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Presenting a Menagerie of Minor Deadline Moves

This deadline had its share of earthquakes, but it also featured smaller aftershocks, as teams improved their depth or addressed smaller, specific needs. So let’s run down some of the deals that might get buried by the higher-Richter scale shakes of the likes of Max Scherzer and Kris Bryant.

The Houston Astros acquired pitcher Phil Maton and catcher Yainer Diaz from the Cleveland Guardians for center fielder Myles Straw

This trade is actually a slightly unusual one, as the team in the playoff shot — it’s not Cleveland — is the one giving up the best player. Straw’s offensive profile will likely prevent him from being an actual star at any point, but he’s fast, plays enough defense, and gets on-base at a respectable enough level to be an average or even better starter in center; he’s already hit the 2-WAR threshold, after all. UZR, our defensive input for WAR, has him at +6.6 runs, while OAA has him at +5 runs and DRS has him at +2. I don’t think I’d ever play him except in a pinch, but Straw’s theoretical ability to at least stand at second or short in an emergency has some additional value, too. Read the rest of this entry »

Craig Kimbrel Rides the Red Line to the South Side

Some moves are made for getting a team to the playoffs or helping them win a fight for the division. But with the largest lead of any first-place team in baseball in a division where all the other teams are either treading water or selling, the White Sox could basically stick their roster on cruise control and maybe casually stop off and grab a sandwich. But even with the advantage that is the AL Central, they did make a trade on Friday, and it’s about one very specific thing: brutally destroying any hopes or dreams of late-inning comebacks for any playoff opponent who is behind in the late innings. By acquiring closer Craig Kimbrel from the Cubs for second baseman Nick Madrigal and pitcher Codi Heuer, they’ve done just that; pairing him with Liam Hendriks and the rest of what’s already a good bullpen is as frightening as any slasher-movie antagonist.

Kimbrel is having his best season in a long time, with a microscopic 0.72 ERA, 1.08 FIP, and 64 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings to go with his lowest walk rate since 2017. Given his poor first two seasons with the Cubs that were full of both command issues and injury setbacks, some may worry about a possible pumpkinification for the 33-year-old righty. I’m not. ZiPS and the other projection systems all saw quite a bit to like even in Kimbrel’s pedigree, enough to consider him at least an adequate reliever coming into 2021. And there’s little whiff of a fluke in this season’s stats; with a rebounding first-strike rate and batters having their least effective contact year ever, ZiPS thinks that his strikeout and walk rates are right in line with how well he’s actually pitched.

Kimbrel is succeeding the way he did in the old days: a blazing fastball and a knuckle-curve located where batters both have trouble keeping the bat on their shoulders and actually hitting it. Unlike a nasty slider where the goal is to make the batter look foolish on a pitch that is a zip code away, Kimbrel’s knuckle-curve needs to be a borderline pitch. When he can’t spot it, it’s ineffective, as it was in 2019 and ’20. This year, he’s got the heat map of olden days.

Does adding Kimbrel give the White Sox the best bullpen in baseball? ZiPS thinks so, and when our depth charts are fully updated, I suspect they’ll show up at the top there as well. That could be the case next season, too, as Kimbrel is not a pure rental for the White Sox unless they want it to be. With a $16 million option and a $1 million buyout for 2022, it’s basically a one-year, $15 million decision. The White Sox certainly have the ability to pay that should they end up happy with this signing.

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The Blue Jays Get a Helping Hand

The Toronto Blue Jays made a small addition on Thursday, picking up reliever Brad Hand from the Washington Nationals for catcher Riley Adams. Hand had a 3.59 ERA and 4.33 FIP in 41 games for the Nats as Daniel Hudson’s successor at closer. Adams struggled in his brief major league debut this season, going 3-for-30, but has played better for Buffalo with a .239/.371/.487 line in 35 games.

Before Hand’s acquisition, our depth charts ranked the Jays’ bullpen 27th in baseball, making them one of only two serious playoff contenders with a ‘pen in the bottom third of the league. That wasn’t entirely Toronto’s fault, as the relief corps has been decimated by injuries this season. It started with Kirby Yates needing Tommy John surgery before throwing a single regular season pitch for the Jays, and continued with the loss of Julian Merryweather a couple of weeks later, David Phelps and A.J. Cole in May, and Carl Edwards Jr., Tyler Chatwood, and Anthony Castro in the last six weeks. The team has increasingly leaned on Jordan Romano and Tim Mayza, and if it weren’t for Tayler Saucedo‘s solid debut and Adam Cimber’s recent acquisition, the wheels might have come off the bus already.

Adding Hand helps staunch the bleeding, but he’s no longer the kind of pitcher who can heal the wound. On paper, his 2020 was excellent (he posted a 2.05 ERA and a 1.37 FIP), but there were signs of trouble, including a dip in velocity and Hand’s worst xFIP since his days as a Marlins swingman without an out pitch. Cleveland placed Hand on waivers last October, but the erosion of his skills was such that no team wanted to commit to picking up his $10 million option that early in the offseason. He later signed a one-year, $10.5 million deal to join Washington. Read the rest of this entry »

Joey Gallo, the Last of the Rangers, Heads to New York

On Wednesday night, the New York Yankees pulled off a blockbuster trade, grabbing outfielder Joey Gallo from the Texas Rangers in a deal that will also see the Yankees pick up lefty reliever Joely Rodríguez once it is made official. Heading to Texas are pitcher Glenn Otto and infielders Ezequiel Duran, Trevor Hauver, and Josh Smith. In his seventh season in Texas, Gallo has already set a personal best in WAR at 3.4, thanks to a .223/.379/.490, 25 home run effort coupled with continued Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field.

We’re focusing on the major league part of the trade here; for more information on the players moving to Texas, fellow FanGraphiér Kevin Goldstein has published his analysis.

To my eyes, Gallo’s departure brings to an end what has been to this point the most successful epoch in Texas Rangers history. Gallo wasn’t a part of the teams that twice reached the World Series (the first such appearances in franchise history) or won 90 games for four consecutive seasons, but he was a leading part of the vanguard that was supposed to succeed Texas’ core of veteran talent. Many in history have seized a throne, but to build a dynasty, you need to pass it on to the next generation. If the Rangers could transition smoothly from the Adrian Beltre/Josh Hamilton/Michael Young/Ian Kinsler era to one spearheaded by some of the gaggle of talent that included Gallo, Rougned Odor, Jorge Alfaro, Lewis Brinson, Craig Gentry, Michael Choice, Nomar Mazara, and Luis Sardiñas (I could keep going), Texas’ legacy would be complete, potentially allowing them to grab a championship in the process.

But it wasn’t meant to be. The Rangers flopped in 2014 thanks to injury, and most of the above-mentioned prospects were either traded to fill short-term needs or failed to develop into the players Texas hoped they would. Brinson was sent to Milwaukee for a year and a half of Jonathan Lucroy. Alfaro, Nick Williams, and others went to Philly for Cole Hamels. Choice was sold to the Indians; Sardiñas helped bring Yovani Gallardo over from the Brewers. Odor and Mazara developed enough to make the majors, only to regress and fade from the team’s plans. But Gallo stayed and developed, and while he may not have become an MVP candidate, he was approaching the Rangers’ top 20 all-time in position player WAR and likely would have pulled up just behind Mike Hargrove by season’s end. Read the rest of this entry »

Second Time’s the Charm for a Tyler Anderson Trade

Tuesday night, the Mariners continued what had already been a busy day, following up the Kendall Graveman trade by acquiring pitcher Tyler Anderson from the Pittsburgh Pirates for catcher Carter Bins and pitcher Joaquin Tejada. Anderson’s had a solid, but unspectacular, season as Pittsburgh’s ace-by-process-of-elimination, putting up a 4.35 ERA and 4.26 FIP in 103 1/3 innings over 18 starts, good for 1.3 WAR.

Anderson’s unlikely to be the best pitcher acquired this week, but he ought to be a solid back-of-rotation pickup by the Mariners, who woke up Wednesday morning just a game behind Oakland for the second Wild Card spot. Anderson was originally set to become the number-three starter for the Phillies instead, but once that trade fell apart, the Mariners swooped in to close a deal themselves.

Given Seattle’s present proximity to the playoffs, it makes sense to shore up one of the team’s weaker areas, especially when it doesn’t involve giving up significant pieces of the future. Two of the rotation’s expected key contributors, Marco Gonzales and Justus Sheffield, have struggled in 2021, and with Sheffield and Justin Dunn currently out with injuries, there’s less in the larder than the M’s would like. There are better pitchers available; bringing in Max Scherzer would be way more fun than incrementally shoring up the starters. But while the M’s aren’t trying to tank, I think the Graveman-Abraham Toro trade — one the team’s players are quite unhappy with — is a strong indication that the team isn’t willing to throw all their chips into the pot to chase this playoff spot. Read the rest of this entry »

Padres Snag Adam Frazier as They Make an NL West Push

Slowly falling behind in the divisional race, the Padres shook up their roster on Sunday, acquiring second baseman Adam Frazier from the Pirates. Frazier, under team control until the end of the 2022 season, is having easily the best season of his career, hitting .324/.388/.448 for a 130 wRC+ and 2.9 WAR. Except for the slugging percentage, all of these numbers are career-bests for the 29-year-old; that WAR figure was a new personal high before the All-Star Game was even played. Heading to Pittsburgh are three players: infielder Tucupita Marcano, outfielder Jack Suwinski, and right-handed reliever Michell Miliano.

Despite the fact that they’re 5 1/2 games out and behind two teams in the NL West as of Monday morning, it would be a gross exaggeration to call the 2021 season a disappointing one for the Padres. After all, they’re on pace for 92 wins, with the fifth-best run differential in the majors. The problem is that half of the teams with better run differentials also play in the NL West. That gauntlet essentially puts the Padres, Giants, and Dodgers into an “extra” grueling round of playoffs, with two of the three teams likely to be pushed into a single-elimination game after the regular season.

As of now, the Padres are a clear underdog, with a projected divisional probability that has faded from the 43.5% in the preseason, when it was expected to be a two-team race, to 11.2% before taking into account this trade. They aren’t in even remote danger of missing the playoffs — for now — but they certainly have an obvious preference for getting a free pass to the best-of-five Divisional Series, which basically doubles their chances of collecting the franchise’s first-ever World Series championship.

2021 ZiPS Projected Standings – NL West
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick
Los Angeles Dodgers 96 66 .593 57.9% 41.0% 99.0% 12.1% 0.0%
San Francisco Giants 94 68 2 .580 25.2% 69.4% 94.6% 7.8% 0.0%
San Diego Padres 93 69 3 .574 16.9% 75.0% 91.9% 6.5% 0.0%
Colorado Rockies 69 93 27 .426 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1%
Arizona Diamondbacks 56 106 40 .346 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 61.5%

With Frazier on board, the Padres’ divisional probability bumps to 16.9%. This is projected to be a photo finish, so each win is quite important! But what will that role be?

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Tampa Bay Obtains a Cruz Missile

With a week to go until the trade deadline, the Rays struck a blow against the other contenders on Thursday night, acquiring designated hitter Nelson Cruz and pitcher Calvin Faucher from the Twins for pitchers Drew Strotman and Joe Ryan. Seemingly immune to changes in offensive environment and the arrow of time, Cruz is having a typical Cruz season at 41, hitting .294/.370/.537 with a 142 wRC+, 19 homers, and a 1.8 WAR, the latter a spicy number for a DH in only 85 games.

Tampa Bay’s lineup has been decent but well below the level of the elite offenses in the American League, ranking eighth in wRC+ and fifth in overall runs scored. The outfield has been a particular work in progress when it comes to offense. Kevin Kiermaier and Brett Phillips have both been excellent defensively, but neither are run producers, and 2020 postseason standout Manuel Margot has been rather pumpkin-ified this year. Adding Cruz to the mix allows the Rays to use Austin Meadows and Randy Arozarena daily in the corners. The primary downside here is that Meadows has a rather long injury history for a player just in his mid-20s, and playing in the field every day could increase the risk of another trip to the IL. I think it’s worth the risk; the Yankees and Jays are slowly drifting out of the divisional race, and the Red Sox are dangerous just as long as their pitching rotation stays healthy.

ZiPS Projected Standings – AL East
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick Avg Draft Pos
Tampa Bay Rays 94 68 .580 61.5% 31.1% 92.6% 11.3% 0.0% 26.1
Boston Red Sox 92 70 2 .568 30.4% 50.2% 80.7% 7.1% 0.0% 24.2
Toronto Blue Jays 87 75 7 .537 4.2% 25.3% 29.5% 1.7% 0.0% 19.6
New York Yankees 87 75 7 .537 3.9% 24.7% 28.6% 1.7% 0.0% 19.5
Baltimore Orioles 59 103 35 .364 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 18.1% 2.2

Adding Cruz was worth about five percentage points of divisional probability for the Rays in the ZiPS projections, shifting the race from a fairly balanced 55/45 race to one tipping a bit in favor of Tampa Bay. Expect many more changes before we flip the calendars!

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 7/22/21

Avatar Dan Szymborski:  Take off every ‘ZIG’!!

Avatar Dan Szymborski: It’s chat time!

Avatar Dan Szymborski: uh oh

Jon G: There’s been debate on Cubs twitter about how attractive Kimbrel’s 2022 option is in trade. Does ZiPS say anything about how much surplus value that option provides? What would a reliever like Kimbrel expect to get on a one year deal on the market if he limited himself to that structure?

Avatar Dan Szymborski: Relievers are always tricky! From my piece today, I think I’m valuing Kimbrel more highly than most of our readers.

Avatar Dan Szymborski: I think at the level Kimbrel’s returned to, it does have value.

Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Make Some Trades: The 2021 Edition

We’re about a week away from the trade deadline, and so far, the stage has been a little quiet. So for a little mid-week action, we need to create our own little mise-en-scène, an activity I try to do around this time every year. These are not predictions of moves that will happen, but an exercise that seeks to make fair trades that benefit both the buying contenders and the selling also-rans. In the best-case scenario, we get some fun discussions of what things are possible.

The Oakland Athletics acquire SS Trevor Story from the Colorado Rockies for OF Brayan Buelvas, C Drew Millas, and 1B Greg Deichmann

I’m starting off with a trade that I don’t think either team would do. For Rockies fans, there may be some disappointment that Story doesn’t fetch a big-name prospect. I don’t think that kind of return is suitable at this point; that boat sailed last winter. And the other team isn’t trading for Story, but for two months of Story having a distinct down year.

The Rockies have offensive problems, but given the size of the outfield, I think that a raw talent with defensive upside like Buelvas has a lot of value in Coors, something they’ve been without quite often. While some would think of Nick Allen going in a trade like this, at this point, he’s too good to trade for a rental. Colorado likes defensive-minded catchers, so Millas makes sense here (and isn’t 32 like the team’s usual backstop of choice).

The A’s would likely balk because of money. Sorry Oakland, there aren’t enough (or good enough) prospects going to Colorado to include Elvis Andrus to “even up” the money involved. Story’s not really that expensive, but he’s still too costly for the A’s to make it up by either releasing minor leaguers or making them into a roguish band of lovable Dickensian pickpockets. Read the rest of this entry »

White Sox Ink Lance Lynn to Two-Year Extension

A surprisingly deep group of free-agent pitchers this winter became a little less so over the weekend, as Lance Lynn agreed to a two-year extension with the White Sox. The deal guarantees at least $38 million for the veteran hurler through the 2023 season and will pay him $18.5 million in each of ’22 and ’23, with the Sox holding an option for ’24 worth $18 million and a $1 million buyout.

If you happened to surf over to our in-house depth charts, you would find the White Sox only looking up at the Mets when it comes to pitching, and given that six of the 10 Mets listed are currently out with injuries, I’d prefer to have Chicago’s starting five if I’m the benevolent dictator of a contending team. The rotation is currently projected to finish with 19.3 WAR, topping the majors and enough to give the Sox one of the top 20 rotations since we survived the Y2K bug. That’s an impressive accomplishment considering that they’re currently projected to finish right around 900 innings, about a hundred short of the rest of that top 20. And as there are good reasons to think the contending years are just starting, Chicago has an obvious interest in keeping such a high-performing group together for years to come; Carlos Rodón is now the team’s only significant free agent this offseason.

It’s been an impressive reversal of fortune for Lynn, who didn’t attract a ton of interest in his first two go-arounds in free agency. After posting a 4.82 FIP in 2017 upon returning from Tommy John surgery, he only fetched a one-year contract with the Twins, but despite seeing his walks and ERA balloon to career-worsts in ’18, he closed a three-year pact with the Rangers, albeit with a pay cut. Ranking fifth in the AL in pitching WAR this season and only 1 2/3 innings shy of qualifying for the AL ERA title, he looks like a good bet to pick up Cy Young votes for his third consecutive season.

Could Lynn have made more in free agency? It’s a more complicated question than you think. It’s also one that he had little interest in testing.

“When you start getting older in this game, you realize that where you want to play and where you want to be and what kind of organization you want to be a part of weighs a lot,” he said Saturday. “Over the first half of the season, just being able to see how everybody goes about their business here, the group that’s here and the group that’s going to be here for the next couple of years, it seemed like a pretty easy fit.

It’s not surprising to see Lynn go for stability over uncertainty. By all accounts, Chicago has been a terrific fit for him, and he’s become a favorite of the fanbase. The White Sox would have been quite content to start Dane Dunning; last December’s swap was about them wanting Lynn rather than not wanting Dunning.

ZiPS Projection – Lance Lynn
2022 14 9 0 3.81 31 30 172.7 156 73 26 60 192 117 3.4
2023 12 8 0 3.94 27 27 153.0 142 67 24 54 163 113 2.8
2024 11 9 0 4.13 27 26 150.3 144 69 24 55 155 108 2.4
2025 10 8 0 4.12 25 24 139.7 134 64 23 51 144 108 2.3
2026 9 7 0 4.29 22 21 121.7 120 58 21 46 124 104 1.8
2027 7 7 0 4.54 19 19 105.0 107 53 19 41 105 98 1.3
2028 6 6 0 4.81 16 15 83.7 88 45 17 34 82 93 0.8

The ZiPS projections liked Lynn to have a gentle decline through his 30s, but not one that was likely to merit a gigantic payday. The aging curve for pitchers tends to be more attrition-based than for hitters, but a long-term deal for Lynn would start to get him into his late 30s, where you do start seeing a significant dropoff in skills along with the playing time. ZiPS would have given him a longer-term deal — four years, $84 million — but the $45.5 million projection for the next two years is not a galaxy apart from his $38 million guarantee.

Recent free-agent classes have been relatively shallow when it comes to pitching talent, but this autumn’s harvest looks far more bountiful. ZiPS projects eight pending free-agent pitchers —  Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Kevin Gausman, Zack Greinke, Eduardo Rodriguez, Robbie Ray, and Marcus Stroman — to be worth at least three wins in the first years of their new deals, more than the seven it did for the previous two offseasons combined. There are some big names in that group, including several veterans also looking for two-or-three year deals. That also doesn’t include Noah Syndergaard, a pitcher who retains dizzying upside, and some interesting injury gambles in Corey Kluber and James Paxton. Given some of the name brand stars available, there was at least some risk Lynn ended up once again being a team’s consolation signing.

The league’s finances have to be considered as well. While the bottom line is certainly better than the Dickensian pauper status the owners usually suggest, it’s not at all clear that there are going to be a lot of teams hungry to spend this go-around. The vast majority of teams now appear to consider baseball’s de facto soft salary cap as if it were a harder one. On top of that, the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLBPA expires on December 1, and unless the negotiations go shockingly smoothly, those talks will cast a shadow over baseball that’s likely to discourage teams from spending.

Whether or not he left money on the table, Lynn got a reasonable offer to stay on the team he wants to play for. The White Sox can now turn to the short-term need of picking up another bat and/or a second baseman for the season’s concluding chapters.