Thursday, July 30, 2009

Trades, Trades, Everywhere: Finding the Winners and Losers in Deadline Deals

Cliff Lee is the biggest name to change uniforms thus far

Getting into the final hours of the trade deadline the action is happening at a relatively furious pace. Here’s our look at a few of the more significant recent deals.

Phillies acquire: Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco
Indians acquire: Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Jason Donald and Lou Marson

With declining attendance numbers and an ever increasing gap between themselves and the top teams in the AL Central, the Indians faced the possibility of losing both Lee and Victor Martinez after the 2010 season. It seems unlikely they will be able to afford to resign them, so dealing them both seems to be a logical path. Their minor league system has some solid bats, but the Tribe desperately needs arms, at both the Major and Minor League levels. Carrasco is the center piece of this deal, as we had him rated #53 in our mid season Top 100. He is a 22yo that has put up reasonable numbers in the International (INT) League. He projects to be a solid mid-rotation starter that should join the Indians rotation sometime later this year. Jason Knapp is the next most interesting part of the deal. An 18yo, hard throwing, righty, Knapp has fanned 111 in 85 South Atlantic (SAL) League innings this season, but has thrown less than 1 inning since the 6th of July because of ‘arm fatigue’. There is significant projection in Knapp, but it comes at considerable risk. Jason Donald is a solid 24yo SS prospect with a questionable bat…the type of player that has defensive utility specialist written all over him. We have never been tremendously high on him. Likewise Lou Marson. A 23yo Catcher putting up decent numbers in the INT, Marson has the upside of a League Average backstop. We’d expect him to end up as Carlos Santana’s caddy once Victor Martinez is dealt. All told it was a reasonable hall for Lee, but we would have tried to hold out for more quality than the quantity.

The Phillies on the other hand were able to acquire a front of the rotation starter in Lee, and a solid 4th OF in Francisco…and they did it without touching any of their top 3 prospects. They not only become a solid favorite to win the National League pennant, but they keep their minor league strength. In fact, they still have all of the pieces that the Blue Jays coveted for Roy Halladay. Don’t expect that deal to take place now, but I think it is a significant point of reference as to how good of a deal this was for the Phillies. Expect Lee’s peripherals to suffer a little in Philadelphia, but also expect significant improvement to his 7-9 record.

Seattle Acquires: Ian Snell and Jack Wilson
Pittsburgh Acquires: Jeff Clement, Ronny Cedeno, Nathan Adcock, Brett Lorin and Aaron Pribanic

The first thing that comes to mind on this deal is…Why? To some extent it makes sense for the Pirates. Neil Huntington has been trying to get out from the Ian Snell mistake he made last year and gets to offload that contract. And losing Jack Wilson’s $7.5 million contract can only be seen as a positive. The problem with this deal for the Pirates is that they didn’t really get anything of value in return. Jeff Clement is the ‘prize’, but his career has been on a downward spiral pretty much ever since the Mariners selected him third overall in the 2005 draft. He has a bat that is playable in the Majors, but everyone involved hopefully understands that he isn’t an everyday Major League backstop. His most likely destination is first base, but if Pedro Alvarez ends up shifting over there, don’t expect Clement to see much playing time. Clement appears unlikely to ever see Major League average performance levels. In Ronny Cedeno the Pirates are getting a poor man’s Jack Wilson—and that’s not saying a lot. While Cedeno likely moves into an everyday SS role with the Pirates, he likely becomes the worst starting SS in the Majors. In Adcock, Lorin and Pribanic, the Pirates are getting little more than warm bodies. Lorin has the most upside, but as a 22yo, RHP, with solid numbers in the Midwest (MWL) League, he can be described as a ‘fringy’ prospect at best. He has the raw stuff to be successful, but until he has some success at higher levels, we aren’t excited. Losing Snell’s and Wilson’s contracts makes this a win for the Pirates, regardless of what they got in return.

The really questionable side of this deal, however, is the Mariner’s side. In case they haven’t realized it yet, they won’t be catching either the Rangers or the Angels this year, as both of those teams should have better second halves than first. They should be sellers—not buyers. While Snell may add depth to their rotation, Jack Wilson isn’t as good a SS as Yuniesky Betancourt, who they couldn’t wait to get rid of. It just isn’t a deal that seems to have any logic for the Mariners.

San Francisco acquires: Freddy Sanchez
Pittsburgh acquires: Tim Alderson

The acquisition of Sanchez certainly solidifies the Giants lineup, as Sanchez should slide into the 2B position—forcing Uribe to a more suitable reserve role. But…short of another Giant deal before the deadline, this appears to be a deal that will only have marginal impact on their offense. The Giants aren’t going to catch the Dodgers, so this is a deal to keep them ahead of the Rockies, Cubs, Cardinals, Marlins and Braves for the wildcard spot. And in giving up Alderson, the Giants have now dealt two of their three best Minor League pitchers (Scott Barnes) over the last week. Personally, it is hard to believe this deal was a significant enough near-term improvement to make it worth parting with Alderson.

The Pirates appear to be the clear winners here, as Alderson is a large, projectable, right-hander, who would now seem poised to become a mainstay of the Pirate rotation sometime early next year. Alderson has tremendous command of a four-pitch repertoire, of which a tremendous breaking curve ball is his best pitch. His velocity has been down slightly this year, perhaps prompting the Giants willingness to deal him, but he is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball and should turn into a solid #2/#3 Big League starter for years to come. Something that you won’t hear me say very often—this looks to be an excellent move by the Pirates.

Los Angeles Dodgers acquire: George Sherrill
Baltimore acquires: Josh Bell and Steve Johnson

This is one of those rare deals that looks good for both sides. The Dodgers acquire a solid left-handed arm for their bullpen. Sherrill should become Broxton’s main set-up guy and make the Dodgers an overwhelming favorite in the NL West and a significant contender for the National League pennant.

The Orioles are clearly in a rebuilding mode, and in Bell and Johnson that get solid prospect additions. Bell is in the midst of having a breakout season, posting an .883 OPS in the Southern (SOL) League—as a 22yo. Bell is athletically gifted, plays solid enough defense for 3B, and has a major league capable bat. Steve Johnson is a 21yo, right-hander, who is having a fantastic season, posting a 3.61 ERA and fanning 117 in 107 innings between stops in the California (CAL) League and SOL. Johnson may eventually end up in a Major League bullpen, but he has the upside of a back of the rotation starter.

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