Swap surprise top 5

August 06, 2006|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

A lesson was learned after the 2003 non-waiver trade deadline.

That's when the Orioles traded pending free agent Sidney Ponson to the San Francisco Giants for three young pitchers: Kurt Ainsworth, Damian Moss and Ryan Hannaman. Every baseball pundit in America - including me - lauded the Orioles as "winners" in a rare good deal for the battered franchise.

History, of course, proved otherwise. Three years later, all three of the pitchers the Orioles acquired are out of the organization and aren't on any active pro roster, according to minorleaguebaseball.com.

A true disaster. That doesn't even include the nightmare postscript - the Orioles re-signed Ponson that winter and cut him last September after his third arrest. Moral of the story: Winners and losers at each trade deadline are tough to gauge for several years.

That said, here is something a little more quantitative: a ranking of the biggest surprises of this year's trade - or non-trade - frenzy.

1. ALFONSO SORIANO STAYS IN WASHINGTON

Nationals general manager Jim Bowden had better know what he is doing. He allegedly talked to 20 teams in the waning hours of the deadline and didn't get anything he believed was significant value for the pending free agent. So he did nothing. The Nationals will try hard to sign Soriano to a long-term deal over the next few months. But if they can't and Soriano walks away, leaving them with nothing but draft picks for July's hottest commodity, Bowden will have turned a fortuitous situation into an abject failure.

2. THE ORIOLES DON'T SNAG ROY OSWALT

This isn't another typical Orioles-bashing rant for not trading Miguel Tejada. I get why they held out for more players from the Los Angeles Angels and why they didn't jump at prospect offers from the Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers. But I can't comprehend why the Orioles didn't say, "I do," as soon as Oswalt's name was mentioned. Their apprehension was because the Houston Astros right-hander is a free agent after the 2007 season and the Orioles didn't think they could sign him. So they didn't want a rental player to be the key in a Tejada deal. Understandable reasoning if that player isn't one of the few aces in baseball. Get him, third baseman Morgan Ensberg and shortstop Adam Everett and high-five your fellow execs. Figure out in the offseason whether you can re-sign Oswalt and, if not, deal him for more prospects. Because of his ability and age (28) he'll have plenty of value in December. No good excuse for dragging heels on that one.

3. THE RED SOX WATCH FROM THE SIDELINES

Yes, Boston has a pretty good team as is. But it isn't as good as any of the contenders in the American League Central. And, with New York's acquisition of Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle, it's probably not as good as the rival Yankees. The Red Sox need starting pitching, and I'm not buying talk that getting injured lefty David Wells back is like making a trade without giving up anything. Theo Epstein can't legitimately think his club is going to the postseason with Curt Schilling, Wells, Tim Wakefield, homer-generous Josh Beckett, rookie Jon Lester and retreads Jason Johnson and Kyle Snyder leading the way. There may have not been a lot of starting pitching available, but Epstein has been creative in the past finding the right parts. So it's an upset he stood still.

4. TEXAS PITCHING MIGHT HAVE GOTTEN WORSE

The Rangers made perhaps the boldest move of the deadline, sending outfielder Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix and deposed closer Francisco Cordero to the Milwaukee Brewers for slugger Carlos Lee. Lee makes that imposing lineup even more formidable. But the Rangers, desperately seeking pitching since moving from Washington, added only Kip Wells to their rotation. Wells hasn't posted an ERA under 4.50 since 2003 and is coming off arm surgery. Not exactly a good fit in Arlington's launching pad.

5. BILL STONEMAN OFFERS SANTANA, THEN DOESN'T BLINK

OK, no surprise that the Los Angeles Angels general manager, known for his conservative and successful approach to team building, didn't make a major move. What is surprising is that he would offer the Orioles young right-hander Ervin Santana, along with shortstop prospect Erick Aybar, for Tejada, and then turn away when the Orioles wanted first baseman Casey Kotchman thrown in. Surely, it was a matter of principle.

Stoneman likely felt he made a solid offer - and it was, though if I were the Orioles I would have held off, too - and didn't need to overpay. But once he took the deep plunge and included Santana, adding Kotchman should have been like wading into the kiddy pool. Still only 23, Kotchman may have a bright future. But the Angels don't need him now; a bout with mononucleosis has wiped out most of his 2006. And with prospect Kendry Morales in the wings, they may not need Kotchman in the future.

It seems awfully shortsighted. Then again, Stoneman won the World Series in 2002. Nine months later, I thought the Orioles pulled off the heist of the decade by stealing Ainsworth and company for Ponson.

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