A few hours ago, the baseball media airwaves were abuzz with the Yankees’ Kevin Youkilis signing. It was probably the loudest one-year deal baseball has ever seen.
But then came the Indians.
Cleveland managed to outshine New York last night, completing a three-team trade with the Diamondbacks and Reds that sends star Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati in exchange for super-prospect Trevor Bauer, outfielder Drew Stubbs and relievers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw.
FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal broke down the exact details of the trade:
–The D’Backs get left-handed reliever Tony Sipp and first baseman Lars Anderson from the Indians and shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius from the Reds.
–The Reds get Shin-Soo Choo and utility infielder Jason Donald from the Indians.
–The Indians get pitching prospect Trevor Bauer, relievers Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers from the D’Backs and center fielder Drew Stubbs from the Reds
To complete the trade, the Indians will send $3.5 million in cash to the Reds to account for differences in projected salaries between Choo and Stubbs.
No doubt about it, the Indians won this trade, while the Reds also benefitted. The D’Backs however, making up for the rewards reaped by the Indians and Reds, lost hugely.
Bauer was our number-four pitching prospect coming in to the season, and he’s usually the type of arm that a young, rebuilding team like the Diamondbacks will let go of.
A few weeks ago, when the D’Backs were trying to trade Justin Upton, Rosenthal reported that the club had cooled on Bauer. Now a days, it appears that the team wants to keep Upton, and they obviously have shipped Bauer out.
After Arizona selected him 3rd overall in the 2011 draft, Bauer started off last season on fire. The former UCLA star tossed 48.1 innings of 1.68 ERA baseball in the Southern League, allowing just one home run while striking out 60 batters. His performance earned him a spot in the prestigious Futures Game, as well as a promotion to Triple-A.
After the promotion, Bauer continued to dominate, posting 2.85 ERA and striking out 97 through 82 innings. The D’Backs were impressed enough to promote him to the big leagues for his debut at the end of June.
Just 21 years old and in his first full season of pro ball, Bauer obviously didn’t bring his dominance straight to the MLB. He made four starts with the big club, going 1-2 with a 6.06 ERA and a 17/13 K/BB ratio. His performance, though not flashy, was still promising for a kid with no MLB experience, throwing pitches in the dry Arizona air.
However, Bauer’s command and velocity were inconsistent during his brier MLB debut. The D’Backs were worried enough about his shoulder that they decided to shut him down for a few weeks before returning him to the Reno Aces.
Still, the D’Backs shouldn’t have been that disappointed in Bauer’s performance. Most top young pitchers post comparable numbers in their debuts. Cy Young winners like Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter took plenty of time to put it together, and posted some ugly lines along the way.
A brief MLB stint shouldn’t be used to gauge Bauer. The sample is small (four games), and he has a long resume of star-powered pitching. In fact, Bauer’s ceiling appears to be higher than ever, and he’s backing up his tremendous athletic ability with jaw-dropping stat lines in the high minors.
It’s puzzling that Arizona would trade him for anything less than an impact player.
The twenty-one-year-old throws 91-94 MPH heat consistently, employing Lincecum-type drop ‘n drive mechanics. His off-speed arsenal is arguably the best in the minors, as he throws multiple breaking pitches and change-ups with plus movement and command. Though his 6-foot 180-pound frame falls short of intimidating, he’s proven himself as a workhorse with huge innings totals at UCLA, and he maintains peak physical condition with grueling workout regiments.
Bauer is close to Major League-ready, and he looks like a very solid number-two starter on a contending club. On the free agent market, the modern starting pitching commands about $5 million per win above replacement level, meaning an average pitcher (2-3 rWAR) would theoretically earn about $10-$15 million in salary per season.
Because Bauer hasn’t accumulated a season of service time, he won’t be arbitration eligible until at least 2016. So, he’ll earn close to the league minimum. Though he’s a potential All-star innings eater (4+ rWAR), even if he’s fringe average for his first three years in Cleveland, producing about 2 rWAR a season (6 rWAR total), he’ll still be invaluable. In that case, he’d command just $300-$600 thousand per win above replacement player, depending on his contract. That’s a significant savings over adding veteran talent, and Bauer’s definitely a player that the D’Backs should’ve held on to.
So, for a pitcher this good, what the D’Backs get in return?
For them, the prize of the trade is Reds shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius, but they also took home a solid southpaw reliever (Sipp), and a fallen first base prospect in Lars Anderson. Gregorius, a twenty-two-year-old native of the Netherlands, has developed in to one of the better young middle infielders since signing with Cinci in ’07. After breaking out in 2011, hitting .289/.324/.429 between double and triple-A, he followed with a strong season in the high minors. Gregorius even hit .300 in his twenty at bat MLB debut this fall.
Known more for his glove than his bat, Gregorius has one of the strongest, most accurate throwing arms in the minor leagues. He can make all of the throws, and then some, regularly picking tough balls deep in the hole and throwing runners out on a line. He’s not as a smooth as some other fielders, but he’s blessed with soft hands and good body control, allowing him to play well around the second base bag. He did make 14 errors in 80 games at short last year, but his glove is still much more advanced than most top prospects.
In the box, Didi isn’t nearly as impressive. He has gap power now, but his swing will keep him from every developing anything more than fringe pop–even from the left side. He does show the bat control and contact skills to hit for a solid average in the big leagues, but his lack of plate discipline (118 walks in 1909 plate appearances) will still keep him at the bottom of the order.
Now, shortstop is a premium position, and Gregorius doesn’t have to reach his ceiling to be a very valuable player. He has the glove and the hitting chops to be Royce Clayton or Orlando Cabrera, a very solid everyday shortstop. But, the D’Backs already have Cliff Pennington, who’s a big league average shortstop. He’s all glove and no bat, but Gregorius doesn’t represent a sizable upgrade over him.
Aside from Gregorius, the D’Backs didn’t bring home enough to make up for the loss of Bauer. Sipp is a rock-solid lefty who can pitch to both sides, and he’s held southpaws to a .711 OPS over the past few years, but he’s already arbitration eligible.
Lars Anderson was once a top-shelf, Moneyball-skilled first base prospect in the Red Sox system, but he’s failed to put it together and is in danger of flaming out completely. He still has a nice swing, and enough plate discipline to make up for so-so power (for a first baseman), but he’s more of a throw-in than a center piece of the trade.
The Indians made out like bandits. Not only do they get Bauer, who has the stuff and stamina to anchor their staff (cheaply) for the better part of the next decade, but they also took home Drew Stubbs, and two quality relievers.
After breaking in to the MLB in 2009, boasting a loud mix of speed, glove and pop, Stubbs’ career fizzled in Cincinnati. He was the talk of the town in 2010, mashing 22 homeruns, stealing 30 bases and ranking second among centerfielders with 19 total zone runs. But, he’s since watched his OPS drop like a meteor, from .773 in ’10, to .686 in 2011, and finally to .610 last year.
Though he disappointed in Cinci, Stubbs still has the tools to be a top-notch center fielder. His career 5.1 dWAR is one of the position’s best, and he’ll boost the Indians’ outfield significantly. And though his patience is sub-par, he still has plenty of power and speed to be an asset in the back of their lineup. He won’t face the pressure of hitting lead-off anymore, which could boost his production, and his career .821 OPS against lefties suggests he could still be a very solid player if Terry Francona manages his at bats.
Shaw is a twenty-five-year-old right-hander with a 94 MPH sinker, a hard slider and a 3.5 ground-ball/fly-ball ratio (1.2 is approximately average) in the MLB. He posted a 3.49 ERA through 59.1 IP last season, and was even better when he got away from the fast air of the D’Backs home park. On the road, Shaw’s ERA fell to 2.54 and he held opposing hitters to a .196 average. With Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano already manning the back of Cleveland’s ‘pen, Shaw doesn’t face high expectations but he has the stuff and closing experience to play a valuable role nonetheless.
To get all of this talent, the Indians had to part with Shin-Soo Choo, a top-shelf left-handed bat that posted a 3.1 rWAR last season. Choo hit .283/.373/.441 with 16 homers and 61 extra-base hits last season, and his career .382 on-base percentage places him among the top-five active outfielders. His extraordinary plate discipline and sweet left-handed swing will be tough for the Indians to let go of. At the same time, Cleveland definitely upgraded their team with this trade.
Choo is thirty-years old, and because he’s accumulated over five years of MLB service time, he’ll be eligible for free agency following next season. He made $4.9 million last season, signing a one-year deal to avoid arbitration. At that salary, his 2.6 fWAR means he commanded just $1.88 million per win above replacement player, which is a superb value compared to the going rate of 6.5 $/fWAR on the free agent market. But, Choo is only under team control for one more season, and his performance has declined significantly since his superb 2009 and 2010 campaigns.
Choo’s defense has declined significantly over the past three years, from 6.1 UZR in 2010, to 2.0 in 2011 to a horrific -16.1 last year. And while he’s an on-base machine, he did strike out 150 times last year (21.9% K%) and his isolated power has fallen from .200 (2008-2010) to .151 over the past two years.
All and all, the Indians clearly came out on top in this deal. Choo is a good player, but he’s only under team control for one more season and his performance has dropped of significantly over the past few years. They traded him at the perfect time in his career, just as he’s exiting his prime years and just as he’s getting much more expensive. Looking to rebuild while contending, the Indians essentially pick-pocketed the D’Backs, and turned Choo in to tens of millions in profits.
Bauer is prepared to step in behind Masterson and Jimenez as the team’s number-three starter out of spring training, and Stubbs, Shaw and Sipp all have the makings of above-average contributors. If Francona protects Stubbs from tough righties and keeps him at the bottom of the lineup, his glove and power could make him a 2-3 rWAR player next season. Shaw has the ground ball rates and the stuff to be a top-notch setup man, while Albers is one of the better right-handed relievers.