Casey Kelly of the San Diego Padres pitches against the Atlanta Braves at Petco Park in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
At the same time of yet another Adrian Gonzalez trade, the previous return is bearing fruit in the majors.
The big transaction news from this month -- arguably the biggest transaction news from any August ever -- came from a trade centered around former Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. That's not just because of the teams and markets involved (Boston and Los Angeles), but because of the sheer magnitude and franchise direction-shifting involved in a swap that sent Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto along with a quarter-of-a-billion dollars in future contracts west in exchange for prospects, lottery tickets, and James Loney's expiring contract.
There are a number of fascinating things about this deal, but one item somewhat forgotten is that the ink had barely dried on the last Adrian Gonzalez trade agreement. In fact, the two major pieces in that swap are just now getting their feet in the majors. Anthony Rizzo is attempting to become the first baseman of the future for the Chicago Cubs, while starting pitcher Casey Kelly made his major-league debut in San Diego on Monday.
These two, along with minor-league outfielder Reymond Fuentes, were the package that brought Adrian Gonzalez to Boston for the last year of his deal. This gave the Red Sox the opportunity to negotiate the contract that, presciently, turned out to be such a steal relative to the impending explosion of the first base market that the Dodgers were willing to take on not just Josh Beckett's millions, but the five years and over $100 million remaining on Crawford. While you might think that hey, the Dodgers have the money, remember that one day prior to the Gonzalez claim, Crawford underwent Tommy John surgery.
Gonzalez was one of the game's best-kept secrets out in San Diego, as Petco Park helped keep his production looking great, rather than the elite that context made it out to be. The Padres knew what they had, though, and even knowing Gonzalez was as good as gone following the last year of his team-friendly deal, expected to get paid for trading him. That's where Rizzo, Kelly, and Fuentes come in. Rizzo had just hit .260/.334/.480 with 25 homers while spending most of the year as a 20-year-old at Double-A. Kelly was still learning how to pitch -- he was drafted as both a shortstop and a pitcher, with his future role to be determined based on minor-league performance -- but had shown plenty of ability and the potential for plus pitches as a 20-year-old at Double-A.
Rizzo debuted in San Diego that same year after crushing the Pacific Coast League, but fans and Rizzo were reminded quickly that Triple-A isn't the majors, especially the PCL's version of Triple-A. Rizzo punched out 30 percent of the time, and didn't show anywhere near the power he had displayed in Tucson. There were concerns that big-league fastballs had just a bit too much life for Rizzo, and that bad habits he had picked up mauling the opposition in the PCL were interfering with his big-league transition. Specifically, Rizzo had no sense of aggressiveness, and his lofty walk rate -- tied to those whiffs -- had more to do with passivity at the plate than a real plan.
Rizzo would end up dealt to the Cubs after Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who have been on one side or the other in every Rizzo transaction ever, took over the front office. Rizzo was still all of 22 years old, and destroyed Triple-A once again before finally getting back to the majors. Things have not been quite as spectacular as his 1101 OPS with Iowa, but Rizzo, who turned 23 three weeks ago, is at .283/.332/.439 with nine homers in 229 plate appearances, a huge step up from last season, and promising for the first baseman's future. He's lost some walks along the way, but also halved his strikeout rate in the process, and has been more productive for it.
As for Casey Kelly, his path to the majors began with a repeat at Double-A, this time with San Antonio in the Texas League. While his 2.3 K/BB, 3.98 ERA, and 6.6 strikeouts per nine might not appear that promising at first blush, remember that the 21-year-old Kelly had all of 190 professional innings as a pitcher behind him. It's not as if he spent years at college refining his game on the mound, and he had used his first year in the pros to attempt to become a shortstop. This was a positive step forward, especially given he shaved well over a run off of his ERA, but the real jump forward would come in 2012.
Kelly has dealt with elbow trouble that has limited his playing time, but when on the mound, he's been nigh unstoppable. In the 37 innings the right-hander threw in the minors this year, he struck out 39 batters while walking just three. This earned the 22-year-old call to the Padres beleaguered rotation, where he struck out four against two walks in six innings against the Braves. He shut out the Braves on 87 pitches before handing things over to the bullpen, and for his efforts, gets to work on being a part of the 2013 rotation in the season's final weeks.
The paths of Rizzo and Kelly should give the Red Sox some hope, now that they've dealt Gonzalez, as even if they are taking a step backward in the present, they have acquired their own prospects and a better future in exchange for him. The Padres have already seen this happen, and Jed Hoyer is enjoying the piece of San Diego and the Gonzalez deal he was able to take with him.