vick grasps the offensive scheme. Also, the Falcons were one of the best teams in the NFL in the redzone, much in part to TJ Duckett - the only place he excelled. On defense, the Falcons rarely, if ever, blitz a defensive back. We don't get many sacks from the linebackers either, although that could change with Hartwell's return. The Falcons' biggest defensive strength is DeAngelo Hall, as they were the 5th best team in terms of #1 CB vs. #1 WR. He didn't just shut down TO - he nearly shut down everyone he was up against. The Falcons' hidden strength remains to be special teams, as they've been one of the 6 best units in the league in 4 of the last 5 years.

The QBs: Matt Schaub has turned into a very good backup quarterback, and the Falcons have been wise to hold onto him. He most certainly could help nab them a shot at Adrian Peterson or MarShawn Lynch in next year's draft to replace Warrick Dunn, who doesn't have a lot of gas left in the tank. Still, Schaub is as good an example as any of Atlanta's troubles at WR. For anyone who thinks Vick struggles to find receivers, his completion percentage edged Schaub's by 2.9%. As for Vick, he has made some strides, and improved last year, in my opinion. He's on the cusp of something special, but there's still a big leap ahead of him. I do think this is the year he eclipses 3000 yards, and I've never said that before. At #3 is either DJ Shockley or Bryan Randall. Randall is probably the better option to play should some very bad things happen, but DJ has the real future as a serviceable backup. By '07, he could easily be Vick's backup, with Randall still at #3.

The RBs: Warrick Dunn. I sure do like the guy, but I hope you took pictures last year, because this ain't happening again. If I'm wrong, I'm ecstatic. I just can't see a 31 year old coming off a 5.1 yards per carry, 1416 yard season, even remotely matching it. I expect 4.0, 1000 yards this season. It's not Dunn's fault, just the nature of the game. Trading Duckett doesn't leave a huge hole in the offense per se, but he was valuable near the goal line for the most part. Vick ran a lot less last year, but he was still very, very good when he did, and was probably one of the better running backs in the league, so to speak. Justin Griffith is a good go-to guy, and the Falcons know how to use him. Interestingly, our best runner on a per-play basis last year was Matt Schaub, almost laughingly getting 78 yards on 7 running plays. Newcomer Jerious Norwood has speed to burn, and he's almost a carbon copy of Warrick Dunn. When he spells Dunn, he'll fit perfectly. However, don't expect any Duckettness from him. I sometimes get the feeling he runs scared like Barry Sanders used to. Not a problem unless you're at the 1 yard line trying to push it over.

WRs: I'm not sure who to call #1, be it Michael Jenkins or Roddy White. Last year, Jenkins was supposed to be our #1, but we never threw to him. He wasn't particularly good, but he sure wasn't bad. His catch % needs to improve from it's current level of 51, but that will happen as both he and Vick gain experience. White, on the other hand, has much more talent and looks like our future #1. Last year, he was VERY good in the redzone, and considering he was a rookie, wasn't that bad. Especially with little time at training camp. He's a speed guy and would be best utilized on deep routes but he displayed the kind of ability at times that makes me think he could be very good as a #1. Which brings us to... Ashley Lelie. He's built like White, has speed like White (faster, I think), but just hasn't capitalized on that talent in the same way. He's a burner, that much is certain. Only Taylor Jacobs of the Redskins last year was more exclusively a fly route guy than Lelie. He has good size, so I'm not sure what has held him back, but the Broncos coaching staff AND fans realized quickly that he was only good for one thing. When he comes down with catches, they'll be big gains. As long as the Falcons understand his apparent weaknesses (like Duckett's) and utilize his strengths, he should be a very good #3 receiver. Our tight ends may be blockers, but I'll cover that in the O-line section. Crumpler the receiver is one of the best in football. He doesn't make as many of his catches (55%) as most of the best (Gates' 64% or Gonzalez' 67%), but Vick relies on him more than most. He threw to Alge more than any WR on the team. With the maturation of Jenkins & White and the addition of Lelie, Alge should be able to become a tad more obscure, and thus more deadly. Duckett was a surprisingly good receiver, despite the Falcons rarely throwing to him. Dunn remains a pretty good receiver, hauling in 78% of passes, but he never did much once he caught the ball. Justin Griffith is our best threat out of the backfield in the receiving game, as he had 3 TD catches last year as a solid redzone target. Unfortunately, Vick relied on him a bit too much and brought down his production, but he's a weapon nonetheless.

Offensive Line: I really like the way we block for our running game, and obviously the line is a strength. However, I'm a little iffy on losing Kevin Shaffer, but hopefully Wayne Gandy will buy into and execute what we do. The only direction in which we struggle to run is straight up the middle, but we're among the best in the league at running at or outside the tackles. That's another reason Norwood has a big future here. One could ask that they protect Vick more, and while they aren't an elite pass blocking line by any means, many of the sacks are Vick's fault. Someone needs to teach him how to drop back, b/c he often runs into blockers and pressures himself.

Defensive front 7: Ok, if anyone tries to pass on Atlanta, they're going to run into problems. Patrick Kerney, John Abraham, Rod Coleman, Jonathan Babineaux, Demorrio Williams, Ed Hartwell, and Keith Brooking ALL play better against the pass than the run. Today, the Falcons added Grady Jackson, a tackle who can stuff the run. Not only does Jackson make the play against the run more often than anyone else in Atlanta, but he puts himself in position to more often. That's gonna translate to big things for this defense. If Michael Boley can be a force against the run from the outside, hopefully it'll force the opposing teams to pass more, which is good for Atlanta.

Secondary: The addition of Chris Crocker means more support for the rushing defense, and honestly DeAngelo Hall isn't that bad against the run. I personally think he's a very good corner, but he still has some holes in his game. I mentioned that #1 WRs struggled against Atlanta, but that is as much because of other factors as of DeAngelo. For example, the Falcons were pretty much the easiest team to run against, so why pass? Second, the safeties were SO bad at, well, everything, it'd be wiser to throw to them. Jimmy Williams has a lot of basics to learn before he's ready to start, but he's very talented. Jason Webster is underrated and he'll be good to have back. Lawyer Milloy won't help against the run, but he'll be better against the pass.

Special Teams: I've already said that ST is Atlanta's underrated specialty, except you'd be surprised where they're so good. Most people think I'm referring to Allen Rossum, and while that was the case in 2004, it no longer is. Atlanta was actually pretty bad last year in the return game. Where they make their bread & butter, however, is kicking. Michael Koenen looks like one heck of a talented kicker, and when coupled with Atlanta's very good coverage team, the Falcons have a deadly kicking unit. They finished 1st in the NFL on Net Kicking yards last season and 4th in Net Punting. Todd Peterson was good, and I'm not sure why we let him go. I'd like to see Koenen have the shot to double up, b/c he certainly has the talent.

Overall: This team has a lot of big question marks, but enough talent to win games regardless of how the questions are answered. My gut feeling says wild card.

The 5 biggest questions that will decide where between the 7-9 threshold and the 12-4 mark they'll finish:
5. Will anyone step up on the return game and restore Atlanta to it's once proud status as a team to be feared when kicking to?
4. Will someone fill TJ Duckett's shoes as the big guy in the red zone?
3. Can Michael Vick continue to improve with the offense, staying healthy and spreading the ball around?
2. Will a receiver establish himself as a legitimate, trustworthy #1?
1. Can the Falcons stop the run?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Midnight Train To Obscurity - Part 2

Continuing from the last entry, we begin with...

Andres Santana, 2B, SF - Santana was a switch hitter with fantastic speed, but had such little power he was unable to crack the major league lineup after being considered the best 2B prospect in the game over Bret Boone. Santana had made his debut in 1990 for a primarily pinch running 6 game stint. Two years later he was considered a top prospect. A year later the Giants figured out he wasn't and traded him to the Marlins for Brian Griffiths. Santana would never play another major league game - a rarity for a "top prospect." Usually they don't play their last game at age 22.

Eddie Zosky, SS, TOR - Zosky was considered by scouts to be a defensive stalwart with a rifle arm. Well, that's great, but if you can't hit, you just can't play. Zosky was coming off a '91 campaign in which he showed the Blue Jays some defensive talent and did very little at the plate. Those 18 games would end up a career high. For some weird reason, he kept hanging around with organization after organization, and despite playing only 6 games in a 6 year period, the Brewers and Astros thought he would help in '99 and '00, respectively. When finally granted free agency for the last time, we were able to lay his .160/.173/.260 career line to rest... Thankfully.

Sam Militello, SP, NYY - This guy absolutely tore up the minor leagues, going 34-8 with a 1.76 ERA in his first 3 years. In '92 he was 12-2, 2.29 with 152 K's in 141 1/3 innings in the International League. Minor league managers named him the top AAA prospect in the game, and after a 3-3, 3.45 stint with the big league club, it seemed like they were onto something. In his major league debut, he pitched 7 innings and allowed only 1 hit. In fact, he was the premier star on that '92 Columbus Clippers team, overshadowing guys like JT Snow, Dave Silvestri, Hensley Muelens (hey, remember him?), Gerald Williams, Russ Springer, and Shawn Hillegas... Not to mention a trio of guys named Brad Ausmus, Bob Wickman, and Bernie Williams. What happened to him? Well, all I can find is that injuries derailed his career, which is a shame. It really looked bright, although he needed to cut down his walks. Now he's the pitching coach for the University of Tampa, I believe, where he still holds the all-time strikeout record by FAR.

David Nied, SP, ATL - He wasn't quite the bust that some of these others were, but he's a personal favorite of mine. Why? Because his 1992 callup was one of the most brilliant I've ever seen. What a line: 23 innings, 3-0, 1.17 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 19-5 K:BB, and all in an Atlanta uniform. Then, something puzzling happened: John Schuerholz didn't protect him when the expansion draft rolled around, and he was the #1 pick by the Colorado Rockies. He was actually even more dominant than Militello in the IL, with a K:BB ration of 159:44. So what happened? The easy answer is Denver, but in '93 and '94, Nied wasn't that bad in Denver, getting ERAs of 5.17 & 4.80, the latter actually being better than league-average. I found an interesting analysis of famous pitchers when they were at Richmond:
Player Age IP K/9 BB/9 ERA
Pitcher A 20 82.1 7.54 2.30 3.39
Pitcher B 20 190.1 4.87 3.92 3.83
Pitcher C 21 135.1 7.65 2.46 2.79
Pitcher D 22 60.2 6.82 2.37 1.93
Pitcher E 22 161.2 7.57 3.73 2.34
Pitcher F 23 168 8.52 2.36 2.84
Of the 6, one was David Nied. The other 5 all turned out to be very good major league pitchers. Which looks like a future star? The guy who logged a ton of innings with the highest K:BB rate, pitcher F. So, who was who?
Pitcher A was Steve Avery. Pitcher B was Tommy Glavine. Pitcher C was John Smoltz. Pitcher D was Kevin Millwood. Pitcher E was Jason Schmidt. Pitcher F was the one sure star - David Nied. He never had any serious injuries that I know of, so I can only assume the stress of pitching in Colorado got the best of him... Too bad, really.

You know, to be quite honest, there were no huge flops in '94. The preseason top rookies all were contributors in their careers, with some big names coming out in that class: Carlos Delgado, Alex Gonzalez, Steve Karsay, Rich Becker, Rick Helling, Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko, Salomon Torres, Willie Greene, and Phil Nevin. Besides, it's only fitting that my analysis for '94 be shortened...

Bill Pulsipher, SP, NYM - Very few prospects have ever been as famous or as heralded as the Mets' trio of young studs in the mid 90's which consisted of Jason Isringhausen, Paul Wilson, and Pulsipher, and were collectively known as Generation K. In '95, he didn't disappoint, showing promise in 126 innings with the Mets at age 21. The next spring, however, while preparing for his sophomore season, he blew out his elbow, sidelining him until '97. He then battled depression, retired, came back, and is still trying to make it. It's a really interesting story concerning easily one of the 10 biggest pitching prospects of the last 15 years. For more info on Pulsipher or a really good read, his story (as told by him) can be found here:

Brien Taylor, SP, NYY - Easily one of the 5 most famous flameouts of all time, I felt he needed to be included somewhere. Taylor, along with Steve Chilcott, is one of the only 2 #1 overall draft picks to never reach the major leagues. He got into a well-documented trailer park fight in 1993 and tore his labrum. He was never the same.
Taylor the player was always lost in sight of Taylor the draft pick. He really changed the game, and is probably one of the 50 most influential people to ever be involved with the game. Taylor, who held out for a then record $1.55 million, set the standard for top talents who want respect. His high school reputation was impeccable: in 88 innings, he struck out 213 batters. Scott Boras still says Taylor is the best high school pitcher he's ever seen. The lefty could hit 99 routinely on the gun, and he was the definition of unhittable. Until that fight in '93, he was unhittable in the minors as well. Now he's a bricklayer and still drives the suped up Mustang he bought with his signing bonus money; it's such a sad story for such a talented player.

Brad Woodall, SP, ATL - One of the more forgettable Atlanta pitching prospects, but in a year with a lot of risky pitching prospect picks like Taylor, Woodall seemed like the easy choice for stardom. He dominated the IL with Richmond, and scouts left and right were comparing him to Tom Glavine. Woodall shared that ability to spot his fastball and nibble at corners. Unfortunately, he just never got the chance in Atlanta and resurfaced in Milwaukee, where he started 20 games in 1998.

Jose Oliva, 3B, ATL - There was a ton of optimism surrounding Oliva going into 1995, mainly because he homered once every 3 games in his callup the previous fall. In '95, however, he lost his ability to hit home runs so rapidly and he was traded to the Cardinals. After 22 games with STL, he would never play in the majors again. He went home to the Dominican Republic, where he died in 1997 when his car flipped off the road. At the time of his death, he was leading the DR winter tournament in home runs and rbi, and would be posthumously named MVP. His teammate, Julio Franco, would eventually find his way back to the majors.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Midnight Train To Obscurity - Part 1

"He kept dreaming that someday he'd be a star
(a superstar but he didn't get far)
But he sure found out the hard way
That dreams don't always come true"
I've decided to take a look back at some of the big prospects to come down the line over the past years and why they didn't pan out. We'll start around 1989, since that's the earliest publication I have with rookie reports. Anyone who was selected to an all star team won't be considered, even if many think they didn't meet the expectations (that's you, Gregg Jeffries). We're looking for true washouts.
Mike Harkey - "Some see Harkey, a 6-5, 220-pound right-hander out of Cal State Fullerton, as another Ferguson Jenkins." Don't you love those early comparisons? Only Cubs fans could conjure that up. Harkey was listed as a top rookie for 1989, but a shoulder injury destroyed his velocity and his shot at a starting job. By 1990, he was healthy, but manager Don Zimmer thought it'd be a fantastic idea to help Harkey's shoulder problem by inserting him into a 4 man rotation. Harkey pitched well, going 12-6, 3.26, & 94-59 K-BB ratio. Unfortunately, it fatigued his arm, which would become a routine process. He only reached 100 innings two other times in his career, never topping his 1990 total of 173.7, and never reaching the total in consecutive seasons. By the mid nineties, the shoulder had robbed him of any hope of fulfilling the expectations.
Scott Coolbaugh - Coolbaugh was a big college star at Texas, and the Rangers were certain he'd be the next great third baseman. Unfortunately, Coolbaugh never learned to make consistent contact in the minors, and he struggled mightily at the major league level, where in 4 seasons he posted a career line of .215/.281/.310. Street & Smith's 1990 said Coolbaugh was more ready to jump to the majors than Carlos Baerga, Mike Blowers, or Robin Ventura. I think the problem is that a lot of players like Ventura, Jim Abbott, and Gregg Olson, among others, were able to successfully make a quick transition to the majors after playing college ball. I suppose a lot of guys like Coolbaugh were foolishly rushed in the mere hopes they'd have the same fortune.
Eric Anthony - Anthony wasn't quite the bust some of these others was, but in 1990 he was viewed as the next premier home run hitter. He sure loved to swing, and he didn't really give a damn if making contact was in his future or not. While Rob Deer perfected the three true outcomes approach, Anthony used the far less valuable but more alliterative two true outcomes technique: he either struck out or homered. Anthony, in his major league career, would strike out once every 5 plate appearances or so. By 1993, he started to learn to draw walks to some extent, but by the time he truly realized getting on base was a good thing, his power had dried up.
Pat Combs - Boy, scouts were raving over Combs, a tall lefty who "dominated" the minors in '89. One publication compared him to Steve Carlton. Steve Carlton. Maybe they didn't get the memo, but Carlton wasn't simply a tall lefty. He struck guys out. He was unhittable. Combs' strikeouts were quite unimpressive, and unCarltonian: 21 in 41 A innings, 77 in 125 AA innings, 20 in 24 AAA innings, and 30 in 38 MLB innings. 148 K's in 228 innings is NOT Steve Carlton. Well, maybe old Carlton. Still, at age 39, he topped that total by 15 in the same number of innings. Combs also failed to share another trait with Carlton: He had poor control - his K:BB rate was nearly even for his career.
Hensley Muelens - Nicknamed "Bam-Bam" for his power prowess in the minors. He had 96 rbi in '90 and the Yankees were confident he'd be their next great outfielder. The scouting report said he had all the tools but struck out a little too much. Needless to say, the strikeouts caught up to him at the major league level, and he never played much. In 182 games, he didn't even get enough career at bats to quailfy for a single season batting title. A career .220/.288/.353 line shows his lack of plate discipline, but his career K:BB rate of 165-42 is even more telling. 5 tools are nice, but they can't tell you when to swing.
Phil Plantier - Same song, second verse, except this time the high strikeout guy actually makes enough contact to hit 34 home runs for the Padres in 1993, after the Red Sox had given up on their golden boy. If I remember correctly, he had a very Bagwell-esque batting style, so I have to wonder what kind of acid Boston's rookie level hitting coach was on when he decided to have his hitters sit on imaginary stools. I didn't plan on having someone on this list who had topped 30 HR or 100 rbi in the majors, but Plantier fizzled quickly and even his best season wasn't really that good.
Tomorrow, we should venture further into the 90's with prospects you are more likely to remember.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

August 1 blues

Sigh, it's sinking in. The most active part of the trade season is over, and while yesterday's post was centered on the amazement over Jim Bowden's incredulous decision to hold onto Alfonso Soriano, I can't ignore the 11 deals that actually did go through. Here's my take on winners and losers:
1. Reds get: Rheal Cormier - The Reds are now officially obsessed with the bullpen. Honestly, I thought they'd done enough lately in terms of the pen. In fact, more than enough. The Guardado deal is what they needed, and the Kearns deal, while terrible considering what they gave up, at least netted two decent relievers. Now, they get Cormier, the 39 year old reliever who has been really good this year. Well, his results have all been good. Cormier himself has been mostly lucky. It's hard to credit a pitcher with a 1:1 K to BB ratio with his success. He's never had great stuff, but he has good accuracy, and gets plenty of ground balls. He should be ok for them, but not great.
Phils get: Justin Germano - Germano hasn't been very effective this year, but could one day be a starter for Philadelphia. Right now, though, it doesn't seem highly likely. He doesn't walk too many batters, doesn't strike too many out, and really doesn't do anything spectacularly. He's an extreme groundballer whose luck hasn't been too good this year.
WINNER: Push - The Reds get a lefty who knows how to pitch without giving up anything major. The Phils unload an old player and get something in return.

2. Tigers get Sean Casey - You know, I'm not all that excited about this deal. Sure, Chris Shelton hasn't been very good since April but Shelton's worst is as good as Casey period, I think. Won't this trip to AAA stunt his growth? Sean Casey doesn't do much with the bat, especially at first base, and really won't provide anything of value other than leadership. Then again, Jim Leyland gets greatness out of good players, so maybe he can get goodness out of a pretty mediocre player.
Pirates get Brian Rogers - Rogers wasn't a huge prospect in the Detroit system, but he was certainly pitching well this year. He allowed a .210/.257/.322 split this year, which is very good. Temper the excitement, though, since he's a 24 year old in AA, but the numbers are impressive. He rarely issues walks and strikes out more than 1 per inning. Honestly, he might be able to immediately go into the Pirates' bullpen and succeed. They've got nothing to lose, except more games, but they're fine with that.
WINNER: Pittsburgh. Casey makes entirely too much money and they got rid of a subpar first baseman, get an older prospect with a great performance this year, and now have the option of promoting Brad Eldred if they want, although he might need some more time.

3. Reds get Kyle Lohse - That's right, the Reds got more bullpen help. This is getting ridiculous. Lohse can start if Cincy needs him to, and he could be good in the pen, being a 3 pitch pitcher with plus stuff. He's terribly inconsistent, and it seems like his early power pitching days might be over. Like I said, maybe the bullpen work is what the doctor ordered.
Twins get Zach Ward - Last year's 3rd round pick by Cincy, Ward was blowing through low A ball. As a 22 year old, he's expected to be ahead of the curve, but let's not downplay what he's doing. In 113.7 innings, he has allowed a .187/.275/.258 split and struck out 95. He also carries the title of extreme groundballer. The Twins know how to bring along prospects, and he'll thrive in that system.
WINNER: Minnesota - While Lohse could turn out to be a very good reliever, Ward is a young prospect with a good bit of talent and great results. Ward even played his home games in a hitters park at Dayton.

4. Mets get Oliver Perez - We all know what Perez CAN do, but I'm convinced no one, not even Perez, knows what he WILL do. He's capable of giving you either of these two stat lines:
8 3 0 1 11
3 6 7 6 6

Enjoy, Met fans. Enjoy. He's capable of churning out that first stat line on a consistent basis again, and he's been great in the minors. Rick Peterson is good at what he does, but with Oliver he'll have his work cut out for him.
Mets get Roberto Hernandez - I don't really know how much closer to the end of a career someone can be. It seems like it's been 30 years since he was a closer for the White Sox. I can understand the need to get a reliever though, with Duaner Sanchez' injury. Still, the Mets aren't in dire straits by any means. Darren Oliver is one of the best relievers in the majors this year and Wagner is the kind of guy you need in the playoffs, even if he's vastly overpaid. Hernandez will provide decent but not great setup work for them.
Pirates get Xavier Nady - Nady has great power, but he struggles with contact and with right handers, so I'm not sure he's a great longterm option for Pitt. Nady is 27, so there's still a chance he could break out soon. This year is a quasi-breakout, but I think in NY it was a bit overhyped by the media.
WINNER: New York - Whether he realizes it or not, Oliver Perez' potential alone is enough reason to trade Nady, not to mention getting a reliever for the postseason. Great move for the Mets.

5. Rangers get Matt Stairs - Another good hitter's hitter for the stretch run. He gets on base, will hit a few homers, and comes cheap. It's the sort of addition smart teams make for the stretch run. You know this irritates Billy Beane, for someone else in the division to be smart with their decisions.
Royals get Joselo Diaz - Gosh, this guy would be really good if he could harness that fastball. His numbers, despite wildness, are pretty good - 64 innings, 75 K's, .198/.337/.275 splits, but 42 walks. The Royals have done a great job of adding pitching talent to their minor league system, and Diaz is the latest find. He's not ready for prime time, but if he learns control... big things are to come.
WINNER: Push. Smart trade from both sides. Very smart.

6. Padres get Todd Walker - I can remember when I thought Walker would be a great player. I thought he'd be a 200 hit guy for the Twins. It didn't pan out, but he's not terrible. He still makes solid contact and he has decent discipline, but if he is San Diego's answer at 3B, they're not going to be satisfied. At 2nd, though terrible defensively, he's pretty solid offensively. At 3rd, though, he's probably below average. The Padres may see it a little different though, in that he has value simply by not being named Vinny Castilla. That in itself might recharge this lineup.
Cubs get Jose Ceda - Too early to tell on him, but so far so good. At 19, he's doing what he should in the Arizona League; in 23 innings, he's given up only 1 homer, struck out 31, and walked 13. The scouting report on him says he needs to learn some offspeed pitches, so he's clearly several years away, but those strikout numbers mean he's got some great natural talent that could develop well.
WINNER - Push. Slight edge to the Padres for getting a guy who will help any offense he's in, but Ceda has one heck of an arm.

7. Yankees get Craig Wilson - I guess the Yankees should look toward the state of Pennsylvania any time they need some help, because the price will never be steep. They got Abreu for nothing, and now Wilson? Brian Cashman must be a hypnotist. Wilson will help the Yankees immensely, especially in the role he'll play down the stretch as a part time guy.
Pirates get Shawn Chacon - Seriously, I can't do anything but laugh at this transaction, so let me, in less than 10 words, say all there is to say about Chacon:
Last... year... lucky... this... year... reality... future... in... Pitt... worse
WINNER - The Yankees, no contest. No surprise, with the regime in Pittsburgh.

8. Rangers get Kip Wells - I really couldn't tell you what anyone would want in Wells right now. Honestly, I'm baffled. He's got talent, but he's been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this year. The AL West's walk rate just went up.
Pirates get Jesse Chavez - Chavez, a minor league power reliever, with 73 K's in 61 innings, has some control issues, and may not be able to dominate like this at an upper level, but there's upside.
WINNER - Pittsburgh - any time you can convince an organization to take Kip Wells and his money off your hands and give you a prospect with any sort of upside, you've won.

9. Dodgers get Greg Maddux - This ain't the Maddux of '95. Heck, it ain't even the Maddux of '04. He'll do better in Chavez Ravine than Wrigley, in fact a lot better, but he's not the difference maker he once was. An old Greg Maddux is still a better option than a lot of guys in their prime.
Cubs get Cesar Izturis - I really like Izturis' defense, and now the Cubs can return him to his natural position at SS, replacing the atrocious Ronny Cedeno. Regular playing time is all that keeps him from being the next Omar Vizquel.
WINNER - I feel surprised saying this, but the Cubs. While Maddux will pitch well in LA, Izturis is a big, big step up for the Cubs at SS. His defense should shave some runs off the scoreboard and while he's not a great hitter, he'll be more helpful than Cedeno.

10. Dodgers get Julio Lugo - Lugo brings his doubles/steals game to the Ravine, where it'll definitely help. He's got a great glove, but a weak arm, and that should mean a nice transition to 2B. He might just be the sparkplug the last place Dodgers needed - they already have moved into 4th in the West - and if nothing else he'll give them a 1st round draft pick if he leaves via free agency.
D-Rays get Joel Guzman - It's surprising that the biggest prospect to change hands in the entire trade deadline week was in return for Julio Lugo. Guzman could be very, very good one day. At Las Vegas this year, he's .297/.353/.461 with 11 HR. The power is returning after disappearing last year, and some scouting reports compare him to Miguel Cabrera. Now, to think he'll be up there with Delmon and Upton in a year or two? Scary.
D-Rays get Sergio Pedroza - First off, let me say Guzman should've been enough for Julio Lugo. That the Dodgers threw in Pedroza, he of a .969 OPS this year in rookie ball, is downright silly. He's a long way off, but he's on the right track.
WINNER - Tampa Bay - The though of adding Joel Guzman, even if he has no position yet, freeing salary, and opening up a spot for BJ Upton, all in one move? I like it.

11. Royals get Ryan Shealy & Scott Dohmann - Shealy finally gets a chance. Since Ryan Howard got playing time last year, Shealy has occupied my top spot on the Best Blocked Players list. This guy could be very good in Kansas City at 1B, and he'll definitely hold the spot well until Huber arrives for good. Shealy has a lot of power potential and reminds some scouts of a young Derrek Lee. As for Dohmann, a flyball pitcher like him will be happy to get away from Coors. He could easily become a key Royals reliever this season.
Rockies get Jeremy Affeldt and Denny Bautista - Affeldt is the big name of the trade, and he has amazing potential. Unfortunately, he can't stay healthy or consistent, and Colorado won't help the latter. He's still learning to force those groundballs, but the improvement he's made is encouraging. He should be a fine fit in Colorado if they can get consistency from him like they have from Jeff Francis. Those two could be a very underrated pair for '07. Bautista is the groundball strikeout pitcher the Rockies have needed. Put a good defense behind him, give him some run support and some confidence and he'll be fantastic. His arm is unbelievable.
WINNER - Push - A really good trade for both sides. KC may have given up a future ace in Bautista, but they got a great power hitter with Shealy.

Overall winners - Kansas City - You know, I can't describe a single transaction they made this month as a poor decision, and they've made few. The two today were both helpful, and the Royals are setting themselves up nicely for the future.
- New York Yankees - I'm not used to NY making such smart deals. It's refreshing, and they're validating my theory that they are the true team to beat in the AL.

Overall losers - Pittsburgh - They may have come away winners in two trades, but they were such big losers in the other two that this is pretty obvious. They get rid of Oliver Perez and Craig Wilson and get ZERO prospects in return. ZERO. Pathetic, Littlefield, pathetic. What a waste of a big league ballclub. Only the Orioles are spinning their wheels quite like the Pirates. I have such a disdain for the Pirates' management, you'd think I was a Pirates fan. I'm not, but I feel bad for all the fans that do have to put up with meaningless seasons where Littlefield talks up the Randas, Caseys, Redmans, and Wells. Next up are the Nadys and Chacons, I suppose.