There’s a trading arms race afoot in the Patriot League.
Recently, the Jackson Hammerheads have pulled off a string of deals, leading to owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler dubbing himself the “Sultan of Swap.” Apparently, the Hammerheads’ rival and last year’s trading kings, the Knoxville Smokies, aren’t going to give up their title without a fight.
No sooner had the smoke cleared on Jackson’s two-deal day than Knoxville announced a trade with the Carolina Comets. In the deal, the Smokies acquired right-handed starter Scott Green and C Dustin Hoffman in exchange for southpaw Tom Trane and 2B Danny Kurland.
“We got younger and deeper without giving up any front-line players,” said Smokies owner Jeremy Mills. “It was a no-brainer from our perspective.”
For the Smokies, the big prize in the deal is Green, a 25-year-old who pitched last season in Korea, posting a 19-11 record with a 3.09 ERA. The righty immediately becomes one of the harder throwers on the Knoxville staff, having compiled 199 strikeouts in 245 innings last season; however, he also displayed excellent control, yielding only 44 walks. He is considered a likely candidate for the Smokies’ rotation.
“I got me another live one!” crowed Smokies manager Snuff Wallace. “This kid’s got a thunderbolt for an arm, and I’ll bet he looks real good in orange. Them Jackson boys may as well give up now and save themselves the embarrassment of us whuppin’ up on ‘em again.”
Hoffman, meanwhile, gives Knoxville some extra depth behind the plate, although he is likely to begin the season in the minors. The 22-year-old batted .255 with 16 homers and 79 RBI in his senior season at Northern Indiana, and displayed above-average skills as a fielder and pitch framer. He was nicknamed “Rain Man” by his teammates because of his name, although he is no relation to the famous actor.
“Believe me, I heard all the jokes,” said Hoffman. “Probably my favorite was every time I got a base on balls, my teammates would start yelling, ‘Hey, I’m walkin’ here!’”
In Trane, the Comets acquire an experienced and versatile pitcher, although one who had a down year in 2015. The 30-year-old lefty started the year as a starter for the Orlando Calrissians, but after a rough first month found himself exiled to the bullpen. Shortly thereafter, he landed on the disabled list with a strained oblique. Once he returned from the DL, Orlando sent him to the minors, where he remained buried until the trading deadline.
At the deadline, Knoxville picked him up from the Calrissians along with fellow ex-starter Rick Tomblin. While Tomblin seemed reborn in Knoxville orange, Trane continued to struggle in a long relief role for Knoxville. He finished the year with an 0-2 record and an 8.66 ERA.
“I got bounced around like a ping-pong ball last year,” said Trane. “I had a couple bad starts, then I got bumped to the pen, then I got hurt, then I got buried in the minors, then I wound up with a new team down the stretch. I never really found my footing. I’m hoping that being with an expansion team, I’ll have some stability and a bit longer leash, so I can just relax and do my job without looking over my shoulder.”
Outside observers believe Trane has a decent shot to make Carolina’s rotation, though he said he is willing to start or relieve. “All I want is a shot, a real shot,” said Trane.
Carolina also picked up a second-base prospect in Kurland, a 22-year-old native of Calgary. Kurland played only sparingly for Knoxville last year, batting .267 in only 8 games, and he does not have a strong reputation with the glove. But with light-hitting former Salt Lake second sacker Quincy Gaytan the projected starter, Kurland should get a strong shot at the starting job.
“There ain’t no guarantees on this team,” said Comets manager Taylor Ashy. “Everything’s up for grabs. If you play hard, drink hard, and do a job, you’re all right by me. If Danny comes here and does a job, the sky’s the limit.”
Given the past trading history of Mills and the Smokies, it’s unlikely that this is the last deal for the defending division champs. The owner implied as much at the press conference announcing the trade, saying that he was “just getting warmed up.” Can the King of Trading regain his throne? Only time will tell.