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July 20, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Shaking Out the 10-Player Swap

by R.J. Anderson and Kevin Goldstein

IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Acquired RHP Jeremy Guthrie from the Rockies for LHP Jonathan Sanchez. [7/20]

If the Royals swapped floating-for-floating when they traded Melky Cabrera for Sanchez, then this must be sunken-for-sunken.

After building a reputation as a durable, no-thrills starter with the Orioles, Guthrie gave the scoreboard operator and opposing lineups plenty of excitement. The cause for Guthrie’s downfall is unclear, although he seems to have a theory:

“[Coors] is different, that's all I can say. It's no excuse; everybody has to throw here too. It's very different than what I've experienced. The effect it has on some of my pitches has been more than I've expected. It's part of the equation, not something I'd use as a crutch.”

You have to like this move on Dayton Moore’s part, whether Coors proves to be Guthrie’s poison or not. Sanchez was of no value to the Royals anymore. To net anything useful, including a potentially decent starting pitcher, is a win. Just think of it this way: Which side would you have favored if the Orioles and Giants had swapped Guthrie and Sanchez during the offseason? It isn’t quite the same—both pitchers have struggled—but their struggles almost cancel out. Both sides are gaining lottery tickets here. Let’s see if one wins a prize.  —R.J. Anderson

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Acquired RHP Brandon Lyon, LHP J.A. Happ, and RHP David Carpenter from the Astros for RHP Francisco Cordero, OF-R Ben Francisco, RHP Joe Musgrave, RHP Asher Wojciechowski, LHP David Rollins, C-R Carlos Perez, and a player to be named later. [7/20]

Happ’s results leave something to be desired. Still, he’s a polished lefty with a deceptive delivery and a history of getting left-handed hitters out. Therefore, the Jays’ decision to switch him to relief smells like a decent idea. The big question is how Toronto will handle Happ’s arbitration eligibility this winter. He’s a non-tender candidate for now.

Lyon’s inclusion in a trade is unsurprising—this very possibility arose when I outlined what the new Collective Bargaining Agreement meant for the deadline. Although Lyon owns reverse splits for his career, he’s proven to be more effective against right-handed batters in recent years. Lyon will strengthen the Jays bullpen for the time being before reaching free agency at season’s end.

Meanwhile, Carpenter may enjoy a longer term in Toronto. Carpenter converted from catching to pitching while in the Cardinals system, then came to Houston in the 2010 Pedro Feliz trade. Since, Carpenter has thrown 57 1/3 big-league innings and fanned 56 batters. The rest of Carpenter’s numbers aren’t pretty, but he comes at batters with a mid-90s fastball and a knockout slider. He turned 27 on July 15, yet packs more upside than the usual 27-year-old right-handed reliever does. It’s up to the Jays to help him harness those tools into results. —R.J. Anderson

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Acquired LHP Jonathan Sanchez from the Royals for RHP Jeremy Guthrie. [7/20]

On Wednesday, we discussed Sanchez’s falling out in Kansas City:

This is what it looks like when a combustible starter implodes. Sanchez performed worse than even the unkindest of projections, almost as if he took them as a challenge. His 7.76 ERA is higher than the sum of his previous two (7.33), and he allowed one fewer home run than last season in 48 fewer innings. We knew it could be bad, just not this bad. The write-up of the Sanchez-Melky Cabrera deal concluded, “New pitching coach Dave Eiland will swoon over Sanchez during spring side sessions but, once the games start to count, could find himself heartbroken by the results—particularly if Sanchez’s earned run average conforms to the company his quality start rates keep.”

It’s not entirely Eiland’s fault, of course. The Royals tried changing Sanchez’s delivery: instituting a high leg lift, altering his follow through, and perhaps tweaking his arm slot. Nothing worked. That sounds a lot like Sanchez’s time in San Francisco, except the rare moments of brilliance were absent. In essence, the Royals acquired Sanchez and disarmed the time bomb nature of his performances. The shame is that, in doing so, they cut the wrong wire.

Teams are willing to endure some bumps and bruises on the condition that they will be the group that molds Sanchez into a frontline pitcher. Given the cost—a pitcher who did not fit their ballpark—and the contractual obligations involved—both are free agents at year’s end, but Guthrie is owed more—the Rockies can be excused for giving it a go. They can also be excused if they pass on re-upping Sanchez at season’s end. —R.J. Anderson

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Acquired RHP Francisco Cordero, OF-R Ben Francisco, RHP Joe Musgrove, RHP Asher Wojciechowski, LHP David Rollins, C-R Carlos Perez, and a player to be named later from the Blue Jays for RHP Brandon Lyon, LHP J.A. Happ, and RHP David Carpenter. [7/20]

When you hear about a 10-player trade, you assume more than two teams are involved, and you also expect to see one, maybe two really big names involved. That wasn't the case here. It's a bit of a risky deal for the Blue Jays, who get some small pieces who can help them now, while losing players who might help them in future (emphasis on might). For the Astros, however, it's an absolute no-lose situation. For a team in as deep a hole as Houston, the team needs to look at its roster and ask which players on this team are a part of a good version of the Astros down the road. If a player not on that list can get anything in return, even just a prospect with a chance, that's a deal worth making.

What the Astros received was minor-league depth and just a bit of upside. Three of the players received were among the Blue Jays' top 20 prospects entering the season, but none were in the first 14. Two are players who once had Top 11 positions.

The top prospect received is Musgrove. A budget-minded supplemental first-round pick in the 2011 draft, Musgrove has a physical presence at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, and his best pitch is easily his fastball. He can dial it up to the mid-90s with smooth and effortless arm action, and his upright delivery gives him excellent angle on the pitch, which also features good sink and produces plenty of groundballs. The development from here on the 19-year-old will depend on his secondary pitches. He has some feel for a slider, but can also get around on the pitch, causing it to sweep across the plate without much bite, and his changeup is still very much a work in progress. He has the most upside of any player sent to Houston in the deal, but he's a long, long way from the big leagues.

Wojciechowski was a supplemental first-round pick in 2010 out of The Citadel based on some of the best velocity among college players in the draft, but he's lost a significant amount of stuff as a pro. The 23-year-old has been far more effective in 2012 during his second go-round at High-A Dunedin, but his fastball is now merely a plus pitch at 91-93 mph. His slider is another effective pitch, earning 50-55 grades on the scouting scale. Like Musgrove, Wojciechowski is a big, physical pitcher at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, and his ability to throw strikes helps his projection as a good big-league reliever, but not one that pitches in the late innings.

Perez might be the most intriguing player in the deal. Certainly an expendable commodity due to outstanding catching depth in the Toronto system, Perez entered the 2011 season as a highly regarded catching prospect after an outstanding performance in the New York-Penn League, but he was unable to build on that in a disappointing 2011 showing at Low-A Lansing. Repeating the level this year, the 21-year-old Venezuelan has made some progress, hitting .275/.358/.447 in 71 games. Offensively, Perez has good at-bats, as he shows a good understanding of the strike zone and excellent contact skills, although his power is strictly of the gap variety. He's athletic for a catcher, and while he can get a bit sloppy behind the plate, he has all the tools to be a solid defender with an average to nearly plus arm. Along with the power questions come questions about the lack of physicality, as he's not built like a traditional catcher and there are some concerns about how his frame would hold up over the course of a full season.

A 24th-round selection in 2011 out of a Texas junior college, Rollins has had a successful full-season debut at Low-A Lansing, putting up a 2.78 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings at Low-A Lansing. He's a left-hander with an 87-92 mph fastball and the potential for an average slider, but he'll need to tighten up his command in order to reach his ceiling as a usable middle reliever. —Kevin Goldstein

Concerns about the translatability of Cordero’s velocity and strikeout rate were rampant after the Jays signed him to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. Succeeding in the National League Central and succeeding in the American League East are different accomplishments, after all. Chalking Cordero’s failures in Toronto up to superior competition would be convenient, but it proves false—Cordero faced a higher quality of opponent in 2011 (a .270 aggregate True Average) than in 2012 (.263). What plagued Cordero is an inability to locate his fastball, for strikes or otherwise. That means Houston isn’t guaranteed to receive better production from Cordero just because. But landing the free-agent-to-be does give Houston an up-close look at someone who they may have targeted this offseason.

Lately, the Astros have seemed unwilling to start Brian Bogusevic and Jordan Schafer against left-handed pitching. Such an arrangement has led to the likes of Brian Bixler and Scott Moore starting in the outfield. Francisco should end that tomfoolery, as, if there’s one thing he can do, it’s hit left-handed pitching. The Jays acquired Francisco in the offseason for the same reasons, but he’s been tabled for much of the season with hamstring woes. As unusual as it is for a non-contender to add a complementary player at the deadline, Francisco has a year of team control remaining, and contenders are always seeking players like him to complete their benches.  —R.J. Anderson 

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Jonathan Sanchez,  Jeremy Guthrie

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