Monday, July 28, 2008

Trade Speculator - Tribe Talk

Mark Shapiro churned out another couple of trades over the weekend and maintains his position as one of the most crafty General Managers in baseball. Unfortunately Shapiro does not maintain that confidence for extended periods of time, and consequently, is left letting quality players leave town for a pittance. Without reflecting upon those players and some questionable free agent signings, which subsequently tarnishes the job Shapiro has done in Cleveland, I will look only at what Shapiro does right.

In the first of two trades, Shapiro and the Indians send Cleveland fan favorite, utility man Casey Blake to the Los Angeles Dodgers for minor leaguers Jon Meloan and Carlos Santana. At this point, the Indians season is all but done. Even if the club still has a solid run or two left, Blake wouldn't be the difference between that run and finishing in last place.

Casey Blake, 'the ultimate professional' was never a favorite of mine. He was a valuable player in that he could play multiple positions and was apparently a good clubhouse guy. At 35, and with an expiring contract, this was a move the Indians needed to make. In fact, I had always wondered why the team used him in such a consistent manner, rather then making him a true utility sub.

To date, Blake has had arguably the best statistical season of his career. While the power has fallen in recent years, Blake is posting a career high on base percentage and is sitting just shy of his career high in on base plus slugging.

The big change for Blake has been his ability to hit left handed hitters. The biggest improvement has been seen in his contact rate, although it is uncertain whether that rate is statistically significant enough to sustain is uncertain, the fact remains that the Dodgers acquired a player that will help the club.

To what extent, is unknown. The Dodgers, however, will now have one of the worst defensive infields in the majors, and will be greatly affected by that. This takes the club out of the market for an offensive player and did so at a relatively cheap cost.

The cost, two players the team can afford to be without for the long and short term. The club is set at catcher for the foreseeable future with Russell Martin. The second player, a starter/reliever is more organizational depth then a true asset. Considering the Dodgers rotation and bullpen situation, the player will not be missed.

The first of those players, Carlos Santana, a 22 year old switch hitting catcher, whom the Indians extensively looked at during the CC Sabathia negotiations. Clearly during these negotiations Shapiro liked what Santana brought to the table, and the young hitter has continued to produce increasing his power stats each month while maintaining quality walk and strikeout rates.

An interesting comparison comes to mind with Santana, and that is the player Santana is projected to replace in a little over two years. Victor Martinez posted an OPS of .882 as a 22 year old backstop for Cleveland's high A affiliate in Kinston. Santana's OPS, despite hitting in a somewhat more favorable league and ballpark, is .983.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus reflects upon the future of Carlos Santana. In May, he stated that despite a weak batting line as a 21 year old in A ball in 2007, scouts came away impressed with Santana's 'raw skills'. According to Goldstein,
"For me, that's an everyday catcher," said the scout. "He's a good hitter from both sides and he's strong--there's some juice in his bat." Defensively, Santana also earns high marks: "The arm is great, and will be even better with some improved mechanics. He's a little raw behind the dish, but he certainly has the athleticism to get better."
Carlos Santana is pretty much on par with a catching prospect the Indians moved last season and is seemingly a fair comparison to make. Maximiliano Ramirez had his first cup of coffee with the Rangers this season and while he didn't take the league by storm, for his first shot of things as a 23 year old, he more then held his own.

The second player the Indians acquired is 23 year old right handed starter, reliever, starter, and now reliever Jonathan Meloan. Word has it, the Indians will use Meloan as a reliever in triple A, a role he has more then excelled in the previous two seasons. Over the previous two seasons, Meloan has put up a rate of 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

Goldstein rated Meloan as a 3 star prospect entering this season, and as a 'good' prospect entering last season. Entering this season, Goldstein had the following to say about Meloan,
The Good: Meloan gets outs by using his low-90s sinker early in the count to set up his plus-plus slider, which is a true wipeout offering that he's equally effective throwing for strikes or using as a chase pitch. He also occasionally mixes in a curveball to change hitters' eye level, and he brings a late-inning intensity to every outing.
The Bad: Nothing Meloan does is pretty. He's not athletic, and his mechanics are rough, with a lot of moving parts. His future is in relief only, but his stuff likely falls a bit short of closer-worthy due to his velocity.
Similar praise was given by Goldstein entering the 2007 season,
The Good: Brought back very slowly from elbow soreness in the spring, the power righthander dominated out of the bullpen by striking out 91 and walking just 16 in 52 innings spread across three levels. His two-pitch arsenal consists of 92-94 mph fastball that he can reach back and hit 97 with, and a spike curveball that one scout classifies as "a sinking monster."
The Bad: Meloan's injury history leaves him as a bit of an unproven commodity, as he was pitching two-to-three inning stints on four days' rest during most of the season, so we're unsure as to whether or not he has the ability to maintain his stuff on shorter notice. He was used at a more normal pace in the Arizona Fall League, and still dominated. He struggles with control at times.
Truly, durability is the only real issue with Meloan. It will be interesting to see how quick the Indians are to call him up.

Comparatively, John Sickels of Minor League Ball is slightly more optimistic for Meloan rating the reliever as a B prospect the last two years. In addition to this, Sickels rated Meloan in his top 50 pitching prospects the last two seasons, and as recent as last year tabbed him as the 'top closing prospect' in baseball. I believe the Indians could use a closer soon.

While the Dodgers did not give up much, and should be fine without both players, they also did not receive much in return. It seems, from my perspective, that the Indians received a substantial haul for a player that was blocking the Indians from evaluating what they have. Trading Blake means that Andy Marte, Ryan Garko, Shin-Soo Choo, and Franklin Gutierrez will all receive extended looks, and the Indians can decide the best plan of action for 2009 and beyond.

Thus, I am going to give this trade to Mark Shapiro and the Indians. Although, if the Dodgers flip Andy LaRoche for an upgrade elsewhere, this trade will look a little better for Los Angeles. I wonder if the Dodgers would be content grabbing Jason Bay for LaRoche and Andre Ethier.

In the second trade of Friday, Shapiro added another ex-top prospect pitcher, Anthony Reyes, from the St. Louis Cardinals for minor league reliever Luis Perdomo. It would be interesting to hear how much the arrival of Meloan influenced Shapiro to pay what the Cardinals were asking for Reyes.

This is an outstanding trade by Shapiro. While Perdomo has shown flashes of excellence, starting pitchers are substantially more valuable.

Anthony Reyes was once an outstanding prospect. The last two seasons Reyes was eligible to be rated (2005 and 2006), John Sickels named Reyes as the top prospect in the Cardinals organization, tabbing him as a B+ prospect.

Reyes owns an average strikeout rate and an average walk rate. Although for some reason he has been extremely hittable. PECOTA has always loved Reyes, this season he was projected for 72 strikeouts in 60 innings. But even with that strikeout rate, the projection system called for 1.5+ hits per inning. Quite the quagmire.

According to Fan Graphs PitchFX data Reyes' fastball regressed from 91.4mph to 89.6mph from 2005 to 2007. For a pitcher who throws well over 60% of his pitches as fastballs, sitting in the high 80's is a tough situation. However, this season has seen Reyes' fastball average 92.1mph, albeit in limited major league action.

The cost for Reyes, 24 year old right handed reliever Luis Perdomo. Perdomo absolutely tore the Carolina League apart this season, allowing only 19 hits in 39 innings. In those 39 innings he allowed only 6 runs (4 earned).

While slightly old for his level of competition, there is no denying Perdomo's stuff. The reliever owns a mid 90s fastball and a somewhat deceptive delivery (see video below).

The age issue is not a major one in my opinion. Perdomo was signed as a 19 year old out of the Dominican Republic. The Indians kept him in the Dominican Republic until 2006, despite some relatively impressive numbers for their summer league team (2005 - 3-2 with seven saves and a 3.57 ERA in 23 games; 2004 - Went 4-2 with six saves and a 1.35 ERA in 25 games; and 2003 - Was 1-0 with one save and a 4.35 ERA in 14 games). I can see Perdomo with the Cardinals big league team at some point this season.

The major worry from my perspective is that the Cardinals were willing to let Anthony Reyes go for a relatively modest price. If pitching coach Dave Duncan felt he could turn Reyes around, he wouldn't have allowed this trade to go through. However, there is another scenario. With Reyes about to be out of options, the Cardinals may have felt that moving him today would net more in return then when their back is against the wall.

All that being said, the Indians again take the cake with this trade. The club's triple A rotation in Buffalo is a fairly exciting one, boasting three ex-top prospects Zach Jackson, Bryan Bullington, and now Reyes. Minor League Baseballs best skate punk singer Scott Radinsky has his hands full trying to turn the three pitchers into something decent, or at least fixing their respective confidence levels.

Christina Kahrl at Baseball Prospectus wrote the following to sum up the Indians moves,

The other major upshot of this deal is that it represents Andy Marte's last best chance to have a career as somebody's third baseman, starting now. He'd already drawn 11 of the last 15 starting assignments at the hot corner, so this was already something the Tribe was actively reviewing. Since he's hitting .267/.327/.511 in his July playing time—just under half of his total at-bats for the season, and a reflection on how much time he'd been cooling his heels on the bench on a team replete with hitting problems—it's fair to say that this is not only something that won't make any negative impact on the Tribe's current fortunes, it's almost certain to be an improvement, on this season and into the future.

In summation, these were two very good deals for the Indians. Meloan's more advanced than Perdomo, so in terms of exchanging one future reliever for another, they helped themselves in the near-term while adding a starting pitcher prospect most would take their chances on and a premium catching prospect. Add in the opportunity they're going to get to give to Marte, something that will tell them whether or not they have an answer or need to start looking for one, and it's a great bit of turning the page and adding talent to an organization that's already working on ways to contend next year in the wake of this year's disappointments.

BallHype: hype it up!

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