Baseball America: December trade analysis

Angels add lefty Romero to 'pen
Dec. 9: The Angels added a much-needed left-hander to their bullpen when they sent shortstop Alexi Casilla to the Twins for disgruntled reliever J.C. Romero.

The Angels won their second straight American League West division title in 2005 despite receiving fewer than 31 innings of relief work during the regular season from left-handers -- Jake Woods and Jason Christiansen.

Romero has been one of the better lefty specialists in the AL over the last four seasons, but his situation in Minnesota had soured. He has been inconsistent over the past couple of seasons, and disagreed with how the Twins had used him, so he requested a trade this offseason.

He held left-handed hitters to a .198 average in 2005, when he went 4-3, 3.47 in 68 appearances spanning 57 innings. The 29-year-old Romero was called up to Minnesota in 1999 and has pitched in at least 68 games each of the last four seasons. He is to make $2.2 million next season.

Casilla, 21, split the 2005 season among three levels, filling in at Triple-A and Double-A before eventually spending the final three and a half months of the season in the low Class A Midwest League. He batted .311 with 49 stolen bases in 266 at-bats between the three stops. He had a 22-game hitting streak beginning in July.

Casilla, who profiles best as a second baseman, broke his forearm late in the year and missed the final two weeks of the season, but was back on the field playing in a lower-level Dominican winter league by November. He's a high-energy player with above-average speed who keeps the ball on the ground and does the little things to help produce runs.
-- Alan Matthews

White Sox fill bench with Mackowiak
Dec. 8: In winning the World Series, one of the White Sox' greatest strengths was their bullpen depth. They used some of that depth to add a valuable utility player, sending left-hander Damaso Marte back to the Pirates for Rob Mackowiak.

The 30-year-old Marte posted a 3.77 ERA in 45 innings for Chicago but fell out of favor due to control problems, having walked 33 batters. His best season was 2003, when he had a 1.58 ERA in 80 innings. Marte is a two-pitch pitcher with a low 90s fastball and a slider that is deadly against left-handers, who have hit .188 against him over the last three seasons.

Originally signed by the Mariners in 1992 out of the Dominican Republic, Marte pitched just nine big league innings in Seattle in eight seasons in the organization. He signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent before the 2001 season but was traded to the Pirates at midseason. He got his first extensive big league action in Pittsburgh and posted a 4.71 ERA in 26 innings of relief.

The Pirates dealt him to the White Sox the next spring, and he spent four seasons in Chicago. He is owed $2.25 million next year, with club options at $3 million annually for 2007 and 2008.

Mackowiak gives the White Sox a player who can fill in at first, second and third base and all three outfield spots. The 29-year-old is from Oak Lawn, Ill., a short drive from U.S. Cellular Field. A 53rd-round pick by the Pirates in the 1996 draft out of South Suburban (Ill.) Junior College, Mackowiak made his big league debut in 2001. He is a career .258 hitter and has been remarkably consistent, never posting an on-base plus slugging percentage below .726 or above .785 in his five year career.

While not spectacular defensively, he is adequate at all six spots and provides more pop than the typical utility man. He can be overly aggressive with breaking balls out of the zone and has struck out more than 100 times in three different seasons, but he has excellent pull power from a compact left-handed swing.

Mackowiak earned $1.5 million in 2005 and is eligible for arbitration.
-- Matt Meyers

Athletics get versatile righty for Majewski
Dec. 8: The Blue Jays needed room on their 40-man roster for new closer B.J. Ryan, so the Athletics took right-hander Chad Gaudin off their hands during the Winter Meetings, sending outfielder Dustin Majewski to Toronto to complete the deal right after the Rule 5 draft.

Gaudin, 22, emerged with the Devil Rays in 2003 after signing as an unheralded 34th-round pick in 2001 out of high school in suburban New Orleans. He went 5-3, 2.13 in the Cal League, then 2-0, 0.47 in the Double-A Southern League to earn a surprise promotion to Tampa Bay, where he went 2-0, 3.60 in 40 innings.

He has never quite recaptured the magic of that season but has been a workhorse, splitting 2004 between the big leagues and Triple-A before getting traded for catcher Kevin Cash last December. He set a career-high with 150 innings and two shutouts at Triple-A Syracuse in 2005 and finishing fourth in the International League in ERA. He finished the minor league season at 9-8, 3.35 and went 1-3, 13.15--allowing six homers in 13 innings--after a September callup to Toronto.

Gaudin is primarily a two-pitch pitcher, but changes speeds well and is aggressive, with bulldog makeup. His fastball ranges from 86-92 mph, and his slider rates as average. If he continues to make strides with his changeup he could stay in a starting role, but more realistically he projects as a middle reliever.

Majewski, a third-round pick in 2003 out of Texas, batted .272-20-73 at high Class A Stockton this season. Majewski led the Big 12 Conference in batting (.401) in 2002 and in RBIs (85) in 2003 while with the Longhorns. The 24-year-old showed emerging power in the hitter-friendly Class A California League this year but profiles as a fourth outfielder.

Majewski has tremendous desire and work ethic that allows his solid-average tools to play higher. While he doesn't have true center field speed or range, he is versatile enough to fill in at any spot.
-- Chris Kline

Yanks jettison Womack to Reds
Dec. 8: The Yankees signed Tony Womack to a two-year, $4 million dollar deal before the 2004 season to try to solve their second base problem. When that didn't pan out, they tried to use him to solve their center field problem. After that didn't work either, they made him the Reds' problem, sending him to Cincinnati for second baseman Kevin Howard and outfielder Ben Himes.

Womack's best tool is his speed, and even though he played 2005 as a 35-year-old, he stole 27 bases in 32 attempts. He has never been particularly adept at getting on base, posting a career on-base percentage of .316. After a career year in 2004 with the Cardinals, when he hit .307/.349/.385, Womack batted .249/.276/.280 last year.

Originally drafted in the seventh round by the Pirates in 1991 out of Guilford (N.C.) College, Womack will have a shot at the second base job with the Reds. Rich Aurilia got most of the playing time there in 2005 and has been offered arbitration, but it's not certain he will be back. Ryan Freel played 48 games there in 2005 and will be in the mix as well.

In spite of Womack's limited value, the Yankees got two hitters with some potential in return for him. Howard has always hit, starting in 2000 at Miami when he hit .413 and won Baseball America's College Freshman of the Year award. A fifth-rounder in 2002, Howard has never hit worse than .285 in any minor league season and boasts a career line of .289/.356/.412. He hit .373 in the Arizona Fall League in 2004 and led the AFL in hitting this year with a .409 average.

As a hitter, he is close to major league ready and has shown a consistent ability to center the ball with a smooth line-drive swing and adequate left-handed power. What is holding him back is his defense. Though he played third base at Miami, Howard moved to second for the Reds. His actions there are unorthodox, his range is average and his arm is below-average. He went back to third in the AFL this year to get at-bats on a team stocked with second baseman. He was adequate there and it improves his versatility, making him a viable option for a utility role with the Yankees in 2006.

Himes was a ninth-round pick of the Reds in 2003 out of Oklahoma City College. The outfielder posted an abysmal .212/.280/.397 line at low Class A Dayton in 2004 but took a step forward offensively in 2005, hitting .320/.372/.533 between high Class A Sarasota and Dayton. He still struck out 104 times in 350 at-bats.

At 6-foor-4, 210 pounds Himes is wiry and runs well for his size, getting from the right side to first base in 4.1 seconds. The 24-year-old played primarily in right field and has an accurate arm with above-average arm strength. Himes has always been a little old for the level at which he has played and will need to repeat his 2005 performance, while cutting down on the strikeouts, before he can be considered a legitimate prospect.
-- Matt Meyers

Braves, Red Sox pull off blockbuster
Dec. 8: Less than a week after the Braves lost shortstop Rafael Furcal to the Dodgers as a free agent, they replaced him by shipping top prospect Andy Marte to the Red Sox for shortstop Edgar Renteria.

The Braves not only get their starting shortstop, but they also will get significant help in paying him from the Red Sox. Boston will reportedly pick up $11 million of the remaining $26 million Renteria is owed from the four-year, $40 million contract he signed with the Red Sox before the 2005 season.

After six standout seasons with the Cardinals, Renteria's tenure with the Red Sox lasted only one year. He led the majors with 30 errors and posted .276/.335/.385 numbers with eight home runs and 70 RBIs in 2005, after coming into the season with .289/.346/.400 numbers in nine seasons in the National League. The 30-year-old Colombia native also won back-to-back Gold Gloves with the Cardinals in 2002 and 2003.

Furcal, who had spent the past six seasons as Atlanta's everyday shortstop, signed a three-year, $39 million contract with the Dodgers, leaving a hole in the Braves infield.

Now the shortstop hole is in Boston. The Red Sox traded their former No. 1 prospect, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, to the Marlins last month in a deal that included right-hander Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell. They have no obvious replacement for Renteria in the organization, making another deal likely.

Marte, 22, ranked as Atlanta's top prospect after making his major league debut in 2005 and posting a .275-20-74 campaign in 389 at-bats at Triple-A Richmond. He's a strong defensive third baseman and has above-average power.

He was 8-for-57 in three stints in Atlanta, the first one coming in June when he was called up to Atlanta after Chipper Jones was injured. He has 458 strikeouts and 252 walks in 1,867 minor league at-bats since signing with the Braves out of the Dominican Republic in 2000.

Marte's swing has a natural uppercut that generates plenty of loft power, and the ball jumps off his bat. He can hit with power to all fields and has improved his walk rate as he has gained experience. He was rated the best defensive third baseman in the Triple-A International League in 2005, the fourth consecutive year he won such an honor in his league in Baseball America's annual survey of minor league managers.
-- Alan Matthews

Red Sox find second-base answer in Loretta
Dec. 8: Maybe the Red Sox don't need a general manager. After already pulling off one coup in landing Josh Beckett from the Marlins, the Sox nabbed former all-star second baseman Mark Loretta from the Padres for Doug Mirabelli, a backup catcher.

While Boston will have to replace Tim Wakefield's personal catcher, Loretta offers an affordable upgrade (at $3.75 million for 2006) over Mark Bellhorn and Tony Graffanino at second.

Loretta, 34, is a patient hitter with gap power at the plate and a fundamentally sound fielder with average range. Loretta batted .335/.391/.495 with 16 home runs and 76 RBIs in 2004, setting career bests in every category. He missed two months with a strained ligament in his left thumb in 2005, and his numbers tumbled to .280/.360/.347 with three homers and 38 RBIs in 404 at-bats. He's a career .301/.365/.408 hitter with 63 homers and 466 RBIs over 10 seasons.

The Padres save about $2 million in the trade, which they used to re-sign closer Trevor Hoffman. Mirabelli, 35, is a solid defensive catcher whose right-handed stroke also landed him plate appearances as a DH and pinch-hitter against lefties. He it .240/.356/.420 in 50 at-bats against them in 2005. He hit .228/.309/.412 overall with six homers and 18 RBIs in 136 at-bats.

Mirabelli has compiled .241/.328/.425 numbers with 47 home runs in 1,159 career at-bats over 10 seasons, and his 230 at-bats for the Giants in 2000 rank as his career high. He will share catching duties with Miguel Olivo if San Diego loses Ramon Hernandez, as expected.
-- Will Kimmey

Cardinals, Rockies give three players fresh starts
Dec. 8: The Cardinals and Rockies traded players who didn't fit into their 2006 plans to each other, giving all three players a fresh start and a path to more playing time.

The Rockies acquired left-hander Ray King to bolster their bullpen, sending second baseman Aaron Miles and outfielder Larry Bigbie to the Cardinals.

King, 31, will serve as a set-up man for closer Brian Fuentes in Colorado. The bullpen was one of many sore spots for the Rockies in 2005, and they have now added King and Jose Mesa (who signed as a free agent) to try to improve the situation.

King had fallen out of favor in St. Louis and asked to be traded after not appearing in any of the Cardinals' nine postseason games. He appeared in 77 games during the regular season, going 4-4, 3.38 with 23 strikeouts and 16 walks. It's not clear he can be more than a left-handed specialist, however. He held left-handed hitters to a .244 average last season but allowed righties to hit .352.

The Cardinals are also trying to find cheap replacements for players who are departing as free agents. They declined to offer arbitration to outfielder Reggie Sanders and second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, so Bigbie and Miles, who earned a combined $706,000 in 2005, will get a chance to win jobs in spring training.

Bigbie, 28, came to Colorado in a deadline deal with the Orioles this year, and he was expected to move on to the Red Sox in a bigger deal that eventually fell through. So he never fit into the Rockies' long-term plans and batted .212 in limited playing time. A left-handed hitter who's considered a good defender, he was the 21st overall pick in the 1999 draft and is a career .268/.331/.398 hitter in 1,202 big league at-bats.

Miles, who is also 28, had a strong rookie season in 2004, batting .293/.345/.389, but he lost his starting job to Luis Gonzalez this season. He batted .281/.306/.355 in 324 at-bats and turned 48 double plays in 79 games at second.
-- Will Lingo

Braves send disappointing Kolb back to Milwaukee
Dec. 8: As if it wasn't clear already, the Braves admitted the Dan Kolb trade didn't work out.

Just a year after trading flamethrowing right-hander Jose Capellan to get him, the Braves dealt Kolb back to the Brewers for right-hander Wes Obermueller.

Kolb, 30, made the National League all-star team in 2004, when he posted 39 saves and a 2.98 ERA for the Brewers. The Braves traded for him during last year's Winter Meetings to take over as their closer with John Smoltz going back to the rotation.

It was a failure almost from the start, as Kolb lost the closer job by May and blew seven of 18 save opportunities. Overall, he posted a 5.93 ERA in 59 innings and was left off the Braves' postseason roster.

Even at his best with the Brewers, there was reason to doubt whether Kolb had the stuff to stick as a legitimate closer--he struck out just 21 batters in 57 innings in 2004.

Obermueller, who turns 29 this month, went 1-4, 5.26 with 33 strikeouts and 36 walks in 65 innings last year. He came to the Brewers in a 2003 deadline deal that sent Curtis Leskanic to the Royals. In two and a half season in the Brewers organization, Obermueller made 62 big league appearances and 41 starts, with a career 5.65 ERA. He figures to compete for a bullpen job for the Braves in 2006.
-- Aaron Fitt

Blue Jays boost offense with Overbay acquisition
Dec. 8: Having signed A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan to lavish five-year contracts, the Blue Jays are clearly in win-now mode. With that in mind, general manager J.P. Ricciardi sent right-hander David Bush, outfielder Gabe Gross and left-hander Zach Jackson to the Brewers for first baseman Lyle Overbay and right-hander Ty Taubenheim.

The deal bolsters the Toronto offense, which has been Ricciardi's focus since bringing in Burnett and Ryan. While the Blue Jays finished fifth in the American League in runs in 2005, their offense stills lacked punch.

Overbay may not be the masher they once had in Carlos Delgado, but he will give them a boost. The left-handed hitter batted .276/.367/.449 in 2005 and .301/.385/.478 in 2004. Originally drafted by the Diamondbacks out of Nevada in 1999, Overbay went to Milwaukee in a package for Richie Sexson in December 2003. The 28-year-old is a patient hitter who is willing to go the other way. He mostly has doubles power, having hit 87 over the last two years.

Defensively, he has solid range and excellent hands. He will start at first base, a position that was handled mostly by Shea Hillenbrand and Eric Hinske in 2005. Hinkse will likely be the odd man out, with Hillenbrand getting most of the DH at-bats.

With Overbay gone in Milwaukee, the Brewers' youth movement continues as the path is now clear for Prince Fielder to be the everyday first baseman. Bush, 26, will compete for a rotation spot in Milwaukee, and the other players will further bolster an already strong farm system.

Bush, a second-rounder in 2002 out of Wake Forest, ascended rapidly through the minors before making a promising big league debut in 2004. A reliever in college, he was converted to a starter in the minors and made 24 starts for the Blue Jays in 2005 going 5-11, 4.49 in 136 innings. His best pitch is a slow curve, and he also features a low 90s fastball with average life. Bush has had trouble developing a consistent changeup, which has allowed left-handers to pound him.

In Gross and Jackson, the Brewers receive two first-round picks. Gross was the 15th overall pick out of Auburn in 2001, while Jackson was the 32nd overall pick in 2004 out of Texas A&M.

A starting quarterback as a freshman at Auburn in 1998, Gross is an excellent athlete with solid or above-average tools across the board. After hitting .319/.423/.481 in Double-A in 2003, Gross was clearly in the Jays plans, but he has yet to produce in limited big league duty. In 221 major league at-bats he has hit .250/.324/.348.

The Blue Jays were aggressive with Jackson, starting him off in high Class A Dunedin and promoting him twice. The 22-year-old led the minors with 16 wins in 2005, but he was hit harder as he advanced, posting a 2.88 ERA at Dunedin, a 4.00 ERA at Double-A New Hampshire and a 5.13 ERA at Triple-A Syracuse.

Jackson works quickly with a quirky motion that makes his pitches look faster than they are. He developed an 83-89 mph cut fastball this season that he gets in on right-handed batters. He also throws a two-seam fastball in the 88-92 mph range and a sweeping curve he uses to expand the zone against lefties. His change is average, but he commands it well. Jackson is an intense competitor and a terrific athlete who fields his position well.

The final piece of the trade, Taubenheim, gives the Blue Jays a right-hander with fringy stuff who has had decent success in pro ball. A 19th-rounder in 2003 out of Edmonds (Wash.) Community College, the 6-foot-5 Taubenheim was 10-2, 2.63 at high Class A Brevard County in 2005 before earning a promotion to Double-A Huntsville. He struggled there, going 2-6, 4.36.

The 23-year-old has a fastball that sits in the 86-89 mph range with a slurvy curveball, a changeup and a slider that is his best pitch. While his command is not pinpoint, he is able to throw all of his pitches for strikes.
-- Matt Meyers

Pirates deal another lefty as Redman goes to K.C.
Dec. 8: Another day, another veteran left-hander traded away by the Pirates.

Pittsburgh sent Mark Redman to the Royals for right-hander Jonah Bayliss and a player to be named, a day after the Pirates traded Dave Williams to the Reds on Monday for first baseman Sean Casey.

The deals still leave five left-handers 25 or younger--Oliver Perez, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Tom Gorzelanny and Sean Burnett--to compete with right-handers Kip Wells and Josh Fogg for spots in the Pittsburgh rotation.

Redman turns 32 in January as he enters the final year of a contract that will pay him $4.5 million in 2006. A first-round pick of the Twins out of Oklahoma in 1995, Redman will join his sixth team in six years. The 6-foot-5 left-hander throws his fastball in the upper 80s, and his best pitch is a changeup. He also uses a curveball and split-finger.

He went a disappointing 5-15, 4.90 with a 101-56 strikeout-walk ratio in 178 innings for the Pirates in 2005 after coming from the Athletics in a trade for Jason Kendall. Redman's best year came in 2003 as he went 14-9, 3.59 with a 151-61 K-BB ratio in 192 innings to help the Marlins win the World Series as a wild-card entry. It marked the only season Redman posted an ERA less than 4.00, and he is 66-53, 4.47 with a 2-1 K-BB ratio in 985 career innings.

Bayliss, 25, will have a chance to step into the Pirates bullpen. A 2002 seventh-round pick from Division III Trinity (Conn.) College, Bayliss found scattered success as a starter over his first three minor league seasons, going 17-26, 4.56 in 322 innings. He moved to the bullpen in 2005, and his fastball jumped from 90 mph to an easy, consistent 93 mph pitch that runs and rides in on right-handers. His changeup, which fades and sinks away from righties, offers a nice complement.

Bayliss also added depth to his slider, which rates as a strikeout pitch. He went 1-2, 2.84 with eight saves and a 63-26 strikeout-walk ratio in 57 innings for Double-A Tulsa before posting a 0-0, 4.63 record with a 10-4 K-BB mark in 12 innings at the major league level.

Rumors after the trade indicated the player to be named in the deal would be the first pick in Thursday's Rule 5 draft, which turned out to be left-hander Fabio Castro from the White Sox. But the Royals were apparently fielding multiple offers for Castro, so it's not clear where he will end up.
-- Will Kimmey

Rangers finally find right deal for Soriano
Dec. 8: Nationals general manager Jim Bowden finally landed the big bat he coveted, and the Rangers unloaded a big salary while adding to their outfield and minor league pitching depth. Washington acquired second baseman Alfonso Soriano for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge and a player to be named, believed to be Double-A right-hander Armando Galarraga.

Soriano, who will turn 30 next month, is a premium blend of power and speed. Acquired from the Yankees in the Alex Rodriguez deal before the 2004 season, Soriano posted his third career 30-homer/30-steal season in 2005, when he batted .268/.309/.512 with 36 homers and 104 RBIs.

Though Soriano's career-high 39 homers came while playing for the Yankees in 2002, he benefited greatly from playing in hitter-friendly Ameriquest Field, posting a 1.011 on-base plus slugging percentage at home in 2005 and a .639 OPS on the road. Soriano made $7.5 million in 2005 and stands to get a bump to around $10 million next year through arbitration. The Nationals have Jose Vidro at second base and would like to move Soriano to the outfield, but they reportedly did not discuss the issue with him before making the deal. In Texas, Soriano repeatedly expressed his desire to remain at second.

Wilkerson, 28, has proven versatile in his four full major league seasons, moving from his natural left field to center field and first base when needed. He also spent large portions of the past two seasons batting leadoff, though he has little speed and is better suited to batting lower in the lineup. His best season was 2004, when he hit .255/.374/.498 with 32 homers and 67 RBIs for the Expos.

His production in 2005 was hampered by forearm and shoulder injuries, and he finished .248/.351/.405 with 11 homers and 57 RBIs, all career lows. Wilkerson draws a lot of walks and has a career .365 on-base percentage, but he has also struck out at least 147 times in each of his four seasons. He made $3.05 million last year and could get a raise to around $4 million through arbitration.

Sledge, 28, hit .269/.336/.462 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs in his promising 2004 rookie year, but he played in just 20 games last year before severely injuring his hamstring in May. He has average power, speed and arm strength, and he could hold down the Rangers' everyday left field job if they deal Kevin Mench.

Galarraga, 24, had a breakout year in 2005, going 6-8, 3.80 with 137 strikeouts and 44 walks in 156 innings between high Class A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. The Venezuelan showed no ill effects from his 2002 Tommy John surgery, though he did tire at the end of the season because he was not used to such a high workload. He has an electric arm and a lively 92-95 mph fastball, but his best pitch is a hard, sharp slider that he throws for strikes and uses as an out pitch. Galarraga is still working on his third pitch, a changeup, but he could be ready to fill a back-of-the-rotation starter slot or a set-up role in the Texas bullpen as soon as next season. He ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the Nationals system.
-- Aaron Fitt

Braves shore up bullpen by dealing Estrada
Dec. 8: The Braves' annual bullpen makeover continued when they dealt catcher Johnny Estrada to the Diamondbacks for right-handed relievers Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal.

Estrada became expendable after Brian McCann was called up from the minors in 2005 and outplayed him, and fast-rising prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia could be even better. Estrada will be expected to take over as the everyday catcher in Arizona.

The move also saves money for the Braves because Estrada is arbitration-eligible and could make around $2 million in 2006, while McCann will make less than $400,000.

Cormier and Villarreal will provide depth for the Braves bullpen, and Villarreal could battle for the vacant closer job if he can stay healthy. Last winter's closer acquisition, Dan Kolb, has been traded back to the Brewers, and Kyle Farnsworth, who finished the season with the job, signed with Yankees as a free agent.

The Diamondbacks were shopping for a frontline catcher after using Chris Snyder, Koyie Hill and Kelly Stinnett behind the plate this season. They combined to bat .216 with 12 home runs.

Estrada, 29, is a career .273 hitter after spending at least part of five seasons in the big leagues, including all of the last two years in Atlanta. He batted .261 with a .670 on-base plus slugging percentage in 357 at-bats in 2005. He spent much of the second half of the season recovering from a collision at home plate in June with Angels first baseman Darin Erstad. McCann stepped in and handled the pitching staff well and has more offensive upside than Estrada, who had a concussion and back problems after the collision.

Villarreal, 24, battled arm trouble for much of 2005, appearing in just 11 games with the Diamondbacks and 12 at Triple-A Tucson. He allowed eight earned runs off 11 hits with six walks and five strikeouts in 14 innings with the Diamondbacks and was 0-3, 5.19 with eight strikeouts and four walks in 17 innings in Triple-A. He went down with strained tendons in his right forearm in April and didn't return until July 28.

He has struggled with injuries since being overused as a rookie in 2003, appearing in 86 games--a National League rookie record--and compiling a 2.57 ERA in 98 innings. Villarreal has pitched just 33 major league innings since. When healthy, he throws a fastball in the low 90s along with a sharp slider and effective changeup.

Cormier, 23, has less imposing stuff but has been more durable since being called up by Arizona in 2004. A fourth-round pick out of Alabama in 2002, he logged 79 innings in 67 relief outings in 2005, posting a 7-3, 5.11 record with 63 strikeouts and 43 walks.
-- Alan Matthews

Padres, Devil Rays exchange dissapointments
Dec. 7: In what amounts to a challenge trade of two former top prospects who haven't lived up to their promise, the Devil Rays sent right-hander Dewon Brazelton to the Padres for third baseman Sean Burroughs.

Brazelton was the Devil Rays' Opening Day starter in 2005 but has not come close to reaching the potential that made him the third overall pick in the 2001 draft out of Middle Tennessee. The 6-foot-4 right-hander went 1-8, 7.61 in 71 innings with 43 strikeouts and 60 walks in 2005. In his big league career, he is 8-23, 5.98 with 136 strikeouts and 142 walks in 253 innings.

Burroughs, the son of 1974 American League MVP Jeff Burroughs, has an even more distinguished pedigree than Brazeleton, having been on the map since helping Long Beach win a Little League World Series title in 1993. The ninth overall pick by the Padres out of high school in 1998, he vaulted through the low minors and was seen as the third baseman of the future after hitting .322/.386/.467 for Triple-A Portland in 2001. But his numbers have never matched up to his potential in the big leagues.

The 25-year-old Brazelton boasts a plus changeup with a late fade that is his best pitch. His fastball, which touched 96 mph when he was an amateur, now sits in the low 90s and is at best a tick above-average. Brazelton also throws a slider, but it is fringy, and his failure to develop the third pitch has been a big reason why he has been unable to become an elite pitcher.

Another factor hindering Brazelton's future is a lack of endurance. Having had knee problems in the past, his workout regimen between starts is limited and makes it more difficult for him to fight off fatigue and last through longer starts.

When Brazelton was sent down to Triple-A Durham May 11 after a particularly bad outing, he failed to immediately report and did not notify the team of his whereabouts. The Devil Rays placed him on the restricted list. Brazelton was reinstated June 3 and made an outing for Double-A Montgomery before returning to Durham. He had limited success with the Bulls, going 2-2, 3.72, and his disappearance in May added to the list of doubts about his future.

Tampa Bay media reported all season that a battle over visitation rights with his young son had also bothered Brazelton. Brazelton told the St. Petersburg Times those issues have been resolved.

Burroughs, a career .282 hitter in the big leagues, has always hit for a decent average, but has never been able to consistently drive the ball. Part of that can be attributed to knee problems, as he tore his lateral meniscus in late 2004, but he had never slugged above .402 before 2004 and was slugging .365 at the time of his injury.

Burroughs again opened the season as the Padres' third baseman in 2005, but his numbers fell off to .250/.318/.299 and he was replaced by Joe Randa. The Padres sent him back to Portland to try to get his stroke back, and he batted .290/.362/.427 there in 124 at-bats.

The Devil Rays don't have a long-term solution at third base--though they are pursuing Braves third-base prospect Andy Marte in trade talks--so Burroughs should get a shot to be their everyday third baseman, or at least the left-handed part of a platoon.

The Padres made a similar trade in February when they sent infielder Jake Gautreau, a first-round pick in 2001, to Cleveland for third baseman Corey Smith, a first-round pick in 2000.
-- Matt Meyers

Cubs land a center fielder in Pierre
Dec. 7: Before the Marlins dealt Juan Pierre to anyone, the center fielder was expected to carry a hefty price tag. As Florida made what is expected to be its final move to shed payroll, it got arguably the best return of any deal they made this offseason from the Cubs, netting left-hander Renyel Pinto and right-handers Sergio Mitre and Ricky Nolasco for Pierre.

It was the fourth cost-cutting deal Florida made in two weeks, saving them nearly $50 million in payroll next season.

In Pierre, the Cubs land a leadoff hitter with speed and great range in center. The 28-year-old, who made $3.7 million in 2005, is eligible for arbitration after hitting .276, his worst average in three seasons as a Marlin. Pierre led the National League with 221 hits in 2004, a year after he led the majors with 65 steals in helping the Marlins win the 2003 World Series.

In return, the Marlins add to their stockpile of young arms. The only one with major league experience is Mitre, who went 2-5, 5.37 in 60 innings in 2005. He also went 5-6, 4.33 in 70 innings at Triple-A Iowa. A strike-thrower who induces a lot of ground balls, Mitre throws a sinking 86-94 mph fastball, curveball and changeup. Because the 24-year-old isn't overpowering, he doesn't have much margin for error, as he has shown in his big league stints.

Pinto, 23, went a combined 11-5, 3.72 with 147 strikeouts in 152 innings between Double-A West Tenn and Iowa this season. Pinto's best pitch is his changeup, which he will throw in any count with good deception and sink. He throws from a low three-quarters delivery, making it tough for hitters to pick up his 92-94 mph fastball. His slider has shown flashes of becoming above-average, but he must improve its consistency.

Nolasco, who turns 23 next week, has always flown under the radar in the Cubs' system. He started to get some recognition this year after he made a run at the pitching triple crown in his second straight year in the Southern League, topping the circuit in strikeouts (173), tying for the lead in wins (14) and finishing third in ERA (2.89) for West Tenn. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has an aggressive style while commanding the strike zone. He features a 91-93 mph fastball, curveball with good depth and a changeup.

-- Chris Kline

Reds free up roster space by dealing Casey
Dec. 7: For the last two years, the Reds have had five players to play in the outfield and first base. They solved that problem Tuesday by sending first baseman Sean Casey to the Pirates for left-hander Dave Williams.

A Pittsburgh area native, Casey had his number retired at Upper St. Clair High in suburban Pittsburgh. Originally drafted by the Indians in the second round in 1995 out of the University of Richmond, Casey came to the Reds in 1998 in a trade for right-hander Dave Burba.

The left-handed hitter broke out in 1999 by hitting .332/.399/.539. A three-time All-Star and a career .305 hitter, Casey has seen his power dwindle but remains an excellent contact hitter and on-base threat.

Casey's departure will allow the Reds to shift Adam Dunn to first base while playing Austin Kearns, Ken Griffey Jr. and Wily Mo Pena together in the outfield. Casey is due $8.5 million in 2006, the last year of his contract, so the trade saves Cincinnati money, though they are reportedly sending money to Pittsburgh as part of the deal. Casey is known as "The Mayor" in Cincinnati for his engaging personality and community involvement, so this trade is sure to disappoint some fans.

Williams, a 17th-rounder in 1998 out of Delaware Tech Community College, went 10-11, 4.41 with 88 strikeouts and 58 walks in 139 innings in 2005. Most of his success came on the road, as he posted a 6.68 ERA and gave up six home runs in 62 innings at home. Away from Pittsburgh he had 2.65 ERA in 78 innings.

He features a two-seam fastball, curveball and change, all of which are average pitches, but uses a high leg kick combined with a three-quarters arm slot for maximum deception. With runners on base, he uses a slide step and is excellent at holding runners and controlling the running game.

The 26-year-old has bounced in and out of the majors over each of the last five seasons and has compiled a career record of 17-26, 4.25 in 336 innings. The Pirates have a slew of young arms either in the big leagues or on the verge, making Williams expendable.
Casey will slot in as their everyday first baseman, which will allow Brad Eldred to get more seasoning in the minors. While Eldred homered 12 times in 190 big league at-bats, he fanned 77 times and his feast-or-famine approach needs refinement.

-- Matt Meyers

Kline gives Giants a much-needed lefty
Dec. 7: The Giants found a cheaper replacement for left-handed reliever Scott Eyre when they acquired Steve Kline from the Orioles for LaTroy Hawkins and cash.

The Giants were without a left-handed set-up man after Eyre signed with the Cubs for $11 million over three years in November. Kline will make just $3 million in 2006, though the Giants included cash in the deal to help compensate for the difference between Kline's salary and Hawkins' $4.35 million price tag next season.

Kline, 33, figures to benefit from a change of scenery after he reportedly alienated teammates and fans with his vocal criticism of former Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli. He went 2-4, 4.28 in 61 innings over 67 appearances but pitched much better after the All-Star break, posting a 2.83 ERA. Kline has proven durable in his nine-year big league career, working at least 66 games in each of the past eight seasons. He has held left-handed hitters to a .227 average in his career.

Hawkins, 33, was expendable for the Giants after they signed right-hander Tim Worrell to a two-year, $4 million contract last week. Hawkins, who first broke into the majors in 1995 and pitched his first nine seasons with the Twins, went 1-4, 4.10 in 37 innings for the Giants last year after being acquired from the Cubs for right-handers Jerome Williams and David Aardsma. He finished 2-8, 3.83 in 56 innings overall, posting his highest ERA since 2002, when put up a 5.96 ERA.

Though Hawkins has 75 career saves, the Orioles figure to use him as a set-up man. He could also be insurance in case Baltimore fails to sign a proven closer to replace B.J. Ryan, or if 23-year-old Chris Ray struggles in that role.

-- Aaron Fitt

Mets find their catcher in Lo Duca
Dec. 5: For the second time in two weeks, the Marlins traded one of their big league regulars to the Mets for two prospects, this time sending catcher Paul Lo Duca to his native New York for and two players to be named -- one of whom is reported to be right-hander Gaby Hernandez.

A late bloomer, Lo Duca did not become a big league regular until 2001, when he was 29. The Arizona State product hit .320/.374/.543 that season but has not approached the same offensive level since, though he has made the National League All-Star team each of the last three seasons. A 25th-round pick in 1993, Lo Duca is an adept contact hitter who does not walk or strike out often. He is a career .285 hitter, but his power has seen a precipitous decline as he slugged .380 last season and .376 in 2004.

Defensively, Lo Duca will provide an upgrade over Mike Piazza, but after throwing out a career-high 41 percent of basestealers in 2003, he has thrown out 26 percent over the last two seasons. Lo Duca is due $12.5 million over the next two seasons and was too expensive for the cost-cutting Marlins, who have now shed close to $40 million from their 2005 payroll by trading Lo Duca, Carlos Delgado, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett and Luis Castillo for minor leaguers.

Hernandez provides the Marlins with yet another intriguing young arm. A third-round pick in 2004 out of high school in Miami, Hernandez dominated the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2004 and the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2005 before running into trouble after a promotion to high Class A St. Lucie.

The 19-year-old features a two-seam fastball with excellent life that sits in the low 90s that is his best pitch. He also has a changeup that is currently average, but scouts say it could become an above-average pitch. At this point, his breaking ball is below-average, which was evident in St. Lucie when more advanced hitters batted .298 against him. The key to his future will be his breaking ball. It needs more depth, and he has a tendency to tip it early.

The highlight of Hernandez's 2005 season was a no-hitter on Father's Day that clinched a share of the SAL Northern Division's first half title. He was 6-1, 2.43 at Hagerstown with 99 strikeouts and 30 walks in 93 innings. For St. Lucie, he was 2-5, 5.74 with a 32-10 strikeout-walk ratio in 42 innings.

-- Matt Meyers

Twins acquire Castillo from Marlins
Dec. 2: The Marlins continued their payroll purge Friday, this time dealing second baseman Luis Castillo to the Twins for right-handers Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler.

In Castillo, Minnesota gets a switch-hitting leadoff hitter who should provide plenty of opportunities for Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer to drive in runs in 2006. A slap hitter with speed, Castillo fills a crucial role for the Twins as a top-of-the-order threat. He works deep into counts, is an excellent bunter and two-strike hitter. He doesn't strike out much, and though he battled leg injuries in 2005, he still hit .301 in 439 at-bats and posted a .391 on-base percentage. He has had more walks than strikeouts each of the last three seasons.

The homegrown 30-year-old was one of the most productive players in Marlins' history. A three-time Gold Glove winner, Castillo was signed by Florida out of the Dominican Republic in 1992. He brings championship experience to the Twin Cities, as two World Series rings come along with him. He's signed through 2006 with $5 million owed to him next season, with a club option for 2007 and a $500,000 buyout.

In return, the Marlins get Bowyer, a fire-balling right-handed reliever whose fastball tops out at 98 mph, and Tyler, who finished the year at high Class A Fort Myers. Bowyer, a 20th-rounder in 1999 who fought his way onto the 40-man roster last winter, saw his profile rise markedly after a strong showing at Triple-A. He pitched in the Futures Game, earned a September callup and went to the Arizona Fall League this season. He might have the biggest fastball in the system, having touched 100 mph in Arizona and pitching at 95-97 mph. The pitch has late life and boring action, but too often it's the only pitch he can command. His slurvy breaking ball isn't close to being a finished product and his changeup has all but disappeared -- though that was what he went to Arizona to work on. He ended up allowing 28 hits in 15 Fall League innings.

The jury is still out on Tyler as well. A second-rounder in 2001, Tyler is physically imposing with a large, stiff, 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame, and he continues to struggle with his delivery and command. He battled knee problems in 2005, leading to questions about his durability and strength. When he's healthy and on his game, Tyler pitches at 92-94 mph with a hard curve and decent changeup. He throws from a three-quarters arm slot, which doesn't take advantage of his height. While he's been primarily a starter for the majority of his career, a move to the bullpen might be his best option.

-- Chris Kline

Red Sox continue to seek bullpen help, add Van Buren
Dec. 1: After finishing next-to-last in the majors with a 5.15 bullpen ERA, the Red Sox are taking steps to shore up their relief corps. A week after adding Guillermo Mota in the Josh Beckett trade, Boston made a minor move on Thursday. The Red Sox acquired Jermaine Van Buren from the Cubs for a player to be named later.

Van Buren, a 25-year-old right-hander, made his big-league debut in 2005, going 0-2, 3.00 in six appearances. He spent most of the year at Triple-A Iowa, where he earned Pacific Coast League All-Star honors by going 2-3, 1.98 in 52 games. He had a 65-22 K-BB ratio in 55 innings while limiting opponents to a .181 average and five homers. His slider is his best pitch, and he locates his 90-92 mph fastball well. He also has a changeup and the confidence to throw any pitch in any count. A second-round pick of the Rockies out of a Mississippi high school in 1998, Van Buren was released in 2003 and spent that year in the independent Central League before signing with the Cubs.

Once the player to be named has been identified, we'll analyze him as well.

-- Jim Callis