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TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Released OF-R Desmond Jennings. [8/27]

You probably learned about this early in life, but first impressions last a long time. It’s why the guys who hang around the top of prospect lists seem to get so many big-league chances, but there’s also another edge to this sword. Those once-hyped prospects must also deal with the high expectations that come with their lofty pre-debut status, and woe to any who start hot and fail to live up to the standard that scouts set for them.

Inevitably, the story of Desmond Jennings is one of un-met expectations and the rare kind of disappointment that comes when a young, talented baseball player only turns in 9.1 WARP at bargain-basement prices over his run with a team. After years as an appropriately-hyped prospect moving up the Rays’ minor-league ladder, he made his debut to much fanfare and provided a couple of seasons with average or above-average value. While the total package was supposed to be Carl Crawford 2: This Time He’s Right-Handed!, Jennings was different than his spiritual predecessor.

Where Crawford was a dependable fixture with world-class defense and speed to pair with his solid offense, Jennings just provided a fair offensive game, but never really turned his speed into a weapon. His defense was passable, but never impressed like it should have in either center or left field. Of course this could in part be due to the knee injuries that sapped his athleticism and hampered his career over the past few years, but he never shone from the jump the way many projected.

Recently, the last vestige of Jennings’ surplus value-creating skills has cratered, as his once-potent offense has slid away with his health. He’s almost always been an above-average hitter thanks to his patient approach, double-digit homer power, and his ability to post a BABIP around .300. But in this season, his slash line of .200/.281/.350 translates to a .231 True Average–far below his career mark of .268 and with no improvement in sight. Those kind of numbers are enough to make even the hapless Rays offense cringe and look for another option.

Still, the reason for Jennings’ immediate release isn’t completely clear … save the fact that the Rays don’t particularly need the outfielder with youngster Mikie Mahtook in the fold. Like everything in Tampa, I’d guess this decision comes down to cash, but while he’s certainly an offseason non-tender candidate–Jennings wouldn’t be too expensive in arbitration this offseason, but even a slight increase over his $3.3 million salary in 2016 could be prohibitive for a Rays club looking to turn every last dollar into a win–this seems like odd timing. Why is this team releasing him now instead of cutting him loose at the end of the season? My guess is that it’s to clear (40-man) roster space that will be used to evaluate the future of this Tampa team, rather remind them of disappointments past.

It’s possible–perhaps even likely–that this one-time top prospect could bounce back with a new club if he can avoid those pesky injuries, but both player and team are probably ready for a fresh start. He’ll certainly find one in the majors somewhere, as competent outfielders are a need on many squads, never mind how bad their knees are or how far they’ve fallen from top-prospect status. But when you’re supposed to be a star, and you end up as simply an injury-prone regular, it could take some time for Jennings to shake the “disappointment” label. Both blessed and cursed with his pedigree, he’ll likely benefit from a long major-league career and be vilified for not meeting his ceiling the whole damn time. —Bryan Grosnick

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Acquired C-R Carlos Ruiz and cash considerations from Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for C-R A.J. Ellis, RHP Tommy Bergjans, and a player to be named later or cash considerations. [8/25]

If we’re going to talk about this deal, we should probably start with the obvious: to many people, this trade is less about who the Dodgers brought in (Ruiz), than who the Dodgers sent out (Ellis). The team’s former backup catcher was a considered a clubhouse leader, and perhaps more importantly, he is notable as the best friend and personal catcher of the team’s best player: Clayton Kershaw. The quick-and-easy narrative is that the front office lost the clubhouse after tears were shed and leadership was lost following this transaction, and that’s before the team’s heart and soul even left the building. Between this deal and extensive presence of Yasiel Puig in the L.A. clubhouse, one might wonder if Andrew Friedman’s regime really doesn’t worry too much about the team’s morale compared to their projected statistical performance.

So why mess with a good thing at all when the Dodgers are surging and shrugging off starting pitcher injuries left and right? Perhaps it’s just to grab a solid bat off the bench who can beat left-handers around, and a reasonable insurance policy if the ever-injured Yasmani Grandal has to sit out a big game. It’s that ability to batter southpaws that I’d imagine the Dodgers are really after in Ruiz, who has a substantive platoon split. Over his career, Chooch has more walks than strikeouts against lefties, along with a .377 OBP and .438 slugging percentage. This year he’s been even better in limited action, reaching base 44 percent of the time, though his power has fallen off a little.

He’s also comparable to–if not quite as good as–Ellis as a game-caller and staff manager, according to data gathered by Jonathan Judge and Harry Pavlidis here at BP. According to the most recent episode of Effectively Wild, both catchers are among the top in the league, though they don’t rate very highly in framing metrics. In addition, there’s an inexpensive $4.5 million club option on Ruiz’s 2017 season, something I’d imagine the Dodgers would like to exercise in order to solidify their bench next year as well.

There’s almost no use in trying to quantify the loss of Ellis from a chemistry standpoint, but we can quantify the offensive addition of Ruiz and that appears to be a swing of at least a couple of runs of offense during the season’s most critical point and the playoffs. He’s simply a better hitter than Ellis at this stage of their careers, and he’s a better on-base bet. And if cutting out the heart of this Dodgers team is what just happened, perhaps this transplant could be a blessing in the end. After all, this isn’t exactly a team lauded for its clubhouse chemistry to begin with. Ellis, for all his leadership and value, hasn’t been able to carry this club to the World Series on words alone. —Bryan Grosnick

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Acquired C-R A.J. Ellis, RHP Tommy Bergjans, and a player to be named later or cash considerations from Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for C-R Carlos Ruiz and cash considerations. [8/25]

The Phillies' “dynasty” was destined to end with a whimper, and not a bang. After letting go of team stalwarts Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley as of last year’s trade deadline, the final two remaining ties to the 2008 World Series club were Ryan Howard and Ruiz. Come the end of 2016, both were likely to be long gone after their contracts expired and team options declined. Though the team hasn’t seen much success since their last playoff run in 2011, there are still quite a few good feelings tied to Howard and especially Ruiz, who has spent his entire career with the Phillies since being signed as an amateur free agent in 1998.

No longer a starter–Cameron Rupp has been the primary receiver this season–Ruiz is pretty fungible for a Philadelphia team that hasn’t mustered much this season. Replacing him will be A.J. Ellis, the Los Angeles version of Ruiz, minus the World Series win. Ellis is a reasonable facsimile of Ruiz defensively–he rates highly as a game-caller and master of pitchers, but can’t frame very well and never received intense plaudits for arm or blocking. Offense may be another story entirely. Ellis once was a sabermetric darling due to his extreme selectivity and ability to reach base, but this year he’s looked almost completely done as a hitter (.200 True Average) with his weak hit and power tools sabotaging any value his walk rate can provide. Of course, Ellis’ offense never would have been a driver of this deal–with his contract due to expire at the end of the season, it’s possible he’s entirely perfunctory to the trade from the Phillies’ perspective.

Truthfully, I’m a bit surprised that the Phillies would make this deal, given that it’s unlikely there’s any real performance difference between their previous and current backstop backups. It seems unlikely that the Phillies made the trade just for a month of Ellis, and the money changing hands just doesn’t seem like very much. Bergjans is a far-away, older sorta-prospect, so I’d assume the team was just looking to open up a slot to give Andrew Knapp or Jorge Alfaro a couple of chances before 2017 comes around. Ruiz had been a foundational piece of the Phillies for years, and one of the team’s last links to that 2008 World Series team, but it was time to move on. In this move, they at least get a little extra cash and information by ending their relationship a month or two early. —Bryan Grosnick

Bergjans struck out more batters than any other D-III starter in his draft year, leading to an under-slot eighth-round selection by the Dodgers. The stuff is fairly average, with a fastball that hovers around 90 mph, a nice curveball that can get under barrels when he snaps it off, and a fringy changeup that plays all right off his fastball and can play in the arsenal. He shows some ability to manipulate the ball, with cutting and running variants to his heater, and he's aggressive in attacking the zone with all of his pitches. He'll struggle with his balance and timing through the drive, leading to some wobbly command that will need to tighten up. There isn't a ton of ceiling here, but he's a nice organizational arm to grab in a deal like this, and there's enough to project some occasional big-league utility down the line if things break right for him. —Wilson Karaman

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Signed IF-R David Freese to a two-year, $11 million contract. [8/22]

Signing veteran free agents is supposed to be the way teams lose surplus value, not gain it back. But the Pirates were smart this offseason, leveraging a depressed market for corner infielders into a very friendly contract for Freese, and the veteran third sacker has certainly made good on his one-year deal by … being classic Freese. “Professional hitter” is a phrase that gets thrown around fairly often, and I think he is the type of guy that people tend to think of when hearing that phrase. His .283 True Average is slightly up from his .275 career mark, and a bit higher than the .269 mark from his two seasons in Anaheim, but it’s not wildly out of line with his career numbers.

And for his career, he’s been a contact-and-power dude who can punish left-handers, but has been something close to league-average against righties, making him the type of player you don’t have to platoon, but can. The knock on him has been defense, which changes the calculation from above-average regular at third base to replacement-level or slightly better, depending on how he’s hitting.

Perhaps miscast a bit as an everyday third baseman thanks to his poor defense, Freese fits a nifty niche for these Pirates as their corner backup and insurance policy against Jung-Ho Kang’s off-field and injury issues. It’s funny, but being able to use a bad defensive third baseman occasionally at second base actually may make Freese more valuable, at least in the roster-optimization sense. Even if he’s a defensive terror up the middle, being able to swap him out late in a game or in case of emergency allows Clint Hurdle to be a little more aggressive with his pinch-hitting options–always a good thing for a Pirates team that often looks to be maximizing matchups.

In the team’s best-case scenario, I think that Freese is their super-sub for the corner slots behind Josh Bell and Kang, but in the team’s worst-case scenario, they have a 1-2 win third baseman on a very affordable contract for the next two or three seasons. That’s the kind of player most teams would want, but Freese is the kind of player the low-budget Pirates need in order to battle it out with the rest of the Wild Card scrum over the next couple of years. —Bryan Grosnick

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Acquired LHP Mark Rzepczynski and cash considerations from Oakland Athletics in exchange for IF-L Max Schrock. [8/25]

Now a full-fledged journeyman LOOGY, Rzepczysnki exists only to get big outs against lefties and ruin the lives of those who edit baseball writing. Since coming over to the Athletics, he’s been serviceable enough, allowing three earned runs per nine while watching his oh-so-fragile command of the strike zone flitter away to the tune of six walks per nine innings. (Note: This could be an artifact of the lefty-specialist life: six of Scrabble’s 24 total walks were intentional, though he’s also plunked three hitters.) cFIP, BP’s best measure of true pitching talent level, pegs Rzep as a slightly-above-average pitcher–his career cFIP is 89–but he’s also been slightly better than that so far in 2016 with a cFIP of 86. In other words, he’s both effective and fairly reliable, so he’ll likely be an asset to complement Ollie Perez in the Nationals’ revamped playoff bullpen.

With Sammy Solis on the DL and Oliver Perez the team’s only lefty, you could see why the playoff-bound Nats might be in the market for another southpaw. After all, if something goes wrong in the playoffs, the team could be missing a necessary weapon for getting out of a left-handed-hitting jam in the late innings. Of course, the team did have another left-handed reliever of not inconsiderable talent, but they dealt Felipe Rivero to the Pirates in order to upgrade to Mark Melancon at closer. Schrock might have been a high price to pay in order to hire on a lefty specialist that they kind of had prior to the August 1 trade deadline. —Bryan Grosnick