The JJ Putz Three-Way Trade

Mets obtain JJ Putz, Sean Green and Jeremy Reed.

Indians obtain Joe Smith and Luis Valbuena.

Mariners obtain Franklin Gutierrez, Jason Vargas, Endy Chavez, Aaron Heilman, Mike Carp, Ezequiel Carrara and Maikel Cleto

Although it only involves one big name, this 12-player trade probably qualifies as a blockbuster. Let’s examine the deal.

For the Mets: Obviously, Putz is the prize in this trade. In Putz, the Mets get a guy who was perhaps the most dominant reliever in the game in 2006 and 2007, before running into injury woes. However, it is those injury woes that allowed the Mets to get Putz without giving up any amazing prospects. Although Putz returned to action in 2008, he didn’t quite return to form (although he was very good), and questions remain about whether he can stave off injuries in the future. Furthermore, he won’t be cheap: Putz is due $5 million this year, and has a club option worth $8.6 million for next year. Yes, that’s probably below market value, but it’s not chump change either. If healthy, Putz can be a dominant force in the back end of the Mets bullpen.

Reed is very similar to Endy Chavez – actually, Reed is younger and cheaper than Chavez – but is probably miscast as an everyday player, especially in a corner. He can have some value as a defensive-minded fourth outfielder, but the Mets should still be looking for an everyday corner outfielder.

Green has posted xFIPs over right around 4.00 over the last two seasons, and has some value in a major league bullpen. He’s probably not quite as good as Joe Smith, but is worth having as a middle reliever.

The Mets are in the position where they can afford to gamble on someone like Putz. The money is of very little consequence to them, and a healthy Putz would be a tremendous benefit to their bullpen. They gave up value, but nothing irreplaceable.

However, Omar Minaya should not assume that Putz will be healthy for 70 or 80 innings this year. The Mets’s problem in the past has been an embarrassing lack of depth, and this trade does little to help. If Putz (or Francisco Rodriguez) gets hurt, the Mets bullpen will once again be exposed, with little to help them in the short-term. The pen has the chance to be above-average, but also the chance to be awful. For a team like the Mets, which harbors legitimate playoff hopes in 2009, they had better make sure that they have a Plan B and Plan C for their bullpen.

For the Indians: The Tribe once again cashes in on the presence of Grady Sizemore by trading a guy who profiles better as a center fielder. They did this with Coco Crisp in 2005 (not that that worked out particularly well for either team), and they do it again by trading Gutierrez. Gutierrez fields (and hits) like a center fielder, but was playing right field for the Indians. Certainly, his defense was valuable there, but it’s a lot easier to find a corner outfielder than a center fielder. In return, the Indians get another legitimate piece to add to their bullpen in Joe Smith, and an intriguing second baseman in Luis Valbuena.

In his first two years in the majors, the 23-year-old Smith has posted xFIPS of 3.73 and 3.80. His tRA* has been 4.25 and 4.27 (remember, to convert tRA* to an ERA scale, subtract .40 from tRA*). He’s a side-arming righty who shouldn’t face lefties in important situations, but strikes out over eight batters per nine innings and gets grounders on over 60% of his balls in play. There’s a good amount of value in a pitcher like that.

Valbuena, 23, is probably not ready for the majors. He had a nice season in 2008, hitting .301/.380/.430 between double- and triple-A, and showing excellent plate discipline in the process (he walked 59 times and struck out 69 times). I don’t know much about his defense, but it is supposed to be above-average. His defense is vital: as a second baseman, Valbuena could make it in the majors, but if he has to move to left field he probably won’t hit enough. Valbuena is not terribly young and didn’t show much offensively prior to the 2008 season, so he will have to prove that his 08 isn’t a fluke.

This trade is interesting for the Indians. They cash in on Gutierrez’s value as a center fielder, but they didn’t add a starting pitcher or a ready-for-the-majors infielder, their two biggest needs. Mark Shapiro clearly felt that this would be the best trade the Indians could find for Gutierrez, who has more value for another team than he does for the Indians. Smith will be a nice cog in what should be an above-average bullpen, and Valbuena has value as a young second baseman who can hit a little too. However, it appears that Shapiro made this deal with the long-term in mind, rather than as a short-term fix to the Tribe’s problems. That’s not necessarily bad, but it means the Indians still have more moves to make for the 09 season.

For the Mariners: They are the winners of this deal. They have absolutely no use for a reliever like Putz, who’s a big injury risk and is due nearly $14 over the next two years, no matter how good he is when healthy. They are able to add both quality and quantity to their system in return for a guy who had little value to them. They essentially swap Reed for Chavez, which is probably a wash – Chavez is probably a bit better, but is older and more expensive too. They lose Green, but again, he’s hardly an integral piece, and the bullpen is the least important part of a rebuilding club.

The key to this deal for Seattle is Franklin Gutierrez. Yes, he’s a career .258/.308/.409 hitter – and he’s been awful against right-handers (.246/.298/.378 in his career). However, his defense is off-the-charts. He has rated as the best right fielder in baseball for two years in a row, according to John Dewan’s plus/minus numbers. Other metrics have his defense rated similarly high. If he puts his up a 700 OPS with awesome defense in center field, he’s a very valuable player. Furthermore, he’s only going to be 26 next season, and his minor league numbers suggest that he could possibly improve offensively. Finally, he won’t even be arbitration eligible until 2010, and can’t be a free agent until 2013.

The Mariners also buy low on Aaron Heilman. While he posted a 5.21 ERA last year, he also had a very high home run rate and a low strand rate. It’s unclear whether Seattle intends to use Heilman as a starter or a reliever, but either way, Safeco should help build his trade value back up, allowing the Mariners to spin him to another team if they so desire.

In Carp, Vargas, Carrara and Cleto, the Mariners add additional depth to their system. Each of these players has a legitimate chance of contributing at the major league level, even if none projects to be a star (although Cleto has a higher ceiling than the other players, as well as more risk). Every minor league system needs guys like this, and occasionally they outperform expectations. The fact that they are additional players in this deal, rather than the only players, makes this an outstanding deal for the Mariners.

While Seattle may not have received any star players, the fact that they were able to get this much for Putz, Reed, and Green is impressive. Their outfield defense should be spectacular (and could help drive up value on some of their mediocre pitchers), and they added a tremendous amount of quality depth to their minor league system. All in exchange for a reliever who has extensive injury concerns and is due almost $14 million over the next two years.

While Jack Z and company have only been in charge for a short time, all signs point to an impressive regime righting the ship in the northwest.

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