Sunday, February 17, 2008

Reason #20: The Steal.

In the long-simmering cross-town rivalry between the Cubs and the White Sox, few moments are looked back at more fondly by the Southsiders than July 29th, 1998. The Cubs, trying to reach the playoffs for the first time in nine years, made a desperation deadline deal with their neighbors, and wound up pulling off one of those WTF? trades (what we in the heartland like to call a “Neifi”) that you see every few years.

The Cubs traded their first round pick from the year before in exchange for an unremarkable reliever with a 5.15 ERA. This trade turned out as badly as that previous sentence suggests, if not worse. Matt Karchner, who had served as the Sox’ part-time closer prior to the deal – he had 26 saves over the previous year-and-a-half – gave the Cubs 28 innings and a 5.14 ERA the rest of the season. He pitched just 33 innings over the next two years before his career ended.

In return, the Pale Hose got Jon Garland, who at the time was 18 years old and pitching in the Midwest League. By the end of the following season, Garland was in Double-A while still a teenager; he debuted with the Sox in 2000; and after getting drubbed as a 20-year-old rookie he settled into the rotation the following year and has been an average to above-average starting pitcher ever since. Garland was just traded to the Angels, but not before giving the White Sox a 92-81 record and a 106 ERA+ in about seven full seasons as a starting pitcher. Garland-for-Karchner ranks as one of the ten most lopsided trades of the last 20 years.

How ironic, then, that when the Royals acquired Daniel Cortes for another middle reliever that was stretched in the role of a closer (Mike MacDougal) at the trading deadline in 2006, the comparison I heard multiple times regarding Cortes was that his upside was…Jon Garland.

MacDougal’s a better pitcher than Karchner ever was; in terms of pure stuff he should be a lights-out closer. A lot of guys throw in the mid-90s and a lot of guys throw a sinker, but few guys throw a sinker in the mid-90s. Only MacDougal never really learned how to pitch when he was with the Royals, and just when it looked like he had put it all together for the Sox in 2006, he came back last season and was 31 flavors of awful. It’s possible he simply is incapable of learning how to pitch.

And Cortes wasn’t supposed to be the key to that trade for the Royals – he was supposed to be Tyler Lumsden’s wingman. While Lumsden was beaten to a pulp in Triple-A last year, Cortes made the biggest leap of any prospect in the Royals system, and one of the biggest of any pitcher in the minors. His fastball jumped a few ticks and now sits in the low-to-mid 90s, and his curveball added bite. He was dominant during the season's second half, allowing just 3 earned runs in his final 41 innings, and he’s still just 20.

Will he be as good as Garland? He’s about a year behind Garland’s pace through the minor leagues, but he’s still likely to make his major league debut sometime this year, when he’ll be just 21. Like Garland, he’s mostly a fastball-curveball pitcher who works high in the zone and gives up lots of flyballs (according to minorleaguebaseball.com, Cortes’ groundball-flyball ratio last year was 0.71, which is very low.) You can’t say it’s likely that he’ll be as good as Garland, because aside from the complete Josh Beckett-level studs, any pitcher in the low minors has less than a 50/50 shot at becoming an above-average major-league starter. But Cortes certainly has that potential.

Actually, he has the potential to be even better. The big knock on Garland has been that he’s never been a strikeout pitcher – his career high is 115, despite throwing over 190 innings each of the last six years. It’s hard to be successful in the majors with a low strikeout rate and flyball tendencies, and Garland represents pretty much the upper limit of that skill set. Cortes, though, struck out 120 batters in 123 innings in Wilmington last year, 8.78 per nine innings. Even in the minors, Garland’s best strikeout rate over a full season was just 6.32. And Kauffman Stadium’s deep power alleys make it a much better fit for this kind of pitcher than U.S. Cellular.

A lot can happen between A-ball and the major leagues, but by 2010 Cortes could be a #3-caliber starter earning the league minimum, with plenty of upside to boot. Call us anytime, Kenny Williams.

19 comments:

Isaac said...

When that trade was made, I thought it may have been a mistake. I still thought that Mac had a lot of potential. Especially after watching him in 03 when he made the Big Hurt, Pujols, and Bonds look like fools looking at called third strikes as their knees buckled or with their backs facing him, while watching others swing at third strikes that ended up behind them. Most have been a bit disappointed with Lumsden to say the least and have given Cortes very little attention. I don't know if this will ever end up being a Neifi as Mac will never be the worst and has already outperformed Neifi but it's nice to be reminded that there was another one in this trade. I'm sure we will all be well aware of that as the year progresses.

Anonymous said...

I remember the very Rob n' Rany in which this trade was discussed. I think the consensus was that while Lumsden was not a great pitching prospect, it's in the Royals' best interest to acquire as many pitching prospects as they can, because of their unpredictability.

Looks like pretty good foreshadowing to me.

David said...

I'm still not sold on his ability to evaluate hitters, but can anybody really argue against Dayton Moore when it comes to pitchers? Almost every pitcher he touches turned to gold. I mean, he was able to get Pimental and Johnson along with an innings eater (and hot dogs and burgers and pizza and more) in Odalis Perez for Elmer Dessens. Elmer Dessens, people! Perez pitched in the rotation for a year so the young guys could develop and then he moved on. Cortes, Pimental, Johnson, etc. The list goes on and on. If he can start hitting this much on some bats then this team will be very, very good and soon.

ChaimMKeller said...

That's "the steal"? Ahem, Burgos-for-Bannister? If I were GM, I'm sure I would have despaired of getting anything for Ambiorix Blown-Save-Machine. I would have been happy to receive a pack of cigarettes in return, and I don't smoke. Somehow, GMDM managed to flip him for a Rookie of the Year candidate.

Quite frankly, even getting Gload for Sisco was more of a steal than the MacDougal trade was. I agree, though - call us anytime, Kenny Williams.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff! I'm thoroughly enjoy your commentary.

Anonymous said...

I must admit, when I saw Baseball America's Top Ten and saw Pimental in the top 5 I was quite surprised. I knew he was a low level "throw in" in one of the Dayton Moore trades but couldnt even remember which one. This was mosty likely bc Moore has made a habit of snagging A level pitchers in trades. I think this is definitely a logical thing for a GM that took over an organization almost completely void of minor league pitching talent to do. Anyway, much like Rob and Rany, I have been left scratching my head after some of DM's more recent acquisitions but overall I definitely like what he has been able to do as far as pitching goes and I am definitely excited (as per usual) for the upcoming season. After all, its Spring Training-the best time of the year to be a Royals fan.

Max said...

Great point David. And great post Rany, that's an interesting comparison.

Between Greinke, Soria, Hochevar, Cortes, Pimentel, Rosa, Johnson, Wood (and our first round pick from this year???) we have a good chance of putting together a solid rotation for the first time since the early 90s.

Jeff said...

You also gotta love getting Blake Johnson & Julio Cesar Pimentel for Elmer Dessens. They may not have the upside of Cortes but they both put up good numbers last year.

Keith said...

What a great trade...if only Lumsden didn't crap the bed last year...

Cortes was sitting 93-96 at the end of the season and improved his command as the season went on. Could he see KC before the year ends? It'd be hard to hold him back if he's pitching as he's capable.

Anonymous said...

Good post! I'm really enjoying your site...and I'm really enjoying watching Dayton Moore's thievery in picking up good potential players!

Anonymous said...

Great post Rany. I've added you to my daily must read blog list.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing this --- I could never get enough of Rob n Rany -- and I admit, I am more the optimist so its nice to get your perspective on the Royals.

NYRoyal said...

Cortes set to make his major league debut this year? This will be his first year out of A-ball and he's already going to make it to the majors this year? Don't you think it is more than a little early to expect this? Even if we're talking a September call-up, I think it is premature. If he dominates AA hitters this year, then I could see him getting to the majors sometime in 2009, but I think that's the earliest likely scenario.

And I have to say that Bannister-for-Burgos is quite possibly a bigger steal. I think Bill James projection for Bannister is closer than PECOTA, although I think reality lies somewhere in between. But in the end, I think we'll have a #2-#3 SP in Bannister in exchange for an erratic middle reliever with talent but inconsistent results in Burgos.

Isaac said...

I think that many feel that the Bannister for Burgos was a bigger steal than the one mentioned by Rany. I'd really like to know what you think about this Rany. Are you looking at Cortes' potential as being significantly more than Bannister? I know that Bannister has reached his plateau by most people's standards. Also, I think that Mac was a better player than Burgos in what we gave for the return player. Are you considering the fact that Lumsden was in this trade as well or just looking at the Cortes part of it as the steal? I'm interested to hear what you have to say.

Rany said...

Patience, guys. We'll get to Bannister later. It says something that he'll rank higher on the list than Cortes does.

Isaac said...

I think that everyone was looking at the title of the Reason and interpreted it differently than it was meant.

Old Man Duggan said...

I think the upside of Cortes is widely regarded as being pretty huge. Almost everyone is pretty big on him right now.

Antonio said...

I'm all about Cortes, especially compared to Bannister. The Bannister/Burgos deal, however, may have been the bigger steal considering what was given up. They had to give up more to get Lumsden/Cortes. But Cortes compared to Bannister? Cortes is an easy winner for his youth and k/9 rates. I'm considering Cortes a potential #2-type, but likely #3 with Bannister as a #4, but great pitching coach career in the works.

Kealee's Daddy said...

I don't miss Mac at all.

here's something from Rotowire that shows my reasoning...

Joe Crede (3B) CHI-A - Feb. 21

Crede was hit on the hand by a ball during batting practice Thursday, the Associated
Press reports.

ROTOWIRE RECOMMENDS: Not surprisingly, the ball came from the oft-errant Mike MacDougal.
Crede is expected to be fine and should participate in drills Friday.