Prospect For Prospect Trades Would Open Doors And Fill Holes





See also: Jim Callis' previous column

CHICAGO--Most baseball trades fall into one of two categories. A club either fills a hole with a veteran by parting with promising young talent, or dumps salary and takes what it can get in return. Sometimes, it's a combination of both.

Rarely are prospects traded for prospects, because most teams look at their farmhands like parents look at their kids. They love their own more than anyone else's.

The lone exception thus far this year came on Feb. 28, when the Angels shipped second baseman Alberto Callaspo to the Diamondbacks for power reliever Jason Bulger in a deal consisting solely of players featured in Baseball America's Prospect Handbook. There wasn't a comparable transaction in 2005.

That's a shame.

To borrow a term from Bill James, there aren't enough challenge trades these days. Remember when Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter could get traded for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, based simply on talent rather than financial considerations?

While escalating salaries have all but eliminated challenge trades with major leaguers, there's no reason we shouldn't have more with prospects. To that end, here are some suggestions:

Braves catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia for Diamondbacks outfielder Chris Young. While Saltalamacchia is the best catching prospect in the minors, Atlanta already has a fine young catcher in Brad McCann, who's better defensively. Acquired from the White Sox in the Javier Vazquez trade, Young is one of the game's top center-field prospects, though not the best in the Arizona system. That distinction belongs to Justin Upton; Carlos Quentin, who can play a passable center field, also ranks ahead of Young.

The Braves could shift Saltalamacchia to first base and the Diamondbacks could put Young on an outfield corner, but they'd get more out of making this trade. Atlanta would have insurance in case Andruw Jones departs as a free agent after 2007, and the worst-case scenario would be that Young would be a huge upgrade in left field.

Arizona still would have an entire outfield of Upton, Quentin and Carlos Gonzales to build around, along with a possible franchise catcher in Saltalamacchia. He's far superior to Diamondbacks catching prospect Miguel Montero--who could become fodder for another trade.

Angels shortstop Erick Aybar for Cardinals righthander Anthony Reyes. Los Angeles didn't give Callaspo away, but it also didn't get a full return on his value. And his departure only slightly lessened a logjam that still includes Adam Kennedy and Howie Kendrick at second base and Orlando Cabrera, Brandon Wood and Aybar at shortstop.

Kennedy can become a free agent and Wood eventually may move to third base, but the Angels still would have too many middle infielders. Their pitching isn't as strong as their lineup, so dealing Aybar for mound reinforcements makes a lot of sense.

Reyes is St. Louis' best prospect, a potential No. 2 starter if he can avoid the nagging elbow and shoulder injuries that have intermittently plagued him since 2002. But he couldn't make the big league staff out of spring training, and the Cardinals have a very real chance to win the World Series. They'd be better off by swapping Reyes for Aybar, whom they'd install at shortstop, allowing them to move David Eckstein to second base.

Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach for Giants second baseman Kevin Frandsen. Shoppach went from Boston to Cleveland in the Coco Crisp trade, but he's still stuck in purgatory. Once trapped behind Jason Varitek, he's now trapped behind a better and younger catcher in Victor Martinez.

Given the chance to play regularly, which he won't get with the Indians, Shoppach could hit .260 with 20 homers, a fair number of walks and solid defense. That would make him a godsend in San Francisco, where Mike Matheny's bat is on life support. Matheny is also 35 and the Giants have no viable catching prospects on the horizon.

While Frandsen, a gamer with solid tools, is the heir apparent if San Francisco doesn't bring Ray Durham back for 2007, speedster Marcus Sanders is the best second-base prospect in the system. Though Sanders won't be ready for a couple of years, it's easier to find a second baseman than a catcher. The Indians have a bigger need at second, where Frandsen would be as effective (and more cost-effective) than pending free agent Ron Belliard.

Marlins righthander Ricky Nolasco for Mariners catcher Rob Johnson.
Florida acquired several prospects during its winter fire sale, but none of them will be the club's catcher of the future. The Marlins are overflowing with promising young arms, thanks to those deals and the use of five 2005 first-round picks on pitchers.

Conversely, Seattle has more catchers than it possibly can use and a farm system notably lacking in pitching. They signed Japanese free agent Kenji Johjima to a $16.5 million contract only a few months after giving Jeff Clement, the No. 3 overall pick in 2005, a club-record $3.4 million draft bonus.

Johnson, an athletic backstop with all-around skills, has been pushed to the back burner in Seattle and also pushed to Triple-A so Clement can play in Double-A. He'd be more vital to the future of the Marlins, while Nolasco (part of the Juan Pierre trade with the Cubs) immediately would become the Mariners' top mound prospect.