On Tuesday, I wrote about a trade rumor that, on paper, didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Ken Rosenthal and Marc Topkin both reported that the Rays and Rockies were discussing a deal centered around Corey Dickerson and Jake McGee, and they’re the kind of reporters who don’t just say things for the fun of it; when they throw names out there, it’s because there is some substance behind the report. And so not surprisingly, two days later, the weird trade rumor is now a weird trade.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 28, 2016
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 28, 2016
As we noted in the post about the rumor, McGee for Dickerson straight up just doesn’t make any sense for the Rockies. Trading four years — ages 27-30, no less — of a solid outfielder for two years of an injury prone closer is a present-for-future trade for a team that isn’t really a contender, and probably doesn’t make them better in the short-term either. Sure, their outfield was crowded after signing Gerardo Parra, but they have a hole at first base that Dickerson could have filled, and the gain from having a good reliever around to pitch 60 innings a year will be offset (or worse) by continuing on with a lack of a decent everyday player at first base.
Sure, Dickerson has his warts. Most notably, he’s battled injuries and they know his medical issues better than any other team, so the fact that they’re willing to sell low on him should suggest that perhaps we should downgrade our expectations of his playing time in 2016. But if you’re looking to dump health-risk, I don’t know that the answer is trading for Jake McGee. McGee had elbow surgery last off-season and opened the year on the disabled list, then went back on the DL in August after requiring minor knee surgery. And while he made three appearances at the end of the year after rehabbing that injury, he didn’t exactly look 100%.
As a one-pitch guy — McGee throws his fastball 90% of the time — velocity is a bigger deal for him than most pitchers, and the last time he was standing on a mound, he didn’t have much. Given that he’d just come back from a knee problem, it might be the kind of thing that just clears itself up with a winter of rest, but if the argument for trading away Dickerson is that you don’t know how healthy he’s going to be, it’s hard to imagine that the Rockies just got a safer asset in an injury prone reliever who ended the year throwing 92.
And, if we’re going to give the Rockies the insider’s information status on Dickerson’s health, we have to do the same with McGee and the Rays. Both teams are trading players with roughly +2 to +3 WAR upside but plenty of health risks, only the Rays are getting four years of control while the Rockies are getting two years. Thus, the deal also includes a swap of minor league pitchers, as Dickerson is simply a more valuable asset than McGee.
Going to Colorado along with McGee is right-handed pitcher German Marquez, who spent 2015 in high-A ball as a 20 year old, and held his own along the way. He’s not an elite prospect or anything, but he’s shown velocity, control, and the ability to get groundballs, and there’s enough potential there for him to turn into something in the not too distant future. For an organization focused on finding guys who can locate fastballs down in the zone, Marquez seems like an obvious target, and if that kind of pitcher is the key to harnessing Coors Field — that remains to be seen — then he may have more value in Colorado than he would in other organizations.
But these kinds of A-ball live-arms have the lowest success rates of any kind of pitching prospect, and it’s far more likely that Marquez never pitches in the big leagues than turns into a significant asset. Collecting guys like this is a good strategy for an organization that needs to develop pitching internally, but given their lottery-ticket nature, they shouldn’t cost you quality big leaguers.
From the Rays perspective, they didn’t really need Dickerson — and his acquisition likely signals that they’re going to make another move, perhaps trading Desmond Jennings (who also has two years of control remaining) for something with a bit more long-term value — but when presented with the opportunity to turn two years of a reliever into four years of an equally valuable position player, you worry about roster fit later. The Rays had pitching to spare, and while McGee isn’t easily replaced, the ability to add another primed-aged hitter for a short-term reliever was a deal the Rays couldn’t pass up.
For the Rockies, their best hope is that McGee comes back at 100 percent, dominates the first few months of the season, and they can flip him at the trade deadline when prices for relievers are often exorbitant. The idea that they’re likely to contend during the next two years is far-fetched, so the organization really should be building for the future. If McGee stays healthy and Dickerson doesn’t, then this will probably work out just fine for them, but that’s basically the bet they’re making. Things could easily go the other way, with the Rockies flushing a perfectly useful player down the drain for no real reason, and if both players stay healthy, the Rays almost certainly win the deal as well.
But I guess, at this point, weird is what we should expect from Colorado. Ownership appears unwilling to admit their actual standing as a rebuilding team that should be focused on the future, and so instead, they’ve pushed in their chips to try and win 75 games instead of 74. Maybe they’ll catch lightning in a bottle and McGee will help propel them into a Wild Card chase; it’s certainly a possible outcome. But in terms of realistic expectations, the Rockies don’t seem to be good enough to expect to win in the short-term, and deals like this make it less likely that they’ll be good enough to contend in the NL West down the road either. And even if the primary goal was to maximize short-term upside, I’m not entirely sure why they couldn’t have taken the money that Parra and McGee will make between them, given that to a free agent reliever, and just kept Dickerson.
Perpetual mediocrity is one kind of goal, I guess, but I’m not sure why it appears to be the Rockies goal.
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