Mediocrity.. or, Why No Deal

We are starting to get some feedback why the Braves haven’t jumped into a deal with the Angels, why the Yankees and Pirates couldn’t get together with a deal, and why the Pirates and Braves just can’t get anything done.

The reason is mediocrity.

Phase 1 – the GM meetings in Naples were productive for Dave Littlefield as he set one goal – to lay a foundation to get Adam LaRoche. By the time the winter meetings came in Orlando, Littlefield and the Pirates had done so much posturing with Gonzalez in the media, nobody knew where he was going. The stage was set, the Braves asked for Gonzalez’s medicals, and the Pirates thought they had a done deal.

King of the con John Schuerholz rallied his investigators and later that day received a phone call from none other than one of Littlefield’s own trusted men indicating Gonzo might not be as healthy as Littlefield suggests (or so one rumor has it). Schuerholz, feeling like he was conned himself, turned the tables around on Littlefield by leaking the LaRoche deal was done to the press – who bought it, Bravasi bought it too and called Schuerholz offering up Rafael Soriano, and Littlefield walked away with egg on his face.

Exit the Braves stage left.

Phase 2 — the Braves initially thought that Casey Kotchman could be a replacement for Adam LaRoche in a package for Jones. While nobody has ever questioned Kotch’s potential gold glove, there has been a lot of questions about his health and his ability to hit for power.

The Angels decided to have Casey, who was only 90% according to the team, play winter ball in Puerto Rico hoping he would put up monster numbers in the easy to hit in league showing everyone why he should be playing 1B in 2007.

Unfortunately, it backfired.. he hit just .261/.344/.396 in 111 ABs and refueled long questioned speculation about his power.

The Braves took notice too realizing around Christmas that Kotchman isn’t ready for the big show in 2007 and that all but killed the Jones swap because they  want a replacement for LaRoche in any package.

Exit the Braves stage right.

Phase 3 — Then came the Yankees/Braves/Pirates swap’ola while Cabrera was playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic. While Melky saw a vast improvement in his strike zone judgment and ran better routes in the OF, he didn’t show any power at the plate which refueled everyone’s speculation that he simply doesn’t have MLB corner OF stamped on him for a good team and will never run good enough routes to play adequate CF.

Exit the Braves and Pirates stage left.

Enter phase 4 – Littlefield, having had lost one of his trusted advisers who was around him at the GM meetings – who incidentally went to work for the Braves (hint – hint) – and whose camp was played like they were rookies by Schuerholz, now attempts to work out a deal for LaRoche the hard way.. by giving up too much in a trade.

The Braves want Maholm and Gonzalez and Littlefield has pretended to exit stage right knowing full good and well he would become the laughing stock in baseball if he did the deal and LaRoche tanked.. especially if Gonzalez saved 70 games for the Braves and Maholm had a breakout year winning 15 – which is very possible.

To top it off, Littlefield seemingly didn’t enter the winter with a backup plan so he watched free agent after free agent sign with other teams thinking he had LaRoche cornered. In a last hour desperate attempt to pull off another spoiled Orioles deal like Littlefield did stealing Burnitz from them last year, Littlefield was said to make a run after Huff but the Orioles had their bases covered this time and Littlefield’s attempt was rebuffed.

Now it isn’t like Littlefield is out of options.. yet.

The reason you don’t see the Pirates signing Trot Nixon right now is because there are options for Littlefield – Jacque Jones from the Cubs could be one option to keep the Pirates starting rotation intact – if the Cubs pick up Cliff Floyd as rumored.

Ryan Church, once considered a Plan Z option for Littlefield, could be had without giving up one of his starters, some say. But Church’s liabilities (strikeouts and injuries) make him a risk over the less-power oriented contact hitter the Pirates already have in Nate McLouth.

If Littlefield wants to spend a ridiculous amount of money, Darin Erstad might be coaxed into playing in Pittsburgh on a one-year and platooned with Nady at 1B. Whether there is one more year left in Erstad’s tank is another question.

And, of course, there is always Burnitz.

If Littlefield decides to trade one of his starters, you can be sure he will be in contact with the Rockies first, the Angels second, and the Reds third. I don’t know if the Reds would ever give up Votto to the Pirates but he is an exciting player. Kotchman might not come around in 2007 but he’s so young that he would be easily worth a gamble on. And then there’s Hawpe..

I guess the bottom line to all this is that Littlefield really is a rookie GM and he has a mediocre track record in trades, planning, and roster management. But he does do ok when he picks up broken down trade pieces.

Enter stage left Casey Kotchman?