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Big Daddy Baseball League

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slant.gif (102 bytes) BDBL: 10 Years in the Making

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May, 2009

Franchise History: South Carolina Sea Cats

Sea Cats in a box:

Franchise wins: 727 (20th all-time)
Playoff appearances: 2
Division titles: 2
League titles: 0
Championship titles: 0
100-win seasons: 0
100-loss seasons: 0
Franchise RC leader: Hank Blalock
Franchise wins leader: Tom Glavine

On November 21st, 1998, Tony DeCastro -- a 27-year-old intern architect from Greenville, South Carolina -- became the sixth member of the Big Daddy Baseball League.  A decade later, DeCastro was one of only six original founding members of the league still running his franchise.  That franchise, the South Carolina Sea Cats, drew the 13th pick in the inaugural draft.

DeCastro's strategy in that draft was to create a well-balanced team in terms of offense and pitching.  With his first pick in the draft, DeCastro selected 33-year-old lefty ace Tom Glavine.  Glavine enjoyed an outstanding year in BDBL, winning the Eck League's first Cy Young award with a 24-4 overall record, and an ERA of 2.61.

With his next seven picks, DeCastro alternated between selecting pitchers and hitters.  35-year-old veteran shortstop Barry Larkin (.292/.366/.468 with 104 R and 104.4 RC) was DeCastro's second pick.  Dustin Hermanson (14-8, 4.01 ERA in 186+ IP), a promising young pitcher at age 26, was the team's third pick.

Derek Bell (.282/.348/.405 with 93.4 RC), Kerry Ligtenberg (68+ IP, 3.44 ERA in relief), Tom Goodwin (.283/.350/.320), Jeff Fassero (10-11, 3.77 ERA in 205+ IP) and Henry Rodriguez (.248/.317/.519 with 30 HR) followed.  All were between the ages of 28-36.

DeCastro continued to fill the holes in his active roster with veteran players before turning his attention to younger players (Homer Bush, Rich Garces, Mike Frank) toward the end of the draft.

In the first From the Desk of the Commish article of the 1999 season, the Sea Cats were picked to win their division.  After a 13-12 showing in the first chapter, South Carolina found themselves trailing the division leaders by two games in the Petralli Division.  The following chapter, however, the team collapsed, going just 11-20.  And by the all-star break, the Sea Cats were looking at a nine-game deficit in the division and a last-place record of 33-47.

DeCastro turned his attention toward the 2000 season at that point, and agreed to his first BDBL trade at the Chapter Four deadline, sending the team's greatest asset, Glavine, to the Slyme in exchange for young slugger Jeremy Giambi.  The trade was a total bust for the Sea Cats, as Giambi was released following the 2000 season, while Glavine won the EL Cy Young award and carried the Slyme to an Eck League title.

DeCastro made two more trades before the end of the season, swapping Homer Bush and Graeme Lloyd for Ron Coomer, Miguel Batista and Sean Lowe.  Coomer played one season for the 'Cats, hitting .258/.303/.449.  Batista also played just one season under contract, going 7-8 with a 3.57 ERA in 136+ innings in 2000.  And Lowe was an effective (3.42 ERA in 71 IP) middle reliever in 2000.

The Sea Cats wrapped up the 1999 season with a record of 73-87 -- 13 games out of first place.


But there was reason for optimism heading into the 2000 season, as DeCastro's 1999 farm draft was remarkable for having developed three low-cost impact players in only one year.  Second round pick Freddy Garcia tossed over 200 innings (207.2) and compiled an ERA of 3.95.  At just 24 years of age and with a minimum-wage salary, Garcia was considered to be among the top young pitchers in the game.  Third-round farm pick Warren Morris was the team's full-time second baseman in 2000 (but hit a disappointing .229/.312/.329.)  And DeCastro's fifth and final farm pick from 1999, Billy Koch, served as the team's closer in 2000.  In 59+ innings, Koch posted a 6-6 record with a 4.10 ERA in BDBL 2000.

In addition to those three rookies, the Sea Cats were also excited to add Ray Lankford to the lineup.  Lankford, a left-handed power hitter, was considered to be a perfect fit for South Carolina's home ballpark, modeled after lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium.  In just 419 at-bats, Lankford hit .294/.389/.477 for the Sea Cats, with 80.8 runs created.

With a left-heavy lineup and a solid starting rotation and bullpen, the Sea Cats were picked to finish in third place once again in the newly-renamed Person Division.  However, this prediction was more a function of playing in a very tough division rather than any glaring deficiency on the Sea Cats.

South Carolina slumped out of the gate by going 7-17 in Chapter One.  The problem was the offense, which scored a BDBL-low 92 runs in the chapter, and hit just .262/.325/.386 overall.  Lankford (.231/.295/.308), in particular, fell into a nasty slump early in the season, causing much of DeCastro's heartburn.

The team continued to slump in Chapter Two, going 8-16 while scoring a league-low 104 runs.  And in Chapter Three, the team proved their slow start was no fluke, as they went 10-16 and scored just 98 runs.

At the final trading deadline of the season, DeCastro began reloading for the 2001 season.  On July 15th, he made what he termed to be a "bold move" by trading his team's franchise pitcher, Garcia, along with Hermanson, in exchange for highly-touted pitching prospect Carl Pavano.

"That one really is a gamble," explained [DeCastro.]  "We felt tied down by Hermanson's contract.  We really like Dustin, but he's been kind of a roller coaster the last two years.  When he's at his lows, it's hard to justify paying him the kind of money we were.  There's no doubt that he has the talent to be a top-line starter...Garcia is very tough to let go, but we really have high expectations for Pavano.  So, hopefully his arm will hold up and both of us (the Sea Cats and Phoenix Predators) can benefit from this trade."

Pavano was ranked the #9 prospect in baseball by Baseball America in 1998.  In 2000, he posted a 3.06 ERA in 97 innings in the big leagues, and looked to be one of the brightest young pitchers in the game at age 24.  But he followed that season with a disastrous, injury-riddled year (6.33 ERA in only 42+ IP), and never reached his lofty potential.

That same day, DeCastro announced another deal, whereby he sent his young closer, Koch, to the Kentucky Fox (along with three others, including Henry Rodriguez.)  In exchange, he received veteran all-star Mike Sweeney (along with free-agent-to-be Robb Nen.)  With two years remaining on his contract, at a combined salary of only $7 million, Sweeney enjoyed two outstanding seasons for South Carolina, hitting .293/.375/.454 with 112.8 RC in 2001, and .318/.367/.601 with 45 homers and a career-high 135.5 RC in 2002.

South Carolina wrapped up the 2000 season with a 62-98 record -- tied for the second-worst record in the BDBL.


Fortunately for DeCastro, that record gave him the second overall pick in every round of the 2001 draft.  And after trading his #2 and #6 picks to the Manchester Irish Rebels in exchange for Manchester's #1 pick, the Sea Cats now owned two of the top three picks in the draft.

The 2001 draft class included three dominant aces in Al Leiter, Tom Glavine and Roger Clemens.  After the Perth Breeze selected Leiter with the #1 pick in the draft, DeCastro happily selected Glavine and Clemens with the next two picks.  That season, Glavine went 20-6 with a 2.70 ERA in 253+ innings, while Clemens went 18-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 218+ innings.  Those two draft picks immediately propelled the Sea Cats from an also-ran to a bona-fide contender.

In addition to those two impact starting pitchers, the Sea Cats also welcomed back the impact bat of Jim Edmonds.  Edmonds was a second-round pick by DeCastro in the 2000 draft.  Coming off an injury-plagued season, DeCastro took a $5 million gamble that Edmonds would bounce back into form, and bounce he did.  In 2001, Edmonds hit .286/.413/.594 for the Sea Cats, with a career-high 49 home runs, 120 runs scored, 120 RBIs, 123 walks and 148.7 runs created.

With his two aces and two MVP-caliber hitters (Edmonds and Sweeney) serving as the foundation of the team, DeCastro's Sea Cats were picked to win the Person Division.  Once again, however, the Sea Cats got off to a slow start, going just 14-14 in Chapter One.  Fortunately, every other team in the division got off to an even slower start, as the 'Cats finished the chapter with a three-game lead over the 11-17 Villanova Mustangs.

South Carolina followed that chapter by going 15-11 in Chapter Two and 17-9 in Chapter Three.  At the all-star break, DeCastro added another slugger to his lineup in Paul Konerko.  A free agent at the end of the season, Konerko hit .293/.353/.414 for the Sea Cats down the stretch.  The cost: Scott Brosius -- a 35-year-old third baseman who hit .321/.365/.421 in only 140 at-bats in his final BDBL season.  It was the final transaction of the season for DeCastro, as the Sea Cats had built a comfortable lead in the division.

Despite playing in what was thought to be a "tough" division prior to the start of the season, South Carolina was the only team to finish with a record above .500 in 2001.  They finished with a 92-68 record -- 18 games ahead of the Kentucky Fox.

The Sea Cats then took on the Akron Ryche in the Eck League Division Series.  The first game of that series was a match-up between Glavine and Akron's longtime ace Pedro Martinez.  Neither pitcher earned a decision, however, as the game was extended into extra innings.  In the bottom of the 10th, South Carolina reliever Mike Remlinger issued a leadoff walk to pinch hitter John Vander Wal.  Vander Wal advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, and then scored on a base hit by Ricky Gutierrez.

Game Two saw another match-up of aces, as Clemens faced Tim Hudson.  Clemens pitched brilliantly, allowing just two runs (one earned) on three hits through seven innings.  But Hudson was even better, as he tossed six-plus shutout innings.  The Akron bullpen then completed the shutout, giving the Ryche a commanding 2-0 series lead as the series shifted to South Carolina.

The Sea Cats offense came alive in the third game of the series, as Sweeney, Edmonds and pitcher Gil Heredia each homered en route to an 8-2 Sea Cats win.  Then, with Glavine taking the hill on three days of rest against Akron's #4 starter Jarrod Washburn, the Sea Cats tied up the series with a convincing 10-4 win.  But in Game Five, DeCastro handed the ball to his own #4 starter, Mark Redman, against the EL's Cy Young award winner, Martinez.  The results were predictably disastrous.  During the regular season, Redman had posted an ugly ERA of 5.72 in 154+ innings.  In Game Five, Redman was smacked around for seven runs on eleven hits through six-plus innings.

In Game Six, Hudson once again took the hill for Akron against Clemens.  Once again, both pitchers pitched well enough to win.  But in the bottom of the seventh inning, Akron third baseman Adrian Beltre turned on Clemens' 124th pitch of the game and deposited it into the seats, giving Akron a 2-1 lead.  Mark Wohlers and Trevor Hoffman then nailed down the eighth and ninth innings to give Akron the series win.


That winter, DeCastro took an inventory of his team and made the controversial decision to rebuild in 2002 rather than contend.  Making this decision more controversial was his choice of trading partner: Paul Marazita of the Stamford Zoots.  Before Marazita had wrapped up his third straight BDBL championship in 2001, he announced that he'd added Clemens from the Sea Cats.  The Zoots had lost one of their three aces (Randy Johnson) to free agency that winter, but the acquisition of the reigning American League Cy Young helped to fill that void immediately.

In exchange for his dominant ace, DeCastro received a pair of promising youngsters in return: Nick Johnson and D'Angelo Jimenez.  The key to the deal was Johnson, who was ranked as the #13 prospect in baseball by Baseball America the following spring.  In eight seasons with the Sea Cats, Johnson hit .289/.403/.479, but averaged just 236 at-bats per season, as he suffered through numerous injuries.  Jimenez played four seasons for the Sea Cats, and hit .284/.370/.407.  His best season came in 2005, when he hit .333/.425/.476 with 43 doubles and 126.8 runs created.  But just two years later, he was out of baseball for good.

In addition to Clemens, DeCastro also threw in Edmonds, who hit .307/.431/.546 for Stamford in 2002, with 131.9 runs created, at a salary of just $6 million.  To many, it seemed a very steep price to pay for two prospects, and it sealed South Carolina's fate for the next two seasons, as both Clemens and Edmonds proved difficult to replace.

With Clemens and Edmonds gone, DeCastro turned his attention to offloading Sweeney.  In the final year of his contract, and with a salary of only $4 million, Sweeney would hit .318/.367/.601 in 2002, with 45 home runs and 135.5 runs created -- both career highs.  But just prior to Opening Day, he was dealt to the Kansas Law Dogs in exchange for Shane Halter and Antonio Perez.  Halter enjoyed a big season for the Sea Cats in '02, hitting .307/.355/.542 with 97.7 RC, but he was a free agent at the end of the season.  Perez never played a game for the Sea Cats, and compiled just 323 at-bats in his BDBL career.

When his team got off to another slow start to the season (10-18), DeCastro's purge continued with the Chapter One trade of Charles Johnson to the Zoots in exchange for Nate Cornejo and Chad Krueter.  Cornejo pitched just 146 innings in his BDBL career, with a record of 6-10 and an ERA of 5.71.  Krueter -- a 37-year-old backup catcher -- played just one season for South Carolina (hitting .145/.288/.345), and was out of baseball by the 2004 BDBL season.

The following chapter, DeCastro dealt away another impact player in Glavine.  In exchange, he received young pitchers Eric Hiljus and Rafael Soriano from the Los Altos Undertakers.  While Hiljus never pitched in the BDBL again following the 2002 season, Soriano gave the team one season of quality relief pitching in 2004 (57 IP, 43 H, 19 BB, 78 K, 2.37 ERA.)

At the Chapter Four deadline, DeCastro shed yet another impact player when he traded Ray Lankford to the Madison Fighting Mimes, getting Joe Beimel in exchange.  Beimel pitched only one season for South Carolina, and posted an ERA of 7.88 in 64 innings.

Finally, at the final trading deadline of the season, DeCastro and Marazita hooked up one more time, with Todd Walker going to Stamford in exchange for Michael Young.  This trade looks very good for South Carolina in retrospect, as Young became an impact middle infielder just two years later.  However, DeCastro made the fatal error of signing Young for just one season following the 2002 BDBL season.  As a result, Young hit just .239/.286/.345 in his only season in South Carolina.  Over the next three seasons, however, Young would create 97.3, 107.3 and 120.9 runs.

2002 was a disastrous season for DeCastro and the Sea Cats in more ways than one.  A year after capturing the division title, South Carolina finished in last place with a record of 66-94.  DeCastro traded no fewer than seven impact players throughout the season, yet received very little value for the 2003 team -- nor any future Sea Cats team.


Perhaps the primary motivating factor for DeCastro's massive player purge in 2002 was a major change to the rulebook instituted that summer.  In an unprecedented mid-season vote, the league agreed nearly unanimously to adopt an auction system for the top 50 free agents.  No longer could a team build a contender simply by tanking a season, finishing with 90+ losses, and gaining the advantage of having a high draft pick in every round of the draft.  From 2003 forward, the top free agents would go to the teams willing to spend the money to acquire them.  And after shedding tens of millions in 2002, no team was in a better position to spend money in the BDBL's first free agent draft than DeCastro.

That winter, the Sea Cats had a whopping $56.9 million to spend on 16 players -- a figure that is still a BDBL record as of this writing.  South Carolina's spending cash was nearly $19 million higher than the next highest team's total.  DeCastro spent $42 million of that windfall on six players: Vladimir Guerrero ($16M), Mark Kotsay ($6M), Herbert Perry ($2.5M), Andy Pettitte ($8.5M), Darren Holmes ($4M) and Tom Glavine ($11.5M.)

In addition to those free agents, he also acquired Wade Miller (6-16, 4.55 ERA in 172+ IP in 2003) from the Allentown Ridgebacks that winter, sacrificing Ryan Klesko (.287/.388/.531, 110.9 RC) in exchange.  And with Miller, Glavine and Pettitte fronting the rotation, and Guerrero hitting in the middle of the lineup, surrounded by an array of platoon players, the Sea Cats were once again predicted to finish in first place in the division.

But once again, the Sea Cats got off to a disappointing start, going 14-14 in Chapter One, while falling four games behind in the standings.  It only got worse from there, as the team then went 10-16 in Chapter Two and 7-19 in Chapter Three.

By Chapter Four, DeCastro began selling off some of his role players, including relievers Darren Holmes and Steve Reed, and utility players Denny Hocking and Todd Greene.  In exchange for Reed, DeCastro received top prospect Lastings Milledge from the Salem Cowtippers.  By 2006, Milledge would be the team's top prospect (and the 11th best prospect in baseball according to the BDBL's annual farm survey.)

Incredibly, those would be the only trades DeCastro would make in 2003, as the team was simply left to perish.  Despite the lofty expectations that followed DeCastro's winter spending spree, the Sea Cats finished with a record of 63-97 -- three games worse than the team's disastrous 2002 season.


After spending so much money on the free agent class of 2002, DeCastro was forced to be a bit more frugal in the winter of 2003.  He managed to shed $6 million in salary by trading Guerrero to the Chicago Black Sox in exchange for Andruw Jones.  The trade worked out fairly well for South Carolina, as Jones hit .254/.309/.472 with 34 home runs and 87.4 runs created.  But that would be the only trade of the winter for DeCastro.  The team made just one free agent signing in the auction, committing $5.5 million to Tim Salmon -- a risky "Type H" signing for an injury-plagued 35-year old.  Salmon performed poorly in 2004, batting just .257/.349/.444, and then was limited to just 147 at-bats in 2005 due to injury.

Several factors led to increased optimism among Sea Cats fans heading into the 2004 season.  The 2001 farm draft was an historic draft in the BDBL due to the incredible amount of impact talent available in that year's draft class.  DeCastro held the #2 overall pick in that draft, but traded it for catching prospect Matt LeCroy.  With his second round pick, he selected a pitcher named Jovanny Cedeno, who never made it to the big leagues.  But with his third pick, DeCastro made perhaps the most brilliant pick of the draft, selecting Hank Blalock.

By the following year, Blalock had climbed all the way up the prospect rankings, and was ranked the #2 overall prospect in baseball in the BDBL's annual farm report.  And by 2004, Blalock had become the best hitter in the South Carolina lineup, hitting .309/.362/.574 with 33 home runs, 122 RBIs and 106.1 runs created -- all at the tender young age of 23.  By the end of the league's first decade, Blalock would stand as the franchise leader in runs created.

With the 25-year-old Johnson (.348/.469/.533 in 336 AB in '04) across the diamond, the Sea Cats were thought to have the greatest young corner infield in the league.  And with a veteran starting rotation headed by Pettitte and Glavine, and a strong bullpen led by Soriano, the Sea Cats were picked to finish in second place in the annual pre-season preview.

The Sea Cats offense scored 167 runs in the first chapter (second-most in the EL) en route to a 15-13 record.  The offense continued to score runs in bunches in the second chapter, but unfortunately, the South Carolina pitching staff allowed even more runs to cross the plate, and the 'Cats fell to 13-15.  By the all-star break, the team owned a 28-28 record and a four-game deficit in the division despite outscoring the opposition by 21 runs.

On June 13th, the Sea Cats were stuck in BDBL limbo -- not quite bad enough to justify throwing in the towel, but not quite good enough to put it all on the line and "go for it."  Trailing in the EL wild card race by eight games, DeCastro made the bold decision to "go for it."  After several weeks of speculation (and April Fools pranks), the Nashville Funkadelic finally put their ace, Roy Halladay, on the block.  And to the surprise of many, DeCastro was named the winner of that sweepstakes.  As expected, however, the cost was very, very steep.

In the 2002 farm draft, DeCastro had traded away his first two picks of the draft (neither of which was used.)  His first pick of the draft, therefore, came in the third round.  And with that pick, he made the brilliant selection of Jose Reyes.  Just one year later, Reyes had become the #3 prospect in baseball in the annual BDBL farm report.  But in June of 2004, Reyes became the latest sacrifice made by DeCastro in his quest to return to the post-season.

Halladay pitched just six games for the Sea Cats, as South Carolina went just 14-14 in Chapter Four, and fell 11 games behind in the wild card race.  Roughly seven weeks after Halladay was acquired by South Carolina, he was sent packing to the Southern Cal Slyme.  In exchange, DeCastro re-acquired Koch, and picked up young starter Matt Clement as well.  Like many of DeCastro's trades during this era, however, this trade did not work out in South Carolina's favor.  Koch pitched just one more season, racking up an ugly 6.31 ERA in 37+ innings before he was forced from the game.  And Clement posted ERAs of 5.05, 5.18 and 6.20 over the next two seasons, at salaries of $5 and $6 million.  He was eventually released with a $3.5 million penalty at the end of the 2006 season.  In the end, DeCastro had traded an all-star franchise shortstop in exchange for two pitchers who would cost his team more than they would benefit it.

South Carolina finished the 2004 season exactly where they were predicted to finish: in second place, with a record of 76-84.


By 2005, Blalock and Johnson were expected to develop into mega-superstars.  But instead, Blalock slumped, hitting just .244/.322/.450 for the Sea Cats in 2005, and Johnson was injured yet again, totaling just 124 at-bats.  And with five years remaining on his contract, the 28-year-old Andruw Jones appeared to be heading backward in his development as well, hitting just .263/.333/.476 in 2005, with 178 strikeouts and only 30 home runs -- his lowest total since 2000.

On the mound, Clement (7-11, 5.05 ERA in 185+ IP) was now the team's de facto "ace."  With Soriano lost for the season due to injury, Juan Rincon (77+ IP, 2.80 ERA) took over as the team's closer.

Despite the glaring need to renovate his roster, DeCastro was unable to make any trades that winter, and headed into the auction with several glaring holes to fill.  Once again, he attempted to fill those holes through free agency.  He signed veteran Jeff Bagwell to a $5 million salary, catcher Ramon Hernandez at $4.5M, Todd Walker at $3M, and Kenny Rogers at $3.5M.  While Hernandez (.301/.365/.539) turned out to be a bargain, and Walker (.266/.356/.429) performed about as well as expected, the Bagwell signing was a disaster, as he hit only .229/.303/.400, and didn't play well enough in MLB '05 to warrant an extension.  Rogers was even more of a disaster in 2005, as he went 7-22 on the season, and posted an outrageous ERA of 6.67 in over 200 innings.  However, he turned out to be an asset in 2006, going 17-5 with a 3.63 ERA in 213+ innings, at a salary of only $3.5 million.

After a 12-16 start to the season, it looked to be another lost season for the Sea Cats.  This much was confirmed by a 10-18 record in Chapter Two.  At the Chapter Three deadline, DeCastro made his first transaction of the season, sending Mike Piazza to the Marlboro Hammerheads in exchange for prospect Ian Kinsler (and replacement catcher Jason LaRue.)  Kinsler proved to be a valuable addition in the coming years.  He made his rookie debut in 2007, and hit .290/.346/.471 with 75.2 runs created, and continued to improve in the coming years.

That same chapter, DeCastro swapped role players Wade Miller and Kevin Mench in exchange for two young pitchers: Gustavo Chacin and Chuck James.  Chacin proved to be a low-cost, valuable member of the starting rotation in 2006, winning 15 games in 193+ innings, with an ERA of 4.19.

The Sea Cats finished the 2005 season with a 66-94 record -- the third time in four seasons in which South Carolina lost more than 90 games.  But heading into the 2006 season, it appeared that a lot of things had gone South Carolina's way.


After failing miserably as a free agent signing in 2005, Rogers (17-5, 3.63 ERA in 213+ IP) had unexpectedly become the team's ace in 2006.  After four consecutive injury-plagued seasons in which he failed to top 336 at-bats, Nick Johnson finally enjoyed a full, healthy season for the Sea Cats in 2006, hitting .290/.398/.476.  And Blalock bounced back from his horrendous 2005 season by hitting .323/.414/.503 with 106.8 RC in 2006.

But the most unexpected performance of all came from Andruw Jones.  After several seasons of declining performance, Jones hit just .245 with a .305 OBP in 2006.  But his slugging percentage jumped all the way up to .576, and he hit 61 home runs on the season, and drove home 166 runs -- both figures good enough to lead the BDBL.

In the free agent auction, DeCastro beefed up the lineup even further by signing slugger Gary Sheffield to an $11.5 million salary.  Sheffield was brilliant for the Sea Cats, hitting .285/.383/.502 with 28 homers, 101 RBIs and 109.3 runs created.

Yet despite a solid starting rotation that included Rogers, Chacin and Clement, and a powerful lineup featuring Johnson, Blalock, Jones and Sheffield, the Sea Cats were picked to finish last in the pre-season preview, due to playing in what was considered to be a very tough division.

With South Carolina tied atop the Person Division (with a 34-22 record) after two chapters of play, however, DeCastro made the decision to pull out all the stops and "go for it."  Just as he had done two years earlier with the trade of Jose Reyes, DeCastro made the bold decision to trade his team's future to strengthen his present.  In a trade with the Great Lakes Sphinx, DeCastro acquired ace pitcher Andy Pettitte, who was brilliant (12-4, 2.28 ERA in 154+ innings) down the stretch.  To add that much-needed ace, DeCastro sacrificed several young prospects, including Lastings Milledge and Josh Barfield.  He also sacrificed his second-round pick from the 2006 free agent draft, Curt Schilling, who went 13-11 with a 3.41 ERA in 222 innings in 2007, at a salary of just $5 million.

That same chapter, DeCastro added a second ace pitcher in Kevin Millwood, and a valuable setup man in Scott Shields.  Millwood was expected to be an ace for the Sea Cats, but instead went just 8-7 with a 5.65 ERA in 121 innings.  Shockingly, Shields (3-5, 5.59 ERA) performed just as poorly.  In exchange for those two pitchers, DeCastro parted with a package of six players, including young pitchers Scott Baker and Jon Lester, and highly-touted prospect Fernando Martinez.

Those would be the final trades of the season for DeCastro, as the Sea Cats cruised down the stretch with a 52-28 record in the second half -- tied with the Villanova Mustangs as the best record in the BDBL.

The Sea Cats jumped out to a 15-5 record in the final chapter, and by the first week of October they had captured a share of first place in the Person Division.  South Carolina wrapped up its season early, finishing with a franchise-best record of 97-63 with two weeks left to play in the season.  It was then a matter of waiting for the Slyme to wrap up their season.  With a dozen games remaining for Southern Cal, they needed to go just 7-5 to tie for the division lead.  But instead, the Slyme had to settle for the Eck League wild card, as they went just 5-7 over those final twelve games to finish the season two games behind the Sea Cats.

The last time the Sea Cats appeared in the post-season, their Division Series opponents were the Akron Ryche.  In 2006, South Carolina got the rematch they wanted.  Coincidentally enough, the 2006 series began the same way as the 2001 series, with Akron ace Pedro Martinez facing off against South Carolina's ace and neither pitcher getting the decision as the game extended into extra innings.  This time, #8 hitter Tony Graffanino led off the top of the 12th inning with a base hit, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, and scored on a single by Omar Vizquel.  Juan Rincon then closed out the bottom of the 12th to give the Sea Cats the series advantage.

In Game Two, Millwood -- who had been such a disappointment during the regular season -- redeemed himself by pitching a gem, striking out ten batters in six innings while surrendering just two runs.  South Carolina then tacked on four runs over the final two innings to turn a 3-2 nailbiter into a comfortable 7-2 win.

When the series shifted to South Carolina for Game Three, the Sea Cats threatened to make short work of the Ryche by taking a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning.  But Akron then rallied for four runs in the ninth off of Rincon to win by a score of 6-4.

The two rivals then played yet another extra-inning game in Game Four -- this time extending the game to 15 innings.  Akron scored a run in the top of the 15th to take an 11-10 lead, but the Sea Cats refused to quit.  With the bottom third of their lineup stepping to the plate, they put two runners on base with one out.  Luis Castillo (who had also been acquired along with Millwood and Shields earlier in the year) then laced a triple to the gap to score both the game-tying and game-winning runs.

Akron -- led by their stopper, Martinez -- then battled back to win Game Five by a score of 5-3, forcing the series to return to Akron.  And for the third time in the series, the two teams needed more than nine innings to determine the winner.  South Carolina carried a 4-2 lead into the ninth inning of Game Six, but a two-run homer by Akron catcher Jason Varitek off of Rincon tied the game in the bottom of the ninth.  In the 10th, Sheffield led off the inning with a base hit, and stole his way into scoring position.  Ramon Hernandez then plated him with a base hit.  Graffanino then plated an insurance run with a clutch two-out hit.  And Solomon Torres closed out the 10th inning against the top of the Akron lineup to close out the series and send the Sea Cats to the EL Championship Series.

South Carolina's ELCS opponents were the Villanova Mustangs, who were the only team during the regular season to win 100 or more games.  But the Sea Cats jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning of Game One, and were able to hold on the rest of the way, eking out a 6-5 win.  But the Mustangs won convincingly in Game Two by a score of 8-1, and then took the series lead in Game Three with a 3-1 win, as the vaunted Sea Cats lineup suddenly stopped hitting.

Villanova then jumped out to a 3-1 series lead with an 8-6 win in Game Four.  With South Carolina's backs up against the wall, they once again managed to win an extra-innings game in Game Five.  They did it in dramatic fashion, as they first tied the game in the bottom of the ninth on a sac fly by Nick Johnson, and then won it in the bottom of the tenth on another sac fly.

Then, in Game Six, the Sea Cats played an extra-innings playoff game for the fifth time in the 2006 post-season.  With the game tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the 10th, DeCastro turned once again to Rincon.  A pair of singles and a wild pitch put two runners in scoring position with one out.  Pinch hitter Casey Kotchman then grounded a ball to the drawn-in South Carolina infield, but the throw home arrived too late.  The Sea Cats' season was done.


All the money tied up among Millwood, Jones and Sheffield meant that DeCastro had very little money ($10.3 million) to spend on free agents in 2007.  Millwood followed up his disappointing BDBL season with a disappointing MLB season.  And yet, despite the significant decline in numbers, he actually performed far better (18-12, 3.73 ERA in 239 IP) in the BDBL than he did in MLB.  Blalock (.312/.377/.487) also performed far better for the Sea Cats in 2007 than he did in MLB.  And Johnson (.286/.397/.515, 120.3 RC in 567 AB) enjoyed the healthiest and most productive season of his BDBL career in the final year of his four-year contract.

But Sheffield missed most of the season due to injury, and racked up just 113 at-bats in 2007, at a salary of $11.5 million.  Rogers, Pettitte (traded that winter for Paul Lo Duca in a salary dump) and Schilling were all gone, leaving a rotation of Millwood, Clay Hensley, Chuck James and Esteban Loaiza.  It was considered to be one of the weakest rotations in the BDBL.

DeCastro sat out of the auction, and went into the season with a team that was expected to finish in last place in the division just months after making it all the way to the ELCS.

Despite the concerns over the pitching staff, the Sea Cats were a surprisingly respectable 39-41 in the first half of the season.  Unfortunately, in a division that included two .600 teams and a 43-37 Slyme team, that respectable record was only good for last place.

With a dearth of trade bait, DeCastro did his best to get as much value as he could for the players he had.  At the Chapter Three deadline, he traded four players -- including prospect Adam Lind -- to the New Milford Blazers for Jarrod Washburn, David Dellucci and Brian Backe.

The Sea Cats went 8-16 in Chapter Four, removing any pretense of contention.  At the final trading deadline, DeCastro officially unfurled the white flag, and traded every valuable player he could, including Jones, Shields, Dellucci, Hensley and Johnson.  In exchange, he received prospects Fernando Martinez (re-acquired from the Chicago Black Sox) and Alan Horne, and "young veterans" Josh Towers, Gil Meche and Dan Johnson.

The Sea Cats wrapped up the 2007 season with a record of 70-90.  In three seasons, the Sea Cats had managed to go from 90+ losses to 90+ wins, and back again to 90+ losses.


The prognosis for the Sea Cats heading into the winter of 2008 were not good.  But with a dearth of trade bait, DeCastro once again sat on his hands that winter without making a single trade.  His most valuable trade asset was Meche, who enjoyed a surprisingly effective MLB season.  Meche was eventually dealt to the Great Lakes Sphinx, prior to Opening Day, in exchange for Boof Bonser, Lastings Milledge, Sean Gallagher and Alexei Ramirez.

Just as in 2003, DeCastro had a ton of money to spend on free agency in 2008, with $43.9 million (the second-largest total in the league.)  But unlike 2003, the 2008 free agent class was not very strong.  As a result, DeCastro won the bidding on just two low-cost veterans: Mike Mussina (at $3M) and Jason Giambi ($2M.)  With nearly $39 million still remaining in his budget, DeCastro loaded up on veterans in the draft, hoping to buy low on former stars like Pedro Martinez, Shawn Green, Eric Chavez and Geoff Jenkins coming off down years.

South Carolina was predicted to finish in last place.  It was thought that the only thing keeping them from being the worst team in the league was the presence of the Atlanta Fire Ants, who would finish the season with a BDBL record for losses.

Predictably, the Sea Cats slumped out to an 8-20 start in Chapter One, and followed that with a 10-18 Chapter Two.  And despite the quickly sinking ship, DeCastro failed to make a single trade throughout the 2008 season, and picked up only four free agents all year.  The Sea Cats wrapped up the season with a record of 62-98.


The Sea Cats franchise reached the 80-win mark just twice in the league's first decade.  The first time this modest goal was achieved, it was accomplished in large part due to the acquisition of two impact free agents.  In 2001, DeCastro took full advantage of his team's high draft position (which was the result of performing so poorly in 2000) to add a pair of free agent aces in Tom Glavine and Roger Clemens.  Those two aces won 38 games combined, and pitched more than 472 innings, carrying South Carolina to their first playoffs appearance and division title.

Five years later, DeCastro recaptured the division title a second time thanks to the long-awaited maturation of former top farm prospects Hank Blalock and Nick Johnson, a fluke power season by Andruw Jones, and through the key mid-season acquisition of Andy Pettitte.  But when each of those players reverted to their previous disappointing form, the franchise fell back into the division cellar.

DeCastro has much in common with his Eck League counterpart, D.J. Shepard, whose franchise was profiled on this page last month:

  • Both DeCastro and Shepard are founding fathers of the BDBL.
  • Both owners have avoided the trade table, compared to other GMs in the league.
  • Both owners are quiet by nature, and keep their opinions and strategies closely-guarded.
  • Both owners value pitching and hitting equally.
  • Both owners rely primarily upon free agency to fill the holes in their rosters.

Yet, despite their similarities in style, Shepard's Akron Ryche won 162 games more than DeCastro's Sea Cats over the league's first decade.  This, despite the fact that South Carolina's farm system has ranked far higher than Akron's in the league's annual Farm Report.  From 2000-2009, South Carolina's farm posted an average rank of 7.9, while Akron's farm ranked just 13.3 on average.

The problem is that many of South Carolina's highly-regarded prospects (such as J.R. House, Jason Stokes, Rafael Soriano, Justin Huber, Josh Barfield, Yusmeiro Petit, Lastings Milledge and Reid Brignac) never panned out.  And the ones that did (Blalock, Johnson, Reyes, Lester, Kinsler, Baker) were either injured too often to make much of an impact in South Carolina, or were traded away before they busted out into stars.

Because DeCastro has been so reluctant to trade, and because the Sea Cats farm system has produced so few impact players despite their high ranking in the annual Farm Report, DeCastro has attempted to fill his team's deficiencies through free agency.  And the problem with free agency is that an owner is forced to pay market value for the best (often overpriced veteran) players.  As a result, the Sea Cats have enjoyed little success, other than those two seasons -- one where the worst teams in the league enjoyed the greatest advantage in signing free agents.

Since the advent of the free agent auction, there is no longer an advantage to finishing at the bottom of the standings.  And since the free agent draft pool has dried up, there is no longer an advantage to having a lot of money to spend in the auction.  So, moving forward, the Sea Cats will need to find another way to build a championship-caliber team.