The D-Rays had high aspirations for Bierbrodt, but it all fell apart. (Credit: Devil Rays photo)

The History of the Rays as Trade Deadline Sellers Part 2


Since thinking of the Rays having even the slightest chance of selling this season is something foreign to Rays fans we are looking back at the moves the Rays have made when they have been sellers in the past. Today we’ll look back at a deadline move the Devil Rays made back in 2001.

7/25/01: Rays trade RHP Albie Lopez and C Mike Difelice to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for OF Jason Conti and LHP Nick Bierbrodt

This trade didn’t work out for either team involved, but it was an interesting trade at the time and this trade is also relevant to a trade scenario scenario we could see the Rays pursue at a later time.

Lopez is one of the most interesting pitchers in early Devil Rays history. The 48th pick in the ’97 expansion draft, Lopez was horrendous for the Indians from 1996 to 1997, posting just a 6.69 ERA in 34 relief appearances, 16 starts, and 138.2 IP, not exactly a small sample. His FIP (which I’m using as a summary of his strikeout, walk, a homer rates as opposed to analyzing anything) was just 5.24. But nevertheless, the Devil Rays selected him and he turned out to be a great pick. Larry Rothschild and the Devil Rays used Lopez as a long reliever in 1998 and he was great, going 7-4 with a 2.60 ERA, a 3.95 FIP, and 1 save in 54 relief appearances spanning 79.2 IP. He proceeded to struggle in 1999, managing just a 4.64 ERA and 4.75 FIP in 51 appearances and 64 IP and then he got off to a terrible start in 2000, going just 2-2 with a 5.53 ERA and 4.86 FIP in 21 appearances, walking more than he struck out.  But for some bizarre reason, the D-Rays decided to make him a starter for the rest of 2000 and he was the closest thing to an ace the Devil Rays had, going 9-9 with a 3.88 ERA (although a 5.02 FIP) in 24 starts and 157.2 IP the rest of the season. He even tossed 4 complete games and a shutout! But Lopez’s success looked like a complete fluke as he went just 5-12 with a 5.35 ERA and a 5.09 FIP in 20 starts and 124.2 IP to begin 2001, his age 29 season. Nevertheless, somehow D-Rays GM Chuck LaMar marketed him well and helped incite the deal above.

DiFelice was an overthought, a 32 year old backup catcher who never could hit, although he did have a good throwing arm and a little bit of pop. He was a throw-in along with Lopez to make this deal happen. The D-Rays received two players who had played just 5 games apiece with the D-Backs in 2001. Conti, an older prospect at 26 years old, had shown power speed potential in the minor leagues, posting a .305/.349/.470 line in 2000 at Triple-A with 20 doubles, 5 triples, 11 homers, 57 RBI, and 11 stolen bases, and he was hitting great at Triple-A Tuscan at the time of the deal, posting a .331/.402/.503 line with 23 doubles, 6 triples, 9 homers, and 52 RBI in 92 games. The big qualifier: the Pacific Coast League where he was playing was an extreme hitter’s league, and it was his third year in the league. Nevertheless, the D-Rays like what they saw from him and acquired him.

Bierbrodt, a big 6’5″, 215 left-hander, was the Diamondbacks’ first draft pick in their history in the first round in 1996. He was a hard-throwing lefty with a great fastball and dynamic slider. Bierbrodt’s major problem with his control, something that continued to plague him. In 2001, Bierbrodt, 23, struggled in his big league debut, posting just an 8.55 ERA in 5 starts, but he was downright dominant during his time in the minor leagues, going 6-2 with a 1.94 ERA, a 10.2 K/9, a 2.1 BB/9, and a 0.1 HR/9 in 10 starts, a relief appearance, and 65 IP between Double-A and Triple-A. The D-Rays hoped to solve Bierbrodt’s control problems to help him seize his lofty potential.

This deal is a little unorthodox as it’s a two for two trade, but it does make sense. The D-Rays are trading a starter they don’t need and a forgettable backup catcher for a very promising left-handed pitching prospect and an outfield prospect with some potential, albeit at an advanced age for an unestablished player. Really this was a trade of the big league right-hander Lopez for the promising lefty Bierbrodt with a couple of throw-ins involved, the one the D-Rays received better than the one they gave away. This trade didn’t turn out very well for anyone.

Lopez pitched pretty well for the D-Backs the remainder of 2001, going just 4-7 but with a 4.00 ERA and a 3.92 FIP in 13 starts, including 2 shutouts and 81 IP. He even received a couple of playoff starts, although they were a complete disaster. He managed just a 9.95 ERA in 3 playoff appearances, most notably allowing a walk-off single to Alfonso Soriano in Game 5 of the World Series. He managed just a 6.78 ERA in 45 appearances, 41 in relief, the next 2 seasons with the Braves and Royals and played his last MLB game at age 32.

DiFelice played just 12 games with the Diamondbacks the rest of 2001, going 1 for 21, but he did have a couple good years as a backup with the Cardinals and Royals (as a teammate of Lopez) and then bounced around the majors and minors before returning to the Rays in 2008 and coming up big in a very brief 7-game stint, going 6 for 20 (.300) with a double and 4 RBI as one of the many minor contributors who helped the Rays to their historic season.

The Devil Rays gave Monti an opportunity to start some games in 2002, but it didn’t go very well as he posted a .257/.315/.383 line with 15 doubles, 3 homers, and 4 stolen bases in 78 games and 242 plate appearances. He was traded after the season for another D-Rays flop, Javier Valentin, and Monti was out of baseball after his age 29 season in 2004.

Bierbrodt is the really unfortunate part of this trade, Bierbrodt didn’t pitch great the rest of 2001 for the Rays, but he was halfway-decent, going 3-4 with a 4.55 ERA, an 8.2 K/9, a 4.0 BB/9, and a 1.6 HR/9 in 11 starts and 61.1 IP. His best start on August 13th was nearly identical to David Price‘s start Thursday as Bierbrodt went 7 shutout innings allowing 2 hits and 3 walks while striking out 7 in a win versus the Twins, and he also closed out the season allowing just 1 run in his final 12 innings. But Bierbrodt’s control issues resurfaced in spring training of 2002, and he started the season all the way down at Low-A Charleston as he looked to work his way back. The results were catastrophic. Bierbrodt made just one start for Charleston before an incident that shook the baseball world happened. Bierbrodt was in a cab waiting for a drive-through restaurant when he got tired of the loud rap music blaring on a motorcycle also in line and told the rider to shut it off. The rider then pulled up next to the back seat window on the passenger and fired three shots at Bierbrodt, hitting him in the chest and the right arm twice. Bierbrodt was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. LaMar had this to say about what happened talking to the St. Petersburg Times.

“It’s just incredible how fast things can happen,” LaMar said. “Here’s a young man that the sky was the limit when spring training started, he struggled, he battled his way back from a physical situation and was just getting food at a drive-through restaurant. It can happen to any of us at any time, and it just happened to Nick Bierbrodt.”

“This goes on and goes on with no rhyme or reason in the real world and sometimes we feel sheltered. It just strikes closer to home when you know somebody involved.”

“Nick Bierbrodt was not only a teammate but a hell of a guy and everyone in that clubhouse knows it. Silence was the reaction.”

Really scary situation, and it may have derailed his entire career. Bierbrodt missed all of 2002 and managed just a 9.68 ERA in 13 appearances with the D-Rays in 2003 before they exposed him to waivers, He posted just a 6.75 ERA in 5 appearances with the Indians the remainder of the season and then just a 5.82 ERA in 4 starts for the Rangers in 2004 before his MLB career ended when he was just 27 years old. Bierbrodt retired after the season. Bierbrodt attempted a comeback with the Rockies in 2010 and then the Orioles in 2011 and actually posted a 3.50 ERA in 31 appearances that year in the O’s organization, but he retired again following the season. Bierbrodt was a very talented player and it’s sad how an event that the police called a “random act of violence” ruined what could have been a great career.

Now what does this trade have to do with the Rays’ current situation? They have two players who fit the profiles of the players that the D-Backs dealt in this trade in 26 year old outfielder Brandon Guyer and 24 year old lefty Alexander Torres. Neither player may have a future with this team, but Torres is dominant when his control is on, and Guyer has shown power-speed potential in the minor league the past three seasons and has 3 big league homers to his credit in 18 games. He also is an excellent defensive right fielder. One problem is that he’s hurt. But let’s say it’s this time in 2013 and Torres and Guyer both have played well at Triple-A but have received little big league time. What could the Rays get for them? The answer appears to be a sketchy but experienced big leaguer to go along with a spare part Quad-A guy. Maybe the Rays could get a player like White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers, a former top prospect currently sitting on the White Sox bench with little hope of starting anytime to soon, to go along with a Quad-A reliever. Hopefully Guyer can get healthy and make an impact at least in a bench role for the Rays next season and Torres can find the control to be at least a big league middle reliever, but if not, we see the type of return the Rays could receive.

Tags: Albie Lopez Alex Torres Brandon Guyer Jason Monti Mike DiFelice Nick Bierbrodt