By Jim Callis
August 22, 2002
Though the Astros have fallen five games behind the Cardinals in the National League Central and 6½ behind the Dodgers in the NL wild-card race, they haven’t abandoned their playoff hopes. On Thursday they tried to bolster their postseason chances by acquiring Tom Gordon from the Cubs for minor league lefthander Russ Rohlicek and two players to be named later.
Gordon, a 34-year-old righthander, didn’t make his 2002 debut until July 2 while recovering from a torn muscle in his right shoulder. He was initially shaky, allowing runs in seven of his first 13 appearances, but is in the midst of six straight scoreless outings and had re-emerged as the most dependable member of the Chicago bullpen. After coming back from Tommy John surgery to earn 27 saves in 2001, he has gone 1-1, 3.42 in 24 innings this summer, allowing 27 hits but also posting an impressive 31-10 strikeout-walk ratio. He’s starting to regain his dominant curveball and low-90s fastball, a combination that helped him lead the American League with 46 saves in 1998. Baseball America’s 1988 Minor League Player of the Year has a 106-99, 4.12 record, 98 saves and 1,529 strikeouts in 1,714 innings to show for his 15-year major league career. Gordon is in the final season of a two-year, $5 million contract and will be a free agent afterward.
Rohlicek, 22, was a sixth-round pick last year out of Long Beach State. He showed a live arm and a terrific pro body (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) with the 49ers, but had little command of his pitches. He made tremendous strides after joining the Astros, as evidenced by his 9-5, 2.98 record at low Class A Michigan. He ranked 10th in the Midwest League in ERA and allowed 148 hits and 36 walks while striking out 95 in 151 innings. Rohlicek has gotten much more consistent with his low-90s fastball, slider and changeup.
September 11 update: The Astros completed the trade by sending minor league righthanders Mike Nannini and Travis Anderson to the Cubs.
Nannini, 22, was a supplemental first-round pick out of a Nevada high school in 1998 and once was regarded as one of Houston’s top prospects. But his stuff has leveled off the last two years and he really struggled at Double-A Round Rock in 2002, going 7-8, 5.81 in 29 appearances (24 starts). In 141 innings, he permitted 151 hits and 64 walks while fanning 121. After throwing in the low 90s earlier in his pro career, Nannini now works usually in the high 80s and Double-A hitters took advantage of the fact that he lacks a true out pitch. His command also slipped this season, though there’s some potential in there.
The same is true of the 24-year-old Anderson, a 1999 second-round pick from the University of Washington. The radar-gun readings on his low- to mid-90s fastball have been more impressive that his pro performance to date. He never posted a sub-5.00 ERA until 2002, when he went 4-5, 4.46 with 81 strikeouts at Lexington, his third year in low Class A and first as a full-time reliever.