On the eve of this season’s entry draft, the Jackson Hammerheads and California Sharks made a swap that filled holes for both sides. California acquired right-handed starter Todd Warrant from their fellow cartilage-based club in exchange for 3B Max Ortiz and long reliever Jason Richter.
Both teams were dealing from areas of relative strength in order to shore up weaknesses on the roster. The Hammerheads had a vacancy at the hot corner after losing Kim Fleitas in the expansion draft in a controversial move. In the 36-year-old Ortiz, Jackson landed a veteran player who is regarded as defensively challenged, but packs a potent bat. The Sharks acquired him at the trading deadline last season and saw him go on a tear, batting .383 with 6 doubles and 6 RBI over 20 games.
“Hot dog!” exclaimed new Heads manager Bob Henley. “We got a howitzer brigade in this lineup, and Max only makes us that much deeper. Our lineup should be rated R with all the violence we’re gonna do to that poor ball.”
Ortiz, who projected to platoon on the corners for California this season, had mixed feelings about the trade. “I hate to leave California,” he told reporters. “Even though I was not here long, I made a lot of friends. And I love the culture and the weather here as well. But I also want to be playing every day, and I will be doing that in Jackson, which is very good.”
Sharks manager Eduardo Aponte wished Ortiz well in his new home. “Max is a fine player and a true gentleman,” said the California skipper. “I know the fans here and his teammates alike will miss him.”
The Sharks, meanwhile, were thin in their rotation after losing starters Deke Slater and Brian Goreman in the expansion draft. They picked up a quality starter in Warrant, a 26-year-old knuckleballer who posted a 13-7 record and a 3.05 ERA. Like Ortiz, Warrant was a late-season pickup, as Jackson acquired him from the Knoxville Smokies on the eve of the deadline.
“To me, I feel that Todd is the perfect addition to our team,” said Aponte. “His pitching style is a great contrast to our other hard throwers, and he gives us a fourth high-quality starter. Our rotation holds great promise this year.”
While some around the league consider the deal a clear win for the Sharks, others point out the inherent unreliability of knuckleballers and point out that two different organizations soured on him over the course of last season.
“Yeah, I’ve dealt with that kind of crap my whole career,” said Warrant. “Because we don’t throw hard and we look goofy doing it, people don’t trust the knuckler. I may not be the most impressive-looking player out there, but I’ll get you results. Now I get to prove everybody wrong, and I get to do it while enjoying good sushi and year-round sunshine. I’ll take it!”
The 31-year-old Richter spent all of last season in the minors, and is considered a long shot to make Jackson’s Opening Day bullpen. But relief pitching is always in short supply around the PBL, and Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler considers Richter a lottery ticket.
“If I learned one thing last season, it’s that you can’t have too many relievers,” said Butler. “Richter’s got a live arm, and who knows?”
In a funny coincidence, both principals in the deal (Ortiz and Warrant) spent most of last year with Knoxville. Smokies owner Jeremiah Mills called the deal “interesting” and likened it to seeing a couple of ex-girlfriends become friends. “Been there, done that,” said Mills.”