The Phillies acquisition of Ben Revere was met with a blend of generally positive merriment and cautious optimism among Phillies fans. The deal addressed a clear need, a long-term solution in center field, but the cost, Vance Worley and Trevor May, irked some fans (and FanGraph’s Dave Cameron) who argued the Phillies robbed Peter to pay Paul. The ire was based on the assumptions that (#1) Worley will be completely healthy for 2013, (#2) will continue to have success with his high-ratio of called strikes, (#3) that May is still a starter, (#4) that May is still the Phillies top prospect, and (#5) that May will be a top-tier starter. Unfortunately for the Twins, a lot of those are gambles that may not break in their favor and they gave up a 24-year old center fielder with the fourth-most range, was third in the MLB in steals, is the second-best base runner in the Majors, and doesn’t strike out.
Keeping those things in mind, I was shocked yesterday to see the haul that was exchanged in the three-way deal that saw Shin-Soo Choo end up with the Cincinnati Reds. Choo, 30, was a target of the Phillies earlier this offseason per reports from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He is coming off a bounce-back year in 2012 and is entering his third year of arbitration eligibility, coming off a season where he got paid $4.9 million and is due for a bump. Choo’s play in 2012 was worth 2.6 fWAR, or $11.7 million, per FanGraphs in right field – conversely, Revere was worth 3.4 WAR, or $15.2 million, in center, higher than B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino, Yoenis Cespedes, Dexter Fowler, and others. For less in prospects, and likely around $5 million less in payroll after Choo’s arbitration hearing, the Phillies picked up a better player and, more importantly, a better center fielder.
The Trade Pieces
Because the trade that sent Choo to Cincinnati was a three-way deal, it is tougher to gauge who gave up the most so here is how I’ll view the trade: what did the Indians give up and what did the Indians get. This gives the clearest picture of the trade for comparison’s sake.
In short, Cleveland gave up Choo, a slightly-above average outfielder who has played at an All-Star level but has not played center field since 2009, Donald, former Phillies farm-hand and essentially, a Quadruple-A player, Anderson, a former Red Sox top first base prospect who has struggled at Triple-A and is only 25 but probably will never be the player he was projected to be, and a perfectly average reliever in Sipp for quite the bundle of players.
What the Indians did was a steal just short of highway robbery. The big piece of this deal was undoubtedly Trevor Bauer. Bauer was the number nine ranked prospect by Baseball America headed into 2012, the number one ranked Diamondbacks prospect as ranked by FanGraphs, and was called earlier this morning by Baseball America as a future ace. At 21, much has been made of Bauer’s mechanics, but his successes at Double-A and Triple-A last year earned Bauer a call-up to the Diamondbacks in just his second professional season.
Ben Bader of Baseball America reported that Bauer and the Diamondbacks differed on off-season training plans and has been labeled by Arizona as a player who is not receptive to change. But Bader cites Bauer’s “whipe-out” curveball and control of his low-90s fastball as reasons the Indians pulled a coup in this trade.
Stubbs heads over to Cleveland in a move that will help them fill their gap at center field. Stubbs, from a WAR perspective, has been a very comparable player to Choo in the last three seasons (Stubbs: 7.9 v. Choo: 10.2), is two years younger, and has three years of arbitration eligibility compare to Choo’s one. While a team acquiring Choo may have seen his best years playing in a different uniform, Stubbs plays above average center field and any improvement in plate discipline, a skill-set that traditionally improves with age, will dramatically increase Stubbs’ value.
Albers is a steadily improving, but an average-to-below average reliever. Albers is due for an arbitration raise from a $1.075 million salary in 2012 and was likely included to balance salaries in the deal. Albers made slightly less than Bauer ($1.183 million), who signed a Major League contract after being drafted third overall in 2011. Shaw, 25, is a nice, young righty arm who comes from Arizona. In 97 Major League appearances, Shaw has a 3.18 ERA and 6.7 K/9 IP but struggles with walks (3.3 BB/9 IP). Shaw finished 27 of the 97 games he appeared in for the Diamondbacks.
The Indians official haul? A no-doubt-about-it top of the line, top-flight pitching prospect, a center fielder who is cheaper, has two more years of team control, and very comparable to the right fielder they traded away, an expensive (relatively) veteran reliever, and a pretty decent 25-year old, Major League-experienced reliever for an above average right fielder who is due a few million more than Stubbs in 2013, a replaceable utility infielder, a young, but disappointing first base prospect, and an average reliever.
Trading a possibly-recovering starter who projects at best as a #3 starter and a former top-of-the-organization starter who now projects as a very good reliever for a very good center fielder entering his age 25 season after two solid seasons in Minnesota doesn’t seem like such a steep price after all. Worst case scenario for the Phillies from a trade perspective? The Phillies traded away two #3 starters who under team control for a number of years for a very good, developing center fielder who still has four years of team control. Is that a worthwhile risk? Compared to the price for Choo, absolutely.