Smokies Strike Three Deals at Deadline

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.

Jeremy Mills, Duke of the Deadline

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.”

Sharks Bolster Bullpen, Acquire Abernathy from Milwaukee

The California Sharks are gearing up for big things in the postseason.  They’ve had a comfortable lead in the West for most of the year, and are almost certainly headed for the playoffs.  With that in mind, the Sharks came into Wednesday’s trade deadline looking to bolster their few weaknesses and prepare for a deep run.  Their lineup is producing the most runs in the league, so there’s no need for upgrades on that score.  Their rotation also looks postseason-ready, especially once knuckleballer Todd Warrant returns from injury.   But their bullpen was a reliable arm short; closer Eugene Grace has been inconsistent, and long man Kerry Lopez has struggled badly.

The Sharks addressed that weakness on Wednesday, acquiring veteran left-handed reliever Olen Abernathy from the Milwaukee Bear Claws in exchange for lefty prospect Luke Bond.

“We’ve got one goal this season, and that’s to win a title,” said California owner/GM Colin Mills.  “We don’t have a lot of weak spots, but we needed one more good relief arm to strengthen our pen.  Olen Abernathy is the guy we wanted, and I couldn’t be happier that we got him.”

Abernathy has postseason experience, as he was a key part of the bullpen that led the Bear Claws to the PBL title in 2015.  “Last season, whenever we played Milwaukee I knew we needed to score early,” said Sharks manager Eduardo Aponte, “because I knew that Almon, Abernathy, and Buenaventura would shut the door right in our faces.”

The southpaw has been reliable again this season, going 3-5 with a 3.29 ERA.  Milwaukee, however, hasn’t been able to repeat its success from last season.  With the team struggling, they were willing to make deals to retool for the future.  “We ain’t giving up on the season,” said Bear Claws skipper Poss Horton, “but we’re looking at making our team stronger for the long haul.”

Bond is a hard-throwing arm with considerable potential.  The 20-year-old southpaw has a fastball that lights up the gun in the upper 90s and a developing curveball.  His biggest issue is control; he walks a lot of batters and is prone to firing wild pitches.  Last season, Bond was 3-3 with a 5.84 ERA in 22 appearances with the Sharks.  This season, he’s been in the minors for California.

“A guy like Luke has the kind of arm you can dream on,” said Horton.  “I’m excited to see what [pitching coach] Zane [Stafford] can do with him.”

PBL Standings – 7/30/2016

West W L Pct. GB L10 Strk RS RA
California Sharks 68 37 .648 6-4 W1 668 452
Silver City Outlaws 62 44 .585 6 1/2 4-6 L5 579 490
Milwaukee Bear Claws 55 50 .524 13 5-5 L2 503 492
Kalamazoo Kazoos 44 60 .423 23 1/2 3-7 L2 461 497
Salt Lake Samurai 42 62 .404 25 1/2 5-5 L2 470 593
Las Vegas Narwhals 37 69 .349 31 1/2 4-6 L1 419 616
                 
East W L Pct. GB L10 Strk RS RA
Knoxville Smokies 70 34 .684 5-5 W1 582 410
Jacksonville Dragons 61 42 .592 8 1/2 9-1 W7 604 507
Jackson Hammerheads 58 46 .558 12 6-4 W2 613 542
Orlando Calrissians 55 51 .519 16 6-4 W2 503 522
New Orleans Sazeracs 44 59 .427 25 1/2 6-4 W1 426 542
Carolina Comets 32 74 .302 39 2-8 W1 447 612