Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hamilton V. Volquez

It's rare that a trade in baseball is equal. Normally trades are salary dumps: like the Julio Lugo trade this week. Or else they are the big team trading prospects to the small market team for the one player they have: think Pittsburgh every single year.

But the Josh Hamilton trade for Edison Volquez and Danny Herrera that occurred right before Christmas in 2007 was that rare trade. A trade that involved young, promising players—blue chip prospects really. And it was a trade the benefited both teams, right away.

Everyone by now knows of the Josh Hamilton story (soon to be played by Robert Pattinson and arriving at a theater near you—just kidding). His gargantuan talent, his battle with drugs. his comeback. That year, in only 90 games, Hamilton showed enough talent remained untainted by the years of self-abuse that teams took notice. One problem though. Cincinnati had a talented young blue-chip prospect slotted for CF; Jay Bruce was already a star at the AAA level when Hamilton showed up, and the Reds had other prospects who they were excited about. What they didn't have was pitching. The 2007 Reds team ERA of 4.95 was a hair better than the Florida Marlins' of 4.96 for dead last in the NL and they gave up 198 HRs, again 2nd worst in the NL.

The Texas motive for the trade is a little more tricky. True, the year before they tried filling the gaping hole they had in CF with the ageless wonder, Kenny Lofton, but that wasn't a long term answer. And with the Rangers firmly entrenched in a youth movement, they wanted a leader in the outfield, a certifiable blue-chipped patrolling CF.

Why the Rangers traded Edison Volquez could be described as "frustration." Volquez at the time was considered one of the true gems of the Rangers farm system. He had electric stuff; a 98 mile an HR fastball, and punchout material to spare. What he didn't have was his head on straight. Due to a lack of "maturity" both on and off the mound, the Rangers in spring 2007 not only demoted Volquez to the minors, but to single-A ball. They gave him a schedule; when to wake up, how often to shave, everything. Volquez responded by growing up and becoming a monster on the mound. After a rough bit in single A, he went 12-2 in AA and triple AAA. He also learned how to pitch, instead of just throwing really hard. The Rangers were impressed. So were the Reds, who noticed as well. When they proposed a trade for Hamilton, they demanded Volquez. No exceptions.

In 2008, both Hamilton and Volquez's numbers speak for themselves. In possibly the most notorious ballpark in the majors for pitchers, Volquez went 17-6, was 2nd in strikeouts, had a ERA+ of 140, 5th in the NL and was an All-Star. Hamilton led the AL in RBI with 130 and in total bases with 331. He had 32 HRs and batted .301. Both Hamilton and Volquez proved their new GMs very shrewd for the trade.

This year, injuries are the bane of both these young ballplayers. Hamilton has been seemingly chronicling injured this season, and his stats show it. His numbers are way down across the board, although he seems to be working off the rust recently—at least a little bit. Same could be said for Volquez. After a rough start to the year, he seemed to be pitching his way back into dominance. Then injury hit. And then hit again. First inflammation in his arm—thought to be mild—shut him down for a shot stint. Then after pitching one inning after coming off the DL, it was discovered to be much worse than thought—and Volquez was shut down for over a month. He's hoping to be back in Cincinnati soon.

Injuries aside, both teams benefited from this deal—and got exactly what they wanted, and more. Cincinnati got a promising frontline started with power-K stuff. And the Rangers got a excellent, athletic 5-tool CF young enough to make them not worry about CF for a decade.

The one thing everyone seems to forget about this deal is the other guy the Reds received. 24 year old, mighty mite Danny Herrera, all 5'6" 145 lbs of him, has been pretty solid himself since coming up to the big club this year. A specialist, who's holding lefties to a .266 OBP, has a 2.56 ERA and has 29 Ks in 38.2 innings. If he remains consistent, the Reds would have a commodity, a reliable lefty specialist who can come in and strike guys out.

So, as we wrote when we began, there really is no "winner" to this trade. No, in fact, it probably the most interesting trade in recent times because it is that remarkable and rare feat; a trade that benefits both teams


Brandon said...

Thanks for writing this for me! The thing I also find interesting is at this point the Rangers really need pitching and the Reds really need hitting.

blmeanie said...

Brandon - name a point in time that the Rangers haven't really needed pitching? Your point is valid but the Rangers have always been labeled as a good hitting team that needs pitching. A few more years to determine the final balance of this deal, interesting both main players had injuries roughly at same time.

Brandon said...

Thats what im saying why would a team that needs pitching always trade an mlb caliber pitcher?

Travis said...

Actually, this season it has been the pitching and defense that has supported the hitting this season in Texas.

The team average in June was the worst average since the team's first season in Texas in 1972.

Now I will agree they do trade away their pitching prospects way to often. Volquez, Chris Young, and John Danks recently.

P-Cat said...

Good point Travis. The pitching this year actually isn't the problem. Nolal Ryan and mike Maddux have gotten the staff to go deeper into games and attack hitter. Unf. Hamilton is injured and the rest of their hitting deserted them.

Travis said...

Oh, yes I completely forgot about Mike Maddux, and the Ranger's poaching him from the Brewers