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Monday, July 31, 2006

Reds acquire Cormier and Lohse for Germano and Ward

The final day before the non-waivers trading deadline hits has brought two new pitchers for Jerry Narron's indulgence. Let's look at both deals and see what we gained as well as what we gave up:

Rheal Cormier for Justin Germano
Not be confused with the far younger, right-handed, and not as good (career-wise) Lance Cormier (which I keep doing), the 39-year old left-handed Rheal Cormier has been a mainstay of the Phillies bullpen since 2001, after being a starter earlier in his career. His acquisition by the Reds was accompanied by a one-year extension for Cormier, with a team option for 2008. Stats:
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP PERA VORP GB%
2003/PHI 84.7 7.2 2.7 0.43 0.212 1.70 3.12 3.44 34.5 58%
2004/PHI 81.0 5.1 2.9 0.78 0.242 3.56 4.15 4.58 19.8 57%
2005/PHI 47.3 6.5 3.1 1.72 0.305 5.89 5.26 5.48 -3.4 52%
2006/PHI 34.0 3.4 3.4 0.53 0.219 1.59 4.35 --- 17.4 ---
Rheal's ERA has ranged from brilliant to terrible depending on the season. As you can see, his FIP has been more consistent, although from '03 to '05 it has shown a steady and alarming incline (as have his walk rates). Last year, Cormier was across-the-boards bad, and this year his peripherals aren't looking a lot better. While his HR-allowed rates have declined back toward where they had been in '03 and '04, his strikeout rate has plummetted to a very poor 3.4 k/9. This, coupled with a steadily increasing walk ratio, makes Cormier's k/bb ratio and even 1.0--not a good thing. His wonderful 1.59 ERA this season seems to be very much the result of some outstanding luck on Cormier's part, as evidenced by his 0.219 BABIP. The one good thing I'll say about him is that he generally (except for last year...) keeps the ball on the ground, which is a good thing at GABP.

But from my vantage point, his numbers clearly indicate that the 39-year old is about to implode. He might be better than Brian Shackelford this year, but I'd happily take Shackelford over Cormier next season. This extension nonsense doesn't make any sense to me.

To get him, we gave up 23-year old Justin Germano, who was the other pitcher we got for Joe Randa last July (Travis Chick went to the Mariners in exchange for Eddie Guardado about a month ago). Now I'm not going to argue that Germano is a future all-star, but I think he's legitimate 5th starter material, with an upside of as 4th starter. And he's probably ready right now at 23 years old, despite the Reds' reluctance to use him this year. Stats:
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP PERA VORP GB%
2003/SDN-A+ 110.7 6.4 2.0 0.33 0.327 4.23 2.94 4.46 -3.9 --
2003/SDN-AA 58.0 6.8 2.0 0.93 0.293 4.34 3.70 5.86 -1.6 --
2004/SDN-AA 32.3 5.6 2.0 0.84 0.268 2.51 3.82 4.99 4.1 --
2004/SDN-AAA 122.7 7.2 1.8 0.88 0.273 3.37 3.49 4.22 24.3 --
2004/SDN 21.3 6.8 6.0 0.85 0.380 8.86 4.91 4.76 -9 53%
2005/CIN-AAA 49.3 7.0 0.9 1.28 0.335 4.01 3.81 4.65 4.3 46%
2005/SDN-AAA 112.0 8.0 2.6 1.04 0.293 3.70 3.78 4.66 11.5 45%
2006/CIN
117.0
5.2
1.7
0.85
0.285
3.69
3.84
---
---
---
2006/CIN
6.7
11.6
4.4
1.45
0.398
6.70
4.17
---
0.6
---

Overall, I don't really think that this deal helps the Reds this year. I'm more comfortable with Shackelford, and certainly Mercker (if he returns), as our 2nd lefty behind Bray. And I think it hurts the Reds long-term as they lose a potential starter. So I don't like this deal at all, Mr. Krivsky. Sorry.



Kyle Lohse for Zach Ward
I'm more comfortable with this one. Kind of. Kyle Lohse, 27, has been a back of the rotation starter for the Minnesota Twins since breaking in with them as a 22-year old in 2001. He's admittedly been a bit inconsistent over the years, and he's gotten shelled this year, but he's still fairly young and has had some very legitimate, solid seasons in Minnesota in recent years. Stats:
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP PERA VORP GB%
2003/MIN 201.0 5.8 2.0 1.25 0.279 4.61 4.39 4.43 29.7 43%
2004/MIN 194.0 5.1 3.5 1.30 0.310 5.34 5.11 5.04 7.9 46%
2005/MIN 178.7 4.3 2.2 1.11 0.296 4.18 4.58 4.77 30.9 46%
2006/MIN 63.7 6.5 3.5 1.13 0.332 7.07 4.57 --- -6.3 ---
Lohse is a low-k, high-hr, low-walk kind of guy. Precisely the kind of guy that the Reds have been "living" with for years now. So we shouldn't count on him to take our rotation to great heights. But in two of the previous three years, he maintained a VORP near 30, which is more than anyone else in our rotation can say. As an aside, Lohse's peripherals remind me a bit of Eric Milton's in Minnesota, though with slightly fewer strikeouts and slightly fewer HR's allowed.

Lohse's struggles this year appear, on the surface, to be due to two factors. First, his walk rate has been back up to the relatively high levels it was at in 2004. Looking at this guy's stats, it's clear he lives and dies by his control. But the other thing that's happening is that he's been a bit unlucky. His BABIP is a high 0.332, and his FIP (fielding independent pitching "ERA") is right where it was last year--4.57. Unless there is something fundamentally wrong with him that is leading to the high BABIP, I think we can reasonably expect him to give up ~4.5 runs/9 innings for the rest of the season. And with our offense...well, what's left of it...that should allow us to win about 50% of those games. Not bad for our #5 starter, and a helluva lot better than Mays or Williams.

It will be interesting to see what happens when Brandon Claussen comes back from the DL, which could happen soon if his rehab start today goes well. Both are the same age, and while Claussen probably has better stuff than Lohse, Claussen's control has usually been more inconsistent. I imagine those two will battle for the #5 spot for the remainder of the season, unless another of our starters gets hurt. I do think that both of them (and Milton, for what that's worth) could be excellent contributers to the bullpen, so this move should strengthen the pen as well.

Now we did have to give up Zach Ward to get Lohse. Ward, 22 years old and a 2005 3rd round selection, was rated the #10 prospect in the Reds' system (the #6 pitching prospect) by John Sickels in the pre-season, and was recently ranked by Reds Minor Leagues blogger Doug Gray as the #6 overall prospect in the Reds' system. He has pitched very well as a starter in low-A Dayton this year after taking last year off (high workload in college baseball). Stats:
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
2006/CIN-LowA
114.0 7.5 2.9 0.16 0.226 2.29 2.74
Ward is definitely someone I could get excited about. His super-human HR/9 ratio is probably not an abberation, as Gray reports that his gound ball to fly ball ratio is a brilliant 3.31. His BABIP is a little bit low, but not so much to drive a big disparity between his ERA and FIP (and, for what it's worth, I've noticed that FIP tracks poorly once pitchers get below a 3.00 ERA). Ward's strikeout and walk rates are also above average, and definitely looks ready for high-A baseball.

But that's the thing. He's only an A-ball pitcher at this point, and prior to this year's 114 innings, hasn't been all that heralded. He might turn out to be an outstanding pitcher in the big leagues, but also might fizzle as he moves up the ranks--or he might get injured. There's no doubt that he's a legitimate prospect, but he's not a "can't miss" prospect on the level of a Homer Bailey or Jay Bruce. So while I don't like trading him, I'd be willing to do so if I felt it improved the major league ballclub--especially when we have a shot at the playoffs, which we do. I think having Lohse on the squad improves the team. And if he really catches fire as a starter, it could even be by a few wins. That's a big payoff for a 5th starter.


Weighing the two deals

So I don't like the Cormier deal, but I'm ok with the Lohse deal. Overall, how do the Reds come out? Well, the farm system was definitely hurt. Ward is a solid if not good A-ball pitching prospect, and Germano is a 23 (almost 24) year old AAA starter pitcher who appears ready for the major leagues. But the Reds are in a playoff race, so the big question to me is whether this improves the ballclub for the rest of the season. I'll assume that Claussen returns healthy from his rehab assignment in time for the August 8th start, which is the next time we need a 5th starter.

Before TradeAfter Trade
Rotation:
Harang
Arroyo
Ramirez
Milton
Claussen
Rotation:
Harang
Arroyo
Ramirez
Milton
Claussen/Lohse
Bullpen:
Guardado
Coffey
Bray
Majewski
Weathers
Standridge
Shackelford
Bullpen:
Guardado
Coffey
Cormier
Bray
Majewski
Weathers
Lohse/Claussen
I don't think Cormier is really an upgrade over Shackelford, and I certainly like Bray better than Cormier, though I'm sure that Cormier will be used in a setup role until he fails. Ultimately, while it may look better to some, I think this deal is a wash.

The rotation doesn't necessarily change with Lohse in the picture, but what this does is set up both competition (good thing) and a fallback plan (very good thing) in case either he or Claussen can't do the #5 job. Marc Lancaster is reporting that Lohse will be in the bullpen slot, at least initially. I don't see Jason Standridge staying on the roster after this move, though the possibility that the Reds could cut ties with Weathers instead certainly exists. Overall, this move should strengthen the bullpen and make the rotation more solid.

The question that keeps galling at me, however, is whether Lohse is much of an upgrade over Germano. Lohse has more experience than Germano, and probably has slightly better stuff (comparing their minor league numbers), but Lohse is also older and has struggled more with his control this season. I think Lohse is a better bet to pitch well for us this year, but I'm not sure of that. I've never really understood why Germano wasn't given the opportunity to pitch instead of Joe Mays, but it would have been nice to find out how he would have done. Without more information, and given Germano's age, I'd probably equate Germano's overall value with Lohse's, with Germano rating slightly higher in potential and Lohse rating slightly higher in immediate impact.

So I'd be much happier about today's events if those were the two players who were swapped. But instead, we also lost Zach Ward, who might turn out to be a really valuable major league pitcher 2-3 years down the road. So overall, I think today's activities hurt the Reds more than it helps them. Which sucks.

Hopefully, I'm wrong, and this move gives the Reds the depth they need to take the wild card this year. But it's not looking like a good day from the vantage-point of this armchair I'm sitting in.