The Ones That Got Away … Or Did They?
A frequent refrain on Angels chat boards is that GM Bill Stoneman let a cornucopia of pitching prospects “get away for nothing.”
Or did he?
Like most rants on these boards, a look at the facts shows that the accusations are baseless.
At the top of the list is Bobby Jenks, the enfant terrible who currently toils in the Chicago White Sox bullpen.
A common falsehood is that Stoneman “released” Jenks. Wrong.
|Bobby Jenks’ career with the Angels was marked by physical injury and disciplinary problems.|
What really happened was that the Angels were moving Jenks off the 40-man roster in December 2004 so they could make room for pending free agent signings. Jenks was destined for the Triple-A roster, but to do so he had to pass through waivers. The White Sox claimed Jenks, paying the Angels $25,000.
Jenks had possessed a high-90s fastball, but was never able to harness his potential. His personal demons were well-chronicled by the media, as this October 2005 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune reported:
There were reports from the farm of Jenks getting into it with a Double-A coach who refused to let him bring beers onto the team bus, and not just once. A national magazine in 2003 portrayed Jenks, in stark detail, as a binge drinker without much of an "off" switch.
The self-destructive right-hander was further noted in an ESPN the Magazine story to have gotten so drunk that he intentionally “torched his left hand” and both forearms with a lighter before passing out.
Scouts saw this coming years before. Word traveled fast about this teenager near the Idaho-Washington border with the incredible arm, but also the lack of discipline that kept him academically ineligible for three of his four high school years, not to mention the time he simply stopped going to school altogether.
He impressed the heck out of radar gun-toting scouts. He also scared the **** out of them.
Indeed, he scattered a few with a wild pitch in one of the tryouts staged by Jenks’ baseball-academy coach.
“He had the stuff, no doubt about it,” one scout said, “but there was all that other stuff.”
One of the agents Jenks fired, Matt Soshnick, alleged that Jenks used a derogatory reference to his Jewishness. Making the majors, Soshnick was quoted as saying, would be something Jenks could never handle.
Then again, even with a fastball clocked at an astounding 102 mph, Jenks wasn’t exactly on the fast track to The Show. In addition to the bad behavior and unavailability due to elbow injuries, he was frequently overweight.
For half a decade, Jenks was the Angels’ problem, the kind most any organization would put up with as long as he controls his pitches better than everything else in his life. Having dug his own hole, he was buried in one of the majors’ best minor league systems.
FutureAngels.com was in Fresno on April 19, 2004 when Jenks took the mound for Salt Lake against Fresno. Jenks struggled in the first inning, his velocity down to the high 80s. In the second inning, as he continued to struggle, he was removed from the game.
Click the Play button below to watch (Windows Media Player required):
|April 19, 2004: Bobby Jenks is injured while pitching for Salt Lake at Fresno. Jenks suffered a stress fracture in his elbow and to this day still has pins in his elbow holding it together.|
Jenks had suffered a stress fracture in his right elbow, and underwent surgery to have pins placed in the elbow to hold it together. Assigned on rehab to the Angels’ minor league camp in Mesa, he got into a fight with a teammate (according to media reports).
With no indication that his high-90s fastball would return, with pins in his elbow, and with no sign that he was outgrowing his personal problems, the Angels tried to move him to the Triple-A roster. The White Sox claimed him on waivers, choosing to take a risk on a damaged pitcher with a career minor league record of 18-29, a 4.97 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.57.
The rest is, if not history, at least a current event of note.
The Sox sent him to Birmingham to begin 2005, his fourth season of Double-A ball. Jenks was now a reliever, where the demands on his physical and mental limits would be less, and he responded. Bobby posted a 2.85 ERA in 35 relief appearances, and was promoted to the parent club where he had a 2.75 ERA in 32 relief games. He was the pitcher on the mound when the White Sox won the 2005 World Series.
At that point, Bobby had all of 39 major league innings on his log, but some fans were demanding Stoneman be fired for not keeping Jenks forever in the hope he might grow up one day.
Of course, 39 innings is hardly a satisfactory statistical sample, and as 2006 came to a close it was a different story.
Bobby finished this season with a 4.00 ERA, but if you dig deeper you find more revealing numbers.
Pre-All Star Game, Jenks had a 2.83 ERA in 41 1/3 IP, a 1.11 WHIP, and opponents’ AVG/OBP/SLG of .221/.282/.309.
Post-All Star Game, Jenks had a 5.72 ERA in 28 1/3 IP, a 1.80 WHIP, and opponents’ AVG/OBP/SLG of .295/.398/.438.
Look at Bobby’s home/away splits for 2006, and you find that his performance was largely a figment of playing in pitcher-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. At home, Jenks had a 3.00 ERA, a 1.31 WHIP, and opponents’ AVG/OBP/SLG of .247/.305/.320. On the road, he had a 5.53 ERA, a 1.52 WHIP, and opponents’ AVG/OBP/SLG of .262/.355/.449. All five of the homers he surrendered were away from Chicago.
We still don’t have a large enough statistical sample to project his major league career, but when you look at his home/away splits for this season it suggests that Jenks still hasn’t fulfilled his potential, at least to the point where it can be declared that Stoneman let him “get away.”
Another supposed top prospect that Stoneman let go was Derrick Turnbow.
As with Jenks, Turnbow wasn’t released. The Angels were moving off the 40-man roster in October 2004 when he was claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers.
|Injuries and wildness kept Derrick Turnbow from realizing his potential with the Angels.|
Turnbow was originally signed by the Phillies, drafted in the fifth round of the June 1997 draft. In December 1999, after spending the entire year in Low-A, the Angels picked him in the Rule 5 Draft. The Angels had to keep him on the major league roster for all of 2000, or offer him back to Philadelphia. Limited to largely mopup situations, Turnbow appeared in 24 games (38 IP) and posted a 4.74 ERA before he returned to the minors.
The 2001 and 2002 seasons were largely washouts for Turnbow, as he suffered a stress fracture in his forearm. Like Jenks, Turnbow had metal placed in the arm to hold it together.
His first meaningful action was in 2003 with Triple-A Salt Lake. In 35 relief appearances, Turnbow posted a 5.73 ERA. In 2004, he returned to Salt Lake and posted a 5.06 ERA.
As with Jenks, the Angels didn’t release Turnbow. They tried instead to sneak him through waivers, off the 40-man roster to the Triple-A roster, but the Brewers took a risk.
Derrick posted a remarkable 2005 season, finally fulfilling the promise Stoneman saw in him after the 1999 season but had never been fulfilled. Turnbow posted a 1.74 ERA in 69 relief appearances, saving 39 games for the Brewers.
Once again, some fans demanded Stoneman’s head.
But 2006 was a different story.
In 64 relief appearances, Turnbow had a 6.87 ERA with a 1.69 WHIP and opponents’ AVG/OBP/SLG of .255/.375/.445. The control problems that always haunted his career had returned. In 2005, he gave up only 3.2 walks per 9 IP. In 2006, it was 6.23.
Suddenly, those who claimed to know better than Stoneman seemed to have forgotten all about Turnbow.
Other names have moved on in recent years.
Joel Peralta was a one-time shortstop in the Oakland A’s system that the Angels signed at age 23 in 1999 hoping to convert him into a reliever. Peralta developed a mid-90s fastball and decent slider, but at higher levels often found himself pitching behind in counts. Joel posted a 4.98 ERA with Triple-A Salt Lake in 2004, then spent 2005 shuttling between Utah and Anaheim. He had a 2.70 ERA in 19 relief appearances for the Stingers, and a 3.89 ERA in 28 games for the Angels. But he was claimed on waivers by the Kansas City Royals in October 2005 when the Angels tried to move him off the 40-man roster.
“Fire Stoneman!!!” was the knee-jerk refrain by some, but in 2006 Joel had a 4.40 ERA wwith Kansas City in 64 relief appearances. He had a WHIP of 1.24, and AVG/OBP/SLG of .263/.307/.463. Fairly decent numbers, but if you look at his splits you find he’s vulnerable to left-handed batters. His ERA against lefties was 6.52 with an AVG/OBP/SLG of .338/.400/.613. Ouch. And at age 30+, it’s unlikely there’s much more upside left in him.
Stephen Andrade was claimed on waivers by the Blue Jays in December 2004. He began a journeyman odyssey, as many teams were intrigued by his repertoire but no one seemed interested in giving him an extended audition. In December 2005, Tampa Bay selected him from Toronto in the Rule 5 draft — and promptly traded him to the Padres. San Diego placed him on waivers at the end of spring training. He was claimed by Kansas City, who kept him in Triple-A for most of 2006 although he did get into four games in May, allowing five runs in 4 2/3 innings.
Dusty Bergman, a southpaw reliever selected in the 6th round of the June 1999 draft, was sent to San Francisco on August 30, 2005 in a trade for veteran Jason Christiansen. The latter did little to help the Angels in the pennant chase, so some fans immediately declared that Stoneman had made another mistake.
If he did, the Giants didn’t share that sentiment, because they released him at season’s end.
In December 2005, the Yankees signed Bergman to a minor league contract. Dusty was with Triple-A Columbus through early July, posting a 3.79 ERA, but was released. The Giants re-signed Bergman and sent him to Triple-A Fresno, where he had a 13.09 ERA in 11 relief appearances.
None of these players has demonstrated any extended success at the major league level. The jury is still out on Jenks. Turnbow’s 2005 may have been an aberration. Peralta’s numbers are somewhat decent and might improve on a better ballclub, but he’s on the wrong side of 30. Andrade still awaits an extended major-league audition. Bergman seems unlikely to ever see the big leagues.
Some have claimed the Angels got “nothing” for these players. That claim is demonstrably false. None were released. In each case, it was a transaction that brought the Angels cash — except for Bergman, who was traded.
For those who were claimed off waivers, it’s important to remember that a 40-man roster means just that. A team can only protect forty players. When a season ends, the disabled list goes away. During the season, disabled players don’t count towards the total. After the season, they do, which means something has to give.
Teams also have to protect certain minor league players from the pending Rule 5 Draft in December, which means that inevitably general managers must weigh protecting top prospects now eligible for Rule 5 versus protecting an older prospect who might have a higher ceiling but also carries more risk due to injury or other factors. That’s how the Angels got Derrick Turnbow in 1999.
Major League Baseball has rules like waivers and Rule 5 specifically to keep an organization from stockpiling talent forever. It’s not fair for the player to keep him buried in the minors, especially when there are other organizations out there in need of their talent. Another example is that players with six years of service in the minor leagues can take their free agency at season’s end if they’re not on the 40-man roster.
Sooner or later, every GM has players who “get away.” It’s not a sign of a GM’s alleged incompetence. It’s simply the checks and balances within professional baseball at work to maintain some competitive balance and give players an opportunity to blossom elsewhere.