Archive for Instanalysis

Joey Bats Joins the Phillies

Jose Bautista is on the move again. On Tuesday afternoon, minutes before their window to complete a waiver-period trade expired, the Mets and Phillies agreed to a deal that will send Joey Bats from the NL East’s fourth-place team to it’s second-place one. In exchange, the Mets, who signed the 37-year-old outfielder on May 22 after he was released by the Braves, will receive either a player to be named later or cash, preferably in unmarked bills.

After nine-plus seasons with the Blue Jays — highlighted by six All-Star appearances, two home run titles, the team’s first two trips to the postseason since their 1992 and ’93 World Series wins, and the franchise’s most iconic hit since Joe Carter’s — Bautista found himself out of work this past winter. Not until April did he sign a minor league deal with the Braves, for whom he played just 12 games, hitting .143/.250/.343 with two homers in 40 plate appearances before being released. Two days later, and less than a week after losing both Yoenis Cespedes and Juan Lagares to injuries, the Mets picked him up. Between the absences of those two players — now out for the season due to foot surgeries — plus injuries to Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier and a dearth of better ideas, the team gave Bautista 302 plate appearances, in which he hit a modest .204/.351/.367 with nine homers, a 104 wRC+, and 0.4 WAR. He was very hot in June (.250/.434/.536, 161 wRC+), but otherwise, not so much:

Between his Atlanta and New York stints, Bautista is walking in 16.4% of his plate appearances, a rate in line with his heyday, but both his 11.1% swinging strike rate and 28.7% strikeout rate represent career highs. His Statcast numbers look considerably better than last year and suggest he’s been a bit unlucky:

Jose Bautista Via Statcast, 2015-2018
Season EV LA wOBA xwOBA Dif
2015 92.0 16.7 .389 .389 .000
2016 91.6 14.8 .355 .370 -.015
2017 88.3 17.0 .295 .309 -.014
2018 90.5 19.7 .315 .339 -.024
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

On the other hand, Bautista is pulling the ball on 50.8% of his balls in play, a bit above his career rate (47.2%), and a frequency that’s easily countered by infield shifts. Both his 47 wRC+ against those shifts and his .253 BABIP overall are in the general vicinity of his recent body of work, and are contributing to a batting average that’s flirting with the Mendoza Line.

Losers of 19 out of 36 games since the All-Star break, the Phillies (70-61 overall) are 3.5 games behind the Braves in the NL East and 2.5 back in the wild card race. Their playoff odds have fallen from 46.8% to 40.3% in that span. Their second-half struggles have more to do with deteriorating run prevention than sagging offense; their 94 wRC+ since the break is actually three points better than it was prior. The production they’ve been receiving from the three positions where Bautista has taken 63 of his 66 starts this year (right field, left field, and third base) has improved from the first half to the second: right fielder Nick Williams’ wRC+ has risen from 102 to 119, left fielder Rhys Hoskins’ from 122 to 159, and third baseman Maikel Franco’s from 102 to 123. Their clearest need for an upgrade in a role that Bautista can fill is as a pinch-hitter, as theirs have batted just .202/.266/.331 for a 59 wRC+, the league’s second-lowest mark.

In all, the addition of Bautista is a minor move, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth making. On a team with few position players who have tasted the postseason (Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilson Ramos, Carlos Santana), they’ve added another, a guy who might have a few big hits left in that bat.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bautista — who as a rookie in 2004 played for four different major league teams — is now the third player to play for three teams within the same division in the same season, after Bob Reynolds (Orioles, Tigers, and Indians, oh my!) in 1975 and Kelly Johnson (Yankees, Red Sox, and Orioles) in 2014.

Oakland A’s Add to the Familia

Whereas the first notable reliever acquisition of the trade deadline saw Cleveland receive, in Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, two pitchers who will remain with the club for future seasons, the Athletics this afternoon have performed a swap with a more traditional rent-a-player flavor, getting Jeurys Familia from the New York Mets in exchange for right-handed reliever Bobby Wahl, third baseman William Toffey, and an unspecified pile of international slot money, the 2018 version of a player-to-be-named-later.

There’s an argument to be made that, at this point, Familia may be slightly underrated among relievers. The extra couple of walks per nine that Familia picked up in a 2017 season mostly ruined by surgery to remove a blood clots from his shoulder have disappeared in 2018. Familia’s not relying on his hard, heavy sinker as much as he has in the past — especially against lefties — but given that the A’s have an infield whose four primary players, Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, Matt Olson, and Jed Lowrie have all been above average by UZR (Lowrie a couple of runs in the negative in DRS), I’d be happy to see him go to that well a bit more often again. Even without relying on the sinker, Familia’s pitching as well as he was in 2016, which was enough to earn him an All-Star appearance and a rather odd MVP vote. Familia is in the top 20 of relievers in WAR and among the top 30 in FIP, so it’s a real upgrade to the A’s bullpen. Blake Treinen will remain the closer, which I believe is absolutely the right tack to take.

ZiPS Projection – Jeurys Familia
ROS 2018 2 1 3.00 25 0 24.0 21 8 1 10 25 137 0.7

Despite Sandy Alderson’s insistence earlier this season that the Mets have no plans to go full-scale rebuild, the team’s at least been listening to offers on pretty much the entire roster. Familia doesn’t necessarily indicate a stronger organizational willingness to go that route, of course, as he was likely to be traded anyway given his contract and the team’s position in the standings.

Bobby Wahl is an interesting flier for the Mets to take. It’s hard to characterize a 26-year-old reliever as some kind of top prospect — and I won’t — but Wahl throws in the upper 90s, has an effective slider (that really feels more like a slurve to me), and can change speeds at least tolerably well. His control’s been an issue at times, though not on the Bobby Witt scale, and one of the reasons he’s not been a bit higher in the pecking order is that he has a long history of injury, losing parts of most years with varying ailments, most recently surgery for a thoracic outlet issue last season. He was fine by spring training and, as far as I know, hasn’t had any significant issues along those lines since.

ZiPS Projection – Bobby Wahl
ROS 2018 1 1 4.58 15 0 17.7 21 9 3 10 23 85 0.1
2019 3 3 4.07 45 1 48.7 37 22 6 30 71 98 0.3
2020 3 2 3.97 40 0 43.0 32 19 6 26 63 101 0.3
2021 3 2 3.85 40 0 44.0 32 19 6 27 65 104 0.4
2022 2 2 3.98 35 0 38.7 28 17 5 24 57 101 0.3
2023 2 2 4.03 33 0 35.7 26 16 5 22 53 100 0.3
2024 2 2 4.01 31 0 33.7 24 15 5 21 50 99 0.3

Prospect-watchers tend to like Will Toffey more than Wahl, and ZiPS agrees that he’s a bit above-average defensively, placing him at about two runs per 150 games better than average based on the rough estimates ZiPS makes from play-by-play data. I’m really not sold on his bat: 23 is just too old for a player not in the middle infield or catching to not be killing the ball in the California League. While there’s obviously more time for Toffey to develop into something more than Wahl, I think the latter is more likely to actually contribute to a major-league team. The Mets’ squadron isn’t that deep in relief pitching and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him in the back end of the team’s bullpen in April (or even this year!) depending on what other moves the Mets make.

ZiPS Projection – Will Toffey
ROS 2018 189 .217 .267 .289 40 7 1 2 15 50 1 2 52 1 -0.3
2019 508 .211 .276 .297 107 19 2 7 44 138 3 5 56 2 -0.8
2020 488 .209 .280 .307 102 20 2 8 46 137 2 4 60 2 -0.6
2021 490 .208 .281 .310 102 20 3 8 48 140 2 4 61 3 -0.5
2022 486 .208 .284 .313 101 20 2 9 50 142 2 4 63 3 -0.3
2023 482 .205 .285 .311 99 20 2 9 52 144 2 3 63 3 -0.4

It’s interesting to see Oakland positioning themselves as buyers, at least in the bargain section. To find the last time Oakland was the team trading prospects for a veteran rather than vice-versa, you actually have to go back to the 2014 Jeff Samardzija trade, which saw the team give up Addison Russell, Dan Straily, and Billy McKinney to the Cubs for Samardzija and Jason Hammel. (They picked up Jon Lester later in that month, but you’d be hard-pressed to describe Yoenis Cespedes as a prospect.) While one doesn’t really think of the A’s as front-line, top-tier contenders, the fact is they’re essentially in a two-team race for the second Wild Card with the Mariners, a team that only has a Pythagorean record of right around .500 and likely isn’t as good as their seasonal record when you talk the rest-of-season projections. Even four games back, that it’s a two-team race is quite important: I’d rather be four games behind one team than two games back and fighting with seven other teams. But the 2018 National League is highly competitive one and the American league, the bifurcated stars-and-scrubs league, a flip of the situation a few years ago.

I’m not a believer in going all-in for a Wild Card unless it comes with a significant chance of also capturing the division title, but with what Oakland is giving up, they’re not going all-in, but simply making an incremental addition to enhance their Wild Card odds. Being less risk-averse with Familia is better in this situation than rolling the dice with Wahl would be. In all, the A’s add a significant part of their present without giving up a significant part of their future.

Wins on both sides here, with both teams getting what they need from this trade. I daresay that I’d be happier with Familia at this price than Zach Britton at the price he eventually fetches.

Trout, Davis, and the Largest Seasonal WAR Differentials

As I noted earlier today, Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who through the Orioles’ first 67 games has already dug himself a -1.9 WAR hole, is on pace for the worst season ever by that measure, -4.6 WAR. At the other end of the spectrum, Mike Trout is having not just the best season of his already amazing career, but one for the pantheon. His 5.7 WAR through the Angels’ first 69 games prorates to 13.4 over a full season, which would rank third all-time, behind the 1923 and 1921 seasons of Babe Ruth (15.0 and 13.9 WAR, respectively), making Trout’s season “only” the best in the past 95 years. What a slacker.

Even if that’s the case, Trout and Davis could combine for the largest WAR differential between two position players in one season, a chasm wider than the Grand Canyon. Below are the 20 largest single-season gaps, with some player-seasons, such as Ruth’s 1920, included more than once. I’ve also included two hypothetical end-of-season figures for Trout and Davis: their WAR differential based both on current pace and also our Depth Chart projections.

Largest Single-Season WAR Differentials Since 1901
Season Player 1 Team WAR Player 2 Team WAR Dif
2018 Mike Trout PACE Angels 13.4 Chris Davis PACE Orioles -4.6 18.0
1923 Babe Ruth Yankees 15.0 Shano Collins Red Sox -2.5 17.5
1920 Babe Ruth+ Yankees 13.3 Ivy Griffin Athletics -2.8 16.1
1920 Babe Ruth+ Yankees 13.3 Chick Galloway Athletics -2.4 15.7
2002 Barry Bonds Giants 12.7 Neifi Perez+ Royals -2.9 15.6
1927 Babe Ruth Yankees 13.0 Ski Melillo Browns -2.5 15.5
1924 Babe Ruth Yankees 12.5 Milt Stock+ Robins -2.7 15.2
1924 Rogers Hornsby Cardinals 12.5 Milt Stock+ Robins -2.7 15.2
1927 Lou Gehrig Yankees 12.5 Ski Melillo+ Browns -2.5 15.0
2001 Barry Bonds Giants 12.5 Peter Bergeron Expos -2.4 14.9
1931 Babe Ruth Yankees 10.7 Jim Levey Browns -3.3 14.0
1993 Barry Bonds+ Giants 10.5 David McCarty Twins -3.1 13.6
1929 Rogers Hornsby Cubs 11.1 Tommy Thevenow Phillies -2.4 13.5
1905 Honus Wagner Pirates 10.8 Fred Raymer Beaneaters -2.4 13.2
1912 Tris Speaker Red Sox 10.6 Frank O’Rourke Braves -2.6 13.2
1928 Babe Ruth Yankees 10.6 Doc Farrell Braves -2.6 13.2
1930 Babe Ruth Yankees 10.5 Fresco Thompson Phillies -2.7 13.2
1993 Barry Bonds+ Giants 10.5 Ruben Sierra Athletics -2.6 13.1
1993 Barry Bonds+ Giants 10.5 Luis Polonia Angels -2.6 13.1
1927 Rogers Hornsby Giants 10.4 Ski Melillo+ Browns -2.5 12.9
2002 Alex Rodriguez Rangers 10.0 Neifi Perez+ Royals -2.9 12.9
2018 Mike Trout PROJ Angels 10.8 Chris Davis PROJ Orioles -1.7 12.5
+ = Player-season appears more than once.

Seven separate Ruth seasons are represented here, along with three apiece from Hornsby and Bonds. Aside from the projection of Trout, only one other post-World War II player besides Bonds is represented above on the good side of things, namely A-Rod in 2002. That’s just one small set of data points related to the fact that the spread of talent between the best and worst players is much less now than it was 75 or 100 years ago and that leagues today are stronger than the ones of decades past.

Ruth hit “only” 41 homers during his 15.0-WAR 1923 season, but via his .393/.545/.764 (231 wRC+) line, he set career highs in the first two categories even while somehow failing to win a batting title. (The Tigers’ Harry Heilmann hit .403.) His dance partner from the 1923 season was Collins, a light-hitting outfielder who batted .231/.265/.289 for a lousy 43 wRC+ that year and was six runs below average on defense. To the extent that Collins has any other claim to fame, it’s apparently that he was the only player in the White Sox’ starting lineup for Game One of the World Series who didn’t wind up either banned for life as part of the Black Sox scandal or elected to the Hall of Fame (as Eddie Collins and Ray Schalk were). Ruth’s 1931 season (.373/.495/.700, 46 HR) is paired with Levey, the Browns shortstop who actually had an even worse season (1933, -4.0 WAR) that represents the record Davis is trying to avoid.

As for Trout, to date, the largest WAR gap of his career is 13.9 WAR, from 2013, when he set a career best with 10.1 WAR and Yuniesky Betancourt turned in a -1.8 WAR clunker. Even if Davis didn’t play another game this year, Trout would only need to add another 4.5 WAR over the Angels’ 93 remaining games to surpass that previous high. While he and Davis don’t have much margin for error in surpassing Ruth and Collins, it still boggles the mind that we could be seeing such extremes in the same season.

Resurgent Justin Verlander Traded to Astros

When the non-waiver trade deadline came around, the Astros were sitting in excellent position. In large part because of that, the team didn’t make a big splash, yet that didn’t sit so well with, say, Dallas Keuchel. Certain Astros would’ve liked to see a move or two made in an effort to put the club over the top, and so far in the second half, the Astros have sputtered. And so a big splash has been made. It’s a trade that was on, and then off, and then on again — it’s a trade that was made with one minute to spare. Because of that one minute, the Astros have a new weapon for the playoff roster.

Astros get

Tigers get

Dave is going to have a fuller post on this later on. A post that will more deeply examine all the various impacts here. Earlier this very evening, it seemed like any Verlander trade possibility was just hanging on by a thread. But there’s nothing quite like a deadline to light some fires under some butts, and both sides get to look good here. The Astros get a front-of-the-rotation starter, who’s lately settled into a groove. The Tigers get quality prospects, having included some money to offset Verlander’s cost. Of course, trading a player like Verlander isn’t a simple matter, given everything he’s meant to the Tigers organization, but something like this was inevitable. The rebuild was always coming. Nothing is ever permanent.

Perez is a 19-year-old righty starter. Cameron is a 20-year-old center fielder. Rogers is a 22-year-old catcher. Before the year, Eric had them ranked third, 10th, and 20th in the Astros’ system, respectively. Perez just missed the overall top-100. In Baseball America’s midseason update, Perez ranked 32nd overall. He ranked second in the Astros’ system. Perez is clearly the big get, but Cameron could be a long-term center fielder, and Rogers is considered a fantastic defender with a better bat than a lot of people expected. This could become a group of three big-leaguers. The Astros didn’t get Verlander cheap.

But they’re encouraged by what they’ve seen. Just looking at things overall, Verlander has taken a step back:

Justin Verlander
Split K% BB% ERA- FIP- xFIP- Fastball
2016 28% 6% 72 81 89 94.3
2017 24% 9% 86 91 100 95.6

What was strange about the struggling Verlander was there wasn’t an obvious reason. The stuff, if anything, had improved. The results just weren’t there. Yet, consider Verlander’s most recent nine starts:

Justin Verlander
Split K% BB% ERA- FIP- xFIP- Fastball
2016 28% 6% 72 81 89 94.3
Since 7/19 31% 5% 53 80 77 95.9

Normal Verlander again. Perhaps even something a little better. Verlander has pitched like one of the best starters around, and because of his history, it wasn’t going to take much to convince another team that he’d found his way forward. Verlander has made necessary adjustments before. It looks like he’s made them again. This might be a clue:

Maybe it has nothing to do with Verlander taking something back off of his slider. Could be something or anything else. But here’s where we are: Verlander is a former ace starter, throwing ace stuff, who’s recently generated ace results. The Astros figure he’s back, and, if he is, how many starters would you rather have leading a club into the playoffs? To say nothing of his two more years of control, during which the Astros should still be strong.

With Verlander and Justin Upton going out the door, this has been an important day for Detroit. And with Verlander landing in Houston, this has been an important day for the rest of the American League. The Astros were already very good. Now they’ve made about the biggest splash they could make.

Hellickson Accepts Offer, Makes Pitching Market Even Thinner

We have our first qualifying-offer acceptance of the offseason, and it’s Jeremy Hellickson who’s taken $17 million to stay put for another year. He’ll remain with the Phillies for now, and get paid rather handsomely to do so.

A guarantee of $17.2 million isn’t bad at all for a pitcher with Hellickson’s past. He was a somewhat interesting commodity given that he was coming off easily the best year of his career. Hellickson threw 189 innings of 3.71 ERA ball — or 3.98 FIP ball, if that’s more your speed. DRA, however, rated him at 4.34. Basically, Hellickson pitched like a middle-back-end guy and got a little lucky. Because this year’s stable of free-agent pitchers is largely composed of Rich Hill and a band of merry — if also raggedy — men, Hellickson would have probably had more than a few suitors had he declined the qualifying offer. The Phillies made him the offer assuming that he would — and that they would, in turn, collect the draft pick attached to it, cashing it in this coming summer.

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Bartolo Goes South

The Braves have signed their second pitcher over the age of 40 in as many days. This time it’s the unflappable Bartolo Colon, bringing the man they call Big Sexy’s three-year run in Queens to an end. Colon made himself one of the most beloved figures in baseball during that time. He threw 588.2 innings as a Met, posting a 3.90 ERA, walking just 1.31 batters per nine innings, accumulating 8.3 WAR, and hitting one incredible home run. Thankfully, he will remain in the National League, and will continue to dazzle us with his hitting feats.

Much like R.A. Dickey, who they signed yesterday, Colon is being brought in by the Braves to soak up innings. He led the Mets in innings pitched during his time in Queens and shows no real signs of slowing down. The Braves used 16 starters last year, everyone from Julio Teheran to Lucas Harrell to Jhoulys Chacin to the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona. Only three of them cleared the 100 IP mark. Teheran was legitimately good, Mike Foltynewicz was okay, and Matt Wisler, shall we say, has some things to work on.

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Rangers Put Finishing Touches On Title-Contending Roster

It doesn’t really matter how you think the Rangers got here. Whether you think it’s been team skill or team luck, whether you believe more in the third-best record or 14th-best run differential, today is the first day of August, and only the Cubs have a bigger division lead around the rest of baseball. The way things are set up, the Rangers are almost certainly going to the playoffs. They need to hang tight, sure, but they’ve been free to build for a playoff series. They sit in an enviable position.

The front office has been busy. A few days ago, they brought in Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez. Monday, they paid for Carlos Beltran. And most significantly, they’ve now also paid for Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress. This post is about that last move, and obviously, the key is Lucroy, who’s looked like an excellent fit for the Rangers for months. Lucroy will provide something the Rangers didn’t have, and they’ll get to keep him for another year in 2017. Yet don’t sleep on the Jeffress addition. He’s far from being a throw-in, and he’s going to help this team in October.

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Dodgers Trade for American League’s Best Starter*

Presumably, you’re aware that the Dodgers have been playing well, but, presumably, you’re aware that the Dodgers have been playing well without Clayton Kershaw. In a sense, that’s a good thing — it demonstrates that they’re strong even without their most valuable player. But then, nobody wants to be without Kershaw, and he doesn’t have a timetable to return from his back injury. He might not come back this year at all. The Dodgers have been plowing forward without their ace, and their ace is a big part of the equation.

The rumors were predictable. Big-budget operation, deep farm, rotation hole. The Dodgers got linked to Chris Archer, and the Dodgers got linked to Chris Sale. Observers wanted to see the Dodgers make a splash, because splashes are sexy, and restraint can be boring. In what’s at least their first trade Monday, the Dodgers didn’t make said splash. They didn’t give it up for a No. 1. Except, also, they did, in their own way. The Dodgers have acquired Rich Hill, and Hill has been statistically the best starter in his league.

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Orioles Acquire Unexciting, Generic Innings Sponge

The Marlins had to pay a decently high price for Andrew Cashner. Jon Morosi is unironically tweeting about the ongoing Jeremy Hellickson sweepstakes. It’s important to establish the market context in which the Orioles have now traded for Wade Miley. It’s been obvious for months the Orioles could use some help in the rotation. The farm system didn’t make it realistically possible for them to look at higher-level solutions. They’d have to settle for what they could afford. Wade Miley is what they could afford, with the Mariners getting Ariel Miranda in exchange. There’s no money changing hands. This is about as uncomplicated as a move can get, with Miley being tremendously dull and still presumably helpful.

That’s the thing about the Orioles. Even though they’re a first-place team, it’s a team that had issues. Recent results be damned, the Orioles, in theory, can hit. We all know they can relieve. The rotation has been bad behind Chris Tillman — so bad that Wade Miley is an improvement. There aren’t many contending teams that Miley would make meaningfully better, but that’s the Orioles’ burden and blessing.

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Padres, Braves Exchange Toxic Assets

Note: this is all pending physicals, so

Follow-up note: physicals complete! Trade official. Update included at the very bottom.

Usually, we’re at least able to focus on the baseball side of things. Even though we all recognize that baseball is a business, we’ve gotten good at ignoring that part, focusing on the more baseball-y parts of player transactions. Business matters some in the Mark Melancon trade, but it seems mostly about the Nationals getting a good closer, and the Pirates getting some longer-term pieces. You know, baseball stuff. We’re all in it for the baseball stuff, after all, because the business part is seldom entertaining.

The Padres and Braves have made a business move. Oh, sure, there’s a baseball side, kind of. The Braves must see something in Matt Kemp, something they didn’t see in Hector Olivera. To help cover some of Kemp’s remaining cost, the Padres are reportedly including $10 – 12 million. It would be possible to look at this and think only about the roster implications. But this is mostly just a money move, and from where I sit, the Padres are coming out ahead.

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Royals Get the Other Jarrod Dyson

Look, I know why you’re here. You want to read about deadline trades, and, more specifically, you want to read about impactful deadline trades. This is a post about the A’s trading Billy Burns to the Royals in exchange for Brett Eibner. I know exactly what we’re dealing with, so I won’t take up too much of your time. I’ll just leave some information and get out of here.

Why might the Royals like Burns? He’s under team control forever, he makes a ton of contact, he’s fast, and he’s a proven center fielder. Pretty solid foundation, all things considered. Why might the A’s like Eibner? He’s under team control forever, he has some power, he’s not unathletic, and he’s mostly played center in the minors. I’m not going to say this trade fell along party lines, since neither the Royals nor the A’s are actually caricatures of real front offices, but Burns and Eibner are probably both now in friendlier homes.

Burns is the one with the big-league track record. What’s interesting — last year he was a league-average hitter, and this year his wRC+ has gone down by literally half. Yet his overall profile has been pretty similar. He puts the ball in play, and he runs. Last year there were better outcomes. I want to show you something somewhat discouraging. In this plot are all the hitters who have batted at least 500 times over the past three calendar years. I’ve plotted them by pop-up rate and rate of home runs per fly ball:


For Burns, that’s bad. In the sample, he has the game’s highest pop-up rate, but one of the game’s lowest rates of homers per fly. It’s not just a product of playing in Oakland, either, based on his splits. Billy Burns hasn’t shown good enough bat control, and with these balls in play it would be tremendously difficult for him to produce at all, long-term. Another point that isn’t exactly in his favor: here are the five lowest hard-hit rates from the sample.

Burns isn’t just in last — he’s in last by a few percentage points, which is a bad look. He simply doesn’t hit the baseball very hard. Borrowing from Baseball Savant: last year, in average exit velocity on flies and liners, Burns was tied for fourth-lowest. This year, he’s second-lowest. He doesn’t hit the ball hard, so he doesn’t flash much power, and because he doesn’t flash much power, pitchers challenge him, so he’s mostly unable to draw walks. He’s a ball-in-play sort, and that can make it hard to succeed.

But! It’s not impossible. Last year happened. Dee Gordon put together two productive years. Burns has a career wRC+ of 85, which makes him a lot like Dyson, his new teammate. Dyson might be the superior defender, but Burns is versatile, and he runs the bases well. Dyson isn’t controlled for too much longer; Burns is controlled for a while. Maybe he’s just a useful fourth outfielder, but he shouldn’t be useless, assuming he’s a better hitter than his 2016 statistics.

With Eibner, the A’s are betting on a bat. That he’s manned center in the minors shows he’s got some defensive skill, but mostly, his appeal is the consecutive productive years in Triple-A. He’s already 27, so he’s almost a Quadruple-A player, yet many believe those don’t exist. Count the A’s among them. In the high minors, Eibner has shown some discipline without having big contact problems. And, over a brief spell this year in the majors, Eibner ranked in the 85th percentile in average exit velocity on flies and liners. The pop in his bat is real. He just needs to be able to translate his eye. If he does that, he’s already an average player.

It’s an unsexy move, made between two teams currently going nowhere. A couple days from now, no one’s going to remember this ever happened. Every trade, though, is interesting if you dig into it. Here we have the Royals betting on athleticism, and the A’s betting on results. Sounds like the Royals. Sounds like the A’s.

Mariners Get Joaquin Benoit, Who Won’t Go Away

Here’s the difference between now and the trade deadline. At the trade deadline, when the Twins went out and picked up Kevin Jepsen, I shrugged and kept thinking about other, potentially bigger things. I forgot about the move five minutes after I learned about it. Now, this is a whole post about the Mariners going out and picking up Joaquin Benoit from the Padres. Not that Benoit and Jepsen are identical, but they belong in the tier of second- or third-class moves. As such, I’m sure many of you couldn’t care less about this, but before you go away, let me tell you — Benoit remains one interesting reliever. Good relief pitching is en vogue at the moment, and while Benoit will be 39 next July, he doesn’t seem to be on the verge of anything but another strong 65 innings.

Benoit is going to cost $7.5 million. The Mariners got him from San Diego for Enyel De Los Santos and Nelson Ward, and while De Los Santos is a young one with a big arm, there’s a reason those are two unfamiliar names. Neither is likely to do anything at the highest level; Benoit is likely to go another season or three. For the Padres, there’s nothing wrong with shedding salary and adding a live-armed project. But, necessarily, this is more interesting from the Mariners’ side. As long as Benoit has pitched, he still seems capable of keeping opponents off base.

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Astros Acquire Acceptably Healthy Carlos Gomez

Here’s a trade that’s as much about a trade that didn’t happen as it is about itself. Yeah, it’s independently interesting that the Brewers traded Carlos Gomez to the Astros. It’s made all the more interesting by the fact that the Brewers also traded Carlos Gomez to the Mets, except that they didn’t, officially. The Mets, as you’re probably aware, claim they didn’t like Gomez’s medicals. Gomez and the Brewers said there’s nothing wrong in there. The Astros evidently didn’t see enough to convince themselves Gomez isn’t worth a barrel of prospects. So now it’s basically about the Astros’ evaluation vs. the Mets’ evaluation, and it was the Astros who freaked out about Brady Aiken.

Could be, it wasn’t actually about health. Maybe the Mets didn’t want to take on money, and we’ll see if they do anything else before Friday afternoon. Could be, also, there are just valid differences of opinion, since passing a physical isn’t always black and white. A few offseasons ago, Grant Balfour passed a Rays physical after failing the Orioles’ version. Teams look at things differently. I don’t know how right or wrong the Mets really are.

Here’s what I do know: another team in the race has determined Gomez should be able to help them. That team is paying a lot for the privilege. For the Mets, Gomez could’ve solved two problems. Instead, he’ll try to solve problems for the Astros, and honestly, this package is probably a better one for the Brewers, too, compared to Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores. The Brewers had a trade fall through, and then they made a better one. I don’t mean to make this about the Mets, but they’re the most fascinating party in all of it.

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Mets Buy Low and High on Tyler Clippard

I don’t remember where I saw it, but I read the other day about some baseball executive who doesn’t like the idea of paying July prices for relievers. If it isn’t actually true, it at least seems true that relievers get the biggest mark-up come deadline time. Which might seem silly, given how few innings relievers throw. But then, teams keep paying. Maybe they’re on to something, or maybe it’s an inefficiency, but in our reality, we see relievers get prospects. The Mets just traded prospect Casey Meisner for reliever and free-agent-to-be Tyler Clippard.

Something you note about the Mets: they’re in second place in their own division, trailing the Nationals by two games. Something else you note about the Mets: they’re 3.5 back of the second wild-card slot, and the Cubs are also a game in front of them. Because the Mets aren’t even in playoff position, it’s easy to see things staying this way, the Mets ultimately giving up a prospect for practically nothing. But the Mets have been working to make the team better now, and, there’s something about relievers and important games.

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Angels Pick Up Used But Functional Shane Victorino

The Angels find themselves in what you might term a familiar situation. They’re right in the thick of the race, like they’ve often been, and they’re run by the guys that used to run them, by which I mean Bill Stoneman and Mike Scioscia. Stoneman and Scioscia see eye-to-eye on a number of things, and there’s a certain type of player Scioscia used to love. Prime Shane Victorino would’ve been a phenomenal Angel. Alas, there is no more prime Shane Victorino; alas, even if there were, the Angels wouldn’t have had the players to trade for him. So what we have instead is a match, exchanging little for a post-prime Victorino who might have just enough left in the tank. The Red Sox save a little money, and they can dream on a utility player. The Angels get to see how much turbo remains in Victorino’s well-worn legs.

I was reading an article the other week, when I stumbled upon the following excerpt:

Stoneman was nowhere near as active on the trade front as Dipoto. His most significant July acquisition was reserve outfielder Alex Ochoa in 2002.

Stoneman says it only makes sense to swing a midseason trade if it’s worth it, which is one of those statements you don’t realize is empty until you think about it for a few seconds and the speaker walks away. The general point is that Stoneman isn’t one to panic in the face of midseason trends. Yet in the case of this Angels team, the need for outfield help has been such that no one could dismiss it. Something almost had to be done. Stoneman did it, at the cost of Josh Rutledge.

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Royals Add Johnny Cueto, Relief for Relievers

Here’s all the proof you need that the Royals didn’t need Johnny Cueto: up until this point, the Royals didn’t have Johnny Cueto. The Royals didn’t really have much of anyone in the rotation, and yet they have the best record in the American League, by a surprisingly comfortable margin. If Cueto were necessary, maybe the Royals would’ve had more problems. Just last year, the Royals came a swing away from winning the World Series, and though they got there in part by leaning on supposed ace James Shields, Shields allowed 17 runs in 25 postseason innings. The Royals haven’t done what they’ve done because of an ace. Moving forward, they’ll be more than their ace.

That’s looking at it from just one perspective, though. You have to consider the other perspective, the one where the Royals’ most valuable starting pitcher so far has been literally Edinson Volquez. Not long ago, Yordano Ventura was officially optioned to Triple-A. Jason Vargas sustained a bad elbow injury, and the state of the Royals’ rotation has been such that that was major news. And, well, just last year, the Royals came a swing away from winning the World Series. James Shields finished 0-and-2. What difference might a real ace have made? An ace like Madison Bumgarner, or Johnny Cueto?

Of course there’s no such thing as a guaranteed championship. Of course most moves are just about moving the needle the smallest little bit. Yet, when you’re talking about adding one single player, it doesn’t get much more significant than going from whatever the other option would’ve been to Cueto. This is a big upgrade, and though the Royals had to pay for it, they feel like they know what they’re paying for. And they feel like they know what this season could be.

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Toronto Keeps Upgrading, Adds Josh Donaldson

After the 2011 season, it seemed improbable that the Blue Jays would ever trade Brett Lawrie. He was the native son who exploded onto the scene, bounding his way into the hearts of baseball fans from Victoria to Corner Brook. Always a great hitter in the minor leagues, Lawrie hit .293/.373/.580 with 9 home runs in a 40-game big league tease that set completely unrealistic expectations .

Three injury-ravaged and underwhelming seasons later, Lawrie and three prospects are gone and Josh Donaldson is the new starting third baseman in Toronto as the Blue Jays try to accomplish one goal: reach the playoffs for the first time in a generation. No passport or sentiment will stand in their way as they try to end a long streak without playoff baseball.

Adding Donaldson is a significant upgrade for the Jays, as any team would expect when they pick up one of the premier players in baseball. Conservatively, switching out Donaldson for Lawrie is about a two win upgrade on talent alone. Lawrie’s spotty injury history and inability to translate his minor league offense at the big league level suggest it might be an even bigger gulf.

With two top-ten MVP finishes and 53 total home runs in the last two years, the Jays get a star – a star moving from an offensive sinkhole to a very friendly space for right-handed power hitters. Donaldson is an older player, heading into arbitration for the first time (he’s a Super Two) as well as his age-29 season. Unlike the A’s side of the deal, the four years of control that come with Toronto’s new third baseman is purely secondary to his ability to help them win in 2015.

The Jays wanted an upgrade and, according to Alex Anthopoulos, it was the inclusion of Lawrie in the talks that brought this deal to life. They sell low on Lawrie, who always hit before struggling (mightily at times) at the big league level. He’s as talented a player as there is, one Oakland hopes they can reshape into a more well-rounded big leaguer.

His talent is undeniable, Lawrie is perhaps the defensive equal of Donaldson at third base, and like Oakland’s Fielding Bible Award winner, Lawrie is a former catcher. Perhaps Oakland can get the countless moving parts of his swing in order and awaken the one tool that brought him to the big leagues at 21.

Toronto also gives up a very promising international free agent in Franklin Barreto, a shortstop at 18 with his stock on the rise, fast-rising pitcher in Kendall Graveman, and slightly stalled prospect in Sean Nolin. In terms of bulk control years, the Jays give up a lot. But that future surplus value finishes a distant second to the chance the Jays are building the best team in their division.

Some might look at the Jays rotation and wonder if they have the talent to win a championship. To that I say: look around. The state of the game swung so heavily in favor of pitchers, adding Donaldson’s bat to the likes of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista — to say nothing of Russell Martin — suggests the Jays believe the road to the postseason is paved with extra base hits.

Like the Red Sox, the Jays seem focused on piling more offense on top of their already-deep pool of sluggers. In Donaldson the Blue Jays add another home run threat who actually strikes out at a below-league average rate. As the league heads in one direction, it appears Toronto is headed in another.

It is easy to search for additional meaning in this trade and the Blue Jays interest in Josh Donaldson. Simply put, they targeted a great player they thought could help their team win a division title and more. They added a player who saved more than 30 runs with his glove since 2012 while putting up a 125 wRC+. His 14 WAR over the last two years trails only Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen. Rather than hope their third baseman realized his potential, Toronto acquired one of the best in the game.

It also signals Toronto is serious about overhauling their clubhouse culture, though there is no better cure for a divided clubhouse than a whole pile of wins. Any team that boasts Reyes-Martin-Bautista-Encarnacion-Donaldson at the top of their batting order figures to give pitchers fits, though another left-handed bat in that mix (Reyes switch hits, the rest are all righties) must be a priority.

There is still work to do in Toronto, as huge questions loom in left field as well as second base. Their presumed starting center fielder is 43 big league plate appearances into his career (barely 200 PA above A-ball for Dalton Pompey, another Canadian.) They might not be done yet, but adding an elite ballplayer for the second time in two weeks is a nice way to head into the Winter Meetings.

Deals like this are how teams climb from the 80-85 win treadmill to the 90-win tier of World Series favorites. As they did with Russell Martin, the Blue Jays looked at a decent (and affordable) spot on their roster and thought they could improve it. They gave up a chunk of their identity and whole lot of prospect capital to do it, but it looks like these aren’t your older brother’s Toronto Blue Jays – though I’ve said that before.

Red Sox Pull Capuano from Cautious Market

When Ryan Dempster walked away, it was pretty clear what the Red Sox needed to do. Though Dempster’s salary was too high, the pitcher served an important function as swingman and rotation depth. So it was up to the Red Sox to find a replacement, and the most obvious replacement on the market was Chris Capuano. Capuano was both a starter and a reliever just last year, and with Boston, he could compete with Felix Doubront for the fifth rotation slot in camp. In short, it’s not a surprise at all that, Thursday, Capuano and the Red Sox agreed to terms, pending a physical.

What’s more of a surprise are the terms themselves. Capuano signed for one year, despite having looked for two earlier in the offseason. And his guaranteed base salary is just $2.25 million, with incentives that could push the deal up to a maximum of $5 million. Granted, there might’ve been a discount because the Red Sox just won the World Series. Granted, there might’ve been a discount because Capuano grew up in Massachusetts. But if there were substantially bigger offers out there, it stands to reason Capuano would’ve taken one of those, so it’s curious that he was available so cheap.

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A.J. Burnett Finds New, Mediocre Home

A.J. Burnett’s been real good for two years, and he was better last year than he was the year before, so there’s good reason to believe he’ll be an effective pitcher in 2014. On paper, he was one of the best pitchers available this offseason, but for the longest time he was a special case because it seemed like he’d either retire or return to the Pirates. Only more recently did Burnett express his desire to play, and his openness to playing elsewhere. Immediately he looked like an interesting short-term target for probable contenders. What’s happened instead is that the Phillies have signed him, for a year and $16 million.

The Phillies were long thought one of the finalists. It seems Burnett didn’t want to stray too far from home, and that eliminated plenty of would-be interested baseball teams. And I want to make it clear that one-year deals for good players are usually good deals, and for the Phillies, I don’t have a big problem with this roll of the dice. But Burnett probably took the biggest contract, and he wound up with a mediocre ballclub. Burnett probably doesn’t make the Phillies a playoff team, and an interesting question concerns what might happen in June or July.

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Mariners Replace Good Closer with Good Closer

The Mariners lost Tom Wilhelmsen last year, not to injury, but to whatever it is that capriciously claims the effectiveness of relievers with otherwise quality stuff. In stepped Danny Farquhar, one of two guys the Mariners got for Ichiro in a deal interpreted as nothing other than a dump and a favor. At the time, the Mariners said they liked Farquhar’s new cutter he’d shown in the minors. He proved to be, you could say, up to the task. There were 125 relievers last year who threw at least 50 innings. Farquhar ranked sixth in strikeout rate, between Kenley Jansen and Trevor Rosenthal. He ranked fourth in FIP-, between Mark Melancon and Craig Kimbrel. He ranked sixth in xFIP-, between Aroldis Chapman and Rosenthal. As closer he had a 2.38 ERA. In no time, Farquhar established himself as perhaps one of the better relievers in the major leagues.

On Thursday the Mariners replaced Farquhar with free-agent Fernando Rodney. It had been rumored for months that the Mariners were interested in a veteran closer, and they got the last good one for two years and $14 million, with another possible million in incentives. The Orioles were a possibility, but it seems they’ll stay internal. For the Mariners, on the surface, it’s a strange move. Below the surface, it’s a perfectly reasonable move, that fits within the current market.

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