Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Best Friends Forever

Seven years after he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Raul Mondesi and Pedro Borbon, Shawn Green has been re-united with former Blue Jay team-mate Carlos Delgado. This time they'll take their act to Shea Stadium.

Green and Delgado defined the Jays in the last half of the '90s. A year apart in age, the two sluggers followed a similar path through the minor leagues, playing the 1992 season for Dunedin, the '93 season for Knoxville and the '94 season for Syracuse.

Both debuted with the major league club at the end of the 1993 season, 'earning' World Series rings despite minimal at-bats; Green was in 1995's opening day lineup and both topped 130 at-bats by '96. Simply put, they grew up together, and became fast friends in the process. They even share a notable achievement, each having hit four homeruns within a single game, sixteen months apart.

The Jays could only afford to keep one of their free-agents-to-be, and Gord Ash opted to cut a deal with Delgado that would see his salary quadruple from $5 to $20 million over five years. Green was similarly fortunate, signing a six-year $84 million contract with the Dodgers. The deal came with a no-trade clause (for teams other than San Diego, Anaheim or San Francisco), and kept Green relatively close to his family in Tustin (Orange County), California. He waived the clause last year to accept a move to Arizona, but only after the Diamondbacks offered a three-year $32 million extension.

But enough of the history. How does the move work out for the teams involved?

Young Snakes
The Diamondbacks' nominal return is lefthanded pitcher Evan MacLane (9-8, 3.86 ERA at Norfolk), but that's not what makes them big winners in the deal. Green will turn 34 this November, and is slated to earn $9.5 million next year. The Diamondbacks have a much better option: 23-year-old Carlos Quentin whose OPS has topped .942 at every level of the minors, and who has kept up the performance in his first 28 games of major league work, putting up an .868 OPS.

But with Eric Byrnes, Luis Gonzalez, and Shawn Green filling the outfield, Arizona was having a tough time getting the youngster the at-bats he needs to develop. The problem will get worse as they try to move Chris Young into the mix. The deal goes a long way towards achieving the generational turnover needed to develop a competitive ball club. Given the weakness of the NL West, the fresh-faced club could be playoff bound as early as next year.

Carlos Needs Company
Mets watchers seem less sure about the deal, but it looks solid to me. The critiques are less to do with Green than the pressing need for pitching.

Even casual baseball fans are aware of the Mets' pitching woes. Ace Pedro Martinez is on the 15-day DL for the second time this year, Tom Glavine will be unavailable until September 1st after a blood-clot scare (which the Mets assure us via press release will be treated with "baby aspirin"), and Victor Zambrano was long-ago lost for the season. Well down the list are the physical woes of Brian Bannister and Dave Williams, and the loss of Duaner Sanchez just prior to the non-waiver trade deadline. The team has come to rely on Orlando Hernandez and Steve Trachsel; unfortunately both are turning in below-average seasons with a cumulative ERA around 5.00 over 266 innings.

I have no doubt that Omar Minaya is still beating the bushes looking for useful starters who can make it through the waiver process. There's even talk of landing Glendon Rusch (3-8, 7.44 ERA), but that has the whiff of desperation if not outright insanity.

If the Mets can't do anything more to prevent runs, then there's only one place to turn: run creation. As we've written before here, this is their year. The team is blessed by three remarkable performances. Measured by BP's Value Over Replacement Player, the Mets have 3 of the top-15 batters in the National League. Carlos Beltran is the only player other than Albert Pujols with a VORP of 60 or more; Jose Reyes is eight in the NL with 42.7 and David Wright is 15th with 37.1.

Having Beltran in the outfield makes up for a lot. Unfortunately for the Mets there's a lot to make up for. Cliff Floyd (OPS .746) has made 312 plate appearances when not injured, and only managed a VORP of 1.8 (he's essentially an aging $6.6 million replacement-level player). Michael Tucker (OPS .825), who's come to the plate only 30-times, has a VORP of 1.2. Rookie Lastings Milledge (OPS .710) is not quite there yet: his -2.2 VORP is fine for a young player making his debut, but a liability in the playoffs. That leaves Endy Chavez (OPS .813) to do the heavy-lifting. He's not doing too badly, with a VORP of 8.9, but he needs help.

That's where Green comes in. With a VORP of 7.5, an OPS of .777 and experience as an everyday player, Green bolsters the outfield's run-producing ability. A trio of Green-Beltran-Chavez would make a lot of sense, with others making occasional appearances. If Floyd can make a return from injury and be productive there'll be a bit of a log-jam, but that looks unlikely right now. Thinking ahead to the playoffs, this also goes a long way to bolstering the Mets' pinch-hitting ability, and improves the squad they'd field in AL parks during a World Series appearance.

A World Series match is still a long ways off. Unless Martinez and Glavine are in top-form in October, even the best run-production will be unlikely to carry the team all the way to the championship series. But it's worth planning for the future in case the stars align. And who wouldn't want their best friend to be along for the ride?


Post a Comment

<< Home