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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Reds acquire Cantu, Cumberland for Medlock, Shackelford

Today the Reds announced a trade involving four minor leaguers. Let's look at what the Reds got and then at what we gave up:

What the Reds Got

Jorge Cantu - 25 yrs, RHB, 1B/2B/3B
Cantu's an interesting player if there ever was one. Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Devil Rays at age 17 in 1998, he progressed fairly quickly through their minor leagues given his age, and made the somewhat surprising from high-A Durham to the big league club in 2004 (he had reached AA by age 19, but never hit well enough to stick). Surprisingly, despite the huge jump in levels, Cantu held his own while with the big league club...and then surprised even more with a strong 2005 season in which he hit 28 home runs while maintaining an 0.286 average.

It's been downhill from there. Injuries held him back a bit last season, though he showed big drop-offs in performance when he did play. And this season has been a nightmare. He lost his second base job to B.J. Upton and was sent to AAA to start the season, but then was called up--and very rarely used--for two months following Akinori Iwamura's injury. He's been in AAA for only about a week after being optioned on July 20.

2004/TB-A+ 22 391 16% 4% --- 0.312 0.302 0.335 0.576 0.274 0.911 --- 0.5 67
2004/TB 22 185 24% 5% 23% 0.391 0.301 0.341 0.462 0.162 0.803 0.670 0.0 26
2005/TB 23 630 13% 3% 21% 0.289 0.286 0.311 0.497 0.211 0.808 0.831 0.2 84
2006/TB-AA 24 33 27% 3% --- 0.190 0.194 0.212 0.387 0.194 0.599 --- 0.0 2
2006/TB 24 448 20% 6% 20% 0.283 0.249 0.295 0.404 0.155 0.699 0.753 -0.3 46
2007/TB-AAA 25 99 21% 8% --- 0.304 0.244 0.303 0.356 0.111 0.659 --- 0.0 10
2007/TB 25 65 25% 8% 19% 0.279 0.207 0.277 0.224 0.017 0.501 0.622 0.0 4

2005 was Cantu's best season in his still-young career. He showed excellent power, especially for someone spending a lot of time at second base. But his OBP was woeful, reflecting the fact that he walked in only 3% of his at-bats. This greatly reduced his overall value, and is somewhat reminiscent of what we see from Brandon Phillips--though even Phillips walks 4-6% of the time. Even so, his batting average and power allowed him to contribute 80-some runs to the ballclub, which is nothing to scoff at.

In 2006, even when he was able to play, Cantu was a shadow of his former self. His strikeout rate rose by 50%, which severely affected his batting average. At the same time, his power production also dropped, with his isolated power falling by 0.056 points. PrOPS indicates that he may have been a bit unlucky, as does his BABIP, which is a bit lower than you'd expect from someone with a 19.5% line drive rate. But the same thing could be said for his 2005 campaign, so that clearly wasn't the main problem. The one silver lining is that his walk rate doubled.

He has basically been riding the bench all season, so there's not much we can say about his numbers this year--though he has not hit well. Still, comparing his '05 and '06 numbers, I almost wonder if an effort to become more patient also resulted in Cantu being less able to avoid the strikeout, and that's what has killed his value. Therefore, it's possible that a key to his future success might be being more aggressive--and less patient--at the plate.

Defense (UZR data--2007 data through first half):
Year pos expOuts runs_range runs_fldErr runs_othErr runs_total G runs/150G
2007 1B
-1 0 0 -1 5
2004 2B
82 -2 -1 0 -3 33 -13
2005 2B
176 -9 -1 0 -10 71 -20
2006 2B
246 -23 -2 0 -25 100 -37
2004 3B
25 0 -1 0 -1 13 -9
2005 3B
115 -17 -2 -1 -20 62 -49
The short of it is that Cantu has been a liability in the field at both second base and third. He makes errors at a high rate, and has shown bad range at both positions. Splitting time between these two positions in '05, he cost the Rays about 30 runs overall, which severely cuts into the 84 he generated on offense. Last season, he cost the Rays about 25 runs at second base in less playing time, while only contributing 46 with the bat. Yikes.

The Devil Rays have apparently tried to move him to first base to better hide his defense. The problem with doing this is that he goes from being a potentially plus-hitting middle infielder to a below-average hitter at first base. Rosecrans reports that he has played some outfield in the past, so left field might also be a destination that might work for the kid. But replacement level in left field is only slightly lower than replacement level at first base, so that doesn't help him much either.

Tidbit: Cantu apparently has his own blog, but he hasn't updated it since last August.

Shaun Cumberland, 23 yrs, LHB OF
Shaun was drafted in the 10th round of the 2003 draft out of high school, and has steadily risen through the Devil Rays farm system. Unfortunately, he hasn't really hit even reasonably well since 2004:
2004/TB-A- 20 176 13% 6% --- 0.379 0.329 0.375 0.439 0.110 0.814 --- 1.1 28
2005/TB-A 21 481 21% 8% --- 0.317 0.268 0.326 0.422 0.154 0.748 --- 0.3 62
2006/TB-A+ 22 571 23% 7% --- 0.316 0.258 0.319 0.396 0.138 0.715 --- 0.9 70
2007/TB-AA 23 382 18% 7% --- 0.290 0.251 0.306 0.359 0.108 0.665 --- -2.7 36
...and even in 2004, his BABIP was unusually high, indicating that much if not all of that 0.375 OBP he showed was the result of luck. From 2005 onward, his fairly high strikeout rates have kept his batting average down, and he hasn't walked enough to compensate. On the positive side, he showed some modest power in '05...but has since seen that power drop each of the last two seasons. Cumberland also is fairly fast, as evidenced by the 20+ steals he posted in '05 and '06, but he has been caught enough to keep those steals from being much of a net positive (SBRns above is the estimated runs contributed by SB's and CS's, granting 0.175 runs for a successful steal, and deducting 0.467 runs for a getting caught--run values are from The Book). This year, his attempted steal rate has dropped significantly, as has his success rate--maybe he's had a leg injury or something? I haven't checked.

What the Reds gave up.

Calvin Medlock, 24 yrs, RHP Reliever
Medlock was the Reds' 39th-round selection in the 2002 amateur draft out of Junior College. He's not a particularly big kid (5'10", 195 lbs), and obviously wasn't thought of that highly when he was drafted. But he has done nothing but excel since he signed.
2004/CIN-A 21 94.2 10.6 2.0 0.5 3.15 2.57 2.20 0.285 4.37 17.3 --
2004/STL-A+ 21 46.2 9.0 4.3 1.6 7.01 6.36 4.89 0.301 8.31 -12.6 --
2005/CIN-A+ 22 108.2 8.2 1.8 0.5 3.49 3.06 2.72 0.295 4.27 15.6 38%
2006/CIN-AA 23 63.2 10.0 4.0 0.6 3.42 2.97 3.14 0.306 4.72 8.6 49%
2007/CIN-AA 24 47.2 11.3 1.0 0.6 2.67 2.64 1.84 ---
--- --- ---
2007/CIN-AAA 24 14.0 10.9 8.4 0.0 6.43 6.43 3.56 ---
--- --- ---

Medlock has been a consistent strikeout pitcher in the minor leagues, be it in the rotation ('04 and '05) or in the bullpen ('06 and '07). He also has done a great job of keeping the ball in the park, though that looks, on the surface, to be more a function of his strikeouts than of being a particularly good at inducing ground balls (though my data are limited on that). His control has been more spotty. Last year, his walk rate was a bit high, but the previous season and this season (in AA, at least), he his walk rates have been outstanding.

All in all, he looks like a very solid relief prospect to me, at least based strictly on his numbers. And based on the reports in Baseball Prospectus's Annual that he can deal in the 90's, and complement it with a good change-up, the stuff sounds like it's there too. So it seems quite likely that Medlock could compete for a spot in a major league bullpen next spring, especially if he can get his recent control issues straightened out in his next outing or two.

Brian Shackelford, 31 yrs, LHP Reliever
Shack was drafted out of the University of Oklahoma in 1994 by the Florida Marlins in the 21st round as an outfielder, but made the switch to pitching in 2002 after he failed to master hitting above low-A ball. The Reds picked him up along with Jeff Austin for a pair of minor leaguers the following March, and he's been pitching in their system ever since.

2004/CIN-AAA 28 73.0 7.8 5.2 0.7 3.82 3.58 4.27 0.263 5.28 13.0 --
2005/CIN-AAA 29 32.2 5.9 2.8 0.3 5.31 5.23 3.23 0.333 3.94 0.7 57%
2005/CIN 29 29.2 5.2 2.8 0.6 2.77 2.43 3.85 0.226 4.79 9.1 45%
2006/CIN-AAA 30 29.2 7.1 4.3 0.0 1.85 1.82 3.06 0.326 4.30 9.1 46%
2006/CIN 30 16.1 8.4 5.6 2.2 7.27 7.16 6.43 0.292 6.31 -1.8 37%
2007/CIN-AAA 31 32.2 3.9 3.6 0.0 5.59 4.96 3.54 --- --- --- ---

Shackelford became a fan favorite in 2005 when he came up mid-season and did a nice job as a situational left-hander. Unfortunately, he never ranked high enough on the depth charts to get much playing time last year or this year, though I argued for using him instead of Cormier about this time last year.

Overall, Shackelford has shown average to below average strikeout and walk rates, though he typically does a nice job of keeping the ball in the park--he hasn't allowed a home run the minor leagues since 2005! Unfortunately, he's getting a bit long in the tooth to be considered much of a prospect, and this year has shown a dramatic drop in his strikeout rates. So how much longer he can be useful has to be considered in doubt.

Additional aspects to this deal

The Reds apparently do receive some cash in this deal, which I'm sure is at least enough to offset Cantu's league-minimum salary. Furthermore, the Devil Rays are to receive "future considerations," which could potentially mean another player at some point.

My Take
I don't see much of anything to be excited about with Cumberland, so Cantu is the only booty here. And the most attractive thing about him is that he is still young, and already has shown decent performance in the major leagues in the past. So maybe he'll somehow put it together and be a nice source of power off the bench or as a part-time starter. Unfortunately, his defense at 2B and 3B has been atrocious, which means that his future probably lies at either first base or left field. And at those positions, his power-only offense looks, at best, average...and probably well below average. Still, in a limited role, I can see him proving useful.

In terms of the cost that it took to get him, I can't get too upset about losing Shackelford. But Medlock seems to me to be a legitimate contender for a bullpen spot next year, and goodness knows they could use some new arms out there. He still might not have made the staff out of spring training next year, but he absolutely would have represented some quality organizational depth as we opened the season.

So I don't like this deal very much. It's not that I hate Cantu or even that I see this as a lopsided deal in terms of the talent being exchanged. The issue I have is that Medlock is precisely the kind of player that I'd like to see the Reds hoarding right now--he's young, clearly has some talent, and could provide a boost to the bullpen as early as next season. I'm not saying that the kid is a future closer by any means. But it won't surprise me if he's performing well in a middle relief or set up role in the near future. And that's clearly something that the Reds need. Furthermore, it bugs me that this deal seems to be have moved the Reds away from, not toward, the goal of improved pitching and defense, even if only a small amount.

But I'm not going to get that upset about it the grand scheme of things, it's a pretty small deal, and probably isn't going to make or break the Reds now or in the future.

As long as the Reds don't go and do something stupid like start Cantu in front of Encarnacion or Votto, of course.