Table of Contents

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Blockbuster - Kearns, Lopez, and Wagner for Bray, Majewski, and others

Well, if there's one thing that Wayne Krivsky has demonstrated thus far, it's that he's not afraid to make a big move. And this one is enormous. The Reds desperately needed bullpen help, and they clearly got it in this trade. But at what cost? First, let's go over what they got. Then we'll talk about what they gave up, and end with some closing statements weighing the consequences of this trade.

The acquisitions, in rough order of importance:

Bill Bray, 23-year old Lefthanded Reliever:
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP PERA VORP GB%
2003/NCAA 37.0 11.7 1.0 0.24 0.232 1.95 1.28 --- --- ---
2004/NCAA 59.0 12.8 2.3 0.61 0.311 2.44 2.00 --- --- ---
2004/WAS-A+ 7.3 7.4 1.2 0.00 0.361 4.91 1.97 --- --- ---
2005/WAS-A+ 12.7 12.8 2.1 0.71 0.258 2.13 2.10 4.63 2.3 45%
2005/WAS-AA 5.7 9.5 1.6 1.58 0.448 6.35 3.90 --- --- ---
2005/WAS-AAA 21.3 10.6 3.8 1.27 0.340 5.06 3.95 5.48 -2.7 39%
2006/WAS-AAA 31.7 12.8 2.6 1.42 0.295 3.98 3.26 --- --- ---
2006/WAS 23.0 6.3 3.5 0.78 0.293 3.91 4.11 --- 4.4 ---
A stud college closer, Bray was a first-round selection of the Expos in 2004. He has skyrocketed through the minors to a middle relief role with the Nationals this season. In the minors, he has been a dominant strikeout pitcher, although his walk rates have been inconsistent (though usually good) and his hr-allowed rates have gotten a bit high at the higher levels. I like him, and he should be a very good relief pitcher for us over the next 5 or 6 years that he's the Reds' property. He might be ready for a setup role this year, and has to be thought to be in the mix for closer next year. Good pickup, even more so because he's a lefty.

Gary Majewski, 26-year old Righthanded Reliever:
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP PERA VORP GB%
2003/CHW-AAA 72.2 9.0 3.6 0.37 0.290 3.96 2.95 4.00 6.4 --
2004/MON-AAA 15.1 10.1 4.8 0.00 0.389 4.11 2.54 3.86 1.2 --
2004/CHW-AAA 42.1 8.8 3.4 0.43 0.247 3.19 3.01 3.83 7.9 --
2004/MON 21.0 5.1 2.1 0.86 0.338 3.86 4.01 4.57 -2.1 49%
2005/WAS-AAA 6.1 3.0 3.0 0.00 0.300 4.26 3.53 --- --- ---
2005/WAS 86.0 5.2 3.9 0.21 0.273 2.93 3.63 4.10 19.7 47%
2006/WAS 55.3 5.5 4.1 0.65 0.254 3.58 4.27 --- 13.4 ---
A less talented, but slightly more experienced reliever. Majewski was signed as a 2nd-round selection out of high school in '98. He rose through the white sox system at a steady though not exactly fast rate, but spent several years in AAA once he reached that level. Given his first real chance with the Nationals last year, he pitched a solid (though slightly lucky) 86 innings with a 2.93 ERA. Majewski's primary asset is that he keeps the ball in the park. Given GABP's negative effect on ground balls, as well as our potentially improved infield defense now that Felipe Lopez is out of the picture, this could mean success for him with the Reds.

Unfortunately his control has ranged from not-so-good to bad, and he doesn't strike many guys out. Furthermore, his BABIP and FIP both indicate that he has been pretty lucky this year and last year, and he has been pitching in RFK stadium, which is a severe pitcher's park. I doubt he'll ever be much more than a middle-innings kind of guy--at best, you might bring him in when you desperately need a late-inning double play. He is only 26, but his AAA numbers don't give me much reason to expect him to improve much over what he is now. Still, he's probably better than everyone in the Reds' pre-trade bullpen this side of Todd Coffey and Eddie Guardado.

Royce Clayton, 36-year old Right-Handed Batting Shortstop:
Year/Team PA %K %BB %HR SB/% OBP SLG OPS PrOPS GPA EqA VORP
2003/MIL 539 17% 9% 2.0% 5/71% 0.301 0.333 0.634 --- 0.219 0.227 -4.1
2004/COL 628 20% 8% 1.3% 10/67% 0.338 0.397 0.735 0.675 0.251 0.243 10.1
2005/ARI 563 19% 7% 0.4% 13/81% 0.320 0.351 0.670 0.665 0.232 0.236 6.7
2006/WAS 333 16% 6% 0.0% 8/73% 0.315 0.348 0.663 0.653 0.229 --- 3.1
Clayton was once a highly touted prospect, but he never really turned out the way people had hoped...primarily because he never really did hit that well. He never was able to crack the 0.350 OBP mark during his career, and only a few times showed indications of the power that folks expected of him as a prospect. These days, he gets on base even less than he did in the past and has pretty weak power. Clayton used to have excellent speed, but that seems to have tapered as well, even if he does maintain a decent steal percentage. Furthermore, Clayton is a below-average fielder at this point in his career. His three-year totals from the Fielding Bible rate him as 14 plays below average. That's about equivalent with Felipe Lopez, and worse than Rich Aurilia and Juan Castro. The astonishing thing about Clayton is that for all his mediocrity, he hasn't played a position other than shortstop since 1992 when he played one game at third base while breaking in with the Giants. I mean, what the...? Other fun tidbit: he's the guy Rich Aurilia replaced in San Francisco.

So frankly, I don't understand why we bothered to pick Clayton up. He's a poorer hitter than and fielder than Aurilia, and while he might be better with the bat the Castro, he's still poorer in the field at a position where fielding is of prime importance. And he has no experience playing anything but shortstop. I just don't get it. I'd rather see someone like Olmedo out there. But as long as he's in a utility role, I'm ok with having him on the team. It's just that no one ever seems to use him in a utility role.

Brendan Harris, 25-year old Righthanded Batting Infielder:
Year/Team PA %K %BB %HR SB/% OBP SLG OPS PrOPS GPA EqA VORP
2003/CHC-AA 497 14% 10% 1.0% 6/46% 0.364 0.425 0.789 --- 0.270 0.263 23.0
2004/CHC-AAA 272 15% 6% 4.0% 0/0% 0.353 0.531 0.884 --- 0.292 0.258 11.5
2004/WAS-AAA 139 15% 7% 4.3% 0/0% 0.345 0.480 0.825 --- 0.275 0.239 0.0
2004/WAS 53 21% 4% 1.9% 0/0% 0.208 0.260 0.468 0.708 0.159 0.169 -4.7
2004/CHC 10 10% 10% 0.0% 0/0% 0.300 0.333 0.633 0.660 0.218 --- ---
2005/WAS-AAA 517 15% 8% 2.5% 9/64% 0.329 0.417 0.746 --- 0.252 0.243 5.4
2005/WAS 10 0% 0% 10.0% 0/0% 0.400 0.778 1.178 1.077 0.375 --- ---
2006/WAS-AAA 245 23% 11% 2.0% 3/60% 0.379 0.416 0.795 --- 0.275 --- ---
2006/WAS 36 8% 8% 0.0% 0/0% 0.333 0.312 0.645 0.631 0.228 0.000 -0.2
Harris will be 26 by season's end, so he's probably about done developing. A 5th round selection by the Cubs in '01, he progressed at a good rate through the minors but hasn't yet found a way to stick in the majors yet. Harris has occasionally shown decent ability to get on base and has had flashes of line-drive power in the minors, but last hit for an OPS over 0.800 in 2004 at AAA and has never really been dominant the way the similar-aged Chris Denorfia has. I'm guessing that this is his final option year, so the Reds will have to make a decision about him in spring training of next year. I've seen indications that he's a slightly above average fielder at 2B and 3B. Given our current glut of veteran and young infielders, though, I'm not sure where Harris fits in. I don't see him as anything more than a utility guy in the future, and he may hit better than Olmedo or Bergolla. On the whole, not a bad pickup, but I'd think he's more a throw-in than anything.

Daryl Thompson, 19-year old Right-Handed Starting Pitcher:
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
2003/WAS-Rk 46.0 3.5 2.2 0.20 0.286 2.15 3.42
2004/WAS-A 102.2 7.0 2.6 1.14 0.314 5.08 4.19
2005/WAS-A 53.2 8.1 4.1 0.51 0.278 3.35 3.48
2006/WAS-A(ss) 6.2 11.6 7.3 0.00 0.321 6.75 3.04
Thompson was the Expos' 8th round selection in the '03 draft out of high school. He got hurt last year with a back injury and has only just recently started pitching again. Not much to talk about here.. As an A-ball pitcher, he's shown fair to good strikeout rates, but also sometimes inconsistent control. He's still very young and has plenty of room to grow. John Sickels rated him as a C+ prospect prior to the season beginning.

What we gave up:

Austin Kearns: Kearns hasn't lived up to his brilliant '02 debut, but he has been solid the last few years. At only 26, he's the kind of guy that I, were I a general manager, would try to collect: good on base percentage, good power, good defensive abilities, and still the potential to get better. He might never be the superstar we thought he might, but he's already a very good player. I honestly did not think the Reds would trade him--I probably would not have.

Felipe Lopez: An offense-oriented shortstop. He showed last year that he has the ability to both get on base and hit for good to excellent power for a middle infielder. The knock against Lopez is his fielding, which looks bad to (at best) average depending on which metric you use. Fielding bible actually rated him as exactly average last year, but it was the most generous of the popular metrics. I've been advocating Lopez as a good option for a trade for a while now. His offense is very good, and is enough to make him extremely appealing in a trade. But I want defense from my shortstop, and he wasn't able to deliver that.

Ryan Wagner: In contrast to Kearns, Wagner not only wasn't able to live up to his brilliant 2003 debut, but it appears he may have regressed. His strikeouts plummeted in 2004, and though his peripherals showed improvement last year, his ERA was an unhealthy 6.11. Finally, this year in AAA, he's been killed, will a 6.34 ERA and a bad (for him) 28/14 k/bb ratio. And no one seems to know what happened to him. I was ok with shopping him at this point, because he should still command some value given that he's only 23 (turns 24 on Saturday) and still has some time to turn it around. A change may do him good.

Analysis

What I like about the trade: The Reds needed bullpen help. This deal gives them two major-league ready relievers, one of which--Bray--has great potential to become a premier setup man or closer in the near future. Majewski may not be great, but he's a better option that Jason Standridge, as we saw just tonight. If Coffey can find his pre-June form, two more more of Weathers, Mercker, Balfour, Belisle, and Yan can find a groove, the addition of Bray, Majewski, and the previously acquired Guardado could potentially transform our bullpen from a severe liability to a modest strength of our team. That's exciting.

Another thing I like about this deal is that everyone except Clayton is young, and should be under our control for several years down the road (assuming no waiver problems with Harris).

I also like that it apparently opens up a spot for Chris Denorfia in the outfield. The Reds immediately promoted him after the deal and started him in right field. He should be a solid player, though I think his offense is better suited for center field than right field. But that's ok, as we have Griffey in center, and he hits far better than a centerfielder. Denorfia's a good man with the glove as well, so he could be a nice player for us.

Finally, this trade has the potential to improve our infield defense. If the Reds are smart, they can move Brandon Phillips to shortstop, where has has demonstrated that he can be above-average in the past. This would allow them to put Ryan Freel at second base most days, with Aurilia getting the remaining starts there when Freel needs days off or when he's subbing for other players. Freel, at least, is an above-average second baseman, which could give us two above-average defenders in our middle infield. We haven't had that since Barry Larkin was in his prime.

What I don't like: I honestly don't know what the market for relief pitching is right now. And it has to be said that the Reds' severe need for bullpen help now means that we should value such help to a greater degree than most other teams would.

But it sure looks like we overpaid, severely. As I said, I was open to shopping Lopez, as I prefer my middle infielders to be good defensively. And I thought we could largely absorb his loss on our roster, improving our defense and at least not hurting our offense too much. But despite the fact that he doesn't fit into my archetype of what I want in a middle-infielder, Lopez is an excellent hitter for a shortstop, and was on pace for about 30 runs over replacement level this year after being 45.8 over replacement level last year. And he's young and will not be a free agent for a few more years. Therefore, he should have had good value, especially to a team needing some offense.

And when you're shopping him to Jim Bowden, who you know already loves him, I would have been comfortable asking for Bray and Majewski in return. Sure, Bray looks like a stud, but he's just now breaking into the majors, and we've seen what can happen to stud relievers at that time (see Ryan Wagner). So asking for Majewski, a middle of the road middle reliever, in addition to Bray wasn't out of the question. And if Bowden balked at that, I'd try throwing in Wagner--he really does need a fresh start, and could (potentially) be as good as Bray if he got straighted out. The hope would be that this would push Bowden over the edge. I'd think he'd be close at this point.

But somehow, we offered up Kearns as well. As I said above, Austin Kearns is exactly the sort of player that I would horde as a general manager. He may not be an All-Star right now, but he still has that potential to become one. And even if he doesn't, he already has both on-base ability and power offensively, and is well above average defensive skills. And yet, what did we get for him? Royce Clayton and Brendan Harris, plus some share of the Bray/Majewski complex. Oh, and an A-ball pitcher. I think that's a really poor return on a guy like Austin Kearns. I just have to think that there would have been other teams out there that would give us more than this Kearns and Lopez. But I guess not...

Conclusion:
In the end, however, the Reds are trying to win this season. They may have given up more than they got, but do they have a better chance to win after the trade compared to beforehand? They just might. Consider the following lineup and bullpen arrangements before the trade and after the trade (I'll assume the Reds would do what I'd do and move Phillips to short. Today they didn't look to be doing that, but whatever):

Before TradeAfter Trade
Lineup
C Ross/LaRue
1B Hatteberg/Aurilia
2B Phillips
3B Encarnacion
SS Lopez
LF Dunn
CF Griffey
RF Kearns

Bench
Freel
Aurilia/Hatteberg
Valentin
Castro
Wise
Lineup
C Ross/LaRue
1B Hatteberg/Aurilia
2B Freel/Aurilia
3B Encarnacion
SS Phillips
LF Dunn
CF Griffey
RF Denorfia/Freel

Bench
Hatteberg/Aurilia/Freel/Denorfia
Clayton
Valentin
Castro
Wise
Bullpen
Guardado
Coffey
Mercker
Weathers
Yan
Belisle
Standridge
Bullpen
Guardado
Coffey
Bray
Majewski
Mercker
Weathers
Belisle/Yan/Standridge
One thing is for sure. Our bullpen is vastly improved. It'll take some good fortune on the Reds' part for it to really become a strength, but we can probably say that it's roughly average now. That should take an enormous amount of pressure off of our starters, who will hopefully be able to continue to put up decent numbers. I trust Harang, Arroyo, and Ramirez to at least be effective. Milton can possibly be as well, so long as Narron watches him like a hawk once hit gets to the fifth inning. And hopefully, Claussen can come back from his injury and find the pitcher that we saw last year instead of the pitcher we had in the first half.

I think the offense absorbs the loss of Lopez pretty well, assuming that Brandon Phillips can keep on hitting--and I'm going to bet that he can. I like Freel getting more chances to play, and Aurilia has mostly been good enough.

Kearns' loss, however, is harder to handle. Denorfia should be able to hit reasonably well, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what he can do. But he will not be the middle of the order power threat the Kearns was, even after he's had a few years in the majors. Kearns was our best right-handed bat, and the only one really suitable right now for a middle of the order spot to break up Griffey and Dunn. Encarnacion might be able to be that guy, but I think this puts a lot of pressure on the kid. He's got enough problems with Narron freaking out every time he makes an error. Of course, Narron loves to bat Aurilia cleanup. Makes no sense to me, but it does take some pressure of Eddie whenever Aurilia's in the lineup.

The question in my mind, therefore, is how many runs (and by extension, wins) we lose by having Denorfia hit instead of Kearns. Here's a quick and dirty stab at it: PECOTA predicts that Denorfia, in a full season in the majors, would have a value of between 20.5 runs (75% performance) and -5.8 runs (25% performance) above replacement level this year, with a weighted mean of about 10 runs over replacement. In contrast, Kearns was predicted to generate between 30.5 runs over replacement (75%) and 5.9 runs over replacement, with a weighted mean of about 22.4 runs over replacement. So let's look at those numbers

Kearns
Denorfia VORPs 15.3 11.2 3.0
10.3 -5.0 -0.9 7.3
5.0 -10.3 -6.2 2.1
-2.9 -18.2 -14.1 -5.9
Ok, let me explain this matrix as it's just something I fabricated. The bold-faced red numbers are the individual VORP estimates predicted by PECOTA that I mentioned above, divided by two because there's a half-season remaining. Those for Austin Kearns go across the top, and those for Denorfia go down the left. The numbers in the middle of the matrix are Denorfia's numbers minus Kearn's number. For example, if both players have a good-case second half, the Reds would only have lost about 5 runs on the season by not having Kearns. If Denorfia tanks (-2.9 VORP), but Kearns keeps on having a good case season (and he's been right in line with those good-case VORP numbers so far), on the other hand, the Reds could lose 18.2 runs by not having Kearns. 'Course, that's only this year, and says nothing of the next few years without him.

So how many runs will the new bullpen save? I'm honestly not sure, and it's far too late at night for me to try to run the numbers and make an estimate. I feel very confident that they will be worth 5 runs without any problem. But whether they'll really be worth 18.2 runs.... That might be pushing it.

Overall, I'm not crazy about this move. I'm really going to miss Kearns. But there's not much else to do than to accept that it has happened, move on, and hope to heck that the bullpen upgrade will make enough of a difference to get us into the playoffs. Go Reds.