A trio of infielders were traded to contending teams on Friday. The Diamondbacks acquired shortstop Eduardo Escobar from the Twins, the Phillies acquired Asdrubal Cabrera from the Mets, and the Brewers acquired Mike Moustakas from the Brewers.
Clearly, it was a busy day for teams interested in infielders, and all three of these landing spots made sense. Arizona, Philadelphia and Milwaukee have been three of the most aggressive teams on the infield market this July. They all were in on the Orioles’ Manny Machado before he was shipped to the Dodgers, so it only made sense that a move to bolster their respective infields was inevitable.
It’s fairly rare that you see multiple trades involving players of the same position within hours of one another, especially when those players do not play the position of pitcher. Capitalizing on this rare opportunity, I decided that I want to break down each of the three trades and figure out which team made the best deal from the contender’s point of view.
The first step that should be taken in evaluating any trade should be a look at the player’s statistics. Clearly, the Diamondbacks acquired the best of the three infielders to date. Escobar’s 2.5 fWAR is nearly a half-win better than Cabrera’s 2.1 mark and almost a full win better than Moustakas’ 1.7.
Interestingly, the reason Escobar has been the most valuable is mainly due to his bat, as his defense has graded out slightly below average so far this season. Defensively, Moustakas has actually been the best of the three, at least according to the advanced metrics. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, as he has graded out positively out at third base every year in his career except for 2017. Cabrera, on the other hand, has had up-and-down years playing three positions, but he has not graded out above-average overall since 2016.
These teams are not (completely) acquiring these players for past performance, however. The point of all three acquisitions is the same. It’s to provide the potentially necessary boost to carry the team to the playoffs. The best way to see the impact that each of these players may make is in the last column of the above chart — the projected rest of season fWAR.
Here is the category where Moustakas reigns supreme. ZiPS projects Moustakas to be a better hitter with Milwaukee than he has been with Kansas City this year. He is the only player for which this is true. That, combined with the fact that he is still a pretty good defender, actually makes him the most favored in rest of season projection models.
With the Phillies, Cabrera’s offense is still projected to be better than Moustakas’ (113 wRC+ compared to a 111 wRC+). He is going to mainly be playing shortstop in Philly, limiting his value to just about half a win. Cabrera is one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball, but the Phillies decided that the bat was a necessity for their lineup. That might be the truth, even as the offense has seemingly woken up over the past two weeks.
For Escobar, the Twins probably sold high, which does not bode well for the Diamondbacks. He still is going to be a solid hitter and a solid defender, but ZiPS sees his season-long red hot numbers generally subsiding the rest of the way. A solid option is all Arizona really needs, so if he does end up being worth the 0.9 fWAR that they project, they shouldn’t be upset with that.
In terms of contracts, both Escobar and Cabrera are free agent this offseason. Mike Moustakas does have a $15 million mutual option for next year, but those are notorious for never being picked up, as both the player and team would need to agree to it. For all intents and purposes of this article, all three players are rentals. Don’t cry about it, just wait until Moustakas, with Scott Boras as his agent, declines his half of the option. It will happen.
Making a trade, though, isn’t just about the players you traded for; it’s also about the players you traded away.
It took three players in order to pry Escobar from the Twins: right-hander Jhoan Duran and outfielders Ernie De La Trinidad and Gabriel Maciel. Maciel and Duran have debuted on the Twins’ top 30 MLB Pipeline prospect list at No. 17 and No. 22, respectively. Maciel is known for his speed and has the ability to become “an exciting table-setter at the highest level.” Duran has more upside than polish but could end up being a number three starter in the big leagues, with his big fastball and a decent breaking ball. All three players are in Class A, so they have a ways to go before they make noise at the big league level.
Cabrera, on the other hand, netted only one prospect: righty Franklin Kilome. He is the now Mets’ fifth-best prospect. He has an exciting fastball that touches the upper-90s, but he has yet to learn pitch sequencing, not missing as many bats as one may think. He struggles with command at times and could end up in the bullpen, but the Mets are likely going to try to continue his development as a starter. He is pitching in double-A.
Lastly, Moustakas cost the Brewers two players: outfielder Brett Phillips and right-hander Jorge Lopez. Phillips appeared on the Royals’ top prospect list at No. 8. Phillips is an interesting prospect; he comes with perhaps the best arm in baseball from the outfield, as a 104 mph throw last September was the second-highest Statcast ever recorded. He has struggled with the hit tool at times, but has an “intriguing blend of power, speed, hitting ability and defense” that could make him an everyday outfielder with Kansas City. Lopez was, at one time, a top-100 prospect but has never put it all together. He’s not a big strikeout guy, and issues with control have kept him bouncing back-and-forth between Triple-A and the Major Leagues this season, all in the bullpen. The Royals may consider trying to make him a starter once again, considering he started regularly as recently as 2017.
The three teams all traded away something a little bit different. The Brewers dealt two big leaguers, both with higher floors and probably lower ceilings than the rest of the prospects moved, though Phillips’ ceiling might still be pretty high. The Diamondbacks were on the exact opposite side of the spectrum, dealing two young prospects who have the ability to be very valuable players at the big league level. The Phillies were somewhere in the middle, but they should take solace in the fact that they only traded away one total player.
Phillips seems like he is the best player that was traded today, with Kilome a likely close second (if he ends up as a starter). But, the Brewers had to tack on a second prospect to make their deal for a player that has posted the worst numbers of the three so far this season. At the same time, though, Moustakas could be the best player over the final two months.
So, while they traded three players away, I think I have to give the “best deal” award to the Diamondbacks. They traded prospects with high risk, considering their age and the fact that they acquired the player that is playing the best of the three and still projects to produce about a full win the rest of the way. I’m high on Phillips’ ability to produce at the big league level, making it more likely in my mind that the future value the Royals get from this trade is ultimately higher than the future value the Twins get.
A lot of this really does come down to how these players end up as big leaguers. If Kilome only ends up as a reliever, I could be re-writing this piece three years from now, explaining why the Phillies won the day. If Phillips and Lopez flop, the same could go for the Brewers. There’s no sure thing in baseball, and that is especially true for prospects.
In reality, all three teams are winners as they added key upgrades in necessary areas, though I’m not trying to give out participation awards here.
So, I could be incredibly wrong about all of this, and that’s why it’s hard to judge trades not even 24 hours after they were made. But considering all of the circumstances, I think I’d be happiest if I was in the Diamondbacks’ front office right now. They didn’t deal any of their top 10 prospects, and they still got potentially the best player dealt. Eduardo Escobar is really, really good.
Man, isn’t trade deadline season so fun?
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.