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August 1, 2011

Divide and Conquer, NL East

Trade Deadline Reflections

by Michael Jong

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A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the wishlists of the NL East teams as they headed into the 2011 trade deadline. Teams knew they had holes that they wanted filled, and a good number of the contenders went out and aggressively filled those holes with trades at or before the July 31 mark. How did these trades mesh with the wishlists of the teams entering one of the busiest deadlines of recent note? Let us revisit those team wishes and how those teams made those wishes come true.

Philadelphia Phillies: Right-handed hitting outfielder
Move: Acquired Hunter Pence from the Houston Astros
Mission Accomplished?: Yes

The Phillies perhaps saw that their West Coast rivals the San Francisco Giants get ahead of the bat-acquiring parade by picking up Carlos Beltran from the New York Mets and decided to act quickly. When Pence was made available this week, the Phillies had an offer on the table involving prospects Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Singleton, but it seems the Astros backed off at first. After a period where it seemed Houston was unwilling to make a deal, the two teams reentered negotiations and eventually made a deal involving those three prime parties.

For the Phillies, their mission was accomplished; in acquiring Pence, they got a player whose right-handed bat is good enough to play in the corner outfield (career .279 TAv), who can balance out a lineup loaded with left-handed hitters, and whose defense is strong (34.0 career FRAA). It seems the Phillies will replace Domonic Brown in the lineup rather than the aging Raul Ibanez, but that may turn out to be a minor note depending on whether Ibanez continues to hit after his initial slump. Perhaps the important thing about this deal was that the Phillies offered players that figured to have no immediate major league impact on a team that is built to win immediately. Like it or not, the Phillies and Ryan Howard are married at first base, leaving Singleton's chances of breaking into the big leagues with the Phillies a long shot. Meanwhile, Cosart has significant talent and has risen in the prospect ranks but, as Kevin Goldstein noted, has not shown significant results and has had medical issues in the past. Coming into the year, neither player was expected to make the majors before 2014, so the Phillies did not lose any immediate major league help for their current core's championship runs.

With the Phillies essentially a lock for the postseason in 2011, Pence's 1.0 projected rest-of-season WARP is not going to help or hurt them much. His contributions in the playoffs may contribute around 0.3 WARP, which is a one-fifth of a win improvement over PECOTA's projection for Ibanez in similar playing time.

Atlanta Braves: A hitting outfielder of any kind
Move: Acquired Michael Bourn of the Houston Astros
Mission Accomplished?: Yes

Atlanta may have escaped with an even better deal than Philadelphia in acquiring Bourn, at least in terms of talent. The former Philadelphia outfielder is of the same age as Pence and has played just as well since 2009.

























Of course, this ignores an awful 2008 season for Bourn that appears to be more and more anomalous than indicative of Bourn's skill. What he lacks in terms of prowess at the plate (compared to Pence) he makes up for with baserunning (25.5 Equivalent Baserunning Runs since 2009, the best in baseball) and a superior position. Indeed, the position was likely the most attractive aspect of Bourn's game to Atlanta. The Braves were previously managing center field with the likes of Nate McLouth (.251 TAv) and Jordan Schafer (.239), but now they will be replacing both players with a former Gold Glove winner who has an adequate bat and great speed on the bases. Bourn should slot nicely into the team's leadoff spot and do what he has done for the past few seasons.

Perhaps the best part of the deal is that, unlike in the Pence deal, the Braves did not have to give up players who counted among their best prospects. None of their top pitching prospects were traded, and only Brett Oberholtzer was among the Braves' top 20 prospects according to Kevin Goldstein before the season began. The Braves are unlikely to miss Schafer with the presence of Bourn through 2012, and they spared none of their major rotation pieces of the future, making this a fully accomplished mission for Atlanta.

New York Mets: A good return for Carlos Beltran
Move: Traded Carlos Beltran and cash to the San Francisco Giants for Zack Wheeler
Mission Accomplished?: Yes

The Mets had the player many felt was the best available player on the market and spared no expense to get the best prospect they could acquire. Unlike Atlanta, the Giants gave quality over quantity in their prospect package, offering starting pitcher Zack Wheeler in return. For the Mets, this is exactly what they wanted after whiffing on offers for prospects like Domonic Brown, Jarred Cosart, Mike Minor, and Julio Teheran. All the team wanted was to find one prospect it could acquire for less than half a season of Beltran's service at no cost to the acquiring team, and they were able to find a team desperate enough in this offense-starved run environment to spring for the 34-year-old.

Wheeler ranked 36th on Kevin Goldstein's midseason top 100 list and was described by Goldstein as a pitcher with a fastball that is “downright special” and a body that “just looks like an All-Star starter.” While there is no guarantee Wheeler will fulfill all of that promise, it was guaranteed that the Mets were not going to find much use for Beltran over the next two months, so finding a way to acquire a top-flight pitching prospect was well worth the additional $4 million the team had to pitch in.

Washington Nationals: Reinforcements to develop faster
Florida Marlins: A third baseman / hope for 2012 contention
Mission Accomplished?: Yes and No

Neither of these two division basement dwellers had much to look forward to during the trade deadline. The Marlins were supposedly looking to add at least a third baseman during the deadline, but they received more calls about selling players like Ricky Nolasco, Leo Nunez, and Anibal Sanchez. Next season, the Fish plan on being competitive, so with the team unable to build upon their current core, they figured they would pass on the deadline in 2011.

The Nationals were able to pull off minor trades of Jerry Hairston Jr. and Jason Marquis, but ultimately the players coming back in those deals have a very small chance of being impact major leaguers for Washington in the future. The important thing was that the Nationals did not mortgage their future in their chase for a center fielder, particularly the Rays' B.J. Upton. Unfortunately, it does seem like they held onto their pieces a bit too strongly, if the rumors of a supposed Denard Span acquisition are true. Supposedly, a deal that would have seen Minnesota Twin Span traded to Washington in return for Roger Bernadina, Drew Storen, and a minor leaguer supposedly fell through because the Nationals were insisting on not trading Storen. Storen, of course, is no slouch, with a projected 0.6 WARP in 27 innings pitched according to PECOTA, but his current 3.86 FRA does not seem to indicate a player who should be held from a deal for a consistently good center fielder like Span. Span is a career .289/.366/.391 hitter (.276 TAv) with a 24.1 FRAA for his career, indicating a player who is both a classic leadoff hitter with good discipline, speed, and contact and a defensive asset at an up-the-middle position. Most relievers are not good enough to be holding up a deal for a talented player like Span, so it seems the possible mistake the Nationals made was actually trying to underpay rather than overpay for talent.

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

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