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September 3, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Breaking Down August's Buzzer-Beating Trades

by Ben Lindbergh, Jason Cole, Nick J. Faleris and Chris Mellen

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Traded Triple-A OF-L Xavier Avery to Seattle for OF/IB/DH-R Mike Morse. [8/31]


The Orioles have been among the most active teams on the trade market this season, but as far as fixing a glaring weakness goes, this deal might be their best yet. Baltimore ranks ninth in the AL in TAv, largely because the team has hit only .248/.294/.406 against left-handed pitching. Morse does nothing to address their primary offensive flaw—the lowest walk rate of any team but the Brewers—but he can punish southpaws.

Morse poses a danger to his pitching staff in the field, but he’ll have to wear a glove for his bat to make the most impact. The recent return of Wilson Betemit has given the O’s a complementary pairing of two players with extreme platoon spits (Danny Valencia handles the short half) at DH, where they muddled through most of the season with a mix of no-names and has-beens like Henry Urrutia, Chris Dickerson, Travis Ishikawa, and Steve Pearce. Morse is blocked by Chris Davis at first, so he’ll see the most action in the outfield corners, where he can spell slumping lefties Nate McLouth and Nick Markakis against southpaw pitching. When he doesn’t start, he’ll be a weapon as a pinch-hitter. That might be a better role for him, given his defensive struggles: dedicated bench bats are an endangered species in the era of eight-man bullpens, but roster space isn’t a concern in September.

Morse’s 2013 stats are ugly, but he’s a smart buy-low option for Baltimore. The 31-year-old has slugged .447 on the road and .363 at home; even a smaller Safeco Field is a tough place for right-handed power. What’s more, Morse’s BABIP is almost 70 points below his career average entering the season, with no dramatic change in his batted-ball or plate discipline profiles. With four weeks left in the season, the impact Morse can make will be limited, but each win is worth a lot to the O’s as they try to overtake Tampa Bay, and the cost—a 23-year-old future fourth outfielder and the $1.1 million remaining on Morse’s deal—isn’t prohibitively high. A well-timed hot streak could put both parties in the playoffs and make Morse a much more attractive free agent. —Ben Lindbergh

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Traded High-A RHP Nefi Ogando to Philadelphia for IF-R John McDonald and cash. [8/31]

Twelve pitchers have come to the plate at least 60 times this season; nine of them have hit better than McDonald, who’s batted .098/.179/.164 in 68 PA. The less he has to hit the better; at this stage of his career, McDonald is more of a defensive substitute/emergency backup/”super makeup guy” than a regular presence in the lineup. His seasons are such small samples that it’s tough to tell from the stats, but even at age 38, McDonald has a reputation as a top-tier defender whose abilities aren’t impaired by long periods of inaction. It’s hard to believe that a player who hits like a pitcher could be an asset at short as he approaches 40, but McDonald sightings will be few and far between with Boston still pulling out all the stops to top Tampa Bay. In September, teams can afford to carry replacement players on the roster to rub off on rookies and serve as walking, talking “depth.” —Ben Lindbergh

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Traded 1B-L Justin Morneau to Pittsburgh for OF-L Alex Presley and a PTBNL. [8/31]

Presley is a classic tweener without any standout tools. Now 28, he’s been up and down and hasn’t distinguished himself outside of a hot second half in 2011. According to Terry Ryan, Presley is a “catalyst-type guy,” but he precipitates outs more anything else. Ryan also said “he can hit one, two, eight, he can run, he throws enough, can play left, center, right, can steal a base.” All of those things are technically true, but Presley doesn’t do any of them well, which is a problem. Still, he’s a pre-arb player, and it’s not as if a month of Morneau brings back Starling Marte or Andrew McCutchen. He’ll probably spend the rest of the season in center, where he might be better than Clete Thomas but worse than Ben Revere.

The PTBNL might be—but hasn’t been confirmed to beDuke Welker, a hard-throwing, 6-foot-7, right-handed closer for Triple-A Indianapolis who got a brief look with Pittsburgh earlier this year. Welker fits the organization’s new power-pitcher mold, but he’s 27, so he’s not as exciting as the rest of that description makes him sound. At the very least, he’d restore the once-proud baseball tradition of players nicknamed “Duke,” dormant since the retirement of John “Duke” Wathan in 1985. There’s only one other active Duke playing at any professional level, so Welker is the best hope we have. —Ben Lindbergh

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Traded OF/DB/DH-R Mike Morse to Baltimore for Triple-A OF-L Xavier Avery. [8/31]

The Mariners’ misguided offseason pursuit of power bats produced a gain of less than 20 points in ISO—less once you account for the fact that they also moved in the fences. Meanwhile, the price of playing those bats has cost them in the field more than it’s helped them at the plate, turning them into one of baseball’s worst defensive teams after years of being one of the best. The most regrettable aspect of the whole affair is that they didn’t trade Morse a month earlier to maximize his value and maybe get more in return than another Endy Chavez. Or maybe it’s that Raul Ibanez is still in Seattle. As positive a presence as he might be in the clubhouse, no amount of mentoring can make up for missing out on the young talent he could have brought back after a 24-homer first half. Ibanez’s line since the All-Star break: .205/.299/.286, with one home run. —Ben Lindbergh

Avery was the Orioles’ second-round selection in the 2008 draft, signing for $900,000 and passing on the opportunity to play both baseball and football for his hometown Georgia Bulldogs. (He was a standout tailback and sometimes corner for Cedar Grove High School in Ellenwood Georgia). Though splitting his attention between baseball and football as an amateur left him lagging in on-field feel, the Orioles aggressively pushed him through the system at a rate of about one level per year, resulting in a major-league debut last summer. His MLB stay was brief, however, and he was given little consideration for the 25-man roster this spring. Prior to being dealt, Avery had split his 2013 between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.

Avery’s carrying tool is his 80 speed, which plays well in center field and has grown into a weapon on the basepaths as he has slowly improved his reads and jumps. After struggling with his success rate in previous seasons, Avery has swiped bases at a 79 percent clip in 2013 while demonstrating better jumps on balls in play. His speed and on-base skill-set is well suited for the top of the order, but until he shows an ability to make more consistent hard contact, his average-to-on-base spread (generally 60 to 80 points) will continue to be of limited utility at the major-league level.

Currently, Avery fits as an up-and-down outfielder limited to center and left field due to a fringe-average arm. At just 23, however, there is still time for the athletic center fielder to grow into a solid everyday second-division starter. At minimum, his ability to cover wide swaths of grass could prove useful in Safeco’s spacious outfield—even if only in a fourth outfielder capacity—and there is some additional value tied to his ability to pinch-run in the late innings. —Nick J. Faleris

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Traded Double-A LHP Rob Rasmussen to Philadelphia for IF-R Michael Young and cash. [8/31]

Ned Colletti’s quote about Young says it all: in the span of two sentences, the GM cited Young’s World Series experience and called him a “winner,” a “professional player,” and “one of the classier people in the game.” It’s easy to scoff at that sort of thing; Young’s stint with the Phillies showed that his leadership alone can’t turn a team into a winner. But can his leadership help a team that’s already successful keep playing up to its capabilities in October? Evidently the Dodgers believe so, and strongly enough to sacrifice about $1 million plus a middling prospect.

Aside from intangibles, there’s no need for Young on this roster. Not only are the Dodgers assured of winning the West, but they don’t really have a place to play him. Formerly a middle infielder, Young is now limited to first and third, and Los Angeles has better offensive and defensive options in both places. Adrian Gonzalez has hit better against lefties than Young has, platoon disadvantage and all, and not only has Juan Uribe been better, but he hits from the same side. Even if Young could still handle premium positions, the presence of Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker, and Jerry Hairston gives Los Angeles a surplus of scrappy utility types.

Young can give Gonzalez and Uribe days off down the stretch while he works his clubhouse magic, and the Dodgers’ division lead is large enough that it won’t matter if he makes them worse when he’s in the lineup. It might matter in October, but you don’t trade for Michael Young’s World Series experience and then leave him off the postseason roster, so Don Mattingly will find a spot for him somewhere, preferably glued to the top step of the dugout. It’s a move that’s not about numbers as much as it is about bringing in another veteran player to help proctor Yasiel Puig, so your approval depends on your belief in Chemistry Claus, Young’s secular alternative to Santa. —Ben Lindbergh

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Traded RHP John Axford for RHP Michael Blazek. [8/30]

Blazek is a Cardinals scouting and player development special of sorts, going from 35th-round high schooler in 2007 to hard-throwing big-league reliever. The 24-year-old righty moved into short relief this year after gradually climbing the minor-league ranks as a starting pitcher, and his velocity has taken a serious jump as a result. Blazek’s fastball sat between 89-92 mph (touching 93) in 2012 but worked 93-95 (touching 97) when I saw him in Triple-A earlier this season. He has maintained that velocity throughout the year, averaging consistent mid-90s in his 11 MLB appearances. The 6-foot, 200-pound hurler also features an average 83-87 mph slider, fringy upper-70s curveball, and occasional mid-80s changeup. Ultimately, Blazek is likely a hard-throwing middle reliever with overall pedestrian secondary stuff. It’s not a sexy ceiling, but it’s a major-league profile with intriguing arm strength. —Jason Cole

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Traded IF-R Michael Young and cash to Los Angeles for Double-A LHP Rob Rasmussen. [8/31]
Traded IF-R John McDonald and cash to Boston for High-A RHP Nefi Ogando. [8/31]

In my day-after-the-deadline trade takeaways article, I named the Mariners and Phillies as teams that would’ve been better served by selling. Now that they’ve finally sold, it’s tempting to bash them again for not selling sooner. In this case, though, it’s easier to apply that critique to the M’s than the Phillies; McDonald was never going to bring back much, and Rasmussen might be better than anyone Ruben Amaro was offered in July. The Phillies could have done worse than a couple of minor-league arms with at least a sliver of upside in exchange for a pair of impending free agents who look old and undesirable without makeup. —Ben Lindbergh

A second-round pick of the Marlins in 2010, Rasmussen joins his fourth organization in four professional seasons. He played with Miami through mid-2012 before being dealt to Houston in the Carlos Lee deal. After making only 11 appearances at Double-A Corpus Christi last summer, he was sent to the Dodgers in exchange for righty John Ely in December. Rasmussen now joins the Phillies organization, having split the 2013 campaign between the Double- and Triple-A levels.

While the 5-foot-9 southpaw has worked in a starting role through much of his career, he most likely projects as a reliever long term. Rasmussen doesn’t have a particularly high ceiling but throws strikes with decent stuff, giving him a chance to carve out a big-league career. The UCLA product has a four-pitch mix that includes a fastball, slider, big curveball, and changeup. One scout who recently saw Rasmussen reported that he delivered his fastball between the upper 80s and 94, sitting around 92, while showing some ability to spin breaking balls. The report is similar to what I saw last season at Double-A Corpus Christi, where he threw strikes at 89-92 mph with a usable-but-not-standout three-pitch secondary mix.—Jason Cole

Ogando has excellent arm strength, but the right-handed reliever’s command development has lagged considerably behind throughout his career. I’ve had the fastball sitting 94-96 mph and touching as high as 97 this year, but the slinging nature and max effort in Ogando’s delivery makes it difficult for him to execute consistently within the strike zone. The fastball command is fringe-average at its best.

The 24-year-old also possesses an 85-87 mph slider that breaks hard and shows occasional big-league bite. Ogando has worked this offering into sequences more often this season and can fool batters when he’s consistent with his arm slot. In the past, the righty was extremely fastball dependent and used the slider as an afterthought, despite showing some feel for the offering.

I see Ogando as a long shot to make the majors, but he has the type of arm strength that a team can take a chance on while give the organzation's development staff a shot at loosening up the delivery. He’s about what one would expect as a return in this type of deal, and at minimum he’ll give Philadelphia some depth in their upper minors bullpens. —Chris Mellen

Nefi Ogando, RHP, High-A Salem (Red Sox) – July 11, 2013 from Jason Cole on Vimeo.



PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Traded OF-L Alex Presley and a PTBNL to Minnesota for 1B-L Justin Morneau. [8/31]

Two years ago, the Pirates traded for a first baseman and impending free agent right before the deadline, more to appease a fan base that was excited to see them contend than out of any genuine belief that they could qualify for the playoffs. Derrek Lee hit .337/.398/.584 in 113 plate appearances down the stretch, and Pittsburgh didn’t give up much to get him, but the deal didn’t help them finish anywhere near .500.

This year’s Pirates are two wins away from .500, but they’re playing for bigger stakes, tied with St. Louis atop the NL Central and 3.5 up on Cincinnati. After adding Marlon Byrd and John Buck, they’ve gone after another over-30 expiring asset who’s flawed but better than the options they had, acquiring longtime Twin—and long-time-ago MVP—Justin Morneau.

Now 32 and diminished by a series of head, neck, and wrist injuries, Morneau isn’t anything like the player he once was, but he’s stayed off the DL all season and hit nine homers in August, more than he’d hit from April-July combined. That hot streak made him more attractive to teams that weren’t interested at the deadline.

Morneau hasn’t hit lefties at all since 2010 (.206/.247/.277 in 470 PA), so the Pirates will platoon him with Gaby Sanchez, who’s crushed southpaws this season. Between Morneau-Sanchez at first and Garrett Jones-Jose Tabata in right, Pittsburgh has the makings of two productive left-right pairings and no real offensive holes. —Ben Lindbergh

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Traded RHP Michael Blazek to the Milwaukee Brewers for RHP John Axford. [8/30]
The inconsistent Axford lost his closer job in April and never regained it, going without a save so far in 2013 after three years in which he racked up a combined 105. On the season, his average four-seamer is down a mile-per-hour or so since 2012, but it’s ticked up into its old range lately:

While that seems like a positive sign, Axford’s strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio have declined throughout the season, so improved stuff hasn’t yet translated into results—outside of a scoreless June, he’s posted a 5.40 ERA. He’s been extremely homer-prone over the past two seasons; his xFIPs are still respectable, and leaving Milwaukee for a more neutral park might help, but the gopheritis could be caused in part by command issues. Axford would be far from the first struggling pitcher St. Louis has fixed, but while he’s alternated between untrustworthy and dominant before, it’s hard to imagine him excelling with the Cardinals counting on him for crucial outings down the stretch. However, he offers St. Louis the insurance of another veteran arm, which could give Edward Mujica a chance to recover from fatigue and Michael Wacha another opportunity to start.

Axford is arb eligible, so he could be a non-tender candidate. Milwaukee did well to trade within the division, take advantage of the Cardinals’ short-term need, and come out of the deal with the younger, cheaper arm. Then again, I wouldn’t want to place a big bet on anyone St. Louis deems expendable. —Ben Lindbergh

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here
Jason Cole is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here
Nick J. Faleris is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Nick's other articles. You can contact Nick by clicking here
Chris Mellen is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Chris's other articles. You can contact Chris by clicking here

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