Did the Knoxville Smokies need to make a deadline trade? They’ve been well out front in the East for almost the entire season, having built a lead as large as 15 games. They’re the overwhelming favorites to win the division and a virtual lock to make the playoffs. However, the Smokies have slipped a bit in recent weeks and the Jacksonville Dragons have been surging, cutting Knoxville’s lead to 8 1/2 games. So perhaps the Smokies needed to make a trade to shore up their position.
On the other hand, Smokies owner/GM Jeremy Mills never needs an excuse to make a trade. He is a well-known trading obsessive. It’s rumored that Mills is largely interested in his team because it gives him an excuse to make trades. He makes trades when his team is doing well, and he makes trades when they’re doing poorly. He deals players on hot streak, and he deals players in slumps. He makes trades to improve his team, and he makes trades just for the heck of it. Give the man even the slightest hint of a trade offer, and he’ll pounce on it like a tiger on fresh meat.
Given Mills’ insatiable lust for dealmaking, it’s no surprise that even during a fairly quiet deadline, the Smokies made not one, not two, but three deals. “You know how it is with trades: one’s too many and a thousand is never enough,” said the Knoxville owner.
Somewhat surprisingly, the first deal the Smokies made was with the team chasing them in the standings, the Dragons. It was a swap of starters in need of a change of scenery, as Knoxville acquired left-hander Randy Cannon from the Dragons in exchange for southpaw Rick Tomblin. The 25-yer-old Cannon was a solid innings-eater in Jacksonville’s rotation last season, but after getting off to a rough start with sporadic work this season, he was quickly exiled to the bullpen. At the time of the trade, he sported an 0-3 record with a 6.69 ERA.
“We wish Randy Cannon well,” said Dragons owner Eric Stetson. “He’s a good man and a solid pitcher. We felt that a fresh start was the best way for Randy to get his career back on track.”
Tomblin, meanwhile, was dealt at the deadline for the second straight season; last season, the Smokies picked him up from Orlando at the end of July. The 23-year-old started the season in Knoxville’s rotation before getting exiled after a slow start. After spending time in the bullpen and in the minors, Smokies manager Snuff Wallace promoted Tomblin back to a starting role after rookie Jody Garrity got hurt. He did a credible job, although he left multiple starts early due to injury. He did pass the Dragons’ medical exam, however, and seems likely to bring his live arm into Jacksonville’s rotation. He compiled a 1-1 record and a 4.66 ERA with Knoxville.
“Rick’s a tremendous talent, and it wasn’t easy to trade him,” said Mills. “But Randy’s a special one, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to acquire him. And clearly, I can’t pass up the opportunity to acquire anyone.”
Knoxville’s second deal of the day involved the Carolina Comets. The Smokies acquired 2B Quincy Gaytan and lefty starter Adrian Pierce from the Comets in exchange for a pair of right-handers, starter Nico Library and reliever Jose Mariata. The trade was a bit of a head-scratcher for both sides. The Smokies already have a second sacker in Jeremiah Campo. Gaytan has a reputation as a quality fielder, and he got off to a hot start with the bat this season. But he’s gone cold over the last couple months, with his average sinking to .281, with no power. Pierce, meanwhile, is a 22-year-old rookie who has yet to play a PBL game.
In exchange, the Comets pick up a pair of intriguing but extremely raw prospects. Mariata, whom the Smokies acquired from Salt Lake last season, has a triple-digit fastball, but he has major control issues. On the season, the 21-year-old Mariata sports a 10.00 ERA, has allowed more than twice as many hits as innings pitched, and has walked three times as many hitters as he has struck out. Library, meanwhile, is a marginal 24-year-old prospect who showed mysterious flashes of adequacy during a limited starting stint with the Smokies this year, going 2-2 with a 3.99 ERA.
“Who wins this trade? Who knows?” said Mills. “But hey, a deal’s a deal! Trading is where it’s at!”
Finally, in the closing minutes before the deadline, Knoxville re-acquired an old friend, picking up 3B Ronnie Aceuedo from the Orlando Calrissians in exchange for left-handed reliever Spencer Einhorn. The trade was an implicit admission of failure by the Smokies GM. During spring training this year, the Smokies dealt Aceuedo, along with 1B Malcolm Bryant, to Orlando in exchange for 3B Curt Figueroa. Knoxville was counting on a bounce-back year from Figueroa; instead, he has been a disappointment, hitting only .234 with 14 homers. Meanwhile, Bryant has been a strong contributor on a much improved Orlando team.
By picking up Aceuedo, the Smokies are hoping for a return to the form he showed last year, when he surprised with a strong season at the hot corner. This year, Aceuedo hit only .223 with 6 home runs for Orlando. In exchange, the Calrissians picked up Einhorn, a lefty reliever who made only 6 appearance with Knoxvile, going 1-0 with a 5.40 ERA.
“Ronnie’s a guy we’ve always liked,” said Mills. “We hated letting him go in the first place, and we’re excited to have him back. More importantly, I got to make another trade! A trade! A sweet, life-affirming trade! Whee!”
Mills is confident that the Smokies’ deadline wheeling and dealing has left his team in a better place coming down the stretch. Perhaps more importantly, he has defended his crown as the PBL’s trading king. “I don’t see the Sultan out here talking about his big trades, because he didn’t make any,” said Mills in a playful jab at his rival, Jackson Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler, the self-proclaimed “Sultan of Swap.” The Hammerheads were reportedly trying to strike a trade at the deadline, but were unable to work it out. Said the Smokies boss: “The Hammerheads are standing still, and we’re charging ahead.”