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7.24.2006

Chulkenbrand 

I warned you. I go away for a few days, and Brian Sabean makes deals. It's happened before, and the results were not pretty.

Last week I was in New York, dodging severe thunderstorms; listening to Yankees fans explain why A-Rod can't handle the pressure (Me: "But he's the goddamn MVP! What else do you want?" Yankees fan: "Yeah, MVP of the regular season. Big deal"); and helping celebrate a wedding. Lo and behold: the Giants send away the golden boy of the moment, Jeremy Accardo, for the surly short-term services of Shea Hillenbrand and bullpen replacement Vinnie Chulk (which has to be the ugliest name in baseball).

I found a laptop with a wireless connection in the house that was hosting the rehearsal dinner Friday night, and I gasped when I saw the news. Another guest spied what I was doing and said, "Oh, that is so inappropriate," and such was my state that I assumed she was an Accardo fan, too. I quickly realized what she meant, shrugged, and said, "Sorry, I'm an addict. I am beyond help."

But it's testament to the healing powers of nuptials, or perhaps to the desperation of the Giant first-base situation, that I soon felt at peace with the deal. Yes, Accardo could be the next Joe Nathan. But Nathan had a full year of relief excellence under his belt; Accardo has put it all together for only one month, this May, and since has reverted back to squirrely and frustrating young talent. Accardo is pure potential, save for his very tidy K/BB rates in both the minors and majors. If he goes on to succeed, so be it. In fact, all the better, as teams will be more willing to give the Giants quality players in the future.

Hillenbrand may be a lout, but once you've rooted for Barry Bonds, you can root for anyone. Hillenbrand can hit better than Lance Niekro, often much much better, and that's what matters.

Then Brian Sabean went and did a sly thing: in return he also got Chulk, who is older than Accardo but should be under the Giants' control for a few more years. He may never be hailed as "potential closer," but he throws hard and has a tight slider. With nearly three years of major league experience now under his belt, who's to say he can't find his groove and become a rough at-bat. Think Scott Linebrink, who turned into Super Set-Up Guy just a couple years ago at the age of 26. Or Felix Rodriguez, a scatter-armed ex-catcher who finally tasted success at about the same age.

This is shameless wishcasting, as the Baseball Prospectians like to say. But squinting at Vinny Chulk's scouting report and seeing the next Linebrink emerge from the mists is no less starry-eyed than anointing Jeremy Accardo, he of the lifetime 4.71 major league ERA, as the next great Kid Closer.

By moving on Hillenbrand more than a week before the deadline, Sabean also gives himself room for another trade if more teams fall by the wayside the next few days. Most likely to sell would be the NL Easters now at the fringes of the wild card race.

By the way, the key moment of yesterday's game was not the 9th-inning homer Benitez served up to Sledge; it was Steve Finley's brain-cramp moment in the bottom of the 8th not taking out the catcher at the plate, who had just caught a ball barehanded to apply a tag. Unlikely he would have held on in a collision, and the Giants would have had an insurance run.

**

UPDATE:

I've had an hour to peruse the trade feedback from various quarters. I love the Rashomonic perspectives:

The Blue Jays threw in Vinnie Chulk in the deal and received Jeremy Accardo. Baseball Prospectus notes that Accardo "finally made The Show on the basis of a mid-90s fastball, a developing slider, and a filthy cutter that some compare to Mariano Rivera's bat-sawing Frisbee." Accardo appears to be an upgrade from Chulk, who is three years older and has mediocre stuff. - MLBTraderumors.com

Getting Chulk was a nice little evener, since I wouldn't bet against his helping the Giants more down the stretch than Accardo would have, and if Accardo has greater future value, this team has few tomorrows left to enjoy, and a single reliever isn't worth much when it comes to beautifying the ugliness of a post-Barry future. Coming to the National League and pitching in Telecommunications JumboCorp Park won't hurt, either, and if Chulk gets back to pitching well from the stretch, he could end up being a key contributor down the stretch. - Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus

In Accardo, 24, a right-handed reliever, the Blue Jays obtained a player they had been seeking. "This was actually the No. 1 guy we wanted to get," Ricciardi said on Saturday before the Blue Jays lost 5-4 before a crowd of 50,014. "He's young, he's got an option, he's controllable financially, and as we go forward, if we lose guys in our bullpen, we've got another young arm that could go in there." - The Toronto Globe and Mail

Although this trade is being billed as the Shea Hillenbrand trade, it's largely a swap of right-handed relievers, with a free Hillenbrand thrown in for San Francisco. While the Blue Jays did get a small reliever upgrade in the deal, their main benefit from the trade is a savings of about $2 million that they would have owed to Hillenbrand had they been forced to release him. - Keith Law, ESPN.com

First [for Accardo], 2006 is worse than 2005, second, June/July is worse than April/May, showing that the league figured him out after his first go around and he was unable to adjust so far, and terribly at that so far. So while this may be a case of small sampling for a short reliever at work here, it is not a good sign either, and the best we can say is that bad luck has been plaguing him horribly this year. - Martin the OGC

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