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November 25, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Angels and Cards Swap Spare Parts, Mets Add in Outfield

by R.J. Anderson and Ben Carsley

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired 3B-R David Freese and RHP Fernando Salas from the Cardinals for OF-R Peter Bourjos and OF-R Randal Grichuk. [11/22]

The dirty little secret about this trade is you can argue for either Freese or Bourjos as the better player while using three core points: 1) focus on the larger sample, not the smaller deviations; 2) chalk up an uncharacteristically poor defensive season to health and small-sample woes; and 3) acknowledge that teams have more information on the injury front than outsiders. Yet for whatever reason—perhaps age, perhaps deference to the Cardinals—those points have been deemed to be more in Bourjos’ favor than Freese’s.

Jerry Dipoto is one of the few willing to give the former World Series hero the benefit of the doubt, though it's not like he has much choice. The Angels are built to win now, so upgrading from Luis Jimenez and Grant Green was a must. Rather than paying Juan Uribe—the top free-agent third baseman by a healthy margin—Dipoto cashed in some of his outfield depth. It's not the worst idea; besides, if Dipoto wants, he can now dip into the greener outfield market to upgrade over Kole Calhoun and J.B. Shuck.

But enough about that—what about Freese? He's not a good athlete or baserunner, but his defense tends to be closer to tolerable than terrible. Freese is stronger than his power production indicates, as he's a threat to clear the fence from pole to pole. He has some swing-and-miss in his game, yet he strikes out a little less often than Bourjos while walking more. There's been a lot of talk about Freese's BABIP skills, but it feels disingenuous to write his ability to post high averages off after one season—particularly one in which he dealt with calf and back injuries.

Of course, Freese's injury history is lengthy and worrisome, and it's possible that last season does represent the beginning of his decline phase. It's also possible that we'll be talking about how the Angels bought low in a year's time.

Generally dismissed as a throw-in, Salas shares similarities with Ernesto Frieri and Dane De La Rosa—two pitchers whom Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher milked production from over the past few seasons. The 28-year-old offers a degree of versatility—having closed in the past—and uncertainty, having missed time last season with shoulder inflammation. Salas struggles to get lefties out and works up in the zone, but he hides the ball well and has a decent three-pitch mix—low-90s fastball to all, changeup to lefties, and breaking ball to righties. He's no more than a middle reliever, but he's a cheap option who can help the Angels right away. —R.J. Anderson

Fantasy:

David Freese

This is a good deal for Freese. He’s a lock to receive steady playing time next year, Angels Stadium is more friendly to right-handed power than is Busch Stadium (though it’s still below average), and the Angels have a good lineup, leading to plenty of run and RBI opportunities. Freese finished as just the 28th-best fantasy third baseman in 2013 but was light-years better in 2012. I like him to split the difference in 2014, which would make him a top 15 hot corner option. There was a chance that he could lose playing time in St. Louis, so this is an upgrade.

Kolten Wong is also a beneficiary of this deal, as he’s the hands-on favorite to start at second base now. Matt Carpenter receives a boost for 2014, as he’ll likely have 2B and 3B eligibility next season, but could see a drop in value moving forward. Grant Green, Chris Nelson, Andrew Romine and Luis Jimenez all see their values drop, though Green has a chance to remain relevant as a super-utility player and Jimenez could see time if the Angels deal Mark Trumbo.

Fernando Salas

Salas isn’t particularly relevant from a fantasy standpoint, but he has less competition in the Angels bullpen than he did in St. Louis. He’s a candidate to grab some holds next year, though the acquisition of Joe Smith makes that less likely. —Ben Carsley

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Burke Badenhop from the Brewers for LHP Luis Ortega. [11/22]

For the third winter in a row, Badenhop is traded for a non-prospect. (In this case, a 20-year-old without much physical projection or stuff.) While teams like his zone-pounding ways and groundball tendencies—not to mention his statistical consistency—escalating costs and a modest ceiling make him expendable. Given Badenhop's career struggles against left-handed batters, expect to see John Farrell use him as a right-handed specialist. A free agent after the season, Badenhop could make it five teams in five years next winter. —R.J. Anderson

Fantasy:

Burke Badenhop

There’s not much to see with Badenhop from a fantasy perspective: he’s recorded just two saves and 15 holds over the past three seasons and he doesn’t strike out many batters. I have him trending down since he’s moving to the AL and will face some competition in a deep bullpen, but unless you’re playing in a 20-team AL-only league (and why are you doing that to yourself?), odds are you weren’t considering Badenhop anyway. —Ben Carsley

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Re-signed RHP Colby Lewis to a minor-league deal. [11/23]

Lewis hasn't pitched in the majors since July 2012 due to a torn flexor tendon in his throwing elbow and subsequent hip surgery to remove bone spurs. Prior to the injuries, the 34-year-old was enjoying a late-career resurgence with the Rangers, so it's understandable that the two sides want to continue the relationship. According to Evan Grant, the Rangers think Lewis will enter camp throwing long toss, with an eventual return to the mound coming as the exhibition season wears on. —R.J. Anderson

NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-R Chris Young to a one-year deal worth $7.25 million. [11/22]

Young, who is no longer on the sunny side of 30, saw his True Average decline for a third consecutive season in 2013. Yet Sandy Alderson's decision to sign the erstwhile Athletic makes sense on two fronts. One, the Mets could use the outfield help, lest they enter the season starting Eric Young Jr. and/or Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Two, if Young reestablishes his value—even to 2012 levels—then Alderson could finagle an interesting prospect for him at the deadline.

The onetime All-Star has a quality glove and experience across the outfield, which makes him a good choice to flank Juan Lagares for what should be a strong defensive pairing. At the plate, Young provides value with his above-average power production and healthy walk rates. Unfortunately, his offensive game is not without weaknesses. Hard cheeses have better shots against graters than Young does against right-handed pitchers, and it's fair to wonder whether a player with less cachet would be labeled as an extra outfielder by now.

While Young walks, his approach is nonetheless suspect at times. Trading strikeouts for power is acceptable, but Young is an annual threat to lead the league in infield flies, thus ensuring that he makes an automatic out roughly 30 percent of the time. Getting away from Oakland and its spacious foul territory should help, although this is a far cry from Adrian Beltre ditching Safeco for Fenway. Still, Young's athleticism and track record are strong enough that we can picture this deal working out for both parties. —R.J. Anderson

Fantasy:

Chris Young

Young seems to be a perennial sleeper pick in fantasy circles, as we cling to the memories of his early career, when he posted 20-plus homers and 20-plus steals with some regularity. It’s now been two seasons since he approached either of those numbers, but he would’ve neared both benchmarks if his 2013 stats were extrapolated to over 600 PA. If health is on his side, Young is a near lock to see that much playing time thanks to very weak competition in the Mets outfield.

When I first heard about the deal, I tweeted that it would’ve been nice to see Young go to a friendlier ballpark, but that his fantasy stock should be considered on the rise thanks to the chance to play everyday. But colleague, scholar, and gentleman Mike Gianella pointed out that Citi Field actually plays favorably in terms of right-handed pop, which obviously boosts Young’s value further.

So far we’ve glossed over Young’s obvious flaws: his average will hurt you, and his RBI and run totals might leave you wanting more in what figures to be an average to below-average Mets lineup. Yet the 20/20 upside remains, and if he hits .220 with that type of power and speed, he’s a borderline Top 40 outfielder. Young is likely to be a popular sleeper pick once again this year. You shouldn’t get in a bidding war for him or select him before the later rounds in drafts, but he’s a nice gamble in any league. —Ben Carsley

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired OF-R Peter Bourjos and OF-R Randal Grichuk from the Angels for 3B-R David Freese and RHP Fernando Salas. [11/22]

The Cardinals, like the Angels, deal from a position of strength to shore up another spot. But unlike the Angels, who figure to move Mike Trout to center and be done with it, the Cardinals are setting a merry-go-round in motion. Matt Carpenter figures to slide to third base, opening second base for Kolten Wong, while Jon Jay sidles to right field or the bench, depending on other moves.

Bourjos' glove is worth the hassle—there's no denying that he's one of the best defenders in baseball. It’s not as easy to evaluate his offensive game, which serves as a baseball Rorschach test. Based on production alone, Bourjos has been about a league-average hitter. But it's hard to see that continuing when you consider his poor walk-to-strikeout rate, limited power production, and inefficient swing that leaves him vulnerable to breaking balls.

Should Bourjos land somewhere in the middle—as a below-average but above-replacement-level hitter—then he can pass as a bottom-of-the-order hitter until his defensive skills fade. That day might come sooner than later, since he turns 27 in March and has a history of hamstring problems. But until then, Bourjos will upgrade a St. Louis defense that was easily the worst aspect of an otherwise good, well-rounded team. He has three years of team control remaining.

Grichuk is an example of how reducing a player to his place on an organizational prospect list can be misleading. Though he ranked sixth on the Angels list, his upside befits a player outside of the top 10. But because the Angels lack young talent, the former first-round pick gets a low number next to his name. Grichuk is an athletic gamer type who undercuts his raw power with plate discipline and platoon issues. He's not a capable center fielder, meaning he's likely heading for a future as an extra outfielder. —R.J. Anderson

Fantasy:

Peter Bourjos

I went back and forth between listing Bourjos as up or neutral, but odds are he’ll receive more playing time in St. Louis than he did in Los Angeles, so I have him on the rise here. I’d expect Bourjos to receive between 300-400 PA this season, which could surpass his last two seasons combined. But with Matt Holiday a lock to start and Jon Jay and Oscar Taveras both challenging Bourjos for playing time, he’ll need to perform to stay in the lineup.

Fantasy owners should mainly be interested in Bourjos for his speed, but he’s shown the ability to hit for a decent average and even reach double-digit homers. Hoping for a return to his outstanding 2011 output is likely unwise, but Bourjos will be an interesting fantasy asset to monitor this season, especially if he ends up near the top of a potent Cardinals lineup. He has Top 50 outfielder upside.

It should be noted that Jay and Taveras each see a decline in value from this deal as well, as neither is assured of a spot in the startling lineup in April. The guess here is that Jay starts the year in right and Taveras replaces him by midseason, but it’s really a tossup for playing time between Jay, Taveras, and Bourjos.

Randal Grichuk

Grichuk is a relevant name for fantasy owners because of his power, but he may lack the overall skills to be a starter in the majors. He had better odds of reaching that level with the Angels, who don’t have much outfield depth beyond Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton. In the crowded Cardinals outfield, Grichuk looks ticketed for an eventual future as a spare part. —Ben Carsley

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