For the second straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.
A few days before Christmas 2011, the Chicago Cubs traded Sean Marshall to the Cincinnati Reds for Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt, and Ronald Torreyes. It was one of the first steps that Theo Epstein took to rebuilding the Cubs.
In this trade retrospective series, trades will still be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation. Process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties. All WAR values are from Baseball Reference unless otherwise specified.
This move was not as impactful for the Cubs as the Anthony Rizzo deal, but it was still a good trade. A rebuilding team trading away a reliever for prospects is a no-brainer.
Sean Marshall started out primarily as a starter for the Cubs during his first two seasons. He had a 5.48 RA9 in that role, so the team decided to try him out as a reliever, even though Marshall did not exactly have an electric fastball. Averaging 88 MPH without a lot of life explains why his strikeout rates were so poor. However, he had an excellent curveball, and his slider was pretty close in velocity to his fastball, increasing its effectiveness
Marshall’s excellent secondary offerings allowed him to limit his fastball usage. He relied heavily on his breaking pitches and only threw his fastball less than 20 percent of the time, per Brooks Baseball.
Marshall was excellent out of the bullpen. From 2010 to 2011, he had a 2.75 RA9 in 150 1⁄3 IP, and his combined 4.6 WAR ranked fifth among relievers. His strikeout rate skyrocketed to 27.5 percent, an increase of over 12 percentage points as a starter. He was clearly an excellent reliever, but the rebuilding Cubs had little use for such a player.
The Reds were coming off a disappointing 2011 season where they fell below .500 right after winning 91 games and taking home a division title. There was no reason they could not bounce back in 2012, so they decided to reinforce the bullpen. However, the bullpen was by no means bad. It ranked in the middle of the pack by ERA-, though a bit worse by FIP-.
The Reds paid a high price for one year of Sean Marshall. They then exacerbated the problem a couple months later by signing him to a three-year, $16.5 million extension. Even considering the money was not too high, it was too many years to commit to a reliever.
Travis Wood alone was probably too much to pay for Marshall. He was already a viable back-of-the-rotation starter with the upside for more, and he had five years of control remaining. The Reds were also selling low on him, as he was coming off a year where he started 18 games of replacement-level play.
Wood’s rough 2011 season was likely the result of being another victim of manager Dusty Baker’s pitcher abuse. He pitched over 200 professional innings in 2010, even though he was undersized and had pitched 167 2⁄3 innings the previous season. Going to Chicago looked like it would be just as good for Woods as it would for the Cubs. Any chance he had to reach his upside was not going to happen in Cincinnati.
Dave Sappelt and Ronald Torreyes were the throw-ins in the deal. Sappelt projected as nothing more than an extra outfielder. Torreyes showed the potential to be an everyday second baseman, but he was at least three years away from reaching that end. If he hit his ceiling, however, this deal would become exceptionally good for the Cubs. Torreyes would go on to impact the Cubs, though in a more interesting, more indirect way that turned out to be the most fascinating aspect of this trade.
Marshall had a great 2012 season as part of the 97-win Reds team. He had a 2.66 RA9 and struck out a career high 29.3 percent of batters faced. Unfortunately, that was his last full season in the majors.
The rest of Marshall’s career was wrecked by shoulder injuries. He missed most of 2013 with shoulder problems, and most of 2014 due to shoulder surgery. He missed all of 2015 because he had to have another shoulder surgery. He has not pitched in any capacity since June 10th, 2014.
Travis Wood had another sub-par season in 2012, but he broke out in 2013 with a 3.29 RA9 and 4.4 WAR. However, his DRA was nearly a run higher than his run average. His strikeout rates were poor, and he had a .248 BABIP thanks to the Cubs excellent defense. In 2014, the regression monster chewed him up and spit him out. He had a 5.70 RA9 and was almost a full win below replacement level.
The Cubs demoted Wood to the bullpen in 2015 where his strikeout rate shot up to 28 percent, though he still posted a mediocre 4.29 RA9. He pitched a little better in 2016, but was headed into free agency; the Cubs decided not to re-sign him. He signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Royals, with a mutual option (lol) for 2019.
Dave Sappelt has barely played in the majors. His last appearance was in 2013. He is currently in the Mexican baseball league.
Ronald Torreyes has bounced around since the Cubs acquired him. He did not make his major league debut until September 2015. He played about half a season for the Yankees in 2016 as a utility infielder. He hit poorly, with a line of .258/.305/.374 and is still in the Yankees system.
The most impactful part of this trade from the Cubs standpoint was acquiring Torreyes, because they traded him in 2013 to the Astros for two international signing bonus slots worth a total of $784,700. That bumped the Cubs’ total bonus pool to over $5.5 million.
The Cubs used that money in the summer of 2013 to sign Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jiménez, the third and first ranked international prospects as ranked by Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. Those are two prospects with whom Cubs fans are very familiar.
Torres was traded to the Yankees at last year’s trade deadline for 20 cents on the dollar in exchange for two months of Aroldis Chapman. He was awesome for the rest of the regular season, but he was obviously acquired for the postseason. He was surprisingly mediocre in October with a 3.45 RA9, and of course, he nearly caused the Cubs to lose Game 7 of the World Series. As for Torres, he is currently the top prospect in the Yankees system and is projected to be a star.
I was not too familiar with Jiménez before the 2016 Futures Game. But then he did this:
And then he did this:
(I might have watched this several times before forcing myself to move on.)
Jiménez is currently the top prospect in the Cubs’ system and is considered to be one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Baseball fans are going to have to be patient, though, because he is only 20 years old and is not expected to reach the majors until 2019.
Once again, overpaying for a reliever did not work out. Who could have seen that coming?
The Cubs were surely hoping to get more than one really good year out of Woods, but getting anything from a reliever you don’t need anymore is a win. Even if that were not the case, the fact that this trade led to the team increasing its international bonus pool to the point that they could get Torres and Jiménez counts for a lot. Theo Epstein did an excellent job of salvaging this trade.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.