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December 17, 2013

Transaction Analysis

The Only Reed

by Sam Miller and Ben Carsley

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquire 3B-R Matt Davidson from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for RHP Addison Reed. [12/16]

In July, we at BP did a trade game experiment, where a dozen writers took on the roles of various GMs and tried to trade for Jake Peavy. I was Rick Hahn, choosing the best package. Wouldn’t you know, “Kevin Towers” offered me a package that included Matt Davidson. I passed, explaining that

I’m not buying the impact yet. I’m not totally sold on him sticking at third. The swing-and-miss/game power ratio doesn’t scream sure thing. And his Triple-A slash line looks good until you look at the rest of Reno’s hitters: Mike Jacobs’ line in Reno is almost a perfect match for Mike Trout’s 2012 season.

Davidson is a genuine prospect, and the White Sox were smart to get a player who was worth considerably more to them—Chicago third basemen were 14th out of 15 AL teams in OPS last year—than to their trade partner. The Diamondbacks’ glut at the corners got gluttier with the trade for Mark Trumbo and the extension for Martin Prado. Even if Davidson could change positions without losing much value, none of the usual exit routes would have applied on Arizona’s depth chart.

As Chris Mellen wrote upon Davidson's call-up last summer,

The righty creates strong leverage with his swing through the hitting zone and knows how to extend post-contact to generate lift after squaring offerings up. The power should play to all fields, with around 20 home runs in sight. While Davidson is patient at the plate and will work counts for pitches to drive, along with being balanced in his approach, there is a lot of swing-and-miss in the third baseman’s game.... Defensively, Davidson possesses a plus arm that is more than adequate at the hot corner. On the stiff side early in his career, he’s made strides with improving both his footwork and angles to become about an average defender. While Davidson won’t be known as one of the better defenders at the position, he can handle it in the bigs

So Rick Hahn can claim something of a victory on this one, even if Fake Rick Hahn remains unconvinced. Even if Jason Parks remains unconvinced:

Sam Miller

Fantasy

Matt Davidson

The other day, I wrote about fantasy prospects who’ve seen their value increase thanks to all the wheeling and dealing this winter. If I had waited a week, Davidson might have topped that list, as the slugging third baseman lands in about the best scenario imaginable for him in Chicago.

Davidson’s shortcomings have been made abundantly clear in the aftermath of the trade: He’s not a gifted defender at third base, and there are questions about his ability to hit. I don’t know where Davidson could possibly get a longer leash to remain at third than he will on the South Side, where the immobile quartet of Jose Dariel Abreu, Adam Dunn, Dayan Viciedo and Paul Konerko leave no room for Davidson at first base, in left field, or at DH.

U.S. Cellular Field ranked as the best park for right-handed power last season, which could accentuate Davidson’s already sexy profile in the home run department. This is a flawed player, to be sure, but the allure of 25-plus homers from third base should draw many a fantasy owner to Davidson like so many moths to so many defensively questionable flames. From a fantasy standpoint, he should be valued pretty similarly to Will Middlebrooks for 2014.

Conor Gillaspie, Jeff Keppinger, Marcus Semien and Brent Morel

If you were considering any of these options before the Davidson trade, I want you to go to your room, think about what you’ve done, and not come out until you’re sorry. Each member of this mobile, but still uninspiring quartet sees a drop in value, as there’s no reason for the White Sox not to give Davidson at least 500 PA at third base this season.

Nate Jones

It may seem a bit premature to list Jones as on the upswing here, but if the season started today (tired of that phrase yet?), he’d likely be Chicago’s closer. Jones was very effective in 2014, striking out 89 batters in 78 innings and posting a 1.22 WHIP. His ERA was inflated by some bad luck, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Jones perform as a Top 20 closer if he does land the job this spring. He’s a great sleeper among closer candidates, at least to the extent that there are any sleeper closers anymore. —Ben Carsley

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Addison Reed from Chicago White Sox in exchange for 3B-R Matt Davidson. [12/16]

When GM Kevin Towers left the Padres after the 2009 season, he left a gift for his successor: one of the great bullpens in baseball history. As a group, Padres relievers—every single one of them acquired by Towers in 2009 or earlier—produced the fifth-best relief FRA in the post-1993 era. It was a group that Bud Black rode hard, with 112 holds. No other team managed 90, and the Mariners had less than one-third as many as San Diego did.

This was nothing new for Towers. In his final six seasons as GM, here’s where the Padres’ bullpen (assisted, admittedly, by their ballpark) finished among all major-league teams in bullpen FRA:

2009: 5th
2008: 10th
2007: 2nd
2006: 2nd
2005: 1st
2004: 4th

But what made the unit so amazing, and Towers so revered, wasn’t the result. It was the process. Here’s that 2010 bullpen, the fifth-best-FRA-since-1993 group that he built for Jed Hoyer:

  • Heath Bell: Acquired in a trade for Ben Johnson and Adam Russell, who would collect 30 plate appearances and pitch 33 innings in the rest of their careers.
  • Luke Gregerson: Former 28th-round pick, acquired in trade as a minor-league player to be named later
  • Mike Adams: Acquired in trade for Brian Sikorski, who would throw 20 more major-league innings in his career.
  • Joe Thatcher: An former undrafted free agent, acquired by Towers as one of three pitchers in a July 2007 trade for Scott Linebrink. Linebrink was a pending free agent. (He had been acquired via waiver claim by Towers.)
  • Edward Mujica: Acquired from Cleveland “as part of a conditional deal.” I’m 90 percent certain the condition was “take Edward Mujica and leave us alone.”
  • Ryan Webb: Acquired with two others for Scott Hairston, at the time a career 3.6-WARP player a year from free agency.
  • Ernesto Frieri: Signed as free agent out of Colombia; bonus unknown.

This doesn’t appear to be a Petco creation, either. Frieri, Mujica, Adams, and Webb have gone on to have success elsewhere. Regardless, in addition to their performances they brought back far more value when they left than they ever cost Towers to acquire: Taken as a group, the Padres have added Cameron Maybin (Webb plus Mujica), Ian Kennedy (Thatcher), Seth Smith (Gregerson, this winter), pitching prospect Donn Roach and tiny infielder Alexi Amarista (Frieri), early-20s back-end types Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin (Adams), and the 33rd overall pick in the 2012 draft (Heath Bell). All for a year and a half of Scott Hairston and whatever bonus Frieri signed for. Towers was the master.

Which is why the past 24 months have been so weird, as Towers has consistently lost the reliever portions of his trades, and spent much more in talent and treasure than he ever did in San Diego. A brief rundown:

Sends Ryan Cook to Oakland in Trevor Cahill deal. Cook—presumably a bit of an afterthought, as highly touted Jarrod Parker was the headliner going to Oakland—made the All-Star team as a rookie, and has baseball’s 12th-best ERA as reliever in two years.

In fairness, gets Craig Breslow (whose service time situation isn’t nearly as favorable as Cook’s, but w/e) in the same deal, and Breslow gives him a 2.70 ERA in a half-season. But then Towers trades Breslow, mid-2012, to Boston for Matt Albers. Breslow’s performance gets better in Boston; he has baseball’s 11th-best ERA as reliever in two years, including a 2.03 mark with Boston.

Albers, in fairness, pitches well for Arizona in the second half, then is included in the Trevor Bauer swap that brings back Tony Sipp. Sipp gives up two fewer runs than Albers in 2013, but in 25 fewer innings. His ERA is a run and a half higher.

With Sipp struggling to find the strike zone, Towers sends Ian Kennedy to San Diego for more reliable lefty Joe Thatcher, his old friend. SSS, but Thatcher’s before/after stats:

  • San Diego: 29 Ks, 4 BBs, 2.10 ERA (30 innings)
  • Arizona: 7 Ks, 6 BBs, 6.75 ERA (9 ⅓ innings)

We haven’t, of course, mentioned the successes. Will Harris was a waiver claim and he pitched well. Matt Reynolds came cheap and was thriving before Tommy John surgery. Brad Ziegler’s acquisition predates our 24 Months of Awww Shucks, but that was certainly a coup. But we also haven’t mentioned the move that looms over all of this: the inexplicable decision to trade for Heath Bell, and take on a large portion of his contract, after a terrible first year in Miami. Some of Bell’s peripherals improved; some didn’t; overall he was bad, and expensive; and, to get rid of his salary, the Diamondbacks packaged him this winter with high-floor lefty starter David Holmberg. By all appearances, the only thing of value that Arizona got in the deal was a newly vacant Heath-Bell-shaped buttgroove on the clubhouse couch. They lost, in Holmberg, a minor leaguer who appears to be a pretty good bet to be a mid-rotation guy throughout his arbitration years.

And so here we get to Reed, the bullpen fix for a bullpen that needs to be fixed. There’s nothing all that wrong with Reed. He doesn’t throw as hard as he used to, so that’s something that’s not quite right with Reed. But he’s basically a good reliever; he strikes out the requisite batter per inning, he doesn’t struggle with walks, he survived US Cellular Field despite fly-ball ways, he’s young, he’s a year away from getting his first raise of substance, and he’s got a well-regarded makeup that made the White Sox comfortable naming him closer as a rookie (and keeping him as a closer, when he struggled). Shoot, his makeup is so good they’ve kept him closing games for two seasons despite the fifth-worst ERA among the 42 pitchers with at least 20 saves since 2012. The four whose ERAs were higher all lost their closing jobs, but not Reed. Reed’s got such good makeup that the White Sox just kept throwing him out there in the ninth, runs or not!

He’s a reliever, so who even knows what he’ll do, but he should make the Diamondbacks bullpen stronger. In isolation, on the right team—maybe even this team—you can defend it. But as part of a trend, it’s dispiriting. Kevin Towers’ bullpens were something great about baseball. Now they’re just another group of guys who cost more than you think they should and can’t be counted on to do squat, like Reed. —Sam Miller

Fantasy

Addison Reed

This is a tough break for Reed, who goes from one of the least pitcher-friendly parks in the AL to one of the least pitcher-friendly parks in the NL. Factor in the increased competition Reed will face in Arizona’s bullpen should he falter, and Reed’s dynasty owners can’t be thrilled with this move today. At least he’s likely to get some appearances in Petco now!

J.J. Putz, David Hernandez, and Brad Ziegler

2013 was a mess of a season for Putz and Hernandez, but there was reason to think these two could regain their former respective duties as closer and set-up man in 2014. The acquisition of Reed makes that a lot less likely, although Putz and Hernandez are both worth keeping an eye on in fantasy leagues thanks to their elite strikeout potential. Ziegler was never much of a fantasy option unless he was grabbing saves anyway, thanks to his low strikeout rate, but feel free to disregard him in just about all mixed leagues now. —Ben Carsley


Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam 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

Related Content:  Kevin Towers,  Bullpens,  Matt Davidson,  Addison Reed

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