Transaction Analysis – Shea Hillenbrand

(AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

In the midst of a big series with division leading San Diego, the Giants made a move to improve their lineup and get an everyday player at first base. But did it cost them the next middle reliever destined to be a big-time closer? And did the Giants really get two players for one?

WHAT THE GIANTS GOT:

Shea Hillenbrand, 1B-3B, 30 years old (he turns 31 on July 27)

Year
Team
G
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
2001
Bos
139
468
52
123
20
2
12
49
13
61
3
4
.263
.291
.391
2002
Bos
156
634
94
186
43
4
18
83
25
95
4
2
.293
.330
.459
2003
Bos
49
185
20
56
17
0
3
38
7
26
1
0
.303
.335
.443
2003
Ari
85
330
40
88
18
1
17
59
17
44
0
0
.267
.302
.482
2004
Ari
148
562
68
174
36
3
15
80
24
49
2
0
.310
.348
.464
2005
Tor
152
594
91
173
36
2
18
82
26
79
5
1
.291
.343
.449
2006
Tor
81
296
40
89
15
1
12
39
14
40
1
2
.301
.342
.480

If you haven’t heard Hillenbrand’s name mentioned recently, you just haven’t been paying attention.

Hillenbrand’s been in a whirlwind on controversy with his former team, the Toronto Blue Jays.  Both sides have different stories, but supposedly it culminated in manager John Gibbons challenging him to a fight, and giving the Blue Jays an ultimatum that either Hillenbrand goes or he goes.  That got him DFA’d and terse words going back and forth.  The DFA meant the Jays had 10 days to trade him or release him, and any bargaining power they had was gone.

And that brings the Giants into the picture.

Hillenbrand is a good hitter.  Not great, but good.  He’s a career .290 hitter, and was having a good year in Toronto, his 2nd year there.  He’s actually quite a similar hitter to Pedro Feliz.  He’s got enough power to hit between 15-20 home runs a year, but does not draw many walks and can go into some tough slumps at times while hacking at pitches.  Hillenbrand does have a history of making a little better contact than Feliz, but ultimately that adds up to maybe 10-15 extra hits a year.

The downside is that that he’s been in one of those slumps since June, hitting .254 with a slugging percentage of just .408.  Whether or not this is tied to his deteriorating relationship with his team is up for debate.

Defensively, he can be a problem.  He’s been shuffled between first and third his entire career, but it hasn’t been like Feliz, where he’s been blocked.  He simply has problems at both corners, and has in fact spent the majority of his time as a DH this year.

To these ends, he’s been fairly consistent and injury free for the better part of 6 seasons, in both the AL (with Boston and Toronto) and in the NL (with the Diamondbacks).

So that leaves the Giants with a very big character question.  What happened in Toronto?  Who is at fault?  And it’s not the first time the character issue has come up in Hillenbrand’s career.

To that end, Hillenbrand’s former teammate Steve Finley has stepped up in Hillenbrand’s defense. "He'd be a great fit in this clubhouse," Finley said about 24 hours before the trade went through.  When asked what he thought of the hub-bub, Finely said “I don’t believe one word of it…He was a gamer.  He wanted to play every frickin’ day.”  The last part is in response to suggestions Hillenbrand had given up while with the Blue Jays.  After the trade was completed, Finley continued by saying, “Don't believe everything you read. He's a good guy, a family guy.”

Finley has been one of the clubhouse leaders for the Giants this year.  If he speaks up for Hillenbrand, that counts for something.  But can it overcome one of baseball biggest clubhouse dramas of this season that doesn’t involve indictments that have still yet to come about?

Hillenbrand is making $5.8M (the Giants will owe about $2.75M of that), and will be a free agent after this season.

Vinnie Chulk, RHP, 27 years old

Year
Team
G
IP
H
R
ER
HR
BB
SO
W
L
SV
HLD
BLSV
ERA
2003
Tor
3
5.1
6
3
3
0
3
2
0
0
0
0
1
5.06
2004
Tor
47
56.0
59
30
29
6
27
44
1
3
2
13
3
4.66
2005
Tor
62
72.0
68
33
31
9
26
39
0
1
0
13
1
3.88
2006
Tor
20
24.0
29
16
14
4
5
18
1
0
0
1
1
5.25

If there’s any indication that the Blue Jays were behind the 8-ball in making this trade, it’s that they gave up 2 players for one reliever.  Chulk isn’t the most extraordinary player, but he’s not just a throw in.

Chulk does not come with the same kind of stuff as is leaving the Giants.  His fastball can ramp up to the mid-90’s, but it’s more of a low-90’s offering.  He mostly works with a slider, though he’s toyed with a curve and changeup at times.  However, his most consistent feature is an incredible amount of inconsistency.

Chulk did have a solid 3.88 ERA last year with 13 holds and just one blown save, but he only struck out 29 batters in 72 innings with 26 walks.  This year he’s been striking out more and walking less, but also got hit harder.  The good news is that, unlike Hillenbrand, he’s been good recently.  He was sent down to Triple-A Syracuse in May, and went 3-2 with a 2.25 ERA in 19 games, and got called back up.  In his 8 appearances since returning in late June, he’s had a 1.93 ERA with 10 hits, 2 ER, 6 strikeouts and 1 walk in 9.1 innings of work.

Chulk can get hit pretty hard, and he can be inconsistent, but he also has flashes of being a very good middle reliever.

One interesting note is that despite Chulk’s age, he’ll finish this season with just about 2 years of service time.  So he won’t be a free agent until probably after the 2010 season, and might last until 2011 depending how much service time he logs this year.  2006 is his last option year, however.

 

WHAT THE GIANTS GAVE UP:

Jeremy Accardo, RHP, 24 years old

Year
Team
G
IP
H
R
ER
HR
BB
SO
W
L
SV
HLD
BLSV
ERA
2005
SF
28
29.2
26
13
13
2
9
16
1
5
0
4
1
3.94
2006
SF
38
40.1
38
23
22
2
11
40
1
3
3
8
3
4.91

Accardo made his major league debut in 2005, and was one of three young relievers the Giants debuted in the season (along with Scott Munter and Jack Taschner).  The Giants have debuted two more promising ones this year (Brian Wilson and Jonathan Sanchez), so perhaps they felt they could expend one.  But it’s hard for Giants fans to not remember another hard throwing reliever that was the chip in a trade for a good (but not spectacular) offensive player a few years ago.

There is no disputing Accardo’s stuff.  He has gotten even stronger this year, throwing up to 97 MPH with some nasty movement.  He usually pairs his fastball with a good slider to get strikeouts.  He has a changeup, but it is rarely seen.

The downside is that Accardo’s short career has been ruffled by inconsistency.  With Tim Worrell down with injury, the Giants gave Accardo several chances in the setup role after he’d done well in clutch situations earlier.  The result in July has been 2 blown saves and a loss in a third game in 9 appearances, briefly spiking his ERA into the 5’s after he’d put up an ERA of 7.94 in the month of June as well.

Now, that aforementioned previously-traded reliever was older, more consistent and had better stats, but it still stings that Joe Nathan became the Minnesota closer nearly immediately and thrived.  Accardo has not been nearly as good in clutch situations, but a lot of fans can’t help but see the Giants trading away a guy who has been talked about being a future closer again, and it’s even harder with the Giants admittingly suffering from bullpen troubles.  That Accardo has been part of the problem and not part of the solution has not assuaged them.

THE BOTTOME LINE:

On Saturday night, when the Giants expect Hillenbrand to report, the Giants will be better offensively than they were Friday.  That really is the bottom line.

The Giants weekend has gotten started by taking the first two games from the first place San Diego Padres, and in a very decisive manner.  That has moved them to a half game of first place, and also has been the back half of the first 4 game winning streak of the season.  The Giants were making a move and a statement before this trade.  Now it’s loud and clear: the Giants feel they are serious contenders, and are in a win now mode.

This trade is a gem, but only if you consider that there are many different facets.  On one hand, the Giants got a guy who helps at one of their problem areas.  On the other, he doesn’t really solve anything.  The Giants helped their offense, but their bullpen got shuffled and no one’s really sure if they’re better there.  And then there’s the whole ‘win now’ versus ‘punt this team and build for the future’ debate that’s raging amongst the online Giants fan community.  (Believe me, if you’ve missed it so far, don’t go looking for it.  You aren’t missing much).

The truth is that Hillenbrand came at what is probably a notably cheaper price than other options (including the Pittsburgh PiratesCraig Wilson and Sean Casey).  I believe Casey’s the best fit and the best overall hitter that was available at first, but Hillenbrand probably is worth more in comparison to cost.

But then, Hillenbrand is a free agent after this year.  The Giants have indicated they are willing to look at Hillenbrand for the long term, and this stint will be an audition.  But there’s no guarantees for the future.

One of the biggest impacts this trade has on the Giants chances is that it takes Hillenbrand away from their division rivals, particularly the Padres.  The Padres released third baseman Vinny Castilla this past week, and it was heavily speculated that they were pursuing Hillenbrand to replace him.  By picking him up, the Giants not only improved their own team, but stopped the biggest in-division rival from improving themselves.

The Giants came into the All-Star break with the best rotation ERA in the NL.  That has dropped to second behind the Colorado Rockies (mostly thanks to Matt Morris’s 3 home run start, and 9th inning rallies by the Padres that didn’t mean much).  Aside from wondering how the Rockies starters lead any kind of league in ERA, the Giants clearly feel their rotation gives them a chance in the playoffs against anyone, and pitching does win championships.

The impact on the future is cloudier.  Many agree that Accardo could be a closer someday.  It’s unlikely he’ll become it with the Blue Jays right away like Nathan did with the Twins, partially because Accardo’s been so inconsistent recently, and partially because the Jays have B.J. Ryan locked up through 2010 with what was briefly the largest contract ever given to a reliever, and they’ll be hesitant to uproot him.

Accardo’s a very good pitcher, and should be it sooner rather than later.  But you need to give up something to get something.

The other side of losing Accardo is that the Giants truly are flush with young arms, and have another young power arm with a lot of potential in Brian Wilson.  Some feel that Wilson has a better mindset for becoming a closer than Accardo and could be better.  Overall, there’s a good reason to be worried about a bullpen that could have 5 bullpen arms with less than 3 seasons of experience, like the Giants were looking at.  Youth leads to inconsistency and lack of poise in clutch situations, and the Giants have seen a lot of how that happens this year.

The real wild card in this deal is Chulk.  The Giants don’t need a closer, they just need a consistent presence in the bullpen.  Chulk is by no means a seasoned veteran, but he’s thrown nearly two and a half times as many big league innings, and that might fit in for him.  He’s also moving to a better pitcher’s league (away from the AL East powers) and a pretty good pitcher’s park.  And the Giants will have his rights for at least a few years, so even if he doesn’t have the ceiling of Accardo, the Giants will have an inexpensive reliever on the roster for some time and the future hasn’t been totally mortgaged.  If Chulk thrives in the NL, and the Giant pitching staff that turned an undrafted free agent like Accardo into a closer prospect can work a similar magic on a somewhat older but still raw talent in Chulk, the Giants could really look good on this deal, even if Accardo finds his groove someday.

And if the Giants make it to the playoffs and go deep this year, this deal will look that much better.

The Giants aren’t done.  There is still a very important bullpen issue to be dealt with.  The Giants may look to see how Chulk responds to the trade before making another move, but they have some time (10 days) to do that.  But the Giants are better in one very important need, and their playoff chances just got noticeably better.



Love me, hate me, idolize me, or laugh at me, just don't ignore me. Let me know what you think: write me at kevin@ugcfilms.com .

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