In case you missed it, and I'd understand if you did, a pair of minor trades occurred Tuesday night, each involving struggling left-handed pitchers moving over to the National League. Former Rookie of the Year and 22-game winner Dontrelle Willis was sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Billy Buckner, and lesser-known Dana Eveland became a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. While the gut reaction to each move is probably to ignore them from a real-life angle -- these teams are a combined 42-64 -- the fact is that fantasy baseball owners should never close doors when big league talent is involved.
While I find myself personally rooting for Willis to overcome his inner demons and return to some level of success, Eveland is the one who intrigues me a bit more in fantasy. Not too long ago, as a member of the Oakland Athletics, Eveland made himself ownable even in mixed leagues with his first-half performance in 2008; he carried a 3.49 ERA, just four home runs allowed and strong (especially for him) hit rate into the All-Star break. After that, as readily apparent from any statistical measure, Eveland hasn't been the same.
The numbers don't lie: Eveland has a 6.53 ERA since, covering 28 starts over parts of three seasons. The Toronto Blue Jays took a chance on him in February, and Eveland won a rotation spot with a strong spring (1.80 ERA, 21 strikeouts in 25 innings). Again I was intrigued, and I even added Eveland in an AL-only league after his first outing of the season, when he tossed 7 1/3 innings of five-hit, no-run ball at Baltimore. Then he beat the Chicago White Sox in his second outing. Two outings later, I couldn't afford to be patient, and I let him go.
Pitchers like Eveland have very little margin for error, especially when their command is off. Eveland started nibbling more after starting 2-0, and batters feasted on his average stuff. In his final seven starts for the Blue Jays, he allowed more hits than he had innings pitched in all but one of them, culminating in the May 22 outing at Arizona in which he couldn't get out of the second inning. The Blue Jays waived him, and now the Pirates are the latest team to take a chance on him. It seems like a no-lose proposition for both parties. I assume Eveland is rotation-bound, probably in place of Jeff Karstens or Brian Burres. If he replaces Karstens, Eveland might make his Pirates debut next Tuesday ... against some guy named Stephen Strasburg. Heard of him?
When Eveland has precise command, as he did the first half of 2008 and the first two starts this season, he's an interesting fantasy option. Back in 2006 while with Triple-A Nashville (Brewers), he certainly appeared on the cusp of something big. It hasn't been all bad. Going to the Pirates, with all due respect, isn't exactly the most appealing destination, but I do want to see how this works out before grabbing him. If Eveland can keep the walk rate down, I think NL-only owners will need to take a look. But for now, they should just keep him on their watch lists.
Willis has the same problems (command and inconsistency), but unlike Eveland, it has been years since he has had a prolonged period of effectiveness. I cannot pretend to know what Willis is dealing with off the field, but statistically we know his command is off. Willis did start this season with three quality starts in four tries, but even when the overall numbers looked decent, he was teetering on the edge. On April 29, for example, Willis beat the Minnesota Twins with six shutout innings, allowing four hits and two walks. But of his 101 pitches, only 57 were strikes.
While moving back to the National League has its advantages, Willis needs to show some consistency before fantasy owners can trust him. His first outing is scheduled for Saturday at home against the Colorado Rockies, and I'd put the over/under at four walks allowed. Certainly, Todd Helton will be taking pitches; I'd think most Rockies will. I'd need to see better control before believing in him again.
The main difference between Willis and Eveland that I see is that one of these erratic lefties (Eveland) has shown recently he can conquer his wildness. The other, unfortunately, has not. I'm not adding either to my NL-only roster, but Eveland is a lot closer to getting there than Dontrelle is.
Dontrelle is still off my radar, but his acquisition also makes me wonder whether I should also cross Brandon Webb off my watch list. Is the D-backs' decision to trade for Dontrelle an indication that Webb might not be able to pitch in a major league game this season? Hmm.