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 with Salt Lake in 2004
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.

Derrick Turnbow with Salt Lake in 2004
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.

Bottom line?

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.

6 Comments

I think you are really missing the point. The points are (i) Jenks and Trunbow in particular had trade value; the Angels simply took to long to use it. Quite simply, they made a mistake in not trading them when they had value; (ii) the team knew all about Jenks’ issues when they drafted him; (iii) the bullpen would look pretty good now with Turnbow and Jenks as support players. At the very least, they would be good bargaining chips.

And the issue isn’t whether they were “released”; the issue is whether they were given away. And anyone in their right mind knew that these guys could not be taken off the 40 man roster without losing them.

Go back a couple years. Everyone wanted bobby jenks. and we wasted a full mlb season on turnow to keep him. you need to get something back.

U.S. Cellular is actually a pretty strong hitter’s park.

And the question about Turnbow/Jenks isn’t whether they were good in the second half of 2006, but whether keeping people like Josh Paul on the 40-man roster instead of them was wise. I would submit that it was not. And I’m a huge Bill Stoneman fan.

Agreed with the other commenters. The difference between going unprotected on the 40-man and being released isn’t especially interesting; sure, the club still had some lingering desire to keep these players, but not enough to protect them. That, and failing to get value for them, is the real concern. The farm system may be fecund, but if it produces no value for the team, that’s a concern.

Thanks for the responses. I’m still tinkering with MLB’s blog software to stretch its limits. The more that people participate by posting, the more we learn about what we can do.

In response to various comments:

* mkcallahan@jonesday.com wrote, “The points are (i) Jenks and Trunbow in particular had trade value; the Angels simply took to long to use it. Quite simply, they made a mistake in not trading them when they had value; (ii) the team knew all about Jenks’ issues when they drafted him; (iii) the bullpen would look pretty good now with Turnbow and Jenks as support players. At the very least, they would be good bargaining chips.”

Unfortunately, you’re assuming that Stoneman has a crystal ball. No GM does. If they did, Billy Beane would have moved Bobby Crosby and Eric Chavez before the season began.

Should the Angels now trade Frankie Rodriguez while he has value? Should they trade Vlad Guerrero while he has value? My question for you is, in exchange for what?! And how do you plug the holes you’ve just created?!

Fans always say, “Trade so-and-so,” but they never say what **in the real world** the Angels get in return. None of us are privileged to know what discussions occur between Stoneman and the other 29 GMs. For all we know, he tried to unload Jenks but never got a decent offer.

In December 2004, it’s clear he had no value. Jenks was on the junkpile. He was 50 pounds overweight, had a fractured elbow with a pin in it, and was on the suspended list yet again, this time for reportedly beating up a teammate while on rehab in Mesa. The last time he’d thrown in a game, his velocity was in the high 80s. And let’s not forget he told ESPN: The Magazine in the summer of 2003 that for kicks he likes to burn himself with a cigarette lighter.

Give the Sox credit for taking a risk with him, but the risk was minimal. And plenty of teams passed on him when he was on waivers before the Sox could claim him. So he wasn’t exactly in demand.

* mlb@mattwelch.com wrote, “And the question about Turnbow/Jenks isn’t whether they were good in the second half of 2006, but whether keeping people like Josh Paul on the 40-man roster instead of them was wise.”

Nothing personal, but I’ve never understood why people think the Angels should have released a catcher to protect a pitcher. They’re two entirely different positions.

Think back to December 2004, when the decision was made to move Jenks off the 40-man roster. The Angels’ catching corps consisted of the Molina brothers and Josh Paul. After that, it was Jeff Mathis, who’d just completed a crummy year at Double-A, and Mike Napoli, who’d just finished High-A at Rancho.

Bengie Molina was fragile. He had hamstring problems, as is commonly known. If Bengie got hurt, then the catching corps consists of Jose and … nobody even close to the big leagues. That meant the Angels would have to overpay in an emergency trade to get a backup catcher.

Keeping Josh Paul protected the catching depth, and it also allowed Mathis/Napoli the time to develop. If they let go Paul, they have to turn around and immediately find someone else — who then has to go on the 40-man roster, meaning someone else gets cut. So what was gained?

* rlm@scareduck.com wrote, “That, and failing to get value for them, is the real concern.” Again, we’re back to the Crystal Ball factor. And so far, I’ve yet to see anyone show me a quote from another GM telling me what they were willing to offer the Angels for Jenks, either directly or as part of a deal.

Let’s not forget that Jenks was also damaged goods after the 2003 season, when he suffered a “stress reaction” in the same elbow that fractured in 2004.

The Angels sent him to AFL in the fall of 2003 to make up for lost time, and he did okay. Then they sent him to winter ball, a move I disagreed with at the time because I felt he wouldn’t have enough time to rest the elbow before the 2004 spring training began. Did that contribute to the April 2004 injury? I’m not a doctor, but it seems plausible.

If there was a mistake made, it wasn’t this “value” thing that no one can prove without a Magic-8 Ball. The mistake may have been pushing too hard on his elbow during the winter of 2003-2004.

I will say that when I saw Bobby in April 2004 at Fresno, he seemed pretty happy and confident in himself. Probably the most — well, “at peace” would be the best way to describe it — I’d ever seen him. He was in Triple-A, he was on the prospect horizon, everything seemed to be going well.

In retrospect, one thing stands out from that weekend that maybe was a clue. He was in the outfield shagging flies during BP, as pitchers usually do on their off-day. He was throwing in the balls left-handed. We were all laughing as we thought he was just showing off how far he could throw it. But it makes me wonder whether his right elbow was sore and he was just trying to conceal it.

Great factual article. While I do not agree with everything Stoneman does (and does not do), the Angels just posted the first three straight winning seasons stretch in their history. He is doing something right and its not all Arte’s money. Many people forgot Mr. Autry spent a lot of money also. I did not like to see either Jenks or Turnbow leave the Angels but its a nice problem to have, too many quality players in the organization. If the Angels do not make a trade or two during the next two months, they will be faced with similiar choices, who to keep on the 40 man and who to risk losing. Stephen who do see the Angels protecting.

GO ANGELS!

I’m only going to comment on Bobby Jenks because that’s the only move I have really criticized of the one’s you have mentioned.

First and foremost it should be said that the angels decided to designate Bobby Jenks and risk him being picked up (which was a very realistic risk don’t kid yourself) over a player such as Wil Nieves who was a journeyman catcher who was apparently so useful to the angels he never even took the field for them. He was so useful to them that they traded him to the yankees for (get this) a pitcher bret prinz who proved to be worthless (as expected). Wil Nieves would have had a lot better chance of clearing waivers than Jenks did.

Regardless of how much of a “risk” you think Jenks was with his elbow injury (which isn’t a career death sentence like you make it out to be) and character issues, he was still young and still had tremendous stuff that makes his potential still worthwhile and also makes him a lot more valuable than a journeyman catcher like Wil Nieves who is a dime a dozen and was the 4th catcher on the angels 40 man roster at the time.

I have never heard US Cellular ever been referred to as a “pitcher’s park”.

Even with Bobby’s not so great sophomore season, that and his very good although short first season as a reliever he’s been 100 times more valuable to the white sox than Nieves/Prinz has been to us. So I really don’t see the point in bringing that up.

This whole thing is really in the past and is not a big deal. Yes, Stoneman made a pointless move, but it was minor and hasn’t really hurt the team that much if at all. You shouldn’t be taking the criticism so seriously, there are fans like that for every team. Their “fire Bill Stoneman” overreactions should be taken with a grain of salt.

I’d like to say that I think it’s really sad how you talk about Bobby now just to enhance your argument. When he was with the team you always talked about him like you were sympathetic to his troubles and actually rooted for him and cared about his career. Now you take any chance you get to bring up any negative criticism about him only to enhance your argument on a rather minor issue like Bill Stoneman waiving him. It seems as though you do this with a lot of players, when they’re here you’re their biggest fan but once Stoneman lets them go or whatever the case may be you’re ready to pounce in with all the negative criticism showing how worthless they really were. I think it’s obvious where your loyalties lie.

Personally I sympathize with Bobby’s troubles, he has obviously had a rough upbringing and a lot of personal struggles with alcohol abuse and self mutilation. Even though I’m sure he isn’t the most professional player in the bigs now, it appears he’s making strides to improving his behavior and I’m sure he’s come a long way from his past troubles. I don’t think it’s cool to bring up his past in a vicious manner trying to hurt his image just to protect your meaningless argument.

I really find it humorous whenever you refer to the angels message boards. You have this high and mighty attitude as if you’re so much better than all of them as if they’re the “common folk” and you’re the big expert with the web site that is doing them a favor by gracing them with your genius. You spend just as much time and energy doing the same thing they do on the internet, they just don’t pay for their e-forum to do it on. On top of that you only seem to want to respond to the ignorant “knee jerkers” and not to the intelligent posters who make good counter arguments that you conveniently ignore the majority of the time and even when you do respond you indirectly respond to them while twisting their words around and then you run away. What most intelligent people do when it comes to the “knee jerkers” is ignore them and take their opinions for what they’re really worth they don’t use them as representatives for an entire internet board fan base’s intelligence.

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