Taking early stock of the Isotopes

While Mike is on vacation, he asked me to offer up some thoughts about the Albuquerque Isotopes and how what amounts to the Dodgers’ reserve team is shaping up as the season begins. The ‘Topes have only been home for a total of eight days so far this season — they begin their fourth road series of the year tonight at New Orleans (Marlins) — so this is all a very, very preliminary analysis of the 25 players I have observed.

Catchers Tim Federowicz and Josh Bard

FedEx is the man on the spot, the lone Isotope ranked by Baseball America in the Dodgers’ top 10 prospects. While plenty of fans are still smarting about last year’s trade that sent Trayvon Robinson packing and brought Fed and two pitchers to the organization, so far the young backstop is showing promise. “He’s been a lot better this year, he’s a lot more patient,” manager Lorenzo Bundy said of Fed’s hitting (.292/.365/.477). The swing-first, pull-everything mentality from last season is all but gone. Defensively he has looked sharp, making strong throws to second, blocking the plate well and doing a good job of working with the pitching staff. As for Bard, as the Isotopes’ oldest player (34, which makes him the only player on the team older than me … yikes), he has not played much, but he has played well, batting .385 (10-for-26). “Obviously, Josh with his experience … it’s like having an extra coach floating around here,” Bundy said. “He takes the leadership role. He knows his role on this club and he’s ready at any time.”

First baseman Jeff Baisley

Jeff Baisley has been a good presence in the lineup. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes.)

The veteran slugger has played well so far, batting .313/.390/.531 with three homers and a team-leading 16 RBI. Though primarily a third baseman with Salt Lake (Angels) last season, he has handled first base well defensively and it clearly has not had an impact on his hitting. Personality-wise, he keeps it serious on the field and keeps it loose during batting practice and in the clubhouse. Though he is viewed as a leader, Baisley said he has not had to overly assert himself so far. He certainly continues the recent tradition of high-character veterans the Dodgers like to have in Albuquerque.

Second baseman Alex Castellanos

Though currently on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring (return date unknown), the converted outfielder has been solid so far at the plate (.366/.477/.746), while overcoming the defensive obstacles that come with returning to his old position. The big issue for Castellanos offensively lies with his ability to overcome his aggressive, swing-first mentality. In the field, throwing has been the biggest challenge, but after a week spent with Dodgers special instructors Juan Castro and Jody Reed (laugh about their hitting, but both were good in the field), Castellanos seems to be adapting quickly. Just calm down on the early promotion possibilities; Castellanos himself said he needs close to a full season playing every day at second base before he is ready for MLB.

Shortstop Luis Cruz

The wily veteran has been on “Cruz Control” since he arrived, smacking the ball around (.328/.343/.500) while making some sharp plays in the field. He is another veteran who keeps it loose; his imitation of teammate Trent Oeltjen‘s Australian accent is a sight to behold.

Third baseman Josh Fields

Nicknamed “QB” for obvious reasons, the former Oklahoma State football standout has gotten off to a quiet start (.289/.375/.526) when compared to his teammates. Nonetheless, he has been a solid contributor. This is no sign of the dreaded “jaded ex-big-leaguer stuck at Triple-A” disease that sometimes afflicts players. Much like Cruz, he seemed to be riding high off his strong spring that nearly saw him make the big-league roster. He has been a positive influence, playing good defense with (no surprise here) a very strong arm.

Utility man Elian Herrera

The versatile Elian Herrera has been a sparkplug atop the lineup. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

Bundy said the Isotopes’ turnaround, from a 2-6 road trip to their current record of 11-9, has been thanks in part to the ultra-versatile Herrera. A pure contact hitter (.340/.357/.566), he is Albuquerque’s fastest player and has done well out of the leadoff spot. Defensively, he has looked especially sharp at second base and third base, while also seeing time at shortstop and the outfield. He would strictly be a bench player at the next level, but with Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy not getting any younger, the Dodgers could do worse.

Reserve infielders Joe Becker and Lance Zawadzki

Becker is a favorite of Bundy’s especially with his ability to deliver big hits in the clutch, often as a pinch hitter. He is also a capable defender at second, though he lacks the arm for third and has not played much shortstop. Zawadzki joined the team from extended spring on the last day of the homestand. While I have yet to see him play for the Isotopes, he was a solid defender and a streaky hitter last season with Omaha (Royals).

Outfielders Scott Van Slyke, Jerry Sands, Trent Oeltjen, Matt Angle

Van Slyke, the Dodgers’ No. 21 prospect, has been the hitting star out of this group (.364/.437/.610). He has fared well defensively in both outfield corners, with a strong arm and more mobility than you would expect from someone who is listed at 6-5, 250. He made one start at first base during the homestand, looking a little out of practice there, so hold off on the “he can replace Loney” talk. Oh, and I will sit him down to talk about his life growing up around baseball with his father. His stories are hilarious. Sands’ struggles at the plate (.192/.310/.315) have been well-documented so far. Oeltjen has played all three outfield spots, serving more as a fourth outfielder than anything else. As such, his hitting (.250/.328/.350) has yet to get into a groove with such sporadic playing time. Angle has been the lost one of the bunch, looking all out of sorts at the plate (.146/.255/.268) and now finding himself on the DL with a strained hamstring.

Starting pitchers Michael Antonini, John Ely, Stephen Fife, Fernando Nieve, Mike Parisi

John Ely has pitched well at home, not so well on the road. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

Before his call-up to the big leagues, Antonini made one start in Albuquerque he would like to forget (3.1 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 HR allowed). Like many young pitchers, the 26-year-old lefty learned the hard way you have to keep the ball down in Albuquerque if you want to have a prayer of succeeding here. He certainly throws a lot of strikes, but he left too many up in that game. Despite being back for his third season with the Isotopes, Ely has remained upbeat and continues to work hard. He has been a completely different pitcher at home (13 IP, 4 ER) than on the road (7.1 IP, 11 ER). Fife has just plain struggled wherever he has pitched this year (1-2, 9.92 ERA). The big righty is a finesse pitcher and so far the PCL is chewing him up. Nieve went from horrible at Omaha (1.2 IP, 11 H, 9 ER) to solid at home (6 IP, 7 H, 3 ER) to then getting ejected in the third inning of his third start for hitting a batter. It has been a very bizarre season for the former Astro and Met, who throws hard but does not strike a lot of people out (8 total in 10.1 IP). Parisi has been the most consistent and effective starter to date. It should come as no surprise, since there always seems to be one veteran who puts together a solid campaign in ABQ (e.g. Dana Eveland last year).

Right-handed relievers Josh Wall, Ramon Troncoso, Will Savage, Francisco Felix

Wall has looked sharp while sharing closing duties. He throws in the mid-90s and looks like another potentially solid addition to LA’s young bullpen down the line. There is still some wildness (4 walks in 8.1 IP) that needs to be smoothed out. Troncoso has looked like a man determined to get back to the big leagues (1.08 ERA in 8.1 IP), while Savage has been lights out (4-0, 2.41) in the long relief/spot starter role, keeping the ball down and utilizing his cutter, fastball and curveball to their fullest extent. Felix, well, somebody has to take it on the chin, and so far he is doing just that (10.13 ERA in 13.1 IP). As the Dodger bullpen fluctuates, his head would seem to be the first on the chopping block down here.

Left-handed relievers Brent Leach, Wil Ledezma, Derrick Loop, Scott Rice, Cole St. Clair

Rice has been the star of the southpaw collective, sharing the team lead with four saves. He is at his most effective not when he is getting strikeouts, but rather when is able to get hitters to try and pounce on strikes, causing them to ground out and pop up early in the count. Leach (0-1, 6.57) has alternated between looking good and taking it on the chin; personality-wise he has not changed from his year in Japan, remaining the same funny, witty southerner who graced the clubhouse in 2009-10. St. Clair has been similar to Leach in terms of pitching, looking good one outing and struggling to throw strikes the next. Poor Ledezma was walloped in his first two home appearances (10 runs total), but has since settled down and regained his confidence. Loop has yet to appear in a game in Albuquerque.

Overall

This is a better team than it looked after losing six of eight on the opening road trip. The Isotopes pulled off their first four-game sweep since 2009 when they took Iowa apart. As long as the pitching stays at least somewhat consistent, the lineup is more than capable of scoring enough runs. What looked like a pack of spot starters, middle relievers and bench players actually has some players with enough talent (Van Slyke, Castellanos, Federowicz, in particular) to help the Dodgers out in the future. Rice and Wall can be both be part of a big-league bullpen, as well. This team may lack the star power when Gordon, Sands (the good version) and Robinson were here last year, but it is still a fun bunch to watch.

As always, you can find all the ‘Topes news and notes you can handle here and you can now follow me on Twitter as @TopesWriter for quick updates, anecdotes, breaking news and even some play-by-play during home games.

— Chris Jackson

Trayvon Robinson, Seattle Mariner

In his MLB debut for the Seattle Mariners, Trayvon Robinson sure made a nice impression, no?

Robinson also chipped in a single, though the Mariners lost 1-0 to Jered Weaver and the Angels in 10 innings. Of course, the Dodgers had a pretty good night of their own – six runs in the top of the third inning will do that for you – and I promise that this isn’t going to turn into the daily Robinson report. (Unless, as expected, he provides far more value than the players the Dodgers received in return for him, though it should be noted catcher Tim Federowicz homered in Albuquerque, as did John Lindsey and Justin Sellers.)

I also want to take the time to praise Javy Guerra, who struck out three in 1.1 scoreless innings to get his 10th save, coming in with two outs in the eight after Mike MacDougal walked two and made a throwing error. I’ve been lukewarm on Guerra for some time, feeling that simply getting “saves” doesn’t make a pitcher any good, especially since his peripherals were iffy and his minor-league track record showed little indication of success. At the end of play of July 6, Guerra had struck out just 10 in 17.1 innings, while allowing 19 hits and five walks, good for a line of .284/.342/.343 against. In the month since, he’s appeared in 10 games with a 12/2 K/BB, allowing just five hits without an earned run. I’m still not sure that Guerra can keep this up over the long-term, but for the moment, he’s outdoing all our expectations.

Speaking of pitchers who bypassed Albuquerque on their way to the bigs – as has happened more than a few times this year – Nathan Eovaldi has been recalled to make tonight’s start, with John Ely headed back to AAA. Kudos to ESPNLA’s Tony Jackson on that one, since Tony predicted this seemingly out of nowhere earlier in the week.

The Aftermath of the Trayvon Robinson Trade

A day after the unexpected Trayvon Robinson trade with Boston & Seattle, the dust has started to settle, but the shock is still there. 98% of Dodger fans, at least the ones I’ve heard from, are horrified, and rightfully so. However, I want to clear up one misconception, and this is the same one I heard often when the Dodgers traded Carlos Santana for Casey Blake and several prospects for Scott Podsednik, Octavio Dotel, Ryan Theriot, and Ted Lilly last year: trading away a prospect, no matter how good, does not automatically make it a bad trade.

With the rise of the internet and social media, fans have become far more aware of prospects than they’d ever been before. For decades, fans would only perhaps know their team’s best prospect, if even that. Whereas before, you might have only heard of Robinson when he hit 26 homers in little more than half an AAA season, now you have fans who have been following his career for 3-4 years already. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s good that fans have more interest in the team’s fuller organization. However, it also means that people get invested and attached to a prospect, and it’s understandably difficult when someone you’ve been dreaming about as a Dodger for several years gets shipped out weeks before he’s likely to make his debut.

That means that fans – not just Dodger fans, this happens on all teams – tend to overvalue their own players, and even yesterday on Twitter I saw people groaning about losing Robinson before even knowing who was coming back. I think that’s short-sighted, because I have no problem with trading prospects. A solid farm system exists to provide value, and while the obvious outcome is “good young player comes up to join the big club”, value can also come from “good young player is traded for immediate impact veteran or another good young player”. Depending on the circumstances, trading a top prospect is not always a bad thing – as long as you get value back. If the Dodgers are deep in outfielders and short in catching, than the idea of trading Robinson for an impact catching prospect is not a terrible plan.

The problem here is that few think Tim Federowicz is an impact catcher, and many doubt he can hit enough to even be a viable major league starter. This isn’t a new theme, because so far in Ned Colletti’s tenure, he’s often spent prospects to get players who were not of equal value. I didn’t mind trading Santana when we all thought Russell Martin would be here for 5-7 more years; I hated trading him for two months of a good-but-not-great third baseman. (If Santana had been sent to Cleveland for CC Sabathia that year rather than Blake, I guarantee you there wouldn’t have been anywhere near the same outcry.) I didn’t mind the idea of trading James McDonald & Andrew Lambo, two players unlikely to be stars, but the problem was a team that had no business going for it in 2010 trading them for an elderly reliever who wasn’t going to make a difference. This is why the Robinson trade stinks so bad, because you’re trading a top-5 Dodger prospect for three guys who are barely top-25 Red Sox prospects. (Jon Weisman has more on the newcomers at Dodger Thoughts.)

Worse, there’s also the feeling that this goes back to Hiroki Kuroda‘s refusal to accept a trade. Boston writers Gordon Edes and Sean McAdam each reported that Federowicz and Juan Rodriguez were initially discussed in negotiations for Kuroda, an assertion backed up by Ned Colletti’s comments that Federowicz was someone he’d been eyeing for some time. (McAdam says that a third prospect likely would have been included, though he doesn’t state if that was Stephen Fife or not.) Kuroda was clearly higher on Boston’s starting pitching shopping list than Erik Bedard, so if he agrees to the deal, the Dodgers send two months of Kuroda to Boston for a package nearly identical to the one that ended up coming for Robinson. That’s a deal that I think most of us would have been pretty satisfied with – I know I’d have been – and Robinson would have remained in the system. Remember when I said I was disappointed in Kuroda’s choice? Yeah, that paid off a lot quicker than I thought it would.

******

It’s no question that most Dodger fans don’t like the trade, but we’re not a fair sample. We’re biased. We loved Robinson, none of us had heard of the three Boston guys before yesterday, and we don’t trust Colletti. What’s really informative is looking outside our little sphere of Dodger fandom, and seeing what the feeling is on the other side of the trade and from the national writers who don’t cheer for either team. If the trade is getting positive reviews from those groups, then maybe we need to shift our way of thinking.

Not today, however, because just about every smart person who writes about baseball is completely confused about what the Dodgers are trying to do. Red Sox & Mariner writers are thrilled. Prospect writers are blown away. Just about everyone is united in killing the Dodgers over this; in fact, the only person I could find who wasn’t 100% against it was Steve Dilbeck of the LA Times, and even he could only muster an “it ain’t so bad”.  Read these assorted quotes on the deal at your own risk.

Mainstream media!

Jeff Passan, Yahoo:

Los Angeles Dodgers, who couldn’t convince Hiroki Kuroda(notes) to drop his no-trade clause and gave up their top hitting prospect, Trayvon Robinson, an outfielder with pop and plate discipline, to get into the Erik Bedard(notes) three-way deal and land catcher Tim Federowicz and two arms. As is the case with everything Dodger-related this year, they are losers.

Evan Brunell, CBS Sports:

There was only one trade made the entire week in which a team was instantly ridiculed for its move. The Cardinals were headed for the loser’s seat before the waning minutes of the deadline, but Los Angeles took it away with a staggering display of incompetence. To help Boston facilitate acquiring Erik Bedard, the Dodgers agreed to trade away Trayvon Robinson, one of the few bright spots in the high minors that could actually hit. Robinson, along with Jerry Sands, could have made a pretty decent first base-left field combo over the next few years. Instead, Robinson will take his .293/.375/.563 line with 26 home runs in Triple-A to Seattle while the Dodgers come away with three organizational pieces.

And really, that’s all they are. You’ve got catcher Tim Federowicz, who has a strong defensive reputation but whose hitting will be challenged enough that he best profiles as a long-term backup catcher. Those aren’t tough to find. Add in starter Stephen Fife, who has pitched to Federowicz all season for Double-A Portland, who profiles as a back of the rotation starter or solid middle reliever. Lastly, Juan Rodriguez, a reliever who throws smoke but is 22 years old and in Class A. Splendid. Oh, and all three will be Rule 5 eligible after the year, meaning they need to be added to the 40-man roster or risk being lost in the draft — and all three would be strong candidates to be taken. The Dodgers, in one fell swoop, traded away one of their few high-ceiling prospects for three organizational players who will all require 40-man spots, which are incredibly valuable.

Nationally respected prospect writers!

Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus:

I spent 15 minutes after this trade waiting to hear which players I’m missing while simultaneously trying to talk Jay Jaffe off a ledge via instant messenger. The Dodgers took a perfectly good Top-11 prospect, a player who is having a great year at Triple-A and easily projects as an everyday outfielder, and received three pieces of fringe in return. You’d almost think Frank McCourt was running the team.

Keith Law, ESPN:

The Dodgers get … I’m not really sure what they get. Tim Federowicz is a catch-and-throw specialist who isn’t likely to produce enough at the plate to be an average regular, but is plus across the board behind the plate (including a career 34-percent caught-stealing rate) and is no worse than a good backup in the majors. Stephen Fife probably profiles as a right-handed reliever rather than a starter because he lacks the out pitch to start; he’ll touch 95 as a starter with a fringe-average curveball. Juan Rodriguez has a plus fastball, no average second pitch, and below-average command and control — a nice arm to add to your system but a reliever at best and not a high-probability guy either. Unless Robinson was somehow burning a hole in their pockets, this doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, as they didn’t get any prospect as good as he is in the exchange.

Statistically-inclined sites!

Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus:

What the… excuse me… whiskey tango foxtrot? A deal sending a good prospect such as Robinson in one direction and a possible stretch-run helper such as Bedard in the other is the stuff deadline deals are made of, but what business did the Dodgers have for throwing their good prospect into this deal in order to enable somebody else’s stretch run acquisition without something to make it especially worth their while? Is Colletti expecting a playoff share from the Red Sox? A future job with the Mariners? Is this being written off as a charitable donation? Is it a cry for help from a man about to jump out the window? Is there somebody out there who will post bail if I fly to Los Angeles myself and extract a few teeth in search of the real truth?

(later in the article – MSTI) Against this bleak backdrop, the GM managed to make the situation worse by trading down in a deal he had no business butting into, punting away a future everyday player. This wasn’t the Angels taking on Vernon Wells‘ bloated contract or the Cardinals punting the future of Colby Rasmus, but it ranks among the most shockingly inept deals of the year. In a five-and-a-half year tenure that’s seen its good moments—three playoff appearances, including back-to-back trips to the NLCS—and bad ones (the Jason Schmidt contract, the Andruw Jones contract, the Juan Pierre contract, the Blake trade…), Colletti may have set a new low. That’s saying something.

Jack Moore, Fangraphs:

It did take four warm bodies to acquire Bedard, but that’s about it. None of the players moved by Boston appear on Kevin Goldstein’s top 20 organizational prospect list, nor do they appear in our Top 100 Prospects list or top 10 organizational prospect list. This isn’t to say they’re doomed to complete non-productivity in the Major Leagues — the prospects will be covered in a separate post — but the Red Sox don’t lose much from a good farm system and improve their chances at a World Series. Hard to argue with that logic.

Other Dodger bloggers!

Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts:

For those three, the Dodgers gave up Robinson (24 in September), who has a .375 on-base percentage and .563 slugging percentage (26 homers) this year for Triple-A Albuquerque. Robinson, who has hit well on the road as well as at home this season, has had his fine year marred by striking out 122 times in 100 games. But it’s stunning to see him traded for such an offensively challenged catcher and two sketchy pitching prospects.

In 2007, A.J. Ellis had a .382 on-base percentage and .409 slugging percentage in Double-A – better than what Federowicz has – and Ned Colletti does all he can to keep Ellis from getting regular playing time.

The only rationale I can think of is that the Dodgers think they’ll do better in the offseason trying to find a proper left fielder than they would trying to find a proper catcher. Essentially, Robinson was not in their plans, and they decided to unload him to fill a positional need. But it’s still puzzling, because the trade feels less like a step forward behind the plate and more like a step backward in outfield depth.

Eric Stephen, TrueBlueLA:

There is a decent enough chance Trayvon Robinson may never be a major league regular. But at the very least, Robinson could have been a cheap fourth outfielder for three to six years, which seems like more of an upside than the Dodgers received in return. To me this trade is an overreaction to fill a need, a need Colletti himself was largely responsible in creating. I’m not even confident that need was anywhere close to being filled. Which leaves me empty.

Jared Massey, LADodgerTalk:

At least it appears that Ned tried to address an area of need with Federowicz, given the fact that their catching depth is suspect. The problem is they didn’t need another glove first backstop with questions about his hitting. They have that guy in Matt Wallach. They also have the aforementioned Griff Erickson, who’s batting .275 thru 19 Double A games, is younger and has more potential at the plate. Add to that the three catchers drafted this past June and Tim becomes even less valuable.

The two pitchers profile as relievers, which is another area in which the Dodgers don’t need help. With the young hurlers in the majors, as well as guys like Steve Ames and Shawn Tolleson in Double A, Fife and Rodriguez don’t fill areas of need.

I suppose it’s nice to have depth, but you don’t trade the best hitting prospect in the organization for warm bodies. Unless Tray had incriminating photos of members of the front office, I really don’t get this deal.

Jimmy Bramlett, LAist:

So fine. The Dodgers got a catcher. The other source of confusion was the Dodgers receiving two pitchers who project to be back-end of the rotation guys at best in the deal.

“We’ve got a lot of pitching,” Colletti told reporters on Saturday explaining his evaluation of the Dodgers’ farm system.

“You’ll never turn down good pitching, but a lot of our emphasis is on position players.”

Evidently good pitching can be expanded to mean mediocre pitching.

With all of this double-speak, it is hard to determine the direction of the Dodgers. It seems they acknowledge and want to remedy their offensive holes, but all of the actions they undertake are contrary to that goal. Perhaps Colletti is thinking two or three moves ahead of everyone and will pull off a genius move.

But here’s is a sobering thought for everyone. With both Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp eligible for free agency in 2013, what happens in the very likely possibility the Dodgers cannot re-sign them?

Federowicz might be the catcher of the future for the Dodgers, but what good will it do if the only power sources for the Dodgers jump ship?

Bloggers from the other teams involved!

Jeff Sullivan, Lookout Landing:

But the Mariners just gained two good talents without really making any kind of significant sacrifice at all, and that’s the sign of a hell of a trade. It is impossible to be disappointed by this.

Jay Yencich, U.S.S. Mariner:

All-in-all, I’d say this is a win for the M’s, far better than what was initially coming down the wire, which was some backup catcher coming our way. I wouldn’t say either of these guys is a guy that I’m going to pencil in as the anything of the future, though Robinson has good odds on seeing some time down the road. For what may end up as a rental for the Red Sox (and whatever it is that Fields is), this is a pretty darned good return.

Marc Normandin, Over the Monster:

Most importantly, Federowicz, Fife, and Chiang were all going to be Rule 5 eligible this upcoming winter, so Boston was moving pieces it was planning to lose anyway in exchange for help now.

All in all, this was a good trade for Boston, as they didn’t give up anything they weren’t planning on losing in the short-term anyway, and they received a high-risk, high-reward hurler in Bedard. If Buchholz ends up missing significant time the rest of the year, and Bedard can stay on the mound, the Red Sox and their fans will be very happy about a rare July 31 deal that has a major impact.

Chip Buck, Fire Brand of the American League:

The good news for the Red Sox is that none of the prospects they traded away were highly touted.  According to Sox Prospects, Federowicz was ranked #22; Chiang #23; Fife #32; and Rodriguez #44 in the Red Sox farm system.  Essentially, they traded depth, rather than premium talent.  All-in-all, I’m pretty psyched they were able to obtain a pitcher while holding onto Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Kalish, Josh Reddick, Anthony Ranaudo, Ryan Kalish, Kyle Weiland, and Felix Doubront.  You should be as well.

Dodgers Shock Baseball by Trading Trayvon Robinson For Organizational Depth

I… am… speechless.

About 30 seconds after the deadline passed, I tried to hit publish on a post titled “Trade Deadline Passes Quietly for Dodgers”. WordPress blew up as I did, and the post never made it live. It included the line that I’m pretty sure I’m glad WP ate, “But let’s look at this in a positive light: being mildly disappointed at the lack of deals is far better than freaking out over the idea that Scott Podsednik, Ryan Theriot, and Octavio Dotel are improvements, right?”

Yeah… about that.

Shortly after the deadline, word broke that the Red Sox had traded for Erik Bedard. Okay, nothing unexpected there. Then Twitter blew up – I mean, literally exploded in a firey hellscape of “WAIT, WHAT?!” – when the news started to filter that the deal was actually a three-team move, and that the Dodgers had included Trayvon Robinson.

Before we all freak out, here’s the facts: Robinson goes off to the Mariners (via Boston) in exchange for catcher Tim Federowicz, RHP Stephen Fife and RHP Juan Rodriguez. I copied that from someone on Twitter, and I have so many browser tabs open right now that I can’t even pretend to know who it’s from at this point, so deal.

On the players coming in – none of whom I’ve heard of before – here’s the bad news: none of the three made Kevin Goldstein’s preseason list of top 20 Sox prospects at Baseball Prospectus before the season. (Robinson, for what it’s worth, was #4 on the Dodger list; it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, because the Red Sox system is probably deeper overall, but still.)

Over at SoxProspects.com, none of the three are on that top 20 list either. Federowicz is rated #22 (up from 27 in April), Fife is #32 (up from 39), and Rodriguez is 44 (up from 45). From the same site, quick scouting reports on the three:

Federowicz: (24 next week)

Intelligent catcher with ideal frame and strong core. Line drive hitter. Average power potential as swing is on the flat side. Profiles as a gap-to-gap doubles hitter. Makes best contact on balls down and out over the plate. At times struggles to get his hands above the baseball on higher velocity elevated fastballs. Good pitch recognition skills, but can chase hard breaking balls off the plate. Improving plate discipline. Behind the dish, Federowicz presently is above-average defensively. Plus, accurate arm with a fluid release. Can struggle with his grip when throwing, which causes ball to tail into runners during stretches. Outstanding instincts and reflexes. Excels at staying square to the ball with both his body and glove. Fluid footwork, especially when blocking pitches in the dirt. Improving with game management skills and taking charge of the pitching staff. Below-average speed, but heady on the base paths. Projects as a major league backup catcher, with potential as a second division starter. (emphasis mine -  MSTI)

Fife: (25 in October)

Great pitcher’s frame. At Utah, Fife worked middle relief in 2007 and earned a rotation spot for 2008.Two-seam fastball sits between 88-91 mph. Has a four-seamer with more velocity, but doesn’t feature it. Great movement on his two-seamer, tailing down and in on righties. Also works in a biting 76-79 mph curveball and an improving 79-81 mph changeup. Relies mostly on his fastball, but has gone to his curveball as his out pitch on occasion. Working on improving the command of his curve, but has outstanding control overall. Really pounds the strike zone. Fife also has a slider in his arsenal that has been put on the shelf while he works on his curveball. Extreme groundball pitcher. Fares better against righties. Workhorse, went deep into games in college, maintaining velocity well. Ultimately, Fife has a high potential to become a major league pitcher, and whether or not he’s able to become a starter in the bigs depends on how well he hones his secondary stuff. Somewhat jerky delivery with a lot of torque – snaps the ball as it comes out of his hand. Really came on as a draft prospect late in the 2008 NCAA season. Fife missed the first few months of the 2009 season with weakness in his throwing shoulder.

Rodriguez: (23 in December)

Large-framed righty dominated DSL competition in 2009, but was slightly old for the league. Mechanics can use some tuning-up, but he demonstrates a live arm. Attacks hitters. Fastball sits 92-95 mph and shows more life (96-97 mph) in short blasts. Also throws a 79-81 mph slurve, that has some potential if he can sharpen it and get it up in  the mid-80s.  Lots of projection, but he’s behind the age scale because he signed at 19, unlike many other Latin prospects who sign at 16. Needs to develop his curveball to be starter material. Has accumulated impressive strikeout numbers at every level so far with the Red Sox.

Those reports were all from before the season. Here’s what they’ve done so far in 2011:

Federowicz: .275/.337/.397 at AA (is reportedly considered a “plus defender“, says Yahoo’s Tim Brown. BP’s Marc Normandin concurs, saying “above-average defender, better blocking than throwing, possible doubles power. probably a second division starter, more likely solid backup”)

Fife: 11-4, 3.66 ERA, 6.1 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 at AA (known for “pitchability”, whatever that means)

Rodriguez: 2-4, 5.19 ERA, 13.4 K/9, 4.8 BB/9 at A

Mike Andrew of SoxProspects commented on this on Twitter:

My take: #Red Sox traded 3 Rule 5 eligible B-prospects, each w/ a chance to be MLB role players, & a C-Level prospect w/ marginal MLB future

FWIW, each of Chiang, Fife, & Federowicz are Rule 5 eligible this winter. Rodriguez is the 4th chip – predicted that earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Robinson was tearing it up in AAA: 26 homers, and a .293/.375/.563 line. Lest you think that’s merely a product of ABQ, he’s hitting .306/.394/.585 at home, and .280/.354/.537 on the road. That’s in a hitter-friendly league overall, so take it with the requisite grain of salt, but by all indications he’s on the path to being a solid regular, though maybe something less than a star. Meanwhile, the three prospects coming in return all look to be something less than that.

Obviously, this all came out of nowhere, and we’ll need time to digest it. My initial impression, though? Pretty disappointed, and not just because we’ve all grown to love Robinson and the idea of him coming back to play in his hometown.

If anything, this summary of Ned Colleti’s post-trade interview from Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA sums it up best:

Synopsis from Ned Colletti: “We need catching…it’s easier to find an OF [on FA market] than it is a catcher.

He then went on to claim that you can create an outfielder, but not a catcher, though his comments were drowned out by Russell Martin and Carlos Santana (among others) laughing. In theory, that idea sounds fine. But in practice? Robinson is a solid outfield prospect with a chance to be much more. Federowicz sounds like a placeholder, and the pitchers are intriguing but little more. Position isn’t everything, otherwise you’d see the Jays trading Jose Bautista for, well, Dioner Navarro. (Actually, you wouldn’t, because the Jays have a real general manager.) I like the idea of Ned trying to address the catching issue (you know, the one he created), but in no way is this the way to do it.

Besides, what in the hell is a team deep in pitching, desperate for offense and with a gaping hole in the outfield doing trading an MLB-ready outfield prospect for a catcher who may or may not be able to hit and two mildly interesting pitchers?

The more I read about this trade, the less I like it. It hurts the Dodgers short term, since Robinson was by all accounts coming up in the next month or so. It probably hurts them long term, if Robinson develops as we hope he will. And I can’t imagine how it must feel for Robinson, expecting a call to LA any day, and instead being told to pack his bags for Seattle.

More to come. I guess.

Update: added Keith Law’s thoughts

The Dodgers get … I’m not really sure what they get. Tim Federowicz is a catch-and-throw specialist who isn’t likely to produce enough at the plate to be an average regular, but is plus across the board behind the plate (including a career 34-percent caught-stealing rate) and is no worse than a good backup in the majors. Stephen Fife probably profiles as a right-handed reliever rather than a starter because he lacks the out pitch to start; he’ll touch 95 as a starter with a fringe-average curveball. Juan Rodriguez has a plus fastball, no average second pitch, and below-average command and control — a nice arm to add to your system but a reliever at best and not a high-probability guy either. Unless Robinson was somehow burning a hole in their pockets, this doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, as they didn’t get any prospect as good as he is in the exchange.

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Not that anyone cares about this anymore, but the canceled post had info on Alex Castellanos, so I might as well include it here. Los Angeles did send several million to the Cardinals along with Furcal, though they send up saving $1.4m overall, which was as much the point as it was getting Castellanos, who turns 25 next week.

Castellanos, a 10th-round pick in 2008 out of a small North Carolina college, played second and third base in his first two years with the Cardinals, but is now strictly a right fielder. He was a Texas League All-Star this year with a line of .319/.379/.562, and 19 HR. That sounds nice, though I’ve yet to see a scouting report that says he’s more than a fourth outfielder; he wasn’t even mentioned in Kevin Goldstein’s preseason Top 20 Cardinals prospects list at Baseball Prospectus. Of course, since Furcal is old, incredibly injury-prone, and having a terrible season, anyone who thought he was bringing back a top prospect was fooling themselves.

Since I admittedly hadn’t heard of Castellanos prior to yesterday, let’s let people who know a lot more about him than me fill in the blanks on what to expect.

Jim Callis of Baseball America:

Castellanos was having a career year in Double-A (he ranks eighth in the Texas League in hitting, fifth in homers and fourth in runs scored), but he’ll turn 25 on Thursday and his tools don’t live up to his performance. He has some pop but he has a long swing and chases too many pitches out of the strike zone. His speed and defensive tools are fringy, and the former Belmont Abbey (N.C.) second baseman fits best in right field. Despite his 2011 numbers, he doesn’t have the bat to profile as a big league regular there. He signed for $70,000 as a 10th-round pick in 2008.

Cardinal Nation:

The 24-year-old right-handed hitter was the Cardinals’ 10th-round draft pick in 2008. Castellanos set a new Palm Beach record with 35 doubles last season and his seven triples led the Cardinals system. Though he received votes, he did not crack The Cardinal Nation Top 40 Prospect List during the off-season.

In 2011, Castellanos was The Cardinal Nation Player of the Month for April and has twice been named the Texas League Player of the Week. He has a .319 average, 19 home runs and 62 RBI in 93 games. Castellanos has been especially hot recently, batting .419 with ten RBI in his last ten games.

Springfield News-Leader:

Castellanos, a 10th-round draft pick in 2008 from NCAA D-II Belmont Abbey (N.C.), owned the Texas League’s eighth-best batting average, its fifth-most home runs (19), fifth-most total bases (119). His 62 RBIs are second on the Cardinals behind Matt Adams’ 81.

A right-handed batter, Castellanos, 24, emerged as a potential prospect last season in the high Class A Florida State League, batting .270 but hitting 35 doubles, 13 home runs and owning a .462 slugging percentage in what is widely considered a pitcher’s circuit.

In Springfield, Castellanos still tends to chase too many off-speed pitches he couldn’t handle anyway (off-speed out of the zone). But when on base, he showed good speed and instincts, stealing 10 bases in 11 attempts.

Defensively, he played right field and showed a strong arm, though he tended to get too aggressive with runners on base and would go for the out, rather than hit the cut-off man.

Castellanos said he is being assigned to Chattanooga, Tenn., of the Double-A Southern League.

Future Redbirds (from April 2011)

Looking at the stats, it is pretty clear what type of player Castellanos is so far in his career.  He will swing for the fences and is happy to go down swinging while trying.  He will not try to work a walk and his OBP will not be much more than his AVG. But when he hits the ball it will go very far and he has the ability to stretch a single into a double and double into a triple which helps his slugging numbers.  Once on base, he also has dangerous speed to steal bases at will.  Castellanos is an intriguing prospect based on his power and speed numbers, but will need to cut down on the strikeouts and add some walks to really push his prospect status to the next level.

So it seems pretty clear that Castellanos is a 4th outfielder prospect, at best, with a small possibility of more if his sudden burst this year has something behind it. There’s value in that, I suppose, since Furcal had almost no value on the market, but this isn’t someone who is suddenly a building block for the future.

Which Prospect Could Replace Marcus Thames?

The Dodgers lost to the Angels for the sixth time in seven tries last night, in a game marked mostly by some hilarious base-running and another wild start by Rubby De La Rosa, but let’s focus on some possibly impending roster moves.

Marcus Thames strained his left calf doubling in his first at-bat last night, with Tony Gwynn immediately coming in to replace him. Tell me this doesn’t sound like someone who’s about to take a nice long stay on the disabled list:

Thames is listed as day to day, but he already missed a month earlier this season with a strained right quadriceps muscle. After Thames pulled into second base with a double, Dodgers medical-services director Stan Conte ran out from the dugout to check on him. Moments later, the two left the field together, an obviously frustrated Thames stopping as he entered the runway leading to the clubhouse to slam his helmet against a wall in disgust.

“Initially, I heard three to four days,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “But obviously, they’re going to look at it again. That would be the best-case scenario.”

Even if Thames wasn’t old and injury-prone – which he is, don’t you know – Thames is hitting just .207/.258/.362 on the year, and has seven hits (six singles) in 26 plate appearances some returning from injury in early June. With negative defensive value and little production at the plate, there’s little point in playing a man down for several days in order to keep him on the roster. With Thames hobbled, Gwynn as lifeless of a hitter as usual, and Trent Oeltjen neither getting much of a chance (16 PA) nor doing much with it (.641 OPS), the left field hole is as big as ever.

Here’s the question, though: do you call up Sands or Trayvon Robinson? When the Dodgers shipped off Sands, which at the time I agreed with, the idea was that he just needed to get his confidence back, not that there was any specific giant hole in his game. I’d say he’s done that; he homered twice last night, giving him three in three games, and since he’s been back in ABQ he’s hitting .297/.378/.568. You can make an argument that 2+ weeks back down isn’t enough, but he’s clearly got nothing left to prove in AAA.

There’s also Robinson, who’s shown a great deal of improvement as the season goes on. While his season stats are great – .316/.386/.582 – there’s a lot more of interest when you look deeper. For most of the season, we’ve been concerned about his high K/BB rate, which was 57/16 at the end of May. That’s a factor of over three; in June, he’s cut that down to 26/13. But dig this: every time we talk about an Isotope who is putting up numbers, we also have to caveat it with the usual line about how ABQ is a high-offense environment. That doesn’t apply to Robinson – at home, he’s hitting .304/.376/.574, while on the road he’s doing even better, with a .330/.398/.591. Unlike Sands, he can play center, though he isn’t an option at first base.

They’re clearly both better options than Thames or anyone else the Dodgers are currently playing in left, but while calling them both up would probably give the team the strongest 25-man roster, you’re also not going to do that when there’s only one starting spot available.

So which do you prefer? I tend to go with Sands, simply because he’s been here before and you hope that his break from the bigs would serve him well the second time around. On the other hand, you could probably DFA Gwynn with Robinson’s experience in center. I can certainly see an argument for either.

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The other news of the day is that the Dodgers are reportedly considering what fans have been asking me for years, which is moving Rafael Furcal to second base when he returns. In theory, this sounds great, right? Playing Furcal and Dee Gordon up the middle would be one of the more exciting duos in baseball, and it would strengthen the bench by having three of the Casey Blake, Juan Uribe, Jamey Carroll, and Aaron Miles group – whomever isn’t starting at third base – available in reserve. Great! Where do I sign up?

Except… it’s not that simple. In order to do that, the club would need to have seven active infielders, which is a configuration they rarely go with. That would leave room for just one reserve outfielder behind Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and whomever the starting left fielder is, which is unlikely unless the often-discussed-but-never-implemented idea of letting Blake play the outfield is revived. Of course, Blake is banged up and Uribe is awful, so you could potentially put one on the DL to make room.

Even still, as exciting as Gordon’s been, I wouldn’t consider him up for good. He’s reached base just twice in his last 21 plate appearances, sinking his season line to .246/.270/.295. Ludicrous speed is nice and all, but as the old saying goes, “you can’t steal first”. That doesn’t mean that I’m saying he needs to be sent down right now, of course; just that I’m not sure he’s proven himself enough that it’s really worth trying to make a veteran player make a position switch for him.