Rockies hope Kim just needs change of scenery

By Jim Callis

March 30, 2005

In a deal Tuesday that allowed both the Red Sox and Rockies to jettison players they had been trying to dump for months, Boston shipped Byung-Hyun Kim to Colorado for lefty prospect Chris Narveson and Charles Johnson. The Rockies also sent $2.6 million to the Red Sox, who immediately designated Johnson for assignment and released him, with the expectation that the Devil Rays soon would claim him.

According to Baseball America columnist Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News, the Red Sox originally were going to cover all but $362,500 of Kim’s $6 million salary and Colorado was going to eat all but $500,000 of Johnson’s $9 million salary in a separate deal with Tampa Bay. The revised trade benefits all three teams financially. The Rockies are spending $8.6 million rather than $8,892,500; the Red Sox reduce their payroll by $1 million for luxury-tax purposes; and the Devil Rays can sign Johnson for the big league minimum of $316,000.

The Red Sox probably wouldn’t have made the 2003 playoffs without trading Shea Hillenbrand for him that May. Kim had 16 saves and didn’t allow a run in his last 13 regular-season appearances, but he put the eventual tying run on base in Boston’s playoff opener against Oakland. During introductions before Game Three of that series at Fenway Park, he made an obscene gesture after the crowd booed him. The Red Sox deactivated him for the American League Championship Series, but showed faith in him by signing him to a two-year, $10 million contract that offseason. On Tuesday, Boston GM Theo Epstein called that contract "a mistake." Kim barely pitched for the Red Sox in 2004 while battling a shoulder strain and back problems. He went 2-1, 6.23 in seven games (three starts) for Boston and spent four months at Triple-A Pawtucket.

A 26-year-old righthander, Kim is best known for giving up two game-winning homers in the 2001 World Series. But he also may be the hardest-throwing submariner in baseball history and was untouchable in four years with the Diamondbacks. He was capable of touching 93 mph and had a nasty slider with Arizona, but hasn’t had that kind of stuff this spring, when he admitted he felt like he had 70 percent of his previous arm strength. Though he has sat at 87 mph in the Grapefruit League, Colorado soon may give him a chance to finish games with projected closer Chin-Hui Tsao heading to the disabled list. Kim has a career 31-28, 3.37 record with 86 saves in 299 games. His other numbers are dominant: a 455-176 strikeout-walk ratio in 420 innings, plus a .206 opponent average with 39 homers allowed.

From the Rockies’ perspective, the 23-year-old Narveson was the key to their Larry Walker trade with the Cardinals in August. A 2000 second-round pick out of a North Carolina high school, he had a breakout season in 2001 but saw it end prematurely with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He spent all of 2004 in Double-A, going 5-13, 4.02 in 27 starts. He had a 135-64 K-BB ratio, while opponents hit .238 with 12 homers. Narveson has quality stuff for a lefty, with an 88-93 mph fastball, a plus curveball and an average changeup. He just needs to refine his command and get stronger, goals he’ll strive toward at Triple-A Pawtucket. In 98 minor league games, he has posted a career record of 27-36, 3.32.

Johnson, 33, is a shell of the player who earned two all-star berths and four Gold Gloves as a catcher. His offensive and defensive skills have declined markedly and he’s one of the slowest players in the game. Coors Field has helped mask his slippage at the plate. Johnson batted .236/.350/.430 with 13 homers and 47 RBIs in 109 games last year. His arm is now decent rather than strong—he threw out just 16 percent of basestealers in 2004—and he’s a liability as a receiver. He’s a career .246/.330/.435 hitter with 167 homers and 565 RBIs in 1,169 games.