By all accounts, Jason Isringhausen has had an extremely successful 2011. His 2.93 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 1.71 K/BB so far are solid stats, but the more impressive aspect of his “success” has merely been his heath. No one, including Isringhausen, expected him to contribute much this season. Given Izzy’s competency as a setup man for the Mets, the veteran reliever could also become a decent chip with the trade deadline soon approaching.
On that same token, since Isringhausen is no longer a closer and figures to retire after the season, his value is more limited than say, Mike Adams. However, the thirty-eight year old’s value is still higher than nothing–which is what many Mets fans assume it is. In an attempt to uncover what Isringhausen’s trade value could be, the best method might be to take a look at the past deadlines to seek out comparable players and their respective returns.
Thirty-six year old Octavio Dotel started the season as the Pirates closer, but everyone knew the veteran would be on the move come the deadline. Apparently, everyone was correct (twice). The Pirates shipped Dotel and his at-the-time 4.28 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 2.82 K/BB to the Dodgers for James McDonald and Andrew Lambo. The deal was immediately panned, and the Pirates were the arm-raised winners.
While McDonald never show much promise with the Dodgers at the Major Leagues (4.11 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 1.58 K/BB in 76.6 innings), the righty instantly dazzled in Pittsburgh (3.52 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 2.54 K/BB in 64). McDonald hasn’t been nearly as good so-far in 2011 (4.42 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, and 1.59 K/BB), but at age twenty-six, McDonald is an enjoyable growing-pain.
In addition to James McDonald, twenty-one year old Andrew Lambo was seen as the real steal. In 2008, Lambo posted a .295/.351/.482 line with eighteen homeruns, ninety-one RBI, sixty-five runs, and five stolen bases. The outfielder’s exciting production prompted Baseball America to label him as the #49 prospect in baseball in their pre-2009 rankings. However, Lambo didn’t quite build on his magnificent 2008 season. Lambo posted a mediocre .256/.311/.407 line in 2009 and a .272/.334/.397 line in 2010. His lack of on-base skills has particularly hurt him in his first taste of Triple-A this season, owning a pedestrian .201/.271/.319 clip.
Dotel went on to post a solid 3.38 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 1.91 K/BB in 18.6 innings for the Dodgers, before again being shipped–this time to the Colorado Rockies, where he posted a 5.06 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, and 1.50 K/BB. Isringhausen and Dotel appear to be in similar situations, as Dotel, like Izzy, was a pure rental. The Mets would be extremely lucky to get a young starter and former top prospect/toolsy outfielder in return for a few months of Jason Isringhausen.
Kerry Wood turned his fledgling career as an injury-plagued starter, into one as a pretty dominant reliever. In fact, the hard-throwing righty collected thirty-four saves for the Chicago Cubs in 2008 (3.26 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 4.67 K/BB), and another twenty saves for the Cleveland Indians in 2009 (4.25 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 2.25 K/BB). However, due to his horrendous start to the 2010 season (6.30 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, and 1.64 K/BB) as well as the emergence of youngster Chris Perez, the Indians wanted to pawn off the thirty-three year old Wood instantly. Insert the Yankees. The Yanks were willing to take a chance on Wood (and his remaining $3.6 million contract), and dealt two minor leaguers in Andrew Shive and Matt Cusick to acquire him.
Andrew Shive, a right-handed pitcher, had an impressive debut at Single-A in 2008, posting a 1.96 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 2.94 K/BB. Shive missed 2009 with an injury, but came back in 2010 and couldn’t re-kindle his previous success (4.56 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, and 0.70 K/BB). Shive has yet to pitch in 2011, again due to injury.
Unlike Shive, Matt Cusick has a little more depth to him. Cusick, a former 10th round pick, at least appears to be an infielder with good on-base skills. In his debut for the Astros at short-season Single-A, Cusick posted a .306/.422/.446 line in 273 plate appearances. Before being dealt to the Yankees, the infielder smacked an impressive nine homeruns in 400 plate appearances, with a .285/.356/.462 line to boot. However, in his first full season in pinstripes (between Single and Double-A), Cusick posted a .291/.365/.377 line with just one homerun. Considering he swatted nine dingers the year before, his regression was disappointing. Cusick has since been dealt to the Los Angeles Angels, where he has continued his high-OB/light-hitting ways. At age twenty-five and without much Triple-A exposure (just ninety-six plate appearances in 2010), Cusick appears to be Minor League fodder.
Kerry Wood turned his mediocre season with the Indians into a very stellar one with the New York Yankees. The veteran righty owned an oddly dominant 0.69 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 1.72 K/BB. His 10.7 K/9 was his highest rate since his All-Star 2008 season with the Cubs, but Wood’s atrocious 6.2 BB/9 was by far the worst in his career. Despite his renaissance stint with the Yankees, Wood made it clear that he only wanted to sign back with the Cubs in the off-season, which he did for $1.5 million. So while the Kerry Wood trade was more of a salary dump than a prospective Jason Isringhausen deal would be, there is still common ground between the two reliever’s limited future value.
If there is one reliever who knows no age, it’s Arthur Rhodes. The super-veteran lefty was thirty-eight years old in 2008 at the time he was dealt, but it didn’t stop him from posting a 2.86 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 2.00 K/BB in twenty-two innings for the Mariners. The eventual 61-101 Seattle Mariners were in sell-mode, so the low-salaried Rhodes was an obvious trade candidate–a role he was all too familiar with.
While Rhodes signed a Minor League contract with the Mariners in the off-season, he was just two years removed from his lucrative three-year, $9.2 million contract with the Oakland Athletics. After an abysmal 2004 season with the A’s (5.12 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 1.62 K/BB), he was sent packing to the Pirates in exchange for Jason Kendall. But it didn’t stop there.
Just a month later, Rhodes was on his way to Cleveland for Matt Lawton. The left-handed reliever proved his supposed decline in 2004 was an anomaly, by owning a 2.08 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 3.58 K/BB. The Indians “cashed-in” on Rhodes’ success by swapping him for late-bloomer Jason Michaels, who had posted a .289/.381/.415 line in 689 plate appearances between 2004 and 2005 for the Phillies. The now thirty-six year old Rhodes unfortunately reverted back to his 2004 self for the Phillies, hurling a disastrous 5.32 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, and 1.60 K/BB.
Rhodes was granted free-agency, and signed with the Seattle Mariners, the very franchise he spent four of his more memorable seasons with from 2000 to 2003 (3.07 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 4.01 K/BB in 261 innings). However, during Spring Training, Rhodes felt discomfort in his pitching arm, and opted for Tommy John surgery. The surgery knocked the thirty-seven year old reliever out for the entire 2007 season.
Despite his elderly age–and recent arm surgery–the mighty lefty posted a 2.86 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 2.00 K/BB in twenty-two innings for the Mariners in 2008, before being acquired by the Marlins for former Mets top prospect, Gaby Hernandez. Rhodes did everything and more for the Marlins, owning a microscopic 0.68 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 4.67 K/BB in 13.3 innings. The successful season earned Rhodes a two-year, $4 million contract in the off-season from the Reds, where he pitched a combined 2.41 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 2.58 K/BB in 108.3 innings, and even appeared in his first All-Star game. Rhodes is currently with the Texas Rangers, where he signed a one-year, $3.9 million deal with an easily attainable $4 million option for 2012.
Gaby Hernandez, who was once ranked the #17 prospect in baseball by Baseball America, never quite materialized as such in the Marlins system (4.58 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 2.47 K/BB in 361.3 innings)–and certainly not for the Mariners and beyond (5.59 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 1.73 K/BB post-Mariners). Regardless, pulling an at-the-time twenty-two year old pitcher with an extremely high-ceiling for a thirty-eight year old reliever coming off Tommy John surgery (and two bad seasons in his past four) is in its essence, a great return.
Given that Rhodes was in his upper-30′s, coming off serious injury, and was signed to a Minor League contract, there might not be a better comparison to Isringhausen out there.
For exactly three seasons (2002 to 2004), Eric Gagne was arguably the best closer in baseball. Gagne owned a 1.79 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 6.29 K/BB, and 152 saves during that tenure. For comparison sake, Mariano Rivera posted a 2.03 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 4.15 K/BB, and 121 saves during that same time period. However, like most ends to excellent pitching careers, Gagne endured an unfortunate series of injuries which prevented him from taking the mound. In fact, the Montreal-native only pitched 15.3 innings combined between 2005 and 2006–including just two innings in 2006 alone.
The Dodgers granted free agency to their former unstoppable closer, and Gagne signed an incentive-based contract with the Texas Rangers. The gamble paid off. Gagne didn’t quite return to his fully dominant form, but he did post a 2.16 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 2.42 K/BB in 33.3 innings for the Rangers. When the playoff-bound Red Sox came calling around the deadline, the Rangers happily sold-high on Gagne, who immediately fell apart in Fenway-land (6.75 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, and 2.44 K/BB).
But the damage was done. The Rangers easily won the trade, considering they netted Kason Gabbard, David Murphy, and Engel Beltre. Gabbard never amounted to much, but David Murphy is currently an integral part of the Rangers’ offense. From 2008 to 2010, Murphy averaged a .278/.339/.453 line with as many as seventeen homeruns in a given season. In addition, prior to the 2011 season, John Sickels named Engel Beltre the Rangers #6 top prospect in their system. Ranking aside, Beltre has yet to fill that potential this season (.249/.286/.309 line).
Even though Eric Gagne was just thirty-one at the time of the trade, the high volume of injuries he experienced arguably puts him in the same category as Jason Isringhausen. It’s probable that the Rangers dangled the “look how great Gagne once was and is again” carrot in front of the Red Sox face–but that is a scenario the Mets simply cannot fairly reciprocate. Carrots aside, Isringhausen and Gagne’s injury history and disposition in-season are similar enough provoke a thought-provoking comparison.
Remember Bob Wickman? From 1998 to 2006 (skipping 2003), the Wisconsin-native averaged a 3.19 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 2.24 K/BB, and twenty-nine saves–including a whopping forty-five saves in 2005. At age thirty-seven, the Indians did their beloved veteran a favor, and traded him to the “more” contending Atlanta Braves.
The trade was perplexing on many levels. Wickman had posted a mediocre 4.18 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 1.55 K/BB in twnety-eight innings for the Indians, so the Braves’ decision to use him as their closer seemed borderline idiotic. To top it all off, surrendering top catching prospect Max Ramirez made the usually savvy Braves GM John Schuerholz look like a rookie. However, like so many times before, Schuerholz made a good move.
The portly closer enjoyed the best twenty-six innings of his life. Wickman hurled a 1.04 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 12.50 K/BB, and twenty saves for the Braves down the stretch. Despite Wickman’s best efforts, the Braves failed to make the playoffs–but Atlanta enjoyed the Wickman-experience so much, that they re-signed the thirty-eight year old reliever to a one-year, $6.5 million contract for 2007. Predictably, however, Wickman was unable to re-kindle his 2006 magic, as the big righty posted a dismal 3.92 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, and 1.75 K/BB. He did manage to save twenty games, but was released in September due to ineffectiveness and an apparent run-in with manager Bobby Cox.
One has to give Schuerholz credit for acquiring Wickman, and somehow foreseeing the demise of top prospect Max Ramirez. Ramirez enjoyed very fine seasons in 2006 (.292/.417/.453 line), 2007 (.304/.419/.504 line), and 2008 (.347/.439/.628 line), but in general, struggled at Triple-A (.259/.332/.383) and the Major Leagues (.217/.343/.357). The catcher has since been with the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, San Francisco Giants, and Chicago Cubs. With six franchises to his name, Ramirez, who is now twenty-six, is safely a bust of a prospect. Present disposition aside, most Mets fans would certainly entertain acquiring a top catching prospect in exchange for their elderly statesman, Mr. Isringhausen.
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