In what is likely his final month on the job, GM "Trader" Jack McKeon made the "fire sale" rhetoric in St. Francis a reality, trading away three high-priced veterans from last season's playoff club: 1B Paul Konerko, 3B Kevin Youkilis and stretch-drive closer Heath Bell in separate deals with (respectively) Pottsylvania, Los Angeles and Casselton.
That all of these deals were with divisional rivals far better-positioned to make a run at a playoff spot did not escape the media's attention, nor the nearly $23 million sliced from the salary cap. Of all the deals, McKeon seemed most depressed by the loss of Konerko, a team leader who had been with the club since the middle of the 2011 season. "The guy is a leader," sighed a groggy McKeon over breakfast at a local diner that the Friars GM evidently preferred over the hotel buffet. "He led by example, never got too high, too low. A great influence on our younger players, and a solid hitter. Pottsylvania will be happy to have him."
To get Paul Konerko, the Creepers parted with three prospects not expected to be impact players in 2012: LHP Sean West (who missed all of last season with injury), RHP Jason Knapp (returning to A ball after surgery) and 3B Tommy Mendoca, an original draft pick of the Friars. Mendoca, who was hitting .347 in AA at mid-season, tumbled back to Earth after a tragic car accident claimed the lives of two of his best friends from high school.
To get Heath Bell, the Casselton Horned Toads sent a veteran reliever (Mike Adams), along with a pair of former prospects on hard times (1B Matt LaPorta and SS Reid Brignac) who are no longer seen as sure things to become big-league regulars. LaPorta will face intense competition in spring to make the roster, McKeon confirmed, while Brignac seems assured of a backup role.
To get Kevin Youkilis, the Los Angeles Isotopes dealt veteran starter Aaron Harang, along with a Grade B pitching prospect (RHP Zach Stewart) and highly-touted minor-league IF Hak-Ju Lee. The Isotopes also picked up an extra seventh-round pick in this year's Draft while sending their eighth-rounder to the Friars. Stewart could conceivably get some starts this season and gives the club some minor-league insurance against injury, but Lee is unlikely to appear in a Friars uniform until 2013, at the earliest.
The acquisitions of Brignac, Harang and Adams were believed likely to trigger other decisions on players deemed too expensive for the club's future plans, but McKeon (signing baseballs for fans with a somber expression) refused to comment further. "Look, pal," McKeon said gruffly to one reporter, "It's like when you're sending your kid away to college. You know that they've got a good future ahead of them, but they're moving away, and they won't be living with you anymore, and that's just all you can say about it. We have high hopes about the players we're getting, but how that affects everything else right now, just to soon to say, OK?"