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November 28, 2016

Transaction Analysis

Vesatility, Depth, and Scenery

by Bryan Grosnick and Rob Mains


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired IF/OF-R Richie Shaffer and IF/OF-R Taylor Motter from Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for RHP Dylan Thompson, 1B-L Dalton Kelly, and RHP Andrew Kittredge. [11/18]

At this point, it's news when Jerry Dipoto doesn’t make a trade. And, by common law, the Mariners are required to make at least one deal with the Rays per offseason. So far this offseason, this is your deal: the Mariners gave up a handful of minor leaguers–including one sorta-prospect in Thompson–to acquire a pair of guys either on the cusp of becoming serviceable big-league bench players or ... perhaps not.

Shaffer is ostensibly the “big get” in this deal, which isn’t saying all that much. He’s got a first-round pedigree and is still young enough to give you hope, but he’s never displayed high-test offensive ability in the minors that tracks with his background. Sure, he has some power, and he’s athletic enough to handle all four corner positions, but his limited big-league auditions and mostly mundane minor-league performances paint the picture of a guy who’s just good enough to play in the majors, and not quite good enough to make a real name for himself.

The long-haired Motter, meanwhile is a non-prospect due to his age, but he’s versatile (playing the middle infield as well as the outfield) and is supposed to provide both pop and speed. While he certainly did that in 2014 and 2015, his 2016 season–where he was on the Durham-to-Tampa taxi squad–wasn’t terribly productive when he was with the Bulls and the Rays saw his hit tool vanish completely. If it comes back, he could be a solid offense-first reserve, if not he’s replacement level until his athleticism diminishes.

It’s no small joke that Shaffer and Motter were possible, if not likely, 40-man casualties in Tampa Bay, and that each player was blocked by someone that the Mariners had traded to the team in the past three years: Brad Miller and Nick Franklin. Both will likely be blocked by more dynamic talent in Seattle, but each gives the Mariners some additional depth in case of emergency injuries to a player like Danny Valencia or Shawn O’Malley. They're the nice-to-have players teams lean on for depth, and who the Mariners probably never hope to see outside of Tacoma. —Bryan Grosnick

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Andrew Cashner to a one-year, $10 million contract. [11/21]

After comparing Cashner to a Verve Pipe concert that no one showed up to at the end of my top-50 free agents column, I knew I’d have to provide some actual analysis on the hard-throwing hurler at some point in the future. I was hoping to avoid that, because I can’t wax ecstatic about a pitcher as disappointing as Cashner’s been. The Padres waited too long to deal him, as he never achieved the heights his once-dominant fastball hinted at. A guy with his stuff is supposed to be great, but in 2016 he achieved the terrible trifecta of peripheral stats: his walk and homer rates went up while his strikeout rate went down. Worst of all, he suffered from pedestrian overall rate stats like a 5.25 ERA and 4.84 FIP despite pitching in pitchers’ parks in San Diego and Miami.

Now 30, Cashner could perhaps see some of his ills cured through a move to the bullpen, but instead of that, it appears Texas has inked him to a deal to slot in to the back of their rotation, which is a tough row to hoe for any starting pitcher. Cashner already has a bit of a homer issue, offering up more than one per nine innings over the past two years combined, and the Texas summers may not help that number. With stats trending down and age ticking up, one only can hope that the comfort of his native Texas–and maybe the new pitching coach that comes with the vaunted “change of scenery”–might help him finally harness his awesome talent, or at least help him get back to where he was in 2014.

There’s no such thing as a bad one-year contract they say, and they might even be right. But if Cashner thrives in the heart of Texas–and I’m not certain he will–then Jon Daniels and company will be left holding the bag when the long-touted righty finally reaches the heights to which he has always aspired. There’s rarely such thing as a great one-year contract, either. He may thrive as a reliever, he may even improbably thrive as a starter, but even if he does I’d bet that his best year(s?) don’t come in Rangers' royal blue, red, and white. —Bryan Grosnick

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Signed IF/OF-R Sean Rodriguez to a two-year, $11.5 million contract. [11/24]

As work continues in Cobb County on SunTrust Park, the local taxpayers’ gift to the Atlanta National League Baseball Club Inc., the team’s front office continues to work on additions that’ll make the team more presentable than the one that started 2016. Or, put another way, a team more like the Braves after August 28 (20-10, best record in baseball) than through August 28 (48-83, worst record in baseball).

As most of us were trying to avoid political discussions over Thanksgiving dinner, Atlanta announced the signing of Sean Rodriguez, adding him to the two ancient pitchers it signed on Veterans Day,--R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon--and waiver pickup Tuffy Gosewisch.

Rodriguez, who’ll turn 32 in April, had an outstanding 2016, batting .270/.349/.510—all three of the numbers surrounding those slashes represent career-highs—with 18 home runs (also a career-high), finishing with a TAv of .296 (ditto). Before getting too enthused, though, it’s worth noting that Rodriguez’s corresponding 2.3 WARP represents exactly half of his career value over nine seasons in the majors and his first WARP above 1.0 since 2011. His season may not scream “fluke,” but it does say “outlier” in a fairly loud voice

But Rodriguez’s only value isn’t just his bat. He has to carry a separate suitcase for his gloves on road trips, as he played every position save pitcher and catcher in 2016 and every position save pitcher, catcher, and center field the prior two years. Rodriguez, Mike Aviles, Ryan Flaherty, and Enrique Hernandez are the only players to have logged time at six positions in each of the past three seasons, and Rodriguez and Flaherty (who pitched this year too!) are the only ones who’ve played first base.

As positional versatility grows in value in baseball—there were two players who played six or more positions in 2013, compared to 17 in 2016—Atlanta acquired one of the most versatile. Now, the Braves already had one of them, as Chase d’Arnaud played every position other than pitcher, catcher, and first base last year. However, Chase d’Arnaud also hit .245/.317/.335 last year, a far cry from Rodriguez’s numbers, and they represented, like Rodriguez, his best year in the majors, by far.

The Pirates obtained Rodriguez via a trade with the Rays before the 2015 season and signed him to a one-year, $2.5 million contract a year ago. The Braves are gambling their $11.5 million that the Sean Rodriguez they’re getting is the one with the .240 ISO and 9.7 percent walk rate from 2016, when he was a poor man’s Ben Zobrist, rather than the one with the .116 ISO and 2.1 percent walk rate in 2015, when he was the unable-to-break-the-cycle-of-poverty man’s Ben Zobrist.

In Atlanta, Rodriguez looks to be the right-handed half of a second base platoon with Jace Peterson and fill in just about everywhere else on the field from time to time. For a $1.5 million signing bonus and a couple $5 million annual paychecks, the Braves are effectively saying they’re looking for roughly1.4 WARP over two years, which sounds about right.

He also brings a reputation, enhanced during his 2015 Wild Card game meltdown against the Cubs, as a "redass." While he lacks both the star stature and the upright haircut of Brian McCann to take over as the team’s chief of the fun police, he certainly has more intensity than Dickey or Colon. (Not speaking to Tuffy Gosewisch.) As with the Pirates, that intensity should make him a favorite with Atlanta fans and a new reason for fans of the other National League East teams to hate the Braves. —Rob Mains

Bryan Grosnick is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bryan's other articles. You can contact Bryan by clicking here
Rob Mains is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Rob's other articles. You can contact Rob by clicking here

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