Rhodes changes clubs again, this time for Lawton

By Jim Callis

December 11, 2004

Two weeks after acquiring him from Oakland as part of the the Jason Kendall trade, the Pirates sent Arthur Rhodes packing again. On Saturday, in the first trade of the Winter Meetings, Rhodes went to the Indians for Matt Lawton. Cleveland will send cash to Pittsburgh to cover part of Lawton’s 2005 salary, while the Pirates will pick up part of Rhodes’ salary in 2006.

Lawton, 33, likely will replace Kendall as Pittsburgh’s leadoff hitter and play left field. The Indians deemed him expendable because they have a surplus of outfielders, all of whom are younger and cheaper than Lawton, who will make $7.25 million next season as his four-year, $27 million contract comes to an end. In 2004, he made his second all-star team but slumped in the second half, finishing at .277/.366/.421 with 20 homers, 73 RBIs and 23 steals in 150 games. He has solid power and speed, as well as a good eye at the plate, but he has become somewhat of a defensive liability after knee and shoulder surgeries in recent years. In 1,182 career games, he has batted .269/.370/.421 with 125 homers, 577 RBIs and 147 steals.

The A’s signed the 35-year-old Rhodes for three years and $9.2 million to replace Keith Foulke as their closer, but that plan quickly went awry. He blew five of 14 save opportunities and had a 5.28 ERA in late June, when he began a seven-week stint on the disabled list with a strained back. He finished the year with a 3-3, 5.12 record and nine saves in 37 appearances. Opponents battered him for a .293 average and nine homers, while he had a 34-21 strikeout-walk ratio in 39 innings. Rhodes, who will pitch in his familiar setup role with Pittsburgh, can pound hitters with low-90s fastballs and hard sliders when he’s 100 percent. He has $6.2 million remaining on the final two years of his contract. In 551 big league games, he has gone 72-54, 4.36 with 26 saves and 130 holds.