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July 31, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Breaking Down the Three-Team Trade

by Ben Lindbergh

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

BOSTON RED SOX
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Acquired RHP Jake Peavy from the White Sox and RHP Brayan Villarreal from the Tigers, sending SS-R Jose Iglesias to Detroit and three lower-level prospects to Chicago. [7/30]

In the wake of their September 2011 collapse and the internal unrest that created constant distractions during a disastrous 2012, improved team chemistry has received some of the credit for the Sox’ recent success. It’s certainly true that Boston’s brain trust took the culture into consideration when making its offseason signings, just as it’s true that a harmonious clubhouse can’t hurt. But if you really want to win, it helps to have talented players and the money to pay them, and Boston has both. That makes the story of this exchange a team that really wants to win flexing its financial muscle to steal a march on a low-payroll rival.

The Sox are sitting pretty atop the Wild Card standings, but they’re half a game behind Tampa Bay in the race for the real prize: a division title. That puts them right in the win-curve sweet spot, where a win or two is of the utmost marginal value. The Rays rearmed on Monday, acquiring Jesse Crain in a speculative swap. Adding an injured reliever might have been the biggest mid-season move that franchise has ever made, but the Sox aren’t bound by the same spending restrictions. So they went big by comparison, adding the next-best available arm after failing to pry Cliff Lee loose from Philly.

The Sox enjoyed a stable starting rotation for much of the season, but Clay Buchholz’ shaky shoulder has forced them to rely on unproven rookies Allen Webster and Brandon Workman—a fate that many teams would welcome, but that the Sox couldn’t stomach in light of the stakes. Buchholz threw from flat ground on Saturday, and the best estimates bring him back in late August, but there’s no official timetable for his return. Given his spotty health history, it’s safer not to count on him to return and pitch like he did in April and May. Workman earned his first win on Tuesday in his third big-league start, silencing Seattle for six innings with one walk and nine strikeouts. But his second win might have to wait a while, since Peavy’s arrival bumps him to a bullpen that could use some new blood with Andrew Bailey, Joel Hanrahan, and Andrew Miller all out for the year.

Sam Miller wrote a bit about Peavy when we auctioned him off on Monday. The 32-year-old still carries some of the cachet of a former Cy Young winner, but he’s not nearly the same pitcher he was when he won the award. In 2007, he was a dependable 200-inning guy who threw in the mid-90s and struck out well over a batter per inning; now, he’s hurt as often as not, and when healthy he throws four miles per hour slower, allows more fly balls (and homers), and depends on pinpoint control. He’s not the true ace the Red Sox lack, but he adds another no. 2 type to their extensive collection, and a rotation of twos and threes top to bottom is no cause for concern. Peavy’s health, however, is worth worrying about; he’s only two starts removed from his latest DL stint, and there’s no telling when the next one will strike.

The Red Sox will assume the rest of Peavy’s salary, so no money changes hands in this trade. The right-hander is signed for 2014 at $14.5 million, so he has roughly $20 million remaining. That would be a bargain if he were to stay healthy, but since durability seems like a long shot, we wouldn’t project him to be worth much more than he’s owed. That means there’s only so much surplus value to be had here, with much of it coming from the fact that wins are worth more to the Red Sox than they are to most teams. Peavy’s presence also gives the Sox a little more leverage in talks with impending free agent Jon Lester, and a backup plan in the event that Lester leaves.

It might be telling that when Matt Sussman, playing the part of Ben Cherington, tried to trade for Peavy, Sam passed on a package built around Iglesias. The Sox are selling high on Iglesias, who entered the season as a glove-only prospect, then blooped and bleedered his way to a .409 average (and a .465 BABIP) through June. The 23-year-old has predictably come back to earth in July, hitting .200/.244/.213, and his offensive future probably looks more like the slump than the hot streak. Stephen Drew’s return from a hamstring strain reduced Iglesias to a utility role, so adding Peavy costs the Sox very little in the short term.

It might not cost them much beyond 2013, either. Drew is a free agent after the season, but 20-year-old top prospect Xander Bogaerts is already holding his own in Triple-A and should play a capable enough shortstop to succeed him at the position, at least for a few years. Between Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, Deven Marrero and Garin Cecchini, the Sox have plenty of depth in their system on the left side of the infield, so they won’t miss Iglesias much.

The question now is whether—okay, when—we’ll see Bogaerts in a regular big-league role down the stretch. Barring another move, Iglesias’ departure leaves the Sox with a third-base combination of the light-hitting Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder, as well as Will Middlebrooks, who hasn’t hit very well since being demoted to the minors. That’s enough to make a Sox fan miss Mauro Gomez. Relative to the team’s other options, Bogaerts looks ready. The obvious comparison is to Manny Machado, another tall, highly touted, preternaturally polished shortstop who came up to play third at age 20 to plug a hole on a contending team. Bogaerts was promoted to Pawtucket only six weeks ago, but Machado skipped Triple-A entirely. Don’t be surprised if we see Bogaerts soon.

Villarreal gives John Farrell the potential for another right-handed arm with whom to spell the hard-worked Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, but Villarreal is as likely to add to the reliable relievers’ workload as he is to lighten it. The 26-year-old is an exclusively fastball-slider guy whose heater sits 96-97. He’s struggled to throw strikes, walking eight in 4 1/3 innings for the Tigers to start the season, then 26 in 34 1/3 frames for Toledo. It says something about Villarreal that the Tigers busted him back to Triple-A even as they struggled to find late-inning arms, but he was fairly effective for Detroit in 2012. If the Sox can straighten him out in Pawtucket and move him back to the majors, he’d give them a pre-arb power arm under team control for four-plus seasons.

The three prospects the Sox surrendered are profiled in the White Sox section below. The best of the trio, Francellis Montas, rated only no. 36 at Chris Mellen’s SoxProspects.com, so none of the bunch is a blue-chipper. Ben Cherington did well to upgrade his roster at a critical time without shedding any important pieces.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Acquired OF-R Avisail Garcia from the Tigers and three lower-level prospects from the Red Sox, sending RHP Jake Peavy to Boston. [7/30]

As one of the market's few committed sellers, the Sox are playing the part of the war profiteer, supplying both sides of the AL East conflict. We won’t know for a while what they’ll get from the Crain trade, but the Peavy prospect haul is in.

The original asking price for Peavy was reported to be a top-50 prospect in a 3-4 player package (in addition to Peavy’s actual price of approximately $20 million). The Sox couldn’t find a buyer at that level, which wasn’t surprising, since while Peavy is an attractive arm, he’s too fragile for a team to sacrifice its future. So instead, the Sox circulated rumors that they planned to “keep Peavy and build around him,” as if anyone could confuse an injury-prone, 32-year-old pitcher for a building block of a franchise. In the end, the price came down, but not so far that this became a bad deal.

Chicago couldn’t get the Tigers’ top prospect (Nick Castellanos), but they got the no. 2 guy in Garcia. If Garcia were rookie eligible, he’d be the top prospect in the White Sox system. In itself, that’s not saying much, considering the state of that system, but he’s a promising player who’d be an upgrade in their outfield right now.

The White Sox also got three lower-level players from the Red Sox system. Francellis Montas is a 20-year-old righty who’s pitched better in A-ball than his 5.70 ERA would suggest. He can touch triple digits, but both his four-seamer and slider are somewhat flat, and his command and control could use work. The profile suggests that his future will be in the bullpen, though it could at least be toward the back.

J.B. Wendelken, a 20-year-old teammate of Montas’ and a 2012 12th-rounder, has served as both a long man and a closer for Greenville this season, pitching to a 2.77 ERA in 27 games and 65 innings. His future role is still undecided, as he’s flashed three serviceable offerings, touching 95 with his heater and spinning a breaking ball in the 70s.

Cleuluis Rondon, the least advanced member of the trio, is a 19-year-old middle infielder who’s hitting .276/.326/.350 in the New York-Penn League. He’s already playing more second base than shortstop, and he doesn’t project to have a big bat, so he looks like a utility type at best.

It’s not a breathtaking package, but it’s what the White Sox deserved. For a pitcher who was on the DL as recently as two weeks ago and who’s pitched one full season in the last six, the Sox got salary relief and four prospects who make a barren system look better. Not bad.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Acquired SS-R Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox, sending RHP Brayan Villarreal to Boston and OF-R Avisail Garcia to Chicago. [7/30]

For Detroit, this trade is about shortstop insurance. With recent reports suggesting that Biogenesis suspensions are about to hit, and the same reports suggesting that the players about to be hit by them will accept without appeals, the Tigers are facing the prospect of being without Jhonny Peralta until late September at the earliest. Peralta has BABIPed his way to a batting average over 40 points above his career rate, but even without those extra singles he’s an above-average player at the position. Since he renewed his commitment to conditioning in 2011, Peralta has rated as a competent defender, and his power and willingness to take the occasional walk make his presumed suspension a significant blow.

Iglesias, as detailed above, isn’t going to be a good hitter, but he has a great glove, which makes him a rarity on one of baseball’s worst fielding teams. Detroit’s staff strikes out more batters than any other team’s, but what batted balls they do allow generally aren’t in the air: the Tigers lead the American League in groundball rate. Worm-killers like Rick Porcello and Doug Fister will enjoy having Iglesias behind them; it certainly beats having Argenis Diaz. Positional scarcity strikes again!

Peralta will be a free agent at the end of the season, so Iglesias gives Detroit a potential shortstop of the future. Good as his glove is, it’s not clear whether he’ll hit enough to hold down an everyday job. It’s tempting to say that the Tigers bought high and allowed Iglesias’ BABIP to lead them astray, but if there’s one thing that should reassure Tigers fans, it’s the team’s track record with trading for (and trading away) pro players. Dave Dombrowski has been one of the best traders in baseball, and both the players he’s acquired via trade (Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Omar Infante, Fister, Peralta and others) and the promising prospects he’s traded away (Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller) should inspire some degree of confidence.

That brings us to 22-year-old outfielder Garcia, a massive man who’s hit .241/.273/.373 in the majors this season but mashed at Triple-A (.382/.414/.549 in 152 plate appearances), albeit with his usual poor plate discipline. Garcia entered the season as Detroit’s no. 2 prospect, and he has the potential to be an everyday player on a winning team, pairing a solid-average hit and power projection with what would be a plus glove and arm in an outfield corner. Garcia might have been the perfect replacement for Torii Hunter in 2015, but Iglesias is needed more now. The Tigers may have given up the best player in their portion of the swap, but they did get a young player back. More importantly, they’re a win-now team with an 84-year-old owner, and this is the kind of concession that sort of squad makes. If Garcia grows up to be a productive player for Detroit’s division rival, don’t blame Dombrowski. Blame Peralta’s PEDs.

If I had to rank the three teams’ returns in this trade—and I don’t, but I will anyway—I’d go Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers. The Red Sox made themselves better at little cost to the team of today or tomorrow, the White Sox made the most of a breakable asset, and the Tigers paid a somewhat steep price for a piece they needed after being put in a tough place by Peralta.


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

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