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August 1, 2017

Transaction Analysis

Avila Trades Avila (and Wilson)

by Zack Moser, Eric Roseberry and Emmett Rosenbaum


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

DETROIT TIGERS
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Acquired INF-S Jeimer Candelario, INF-R Isaac Paredes, and a player to be named later or cash from Chicago Cubs in exchange for LHP Justin Wilson and C-L Alex Avila. [7/31]

The most valuable asset the Tigers acquired from the Cubs is the 23-year-old Candelario, who has seen very brief stints with Chicago over the past two seasons. He was signed in 2010 out of the Dominican Republic and came into this season ranked as the Cubs fifth-best prospect, but given Chicago’s entrenched stars at the corner infield spots Candelario was seen as an expendable player.

He has developed a solid approach at the plate, with a walk rate above 12 percent at every minor-league level since 2015. He’s kept his strikeout rate below 20 percent, although it did creep above that mark during his time in Triple-A this season. It’s obvious that Candelario has an impressive eye at the plate, but will he be able to hit enough given his position on the field? He hasn’t always tallied impressive batting averages to go with his plate discipline, and Candelario’s power is a work in progress. Since 2013, he’s hit 10-15 homers per year. He’s already hit 12 at Triple-A this season, so more power is coming with age. He’s viewed as adequate defensively but not anything special.

It’s understandable why the Tigers have placed a priority on infield prospects. In particular, Nick Castellanos' decent hitting hasn't made up for increasingly ugly defensive numbers at third base, so it's possible he could be in for a position switch once Candelario is deemed ready. —Eric Roseberry

Paredes has had a solid year, holding his own in Low-A despite being one of the youngest players in the league. He has shown good discipline and decent power that projects to average at maturity. His hit tool is fringe average, but a keen eye and solid pitch recognition will help to bolster the offensive profile. He is also presently an average runner but is likely to lose a step as his body grows.

On the other side of the ball, Paredes has spent the majority of his time at shortstop. Given his mature body at such a young age, many see an eventual slide over to third base, but he has shown clean actions, solid instincts, and a strong arm in the field this year. If the body does eventually force him off the position, he’ll project as a plus defensive third baseman. Overall, Paredes currently projects as a fringe-average regular. —Emmett Rosenbaum

CHICAGO CUBS
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Acquired LHP Justin Wilson and C-L Alex Avila from Detroit Tigers in exchange for INF-S Jeimer Candelario, INF-R Isaac Paredes, and a player to be named later or cash. [7/31]

The Cubs finally added a lefty reliever to their cart and hit the checkout button, seemingly weeks after first putting a catcher in the basket. Their one-stop shopping netted them a top bullpen arm in Wilson and a backup catcher for the stretch run in Avila, addressing the team’s two biggest concerns as they try to distance themselves from the Brewers. While they were rumored to be in on Avila for weeks, their emergence in the race for Wilson was a recent development, and they sent the extremely blocked Candelario, along with Single-A shortstop Paredes, to Detroit to finally consummate the deal late Sunday night.

Wilson’s usefulness to the Cubs is obvious. The bullpen has great depth, with Wade Davis, Koji Uehara, and Hector Rondon all nailing down the late innings; lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing pitching effectively in their respective milieus; and Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop remaining excellent firemen. Adding Wilson pushes out the incumbent Justin Grimm, who has had trouble finding his groove this season and wound up on the shuttle to Triple-A Iowa one too many times. While the ‘pen has been one of the best in the majors this year, at times it has seemed like a speeding train flirting with derailment: Uehara has looked eminently hittable, and Rondon has clawed his way back from the brink of a DFA. Wilson settles down the careening bullpen and creates a formidable back end for the playoffs.

Wilson’s specific merits are abundant. This year, he’s posted a career-best 2.89 DRA, and he's been at least 12 percent better than the league average in that metric since his sophomore season in 2013. His 35 percent strikeout rate is exceptional, and although he walks about 10 percent of hitters, he's an artist at suppressing hits and hard contact. In a run environment like this, those are very valuable qualities. He’ll complement the Cubs’ other ams well, and possibly take over the closer’s role from Wade Davis if the righty departs via free agency this offseason.

The relative usefulness of Avila is not as obvious. The Cubs sorely need a backup catcher, after cutting ties with the left-handed-hitting, pitch-framing Miguel Montero. They don’t trust in Montero’s replacement, Victor Caratini, on either side of the ball. While Willson Contreras has bloomed into a star at the position, he will need rest as the playoffs loom, and a defensive-minded veteran catcher would have been a perfect fit to spell him in August and September. As it is, the Cubs acquired the offense-first Avila, a left-handed hitter who has mashed this year but waned severely in July, and whose defensive prowess is best summarized as “almost passable.”

For 2017, Avila sports an attractive .293 TAv and .869 OPS, but his career TAv is merely a solid .265. Avila ranks 79th out of 86 catchers in adjusted FRAA, and he’s 10th-worst in CSAA. This is consistent with the rest of his career, and he will not be a defensive improvement for the Cubs. What he does provide is a veteran clubhouse presence and the reputation of an established game caller. Avila won’t garner many starts over the next two months or in the playoffs, but Joe Maddon and company will feel more comfortable turning over their veteran pitching staff to an experience backstop and he could be useful off the bench as a pinch-hitter at times as well. —Zack Moser

Zack Moser is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Zack's other articles. You can contact Zack by clicking here

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