|The Rays have a young shortstop waiting in the wings in the form of Reid Brignac, who batted .256/.307/.385 in part-time play as a rookie, while seemingly their entire bullpen qualified for free agency this offseason. So Tampa Bay made a move to help clear up both areas, shipping slick-fielding shortstop Jason Bartlett, entering the final year of his contract, to the Padres for a four-player package containing three pitchers who profile as relievers: Adam Russell and Brandon Gomes from the right side and Cesar Ramos from the left. The Rays also receive 23-year-old second baseman Cole Figueroa, who played high Class A ball in 2010, while kicking in a player to be named to San Diego.
The Padres now pair Bartlett with free agent signee Orlando Hudson to provide a steady middle-infield configuration for 2011. The move also frees them up to option Everth Cabrera to Triple-A to get more seasoning.
For the Rays, they welcome all the bullpen arms they can get their hands on this offseason. Already this winter, they’ve lost free agent relievers Joaquin Benoit (Tigers), Randy Choate (Marlins) and Dan Wheeler (Red Sox) to free agency, and they stand to lose closer Rafael Soriano and possibly Grant Balfour and Chad Qualls, too. Tampa Bay adds to its bullpen stable Gomes, Ramos and Russell (all formerly members of the San Diego’s 40-man roster), who join free agent acquisition Joel Peralta, rookie Jake McGee and veteran lefty J.P. Howell, whom they re-signed after non-tendering.
|Adam Russell, rhp
Born: April 14, 1983 in North Olmstead, Ohio.
Ht.: 6-8. Wt.: 255. Bats: R. Throws: R.
Career Transactions: Selected by White Sox in sixth round of 2004 draft; signed June 16, 2004 … Traded by White Sox with LHPs Aaron Poreda and Clayton Richard and RHP Dexter Carter to Padres for RHP Jake Peavy, July 31, 2009.
Russell tantalized the Padres, and the White Sox before them, with his 6-foot-8 frame and plus 94 mph fastball velocity. But in parts of three seasons in Triple-A, from age 25 to 27, he’s been rather ordinary: 3.83 ERA, 7.8 strikeouts and 4.3 walks per nine innings. Russell throws a slider and a changeup both in the low 80s, but they’re below-average pitches more often than not. His slider flattens out when he drops his arm angle, and he hangs his changeup a little too often to profile as a late-inning reliever. The right pitching coach might be able to unlock Russell’s potential.
|Cesar Ramos, lhp
Born: June 22, 1984 in Los Angeles.
Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205. Bats: L. Throws: L.
School: Long Beach State.
Career Transactions: Selected by Padres in supplemental first round (35th overall) of 2005 draft; signed June 15, 2005.
Ramos stymied lefthanded batters in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League—they batted .216/.281/.319 in 116 at-bats in 2010—but he doesn’t have typical situational lefty stuff. He sneaks his fastball past hitters at 87-91 mph because he delivers it across his body, providing deception, and because he sells his changeup so well. The change of pace comes in about 10 mph slower than his heater and bottoms out as it nears the plate. Ramos throws an early-count curveball for surprise called strikes and a flat cutter to work inside on righties, but he leans heavily on his fastball and changeup.
|Brandon Gomes, rhp
Born: July 15, 1984 in Fall River, Mass.
Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 175. Bats: R. Throws: R.
Career Transactions: Selected by Padres in 17th round of 2007 draft; signed June 13, 2007.
One of the more rubber-armed relievers in the minors, Gomes repeated the Double-A Texas League in 2010 and paced all league relievers with 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He ranked third in opponent average (.198) and baserunners per nine (9.7). Listed at 5-foot-11 but probably shorter, Gomes worked as a set-up man in Double-A but profiles better in middle relief at the big league level. With a whippy arm action, he throws a sneaky-quick 88-92 mph fastball with some tailing action, and he backs it up with a low- to mid-80s slider with good depth. Last season, righthanded batters hit a meager .161/.216/.252 against Gomes over 143 at-bats.
|Cole Figueroa, 2b/ss
Age: 23. Position: 2B (105 G), SS (19 G).
Born: June 30, 1987 in Tallahassee, Fla.
Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 180. Bats: L. Throws: R.
Career Transactions: Selected by Padres in sixth round of 2008 draft; signed July 24, 2008.
A strong fundamental player, Figueroa finished third in the California League in walks (81) and fourth in on-base percentage (.408), while leading the loop in fielding percentage at the keystone (.993) and proving to be one of the most difficult players to strike out (once every 10.7 plate appearances). Figueroa stole 26 bases in 35 attempts last season, which is more a testament to his baseball smarts than speed because he’s a solidly below-average runner. He played shortstop in college, but his lack of speed limits means that he profiles at second base in the pro ranks. Figueroa really knows his strike zone and rarely chases, but he’s a bit undersized and has virtually no power. His father Bien played briefly in the big leagues and his twin brother Correy, who also is a lefty-hitting second baseman, plays in the Royals system.
|Jason Bartlett, ss
Age: 31. Bats: R. Remaining Commitment: Arbitration-eligible for 2011 ($4 million salary in ’10).
Contract details courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.