Qual­ity arms in de­mand

Cecil Whig - - INSIDEBASEBALL -

As usual, there was some high drama as baseball’s trade dead­line ap­proached on Mon­day. Here’s a look at some sto­ry­lines that stole the head­lines. Yan­kees re­build their farm sys­tem The Yan­kees started 2016 with three play­ers on MLBPipeline.com’s top-100 prospects list. It ended July with seven, thanks to some shrewd deals by gen­eral man­ager Brian Cash­man.

The first big deal came when the Yan­kees dealt closer Aroldis Chap­man to the Cubs for 19-year-old short­stop Gley­ber Tor­res (No. 26 over­all). That trade also in­cluded out­fielder Billy McK­in­ney, a for­mer top-100 prospect whom MLBPipeline now ranks as New York’s 15th-best prospect. The Yan­kees may have landed a big­ger haul for An­drew Miller. Trad­ing their ace left-handed re­liever to the In­di­ans net­ted out­fielder Clint Fra­zier (No. 24), the first high school po­si­tion player picked in the 2013 draft, and 20-year-old lefty starter Jus­tus Sh­effield (No. 95).

New York also ac­quired pitcher Dil­lon Tate from Texas when it traded Car­los Bel­tran. Tate, the Rangers’ fifth-best prospect, was the fourth over­all pick in the 2015 draft.

Add to that mid­dle in­fielder Jorge Ma­teo (No. 27), out­fielder Aaron Judge (No. 32), catcher Gary Sanchez (No. 39) and out­fielder Blake Ruther­ford (No. 64), and the Yan­kees may now have the best col­lec­tion of top-end prospects in the game. Arms can be ex­pen­sive As usual, teams were des­per­ately try­ing to ac­quire pitch­ing. Start­ing pitch­ers who changed teams in­cluded Wade Mi­ley (Seat­tle to Bal­ti­more), An­drew Cash­ner and Colin Rea (San Diego to Mi­ami; the Padres re­ceived starter Jarred Cosart in re­turn), Lu­cas Har­rell (Atlanta to Texas), Drew Pomer­anz (San Diego to Bos­ton) and Rich Hill (Oak­land to the Dodgers). At the end of June, Atlanta also traded starter Bud Nor­ris to the Dodgers, and weeks be­fore that, the Padres sent James Shields to the White Sox.

Teams sell­ing off were hes­i­tant to move start­ing aces in July. Of those traded, only Pomer­anz (this year) and Shields (2011) have ever been se­lected to an All-Star Game, and Shields, who is 34 and has a 5.17 ERA since the Sox got him, isn’t what he once was.

On the other hand, teams weren’t as shy about mov­ing their bet­ter bullpen arms. Chap­man was one of the game’s most highly sought closers, and Miller, a lefty, may have been the game’s most cov­eted set-up man. Pittsburgh traded Mark Me­lan­con to Wash­ing­ton. Since 2014, Me­lan­con has con­verted 114 of 123 save chances, with a 1.95 ERA and 171 strike­outs in that span. The Brew­ers also dealt their top two re­liev­ers, closer Jeremy Jef­fress and Will Smith, to Texas and San Fran­cisco, re­spec­tively. The Smith trade net­ted a nice haul in lefty Phil Bick­ford (No. 65).

Some of these trades il­lus­trate the wide spec­trum of the per­ceived value of closers and late-in­ning re­liev­ers.

The Pi­rates, just four games out in the Wild Card stand­ings at July’s end, didn’t get any­thing close to what the Yan­kees got in re­turn. They added 24-year-old Felipe Rivero, who has a 3.64 ca­reer ERA in 99 MLB in­nings but is re­garded as a talent that Pittsburgh can de­velop, and Tay­lor Hearn (No. 28 in Pi­rates’ sys­tem), a 21-year-old Sin­gle-A starter-turned-re­liever who’s hit 99 on the radar gun.

It may also be telling that the Pi­rates feel they can re­place Me­lan­con with Tony Wat­son. He has just five ca­reer saves but has been ex­cel­lent across his ca­reer — a 2.64 ERA in 363 MLB in­nings.

Mean­while, the dis­crep­ancy be­tween what the Reds net­ted for Chap­man in De­cem­ber and what the Yan­kees got for him two weeks ago is stag­ger­ing. Chap­man’s win­ter value was at an all-time low be­cause of an im­pend­ing sus­pen­sion for do­mes­tic abuse. Still, the Reds’ re­turn in that deal was only re­liever Caleb Cotham (a 7.40 ERA this year be­fore a sea­son-end­ing in­jury) and prospects Rookie Davis, Tony Renda and Eric Jagielo. None is a top-100 prospect, though Davis (No. 8) and Jagielo (No. 24) are among the Reds’ top-30 prospects.

Yes, Chap­man, with a fast­ball that has touched 105, is a sexy ad­di­tion that un­ques­tion­ably makes the Cubs’ bullpen bet­ter. But how much can he im­prove Chicago in the closer’s role over Hec­tor Ron­don? If Chap­man has a hand in the Cubs win­ning a World Se­ries, the team’s fans won’t care. But if that doesn’t hap­pen, and Chap­man walks in free agency af­ter this year, the team will al­ways won­der if it gave up too much for a two- or three-month rental. A softer mar­ket for po­si­tion play­ers The mar­ket for po­si­tion play­ers was soft through July, but ex­ploded on the Aug. 1 dead­line date.

The big­gest names to be moved through July’s end were Melvin Up­ton (San Diego to Toronto) and Matt Kemp (San Diego to Atlanta). No high­level prospects were ex­changed — Toronto dealt Hansel Ro­driguez, now the Padres’ 20th-rated prospect — and Atlanta’s deal of­fered the Braves a chance to rid them­selves of Hec­tor Oliv­era, who was also sus­pended for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

On Aug. 1, the Mets, who saw Yoe­nis Ce­s­pedes side­lined with a right quad strain, ac­quired Jay Bruce from the Reds. Bruce, 29, has been a reg­u­lar in Cincin­nati since 2008. The key piece com­ing back was Dil­son Her­rera, the 22-year-old sec­ond base­man who’s been up and down from the Ma­jors, and was for­merly re­garded as a top prospect.

Bel­tran’s trade to Texas helps the Rangers com­pen­sate for the per­pet­u­ally in­jured Shin-Soo Choo in right. Bel­tran (.304/.344/.546) has a 1.045 OPS vs. right-han­ders.

Per­haps the big­gest deal came less than an hour be­fore the dead­line, when Texas ac­quired catcher Jonathan Lu­croy, the top catcher on the mar­ket, in the Jef­fress deal. Texas traded its No. 2 and 3 prospects in cen­ter fielder Lewis Brin­son (21) and right-han­der Luis Or­tiz (63).

The Cubs are hop­ing hard-throw­ing closer Aroldis Chap­man will play a piv­otal role in the post­sea­son.

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