Sunday, August 27, 2006

Brewers-Rangers Trade One Month Later

On July 28, the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers completed a typical deadline trade: the Brewers got a strong relief pitcher to shore up their bullpen and the Rangers got a soon-to-be free agent slugger and a prospect in return. I thought at the time the trade would help the Brewers but made no sense for the Rangers, and now that it's been a month we can see if that statement was accurate.

In the trade, the Brewers received four players: reliever Francisco Cordero, outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix, left-hander Julian Cordero. Texas received Carlos Lee and top prospect Nelson Cruz.

Nix is a bench player and Julian Cordero is a minor leaguer; neither was expected to have much of an impact on the season. The primary player in the trade for Milwaukee was Francisco Cordero, and Mensch was included to replace the player the Brewers gave up, Carlos Lee, and as a sign of Lee's value.

I'll use July 29 as the baseline, even though F. Cordero pitched on the 28th; the 29th is the first date that all players had settled in with their new teams. On that day, one day after the trade, the Brewers record was 49-55, and they were 9.5 games out of first place in the NL Central and 6 games back, tied for fourth place, in the wild card. As of today, they are 62-67, 6.5 games out of first place, and are only 4.5 games back for the wild card, but behind 6 other teams in seventh place.

My thought at the trade was that since F. Cordero was a strike out pitcher, he'd be missed by Texas and effective for Milwaukee. Since the trade he's come in as the teams closer, pitching 11.2 of about 120 innings for the team. He's compiled a remarkable record, with 10 saves in 10 opportunities and no losses. He has yet to give up any runs, and has had 15 hits and walks against 13 strike outs. If the teams has not won more games, it is because the starters and the offense has not gotten to th 8th or 9th inning with a lead.

One reason why this might be the case is the loss of slugger Carlos Lee. The acquisition of Kevin Mensch was intended to replace Lee, so the immediate wisdon of the trade might be an issue of whether losing Lee cost the team any of the leads that may have allowed F. Cordero's performance to help them. Since he's come to the Brewers, Mench's average has dropped 50 points and his OPS has gone from a respectable .797 to a lowly .573. He's scored but 5 runs and only driven in 13, and has seen limited playing time in the last two weeks. This shouldn't surprise: until this year, he's only played in the American League.

The best comparison is to what they might have had from Carlos Lee had they not traded him. In the 21 games he played for the Brewers in July, Lee had 8 runs and 17 RBI, and thus was only marginally more productive than Mench. The Brewers may have a problem in left field, but Mench's presence instead of Lee has hardly hurt the Brewers win percentage.

On July 29, Texas had a record of 51-53, was 3 games back AL West, and was 11 back for wild card in sixth place. As of today they are 66-65, 9 games back, and still in sixth place for the wild card, 11.5 games back.

For Texas, the value of the trade isn't just what they get in Lee, but what they lose by giving up F. Cordero. In his last 12 appearances for the Rangers, used as a setup reliever and not a closer. Cordero had 16 strike outs against a 14 hits and 4 walks. He gave 5 runs, all earned, 4 of them in a single game against the New York Yankees.

In his place, the top 2 setup men for Texas have mainly been Wes Littleton and Ron Mahay; these two seem to be the best players to compare to Cordero. In August, Mahay has 14 Ks and has given up 4 runs, 3 earned, in 11.2 innings. In the same month, Littleton has 1 strike out and has given up 4 runs, all earned, in 13.2 innings. Against that lone strike out, he has given up 12 hits and 4 walks. Losing Cordero can be said to have changed nothing, since he had not pitched that much better than either of these men, or it could be said to have cost 2 or 3 runs. Unlike Mahay and Littleton, Cordero had been consistently strong excpet for one bad appearance against the Yankees.

Meanwhile, Carlos Lee has provided more offense for Texas than Mench has for the Brewers, but little more than Mench did before the trade. His slugging percentage since joining the Rangers has been an unexciting .517, and though he has hit well, he has drawn few walks. However, compared to Mench, he has been a run scoring machine. He has 24 runs and 15 RBI. In his last 28 games with the Rangers, Mench had 7 runs and 10 RBI.

Lee has probably benefited from playing a stronger line up and in a park that allows a lot of offense. In this sense, they've improved their team by including him, because he has taken advantage of the park in a way that Mench never has. That his presence has not helped the team greatly is a function of a pitching staff that did not improve from the trade, and arguably became weaker.

Ultimately, this trade will probably mean little to either franchise. Unless Nix, Cruz, or Julian Cordero turn into top players down the line, the whole episode will be quite forgettable. Neither team improved greatly after the trade, and neither team will reach the playoffs this year. But it is interesting to note that the two primary players in the deal, F. Cordero and Lee, have been rejuvenated somewhat by the change. Cordero, for 12 games at least, has gone from a slightly above average set up reliever to a top closer, and Lee, in terms of runs, has become more productive than he had been in Milwaukee. At least their agents will be happy, and Milwaukee, with an important position solidified, can build for next year.

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