Dodgers pay dearly for Shuey

By Josh Boyd

July 28, 2002

It’s very much a buyer’s market in terms of trades, as evidenced by Oakland’s pickup of Ray Durham and cash from the White Sox for Triple-A righthander Jon Adkins on Thursday. Many players, including several relievers, are expected to be available via waivers to any club willing to assume the remainder of their contracts in August. Thus it was puzzling to see the Dodgers surrender two young righthanded pitching prospects, Francisco Cruceta and Ricardo Rodriguez, to get Paul Shuey from the Indians on Sunday.

The Dodgers, who also gave up veteran lefthander Terry Mulholland, were competing with the Angels for Shuey. But Shuey also has a total of more than $6 million remaining for 2003 and 2004 on a three-year contract that began this year. It’s a potential steal for Cleveland, which not only unloaded Shuey’s contract but continued to gear up toward returning to contention in 2004 by stockpiling top prospects. It was the third deal in six days for Los Angeles, which is trying to reverse a 5-11 slide since the All-Star break that has dropped it out of first place in the National League West.

Shuey, a 31-year-old righthander, will serve as a bridge to dominating Dodgers closer Eric Gagne, who ranks second in the NL with 35 saves. Shuey, who had spent his entire career in the Indians organization since being drafted No. 2 overall in 1992, joins righthanders Giovanni Carrara, Guillermo Mota and Paul Quantrill in the Los Angeles bullpen. Shuey was 3-0, 2.41 in 39 appearances this season. Though he has a closer’s arsenal with a mid-90s fastball, low-90s splitter and a hard curveball, he never has been able to finish games on a consistent basis. He’s more effective as a setup man. Shuey has made 11 trips to the disabled list since making his big league debut in 1994, including two last year with elbow problems and once this season with a groin injury. He has gone 34-21, 3.60 with 21 saves and 450 strikeouts in 404 innings over 361 big league games.

Cruceta, 21, showed considerable promise in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 2001, then gained further attention with an outstanding spring training. His success carried into the regular season at low Class A South Georgia, where he went 2-1, 1.75 and threw a no-hitter in April. He wasn’t quite as effective in May and June as he faced the heaviest workload of his young career, though his overall numbers are still solid: 8-5, 2.80 in 20 starts, with 111 strikeouts in 113 innings. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1999, Cruceta had one of the highest ceilings in the Dodgers system. His fastball ranges from 90-95 mph, and he shows command of a solid mix of breaking balls and changeups to give hitters several different looks.

Rodriguez, a 24-year-old Dominican signed in 1996, was ranked by Baseball America as the Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect entering the season. Though his age has been revised upward a year and scouts no longer rated him atop the organization, they still regard him highly. He won the Rookie-level Pioneer League pitching triple crown in 2000 and led the high Class A Florida State League in wins and strikeouts in 2001. He began this season on the disabled list with a sore shoulder and didn’t see any game action until mid-May. But Rodriguez needed just 11 starts at Double-A Jacksonville to earn a promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas. Between the two stops, he went 6-4, 2.26 with 51 strikeouts in 80 innings. His fastball consistently has reached 95 mph, and he complements it with an above-average breaking ball and an improved changeup.

Mulholland, 39, was included in the trade simply to relieve the salary burden on the Dodgers. He’s making $3 million this season, after which he becomes a free agent. He had been getting rocked out of the Los Angeles bullpen, posting a 7.31 ERA in 21 games. He’s a finesse lefty who has gone 113-125, 4.34 in 531 major league appearances.