Archive for July, 2018

Braves Add Gaus to Sputtering Rotation

For as pitching-rich as the Braves may be, they could not afford to stand pat at the non-waiver trade deadline, particularly given the recent struggles of their rotation, the uncharted territory towards which their top starters are heading innings-wise, and a 31-games-in-31-days stretch that has only just begun. On Tuesday afternoon, they dealt four prospects and $2.5 million in international signing bonus slot money to the Orioles in exchange for 27-year-old righty starter Kevin Gausman and 35-year-old righty reliever Darren O’Day It’s the second deal in three days between the two teams, following Atlanta’s acquisition of 32-year-old righty reliever Brad Brach, also in exchange for slot money.

At 56-47, the Braves entered Tuesday half a game back in both the NL East (behind the Phillies) and the Wild Card races (behind the D-backs, .001 ahead of the Rockies). They’ve generally gotten good work from their starters this year, at least in terms of ERA, as the rotation ranks third in the NL (3.68). They’re a shakier eighth in FIP (4.19), with a gaudy 9.8% walk rate, the league’s second-worst. The team’s 9-13 record this month owes plenty to the unit’s recent struggles; their 4.90 ERA and 4.95 FIP in July both rank in the bottom third of the league.

All of that has been a problem, but if the Braves stay In This Thing, they’ll have another:

Braves Starters’ 2018 Performance and 2017 Innings
Pitcher GS IP ERA FIP WAR 2018 IP 2017 IP
Kevin Gausman 21 124.0 4.43 4.58 1.3 124.0 186.2
Sean Newcomb 21 119.2 3.23 4.05 1.5 119.2 157.2
Julio Teheran 21 115.0 4.46 5.33 -0.1 115.0 188.1
Mike Foltynewicz 20 112.1 3.04 3.54 2.2 112.1 154.0
Brandon McCarthy* 15 78.2 4.92 4.79 0.2 78.2 100.1
Anibal Sanchez 13 75.0 3.12 3.93 1.0 81.2 125.0
Michael Soroka* 5 25.2 3.51 2.85 0.6 66.1 153.2
Max Fried 4 19.2 2.75 2.91 0.5 80.0 144.2
Matt Wisler 3 17.1 3.63 4.03 0.2 96.2 126.0
Luiz Gohara 1 4.0 4.5 3.16 0.1 68.1 153.0
* = disabled list.
2017 and 2018 innings totals include all roles and all leagues for regular season and postseason.

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The Dodgers Finally Get Brian Dozier

The Dodgers have seemingly courted Brian Dozier for years. Last offseason, they seemed to settle for Logan Forsythe to fill their second-base needs. But the desire lingered and, in the final hour leading up to Tuesday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline, the Dodgers and Dozier finally got together.

The price of Dozier on Tuesday was cheaper than it was two years ago when the Twins refused an offer of Jose De Leon, who was later shipped to the Rays for Forsythe. To acquire Dozier, the Dodgers sent Forsythe and minor-league pitcher Devin Smeltzer and corner bat Luke Raley to the Twins. Neither was ranked by FanGraphs among the Dodgers’ top 21 prospects in the spring.

While the cost came down, Dozier, 31, is nearly two years older and perhaps not the same player. He’s also headed to free agency after the season. Still, this is a trade about today for the Dodgers. Second base is a real need for Los Angeles, and even a subpar Dozier, whose 91 wRC+ represents a six-year low, is a real upgrade.

Dodgers second basemen have produced an anemic .213/.303/.287 slash line to date, ranking 28th in the majors in wRC+ (66) and 27th in second base WAR (-0.3). Forsythe (55 wRC+), Chase Utley (84 wRC+), and company were just not getting the job done, producing a drag effect on the lineup.

The Dodgers have ridden the game’s macro-level trends about as well as any team in recent years. They’ve manipulated the 10-day DL, have employed an opener, limited pitchers’ trips through lineups, and were willing to give more dollars and years than any other club to Rich Hill’s unconventional pitch mix two winters ago. (Hill’s usage is now becoming more and more conventional.) Justin Turner has preached the power of the air ball to teammates like Chris Taylor. In Dozier, they get another hitter with natural loft and pull-side power.

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The Pirates Made the Deadline’s Biggest Move

I think of the Pirates and Rays as being similar to one another. The A’s belong to the same small group. There are differences, obviously, and the organizations each have their own specific approaches, but these are smaller-budget operations that adhere to similar roster-building philosophies. They try not to ever completely tear down, accumulating years of team control while aiming for something close to .500. Constant churn is an unavoidable reality. It’s almost a feature instead of a bug. In a case like this year’s A’s, a club can get hot, but I’m used to seeing these teams in similar positions. So I wouldn’t expect them to swing major trades with one another.

Less than a month ago, the Rays were 11 games back of the second wild-card slot. In the other league, the Pirates were 10 games back of the second wild-card slot. Both of the teams were expected to sell, because competing down the stretch was unrealistic. Since then, the Rays have won nine times and lost nine times. The Pirates, however, have gone 15-4. The Rays are still very much out of the hunt, but the Pirates are within 3.5 games of the playoffs. That imbalance in the short-term outlooks has led us to a blockbuster. This is the time of year when a very small sample can dramatically change a team’s course. Because they caught fire at just the right time, the Pirates have decided to go for it.

Pirates get:

Rays get:

Both the Rays and Pirates already thought they could be close in the future. The Pirates’ last 19 games have made all the difference. They’ve opened up a shot in 2018, which was enough to tip all the necessary scales.

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Ranking the Prospects Traded at the Deadline

The 2018 trade deadline has passed and, with it, dozens of prospects have begun a new journey toward the major league with a different organization. We have the prospects traded since the Manny Machado deal ranked below, with brief scouting snippets for each of them. Players highlighted in blue are not technically prospects, having exhausted rookie eligibility, but we felt they fell under our umbrella of evaluation anyway as they’ve spent a lot of time up and down in the minors this year. Plus, it’s just interesting to think about where they fit. Scouting info comes from both in-person looks and also a combination of scouts and front-office personnel to whom we are eternally grateful.

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Brewers Acquire Jonathan Schoop Presumably to Play Infield

Ahead of the deadline, the Brewers traded for bullpen help in the form of Joakim Soria. They appeared to need a second baseman, but then they traded for Mike Moustakas and moved Travis Shaw to second base in an unusual experiment. With those needs met, the Brewers turned their attention to the starting-pitching market. Then Chris Archer went to the Pirates, Kevin Gausman went to the Braves, Matt Harvey stayed in Cincinnati, and Kyle Gibson remained in Minnesota. Without seeing any other starting options available, the team landed another infielder in the form of Jonathan Schoop of the Orioles.

Brewers receive:

Orioles receive:

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Rays Trade for Older Christian Yelich

At 53-53, the Rays aren’t bad, but they’re also not anywhere close to the race. At 54-52, the Cardinals aren’t much better, but a wild-card slot remains within reach. Given that, you’d think, if anything, the Cardinals would be improving, while the Rays would be selling. Instead, we have a trade that goes in the other direction. It’s a little bit of a surprising deadline maneuver, yet the Rays are gearing up for a run next season. And the Cardinals are just making more room for Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill. I’ll give you the specifics:

Rays get:

  • Tommy Pham
  • $500,000 international bonus-pool money

Cardinals get:

On the surface, you can understand the Cardinals’ perspective here. Pham is 30 years old, and his numbers don’t look like they did last season. Pham and the organization haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, and besides, Bader looks like one of the better defensive outfielders in either league, so it makes sense to play him more often. I can see why they might’ve wanted to make a trade. Still, it feels like they’ve sold Pham low. The Rays are getting a possible difference-maker here, and you don’t have to dig too far into the numbers to see it.

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Trade-Deadline Chat with Kiley McDaniel and Travis Sawchik

3:01
Travis Sawchik: Happy Trade Deadline Day

3:01
Travis Sawchik: 59 minutes to go …

3:02
Travis Sawchik: Chris Archer appears to be the biggest chip that hasn’t moved that might (probably will?)

3:02
Travis Sawchik: Harper is apparently staying, Rizzo says

3:02
yerp: Who says no: Archer for Harper + international signing money?

3:02
Travis Sawchik: Tampa ends that call quickly

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The Pirates Add Rangers’ Reliever for Stretch Run and Beyond

A few weeks ago, the notion of the Pirates operating as buyers at the deadline would have sounded pretty ridiculous. After a good run of play, though — including some great offensive performances — the club is just 3.5 games out of a Wild Card spot despite having traded away Gerrit Cole and franchise icon Andrew McCutchen over the winter. While the Pirates bullpen has been pretty good of late behind the always good Felipe Vazquez, as well Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez, and Edgar Santana, another arm for the back of the pen is always a benefit. To that end, the team traded for one of the best relievers available in Rangers’ closer Keone Kela, a deal that was first reported by Jeff Passan.

Pirates receive:

Rangers receive:

Jerry Crasnick is reporting that the player to be named is a lesser prospect. When I wrote about the Pirates’ surprising run a week ago, I mentioned the dilemma the team faces given their unexpected contention:

Now that the Pirates find themselves in playoff contention, carving out a path forward isn’t as easy. A few weeks ago, they might have been taking calls on some of their bullpen arms as well as Mercer or Harrison. Now they have the option of adding an arm for a low-level prospect. Still, that isn’t going to move the team forward much. They have somewhat established starters at basically every position and Austin Meadows back in the minors awaiting playing time in the majors after a decent run earlier in the year. They have five MLB-caliber starters where most of the pitchers available won’t net a significant improvement over the last two months.

The Pirates are in weird spot. Nobody expected the team to do anything. Now that the team is somewhat close to a playoff spot, however, it feels like they should do something. Unfortunately, there’s not much the team can do right now to make themselves better.

By acquiring Keone Kela, the team is trying to thread the needle a bit. Kela is a good bullpen add for this season, recording a 2.97 FIP and 3.44 ERA while pitching his home games in Texas’ hitter-friendly environment. Using an upper-90s fastball and low-80s curve, he’s struck out 29% of batters while walking under 10%. He definitely helps Pittsburgh’s bullpen this year; however, he could also help the team in the future. Kela is making $1.2 million in his first year of arbitration. His salary will rise some over the next few years, but he won’t be a free agent until after the 2020 season. In theory, the Pirates have brought on a player who should help them in multiple seasons.

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Selling Is the Right Move for the Nationals

Bryce Harper might join Manny Machado among those traded before the deadline.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

This post has been updated to reflect the Washington Post’s latest report about Harper’s availability.

Last week, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported that the Nationals, who at the time were 50-51, “might need to win three of its next four games in Miami to stave off growing internal pressure to sell.” While the team trounced the Marlins in the series’ first two games, they lost the final two, capped by a two-hit shutout by Jose Urena and three relievers on Sunday. Now 52-53, they’re 5.5 games back in the NL East and six back in the Wild Card race. On Monday night, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported that they’ve made it known that pending free agent Bryce Harper is available:

[Update] On Tuesday morning, via the Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo proclaimed the team’s intention to keep Harper:

Harper, of course, is not having his best season. Though he’s first in the league in walks (84) and second in homers (25), he has struggled like never before when it comes to hitting against infield shifts; both his .240 BABIP and 42 wRC+ in such situations are career lows. In all, he’s hit .220/.369/.473 for a 121 wRC+, down from a 139 career mark, and his 1.6 WAR in 103 games is less than half of last year’s 4.9 in 111 games.

Even before Janes’ report, FanCred’s Jon Heyman suggested that Rizzo may not have been earnest about moving the 25-year-old slugger:

That jibes with Rosenthal’s report, which suggested that money is at the root of the Nationals’ concerns, but that not all of the team’s decision-makers were onboard (a situation that may have changed in the ensuing days):

“According to sources, ownership is pushing Rizzo to sell, particularly with the Nationals projecting to be over the $197 million luxury-tax threshold. That ownership preference, first mentioned by MLB Network Radio’s Jim Duquette, is shared by some in the front office who believe it might be time to retool. Rizzo, however, is not inclined to concede, and other sources suggest ownership is simply ‘riding it out’ and waiting for Washington to play better.”

Per Cot’s Contracts, the Nationals’ payroll for luxury tax purposes is $208,548,348. As second-time offenders, they would pay a 30% penalty on the amount over the threshold, which comes to all of $3.46 million, about what they’re paying Howie Kendrick this year — peanuts, by major-league standards. For the sake of comparison, the Dodgers paid $36.2 million in taxes and penalties last year, the Nationals just $1.45 million.

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How New Mariner Zach Duke Reinvented Himself

Five years ago, Zach Duke found himself in a sobering situation. The then-30-year-old left-hander had exercised an August 1 opt-out clause — he’d been pitching well for Cincinnati’s Triple-A affiliate — and his next opportunity was seemingly right around the corner. With 200 big-league appearances under his belt, it was only a matter of time until his phone rang and he was fielding offers.

Instead, all he heard was crickets.

“I was on the verge,” Duke admitted this past weekend. “When you make yourself available to every team and none of them want you, that’s a pretty good indicator that the end might be near. To be honest, I thought that might be it.”

After reinventing himself, though, he’s not only still pitching, he’s a wanted man. Earlier today, the Seattle Mariners acquired Duke from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Chase De Jong and Ryan Costello. His appeal to the pennant contenders is apparent in the numbers. In 45 relief appearances covering 37.1 innings, Duke has a 3.62 ERA, a 58.5% ground-ball rate, and has yet to give up a gopher.

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