Cubs, Blue Jays busy as deadline nears
No blockbusters went down on Monday night, but teams did make a total of five trades on the final night before the deadline. Here’s a quick rundown of those moves:
• Braves acquire starting pitcher Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson from the Cubs for pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman.
Rebuffed by Ryan Dempster in their attempt to solidify their rotation, the Braves tapped their minor league pitching depth to acquire a lesser Cub starter in Maholm, a 30-year-old sinkerballing southpaw, as well as Johnson, a 35-year-old righty bench bat. The irony of what at first looks like a smaller-scale deal than the Dempster acquisition, which was slated to be for Randall Delgado, is that the Braves gave up a pitcher even more highly regarded coming into the year in Vizcano.
Drafted and developed by the Pirates, Maholm had been solid for the Cubs, putting up a 3.74 ERA and a 60 percent quality start rate while averaging an even 6.0 innings per start. Maholm doesn’t miss a ton of bats, but his 6.1 strikeouts per nine and 2.5 walks per nine are both career bests that pair well with a strong 52 percent groundball rate. He’s not just a rental, either; he’s making $4.75 million this year and has a team option for $6.5 million for 2013, with a $0.5 million buyout. He’ll replace Jair Jurrjens, who had been torched for 14 runs in 5 2/3 innings over his last two starts to raise his ERA back to 7.04, a somewhat surprising turn for a pitcher who had delivered a 2.13 ERA in four starts since returning from the minors. Then again, with just 11 strikeouts in 31 innings since returning, Jurrjens wasn’t fooling many hitters.
Johnson is an excellent fourth outfielder, a proven lefty-masher (.312/.369/.468 career, compared to .267/.325/.382 against righties) who can play all three positions and who can cover for the loss of Matt Diaz to a thumb injury earlier this month. He’s hitting .302/.355/.444 with three homers this year, this despite a ghastly but still much-improved strikeout-to-walk ratio (43/10, after two years of a combined 113/10). To get this useful pair, the Braves gave up quality in the form of the 21-year-old Vizcaino, who came into the year ranked 40th on Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list — and an eye-popping 14th on Keith Law’s list — but who underwent Tommy John surgery in late March after pitching through a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament since 2010. Undersized at 6 feet and 190 pounds, and with an unorthodox delivery, he throws a 92-96 MPH fastball that can touch 98 out of the bullpen, and a power curveball that’s also an out pitch. His command issues, injury history and failure to develop a third pitch may make him a permanent reliever, though. Chapman is a reliever as well, a 25-year-old righty who was striking out 10.1 per nine at Triple-A Gwinnett on the strength of a plus changeup that complements an 89-92 MPH fastball.
• Pirates acquire outfielder Travis Snider from the Blue Jays for relief pitcher Brad Lincoln
Perhaps the most compelling move of the night was the liberation of the 24-year-old Snider from Toronto. A first-round pick out of a Washington state high school back in 2006, he reached the majors as a 20-year-old in late 2008 and hit a tantalizing .301/.338/.466 in 80 PA, numbers that pushed him into the top 10 of the Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus prospect lists coming into the 2009 season. Since then, he has struggled to a combined .243/.303/.425 line in 837 big league plate appearances — never more than 319 in a single season — while battling injuries and a seemingly endless series of promotions and demotions. While tearing up Triple-A Las Vegas on an annual basis (.333/.412/.565 combined) he has become something of a stathead cause célèbre whom fans of other teams covet — a classic “change of scenery” player.
As I noted at Baseball Prospectus yesterday, the Pirates have gotten a Replacement-Level Killer-worthy production out of their leftfielders (.200/.243/.321) while their rightfielders haven’t been much better (.258/.297/.458). Both Opening Day starters, Alex Presley and Jose Tabata, have served minor league stints due to their struggles, with the latter still there. The team brought up Starling Marte for a look on Thursday, and had been discussing him as the key player in a potential trade for the Indians’ Shin-Soo Choo. The acquisition of Snider won’t necessarily stop that from going down, but note the contrast: Marte is 23, with two-thirds of a season at Triple-A and 22 big league plate appearances under his belt, while Snider is just eight months older, with a ton more upper-level experience. Because of his yo-yoing, he won’t even be arbitration eligible until after the 2013 season, making him somebody who should have a reasonable shot of becoming a lineup staple. Even matching his big league numbers to date (.248/.306/.429 ) would be an improvement upon the current situation, though Snider will have to improve upon a strikeout-to-walk ratio that was at 5.1 in 202 plate appearances last year.
In Lincoln, the Blue Jays get the fourth overall pick of the 2006 draft — 10 picks ahead of Snider — a player who looked like a bust coming into the year, having delivered a grand total of 100 1/3 major league innings with a 5.74 ERA. Now 27 years old, he has emerged as a useful reliever, delivering a microscopic 0.50 ERA and a 40/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 1/3 innings out of the bullpen, compared to a 6.08 ERA in five starts as a rotation patch. He’s got good control of a fastball that averages 93.8 MPH and a hard curveball that generates swings and misses, but lacking a reliable third pitch, he’s likely to stay in the bullpen.
• Dodgers acquire relief pitcher Brandon League from the Mariners for outfielder Leon Landry and pitcher Logan Bawcom
League is a 29-year-old righty who can pump it in the mid-90s, though “it” in this case is a two-seam fastball that he uses to generate groundballs rather than a heater that misses bats. Indeed, League has struck out just 5.4 hitters per nine while walking 3.8, which when paired with a .329 BABIP helps to explain why he lost the closer job in May. He won’t be tasked with ninth-inning duties in L.A., at least on a regular basis; instead, he’ll serve as a setup guy for Kenley Jansen, as someone who can come in and generate a double play when needed. Jansen has and the rest of the bullpen have been worked heavily this month, with the closer making 13 appearances and the unit as a whole making 78 appearances and throwing 75 1/3 innings, both season highs despite the four-day All-Star break.
Landry, the Dodgers’ third-round pick in 2010 out of Louisiana State, is a 22-year-old burner who was hitting .328/.358/.559 at High-A Rancho Cucamonga of the hitter-friendly California League. His slugging percentage is a function of his 15 triples; he has a more modest eight homers. He’s a centerfielder with the arm to play right, but despite the eye-popping stats, he doesn’t profile as a regular down the road. Bawcom is a 23-year-old righty reliever who was a 17th-round 2010 pick out of the University of Texas. Armed with a 92-95 MPH fastball and a slider, both above average, he has whiffed 11.1 per nine split between Rancho and Double-A Chattanooga, but he profiles more as a mid-innings guy than a late-innings one.
• Rangers acquire catcher Geovany Soto from the Cubs for pitcher Jacob Brigham
Now 29 years old, Soto once ranked among the league’s top-hitting catchers, at least when healthy. He hit a combined .254/.347/.452 with an average of 17 homers from 2008-2011, albeit in the form of strong even-numbered years and mediocre odd-numbered ones thanks to oblique, shoulder, groin and knee injuries. In the midst of a dreadful campaign with the bat, he’s hitting just .199/.284/.347 with six homers in 197 plate appearances, though he’s hit a more respectable .241/.323/.398 in 93 PA since returning from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Behind the plate, Soto’s fairly average at throwing out runners (a league-average 27 percent caught stealing rate, down one point from his career rate) but above-average in pitch-framing. For the Rangers, he’ll serve as a backup to Mike Napoli, who hasn’t been able to replicate last year’s MVP-caliber season, hitting just .228/.344/.445 with 17 homers. Soto replaces Yorvit Torrealba, who was hitting just .236/.302/.342 and who was designated for assignment after this deal was consummated.
In Bingham, the Cubs get a 24-year-old Double-A righty whose progress up the ladder was slowed by 2008 Tommy John surgery. He’s got a 91-95 MPH fastball, an average slider, and a below-average changuep — the makings of a back-end starter or middle reliever; while he can miss bats (8.4 strikeouts per nine), he’ll have to do better keeping the ball in the park (1.4 homers per nine).
• Mariners acquire outfielder Eric Thames from the Blue Jays for relief pitcher Steve Delabar
As noted yesterday, the Mariners were on the hunt for hitters under club control, and in Thames they got one, a 25-year-old outfielder who was the Jays’ seventh round pick in 2008 out of Pepperdine University. After batting .262/.313/.456 with 12 homers in 394 PA as a rookie, Thames beat out Snider to open the season as the team’s starting leftfielder, and roared to a .308/.361/.446 start in April, but when he backed that with a .193/.227/.301 May, he quickly fell out of favor and was shipped down to Triple-A Las Vegas while the team turned to Proven Veteran Rajai Davis (yawn). Despite mashing in hitter-friendly Vegas (.330/.407/.528), Thames was bypassed in favor of Snider and Anthony Gose when injuries hit the Toronto outfield. The Mariners have gotten a miserable .201/.272/.370 performance from their leftfielders this year; Casper Wells has been a major improvement upon Chone Figgins, and with the trade of Ichiro Suzuki to the Yankees, both he and Thames can get longer looks. Still, Thames is short enough on both power and patience that he doesn’t profile as a plus bat at a key offensive position.
In Delabar, the Jays get a 28-year-old independent league refugee who appears intent upon proving that man cannot live by fastball alone; while riding a fastball that has averaged 95.4 MPH this year to an eye-opening 11.3 strikeouts per nine — offset by a splitter that has averaged 88.0 — he has yielded nine homers in 36.2 innings (2.2 per nine) because his breaking ball doesn’t break, and often gets knocked out of the park. That squarely puts him in the category of “project.” Maybe the Blue Jays can help him refine a breaking ball that won’t get creamed, maybe not.