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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Belated Transactions: Reds trade Simon for Much More Than Bag of Balls

Just before I departed France to return to the States, the Reds made two major trades representing (as Scott put it on a recent Red Reporter podcast) 40% of their starting rotation.  Things were too crazy in my life to write about it at the time, but I wanted to comment a little bit on these two moves.  We'll take Simon tonight, and save Latos for another day.

Alfredo Simon was acquired as a last-minute waiver-wire pickup in 2012 just before opening day, forcing Todd Frazier back to the minors for a week or so to make room on the 25-man roster.  While he'd bounced between the rotation and bullpen, with unimpressive results, for the Orioles in prior seasons, the Reds put him squarely into a bullpen role and got surprisingly good results.  Stats:
In this two seasons in the bullpen, Simon was steady and solid.  He didn't put up peripherals that were completely out of character for his history, but it was as if he figured out how to pull together his best strikeout, walk, and ground ball rate numbers together.

In 2014, missing Mat Latos to start the season, the Reds turned to Simon as their #5 starter.  Surprisingly, he put together an extremely good first-half, albeit one that seemed highly unlikely to continue.  Predictably, he started to regress in the second half, and while he still posted solid enough season totals, I saw little reason to think he was likely to be anything like a solid starter in 2015.  Really, just about all of the warning signs are there.  ERA estimators worse than ERA?  Check.  Below-career average BABIP?  Check.  Declining strikeout rate?  Check.  Entering mid-30's?  Check.  Much, much higher inning totals than prior season or ever before?  Check.  Bad second half?  Check.  Awful projections?  Check: Steamer says 4.92 ERA next year.  

I'd hoped the Reds would trade him at the all-star break, and figured that any value he might have built in the first half would have vanished.  On top of all that, there are off-field rape accusations.  While I tried to stay neutral to that while the legal process played out, I honestly got squeamish every time I saw him take the mound last year...and I know I'm not the only one.

And yet, somehow, the Reds managed to trade him to the Detroit Tigers for a pair of players who have both have some legitimate value: Eugenio Suarez and Jonathan Crawford.  Wow.

Eugenio Suarez, 23-year old RHB SS

Suarez got just shy of half of the Tigers' starts at shortstop last year, and acquitted himself pretty well in his rookie season.  The wrap on him coming up was that he was a good defender with some range limitation, and a decent bat except that he was prone to striking out.  That matches up well to his numbers: UZR, DRS, and the Fan Scouting Report all rate him around average or a tad below-average at shortstop.  He didn't hit a lot, but walked at a decent enough clip to get on base at about a league-average rate.  Overall, he earned 0.7 WAR, which extrapolates out to around 1.5 WAR in a full season of work.  His Steamer projection isn't quite so rosy for this season, but if nothing else he looks like a solid utility infielder who can handle all of the infield positions.

As soon as he was acquired, questions started rumbling about whether Zack Cozart was on his way out the door.  After all, he's just reaching arbitration for the first time ($2.35 M in 2015), and wOBA'd a pathetic 0.254 last season thanks, at least in part, to his absolute refusal to walk (4.6 BB% for his career) and evaporating power (0.079 ISO last year).  It sounds like the job is still Cozart's, but I don't have a problem with Suarez giving him some competition in spring training.

Jonathon Crawford, 23-year old RHP

Crawford was the Tigers' 2013 first-round draft pick, so last year was his first full season of play.  It wasn't a great campaign, but wasn't a complete disaster either.  Certainly, his strikeout rates and walk rates both leave a bit to be desired (and see Doug's comments here).  Furthermore, from what I've gathered, the scouting community wasn't particularly impressed with him either.  And yet, he nevertheless held his own in full-season High-A ball.  He's reportedly something of a ground-ball specialist, which makes one hope that there's something to his superb 2014 home run rate.  In 2013, he was throwing 93-96 mph, though Doug reported low-90's.  And he has pedigree: recent first-rounder, and ranked as the #4 Tigers prospect entering last season at FanGraphs.  One thing that I've learned time and time again is to never discount the ability of talented players to make major strides forward when given the opportunity.

Honestly, getting either of these guys for Simon would seem like a good deal to me.  Neither is top-shelf talent (though Crawford arguably was recently), but each has some value.  And I'm honestly not sure that Simon will be much better than replacement this year.  That the Reds were able to turn him into these two prospects seems like a major coup to me.  This was easily the Reds' best deal of the offseason.