Analyzing the deadline deals

The trade deadline is a time of, well, rumors mostly. Usually, there is this huge buildup in the last two weeks of July with insane rumors flying around about half-a-dozen star players who have been linked to at least half-a-dozen trades each, but in the end, all that happens is that a bunch of crappy relievers get dealt for a bunch of mediocre prospects.

In some ways, this deadline was no different. By the end of this column, I was having a hard time thinking of something new to say about every middle reliever getting dealt. But there was one true blockbuster yesterday and a couple other trades that may have some impact on the pennant race. So I’ve analyzed every deadline deal for your enjoyment, or, if you’re a Pirates fan, anger.

Chicago Cubs trade Cesar Izturis and cash to the Pittsburgh Pirates for player to be named later.

The Pirates made this trade ostensibly so they could then deal Jack Wilson. Well, it’s Aug. 1 and Wilson is still with Pittsburgh, which is now stuck with two crappy shortstops. Would Wilson clear waivers? Probably, so a trade still may come. But for now, this deal seems absolutely senseless for the Pirates.

Los Angeles Angels trade Jose Molina to the New York Yankees for Jeff Kennard.

The Yankees acquired one replacement-level player for another. I don’t know that Jose Molina will help New York get to the playoffs in any way, but he certainly won’t hurt in replacing Wil Nieves and his career .419 OPS. Kennard is a 26-year-old pitcher in Double-A, and is unlikely to ever pitch in the major leagues.

Overall, the Yankees may have made a slight upgrade at backup catcher without giving up anything of value. The Angels got rid of an unneeded spare part. Both teams did what they wanted to do, and I guess there is some value in that.

San Diego Padres trade Scott Linebrink to the Milwaukee Brewers for Will Inman, Joe Thatcher, and Steve Garrison.

This is a fantastic pickup for the Padres. Inman dominated Single-A as a 19-year-old last year with 134 strikeouts, 24 walks, and 3 home runs allowed in 110 innings. He picked up where he left off high Single-A this year, but has struggled since being promoted to Double-A. Nonetheless, Inman’s strikeout numbers are still impeccable and he is still just 20 years old.

Thatcher is the kind of pitcher that Petco Park turns into a star reliever. He went undrafted out of college, but has seen success at every level since signing with the Brewers after a stint in the independent leagues. At 26 years old, Thatcher is pretty old for a minor leaguer, but his success is nothing to scoff at. He has averaged over a strikeout per inning at every level he has pitched, and could turn into a solid setup man for the Padres.

Linebrink, meanwhile, is already a solid setup man. But what I don’t really know is how he fits in with what is an already-solid bullpen. I guess you can never have too many arms, but you don’t give up two future major leaguers for something that you already have. Would the Brewers have been much worse off just calling up Thatcher? I don’t think so. I really don’t see how Linebrink helps a team with a 3.77 bullpen ERA.

If the Brewers really wanted to improve, they should have gone after Tadahito Iguchi, who could have been had for a song and filled a real weakness on the Milwaukee roster.

Texas Rangers trade Kenny Lofton to the Cleveland Indians for Max Ramirez.

The Indians thought they had built up their stock of good left-handed outfielders when they signed Trot Nixon and David Dellucci this offseason. Both, however, have posted sub-.700 OPSs, and that’s where Lofton, who is hitting .307/.383/.441, comes in. Lofton will platoon with lefty-killer Jason Michaels, who is hitting .303 against lefties this season but just .266 against right-handers.

Lofton is still a pretty good fielder, and he will help Cleveland a bunch in trying to stave off the Tigers and Yankees for a playoff spot. Of course, the price for a player who can help much so much is high, and indeed Ramirez is a very good catching prospect.

At 22, he is a little old for his level (high Single-A), but his numbers are great. Nate Silver was skeptical that those numbers would translate into the major leagues because they rested in large part on a high walk rate, but Ramirez has added some more power this season. Overall, he looks to me like a fine prospect; this trade will only be a good one if it propels the Indians into the playoffs.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

Chicago White Sox trade Tadahito Iguchi to the Philadelphia Phillies for Mike Dubee.

Acting fast after Chase Utley broke his hand, the Phillies pulled off a heck of a deal here, getting a pretty good second baseman for essentially nothing. Iguchi has struggled a bit this season with a .251 batting average and just six home runs, but he should rebound and post about a .760 OPS the rest of the way.

While that obviously won’t replace Utley’s production, it may be enough to keep the Phillies in the playoff race until Utley comes back.

Arizona Diamondbacks trade Scott Hairston to the San Diego Padres for Leo Rosales.

I don’t really get this trade for the Diamondbacks. It’s not like they’re set in the outfield for the next five years, and Hairston’s minor league numbers point to a guy who could really contribute. He has yet to make his mark in the majors, but neither had Jack Cust until this season. I think talk of Hairston being a “Quadruple-A” player is just as premature as it was for Cust.

Rosales, meanwhile, is a 26-year-old reliever who has never pitched in the major leagues and currently has a 4.12 FIP in Triple-A this season. I don’t see the upside in this trade for the D-Backs but I do see a big downside.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays trade Seth McClung to the Milwaukee Brewers for Grant Balfour.

The Brewers were forced to make this trade because they had to make room on the roster for Linebrink and Balfour was out of options, but to me, that’s just all the more reason to dislike the Linebrink deal.

Balfour struggled in his three appearances with the Brewers, allowing six runs and losing two games, but his minor league numbers this year were eye-popping: 68 strikeouts, 15 walks, and two home runs in 43 innings pitched. He has struggled with injuries the past few years, but Balfour still looks like he could be a very good reliever. More and more, the Linebrink trade looks like it was more about getting a “reliable veteran” than actually improving the Brewers organization.

For the record, I still think Doug Melvin is one of the best general managers in baseball. I just don’t happen to believe that these are very good deadline deals.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays trade Ty Wigginton to the Houston Astros for Dan Wheeler.

And the Devil Rays make another spectacular acquisition for their bullpen! Andrew Friedman is quickly moving up the ranks as one of the smartest baseball executives around. Wheeler’s 5.07 ERA this season is deceiving: His xFIP is a solid 3.56, which is in line (actually, a little better) with his xFIPs the previous two seasons.

Wheeler is a closer-quality reliever, and he actually did close for the Astros for awhile this season. Along with Balfour, he should go a long way towards shoring up the Rays bullpen.

The more I think about this trade, the more I like it for the Astros as well. Wigginton is not a very good fielder, but he is an above-average hitter and should be even better in the weaker National League. He is also an extreme pull hitter, and the Crawford Boxes should do some great things for his home run totals.

This looks like the rare trade that will help both teams quite a bit.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays trade Jorge Cantu and Shaun Cumberland to the Cincinnati Reds for Brian Shackelford and Calvin Medlock.

Remember when Cantu his .286 with 28 home runs and 117 RBIs in 2005? Well, how the mighty have fallen: Cantu hasn’t posted a .700 OPS at any level since. Besides Cantu, no one traded in this deal has any cachet, though Medlock may yet turn into a serviceable reliever. Overall, this is one team trading its spare parts for another’s, though I do think this deal has a little bit more upside for the Rays.

Cincinnati Reds trade Kyle Lohse to the Philadelphia Phillies for Matt Maloney.

Lohse is actually better than I realized. His FIPs the past three seasons have been 4.48, 4.34, and 4.49, making Lohse an average-to-slightly above average starting pitcher. In this market, that kind of performance is worth maybe $10 million a year; Lohse is as good as Jeff Suppan, who got four years and $40 million from the Brewers this off-season.

Maloney, meanwhile, still needs to do a lot of work before he can make it to the major leagues. His strikeout rates are good, but he still walks too many batters to be a successful major league pitcher. Nonetheless, there is some upside there, while Lohse wasn’t really worth anything to the fifth-place Reds.

I like this trade for both teams.

Minnesota Twins trade Luis Castillo to the New York Mets for Drew Butera and Dustin Martin.

Anyone else remember when Castillo hit .334/.418/.388 in 2000? He and Juan Pierre made for a great power-less combination at the top of the Marlins lineup. Well, Castillo hasn’t added power since with zero home runs this season, but he has slowed down a bit in other parts of his game, most interestingly displaying a lower walk rate than he had earlier in his career. Most players, of course, walk more as they get older.

Nevertheless, Castillo is still plenty valuable. He is a .300 hitter and a three-time Gold Glove winner, and while injuries have slowed down some the past few years, he is still a pretty good second baseman.

Castillo will replace Ruben Gotay, who is actually having a fantastic season, but is due for some severe regression to the mean. Gotay has a .415 batting average on balls in play, and once that drops, his numbers should closely resemble his THT projection of .236/.294/.353. Mix that with Gotay’s poor fielding and you understand why the Mets made this deal.

Neither Martin nor Butera look like very good prospects at this point: Martin has not played at a very high level despite being older than much of his competition and Butera just has not played well period.

Kansas City Royals trade Octavio Dotel to the Atlanta Braves for Kyle Davies.

After a couple of seasons lost to injury, Dotel has pitched well for the Royals this year with 11 saves in 14 chances and a 3.91 ERA that actually matches his peripheral numbers. In other words, there’s no reason to expect that ERA to go up.

And while he had kind of been forgotten after undergoing Tommy John Surgery in 2005, Dotel was really a very good reliever before that, posting ERAs of 2.66, 1.85, 2.48, and 3.69 between 2001 and 2004. He should help the Braves, especially if Atlanta finally comes to its senses and stops relying on Bob Wickman as its closer.

The Royals got about as much as they were going to get for a reliever they salvaged off the scrapheap. Davies has been disastrous playing in the major leagues and up-and-down in the minors, but he is still just 23 and has a good arm. If Davies can somehow cut down on his walk rate, he could be an average starter for the Royals, which as I mentioned is worth a lot in baseball these days. That’s easier said than done, of course.

New York Yankees trade Scott Proctor to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Wilson Betemit.

I thought the Dodgers did really well in trading for Betemit last year, and I don’t understand why they’ve been so quick to give up on him, especially given that he’s had a very good season this year when given the chance to play (unlike Nomar Garciaparra, who replaced Betemit at third base a month ago). At the same time, I’m not so sure this deal will do much for the Yankees.

Yankees first basemen have hit .288/.347/.419 this season, which is not very good for such a power position. But it’s also not significantly worse than Betemit’s career .263/.338/.441 line. Betemit is 25 years old and having a good season, so at this point he’s probably a little better than his career numbers indicate, but at the same time he plays in the National League, which inflates a hitter’s OPS around by 30 points.

For a third baseman, Betemit’s offense is very good in either league and he’s a valuable player; however, the Yankees plan on inserting him into their rotation at first base and designated hitter, where he won’t be worth nearly as much.

On the bright side, Proctor’s numbers the past two seasons have been boosted by an extraordinary amount of luck, and I’m afraid that it would be wishful thinking to expect anything better than an ERA in the mid-4s the rest of the way. Of course, in half-a-season, anything can happen, but it’s never a good plan to count on luck.

So while this trade doesn’t really seem to help the Yankees all that much, it certainly doesn’t hurt them either. For the Dodgers, on the other hand, this deal makes absolutely no sense and is just as baffling as their refusal to let Betemit play every day.

Boston Red Sox trade Joel Pineiro to the St. Louis Cardinals for player to be named later and cash.

The Cardinals want Pineiro to start for them. As a Red Sox fan, so do I. What’s sad is that Pineiro might actually improve the St. Louis rotation, but that doesn’t exactly improve their odds of making the playoffs; I just don’t see a rotation with Joel Pineiro ever making the postseason.

Texas Rangers trade Eric Gagne to the Boston Red Sox for Kason Gabbard, David Murphy, and Engel Beltre.

After a couple of tough years dealing with injuries, Gagne has returned and pitched quite nicely for the Rangers with a 2.16 ERA and 16 saves in 17 opportunities. His 3.54 FIP is probably a better indication of the kind of pitcher Gagne is now, but he should still help quite a bit in a bullpen that is very thin after All-Stars Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima.

I think this deal works for the Rangers as well. While the Red Sox had no place for Gabbard with Curt Schilling rejoining the rotation and Clay Buchholz knocking on the door, he should be an average starter (which, playing in Texas, is around a 5.00 ERA), a valuable commodity, especially for the pitching-starved Rangers.

Murphy is a fourth outfielder, but Beltre is an intriguing prospect. The Red Sox signed him for $575,000, and in his first season, the 17 year-old has had some very up-and-down results: On the one hand, he has struck out 41 times in only 136 plate appearances, but on the other hand he is garnering almost two bases a hit, which is very good.

If he could halve his strikeout rate, Beltre would be hitting an impressive .284/.376/.547. Of course, that is easier said than done, but at 17, there’s still plenty of time for Beltre to learn. A study by Dan Fox published on THT a year-and-a-half ago showed that Caribbean players walk less than American-born hitters, likely because, as Dan wrote, “you don’t walk off the island.” Perhaps, however, once they enter a major league system, Caribbean players learn at least somewhat to swing at fewer poor pitches.

Texas Rangers trade Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay to the Atlanta Braves for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Beau Jones.

This was the blockbuster of the deadline. It seems that most sabermetrically-minded analysts think that Atlanta got duped here. I can’t agree with that sentiment. The Braves traded away a lot, but they got a hell of a player in return.

Teixeira is in the prime of his career and pretty much a lock to post a .900 OPS year-in and year-out. He also happens to be a very good fielder—we projected him to be 11 runs above average in the field this season in the THT Preseason Preview.

Braves first basemen, meanwhile, have posted an appalling .633 OPS, and Teixeira will be replacing 48 year-old Julio Franco, who wasn’t good enough to start at first base even a decade ago. That’s a legitimate three win improvement right there.

The Braves core consists of Chipper Jones, who is 35; Andruw Jones, who is 30 and could leave via free agency this offseason; Tim Hudson, who is 31; and John Smoltz, who is 40. This is a team that needs to win now, and the Teixeira trade will help facilitate that. How much value will all these prospects have to a 70-win team two years from now? In a best-case scenario, they might get it to .500; what Braves fan would prefer that to the potential of a championship this year?

You might be thinking that I forgot to mention Brian McCann, who is 23, when I was discussing the Braves’ core. I didn’t; I just wanted to dedicate more space to him. McCann is a catcher and a fine one at that. The problem is, Saltalamacchia, who is a very good prospect, loses much of his value on a team that already has a good backstop. We projected a .767 OPS for Saltalamacchia in 2009 in the Preview. For a catcher, that is very good, but for a first baseman, it’s below average. Saltalamacchia simply didn’t have that much value for the Braves.

The Rangers, however, are not set at catcher and Saltalamacchia will be a very good one for them. The rest of the prospects they received are iffier.

Andrus is highly-regarded by scouts, and playing in high Single-A at just 18. On the other hand, Andrus’ OPS is .663, which follows a .683 OPS in Single-A last season. He hits a ton of ground balls, which doesn’t portend much power. But Andrus is a shortstop, so power isn’t really a necessity.

Based on the fact that he hasn’t completely embarrassed himself despite being much younger than his competition, I like Andrus’ chances of becoming a productive major leaguer. I don’t, however, think his ceiling is very high just because I can’t see him ever slugging above .400.

Baseball America rated Saltalamacchia as the Braves’ best prospect prior to the start of the season, and Andrus number two. Atlanta’s third-best minor leaguer was Matt Harrison, a 21 year-old lefty with a nice sinker and good control. Harrison walks only 2.6 batters a game and he has allowed just six home runs in over 116 innings, but I’m not sure how high I should be on him.

Harrison’s THT projection was okay, though below average. The problem is, I don’t see much upside for him. Harrison is striking out almost exactly six batters per game this season at Double-A; major league hitters generally eat those kinds of pitchers for lunch. I am not optimistic about his chances of being a successful major league pitcher.

Feliz is just 19 and his two minor league seasons have produced lots of strikeouts, lots of walks, and no home runs. He throws a blazing fastball, topping out at 97, but Feliz lacks a third pitch, and given his poor control, that could eventually land him in the Rangers pen.

So could Jones, but only if he’s lucky. He has walked six batters per nine innings in his minor league career, but without Feliz’s blistering strikeout rates. Baseball America, which ranked Jones as Atlanta’s 14th-best prospect, also laid out his goals for this season in its Prospect Handbook: “Jones … must make major strides with his control, command and changeup while becoming more consistent with his fastball and curve.”

Funny, I have those same issues. He may only be 20, but I’m not sure Jones’ odds of playing in the major leagues are that much better than mine. Of course, you never know with a pitching prospect.

In summary (and this analysis really needs one), the Rangers got one great prospect, two raw but promising youngsters, and an okay-ish pitching prospect for a year-and-a-half of Teixeira and a mediocre reliever. That’s a very good haul for Texas, especially since Teixeira had no value to a 90-loss team anyway. But the Braves are on the opposite spectrum, and I believe this a very good deal for Atlanta as well.

Seattle Mariners trade Julio Mateo to the Philadelphia Phillies for Jesus Merchan.

The Phillies were looking for bullpen help, but I doubt they’re going to get it from Mateo. Here are his xFIPs the past four years: 5.79, 5.74, 5.05, 5.16. Worse still, Mateo is an extreme fly ball pitcher leaving the cozy confines of Safeco Field for the launching pad that is Citizen’s Bank Park. This should be fun.

Merchan was a non-prospect coming into this season, but he has .332/.399/.491 splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A this season and vaulted himself back into prospect status. There’s a huge amount of evidence that Merchan has just gotten lucky—he’s 26 years-old, this was his third year in Double-A, his OPS has never even hit .700—but certainly, his breakout is worth paying attention to. If he only makes for a good backup shortstop, the Mariners will have gotten a fair deal.

San Francisco Giants trade Matt Morris to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Rajai Davis and player to be named later.

A lot of commentators seem to be perplexed about this deal, but I don’t see what about it is so perplexing. The Pirates are on-pace for their third straight 95-loss season and Dave Littlefield is feeling that his job might be in jeopardy. The Pirates have posted a .431 winning percentage in Littlefield’s six-year tenure, which equivalent to less than 70 wins a season.

Morris makes the Pirates immediately better, though he has little long-term value to the club, and he might just help Littlefield avoid another season with fewer than 70 wins. Baseball Prospectus projects the Pirates to finish with between 95 to 96 losses; Morris and a little luck might just get Pittsburgh those few extra games.

Davis is no more than a fourth outfielder.

Houston Astros trade Morgan Ensberg to the San Diego Padres for player to be named later or cash.

Ensberg has struggled since tearing a shoulder tendon last season, but I’m not convinced that his days as an All-Star caliber third baseman are over. Ensberg is hitting only .232 this season, but his healthy 19.8% line drive rate indicates that he should be hitting about .318. That would up his OPS to a very healthy .920.

Now perhaps Ensberg’s batting average is down because he just isn’t hitting the ball that hard, even when he hits line drives, but I think it is way too early to write him off.

Chicago White Sox trade Rob Mackowiak to the San Diego Padres for Jon Link.

Mackowiak is an average hitter who might help the Padres at second base, though I wonder how well he will field at a position he last played in 2005. Link has some decent numbers this season, but as Chris Constancio points out, he is a reliever pitching in a pitcher-friendly park. He doesn’t seem to be much of a prospect, making this another low-risk trade with upside for the Padres.

San Diego Padres trade Royce Ring to the Atlanta Braves for Wilfredo Ledezma and Will Startup.

I don’t really get these kinds of trades. Does either team think it’s improving itself enough to justify making this deal? Ring strikes out a ton of batters, but struggles with control at times. Startup is younger, but his numbers aren’t quite as eye-popping (then again, he doesn’t walk as many batters). Overall, I have no clue who is better. Ledezma is going to be on his third team this season and that’s all you need to know about that.

I’m not against these kinds of deals per se, I just don’t really understand them.

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