The Cold A/C League needed a bit of recharging, with Marcus Stroman’s move to the Mets the only major trade so far this deadline. With only 18 hours to go, the Indians provided a big one, sending pitcher Trevor Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds in a three-way trade that included the San Diego Padres. I like to approach three-way trades as three individual trades to keep things from getting confusing, like a Westerosi family tree.
Cincinnati made aggressive, short-term moves to improve the team last winter, acquiring Puig, Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark, and Alex Wood in an attempt to jump-start their transition from rebuilder to contender, much the Braves and Phillies did in 2018. While not everything went according to plan — Wood has been injured and Puig got off to a slow start — it’s hard to say the moves were a failure. If the playoffs were determined by Pythagorean record, the Reds would be in the thick of the Wild Card mêlée, in third place and two games behind the Washington Nationals (as of the moment this trade hit the wires).
Alas, the playoffs are not determined by Pythagorean record.
Thanks to an awkward six-win shortfall compared to the record we would expect from their positive run differential, the Reds find themselves at the back of the Wild Card race. It’s far from hopeless, but our Playoff Odds only give the Reds just a 5% chance of seeing October, with ZiPS also at 5%. The struggles this season haven’t changed Cincinnati’s outlook, however, and getting Bauer (who is signed for next season) in a trade for Puig (who is not) makes the Reds a better team in 2020 than they would likely be otherwise. Unlike many swaps of this kind, the Reds even make themselves a little better in the short-term. Given the team’s short- and mid-term goals, helping 2020 without sacrificing their slim shot in 2019 is a perfect move.
In return for threading this particular needle, the Reds will have to part with their best prospect, outfielder Taylor Trammell. There’s no doubt it hurts to lose Trammell, but if you’re keeping up with prospect lists using THE BOARD, you’ll notice a scary red arrow next to Trammell’s name. Trammell is still young, turning 22 in a couple of months, but his Double-A season, which features a .236/.350/.338 line (that slugging percentage is not a typo), is a serious black mark on his prospect résumé. My colleague Eric Longenhagen will go into greater detail on Trammell’s profile later, but ZiPS’s has edged down his previous prime outlook of .260/.340/.420 lines with 15 homers a year into the .720-.730 OPS range. That’s not enough if he doesn’t stick in center field, and given that the Reds have nearly exclusively played him in left field, it seems that center wouldn’t have been an option in Cincinnati. Trammell’s only real contribution in 2019 has been walks and prospects who get a huge chunk of their value from walks have a poor history.
Trevor Bauer, of course, has a tendency to get into internet-related shenanigans, but he also gets a lot of batters into out-related ones. On the field, Bauer’s biggest problem is that he’s simply not the pitcher he was in 2018; instead, he’s merely a very good starter who’s not at the Cy Young level. While Bauer has declined from 2018 in other ways, going from nine homers allowed in all of 2018 to 22 in four months of 2019 is the largest difference in his level of play. Expecting a home run rate that low to be sustained is a problem for the predictor, not the player, as home run totals have a strong tendency to regress toward the mean, more than strikeout or walk rates. In fact, looking at zHR, the HR estimates ZiPS makes to predict pitcher home runs using advanced data, Bauer’s over-performance in preventing home runs was the seventh-largest discrepancy in the 17 years for which the data exists that allows me to run this algorithm. Without any knowledge of actual home runs allowed, ZiPS feels the advanced data suggests that Bauer should have allowed 21 homers in 2018, 12 more than his actual nine. This number was also consistent with the 25, 20, and 23 home runs Bauer had allowed in previous years.
Yasiel Puig was a big name, but while he’s hit for power — who hasn’t in 2019? — he’s also backtracked in his overall game. Puig is swinging at a lot more pitches than he did with the Dodgers, who were generally able to rein in his worst offensive habits. He’s swinging at pitches of all types in 2019, and making contact with the lowest percentage of them since his rookie season. His defensive numbers did not bounce towards 2017’s career highs, and I’m not sure that some combination of Phillip Ervin and Derek Dietrich is that much of a downgrade. The Reds weren’t going to get a top prospect for Puig, so they did the next-best thing and used him as a pot sweetener. Of course, that doesn’t mean Puig isn’t an innovator — instead of hugs in his last game with the Reds, he finished off his brief stint in the land of awful chili with a benches-clearing brawl.
Adding Bauer gives the Reds a little flexibility to do more this trade deadline. With Alex Wood returning and Tanner Roark a free agent, Cincinnati now has an increased ability to trade Roark for either a prospect or 2020 help without consequences to their 2019 hopes.
A few weeks ago, if you had told me that Cleveland would trade Trevor Bauer at the deadline while Cookie Carrasco and Corey Kluber were out, I would have assumed that the Indians had fallen out of the pennant race (and dramatically), or that they were doing something highly irrational. But there’s a certain logic to this. The team is only a couple of games behind the Twins now and I suspect that the fact that this trade is being made now is less a reflection on Bauer’s recent temper tantrum than Cleveland’s confidence in Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar’s return.
The rest of the rotation looks to be on solid footing. Shane Bieber is somehow pitching even better than ZiPS’s very optimistic preseason projections and after two rocky return starts, Mike Clevinger has thrown five consecutive quality starts with a 1.74 ERA/2.42 FIP. I’m far from sold on Adam Plutko being a good option or Zach Plesac continuing to outperform his FIP by two runs, but if you can get a Kluber-Clevinger-Bieber-Salazar front four healthy at the same time, there’s a good argument to make that Cleveland’s outfield is their biggest short-term obstacle, not a rotation missing Bauer.
Despite better performances in recent months from the outfield, the FanGraphs depth chart projections have all three outfield positions and designated hitter projected in the bottom-third of the league, usually in the bottom five. Puig isn’t great, but he ought to be a steady source of adequate offense, which is all the Indians are hoping for. Franmil Reyes can be something more. ZiPS loves his home run potential, and it’s not as if Reyes isn’t contributing right now, with a wRC+ of 116 for the Padres. That’s not star-level performance, but it’s an improvemet for the Indians. Given that Cleveland wouldn’t even extend a qualifying offer to Michael Brantley, the five years of Reyes are likely very important to them. Logan Allen gives Cleveland another cost-controlled pitching option if they want to revisit a Corey Kluber trade this winter. For more on Allen, check out Eric’s forthcoming piece on the prospects involved in this trade.
San Diego Padres acquire OF Taylor Trammell for OF Franmil Reyes, P Logan Allen, and 3B Victor Nova
The Padres are nearing contention, but aren’t quite as close as the Cincinnati Reds, so it makes sense for them to have more interest in Trammell as they continue the talent sorting-out process. While the Reds have seemingly given up on Trammell in center, I suspect the Padres will be more willing to take a look given the team’s surplus of corner outfielders. If Trammell does develop into a Brett Gardner type, and his arm can be just good enough to allow him to fake center field, he would give the Padres a solid option there, which would be useful given that they can’t be completely sold on Manuel Margot and center field is a rare organizational weakness. Even if Trammell is fated to be in a corner, the Padres have the luxury of being able to wait and see how he develops.
Losing Reyes and Allen hurts, but Reyes was part of a corner outfield logjam and he’s probably the player most likely to end up needing to be at designated hitter a few years down the road, something unlikely — but not impossible, as the rules could change — in the National League. Allen remains an excellent prospect, but even without him, the Padres still have an amazing seven other pitchers who have 45 FV grades on THE BOARD. This trade allows the Padres to better distribute their prospect talent, trading from a surpluses to address a weakness.
Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.