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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Reds acquire Peraza, Schebler, and Dixon for Todd Frazier

Farewell to Todd Frazier.
Photo credit: Arturo Pardavilla III
The +Cincinnati Reds finally made their first substantial move of the offseason, trading away Todd Frazier to the White Sox for a trio of players that arrive from the Dodgers.  The Dodgers received their own set of prospects from the White Sox for their part in this three-team trade.

The deal comes on the heels of the failed attempt to trade Aroldis Chapman to the Dodgers about a week ago, which (despite protests to the contrary from the Reds) were likely derailed when information about the alleged domestic violence that he committed against his girlfriend in October.  The key player rumored to be involved in that deal was Jose Peraza, and that very player was delivered to the Reds in this deal.  Therefore, that's one way to view this trade: the Reds got their guy.

In general, the Reds have been rumored to be seeking MLB-ready prospects in return for the players they are trying to move (Chapman, Bruce, etc).  This is in keeping with Bob Castellini's assurances that this rebuild will not represent a long-term derailment of the team.  Get players who can contribute immediately, surround them with talent already in the system, keep the players already controlled long term, and you have the Reds back into contention within a few years.  That's the apparent strategy at play from the Reds' perspective.

Unfortunately, the initial reactions of observers around baseball have been almost universally poor.  While you will see praise for Jose Peraza among some prospectors, most agree that the return the Dodgers got, headlined by Frankie Montas, was superior to that of the Reds:
Let's work through the players one by one, starting with the player the Reds gave up.

Todd Frazier, RHB, 3B, 29.9 years old


I was never a big Frazier believer as he came up through.  In hindsight, I'm not positive why.  I guess his numbers were more just good-at-everything rather than spectacular at any one thing.  His AA and AAA slugging percentages were in the high-.400's rather than the .500+, his OBP was usually around .350 rather than .400.  He was always a little bit old for his level (or, at least, not young).  But he hit all the way through the minors, and held his own during his debut.  His During first full season with the team in 2012, he tied his career high for home runs in a season despite only getting 465 PA's.  And his power continued to be a surprisingly (to me) important part of his package, showing himself to be a legitimate 30 homer threat over the past two years.  Yes, he struggled in the second half last year, but at the same time he was beyond brilliant in the first half.  He did both of those things.  He's posted 4+ wins each of the last two years thanks to an above-average bat and plus fielding at a corner slot.

The White Sox will have two years of control on him left.  Next year, he's under the second year of a two year contract and will $12 million contract.  His last year of arbitration, he might earn upwards of $16 million...or maybe even a bit more, if he posts another power-heavy season like he did last year.

Steamer projects him as a 3.2 WAR player next year, and a simple .5-WAR would have him at 2.7 WAR the following year.  Assuming that we're somewhere around $7.5 million/WAR right now to replace his production via free agency, that puts his overall value at about $45 million--a $12 million surplus over his salary.  He's a very good player, and a nice asset for a club.  He should do very well in the White Sox' homer-friendly ballpark.

Jose Peraza, RHB 2B/SS, 21.7 years old


Peraza is unquestionably the headliner in terms of the Reds' return.  He entered last season as a top-50 prospect on many lists coming on the heels of a strong 2014 campaign in which he showed a high-average game with some modest doubles-power and tons of speed, swiping 60 stolen bases for the second-straight year.  But his BABIP fell back down to earth when he arrived at AAA in 2015, and with it came much of his shine.  When he was traded to the Dodgers as part of the mid-season three-team deal with the Marlins and Braves, Kiley McDaniels wrote this about him.
Compared to Luis Castillo or Juan Pierre early in his pro career, Peraza’s light has dimmed a bit in 2015 due to offensive questions, but he’s still an elite runner that’s near big league ready and can play multiple positions up the middle.
His batting line was nearly identical with the Dodgers.  Peraza's game profiled as that of a pretty limited ballplayer last year.  He could run, and he didn't strike out much.  But his absurdly low walk rate (only two qualified MLB players had walk rates under 3% last year: Jean Segura and Salvador Perez) suggests that he achieves his low strikeout rate in part by being willing to swing at just about anything; it's hard to strike out when you're swinging at the first few pitches every at bat.  Bed Badler of Baseball America, at least, disagrees, arguing that he has a legitimate hit tool and could hit for average in the majors.  But, after seeing his numbers, it's hard not to read the scouting reports and think that his supporters are just getting swept away by his stolen base totals.

If he was a defensive genius at shortstop, as one might hope for such a fast player, I could live with a limited offensive skillset in a prospect.  But most scouting reports I've read today peg him as only average at shortstop.

For a moment, I thought the Reds might hope to put him in center field to platoon with Billy Hamilton.  That could be intriguing, and at least is creative.  But Peraza is a right-handed hitter, and Hamilton's "strong" side is as a right-handed batter as well.

On the whole, while I'm trying, there's not much that I can get excited about here.

Scott Schelber, LHB COF, 25.1 years old


Schebler does not have an elite prospect pedigree.  He was a 26th-round selection by the Dodgers in 2010 out of high school, although he did get a $300,000 signing bonus to entice him away from college.  And to his credit, he produced almost immediately.  Power was his main calling card, and he showed good home run power throughout most of his minor league career.  In 2014, coming off his best minor league season for the Dodgers AA affiliate (154 wRC+), McDaniel wrote this about him:
One scout put a Brandon Moss comp on Schebler and a bat-first, lefty-hitting outfielder with a fringy to average bat and above average raw power. Schebler is listed at 6’1/208 but will actually flash plus speed at times, though his arm and instincts are below average, limiting him to left field. He doesn’t have big bat speed, so some scouts are still wart, but he fits the bill of an under-the-radar performer who could surprise.
2015 didn't go as well.  While he maintained his strikeout and walk rates against better-quality pitching in AAA, his power seemed largely to disappear.  He hit just 13 home runs and sported a .169 ISO, well below the norms of his minor league career.  Given the scouting questions about his bat, that's a worrying performance.

Nevertheless, the Reds' interest seems clear: they need a left fielder.  I'm sure someone in the Reds' front office is thinking that a platoon between Schebler and Adam Duvall might be good enough to post a couple of wins above replacement next year.  Maybe it'll work.  Or, maybe major league pitchers will tear him apart.


Brandon Dixon, RHB 2B, 23.9 years old


Dixon actually has some pedigree.  He was a 3rd-round selection in the 2013 draft.  Unfortunately, prior to the start of last season, he'd never shown any indication that he could hit at all.  He might have a some power for a middle-infielder, but he didn't walk, struck out a lot, and was well below league-average during his first two professional seasons.  In 2015, he got off to a nice start to the season when repeating high-A, slugging 11 home runs in just 193 PA's to go with improved walk rates.  Upon his promotion to AA, however, he quickly returned to the same type of hitter he'd been before.  He hit well in the Arizona Fall league, but...::shrug::  As J.J. Cooper said in C. Trent's profile of the prospects, "Dixon is a lottery ticket at best. I don’t think he would crack the (Reds’) Top 30 right now. He has some raw power, but his hit tool hasn’t come along enough to get to it."

Conclusions

I'm not very excited about this haul. What I can see in the stats don't look very impressive for these guys.  Furthermore, the consensus on the twitterer is that the Reds did not do well here.  Most writers, and especially most of their baseball executive sources, seem to strongly prefer the package that the Dodgers received, which clearly could have gone to the Reds if he wanted it.  They chose Peraza instead, so hopefully they are right about him.

I'm worried that the Reds were too focused on acquiring major league-ready talent in this deal.  With Reds owner Bob Castellini pushing to make the rebuild as short as possible, it might be that the Reds front office couldn't accept younger, but higher-upside options.  I love MLB-ready talent too, but those players come at a premium.  After all, if they're ready, that likely means that the team who controls them is planning to move them onto their own active rosters.

In the end, it's just one more frustration in a depressing offseason for the Reds.  As C. Trent noted today (and Steve Manucso and I discussed last week), the Reds had the chance to deal both Chapman and Frazier at the trade deadline last summer, and probably for a better return.  There was even a consensus that they should have been traded at the time among most observers.  And now, this might well be the best collection of prospects the Reds will acquire this offseason.  And that's depressing.