Cleveland and Pittsburgh Swap Surplus Big Leaguers

On Wednesday, Cleveland and Pittsburgh swapped a combination of big league role players and prospects in a five-player deal that looked like this:

Cleveland gets

OF Jordan Luplow
INF Max Moroff

Pittsburgh gets

INF Erik Gonzalez
RHP Tahnaj Thomas
RHP Dante Mendoza

Over the last two seasons, Luplow owns a .194/.274/.371 line across 190 sporadic career big league plate appearances, but he’s been a .300/.378/.479 hitter at Triple-A Indianapolis during that time. His inconsistent usage while in the majors is at least partly to blame for his small-sample struggles. Of all the players in this deal, the 26-year-old outfielder is the one most likely to have an immediate big league impact as Cleveland looks to fill gaps left by departing free agents. He’s a pull-only hitter with plus power who has also exhibited slightly above-average strikeout and walk rate throughout his minor league career. He quite comfortably projects as a corner outfield platoon bat in a Cleveland outfield that is very left-handed.

The 25-year-old Moroff’s departure from Pittsburgh clears a 40-man spot for the Pirates and presents Cleveland with upper-level depth. A patient switch-hitter capable of playing several infield positions, Moroff became a KATOH sleeper as he reached base at an above-average clip for several consecutive years in the minors. He suddenly started hitting for power in 2017 at Triple-A but regressed significantly in 2018. He could play a bench role in 2019 based on his approach and versatility.

For Pittsburgh, this deal adds arm talent to a farm system in which it is largely lacking. Aside from Mitch Keller, most of the Pirates’ upper-level pitching prospects have a backend starter/relief profile while several of the lower level arms have dealt with injury and been slow to develop. 19-year-old Bahamian shortstop convert Tahnaj Thomas immediately becomes one of Pittsburgh’s best pitching prospects. Ultra smooth and athletic, Thomas has a gorgeous delivery that generates mid-80s velocity (92-95 in my looks at him this year) that plays well in the upper part of the strike zone. He can also spin a good breaking ball and has some nascent changeup feel that, for someone so new to pitching, is very promising. This is a prototypical teenage arm and, though that demographic of prospect has concerning attrition rates, Thomas has a good chance to be the best player in this deal one day.

The Pirates also acquired a big league piece in shortstop Erik Gonzalez, who has been blocked by two of the best players in baseball for the last several years. Gonzalez’s prodigious physical abilities have long been undermined by his lack of patience (3% walk rate) and complete inability to hit the ball in the air. He saw time at all four infield positions in 2018 and is capable at all of them (plus hands, plus arm, average range), which means Gonzalez could play any number of roles for the Pirates in 2019. He could compete for the starting shortstop role with Kevin Newman or platoon at third base with Colin Moran or at second base with Kevin Kramer.

There’s enough raw thump here that Gonzalez could have a breakout if Pittsburgh can tweak his swing. The change of scenery makes this more likely to occur than it would have been in Cleveland, where they’ve struggled to get Gonzalez and Yandy Diaz to lift the ball. But at age 27, it’s probably not happening.

For Pittsburgh, this deal also clears the runway for 2B/3B/OF Pablo Reyes, whose strong September — .293/.349/.483 — is supported by his underlying batted ball data. Both Reyes (Licey) and Gonzalez (Escogido) are playing in the Dominican Winter League right now.

The final piece of the deal is 19-year-old righty Dante Mendoza, a 12th round high school draftee in 2017 who spent 2018 in the AZL. At 6-foot-5, Mendoza joins a system full of huge-framed pitching prospects. He has been up to 93 but sits 87-90 with the fastball and has an advanced changeup and breaking ball. There’s a strong possibility that Mendoza’s stuff ticks up as his body matures and he turns into a good big league pitcher of some kind.

After a few years without dedicated complex-level coverage, the Pirates had multiple scouts scouring backfields in Florida and Arizona again this year. This deal is the first farm-system fruit from that labor. It also marks the second time in five months that Cleveland has traded away one of their very promising group of teenage prospects who began their pro careers in Arizona this year. In both cases, the outfielders are likely to play a big league role fairly soon (they traded teenage outfielder Jhon Torres for upper-level outfielder Oscar Mercado at the deadline) in anticipation of this offseason’s departures.

We hoped you liked reading Cleveland and Pittsburgh Swap Surplus Big Leaguers by Eric Longenhagen!

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Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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tmcgowan
Member
tmcgowan

Can you help me interpret “(plus hands, plus arm, average range)”, specifically the range factor. If he is viewed as a short stop, is that average range for a short stop, as compared to 3B. It is not clear to me which group, as a general utility man in his career, this version of average is comparing against.

Thanks!

Cathedral_of_Beisbol
Member
Member
Cathedral_of_Beisbol

He’s viewed as a SS who was forced to play utility IF in Cleveland. I would interpret the above in that light.

Just don’t expect him to hit. After watching him for a few years in Cleveland, the guy just doesn’t have the offensive instincts to hit well.

fjtorres
Member
fjtorres

He hits well enough for a defensive SS: decent average (.260-.270), some pop, mostly doubles. Could be a regular at SS or a 5 times a week utility. He just never got an extended run to prove what he can do as a regular.
Pittsburgh probably made off better than Cleveland but when you don’t have a healthy outfield and no money to backfill you need to grab what you can get.

Cathedral_of_Beisbol
Member
Member
Cathedral_of_Beisbol

I disagree. He doesn’t have the offensive instincts to hit well. Take a look at him on tape and at his career stats. He’s stiff, has a poor eye, and looks very robotic at the plate. His career (both major and minor) OBP is roughly .300 with a max of .390 at AA in 136 PA. He’s not going to be a productive hitter in MLB if he wasn’t a productive hitter in all of his time in the minors.

At best, he produces an 80 wRC+ with above-average defense at a premium defensive position. In today’s game, that’s not enough to start. In the past? Sure.

On the other hand, Luplow looks intriguing. The kid has been dominating minor league pitching his entire career and has had a poor 200 PA showing in MLB. This was a great trade for CLE. Trade a surplus IF who has never been able to hit no matter the level for an OF who has raked at every level he’s been in.

I think, with Thomas, this was a fair trade for both sides. Gonzalez isn’t the centerpiece for PIT. It’s the lottery-ticket in Thomas.