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Trade Deadline Winners and Losers, Part I

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Part of my trade deadline evaluation focuses on the Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Boston Red Sox.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates – winners. After gaining pitching depth and a high-risk/high-reward player from the Yankees in exchange for an outfielder having a career year and a reliever, the Pirates added additional quality young talent in exchange for Jason Bay. Andy LaRoche is very similar to Bay offensively, can handle third base, and will be under the Pirates control through most of his prime (he can’t become a free agent until 2014). LaRoche’s major league line has been pathetic this year, but he’s still showing excellent plate discipline and hasn’t gotten a real chance. For what it’s worth, his PECOTA before the season was .280/.366/.486, and he put up excellent numbers in triple-A this year. LaRoche could be one of the better offensive third basemen right now at age 24, and has excellent upside, too.

The Pirates also acquired a live arm in 2006 first round pick Bryan Morris, and two major leaguers – outfielder Brandon Moss and reliever Craig Hansen. Both are solid players in that they should be adequate big-leaguers; it’s questionable whether they will be above average. At least, they provide solid talent to fill holes on the team; at best, they turn into excellent trade fodder for the future.

The Pirates managed to cash in their top three chips at the peak of their value, and added a lot of ready or near-ready young talent. General Manager Neal Huntington has the Pirates in the position where they are not looking at a 4-5 year re-building plan; rather, if Pedro Alvarez signs and develops as expected and they are able to improve their defense (their DER is a league-worst .678), this is a team that could be ready to make a run in the next year or two.

Tampa Bay Rays – not losers. The Rays are not winners in the sense that they improved their team, but they are not losers either. The Rays, as currently constituted, are pretty damn good. Furthermore, they have room for improvement in-house: although I do not expect much from Rocco Baldelli, it’s possible that he can give the Rays some production at right field or DH. Furthermore, David Price is waiting in the wings; while his numbers in double-A aren’t dominant (38/12 K/BB ratio in 45 innings, 6 homers allowed), he likely can get big leaguers out right now, working an inning at a time out of the bullpen.

Furthermore, people forget that, as currently constructed, the Rays have the best record in the American League. Yes, the Red Sox have a better run differential and the Yankees have made improvements and seemingly turned a corner, but the Rays still have an excellent chance of making the playoffs.

But the most important thing is that the Rays front office understands that this year’s team is not The Team. That’s not to say this year’s team cannot make the playoffs, but the Rays are likely going to be better in most of the next 3-5 years than they are now. Therefore, it’s silly to risk future success in exchange for what would most likely only be a marginal upgrade. While Jason Bay would be an excellent fit, if the Pirates truly turned down an offer of Jeff Niemann and Reid Brignac (which they probably did, as the package Pittsburgh received for Jason Bay turned out to be better than that), the Rays offered a fair deal that simply wasn’t enough. Andrew Friedman was absolutely correct to withhold David Price, Wade Davis, and Jeremy Hellickson, and Rays fans will be happy that he did in the future.

Cleveland Indians – winners. Mark Shapiro is surely disappointed in this year’s team. A combination of a terrible bullpen, poor performance, injuries, and bad luck have produced an Indians team with the second-worst record in the AL. However, Shapiro made the most of his lost season, by turning free-agents-to-be CC Sabathia and Casey Blake into some excellent minor leaguers. Matt LaPorta is a legitimate stud prospect who should be ready to contribute sometime in 2009, and fills a gaping hole in the Tribe’s organization: a power-hitting corner outfielder. The Indians’ trade of Casey Blake, however – which netted them catcher Carlos Santana and pitcher Jon Meloan – may be the best trade, in terms of value, that any team made this offseason. Santana is 22 and absolutely raking in the California League, and is improving his defense to the point where he may be an option at catcher long-term. Meloan, meanwhile, should return to the bullpen in the Indians organization, where he has been absolutely filthy in the past, giving the Indians a much needed power arm in the ‘pen.

The best part of these deals for Tribe fans is the fact that Shapiro’s deals added both close-to-the-majors talent and long-term talent. The Indians have a chance to vault back into contention next season, and Jon Meloan and Matt LaPorta should be big contributors. However, Shapiro was also able to get a lot of talent that might be further from the majors – pitcher Rob Bryson, acquired from the Brewers, Santana, and whomever the Player To Be Named Later is from Milwaukee. By definition, talent that is further from the majors is riskier, but Shapiro was able to acquire three high-ceiling pieces, adding quality depth to a system lacking in it.

Los Angeles Dodgers – losers. At least they didn’t give up Matt Kemp. The Dodgers acquired gritty, beard-laden Casey Blake, as well as Manny Ramirez. Ramirez should provide a fairly substantial upgrade offensively, but may very well be an absolute butcher in left field. Furthermore, his presence leads to the very-real possibility that Matt Kemp and/or Andre Ethier will see few at-bats during the rest of the season, which would severely hurt the Dodgers offense. An ideal outfield would consist of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Manny Ramirez, with Juan Pierre a late-game defensive replacement and pinch runner. However, I have little faith that Joe Torre will bench Pierre. As such, Ramirez’s impact is somewhat negated because he ends up taking at-bats from either Ethier or Kemp. And all of this assumes that Andruw Jones is relegated to riding the pine, which is not quite a foregone conclusion.

But at least Ramirez should be somewhat of an upgrade (offensively). Casey Blake, while a solid player, is a below-average third basemen who may or may not be as good as Andy LaRoche right now. Blake is a redundancy on a team that has (well, had) not only LaRoche, but Blake DeWitt as well. Blake may be better than both, but his defense is poor and he’s 35 years old. Furthermore, surrendering both Meloan and Santana for two months of Blake seems like a poor evaluation of the market for Casey’s services. Blake may be nice to have, but not at that price. He does have a cool beard, though.

Boston Red Sox – winners. Some may say the Red Sox are winners because they got rid of Manny Ramirez. Others may say they’re losers for the exact same reason. Truth be told, Jason Bay is as good as Manny Ramirez. Marcel projects Manny to hit .287/.386/.516 over the rest of the season, and projects Bay to hit .272/.367/.484. This small difference in offense is more than likely made up by the defensive upgrade that Bay represents – although he is no great shakes in left field, Bay is certainly better than Manny, perhaps by a lot. Furthermore, Marcel strongly takes into account Bay’s injury-riddled 2007 campaign in Bay’s projection; while I don’t think we should disregard Bay’s 2007 entirely, if his poor numbers were due to the fact that he wasn’t healthy, we may want to bump up his offensive projection for the rest of the year.

 

Most important, however, is the fact that Bay is signed for $7.5 million in 2009, when he will be 30 years old. Bay immediately solves the Red Sox’s problem in left field for next season, at a reasonable price, freeing up money while not losing any production at all. In fact, Bay is likely to out-produce Manny next season, given their relative ages and defense values. And Bay’s numbers should be aided by playing half of his games in Fenway Park, just like Manny’s numbers were boosted.

Some people have expressed surprise that the Red Sox gave up both Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen in addition to Manny in this deal. While Moss and Hansen are very useful players – and excellent pickups for the Pirates – they are superfluous on the Red Sox. Brandon Moss is unnecessary on a team that already has Coco Crisp as a fourth outfielder, and Hansen has proven, time and again, that he is not yet ready for any meaningful innings out of the bullpen. Jason Bay is the perfect player to replace Ramirez, and the idea of losing Moss and Hansen shouldn’t be the sticking point preventing the Red Sox from making this move. Kudos to Neal Huntington understanding this and using it to his advantage; by getting Moss and Hansen inserted into the deal, Huntington was able to extract every last bit of value from the Red Sox, because he understood that Theo wouldn’t kill the deal just to keep Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen.