Blue Jays and Tigers Make Minor Trade That Might Matter

If you like big trades with flashy names, this isn’t the post for you, because this one is dedicated to the Tigers swapping second base prospect Devon Travis to the Blue Jays for center field kinda prospect Anthony Gose. Neither Travis nor Gose looks likely to turn into any kind of star, but this trade is still interesting — to me at least — because both look like potentially useful pieces that help fill a need for their new teams.

We’ll start with Gose, since he’s got league big league experience and big league data. He’s the classic athlete that can’t really hit, and probably didn’t belong in the big leagues in his early-20s. Over parts of three seasons, he’s posted a 75 wRC+, with a high strikeout/low power combination that makes it very difficult for him to ever project as even a decent big league hitter. Even as a 24 year old, a 74% contact rate just won’t cut it for a guy who doesn’t drive the ball with any kind of authority. You can give him some age-related improvement, but odds are Gose is never going to hit enough to be a big league regular.

But in limited time, he looks like he might do the other things well enough to be a pretty useful part-time outfielder. He’s racked up +7 runs of baserunning value in the rough equivalent of one year’s worth of playing time, and all three of UZR, DRS, and the Fan’s Scouting Report have rated him as an above average defensive center fielder. If his speed and defense can be sustained at above average levels — and given his athleticism, this doesn’t seem like a reach — Gose could be a solid role player, a +1 to +2 WAR outfielder under team control for several more years at deflated prices.

While he’s basically Torii Hunter’s polar opposite, there’s actually a decent chance that Gose is the better player in 2015, and it wouldn’t be too surprising to me if Gose actually outperformed Hunter going forward. Keep that in mind when someone gives the Tigers former right fielder a pretty nice paycheck in the next couple of weeks.

Of course, one could argue that a team in win-now mode shouldn’t be giving too much playing time to below average players, but teams need depth too, and the Tigers didn’t really have much in the way of outfield depth, nor do they have endless amounts of money that they can throw at every single one of their problems. There’s nothing wrong with having a speed-and-defense outfielder on the roster, and Gose might be a good enough version of that skillset to not be a total embarrassment if forced into everyday duty.

But he didn’t come free. Devon Travis isn’t exactly the sexiest prospect around, but it’s worth noting that the Steamer projections — based on his minor league performances to date — kind of love him. Actually, strike the kind of; Travis is one of Steamer’s favorite prospects in all of baseball. Here’s what Cistulli wrote about him in the post highlighting his strong projection:

Just a 13th-round selection in 2012 out of Florida State, Travis has produced markedly above-average batting marks at every level to which he’s been exposed, recording both excellent plate-discipline numbers and also high BABIP figures. The result: a slash line of .323/.388/.487 line in over 1,000 minor-league plate appearances. According to Steamer’s computer math, Travis — who enters his age-24 season next April — already profiles as a league-average hitter. That’s valuable for a player who also appears likely to handle second base.

Travis isn’t known for his physical tools, but he’s shown an intriguing combination of high contact skills with some power, which is a pretty rare trait for a middle infielder. And it’s not just the numbers: Baseball America’s Clint Longenecker penned a nice piece on him last year explaining why the results might carry over to the big league level.

If Travis actually is something like a league average hitter and can play average defense at second base, then the Blue Jays are going to be quite happy with this deal. Second base was a massive hole for them last year, and even an average player would be a significant upgrade, especially if he’s as big league ready in 2014 as Steamer thinks he might be.

Of course, Steamer could be wrong. Maybe Travis is more mediocre hitter than average one, in which case he’d look like the +1 to +2 WAR player that Gose also appears to be, making this deal more about two teams trading from depth for things they need more. But while no projection system is perfect, Steamer is a very good forecasting tool, and it is basing its optimism on the success of similar kinds of players. After all, those who don’t think much of Travis’ future probably also weren’t big fans of Martin Prado either, and he’s averaged +2.8 WAR per 600 plate appearances over a pretty solid career. Omar Infante fits the mold too.

There are enough examples of guys like Travis who turn into real players that the Blue Jays could actually have made a pretty nice deal here. If the projections on Travis aren’t totally bonkers, six years of an average (or maybe even slightly above average) middle infielder is a nifty return for a speed-and-defense fourth outfielder. Of course, there’s a chance that Travis is more Marcus Semien than Martin Prado, and in a year, maybe we won’t even remember that this trade happened.

But both guys bring enough to the table that this is the kind of small move that could look like an underrated pickup for both sides. I think it probably has a better chance to work out for Toronto long term, but like Jeff noted earlier, the Tigers don’t really care about the long term. They made their 2015 team better than it was. That’s what they’re going to do this winter.

We hoped you liked reading Blue Jays and Tigers Make Minor Trade That Might Matter by Dave Cameron!

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Catoblepas
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Catoblepas

I love win-win trades, and this was a good analysis, thanks Dave. I also love the Tigers’ situation, because it seems like it could lead to some unique situations/decisions that might not make sense with a reasonable decision horizon but do for them.

BRH
Guest
BRH

There is no reason to think that Anthony Gose will be anything more than a fourth outfielder/late inning defensive replacement. If Gose acquires more than 160 plate appearances, then it is a lost season for the Tigers.

robbie t
Guest
robbie t

My cutoff was 200 place appearances by Gose, I like your thinking here. Is this Gary Pettis 2.0?

BRH
Guest
BRH

That’s a pretty good comp. I think Pettis was a better defender, but Gose certainly holds his own. In baserunning they are probably pretty equal. Both had/have similar hit tools: heavy ground ball hitters, no power, too many strikeouts. Pettis consistently had better than league average walk rates, while Gose probably peaks at about league average. Gose’s AA numbers are puzzling; his 16 homers combined with his Arizona Fall League numbers that same year no doubt helped him jump in the prospect ratings, but where did the power go?

Jianadaren
Guest
Jianadaren

Gose looks like a Jarrod Dyson to me. That’s an exceptionally valuable bench piece on most teams.

Mark
Guest
Mark

Maybe some day, but not now. Dyson is a career 83 wRC+, Gose is 75. Big difference.

That Guy
Guest
That Guy

Dyson is an elite defender and elite base runner at the MLB level. The difference in wRC+ is not an issue when Dyson is a 3+WAR 4th outfielder.

Bert
Guest
Bert

Its not really win- win. Gose was a huge disappointment in Toronto and Tigers aren’t getting much other than a weak hitting speedy defensive replacement with a strong but really inaccurate arm. If Travis amounts to anything half decent, the Jays win this trade hands down.

TangoAlphaLima
Guest
TangoAlphaLima

One less year of control over Gose as well. Potentially almost two years if the Blue Jays leave Travis in the minors to start the season, then call him up after the 2015 service time deadline has passed.