Analysis of a Coast-to-Coast Blockbuster

Brandon HeikoopSenior Analyst IDecember 12, 2008

By now, we've all heard of the 12-player, three-team blockbuster that occurred on Wednesday Night between the Mets, Mariners, and Indians. In fact, I even posted a breakdown of the trade Thursday morning, so if you haven't heard of it yet, you probably aren't reading this.

So we're got 12 players, being exchanged between three teams, from two different leagues. My first impression, good on the Mets for getting another highly talented relief pitcher while maintaining each of their top prospects. In addition, I'm impressed with what the Indians did, although disappointed with the return (I'll explain this later). However none of this means that I feel as though the Mariners lost out on this deal.

So let's look further...

The Mets received JJ Putz, Sean Green, and Jeremy Reed. All three players came from the Mariners, which leads me to believe this trade could have occurred without the Indians. However, the Mets weren't too interested in trading any of their young, good players, so matching up with the Indians was necessary.

JJ Putz had an awful season in 2008. He was injured for much of the season and when he was active, he hardly looked like the healthy Putz from previous seasons. This injury plagued season seemed to come a year late, as Putz was hurt for much of Spring Training in 2007. Despite having a strong season in 2007, was this a precursor to 2008? Or was 2008 purely based on not being healthy?

Prior to investigating the numbers, I believed 2008 was a result of the injuries Putz endured. It seemed that every time he would get things figured out, he would head back to the disabled list. Obviously, then, 2008 was a result of Putz's overall health.

Not so fast. In 2007 Putz saw a slight uptick in his walks and a decrease in his strikeouts. Both remained as phenomenal rates, in fact, among relievers with at least 60 innings pitched, only one had a better strikeout to walk ratio. Nevertheless, Putz did regress in this area and I'd like to know why.

As excellent as Pitch F/X data is, it isn't 100 percent accurate. When 'naming' pitches, it becomes even less accurate, as it sometimes confuses pitches based on velocity, rather then break. Thus, it is difficult to simply look at pitch velocities and draw a conclusion, or assert that a pitcher certainly went away from a pitch (as is the case with Putz).

However, one of the things that Pitch F/X (and FanGraphs in particular) do an excellent job tracking is pitch by pitch data. At FanGraphs, they log a statistic called 'O Swing Percentage' (OS%), which is the amount of pitches outside of the strike zone that are swung at. This is a statistic that sticks out to me with Putz from 2007 and again in 2008.

In 2006, Putz had an OS% of 31.1 percent. This is an outstanding rate, and a seemingly unsustainable one (although this statistic is more representative of the pitcher then it is luck or otherwise). Even still, Putz's OS% dropped to 24.7 percent in 2007, good enough to drop him from the second best down to the sixty-fifth (among relievers with 60+ innings pitched).

Needless to say, this is a substantial drop and obviously had to do with Putz's drop in strikeout rate and raising the walk rate. Although as I mentioned, both statistics were still phenomenal.

However, as the 65th rated reliever in OS%, this could be the beginning of a trend. That is, with a decrease in OS% also created a drop in Swing Percentage (S%, a statistic which states the percentage of pitches that are swung at in total).

2008 appeared to coalesce the situation, where Putz's mediocre OS percentage caused a mediocre S%.

Possibly this was a matter of Putz not figuring out his changeup in Spring Training, eventually ditching it, and then not creating the same sort of batter confusion that may have been the case in 2006. However, this also could be the league figuring out JJ Putz.

Keep in mind that in 2006, Putz came to Spring Training with a new split finger pitch, one that he has begun to rely on more with each successive season. One that maybe is not so surprising to big league hitters as it was in 2006 and 2007.

In other words, I'm less thrilled with Putz's potential then I was prior to writing this.

The next piece the Mets received, Sean Green, is one of those durable, simply okay relievers. Green does not throw the ball very hard, but he does well with what he has. That being said, Green is probably more roster filler then he is legitimate reliever. The Mariners don't mind losing him, and it doesn't hurt the Mets to add him as depth.

Lastly, the Mets added failed prospect Jeremy Reed. He is a scouts dream, owning plus tools, but a sabermetric nightmare, failing to perform at the highest level. However, at age 27, having absolutely conquered triple A (in essentially four different seasons), Reed is not a terrible gamble to take. At worst, he's probably an even exchange for what the Mets gave up (read: Reed will be a sufficient 4th/5th outfielder).

The Indians simply tagged along in this deal, they allowed for the Mets to not have to give up any of their top prospects, and added enough to make the Mariners want to make the deal.

For the Indians, this was also a necessity. The team has too many outfielders and too few roster spots. While the Tribe would have been just as well dropping David Delucci, it doesn't seem likely that Mark Shapiro is willing to admit defeat on that mistake.

That being said, in acquiring Luis Valbuena, Shapiro does appear willing to admit the mistake he made in acquiring Josh Barfield, otherwise the Tribe would give the 26 year old a legitimate shot at playing second base.

Valbuena is a fine acquisition in his own right and provides the Indians with a great deal of flexibility on their infield. With remaining options, Valbuena can be sent down to the minors, or he can man second base, which would move Asdrubal Cabrera to short, and Jhonny Peralta to third, improving the infield defense, as well as solving the third base crisis.

As for Valbuena the hitter, there isn't really much to expect with him. He offers a solid eye at the plate with minimal power and adequate speed. Valbuena will never be an everyday top of the order hitter, but if his glove remains strong and he can provide a league average on base percentage, the Indians have themselves the makings of an excellent middle infield. If not, my hatred for David Dellucci will continue to grow.

The other player Cleveland received is side-arming relief pitcher Joe Smith. As a player who went from college to the Majors in a little over a year, Smith is a solid reliever that will help what was a weak Cleveland bullpen in 2008. Smith will never be a closer, and would be stretched as a teams top setup man, but he should fit well with how the current Indians bullpen is configured.

Additionally, he is a player with option years remaining, which certainly comes as a benefit for this club.

Trading Gutierrez for Valbuena and Smith is probably a little on the low end. As a team that was pressed to make this trade by Spring Training, it is understandable why Shapiro jumping at this.

The Mariners received a team's worth of players in exchange for four bodies. Two of the players the Mariners received have a great deal of value, one is bench fodder, and the other four are all 'wait and see' types. But let's look closer at what they received.

Franklin Gutierrez was one of my favorite Indians. While he will be 26 years old as of Opening Day, I still see a vast amount of potential in him. Even if the offensive tools do not come to fruition, Gutierrez should be one of the best center fielders in all of baseball next season. There are very few Indians fans, scouts, and stat heads who would disagree with such a claim.

The major problem with Gutierrez is his ability to take a walk. However, he did a great job in cutting back his strikeouts in 2008, which could be a sign of things to come. Even the best of outcomes still means that Gutierrez is a Mike Cameron-type, not one to build around, but good enough to be on a winning team (and excellent for a losing one).

The most impressive part of this deal may be the fact that the Mariners actually improved their closer, that is, if Aaron Heilman accepts his role in the bullpen. If he does, there is reason to believe that Heilman could be as good, if not better, then JJ Putz, at a substantially lesser cost.

However, Heilman will need to cut down on the walks and get his ground ball percentage (GB percentage) back to his normal rates, thus lessening the chance for home runs.

Endy Chavez was an interesting addition to this deal. I'm not entirely sold on why he would be added, but he isn't a terrible 4th outfielder. Chavez is an excellent fielder, but does not bring much to the plate. For my money, I'd much rather give Wladimir Balentien the playing time.

In terms of the prospects, let's first look at Maikel Cleto, the 19-year-old starting pitcher who should start the 2009 season in high A ball. Cleto was not discussed on anyones prospect lists entering the 2008 season, although his performance this year should change that and land Cleto on the Mariners top 20.

Cleto is armed with a hard hard fastball that regularly reaches 97 mph. He is still considered as raw, although his control is extremely impressive for a pitcher of his age. That being said, he is still two or three years away from the Majors, and another two from being a reliable contributor. As Christina Karhl at Baseball Prospectus wrote, if Minaya wins a World Series in that time, it won't matter what type of pitcher Cleto turns into.

The next prospect I want to take a look at is Ezequiel Carrera, the 21 year old lefty hitting outfielder. As the case with Cleto, Carrera is extremely raw, and still a considerable way from the Majors. In fact, with how raw he is, and his distance from the Majors, he's a long shot to be a contributor.

Right now the reports are putting Carrera as a Juan Pierre plus power minus the speed'-so maybe Ryan Freel is a better comparison. But again, he's still fairly raw, so it's rather difficult to judge what type of player the Mariners received here.

Jason Vargas is probably less valuable then a bullpen catcher at this point. He's coming off of a season in which he didn't pitch until the Arizona Fall League as he recovered from hip surgery. Once upon a time Vargas was an interesting prospect, and he isn't a terrible gamble to take at this point, but the Mariners can't be banking on anything more then him being a LOOGY.

The final chip in an endless stack is Mike Carp. Carp is a first basemen that repeated double A as a 22-year-old. Repeating the level did Carp wonders as he saw all of his numbers improve, the best of which was his plate discipline which looked outstanding this season.

As a player that projects as a high on base, low power first basemen, Carp does not have incredibly high value. However, he certainly can be useful to the rebuilding Mariners as a Lyle Overbay/Ryan Garko-type.

With ALLL of that said, am I moving from my original statement that the Mets won? Not necessarily. We're still talking about a team that did not give up a lot. However, this deal, despite getting Major League talent, is still about potential, even for them.

That is, Putz is far from a sure thing. If baseball has figured him out, then Putz is worthless. If it was just a matter of Putz not getting a feel for all of his pitches due to being hurt, then the Mets have one of baseballs best bullpens. Reed and Green are marginal acquisitions that will have minimal impact on the club.

For the Indians, this was a great trade as it has the potential to pay immediate dividends. Even if these players do not contribute immediately, the Tribe moved Gutierrez before it became too late and at least have something to show for him.

The Mariners have the potential to be big time winners. They will be patient with their acquisitions and allow the players to force their way onto the Big League roster. If Putz flops, this will be an incredible swap no matter what. If Putz bounces back, this was a weak swap, even if the trade market on closers is poor.

Overall, I'm sticking with the Mets as the winners in this deal, but marginally. If Putz flops they didn't spend a lot to get him, so it won't hurt the long term future. What it will do, however, is hurt the Mets in 2008 as they could have went after a lower ceiling player that is more reliable-I'm thinking Joe Beimel or Juan Cruz.


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