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One would think that bamboozling a local county government into building a team a new ballpark just 20 years after they moved into their old one would open up competitive opportunities. Apparently the Braves intend to use it as an excuse to sit back, make money hand over fist and venture nothing in the quest to win something over the next two seasons. After what was really only a bad month or two to close 2014, John Schuerholz simply burned the organization to the ground, clearing out the front office, installing John Hart as the GM and overseeing a winter of unnecessary unloading.
Would you forgive a Tolkien reference? Schuerholz pulled a Denethor. After decades of admirable and even brilliant stewardship over the Braves, Schuerholz has had a rough few years. Years of living in the shadow of the Phillies were bad enough, but when the team’s apparent revival suffered the disgrace of such an ugly collapse, Schuerholz’s wisdom gave way. Onto the funeral pyre went Jason Heyward, then Justin Upton. Okay, they were due to hit free agency at the end of the season. But then went Evan Gattis, and now, here goes Kimbrel.
Even the remaining core in Atlanta is not so bad. Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran are a good start toward a contending team. Gattis and Kimbrel were valuable parts of the Next Good Braves, too, though, even if Schuerholz and Hart weren't convinced that team could come together in 2015.
What have the two past-prime baseball minds brought in return for their bevy of core players, the slugging outfielders and the Hall of Fame-caliber closer? Here’s where things really get wacky: pitching prospects. Tons of pitching prospects. I’m not sure whether Schuerholz and Hart believe they have the TINSTAAPP system beaten, but Wisler headlining this package means that the best position player the team got for the combined outlay of Heyward, Upton, Gattis and Kimbrel was Rio Ruiz—unless you believe more than most in Jace Peterson or Cameron Maybin, I suppose. This is, potentially, a really good road map to nowhere.
Now, Maybin is exactly the kind of chance this team should be taking, since they insist on checking out until they get settled into their shiny new home. And good on the Atlanta front office for using the Padres’ desperate desire for Kimbrel to get out from under their odious obligation to Upton, and for netting Maybin in a deal that still saves money. The most curious piece of this deal might be that the Braves say they intend to designate Quentin for assignment, effectively eating his salary just to get the money balanced. It makes some sense; Quentin is completely redundant for a team already in possession of Jonny Gomes. It’s just a strange wrinkle, giving the whole thing—from the passing of bad contracts to the buyout on the back side—the feel of an NBA trade.
If you’re going to collect pitching prospects, buy them in bulk. The Braves are doing that. They’re trading good players who could have made them competitive this year and next in order to do it, but since they seem to have given up on 2015 and 2016 long ago, maybe that doesn’t matter now. They’ll just have to hope that they can beat the percentages and have half or more of their new, young arms pan out. —Matthew Trueblood
Ranked as the no. 3 prospect in the Padres system in December, Wisler has been working his way through the Padres system since being selected in the seventh round in 2011. With a quality 6-foot-3, 195 pound frame, Wisler is a durable starter who can handle innings and makes every turn in the rotation. Wisler makes his name on the back of two above-average pitches with his fastball and slider. His fastball sits in the 91-93 mph range and he can reach 94-95 mph when he needs a little extra, and he has a knack for pounding the strike zone with the offering. The slider is another quality pitch in the low 80s with two-plane break, and some scouts believe he can miss bats with the pitch at the big-league level. Wisler will also mix in a changeup and the occasional curveball, both of which still require development to be reliable pitches at the highest level. His effectiveness relies on his ability to pound the strike zone with his entire arsenal, and reaching his ceiling as a low no. 3 starter will hinge on whether he can develop command instead of just control. The way he stacks up at present, Wisler looks like an inning-eating no. 4 starter.
In addition to Quentin and Wisler, the Braves will receive outfielder Jordan Paroubeck, a 2013 third-round choice out of a California high school. A raw athlete still learning the game, Paroubeck has a chance to develop into an intriguing talent with plenty of power in his game. His swing needs some work from both sides of the plate, but there’s bat speed and enough lift in both swings to allow him to show plus power down the line. How his bat-to-ball skills develop as he matures will determine just how much of his power finds its way into games. As a defender, Paroubeck shows above-average speed but projects to slow a tick as he reaches physical maturity. He shows an ability to use that speed in the outfield, though most scouts project him as a corner outfielder thanks to his speed projection and still-developing reactions and routes in the outfield. His arm is strong and will play in either corner. A classic boom-or-bust talent, Paroubeck could become an impact big leaguer, but he carries an immense amount of risk and he might never evolve into the player some scouts envision. —Mark Anderson
The big winner on either side of this trade, Maybin has largely been cast aside in fantasy circles, and not without good reason either. It’s those reasons that make him only a moderately attractive pickup in deeper mixed leagues, despite the huge jump in playing time he’s likely looking at. Maybin’s problems at the plate run deeper than Petco, as he has a career .666 OPS at home and .681 OPS on the road, so this isn’t something a simple venue change can fix. However, he’s still a 28-year old who could hit toward the top of the Braves’ lineup and stole 66 bases with a .253 average and 17 homers between 2011 and 2012. With little competition in center field (we’ll get to him shortly), Maybin is worth a $5-$10 bid in deep mixed leagues and up into the $20-$25 range for any NL-only formats he remains available in.
The argument for the arrow up here is that the unknown is far better than the known at this point. We know that Quentin was going to get sparing playing time in San Diego and that he’s supposedly set to be designated for assignment from Atlanta. And knowing that, if you own him, is like Monty Hall asking you whether you want what’s behind Door #2 when the first door was the only thing standing between you and a six-foot-tall bucket of rusty nails. Of course you want Door #2. If an American League team swoops in and gives Quentin some playing time, it’s an easy win. So sit tight and hope he can find a home where he can hit 12-15 homers in limited playing time the rest of the way. At least until he gets hurt again.
Eric Young Jr
It’s really adorable that the Braves were going to give him consistent playing time in the first place (cue the end of the Eury Perez campaign), but the nice thing about Young is that he doesn’t need to be playing all that much to have deep league value. This does, however, destroy almost all of his mixed league value. If you spent a pretty penny on him in FAAB prior to this trade breaking, my apologies, but these are the risks you take when you pick up players who are not good at baseball. Well, at least comparatively. Young is good at baseball for, like, the Earth.
We make fun of the concept of a Proven Closer, but this is why it’s a real term that must be paid attention to. Both Grilli and Johnson saved 30-plus games for their respective post-season bound teams in 2013, and now one of them will find themselves back in the role yet again. And while saves are saves, neither of these relievers is likely to find a great deal of success with the opportunity in front of them. They’re both worth picking up in most mixed leagues, at least until we know who the guy is, but if you only have one spot, Grilli is your guy.
There are two factors that cancel each other out with Wisler. The move from San Diego to Atlanta is a slight net negative in a vacuum, just because any move out of Petco is general a tick down. On the other hand, the opportunity for Wisler to break into the rotation is greater in Atlanta—especially in light of their rebuild. Unless he really struggles out of the gate in his new organization, I’d be pretty surprised if he doesn’t get 15-18 starts this year in Atlanta, and he could be useful in deeper mixed leagues.
This one is slight, but while the hard-throwing right-hander didn’t crack the rotation out of Spring Training, he was almost certain to be the next arm up when an injury struck or Eric Stults showed himself to be Eric Stults. Now, with Wisler in the fold, that’s not so certain anymore. We should still see him in 2015, but it’s more likely to be in a relief role and more likely to be later on than we originally thought. —Bret Sayre
|SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Acquired RHP Craig Kimbrel and OF-R Melvin Upton, Jr. from Braves in exchange for RHP Matt Wisler, OF-R Carlos Quentin, OF-R Cameron Maybin, OF-S Jordan Paroubeck and the 41st overall pick in the 2015 Draft.
You’ll get plenty of A.J. Preller bathwater-drinking elsewhere. Let’s have a real discussion here. In his first winter on the job, Preller has been the most interesting, active and entertaining decision maker in the majors. He’s added a whole bunch of high-profile names, guys with All-Star pasts and still-shiny futures, of whom Kimbrel is only the latest. He now boasts, perhaps, the National League’s best bullpen, in addition to its best offensive outfield, best bevy of right-handed sluggers and one of its deepest starting rotations.
The rest of the roster remains a mess, though, and this deal actually ate into one small but meaningful asset the supporting cast did have—outfield depth. Preller offloaded $24 million owed to two players who had no good path to playing time, over the next two seasons. He took on, in return, $80 million and change owed to two players—one of whom has no good path to playing time—over the next three seasons. In so doing, he traded the team’s best (remaining, at least) pitching prospect, in Matt Wisler; an intriguing (if far-off) switch-hitting outfielder, in Jordan Paroubeck; and the Padres’ competitive-balance draft pick in June, which would have come between the first and second rounds.
At first, when Preller started wheeling and dealing, it looked like he might simply have had a different opinion of certain in-house prospects than did his predecessors. That perception eroded with each move, though, and was permanently pulverized when he signed James Shields, surrendering the 13th overall pick in June. It’s now clear that Preller is simply trading the future for the present, believing the Padres can do whatever he feels they need to do this season to justify that. He’s traded 12 of the top 30 prospects who appeared in the Baseball America Prospect Handbook Padres list, and seven of the top 11. He allowed himself to be outbid on Yoan Moncada, but not on Shields.
So, does Kimbrel’s addition—because Upton was just a shipping fee here, a ball and chain around Kimbrel’s ankle—do enough to improve the Padres’ odds of winning either a Wild Card spot or the NL West title this season to justify the latest bite taken out of the future? It’s hard to say. Certainly, it’s nice to have Joaquin Benoit back in a setup role. Kimbrel is so, so good. I’m not the fun fact guy, but Kimbrel is a fun fact machine. Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hellickson each debuted in 2010, just as Kimbrel did. Each has about 640 innings pitched, whereas Kimbrel has fewer than 300. Kimbrel has more strikeouts than either starting pitcher. He’s a solid two- or three-win upgrade even to the already sound San Diego bullpen. (One of the nice things about adding a pitcher in a trade is that he'll almost always be replacing the guy who would have been the staff's worst, beforehand. That's not quite true with closers, whose roles are a little bit restrictive, but it's still almost an unfettered gain of Kimbrel's 2.4 projected WARP.) In PECOTA’s opinion, that puts them perhaps a game or two ahead of the Cubs as the favorites for the first Wild Card slot in the National League. I’m not ready to go there. The infield remains atrocious. Upton represents a downgrade from Maybin, in terms of a defensive option for center field, and from Quentin, as a contingency plan in case of an injury to Kemp, and as a bench bat. They got better here, but maybe not by as much as you think.
The Padres are going to be the most MLB.tv-friendly team in the league this season. That’s 5 percent truer than it was two days ago, and it was already, arguably, true. They’re fascinating, and Preller is a compelling figure. He’s already giving me a Kevin Towers vibe, though. That’s both good and bad—Towers had a visionary stage, before becoming the village idiot in Arizona. Preller might walk that line, too, as time goes on. —Matthew Trueblood
On the one hand, with a guy like Kimbrel the standard ballpark and division context changes that usually play a role in examining deals like this don't really apply quite as much. Still, there's a nice sum of small parts working in Kimbrel's favor with this move. Petco is obviously a better place to pitch than Atlanta, and the Padres' defense figures to be a not-insignificant upgrade over what he'd have pitched in front of in Atlanta. And perhaps most importantly, conventional wisdom would probably suggest that familiarity breeds diminished effectiveness for elite relievers. Small sample size alert, but there might be something to that in this case, as the .427 career OPS NL East hitters have posted against him ballooned to .555 last season (note: a .555 OPS-against is still really, really good). Of the hitters to see him at least five times to date in their careers, five of the six who've taken him deep reside back east as well.
There's certainly nothing predictive in any of those numbers, but taking a guy with Kimbrel's stuff and tossing him into a division in which far fewer hitters see him on the regular certainly isn't a bad thing for the pitcher's advantage. Add in that the Padres project for 10-plus more victories and a closer run margin, and there could be a handful of extra opportunities lurking for the best closer in baseball as well.
The down arrow here is relative, of course. On the one hand, had he stayed in Atlanta he'd have had a significantly clearer path to reclaiming majority everyday at-bats upon his return from injury, with just Eric Young, Jr. wandering the halls. The diminished at-bat projections that come with his certain backup role in San Diego are a very bad thing in a vacuum. Then again, given that PECOTA projects a (very generous) .252 TAv for the Senior Upton this year, perhaps removing the temptation to roster him as a flyer isn't the worst bit of news for the outfield-strapped fantasy managers of the world.
There was already some uncertainty following the 37-year-old Benoit into this season on account of his age and a late-season elbow scare last summer. But his consistency over the past several years (2.35 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 10.3 K/9 over 62 2/3 innings per season over the last five years) made him one of the more appealing mid-tier closer targets in drafts this spring. The timing of this deal is what really hurts here. He was drafted as the 16th closer off the board, ahead of guys like Hector Rondon, Glen Perkins, and Neftali Feliz, and now the managers that drafted him are stuck holding the bag. He's worth holding onto in deeper standard and Holds leagues, as the ratio help should still be quite strong, and he'll obviously assume the mantle of top handcuff option.
Quackenbush is the other popularly drafted casualty of the move in San Diego's bullpen, as his handcuff status pretty much goes up in smoke with this move. He's been taken as a top-40 reliever this spring after a successful audition in the closer's role filling in for Benoit last September, but now he'll slide back into the seventh inning, multiple steps away from sitting in that chair again. Without the potential path to ninth-inning chances his strikeout-an-inning stuff is fairly ho-hum for The Modern Reliever, and he's just another guy for modest deep-league ratio help.
Whereas Venable figured to enter the season buried as a fifth outfielder and occasional defensive replacement for Matt Kemp, he'll at least get a shot at assuming primary backup duties out of the gate. It's not much, but it should at least be enough to put the former 20/20 man on deeper league watch lists for the next month. —Wilson Karaman
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