The trade deadline is a nihilist's dream (if nihilists can be said to dream), because most trades end up being swaps of non-entities: The Baltimore Orioles trade Non-Entity (third base) to the New York Mets for Nobody (pitcher). In the pre-internet days, the Baseball Encyclopedia had a trade register in the back of the book, and you could open it to any page and find a great many of these who? deals. On December 4, 1969, the Cubs dealt left-handed pitcher Rich Nye to the Cardinals for outfielder Boots Day. Impact on the Cardinals? None. Impact on the Cubs? None. Times anyone has thought about the deal from that day to this one? One, in the foregoing sentence. You might as well erase the names and call it the trade of the Unknown Soldier for the Phantom Blot.
Sometimes teams are knowingly swapping junk for junk. At other times, they've got a scouting report that says that a player the other team thinks of as junk is really jewelry. The Goddess of Team-Building (Shoeless Joe Minerva) is a cruel and capricious deity. She can make a general manager think he's unearthed a gem, a diamond in the rough that everyone else has missed, the high-upside, low-cost pick-up that will launch his team at high velocity through what was expected to be a protracted rebuild and win him the Executive of the Year Award.
In the mid-1930s, the Dodgers thought they had identified one such player in Long Tom Winsett, a 25-year-old outfielder with a picture-book left-handed stroke who was in the process of hitting .354 with 50 home runs for Columbus of the American Association. They sent three players to the Cardinals to get him, one of whom, Dutch Leonard, had a long and effective career as a knuckleball pitcher (though not for the Cardinals). You know how this story ends, because you have never heard of Tom Winsett: He was a bust. In 645 major-league plate appearances, he hit just .237/.325/.341. The Dodgers' scouts had misread him.
The spring after the deal, when the bloom was still on Winsett, Cardinals GM Branch Rickey explained why. "Watch that beautiful swing, my boy," he told a sportswriter. "Mr. Winsett sweeps that bat in the same plane every time, no matter where the ball is pitched! Woe unto the pitcher who throws the ball where the Winsett bat is functioning, but throwing it almost anywhere else in the general area of home plate is safe!"
Avisail Garcia (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
Keep this story in mind when reviewing the three-way deal consummated between the Red Sox, White Sox, and Tigers on Tuesday night, the one that sent infielder Jose Iglesias from Boston to Detroit, outfielder Avisail Garcia and three players in Class A or Low-A to Chicago, and pitcher Jake Peavy to Boston. The Red Sox got a very good major-league pitcher, the plethora of home runs he's allowed this year and his arm being "filled with gummy bears and parsley sprigs" notwithstanding. The Tigers got a shortstop who is a defensive wizard to replace their soon-to-be-banished incumbent, Jhonny Peralta, and the White Sox got lottery tickets.
The White Sox are in a very bad place. The pitching staff has been reasonably strong, and Tuesday night's successful debut by right-hander Andre Rienzo serves as a reminder that they have more pitching help on the way, but the offense has been just shy of historically bad and the defense has been stiff and error-prone. The farm system has few promising position players. Catcher Josh Phegley, 25, has displayed power but appears to be taking his cues on plate judgment from Jeff Keppinger. Outfielder Courtney Hawkins, the team's consensus top prospect, is hitting .189 in the Carolina League with a similar "I'll try anything once" approach to swinging at pitches. There is little reason to think that the organization has the players on hand to fix itself.
And that's one to grow on!
As of Wednesday, the team was playing at a 100-loss pace. Their on-base percentage of .301 was the second-lowest in the league. Their walk rate was also the second-lowest on the circuit, and it remains anyone's guess as to whether the team as a whole will draw 400 walks this year, an absurdly low total that just a handful of teams have failed to reach in an 162-game season (at the opposite end of the spectrum, the Oakland A's will pass 400 as a team some time directly after you read this, with 55 games remaining in their season). They are scoring fractionally fewer runs per game than even the Houston Astros. Only the Marlins, at 3.2 runs per game, have scored fewer than their 3.7. Bottom line: abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
Alex Rios (Jonathan Daniel)
The Peavy deal doesn't really do anything to address that. Garcia, 22, looks like a promising player, albeit one who will have to hit .300 to contribute at a high level -- he has taken just 98 walks in a 615-game pro career, and hasn't yet evinced consistent home run power. A right fielder who hits, say, .290 with a .320 on-base percentage and a .420 slugging percentage is not quite league average for the position. It's also roughly what the White Sox are getting now from Alex Rios, production so exciting that none of the contenders seem particularly worked up about getting it. Now, Garcia is young enough to develop quite a bit, but given where he's starting, at the base of the impatience ladder, it's going to take an unusual amount of growth, or a road-to-Damascus moment involving the sardonic shade of Ted Williams, for him not to be overly dependent on batting average.
Or maybe Frank Thomas could just drop by one afternoon and yell at him a little. A lot. "See my number on the wall? See the statue of me outside? You know why they did that? Hint: It wasn't for my 32 career stolen bases."
As for the three A-ball players, they're far enough away and far enough down on Boston's prospect lists that it brings to mind Emerson's advice, "Keep cool: it will all be one a hundred years hence." That is to say that these players are so far away, so speculative, that by the time we find out what kind of players they are we'll have forgotten where they came from, or that they even existed in the first place.
Most players of this kind turn out to be nothing at all. If Garcia doesn't prove to be the Tom Winsett of this deal then two of the three, if not all three, probably will claim that mantle. Francellis Montas is a 20-year-old right-hander who presently throws very hard and is very unsuccessful at pitching, but might or might not get his command figured out or have his arm removed by surgeons and mounted in a case a la Dan Sickles' leg. Cleuluis Rondon is a 19-year-old shortstop or second baseman whose bat will have to take a massive leap forward for him to be a regular. Jeffrey Wendelken, 19, is a member of FARRA, the advocacy group for the Future Anonymous Right-Handed Relievers of America. His Sally-League strikeout rate is just 7.5 per nine, which would depress you if there weren't already depressed about more important things like global warming and the state of the economy.
The thoroughly speculative nature of Chicago's return makes the Red Sox and Tigers the clear winner of the deal. The Sox got starting pitching depth they needed given Clay Buchholz's indeterminate fate. Felix Doubront and Jon Lester have pitched well of late, but having Peavy around extends the rotation and shields the team from the left-handers' inconsistency. Iglesias may not hit at all -- his .402 batting average from May to June was something like a slow-motion miracle and probably will not be repeated. He hit .200 at Triple-A before being called up, he hit .200 in July, and he'll probably do more things involving the number .200 in the future. His great glove will make up for a good deal of that, though, and that means that Dave Dombrowski has effectively insulated the Tigers from Peralta's likely suspension in a way that, say, the Rangers might not be able to. On Tuesday, Dombrowski said, "Peralta's our shortstop unless he's ruled not our shortstop," which is a nice summary of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, but what's important is it's something he no longer has to worry about.
So in summary:
- Thanks to the Tigers, we have the first-ever prophylactic Biogenesis trade.
- The Red Sox gave up a shortstop they didn't and won't need and got a two-three starter back, and they will enjoy the pleasure of his company in 2014 as well, and maybe even a compensatory draft pick upon his eventual departure.
- The White Sox got a toolsy outfielder who probably does not directly address their needs, at least presently, as well as three young male humans who play baseball.
Adding: It is worth crediting the White Sox with shedding approximately $20 million dollars (a third of his salary for this year, plus the $14.5 million he's due in 2014 -- a 2015 option that requires him to pitch 400 innings between this year and the next seems exceedingly unlikely to vest) from their payroll. This, combined with $23 million realized from the end of the Gavin Floyd and Paul Konerko contracts, frees up a significant amount of change. That should allow the Sox more flexibility in terms of approaching the free-agent market. However, the free-agent market isn't what it used to be, and given the organization's overall weakness, it might be some time before adding a veteran or two is going to do anything other than hold off a complete collapse. It is impossible to say what prospects the team might have realized in constructing a deal in which it continued to pay some portion of Peavy's salary, if the prospects would have been more rounded than the impatient Mr. Garcia. What we can say is that saving money cannot prove to have been the only victory, because as the Yankees have shown, you can have all the money in the world and if there's nothing good to spend it on, you're going to end up taking home Carl Pavano or just keeping it in your wallet. The White Sox need an influx of youth, and little else matters.
Tuesday's general manager action ran the gamut from Ruben Amaro refusing to trade Cliff Lee unless he got his guy to the Rick Hahn/Kenny Williams complex apparently being willing to trade their guy for, y'know, anything. As the song goes, time will show the wiser.