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August 21, 2017

Transaction Analysis

Grand Exit

by Matthew Trueblood, Bryan Grosnick and Scott Orgera



IN THIS ISSUE

National League

CHICAGO CUBS
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Claimed C-R Rene Rivera off waivers from New York Mets. [8/19]

Because of the timing, because the Cubs actively chose to trade for Alex Avila instead of Rivera before the non-waiver deadline, and because of the almost nonexistent cost of the acquisition (just Rivera’s remaining $500,000 or so in 2017 salary), it’s tempting to view this as a direct and low-wattage response to the loss of Willson Contreras to a hamstring injury. It’s much more than that, though. Rivera isn’t a replacement for Contreras, even on a stopgap basis. He’s really a replacement for David Ross, and (if we must focus solely on 2017) for Miguel Montero.

The Cubs’ massive improvement from 2014 to 2015 happened principally because of the bevy of star players the team added to its roster over the winter preceding the 2015 season: Jon Lester, Dexter Fowler, and (starting in mid-April) Kris Bryant. However, those additions alone wouldn’t have taken them from 74 wins to 97. They benefited hugely (and tangibly) from the making over of their catching corps. They traded (as it turned out) two moderately valuable prospects for Montero, and they had to make a last-second decision that clogged up their roster a bit in order to land Ross as a free agent. Still, they realized a big enough defensive improvement behind the plate to make the expenditures more than worth their while.

Chicago Cubs, Team Framing Runs, 2014-16

Season

Framing Runs Above Avg.

Rank (of 30)

2014

-18.8

27th

2015

18.1

4th

2016

23.2

2nd

In Montero and Ross, the team had two ace framers, and never had to yield that advantage. This obviously doesn’t get into the players’ throwing abilities, nor their handling of the pitching staff (and especially the way they called games), nor their leadership in the clubhouse, and in those ways, those two added even more value. Of course, Ross retired last fall, and Montero’s frustration over being underused in October spilled over this summer, forcing the team to push him out the door despite a lack of good backup alternatives. Crucially, Contreras also went backward as a framer starting around mid-May. He’s still regarded as a guy who could provide value in that way in the long run, but this year he’s been a below-average defensive catcher. Thus, the team’s ability to shape the strike zone from behind has eroded.

Chicago Cubs, Team Framing Runs, 2017 (Entering Sunday)

Season

Framing Runs Above Avg.

Rank (of 30)

2017

-4.4

20th

That lends insight into the intermittent struggles of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks, as well as the bullpen’s alarming walk rate. It doesn’t even capture the full effect, either. Contreras (and, in limited samples, Avila, and Victor Caratini) does a poor job calling pitches for many of the team’s relievers, creating a hurdle to success for them outside of the sheer loss of strikes on the edges of the zone.

Rivera can be the stabilizing force. He’s an above-average framer, and an above-average thrower. He hits enough to make putting him in mid-game palatable, if that’s what the situation demands. He’s also a good fit for the team’s clubhouse. In all likelihood, he’s going to make the Cubs’ postseason roster. He might even become a personal catcher for someone in the starting rotation, and retain that role after Contreras returns from the DL. He’s a type of defensive weapon that has been missing from Chicago’s run prevention arsenal this year, and to have gotten him on a waiver claim must feel to the Cubs’ front office like finding free money. —Matthew Trueblood

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Acquired OF-L Curtis Granderson and cash from New York Mets in exchange for RHP Jacob Rhame. [8/18]

One of the latest free agents-to-be shipped out of Queens as part of Sandy Alderson's firesale, Granderson brings left-handed power and a wealth of postseason experience to an already stacked Dodgers club on pace to surpass their franchise record of 105 victories. Sixteen teams have won 100-plus games since 2001, and only last year's Cubs and the 2009 Yankees went on to claim a World Series trophy. If Dave Roberts' squad is to avoid an early exit, Granderson's presence could prove invaluable during those pressure-packed October moments.

The leadership narrative is often overused in baseball, but in Granderson's case the positive and lasting effect on the players around him seems as real as it gets. The immediate area surrounding the 36-year-old's locker at Citi Field always seemed to draw a crowd, as both media and teammates alike tended to gravitate toward the amiable veteran over the past four seasons. In addition to playing a key role in the development of some of New York's young players, such as budding star Michael Conforto, Granderson himself has delivered on the big stage. His postseason pedigree includes a torrid 2015 NLDS against his new team, as well as hitting three home runs in that year's World Series. Overall, Granderson has a .239/.339/.457 slash line in 51 postseason games.

A notoriously slow starter, Granderson's dismal April contributed to a somewhat misleading season stat line. Since May 1, Granderson has hit a robust .263/.383/.570, compared to .212/.330/.434 from Joc Pederson over that same span. He has an .857 OPS in almost 5,500 career plate appearances against right-handed pitching, including 16 of his 20 homers this year. A corner outfielder who can also play serviceable center field in a pinch, Granderson is not a defensive liability. While no longer the speedy youngster that led the league in triples in back-to-back seasons, he can still find that extra gear when needed and it shows whenever he has to cover some extra ground on a fly ball.

The scuffling Pederson was jettisoned to Triple-A on Saturday after batting 2-for-37 in August, so Granderson should see significant playing time. This could be Granderson's swan song should he choose to retire at year's end, as many have speculated over the past several months. One of the game's most active philanthropists, the Chicago-area native takes part in many time-consuming ventures outside of the game. For a Dodgers team that has been knocked out of the playoffs in each of the last four seasons and hasn't been to the World Series since 1988, this seemingly minor waiver trade may prove to be an impactful one. —Scott Orgera

NEW YORK METS
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Acquired RHP Jacob Rhame from Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for OF-L Curtis Granderson and cash. [8/18]

Released C-R Rene Rivera on waivers to Chicago Cubs. [8/19]

It’s easy to say that this is what giving up looks like, but the truth is never that simple. At the start of the season, the Mets looked like a definite contender, a shoo-in for a Wild Card spot thanks to an extremely weak division and a pitching rotation that moistened the lips of scouts around the country. To put it bluntly, that didn’t work out, and the Mets have spent the past several weeks participating in an everything-must-go sell-off of almost every player who will be a free agent at the end of 2017.

Over the past month, the team has jettisoned Lucas Duda, Jay Bruce, Addison Reed, Neil Walker, and now Granderson and Rivera, not to mention cutting ties with reliever Fernando Salas for good measure. In exchange for letting go of all of this talent, the Mets have returned six relief prospects of varying potential, plus approximately $13 million in 2017 salary relief. (I think, the numbers aren’t exactly clear.) Now the team is left with just a handful of 2017 free agents: nobody has any interest in Tommy Milone or Jose Reyes, and Asdrubal Cabrera and Jerry Blevins have relatively cheap options for 2018.

Meanwhile, the Mets are suffering from a serious on-field talent drain, no longer in possession of their best reliever, two best infielders, two solid corner outfielders, and one of the best backup catchers in baseball. The prospect return was looked at as, well, underwhelming, given that the team prioritized salary relief and right-handed relief arms in return. That $13 million that the Mets brought back will probably go into the pockets of the Wilpons’ creditors—it sounds like that money is not earmarked for a future season and reports are that the team’s payroll was higher than desired as the team “went for it” in 2017—and the relievers are as much of a cliffhanger as the last two minutes of an episode of Lost.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that the Mets now have the opportunity to see what they have in a number of younger players. Much has already been made of Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith, but now Brandon Nimmo, Gavin Cecchini, and Kevin Plawecki should all get extensive playing time through the end of the season. These are the types of players in need of MLB service time in order to demonstrate whatever value they may be able to bring to the team in 2018. Of course, it might be better for the team and its fans to have more talent rather than just more opportunities.

Given the team’s payroll situation—and the fact that the Mets aren’t likely to be too aggressive in the free agent market this offseason—perhaps they're getting a sense of what 2018 might look like a little early? How well the team’s younger talents do will determine whether next season might be an exciting year, albeit perhaps with a lower ceiling than previous years, or if it will be something that resembles 2017’s debacle. —Bryan Grosnick

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

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