By Jim Callis
June 7, 2004
After giving Peter Bergeron numerous chances to win their center-field job, the Expos finally gave up on him Monday. Montreal traded Bergeron and a player to be named later to the Brewers for two minor leaguers, righthander Jason Childers and outfielder Jason Belcher.
Bergeron, 25, turned in two desultory seasons as a regular for the Expos in 2000-01, then spent most of the next two seasons (including all of 2003) in Triple-A. A hot spring earned him another chance in 2004, but Bergeron batted just .214/.250/.214 with one RBI in 11 games before straining his right ribcage and going on the disabled list. Optioned to Triple-A Edmonton after coming off the DL in late May, he was hitting .512/.545/.732 in 11 games there at the time of the deal. Speed is Bergeron’s best tool, and he throws better than most center fielders. But he has been woefully ineffective in the majors because he’s a slappy hitter who doesn’t get on base enough. He even has been erratic on the basepaths, succeeding on just 31 of 55 (56 percent) steal attempts. A career .226/.303/.308 hitter with eight homers and 56 RBIs in 308 games, Bergeron doesn’t appear to be anything more than Triple-A insurance for the Brewers.
Childers, 29, signed out of Kennesaw State (Ga.) as a nondrafted free agent in 1997. At 6 feet and 160 pounds, he’s not as physically impressive as his younger brother Matt, whom the Brewers always have regarded as a superior prospect, but Jason clearly outpitched him in the Milwaukee system. Childers had a career 2.92 ERA as a Brewers minor leaguer and was 1-0, 1.26 with an International League-leading 15 saves at Triple-A Indianapolis this year. He had a 27-9 strikeout-walk ratio in 29 innings, and opponents were batting just .196 with no homers against him. Childers’ fastball is a pedestrian 86-89 mph, but he has a good curveball, useful changeup and plus control. He could contribute to Montreal’s bullpen later in the year.
Belcher, 22, projected as Milwaukee’s catcher of the future after signing as a 2000 fifth-round pick out of an Arkansas high school. But he had repeated injury problems and was so poor defensively that he became a full-time outfielder in 2003. Belcher has a promising bat, hitting for average and drawing a decent amount of walks, though he’ll have to step up his power production after the position switch. He’s a purely offensive player who offers little as a runner or a defender. In 47 games this year at Double-A Huntsville, he hit .289/.357/.438 with three homers and 17 RBIs.
June 18 update: The Expos completed the deal by sending Double-A righthander Saul Rivera to the Brewers. Rivera, 26, originally signed with the Twins as a 1998 ninth-round pick out of the University of Mobile (Ala.). He went to the Mets on waivers in November 2001, then to Montreal in the Scott Strickland/Bruce Chen trade in April 2002. Rivera, who sat out all of 2003, had a 0-2, 7.71 record in 18 appearances at Harrisburg this year. In 21 innings, he had a 15-12 K-BB ratio, while opponents batted .307 with three homers against him. For a little guy (5-foot-11, 165 pounds), Rivera throws exceptionally hard (low-90s fastball), but his secondary pitches and command never have come around consistently.