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June 3, 2014

Transaction Analysis

Single's Going Steady

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to a five-year contact extension with 1B-L Jonathan Singleton worth $10 million guaranteed with three club options that could push the deal's value up to $35 million. [6/2]

Meet the step-sister of the pre-arbitration extension: the pre-promotion extension. Before Singleton takes his first big-league swing, he'll be ensured of making at least eight figures in his career. That is, of course, a life-altering amount for the player, and a relatively small account for the team, which is why these deals continue to entice both sides.

Since Singleton has no history of success in the majors, the risk factor here is higher on the team's side than with most pre-arb deals—and that's without considering his skill set or known blemishes. Singleton's selling point is his bat. He's not an athlete or much of a defender, but he has impressive raw strength and a good approach. While Singleton must rake to hang around the majors, there are mixed opinions on his hit tool, with some envisioning him as a platoon player. Those concerns led Jason Parks to write in the preseason: "The power potential is there for a middle-of-the-order presence, but the likely role is a second-division player who flashes his potential but never quite lives up to the hype."

There's also the matter of Singleton's makeup. While the Astros have a better read on his soul than we do, it's hard for us to ignore a string of incidents from last season. Namely, he was suspended for a failed drug test, classified himself as a "marijuana addict," and returned to the club in worse shape. Teams tend to only entrust these kinds of early-career money to high-makeup players. Singleton seems like a departure from that, though perhaps he has shown signs of emotional development.

None of us can say much for sure about Singleton's future. He might take to the majors better than expected, he might not; he might keep a clear head, or he might author a disappointing career that leaves us wondering what if. There is legitimate risk here on Houston's side, even if the upside makes it worth the gamble.

ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Selected the contract of RHP Shae Simmons from Double-A Mississippi; designated RHP Wirfin Obispo for assignment; optioned LHP Ian Thomas to Triple-A Gwinnett. [5/31]

The Braves might have the best collection of right-handed relievers in the game. On any given night, Fredi Gonzalez can deploy Anthony Varvaro and David Carpenter in the middle innings, then turn it over to Craig Kimbrel to finish things off. Simmons* could make it a fearsome foursome. The former 22nd-round pick has two very good offerings—a high-90s fastball and devastating slider—and showed some serious poise in his debut appearance against the Marlins: he entered with two men on in a one-run game and struck Jarrod Saltalamacchia out on three pitches. Simmons would be a closer-of-the-future candidate on most teams. Not here, but he should be an asset nonetheless.

*In case you were wondering, Shae is not wearing an initial on his jersey to avoid confusion with the other Atlanta-based Simmons with a fantastic arm.

Obispo, a wild if electric arm, was claimed off waivers by the Pirates.

MIAMI MARLINS
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Acquired RHP Bryan Morris from the Pirates for the 39th overall pick in the draft. [6/1]

To evaluate this trade, you must answer one question: What is the 39th pick in the draft worth? Trading these competitive-balance slots is a new frontier, with everyone having their own interpretations of what these things are worth. Do you weigh the past more heavily than the current draft class, and how do you equate that potential against a living, breathing prospect or big-league player? While there is no one right answer to those questions, that should not prevent us from gauging what the average 39th pick looks like. Here's what the data from Baseball-Reference.com says:

  • Twenty of the 49 players selected then have reached the majors.
  • Those 20 have averaged about 12 WAR for their careers.
  • But wait, there's a catch. Barry Bonds, selected 39th out of high school, is included, which inflates the numbers. Without Bonds, the average WAR drops to about four per player.
  • The best no. 39s not named Bonds: Don Baylor, Todd Hundley, Mel Hall, and Neal Heaton.
  • Notable current no. 39s include Lance Lynn, Corey Knebel, and Joey Gallo.
  • The slot is worth roughly $1.5 million in bonus pool money.

Is that worth trading for Morris, who was once selected 26th overall? Probably not in a vacuum. There are some things to keep in mind about Morris relative to a draft pick though. For one, Morris is less likely to lose his passion for the game due to bus rides and time spent away from his family. For another, he's ready to contribute now. Maybe Jennings—who, it should be noted, is an accomplished former scouting director—didn't see a player he liked that would be available at that spot. He could be wrong, he could be prioritizing the now or the tangible over the future or the potential, or he could just be trying to improve his team's weakness. Whatever the motive, he seems to like Morris a fair bit.

Of course Jennings likes Morris. Since becoming Miami's point guard, Jennings has invited myriad power arms into his clubhouse; he signed feral arms like Carlos Marmol and Henry Rodriguez and traded for Carter Capps. Jennings seems to have a type. Morris is a good fit. His sinker sits in the mid-90s, and he complements the heat with a cutter and breaking ball that no long ago caused scouts to award him set-up man potential. Granted, the results haven't been there; Morris' strikeout, walk, and home-run rates aren't impressive, but there are things to like here. His stuff is good and his groundball percentage* helps him defy fielding-independent statistics. While Morris is no longer a pup, he remains younger (27) than this season's median reliever (29; min. 10 IP), so there is time to put things together.

*One drawback here: the Marlins have been the league's worst team at converting groundballs to outs.

This deal boils down to probability: Jennings and the Marlins feel they have better odds of improving Morris than landing a similar or better player at 39. Whether this is a worthwhile gamble or not depends on your answer to the opening question. Worth noting: the Marlins have reportedly agreed to terms with Kevin Gregg using budget space freed through this trade.

Pittsburgh's side of the ledger needs little explanation. Still, here's a not-so-fun tidbit (for Pirates) fans: no piece of the Jason Bay trade remains in the organization.

NEW YORK METS
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Optioned RHP Rafael Montero to Triple-A Las Vegas; purchased the contract of RHP Buddy Carlyle from Triple-A Las Vegas. [5/31]

Montero's initial stay in the majors lasted four appearances. The results were mixed—he notched quality starts twice and failed to pitch into the sixth inning in the other two—but his demotion stems from need rather than design, as the Mets needed a fresh arm following a marathon game (and series) against the Phillies. That fresh arm, Carlyle, joins Blaine Boyer as forgotten former Braves to resurface in 2014. He served his purpose by tossing three innings his first time out. Look for Carlyle to return to the minors soon. By the way, Daisuke Matsuzaka will join the rotation.


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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