Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Felix List

Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times wrote an whiplash-inducing story on Monday, reporting that the Mariners had received a list of eight prospects from the Red Sox, a list from which they could choose five players they could receive in a trade for Felix Hernandez.

The Mariners turned down the offer, in part because, as Baker wrote, "the Mariners didn't think any of the packages they were being offered would go down much in substance over the next 12 months, when they'd only have another year-plus of Hernandez under control. Why give up the extra year, their reasoning went, if they could still get a similar offer at the 2010 deadline?"

The list, according to Baker:
1. RHP Daniel Bard
2. RHP Michael Bowden
3. RHP Clay Buchholz
4. LHP Felix Doubront
5. LHP Nick Hagadone (since traded to Cleveland)
6. RHP Justin Masterson (likewise)
7. SS Yamaico Navarro
8. OF Josh Reddick

The players on the list are intruiging. (If I were the Mariners and decided to make the deal, I'd have taken Bard, Buchholz, Hagadone, Masterson and Reddick -- just in case you were wondering.)

But what's more intriguing -- particularly as the concept of "untouchable" becomes more and more commonplace in the trade market -- is the list of players who weren't on the list, the list of players who the Red Sox apparently wouldn't even include in a deal for a pitcher who's almost as good as Roy Halladay but 10 years younger and not eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season. Those -- and not, say, Bard -- are the true untouchables of the Red Sox system.

Among those players ( rank in parentheses):

1. Casey Kelly, P (1)
If there's been a more spectacular pro debut than that of Kelly with Single-A Greenville this spring, well, it would have to be some debut. Kelly allowed six earned runs in 48 1/3 innings in his first nine starts at Greenville -- a 1.12 ERA -- and had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.33. He then was promoted to a higher Single-A league and actually saw his strikeout-to-walk ratio get even better (5.0) while his ERA remained more than respectable (3.09.)

Oh, and he's 19 years old.

The only reason he's not pitching at Double-A Portland right now, in all likelihood, is because he wanted to try his hand at shortstop and because the Red Sox want to limit his innings at such an early stage of his career. But don't be surprised if he's pitching in the major leagues before Hernandez hits the free-agent market.

2. Lars Anderson, 1B (3)
The star of Anderson, so bright before the season, appears to have lost a little bit of luster as he's struggled through his first full season in Double-A. He's hitting just .243 with almost twice as many strikeouts (99) as walks (51), and he's hit just eight home runs in 366 at-bats.

But if his stock had fallen that much in the eyes of Red Sox evaluators, he would have been included on the list given to Seattle, right?

Anderson, one must deduce, remains a future cornerstone of the Red Sox organization. He did, after all, OPS over .900 in both of his stops a year ago. (He OPS'ed .921 at Single-A Lancaster and .962 in fewer than 150 at-bats at Double-A Portland.) One first-half slump -- a slump that has threatened to turn into a seasonlong downturn -- hasn't changed the way the Red Sox look at him.

3. Junichi Tazawa, P (5)
The Red Sox made a bold statement this winter in signing Tazawa straight out of Japan's amateur ranks. He first turned heads in spring training -- he allowed just one run in nine innings pitched and had a 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- and hasn't let up so far this season.

He had a 2.57 ERA and a 3.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18 starts at Double-A Portland and has a 2.38 ERA with six strikeouts and one walk in his first 11 1/3 innings since his promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket.

Tazawa would have been a spectacular trade chip to offer Seattle, the franchise that signed Ichiro Suzuki and Kazuhiro Sasaki. The fact that he wasn't included on the list tells you something: The Red Sox anticipate the 23-year-old Tazawa being a key part of their pitching staff in the not-too-distance future.

4. Ryan Westmoreland, OF (6)
One might think that the Red Sox refused to trade Westmoreland simply because it would be kind of a lousy thing to sign a Rhode Island kid away from Vanderbilt -- capitalizing on his love for his hometown team -- and then trade him away.

But you can't imagine that kind of sentimentality would stand in the way of a trade for one of the major leagues' best young pitchers.

Westmoreland, then, remains one of the top position-player prospects in the organization. He missed the first half of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum but is OBP'ing .394 and slugging .487 so far this season for Single-A Lowell, a short-season team consisting mostly of newly signed draft picks.

He has a long way to go -- like Kelly, he's just 19 years old, but unlike Kelly, he's a pretty raw product -- but is the type of five-tool talent around whom the Red Sox could build their team by 2013 or 2014.

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