Monday, January 10, 2011

Garza redux and the futility of trade mongering

So, there seem to be a lot of people who seem to think that TB was asking too much for Garza, a solid mid-roto starter likely to give you 200 innings and an FIP in the 4.15-4.20 range for the next 3 years plus picks or who could be extended. It is likely the case that they demanded too much from the NYY but were willing to take less from suitors outside of their division. Now while it is perfectly reasonable to think that Garza is overrated by some as he is not a top roto arm, he profiles right at the back end of mid-rotation starters (30gs, FIB 3.8-4.2), while being much better than that at times (with a flyball rate that might not play great in some parks), and that has solid value, about 3 wins if you believe his struggles this year are not a trend. You can also argue that the Cubs overpaid for him, given that they gave up two elite prospects including a starter with top-roto potential who could make his appearance in their rotation in the second half.

However the claims that Texas was offering too much seem to be exaggerated if not unfounded altogether. If you believe the rumors that Texas' best offer was Holland, Beltre, (some other player) and Francisco, that is not overpaying at all. Holland has not come close to establishing himself as the top rotation arm many thought he could become, so much so, that he looks more like a #4 starter these days (if not a bullpen arm). He also missed 2 months with a rotator cuff strain (and a month with a knee injury) that might have given any team pause, though he did finish the season strong out of the bullpen. Engel Beltre is the most overrated prospect in the system in my opinion. He does not project to hit for power anymore after the Texas staff changed his swing and demanded a change in his approach that has turned him into a singles hitter with gap power. Given his atrocious walk rate (even worse in winter ball, with a BIP-driven average mainly from his first couple of weeks there), plate discipline, bunting and pitch recognition skills, he's likely a #9 hitter with an an average driven OBP in the .300 range. There is not much reason to dream on this kid unless your dream is Julio Borbon (with less SB prowess at present) with a much stronger arm, better contact ability (though with poorer pitch recognition, and poor bunting skills at present) and slightly more grace in the outfield. The only reason to believe that Beltre will put up an OPS better than Borbon's 650 last year is the hope that he can hit lefties better than Borbon's .600 OPS, and stay in the lineup all year long. So is Beltre's ceiling then a fringy CF (on the right eam) with plus D sporting an OPS from both sides in the 660-680 range? Why yes it is. That is no future all star, elite player, or even an average major league CF (.740 OPS). There are lots of ML centerfielders around that play plus D in CF (including Borbon) and those types always have some value but some of those hardly make you breathless at the plate, or have 10-year careers as starters. So if his ceiling is Borbon why all the hype?

I will say this about Holland, and I've written this before. He needs to rely more on his changeup which is an above-average pitch, at least it was in 2009. The staff might bear some blame about this (in addition to being rushed, only making 4 starts in AA before his promotion to the bigs) in addition to allowing him to start throwing a curveball -convincing himself for some reason that it takes 4 pitches to be an effective starter - given that his slider was the pitch he needed to concentrate on improving. Given that Holland was sidelined with a knee injury for a month, missing all of spring training, and then was sidelined for another 2 months due to shoulder issues, there is no reason to believe that he can't eventually become some kind of #3 starter. However, we have seen some problems with his FB command -throwing too many strikes, not working the fastball in and around the zone effectively enough - and maybe also his makeup (as a starter). I think we have seen enough to know that he won't become a top roto arm but one can still imagine him as a #3 at best and a #4 at worst.

Other than the question of the limited ceilings that both Holland and Beltre seem to offer, there are a couple of other reasons to think that Gammond's take on Texas' top offer is incomplete. For one, the inclusion of the overpaid and injury-prone Francisco hardly seems to make sense for them (who would also be a risky arb offer to get the picks, as TX saw this year). Francisco makes a lot of sense for Texas as a back-up closer and dominant set-up man or 7th inning arm, as he gives TX injury protection and roster flexibility but he wouldn't be nearly as valuable for the cost-cutting Rays. The other questionable take is the inclusion of Robinson Chirinos. It is highly doubtful that Chirinos was ever part of a deal as long as Texas' main competition was the Cubs. This just makes zero sense if the Cubs knew that TB liked the kid and Texas knew that they were competing with prospect packages against them. I mean, how does this make any sense? In all likelihood, Texas was likely offering another player.

As with all trade rumors, the speculation about any complex back-and-forth negotiation is assuredly reductive. These rumors well never get right the whole array of prospects that were on the table, the prospects that a team likes or wants, the packages that were discussed or refused, or the "final offer". Gammons' report seems to have similar shortcomings and his final offer hardly seems to make sense for TB and certainly does not even come close to what TB got from the cubs. If Gammons' final offer was correct, the Texas underbid by a long shot. Here is why:

Chris Archer is seen by BA to have a top rotation ceiling (a closer at worst), was the Cubbies' #1 prospect. He could make the team out of spring training as a bullpen arm but most likely starts in the AAA rotation. Holland also spent most of last year in AAA if you'll remember, and is 2 years older and had 9 fewer starts in AA at the same age. Archer had command issues in AA (entirely vs LHH though, so his changeup and FB command vs them still need work - he dominated RHH) but already has something that Holland has never had: 2 plus pitches. So when people speculated that Holland could be a top roto arm, one has to wonder how he could accomplish that with only one plus pitch. In the end, the key to this trade seems to be Archer, and how likely it is that he becomes, say, a #2 arm. I think it is clear that Tampa thinks it is a safe bet meaning that TX would have had to include an arm with the same ceiling. If the rumor is correct, they did not believe that was Derek Holland, which is not unreasonable. However if Texas didn't project Archer as a reasonable bet to reach his #2 ceiling, then they likely would not have included that type of player.

I should also add that Archer seemed to make a lot of progress in 2010, and his overall command improved in HighA, while regressing vs LHH after his promotion to AA. People should keep in mind that minor league #s aren't projectable like ML #s are given that each season is essentially a crucible for improving particular weaknesses, even to the detriment of ones' objective #s. Given the reports about his improvement in all areas in 2010, It seems likely that he was working on his command issues vs LHH, his changeup, and his pitch sequencing during his AA stint.

According to BA, Hak-Ju Lee, the Cubs #4 prospect, is an argument in favor of becoming players in the Korean market (725k, 2008). He could be a plus defender at SS, with plus plus speed, an excellent approach, with gap power and the potential to develop into a leadoff hitter. He'll start in HighA.

Even Bradon Guyer, in the back end of the deal, seems like a nice player. If he doesn't make the team out of spring training, he'll start the year in AAA at age 25. He seems to profile as a solid 4th OF type in the mold of David Murphy, but is capable of playing in CF for extended periods though probably shouldn't start there. It isn't clear if he profiles as a starting COF, but he could be, and his defense is said to be ML ready right now so it is not out of the realm of possiblity. He put in a dominant year in AA at age 24, finishing with an OPS of ~1.0.

Robinson Chirinos seems to be liked by many but I'm not sure why, having spent most of the last 4 years bouncing between HighA and AA, and having played on 15 games in AAA going into his age 27 year. He seems to profile as a backup catcher, with a great arm, though I can't imagine that his skills in that spot are that well developed as he has only been catching full time for 2 years and only has 170 games at that spot since appearing in games there in 2008 (20g). Some people have said that he can play shortstop or 2b but that seems idiotic as he hasn't seen significant time there in 3-4 years, but he could be a backup corner infielder at 1b/3b it would seem. He would be a nice player to have on any roster if he could be an effective second catcher and a decent backup 3b/1b but he hardly appears worthy of prospect palpitations.

The Cubs and Rays also exchanged fifth OF types capable of playing CF, while the Rays also threw in a LHP who seems to project as a 5th starter type in 2-3 years. A pitchability kid.

So in the end I think Gammon's take is incomplete at best. I think that it is likely that Scheppers and Perez' names were bandied around during the negotiations, and if TX refused to entertain a package that included one of them, perhaps also demanding a another player in return, then you'd have to think that the inclusion of Archer meant that Texas could not match. Why would TB dream on a package that didn't include a starting prospect with a top roto ceiling? They wouldn't. With the prospect to-and-fro assuredly much more complicated than a Gammons' tweet, you could put together all kinds of what ifs that are just as feasible. For example, maybe Texas was unwilling to include Perez, thinking him more valuable than Archer, while TB viewed Perez as having an equal ceiling with slightly more risk. Maybe TX even projected Archer as a reliever. What if Texas offered Scheppers, still dreaming of him as a starter, while TB thought of him as a reliever. What if Holland actually has more value in the eyes of the Texas staff than he does on the market, so, fronting a offer with Holland, might still indicate that TX still dreams of Holland as a #2 starter (eventually), while TB does not see him as having anything more than a #4 ceiling.

Whatever the case, If you believe in Archer as a starter, then Texas' rumored offer doesn't even make me blink, but it is likely that TX had a better offer on the table to be in the hunt, as they appeared to be, for so long. Having said all of that, if you don't believe in Garza as a 3 WAR pitcher who will put up 200innings with a 4.20 FIP over the next three years and become a Type A free agent (with the opportunity to extend him before that), then you'll be happy that Texas didn't acquire him, even if we'll never really know what TX was willing to offer, and you'll think that the Cubs overpaid. Keep the Cubbies' offer in mind though if TX is forced to overpay for a rent-a-starter at the trade deadline, and one or more of Holland/Hunter/Feliz underwhelm, for a package equal to or better than what the Cub's gave up for a full 3 years of Garza. In addition, one possible benefit of acquiring a #3 by the start of spring training, allows TX to throw the dice on putting Feliz in the roto.

In the end, maybe Texas has more faith in both Holland and Hunter than we know. It seems a big risk to take for a contending team, though, to enter the season without someone to anchor the rotation given the lack of experienced starters TX will trot out their for 2011, not to mention the impending loss of CJ to FA at the end of the season. There is still some time for Texas to find a deal it likes but (at least) three years of Garza for minor leaguers seems like pretty good value, particularly for their 2-3 year window of contention (as presently configured).

BA had some quotes from Archer about his dominant start in for the US in the Pan American games, which lends credence to his improvement over 2010 as well as his projectability as a top roto arm:

In the team's ninth and final victory, Team USA beat Cuba 4-1, getting a Sheets-like performance from Cubs righthander Chris Archer. While Young is quick to point out that Sheets went the distance, Archer was just as dominant, striking out 10 and walking none while pitching six scoreless, two-hit innings. And even Young admits the current Cuban lineup is deep in talent, perhaps even more offensive than the 2000 club.

"He pounded the strike zone, then he put hitters away with sliders and some changeups," Young said of Archer. "That was the key; once he was ahead, he put their hitters away."

Archer did that much of the regular season, going 15-3, 2.34 between two levels, ranking second in the minors in victories and seventh in ERA. Still, he called his performance against Cuba "saving the best for last."

"Command-wise, I don't know how hard I was throwing my fastball, but I was nicking it, and I had the fastball, slider and change all working," he said. "Early counts, I was throwing my slider for strikes, and when I got ahead, I was burying it, and because they had to respect the fastball, I got them to chase."


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