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Rarefied Error Today in baseball
2003-01-26 01:45
by Mike Carminati

Rarefied Error

Today in baseball there was a rarity, two teams made a trade that doesn't seem as if it could help either one. Houston sent disappointing, 27-year-old left fielder Daryle Ward to the Dodgers for minor-league pitching Ruddy Lugo, who happens to be Astro shortstop Julio Lugo's brother. Why either one of these teams made the trade I have no idea. It looks like a trade made by bored fantasy leaguers.

ESPN reports that Ward's departure opens the center field job for displaced second baseman Craig Biggio. There's only one problem with that logic: Ward was a left fielder. He's never played center field in his major-league career. Franchise player Lance Berkman was the Astros starting center fielder last year. If ESPN is correct, then the Astros intend to play Biggio in center and Berkman in left. Berkman has played left before. In fact he was the Astros' starter in left in 2001. Berkman may not have been much more than acceptable as a defensive center fielder; as an offensive one, however he led in slugging and OPS. He is potentially the best center fielder in baseball. As a left fielder, he would have ranked fifth in OPS behind Bonds, of course, Ramirez (if we consider him a left fielder), Giles, and Pujols and right before Chipper Jones. That's not bad company, but it does drop him a peg or two.

On the other hand, Biggio, though his superannuated bat may be easier to hide in center, has only played 39 games in center field. His last appearance in center field came in 1991, a year before he moved from catcher to second base. Actually, they tried him in left and center two years before his first second base appearance in the majors. Possibly they found something that indicated that he would make a better second baseman than outfielder--at least they say enough to try him at second. Since 1991, he has only made seven appearances in the outfield, solely as a leftfielder, so it's impossible to say whether he is capable. Why not keep Ward, who had never been a starter for a complete season before 2002, on the bench just in case?

I think it basically hurts them in a few ways. First and foremost, the go from having arguably the best center fielder in baseball to probably a sub-par defensive and offensive center fielder in Biggio. Second, their young superstar is no longer as special or as impactive a player in left field as in center field. Third, without Ward, they will have only Orlando Merced and switch-hitters Jose Vizcaino and Gregg Zaun to bat from the left side. Also, if Biggio falls flat on his face, which is a good possibility, they will have no one to replace him except bench players Orlando Merced, Brian Hunter, or Jason Lane. Remember when the 'Stros had too many outfielders?

They get what looks to be a decent pitching prospect, who is probably a year away from the majors. Also, it appears that the acquired him because he is their shortstop's brother. That's admirable, but considering that Julio is a below-average-hitting shortstop, he may no longer be with the team when his brother is ready to help them.

The only reason that does make sense in this surreal offseason is payroll. From ESPN:

Hunsicker said the trade was made primarily to reduce payroll and ease the ``logjam'' in the outfield. He said the team is looking to make some more payroll trims before spring training.

``Ever since the Kent signing, we've expanded our budget and I've had to get that under control,'' Hunsicker said.

So they sign a better second baseman than they already had and instead of trading the second-fiddle second-sacker. The shift him to the outfield and then get rid of a player who just broke $1 M this year even though they still think he has potential. He may never match his pre-2002 numbers over a full season, but he would be a useful bench player, something the Astros would need if they want to be a playoff contender, and he is not that expensive.

The Dodgers meanwhile pick up a guy they can't use. He is stuck behind Shawn Green in right field, Fred McGriff at firs, and Brian Jordan in left--actually Jordan is stuck behind Green in right and that's why he moved to left. The same argument for a reasonable backup outfielder applies to the Dodgers as well, but the Dodgers already had nine outfielders with major-league experience. Also, with the glaring holes at second base and shortstop on the Dodgers, it seems silly for them to consider acquiring another backup outfielder.

Going into the season, it appears that the Dodgers will have a double-play combo of Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora. Ouch! Izturis at the plate make Rey Ordonez look like A-Rod. Cora, though he produced at the plate last year, never did before in his 5-year career. Also, he has only played 56 games at second in the majors. Add in the disappointingly average Adrian Beltre and even with Fred McGriff at first, the Dodgers have one of the weakest all-around infields among the playoff contenders. Also, with an aging pitching staff, they may need a young arm next year more than a backup outfielder.

Well, there you go. It's not too often that you see an error on both teams, but the Astros and Dodgers did it today.

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