Bullpen additions cost Phillies Chen

By Jim Callis

July 27, 2001

For the second time in as many summers, Bruce Chen, the former jewel of the Braves farm system, was traded by a National League East contender for pennant-drive reinforcements. In 2000, the Braves sent him and fellow lefthander Jimmy Osting to the Phillies for Andy Ashby. On Friday, Philadelphia dealt him and minor league lefty Adam Walker to the Mets for relievers Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook. Wendell and Cook are solid, dependable veteran relievers who helped New York reach the World Series a year ago. They’ll further deepen a rejuvenated Phillies bullpen, a key reason Philadelphia burst into contention this year.

Wendell, 34, was coveted by the Phillies when he became a free agent during the offseason. He chose to re-sign with the Mets for $9.4 million over three seasons, and can demand a trade after 2001 because he was dealt in the middle of a long-term contract. Wendell ranked second in the NL with 80 appearances in 1999 and fourth with 77 a year ago. In 49 games this year, he’s 4-3, 3.51 with 41 strikeouts in 51 innings. He’s one of the best setup men in baseball, as well as one of the game’s most colorful personalities. He uses a slider as his out pitch.

Cook, 38, gives Philadelphia a second veteran lefty to go with Rheal Cormier. He struggled in 2000, posting a 5.34 ERA, but has rebounded this year. He’s 1-1, 4.25 in 43 games, holding opponents to a .207 batting average while fanning 34 in 36 innings. At his age, he relies on guile and deception more than velocity. He’s more effective against righthanders than most lefty pitchers.

Chen, 24, was Atlanta’s top-rated prospect entering the 1998 and 1999 seasons. He doesn’t throw hard, usually working at 86-88 mph, but the Braves always raved about his intelligence, command and pitchability. But he never could quite crack Atlanta’s formidable rotation, and after going 3-4, 3.63 in 15 starts with the Phillies last year, he regressed in 2001. Chen went 4-5, 5.00 in 16 starts with Philadelphia, which earned him a demotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he was 1-0, 3.86 in three starts. Chen isn’t there yet, but the best-case scenario is that he’s a No. 2 starter. His big league career record stands at 15-11, 4.23 with 253 strikeouts in 292 innings.

Walker, 25, has been a consistent winner in the minors since signing as a 27th-round pick out of the University of Missisippi in 1997. He went 9-0 at low Class A Piedmont in 1998 and ranked among the minors’ win leaders in 2000, going 15-9 between Piedmont and high Class A Clearwater. At Double-A Reading this season, he went 7-4, 1.88 in 15 starts, improving his career record to 40-25. Though his secondary numbers--50 hits, two homers, 28 walks and 81 strikeouts in 91 innings--might indicate otherwise, he’s not an overpowering pitcher. He’s more of a finesse guy who has succeeded thanks to a deceptive changeup. The trade was put on hold until the Mets deemed Walker healthy because he had been on the Reading disabled list with elbow problems. New York GM Steve Phillips said his club no longer has any concerns.

With the Mets and Phillies reversing fortunes in 2001, this trade makes a lot of sense for New York. The Mets added a promising lefty in Chen, who joined their big league roster, and freed up money to upgrade its offense. Wendell and Cook may bolster Philadelphia’s playoff chances, but in the long run they may regret parting with Chen.