There was a lonely subject line sitting in my inbox this morning reading “oki” from my good friend Kati Welch. In it, she asks “Are we going to trade Oki”? Well not exactly yet Kati Welch.
Yesterday Hideki Okajima (Oki) was Designated for Assignment by the Red Sox. This means the team has 10 days to trade or release Oki and he is placed on waivers meaning any team in baseball (by reverse order of record) can make a waiver claim on him. If a team makes a waiver claim they get Oki for free. If, after 10 days, no trade or waiver claim happens, Oki can accept an assignment to AAA. The way Oki is pitching this year, the Sox probably do not need to even bring him to AAA, but for sentimentality may do so anyway. I would be surprised if any team makes a claim on him as he has been in decline every year since his rookie year.
|162 Game Avg.||4||2||3.11||68||64||7||22||56||1.246||8.1||0.9||3.1||7.9||2.50|
Oki served this team well for a couple years. His rookie year earned him a somewhat ridiculous All Star birth more from the narrative of one rookie Japanese pitcher on the Sox outshining the other rookie Japanese pitcher on the Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka) than from being one of the 30 best players in the American League. He actually was one of the best relievers in baseball that year posting a really strong 3.71 Strikeout to Walk ratio and stepping up as Francona’s security blanket throughout the season on the way to a World Series birth. He followed that up with another strong season, but his numbers were already starting to trend the wrong way. Things were at their worst last year when batters stopped being fooled by his splitter which led to a career high walk and hit rate and a career low strike out rate. His ineffectiveness held him to just 46 innings last year and in the offseason the Red Sox did not tender him a major league contract. Brought back on a minor league deal, Oki was called up in the middle of April and has since pitched 8 and a third largely mediocre innings. It is sad to see him go, but he was no longer being used by Francona in important situations so it was time to look for an upgrade.
That upgrade, so Theo hopes, comes in the form of Franklin Morales, acquired yesterday from the Colorado Rockies for a player to be named later. Morales was a former top prospect, ranking as high as 8th in baseball on the Baseball America Top 100 list in 2008. Morales made his Major League debut in 2007 at just 21 years old, starting 8 regular season games. After pitching pretty well in those games, albeit with a really low strikeout rate, Morales was added to the Rockies post season roster. He made a poor start in the first round (a Rockies win) and a pretty good start in the NLCS (another Rockies win), but was left out of the rotation in the World Series against the Sox, and for good reason. In 2 relief appearances and 3 innings, Morales gave up 7 runs to the Red Sox on the way to getting swept in the Series.
|162 Game Avg.||4||6||4.83||59||86||9||50||66||1.520||8.4||0.9||5.3||7.0||1.33|
Since then, Morales has bounced back and forth between Colorado and the minors. A rough start to 2008 forced him out of the Rockies rotation for good. He has greatly improved his strikeout rate since 2007, but has also pretty much lost control of where his pitches go. Awarded with the closer role at the start of last year, Morales’ control problems reached their nadir, walking a whopping 7.5 batters per 9 innings. He has improved his control some this year, walking a still way too high 5.1 per 9, but his strikeouts have also come down as he focuses more on throwing balls in the zone.
While the numbers show a wild pitcher that probably should be finding his way in the minors, I like this deal for the Red Sox. I think it is always good to acquire players who were once considered top prospects as long as the price is right. At some point someone saw something in Morales. He has always had control problems but he throws hard (94 MPH on the fastball) and is left-handed, which are two very valuable commodities. He also used to start and I think the team may give him a shot in the rotation in the event Dice K’s injury is more serious than we know right now. It’s possible, even probable, that Morales will never be able to harness his considerable gifts. But with his pedigree as a top prospect, blazing fastball and awesome handedness, this is a great gamble for Theo with zero risk. Smart teams assemble fallen talent like this (the Rays were also in on him) as Theo has done this year with guys like Rich Hill and Andrew Miller and now Morales. Dumb teams add ineffective former famous names in panic moves when members of their rotation get hurt. Oh. Right.