Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Week That Was: American League West

This continues a division-by-division look at last week's transactions in baseball. See the National League East entry for ground rules.

Traded for: Nobody
Traded away: Nobody
Free agents signed: RP Luke Gregerson, RP Pat Neshek

2015 Impact: This is Houston saying, "We're done tearing it down, now we're building it up." The Astros had a pretty bad bullpen last year, with the worst ERA (4.80) and most blown saves (25) in the American League. Gregerson had a 2.12 ERA over 72 appearances for Oakland while Neshek's was 1.87 over 71 games for St. Louis. They're good additions as the Astros continue their climb toward respectability.

2016+ Impact: They're both signed through 2017, and the Astros have a team option on Neshek for 2018. They'll continue to contribute, barring ineffectiveness.

Traded for: SP Andrew Heaney, 2B/SS Josh Rutledge
Traded away: RP Jairo Diaz, 2B Howie Kendrick
Free agents signed: Nobody

2015 Impact: Substituting Rutledge for Kendrick is a big step down for the Angels, but Heaney is a top prospect. He was rated No. 30 in all of baseball prior to the 2014 season by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus and No. 29 by The 23-year-old lefty compiled a 2.35 ERA over nine games with AA Jacksonville and a 3.87 ERA over 15 starts with AAA Las Vegas in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (average ERA: 4.64). He struck out 91 in 83.2 innings had a strong 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He should be a contributor to the Angels rotation in 2015, possibly immediately. That being said, the loss of Kendrick makes the Angels less formidable at the plate in 2015.

2016+ Impact: There's a good chance they wouldn't have been able to keep Kendrick after this season had they not traded him, so over the long term, they're better off with Heaney and no Kendrick than with no Kendrick at all.


Traded forSP Chris Bassit, C Josh Phegley, 1B-3B Rangel Ravelo2B Joe WendleIF Marcus Semien
Traded away1B-OF Brandon MossSP Jeff Samardzija, RP Michael Ynoa
Free agents signed: Nobody

The week before last I wrote over 2,300 words--that's excluding tables--explaining why I don't understand what the A's are doing. They're here. Let me add three more: I still don't.

Traded for: SP J.A. Happ
Traded away: OF Michael Saunders
Free agents signed: DH Nelson Cruz

2015 Impact: The Mariners are also a little hard to figure out. I don't like the Happ-for-Saunders deal--mediocre starter for one of the team's best hitters--and Rob Neyer explained why the Mariners probably over-valued Cruz. Still, given how excruciatingly bad the Mariners DHs were last year (they batted .190 with a .266 on base percentage and .301 slugging percentage and 171 total bases, all easily the worst in the league), Cruz should make them better.

2016+ Impact: I think Saunders is an OK player who won't be a free agent until 2017, while Cruz turns 35 next July. I could see the Saunders trade haunting the Mariners at least until his free agency.

Traded forRP Ross Detwiler
Traded away2B Chris Bostick, RP Abel De Los Santos
Free agents signed: Nobody

2015 Impact: I guess we can conclude that if the Rangers are trading two prospects for a 28-year-old reliever they must think last year's worst-in-the-league 67-95 record was a fluke. Actually, that's a little unfair: Detwiler was a pretty good starter for the Nationals in 2012 but became kind of the odd man out in the team's rotation, winding up in the bullpen. He's a reasonably good candidate to benefit from a change of scenery.

2016+ Impact: If the change of scenery works, this could be a nice pickup for the Rangers. If it doesn't, one of the prospects could make them regret this move.

The Week That Was: American League Central

This continues a division-by-division look at last week's transactions in baseball. See the National League East entry for ground rules.

Traded for: RP Dan Jennings, SP Jeff Samardzija, RP Michael Ynoa
Free agents signed: OF Melky Cabrera, RP David Robertson
2015 Impact: The White Sox were 73-89 last season. That's not good. Only Boston, Houston, Minnesota, and Texas were worse. And now, they've got to be considered in contention in the not-all-that-great AL Central. What's somewhat amazing to me is that the White Sox don't have much a farm system, yet they were able to pull off prospects-for-players deals. Jennings is a lefty reliever with a 2.43 career ERA who's actually been better against right-handed hitters (.711 OPS) than lefties (.757), and Ynoa struck out 64 batters in 45.2 innings in A ball last season, but the key pickup is clearly Samardzija, who compiled a 2.99 ERA in 2014 in 33 starts split between the Cubs and Athletics. Jennings and former Yankees closer Robertson should help stabilize a bullpen that was second-to-last in the league in ERA and tied for third-most blown saves. Cabrera adds a good bat, with the caveats that he's 30 and last played more than 140 games in 2011.

2016+ Impact: The White Sox didn't give up a lot in these trades. If they can extend Samardzija, they win long-term as well as short-term. If they don't, the free agents they signed still probably tip the balance their way.

Traded for: 1B-OF Brandon Moss
Traded away: 2B Joe Wendle
Free agents signed: Nobody

2015 Impact: Yet another perplexing deal by the A's, who also traded Samardzija to the White Sox. Moss was an All-Star last year but he fell apart in the second half of the season (.173 batting average, .274 slugging percentage) due to a hip injury. He won't become a free agent until 2017. Wendle had a .725 OPS at AA this season, a little better than league average, but he's not young (24) and is blocked in Cleveland by Jason Kipnis. Assuming Moss's hip's OK, the Indians should be a better team in 2015 . . .

2016+ Impact: . . . and at least through 2016, after which Moss could walk.


Traded for: OF Yoenis Cespedes, SP Shane Green, SP Alfredo Simon, SP Gabe Speier, RP Alex Wilson
Traded away: SP Jonathon Crawford, IF Domingo Leyba, SP Rick Porcello, SP Robbie Ray, SS Eugenio Suarez
Free agents signed: Nobody

2015 Impact: Like the White Sox, the TIgers were able to add major league talent for a bunch of youngsters from one of baseball's weaker farm system, with the exception of Porcello, who's good. They filled a hole in the outfield with Cespedes (who will be a free agent after this season) and they hope that Green and Simon (who'll also be a free agent at the end of 2015) can take Porcello's place. That's likely a tall order, but the Tigers still have Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, and David Price in the rotation. They'll be better this year, I think, but not by a lot.

2016+ Impact: Assuming Cespedes plays elsewhere in 2016, this trade works against the Tigers long-term unless one of the pitchers the Tigers acquired blossoms into a strong starter. 

Traded for: Nobody
Traded away: Nobody
Free agents signed: DH Kendrys Morales

2015 Impact: The Royals needed a DH, having lost Billy Butler to free agency, and they got Morales relatively cheaply (two years, $17 million). The thing is, he really stunk last year. His .218/.274/.338 slash line was that of a bad middle infielder, not a guy who's supposed to drive in runs. He's 31 and the Royals are hoping there's still gas in his tank. He was pretty decent the year before (.277/.336/.449 with 23 homers) in Seattle.

2016+ Impact: If Morales hits like a DH, the Royals will be fine for at least a couple years at the position.

Traded for: Nobody
Traded away: Nobody
Free agents signed: Torii Hunter, Ervin Santana

2015 Impact: I already discussed the Hunter signing, sort of. He'll be OK if the Twins don't expect him to be the way he was when he played for the team in 1999-2007. As for Santana, I've never been a big fan of his, because he's been basically a league-average pitcher (ERA, adjusted for home park, 1% worse than the league average, to be precise) for his career. He's started at least 30 games per year for five straight seasons, so he's durable. One hopeful sign: the percentage of batters he struck out has risen from 17% in 2012 to 22% in 2014. The Twins pitching staff is notoriously unable to throw pitches that miss bats, so Santana could help.

2016+ Impact: Hunter seems set to retire after 2015, so if the Twins are going to benefif longer term, Santana's got to be decent.

The Week That Was: American League East

This continues a division-by-division look at last week's transactions in baseball. See the National League East entry for ground rules.

Traded for: Nobody
Traded away: Nobody
Free agents signed: Nobody

A lot of gnashing of teeth in Charm City.

Traded for: SP Rick Porcello, SP Wade Miley
Free agents signed: SP Justin Masterson

2015 Impact: It seemed the main focus of the Red Sox's past week was their failure to land free agent and former Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, who signed with the Cubs. However, they added a pretty good pitcher (Porcello achieved career bests in innings, victories, ERA, WHIP, and walk percentage en route to a 3.43 ERA), a decent pitcher (Miley's ERA rose by eight tenths of a run from 3.55 in 2013 to 4.34 in 2014 but his peripherals were steady and he topped 194 innings pitched for the third straight season), and a pitcher who was awful last year (Masterson compiled a 5.88 ERA for two teams) but is due for a good year (Masterson is 26-20 with a 3.32 ERA in odd-numbered years this decade, 24-37 with a 5.08 ERA in even numbered years). Cespedes helps thin out a crowded outfield and he'll be a free agent after next season, so his departure doesn't hurt much. The Red Sox surrendered a lot of young players in these trades but didn't surrender any of their crown jewels (Wilson, 28, isn't actually all that young, but he's pitched only 56 big-league innings, making him the all-time leader in innings pitched for players born in Saudi Arabia.)

2016+ Impact: I don't see this as the typical established-players-for-prospects deal whose value shifts to the prospects as the years go by if the Red Sox can sign Porcello, who's due to become a free agent after the 2015 season, to an extension. If they can't, they won't be left with much, especially if their flyer on Masterson doesn't work. 


Traded for: SS Didi Gregorius
Traded away: SP Shane Greene
Free agents signed: RP Andrew Miller

2015 Impact: Gregorius is in the unenviable position of being The Guy Who Replaced Derek Jeter. Advanced fielding metrics don't see him as a standout fielder, but he'll be an improvement for the Yankees. He was a pretty bad hitter last year (.226/.290/.363 slash line) but that's because the lefty hitter was useless against southpaw pitchers. Against righties, he batted a respectable .247/.304/.402, so if the Yankees platoon him, as GM Brian Cashman has suggested, he could work out OK. Lefty reliever Miller is one of the prize pickups of this year's free agent class, though the track record of left-handed relievers in recent years is pretty frightening, and Miller was really bad (5.79 ERA from 2006 to 2011) before he became really good (2.57 ERA in the three seasons since) . Still, it seems pretty clear that the Yanks have improved. 

2016+ Impact: That depends on Miller not turning into a pumpkin and Greene not turning into a star. Greene was OK for the Yankees last year, with a slightly better-than-average 3.78 ERA in 15 appearances, all but one starts, but he's already 26, so I don't know that there's a lot of upside. 

Traded for: Nobody
Traded away: Nobody
Free agents signed: Nobody

They still can't believe Friedman and Maddon left.

Traded forOF Michael Saunders
Traded awaySP J.A. Happ
Free agents signed: Nobody

2015 Impact: The Jays made two huge moves in November, signing free agent catcher Russell Martin and trading for third baseman Josh Donaldson, so they were due for a breather. Saunders was hurt half of last year with shoulder and oblique injuries but has been a consistently above-average offensive performer. Happ hasn't had a better-than-average ERA since 2010. I like this trade for the Jays.

2016+ Impact: Happ's a free agent after the 2015 season, Saunders after 2016, so even if neither re-signs, this is a better trade for Toronto beyond 2015.

The Week That Was: National League West

This continues a division-by-division look at last week's transactions in baseball. See the National League East entry for ground rules.

This project's a lot of work. No division more so than this one. 

Traded away: SS Didi Gregorius, SP Wade Miley, C Miguel Montero
Free agents signed: None

2015 Impact: At 64-98, the Diamondbacks were the worst team in baseball in 2014. These moves are recognition of that. The team traded three established players for a bunch of prospects. It won't help them much this year, but it might in the coming years.

2016+ Impact: De La Rosa was supposedly one of the centerpieces of the big salary dump in 2012 in which the Red Sox sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers, but he hasn't done much with the Red Sox (4-8, 4.43 ERA in 18 starts in 2014). Godley and Mejia come from the Cubs' deep farm system. They both pitched at Class A and Rookie ball last year, so they're not close. Ditto Leyba, who's just 19. Ray, like De La Rosa, was a centerpiece of a notable trade--the one last winter that sent pitcher Dough Fister to Nationals--who's now being traded again. He was the Tigers' No. 3 prospect entering the season according to ESPN's Keith Law, but he posted an 8.16 ERA in nine games for Detroit and a 4.22 ERA at AAA Indianapolis (the league average was 4.04). Webster was ranked 88 by Baseball America and 46 by before last season, and he posted good numbers at AAA Pawtucket (3.10 ERA, 100 strikeouts in 122 innings) and not so good numbers in Boston (5.03 ERA, 36 strikeouts in 59 innings). For these moves to work for the Diamondbacks over the long term, somebody's going to have to pan out, because the three players Arizona traded away aren't at risk of leaving via free agency: Gregorius won't be eligible until 2010, Miley and Montero until 2018.

Traded for: RP Jairo Diaz
Traded away: 2B/SS Josh Rutledge
Free agents signed: None

2015 Impact: This could be a nice deal for the Rockies. Diaz is a converted catcher who was pretty strong at A and AA (3.48 ERA, 85 strikeouts in 64.2 innings over 56 games) and a brief trial in Anaheim (four hits, eight strikeouts, three walks in 5.2 innings in five games). Rutledge has been below-average at the plate in three seasons of part-time play in Colorado. His role in 2015 was likely to hang around until Troy Tulowitzki gets hurt, and Colorado always has a need for arms.

2016+ Impact: As with 2015, I think this trade makes the Rockies a slightly better team.

Traded for (deep breath): C-IF Austin Barnes, SP Zach Eflin, C Yasmani Grandal, RP Chris Hatcher, OF Chris Heisey, IF-OF Enrique Hernandez, 2B Howie Kendrick, SP Joe Wieland
Traded away (another deep breath): C Tim Federowicz, 2B Dee Gordon, SP Dan Haren, OF Matt Kemp, SP Matt Magill, IF Miguel Rojas
Free agents signed: SP Brandon McCarthy

2015 Impact: Hacking through all of this...the key additions here are Grandal, Kendrick, and McCarthy; the key subtractions are Gordon, Haren, and Kemp. A lot of Dodger fans are pretty upset about these moves, but as I've written, I don't think the loss of Kemp is that traumatic, and I'm not a big Dee Gordon fan. Haren wasn't all that good last year, and is making noises about retiring rather than reporting to the Marlins. Grandal's an underrated catcher, and Dodgers catchers were pretty atrocious last year (.181 batting average, .283 on base percentage, .261 slugging percentage--all last in the league). McCarthy split last season between the Diamondbacks, for whom he was pretty bad (3-10, 5.01 ERA) and the Yankees, for whom he was pretty good (7-5, 2.89 ERA). His underlying peripherals at both stops (strikeout, walk, and home run rate) point to mid-3-range ERA. And while he has a deserved reputation for being injury-prone, there were only 32 pitchers in the majors who topped his 200 innings pitched last year. Among the other players acquired, Hatcher had a strong year in the Marlins bullpen and joins a team with a real need for a bridge to closer Kenley Jansen. I'm willing to concede that maybe these moves in aggregate make the Dodgers a little weaker next year, due largely to Kemp's bat, but I'm leaning more toward them being a push and possibly a plus.

2016+ Impact: Kendrick could turn out to be rental (he's eligible for free agency in 2016) but several of the youngsters the Dodgers picked up could be contributors in the future. Eflin was first round draft pick two years ago, Hernandez can play all over the field, and Barnes plays catcher, second, and third. Wieland had a strong if shortened year coming back from Tommy John surgery. All could help the Dodgers, possibly in 2015, more likely in 2016 and beyond.

Comic relief: The Dodgers moves came so fast and furious that at one point they traded for left-handed pitching prospect Andrew Heaney, only to trade him away less than two hours later. That prompted this tweet from Heaney:

Traded for: C Tim Federowicz, OF Matt Kemp
Traded away: SP Zach Eflin, C Yasmani Grandal, SP Joe Wieland
Free agents signed: SS Clint Barmes

2015 Impact: Well, if I liked this trade for the Dodgers, I suppose I don't like it for the Padres. Assuming Kemp's healthy and not playing center, though, this should make San Diego better in 2015. Barmes is a good glove/no bat guy who'll be 36 next season and was signed to a one-year contract (with a team option for 2016). He'll back up Alexi Amarista, a similarly bad hitter who could stand to learn some defensive pointers from his new teammate.

2016+ Impact: This is where I have reservations. The Padres gave up an OK catcher and a couple good pitching prospects for Matt Kemp's decline phase. Also, I should note that while Dodgers Stadium boosts homers for right-handed hitters, San Diego's Petco Park doesn't, so Kemp's superficial power numbers are likely to decline.

Traded forNobody
Traded awayNobody
Free agents signed: Nobody

Thanks, Giants. I needed a breather.

The Week That Was: National League Central

This continues a division-by-division look at last week's transactions in baseball. See the National League East entry for ground rules.

Traded for: C Miguel Montero
Traded away: RP Zack Godley, SP Jeferson Mejia
Free agents signed: SP Jason Hammel, SP Jon Lester

2015 Impact: One of the Chicago teams--could be the Cubs, could be the White Sox--wins the prize for most-improved over the past week. Lester was one of the marquee free agents this year, and, because he was traded from Boston to Oakland during the season, the Cubs don't lose a draft pick for signing him. Ditto Hammel, who, it should be noted, has been an above-average (measured by park-adjusted ERA) only three times in his career: 2009 with Colorado, 2012 with Baltimore, and last year with the Cubs. (He was 2-6 with a 4.26 ERA after being traded to Oakland in July.) Montero plugs a hole, as Cubs catchers had a .620 OPS last year, second-worst in the league.  

2016+ Impact: The Cubs have a fabulous farm system, so the fact taht Godley and Mejia don't show up on Keith Law's top ten list at the start of the season doesn't mean that they're not promising. However, the Cubs added three solid players who'll be with the team for a while. Lester's signed through 2020, Hammel through 2016 with a club option for 2017, and Montero through 2017. These moves made the Cubs a better team in the short term and the long term.

Traded away: OF Chris Heisey, SP Mat Latos, SP Alfredo Simon
Free agents signed: None

2015 Impact: Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs thinks that the Reds "quietly won the winter meetings," but this sure looks like a present-value-for-future-value set of moves to me. I agree with his general premise that the three major leaguers the Reds traded aren't all that good. But the haul they got in return isn't likely to help much, at least in the near term. Suarez lost a starting job in Detroit, and he's the only one with meaningful major league experience. I think these moves leave the Reds worse off in 2015, though not by a lot.

2016+ Impact: I'll buy the idea that these moves make the Reds a better team beyond 2015. Latos and Simon will be free agents after the 2015 season  and Heisey's a free agent after the 2017 season. So they traded three guys who very likely weren't going to be Reds much longer anyway. A major-league contribution from any of the five young players they received will tip the moves in the Reds' favor.

Traded for: Nobody
Traded away: Nobody
Free agents signed: Nobody

Traded for: RP Antonio Bastardo
Traded away: SP Joely Rodriguez
Free agents signed: SP Francisco Liriano

2015 Impact: Positive. The signing of Liriano, the team's best starter over the past two seasons, coupled with the previous signing of starter A.J. Burnett for a one-year last hurrah, shores up the Pirates' rotation. The 29-year-old Bastardo is a decent left-handed reliever (3.43 career ERA in 270 relief appearances with 305 strikeouts in 236.1 innings). The Pirates traded one of their two left-handed relievers in November, so Bastardo fills a hole.

2016+ Impact: Liriano slipped from a 16-8 won-lost record in 2013 to 7-10 in 2014, but that was due more to a sharp decline in run support (4.5 runs per game in 2013, 3.4 in 2014, 12th lowest in the league among 60 ERA qualifiers) than a drop in effectiveness (though his ERA did rise by over a third of run). Signing him for three years provides benefits beyond 2015. Rodriguez, 23, struggled in Class AA this season after a solid 2013 in A ball.

Traded forNobody
Traded awayNobody
Free agents signed: 1B/3B Mark Reynolds

2015 Impact: The Cards signed Reynolds to a one-year, $2 million contract. He's always been an all-or-nothing type of hitter: swing for the fences, connecting sometimes and missing a lot. Among players with at least 4,000 career plate appearances, he's first all time in at bats per strikeout, 2.72 (i.e., he strikes out 221 times per 600 at bats). He bats right, so presumably he'll pinch hit and platoon some with Cardinals 1B Matt Adams, who's pretty dreadful against left-handed pitchers (.197/.227/.326 career slash line, his home run against Clayton Kershaw in the postseason notwithstanding). If Reynolds doesn't work out, they'll release him. This is a $2 million flyer with little or no downside to St. Louis.

2016+ Impact: He probably won't be around after 2015, but if he is, it's because it worked out well. Again, little or no downside.

The Week That Was: National League East

The past week was the most frenetic in my recent memory in terms of baseball transactions. In this and the following posts, I'm going to try to break it down, division by division. For each team, I'll list the players they traded, the players they received in trades, and the free agents they signed, then my take on the likely short-term (2015 season) and long-term (2016 and beyond) impact.

A few ground rules:
  • I'm considering team rosters going into the week. For example, the Pirates signed Francisco Liriano to a free agent contract. Liriano had been a Pirate the past two seasons, but he became a free agent after the World Series. So he counts as an addition to the Pirates. Similarly, two Oriole free agents, Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz, signed with other clubs. Those don't count as losses for Baltimore, as they stopped being Orioles when they filed for free agency on October 30.
  • I'm excluding minor deals. The Dodgers traded Drew Butera, a reserve catcher who batted .188 this year, to the Angels for a player to be named later. That's not the type of deal I'm looking at.
  • I'm ignoring the money. It really isn't all that material, at least in the short term. A huge contract is a problem only if (1) it sets the bar higher for all players, making less-moneyed teams less able to compete, (2) it results in the team owning a high-salaried player becoming so hamstrung by the contract that they can't afford other necessary moves, or (3) a team feels obligated to play a bad player who's making a lot of money. (2012 Angels, leaving Trout in Salt Lake in April while Vernon Wells and his $21 million contract batted .225 with a .244 on base percentage, I'm lookin' at you.) 
  • I'll list all players alphabetically.
Let's start in the National League East.

Traded for: Nobody
Traded away: Nobody
Free agents signed: IF Alberto Callaspo, RP Jim Johnson, OF Nick Markakis

2015 Impact: Any team that signs free agents and doesn't trade anyone away has to improve itself, right? So the Braves have improved themselves. Callaspo turns 32 next year and had a terrible 2014 (.223 on batting average, .290 on base percentage, .290 slugging percentage) but can play a bunch of positions. Johnson saved 101 games for the Orioles in 2012-13 but compiled a 5.08 ERA for Oakland and Detroit last year. Both were low-dollar one-year signings. If they don't work out, the Braves will get rid of them, no harm done. Markakis will fill the right field hole created by the trade of Jason Heyward to St. Louis. Heyward's better, but Markakis is an OK player. He's got on-base skills but not a lot of power and he's an overrated outfielder.

2016+ Impact: I'd be mildly surprised if Callaspo and Johnson are still with the club in 2016. Markakis will be 32 and likely in decline, but still, he's better than nothing.

Traded for: 2B Dee Gordon, SP Dan Haren, SP Mat Latos, SP Andre Rienzo, IF Miguel Rojas
Free agents signed: None

2015 Impact: You are forgiven if you haven't heard of any of the guys the Marlins traded; Hatcher and Jennings were the only two who saw significant time in the majors. The team has a deep farm system and they traded prospects for established major leaguers (Gordon, Haren, and Latos). In other words, they traded a bunch of guys who probably wouldn't contribute much in 2015 for some guys who will. So they improved the short-term outlook. By how much, I'm not all that sure. Haren is 34 and has hinted that he may retire if he can't play for a West Coast team near his family. (This has led to speculation that the Marlins may trade the former Dodger to the Angels.) Latos had an injury-shortened 2014. It was the first time since his rookie season in 2009 that he didn't start at least 31 games. It's also disconcerting that his strikeout rate has declined every year since 2010, falling from a good 25% of batters faced that year to a below-average 18% in 2014. As for Gordon, people make a big issue about his 64 stolen bases in 2014, but I'm wondering who the real Dee Gordon is:
2011-2013 181 621 81 159 19 5 2 34 66 19 78% 37 110 .256 .301 .312 .614
2014 thru July 6 85 334 50 101 14 9 2 25 42 9 82% 27 54 .302 .356 .416 .772
2014 after July 6 60 275 42 75 10 3 0 9 22 10 69% 4 53 .273 .287 .331 .618
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/13/2014.

Now, it could very well be that Gordon just got worn down last year, his first as a full-time regular, and that's why he slumped so badly at the end of the season. (Don't get swayed by his OK batting average; leadoff hitters are paid to get on base, and his .287 on base percentage was atrocious.) On the other hand, maybe his hot start last year was the aberration. My money's more on the latter than the former. Plus, he's not all that young (he turns 27 in April) and he's not a good fielder.

2016+ Impact: When you trade prospects, there's always the risk that you'll miss out on a future star. I'm not really blown away by the players the Marlins received, and of the ones they traded, well, going into the season, ESPN's Keith Law ranked Heaney No. 1 and DeScalfani No. 6 in the Marlins' system, which he ranked No. 19 in the majors (link behind ESPN Insider paywall). I think these moves are likely to wind up hurting the Marlins in 2017 if not 2016.

Traded for: Nobody
Traded away: Nobody
Free agents signed: Nobody

Man, it's tough to be a Mets fan.

Traded for: SP Joely Rodriguez
Traded away: RP Antonio Bastardo
Free agents signed: None

2015 Impact: The trade listed here is a pretty minor one. The 29-year-old Bastardo is a decent left-handed reliever (3.43 career ERA in 270 relief appearances with 305 strikeouts in 236.1 innings). Former Pirate farmhand Rodriguez, 23, is a lefty starter who was pretty good in Class A in 2013 (2.70 ERA), not so much at AA in 2014 (4.84 ERA). The bigger Phillies trade involves their shortstop, Jimmy Rollins, who is being traded to the Dodgers, though the details of the trade (like, who the Phils are getting) haven't been finalized. The subtext is: Phillies management realizes that the team is too old and has a lousy farm system, so it needs to trade major-league talent for prospects. The impact will be negative in 2015 for a team that wasn't going to be any good anyway.

2016+ Impact: That depends on whom they get for Rollins. Rodriguez isn't a top prospect.

Traded for: 2B Chris Bostick, RP Abel De Los Santos
Traded away: RP Ross Detwiler
Free agents signed: None

2015 Impact: This is a pretty minor deal for the team that finished with the best record in the league last year and probably doesn't need a lot of tinkering. Detwiler was not a major contributor in 2014 and didn't figure prominently into the team's 2015 plans. Bostick, 21, was a 44th round (!) draft pick in 2011 and his teammate for part of the season, 22-year-old De Los Santos, had a good year for two A-level teams this year (1.92 ERA, 65 strikeouts in 56.1 innings spread across 41 games). Law ranked Bostick No. 6 in the Rangers organization at the start of the season.

2016+ Impact: It'll be positive for Washington if Bostick or De Los Santos pans out, but that's not certain. Given the team's problems at second base (Washington second basemen had a .229/.296/.377 slash line in 2014, giving them a .672 OPS, which is pretty bad, though it ranked seventh in the NL), this could wind up being a nice trade for the Nationals if Bostick progresses.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Dodgers' Right-Handed Hitters

The Dodgers last year had eight batters accumulate 350 or more plate appearances in 2014. Half of them batted left. Here are the four right-handed batters:
OF Yasiel Puig 23 148 558 92 165 37 9 16 69 11 7 67 124 .296 .382 .480 .863
OF Matt Kemp 29 150 541 77 155 38 3 25 89 8 5 52 145 .287 .346 .506 .852
SS Hanley Ramirez 30 128 449 64 127 35 0 13 71 14 5 56 84 .283 .369 .448 .817
3B Juan Uribe 35 103 386 36 120 23 0 9 54 0 1 15 77 .311 .337 .440 .777
Generated 12/13/2014.

Two of them are no longer Dodgers. Hanley Ramirez, as I wrote, signed a free agent contract with the Red Sox. And this week, the Dodgers traded Matt Kemp to the Padres.

I thought there was a pretty stark difference of opinion regarding the two departures. Ramirez, a lot of folks seemed to feel, was not worth the four-year, $88 million contract that the Red Sox gave him. The departure of Kemp (along with backup catcher Tim Federowicz and $32 million to offset some of the $107 million due Kemp over the next five seasons) to San Diego (for catcher Yasmani Grandal, starting pitcher Joe Wieland, and minor league pitcher Zach Eflin) has been less well-received. That's partly because of the players the Dodgers got in return: Grandal, 26, is solid but not a star; Wieland, who turns 25 next month, has pitched only 39 innings in the majors; and Eflin, 20, is well-regarded but hasn't pitched above Class A. It's also partly because of Kemp's status as one of the Dodgers' stars. He was runner-up to Ryan Braun in the MVP race in 2011, and was arguably jobbed out of the award given Braun's later admission that he was using PEDs. Kemp hasn't approached his numbers from that season (39 HR, 115 R, 126 RBI, .399 on base percentage, .586 slugging percentage) before or since, but he was second on the Dodgers in doubles, home runs, and RBI last year, and led the club in slugging percentage.

I'm going to do a review of all the player moves over the past week or so in a separate post, but I wanted to focus here on the comparison to Ramirez. Those who weren't heartbroken to see Ramirez go to Boston focused on two aspects: Defense and durability. Ramirez was never a very good shortstop--the Red Sox are going to move him to left field--and he played only 214 of the Dodgers' 324 games in his two full seasons with the club, missing time due to a variety of injuries. 

Let's handle the second issue first, since it's easier to illustrate. Here are games played, by age, for Ramirez and Kemp over their careers:
Disregard Kemp's first couple years, when he spent a lot of his time in the minors. Do you see a whole lot of difference there? I don't. I see two extremely durable players through their mid-20s who started missing significant chunks of time thereafter. Does Kemp's 150 games played last year mean he's back to full-time status? Maybe, but maybe it's like Ramirez's 157 games played in 2012. I don't see enough here to convince me that the Padres have acquired a player who won't miss 30 or more games per year.

As for defense, both players grade out pretty badly using modern fielding metrics. Kemp's defenders will say that's nonsense; he's won two Gold Gloves! Or, as Torii Hunter said, regarding his poor defensive numbers, "whoever believes in that sabermetric stuff never played the game."

I should come up with a better term than "modern fielding metrics," because it sounds like a bunch of comp sci geeks coming up with an algorithm using all sorts of arcane numbers rather than "the eye test"--people actually watching the games. The thing is, the modern numbers to which I refer, which do have sort of esoteric names (Ultimate Zone Rating, Defensive Runs Saved) aren't the product of differential calculus and quadratic equations. Rather, they're based on the most thorough eye test imaginable--baseball experts (scouts, coaches, former players) watching every single play to determine which plays are good and which ones aren't. This classic article, by Bill James comparing shortstops Derek Jeter and Adam Everett, explains it thoroughly. Key excerpt:
John’s [Dewan, who designed the Defensive Runs Saved measure] henchmen at Baseball Info Solutions [Dewan's company] had watched video from every major league game, and had recorded every ball off the bat by the direction in which it was hit (the vector) the type of hit (groundball, flyball, line-drive, popup, mob hit, etc.) and by how hard the ball was hit (softly hit, medium, hard hit). Given every vector and every type of hit, they assigned a percentage probability that the ball would result in an out, and then they had analyzed the outcomes to determine who was best at turning hit balls into outs.
So when somebody like me says that defensive metrics say that Kemp's a bad center fielder, what we mean is that guys who watch every single play have documented that Kemp doesn't make plays that other center fielders make. It's not a formula; it's basically the ultimate eye test. Kemp's numbers have been bad for years. So have Ramirez's. Why Kemp has a reputation for being good while Ramirez has one for being bad, I can't tell you. But I can tell you that one has a deserved reputation and the other doesn't.

So the reasons cited for why Dodger fans shouldn't feel bad that Hanley Ramirez left the team--Ramirez is a bad fielder who can't stay in the lineup--should really apply to Kemp as well. And while the Dodgers got nothing but a second-round Red Sox draft pick in return for Ramirez, the Dodgers got three active players for Kemp. Grandal ranked tenth in park-adjusted OPS among 33 catchers with 75 or more games caught.  Wieland struck out 36 and walked only six in 38.2 innings across three minor league levels this year as he came back from Tommy John surgery. Eflin's a 2012 first round draft pick. Kemp could contribute more to the Padres in 2015 than Grandal, Wieland, and Eflin will to the Dodgers, but that balance could easily shift in 2016 or soon thereafter.

Look, I'm not saying Kemp and Ramirez are equivalent. Kemp's a year younger, and I think his 150 games played in 2014 is more encouraging than Ramirez's 157 games played in 2012. Kemp should be an adequate fielder in left or right, while Ramirez is going to have a learn a new position in possibly the most idiosyncratic left field in baseball. But I don't see how one guy's departure is ho-hum and the other's a disaster. I'd put them both more in the middle.