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July 31, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Snider and Lincoln Change Scenery, LA Adds League, and Thames Joins the M's

by Ben Lindbergh and Kevin Goldstein

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired OF-L Leon Landry and RHP Logan Bawcom from the Los Angeles Dodgers for RHP Brandon League. [7/31]
Acquired OF-L Eric Thames from the Toronto Blue Jays for RHP Steve Delabar. [7/31]

Landry, who was featured in Monday's Ten Pack, has had a nice bounce-back year in the California League, but part of that is a product of the offensive environment. A third-round pick in 2010 out of LSU, Landry has a floor of a fourth outfielder; he's a plus runner who can play all three outfield positions. He has a short, simple swing from the left side and makes consistent contact, but he has merely gap power and is a free swinger who rarely walks or strikes out. There's not the projection for an everyday player at this time, but he should get to the majors.

Bawcom, a 17th-round pick in 2010 out of the University of Texas, has gone from fringy arm to solid relief prospect, with a career ERA under three and a rate of nearly 11 strikeout per nine innings. He's a thick righty with a bulldog build and attitude on the mound. He attacks hitters with a 92-95 mph fastball and upper-80s slider. While both pitches rate as plus, they're not dominant enough for late-inning work. Bawcom could be ready at some point in 2013 to assume middle-relief work, but that's also his ceiling. —Kevin Goldstein

Thames is the latest in a long line of flawed left fielders who’ve succeeded Raul Ibanez in Seattle. The M’s keep hoping to hit on one of them, and they haven’t yet. Thames probably won’t be the one to break that pattern, but he does offer more upside than Steve Delabar, the reliever who went the other way in the deal.

On Sunday, Jon Paul Morosi reported that the Mariners were looking for hitters who are under team control for multiple seasons, and the 25-year-old Thames, who isn’t due for free agency until after the 2017 season, fits that description. However, he’s below average in the field and lacks discipline at the plate, so aside from some small amount of power, not much about him suggests that he can be anything better than a platoon bat against righties who—like everyone else in the league—strikes out less often than Carlos Peguero. Don’t get too excited about his PCL stats, since he’ll never come close to reproducing them anywhere else. —Ben Lindbergh

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Brad Lincoln from the Pittsburgh Pirates for OF-L Travis Snider. [7/31]
Acquired RHP Steve Delabar from the Seattle Mariners for OF-L Eric Thames. [7/31]

A few months ago, Thames and Travis Snider were battling for a roster spot in spring training. Now, they’re both ex-Blue Jays.

Snider, the former top prospect, is the one whose departure hits harder, though he hasn’t established himself as expected in Toronto. Snider and Lincoln were linked well before this trade, so the swap merely gives us another reason to tie them together. Both were selected in the first round of the 2006 draft, and both have failed to fulfill their potential. Few players fail to develop after debuting in the majors as early as Snider, or with scouting reports and initial results as impressive as his. But after nearly 250 career games and almost 1000 career plate appearances, Snider’s bat has barely been league average, let alone league average for the less demanding positions he plays.

Even now, Snider is young enough that an impressive prime could still be ahead of him. On the most basic level, giving up a 24-year-old everyday player for a 27-year-old pitcher (albeit one with significantly less service time) seems like an irrational risk. But if this trade tells us anything, it’s that the Jays didn’t think a breakout was imminent, and no one knows Snider better than they do. When Jose Bautista got hurt earlier this month, it was Anthony Gose who got the call.

Snider spent all but the past 10 days of the season playing in Triple-A, where he put together a career-best .335/.423/.598 line. That sounds less impressive when you consider that those numbers not only come from an inflated offensive environment but represent Snider’s fourth exposure to the level. It would’ve been a bad sign if Snider hadn’t had his best PCL season yet, but the fact that he has doesn’t mean that he’s put his problems behind him. Snider was an archetypical change-of-scenery candidate, a player who’d stagnated inside his original organization. Now that his scenery has changed, we’ll see whether there’s anything to the saying.

As a parting gift to Blue Jays fans, Snider provided this quote:

When your players depart for the Pirates and sound excited about going to a contender, you know you haven't won for a while. The AL East isn't easy.

In his first season spent primarily in the pen, Lincoln has harnessed his stuff and found success. As a reliever, he’s thrown harder and limited opposing batters to a .176/.231/.288 line with a 0.50 ERA, a stark contrast to the .299/.340/.536 line and 6.08 ERA he managed in five starts filling in for Jeff Karstens. As a reliever, Lincoln’s ceiling is fairly low—certainly lower than Snider’s—but unlike the player he was traded for, he has a good chance of reaching it. He won’t be a free agent until after the 2017 season, so if he does settle in at something like his 2012 level, the Jays will have time to get good value.

It’s worth noting that along with Delabar, Brandon Lyon, J.A. Happ, and David Carpenter, Lincoln is the fifth pitcher Alex Anthopoulos has picked up in the recent pre-deadline period. It’s probably not unreasonable to trace that strategy to the rash of injuries suffered by the Jays’ staff this season. 

In return for Eric Thames, the Jays get Steve Delabar, a reliever whose story is more inspiring than his stuff. Delabar, a 29th-round pick in the 2003 draft, didn’t get above A-ball in his first attempt at making the majors, washing out of first the Midwest League and then the independent Canadian-American Association in 2009. After taking some time off from pitching and working as an assistant coach for a high-school team, his accumulated injuries healed, and his fastball started sitting in the mid-90s. A Mariners scout saw him and signed him last year, and he spent September in Seattle after starting the season in High-A.

Delabar’s fastball hasn’t faltered this season. In 36 2/3 innings, his four-seamer has averaged 95.4 mph. Thanks to his heater—or more accurately, the separation in speed between his fastball and his splitter, which has averaged 88.0—Delabar has had no trouble missing bats. Nor has he had any trouble finding the strike zone, a problem that has plagued him in the past.

So how does a pitcher who’s striking out over 11 per nine innings and walking fewer than three end up with a four-plus ERA? It’s not bad luck on balls in play: actually, Delabar, who has a .182 BABIP, has been luckier in that regard than almost any other pitcher. The culprit is an acute case of gopheritis. Delabar has allowed nine home runs already, at a rate of 2.2 per nine. That’s not all small-sample fluke. Delabar barely throws a breaking ball, because when he does, it tends to look like this:

That was a pitch that Delabar threw when his catcher signaled for a slider. It’s not surprising that his catchers don’t signal for sliders more often.

Delabar’s lack of a breaking ball leaves him extremely vulnerable to same-handed hitters, who have slugged .635 against him and hit all nine of those home runs. Lefties, on the other hand, have gone just 5-for-56 against him, good for a .089/.177/.125 line. That leaves Delabar with the unenviable task of trying to develop a better breaking ball at age 29. The alternative is even more far-fetched: finding work as some sort of Jim Mecir-style right-handed lefty specialist.

Here’s a depressing thought: once Delabar’s BABIP regresses, more of his home runs will come with men on base. Want another one? All of those home runs were hit while Delabar was pitching half his games in Safeco Field. Eight of the nine came on the road, where opponents slugged .729 against him this season. At Safeco, they slugged .155. Rogers Centre won’t be nearly as kind, which means that Delabar’s story probably won’t have a happy ending without some real refinement of his repertoire. —Ben Lindbergh

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Brandon League from the Seattle Mariners for OF-L Leon Landry and RHP Logan Bawcom. [7/31]

Remember when the Blue Jays got Brandon Morrow for Brandon League? That was after the 2009 season, the only one in which League struck out opposing batters at an above-average rate. There isn’t nearly as much that makes him attractive to teams these days. League doesn’t excel at anything in particular, and nothing about who he is now really screams “setup man,” the role he’ll fill for the Dodgers. His groundball rate is way down, he’s had trouble retiring left-handed hitters, and his ERA is only as respectable as it is because of a flukily low HR/FB rate. At this point, League’s claims to fame are his 37 saves last season and a splitter that was, by one definition, the most unhittable pitch in baseball three seasons ago. Neither of those lines on his resume will be of much use to Los Angeles.

League is a pretty safe bet to stay healthy, and he’ll restore some depth to a bullpen that’s missing Matt Guerrier and Todd Coffey. The post-McCourt Dodgers won’t miss the $1.8 million coming to him before he hits free agency after this winter, and they won’t miss him much when he leaves. So no, League isn’t bringing back Brandon Morrow these days. Then again, he probably shouldn’t have brought back Brandon Morrow before. —Ben Lindbergh

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired OF-L Travis Snider from the Toronto Blue Jays for RHP Brad Lincoln. [7/31]

Pittsburgh settled for a less exciting change-of-scenery candidate than Justin Upton, but they didn’t have to give up much from the farm. Unlike last year, when the Pirates made a show of being contenders by bringing in veteran rentals Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick, the team targeted a player who could be part of the organization for years to come. That doesn’t mean that this move wasn’t intended as a short-term fix, though: Pirates outfielders other than Andrew McCutchen have managed only a .236 TAv this season, so even more of the same unsatisfying Snider would represent an immediate improvement. Now we’ll wait to see whether Pittsburgh’s coaching staff can uncover the player the Blue Jays gave up on. —Ben Lindbergh


Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben 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

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