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The Newbies



Allard Baird and Kevin Towers rang the opening bell on the 2004 winter trading season on Monday, announcing that outfielder Terrence Long, pitcher Dennis Tankersley, and cash is heading to Kansas City, and that pitchers Darrell May and Ryan Bukvich are going to sunny San Diego. When I read the story about the deal on mlb.com, I could hardly contain my excitement. Yeah, that seems bizarre given that nobody besides Royals and Padres fans give a crap about this non-consequential deal, but I just think trades – especially Hot Stove League trades – are cool and interesting to dissect. So what kind of an impact will this deal have on the 2005 Royals? The short version is that it won’t do a damn thing positively or negatively.

But I don’t write this blog to be short and sweet (unless it was last Friday), and you, my few but loyal readers, don’t read this blog to get an unreasoned, one-sentence opinion. If you want that nowadays, all you have to do is head over to ESPN.com. Anyway, the deal can be best evaluated if broken down into two key "battles" between the two guys with the contracts (May and Long) and the two kids without ‘em (Tankersley and Bukvich).

Round One: May v. Long

This is a classic swap of bad one-year contracts and bad attitudes, not entirely unlike the Eric Karros/Mark Grudzielanek swap before it. Darrell May’s contract is only bad because he had a terrible 2004 and, perhaps as a result of his frustration, said some things he probably shouldn’t have said about his offense’s "lack of run support" when he was on the mound. Joe Randa said after the season that Darrell had a tendency to rub some guys the wrong way with his remarks, so I’m not at all surprised he was jettisoned. Royals fans generally dislike Darrell for those remarks and for his horrendous 19-loss season, but one thing needs to be made clear: Something clicked for him in Japan, and he posted solid K/BB ratios in each of his three seasons with the Royals. Darrell May is not as bad of a pitcher as he showed in 2004, although he isn’t as good as he was in 2003. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if The Real Darrell is slightly better than the 2002 version, which would make him bearable as a fifth starting pitcher. He’s a replacement-level lefty who’ll definitely help the Padres as a durable 200-inning guy.

In Terrence Long, the Royals are adding some much-needed outfield depth with a guy who can play all three outfield positions. Allard Baird says that T-Long will battle Abe Nunez for the starting right field spot in Spring Training, but I can think of about 4,700,000 reasons why Long will end up winning that battle. In the end, Long and Nunez are likely the same player, meaning your run-of-the-mill .740 OPS fourth outfielder. Long gets bonus points for his versatility and having better speed, though. As long as the Royals use Terrence exclusively against right-handed pitching the way San Diego did a year ago, he’ll be an asset either in a surprise run for a playoff spot (unlikely) or as trade bait (very likely). Long hit a solid .305/.350/.430 against righties in 2004.

Advantage: Even. Both teams traded a replacement-level guy from a position of depth and added a replacement-level player to a position that lacked depth. The money’s a wash, since the Padres kicked in the difference between Long’s and May’s contracts.

Round Two: Bukvich v. Tankersley

It wasn’t too long ago that Dennis Tankersley was widely considered one of the five best pitching prospects in baseball, and with good reason. In 2001, "Tank" was named the Minor League Pitcher of the Year after he posted a ridiculous 1.72 ERA in 156 1/3 innings of work, which spanned stops at Single-, Double-, and Triple-A. His star has fallen considerably since then, but he’s still only 26 years old, has filthy stuff (his 7.11 K/9 ratio in the majors is very good), a funky delivery, and will get to work with one of the best pitching minds in baseball, Guy Hansen. The only statistical problem I’d like to see corrected is his control. If Hansen can get him to harness his stuff, the Royals might have a poor man’s Kevin Appier on their hands.

The Padres are adding a similar pitcher in Ryan Bukvich, but I’m considerably less high on him, a reliever, than I am Tankersley, a guy who has the stamina to start. Nobody’s ever denied that Buk has incredible velocity on his fastball, but comparably, nobody’s ever denied that he has no idea where it’s going. The Royals tried everything to get him to harness his control, including having him throw from at least three different arm angles since he was drafted in 2000. The light never came on, and now he’s going to be fighting for a spot as the last man out of the Pads’ pen. There’s a chance he might suddenly "get it" and be the 2005 version of Scott Linebrink, but I doubt it.

Advantage: The Royals won this swap easily. Tankersley’s ability to start automatically makes him more valuable, because there’s a good chance neither guy will become anything very useful. Tank and his great minor league ratios have considerably more upside, however.

For those of you scoring at home, the Royals came out on top on this one. One of Allard’s best skills as a general manager is turning nothing into something or a player who might be something. He did that when he traded Jeff Austin and Brian Shackelford to Cincinnati for Alan Moye and Damaso Espino and when he acquired Nunez from Florida for Rudy Seanez, and he did it again in getting Tankersley. This is a good start to the offseason. Next on the shopping list is a power-hitting left fielder. Jose Guillen, anyone?
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