The 2008 MLB Winter Meetings have wrapped up and while there was some action, many of the headlines were either predictable or were not the ones everyone was looking for. This entry will review three trades that went down in a little over 24 hours in Las Vegas—three moves which were largely unheard of prior to being finalized.
The first move occurred late Tuesday evening, as the Cincinnati Reds shipped Ryan Freel and two prospects to the Baltimore Orioles for Ramon Hernandez.
This isn't a move that I particularly agree with for the Reds and one I feel as though they sold themselves short on. While the return is fine, it is the direction of the return that I question.
First, Ramon Hernandez has had some success as a Major League catcher, he is only two years removed from posting a park adjusted .367 weighted on base average (wOBA*). In fact, 2006 marked the end of a four year streak where Hernandez's wOBA* did not go below .351, and reached as high as .373. This four year stretch marked a period where Hernandez was one of the top hitting backstops in the game.
Hernandez also gets points for being an adequate defensive catcher—think, a slightly superior Victor Martinez.
To get Hernandez for what the Reds did is a fine swap. A couple months ago, I suggested the Orioles move Ramon to the Detroit Tigers for middle infield prospect Scott Sizemore. To me, this was more about dumping salary in hopes of acquiring Mark Teixeira.
However, what I don't understand is why the Reds wanted to pay this type of money for Ramon Hernandez when they could have brought in Josh Bard to have at least an equal offensive season. That said, the same argument can be proposed to me with my idea for the Detroit Tigers acquiring Hernandez.
For the Orioles, this move was more about clearing a way to get Matt Weiters into the bigs then it was in receiving anything of worth. That being said, the O's did well in bringing aboard the versatile Ryan Freel, and two low end prospects that are worth the gambles.
Ryan Freel can essentially play any position in the ballpark (save catcher). This versatility is probably his best asset, and one the Orioles will be certain to take full advantage of.
That being said, for a player without a full-time role, he is also somewhat overpaid, earning $4 million, plus the $2 million the Orioles sent to the Reds for Hernandez's contract. Freel will presumably become the fan favorite in Baltimore that he was in Cincinnati and Joe Fan will call for Freel to start after he dirties his uniform in the top of the ninth in a blow-out.
Of the two prospects Baltimore received, Brandon Waring is the one I feel has the greatest long term potential. John Sickels rated him as a C+ prospect entering the 2008 season and would probably drop him back a notch entering 2009. Waring is an all-or-nothing power hitter that simply needs to work on his discipline at the plate.
While Waring will be 23-years-old as of Opening Day, it would not be surprising to see him hitting double-A pitching by the end of this season.
If he can successfully move to that level, there is hope for his future. As of now, Waring is more organization filler then legitimate prospect.
The other prospect, Justin Turner, is a 24-year-old middle infield prospect that projects more as a utility player then anything of real worth. Justin has posted a wOBA* of approximately .360 throughout his minor league career. If he can maintain that mark into the majors, he would certainly rate as an above-average middle infielder.
However, like Waring, Turner is at best a fringe prospect and one that is hardly worth tracking at this point. Neither are terrible players to have within an organization, but both are more future bench players then everyday hitters on a winning team.
Even still, this trade was more about addition by subtraction then it was adding actual pieces. The Orioles saved themselves a chunk of change and managed to improve their team, as well as finally beginning 'life-after-Cal'.
This trade also provides the Orioles some insurance if they so choose to deal Brian Roberts, which would be another positive bonus. In other words, the Reds win on this one.
That being said, I don't see why the Reds went after Hernandez, even at this cheap of a price. If the club manages to boost his value due to hitting in the lesser league, in a joke of a ballpark, possibly he can be spun for something of worth at the deadline. If not, this trade was commenced simply to take time out of my life to write about—thanks!
The second move nearly gave me a heart attack. This move saw the Pittsburgh Pirates trading Ronny Paulino to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Jason Jaramillo. While you may be asking yourself how I nearly had a heart attack, I can explain, although I am not justified. You see, I had thought I read "Ryan Doumit."
Ronny Paulino is nothing special, but he is an adequate backup catcher. He had one good season—his first as a full time back stop—and has since been a roster-filler.
It is interesting, however, that the Phillies would want Paulino in the first place.
Although the same can be said about the Pittsburgh Pirates. I suppose being younger, cheaper, and under control longer made Jason Jaramillo attractive to the Pirates, but I'm certain the club could have gotten a similarly productive backup that holds the same qualities that Jaramillo holds.
Despite not wanting to award a winner for this deal, I suppose I'll give it to the Pirates. Jaramillo and Paulino appear to be relatively interchangeable. Thus, the cost, 'youth', and team control makes Jaramillo slightly more valuable. Although Paulino will hold value in his own right, being a more experienced backup for a winning ballclub.
Lastly, the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays uncovered the most secretive deal of the Winter Meetings, swapping Matt Joyce for Edwin Jackson.
There had been rumblings that the Rays were looking for a left-handed bat, but there was not a word about Joyce. The Tigers, known to be in the market for a closer, presumably made this deal as a part of a bigger deal down the road.
But let's look at what the two teams got in this swap.
The Rays brought aboard a big time power bat in Matt Joyce. The 24-year-old posted an isolated power (ISO) figure of .240 despite hitting in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. This ISO contributed greatly to Joyce's .378 wOBA*, an excellent figure for any player, let alone a rookie.
Joyce is also blessed with being an outstanding defensive right fielder and will combine with Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton to form what will far and away be baseball's best defensive outfield.
However, Joyce also has a problem not striking out. While Joyce saw his strikeout rate drop upon his Major League arrival, his rate still stood at a poor 26.9%. Despite being excellent at taking walks, Joyce's inability to control the strike zone will be his downfall.
In exchange for Joyce, the Rays moved Edwin Jackson, clearing a spot for David Price and selling high on an immensely gifted pitcher. I can still remember the hype surrounding Edwin, the hype that only grew as he won his debut against the best pitcher at the time, Randy Johnson.
The following seasons Jackson struggled with both his control and health. When Jackson was healthy, he was being shuffled around the Dodgers organization, getting a cup of coffee, then being sent down to double-A.
The Dodgers eventually grew tired of all the promise and eventually traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays. Jackson was packaged with fellow failed prospect Chuck Tiffany in exchange for eventual blow-up relievers Danys Baez and Lance Carter.
Jackson split the 2006 season between triple-A and the bigs, although his control issues persisted. The Rays staff must have noted the problem, as they had Jackson throw 11 percent fewer fastballs in 2007 then 2006. Jackson's walk rate declined and he began to rebound.
2008 will certainly go down as Jackson's breakout season. While his strikeout rate took a major hit, Jackson's walk rate dropped to a much more manageable rate. Jackson logged a career high in innings pitched and became a reliable starter for the Rays.
Entering 2009, Jackson was all but gone from the Rays rotation, if not to the bullpen, then to another organization. Here we are today, with the 25-year-old now sporting the old-English D and a lock for the Tigers rotation.
The Tigers have done a lot to improve their infield defense for the upcoming season. Comerica is, by all standards, a pitchers park. If Edwin can manage to bump up his strikeout rate and keep his walk rate down, the players behind him should be good enough to help Jackson build on what was a career year.
While I am more bullish on Jackson then I am on Joyce, the fact remains that this was a better trade for the Rays then it was for the Tigers—at this point. That is, Joyce will fill a hole for the Rays and do so at a high level for an affordable price. Conversely, the Tigers moved one of their few remaining trade chips to add to what is already a surplus.
True, the Tigers rotation is lacking after the top two (maybe three), but with the money owed to both Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson, the Tigers are better served taking their lumps and hoping one of them figures it out then adding a third or fourth starter.
What will make this more tolerable for the Tigers is if the club manages to move one of Willis or Robertson for a player worth more then Joyce. If not, this is more of a move for the sake of making a move, than it is improving the club for 2009.