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October 22, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Offseason in October

by R.J. Anderson

IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
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Reportedly acquired the rights to manager John Farrell and RHP David Carpenter for INF-R Mike Aviles. [10/20]

Boston made a quick decision on their new manager this time. Farrell is familiar with the Red Sox way of life, having spent four years as the team’s pitching coach before leaving for Toronto; after which we spent a lot of time dissecting his qualifications, personality, and rarity.

So what kind of manager did Farrell prove to be? In 2012, the Blue Jays were near the top of the league in stolen base attempts, sacrifice hits by positional players, and hit-and-run attempts; small ball, in other words. Without knowing how Boston’s roster will look next spring, it’s tough to say whether Farrell can bring the same approach with him.

Would Toronto really let a quality manager slip away to a division rival? Probably not, though no one should expect Farrell to be a savior. If he communicates well with the players and his front office he’ll be an improvement over Bobby Valentine. Such a statement is made with poor timing, of course, as news recently surfaced concerning Farrell clashing with Blue Jays management over Omar Vizquel.  Perhaps that’s what Toronto’s decision to part with Farrell comes down to: irreconcilable differences.

Boston is reportedly also getting Carpenter in the deal. Here’s what I wrote about Carpenter following his inclusion in July’s 10-player swap:

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.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Acquired OF-R Chris Young and cash considerations in a three-team trade for SS-B Cliff Pennington and SS-R Yordy Cabrera. [10/20]

Billy Beane remains as opportunistic as ever. Adding a former All-Star center fielder at the cost of two middle infielders on whom the organization had soured is original Beane.

Young features a tantalizing blend of power and speed. He already has three 20/20 seasons under his belt, and may have added a fourth in 2012 if not for a separated shoulder. Since striking out 27 percent of the time in 2009, Young has improved his contact abilities to the point where a red flag is unnecessary. He still walks a fair bit, and shows a good deal of power for a strong defensive center fielder. The one thing the A’s could work on with Young, in order to maximize his production, is fixing his tendency to get too far underneath the ball. Nineteen percent of Young’s fly balls since 2010 have been of the infield variety, according to Baseball-Reference.

There are two matters for the Athletics to resolve. The first is Young’s salary. He’s scheduled to make $8.5 million in 2013 (with an $11 million club option awaiting 2014), which is typically no small sum for the A’s. Add in the pending resolution of the Stephen Drew situation, and you wonder if this is the league-wide cash windfall at work. Or, is it something more basic, more Beane-like. The A’s have an outfield logjam to resolve, and in doing so, could free up roughly the same amount of cash. Just consider their other outfielders under contract:

  • Yoenis Cespedes: Has three years, $29.5 million remaining.
  • Coco Crisp: Has one year, $7 million remaining with a $7.5 million club option for 2014.
  • Seth Smith: Made $2.42 million in 2012 and has two arbitration years remaining.
  • Josh Reddick: Has four years of team control remaining, including one of cost control.

And this is without considering Collin Cowgill or Jonny Gomes, whom Beane expressed an interest in re-signing. Early word suggests the A’s will look to keep all of their outfielders and create a massive rotation in the outfield and at designated hitter. But keeping the outfield options would seem like a waste of resources with the A’s needing help at third base and, potentially, shortstop. A general manager bluffing in October? Why I never.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Reportedly acquired INF-R Mike Aviles from the Red Sox for the rights to manager John Farrell and RHP David Carpenter. [10/20]

Aviles is no Randy Winn, but he can help a team win ballgames if used properly. Over recent seasons, Aviles has taken a liking to left-handed pitching while shying away from righties. Deploy Aviles with prejudice and you have a solid backup infielder, capable of playing multiple defensive positions well. Expose Aviles to righties too often and you’ll wind up wishing him away. If nothing else, Aviles’ presence allows Adeiny Hechavarria more time to season on the farm. You could do worse at the cost of a wanderlust-stricken manager and a marginal reliever.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Designated RHP Takahashi Saito for assignment. [10/21]

Acquired RHP Heath Bell, INF-S Cliff Pennington, and cash considerations in a three-team trade for OF-R Chris Young and cash considerations. [10/20]

Kevin Towers and Billy Beane have now made three big trades over the past calendar year. You get the feeling those two talk on the phone deep into the night like lovers, trading proposals instead of secrets.

In Pennington, the Diamondbacks receive an odd player and likely bounce-back candidate. He hit .215/.278/.311 in 2012, a sizable decline from his 2010-11 offering of .257/.319/.369. The core issue with Pennington at the plate is that he lacks tools. He does draw walks but he doesn’t have the contact chops to avoid a sizable chunk of strikeouts, nor does he have the power ability to forgive those strikeouts. His contact rate has now declined in back-to-back seasons, and the Diamondbacks may think they recognize a flaw in his approach or swing.

Although Pennington finished last season as the A’s second baseman, he is a good defensive shortstop and should form a quality double-play combination with Aaron Hill. He excels at a few other small things, too. Pennington has shown signs of being a capable basestealer, an advantageous baserunner during the run of play, and avoids double plays as well as anyone else. He can not suffer through another season like 2012, but he can help a team win if right.

Harder to rationalize is the Bell acquisition. Towers knows Bell from their shared days in San Diego. Such familiarity played a role here, no doubt. But Towers now has six relievers under contract next season that could make upwards of $18 million, depending on arbitration raises. Reallocating the money freed by Young’s departure to another reliever is a questionable use of resources considering Towers’ comparative advantage: no one builds quality bullpens on the cheap like Towers. For him to ignore his own strength here is puzzling.

But maybe Towers’ bullpen ingenuity is on display again. Getting away from Ozzie Guillen and a dysfunctional setting should help Bell relax, though there is the matter of the effectiveness of his fastball, particularly up in the zone. Were Bell to return to dominance, Arizona might boast the best bullpen in the National League. For all of the concerns about diminishing returns in the bullpen, Bell should also provide the D’Backs with a security blanket in case J.J. Putz suffers an injury.

Above all else, Bell gives Arizona added flexibility. The Diamondbacks still need a third baseman and could use one of their excess relievers, or one of Jason Kubel or Gerard Parra, to shore up the left side of their infield. The only thing for certain after this trade is that Towers’ work is far from done.

MIAMI MARLINS
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Acquired SS-R Yordy Cabrera in a three-team trade for RHP Heath Bell and cash considerations. [10/20]

Miami hits the escape key less than a year after signing Bell for three years and $27 million. Although the Marlins no longer have to deal with Bell’s meltdowns—on the mound and the mic—they aren’t off the hook. As part of the deal, the Fish will pay for $8 million of the $21 remaining on Bell’s contract.

Plenty of people will second-guess Miami’s original decision to sign Bell. Plenty of people second-guessed Miami’s original decision to sign Bell at the time. The deal only looks worse in retrospect. But let’s give Miami some credit. They moved Bell without eating the entirety or even the majority of the money remaining, and without adding another player to the deal as bait. We all know about sunk costs. Bell, in Miami’s eyes, was a sunk cost. They did what they had to do in order to move on. There’s something to be said about correcting mistakes in a quick and effective manner. There’s even more to be said about avoiding those mistakes in the first place. Miami got it half-right.

In addition to saving headaches and cash, the Marlins received Cabrera. Oakland drafted the 22-year-old Cabrera in the second round of the 2010 draft, and paid him $1.25 million to sign. He’s older than the typical high-school draftee because he moved to the United States as a teenager. Cabrera’s bat has failed to develop, but his strong arm and defense could lead to a career as a utility infielder. It doesn’t hurt that Cabrera has some bloodlines on his side. His father Basilio Cabrera played seven years in the minor leagues and currently manages the Tigers’ Gulf Coast League affiliate.

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

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