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March 31, 2014

Transaction Analysis

Darling Starling Stands By Pittsburgh

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to a six-year extension with C-R Yan Gomes worth $23 million. [3/29]

Here's a surprise. This time last year, Gomes was considered a decent hitter without a true defensive home. Twelve months later, Carlos Santana is trying his mitt at the hot corner, and Gomes is Cleveland's backstop for the present, and (evidently) for the future.

Gomes had a breakout season in 2013, hitting .294/.345/.481 while posting good numbers across the various defensive metrics. The concern is those numbers were accumulated in 322 plate appearances. Of course not every small sample is created equal, and the Indians must have enough faith in his processes and athletic attributes to believe he can continue to play well. Per usual, expectations will drive the debate on whether this is viewed as a good deal or not. Anticipating an encore performance is probably unfair, but what if Gomes hits to his PECOTA projection (a .266 TAv)? That would make him a slightly above-average hitter for the position, and a solid defender; good enough to validate the deal.

Still, why the rush? Gomes would have qualified for arbitration after the 2015 season, and free agency after 2018—when he was 31 years old. The Indians must believe in his ability enough to think the price would've skyrocketed after the season began. That seems unlikely, and yet so did Gomes' performance last season.

HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Claimed OF-L Alex Presley off waivers from the Twins; designated LHP Raul Valdes for assignment. [3/27]

Presley entered the 2012 season as Pittsburgh's leadoff hitter and left fielder, but has enjoyed little success in the two years since. First he lost his job due to injuries and ineffectiveness, then he changed hands in the Justin Morneau trade, and now he's en route to Houston so that Minnesota can keep Jason Bartlett as its backup center fielder. You can sympathize with Presley if he has no idea how things went south so quickly. At any rate, the 28-year-old has more than 800 below-average plate appearances to his name, but not a single option to speak of. If the Astros want to keep him—and indications are they will—then he'll be part of the bench. So far as fourth outfielders go, the Astros have done worse.

SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Chris Young to a one-year deal worth up to $3.5 million; designated LHP Bobby LaFromboise for assignment. [3/27]

Young is the new Livan Hernandez: each spring he signs and inspires us to write the same comment. It goes like this: The abnormally sized Princeton graduate has had trouble staying healthy over the past half-decade. When he does pitch, he relies on his deep release point to overcome a lack of velocity and ground balls. The Mariners' first veteran choice to stand in for Hisashi Iwakuma was Randy Wolf, but a request for him to sign a 45-day release waiver caused a falling out. Young had no such objection.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired INF-R Jayson Nix from the Rays for cash considerations. [3/28]

Round and round the utility infielder carousel spins, and where it stops nobody wins. Nix signed with the Rays a fortnight before his roster hopes were dashed by the Logan Forsythe trade. Now he benefits from Kevin Frandsen's release (he has since signed with the Nationals) and Freddy Galvis' staph infection. Nix hits left-handed pitching and plays all over, but struggles against same-side pitching and strikes out too much relative to his power production. You do wonder why Ruben Amaro Jr. prefers Nix to Frandsen—after all, the latter is equally poor versus righties, yet 60 TAv points richer against lefties. Perhaps the Phillies favor Nix's defense, or his additional speed and power. Whatever the cause for the swap, the needle remains in stasis.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to a six-year extension with OF-R Starling Marte worth $31 million with two option years that could increase the total value to $57 million. [3/27]

Rather than focus on the banality—the pros and cons of pre-arbitration extensions, the bean-counting for billionaires—let's focus on Marte's upside. The Dominican product is a tantalizing talent with an appreciable power-speed blend. Last season he was one of five players to swipe 40 bases and bop more than 40 extra-base hits, joining Jean Segura, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Gomez, and Alex Rios. Marte plays left field in deference to the NL MVP; otherwise he'd be among the league's finest defensive center fielders.

But, while the physical tools required for star-level production are evident, Marte has a ways to go to reach that level. His approach is raw and he's often too aggressive at the plate. In 2013, his on-base percentage was buoyed by one of the highest hit-by-pitch rates we've seen in recent years. Should Marte's plunkings rate normalize heading forward, then he'll need to tighten his approach and draw more walks to maintain a reasonable OBP. Shy of that, Marte will still glean value from his defense, speed, and pop. That makes this a fair deal, though with some growth it could be an exceptional one.

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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