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July 15, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Altuve, All the Time

by R.J. Anderson and Mark Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired LHP Matt Thornton and cash from the White Sox for OF-R Brandon Jacobs. [7/12]

Consider this Ben Cherington's first deadline move as a buyer. Thornton may not be what he once was—his strikeout and home-run rates are worrisome—but he has pitched better lately, and can help a team that accepts his limitations. The Red Sox, having lost Andrew Miller to the 60-day disabled list recently, seem as good a team as any to take Thornton and make the most of his current state.

Thornton remains a fastball pitcher, though he's throwing more breaking balls than he did during his days of dominance. Likewise, he continues to dominate same-handed batters. Lefties have hit .242/.290/.347 against him since 2011. Comparatively, right-handers have batted .266/.337/.377 over the same time period, including .320/.414/.420 this season. Deploying Thornton mostly against lefties seems like a worthwhile plan, and John Farrell should be able to do just that.

Cherington was able to milk some cash from the White Sox in this deal, too—presumably at the cost of a better prospect than the White Sox otherwise would have received, which isn't saying a ton. The cash will reportedly help with Thornton's buyout ($1 million), as the Red Sox don't intend to pick up his $6 million club option. R.J. Anderson

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Acquired OF-R Brandon Jacobs from the Red Sox for LHP Matt Thornton and cash. [7/12]

Following a monster 2011 season in Low-A Greenville, Jacobs’ performance hit a plateau and his statistics seem to match the scouting reports at this point. A thick, physical 6-foot-1 athlete, Jacobs is extremely strong and he cuts an imposing presence on the field. His strength translates into massive raw power that can lead to tape measure shots, particularly to the pull side. His hit tool utility lags behind his raw power and he will always struggle to make contact and hit for average because of length in his swing and an aggressive approach. Jacobs could be a low-average power hitter at his peak but he will have to mash in order to make up for his below average glove and 20-grade arm in left field. Mark Anderson

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Re-signed 2B-R Jose Altuve to a four-year extension worth $12.5 million with two club options worth a combined $12.5 million. [7/13]

On Friday night Astros fans watched Jarred Cosart carry a no-hitter deep into his big-league debut. Houston's faithful had more reason to smile the following afternoon, as Jeff Luhnow pulled of a career-first of his own in re-signing a player to a long-term extension. Altuve was the player of choice, and afterward Luhnow characterized the second baseman as the face of the franchise, underscoring the significance of the deal while inadvertently hinting at this team's undesirable position.

Houston gains cost certainty and the potential to hold Altuve's rights through the 2019 season, as opposed to through the 2017 season. For his part Altuve nets $12.5 million guaranteed, and has the chance to earn another $12.5 million if both options are exercised. The motive for the team is less clear. Financially the pact is fine—most pre-arbitration extensions—the question is if the potential profit is worth the hassle.

Despite Altuve's age—he turned 23 in May—he's not the kind of player normally associated with these deals. His upside is limited due to a thin skill set. Altuve excels at putting the ball in play and hitting for average. Beyond this ability his only other value-add comes from stolen bases. His small frame restricts his power potential, and though his strike zone is small, he rarely walks—in fact, Jeff Francoeur has a better walk rate since 2011. Defensively Altuve is fastened to second base. He falls short of being a legitimate Gold Glove contender there, and heading forward he may become a negative if his body gets out of control. The ideal Altuve season sees him hit somewhere in the .290-to-.300 range while making up for his deficiencies elsewhere. Even then he'd be around a league-average hitter.

Houston's real motivation for the deal probably has less to do with Altuve's upside or on-the-field performance and more with symbolism. Altuve is one of the Astros' better players now, and he's showcased the qualitative traits a team wants to see before committing to an eight-figured contract. The money is a pittance compared to what the little second baseman can stand for within the organization. When Luhnow says Altuve is the face of the franchise he means it in two ways: The positive, role-model sense, and the less positive, this-is-the-state-of-the-big-league-roster sense. 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
Mark Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mark's other articles. You can contact Mark by clicking here

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