Saturday, January 20, 2007

My thoughts on LaRoche-Gonzo deal

The Adam LaRoche and Jamie Romak for Mike Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge trade is official. I will briefly break down some of the pros and cons of this deal from the Pirates' viewpoint (I will keep it short because I am sure you have already read all of this somewhere in the past 72 hours or so).

We've been talking about what Adam LaRoche could bring to the Pirates' lineup since December, so I won't go into much detail. You know all about the 2006 stats of .285/.354/.561 for a .915 OPS, along with his 32 homeruns and 38 doubles. His bat should relieve much of the pressure on Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez to carry this offense. Personally, I've looked at his statistics so many times in the past two months that it hurts my eyes anytime I pull them up these days. Let's move on.

Jamie Romak is a 20 year-old, 6' 2" 220 lb outfielder that played in single-A last season. He has some decent power potential, with 26 2B and 16 HR in 2006. He put up an interesting .247/.369/.471 line in 2006, good for an OPS of .840. His average was low and he struck out 1 out of every 3.41 at-bats, but 59 walks helped him to a solid OBP. Romak's large frame and high number of doubles should be indications that he will develop more power. He is also from Canada, and Canadian players are known to develop at a later age. With the Pirates' farm system completely lacking any power, this is a solid addition. Romak is not a can't-miss prospect by any means, but he has some upside.

Mike Gonzalez was dominant in 2006. A quick look at his numbers verifies that. But he was no use to the Pirates until they improve in other areas of the team. Also, it is very likely that 2006 was the best season Gonzo will have in the big leagues. Relief pitchers are known to be stars one year, out of a job the next. For every Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner that has had a long successful career as a closer, there are five Derrick Turnbow's, John Rocker's or Danny Kolb's waiting to quickly fall off the face of the earth. Yesterday, just for fun, I took a look at Ricky Bottalico's statistics. Take a look at them when he was at his peak (1996-1997). Now look at the same stats for Mike Gonzalez during his peak years (2005-2006). If you looked at each pitcher's H/9, HR/9, BB/9, K/9, and WHIP for those years, you would find that they look fairly similar. 1997 was the last year that Bottalico was any good. Does this mean anything at all as far as Gonzo's future success? NO NO NO. But it does show that Gonzalez's future is anything but clear. Especially if you factor in his injury history.

Brent Lillibridge was the biggest loss to the Pirates in this trade. In 2006 he went .299/.414/.522 in 74 games with Hickory, then moved up a level to Lynchburg and continued to hit well at .313/.426/.423. His career .858 minor league OPS is very impressive for a shortstop, and he also is considered to be above average defensively. Oh, and he stole 53 bases in 66 attempts in '06. The only negative thing I can say about Lillibridge is that he has been fairly old for the levels he has played at thus far.

All things considered, I feel this is a great trade for the Pirates. It actually is the type of deal that Dave Littlefield has avoided since he has been here. He traded a relief pitcher and a fast middle-infielder. Both players were currently high in value. In return, we received two power hitters. One had a very low AVG, but high OBP and SLG. He traded from positions of depth and received the type of players we desperately needed. This trade was fairly bold, and DL didn't cave and give up the starter that the Braves wanted. He patiently waited until late January and got the deal he wanted. We don't get the chance to say this often, but Dave Littlefield just made a smart move.

Good luck to Mike Gonzalez in Atlanta. I am sorry to see him go, as he was one of my favorite players while he was here. We have all been saying for months now that he needed to be traded this offseason, but that does not mean he wasn't appreciated by Pirate fans. You will be missed, Mike.

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