By Jim Callis
July 25, 2001
The Athletics are in a difficult position, contending for the wild card as a small-revenue club with key players set to become big-ticket free agents after the season. Oakland answered any doubts as to whether it would hold ’em or fold ’em on Wednesday when it picked up outfielder Jermaine Dye from the Royals in a three-team trade. Kansas City received shortstop Neifi Perez from the Rockies, who got minor leaguers Jose Ortiz, Mario Encarnacion and Todd Belitz from the A’s.
Dye, 27, can’t be a free agent this year like his new teammates Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi and Jason Isringhausen, but he’ll command a lot of money in arbitration. He had strong seasons in 1999 (.294-27-119) and 2000 (.321-33-118) but hasn’t been as potent this year, hitting .272-13-47 in 97 games. Dye adds some righthanded pop to a very lefthanded lineup. He’ll take over in right field, with Terrence Long likely moving over to left and ending a revolving door of players at that position. Dye also offers one of the better right-field arms in the game.
Perez, 26, won a Gold Glove last year and is a fine defensive shortstop, but he also may be the most overrated player in baseball. He’s one of the weakest hitters in the game, though Coors Field has masked that fact. Perez is hitting .298-7-47 in 87 overall games this year—but just .237-0-11 in his 37 road games. Similarly, he has career .282-43-281 numbers in 668 games, which include a .243-12-92 performance in 327 contests below mile-high altitude. His career on-base plus slugging percentage of .623 away from Coors isn’t much better than weak stick Rey Ordonez’ .580 overall mark. It’s also comparable to Kansas City incumbent Rey Sanchez’ .652 career mark, and Sanchez is also an excellent glove man. The Royals were having trouble signing Sanchez to a long-term deal, while Perez had rebuffed the Rockies’ attempts to buy him out of his two remaining years of arbitration. Perez has played second base in the past and could play there in the short term if Sanchez stays in Kansas City.
Ortiz, 24, was a preseason American League Rookie of the Year favorite after winning Triple-A Pacific Coast League MVP honors in 2000, when he hit .351-24-108 with 22 steals for Sacramento. He opened this year as Oakland’s second baseman before injuring his calf and losing his job to Frank Menechino. Ortiz batted .167-0-3 in 11 games with Oakland before returning to Sacramento, where he hit .273-7-39 in 65 games. He has promise as an offensive-minded middle infielder who could be an annual 20-20 guy in the majors—without the help of Coors Field. He does lack the plate discipline that the A’s instill in most of their prospects, and he’s not much defensively. Ortiz has played shortstop in the minors but projects as a big league second baseman.
Like Ortiz, the 23-year-old Encarnacion is a tools player whom Oakland signed out of the Dominican Republic. The biggest difference is that Ortiz has produced much more in the minors. Encarnacion has all five tools but entered 2000 as a career .279 hitter who translated his power into homers and speed into steals only sporadically. His ability outstrips his baseball instincts, and his poor strike-zone judgment is a weakness. Encarnacion missed seven weeks this year after spraining his ankle during a rundown. He hit .285-12-33 in 51 games at Sacramento, though his 61-17 strikeout-walk ratio remains discouraging.
Belitz, 25, was a 1999 fourth-round pick out of Washington State by the Devil Rays. Tampa Bay traded him to Oakland last summer with fellow reliever Jim Mecir for fireballing prospect Jesus Colome and cash. A lefthander, Belitz is a sinker-slider pitcher who can reach the low 90s when he throws a four-seam fastball. He was 4-2, 5.13 in 38 appearances at Sacramento, with 54 strikeouts in 53 innings.
The Athletics did well in this deal. They upgraded their lineup and their playoff chances while adding flexibility. They now can trade one of their pending free agents without irreparably harming their wild-card chances. It’s interesting, however, how quickly Oakland gave up on Ortiz.
The Rockies did well in this deal. They didn’t lavish a huge contract on Perez, instead adding a potential star in Ortiz and two decent prospects in Encarnacion and Belitz. Ortiz easily could become one of the National League’s most productive middle infielders in the near future, and it won’t just be the result of altitude. Colorado also has a shortstop prospect, Juan Uribe, who’s ready to play in the majors. He should be able to offer at least as much offense as Perez did.
As they did when they traded Damon during the offseason, the Royals didn’t get much of a return for Dye. They’ll likely keep Perez for the long term and overpay to do so. A small-revenue team can’t make many mistakes like that, or they’ll turn into the Pirates. It seems certain that Kansas City now will trade Sanchez before the deadline, but he won’t bring a significant return.