As another season came to a close in Charlotte with the Knights once again missing out on the playoffs the Knights were faced with some tough decisions. Was it time for a full rebuild or was it time to try to finally go all in and win something now? The fans were getting restless and the front office was trying to decide what to do next.
Tony Rodriguez called Knights GM Jesse Stollings into his office on a overcast day in late October to discuss what the plans were for the Knights moving forward. “Jesse, I cant say I am pleased with what I have seen lately from you. The team lacks focus, you have been a no-show for most of the season, we have not been active in free agency and it is time to figure out what we are going to do moving forward. If I dont like what I hear, then maybe it is time that you move out.”
Stollings looked at the picture behind Tony’s desk and remembered the good days and knew he wanted them back. The Knights can become a factor in the CBL once again, but he needed to commit to doing the work that needed to be done. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly and told Tony it was time to focus on rebuilding. Stollings felt it was time to move on from the place holders, release or trade anyone over 30 and give some of the youth of the organization a chance. Tony agreed and asked Jesse to return the next day with a concrete plan.
The next day Stollings showed up at 8 with a folder under his arm ready to make some tough choices. He had an offer from the agent for 38 year old Garrett Gooden. He was willing to take a massive pay cut. If he is re-signed it goes against the “youth movement” approach, but can the team afford to lose his leadership in the clubhouse? He had also gotten a late night call from Sy, GM of Manchester, was there any chance of trading starting pitcher Jesus Sanchez? Wow, that was a tough one. Time for Tony to make some tough decisions.
After hours of talking, Tony gave Stollings the news, sign Gooden if he will take an offer of less than $5M and try to work a trade with Sanchez. The guidelines were clear, get some youth into the organization. Gooden’s agent wanted to play tough but he finally took the offer, a 1 yer deal at $4.8M. The general consensus is this is the swan song for Gooden so hopefully it is a good year. The negotiations with Sy took a little longer. There were numerous phone calls, offers, counter-offers, suggestions and discussions. But in the end a deal was agreed on. The part of the deal that Rodriguez was not happy about was including 1B Walt Gaines in the trade. But he was pleased that the Knights brought in 4 young CBL ready players. The decision was also made to not make qualifying offers to 4 of the free agents, it was time for a change.
Stollings left the meeting feeling like the “youth movement” was the right choice. Our numerous interviews with Jesse has shown how he has a cut off time of 11PM to try to shut off his mind to try and sleep. But later that week, he got a phone call around 130AM from Dan, the GM of Vancouver. He was looking for trade partners, his owner had cut his budget $40M and he needed to move some players. Jesse told us that this call prompted a call to Rodriguez to discuss options. Stollings told how Rodriguez responded when the main part of the trade was discussed, “I have never thought you could hear a person drooling until I told Tony that Vancouver was shopping SS Yoel Londor. His tone got much darker when I gave him the salary numbers.” That contract, $27M for 2037, $35M for 2038 and $30M for 2039 looked bad, but the Knights decided to try to work a deal. In the end they were able to get Londor, a 30 year monster at SS and LF Bob Metropulos for youngster Dan MacCraken and $1M cash.
After a few weeks of looking over options, Stollings left his house early one morning, grabbed some coffee from the local Dunkin Donuts and headed to the office around 5AM. He was shocked to see the light on in Tony’s office when he walked into the building. Jesse stuck his head into Tony’s office to say hello when he got the news that caused him to once again throw his plans out the window. Tony dropped the bombshell, “The league is contracting, 4 teams are folding, the players are entering the free agency pool.” I want you to give me your top targets before noon. Bidding starts this evening.
Stollings later said he didnt remember walking to his office nor calling every member of his staff. The next thing he knew his office was full, everyone was talking and the white boards were all full, but it quickly became very clear that one name was rising to the top, Frank Gallagher. The 1st Round pick of the now defunct Las Vegas Aces. He was the 3rd player selected in 2032, right out of high school. In 2034, named the #5 prospect in the league, in 2035, #3 and in 2036, the top prospect in the league. Now Stollings had to convince Rodriguez that he was going to be worth it.
Stollings laid it all out for Tony. Gallagher is young, only 21 and loads of potential still. His skills, outfield range of 86, outfield error of 55 and arm of 85. He is an accomplished CF and an adequate RF. But he also has an infield range of 82, infield error of 55, infield arm of 65 and double play rating of 67. He is a speedster, rated at 100, base stealing of 61 and base running of 63. Batting? Yea, pretty good, contact of 65, up to 83, gap power of 83, power of 55, up to 84, eye of 33, potential of 55 and avoiding K’s of 61, good up to 73. He has a great attitude. Last year his batting numbers were good, .225/.265/.438/.702 and as a CF, in 592 innings at the CBL level he only committed 1 error, and had an efficiency rating of 1.009. His ZR was a-0.8, but when compared to the -5.7 of our current CF, it was going to be a huge improvement.
Everything fits, unnamed sources said that Rodriguez was hesitant, he was concerned about how much his demand may get to. Scouting Director Matt Dorey was hanging around the open door and heard Tony’s wavering and walked in. It is known around Charlotte how Tony feels about Matt and how much he values his opinion. He has been with the Knights for the last 6 years and has proven his value to the organization. According to people who heard to conversation Matt laid it out, “He has potential to be a .290 hitter. He has tremendous power potential. He is considered one of the best defensive fielders in the league at his position. His speed allows him to stretch his hits. Gallagher is a dynamic center fielder with exciting tools in the batters box.”
Reports coming out of the Knights organization explain how Tony Rodriguez, the 71 year old owner of the Charlotte Knights, leaned back in his chair, took of his glasses, turned and looked out the window at the empty stadium, the Charlotte skyline, got up and walked to the front of his deskand looked at General Manager Jesse Stollings and said two words, “Get him.”
The rest was up to Stollings and his team of negotiators…