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.”

Hammerheads and Smokies Deal At the Deadline

Jackson Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler and Knoxville Smokies boss Jeremy Mills are the Pavlovian dogs of trading.  If you so much as mention the word “trade” in their presence, they spring to attention, eager to make a deal.  And despite the fact that their teams are in heated competition for the Eastern division title, they aren’t hesitant to make a deal with each other, as they’ve proven more than once.

So with the trade deadline looming, it comes as no surprise that the Hammerheads and Smokies were working the phones and actively pursuing one last big score.  Jackson was hungry, bordering on desperate, to bolster its starting rotation.  Knoxville was seeking another big bat in the middle of its lineup, and also seeking to scratch Mills’ ever-present trading jones.  Finding the trading waters chilly around the league, they wound up striking a deal with each other.  The Smokies sent starter Todd Warrant and LF Ezra Sisco to the Hammerheads in exchange for LF Track Johnson and minor-league pitcher Nico Library.

Mills called it a “win-win” deal, but others around the league aren’t so sure.  And the stakes couldn’t be higher; if the deal winds up being particularly one-sided, it might wind up deciding the division race.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if this trade winds up winning it for us?” said Butler.

Todd Warrant
Todd Warrant

For Butler’s Hammerheads, Warrant is the big prize, giving them the impact starter they so desperately needed.  This season, the 25-year-old knuckleballer put up a 9-5 record and a 2.65 ERA, the lowest mark in the Smokies’ rotation.  He will take the third slot in Jackson’s rotation, bumping Korean lefty Yu Chen, a failed reclamation project for the Hammerheads.

Starting pitching has been a major weakness for Jackson this season; ace Henry Jones and fifth starter Jordan Bergman have thrived, but the rest of the rotation has struggled with injury and ineffectiveness.  If Warrant can continue to put up strong numbers for Jackson, it will be a big win for them.  However, according to sources around the league, Knoxville had been shopping Warrant aggressively for some time, as their front office felt that his high walk totals (61 in 139 1/3 innings) and high unearned run total made him a poor long-term bet.

“Warrant was great!  We’ll miss him,” said Mills.  “I hope he does well, at least until he faces us.”

Ezra Sisco
Ezra Sisco

The 24-year-old Sisco, meanwhile, has shown himself to be a capable fielder and an excellent contact hitter, although one who lacks power.  Batting largely out of the ninth slot for Knoxville, Sisco posted a .303 average with 2 home runs on the season.  He’s also flashed excellent speed, swiping 18 bags to date.  The Hammerheads haven’t been shy about deemphasizing power, and they think Sisco’s game will be a good fit for the cavernous dimensions at Cash Carter Downs.

“He’s the kind of guy who can keep the line moving and steal a base or two,” said Hammerheads manager Lou Hayes.  “He’ll look real good in Hammerheads blue.”

Track Johnson
Track Johnson

Meanwhile, the Smokies are taking a gamble on Johnson’s ability to jump-start their offensive attack.  The burly 29-year-old compiled a .321 average and an .877 OPS in Jackson, in addition to displaying a fine batting eye and a strong outfield arm.  Although he generally batted out of the seventh slot for Jackson, he profiles as a middle-of-the-order hitter in Knoxville’s more power-friendly lineup.

“Move over, ’27 Yankees, here come the Smokies!” said Knoxville manager Snuff Wallace, visibly salivating at the prospect of adding Johnson to his lineup.  “Look at the heart of our order!  Malcolm Bryant, Eddie Battin, Jackson Campo, now Track.  We got a carload of cannons!”

Nico Library
Nico Library

The wild card in the deal is Library, a poorly regarded 23-year-old righty.  Library has spent his season to date in the minors, splitting his time between starting and relieving, and has compiled a 3-1 record and a 5.39 ERA, allowing 54 hits over 43 innings.  He is not regarded as a hard thrower, nor does he have excellent control, and he is not particularly durable.  Library’s reputation is so lackluster that some have questioned why Knoxville would ask for him in the trade.

“His only ability is availability,” said one league scout.  “I’m not sure I’d take him if you paid me.”

Although Mills was clear that acquiring Johnson was his focus, he insists that he intends to insert Library into Knoxville’s rotation.  “Embracing my inner Snuff,” said Mills with a smile.  Library’s first start would come against his former team on August 17th.  “Of course, there may be another trade in the works,” said the Smokies capo.

For Butler, this trade represents a chance to even the scales after his last deal with Knoxville went sour.  At the end of May, Jackson shipped 1B Eddie Battin and swingman Sylvester Lighty to Knoxville for Chen and DH Alex Jaramillo.  Although the trade was considered a wash at the time, it wound up being a steal for the Smokies.  Battin has raked for Knoxville (putting up a .357 average with 17 homers) and Lighty has been a solid starter (posting a 5-5 record and a 3.48 ERA), while Chen fizzled with the Hammerheads and Jaramillo struggled with injuries and has posted underwhelming numbers since.

Will this trade be Butler’s revenge?  Or will Mills wind up executing another swindle?  Or will the trade be a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing?  Only time will tell.

“At least we did something,” said Butler.  For these two transaction-crazy owners, it seems, a big deal with big risks is much better than spending the deadline on the sidelines.

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.