Sunday, December 12, 2004

Dodgers Acquire Hudson for Paul Konerko and PTBNL

Ten years ago, the Dodgers planted the seeds for a mass exodus. The 13th overall pick in the 1994 amateur draft was Paul Konerko, a right-handed first baseman from Chapparal High School.

On July 4, 1998, the Dodgers, 13 games off the lead in the NL West, sought bullpen help and turned to Cincinnati, which was getting a good year from Ohio native and 1996 free agent pickup Jeff Shaw. In exchange for Shaw, the Dodgers gave up the highly touted Konerko, who was blocked at first by Eric Karros, and a 21-year-old lefty named Dennis Reyes. Shaw gave the Dodgers what they wanted, registering a 2.12 ERA in 1998 and 2.78 in 1999 and registered 129 saves in his four-year stay. When Shaw left, the Dodgers had no relief ace but seven legitimate starters for the rotation, prompting talented prospect Eric Gagne's move to the bullpen. Karros, meanwhile, excelled in '98 after Konerko was traded and had a career year in 1999 before fading into mediocrity in the new milennium.

Reyes was an okay pitcher out of the bullpen for the Reds who could make an occasional spot start, but they weren't particularly enamored with him after three years on the job and he, along with the eminently gloved Pokey Reese, was sent to Colorado before the 2002 season for former Reds teammate and fellow lefty Gabe White and prospect Luke Hudson. Reese wasn't of much use: he'd earned a $3.2 million salary in 2001 and was therefore due to be overpaid in arbitration after putting up atrocious offensive numbers. The Rockies swapped the rights to Reese with Boston for the rights to Scott Hatteberg, who was also due to be overpaid by arbitors in spite of a bad 2001. Two days later, both players were non-tendered and ended up signing with the Pirates and A's, respectively. Luke Hudson was solid in triple-A in 2002 before being called up to the Reds, but injury cost him the 2003 season. In 2004, Hudson rebounded and was solid in nine starts with Cincinnati. Gabe White was solid in 2002 and 2003 before being dealt to the Yankees for cash.

Reyes wasn't done being dealt. At the July 31, 2002 trading deadline, the Rangers were all but eliminated and tried to make a deal for the future with the equally-dead Rockies. The Rangers picked up Reyes and former Rookie of the Year awardee Todd Hollandsworth and sent Gabe Kapler and Jason Romano to Colorado. Reyes was firebombed with home runs in Texas, and his ERA soared; he was non-tendered in the offseason. Hollandsworth also stunk it up in Texas and left via free agency. Not a good haul as far as deals for the future go. The Rockies didn't fare much better. Kapler didn't contribute much to the Rockies and was sold to the Red Sox in 2003 to be Trot Nixon's platoon caddy.

Jason Romano keeps the chain going, though. The Rockies flipped him to Los Angeles in the offseason for Luke Allen, who despite being named Luke is not a pitcher. Allen and Romano were both about as spare as parts can get, and each were value-less in limited major league time. Romano, however, had the good fortune of playing in the middle infield one day in spring training when a Devil Rays scout happened by. On the basis of Romano's excellent spring training numbers against late-inning AA competition, the Devil Rays thought he'd do a better job as a utility man than former uber-prospect Antonio Perez, and Perez was swapped for Romano. Days later, the Rays found out that Romano was not a middle infielder by trade and was, overall, fairly worthless. He was waived and picked up by the Reds (those cats can never have enough outfielders), where he contributed nothing and was injured. Perez had an unspectacular season with Las Vegas, but still translates as well above replacement level and could regain the promise he displayed in 2003. Now he's being mentioned as a key piece in the Tim Hudson deal.

Oh, and what about that fellow Konerko? He was blocked with Cincinnati by Sean Casey and used to fill the Reds' hole at centerfield left by Reggie Sanders departure after 1998. The Reds picked up the promising Mike Cameron from the White Sox. Konerko has spent the last six seasons being one of the better first basemen in baseball with Chicago.

Mike Cameron had a very good season with the Reds in 1999, but the Reds wanted to acquire a bona fide superstar. Ken Griffey came over from the Mariners in exchange for Cameron, mediocre starter Brett Tomko, quasi-prospect Jake Meyer, and some kid named Antonio Perez. Meyer didn't accomplish much, and he's been in more organizations than a high school kid seeking yearbook picture immortality. Cameron was an underrated player with the Mariners for four seasons before becoming a Met last season in free agency. Griffey has spent the last five seasons splitting time between being a good but no longer dominant player, being the target of trade rumors, and hanging out on the disabled list.

Tomko contributed two characteristically mediocre seasons to the Mariners before being jettisoned along with backup catcher Tom Lampkin and infielder Ramon Vazquez to San Diego in exchange for catcher Ben Davis, the decline phase version of formerly utile utility man Alex Arias, and the appropriately-named Wascar Serrano. Lampkin was a competent backup for the Padres in 2002 and then called it quits. Arias was released by the Padres before the season started. Vazquez was solid for the Padres in 2002 and 2003 before having a tough go at it in 2004, and is now part of a rumored deal that would bring Dave Roberts and Byung-Hyun Kim to San Diego for Vazquez and Jay Payton (who would take over the role of Coors-inflated but useful lefty masher/Trot Nixon caddy role from the aforementioned Gabe Kapler). Wascar Serrano stunk up Tacoma for a year and then stunk up the Northern League with the Kansas City T-Bones in 2003. To my knowledge, he's out of baseball.

Tomko was his normal mediocre self with the Padres in 2002 before the pitching-starved Cardinals came a-callin', parting with Luther Hackman and a PTBNL for Tomko's services. Hackman contributed to the Padres by eating 76.2 innings and vomiting 51 runs; he wasn't retained by San Diego and spent last season with Nashville and Buffalo. The PTBNL became Mike Wodnicki, a swingman who didn't play above A-ball until turning 24 in 2004, when he was released and signed back on with the Cardinals' organization. Tomko was mediocre with the Cardinals in 2003 before rebounding to mediocre with San Francisco after signing as a free agent in 2004.

Ben Davis, the other key player in the Tomko to San Diego deal, had two disappointing seasons with the Mariners before being sent to the White Sox along with Freddy Garcia for Miguel Olivo, Jeremy Reed, and Michael Morse. Davis wasn't much help to the White Sox and Garcia's ERA fell as his long fly ball outs in Safeco became home runs in Mobile Phone Stadium. Olivo took over as the Mariners' token disappointing catcher. Morse was suspended in 2004 and was underwhelming in the Arizona Fall League, but nevertheless continues to draw misguided A-Rod comparisons. Reed's value, like Bob Dylan, is still largely Tangled Up in Batting Average, so his .397 average in his September call-up has Seattle fans hot and bothered about the new Mariner Messiah.

The final player in the Griffey trade was Antonio Perez. Perez spent 2001 and 2002 earning the title "failed prospect" before being traded to Tampa Bay for Randy Winn in the compensation deal for Lou Piniella. Piniella has gone on to inspire numerous Floridians while managing the uninspiring Devil Rays. Winn has managed to be equal parts overrated and underrated in his productive but not overwhelming stay with Seattle. Perez had a breakthrough season in 2003, but the Devil Rays didn't like him as much as Jason Romano, and you know the story from there.

Tom, a very interesting walk through recent Dodger history with some perceptive comments about my favorite American League team, the Seattle Mariners. Too bad the Dodgers could not have found a way to keep Konerko, though that would have probably deprived me from the chance to see Mike Cameron in Safeco Field. Do you know the reason Konerko was moved from catching to third base in the minors? If he was a half way decent defensive catcher he would have tremendous value to a lot of teams besides the Dodgers and his current team.

Though I am still not convinced Ledee is a good signing, I do enjoy your site. I do hope Ledee has a good year; at a minimum I would expect him to be more useful than Grabowski, whose roster spot I assume he will take.

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