Gammons: Small-market survival via scouring scouts
By Peter Gammons
There was a handful of scouts at an extended spring game at the Rangers' Surprise, Ariz., complex last week, while several others were at Florida extended spring games in Fort Myers and Tampa and Jupiter.
There are owners who may not believe that having scouts scour the Minor Leagues is cost efficient, but the survival of the small and middle markets in part depends on their ability to trade their veterans at the right time and get young talent in return. The classic example was when the Indians knew the time was right to move Bartolo Colon, with the Expos having a whiff of going for it, and in Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee (and Brandon Phillips) received a foundation.
The Indians are now in the mode of attempting to reload, but they are at Memorial Day in first place because of their ability to scout other organizations. When they decided they wouldn't re-sign CC Sabathia, they got Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta, who are rising everyday regulars. Asdrubal Cabrera is hitting .303 with 10 homers and an .899 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), and they got him for Eduardo Perez from Seattle, as they got Shin-Soo Choo for Ben Broussard.
In 2009, when it came time to trade Victor Martinez, the Tribe got a solid starter in Justin Masterson and left-handed reliever Nick Hagadone, who between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus has a 1.55 ERA and a 32-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 29 innings. As Carlos Carrasco matures, they are beginning to get a return on trading Lee. Closer Chris Perez arrived in a deal for Mark DeRosa and has 14 saves.
Then look at Tampa Bay, which is always creatively on the run. Matt Joyce is leading the league in hitting, and he was acquired for Edwin Jackson in a deal that left many who didn't have Andrew Friedman's scouting reports scratching their heads. The Rays dumped Scott Kazmir at the right time, got Sean Rodriguez in return, and soon will get use out of lefty Alex Torres, who was also acquired in the deal. They traded Jason Bartlett to San Diego and filled their bullpen with Adam Russell, Brandon Gomes and Cesar Ramos.
And the Matt Garza deal may be the best of all. Right-hander Chris Archer is off to a slow start in Double-A, especially compared to fellow Montgomery starter Matt Moore, but he looks like the next Jake Westbrook. Brandon Guyer is killing it in Triple-A, catcher Robinson Chirinos is beginning to hit and 20-year-old shortstop Hak-Ju Lee is hitting .368 with a .446 on-base percentage and .956 OPS in the Florida State League -- at the age of 20.
General manager Alex Anthopolous has done the same for the Blue Jays. Having stolen the blossoming Yunel Escobar(.780 OPS, 23 walks, 26 strikeouts), he also has Brett Lawrie (.350, 14 HR, 1.068 OPS) on the Triple-A horizon and catcher Travis d'Arnaud (.333, .987 OPS) in Double-A. Texas, of course, has Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Elvis Andrus to show for their trade of Mark Teixeira.
Now that the 2011 non-waiver Trade Deadline is two months away, teams hedging in contender/pretender modes are beginning to scour the Minors.
"What you do when you go see the lowest Minors is get a background on a prospect," Rangers GM Jon Daniels said. "Sometimes you don't get back to them for a couple of years, but you have information you can use anytime."
And sometimes the Deadline deals don't hack it.
"We think that with the depth of this Draft, that getting the 23rd and 34th picks in this Draft for Adam Dunn is more than anything we were offered last July," Washington GM Mike Rizzo said. "We weren't looking at any upside. We think we're going to get two players with upside in this Draft, beyond our own [No. 6 overall] pick."
The first week of May, there were fans across New England wondering why the Red Sox had invested $142 million in Carl Crawford. He finished April hitting .155, was in the No. 8 hole and seemed afraid to make mistakes in left field.
His teammates stuck with him.
"I feel for him," said Dustin Pedroia. "He works so hard. He cares so much."
Others claimed he may work too hard, both in the cage and in the outfield at 3:30 in the afternoon. Crawford was even reluctant to do a couple of appearances because he was so distressed.
But by May 19, he already had three walk-off hits, including a rocket on the 19th to cap a ninth-inning win against the Tigers.
"All I do is concentrate on hitting the ball in the middle of the field," Crawford said.
As hitting coach Dave Magadan and teammates pointed out, in trying too hard, his right front shoulder was flying open as he tried too hard to drive the ball. As May wound down, he began keeping that shoulder in and took off. With consecutive four-hit days and an 8-for-9 run with a homer, two triples and two doubles, Crawford was back to what he is and was in the six-hole.
"We are a different team," said Terry Francona.
Crawford's first month is not unusual for a star player entering a situation of unlimited expectations. Look no further than Jayson Werth, who, as Crawford took off, was in a 50 at-bat streak in which he was well over .500, and Dunn, who has the weight of The South Side on his shoulders.
Here is a list of a few of the players who have gone to new teams with much fanfare and how they fared their first Aprils:
Werth, 2011 Nationals (.220 Avg., 4 HR, .753 OPS); Crawford, '11 Red Sox (.155, 1, .431); Adrian Gonzalez, '11 Red Sox (.314, 1, .836); Dunn '11 White Sox (.160, 2, .567); Teixeira, '09 Yankees; (.200, 3, .735); CC Sabathia, '09 Yankees (1-2, 4.74 ERA); Alfonso Soriano, '07 Cubs (.270, 0, .700), Carlos Beltran, '05 Mets (.284, 3, .770); Alex Rodriguez, '04 Yankees (.268, 4, .818).
With Eric Hosmer changing the face of the Royals, and the Padres struggling, there has been public pressure on the Pads to bring up Anthony Rizzo, who is hitting .369 with a 1.170 OPS in the Pacific Coast League.
Jed Hoyer doesn't want Rizzo to be the lone-eagle franchise savior, and he has had to dodge comparisons to Hosmer: "Hosmer is going to be a consistent MVP candidate," one American League GM said, "because he's a dominant star player who not only can mash but is a defensive force."
As the Padres are 9-20 at home and 12-11 on the road (through Saturday), the feeling is that many of their hitters are spooked by PETCO Park, hardly a new phenomenon. They're averaging 2.2 runs per game at home, 5.1 runs per game on the road and slugging .300 with a .572 OPS at PETCO. That, friends, is hard to do.
Hoyer also sees that every game is a grind. The Padres have been tied after the seventh inning in eight of those 29 home games, and in only one has it been more than a 0-0, 1-1 or 2-2 game. Rizzo is going to be a very good player, but he needs protection around him, and he doesn't need the hyperbole that's already been floated that he's "the next Adrian Gonzalez."
Several teams are beginning to take a close look at the Twins, who, if things don't change drastically in the next three weeks, may be sellers at the Trade Deadline. Minnesota would like to re-sign Jason Kubel, who right now is their best hitter, but he will command big bucks on the market and even if they make Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Matt Capps or fellow free agent Michael Cuddyer available, Kubel might have the highest trade value because he is a legitimate bat and has made himself a good outfielder.
Oakland acquired Scott Sizemore from the Tigers to try him at third base in Triple-A. Still, the A's would be open to discussions about second baseman Mark Ellis (St. Louis might be a good fit). Former first-round pick Jemile Weeks is hitting .322 in Sacramento but has had myriad injuries that have delayed his progression to the Majors.
MLB was very concerned about the Cleveland franchise because of the dramatic demographic changes in the area from the 1990s, but despite dreadful weather, the Indians are seeing the benefits of having the best record in the game. Their attendance is up, merchandise is up 100 percent and, perhaps most importantly, their television ratings are up more than 100 percent. During one game last weekend with the Reds, one out of every four televisions in the market was tuned to the Indians game.
The Rangers' search for bullpen help intensified this week, but while little is happening with the Padres, they have looked to Toronto (Jason Frasor, others), Oakland and other teams. Neftali Feliz hasn't been sharp since getting off the disabled list, but he's checked out physically and has been clocked at 99 MPH. He hasn't been able to get his fastball where he wants -- such as the pitch he couldn't get in on Alex Gordon that was hit out. Amazingly, when Feliz struck out Jeff Francoeur on Friday, it was the first time all season he'd fanned a right-handed batter. Given their choice, the Rangers would like to find a future closer and put Feliz in the rotation next season.
The A's end-of-the-rotation revolving door resulted in a six-inning shutout performance by Guillermo Moscosco last week. Billy Beane continually tries to add inventory, and ironically, to get Moscoso on the 40-man roster last winter, he had to put Phil Humber on waivers to try to sneak him through and bring him to Spring Training on a triple-A contract. White Sox GM Ken Williams put in a claim, and made what's turned out to be a very significant addition.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.