Braves, Dodgers Complete Mostly Unremarkable Six-Player Swap

It took a little while to get here, with an unexpected obstacle or two, but we’ve got a six-player trade between the Braves and the Dodgers. The youngest player involved is 26, the average age of the players is about 31, and this year they’ve all combined to be worth -1.2 WAR. Sounds to me like something worth examining in detail.

Going from Atlanta to Los Angeles:

Going from Los Angeles to Atlanta:

It’s anything but a blockbuster. You could say a lot of these parts were expendable. Uribe lost playing time. Withrow’s still sidelined after surgery. Callaspo was likely to be designated for assignment. Jaime already had been designated for assignment, and cleared waivers. The Braves booted Stults from the starting rotation. Thomas has 16 big-league innings. Most likely, this isn’t a trade that’s going to make any meaningful difference, but if you look at it long enough, you can see components of certain interest. It’s kind of like a statistical Magic Eye puzzle, where the image revealed is very slightly more interesting than the immediate visual appearance of the puzzle itself. OK, good, I think I’m selling this well.

Money is a factor in this. Money is just about always a factor, and here it’s no different. Although, strangely, it isn’t the Dodgers who are taking on the extra financial burden. Uribe has a 2015 salary of $6.5 million. Callaspo’s at $3 million, and Stults is at $2 million. Given where we are in the season now, the Dodgers stand to gain approximately $1 million or so of space. So, the Braves will be paying about $1 million extra, but that’s the baseball version of pocket change, and it’s hard to imagine the Dodgers being motivated by the chance to dump so little. The money matters, but this is more about the players involved.

Juan Uribe had basically lost his job. He’d done good work for the Dodgers in the past, but he’s lost time to Justin Turner and Alex Guerrero, and the Dodgers also added one Hector Olivera. Uribe, somewhat understandably, hasn’t been performing, and the Dodgers needed to make a move. Callaspo, they figure, might be better suited to come off the bench, being a switch-hitter. But, possibly, Callaspo will be dropped in short order.

In small part, the Braves made this move to upgrade from Callaspo to Uribe. Uribe was a good player in 2013 and in 2014, and he projects to be more valuable than Callaspo the rest of the way. With even a little bit of a rebound, Uribe can have some use as a regular or semi-regular third baseman, depending on what the Braves do with Chris Johnson, and the Braves are in the vicinity of .500 so they can’t just give up on this year entirely. With Uribe, they’re a tiny bit better.

In larger part, the Braves made this move to get Withrow. The bad news is he’s recovering from Tommy John surgery. The bad news is also that he’s recovering from back surgery. But Withrow was an effective major-league reliever before he got hurt, with high velocity and high strikeouts. So the Braves see a high ceiling after Withrow is healthy again, and, who knows, maybe he ends up a closer. A level below that, he could be a good setup arm. There’s a chance Withrow can participate before the end of the year, but if not, he’s in line to be good to go next spring. The Braves have prioritized high-upside arms through their rebuild so far. Withrow could be part of a good future bullpen.

On the other side, you see a few reasons. Clearing about $1 million isn’t nothing, even for the Dodgers. They knew they needed to address the third-base clog, and this way maybe they get Uribe decent playing time somewhere else. Stults could step in as immediate rotation depth, what with the Dodgers’ injuries and Brandon Beachy not yet being ready. And there are Thomas and Jaime. In a way, the Dodgers got two relievers for one reliever. Withrow is the most proven, but Thomas and Jaime are both interesting, and neither is coming off surgery.

I don’t need to say much about Callaspo. His relevance begins and ends with the fact that he walks about as often as he strikes out. He hasn’t hit for a couple years, and this year Statcast hasn’t recorded a single batted ball of his above 100 miles per hour off the bat. Callaspo owns the second-lowest average exit velocity in baseball, between Ichiro Suzuki and Jose Iglesias, and Callaspo isn’t a big factor in this move.

You also don’t want to get too excited about Stults. He’s Eric Stults, as much as he’s ever been. He’s not a bad starting option, and perhaps the Dodgers are encouraged by the fact that Stults is working out of pitcher-friendly counts more than he ever has. This year, Stults has one of baseball’s lowest rates of hitter-friendly counts, which almost lets you look past his near-6 ERA. He’s a 35-year-old with a fastball in the 80s. Stults can start reliably and provide at least replacement-level performance, and that’s something for a team with depleted depth, but this wasn’t part of the Dodgers’ plan.

So you look to Thomas and Jaime. Now, the Dodgers already had a chance for Jaime. Everyone in baseball already had a chance for Jaime, when he was DFA’d earlier this season. He cleared waivers, which tells you enough about his perception. But Jaime does have a fastball in the mid- to high-90s, with high minor-league strikeout and walk rates. You know the type. Usually, these players don’t work out, but sometimes something clicks.

And Thomas is different. The lefty doesn’t throw all that many pitches north of 90 miles per hour, but he has a decently full repertoire, and in the majors he’s struck out more than a batter an inning. This year in the high minors, he has a walk and 20 strikeouts. His peripherals are strong enough, and he just hasn’t had much of a big-league opportunity. You can see why a team would want to stash him away.

Withrow has done more in the majors than Thomas has, or than Jaime has. Yet, that doesn’t tell the whole story, because Withrow’s coming back off a pair of operations. That adds uncertainty to his future, which balances things out. It’s an exchange of different types of risk. The Braves are taking on the risk that Withrow might not get back to 100%. The Dodgers are taking on the risk that Thomas might not translate his numbers to the majors, or that Jaime might not ever repeat his delivery. I don’t know enough to say which side is right. It’s just interesting to follow which risk goes where.

As a final note, that I have to put somewhere, several people have noted Uribe’s clubhouse presence with the Dodgers. He was almost indescribably popular, and he helped to break down walls and encourage team positivity. So it would be easy to interpret this as the Dodgers front office nerding out about the irrelevance of chemistry. But, you have to look forward: Uribe was hardly ever going to play, were he to stick around. Baseball players are prideful people, and they don’t much enjoy being benched. There’s no guarantee Uribe would’ve remained a positive presence as an infrequent role player, so maybe this isn’t actually a big deal. Maybe it was time to move on. Uribe will be sad to leave Los Angeles, but he should be happy to be able to play.

Odds are, no one does anything much. Maybe Uribe’s worth a win or two over the remainder. Maybe Stults gets a handful of starting opportunities. Maybe one of the relievers rips off a stretch of 10 good innings. What this is is a very minor risk exchange, with a small financial factor, and a small depth factor. The Braves see Chris Withrow’s upside. The Dodgers see Chris Withrow’s scars. Take a step back, and you can see both.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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7 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

I thought he was great in Pulp Fiction