Happy Labor Day! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume on Tuesday, September 2.
December 6, 2010
Adrian Gonzalez and Shaun Marcum
CK: The Red Sox may not have had a premium prospect to deal, but they did the next best thing by rounding up a pair of first-round picks plus their latest young first-base prospect to get the right to negotiate their A-Gonz extension beyond the 2011 season, tacitly sub rosa or not. As the exchange goes, you have to love it from Boston's perspective, whether you operate from the assumption that they're getting a game-changing bat for several seasons to come or not.
First, consider that they did not end up having to deal from their MLB-ready outfield depth, or surrender any of their overlapping middle-infield options. So all of that is still there, for Theo Epstein and company to employ or deal from, having already achieved job one.
Instead, they bundled up a Low-A maybe, a slow-go pitcher reconversion effort, and Rizzo; a year earlier, and it would no doubt have been Lars Anderson in Rizzo's place, which ought to say something about the benefit of being wary about Boston's oversold, overhyped prospects. As much as Jed Hoyer knows them better than anybody, and as easy as it is to say the eventual scorecard for this deal is years in the making, this move did little or nothing to provide the Pads with the bopping outfielder they'll need (especially after Ludwick leaves a year hence), or a pitcher who will help them in the next two years, or a first baseman guaranteed to be ready to replace Gonzalez by 2012. Anything conclusive that we can say about this deal before 2013 for the Padres will be bad, while Epstein and company still have plenty to work with to shore up their bid for relevance right now.
Second, for that pocket full of maybes, they got exactly what they needed right now: the premium bat that lets them comfortably move Kevin Youkilis to third base, at a price that allows them to afford their generosity in retaining David Ortiz for one last spin at $12.5 million. Haggling over the particulars and then deciding that the best way to go was choose not to settle now (waiting until April or later) seems like a bit of gaming the system to avoid any luxury tax penalties. Maybe a game with Bowie Kuhn at Commissioner would care about such chicanery, but then again, a game under Bowie Kuhn wouldn't have achieved the luxury tax in the first place. If Czar Bud rules with a loose reign in dealing with his liege lordlings within baseball's medieval business practices, who are we from the autonomous collectives to complain?
Which leaves Boston with what? Adding the eighth-best batter in the major leagues for at least a single season, his age-29 season, taking him out of Petco and liberating him to mash everywhere else. The incredible likelihood that he'll be around for longer than that, and the benefit of swapping in the fifth-best batter in the game at third for the departed Adrian Beltre. Away from Petco, Gonzalez has hit .298/.370/.559 on his career. If you're fidgety, as I am, and want to also deduct his hitting in frequently visited bandboxes like Coors Field and the Now-Bob-less BOB as well as Petco, you're still looking at a guy who hit .292/.362/.546 on his career. Add in quality work on defense, mitigating the hit the Sox will take with Youkilis replacing Beltre, and it's an immediate win-now pickup of the best available first-base option this winter.
Is it worth it? Absolutely, and not just because by the time they have reason to re-evaluate whether there's any cause for regret, Theo may very well have retired again, bought an island, or starred in his own reality TV show. Balanced against that moderate risk, you can always suppose that Anderson pans out, this year's draft replaces Fuentes and/or Kelly. In short, it was not just a move Boston could afford to make, in terms of talent, it was a move they couldn't afford to reject.
Signed OF-S Brandon Boggs to a major-league contract. [12/2]
KG: While the Brewers sent a top prospect in Lawrie to the Blue Jays, one wonders if playing for his home country's team will help bring out the best in him. He had an impressive season at Double-A for a 20-year-old, but it wasn't without its fair share of concerns.
Packing 215 pounds onto a compact, thick six-foot frame, Lawrie is remarkably athletic for his size and shape, showing off 50-55 scouting-grade speed while smacking 16 triples and stealing 30 bases in 2010. He's good hitter with fine bat speed and outstanding hands, and with 60 extra-base hits, he's going to hit much more than the eight home runs he launched last year, projecting for at least average power as he matures. Neither Eddie Yost or Alfredo Griffin in terms of his approach, he's an aggressive hitter, but doesn't swing at bad pitches.
Add it all up, and it's a star-level ceiling, but for many scouts he'll only be as good as he wants to be, as questions about his makeup have tailed him ever since he was the 16th overall pick in the 2008 draft. The Brewers drafted him with the understanding that he'd be willing to catch, but Lawrie reversed that decision when he reported to camp the following spring. Hoping he could catch on in the infield, Lawrie has proven to be a sloppy and at times indifferent defender, including 25 errors last season. At times, the indifference comes with him to the plate as well, as multiple sources have used terms like, "min-effort," "bad body language," and "cruise control" when describing Lawrie's energy. There's always the chance that he's misunderstood and just calm, cool and collected, but when there's smoke, there's usually fire.
This trade could provide the spark he needs in order to live up to his potential, or could hold him back... it's really up to him.
CK: I'm just going to keep on being impressed with most everything Alex Anthopolous does. Deferring to Kevin on Lawrie's potential, I'm just impressed by the Jays GM's willingness to take on Villanueva's arbitration case, instead focusing on the fact that guys with 29 percent strikeout rates don't grow on trees. If Ned Yost or Ken Macha couldn't find a way to use that kind of pitcher, maybe that just goes begging for a reason to get a guy out of the organization employing them. He's not a ground-ball pitcher and he's not a starter, but the off chance that the Jays just added a below-market pitcher ready to be a high-leverage set-up man looks fairly tasty at this undetermined price.
As for surrendering the surgically-repaired Marcum, and assuming the two deals aren't interconnected, this seems like a sensible deal from depth. Two seasons of arbitration eligibility with Marcum, to get a blue-chip position-playing prospect? The Jays were short on position players with upside as is, so as a one-to-one exchange, getting what Lawrie's first six years in the majors might be for the surgically repaired Marcum's next two isn't that bad a swap. The Brewers will look good initially, but Toronto will be able to replace Marcum with Kyle Drabek or the like.
Traded RHP Carlos Villanueva to the Blue Jays for a PTBNL. [12/3]
CK: While the Villanueva deal is a fairly straightforward bit of arbitration avoidance, the Marcum trade is much more significant. While it is a case of dealing a major prospect for an underrated starter with an extensive track record for fragility as well as two years of arbitration to boost his price tag, credit Doug Melvin for getting a better starter for two seasons than you'll generally find on the market. If Lawrie wasn't the only coin paid to get Marcum, at least the Brewers won't have to pay market pricing for a quality starter.
Marcum's 2010 campaign didn't exactly slip under the radar, but a .542 SNWP on top of a 3.59 SIERA that suggests his 3.64 ERA was very much for real? There are no obvious performance maguffins to make you think that the story of Marcum's 2011 will be writ from any bitter cup; he was just flat-out good, improving slightly on his career rates in strikeouts and homers and the rest, making a marked improvement in walks allowed, and holding up well after losing all of 2009 to injury. Pure and simple, that's a quality starter, ranking 42nd in the majors among pitchers with 100 IP last year, contributing 20 quality starts in 31. Then, you put him in the NL, and I expect we'll see his strikeout rate cross 20 percent.
Whatever the panel decides to do with his compensation, he's liable to cost less per annum than whatever Carl Pavano makes in the next two seasons, and for a club still searching for people to line up behind Yovani Gallardo, he's exactly what the doctor ordered if they want to encourage Prince Fielder and/or Rickie Weeks to stick around and keep Brewers baseball relevant in the NL Central's balance of power.
However well Lawrie turns out, this was an excellent move from Melvin, and while it might be a win/win trade where the Brewers win now and the Blue Jays win later, that's not such a bad thing when Melvin's responsibility is to leverage something out of a win-now collection of talent that may start leaving in short order if they're not given a reason to stay and play.
Acquired RHP Casey Kelly, 1B-L Anthony Rizzo, CF-L Reymond Fuentes, and PTBNL from the Red Sox for 1B-L Adrian Gonzalez. [12/5]
KG: In a world of instant reaction, where winners and losers must be declared within seconds of any move, such instant certainty just isn't possible in a deal like this. While the Red Sox get one of the best hitters in the game, the Padres received three youngsters who have yet to reach the majors. This could take years and plenty of complex formulas to figure out, with the Red Sox winning for now, and the Padres hoping to catch up and pass up over time. It was a negotiation conducted by two smart men, and with Jed Hoyer having intimate knowledge of the Red Sox system, there really wasn't any chance for anyone to get taken. There is room for a quantity versus quality debate, however, with the Padres failing to get a truly elite prospect from Boston simply because one does not exist. Nonetheless, San Diego gets back the top pitching and hitting prospects in the system, as well as a classic high-risk/high-upside type as a third.
To judge Casey Kelly by his 5.31 ERA or rate of 11.2 hits per nine is to go with a small percentage of the necessary information. In many ways, he was simply at the wrong level, not just as a 20-year-old at Double-A, but also focusing on pitching full-time for the first time, and learning lessons at a level where the competition is advanced and highly unforgiving. On a pure stuff level, Kelly was as good as ever. One of the most athletic pitchers in the game, Kelly doesn't have monster offerings, but projects as a pitcher with no weaknesses. His fastball is already plus in terms of both velocity and movement, while his curveball and change both project to be above-average pitches. He struggled with command at times in 2010, but his history and squeaky-clean delivery will help him develop that as well. He needs to repeat Double-A, but he'll still be young for the level, and he still projects as a star-level rotation piece who will look even better pitching in San Diego. One of the more memorable conversations I had with a scout this year came at midseason, when after seeing one of Kelly's worst starts he said, "It takes a hell of a pitcher to be that bad and have me put that big a number on him." Kelly is definitely a player where the scouting reports trump the status.
Kelly will have a familiar face joining him at Double-A in first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo is at a crossing point in his career, one where he's discovering what kind of prospect he is. He hit for consistently high averages early in his career, but scouts saw plenty of power potential in his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame, and a swing that features plenty of lower-half leverage. That power showed up this year with 25 home runs, including 20 in 107 Double-A games before he was legally able to drink. Unfortunately, along with that power came a much lower batting average and much higher strikeout rate. As either an average-driven hitter or a power-producing hitter, he's a good prospect; he's proven an ability to do both, and if he can combine them at the same time, he has the potential to be a special one. Unfortunately, that's no guarantee.
With just a few weeks before the 2009 draft, outfielder Reymond Fuentes was the best Puerto Rican native available in the draft, but was seen as more of a top-100 pick as opposed to a sure-fire first-rounder. Then came a series of private workouts that moved him up to the point where it was actually surprising to see him last to the 28th pick. Comparisons to Carlos Beltran are unfair, and wouldn't even exist if he wasn't also the All-Star's cousin, but Fuentes still has lots of tools, and showed them off to good effect in his full-season debut. He's a plus-plus runner who covers a ton of ground in center, and he already knows how to utilize his speed on the basepaths, as evidenced by 42 stolen bases in just 47 attempts. The questions that exist revolve around his bat; while he hit .270 for Low-A Greenville, he also whiffed 87 times in 374 at-bats with less than 20 percent of his hits going for extra bases. Physically, there could be double-digit power in his frame, and there's a lot to dream on, but there's also considerable risk that he doesn't produce enough offensively to take advantage of the athleticism he has at his command. High-A Lake Elsinore will make him look way better than High-A Salem would have, and we might need time at Double-A to properly gauge his upside.
The final, fourth player is expected to be a mid-range prospect, so the three above represent 90 percent (and that might be low) of the return.
CK: The other worthwhile considerations to note here are that this won't do the Padres' season-ticket drive any favors whatsoever. But think that's going to sell well to folks who just saw their team punt the best position player to wear a Pads uni since the original Tony Gwynn? I think not. Last year, the Pads finished 11th in the league in attendance, but with this, I wouldn't be surprised at all if they dropped from 26,000 to closer to 20, and 14th overall. Add in the unlikelihood that they'll be spending much in payroll, and you have a primary candidate for "ward of the state"/revenue-sharing ignominy, plus the inevitable ire of the MLBPA for not spending their revenue-sharing cash.
Operating from the proposition that they'd get better talent than Gonzo would yield in terms of compensation picks, on that score perhaps Kelly, Fuentes, and Rizzo add up, but as Kevin has noted, it'll be a while before we know if they got a rotation regular and/or a replacement at first base and/or an eventual star player in center field. In the meantime, if they elect to let things ride instead of exploring a market well-stocked with help at first base, that probably means the path is clear for Kyle Blanks to take over at first. With the addition of Cameron Maybin to play center and the retention of Chris Denorfia as their fourth outfielder type, they'll have Ryan Ludwick in one corner, and perhaps the Venablingham platoon in the other, with Will Venable and Aaron Cunningham splitting time and getting used to good effect.
For a team looking for help at second, short, and catcher, that just sounds like another exercise in embittering non-relevance after last season's run, which doesn't strike me as a great way to grow much brand loyalty after the indignities of the last couple of decades. If anything, it sounds like a disappointing echo of the horrors of the Werner era, right down to Roseanne Barr's suggestion on how to spend your time in the meanwhile, at least until this particular gaggle of hatchlings come home to roost.
Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus.