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Unless the Tigers intended to start one of Tyler Collins or Steven Moya in 2016, they needed to add at least one outfielder this winter. In Maybin, they hope they have a replacement for free agent Rajai Davis. Even if Anthony Gose remains the primary center fielder, Maybin could platoon with any of Gose, Collins, or Moya. He’s generally acquitted himself well against right-handers, too, so (as Davis did) he’s a tolerable full-time guy if someone gets hurt. He’s also (as Davis was) an unusually good fit for a bench role, if that’s how things shake out, since he runs the bases exceptionally well, and has all the tools to be an average defender at all three outfield positions.
The only danger in setting out to acquire Maybin was the risk of paying for an imagined upside. He’ll be 29 in 2016, and is coming off his first healthy season since 2012. He’s a fairly extreme ground-ball hitter—the seventh-most extreme of the 211 batters who took at least 400 plate appearances in 2015, in fact. He’s very unlikely to discover something and grow into more than he is, which is a fringe-average outfielder with durability concerns, a good seventh hitter but a poor top-of-the-order option. Because he’s at a local maximum in terms of perceived value, it was inevitably important for whoever acquired him to maintain perspective.
At the same time, there aren’t average all-around players (or anything terribly close to it) just lying around. Maybin is owed $8 million in 2016, and the Tigers hold a $9-million option on him for 2017 (with a $1-million buyout). There’s surplus value there, and the Tigers gave up virtually nothing to capture it. If they don’t make another outfield addition, they’ve aimed too low, but this deal adds value for Detroit. —Matthew Trueblood
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Acquired LHP Ian Krol and LHP Gabe Speier from Tigers in exchange for OF-R Cameron Maybin. [11/19]
At the 2014 All-Star break, the Braves were 52-43, and tied for the lead in the NL East. They were on track for their second straight division title and fourth playoff appearance in five years. They had a young core of Freddie Freeman, Evan Gattis, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran, Justin Upton, and Alex Wood—all 26 years old or younger, all under control at least through 2015, most for longer, and four (Freeman, Kimbrel, Simmons, and Teheran) on team-friendly extensions that provided cost certainty. It wasn’t really until late August (when they began an 11-22 season-ending spiral that flipped their seasonal run differential from 24 to -24) that the wheels came off for what was, nonetheless, a very talented team.
It’s unbelievable, really, how poorly the franchise has responded to the six bad weeks that ended their season 15 months ago. They’ve traded Gattis, Heyward, Kimbrel, Simmons, Upton, and Wood since then, and now they’ve dealt perhaps the best thing they got in return for Kimbrel, in Maybin. The returns in those deals have been consistently underwhelming, and although it wouldn’t have been fair to set the expectations for a Maybin deal all that high, that trend continues here. Krol is a bad LOOGY, now in his fourth organization in five years. No reliever is hopeless, really, but there’s no apparent, lurking upside in Krol. Speier, meanwhile, has perhaps a 40-percent chance of eventually becoming Krol, and a 10-percent chance of being something even better, but for now, he’s never pitched in anything above the Midwest League.
So what does this deal accomplish for the Braves? Principally, it would seem, it saves them the $8 million they would otherwise owe Maybin next year. Just so, the Kimbrel (slash Melvin Upton, Jr.) deal saved them significant money, which is one reason why the prospect package they received in that trade was surprisingly tepid. The front office has erred somewhat by emphasizing pitching prospects way too heavily as they’ve embarked on this rebuild, but the main culprits—in the voluntary forfeiture of a perfectly good, winning core, and in the uninspiring early direction of the rebuilding effort that is stuck in the mud—are the entirely disinterested folks at Liberty Media who set the club’s budget.
There was no reason to deal Maybin for this little right now. Even if the market wouldn’t presently have borne anything more, Maybin is a fixed line on the ledger for this season, and the Braves could have controlled him for $9 million in 2017. Maybin did have a bounce-back season in 2015, but this trade suggests that his value wasn’t much inflated by it. The Braves could have let at least the first half of the 2016 season play out, in case he took another step forward. They could have simply waited until January, to see where the wind was blowing. Instead, shy of Thanksgiving, we get this deal, deepening the bullpen almost imperceptibly at the cost of what figured to be their second- or third-best regular.
The Braves weaseled their way into a publicly-funded ballpark in the suburbs so as not to spend more than two decades in their current, publicly-funded downtown ballpark. Then, to help justify that, they declared their intention to be a vibrant contender when the park opens in 2017. Then, to clarify that declaration (and by clarify, I mean the other thing), they set about trading away anyone who might plausibly be a part of a vibrant contender in 2017 (and certainly, especially, aggressively, anyone who might be part of that contender while making more than a few million dollars a year). It’s like John Schuerholz and the corporate owners who cut his checks have decided that, since Fredi Gonzalez and Dan Uggla have panned out so well for them, it’s time to try toting Jeffrey Loria’s whole strategy for running a franchise up I-75 (I looked it up) and making it their own. (Loria’s Marlins were the first team to trade Maybin for middle-relief help, too, making this a parody verging on plagiarism.) For Cardinals fans who miss the days when their team had no competition for fans throughout the Southeast, that’s terrific news. For Braves fans, the next good news might be in the business section, not sports, because the current front office doesn’t know how to win with their current budget constraints, and Liberty Media doesn’t seem inclined to loosen the purse strings. —Matthew Trueblood
While it would be difficult to dub an A-ball reliever the headline piece of the trade package for Cameron Maybin, there is a case to be made that Speier is just that given the underwhelming results and projection of Ian Krol at the big league level. Speier lacks flash but has an obvious Major League projection as a possible seventh-inning arm. With an above-average fastball that sits 92-93 mph and has reached as high as 94-95 on occasion, Speier can elevate his four-seam fastball and get it past hitters with ease. His two-seam fastball sits in the 88-91 mph range with good sink and an ability to induce weak contact. Backing up his two fastballs, Speier flashes an above-average breaking ball with tight rotation and hard 1-7 break, and a changeup that remains a work in progress. The breaking ball lacks consistency and Speier must learn to work the pitch lower in the zone for more frequent success. Speier generally throws strikes and has enough athleticism and simplicity of movement to suggest command could follow in the footsteps of his solid control. All told, Speier’s gifts don’t jump off the page but they add up to enough to project him as a viable big league reliever. —Mark Anderson
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