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Three years ago, Kenny Williams traded for a talented but erratic right-handed reliever with favorable service time. It cost him a lower-ceiling Double-A pitcher with a solid track record, and an A-ball pitcher with a more promising arm.
On Tuesday, Williams traded for a talented but erratic right-handed reliever with favorable service time. It cost him a late-developing but fairly promising first baseman who stumbled in his first go-around at Triple-A after tackling Double-A.
Do a little algebra, and it looks like this:
Tyler Lumsden + Daniel Cortes = Brandon Allen
Is that a fair trade? Probably. Maybe Allen has a little more value, but Tony Pena is a safer bet than Mike MacDougal. He may not have MacDougal’s wipe-out stuff, but he doesn’t have his X-out injury history, either.
Now, that doesn’t answer the main question (”Isn’t Allen too high of a price to pay?”), but there is a precedent, and that probably makes the question immaterial. It’s the price Williams is willing to pay, is what it is.
To be even more annoying, I’m going to answer that question with a question:
Would you trade Brandon Allen for Matt Thornton?
Pena’s the kind of big-armed reliever that the Sox like to send to Don Cooper’s garage. His average heater tops 95 m.p.h., but for whatever reason, his fastball-slider combo hasn’t resulted in as many strikeouts as one might think (he’s never raised his K-rate over 7/9 IP).
But Pena is more accomplished than the average Cooper reclamation project. He’s been durable, his walk rate is fine (2.71/9 IP), and he’s not homer prone — things that couldn’t exactly be said about both Thornton and Gavin Floyd, outside of their clean bills of health. MacDougal kept the ball in the park, but mainly because opponents didn’t feel particularly compelled to swing.
If Pena makes no improvement whatsoever, he can help. But I imagine the Sox have greater things in mind with regards to Pena — otherwise he wouldn’t have cost a solid prospect.
“Solid” is about the right word to describe Allen. He may resemble Bo Jackson facially, but he’s no transcendent figure otherwise. There are three big mystery factors to consider, in order from most to least significant:
- Improved BB/K numbers at Double-A: He cut it from 1:2 to 1:1.5, which is significant at his age.
- Drop in power: He slugged only .452 with Birmingham, and has yet to hit one out in a much friendlier ballpark with Charlotte.
- No walks in Triple-A: It’s only 61 plate appearances, but seeing zero walks and 13 strikeouts isn’t exactly comforting.
Add it all up, and all you get is uncertainty. There’s no guarantee that Pena turns into Thornton, but there’s no guarantee Allen becomes anything more than Mario Valdez.
I’m not crazy about this trade. Allen seemed to fit in perfectly with the apparent timetable. Paul “Three-Homer” Konerko’s contract expires after the 2010 season, so even if Allen took his time getting acclimated at Charlotte, it wouldn’t cost the Sox anything.
And then there’s Pena. His arm packs potential, he’s no David Riske. It only took Javier Lopez to acquire Riske’s services, so it seems to me like the Sox could find equally valuable relievers at a lower cost.
At the same time, it’s easy to overstate the value of a guy like Allen. And while the Sox are still short on truly exciting position players in the farm system, this trade gives the Sox flexibility in a few areas:
Immediate bullpen help: Pena’s presence theoretically means less work for Scott Linebrink. He’s also exponentially more useful than Jimmy Gobble, whom the Sox designated for assignment after the trade. Hell, they couldn’t find situations to use their second lefty.
Octavio Dotel insurance: If Cooper can maximize Pena’s stuff, he becomes Dotel’s replacement after the season at a fraction of the cost.
(It’s also entirely possible that the Sox could trade Dotel before the season is through. I wouldn’t bet on it, but it’s possible — especially if the Sox aren’t going to offer him arbitration, a decision made more likely with the addition of Pena.)
Positional flexibility for other prospects: If and when the Sox determine Dayan Viciedo unfit at third base, they have another spot for him to try. The same can be said for Tyler Flowers behind the plate, and if Flowers explodes at Triple-A, it gives the Sox a reason to get him into the majors sooner rather than later.
I don’t know about you, but I talked myself more into this trade. Trading for a middle reliever isn’t going to thrill the masses, especially when it costs a more exciting prospect. But Allen is far, far away from being a lead-pipe lock, so I don’t see much of a reason to leap to one conclusion at this point.
And if it’s any consolation, Lumsden slammed into a wall at Double-A, and Cortes has made more news for peeing in public than pitching this season.