A Rare Swap

Usually when Southern Illinois (Frontier) manager Mike Pinto loses a player to affiliated ball, it’s a case of good news and bad news. While he is helping a player fulfill his dream, which is one of his jobs, it usually leaves a gaping hole in Pinto’s lineup.

“If I do my job too well (of helping players move on to affiliated ball), I’ll get fired,” Pinto explained.

But this year, Pinto managed to make a deal where it worked out well for everyone involved. He was able to sell one of his players to the Diamondbacks, but get a middle-of-the-order hitter in return.

Officially, lefthander Clay Zavada’s contract was purchased by the Diamondbacks from the Southern Illinois Miners, while first baseman Brad Miller was released by the Diamondbacks and signed by the Miners. But the reality is that by making the move, the two teams essentially pulled off a trade across the independent-affiliated baseball lines.

Zavada, 24, had already been a Diamondbacks prospect, as he was the team’s 30th-round pick in 2006. He went 2-3, 3.10 for Rookie-level Missoula that year. But his father passed away during the offseason, leading Zavada to ask for his release so he could help out his family.

After a year away from the game, Zavada wanted to give baseball another try. But the Diamondbacks wanted to see how he was pitching before re-signing him. So, a Diamondbacks scout called Pinto.

Pinto was definitely interested in acquiring a lefty with a 90-91 mph fastball and a plus changeup. When he signed Zavada, he did so with the understanding that the Diamondbacks, who had recommended Zavada to the Miners, would have the first shot at getting the righthander back.

Zavada had a 1.72 ERA in 12 appearances with Southern Illinois with 22 strikeouts and four walks. It didn’t take long for the Diamondbacks to see enough to know they wanted Zavada back in their organization. But instead of simply paying the acquisition fee, farm director A.J. Hinch had a novel idea.

At the same time, Hinch was trying to find  Miller a place to play. The Diamondbacks were planning on releasing the 25-year-old first baseman, but Hinch would have preferred to help him find a new team rather than just cutting him loose.

Although he was struggling in Visalia, Miller had hit .262/.356/.454 with 22 home runs for low Class A South Bend in 2007, so there definitely was some power in his bat. If Miller was interested, the Diamondbacks would be willing to send him to Southern Illinois while Zavada rejoined the Diamondbacks. The deal was quickly worked out and signed. Less than five hours later, Major League Baseball turned it down, pointing out that it could create a difficult precedent, as MLB worried about a player being traded outside of affiliated baseball without a say in where he was going.

While that caused a roadblock, it was quickly solved when Miller agreed to head to Southern Illinois to get closer to home. The Diamondbacks acquired Zavada without paying the usual acquisition fee and released Miller, who immediately signed with the Miners. The Diamondbacks got their pitcher back without spending any cash, found a new team for a player they were going to release, and the Miners got a middle-of-the-lineup hitter, which helped take the sting out of losing their closer.

Miller has made an immediate impact for Southern Illinois, hitting .326/.500/.500 in his first 46 at-bats.

Zavada got off to a great start as well, going 1-1, 2.08 with three hits allowed, three walks and 15 strikeouts in his first nine innings.

“When you’re about to make transactions, you’re always wanting to find somewhere for a guy to play . . . Everyone won in this and everyone came out happy,” Hinch said.


• St. George (Golden) shortstop Brandon Taylor (BA, July 14-27) didn’t take long to get back to affiliated ball. The Dodgers signed him in early July and assigned him to low Class A Great Lakes. Taylor was among the Golden League’s leaders in batting average, home runs, slugging percentage and extra base hits at the time of the move.

• Kansas City T-Bones (Northern) outfielder Brad Correll (BA, June 30-July 13) can hope his return to affiliated ball has a happier ending than his last trip. Correll hit .344 with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs in 59 games with high Class A Lancaster last year after his first stint with Kansas City, but was still released in the offseason. Correll hit a league-leading 15 home runs in only 41 games, and was on pace to break the league home run record before the Royals snapped him up and sent him to high Class A Wilmington.

• Rockford leftthander Garret Bauer tied a professional baseball record when he struck out five batters in the first inning of a win against Windy City. One runner reached on a wild pitch on strike three and another reached on a passed ball. According to the River Hawks research, it’s only the fourth time its ever happened in the minor leagues, and a first in indy ball history.