By Jim Callis
July 5, 2002
What the Yankees want, the Yankees get. After picking up Raul Mondesi from Toronto in a contract dump on Monday, New York set its sights higher and targeted the best young pitcher available on the trade market. The Yankees got Jeff Weaver on Friday in a three-team trade that saw four major prospects change addresses. Detroit got Carlos Pena, Franklyn German and a player to be named from Oakland, which received Ted Lilly, John-Ford Griffin and Jason Arnold from New York.
In Weaver, the Yankees got a 25-year-old righthander who has been the Tigers’ best pitcher almost since they first promoted him in 1999, a year after they made him a first-round pick out of Fresno State. The 1996 U.S. Olympian’s best pitch is a sinking fastball in the low 90s. He also uses a slider and changeup, and developed a cut fastball to combat lefthanders. Though Weaver never has finished with a .500 or better record, that’s more a reflection on the teams he has pitched on. In 17 starts this year, he has gone 6-8, 3.18. For his career, he has a 39-51, 4.33 record and 477 strikeouts in 715 innings. Not that it matters to New York, but Weaver is in the first year of a favorable four-year, $22 million contract that will carry through what would have been his first season of free agency.
Pena, 24, ranked fifth on Baseball America’s 2002 Top 100 Prospects list, but he now has been with three teams this season. A 1998 first-round pick by the Rangers out of Northeastern, he was traded to the Athletics for four prospects in January. Pena has been considered one of the game’s top first-base prospects for a while, hitting for average and power while drawing a healthy amount of walks throughout his career. Considered a prime American League rookie-of-the-year candidate, he disappointed Oakland by batting .218-7-16 with 38 strikeouts in 40 games. That prompted a demotion to Triple-A Sacramento, where he hit .231-9-32 with 48 whiffs in 42 games. Concerns have started to arise about Pena’s ability to make consistent contact, as he has fanned 508 times in 536 pro contests. He also has stumbled in Triple-A. With the exception of a torrid August (.382-6-23) last year, he has hit .249-26-83 in 133 games at that level.
German, 22, is a Dominican version of all-time saves leader Lee Smith. He’s 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, and he regularly throws in the high 90s. He had a breakthrough winter in his native Dominican during the offseason, not allowing a run in 14 outings while fanning 23 in 16 innings and permitting just four hits. He has continued to blow the ball by hitters in Double-A this spring, whiffing 58 in 40 innings while going 1-1, 3.12 with 16 saves in 36 games. It’s difficult to make solid contact off German, who has yet to allow a homer this season. His secondary pitches are a splitter and changeup.
The Tigers also will get a player to be named, reportedly a power arm from the lower levels of the Athletics system. Players can’t be traded until a year after they sign their first pro contract, so it’s possible the late addition will be righthander Jeremy Bonderman, who throws in the mid-90s and has more than held his own while making his pro debut as a 19-year-old in the hitter-friendly high Class A California League. Bonderman has gone 4-7, 4.15 with 105 strikeouts in 93 innings. A 2001 first-round pick, he signed last Aug. 22.
[July 7 update: Multiple sources confirm that Bonderman indeed is the player to be named. One additional note on Bonderman: He became the first high school junior ever drafted, going 26th overall last year after he received his GED diploma. His ceiling was as high as any pitcher in the Oakland organization.]
Lilly, 26, had the second-best ERA (3-6, 3.40) in the Yankees rotation, but that wasn’t enough to keep him from being included in the third major trade of his career. After the Dodgers found him in the 23rd round of the 1996 draft, they sent him to the Expos in 1998 to get Mark Grudzielanek and Carlos Perez. Montreal then sent him to New York to get Hideki Irabu in 2000. Lilly’s two best pitches are his curveball and a fastball that peaks in the low 90s. In 58 big league games, he has gone 8-13, 4.95 with 210 strikeouts in 229 innings.
Griffin, 22, was the 23rd overall pick in the 2001 draft, a compensation choice for the Yankees after they lost free agent Jeff Nelson to the Mariners. Griffin hit better than .400 in each of his three seasons at Florida State, and Seminoles coach Mike Martin called him the best pure hitter in the program’s history, which also includes J.D. Drew. A left fielder, Griffin has continued to hit in the pros, batting .311-5-43 at short-season Staten Island in 2001 and .278-8-40 in 81 games at high Class A Tampa and Double-A Norwich this year. He’ll hit for average and produce a lot of doubles, and while he has shown just ordinary home run power he has the bat speed and leverage to hit more balls over the fence.
Arnold, 23, is another highly advanced Yankees pick from the 2001 draft. A second-rounder out of Central Florida, he threw a no-hitter at Staten Island and went 7-2, 1.50 with 74 strikeouts in 66 innings in his pro debut. He was shut down late last summer with elbow tendinitis, but has bounced back to go 8-3, 2.77 in 16 starts at Tampa and Norwich in 2002. Arnold continues to miss bats, striking out 101 in 97 innings with a fastball that ranges from 90-97 mph, as well as a slider and changeup.
Two teams came out very well in this trade. The Yankees established themselves further as the solid favorite to win the American League East. The Red Sox are only two games back, but New York has made the gap seem wider after acquiring Weaver. While the Athletics could have used Weaver to help their playoff hopes, Oakland’s ownership wouldn’t pick up his contract. So the A’s settled for upgrading their rotation with Lilly and adding two quality prospects.
The Tigers, by contrast, would have been better off saying no. No to the Yankees when New York came looking for Weaver, who was easily Detroit’s most attractive player and had a reasonable contract. And no to the idea of passing on the Yankees’ young players in exchange for the Athletics’ package.