Acquired 2B-R Brandon Phillips from Atlanta Braves in exchange for C-R Tony Sanchez and $500,000. [8/31]
For years, the Angels have tried in vain to fill an ugly hole at second base. (I’m sure Angels fans remember the days of Johnny Giavotella and Taylor Featherston with a certain amount of distaste.) This year, they've gotten the fewest Wins Above Average of any team in baseball from the keystone, worth three wins below average at that position. Thanks for nothing, Danny Espinosa, Nolan Fontana, and Kaleb Cowart. In theory, the acquisition of Phillips should mitigate that dearth of talent up the middle. No matter what critics might have to say about his questionable approach at the plate or his diminishing skil lset, the veteran should provide a modicum of stability and competency to an Angels team that is scratching and clawing for every possible win.
Once a bonafide run producer and Gold Glove defender, Phillips has become a purveyor of adequacy, providing just enough value to get the job done despite obvious flaws. He bangs out base hits, but has trouble drawing more than a handful of walks per season, keeping his OBP lower than it might otherwise be. When you combine that with a predilection to get caught stealing over his recent seasons—he’s 11-for-19 this year—he’s very much miscast as a top-of-the-order burner despite some qualities that may make a manager want him in that role. (Guess where he’s been hitting for the Angels since his acquisition? First! Mike Scioscia!)
And despite a rep as a steady defender over many seasons at the keystone, our FRAA metric rates him as below average both recently and over his career. (Though it should be noted that other metrics have him as above-average up until the past couple of seasons.) It’s these flaws that make Phillips something very different from the Gold Glove-toting, All-Star-deserving steady performer he’s been earlier in his career. That’s okay! The Angels didn’t necessarily need another All-Star—they got one of those to play left field. They just needed someone to not be terrible at second base and the Braves were in position to give away Phillips for very little in return.
Claimed OF-R Cameron Maybin off waivers from Los Angeles Angels. [8/31]
Early in his career, Maybin was imagined as something of a five-tool center field prospect who could do everything athletically that one could imagine. Though his power might only have been a glimmer in the eye, he flashed speed, hands, arm, and hit tool while playing an up-the-middle position in Detroit. Then he went to Miami, then San Diego, and time revealed not a superstar but a future journeyman. It was a good thing that Maybin had so many tools, because from year to year, he’d have to try to find new ways to scrape value on the field out of his prodigious athleticism.
Today, he brings one major factor to the Astros in his speed, and just enough ancillary value beyond that to make him worth rostering. He's second in the American League in stolen bases, behind new teammate Jose Altuve, and has a good but not great history both in terms of stolen base rate (74 percent) and stolen base accumulation (161 over almost 900 games). Maybin also sometimes uses speed to add to his power, with 30 triples over his career. It’s possible that Maybin will serve as the team’s dedicated pinch-runner when things get close and late during the playoffs.
Beyond, and sometimes in spite of, his wheels, Maybin doesn’t have a whole lot else to offer. Over the past few seasons he’s been a slightly above-average hitter overall, but this year he’s seen his power fade to almost nothing; his ISO with the Angels was .118. On the bright side, he has made an adjustment to look for (and pick up) more walks, but his batting average has dropped almost 80 points from his BABIP-fueled 2016 numbers. He’s unlikely to ever be a “good” big-league hitter with his modest average and lack of power, but he’s also not your ideal dash-and-grab center fielder.
Maybin’s defensive metrics have not been particularly good in the middle of the outfield over the past couple of seasons, so this year the Angels had been deploying him more often in the corners. This has resulted in better overall defensive numbers, but less value. While he’s capable of playing everywhere in the outfield grass, he’s not exactly going to unseat Jake Marisnick as the Astros' primary defensive weapon out there.
So, we’re out here living one of those much-derided clichés: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Maybin was deemed surperfluous by the Astros’ divisional rivals, because his playing time had been usurped by another former Tiger (Justin Upton), and because they didn’t need his particular brand of help off the bench with Eric Young Jr. in tow. The Astros saw an opportunity to get a veteran with skills they didn’t necessarily have an abundance of. As a hedge against injury and a spare pair of legs in the postseason, Maybin could be a useful piece. It will be fascinating to see if he can change his skills fast enough to continue to keep up with the changing times.
Signed OF-L Nori Aoki to a one-year contract. [9/2]
From the penthouse to the outhouse, the trajectory of Aoki’s season could have gone just a bit better. After starting the season with the high-flying Astros, the journeyman slap-hit aficionado was cut loose as part of the Francisco Liriano deal in a bit of a salary dump. The Blue Jays didn’t really have a need for him—his performance with the ‘Stros was well below his usual standard of
excellence really-solid-ness, and things didn’t pick up enough with the Jays—so they released him. But despite his five-year track record of high batting average, strange-but-solid defense in the corners, and incredible consistency, the team that picked him up was the out-of-contention Mets.
The Mets needed another corner outfielder just to fill out the roster through the end of the season; it’s nice to see Travis Taijeron get a cup of coffee, but he’s not really an MLB-caliber hand. But if Aoki acquits himself well in September he may get a chance to earn a prime spot with the Mets next season, were that something anyone would be interested in. (Guard your ligaments!) Even though—as Jarrett Seidler mentioned recently—he sort of has a duplicate on the impending 2017 roster in Brandon Nimmo, he’d still be an average-ish outfielder on a team in need of average-ish positional talent. Perhaps the journeyman will move on to another team next offseason, but the Mets might give him the best chance at regular work of any second-division team.
Claimed RHP Juan Nicasio off waivers from Pittsburgh Pirates. [8/31]
In one of the more abjectly weird transactions of the season, the Pirates a) decided to give up a cheap, effective reliever for free, and b) he was picked up by a team with little use for a cheap, effective reliever. The story goes something like this: after pitching well for the Pirates, Nicasio was designated to be traded after the team fell out of contention in August. The Pirates put the righty on trade waivers, but he was claimed by what Neal Huntington called a “direct competitor” as an attempt to block Nicasio from going to, ostensibly, some other competitor.
The Pirates pulled Nicasio back off trade waivers. After that, Huntington and the Pirates put Nicasio on outright waivers in the hopes of getting another playoff-competitive team to bite on him; word from the Pirates front office was that they wanted to give him a chance to hook on with a contender. Instead, the Phillies came calling, and the Pirates cut him loose to one of the least competitive teams in the game.
It seems like no one got what they wanted, unless the Pirates were only looking for the bare minimum salary relief. Nicasio didn’t find a contender. The Pirates got nothing in return. The beneficiary is the Phillies, who didn’t really need Nicasio to help close out games for the last couple of months of a lost season. With a 3.59 DRA and a history of success during his time in Pittsburgh, the righty might be a hot commodity during the offseason, but it’s not clear that there’s anything he can really do over the next month to boost his stock or chase a ring. Here’s to 2018—may it give Nicasio an opportunity he missed out on this season.