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Trade Retrospective: Rangers acquire Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto from the Cubs

The Rangers made a good trade, but the Cubs scored Kyle Hendricks in the deal.

Boston Red Sox v Chicago Cubs Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

For the third straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.

Moments before the 2012 trade deadline, the Cubs struck a deal to send Ryan Dempster to the Rangers. Prospects Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks were sent to Chicago. Earlier that day the Rangers acquired Geovany Soto in a separate trade for Jacob Brigham.

In this trade retrospective series, trades will 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.

The Deal

Last week, I covered how the Cubs were positioned in 2012 when they executed the Paul Maholm trade. In short, they were tanking and selling off any players of value.

Ryan Dempster was in the midst of what was easily the best run of his career. He had a 2.42 RA9 and had already accumulated 3.5 bWAR. Dempster’s best run average over a full season was a 3.27 RA9, so as you might imagine, a 35-year-old performing so much better than that raises some red flags.

There were many signs that Dempster’s performance was completely unsustainable. He had a mediocre 20 percent K-rate, a .242 BABIP against, and he benefited from an 84 percent strand rate. His line drive rate was actually a bit high, which really belied his stellar run average. Interestingly enough, his 2.89 DRA was not too much higher than his RA9. Even though he would just be a rental, the Cubs were in an excellent position to sell high.

The Rangers were in first place, leading the Angels by three games. Clearly they were doing well, but they needed to patch some holes. The Angels had the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, they had acquired Zack Greinke, and Texas knew a three game lead could be easily overcome in two months.

An obvious spot for an upgrade was the back of the Rangers’ rotation. Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, and Yu Darvish were a great top of the rotation, combining for a 3.76 RA9 in the first half. As for the rest of the rotation, Derek Holland performed poorly early on in the season, and eventually went on the disabled list with left shoulder fatigue. Scott Feldman had a 5.67 RA9 and 16.2 K%. Neftali Feliz pitched well as a starter, but he was just about to have Tommy John surgery. Roy Oswalt had debuted a little over a month earlier, and in six starts he had a 7.11 RA9, 18.4 K%, and had given up seven home runs.

We might never know if the Rangers believed that Dempster would continue pitching so well. Given what they parted with for him, I would speculate that they saw regression coming. That being said, his three previous years averaged a 4.59 RA9, so even that would be a big upgrade over Oswalt or Feldman.

It is important to note that Dempster had 10-and-5 rights, meaning he could reject a trade. It was rumored that he would only accept a trade to the Dodgers. It is great for a player to be able to direct where he is going to work, but that strips his team of a lot of leverage. The Dodgers refused to part with Allen Webster as part of the deal (although they would trade him to Boston a month later), so the Cubs were stuck.

Perhaps not wanting to play for an uncompetitive team any longer, Dempster opened up his possible trade destinations to the Yankees and Rangers. He ended up with the team that originally drafted him in 1995.

Christian Villanueva only cracked the top 100 prospects list at one major outlet, Baseball America, where he just barely made it at 100. He was undersized and lacked power, but he was a good defensive third baseman. Scouts believed that his defense and ability to hit would make him an average third baseman. Kyle Hendricks had excellent control, but his below-average velocity and lack of an out pitch really limited his projected ceiling (he was not on any top ten or twenty Rangers lists that I could find).

As for my fellow boricua, Geovany Soto, the Rangers acquired him as a hedge against the possibility of Mike Napoli leaving in free agency, because Soto was signed through 2013. Interestingly enough, the two players were polar opposites. Soto was a far, far better defender than Napoli, but Napoli’s wOBA was over 60 points higher than Soto’s as the time of the trade. All he cost was a prospect who projected as a reliever and struggled badly against left-handed hitting.

Considering their limitations in trade partners and the fact that Dempster was just a rental, the Cubs did well. The Rangers also did well in obtaining some needed rotation help without parting with any major prospects.

The Results

The Rangers ended up losing the division in a heartbreaking fashion, only it was not to the Angels. The Oakland A’s made a great run and won their last five games against the Rangers, including the last three games of the year. They were down five games in the division with a little more than a week to go in the season, and they actually won the division. To add insult to injury, the Rangers lost the Wild Card game to the Orioles in Arlington.

Ryan Dempster was a non-factor for the Rangers. He regressed very badly. He had a 5.61 RA9 over 12 starts. Roy Oswalt was demoted to the bullpen to make room for Dempster, but it is hard to believe he would have been much worse, despite how he pitched up until his demotion.

Geovany Soto somehow found a way to hit worse. He hit only .196/.253/.338 over 164 PA. No amount of catcher defense can make up for a 54 wRC+.

Dempster signed a two-year, $26.5 million deal with the Red Sox after the 2012 season. Unfortunately, he could not crack replacement level with a 5.10 RA9 in 2013. He decided to forgo the second year of his contract in order to spend time with his family. He announced his retirement in October 2014.

Soto had a great bounce-back season in 2013, hitting .245/.328/.466, albeit in a back-up role to A.J. Pierzynski. The Rangers brought him back for 2014 for only $3 million, but he barely played due to injury. He was traded to the A’s for cash considerations in August of that year. He went to the White Sox in 2015, then the Angels the following year, than back to the White Sox in 2017. Soto elected free agency this past November.

Christian Villanueva suffered a lot of bad luck in the Cubs organization. Third base was blocked in 2014 by Kris Bryant, and then two years later he missed all of 2016 due to a broken fibula. The Cubs cut him, so Villanueva signed a minor league deal with the Padres for 2017. He finally made his major league debut on September 18th. He only had 32 PA, but boy did him make the most of them. He hit .344/.344/.750 with 4 HR! It is likely he will continue to see more playing time in 2018.

Jacob Brigham actually got traded back to the Rangers in November 2012. He ended up with the Pirates in 2014, then with the Braves in 2015, with whom he finally made his major league debut that year. He was completely ineffective with an 8.64 RA9 over 12 appearances. He has not pitched in the majors since. He spent last season in the KBO League and is signed to play there in 2018.

Kyle Hendricks is easily the most successful player of the prospects who were traded. He has been great for the Cubs, despite not having big velocity or a wipe out pitch. He debuted in 2014 and has had an excellent 3.17 RA9 since then. The 2016 season was a standout for him, with a league-leading 2.51 RA9 and 5.0 bWAR, though the Cubs’ historically good defense contributed to that as well. With his mediocre strikeout rates he is always going to be reliant on his defense, but he has certainly been a superb pitcher.

Cubs Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Kyle Hendricks 6 13.2 $2.0
Baseball Reference, Spotrac

That’s pretty awesome, huh? Hendricks is still under contract for three more years and will make only $4.175 million in 2018. Villanueva and Brigham were omitted because they never played for the Cubs.

Rangers Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Ryan Dempster 0 0.3 $5.0
Geovany Soto 1 1 $2.8
Total 1 1.3 $7.8
Baseball Reference, Spotrac

The results were certainly disappointing for the Rangers, but the decision making was sound. The Cubs just had all the luck with this trade.

. . .

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.