Sunday, December 14, 2014

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.

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