With several Patriot League teams seeing subpar bullpen performances, it comes as no surprise that the trade market in relievers is heating up. The two deals that went down this week involved teams swapping firemen with an eye toward shaking things up.
In the first trade, the California Sharks sent swingman Lucas Henderson to the Salt Lake Samurai in exchange for veteran left-hander Boss Walker. The 33-year-old Henderson has spent the season to date with the Sharks’ farm team; he posted an 8-5 record with 3 saves and a 4.08 ERA last year pitching in the independent Atlantic League. The 34-year-old Walker has seen very limited action with the Samurai this year, posting a 13.50 ERA in 3 1/3 innings, but has pitched successfully in the Mexican League for the last several seasons.
The trade fills a need for both teams. For Salt Lake, the key to the deal is balance. Previously, the only right-handers in the Samurai pen were long reliever Miguel Bautista and closer Dean Gamble. Henderson’s arrival provides a balance between left and right. Also, his ability to start or relieve provides some much-needed flexibility for a badly struggling team that has question marks throughout his pitching staff.
“We gave this deal very serious consideration,” said Samurai owner/GM Sarah Buehler. “In the end, I decided to do it because of the versatility that Lucas offers. We may use him as a starter, long reliever, or short reliever, depending on what our needs are and where he performs best.”
Henderson expressed excitement at the opportunity. “I’m psyched to have shot at in the majors,” Henderson said. “And we’ve got nowhere to go but up, so I can’t wait to see what happened.”
For the slumping Sharks, their goal was to acquire a reliable, experience lefty relief arm. Walker is expected to slot in as California’s top lefty relief option in the late innings. Their previous top lefty, 19-year-old Luke Bond, has shown flashes of brilliance, but has also displayed a lack of polish and a propensity for gopher balls. Their other southpaw reliever, journeyman David Watts, has been awful, pitching to a 20.25 ERA on the season. (The Sharks are demoting Watts to the minors to make room for Walker on the active roster.) It is hoped that Walker can stabilize the Sharks’ left side and serve as a mentor to Bond.
“We were thrilled that a player of Boss’s caliber was available,” said Sharks owner/GM Colin Mills. “While we hate to give up a valuable guy like Lucas, we’re excited to bring Boss aboard. We believe he’ll be a key piece for us going forward.”
Walker seems more than happy to leave Salt Lake. “At least now I’ll get to see color,” said Walker, adding, “Salt Lake City is the whitest place on earth. The fact that I’ll be playing for a team that actually has a shot at something, that’s gravy.”
In the second deal, the Knoxville Smokies acquired right-hander Jack Jacques from the Jacksonville Dragons in exchange for lefty setup man Ward “Blueberry” Jackson. For the always-active Smokies, this is their third deal of the still-young season, having acquired 3B Ronnie Aceuedo during spring training and RF Victor Gomez earlier this month. The 25-year-old Jacques, the only Haitian-born player in the Patriot League, has both started and relieved during his career. The Smokies are reportedly considering whether to insert Jacques into their rotation (possibly in place of struggling Grant Fore) or use him in their bullpen.
“We’ve wanted Jack Jacques for a long time,” said Smokies owner/GM Jeremiah Mills. “The asking price came down to a point where we could do a deal. I’m trying to make the best moves I can and which I feel will help. He fills a key hole for us.”
The 33-year-old Jackson, a former closer and Mississippi native, made only one appearance for Knoxville, a 3-inning stint in which he allowed 1 run. “Guess I shouldn’t have allowed that run,” joked Jackson. “Otherwise they might have kept me. But I can be happy wherever I go.”
For Jacksonville, currently riding a four-game losing skid, the trade is part of a larger revamp of their scuffling bullpen. Jacques was the worst performer for the Dragons, posting an 18.56 ERA in his 3 appearances before being demoted a couple days prior to his trade. In conjunction with this deal, Jacksonville demoted righty Emilio Abbas, currently sporting a 6.75 ERA, and lefty Elias Rosado, who has posted a 7.71 mark. Taking their place are Jackson, 20-year-old prospect John Longroofan, and newly signed free agent right-hander Mike Manigault.
“We’re gonna keep doing this until we get it right,” said Dragons manager Harlan Davidson. “If these guys don’t work out, we’ll throw ’em on the pile and bring in another group. I’m not gonna watch us keep blowing games like we’ve done.”
Looking to shake things up in the wake of their 1-9 start, the Salt Lake Samurai today acquired 3B Chris “Catknife” Davidson from the Knoxville Smokies in exchange for OF Victor Gomez.
“We needed to make a change,” said Samurai owner/GM Sarah Buehler. “This was an easy move to make us better at a position of need. We’re always open to opportunities to get better.”
The 28-year-old Davidson, who was on Knoxville’s farm team, has a reputation for excellent fielding. He got his unusual nickname from a high-school coach who misspoke while praising his “cat-like” reflexes at the hot corner. “I’m glad for a chance to play,” said Davidson. “I know [Salt Lake is] struggling right now, but I want to help them improve.”
Davidson will step in to replace Luis Poncilar, who has struggled mightily in the field and at the plate, batting .077 on the year and having made several costly errors. In a related move, the Samurai demoted Poncilar and recalled utility man Edmund Rains.
The 38-year-old Gomez began the season as Salt Lake’s starting right fielder, but was benched in favor of Romeo Martinez after posting a .125 average. The left-handed Gomez is expected to platoon with Alex Jaramillo at DH and to serve as a top pinch-hitter. “Victor is a skilled veteran who we think will be a key contributor for us,” said Smokies owner/GM Jeremiah Mills.
We asked each of the Patriot League’s owner/GMs to offer their forecasts on how their teams would fare this season. Enjoy their picks and predictions below:
“Well, since my manager already said we’re going to win a title, I suppose the least I can do is agree with him. Seriously, I think our rotation is strong, our lineup is solid one-through-nine, and our fielders can cover a ton of ground. If we have good luck with injuries, I think we’ve got a shot at this.”
Colin Mills, owner
“This team has the potential to be a perennial contender. With a top team batting average and on base percentage coming into the season, the opposition will be hard pressed to get anyone in this lineup out top to bottom. A young nucleus, with a few key vets make this team a force to reckon with. Look for the team’s whiz kid GM (me) to make a couple splashes throughout the season.”
Steven Butler, owner
“Every opposing pitcher will be sweating bullets on the mound at Tesla Field, and if the Dragons can hit as many homers as I think we will, we have a good chance to win the East.”
Eric Stetson, owner
“Ain’t I supposed to say my guys are the best? Hell, you want me to pick who we’ll facing? I’ll say someone from the West cause the East don’t qualify! I would have said Milwaukee but they hired that guy Loony Zane. Give me the Outlaws cause the fans will kill off the other teams.”
Snuff Wallace, manager
Milwaukee Bear Claws
“I don’t want to be overconfident, but I think we’ve got a good shot to make the playoffs. I’m not saying we’re going to win it all, but I think we’re going to be very competitive.”
Jennifer Petitt, owner
“[No response, probably because he knows his team is doomed or he’s too chicken to argue otherwise.]”
Brian Aufmuth, owner
Salt Lake Samurai
“We will finish as high as we possibly can with the talent we have. It will depend on the strength of our opponents. Success or failure might depend on the pitching. Their arms carry the answer.”
Sarah Buehler, owner
Silver City Outlaws
“There ain’t a gunslinger worth the silver in his belt buckle goes into a fight thinkin’ he’s ever gonna lose. We’ve put together a set of bats to rival anyone and a couple of aces that could knock a flea off a pin at a hundred paces. In my not-uneducated opinion, the only thing that’ll stop us from taking the Series this year is us shootin’ ourselves in the foot..”
Congratulations to Salt Lake Samurai owner Sarah Buehler, who gave birth to her first son, Logan, on Sunday night. The Samurai immediately named Logan Buehler as assistant general manager. We’re not sure if he has an eye for talent, but he will surely be a welcome addition to the league.