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.”

PBL Transactions, 6/8/15 – 6/14/15

The following transactions occurred in the Patriot League over the last week:

California Sharks


California Sharks: Called up 1B Jamal Gerke and RP Herman Moret.  Demoted 1B John Lassen and RP Milan Constant.


Jacksonville Dragons

Jacksonville Dragons: Activated SP Kyle Palmer from the 15-day disabled list.  Called up RP Jamel Janke.  Demoted RPs Elias Rosado and Michael Youngblood.



Knoxville Smokies

Knoxville Smokies: Called up RP Jose Mariata.  Demoted RP Sheldon Follis.








PBL Transactions, 6/1/15 – 6/7/15

The following transactions occurred in the Patriot League over the last week:

California Sharks


California Sharks: Signed free agents 1B Jamal Gerke, SS Grant Knepper, CF Conrad Mojica, SP Kerry Lopez, and RPs Osvaldo Barret and Jason Richter.


Jackson Hammerheads

Jackson Hammerheads: Signed free agents C Carlos Asperzol, 3B Elmo Milliner, LF Monty Walcott, DH Dexter Jester, SP Nico Library, and RF Cortez Petrik.  Waived 1B Coy Tighe. Activated 1B Pete Ciancarulo from the 15-day disabled list.  Placed DH Alex Jaramillo on the 15-day disabled list.  Called up LF Monty Walcott.


Jacksonville Dragons

Jacksonville Dragons: Signed free agents 1B Neal B. Thomas, CF Rondei Isua, DH Isaias Miguel, SP Juan Pascos, and RPs Lauren Gilpatrick and Jamel Janke.



Knoxville Smokies

Knoxville Smokies: Signed free agents 2B Danny Kurland, CF Arnold Carranza, DH Jerome Arch, and RPs Rodolfo Darville, Oscar Madison, and Norman Sater. Claimed 1B Coy Tighe off waivers. Called up CF Arnold Carranza. Demoted SS Lorenzo Arias and RP Edgar Provenza.


Milwaukee Bear Claws

Milwaukee Bear Claws: Signed free agents 2B Quirico Rodriguez, RF Bruce Rew, DH Hans Coghill, and RPs Rodolfo Elmonte, Mike Manigault, and Antonio Schieber.



Orlando Calrissians

Orlando Calrissians: Signed free agents 2B Jeffrey Matter, LF Sang LeLeux, DH Casey Helmers, SP Ali Godari, and RPs Shab Mickolas and Courtney Vanepps.  Activated CF Glen Madden from the 15-day disabled list.


Salt Lake Samurai

Salt Lake Samurai: Signed free agents 1B Lawrence Briski, 2B Gabriel Montalvo, SS Dario Rickard, DH Lazaro Matherne, and RPs Jose Mariata and Bryce Sereno.  Traded RPs Rick Wilkins, Oliver Jones, and Jose Mariata to Knoxville for SP Grant Fore, DH Matthew Weigel, and RP Norman Sater.  (See story here.)  Placed C DeAndre Turnbull on the 15-day disabled list.  Called up RPs Jimmy Okamura and Norman Sater.


Silver City Outlaws

Silver City Outlaws: Signed free agents 3B Narciso Rodriguez, CF Sebastian Melora, DH Charley Ingraham, and RPs Irving Godlewski, Duke Newlin, and Ron Wall.




Smokies Make Another Big Deal

Knoxville Smokies owner/GM Jeremiah Mills has a fever.  And the only prescription is more trades.  The man is constantly working the phones and sending emails, looking for ways to improve his team, looking for ways to keep things fresh, sometimes looking for deals just to satisfy his pathological need to trade.  Mills isn’t afraid to make a big deal if he thinks it will make his team better.  And once he decides he wants a player, he stops at nothing until that player is his.

Those two tendencies came together in a major trade between the Smokies and the Salt Lake Samurai.  Knoxville shipped out their former ace, Grant Fore, along with minor-leaguers Matthew Weigel and Norman Sater, to Salt Lake in exchange for relievers Oliver Jones and Rick Wilkins and prospect Jose Mariata.

“I feel like we have a strong team,” said Mills, “but there’s always room to improve.  And you never know what kind of deals are out there unless you ask.  That’s why I’m always asking.”

The Smokies are currently in hot pursuit of the Jackson Hammerheads atop the East, and one weakness that Mills has identified in his team is the bullpen.  After a promising start, the relief corps has faltered in recent weeks.  Mills is hoping that Wilkins and Jones can provide the Knoxville pen with some badly needed depth and strength.

Rick Wilkins KNX
Rick Wilkins

Wilkins, a 31-year-old righty, is on his third stop of the season.  He opened the year with the Silver City Outlaws, but landed in manager John Jarha’s doghouse after a particularly poor outing.  Last month, the Outlaws shipped him to Salt Lake in exchange for reliever Cliff Humphrey.  After feeling he never got a fair shake in Silver City, Wilkins thrived in Salt Lake.  In 11 appearances, Wilkins posted a 3.71 ERA and compiled a 12-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

“I’m thankful to the Samurai organization for giving mt the chance to prove myself,” said Wilkins.  “I was gathering dust [in Silver City], and it felt like I might wither away.  The Samurai let me do what I do best.  Every player want s to compete for a championship, and I’m glad I’ll get to do that with the Smokies.  But I’ll always remember my time here.”

The versatile, rubber-armed Wilkins could fill a number of roles in the Knoxville bullpen.  He is likely to get a number of late-inning opportunities, complementing or possibly even supplanting Sheldon Follis as the team’s primary setup man.  He may also provide some long relief, taking some of the pressure off of Jerry Tile.

Oliver Jones
Oliver Jones

Jones, a 19-year-old lefty, has less promising stats than Wilkins.  In 22 appearances with the Samurai, Jones compiled an 0-3 record and a 6.89 ERA.  He has struggled quite a bit with his control, allowing 25 walks against only 12 strikeouts.  But he started the season in promising fashion before hi numbers nosedived, and many analysts attribute his swoon to overwork.

“[The Samurai] were riding him like a rented mule,” said one scout of Jones.  “God bless the kid, he kept going out there and never complained.  But someone needed to rescue him before his arm fell off.”

The Knoxville bullpen has only one incumbent southpaw, Tobias Dennis, who has also struggled recently.  The Smokies front office hopes that the two can split opportunities and take some of the pressure off of each other.

Jose Mariata
Jose Mariata

Wilkins and Jones figure to help Knoxville compete this season.  But according to sources with the team, the real prize for Mills in this deal was Mariata.  He has coveted the 20-year-old righty from afar for some time, and it’s easy to see why.  Mariata has an arm that makes scouts drool; his fastball has been clocked at speeds up to 103 MPH.  He is an extremely raw prospect who is still learning to harness his talent, but he profiles as a future closer, according to scouts.

“He just plain throws smoke,” said one scout.  “He has Aroldis Chapman stuff, plus.  He could wind up being the best player in this deal in the long run.”

Grant Fore
Grant Fore

The key to this deal from Salt Lake’s perspective is Fore.  The 20-year-old lefty was expected to be a building block of the Smokies franchise and an anchor of their rotation, but things never clicked for him in Knoxville.  Fore compiled a 1-3 record and an 8.18 ERA in a Smokies uniform, failing to find success as a starter or a reliever.  He lost his spot in the rotation when the Smokies acquired Jack Jacques from Jacksonville, and never really found his footing after that.

“We wanted to keep Grant, but we had to make a move that would get us immediate help,” said Mills.  “Also, Fore deserved to go to an organization that could be more patient with him.”

While the pennant-contending Smokies couldn’t afford the wait to see if Fore could turn things around.  But for the rebuilding Samurai, he represents a promising gamble.  If he can regain the form he displayed as a college prospect, Fore could become the reliable starter that Salt Lake desperately needs.

“We’re really excited to have Grant on board,” said Samurai owner/GM Sarah Buehler.  “We believe he and Toshiie Maeda can be the 1-2 punch that will make us a contender for years to come.”

Matthew Weigel
Matthew Weigel

The other two pieces coming Salt Lake’s way are low-cost veterans that provide additional depth options.  The 35-year-old Weigel came to spring training with Knoxville to compete for the DH job, but was beaten out for the position by Alex Jaramillo and has spent the season in the minors.  But for the Samurai, who have struggled to generate consistent offense, Weigel has a shot to crack the lineup before the season is out.  He spent last season in Japan, where he batted .246 with 24 home runs.

Norman Sater
Norman Sater

The 37-year-old Sater, a right-handed reliever, originally signed with Silver City, but was waived during spring training.  He pitched last season in the Atlantic League, where he posted a 2-5 record with 6 saves and a 4.82 ERA.  A former fireballer who has become a finesse pitcher with age, Sater figures to take the spot formerly held by Wilkins in the Samurai bullpen.  He may also have the opportunity to start later in the season.

Some around the league have questioned why the Samurai, who should be stockpiling youth, decided to trade two very young players (Jones and Mariata) while getting only one in return (Fore).  But the Samurai front office believes that Fore has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone, while neither Jones nor Mariata figured into the organization’s long-term plans.  If either one turns out to be a future star and Fore continues to stumble, the trade could turn into a major embarrassment for Salt Lake.  But as a team that has a long way to go to be a contender, the Samurai know they’re going to have to take some chances in order to get better, and they believe Fore is a chance with taking.

As for Knoxville, they’re clearly hoping that Jones and Wilkins can help them compete in the short term.  But they’ve got to be hoping that Fore won’t turn out to be the one that got away.