Analyzing Snider-Lincoln, League trades.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
We saw a flurry of deals early Monday morning, with the Toronto Blue Jays sending outfielder Travis Snider to the Pittsburgh Pirates for reliever Brad Lincoln and the Seattle Mariners trading reliever Brandon League to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a couple of prospects. Here's a breakdown of those deals, as well as my take on a couple of deals that happened over the weekend.
The Pirates get to roll the dice on a flawed hitter who's young enough to retain some upside, while the Blue Jays get a reliever who can help the team immediately and doesn't have the washout risk of the guy they gave up.
Travis Snider is an interesting buy-low opportunity for Pittsburgh, but he comes with two major red flags at this point. One is durability -- while he's a decent athlete, he's had exactly one season where he's reached 500 plate appearances, and that was in 2008. The other, and arguably the more concerning one, is that he's swinging and missing far too often at pitches in the zone, even after the Blue Jays worked with him on shortening his swing this offseason, only to see him regress once the season began. His swing is long enough from load to contact that pitchers, especially southpaws, can beat him out over the plate.
Even in this year's tiny big league sample, Snider homered three times off lefties, and punched out in 7 of his other 10 plate appearances against them; in his major league time, he has 70 strikeouts against lefties in 184 PAs with 9 walks. The upside here, while remote, is a corner outfielder who's average on defense and has 25-homer power with some patience, but that can't happen until he makes more contact, which can't happen unless he can alter his swing and maintain the changes he makes.
The Jays land Lincoln, drafted 10 picks ahead of Snider in 2006; Lincoln looked like a possible starter candidate at the time of the draft, but Tommy John surgery and a lack of downhill plane on his fastball have him projecting as a reliever going forward. And he is effective there (2.73 in 59 1/3 IP this year), throwing strikes with an above-average fastball, missing bats with a power curveball in the low-80s; he was never particularly effective against left-handed batters before this year, when he's dominated them at Triple-A and in the majors, although the sample is small, and he's doing it almost entirely with those two pitches as he's using his split-change less than ever.
His floor is a right-handed specialist, but he could be a pretty strong setup man if the success against lefties this year is more than just a fluke; I doubt he can start with his propensity to give up flyballs.
The Blue Jays also swung a smaller deal, sending Eric Thames to the Seattle Mariners for reliever Steve Delabar. Delabar's a fastball-splitter reliever with a persistent reverse split, getting lefties out while right-handers hit him due to his lack of a breaking ball, and his fastball is flat enough for hitters, again mostly right-handers, to hit it out of the park. Thames is a below-average defensive outfielder with poor pitch recognition; he can hit a fastball, and has some raw power, but doesn't look like he'll get on base enough to be more than an extra outfielder and doesn't have the defensive value most teams would want from that type of player. I'd rather have Delabar, although neither player is likely to have a significant impact on his new team.
The Dodgers get a right-handed specialist in League without giving up anything of value, giving the Mariners some salary relief rather than handing over prospects.
League has a plus fastball with great sinking life that generates ground balls, keeping his overall home run rates low because it's hard for hitters to elevate the ball when he keeps it down. His splitter has been an adequate second pitch for him, although he's still shown moderate-to-large platoon splits even since that pitch developed for him, with left-handed batters accounting for 6 of the 7 extra-base hits he's allowed this year and more than half of the total baserunners. He's a free agent after the season, so the Dodgers are just on the hook for about $2 million, but it's not clear to me what need League fills; the Dodgers' bullpen is strong and deep, especially from the right side; perhaps they feel it frees them up to include Josh Lindblom in a trade, but otherwise, it doesn't seem like the team is better in any meaningful way.
In exchange the Mariners get two very fringy prospects. Outfielder Leon Landry can run but his pitch recognition and overall instincts are weak; his swing is pretty short with almost no load so he lacks power. His stats this year are largely a function of great hitters' parks in the southern half of the high Class A California League and Landry's age relative to his competition. If he could play center field well he'd be a good fourth outfielder candidate, but his defense out there remains weak so he doesn't profile even as an extra outfielder right now. Right-hander Logan Bawcom might surface as a middle reliever, but his command right now would make him an up-and-down guy and despite some tail on his fastball he doesn't generate enough ground balls to survive without cutting his walk rate.
Trades from the weekend
I haven't commented yet on two trades that happened over the weekend while I was out at games. The Chicago White Sox got a steal in Francisco Liriano by agreeing to pay his salary, sending the Twins two fringe prospects in utility infielder Eduardo Escobar and middle reliever Pedro Hernandez. Liriano has been quite effective since his return to the rotation; including the pounding he took in his last outing as a Twin, he had a 3.68 ERA over that span in 66 innings with 79 punchouts and 27 unintentional walks. He'll help the White Sox in a variety of ways, even if it's just a matter of helping them manage some innings totals, and they won't miss either of the players they gave up.
The Arizona Diamondbacks got a grand slam on Monday night from Chris Johnson, but that might be his high-water mark, as he's a brutal hitter with horrific plate discipline and below-average defense at third, probably no better a player than Ryan Wheeler, who's already on Arizona's 25-man roster. They sent Houston two ex-prospects in Marc Krauss and Bobby Borchering.
Borchering at least has youth on his side, as he's 21 and has power but with a below-average hit tool, poor plate discipline, and no position other than first base. I wouldn't be surprised if he regained his prospect status in the next year or so, and at worst could see him as a solid platoon bat hitting from the left side. Krauss is repeating Double-A and is a below-average corner outfielder who has a decent swing but lacks power and doesn't have the bat speed to hit for a high average to make up for it. Still, for Johnson, who had a .264/.309/.402 line since Opening Day 2011 even with the benefit of a good home park for right-handed pull hitters, it's a tremendous return.
The big hurdle in Cliff Lee trades.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As someone noted on Twitter Monday, the Phillies' relationship with Cliff Lee has been like Ross and Rachel, or like something out of "90210." They get together, they break up, they get back together again, they break up.
To review: The Philadelphia Phillies made an aggressive trade to add Lee during the 2009 season, sending prospects to the Cleveland Indians to get him.
Then, that winter, after the Phillies came to believe that Lee wouldn't sign a reasonable long-term deal with them, they made an aggressive trade to get rid of him -- swapping him to the Seattle Mariners before speaking with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and other possible bidders. (None of the prospects that the Phillies got in that deal have made a dent in the big leagues.)
Just one year later, in December 2010, the Phillies made another aggressive move to get Lee, giving him the highest annual salary ever for a starting pitcher, as part of a five-year, $120 million deal. General manager Ruben Amaro told reporters he should've never let Lee get away.
But now a year and a half later, as the Phillies deal with the squeeze caused by their collection of massive contracts, they are looking to move Lee to get some financial relief, and their level of investment in the left-hander has become the biggest hurdle to a breakup.
The Phillies' talks with the Texas Rangers on Monday broke down because of what they wanted from Texas -- presumably third baseman Mike Olt and others -- and because they weren't offering much salary relief.
Over the next three years, Lee will be the highest-paid player in the majors. He's owed about $10 million for the rest of this year and $87.5 million for 2013-15, including a staggering $12.5 million buyout of an option in 2016.
Lee, 33, is 1-6 with a 3.95 ERA, but evaluators believe he's a better pitcher than he's shown, and there is interest in him. The question today, in the last hours leading up to the trade deadline, is whether the Phillies can cope with the cost of a divorce.
For example: Lee could fit other teams on paper, such as the Arizona Diamondbacks or St. Louis Cardinals, but Lee's $25 million salary would represent about a third of the Diamondbacks' payroll of $75 million. The Phillies presumably would have to eat a whole heaping helping of what Lee is owed to make a deal work.
Maybe that will happen today, or maybe not. The Phillies are desperate to shed dollars, to get some kind of payroll relief. They are a wealthy franchise with lots of fan interest and an enormous TV contract on the horizon, but the Phillies, like the Yankees and Red Sox, are scraping against the ceiling of the luxury tax cap, and there is a lot of pressure within the sport to paint between the lines.
All of this is creating another episode in the always interesting relationship between Lee and the Phillies.
The Phillies put up the For Sale sign, writes David Murphy. The Phillies are moving players, writes Jim Salisbury.
The Phillies are aiming to get a specific prospect in their trade talks for Joe Blanton. It's hard to imagine any reason why the Baltimore Orioles would give up a young player they liked for any starting pitcher right now; there are plenty of second-tier starters available.
Money could be an issue, writes Dan Connolly.
• The Atlanta Braves have set themselves up to be one of the big trade deadline winners, dealing for Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson. Maholm is throwing really well right now, and he has an affordable $6.5 million option for 2013, and Johnson is a solid veteran with strong platoon numbers; Johnson has an .891 OPS versus lefties.
Maholm in Turner Field: Five career starts, 32 innings, one homer allowed, 1.69 ERA. The pickups were a perfect fit, Frank Wren said. The Braves' trade is a really good one, writes Mark Bradley.
• The Rangers landed Geovany Soto on a day when Roy Oswalt was hammered. Texas has just hours left to add pitching.
• The Chicago Cubs made two deals and could make more.
Ryan Dempster thinks he could be next to go and says there's no friction between him and the team. Of course there is; Dempster and the Cubs haven't seen eye to eye about his situation.
• The Mariners made a couple of trades.
• The Los Angeles Dodgers continue to load up and added another pitcher.
• The Pittsburgh Pirates traded for a young, controllable outfielder.
• The Red Sox could be buyers and sellers. Ryan Sweeney, who had been among the players the Red Sox were talking about trading, hurt his hand punching a door. Josh Beckett had nothing for reporters, as they delved into the trade talks about him.
• Scott Hairston, the target of a lot of interest, had a good day. You have to wonder if the San Francisco Giants will make a move for Hairston.
• The Indians are looking at 2013 and beyond as they make trades.
• The Toronto Blue Jays traded a couple of outfielders for pitching.
• Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore tends to make deals right before the deadline, Bob Dutton writes.
• The Cardinals haven't found the right fit.
• The Tampa Bay Rays are unlikely to make major moves, writes Marc Topkin. They continue to be encouraged by Evan Longoria's progress.
• Matt Reynolds and Rafael Betancourt continue to draw interest from other teams.
• This would not be a good time for the Giants to make a panic trade, writes Tim Kawakami.
• The Cincinnati Reds don't need to make a trade, writes Paul Daugherty. It would make sense for them to add a left-handed hitter, like Juan Pierre or Lyle Overbay, who was designated for assignment by Arizona.
• Mike Trout has reached base 149 times in 80 games and has scored 78 runs. Kendrys Morales hit a couple of homers in the same inning.
Morales from the right side
Kendrys Morales against fastballs and off-speed pitches while batting right-handed this season.
Stat vs. fastball vs. others
H-AB 9-26 4-26
Homers 4 0
Miss pct. 5.5 32.8
From ESPN Stats and Info: Morales hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the sixth inning Monday. He's the third player in baseball history to do that, joining Mark Bellhorn (2002) and Carlos Baerga (1993). His second home run came batting right-handed, something Morales hasn't done a lot this season. In his limited at-bats from the right side, Morales has crushed fastballs and struggled against everything else (see chart).
• The Astros' bullpen melted down.
• The Marlins' pitching problems continued. Carlos Zambrano was sent to the bullpen. Big Z needs to reinvent himself -- find something -- or his career will be in jeopardy at age 31.
• David Ortiz had an injury setback.
• Mark Teixeira got hurt. If this is serious, you have to wonder if the Yankees will work today to land a corner infielder.
• Robin Ventura had some tart words for his players: Clean it up.
• Adam Lind landed on the DL, with the rest of the organization (it seems).
• The Brewers' bullpen coach was fired.
• Jaime Garcia is making his way back.
• The Chris Johnson acquisition paid off immediately for Arizona, which has gained eight games in the standings since late May, climbing from 11 1/2 games out to its current 3 1/2-game deficit.
• The Oakland Athletics pulled out another walk-off win, at a time when Billy Beane is looking to add a shortstop.
• The Reds will get Joey Votto back very soon. The Reds' winning streak ended, and now one of their players might face a suspension after making contact with an umpire.
July home run tracker awards
The following is from Evan Kaplan of ESPN Stats and Info
Cameron Maybin's 485-foot homer to left center at Chase Field on July 2 is the longest home run hit this season. It is also the longest home run of Maybin's career and the second-longest home run hit at Chase Field since the beginning of ESPN Home Run Tracker in 2006 (Adam Dunn's 504-foot bomb on Sept. 27, 2008 is first).
Wall-Scraper of the month: Shortest true distance home run
July winner: Cody Ross, Red Sox (338 feet)
Ross hit an Addison Reed pitch into the monster seats for a walk-off home run on July 19 at Fenway Park. Ross' 338-foot homer is the longest home run to win the wall-scraper award this season, with the previous three going no more than 330 feet. It is Ross' shortest home run since he hit one 337 feet on May 1, 2008 off Hiroki Kuroda.
Moonshot of the Month: Highest apex home run (or maximum height a homer reaches in flight)
July winner: Travis Hafner, Indians (154 feet)
Hafner's 363-foot home run off Ricky Romero on July 13 had an apex of 154 feet, making it the third-highest "moonshot" this season. The two home runs with higher apexes in 2012 were both hit in April; a 366-foot home run by Todd Helton on April 14 that had an apex of 162 feet, and a 419-foot bomb by Paul Goldschmidt on April 6 that reached a height of 156 feet.
Liner of the month: Lowest apex home run
July winners: Ryan Ludwick, Reds and Casey Kotchman, Indians (47 feet)
Ludwick and Kotchman share this month's "liner" award with an apex of 47 feet. Ludwick's 361-foot home run on July 14 was his lowest apex homer since the beginning of ESPN Home Run Tracker in 2006. Kotchman's 354-foot home run on July 4 also had an apex of 47 feet, the lowest at Progressive Field since 2010 (May 3, 2010, Travis Snider, 39 feet).
Fast ball of the month: Home run with fastest speed off the bat
July winner: Garrett Jones, Pirates (116.6 mph)
It was only the eighth-fastest this season, but Jones won this month's award on July 29 when he hit a Lucas Harrell pitch 455 feet with a speed off the bat of 116.6 miles per hour. It is the fastest speed off the bat by a Pirates player since the 2007 season (Aug. 20, 2007, Josh Phelps, 121.0 mph).